There’s a common denominator in mass shootings, and it’s not mental illness or video games.

“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” –Margaret Atwood

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At a memorial for the Dayton victims (credit: Albert Cesare)

The Dayton shooter had a rape list in high school. One girl who was on it assumed it was because she didn’t like him back; another acquaintance said, “He was kind of hateful to women because they didn’t want to date him.”

Of course he was.

Our response to mass shootings is sickeningly routine at this point, and part of this routine is hand-wringing over what could cause someone to do this. Often the bogeyman of “the mentally ill” is raised, even though millions of Americans have a mental illness, the overwhelming majority of them are not violent, and people with a mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes. And yes, sometimes, like in the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting (remember that one? It was so many shootings ago), mental illness is a factor. But sometimes, like in El Paso, the motivator is white supremacy. Sometimes, like in Aurora, IL (yes, we have to specify the state now), it’s anger over losing a job. …


Aziraphale and Crowley prove relationships don’t have to be physical to be valid

Good Omens — both the book and the new TV adaptation — is many things. It’s part apocalyptic adventure and part quirky comedy, and its characters range from an eccentric self-proclaimed witchfinder to the literal four horsemen of the apocalypse, only this time riding motorcycles. But at heart, it’s a love story.

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Credit: Amazon

The TV show plays this up, making the central focus the 6,000-year long relationship between the sometimes-bad angel Aziraphale and the sometimes-good demon Crowley. It’s a profoundly queer relationship — not just because the two are male-presenting, but because their relationship involves no physical intimacy. At first glance, this may seem less like valuable queer representation and more like a cop-out, a way to ensure plausible deniability about their relationship. …


Forget meditation — this is how I quiet my mind.

I’m bad at relaxing.

Laying on the couch all day, bingeing Netflix? Unheard of. Even when I’m sick, I have to force myself to be lazy, the whole time itching to be getting something done. I always bring a book to the beach because no way can I just sit there. And meditating? I’ve tried. I’ve failed.

This is largely because I have obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. If I don’t give my brain something to focus on, it’ll find a fear to focus on instead. It’s hard for me to slow down and let my mind wander.

Except when I’m birdwatching. …


“The Bells” makes us question what we were rooting for all along

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Lying in the scorched rubble, blood streaming down her face, screams echoing around her, Arya Stark begins to cry. It’s a shocking moment, one among many in “The Bells,” the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones. We’re used to seeing Arya as a stoic fighter. Though she got scared in the Battle of Winterfell, she kept fighting, and she ultimately triumphed. But here, she is helpless. Overwhelmed. She cannot save a single person; she can barely save herself. She and the audience learn that the saying is true: war is hell.

This was the overarching message of “The Bells,” and it was telegraphed perfectly. It’s why I loved the episode. Its unrelenting terror was what Game of Thrones has been marching toward all along.

We’ve seen the horrors of war before on Game of Thrones. The Battle of the Bastards, in particular, excelled at showing the on-the-ground feeling of warfare — the blood, the mud, the fear. Lots of people have died on the show; many of them were killed by Daenerys. So why does the burning of King’s Landing feel so much worse?

Because in most of those killings and battles, it was good guys vs. bad guys. Ramsay Bolton was clearly who we were supposed to be rooting against. The Meereenese slave owners who crucified children were clearly terrible. But now it’s “innocents” who are being killed. People who don’t deserve it.

Which begs the question: who does deserve a fiery death?

“The Bells” forces us, in hindsight, to re-examine all the deaths Daenerys caused on her quest to the throne. When it comes to her kills, there are many moral gradations between the slavers of Essos and the children of King’s Landing. Did Mirri Maz Duur deserve to be burned at the stake? After all, she killed Daenerys’s unborn child because her village was destroyed by the Dothraki and she herself was raped three times. Did the Meereenese nobleman chosen at random deserve to be burned and eaten by a dragon? (I’m aware he was also a former slaver, but that is not what he was being punished for — it was retaliation for a Sons of the Harpy attack that Daenerys admits he may have been innocent of.) What about Varys? What about the soldiers in the loot train, the Tarlys, the Golden Company?

You could argue that the latter signed up for it. But they signed up for a swordfight — a fight where they stood a chance — not the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. Another powerful scene in “The Bells” was Tyrion walking through the remnants of the Golden Company. Some of the charred bodies are still alive, crying out in agony; one corpse has flames flickering on it. It’s gruesome. We’re reminded that, even in a world filled with battles and death, death by fire is a horrific death — and it’s one that Daenerys relishes.

Some have said it’s too much of a leap that Daenerys would now kill innocents. But when you’ve been at war long enough, you stop thinking of anyone on the other side as innocent. Killing becomes second-nature. To Daenerys, the people of King’s Landing fall into one of two camps: potential enemies who will rebel when they learn she has the weaker claim to the throne, or acceptable collateral damage. Years of war have trained her to be paranoid and desensitized her to violence. That’s what war does. You start out killing people who “deserve” it. You start out delivering justice. But over time, those definitions become and broader and broader. As Barristan Selmy said of Aerys Targaryen, “[He] gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved, and each time it made him feel powerful and right. …


Sansa Stark and Nancy Wheeler are two characters proving you don’t have to act like a man in order to be a hero

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Dresses, flowers…and bravery (credit)

In one Game of Thrones season 8 teaser, Arya, Jon, and Sansa are standing in the crypts of Winterfell. In the final shot, they turn around to face an unseen danger. Jon and Arya draw their swords. Sansa stands tall in the middle.
Considering Sansa is my favorite character, I read her pose as strong. Regal. Ready to face the coming threat. She doesn’t need a sword; she has other, less tangible weapons. Of course, many fans didn’t see it that way. Some of the top comments on Facebook mocked her lack of a weapon: “Fucking useless as usual.” “She’s just there to whine and cry.” “She’s gonna attack them with lemon cakes.” “Jon still knows nothing. Arya still fears nothing. Sansa can still do nothing.” It makes me wonder if we’re even watching the same show. To me, Sansa is one of the smartest, strongest characters on the show, and a serious contender for the Iron Throne. She’s a badass — but because that badassery comes in an unabashedly feminine exterior, it gets overlooked.

Our stereotypical image of a “strong female character” is someone like Arya: tough, bold, stoic, a great fighter. In other words, masculine. She shares this with many of her GoT counterparts. Brienne is often mistaken for a man, Lyanna Mormont declares she won’t sit around “knitting by the fire” while men fight for her, and while Cersei and Daenerys are both beautiful, I doubt anyone would describe them as “girly girls.” Season one Sansa, in contrast, is spoiled and naïve, rolls her eyes at Arya’s tomboy ways, and dreams of being a beautiful queen, just like in the songs she’s grown up hearing. And that’s exactly why I love her. Sansa shows you don’t have to sacrifice your femininity in order to be strong. …


The show’s genius lay, surprisingly, in its embrace of realism

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I first got a sense of how far Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was willing to go in season one, episode eleven. Rebecca has ruined her chances with Josh, the guy she’s obsessed with. In her head she’s belting, “you ruined everything, you stupid bitch,” while in reality she’s sitting on her living room floor, surrounded by broken glass. As she picked up a shard and examined it, the thought came to me: she’s going to attempt suicide. Suddenly, it was clear her “self-indulgent self-loathing” was not exaggerated. She truly did think she was fat and stupid and deserving of hatred.

The actual suicide attempt wouldn’t come until season three. But that I could see the show taking such a dark turn was an early sign that this wasn’t your typical comedy. The humor was a mask for utter misery, something CXG would do time and time again in its songs. (It’s a balance best illustrated by the season one theme song, in which an animated sun gleefully belts, “She’s so broken insi-i-i-de!”) Considering my taste, it’s not surprising that I fell for a musical that references The Second Sex in its pilot. What makes me most love the show, though, is not its hilarity or catchy songs, but its willingness to get serious. …


In memory of the little robot that brought us together

The tributes poured in. Social media filled with posts from politicians and journalists, scientists and fans. Photos passed around, memories shared, art made. We were reminded of all her accomplishments. The news had been coming for a while, but that didn’t soften the blow. Many voiced the hope that it wasn’t goodbye, just see you later. Tears were shed over her last words: “my battery is low and it is getting dark.” A hashtag began to trend: #thanksoppy.

After 15 years, the Mars rover Opportunity had been declared dead.

I’ll freely admit, I joined in this mourning. And as I did, I kept asking myself, “why am I so sad about this?” I know, rationally, that despite the cute nickname, despite the selfies and Twitter feed and themed wake-up songs, Opportunity could not feel. Opportunity is a robot, tens of millions of miles away, who cannot hear our tributes and wouldn’t understand them anyway. …


You don’t have to own books to love them

Recently, Book People were in a tizzy over Marie Kondo — specifically, her belief that bookshelves should be just as subject to decluttering as everything else in the house. Twitter erupted in horror that Kondo could even suggest getting rid of books. One viral tweet led to a frenzied think piece in the Guardian. From the tone of the response, it seemed as if Marie Kondo was personally entering people’s homes, holding a gun to their head, and telling them to get rid of half their collection NOW.

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How I came to love Chicago

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I never intended to love Chicago.

I only came here for college, and I wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of urban living. I “stuck around” after college, as I often tell people, because it was where the jobs and friends were. I chose city living in general; Chicago just happened to be the closest one. But the longer I’ve lived here, and the more cities I’ve seen, the more I’ve come to appreciate Chicago itself. I’m proud to call myself a Chicagoan, especially in the face of the bad rap it gets from the rest of the country.

I love Chicago for a lot of the typical reasons: miles of public lakefront, world-class museums, diversity, gorgeous architecture, deep-dish pizza, the wealth of neighborhoods that each have their own personalities. But of course, that’s all stuff tourists see, too. Food and attractions make people visit a city, but it’s not what makes them stay there. What’s really made me love Chicago is its character. …


“Man, I hope you live a long, long life. Long enough to see Michael Jordan dunk, Michael Jackson dance, Mike Tyson punch — really, just any black guy named Michael! … And Obama, he’s the president. 2008. That’s gonna suck for you! I hope you see it all, because the future is not on your side.” –Rufus to a racist in the 1930s, in the Timeless pilot

Did you know there’s currently a network show about a diverse group of time-traveling heroes fighting to stop a white supremacist organization from altering history for its own benefit?

Probably not, and I don’t blame you. Timeless has never done great in ratings; it was actually cancelled after its first season, then dramatically un-cancelled a few days later after uproar from fans. After its second season, those fans (which now include Leslie Jones and Kelly Clarkson) are once again fighting for its survival. Despite universally positive critical reviews, it continues to struggle in ratings, and while most bubble shows have been renewed or cancelled by now, NBC has yet to announce its fate. I’m worried, not just because I personally love the show, but because while it’s the perfect antidote to current politics, most people don’t know it exists. If it were cancelled, they wouldn’t know we’d lost one of the most progressive shows on TV right now. …

About

Erin Hart

Originally from small-town Michigan, now living in Chicago and working as a children’s librarian, writing personal essays, pop culture analyses, and more

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