Where are the Damsels in Distress?

*This article contains minor spoilers from the recent movie, Star Wars: the Force Awakens.

 

When we first meet Rey, the leading lady of the billion-dollar movie franchise, Star Wars: the Force Awakens, she appears to be anything but a damsel in distress. In fact, when co-star John Boyega’s character, Finn, runs into her, he literally runs into her. Well, he runs into her very intimidating staff, which greets him with a sharp whack across the face.

Anyone who watches this seventh installment of the iconic movie series Star Wars will notice that Rey can indeed hold her own. And although Finn attempts to rescue and protect her upon their first meeting, she seems determined to be independent, even pulling away when Finn takes her hand to lead her from trouble.

Rey’s initial behavior makes sense to many viewers. Having been left on the desert planet Jakku for what appears to be several years, it is easy to understand why a young woman would learn to defend and stick up for herself so fiercely. So why then—at the moment that most girls light up at her fiery, strong-willed, courageous personality—do the boys roll their eyes in distaste? While they’re asking, “Where are the damsels in distress?” the girls are thinking, “Rey is a character I can look up to.”

Each is justified in their reaction, but neither should let it shape their view of women and men’s true roles.

Rey may be able to fight, but as the story progresses, the audience discovers there is more to her than a rough exterior. Finn does succeed in rescuing Rey, but in more ways than just “defeating the dragon.” They care and lookout for each other equally. They become friends. What’s important isn’t that Finn rescue her from the bad guys while she waits patiently, but that he behave as all men should: protective of the women in their lives.

By the end of the movie, they’ve changed each other. Both become more vulnerable, especially Rey. She even embraces Finn when he comes to save her.

The important thing isn’t “Damsels in Distress” or “Knights in Shining Armor.” It’s the realistic characters, wounded and searching for something more, and the importance of their friendship in leading them to that discovery.

-Ruthie F.

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Who Needs Heroes?

It’s a fair question. Who really needs fictional heroes when we have people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Marie Curie?

I do. Actually, I have a pretty long list of fictional people I look up to.

  • Obi-wan Kenobi and Rey (Star Wars)
  • Mulan (Disney)
  • Jo March (Little Women)
  • Steve Rogers (Captain America)
  • Minerva McGonagall (Harry Potter)
  • Korra (Legend of Korra)

To name a few.

One of my favorite heroes is George VI from The King’s Speech. He struggles with anxiety and a terrible stammer. One feeds the other in a crippling cycle of shame and self-doubt.

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Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter. (The King’s Speech is rated R for language.)

Speaking in public terrifies me. I stumble in class or interviews because I’m too nervous, and I agonize over it for days. It’s nowhere near as bad as George VI, but seeing someone else struggle with anxiety is encouraging. Seeing him come to terms with it is inspiring.

Technically, George VI is a real person. But I identify more with him watching The King’s Speech than reading about him in a history book.

This isn’t to say that real-life heroes aren’t important. They show us what’s possible, how drive and passion can transform the world. I respect real-life heroes, but there’s an awe and distance that makes them larger than life. Even the most personal C.S. Lewis biography makes him sound superhuman.

Media—and fictional characters—can resonate with us in ways real life doesn’t. Maybe we aren’t running countries, fighting Dark Lords, or saving China, but we do face injustice. Loss. Sleepless nights. The best media not only faces what we do, it reassures us that there is meaning and beauty even if we can’t see them right now. Tim O’Brien says, “That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”

So let’s be proud of our favorite movie heroes and TV protagonists. Tell a friend about that book character that changed your life.

 

-Josie K.

 

Lessons from a College Party

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What words come to mind when you think of Christmas? Maybe snow, presents, family, cinnamon, church? Or maybe, lonely, memories, travel, stress, money, lists? There are so many things we associate with this major holiday. Each is specific to our own life and experiences, but overall we have similar ideas.

Now, you may be wondering why I am starting a post on music with the idea of Christmas. Well, this post has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas (sorry to disappoint). It does, however, have everything to do with connotation. Connotation — the ideas and feelings that we automatically associate with a word, idea, place, or item.

Again, what does connotation have to do with music? Well, Alessia Cara’s new hit song “Here” uses the strength of connotations to convey a very important message. In this song, Alessia tells a story about being at a stereotypical college party. At this party she experiences loud music, many people, marijuana, and alcohol. Seems like a typical secular song nowadays, right? Wrong.

What makes this song worthwhile is that it breaks down the walls of connotation that block many Christians from engaging with culture. Many of us may be tempted to quickly change the station once we hear Alessia sing so rawly about a party scene. But in doing so, we fall into the trap of seeing the connotations we associate with her lyrics, rather than the full message of her song.

This message forces us to see the truth behind (what the world would call) a good party. Alessia sings about going because her friends were going. As she stays she realizes there is lack of community or true fellowship. Everyone is simply there for his or her own pleasure and no one pays any attention to her. She realizes that the party is wearing her thin.

Alessia’s song is bold because it goes against social norms and reveals that the pleasures of this world will never fully satisfy. Thankfully, we have the hope of something and Someone greater and it should leave us asking, “Oh God why am I here?”

– Megan W

Can Twenty One Pilots Answer Your Questions?

Can a band answer your life questions? Some bands may try to, but not Twenty One Pilots.

The indie-pop duo, Twenty One Pilots, is climbing the charts with their latest album, Blurryface. This is the fourth album from Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn from Columbus, Ohio.

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Blurryface was preceded by two self-released albums and one signed album.

The single “Stressed Out” was the first song I heard from Twenty One Pilots. The song is about the mundaneness of adulthood and insecurities that we all experience. I was immediately drawn to the song for its honesty and originality.  The band has a way of relating to real people and causing them to ask important questions, as the rest of the songs on Blurryface’s catchy and creative track list show.

Twenty One Pilots has an inventive tone with Dunn playing the drums while Joseph raps/sings and plays keys, piano, and ukulele. The band also writes profound and relatable lyrics. They deal with real topics like depression, self-doubt, suicidal thoughts, and the difficulty of faith. The style and topics are a perfect fit for young people today.

Can Twenty One Pilots answer your questions? No. But they can ask them, and God can answer. Artists are meant to ask the hard questions that will cause the audience to look to someone bigger for the answers.

You should take my life, you should take my soul. You are surrounding all my surroundings, Sounding down the mountain range of my left-side brain, You are surrounding all my surroundings, Twisting the kaleidoscope behind both of my eyes. And I’ll be holding on to you.” —“Holding Onto You” by Twenty One Pilots

– Megan R.

How Far is Too Far When Engaging with Pop Culture?

A popular phrase that we as Christians often hear is that we are to be “in the world but not of it.” It is even included on our “about” page. It is one of our goals as young adults who are surrounded by secular culture. But what we don’t often discuss is what this looks like when lived out. Is there a certain point at which Christians need to take a few steps back in their engagement with pop culture and the media?

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I’m going to be honest in saying that this is a question I’ve wrestled with a lot. But I’ve come up with three more questions that I think are beneficial for us to be thinking about when it comes to our involvement with pop culture.

  1. Where am I placing my identity?

Am I listening to certain bands and watching certain movies just to look “cool” and gain the approval of others? It is important to be honest with yourself about your motivations.

  1. Is this band, movie, etc. becoming an idol?

Especially think about this in terms of your thought life. It’s okay to be a fan of something, but is it turning into an obsession? Are you constantly thinking about it when you should be spending more of your thought life on Christ?

  1. Am I compromising my values?

It is important to stop and see how this is affecting our behavior. For example, if you’ve been watching a show where the Lord’s name is taken in vain quite frequently, have you noticed that maybe you’ve started using it in that way, too? It eventually starts to seem okay.

This post may not be as light-hearted as some of the others, but I believe that we need to think about questions such as these in order to appreciate pop culture’s beauty in a healthier and more God-honoring way, so that we might have an influence on it, instead of the other way around.

– Emily H.

 

Why Do We Need Diversity?

The lack of diversity in the Oscars has re-sparked conversations about diversity in media or, more accurately, the lack thereof.  We want a variety of characters that represent all people—characters we can identify with—but in the process of pursuing that goal, too often we mistakenly assume that the value of fictional characters lies solely in our ability to self-identify with that character.

One of the most important functions of stories has always been to offer a mirror into our own lives by giving us characters that we see ourselves in. However, this virtue of stories should always be coupled with the power stories have to show us experiences wholly unlike our own. Stories should foster empathy as much as self-awareness, and diversity is necessary for both.

I came across a short news story today about a young black girl who was tired of only reading about white boys and their dogs in school and was raising a book drive for stories about black girls. Her proactive plan to bring more diversity to her school’s library is admirable, but I’m so very sorry to hear that her only response to Where the Red Fern Grows is to be sick of reading about characters with lives so different from her own. It is not unlike the complaint of white boys that Star Wars now lacks any characters for them with its female and black protagonists. However, these stories are for everyone; they speak to our universal human nature as beings made in the Image of God, and they can be both a mirror to reflect ourselves and a window into a stranger’s life.

I don’t think that we’ll ever have truly diverse stories until we can all come to say that we want more diversity in media not only to see more people like us but also to see more people unlike us.

–Emily D.

Cinder: Cyborg Cinderella

Cinder just wants to be a normal, accepted mechanic. And she would be, if she wasn’t a cyborg. Her robotic limbs, chips, and sensors keep her alive… and make her a social outcast. Sounds like Cinder needs a fairy godmother.

Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles drops stories like Cinderella and Rapunzel into a dystopian world. Cinder grapples with discrimination, identity, and self-sacrifice, and the twists and turns leave me surprised and delighted with each book.

The heroes are messier than their old fairy-tale counterparts. Imperfect. Grey. Captain Thorne is a smooth-talking criminal. Another character is a genetically-engineered soldier trying to be better than his programming. Winter can be thoughtless. Life as fugitives from an Evil Queen means stealing, hacking, brawling. (It’s really hard to be an upright citizen when space police are after you.

Even in futuristic fairy tales, nobody’s immune to physical plagues or sin. Cinder’s happiness seems out of reach, but she finds the strength to keep going and make heroic sacrifices.  She grows over the course of the books. Our cyborg Cinderella is an active, complex female character who makes mistakes but doesn’t despair or give up. She wants to be better than her enemies.

“Do you think it was destiny that brought us together?”
He squinted and, after a thoughtful moment, shook his head. “No. I’m pretty sure it was Cinder.”

No happy ending is guaranteed, but she decides things like peace and friendship are worth fighting for. Cinder might not intend to glorify God, but her courage and love can encourage us to live boldly for what we believe and stand up for the oppressed.

 

-Josie K.