In light of recent world events and the stories we’ve been hearing on the news about the shortages of necessities like toilet paper and hand sanitizer, I would like to take a little time and talk about the collectionist culture we live in today.
Note that I said collectionist and not collectivist. Two very different things. The word “collectionist” is a word I made up to describe people who have a habit of collecting items percieved to be of some value. Specifically, this pertains to the (usually) Western tradition of having collections of things. Books, mugs, comics, watermelons (at least for people in math problems).
Some people collect things that either have emotional/personal value, like childhood birthday cards or their grandmother’s old china. Some collect things with current monetary value, like gold or silver. And others collect things that may have monetary value in the future, like stamps, Funkos, wheatback pennies, or Cabbage Patch dolls. And some people just collect things that they like or enjoy.
Most people that I know have at least one collection of some sort, or have a family member who has collected things for them. I myself have collections of books, Funkos, comics, yarn, film score CDs, musical instruments, Sacajawea dollar coins, and porcelain bells from every US state I’ve ever been to. I’m not in any way saying there is anything wrong with having collections.
However, when you look at the news of late, you see a slightly different kind of collecting. As per definition, these collections are comprised of things that are perceived to have value. Except this time, the value is not monetary or personal. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other things of which most stores are struggling to keep in stock are valuable now because of their scarcity.
I read an article yesterday about a store employee who encountered an older gentleman in the toilet paper aisle, walking back and forth between the empty shelves with a bewildered expression on his face. A few minutes later, the employee observed the same man in the paper towel aisle, putting the pack into his cart with the words, “These will have to do”.
That’s heartbreaking to me. Some people, driven by fear of the virus, have stockpiled and hoarded so many of these essential resources for themselves that the most vulnerable of us: the elderly, the very young, and the immunocompromised, those of us who have a much harder time fending for themselves, are left to pick up the scraps behind those who, in fear, have “collected” much more than we actually need.
This is wrong and should not be happening. We as a society should not let fear control our actions. Cultures, economies, and relationships rise and fall depending on how we treat those more vulnerable than ourselves, and judging by the news of today, we are not handling this situation well.
To anyone reading this article, if you have collected more resources than you need of anything (and I mean ANYTHING) that is essential, I beg you to turn your mind and heart to the needs of others and consider what you can do to spread those resources to those who need them more than you do.
There is so much we can do on that front! Think about hospitals, retirement communities, daycares, homeless shelters, and so many more places. The world will get through this virus, of that I have no doubt. The only question is, how will we get through it?
(Slight spoiler warning for all three seasons of this show, and a trigger warning for the discussion of this show’s sexual and violent content.)
Jessica Jones, as with Marvel’s other Netflix shows, is much darker and covers much more adult topics than the more broadly-known Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Speaking as an about-to-be college sophomore and having grown up in a fairly conservative home, it’s safe to say that this time last year, the thought of watching a show like this would have been repulsive and undesirable. After all, what kind of world is this where you have to shove violence and profanity down people’s throats to get them to like your story?
At least, that’s how I saw it. And after I left home and moved out of state for school, I mostly still adhered to that philosophy. I did start watching and reading material that I otherwise wouldn’t have, branching out into some slightly darker and more thought-provoking stories.
But I maintained the view that any show as dark as I had been hearing about was nothing more than an attention-grab, and not something I wanted to feed my developing mind with.
So I stayed away.
Around the same time that I was preparing to leave home, however, I fell in love with another, very different show: Doctor Who. I loved the clever storylines, I loved the emotional pull, I loved the energy and enthusiasm of the actors, and more than that, I fell in love with David Tennant.
When I discover an actor that I genuinely love, I immediately start rummaging through their work, looking for other things they’ve done so I can see them in as many different roles as I can. And I started doing that for David. So I watched Broadchurch, and Spies of Warsaw, and The Escape Artist. All amazing shows that I recommend. But I hadn’t seen him as a villain yet (except for his role as Barty Crouch, Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) and when I heard about his role as Killgrave in Jessica Jones, I cracked a little.
One night, after class, I pulled up Netflix and hit play on episode 1.
And halfway through, I was disgusted.
What kind of a hero is Jessica supposed to be? Alcoholism, one-night stands, violent tendencies, profanity left and right. She makes a living taking pictures of people cheating on their spouses, pushes away everyone who tries to get close to her, and spends more time in a bar than her own home, and yet she’s supposed to be the hero in this story? She’s got nothing in common with the heroes I’m familiar with — in fact, she has a lot of qualities you would usually find in a villain.
So twenty-five minutes into the episode, with no interest in the main character and no sign of David Tennant, I turned it off and watched something else.
But it still haunted me in the back of my mind because I’d never seen a hero with so many un-hero-like qualities. It begged the question: If the hero is this bad, how bad must the villain have to be to top that?
I managed to shove the question into the back of my mind for the next few months, but eventually, I decided to try again.
I resumed the episode where I had left off, sort of halfheartedly because all I really wanted was for them to cut to the chase so David would show up already. But a couple episodes in, I realized why he hadn’t officially shown up yet. They were teasing his appearance. In flashbacks, in purple light, in a general feeling of unease. His reputation preceded him, and by the time I started episode 4, I was genuinely worried.
Now, usually, when I’m watching a TV show, I get comfy. I get back to my dorm at night, slip into some loose pajamas, microwave a bag of popcorn or some other snack, and snuggle up in bed with my laptop so I can be undisturbed.
Episode 4 came and went, and Killgrave finally appeared, and when the credits started rolling, I let it autoplay instead of getting up to take a break between episodes like I usually do. I watched probably three or four more episodes before I realized that it was 3 in the morning and I had class the next day.
So, reluctantly, I went to shut down my laptop and realized I hadn’t moved for the past two hours at least. I was stiff. I was tense. I hadn’t eaten any of my snacks. And not only that, I was curled up in the fetal position. And I knew that I was going to have trouble falling asleep because Killgrave had terrified me more than any villain had ever terrified me before.
I managed to make it through all of my classes the next day, but I can’t say I paid any attention to them. And as soon as they were over, I headed back to my dorm to watch the rest. Forget homework. I couldn’t concentrate on it anyway. I had this weird feeling that I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else until I watched Killgrave die. Was he even going to die? I suddenly had the strangest pit in my stomach and distinctly thought, If Killgrave doesn’t die at the end of this season, I don’t know what I’m going to do.
Which is ridiculous, of course. He’s a fictional character. He can’t hurt me. And yet I had this compulsion, this need for his story to end in order for me to feel safe.
I won’t spoil the ending of the season, in case you’re coming from the same place as I started and have been avoiding it. But I realized, after reading some reviews and commentary, that the main idea of the season was rape and consent on a superhero level. The reason I felt unsafe was because Killgrave literally represents all the reasons women don’t travel alone at night or leave their drinks unattended, or accept rides from strangers.
And he also represents all the excuses that predators tell themselves to justify their own actions: “I can’t help being the way I am!” “How am I supposed to know whether you wanted it or not?” “I’m the victim here!”
There’s a poignant example of this in episode 8, “AKA WWJD?”, where Jessica confronts Killgrave and accuses him of raping her:
KILLGRAVE: We used to do a lot more than just touch hands.
JESSICA: Yeah. It’s called rape.
KILLGRAVE: What? Which part of staying in five-star hotels, eating in all the best places, doing whatever the hell you wanted, is rape?
JESSICA: They part where I didn’t want to do any of it! Not only did you physically rape me, but you violated every cell in my body and every thought in my goddamn head!
You see throughout the show that Killgrave is one of the biggest influences on why Jessica becomes the kind of character she is. The trauma she went through at his hands is enough to make anyone become a relationship-avoidant alcoholic.
The season is a brilliant social commentary on the topic of sexual abuse — a topic that deserves a lot of attention.
In my opinion, season 1 was the best out of the three, and my interest kind of trailed off during season 2. There were some interesting story arcs, and things to think about, but I wasn’t nearly as interested as I had been. However, when I started on season 3, my curiosity was piqued once again.
Again, no spoilers, since this season only came out in June, but though this season’s villain was formidable, there was one other character that I was completely fascinated by because the show does something with this character that I have never seen before: shows you what a villain’s origin story looks like from their point of view. After all, in the words of Tom Hiddleston: “Every villain is a hero in their own mind.”
But we always seem to meet villains after they’ve become villains, and their backstory is always in the past. With this character, their backstory is the story — and it’s fascinating.
This character’s story brings up some hard and thought-provoking questions and insights. What is the true difference between a hero and a villain? Where is that line? It’s scary how someone can start out with such good intentions and yet somehow become the very thing they swore to destroy. How far do you have to go down that slippery slope before you’ve fallen too far to be pulled back, and when should those around you stop trying to rescue you? Or should they stop trying at all?
Some villains are redeemable. In my mind, I would say that every villain is redeemable — it’s only a matter of circumstances including who is willing to try and save them and what the price is for doing so. But Jessica Jones introduces the concept that maybe the moral gray area surrounding heroes and villains is a) definitely not black and white and b) encompasses a lot more than maybe we tend to think that it does.
How do we define the term “hero”? How do we define “villain”? And how close are the two definitions to each other? Who do you root for in a story where every single character is morally reprehensible for something?
I want to pause and comment on the character of Malcolm for a second. Malcolm is introduced in season 1 as Jessica’s neighbor, a drug addict whose life is falling apart. I’m going to spoil the story enough to say that Malcolm turns out to have been under Killgrave’s control for quite a while, and Jessica rescues him.
Interestingly enough, or perhaps not, Malcolm is the one character in the entire show whom I have genuinely liked since the beginning. And I liked him more and more as the show went on, and I think I know why.
Malcolm himself admitted that he was an addict waiting to happen. Even if Killgrave hadn’t come into his life, he probably would have still become a messed-up druggie. But after Jessica rescues him, he takes control of his own life. He uses the second chance she gave him and makes something of himself out of it. He cleans up, starts making better life choices, and stubbornly sticks to Jessica to try and help her out in return.
Malcolm could have just as easily gone the same way as Jessica did. Hide behind drugs to avoid dealing with the pain like Jessica does with alcohol. It would be not only natural, but expected of him, especially in a show like this. But he doesn’t. He takes his experience as his wake-up call and resolves to use his life to benefit people. And yes, he makes mistakes, and yes, he starts going down the wrong path again at one point, but as soon as he realizes it, he turns himself around once again. His story in season 3 directly mirrors that of the other character I was talking about, and I think this gives us an idea of where the line is.
Malcolm makes bad decisions, but when confronted with his mistakes he genuinely repents of them and resolves to change course to avoid making them again. Conversely, the character I’ve been talking about is confronted with their bad decisions but instead stubbornly insists that they are in the right, even when those decisions are directly hurting people. I think this is the subtle difference that this show is pointing at to define what makes a hero.
I’m not going to call this show “feminist” as so many other reviewers have called it. I honestly think that’s not only too broad of a term, as there are many different types of feminism (some I agree with and some I do not). Instead, I’m going to simply state that this show brings up a lot of questions and redefines several terms that are not only intriguing, but also important for us as a society to consider.
I personally have decided that I enjoyed Jessica Jones. Not because of the dark topics or violent storylines, but because of the realistic and thought-provoking way that the show portrays human nature and forced me to look at the cultural definitions of heroes and villains differently. The old black-and-white fairy tale story may be classic and enjoyable, but sometimes I think we need a viewpoint that digs a little deeper and makes us think about the world in a completely different way.
Sherlock and John from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
Kirk and Spock from Star Trek.
Dean and Castiel from Supernatural.
Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes from the Marvel comics and movies.
Crowley and Aziraphale from Neil Gaiman’s book and new Amazon Prime show Good Omens.
What ties these pairs of characters together? They’re all characters from popular media who have close relationships with each other and are often found or thought of together within their stories.
They’re also some of the most popular characters in slash fiction, a highly erotic branch of fanfiction that focuses specifically on homosexual relationships between male characters.
They’re not the only ones. Many pairs of characters, in all genres ranging from anime to Shakespeare, have been featured heavily in fans’ imaginations to have more than just a close relationship.
These fans scour the source material for clues or references that they can use to build an argument for their fantasy, and then tell everyone that it’s “obvious” that they are in love with each other.
This soon spreads to any two characters with any relationship, so much so that people will even pair characters who are antagonistic towards each other, like Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, claiming their enmity is secret love.
Social media sites like Tumblr and Pinterest are full of text posts and minifics about these characters, and the characters have become icons for the LGBTQ+ movement.
Even the actors and writers have been having trouble changing people’s minds. Most just good-naturedly agree with the romantic accusations towards their characters to make the fans happy, regardless of whether or not that was their actual intent. But some actors try and clarify, but then dig a deeper hole for themselves trying to explain what that relationship is outside the defining characteristics of sexual tension:
And now even big-name creators like J. K. Rowling has been trying to cater to fans’ demands by amending her own canon material to include what she thinks they want.
Now this article is not meant to stomp on anyone’s dreams or put down anyone’s viewpoints, but I am going to say it now: this needs to stop.
This trend needs to be put to an end, because it’s killing something that used to be one of the most common and precious things in the world: friendship.
No two characters in a story, regardless of gender or any other qualification, are able to have a good solid friendship anymore without people adding a sexual spin. Characters cannot admire each other, share intimate life events, or grieve each others’ deaths anymore without someone taking it as a sign that there is sexual tension somewhere.
People forget that romantic love isn’t the only kind of love in existence — that there are other kinds of bonds between people that would lead them to sacrifice themselves for each other.
And this really bugs me. Maybe because I grew up believing that friendship was common and love was special, or maybe because not too long ago, they were just that.
I think the main source of confusion is the oversexualization of society in general. The word “love” used to apply to many different kinds of relationships, from family to friends to lovers, and the word was understood in the context of that specific relationship.
In fact, ancient Greek had at least seven different words for different types of love, which have all been boiled down to one word in modern day English.
Now, the word love is taken to mean sexual, erotic love in almost every case— even to the point where friends, who used to be able to tell each other “I love you” and mean it completely platonically, cannot even hint at it anymore without the meaning being twisted into something that was not intended.
This is especially damaging to men — women who are friends can still sometimes get away with telling each other, “Love you, girl!”, but for a man to say that to any friend — male or female — would be taken the wrong way almost immediately.
But it also damages actual sexual/romantic relationships as well. It turns sexual attraction into something commonplace and over-hyped, which makes it lose the meaningful, desirable quality it used to have.
Most, if not all, of these characters, were written to be close friends. There is nothing canon in the source material to confirm anything more. Most of the “proof” people use comes from moments in the canon when a character speaks fondly of another or praises them in some way, or when any character sacrifices themself for another.
But (and most of this is specifically directed at the Sherlock fandom, which I am a part of and this side of the fandom drives me crazy) the way books were written a long time ago is very different from today because of the social constructs of their time.
Keep in mind that in these time periods, female characters were much harder to come by and there were very few important female characters, especially in books written by men. Heck, The Hobbit doesn’t have a single female character in the whole book besides Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.
John spending more time with Sherlock than his wife both makes sense for the writing style and the time period, both in and out of universe. It makes sense for male main characters to spend a lot of time together having adventures in those types of stories, without the need to add in a sexual element.
The problem is, once people have decided that there is one, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: they will find proof in everything even when there isn’t any, like this post:
They’re freaking taking a walk, people. Watson is literally saying, He
wasn’t doing so well emotionally because of his crazy habits, so I took
him under my wing and helped him do something normal for a change. But nooo, the word ‘intimate’ must mean there’s sex involved.
Fans turning normal relationships into sexual ones has become so popular that there are memes about it:
And the kicker? All the posts I’ve put in this article so far were from a simple search using the fandom or the character’s names. I didn’t have to type in a single ship name to find them because at least 7 in 10 posts, if not more, will display the same point — it’s that pervasive. And there are some people who have noticed the damage it’s causing, and have posted about this on Tumblr with the same points I’ve been making — these people are just fewer and further between.
Interestingly, the only friendship I’ve found so far that has actually managed to stay a friendship for the most part is Claudia Donovan and Steve Jinks in the show Warehouse 13. And that’s only possible because Steve is gay. Interestingly enough, fans tend to twist the sexuality of straight characters to fit their own interpretations, but almost never do it to canon LGBT+ ones.
Otherwise, like this Tumblr user says, watching the show, every cue that these sex-driven fans look for is present in their relationship, right down to Claudia’s grief when Steve is killed and her single-minded determination to bring him back from the dead. Sound familiar? These two characters are proof that a non-sexualized friendship can happen — it just needs to happen a lot more.
And before I get any nasty comments on this (please don’t post anything nasty, I’m really sensitive), look. I get that queerbaiting is a thing, and I understand why it happens. And I don’t actually know if the creators of some of these characters meant to depict them in a way that hints at romance or not. But I do think that there’s a point when it’s gone too far, and that time in my opinion is now.
It’s affecting more than just fandoms. It’s bleeding over into our everyday lives, pushing people away from each other because normal, friendly, human contact is becoming taboo. (I apologize for the language in this next post)
Let’s stop letting it happen.
I want to bring back friendships. Friendships so close that both parties care for each other as if they were family. Love doesn’t have to be sexual. Love, at its deepest, purest form, means putting someone else above yourself. Honestly, I wish everyone loved each other like that.
“My friend’s wiry arms were around me and he was leading me to the chair. “You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake say that you’re not hurt!” It
was worth a wound -it was worth many wounds- to know the depth of
loyalty and love which lay beyond that cold mask. The clear, hard eyes
were dimmed for a moment, and the firm lips were shaking. For the one
and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great
brain.” ― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Three Garridebs
I don’t see sexual attraction in that. I just see two men whose friendship knows no bounds. I see the kind of friend I would love to have, and the kind of friend I strive to be.
As should all of us.
Thanks for reading! If you want to keep updated on my latest posts, subscribe to my email list! Also, this article is on Medium, which I have started writing for recently, so feel free to check that out, too!