This spring I get to go visit Lindsay in Botswana, which is very exciting. I'm traveling alone, though, and I can't help but think of the movie Taken. What if I am captured by human traffickers on my international travels? According to the movie, I would need an interested party with a particular set of skills to come rescue me. And although I'm drugged, beaten up, and prostituted, in the end it will be fine because I will be rescued and, like, all better immediately.
I don't like that movie. The daughter, the one that's taken, goes through a horrible ordeal and comes out on the other side completely unchanged. She's like the ark in Raiders, been in a pit of snakes but no worse for wear.
Many movies, TV episodes, and video games use the damsel in distress as an easy plot device to motivate a central male character. Stories revolving around a rescue have a couple advantages. The central character's motivation tends to be clearcut. The high stakes are built-in as are the obstacles. The whole story structure can fall pretty quickly easily into place, leaving the author room to get on with the action. Rescue and even damsel stories are not bad in and of themselves, but they commonly make the mistake of treating the rescuee - the object of the story - like just an object.
Where this mistake bothers me the most is in the "return" part of the story. The object of rescue, having endured enough terrors - because, remember, the captured person needs to be in serious danger in order to motivate the protagonist and raise the stakes - is rescued, and we see them return to normal in the matter of a few closing minutes.
I was disappointed by an instance of this in a recent (for me) episode of Angel. (Now, the writers on Angel go to the damsel well all the time - Cordelia, as far as we can tell, exists in order to be captured and rescued.) "Billy", season 3 episode 6, is about a man (Billy) who imparts violent misogynist rage upon other men by touching them. The central moral question to the episode is whether Billy is infecting these men or rather just uninhibiting them - the violence and the rage against women being already inside them, innate.
It's one of the first episodes of that show where I've seen some promise of it reaching the heights of Buffy in its ability to blow up real evils and explore them through fantasy. It's an exciting episode.
Wesley comes into contact with Billy, and later, when Fred is stuck alone with him, he starts to attack her. He pursues her in hopes of killing her, his friend, potential love interest, and colleague. It's Amy Acker and she's just a little thing.
When the impact of Billy wears off of Wesley, Wesley is horrified, embarrassed, and devastated (as it goes) by what he's put Fred through. He quits the team. He won't leave his apartment. He's returned (see wheel) and changed. Fred, on the other hand, doesn't get a scene like that. She doesn't get to change. We see her, after the ordeal, showing up at Wesley's door, forgiving him and asking him to come back to work. She's been attacked, verbally and physically, by a best friend, and she doesn't miss a beat.
I want a scene where she can't sleep, where she cries at night, where she wakes up with night terrors. Then have her go and forgive Wesley. Make it hard for her because it would be (hard) if she were a person. Give her real pain and real courage. Make it her story, too.
Beyond not giving female characters real shakes at personhood, I dislike the quick recovery of formerly damseled characters because I worry it impacts our idea of how long it takes real people to heal after traumatic events. It's difficult to support someone through that process, and with our society's general discomfort around victims, I'm afraid it's easy to think, "Can't you be like what's-her-name? Get over it, already."
I'm not sure whether to call this "groundwork" or "backstory". It's like the thing you hate the most in any superhero movie. But I want to get it down because I have some other posts I want to write that depend on you knowing where I'm coming from. Also, if I don't write it down somewhere, I might forget, and that would be confusing.
Okay, second disclaimer: this is going to be a religious-based post. I know that's not usually what we do here on the Westovarian, and, trust me, I'd rather write about Angel or Buffy or anything else featuring David Boreanaz. (I have a weakness.) But the whole point of the blog is, informally and communally, to try to figure out what becoming an adult, and living in general, looks like. So let me get this out of the way - I'm sure Annie and Rachel have whole different takes - so I can get back to just writing about television.
I was born and grew up in a Christian home of the mega(ish)-protestant persuasion. My family was involved in the church, and while, at home, my parents weren't really into bringing up the whole God thing, many of my friends and the people I respected were church folks.
I was one of those kids who was a pain in the ass at home, but a DREAM to all other adults. I was good at school - I could sit still and maintain eye-contact - and I got a lot of my self-worth through these interactions with adults in authority. Being at church was no different, and when those adults told me I should be a good Christian, you had better bet your butt that I was going to become a great Christian.
Oh boy, by this point, I had really made it. I remember thinking, "This is it. I have everything figured out." I knew all the steps. Step 1. Respect yourself - don't be like 95% percent of girls, all touching boys and stuff. Step 2. Morality - do it. Step 3. Support the sinner, not the sin. Step 4. Keep a level head and keep it together. Step 5 - Step etc. Be a pillar in the community. Go to church. Pray. And lots of other stuff. You know, be close to God. It took a lot of effort, but I was nailing it.
My senior year this started coming apart for me. I saw the Mel Gibson Jesus film and was staggered by the brutality. I had been taught that I was supposed to have a relationship with Jesus like he was my best friend. But here was a guy getting whipped and taking it because he loved me (?), and his Dad was letting it happen. I'm sorry, that's weird. That is not the human, familiar-y love it was pitched to me as.
I also read through the Bible with my church small group. I was okay with all those mass killings in the Old Testament, but when we got to the Sermon on the Mount, I started getting angry. Jesus, in there, tells us to be perfect - "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. You must
be complete in unconditional love as I am towards you and am towards the world." Wait a second - I knew all the steps to being a Christian, and they were hard, but I was doing them. What kind of guy would Jesus have to be to tell his followers to do something impossible. Actually impossible.
Jesus would do things that were cryptic. He'd refuse to answer the disciples questions and often say things in order not to be understood. ("The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing by never understanding [...]") As far as I could tell, he was a big, fat (okay, skinny) jerk who wouldn't like me very much.
I graduated High School and went away to a Christian college still mad about that.
Freshman and Sophomore year: still trucking along in my religious life but without much gusto. About the Jesus thing, I was generally mad but in a background-y sort of way.
Junior and Senior year: bad things happened. I'm not going to say more about those things other than, because of them, I started to really fall apart. I had lived my entire life in a safe, stable environment until my junior year of college. That I hit all those good-Christian steps in high school, I attributed to me. I had value as a person because I was level headed. My identity was wrapped up in being independent, supportive of other people, an accomplished student, and a responsible individual. Junior and senior year, the circumstances I had taken for granted my entire life changed. All those things I prided myself in went away.
I went to counseling.
[I have to say, throughout everything, the community at Whitworth (my college) could not have been more supportive. Friends, other students, administrative staff, and faculty cut me a lot of breaks. I don't think a lot of people who go through hard things get that kind of communal backing, and as hard as that time was for me (it was pretty bad), it would have been a lot different, a lot worse, without the help of those people. ]
I told my therapist about how much I was letting myself down. About how crazy I felt. I cried a lot. She told me that, at some point, it had to be enough that I was a child of God.
Her advice didn't help me at the time. What helped me was drugs, by which I mean antidepressants. The advice would help later.
College, Bonus Lap
I went to an extra semester of college, and, halfway through, I was able to go off the antidepressants. What I had was a circumstance-based serotonin depletion that about six-months worth of some sweet pill was able to fix. My experience of life got a lot better.
Mitch and some of my Theology-major-y friends talked about God stuff all through college. They threw around some ideas like, "It's God that matters, not us or our relationship with him" and "It's more important what happens now than what happens after we die".
One of these friends happened to be a guy, Lee, I grew up with in church and who also traveled halfway across the country in order to go to college at Whitworth. He died, suddenly, of an enlarged heart during my bonus year in college. (I wrote a thing and a thing about that several years ago.) His funeral was what you'd expect for a young person, packed and extra sad. Lee was studying to be a pastor, and the impact of his fledgling people-centered ministry was extolled again and again.
It was because of Lee's funeral - and the latent experience of all these other things - that my faith began to change. I knew, from experience, that I could no longer rely on myself to be a good or stable person. I had seen how my circumstances and my brain chemistry affected my behavior and my ability to function. Plus, my friend had just died, and nobody talked about how many times he went to church or how "good" of a person he was. All anybody seemed to care about was their relationship to him. How much he cared for them and vice versa.
What I Believe
It has to be enough that I am a child of God. I don't have value because of the things I do. (I would do horrible things under some specific set of circumstances.) I have value because God has made me and loves me, even though it makes no sense to me.
There are two kickers to that: 1) not having value because of my own actions extends to the action of asking Jesus into my heart. "Asking Jesus into one's heart" is what, in Protestant Christianity, separates the people who go to hell from the ones who are saved. I no longer think that's how it works. 2) If my value - my entire value - comes out of being a child of God, then everybody is just as valuable as me. God made everybody and loves everybody - from a hell perspective, whoever he chooses is entirely up to him. God makes us eternal. He makes us matter.
Because it's not up to me, whether I go to heaven or whether I have value, the only thing that's left on the line is meaning. Am I going to have meaning in my life or am I just going to waste time? Since other people have value because they are children of God. I figure the way to have meaning in my life is to love other people, to love God (which I am, admittedly, still pretty fuzzy on) and love other people.
What I like about my beliefs is that they're pretty portable. There's no fear of being "tarnished" by other people who have different opinions than me. There's no pressure to evangelize. No agenda other than to show up for people around me. It's a straight and narrow path that I can take off into the bushes all I like.
You'd think I'd be super tolerant with my new shiny set of beliefs. But when my brothers visited me last month, I ended up getting in a conversation about religion with one of them and shouting, "Your beliefs are bullshit!" when he brought up some "love the sinner not the sin" arguments that I recognized from my past. It's not good.
And what I believe in doesn't really come with a community. There are no bylaws saying that we all need to show up once a week to worship together or else we're going to hell. I don't even know if other people think this way, as I avoid bringing up religion, as a rule.
But, on this blog, I want to talk about what doing life looks like for me and, hopefully, what it looks like for other people, too. So I hope I've explained well enough where I'm coming from, what I've had to work with, so far.
I just saw Sleep No More in NYC and I have never loved theatre more. Mostly because it wasn't theatre. It wasn't sitting in a chair, looking at a story, and then applauding. It was more than that. It blurred all line of what is real and what isn't. There were times when I felt like it was real and it was me and I've never been so involved in a story.
Sleep No More's tagline is "Put aside the everyday world and come with us to a land of madness." And that is what happens. You go to a hotel, get a mask, and step into the stage. You are encouraged to be involved. You have to chase actors through the hotel. You stand two feet away from them the whole time. I talked to an actor after and he said the only time they are allowed to acknowledge the audience is when they are insane, dead, or magical.
I was drawn to the witches since I was a witch when I was in Macbeth and because of that I had a lot of intimate moments where I was involved in the story. If you show that you're open, they interact with you. I helped one of the witches wash blood off her shoulders, I dressed a man and helped him down the stairs, I got dragged into a room with a tea party and had a private conversation with the Queen Witch, I ate candy with the taxidermist... I can't even express how cool it all was.