Entrapta, She-Ra, and Autistic Representation

This is reprinted from Neurotastic and was a shorter version of my post a couple days before on the same topic.

When people think of autism, Raymond Babbit in Rain Man, Christian Wolff in The Accountant, or Sheldon in Big Bang Theory, may come to mind. These negative stereotypes persist in popular culture despite increased positive representation for autistic characters. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (SPOP) is different.

While the series rightfully received accolades for its LGBTQ+ representation, there is another aspect of the show: positive autistic representation. Entrapta (voiced by Christine Woods), a curious and sensitive hacker, scientist, and “geeky princess,” is a well-written autistic character. SPOP series creator Noelle Stevenson stated that autistic storyboarder Sam Szymanski played a huge role in shaping Entrapta.

Behind the Mask

Whether she is seen as “morally grey,” “adorkable,” or “chaotic neutral,” she is a smart character who makes her own decisions and tries to fix problems through a mechanical means. Unlike the show’s other protagonists, Adora, Glimmer, Catra, and Bow, around age 17 or 18, she is older, in her late 20s or early 30s. She struggles to connect with others, due to her occasional low self-worth, and sometimes hides behind her mask, affixed to her face. Her voice changes when wearing the mask, as she tries to cover up her autistic traits and appear neurotypical.

As Noelle described Entrapta, she struggles to communicate her feelings or understand what other characters are saying, seeing “humanity in everything,” whether clones, robots, or otherwise. In the show’s most recent, and last season, she begins to balance her love for machines and a desire to connect with others, while helping the protagonists save the world of Etheria, where the series takes place, from the villainous Horde Prime. One of the characters she humanizes is Hordak, former leader of the evil Horde. Their interactions, in the show as a whole, led some fans (and members of the show’s crew) to ship them as “Entrapdak.” This was confirmed as canon in a Black Lives Matter charitable Twitch stream hosted by Noelle and her wife, Molly Ostertag.

Noelle also stated that Entrapta, as a loving person, has a lot of robot boyfriends and girlfriends. The latter is reflected in the show’s most recent season when she flirted with technology, specifically the Horde Robot in the episode “Launch,“and the spaceship, which she named “Darla,” in the episode “Stranded.” Whether these are examples of robosexuality, referring to love or sexuality between a robot and a humanoid person, or not, there is not question it is part of her propensity to see humanity in everything.

System Failure

Entrapta freely makes her own decisions as an “underappreciated technowizard,” some of which are reprehensible. For instance, she helped the Horde destroy much of Etheria. Although she stayed loyal to her friend, Hordak, it is incorrect to call her the “worst kind of villain” or a person who cares only about pursuing knowledge despite the consequences. Whether she is fully aware of the planetary damage she has caused, she is undoubtedly morally ambiguous, with a “cheerfully wobbly” moral compass, different than the show’s other characters.

She thinks that her calculations and data will give her the “answers,” no matter the cost. As such, it is incorrect to say she lacks the ability to self-assess her actions or embodies stereotypes. After the Princesses unintentionally stranded her in the Fright Zone, she joined the show’s villains, the Horde, leading some to declare that she is a harmful form of representation, while others claimed she believed the lies of Catra, Adora’s romantic interest. In any case, Entrapta willingly stays with the Horde and the Princesses respect this decision while disagreeing with it.

There is a deeper reason she joined the Horde. When Glimmer and Adora meet her in her debut episode, “System Failure,” fighting the murder robots she accidentally created, Glimmer sees her as a way to impress her mother and win the war against the series villains. In contrast, Glimmer’s friend, Bow, sympathizes with Entrapta, calling her a “brilliant inventor,” praise she happily accepts. Despite Glimmer’s negative vibe, she stays friendly, and offers to cut off her leg to save them from the robots.

A few episodes later, in “Princess Prom,” Entrapta geeks out, describing the prom as a “social experiment” which is the best place to observe social behavior. She pries into Glimmer’s uneasiness and becomes friendly with Catra. Later, after Adora pulls her aside, it is implied that Entrapta’s heart isn’t with the Rebellion. The forcefulness of Glimmer, Adora, Mermista, and Perfuma toward her throughout season one, may be a subconscious turn-off for Entrapta, with the Princesses not completely understanding her. While the Princesses mourn the “death” of Entrapta, unknowingly leaving her behind, they had used her for their own purposes (defeating the Horde). Catra does the same thing, using her to get back at Adora.

Finding Friends in Exile

Furthermore, Entrapta may have been unaware she defected to the Horde or cares what side she is on. In the episode “Ties That Bind,” she tentatively says she is with the Horde, telling Glimmer that she is on the side of science, but is living in the Fright Zone. Near the end of season three, considering what Adora told her, she tries to warn Hordak to not open a portal which threatens to destroy Etheria. Catra panics, electrocutes Entrapta, and tries to distance herself from her mistakes by sending Entrapta into exile onto the remote Beast Island. In the bizarre world created by the portal, Adora and her friends meet Entrapta who helps them figure out what is happening and thanks Adora for being a friend. In the following season, she is thankful that Bow, Adora, and their talking horse, save her from Beast Island, a place full of “technological monstrosities.” Although she left Beast Island for scientific discovery and data, she appreciates Bow as a friend.

Due to Entrapta’s track record with the Horde, the princesses are distrustful. This is shown in the season five episode, “Launch.” As Megan Crouse describes it in her article, Entrapta begins to clash with the other princesses, putting them in danger. When Mermista accuses her of not caring about them and being untrustworthy, she responds by not realizing the Princesses were angry with her in the first place. She retreats to apologizing, stating: “I’m not good at people, but I am good at tech. I thought maybe if I could use tech to help you, you’d like me. But I messed that up, too.” After this, Entrapta tries to get away, but Mermista pulls her back by her prehensile hair, like Horde Prime in a later episode, relenting only when convinced that Entrapta cares about Glimmer.

In the rest of the season, she works to earn the trust of the other Princesses, gaining more friends as she recognizes the reasons behind her actions and explores her feelings for others. While you could say that Entrapta does not see the full consequences of her harmful actions, she overcomes possible social isolation and helps the series protagonists save their friends (first Glimmer, then Catra) from Horde Prime’s flagship, the Velvet Glove. She also removes the mind-control chip from Catra’s neck and forgives Catra after she apologizes for her hurtful actions. In the final episode of the season, after trying to disable mind-control chips of those across Etheria, when held against her will on the Velvet Glove, she apologizes to everyone. Later, after Catra and Adora save the world with their love, she reunites with Hordak.

Entrapta Represents

In the end, Entrapta is a positive form of representation for autistic people and subverts the Entrapta from the original She-Ra series, a simple villain without a conscience.

“We wrote her that way”: Entrapta and autistic representation in She-Ra

Entrapta forgives Catra for exiling her to Beast Island at the end of Season 3, and being a jerk to her in the past, in the episode, “Taking Control”

In November of last year, I wrote about Entrapta, one of my favorite characters in the animated series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, because she is morally gray character, a hacker, and a “smart and quirky chaotic neutral icon.” In that post, I examined her character in the first four seasons of the show, noting that she is an autistic character who makes her own decisions, acting as “a princess with prehensile hair who is [also] a scientist and inventor always trying to tinker with ancient technology. ” I also criticized some who claimed she is a “hurtful” representation of autistic people, noting that she is sweet and underappreciated, pointing out that Bow is the only one who sees her sympathetically, and that she stays in the Fright Zone by choice. I further noted that she is dedicated to science and research, sticks up for Catra when Hordak wants to send her to Beast Island, and stated that when she is rescued from Beast Island in Season 4 she “goes with them back to Bright Moon because of data and scientific discovery, not because of friendship or anything else.” I additionally made a comparison between her and  Peridot in Steven Universe, with storyboarder Maya Peterson (the same one who said Peri is asexual and aromatic, said she doesn’t interpret Peridot as autistic. I intend this post will be an update from my previous post, talking about her in the show’s final (and fifth) season, which started streaming on May 15th.  If you haven’t see the new season, please do so because this post is filled with spoilers! It is important to write about this because series creator Noelle Stevenson confirmed that Entrapta was autistic, basing her on an autistic person on the SPOP crew, a full-time storyboard artist named Sam Szymanski. [1]

Most of the commentary about the new season has focused on the mutual confession of romantic feelings by Catra and Adora, shipped as Catradora, who kiss in the show’s final episode, with their love literally saving the world (and universe) from destruction. This is the right focus, while some have noted the other LGBTQ characters confirmed like Seahawk (whose ex is named Falcon), Kyle and Rogelio, the relationship between Perfuma and Scorpia, or the romance between Bow and Glimmer, among many other topics. [2] After all, as Lindsey Mantoan, wrote in a CNN opinion, She-Ra is the “best queer representation on television.” In the process, however, little has been said about Entrapta. In fact, of many reviews I looked at, only a few even mentioned her in their analyses, despite her pivotal role in at least part of the season. [3] While one reviewer for A.V. Club (Shannon Miller) claimed that the show trades an in-depth look at Entrapta’s treatment for “heroics,” and saying there could have been “more reflection from those who have outwardly had more difficulty understanding Entrapta’s mindset, ” another, for Forbes, Linda Maleh, says the opposite. Maleh argues that Entrapta gets a lot “a lot of screen time as she learns to balance her love of machines with her desire to connect with people,” calling her entirely “adorkable,” and that her character gives viewers some of the most touching and funny moments of the show. I tend to agree with Maleh more than Miller. Similarly, I think that Heather Hogan of Autostraddle makes a valid point in saying that Wrong Hordak brought out the charming parts of Entrapta, stating that it was nice to see her understanding how to work alongside friends, express herself better, and her feelings, while the princesses “start to understand her for who she really is.” Although it is positive these reviewers noted her role in the season, there is clearly a lot more going on about Entrapta than what Miller, Maleh, or Hogan talk about.

Entrapta, who is between the ages 28 and 30, appears in every single episode of the fifth season, apart from episode 10, can be said to be the “smartest” character in the series. In the previous season,  she was rescued from Beast Island by Bow, Adora, and Swift Wind, reminded about her true friends while ancient technology continued to pull her in. In contrast, in this season, she struggles to find a place among the other princesses, as highlighted in the episode “Launch.” Since Entrapta has been a morally grey character in the past, it makes sense that the princesses are a bit distrustful. Even Emily, with her name as an obscure reference to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, turns away from Enttapta when it appears that she cares more about tech “than saving their friend.” After that episode, the princesses begin to understand her better. She later helps out Adora and Bow save Glimmer from Horde Prime’s flagship. Glimmer is transported through space by Catra, in her first likely selfless act. She then helps Adora, Bow, and Glimmer successfully rescue Catra from Prime’s flagship, called the Velvet Glove. She even does surgery on Catra, removing the chip in her neck. She, additionally, forgives Catra after she apologizes for treating her terribly. As a reminder, at the end of Season 3, Catra panicked when Entrapta tried to warn Hordak to not start the portal. She then orders her to be sent to Beast Island. She is shocked with what she is done (as is Scorpia by this cruel act against her), beginning her descent down a “dark, dangerous path.” Basically, Catra blamed Entrapta for her own mistakes.

In the rest of the season, Entrapta continues to help the princesses and tries to disable all the chips before being transported to Prime’s flagship. She apologizes to everyone when captured by Prime, literally the head of a cult of mindless drone soldiers. Whether Entrapta has platonic or romantic feelings for Hordak, the latter shipped as Entrapdak by one of of the show’s story editors (and some other fans), it is up the viewer. [4] As some fans noted back in March, a few months before the recent season premiered, it is clear that there is “some chemistry between her and Hordak” and some even call their relationship “sweet,” although I’m not sure I would go that far. In any case, it does mean that Hordak is more than a one-dimensional villain like in the original She-Ra: Princess of Power series in the 1980s which was used to sell action figures for Mattel. Through some searching, I did find an interview with Stevenson (complete with unfortunate spelling errors by the person who wrote the transcript of her interview responses) where she specifically talks about how Entrapta grows in this season:

I think with a character like Entrapata [sic], we sort of live in a little bit of her own version of the world that the other characters don’t always understand…It’s not only Entrapta learning how to empathize and connect with others, but also for others to learn how to empathize and connect with her. And so I think with both sides of that, we see [Entrapta] growing this season. What I think has always been [Entrapta’s] strength is that, even if she might struggle with communicating her feelings or understanding other characters when they’re communicating their feelings to her, I think her strength as a character — kind of her superpower — is that she sees humanity in everything. Not just in humanoid or organic creatures, but she sees humanity in robots. She sees humanity in the AI that drives ships. She sees humanity in one clone in a million identical clones and knows their personality and knows who they are and knows how to connect with them… I think we see her make a lot of progress on that front, but then we also see her. I think she does more than almost any other character in humanizing characters who have never been humanized before by anyone….It’s so much of what is the heart of this show. It seems like that’s what makes Etherea [sic] special in general is that everyone who comes to Etherea [sic] isn’t getting broken by it a little bit. They end up making connections and falling in love in ways they never thought were possible. And I think Entrapta really embodies that.”

Furthermore, as a morally grey character, who played a “big hand in some of the Horde-led destruction on Etheria,” she still cares about her friends. While some may question her renewal of the individuality or “humanity” of Hordak, becoming his first genuine friend, later leading him to turn against Horde Prime, she clearly had a “unique perspective on the world that not everyone understands.” Earlier in the season, when she encounters Hordak before he is freed from Prime’s control, in an attempt to access the computer control center of Horde Prime so she can disable the mind-control chips, helped by Swift Wind, she tells Hordak “remember, your imperfections are beautiful!” When the essence of Prime is destroyed by She-Ra, he is freed, and is soon reunited with Entrapta, who says that she is “so glad” to see him back.

By this point, it is clear that Entrapta is not the “worst kind of villain” as some described her and is more than a person who “only cares about the pursuit of knowledge,” no matter the consequences, as Brett Elderkin described her, also calling her a “mad scientist,” but rather just a morally grey character, or perhaps “chaotic neutral” to use a Dungeons and Dragons term. That brings me to a recent article by Megan Crouse in Den of Geek appropriately titled “She-Ra: In Defense of Entrapta.” She states that while Entrapta occasionally embraces the trope of not caring about “people who might be hurt when dangerous experiments go wrong,” she is much more than that, and dramatically changes in Season 5. Crouse added that Entrapta in Season 4 was not truly happy as a hermit on Beast Island, although she maintained her fascination with science, missing people, and afraid that “her friends will inevitably abandon her.” She then talks about the episode “Launch” where Entrapta’s conflict with the fellow princesses reaches a boiling point, putting others in danger, with her actions “extremely, comically risk,” wanting to win at no matter the cost. After Mermista accuses Entrapta of not caring about any of them, and not being trustworthy as a result, she responds by saying she didn’t realize they were angry at her. She then retreats to apologizing, one of her many defensive mechanisms, stating

I’m not good at people, but I am good at tech. I thought maybe if I could use tech to help you, you’d like me. But I messed that up, too.

As she barrels ahead, Mermista pulls her back by her hair (just as Horde Prime does later), and is finally convinced of her good nature when Entrapta declares “Glimmer needs us!,” indicating she is willing to put herself in harms away as much as anyone else. As Crouse further outlines, while Entrapta’s action is similar to what she has done in the past, as she begins to explain how and why she acts and feels the way she does, gaining more friends along the way. Even so, she still clearly has trouble reading people, which is not “magically cured throughout this season.” While Crouse says that it would “have been nice to see Entrapta really feel the consequences of her dangerous actions,” I would counter and say she did grow a lot in this season. On the other hand, I agree with Crouse that it is “sweeter to see her pursue science and friendship” than just tinkering with technology on Beast Island. While I can see why she argues that Entrapta is annoying, she makes a good point that Entrapta is not letting her “loner tendencies turn into complete isolation, but nor does she have to completely change who she is.” As a side note, Entrapta cuts her own bangs, as Stevenson said once, although this is terrifying considering her power tools! Yikes!

Now, lets get to the elephant in the room: Entrapta flirting with technology. The first time this happens is in the episode “Launch,” declaring flirtatiously: “Hello. You are very technologically advanced” before almost being blown to smithereens by the Horde robot. Then, in the episode “Stranded” she says: “Darla and I are going to spend some quality time together,” again in a flirtatious manner, leading to confused looks from Adora, Bow, and Glimmer. Now, robosexuality, a term seemingly coined and/or popularized by Futurama, means the “love and/or sexuality between a humanoid and a robot.” From these two interactions you could say that she is robosexual. Let us consider what Stevenson said about Entrapta: that she is learning to connect and empathize with others, and sees humanity in everything, knowing their personality and how to connect with them. One fan put Entrapta very well, remarking that she is a functional adult who can make full decisions, arguing that she is “chaotic good with a bad moral compass who likes to fuck space nazis,” saying she makes bad decisions. I can agree with that to an extent, except to say that it makes sense why she ended up working for the Horde, since the princesses had not really liked/understood her before that point. Another fan noted, correctly, that Entrapta (and Scorpia) but had to earn the trust of the princesses in their own ways.

That’s all! Comments are welcome.


Notes

[1] In her first tweet, she responded to a fan who asked if entrapta is autistic, saying that “many of us relate to her and love her so much and it would mean a lot if we could get confirmation of her being autistic.” She responded by saying: “yes, we wrote her that way. One of our crewmembers was on the spectrum and related to her specifically, and had a huge part in shaping her story and character!” She further explained that “the crew member was board artist @Sizzlemanski. His first episode was Entrapta’s introductory episode in season 1 [System Failure] and he had a HUGE hand not only in defining her physical acting, but also pitched me several ideas for her arc early on! He basically became our go-to for Entrapta.”

[2] As Stevenson stated on Twitter, she hopes that in the future we stop thinking about LGBT representation as a “race or a contest” and as more of a “community effort to uplift voices that have not yet had their stories told,” with each individual piece of media as a “broadening of horizons.”

[3] When Noelle Stevenson was interviewed by comicbook.com, Nerdist, Gizmodo, A.V. Club, L.A. Times, Polygon, Digital Spy, GLAAD, EW, and CBR, the interviewers understandably focused on the Catra/Adora slow-burn relationship, but never asked a question about Entrapta. One interviewer for Collider asked “…So we’ve got Bow and Glimmer, we’ve got Sea Hawk and Mermista, we’ve even got kind of an interesting relationship with Entrapta and Hordak, and then obviously CatrAdora. But did you know from the beginning how everybody was going to pair off or is that something that kind of developed over time?” but she never specifically replied about the “relationship with Entrapta and Hordak.” Reviews of the show in The Mary Sue, PinkNews, LA Times, tor.com, and ScreenRant do not even mention Entrapta at all!

[4] On Instagram, Noelle Stevenson said that Entrapta would follow Hordak to Beast Island as his community services for his crimes and as a result, the “two would develop a romantic relationship and reunite with the bot she left behind in Season 4, keeping her promise to return,” so it sounds like it is leaning toward romance, as noted in a summary on her fandom page. Also see Emily Hu who noted they did board a scene with Entrapta and Hordak but it never ended up being included. There is clearly a connection between Entrapta and Hordak, but I’m still not sure if it is romantic or friendly. It could really go either way.

Reviewing Carole & Tuesday: LGBTQ representation and music industry woes

Readers: I thought I’d share a transcript of my recently created podcast, HermannView. Perhaps it could have been a bit more polished, I admit, which is why the second one will be even better! I’m new to this, so suggestions are welcome.

 

[Beginning music]

[Opening:] Hi, I’m Burkely. This is HermannView, a podcast, where I talk about anime, animated shows, archives, libraries and everything in between.

[Introduction:] Hello everyone! I’d like to introduce myself first before getting to the topics for this week. I recently earned a master’s degree in library science, also called a master of library and information Science or MLIS. And a couple of years before that, back in 2016, I earned a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in History. So, some of my podcasts will focus on those topics, while others will focus on my interest in animated shows and anime, which started this past summer and has continued to the present. And with that, let’s get on with the show this week.

[Commentary beginning:] This week, I’d like to talk about a show that I just finished watching. It’s called Carole & Tuesday. It focuses around two characters, one who comes from a very rich family: Tuesday, and another one who is a former refugee, and is often fired from her part-time jobs and is relatively poor. That’s Carole. Both of them are musically inclined. Carole has a keyboard and Tuesday has a guitar. So they’re both drawn together in the first episode of the show. And from then on, the main theme of the show is them trying to climb up the ladder of the music industry. Going from being little-known music artists to becoming a popular sensation. I’ll talk more about that later. About halfway through the show, the 11th episode, is when Tuesday is kidnapped by goons sent by her mother, Valerie, to abduct her and bring her back home. And her mother is a prominent politician who’s running for the presidency of the planet, which in this case is Mars. That means that the show has some sci-fi themes to say the least. [laughs] From then on, that’s episode eleven, the show starts to take more of a political slant in terms of criticism and commentary. Her mother ends up being sort of like the current U.S. president, but also a little like Marie Le Pen in France. That’s what she reminded me of, at least. In that way, the show becomes a commentary because the mother of Tuesday has a very strong anti-immigrant message. This becomes a sort of a sub story of the show, with there also being journalist who’s investigating it. This is tied into Carole and Tuesday trying to move up this music industry ladder.

There’s also a number of other topics which are worth noting. I have this nerdy sort of quest, as I call it, to watch animated shows and anime that have LGBTQ characters. With that, I’d like to highlight a number of LGBTQ characters in the show. The first of them is the agent and parent of Angela, who is a competitor to Carole and Tuesday. While I’m not going to give any spoilers on that, she basically doesn’t have a determinate gender because of the influence of the Martian environment. So she is what they call androgynous or you can call genderqueer or non-binary, whatever label you want to use. They call themselves androgynous in the show. Similarly, there is also Desmond, who is a highly respected solitary artist, and they describe themselves as androgynous also because of the radiation that falls on the planet, noting that they were, “originally a man but am turning into a woman” and are feeling emotionally as a man and a woman at the same time. They later play their last song for Carole and Tuesday, their manager, Gus, and Roddy, who is also one of their friends and a sound technician. However, they later return in the show’s last episode, singing with a bunch of other well-known music stars on the planet. There are also a few other characters, three of whom are bisexual. One of them is Ertegun, who is a major DJ on the planet of Mars. In one of the earliest episodes, he says he has love for “only capable dudes and great chicks.” That means he is bisexual. As the show moves forward, he has a big role as a secondary character.

There’s also Marie and Anne. Marie used to date Gus, who is Carole & Tuesday’s manager. But now she’s in this relationship with Anne, kissing her in front of Carole and Tuesday, surprising them, and both of them plan to get married. Since Anne is implied to have a male partner before Marie, this means that both Marie and Anne are bisexual. The weirdest character in a way, in terms of the fact that she is undoubtedly a stereotype, is Cybelle. [1] She is the biggest fan of Tuesday, but has a pretty dangerous obsession with her. And at one point, bites her on the neck, a la Marceline the Vampire Queen in “Red Starved.” It gets weird. [laugh] Tuesday realizes that she can’t let this person have this obsession with her anymore and rejects her. Cybelle becomes emotional wreck as a result. She puts a present in Tuesday’s dressing room. Inquisitive, Tuesday opens it. She screams, Carole comes running and sees that this present has blown up, injuring her hand. This means she can’t play guitar in the upcoming show. Tuesday still plays a song with Carole despite her arm being in a sling. They sing the first song they came up with together. After that, Cybelle is taken away and we never see her again for the rest of the show! But other than that, other than that character, the LGBTQ representation is pretty good.

Coming back to Cybelle for a second. Cybelle is about as bad as O.D. If any of you have watched Gatchaman Crowds. And there is a character named O.D. who is a horrible stereotype in that show. You could argue they are maybe genderqueer or non-binary. It’s never really established. Cybelle might be better, but it’s not very good representation. Other than that, I like the show a lot and its pacing. Its a very good show in terms of the episodic format, which others, like Steven Universe and Adventure Time have struggled with in the past, having occasional “filler” episodes. I wish Carole & Tuesday was longer and think it wraps up too quickly. That reminds me of what people say about the season five finale of Steven Universe, “Change Your Mind.” People say that the show wrapped up so quickly and they were rushing to get to the end. While this has has some validity, the show still holds together. In any case, the show’s creators, like Rebecca Sugar, moved the story forward quickly due to the possibility they would be cancelled, even over the lesbian wedding in “Reunited.” [2] I’ve read all sorts of different stories and watched different videos about this. So, I kinda know about it a little bit. Despite the problems with Awestruck Vox [he beefed with a fan back in 2017], or Kevin Williams, on The Roundtable, he has some good videos about this that I’d recommend people check out if they are interested. As for the new Steven Universe Future series, which is basically the final/capstone/epilogue series for the Steven Universe franchise, people have said the same thing. In terms of the cast and crew behind Steven Universe, they’re probably going to move into games and comic books and those sorts of things. I seriously doubt that they’re going to move toward any future animated series. Maybe I’m wrong and they will have a new show on HBO Max like Adventure Time. That’s always a possibility. I kind of doubt at this point, but maybe they will surprise me, even having a special on Lars in the Stars [I was trying to refer to “Lars of the Stars” here] or something like that. We’ll see what happens.

I bring this up because people make the same sorts of criticisms when it comes to Carole & Tuesday. Some don’t like the pacing of the show or the fact that all the songs are in English. Building on that, this show is very song-intensive and the songs are in English, English language to be specific, despite the fact that all the characters are speaking Japanese. If you were watching the dubbed version of the show it might not be a problem. But it’s weird if you’re watching the subbed version of the show and then you have these songs in English. That’s an executive decision they made. Moving on, almost every episode has a song in it. Additionally, every episode title in Carole & Tuesday is named after a specific song. I haven’t dug into it that much but every episode title seems to relate to what is happening in that episode specifically. That’s something I haven’t really seen before. While I haven’t watched a show specifically focused on music before, I have watched shows that have musical characters like Marceline in Adventure Time, voiced by Olivia Olsen, a singer, and she sings all sorts of songs.

Nerdily [laughs], in late 2019, I put together her whole music arc. I posted that on Reddit, along with a listing of all the episodes she’s appeared in within all the Adventure Time seasons. And you can put together that into at least 40 minutes of songs that she’s sang during the whole series. That’s only one example of shows that have musical characters. Just take Steven Universe: The Movie as an example. The whole thing is a musical, although not every line of it is sung like Les Miserables. [laughs]. Generally, Steven Universe, is stocked full of songs, although in Steven Universe Future so far, there’s only been a couple of songs that have appeared in the episodes, something which surprised some who had watched the movie. Coming back to Carole & Tuesday, this series specifically focuses on music, which is unlike any other animated series I’ve seen, as I noted earlier. As an additional plus, the show has a lot of LGBTQ representation in it. Furthermore, it focuses on a lot of struggles that people have in terms of getting through the music industry and tries to make the characters more realistic, especially when we come to Carole and Tuesday and the struggles that they have to go through. Although they have all this popularity, begun when Roddy uploads a video of them playing in the Immigrant Hall, which goes viral, they don’t have that much money. Carole is always getting fired from these part-time jobs. Tuesday has a part-time job at a food stand. I think the fame they get at the end is getting them   some money. But they’re really scraping by unlike some of their competitors.

One of those competitors is Angela, who helps them later on. And she has all this money. In fact, she works with Tao, this music producer who uses this advanced A.I., which reminds me a little of Rui in Gatchaman Crowds who has an A.I. and cross dresses. But I’ll talk about Gatchaman Crowds in another podcast in more detail. Back to Carole & Tuesday, let me continue talking about Angela. She doesn’t even come up with the songs she sings. Rather, Tao’s AI comes up with the songs and she just sings them. She doesn’t even write them or anything. She has this immense privilege that Carole and Tuesday don’t have at all. Carole and Tuesday are, in contrast, trying to come up the ladder, without a major record label behind them or anything.

Let me talk about Angela just a little more. In the second half of the show, she has an emotional breakdown almost equivalent to Angela Moss’s breakdown, Angela Moss played by Portia Doubleday, in Mr. Robot. The breakdown happens not in the recent season of Mr. Robot, because I haven’t seen that one, but the one before it. I think Season 4. In the Carole & Tuesday show, Angela not only loses her mother but Tao leaves her. There’s a person who’s stalking her. The so-called Black Knight who spies on her. So she really has a lot of trouble during these episodes, which Netflix divided into two parts, which you could argue are two different seasons. I say it’s all just one, but people watching Netflix probably think of it differently.

Another one of my favorite parts was Episode 9, “Dancing Queen,” where there appeared this Drag Queen quartet, The Mermaid Sisters, and they sing the funniest moment in the whole anime. They sing a 1-minute song named “Galactic Mermaid” with the most expletives ever, which is stopped by one of the judges, and they threaten the judge as a result, for being discriminatory. With that, they should be seen as LGBTQ characters as they call themselves “not men or women” and a “new kind of human” when they perform. I couldn’t stop laughing when listening to it. [laugh] That brings me to another reason to watch the show: comedic elements from episode to episode. At the same time, the show doesn’t always hold together as well. But I still really like it. And I think it is a really interesting show and I would really recommend it to anyone if you haven’t seen it. The episodes are about 22 to 23 minutes long, so you might feel that is too long or you be annoyed by the animated opening. That’s fine. I’d like to stand by the show in this respect however, since the episodes were the right length, in my opinion, and I enjoyed the animated opening, which was the same for the first half of the episodes. Up to episode 11 or 12 there is the same opening at the beginning and then they change it in the last half of the show.

There is one consistent part that stays in the animated opening of every episode: the so-called seven minute miracle, narrated by Gus, where all these musicians come together from across Mars and sing this song of freedom. This happens in the final episode, where Tuesday, her brother, and others have realized that Tuesday’s mother, Valerie, was manipulated by political consultant who wanted her to take all these anti-immigrant positions. So, she drops out. The final episode is the one where they ramped up too quickly, I’d argue. The song they sing is like We Are the World or even like that Simpsons parody where they’re all singing for Bart Simpson in the well in a song titled “We Are Sending Our Love (Down the Well)”. And it turns out to be a total fake, although he later falls down the well himself. You could say that the song in Carole & Tuesday and the idea it will “change” the world is unnecessarily idealistic. Perhaps that is true, but not everything in anime or animated shows is realistic, and there is no reason it should be.

I don’t have anything else to say about the show, except that I like the the realistic elements of it even though it is set on Mars. And some of the sub-stories, about Gus and all his connections, since he was former music producer, is sort of funny, the sleazy DJ, Ertegun, the AI music, Dunn, the father of Carole who finds out she is on Mars or the A.I. robot, which helped Carole and Tuesday produce this music video, which then later ends up to be a scam. So that doesn’t really work out. [laughs] Before ending this podcast, I’d like to focus on the importance of race in this anime. On the one hand, Carole and Tuesday are a multiracial musical duo, since Carole has brown skin and Tuesday has white skin. On the other, the immigrants who are arrested by the equivalent to ICE have the same skin color as Carole, which is part of the reason she is more sympathetic to them, at first, than Tuesday, who has immense privilege without question. I’ve read some reviews which argue there are racial stereotypes in the show itself. Personally, I think the show has some strong brown-skinned, or Black, if you are to use the racial categorization used primarily to refer to those who reside in the United States, characters, like Ezekiel, a rapper who immigrated from Earth and the rest of his “crew.”

There are all these other characters which I find fascinating. One of them is Tobe, a legendary record producer who works for Carole and Tuesday and he is a horrible person, along with being an asshole. Even so, he pushes them forward despite the fact that he really seems like a drunk when they first meet him, a terrifying scene. That scene makes it clear that socioeconomic differences are part and parcel of the show’s themes. Not only is there a clear difference of class between Carole and Tuesday and their competitor, Angela, but when Carole and Tuesday go to the favela, the slum, in the city, they are scared about what will happen to them. Such a response indicates their sensibilities: although they are also poor, they are scared of how others, who are poor, are living. This is more forthright than shows like Classroom of the Elite, for example, which only focuses on struggles between characters, in different school classes, aspiring to enter the highest class in Japanese society, some classes scheming against each other. I don’t want to spoil anything more about that show, but I will say it does focus on struggle between socioeconomic classes, in an allegory of sorts, although Carole & Tuesday is arguably stronger on this point since the two protagonists are relatively poor as I mentioned earlier.

With this theme and others, I would say this show holds together, in general. This is despite the fact it should have been a longer show as I noted earlier. All these these 24 episodes should have been part one. And then, there could’ve been another season. But, that’s not really the direction they wanted to go. The end of the show sets the stage for anyone writing any fanfics about Carole & Tuesday, with already 66 fictional works penned for characters in this anime on Archive of Our Own.

That’s about it. I don’t have anything else to say at this point. I’ve exhausted everything I’ve had to say about Carole & Tuesday and any related shows. Thank you, everyone, for listening. And I hope to see you next week.

[end of commentary]

[Closing:] You’ve just listened to an episode of Hermann View by Burkely Hermann. The opinions expressed in this podcast are my own and not reflective of any institution. Follow us [on podcasts.com] if you liked what you heard and share it with your friends. You can follow me on Instagram at historyhermann one word or on Twitter at history_hermann.

[ending music]


Notes

[1] When I tried to add an entry for Cybelle on the Wikipedia page, “List of animated series with LGBT characters” one user, apparently from Ontario, declared that “Cybelle’s sexuality is just as Ambiguous as Pytor and Benito (male mar’s brightest judge). Even the site TV tropes has her as ambiguous” and that “Cybelle from carole and tuesday in 2019 was never confirmed to be a lesbian. Just like Pytor and Benito haven’t been confirmed to be LGBT either.” My original text, which uses episodes 9, 10, and 11 as sources, along with a CBR review, a review in The Daily Dot, and the official character description which simply called her “Mars’ Brightest contestant and Tuesday’s biggest fan”. I used the following text along with classification of her as lesbian:

As Tuesday’s biggest fan, she has a dangerous obsession with her, leading the former to ultimately reject her. Cybelle becomes an emotional wreck because of Tuesday’s rejection, conducting an attack on Tuesday, hurting her hand with an exploding present, in an act of jealousy, minutes before they are supposed to play on stage.

There seems to be some that think she is lesbian on certain subreddits, with some even questioning what gender she is, while others classified her as a “creepy lesbian,” a description which is definitely accurate.

[2] Other articles show how Sugar and others fought for this to be a reality. When I say the possibility they would be cancelled, I think I was remembering this line in an article in The Guardian back in October 2019: “The wedding decision was not taken lightly. Sugar was aware that the episode, as well as her decision to come out as bisexual, could lead to funding being pulled or the show being dropped altogether.” Even that Reuters article, reprinted on another Reuters site, says that Sugar “had to battle for years to include it [the lesbian wedding between Ruby and Sapphire] in her show, which has been censored in multiple countries.”

The erasure of records, digitization, and 1990s Hollywood films

Gif of one of the scenes from Hackers (1995)

In the past week, I’ve watched a number of 1990s Hollywood films, such as Sneakers (1992), Hackers (1995), The Net (1995), and My Fellow Americans (1996), where the “everything’s on the computer” state of records, as stated in passing in The Andromeda Strain (1971), has been reached. All of these films share a similar theme: the erasure and change of records (mostly digital), which has an increased relevance as archival institutions continue to digitize more and more of their records, although not everything, as I noted in my post about challenges of archival digitization in late April.

Looking at the 1990s films

Let’s start with The Net, since it was the first of these films that I watched, computer with bulky hand-held phones and dial-up computers. In this film, Sandra Bullock plays an isolated middle-age White woman (Angela Bassett) who is a “program systems analyst from Los Angeles” who lives most of her life online, talking on chat rooms and ordering pizza. That all changes when she takes a trip to Cessna (before which there is a computer malfunction which screws with flights), Mexico, meets a man who basically seduces her in order to get control of a virus which is on a floppy disk, of all things. This plan fails, however, as she realizes, after literally sleeping with him for some reason, that he wants to kill her, so she gets away in a dingy that crashes on rocks, knocking her unconscious. She wakes up three days later in a hospital and the disk has been destroyed. As she is about to go back into the country, after a record was changed that checked her out of the hotel, she is told to sign a temporary visa document which states that her name is Ruth Marx.

As the movie goes from here, she realizes that her identity has been stolen by an imposter, with the change of records by the villains who want to make profits off their security technology and gain access  to every system possible. With this, the movie is a bit of warning that it is very easy for someone to be digitally erased with so much of our lives online, with which you don’t even have to spoil the ending. Clearly there are inept secondary characters (police officers, nurses, and jailers), many of whom, like sole archivist Madame Nu in Attack of the Clones think that records are inviolable and cannot be changed. The partially inept villains are even able to kill a few people, like the  Undersecretary of Defense by falsifying a report saying he has AIDS and a friend of Bullock’s character. At one point, she says that “our whole lives are on the computer, and they knew that I could be vanished. They knew that nobody would care and it wouldn’t matter.” Later she adds to the inept court-appointed lawyer, who believes in the inviolability of the records in that they cannot be tampered with, to defend her from false charges:

Just think about it. Our whole world is sitting there on a computer. It’s in the computer. Everything. Your DMV records, your Social Security… your credit cards, your medical history. It’s all right there. Everyone is stored. And there’s this little electronic shadow on each of us… just begging for somebody to screw with. They’ve done it to me, and they’re gonna do it to you…I’m not Ruth Marx. They invented her. They put her on your computer with my thumbprint.

There were some similar themes in the 1992 film, Sneakers, which starred Robert Redford. The film focuses around attempts to create a black box which would crack American codes, allowing access to any American security system. In the process, a team tries to steal the box back and one of the characters purchases blueprints from the county recorders office for $50.00, leading the movie to be cited as an example of “the use and portrayal of records in film.” [1] With the information from the county recorder’s office, and their own observations, they are able to break-in to the company of the villain and get the box, but before it is handed to the NSA of the characters removes the main processing chip.

There is more than that. Redford’s character is basically a hacker, as was his friend Cosmo (who is the film’s villain) who was arrested and thrown into prison for computer crimes. The black box has a similar power to malicious code in The Net. Again, the focus is that records can easily be changed, or in the case of this movie, mimicked, to certain ends. Like the previously mentioned film, the cast is mostly White, but a bit more diverse in that they have a former Black CIA agent on the team of the “heroes.”

There’s one other film which has similar themes: Hackers, which features Angelina Jolie in a starring role. It focuses on a group of teen hackers who work to take down a villain who wants to sink a few oil tankers while getting wealthy in the process. In this “cult classic” film, as some places call it, there are computers running on dial-up (like in The Net), huge portable phones, people in some of the nerdiest clothes ever, and moving of information around on…floppy disks! In fact, the virus itself is on a floppy disk.

The altering of records is a key part of this film as well, as the villain alters criminal records of the male protagonist and his mother to list them as criminals, blackmailing him to give up the floppy disk. In the end, this group of hackers, all men except Angelina Jolie’s character, and all White except one kid with dreadlocks, sets out to take down the servers of the villain’s mega-corporation,  succeeding thanks to help from two Japanese hackers and their subsequent “electronic army” of hackers. Somehow they basically get off from their prison sentence thanks to a television broadcast from one of the hackers, which seems strange as he could be utterly lying. As with most movies of this nature, the plot doesn’t always completely add up.

Finally, there is a bit of an outlier: the 1996 film, My Fellow Americans. This is perhaps the most hokey film of all, although archives is a main part of this film. Ex-Presidents, played by James Garner and Jack Lemmon, discover a scandal in the current administration. Lemmon discovers that conspirators have altered his official records, at his presidential library archival vault, in order to “erase traces of a meeting.” At another time, Mark Lowethal’s character goes to the National Archives, finding that the presidential appointment log does not show this meeting. [2] It turns out the culprit behind these changes is the current sitting present, the former vice-president, with his chief of staff being the one whom “doctored the Archives log and the log in Kramer’s library.”

In this case, the film does not involve the changing of a digital record but only the changing of a paper record. Still, this has a similar theme to the other three movies in that records can be doctored, manipulated, and changed to the benefit of certain individuals. Although, this can be, at times, easier to do with digital records than with paper records. I would also say the theme that records can be changed, erased, or rewritten follows through the Halt and Catch Fire series, along with shows like Mr. Robot, going into its last season this coming fall.

Why do these films matter?

“If  I  could take  all the  things  that  I  am, all the  feelings  I  have, all the  things  that  I  want,  and somehow  get  them  on a  computer  card, you would be  the  answer. I  don’t  know  why  or  how  you’ve  come  along at this  particular  point  in my  life. See, that’s  the  magic part. I’m  not  gonna  let  you  go.”- Dr. Sidney Schaefer talks to his girlfriend (who ends up being one of the people who is spying on him) in The President’s Analyst, a 1967 film

They matter because more and more of the records held by archival institutions are digital, specifically “born-digital” (like tweets, Facebook posts). Of course, they are a bit dated, as they came out between 1992 and 1996. However, the point that records can be changed and manipulated should be considered. There should be measures in place to make sure that the records, especially digital records, are not tampered with. Perhaps this would require fixity checks, but also could necessitate rules on the usage of records themselves.

At the same time, the archives themselves should not be like the dark and haunting Thatcher Memorial Library in Citizen Kane, which has what some have described as having one of the world’s meanest archivists, played by Georgia Backus, with hair up in a bun “and an intimidating stare on her face, a real dragon lady at the gates of knowledge.” This is not the type of archives you want to go to! This is not the image which should be projected. [3]

What I have said so far is only scratching the surface. These 1990s movies have standing importance because born-digital files which are entering archives across the world, like some in New Zealand, include “photos, radio broadcasts and documents,” requiring appropriate workflows. Margot Note, a prolific writer in this field, described that as a former lone arranger who directed all archival management at an organization she launched a project to digitize a set of records, creating digital surrogates of 2,000 of the collection’s best images, adding that such surrogates are superior to past formats like microfilm since they can be delivered through networks “offering enhanced access to simultaneous users around the world.” In the same article she advocated the importance of digital collections, saying they grant “valuable remote access to the information contained within the original records” if they are created within the appropriate archival infrastructure, with metadata and search functionality, indexing. She adds that digital collections of archival records can not only provide for “multiple points of access and enhanced image details” but it can allow for more in-depth study than analog originals, increase interest in items which have often been ignored,and it can also act as “an advocacy tool for an archives.” She also argues that different types of digital surrogates of records can be created, either for web display, storage, or print reproduction. She ends by saying that while “electronic copies suffer no degradation through the duplication process,” a copy of a digital photograph is “indistinguishable from its source” meaning that the “original” loses its meaning, and that with digitized images, “researchers risk losing information that enables them to understand how the image was accessed and how its physicality changed over time.” As such, there should be efforts to limit or eliminate such a loss.

But there is another aspect to archival records. Librarian Carrie Wade argued back in December 2018 that information is political with information loss affected by federal funding decisions of research repositories ruining the work of professionals. Similarly in the case of archivists, they should not be completely neutral not only because who “we elect impacts our ability to do our jobs well and the access that people have to information,” as she argues, but they literally cannot be neutral as they are human beings with viewpoints, emotions, and thoughts of their own.  Building upon this, there are clear archival silences or “gaps in the archival record,” with these silences “created and enforced within archives” as a result of practices that are  “central to the work of archivists.” Digital records, whether born-digital, like social media posts, or digitized paper records, can help bridge this gap. After all, paper or analog records can be digitized in ways that allows access to them through online channels while originals are restricted.

All of this is relevant to the 1990s films I referenced in the first half of this post, as it requires having effective records management programs. The policies regarding records not only in Hackers and The Net, or even My Fellow Americans and Attack of the Clones were clearly outdated, and should be taken as a warning to have correct policies. This also requires taking into account challenges with capturing resources that are born-digital and making it available, effectively curating this information for the user. Furthermore this is important as a major trend in libraries is collection of data to prove their value even though this has its downsides especially when it comes to ethical concerns with data mining and big data, even though this can be useful. At the same time, how material is defined for easy access is a challenge “to every content owner,” as is choosing the right metadata, with “important detail work” in this process. The same is the case for finding more “accessible ways for people to find and scan content” and ways to share these “images with your target audience.” [4]

Concluding words

All of this ties back, of course, to the classic animated sitcom, Futurama, with its mentions of “technical support,” CDs, CD players/CD racks, and floppy disks (some of which are 15-inch). In fact, in one episode, “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back” (season 2, episode 15), the last half of the episode is about going into the central bureaucracy to get back a disk with Bender’s brain on it, which is floppy disk. Others mention existing government records, databases, a record vault (safe  box) and an arrest record. In one episode Fry even declares to Bender that “I’m not a robot like you! I don’t like having disks crammed into me” while in another he downloads “a celebrity from the Internet” from a parody of Napster, which is kidnapping celebrities and illegally copying them, with the “backup disk” being a floppy disk. Others focus on big data and concentration of information, digital cameras and operating systems.

I mention all of this because it shows the relevance of record erasure, digital archives, digitization, and the changing digital environment. This requires of course that you don’t have “unauthorized data access” like Fry accessing the computer connected to the brain spawn. In the end, while these 1990s Hollywood movies are dated in various ways and problematic in others, they still have relevance connected to present developments of archival institutions in response to new technologies and making records more accessible to online users.


Notes

[1] Kyle Neill, Senior Archivist of the Peel Art Gallery Museum & Archives also argues that there are archival themes in The Dark Knight (2008), The Avengers (1998), Chinatown (1974), and Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (2011).

[2] This reminds me of a major plot point in Thrill Seekers, a 1999 TV movie, where the protagonist finds out that there are people who travel in time (from the future) to disasters and serve as tourists, disgustingly watching people die. In the process, the researcher on staff at a local newspaper, a bit like a records clerk, has databases of newspapers on her computer, which he searches to find information, which she lets him use even though she just met him (not good records management). Ultimately she says that she will go to the National Archives to find the original images, proving that he was not lying about the time travelers. Later, the protagonist goes back and time and saves her. But, I thought I’d just mention this, as the fact she is a bit of a records clerk brings in line with the records clerks in Erin Brocovitch (2000) and Chinatown (1974). The former has a clerk who flirts with a law firm filing clerk (Erin Brocovitch) who uncovers wrongdoings of a water utility company on her three visits to the records office of the Regional Water Board, letting her into “a records storage area, piled high with files, papers and binders, where she proceeds to copy water records,” allowing her to complete her work. The latter has a sullen young man who does not like his job, grudgingly providing assistance, with Jack Nicholson’s character “tearing out part of a page from a record book by covering the noise with a cough” after he is told he cannot check out the volume.This clerk, as one reviewer puts it, has “a well crafted scene presenting a stereotypical records keeper” with the clerk/archivist as “an impatient, unhelpful civil servant guarding over his records domain who treats the public as trespassers” while the “records are in long aisles in bound volumes.” Some have compared Erin Brocovitch to another film with records as central, specifically A Civil Action (1998).

[3] The same goes for Hollywood images of old archivists like in Vampires (1998) where the church archivist is introduced, a “slight, bearded man with glasses” whom is sent along on a quest,” in They Might Be Giants (1971) where a wealthy lawyer, who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes, teams up with a psychiatrist “to try to rid the world of evil” and in the process, one person plays an aged archivist who, despite his problems, “does come across as the sanest person in the movie and he finds clues to track down Moriarity,” or in Amityville II: The Possession (1982) when a father uses a local archives to find out about a hosue causing trouble for his family, and in the process he is helped by an elderly archivist, a person who says “I’ve worked here for 25 years.” There are other mentions of archives, but without archivists in Arlington Road (1998), Batman Begins (2005), Beverly Hills Ninja (1997), Broken Lullaby (1994), GoldenEye (1995), Journey to the Far Side of the Sun (aka Doppelganger) (1969), L.A. Confidential (1997), Message in a Bottle (1999), Ninth Gate (1999), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2017), Secret Nation (1991) [Canadian film], Shooting the Past (1999), Smila’s Sense of Snow (1997), The Dark Knight (2008), The Name of the Rose (1986), The Phantom (1996), and The Shadow (1994). Also, there are said to be flirtatious archivists in Carolina Skeletons (1991) and Just Cause (1995), along with helpful ones (either initially or ultimately) in Cloud Atlas (2012), Deceived (1991), Quatermass and the Pitt (1967), The Fugitive (1993), and The Mask of Dimitrios (1944). There are also a number of films which have archivists in the background: Charlton-Brown of the F.O. (1959), Macaroni (1986), Red (2010), Ridicule (1996), Rollerball (1975), and The Age of Stupid (2009), and those that are said to have nasty or mean archivists: Blade (1998), In the Name of the Father (1993), Scream 3 (2000), The Nasty Girl [Das Schreckliche Madchen] (1990), and The Watermelon Woman (1996). Please, do not constitute this as an endorsement of any of these films, as likely they are mostly terrible.

[4] Also see articles about how libraries lead with digital skills and a cryptic finding aid.

Librarians should not be “everything to every community member”

From the “I Love Lisa” episode (s4, e15).

Recently, on Twitter, there was justified consternation with what a library director, named Justin, wrote about librarians on May 3rd. I’m only new to the library and archives profession, although I am planning to work in an archival institution rather than a library, and my hope is that others in the profession could build upon this post with their own experiences and thoughts. I am also posting this because Justin the Librarian locked his Twitter account, raising the question that he does not want his opinion to be challenged! This post is not meant as an attack on Justin himself, but rather a challenge to him (and others who feel the same), that they should change their views on libraries. Additionally, I understand, as Stephanie Crawford put it on Twitter, criticizing this post, “public libraries are often places for people to stay warm, to use the rest room, to job search, to do hw, to print resumes, to check email, etc” and do not intend to paint those who are poor as “an unwanted burden,” but rather are talking about responsibilities librarians should have to their respective communities. The socioeconomic class of patrons of libraries is clearly important, and I have tried to incorporate that into this piece, but it should also be acknowledged that I am mainly talking about the role of the library profession, rather than the patrons, in this post, so that leads some aspects to fall to the wayside.

After saying how public libraries have changed a lot since 2009 and that there will be changes in the future in these “great place[s],”adding that “this is a time to celebrate and also a time to think about the future,” Justin declares that “if you’re working in a public library now and you’re not enjoying it maybe you shouldn’t be working in a public library” which implies that everyone in a public library will enjoy their jobs and that no toxic environments exist, which is clearly incorrect. [1] He followed this with the most jarring statement of his post:

If you feel grumpy about your day to day work, if planning and hosting events isn’t your thing, and if you’re just not ready to be everything to every community member that comes through your doors, this public library thing just isn’t for you in 2019. And honestly, it’s just going to continue to be less of a thing for you as public libraries move ahead. The public libraries that I see existing today in 2019 will continue to be improved upon and become even more community focused in the next ten years. Libraries are on the right path these days, one that is fully focused on their communities. Do you want to be on that path?

The section when he says that librarians should be “everything to every community member” is what angered librarians on Twitter, rightly so, with Alexis Logsdon calling it “infuriating.” Why should this heavy responsibility be hoisted on librarians? Why do they need to be “everything”? [2] As such, the idea that public librarians (or any librarians for that matter) should be “everything” to the communities, regardless of their class, race, gender, or creed, they serve should be challenged. I say this, while acknowledging the important role that librarians engage in when serving their communities, especially those who use libraries as a community space to serve their effective information needs, to pull from the titles of one of the courses I took in the fall, which was called “serving information needs.”

The first part of that challenge is to summarize the tweet conversation on this topic. In fact, I thought of creating this piece after reading through the whole thread and responses, beginning with a thread by Julie Jergens. This piece goes beyond “shutting things like this down” and rejecting “this bullshit savior narrative,” to quote her, as I aim to look at various posts he has made, not only one solitary post, to form a cogent argument to counter his points.

Jergens, in her tweet thread, called the statement that librarians should be “everything” to communities is not only “dangerously misinformed” but some “male BS” for a majority-female profession.  She went onto say that relationships where one person or an organization is meant to be everything to another is “unbalanced, unhealthy, and unsustainable,” adding that people are asking more and more of librarians, but not what local jurisdictions can do. With that, she points out what should be obvious: “the library cannot and should not be everything,” with librarians working to serve the information needs of users. But this does not mean that librarians are lawyers, doctors, social workers, or “miracle worker[s]” [3] and that these information professionals should not be told to do more with nothing (or less) or that they are not focused on their community, as they evidently are, on the whole. She added to this by saying that the community she serves “deserves real experts, real services, real care, not just a librarian with access to narcan,” doing what she can to help her community, but is not willing to “sacrifice myself and my staff to be EVERYTHING to EVERYONE,” saying that “does not make me unsuited for public libraries.”

Those that responded to Jurgen had a similar and understandable sentiment, clearly based in reality. Some sarcastically pointed out it was a “great time” with librarians when budgets for social services are being slashed, with job insecurity and low pay, which Justin the Librarian barely talks about, as I’ll note in this piece. Others said that it is wrong to say that librarians who are facing trauma (or stress) from their work are “worthless and not cut out for the job” and that it is dangerous for librarians to think of themselves as everything for their community and patrons without training, as “it’s unethical to pretend we are or can be.” Responses beyond this pointed out that library budgets need to train staff appropriately if they continue to “stay on the front lines of community service,” especially since some people at their library jobs have not received any training, and that there should be efforts to “set boundaries for yourself/your organization.” The latter would use effective “social capital” of libraries to push back. Some added that the idea that librarians should do “everything” is problematic because “working with the public is taxing emotionally and physically,” making it an unrealistic expectation, and that the idea that librarianship is a job “worth killing ourselves for” should be challenged, citing an article by Fobazi Ettarh within In the Library With the Lead Pipe. Additional comments echoed the same sentiments already expressed, noted that this is one of the only professions where an unrealistic “level of involvement is expected and required,” that there should be professional boundaries as “it’s just not healthy or good service to expect library staff to be everything to everyone.” Final comments stated that if librarians are required to “everything to everyone they need to raise your salary” a lot, that people were apparently “misinterpreting” the post, called the thread by Jurgens a “must read” with Jurgens outlining “perfectly what should be done,” and said that the idea that librarians should be “everything for everyone” is a perfect “recipe for burnout” along with being a harmful expectation.

In the case of Justin, his viewpoint as a White male librarian should be no surprise. While you could say he has good intentions in that he wants librarians to connect with the community, out from behind their desks, including his support of efforts to reduce library fines, which are positives that librarians should undoubtedly aim to do in order to cement the importance of their public institutions to the communities they serve, his idea that library materials should be put in public restrooms is a mistake, especially if there are actual materials in those restrooms. I remember when working at the Washington Village branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and there was a key to get into the bathrooms and it was prohibited to bring library materials into the bathrooms themselves. Perhaps he is thinking about pamphlets or something, but this idea, from how I understand it, rubs me the wrong way. The same goes for his “seven things” that he declares libraries should do. He suggests buying/collecting local, making stuff with patrons, building apps, standing up for yourself, exploring new partnerships, collect things the community wants not “what you want,” and be “very nice.” Some may say that this is all hunky dory and that there are no problems with these approaches, especially when it comes to providing new and exciting services for the communities they serve. But, should libraries have their collections solely determined by the community? Shouldn’t they have the ability to choose materials they think are necessary, even if that does not fit with what the community is requesting at the present time? Additionally, the “very nice” aspect (which he brings up in a later post), seems optimistic but also unrealistic. Can libraries afford to be nice to every single person, including those patrons which are problematic or disruptive? Clearly libraries should strive to serve every member of the community they can, regardless of their socio-economic class, race, gender, or other characteristic, but the idea you should be nice to everyone is clearly emotional work/labor for the librarians themselves. At the same time, the goals he suggests could easily cause stress on librarians with increased responsibilities on top of their existing duties. [4]

Justin doesn’t stop there. He writes about e-books, suggests that librarians should stop saying “no” to patrons (whatever that entails), and wrote a chapter of a book on library marketing while also presenting on personal branding. [5] This writings remind me of the Achieving Organizational Excellence I took last semester as part of my MLIS program, with skills that would speak to a manager like himself, but was seen as an annoying and unnecessary class by many of my fellow classmates, from what I recall. I still remember at the beginning of the semester when the professor asked who wanted to be a manager and a few people raised their hands. [6] By the end of the semester, the same question was asked and NO ONE raised their hands, as everyone detested the class and did  not want to be a manager, with most of the class materials written for managers, not for those at the bottom of the employee ladder who could be managers in the future. In this way, his perspective differs from most librarians, many of whom are not managers, since that’s not how hierarchies work. Is it any surprise that Justin the Librarian would push aside planning programs “having grand ideas, and just thinking and talking and thinking some more but not acting as quickly as I could”? Simultaneously he would endorse library programming, which seems contradictory. Furthermore, he seems to be on the “innovation” train when it comes to libraries, seems to think he “knows” how librarians should act at work (compared to how they apparently use their time), and focuses on hiring. As a director, it is no surprise he would write about the difference between management and leadership, declare that libraries need to transform, and say that “working in a public library is not about competition. It is about community.” Some of these ideals, like saying that libraries are about communities, is not necessarily bad and should be encouraged. But, grumbling about how librarians spend their time at work and focusing on transforming/innovating a library is a problem, especially since the latter could cause undue disruptions in the library itself, weakening the role that libraries play as community centers.

Many may say that libraries are for “every single person that comes through the doors of their public library,” which fits with existing concepts of social responsibility that librarians often exude, and that librarians do, on the whole, work which “has a positive impact on your community.” However, the former carries with it various problems, like the issues of Nazis in the library or other bigoted individuals, which none of his blogs, from what I could find, ever address. The closest he gets to this is focusing on having a safe working environment which does not have “sexual harassment, stalking, and inappropriate comments.” Does he never think about bigoted individuals in libraries? His blog indicates that he does not think about this in on a general basis, which is troubling. Similarly, you can say that he is right that every public library should do an annual report. However, this could easily be turned back on the library itself, used by those who want to cut public services and privatize them, so there should be care in compiling these reports, that they don’t result in the idea that libraries can “do more with less” which is inherently destructive, as even Justin the librarian admits, when he says that there’s a limit to that thinking. As anyone who has been employed would know, just because people are nice and friendly to you, they can be sadistic and use the statistics, requirements, and metrics against you and your organization. As such, just because someone is nice, this is no guarantee that those on the other side of the relationship (like those in government or business) will not be jerks.

In other posts, Justin the Librarian says that libraries should be made more simple, focus their services on the “hyperlocal” level, and focus on the community more than anything else, even giving suggestions for small rural libraries with strapped budgets. Again, the first two suggestions are problematic in that it could limit the purview of libraries too much, at worst making them not as much of community centers, allowing them to serve patrons from all walks of life, and centers of learning then they should be. In one post, back in October 2017, he declares that “people don’t come in and borrow books on how to do things/fix things/research things anymore.” I wouldn’t say that is completely true, as people come in and borrow books all the time and that will not stop, even with the advent of the library. Of course, libraries should change over time and not be static, but I think “simplifying” libraries could have problematic elements to them, especially with the incorporating business elements: providing library patrons “with amazing customer service.” I still remember in my exit interview with a HR rep of the Pratt Library and I started talking about patrons and they corrected me to say those were “consumers.” To me, it is deeply problematic to adopt these business terms and concepts in libraries and other public institutions, as you could call those who use libraries as either patrons or library users. There should be a clear wall of separation between public and private institutions when it comes to conceptions used to make a profit. I know there has already been some leakage into public institutions, but it should be limited to the best extent possible.

One of Justin’s worst ideas is not his “summer reading treehouse” which seems a bit silly or even library billboards, but rather library currency. How is this exciting, as he claims? That sounds like a terrible idea that need an extensive infrastructure to put in place. He actually wrote about this idea again, recently, saying that he likes “the idea of a library currency that rewards good library behaviors, engages community members in programs, and helps patrons with library fines” and saying this idea of currency “goes a long way in promoting kindness in the community.” He closes by adding that “this idea may work or this idea may not work. The important thing is to always keep dreaming and to keep on trying new things for your community. They are the most important thing in public libraries.” While I appreciate that sentiment, I’m still not onboard on the “library currency” train, as it seems that it would cause strain on libraries themselves and those that work within them. And with that, I would argue that it seems evident that he doesn’t care as much about those who work in librarians as much as he would think.

Overall, you could say that Justin the Librarian has his “heart in the right place.” However, he seriously needs to rethink many of his conceptions of how libraries work and think not only of management but the legions of librarians who do the on-the-ground work, leading to stress, trauma, and strain, to say the least. The idea that librarians should be able to do “everything” for every community member is a clearly ignorant statement. It should be roundly rejected and replaced with the idea that librarians should do what they can, but never try to be “everything” since it would stretch their personal capacities and the institutions themselves, weakening the profession as a whole, even as librarians work to serve patrons from all walks of life.


Notes

[1] He almost guilt-trips people into working in public libraries, saying: “this is a great time to be working in a public library. Sure, there are bumps in the road but overall your community members value the work you do, from the events you plan to the collections you develop and even the little moments where you’re checking out library materials to a community member. Every step of the way in your work at your public library your community values you. Who wouldn’t want to work in a place like this?” This is utterly disgusting, as it seems to act like those who don’t work in public libraries are somehow bad.

[2] But Justin the Librarian does not stop there. He does say it is fine if you “do not want to be on the path that public libraries are on” and even if you do not like change, there is nothing wrong with you, adding that by asking yourself if you want to work in a public library you can “learn a lot about yourself, grow, and if the need arises move onto something that better suits you.” He ends by saying that if you choose to work in a public library then it benefits the library and the community, adding “be honest and be true to the decision. Be honest and be true to yourself. That’s all you need to be in this life.” You could say these sentiments are, a bit, condescending.

[3] At minimum, we can say that librarians should not be social workers, grief counselors, or financial advisors, to say the least. Perhaps they will be forced into these roles, due to the current strain on social services within the U.S., but this is not an ideal situation.

[4] Justin has probably never read Not Always Right (focused on funny and dumb stories about “consumers”/users across society) and its many stories focusing on libraries.

[5] Speaking of branding, in one post he expresses his anger at social media, yet in another he literally advertises his social media, promoting his own…brand! Clearly a case of hypocrisy, if you ask me.

[6] This was followed by a question of how many will end up being managers, with more people raising their hands than was the case with the other question.