Debs

Scientist by training, writer by choice. Loves anime, horror, religion, nature, folktales, and all things weird and strange.

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    Latest Articles

    Latest Topics

    4

    The state of "too good for this sinful earth" characters nowadays

    Throughout history, many stories have featured characters who are depicted as being "too good for this sinful earth" and therefore dying young. Charles Dickens, for instance, wrote many such characters into his stories; and Uncle Tom’s Cabin also depicts its most famous characters in this way. Such an idea, of course, has explicitly religious connotations, with the idea being that the character is so pure that they belong in heaven and not on earth. Do such characters still exist in modern, secular media? If so, what are some examples? How can a story that lacks a religious bent portray a character as too good for the world (if indeed it’s possible)?

    • Oh yeah, they exist. A lot of times, they're disabled, which smacks of ableism (or they have cancer, which is not the same thing but is in the neighborhood). A lot of Christian-based movies have these, and what's interesting is that the characters come across as too good for earth even if they ultimately survive (inspiration porn). But sometimes you'll find them in non-religious literature, too. The key is, "too good for this sinful earth" in itself implies the character has some kind of faith or at least a belief in heaven, so there is some overlap. – Stephanie M. 1 week ago
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    Significance of character design of non-human creatures

    It’s often been said that a character’s design is supposed to tell the audience something about them and complement their personality and role in the story in some way. Non-human characters provide unique challenges and opportunities for animators because they possess features that no human could ever have. The popular kids’ movie Monsters, Inc. does a great job of designing characters to perfectly fit their roles in the story. For instance, the main character, Sully, is huge and strong but also fluffy and colorful; his timid but loyal sidekick Mike is small and has a very large and expressive eye and mouth; and the villain Randall is a slippery and surly-looking lizard voiced by Steve Buscemi. What are some other examples of non-human characters with particularly appropriate or memorable character designs? What is it about their designs that provides insight into their characters more broadly?

    • This is a great topic! I liked your example from Monsters Inc? Perhaps you can make the topic title, " How character designs of non-human characters in animation tell the audience about their character?" Or what are examples of non-human character animations designs that speak to their character? – birdienumnum17 2 months ago
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    • Fun idea. First thing that comes to mind is Inside Out, where emotions are literally personified into characters - anger, sadness, disgust. You don't even need to hear them talk in order to understand what they represent. Maybe an interesting comparison would be between good visual depictions of personality (this was done often and super well in older cartoons) and less creative character designs. Consider all the possibilities of 2/3D animation and how those opportunities can be squandered! I'm thinking of the recent Lion King adaptation here; realism doesn't necessarily translate to an expressive character. – dbotros 2 months ago
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    • I think that the design of non-human - or even monstrous - characters often provides insight onto ourselves. That is, the grotesque or Other often reflects our own anxieties about the human condition. When the worst aspects of our psyche/appearance are exaggerated and externalized into non-human characters, they are easy to dislike because they represent the "worst" parts of ourselves. At the same time, mythologically heroic characters represent the best of ourselves, with their looks and demeanour exaggerated to show the potential for goodness and beauty that resides in the human condition.This topic puts me in mind of Peter Jackson/Andy Serkis's portrayal of Gollum in LOTR. The tragic beauty of the character resides in his "fall from grace narrative," for he straddles the line between ultimate corruption and ultimate redemption until his last moments.Smeagol's design incorporates elements of the innocent - his wide eyes and naiveté - while the distorted and expressions of Gollum connote his malice and cunning. Examining the ways in which Serkis/the animators at Weta Digital played with the tension between these two personae can reveal how the archetypes of good and evil originate within our own soul (or psyche, if you prefer). – Rhys 2 months ago
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    • This is an interesting topic, and one becoming more and more relevant as animation makes a resurgence in popular media. One interesting area the article could address would be how and why human elements are included in these character designs, as a means to evoke audience familiarity with the emotions of the character (you mentioned Mike Wazowski's eye as an example). Moreover, it might be worthwhile to discuss the uncanny valley and it's effect on the considerations of animated character design.The game Thomas was Alone is also a really pure example of this philosophy of character design, each character being literally a differently sized four-sided shape. – DanielByrne 2 months ago
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    4

    Is the content of mentally-ill writers and artists always more disturbing?

    People who live with mental illnesses spend their lives in a state of heightened anxiety and stress, and if they’re creative, this often comes through in their work. Arguably some of the greatest contributions to horror, particularly in literature, were written by people with really severe mental health problems, among them Edgar Allan Poe, HP Lovecraft, and Caitlin Kiernan. Even works made by artists who don’t want their mental illness to be so obvious can be darker than they first appear. For instance, many of the deep cuts of the famous rock star Jon Bon Jovi, who struggles with depression, are much more disturbing than the songs that made him a household name. So, are all mentally-ill creatives fated to create dark, creepy, or depressing content? What specific aspects of a creator’s mental illness might inform the darker aspects of their work? Are there any mentally-ill artists whose art remains entirely untouched by their illness?

    • This is a super interesting idea. I'd also be interested in how we prognosticate mentally ill creators and whether we should attribute that to how they write, particularly with horror, which is fraught with messy portrayals of mentally ill people. I think about this especially about EAP and HPL. I don't know what Kiernan's mental health issues are, but she tends to be able to represent mentally ill characters very well. But because EAP and HPL were never formally diagnosed, it can be hard to attribute that label and therefore the extent to which it influenced their work. HPL's severe neurosis and illnesses could be attributed to his mother convincing him he was sick (psychosomatic) and emotionally abusing him, anxiety, some have suggested he was autistic, some combo, etc. His anxieties do seem to come through on the page, but I'd also suggest his philosophical thoughts on mechanical materialism also influence the bleakness of his work. – Emily Deibler 3 months ago
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    • I think this needs perhaps a psychologists perspective. Not all mentally troubled people focus on darker work. There are notable exceptions such as Robin Williams, Owen Wilson and Stephen Fry for instance that have excelled in comedic endeavours. It would be interesting to look at what makes certain individuals create the façade of happiness and what allows other to really embrace their troubles. – AshleyStevens 3 months ago
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    • The conflation of Poe with his work is extremely problematic. Poe is not his narrators. Nor was he clinically mentally ill. There is no clear record of that. Poe had a difficult life and his reputation was damaged by the jealous editor Rufus Griswold, who was not even one fragment the writer or critic that Poe was. – rockandrollbob 3 months ago
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    • It also seems a bit problematic to not only lump every single artist or creative that has any form of mental illness under one umbrella but your thesis that they are only capable of creating works of art that is disturbing is somewhat offensive. To say that someone suffering from mental illness can only create art that is worrying seems diminutive to an entire section of society. Vincent van Gogh was clearly disturbed and yet created beautiful painting such as The Starry Night or Almond Blossoms. You need to rework this whole idea or at least remove "always" from the title. I'm sure this is coming from a place of genuine intrigue but please be considerate of the community in which this represents. – FarPlanet 2 months ago
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    • This is a challenging topic to discuss, but that's what makes it so very intriguing. As FarPlanet stated, it can be problematic with generalization if not written/discussed carefully. With that being said, I'd like to offer up my own thoughts on the matter. As someone who struggles with mental illnesses and is studying to be a psychologist, I think the writing CAN be more disturbing, but it is nowhere near always. From where I stand, a handful of mentally ill artists/writers write with a specific emotional depth that many people don't feel for themselves. Sometimes, the depths can be scary... Take psychological thrillers, for example. The mind is a scary place, and the ways in which it can be manipulated are far more terrifying. I would love to write extensively about this topic. I like that it can be approached by the audience, artists/writers themselves in addition to psychologists. It might be a good idea to first isolate the root question here before naming well-known artists/writers in order to keep the discussion open and relevant so as not to rub anyone the wrong way. – Abie Dee 1 month ago
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    4

    Analyzing C.S. Lewis's whole body of work

    Everyone knows C.S. Lewis as the writer of the Chronicles of Narnia series, as well as (to a lesser extent) The Screwtape Letters. However, he’s written a lot of other works too–both fiction and nonfiction–that don’t get as much attention. Throughout his body of work, what recurring patterns and themes emerge? How have they changed over time? Is there anything he wrote that doesn’t get the attention it deserves?

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      Do some cities have an outsized influence?

      Any nation is comprised of many cities, towns, and other places where people live. However, many nations also seem to have one city (or at most a handful) that seem to set the tone for how those entire nations are perceived and conduct their daily affairs. One key example of this can be seen during the current pandemic in the US. New York City, the largest and most connected city, is seeing the overwhelming majority of cases and receiving nearly all the media coverage. Meanwhile, other parts of the country, as well as New York State, have issued shelter-in-place orders similar to those in New York City to avoid being overrun by sick patients, even though there is no evidence that will happen–New York City is uniquely vulnerable due to its high population density, reliance on public transportation, and status as an international traffic hub.

      It’s also not uncommon for people to organize trips to "the UK" when they really only mean London, for example–some years ago the New York Times advertised a "Brexit tour" of the UK that never left London, even though the people who supported Brexit generally lived in smaller British communities in places like the North and Midlands. Centuries ago, Mark Twain captured a similar sentiment in a satirical article in which he traveled to a famous cathedral in Italy and felt compelled to ignore or minimize everything he saw on the trip over.

      Along similar lines, books and movies whose plots feature international travel or worldwide catastrophes often feature just one or two famous cities in any given country. The movie "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" even made a joke about this, pointing out that the evil giant foods seemed to be falling first on the most famous landmarks in major cities. Why do you think people, both in fiction and real life, aren’t interested in venturing outside the largest and most famous cities? Would society be more enriched if people ventured outside of these famous urban centers more often (both in fiction and real life)?

      • hilalbahcetepe- I'm afraid I don't know what you mean. What exactly did you have in mind? – Debs 3 months ago
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      • I think I know what you mean--that most places are only famous because of their cities. When one goes to visit a place, it usually is a city. Maybe make it more specific though. What are you trying to get at? People should try and explore places not just for their popular cities? Rural vs. urban? Why are movies and books usually set in cities ( not always the case though... – birdienumnum17 3 months ago
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      • There are smaller named towns in novels that are the central focal point in the story. C.f. Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding. – J.D. Jankowski 3 months ago
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      • Mega cities, if that is what you refer to as "some cities," probably do have outsize influence on new ideas and trends, be they commercial or cultural. This is likely due to their density and diversity. For example, if you have a new product, business model or art form, it is easier to test it in a big city because you can simultaneously gather information and comments from different groups. Thus, even though mega cities don't represent a nation, they are the driving force of change and incubator of novel ideas. In that sense, while there might not be abundant Brexit supporters in London, you are able to hear different voices without extensive traveling. – ctshng 2 months ago
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      • I think there is something here, but needs to be really focused. For example, I have read of baseball players that if they played in New York City as opposed to, say, Kansas City would have received a great deal more attention. In the case of New York City, as someone who grew up there, we were aware that to many who came to visit, Manhattan was New York City, but thinking in terms of the Big Apple as consisting of five boroughs and Manhattan is only one is not always how people think of New York. – Joseph Cernik 1 month ago
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      When the protagonist is the most interesting character

      It’s almost a cliche at this point that the central characters in any story are rarely the most interesting ones. More often than not they tend to be relatively bland, and the story grows out of their interactions with a cast of more interesting side characters. However, every so often a protagonist will end up being the most interesting character in their story. For instance, in Osamu Tezuka’s "Buddha" manga, the Buddha is actually one of the more well-rounded and relatable characters, even given that the legends about him tend to paint him as an almost perfect, untouchable being. What are some other examples of this phenomenon, where the main protagonist really is the most interesting, or one of the most interesting, characters? What is it about them that makes them so interesting?

      • I believe this statement can be completely true. Sometimes the evil character is more relatable and evokes more emotion than the Plain Jane good person. For example, in The Vampire Diaries, everyone loves Damon. He's mysterious, alluring, and sexy. More than that, people want to believe in him. They want to see the whole "bad-boy turned good" phenomenon play out. Like in Maleficent or Wicked, entirely new stories are revealed. It shifts from delivering a story about monsters to explaining how they became this villain everyone believes them to be. I think that villains are important in literature and film, because sometimes they teach us more than the heroes. People can't relate to a perfect character. They can easily relate to the villain, because they see their flaws scattered in themselves. – nicolemadison 8 months ago
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      • what if we explored the possibility of "supporting characters" being the REAL "protagonists"? Or the possibility of multiple protagonists? – Dena Elerian 6 months ago
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      What does conspicuous leisure look like nowadays?

      At the end of the 19th century, a sociologist named Thorstein Veblen argued that privileged people flaunt their wealth in three ways: conspicuous consumption (showing that they can afford to buy products); conspicuous leisure (showing that they can afford to waste time); and conspicuous waste (showing that they can afford to throw things away). Recently, conspicuous consumption and conspicuous waste have lost a lot of their worth as status symbols because goods have become more affordable and both practices are associated with environmental destruction, but conspicuous leisure (which can entail anything from sitting around and doing nothing to lavish vacations to memorizing pointless social rules and regulations) doesn’t seem to carry the same stigma. Classically, conspicuous leisure was embodied in an aristocrat who sits around in a large mansion and looks down on people who perform manual labor, but what are some modern equivalents, either in real life or in our media?

      • In my opinion, something that complicates the issue of what conspicuous leisure looks like nowadays is the idea of self-care. Individuals engage in activities that, in previous generations, would have been considered "leisure": video games, social media, even long bubble baths. Many of those who spend time practicing self-care would claim that such activities are not wasting time because it is helping them to relax and recharge in order to be rested enough to resume productivity. As someone who is a bit skeptical of many things labeled as "self-care," I have noticed that even people who claim their "self-care" is not wasting time still complain about not being energized enough for work or socialization, so is their leisure time really all that productive? I don't think so. I still would claim that the activities I mentioned, as well as other activities such as movie-watching and lazing around the house, are common types of conspicuous leisure nowadays. – rachelwitzig 10 months ago
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      • That's actually an interesting point; I hadn't thought about the connection between conspicuous leisure and self-care, but you might be right. People claim that self-care preserves their mental health, but the "self-care" they prefer tends to consist mostly of their favorite hobbies (some of which, like watching TV or playing video games, are neutral or even net negatives for mental health), and rarely something with any clear connection to improving mental health (i.e., CBT, religious services, joining a volunteer organization, etc.). – Debs 10 months ago
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      • I think in the modern world where we view everybody's lives through the lense of social media it's a persistent idea in many minds. The idea that everybody is living their best life and basking in the sun, strolling through cities and generally enjoying their time in a leisurely fashion is often a misconception for a lot of the social examples. In a world rife with social media influencers it would be interesting to weigh up both sides of the digital frame and see it from the "consumer" perspective as well as those posting online and the work that goes into it. – CAntonyBaker 7 months ago
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      Evil plants

      Numerous stories have featured plants in the role of villains. These plants range from minor nuisances (like the mandrakes in Harry Potter) to central antagonists (as in the musical Little Shop of Horrors). Why are people so fascinated by the idea of plants as villains? What are some examples of real-life dangerous plants? Are there any particular real-life plants that seem to get used as models for evil plants more often, and if so, why?

      • Maybe people get tired of pruning and they start blaming plants for their health problems? Or maybe get traumatized by them? The Venus fly-trap and poison ivy are used a lot (from what I've seen). Interesting topic. – OkaNaimo0819 7 months ago
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      • I think to explore this as a use of flora in science-fiction and fantasy would be thought provoking considering the ongoing discussions surrounding climate change. Some of these stories have evolved from the "plants taking earth back" perspective and could be viewed as the motive. Others, in the case of The Last Of Us and the Cordyceps, are more of an inspirational note where ideas from nature have informed designs and creative solutions – CAntonyBaker 7 months ago
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      Latest Comments

      Interestingly, it seems like The Good Place, despite being set in an afterlife world, isn’t really about death at all, but about life. The real question it’s asking seems to be what the “good life” is, how you would recognize it, and whether it’s even possible.

      The Good Place: Philosophically Sound?

      It seems to me that the real message of movies like this is that even hardcore directors like Quentin Tarantino have lines they’re not willing to cross. In this case, he’s essentially rewriting history to give it a “happy ending” because to reproduce reality (by having Sharon Tate be murdered while pregnant) would be too dark even for him. He does the same kind of thing in “Inglorious Basterds.”

      For that matter, I get the sense that Quentin Tarantino struggles to depict any sort of marginalized group all that well (except maybe Black Americans). One of the issues I took with “Inglorious Basterds” was how boring the Jewish characters seemed compared to the entertaining and charismatic Brad Pitt and Christoph Waltz, and how little interest the narrative seemed to have in them. The only exception was Shoshana, but even she didn’t have much of a personality.

      Gender in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

      Hey, this is really cool! It’s always fascinating when popular fantasy stories successfully draw attention to real-world issues in an entertaining way. I feel like most people could learn about linguistic segregation (for example) much more freely and easily from a story like The Hobbit than they could simply by reading academic or other nonfiction articles on the topic.

      An interesting question that follows from this is, does Gollum’s speech change at all when he’s trying to help Frodo and Sam in the Lord of the Rings series? Or does it remain more or less the same?

      Riddles in Rhetoric: Learning from Bilbo and Gollum about Linguistic Segregation

      You do a good job of analyzing the different genre conventions of Wuthering Heights. I’m particularly interested in the fact that, although Catherine and Heathcliff are supposed to love each other, their love is never physically consummated and they can only be together in death. I feel like that in and of itself is a genre convention of romanticism: the idea that the most pure and perfect love is that which is not acted upon and exists entirely in the spiritual realm.

      Wuthering Heights and its Many Genres

      There might be an element of truth in this. It’s my understanding that, as a general rule, men are more likely to be interested in sex for its own sake, whereas women are more likely to seek out sex in the context of an involved relationship. So, men who were attracted to each other probably would have sex earlier on in their relationship than women would.

      Fanfiction: An Ally to Queer Fans

      What a well-written and thorough article! I love learning about cultural icons and mascots, and what they say about the cultures they come from. I especially love the cute ones!

      Moomins and the Finnish Culture

      I notice that when a lot of people talk about identities in fanfiction, they seem to be speaking almost exclusively about amateur fanfiction. But, some published works arguably qualify as “fanfiction” too (e.g., Neil Gaiman’s “A Study in Emerald,” Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”…), and some of those probably have queer themes too. I’m surprised people don’t talk more about those.

      Fanfiction: An Ally to Queer Fans

      It seems like the overarching point here is that Telemachus needs to be explicitly taught to be a “real man” by following the explicit example of his father and male ancestors. I feel like there’s a real truth here: people’s conceptions of what it means to be a “real man” (or a “real woman” for that matter) aren’t automatic–they’re learned in the context of their families.

      The Odyssey: A Father and Son Quest for Kleos