The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Eating My Words on Wonder Woman

eat words

Oh, look at all these words. Oh… yum… gulp… so delicious… so meaty. So good… so good to eat… so scrumptious… I’ve never eaten words as good as this before. This is delicious. Scrumpf… glomp… chew… oh so good… so satisfying… filling…can’t get enough…

So in 2012, I wrote a blog about how we’d never see a Wonder Woman movie, or at least a good one. Let’s take a look at some of the points I made and why I was wrong.

“…to make Wonder Woman translate to today’s audiences, you would have to alter her so radically that she wouldn’t resemble Wonder Woman anymore. … Someone’s going to leave unhappy — either the fanboys or the casuals.” 

Well, what I didn’t count on was that the movie was going to make someone else happy — women. Not just geek women or romcom women or intellectual women. Just… women. They kept the character… mm, I hate to say it but “generic” enough so that everyone could project on to her. One tweet said “Is this why men watch superhero movies? Because I feel like taking on an army after seeing Wonder Woman.”

And why wouldn’t you be excited? How nice would it be to not be afraid of men? Someone who didn’t have to hold her keys in her fist walking through the parking lot, who doesn’t have some bald man staring at her on the subway, who can sit in a bar without some drunk stranger telling her to “smile more”. Wonder Woman doesn’t let anyone shut her down or interrupt her.

This is the flaw in DC movies — they try too hard to please everyone and rely too much on focus groups. Hence the movies are bland and messy and deviate too much from source characters (e.g. Suicide Squad, Man of Steel, Superman v. Batman). As a result, the movies have no flavor. They’re bland. As colorless as… as… well, as a DC movie (come on guys, you gotta do color correction!) Wonder Woman is not an exception. It’s as gray as a warfare first-person shooter. But it did the best it could. And one hopes that the Justice League, which has some characters who aren’t so grimdark (Aquaman, Flash), will pick up that slack too.

But my point is, they didn’t radically change Wonder Woman. In fact, they didn’t make much of her at all. Didn’t take any risks. Didn’t add any flavor. They didn’t change a McDonald’s hamburger recipe. She was built for a
task, she goes out to fulfill that task. No dead cancer mother or
alcoholism or past life as a criminal. She doesn’t have any flaws (being naive doesn’t count) that make her broken. In fact, her role is to nurture the broken — the Irish guy with PTSD and the Blackfoot exiled from his tribe. If Captain America is the father-figure of the Avengers, Wonder Woman is the mama lion of the Justice League.

“Wonder Woman is intrinsically bonded to its creators predilections towards bondage and female dominance. Wonder Woman is frequently shown either tying up criminals or being tied up.”

I had trouble separating the comic book from the character. For one thing, I think I wrote this around peak “but the comics were better” fanboyism. This was when The Dark Knight Rises, and The Amazing Spider-Man came out. Everyone else (I’m looking at you DC and Sony) screwed it up because they deviated too much from the source material. Batman couldn’t live up to The Dark Knight, and Spider-Man was receiving a too-soon reboot. Marvel planted its flag with The Avengers, but it still failed the Bechdel Test.

See up to this point, comic book movies always keeping women as sidekicks — Captain America: The Winter Soldier had Black Widow, Guardians of the Galaxy has Gamora, Thor has Jane, Iron Man has Pepper Potts. And being sidekicks, these women had little definition. Black Widow is “the spy”. Gamora is the “warrior-princess”. Pepper Potts is the sassy secretary. These are not characters, they’re archetypes. When you make a main character that character has to be “broken” in some way. And if you make a woman broken, you get flak saying “how dare you represent all women as [this condition]”.

Wonder Woman fights no criminals, pursues no bad guys. The movie is about World War I and takes a few pages from Apocalypse Now, traveling from the bureaucratic offices to the front lines. But where that storyline became darker and darker, Wonder Woman gives hope. Hope that, with courage and friends, you can take on anyone.

The concept of binding or being bound within the film is removed completely. There are no games and no rope play. Wonder Woman herself is never bound (in the comics, that’s her one weakness, so it’s surprising that doesn’t make it in). Moulston might not approve of the film, but he’s not here. And the world’s moved past that kind of Wonder Woman. Yes, it does stray from her original spirit, but it changes her character for the better.

“How would you even start the story?”

They did it the best way — simply. They left only the basics. Not too many characters get shoved into foreground because once Diana leaves the island, we never see them again. We stay on Wonder Woman the whole time. Even when we have to deviate with some backstory narration, it takes the form of her bedtime story.

“The problem is there’s a stigma around Amazons.”

wonder woman movie supporting cast
The right way
woman bodybuilder muscles
The wrong way

I worried that characters would become “entitled, bitchy woman with more masculinity than femininity who can’t form social relationships”. The concept is that this secret island holds Zeus’s ripping cool army just in case he ever needs it again. This avoids turning into a land of man-haters (because they’ve worked with men in the past). It also helps that the set and costume design comes from women. They knew how to make feminine warriors without being booblicious.

As far as Diana’s concerned, there’s a little of the “born sexy yesterday” trope. But her character’s development is more about the transition from classic-style honor-fighting to modern warfare. But she still likes babies and ice cream. She doesn’t have the mind of a child so she can hold a conversation without sounding like Sally from Third Rock From the Sun (not that I don’t hold respect for that character, but she was played for laughs). I saw a bit of Bones in her, but not in a disdainful way.

“The first thing you’d have to do is totally revamp the costume.” 

They did, but not very much. For one thing, you don’t see the costume until her iconic charge out of the trench. Until then, it’s cloaks and robes. After the big reveal, you can see they kept the color scheme, but made it grayed out metal.

There’s no explanation for WHY she’s wearing it, and that bothers me. In the plot, she stole some armor from the Themyscira vaults, but it has no context, nor explanation why it looks different from everyone else’s. But this movie’s made me pay more attention to the beauty of the outfits than all movies I’ve seen in the past thirty-six years (I’m 36) combined. They even manage to have a costume montage in the middle. But its more about where she can store her sword, not what’s tantalizing.

Still the best dressing montage there is.

“The biggest problem with Wonder Woman is that her weapons and tools just don’t make sense. … First, [the lasso of truth is] not a very exciting power. Second, it becomes a deus ex machina.”

There is actually surprisingly little of Wonder Woman wielding her signature weapon. She uses the sword, shield, and bracelets more. The few times she does use it is either for interrogation (and he is barely tied up) or as a whip. The plot doesn’t demand that she use it either. At the time, I was thinking of plots like The Winter Soldier or Iron Man 3 that are full of deception and intrigue. But more to the point, she IS the weapon. She’s personified defense and offense, not strategy or intelligence (in the spy sense) or moral relativism or power through any means other than selflessness. Also, no silly invisible plane.

“[G]olden bracelets that can stop bullets. … The only things they could block are tiny cocktail swords. … [Y]our wrist bones would shatter as soon as a bullet hit.”

The bracelets are glossed over in the plot. I believe in the comics they’re formed of the shield of Aegis, which is like DC-adamantium. But she does use them and somehow has the reflexes to stop an incoming bullet. Is that explained? No. Her powers are kept ambiguous, which is a disadvantage because it makes her overpowered. They don’t even explain why she doesn’t age. I wouldn’t be surprised if some audience members thought her “god killer” power was the bracelets instead of within herself.

“[F]our words: aim for the legs. The well-exposed legs.”

This still stands, but it’s a problem among many movies. It happens several times to Captain America and no one bats an eye, so I guess we’re all agreeing to ignore it? Rule of cool?

“Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman had the screwed-up relationship of “I Dream of Jeannie”. Wonder Woman’s got all this power and ability, yet she feels incomplete without him.”

In this movie, Wonder Woman absolutely does not NEED Steve Trevor. Well, she does NEED him, in the sense that he’s her liaison into the world of men. But if she got a map to the front or some notes on how British government works, she’d be fine on her own. This is probably the biggest deviation from the comics, but also the most welcome. And it would have been the easiest pit to fall into.

Diana does not have a romance with Steve and Steve doesn’t treat Diana as anything but a peer. A fellow soldier and a means to an end. They both want to end the war. Steve doesn’t necessarily believe in this Ares nonsense, but he’s seen her take on a boat full of Nazis, so he’s got the proof and the pudding.

“Etta Candy? Who is she supposed to be? Comic relief? Is she like the Theodore of this triumvirate?”

Etta Candy is a pleasant cameo, but little more. She’s really the only other woman in the cast who’s not a Themysciran action figure. And they give her dignity. She’s not food-obsessed or man-obsessed. They did her right by not giving her a stereotype or archetype. She doesn’t have a “thing”, unless you count being delightfully British.

“[T]he biggest problem with the supporting characters is that Wonder Woman has no memorable villains.”

I think this still stands. I could see the Ares thing a mile a way and General Thunderbolt is just another Red Skull/Bane/Popeye pastiche taking Super Serum (don’t you know you never get high off your own stash?) The same thing happens in the first Thor, the first Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, and the first Spider-Man. But it does avoid the “designated girl fight” and doesn’t go on too long. Dr. Poison was the most interesting (I imagined her like Dr. Tenenbaum from Bioshock) and it’s a shame she got such an uninteresting ending. But we got thrown cars and explosions, so how much can you complain about it?

Final thoughts: Yes, thumbs-up. I am bullish on Wonder Woman stock. I really hope this gets directors and producers to realize that yes, women-led movies, both in front and behind the camera, can make money. And even better, they make good art.

The Books I Read: September – October 2013

bookshelf books

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

Jim C. Hines is good at set dressing, but less so with character + plot combos. I wish I could come up with overall ideas like him, but that’s about all I wish for.  The story, like his other stories, are very linear and take all place in the immediate present with little thought to backstory or contemplation. I feel like his characters don’t drive the plot, events do. And the result is I don’t have much sense of character. No sense that this matters to the character personally, only immediately.

So there’s no literary devices, no foreshadowing, no flashbacks, no Easter eggs, no moments where the character sits and talks. I could read the last 25% without needing to know the first 75%. The character maintains his personality from beginning to end, like an action movie. And I don’t read books for action. This was part of my problem with the Uglies books. I don’t like reading descriptions of car chases and shoot-outs. I like plot turns and character revelations. That’s what drives a book, IMHO.

I don’t like the books, but I like the man.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

This is one of the few classic sci-fis I’ve read that kept me motivated. I think it was the Canterbury Tales style of story-telling. You had a nice linking frame, and each story exists in a digestible form. And the character’s problems are interesting and diverse, so it’s like a nice multi-course meal.

The problem is the world-building contains zero infodumping, so it’s difficult to gain what is going on in the complex world. Lot of chess pieces moving. Especially with the classic sci-fi vocabulary influx. And there’s no ending. There’s nine people going on a religious pilgrimage where one of them gets a wish and the others get dead and no one knows how or why. And you don’t write an ending to that? You spend one book with character development, like a prelude? And now I’ve got to read the next book? Blasphemy!

Tigerheart by Peter David

A re-read to get ready for the sequel. I didn’t even know there was going to be one until it showed up on Peter David’s Twitter. My original review stands, but for the second time around, I got a bigger appreciation for the writing style, the world, and that I know a little more about Peter Pan now. What the changes he made. Plus I can appreciate all the foreshadowing and mystery placed in the beginning of the novel.

Elements of Fiction Writing: Scene & Structure by Jack Bickham

This book is twenty years old and it’s showing its age. Bickham spends a large portion of the message dedicated to slowing a story down. I’ve never heard of doing that. That’s not a problem these days.

This is a good book for those people who have read other books on writing, and are looking for more advanced techniques or more specific approaches. More than the simple “show, don’t tell” and “don’t use adverbs”. This books takes more detail into the “kill your darlings” message and how to structure a novel piece-by-piece, scene by scene. This book breaks it down to its molecules and restructures it back up.

The problem was I kept drifting off in the middle. Maybe the book was too detailed? Maybe it was trying to give too much information, too specific. The entire last chapter is a formula/outline for a novel, with things like “the main character attempts to solve his problem here but ends in disaster” or “POV of the romantic interest, the thing stopping her gets bigger” and “this chapter is where the good guy lays it all on the line”. At that point, if you write every novel this way, don’t you lose the spontaneity of the story? Doesn’t it restrict the craft?

Cycler by Lauren MacLaughlin

This one may have been the longest on my “to-read” list. All I knew was that it was about a girl who turns into a boy for five days every menstrual cycle. I was expecting a different story, one about girls versus boys. Differences between masculine and feminine. Today’s societal issues. I thought it was going to offer some enlightenment and insight into how we treat each other based on gender. But this is more like a comic novel.

The girl is obsessed with prom. Right off the bat, I was disappointed. How shallow can you get, starting with a girl who has this gift that provides incredible perspective on a giant issue in high school. And all she cares about is the most asinine thing secondary education has to offer. I really couldn’t tell you one more thing she’s interested in besides prom.

And when she’s a boy, they trap him/her in his/her room for five days, where he has his own fridge and porn. There is no plot in this story until halfway through, when the boy decides he’s in love with his/her girl-ego’s buxom best friend. Not to mention the unresolved storylines, like her family’s dynamic with a mom and dad who are living separate lives in the same house. And that she doesn’t tell her two best friends her secret until the very last line. Dude! That is not where you end your novel, that’s where you end your first act!

There’s a fantastic commentary locked in this story concept and it’s wasted on petty YA junk like making plans for how to flirt with boys and shallow stereotypes and the importance of popularity. It focuses on what some Hollywood executive thinks are problems.

Fearless by Peter & Caroline David

When Tigerheart ended, the main character came back with a baby sister. This book is about that sister and how, in a feat typical of this fantasy-adventure children’s literature, cannot feel fear (hence the title). Mary grows up quite precociously (as one would expect from a fearless child) and has a great imagination and a best friend to share it. But one day, her friend’s imagination runs away, and Mary must use her refrigerator box to find it.

Where Tigerheart evokes Peter Pan (and quite obviously), this one evokes The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland or The Phantom Tollbooth or Labyrinth, but without direct parallels. I like that David made it a new character’s story (you could read this if you haven’t read Tigerheart). There are a few mystical companions, dangers both supernatural and political, divergence from the main story that never goes too far.

It’s nice to see a mostly-female cast that doesn’t make a big deal out of it. The characters are fun, and the narrative retains the same charm and cleverness that Peter David is known for. My one beef with it is that it doesn’t stray too far out of the boundaries of “children’s adventure” tropes or push its limits.

But you know? The thing is they don’t make novels like this anymore. All children’s literature these days is YA Vampire Academy and Harry Potter knock-offs. No one has an adventure anymore.  Bless Peter David for making a novel like this.  If you like any of the classic works that I mentioned above, you will like this book.

The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher

This book was different than I expected. The style feels like a film noir, with short sentences, an investigation, a troubled personal life. It reminds me that I need to work on my own style, updating it to be sharper and shorter.

The book is about what happens after someone’s best friend commits suicide after being slut-shamed into a pariah. The main character starts investigating how this came to be and starts uncovering some dark secrets about the people in her high school.

But that’s just the hook. This book invokes just about every after-school special trope — monstrous teens, the too-smart bitch, the attention whore, the handsome sex-crazed jock, cheerleaders, gay/not gay, date rape, the wild teen party, climbing through a bedroom window to see your girl, “Dude, she’s like in a coma”, defiled forever, driven to suicide, rape leads to insanity, self-harm, sneaking alcohol in high school, “secretly a lesbian”, divorced parents, secret molestation, overly Christian parents, the big reveal, and of course, slut shaming and finishes with a decoy protagonist/killer in me combo.

I’m not trying to say a story with lots of tropes is bad. All stories have them. But the problem is that all these tropes are front and center. Like a Lifetime movie.  They’re all part of the plot turns and revelations. Which means that the characters herein are stereotypes, much like I talked about with Speak and Cycler. My beef is that it keeps painting high school with the same brush that all movies and YA books paint it with. Like how no one has academics to worry about. How does the main character get all this “investigating” done? Between passing times?

Don’t get me wrong, I like this book, but it’s controversial simply because the characters demand it.  To the point of being ridiculously implausible. One of the characters is gay.  So gay he wears a skirt to school.  And of course, the jocks beat him up for it.  But then he tells the main character he’s not gay, he’s just acting like it.  Because… reasons?

I was fooled by the summary in its Big Idea piece. I thought this was going to be a book about a girl going vigilante revenge for her friend who got slut-shamed into suicide, and then the revenge starts to consume her, where she couldn’t stop. That is most definitely not this book. This book is much like the high schoolers it’s portraying — a hot mess.

It did keep me reading. It was a completely acceptable story with a great style. It’s powerful. But it’s trying to be a ‘super YA novel’. It simply has too many ingredients, like a hamburger with forty things in it. You don’t need that many to make a good hamburger. Too much stuff, and it becomes too rich to digest.

Get Your Hands Off Bradley Manning’s Pronouns!

ask about my pronoun preference button

In this, I am afraid of saying something wrong and misogynist and insensitive, but I have too much conviction on this.

So the big news this Wikileaks trial concluded with this thing out of left field that Bradley Manning wants to be Chelsea Manning. He wants to be a girl, and identified as such. And all I can think is this:

It’s a ridiculous turn of events, to be sure. Unexpected to say the least. But the aftermath of it is that journalists and press have to decide how to react.  Whether to refer to Bradley Manning as Chelsea Manning, and him as her and he as she. Because he says he’s a woman.  NPR in particular came under the gun by choosing to stick to its style guidelines.

I try to be sensitive. I try to think about the perspective of the other person. I think of what I would do if my daughter came to me with the same problem. I’m pretty sure one of my co-workers was not always a woman, but she’s awesome to work with, and I don’t care one whit about her personal past/identity. I believe in LGBT rights, but it’s usually the G and L that get the attention. I have no problem with anything they want to do, as long as it doesn’t affect me.

But now this affects me.  It results in Bradley Manning wanting people to change the rules just for him. And what bothers me is that my favorite sci-fi authors are crying “No! You must respect his… I mean, her wishes. Lo, that we had a pronoun to refer to the trans of gendered. Don’t be ignorant and disrespectful to these people. Don’t deliberately disregard someone’s preferences.” And arguments with sci-fi authors never end in changed minds.

“I am Chelsea. I am a female.” If you want to believe that, that’s fine, but now you’re insisting that I change the rules of grammar and diction for you. That’s like forcing everyone in a school not to eat peanuts because one kid is allergic. Why do we all have to change? Why do we all have to suffer because of one person?

If English scholars want to introduce some new pronoun to describe these people, go ahead. I’ll use it. But the fact is, we don’t. The dictionary translates “he” as meaning “the male one”. Male means “a man or boy” or “an individual that produces motile gametes (i.e. sperm) that fertilize the eggs of a female”. Seems cut and dried there. “He” refers to boys. Boys produce sperm. Bradley Manning produces sperm. Therefore, he’s a he.

Once he undergoes surgery and gets the lady parts, I have no problem referring to him as a her. Even though she won’t strictly adhere to the definitions set herein.  I do believe that transgender people have a lot of shit they have to eat.  They suffer tremendous in lieu of our straight, white male privilege.  But sympathy doesn’t solve a problem.

Think about this scenario. A man goes to the DMV and fills out his application for a license. The associate looks at it.

DMV ASSOCIATE: Uh, it says here that you wrote down blond hair.
APPLICANT: That’s right.
DMV ASSOCIATE: But you have brown hair.
APPLICANT: Yes, but I identify as a blond-haired person.
DMV ASSOCIATE: Do you mean you dye your hair? Is blond your natural color?
APPLICANT: No, this is. But I feel like a blond-haired person.
DMV ASSOCIATE: Uh-huh. But you have brown hair.
APPLICANT: I look like I have brown hair, but I’m really blond-haired.
DMV ASSOCIATE: Uh-huh. Do you know it’s illegal to lie on a license application? A government document?
APPLICANT: I’m not lying. I really have blond hair. I feel like I have blond hair, but I was born with brown hair.
DMV ASSOCIATE: And that people are going to use your license to identify you, and when it says you have blond hair despite you physically not, what do you expect to happen?
APPLICANT: I expect… I expect, well, uh…

I believed NPR was right, and it’s a shame they changed their mind so quickly in the cavalcade of negative responses. In journalism, you do have to think about more than the subject’s personal preferences. You have to think about your audience, your copy editors. Everyone knows who C. Montgomery Burns is, but if you start calling him Charles Burns, A) no one’s going to know who you’re talking about, which damages your magazine’s readability B) you’re going to get a hundred complaints and letters from the audience telling you you’re wrong or made a typo, which loses you reputation and readership.

Or imagine this scenario: a man picking up someone at the airport. He’s carrying a sign for JOHNSON, a well-publicized figure. But the driver does not know what he looks like, save a written description from his dispatcher. He approaches someone who seems to be looking for his driver.

LIMO DRIVER: Excuse me, I’m looking for Johnson. Have you seen him? He’s about 5’10”, male.
JOHNSON: That’s me!
LIMO DRIVER: No, no, I’m looking for someone with blond hair.  You have brown hair.
JOHNSON: That’s me. I have brown hair, but I really have blond hair.
LIMO DRIVER: Oh, you color your hair.
JOHNSON: No. See? No roots. I’m just a blond-haired person in a brown-haired person’s body.
LIMO DRIVER: And I think you are either crazy or lying. Goodbye.
JOHNSON: No wait, I’m Johnson! I’m really Johnson.
LIMO DRIVER: You can say whatever you want. I know what I’m looking for.

I know that biology is complicated. Hank Green explains how it is.

Assuming this is fact, that means there are potentially five factors leading to someone’s sexuality. Assuming three options available (male, female, both) for each of those, that’s, like 35 combinations, or 243 variations! (I’m sure my math is bad. But whatever the correction is, it’s a lot). You cannot possible retain that many pronouns to refer to someone.  The point of grammar rules is to clear confusion.

Jim C. Hines makes the argument that his legal name is James, but he prefers to be called Jim. But people with nicknames get called both, don’t they? If you get in a huff about it each time, it’s going to be a long life. Besides, there are established rules for this instance: one is a formal name, one is a familiar name. On legal documents, does he cross out every instance of James and replace it with Jim?

And moreover, he didn’t get to choose the name James in the first place. None of us get to choose the name we’re born with. Oh, sure, you can change later in life… if you want to put up with all the legal documents, fees, and correcting everyone for the rest of your life. But if you just spontaneously started saying “No, my name’s Rolando” when your nametag, license, letters from the post office, bills, all say James, see what happens. Let me know how that goes.

Maybe I don’t want you to use the word “dickish”, because that implies all people with dicks are bad people. Again, let me know how my personal request goes. I’m sure you’re dying to fulfill it.

I’m not saying people should be prevented from changing their names (or other things) but don’t expect the world to change for you, for something you’ve been one way for years and now want change identities. At least not until you’ve taken the action to make it a permanent and consistent.

Yes, it should be this difficult. The point of these rules is to clear confusion. It’s not based on personal preference. You don’t get to declare your own rules for yourself, and tell everyone to follow them. Language is not as simple as “I prefer to be called this”. It’s not a name, it’s a pronoun. A pointer.

It’s like in programming language. If I write String foo = new Integer(“123”);, that’s going to confuse a lot of coders, (assuming it compiles). Not to mention it goes against the intended function of those objects. It’s not only confusing, but at its heart, wrong.

We all want to be something we’re not. I’m not saying that gender reassignment people are sick or crazy. Frankly, I have no idea what they are (and now we come to the part that gets me yelled at). The concept seems weird to me. It’s one thing to be a boy and identify with girl things. It’s another to try and make your body conform to that. If a person feels like they are a one-armed person born inside a two-armed body and wants to amputate his/her arm (which is a real thing) we don’t say “good for you”, we say “you need help” So why is it different with a penis?

(Also, I discovered there’s Species dysmorphia which is a whole kettle of fish I’m not going into)

If, after he goes under gender reassignment, and gets resized, I have no problem referring to Bradley Manning as Chelsea Manning, and he as a she. But think about yourself, how often do you really get to determine what you’re called?  Did Billy the Kid?  Did Che Guevara?  Look up what Pocahontas really means.

Other Reading
The thing that started it all
NPR takes their stand
Jim C. Hines’s article. I still love you, Jim, but I disagree with you on this topic.
NY Times article on the hoopla
Germany says you can call your baby’s gender “undetermined”. Not sure if that means “does not matter” or “wait and see”.
NPR changes their mind

P.S. To those people who are sad and think it’s ridiculous that the government won’t pay for his gender reassignment surgery, honestly. It’s not like he needs it because it threatens his quality of life. It’s not a life-threatening disease or a prosthetic arm. It’s a voluntary surgical procedure, time-consuming, and expensive. And I’d rather not have my taxes pay for it.

Fraggle Gender

karen prell red fraggle

I was going to write an article about Red Fraggle: Early Feminist Icon. I got inspired after learning that the animator for Wheatley from Portal 2 is Red Fraggle’s puppeteer, which blew my mind. I grew up watching this person as a five-year-old as a muppeteer then 30 years later I’m playing a video game using this superbly designed character, and its the SAME PERSON. It’s like Kristin Prell’s been there all my life. It’s especially impressive when you learn how much she could do with just an eyeball.

You know how everyone thinks Rainbow Dash is best pony? Red Fraggle was there first. She was performing the stunts, showing off, crippled by self-doubt. She’s energetic, athletic, competitive (especially with Gobo), insecure, and boasty. Sound familiar? She doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She wants to have fun (like all fraggles). She doesn’t do flower-arranging, being in tune with nature, being motherly. We have Mokey for that. Her fun comes from not capitulating to the roles set by her gender.

Then I started thinking, “Wait, do fraggles even have gender?”  Fraggles have no sex. They don’t mate. They don’t have genitalia. They don’t engage in male-female romantic relationships. They don’t reproduce. Red has qualities that we recognize as a girl — she has pig tails, she has a high voice, she’s operated by a female, so it seems clear the production meant to portray her as such.

On further research, there’s actually very little knowledge about how fraggles are created. One episode implied they were hatched, but in another they don’t recognize an egg. In the “Weekly Reader” book “The Legend of the Doozer Who Didn’t“, a lazy doozer grows into a fraggle (what a tweest!), which means fraggles come from aberrant (perhaps genetically) doozers. However, this book is not canon. And it sounds more like a cautionary tale to scare young doozers. And now I’m wondering where doozers come from, because they DO have babies.

But I digress. Assuming that fraggles are sexless, does that make them genderless? According to our definition, no, because gender is the range of characteristics from masculine to feminine. Here, Hank Green can explain better.

This brings up more interesting questions than Red Fraggle being awesome. How does this apply to fraggles?  Can you have gender identity without starting with sex? There’s no binary spectrum to identify with — no male qualities or female qualities. Do fraggles recognize “boy” and “girl”? Because they use “she” and “he” pronouns. Do fraggles love? They have friendship love, but not romantic love. I guess the closest thing they have is “gender roles”, which somehow exist despite having no sex, romance, or offspring to care for.

The other thing to keep in mind is that fraggles aren’t real. They’re puppets, created for a kid’s show. Which means I have spent way too much time thinking about this already, and I should get back to work.

Also, side note. As a kid, I was scared to death of the poison cackler.

poison cackler