Recently, an article in The Epoch Times, a far-right conspiracy-prone publication affiliated with the Falun Gong religious movement, by Nathan Worcester, blared “Background Reviews of Top Officials Lend Credence to GOP Allegations of Bias at National Archives.” The article stated that leading Republicans in U.S. House and Representatives are searching for possible “bias” in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), citing a letter to current Acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall by James Comer, the new chair of the House Oversight Committee, declaring that he was “investigating whether there is a political bias” at NARA, claiming that there was “inconsistent treatment” of recovering classified records held by the former President and President Biden. The article also cites “authorities” like Mike Davis who heads an organization (Article III Project) which “defends constitutionalist judges…and opposes judicial and other nominees who are outside of the mainstream”, professor Daniel Z. Epstein, a member of the conservative libertarian Federal Society, a lawyer for the former president Reed Rubinstein, and conservative journalist Megan Fox to support its narrative that NARA has “liberal” bias.
The article then claims that NARA leaders have “long championed the left-wing and partisan Democratic views pervasive in Washington and its wealthy suburbs.” They use biographical information about NARA’s general counsel, Gary Stern, Acting Archivist Wall, and Biden’s nominee for Archivist of the United States (Colleen Shogan), denials of FOIA requests by NARA about the Mar-a-Lago search, financial contributions to political campaigns, to “prove” supposed partisanship and “left-leaning” views of these “bureaucrats”. Even so, they admit that there was “concern” among those at NARA “about [Hillary] Clinton’s handling of records” and that the agency is “slowly releasing records” about the Mar-a-Lago search. This article unsurprisingly tied this focus to the recent election of Emily Drabinski, taking office as the new American Library Association president in July, who said she was a “Marxist lesbian” following her election. The publication left out that she called this comment “an excited utterance” and said she would serve all librarians regardless of political views. The article culminates in the claim that if supposed political bias continues then American people may have “deeper questions about the institution’s ability to remain neutral in an increasingly politicized world”. This is echoed by their earlier claim that Yale Law School is a “more neutral (or formerly neutral) institution.”
The realities of NARA are far different than what The Epoch Times has stated. David Ferriero refused to do what some liberals and progressives, like those in the ERA Coalition, called for: post the Equal Rights Amendment as an official constitutional amendment. However, Ferriero, following the advice of the Office of Legal Counsel, which said the ERA can no longer be ratified because the deadline has passed, decided to not do so. It is here that it is worth quoting from my November 2022 newsletter, in which I said, about the confirmation hearing of Colleen Shogan:
…Shogan, for her part, said she was committed to more transparency, opening Civil Rights cold cases…She also said she would not decide the ERA unilaterally, stated she was nonpartisan and nonpolitical, and noted commitments to transparency, efficiency, and so-called “public private partnerships”. She said reducing the backlog of requests for veteran records as the “most important discrete problem” facing her if she is confirmed as the archivist…Shogan stated that “the Archivist serves in the capacity, in a nonpartisan, apolitical capacity.” She also noted that NARA will need to “find creative ways to become more efficient, to capitalize upon public-private partnerships, and to engage previously underserved communities in meaningful ways”. This is in line with what David Ferriero has done when he served as archivist from November 2009 to April 2022. She stated that the ERA…for which the archivist has the legal responsibility to “certify each state ratification of a proposed amendment and, once 38 states have ratified, publish the amendment in the Constitution”, could only have its fate decided by “the federal judiciary and/or Congress,” a response which pleased reactionary people.”
This statement was flatly rejected by the ERA Coalition, which argued that the “role of the U.S. Archivist is ministerial in nature” and that the ERA has fulfilled all constitutional requirements and the Archivist “has a statutory duty to publish it.”
The Epoch Times could not bother to mention the incident in which Ferriero supported the closure of the NARA facility in Anchorage in 2014, the 2020 decision by NARA to censor a photograph containing signs critical of the former president and references to women’s autonomy, and the proposed closure of the Federal Records Center in Seattle which was proposed in December 2019 and later stopped in April 2021. The article also overlooked the fact that Wall and Shogan support the continued public-private partnerships to digitize archival records, something which Ferriero began and continued. Currently, NARA records have been digitized by Ancestry, Fold3 (owned by Ancestry) and FamilySearch (controlled by the Mormons). There are current digitization partnerships with:
lineage-based non-profits (Daughters of the American Revolution)
the Mormons (FamilySearch)
public institutions (Le Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Digital Commonwealth, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, Veterans Affairs Department, and Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland)
quasi-public institutions (The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis)
other non-profits (Barack Obama Foundation)
In years before Ferriero was Archivist of the United States there were partnerships with the EMC Corporation, Google, the University of Texas, and many others.
All this makes the claim that people such as Ferriero, Shogan, and Wall are left-wing as laughable. If this was the case, then why would they have gone to private companies and non-profits to digitize information? This is probably because they don’t want people to know what scholar Jarrett M. Drake argued in 2020: that the national and state governments that partner with FamilySearch certain “untold millions of dollars” by sharing their records for indexing and digitization, and that “millions of archival records have been made available by incarcerated labor.” This is something that will never be mentioned in The Epoch Times.
One aspect that the publication is correct about is that NARA is not neutral. The claims of neutral continually asserted by the organization’s leaders is incorrect. However, this does not mean that the institution is partisan, but rather that such neutrality is impossible. As I wrote back in February 2022, the actions of archivists do not occur in a vacuum, but are “connected to larger political and social structures, and affected by society itself.” Instead archives, like museums, libraries, and galleries, are not neutral spaces, but are, rather, contested ones, with sources which are not neutral. This article, and the request by the newly elected House Republicans further reinforce this idea. This should be recognized before it is too late. As Drake argued, “archives have never been neutral – they are the creation of human beings, who have politics in their nature.”
Neutrality in archives is impossible. In fact, SAA President Courtney Chartier wrote in April 2022, that “if we claim neutrality, then we uphold evil institutional and personal communities” and stating that those archivists who “refused to document the contributions of certain people, or created hostile educational and work experiences for their fellow archivists” are not neutral. This is the reality that The Epoch Times and others who appeal to neutrality would like to ignore. The same goes for the fact that these reactionaries would like you to forget about: NARA has been consistently underfunded. My colleague, Lauren Harper, at the National Security Archive pointed this out in a post last year:
The National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) budget has remained stagnant in real dollars for nearly thirty years…While its budget has flatlined, the number of records NARA must preserve, particularly electronic records, has increased exponentially over three decades…NARA is stretched too thin in normal times, and its insufficient budget and statutory authority were no match for the Trump administration’s disdain for records management…NARA’s current budget is a recipe for disaster…Budget woes are not new for the agency…decreasing budgets and staffing shortages hamper some of the most critical offices within NARA…Staffing issues play out in less obvious ways, too. One pernicious example is that it results in limited oversight of agency records retention schedules…Our audits make clear that NARA needs to actively oversee the electronic records management process, as opposed to taking agency self-assessments at their word…The next AOTUS needs more than just resources, they will need to maximize the authority they have and be granted more.
This is likely a major reason for the continued digitization partnerships. Instead of helping NARA overcome these issues, the upcoming investigation by Congressional Republicans into false claims of “partisanship” at the agency will only divert funds away from necessary tasks and put more records, and people’s jobs, in jeopardy. One could surmise that the investigation itself is an effort to delegitimize the institution and even set the groundwork for its possible privatization if certain people are elected into Congress or the Presidency. In any case, such investigations will be accompanied by calls to further reduce the budget of NARA, instead of giving it the resources it needs so it can hire additional staff, improve its work culture, and digitize more records in-house without having to resort to digitization partnerships. Otherwise, the cultural memory of the U.S. will remain at risk, as will the ability to “protect and preserve a future.”
Steering Shares are an opportunity to find out more about the I&A Steering Committee. This post comes courtesy of Steering Committee member, Burkely Hermann, National Security Archive. It was originally published on the Issues & Advocacy blog on May 27, 2022.
Hello everyone! In today’s post I’d like to share a project that I’ve been working off-and-on since 2019, in my spare time, which relates to digitization, archival ethics, and access. Since then, I have been using MuckRock to request documents from county jails and state prisons about FamilySearch’s program to have inmates index public records, like censuses and military records, which are then used by genealogists and the general public. In order to put this project into context, I’d like to give some background to highlight why this project matters.
In February 2020, in my first article on the closure of the National Archives facility in the Seattle area, I noted that some U.S. legislators criticized the partnership between the National Archives and FamilySearch, who stated that this partnership, meant to digitize records, has not “resulted in actual access to records that have been prioritized by stakeholders.”
Currently, NARA’s webpage on digitized microfilm publications and original records states that digitization partners like Ancestry, Fold3 (owned by Ancestry), and FamilySearch “have digitized microfilm publications and original records from NARA’s holdings and made them available on their websites.” NARA has had a partnership with FamilySearch since 2005, with NARA describing them as having a “clear focus on records of interest to genealogists.” The current partnership agreement with FamilySearch will remain in effect until NARA or FamilySearch terminates it, which is unlikely.
All of this matters because FamilySearch, a division of the Mormon Church (LDS), is using inmates to index many of these public records. This means that the records you might be using on Ancestry, which FamilySearch shares records with, or on the latter site, have likely been indexed by inmates.
It is important to keep in mind that jails and prisons are not the same. Jails are run by counties or cities, housing those with short-term convictions or awaiting trial. Prisons are operated on the federal or state level, with inmates who have longer-term convictions.
In contrast, Jarrett M. Drake, a Harvard University PhD candidate who focuses on “archival, educational, and organizing projects that pertain to prison abolition,” argued, in a 2020 book, Paths to Prison: On the Architectures of Carcerality, that the national and state governments that partner with FamilySearch certain “untold millions of dollars” by sharing their records for indexing and digitization, and argued that “millions of archival records have been made available by incarcerated labor.”
Although my research on this subject is still ongoing, there is clear evidence that sometime in the 1980s, LDS opened a Family History Center at Utah State Prison, followed by one at California’s Tehachapi State Prison in 1989. In February 2001, the Chicago Tribune acknowledged that the Freedman’s Bureau records, which are popular especially with Black genealogists, were collected and culled by 550 inmates at the South Point Correctional Facility at Utah State Prison.
Smolenyak’s interview with one of the indexers, Blaine Nelson, said that the indexing of the Freedman’s Bureau records took eleven years, 600 inmates, and “over 700,000 volunteer hours.” He declared proudly that, by February 2001, “some 480,000 Freedman’s Bank records had been extracted and indexed.” This means that one of the “richest databases for African-American research” as Ed Lunt, who helped establish the indexing program at the Utah State Prison in 1990 with his wife Penney, described it, was only possible due to the large amount of unpaid inmate labor.
The indexing did not end there. It has continued since then, with millions of names indexed by inmates, not only in Utah, but in other states, like Idaho and Arizona. Some even declared that this indexing means that prisoners are “working to strengthen everyone’s family tree.”
In 2021, Steve Collings, a product manager for the FamilySearch Correctional Services program, stated that LDS had “35 different facilities” with where inmates do indexing across the Mountain West, including Utah, Wyoming, and Arizona, with plans to expand nationwide, then worldwide. Whether the indexing provides “personal growth” to inmates as LDS claims, or not, LDS has been mostly tight-lipped in providing many details about the indexing and noting the exact locations where LDS has contracted prison indexing.
In my research, I’ve found that five jurisdictions in Utah currently have contracts with LDS to have inmates index records: Box Elder County, Cache County, Duchesne County, Kane County, and Summit County, as I note on the “Documents received” sheet within my “FamilySearch and prisons” spreadsheet. Sevier County presumably also has a contract, but I have not received documents from them. The most recent one I received, for Box Elder, shows that FamilySearch is all in on the inmate indexing as it was signed earlier this year by Stephen Valentine, who is the Senior Vice President of FamilySearch International!
From my requests I also learned that there are genealogy programs in Idaho prisons, but they reportedly have no policy related to the program. The same is the case for the Utah Department of Corrections. I also received redacted emails from the Washington Department of Corrections showing communications about Mormon volunteers coming to the state’s prison facilities. Otherwise, I learned that Beaver and Washington counties have volunteer programs but reportedly do not have records of that program.
In order to do these requests, I’ve been using MuckRock, which allows you to submit freedom of information requests to any governmental agency within their databases and keep all of the interactions public, or even private. Unfortunately, it has been somewhat costly to do this work, costing $5.00 per record request, making it hard for those without adequate financial resources to make these record requests and hopefully receive documents which can become public, even if they are heavily redacted. Where I work, the National Security Archive, has the same goal, but on a much larger scale, with various projects and experts on certain subject areas.
As I continue my research, with the impending end of requests to county jails in Utah, I’ll be trying to find out more about this program beyond Utah, to other states. I’ve done this a little with requests to counties in Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada, and other states such as Colorado and Arkansas. Although I’m not sure what I will learn about this indexing program going forward, and how widespread it is, I am confident that it will remain a learning experience which will inform people, particularly archivists and librarians, about those who index the public records which are used on a daily basis. Hopefully, it will also encourage a push for a larger NARA budget, so that more digitization of their records can be done in-house rather than contracted out to FamilySearch or for conditions be put on the next agreement to prohibit indexing by inmates.
On July 15, 2020, the streaming service, Peacock, made 12 episodes of Cleopatra in Space, an animated show, available to all U.S. residents, after making five episodes available to Xfinity subscribers a few months before. Whether by error, laziness, or purposeful action, the show’s sixth episode was not listed, meaning that only episodes 1-5 and 7-13 were available to anyone who subscribed to Peacock Premium. Mike Maihack, creator of the graphic novel series which this animated series was based on, lamented this development. He described the “missing” episode as focusing on a “zombie-like flu,” with Cleo having to face the consequences of avoiding quarantine, and said it is an episode that the “entire world should be able to see right now.” He also called the release of only 12 episodes “disappointing,” referring to the fact that 26 episodes were part of the show’s first season, many of which premiered on the Dreamworks channel, available to subscribers in Southeast Asia. A fan of the show later asked Peacock about this episode and they described it as “temporarily unavailable” and said that there is no news on the release “at the moment.” As of the time of this article’s publication, the episode has still not been added to Peacock, with an official Peacock account explaining that the episode was “not actively” on the platform, but not explaining why this was the case. This article will summarize the “missing” episode, reportedly with the name “Quarantine,” as listed on the website of Rotten Tomatoes,  and note how it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was originally written in October 2020, but never published for some reason. It was since named and fixed up in December 2022, so some of the information in it may be outdated. It will be published on my History Hermann WordPress blog on Feb. 23, 2022. The episode was finally released on Peacock on June 25, 2021.
This episode is not the first time that a show has focused on a quarantine. The Simpsons Movie in 2007 was about the town of Springfield trapped under a glass dome by a power-hungry EPA administrator. Some have argued noted other Simpsons episodes, like one where the “Osaka Flu” spread across Springfield, although such a comparison is faulty due to the unscientific way that the flu spread across the town itself. On the other hand, the August 2011 episode of Futurama, “Cold Warriors,” had the arrogant space commander, Zapp Brannigan, attempt to bring the quarantined city of New New York into the Sun after the common cold virus accidentally spread across the city from Fry to the rest of those in the city. Luckily, the cold is controlled once everyone receives a vaccine, the quarantine is lifted, and the city returned to its rightful location. In a similar vein, Edgar Allan Poe, in his short story “The Masque of the Red Death,” focuses on a prince who gathers his rich friends within a castle while a plague known as the “Red Death” spreads across the country, killing all who are exposed. Ultimately, they are exposed to the virus and end up dying as a result, showing no one is safe from the disease.
Cleo and the zombie flu
This episode is different from the previously mentioned examples. Cleopatra “Cleo,” (voiced by Lilimar Herandez) is adjusting herself to the future, almost getting killed by a robot assassin, a robotic monster, nearly captured by scavengers, and liberating a planet from the control of the Xerxs, the footsoldiers of the tyrannical Octavian, in previous episodes. She begins the episode by going on her first solo mission to retrieve a book from a planet named Buflong whose inhabitants look like butterflies and “speak a musical language,” boasting she can deal with a “bunch of butterflies.” She figures out how to deal with the burping butterflies, first zapping them with her quaser (a type of laser pistol), throwing her bracelets to the creatures, and speaking a burp language with the queen butterfly creature.
Cleo returns to Mayet confidently and when her mentor, Khensu (voiced by Sendhil Ramamurthy), tells her to quarantine because of a flu outbreak on the planet she came from. In her typical style, she decides to not take him seriously, declaring she has no idea what quarantine is, and says she is fine because she “doesn’t even have a sniffle.” She touches as many people as she can when she arrives at Pyramid, an academy which is a cross-between a college and high school, with no social distancing whatsoever. Although she thinks that everything will be “totally fine,” the next day she sees all the students at the campus sick with the zombie flu. She does not understand how she got everyone sick, with Khensu informing her she is a carrier of the flu. She is shocked by how the sickness is developing among her classmates, such as temporary tentacle growth (in the case of Zaid), hallucinations (in the case of Brian), and projectile crying (in the case of Akila). Khensu tells her that the flu “affects every species differently” in the first stage of the virus. Although cats only have a mild cold, the second stage is the same for everyone: “extreme aggression.” Basically, everyone turns into “rage zombies” who are prone to fight others. Yikes!
Cleo defends her actions, saying that she doesn’t know “weird future stuff” and shows she has no knowledge of quarantine, guessing it is a mineral, a dance, or “some kind of pastry.”
Khensu and Cleo leave in the nick of time, as they have to find a cure before everyone in the academy dies from the flu, killing each other in their uncontrollable rage. They travel to an uninhabited ice planet to meet Dr. Queed (voiced by Paul Rugg), former head of biosciences for P.Y.R.A.M.I.D., who was forced out because of his eccentric nature. While Khensu and Cleo are sparring, their ship crash-lands on the planet, and they barely escape being killed by lightning which strikes anything above 20 feet. Thanks to Cleo’s quick thinking, charging her quaser with the lightning’s energy, as soon as the virus fully takes hold of Khensu, making him a “rage zombie,” the giant ice spider, which blocks their way, is killed by a blast from the quaser. Afterward, Cleo and Khensu enter Dr. Queed’s lab, and learn the unsettling news that the monster Cleo killed was one of his creations! As Cleo pleads with him to help those at the academy, he remains skeptical of offering his “uncanny scientific brilliance.” Using his over-confidence, hubris, and ego against him, Cleo manipulates Queed into helping them, as Queed claims he can cure “any sickness.” Khensu, overtaken by the flu, almost kills Queed, until he sticks the untested vaccine into his arm, which ends up being successful. Later, Cleo goads Queed, saying he can’t cure everyone, leading him to declare he will prove his scientific abilities by making a big batch of vaccines.
On their return to Mayet, Queed, Cleo, and Khensu wear special helmets equipped to shoot vaccine darts at people. When they return to the academy, it has turned into utter mayhem, with each of them spreading out to cover more ground, firing darts filled with the vaccine at every student they can find. In the end, Brian is the only holdout, remaining infected because the darts can’t penetrate his cyborg body. Cleo has to activate her super pink power and is trapped by Brian, allowing her to suck out the power from Brian’s body. With everything returning to normal, Cleo says the spread of the illness is all her fault, a conclusion which is mostly correct. Khensu admits that he shouldn’t have assumed she knew of the “importance of quarantine.” Ironically, she later enters quarantine after showing symptoms of a presumed common cold. In the last scene of the episode, she remarks, “quarantine stinks!” a sentiment a lot of us would agree with at this point in time, and asks for a charger.
Cleo declares that “quarantine stinks!”
Relevance to the pandemic
The episode is extremely relevant to the present, even though the flu which is portrayed in the animated series is nothing like COVID-19. When Cleo unknowingly brings the disease back to Mayet as an asymptomatic carrier, and becomes the superspreader. A close watching of the episode shows Cleo gets close to at least five people, including fist-bumping with two, and hugging two more people while walking through an area bustling with students. Since the area was crowded with people, at least 18 students in the area nearby, by my count, she undoubtedly spread the virus to them. As such, the simple action of walking near the gathered students is a super-spreader event. When it comes to COVID-19, densely packed areas where people are talking or singing is risky as it leads to super-spreader events,  with the same applying here. In the same episode, Professor Jurval is shown teaching a class with at least seven students, although more are likely there and not shown on the screen. This is another presumed super-spreader event as she coughs toward the students, leading them to spread the cough between each other. Similar to the virus shown in the episode, COVID-19 has various stages and symptoms and does not affect everyone the same way.
Jurval’s possible superspreader event
There are few lessons and takeaways from this episode, tempered by the current time and place we live in. The first is that you should quarantine yourself when you are sick and don’t think you are above it. The latter attitude is how people have died or become seriously ill with COVID-19. In fact, Cleo spreading the virus almost caused her friends and classmates to die as their rage came to a melting point. She barely saved the day, only thanks to a medical doctor, although one that was seen as a quack, his vaccines of sorts, and her mentor, Khensu. Another takeaway from this episode is that you should listen to medical advice, not ignore it, as Cleo does at the end of the episode when she develops a cold of some type, perhaps as a side effect of the virus she spread or something else entirely.
The episode as a whole can be interpreted, in our current time and place, as emphasizing the importance of social distancing, coupled with mask-wearing. If Cleo had social distanced from her fellow classmates, wore a mask, and gone to quarantine, the outbreak of the flu could have been completely avoided. But, that wouldn’t have made a “good” story, right? More fundamentally, the episode is about trusting others and not being as self-centered (or arrogant), especially when you don’t know something or others will be harmed by your actions. This is especially relevant considering the current infection of the U.S. President with COVID-19 and those around him,  after not following the proper safety precautions, whether not social distancing or not wearing a mask. Clearly, no one is immune from the virus, no matter their stature in U.S. society, and no one can escape its wrath or effects.
Unlike COVID-19, where someone can feel “well in their battle against it one hour can easily take a turn the next,” as noted by TIME magazine’s Senior Editor, the virus shown in the episode only has two stages. Even so, there are many parallels to the current pandemic. The event last Saturday at the Rose Garden to announce Judge Amy Coney Barrett as a nominee for the Supreme Court, has been considered a superspreader event.  Similarly, Cleo walking through a crowded area at school, and Jurval sneezing on her class, are similarly superspreader events. At the same time, the way the virus was transmitted in the episode itself is similar to COVID-19 because it spreads in tiny aerosol droplets, something which the CDC recently admitted COVID-19 does as well, after initially denying it.  The agency’s official website currently states that “some infections can be spread by exposure to [the] virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours,” making clear that social distancing and mask-wearing alone will not limit the virus, but rather that it is about the time of exposure.
The episode itself also highlights the importance of proper medical care and science. If Queed had never created the vaccine and inadvertently made Khensu into a test subject, then everyone at the academy would have killed each other. Admittedly, this vaccine did not go through all the stages that those vaccines for the flu, measles, smallpox, and many other diseases, must go through before being given to the general public. In that way, it was a big gamble to even make the vaccines for everyone because they only had one test subject (Khensu). What if the effects on the students had been different? Imagine that instead of removing the flu particles within each of them, it killed or made them sicker? This is where the show falls down. Since it is reportedly geared toward those aged 6-11, according to showrunner Doug Langdale, such serious discussions are often sidetracked. As such, shows like Futurama do a much better job of highlighting the medical issues and risks in infection than Cleopatra in Space, with critics praising it for highlighting “what happens when an epidemic breaks loose in the future.” Even so, the Cleopatra in Space episode still has its merits, as it does not have flashbacks and neither is everyone put in quarantine. Similar to the Futurama episode, a vaccine is created, but the plotline is more straightforward and focuses on fewer characters, as Cleo’s usual team of herself, Brian, and Akila, is not possible, as Brian and Akila have the flu.
The parallels to the current COVID-19 pandemic could why the episode is still not listed on Peacock. However, the episode has aired on the DreamWorks channel, Showmax in South Africa, Viaplay in Scandinavia, and ABC Me in Australia, to give a few examples. Perhaps the executives, whether at DreamWorks, Universal Pictures (parent of DreamWorks), NBCUniversal (parent of Universal Pictures), or Comcast (parent of NBC Universal), did not want the episode to be interpreted as a commentary on COVID-19, with a protagonist who violates quarantine rules and is gleeful about it (before releasing her error). If that is the case, it is completely absurd. Since the show is relatively complex, in terms of the fact it has 26 episodes, coming in a total of over 570 minutes of animated content, it undoubtedly took a long time to produce, as compared to shorter productions. The show has been in production since at least January 2018, when the request to develop the music for the show was put out,  and when DreamWorks registered the trademark for Cleopatra in Space itself. Looking into those in the show’s crew, depending on the person, they worked on the show any time between April 2018 and August 2019, far before COVID-19 was on anyone’s mind.
Hopefully, this episode will soon be made available and that other animations in the coming year make parallels to the current COVID-19 pandemic in a way that is respectful and recognizes the gravity of the virus. In the end, there are various lessons and takeaways that viewers can glean from this episode, and the animated series as a whole, which will have relevance to this current time and place, and into the foreseeable future.
 This episode seems to be named “The Flu,” when the Korean title of the episode, when it aired on the DreamWorks channel on December 2, 2019, was translated. It also aired on Teletoon+ in Poland on February 24 of this year, and on ABC Me, an Australian broadcasting service, this summer.
 Over 19 people have been infected as noted by Norah O’Donnell in the CBS News special report on late night television on October 5, 2020 about the return of the U.S. President from Walter Reed to the White House, a number that increases every day.
Do It Yourself!! (Dū Itto Yuaserufu!!) is an original slice-of-life and DIY anime. The series is directed by Kazuhiro Yoneda and written by Kazuyuki Fudeyasu. It is produced by Pine Jam, a seven-year-old Japanese studio known for series such as Kageki Shojo!! and Just Because! In addition, Koyubita Beru’s online manga adaptation began at the same time as the anime. This review will have spoilers.
Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the fifteenth article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on December 11, 2022.
The show’s plot is simple and sweet: Serufu Yua (voiced by Konomi Inagaki) is an easygoing first-year student at Gatagata Girls’ High School who joins the school’s DIY club after the club’s leader fixes her bike after she crashes. Her name, in Japanese order, is a homonym meaning “yourself”, as in “do it yourself”.
After joining the DIY club, Serufu makes new friends. This includes a third-year named Rei Yasaku (voiced by Ayane Sakura), also known as Kurei, who is the club leader, and a shy first-year named Takumi Hikage (voiced by Azumi Waki).
Serufu is later joined by an overly friendly, and energetic, girl from Southeast Asia named Kokoro Kōki / Shii (voiced by Karin Takahashi). Shii does not go to the same school, but is an external member of the club. These friends, and others, attempt different methods to gain more club members, so the club can remain at the school.
Humor is central to Do It Yourself!!. For one, Serufu is very accident-prone, causing her to always wear bandages on her face and arms. As a result, she often spends time in the nurse’s office, for which she has perfect attendance. Her laid-back mother (voiced by Kikuko Inoue) even hides power tools in the house so that Serufu doesn’t hurt herself. Adding to the humor are occasional scenes when Serufu, and her mother. eat pork while her pet pig, Meat, sits and shutters at the thought they are eating animal meat like him.
The series excels at being low-pressure and without drama, for the most part, in contrast to currently airing series like I’m the Villainness and I’m Taming the Final Boss and Bibliophile Princess, which are filled with dramatic storylines from beginning to end. At the same time, Do It Yourself!! is optimistic and uplifting.
The anime’s characters are more than simple caricatures. For instance, Yua’s friend, Miku Suride (voiced by Kana Ichinose), is given the nickname of “Purin” by Serufu since is tsundere about her true feelings. She often gets worked up, especially when it comes to Serufu. There’s also her housemate, Juliet Queen Elizabeth VIII (voiced by Nichika Ōmori), also known as Jobko. Although she is a prodigy from the U.S., due to a language mix-up, so she ends up in the wrong school. She gives Miku the name “Pudding”.
The series is not a simple slice-of-life story like Azumanga Daioh or Non Non Biyori. It doesn’t shy away from harsh realities. For example, after everything seems lost at the end of the ninth episode, when materials the DIY club has been collecting for their treehouse are gone, the show does not take a dark turn. Instead, it remains upbeat. The club members are successful in gathering necessary excess materials along the way. They also learn that their club advisor, and school nurse, Haruko Hoketsu (voiced by Yumi Kakazu), was once a club member!
Do It Yourself!! touches on the “clash” between technology and hand-made materials. Purin goes to Yuyu Girls’ Vocational High School, a high-tech school, while the other characters attend Gatagata, which is next door. Instead of saying one method, or one school, is better than another, the show gives the lesson that DIY ethics can mesh with techno-optimism and technology itself. Jobko is a perfect example of this, as is Purin, to an extent, combining their skills together for benefit of others.
Similar to currently airing anime, such as Encouragement of Climb: Next Summit, Management of a Novice Alchemist, and Bocchi the Rock!, the show contains yuri subtext. This is most evident between Serufu and Purin, with the latter having feelings for the former. Additionally, Kurei and Takumi bond over a similar interest in a fictional manga named Sunflower Girls.
The show’s writing pulls you into the story and makes you want to watch more. This is unsurprising since the show’s writer, Kazuyuki Fudeyasu, is known for his work on Black Clover and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. He has also been a screenwriter on well-known series like Encouragement of Climb, In the Land of Leadale, Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina, and Is the Order a Rabbit?.
Ryōhei Sataka writes the music for Do It Yourself!!. He is known for work on the iDOLM@STER series, Classroom of the Elite, D4DJ, and Boarding School Juliet. The music of the series is simple, easily fitting with the themes and story.
The writing, story, and music are enhanced by the show’s voice talent. For instance, Ichinose depicted protagonists in Kaguya-sama: Love Is War, Carole & Tuesday, and If My Favorite Pop Idol Made It to the Budokan, I Would Die, while Sakura voiced characters in Wandering Son, Love Live! School Idol Project, and Spy x Family.
The show’s other voice actors are known for work on series such as The Aquatope on White Sand, My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, Tokyo Mew Mew, and Komi Can’t Communicate. Their talents are put to good use in the series.
Do It Yourself!! is a perfect embodiment of the DIY ethic. Although it is sometimes grating to see the characters use power tools and other tools without any safety gear, that might throw off the “cute girls building things with their hands” vibe that the show is going for.
The series falls short only by dragging out the tsundere nature of Purin toward Serufu too long. If the series is only be 12 episodes long, it would be unfortunate if Purin spends more time with the DIY club in the opening credits than in the actual episodes. However, it is a distinct possibility that the series will continue into another season.
If another season of Do It Yourself!! was developed, it could focus on the strengthened friendship, or even romance, if that plot was chosen, between Purin and Serufu. New characters would likely get introduced, as the DIY club would expand after the “secret” treehouse is built.
Serufu reminds me little of Izumi-kun in the romcom anime Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie or even Milo Murphy in the sci-fi action comedy, Milo Murphy’s Law. The difference is that Serufu has no backpack like Milo for any eventualities, nor does she have a sweet girlfriend, such as Shikimori-san, with excellent reflexes who rescues her from dangerous situations.
The focus on friendship, a do-it-yourself attitude, and peaceful family lives is a nice breather from the realism depicted elsewhere. There are no physically or psychologically abusive parents, similar to those in the short-lived sports drama series, Stars Align, nor any like Mother Gothel in the Tangled films and animated series. While such depictions are truthful as there are real-life relationships that some have with their parents or guardians similar to those depictions, it can be disheartening and depressing to see those depictions, at times.
Do It Yourself!! stands out as a strong slice-of-life series during a fall anime season filled with romance and drama. It has a different tone than other anime. It is more carefree, sometimes even happy-go-lucky. For that reason, I recommend the series wholeheartedly.
Do It Yourself!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Over the past year, there have been legal efforts to delay the closure. Kim Wyman, the Secretary of State of Washington State, began meeting with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and other stakeholders, in hopes of brokering a solution to keep the archival materials, which document “history across the Pacific Northwest” in the state of Washington. At the same time, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson made filings in federal court, including the recent lawsuit which included almost 600 pages from indigenous peoples, individuals, and interested groups which attest to the value of the Seattle facility and materials which are held there. If the “nearly million” boxes of archival materials from the facility were moved to Missouri and California as planned, access to records about Asian American history would be made more difficult, as would records that relate to the “cultural preservation, history and treaty rights” of various indigenous nations in the Pacific Northwest. Moving the records to facilities in those states would make them less publicly accessible, destroying one of the “wellsprings” from which the “collective memory” of the region and nation is formed, as argued in the case in the amicus brief by the Korematsu Center. A recent successful lawsuit filed by Ferguson in early January, joined by 29 indigenous groups, and historic community and preservation groups, to stop the relocation and sale of the Seattle FRC, explains the problem succinctly:
“This action shows a callous disregard for the people who have the greatest interest in being able to access these profoundly important records…The facility contains the DNA of our region. It provides public access to permanent records created by Federal agencies and courts in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington…the National Archives at Seattle is the only property among those the PBRB recommended for sale that has profound importance to the region in which it is situated and is regularly used by members of the public…These irreplaceable archives are primarily un-digitized and do not exist elsewhere.”
The closure of the facility would violate NARA’s own principles to preserve and provide access to U.S. records and document U.S. history, especially those documents essential to U.S. government actions, rights of U.S. citizens, and any other records which “provide information of value to citizens.” It also runs afoul of NARA’s commitment to drive “openness, cultivate public participation” and strengthen U.S. democracy through “public access to high-value government records.” That same commitment states that NARA will lead the “archival and information professions to ensure archives thrive in a digital world.” That seems unlikely since only about 1% of the NARA’s record holdings are digitized and even less than 1% of presidential library records have been put online.
Furthermore, moving the records from Seattle to the FRCs in California, whether in Riverside or in San Francisco, and St. Louis, Missouri, would disregard the core values of archivists outlined by the Society of American Archivists. These core values state that archivists have a duty to foster greater access and use to records, maintain records which allow “contemporary and future entities” to seek accountability, serve as responsible “stewards for primary sources,” and root their “ethics of care that prioritizes sustainable practices and policies” when it comes to archival duties. The “boxes of information” within the Seattle FRC, highlighted by one local Seattle reporter, Matthew Smith, would be made less accessible if the records were moved elsewhere in the country. If the Seattle FRC is closed, it will be a sad day for archives, records, and preservation of U.S., indigenous, and community history.
Reprinted from Issues & Advocacy. This was written before the sale of the facility was halted by the Biden Administration. After learning this, I said on Twitter, “that doesn’t mean it should be sold. The decision to sell tthee [sic] facility was rotten and it’s good it was stopped,” called for a bigger budget to NARA, and noted “it was good timing to write another article about this back in March. I personally wasn’t sure whether the sale would be cancelled [sic], but I am glad it was.”
Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. The following is from Burkely Hermann, recent graduate of the University of Maryland – College Park’s graduate program in Library and Information Science, with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation.
The NAS facility is key to many different communities. The official page for the facility specifically highlights information they hold about Chinese immigrants and indigenous affairs, along with land records, court records, and genealogical resources. This includes tribal and treaty records of indigenous people living in the Pacific Northwest, and original case files for Chinese immigrants in the 19th century. Volunteers have been trying to index the Chinese immigrant files and create an “extensive database of family history.” This will be interrupted if the files are moved, making the database incomplete.
The NAS facility itself has regional significance. The property the facility sits on was once the location of a prospering farm owned by Japanese immigrant Uyeji family from 1910 to 1942.  These immigrants were evicted from their land during World War II and put into concentration camps, like the over 120,000 Japanese Americans. The immigrant Uyeji family never returned to their home, and the land was seized by the U.S. Navy in 1945, after it had been condemned in earlier years, in order to build a warehouse.  The warehouse was later converted into a facility and began to be occupied by the National Archives after 1963. This transfer of ownership intersected with the history of Seattle’s development which benefited White people above those of other races, from 1923 onward.
There is more to be considered. As Llewellyn and Buchanan argue in the Journal of Western Archives, the closure of NAS is harmful, a failure at “multiple levels of government,” and was made without considering how valuable marginalized communities in the area see the records held at the facility.  58,000 cubic feet are permanent records of federal agencies in the Pacific Northwest, while 6,600 cubic feet are occupied by records from the Bureau of Indian Affairs alone.  Neither should be destroyed per NARA guidance. This amount of cubic feet is equivalent to about 1,871 side-by-side refrigerators or about 1,234 top-mount refrigerators.  No matter how the size is measured, the NAS facility is well-used, as is its digital resources, by Asian-Americans, indigenous people, and various researchers.  Some indigenous people even called the closure and movement of records to other locations a “paper genocide.” As Bob Ferguson, the Washington State Attorney General, stated in February, moving the records from the NAS facility to states such as California and Missouri, contradicts the purpose of the archives and impedes efforts by local families to research their ancestors.
There are other problems with the closure. Llewellyn and Buchanan pointed out, for one, the errors in the Public Buildings Reform Board (PBRB)’s assessment to close the facility, noting the significant level of foot traffic, the lack of public hearings on the closure, and NARA management agreeing with the decision to close.  There is also concern that not all the records held at the NAS facility could be digitized. Some news outlets, like MyNorthwest, have rightly pointed out that large items like bound books and maps might not be “properly scanned” or digitized at all. Llewellyn and Buchanan further note the involved process of digitization, and extra costs researchers will have to pay if the records from the NAS facility are moved. 
Readers may be asking what can be done about the closure. Now is not the time to sit back and let the Washington State government do the heavy lifting, nor the Seattle media. In the latter case, the Seattle Times opinedagainst the decision to close the NAS facility. In the case of Washington State, Ferguson, mentioned earlier, proposed a compromise to keep the regional facility of NARA in Washington State, worrying, like others, of the prospect of losing access to “over a century of history.” But his noble efforts have been for naught. The closure is on track, with NARA justifying it based on experience with the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the agency will be “less location dependent” in the future, with users accessing resources remotely rather than in-person. On the legal front, in August, Ferguson filed federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuits for public records against NARA, the Office of Management & Budget (OMB), and the General Services Administration (GSA). He also requested documents from the PBRB the same month. He stated that NARA and OMB failed to respond to requests he made in early February, while the GSA has not sent records it promised in the summer of this year. The PBRB, on the other hand, wanted taxpayers to pay about $65,000 to redact information from documents even though no sensitive information is present, as stated in various articles in the Seattle Times, HeraldNet, and Seattle Weekly. These efforts will likely go forward as Ferguson won the race to be the Attorney General of Washington State against Republican challenger Matt Larkin.
In the short-term, readers should email the OMB Director Russell Vought at Russell.firstname.lastname@example.org, the GSA Administrator Emily Murphy at email@example.com, Archivist David Ferriero at David.Ferriero@nara.gov, and the PBRB at firstname.lastname@example.org, opposing the closure of the NAS facility. Currently, the NAS facility has not been listed by the GSA for sale, whether on its database of real property or its database displaying federal properties being auctioned off. While COVID-19 makes the push for more remote learning attractive, it is still possible and vital to open in-person facilities, in line with existing rules and regulations to ensure the safety of the staff and patrons at specific facilities. In the long-term, if the NAS facility is closed, it could put other NARA facilities in jeopardy, as Llewellyn and Buchanan point out.  At the same time, archivists should advocate for a “massive investment in time, money, and planning” to digitize more of NARA’s holdings, as the aforementioned scholars argue for,  with not even 1% digitized at the present! Whether the facility is closed or not, there are dark times ahead for NARA, as less government spending may be on the horizon, unless the proposed budget for NARA is approved by the House of Representatives and Senate.
Archivists on the Issues is a forum for archivists to discuss the issues we are facing today. The following is from Burkely Hermann, recent graduate of the University of Maryland – College Park’s graduate program in Library and Information Science, with a concentration in Archives and Digital Curation.
On January 26, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approved the sale of the 157,000 square foot National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Seattle facility, which holds permanent federal records for Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. This decision raises the question: which is more important, access to historic records or selling a public facility in a high-value real estate market? There has been fierce opposition from historical societies in Alaska and Seattle, historical researchers, genealogical groups, indigenous leaders, university professors, archivists, and historians. They were joined by a bipartisan group of eight Alaskan state legislators and 16 Congress members. The latter, comprising Washingtonian, Alaskan, Idahoan, and Montanan politicians, was also bipartisan. Washington Governor Jay Inslee also opposed the decision, as did Washington’s Secretary of State Kim Wyman. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is considering suing the federal government over the closure. He reportedly submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the five-person Public Buildings Reform Board (PBRB), OMB, NARA, and the General Services Administration (GSA) regarding the closure. The Washington State Archives even created a page about the topic.
History Associates Incorporated, which cautioned their clients to plan ahead for the facility’s closure, noted the process would take 18 months. They also included the estimate from Susan Karren, NARA’s Seattle director that only “.001% of the facility’s 56,000 cubic feet of records are digitized and available online,” and stated that permanent records may be inaccessible when transferred between facilities. According to NARA, no actions are being taken imminently which affect users of the facility, and NARA has requested to stay in the facility for three years following the sale. With such hullabaloo on this topic, one question is relevant: why does this closure matter to us, as fellow archivists?
Some may point to existing digitization efforts. Sure, some of Alaska’s records have been digitized, but record series are often digitized by FamilySearch and the project is only five years old. For instance, some records relating to Alaska have been digitized like crew lists, immigrant lists, draft cards, and naturalization records, as is the case with Washington and Idaho. But these are primarily 20th century records, with very few 19th century records. The letter from congress members criticizing the decision also called this out, stating that “NARA’s partnership with FamilySearch to digitize records has…not resulted in actual access to records that have been prioritized by stakeholders,” a unique and rare criticism of the NARA-FamilySearch partnership. The limitations of existing digitization undermines NARA’s reasoning that some of their “popular records” are already digitized or available online, asserting that public access to their archival records will stay in place.
Access to “archived knowledge” is vital and inherent to archival ethics. Moving records away from those who can use it, dividing it between two existing facilities in Riverside, California, and Kansas City, Missouri, is an act of cruel inaccessibility. Furthermore, splitting the records between two locations, regardless of the reason, leads to a strain on those facilities, which need additional storage space. NARA itself admits that the closure will negatively affect those who use the facility. They pledge to engage with researchers in a “smooth” transition when the facility is shuttered, even though this change will undoubtedly disadvantage various stakeholders, whether state archivists, government employees, scientists, students, or others. In a recent invitation-only meeting, they showed their commitment to the closure of the facility, pledging to work with indigenous groups.
The PBRB’s executive director Adam Bodner claimed that the closure of the facility was a decision by NARA staff. If true, this would put them at odds with users and stakeholders who want the facility to remain open. On pages A-68 to A-71 of their report, the PBRB concluded that NARA wanted to move to a more modern facility and that the 10 acres the facility sat on would be great for residential housing, apparently worth tens of millions of dollars as one article claimed. The PBRB also stated that NARA could only fulfill its storage needs at another facility because the current facility does not meet NARA’s “long-term storage needs.” In the process, some records will be moved to a temporary facility. Reportedly, NARA justified the closure by the fact that the facility is the third-least visited NARA site in the country and has “high operating costs.” Such arguments don’t consider the fact that the 73-year-old building could be retrofitted for the agency’s needs or records could be moved closer rather than split between two locations. This closure also stands against NARA’s stated goal that public access is part of its core mission and violates the Society of American Archivists’ Code of Ethics, stating that archivists “promote and provide the widest accessibility of materials.”
Note:This post is reprinted from Issues & Advocacy, as part of their “Archivists on the Issues” series. I wrote this article back on February 18 and am glad I did so. The situation has not changed as a result of COVID-19. Articles by the Seattle Times, Seattle Times again, and MyNorthwest, show that the closure seems to still be on the agenda, although discussions with the Congressional delegations and others with NARA continue in hopes of reaching an agreement.
Recently, I read a thought-provoking article by Bohyun Kim in Information Today, which I mentioned in my recent newsletter, where she talked about “data-ism.” She defined this term as data replacing our thinking to validate or invalidate a hypothesis, with data and algorithms seen as “a superior means to process data” and find meaning in it, as compared to human thoughts. She added that such a concept is enabled not by a particular technology but by a “specific group of people who will benefit from implementing data-ism society-wide at the cost of others outside that group” like those behind Facebook and Google. This brings me to She-Ra and the Princesses of Power where one character embodies this ideal above anyone else: Entrapta. You could say she is a dataist, pure and simple. However, she may not fully fall into this category as she has her own thoughts and experiences, like when she tries to stop the portal from opening or her decision to join Bow, Adora, and the other heroes. Admittedly, she is one of my favorite characters, correctly described as autistic by the show’s existing fandom, even having a tag on Archive of Our Own: “Autistic Entrapta.”  After all, she is autistic as noted on a leaked character sheet for the show itself. This is part of the reason she was included in fan fictions of a person I know, as noted later within this post.
I must warn you, for those who haven’t finished Season 4 of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, that there are some spoilers, not only for that season but for the whole show. Long story short, Entrapta is a princess with prehensile hair who is a scientist and inventor always trying to tinker with ancient technology. A number of her experiments go terribly wrong, like the creation of murderous robots in “System Failure” (her debut in the series). She is originally portrayed as deep into her work and about experimenting with ancient technology (“First Ones tech”). In a later episode, she is unintentionally stranded in the Fright Zone, in “No Princess Left Behind“, the aftermath of the kidnapping in “Princess Prom.” This is where the villains, known as the Horde, have their home base. She later joins them in “The Beacon.”
This episode is why some, like Ana Mardoll, say there are “problems” with Entrapta. She argued, back in December 2018, that it is hurtful that the one neurodiverse (ND) team mate turned evil because she is supposedly “too much of a reckless fool to realize that evil is bad.” They further state that she is, in their view, a “collection of parodies and stereotypes about ND people being foolish and easily confused and laughably simple to lie to.” She also argues that Entrapta’s so-called “fall to evil” frustrates them because the show gives Catra complex reasons for why she stayed with the Horde and claims that Entrapta plays off “abelist assumptions” about ND people. While I can understand this perspective, it is clearly misguided. She is a character who is undoubtedly autistic, but also sweet and an “underappreciated technowizard.” The latter is key. Even though she joins the Rebellion, serving as part of the Princess Alliance, after “System Failure,” this is short-lived. Remember how Glimmer reacts to her in that debut episode: very negatively, often grumbling and sighing, only wanting Entrapta to join them in order to impress her mom and get the Rebellion “cool junk” to defeat the Horde. The fact that her and Adora both make fun of Bow for his pretty cool “trick arrows” says something about how they feel about Entrapta. What Glimmer declares, along with acting occasionally aggressive toward her does not bode well. The only person who sympathizes with her is Bow, saying:
She’s a brilliant inventor. She makes robots and rehabs old tech left by the First Ones. She’s a pretty big deal in the Etherian Makers Community…I bet Entrapta will like my arrows…Entrapta has traps set up all over her castle. They’re supposed to be really cool…Big fan of your work, princess. Maybe not this, but your other work.
He says the last two lines after he bows to her. She gladly accepts his praise, chuckling and saying “hi,” and he then kisses some of her prehensile hair courteously after she extends it to shake hands with him. The screenshot from that episode, showing her reaction is below:
She is pretty friendly and nice to Glimmer and Adora throughout the episode, even wanting a “date” with Glimmer to discuss how teleportation works. She even offers to give up her leg to save them from the murderous robots. As such, I’m not sure how people can call her “un-sympathetic.” After all, all of them, plus the kitchen staff, work together to take down the virus from the infected First Ones disk, with Bow and Entrapta working together. Not surprisingly, she, of course, puts the disk together again at the end of the episode.
Her only other appearances, before she joins the Horde in “The Beacon” are “Princess Prom” and “No Princess Left Behind.” In the first of these episodes, Entrapta comes to the prom, happily greeting Adora and Glimmer, asking if they are there for the “social experiment” where, as she describes it,
Different groups are forced to mingle. Hierarchies form and break. It’s the perfect place to observe behavior. And they have tiny food.
She pries a bit into Glimmer’s emotional uneasiness in the episode, making her annoyed with Entrapta, while Mermista doesn’t want to involve herself in that or in Entrapta’s observations. With all this excitement, Entrapta calls it “the best social experiment ever.” After all, she is a person who “loves science and refer[s]…to parties as “social experiments” while standing off to one side,” having trouble making friends. Later on, in the evening, Adora remains protective of her, with Catra helping her get a better vantage point. It is then that Entrapta and Catra become a bit friendly. She calls Catra her new “assistant…[who] brought snacks,” with Catra saying she stole her food, and asked Catra to spy on the crowd with her. She teases Adora with the idea this is “love,” who pulls Entrapta aside, reminding her of the allegiances she has agreed to:
Entrapta, she’s from the Horde. The people the Rebellion are fighting? The Rebellion you’re a part of.
Some say that she feels a bit oblivious, but perhaps perhaps her heart isn’t into the Rebellion. After all, who, other than Bow, has actually treated her with respect? Even Adora is pretty forceful with her. Add to this what happens in “No Princess Left Behind”: Entrapta goes with Sea Hawk, Mermista, Perfuma, and Frosta to rescue Glimmer and Bow. She becomes enamored and enchanted with Horde technology, even re-programming a Horde bot she names “Emily,” later shown in the episode, “Promise.” Even the patience of Perfuma is tested by Entrapta, while Mermista is a bit annoyed as well. Still, they all feel awful when they think Entrapta is killed in a blast during their escape. That brings us to “The Beacon.” Mardoll is saying that Entrapta is a “reckless fool” for not realizing that the Horde is “bad” and that she is taken in by Catra’s lies. But is this really totally the case? Catra already had a rapport with Entrapta after Princess Prom, so they already know each other to an extent. Even Scorpia knew who she was. As she told them, their cuffs weren’t holding her. She stayed there as her choice. On the one hand you could say that Catra tapped into Entrapta’s insecurities. On the other, no one, apart from Bow, treated her with respect when she was part of the Princess Alliance. They all tried to use her. Of course, the Horde also wanted to use her too, but I doubt she is naive to such an extent that she does not recognize what the Horde is doing to the planet.
Rather, as Beth Elderkin pointed out, it isn’t clear whether she even knows she defected, or if she even cares what side she is on. This is clear in the “Ties That Bind” when she tentatively says she is on the side of the Horde, only after Glimmer asks her “Entrapta, are you on the Horde’s side?”. Here’s her full response to that question:
I’m on the side of science. But I am living at the Fright Zone now and the Horde is supplying me with tools and materials for my work. So, yes, I guess?
Rather, she only cares about the pursuit of knowledge, with people around her “only worth the data they [can] provide.” As a result, she is often undergoing dangerous experiments, taking notes, and “making hypotheses based on the results.” This means she is person with clear “moral ambiguity” but seems to not even care about what the Horde is doing to the planet as a whole. Catra, to quote again from Elderkin, serves as a “listening ear” to Entrapta, showing her new technology and giving her free reign. This allows her to hack the planet, with her restraints gone, beginning in “Light Hope,” while ignoring the signs that Catra plans to use her technology to hurt millions, possibly because she doesn’t care. The same could be said for the fact that her experiment almost destroys the world but is reversed thanks to the combined power of the princesses in the Season 1 finale, “The Battle of Bright Moon.”
Mardoll also quotes from Abigail Nussbaum, who writes another criticism in “The Problem of Entrapta“, claiming that Entrapta is “the embodiment of the idea that you can’t trust mentally ill and ND people with guns or power or being president or whatever,” or that it is “impossible to “redeem” Entrapta with a reveal.” Rather, she argues that Entrapta “has to face her actions and atone,” while further claiming she is “being written in a way which seems to suggest that autistic folks lack that capability to self assess.” She even claims that “the overall collection of her personality traits has a high correlation to us [ND people], so the portrayal of her fall to villainy needed to be handled with care–and it wasn’t.” She further declares that Entrapta “was turned through a combination of being profoundly foolish and utterly lacking any empathy: two harmful stereotypes about ND folks.” This is an incorrect reading of her character. To bring in Elderkin again, clearly Entrapta is naive, but she is also adorable, and is “so disconnected from the world’s problems that she doesn’t even know she’s a villain,” making her a true “morally grey character.” To say she is foolish is silly. She could have left the Fright Zone at ANY TIME. But, she did not. Why? She has a “cheerfully wobbly moral compass” and more importantly a “Oppenheimer-like joy of discovery” above any ethical choices. This is a reality that neither Mardoll nor Nussbaum can recognize. Surely, she doesn’t fully recognize that her experiments are “not just hypothetical ideas, but real things that affect real people” to quote from Elderkin. But that doesn’t make her a bad person.
What about those that say she “often exemplifies the clinically un-empathetic autistic stereotype”? This belief tied with the claim that she is “evil by lack of “theory of mind”” is incorrect. While I agree that it would be great if she could “grapple more with morality, manipulation, and pursuing obsession” and have more of “her emotional and compassionate empathy…revealed to the audience,” she does express emotions in relation to Emily, a robot she had modded out of a Horde robot, to help her with her work, just like those robots she modded out as war machines in “The Frozen Forest.” Without a doubt, she is blindly dedicated to research, no matter the cost, and undoubtedly has social anxiety. Even so, she finds humanity in the villainous Hordak, working with him to build an inter-dimensional portal, starting in “Signals.” After seeing him break down with weakness, she creates an armored suit for him, allowing them to become friends, beginning in “Huntara.” This suit is later damaged by Catra in the most recent season as a way of manipulating him to do what she wants.
It is evident that Entrapta believes that her data and calculations will give her the method to discover the “answers,” no matter the cost. Take what she said in “White Out” as an example of this mentality:
With that all being said, I would not say she is “un-empathetic” or that she does not have agency. She willingly stays with the Horde, a decision that the princesses respect in “Ties that Bind” and “The Signal,” although they disagree with it. That’s at least how I’ve always seen it. She even sticks up for Catra and is able to convince Hordak she is valuable, which leads him to send her to the Crimson Waste to get a specific artifact in “The Price of Power.” You could claim she doesn’t listen to Adora trying to talk sense to her, telling her to not use the Sword of Protection to open the portal in “Moment of Truth,” but she does actually take into account what Adora is telling her. And after doing some tests, she realizes that Adora is right! Sure, she trusts the data, but she uses it with her own thoughts and analysis, making it a bit different from her typical dataist thinking. In same episode, she has a revelation that shows this to be the case: the anomalies of the portal will be “catastrophic,” unhinging time and space, “creating a warped reality that would collapse in on itself, erasing us from existence.” She tries to warn Catra about this, saying she has to tell Hordak, but she angrily zaps her with a stun gun, ordering Scopria to send her to Beast Island, which she reluctantly complies with. Catra then lies to Hordak, claiming Entrapta was on the side of the princesses all along, and he does not discover this lie until the end of Season 4. As this season comes to a close, Catra opens the portal and almost destroys the whole world, as recounted in “Remember” and “The Portal,” with Adora barely saving the day. Apart from Angella’s sacrifice, the latter is partly thanks to the help of Entrapta in the bizarre alt-Etheria world, who helps them, to an extent, fix reality in the best way she can. At the same time, she has compassion, saying to Adora at one point: “it was nice being friends with you” as she fades away from existence, at least in this bizarre world.
For much of Season 4, she doesn’t make an appearance, with Scorpia concerned about her, as shown in “The Coronation,” while Catra angrily wants her recordings, noted in “Princess Scorpia.” Almost, as a sort of payback, Entrapta, along with Adora, is one of those people who haunts Catra in her dreams in “Flutterina.” In a later episode, “Beast Island,” Adora describes Entrapta as having “purple hair and really likes robots. Like, really, really likes robots,” and they discover she is still alive. She is said to be heading for the center of the island, and when it seems all hope is lost, she literally saves them (Bow, Swift Wind, Micah, and Adora/She-Ra). So much for saying she doesn’t have compassion. Here’s what she says after she rescues them, with a smile on her face:
In the following episode, “Destiny Part 1,” her life on the island is explored a bit more. Clearly, she is overjoyed that the island is full of “technological monstrosities,” calling it “paradise,” glad to help them learn about the heart of Etheria. She brings them to an ancient temple, calling it “amazing,” saying the answers she is looking for are there, pulling up a directory of various files. She reveals to them that all the princesses are part of the Heart of Etheria project, with She-Ra as the key, channeling the weapon, with the First Ones using the sword to control and use her. Adora learns she doesn’t get to refuse this task, to her horror, and Entrapta wants to stay on the island, no matter what:
Bow and Adora are able to pull her away from this, although she struggles thoroughly and claims that no one understands her, which is partially true, based on her past experience with the Princesses and the Horde. As it seems she will be engulfed by the vines, Bow talks to her about friendship and then, Adora, as She-Ra mentions they came on a ship with ancient technology. This pulls her out of her funk, although she admits that Bow’s talk didn’t affect her. Despite this, she is glad that her and Bow are friends. This means that Entrapta goes with them back to Bright Moon because of data and scientific discovery, not because of friendship or anything else. In many ways, her character subverts the Entrapta from the original She-Ra series whom is a “villainous technician…a skilled inventor, and is credited with designing advanced equipment for The Horde…[and] her speciality is devising different traps for members of The Rebellion.” She also can “design and create complex machines and inventions to be used by The Horde….mentally control her long hair at will…[using it[…to capture enemies or to control her various machines.”
She thinks about the Gem plans for Earth just like Entrapta does about her inventions, as shown in “It Could’ve Been Great” and “Message Received,” but these types of thoughts change. She learns how to be better with people, strikes up a relationship with a water gem, Lapis Lazuli, another one of my favorite characters, apart from Peri. Both are skeptical of each other in “Barn Mates” but later get more acquainted after “Hit the Diamond” and in other episodes (referenced in “Too Short to Ride“, “Beta“, “Earthlings“, and “Back to the Moon“). As the show’s episodes continue, she becomes more comfortable with herself and her connections to other beings (and people) (as shown in “Kindergarten Kid“, “Gem Harvest“, “Adventures in Light Distortion“, “The New Crystal Gems“, and “Room for Ruby“), although she is not as adept at social situations. For instance, it is revealed she lied to Lapis so she’d feel better (in “Raising the Barn“) and she begins to suffer depression (beginning in “Back to the Kindergarten“) after Lapis leaves Earth. She makes such an impression on Lapis, that this water gem references her as part of her song in “Can’t Go Back“. Apart from handing out flowers at Ruby and Sapphire’s wedding in “Made of Honor“, the first gay wedding in a commercial cartoon, embrace each other in “Reunited“. Both her and Lapis help the fellow Gems fight the Diamonds in “Change Your Mind“. And of course, she appears in the recent Steven Universe movie, having a vital role there, determining the injector fluid with her robonoids and technology.
There is one major difference between Peri and Entrapta. Unlike Peri, Entrapta has not opened up to others in the same way. But this is not surprising, due to the fact she was in environments where people either felt displeased about her (among the princesses) or exploited her skills (among the Horde). When she appears in the season finale, “Destiny Part 2,” there’s nothing she nor Adora can do to stop Light Hope’s plan, at least at first. Hordak learns about Catra’s lies about Entrapta and attempts to kill Catra with his laser canon arm. In this episode, Entrapta only gets a few lines, but they are important ones, for the story. For instance, when talking to Bow, who asks what is happening, she says, “it’s a portal. A big portal. With the planet balanced, the portal capabilities must be back online. We’re getting pulled through.” A screenshot from that scene shown below, indicating she is a bit excited about what will happen next:
She tries to be optimistic, noting they aren’t in Despondos but are in the “wider universe” now. Adora is able to stop Light Hope’s genocidal plans but cannot stop the arrival of Horde Prime with a huge fleet of warships. She-Ra is destroyed, Adora thinks, because the sword is gone. These events, sets the stage for the next undoubtedly eventful season…
That leads me to the second section of this post.
Building upon Entrapta’s “dataism” within my friend’s fan fictions
Entrapta is mentioned in one of my friend’s first stories, where Queen Angella laments to Samurai Jack about Entrapta working for the Horde:
Entrapta would be the perfect person to help you with constructing such a device, but…she is now working with the Horde, bringing her technology genius and inventor abilities to the side of evil…Our spies inside the Horde have indicated that the Supreme Leader of the Horde, Lord Hordak, is building a portal, likely with the help of Entrapta.
This friend built out her character more when Adora, Glimmer, Bow, and Jack go to the Crystal Castle, with Light Hope able to see Entrapta’s thoughts, as she worked with Entrapta to improve a portal which surprised Adora, asking herself why she was “working to turn the lightness of the world into darkness” and wondering if she had a “conscience of her own” or not. It also is part of the reason she breaks down later in the same story. In a story later on, characters suspect she helped hack into Light Hope, and she ends up being one of those who wants to shroud the planet in darkness, working with Hordak. This friend described her “almost slavish dedication to “science” no matter how much it hurt the planet,” and noted the “evil look in her magneta-colored eyes as her prehensile lilac hair quickly tapped on the keyboard,” as she said:
“Progress is going great! Our hack of Light Hope was a success…and the crumpling of that crystalline structure means it will be so much easier to get First One’s tech for our machines. The Rebellion will think it’s gone and done for, allowing us to go in without a trace. Now, if we could hack into all the runestones, perhaps we could even track the princesses…this…I must say…is all so exciting!”
In the same story, Hordak praised her on the progress she had made. At one point, with only one Horde robot created by her remaining near the Crystal Castle, Bow directly addresses her:
Entrapta, someday you’ll regret all this and realize the destruction you have caused to this planet…what you are doing is wrong…it’s not for science, as you may think, it’s for evil. I hope you change your mind.
Despite this, his words don’t move her and she rigged the remaining robot to explode, which happened in “Frozen Forest.” Later, Entrapta greets Samurai Jack “with a friendly, and warm, smile,” and is very fascinated by his desire to travel back in time and across dimensions. Sadly, Jack isn’t moved by the pleas of his friends, and he accurately saw:
a 30-year-old woman who was kind, but lonely, having a positive outlook on life, and dedicated to pursuing knowledge and discovery through her experiments and research. It filled him with joy to meet someone thrilled with learning new information, although she seemed a bit obsessive in this process. Even so, he could see that such dedication would lead to a disregard of morality, meaning she would not recognize that her work could hurt others. In a thundering voice, he told the rest of them his intentions and why he had come there.
He then defends Entrapta, although she warned him not to use the portal due to the possibility of error. Even so, she feels obligated to help him despite “her reservations about the safety of the portal itself” and he travels across dimensions, although not to the world he wanted. Ultimately, there is nothing she can do other than “shutting down the whole portal.”
Apart from that, my friend talked more about her as a person in other stories, fleshing her out as a character:
The fact that Entrapta didn’t pick up their magical signatures, on her computer, had been a miracle. It was a happy coincidence she had been in a deep sleep. She needed rest, especially since she had an older age than many of the princesses, who were in their teens, having lived and breathed for 30 years on the planet…Preparing to attack them with her prehensile hair, Adora stunned her with a regulation stun gun which she had taken from a Horde soldier…Although she was in a daze, she could hear Pearl and Adora utter a few stern words, “Entrapta…it’s time to talk,” while the others surrounded her in a semi-circle. The time for reckoning was at hand
She then serves as a major part of my friend’s story that served as the capstone of part 1 of my friend’s “An Unlikely Alliance Against Evildoers” series. She asked why they had stunned her, and the heroes, including Glimmer, reminded her of the “scientific experiments she had conducted which “caused the destabilization of Etheria, almost killing them in the process.” After Hordak’s death devastated her she opened the portal, wanting to join the ultimate Horde leader, but she relented. In the same story, she had a self-revelation to everyone:
My god, you must think I am a monster. I can understand why you are angry at me. I only wanted to conduct scientific experiments, collect data, and test the boundaries of thought. I never wanted to hurt anyone. But, in the process, I blindly charged ahead, not thinking of how my actions would affect other people. I am sorry and I ask for your forgiveness
With this, some, like Perfuma, wanted to forgive her, while others wanted her to “pay penance for what she had done.” She did this by helping them begin dehordeification, starting with the Fright Zone’s destruction (which happened thanks to her “ingenious implosion”) after her materials had been moved back to her castle in Dyrl. Later, she talks with Peridot and works to “ensure that the new archives would have the appropriate technology,” even though she would also have a trial. She also had a minor mention in my friend’s recent story with Glimmer noting she is “awaiting trial,” although my friend didn’t give any more details at this point. Undoubtedly, she will come up in some of my friend’s future stories.
That’s all I have for today. Until next week! Comments are welcome.
 The Wikipedia page describes her as “the Evil Horde‘s chief technician…a skilled inventor…credited with designing advanced equipment for The Horde…[and has a] scientific and fact-based nature, and quickly warmed up to Catra and Hordak, with whom she forms an emotional relationship.” Other fans have speculated she was written with Aspergers Syndrome in mind or think it is highly evident without a doubt (see here, here, here, and here for example), even noted on TV Tropes.
Super interesting to skim through. I think we tend to downplay the seemingly unattractive aspects of autism. Particularly the very data-driven robot meets interpersonal simpleton characterization. As an autistic woman in her 30s with a historical attraction to much older, evil men (ahem), myself, its defense often comes off as an attempt to soften those characteristics in order to make them more palatable to NTs. When in reality, many of the characterizations were misinterpretations of the autistic experience in the first place. Thank you for the analysis!- esjunsia
This was a really interesting read! Thank you for sharing! Entrapta is one of my favourite characters too and I agree with everything you said. The criticism you countered, that ‘it is hurtful that the one neurodiverse (ND) team mate turned evil because she is supposedly “too much of a reckless fool to realize that evil is bad”‘ – while I can kind of see where they’re coming from, I agree with you that it’s not entirely fair, not just for the reasons you mentioned but also because what evidence do they have that Entrapta even is “the one neurodiverse team mate”? I don’t see any reason to assume that. I’m neurodivergent too, but I actually recognise more of my own autistic traits in Adora. This post I found on tumblr explores that extremely well and I would definitely recommend reading it if you’re interested! – zutarakorrasami
I really hate everyone saying ‘oh she wanted Knowledge’ like her entire motivation for joining the Horde wasn’t believing her friends abandoned her – nor-fuck-pines
“He defined this term as data replacing our thinking to validate or invalidate a hypothesis, with data and algorithms seen as “a superior means to process data” and find meaning in it, as compared to human thoughts.” I’m on that field. No, noboby [sic] with a basic understading [sic] of statistics and/or pratical experience with data based analysis believes that. Some evangelists and vendors say that, but it’s because we need clients/funding. Human analysis still is the best by a huge margin – FellowOfHorses