jenni is a dork

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Do you like dumb comics? Do you like dumb comics with side characters? Then don’t follow this blog everything that comes out from here is PhD-level work of art. Obviously.

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I still get that feeling, ye know, when I see Jenny sudden, standing against the sun on the hill, or holding wee Jamie, not lookin’ at me. I see her, and I think…

I think a BIG problem with Giles and Jenny’s relationship, had she lived, would have to do with Buffy. I’ve seen headcanons with Jenny being jealous of Buffy, angry that she doesn’t get first priority over Buffy, etc etc etc, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

Buffy Summers is a ray of sunshine and goodness, and I can’t imagine her not bonding with Jenny over snarkiness or a shared amusement at Giles being a dork or something like that. Can you imagine Buffy and Jenny as friends? They’d be unstoppable. And Jenny, who doesn’t get easily attached to people but is loyal af when she does, would want to be there for Buffy.

But Giles has a tendency to be convinced that he knows what’s best for Buffy, sometimes making decisions that are to the detriment of the girl he’s actually making an effort to protect. And I can’t see him as being willing to listen to Jenny when she thinks he should/shouldn’t be doing something for Buffy, because I think he believes that he knows what’s best for Buffy above most other people. 

In show canon, he has reason to. He and Joyce have similar opinions and rarely clash over what’s best for Buffy, and the only other people making an effort to control Buffy are Maggie Walsh and the Watchers’ Council, both of whom Giles ends up not liking anyway.

If Jenny was there, though? She’d be trying to help. Jenny wants to make the people she loves happy, and when she thought Buffy could use some guidance, she’d try to step in. But Jenny’s smart. Sometimes, though (like in S6), there would be times when she’d recognize that Giles was the person needed, and she wouldn’t be resentful about it, but she’d try to get him to, you know, step in.

And as we saw in S6, Giles doesn’t always think stepping in is the right thing to do.

It would be an ongoing problem that would probably explode in S6. Jenny trying to help Buffy, Giles brushing her off because he thinks he knows what’s best. Sometimes he is right, but there turn out to be a lot of times when he’s wrong.

And in S6, Jenny would try and stop him, because she’s aware of the fact that it’s going to take a while for Buffy to be fully okay and not needing support, and that it’s not going to help if they desert her; it’ll actually make it worse.

Giles, though, thinking that he knows best for Buffy because he’s her Watcher, would refuse to listen.

And then he’d go to England.

And Jenny would stay in Sunnydale. 

It would be a statement, a stalemate. Those two are stubborn as hell and there’s no way either of them would give in. Jenny would be trying to provide support for Buffy in a way that she knew only Giles really could, feeling hopelessly inadequate and useless to Buffy but trying anyway. She’d be reaching out to Tara after the mess that was her breakup with Willow and trying her best to keep an eye on Dawn to make sure she doesn’t get forgotten and screwing up a hell of a lot because she’s just such a mess at managing the Scoobies by herself, and she misses Giles even though she’s mad at him. 

Come Dark Willow, when Giles showed up, he and Jenny would reconcile…actually, they’d make out a lot to avoid having to talk things through, and THEN they’d BEGIN talking things out in S7, which would be a kind of subplot to all the drama going on with the First.

And the series could end with Giles and Jenny and their somewhat-rebuilt relationship, not quite repaired but very, very close.

Breaking Bad and Toxic Masculinity

(Hey guys this is the essay I wrote for English, as promised.)

The character type of the anti-hero has seen a lot of incarnations over the years, gaining traction recently. This morally-gray character — infallibly male, usually white — is a version of the more traditional hero and has the same basic arc in every work in which he appears. This is the everyman who starts off fairly meek, but then “mans up” and finally takes what he wants. And the audience almost always cheers him on, whether or not they’re “supposed to.” This character type is obvious in Breaking Bad’s Walter White, but some other examples appear in FX’s Fargo, The Matrix, Fight Club, Limitless, American Beauty, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Spider-Man, Captain America… This is an awakening to a more aggressive, more masculine self. Many of these characters do become violent, but others don’t. Some are “good” (heroes) and some are “bad” (anti-heroes), but regardless of any moral failings they can never quite shake the “protagonist” label. The message of this basic character arc is that men who aren’t very masculine are kind of pathetic — and the plot “fixes” them.

Breaking Bad somewhat deconstructs this since Walt’s change is clearly for the worse, but the plot of the show is at its core propelled by toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is one of the ways that a patriarchal, misogynistic society harms men by expecting men to be aggressive, unemotional and powerful. In the show, this is a major theme that sets things in action, does irreparable damage to the less masculine of the characters, but is ultimately not condemned. After his diagnosis of lung cancer, Walt feels immense pressure to provide for his family — and he refuses to accept help when it’s offered to him. He would rather break the law and kill innocents than let his pride suffer. In an important sense, the plot of Breaking Bad wouldn’t happen if not for the culture of toxic masculinity; that men can’t ask for help, can’t accept help, without being seen as weak, and that being seen as weak, as feminine, is incredibly damaging to a man.

This fact is reinforced by the use of gendered insults in the show. Jesse is well known for his excessive use of the word “bitch,” mostly in reference to other men. Whereas “bitch” when applied to women means being too bossy and assertive, for men it has the opposite connotation: submissiveness, weakness. The word “pussy” is also used several times to label men as weak, particularly used against Walt by male members of his own family during the first season. This emasculation sets the stage for Walt’s transformation into the aggressive Heisenberg.

There is a lot of pressure on men to be able to support not only themselves but also their families. While this is Walt’s justification for his actions, it’s not his real motivation. In the pilot episode, Walt starts off in a very emasculated place. He had a chance to achieve a powerful position of wealth and influence as a brilliant scientist, but now works two lower-status jobs to make ends meet. He is disrespected at work and at home, and doesn’t compare to his macho brother-in-law Hank Schrader. This position of inadequacy fuels Walt’s decision to cook crystal meth to provide for his family instead of accepting money from Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz to pay for his treatments.

Walt constantly stresses the point that this money is his and he earned it himself. In “Phoenix,” when this is all still a secret, he pulls aside some drywall and shows the stacks of cash to his newborn daughter, telling her, “Daddy did that for you.” Later on, in “I.F.T.,” he tells Skyler, “This money, I didn’t steal it. It doesn’t belong to anyone else. I earned it.” This is integral to his pride and his sense of being a man. His boss, the meth kingpin Gus Fring, makes this expectation explicitly clear in the third season episode “Más” when he tells Walt, “A man provides. And he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected, or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it. Because he’s a man.” Gus takes advantage of expected gender roles to convince Walt to cook for him — and Walt plays right into his hand.

Walt goes to the extreme to meet this societal expectation, but his partner Jesse provides an important contrast. Although Jesse is undoubtedly a fan-favorite, there is a considerable subset of viewers who criticize him not for his acts of violence or his inability to take action against Walt, but for his frequent emotional displays: he’s a “crybaby.” He’s not typically masculine.

Jesse is hurt repeatedly — physically, emotionally, psychologically — by the men within in the drug world. He is clearly not cut out for this life, and becomes, actually, one of the most beat up characters in television history. He’s thin with fairly feminine good looks, he wears his heart on his sleeve, and he is punished for this again and again. By the end of the series, he is beaten up and beaten down beyond repair for the sin of showing emotion. But where Jesse suffers because of toxic masculinity, he ultimately prevails — one of the few to survive the series. His love interests aren’t as lucky: Jane Margolis and Andrea Cantillo are killed as pawns in power plays made by men — killed to manipulate Jesse, removing their value as individuals. Their main value in the plot stems from how Jesse feels about them, and Jesse made the mistake to care for them; his emotion breeds vulnerability for him, but spells death for them.

Although Jesse is the poster child for the ways in which men are hurt by toxic masculinity, women are hurt inarguably worse. In a world influenced by toxic masculinity, if men cry they’ll be laughed at (“Does this pussy cry through the whole thing?” Jack asks), but women are killed — to hurt the man who loves them, to create some “man pain” and propel the plot.

Skyler White wasn’t treated as poorly by the plot, but the viewers all but crucified her. She has faced enormous criticism from many fans, being branded a “bitch” and a “whore” for not standing by her abusive, murderous husband. Her role in the show is what keeps Breaking Bad from becoming the typical “male power fantasy,” as she’s something of a moral center, and that’s probably why fans have such a problem with her — and with “crybaby Pinkman.” Walt faces a lot of challenges on the way to becoming a meth kingpin, and viewers undoubtedly enjoyed seeing him face off against and ultimately defeat Gus Fring, Mike Ehrmantraut, Jack Welker and his crew, and the various “badass” cartel members. This kind of conflict, man-on-man, based on strength and cunning, enhances the power fantasy. But to be stymied by a wife or younger partner is just annoying. Skyler and Jesse defy the roles they should have — that is, supportive doormats — in this power fantasy and instead fight the protagonist in ways that don’t involve violence but rather emotion. “I did all of those things to try to save your life as much as mine — but you’re too stupid to know it,” Walt berates Jesse. “You were never grateful for anything I did for this family,” he accuses Skyler.

Through Walt’s eyes, Skyler and Jesse should have supported him, should have been grateful for the things he did for them — and in a typical power fantasy plot they would have. In Breaking Bad, however, they offer an interesting challenge, one that Walt is not able to deal with. He can kill Gus and Mike and the Neo-Nazis and even Hank, in a way, but the biggest threat comes from his former student turned surrogate son turning on him and his wife finally deciding she’s had enough.   

Ultimately, though, Breaking Bad doesn’t condemn Walter White. He gets his punishment in “Ozymandias” in the death of Hank and the rejection of his family, and in his “Granite State” exile, but the final episode, “Felina,” brings his redemption, deserved or not. Walt dies “on his own terms,” as the show’s creator Vince Gilligan has stated. His mercy is the only thing that saves Jesse’s life. He tries to offer Jesse a chance for revenge, but even that act is incredibly selfish, to ask Jesse to kill once more. Walt gets to spend his last moments, feeling rather proud of himself, with his beloved lab equipment. He’s not forced to think on his sins. “I guess I got what I deserve” the final song says in a surprisingly light tone, but did he really? 

Vince Gilligan says that Walt got to die “like a man” — “on his own terms.” There’s a sense of victory in that. But what exactly does this mean? Walt in the end was satisfied with his transformation. If, perhaps, he regretted specific actions, he expressed little regret for becoming Heisenberg: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was, really… I was alive.” It doesn’t seem that he would have done it much differently. He got to live, he got to make a name for himself — he got to make a lot of money, and found a way to transfer it to his children. This was his goal from the beginning. Do the ends justify the means?

Breaking Bad never fully condemned Walter White nor the culture of toxic masculinity he represents. The ultra-masculine and violent Heisenberg is shown as a better form than the harmless if personally unsatisfied, pre-awakening Walter White. All things considered, he enjoyed his rise to the top — and the audience enjoyed watching. Toxic masculinity, manifested in Walt, harmed nearly everyone it touched, but in the end Walt didn’t really have to pay his penance. The people around him suffered far worse, and will continue to suffer long after he’s gone.

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TELL ME JENNY SLATE ISN’T A PERFECT VOICE FOR AN AMEDOT FUSION