Category Archives: television and movies

How Did Mr. Body Find out about Mr. Green?

(Possible spoilers if you have never seen the movie, so TURN AWAY NOW)

In the movie Clue, the real Mr. Body has all of his sources/accomplices come to the house, presumably to drive his blackmail victims to the point of murder. Therefore, Body planned to use his victims to take out his accomplices for him, keeping his own hands clean. With the final ending in the movie, Mr. Green is revealed as the only person who hasn’t killed anyone, because the source that gave away his secrets was never revealed/invited to the house. The only person Green kills is Mr. Body, under the guise of anger or self-defense.

BIG QUESTIONS: Why didn’t Body invite the source who told him about Green? Why didn’t he invite him to the house to tempt Green to the point of murder?

Regardless of Green’s status as a plant for the feds, Body was blackmailing him under the threat of exposure. Perhaps Green didn’t let his superiors know the full extent of the blackmail, to protect his job, but he still must have brought the investigation to the feds, or he saw the case was already started, and got himself involved to keep his secrets safe.

All that aside, there still seems to be a big hole in the fact that Body did not invite his source/accomplice that gave him the information about Green’s true identity as a homosexual. He invited all his other sources, so why didn’t he invite this one?

Or did he?

The only extra person who arrives at the house who does not die is the traveling missionary. By the time he arrives in the story, almost all of the other murders have occurred, so the cast of characters are unwilling to let him inside in fear that he too may be killed. By the end of the movie, the traveling missionary is identified as another undercover cop, the chief, who takes the lead in arresting the identified murderer(s).

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While an undercover sting works for closing the story and punishing the bad guys, I think there’s more here than meets the eye.

If the feds knew about Mr. Body’s blackmailing scheme, they had to somehow get involved in it in a way that would flush Body out without scaring him into hiding. What better way than by giving him a new victim to blackmail?

To do so, the feds come up with a ruse that puts one of their own in a compromised position. Somehow they create a source who feeds the information to Body – the source being the character of the traveling missionary/chief. The source reveals the constructed lies about Green’s sexual orientation and how that could hurt his career. Mr. Body takes the bait and begins to blackmail Green.

As the entire story has been a ruse, Green simply plays the role of the victim while secretly doing what he needs to do to gather evidence against Body. When Mr. Body invites both Green and the traveling missionary/chief to the same event, it tips off the feds that everything is going down in one night. That’s how they’re able to get all of their resources on-site and ready to arrest the guilty parties, as shown in the end of the movie.

mr-green-and-the-chief

It could’ve happened that way, but what about this?

What if Mr. Green and the traveling missionary/chief were actually secret lovers? They both worked on the force together, developed a friendship and a bond, so an office romance is not that surprising. While the secrecy of their relationship could have added to the heat of their passion, hiding their love no doubt became burdensome. Perhaps the two had an argument and separated for a brief amount of time.

During that separation, it’s possible that the traveling missionary/ chief character crossed paths with Mr. Body. That could explain how Mr. Body found out about Green’s secret.

To get from this possible scenario of a romance gone wrong to a full-on investigation that would ultimately expose Mr. Body, I think that Mr. Green and the traveling missionary/ chief character would have had to have made up at some point before the dinner party. They both would have had to have admitted what was going on, that one was being blackmailed, and that the other was the reason for the blackmail.

By doing so, both individuals would have enough information to expose the other, but that would risk self-exposure. Instead, they use their positions in the government to start out a full-on investigation against Body. After all, Mr. Body is definitely a professional blackmailer, so he must have other marks out there. Mr. Green and the traveling missionary/ chief concoct a scenario that allows them to run the investigation while keeping their connection to Mr. Body secret, at least at first.

As things carry on, both Mr. Green and the traveling missionary/ chief have to realize that when they arrest Mr. Body, they will be exposed by whatever evidence Body has gathered and will bring to light in court. Therefore, I believe that these two characters conspired to uncover enough evidence to convict Mr. Body, but never let Mr. Body walk into a courtroom alive.

There are any number of potential scenarios these two could have used to have Body killed before he stood trial. For instance, he could’ve been killed in prison, they could’ve lied about him resisting arrest, or something else completely believable and plausible.

While I’m sure the two never thought that things would go down the way they did at the dinner party, Mr. Green’s action to shoot and kill Mr. Body was not just an act of anger, as portrayed in the film. Before Green shoots Body, Body has a gun on everyone else, but he’s mostly keeping everyone controlled and doesn’t necessarily mean to shoot any of them. Body tells them that he plans on all of them leaving the house one by one, and that he will go on blackmailing them.

Body’s threat to continue the blackmail appears to be the igniting moment that drives Green to murder, but, as I said, I think Green recognized the opportune moment to kill Body and keep his secrets safe. After all, he had five other witnesses to verify that Mr. Body was threatening all of them with a gun, so shooting Body was nothing more than protecting five civilians. Furthermore, Green knew that the evidence against him had been burned, so he knew that nothing would be found on-site to expose his secret. Killing Body solved his problems and ended his investigation with a bang.

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Enslaving the Force and Rejecting Fluidity

***Spoiler ALERT!! If you read this article, I will assume you know the plot arch of all 7 Star Wars movies***

After reading the title, you might be thinking something like:

“Wait a minute – all the Jedi master’s said to let the force flow, so how can they be rejecting fluidity?”

For starters, flow and fluidity are NOT the same thing. To understand this concept in relation to Star Wars, particularly the newest movie, The Force Awakens, let us first look at the terms flow and fluidity.

The concept of flow implies such definitions as gushing out, being spilled, springing forth, circulating, etc. In terms of the force, letting it flow often describes allowing the energy of the force to circulate in your being and flow out of your body to do with as you wish. The important thing to remember regarding flow is that an individual controls the flow.

In contrast, we use fluidity as an adjective to explain such things as the force. Fluidity describes something that “lacks definite shape,” and that “flows and alters shape freely” (paraphrased from the OED).

Fluidity depicts the raw energy that IS the force.
Flow implies a means to control the force.

The Force and the Patriarchy of Control

Those in power, often described as the patriarchy, assert their power by controlling the attainment and ultimate use of power. Politicians do so through complex laws and legislation, dictators do so through fear and tyranny, and force-users do so by requiring a rigid form of training.

0720232f-8631-4e46-9442-410c5038138dBoth sides, Jedi and Sith, light and dark, have their own philosophies and methodologies around how to use the power of the force. If you only know Star Wars from the movies, it implies a simplistic binary of Jedi = good and Sith/Empire = bad. As you get deeper into the Star Wars universe, however, you start to discover that this rudimentary explanation ignores much of the reality of the situation.

Jedi believe in full detachment from their emotions as a means to be one with the force. And I do mean all emotions, good and bad, including love, joy, etc. It’s not that they don’t feel these emotions, but they try to control how they will feel them, because giving in to emotions, according to Jedi training, could open one up to the desires of the dark side.

In contrast, those who are trained in the ways of the dark side use their emotions as a way to gain access to the power of the force. Most of the time, this methodology depicts apprentices and masters giving in to the most violent of emotions, including rage, lust, vengeance, and other. In many ways, those trained in the dark side are shown as narcissistically pursuing their own selfish desires, sacrificing all else to obtain what they want most.

Obviously, especially from a storyteller’s perspective, having such polar opposites creates better conflict. Moving beyond that, if you are willing to look deeper, what the binary truly highlights includes the fact that the force itself is just an energy source that can be wielded any number of ways, depending upon the person wielding it.

Both the Jedi and the Sith have created power structures around their training academies, because forcing rigorous training allows them to mold young force-users into believing the ideology of either the light side or the dark side.

Think about it – why are the Sith so bent on destroying the Jedi younglings, as Anakin/Darth Vader did? Why do they want to wipe out all Jedi teachings? They do this because they recognize the power in the academy setting.

Within a training environment, like the academy, no matter which side you’re on, all you do is focus on how your side uses the force, why your side does what they do, and how to keep your side going strong. The academy promotes propaganda, it establishes the power structure as normative, and it identifies anything outside of that power structure as Other and dangerous.

On the light side, they seek out force sensitives and try to bring them into the fold under the guise that they are helping these youngsters understand themselves and avoid hurting anyone. They also offer these individuals a home, a place to belong, and a cause in which to fight for. On the dark side, force sensitives are often manipulated into the academy system. Generally, Sith Masters tend to offer force sensitives the chance to become like Gods, the opportunity to claim vengeance, patriotism, or whatever it takes.

The Force Outside of the Patriarchy

The first six movies set up the binary of Jedi = good and Sith = bad, and those movies implied that this binary was the only way the force works. In the newest movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we start to step away from this binary and ask ourselves ethical questions concerning the force.

Is the force inherently good or evil?

Some people might argue that the force is both, being that it has two sides, but again I would interject that the force represents raw, unaligned power. The idea of the light side and the dark side only serve to highlight the propaganda of the two training academies. With the force, there are no sides, only fluidity.

maz-kanata-force-discussion-165843Interestingly enough, this concept of the unaligned force gets promoted not by a force-user, but by Maz Kanata, the old woman who runs the neutral bar. When Rey senses Luke’s light saber and goes on a vision quest, it scares her, because she lacks the understanding of what such visions mean. Maz begins to explain that the force is a natural form of energy, neither good nor bad. She offers Rey the light saber as a conduit between herself and the force, which at first Rey refuses.

Rey’s refusal stems from her state of shock after the terrifying vision and uncertainty of what her vision implies. Going deeper, her initial refusal of the light saber could represent her refusing the patriarchy of the academy, as the light saber represents the propaganda from both sides so monstrously depicted in the vision. Although Rey may not realize it consciously, the vision she saw further promotes the binary that enslaves the raw power of the force. How can she accept the force as a power of nature, as Maz says, yet wield the symbol of its oppressors?

When Rey and Kylo Ren fight at the end, she at first clumsily fights with the light saber out of rage, having just saw her pseudo-father-figure, Han Solo, brutally murdered. Kylo Ren immediately hones in on Rey’s rage, per his Sith training. He has already sensed her power throughout the entire movie, and now he sees her giving in to her emotions. As an unaligned force-user, he sees Rey as the Other, and a potential danger to himself. As his training teaches, and as the dark side propaganda promotes, he must bring her in and teach her the “appropriate” ways to use the force. With this in mind, he knocks her light saber out of her hands and begins toying with her. Then he tells her that she needs a proper master, and that if she will submit to him as her master, he can make her powerful beyond her own imaginings.

This is the pivotal moment.

In this moment where Kylo Ren could kill her if she refuses his offer, time seems to stop for a moment as Rey hears the words of Maz Kanata. In that moment of feeling the fluidity of the force all around her as a natural source, she sees how Kylo Ren manipulates that power to flow as he dictates. She sees how the academy has restrained the fluidity of the force, and only then can she reject the binary methodology and transform the weapon of the binary into her own symbol that she can use to push away the propaganda and cast it out. Through this transformation, she allows the force work through her as IT chooses, helping her wield the weapon and push away Kylo Ren

Uncertainty Between Flow and Fluidity

rey offers light saberAt the end, as Rey rejects Kylo Ren as her master and accepts the nature of the force all around her, one would expect her to do her own thing, yet at the end of the movie we find her seeking out Luke Skywalker. As we don’t know what happens in the next movie, it remains uncertain as to what Rey’s final gesture of offering the light saber to Luke actually means.

Many people interpret it as her submission to a Jedi master and her desire to be trained as a Jedi. I would not be surprised if that’s how the next movie goes, because it’s what the fans want and it goes back to the binary, which Hollywood understands.

Since Luke does not take the light saber, and since Rey does not kneel before him, I would like to argue that perhaps Rey’s actions represent something else. She has transformed the light saber into something uniquely her own, which she could wish to share with Luke. After all, Luke has become a hermit, hidden away out of shame. Does this new awakening in Rey imply a new way of using the force, and will Rey be more the teacher than the student?

Until the next movie comes up, it’s difficult to say for certain. Ideally, I would like to see the next movie show the flow of control butt heads with the fluidity of the unaligned force in order to create something new, but, sadly, I don’t think such a demonstration will win over audiences. In the end, people in the movie business make decisions based on the potential for profits. Perhaps the writers can find a way to please the masses without further using the binary to enslave the raw power of the force.

What Do Star Wars and Strippers Have in Common?

*Warning*

Spoilers Ahead! Spoilers Ahead! Spoilers Ahead!

If you have not seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens,

DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE!!!!!!

You have been warned.


So what do Star Wars and strippers have in common? I’m NOT talking about scantily clad women. I’m talking about daddy issues.

It is peculiar how many characters in the entire saga suffer from daddy issues, yet fathers are notoriously negligent or absent throughout the whole series. Of the few fathers who do stick around, they’re either narcissistic beyond belief, (Jango Fett), or they distance themselves due to their own issues (Han Solo).

The psychosis of daddy issues is more than just a common trait in the Star Wars galaxy. In fact, this psychological character aspect continually perpetuates the plot. To demonstrate this point, allow me to provide a character breakdown as follows:

Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader

Anakin_Skywalker_RotSFather Status: Absent/nonexistent (thanks for the midi-chlorians/virgin-birth BS, Lucas!)

Resulting Daddy Issues: Although he was a slave, Anakin seems like a fairly well-rounded child. After he discovers the truth about his powers, and once adult males show an interest in him, everything starts to push Anakin toward the path of Vader.

During his Jedi training, Anakin finally has male/father figures in his life. To impress them, he gives in to his competitive/cocky nature, A.K.A., his passion/Dark Side tendencies. When Obi-Wan Kenobi becomes his master, though, their relationship is more akin to siblings rather than parent/child. After all, Kenobi himself had so newly become a master, and both he and Anakin saw Qui Gon Jinn, their shared master, as a father, thus making them brothers. Nonetheless, Anakin still has to make his big brother proud.

darthvaderUnfortunately, while Anakin treats the other Jedi masters like father figures, none of them are his actual father, and therefore they do not give him the kind of individual care and acknowledgment every child craves. Hence, it is not surprising that even after Anakin becomes a full Jedi master that he still acts as if he has something to prove, which might explain why he latches on to Senator Palpatine/The Emperor Darth Sidious. After all, Palpatine dotes on him like a father and encourages Anakin’s passions. In reality, Palpatine recognizes Anakin’s power and weaknesses, so he exploits the daddy issues as a way to push Anakin into becoming Darth Vader.

Luke Skywalker

LukeGreenSaber-MOROTJFather Status: Father believed dead, raised by relatives.

Resulting Daddy Issues: Despite not being raised by his biological father, Luke’s Uncle Owen did provide a father figure and male presence in his early life. Regardless, he never knew his real father, and being raised on a backwater planet where there was little for him to do gave Luke plenty of time to fantasize about who his father may have been. Since his father was only ever talked about in stories, Luke creates an idealized version.

Obi-Wan recognizes Luke’s power right away, because he knows the truth about Luke’s heritage. As a result, Obi-Wan chooses to exploit Luke’s hero-worshiping of his father by relaying the equivocation that Darth Vader killed Luke’s father. The very idea that someone would kill his father pushes Luke to embrace his force powers and become the Jedi that Obi-Wan wants him to be to carry on with the Jedi cause.

Of course, after Luke finds out the truth about his father, and after Luke tries to save his father, he develops some sort of survivor’s guilt. Luke loves and respects his father’s choice of self-sacrifice, but the emotions and unresolved issues between Luke and his father remain.

Those unresolved daddy issues make Luke feel as if he owes something to his father, which might explain why he agrees to Leia’s request to train her son, Ben, to be a Jedi. However, because of Luke’s guilt, his skills as a teacher might be questionable. Especially since Luke’s nephew, Ben, has major daddy issues of his own.

Princess Leia/General Organa

Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher, as Princess Leia in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Father Status: Raised by adopted parents, but discovers later in life the truth about her real father.

Resulting Daddy Issues: Initially, her daddy issues are minimal or non-existent, because she was raised by presumably loving parents. When Alderaan gets blown up, Leia has no real time to grieve, as the shock of an entire planet being annihilated takes time to process. Not to mention the fact that she has to endure torture and imprisonment until she is finally rescued by a ragamuffin team made up of a Wookie, an old man, a smuggler, and a short kid.

Her major daddy issues develop on the sidelines, and sadly we aren’t privy to them due to the predominant focus on male characters. Nevertheless, we can speculate a great deal.

She discovers that Luke is her brother, which, after having all of her adopted family disintegrated, it must be a relief to know that she still has some family alive in the universe. In the discovery of her brother, though, she also learns that Darth Vader is their father. Now she has to deal with the fact that she was tortured by her own father. Furthermore, she has to process the realization that her biological father murdered her adopted family. Not to mention the fact that her father doesn’t even seem to care about her, since she does not display active force powers like Luke. Darth Vader only mentions her relationship to him and Luke when he knows it will trigger Luke into an emotional response.

Leia was raised by politicians and nobility, so she puts her people and the cause first and chooses to suffer in silence. Even in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, when she and Han talk about their son, the conversation happens in a place separated from everyone else, and it almost seems as if they are keeping their voices down when they discuss how they feel. Her choice to hide her emotional side gets highlighted further when all of her troops are celebrating the success of the battle, yet she and Rey, (the only other major female character), hug in somber silence as they deliberately distance themselves from the festivities in order to grieve their shared loss.

Boba Fett

headerFather status: Genetically cloned from Jango Fett.

Resulting Daddy Issues: His father raised him and trained him, but his father raised him to be literally an exact duplicate. In some ways, Jango’s action to clone himself almost take away Boba’s free will. His father expects him to be a perfect copy in every way. Had Jango not been killed by Mace Windu, perhaps Boba would have grown-up and gone through a rebellious stage where he chose to become his own person. Unfortunately, the death of his father led him down a path of vengeance, which made him into the perfect bounty hunter tool that would later be used as a plot device to trap Han Solo.

Ben Organa-Solo/ Kylo Ren

Ben kylo renFather Status: Son of Han Solo.

Resulting Daddy Issues: Well, as if being the son of the most renowned smuggler in the galaxy weren’t enough, Ben is also the son of Princess Leia. From the moment he left the womb, he had to live in the shadow of his heroic parents. Talk about pressure to be as good or better!

Concerning daddy issues, we are not shown the exact details of his upbringing, but from the conversations between Han and Leia, we can extrapolate that Han purposefully distanced himself from his son. He uses the excuse that there was too much Vader in Ben, but one has to wonder if the issue was more that Han wasn’t exactly the sticking-around-father-type.

With a distant father, Leia has to manage her political responsibilities and take-up double parental duty, which might be why she sent Ben to Luke. No doubt she recognized her son’s affinity with the force, which is why she hoped that Luke could provide Jedi guidance, but she may have also wanted Ben to be around Luke, so that he could provide the male presence/father figure that Han could never be.

Ben no doubt felt abandoned by his biological father, and in that abandonment he may have tried to find a reason for his father’s distance. Perhaps he heard his parents arguing, and that’s how he got the idea that he had too much of his grandfather in him, which might explain Ben’s fixation on becoming like his grandfather, including going down the path of the Dark Side and wearing a face mask.

In many ways, Ben’s character is a mirror reflection of Anakin’s character. Both have immense power, and both share a similar vulnerability. Supreme Leader Snoke, just like Senator Palpatine/The Emperor, capitalizes on Ben’s daddy issues in order to forge Ben into his own Sith lapdog.

Rey

ReyHS-FatheadFather Status: Parents unknown, but she was separated from them.

Resulting Daddy Issues: For reasons not fully explained, we as the audience know that Rey has been left behind by her family, or she was forcibly separated from them. She stays on the dust ball planet Jakku, because she believes her family will come back. From the sage-like wisdom of Maz Kanata, it is implied that Rey’s family will never come back, and that her only hope of gaining a new family is in her future. While this is not definitive, it is safe to say that Rey must accept that her biological family is dead.

She’s been an orphan for a large part of her life, which explains why she and Finn bond so well, as he is a genetically created soldier who has never known true family connections. Her desire to look out for BB-8 also shows a classic trope of the older orphan becoming a pseudo-parent/caregiver to the other orphans.

Rey’s instant link to Han Solo makes us believe that despite her independent nature, she still longs for a family, especially a father. As we are not yet privy to her full past, we don’t know if she was closer to her father than to her mother, though if she were it might explain why she bonds so quickly with Han.

From a story perspective, it might also be an easy way to put Rey and Ben/Kylo Ren against each other. After all, Rey is just as powerful as him, if not more, yet Han can accept Rey whereas he cannot accept his own son. Rey’s loyalty and devotion to Han as a pseudo-father figure pushes her to fight Ben/Kylo Ren, especially after he kills Han. Granted, Ben/Kylo Ren’s earlier interrogation tactics of pretty much mind-raping Rey no doubt added to Rey’s hostility against him, so him killing her father-figure may have been akin to adding fuel to the fire.

Orphaned again, Rey must find a way to move forward. She develops a connection to Leia and Chewbacca, as they all share in their loss of Han. She also bonds with Finn, her friend, fellow orphan, and potential love interest. While these individuals may become her family over time, she still seeks answers, because she has to know what she must do against Ben/Kylo Ren and the First Order. While Rey’s desires for vengeance may be mixed up in her emotional state of grieving Han Solo, Rey’s actions seem bigger than that, as her connection to the energy of the Force shows her that Ben/Kylo Ren and the First Order represent mere symptoms of the disease. It is unclear at the end of the film whether she will turn Luke Skywalker into a new father-figure, especially after having lost Han so shortly after their relationship began.

Mad Men: Is Kenny the Only Good Guy?

Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Stanton) - Mad Men - Season 5 - Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC
Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Stanton) – Mad Men – Season 5 – Gallery – Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels/AMC

***SPOILERS – This article mentions info from the final episodes of Mad Men.***

After the series finale of Mad Men, I started thinking about all the characters, how they developed, and how they ended up. I remember around the end of season five wondering if Kenny (Aaron Staton) was the only good guy on the show. Of course by “good” I mean someone not willing to sacrifice his or her own personal morals for the job. Not that that makes him better than any of the other players involved, but it certainly makes him stand out against such wonderfully broken characters.

The Not so Regular Joe

mad-men139From the very start of the show, Kenny’s back story sets him apart, even though it is supposed to be the boring “regular Joe” origin story. As detailed on the Mad Men Wiki page, Kenny was born in Vermont, raised in an average family, served his time in the military, and went to college. Compared to the star of the show, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) – who is the illegitimate son of a prostitute, grew up in absolute poverty, and faked his own death to live under an assumed name – Kenny’s back story is humdrum to say the least. However, Kenny’s character was never designed as the foil to Don. The two work together quite well, because each of them performs a different function for the ad agency. Kenny is an accounts man – he handles the clients. Don, on the other hand, is a writer and the art director – he creates the advertisements that make everyone want to buy the client’s product. If Kenny is meant to be the foil to anyone, then he’s the foil to the other accounts man, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser).

The writers of the show design Kenny and Pete as rivals, but it seems like no one ever gave Kenny the memo. He never acts intimidated by Pete, although he knows Pete’s connections give him a lot of clout. After all, going back to the origin story comparison, Pete Campbell comes from money, he went to an Ivy League college, and his last name alone carries so much weight that he can get into any club or association he wants. With all of that going for him, Kenny simply can’t imagine that Pete would ever be jealous of his success. But that’s what makes Kenny so different.

Unlike all the other key characters of the show – Don, Pete, Peggy, Roger, and Joan – Kenny doesn’t put work first. Until about season six, Kenny resists that workaholic mentality that makes Pete and some of the other characters so despicable and so miserable.

It’s not that Kenny doesn’t care about his job. In fact, his job comes naturally to him, because he is such an honestly nice and compassionate person. For an accounts man, you really need to possess empathy for your clients, or you have to fake it, since the bulk of your job involves babysitting the clients and keeping them happy. For Kenny, he doesn’t have to fake it, and he quickly proves himself to be one of the best. In contrast, Pete’s weasel-like nature makes him appear arrogant and two-faced, so he has to work twice as hard, if not harder, to be almost as good as Kenny.

SCDP new officesIf Kenny is someone everyone likes, and if he does his job so well, why does everyone leave him behind when McCann buys Sterling Cooper? Simple – because he’s a good guy, and he never would’ve followed through with the plan. Before they started up Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP), the team pretty much stole their clients that should’ve gone to McCann when McCann made the purchase. Even though the theft resulted in professional freedom, the act involved major dirty dealing, and I’m pretty sure all of the characters recognized that Kenny simply wasn’t that type of guy. He didn’t have the same hunger for the business, and everyone else knew it. They had plenty of respect/jealousy for Kenny, but at the time they needed people who possessed the willingness to double-cross McCann.

Optimistically, I suppose you could argue that when the key players left to start SCDP, they had no idea if it would be a success, so perhaps they didn’t want to drag anyone else down with them. Several of them were on extremely friendly terms with Kenny, which is why they invited him to work with SCDP, despite Pete’s wishes against the decision. Nevertheless, in all honesty, I cannot give the key players the benefit of the doubt here. What they did to start SCDP was calculative, strategic, and self-serving. It was business. It was anti-Kenny.

Even the Good Can Break

Before Kenny joined up with SCDP, we learned that his experiences at McCann were not very enjoyable. He even made a few enemies over there, which led to his eventual termination that we saw this last season in “Severance.” How did a nice guy like Kenny make enemies? My guess – he didn’t play ball.

All throughout the show, we saw how the other characters were willing to use any type of leverage they had to make a deal work. Most of the characters who didn’t do so lost their jobs and fell to the wayside. In comparison, Kenny made it perfectly clear that he simply was not willing to use such leverage. Even when his own father-in-law was one of the clients, Kenny refused to use nepotism. While those actions showed his strong character, they didn’t win him any followers at McCann. Had he not been so good at his job, Kenny probably wouldn’t have been invited to SCDP. In fact, his skill is probably the only thing that saved him from being fired with all the other mostly moralistic non-workaholics.

The negative experiences that Kenny went through at McCann marked the point when his character was on the verge of breaking. He somehow managed to survive his time at McCann fairly unscathed before he joined up with SCDP. As the new company grew, merged, and became SC&P, Kenny’s star began to rise, and he got put into a management position over accounts. But more responsibility at the job created more stress for him in his private life, and it changed his entire persona.

When he was just an accounts man and lower on the corporate totem pole, he could do his job and leave it at the office when he went home at night. As his hard work paid off and he started to climb the corporate ladder, he still held to his beliefs and was able to separate the job from his life. Once he became the accounts man for Chevy, though, he could no longer balance his life at work with his life at home, because Chevy demanded all of Kenny’s attention.

When SC&P started pulling in major corporations, the game changed completely for Kenny. After his brief experience working for McCann, you might think that he should have seen this game change coming, but I think he and the rest of the team still saw themselves as a small, privately owned ad agency. They wanted bigger clients, they wined and dined those clients, but I don’t think they ever thought about what would happen when they finally landed those accounts. In today’s business world, they would’ve needed some sort of organizational redesign or something similar to handle such a changeover in the business, but that wasn’t really even a concept during the 1960s, which is when the story takes place. With greed as the motivating factor for SC&P, Kenny could do nothing else but keep the clients happy, no matter the fallout.

mad-men-aaron-statonBut the boys at Chevy were more than Kenny or anyone else bargained for. They pushed Kenny to join them on their corporate expense account pleasure tours, but they constantly jerked him around about their feelings on the ad campaigns. When Kenny wasn’t getting pressure from the Chevy boys, he kept getting pressure from everyone at SC&P to find out how the client was doing. Perhaps what finally broke Kenny, though, was the hunting accident when the Chevy boys’ actions left Kenny permanently disfigured with an eye patch.

From this point on, Kenny finally becomes one of the broken people at SC&P. Regardless, his level of brokenness always felt temporary in comparison to his colleagues. Sure – he had a lot of stress that he could have redirected elsewhere, but the parts of Kenny that were broken were not beyond mending. I think that’s why the writers decided to show him as physically injured as a direct result of the job. All of his injuries remained on the surface. He’d be scarred for life, but those scars would heal and he could still function. Everyone else at the company maintained their beautiful façades as a ruse, allowing each of them to hide their broken parts that would never be fully mended.

Nice Guy Revenge

After losing an eye, getting overworked, and then getting fired, you might expect Kenny to break beyond repair – but that’s not how Kenny plays the game of life. All of the physical and emotional scars he received in the advertising world made him realize that he didn’t always have to play the nice guy. There were ways to bow out respectfully and get revenge, which is what Kenny did.

In the final season of the show, McCann finally purchases and absorbs SC&P. When they absorb the company, they start firing people they don’t need or want. Kenny is one of the first on the chopping block, since when he was with McCann before he didn’t make any allies. When Roger and Pete give him the news and fire him, Roger demands that if Kenny wants his sizable severance package, then he will help Pete re-secure all of Kenny’s accounts. Kenny agrees, because he’s in shock, and in that moment I think that Kenny was truly on the fence about whether he should walk out with dignity or find a way to stick it to McCann. What pushed him over the edge was the way that Pete treated him in the end.

Pete acted as if this was all just business, that this would give Kenny time to get back to his writing. Of course, Pete passively belittles Kenny’s writing skills, and then makes the comment that Kenny’s eye patch would be sure to make his picture on the back of his book jackets look more interesting. Pete never even realizes how cruel and dismissive he acts, but Pete has no real people skills, so no surprise there.

Aaron Stanton as Ken Cosgrove - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 11 - Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC
Aaron Stanton as Ken Cosgrove – Mad Men _ Season 7B, Episode 11 – Photo Credit: Courtesy of AMC

So what is Kenny’s revenge? He finally uses nepotism to his advantage, and, through the help of his father-in-law, he lands a major position in the marketing department of a chemical company that is one of McCann’s/SC&P’s clients. Kenny’s new career puts Pete and Roger in the uncomfortable position of having to kiss up to Kenny to keep him happy if they want to keep the chemical company as their client.

Like I said – it’s a nice guy’s version of revenge, and it feels a bit lackluster. Kenny does force Pete and Roger to squirm a bit, making the agency buy Kenny a client’s dinner, but ultimately Kenny does not use his new leverage in a way that would truly hurt either Pete or Roger. Instead of making their professional lives miserable, Kenny simply fires them. But in the end, I think this action shows Kenny getting back to who he is – the good guy. He didn’t sink to their level. He didn’t become the world’s worst client just to watch them go crazy. No – he just cut ties with them, because good guys don’t hurt people.

Are there really any Captain Tuttles?

s1tuttle_eulogyWhether you grew up watching M*A*S*H or have been watching it in syndication, you may remember the Captain Tuttle episode from the first season. In the episode, Hawkeye and Trapper have secretly donated a large amount of supplies to Sister Teresa’s orphanage. When she asks who signed for all the donations, Hawkeye says that Captain Tuttle did it. Little does the Sister know that Hawkeye has completely made up Tuttle. The rest of the episode is spent building a false identity for Tuttle, making people believe they have met him on several occasions, and then, at the end, Hawkeye, Trapper, and Radar fake Tuttle’s death and have a funeral for him, allowing everyone in the camp to mourn the great man.

Of course, comedic as the episode may be, it made me start to wonder about how easy it would be to fake the existence of a soldier, and to what benefit, or detriment, would doing so achieve.

Legalities and Reality

First of all, there are numerous laws in place to stop people from unlawfully impersonating a member of the military. Some of the most known laws are as follows:

18 U.S. Code § 702 – Uniform of armed forces and Public Health Service
This code makes it illegal for anyone to wear the recognizable uniforms of military personnel or public health officers. Therefore, if you authentically dress up like a soldier, you can be fined or imprisoned.

Stolen Valor Act of 2013
According to this law, it is illegal for anyone to pretend that they were awarded with military medals or honors. It’s mainly targeted at people who are using the false pretenses of being a decorated military hero to con money out of people.

There are also other laws and codes to stop people from falsely obtaining military and/or vet benefits, such as housing loans, money for education, or medical coverage.

Fun Fact – because of laws like the ones listed above, people believe that military uniforms are not portrayed correctly in movies and on television as a way to avoid getting arrested. Jeff Schogol rips this urban legend apart in his article, “Why can’t Hollywood get military uniforms right?”  In his article, Schogol explains that it has very little to do with avoiding legal action as much it has to do with some wardrobe designers and directors simply not doing their homework.

If you will notice, though, the majority of these laws are focused on civilians impersonating military personnel. These laws and codes also focus more on physical actions. For instance, you cannot wear an outfit and you cannot say you have a military medal. Neither of these laws cover creating fictitious soldiers that only exist on paper.

Of course, there is the following law:

18 U.S. Code § 1028 – Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information
Now this code has a multitude of subsections, and amendments have been added to this law periodically since the 1970s. In essence, though, this code says it is illegal to create, buy, sell, or lend false identification documents, which of course makes it illegal to use false identification documents as well.

Besides the above listed code, there are also many other laws that govern identity theft and other fraud related crimes, most of which would stop law-abiding civilians from creating any fictitious persons. Ideally, the same laws should stop military personnel as well.

Conspiracy or Possibilities

No matter how many rules exists, some people still go outside of the law, even members of the military. So, one has to ask:

Is it possible that some senior members of the military could have created imaginary soldiers that only exist on paper?

The United States has one of the largest military forces in the world, and with so many soldiers, plus a never-ending supply of paperwork, hypothetically it would not be that difficult to add a few personnel files to the stacks. It’s not like the records keepers match every physical file with a physical person, after all! Therefore, it certainly seems possible that such actions could be going on in our own armed forces branches.

But if the military were creating a bunch of Captain Tuttles, as it were, what would be the end goal?

If you have soldiers, what else do you have? A paper trail. That paper trail includes everywhere the soldier has been, who they’ve served with, medical history, etc. There’s also information about when and how that soldier has been paid. Thus, if you farmed the identities of a bunch of fictitious soldiers, theoretically you could harvest those soldier’s paychecks. Data posted on Military.com showed that in the early 2000’s, “the entry-level base salary for commissioned officers, such as soldiers with a rank of second lieutenant, [was] $26,200 a year.” So, if you created 100 Captain Tuttles, for instance, then that would gross 2.6 million a year. That sort of slush fund could definitely be used to finance other projects, perhaps even projects no one would want on record.

Other than collecting salaries, another potential use for fictitious soldiers would be to handle fallout. For example, if the military were to make a mistake that caused major civilian casualties, someone would have to take the blame for those actions. If you had a whole group of fictitious soldiers, each with his or her identity carefully farmed to have a lengthy paper trail of authenticity, you could use one of those fictitious identities as the fall guy. It would be as easy as broadcasting the name and having a fake military trial. Perhaps have an actor pretend to be the fictitious soldier. Or, if using an actor were too risky, use a deep cover operative from one of the recognized or clandestine alphabet soup agencies. Whichever happened, someone would be blamed in public, and society would feel as if they received justice.

I will grant you, both of the above reasons do paint the military in a very negative light. It is completely possible that some members of the military might choose to create a bunch of Captain Tuttles in secret for nobler purposes.

Robin_Hood_LEGO_figureFor instance, in M*A*S*H, Hawkeye falsifies the paperwork to get Tuttle’s back pay, and then he donates that money to Sister Teresa’s orphanage in Tuttle’s name. He also claims that Tuttle named Sister Teresa’s orphanage as the beneficiary to his death benefits. By giving to charity, Hawkeye avoids benefiting himself from the creation of this false identity. In many ways, it seems that Hawkeye models his actions on the Robin Hood ideology, stealing from the rich military and giving to the poor orphans. Perhaps then, if any members of our military were to produce their own Captain Tuttles, then they would do well to take a page from Hawkeye Pierce and make sure that the creation of any fake soldiers was only done to benefit the masses.

Sleeper Agents: Truth, Lies, & Tropes

BRIDGET REGANIf you’ve been watching ABC’s Marvel’s Agent Carter, you have no doubt seen this character in the last few episodes. Dottie Underwood appeared in the show as just another girl from the Midwest coming to the big city. At first it seemed that her character would be nothing more than a fellow tenant at The Griffith, a women-only apartment complex that does not allow men above the first floor. It became pretty clear, however, that Dottie Underwood was not who she seemed.

As a hitman comes to take revenge on Carter, Dottie comes out of her room, which happens to be adjacent to Carter’s room. She sees that the strange man has a gun, so she does the following:

That’s right! That sweet persona is nothing but a cover! Dottie Underwood is a Russian sleeper agent.

Sleeper Agents in Fiction

Ever since the Red Scare of the Cold War, the idea of a Russian sleeper agent has been the go-to trope for bad guys. As Maki points out in his article, “Jason Bou(Rn)e He Aint,”  the sleeper agent makes such a good archetype for a villain, because it capitalizes on our fears of betrayal. In a society where people deal with so many strangers throughout the day, the idea that those people we hold closest to us could be deceiving us frightens us to the core. That’s what makes for such great plot twists and drama. You never expect that the sweet and boring people around you could also be highly-trained secret agent assassins.

Dottie Underwood is definitely not the first, nor will she be the last, sleeper agent for Marvel. Black Widow also has a past as a deep cover Russian agent. Depending on which origin story you read, though, her character goes back and forth between being a sleeper agent, double agent, and so forth. In the recent version of Black Widow on The Avengers and connecting movies, where Black Widow is played by the vivacious and talented Scarlet Johansson, the character acts like a mercenary, but she does seem to have loyalty to Fury, Hawkeye, and Captain America.

Outside of the world of comics, other movies and television shows have taken advantage of the sleeper agent trope. In the FX show The Americans, which is set in the 1980s, two Russian spies live under false identities within the suburbs of Washington D.C. in order to infiltrate the American government. In 2010, Philip Noyce directed the film Salt, which included the actress Angelina Jolie portraying a Russian sleeper agent.

fx_americans_keyart_p_2012MOV_7c3f73e9_b

Truth and Lies about Sleeper Agents

Some people wonder that if the sleeper agent trope is used in fiction, do sleeper agents actually exist?

Yes – but the reality of sleeper agents is nowhere near as interesting as the fictitious stories.

As recently as 2010, a network of Russian spies was uncovered operating in the United States. Anna Chapman, noted as the “Russian Spy Babe” by the media at the time, was one of the spies in this network. If you want to know the back story of all the spies in the network, check out Wired’s article, “Who’s who in the Russian spy ring.”

So what exactly did these scary Russian spies do? Did they find major secrets? Assassinate heads of state?

Like I said, nothing that interesting.

Most of them came to the states and lived here for 10 years before they were caught. A major part of being a sleeper agent is maintaining one’s cover, which means living a regular life so no one suspects you of doing anything else. As they developed their regular lives, part of their mission, as far as the FBI could figure out, was to network with Americans who had power or influence over policy-making individuals or entities. In other words, these deep cover agents were setting themselves up to be connected to people who could make things happen. Whether they could have manipulated these people, or if they did, is not entirely clear.

Two of these spies within this network did allegedly try to recruit their son, but not in the way that Carter’s Dottie Underwood was recruited. No – the Russian spies did not send their son off to some creepy camp for kids to be brainwashed and trained to kill their bunk-mates. Instead of that extreme measure, the parents relied on good old-fashioned propaganda. These parents pushed the idea of patriotism to mother Russia onto their impressionable son, and he believed the propaganda wholeheartedly, and supposedly agreed to become a sleeper agent.

Propaganda and patriotism tend to work very well for recruiting young people. After all, these youngsters are in the midst of trying to prove themselves and develop their identities. It’s one of the reasons that military forces in most developed countries tend to recruit high school students.

Young adults in the age group of 14-18 are highly impressionable, they want to feel like they belong, and they want to make a difference. Propaganda stories about nobility, honor, duty, etc., are just what these teens want to hear, and they will dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to “the cause.”

The people caught in the Russian network of spies were one type of sleeper agent. They can also be identified as deep cover agents. In the world of espionage, Dr. John Prados, an intelligence historian and a senior fellow at the National Security Archive in D.C., reveals that deep cover agents who are in fact sleeper agents stay inactive for years as they develop and maintain their cover identities. They might be passively putting themselves into better positions as they develop their cover IDs, but the main goal of a deep cover agent is to infiltrate, and you can only do so if no one suspects you of being a spy.

In an interview conducted by Gwynne Watkins about the FX show The Americans, Watkins asks Dr. Prados to explain whether he would categorize the show’s main characters as deep cover sleeper agents. Dr. Prados argues that the main characters were at one point sleeper agents establishing their cover IDs, but in the show they have been activated, since they are engaging in active intelligence gathering.

The other common type of sleeper agent, and a major trope as well, is the concept of the brainwashed victim being turned into a secret agent. In The Manchurian Candidate, for example, the main character is brainwashed into following instructions upon being given some sort of code word that puts the main character in an altered state of mind. Although the methods used to brainwash the main character were hyped up for the speed of the plot and for the sake of fiction, the idea of conditioning a person into becoming a spy may not be so unheard-of after all.

contrlcjpbAnnalee Newitz reported in her article, “The story of the real-life Salt, a supermodel brainwashed into becoming a CIA spy,” about how during the 1940s the CIA used hypnotism and experimental medication on Candy Jones, a supermodel and writer, to force her into developing a split personality. When given the right activation code, (i.e., hypnotic suggestion), Jones’s conditioned alternate personality, Arlene, would take over and do whatever tasks needed to be done. Newitz points out that all the information in her article, including some of the depictions of the depraved extremes that Arlene’s handler pushed her into doing, have yet to be confirmed by any government agency, and that all of these claims are based on the reports by Jones herself. According to this article, which gives far more details about Jones’s life and her involvement with the CIA, most of the information recovered about her past and her forced split personality was discovered through regressive hypnosis treatments performed on her by her husband.

The Reality of Sleeper Agents

Yes, sleeper agents have been proven to exist. From a completely strategic point of view, it’s a lot easier to get information and to influence other countries with counter intelligence if you have undercover agents put in place to infiltrate different groups from within. But the entire aspect of building cover identities and maintaining those identities is anything but glamorous. As Dr. Prados points out,

“Let’s just say [that nearly everything that happens in most spy shows is] contrived. In general, spying is boring.”

Deep cover agents spend so much time trying “to remain anonymous,” per Dr. Prados, that unless they are activated, these sleeper agents are simply not out there beating people up or killing anyone, because it would risk their cover.

Then why do we see sleeper agents like Dottie Underwood ninja-bouncing off the walls and breaking people’s necks? Because it looks awesome! Sure, you could argue that if her cover ID was designed to get her close to Carter, then taking out anyone who would kill Carter would be a reasonable risk.

That string of logic aside, though, you have to remember that at the end of the day, Dottie Underwood is a work of fiction. Her story is meant to excite viewers and to create further tension between the main characters. The bulk of her undercover life, like her going to Brooklyn or her waiting around at The Griffith, is never really showed much onscreen, because the life of an undercover sleeper agent is, for the most part, as humdrum as any other persons’ life.

Sirens Awakening

Figue-kaftan-fa-w724Most of us act a little wild when we are far away from home. Society may still exist no matter where we go, but a society of strangers whom we may never see again has far less authority over us compared to a society of colleagues and close acquaintances. When people find themselves in spaces where the cameras are off and only unknown faces are nearby, there is no telling how differently people will act or what new experiences they will try.

The case is no different for the characters involved in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening or for the characters in the 1994 film, Sirens, directed by John Duigan. The main female characters in each of these stories, Chopin’s Edna Pontellier and Duigan’s Estella Campion, are both married women who were groomed and raised within middle-upper class or upper-upper class societies. Due to circumstances of their husbands’ work or their positions in society, each woman travels to an island far away from their normal social circles. Even though both characters are accompanied by their respective husbands to these distant locations, these women are left to their own devices for the bulk of their time traveling. During these moments of separation, each woman discovers her own secret desires for various types of freedom.

Although both Edna and Estella experience several different types of freedom, especially since their husbands seem completely occupied with other matters, both stories seem to focus on these women’s exploration into their sexual desires.

awakeningEdna and her husband, Léonce, have traveled to Grand Isle with their two children in order to vacation during the summer, as is common amongst socialites of their class. Even though they are supposedly on vacation, most of the men of this social circle only visit the island on weekends, since they stay in town during the week to conduct business. As Edna has a fulltime nanny taking care of her children, she is free to travel the island and explore at her own leisure. As she does explore, she meets with a well-known rakish character, Robert Lebrun, who becomes her traveling companion and, at some point, her lover. As he has no career of his own to speak of, he stays on the island during the summer months, giving all his attention to his lady friend of choice. Although some people blame Robert for leading Edna astray, in reality he’s nothing more than a tool or excuse that Edna uses to start her self-exploration. Her sexual desires of the flesh, as committed with Robert, merely opened her eyes to her other sexual desires for freedom and authority within her own life. This awakening on the island forges Edna into a different woman, a woman no longer content to play the role of submissive society wife. Her eyes once opened cannot be closed. She knows what she desires, because, while on the island, she discovers what she lacks, which is full access to her own pleasure and the ability to make choices for herself.

220px-SirensposterFor Estella, her portrayal in her story implies that she came from a much higher social class than that of her husband. The reasons for why she married down remain unclear, if that is indeed what she did. Nevertheless, her husband is a religious leader and a respectable man. To support his calling, she travels with him to Australia and into a remote, backwater town that has not even the slightest semblance to the high society she has become accustomed. While the surroundings seem bizarre and alien to Estella, she nevertheless knows her societal place as a supportive wife. Therefore, she bares her burden without one word of complaint. Her husband, Anthony, seems genuinely loving and respectful of his wife, but in many ways he has taken her sacrifices for granted. As he busies himself with trying to reform Norman Lindsay, an Australian artist who produces nude and somewhat blasphemous artwork, Anthony gives his wife liberty to explore Lindsay’s property and to socialize with Lindsay’s wife as well as the three gorgeous young women who live on the property as Lindsay’s nude models. Amongst these bohemian women, Estella tries to remain polite, but her societal mannerisms create dissonance the women cannot ignore. While Estella attempts to act modest and chased, two of the models, especially Sheela, flaunt their flesh and hedonistic beliefs. The other model, Giddy, wishes to be posh like Estella, which gives Estella some reason to try and remain locked within her societal rules. Being a role model, however, is not enough to counteract Estella’s true desires. Sheela recognizes Estella’s desires and sets the stage to make Estella confront her own sexual appetite.

The major difference between Edna and Estella’s exploration of sexual desires includes how each woman accepts and acknowledges those desires once realized.

Edna cannot go back to who she was before visiting the island. She does not wish to be rude about it, but she knows exactly what she wants and she asks for it directly. Edna lets her husband know that she wants her own residence. During the late 1800s, couples in high society rarely got divorced, and instead they simply lived in separate houses to maintain appearances. A declaration for her own space, though, represented her declaration for divorce. While her husband never suspected that anything was going wrong in their marriage, to refuse to give her space would risk further issues that could go public, thus he agrees to engage in this peculiar dance with Edna as a way to give her what she wants without losing face.

edna-swimmingEventually, even the idea of keeping up appearances was too much for Edna to bear. She would always be a kept wife, and, if she wanted to remain within a certain level of luxury, she would always have to accept that she would not possess full authority over her own life. To get around that, she decides to run away with her lover and start a new life under her own rules. Robert, her lover, on the other hand, cannot challenge his role within society, and thus he refuses to leave with her. Beaten but not defeated, Edna seeks out her own freedom by returning back to her place of awakening, Grand Isle, where she swims out into the ocean to gain true mastery over herself and find peace on her own terms.

In comparison, Estella’s decisions and methods of acceptance are more comedic and realistic. Even though she has had an affair, she does not wish to leave her husband. Despite the fact that her relationship with Anthony is more polite than passionate, she still cares for him, or at the very least she cares about her reputation. Nothing about the portrayal of Estella implies that she wants to be viewed as a fallen, divorced woman. Unlike Edna, she cannot allow herself to go down that path. She certainly enjoys pleasure, and part of her wants it, but she doesn’t see absolute pleasure as something truly attainable. As she struggles with her feelings and thoughts on the matter, she approaches her husband in an attempt to tell him the truth of what has happened. Unbeknownst to Estella, Anthony secretly saw her giving into her bisexual tendencies with the models. He did not see her in the midst of her affair with the Lindsay’s handyman, though. Thus, when Estella tries to admit her actions as a way to approach the subject and to move forward, Anthony stops her, himself most likely unable to deal with the idea of his wife being bisexual or sexually promiscuous. Instead, he insists that it is better for the two of them to have secrets from each other.

Thus, Estella remains torn. A part of her wants to justify her exploration into hedonism, physical pleasure, and bisexuality by associating it with a fanciful costume she can wear whenever she chooses. Deep down inside, she knows her desires are more than just fantasies to ignore. Her husband’s refusal to let her verbally explore her emotions with him causes her to build a slight resentment toward Anthony that fully manifests itself in the final scene of the movie. Anthony has become irate that Lindsay has included a nude figure in his latest painting that looks like Estella. When Estella views it, instead of taking her husband’s side, as society dictates, she comments on the image being a good likeness, allowing her to acknowledge the true version of herself represented on the canvas, even if that version of herself cannot live within her own flesh.

sirens-750

Panurge: Every Guy’s BAD Best Friend

 

3-08-240With movies like The Hangover and The World’s End, we’ve all seen how groups of guys have that one HORRIBLE best friend, yet no matter how bad the guy may be, all the other guys in the group feel obligated to keep him around. So the question, of course, is why?

Why would you keep an embarrassing, waste of space, who will never amount to anything within your adult entourage?

This male friendship dynamic phenomenon is nothing new. It’s been going on for centuries. In fact, the title of this blog post uses the name of the bad best friend from a story written during the renaissance.

Background of Bad Besties

In François Rabelais’s satirical masterpiece, Gargantua and Pantagruel, written and published in the mid-16th century, Panurge is Pantagruel’s best friend, and Panurge holds a high place within Pantagruel’s entourage. Pantagruel himself is a financially well-off prince, highly educated, much respected, and a literal giant. Anyone in Pantagruel’s inner circle pretty much has a golden ticket for life, regardless of whether they have earned that level of status.

So how bad is Panurge? Let me give you a few examples:

#1. He tries to convince a married woman to have an affair with him. She refuses him flat out at every turn, even after he tries to bribe her. To punish her for rejecting him and staying loyal to her husband, Panurge secretly sprinkles the scent of a female dog in heat onto the woman, and that scent attracts every dog in the city to this woman. All the dogs urinate on her, ruin her clothing, follow her endlessly, and try to mount her repeatedly.
images#2. While at sea, the ship he’s on comes next to another ship, and everyone exchanges pleasantries. A sheep merchant on the other ship insults Panurge, but the merchant apologizes. To show that he accepts the apology, Panurge buys one of the merchant’s sheep. Panurge then throws the sheep overboard into the ocean, where it drowns. Not only does the sheep drown, but as it bleats out its fearful cries, all the other sheep on the ship jump over the edge after the bleating sheep, drowning themselves, and in the process they manage to pull all the sheep merchants into the sea with them. Thus, for one slight against him, Panurge murders several sheep merchants and an unnumbered amount of sheep.

He also admits to pulling all sorts of other pranks ranging from juvenile acts to lethal assault. Panurge also boasts about his numerous financial scams. Although he admits to doing all of these unspeakable acts, many of them he does in secret. The rest of the guys in Pantagruel’s entourage know about it, but no one says anything to Pantagruel.

For some reason, everyone is willing just to ignore Panurge’s actions and shady past. It’s as if he can do no wrong, because he’s their friend. Of course, ignorance only lasts for so long, and as soon as Panurge acts cowardly in front of everyone and nearly costs the other men their lives, their tolerance for their bad best friend wears thin. Angry as they may be, though, the entourage never abandons Panurge.

Dynamic of Bad Besties

From this renaissance example, as well as the more modern examples, there is definitely a formula of components necessary for this bad best friend scenario.

  • Component #1: The group of guys often become friends at a young and impressionable age. These young men meet at a very transitional point in their lives, such as prior to adolescence or during college. The members bond quickly with one another to develop a support system.
  • Component #2: Early on, the bad best friend may think he is the leader, but usually he is the sidekick or the comic relief.
  • Component #3: While the group is still young, the bad best friend is idolized for his fearless persona, his attitude towards sexual conquests, his immense knowledge and/or skill (real or imaginary), or for his ability to make everything into a joke.

If the group of guy friends notices that the bad best friend has questionable qualities early on, they usually make excuses for him. Perhaps the bad best friend comes from a broken home, or other people just don’t understand him. No matter what, they will come to his defense, because he is part of their circle.

The dynamic changes, though as the group ages, and at that point the other guys in the group start to question why they have allowed the bad best friend to stay in their ranks. They may get into arguments with the bad best friend, or they may talk about him behind his back, but for some reason, even as adults, they don’t completely ostracize the bad best friend from the group. They may distance themselves and only see the bad best friend on occasion, but it is very rare for him to be kicked out completely.

Some of Our Favorite Bad Best Friends

sheldon1Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory
Barney-Stinson-barney-stinson-30805835-1024-768Barney from How I Met Your Mother
nick-miller-profileNick Miller from New Girl

Examining the Dynamic

First of all, not all bad best friends are completely horrible human beings. They may act in ways that go against all rules of social etiquette from time to time, and they aren’t exactly the most successful adults, but they are not beyond redemption, at least not in the eyes of their compatriots. Perhaps that redemptive quality explains part of this dynamic.

Even someone as despicable as Panurge could be redeemed. Although his actions can be viewed as maliciously misogynistic and verging on sociopathic, he always supported his friends, he went to war to defend Pantagruel’s country from invaders, and he trusted his friends completely. His loyalty redeems him and reduces the severity of his actions, or at least that’s how his friends may see it.

The majority of bad best friends in these group dynamics tend to have some redeemable qualities that keep them as favored allies to the group. Beyond being redeemable, though, there is another quality about the bad best friend archetype that cannot be ignored.

The bad best friend is allowed to do all the things everyone else cannot allow themselves to do.

For example, the bad best friend can:

  • Be promiscuous
  • Make social/racial slurs
  • Break the law and not get caught
  • Get arrested, but not serve any major time
  • Be a jerk in public
  • Speak his mind completely

The bad best friend is free to do all these things, because he’s “that guy.” Some bad best friends take full advantage of their status, such as Barney, whereas other bad best friends may only stumble through their list of freedoms, such as Nick. No matter what, though, their ability to be “that guy” allows the rest of the guys in the group to live vicariously through their bad best friend.

As men age and are forced to take on more responsibilities as adults, they nostalgically crave fewer responsibilities, and they see the bad best friend as living the dream. When men realize that the bad best friend does not have all the benefits that come with the responsibilities, (spousal/partner support, family, a home, a rewarding career, etc), then men start to realize that the bad best friend is pathetic and juvenile. Nevertheless, the bad best friend gets to stay around.

The Truth Provides No Easy Answers

After men realize the truth about the bad best friends, why do they keep these people around?

In a story, a writer might choose to keep the bad best friend around to act as a foil to the protagonist. Furthermore, there are many scenarios in a story where a good and noble protagonist cannot complete certain tasks, because the protagonist is too moral. Therefore, having a morally questionable side character, such as the bad best friend, provides a simple solution. These scenarios can also cause potential conflict between the protagonist and the morally questionable character, which may help with character growth and plot development.

In reality, though, there are many emotional and psychological reasons at play with this friendship dynamic. If the bad best friend has been a loyal friend, the other men in the group feel honor bound to keep him in the circle. If the bad best friend takes his friends on crazy exploits, then the bad best friend gives the other men in the group a semi-safe place to escape reality. Lastly, when/if the group finally realizes how pathetic the bad best friend has become, the members may feel obligated to keep the bad best friend in their circle to protect him, or, in some scenarios, the group members may try to fix the bad best friend and turn him into a better human being. They may do so by getting him jobs, supporting him through re-hab, introducing him to potential romantic partners, or encouraging him to go back to school.

Although the bad best friend archetype has been exaggerated in literature and on screen, the archetype is clearly based on real-world social dynamics, especially in circles of males from Western cultures. Identifying the bad best friend is easy, but dealing with this individual proves problematic. One either chooses to live with blinders on and let the bad best friend be “that guy,” or one chooses confrontation. To confront the bad best friend, though, is risky. If you don’t have the support of your fellow group members, you risk conflict and may unintentionally ostracize yourself from the group. Even if you do have the support of your comrades, you cannot guarantee that confrontation will encourage the bad best friend to change. Perhaps that is the biggest reason as to why men do not confront these bad best friends – too many unknown variables and too much certainty of unpleasant results.

Do Siblings Make Superior Sleuths?

Mabel-and-Dipper-gravity-falls-32865230-457-551We’ve all seen teams of crime-fighters and mystery-solvers, but are teams made up of siblings better?

It is possible that siblings or family members could work together more efficiently, since they have a shared history and know the capabilities of one another. Nevertheless, that same shared history could be more of a burden than a blessing in some scenarios.

Whether bonds of blood aid or hinder in teamwork, the choice of using siblings instead of strangers, or vice versa, is certainly deliberate.

How Do These Team Dynamics Work?

Throughout the history of literature, television, and cinema, we’ve seen numerous teams of crime-fighters, detectives, and monster hunters. The dynamics of the team members, both individually and as a collective, have also changed throughout the years. These changes reflect both the changes in audiences and the changes in societal views.

Some of the earliest detectives, including Poe’s Dupin and Doyle’s Sherlock, were often portrayed as individuals with genius-level intelligence. These detectives can see everything that regular people tend to miss or dismiss. As brilliant as the detectives may be, they don’t seem to work well on their own. They need a connection to the regular world in order to solve the crimes within it. These foil characters, (Dupin’s unnamed companion and Holmes’ Watson), prove vital on multiple levels.

First of all, the detectives need that connection between themselves and the rest of the world, since their brilliance limits their social skills in many situations.

Second, the detectives must work-out each problem, and so they bounce ideas off of their companions. Through vocalizing their problem-solving processes to their companions, and the reader, the detectives show-off their brains, which simultaneously boosts their egos and keeps them interested in matters at hand; if the detectives determine the cases to be beneath them, they cannot focus on the problems, because solving mediocre cases would not flatter their egos.

Third, whatever characters are created, they have to be relatable on some level to the reader. Few readers will ever match the intellect of such detectives as Sherlock, so readers often view the Sherlocks of detective fiction as brilliant but alien or foreign. Therefore, readers tend to identify with the companion characters, since these characters often resemble regular people.

WatsonAlthough Poe wrote his works prior to Doyle, Doyle’s Holmes/Watson duo has remained more memorable, and in many ways this pairing has become the formula:

If you have two crime-fighters or detectives, one has to be more book-smart and the other person more street-smart.

Don’t believe me? Check out these examples from modern television:

  • Bones – Dr. Temperance Brennan and Agent Seeley Booth
  • Doctor Who – The Doctor and his companion-de-jour
  • Monk – Adrian Monk and Sharona Fleming/ Natalie Teeger

There have been a few team-ups that have altered the formula slightly. Instead of super-brainy and advanced people skills, the team may consist of a more lawful, by-the-book character paired with an easy-going, brilliant but chaotic character. Examples would include:

Other variations have occurred as well. Contrary to logic, the formula shows how two opposite personality types can and do work very well together. In addition, most readers/viewers can relate to one extreme personality or the other, so characters created under this formula are more accepted, and are more likely to become fan favorites.

Siblings or Strangers – What’s the Difference?

The formula above represents a basic technique for pairing characters within a plot line. Certain variables will significantly affect the formula’s dynamic.

With strangers, you can add a socioeconomic factor by making one partner rich and the other poor. You can address challenges of diversity in several ways as well, such as making each partner a different ethnicity, making each partner opposite sexes, making each partner identify under a different sexuality, or by making each partner different religions, and so forth.

In drama, it has become quite popular to pair opposite sex characters as a way to push a heteronormative sexual coupling. If the characters are always fighting these “secret” sexual desires, it adds further tension to their work relationships, especially since most paired characters work for law enforcement, which is an employer that typically frowns on employee fraternization. As a side effect, if the characters try to resist their desires by dating other people, it adds more drama to the side stories.

While sexual tension makes a great spice for increasing conflict in any story, it’s not the only spice in the rack!

Instead of using strangers, using siblings or family members helps writers get away from this overdone forced romance obsession. By having sibling crime-fighters or mystery-solvers, you can add tension to the plot through such elements as sibling rivalry, family loyalty, parental pressures, and an array of third-party interactions. Furthermore, the formula still works. As long as you have two individuals, each person can be one personality type extreme or the other (brains vs. brawn or lawful vs. chaotic).

Audience members also react differently to sibling team-ups. Viewers/readers often relate on a very intimate level when watching siblings work together, since people identify aspects of the character interactions with their own personal sibling relationships. Audience members who have never had siblings may not identify all the sibling nuances. Nevertheless, when audience members see the connections, the familial levels of acceptance, and the bonds between siblings, it can stir a sense of longing inside of viewers; in some regards, it may even let viewers/readers experience sibling relationships vicariously through the characters within the story.

When it comes to detective fiction, one of the most noted examples of sibling team-ups would probably be The Hardy Boys. A modern day mock-up of The Hardy Boys would be The Venture Brothers, although the show focuses more on a whole dysfunctional family dynamic rather than just the sibling dynamic. According to research, sibling team-ups have been fairly popular in middle grade and young adult fiction, since the sibling experience is all too common for people in these age groups.

Surprisingly, not many mainstream books or shows currently utilize the sibling team-up dynamic. Of the few shows that do use this dynamic, two of the most well-known shows are both within the same genre of paranormal mystery. Those shows and their sibling pairs are as follows:sam-dean-supernatural

 

Perhaps the bizarre nature of paranormal events lends this genre to the sibling dynamic. In other words, with the bond of blood binding you together, as long as you stay together, the monsters can’t hurt you . . . usually. There is also the element that, because you are connected by familial bonds, it could make it more difficult to reject the paranormal events as reality, since to reject what both you and your sibling have seen is, in some respects, rejecting your sibling. Paranormal creatures can also prey on that sibling bond, which adds more tension and conflict.

In the end, can we definitively say whether sibling sleuths are better than stranger sleuths?

I suppose we could compare numbers of cases closed.

With Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, one cannot provide an exact number of cases. According to Doyle scholars, there are 60 stories told to us by Dr. Watson, but within the stories, Holmes boasts solving upwards of 500 other cases, and Watson mentions other cases as well. Of the other stranger sleuths, Dr. Brennan and Agent Booth from Bones have solved cases in nearly every one of their 170 episodes, and they are still hard at work on their next season. Detective Beckett and Richard Castle from Castle have solved about one case in every one of their 127 episodes, and the show is still going.

In comparison, of the sibling sleuths, there are 66 books in The Hardy Boys series, implying that they have solved at least 66 mysteries. In the Supernatural series, Sam and Dean Winchester have somehow lived through eight seasons for a total of 172 episodes, and their new season starts in a week. Granted, the Winchester boys did not solve a case in every single episode, but it’s been pretty close.

So by the numbers, it looks like both dynamics show about the same level of effectiveness. If anything, this comparison proves how well the formula works, regardless of whether the detectives are siblings or strangers.

Mad Blood and True Men: What We Learn from the Shows our Friends Watch

00032896I live in a house of geeks and literary snobs, so our taste in television programs ranges all over the spectrum. Some shows we watch together, but there are several shows that each of us watches individually. Not that we wouldn’t watch each other shows, it’s just a matter of timing and immediate interest.

Right now my housemate has been watching HBO’s True Blood which is a supernatural drama that focuses on mainly vampires who live among humans in a small town in Louisiana, but there are also fairies, werewolves, witches, and many other non-human creatures living with the vamps and humans.

I, on the other hand, have been watching AMCs Mad Men a period drama set in New York during the 1960s that follows the private and professional lives of the men and women who all work in the same advertising agency.

Both of us passively watch each other’s shows, and I think we’ve actually learned a lot from these brief exposures.

Let me be clear that neither I nor my housemate has EVER sat and watched a whole episode of the other’s current program – heck, I don’t think either of us have watched more than five minutes of any one episode – so most of what we have learned from one another’s shows is based purely on quick visuals as we pass by. Each of us also hears the other one making comments at the television – don’t act like you don’t talk to your TV programs! Lastly, on occasion, each of us will rant to the other one about what is going on in our shows. When we rant, we know that the other one doesn’t have enough background information to have a reasonable opinion or counterargument, but we just need to talk about the show with someone, so each of us plays the part of sounding board.

True-BloodPassive Viewing: What I Have Learned about True Blood

  • They have sex.
  • Jason is hot, but dumb as a box of bricks.
  • Vampires’ decorating style resembles a mixture of over-the-top gaudy macabre and industrial cement with splashes of modern security equipment all over the place.bill_in_his_officecamilla3
  • Werewolves CONSTANTLY have an ongoing pissing contest to see whose is bigger.
  • Every third or fourth scene is a sex scene.
  • Your blood is my drug! Vampire blood, also known as “V,” is being distributed like drugs to humans. Vampires get to trip-out on fairy blood, which apparently smells like honey.
  • Dead vampires turn into goo. Dead fairies turn into dust.
  • Sooki rocks for pointing out the BS double standard of men wanting two women at the same time, but heaven forbid if a woman wants two men!!! Too bad it was only a dream, but take what you can get.sookie 3 way
  • Wow! I think the unspoken side effect of being a supernatural creature is nymphomania. Good gods these people have a lot of sex!
  • If you have toddlers awake in the next room, you have to watch the show with the closed captioning on, because every other word is an expletive.
  • Sookie (Anna Paquin) always looks surprised or freaked out.
  • TrueBloodEMKI think all the sexy, shirtless men must live in Louisiana, or so the show would make me believe.
  • Sex scenes every five minutes, and so far I have only seen ONE pregnancy involved in the storyline – someone has got to be slipping birth control into the water supply!
  • Shifters can turn into anything, but if they turn into another person it hurts/kills them – convenient!!!
  • Witches are bad-ass and kind of crazy.
  • Lilith Cult storyline –WHOA!
  • Oh, did I mention they have sex in True Blood?

mm_end_frame-0-1280-0-1024Passive Viewing: What I Think My Friend Has Learned about Mad Men

  • Don can’t keep it in his pants!
  • Jon Hamm– does it get any sexier?
  • Subliminal and not so subliminal BDSM – the 60s were a strange time.
  • Keep on getting sassy, Peggy!mad-men-s5-1
  • People must have been slightly ambidextrous in the 60s, because while one hand is working, the other hand is constantly holding a cigarette or a glass of alcohol.
  • Pete Campbell – what a schmuck!!!
  • Another woman, Don? Really?!
  • Christina Hendricks – shiny since Firefly and still rockin’ it.WK-AQ710_COVER__G_20090804155607
  • Seiously, Don, WTF, man!!!