Anne of Green Gables: a shift in thought

Written in response to the article “Anne of Green Gables: from bildungsroman to romantic comedy”

 

I love the word “bildungsroman”.

Not only does it role trippingly off the tongue, but it refers to a “coming of age” in a work of art. It just so happens that coming of age novels are my favorite, and just as the word brings me enjoyment, so too does the novel critiqued by LaurenBeth Signore, the always entertaining, Anne of Green Gables.

As a Nova Scotian, Anne’s story resonates with me. When I think of her, it is as a tough-as-nails, resourceful, artistic and adventurous spirit. She represents the ideals of many young maritime girls and their own coming of age. But is this really the Anne I am most familiar with? I read Montgomery’s Anne series once, spanning the years from child to adulthood. But I have seen Kevin Sullivan’s films Anne of Green Gables, and Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel, many, many more times (particularly the latter) and regardless of age, my enjoyment of the films never falters.  I will admit, however, honestly and without shame, I especially love the second film because I love Anne and Gilbert’s love story. (Even now when I watch it, I wait in nail biting anticipation as Anne debates a future with the fan favorite Gilbert Blythe or the stoic Morgan Harris.) Therefore, imagine my surprise when I concede that Sullivan has, in fact, swapped strong feminine ideals of maturity by diminishing the power of the bildungsroman in favor of establishing an enviable romantic courtship!

anne_of_green_gables Signore points out the paradigm shift created by Sullivan’s thematic inclusion of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shallot,” and the love affair between Lancelot and Elaine (referenced only briefly by Montgomery in her novel), which, Signore suggests, foreshadows a tale of unrequited love between Anne and Gilbert. Sullivan’s combination of three books into the sequel film, as well as his primary focus on the love triangle between Anne, Gilbert and Morgan, support her theory. Anne is a romantic through and through, no longer simply romanticizing Green Gables (arguably her true love interest in the novel), but as a woman romanticizing love itself.

The Anne from the novel is not a damsel in distress. True, Anne creates chaos and distress, but she does not need saving. She thrives on the drama that brings her around to moments of clarity and maturation. In the films, Anne’s maturation is often in response to an event related to, or onset by, Gilbert in some way. Such is the case when Anne dyes her hair green to be more beautiful. In the novel, she is completely ashamed of what she has done, but only because she quickly realizes that she was marked with beauty after all, even though her beauty is not considered conventional by the standards of the time. As Signore reminds me, Anne in the film is consumed by the fear of what Gilbert will think about her hair and about her. This is quite a drastic difference in conclusion: swapping clarity and acceptance of the self for fear of rejection by a love interest.

The recollection of my reading experience with Anne’s novel was never centered on her relationship with Gilbert. In fact, I was always rooting for her to outsmart and best him. I was proud of her for dismissing his advances (both casually and furiously), and cheered for her as she earned respect academically. One of the most poignant moments in the novel is when she learns that Gilbert resigned from the position of teacher so that Anne could have it, though he keeps this from her. He does want to be her friend, but I think he also saw her need was greater than his (due to Matthew’s recent death). In the film, Signore is right to point out that Gilbert admits his choice of resignation to Anne, acting as a knight in shinning armor, much like Lancelot himself. I am alarmed that, before now, I had not keenly observed the shift in my experience with Anne and Gilbert; in the novel I root against him, but in the film I root for him.

This transition from strong willed, determined woman to an almost submissive woman is jarring, and one that did not occur to me until reading Signore’s article. In an attempt to understand Kevin Sullivan’s choices I have come up with only one conclusion: perhaps it is easier for a man to conceive of the trials and tribulations of a girl’s heart than it is for him to conceive of the growth of both her mind and spirit.

By Leigha Chiasson

Whedon and the Honest Woman

Warning: Avengers Age of Ultron Spoilers Ahead!

Joss Whedon’s been getting some flack about his lack of feminism in his latest flick, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I find this unsettling.

I mean, among Whedonites around the world, Joss is akin to a Sci-Fi/Fantasy god, not to mention the male poster child for feminism. He is, after all, both an avid supporter of women’s rights and equality, and the creator of one of the strongest female characters of all time, Buffy Summers, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The part that is unsettling, however, is that I don’t think he missed the mark in this film. For me, he kinda nailed it.

I am a thirty two year old  woman and I spend an obscene amount of time reading superhero comics. I am also a mother. A stay-at-home mom. A stay-at-home mom with three university degrees and a career I have chosen to put on hold so I can have extra time to cuddle with my children and ensure they develop a love for superheroes early on. Very early, I might add. So I am dismayed about Whedon’s feminist condemnation, because for me he got it right.

images (1)Next to Ms. Marvel, The Scarlet Witch is my favourite female superhero. She harbours an immense power that overwhelms and sometimes overcomes her. She is flawed, tragic and frightened of herself, her desires, and the uncertainty of her place in the super world in which she dwells. As a woman I am drawn to her because I can relate to these struggles. I often see myself in her stories because she can’t quite accept the hand she was dealt, she yearns to be a better version of herself. So do I. In fact, I can say that if I had her power set I would have broken the world as she did in House of M if my children, real or illusion, were ripped from me. I am no better or worse than she is. She is the quintessential anxiety ridden character. There is honesty in her development, and Elizabeth Olsen’s portrayal of her is good. Really good. She is a constant bundle of nerves striving to understand her place among mortals and gods. She needs her brother for balance (not for worth) because she fears herself and the path down which she leads others. She is obviously dealing with an inner-torture that many women with anxiety can and do relate to, and towards the end of the film we see her making a good start at overcoming these personal obstacles without unrealistically surmounting them.

Linda Cardellini’s character as Susan, Hawkeye’s wife, was a little glimpse into my own reality. She exudes a kind of  strength that even a super hero cannot fully convey. She is a mother, a wife, and an outcast. In the cyberverse she has been branded as nothing more than a housewife, but I don’t see her that way. I see a strong woman who gave up everything to live a remote existence on a farm away from everything in order to protect her family. She might be “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” but it takes a damn strong woman to raise three kids alone. The very fact Whedon chose to make her look tired and a little unkept shows that she is a real woman. A real mother.  She is the hero of her family. Stay-at-home mom’s have as much self and social worth as the woman who battles droids on a freeway. Which brings me to my next point.

If I hear one more complaint about Black Widow’s back story I might scream. The fact that she laments that she cannot have children does not reduce her value as a strong female character. Instead, I would argue that it enhances her strength. After all, feminism is about equal rights and the right to choose how to project said femininity; this is a right she is not afforded. Black Widow had all of her rights stripped away from her by a sadistic, brainwashing, body mutilating government agency. She is not necessarily in mourning because she can’t have children insomuch as she mourns the loss of her ability to choose whether or not to have those children. She is  the fictitious superhero embodiment of women who have their rights torn from them when forced into a life of compliance (luckily for her, she gets out of that pesky situation).

Black Widow’s character development represents a feminine frankness that is sorely lacking in female superheroes, particularly for the audience to which I belong. I wish there were more instances where I could connect with Jessica Jones’ tug of war, crime fighting vs. life with kid, which is very much like my own, work or life with kid conundrum. I wish Sue Storm had more opportunity to fret about the choices she makes for the good of her children. I am glad Black Widow would have at least liked the opportunity to have them at all. And as for the budding romance with Banner, though I do not see it as necessary, I do believe it represents a desire to connect with someone, and who better to understand her pain than Banner? luke-cage-jessica-jones

I appreciate Whedon’s portrayal of the women in his movies. No doubt he would have had more, but I suspect that two superheroes, a SHEILD first in command, a world renowned scientist, and some advanced computer programmers were as much female power as the big wigs behind production could withstand. For now, at least. Joss did a good job with what he had to work with.

In the meantime, if a superhero wants to have an honest flaw like raising a family, anxiety and insecurity, or uncertainty of personal worth, that’s ok with me. It doesn’t  make me feel so bad about being an old, anxious, stay-at-home comic reader, mother of two. Actually, it makes me feel pretty damned good about it!

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

 

A Thought on Four Generations

After analyzing the whole blogging business, and it’s purpose (which I may be completely off base about), I thought I would try to write about something I feel I have a bit of experience in and something that I know I will continue to ultimately fail and succeed at doing: Mothering.

I am sure (at least I hope) that there are some mothers who understand the above. From my perspective as daughter, my mother failed and succeeded and at a number of different mother-daughter-raising-children-every-child-is-different-there-is-no-manual-breastfeeding-is-hard-bottlefeeding-is-wrong-bottle-feeding-is-great-stay-at-home-parents-are-perfect-working-parents-are-better-stay-at-home-parents-are-wrong-working-parents-are-wrong-homeschooling-is-better-public-schooling-is-better-you-can’t-spoil-your-kid-with-love-rule-with-an-iron-fist-children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard-give-your-child-a-voice-all-teenagers-are-bad-all-teenagers-are-people-too…yadda, yadda, yadda. …rites of passage(s). As a mother myself, I realize that, regardless of the “mistakes” she made, my mother did the best with exactly what she had, which, by-the-way did not include parenting blogs or how-to-anything at your fingertips 24/7, or even a mother herself. She did pretty darn good job considering she lost her mother at the age of 18. Truth-be-told, I don’t know what I would do without her. That being said, we are different parents (as all are).

There are a lot of things I didn’t do when our children were babies that she did, and a lot of things that I know I will do differently as my children enter the age of adolescence. She and I butted heads, of course, (see above), over a great many things. She did this, and it worked, so why couldn’t I? She thought (and still believes) that Zincofax is terrible. She said it stung my children’s bums. I kid you not…my mother was COMPLETELY against ZINCOFAX. It was a serious point of contention. I really wish I was joking. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel. By the time our 3rd child was born, she became ok with me in the mothe role, She began to realize that what my husband and I decide goes, regardless of our rationale behind it. These are our children, and our choices, and they need to be respected.

unnamedAll of the head-butting aside, I realize now that perhaps our children are a way for my mother to be the parent she wishes she had been during those times of trial and error with me. I believe she recognizes what she would have done differently, if do-overs were an option. Unfortunately in the world of parent-hood, we don’t get to re-evaluate, edit, and re-submit our final results. We get one shot. She knows this now, and so do I, and will try, as a mother myself to always keep it in mind.

I hope I get be in her shoes someday…to someday hold my grandchild and remember my mistakes, and want to help my children not make the same mistakes I made with them, (and I have oh-so-many more to make, yay!…where would psychologists be without mothers?). I want to be able to tell my grandchild when they are fighting with their parents, how much their parents love them, even if they truly believe they are acting unfairly to them. I know my mother will do this for me.

My mother’s perspective and vantage point is completely different from mine. I have no idea from where she is coming when she tries to advise or criticize or counsel or coach. All I can do is try to understand it and respect it. Because, at the end of the day, I admire my mother. Craziness (current…my fault..) and “mistakes” (past, present and future) aside, I am proud of my mother. And I am grateful for her. I am still angered by her, and sometimes hurt by her, (I am sure this is not one-sided, and so I’m sorry mum), which simply means that she, like me, is merely human. And,  I love her, unconditionally.

By Danerra Speares

To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question.

I have never “blogged”.

I had no idea that the word“blog” was a verb until a few months ago. I thought that the term blog could only be classified as a noun ie: I have a blog; would you like to write an entry for my blog; I read blogs; have you heard of his/her blog about __________? etc… So here I am, blogging…and I am humbled. Do I really know enough about anything to think that what I have to say matters to anyone? Perhaps this is the beauty of blogging. The role of the blogger and bloggee are essentially the same, yes?

unnamed (1)As the Blogger, I am hoping that one person from the vast number of people in cyber-space who are hoping to learn something, or to have their actions, feelings, thoughts, validated, will read this and feel just that, validated. If I achieve this, than I, too, will feel validated. Conversely, the egos of both myself and potential readers, may suffer a serious blow. If I receive negative feedback, or if my thoughts, ideas, feelings, actions etc are met with disapproval, or even indifference, what then? And what of the readers? Nothing appeals to all; I am bound to insult, or be in opposition to another’s beliefs, values, ideas, etc. Hence my humility…I find this blogging business a very slippery slope. But also like a new adventure…blogging is my I really am actually giddy. Not that you care, I’m sure. So…will I fail or surpass my teensy tiny expectations?

I will find out soon enough…

By Danerra Speares

 

The “Slut” in Superhero

imagesI have been thinking about the Black Widow “slut” naming by Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner, Captain America and Hawk-Eye respectively in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. I know it’s a few days past, apologies have been made, and perhaps lost in the cyber void now, but I am still thinking about it.

I have read the comments of many in the community who say we are an “offended generation”, “all superheroes are sluts”, “Black Widow is a slut, get over it”, and to you folks, I wonder if you will consider the following:

The word “slut” has to go.

It has become a staple of slang in our contemporary culture, but at great cost. Youth, especially, use the term loosely and without consideration of the victim they slap the label onto. The number of girls, virgins and sexually active alike, who have been shamed a slut is immeasurable. And it is so painful. It resonates well into adulthood, playing on confidence, choices, and self-esteem. It is the language of bullies. The power of words resonates with youth, and if they hear their cultural icons so carelessly toss these terms around then the work to diminish the verbal bullying has been set back.

Why Black Widow’s love life is on trial is of itself ridiculous. Do we ask the same about Thor and Cap when we wait for a film release? Black Widow is an equal member of the Avengers, and despite her femininity, she is not measured by the worth of her love affairs. I for one hope she doesn’t have any love affairs on screen, but if she does that’s Ok. We need to turn the conversation around so that young girls and women don’t brand themselves as accessories to men. Yes, some of us adults still do this because of what we learned in the media as children. The phenomenon is real, people.

There is a responsibility that comes with being a public figure. There is also a responsibility that comes with representing fictional figures so admired by children, youth, and adults alike. Certain actions and speech need to be reigned in when you are a professional, regardless of the profession you have chosen. For example, I am a teacher, and as such I need to be cognizant of my actions in and out of the classroom. Needless to say, my raucous binge drinking days have long since come to an end. As a representative of Marvel, and the physical representation of a beloved superhero, these men have similar responsibilities during working hours. Press junkets included.

Jeremy Renner’s apology to have insluted a “fictional character” hurts the most, I think. Every time he goes to work he lives in the fictional realm. He makes a living suspending our disbelief. It must be ok for the audience to connect to the character and their struggles and triumphs. That is why we laugh and cry with them. That is why we revisit these characters time and time again. It is almost crass to reduce them to fiction, as though that is the only place they reside. Black Widow is no less real to me, as an avid reader, than is Elizabeth Bennet or Ophelia. Nor is she any less real to the countless cosplayers who devote hours and hours of their lives bringing her to life.

Let’s just remember, as we comment and go through life blissfully avoiding the impact of words on the world, that they do in fact hurt, they do have a lasting effect, and they are a tremendous disappointment when spoken by heroes. Super or not. We are not an “offended generation”, we are just the first with the world at our fingertips and the ability to reach the far corners of the earth. We women are also a little less repressed than before, so I think each of us should take the opportunity to sound our voices to the masses for the few who will listen and respond in kind.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

http://www.ew.com/article/2015/04/23/chris-evans-jeremy-renner-black-widow-slut

Why I Can’t Afford to be a Book Snob

I can be a snob.

In fact, I guarantee you that I will exude snobbery in the following situations:

  • If you try to be a bigger PInk Floyd fan than me. Not gonna happen, my friend. Let it go.
  • That being said, if you try to be a bigger Pearl Jam fan than me I might disown you. Depending. Maybe.
  • If you try to argue the point of the Oxford comma. I like it, move on.
  • If you presume that I am not a qualified geek because I didn’t read Marvel growing up. Snikt! You got a problem with that, Bub?

But there is one situation in which I will never be a snob, and that is when it comes to books.

I will never be a book snob.

Recently I was engaged in a discussion with a number of avid readers about the merits, or lack thereof, of teaching contemporary novels in high school classrooms. I was shocked to discover that many of my bookish peers were against the inclusion of new material to secondary English syllabi, preferring instead to travel only the well worn paths of canon. After all, they learned the classics and they came out splendidly intelligent. Why change something that has worked for so long?

Because it’s not working. Not really.

I cannot be a book snob because I am a teacher. An English teacher, in fact.

I have been tremendously lucky to teach advanced, academic, and communications English to my secondary students over the last number of years. Together we have plotted with Oberon, travelled to Mordor,  stood on the gallows of Salem, branded ourselves with a scarlet letter, had great expectations, fought an uprising of pigs, partied with Gatsby, deduced with Sherlock, and laid in a tomb with star-crossed lovers. We did the standard syllabus. I threw in some Chaucer, Thoreau, Whitman, and Frost for good measure. And I adore every minute I spend with these characters, authors, and my students. I love teaching these books largely because I have read them and I enjoy reading them again and again. That is, after all, what a lover of books and a lover of the classics does. But those of us who can withstand the bombardment of iambic pentameter and archaic language are few and far between. The truth is that many students today are not resonating or engaging with these texts. The themes, yes. The texts not so much. It is a somber truth.

The trick, as I have learned, is to cater to my students, not to the expectation of what they should be reading because of what I read when I was their age (reading I did largely out of pleasure, not for academia). The majority of them will be reluctant readers. This is a challenge in of itself without trying to shove Shakespeare or Dickens down their throats. But the silver lining is in the word “reluctant”. Reluctant. Not unwilling. Finding the right book for a student, regardless of age or grade, can create a life long learner, an enthusiastic reader, a lover of books.

Many of the books I include in my syllabus, along with the classics, are contemporary. Some are fantasy  novels like Tuck Everlasting and A Wrinkle in Time. Stories that address the concepts of love, change and impermanence. Themes students themselves are struggling to understand in their everyday lives.

We talk about Sartre and the notions of existentialism and then debate whether Dumbledore and the Mirror of Erised are not existential themselves.

We flip heads and tails with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead to make more sense of Hamlet when we get to it.

We read comics. Maus, Persepolis, Superman Red Son, An American Born Chinese, because these stories teach us history in a meaningful and visually stunning way that today’s kids get. Man, do they ever GET IT.

We have seen two roads diverge in a wood in Riverdale with Archie Andrews.

We come of age with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

We struggle to make sense of art with The Soloist.

We have mourned the treatment of indigenous peoples with April Raintree. We have read secrets in the The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian.

We have followed Elie Wisel into the very darkest Night.

And the students engage. They connect, they feel, and they ask for more books to read.

That’s why we can’t stick to the classics alone. With them only some students will ask for more. The goal is to encourage them all to ask for more. Why close my mind to a book because it is new? Why create a negative reading experience for my students because their preference is contemporary?

I may be a snob sometimes, but I will never be a book snob. I am a teacher, I need to read, to learn, and to relate.

That and I love to read. I love to read everything.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke  @ldchiasson17

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Comic Women Wednesday

On my way to book club tonight I stopped by my favourite comic book store to peruse the single issues shelves. I thought I might check out the latest Spider-Gwen, ask about the release date of the new Fiona Staples’ Archie comic, maybe take a peek at the new Saga cover.

So I picked up Spider-Gwen, the most recent Thor, and to my surprise, I even bought the Jem and the Holograms #1. Then I got in the car, went to book club and largely forgot about my new issues.

And then I got home.

When I took the comics out of the bag and laid them all before me something clicked. it occurred to me that I bought three comics where the protagonists were all women. The titles were the names of women (yes, even Thor!), and the conflicts within the stories were real social and personal conflicts that had NOTHING to do with men. No love story, no damsel in distress, no all encompassing quest towards a male counterpart. Just three women dealing with the struggles of finding success, happiness, and a place in this world. Same as many of us do every day.

I love reading comics. Heck, I love reading anything, so to read from a male protagonist’s perspective has never irked me. I have always been ok with it. I have even been ok with the stories where the girl is the love interest and in need of saving. But when characters like Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Wonder Woman, Kamala Khan (the new Ms. Marvel), Sue Storm, and Jessica Jones show their female readership that they can hold a story on their own, you get used to women being in the spotlight.   A limited spotlight, granted, but there nonetheless. Sure, with the exception of Jones and Khan, they don’t typically look like the rest of us women, and therefore some find it hard to connect with the characters, but at least their stories are being told. But wait! I opened Jem and the Holograms, and to my pleasant surprise, Jerrica, Aja and Shana look normal (makeup aside). Like, short and not-fit, borderline chubby normal. Kinda like me. Holograms_band_bios

So a female protagonist maybe isn’t such a big deal, but that I bought THREE titles, and the only three titles at that, in one outing is. I always go for Batman, Cap, Wolverine, Hawkeye, or Thor (Odinson), without thinking about the social ramifications of constantly choosing male heroes. Maybe that is wrong, maybe not, but for me to unintentionally choose three female centred titles suggests that I am not buying strictly because the characters are female, I am buying because female characters are getting good stories, looking more like the rest of us, and holding a mirror up to the nature of true womanhood. These stories are worthy of anyone’s attention, gender notwithstanding.

Parents and Teachers: Superhero Responsibly

This post is an extension of a radio interview that I participated in addressing the presence of superheroes in the classroom.

superheroThe board and faculty of a private school in my hometown has, with the support of many parents, endeavoured to ban superheroes from its halls. As both a teacher and mother I cannot condone these choices. It goes without saying that as a comic book enthusiast I am deeply disappointed. To the parents and teachers willing to censure superheroes I have this to say: please, superhero responsibly.

With the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) And recent DC films, superheroes are at a cultural peak. Those who do not understand the broad scope of superhero literature, its many facets and depth, choose to select this medium as a scapegoat for undesirable behaviour and disinterest in reading. Superheroes are not the problem; disrespect for the power of comics is the problem.  Arguments against superheroes in the classroom and hallways of schools range from being too violent, addressing only very basic story lines, and stamped with the label “bad” literature. There are many adults in the education system who still devalue the worth of the graphic novel as a medium for teaching literature. It is not only a question of misunderstanding superheroes, but of graphic storytelling and art as a whole. A paradigm shift needs to occur to eradicate this archaic perception.

I do not, under any circumstances, want my six year old son watching violent television, film, or reading violent books. So he doesn’t, but he watches and knows all about superheroes. As the responsible adult in our relationship, I monitor what he reads and watches to ensure its age appropriateness. The popular films from the MCU, along with the Christopher Nolan Batman films and DC’s burgeoning Justice League films are not for children. Nor are the majority of graphic novels and weekly and monthly single issues at your local comic book store. Superhero comics are largely targeted towards young adults and adult audiences. The characters are targeted to children. Books, comics and films for children do not touch on the same themes as the films you watch or hear about in popular culture. The Superhero Squad, for example, treat themes of friendship, teamwork and personal growth. Doctor Doom is always bested, sometimes with Iron Man’s blasters, but more than the fighting are the plot driven discussions about why the problem at hand exists. Often the show ends with a moral. My son can watch this show. He is not violent as a result. He uses his words, not his actions when faced with a disgruntled friend. He wants to be as good a friend as Wolverine and as strong a leader as Iron Man and Captain America are. It is ok that he doesn’t know exactly what Wolverine is best at, but when he does find out later on he will already know that Wolverine is a character that can be counted on- a leader who makes tough choices. Wolverine will become more believable as my son’s world becomes more real. My son lives in a violent world. He doesn’t need comics to teach him that. If anything, they can help him escape it.

Superheroes are only written into simple story lines in the minds of the uneducated people who don’t read comics. I would argue they are full of substance, figurative language, advanced vocabulary and rich plot detail. I have a degree in English Literature, a degree in education, and soon I will have a degree in library sciences. I know good literature when I see it, or read it; and I read A LOT.

As a teacher I would often use superhero story lines in my English and senior history classes. For example, Superman: Red Son is the story of Superman’s crash landing in Russia. In my History 12 Global Studies class, we consider the outcome of the Cold War if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union. The purpose is to encourage students to think outside of the box. To buoy their curiosity as they consider what they take for granted as normal and look at it from another perspective. Our role as teachers is not to indoctrinate our beliefs and ideas, it is to inspire youth to acknowledge their own. If I use Superman as a vehicle to get them to think of the world from a soviet lens, then I have granted them permission to reject, momentarily, what they know for what could have been. Similarly, in an effort to make Hercules more interesting to a disinterested World History 10 student, I suggest All Star Superman, where our protagonist takes on Herculean trials as the student realizes his hero is a flawed being; god-like, but not a god.

Superheroes are flawed. Stripped bare of their powers and technology they are flawed men and women who do not conform and fit into conventional society. The X-men are spokesmodels for the marginalized. Batman is constantly seeking an outlet for dealing with the death of his parents. Captain America struggles in vain to ensure morality, ethics and values in a world saturated in corruption. Readers, every single one of us, are flawed beings. Each of us longing to belong. Why not let our young readers engage with the stories of their cultural icons and heroes who reflect the very struggles they endure?

The role of the parent, the teacher, and the educational system is to provide mentorship for our students. To enlighten a future society to appreciate and concede to the perspectives of others. Teaching them that the literature and the characters they admire and love are not appropriate, unacceptable, or rubbish is teaching them to censure what they do not understand. Censorship is fundamentally backwards in a society where we value free thinking and education.

I will continue to teach with superheroes. When my students walk into my classroom they will be greeted with a poster of Spiderman and a collection of comic figurines lining my desk. I will discuss the movies they watch, the comics they read, and in turn students will continue to ask to be in my homeroom; the space they feel safe to express who they are and where they see their interests proudly positioned on the walls around them. My son will be encouraged to learn more about the superheroes he loves, he will be praised for the comics he himself creates, and when the time comes, with his mom and dad as excited as he is, he will watch superheroes on the big screen.

Banning superheroes is an act akin to the malevolence of super villains.

Don’t be a villain. Superhero responsibly.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke   @ldchiasson17

 

How Comics Saved My Life

Ok, so comics didn’t actually save my life.Keep-Calm-and-Read-Comics-565x800

There were no major catastrophes, no near death experiences, no apocalyptic-this-is-the-end moment of truth. Quite simply, I just felt lonely, and I desperately needed an outlet. Then one day, out of the blue, I serendipitously stumbled upon a call for participants in a new book club- Graphic Novel Book Club.

I thought to myself that it had been years since I really immersed myself in any comics. A year prior I had given a lecture to a Children’s Lit class about the profound story telling, stunning visuals, and intricacies of reading the comic genre. A year before that I revisited Riverdale because my childhood friend, Archie, found himself simultaneously engaged (albeit in different dimensions of reality) to both Betty and Veronica- obviously I needed to see how that one played out. But being immersed in comics was not part of my ordinary, everyday experience.

The first book we read was Maus, by Art Spiegleman. *Disclaimer* If you have never read Maus, and you are one of those critics who see little value in the genre of graphic novels and comics, put your prejudices aside and read it. It is a pulitzer prize winning work of art. READ IT*. As I was saying, Maus not only rekindle a love of reading the comic genre, the book club itself breathed new life into me.

Most people, if not all of us, struggle to accept who we are. No, let me rephrase that, we struggle to understand who we are. I have spent my whole life choosing paths and feigning interests because I am predisposed to be concerned with what others think of me. When I joined this book club, I was surrounded by a (small) group of people who loved what they loved and knew a hell of a lot about what they loved. And what was so amazing was that they aired their love and knowledge openly without concern for what others thought- and I was so envious. After the first meeting I realized I had more in common with these five strangers than most of the friends I had had my whole life, but I was too shy or too scared to embrace who I was.

As the months went by I read more than our reading list; I read books that looked good on the shelves, books that had stellar reviews, titles that were popular, titles that were less so, and with each one, I was enraptured-even with the ones I didn’t like- Ahem, Black Hole. Sorry again, Alex.

But the best part, aside from the hours and hours suspended in disbelief between the pages of a good book, was that I started to love something- passionately. As I got to know my new friends better I realized that I have been geeky all along. For the first time, here were a group of people willing to openly discuss the awesome cultural impact of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,the consequences of (possibly) inventing a flux capacitor, and superheroes- from their internal struggles to their morals and ethics- all things I had loved or dabbled in my whole life, but without much company. All at once I was openly geeky and above all I was completely comfortable and at ease with myself.

It has taken me a long time to realize that it is ok to love what I love. That I can be the academic person I have always been- the avid reader of Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, Tolkien, Austen and Whitman- to the eight year old, whose first crush was on Marty McFly. My youth came flooding back to me in a torrent of comic related memories, an abundance of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and it was here that I found myself. Here I am at home.

So no, comics didn’t technically save my life. Their presence brought me back to myself, pulling me out of a swelling sea of self doubt. But hey, that sounds like being saved to me.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke @ldchiasson17

 

My Son Likes Frozen and I Will Not “Let it Go”

olafhappyMy son, Thatcher, is six. He likes to get dirty, play superheroes, make fart jokes, and karate chop anyone willing to stand in as his own personal punching bag. He is a renaissance man; all at once an artist, an athlete, and burgeoning intellect. But my son lives by a code that makes me shudder: girls and princesses are gross!

When he was younger and started the ugh, girls! phase we would sit down and watch Barbie movies, read My Little Pony comics and discuss the ways in which boys and girls really weren’t that different from each other, and he liked these “girl” things just fine. In fact, as he became aware of individual interests and passion he saw very little distinction between the sexes. His mother is a superhero fanatic, sporting X-men t-shirts and debating the prowess of Wolverine vs. Sabertooth over the dinner table. His aunt is an avid hockey player who taught him skating basics when he began his foray into sports. His grandfather is the cook in the family. The roles that should be perceived as gender specific were always muddy. Not anymore.Now that he is in grade one, I have very little influence over how he perceives the gender divide in our society. Instead, his six year old comrades know best, and they don’t give girls enough credit.

So for my birthday, I asked my sister to buy me Frozen, and as a birthday request I asked my son to watch it with me. He loved it. Sure, Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer certainly helped, but more than the comic relief he took away a lesson that flies in the face of princess movies of the past: the princesses kicked butt and did not need princes to be strong.

This film has the potential to shed light on the power of femininity and the value of womanhood for boys who see girls as weaker and less interesting people. Elsa’s magic is as equally captivating as Dr. Strange’s magic, Anna’s ability to defend herself and save the day is as heroic as Spiderman. Most importantly, family loyalty and love supersedes romance and this is what he takes away from this film. When Anna pleads with Elsa to build a snowman, Thatcher looks up at his father and says, “I would be so sad if Cameron (his older step-brother) didn’t play with me anymore and wouldn’t tell me why”. This moment is the catalyst whereby he is no longer watching a “princess” movie, rather he is watching a captivating story unfold, and hey, there just happens to be princesses in it.

Stories teach us empathy. Whether we read them or watch them unfold on a screen, stories move us, and if they are good they encourage us to examine our lives and create parallels between reality and fantasy. That Thatcher could transport himself into a world where he might feel as equally heartbroken as Anna says he is engaging and contemplating her heartache. We live in a world that so often encourages our boys not to feel. Rather, we command them to act, to take, to be strong and loud. In our home we strive for reflection, introspection, and encourage emotion. We try very hard to eliminate any speech that would diminish the value of girls and women, “that’s so girly”, “you’re acting like a little girl,” and we embrace being ourselves. We embrace and consider sadness as much as we celebrate delight.SVEN2

Thatcher has a little sister. I hope that she will love superheroes like her mom, but whatever her choices, she will be supported. That is why it is so vital that her brother learn to respect the value of femininity. He will not see her as weak, he already celebrates her small daily accomplishments, but he will learn that she is just as capable as anyone else to succeed. He knows that she is worthy of time and energy. That her voice is meant to be heard, and that she can be as strong as he can. He will take this inherent respect for his sister and hopefully someday translate it to the girls who will flow in and out of his life. Each with a story to tell and a lesson in life to share.

In the meantime, I will endeavour to encourage a respect of girls and women in our home with the television we watch, the stories we read, and the way we interact with one another. We will continue to watch My Little Pony before school, and contemplate the changing tides of the Marvel Universe. We will sing the theme song from Pokemon as loudly as we sing Let it Go. He will dance and draw as proudly as he skates or punts a ball. He will learn that being a boy doesn’t confine him and limit him. Just as being a girl will not limit or confine his sister. As he grows in sensitivity and learns not to shy from emotion the doors to communication will open ever wider and consideration and understanding will shine through.

As for Frozen, we will laugh at Olaf and Sven, but we will mourn Anna and Elsa’s lost childhood together, too. And if a princess movie helps my son to laugh and love, then that is something to hold on to. I will not let it go.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke    @ldchiasson17