Big Hero 6 and the Deconstruction of Toxic Masculinity

“Toxic masculinity is one of the ways in which Patriarchy is harmful to men. It is the socially-constructed attitudes that describe the masculine gender role as violent, unemotional, sexually aggressive, and so forth.” http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Toxic_masculinity

Big Hero 6 is my fave film of all time. I have no qualms saying that. And one of the many reasons why it is so dear to my heart is because of the way it portrays (and deconstructs) toxic masculinity.

When the film begins, Hiro is shown to be a conning bot fighter, enjoying destroying things and earning money through dubious means. He fights against Yama, who is very aggressive, mean, rude, and has no qualms on letting a fourteen year old get beaten up. Hiro is saved by Tadashi, who is seen as pure, noble, good, and more androgynous than masculine. Tadashi is seen as very important to Hiro’s life, and he’s gentle, kind, caring, friendly, and wants the best out of others, and isn’t aggressive or violent in any way. He is the one who leads Hiro away from bot fighting to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, where he meets Honey Lemon and Gogo, two women excelling in traditionally male-dominated fields, and Wasabi and Fred. Wasabi breaks away from the stereotype of being the angry, aggressive, brute black man, and Fred, while a little aloof, is very sweet, encouraging others (despite their race and gender) to get into comics and wants to help out however we can.

It’s there that Hiro also is first acquainted with Baymax, who, despite being male coded, is the complete opposite of a traditional man. He is completely nonviolent, only fighting to defend others, puts other needs over himself, is taken seriously as a nurse, and is extremely loving. Hiro is impressed, but not totally taken in by the robot yet. He is more enthralled with Professor Callaghan, who further encourages him to come to the school.

Hiro eventually does get accepted, but tragedy strikes. Without Tadashi, Hiro’s wellbeing takes a turn for the worse. He doesn’t eat or get enough sunshine or leave his room, but most of all, he doesn’t seek help or allow his friends or his aunt (who’s a single woman and a successful business woman who still takes the time to reach out to Hiro and deal with her grief in her own way). It’s pretty common for men (both fictional men and real men) to not seek help when it’s needed and try to deal with it in their own way; Hiro was at first going to give up going to the school and go back to bot fighting. When Baymax reactivates, Hiro tries to push him away, but they’re brought together in pursuit of a microbot. After a long day of dangerous events, Hiro eventually lets Baymax close to him. They hug it out.

However, Hiro isn’t quite alright just yet. He decides to pursue revenge. He upgrades Baymax and almost takes out his healthcare chip to make him a complete fighter, but stops when he thinks that maybe this isn’t what Tadashi wanted. He becomes overconfident in Baymax’s abilities, thinking the robot can handle the villain on his own (he can’t) and at first refuses further help from his friends.

Later, after nearly dying, Hiro does let his friends in. He decides that they should all be superheroes. It’s when he tests out Baymax’s new armour that he really and truly lets Baymax in and realizes how much the robot can help him and how special he is.

When they confront the villain, Hiro is shocked to learn that it’s Professor Callaghan who is responsible for Tadashi’s death (going as far as to claim that Tadashi’s death was his own mistake) and nearly responsible for their own deaths. He decides to have Callaghan killed, but fails.

Enraged, Hiro leaves his friends behind, tries to have a stiff upper lip, and is ready to remove Baymax’s healthcare chip for good, but is stopped. After Baymax gently tells Hiro that this isn’t what Tadashi wanted, Hiro finally breaks down. That is when he is shown Tadashi again, and how he would not have wanted needless violence and revenge. Hiro internalizes this message, apologies, takes responsibility for his actions, and allows his friends back in his life, while also learning it is okay to cry.

This is really important because it’s common to tell boys that, to be ‘men’, they can’t cry, they have to deal with their problems on their own, and acting aggressively is encouraged. Hiro learns that none of that is true. He learns that he needs to use his abilities for good, not to enact revenge, but to protect and help others, the way his brother would’ve wanted. He learns to properly express himself when he’s sad, to let others comfort him, and to let others in his life. He also learns to deal with his enemies in a nonviolent way, and even goes as far as to help others who are complete strangers to him (but are related to the enemy) because it’s the right thing to do (but not by himself).

This is further contrasted with Professor Callaghan, another man dealing with grief, but unlike Hiro, completely refuses to get help for it or let out his anger and sadness (though he displays anger more than sadness; we never see him really cry or look upset, just bitter) in a healthy way. He hurts others, destroys property, and spreads terror in the name of avenging his daughter (who he either genuinely loved or only cared about how much she meant to him)…only to realize that it was all wrong, when his daughter turns out to be alive (he could have used the portal and the microbots to retrieve her first; he just assumed she was dead and the best course of action was to kill Krei), and is sent to jail. He seems to realize the gravity of this situation. If he had not acted so recklessly and aggressively, none of the damage he caused would have happened, and now he has to pay for it.

This movie is very important for many reasons, but this is one of them. It takes what it means to be a traditional manly, macho man and the tropes on how real men seek revenge and don’t cry and totally deconstructs it. (The fact that Hiro is a young boy of colour and Callaghan is an older white man adds a lot of dimension to it as well.) If you are someone who takes care of boys, I strongly recommend you show this movie to them. It could probably give them some much needed help in how to healthily deal with their emotions and relationships with others.

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Your Fave is Autistic Part 4: Vanellope Von Schweetz and Wreck-It Ralph

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Wreck-It Ralph is one of my all-time favourite movies. It is extremely well-written, beautifully animated, has great and memorable characters and relationships, a fantastic villain, a compelling story, and lots of heart. It is, in my opinion, the greatest Disney film in a long time, as well as it’s most progressive (I’ll talk about why in another post). But one of the reasons why I love this movie so much is because the two main characters, Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz, resonate with me very deeply and personally. I see myself a lot in Vanellope, and I felt so much for Ralph. These are both characters who go through a lot of discrimination and hardship, and I think a good chunk of it is because I see them being coded to be autistic.

Now, it’s pretty obvious that Vanellope is coded to be disabled in at least one way due to being a glitch. Her actually glitching can be seen as a metaphor for a lot of disabilities and disorders (for me personally, I see it as stimming/flapping). Her story arc involves her being bullied, ostracized, and seen as a burden at best, dangerous at worst. She is seen as a ‘mistake’ that wasn’t supposed to exist. She is often told that certain bad things done to her are ‘for her own good’. Sounds pretty similar to ableist rhetoric, doesn’t it?

It goes without saying that a lot of people with disabilities and mental disorders IMMEDIATELY picked up how Vanellope was almost certainly disabled herself. I think it’s possible that she’s meant to represent (and empower) people of ALL different disabilities, though it’s entirely likely to read her as autistic in addition to having a physical disability (she is fascinated with racing and go karts, loving making her own karts, is very sharp and doesn’t pull punches, and is seen chewing and fiddling with the strings of her sweater). Her role as being a representation/metaphor has been hotly debated (though I personally think she is actually disabled, since she’s seen keeping her glitching even after she’s no longer a ‘glitch’), and while people could argue she’s less meant to represent autism as much as people with physical disabilities, I can say that Ralph is definitely coded to be autistic.

Despite having lived with giant hands for 30 years, he still has a lot of trouble with motor skills. He is very expressive and gets frustrated and emotional very easily, sometimes leading to overreacting and minor meltdowns. He has a lot of trouble with personal hygiene, resulting in spiky hair and bad breath, and he doesn’t have very good social or empathy skills (though he gets better with the latter by the end of the movie). He is fixated on getting a medal to get a better life (realizing that companionship and taking things slowly is better) and is extremely loyal to the people he loves. He has trouble wearing shoes (to the point where he goes barefoot at his friends’s wedding), isn’t very good at lying, and gets completely overwhelmed with the sensory nightmare that is Hero’s Duty. But what I find most interesting is how he is treated, and it goes a bit beyond him just being a bad guy.

You see, he is the only known bad guy that gets routinely stopped by the surge protector. ‘Special’ treatment? He is shown to be poor and stuck in a bad job position (a common problem for many autistic people). But most of all, he is told and realizes he can’t change who he is, and has to learn to come to grips with it, as long as he is accepted, has friends who understand and love him for who he is, and gets the help he needs.

Some people have pointed out that, if this movie was seen as a metaphor for class struggle, it kind of delivers a bad message about not being able to move out of your position and have to accept it. But if you read it as someone with autism, and where both he and everyone else realizes that’s who he is and he can’t change or cure it, and they give him the proper accommodations and he is able to take his struggles ‘one game at a time’, it becomes an infinitely more positive message. It also ties in with Vanellope’s story of being empowered and accepted, glitches and all.

It’s easy to see why this movie matters so much to me, and I hope it will continue to matter to a lot of people for a long time.

In Defense of Hades

Whether you love or hate Disney’s Hercules, I think you can agree that Hades is awesome. He’s hilarious, his voice acting (courtesy of James Wood) is fantastic, and he is an effective antagonist. But is he really pure evil?

 

Disney is well-known for making villains who relish being evil and don’t have any visible redeeming qualities or clear motives as to WHY they’re evil. This isn’t entirely the case for Hades.

When we first see Hades, the Olympians are shown to immediately dislike him, though it’s never entirely clear WHY they don’t like him. Did he try to take over Mount Olympus before? Did he do something horrible? It’s never revealed, and judging by how Zeus is at first eager that Hades has shown up, that’s probably not the case. Hades isn’t a nice person, but it’s odd how only Zeus seems to be fond of him (probably because they’re brothers).

Zeus: “How are things in the Underworld?”

Hades: “…a little dark, a little gloomy, and always…full of dead people”.

Doesn’t sound like an ideal place to call home. And then, when Zeus encourages Hades to join the celebration, Hades replies, “But unlike you gods, lounging about up here, I regrettably have a full time gig that you by the way so charitably bestowed on me, Zeus. So, I can’t.”

It’s a little hypocritical for Zeus to be pointed out that HE assigned Hades a bad job position and then makes it look like HADES is in the wrong for ‘working himself to death’.

Within the first ten minutes or so of the movie, it becomes well-established WHY Hades is the way he is. He’s not JUST an asshole; he’s bitter from so many years (likely hundreds or even thousands) of being assigned to a job he hates, away from all the glory and fun, and being disliked on principle. So his callousness towards his own kin and bad temper and general asshole-ry suddenly makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t EXCUSE his bad deeds, but they become a lot more understandable when you realize he’s doing it out of frustration than just pleasure.

But why was he given such a job anyway? I have a theory.

You see, throughout the movie, Hades is shown to be EXTREMELY powerful; he can conjure up anything he wants, controls and assembles monsters, frees the Titans, can teleport himself and others, has immense control of fire and smoke, and probably has a lot of other tricks up his sleeves. All Zeus is shown to do is rule others and control lightning bolts. So if he’s less powerful, how does he make sure HE gets all the power? By putting his rival in his place. By cosigning Hades to the Underworld, Zeus can secure his regime. And it’s not like Zeus sees Hades as a potential tyrant that he has to control; again, he was perfectly fine letting Hades come to his son’s first birthday.

I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that Hades is so damn likable in the movie and that, in the original myths, Hades wasn’t all that bad and ZEUS was the cause of most strife.

So yeah. I think the movie is less about some angry asshole wanting all the power just because; it’s about an angry asshole wanting all the power because of being mistreated for so long. He’s made to contrast Hercules, who has also been shunned but grew up to be good and pure despite all odds.

Am I saying that Hades is totally innocent? No. He made the choice to try to have an infant killed and put lots of people in danger just to get to Hercules. (Though I find it interesting that never once does Hades try to kill Hercules himself; even when Hercules is weakened, there’s nothing stopping Hades from just strangling him on the spot, but he never does…make what you will of that.) But I AM saying that all this could have been avoided if Hades was given a companion (beyond his bumbling minions and a woman who was coerced into being his servant). Someone who could genuinely help him out with his work so he had more freedom to move about and do things. Maybe someone to help liven up his living space. Someone who would appreciate him for who he is, but not take his shit. Someone who can rule the Underworld beside him. Someone like…Persephone, his wife from the original myths? Anything is possible…

Which Disney Character Should Be Q*eer?

WARNING: VERY, VERY, VERY, VERY HARSH FROZEN CRITICISM BELOW!

For a long time, people have been begging Disney to have a canonically LGBT/q*eer character (that wasn’t a sidekick or the villain) in one of their animated films. Considering how Disney is known for hiring LGB (not sure about the T) people for voice work and other behind-the-scenes work, it’s only fair that they should represent one on-screen as well.

For awhile, people wanted an original LGBT character, but now it seems that people want a pre-established character to be so.

Recently, people have been tweeting at Disney to make Elsa from Frozen LGBT (preferably a lesbian) in the sequel, with the hashtag #giveelsaagirlfriend.

And to be honest, I don’t think that hashtag is going to work.

See, the thing about Frozen is that it’s the epitome of safe. I’m sorry, but it is. The plot is simplistic, the dialogue is childish, it doesn’t delve deep into serious themes (like how Big Hero 6 dealt with the death of a loved one and how to cope with it, or how Zootopia dealt with societal prejudice, or how Tangled dealt with abusive relationships, to name just a few), the characterization isn’t that complex; even the animation and design looks really flat compared to other Disney films that came out recently. It’s not really ‘feminist’ because, for a movie about two sisters, Anna and Elsa aren’t happy together for most of the film, it has a muddled message on ‘not needing a man’ (when Anna hooks up with a boy who had to save her life a lot throughout the movie), and Elsa being single isn’t that revolutionary when we just had Merida the year before and Honey Lemon and Gogo the year after. It’s a safe, marketable movie meant to sell merch and make people happy. You notice how literally EVERYONE seems to relate to Elsa? It’s because she’s an empty shell; she has such scant characterization beyond being depressed and anxious and has things happen TO her (not making any real decisions by herself, beyond staying away from Anna because she feels that she’s too dangerous); and her powers as a metaphor is so vague it can be seen as a multitude of things, from mental illness to disability, to, yes, being q*eer. (The fact that she’s white and skinny and pretty helps a lot.)

So really, do you think Disney is going to risk losing money out of one of their biggest franchises by making Elsa a lesbian or otherwise q*eer? Probably not. Frozen is successful because it is basic; they can’t be TOO progressive with it. Elsa is simply too marketable for Disney to take risks with her. They’re taking advantage of the fact that she’s so relatable.

Besides which, I really, really hate how, if a woman is single in a Disney film, she HAS to be q*eer. Men can be single and no one will raise an eyebrow, but the minute a woman expresses how she doesn’t want to get married, suddenly she must not be straight. I have no problem with people headcanoning the heroines as having a different sexuality, but I don’t like how society as a whole sees single Disney women this way.

So, okay, maybe Disney should make one of their characters q*eer anyway. After all, shows like Steven Universe have been proven to be popular despite (or perhaps because) of their LGBT representation, Disney shouldn’t have to worry too much about backlash. But still, I think they’re going to do it with a character they’re allowed to take risks with. And who might such a character be?

This guy:

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Yes, Ralph.

Why do I say this? Well, for starters Wreck-It Ralph was a successful Disney movie that is (eventually) going to have a sequel, but hasn’t been marketed to death like Frozen has. So Disney is allowed to take a few risks with this character.

Secondly, Wreck-It Ralph, unlike Frozen, is VERY progressive and much more layered. I plan to do a separate post on it, but basically, Ralph is a man consigned to the role of a ‘bad guy’, and while he isn’t necessarily ‘pure’, and is a little rough around the edges, he still has a good heart, and would do anything for his friends (even die for them). He is an outcast, and it’s well established that people actually dislike him for who he is, and they have to overlook their prejudices and accept him. He rejects riches and living the good life, he’s fine having some recognition and friends. And, despite being big and burly, he’s actually very caring and sweet, not falling into a macho man stereotype. (Seriously, watch the movie. The differences between it and Frozen are like night and day.)  So not only is he a well written and unconventional character, why wouldn’t he be q*eer? It could certainly tie in with his narrative of a man taking life who had to deal with stigma and had to take life one game at a time very well.

I think Disney is allowed to be riskier with this movie, and Ralph is a fantastic, well-developed character that can pull it off. Granted I’m not sure if it WILL happen (and I think ultimately Disney should just make an original LGBT character), but I think WIR would be better for representation than Frozen.

I guess ultimately, we’ll have to see what will happen. Maybe Elsa WILL be revealed to be LGBT in the sequel and they’ll write her sexuality in effectively, who knows? But for now, I’m keeping my expectations really low, and I still think Ralph would be a better choice at any rate. But that’s just how I feel at any rate.

 

Bottom Five Least Fave “Feminist” Characters

For a lot of people, there are certain characters from certain media that resonate with them very strongly. They can personally identify with them, relate to them, or even feel empowered by them. This is the opposite. Don’t worry, I intend to do posts on the characters and movies I DO love, but I want to get this out of the way before it boils up inside me. So, here are five female (or in one case, femme) characters that are widely beloved, but I look at them and go “Oh, it’s that person”. Please note, if YOU like any of these characters or find personal empowerment from them, that’s great! More power to you! I won’t bother you! But for me, they just don’t personally click. They are:

Continue reading “Bottom Five Least Fave “Feminist” Characters”

The Greatest Short in Cartoon History

This is something you simply have to see to believe. You can find more context for this short on it’s Wikipedia page but you might have more fun without knowing it. This short proves that humanity hasn’t really changed in terms of what we find to be hilarious.

I think my fave two things are the surprising amount of degree and strength the female character is given (which I won’t spoil) and Dan Backslide’s inability to have an indoor voice.

The best part? This cartoon is in the public domain, which means we can do whatever we want with it. Go nuts with it! I’m sure Chuck Jones would’ve encouraged it.

Frozen (Alternative Version)

FROZEN CRITICISMS AHOY!

So, one of the many reasons why a lot of people don’t like Frozen (and no, nobody dislikes it because they’re hipsters, trust me on this) is because it has almost no connection to the original Snow Queen fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, beyond the fact that there’s a woman with ice powers who declares herself queen. I have my own problems with the movie (I could literally go on a five hour rant about it), but I can sympathize with that sentiment.

Every now and then, I think of alternative ways Frozen could’ve been written. One of my fave versions is to have made Elsa a literal monster (like the Beast combined with a Frost Giant) and Anna and Kristoff show her true love (both in the familiar and romantic sense, respectively) to help her unfreeze the kingdom and be accepted. But I don’t think Disney is ready to make an ugly/monstrous female protagonist just yet, unfortunately. So I try to think of a version that’s loyal to both the original fairy tale and that’s similar to the movie. And I think I may have found a version that does the trick.

In this version (which I’ll call The Frozen Queen), the Snow Queen is almost the same as she is in the original fairy tale; not the sister of a princess and heir to the human throne (I honestly have no idea why this was a concept in the first place), but a spirit of snow and ice. Maybe she was human long ago. Maybe she wasn’t. But she’s beautiful, graceful, elegant, and VERY powerful (and knows how to use her powers)…but also very lonely. Everybody fears her and won’t accept her.

Then, she notices the prince and princess of the kingdom, Kai and Gerda (yes, I know they were peasants in the original fairy tale, but hey, Disney needed their Princess, so this will have to do). She becomes jealous of how loving they are too each other and how strong their bond is, so she decides that this is the perfect opportunity to select an heir. She curses Kai with ice powers. While his grandmother is accepting, his parents are not. They forbid him to interact with his sister and isolate him, making sure no one ever knows of the secret. Gerda, who KNOWS about Kai’s power, is very sad, and hopes that one day they can be together.

Time passes. Kai is ready to ascend the throne after his parents die, but is so shaken up from years of isolation and abuse that he is unable to reconnect with his sister. This is the perfect opportunity for the Snow Queen to strike. She pierces his eyes and heart, which makes him freak out, think everyone is out to get him, and he freezes the kingdom and runs off.

He is soon on the mountaintop, where the Snow Queen takes him in. They sing a twisted duet of Let It Go together, where Kai expresses his freedom, while the Snow Queen expresses her control over him.

Gerda still believes in her brother. With the kingdom under her grandmother’s supervision, and with an entourage, she goes after her brother, but a storm breaks out. She gets lost from the entourage and collapses into the snow, but is rescued by the Robber Girl (from the original fairy tale). Despite the Robber Girl (who here I’ll call Krystal) being rather abrasive, the two still become friends, and set off to find the Prince with their talking animal friends (they existed in the original fairy tale, and hey, we need more merch).

The two make it to the mountain. Gerda almost manages to get through to her brother (her tears managing to heal his heart), but the Snow Queen, enraged, chases Gerda and Krystal away, freezing Gerda’s heart in the process.

Gerda and Krystal return to the kingdom in an effort to heal her, but nothing works. The kingdom is also freezing quickly. Kai, who knows how much Gerda loves him and realizes that he can be good, goes back to the kingdom to help her, but because his eyes are still unhealed, it’s hard to find her, to see properly, and he makes the situation worse. Gerda finds out that he’s returned and, despite growing weaker by the minute, comes to him. That’s when she sees the enraged Snow Queen ready to strike Kai, and she comes to his aid. She saves him, but freezes over. Kai sobs over his sister, healing his eyes, and then he realizes he must use his powers for good, and unfreezes the kingdom. That’s when she unfreezes. Because their love for one another was so strong, they saved each other.

The Snow Queen, realizing this, has her heart warmed. She apologizes; Kai and Gerda forgive her.

About a year passes. Kai is slowly getting better, with the help of his grandmother, sister, and their new friend, Krystal. Then winter comes and a gentle snowfall is bestowed upon them. Kai and Gerda acknowledge the Snow Queen’s presence, wondering if they’ll ever meet her again, but knowing it will be a much better, more loving encounter (leaving a sequel hook).

See, Elsa was originally going to be the villain, but John Lasseter, the executive producer, was all “hey, what if instead of being evil, she was just misunderstood?”, inspired by his diabetic son (and how awesome “Let It Go” was). I kept the theme here, but wanted to maintain the Snow Queen’s original role, and having her learn and apologize for hurting Kai and Gerda.

This is one (of the many) version(s) this movie could have gone that would’ve been both true to the original and unique for Disney. This is the basic bare bones of the plot, but let’s just say, I would have made major changes to the characterizations as well (mainly, not making Anna/Gerda a typical perky, bubbly princess, and not make Elsa/Kai not constantly go “oh but I can’t control it!” and actually actively do things to try to make the situation better).

I’m not really going to deconstruct why Frozen isn’t a good story about two sisters and how it’s NOT an empowering, feminist movie (that’s for a whole other post), but I will say that stories about female friendships and a brother/sister bond is just as important as a mother/daughter and sister/sister story.

So yeah, that’s my version of Frozen, but at this point Disney isn’t going to do anything like it. I just hope that, if Frozen 2 gets made, it will do justice to the original fairy tale. In the meantime, for people like me who are dissatisfied with the movie, there’s always the world of fandom.