Category: Cartoons


Happy Halloween, Everyone!

Today is Halloween, one of the most awesome and cool holidays in the entire year. Unfortunately, I had classes today, so I had to celebrate one day earlier. I had a small party/movie night with my friend Miss Magic Girl. I dressed up this year and went as Scarecrow, the batman villain. My costume was a bit of a mixture of the “Batman Begins” version as well as the re-designed version from “Batman: the animated series”.

I wore my own home-made burlap mask! Here’s some lovely photos:

Since I love all versions of the batman villain Scarecrow, here’s a hilarious clip of the “Batman: the animated series” version, voiced by Henry Polic II. In this scene, the villain has just been re-captured and sent to the insane asylum Arkham Asylum, where he shows off his craziest side, while also having his “Pet The Dog”-moment:

And for Halloween, here’s a video that has the lyrics (but no pictures, sorry for that! Found this on Youtube so…) to Black Sabbath’s song “NIB”, the best song about the devil there is!:

And “Our Favorite Martians” song, “Club Villain”:

And for one hell of a scary visual experience, here’s music video to Marilyn Manson’s song “The Beautiful People” (contains highly disturbing images):

Out of curiosity, what did you guys do on Halloween? Did you dress up? Who/what did you dress up as?

Take Care!/ Maaretta

“Family Guy” is a pretty unique animated show that awakes many different emotions in me– some very good, some very bad. The show is a true, surrealistic rollercoaster. I enjoyed the shows first couple of seasons, but honestly have hated the last couple of seasons, due to repetitive nasty hits at overweight women and badly written characters. I digress though.

The series centers on the Family Griffith, who is contain of Peter, the usually dimwitted, politically incorrect, child-like, and spiteful main star, his phenomenally beautiful wife Lois, and their three children. The oldest is the outcast, brutally bullied teenage daughter Meg, the early teen Chris who like his father is a bit slow, and the evil genius infant Stewie. The family also has, of course, a pet: the talking, wise human-like dog Brian, who this post will be about.

Brian, despite being the pet of the family, functioned as the voice of reason for the earlier years of the show. He was portrayed as a liberal, reasonable and unhappily in love with Lois as well as a bit of a drinker, though intermittently. Brian was shown on several occasions as being critical of religion, but it wasn’t until the seventh season, in the episode “Not all dogs go to heaven”, when the series finally “outed” Brian as an atheist. In the Episode, Brian, due to Meg’s sudden conversion to Christianity and attempt push to bring Brian into the “flock” of her church (and their form of Christianity), gently laughs and states: “You’re barking up the wrong tree, Meg. I’m an atheist”. When watching this episode, I was at first blush overjoyed at first at this radical act (seeing how being non-religious is still taboo on TV), but then began to reconsider what this act would mean and my first hesitations seem born out after the show’s recent episodes featuring Brian as the main protagonist which show character flaws wildly out of synch even for this genre. I cannot but wonder: is Brian really a positive portrayal of atheism? Or does his character just re-enforce negative stereotypes or images of us non-believers?

***Spoilers may be below!***

Let’s first look at how the writers of “Family Guy” talk about the experience of being an atheist in the States. “Not all dogs go to heaven” was a brilliant episode in this case, showing all the prejudice Brian meets after Meg gossips to the whole town about his atheism. Brian is not allowed to go to from such divergent venues as liquor stores to libraries, and is ridiculed on TV for being “worse than Hitler”. Admittedly, some of the discrimination may seem exaggerated; however there is something unsettlingly true in the depiction as well. To some religious folks, not believing in god is the worst possible sin, making us even worse than serial killers or mass murderers (especially if the criminals happen to believe in god). This is a pretty extreme belief and actively held by some, and which is portrayed comically in “Family Guy” when the intensely religious News-People announce Brian to be by far worse than Hitler.

Brian also gets brutally (yet only verbally) attacked by Lois and Peter after his confession. Lois states: “We believe in god in this family!” which showed how sometimes even people close to non-believers can be unsympathetic and dismissive to a theoretical structure struggled to be achieved. Brian gives even in to this pressure to “believe” temporarily, pretending to have “found god”, since he can’t take the peer pressure. But after witnessing Meg burning books about science (since she feels they are contrary to the “statements of God”) Brian gives a harsh talk to Meg, crushing her belief. The speech is devastating to Meg, since Brian points out some painful things to Meg about her life and how that is really what has spawned her beliefs. To this Brian then gives a more hopeful, comforting speech. The whole episode, in my opinion, is a perfect way of telling not only what it can sometimes feel like to be an atheist, as one can in a cartoon, but also is good in showing that Brian is a caring person, crushing the stereotype of the heartless cold atheist.

Meg trying to convert Brian

Brian was portrayed in a positive light during most of the output of the show. He had his flaws, but always came through with reason, compassion, and self-reflection underlying his thoughts and actions. It was in Season Eight where Brian started to become decidedly more odd and began a run of doing questionable things with little intellectual nuance or moral underpinnings. Take as an example of this the Episode “Brian writes a bestseller”, from Season Nine. In this episode Brian is depressed over his published novel doing so poorly, stating to Stewie that only trash literature and phony self-help books make it big. To prove his point he writes one himself and publishes it. It becomes a bestseller, making Brian famous and rich, sweaping him away to the hinterlands of fame, recognition and media adulation, and making him along the way into an arrogant, megalomaniac and mean spirited person. He comes to treat those around him as mere props to his existence (including Stewie who has facilitated his empty rise) and who seem to be considered by him now mere objects to satisfy his random and arbitrary desires. In particular harsh scenes, Brian is shown yelling at Stewie and verbally abusing him for anything that annoys him. This, in a number of painful scenes brings Stewie to tears and self doubt over his supposed lack of abilities to gratify the chance cravings of Brian.

The episode’s climax comes when Brian is invited onto “Real Time with Bill Maher”, a real show hosted by one of Americas most famous non-believers. Maher trashes the book heavily, making Brian confess that he wrote the best seller in a day, and that he doesn’t really believe in anything written in the book. Maher then tells Brian that he is the lowest of the low, since if one is going to bullshit; they should have the “honesty to stand by their bullshit”. Brian, coming somewhat back to his normal self after the harsh critique returns home where he talks a little to Stewie saying that he knows the book was dumb and his behavior inappropriate in extreme.
However, even at this point of the narrative – where a reasonable lesson has been learn and self-reflection is re-imposed by the awareness of the emptiness of his fame – Brian openly admits he will not apologize to Stewie for mistreating him. Here Brian is made into a truly horrible person, who not only doesn’t apologize after treating someone so poorly, but also a person who is actually so arrogant he refuses to learn from mistakes.

Brian at this juncture of the show (and others which are embed in these later seasons, and which can be recounted, but will merely “add” to the direction being taken in this case episode presented here) is made into such a terrible person that it is quiet imperative to reconsidered whether it is good his character is one of the few out-ted atheist characters on TV or not. Since there are so few atheist protagonists around, it is important that at least some of the more famous ones would not strengthen the stereotype that we’re morally-vacuous, empty-elitists, and intellectually-devious self-gratifies which no genuine concern for others beyond the narrowest of evil self-interest who wish to contaminate and spoil. Brian, in this episode, in bodied the stereotype to a max.

Brian was also shown to perhaps not truly stand for any of the opinions he’s expressed in the show, since he abandoned them all in the episode “Excellence in Broadcasting”. Brian, in the episode, becomes a republican and so conservative, he actually tries to go and waterboard – torture – a Democrat (the” supposedly” more left-leaning, worker-supporting party in the United States). Lois pinpoints in the episode that Brian has a need to go against the stream, to always have the more “unpopular” opinion. If that is the case, and Brian really gets all his opinions that way, does that mean he is only an atheist since they are a minority? Not only does this make Brian seem childish, but makes everything he said in previous episodes unimportant. So it is impossible to take his atheism seriously.

There was also the misfortune of Brian actually trying to force Lois to kiss him (maybe even more) in “Play it again, Brian”, a episode from season six. This act of creepiness and slight (though significant) violence towards a woman was before he was outed as an atheist (in a later season), which in a way makes him a lost case as a “model” for an acceptable and representative non-believer from the start.

I want to like Brian’s character. Aside from Dr. House from “House” (who is a total stereotype of the mean, miserable atheist) and Dr. Temperance Brennan from “Bones”, Brian is one of the most mainstream portrayals of atheist in popular culture. Yet his character was made so completely unlikeable and unreliable in the later seasons of the show, it feels like a disfavor for non-religious people that Brian was ever made a openly atheist character.
Seth Macfarlane, the creator of “Family Guy” and voice talent of Brian, also made his other characters, Haylee Smith and Roger the alien from “American Dad!”, atheist. But even these characters don’t really do much for the atheist community. Haylee is bland and hardly does anything memorable, and Roger is a sociopath who seems able to be anything which can temporary satisfaction.

What is lacking from popular culture is an atheist character that is portrayed as likeable. Few Medias have done this.
Daria Morgendorffer, from the animated series “Daria”, was done well, and somewhat outed as an atheist in the last season. Also Mal from “Firefly” was a good atheist character: anti-hero who despite some flaws was a good person. However, these shows have been cancelled or are off the air now. I was hopeful Brian would be the next Daria or Mal, but no such luck. Seems like we atheists have to wait a little longer for a more positive depiction.

Cartoons used to be just for kids, but in wake of Matt Groening’s landmark creation of “The Simpsons”, cartoons took an interesting twist: some cartoons came to be made solely for the adult audience. Since the popular recognition of the Simpsons cartoons as broadcast series have gone thought the gambit of issues from raunchy political incorrectness to slice-of-life portrayals of “the common people” and their families.

Yet what is of most intriguing issue to me, is when these series tackle the questions of gender, the place and oppressions of women, or just begun to look at the issues or questions of rights which circulate around the feminist complex.

In this post I will discuss some of my favorite cartoons episodes that (may) be feminist.

“Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy” from “The Simpsons” (aired 1994) – Let’s start with a real classic, shall we? This is one of the very, very few episodes from “The Simpsons” which deals with gender, as well as one of the few which actually raises feminist issues. It starts with Lisa, the 8 year old daughter in the Simpson family, buying the newest talking Malibu Stacy doll (a fictional satirical doll based on “Barbie”). Excited, the young girl “gathers” all her other dolls to hear the astonishing first words of the talking Malibu Stacy… only to hear the doll say, “I wish they taught shopping in school”, followed by the doll claiming one should not ask her anything, she’s “just a girl”.

Lisa, disgusted at the sexist and demeaning message of her new doll, devotes herself to stop the production of such dolls. She visits the company to express her feelings, explicitly states to her friends that the things Malibu Stacy says are sexist, and tracks down the inventor of the original doll, Stacy Lowell (Voiced by the great Kathleen Turner). Together with Stacy, Lisa starts to make her own talking doll, hoping to make a more feminist toy for girls. The episode was a direct critic of Mattel’s Teen Talk Barbie, a toy that appeared in the 90’s, which was criticized for enforcing shameful stereotypes of women. However, “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” can also be seen as an attack on dolls that are marketed to little girls on a whole. As Lisa points out in the episode, girls learn through such toys to be shallow and center their lives around looking pretty and landing a man. Lisa bravely fights for change, demanding a better role model for girls, advocating for women’s right and hoping to teach young girls to be more than empty vessels.

“Breast Cancer Show Ever” from “South Park” (aired 2008) – This episode is entirely about female empowerment, pure and simple. The plot centers 9-year old Wendy, who attempts to raise awareness of Breast Cancer by doing a presentation on the subject in class. She is rudely mocked and interrupted by her classmate Eric Cartman’s* sexist and taunting remarks. Wendy enraged by the callousness of Cartman to the plight of this disease (and its victims) challenges him to fight. This episode is a remarkable depiction of a strong girl standing up against, and calling out, sexism. Cartman is portrayed in this episode as a typical sexist bully: he acts tough and is a loud-mouth, but in actuality is a coward. Wendy is also shown to be quite alone in her battle against Cartman, with little sympathy from her parents (mostly due to Cartmans manipulation). But near the end, there is one adult woman who encourages Wendy to fight the “cancer”, giving a rarely shown positive portrayal of women supporting each other. Even in the fictional world of South Park, Sisterhood is powerful!

“The Story of Catcher Freeman” from “The Boondocks” (aired 2008) – I’ll be honest, this show wasn’t always positive in its portrayal of women. But this episode is one of the most critical attacks against male centrism and patriarchy that has been seen in recent years in Adult animations. The episode is a recounting of a tale from the family-tree about a “slave who struggles and fights” for Freedom. The story of Catcher Freeman takes place during 19 century, when slavery was in full play below the Mason-Dixon line and the protagonist of the tale is attempting to slip the bonds of slavery (or not?). While the tales spun by the ancestors to the “hero” describe Catcher as a strong, avenger of the wronged who is determined to the task of freeing all of his brothers-in- bondage (and who is recounted, at times, as being a animalistic hunter with super powers) the truth turns out to be that Thelma, the famous love interest of Catcher, was the real hero.
Thelma all by herself found the strength to fight back against the white slave owners after trying to escape. She kills two men who attempted to rape her, and in a final leap of courage and honor, returns to the plantation (she originally escaped from) to organize a rebellion among her brethrens to oppose the oppressors and she, ultimately, leads them in battle to freedom. Thelma is strong, smart and a highly skilled fighter. Yet even if she is the true hero, the male centric world, where men are the ones who dominate the dialogue of history, choose to portray Catcher as the hero, which is far from the truth and it unfairly excludes the women from history as well as the present day and the contemporary context.
I have written a longer post on the depiction of women in “The Boondocks”, which you can read here.

Cathcher Freeman, the fictional version

“Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset” from “South Park” (aired 2008) – This episode was produced when Paris Hilton was constantly in headlines and was a new idol to some young women. In this episode, Paris Hilton arrives in South Park, causing all the girls to become crazed with the idea of mindless shopping and pointless partying. Wendy is at first appalled at the girl’s behavior, believing they’re purposely killing their brains, but due to peer pressure goes to the notoriously masochistic gay man, as well as her teachers lover, Mr. Slave for advice. “Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset” has a bit of a nasty title, but the episode is an interesting critic of how society favors mean-spirited and shallow women, ignoring the intellectuals, as Wendy in the episode articulates. The writers of the episode show a concern that young women are given terrible role models who do nothing but party and rely on men to “buy them things”, while actually ambitious women are viewed as strange. Parker and Stone made clear in the episode that accomplishment, struggling with thought and self-awareness are to be considered the important, something which is ultimately devalued in our commodity and idol driven culture.

“A Leela Of Her Own” from “Futurama” (aired 2002) – Honestly, it’s hard to tell whether this episode is feminist or not. So I’ll just explain why I think it’s feminist.
The episode centers Leela, who after being spotted by a sports agent gets signed on to play Blurnsball, a fictional future sport similar to baseball. Leela is excited about being the first woman to play Blurnsball on a professional team, ignoring how she obviously got the job mostly for her utter lack of talent in the sport. She is used to make people laugh, since she always hits a person in the head with her bat instead of hitting the ball. As Leela grows in popularity, she comes to believe that she’s pioneer for women in sports, but Jackie Andersson, a female star in a college Blernsball team, approaches Leela to tell her she’s actually making it harder for female athletes, since Leela’s incompetence causes more sexism in the sports community. Leela is crushed by Jackie’s words and goes about, with a sudden insight into her position in the sport, trying to approve her skills. “A Leela of Her Own” deals with the fact that there are still a lot of communities where women are seen as inferior to men and it is considered a triumph if a woman, any woman, rises to the top of a field where men hold dominance.
However, it is not always that simple: what if that woman actually makes it even harder for women to join the overly male centric clubs?
Even if it is unfair that people group all women into one category – like people do with Leela and other female blurnsball players – it’s important to discuss whether some women actually reinforce certain stereotypes of women, such as them being dumb or weak, in fields where they are already highly discriminated against. (By the way- the episodes title is a reference to Penny Marshall’s awesome movie “A League of Their Own”, which centered the first professional Baseball League in the US. Worth checking out!)

Here where my personal favorite episodes with feminist themes. Hope you enjoyed my post!

*Eric Cartman often is the embodiment of the “incorrect”, mean-spirited, capitalistic (in the pure-greed sense), immoral, prejudiced, and un-self reflective person in the South Park meta-narrative (through all of the whole series)

When a tale is told to us, we often automatically choose one of the characters to sympathize with and see things strictly from their point of view. The nature of tales and legends come from norms and ideals that were and are smiled upon when they get written down. Yet such things like norms and ideals change in time. Therefore re-tellings and modernizations of old legends have become wildly popular in modern day culture. Another new way of telling a story is by mixing fact with fiction – a person may tell her or his personal tale while mixing old myth and sagas into the real life events, making a connection to experiences in real and fictional people. Nina Paley uses skillfully and stylishly these both story telling methods in her animated film, “Sita Sings the Blues”.

“Sita Sings the Blues” recounts the Indian legend of Sita, the Wife of Rama, which was written by Valmiki in his epic book “The Ramayana”. Nina Paley reboots the legend as told from Sita’s point of view and gives a fresh and humorous feminist slant to this famous tale. Sita is a devoted and loving wife who faces many hardships from her husband and Ms. Paley uses the subtle hints and hidden implications of the Ramayana to embed a simultaneously story of her own break up with her live-in and long term boyfriend Dave giving us (and her) unsullied insights to both of these folds of the world. The animation changes different styles during the film, ranking from highly detailed and elegant, to humorously cartoony, to chunkily amateurish looking.

The film portrays two relationships gone wrong in a richly funny and equally serious tone. Sita is a woman who gets the raw part of the deal. She is a love martyr, constantly putting her husband first and getting little in return. A typical example of the sacrificial behavior that for many years has been the ideal for women. Unconditional love was and is used to portray the most kind and good women in culture, like Andersson’s Mermaid in his fairy tale “The Little Mermaid” and Nancy from Charles Dickenson’s “Oliver Twist”. However, Sita does show some strength eventually (but not spoilers so I will end here, but note Spoilers below!!!!).

Nina, Ms. Paley as herself in the movie, shows similar characteristics to Sita. She wants to be supportive of her boyfriend, but he shows little concern for her feelings or needs. When he breaks up with her, she lingers on him and begs him to take her back. But like Sita, she finds inner strength to carry on and pursue her own ambitions.
“Sita Sings the Blues” depicts the importance of independence and respecting one’s self. Sita lets herself, like Nina, forget about herself to please another person. This does not end well. Even if the film focuses on “break ups” it also makes a point about any phases of relationships and situations in the world. Ms. Paley tones up how passiveness keeps people trapped. With the choice of the recurring upbeat jazz/pop (of the 20’s) songs to describe Sita’s life the film makes a powerful statement on Sita’s life and the dilemma of the feminine in history and contemporary life. Her tale is sad and tragic, full of unfairness. Sita is a tragic and badly-used heroine, and the sound of Annette Hanshaw’s Jazz style (in one of the animated “style sequences”) is the both playfully expressive and popularly depressing becoming a perfect counterpoint for telling of both tales.

The men in the film or often portrayed as the ones who abandon. The depiction of Rama is very unflattering; he thinks mainly of himself and constantly doubts for little reason. He is a victim of the masculine expectations shown in the film, such as a man must have a pure wife to keep his pride. Since he is also royalty, he is taught to view himself in a vastly elevated manner regardless of his actual actions. This is mirrored in Dave, the boyfriend of Nina, who, after getting a promotion becomes suddenly distant and aloof without course or reason. “Sita Sings the Blues” however isn’t about men being betrayers, but tries to portray men who become brainwashed by social expectations and unrealistic and overly contained notions of masculinity.

“Sita Sings the Blues” is a sophisticated, surprisingly positive film about not letting a bad relationship ruining one’s life. The film tutors and advices one to live life without hanging onto the events which constrain and limit. The simple message is – with life we can do so much good by ourselves.

Nina Paley is a strong believer that all form of culture belongs to all people, and because of this she has made it possible for anyone to watch the film for free on her site. Here is the link to the her homepage where you can watch the film, download I, or a number of options to many to recount: http://www.sitasingstheblues.com/

“Futurama” is a Science Fiction American animated television show created by Matt Groening, who also created the legendary animated show “The Simpsons”. Fry, the main character of “Futurama”, is a slacker type of guy who accidentally gets frozen during New Years Eve in 1999. He wakes up only to find himself in the future of 3000. He starts working as a delivery boy for “Spaceship Express”, a company owned by an absent minded old professor, who also is Fry’s last living relative. Fry works with a team composed of Bender, a morally ambiguous robot, Leela, the Cyclops Captain of the Delivery Starship, Dr. Zoidberg, a lobster alien doctor, Amy, a Chinese-descended girl from Mars, and Hermes, a Jamaican bureaucrat. The show followed the crew’s adventures throughout the galaxy, creating many different kinds of worlds and civilizations.

Leela (left), Fry (center) and Bender (rigt)

“Futurama” featured many memorable characters. One of the most memorable characters of the series is Zapp Brannigan, an overly-macho arrogant captain of the show’s military spacecruizer and leader of earth’s galactic army.

Zapp Brannigan made his first appearance in the episode “Love’s Labours Lost in Space”. He served as the antagonist (of sorts) in that episode. The crew of Spaceship Express encounter him by accident while out on a mission. Leela, the captain of the crew, has heard of the famous hero captain who had defeated an army of Killbots in a battle. The crew is excited to meet the famous captain until it is revealed how he defeated the Killbots. Fry asks him enthusiastically about the battle, to which Brannigan proudly replies: “It was all a matter of wit. You see, Killbots have a preset kill limit. Knowing their weakness, I sent wave after wave of my own men at them, until they reached their limit and shut down”. Zapp Brannigan pompously brags about sending people to their death without any regrets. From this moment on, Leela as well as the rest of the crew, grow understandably to dislike Zapp Brannigan. Later in the episode, after the crew becomes imprisoned, Brannigan attempts to seduce Leela since his belief is that the only way to reason with a woman is to bed her. Leela, who’s a no-nonsense serious person, agrees to meet with Brannigan believing she can reason with him “captain to captain”. Leela’s hope for a conversation meets with disappointed when it becomes apparent what Brannigans intentions, and beliefs (about women and the world), actually are.

In this episode the writers of “Fututrama” well portray the awkwardness of the situation where a confident, intelligent woman, finds themselves placed in uncomfortable and untenable situations by the actions and ploys of the unself-conscious macho man of incompetent inclinations. Leela, as the understanding and sympathetic person, tries to let Brannigan down, only to have him burst into tears, which leads her to have” pity sex” with him. The episode then takes an unusual twist by not shaming Leela, the female lead, for doing this sexual act. As Leela wakes up in the morning, she regrets her actions and simply says to Brannigan that she let her pity get the best of her. She proposes that they should as mature adults just forget about the whole event. But Brannigan, being who he is, won’t hear any of this. A running gag is introduced at this juncture of the show where we will find Brannigan repeatedly trying to get Leela into his bed again, believing she truly wants him. His arrogance makes him believe he, as a perfect male type, is a ultimate, and unforgettable, gift to women, as well as believing he is the best captain anyone could want.

Along with these qualities which we find in this character, Zapp Brannigan also is shown to have a tendency towards the reckless and dangerous without regard or consideration of others. In “A flight to remember”, he flies a spaceship right into a path filled with meteors. When the ship becomes brutally damaged by the meteors, Brannigan then drives the ship towards a black hole (calling it a “Black hole-thingy”), causing the ship to slowly pull into the black hole. Brannigan refuses to take responsibility for his actions though, and in order to have the ability to run away from the dangerous scene yet allowing the captain to go down “with his ship”, resigns his assistant Kiff to take on the mantle of “the new captain” of the ship. The writers here mock overly macho men who unconsciously and without foresight move towards the dangerous, yet as soon as things back fire, they will place blame on others (making them more like confident man, than heroes or “men of action”).

The episode “Brannigan, Begin Again” had the most feminist elements in its critical portrayal of Zapp Brannigan. The story revolves around Zapp Brannigan losing his job as captain after blowing up the head courters for a peaceful organization called The Democratic Order Of Planets (a futuristic version of the United Nations). Brannigan is able to get his assistant Kiffs fired as well, claiming the incident was mostly Kiff’s fault. Pennilessly, he turns to Leela for a possible job. Leela refuses at first, but after the professor mentions needing more help around the Delivery Company, Leela relents and grudgingly hires Brannigan and Kiff. The episode then follows the crew out upon their many and mundane interstellar deliveries. Leela, being the competent captain par excel lance, gives very precise orders to Fry, Brannigan and Bender during the missions, yet the trio often are resentful of her strong and capable command and are incited to go against Leelas demands destructing the good operation of the ship and placing the crew and vessel in danger. Instead of considering that they should listen to their captain, Fry and Bender let Brannigan convince them to commit mutiny against Leela and make Brannigan the new captain. The crew of two believe that Brannigan will give them more freedom and less work, only to realize he plans lead instead to the inevitable conclusion of getting them killed. The only way they are able to save themselves is by once again listening to Leela’s advice and following it to the letter.

Brannigan and Kiff (the green alien) penniless

A major theme depicted in “Brannigan, begin again” is the reflective macho man’s refusal to listen to women, even if they clearly have good advice and know how to handle things. Leela, being the strong woman in the show, often has to struggle to be heard in the patriarchy exposed in the show. A major theme then which runs through the Series (and which is quite noticeable in the Zapp episodes) is the struggle which Leela has to be heard and accepted though consistently her positions, actions and advice is the correct ones. At the end of “Brannigan, Begin Again” Leela forgives Fry and Bender for everything, despite their actions nearly getting them all killed. By having Leela forgive Fry and Bender (and additionally “saving their lives” from the irresponsible position Zapp place them in) “Futurama” breaks the stereotype of strong women being heartless. On the other hand Brannigan, being the self-centered and self promoting man, has no problem to get others killed if it serves him well.

Another theme addressed in the episode is of the macho attitude towards pacifist. The Neutrals, a peaceful species of aliens, become the main target for Brannigan throughout the episode. Since the species are always neutral and refuse to engage in battles and wars, Brannigan sees them as a dangerous enemy who must be out to kill everyone in the galaxy. The writers mock men who, like Brannigan, see pacifists as eerie, dangerous and unnatural, simple because they won’t fight. To Brannigan, a man who sees aggression as a natural trait in any men, the Neutrals can’t actually be neutral and non-violent. Therefore they are potential enemies, which means, in the conceptual world of the patriarchic Brannigan, that the only way to stop them is to kill them before they attack. Zapp Brannigans merciless war tactics are illogical and dangerous, but in his mind he is a real “man’s man”.

The last “Futurama” episode featuring Zapp Brannigan I will discuss is “War is the H word”. In it, Earth goes to war with an unknown planet. Fry and Bender, who have recently joined the army, are forced to march on to battle. Leela wishes to sign up to protect Fry and Bender, but is forbidden by Brannigan who won’t allow women in the army since he believes they cause too much distraction to the men and are too weak to fulfill the rigors of training and battle. Leela, to work around this most odd of Zapps regulations, disguises herself as a man and turns out to be the best soldier out of the entire army. Brannigans sexist remarks are, to say the least, contradicted by Leelas actions.

Zapp Brannigans way of speaking is similar to Captain Kirk from the hit show “Star Trek”. “Futurama” not only parodies common macho behavior in our society through Brannigan, but also the depiction of male heroes as they occur in western popular culture. The manly hero captain is stripped of talent, sympathy or any likeable characteristic which we are meant to imbue in them (transparently) within the machine of pop culture, and instead shows the true characteristics of the one-dimensional male chauvinist circling in its own concerns (and who we should “want” to emulate).

The show consistently uses Leela, as the trope of the independent woman, and which is used as the antithetical portrait of the self replicating and unaware macho man. One of the most interesting aspects of the story telling in “Futurama”, the episodes revolving around Brannigan are always interesting and hilarious.

Easter is coming up fast. For those who are interested, “South Park” made a hilarious Easter related episode titled “Fantastic Eater Special”. It is featured in season 10 and is that seasons fifth episode. Stan begins to wonder what Jesus dying on a cross has to do with coloring eggs so the Easter Bunny can collect them. His father, Randy, then decides to let him into a secret society which exposes that Peter, one of the apostles, was in actuality a rabbit, meaning that all Popes were meant to be rabbits. Stan is overjoyed for finally learning the truth, but other religious authorities, who learn about the secret organization, are not…

A parody on “The Da Vinci code” and clever social commentary, “Fantastic Easter Special” is a must watch episode for Easter. Here’s a link to southparkstudios.se, where you can watch the episode.

On a different note, the comedian Wanda Sykes made a stand up discussing what it would be like if Afro-Americans, like LGBT -people, had to “come out” to their parents. A very funny Stand Up, even if usually I don’t like the idea of comparing oppression. Or comparing difficulties different minorities have. However, Wanda Sykes’ jokes are imaginative and packed with sharp critique. Enjoy!

It may take a while until my next post since I’m going to travel for a week. I promise, however, that my next post will be interesting and fun, so please stay toned!

Happy Easter/ Holidays everyone!

This post is a follow up to my previous two posts, “Cool heroines in children’s animated movies” and “Cool female side characters in children’s animated movies” Being the third part of the series, it will also be the last.
The Importance of a good, entertaining villain in movies is pointless to explain. Villains provide a challenge for the main characters to overcome and excitement to the evolving conflicts. Naturally, not all films need villains, but it is expected in animations. There are many widely famous villainesses, some so famous they have become icons for evil. For instance the Wicked Witch of the West, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother and (of course) the Wicked Queen from Snow White.

I’m going to mention some villainesses that I love. Some which are very well known and some that are not.

Maleficent from “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) – A classic villain and perhaps one of the most adored one by cartoon lovers, Maleficent was based on the character of the evil fairy godmother in the original Grimm’s fairytale with the same title. Frankly, having her in this post is a bit of a cliché. However, there are some interesting aspects of Maleficent character I think are worthy of pointing out here.
Maleficents main motivation in the film “Sleeping Beauty” is to get revenge on the Kingdom for not inviting her to the crown princesses name-giving party. It all starts with that she shows up to the party, expressing distress for not getting an invitation. When one of the good fairies says to her: “You were not invited”, Maleficent pretends that she has just misunderstood the situation and prepares to leave. But not before cursing the new born baby with a curse which will lead to her death at sixteen. One of the good fairies, Merrywhether, has to then weaken the curse with her own magic. This scene is interesting in that it shows how Maleficent gives the King and Queen a chance to change their minds and tell her she is welcome to stay at the party, an opportunity which is neglected. It is never really explained why Maleficent didn’t get invited to the party. My guess was always that the King and Queen had made this tremendously vengeful person angry because they were stupid and bored. Later in the movie, as the princess falls into an eternal slumber due to the weakened curse and a handsome prince comes to the rescue, Maleficent captures him. Instead of killing him, she chains him up in a dungeon and explains that she will not let him go until he has grown old. He will only then be able to go to the princess and wake her from her sleep. Maleficent has laid out a spectacular and cruel revenge that relies mostly on psychological torture. Few villains in cinema today are written with this much wit. Maleficent is truly smart, sadistic and powerful. Besides her fascinating personality, Maleficent has a great look with green skin, horns as hair and stunning clothing.

Maleficent is one of the main reasons “Sleeping Beauty” has become so famous and talked about. However, the good fairy godmothers are interesting characters as well, though not as interesting as Maleficent. “Sleeping Beauty” is an interesting film in that the main conflicts and battles are between Maleficent, the evil fairy, and Flora, Fauna and Merrywhether, the good fairies. All four of these women are ladies with major powers. They fight over the fate of the Kingdom, where most humans are passive, including the prince. For it is only with the help of the good fairy godmothers he is able to do anything. “Sleeping Beauty” is a masterpiece in animated film history. The only downside to the movie is the so-called love scene between the princess and prince which is tedious and boring. Otherwise a true classic piece of animation.

The Other Mother from “Coraline” (2009) – Even if the film version does not match the book version, the design of Other Mother looked great. Teri Hatcher, the voice talent, was also able to create a creepy touch to her character whenever she spoke. It is hard to not actually be afraid of this obsessive woman who lures children into her world by first offering them treats before killing them. The Other Mother is a kid’s ultimate worst nightmare, capturing in animation the horrors of a bad parent.
“Coraline” is a gothic, exciting film which tells the tale of a young girl who finds a secret passage to new world. She is first enchanted by the world, only to later realize staying there may cost her life.

Mad Madam Mim from “Sword in the Stone” (1963) – Some villains are just supposed to be funny and silly. Mad Madam Mim is one of those kinds of villains. Mim is also not the main villain of the film; actually, her screen time is about a quarter of the film. Her role is to play the crazy lady who’s incredibly immature and mean. The prototype of an old cranky lady who’s mean to kids.
Mad Madam Mim appears in the film after Arthur, a young apprentice of Merlin’s, has been turned into a bird. Arthur had longed to know what it was like to fly, and after being turned into a bird was flying about, got lost in the woods and stumbled into Mim’s house through her chimney. Arthur explains the situation to Mim, who after hearing from him that Merlin is the most powerful wizard in the world, starts showing of her dark magic to prove she’s better. She then decides to kill Arthur since Merlin “sees something good in him”. Merlin shows up to stop her, only to get lured into a duel where Mim first makes the rules, only to immediately break them. The whole ten minutes Mad Madam Mim gets are hilarious, right from the beginning to the end.
“Sword in the Stone” centers on Arthur, who Merlin, through prophecy, decides to take as a pupil. As the lessons create many adventurous, both of the main protagonists are unaware that Arthur will soon become king of England. An underrated fun movie which features memorable characters.

Zira from “The Lion King 2: Simba’s pride” (1998) – One of my all time favorite female psychos, Zira is the supposed former mate of Scar, the antagonist of the previous film. Zira is hysterically obsessed with Scar and avenging his death. She is fanatically loyal to the dead lion as she trains her son, Kovu, to kill Simba, who in her eyes is responsible for Scar’s death. Zira let’s her hate eat her from inside and never forgives anyone for anything. Her facial expressions are always scary, showing her insanity. She also has one of the best villain songs ever, “My Lullaby” where she explains her motives and plans. This song was based on “Be Prepared” from the first “Lion King” film, but stands strongly by itself in beat, lyrics and melody. Suzanne Pleshette does amazing voice acting as Zira, and her brilliant voice shines through in “My Lullaby”.
Another interesting aspect in Zira is her relationships with her two sons, Kovu and Nuka. Kovu is her favorite, since Scar chose him to be king after him, and therefore is overbearing to Kovu, forcing him to become her assassin, even if Kovu is unsure if he wants to go along his mothers plans or not. Her other son, Nuka, is neglected and somewhat abused by his mother. So Nuka is always striving for Zira’s acceptance. It is only after an unfortunate accident happens to Nuka that Zira realizes she loved and cared for him, but it is too late, and in her rage she projects her guilt and anger onto Kovu, driving her to even more madness than before. Zira is a frightening, yet pitiful lion. She blinds herself even from her own emotions to her sons. Portraying her relationship to her sons in this way made Zira’s character complex and interesting. She is evil, but part of her meanness might actually be caused by mental instability, which makes the viewer feel sorry for Zira a little.
“The Lion King 2” centers Simba’s daughter, Kiara, who is destined to become queen after Simba even if she does not want to. She befriends Kovu, another Lion cub who lives in forbidden outlands. Since their parents are bitter rivals, their friendship as cubs is short. Years later, when Kiara and Kovu have grown up, Kovu has been brainwashed by his mum to befriend Simba and Kiara, only to betray them and kill them. Kiara at the other hand is struggling to deal with Simbas overprotective parenting. As Kovu strikes up a friendship with Kiara, the two start to fall in love, making Kovu question his mission as Kiara finally finds courage to stand up to her father. Even if this film is by no means better than the first film, it is still an entertaining and stunning film. One of the few sequels made where actual effort was put into the storyline!

So this concludes my series of cool female characters in children’s animated films. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as well as the other posts! If any of you come to think of a villainesses that you like, or if you have something to say about the ones I mentioned here, don’t feel shy to comment!

“Tangled” is Disney’s newest animation feature film and supposedly their last “Princess”-movie. It is an adaption of the fairy tale Rapunzel, which was also going to be the title of the film. However, since “The Princess and the Frog”, the previous animated feature film from Disney, didn’t make as much money as wished since little boys saw the film as “a girl’s movie”, “Rapunzel” was switched to more oblique and action-tinged title ”Tangled”. The commercials for this film also heavily toned up the fact that the main character of the film was to be a wise-guy thief named Flynn and not the imprisoned damsel Rapunzel. Which is what the film actually ended up (somewhat) becoming in its final cinematic form. “Tangled” is a very light, fun watch. It’s pretty funny at times and has okay characters. However, the story could have been worked on a little better and brought to better fruition. This post will feature spoilers of the film, so be warned.

“Tangled” begins with a voice over told by the thief Flynn Rider narrating the tale, as background information, of how Rapunzel came to be locked up in her tower. Rapunzel’s mother had grown ill while pregnant, and had gotten so sick she had needed a miraculous cure. The whole kingdom went searching for a legendary magical flower that could cure any wound or illness as well as restore youth. The flower was found, and the queen was healed moments before giving birth to Rapunzel. What the king and queen were not aware of was that Mother Gothel, an elderly woman, has been using that flower to stay eternally young for centuries. She realizes that Rapunzel, the newly born princess, has devoured the flower as well as its powers and steals the infant away. She keeps Rapunzel in a tower, raising her to believe that she is the young lady’s mother and that the world is so dangerous it is best for her to forever stay in the tower. This way she can use Rapunzel’s hair to keep herself eternally young. However, as Rapunzel reaches tender age of eighteen she begins to grow curious about the world. At the same time as this longing to experience the broader existence of the world grows in Rapunzel’s mind, the master thief Flynn Rider is found by the audience running for his life after stealing a priceless Tiara from the nearby kingdom. After betraying his partners in crime, making enemies with everyone, he comes across a mysterious tower and in desperation climbs to a chamber at its summit. There he meets Rapunzel and, after a mad negotiation culminating in striking a deal with each other, Flynn and Rapunzel leave the tower together and embark on a grand adventure.
When compared to Disney’s previous blockbuster, “The Princess and The Frog”, “Tangled” falls short. “The Princess and The Frog” had more memorable characters, more interesting story telling, more feminist and politically correct plot lines and subtext, and better music.

But not all is lost. As a movie “Tangled” has many strong elements and comes across in many ways as likable storytelling.
The best thing in this film was Rapunzel’s character. Her personality is well fleshed out and realistic for the background story given to her. One of the funniest but sadly honest scenes in the movie is when Rapunzel has just stepped outside of the tower and for the first time is out in the real world. She has taken leave of the tower, despite her “Mothers” adamant and strict prohibition of ever exiting the premises, out of an understandably human and intellectual curiosity. Merely walking around in the unknown and newly-experienced world both ecstatically excites her while simultaneously making her feels horribly disobedient. There is a short marathon of scenes where Rapunzel is first jumping around the forest, spellbound by all of nature’s beauty, and then in a next scene crying hysterically and proclaiming she’s the worst daughter in the world. She switches from euphoria to guilt in mere seconds. I really admire the realistic portrayal of Rapunzel’s feelings. As any child who has been brought up by an overly strict and protective parent, she wants to revolt and do new, forbidden things, yet feels bad for breaking the rules of a parent she loves. Even if the audience knows Mother Gothel is not Rapunzels mom, Rapunzel has all her life viewed this woman as her mother. Therefore she out of love wishes not to go against Mother Gothel, but out of natural interest in the world, and the experiences it can give her, has a need to disobey the figure of the mother. Rapunzel comes to the decision to rebel against the mother with sly thoughts of attempting to solve the dilemma of her guilt by planning to ask for forgiveness at a later time.

Another fun thing about Rapunzels characters is that they don’t make her helpless; when in danger, Rapunzel puts the danger at bay by waving, in her most threatening manner, a frying pan around. This is mostly used for comical reasons but the same time shows a realistic way of how one may defend oneself. It is a bit problematic to portray women defending themselves as “something funny”, though. Tiana, the heroine in “The Princess and The Frog”, defended herself as well in her film. Sometimes it was funny, but other times it was actually showing Tiana as an ordinary person trying to survive. That problem aside, Rapunzel was a delightful depiction of a female character in a children’s film.
The biggest disappointment in “Tangled” was, however, the fact that Rapunzel is not the one who gets to save the day in the end of the film. Flynn is the one who defeats Mother Gothel while Rapunzel quite passively stands by. Even if women in children’s films are becoming more active, they still rarely get to save the day. Out of Disney films, Mulan and Tiana are still the only ones who have done so. The rest have been Mrs. Brisby from “The Secret Of Nimf”, Susan from “Monsters vs. Aliens”, Anastasia from “Anastasia” and Chihiro from “Spirited Away”. There are twice as many, maybe even three times as many, men saving the day then women.

As the film-narrative unfolds, and Rapunzel discovers that Mother Gothel stole her away from her real family, this precipitates the films climatic conflict which plays out in a struggle between Rapunzel and her pseudo-mom. Given this narrative turn of events, and therefore in all honesty, Rapunzel should have become the one to defeat Mother Gothel, not Flynn. Another missed opportunity “Tangled” neglected was in the very end, when Flynn mentions: “After many proposals… I finally said yes”. He then quickly states that it was in actuality he who proposed and not Rapunzel. It would have been a lot more interesting if Rapunzel would have proposed to Flynn; the rules of marriage are still very conservative and for some reason the idea of women proposing to men is viewed as funny and not right. It is such a shame that “Tangled” felt it necessary at this point in the story to make a joke of women popping the question instead of making an obvious (feminist) point of the current contemporary re-evaluation of marriage and the realignments men and women have in relation to this institution. So yeah, “Tangled” was a letdown at the near end from a feminist (humanist) viewpoint, but overall the portrayal of women in this film was quite nice and modern.

The image of men, however, was not quite as thrilling. Flynn, along with all the other main male characters, was portrayed as a criminal with a heart of gold. The movie brags about Flynn’s cunning and his heightened and elaborate skills in stealing. There is also a subplot where a gang of criminals talk about their dreams to Rapunzel and Flynn after first behaving like blood thirsty crooks who try to hurt Flynn. This joke was not only predictable, but made me wonder what exactly it was trying to say to young boys. It’s okay to be a criminal for a short while until something better comes up? “Tangled” tries to add depth to Flynn by having him give a short summary of his tragic childhood in an orphanage. Even if this scene had some sweetness, Flynn’s reasons for becoming a thief still fell flat. He explains how he dreamed of owning lots of riches, but it is still unclear what exactly made him think stealing was the only way he could get them. A simple line implying frustration with constant struggling in poverty or lack of faith in the world would have fixed this issue. But the film failed to deliver such an explanation. It felt like “Tangled” didn’t really want to explain Flynn’s stealing ways: it’s just what little boy’s think is cool, so they will just make him a thief. Flynn does deliver lots of great one liners though, so his undeveloped character is not too irritating, just not very impressive or good. When compared to Prince Naveen in “The Princess and The Frog”, I felt like Naveen was a more fleshed out, humane male character. He starts out spoiled, a typical good-for-nothing rich boy, but when turned into a frog learns that he must become responsible and in the end starts too actually work, finally contributing to society. Flynn just becomes king, doing nothing as Rapunzel rules the kingdom. Nicely back slashed, Disney…

And shortly about the villain: Mother Gothel was a very bland, unmemorable villain. Her villain song on the other hand, “Mother knows best” though, was the only well performed song that left a strong impact on me. Kudos to voice talent Donna Murphy, her singing voice carried the song perfectly and had that perfect eerie feel to it. Her motivation in the film wasn’t very impressive though. They never made her thirst for youth and beauty interesting; Gothel never delivered any emotions that would explain her obsession. Neither did they make her relationship to Rapunzel fascinating or complex, which it would have been needed for character depth. They should have a showed of narrative tidbits, or merely hints, of why she wanted so desperately to be young (besides the obvious fear of death). We are left as an audience wondering about her psychology, what makes her tick or anything which may make us invest our interest in this character. Sadly, I must say Mother Gothel is not a special villain in any way. (Still, her outfit was amazing!)

And lastly, the politics in general. “Tangled” is a fairy tale, so the kingdom featured in it is ruled by an all-powerful monarch. I understand Disney was only trying to be loyal to the fairy tale, but what was so delightful about “The Princess and The Frog” is that both the films Prince and Princess had no real political power. Instead, they actually worked; being a part of common people and doing something the viewer knows they are committed to as well as good at. In “Tangled” Rapunzel single-handedly rules an entire kingdom. According to Flynn narration, Rapunzel is a good ruler. Frankly the idea of a woman who spent her eighteen first years in a tower now being the absolute ruler of all political bodies and governance sounds like a bad idea to me. On the other hand, I really liked that Rapunzel is the one who ascends to being the ruler at the end of the tale and not the questionably immoral Flynn. The bottom line in this passage is: “Tangled” had a disturbing dictatorship thing going on while the cinematic tale of “The Princess and The Frog” was very democratic with their monarchs having no power over people. So personally, I liked the portrayal of monarchs and politics in “The Princess and The Frog” better.

If you’re looking for a film that’s sweet and entertaining, “Tangled” is a good call. Not Disney’s best by a long shot, yet somewhat of a beautiful piece of comedy and fairy tale romance.

Anyone familiar with the Riot  Grrl movement? For those that answer no, here’s a short summary: it was a feminist movement that took place during the 90’s. The movement was most known in the music branch, with bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobil and L7. Typical themes addressed in songs made by these groups where rape, domestic abuse, female sexuality and empowerment. Feminism, the Riot grrl movement, and Girl Power were a big and totally hip set of phenomena which ran rampaged in the wonderful 90’s. Not only in the world of adults, but also in the world for children.

Enter “Powerpuff Girls”. Created by Craig McCracken in 1998, this cartoon broadcasted on Cartoon Network ran for six full seasons. It centered on three Kindergarden aged girl who had superpowers and use their abilities to protect the town they live in, “Townsville”. Each of the girls had all a specific character trait: Blossom, the leader of the group, is the smart one who loves books and math, and yet is overly obsessed with her looks. Buttercup is the tough one, always ready to fight anything in her way. Bubbles is naïve and sweet, yet at times wanting to prove she is tough as well. The writers of this show used common prototypes of female characteristics while also breaking major stereotypes: Blossom for instance is unusual in the way that even if she puts a lot of effort into her looks, she’s still intellectual and totally into reading. This broke with the typical stereotype of women as either beautiful or smart, but never both. Bubbles’ character was shown in a number of episodes as reasonable and brave, something not often associated with overly sweet girls. Buttercup, while obviously being our stereotypical tomboy, is always wearing a dress with matching shoes, clothing not often associated with tomboys.

Bubbles (to the left), Blossom (center) and Buttercup (to the right)

This show was obviously inspired by the Riot Grrl and feminist movement which took place during the same ten years. Sure, the show obviously couldn’t address domestic abuse etc. but had a strong theme of female empowerment, which the Riot Grrl movement adhered to and strongly spread. And to this day there are few children’s shows that deliver the message “Girl power is cool” as strongly as this one does.

The best thing about this show is how “girly” it is (and purposely meant to exaggerate), yet how tough and unapologetically kick-ass these girls are. They are often surrounded by golden stars, pink hearts and flowers and dress up in cute clothes with bright colors. However, this doesn’t stop them from being wild and strong, beating up all the super evil geniuses which try to destroy their home town. As a child watching this show, I found this message to be extra influential: embracing cute and girly stuff doesn’t mean you can’t be independent and rough. It is possible to combine these two things and they should be combined. Girls don’t have to give up their “femininity” to defend themselves and take stands – it is only natural that they can do both.

The Cartoon was also, beside the strong feminist message, pretty funny and deeply ironic. It had colorful characters, including a dimwitted mayor whose luscious secretary was ten times smarter than this bumbling politician (another smart woman with brains!). The villains were hilarious as well. With the evil and brash super villain HIM being my personal favorite. He was a demon with horns on his head, claws as hands, wearing a tutu and indulging himself with the application of a lot of make-up. His character was most likely male, but neither I nor any viewer could be sure. His outlook was great, but what made him even more fun was his wit and powers: shape shifting and cunning use of manipulation. The animation of the show was very anime influenced and pretty nice.

The show had several clever ways of telling and re-telling classic superhero tales. Some good examples is “Three girls and a monster”, where it is shown that sometimes in order to stop a bad guy you have to talk instead of using violence, “Members only” where the Powerpuff Girls face gender discrimination when trying to join a superhero league and “Him Diddle Riddle” where the girls try to solve riddles HIM sets up in order from saving their father from “paying”.

“The Powerpuff Girls” was a big love of mine in my childhood, and yet today it’s hard to find any form of popular culture that has these memorable female superheroes. After the female members of X-men and Wonder Woman, it is hard to name any strong-spirited women crime fighters.

So, if you have kids, show them a few episodes from this fine series. Or watch some by yourself; either way it’s pretty good entertainment.

“The Boondocks” was an animated television series that aired from 2005-2010. It ran for three seasons with the third and final season taking a full two years to complete. The show starred the unusual and charmingly abrasive Freeman family, which is composed of a grandfather and two grandchildren, all with extraordinarily strong characteristics, and all African-Americans. The main protagonist of the series, Huey Freeman, is a ten year old of Marxist inclination who attempts, always, a rational view of everything around him with a sharp economic/political and critical/analytical eye. The show, and most specifically the first season, centered around Huey’s criticism of  US politics, evaluations of black culture, especially Rap, Hip Hop, and pop culture, and ferreting out the hidden racism in the culture around him. This was the shows high point; Huey’s thoughts and tragicomic reflections on his encounters with a” back-words society” (a backwards society based on a language of oppression) were witty and thought-provoking. “The Boondocks” first season, and the last five episodes of season two, really dared the viewer to confront their own ideas and prejudices. Huey Freeman as a character alone was a challenge, alone, in following his moving ideals and ethical values. The creator of the show, and majority writer of the episodes, Aaron McGruder, often used Huey as an alter-ego to represent his ideas and critiques.

The other main protagonists of the series were the eight year old Riley Freeman who represented the misguided direction of consumer-oriented and culturally controlled black youth. His arrogant admiration, near worshipping of mainstream popular Rap culture was a mainstay of the series. Riley’s penultimate dream is of one day becoming a real “Gangsta”, meaning a rich as hell, tough-guy criminal. McGruder uses Riley as a foil to talk about the pitfalls of a self-destructive and negating black culture for its young members, and is exactly the opposite of the Black Culture of Affirmation and Progression Huey typifies.

Robert Freeman is the somewhat neglecting Grandfather of the two young boys. He spends most of the show looking for a girlfriend, never really succeeding. He often is as misguided as Riley, even, at times, taking Riley’s bad advice instead of the sage admonishments of Huey. The boys, however, both express overt signs of affection towards Robert; even if it’s not quite clear, in turn, what he feels towards them.

“The Boondocks” plied a diverse field of themes from the Iraq War, to homophobia in Black culture, to mainstream capitalism. Sadly the final season lost the show’s original charm and political edge. Yet, even if the last bits were a letdown, there have been few gutsier attempts on TV.


Aaron McGruder

Even if I love this show, I have to admit that one thing that always bothered me was its portrayal of women. To be fair, McGruders representation of women wasn’t always bothersome. Before the TV-show, “The Boondocks” was a comic strip McGruder solely penned. The comic strip (whose characters and themes were explored, also, in the animated show) often featured strong, independent, secure and rational women. To point out how this divergence takes place between the mediums – in the strip series, Riley had a female teacher called Mrs. Petterson. She was a smart no-nonsense lady who treated Riley as an equal and no differently than the others in her predominately white class. Mrs. Peterson never was want to put up with his bad behavior and responded to it always with reserve and fairness. She was shown as a reasonable white person working within the school staff; while the principle and Huey’s teacher Mr. Petto were shown as soft-racists who couldn’t handle the idea of community with, teaching as equals, or even justly interacting with black students. Mrs. Peterson, however, gives little thought to Riley’s ethnicity and is concerned only with his behavior in the teaching environment.

Another example is the neighbor Sara, a white woman who is married to a black man. The couple are both lawyers who have a single, biracial child, Jazmine. Within the marriage, McGruder positions Sara as the reasonable one and somewhat more open minded than her spouse. Even when Huey tells fairy tales to her daughter with alternative and exaggerated social commentary, and in confronting inappropriate behavior in the School staff (in regard to ethnicity), Sara is shown as fundamentally open while simultaneously being socially and ethically unfaltering. McGruder has Sara even go as far as to vote for a third party in the US elections, something Huey expresses as a brave and radical thing to do. In the Strip, then, Sara represents all the characteristics of female pure awesomeness and empowerment!
Sara shows up in the Television show too, and this is where the problem begins.

As Sara in the comic strip was intelligent and strong, Sara in the television show was a painful thing to behold. The first episode of the animated series to delve into her personality was, “Tom, Sarah and Usher” (Ep. 2, s. 2), and portrayed her as an immature, giggling spouse who continually embarrasses her husband in public. When she meets the singer Usher in a restaurant, while she and her husband Tom are celebrating their anniversary, Sara starts to go “Fan-girl” on Usher, leaving her husband to sit alone at their dinner table. Another horrid example of this behavior McGruder gives her, in the animated series. Is from “It’s a Black president, Huey Freeman” where Sara acts hysterically and is consumed whole in the Frenzied Idol Worship of Barack Obama. McGruder turns Sara from one of the most fully expressed mature grownups in the Comic strip to a simpering and vacuous gender pacesetter in the animated series.
Other examples of poorly portrayed women McGruder proliferates within the animated series are Luna, a young black woman Robert dates. Luna typifies the stereotypical bitter woman who takes her disappointment from past relationships and embeds it in all the other relationships around her. Not being complete in herself as well, Luna is propelled to take bad advice from her “girlfriend” and apply it to her world and relations.

And, lastly, a predominantly large and obvious number of female side characters who meandered across the Boondocks Universe either were to be women marked as prostitutes or (music) video vixens.
Yet, luckily and in the end, Boondocks was too deliver one episode that made up – well, almost! – For these near misogynistic portrayals.

The second season featured an episode titled “The Story of Catcher Freeman”. This episode features three stories about a man named Catcher Freeman, and legendary ancestor in the Freeman family tree. While Robert and a (self-hating) black man named Ruckus tell the tale of Catcher Freeman as one of a tough, strapping, and ultimate masculine Hero, Huey discovers that the true hero of the Catcher Freeman chronicle was a woman of no small skills and spontaneous bravery named Thelma. In this episode McGruder shows us that even when women are the historical and human motivators of Action and Belief they get no credit and, indeed, become invisible to the world. McGruder also makes this episode an insightful mockery of men’s daydreams of always, and continually, being the Center of the World and the Creators of History.

Given this, it is obvious McGruder’s way of portraying women is erratic and problematic. At times his Gender politics is right on, while at other times his view of the female borders on misogyny.

Why is this the Case in Boondocks? Perhaps McGruder often becomes seduced, trapped and contained by certain clichés and stereotypes of women that exist inside a specific ideological location in the Black community (or even American community in general). There will always, and often, be a dangerous interplay between culturally ingrained ideas about gender and those which are rationally confronted by the individual. How this plays out in the secondary field of ethnicity is the problematic which McGruder confronts in the Animated Series and where this gender vision comes out as lacking verses the Comic Strip which comes through with flying colors in regard to gender and the ethnicity of the characters.

“The Boondocks” as a whole is an extremely impressive and important show. The first season was totally unapologetic in its social commentary and the animation was brilliant and unique (highly informed by anime). The second season has its moments of flight and whimsy as well, with the highlight of “The Story of Catcher Freeman”. “The Boondocks” is historically important as it is one of the first (PJ’s by Eddie Murphy being the first) and undoubtedly the best televised animation centered on African-American experiences and has a critical and analytical view of this culture.