Carmen’s journey of self-discovery: themes of family history and records in the new season

From the last episode of the new season of Carmen Sandiego.

This week I’m taking a break from my “libraries in popular culture” series to focus on the new season of the animated show, Carmen Sandiego, which was just released earlier this month, which actually fulfills a promise I made back in June to write about the show. I also talked about it back when I had my DNAChat, you know the Twitter discussion I did back in late June. [1] I even pondering what to do next, although I’m not completely convinced I want to do a chat on Carmen Sandiego, DNA, “Resistance Genealogy,” racial justice, or archives/libraries topics, although I may change my mind in the future. During the chat, I even asked a question on one of the days, although getting her age wrong, saying that Carmen knows little about her past, and asked participants if DNA test would help her and what they would recommend she do. A warning for those that have not watched the episodes of the new season, or perhaps even the first season, this post discusses spoilers from the show itself. The show is set, clearly, in our existing world, not in some magical world. Without further adieu, let’s dive in and discuss the interwoven threads of records and family history.

In the show’s first season, we were introduced to Carmen Sandiego, the code-name of a 20-some Latina woman, an international master thief who stole from thieves, especially in that season’s first two episodes. Despite the fact that we as the audience knew that she had previously been a part of V.I.L.E. (Villains International League of Evil), her background was relatively obscure. She had been born in Argentina presumably and only had a set of “matryoshka dolls” as her possessions, with the story that she was found by the roadside near Buenos Aires. Perhaps purposely, what is revealed about her past is piecemeal, contrasting from shows like Futurama where family trees, although non-traditional, end up being somewhat central. Carmen, who also goes by the names of “Red,” “Black Sheep,” “The Lady in Red,” “Fedora the Explorer,” “The World’s Greatest Thief,” “The Miss of Misdemeanor,” “La Femme Rouge,” and “The Crimson Shadow,” among others, has no memory of her parents, and grew up on V.I.LE. Island, which is somewhere in the Canary Islands.

While her narrative in this show differs from those in previous iterations, you may think that perhaps she had Russian ancestry. As it turns out, some Russian Argentines immigrated in a sizable number from 1901-1920 if my translation (via Google Translate) of this publication is right. There were also specific colonies of Russian-German immigrants who settled in Argentina starting in the 1890s in agricultural areas. There’s also 10,000 inhabitants in Choele Choel, including Russian Orthodox immigrants, sometimes called the “White Russians,” who came from Russia itself. Others have noted that there were five immigration waves from Russia to Argentina since the end of the 19th century. Presently, hundreds of thousands with some Russian descent live in Argentina. On the other hand,  the dolls themselves are deceiving as they may not indicate ancestry at all!

The latter brings us to the most recent season. Like the first season, there isn’t much focus on her family roots at first. Carmen is at a bit a dead end. Shadowsan, who rescued her from Argentina, whom has Japanese heritage, says he doesn’t know much about the mission, with little he can tell her. She accepts this for the time being and makes an interesting remark at the end of the third episode of the season, The Daisho Caper:

Of course, the themes of discovering herself and her identity is a strong theme of the season. Even stronger is the continual use of records. Carmen’s hacker friend, “Player,” breaks into V.I.L.E. hard drives from his home computer to figure out what capers the evil organization is plotting and how Carmen can stop them. Apart from that, in the last episode of the season, The Deep Water Caper, which ends the show not only on a cliffhanger but with a big bang, Carmen specifically references records and finding out the truth of her family. This is NOT the way to manage your records, people, seriously. Blowing up your headquarters and having it sink into the water is not a way to erase records. I mean, they didn’t even do a good job, because she still found the files.

And because of that, this episode is perhaps my favorite of the whole season. Unfortunately we don’t see the server room since the V.I.L.E. faculty literally destroyed the whole academy, but she swims through the water and retrieves the necessary records. From this, she is able to learn more about her past, and finds the case files. It shows that her nemesis, Coach Brunt was right when she taunted Carmen in the previous episode about Shadowsan: he was on a mission to Argentina to kill a man named “Dexter Wolff,” obviously a code name. But other than the fact that Wolff was V.I.LE. faculty, it doesn’t say much more. She then decides to confront Shadowsan, presumably in their new headquarters in San Diego at the former “Carmen Outer Wear” company building. Telling him that she won’t let him escape, he says he is not going to run and will tell her everything. So much for following Carmen’s instructions when she, during the Daisho Caper (and in some of the prior episodes) to have no more secrets. He claims he didn’t tell her the truth for own protection.

The fact that Shadowsan, the creator of the record Carmen found, did NOT tell the full truth in the record itself, relates to a lot of archival themes. For instance, you could say that Shadowsan’s report is a primary source, but since he left out certain content is almost an archival silence or “gaps or missing pieces in the historical record” to quote from the Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy. As such, he is engaging in a form of bias, as he is engaging in a “prejudice in favor of one thing or person over another,” specifically in favor of Carmen. Furthermore, records themselves can “easily become lost, distorted, or orphaned” as archivist  Samantha Thompson points out. There have often been distortions and omissions in records, like those in Early Modern Europe, records left by the so-called “Founding Fathers” of the U.S., or within family archives, meaning that in this sense, Shadowsan’s action not unique. Due to the omissions from the report, Carmen was right to challenge its accuracy, as the latter means, in an archival context, “the degree to which data, information, documents or records are precise, correct, truthful, free of error or distortion,or pertinent to the matter.” It actually reminds me of those 1990s Hollywood films I reviewed a while back which often had themes about records erasure.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Shadowsan says he went to Argentina to track down Wolff and followed him to a villa outside Buenos Aires where he found Carmen, complicating his plan to kill him. As he was about to carry out his dirty deed, another group of law enforcement, presumably INTERPOL (explaining he she is able to connect with Devineaux and Julia so easily) approached, ready to take him down. As he tried to escape, a young Black female agent named Tamara Fraser shot him down (maybe she thought he was pulling out a gun?). She later used this leverage to form a special investigative unit, A.C.M.E., implied to be part of INTERPOL. In essence this means that the ‘Chief’ killed her father. No wonder she feels no compunction in hacking A.C.M.E., tricking the Chief by giving her a phony V.I.L.E. hard drive. Within, Player finds the file which gives the real name of the Chief (Tamara Fraser), and shows her taking responsibility for the act. Interestingly, the presence of Shadowsan and Carmen there is not recorded, so A.C.M.E. has no idea she is the son of a person their Chief killed! The episode goes on for Carmen to unearth the casket of the person who owned the house, a woman “Vera Cruz,” which turns out to be a decoy, allowing her to vanish “without a trace.” As such, Carmen doesn’t know the name of her mother, although she holds out hope, as the episode closes, that she is out there and she will find her some day, saying: “everyone leaves a trace. Somewhere out there I have a mother who may or may not know I am alive” with Shadowsan with her until the “end of the line,” declaring “then let’s find her.” On a related note, as viewers, we learn, through deduction, from the fake coffin that the coffin was planted in 1999, and this show having been set in the present day, that Carmen is at least 20 years old, if not older.

In the mean time, A.C.M.E., due to the hack, re-activates pompous fool and chauvinist Chase Devineaux. Of course, they had been trying to track Carmen and catch her in order to learn more about V.I.L.E., but it had been pushed by Julia, the former partner of Chase at INTERPOL, that they try to recruit Carmen. All goes well except in the process Carmen is hurt badly after escaping A.C.M.E.’s clutches in the Stockholm Caper episode. After learning this horrible truth about the Chief, it seems abundantly clear Carmen isn’t going to trust them again. Why would you trust a person who killed your own father? So, I expect some sort of showdown between Carmen and A.C.M.E. or just Carmen and the Chief in the next season, if I may make a prediction.

With all being said, what can we say about the show and its themes of records and family history? Clearly, this season was much stronger in the latter theme, as the former has been a staple throughout the show itself, along with a continued focus on the use of records to halt the actions of evildoers. There is also a strong emphasis on discovering who you are, which is also present in shows like Steven Universe and Revolutionary Girl Utena, both of which I have reviewed on this blog in one way or another. It also makes me think of the 1990s show, Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? where some parts of her family life are revealed at the end of the show’s run. While I hold out hope that Carmen will go to a library or archives in the future, even if she does not, the show still has staying power and shows that you should pursue a focus on your family roots.

Until next week!

Notes

[1] If you need a refresher, I recommend you check out “Last two days of #DNAChat,” “DNAChat Questions,” “#DNAChat Day 5,” “#DNAChat Day 4,” “#DNAChat Day 3,” “#DNAChat Day 2,” “#DNAChat Day 1,” and “Tweets introducing #DNAChat.”

What time is it?…library time!

The library of the Turtle Princess in the beginning of the Adventure Time episode, “Paper Pete.”

Following in the footsteps of my previous analyses of various animated series and a few Hollywood movies, as part of my libraries in popular culture series, I decided to look at a few episodes involving libraries in Adventure Time, a animated fantasy series which ended in September 2018. [1] This is a show has the library as a recurring location, which is probably why Claire Ruhlin chose it as having one of the 12 best fictional libraries for Paste magazine.

In the episode The Real You (S2ep15), Finn and Jake want to impress Princess Bubblegum, and Finn accepts the offer to make a speech at her science event. Jake suggests they go to the place where “knowledge lives”: the library. This library has books almost stacked like bricks in a warehouse. After clearly being bored in the library, Jake suggests they leave, while Finn wants to continue and “cram” the information in a book about pigs. Hilariously, Jake is reading a book about figs. They both start performing a jig and a dance, and the Turtle Princess, who runs the library (and is basically serving as the sole librarian) kicks them out, before which Finn says they were “enthusiastic about learning” which is an utter lie. This whole scene is not even a minute long and we don’t really see much of the library, but it doesn’t look like a grand place like that depicted in various Revolutionary Girl Utena episodes. Despite the fact that this show portrays libraries as a boring place you “learn stuff,” there is one similarity: the libraries in both animations are almost deserted.

Some episodes later, in Paper Pete (s3ep22) they visit the library once more, with the whole episode focused just on the library. The episode begins with they both carrying a huge book to a table, which is shown at the beginning of this article. The book is a history of rainicorns, with Jake much more into the book and learning about his “heritage,” since his girlfriend is a rainicorn, than Finn. Annoyed with Jake being focused on the books, he begins walking in the stacks, goes through the books by hand, then yells out “Oh no! Damaged books. Who did this?” The Turtle Princess, apparently the only librarian of this library, tells him to “shush,” another librarian stereotype, while other beings, who are patrons, sit at desks behind her. After being shushed once again, he stumbled upon beings known as the “pagelings“:

They end up being the “secret guardians” of the library’s books. When he tries to introduce them to Jake, they hide away, not wanting to reveal themselves. They fight off a bunch of leeches (I think) called “moldos,” obviously connecting to the fact that books can mold, I guess. He eventually throws them on Jake, where they begin eating his fur, but first tries to get them off by hitting them off with a book. He gives up his shirt if they don’t attack the library books, to which the leader of the “moldos,” Mildwin agrees. After leaving the library at the end of the episode, where we see the library looks like, part of which is submerged into the ground, Jake is annoyed by the actions of Finn, but admits he wasn’t doing much with the book anyway. He had read the same paragraph over and over for 11 minutes, thinking he should give up in trying to learn rainicorn history, saying he will just fake it going forward. Not really sure what lesson we are supposed to take away from this episode, but its a fun adventure inside a library.

In later episodes, the library is mentioned, with other characters adding books to it (Gotcha!), it is included in a flashback Finn has in King Worm episodes, and the bedroom of the Turtle Princess at the top of the library is shown in Princess Monster Wife. All in all, this is ultimately a very positive view of a library, although it competes with the public library in Steven Universe and the family library in She-Ra in the Princess of Power at minimum. That’s all for now. Until next week, with another wonderful article!

Update:

Last week, after watching some episodes, I came across another library, in the episode Betty (s5ep48), where the Ice King becomes human again, looking in his books to figure out who he is, what he needs to do.


Notes

[1] Futurama, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Steven Universe, Revolutionary Girl Utena, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and Carmen Sandiego. The Hollywood movies are The Truman Show, The Public, My Fellow Americans (to an extent), Citizen Kane (perhaps), and Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. Ruhlin chooses libraries in The Mummy, My Fair Lady, The Pagemaster (animated film), Matilda, Clue, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (series), library in Harry Potter series, Jedi Temple “library” in Star Wars (more like a library-archive hybrid), The Breakfast Club, Beauty and the Beast, and Doctor Who (series). I’ve also written about the library-archive hybrid in Attack of the Clones and its role in popular culture, which I think is worth mentioning.

The power of libraries and card catalogs: Revolutionary Girl Utena shines through

Recently, I was watching a Japanese anime, Revolutionary Girl Utena, which aired in 1997, I stumbled upon scenes showcasing libraries, reference, and much more, time and time again. This is a series which can be watched on YouTube, with subtitles, or dubbed, whichever you prefer, while also having over 973 fan fiction works on Archive of Our Own. There was much more than what Steven Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Carmen Sandiego, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Futurama, and apart from Hollywood films (The Public, The Truman Show, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Wear-Rabbit), most of which were in my “libraries in popular culture” series, and the latter on Twitter, had to offer. Its actually extraordinary as I’ve never seen an animated series feature libraries as many times as this one!

In the show’s fourth episode (“The Sunlit Garden – Prelude“), part of the Student Council Saga, there is a short scene in a library which is clearly very scholarly. This isn’t a surprise as all of the characters are students of Ohtori Academy, seemingly set somewhere in Japan. In this scene, Juri Arisugawa, captain of the fencing team at the academy meets Miki Kaoru (the person with the blue hair), secretary of the Student Council.

Miki is correcting a test for Anthy, the Rose Bride, and is studying in the library, clearly dedicated to his studies. The whole scene is not even a minute long, but it portrays the library as a serious place when you do serious work, with the lighting on the table reminding me a bit of the Library of Congress. Its very different from the library depicted in Steven Universe, Futurama or the ones in that 2008 Harold & Kumar movie and The Truman Show. It reminds me of the church library in that Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) film, which ends up being a key part in the story.

This brings me to “The Boys of the Black Rose,” the 14th episode of the show, and part of the Black Rose Saga. In this scene, Mikage, the head of the Mikage Seminar at the academy, who wants to gain power for himself, is using what looks like a microfilm machine to examine a newspaper:

He is greeted by two men in business tricks saying his “paper” did the trick as it allowed for their research office to be chosen for a consulting office. He almost laughs them off, continuing to look at the paper,

After these men attempt to give him a gift, he brushes it off, and they soon walk away, calling him a genius. He sure looks like one with all his books on the shelves and materials on the desk! Its almost the stereotypical portrayal of academia, as aloof and dedicated to their work. This is reinforced by the fact that after this he continues to look at the scanner like little has happened:

Later on in the episode I thought it was a little comedic when Miki tells Utena (the girl with pink hair), the series protagonist, with Anthy standing beside her, about the research building right after he has come back from the reference area, which is a lie, as he was actually talking to Mikage about how he wasn’t “good enough” to be part of his seminar. He almost acted with shock that Utena didn’t know about this, almost like a person telling something they just learned for the first time:

I’d also like to point out there was one scene in this episode that seemed to be an homage to a scene in that episode of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power that focuses on the magical library, where Utena and Anthy were sitting on a couch, with Akio on the other couch, but maybe this was just a coincidence. Regardless, none of these libraries are like the hilarious sewer library from Futurama!

Jumping to episode 18 of the show, “Mitsuru’s Growing Pains,” in the Black Rose Saga, the academic library is featured again. In the library, Mitsuru, who is looking through books, asks Utena and Anthy what it means to be grown up. Anthy says that her and Utena have done “some adult things” which is undefined, although there may be some romantic connotations there.

After this, he ends up going to the Black Rose Seminar and tries to fight Utena, almost in a trance. Like with all of her duels, apart from when she battled Touga, she wins, and the Black Rose is destroyed. The episode goes on, the the mentions of libraries and archive-like environments are not over.

This theme is followed in another episode, part of the Black Rose saga, episode 21 (also known as “Troublesome Insects“). During the episode, one of Nanami’s followers, Keiko misses a party. Instead she goes to a presumed library, or perhaps a archives, to get student council records that Nanami didn’t want to do.

Of course, this makes her jealous and able to be manipulated by the easy Black Rose Seminar, who deviously use him for their own means. In some ways, his action, which is ultimately unsuccessful since Utena is one of the best swordfighters in the show, makes no sense. If she really wanted to get back at someone, why would Utena be a target? It was Nanami who, in her typical fashion, was an utter jerk to him, yet he attacks Utena, who has the supposed power to “revolutionize the world.” The sword is literally taken out of Anthy’s breast, one of the obvious lesbian themes of this anime, with the series seeming very queer, getting more so in the Akio Ohtori Saga where Anthy loses her clothes and redresses in the elevator leading up to the dueling arena using magic, changing Utena’s clothes. [1] But, her actions obviously don’t make sense because she is brainwashed as she is under the control of the Black Rose.

Then there’s episode 22, also known as “Nemuro Memorial Hall.” This involves the most involvement with card catalogs which has been seen in the series up to this point. The three members of the Student Council (Nanami, Juri, and Miki) go to the same place as Keiko, examining the card catalogs. They want to learn more about this secretive Black Rose Seminar, and pull papers on the topic.

They ultimately end up learning more about the seminar and the reason behind the Rose Crest ring is revealed: everyone enters into a contract with Akio, although the reason for this is not shown at this time. This makes all the duels Utena has engaged in to be a utter sham! Then, in the last episode, you learn that Mikage was caught up in this as well, trusting his memories, when he was actually manipulated by Akio. So, Utena beat the manipulator…but not the manipulator who manipulated him (a.k.a. the master manipulator). The memorial hall vanishes and no one can remember it existed. That raises the question: aren’t there records that give its name? Or were those somehow changed by magic? This isn’t really totally explained.

I have watched a few episodes past this, since I originally put this together, but I see no point in putting off this post even though I am not done with the series because I doubt there will be any future mentions of libraries. If there are, I will add them as an addendum to this post. In the end, I think these scenes are worth mentioning as another example of the portrayal of libraries within animation which are not covered elsewhere.

Until next week!


Notes

[1] As Bobduh writes on Wrong Every Time,not only is this a good show but it is a “a grand stage for some grounded revelations…nothing if not theatrical” with the tricks of stagecraft and theater defining the goals of Utena, her world, and those “trapped within that egg’s shell.” There’s much more in their post, but I’ll let it stand on its own rather than trying to summarize their detailed analysis here. I’d also like to highlight how the show “follows a cute tomboy who decides that she doesn’t want to be a princess” as she “wants to be a prince instead so she can protect everyone” as argued by The Outerhaven, or the description by Otaku Dome, that the show “went on to become not only one of the most important anime in the yuri genre,” a 1997 shojo, yuri anime series, following a different direction than the manga, which argues that this series, which has “themes focused on sexual orientation, LGBT, personal identity, and other mature themes that was somewhat unheard of at the time, especially for anime,” and stated that the show will “have you smiling with joy upon your first watch” with “mature themes, characters, and writing” making this a “timeless classic.” Apart from these analyses, others have noted that the anime has “beautiful character design…was directed by Sailor Moon director Kunihiko Ikuhara,” going through all the sagas of the show: Student Council Saga (episodes 1-13), Black Rose Saga (episodes 14-23), Akio Ohtori Saga (episodes 24-33), and Apocalypse Saga (episodes 34-39), or have called it a fairy-tale inspired by European roots. Additionally, the fairytale, it is, as some have argued, often “overlooked than its contemporaries – Sailor Moon, Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, and so on,” with those adding that it is “equally important to those juggernauts of anime….nothing less than a work of art both visually and narratively…and packs an jaw-dropping wallop of a feminist allegory,” other highlighting how the show is about power and control, especially in Akio Ohtori Saga. There have also been sites that highlight “tropes” in this anime, like TVTropes, and AlltheTropes (which has a wiki).

Madame Razz, Broom, Kowl, and the glowing book

Broom, Kowl, and Madame Razz ask the librarian (the ragged, old man on the right) where the “inner library” is in an episode of She-Ra: Princess of Power. It took me a while to find this episode again, but I’m so glad I found it once more.

In a completely different direction than last week’s post, I’d like to talk about the fictional library in season 1, episode 20 (“Three Courageous Hearts”) of the 1980s animated show, She-Ra: Princess of Power. They go to a library in the “valley of the lost” to get a magical glowing book which has the spell to free She-Ra, their companion in the “Great Rebellion” after Shadow Weaver, who had disguised herself as a young female competitor, had made everyone go to sleep with a spell at Mystacor’s “Annual Trickster Competition.” The library is a main part of the episode’s plot, making this unique from the fictional libraries in Futurama or Carmen Sandiego, although in the episodes of Steven Universe and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power the library was a major part of the plot too.

While Kowl is unsure about it, saying they are too weak, “too dangerous and too far,” they continue onward on a perilous journey, while She-Ra is trapped in another dimension (the sixth dimension), a place “beyond time and space.” They continue on their wild adventures, on the way to the library, down a snowy mountain, They go in the nondescript grey building, a library, with Kowl, Broom, and Madame Razz, who is leading them, looking through the stacks for the glowing book. A librarian, with long white hair, a clear stereotype of an elderly librarian or even an archivist like Madame Nu in the Star Wars series as I’ve written about on here before, asks the Madame if she is looking in the right place, saying she will only find a glowing book if she searches in the “inner library.” While they are excited to go in there, he warns them, saying that no one has gone in there is thousands of years and books are in unrecognized languages. They still go in regardless, as they have dedication to their friends. The librarian wishes them “good luck in finding your book.”

They get in the “inner library” and it is a mess, books stacked everywhere, no order whatsoever. Its almost like a bad caricature of a library or an archives (probably more the latter), reminding me of those 1990s films which warned of the danger of record tampering, erasure and corruption. Looking at the disorder, they look with a degree of shock, not knowing what to do. In the meantime, She-Ra gets through the dimension she is stuck in (the “third level”), with her captor saying she is the “best he has ever seen.” When we return to the library, our heroes are reading through books, trying to find the glowing one, looking very distressed. Broom begins dusting on the floor and suddenly the glowing book is revealed! She gets the “nameless glowing book” in her hand with glee.

She then uses a spell in the book to bring them to She-Ra and they succeed. She is so glad to see the, saying they risked their lives to save her. Kowl is grateful saying its just like how she has rescued them many times. They escape the hole in the ground and come out, with the Horde soldiers running away, scared of her. Madame Razz then awakens Angela, Bow, and Castaspella in Mystacor. In the closing of the episode, Castaspella awards Broom, Kowl, and Madame Razz with awards for saving She-Ra and “all of the Mystacor.” They have a good laugh, then there’s the weird talking squirrel, “Lucky,” talking about people showing courage as the “lesson” from the episode.

That’s all for this week! Until next week.

Love in the library? Truman Burbank and Kumar Patel think so

On the left is part of the 2 minute library scene in Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. On the right is about 3 minute library scene from The Truman Show

I’ve written on here before about libraries in Steven Universe and Futurama, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and Carmen Sandiego, along with reviewing Emilio Estevez’s The Public and themes of records in 1990s Hollywood films. Now, I’d like to highlight two library settings in Hollywood movies I recently watched, The Truman Show (1998) and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), where there is love in the library. Its very different than any of the previous examples I described, which is why I think its worth mentioning!

After writing my last post, I thought back and I remembered the library scene in The Truman Show, so I recently re-watched it and was pleased. The scene in this film only gets a short mention in Martin Raish’s bibliography of movies about librarians, who describes it simply as having a scene where “Truman and the lovely dark haired young woman meet in the campus library.” He adds that this was “filmed in the Fort Walton Beach Campus Library, a facility shared by the Okaloosa-Walton College and The University of West Florida” adding that a real librarian served as a consultant and as an extra, portraying the librarian, but “her scene was cut from the final version of the film.” But, there is much more than this. In the film itself, this library setting is a key part of Truman’s life. While he is studying for finals, he sees Sylvia, whom had been taken away from him, so they could set him up with Meryl, recognizing her bracelet. They only spend a short time in the library, but they don’t employ any stereotypes here, which is promising to say the least.

From there, they run away to the beach, kiss, and “they” find Sylvia and take her away, with the “father” saying they are going to Fiji. So, he keeps the memory, keeping her sweater, although he doesn’t realize as of yet that his whole life is staged, and continues to have a sense of adventure. So, this isn’t exactly “love in the library” but it still is a relatively positive scene of libraries, having all the signs and notices that a usual library would have!

There’s one more movie that also has a scene in a library: Harold & Kumar Escape Guantanamo Bay. Its right after two friends (Harold Lee and Kumar Patel) have escaped Guantanamo Bay after being detained wrongly, leaving a strange naked party in Florida hosted by one of their friends, and are driving to Texas. Kumar has a flashback to how he met his ex-girlfriend, Vanessa, curiously in a library! The scene begins with him, a college student, shushing those around him (saying “will you be quiet? This is a library!”), clearly trying to study and stressed. Just as he moves to another carrel, he hears Vanessa yell an obscenity and while this disturbs him, he helps her with calculus final. She is impressed, almost immediately with his intelligence (finding it “sexy”) and skills.

Then, as he is still stressed, she takes him to the library stacks and smokes a joint. He is shocked, saying this is something that shouldn’t be done in the library (probably not) and that they will get in trouble. She doesn’t care and does so anyway. After turning down the offer initially, he eventually accepts and gets high. They then make out in the stacks, while Harold, his geeky friend, watches them. From there, their relations improve and get better.

And that’s it for this week’s look at libraries in popular culture. Until next week, where I’ll post on this again, or something else entirely. We’ll see!

From academic to magical: recent depictions of libraries in popular culture

Building off my last post, I’d like to continue my review of fictional libraries in popular culture, focusing on those in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power and mentions within two past animated Carmen Sandiego shows. There may be some spoilers here. Sorry to those who haven’t watched this far in either of the shows.

When I first watched it, I was surprised and relieved that the season 2 finale of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, “Reunion,” was mainly based in a library. I would say that apart from the depiction in Steven Universe (in the episode “Buddy’s Book”), this is the most positive depiction of libraries in cartoon animation, or even in popular culture in general, I have seen to date! The episode’s main story is focused on a library in the Whispering Woods, while there is the sub-story of evil Catra wanting to maintain order as the Horde’s second-in-command after Shadow Weaver escaped. Anyway, the friends of Bow, one of the show’s titular characters, Glimmer and Adora, enter the library unannounced. They learn of Bow’s “terrible” secret: his dads, George and Lance, run a library in the Whispering Woods and are historians of the first settlers on the planet. Drama ensues as Bow’s deception is made clear. Not only did he lie to his dads, saying he went to a made up boarding school and about what his friends supposedly did there (making up majors for them and all), but he lied by omission to his friends, not telling them about his family or his other 12 brothers. While Adora, who has only known Bow for a short time, is unfazed, this deeply hurts Glimmer. It hurts her so much that she begins to think she doesn’t “know him” anymore, even though he calms her down. Seemingly, Glimmer didn’t understand his hints about where he came from. For instance, he said, after they met Adora (in the show’s first episode, “The Sword (Part 1)”, “…I’m starting to get a little freaked out. I mean, I pretty much grew up in these woods and I’ve never even seen this part of them. I’ve heard of stories about weird stuff out here.”

Glimmer and Adora play along with Bow’s deception, even looking for materials on a message they received, until an elemental monster attacks and they try to use their powers to fight back. In the process, Bow reveals himself as a master archer and has to come clean about his deception toward his dads. They accept him for who he is, which is why some say this episode mirrors their stories of “coming out,” and they accept Adora and Glimmer, even though they are princesses, as his friends. While the library’s first floor remains a bit wrecked from the monster, George and Lance still help Adora, Glimmer, and Bow figure out a message, using a library projector, recognize it is a constellation, and where the message is being broadcast from. Of course, they both caution them to not travel there, but you can tell that they will go there anyway (as I predicted in one of my fan fictions), which happens at the beginning of Season 3. One of my favorite lines of the episode is uttered by Glimmer, who tells Adora “we have to find Bow and get him out of this…uh…library?”

I haven’t said much about the portrayal of the giant and beautiful library, which is proceeded by music trying to make it seem magical. It seems to be a welcoming place, where you can be offered food and drink, and full of knowledge. However, it is obviously not a public library but is more of a research library with museum pieces. This makes it a bit like an archive, although not completely. I broached this subject in my fan fiction, “The Library of the Whispering Woods,” where I described the library’s outside, while noting it had the “largest collection of artifacts and writings of the First Ones in all Etheria,” and described it as “open to visitors and researchers.” As I envisioned it, this library had an open public access catalog (OPAC) allowing users to easily find relevant items and searchable,along with having many resources available so that people could continue their “quest for knowledge.” This included video archives, various exhibits and rooms, and various processes in place to review their diverse and inclusive collections. I further envisioned that Bow’s dads were interested in the “open exchange of knowledge” in this special library with features which would be “befitting of an archives,” with one of them even doing an oral history interview with one of the characters. This showed, I conjectured, that this library was a “magical space with never-ending potential and promise” while it was also “a repository of knowledge which could help them all find answers.” Ultimately the library, as I put it, gave “them enough of an answer to move on to the next part of their quest.”

I admit that Samantha Cross does a better analysis of this episode than I can, actually naming the actors and all, noting that the home of Bow’s fathers is “essentially a museum/library/archive of documents, research, and artifacts devoted to the enigmatic ancient-yet-advanced society.”I agree with her that it is is a “stretch regarding how much archives is actually present” as I would argue it is really a form of a library, perhaps falling into the special library category. But, it at least has some archival elements. She notes that the home of George and Lance (and childhood home of Bow) “isn’t necessarily defined as any particular institution” and notes that its “less likely to be thought of as an archives when a museum or a library presents a less complex visual representation.” She hopes that we get to “see more of them and their lavish history-based home in a future episode” and I hope so too, although I sort of doubt this, unfortunately, as they weren’t even mentioned in Season 3 of the show!

Then there’s the depiction of libraries in the two animated Carmen Sandiego shows. In the first one, there is a plot point in one of the last episodes of Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego? that Carmen steals books with the letter A from the Library of Congress, although they never actually show the library. In fact, from what I can remember, in none of the episodes of the show are archives or libraries ever shown, while museums or other historic sites are shown instead. When re-watching the new show, Carmen Sandiego, I noticed that one of the backgrounds where Carmen (who then had the code name of Black Sheep), was studying in a library during her gap year in the VILE crime school. Like the older show, the characters never visit a library or archives, although they visit quite a number of museums and other cultural heritage institutions.

In my next post, I’ll look at depictions of other fictional libraries across popular culture, so as to highlight other important indicators across popular culture.

From the Brain Spawn to Buddy Buddwick: libraries in Futurama and Steven Universe

While the fictional library on the left, from Steven Universe, is relatively positive and accurate to reality, it employs the “shush” librarian stereotype. The fictional library on the right, from Futurama, obviously modeled after NYPL, has a funny scene (pictured here) where the librarian is so “dumb” due to the effect of the Brain Spawn they can’t shelve books correctly.

Back on August 11th, I put together a short thread on Twitter about fictional libraries. I specifically referenced the Futurama episode “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid,” the library in a Soviet sci-fi film (Solaris), scattered references in The Simpsons, episodes in the 1990s Carmen Sandiego show (Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?) when she steals books from the library of Congress, a passing reference in “Becoming Carmen Sandiego” (Part 2) (the second episode of the new Carmen Sandiego show), the library in the last episode of Season 2 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, the Steven Universe episode “Buddy’s Book,” which few people mentioned. This article focuses on some of these fictional libraries, with the others covered in a post next week, in an attempt to highlight some of the most common portrayals of the library field in popular culture.

Let’s start with the Futurama episode which first aired on February 18, 2001. Subsequent reviews by IGN, AV Club, and on IMDB did not even mention the library as a part of the episode! The episode begins with Nibbler explaining to Leela that the evil plan of the Brain Spawn, who “hate all consciousness,” traveling from world to world, trying to wipe out “all thought in the universe.” This makes them like “flying televisions” as Leela puts it. With the Earth plagued by Brain Spawn, the Nibbleonian fleet arrive at Earth’s perimeter, calling it the “moron zone,” with Fry the only one who can resist it. He realizes the giant brain is just a “giant nerd,” meaning it is hiding out in the library, so he and Leela run into the New New York Public Library, modeled after the NYPL. As they run into the big brain, there is a funny scene where the librarian is apparently made “dumb” enough that she cannot put books correctly on the bookshelf! They pass, a number of doorways, most of which are funny (“reference books,” “books on tapeworm,” “Stephen King: A-Aardvark”) and find the giant brain in the “Ancient Literature” section, which is just classic Western literature. The brain remarks that humans had doomed themselves by arranging knowledge by category, making it “easier to absorb” and declares that the Dewey Decimal system played right into their hands, laughing manically.

Then, Fry fights against the giant brain declaring that a “little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” throwing a book at it. After this doesn’t work, he fumbles through books in the room to make him think, but the brain traps them in various stories, like Moby Dick, Tom Sawyer, and then Pride & Prejudice. While it seems it is all lost, it turns out that Fry has trapped the brain in Fry’s world of “crummy plot holes and spelling errors.” The brain is defeated. Then Fry turns to the camera and utters his wonderful punchline: “I did it. And its all thanks to the books at my local library!,” something that public libraries could adapt and use for their own promotional purposes if they wanted to!

I’ll get to The Simpsons and Solaris in another post, but I’d like to focus on the Buddy Buddwick Public Library that Steven and Connie visit in “Buddy’s Book,” one of my favorite Steven Universe episodes. While the episode starts with a typical stereotype of librarians, as the librarian at the information desk shushes Steven after he shouts “books!” and again when they are a bit noisy, this episode showcases the importance of libraries. Very few have noticed this, as the word library was not mentioned in the episode reviews by Zach Blumenfeld of Paste Magazine, and only a passing reference in KK Bracken & Laura B’s review on Geekiery or MC Toon Reviews. Only Vrai Kaiser of The Mary Sue mentions that the episode is “earnest in its intent to promote the excellence of libraries.”

Kaiser is right, but he underplays the importance of libraries in the episode itself. Enjoying his ride between the library’s shelves, fascinated by the books themselves, on an ottoman, Steven finds the original diary of Buddy Buddwick. Buddy was first mate on the ship that founded Beach City misfiled beneath a shelf. Excitedly, he brings it to Connie who pushes aside her class materials, which she had collected to get ahead in the 7th grade, with one sweep, as they intently read the book. From there, the episode follows the riveting story of Buddy, his adventures across the world to various Gem locations, and has Rose suggesting to him that he become an author. And write he does! He becomes so prolific that his books fill a library, which is why the public library exists today, causing Steven and Connie to realize how he left a mark on Beach City. They also laugh off how they had pictured him compared to how he actually looked.

The episode itself is wholly satisfying, not only in the fact it shows the importance of libraries, specifically public libraries, as places of knowledge, but that it promotes reading as vital to becoming a better person. While I’m not a fan of the librarian stereotype employed in the episode, with the unnamed female librarian shushing them, she is reading a presumed science fiction book, so that’s kinda cool, to say the least. Additionally, Buddy’s journal comes up in a later episode, Steven’s Dream, where Steven borrows it from Connie and uses it to find out more about his past, traveling to Korea with his dad. At that point, the book has been added into the library system, per Connie’s line, telling him, after allowing him to borrow the book, “Okay, just be careful. I gotta return it to the library in a week.” That’s a nice continuity!