There are two prevailing schools of thought when it comes to criticism of a text. Either:
-“I consider this worth my while, therefor it possesses no flaws and anyone who criticizes it is an idiot and needs to be told so.”
-“I perceive flaws in this, therefor it is worthless and anyone who likes it is an idiot and needs to be told so.”
Both of which are stupid and, frankly, you need to be told so. Let’s do an exercise with a thing I like.
So, I really like Gingaman. Considering all my traffic comes from Twitter, anybody reading this the day I post it knows what Gingaman is. For those unaware (if any), click the link or just understand it’s Power Rangers.
I like Gingaman a lot. Maybe more than is strictly rational. I’ve liked it for around 15 years. It’s my favorite Super Sentai series, and depending on where I stand on the Tired Of Life Spectrum on a given day, it might be my favorite thing. I have no fewer than three blog posts about it drafted or outlined. I need you to understand this because you’re probably conditioned to disbelieve me once I say this:
I have huge, huge problems with Gingaman. To make matters worse by internet criticism standards, they’re even feminist problems.
I know. I know. Calm yourselves. I have basic but powerful philosophical problems with a thing but still enjoy it. Shock n’ awe. I’m committed to equality but I accept a substandard level of equal perfection in my media sometimes. Shawkanaw. Fuckin’ bear with me.
The majority of my problems have to do with Saya, the Pink Ranger and (for a while, at least) only good-aligned female character with a whole lot of narrative importance.
Gingaman is a team based around elemental powers and animals. Where the boys get powers like lightning and fire, Saya gets… flowers. Because girls. Where the boys get kickass animal motifs like lions and wolves, Saya gets… a housecat.
A pink housecat.
You see this a lot in texts with a single significant woman. Because there’s only one of her, it’s apparently real easy to fall into the trap of having her rep anything and everything superficially Girly.
It should be noted that the series’ head writer is a woman and more than likely can’t be blamed for the absence of other woman Rangers because character/suit designs that would determine such things come down to writers from above. “Here’s the only woman. Her theme is flowers and her companion animal is a giant pink housecat that looks like hot trash after a heavy rain because we tried to make it look feminine and cute but it still has to be a dude on all fours in a foam suit when we film. Good luck!”
I’d go out and drink!
To make your sole woman hero’s theme flowers and housecats is stupid. It’s a stupid thematic decision, it’s a stupid story decision, and it’s especially stupid considering that all the boys get kickass powers and legit wild animals as companions. It would feel less stupid if there was another lady Ranger around, but there’s not. She’s the only one, and her theme is pink flower kitty cats. It’s stupid.
Hell, if they wanted to go the plant life route, plants in general would have been just fine. Plant life, life in general, whatever. It would still be hack, but it would be a hippie-dippy Earth Mother kind of hack in keeping with the show’s Jomon Era Elfquest aesthetic. But no. Pink flowers and housecats. Jesus.
Reading this, you’d think I hate Gingaman, or at least hate this character. But I don’t. I love them both.
For being, shall we say, thematically disadvantaged, Saya isn’t an inept or inactive character. She’s a capable warrior who can hold her own against the teams resident meat tank, she’s got savvy and cunning she puts to use unraveling monster plots. She never feels like dead weight. She doesn’t feel less complicated or less culpable than the boys.
There’s times when the writing doesn’t do her adequate justice, and I’ll grant that it’s often… incidental stuff. At one point a monster wounds/curses her in a place that’s. Uh. Unfortunate.
And you’d think that would be an excuse to put her out of fights and have the boys fret over her a lot, but. No. The boys give her her sword and take off to chase the monster responsible while she recovers, but that’s as far as fretting or defending goes. She then fights through incapacitating pain and, through collaboration with another woman, comes charging back to save everybody else.
It’s awesome, and for me it’s emblematic of the writing’s ability to overcome the limitations of the structure it got handed. You might only get one woman, she might be a pink flower kitty cat friend, but you can goddamn respect her. The writing respects her, and is consistently above using her as sympathy bait.
Speaking of Hyuuga (that’s the tied up guy with the head wound, not the chained up beanpole), that’s Saya’s… sort of… love interest? It doesn’t exactly go anywhere, but unless the show’s trying to do something I don’t detect her interest is pretty clear. There’s a whole lot of, “I don’t like Hyuuga! What are you talking about? He’s like a big brother to me, don’t be silly!” which is blatantly false. I thought I’d get sick of that, but I don’t.
Every single time, I love it. I love it because neither of them turns into a dipshit over it, but more than that I love it because it retains that air of the story and the other characters respecting her. Even if he’s a boy, even if he’s the older partner and a role model to her, their interactions are predominately level. They fight together, they get to be cool as shit together. It’s all the same shit that makes me want to mash all the dudes in these shows together and make them kiss.
So I have at least a thousand words of love and devotion for this show and this character with which I still have problems. Problems that reduce me to using the word ‘stupid’ over and over and over again, almost as if rage impairs my vocabulary by overheating my brain. I feel that aggravation very strongly, and for a reason not many internet critics seem to consciously grasp.
Loving a thing – not being infatuated with it, not worshiping it, not being obsessed with it, but loving it – means wanting it to do better. Criticism of things we love or communities we inhabit isn’t about tearing them down, or it shouldn’t be. I don’t point out the social flaws in comics/games/fantasy novels/the whole of speculative media because I hate those things and want them to not exist, I do it because I love those things and want them to become less laughable and shitty.
It’s like loving a person, truly loving them and not just being enamored of them: You don’t just want them to be happy and with you, you want them to be healthy and capable of standing on their own. You don’t set up absurd standards and either go into Full Denial Mode or cut all ties when those absurd standards prove unreachable. You don’t decide, “I love this person, therefor this person is my standards and any horseshit they get up to is fine because I’ve lashed myself to them and damn the consequences to us both.”
A lot of nerd culture is built in fixation and infatuation, and these are not healthy things. I make an effort to conduct myself according to the philosophy of love, even if it’s tough love from time to time.
This has been Cai, and I didn’t know this was also a post about relationships until I finished it.