Don’t Judge a Story by Its Reputation

“As I get older, the more I stay focused on the acceptance of myself and others, and choose compassion over judgment and curiosity over fear.” ~ Tracee Ellis Ross

“The anarchist painter is not the one who will create anarchist pictures, but the one who will fight with all his individuality against official conventions.” ~ Paul Signac

The other day I was working on an essay for the memoir book my sister and I are writing about movie chats with our father. The essay is about the movie Back Street, with Susan Hayward, John Gavin, and Vera Miles (1961). The story is based on a book by Fanny Hurst. And being a movie nerd, I did a bit of research on the production and on Fanny Hurst, who created the original source material. When she was alive, her work was considered to be popular pulp fiction, not high brow literature and not worthy of scholarly notice. But in the 1990s scholars began reexamining Hurst’s work. The Feminist Press published a collection of her work which dated between 1912 to 1932. They praised her “depth, intelligence, and artistry as a writer,” (as reported in an article about her in Wikipedia). Hurst was an activist for feminist and human rights causes and her views are reflected in her stories.

I’m attracted to stories that challenge our conventional view of reality. Fanny Hurst did that with more than one of her stories. Cultural conventions in the twentieth century taught us that marriage was sacred. To have an affair broke the rules of society. But in Back Street, Hurst creates an abusive, narcissistic wife, Liz who will not consent to a divorce. She likes the prestige and power that comes with her marriage. Liz is contrasted to “the other woman”, Rae who is successful, independent, loving and kind. If I were in the character Paul’s shoes, I’d fall in love and break the rules with Rae too. After all, we all need love no matter where it comes from.

Since I can’t keep myself from thinking about how other stories might relate, I connected Back Street to Aquaman, which we just saw last weekend. Barry and I are big fans of the movies based on graphic novels including the DC and Marvel superhero genre of movie. We don’t read the books, at least we haven’t started reading them yet, but the stories are compelling and relevant for what’s happening in society now. We have brilliant people like Stan Lee to thank for making great stories accessible to everyone, not just people who might be inclined to read only highbrow literature.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think any story is worth examining, whether it’s considered high or low brow. There can be important messages hidden in both. And one of the most important messages in Aquaman is that sometimes qualities taken from two or more different races can combine to make an extraordinary human being. Arthur who becomes Aquaman, is both human and Atlantean. He grew up in the human world but must unite both worlds to prevent a war that will destroy the planet. He’s a humble man with great integrity and a desire to help others. He doesn’t think of himself as a great leader. When the moment comes for him to face the creature protecting the symbol of his leadership, he tells the creature, “I’m nobody.” And that’s something no one trying to gain the object of power had ever said. Arthur doesn’t want to be a leader, but he’s willing to become one to save the planet.

When Stan Lee died a couple of months ago, I heard that there were people who scoffed at the outpouring of grief over his passing. The sentiment was that he ONLY wrote graphic novels. He didn’t cure diseases, or invent some monumental thing that would help humanity. But that’s not true. He invented so many characters who have helped change the way we view ourselves and our world. After all, he created Black Panther, one of the most influential characters in any movie to come along in a very long time.

There are other writers who have created enduring characters, like William Moulton Marston who created Wonder Woman, another iconic character who has changed the way we view women.

It’s my theory, and maybe I got this from Edward R. Morrow, that stories have power to change our attitudes, emotions, and in the long run our societies. It may take centuries for that change to take effect, but at some point critical mass can’t be avoided. The balance teeters in a new direction and society is made anew, sometimes almost without notice. I’m grateful when I find writers, like Fanny Hurst, Stan Lee, and William Moulton Marston, who help me examine my long held beliefs and think of human interactions in new ways.

In the past I’ve been guilty of looking down my nose at certain types of fiction, romance novels for one, as light entertainment with not much redeeming value. But one never knows when the catalyst for change will come along. I think I’ll change my mind and reserve judgment and just enjoy the ride a story takes me on and see how I’m changed in the process.

Thanks for reading, liking and commenting. I appreciate it. Have a fabulous weekend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2019

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Only Jenna joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan, instead of traveling physically. She is able to come back and apply what she’s learned to her real life situations.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news on the audiobook version Lucinda is working on. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.

Women Rising

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

“A Woman is like a tea bag – you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

“I just want to say to women, ‘Be yourself – it’s the inner beauty that counts. You are your own best friend, the key to your own happiness, and as soon as you understand that – and it takes a few heartbreaks – you can be happy.’” ~ Cherie Lunghi

“No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men.” ~ Muhammad Ali Jinnah

My husband and I went to see Wonder Woman this past weekend. It’s been out three weeks, so we thought the theatre might be fairly empty since we go to the movie on a Sunday mornings when most people are in church. However, this time the theatre was almost completely full. Granted it was Father’s Day, but I think the crowd had more to do with the movie, than the holiday.

There are movies that I like because they are good fun, or they have a message that makes you feel good after you’ve seen it. Then there are movies that have universal themes, ones that goe beyond the special effects, the story and characters. Wonder Woman is that kind of movie. I’d like to tell you why I think so.

But first I have to share a bit of serendipity. I’m doing research for the sequel novel to The Space Between Time. Both Jenna in the present and Morgan in the past, are fighting for women’s rights. Because of the complex themes, I’ve been doing some research. The book I’m currently reading is A Brief History of Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice. by Jack Holland. I had just started reading the book the day before going to see Wonder Woman. The section I was reading was about what the author thought were the origins of misogyny. He says in the Western world it was ancient Greece, in the eighth century BC when the writer Hesiod wrote a poem about Pandora. In the poem he states that man was created before women, sound familiar and against nature, and that men were completely happy until Zeus decides to punish man for complicated reasons which involve Prometheus sharing the secret of fire with them. I’ll interrupt myself here to state, I’ve never liked most of the Greek gods, especially Zeus. To me he displays the worst of male qualities. But to continue, Zeus creates women as a temping but evil thing to punish man for having the gall to think they deserved better than to live like wild animals. Pandora is beautiful, but evil as she is the one who opens the box that unleashes evil into the world. I always thought that the hidden theme to that story was that man messed up the world and not wanting to take the blame, created the story about Pandora. “Yes, let’s blame women for the evil in the world.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, woman can be just as evil as men. In fact, in the movie there is an evil woman, Dr. Maru, who creates mustard gas. (In reality is was created by a colleague of Albert Einstein.) But, she’s a wounded woman. Her face has been disfigured, we don’t know how or by whom. Later we discover that the inspiration for the mustard gas formula was whispered to her by Ares, the real antagonist of the story.

The mythology of the movie doesn’t mention Pandora, what it does do is show us a community of confident, strong, capable, intelligent, compassionate women who live together in peace. They don’t always agree, but when they don’t they listen to each other, discuss and work things out.

When Steve Trevor arrives followed by German WW I seamen, they fight and defeat the men, but though they acknowledge the help Steve gave during the battle, they also use the lasso to get to the truth of the situation from him. It seems that they don’t hate men, but they’ve had enough experience to know that they need to be wary. So the old, battle of the sexes theme is a part of the movie, but the way Steve and Diana relate to each other is not combative.

That’s another thing I love about the movie. It shows the way women are treated without beating the audience over the head with it. The island of Themyscira, where the Amazons live, is hidden from the world in which the rest of humanity lives. So, when Diana decides to go with Steve back to his world to find and defeat Ares, god of war, she is puzzled by the way the men treat her. They ignore her advice about battle plans, they treat her as if she’s invisible. They talk over her and tell her she can’t be involved in their plans.

And there is the central relationship between Diana and Steve Trevor. She asks him questions about the way things work in his world that he has trouble answering. Her questions make him think in a new way. He sees her battle skills, but has been indoctrinated that women are to be protected. At one point he says to her, “I can’t let you do this,” to which she replies, “What I do is not up to you.” They also have discussions about honor, and doing the right thing. Both have a strong desire to make the world a better place. At one point Steve says, “My father said, ‘When you see there’s something wrong with the world, you can do nothing or something.’ And I’ve already tried nothing, so I’m doing something.” At another point Diana says, “I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.” Because they share similar values, they find a deep connection with each other.

I know that in the recent past there have been lots of strong women characters on TV, in movies, and books. They’re not all perfect, they have flaws but most of them have a strong honor code. Love is extremely important to them. That’s a good thing. We need strong women role models. I hope to see more of this kind of entertainment. Not all strong women need to be warriors like Diana, but they do need to stand up for themselves and for what’s right.

Once at a Comicon conference, Joss Whedon, who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other stories with fascinating women, was asked why he wrote such strong women characters. His answer says it all, “Because you’re still asking me that question.” We have a long way to go before men and women enjoy equality.

If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman I highly recommend it because it says that hope and love are what will save our future.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a paranormal, historical, time travel novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and at most other fine ebook stores. It will soon be available for kindle and print-on-demand on Amazon.