Posted in supplementary material

Ambition: Not as Unflattering on a Lady as You Might Think

(Written by Martha S.)

Why does Macbeth get to be a tragic figure, and Lady Macbeth the maligned instigator? Why is it a common sight in rom-coms for career-driven women to get “caught” by a romantic lead? Why are ambitious women so frequently tarred as bad people in narratives?

Look, if you’ve been around the blog at all you know I’m pretty passionate about gender dynamics in media – I’ve tried to make it an episode theme, but it feels too big right now, so it’s been back-burnered until I can get a better handle on it. Until then, it’s probably where my mind is going to go most frequently following an episode, especially when we don’t get a chance to touch on it while recording. In our last episode, we did briefly light on the subject of gendered ambition: specifically, that while ambition in general is usually a negative character trope, men are more frequently allowed to be ambitious (or driven, or passionate, or goal-oriented, whatever) than women without being narratively punished for it.

Women are culturally trained to think of all other women as competition. Because the world is constantly comparing us to each other, we grow up comparing ourselves to each other, and are usually trained to find ourselves the one that’s wanting. We’re not allowed to call ourselves the best, or to find ourselves the superior one – in an environment that demands that someone be “the best.” To do so is to be branded stuck up, conceited, a bitch. Ask any girl who’s accepted a compliment on a dating app how fast that turns into “You’re not actually that pretty.”

Media is a reflection of cultural attitude. So we get narratives with harpies, with shrill wives, with backstabbing mean girls, with cold career women who just need the right man to warm them up and put a baby in them. And you get people like me, who are going to shove the opposite narrative at you in the hopes that some day, by boosting these stories, we’ll drown out the people who say that girls can’t be friends.

Without further adieu: narratives featuring girls who are ambitious and also great.

Abigail Rook in the young adult series Jackaby by William Ritter, first book published in 2014. Abigail leaves her wealthy family in England to pursue a life that encompasses more than just playing the piano, getting married, and looking pretty. She is an aspiring archaeologist who becomes an accidental assistant to a supernatural investigator. Abigail’s ambition is interesting because it grows over the course of the series – in book one, she has mostly unformed desires to do something with her life, instead of being consigned to the house. She originally goes on an archaeological dig that ends up being mostly farce, and when she realizes that, she moves on to more and bigger opportunities.

Diana Prince, also known as Wonder WomanDiana’s opening line in the 2017 film directed by Patty Jenkins is “I used to want to save the world.” Indeed, this origin story is not only about a woman dreaming of ending all war – it’s about the only woman who actually can. Her aspirations are noble and lofty, and the narrative makes it pretty damn clear that they’re attainable, as well.

Jane Grey in the 2016 novel My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows. This fantastical retelling of the story of Lady Jane Grey imagines Jane as an intellectual who prefers books to boys, who would rather use a sudden political opportunity to actually improve her home country than for personal gain, and ultimately as an alive person (which is less than what history gives her, I’m afraid). Jane discovers she has a taste for ambition when her family uses her as a political pawn, only to discover that she won’t be used for other people’s purposes – no, if she is to have power, she is going to use it the way she sees fit.

Judy Hopps in the 2016 animated film Zootopia, directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore. Judy Hopps is a bunny in a big world full of predators, and she defies all expectations to become the first bunny cop in the city of Zootopia. And she does so in a montage that makes me cry every time.

Peggy Olson from the critically acclaimed 2007 tv series Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner. From the secretary pool to ad professional in her own right, Peggy is a great example of a lady that gets her career AND her man (spoilers for the end of Mad Men, I guess). She is also an example of a character that the internet doesn’t like very much! The internet can suck it, Peggy rules.

 

 

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 16: Follow-Up, Finally

(By Martha S.)

Good morning, all. This INCREDIBLY DELINQUENT blog post is coming to you courtesy of writer’s block, which is not an excuse – any creative worth their salt will tell you that writer’s block is for amateurs, and that true professionals will strap in and work their way through it. Let’s never mind the fact that I am not actually a professional podcaster, merely a pretender to that throne, and actually get on to the meat of the matter.

We started posting follow-up blog entries to our episodes to explore questions, topics or media that we don’t have time to cover in our hour-and-change episodes. Sometimes, those posts are easy for me to write – the topics we pick are rich, and the constraints of mortal time mean we can’t cover everything we may want to talk about in only 60 minutes. Sometimes, the topics don’t resonate with me as much; not because they’re not Good Topics, Brent but simply because every person has different things they find deeply relevant and can talk about for hours.

Clearly, “You Can’t Go Home Again” is a topic I find interesting, but not resonant, otherwise this post would have gone up on Thursday like it was supposed to and I wouldn’t be sweating like I had a list-minute school essay to write (see what I did there?). I’ve been trying to understand why that is – certainly it is an idea that I, as a 30-year-old woman who went away from college and has moved through four different apartments post-living in my childhood home, have a familiarity with. And I think I have finally come to some sort of understanding about why I find it difficult to write about: I think all stories, in some way or another, include an aspect of this, which makes it almost overwhelming to examine under a microscope.

Think of it like this: changing identity is a core theme in YA literature. Frequently, this involves our main character realizing that the things that have been familiar and comfortable to them (their home, their family, their lifestyle, their sexuality, whatever), is not actually who they are. Cue their search for themselves, whether that’s an introspective or outward search. When they find themselves, the familiar is no longer comforting. Home is no longer home.

Literally all Epic Quest stories feature YCGHA(tm). Literally all Hero’s Journey stories feature it. Any story with a character growth arc will have an element of it. Like the Hero’s Journey (or perhaps in conjunction with? Discuss in the comments), YCGHA is a pervasive theme throughout storytelling.

Where am I going with this? I’m not sure. But it’s interesting to think about, because overthinking things is what we do around here.

(To make this entry not completely a self-indulgent wankfest, here are some supplementary things to read/watch on our theme. They are all excellent stories and I hope you enjoy experiencing them, even if they give you existential angst.)

Exit, Pursued by a Bear, 2016 novel by E.K. Johnston
Firefly,
2002 TV series created by Joss Whedon
Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997 film directed by George Armitage
Outlander,
novels by Diana Gabaldon and TV series developed by Ronald D. Moore
Runaways, 2003 comic series originally by Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona
Stardust
, 1999 novel by Neil Gaiman and 2007 film directed by Matthew Vaughn

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 15 Follow-Up: Forgiveness of the Self

(Written by Martha S.)

Let’s talk about self forgiveness real quick.

One of the things we talk about at length in our last episode is whether or not granting oneself forgiveness is valid or not. We talk about forgiveness as a two-way street, and I believe some pretty strong words are used in relation to Briony seeking to forgive herself for the lies she told during Atonement. I will admit to you now, dear readers, that I don’t remember what side of the argument I came down on in the episode; if I was against the concept, I am now revealed to you as a fraud and charlatan, because I’m about to talk to you about narratives that hinge on self-forgiveness as a means of character growth.

I recently finished listening to We Were Liars by E. Lockhart on audiobook, which was a fascinating listening experience, as the story unfolds in fits and starts as Cadence, the main character, recovers her memories of a summer previous when something terrible happened (but no one will tell her what). She has returned to the island owned by her grandfather, which serves as a family summer destination, to spend the summer with her three best friends before they start leaving for college. The only thing is, as the summer progresses and Cadence’s memories return, you (the reader) realize that not only did something horrible happen, but that Cadence was the cause of it – and only by remembering and acknowledging what she did, and forgiving herself for it, can Cadence move on from it.

Here is where that difference between forgiveness and absolution comes in as well, I think – Cadence forgiving herself for what she did does not absolve her blame or guilt, but at least puts her in a position where she can recover mentally from what happened (in the case of We Were Liars, the tragedy was an accident caused by rashness and foolhardiness, and whether or not Cadence forgives herself, this doesn’t change – what CAN change is whether or not she learns from, and moves on from, the accident).

In Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (one of my favorite emerging YA talents – his superb debut novel The Serpent King won the Morris Award last year for best debut novel by a new author in the YA world), Carver Briggs is dealing with the fact that his three best friends died in a car accident probably caused by one of them answering a text from him while driving. While I as an adult human can look at that and say “It is not your fault, Carver, for sending that text – your friend should not have been texting and driving, that was a choice he made without you,” Carver is a teenager without such insight and spends the novel trying to reconcile his continued existence while his friends are buried one by one. He seeks to be able to forgive himself, while pursuing the forgiveness of the families of his friends.

Did you think I wouldn’t find a way to link in Hannibal? YOU THOUGHT WRONG, DEAR READER. (Honestly, it was either this or Supernatural, since those shows encompass so very many of my favorite storytelling tropes.) Season 3, episode 2, “Primavera,” largely deals with Will Graham coming to terms with the fact that he’s willing to forgive Hannibal for the events of the past two seasons – I like this example because the forgiveness itself isn’t in doubt, simply Will’s acceptance of that within himself.

Last, for something I haven’t figured out how to work into conversation about seventeen thousand times, consider the movie Captain America: Civil War. One could argue that many, nay, all of the events in that film are the result of Tony Stark seeking a way to forgive himself for the events of Age of Ultron. He sees a way to moderate his guilt about creating a homicidal AI that destroyed a country by yoking the superhero group he’s been kind of de facto in charge of for two movies to a larger governing body. He may as well be screaming “Please love me again, I promise I’m a good boy.”

I would also argue that he never figures out how to forgive himself in this particular film, which is why he can’t fully commit to Cap’s side of the argument. But forgiveness is a process, whether it’s facilitated by oneself or someone else.

Posted in supplementary material

Games, Gaming, and Educational Space

(Written by Martha S.)

This is a topic I would like to see us devote a whole episode to, if we can make it work, because it is a vast, rich vein to mine and has a lot of useful information for us to impart. But as an introduction to the idea, let me say: games and gaming are an incredibly useful tool in one’s educational repertoire. I have spoken myself at conferences on the benefits to having RPG resources and programming in the public library; others have written at length on the benefits of gamifying learning. I hope we will be able to add our voices and experiences to the conversation.

I am thinking about this at the moment because I spent the previous weekend at GenCon, the largest gaming convention in North America and the longest-running gaming convention in the world (this year marks its 50th anniversary). It is a celebration of gaming of all kinds, from board games to tabletop RPGs to miniatures and more. When I attend, I play as much of the Pathfinder RPG as possible, in addition to a handful of other tournament games over the years (I have played in WarMachine, Conquest, and Imperial Assault events). It is INCREDIBLY fun and I imagine my husband and I will continue attending until we’re physically unable to do so.

Look, I’ve given you two introductions to justify the fact that I want to tell you how amazingly inclusive Paizo is as a gaming company, and now I can’t figure out a way to transition easily into that, so I’m just going to say it: Paizo works really hard to make their “iconic” characters really, really diverse and I love it. (An iconic character is the example character for a particular class, that usually participates in the fluff or art in some way. Merisiel, for example, is the iconic rogue, and she is a gay elf who is in a relationship with Kyra, the iconic cleric, who is a gay brown human.) Additionally, the adventure paths that Paizo publishes (pre-constructed campaigns designed to get you from level 1 to level 20) are full of LGBT+ characters, frequently included without any kind of fanfare or controversy. The world of Pathfinder is rich and diverse, and while the writers are nowhere near perfect in representation (adventure paths are frequently weighted with hot women the players can romance and much fewer, less attractive men), it never feels exploitative or gross.

I’m sure that using RPGs as a way to teach empathy and compassion will come up if we are ever able to do an episode on games in the educational space. For now, I just wanted to say that I appreciate what tabletop gaming is doing to increase empathy in geeky circles, since there are so many other geek subcultures where it is lacking. I’m gonna go write my android space priest multi-personality collective now, for Paizo’s brand new science fantasy game Starfinder.

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 14 Follow-Up: A+ Leaders Who Are Also Women

(By Martha S.)

You may have deduced by now that gender portrayals are important to me in the media I consume – I am very prone to loving things that feature fully-realized, interesting, multifaceted women (notice I did not say “strong” – strength means many things, and I am just as likely to love a female character who is whiny and evil as I am to love one that is strong and likable). The gender disparity in the materials we talked about last week is bugging me, because I do try to pick media for the show that presents a range of experience and characters and obviously I need to do better. With that in mind, here is a bevy of women who lead in some way, whether successful or not, charismatic or not, likable or not. Because it is important to remember that while there are obviously brilliant and inspiring women leaders in fiction, there are also women who fail, and their failure as leaders does not equal their failure as characters.

Wynonna Earp, Wynonna Earp (2016 tv show by showrunner Emily Andras and starring Melanie Scrofano)
Long have I searched for a show that could ease the Supernatural-shaped hole in my heart, ever since it went to hell and I realized it hated women. Wynonna Earp seems to be doing just that. In brief, the titular character, the great-granddaughter of the infamous Wyatt Earp, is back in her hometown with Earp’s gun and a mission: kill the outlaws Earp originally laid to rest, who are cursed to come back from the dead every time the heir to the Earp name dies and the mantle is passed to a new heir. Wynonna is a booze-soaked, vulgar, rude, and frequently selfish character and I love her – she’s also becoming an increasingly more effective leader of her ragtag support group with every episode. The qualities that make Wynonna worthy of following? Pragmatism, street smarts, efficiency, and a strong sense for when her people need to take a break (also her little sister Waverly is the best and cutest exposition-fountain anyone could ask for).

Mirabel, Arsinoe, and Katharine, Three Dark Crowns (novel by Kendare Blake)
This fantasy YA novel features three wanna-be queens engaged in a fatal battle for supremacy. In the world of the novel, when the queen of Fennbirn dies, the crown is passed on to one of three sisters – each has a magical gift that they use to try and eliminate their competition. In Three Dark Crowns, the perspective rotates amongst the three sisters, who each are raised by a different group of people and trained to rule. It’s an effective story about the people who shape leaders, the influence they can have, and how a potential leader can either mitigate or succumb to that influence. By the end any one of them could be an effective Queen (although you’re getting very different flavors of leadership: clear and direct from Arsinoe, traditional and regal from Mirabel, cunning and grabbing from Katharine).

Eadlyn Schreave, The Heir (novel by Kiera Cass)
Gonna put this out right in front: The Selection novels (of which this is technically #4) are cotton candy novels. They are wonderful fluff. They are full of romance and pretty dresses and sometimes occasionally Cass remembers there’s kind of a story? This is more true in The Heir and its follow-up The Crown, wherein Princess Eadlyn is conducting her version of The Bachelor and also learning how to be Queen. I will also put this out front: Eadlyn is a TERRIBLE leader. She has no sense of how to inspire loyalty, is incredibly entitled, has no work-life balance, and can’t read a room to save her life. She’s intellectually intelligent and completely people-stupid. I would argue that the novels she stars in are actually the story of someone realizing they should absolutely not step into a leadership role, finding an alternative, and implementing that, rather than the story of someone learning how to be Queen.

Dorothy Vaughn, Hidden Figures (2016 film directed by Theodore Melfi and starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae)
I’m singling out Octavia Spencer as Vaughn in particular because she’s in charge of the team that Henson and Monae begin the film working out of. She’s overworked, underpaid, and has no guarantee that she’ll ever get the recognition she deserves – but she still identifies a threat to her staff, learns its ins and outs, teaches her staff the skills necessary to operate the giant computer, and makes them all instantly indispensable. Not only is Vaughn capable, intelligent, and resourceful, but she cares about the women who work with her, and goes extra lengths to ensure they have job security as well. Everyone in Hidden Figures is admirable, but Spencer brings a steely determination to Vaughn that I found incredibly admirable.

Posted in supplementary material

Episode 13: Fandom in Media, Pre-Reading

(Written by Martha S.)

I’ve been a fan of things my whole life.

I wouldn’t say I’m always a part of fandom, since my participation levels vary based on my enthusiasm and my desire to engage with other humans, but I watch and I lurk and I read the fanfiction and I look at the fanart. When I love something, a movie or a book or a video game, I’m reluctant to give up the worlds I’m in love with. Fandom means I don’t have to leave until I’m done with them.

I chose fandom in media as our topic for the next episode for a few reasons: I thought we earned a lighter, more fun subject after bending our brains in the last episode, and because fandom culture has become so pervasive in the pop culture dialogue that I think it deserves a deep dive. Why do people engage in fandom? What rewards does it offer? Why is it worth talking about?

Our homework for this episode:

Fangirl, 2013 novel by Rainbow Rowell
Fanboys, 2009 film directed by Kyle Newman
Galaxy Quest, 1999 film directed by Dean Parisot

We have a good spread of homework that looks at fans active in fandom, fans passionate about fandom, and the people fandom focuses on. I’d like to offer you some optional extra credit as well, to get a good taste at the good – and the bad – of what fandom can offer.

The story of the infamous MsScribe. MsScribe was a prominent figure in Harry Potter fandom around 2003. Her story is sordid, long, and entertaining in a “I can’t believe this actually happened” kind of way.

For Women of Color, the Price of Fandom Can Be Too High,” article by Angelica Jade Bastien. This article is a pretty ugly look at the more toxic aspects of fandom, which are important to understanding the impact fandom has on actual human lives.

The Big Questions we’ll be considering on Wednesday:

  1. Is fandom portrayed generally positively or negatively in the homework we discuss?
  2. What does fandom add to the conversation surrounding a piece of pop culture?
  3. What, if any, responsibility do creators have toward their fans?
  4. Why is fandom relevant? Why should we care?
Posted in supplementary material

Episode 12 Follow-Up: The Hero’s Journey Goes Digital

(Written by Martha S.)

One of the things we talked about in Episode 12 was why the particular story structure of the hero’s journey has endured for basically the entirety of time – I posited that it’s because basically, this is it, this IS stories. With few exceptions, the hero’s journey stands in for the journey we all travel through during our lives, taking benchmarks and moments we all hit and beefing them up with the fantastic, over-dramatic, or magical. We may not all journey to the underworld or cross a magical threshold, but we do all experience crossing different barriers and boundaries and emerging as changed humans. The hero’s journey gives us a story structure we can relate to almost instantaneously, while also making it fantastical and interesting enough that it feels new or exciting every time we experience it.

I want to explore a medium that we haven’t really had the chance to in our episodes, because our podcast structure makes it very difficult to fairly assign and complete homework of this nature: video games. Video games offer a unique experience in the world of pop culture because they’re not just something you experience, they require your interaction and involvement, whether it’s something as simple as a Mario sidescroller or as complex as a Bioware choose-your-own-adventure. Because of that, they can provide us with the opportunity to not only read about or witness a hero’s journey, but to experience it vicariously yourself through your protagonist.

Troy Dunniway, a video game designer who has worked for Microsoft, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Insomniac Games, among others, wrote a comprehensive article entitled “Using the Hero’s Journey in Games,” where he breaks down how this story structure is beneficial to game designers laying out a game for development. Read the entire thing here, but also pay attention to this quote:

“As a game designer it allows us to utilize a known mechanism or formula within our games that people will understand and associate with easily. This allows us the ability to spend less time explaining ourselves and more time developing the story. The formula for a hero’s journey has been refined over thousands of years, so there is no reason to try and improve it. Instead you should spend your time trying to figure out how to make it new and interesting.”

The hero’s journey is a wheel that doesn’t need reinventing. It’s the actual storytelling that makes the difference.

Supplementary Materials

Mass Effect 1, 2, 3 (Xbox 360, PS4, PC)
The original  Mass Effect trilogy is an interesting animal because not only do each of the games demonstrate many of the hero’s journey story beats, but the trilogy as a whole becomes one massive, 90-hour hero’s journey that you complete. I think one of the reasons so many players had a problem with the end game is that perhaps, they couldn’t see how the fatalistic ending plays back into the mid-game of your Shepard’s HJ; we all made choices along the way, but in the end, the changes Shep went through after passing their event horizon meant there could only be one ending. (For what it’s worth, I enjoyed it, and still don’t think it earned the amount of ire the gaming community flung at it – although without all the ruckus, I wouldn’t have started playing them at all.)

Pokemon, pick your poison (Various generations of Nintendo hand-helds)
A good two-thirds of any given Pokemon game exists in the space between the call to action (receiving your first pocket monster) and crossing the threshold (the point at which whatever legendary beast you’re about to catch changes the world in some way). Most of the gameplay exists in between HJ story beats, and you can put hours of training and catching into the game before the plot rears its head at all – but I do love that each game pretty perfectly encapsulates the “master of two worlds” sub-stage.

Tomb Raider (Xbox 360, PS4)
Lara Croft’s evolution from archaeology student to titular tomb raider. This series pretty successfully achieves an open world format without the freedom of choice that you get from a Bioware game; you have a whole island to explore, and the game won’t stop you from doing that at your own pace, but you will trigger story events when it needs you too. Seeing and participating in Lara’s journey also retroactively gives the older Tomb Raider games more depth of flavor.

Sidebar: I think one of the (many, many) reasons that Dragon Age II doesn’t work is that it can’t decide if it wants to be an HJ or not. Ostensibly, your Hawke is becoming the hero of Kirkwall, but the reality is that the game pretty much forgets about the stages a hero is supposed to go through in any compelling way. By the time the event horizon is even introduced, I wasn’t invested and I didn’t care.

I wanted to include a fighting game here to demonstrate the myriad ways that the HJ can fit into a video game, but I’ll be honest with you: I don’t play that many fighting games and did not feel like I could properly comment on them! Please speak up in the comments: Do games like InjusticeMortal Kombat, and Street Fighter adhere to an HJ structure? Or are they all panache and no depth?

Posted in supplementary material

Grief: Episode 11 Follow-up

(Written by Calee S.)

Thoughts! I have some! I think that grieving is different for every person, and may even vary from one situation to the next. In the past month, I’ve dealt with a lot of loss, both directly, and indirectly. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to wrap my head around why things can be so different, and really learn how the grieving process can change. I’ve also experienced the notion of grieving as a result for those who are left behind after a loss, as well as feeling sad at the loss of potential a life could have had. But often it feels like something, or someone is missing. While I was perusing my bookshelf for supplementary materials, it made me realize how many comics I had borrowed from someone who has since passed, and the chance to discuss these with them is gone.

Supplementary Materials
1 Song of the Sea (2014 film directed by Tomm Moore)
This movie starts out with a death that scars a family for years. *spoilers* Conan’s wife, Bronagh, disappears after childbirth of her second child. As a result, this breaks Conan, who was very much in love with Bronagh. His son, Ben, also has a hard time dealing with his baby sister, Saoirse, whom he blames for his mother’s disappearance.
2 Deep Dark Fears (ongoing comic by Fran Krause)
Reflecting on Martha’s comment about horror related to grief, I’d like to bring up the Deep Dark Fears Comics. These are one shot comics that are submitted by readers and can be found online here. Several of these deal directly with those fears associated to horror and loss that you just can’t quite put your finger on until someone else brings it up. Another common trope seen is one where the submitter perceives themselves feeling grief and guilt even after their hypothetical passing.
3 Fox and the Hound (1981 Film directed by Ted Berman, Richard Rich, and Art Stevens)
Okay so this was admittedly the first movie I ever sobbed during. This deals with all sorts of grief. From the classic, Disney parent death, to loss that cuts so deep and raw, but isn’t necessarily the result of a death. This movie made me realize that it’s okay and important to grieve a lost friendship, as this is also a part of life,  and just because it’s over doesn’t mean it wasn’t important.
4 Frankenweenie (1984 film directed by Tim Burton)
Ahh the good old story of grief so strong, you bring your pet back from the grave.
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).