“Those Poor People:” Penny Dreadful’s Secondhand Approach to Marginalization

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This essay was commissioned by May Walsh, who requested an essay about Penny Dreadful season 1. You can learn more about commissions here

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a young woman buys a house. It is haunted, perhaps by a ghost or only by the heavy guilt and terrible misdeeds of those who came before; the difference is ultimately inconsequential, as the prose has already wrapped its way around you and started strangling. That’s gothic fiction. Of course, the misdeeds might just as well be crimes of existing while queer or mentally ill, depending on the author. Gothic fiction is a genre preoccupied with looking at the “other:” other than male, other than white, or straight, or able-bodied—and finding them frightening.

Over time those parameters began to involve. Those who were defined as Other began to make their own entries into the genre. It became a place where writers could depict characters like themselves, whether that meant being able to push against their accepted societal roles or being allowed to exist at all. As long as it ended in a neat cap that reassured the audience that proper order could be restored, any number of things were possible in the meanwhile.

Crossing the genre over with the concept of fanfiction seems a natural fit, given that fanfiction (at least in its modern incarnation) also sprang from women, queer folk, and other marginalized identities looking to write themselves into texts that excluded them. And so we have Penny Dreadful, a show gleefully intent on elbowing you in the ribs with its references while also solemnly assuring you that it has something to say. While the first season frames its plot through a discussion of women and the various ways in which they’re abused, it’s muddled by clumsy execution.

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10 Underrated Performances (Part 1)

This essay was commissioned by Chris Spiderdreamer. You can find out more about commissions here.

Just in time for Oscar season: yet more people who have never been acknowledged by the archaic, garbage voting body that defines the public perception of Doing Entertainment Good. “Underrated” can mean just about infinite things to infinite people, and nearly as many even from a single point of view. Do you go with roles acclaimed in their time but lost to history? Small roles that get overlooked after the fact? Exceptional performances based on an actor’s history or usual type of performance? We could all be here for months exploring the possibilities.

Faced with that wealth of options, I wound up dividing this post into two different approaches. This week, we’ll look at a few performances so good they make the work worth seeing, even if the overall result is an uneven one. One really good actor, given enough space, can elevate an entire project – there are B-movie actors who make a career of it. I could’ve populated the entire list with picks from Cillian Murphy’s CV (I didn’t, but he still deserves a mention).

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Who I Was, Who I’ll Become: Sound! Euphonium’s Two Love Affairs

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This essay was commissioned by Sinclair. You can find out more about commissions at my Patreon page or contacting me on Twitter or Tumblr.

Sound!Euphonium is a show about two girls bonding over high school band. What kind of bonding? Well, that is ever the question, and there are many complicating factors when trying to come up with an answer (even more than the usual issue of Japan’s fraught relationship with earnest LGBT representation). The show walks a fine line in arguably playing to and at times subverting elements of the Class-S genre (which emphasize “pure” emotionally intense relationships between young women that are confined to high school/”practice” for heterosexual relationship), studio KyoAni’s usual infatuation with mixing beautiful animation and baseless fanservice, and moments that feel frightfully close to sincerity.

In the name of appreciating the delicate, dangerously close to ship affirming ambiguity of these first 13 episodes before the sequels arrive, let’s look at Sound!Euphonium’s central relationships.

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