Last year, I watched the Netflix animated show Voltron: Legendary Defender, a remake of the classic anime from the 1980s. I liked it! Or at least, I think I did? I mostly liked it. It was ok. It was fine. It was pretty good, I guess? I have a lot of complicated feelings about this show.
Unlike the other animated Netflix shows I’ve watched recently, both of which I loved, I have a lot of mixed feelings about Voltron. It was enjoyable, but fell short of its peers. This is a little surprising, given that Voltron is a sprawling science-fiction space opera, a genre that I usually love. But it never fully lives up to its potential. Both She-Ra and Kipoalways had a sense of coherence, a sense that the writers knew where it was going and what it wanted to be. Both of those shows had compelling character arcs, well-addressed and well-articulated themes, and tightly-knit plots that (mostly!) made sense from beginning to end. With Voltron, you had moments of genuine brilliance, the occasional great episode, but also a lingering sense that the writers were making it up as they went along. Almost the entire time I was watching it, I was enjoying myself, but when it added I couldn’t help but feel that the whole was somehow less than the sum of its parts. Let’s talk about why.
We’re only four months in, and so far 2021 is turning into a banner year for assaults on transgender equality. Over one hundred bills have been introduced in at least twenty-eight states, all of them targeting a group of people who still constitute less than 2% of the population. There have been previous waves of anti-trans legislation, the most recent of which mostly focused on trying to “protect” public facilities from trans people–most infamously North Carolina’s 2016 “Bathroom Bill“–but this one is uniquely vile, in that Republican lawmakers have decided to focus their attentions primarily on trans children. Several states have banned transgender students from participating in school sports, with many other such bills currently working their way through legislatures. Even more disturbing is the trend of states attempting to criminalize gender-appropriate healthcare for trans youth. Arkansas has already passed such a law, with potentially devastating results for trans children in the state. Other states are following suit, with even more draconian proposals. In North Carolina, legislators want to mandate that state employees report any evidence of “gender nonconformity” to parents. In Texas, the mooted bill would reclassify providing trans children with transition-related healthcare as “child abuse”, allowing the state to remove them from their homes.
There’s a lot to be said about this. Many people have pointed out the cynicism and calculation behind this strategy. Republicans, realizing that the broader culture war they’d been waging against LGBT+ rights has mostly been lost, very consciously settled on demonizing trans people as the next wedge issue that they can to use to rile up their base. The same arguments that were made a decade ago to warn of the impeding societal damage of gay marriage or the Homosexual Agenda are now trotted out to explain why trans people will soon destroy Western Civilization or whatever. But I think it’s worth taking a deeper look. It’s not a coincidence that children have become the focus of this legislative push. Children are the future of society, and those that seek to mire us in the past have always sought to control them. This isn’t the first time that reactionary Christians have waged ideological and religious warfare on vulnerable children.
It probably says a lot about me that one of my absolute favorite books growing up was a Gulliver’s Travels fanfic written by T.H. White. This is one of those books that I can’t remember not having. My dad read it to my before I knew how to read, and when I wore out the paperback copy we had he bought me a hardbound illustrated edition that I still have to this day. It’s a very strange book to read to a small child, in retrospect. There are several long asides discussing the implications of various incidents from Gulliver’s Travels (most memorably a lengthy chapter about the practical methods for capturing a Brobdingnagian giant, which has nothing to do with anything else) and much of the book is about the ethical imperative of treating everyone with dignity and respect, even if you have physical power over them. For example, if you’re a ten year-old girl who’d discovered a colony of miniature humans in her backyard. But I loved it. I think I liked how strange it was. Instead of shying away from the implications of its premise, it indulged in them endlessly. It still holds a place in my heart to this day.
(BTW: SPOILERS FOR EVERYTHING)
Maria is the sole heiress to Malplaquet, one of the greatest estates in England—but real life isn’t as grand as that sounds. She’s an orphan, her family is bankrupt, the estate is in ruins, and she’s spent her whole life alone, raised amidst the faded grandeur of her family’s past by a cruel Governess. Then one day, while exploring the wild grounds, Maria stumbles upon an amazing discovery: a lost colony of Lilliputians! Kidnapped and brought to England as carnival performers in the 18th century, these tiny humans long ago escaped and built a new homeland on her family’s ancestral lands. Determined to befriend and help these strange people, Maria now has an exciting purpose for her life. But when her Governess and the greedy local Vicar discover her secret, it will take all her wiles to help her new friends escape….
I’ve always been bothered by pseudohistory. After all, history itself is usually stranger and weirder and wilder than anything you can imagine. And the search for the story of mankind’s collective past is itself an ancient and worthwhile pursuit, one that each generation in turn contributes to. Why make things up? I’ve spent countless hours arguing with people who believe that Atlantis existed (no, it really didn’t, Plato made the whole thing up) or that the Phoenicians colonized the New World (not impossible but there’s no evidence). In undergrad, I ran a discussion on the Ancient Alien theory in the interfaith group I was part of. Myths and lies about history are prolific, often spread by people who should really know better, and I think it behooves everyone with a background in this field to push back on false ideas, whether they’re conspiracy theories, nationalist myths, misunderstandings, or outright lies. But I’ll admit, there’s one pseudohistorical theory that I have a soft spot for: Antoly Fomenko’s New Chronology.
The New Chronology dates back to 1981, when Fomenko began publishing what would eventually become his mammoth series History: Science or Fiction? Fomenko was a mathematician, who would go on to win the 1996 State Prize of the Russian Federation for Mathematics and become head of the Department of Differential Geometry at Moscow State University, where he still teaches today. He had no historical background, but he had become interested in the writings of Nikolai Alexandrovich Morozov, a Russian revolutionary and physicist who had used astronomical analysis to conclude that much of our traditional understanding of historical chronology was incorrect. Fomenko adopted this theory, built on it, and eventually revealed his startling conclusion: all of recorded human history only dates back to 800 AD. And virtually everything we know about it is a lie.
The Second World War was the single largest conflict in human history. Over 100 million soldiers, sailors, and airmen from over thirty countries served. Nearly eighty-five million soldiers and civilians were killed. Entire nations vanished, borders shifted dramatically, and the world that emerged was dramatically different from the antebellum one, in ways far too numerous to discuss here. With an event so vast and monumental, there’s an inevitable “flattening” affect. Causes, effects, complications—all get forgotten or subsumed into the overarching narrative. Given the grandiosity and insanity of the Axis operations, it’s easy to assume that they were all after something as nebulous as “world domination”. In actuality, even the most expansive war aims of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan were at least loosely based on preexisting grievances and historical ambitions. For example, the Germans had been pushing Eastern expansion for centuries, on and off, and much of the Nazi goals here built on attempts at establishing an Eastern European hegemony from WWI, though I’ll admit they took these to some truly deranged levels. This is even more true for the smaller Axis powers. Countries like Thailand and Bulgaria didn’t sign up with Tojo and Hitler because of any ideological commitment or grand strategic design, they joined because of local territorial disputes and ancient rivalries. Today, I want to talk about exactly what these lesser powers hoped to get out of WWII. I find this topic interesting in its own right, and also a useful way of providing contextualization for the broader scope of the war. It’s important to remember that what we now see as a struggle for the soul of world civilization, plenty of people saw as round ten of the ongoing fight over some border district in the Balkans.
We’re going to do something a little different today! Usually when I talk about an anime or TV show, I do an overview what I liked about it, what I didn’t like, what themes I think it’s expressing, what I found interesting, etc. But with Kill la Kill, I’ve found that I can’t really do that. I really, really liked this show, and I want to talk about it, but the darn thing is just too weird to really fit into my conventional format. It’s both too complicated and too simple, a genuinely bizarre journey that takes everything far past the logical conclusion, but that’s also remarkably sincere at its core. There’s no subtext or irony, it just is what it is, and what it is is kind of incomprehensible. So instead I’m going to do a targeted analysis of one specific character and one specific plot point associated with her. Satsuki Kiryuin was my favorite character in Kill la Kill, and I want to talk about why I think she works so well as a character, why the choices she makes are so interesting, and how they fit into some broader narrative archetypes and tropes that I really enjoy. Needless to say, SPOILERS FOR EVERYTHING, so if you haven’t seen this show and you want to, maybe don’t keep reading.
Historians typically date the foundation of the Roman Empire to 27 BCE, when the Senate granted Augustus the title of “princeps“. Augustus had been the most powerful figure in the moribund Republic for several years now, since his destruction of Mark Anthony’s forces at the Battle of Actium, but this action formalized the transition from oligarchic republic to monarchy. Sort of. The title “princeps” merely means “first” or “foremost”, or perhaps “first among equals”. Its ambiguity suited a new regime that was deliberately attempting to obscure the nature of its power.
Rome was a nation that took great pride in its republican government. The fall of the original Roman Kingdom was a much-celebrated foundational myth, and much of the support for the assassination of Julius Caesar was due to the persistent rumors that he was planning to have himself crowned king. By the 20s BCE, the long cycle of civil wars and proscriptions had considerably increased the support of the populace for a dictator who could bring about stability, but the old families and oligarchic clans still bitterly resented the idea of submission to a monarch. Augustus chose to address this problem by finessing it. Rather than attempting to establish a formal monarchy, he simply accumulated so much power within the existing republican constitutional system that it was impossible for anyone to gainsay him. The Senate, the assemblies, the tribunes, the consuls—all these institutions continued to function normally. They simply now lived in Augustus’s shadow. But while this system worked well in his lifetime, and for decades to come, it had a fundamental flaw. Official or not, Augustus had still created a monarchy. And he’d created one without any accepted methods of succession. This would become a problem
“Another page turns in the history of the Galaxy”. That’s the line that ends every single episode of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, and it’s an appropriate one. Heroes is a show that I absolutely adore, one that often feels like it was designed specifically for my tastes. It takes place in the far future, when the Galaxy is split between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planets Alliance, who have been locked in a total war for nearly a hundred and fifty years. The plot follows two parallel commanders, Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Empire and Yang Wen-li of the Alliance, who rise to prominence in their respective nations and shape the contours of their Era. But while that’s the elevator pitch, it doesn’t really do the show justice. Rather uniquely in my experience, the plot of Legend of the Galactic Heroes exists on a historical timescale. It is a show that is primarily about the grand sweep of events, about the rise and fall of Empires and the clash of ideologies, about the nature of government and the effects that great men (and women) can have on history. It’s startlingly ambitious, and monumental in its scope.
Many dramas use historical events as the background or fodder for romance or intrigues or character development; Heroes is unique in my experience in that it uses it’s characters to build a history. I love it so much you guys. Let’s talk about why.
Welcome back for yet another episode of flag ranking! Yes, here at Goldwag’s Journal we always enjoy evaluating flags, and today we’ll be traveling to our friendly neighbor to the north to take a look at their local vexillology. I’ve talked about U.S. state flags here before, which are, to be blunt, mostly awful. Just the absolute worst. Canada does a lot better! The Canadian provincial flags tend to be pretty good, and the ones that are bad are bad in interesting ways, which is really all you can ask for. It saddens me to admit it, but in terms of flag design the Canadians are decisively beating the United States. Because there are only thirteen provinces and territories in Canada, we’re going to just rank all of them instead of doing Best-of and Worst-of lists.
Before we jump in, a quick word on my criteria. When evaluating a flag, what I’m looking for is a design that is simple, yet unique. The pattern of the flag shouldn’t be too busy, but it should be instantly recognizable. Someone once told me that a good flag should always be able to be drawn by a child. I don’t quite go that far, but you should always be able to take in all of the flag’s elements at a glance. In addition, it should convey something of importance about the originator of the flag, whether that be a deliberate act of symbolism or an emotional connectivity. Far too many U.S. flags were created by simply slapping the State Seal on a blue field. This gives us the worst of both world; the flag is incredibly dense, with dozens of intricate elements. At the same time it is utterly generic. Most U.S. state flags blend together into a shapeless blur. A good provincial flag should be something that I instantly associate with some aspect of the province, while also being aesthetically pleasing.
In 1863, a man burst into the house of Katsu Kaishū with a sword in his hand. Katsu was a high-ranking official in the navy of the Tokugawa Shogunate, a reformist who’d spent time in America, and who was now dedicated to modernizing the Japanese government. The man who’d arrived in his home so precipitously was Sakamoto Ryōma. He was a radical ultra-nationalist samurai, one of the many young men who’d taken up arms against the Shogunate in protest for its accommodations with the Western Powers. “Revere the Emperor/Expel the Barbarians” was their slogan, and Ryōma was determined to help achieve that by killing one of the preeminent westernizers of the Shogun’s government.
But something different happened instead.
They talked about it.
Kaishū explained to Ryōma his point of view, that Japan could no longer pretend that the rest of world did not exist. The Sakoku was over, and if Japan were to survive in this new world, it needed to learn from the West. It needed to adopt modern technologies and administrative methods, and build a new navy, army, and government along Western lines. Kaishū agreed with Ryōma about the need to protect Japanese sovereignty from foreign control, but it wasn’t enough to expel them. You had to learn from them. And Ryōma agreed. And put down his sword. And accepted a job working for Kaishū as one of his top assistants and protégés.