A Personal Lesson in Privilege, Courtesy of CW’s The 100

I watch more TV than I read books. It’s an embarrassing thing for a writer to admit, but I will here and now. I live and work on the opposite ends of a 25 mile drive, which includes crossing the Amite River. There are four bridges that cross this river in Livingston Parish–that’s a county for those of you who live outside of Louisiana—and only one of them is a reasonable option for a daily commute from my house. That one is Interstate 12, the only reasonable option for 20,000 other people. (That may or may not be an exaggeration.) That leaves a few hours per day when we are not sleeping, working, or driving, to do EVERYTHING else. We don’t read the same books, but we do watch the same TV.

Every so often while I am watching TV, I will see something in a show that will knock me on my butt. It will stick with me, for days. Battlestar Galactica, S1 Ep3, for example. While watching it, I felt deeply in my bones that it might be the best written hour of television ever aired. The death of Fred on Angel, just after she and Wesley finally got together…my heart is still bleeds for them.

And the awe I feel is not always pretty, as in the case of CW’s The 100, currently in its second season. This show has forced me to examine myself as a consumer of television, of fiction, and of storytelling entirely. Bear with me, please, while I set the stage for my problem.

The 100 Season 2 PosterThe 100 takes place after a nuclear holocaust destroys all civilization on Earth. A very small group of humans, in space at the time of the incident, survive by linking their stations and sharing their resources. The assumption is that Earth is contaminated by radiation and life is not possible there. To ensure the survival of humanity, the “Arc” has very strict rules that are brutally enforced. Simple acts of mischief and defiance are met with jail sentences and/or death.

A decision is made in year 97 to clear out the Arc’s jail cells by putting 100 teenage inmates on a drop ship to Earth to test whether it is safe for the rest of the Arc’s people to return to the ground. (More on this later). These kids have been judged to be nuisances to the Arc. Disposable people.

The kids do mostly what you might expect kids to do in the lack of proper supervision…party, have sex, and beat up on people smaller than them. Fortunately, because of Arc’s super-strict rules, not all of the kids on the drop ship were miscreants. Clarke, the daughter of the Arc’s doctor, is a natural born leader. Bellamy, a guard on the Arc, shot the Chancellor to get sentenced to the drop ship because his little sister Octavia was on it. Octavia’s crime was being alive at all…resources being scarce on a space ship, and all, there’s a “one child” policy in force. Finn was jailed for wasting a month’s worth of air on an unsanctioned spacewalk. These four, along with a supporting cast of other teens willing to follow instructions, make sacrifices, and do the right things get The 100 through their first days on an Earth whose dangers come from freak acid fog and vicious neighbors they call The Grounders. By the end of season one, the 100 become the 55 (or something).

I’m a Finn and Clarke shipper and have been since moment one. She’s a strong, but conflicted female in a position of leadership. Finn’s good-looking, takes her lead, and puts his skills to good use…supporting her when he should and disagreeing when he should. For this reason, he’s been called a boring character and viewers like to hate him. But I argue that any group really only needs one alpha male, and Bellamy’s got that roped up nicely. Finn and Clarke have a good thing going, and then it gets interrupted when his girlfriend Raven steals a second ship to ascertain whether or not the 100 survived the trip. Finn’s now caught between a girl he’s cared for all of his life and a girl he fell in love with on Earth. He doesn’t have time to explain the situation to either girl before Raven sticks her lonely tongue down his throat. Clarke gives him up, and then Raven breaks up with him, making a decision for Finn that he wasn’t strong enough to make on his own.

While the kids prepare to defend their new home from Grounders who intend to kill them all, Finn tells Clarke that he’s in love with her, and her response is that he broke her heart. Season one ends with Clarke sealing the drop ship doors while Bellamy and Finn are still outside fighting the Grounders, and Raven blows the ship’s fuel reserves to incinerate everyone outside.

Clarke wakes up in a sterile, white room of an underground, former US military base called Mt. Weather, along with 46 of her friends. And she has no reason to believe that either Finn or Bellamy is still alive.

There are some criticisms I have of The 100. For instance, we learn in Season 2 that this story is taking place within the 50 mile stretch between Mouth Weather EOC and the National Mall in Washington DC. Yet, the Lincoln Memorial is the only indication there was ever a civilization between the two locations. Yes, radiation contributing to the forest reclaiming the Earth, but there should be ruins. I can overlook this though, because the story is concerned with its own present and the past has no bearing on the problems the characters face whatsoever.

In Season two, we see a significant and overnight growth of our key players as all of their circumstances change. Remember when I said I’d come back to the decision to send the 100 to the ground to test survivability? The Arc didn’t just jettison these kids to conserve resources. They didn’t have enough air to support life on the ship for even three additional months, a secret they kept from the people to avoid panic and uprising, and they don’t have enough space on the remaining drop ships to get everyone down to Earth. So, when they have proof that the kids did live through the trip, they took a gamble and sent the stations on a suicide reentry mission that results in a lot of casualties. Now, there are four groups on Earth fighting for survival instead of three.  (I am counting the kids and the Arc ship people separately, because the kids have changed that much.)

The folks living at Mount Weather seem to be nice enough. They cleaned the drop ship kids up, gave them bunks, clean clothes, and food. Clarke doesn’t trust them though. The Mount Weather people ask for nothing in return and that just doesn’t sit well with her. She believes, despite assurances to the contrary, that more of her friends are still outside and she breaks out to find them. Along the way, she discovers Mount Weather is using the Grounders in cruel medical experiments and she breaks one out to make their escape together. Her choice is strategic…a commander of the Grounder military forces, someone she can build an alliance with before returning to Mount Weather for the rest of her friends.

Finn and Bellamy are alive, prisoners of Grounders who have lost 300 of their warriors to Raven’s fuel reserve explosion. They manage to kill their captors and get back to the drop ship where Finn finds a Grounder wearing Clarke’s watch. Bellamy and Finn capture and interrogate him to learn where their friends (the 48 captive at Mt. Weather are), and the Grounder gives them the location of his own village.

Meanwhile, the Arc survivors are setting up camp and picking up life where it left off in space…enforcing disobedience to rules with brutal punishment. They also treat the drop ship kids they encounter as citizens to fall in line with order, and understandably, this doesn’t go over well with Bellamy, Clarke, Raven, or Finn. Octavia, who’s actually earned a modicum of respect in battle from the Grounders, feels no allegiance to, or fear from, Arc authority whatsoever. And Clarke, when she gets back to the Arc’s ruins, she has no problem standing up to her mother who by this time has become the new chancellor. Our kids have friends to find. None of them have time for the Arc’s “business as usual” bullshit.

OK…I hope that sets the stage well enough. We have the kids, who have bonded over shared and deadly circumstances, and are determined to save each other.  Mount Weather, aka “the Mountain Men”, have no resistance to radiation at all and are performing experiments on Grounders to ensure their survival. The Grounders have no trust of outsiders due to the Mountain Men capturing their people and turning them into drug-addicted, cannibalistic beasts. And we have the Arc survivors who have guns and rule of law, but no clue what to do with it.

Let’s return to the moment that made me question my role as viewer in this story. Finn…the sane voice of reason among the core group of discarded kids…is so desperate to find the girl he’s in love with that he tromps into a village of Grounders (mostly women and kids), sets fire to their food resources, pens them together under armed guard, and then ransacks every building looking for captives. When he finds none, a man from the village explains that the Grounder Finn got his information from was an untrustworthy bastard known for lying and he was bitter for having been banished. Finn is convinced to lower his weapon, and then a scared man jumps out of the pen. Startled by the movement, Finn shoots him. And this starts an avalanche of people jumping out of the pen and Finn shooting everything that moves.

Clarke watches from the woods as Finn guns down 16 innocent people, and what does he say as he sees her at the edge of the village?

I found you. No remorse. Two days later, Finn is absolved of wrongdoing by the Arc’s council (insert me rolling my eyes), and he’s bitter that Clarke won’t even look at him. In other conversations, Bellamy tells a struggling Clarke that they all done things they’re not proud of in the war they’re fighting. Other characters are also guiding her to forgive him for what he’s done…as if he kissed another girl while thinking she was dead.

WHAT?!

First, the Finn we met in Season 1 would not have penned up peaceful people and shot 16 of them because someone made a run for it. And doing so would burn his bridge back to Clarke, and he’d know it the moment he met her eyes. The words that fell out of his mouth wouldn’t have been, “I found you.” They should have been, “What have I done?”

So…that’s led me to a week or so of wondering through the writer’s rationale for taking Finn in this direction, how they justify the sudden and drastic dark turn in the boy’s character, and just rapid and complete about face. It required a bit of soul searching and examination of the privilege I have as someone bearing witness to this mess from the safety of my energy-sucking couch.

The only thing I truly share in common with any of these characters is that I know other people. These kids were dropped out of the bottom of a dying tyranny to fight or die on a world where blood shed is answered with bloodshed in return. Respect on Earth is earned in battle and peace lies on the far end of a war against people already committed to kill, or worse, to win.

Finn, as we met him in Season One, was a kind soul. The one ready to take orders, to make sacrifices, and to do what needed to be done. He chose Clarke to follow over Bellamy. Within the first hours on solid ground, she claimed he heart and soul, and he lost both when he realized she was gone in the Season 2 opening episodes. And when he and she return to the Arc ship ruins after his massacre of the village people, he gets both back to find them battered and bruised.

And this is where I believe the understanding and willingness to let Finn’s crime go comes from. Bellamy shot the Chancellor to get onto the drop ship, and he participated in torture of a Grounder to save Finn’s life. Raven built more than one weapon of mass destruction to defend the drop ship camp from Grounders, and the Arc ship ejected hundreds of people to conserve their dwindling air supply. Most of the characters the viewer is meant to identify and empathize with are drenched in blood. We zero in on Finn’s actions only because he had options that he didn’t take. In a moment where his one lead to find Clarke turned out to be worthless, someone startled him while he had his finger of an automatic rifle, and with one innocent life on his hands, the floodgates of desperation and rage just burst in a hail of “what difference does it make?”

Am I making excuses for my favorite character on the show? Maybe. But at the same time, maybe my role is to sit back and let Bellamy, Raven, Octavia, and Clarke judge Finn by the rules forced upon them by their world, and not hold him accountable to the morals of mine.

January Black by Wendy S. Russo

Andrew Palmer is a 7th grad communication arts teacher in Missouri, and the blogger behind Conservative Teachers of America. He gave January Black 4-stars on Goodreads. I am hoping that his review catches the attention of other conservative teachers, parents, homeschoolers, and people who stumble onto this blog while researching Common Core.

Conservative Teachers of America

by Andrew Palmer

When I started the book reviews here on Conservative Teachers of America, there was a specific type of book that I had hoped to be able to find and promote. It is a book that takes the ideas of freedom and liberty and packages it in such a way that a young adult would not realize that they are being taught those values. I am happy to report that I have found such a book with January Black.

This book started off with something extremely rare in young adult literature. Russo states on the dedication page, “Finally, I would like to thank the US military (and their families) for their service and sacrifice to defend our Constitution. Without you, I wouldn’t have had a story to tell, or a voice to tell it.” Rarely do you find young adult authors that could even tell you what…

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I am reblogging this for several reasons. First, my own personal horror at the massacre in CT, and at the bickering back and forth between the pro/anti-gun crowds before children were even identified to the public. I think that lawmakers’ focus on “assault weapons” is misdirected and a waste of time and money. But mostly, I am reblogging because this article is really all about storytelling. He discusses fallacy, symbolism, imagery, human nature, and lessons we’ve learned from history but are choosing to ignore. It’s good research, conveniently compiled all in one place, and if the titles to other recent posts are any indication, there might be a whole lot more great information on this blog.

Wendy

Kontradictions

[EDIT: After this article was published, the Democratic party officially added support of the assault weapon ban renewal to their party platform and it was reintroduced in the following Senate session in the hopes that Newtown would help it push through. It died.]

Between Two Worlds

It’s not easy being a leftist who loves guns. It’s like being a Republican who listens to NPR or supports single payer health care. But being a leftist, I get exposed to all the liberal publications and media that invariably call for gun control every time someone does something stupid with one. Being a gun enthusiast, I also get exposed to the political Right’s oversimplification of those liberals as somehow lacking moral fiber or true appreciation of freedom. Rather than agreeing with both, I tend to end up arguing with both. It’s exhausting to always feel like I’m apologizing for the other “side”.

This…

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Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, discovers vampires are planning to take over the United States. He makes it his mission to eliminate them.

Or, may I suggest a new title. Abraham Lincoln: Ax-toting Badass.

I’m mostly kidding. “Ax-toting Badass” might give interested viewers the idea that this movie is a comedy, which it most definitely is not. And if I could hug the production team for withholding the best of our beloved Mr. President’s fight scenes from the trailer, I would. Honest Abewith his ax tipped in silver, is a madman (a vampire’s word, not mine,) and what you see here barely scratches the surface of the awesomeness.

In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, we bear witness to two events in a young boy’s life that shape the man that fights to hold the Union together amidst a fight against slavery, secession, and vampire hordes yearning for a nation to call their own. The movie’s makers give us an Abraham who is passionate, vengeance driven, clever, and honorable. He lives the latter half of his life by the words of his wife’s father, who told her to plant her feet and stand for what she believed in. The only question is where to plant her feet. Abe plants his on the principle that until all men are free, all men are slaves. Joining him in this fight are Mary Todd, his childhood friend Will, his business partner Speed, and Harriet Tubman with her Underground Railroad. The movie’s action spans a great triangle, from Illinois to New Orleans and to Washington DC, culminating at the battle of Gettysburg, where Abe and his friends finally get the upper hand on the Confederate Army’s vampire soldiers.

My husband and I saw this movie for our 7th Anniversary, which was yesterday. (And for the record, we consider it our 17th anniversary.) We expected a martial arts thrill ride, but the film also provided good writing, acting, and effects.

If you are a fan of vampires and/or action films, I recommend Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It was as surprisingly good movie.

The Crazy 88s

My father used to watch kung-fu theater on the weekends, so I became familiar with the archetypes at a young age. There are five I recall very well: The Hero. The Villain. The Love Interest. The Witty Old Person. And The Chicken Shit. (That’s what my mother called him, and every single movie had one.) My favorite part of the movie was the ridiculous battle royal, where The Hero faces off against all of The Villian’s henchmen, one at a time. As a child, it made no sense to me. Later on, while learning kata in karate class, I was reminded of these epic fights. Facing multiple opponents, but not all at once. It’s not about sport. If it were, they’d pick one guy and let the best man win, but no. They send in a guy. He falls. They send in another guy, and then another. The Hero hands each opponent his ass until there are no more asses.

Of course, the mob get their shots in, because what fun would a battle royal be to watch if The Hero gets out clean? It actually makes for a better show when The Hero is left for dead, requires rehab, or gets thrown someplace dark and smelly. And The Villian’s response to the broken Hero? Laughing. Gloating. It’s never pretty, and if you think about it, that’s the point. He didn’t catch The Hero. The four dozen men he sent did, but not before The Hero broke arms, legs, ribs, noses, and a whole lot of pride for The Villian’s supposed victory.

What I like most about the kung-fu battle royal is that I can enjoy it because its not real. The human body can’t take the beating, certainly not for any sustained period. For a dose of reality, take the theater out of the clip above. If O-Ren Ishii wanted The Bride dead, the Crazy 88s wouldn’t have attacked her two or three at a time. They would have come at her all at once, subdued her with overwhelming force, and she would have been dead. Instead, they toy with her.

What, you ask, is my point?

While reading some internet posts this weekend, I came across a forum thread that reminded me of a kung-fu battle royal. A number of people singled out a person out, and took turns twisting the responses given to each other’s comments. What had been a platform to ask a question quickly became a stage, and the only mistake I saw the person make was not recognizing the mob as it was forming. When the thread was closed, I thought it would be over, but it wasn’t. The Crazy 88s followed the person onto other sites. They did unkind things. The reality made it unpleasant to observe. It’s no less than bullying, something that takes place every day in schools. In neighborhoods. In the polarized, national political conversation.

The Internet is a big place. An anonymous place, where you don’t have to see the response in someone’s eyes when you speak your mind. You type something, you put thought into it, you press send and the response you get is not the one you expect. Suddenly people hate you, not for who you are or even what you said, but because of their impression of what you said. Because you tried to explain, but it made matters worse. Because you tried to back away before they were done ranting at you.

This weekend, I found myself very grateful for kung-fu theater with my dad. I credit those weekends for my wariness of crowds, my empathy for Heroes facing impossible odds, and finally, my determination to be fair and objective with those whom I interact. I do not, for even a moment, wish to be among the Crazy 88s.

What to Buy for a Baby Shower

I bet you thought you’d never see that on this blog. Well, I have an opinion on the subject. You see, I have been a guest at baby showers. I have had baby showers organized on my behalf. I have spent quite a bit of time with a young child in the past few years. And I just happened to go to a baby shower this weekend, so the topic is floating near the top of my brain.

The purpose of a shower…wedding, baby, etc…is to give people new to the game a head start. So, if you have been invited to a shower, or maybe just know a pregnant woman and you’d like to get her a gift, please do the following:

  1. Check the websites of major big box retailers in your area. Walmart, Target, Babys’R’Us all have gift registries, and if she’s registered, they will tell you exactly what she needs, and what other people have already given her.
  2. Ignore the clothes and blankets.

And now…(cracks knuckles)…I will happily explain why.

There is this phenomenon that affects the female consumer called “Cute Factor.” Marketers are well aware of it. You combine Brand New Baby with Cute Factor, and most women will throw their shopping savvy, their deductive reasoning, and a good portion of their awareness of time and space right on the floor. Newborn clothing is adorable, even more so when it’s girl clothes, and there’s all that lace, and satin, and cute little stitching on smocked bodices, and…STOP IT RIGHT THERE!

Please gather your misplaced faculties, and for the love of all that is holy, walk away from the clothes.

$10 at Kohl’s ($20 MSRP)

But babies need clothes, you say. Of course they do. And every other baby-drunk woman that knows the expectant mother is thinking the exact same thing. “OMG! That is SO CUTE! And it’s only $10!” This invariably results in said expectant mother going home from her baby shower with a dozen cute newborn outfits  just like this one that her child may wear once, if at all.

What?

Babies grow very fast. In fact, if the child has a birth weight over eight pounds, he’s already outgrown his newborn clothes.  Add in the fact that he needs to eat every two hours, may be colicky at night, and in between feedings, changings, snuggling, and pacing floors, Mom has to find sometime to eat, sleep, and bathe herself. How many excursions warranting super cute outfits do you think mom’s going to feel like making in the first month? Church…there’s four at most. Studio portraits…one or two outfits, and many babies are now posing for those naked. The family may wish to skip much more than these outings, simply to avoid unnecessarily exposing their newborn to germs.

Aside from that, think for a moment about the baby. She’s the one who has to wear the clothes after all. She’s just spent nine months nestled in warm, soft mommy. And you want to put lace on her because it’s cute? Many mothers find it more convenient to keep them in onesies. (Buy those…in 3-6 or 6-8 month sizes. Mom will thank you!)

If you really want to buy cute clothes and help mom, buy 12-month or larger sizes. There are two reasons for this. Again, the child is going to grow very fast, which requires mom to purchase clothes to replace the baby shower gifts the child has grown out of.  Secondly, during the first year, baby is going to be teething, which may result is a WHOLE LOT OF DROOLING. Bibs are worn by many infants all day long to keep the moisture off of their clothes and skin. Anything cute on a top or onsie is going to be covered.  (If you want to personalize something…do the bib, not the onesie/top.)

D’s has 7. They’re his blankie-friends.

Blankets…same thing. There’re a lot of cute blankets out there. I have an entire box of blankets that I never used with my son because I was given so many of them. The ones that he is now clinging to as “friends” are waffle-textured receiving blankets. Mom will pick a few favorites. The rest may never see use.

So, what are great baby shower gifts?

Diapers. Babies go through diapers like mad, and they’re expensive. Find out what mom’s diapering preference is (which you may be able to figure out from the registry) and help get her stocked up.

All it’s missing is a bow!

Formula. Mom may have registered for a breast pump and all of the accessories. She may be planning to breastfeed. If it falls through, she will likely be an emotional wreck. Give her a bottle of liquid Similac with a card that says, “Just in case.” If she gets home from the hospital, and the baby won’t latch, she’ll have formula pre-mixed and ready to go. Enfamil has cases of glass bottles and disposable nipples which are great for newborns.

Crib Bedding. Sheets and mattress covers. Having a few sets will keep laundry from being an emergency activity.

Feeding/Playing/Other Gear. Bottles, sippy cups, snack cups, utensils. High chairs. Bumbo seats. Boppy pillow. Saucer toy. Jumper toy. Floor mats. Balls. Blocks. These are all things that Mom and baby will have a use for sooner or later.

Books.  Like baby clothes, board books are very inexpensive if you are buying one. And like clothes, mom may be buying more than one, which adds up.  Use a board book instead of a card with your baby shower gift. Write a message for the baby inside for him to read when he’s older.

Bath/Skin Care/Medicine. Babies will have gas, fevers, diaper rash, and runny noses. Mom will want to take them outside walks. They will need baths. Get Mom gas drops, Baby Motrin AND Tylenol (for fever maintenance, it’s sometimes necessary to alternate), Benadryl, saline drops (for noses), sunscreen, baby wash. For diaper rash, I recommend whatever generic version of Aquaphor the store carries.

If you do a little thinking out of the box,  you can come up with a great baby shower gift that Mom will appreciate for months, even years. And you can give her something cute…just do it with the wrapping.

Lots of everyday stuff put together + basket & tulle = very cute.

Okay…opinion vented. I can now go back to writing…if my darling child will go the f#&% to sleep. 🙂