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500 Words on Redemption

The premise for this post began thusly:

“Everybody loves a redemption story.”

This is something that has been said to me, and about me, in the past. And there are a lot of stories on the subject out there. We want to believe that the people we love, and by extension ourselves, are people that are capable of being redeemed, of coming back from dark places in life into better, healthier ways of existing. Darth Vader pitching the Emperor into a pit to save his son. Boromir running to the rescue of Merry and Pippin after almost succumbing to the temptations of the One Ring. Tony Stark using a box of scraps — and later his vast wealth, creativity, and intellect — to solve problems he created and protect the world.

It’s a difficult thing to stare our demons in the face. Some of the mistakes that happen in our lives have catastrophic consequences. Knowingly or not, we can and often do hurt others in pursuit of our goals. Not everyone has the self-awareness or courage to face those mistakes, admit their fault, and accept the consequences. What makes Zuko’s story special is that he does all of those things, and begins making different choices. Nobody saves him; he saves himself. The only reason he takes the steps down a road to redemption is because he chooses to do so.

A lot of turning points in redemption stories come out of life-or-death situations. Anakin Skywalker’s rebirth, Boromir’s sacrifice, the creation of Iron Man — these all come to pass because the situation is dire and there’s no other moral choice. Zuko, while he endured many similar situations, did not have a dramatic “face turn” in the midst of one of them. Instead, each of his many defeats was a brick in a foundation for a new version of himself, one that he built with his own two hands, rather than the one that had been informed by the influences of others. While his uncle did attempt to guide him, in the end, the decisions he made were his own, both when he doggedly pursued the Avatar and when he decided, instead, to help his former quarry.

He began asking hard questions: what does “honor” actually mean to me? How do I want to make a difference in the world? How did my old choices lead me to failure? How can I make new ones that do make a difference? The answers to those questions, the choices he made as a result, are what lead him in a redemptive direction.

Here’s something you might miss: Zuko didn’t do this to prove anything to anyone except himself. He decided that it was worth the risk, for his own sake, to become a better version of himself.

That is how Zuko redeemed himself. That’s what makes his story powerful.

Because if Zuko, who we meet as an arrogant fuck-up, can redeem himself, for his own sake and on his own terms… then so can we.

The Challenge of New Choices

There are some things in our lives that we don’t get to choose. I didn’t choose to be born bipolar or bisexual. People close to me didn’t choose how they were born, either. Naturally, others will treat those things as if they are choices, saying things like “just try being the gender you were born with a little longer” or “you just need to do X and you won’t be sad anymore” or “have you tried not being gay?” I hope there’s no need for me to elucidate on just how awful that ‘advice’ is. And I don’t want to make this about that. I felt it was worth saying from the outset, however, that with all of the words that follow regarding choices, I’m focusing on how we as individuals face the responsibilities that are ours every day, and the choices we make regarding those responsibilities. And while I can’t choose to not be bipolar any more than another person can choose whether or not to have been born in a body that doesn’t match who they are, when it comes to how we handle our day-to-day lives and our relationships with others, every single one of us does have a choice.

Everyone has a choice. Everyone can, and must, choose who they want to be. It may be one large overarching choice, or it can be a series of small choices that lead us to being who and what we are. There can be obstacles that make a particular choice difficult, or perhaps even obscure certain choices. At the end of the day, we are what we choose, consciously or not. And when we choose, there are ramifications of that choice, for better and for worse.

One of the biggest challenges that come with making choices is when we’re faced with choices that are new to us, outside of our comfort zones, or challenge our identities. There’s a lot of advice that people will try to sell you about not being afraid to make choices. You’ll hear things like: “Follow your dreams!” “Be bold!” “Seize the day!” Not unlike some of the other advice mentioned above, such pithy platitudes tend to be the opposite of helpful. It creates and reinforces the erroneous idea that these things are simple and straightforward. Sometimes they are — “do I toast a bagel or pour a bowl of cereal” is a pretty straightforward choice. So many other choices, though, may seem simple, when in fact they deserve at least a moment’s pause and consideration before we commit to the choice, and accept the consequences.

Clear, consistent decision-making isn’t something that we’re born knowing how to do. It takes practice. The more you do something, the better you become at it and the more ease you experience while doing it. Making decisions is, in that way, not unlike training to play a sport or learning to speak a language. It has to be done over and over. As we grow, decisions we make contribute to who we see ourselves as being, and the course that our life begins to take. And the more contributions are made towards that self-image, of both our present and future selves, the more the decisions that follow tend towards those selves.

So what happens when we try to choose something new?

Some of us fall into patterns that are bad for us. Others learn to play it safe — stick only with what “works”, what is known, even if that way doesn’t really advance any of your goals or bring you closer to accomplishing anything significant. Whatever it might be, our brains forge neural pathways associated with a set or series of choices, and our thoughts and decision-making fall into those pathways. They have their own gravity. Like the most well-worn groove on an old record attracts the stylus of a record player, our perceptions and analysis of our choices are pulled into familiar ways of thinking that, in my experience, can often lead us away from a better path forward and into stagnation or, worse, a downward spiral.

This is why it can be downright terrifying when we come to the conclusion that we need to try something new. It threatens our world-view and our state of mind. Humans are highly adaptable; we can adjust to just about any situation. We can acclimate to high altitudes, working in zero gravity, travelling to the deepest part of the ocean, and so on. Our minds are no different: given a state of affairs existing for a prolonged enough period of time, and the human mind begins to accept it as ‘the way things are’. We create a narrative for our present circumstances, and assign ourselves a role within it. The days roll on. The groove gets deeper. Our choices almost seem to make themselves.

And then, when something changes, when an event occurs that shakes things up, or there’s a moment of clarity regarding what was a toxic or untenable or stagnating situation, the idea of choosing something different, something new, rattles our cage and sets our teeth on edge. It feels like we’re doing something dangerous, something potentially catastrophic, just thinking about it. Hell, even writing on the subject somehow feels provocative, and the thought keeps occurring that maybe I should just pitch the whole damn thing and watch The Expanse again instead.

Our brains will actively resist us because the thought patterns are new and unforged. They’re not familiar. They’re not “safe”. Even if the current situation is ineffective or unsustainable, it’s what we know, and therefore it is “safer” than choosing something new. We may even find ways to reason ourselves into continuing to make those ineffective or unsustainable choices when it’s clear that making a different choice is either morally correct or will yield better, more progressive results.

That’s the thing. It’s the most frustrating, challenging, and ultimately rewarding aspects of working to make better, healthier choices for ourselves. We get to define who we are. In spite of the aspects of our lives that are out of our control, regardless of happenstances of biology or circumstance that were defined before we took our first breath, every day, every moment, is an opportunity to make at least a small tweak in the course of our lives. Some of those tweaks are more difficult to make than others; it’s the difference between “I’m going to have the spicy thai thing instead of a salad today for lunch” and “I’m going to be honest about something I’ve been ashamed of for a long time.” One is just a potentially scary experience for your tastebuds and may require a lot of extra hydration; the other could throw your entire life as you know it into upheaval.

But it’s still your life.

And as long as you are alive, you get more and more opportunities to make better and better choices.

You’re not always going to get it right. Because in addition to being alive, you’re human. Unless this is being read by some nascent upswell from the Singularity hidden somewhere in Amazon’s servers, in which case, hi we’re pretty wasteful and petty little shits most of the time but a lot of us are really nice once you get to know us so please don’t wipe out our entire race thanks? Being human means you’re fallible. You’re imperfect. And that’s okay. If you were perfect, there’d be no room for improvement. You’d have nowhere to go. And you’d be just as inscrutable to us mere mortals as we would be to you. But since so much of consumer culture tries to sell us on this or that image of “perfection”, we often find ourselves acting out of fear that we will move further away from our particular flavor of that illusion if we make some new or different choice.

And yes, you might experience a setback in pursuit of whatever it is you personally want to achieve. Hell, a choice you make might involve giving up that pursuit entirely, because it’s an unsustainable journey, or the path which would lead you there is unhealthy for you or someone you love. There are consequences to every choice we make. Even if the choice you make is to do nothing! “Nothing will happen right now if I do nothing, but I’ll keep feeling shitty and miserable.” Guess what, that’s still a consequence. Sometimes, doing nothing is the right choice, and it can be very difficult to make that choice in a situation where you feel morally or otherwise compelled to do something to make a difference. That’s all part of the horror and wonder of the human experience: seeing your choices, sussing out the consequences, and then committing to your choice.

Stepping out of the pattern of choices you know into uncharted territory can be a harrowing, earth-shattering experience. There’s a reason why a lot of people don’t do it. But if we don’t make the choice to challenge ourselves — if we don’t make apply our thoughts actively to weighing our options, considering the potential outcomes, and then making a choice that will move us in a better direction, even if it scares us to do it — what about us, and our lives, and our world, will change?

Nothing.

You won’t change.

I won’t change.

Nothing will change.

Ever.

500 Words on Entitlement

Here’s a simple question: what do you feel you are owed?

If you put in hours and hours of your time at a job, you are owed compensation for that time, right? That’s how jobs work. If your employer says they don’t owe you anything, you have rights. You can sue their asses. You earned that money. You put in the time, therefore you deserve the pay.

When people talk about entitlement, often it’s in reference to someone who quite obviously hasn’t done anything to deserve what they are after. Here’s a quick example from Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck:

Ever watch a kid cry his eyes out because his hat is the wrong shade of blue? Exactly. Fuck that kid.


https://markmanson.net/not-giving-a-fuck

There are a lot of people who, in one way or another, don’t grow up past that stage of their lives. The most obvious example is the male-bodied Internet denizen who’s acting pissed because a woman isn’t giving him the time of day, let alone nude selfies. “Look at this pathetic motherfucker,” you might say. “He’s so entitled it makes me sick.”

I’ve certainly said something along those lines in the past. I’ve also, in my own way, acted like an entitled asshole. I’ve acted like the world at large owes me something. I felt the world owed me special treatment because I was born bipolar, got bullied, lost a sister, and basically got emotionally and mentally more and more fucked up as time went on.

I was different. I was special. I felt like dogshit and I hated myself. I sought to destroy myself and sabotage everything good to prove that I deserved nothing good, especially the love of others, who in my mind should hate me too, for being such a disgusting entitled hairy nerdy weird-ass male. I was so wrapped up in hating my entitlement that I didn’t realize I felt entitled to special attention, in this case having women take turns to spit on my grave. And while I feel that, for the most part, I’ve managed to shake off a lot of that bullshit, there’s a part of me that wants to convince me that how I feel makes me somehow a special snowflake.

I feel frustrated. I feel lonely. I feel that I could have done more to not fuck up my life.

To which I say, to myself: “Guess what, dumbass, so does everyone else. And if everyone else feels that way, you are not special.

Here’s the thing: if I’m not special, if how I feel isn’t different than how anybody else feels, what am I owed? What have I got to prove?

Not a fucking thing, is the answer.

Accepting that is more important than I can say. Along with my expectations, my other flaws, and my mistakes, once I accept this sense of entitlement, I can let go of it, and that leaves room for me to love myself.

You owe me nothing.

An Open Letter of Apology

In a previous post, I endeavored to explore and explain the root cause of the damaging, self-sabotaging, and toxic behaviors that lead me to my most recent hospitalization and the ramifications still being felt by those who were once partners, friends, and associates. I opened with a general apology, but did not dig into the specifics. That is an oversight that must be corrected, and that is the purpose of what follows.

It is not my intention to appear disingenuous due to the fact that I will not be naming names in what follows. The reality of the situation is that not everyone who has been on the receiving end of unjustified behaviors of mine is going to be receptive to an apology from me. There are those who will feel that apologies do not matter; that they are empty words. I can understand that perspective. That does not make it any less necessary for apologies to be offered when harm has been inflicted. Whenever possible, said apologies should be direct and, ideally, in person. And above all, apologies must be rooted in the facts and evidence regarding the incidents that are the topics of discussion.

Rather than lean into old habits of hyperbole and conjecture, my goal with this letter is to stick to the facts, examine what evidence I have available, and address my shortcomings and damage that I have caused to the best of my ability.  An editorial note before I begin: the journalistic and straight-forward approach I am taking may come across as cold or detached. However, to present these facts in any other way would, in fact, be a disingenuous way of going about doing so. Coating what follows in language like “believe me” or “with sincerity” would lean into an old, ineffective behavior rooted in a perceived need for validation. Fuck that. Facts are what matter, here.

And the basic, fundamental fact of the reason these apologies are necessary in the first place is this: the nature of self-sabotage, especially if the ultimate goal is self-destruction, means that damage to other individuals and relationships are inevitably left in its wake. This damage is the result of choices. Deliberate choices were made, in word and in deed, that harmed other people. Some of them were people with whom I was very closely associated — friends or romantic partners. Others were people one step removed from those close associations. These are choices that I made that go back decades. And as much as I might want to, as much as any of us might want to, we can’t go back to the past to correct our mistakes. Things will never be the way they were before, and it is unhealthy to strive for such an impossible goal. What is possible, and healthy, is to look at those past mistakes and take action that is necessary now to actively engage in an attempt to make things right.

I’d like to take the time to run down some of those mistakes I’ve made, and apologize for them specifically.

It is a fact that I contain a great capacity for love. But rather than be up-front about that capacity, learn how to healthily share it, and take the capacities and comfort level of those to whom I was attracted into consideration when communicating it, I hoarded love. I actively practiced deception, breaking promises and cheating. Be it due to that fear of abandonment, a lack of education and self-awareness regarding the nature of the structure of polyamory that’s best for me, embarrassment or another nameless dread, simply not knowing how to love myself or accept the love of others, or a combination of the above, I willfully and knowingly deceived my lovers. For that, for breaking hearts that I did and still hold as precious and even sacred, I am sorry.

It is a fact that I have been questioning my own sanity and the foundation of my actions for a long time. I have, in the past, encouraged others to do so. It can be healthy to check and correct ourselves when it is appropriate. To my great regret and shame, I have on occasion leveraged that language to avoid an honest discussion about my behaviors. I did so in a way that made others, usually women, question their own viewpoints or even sanity. That is gaslighting, by its textbook definition. For that, for not imagining people complexly enough, I am sorry.

It is a fact that those who are uncomfortable with their own behaviors can project those behaviors on to others. Knowing that many of my toxic behaviors could, and in some cases did, constitute as abusive, and unwilling to admit even to myself that I could act in abusive ways, I would project. I accused others, those directly involved with me and those who are friends or lovers of close connections, of being abusers themselves. I projected outward, rather than looking inward. I made the problems I was facing into problems of someone else. I transformed my internal disease and its symptoms into external enemies. Rather than face what was within, I said “This person is an abuser,” when I should have been recognizing and correcting those behaviors within myself. For that, for these false accusations and the pain and doubt they caused, I am sorry.

It is a fact that those who bear insecurities can seek attention or validation from others. As important as it can be to check oneself and receive validation as well as correction, to rely overmuch on the attention and validation of others is neither responsible nor constructive behavior. It puts too much weight on other people to do the emotional labor of the individual. It’s never a bad thing to ask for help, but one must be committed to doing one’s own work when nobody else is around. I failed to do that, and counted too much on others to lift the weight that is mine to carry. For that, for making far too many conversations all about my problems, I am sorry.

It is a fact that human minds can often reach for the simplest solutions to a problem or question. Too often an individual will Occam’s Razor their way into a conclusion that does not include all of the facts, or does not take the perspective or experiences of another individual into account. Especially when it comes to thoughts born of anxiety, jumping to conclusions can lead to ineffective or even toxic decisions or behaviors. When your anxiety tells you that everyone secretly hates you and is eventually going to abandon you, you may jump to the conclusion that you might as well accelerate that process to get it over with. That was a conclusion I jumped to on more than one occasion. For that, for making assumptions rather than seeking clarification and facts, I am sorry.

It is a fact that a codependent or “people-pleasing” individual may not know when to say “no.” The over-reliance upon others mentioned above, as well as unhealthy attachment or expectations, may prompt an individual to be more permissive than is healthy when it comes to the requests or needs of others. They will step over their own boundaries, should said boundaries be defined in the first place, and move into ultimately damaging territory to meet a perceived need, or fulfill a commitment that is somehow implied where none might exist. For my part, I would too often adopt the notion that I had to please a primary partner and see to their needs “no matter the cost,” even if something I was doing to fulfill that was hurting me. I would act as if my needs or wants did not matter. That became a gateway for many of the behaviors I have already addressed and apologized for. I weakened myself, perhaps deliberately on a sub-conscious level, in the name of doing perceived good. For that, for not defining my boundaries and harming myself with a thousand small well-intentioned cuts, I am sorry.

I have, in the aforementioned previous entry on this platform, delineated the explanation and motivation behind these shortcomings and sins. That information is still available. They are relevant facts in the matters at hand. Yet, without the apologies and the commitment to get and be and do better going forward, it is mere bloviation, weightless words on the wind. In the past, I have offered apologies and stated a commitment towards recompense. While these sentiments were sincere, I failed to follow through, choosing to scratch the surface rather than dig deep. Instead of repairing damage done, it pushed me towards deeper recesses of self-sabotage and self-destruction. For that, for merely appearing to do the work and ultimately making things worse, I am sorry.

Every one of these mistakes that I have laid out was caused by damage and shortcomings within myself. No other individual bears the blame for them. While there may have been triggering situations or interactions that involved others, the ways in which the individual responds to triggers is solely the decision of the individual. It is through experience, education, and examination that an individual can cultivate better and healthier responses to triggers, and that has been and will continue to be the focus of my therapy and my work. I can no longer be satisfied with scratching the surface to deal with immediate emotional crises, let alone congratulate myself and prompt others to congratulate me for such shallow work that evidence has shown is detrimental to true progress. I must instead dig deep into the root causes of my flaws to discover the means to bring joy into the lives of those around me, rather than endanger them through my hubris and self-hatred. I want to learn to love myself, the way I love others.

My intent in all of this is to deeply explore and repair my internal damage for my own sake. While making the apologies above is an important part of contributing to my healing process, as well as the healing process of those affected by my actions, the fact is that you might not care. It might not matter to you. That is understandable. Feelings of hurt and betrayal and shock and disappointment are justifiable in the face of my previous, toxic behaviors. The fact that my explanations, and my apologies, may never reach their intended audience is unfortunate, but it is part of the consequences of my actions. I do not have the right to make the decision regarding the reception nor the acceptance of these apologies. I am sorry for my behavior, but I do not get to make those apologies to certain people for one reason or another. I just hope that those people are okay.

Trauma is not an excuse for toxic behavior. There is no excuse for abuse, full fucking stop. Even if one is abusing oneself, it is an abhorrent behavior. And there are always ramifications. I began this writing by saying we need to stick to the facts and examine the evidence. The fact is that when we set out to harm ourselves, we inevitably harm others. The evidence of those hurt and shocked and disappointed in the social circles on the other side of the bridges I burned directly speaks to that fact. I am unable, nor do I have the right, to walk up to each and every individual in those circles and say I’m sorry. But if an opportunity presents itself to do so, I will. Because I am sorry. I feel guilty and remorseful. And I’m working to ensure these things never happen again, to myself or to anyone else, to the best of my ability.

Penance does not have to be some grandiose public display. It does not have to be self-flagellation or self-isolation. Penance can, and perhaps should, take the form of rehabilitation, the difficult and deliberate work of kicking over the rocks of one’s soul and confronting that which crawls out from underneath. I will never ‘defeat’ the ‘enemy’ that is my trauma and the aberrant thoughts that dwell in my Shadow as a result of that trauma. I must learn to live with and above those constructs. And I will spend the rest of my life doing so. While those harmed and alienated by my previous behaviors may never forgive me — while you may never forgive me — the fact remains that I owe it to you, and to myself, to ensure that my life is not ultimately “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Thank you for your patience. I hope this finds you well.

Lame of Thrones

Spoilers for Game of Thrones (the TV series) ahead. Fairly be ye warned.

But I need to talk about this, because it’s been bothering me ever since the end credits for Episode 4 of Season 8 rolled across the screen.

I have so many questions, and I don’t like any of the answers.

The biggest one is this:

If you are crafting a character-focused drama that has drawn in an audience because of the relationships between and development of those characters, why would you take a sledgehammer to those relationships and that development? I think I have an answer, but I’d like to lay out the basis for these questions.

Stay cool, Dany. Don’t let Dan & Dave make you into something you’re not.

Something that has been pointed out to me is that Game of Thrones has, up until this point, taken a chance in portraying the stories of abuse survivors — specifically, Sansa Stark and Daenerys Targaryen. Now, I’m going to say up front that portraying the circumstances by which the characters became survivors in the first place is lazy and often used for cheap shock value, in addition to being triggering and offensive for real survivors. Looking back, there’s something about the source material that’s always been a little too gleeful about the subject, a little too exploitative. But I’m not here to talk about the novels. That might be a subject for another time.

We appreciate Daenerys and Sansa because they survived. They found a way to stand up in the face of abusive and callous males who treated them as things. Dany, trapped in a marriage to a man with whom she couldn’t communicate clearly, found a way to have him regard her as more than a piece of meat for breeding. He fell in love with the person she revealed herself to be, and made an effort to show that love and be a better person because of her. And after he was gone, Dany built herself up, strength upon strength, until she became the Mother of Dragons and the Breaker of Chains. She stood on our own two feet, measured and self-assured in the face of nay-sayers and everyone who underestimated her because of her gender and stature. It’s a powerful, meaningful narrative.

And it’s been shot to shit just as much as her dragon was, and I could feel the writers evincing a similar amount of glee as their bastardized version of Euron Greyjoy as they did it.

Let me not take anything way from Daenerys and her grief and anger. Losing a child is hard is the worst trauma a parent can suffer. Then you have the callous execution of her best friend on top of that. She walks away furious, barely keeping control of her emotions, instead of mounting her dragon to immediately burn the whole thing down. She should be applauded for her strength.

Instead, Dany will be characterized as “unhinged” and “crazy”. Listen to the music, and consider the episode leading up to that point, how so many other characters have spoken about her, and most importantly what the perceptions of the majority of the typical target audience of epic fantasy would be of someone like Dany. Like so many male-driven narratives before, abuse and pain and loss have put a ‘strong female character’ in a position where she could be written into abusing her power and commit atrocities in revenge. I’d like to think that we’ll get something better than that. Instead, I fear we’ll get the “crazy bitch” out for blood. If that happens, it’ll be as lurid and exploitative as I Spit On Your Grave, just with dragons. Well, one dragon, now. One dragon and one “crazy bitch”, who the male characters are going to defame, betray, and destroy to put another male on the throne. The same way the writers abandoned Ghost, they’re also poised to abandon the whole point of Daenerys and her character development.

Dan & Dave, if you do that, fuck you.

Courtesy HBO
Look at this poor wintery boi. Look what you’ve done to him. Look at him.

I’ll circle back to Sansa in a moment. But first, I’d like to talk about another example of characters being driven completely off the rails to the sound of cackling and “Oh, this will subvert expectations! Check out how gritty and ‘real’ we are, we’re cooler than The Last Jedi in changing our characters, stay with us fans!” I’d like to talk about Jaime Lannister.

Courtesy HBO
“Burn them all,” Dan and Dave said. “Burn all the characters down.”

When we first met him, Jaime Lannister was the sort of ‘Prince Charming’ subversion that fit very well in the general Game of Thrones sentiment. “This isn’t your parent’s fantasy epic.” A golden boy with smug charisma and assholery to spare, at first he was someone you’d love to hate, just as much as his sister. But then he got lost. The hand that had defined his adult life, as one of the great Westerosi swordsmen, was cut off for a goof. He came face to face with cruelty and callous disregard for human life, the very thing that made him become the Kingslayer in the first place. And it seemed, for a long time, that he wanted to find a better life for himself. A more honorable life. A happier life.

And then he threw it all away for the sake of a person that we know, that he knows, is a toxic wellspring of spite, hate, and selfish ambition. “So am I,” he says to Brienne, the one person who has truly and thoroughly believed in his better nature and his ability to have it prevail.

Now, we still have two episodes left. Maybe Jaime behaved the way he did towards Brienne because he wanted to distance himself from her because a part of him knows that he won’t be making it back from King’s Landing. I’d like to think that his intent is to kill Cersei, not to protect her. And in treating Brienne so cruelly, it will be “okay” if he dies in the attempt. In his mind, he doesn’t want to be mourned.

Maybe I’m projecting a bit from my own experiences and the nature of my own inner critics, but no matter what the motivation or eventual ‘shocking’ reveals, this flies in the face of years of careful character development, of deconstructing and reconstructing a person who, like Khal Drogo, saw a flaw within himself and sought to correct it. Jaime stumbled and made mistakes along the way, for sure, but he finally saw Cersei for who she was and made the choice to walk away. Now he’s going back, and throwing away the one person who loves him not just for who he is, but for who he can be, and from all indications wants to be?

Fuck you, Dan & Dave.

Courtesy HBO
Sansa Stark is not having any of your bullshit.

For the most part, there’s aspects of the Stark children that feels true. Arya’s not a lady, and has never wanted to be, regardless of how she feels about Gendry. Bran recognizes how much he’s changed, and has come to terms with it because of how much he knows and recognizes the role he has to play in the world as it is. I’ll get to Jon in a moment, but first, let’s talk about Sansa.

Like Dany, Sansa’s trauma and abuse has been shown to us in all of its unvarnished cruelty. Like Dany, the portrayal of it was done with a disquieting since of gleeful exploitation. And like Dany, Sansa’s used her experiences to find her strength and develop herself as someone who knows that living well, and being one’s best self, is the most effective and rewarding ‘revenge’. As much as she doesn’t like Daenerys, Sansa doesn’t make decisions out of spite or a sense of competition. She’s shown herself to be someone who wants to be an ally to a fellow survivor, regardless of her misgivings. But Dany, for one reason or another, hasn’t really been willing to meet her halfway. It’s a huge missed opportunity to show how survivors can best support one another, and that stings.

When Sansa tells Tyrion the truth about Jon, it’s not because she doesn’t like Daenerys; she’s not jealous or ambitious. She’s concerned about the safety and sovereignty of her people, and she sees Jon as a better leader; not just because he’s family, but because he’s given her facts and evidence to that effect. In the same vein, she recognizes that in spite of the cruelty visited upon her by the Lannisters, Tyrion is at heart a good person, someone who’s seen her as a person from the start and who’s treated her with respect the best way he’s known how. She’s exemplary in that a ‘strong female character’ doesn’t have to be turned bitter and ‘crazy’ because of their trauma; they can grow in spite of it and become a better version of themselves in the wake of it. Where Dan & Dave went wrong with Dany, they went right with Sansa. It doesn’t make what happened to her or how we were shown what happened to her ‘okay,’ but it does feel like more of a success story, more of a true portrayal of what strength of character really looks like.

Now, Jon. Oh, Jon. I like you, my dude, but I hate what you represent.

Courtesy HBO & incorrectgotquotes
Bring back the incorrectgotquotes Instagram, you cowards.

Tyrion and Varys have a discussion about Jon and his viability as a candidate for the Iron Throne, and one of them (I forget which) says “he’s the best for it because he doesn’t want it.” I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a bit. We’ve seen this sort of thing before, many times. Take Aragorn from Lord of the Rings — another reluctant born leader who shuns his own potential. Keenly aware of the weakness of his ancestors and other men like Boromir, Aragorn is very circumspect about seizing a role of leadership and a position of power. While in the novel, this circumspection isn’t quite as pronounced as in the film — Aragorn has Narsil reforged in Fellowship of the Ring before they even leave Rivendell — it still presents an interesting parallel to Frodo, another “hero” or “chosen one” who feels isolated and abnormal due to the circumstances that imposed their role upon them.

Jon’s story, and his portrayal in the show, are similar, but the difference comes in the surrounding circumstances. Tolkien focused on the nature of the quest at hand, and its influences upon the characters who took up said quest. Game of Thrones, on the other hand, makes it a point to play its characters against one another in political gamesmanship. And in its attempt to be ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’, this means that men will conspire to unseat a woman in power to put a man in her place, especially if that man is seen as virtuous, even if that means derailing the female in question to make the man more appealing, to the in-story populace and to the audience.

This is bullshit.

Yes, it’s how things happen in the real world. Yes, it sucks. It would be one thing if Dany were still the sort of determined but measured person we saw in control of Meereen, instead of someone that the writers seem to be pushing to be just as unappealing a ruler as Cersei Lannister. This situation, as it is presented currently, make both Dany and Jon nothing more than pawns in the titular game which robs them of the agency that has made both of them so compelling for the last seven and half seasons. And from all indications, to the writers, the male pawn is the more important one, and is being positioned to ensure that the male empowerment fantasy is the one that will ultimately prevail.

Seriously, Dan and Dave. Fuck. You.

Courtesy HBO
“You want to dowhat to my mother’s character? BITCH I’M A DRAGON, I WILL EAT YOUR ASS.”

All of this leads me to one conclusion. I could be wrong. I’d like to be wrong. But the facts are what they are, and as far as I can see, it all leads to one thing: pandering. Viewers, the vocal ones on the Internet at least, don’t want to see female characters prevail. They’re intimidated by strength and growth in those characters. So the writers make Daenerys unhinged, put Yara on a bus (okay, it’s a boat, but the trope stands), and leave Brienne broken and in tears. To avoid being lumped in with The Last Jedi which portrayed Rey in a way that had her be accused of being a “Mary Sue” and left those entitled viewers feeling betrayed because Luke Skywalker was an understandably jaded and thoroughly exhausted man, they’ve derailed one character after another. In a world where Marvel and even DC are showing that narratives can be wildly successful without cis white males as main protagonists — see Black Panther, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel as evidence to that effect — Game of Thrones goes the lazy route of pandering to a demographic that’s been pandered to long before television or film was even a thing. One hopes that this isn’t necessarily what George RR Martin had in mind, but we won’t know if he’s just as bad as Dan & Dave until we finally see Winds of Winter on store shelves. You’re on notice, GRRM.

As for Dan & Dave — shame on you, you lazy fucks. What you’ve done with this narrative and these characters is disgusting, cowardly, and lame. Even if Jaime ultimately kills Cersei, and Daenerys course-corrects before becoming an evil as bad as or worse than her father that “needs to be put down,” you couldn’t have done a worse job in your lead-up to the big final battle if you’d tried. And you didn’t. You didn’t try. You went the easy route. You got scared. You let your fear hold your pens. And what squirted out is such weaksauce even people who don’t like their sauce spicy in the slightest are reaching for the salt. And they’re right to be salty.

If this is how this television series is going to end, I for one am glad it’s ending. Again, maybe I’m mistaken, and things will happen that will pull the narrative and these characters out of this tragic, disgusting tailspin.

But I’m not holding my breath.

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