Dinosaurs: Feminism isn’t just for humans anymore

By Allison Novak, Staff Writer

If you’re of a certain age, you remember Dinosaurs. It’s a show about a family of dinosaurs — the Sinclair family of Robbie, Earl, Fran, Charlene, and the baby. The Sinclairs live in a world that bears a strong intolerance and ignorance for itself, while also blatantly abusing its natural resources. Because of this, most episodes of the show deal with social issues overlaid by typical sitcom fodder. Dinosaurs is a show that provides a social commentary in the guise of children’s television; among other topics, they’ve dealt with divorce, drug abuse, feminism, gay rights, and the environment — one of the more prominent being feminism.

Consistently the attitude of anti-woman’s rights goes unchecked by the society at large; there are several episodes around this theme. One in particular, ‘What Sexual Harris Meant’, involves Monica, the most feminist character on the show. Monica is a (gasp) divorced dinosaur who is a strong, powerful working woman. She is frequently looked down upon for having a job and no mate, and her first introduction into the series involved her explaining why she divorced her husband, to Fran’s disbelief — Monica got a divorce because she wasn’t happy.

This theme is the focus of the episode ‘What Sexual Harris Meant,’ which focuses on both sexism and women’s rights. Monica gets a job as a tree pusher with Earl, only to have the foreman repeatedly hit on her. When she turned him down, he fired her. She brings him to trial, only to be called a prostitute and told she deserved it.

This is a dark and topical turn for Dinosaurs; it’s a very real subject with a very real place that typically isn’t discussed in ‘children’s shows’. Perhaps the biggest message of the episode is Charlene changing her apathy of how her sex is treated and starting to care.

Things never quite get better, despite the push for change. Fran makes an allusion to the fact it will take a long time — one that works doubly well because we know it’s still a struggle modern day. It leaves questions — if the dinosaurs didn’t die, would it still have been a struggle of thousands of years? Was the death of a society what pushed us back?

Dinosaurs is a show that disappeared into memory of Generation Y until recently. With the advent of Netflix and DVDs, these shows are taking a new life of their own as the children that grew up with them watch them again and see the underlying themes. The advent of these shows coming back into popularity is ‘Near-Term Nostalgia’, or nostalgia for recent (all things considered) events. People who are in their late teens or early twenties are nostalgic for their childhood, in the same way that someone in their 30s or 40s would be.

In the midst of all this, they relate to our current time by showing that even millions of years ago, there were the same social problems that we have. Dinosaurs is not a show for kids, despite the puppets and jokes. It’s different than the shows that make claims to be political or social; Dinosaurs made no such claims. Instead, it is unapologetic in what it represents. The fact that a show that is represented as a children’s show can make such statements — and get away with it — is a testament to the show itself.

Zen and the art of time travel: Safety Not Guaranteed

By Allison Novak, Staff Writer
The time travel story is a common and popular one, and it always runs the same way. A person unwittingly goes back in time, wants to have fun, discovers something only they can fix, and becomes a quiet hero, returning to their own time. Whether it’s Doctor Who, Back to the Future, or any other number of pop culture items, they all stay on the same path. Safety Not Guaranteed is a story that takes the idea of time travel and adds to it an understated importance of what it means to be able to travel back in time. It balances the desire of time travel with an almost zen about what time travel would realistically mean.

Safety Not Guaranteed follows three writers from Seattle Magazine Jeff, Arneau, and Darius who set out to Seaside, Oregon to investigate a personal ad placed: “Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. I have only done this once before. Safety not guaranteed.” The three set out to find the writer of the ad, which is Kenneth, a cashier who believes he has discovered how to time travel. 

Safety Not Guaranteed does not promise us a story about a future self traipsing through the past; instead, it is a look from the outside in of someone who wants to time travel. We follow Darius, Jeff, and Arneau as they try to figure out if the would-be traveler, Kenneth, is for real — does he really think he can time travel? Is he crazy?

Before the movie can stray too far into trope territory, we learn that that’s not the important part. Darius goes undercover to try to discover if Kenneth is for real, and quickly changes from reporter to interested and willing participant in the time travel. Kenneth asks her what her ‘mission’ is: the reason she wants to go back in time. There’s an understated love story for her and Kenneth that comes from the shared bonds of their ‘mission.’ This drives the story as the focus becomes less time travel and more a contemplation on what to do with that power.

This is what separates Safety Not Guaranteed from other time travel stories; there is a purpose. Darius and Kenneth want to go back for very specific reasons, and it’s their sadness that drives their desire. The story is mirrored as Jeff tries to locate his teenage girlfriend, who is is trying to reconnect with. In this, we learn that time travel can be metaphorical as well. It’s this juxtaposition of desire and longing on both levels that drives the story. We don’t get caught up in how time travel works, or if it’s possible; we learn only bits of the story before the conclusion. Many times we see the longing of the past with the desire to live in the moment, whether it is Darius and Kenneth trying to achieve time travel and ultimately a romance, or Jeff and his former girlfriend. Arneau, the shyest of the bunch, is forced by Jeff to take chances and to ‘be young’; he forces Arneau to try to live the life he wants to recapture.

There is a general sadness that pervades the movie, despite the hope to change the past. Just like Jeff and his would-be girlfriend, happy endings are not guaranteed.

Most time travel movies draw the viewer in with action, dramatic scenes, and the prevalent question of whether they’ll return to the present, but in Safety Not Guaranteed, we’re drawn in with the very human emotion of what you would do if you were able to go back in time — and why you would. It’s a new side to the trope, and one that Safety Not Guaranteed does well; the viewer is more concerned with the characters’ inner journey than the obvious literal journey through time. For instance, when Kenneth and Darius discover they have feelings for each other, and he ultimately decides to go back in time for her ‘mission’, not his, it becomes a grander gesture than the time travel.

Safety Not Guaranteed never shows us what happens once Darius and Kenneth seemingly accomplish their task; that’s not the important part. Unlike many others on the same path, we don’t need to see if they’ve accomplished their mission, or the past through the eyes of the future. This is an important distinction — instead, the journey is worth more for the characters. This may seem like a cliche, but Safety Not Guaranteed doesn’t try to answer all the questions it sets, and it doesn’t really seem to care. We don’t know what happens to Darius and Kenneth, or with Jeff, or even Arneau, who Jeff is trying to live vicariously and recapture his youth through. This is a meditative story on time travel, one that seemingly advocates living in the moment while desiring to change the past.

Has Nobody In This Family Ever Seen a Chicken: The worlds of Mallory Archer and Lucille Bluth

Jessica Walters has made a niche for herself in the last few years playing borderline psychotic mothers on two shows in particular: the cult classic Arrested Development as Lucille Bluth, and Mallory Archer on ArcherAt first glance, these two may not seem related, but at a closer look the head of ISIS and the matriarch of the Bluth family are incredibly similar, and not just for their shared love of furs, martinis, and secret relationships.

Both Mallory and Lucille are manipulative woman who use their sons, for their own gain in both their personal and business lives  at a great disservice to both of their sons.
Mallory Archer is the head of the International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS), where her son, Sterling, is considered the ‘best agent’, despite his penchant for using his job for luxury and women (Sterling can be described as a corrupt James Bond). He relies on his mother for his job, but Mallory and Sterling lead mostly separate lives despite how intertwined they are for ISIS. He is able to lead a life mostly free from guilt about his mother  unlike Michael Bluth. Michael, as the lone ‘sane’ member of the corrupt Bluth family who’s patriarch has been arrested for defrauding investors, feels an immense need to keep his family together, fueled by Lucille’s meddling and her constant providing of guilt.
Both sons act differently, but the end result is the same  the mother domineers and the son ultimately (whether or not they want to) kowtows. For Michael, it’s a compulsion to put ‘family first’, while for Archer, the motives are less noble  his mother is his boss, and he wants to keep his job. 
While Mallory and Lucille are similar, Sterling and Michael are worlds apart; Sterling is constantly out for his own gain despite the feelings of others, while Michael regularly sacrifices for his son and family. One could say Sterling is a product of Mallory’s negligent upbringing  it is frequently referenced how Mallory wasn’t there for Sterling throughout his childhood, and her dismissive coldness is still evident even as Sterling is grown. Lucille, however, plays the part of dependence to garner sympathy from her son despite  her apparent independence. We do see her falter at points, though, when she realizes that she needs Michael to be there for the good of the family. Mallory has moments when she falters as well  she understands ISIS needs Sterling. Sterling, in the same way, needs ISIS to maintain his lifestyle that he so loves  without ISIS, Sterling can’t fly around the world in a private jet, seduce swedish models, or wear five-thousand dollar suits.
Are these woman secretly noble, unable to show love for their sons but ultimately realizing the love and need they have for them, or are they cold and calculating, looking out for no one’s good but their own, using their sons? 
At the end of the day, the relationships are balanced between love and need, although neither son can quite figure out why they feel an allegiance for their mother. For both, there is a dependence that they cant quite shake  whether for a job, or because of familial guilt. Both Mallory and Lucille are unlikeable but their sons have a loyalty to them that has a basis in guilt and a staying power because of how dependent Michael and Sterling are on them. The fact that this is a theme in both shows  and in many other shows  plays on a common sympathy that we all have. The loyalty to mothers, despite their shortcomings, is a theme that goes back hundreds of years in literature and film. Everyone’s family is a little crazy; we all have someone who we don’t like who we deal with out of guilt, or because we are inexplicably dependent on. 

On 30 Rock’s Use of The Will-They-Won’t-They

What is the fascination that we, as a viewing audience, have with will-they-won’t-they relationships? Is it the suspense? Is it being able to view a stressful situation without having to experience it (and all the drama that goes along with it)? Or is it simply the desire for a ‘happy’ ending, one where everyone ends up with whom they’re supposed to and we as viewers feel satisfied?
Most shows, especially sitcoms, follow this formula, whether it’s The Office, with Jim and Pam who end up together several seasons before the show ends, or How I Met Your Mother, with the promise of not finding out what exactly happens until the last episode. The creators of 30 Rock, however, has taken a different approach with the relationship of Jack and Liz: they’ve made it appear to the audience that it is completely unviable, that there is no hope or chance or inkling that they will so much as even consider each other as romantic partners, let alone end up together.
However, in the sixth season opener, this completely changed with a simple look from Jack as he sees Liz passionately kissing an unknown mystery man. In that look, six seasons of what the audience thought was well established as a non-possibility suddenly becomes apparent: Jack has feelings for Liz.
Despite the acerbic nature of Jack and Liz’s relationship, viewers have long wished to see them together, between YouTube videos, fan fiction, and general musings. Despite this, there has never been any inkling that Jack and Liz would end up as a couple, as the show has put emphasis on Jack’s seeming distain for Liz and focus on his romantic relationships (and Liz’s failings in them.) 30 Rock has led viewers in the other directions while the fans have had ‘wishful thinking’, and is now coming around to what the fan consensus has been: Jack and Liz.
With any other show, this wouldn’t be so dramatic, but with 30 Rock, this breaks the mold. 30 Rock has been far from a traditional show, with outlandish situations, the non-formulaic episodes and arcs, and no laugh track despite it being a comedy. It is a show within a show. But for six seasons, 30 Rock has planted it firmly in our heads that there is no chance of Liz/Jack romance. So why now?

Alec Baldwin has said that this plans to be his last season of 30 Rock; some are saying the show feels tired. Not only may this breathe some new life into the show but also for a show based on outlandish situations, the most outlandish may be a romance between Liz and Jack—however, not entirely without merit. Their relationship has been closer and more consistent than any of their individual relationships on the show, and for all the scorn they show each other, there is a true caring and closeness that they have. For all their bickering, it’s clear that they wouldn’t be happy without each other in their lives.
The fact that 30 Rock has been able to survive — and be successful — for six seasons without a romance (or romantic tension) between the main characters is a minor television miracle in itself, as audiences are drawn to that romantic tension because love is the human emotion that everyone can either scorn or sympathize with. The audience isn’t satisfied with a friendship; the friendship must become something more. Audiences are drawn in to watch others live lives that they cannot, to see things for the characters that the characters can’t see themselves.
30 Rock has made clear in fifteen seconds what it seemed to deny for six seasons. They’ve planted the seed of doubt in the viewers’ mind, adding a new dimension to Jack and Liz’s relationship as viewers wonder whether Jack will pursue Liz, or whether he will continue to ignore his true feelings and let her go. If 30 Rock manages to avoid the will-they-won’t-they trap, it will prove that 30 Rock has really broken the sitcom mold.

The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth: ‘geek’ social classes and the Big Bang Theory

Editor’s Note: This article was written by our latest guest writer, Allison Novak. She can be reached for comment at stevenpashmina@gmail.com.
On Thursday’s episode of The Big Bang Theory, The Pulled Groin Extrapolation, Amy FarrahFowler proudly proclaims, “No date to the prom and two dates to a wedding? Oh, how has time changed.” How time has changed, indeed- geek has gone from being a four-letter word to a celebration of one’s individuality, of belonging to a click that isn’t clicky at all—it’s chic to be a geek.
On the show, there are three different so-called ‘geek social classes’ present. The first is the uber geek, which is how the general perception of nerdy or geeky people has been trending for the ages. Both Sheldon and Amy fit into this category as people who are brilliant but seem to lack basic social skills to fit in with the world at large. The second is the hipster geek, which would be Leonard. While Leonard veers towards more towards the geek rather than the hipster, he is the best socially adjusted of the group, and is the most in tune to the world around him. The third is the maladjusted geek, which would categorize Raj and Howard—each one, while incredibly smart, seems to have a major shortcoming. Raj’s is that he can’t talk to women unless drunk; Howard’s is that he still lives with his overbearing mother (and as we found out this week, plans to have his future wife, Bernadette, join him after the wedding in doing so.)

The only interaction we have with people who could be described as ‘non-geeks’ are with Penny, and whichever man she is dating (whom is short-lived, as the structure of the show dictates.) We don’t view her through a lens of distain, however; we view her as the four men—with her faults and all. The Big Bang Theory clearly takes the side of the geeky—but reminds us that no one is perfect. But these geek men, even the ill-adjusted ones, aren’t all hapless; all have good jobs, and either live on their own or have long-term relationships. These are the ‘new’ geeks—social revered and celebrated in society. The show is especially unique in that the geek got the girl, and lost the girl. And the show goes on. Penny and Leonard, in an almost improbable move for a network show, got together mid-series, and then broke up. Even so, Penny is still an ever-present character, a frequent foil to the antics of the four men (and Amy Farrah Fowler, as time goes on.)
On Thursday’s episode Amy and Leonard go the wedding of the ‘Brad and Angelina of the department,’ at Amy’s request. Leonard is moping due to his girlfriend being in India, and in a surprising and enjoyable moment of insight on Amy’s part, she proclaims, ‘I have a sort of boyfriend at home playing with a model train, but you don’t hear me bitching about it.’ Amy’s character is becoming more socially adept as time goes on, and we start to see a difference in her from the first time she was introduced as a female Sheldon. These moments of her social insight are tempered with her missed social cues, such as when Leonard and Amy return from the wedding and she proclaims to Penny that she made Leonard fall in love with her, rather than thinking he had just had an enjoyable time. It’s these insights and missed cues that bring the audience back to the forefront of the point of the show; we are all geeks.
The true crossover, lest you think the show is just empty references to pre-established comic book characters and popular facets of geekdom, is the shows packed Comic-Con panels. The simple fact is that a show like this could not survive for five seasons on network tv if there was not an applicable fan base. The fact that it has shows that more and more people not only understand the references, but enjoy them—for once, people who were marginalized on network television are watching something that references their favorite movies, cult TV, and activities. People who play Magic and Dungeons and Dragons are no longer portrayed as living in their parent’s basements, eating Fritos—the
y have apartments in Pasadena, good jobs, and maybe, just maybe, date Kaley Cuoco.

It is true that The Big Bang Theory isn’t the first show regarding geeks, and it certainly won’t be the last. It is, however, the most successful. A prime example is the show Freaks and Geeks, which barely made it through one season and is regarded as a cult classic. The biggest difference, however, is that those geeks were navigating the murky waters of high school, being ostracized and ridiculed, while Big Bang shows them being revered, successful members of society. There’s many reason for the success of Big Bang, but the clearest seems to also be the simplest; as a society, we are ready to embrace our geek side. In the age of technology, we want to be the geek. For once, geeks are po
rtrayed as they want to be— successful, (mostly) socially adept people. And we want to watch. We either root for the underdog—or we are the underdog.

The show hits on an essential truth that resounds in most people, and that is we are all geeks. Everyone has something that they geek out over; sometimes it’s something that is classified as geek, like comic books; others geek out over sports or food or cars. While The Big Bang Theory focuses on more commonly known ‘geek’ items, it captivates an audience because so many people can identify with the characters themselves.