Stephanie M.

Stephanie M.

I'm a content writer and novelist who loves books, writing, theater, and my cat. I have published two novels and traveled to London and Paris.

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    Latest Articles


    Latest Topics


    Analysis of the "Very Special Episode"

    In past decades, situation comedies and dramas were often known for their "very special episodes." These stories took a break from more lighthearted fare to discuss serious topics or issues, often those facing young audiences of the day. Special episodes could often be categorized thus:
    -Featuring "special" characters (often disabled), who rarely if ever appeared again but existed to educate audiences and teach the main characters lessons about compassion and tolerance
    -Analyzing the dangers of teen life (peer pressure, drugs, drunk driving, child/teen molestation)
    -Focusing on particular current events (the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11, etc.)
    -Teaching young audiences when and how to give or seek help in serious situations (eating disorders, abuse, CPR, etc.)

    Pick a few "very special episodes" to focus on from sitcoms or sitcom/dramas (Diff’rent Strokes, Punky Brewster, Seventh Heaven, Full House…) How has the "very special episode" evolved? Why are they often mocked, even by those who enjoyed their affiliated shows? Is the "very special episode" still around now, and what does it look like?

    • I think that this topic can be a very interesting one. However, I think that in some ways it is too broad. I think perhaps narrowing down the focus, on one specific type of episode will help someone want to write it more. – RheaRG 2 months ago
    • Good idea. I'd lean toward drug-centric ones since drugs and drinking were so publicized in the '80s and '90s (not that they aren't now, but back then we had Nancy Reagan's campaign, the advent of DARE, etc.) I personally also love focusing on disability-centric episodes as a compare/contrast to how characters with disabilities should be portrayed and treated, but I'd leave that to someone else to write. – Stephanie M. 2 months ago

    Are Competition Shows Inherently Against Minorities?

    The impetus for this topic started because, during the pandemic, I’ve become rather hooked on Chopped and its iterations. One thing I’ve noticed about Chopped though, is a dearth of female competitors and winners. Many episodes have male chefs outnumbering females 3-1, and many episodes have the female chef eliminated in round one. Some fans have noted this happens even and especially if female judges outnumber male ones.

    Then I started noticing this trend in other competition shows. For instance, I am a huge Jeopardy fan, and have noticed that men win much more often than women. Also, women can have winning streaks–some, like Julia Collins, have won as many as 20 games in a row. But this is nothing compared to the streaks of Ken Jennings (74), James Holzhauer (30 ), and other male players.

    This got me thinking, women aren’t the only ones getting shortchanged. It’s fairly common, for instance, to see persons of Asian descent on Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but not other POCs. It’s becoming more common to see LGBTQ people in competition shows, but not as common as it could be (and those contestants also often lose). Also, while people with learning disabilities or "invisible" diseases such as celiac or diabetes do appear on cooking competitions, trivia competitions, and athletic competitions, it is completely unheard of for people with visible, physical disabilities or disabilities like autism to appear. (Of course, in the case of athletics, the argument is, "Well, we have Special Olympics/Paralympics," but that’s problematic in itself).

    Is this trend as prevalent as it appears? Is it changing in a positive or negative way? What could competitions, from sports to cooking to trivia, do to be more inclusive and welcoming? Discuss.

    • I think this is a really interesting topic to discuss. Perhaps, an article on this topic could take into account - if possible - the demographics of those who apply for such shows, are individuals belonging to minority groups applying and just not getting selected? Or are they choosing not to apply for such programmes? Is there any reason/research for this? Also - another possible angle, is this prejudice the same across several countries? For example, does the American 'Masterchef' look the same as the Australian or British iterations of the show? Is this a problem intrinsic across the globe, or just pertaining to certain countries? – leersens 6 months ago

    Toxic Love in Literature

    Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. Catherine and Heathcliff. Lily Evans and Severus Snape. Besides the obvious examples of unhealthy relationships in literature, there are also some that are commonly contested, like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy or Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. Despite the toxicity of these relationships though, and despite the fact that from a twenty-first century mindset, they could be called manipulative or abusive, people still love them. People still read the stories of these characters and enjoy them.

    Do toxic relationships in literature have a particular pull? If so, what is it? What makes a relationship toxic, and are any of these, or others, redeemable? Is the woman always the "victim," or can men be victimized by toxicity as well? Are toxic relationships more "accepted" with white couples (you’ll notice none of these examples contain people of color or minorities)? Why is that? What about LGBTQ examples? Discuss.

    • I feel like it's in large measure of the potential for abusive relationships to function as narcissist's fantasies, even regardless of gender. For example, in a story like Twilight a woman gets to imagine herself being the object of affections of a man who's so infatuated with her he's willing to cater to her every desire (even if he also treats her quite badly). Whereas men get to fantasize about having a weak, passive woman who loves having them in control and being their willing slave. Part of it might also be that some people really are so desperate for a partner that they're willing to do anything for one, no matter how degrading. – Debs 10 months ago
    • I should also add that, if anything, I think toxic relationships are more common in media with LGBT characters than without them, and that a big part of this is that something that anyone could recognize as creepy and awful if a man were doing it to a woman (i.e., rape, kidnapping, etc.), is more likely to be perceived as not that bad when it's a man doing it to another man, or a woman doing it to another woman. – Debs 10 months ago
    • This is a very rich topic. If you plan to write this topic, I suggest reflecting upon subtopics. In my opinion, the meaning of toxic relationship also differ from period to period, so pay attention to that, as well! – Crisia 5 months ago
    • A very interesting topic and at the same time a good question! These relationships are so timeless and have been attractive for generations. In my opinion, to desire someone and being desired by someone is a deep wish and / or a fantasy that has nothing to do with age or gender. – Guinevere 5 months ago

    Should Conventional Theater Change to Accommodate Diverse Actors?

    Musical theater is a huge and well-loved medium, and in recent years has given us some cutting-edge hits (Legally Blonde, Wicked, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, etc.) Yet there are some accepted "rules" of theater culture that still feel like stereotypes or "boxing in" actors. For instance: sopranos get the leads; mezzos and altos play "witches and britches." Tenors play romantic leads; basses play villains. Actresses past the age of 30 can expect to play mothers and grandmothers, but not love interests for their own sake. If you are a white male, you cannot convincingly play a male or female of any color (although I have conversely seen white women tapped to play WOCs). Actors with disabilities can only really expect casting in disabled roles.

    Most theater aficionados will tell you there are solid reasons behind this thinking, even truth. Then again, in 2019, should conventional theater change more to suit the needs and desires of actors? Could or should a musical be written to give an ingenue role to an alto or a hero role to a bass? Is it pushing the envelope to allow actors of certain orientations to play outside of them, or for a white actor to play a POC (outside of a historical context)? In short, what would and should truly "diverse," "inclusive" theater look like?

    • I think that, in some respects, it's easier for theatre to accommodate diversity than other media because, moreso than in any other medium, any actor who's qualified can take a particular role regardless of race, gender, or background. This is especially true of school performances, which have to work with the available students. I've seen a rendition of one of Shakespeare's history plays that featured Black actors, for example; and on YouTube I've found versions of Little Shop of Horrors where Seymour was biracial and the dentist was Asian. I've even found a theatrical version of the Screwtape Letters where Screwtape was played (really expertly, I might add) by a woman. – Debs 12 months ago
    • Hi, Debs,That sounds really cool. I'm glad your theater experience was more inclusive than mine. My schools (high and college) had GREAT theater programs I so wanted to be a part of. But, esp. in the case of my high school director, I was not given that chance and I think it was because of cerebral palsy (couldn't prove it, and if I'd said something it would've been, "Oh, you just think everybody's picking on you.") But the truth was, even after calling my acting phenomenal on more than one occasion, that director in particular would only assign me chorus or walk-on roles. The justification was, "Well, the leads have to dance," but chorus lines are basically there to *dance*, at least in my productions. There were other examples of non-diversity there too, such as the lead *always* went to a first soprano--and the year it went to a mezzo, of course, I wasn't in the running. But, this director was *also* willing to cast a white girl as a Hispanic lead (but not a girl of color as a white lead) ??????Anyway, it's only been recently that I realized the full lack of inclusivity and diversity in the world at large and the theater world, so...there you go. Again, we need more stories like yours. – Stephanie M. 12 months ago

    The Phenomenon of the Unlikable Female Lead

    Scarlett O’Hara is a selfish, stereotypical Southern belle. Julianne Potter (My Best Friend’s Wedding) made multiple attempts to break up a happy relationship out of a belief her best friend "belonged" to her. Emma Woodhouse could be considered on the fence, because while she is charming and engaging, she does meddle in others’ lives constantly, and looks down on those she considers "beneath" her.

    These are only a few examples of the unlikable female lead, in literature, film, and other mediums. These women are not inherently evil, but they are self-absorbed, gossipy, backstabbing, and at times downright narcissistic. Yet…a lot of people like them. Why? Is there a "happy medium" between perfect, Mary Sue women and evil women, and have these or other characters found it? Discuss this, as well as whether the unlikable female lead does female representation more harm than good overall.

    • As someone who studied the Mary Sue phenomenon in comparing why certain female characters are adored while others are ignored, I would like to share my findings.Female characters, like other characters are nothing more than projections of society's fantasies of what it means to be a "cool", "strong" and "powerful" woman. It may seem twisted, but if the female character is an extension of the male character, and is constantly influenced by feminist ideals, these are the type of women are portrayed. – Amelia Arrows 9 months ago
    • I feel like this isn't really a uniquely female problem--there are plenty of obnoxious, self-absorbed, horrible male leads too. If anything, the problem is that society is more accepting of this kind of behavior in men than in women, so these male leads get a pass. – Debs 9 months ago
    • And that in itself could warrant an entire, separate article. – Stephanie M. 8 months ago
    • I think it's very important to mention Elaine Benes (Julia Louis Dreyfus) from Seinfeld here. She was arguably the first "unlikable" female character on US television. She was hilarious, witty, smart, independent, successful, yet extremely cynical, self-absorbed, blunt and occasionally downright mean. I think what made her character appeal to so many was how she came across as someone extremely "regular", someone you'd know in real life or run into on the streets. As opposed to other female leads on other shows that aired along with Seinfeld, she was decidedly more "human" and realistic, in contrast to the "beautiful and shallow" Rachel Green or the "clean freak" Monica Geller from Friends, for example. Elaine was known primarily for her acerbic sense of humour and general zaniness, while Rachel and Monica, I would argue, were better known for being "perfect" girls with quirks that made them funny.I think Larry David, in one of his interviews, talked about how the writing team on the show saw Elaine as "one of the men".And if anything, I think this portrayal of women in the media is nothing but a positive example, as it calls for the audience to look at women as funny, intelligent and relatable for a change, instead of viewing women as just "pretty" and quirky, though I think there dies need to be a balance: excessive portrayal of women in this direction could definitely cause potential harm. – Aniruddha 6 months ago

    The Allure of the Strange and Unusual at Human Expense

    Centuries ago, people who were "different" in any way–those with visible disabilities, facial deformities or marks, extreme obesity, or other conditions–often found "employment" in circuses and sideshows. They were ridiculed as freaks and shut out from society, and we now look back at their plights as an ultimate example of humanity’s inhumanity. We say we are too well-informed, too "politically correct," to parade people around for entertainment any longer.

    Yet, we also have reality television. These days, the "freak show" looks more like documentaries chronicling the lives of little people, large fundamentalist families, people who have broken away from extreme forms of religion or cults, and yes, the extremely obese or thin again. We also have documentaries that place miserably failing restaurants, hotels, and other businesses on display, mostly so the hosts can be lauded for saving them and the business owners, who are implicitly understood to be careless or stupid.

    Some reality shows are much gentler than others, doing their best to present their subjects with dignity and as real, three-dimensional people. Discouragingly though, the shows that seem to pull in the ratings and the viewers are the same ones that invite viewers to gawk and ridicule.

    Why is this? Is the nature of reality TV itself to present the most unusual of humanity at people’s expense–that is, is there nothing to be done about it? What does it say about us as humans that we continue to consume and enjoy this entertainment? Discuss.

    Some examples you might use:

    -The filthiest and most rundown establishments on Hotel Impossible or Restaurant " "
    -The shower scenes of My 600-Lb Life, which viewers and reviewers often call "the obligatory shower scene" (they’re often part of drinking games)
    -The most extreme or scary-looking cults in documentaries
    -The controversy and scandal surrounding the Duggar family, including the marriages of grown daughters and resulting spin-off series
    -Places featured on documentaries like Most Terrifying Places in America, Ghost Adventures, etc.

    • As someone born with disabilities, and was going to see how how the disabled are portrayed in books and films, i support this topic! On Facebook and many channels on Youtube post these outlandish stories about the unusual or disabled people and ending the story with no possitive outcome. We are then to only feel pity for them before we move on and click on another video showing the same type of content with giving a couple hearts and crying emojis to show our support.– Amelia Arrows 9 months ago
    • Good topic. I was expecting mention of Hoarders! I'm not sure that the final item in the list at the end of your topic -- about Most Terrifying Places in America and Ghost Adventures -- fit with the other items in the list. The supernatural seems to me like a very different topic. – JamesBKelley 9 months ago
    • Hoarders, yes. :) The paranormal stuff probably doesn't fit, on reflection. I included it because, depending on how people feel about the paranormal, they might malign believers as strange and "haunted" places as gimmick-y or places "normal" people shouldn't be. But yes, Hoarders or Hoarding: Buried Alive would fit much better. – Stephanie M. 9 months ago
    • I really like this topic! There's something about society's fascination with the "other" and how we tend to interact with it in a one-sided relationship -- think circus freak shows. How have reality tv shows and things like YouTube broadened our awareness of the "other" and what work does it do to embrace the "other" into society, or otherwise ostracize it further? Should the focus be on integration/assimilation into society, or can folks with disabilities/abilities be more celebrated for creating their own communities? How can able-bodied people respect these marginalized groups? I'm super interested in this topic, and I would eagerly read a piece about it it. – Eden 9 months ago

    Real People, Film Portrayals, and Responsibility

    Most actors spend their careers playing fictional characters. However, many actors are chosen to star in biopics, Biblical epics, or similar films at least once. When an actor makes the switch from playing a character to portraying a real person, the gravitas factor goes through the roof, and while most actors will try to play real people respectfully and responsibly, there are some who arguably do it "better" than others. Just for one example, look at the many actors who have played Jesus Christ over the years.

    In your opinion, what does it take to play a certain real role responsibly and respectfully? How much of a production team’s choice is based on "casting type" and how much is based on say, personality or lived experience? What are some of the best biopic portrayals you’ve seen, of whom and by whom, and why? Discuss.

    • An example of Jesus Christ would be Robert Powell from Jesus of Nazareth. He is so committed in his role that 99% of the time he does not blink. Of course, his line delivery is convincing. In fact, whenever I think of a live-action Jesus now, I think of Powell's performance. To play a real role responsibly and respectfully, you would need to study that character's life and habits and replicate them to the best of your abilities. Experience in, say, boxing would help if you are playing Muhammad Ali, and having an authentic accent would help if you are playing someone of another race. A good example of how Hollywood casting ruined a character (and actually disgruntled her real-life counterpart) is Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. The look was wrong (Gladys had dark hair and was short), the accent was wrong (she had a Cockney accent), and her story was portrayed inaccurately (most of the details were correct, but Hollywood added a love story). Maybe include a rant of sorts of how Hollywood likes to add (or used to add) unnecessary love stories, even if there was no hard evidence for it in real life. – OkaNaimo0819 12 months ago
    • This is an amazing topic! I wonder if the responsibilities change depending on the fact that the character of portrayal is still alive or not.As great as both movies were, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, I have to admit that I was more invested in Rami Malek's performance as Mercury as opposed to Egerton's because I knew that Elton John is still around. – kpfong83 12 months ago
    • I think it takes a lot of research, first and foremost as well as passion to get to understand the person you're portraying to such a level where you almost morph into them. Recently I really loved Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly in Stan & Ollie, particularly Coogan, who went beyond the well-known image of Stan. He could have played him as a caricature. Instead he made him human and relatable to the point where, even though we don't know that much about Stanley Laurel as a person beyond his performances, we believe him to have been as sensitive and complex as he was portrayed by Steve Coogan. On the other hand we have Renee Zellweger, who although did her research very well, didn't go beyond the caricature level. I know I'm in minority when I say this, given all the accolades, but I wasn't as invested in her Judy as I wished I could have been. I wanted to sympathise with her, instead I found myself noticing the pout and the way she talked thinking "okay, she studied her quite a lot". – danivilu 10 months ago

    Recreating the Beauty of Saving Mr. Banks

    Saving Mr. Banks (2013) was something of a groundbreaking film for Disney. The company had done films based on true stories before, but Saving Mr. Banks was the first to juxtapose the story of a Disney classic’s making with the story of the original work’s author. Saving Mr. Banks met with critical acclaim and is also one of my favorites in the canon. In fact, I’d very much like to see more films like this.

    Do other films in the canon, live-action or animation, lend itself to this type of storytelling? Would actors or viewers be interested in say, learning about the personal lives and struggles behind the makings of Disney’s Golden, Bronze, or Renaissance films? Are there untold stories to be mined from animators (e.g,, Walt’s Nine Old Men, female animators, etc.) and other production staff/voice actors? Discuss.

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      Latest Comments

      Stephanie M.

      I commend the thorough analysis. The treatment of the Oompa Loompas and the commentary on wealth seem particularly relevant for today. I also wonder if Wonka’s chocolate doesn’t function as a symbol of wealth and power, or for the children, privilege, safety, and the power they one day hope to have.This article makes me think books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are not as “childish” as they seem at face value. Perhaps books like this should be studied or held up as examples in subjects like sociology or economics.

      Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: A Capitalist Dystopia
      Stephanie M.

      @Irene: My last name is McCall. I’m so glad you liked it, and that you want to use me as a reference!

      How Princesses of Color Have Improved the Disney Princess Narrative
      Stephanie M.

      Ah, the marriage of literature and history–one of my favorite couplings. Well done!

      Novels and the Battle of Gettysburg: Fiction Enriches History
      Stephanie M.

      How could you not? The hair alone… 🙂

      The Baby-Sitters Club: Classic, Problematic, or Both?
      Stephanie M.

      That’s a good way to look at “problematic,” because it’s a buzzword I think gets overused. I never thought the BSC was cultish when I was growing up. Actually, I wished I had friends that close. However, in an attempt to be objective, I can see detractors’ points of view. There are situations in which the girls don’t treat each other well, and while that’s realistic, it happens enough within an insular group that I can understand where “cult” comes from. I think if I were reading the series with a niece or daughter today, I would ask her what she thought. And then we might talk about “close” vs. “maybe too close.”

      The Baby-Sitters Club: Classic, Problematic, or Both?
      Stephanie M.

      MORE details? Whew, when did the author have time to sleep? But seriously, cool.

      The Character Development of Hikigaya Hachiman in OreGairu
      Stephanie M.

      Who doesn’t love a baby dragon? 🙂 Baby or adult, I also enjoy the dragons in the Harry Potter universe, because there are so many different species and features. For instance, the Swedish Short-Snout breathes blue flame, the Chinese Fireball lays gold eggs, Peruvian Vipertooths have been known to eat humans, etc. But I think my favorite HP dragon might be the Common Welsh Green. It feels more “classic” and in line with my love for all things British Isles/Medieval. Chinese Fireball is a close second b/c of the beautiful red coat and gold eggs, and b/c it reminds me of Mulan.

      Dragons: East versus West
      Stephanie M.

      Did not know that! Filing it away in my trivia bank…

      Dragons: East versus West