Posted in Uncategorized

A wide-ranging discussion of the monomyth (with a bonus Star Wars aside)

(Written by Pete R.)

This is going to be a bit of a wide-ranging blog post. I’ve been deeply interested in Campell’s idea of the monomyth since college, where I read both The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth, a series of interviews he did with Bill Moyers. What captured me almost immediately was an idea that I mentioned briefly in the episode: the idea that cultures around the world developed myths independently from each other that still map roughly to this one general story structure. I’m interested in comparative mythology, and Campbell uses a wide variety of cultures and myths to illustrate his ideas.

But, I think it’s fair to at least mention a few of the criticisms of the monomyth. First, it’s deeply steeped in Jungian ideas. If that’s not your cup of tea, you might have a hard time with the more deeper esoterica of what constitutes the Apotheosis or Attonement with the Father. Since the Initiation phase of the journey so often takes place in strange and magical lands––the Underworld is a common location––there is often a heavy layer of symbolism that could be ascribed to the actions that take place during the phase. You can take them at face value, or delve into Jungian analysis of them; Campell does the latter in The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

The second is that the Hero’s Journey is often more accurately the Male Hero’s Journey. Campbell is able to use a number of female heroes in his analysis––the Ishtar myths from Mesopotamia form the backbone of a lot of the book––but Campbell himself was aware of this issue. Late in his life, he wrote:

All of the great mythologies and much of the mythic story-telling of the world are from the male point of view. When I was writing The Hero with a Thousand Faces and wanted to bring female heroes in, I had to go to the fairy tales. These were told by women to children, you know, and you get a different perspective. It was the men who got involved in spinning most of the great myths. The women were too busy; they had too damn much to do to sit around thinking about stories.

Ishtar/Inanna was a Mesopotamian goddess. Her myth of descending to the Underword is a major myth analyzed in The Hero With a Thousand Faces,

When introducing students and young adults to the idea of the Hero’s Journey, keep these criticisms in mind. Select examples that portray women as the heroes––which we mostly failed to do in the episode, although Lúthien somewhat fits the bill––is critical to providing a wide representation AND showing that the Hero’s Journey can be more than just the Male Hero’s Joruney. And encourage students and young people to think critically about the structure. Does it still work in media like comics, or do we need a new myth structure to engage with the quintessential American Myth?

Can Superman be mapped to the Hero’s Journey, or do we need a new story structure?

Finally, encourage students to use the Hero’s Journey as a schema to think of stories, rather than a template that needs to be followed. As Neil Gaiman wrote:

I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true—I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.

Exposing young people to the ideas of Campell is good stuff; letting their minds construct the stories they want to construct is even better.

Here’s the part where I talk a little too much about Star Wars.

In the episode, we briefly talked about how Star War: A New Hope is a pretty canonical adaptation of the Hero’s Journey. I want to point your way to a book/museum exhibit Star Wars: The Magic of Myth (Amazon for the book). I saw the original exhibit when it first premiered at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in the late 90s, when I was deeply in the thrall of all things Star Wars (some things don’t change). I bought (aka: convinced my parents to buy for me) the companion book, which I didn’t really get at that age. But it was my first exposure to the monomyth and Joseph Campbell, and it’s left an indelible mark on me. I still think of the journey to the Death Star through the lens of In the Belly of the Whale phase of the monomyth cycle. This work, combined with Star Wars itself, would make an excellent one-two punch for introducing students to Campbell’s monomyth.

That’s no moon… it’s a whale. Or maybe a dragon.

And to address something that came up in the episode: Luke IS a reluctant hero. He SAYS he wants to leave Tatooine, but when the Call to Adventure is presented, he balks and Refuses the Call. He tells Obi-wan that he can take him as far as Mos Eisley, where the old hermit can find passage to Alderaan. It is only after his aunt and uncle are killed by Stormtroopers that he begins his journey by Crossing the First Threshold and entering that wretched hive of scum and villainy that is Mos Eisley. This is his––and the audiences––first entrance into the strange world that is the wider Star Wars galaxy.

Sometimes, all you need is some Stormtroopers to destroy your home and murder your adopted family to put you on the path to become a Hero.

That’s all I’ll mention about Star Wars in this post. Suffice to say that it is often heralded as THE example of the monomyth for the modern era. If you’re interested in follow-up reading, Salon had an article in 2015 that further expands on these ideas. And honestly, a quick google search for “Star Wars monomyth” or “Star Wars Hero’s Journey” or “Star Wars Joseph Campbell” will net you far more than you need.

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 episodes

Episode 12: The Hero’s Journey

The homework for the episode:
Pete: “Of Beren and Luthien,” chapter 19 of The Silmarillion
Martha: The Book of Life, 2014 animated film directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez
Calee: Shrek, 2001 animated film directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson

Two lovers forced to perform impossible tasks before earning their happily-ever-after.

A bullfighter-turned-musician embarks on a magical journey through the land of the dead to reunite with his living love and save his town.

An ogre steps up to reclaim his swamp and finds more than he bargained for on the way.

The hero’s journey as a storytelling map has been part of human culture for thousands of years. Joseph Campbell codified it in The Hero With the Thousand Faces, and when illustrated by infographic, it looks a little something like this:


The hero’s journey can be broken down into three necessary stages and seventeen substages, because Joseph Campbell is a categorizing animal with an answer to everything. As we note in the episode, not all of these substages show up in every hero’s journey, and frequently they get shuffled around a bit as the story calls for it. In convenient outline form:

  1. Departure
    1. Call to Adventure
    2. Refusal of the Call
    3. Crossing the First Threshold
    4. In the Belly of the Whale
  2. Initiation
    1. Road of Trials
    2. Meeting with the Goddess
    3. Temptations
    4. Atonement with the Father
    5. Apotheosis
    6. The Ultimate Boon
  3. Return
    1. Refusal of the Return
    2. The Magic Flight
    3. Rescue from Without
    4. Crossing the Return Threshold
    5. Master of Two Worlds
    6. Freedom to Live

Your podcasters’ credentials:

Pete: Embassytown by China Mieville
Martha: Bondi Ink Crew on Netflix
Calee: Real Genius

We take a brief detour down the rabbit hole of Val Kilmer’s IMDB page, Martha talks tattoos and Pete is involved in speculative fiction.

Thoughts to Think on for The Hero’s Journey

  1. Admittedly, the hero’s tale is a very formulaic one. How does this aid the narrative, and how does it hinder it? If a tale diverges from this, is it considered better or worse?
  2. Are we cheapening the act of the Return of the hero? Does it mean as much when we expect it?
  3. Why has the hero’s journey become this lasting, resonant storytelling structure?

A lot of our discussion circles around the question: how does a storytelling structure that is so ingrained in us do anything new or innovative? Using Tolkein, Shrek, and an animated celebration of the Day of the Dead (The Book of Life, hey-o) we talk about the elements that make up the archetypal hero’s journey and why it’s important to understanding the way we have and continue to tell stories. We also briefly mention Star Wars, because honestly, I don’t think you can talk about the hero’s journey without at least touching on it.

I dug up this article about why the hero’s journey has particular resonance and staying power, particularly from the perspective of someone creating stories: “Writing and the Importance of the Hero’s Journey,” by Evelyn Bertrand.

Next episode, we’re taking things in a little lighter direction and discussing fandom and how it gets treated by media. Join us for our chat on Fandom in Media and enjoy doing your homework!

Your homework for July 19:
Martha: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Calee: Fanboys, 2009 film directed by Kyle Newman
Pete: Galaxy Quest, 1999 film directed by Dean Parisot

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

Posted in Uncategorized

Episode 12: Hero’s Journey (Pre-Reading)

On this week’s show, we go on an adventure with the Hero’s Journey!!


1.Shrek (2001 movie directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson)

2.Book of Life (2014 movie directed by Jorge Gutierrez)

3. Chapter 19 of the Silmarillion, Beren and Luthien (written by J.R.R. Tolkien, and edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Discussion Questions

1.Admittedly, the hero’s tale is a very formulaic one. How does this aid the narrative, and how does it hinder it? If a tale diverges from this, is it considered better or worse?

2.Are we cheapening the act of the Return of the hero? Does it mean as much when we expect it?

3.Why has the hero’s journey become this lasting, resonant storytelling structure?

We have some fun homework assignments this week, which hopefully will help shake off some of the grief you may have been feeling recently.  You still have two more days to complete your homework, and I know you can do it!

Posted in syllabus

Grief and Grieving: Syllabus

The Babadook (2014 film directed by Jennifer Kent and starring Essie Davis)

Deep Dark Fears (webcomic by Fran Krause, located here)

The Fox and the Hound (1981 animated film directed by Ted Berman, Richard Rich, and Art Stevens)

Frankenweenie (1984 film directed by Tim Burton)

Hannibal, episodes 1.04 (Ouef), 1.09 (Trou Normand), 2.12 (Tome-Wan), and 3.02 (Primavera) (2013 TV series produced by Bryan Fuller)

iZombie, episode 3.10 (Return of the Dead Guy) (currently airing TV show created by Diane Ruggiero and Rob Thomas, and starring Rose McIver)

The Orphanage (2007 film directed by J.A. Bayona and starring Belen Rueda)

The Others (2001 film directed by Alejandro Amenabar and starring Nicole Kidman)

Pet Sematary (1983 novel written by Stephen King)

Scrubs, episodes 5.20 and 5.21 (2001 TV show created by Bill Lawrence)

The Skeleton Tree (2016 musical album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)

Song of the Sea (2014 animated film by Tomm Moore)

Spontaneous (2016 novel by Aaron Starmer)

Supernatural, 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) (Currently airing TV show, created by Eric Kripke)

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.

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: Grief & Grieving

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 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.


  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.