What Manga, Anime, and Japanese History Teaches Us About Loving Robots

@2 and @5: Totally agree that this is not as simple as West-makes-antagonist-robots-Japan-makes-protagonist-robots.  My goal was simply to suggest that Japan has a bunch of protagonistic robostories that surely do have counterparts elsewhere in the world, including the U.S., hence the line, "There are plenty of stories like this, and some of the best originate from Japanese media."  It's more an attempt to say that I find the Japanese robo-protagonists interesting because they seem to be in conversation with this centuries-old history that the U.S. doesn't have (it has it's own, but it's different, and, just by virtue of the creation of the country, more recent).  I also appreciate citing Asimov.  I would *love* to read a comparative piece that considers both Western and Japanese prose (and even including manga) sci-fi through this lens.  Heck, I'd love it if someone could rope in sci-fi from other regions, too.  I don't have the knowledge to do that, but I think it would be fascinating.  But the "But what about ___________?" statements you raise are important, and I hope more of those will allow us to flesh out some sort of global portrait of robot tales (as big and complicated as that would be).  

Half-Assed in a Half-Shell — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

I love your analysis, Keith!  I agree that the 2014 Turtles film was essentially a hot mess, but there were moments where my academic brain lit up a little.  The cat playing chopsticks bit served as an interesting commentary on animals doing people stuff, and instances where we think it's cute (cats) vs. instances where we think it's bad ass (turtles).  Also, the Turtles' inability to see themselves as basically just bigger versions of the cat is striking because we, as people (and, therefore, animals in our own right), also find a need to separate us doing stuff from "animals" doing stuff because that hierarchy allows us a certain dominance.  I also liked how, cinematographically, orange, blue, red, and purple popped up in flashes and flares throughout the film.  I dunno.  I thought it was a nice nod to the central focus of the movie.  None of this is really "in the text," but, in a movie where I expected to have absolutely nothing to think about, I found I had *nearly* nothing to think about.

How Geek Culture Made Me Realize I Am Non-Binary

@3:  Thanks so much for your question!  I wish more people would ask these earnest questions as opposed to ones like, "Y U GOIN 2 HELL THO????"  While the answer to your question is much more fluid than I'm going to make it sound (<--said every gender theory person about everything ever), here are the essentials:  "androgynous" or "androgyny" often constitutes less a gender category and more a type of appearance, usually an appearance representing gender ambiguity.  I resist saying androgyny is a combination of "both" genders because "both" implies "two," which is exactly what non-binary people resist.  It's true, though, that many androgynous people you see will be performing a blend of the traditionally masculine and the traditionally feminine.  (As an aside, the prefix "andro-" comes from the Greek for "man," but it has come to mean "human," therefore suggesting that androgyny is less concerned with categorization into a single gender and more interested in approaching a "human" identity.)  Annie Lennox often appears on lists of androgynous people, though by all accounts she identifies as female and uses the pronouns "she/her/hers."  Plenty of non-binary people embrace an androgynous look, too, but they by no means have to.  This is where the difference lies: because "non-binary" is a gender identity, it does not carry with it a "look" or singular appearance (as there are many ways to perform all genders).  I know some non-binary folx who prefer androgyny, but I also know plenty who don't, and are often read as cis men or cis women.  Personally, I'm most comfortable wearing clothes assigned masculine and feminine, which may put me closer to androgyny, look-wise, but I think I'm mostly read as a cis man, whether in or out of that costume.  However, none of that changes the fact that I am non-binary, which is why I like that "It looks like whatever it looks like" sentiment expressed by my friend's roommate.  So, TL;DR: androgyny is built around a look or appearance, the non-binary gender identity is not.  Sorry for the long response!   

Here’s What Characters’ Favorite Toys Tell Us About the Star Wars Universe

So: totally agree that Anakin treats R2 very well, and I would never suggest that young Anakin was fully immersed in his Dark Side Vader-ness at this point.  If that were true, there'd be no arc for this character, and, especially considering the animated series, comics, and books, there is certainly an arc to Anakin.  But I do think certain seeds were subtly sown (say that five times fast) at this stage, and I do think some of it connects to 3PO.  Some of it kind of evolves into what Emmet Asher-Perrin writes about in her Tor article about how the Rebellion wins because they treat their droids like people.  We've definitely got evidence that Anakin DOES treat droids like friends, but we also have evidence that he could evolve (or devolve) into someone who does NOT.  Some readers may not place the same value I do on small stuff like the pronouns and terminology Anakin uses to reference 3PO, and I recognize that as a completely legitimate analytical decision, but I'm prodding at the "small stuff" all over this article, so it makes sense to me to look at things like subtle use of the word "it" or "coverings," as I do above.  Young Anakin is not Vader, so of course we're going to see good in him, but we also know he *will be* Vader, and I'm using this premise to ponder whether there aren't hints quietly planted into his play impulses that can then be exaggerated later on in his arc.  That which is subtle now could easily, then, be exploited by someone (like the Emperor) who knew what they were doing, and was all about the Dark Side of the Force.  Some of that kind of analysis has been done already, especially in a gamesradar.com article that speaks to this.   I'm pretty up-front about one being completely able to say "Nahhhhhh," and that's okay, but that response leaves me with questions - hence my hot take on Anakin and 3PO maybe not having a 100% ideal (in the sense of compassion and friendliness) relationship.

What Made Us Toys “R” Us Kids? Romanticism, Consumerism, and Nostalgia

@6:  Excellent points all-around, and K-Mart is another tragedy.  The fact that that company is held hostage by the maniacal whims of Eddie Lampert is shameful.  I've got fond memories of that store, too, as a kid.  Decently-to-cheaply priced toys.  For some reason, I remember getting Transformers from there.  And a Darkwing Duck watch that I loved.  But your point about socio-economic class being an important factor, here, is absolutely correct.  It creates precisely what you noticed: a group of people who are shattered by the loss of this place, and another group of people who are kind of like, "Well, hey, not like we could afford that stuff to begin with," and, as you indicate, that group developed other attachments.  Borders hit me hard, too.  Like, I still don't even really like to think about it.

Mycelium Running: The Book That May Reveal Where Star Trek: Discovery Goes Next Season

@3:  I agree with you about the Tardigrade plotting courses, but, by the end, it seemed like there was an onboard way to plot courses along the mycelial network using a ship interface to "tell" Stamets' infused self where to go.  That's what it seemed like when Lorca plugged in some coordinates to the MU from his chair.

To your question, though:  The work seems fairly well supported to me.  I'd be interested to know more about this, though, from a scientist's perspective.  Dr. Andrew Weil has done a lot of work in this field, too, and comes up quite a bit in the book.  Some other studies are cited, too, plus an array of government contracts to expand Stamets' work (an endorsement, of sorts?).  Ancient Chinese medicine comes up quite a bit, too, and usually provides Stamets with historical grounding for some of what he says.  That said, if a career scientist said, "Hey, I actually need to see more to really believe this," I'd totally listen to that.  I should also say that I have not read any of Stamets' scientific papers.  The goal of Mycelium Running seems to be to introduce the layperson to the art and science of growing and caring for mushrooms, so may be less interested in scientific citations on the level of peer-reviewed journals.

“Women, Along With Different Aliens”: What the Upcoming Jurassic Park Funko Pop!s Tell Us About How Toys Translate Pop Culture

@25:  That's what I mean by "inconsistent."  I agree with you: there are some excellent examples of diversity in Funko Pop!s.  There are also examples that counterbalance that (especially moving beyond Pop!s into Funko's other divisions).  With that in mind, then, one must decide which "scope" is best for analysis: wave or line.  Does one analyze a "wave" of toys (meaning one strand, like *Jurassic Park*, that exists in a sea of company products), or does one analyze a "line" of toys (meaning the forest, over the trees: the collected work of a toy company)?  I think wave-based analyses have their place (clearly, as what I wrote leans more in that direction, though I do try to acknowledge the line), just as analyses of single films have their place; even when, say, "Acme Studios" might generally make diverse films, it's important to note when one film emerges from that company that does not feature such diversity.  It's not that that one bad example strikes down the good examples; it's that the bad example opens up questions about how this bad example came to be, and whether this bad example might be in conversation with other bad examples.  Companies won't do these analyses themselves, so it means the critically-minded public to step in and read the media and the messages (and the messages of the media) they're putting out there, as they come out.  Funko has had successes in diversity, no question.  What I do question is whether or not they meant to.  Meaning: while I believe Funko has released great examples of diversity in toys, I'm not convinced they've made these releases due to some sense of responsibility to a core tenet of their company, and, as a result, it means we're sitting closer to the edge of diversity fails (like this *Jurassic Park* case) than I'd like to be. 

“Women, Along With Different Aliens”: What the Upcoming Jurassic Park Funko Pop!s Tell Us About How Toys Translate Pop Culture

@20:  I love where you're coming from, and agree completely!  The hypothetical scenes presented in the article were just meant to illustrate some other key scenes that were omitted, but, as you rightly indicate, there are others still that would perhaps convey better racial and/or gender politics, and I would LOVE to see those made.  And wasn't that Black Widow erasure thing a freakin' disaster?  I remember seeing that toy on the shelf and just being flabbergasted.  Thank you for pointing out even more miles we have to go before we begin to make a serious dent in this issue!

“Women, Along With Different Aliens”: What the Upcoming Jurassic Park Funko Pop!s Tell Us About How Toys Translate Pop Culture

Hey - responding to spookylianne: the bit about Troi/Crusher is speaking to the first wave of Galoob TNG action figures in 1988 (the linked interview expands on this), not the Funko Pop! TNG line, which only failed to include Crusher.

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