Senate Republicans have finally released what appears to be the draft text of H.R. 1628, the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017.”
It’s 142 pages, and to be honest, I’m having a hard time deciphering it all. (Not a lawyer or a legislator.) But here are some things that stood out at me…
Elimination of the individual and employer mandate. (Pages 10-11)
Tax repeals on medications, health insurance, health savings accounts, etc. (Pages 25-29)
This includes the “Repeal of Tanning Tax” on page 29.
The continuing attack on abortion rights.
“Disallowance of small employer health insurance credit for plan which includes coverage for abortion.” (Pages 8-9)
“No Federal funds provided from a program referred to in this subsection that is considered direct spending for any year may be made available to a State for payments to a prohibited entity,” which is then defined as an entity providing abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, or when the woman’s life is in danger. (Page 35)
According to a USA Today analysis, this bill would:
- Reduce or eliminate most subsidies for individuals and families
- “Eliminate the ACA’s requirement that insurers can’t charge older customers more than three times what younger customers pay for the same coverage. Instead, those in their 60s could be charged five times as much, or more.”
- Eliminate penalties to large employers who choose not to offer health insurance. (Elimination of the employer mandate.)
- Make it easier to drop coverage for things like maternity care and mental health issues.
CNN points out that the bill would also:
- Defund Planned Parenthood for a year.
- Require coverage of preexisting conditions. However, it also lets states “waive the federal mandate on what insurers must cover… This would allow insurers to offer less comprehensive policies, so those with pre-existing conditions may not have all of their treatments covered.”
A PBS article says the bill would:
- Cap and reduce Medicaid funding, and allow states to add a work requirement for “able-bodied” recipients of Medicaid.
- Provide $2 billion to help states fight opioid addiction
- It preserves health care for people with preexisting conditions (with the potential exceptions noted in the CNN bullets, above), and allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance plan through age 26.
- It expands health care savings accounts.
- It provides a short-term stabilization fund to help struggling insurance markets.
The Congressional Budget Office is expected to release their report on the senate bill next week. The CBO estimated that the House-passed bill would result in 26 million fewer insured Americans by 2026, and would cut the budget by $119 billion over the same time. (Source)
Nothing here is particularly shocking. I’m glad I and my family can’t be kicked off our insurance for our various preexisting conditions…though some of those conditions might no longer be covered, which sucks. It would hurt the poor, the elderly, women, and the mentally ill, among others. None of my readers will be shocked to hear that I think this is another step backward. The ACA was far from perfect — it’s like a patient with a broken leg, but instead of trying to fix the broken leg, we’ll just throw them through a woodchipper, because hey, it’s cheaper!
It looks like this may be a tight vote, which would make this an excellent time to call your Senator.
Please keep any comments civil. I’m angry about this too, but I don’t have the time or the spoons to moderate fights and nastiness today. (Which probably means I shouldn’t have posted this in the first place, but I never claimed to be that bright…)
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
It perhaps says something that one of the most remarkable aspects of the life of Mademoiselle Marie-Jeanne L’Heritier de Villandon (1664-1734), at least on the surface, was just how unremarkable it was. While most of her fellow French salon writers of fairy tales and novels alike were busy conducting scandalous affairs, travelling throughout Europe, dabbling in intrigue, entering and escaping dire marriages, and finding themselves exiled from the court of the none-too-tolerant Louis XIV, and often Paris itself, L’Heritier lived a comparatively quiet and, apparently, chaste life—if one that still had a touch of magic.
The niece of fairy tale writer Charles Perrault, daughter of a historian, and sister of a poet, she met and befriended several fairy tale writers in the salons of Paris, and was inspired to write tales of her own. Her talent and erudition eventually earned her a patron, the wealthy Marie d’Orleans-Longueville, Duchess of Nemours, which eventually turned into a small annuity after the Duchess’ death. Equally important was a friendship with the formidable and controversial Madeleine de Scudery, these days renowned as the probable writer of Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus, one of the longest novels ever published, but at the time noted for her scholarship and fierce defense of women’s education. De Scudery not only befriended the considerably younger woman (De Scudery was born in 1607) but left the fairy tale writer her salon at her death in 1701.
This bequest may have been prompted in part by L’Heritier’s Oeuvres meslees, a fairy tale collection published during 1695-1698—the exact same time that her uncle Charles Perrault was publishing his best known tales (The Sleeping Beauty in the Woods in 1696, and Histories ou contes du temps passé, which included Sleeping Beauty again, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, and Puss in Boots).
Indeed, the timing later led some scholars to suspect that Charles Perrault was the actual author of at least some parts of Oeuvres meslees, including its best known fairy tale: The Discreet Princess, or the Adventures of Finette. The tales do contain some similarities: a rather arch tone, an insistence that they occurred, not in some distant fairy land, but in a very real part of Europe at some point in the past, and comments on the manners of their French contemporaries. But The Discreet Princess is not only longer and more intricate than most of Perrault’s tales, it also contains a rather unusual motif for him: a princess dropping a prince into a sewer.
Unusually enough for a fairy tale, “The Discreet Princess” is set in a very specific time period: the First Crusade (1095-1099), though admittedly this is less to make a point about the medieval and crusader periods, much less provide an accurate description of those times, and more to provide a convenient excuse for sending the king away for a few years—something that the tale only emphasizes by noting, just a few sentences later, that “people were quite simple during these happy times,” a description that would have startled most of the people involved in the First Crusade. About the only realistic part of this is that the one crusader in the story stays away on crusade for a number of years, fairly typical of many crusaders. Anyway.
The king, hearing about the Crusade, decides to go off to it, noting only one problem. No, not the cost of the crusade, or the potential issues with leaving his kingdom under the care of ministers, or even the ongoing conflicts that would be sparked by this and later crusades. No, he’s worried about his three daughters. Nonchalante is extremely lazy; Babillarde (often called “Babbler” in English translations) will not stop talking; and Finette, as befits the youngest of three fairy tale daughters, is practically perfect in every way, right down to discovering financial cheating by a king’s minister. (To repeat, oh king, why aren’t you worried about these ministers, who HAVE been caught attempting to screw you over?) Despite Finette’s cleverness and near perfection, and, as the tale will later reveal, a general fondness for her sisters, these are not, the king decides, girls that can be left behind on their own, so, worried about their honor, off he heads to a fairy for some help. The request presumably reflects L’Heritier’s Paris experiences, where nobles and others frequently requested assistance from more powerful patrons, but I couldn’t help thinking that just maybe the king should have listened to more fairy tales, with their pointed warnings that asking for help from a fairy often lands people in trouble.
The king asks the fairy for three glass distaffs that will magically break when and if any of his daughters lose their honor, which, look, king, I get that you feel your options are limited, but I gotta say: not exactly the most practical choice here. I mean, I get the nod to at least attempting to honor what was often seen as women’s work, but even I, in the post-industrial age, have seen plenty of women with distaffs, and you know what happens with pretty much all of them? That’s right: they fall on the ground. A lot. Making it more than likely that the princesses could be models of excellent deportment and honor and still shatter their distaffs. Though, that said, since distaffs are also generally wrapped with fiber, it’s equally possible that the princesses could end up doing something terribly dishonorable and yet find their distaffs left completely whole, protected by the fibers. SPOILER THAT DOESN’T ACTUALLY HAPPEN but it could, oh king, it could.
I should note at this point that by “honor” both the king and L’Heritier mean “virginity,” not “honesty” or “keeping promises” or “killing lots of Orcs” or “having Brutus explain that really, you are an honorable man” or “standing up for what’s right” or any of the sorts of things that we might associate with honor these days. This will be important.
Anyway, perhaps realizing that the glass distaffs are not exactly a foolproof solution, the king also decides to lock the three girls away in a tower, in an echo of the women sent to convents, not always willingly, that L’Heritier had known. Incidentally, at this point even the king admits that none of his daughters really done anything—other than Finette, who, as it turns out, has managed to infuriate a neighboring prince, Rich-Craft, by uncovering his attempt to deceive their kingdom in a treaty, something Finette’s father, with her agreement, responded to by deceiving Rich-Craft in return. The other two are guilty only of laziness and gossip, certainly nothing that would justify imprisonment. But honor is honor, so off the girls head to the tower to be locked up.
Naturally, the two eldest sisters soon become extremely bored, a common fate of princesses locked up in towers in a pre-Netflix age. Equally naturally, Rich-Craft, now out for revenge, decides to take advantage of this. Disguising himself as an old woman, he convinces Babillarde to let him up into the tower. Nonchalante goes along with this in a nonchalant sort of manner, and look, that’s L’Heritier’s pun, not mine, so I’m leaving it. It does not take him too long to shed the disguise and convince first Nonchalante, then Babillarde, to “marry” him (without the benefit of clergy, I should note). Their distaffs shatter. He then turns his attention to Finette, who responds by waving a hammer.
This would convince most men to back away, but not Rich-Craft, who particularly wants revenge on Finette. Thinking fast, Finette carefully makes a bed for “them” on top of a sink with a large drain leading directly to a sewer. She doesn’t get on the bed.
Getting dumped into a sewer does nothing to calm Rich-Craft’s temper. After a much needed bath and some time to recover from his wounds, he begins a battle with Finette—who, in the meantime, has fallen into a clinical depression because her sisters have lost their honor, like, Finette, you just dumped the guy who seduced them into a sewer. Cheer up. Plus, you have a lot of other things to focus on, like, getting kidnapped by Rich-Craft’s servants, pushing Rich-Craft into a barrel studded with nails and rolling him down a mountain, sealing your new little nephews into boxes (with air holes, I hasten to add, but still), and disguising yourself as a doctor so you can leave the boxes with Rich-Craft, claiming that the boxes have “medicine” instead of “babies” which you’d think the sounds coming from the boxes would have alerted nearby people to the difference, but maybe these were unusually quiet babies. Or very terrified babies, whichever. Oh, and welcoming your father home—whose response to all of this is to send his two oldest daughters off to the fairy, who sends them out to do some gardening, which kills them.
No, really. The Discreet Princess is mostly a warning about the dangers of losing your virginity to any guy who decides to enter your tower dressed as an old woman, but it’s also, I think, a bit of a jab about aristocrats, or at least French aristocrats, trained to do so little that even pulling weeds kills them. And, admittedly, a hint of the author’s lack of interest in either character, once their moral purpose has been met: they’re dispatched in two quick sentences.
Finette, you’ll be glad to know, ends up happily married to Rich-Craft’s brother, Bel-a-Voir, if not before some more Fun Stuff with a sheep’s bladder and some blood, which is all to say, if you’ve ever felt that your fairy tales just did not have enough seriously gross things like falling into sewers, sheep’s bladders, babies sealed into boxes, and blood, this is your kinda tale.
It’s also a tale that, for all of its seeming focus on the importance of virginity and honor, primarily focuses on the virtue of distrust. With the arguable exceptions of the king and the fairy and some barely-in-the-story fishermen, those who trust others—Nonchalante, Babillarde, Rich-Craft and Bel-a-Voir—all end up suffering greatly for the error of trusting someone’s word. Three end up dead; the last loses a brother and has an issue with that sheep’s bladder. The fairy sums everything up with her remark Distrust is the mother of security.
The tale also showcases the way seemingly proportional responses to conflict can escalate that conflict—in this case, going from a minor deception involving a treaty, to three dead people and one smushed sheep’s bladder and quite a lot of blood. Sure, part of the point here is “lying during treaty negotiations will not, in the long run, go well,” but I also can’t help but think that it is possible—just barely possible—that had Finette and the king responded to Rich-Craft’s initial attempt to deceive them over a treaty by, say, simply declining to sign the treaty, instead of deciding to trick him in return, Rich-Craft might not have decided to come after the three daughters in revenge.
In this, for all its happy ending, The Discreet Princess presents a decidedly bleak picture of court life: a life where women can be sent away and locked up on the mere suspicion that they might do something; a life where exposing issues in a treaty can later make you a political target; a life where someone else’s actions might make you a political target; a life where your children can be taken from you (by the good guys) and never seen again; a life where your mother might be killed by gardening. Quite a contrast from the court life presented by L’Heritier’s uncle, Charles Perrault, who found success in Louis XIV’s court at Versailles, and described court life as a place where even commoners like Cinderella and Puss-in-Boot’s human could succeed, if only they had the right manners, and, ok, yes, a fairy godmother or a talking cat.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the entire collection was dedicated to Henriette Julie de Castalnau, Countess of Murat (Madame de Murat) banished from Versailles in 1694 for writing political satires.
L’Heritier does not offer the options of fairy godmothers or talking cats. Instead, she warns readers to distrust everything, except for self-education. Finette’s sisters, who spent their time either in gossip or lazing about, end up dead. Finette, who studied diplomacy, reading, music and needlepoint, is able to keep herself focused and amused in the tower—and thus, able to withstand temptation, and survive. It’s a powerful argument for the education of women, though it’s a bit of a two-way sword: Finette becomes a target largely because that education and focus brings her into the political side of court life. On the other hand, her less educated sisters aren’t spared, becoming targets thanks in part to their family’s political manipulations—and end up dead. Finette survives.
I’m left with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the death sentences dealt out to Nonchalante and Babillarde seem overly harsh, to put it mildly. I can quite see that Nonchalante would have been a burden to her servants, but prior to getting locked up in a tower, Babillarde’s fondness for gossip hardly seems to have hurt anyone except herself, and even then, the real wrongdoer here is Rich-craft—who probably wouldn’t have succeeded had the princesses not been locked in a tower, away from everyone. Babillarde spends time searching for and helping her older sister, and all three of them appear to be genuinely fond of one another. And speaking as a person who has often succumbed to both, the idea that an affinity for laziness and gossip should result in death—well, my skin is crawling a bit over here.
Nor am I all that thrilled that for all of the punishment doled out to Nonchalante, Babillarde, Rich-Craft and Bel-a-Voir, that the other prime mover in all of this—the king—gets away with virtually no consequences whatsoever. Virtually—his two oldest daughters are dead—but this doesn’t seem to bother him very much. Otherwise, his reward for responding to deception with deception, locking his daughters away in a tower and then sending two of them off to their deaths, and marrying off his youngest daughter without consulting or even notifying her? Living happily ever after. Er.
And if you’re wondering what happened to those little babies in the boxes, well, I am too. About all I can tell you is that the boxes were opened. What happened afterwards? It’s a fairy tale, filled with unfairness. I can’t reassure you.
But I can say that for all of this, The Discreet Princess gives us a fairy tale princess who isn’t afraid to swing a hammer at a foe, drop unworthy princes into a sewer or push them into barrels studded with nails, dress up as a (male) doctor and trick unworthy patients, or use sheep’s bladders when necessary. Sure, she also nails babies up in boxes and leaves them with mostly strangers, and sure, she has a tendency to fall into major depressions more than once, but she can still swing that hammer, and warn us that princesses might need more than glass slippers to survive court politics. It’s something.
Mari Ness lives in central Florida.
In 1966, at a gathering of J.R.R. Tolkien fans in New York City, the poet W.H. Auden—once a student of the Professor’s at Oxford—famously stated: “Tolkien is fascinated with the whole Northern thing.” In describing Tolkien thus, Auden coined a phrase that encompassed more than mere geographical direction. It was, according to the late Steve Tompkins, himself a formidable essayist and scholar of Tolkien’s work, “the mythology, many-legended history, and darkness-defying worldview of the ancient Germanic and Norse peoples.” This dynamic was woven into the cultural DNA of the Professor’s beloved Anglo-Saxons, as well. All the peoples of the north held the same basic belief: that Fate was inexorable, that the good fight must be fought, and that victory—however glorious—was transient. In the end the monsters would win, and the long twilight of the north would give way to an eternal darkness where even the gods were doomed.
While Tolkien is arguably the most recognizable standard-bearer of “the Northern thing”, he was by no mean the first. Antiquarians and writers such as George Webbe Dasent, William Morris, H. Rider Haggard, and Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur poured forth thunderous tales of naked will and courage unfolding in the shadows of a pre-ordained ending of the world. And readers in the 19th and early 20th centuries lapped it up. Since then, whole generations of writers have turned their eyes in Auden’s so-called “sacred direction”, seeking inspiration for their own fiction in the tales and myths of pre-Christian Scandinavia. Myself included. Below, I give you five such books—not necessarily the most popular or the best-of-the-best, but five books which nonetheless embody the whole Northern thing, with its clash of iron and its grim determination that while an enemy might ultimately win the day, he won’t win this day.
Hrolf Kraki’s Saga by Poul Anderson
In the great tapestry of northern legend, the name Hrolf Kraki is woven throughout in glittering silver thread. We know of him from such diverse sources as Saxo Grammaticus’s Gesta Danorum; from the sagas of the Skjöldunga and the Ynglinga; from the Skáldskaparmál of the Norse; from the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, and especially from the eponymous Icelandic tale, Hrólfs saga kraka. What Poul Anderson has done, though, is to take this remote figure of Arthurian proportions and render him in flesh and blood for the modern reader, giving context to the sometimes inexplicable motives and feelings of the ancient Scandinavians. Hrolf Kraki’s Saga is a grim and magnificent tale, filled with betrayal and murder, sibling rivalry and incest, and enough ax-play to sate a berserker.
Swords of the North by Robert E. Howard (Rusty Burke, ed.)
Of all the writers on this list, only Robert E. Howard had a view of the world not dissimilar from the grim ideals of the North. Indeed, it colors his work, from his first published story, “Spear and Fang” in 1924, to the last tale of that indomitable barbarian, Conan of Cimmeria, written before Howard’s death in 1936. Without exception, his characters—though lusty and larger than life—fight against “the iron collar of Fate” to make their mark upon the world before “sinking into final defeat with the froth of a curse on his lips.” This hefty 540-page volume, though rare, collects the finest examples of Howard’s prose and verse exemplifying the Northern thing. My own favorites include “The Grey God Passes,” about the Battle of Clontarf, and the brief but haunting “Delenda Est”.
Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton
Though perhaps best known as the author of the wildly popular techno-thriller Jurassic Park, in 1976 Michael Crichton explored the Northern thing with Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922. Utilizing as his starting point the actual 10th-century manuscript of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan—who was an emissary from the Caliph of Baghdad to the king of the Volga Bulgars—Crichton skillfully builds a unique tale that mirrors the epic Beowulf. The tale veers from the historical when Ibn Fadlan is taken North against his will by a band of Vikings, led by the mighty Buliwyf, to combat a creeping terror that slaughters their people in the night. Along the way, the reluctant hero bears witness to the curious customs of the Northlands, from ship burials and human sacrifice to single combat and the fatalistic philosophy of the Viking.
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
Bernard Cornwell’s is a familiar name to fans of historical fiction; he is the reigning king of the bloody and thunderous epic, with tales running the gamut—from the Stone Age through to the Napoleonic Wars. But with The Last Kingdom, set in a 9th-century England wracked by war, Cornwell really hits his stride. It is the tale of Uhtred son of Uhtred, a dispossessed earl of Northumbria, who is captured as a child and raised by pagan Danes. Uhtred is a Viking in all but blood, as swaggering and headstrong and profane as his foster-brother, Ragnar Ragnarsson—and every inch as dangerous in that crucible of slaughter, the shieldwall. Historical fiction is close cousin to fantasy, and Cornwell blurs the edges between the two by having characters who believe in the myths of the North, in the power of prophecy and magic. This clash of cultures, and of faiths, comes to a head when Uhtred is forced to choose: live as a Dane and become the enemy of God and King Alfred of Wessex, or return to the Saxon fold, pledge himself to Alfred, and perhaps win back his stolen patrimony: the Northumbrian fortress of Bebbanburg.
Blood Eye by Giles Kristian
Reminiscent of Cornwell’s Uhtred, Osric—the hero of Giles Kristian’s Viking tale—is a young orphan who has no memory of his past. A deformed eye the color of blood marks him as a pariah among the villagers of Abbotsend on the coast of southern England, where he has spent his youth apprenticed to a mute carpenter. Such is the same small and lackluster life he expects to lead … until Norse raiders come to Abbotsend. Kristian’s Vikings, led by Jarl Sigurd the Lucky, are wondrous to behold: true sons of the North drawn in the vivid colors of their age; bold and fearsome and raucous men who want nothing more than wealth, wine, and women—men who seek Odin’s weather and a glorious death, sword in hand. The Norse spare Osric, who becomes one of them: a hard-as-nails reaver, a killer of men, touched by the Allfather; Sigurd names him Raven, and like a pack of wolves they fare forth in search of fortune or a storied death.
Top image from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
Scott Oden was born in Indiana, but has spent most of his life shuffling between his home in rural North Alabama, a Hobbit hole in Middle-earth, and some sketchy tavern in the Hyborian Age. He is an avid reader of fantasy and ancient history, a collector of swords, and a player of tabletop role-playing games. He is the author of A Gathering of Ravens, available from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), a novel that pairs the “whole Northern thing” with a lifelong love of Orcs. His previous books include The Lion of Cairo, Memnon, and Men of Bronze.
We put up the tent, hiked a bit more, cooked dinner, put the rest of the food in the car (the creek was too nearby, and we'd used up the things that needed to be chilled. It was a dark night, clouded over, so we went to sleep fairly early.
And in the middle of the night I woke up.
I had the sense that someone was watching me.
It wasn't Scotty. He was asleep, like a rock.
I could barely hear something walking around outside the tent, circling, looking in at the flap (which was zipped to keep out mosquitos but had a gap where it tied,) and circling again. And again. A faint sense of someone breathing. Not as big as the bear, but with more intention and curiosity. It must have circled half a dozen times before it left.
I fell asleep again.
In the morning, it was plain that we'd had a visitor -- a wolf whose paw prints, with the clearly marked claws, were longer than my hand (and I have long fingers). He'd left us an indication that this was *his* territory -- a small mountain of wolf droppings at least a foot high, right in front of the Mustang's fender. We didn't see him again, and I didn't sense him, but I wished I'd had a bit of plaster of paris to make a cast of one of those tracks, and find some proportion chart to learn just how big he was.
We didn't have any more encounters, and stayed there the rest of the time -- but I had my ears and eyes open in case that wolf was keeping an eye on us still.
Thank you for pressing the self-destruct button, Tor.com. This website will self-destruct in two minutes! Okay, not really. But maybe you should read this post at ludicrous speed, just in case.
That’s right: today’s Movie Rewatch of Great Nostalgia is one of the most parodiest of all sci-fi film parodies: 1987’s Spaceballs! Whoo!
(I apologize in advance, by the way, for the sheer number of gifs under the cut. But I just couldn’t help myself!)
Previous entries can be found here. Please note that as with all films covered on the Nostalgia Rewatch, this post will be rife with spoilers for the film.
And now, the post!
LIZ: We should do the drinking challenge this time.
ME: I feel like I might get in trouble for that. Also that we might get alcohol poisoning.
KATE: Not possible, we have seen this movie TEN BILLION times.
“The drinking challenge”, O my Peeps, refers to an often-discussed-but-never-actually-
Like all drinking games, this is (a) an inherently terrible idea, which is (b) probably going to happen at some point anyway. Even if it didn’t on this particular occasion, because I am a dreary killjoy who hates fun, according to certain unnamed parties.
Kate’s point, though, is valid, in that we have seen Spaceballs so many times over the course of our lives that we probably really could recite just about every line from memory. And I know what you’re thinking: why, exactly, have we watched this movie so freakin’ much?
Well, I mean, “because it’s funny” may seem like a reductive answer, but it does have the virtue of being true. Still, there are lots of very funny movies out there that we have not seen eleventy zillion times, including most of Mel Brooks’s oeuvre, so why this one in particular?
On reflection, I think it had to do with two things more than anything else: timing, and subject.
Parody, particularly the brand of joke-a-minute goofball slapstick parody Mel Brooks is famous for, generally tends to do best with people occupying a rather specific sweet spot on the maturity front. By which I mean, you have to be mature enough to have the knowledge to understand what’s being parodied (and what parody even is in the first place), but you also have to be juvenile enough to genuinely enjoy things like pratfalls and dick jokes and general relentless silliness.
A lot of people hit that sweet spot and then leave it as adults (and a lot of people—like, say, Mel Brooks—hit that spot and then never ever ever leave it), but you generally don’t arrive at that sweet spot until your age is at least in double digits. Before that you’re generally just too young to get why exactly making fun of other people’s art can be so entertaining.
Spaceballs came out in theaters in 1987, and went to VHS the next year, and to cable probably within a year after that. Which meant that in terms of timing, it arrived in my life at pretty much the precise juncture I was most likely to think it was the most gut-bustingly hilarious thing ever invented in the whole wide world—whether it actually was or not.
Spaceballs is probably not the most gut-bustingly hilarious thing ever invented in the whole wide world. But I retain enough of my inner pre-teen-year-old that you’ll never be able to totally convince me (or my sisters) of that.
Which brings me to the other reason Spaceballs was so viscerally satisfying for my siblings and me to watch over and over and over again, and that of course is what it was parodying: i.e. Star Wars.
I know Star Wars is once again a big deal in the world (and that it honestly never really stopped being a big deal, even before the new sequels came out despite the prequels what prequels there are no prequels), but even so I don’t think people who weren’t kids in the late 70s and 80s can really appreciate what a Honkin’ Humongous Deal Star Wars was to those of us who were. I’m not going to let this article derail into a Star Wars appreciation post, so just trust me when I say that our appetites were so whetted for new Star Wars material (that at the time we thought we were never going to get) that even a parody of the franchise was cause for paroxysms of joy.
Spaceballs covered a lot more territory than just Star Wars, of course, lampooning everything from Alien to Indiana Jones to the above Planet of the Apes even to The Wizard of Oz, but at its core it was a Star Wars parody, and that made our geeky selves incredibly happy.
As a side note, I’m not a hundred percent sure whether this movie was the thing that introduced me to the concept of breaking the fourth wall, but I sure did love when it did. (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which also took great glee in the trope, came out in 1986, but I almost certainly didn’t see that in the theater, so who knows which one I saw first.) Dark Helmet getting knocked down by a dollying camera should not be so freakin’ funny, for example, but it really is.
Although that might just be because every single thing Rick Moranis did in this movie was hysterical, then and now. My sisters and I basically can’t mention him or his delicious send-up of Darth Vader without segueing into a flurry of quotes.
KATE & LIZ: “KEEP FIRING, ASSHOLES!”
So many of the jokes in this movie should absolutely not have worked, except that the actors delivered them so well. Moranis is the clear winner, but he had George Wyner (as Colonel Sandurz) as well as Mel Brooks himself (as President Skroob) to play off of, and the three of them together were hilarious.
Also awesome despite the fact that in general I didn’t care for them as comedians were Joan Rivers as C-3PO send-up Dot Matrix and John Candy as Chewbacca stand-in Barf. RIP, you two.
LIZ: That’s Barfolomew!
Bill Pullman, meanwhile… eh, he got the job done as Lone Starr, the haphazard sort-of generic hero amalgamation of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker.
KATE: He’s better than Greg Kinnear, anyway.
LIZ & ME: [very long stare]
ME: That is the strangest thing you’ve ever said.
KATE: I was trying to think of comparable actors!
Sure thing, honey. (Does anyone even remember Greg Kinnear at this point?)
Anyway. Daphne Zuniga as Druish Princess Vespa got in a couple of good zingers (and has a lovely singing voice), but really her greatest contribution to the movie (and should have been to fashion and/or electronics) was her Princess Leia headphones, which is one of the many things I was terribly sad to see were not available to buy at the time (or now, apparently, even though someone was selling them at one point).
But this is because there is no merchandise from Spaceballs—none official, that is. Which makes the whole moichandising! scene pretty ironic, really. Apparently Brooks made a deal with Lucas that in return for Lucas’s endorsement, he wouldn’t produce any Spaceballs merchandise, because Lucas thought they would look too much like Star Wars merchandise. Which, besides being kind of a dick move on Lucas’s part, seems completely dumb to me. Like getting to buy a Yogurt doll wouldn’t have stopped me from also buying a Yoda doll.
KATE & LIZ: “May da Schwartz be with you!”
…Although I have to admit that these days I would be much more likely to buy a Yogurt doll. So maybe it wasn’t dumb on Lucas’s part, who knows. (Still a dick move, though.)
Speaking of Druish princesses and Da Schwartz, I’m… not sure I’m up to getting into the Jewish jokes, and why it’s okay for a Jewish man to make Jewish jokes but not okay for non-Jews to do the same, but if you want some (lengthy) commentary on the subject of Mel Brooks and the ethics of satire, here you go. Suffice it to say that generally speaking, as far as I am concerned comedy is funny when it’s punching up, or at least sideways, and not otherwise; and that therefore if there’s anywhere I feel like Brooks falls down on the job it is where it concerns women, but usually not otherwise. If we were discussing Blazing Saddles I would probably have to examine that more closely, but fortunately we’re not, so I don’t! Yay!
ME: STOP HARSHING MY SQUEE, LIZ.
The ethics of it notwithstanding, though, the question is: is Spaceballs still as funny as it was in the 80s?
It is to us, mostly: a few of the lamer jokes have lost their luster, but the many priceless bits remain priceless (and if I listed them all we’d be here till the end of time, but here’s one of my faves, just for you):
But would it be as funny to a non-alive-in-the-80s audience? Liz thinks not, pointing out how dated many of the references are. I disagree, though. Sure, maybe millennials will have no idea that the Dink Dinks’ song is from Bridge Over the River Kwai (which predates even us) or why a reference to the “Ford Galaxy” is funny, but the sheer number of properties lampooned in Spaceballs that have been rebooted or rejuvenated since the 80s (including Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and Star Wars itself) means that an awful lot more of the humor in it remains current than probably ever could have been reasonably expected.
KATE: And besides, some things are just universally funny no matter how old they are.
We would love to watch this movie with someone who’s never seen it, to see how funny they would find it, but agree that we would almost certainly annoy this person to death by gleefully yelling all the best quotes along with the movie, so—
LIZ: “Did you see anything?”
KATE: “No, sir! I didn’t see you playing with your dolls again!”
—SO we shall have to be satisfied with the knowledge that we, at least, still love it, and probably always shall.
And that’s all for now, kids! Time to close with our Nostalgia Love to Reality Love 1-10 Scale of Awesomeness!
Hopefully there will not be a delay for the next MRGN like there was for this one (sorry about that), so come back in two weeks for more!
Welcome back to the Warbreaker reread! Last week, Lightsong sent his newly-acquired Lifeless squirrel on a successful mission, and Vivenna was at last brought up out of the gutters again. This week, Siri capitulates, Lightsong dreams, and Vivenna learns.
This reread will contain spoilers for all of Warbreaker and any other Cosmere book that becomes relevant to the discussion. This is particularly likely to include Words of Radiance, due to certain crossover characters. The index for this reread can be found here. Click on through to join the discussion!
Point of View: Siri
Setting: The God King’s Bedchamber
Timing: Undetermined, but at least a few days after Chapter 40
Take a Deep Breath
Siri and Susebron enjoy their nightly post-bouncing picnic; Siri is reminded that Returned appear as they wish to appear, so Susebron can eat as much dessert as he likes. She wishes he would be a little less obedient to his priests, but is disconcerted when he reveals that he has talked to his priests using the artisans’ script. He asked why his father died right after he was born; their responses were so evasive that he begins to think Siri may be right about them.
Siri reminds him of Treledees’s reverence for Susebron’s Breath, and together they reach the conclusion that perhaps the entire purpose of the Hallandren monarchy is to be a vessel for that treasure. Suddenly, they realize that the new God King might not be the son of the old one: perhaps a baby has Returned, and the priests are using Siri to create the fiction of a royal baby preparatory to killing Susebron after forcing him to give his Breath to the baby.
Susebron sadly realizes that if he was not the son of the previous God King, the woman who raised him may not have been his mother. His sense of loss brings him to ask Siri about her family, and they distract themselves with the Idrian royalty. He notices that her hair doesn’t change color as much lately, and she admits that she has learned to control it to reduce her own vulnerability. This reminds them to worry over the rumors of war.
Susebron returns to personal issues, and confesses that his mother was not the only person to ever have loved him: Siri has. Hesitantly, he kisses her, and in spite of all the rational objections, she responds. A small part of her fears that they will give the priests the excuse they seek, but she ignores that. Susebron doesn’t know what to do, but Siri does, and the scene fades to black.
They had to make my family kings because of how much Breath was in that treasure. And they had to give it to a Returned—otherwise their king and their gods might have competed for power.
“Perhaps. It seems awfully convenient that the God King always bears a stillborn son who becomes Returned…”
She trailed off. Susebron saw it too.
Unless the next God King isn’t really the son of the current one, he wrote, hand shaking slightly.
What a frightening insight that would be, for both of them. All the things they thought they knew, and the things they thought they could control, just collapsed on them.
The annotations go directly to that question, and we’re told that Siri is right in recognizing that the next God King isn’t necessarily the son of the current one. The spoiler section explains that it is possible for a Returned to have children, but it requires special knowledge that we won’t learn until the sequel. The priests know, but since it’s not 100% reliable, they sometimes do what Siri guessed. If an infant Returns, the priests take it as a sign that it’s time for a new God King; if his wife can’t get pregnant (which they’d really prefer), they will use the other infant.
Susebron was one of those infants who Returned and triggered a replacement, and they really did bring his mother with him to raise him.
There is, right now, an infant Returned; that his Return coincided with the fulfillment of the Idrian treaty, the priests take as both vindication of faith, and deadline for a pregnancy. BUT:
Note that there’s not, in fact, any danger to her either way, no matter what Bluefingers says. She and Susebron, following the change in power, would have been taken to one of the isles in the middle of the Inner Sea and kept in a lavish lifestyle as long as they lived.
So… the current political situation does threaten Siri’s homeland, and Bluefingers’s plans threaten Siri and Susebron directly, but not in the way she has assumed. Sigh.
And yes, after the fade, Siri and Susebron finally consummate their marriage.
Point of View: Lightsong
Setting: Lightsong’s palace
Timing: The same night as Chapter 44
Take a Deep Breath
Well, there’s not much to say about this chapter. I think I’ll just copy and paste.
That night, Lightsong dreamed of T’Telir burning. Of the God King dead and of soldiers in the streets. Of Lifeless killing people in colorful clothing.
And of a black sword.
Well, there’s a right nightmare for you.
Sanderson’s annotations are way longer than the chapter, and talk about how he’s always wanted to do a super-short one like this. Also, this is where he’s most bummed about the need to have more tension earlier in the book; while it strengthened the story as a whole, it weakened the impact of this chapter. It’s also noted that this is specifically, and not coincidentally, the same night as the previous chapter; the possibility of Siri actually having a child just went up (!) and it affects the future. Lightsong, as a Returned, is sensitive to such changes, and so his dreams just took a turn for the worse.
Point of View: Vivenna
Setting: A small rented room in T’Telir, and its environs
Timing: Undetermined, but at least a few days after Chapter 43
Take a Deep Breath
Vivenna eats alone, choking down yet more fish, so exhausted that it’s difficult to sleep. Vasher has been working them both very hard, meeting with one group after another, all working-class men and women, who can influence their friends and family not to participate in activities that will push Hallandren to war.
In this rare solitary moment, she considers a subject she’s been avoiding: her identity. No longer the confident princess, but not the beaten-down wretch either, she’s not truly even the penitent princess she’s playing for her people right now. Her personality is still the same—still determined, still committed to the Five Visions, but with a better understanding of herself and the world around her. She wants to learn to Awaken; she hates being helpless. So she begins to practice.
After various experiments resulting in completely gray clothing, Vivenna has learned many things that don’t work, and a few that do. Vasher returns and gives her a few practical bits of advice, then points out that the gray clothing is a little obvious in T’Telir. They return to their tiny room, where he remarks on her un-Idrian desire to learn Awakening, though he doesn’t understand why Austrism suddenly condemned Awakening after the Manywar. He also comments that she is not what he expected. Finally, he begins to explain Awakening Theory to her in a very scholarly manner, even as he insists that BioChroma is complicated, and humans understand very little about it.
He abruptly ends the lecture by refusing to explain a Type Four BioChromatic entity, and tosses her a package which turns out to contain a dueling blade, telling her that she needs to learn to defend herself. With that, they’re off to meet another group.
“All right,” he said. “I guess this is for the best. I’m getting tired of you walking around with that bright aura of yours that you can’t even use.”
“Well, I think we should start with theory,” he said. “There are four kinds of BioChromatic entities. The first, and most spectacular, are the Returned. They’re called gods here in Hallandren, but I’d rather call them Spontaneous Sentient BioChromatic Manifestations in a Deceased Host. What is odd about them is that they’re the only naturally occurring BioChromatic entity, which is theoretically the explanation for why they can’t use or bestow their BioChromatic Investiture. Of course, the fact is that every living being is born with a certain BioChromatic Investiture. This could also explain why Type Ones retain sentience.”
Vivenna blinked. That wasn’t what she had been expecting.
This cracks me up all over again, every time I read it. She was just looking for a little training, some practical how-to instructions… and all of a sudden it’s BioChromatic Theory 401 up in here, and she’s wondering just when this street turned into a college campus.
The annotations focus mostly on why Sanderson wanted to do certain things, but he starts with Vivenna’s need to figure out who she is at the core, now that most of her trappings are gone. Then he goes into why he waited until this point to explain the magic, and how long he’d planned to write this scene with Vahser-the-scruffy-curmudgeon suddenly talking like a scientist—and also that there are Clues as to who he really is. Then there’s a chunk on the origin of Awakening as a magic system, which is cool but you should just go read it.
Snow White and Rose Red
Well, our girls are in very different places now, but at least they’re both progressing in positive directions now. Siri, thanks to Mab’s instruction, is now exactly where she didn’t want to be, but she also did…
To back up a little, I’ll confess to a good bit of irritation with Siri’s line about wishing Susebron were more reckless, impulsive, and independent. While I understand what she’s getting at, and it might indeed be better for him to question his priests, or at least insist on a better education and real answers to his questions… at the same time, she’s got a very juvenile assumption that somehow recklessness and impulsiveness would be a good thing, even in a man who is more powerful than she registers. With that kind of power, would you really want the God King to be reckless and impulsive!! Independent, yes; willing to think for himself, yes; able to advocate for himself, absolutely. But not reckless just for the sake of being reckless. Kids these days.
I do, however, have to acknowledge her sense of fairness. On the one hand, she doesn’t think Susebron is very capable when it comes to getting information from his priests, but she realizes how inconsistent it would be to chastise him for doing the exact thing she just said he ought to do. So there’s that much.
While Siri is more and more focused on Susebron and his potential danger, Vivenna is taking a large step backwards from her former persona. She’s very reflective in these chapters, because she has to figure out who she is besides an Idrian princess. She’s not 100% there yet, but her self-evaluation has become much more honest since Denth betrayed her trust. She recognizes the value of her inherent determination; even though it was long directed at becoming the perfect Idrian princess to marry the Hallandren God King, and that goal has been overcome by events, it’s always been part of her. She’s just realizing that perhaps her definition of “the perfect Idrian princess” had a lot of false standards:
She was also a hypocrite. Now she knew what it was to be truly humble. Compared to that, her former life seemed more brash and arrogant than any colorful skirt or shirt.
She did believe in Austre. She loved the teachings of the five Visions. Humility. Sacrifice. Seeing another’s problems before your own. Yet she was beginning to think that she—along with many others—had taken this belief too far, letting her desire to seem humble become a form of pride itself. She now saw that when her faith had become about clothing instead of people, it had taken a wrong turn.
Poor Vivenna; she’s realizing that a set of rules is far easier to follow than a general admonition to humility and selflessness.
I also think it’s pretty awesome that, just as she decides that she really wants to learn Awakening despite the tenets of her religion, Vasher casually mentions that Austrism didn’t always forbid it. That’s a relatively recent event, even—only 300 years ago or so. (In the annotations, it’s mentioned that this is partly because Awakening was still a fairly new thing at the start of the Manywar, and that part of the reason for the Idrian mistrust is that they had some bad experiences with it.)
As I Live and Breathe
Vivenna’s practicing reveals a number of the limitations of the magic system, though Vasher’s instructions does little to address them immediately. But I do so much love the fact that what we call “magic” is, for a scholar on Nalthis, something to be evaluated, measured, and studied as a science. That just makes my little engineer’s heart happy! And of course I’m amused at the way most people assume that because they can do it, they “understand” it… when one of the greatest scholars on the planet is fully aware that they really know very little at all. Again, the annotations point out that Vasher, as a scholar, not only has a lot of good information, he also has a pretty good understanding of what, and how much, he doesn’t know yet.
In Living Color
Returned, Returned everywhere. Proceeding in order:
Susebron—and the reader – is gradually learning about himself and his situation, but the conclusions he and Siri are reaching are wrong at least as often as they’re right. They made a good catch this week, when they figured out that the succession doesn’t necessarily have to be literally father to son. But at the same time, Siri’s absolute distrust of the priests goes too far; she attributes far more sinister motives to them than they actually have. Of course, to be fair, they do absolutely nothing to reassure her: their determination not to trust her or Susebron with the truth, and their high-handed treatment of her, would be enough to make anyone at least question their trustworthiness. Keeping their own God King in such ignorance has finally convinced even him that they might not have his welfare at heart. And naturally, Sanderson plays with the readers’ expectation that the priests are corrupt, because priests are always totally corrupt and power-hungry vultures, aren’t they?
Lightsong gets far more action in the annotations than in the chapter, but it all boils down to the connection a “Spontaneous Sentient BioChromatic Manifestation in a Deceased Host” has to the cognitive and spiritual realms. So he has horrid dreams which really, really are prophetic—at least in terms of “these things are likely to happen.”
Vasher. I wonder what I thought about Vasher by this time on my first read-through. The contrast Vivenna thinks about, between his tattered appearance and his obvious scholarship, should be setting off alarms everywhere… at least once you know it should. Let’s pretend we all saw this, right? Anyway… I do like the way he gives her credit for integrity when he acknowledges that she’s not what he expected, and promptly decides to go right ahead and give her the full fire-hose BioChroma education. I also like that the annotations tell us he’s right, because reliable narrators are not all that common in Sanderson’s writing.
Don’t Hold Your Breath (Give it to me!)
Vasher’s categorical refusal to even talk about the fourth type of BioChromatic entity is a major cluebat. I suspect most semi-savvy readers are making the connection to Nightblood, at least once Vivenna voices her suspicions in her own mind; the fact that Vasher tells her never to ask again should make it clear that there’s something seriously dodgy about the sword and his connection to it.
Like Fresh Blue Paint on a Wall
“Spontaneous Sentient BioChromatic Manifestations in a Deceased Host.” Austre, Lord of Colors, what a mouthful. I can’t decide whether it’s hilariously ostentatious or awkwardly accurate!
I find myself more and more frequently wishing I could remember my reactions to this book the first time I read it. By now, between skipping forward and backward to check on things, and reading all the annotations several times and often out of order, I have real trouble remembering what I should know with confidence, what I should be figuring out, and what ought to be just a faint glimmer of suspicion. Too bad you can’t go back in time…
Well, that’s enough anyway. Let’s hear your comments! And be sure to join us again next week, when we will cover chapters 47 and 48, in which Lightsong remembers Calmseer and collects Allmother’s Lifeless soldiers, while Siri and Susebron plan how to reach out beyond the priests.
Alice Arneson is a SAHM, blogger, beta reader, and literature fan. As the Oathbringer preparations continue to ramp up, look for an article next week on the beta read. Behind the scenes, the copyedit review stands at 71% (or a bit more by now), and the gamma read is expected to start in early or mid-July.
Do you have a science fiction or fantasy book burning a hole in your laptop? Today might be the day you find it a home! Twitter is hosting #SFFPit today, so if you have a finished manuscript, you can craft a 140-character pitch, tag your tweet with a descriptor like #FA (Fantasy), #PA (Post-apocalyptic SF), or #WW (Weird West) and send it out into the world! The rules are simple: if a literary agent likes your pitch, you can follow their instructions to follow up with a formal query. If you want to support a pitch, you can retweet it, but don’t like it—only agents are supposed to like, and you don’t want to clutter another writer’s notifications. And remember, only pitch if you have a completed manuscript!
Click through for some samples!
Some authors use film classics as touchstones, from National Treasure:
To The Hunger Games:
While others stick to strictly literary comp titles:
And others hearken back to much older inspirations:
While others grab you with a terrifying hook:
And others unleash demons:
And still others have concepts that beg to be read:
Are you ready to dive in? Head over to #SFFPit to pitch your book, and best of luck to everyone!
#TFG = #thatfuckingguy
I would appreciate any advice you could give on supporting a friend (female pronouns) who is not yet ready to leave an unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend. This has been an ongoing issue for about 2 years, but something happened a few days ago and I could use an outside perspective.
I would describe the boyfriend as coercive (in past conversations she has alluded to having sex with him just so that he will stop begging, even when she doesn’t want to) and one of my big concerns is that Friend will be extremely isolated in our current city without me. I think he looks through her phone and computer, so I pretty much assume that he could read any written communication I send. I censor myself in written communication with her and we only have frank conversations when we go for walks in the nearby park. He often invites himself along to things we have planned and it feels like he is monitoring our friendship. He also makes controlling comments, but when I call them out, he always says, “I was just joking. [Friend] knows I’m just joking. She’s amazing and the best thing ever…etc.” They live together, but he does none of the domestic work and will only do paid work (freelance) when she nags him.
A couple times a year, she will reach a boiling point and tell him to shape up or she will leave. He will improve for about 2 weeks and then go back to the status quo. Her work/school schedule has been grueling the past few years and she hasn’t had the energy to deal with the inevitable fallout of a breakup. Most of our one-on-one conversations end with me reiterating an offer that she is always welcome to stay at my apartment when she is ready to leave. She’s not blinded by love or anything, just doesn’t feel like there is a good way or time to exit the relationship. He is currently estranged from his family and not really working, so she feels like if she dumps him, he will have nothing. One of my priorities is staying in her life, so I don’t want to overstep and give her boyfriend ammunition for isolating her further. Her parents think her boyfriend is fantastic and her other close friends live in other cities and are busy with newborn babies.
A couple days ago, I ended up spending about 30 minutes alone with her boyfriend while we were stuck in terrible traffic, on our way to pick her up and go to an event. I don’t enjoy his company and generally avoid spending time with him. Our one-on-conversation (mostly him doing a monologue) was frightening. He was delusional, paranoid, and unable to remember things I had said 5 minutes earlier. I had to repeatedly remind him where we were going and why we were going. He was extremely animated in his conversation and was looking at me while he talked and not the road, often swerving at the last minute. His ranting mostly focused on how the [creative] industry was scared of his success and how “they” wanted to keep his [art] away from “the people” and that this was a huge mistake because “the universe was going to revolt” if they didn’t get access to his [art]. At first I thought he was joking and just being overly full of himself, but he was completely serious. He then segued into how his estrangement with his family was a concern of the Catholic Church. Apparently, him “stepping out of line” is crumbling the foundation of the church by upsetting the established hierarchy. At several points, he referred to himself as royalty and referred to his lifelong “fame” that comes with being part of his family. Before you wonder, you have no clue who he is. His “fame” comes from the local and state politics his family is involved with in one of the poorest states in the country.
This grandiose sense of self and paranoia about “the establishment” trying to prevent him from success is worrisome. There were also times when he said things that I know for a fact aren’t true, but he seems to have fully convinced himself of this alternate version. I have considered that he may have been on drugs during that conversation, though that possibility does not alleviate my worry. He does not believe in therapy, though Friend has suggested it to him many times over the last two years.
I have already sent Friend a vague text and we are getting together this weekend for a walk where we will be able to speak more frankly. I just feel powerless to help and that my support has fallen woefully short. I don’t know how to be a supportive friend in this situation and I’m really worried that he is acting like this with her on a regular basis. It was exhausting for 30 minutes, I can’t imagine what it is doing to her longterm. I don’t think he is violent now, but think he could become violent if she breaks up with him. I feel like Friend is the frog in the pot of water, slowly boiling to death. She’s been unhappy, but the decline has been gradual so there hasn’t been a catalyst for her to jump ship.
I know I can’t make her leave, but I do want to make sure I am there for her if she needs support. Any words of wisdom to help me be a good friend in this situation?
-Helpless & Worried (female pronouns)
Dear Helpless & Worried,
I think you’re doing as well as you can with this. You’ve figured out how to communicate with her around his possible monitoring of her electronic conversations. You’ve made it clear that you’ll be a landing place when and if she leaves him. Let me refer you to some past posts that deal with the issue of being a good friend in a basically impossible situation.
Let’s address the elephant in the room:
Without diagnosing this dude (seriously, no “It sounds like x!” comments, please, we don’t actually have to narrow it down), the grandiosity, short-term memory slips, and erratic driving behavior he displayed might correlate to a number of mental health conditions that all have one important thing in common: They will not get better and will most likely get worse without focused regular psychiatric care & medication. You and your friend both might benefit from calling or texting the support folks at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), describing what you experienced with this guy, and seeing what they recommend. Your friend can’t make him get treatment, nor can you, but their support resources for “family members and caregivers” might be able to walk her through what she’s dealing with and have checklists and methods for coaxing reluctant people into treatment.
Important: If you’re ever dealing with someone who is having the paranoid sort of delusions and they are getting very upset and agitated, it doesn’t help to try to convince them of what’s real or deny the truth of what they are describing. They are experiencing whatever it is as if it’s real, so it’s better to validate their feelings until you can get them to Help or Help to them. You don’t have to participate in the delusion yourself, so try “I don’t see any spiders, but that must be a truly awful sight” or “I don’t hear anything, but that must feel really strange and scary.” Be honest about where your own perceptions differ but validate and comfort the upset feelings the person is having without arguing them out of feeling them. Source: A NAMI-created education session for friends/family/loved ones I went to back when Mr. Awkward was hospitalized a few years ago for a bad episode with his bipolar disorder .
It’s a sad, true fact that one can be a clingy, controlling, abusive jerk who needs to be dumped and have some pretty serious mental health stuff going on. Correlation is not causation. Even if he gets treatment (unlikely, since he “doesn’t believe in therapy”), your friend will most likely be better off without this guy in her life, and I don’t want to suggest that she’s responsible somehow for making this happen or that she needs to stay until his mental health is stabilized. Just, knowledge is power, and also, support resources who are not you are useful things to have.
I’m now going to stuff that elephant back into a tightly sealed container, because he didn’t write to me and she didn’t write to me and this is about you and the limits of what you can do here.
If you ever witness an episode like the one you did, when you’re safely out of the car it’s okay to say, “You are not making a lot of sense today, and your driving was very erratic. You seem really not okay to me, like, maybe there’s something going on that a doctor should take a look at.” Say it directly to him as gently and directly as you are able. He may argue that he doesn’t believe in therapy or “Big Pharma” or whatever, which, okay, cool. Don’t talk about therapists or psychiatrists, use the generic catch-all of “doctor.” “I think you should make an appointment with a doctor and tell that person you’re having problems with memory and concentration, especially when driving. Dude, get yourself checked out – if it’s nothing, then why not rule it out?” He sees you at least nominally as a friend, so, use that and speak to him the way a friend would.
He 99.9% won’t go. On some level he suspects that if he goes to a doctor then “They” or “The System” will know there’s something bigger going on. That’s okay. Say it anyway, offer to be the driver on the way back – “I just don’t feel safe with you behind the wheel after what I just saw, and it’s even more worrying that you don’t remember what happened, why don’t you let me get us home, I’d feel much more comfortable” – and if he won’t budge, definitely find your own transportation home. Don’t make it about all future rides or ultimatums, just take it one ride at a time – Right now, you’d feel more comfortable if someone else drove. And in future conversations with him, if those happen, you can keep referring back to that particular night that you personally witnessed (instead of the shitty behavior you know about). “You don’t remember, but when we were in the car that night, your behavior was very disturbing. I really, really hope you’ll talk to a doctor about it. There’s no shame in trying to get to the bottom of something like that so you can feel better/drive safely/put my & girlfriend’s mind at ease.”
If he doesn’t listen to you or seek treatment, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. Sometimes speaking up about an issue isn’t about convincing the other person, it’s because it’s good for you to not stay silent. It’s good for you to name what’s happening, to remind yourself that it’s not normal, to remind yourself what you witnessed and experienced, and to put that out there in the world and not just silently fret about it.
When you next talk to your friend, another thing you can do is accurately and honestly describe what you saw. Talk about the behaviors, especially the scary driving, and talk about how they impacted you. You won’t be riding in a car with the boyfriend as the driver any more and you recommend that she doesn’t, either. He could have killed someone. He could have killed you. He could kill her. This is a very big deal and it can’t be waved away.
You can also talk about the grandiosity and the memory lapses and the other strange behavior you observed. Message: “I think there is something very serious going on with him, and he needs serious help – more help than you can possibly give or be expected to give.”
He doesn’t believe in therapy so of course he won’t want to go and she’ll doubtless raise that objection. Your script is: “I think this might beyond our friendly neighborhood therapist, even. This is serious doctor stuff.” Then give her the NAMI resources or whatever else you’ve found and that our nice commenters recommend.
Then, here’s your script for the one big serious talk:
“You are my friend forever, and I always want to see you. If you ever need a place to stay, a listening ear, a ride, whatever I can give, it’s yours. I will keep making communication safe between us and making time for these walks when I can see you.
I am seriously worried about you the longer you stay in this relationship. I think it is draining the life out of you, and I don’t think it’s your responsibility to support and help this guy even one minute longer than you already have. I think that he needs help that you can’t give, and the longer he tries to make you his girlfriend/mommy/financial support/mental health care substitute/pacifier, the longer he will delay seeking that care. I think it’s okay for you to call in medical professionals here, or think about contacting his family to see if they can help somehow – I think things are that serious and that they’ll only get worse from here. I know that’s overwhelming to contemplate, but if things stayed just like they are now and didn’t get any better, how long would you stay? Another year? Another 5 years? Forever?
In the end, only you can decide what’s right for you, and I trust you to take care of yourself and make a good decision about what to do. You don’t owe me a breakup with him, you don’t owe me anything but being my friend. You do what you need to do, and if you need me, I’ll be there, no questions asked.
That said, I can’t ride in a car with him anymore, anywhere. I have to make that boundary for my own safety. And I can’t pretend the way he behaves lately is normal or okay with me. I also don’t want him inviting himself along on our plans anymore, so what do you need from me to help make that happen?”
Your friend will have some stuff to say, so, listen to her.
And then, in the aftermath of this talk, as you go forward in this friendship, here’s what I want you to do:
Make your friendship about something other than “helping” and “supporting” her in regards to him. Make your friendship about how much you like her and want her company in your life. In practice, this means:
- It’s okay to redirect conversations about him. “You already know what I think, so, what are you asking?” “What do you think you’ll do?” “How do you want to handle that?”
- It’s okay to nope out of some conversations about him and not make all the time you spend together time that you chew on the gristle of her relationship problems. “Ugh, that sucks, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that, but I’ve reached my Dude-talk limit for the day.” U R Not The Asshole Whisperer.
- It’s more than okay to recommend that she see a therapist or counselor. He’s the one with big, dramatic issues, but if she’s being drained dry by him, her having a safe place to talk and an advocate for herself within the mental health system is not a bad thing at all. You don’t have to be her sole outlet.
- I know you’re worried about her becoming isolated from having other friendships and relationships, but I’m serious about not getting in a car with him again, not ever. It’s okay to keep that boundary. “If Dude is driving, sorry, I can’t make it, but I’ll see you at the usual time for our walk.”
- Get out of the role of being the only mentor/advice-giver/”the okay one” or whatever. Make it a point to ask her advice about things that she’s good and knowledgable about. Ask her for help with things that she’d be good at helping with. You can’t make “getting her out of the relationship” the project of your friendship with her for a lot of reasons, not least because it takes the average victim multiple attempts to leave before they actually do.
- Make sure there is a fluffy/fun/positive/enjoyable thing that you share and talk about, whether it’s trading books or watching a favorite show together or a shared hobby or your weekly walks or texting cute animal photos. If he’s monitoring her communications (BAD, VERY BAD, RED FLAG) you having an innocuous conversation topic is a good thing, but it’s also important that you enjoy your friendship with each other as much as possible.
- I hate that this is a thing, but referring to your time together as Girl Time!!! and planning really female-coded activities for when you hang out can help somewhat in minimizing how much he tags along to your plans. “Sorry, this is Lady Time! No boys allowed!” sometimes translates better for misogynists than “Steve, you’re not invited!”
- Lady-Time Expanded: Is there a way for the two of you to join an all-woman choir or sport or other hobby group that meets periodically? Community for her, community for you, no That Guy.
If you’re doing that stuff, you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances.
While this is all going on, I also want you to take excellent care of yourself. Don’t neglect your other friendships and your social life. You need friendships without this abusive jerk hanging out in the background all the time. Don’t neglect your career, your finances, your education, your housekeeping. Above all, don’t neglect your own enjoyment and pleasure in life. Taking care of people and supporting them is great, but when your power to change a situation is as limited as it is here, making sure you can disengage is healthy.
This is all so imperfect. The mental health system is imperfect. Someone else’s relationship troubles are completely unfixable by you, and abusive people poison everything around themselves and the person in their grasp. You can’t make yourself like him, there’s only so long you can lie and pretend around him, and there’s only so long you can make vague soothing noises. There is no great, wonderful, awesome, brilliant way to handle this, there is only telling the truth and offering what you can safely offer.
Astronomers have just announced the discovery of a pretty unusual binary system: A white dwarf and a brown dwarf orbiting each other. That's pretty rare, so as cool as that is — and I'll explain why in a sec — even better is how ridiculously close together they orbit: They're separated by a mere 310,000 kilometers, closer than the Moon is to the Earth! And that means they move around each other fast: The intense gravity of the white dwarf tosses the brown dwarf around it at a speed in excess of 100 kilometers per second. That's rapid enough that they make a complete pass around each other every 71 minutes! Yes, minutes.
There are a few really nifty things about this system, so let's take a closer look. But not too close, because you'll get fried. Let me explain.
First, the white dwarf: It's called WD 1202-024, and it was first discovered in a survey of the sky in 2006. At 2700 light-years from Earth, it's pretty faint; the faintest star you can see with your naked eye is 150,000 times brighter!
Like all white dwarfs, it's the remains of a star that was once much like the Sun but ran out of usable hydrogen fuel in its core. It takes billions of years for a star to get to that point, but in this case WD 1202 reached this stage not too long ago, just 50 million years or so in the past. Normally, when a star like that is all by its lonesome, it responds to losing its fuel by expanding its outer layers, swelling to enormous size and cooling down. We call that a red giant. Over time, the outer layers of the star get blown away, exposing the hot core to space. This core is small (around the size of the Earth) and terribly hot, shining a painful white. That's a white dwarf (and you can find out lots more about them in my episode of Crash Course Astronomy about them).
[WD1202-024 just looks like a white dwarf sitting out there in space, alone and dim. But it harbors a surprising secret. Credit: Rappaport et al., SDSS]
But WD 1202 is different. In this new study, the astronomers discovered it's a variable star, changing its brightness in regular, predictable cycles that take a little over an hour. It slowly and subtly brightens and dims, then, for a few minutes each cycle, the light from the star drops precipitously. That's pretty unusual behavior for a white dwarf, and the astronomers quickly figured out what's going: WD 1202 isn't all by its lonesome. It has a companion: a brown dwarf.
Although the names are similar, they couldn't be more different. Brown dwarfs are objects that are too massive to be planets, but not massive enough to ignite fusion in their cores and become proper stars*. In this case, WD 1202's brown dwarf companion has a mass of about 6.6% of the Sun, which is definitely too low for fusion. It's about 67 times Jupiter's mass, so it's way beefier than a planet, too.
Even though it's far more massive than Jupiter, it's not much bigger (brown dwarfs are weird that way; their cores are very dense and take on odd properties, such that as you add mass to them they actually shrink). But it's still much larger then WD 1202, probably 4 or 5 times wider.
And that's why the brightness of the system changes. Get this: The subtle variations are caused by the brown dwarf itself as it goes around the smaller dwarf. We're seeing its phases!
[The WD 1202-024 light curve is caused by the phases we see of the brown dwarf orbiting the white dwarf, plus a bonus eclipse. Credit: Rappaport, et al. / Bishop's University]
This is just like the Moon, where we see it go through its phase of new (when we only see the dark half), first quarter, full (when we see it fully lit by the Sun), then last quarter, then new again.
But in the case of the brown dwarf we're seeing phases, not because it's reflecting light from WD 1202, but because it's heated to incandescence by it!
The white dwarf is small, but it's furiously hot, about 22,400° C. The side of the brown dwarf facing the white dwarf is heated to glowing. When it's on the other side of the WD 1202 from us we see it full. A quarter of an orbit (about 69 minutes) later it's half full, then another quarter of an orbit after that the unlit side is facing us, so the system is dimmer. After that we start to see the lit side again until it's full, and the cycle repeats.
But there's more. Because the brown dwarf is so much bigger, when it's "new" it actually gets in the way of the white dwarf and blocks its light from us. That's why the brightness drops so much every 71 minutes!
[The light curve of the binary (the change in brightness over time). The red line is a model that includes the phases of the brown dwarf and the eclipse; the black line is the observations (exposure times are about 30 minutes, so the eclipse isn't seen), and the blue line is the model mathematically fit to the observations (including the exposure time fuzzing out the eclipse). Credit: Rappaport et al. / Bishop's University]
I love just this part of the story. That brown dwarf is far too faint and close to WD 1202 to see it separately, but we can infer its existence because of its phases even though it's 27 quadrillion kilometers away. How about that?
But there's more, and it's also wondrous. Get this: The brown dwarf was, for quite some time, literally inside WD 1202!
Let's rewind the clock back to when WD 1202 was a regular star, about to run out of hydrogen fuel in its core. Back then, the brown dwarf was farther out, probably something like 50 million kilometers out (or half the distance from the Earth to the Sun), well separated.
But then WD 1202 expanded into a red giant. These kinds of stars get really big, easily spanning a hundred million kilometers across, sometimes more than twice that. That's bigger than the orbital distance of the brown dwarf, so when the primary expanded, it engulfed the brown dwarf.
Yet it persisted. That's because when it expands, the density of the gas in the red giant's outer layers dropped hugely. The lower density is what saved the brown dwarf from destruction. It would've been heated a lot by the star around it, and the drag from plowing through the material would have shrunk its orbit. As it got closer it would have orbited faster than the red giant rotated, too, so the companion acted like an egg beater, stirring up the primaries outer layers.
That can give the gas so much energy that they are expelled even more rapidly. When this violent period in the binary's life was over, what was left was the white dwarf with the companion brown dwarf in its tight orbit. Judging from what we know about the physics of such events, and the temperature of the white dwarf (they cool over time, giving us a measure of their age) this happened about 50 million years ago.
That's seriously cool. And yet there's one more thing.
[Artist's drawing of the RS Ophiuchi system, a similar one to what WD 1202 will be like in a couple of hundred million years. Credit: David Hardy & PPARC]
The gravity of the white dwarf is impressive. When you squeeze half the mass of the Sun into a ball about twice the size of the Earth, it's phenomenally dense. The surface gravity is tens of thousands times stronger than Earth's. If you stood on its surface, you'd weigh thousands of tons. Oof.
As it happens, the brown dwarf is orbiting so close to WD 1202 that its gravity is felt very strongly indeed. Over time, even now, the brown dwarf is slowly spiraling in, getting closer to the white dwarf as they emit gravitational radiation (for more about that, read this article about gravitational waves). The astronomers who observed the system calculate that in about 250 million years, the brown dwarf will get so close to the primary that the white dwarf's gravity will start to draw material off the companion!
This material will pile up on the white dwarf and get squeezed excruciatingly hard by the intense gravity. When there's enough, it will undergo sudden and catastrophic hydrogen fusion, exploding literally like a thermonuclear bomb. This explosion is very energetic, and the system will dramatically flare in brightness. Then it will fade as the material blown off cools and blows away … and then the cycle will star again.
This kind of object is called a cataclysmic variable, or CV, and we know of quite a few. We also know of a few pre-CV systems, but this one has the shortest period of any known, which means it's the closest we know of that will become a proper CV in the future.
So, as amazing as this system's history is, and is now, its future will still hold plenty of wonder. As long as you stand a bit back from it. Cataclysmic variable are given that name for a very good reason.
This is one of those science stories where I dig every piece of it. It's got quite a bit of the stuff I love: stellar evolution, weird objects, cool geometry, and it ends quite literally with a bang.
The Universe is a pretty interesting and astonishing place, if you look at it carefully enough.
*Some people call them "failed stars", which is a term I don't like, for two reasons: They aren't stars at all, they're their own class of object; and why call them that when you could be more positive and call them really overachieving planets?
[N.B.: In the title of this post, I refer to the brown dwarf as a star. As I describe in the text, technically it isn't. But in a title I have to be brief, and if I said, "... one of the components..." it would read oddly, and distract from the main point. I struggled with this, to be honest, trying to figure out a good way to say this while still be being accurate. It was surprisingly difficult (note that I never refer to this as a "binary star" in the text, but instead call it a system or a binary system). Being scrupulously accurate in terminology can make things harder on the reader sometimes, and in this case I decided to ease up on the pedantry to allow an easier understanding. If you agree or disagree, I'd be curious to hear your opinion. There's probably an interesting article all by istelf on this topic!]
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Harry is the hero.
He’s the guy the story is all about, after all. He’s the Boy Who Lived. He has the scar and the prophecy. He has the sidekicks and the invisibility cloak. He has the mentor. He has the tragic backstory. He faces down the villain.
Harry is the hero. It’s his face on the covers of the books. They’re called Harry Potter and the… for a reason.
Ron is a sidekick. You can’t deny it. He can’t even deny it. He trips over things and he makes faces and he provides Harry with a Normal Friend. He explains things but doesn’t always get them right. He supports. He humanizes. He gripes sometimes but other times, he’s there. He’s there when Harry needs him, mostly. He holds the team together until he goes off in a snit to explore his options, and when he does, Harry spirals for a while until he comes back.
Ron is a symbiote. He doesn’t get his own story that’s separate from Harry, not really. And sometimes he hates it, but also, he knows that it’s all there is for him. When he’s not with Harry or near Harry, his edges start to fade and people start calling him by the wrong name and he finds himself in a state of hibernation, not-quite-frozen but unable to really move until Harry comes back.
We aren’t discussing Ron right now. He’ll wait. He’ll be there when it’s time for us to get to him. He’ll be there once he’s needed.
He always is.
What are you, Hermione?
Are you a heroine? Or are you a sidekick?
Here’s the thing with Hermione: she’s always there. She’s always performing the ceaseless emotional labor that Harry and Ron require. She does the heavy emotional lifting so that Harry can continue to Hero all over the place and Ron can continue to sidekick. She is always there, even when she’s angry, even when she’s being horribly mistreated. She’s loyal to a fault, unwavering, unflinching. She’s patient.
That’s sidekick behavior.
When Harry’s not there, Hermione is busy. She’s not waiting for him. She decided at some point that it wasn’t Harry’s story, it was everyone’s story, and she acts accordingly. She’s not along for the ride.
This is something that the Harry Potter fan community has been discussing for years: Hermione drives the story because she has her own story. No one in their right mind would trust 13-year-old Harry Potter with a Time Turner, but Hermione gets one and she deserves it. She dates a celebrity, and she outsmarts Rita Skeeter, and she does those things in the background of Harry’s story. She convinces Harry to be a figurehead in the fight against Voldemort, and she creates Dumbledore’s Army. She schedules the DA meetings, she creates the consequences for DA defectors, she creates the galleons that allow the DA to communicate in code. She researches horcruxes and how to destroy them. She rereads all of Hogwarts: A History. She shows up with the tools and the knowledge and prevents Harry and Ron from standing around looking perplexed while the world ends around them. She saves everyone’s bacon all the time by being smarter and better-prepared than anyone else. Those two boys would be dead a thousand times over without her intervention.
She gets her own story, if you know how to look for it. She has her own narrative that’s completely separate from Harry’s. But does that make her a hero?
Harry is the hero, right? He stands in opposition to Voldemort. He’s suffered loss at the hands of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Unimaginable loss.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hermione does too. She makes the same sacrifice that Harry did—losing her parents—but instead of losing them to the Avada Kedavra curse, she loses them to her own wand. She erases their memories of her. She hides them in Australia, tucks them away to make sure that they aren’t tortured for information. To make sure they aren’t tortured the same way she’s tortured later in the book.
But everyone has lost people. Everyone has missing relatives, dead brothers, inaccessible parents.
That doesn’t make someone into The Hero. Everyone’s the hero of their own story, but not everyone gets to be the hero of this story. Too many people have died in the Harry Potter universe for loss alone to bestow heroism. Too many people have lost everything. Have sacrificed everything.
Sidekicks can suffer, too.
So, what are you, Hermione?
Does anyone in the Harry Potter universe stand in more direct opposition to Voldemort than Hermione Granger does?
Voldemort stands for oppression. He stands for the fundamental superiority of blood-purity. He stands for status, not achievement. He stands for alignment, not friendship. He stands for fealty, not loyalty. He stands for a wizard’s foot on the neck of a house-elf. He stands for the sacrifice of one’s humanity in pursuit of one’s ambition.
Hermione Granger is his antithesis. She’s a muggle-born witch who arrives at Hogwarts prepared to dominate magic. She’s enormously ambitious, but consistently seeks to elevate others when she could easily let them fail. She walks beside Harry even when doing so means putting up with relentless scorn from the people who waver between hating him and worshiping him—even when that scorn is piled on top of the blood-status slurs she weathers continuously throughout the series. She stands up against a centuries-long institution of interspecies slavery, even when doing so means that everyone she cares about will laugh at her. She skips her final year of school in order to help Harry and Ron find the horcruxes, even though it could mean losing every opportunity she’s spent the previous six years working for. She chooses her causes over her ambitions every time, and she swallows the consequences because they’re worth it to her.
What is Hermione?
She’s relatable. She’s an overachiever who consistently stands in the shadow of The Hero. She pursues victory without ever receiving credit. She accomplishes and innovates constantly without recognition. She is expected to have the answers, and to provide emotional support, and to weather the foibles of others with maturity and grace. She is shouted at for daring to have her own pursuits and interests. She is shouted down for disagreeing with the person who has designated himself In Charge. She is never allowed to be tired or sad because everyone always needs something from her. She must be the best at all times, and she must never demand a reward for her efforts. She is a cypher for every ass-busting girl who has been shunted to the side of the stage while a man who yells at everyone receives a medal from the mentor who’s never seen fit to so much as meet with her.
Hermione is where women and people of color and especially, too often, women of color so frequently find themselves: pushed to the side and asked for patience.
To Harry, she is a sidekick.
To us, she is a heroine.
Sarah Gailey’s fiction has appeared in Mothership Zeta and Fireside Fiction; her nonfiction has been published by Mashable and Fantasy Literature Magazine. You can see pictures of her puppy and get updates on her work by clicking here. She tweets @gaileyfrey. Watch for her debut novella, River of Teeth, from Tor.com in 2017.
Anyway, I'm still reading Ninefox Gambit and enjoying it a lot. My health is better. Not "healthy person" better, but definitely better than it's been in say, two years. I'm going to London soon, which is so, so exciting.
The thesis has been... awful, but awful in the usual academic-grind sort of way.
This morning my maternal grandmother's youngest sister died. I couldn't make it to the funeral, but weekend plans (mostly thesis plans) will have to be altered to go grieve with family. Her granddaughter just got married a few weeks ago.
I'm sad, even though I didn't spend a lot of time with her in recent years, since my grandparents died and we stopped celebrating their birthdays and anniversaries as big family events.
My grandmother was 12 when she and her sisters and her mom and her grandma and two of her female cousins were all living in a Nazi concentration camp. This sister, the youngest, remembers that time the least, but she was old enough then to help with the missions, where their mom would send them out in pairs to try and escape the camp illegally and get food and supplies in the nearby village.
Every outing meant risk of capture and death, so the girls always went in pairs with a cousin, not a sister. My great-grandmother wanted to ensure that she could never be blamed for putting her own children ahead of her nieces.
Anyway, it's a sad day. My own grandmother in New York just got out of a 3 month stay at the hospital, and I'm grappling with the fact that it's very likely I'll never see her again.
The sun is shining, and there are flowers outside, and I still have a bed and a kitchen and a closet that are entirely my own. I suppose that's something.
When I went to see Ratatouille in 2007, I was trapped in a terrible job. I was exhausted all the time, I felt completely uninspired, and spent a sickening amount of energy questioning myself, beating myself up, hating every decision I’d made that led me to that moment in my life, and creating a vomitous feedback loop of self-loathing. When I went to the movie with friends, I was paying for two hours of forgetfulness. Two hours to stop thinking about my life, and lose myself in a cute Pixar story. I remember hoping I liked the short.
And then the film started, and I didn’t get forgetfulness—I got a much-needed slap in the face.
This isn’t a cute Pixar movie—Ratatouille takes every cliche of every artist biopic you’ve ever seen and tweaks them just enough to both honor the idea of the artist, and to challenge it. This may be the only artist biopic that both presents the idea that its subject is a genius, and reveals him as kind of a snob who deserves a comeuppance. He lives with his loud, obnoxious, completely uncultured family, who urge him to use his keen sense of smell for practical things like sniffing out poison, rather than pursuing his artistic dreams. His brother loves him but doesn’t understand him. He’s bullied by larger rats, and especially crushed by his boorish father.
The movie is basically “every D.H. Lawrence novel, but with rats.” Finally he makes the journey from the countryside to the big city, where, cut off from his family and past, he can at last be himself and allow his gift to blossom. He makes new friends who understand him. He grows in his art, experts hail him for his creativity, he has a fall from grace, and he builds builds himself back up. He even has a muse.
The film gives us the greatest physical representation of inspiration I’ve ever seen. When Remy combines food for the first time, and it becomes a synesthetic symphony of color and music, we know what he means. We understand what he’s trying to explain to Emile. Remy’s art is ephemeral.
With most movies about writers, painters, sculptors, musicians – we know their art. When you watch Amadeus, you go in knowing at least a little of Mozart’s work, and a large part of the (inaccurate but fantastic) film is watching him transcribe the music he hears in his head. If you watch Pollock, you get to watch the artist figure out his paint-splatter technique. Even fictional writers get a similar treatment – in Wonder Boys we see the physical manuscript of James Leer’s debut novel, The Love Parade, and his mentor’s much heftier tome, The Wonder Boys; in Sideways Paul Giamatti’s character has to lug his enormous manuscript in two separate boxes when he wants to share it with a friend.
But Remy works in food. He’ll spend hours tasting and sniffing to perfect a flavor, he’ll arrange his mise en place, he’ll dab up any errant spots of sauce. Then the diners will eat the meal and within half an hour his work is just more fodder for a human digestive tract, the same as a Happy Meal or the “corn puppies” that Gusteau’s ghost finds so objectionable. He still has to put the work in. He still has to wring himself dry, laboring over each meal as though it were a painting that would outlive him. This is what makes Ratatouille, for me at least, the purest artistic film. With many artists, work = immortality. Watch Vincent and Theo, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams, or “Vincent and the Doctor”: these portraits of tortured, suffering Vincent Van Gogh are all poignant, yes, but the audience knows that while Vincent’s life is a tragedy in many ways, his art survives. In Amadeus, Wolfi is buried in a pauper’s grave while his beloved Stanzi weeps in the rain, but we all know that Mozart’s music lived on after him. We can flinch while we watch Pollock skid down that slippery Long Island road, but we’ve seen One: Number 31, 1950 in history textbooks. It’s why we’re watching the movie. But Remy? He might write his recipes down, but an essential part of his art will die with him. (Or, well, did die with him. The movie’s a decade old, after all. Rats don’t live that long.)
Remy’s art is experiential.
As we see in the iconic scene when Anton Ego first tastes Remy’s ratatouille, his art acts as a time machine, transporting a bitter, middle-aged man back to a moment of safety and love in his childhood, when he still had his whole life stretching before him, but it didn’t even matter because here and now he had his mother’s love. Assuming that my mind and consciousness stay more or less intact as I get older, I will never forget the moment when Anton Ego takes a bite of Remy’s ratatouille.
In this final part of the film, Ratatouille does something revolutionary: Remy’s story of artistic greatness shares time with Anton Ego’s story.
When has a movie about the life of an artist ever paid attention to the importance of a critic? Back in the ’90s, Ratatouille director Brad Bird worked on a not-very-famous TV show called The Critic, about Jay Sherman, the film critic moviegoers relied on if Pauline Kael, Siskel, Ebert, Genre Shalit, Leonard Maltin, and Janet Maslin were all busy. It was a Simpsons-style comedy that hung upon the usual assumption about critics: they are failed artists. Jay’s one attempt at filmmaking was an abysmal student film in which Jay, playing Prometheus, hangs himself from a ceiling fan because no one understands him. Jay is a joke, snotty, angry at everyone, dismissive of the films he’s paid to critique.
Even respected, real-world critics are subject to the idea that they are somehow failures. Life Itself (2014)—a documentary about Roger Ebert and his and struggle with cancer—digs a bit into the relationship between critic and art, with friends (including Martin Scorsese) teasing Ebert for his only produced screenplay, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
But we get no such “failed chef” back story from Ego. Ego is a food critic for the disarmingly simple reason that he loves food: “If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow,” as he snarls at Linguine. But this isn’t a warning, it’s a challenge. Ego doesn’t create food, he critiques it, because he knows that creating food is an art, and he wants chefs to treat it as such. He didn’t give Gusteau a scathing review because he had a grudge against the man, he was disappointed in what he saw as a loss of passion. So when Remy presents him with the simply prepared, but expertly balanced ratatouille, all of his defenses fall away. He recognizes an artist who shares his passion. And then he asks to meet the chef.
This is the key moment. Maybe even more than that unforgettable flashback. Linguine and Collette weigh their options, and ask him to wait so they can introduce him to Remy with as little trauma as possible. The critic is not being mocked for his “snobbery”—he isn’t a snob. He isn’t being brought low when he wants to thank Remy. The act of criticism isn’t revealed to be a sham. An artist has given him something unquantifiable, and, as is only correct, he wants to thank him for the gift.
And then, after all the buildup and suspense? He accepts Remy as he is. Like any great critic, he’s able to look past boundaries and limitations. His life is dedicated to seeking art, and his real work is to be grateful when he receives it, and to share it with others without judging the source. While Linguini, Colette, and Django all retire to their various homes to think about the night, Ego goes to his office and works his own art, delivering a speech in defense of art and critique that would have been extraordinary in any context, but is made all the more so for being tucked into a children’s film about a rat.
And in the other best moment (I know, I know, there are a lot of best moments—blame Brad Bird.) Remy walks down to the Seine to be alone. Working in a kitchen leads to wired, sleepless nights, but in this instance he’s touched a numinous moment of pure creativity. He focused his entire being into the food he made, and an expert in his field, a man he respects, has acknowledged him as an artist and appreciated his work. He needs to process this before he can be around people, or rats, so he spends the night with his city.
By the time I had come out of the movie I had stopped crying and was wearing an ear-to-ear grin. We went to Florent, a legendary, much-missed all-night diner, and I stuffed goat cheese into my face. The subway was extra full of rats that night, and I giggled like a child each time I spotted one. I started staying up late, and writing again, and I allowed the bad parts of the job to fade into the back of my mind while I searched for something new. The following year I wrote the short story that would later expand into the novel I’m finishing now. I wrote story after story. I took walks and watched people and began absorbing my city again. Most of all I stopped feeling sorry for myself and allowed myself to feel joy and anger. I started laying a path to change my life instead of looking backward and lamenting all the mistakes I’d made. And this might sound like hyperbole, but a huge amount of that momentum came from this rat who knew that anyone could cook, and the critic who believed in him.
Theoretically. The air is about the temperature of boiling right now and the idea of actually setting foot on zoo grounds is not that tempting, really, even with the possibility of being personally disdained.