Friday, November 17, 2017

Social Constructs and the Individual: An Analysis of Identity and Representation as Shown in 'Bananya'

Modern technology has brought with it the democratization of the arts. Once the domain of kings and religious institutions, the internet allows art to be created and discussed by all. This domain is a platform for a new age of patrons to forge hitherto neglected ideas into reality.

Though Bananya is only 13 three-minute episodes long (a side effect of its crowd-funded origins),  the show will linger long in the hearts and minds of its viewers. In what can only be described as the I, Claudius of the cartoon cat genre, the show encapsulates the struggle for personal identity in an increasingly superficial world.

For those unfamiliar with Bananya, but who want to participate in this dialogue, it can be viewed for free at the link here. (Note: all images used in this post are taken from this link.)

One could be forgiven for believing that Bananya merely tells the tales of a carefree group of cats who adorably live out their lives hopping around in bananas, but behind this premise lies a deeper meaning. The story uses our titular protagonist as an everyman with whom we are meant to connect. Bananya is a a fun-loving cat who enjoys sweets and is driven to achieve his dreams, much like the youth of today. That his dream is to become a chocolate-covered Bananya further serves to develop his uniqueness and authenticity.

May our own dreams be as noble.
His tale is told to us by the narrator who, through research, has discovered this strange variety of tiny cats, each with its own (admittedly limited) personality. This framing device allows us to serve as outsiders and critique the world we find ourselves viewing.

Initially, this world appears to be idyllic, with happy cats enjoying their lives as they bounce about with reckless abandon all while encased in fruit. Quickly, though, the cracks begin to show. It is revealed in an early episode that the lone female Bananya is self-conscious and uses heavy amounts of makeup to maintain her appearance. It is clear that these adorable cats have fears and anxieties similar to ours as humans. Through this, the world we are viewing begins to seem closer to our own.

Only the white parts, so not much.
With this revealed, we then must wonder, what is the driving force behind this anxiety? The answer may lie in the sordid consumerism of the human world that pollutes all who partake in it, even the Bananyas.

Our protagonist's dream appears to be derived from this culture. In the third episode, Bananya is shown to quite literally worship the chocolate-covered bananas on the television, suggesting that advertising is the origin of his motivations. The cheap but ubiquitous tactic of purveying sex appeal for the sake of profit is also on display as stereotypical trappings of societal gender constructs are used to draw the unsuspecting cat in and deprive him of his self-determination.

Pictured: A cat trying to motorboat a television
As if to add insult to injury, it is revealed at the end of the episode that Baby Bananya is responsible for the rapid changing of the channels, only amplifying the arbitrariness of this dream. Are we so different in our own lives? Would thousands of little girls dream of being princesses if there was no Disney around to peddle such stories?

This cultural pressure is further alluded to in Bananya's friendship with a mouse in episode four. So long as Bananya is on his own, the friendship remains, but as soon as another cat is brought into the situation, Bananya falls victim to peer pressure, much to the chagrin of the mouse.

Chagrin = Terror
This vignette clearly highlights the struggles between the internal and external self. Separated from the external world, Bananya's inner morality holds fast. But these cats do not exist in a vacuum (that would suck) and face pressures from their own cultural groups to act in certain ways. The limits of this clan mentality can only develop in isolation from the real world for so long. Eventually, Bananya ventures out in to the real world to a grocery store where his naïveté is on full display.

"I've seen enough hentai to know where this is going."
Here he meets Namaste Bananya and the regal Elizabeth Bananya. These characters are shallow and presented as caricatures of their respective nationalities (Indian and British). Our protagonist is surely not a well-traveled Bananya and quickly falls back on crude stereotypes to make sense of his experiences.

In a world with innumerable individuals, all with their own story to be told, how can we hope to understand others in a finite lifetime? Simplification allows an easier-to-understand narrative, but something is always lost in the process. The greater risk is that through this process, the whole will be lost and we will be left with tenuous fragments of experience akin to Baby Bananya rapidly changing the channel. 

This is further exemplified by the problematic interaction with Black Bananya. Walking through the house late at night, the various Bananyas become terrified, believing that danger lurks in the darkness. When it is at last revealed that the shadowy figure was only Black Bananya, the narrator makes a crude joke for humorous affect.

The insensitivity displayed by this offhand remark is contrasted when, at the end of the episode, it is revealed that he is a cultured cat who hails from France and loves fine wine and food.

While the narrator is quick to defend his joke through this portrayal, these details do little more than create additional questions around issues such as Western hegemony and colonial imperialism. Furthermore, Black Bananya does not protest this treatment, suggesting that these experiences are so commonplace that he lacks an internal locus of control in a society that has institutionalized his mistreatment.

Clearly, the internal worlds we create are fraught with error due to the limitation of time. This then begs the question: can these internal models be reconciled with the external world, or will we forever be adrift from others like ships passing in the night?

Bananya as a show clearly takes the latter viewpoint. In episode eight, Bananya encounters a regular-sized cat who does not live in a banana. In this scene, the stray cat urges Bananya to open the window and let him in; Bananya comes close to doing so, but eventually falls asleep, closing the curtain (literally) on this scene. The house represents our internal world with the window acting as the lens with which we view our surroundings. These worlds cannot be reconciled, but so long as we give this no thought, peace can be achieved, as it is with Bananya when he falls asleep at the end of the episode.

With this development in mind, the purpose of the bananas the cats live in becomes clear. The peel serves as a metaphor for outward societal presentation, with the inner fruit (er, cat) representing our authentic self. The tough outer peel bears little relation to the sweet inner fruit, but is needed to protect what lies within. We, like the Bananyas choose when and how we show ourselves and hide behind our "peels" when exhausted. In an anxiety-fraught world where we are bombarded by a constant stream of messages, we return to the peel more and more, severing our understanding of others further.

Can true happiness be achieved in a world like this? According to Bananya, only ephemerally. The show ends with Bananya fulfilling his dream of becoming a chocolate-covered Bananya, but a closer examination reveals that the chocolate is all on the peel, implying that in the end, his success and happiness is only superficial.

It is clear that, according to Bananya, the external world cannot give us meaning, for at its core, it is a world that isolates us and prevents us from achieving the true human (cat?) connection we all crave. Can we leap this chasm, or are we forever left hiding in our peel? Left to ponder the implications of this, what more can be said except woe, woe unto Bananya. For in this world, all is vanity and chasing after the wind.

What is your favorite show involving cats? Sound off in the comments section below.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The 2017 Fangirl Awards: Announcing the Winners!

Three years ago today, The Fangirl Initiative was born!

To celebrate, we're announcing the winners of the third annual Fangirl Awards!

So without further ado, let's get this party started!

1. So Not Over It Award: Worst Fictional Character Death

The winner is...
Stranger Things 2
Highlight to read: Bob Newby

2. Til the End of the Line Award: Favorite Best Friends

The winners are....


Steve and Dustin
Stranger Things 2

3. I Ship It: Favorite OTP/ship

The winners are...


Steve and Diana
Wonder Woman

4. Romanova Award: Most Badass Female

The winner is...



5. Winchester Award: Most Badass Male

The winner is...

Jim Hopper
Stranger Things 2

6. Happily Ever After Award: Best Ending

The winner is...



7. You Didn't See That Coming Award: Most Shocking Plot Twist

The winner is...

Highlight to read: Prometheus' identity

8. Tony Stark Award: Best Character Development

The winner is...

Steve Harrington
Stranger Things 2

9. The Brave and the Bold Award: Best Fight Scene

The winner is...


Steve vs. the Demodogs
Stranger Things 2

10. Out of the Wardrobe Award: Best Outfit

The winner is...

Queenie Goldstein
Fantastic Beats and Where to Find Them

11. The Strength of Their Hearts Award: Most Feelsy/Angsty Character

The winner is...


Jughead Jones

12. Burdened With Most Glorious Purpose Award: Most Fabulous Character

The winner is...


13. Cinnamon Roll Award: Character Too Precious for the World

The winner is...

Newt Scamander
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Honorary Gandalf Award: Best Babysitter

Steve Harrington
Stranger Things 2

Behold! Your 2017 Fangirl Award winners!
It's been an amazing three years, fangirls and fanboys!

And this is all thanks to you. Thank you for being here with us through all the fangirling and feels. You are fantastic!

Thanks for joining us for the Fangirl Awards! Come back every week for even more fangirl fun. Until next year... be brave, be bold, be initiative.

Flower crowns: Source, source, source

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

'Gotham' Recap: "Stop Hitting Yourself" (4x08)

Another Wednesday, another Gotham recap. While this week's episode, "Stop Hitting Yourself," is absent of Professor Pyg, it still shows the fallout from his actions last week and the GCPD's reaction. The Narrows are outraged at Penguin for sending both the GCPD and his thugs to shake them down, and it looks as if Harvey's under fire for his part in the debacle. Warning for spoilers and violence (particularly of the loss-of-limb variety).

Plot A: Nygma and Grundy vs. the Sirens. 

The episode begins with Nygma putting on a show at the fight club. He's dressed up as Penguin, complete with an umbrella, fake nose, and clownish children dressed up as GCPD lackeys. "Penguin" scolds the crowd for booing him and says he'll sic the cops on them. However, Grundy arrives to "defeat" the fake-Penguin. Despite his brain problems, Nygma's act is pretty smart: it stokes the Narrows' growing resentment towards Penguin and gives them even more of a reason to enjoy watching Grundy, as the latter is presented as their champion.

After his role as the Penguin is over, Nygma dons a spectacular suit. Like, Jim-Carrey-Riddler-eat-your-heart-out spectacular.

Cherry then steps in to announce the next fight, which will feature Grundy and a new challenger: Mr. Murderface (no, I'm not kidding). 

As the fight begins, Nygma walks over to Lee. She tells him that his act is only going to bring trouble to the Narrows, but Nygma says that if Penguin comes for him, he'll have Grundy to protect him. Lee points out that Nygma and Grundy's fans won't be safe, but Nygma says that he's not going to stick up for the Narrows and points out that she's not about to either.

Meanwhile, Butch briefly has a flashback of Tabitha before shutting it out. He then rips off Mr. Murderface's arm and beats him with it, causing the crowd to chant: "Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself!"

Over at the Iceberg Lounge, a member of the gang the Sirens robbed complains to Penguin. Babs offers to smooth things over by splitting the money with Penguin, but before they can reach an agreement, Mr. Penn arrives. He tells Penguin about Nygma's act, which causes Penguin to have a supreme meltdown. Selina thinks that it's funny and actually laughs at him. Penguin laughs in return, but when the gang member joins in and jokes about the Riddler, Penguin has a nasty reaction.

Penguin says the Sirens now owe him the same debt they owed the gang. They can pay it back by catching Nygma and bringing him to Penguin. Selina says the that the Sirens aren't his stooges and should get something in return. He replies that their reward will be him not setting every criminal in the city loose on them. Babs accepts the offer, and the Sirens head out. After they leave, Penguin tells Firefly to follow them to the Narrows and burn the entire fight club down (along with the Sirens) if they fail. She seems pretty on board with the idea, which is a bit sad, since it probably means the writers gotten rid of her friendship with Selina.

As the Sirens enter the narrows, Selina explains that the fight club is about more than just winning matches to make cash; it started out as a way for the people of the Narrows to settle disputes. Babs and Tabs seem happy to get revenge on Nygma, with the former assuming it'll be an easy job now that his IQ's gone down.

The Sirens enter the club and watch Nygma's show in action. Babs is sidetracked by Lee's presence and decides to see what's up with her, whereas Tabs is ecstatic to see Butch alive again and immediately decides to find him and get through to him. As the two head their separate ways and leave her alone, Selina grumbles that she's the only one actually focused on the job. 

Tabs tries to talk to Grundy, but he doesn't recognize her. Meanwhile, Babs chats with Lee, who pistol whips her across the face in a very satisfying move. Babs brushes it off and explains she's here on Penguin's orders. Lee calls Babs a "flunky," but Babs points out that Lee's not moving up in the world either. Lee says she didn't come to the Narrows to help herself. Babs wonders what Jim thinks of Lee's new life, but she replies: "Jim who?" Babs mentions that she's just at the fight club for a kidnapping, which makes Lee realize Nygma's in trouble.

And boy, is he. Selina gets the drop on Nygma in the locker room and ties him up. Babs thanks her, but Selina snipes at her for not being professional. Also, just as Tabs seems to be on the verge of a breakthrough with Grundy, Babs and Selina show up with Nygma. Nygma tries to sic Grundy on them, but Lee rushes in to stop the fight. Selina offers a way to settle who gets Nygma: a good, old-fashioned Narrows showdown in the ring. 

Nygma agrees to the deal and hams it up during his Penguin act. This time he plays both himself and the mob boss, before announcing the stakes of the match:

He then announces Tabs, calling her "Tabby the Tigress." (I can't believe it took two whole seasons for someone to give Tabitha her codename, and there's no explanation. I mean, I'm not mad, but it's still a little weird.) Tabs enters the ring, confident that she can make Grundy recognize her.

From the crowd, Lee explains to Cherry that Tabs and Butch used to be in a relationship. Cherry says Grundy will win, like always, but it doesn't matter. Either way, she says, the Penguin will still get Nygma.

In the ring, Tabs tries to talk Grundy into remembering her, but it doesn't work. He drags her around before she uses a spiked bat passed to her by Babs. She fends Grundy off with it, and he begins to see flashes of their past. He even asks "Tabby?" right before she knocks him out with the bat.

Tabs, shocked, realizes what she's done and tries to get him to wake up. Selina says they need to go, and Tabs promises Grundy she'll come back for him, but before the Sirens can leave, Firefly arrives. She tells the Sirens they missed the deadline to bring back Nygma and begins to use her flamethrower. Grundy wakes up but is immediately frightened by the fire. Selina tries to talk Firefly down, asking why she would want to destroy the part of down she came from. Firefly insists that the place is like a sewer; it needs to be burned to get rid of everything that stinks.

But before Firefly can make good on that ultimatum, Lee shoots at her, damaging part of her suit. But is Firefly dead?

Cherry gets mad and tells the crowd that Penguin's going to be out for blood now. Lee points out that Cherry must've been the one who tipped him off to Ngyma's act in the first place. As the crowd gets angrier, Cherry tries to cast blame on the Sirens for working with Penguin, but Babs simply kills Cherry and announces that the Sirens aren't working for him anymore. The crowd cheers, and Nygma tells Grundy he's safe from Firefly.

Later (presumably after the Sirens have left), Lee checks a confused Grundy for wounds, next to a smug Nygma. The people of the Narrows watch the three of them, which leads him to an interesting conclusion: they've got a new leader.

It's possible that Nygma's just buttering Lee up because he wants an in with the new leader, but his words come across as very heartfelt. He has faith in her, even if they're not the best of friends. Lee insists that she can't lead, but he points out that if she doesn't step up, someone else will (and possibly someone worse than Cherry). He advises her to give them something to cheer for, so she declares drinks on the house. And it looks like she's actually enjoying it a little.

Plot B: Oh, Captain, My Captain!

Gordon gets called into a meeting with the mayor, who wants to make him the new captain. Gordon insists that Harvey's the captain, but the mayor says Harvey screwed up and shouldn't have worked with Penguin. Gordon points out that the mayor is also in Penguin's pocket. The mayor says that either way, someone will replace Harvey, and they may not be as well-intentioned as Gordon. He pushes Gordon to take the contract and think about it. All he has to do to become captain is sign.

Back at the GCPD, Harvey looks at a row of bullets in a case. Gordon arrives and lies that he got stuck in traffic. Harvey shows him the bullets, explaining that they're slugs pulled out of the cops that got wounded in the narrows. Gordon says they need to move on and focus on catching Pyg. And for one, shining moment, Lucius Fox appears . . .

 . . . but only to tell them he hasn't been able to find any useful evidence at the crime scenes. 

Harvey then asks Gordon to go the the Bullet Hole Club, and the latter agrees. Lucius asks what he means, and Gordon explains that it's an informal group for cops that have been shot in the line of duty. It's the commanding officer's job to present each one with the bullet(s) that wounded them.

Gordon later asks Sofia how he could've been promoted, since Penguin would never let that happen. He realizes that she was behind it, and Sofia replies that all it took was the Falcone name. Gordon says this isn't the way he wants to get the job and he doesn't want to hurt Harvey, but Sofia insists that Harvey is weak and incompetent. She tells Gordon to stop pretending he's going to turn down the job—if he was, he'd already have gotten rid of the contract.

Later that night, the Bullet Hole Club commences at a local bar. A barmaid passes Gordon the case of bullets, left for him by an absent Harvey. Gordon gives each cop their bullet, including a female officer now in a wheelchair after Harvey shot her by accident.

 As Gordon presents the bullets, a sad, yet heroic theme plays in the background, the same one that underscores Bruce's decision to leave Wayne Manor in season 2. I wouldn't mention it, except that I think Gotham's score deserves more recognition. 

Gordon then returns to the GCPD, where Harvey drinks alone at his desk. Gordon says the cops were waiting for him, but Harvey says they would've "spat in [his] face." Gordon insists that Harvey owed it to the officers to look them in the eye and that if he'd been there, he might've earned back their respect. Harvey says he doesn't deserve it, but Gordon counters that it's the captain's job to take responsibility. Harvey says he sent Gordon to do the job because he couldn't. 

His resigned attitude is the final straw for Gordon. He grabs a pen and signs the contract before displaying it to Harvey and announcing that the latter is relieved of duty. Harvey sarcastically congratulates Gordon but says he had to have done something to get the position. Gordon says he only did his job, but Harvey bitterly warns him that "Nothing in Gotham is free."

Gordon takes the words to heart and tells Sofia he doesn't want to be her puppet. She replies that they're partners, but he says he just backstabbed his partner. Sofia says that "Harvey had to go." Gordon tells her that he doesn't want her help anymore and she needs to leave Gotham. Sofia replies that she's sticking around for good to restore the Falcone name. She then invites him to celebrate with her, but he declines, electing to stay outside "where [he] can breathe." Or, to put it another way: Gordon just realized he's in over his head.

Plot C: Not all male penguins should be left to raise the young.

After learning about Nygma's act, Penguin rants to Sofia at the orphanage about how hard it is to be a crime lord. He asks her to lunch, but she needs to speak with caterers about a fundraiser. She tells Penguin he needs a different way to relax when she's not around. The answer? Chickens.

Sofia explains that the chickens her father cared for were a way of taking his mind off of business. Unfortunately for fans of Batman: The Animated Series, Penguin does not immediately buy a flock of chickens, or any other birds, for that matter. However, after Sofia leaves, he spots one of the orphans being bullied by the others. The boy runs away, only to produce matches and gasoline. (Seriously, who watches these children?) Penguin yells at him to stop. The boy, who seems to only speak through pictures and written words, explains that he meant to set a fire. Penguin says he can't do that. Why? Not because arson is bad, but because the bullies would know it was him.

Penguin later coaches the kid through revenge and hints that friendship can be a good vehicle for vengeance. The boy mentions in his notes that the bullies are flunking math, but he's good at it. He ends up using this to his advantage. During a test, he lets a strong-looking girl cheat off of him. In return, she protects him from the bullies and beats them up for him. Penguin tells the boy that minions are better than friends. The boy writes that the two of them are friends, but Penguin insists that they're not, as his last friend betrayed him. Instead, they're co-conspirators. Still, as the boy walks off, Penguin looks at the note with a touch of regret.

Sofia later walks in on Penguin teaching the boy (Martin, apparently) how to stab. Penn arrives and tells Penguin that not only did the Sirens and Firefly fail to retrieve Nygma, but Gordon is now Captain of the GCPD. Penguin struggles to remain composure, and Sofia tells him that business is not the end-all be-all. She points out that there are other important values, such as friendship, and asks if he's coming to dinner. He turns her down and says he has more to teach Martin. After Sofia leaves, Penguin confides a cruel fact to Martin: "Sometimes, if you’re not very careful, friendship can blind you to what is staring you right in the face." As he says this, he watches Sofia from the window. 

The Verdict

Plot A: When I heard that a big part of this season was going to be the dynamic between Grundy, Nygma, and Lee, I thought it was the craziest thing I'd ever heard. Think about it: a dumbed-down supervillain joins forces with a zombie and a washed-out medical examiner, both of which are his former enemies. How could that possibly work?

But it works. Oh, it works. This episode showed how the situation brings out different sides of each character. Grundy's rise to fame has brought out the theatrical side of Nygma, proving that he's still a showman, even if he's not quite the Riddler at the moment. Penguin and Cherry's oppression of the Narrows brings out Lee's desire to help people, even if that means stepping up in ways that are new and uncomfortable.

If I had one qualm with plotline, it's that I'm not too invested in Grundy. Still, his sad, braindead state brings out the tender side of Tabitha, which is nice to see.

However, I'm even more excited to see Lee's rise as leader of the Narrows.

Plot B: Again, this was another plot I wasn't looking forward to. Gordon and Harvey's friendship is one of the best relationships on Gotham, so I wasn't excited to watch it fall apart. And yet, I think that's what needed to happen. Gordon needs to step up, and last week's episode proves that Harvey is a less-than-ideal leader. I was also glad to see Gordon realize early on that he needs to cut ties with Sofia (Will it last? No clue). Also, I love the parallel of Gordon and Lee stepping up to fill the leadership roles that no one else can. 

My only complaint? Not enough Lucius Fox. I love Chris Chalk in that role so much, and it felt like a cheat to have him only on screen for expositional purposes. Still, I'll take what I can get.

Plot C: While I didn't care too much about Martin's petty revenge story, I was happy to see that Penguin's catching on to Sofia's ulterior motives. Is that reveal part of her larger plan? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it should lead to an interesting conflict. I'm really curious to see what Sofia's overall gambit is, outside of just using Gordon and Penguin.

Overall, this was a pretty solid episode. Bruce Wayne was absent, but I didn't care this time. There's only so much teen angst I can take, and I'm still reeling from his actions in the last episode.

Come back next week for a review of episode nine: "Let Them Eat Pie." Feel free to comment below with your thoughts, comments, and questions about the episode. And until next week, I leave you with this fun clip:

A post shared by Drew Powell (@realdrewpowell) on