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Is The Trans Episode Of The Powerpuff Girls Transphobic?

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Is The Trans Episode Of The Powerpuff Girls Transphobic?

Why we’re covering this: We love unicorns (duh) and the newest episode of The Powerpuff Girls features a transgender storyline about a unicorn who wants a horn. We love ground-breaking television, and this episode deserves a closer look!

A lot of hay has been made about “Horn, Sweet Horn,” the special transgender-metaphor episode of the new Powerpuff Girls reboot series — and make no bones about it, it’s explicitly intended to be about being trans. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, executive producer Nick Jennings had this to say about it:

We did an episode where there’s a unicorn. Basically when it starts out, he’s a pony, but he wants to be a unicorn. He has to go through a transformation to become a unicorn and so it’s a whole [episode that asks], ‘What are you on the inside? What are you on the outside? How do you identify yourself? How do people see you?’ There’s a lot of subtext in that.

Not only that, but Jennings even cites Steven Universe as a template for approaching gender issues. Some of the LGBTQ media has picked up on this — but generally with fluff pieces, pointing out that the episode ends with The Powerpuff Girls’ heart logo in the colors of the trans flag.

Unfortunately, however, as good as it seems on the surface — Yay, a cartoon about trans issues! Yay, trans flag! Yay, trans kids get to see themselves reflected in a show they watch! — they could have done better had they consulted with the trans community first.

How badly did it go? This bad — if you search “PPG” on Tumblr, it suggests “transphobia”:

ppg, powerpuff girls, transphobia, trans issues, donny the unicorn

That’s not exactly a word you want to see to describe your Very Special Episode set out to handle gender issues a la Steven Universe. But is it really that bad?

RELATED: 5 Must-See Episodes of Steven Universe — TV’s Most Progressive Cartoon Ever

Tumblr user jitterbugjive says so — and they’ve done an extensive debunking of the episode. Jitterbugjive’s post is way too long to embed — though it’s very much worth reading in whole — but the short version is: After Powerpuff Girl Buttercup forcibly outs Donny the Unicorn as having a false horn, Bubbles befriends Donny; not out of a sense of justice, but because she wants to be friends with a unicorn (and not necessarily Donny in particular — the unicorn in her mind looks nothing like Donny). So the Powerpuff Girls then approach the Professor to help Donny transition using a risky process that goes wrong — before the process, the Professor makes Donny sign a looooooong form of disclaimers including “FOREVER PAIN” listed as a possible side effect:

Unfortunately, the magical process turns Donny into a monster, and he becomes the villain of the episode — at least until it’s revealed that he actually had a horn all along, just under his hair? WTF? Add in a bunch of phallic references, jokes reinforcing the gender binary and the trans-villain trope, and you’ve got yourself a hot load of unicorn apples.

Also: It seems interesting that the official episode synopsis (and LA Times article) refers to Donny as “Donny The Pony”, which strikes this reporter as the metaphorical equivalent of deadnaming or misgendering, if one can do that to a magical cartoon equine.

Jitterbugjive wasn’t the only Tumblr poster upset.  Bisexualowain says:

http://bisexualowain.tumblr.com/post/142664267152/so-the-new-ppgs-attempt-at-tackling-trans-issues

Rockbusted tries to fix the episode:

http://rockbusted.tumblr.com/post/142598405710/i-fixed-it

And Trans-boy-dick-grayson wonders whatever happened to that PPG reboot they’d heard so much about:

http://trans-boy-dick-grayson.tumblr.com/post/142645592637/too-bad-the-new-ppg-reboot-never-happened-i-mean-i

It’s worth mentioning, too, that last week’s episode of Powerpuff Girls, “Princess Buttercup”— where Buttercup joins a roller derby team — also features a transphobic joke, where one of Buttercup’s roller derby teammates is a big, burly man in a dress named “Bobby Suza Ray Lynn”.

Bobby Suza Ray Lynn, Powerpuff Girls, Transphobia, Princess Buttercup

Cutting-edge comedy!

We reached out to Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls transgender cartoonist Jessica Udischas about the episode.

Unicorn Booty: What could the episode have done better?

Jessica Udischas: Gosh, where do I begin? The whole episode was a train wreck for the beginning and I suggest everyone read the jitterbugjive post. But simply, it would have been nice if the overall episode was more affirming to Donny the ‘trans’ unicorn character — which it was not.

First, they humiliate the character by ripping off his horn and call him a drama queen for being rightfully angry, employing all these stereotypes on how trans people are just angry for no reason. Can you imagine if in real life someone ripped off a trans man’s packer? But it’s ironic because there is a war being waged against us to keep us out of public spaces, which of course we’re angry about.

Then instead of affirming Donny’s identity as a unicorn, it weirdly turns into Bubbles’ desire to have a unicorn friend and they push this horn surgery on him which they warn will last FOREVER. Trans people don’t need to be reminded about the long lasting effects of surgery. With the hoops we have to jump through to get treatment, and the harassment we often get from our families, we know medical treatment will have permanent effects. And the whole “trans regret” thing is completely rare and sensationalized. So the episode would have been better if it focused around Donny’s feelings and not Bubbles’.

Then Donny gets the horn surgery and it turn him into a fucking monster! He even calls himself a freak! WTF! I am not a freak. It would have been much better if the bad guys were the ones insisting he’s not a unicorn, and then getting the surgery and having him feel good and confident in himself no matter what anybody says… and then having a few people come around to the idea that he really is a unicorn, but a few bad guys still being a jerk about it… Maybe even bad guys who go out of their way to stop the surgery, because that’s what trans people actually face. At the end they try to put a band-aid on all the transphobia but having it turn out he was a REAL unicorn the whole time, awww! 

http://themanicpixienightmaregirl.tumblr.com/post/142724105572

What would you recommend so this doesn’t happen again?

If they don’t want to have a disaster like this again I suggest actually consulting trans people who know trans politics and trans feminism. Trans cartoonists like *cough* me *cough*, or just ask the question, is this affirming to trans people? Be bold! Make a cartoon that in five or 10 years from now people say was ahead of its time instead of embarrassingly regressive.

What would you point to as a good example?

Steven Universe handles gender stuff in such a delicate lovely way. I love the whole idea of fusion because there are many ways it can be interpreted. Steven and Connie fuse together to become Stevonnie and many trans people I know who saw that couldn’t help but think of how Steven was now in the body of a woman… and later we learn from creator Rebecca Sugar that Stevonnie is actually non-binary — it’s so good! Even better, you could tell that Pearl was uncomfortable, but Garnet encourages Stevonnie to be themselves.

Even more blatant, later in the series, Steven wears makeup, a crop top, skirt and heels and sings a pop song, and everybody cheers. Likewise, when they explore how Garnet first became herself, she says “Why am I so sure that I’d rather be this than everything I was supposed to be, and that I’d rather do this than anything I was supposed to do?” That line made me cry thinking about my own transition.

Are you a Powerpuff Girls fan, and how progressive do you think the original series was?

I was a huge fan of Powerpuff Girls when it first came on — I even saw the movie opening night.  But that was back when I had no idea I could actually ever be myself. And in fact, the character HIM sent shivers down my spine. He scared the hell out of me. Because, of course, I didn’t realize at the time I was actually female and felt nothing but shame about my feminine inclinations. And the HIM character just reinforced all the bad feelings I had about myself being trans. But at the time I just buried it.

But yeah the new PPG has yet to introduce HIM which I am sure is going to upset more trans folks. But exploring HIM as a transmisogynistic trope can be a subject for another time. Still, it’s things like this that keep trans people from feeling invited to be fans. HIM fucked me up big time; he is like the Buffalo Bill of kids shows.

It wasn’t just HIM that was transphobic; episodes that put men in the Powerpuff Girls’ girls outfits always included extra hair on the arms and legs.

Do you think there’s a blatant anti-trans agenda at work?

Some people think so — but I’ve heard through the grapevine that the woman who wrote this episode has trans friends. So it sounds like she’s either just clueless and messed up big time, or the network made changes. I think she just has some unchecked transphobia. Either way, I worry about how this will affect trans kids.

Unicorn Booty - Unicorn Booty brings you the best news, pop-culture, and opinions on the web!

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revme
1409 days ago
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i'm real proud of how this one turned out!
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Turns Out ‘Crime Stoppers’ May Not Actually Stop Crime…

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Turns Out ‘Crime Stoppers’ May Not Actually Stop Crime…

This Friday The Stranger shared a comic strip written from Seattle’s police blotter. In it, cartoonist Callan Berry shares the story of the Botox Bandit — an alleged criminal who ripped off a clinic for free Botox treatment, but the story is actually pretty disturbing. The local Seattle FOX affiliate, KCPQ/Q13, ran the storyas part of their partnership with Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound, an organization that offers cash rewards for information leading to the capture of alleged criminals.

crimestoppers, q13, the stranger, comicsCallan Berry/TheStranger.Com

Crime Stoppers offered $1,000 for information on the Botox Bandit. Seeing the story alongside his photo, the alleged “Bandit” went to the business that had claimed he had robbed them, and found that his credit card had been declined, but instead of calling him, the business alerted the cops. He settled the bill, and with the “crime” solved, he tried to get Q13 to remove the story. They refused.

A few days later, a couple potential “Crime Stoppers” saw him in a grocery store parking lot. They recognized him from the Q13 piece and assaulted him, having mistaken the reward for information as a reward for capture. Even though he was injured, he was able to avoid capture and escape to a hospital.

At the hospital, police advised him to stay inside until Q13 redacted or updated the story, which, as of this writing, they still haven’t. the cartoonist (Berry) says that Q13 stands by their story, claiming to have investigated the “Bandit’s” side. When Berry asked if they’d known that the man had gotten hurt because of the story, Q13 claimed to be unaware. Still, with that knowledge that their piece led to an assault on an innocent man, again, the article remains unamended.

Crime Stoppers programs have been around since 1975, though they’ve always been controversial for providing a monetary reward for information. Similar rewards have led to an increase in false information from scammers trying to make a quick payday while in this case an assault resulted from a misunderstanding about that reward.

False information is the scourge of police work. Crime Stoppers only pays out if the information leads to an arrest, but false information ends up in the wasting of police resources on a bad leads. Even worse, false information can result in wrongful arrests and convictions.

In New South Wales, Australia, Crime Stoppers tips have a pathetic 0.8 percent success rateof leading to arrests, which doesn’t take into consideration how many of those arrests have led to a guilty verdict.

Sometimes, Crime Stoppers itself provides false information. There have also been other lawsuits against Crime Stoppers organizations for libel when it turns out their own information is wrong.

We can’t only blame Crime Stoppers. The media can be lax about making sure only good information goes out, and not just local news organizations. CNN’s Nancy Grace is being sued for continuing to run a Crime Stoppers-sourced storyeven after police had cleared the subject of the story of any wrong-doing.

Shows like Q13’s Washington’s Most Wanted —produced in collaboration with six Crime Stoppers organizations in the Seattle area — aren’t the only time the media have tried to get into the police business.  Perhaps the most infamous is NBC’s To Catch A Predator.

To Catch A Predatorwas a pop-cultural phenomenon, but ended in controversy. Predatorwas at the center of scandals involving Perverted Justice— the organization Predator partnered with to produce the show — including accusations of entrapment, the suicide of one of their subjects, lawsuits, and prosecutors refusing to act on arrests from the show. (This hasn’t stopped Chris Hansen from trying to revive the concept via Kickstarter.)

What’s the solution? It’s hard to say. No one wants to sound like they’re pro-crime, so stopping programs like Crime Stoppers is generally a non-starter, pardon the pun. And as Predator showed, these types of shows can generate great ratings. Not only are they sensational, but they help the audience feel involved. Someone watching can feel like they’re an engaged citizen “on the lookout” for criminals, even if they never actually call in a tip.

But what is the actual real-world result other than good feelings and high ratings? At best, it appears to be not much, and at worst, we see far worse wreckage than the original crime they tried to stop, with the media abdicating all responsibility. We might not know the best solution, but at this point it seems clear that the sensationalism of Predatorand the casual, smug style of some Crime Stoppers reports make bad situations even worse.

Unicorn Booty - Unicorn Booty brings you the best news, pop-culture, and opinions on the web!

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revme
1732 days ago
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I'm real proud of this one.
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5 Lost ‘Muppet Show’ Sketches You Probably Haven’t Seen!

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5 Lost ‘Muppet Show’ Sketches You Probably Haven’t Seen!

When I heard that ABC might bebringing back The Muppet Show, I was stoked. Everyone loves Jim Henson’s Muppets: they’re good-hearted and child-friendly, yet regularly make intelligent, adult jokes too (like that one time when Bert bragged about training for ten years learning to play the whistle at Juilliard).

I’m so excited about seeing new Muppet material that I’ve found some stuff from the original Muppet Show that never aired in the US! That’s right! The show was originally shot for the United Kingdom’s ITV which had shorter commercial breaks than the US.  As a solution, the show included two-minute long sketches (known as “UK Spots”) that could be cut for more ads in the American market.

A few of the segments were mere time-fillers but most of them were as same high-quality as the rest of the program.  The Muppet Show DVDs feature the full episodes, complete with UK spots, but for the most part these have never been broadcast on American TV before.

Here are five of the best:

1. Cottleston Pie

Rowlf was one of the very first Muppets, but by the time TheMuppet Show aired, he’d been relegated to the supporting cast. In his UK spots, though, he got his time to shine —many of the UK Spots actually feature him singing while tickling the ivories.

“Cottelston Pie” is originally from Winnie-The-Pooh— it’s a song Pooh would sing whenever he got confused — and it’s a cute, jaunty song. Rowlf’s even-more-laid-back-than-usual demeanor makes it feel intimate, like he’s right there playing the old piano in your family room.

This song was also sung at Jim Henson’s memorial service by Frank Oz (as Fozzie Bear). In the interests of not making every single Unicorn Bootyreader cry, I have not included that particular link.

2. Vegetarian Hospital

Everyone remembers the “Veterinarian’s Hospital” sketches starring Miss Piggy, Janice, and Rowlf, but in the episode with Cloris Leachman, the pigs take over the show and turn it to Vegetarian’sHospital. While the sketch never made it to the US, it’s just as good as the other sketches, featuring the same terrible puns you’ve grown to know and tolerate.

3. Mack The Knife

Despite being a scolding moralist with his distaste for the lowbrow, Sam the Eagle has always been one of my favorite characters. You might think he’d be fine with this song from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, but I honestly can’t see Sam being a Brecht fan. I figure that he’d think of Brecht as the beginning of the end of highbrow theater, what with Brecht’s experimental nature and the fact that Threepennyfeatures a murderer as its main character.

The organ player Dr. Teeth, though totally kills it with this funky version or “Mack the Knife,” after “explaining” the song’s objectionable lyrics away.  Kinda.

4. Feelings

One of the greatest things about the Muppets is how they can take a one-joke character and give him so much personality he becomes real.  Beaker can only say “meep,” but he puts such emotion into meeping that he gives life to the Morris Albert favorite “Feelings.”  It certainly helps that he’s backed up by Rowlf and some of the Electric Mayhem who put a little swing in it. And good on Animal for helping out once the audience rebels against the non-stop Meeping — Animal’s a good guy.

5. I Never Harmed an Onion

So we begin and end with Rowlf.  This is a fun song based around that essential component of what makes the Muppets the Muppets — terrible, terrible puns.  Unlike “Vegetarian’s Hospital” above, this time the puns get sung! It’s a silly novelty song about how Rowlf can unemotionally abuse foods of all sorts, but the onions are the only ones who make him cry. Perhaps the onions are striking back on behalf of their friends, you ever think of that, Rowlf?  (But, to be fair, the melon had it coming.)

BONUS: Special Non-Muppet Show Film, “Time Piece”

So even though this was made by Jim Henson, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Muppet Show, and doesn’t even feature any Muppets. BUT it wasn’t aired on American TV andit’s absolutely hilarious, so there.

Henson struggled his whole life with the idea that the Muppets and other puppeteering was for children, so he worked on a lot of experimental film for adults (If you want more of this work, check out The Organized Mindor The Cube).

Time Piece(above) is probably the most accessible of his experimental work — and it’s awesome.  Whatchagonnado, NOT watch something awesome?  That’s silly.  You’re silly.

Unicorn Booty - Unicorn Booty brings you the best news, pop-culture, and opinions on the web!

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revme
1783 days ago
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Whoo! MUPPETS! HALF PUPPET HALF MOP
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5 Must-See Episodes Of ‘Steven Universe’ – TV’s Most Progressive Cartoon Ever

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steven universe, crystal gems, rebecca sugar, cartoon network
steven universe, crystal gems, rebecca sugar, cartoon networkCartoon Network

Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems

Every day this week, Cartoon Network is running a new episode of Steven Universe.  “But I’m an adult,” I hear you say, “why do I care about the goings on of this network of cartoons?” And first off, you are a jackass who discounts animation as a valid art-form and second, you are not Hip and Cool and With It.  PROOF: Adventure Time is also on Cartoon Network, and basically everyone’s already watching that because it’s progressive, funny, and amazing.

Now that you’ve been properly chastised for your incorrect worldviews, it’s time to get a crash course in Steven Universe, who’s on it, and the five best episodes to start with.

To begin, Steven Universe is Cartoon Network’s first female-created show, created by notable woman Rebecca Sugar.  Sugar is also known for writing a lot of the best songs in Adventure Time (“Daddy, Why Did You Eat My Fries”, “I’m Just Your Problem/My Best Friends In The World”, “Remember You” and the classic “Bacon Pancakes”). She also wrote a lot of the best episodesof Adventure Time too (pretty much any episode those songs come from).

Steven Universe is also really hip when it comes to all sorts of social issues.  Behind the scenes, three of the show’s four leads are voiced by women of color (one of whom is Estelle.  You know, Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter, rapper, actress, producerEstelle).  The crew is super diverse too, and most of them have art blogs on Tumblr.  You can Google any name you see on the show, but a few to get you started: Rebecca Sugar, Ian Jones-Quartey, Raven Molisee, Ben Levin, Lamar Abrams.

Steven Universe doesn’t just get points for diversity, it’s got serious feminist cred too.  The main characters are all women, except for Steven, and it’s generally the women who are kicking ass and taking names rather than the men.

Likewise — and if you’re not an animation guy, you might not realize how big this is — every female character has a different body type.  Historically, male characters are allowed to be any shape, fat, thin, muscular, wiry, short, tall, whereas women are always the same thin, hourglass shape (witness the awful Equestria Girls spinoff of My Little Pony.)  In Steven Universe, Garnet is tall and curvy; Amethyst is a short, apple shape; Pearl’s tall but thin, and it goes on and on.  It’s amazing how refreshing it is to see cartoon women in the same wide range of shapes and sizes as real women!

Anyway, as for the actual show itself:  Steven Universe is a magical little boy who lives with the Crystal Gems, superheroines from outer space and guardians of the Earth.  Each Gem is named after the precious stone that houses their soul and provides a humanoid body/avatar for their souls to use (and then leave if it gets too damaged).

The Characters:

Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar, Zack Calliston, Cartoon NetworkCartoon Network

Steven Universe

Steven Universe, Garnet, Estelle, Cartoon NetworkCartoon Network

Garnet

STEVEN UNIVERSE: He’s half-gem, half-human. His mother, Rose Quartz, gave up her physical form to create him, so he never got to know her. Steven’s exceptionally good-natured and rarely sees the bad in anyone. His gem (which was previously Rose’s) is in his bellybutton.

GARNET: Garnet is the leader of the Crystal Gems, and speaks only with purpose.  She can also see the future, and is the strongest of the Gems.  She’s usually quite motherly to Steven.  Though she’s brief with words, she’s never detached.  Her gems are in her palms.

PEARL: Pearl’s the Gem closest to Steven, fulfilling a space between mother and older sister to him.  She’s very analytical and can be slightly condescending towards Earth. Actually, her relationship with Earth is… kind of a lot to get into. Her gem is in her forehead.

pearl, steven universe, deedee magno, cartoon networkCartoon Network

Pearl

Amethyst, Steven Universe, Michaela Dietz, Cartoon Network,Cartoon Network

Amethyst

AMETHYST: Amethyst is the youngest gem.  A true hedonist, she is the only Gem who chooses to sleep and eat (Pearl finds the sensation of passing food through one’s body disgusting).  She’s a sister to Steven, one who can be rough with him, but still shows great affection.  Her gem is in her chest.

GREG UNIVERSE: Greg is Steven’s dad.  He fell in love with Rose Quartz, and they decided to have a child.  Greg lives in his van, owns a car wash, and is pretty good with music.  Even though he’s embarrassed by it, I like his single “Let Me Drive My Van Into Your Heart”.

Greg Universe, Steven Universe, Tom Scharpling, Cartoon NetworkCartoon Network

Greg Universe

Connie, Steven Universe, Grace Rolek, Cartoon Network, Cartoon Network

Connie

OTHERS: There’s Lars and Sadie at the Big Donut, there’s the Fryman family and the Pizza family, and Sour Cream and Onion, and some others, but really, I just put this here so I could mention that Mayor Dewey is voiced by Joel Hodgsonthe original host of the b-movie voiceover comedy series Mystery Science Theater 3000that’s awesome.

FIVE EPISODES TO CHECK OUT:

  • Giant Woman:  This is the first episode to feature fusion, a process in which two (or more) gems can become another one.  In this case, it’s Pearl and Amethyst fuse to become Opal.  The music in this one is particularly great, and that’s Aimee Mann as Opal.  Honestly, while this one is a good episode on its own, I’m mainly including it to explain fusion because of one of the other episodes on my list that’s a must see.  Layin’ groundwork, yo.
  • Lars and the Cool Kids:  One of the charms of Steven Universe is that it takes time to meet Steven’s non-magical friends.  In this one, the prickly Lars wants to be part of the cool clique, but he needs Steven’s help to make it happen.  The cool thing is that the arc cliche is “Lars and Steven join the cool kids, but they turn out to be jerks and they learn who their true friends are.” But in this one, it turns out the cool kids are actually… pretty cool.  Any friction between them and Lars comes from Lars’ own insecurities.  The cool kids, on the other hand, just want to hang out, and figure the more, the merrier.  It’s really kind of amazing how NICE all the characters are.  Much like Parks & Recreation, it’s a cool moment when you realize that the characters seem to genuinely like each other.
  • An Indirect Kiss: This one is great for showing the depth of the show.  In this one, Amethyst cracks her gem — which is the only way for a Gem to actually be hurt — and needs rest need to heal.  The bulk of the episode is Steven and Amethyst bonding, and we understand her character more, which is summed up by Amethyst’s line, “Ha ha, you care about me.”  In addition to helping explain Amethyst, we get to know quite a bit about Steven’s relationship with his Asian friend Connie.
  • Alone Together:  Alone Together is one of the BEST episodes of Steven Universe and television in general.  This is the one where you need to understand fusion before you can watch. Steven is trying to learn how to fuse with the other gems, and in explaining this to Connie, the two of them fuse into a beautiful, androgynous mostly-human being dubbed “Stevonnie.”  It’s a great episode on its own merits, but what it has to say about gender and tolerance is amazing.  As Stevonnie wanders around Beach City, their (the only pronoun that seems appropriate) friends don’t recognize them and yet all of them are still attracted to Stevonnie; their androgyny is NOT an issue — the others just see a beautiful person. Also, Stevonnie ends up shutting down a really creepy, aggressive guy — a great lesson to the kids watching that they don’t have to take that kind of behavior.  It ends up being a great episode about intimacy, gender, and personal relationships in a series that’s full of great episodes.
  • On The Run:  Partly, I love this one because it’s a kids’ show that references the short horror comic horror The Enigma of Amigara Fault, but there’s so much going on here, story-wise.  Steven and Amethyst go on a road trip inspired by Steven’s beloved No Home Boys novels — a Boxcar Children-style series about plucky hobo teens.  The episode turns out to be an exploration of Amethyst’s relationship with Pearl (which has been fraught to say the least), alongside a bit of explanation of who exactly the gems are.

Anyway, with these five episodes, you should be properly set to absorb the full series just in time to catch the end of this week’s #StevenBomb marathon on Friday!  And if these five episodes don’t make you wanna watch more Steven Universe, then dag yo, go see a doctor or something. Something’s not right.

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revme
1807 days ago
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YAY! I wrote this! And you should watch Steven Universe! #StevenBomb
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Tired Of Hollywood’s Treatment of Trans Characters? Meet TrannyBot 5000!

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transgender representation, transgender media, criticism of transparent, criticism of dallas buyers club

Whether you need a trans character to teach someone about masculinity or just to make your audience feel weird about genitalia, Trannybot 5000 is the answer to all of your casting needs!

No, that’s not just a needlessly offensive advertising tagline, it’s the satirical salespitch for Trannybot 5000, a low-fi film short recently released by trans filmmaker April Anderson. With a $10 budget and some help from the Trans Oral History Project, Anderson made the NSFW and potentially offensive video as a response to how trans women are portrayed in popular culture by cisgender actors and creators (that is, by people whose gender and sex-at-birth are the same).

“In an ideal world, real-life trans women would always play roles based upon them,” says the announcer in Trannybot 5000. “However, in our world, trans women are weird, and often have ideas that complicate a shoot.”

So instead of casting actual trans women in trans roles, Anderson says, Hollywood casts cisgender actors in transgender roles and end up totally missing the point. Anderson calls out Arcade Fire’s “We Exist” video, the film Dallas Buyers Club and the Amazon Prime series Transparent and others as examples of this exact behavior.

As a result, we get trans friends who die (but not before teaching straights about themselves) and psychos who kill straights (because they’re crazy), but nothing involving the actual trans experience — sorry, but that’s just the biz!

The short’s outlook is pretty satirical. So I sat down with the filmmaker to talk more about the video, the problem of poor representation, and what to do about it.

trannybot5000, april anderson, we exist, jared leto, dallas buyers club, jeffrey tambor, transparent,  arcade fire, we exist, andrew garfield, cisgender actors playing transgender roles, trans

From top: Andrew Garfield in Arcade Fire’s “We Exist” music video, Jeffrey Tambor in Amazon’s Transparent TV series, and Jared Leto in the film Dallas Buyers Club

Unicorn Booty: What was the process of making Trannybot 5000?

April Anderson: It actually started life a few months ago as a script called “1-800-DIAL-A-TRANNY”, the idea being a service that would supply homeless trans girls to productions in need of actresses. I tinkered with that for a little while, but no matter what I did, it seemed to be lacking something. Finally, one night, I was staring at the script and wracking my brain for something that would bring it all together and I asked myself sarcastically, “What can I do, put a robot in there?”

Spoiler: I put a robot in there.

And after I did, I felt that it worked really well as a metaphor for the kinds of roles trans people and other marginalized groups play in productions like Dallas Buyers Club. It’s exceedingly rare that we’re presented as real, fleshed-out characters in our own right; we’re only there to hit a few marks, make a middle-class white audience feel better about themselves, then shuffle off to limbo.

Last year, Dallas Buyers Club, Arcade Fire’s “We Exist” video and Transparent were all released within a relatively short span. In each case, trans women very patiently explained what we found offensive about these representations and in each case, our complaints were met with a self-righteous shrug. Like, how dare we show ingratitude when cis people have finally deigned to acknowledge us as something akin to human, you know?

So, I wanted to make something that would serve as a rebuttal to that shrug; something that would address the commoditization of our experiences and how they’ve been packaged to a cis audience. In all of these cases, the trans characters basically serve as laxatives for a guilty liberal digestion, and it’s tiresome.

UB: Have you received any pushback from it?

Honestly, I expected more pushback than I’ve gotten, just because of the title. But so far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve received a grand total of one complaint, from somebody who I think mistook the film as being the product of cis creators. Besides that, people love it.

UB: Is it even possible for a cisgender creator to address trans issues in a respectful way?

I don’t think it’s impossible, but for the most part, cis ideas about the trans experience are formed by the exact tropes we find repugnant. Most of them have never knowingly met a trans person or interacted with them in any meaningful way, so they fill in the gaps with Transamerica or something equally dreadful. So, I think it would be extremely difficult for a cis creator to shed those influences, or at least learn to separate them from reality.

UB: What would you say is worse for the trans community — cisgender creators trying to tell trans stories, or trans invisibility in media?

AA: I’d say that they’re essentially the same thing – cis creators invariably wind up telling their stories, not ours. If you’re reducing me to a prop, you’ve functionally erased and replaced me with your idea of what I should be.

UB: What is the problem with cisgender actors playing trans roles (or perhaps, vice versa)?

AA: It’s not just one problem – it’s a whole ball of wadded up dilemmas. First, there’s the fact that it’s as hard for a trans actor to find work as it is for the rest of us; every cis actor cast has essentially taken food off a trans person’s plate. Most of us, especially trans women, have been passed over for jobs or outright fired for being trans, so it strikes a very personal chord with us.

Second, these productions bank on the publicity value of trans material, and their release is always accompanied by a spiel on how close the creators hold trans issues to their heart. But by casting a cis actor to play these roles – and employing majority cis staffs to write them – they reveal just how shallow their commitment actually is. It shows that they only consider us to be a marketable gimmick that they can use to separate their work from the pack.

Third, you have to realize that the earliest conceptions most trans people have of themselves come from our portrayals in the media, and how much damage those representations can do. I don’t think there’s a trans woman alive who didn’t worry about being seen as a boy in a dress before she transitioned; I think the majority had to move past seeing themselves the same way. A large part of that comes from the process of scouring the media and finding that message reflected in the casting of trans roles.

We’re not the only ones who receive that message, either. It plays a huge role in how cis people see us; that basic image of a man in a dress is a vital part of all the inbuilt transmisogyny in our culture. So, when we see a cis man claiming to represent us, it reinforces a number of harsh, ugly obstacles that we’ve either had to overcome or are still in the process of grappling with.

UB: In something like Transparent, where the trans character (played by Jeffrey Tambor) is just starting transition, who would you prefer to see cast?

AA: You could literally pluck a random trans woman off the street and she would bring more insight to the experience of coming out and transitioning than Jeffrey Tambor ever could. And I’m pretty sure it’s legal to pluck trans women off the streets in most states, so producers can’t even use that as an excuse.

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), Michael Caine as Bobbi in Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980), and Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill in Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Michael Caine as Bobbi in Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), and Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

UB: As you referenced in the film, one of the standard tropes is the “trans psychopath” (i.e. Psycho/Silence of the Lambs) — do you think that’s on its way out?

AA: One would hope, but every time you think it’s dead, it rises for another go. It just popped up again in the Batgirl comic, of all places, which had previously featured a not-terrible trans supporting character courtesy of Gail Simone.

It’s one trope which I find especially galling, too, because of my personal experience: When I was a kid, I watched a Brian DePalma movie called Dressed To Kill, which was basically a Psycho retread starring Michael Caine as an explicitly transgender serial killer. In the epilogue, after they’ve carted him off to an asylum, there’s a scene where a few characters discuss the ins and outs of Hormone Replacement Therapy in explicit detail. That’s the context in which I first learned what hormones do. So, it’s a trope which I’ve nursed a grudge against, and one I hope to deconstruct further in the future.

UB: What’s the biggest problem in media representation today?

AA: Easily the idea that by simply acknowledging our existence and not portraying us as perverts and serial killers, the media deserves our undying gratitude and anybody who’s dissatisfied with the kind of lip service we’re being paid is an easily-ignored malcontent. I’m sure it makes life easier for the rich, white, cis people in charge of these productions to listen to horrid little apologists like Calpernia Addams when they coo and purr over the minuscule amount of thought put into these portrayals, but it makes things exponentially harder for the rest of us.

UB: What can media consumers do to help fix the problem of representation, if anything?

AA: When trans people, or queer people, or people of color say a portrayal is offensive, listen to what they have to say; and if they say not to watch something, listen to that. And don’t use the public endorsement of self-loathing shills like Andrea James as an excuse for not listening to the rest of us.

manic pixie nightmare girl, jessica killjoy, trans, transgender comic, cartoonUB: Is there anything in the media landscape that gets trans issues right?

AA: Nothing mainstream. Topside Press has put out a number of books by trans women that are great, but they’re the only ones doing it in that field. Anybody who comes across a zine by Katie Zall or Emma Caterine should snatch it up. Slews and slews of bands, of course – and anybody looking for awesome trans music could do a lot worse than to check out the groups on the Trannybot soundtrack. There’s an artist named Jessica Udischas who puts out a webcomic called Manic Pixie Nightmare Girls that’s lovely. It’s all stuff you have to look for.

UB: Are you working on any other films right now?

AA: I have a few ideas in a similar vein that I’m kicking around, one of which actually involves unicorns, but those are going to take some time to set up. What I’d really like to do in the interim is shoot a series of shorter sketches – sixty to ninety seconds apiece – and release them every week or so. But I have to figure out what equipment I can lay my hands on and when before I figure that out. One way or another, there’s going to be something soon.

UB: Anything else you’d like to add?

AA: Just this: I think a lot of trans women would love to make something like this video, but they assume that too much is stacked against them to even try. It’s impossible to blame them for that assumption, too, because they’re constantly reminded of how hard the basic act of survival is in our society.

But, like I said, this video literally cost ten dollars to make; all I had was borrowed equipment and the support of some good friends. Obviously that shows in a lot of respects, but I think it’s a quality piece of work about an important subject that a lot of people seem to have enjoyed. So, if there’s anything I’d like people to take away from the video, it’s the idea that it’s totally within their capability to make something like this. And if everybody who wants to tries, maybe there won’t be any more problems with trans representation left to address.


Matt Keeley fancies himself a reporter who thinks too much about media.  More of his ramblings can be found at Kittysneezes.com and on Twitter @kittysneezes.

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revme
1814 days ago
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YAY! Check this out! (Also: The t-word ONLY appears in this article in reference to the film itself. It's a word I don't like using.
Seattle, WA
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Heartbleed Explanation

27 Comments and 116 Shares
Are you still there, server? It's me, Margaret.
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revme
2142 days ago
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This actually makes it really clear.
Seattle, WA
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26 public comments
Jerom
2134 days ago
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Я больше шар не видел. Супер пост.
Moscow, Russia
tomazed
2136 days ago
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crystal clear
josephwebster
2139 days ago
reply
This is actually a very good explanation.
Denver, CO, USA
Tobiah
2140 days ago
reply
XKCD explains heartbleed
San Jose, California
Lacrymosa
2140 days ago
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good simple explanation of heartbleed
Boston, MA
jchristopherslice
2140 days ago
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Computer Science 101
Clemson, SC
expatpaul
2141 days ago
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The best explanation of Heartbleed I've seen.
Belgium
chrisminett
2141 days ago
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xkcd does it again!
Milton Keynes, UK
katster
2142 days ago
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Simple is good.
Sactown, CA
mitthrawnuruodo
2142 days ago
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Best explanation, yet.
Wherever
mrnevets
2142 days ago
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Heartbleed: a simple explanation. It affected a huge number of websites. Be safe and change your passwords!
macjustice
2142 days ago
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Best explanation yet.
Seattle
jkevmoses
2142 days ago
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Great explanation of Heartbleed that is causing internet security issues all over the place.
McKinney, Texas
srsly
2142 days ago
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You know I'm only sharing this because I've never seen a story this shared before. 56 people! 57 now.

I should get back to work.
Atlanta, Georgia
grammargirl
2142 days ago
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Clearest explanation I've seen by FAR.
Brooklyn, NY
smadin
2142 days ago
yeah, I think this does a very good job of making clear JUST HOW BAD this is.
glindsey1979
2142 days ago
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If you aren't a techie, this will explain the Heartbleed bug to you super-simply.
Aurora, IL
chrispt
2142 days ago
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Perfect explanation of how Heartbleed works.
37.259417,-79.935122
aaronwe
2142 days ago
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Perfect.
Denver
sfringer
2142 days ago
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In a nutshell!
North Carolina USA
JayM
2142 days ago
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.
Atlanta, GA
adamgurri
2142 days ago
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nice
New York, NY
bgschaid
2142 days ago
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You can’t explain it simpler and more to the point
bogorad
2142 days ago
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Умеет!
Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
Covarr
2142 days ago
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Ah, now I understand.
Moses Lake, WA
rohitt
2140 days ago
Yes. Clear as a day
teh_g
2142 days ago
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Alt text: Are you still there, server? It's me Margaret.
Roseville, CA
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