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

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    Latest Articles

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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 3 months ago
    • what if we explored the possibility of "supporting characters" being the REAL "protagonists"? Or the possibility of multiple protagonists? – Dena Elerian 1 month ago

    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 5 months ago
    • 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 5 months ago
    • 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 2 months ago

    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 2 months ago
    • 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 2 months ago

    Nonfiction tie-ins to popular media

    In recent years, more and more people seem to be writing all sorts of nonfiction books based on popular literary movements, TV shows, and other popular media. One of the most well-known versions of this seem to be theme cookbooks, including a Downton Abbey cookbook and even a Lovecraftian horror cookbook called "the Necronomnomnom," which came out just this year. However, other kinds of books exist, including self-help books with popular characters and even a guide to starting a business using tips from Game of Thrones. Are these tie-ins a clever idea or a cynical cash grab? Can they offer any insights that a standard book couldn’t? Are there any examples that stand out as particularly interesting or useful?


      History of popular progressive topics and ideas

      Modern progressive activists often act as if the causes they support are radically new. However, most of them go back decades, and some have been around for centuries in one form or another. One well-known example of this is the drive to expose the genocide of Native Americans. In modern times, this takes the form of protests over the use of Native American lands, or why we celebrate certain public holidays. However, references to the dispossession and abuse of Native Americans have appeared in the literature at least since the 1800’s (including a reference in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). Another example is the term "intersectionality" itself, which was invented in the 1980’s but didn’t achieve widespread usage until the past few years. Just how far back do the various progressive concepts and causes go–and, by extension, if they’ve been with us for so long how come change hasn’t come faster?


        Science as politics by other means

        It seems like increasing numbers of scientists nowadays (especially the popular scientists) seem interested in using their credentials as scientists to push political points. For instance, many popular science blogs contain articles about trending political topics like climate-change protests or neurodiversity. The problem is, it sometimes seems like these individuals care more about pushing their political agendas than about the actual scientific basis behind their ideas. For instance, they may dismiss out of hand solutions to the problem of climate change that are not popular in "green" activist circles. They may also ignore aspects of human behavioral ecology, such as the evidence that humans are naturally tribalistic and suspicious of unfamiliar people and behaviors, to push the idea that bigotry is a conspiracy that people are simply being "taught."

        What are some specific examples of this phenomenon? Are any outlets particularly known for this? On the other hand, are any outlets better than others at avoiding politics and sticking to the science?

        • A tricky subject indeed. Let's not forget that there are very few 'scientists' who can afford to self-fund their work. They have to go where the money is and quite often that means politically motivated agenda. 'Climate change' is a good example - it's a big earner! So, when questioning why some scientists appear to pushing a certain political agendum, then follow the money trail. Who or what is funding them and why? Deep research is essential. – Amyus 4 months ago
        • Amyus makes an excellent point. I would also encourage you to consider the historical reasons why some scientific issues have been "politicized" and for which agendas. How did climate change become a "political" issue, and who has benefited from it as something worth debating upon? Also, instead of comparing news outlets, which we all know have specific target audiences that they cater to, I would look to multi-agency scientific studies. – Eden 4 months ago

        What can Undertale teach about pacifism in the real world?

        Much has been made of how innovative Undertale is for providing players with the opportunity to resolve fights peacefully, without killing any opponents–and, in fact, even seems to punish players for being too eager to kill. However, winning fights without killing is not necessarily easy, and frequently requires players to take a large amount of damage. Indeed, message boards and blogs are full of stories about how virtually nobody can avoid killing all the characters on the first go. What, if anything, could a game like this teach about how to resolve problems in real life? Can you think of any situations where you might be putting yourself in harm’s way by being peaceful?

        • I wrote an essay on Undertale in my first year of uni, particularly on player agency, and I find that it's a really compelling game to write about.I'd suggest thinking not only about the game's unique take on pacifism over violence, but how it gives you that choice again and again and what this means for real-life interactions with people. Additionally, in terms of how Undertale might teach us how to resolve problems, there is always more to someone than initially meets the eye. Every character in Undertale has a story and has their own background and motivations. There might be an interesting parallel to be made with how we treat others in this day and age. – sofiarbarr 4 months ago

        Double standards about Mary Sues

        Most people nowadays are familiar with the concept of the "Mary Sue"–broadly, an unrealistically perfect or beloved character whose wants and needs are given an unrealistic level of focus and attention in the context of their story. It seems like there’s a double standard regarding male and female Mary Sues, both from people who write them and who critique them. Although both male and female Mary Sues exist, the female Mary Sues like Bella Swan seem to receive nearly all the attention and scorn from the wider fan community, as do the (usually female) authors who write them. Some people will go so far as to imply that any female character of any worldly significance whatsoever is a Mary Sue, like Rey from the latest generation of Star Wars. Why do you think this double standard exists? What are some examples of male Mary Sues, and do you see them getting away with things that a female Mary Sue would be called out for?

        • I've had this thought for some time & it's nice to know I'm not the only one. hoping this topic gets written one day soon! – ees 8 months ago
        • I've also had this thought too! After a little research, I found that a male Mary Sue is sometimes called a Mary Stu (which I find quite clever and funny). Examples include Superman and James Bond, but I also might throw out the male protagonist in a harem anime, as well. – EJSmall 8 months ago
        • Love this! I would definitely be interested in reading an article that touches on this concept across genres. I would recommend looking into specific examples (Bella Swan, Rey), and then the broad reasons that may apply to why they are perceived this way, i.e. systemic issues that affect how we perceive women and our expectations of the roles they perform in society. – Eden 8 months ago
        • I think it obviously exists due to the unfortunate misogynist climate experienced within much of nerd/geek culture. There are lots of men out there who default to auto gate-keeping such realms of interest by making baseless accusations, see the seething rage over the latest Star Wars film that has apparently been *overrun* by SJWs etc.. Star Wars is a good example of that double standard and its hypocrisy, as so many of the male protagonists within the franchise are examples of this very behavior.So, to not be a Mary Sue, I guess by definition the character in question has to really *work* to achieve the level of attention/power level/plot significance they receive. How does young Anakin in the Phantom Menace put in any effort beyond being the chosen one? He wins a pod race, wow! Conveniently, his skills at pod racing are sufficient to allow him to deftly pilot a N-1 Starfighter with no prior experience. "Let's try spinning, that's a good trick." Apparently his midi-chlorian is extremely high, despite NEVER (significantly) being mentioned again! Totally male Mary Sue-ism at work. – blissaidan 8 months ago
        • This is a great topic. It would be cool to see a comparison between mary sues and Gary stu. – anniesaurus 8 months ago
        • This would be a fantastic article. Personally I'd love to see one of The Shining – danielemilioamato 6 months ago
        • I think it points back to the misogyny and sexism we have in our society. Women are forced to fit inside a small box and even then they are constantly criticized. A "strong" female character is a boring Mary Sue; a "weak" female character is a terrible, boring character. This rarely applies to males, and I believe that's because male characters are allowed to be more dynamic. Female characters have to fit inside a certain category or they risk getting lumped as a "Mary Sue" or just a "bad" character in general – fhlloyd 6 months ago
        • This seems like a really interesting and worthwhile topic. If you're going to get into what actually defines a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu (the male equivalent), I think it might be beneficial to distinguish between a Mary Sue character (who consciously doesn't do any wrong) and a character who is just incredibly lucky (who accomplishes things unconsciously through chance). Whether she actually is or not, Rey comes across as a Mary Sue for many because she decides "I'm going to accomplish this goal" and does it with seemingly no problem or pushback that she can't overcome with minimal effort (typical of a Mary Sue). Compare this to another Star Wars character, Anakin Skywalker, who even in The Phantom Menace (arguably at his most Gary Stu-est) mostly accomplishes things by being lucky; even with a midichlorian count higher than Yoda (presumably making him extremely powerful), he wins a very difficult race after not even finishing three times previously and he blows up a space station by randomly pushing buttons and saying "Oops" alot. It's not the same as Han Solo having trouble activating lightspeed on his ship he's flown for 30+ years and Rey stepping into the cockpit and immediately locating and fixing the problem, not due to luck but expertise.They're similar characterizations, but different enough to be distinct from each other, and it might factor into whether or not there is a double standard. – CulturallyOpinionated 6 months ago

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        Latest Comments

        I’m wondering if this film was almost doomed to disappointment from the very beginning. As the final film in a series that spans decades, it had to offer something both to the diehard fans as well as bring the final trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to juggle these two different objectives in a way that would please everybody. And because Star Wars is so iconic, everyone is going to have impossibly high hopes for its ending.

        The Rise of Skywalker Succeeds As A Legacy Film But Illustrates The Flaws Of Disney Era Star Wars

        It’s good to see more shows looking to portray mental illness realistically, rather than treating it as either an informed flaw or something that makes characters evil and monstrous.

        The Sobering World of BPD in 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'

        I dunno–I feel like this article sets up a dichotomy of passive white woman/active woman of color, which I don’t think is really fair. It’s important to note as well that, although all the characters you mention would be POC to us, they wouldn’t necessarily all be POC in their own societies–Mulan, for instance, is the same race as all the other characters in her movie, and almost certainly, so is Jasmine. Another way to look at it is, do you think that Disney intentionally makes its non-white princesses more active because it feels like it can’t “get away with” a passive non-white character who just wants to get married (for example), in the same way it could with a white character?

        How Princesses of Color Have Improved the Disney Princess Narrative

        The interesting thing about GLOW is that it’s set in the 1980s but was made just a few years ago. I wonder how much of the characters’ discussions about their empowerment and the roles they have to play is meant to reflect the culture of the 1980’s, and how much is meant to reflect modern culture.

        GLOW: Actual Feminist Filmmaking in #MeToo Hollywood

        My personal theory was that Lovecraft was somewhere on the autism spectrum, and that’s why he was so nihilistic and scared of everything.

        How Cosmic Horror Made Paganism Great Again

        Well, sort of. The thing about a lot of “new age” style neo-paganism is that it developed in societies that were already (usually) Christianized long before. So it’s very hard to tell where the Christian (or Buddhist, or Hindu…) influences end and pagan influences begin (I remember attending a Beltane fire circle-style ceremony at my university, and it was basically just a hippie-ish appreciation for the change of seasons). The thing about cosmic horror is that it’s drawing from a worldview that does not recognize the teachings of Christianity (or Islam, or Buddhism…) at all.

        How Cosmic Horror Made Paganism Great Again

        It’s interesting the way all these different versions try to respond to the Soviet Union. It seems like the original tows the Soviet party line pretty well (capitalism bad, government knows best, etc.) while the others are more subversive. They all take the idea of a Zone, but interpret it in very different ways depending on, seemingly, how the Soviet Union would have been portrayed by the respective creators.

        Adapting Worlds, not Stories

        Put it this way–I’m a fairly religious Jew and I enjoy reading Lovecraft. People read all kinds of things for any number of reasons, but it doesn’t mean they always take them to heart.

        How Cosmic Horror Made Paganism Great Again