sample flips

The Starfire Solo from a First Generation American’s Point of View

Since the Starfire solo series came out, I’ve seen a considerable amount of criticism for the title. To me, this criticism makes sense because of the sheer amount of infantilism, slut shaming, and general OOC-ness Starfire endures. However, I’m not going to talk about that as you can probably guess from the title. @hellakoriandr wrote a great, all-encompassing post about that here, that pretty much covers all the bases, if you would like to know more.

I’m writing this post because there’s a common defense used for the solo that I would like to address: “Starfire isn’t dumb, she’s an immigrant ignorant of Earth’s culture. If you call out this characterization, you’re xenophobic and racist.”

I’m a first generation “American.” My parents were both born in Costa Rica, my entire family is from and lives in Costa Rica. My sister and I are the first in our family to be born in a different country and grow up here. American culture is so very different from our own; everyone in our family speaks Spanish as our first language, and English as our second.

This is where that defense of the solo is personally offensive to me and my family. Aside from RHaTO, Starfire has been increasingly portrayed as not just ignorant of Earth’s culture, but as dumb in general. Starfire’s characterization took a step back in the Teen Titans 2003 animated series. As much as I love the show, her TV portrayal only retains about 20 percent of Starfire’s original character.

Her style of speaking is way exaggerated, awkwardly saying “the” before nouns; repeatedly making language mistakes like “the mall of shopping” and so forth. However, at her core she was not stupid and displayed intelligence in episodes such as Troq and Bethrothed. She understood social cues and I think that’s one aspect of her the writers got right. Although she comes from a different culture, she understands social norms and doesn’t do anything over-the-top odd. It’s obvious the writers were just trying to make her seem more foreign, even if they do it in unimaginative and nonsensical ways.

Her characterization takes another big step backwards in the 2013 series Teen Titans Go!, a straightforward dumbed-down comedy version of the original show. TTG! focuses on slapstick humor rather than clever jokes, which makes sense, because its intended audience is comprised of 6-11 year olds. Every character is a caricature of their 2003 TV series self, so it’s not surprising that Starfire has been demoted to the role of pretty and dumb but naively, nice girl. All glimpses of Starfire’s intelligence are lost, and she mostly goes through the show being oblivious and “too nice” for this world. The other characters suffered this transition too. Robin is obsessive, painfully awkward, and tyrannical. Raven is secretly into Pretty Pretty Pegasus. So I don’t really see the harm. It’s not like a kids’ show is the reason DC is going to suddenly start portraying Dick Grayson as an emotionally unstable jerk in his comic iteration, right? It wouldn’t make any sense to translate a character that’s unrealistic, stereotypical, and aimed solely at young children to a comic book series marketed towards young women, right?

Starfire takes a final blow in the Starfire solo series, and it goes beyond Teen Titans Go!. She doesn’t understand cultural norms to the point where it’s unrealistic and awkward. Beyond cultural differences, Starfire simply acts dumb. It’s insulting to me and everyone living in a country with different cultural values than their own, that people are attributing Starfire’s sheer lack of intelligence to her foreignness. Ignorance does not equal lack of intelligence, and Starfire is exhibiting both.

(Starfire #3)

When Starfire shakes baking soda into her mouth, she’s not being ignorant of the fact that baking soda isn’t something you eat. She is acting illogically.

The fact that she didn’t read the warning on the side of the box which is made so plainly obvious to the reader, or that she didn’t maybe just dip her finger in the substance and sample it before flipping the box over her mouth, or maybe just think “hey, this isn’t a bubbling liquid like the other sodas” is illogical. I don’t know if anyone under the age of ten would do that in a foreign country, let alone a foreign world. The fact that people are labelling this behavior as one of immigrants is beyond insulting. The only reason this panel is in this series is so the audience thinks of Starfire as a naive, helpless girl that needs people to help guide her through life. This is infantilization and not a characteristic of immigrants.

I also see a lot of defenses of her speech patterns, which I would understand if she had not already learned the English language perfectly.

(Starfire #3)

This sounds like a joke to me. She asks, “Will I hurt it?” I’m not familiar with Tamaran, but I’m pretty sure that if you want to eat something you think is alive, you have to hurt it. Please, tell me again how this is pure cultural ignorance.

(Starfire #3)

It’s almost as if this panel was made to make me angry. These sparkling thought bubbles show up every issue and sure, it’s a cute idea. ‘Hey, let’s put pictures inside bubbles, that sounds good.’ But it comes off incredibly dumb; she has the thought bubbles because she doesn’t understand American sayings and idioms, which infuriates me.

Growing up knowing more English than my parents, I’ve had a lifetime of family members asking me to explain sayings and idioms. They’re probably what my parents struggle with the most, even after knowing English for over 20 years. Sayings and idioms are used more often than you’d think. You can know a language perfectly and still get tripped up on them because there’s no rules to them. But I’ll be damned if my parents or anyone who doesn’t know English as their first language ever thought that “have a drink and meal on me” for a second meant actually eating food off a person’s head.

There are several other instances that offend me if people are attributing all of Kory’s actions to cultural ignorance, but this post is long enough. This post is directed at people who think that Starfire’s cultural ignorance is an excuse for the lazy and demeaning writing that portrays Starfire this way. Your desperate attempts to defend this problematic title is offensive. My people, and immigrants in general, are not your way out. I don’t know if the writers use the same excuse, but I doubt they are going to admit they’re writing her as an idiot. Please stop portraying Starfire’s lack of intelligence as the behavior of all immigrants. It’s xenophobic on top of an already sexist title.

I was actually excited when I heard about the series. Starfire is one of my favorite characters and the series was originally described as following her journey as she learns about earth’s culture and finds her place in society. As a first generation American, that subject interests me greatly and I saw overwhelming potential for the series. Starfire’s ignorance of earth’s culture in New Teen Titans was the most I’ve ever related to a character in terms of cultural identity. People assumed she was dumb and she would prove them wrong. She learned to respect earth’s social norms while still staying true to her Tamaranean identity. Eventually, she even considered earth more of a home than Tamaran, despite its vastly different culture. She was an inspiration to me, especially since I never felt as though I belonged in neither Costa Rica nor the U.S. She was an incredible example of dealing with cultural discrepancies beyond language barriers for me and others like me.

(New Teen Titans v1 #31)

Long live New Teen Titans Starfire. She’s my hero.

i don’t think i’m ever going to let go of the fact that flip flappers, a beautiful, well-written story with gorgeous, colorful animation will in the end go down in the anime industry as a flop

3

At the Museum, it’s not just biological specimens that need preservation. Making sure the Museum’s vast collection of cultural artifacts will be around for decades to come requires delicate handling—and creative solutions. Case in point: the specialized cases for housing fabrics made between 3000 and 1000 B.C., which were discovered in a burial site by Museum archaeologists working during the 1940s in Huaca Prieta, along the northern coast of Peru.

To the naked eye, the fabrics look like plain burlap. But a glance through a microscope reveals that the individual strands of these unassuming textiles were once dyed and woven into intricate forms, including geometric patterns and images of local wildlife such as condors. These details give researchers clues to the environment, aesthetics, and beliefs of ancient cultures.

Making both sides of the weave accessible to researchers presented an interesting challenge. To avoid the wear-and-tear that inevitably comes when a sample is lifted and flipped over, collections staffers in the Division of Anthropology built custom cardboard supports that can be opened from either side. Viewers can flip the support for an up-close look at both sides, all without ever needing to touch the fabric.

Learn about other types of specimen preparation on the Museum blog, or watch Episode 3 of Shelf Life: Six Ways to Prepare a Coelacanth.

ink

She’d needed space. There were too many people in his small apartment and she felt like the walls were closing in.  There were too many memories there in the first place, too much or Robin that was hastily left behind when they had returned to Storybrooke. She couldn’t bear to be with it, couldn’t handle them all looking at her as if she would breakdown at any moment. When she announced she was going for a walk and sped out the door, Emma chased her down the hall and forbade her to go out at night on her own.

 “Just around the block,” she’d practically pleaded, begging her friend to understand that she couldn’t let them see her like this. “Just long enough to be able to breath.” Although breathing isn’t something she ever thinks she’ll do again.  The air doesn’t seem to fill her lungs the way it did when he was here, when his hand warmed hers, when his fingers pulled tangles lose from her hair.  “I just need to not be here,” she’d confessed and knew Emma understood.  The apartment that had been Robin’s had also been Neal’s; there were layers of memories covered in paint and dust that neither woman wanted to face or forget.

 Emma doesn’t know if it’s the desperation in the queen’s voice or the pain in her eyes, but she’s forcing her phone in to Regina’s hands, bidding her to “Be careful.” Adding, “If you’re not back in an hour I’m sending everyone out looking for you,” as Regina answers her threat with a grateful nod and disappears down the hall.

Regina took a deep breath the moment the night air hit her skin, then she walked. Turned corner after corner, looked in windows of diners and bodegas, thumbed through magazines at newsstand, and somehow ended up here.

She doesn’t know what possesses her to do it.  She’s never once thought about getting a tattoo in this realm or any other.  She’s hidden enough scars over the years not to want anymore, but here she is in the ‘parlor’ that smells like incense and rubbing alcohol flipping through a leather bound portfolio while Spike (she wonders what came first, his name or the sliver metal spikes sticking through disproportionately large ear lobes) is setting up his station in the back corner. She’s taken aback by his appearance at first, figures most that aren’t from his world would be, but he has kind eyes and made her feel at ease the moment she stumbled through his door at 3 am, nervous in this strange world without magic that differs so drastically from her sleepy little costal town.  

He comes back up to her when he sees she’s not actually looking at the samples she’s flipping through; her head is in the book, but her mind is elsewhere.  He pulls the it from her hands, waits a moment for her to meet his eyes.  “Who did you lose?” he asks.  

She’ll never know why, but Regina spends the next several minutes pouring out her heart to this tattooed stranger.  He doesn’t say anything else, doesn’t offer comfort or condolences, just grabs a pad of paper and begins sketching.  When they’re both satisfied, he helps her lay on her side with her sweater rucked up. She’s still fully covered, he’s made sure of that, and she smiles her appreciation for his steady hands that do not wander.  She flinches at the first buzz of the needle, the sound echoing through the otherwise quiet space.  

“The sound is the worst part,” he assures her and offers to turn on music to help drown out the noise of the machine.  She tells him ‘sure’ (in a voice that shakes too much for her liking), because it’s entirely too quiet and she is starting to hear herself think.  Expecting some unintelligible grunge music, her eyes go wide when the notes of Scheherazade fill the room.  He only smiles at her wide eyed surprise.  As he leans closer to begin his work she sees the words lest ye be judged running down his arm in an elegant script.

She closes her eyes and relaxes under his touch as he brings the buzzing needle to her ribs over and over. It hurts, but not like she expected. In fact, she’s grateful for the constant burn; it reminds her that she can feel something other than empty.

It’s over quickly; Spike was true to his word.  She’s wiped off and bandaged up, just as the last notes of the lone violin float through the air.  They both hold their breath to sustain the emotion until the vibrato fades to a deafening silence.    

The moment is shattered by the ringing of her phone.  She fumbles through her pockets to silence it only for it to begin ringing again then beeping with the arrival of text messages and voicemails.  “It seems you are needed,” Spike laughs at the ire in her eyes.  She’s barely past her predetermined hour and if any of them think that she’ll be subject to a curfew they’ve another thing coming.  

It rings again, SAVIOR, her phone displays and she punches the screen to answer with enough force to break.  “What Emma!”

The artist continues to watch her, maybe he should give her some privacy, but it is his shop after all. He can’t count the emotions that cross her face as she listens silently to whatever this Emma is telling her.  Her grip is white-knuckled around the phone, she’s breathing faster and faster, and her body sways slightly before he leans her against the counter with a hand at her elbow.  “You have to go,” he tells her as she lowers the phone with a shaking hand.  She’s nodding, but he’s not sure she’s aware of anything at the moment.

Regina won’t remember him putting her coat back on her; she won’t remember him asking where she stays and tripping over her words until he pieces together that it’s the building 3 blocks north.  She won’t remember him walking her out into the street, up those blocks, then up 4 flights of stairs until he’s knocking at a nondescript apartment door.  She’ll only remember that door opening to him. Piercing blue eyes flooded with relief when he takes her in, dimples deeply set into stubbled cheeks as he smiles and pulls her into his arms then into the apartment, closing the door to the stranger he hadn’t even noticed.

When Spike returns to his shop he can feel a change he can’t quite describe.  The air is charged, everything feels more alive somehow.  There is no doubt in his mind that the man he delivered his client to (he’d never even asked her name) was the same that her tears had fallen for.  He knows he was part of something, some magic still to be found in this cruel world.  

 


There in bed, spooned together, when his hand comes to rest as it always does, curling around her ribs just below her breast.  She flinches, barely, but he notices nonetheless.

“What is it?” he asks, lifting his palm away from her.

“Nothing.  It’s nothing.  I forgot about it, actually.  It’s just a silly little…”  she rambles, linking their hands, bringing his back to wrap around her.

“Regina?” he asks again because she’s clearly avoiding the issue.  “A silly little what?”

“I got a tattoo,” she blurts out.  Then explains,  “In New York. Before you–,” she can’t help but laugh at herself.  When did she become this nervous person?  Especially with him?  Never with him.  “I got a tattoo in New York right before you figured out how to get back,” she tells him, pulling herself back together.  “It’s where I was when you showed up at the apartment.”

“May I see?” he asks, but he’s already reaching to turn on the bedside light and his fingers have slipped under the t-shirt she wears.  It’s his, he notices, and wonders if she’d slept in it the entire time he’s been gone, but makes no mention of it just yet.  Regina pulls her arms to cover her face.  She’s suddenly embarrassed, bashful even.  She’d never intended anyone to see this new part of her.

His hand splays against her stomach; the other bunches the shirt near her armpit so he can get a proper look.  It’s small, delicate, a silhouetted bird perched upon a black-lined arrow resting just below her breast, just where he held—holds.  He stares at it longer than it would take to admire the simple design; seeing everything behind its meaning.  He shifts a bit higher, bends his head and places his lips to her marked flesh.  Leaves them there, breathing against her “It’s perfect.”

“I needed it,” she tells him, arms now resting over her head so she can look down at him.  “But you’re here now so I guess I don’t need it anymore.” She smiles at him, pulls at his shoulders until he leaves her ribs for her lips, kissing there before settling on the pillow beside her.

“I like that I’m a part of you,” he breathes against her as he maneuvers his arm under her neck, his hand holding just below the new tattoo.

“You always will be,” she assures him, fitting herself more securely into his side as sleep begins to cloud her mind.  “Promise me you’ll never be a memory,” she whispers against his arm, against his own ink that marks him as hers.

He sighs into her hair. Won’t answer, can’t.  And she knows he can’t, knows he won’t ever lie to her and to promise her such a thing would mean inevitably breaking a promise. Whether it’s another tragedy that fate seems fit to bestow upon them, or inevitable, but blissful old age, they will part again.  So he stays quiet, presses closer against her back, squeezes her just that much tighter, whispers ‘I love you,’ into her hair.  It’s enough.