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(Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , chats with African-Americans during a door-to-door campaign in 1964.
After this last tumultuous year of political rancor and racial animus, many people could well be asking what can sustain them over the next coming days: How do they make the space for self-care alongside a constant call to activism? Or, how do they turn off their phones, when there are more calls to be made and focus instead on inward cultivation?
As a historian of American race and religion, I have studied how figures in American history have struggled with similar questions. For some, such as the philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, the answer was to retreat to Walden Pond. But for the African-Americans who grew up with the legacy of segregation, disfranchisement, lynching, and violence, such a retreat was unthinkable. Among them was Martin Luther King Jr.
On this anniversary of King’s birthday, it’s worth looking at how King learned to integrate spiritual growth and social transformation. One major influence on King’s thought was the African-American minister, theologian, and mystic Howard Thurman.
The influence of Howard Thurman
Born in 1899, Thurman was 30 years older than King, the same age, in fact, as King’s father. Through his sermons and teaching at Howard University and Boston University, he influenced intellectually and spiritually an entire generation that became the leadership of the civil rights movement.
Among his most significant contributions was bringing the ideas of nonviolence to the movement. It was Thurman’s trip to India in 1935, where he met Mahatma Gandhi, that was greatly influential in incorporating the principles of nonviolence in the African-American freedom struggle.
At the close of the meeting, which was long highlighted by Thurman as a central event of his life, Gandhi reportedly told Thurman that “it may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world.” King and others remembered and repeated that phrase during the early years of the civil rights movement in the 1950s.
Thurman and King were both steeped in the black Baptist tradition. Both thought long about how to apply their church experiences and theological training into challenging the white supremacist ideology of segregation. However, initially their encounters were brief.
Thurman had served as dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University from 1953-1965. King was a student there when Thurman first assumed his position in Boston and heard the renowned minister deliver some addresses. A few years later, King invited Thurman to speak at his first pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery.
Ironically, their most serious personal encounter, that gave Thurman his opportunity to influence King personally, and help prepare him for struggles to come, came as a result of a tragedy.
A crucial meeting in hospital
On Sept. 20, 1958, a mentally disturbed African-American woman named Izola Ware Curry came to a book signing in upper Manhattan. There, King was signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story.” Curry moved to the front of the signing line, took out a sharp-edged letter opener and stabbed the 29-year-old minister, who had just vaulted to national prominence through his leadership of the Montgomery bus boycott.
King barely survived. Doctors later told King that, if he had sneezed, he easily could have died. Of course, King later received a fatal gunshot wound in April 1968. Curry lived her days in a mental institution, to the age of 97.
It was while recuperating in the hospital afterward, that King received a visit from Thurman. While there, Thurman gave the same advice he gave to countless others over decades: that King should take the unexpected, if tragic, opportunity, to step out of life briefly, meditate on his life and its purposes, and only then move forward.
Thurman urged King to extend his rest period by two weeks. It would, as he said, give King “time away from the immediate pressure of the movement” and to “rest his body and mind with healing detachment.” Thurman worried that “the movement had become more than an organization; it had become an organism with a life of its own,” which potentially could swallow up King.
King wrote to Thurman to say, “I am following your advice on the question.”
King’s spiritual connection with Thurman
King and Thurman were never personally close. But Thurman left a profound intellectual and spiritual influence on King. King, for example, reportedly carried his own well-thumbed copy of Thurman’s best-known book, “Jesus and the Disinherited,”in his pocket during the long and epic struggle of the Montgomery bus boycott.
In his sermons during the 1950s and 1960s, King quoted and paraphrased Thurman extensively. Drawing from Thurman’s views, King understood Jesus as friend and ally of the dispossessed – to a group of Jewish followers in ancient Palestine, and to African-Americans under slavery and segregation. That was precisely why Jesus was so central to African-American religious history.
Thurman was not an activist, as King was, nor one to take up specific social and political causes to transform a country. He was a private man and an intellectual. He saw spiritual cultivation as a necessary accompaniment to social activism.
As Walter Fluker, editor of the Howard Thurman Papers Project, has explained, the private mystic and the public activist found common ground in understanding that spirituality is necessarily linked to social transformation. Private spiritual cultivation could prepare the way for deeper public commitments for social change. King himself, according to one biographer, came to feel that the stabbing and enforced convalescence was “part of God’s plan to prepare him for some larger work” in the struggle against southern segregation and American white supremacy.
In a larger sense, the discipline of nonviolence required a spiritual commitment and discipline that came, for many, through self-examination, meditation and prayer. This was the message Thurman transmitted to the larger civil rights movement. Thurman combined, in the words of historian Martin Marty, the “inner life, the life of passion, the life of fire, with the external life, the life of politics.”
Spiritual retreat and activism
King’s stabbing was a bizarre and tragic event, but in some sense it gave him the period of reflection and inner cultivation needed for the chaotic coming days of the civil rights struggle. The prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama, where in mid-1963 King penned his classic “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” also accidentally but critically provided much the same spiritual retreat for reflections that helped transform America.
The relationship of Thurman’s mysticism and King’s activism provides a fascinating model for how spiritual and social transformation can work together in a person’s life. And in society more generally.
It’s official: Zendaya is playing Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming Marvel film, Spider-Man: Homecoming. But why is everyone quick to assume that Mary Jane is black? What if it turns out that Mary Jane is biracial, like the actress playing her? And if this is true, how will this positively affect other biracial girls of African-American and Caucasian heritage that see her on-screen?
There has been plenty of talk about the lack of mono-racial people of color (for lack of a better word) for a while now. But it seems like most people don’t turn that conversation to a group of people of color who have been unrepresented, sometimes twice or many times over: biracial and multiracial people of color.
Technically, most of us in the U.S. have at least one other ethnicity in our heritage. But most of us claim just one. In many respects, the “one drop rule” still applies, even in the mouths of people who state that they don’t believe it. If you look black, you’re black. If you look Asian, you’re Asian, etc. Halle Berry famously said that her mother, who is white, told her to accept that she’s black, because that’s all anyone would see. Even President Barack Obama, who is biracial, is constantly called the first black president, even though that title negates the other half of his heritage. The same is happening with Zendaya’s Mary Jane; most people assume she’s playing a black Mary Jane, when it could be that she’s playing a biracial Mary Jane, a character that could draw on Zendaya’s own experiences as a biracial woman.
I should stress that I’m putting asterisks and air-quotes around the word “could.” Knowing how Marvel is at representation sometimes, there’s the overwhelming possibility that Zendaya is playing a black character. However, this particular film has the most inclusive casting of a Marvel film, and none of it seems like stunt casting. This film, as far as I’m concerned, is a watershed moment for Marvel and could signal a higher degree of focus and sensitivity towards casting. This sensitivity might also be applied to characterization. If it is, that would be a boon for biracial people, specifically those of African-American and Caucasian heritage, because biracial and multiracial people are hardly ever showcased in the media, and when they are, they are usually shown in an objectifying and dehumanizing light.
According to The Critical Media Project, the 19th and 20th centuries generally showcased biracial people as the “tragic mulatto,” the byproduct of a sordid relationship between a white and black couple. These characters were usually seen in a binary light, being tragic figures because they couldn’t fit into either the white or black worlds. The context in which these characters were viewed was from a white point of view; the only value these characters had were if they could pass as white, and if they couldn’t then their supposed tragedy made them unfit to exist in a world that only viewed race in terms of “undesirable” blackness and “exceptional” whiteness. There are several films like this that have been shown on TCM, but the most popular one has to be Imitation of Life, in which the biracial woman rejects her black mother, passes as white, and remains as such until her boyfriend leaves her because of her black heritage. (Spoiler alert: Her mother dies of a broken heart after her daughter tells her she hates her; the daughter only comes to her senses after her mother has died and she flings herself onto her mother’s casket during her funeral procession.)
Today though, biracial and multiracial people are now thought of as the product of an exotic, idealized future. This sounds like it should be positive, but it still puts biracial and multiracial people in terms of theory, not reality. To quote The Critical Media Project:
“…[T]he increasingly globalized nature of identity means that the conversation around mixed race tends to move beyond an isolated focus on black/white issues to incorporate other racial and ethnic identities. Mixed race individuals are often talked about in futuristic terms, conceptualized as modern hybrid beings that signal a faster, stronger and better world ahead. They are also often sexualized and fetishized as mysterious, exotic, sexy and extraordinary looking.”
Even though the tone of the conversation has shifted, biracial and multiracial people are still afflicted with stereotyping and objectification. Maybe one reason we rarely see biracial and multiracial people represented in the media is because too many people still view the idea of a multiracial society as a futuristic, sci-fi world that isn’t here yet, when in fact, it is here. It’s been here for centuries. In short, things have got to get out of the theoretical and into the practical when it comes to representing biracial and multiracial people as people, people who live in the now. Zendaya’s Mary Jane could go a long way in beginning to right that wrong.
The biggest film featuring an interracial family in recent memory is Infinitely Polar Bear, starring Zoe Saldana and Mark Ruffalo. Mirren Lyell for Mixed Nation also cites Nickelodeon shows Sanjay and Craig and The Haunted Hathaways as recent TV shows depicting interracial families. But there should be more films like this. Indeed, there should be more media of all types about multiracial and biracial people. As John Paul Brammer of Blue Nation Review wrote:
In the context of the media diversity debate, multiracial people exist in a precarious place. On the one hand, they seem to be left out for the sake of a more direct approach to criticism of media representation of minorities. “We need more black characters” or “We need more Asian characters” are strong demands with a history of mischaracterization and discrimination behind them. “We need more multiracial people of color” is seen as a level of intersectionality that Hollywood simply can’t process.
On the other hand, multiracial characters are often employed as copouts in the media, used to represent ethnic minorities in a more “palatable” way for mainstream audiences. Multiracial black actors with light skin are hired over black actors with darker skin. White Latinos are hired over Latinos with ethnic features.
Even films with progressive racial themes have come under fire for this. The film Dear White People, a film created to represent black people and discuss white racism, was criticized for casting as its protagonist a biracial, light-skinned black woman.
More representations of biracial and multiracial characters could help quell Hollywood’s usage of actors and actresses of mixed heritage as social and political wedges. More representations would also help build the self-esteem of many kids who don’t see characters who represent all of their heritage on screen. According to this article by Astrea Greig, MA for the American Psychological Association:
“Despite large growth, the multiracial population still comprises a very small fraction of the U.S. population (Humes, Jones, & Ramirez, 2011). Moreover, multiracial people in the media are often depicted as monoracial (CNPAAEMI, 2009; Dalmage, 2000; Shih & Sanchez, 2005). As a result of the small population and lack of media representation, multiracial youth may feel that they do not have a multiracial community and lack role models to help them understand their mixed identity (Dalmage, 2000; Shih & Sanchez, 2005). Multiracial role models are thus extremely helpful for mixed children and teens (Shih & Sanchez, 2005). Moreover, having a community of others with a mixed racial and/or ethnic background has shown to help improve psychological well-being (Iijima Hall, 2004; Sanchez & Garcia, 2009).”
If Marvel allowed it, Mary Jane Watson could be one such role model for biracial children. Her story, which as many have said is independent of race, would go a long way to represent biracial and multiracial people not as an ideal or as a tragedy, but as an ordinary person who faces personal and social issues big and small. A biracial Mary Jane would be yet a further stepping stone towards true identity equality in Hollywood and in society.
What do you think about a biracial Mary Jane? Write about it in the comments section below!
Star Wars is, of course, highly covetable science fiction. We’ve got “tales of daring-do” (as Stan Lee would say), awesome anti-heroes, a young person on a hero’s journey, and one of the biggest villains of all time, Darth Vader. But one constant that might escape the ableist point of view is that all of the Star Wars films involve a relationship between the main character(s) and disability. Specifically, one of the central themes of the the film series is how disability comes to define and/or change the character, either taking them further along their hero’s journey or down the path to the Dark Side. The paths Anakin/Darth Vader and Luke take inform how Finn, another character with a disability, will be treated as he develops in the films after The Force Awakens.
Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader
Anakin Skywalker’s change into Darth Vader is steeped in a classic film stereotype: defining a villain by their disability. Anakin starts his villain’s journey simply enough; emotionally, his ambitions toward greatness lead him to believe that his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, is failing to teach him all there is to becoming a Jedi. Anakin’s distrust of Obi-Wan and the Jedi Order as a whole (which, in fairness, have their part to play in Anakin’s descent by doing nothing to solve the problem of Anakin’s dissatisfaction within the Order) leave Anakin to become easy prey to Emperor Palpatine. Palpatine’s knowledge of the Force allows him to see that Anakin has the potential to become something much greater than what he is, and he decides to use that potential to start the Empire. Not to mention that Anakin believes Palpatine will be able to save Padme from death in childbirth, something Anakin comes to believe the Jedi wouldn’t do (because it’d be an interference with the will of the Force). You’d think with the Jedi being powerful individuals themselves, they’d want to harness all of the power Anakin has for good instead of emotionally leaving him by the wayside, but that’s a topic for a different article, an article that could also compare Anakin to Kylo Ren, who also became a member of the Dark Side due to neglect (in his case, parental neglect).
That by itself has the makings of a great showcase for a hero’s descent into evil (and it would have been great, if the scripts and character development were actually fully realized). But the prequel series decides to ape the original trilogy by having Anakin lose an arm to Count Dooku. Anakin’s first disability is something that defines him both as an able-bodied hero, by taking a sacrifice in order to stop the Evil Sith, and as a disabled villain, a man who will eventually defect from the Order and follow Palpatine.
The loss of his arm leads Anakin to take revenge on Dooku, an act that is taught against by the Order. Anakin cuts off Dooku’s hands and his head, which StarWars.com calls “one of the many turning points for Anakin.” Connecting disability to violence is something that defines the “Disabled Villain” stereotype; because a character isn’t fully able-bodied, the character then becomes angry at the world and decides to take out his or her aggression on others. (It’s also worth mentioning that before and after he loses his hand, Anakin kills the Tuskens and the entire crop of young Jedi trainees, so it’s as if his his inner discord becomes symbolized by his mechanized hand, the thing that takes him out of the “normalized” dynamic and into the space of the “Other.”)
Anakin goes deeper towards his destiny after leaving the Order and siding with Palpatine, who himself becomes disfigured by Mace Windu (after the Order finally put two and two together and realize that Palpatine has been the mastermind the entire time). During his fight with Palpatine, Windu becomes disabled as well—Anakin cuts his hand off, then Palpatine uses his Force electricity to shock Windu out of the window (which strangely has no glass at all). There is a casual quality to the way disability is conflated with evil; two individuals with disabilities are fighting against the “good guy,” who is able-bodied. The theme of inflicting pain on others because of the “evil” disability continues. As Palpatine tells Anakin at some point in the prequels, he must let his hate flow through him.
Media Smarts, ran by Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy, backs up this reading of Anakin’s anger and Palpatine’s direction to embrace hate as a consequence of disability. “Throughout history physical disabilities have been used to suggest evil or depravity, such as the image of pirates as having missing hands, eyes and legs. More recently, characters have been portrayed as being driven to crime or revenge by resentment of their disability,” states the site. Media Smarts gives the example of the film Wild Wild West, in which Doctor Loveless has lost his legs. (The site also mentions that the TV version of Doctor Loveless uses another type of disability, dwarfism, to show villainy).
That hate Palpatine carries becomes shown as disfigurement; the hate Anakin carries becomes shown not only as a lost hand, but the loss of all four of his limbs as well as disfigurement. The final battle of the prequel trilogy features Anakin and his once-master Obi-Wan battling it out on an effects-heavy volcano. How they didn’t die just by the fumes and fire is a huge scientific and common-sensical oversight. But the ending of the fight once again conflates evil to disability. Anakin’s transformation into the Darth Vader we know comes after Obi-Wan leaves him for dead in the lava, leaving Palpatine’s droids to piece him back together inside a suit/breathing apparatus. The suit becomes the only thing keeping Anakin alive, but the suit—and Anakin’s disabilities—become symbolic of Anakin’s metamorphosis into a legendary villain. His use of the Force is one thing that struck fear into his underlings, but his classic muffled breathing through his apparatus is what audibly defines him throughout the original series and cements the erroneous relationship between disability and evil for the viewer.
What is interesting is that later on, Vader’s disability makes Vader become a different type of disability stereotype—the Victim.
Media Smarts cites Jenny Morris’ article “A Feminist Perspective” (part of the collection Framed Interrogating Disability in the Media), which examines how disability is used to make the viewer feel pathos with the character. Morris describes it as “…a metaphor…for the message that the non-disabled writer wishes to get across, in the same way that ‘beauty’ is used. In doing this, the writer draws on the prejudice, ignorance and fear that generally exist towards disabled people, knowing that to portray a character with a humped back, with a missing leg, with facial scars, will evoke certain feelings in the reader or audience.” Media Centre cites A Christmas Carol‘s Tiny Tim and The Elephant Man‘s John Merrick as characters whose disabilities are used to garner sympathy, and the moment Luke takes off Darth Vader’s mask during his death scene is also using disability to create sympathy in the viewer. His burned and disfigured face makes him pitiable when Luke finally sees him. Now, he’s not a villain; he’s a man who has finally been redeemed and must be forgiven by Luke and the audience.
Luke’s journey involves disability too, but his tale is laced with yet another stereotype; the “Hero.” Media Centre calls the “Hero” stereotype one involving the character overcoming their disability in order to prove their worth. Stirling Media Research Institute’s Lynne Roper wrote in her article “Disability in Media” that this stereotype is a way for characters to conform to “normal” standards “in a heroic way.” Media Centre uses superheroes like Daredevil (who is blind), Silhouette (who is partially paralyzed) and Oracle (who is a wheelchair user) as examples of the “Hero” stereotype, and Luke adheres to this stereotype as well. Luke is deep into his Jedi training by the time he comes into direct contact with Darth Vader, and his fight with Vader becomes a lynchpin moment for Luke. Vader cuts off his hand and reveals to him that he’s Luke’s father.
There are two choices Luke can make; either he gives into the Dark Side—aka become a disabled villain stereotype—like his father, or he can rise above his father’s expectations of him. Luke chooses the latter, but it’s fascinating how disability is used as means to set up a choice between good and evil in the original series, and how the prequels decide to continue this train of thought.
The theme of disability defining good and evil still endures in The Force Awakens. Towards the end of the film, Finn gets sliced up his spine by Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.
Medically speaking, Finn should have a severe spinal cord injury, most likely rendering him unable to walk or even use his arms. It’s already predestined, by evidence from the other films, that Finn’s disability will propel him even further on the good path (which could include the Jedi path, since the jury is still out on whether he’s Force sensitive).
It’s also clear by all the training John Boyega’s been doing that Finn will be walking in the film. This also ties into another theme of Star Wars: If there is a disability, it must be “normalized.” Anakin goes through excruciating pain as his fake limbs become fused to his body. Luke has a mechanical hand that seems to be linked to his nervous system, just like his father’s. It’s expected that Finn will have a mechanical spine that also has fused to his nervous system, allowing Finn to walk, run, and do other able-bodied functions. In a way, the new appendages not only “normalize” these characters post-injury, but it also suggests to the audience that they are now superhuman to a degree. They can now defy regular expectations and either become a powerful villain or The Chosen One.
Star Wars is a fascinating film series that manages to encompass several themes that are at the root of great science fiction, the main one being that the future features those that accept others regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or disability. But, despite that ideal, the film series still showcases disability in a binary way. Either you’re a once-in-a-lifetime hero or an all-powerful villain if you’re missing a limb. You can probably assume that at some point, Kylo Ren, who wants to live up to his grandfather Darth Vader, will have a missing limb as well at some point in Episode 8. Remember: he still has to complete his training.
Elliot Anderson is a fidgety, nervous, highly intelligent, strange, closed-off individual, yet he’s also the hero in the fight against debilitating capitalism. I’ve written for Entertainment Weekly how Mr. Robot‘s Elliot (Rami Malek) is the Superman of the post-post-modern age, but in that article, I wrote about his superheroism from a costume history point of view. This time around, I’m writing about his heroism from a very personal point of view. Like all superheroes, Elliot has a superpower, and even though he’s a hacker, his superpower isn’t his hacking skill. It’s his high sensitivity, the innate thing that allows him to see what others can’t see about his environment and society.
High sensitivity is something that was (and to some degree, still is) seen as a character flaw in a person. If you were someone who was easily disturbed by loud external disturbances, the emotions of others, and even your own emotions, you’ve probably come into contact with some who have either said you were making up stuff or blowing things out of proportion. You might have even been told you were weak and needed to toughen up. I was told that at five years old by a elementary school nurse. Thankfully, the school counselor was there to reprimand the nurse. “She’s sensitive!” she yelled, angry in my defense. I was appreciative, but the label “sensitive” was still something I didn’t understand, and since I didn’t understand what she meant, I took at is meaning that I had a fatal flaw. In mind, that fatal flaw kept representing itself every time I was moved to tears to by something, or failed to do something “quick enough,” or failed to react like a lot of the other kids around me, or when I felt scared and tense when the class would act up (leading to tons of noise from the kids and the teachers). In short, school was never my favorite, even though I excelled.
I didn’t grow up going to church every Sunday, but I came to dread the times we did go to church. Not because of the long wait time until church let out, but because the pastors would scream excitedly. Then everyone would start screaming excitedly. It was too much for me to deal with, so because of that, I could care less about going to church. (Well, there are other reasons I could care less about going to church, but that’s another article).
All throughout my childhood and into my teen years, I was certain something was wrong with me. I was certain I was too sensitive and needed to toughen up and hide my emotions so I could be perceived as “normal.” Personally, I think my deep satisfaction led to a lot of mental strife, like OCD, particularly Pure O symptoms, in which you think there’s always something wrong with you and worry that you might have missed some horrible thing about yourself that others could find out about. I was so worried about hiding myself and becoming “normal” that I caused more mental damage than I realized at the time. But once I read about high sensitivity, things started clicking into place a lot faster.
A quick overview of high sensitivity is that highly sensitive people (HSPs) are quick to be affected by small and large external and/or emotional disturbances.
Dr. Elaine Aron, the leading expert on the mindset of the highly sensitive person (HSP), states that about 20 percent of Americans are hypersensitive, which, despite still being a minority percentage, is still a surprising lot, given how Americans are often stereotyped by the rest of the world (and sometimes other Americans) as being loud and obnoxious. Aron lists some of these traits common to highly sensitive people on her site, hsperson.com:
• Being overwhelmed by bright lights, coarse fabrics, sirens, loud noises, or strong smells
• Getting rattled and flustered when tasked with doing a lot in a short amount of time
• Needing to withdraw to yourself to ease overstimulation to the environment
• Arranging your life “to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations”
• Having a “rich and complex inner life”
The site Highly Sensitive People states that HSPs are”mainly seen as shy, introverted and socially inhibited (or can be socially extroverted). They are often acutely aware of others’ emotions. Sensitive people learn early in life to mask their wonderful attributes of sensitivity, intuition and creativity. Highly Sensitive People also defines HSPs as having “low tolerance to noise, glaring, strong odors, clutter and or/chaos,” as having more body awareness than others and instinctively knowing when their environment isn’t helping them. HSPs are also described as probably feeling like “misfits,” as people who enjoy time alone and need time by themselves to recover from social interaction. “HSPs compensate for their sensitivity by either protecting themselves by being alone too much, or, by trying to be ‘normal’ or sociable which then over-stimulates them into stress,” states the site. The culture HSPs might grow up in could exacerbate their feelings of not belonging. “Culturally, HSPs do not fit the tough, stoic and outgoing ideals of modern society and what is portrayed in the entertainment media,” it states. “Spiritually, sensitive people have a greater capacity for inner searching. This is one of their greatest blessings.”
So what does my personal testimony and all of this information have to do with Elliot? For one, I’ve never identified with a character as much as I do Elliot. Second, I think a character like Elliot is a character we should see more often on television. We all can’t be overconfident, exuberant extroverts like Beaumont Rosewood from FOX’s Rosewood, for example, who is the epitome of the “Confident, yet Complicated, Virile Male” trope. Or the Marvel Cinematic Universe superheroes, all of which are now bleeding into each other by how similar their personalities and character quirks are. How can everyone on that team compartmentalize their emotions and have the energy to provide witty banter? Does no one have a mental breakdown from all of that stress? Even Ichabod Crane from FOX’s Sleepy Hollow is too strong to be real at times. If anyone should be deep in their feelings, it should be him, since he’s a man out of time and he’s someone who never got to properly say goodbye to his family.
Women are generally characterized worse than men. We’re only just now getting complex female characters, thanks to Orange is the New Black, How to Get Away with Murder, Scandal, Orphan Black, House of Cards, and others. But still, women’s emotions are often second fiddle to the fashion or makeup she’s sporting (or the lack thereof). Too many times, the fashion makes the character instead of the character’s emotional landscape being the prime informer of character decisions. Or, even worse, the character falls into trope. She’s “complicated” because she’s a sexy assassin, or because she’s a doctor who doesn’t play by the rules, or because she’s an undercover operative who uses her sexuality to gain information (too often, a woman’s “complicated” characterization revolves around how much they allow themselves to be a sex object for the male viewership). “The complicated relationship between women characters, beauty, fashion, and worthiness can be another article by itself, but the point is that a woman’s characterization still needs work, and most characterizations don’t portray a woman who faces depression, OCD (real OCD, not the cutsey, stereotyped stuff usually shown on TV), high sensitivity, and society’s mischaracterization of both, but still manages to get the job done despite everything thrown her way.
What the character Elliot gets right about people facing high sensitivity is that they are not only misunderstood by the world, but they are misunderstood by themselves as well. Because no one really teaches about high sensitivity as being a normal way of thinking and interpreting the world, people often come down hard on highly sensitive people for “not being tough.” This is paramount in those scenes featuring young Elliot facing his berating mother, who tells him he’s not worth anything, that he’s weak. She abuses him into “toughening up,” but she can’t see the form of toughness Elliot already possesses. Because of this, Elliot grew up seeing himself as weak when he’s always been the complete opposite. Because of his mother’s abuse (and maybe because of something we don’t know with his dad’s death), Elliot has rejected himself and strives to find his “true,” “acceptable” self by self-medicating with cocaine, becoming a loner, and by taking on the mantle of a hacking vigilante. One thing that’s really interesting about Elliot is that despite his loneliness, he refuses to let many people, including his psychiatrist, inside to understand his world. This point is made clear in what I feel is probably the best scene of television, hands down:
The scene says a lot about the HSP, their perceptiveness, their rich inner world (to paraphrase Aron), and the disappointment many HSPs experience when it comes to the rest of society. Elliot, like a lot of HSPs, can interpret certain subtleties about life that others might miss. Elliot knows his environment—American society—is wrong on many levels, particularly when it comes to letting money, apathy, and hardness rule instead of allowing sensitivity its day in the sun. But the fact that he knows his environment doesn’t suit him pales in comparison to how much his inability to fit in makes him feel like a huge mismatch with his world. Everyone else around him is able to belong, but his depth of feeling, his ability to feel and see a lot that most people miss or want to ignore, has him feeling out of place to the point of nihilism.
However, despite Elliot feeling like a failure and a weak person, Elliot is constantly demonstrating his power and inner strength. He kicked his cocaine habit by himself, for one thing (which is actually quite dangerous). He has sent people to jail from his hacking skills (which means he’s not afraid of the risks involved, including getting caught). He (and/or Mr. Robot) formed the hacking group that took down Evil Corp. Meanwhile, Elliot calls himself “just a tech.”
Elliot’s actions are a huge reminder to other HSPs out there, that no matter who says we can’t do something or that we’re too weak, we aren’t too weak to do whatever we want to do. We, like Elliot, just have a different form of strength. Our strength is to take in the subtle and sometimes unspoken messages the world sends to us in the form of the emotional output and come to conclusions about how to provide help and healing. What Elliot is doing is dangerous, no doubt, but in his own way, he’s trying to heal his world using his superpower of high sensitivity. A highly sensitive person’s superpower is to protect the emotional self and the emotional selves of others; to me, that’s why we’re so connected to emotions in the first place. Elliot can sense that the emotional state of the world is in danger, and he’s going to great means to fix it, because fixing it means that he’ll finally have a place he can call home.
Most of us aren’t going to hack our way to a new world order though, so what we in the real world can do is protect our own emotional selves first. If us HSPs can reject what we’ve been told about “toughness,” honor our own unique gifts, and become excited about how we view the world, then we’ll be able to provide our talents more freely and without fear of rejection. One thing we can take away from Elliot’s quest to erase capitalism is that we have the ability to give power back to ourselves. Just like no corporation should hold power over people, no single person should be able to rob you of your personal power. You don’t have to hack society to say you belong. All you have to do is say “I belong,” and believe it.
If there’s one thing that annoys me…well, there are a lot of things that annoy me, but if there’s one thing that annoys me the most about media coverage as shown on Twitter, it’s the media’s insistence that we fall over ourselves for the likes of Gigi Hadid, Taylor Swift, Amy Schumer, and Jennifer Lawrence. I’m officially sick of it.
Well, well, well…it would seem that even though Cookie is always the one to watch, there were some other big character moments that really brought the story to even a higher level. It’s no wonder that the show keeps growing its viewership every single week.
There’s just so much casting news that I’m going to do this really quick. Only one to two sentences for each item; you can read the rest at the links provided.
Get your tea ready and your best dinner dress or tux on! It’s almost time for Downton Abbey!