So Max Caulfield is a very well-written bisexual character

Spoilers for Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm

CW: Biphobia

Yesterday was Bi Visibility Day, a day in which bisexual people are enthusiastically—or sometimes begrudgingly—acknowledged as actual real members of the LGBT community.  It was also a Pagan holiday, but never mind that.  This isn’t about Pagan holidays because this blog isn’t about Paganism yet.  Right now, it’s about whatever its been about for the last few posts.  And in the case of Bi Visibility Day, I think it’s worth mentioning a certain bisexual character whose sexuality is often ignored by both fans and non-fans alike.  An icon—or dare I say “bi-con”–due to the down-to-earth aspects of her character.  I’m of course talking about Maxine Caulfield, main character of the video game Life is Strange. 

Although Max is never directly identified as bisexual, her sexuality doesn’t necessarily need to be stated.  It would have been nice, but unfortunately the writers shied away from committing to a label.  In fact, sexuality is never really discussed or mentioned in the first game.  Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a little better about this, as one of the characters—Steph–directly mentions wanting to be in a relationship with Rachel Amber.  Yet they never actually use the word “lesbian”, despite the implication being there.  It’s almost like the writers were scared of using that word in any possible context, even while dealing with the subject matter.  However, Max is very clearly bisexual.  In the beginning of the game, Max mentions—depending on whether or not you trigger the dialogue, but whether you trigger it or not doesn’t really impact the validity of the statement—that she likes “skater boys”.  Max also seems to have a very obvious crush on Mark Jefferson, as expressed by her nervousness and how often she gushes about him.  The game still gives you the option to have Max pursue Chloe, a relationship that eventually—depending on player choice—shapes the majority of the game’s romantic aspect.  But of course some people choose to interpret this as a binary choice—i.e. “Max can be either gay or straight, depending on how you play”–while ignoring small little bits of dialogue that indicate that Max is bisexual.  To put it simply, Max is only eighteen years old and has very little romantic experience.  She is still figuring out her sexuality.  When the player enters the narrative and takes control, the game seems to be pushing Max towards Chloe and away from Warren.  While Max wholeheartedly flirts with Chloe, she expresses very little interest in Warren as anything other than a friend.  Regardless, she is still given the option to kiss him in Episode 5.  This kiss has no bearing on anything else and can be interpreted as Max “throwing Warren a bone”, which would be very problematic in most circumstances, but especially problematic if Max really was intended to be “straight or gay” depending on the playthrough.  The fact that the option exists indicates that—regardless of whether you choose to pursue Chloe or not—Max is bisexual in every possible version of the narrative.  The options in the game are based on Max’s mindset.  If she chooses to consider kissing Chloe, it’s because she—whether consciously or subconsciously—sees nothing inherently wrong or undesirable about kissing a girl.  There is no choice in the game that doesn’t inevitably lead to Max considering kissing Chloe.  Every choice is a plausible decision within Max’s own mind.  That’s why the player cannot manipulate the narrative based on their own perceptions.  Specifically, even if you realize that Mr. Jefferson is responsible for everything, there is no option for Max to come to that exact realization on her own because that goes against her character.   

In short, Maxine Caulfield is a flawlessly written bisexual character.  It’s just unfortunate that people often ignore this aspect of her, painting her as either straight or gay depending on how they feel about the Chloe-Max relationship.  But bi-erasure is very real and very prevalent in media.  Movies like Below Her Mouth present a very binary and ultimately harmful view of womens’ sexuality in which a boyish lesbian seduces a previously straight woman who is forced to conceal the relationship from her boyfriend.  The concept itself misses the existence of bisexuality in order to market the movie as “a lesbian love story”.  There are so few truly and blatantly bisexual characters in media.   

This is another reason we need a day dedicated to bisexual visibility.  We need to be reminded what the B in LGBT stands for, because apparently people very often forget.    

Dirk Gently is a manic pixie dream boy

I just finished binging the first two seasons of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”. Overall, a satisfying experience. But as much as I’d love to unpack the twists and turns of this extraordinary series, I’m not really into in-depth reviews. So instead I’m going to talk about how Dirk Gently is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy.

The term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” has a certain stigma attached to it. You can’t really drop it into conversation without attracting some eye-rolls. It’s one of those character types that no one particularly enjoys because its been done to death. A conventionally attractive young woman with blue, pink, or purple hair and a quirky personality. While the dyed hair isn’t entirely commonplace, its definitely been woven into the trope. She’s a free spirit. He–the male protagonist–is struggling to find purpose in his colossally boring life. She takes pictures of empty violin cases. He eats plain rice for every meal and reads the newspaper. And of course she fills the main character’s life with joy and rainbows, pulling him out of his silly monotone existence. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is, put simply, a plot device. Her existence revolves around revitalizing the main character’s life. Beyond that, she serves no purpose. There is a certain appeal to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: she’s beautiful and inexplicably attracted to a boring office worker. She’s socially inept, but in a charming “girl-ish” way. And, rather strangely, she always seems to fall for the most mundane run-of-the-mill men in existence, rather than for a man on her level of quirkiness.

Meanwhile, the term “Manic Pixie Dream Boy” has gained very little traction. This is partially because it’s very rare for men to be given this type of treatment in fiction. While men can certainly be reduced to plot devices, it’s not usually so specific and widespread. It’s also rare–although not unheard of–for a male character’s entire existence to revolve around the main female protagonist. Male characters are often fortunate enough to be actual characters outside of their infatuation, unless this infatuation is pivotal to the plot. We have the “thoughtful brooding artist”, the “socially reclusive genius”, and the “eccentric older man”, but no MPDBs.

But they exist. They exist in the strangest places, but they certainly are an actual character type. The best example is Dirk Gently of famed “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”, a series based on a novel by Douglas Adams. While the series isn’t quite faithful to the source material, it introduces the viewers to the wonderful Dirk Gently, a charmingly quirky and eccentric detective with powerful chaotic twink energy. He crash lands into the life of Todd, pulling Todd out of his somewhat boring existence and into a world of untold wonder and horror. Dirk is–in every possible way–the male version of the infamous “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”. Even his way of dress–bright colors, specifically the jackets–is reminiscent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl’s iconic dyed hair. While Dirk is definitely more developed than your average MPDG, the roots are there. And the series–unintentionally or on purpose–leans into it.

However, there is another trope. This one is also quite common in fiction. It might be considered the true male version of the MPDG, as this one is actually a fully-recognized trope. Those who’ve watched “Doctor Who” have undoubtedly seen it: the eccentric/handsome genius/gentleman. This one is a little harder to pin down with exact behaviors, but it is nonetheless very prevalent in both modern and older fiction. Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes is a decent example, although David Tennent’s stint as The Doctor paints a much better picture of what I’m talking about. This character is strange, yet charming. They’re fiercely intelligent, worldly, and often accidentally–or intentionally–of ambiguous sexuality. Dirk hits a few of these points, but he falls short of the most important qualifiers: Dirk is neither a genius nor what I’d call “worldly”. Therefore he’s more accurately placed inside the Manic Pixie Dream Boy category. There’s really no better place for a character like Dirk Gently.

This examination of tropes does raise an important question: is there room for more Manic Pixie Dream Boys in fiction? Or will the trope eventually become as tired and played out as the female counterpart? Undoubtedly audiences will eventually tire of characters like Dirk Gently. But we haven’t really been given the chance to actually become tired of Manic Pixie Dream Boys. The concept itself is relatively new and very few people even consider it a trope. They don’t consider it a trope because–at this moment in time–it’s technically not. And while the official era of MPDGs has passed, they still pop up from time to time. Maybe it’s time for a Manic Pixie Dream Boy revolution.

The Box

There is no fundamental difference between Christianity and any other ideology. Like most, the main goal is to define and change the world based on personal principles. The concept that every moral compass is corrupt, broken, or points in a direction too far north. Of course, there are exceptions. Ideas about Christianity as a general guideline, always changing and never standing still long enough to be considered “bad”. You can define yourself outside of these strict doctrines, provided you put God or Gods at the center. The progressive Christian movement incites controversy from both within and outside the doctrine, as it challenges the core idea of Christianity—unchanging, rigid, anti-human—that many people rely on. But is this good or bad? It depends on who you ask. An evangelical Christian will insist that a rigid and unchanging doctrine is inherently better, because it presents us with one single way of life. A simple formula to follow. And it is appealing. The idea that you never have to think, never have to engage your brain for longer than it takes to turn a page. Your role as a man—leader, protector—will never go unchallenged, because the doctrine is clear. And your role as a woman—child-bearer, caring for the home—is crystal clear.

But that’s not how life works. You can’t expect everyone and everything to line up so perfectly. You can’t find your purpose in a formula or a book. It comes from within yourself. And that deep dark place inside your own body? It’s terrifying. It’s filled with self-doubt and sadness and confusion. It can drag you into your own personal hell. But you know what else can drag you into your own personal hell? A box. Being stuffed into a small box, unable to move your limbs or scream. Imagine living inside that cramped box for your entire life, mouth taped shut as your body slowly decays. But that’s fine, right? Because we understand the box. The box shrinks every day, it slowly crushes us. But we understand it. And that is the root of conservative Christian values. While progressive Christians attempt to expand the box, to make it more comfortable for us to live inside, conservative Christians are perfectly fine with seeing our limbs crushed and compacted inside of it. Traditionalism is the refuge of the damned. Those who feel left out, who are adrift in this brave new world. They are threatened by the concept of peace. Peace is so foreign to them, such an alien concept for them to grasp. Because they are used to pain. The pain of their limbs being crushed in the box. And since they’ve lived their entire lives in darkness and pain, why should everyone else be happy? Why should these teenagers and young adults feel secure in themselves, why should they feel free, why should they live without constant fear and agony? It seems like a rip-off, a massive injustice. You become used to being restricted, used to being in pain, used to being scared. And then you enter a world in which these things no longer have to exist and you feel cheated. You feel as if maybe if you did something, if you actually fought, if you were a little braver and a little more aware…. But it’s too late. So you fall back into the ways you’ve been taught, you fall back into the restriction, you fight for it because it’s familiar to you, because you’ve become used to the pain and it’s not fair that others are breaking out of it.

We want things to stay the same. We want to understand the world. We want all the old writings to remain untouched. But that was never the world. Perhaps we grew up in it, perhaps we were enticed into it. But it was never how the world worked. It’s simply a cycle, a cycle so subtle that most refuse to recognize it. It often takes a hundred years, by which time most are dead. But in that time, humanity’s understanding of core concepts begins to shift, we become a little wiser, we start to question the old texts. Would it be easier if we never questioned the beliefs of our ancestors and continued on? In some ways, perhaps the world would be simpler if we let society advance while keeping our thinking in one place. But that is not how society works. As we advance and grow, we learn and question. It is inevitable.

As long as society exists, we will always want to return. Return to a simpler time, return to a place—however unpleasant—that we are familiar with. But it will never happen. Even as we slide backwards, we trudge forwards. The old world never existed. It was a story your grandparents and great-grandparents told you before bed, a fairy tale with a bittersweet ending. There is only a step forward, however many steps backward are taken in rapid succession. There is only life outside of the box.

So female sexuality in media is a complex topic for some reason. Also kind of a rant about “Fifty Shades of Grey”

CW: NSFW. Mentions of (non-specific) abuse. Misogyny.

Ever heard of the Madonna-Whore complex? If you have, congratulations. That’s literally all you need to know about how our steadily-shifting society views women, particularly women as sexual beings. If you’re fortunate enough to have never heard of it, here’s a basic definition: it’s the idea that if a woman isn’t a perfect untouched virgin, she must be a whore. That’s it. That summarizes society’s warped concept of female sexuality. It’s either one or the other, no in between. There’s a lot of bullshit tangled up in this, specifically the outdated and misogynistic idea that women who enjoy sex are somehow “disgusting” and “not worthy of marriage”. So female sexuality is often ignored or downplayed in media, regardless of the audience. Because “sex sells”, but supposedly only to men and teenage boys.

Films like “Below Her Mouth” highlight this perfectly. That film is basically porn and it’s outwardly aimed at lesbian women. And then we have “Fifty Shades of Grey”, which is porn pretending to be “erotic romance”. Except the “romance” aspect is actually both physical and emotional abuse played off as “charming”. Of course,”Fifty Shades” is literally fanfiction, so it can—kind of—be forgiven for being a shitty attempt at both porn and romance. Maybe if it was a cautionary tale about how easy it is for someone young and naive to stumble into an abusive relationship and not realize it? Maybe if Anna was too enamored by Grey’s money to notice he’s literally the worst? This could have so easily been a wonderful story and a teaching moment for people who don’t know how to recognize abuse. Its popularity could have saved lives. But instead it was a disgusting piece of affirming garbage that has undoubtedly emboldened abusers and convinced victims to remain in physically/emotionally abusive relationships. Normalizing and romanticizing controlling behavior is not healthy, especially in the context of a critically-acclaimed “romance” novel aimed at women. But enough about how Fifty Shades is fucking awful.

Spend five minutes on Archive of Our Own or Fanfiction.net and you’ll notice a trend: this female-dominated space is shamelessly pornographic. There’s so much erotic literature floating around most major fanfiction platforms, the majority of it written by teenage girls and young women. Female sexuality isn’t shunned in the world of fanfiction. It’s celebrated and endorsed. It’s encouraged. And most importantly, it completely breaks the narrative of “men are sexual creatures, women aren’t unless they’re broken” that a lot of older media liked to perpetuate. Modern media is a lot more open about the existence of female sexuality. Again, “Below Her Mouth” exists, as does the masturbation scene in the Netflix original “You” and the entire sequence featuring three teenage girls buying sex toys in “Trinkets”. Female sexuality has become normalized, despite the lingering stigma. But at the same time, “Fifty Shades of Grey” exists. And that’s really why I’m writing this. It’s not a full-blown review of the book, because that’s not what anyone needs. No, I think everyone needs to understand why “Fifty Shades of Grey” was so terrible.

Fifty Shades of Grey was unrepentant, silly, and filled with blatant abuse. As a story, it is a dangerously twisted narrative. But from a raw sexual point of view? It’s a fetish work for people with specific fetishes about submission. But these are framed as romantic, rather than purely sexual. The narrative and the actual erotica are too closely linked. Christian Grey’s personality is wrapped up in his position as a “dom”, while Anna adopts her “sub” role as a pivotal personality trait. They become the erotica and the erotica becomes them. The dynamic is ultimately silly because it’s porn pretending to have a plot. And fanfiction is normally upfront about its intentions.

If you’re going to write porn with slivers of a plot to hold it together, at least make it interesting. Give it some flavor. Break some rules. Don’t lie to your readers about the kind of story you’re writing. Do some research about BDSM.

Teenagers in fiction and why I enjoyed “Trinkets” in very few paragraphs

This isn’t long because there isn’t much to be said. I recently finished “Trinkets”, a Netflix original series. This might be a review. I don’t know. Life is Strange, Night in the Woods, and Oxenfree are mentioned.

I only watched “Trinkets” because someone compared it to Life is Strange. That’s it. That’s the reason. And were they right? In many ways, yes. Small town. Diverse group of friends. It hit all the right spots, minus the supernatural powers. And right out of the gate, it made a name for itself. It carved a path. It breathed.

Did I enjoy it? Yes. Thoroughly. It brought me back to my first experiences with Life is Strange and Night in the Woods. It satisfied my deep-rooted need for a continuation, for something more after completing both games. The itch was scratched. But far too soon, it was over. Ten episodes. Finished.

I considered my recommendations. “Riverdale” was high on the list. Maybe “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” for some duality. Not quite the same themes, but the central concept (high school student with powers) is there. There are many shows that might fit into that specific niche. But how many of them are Life is Strange worthy? How many of them evoke the same feelings as the game? Very few. Life is Strange was an experience. It can’t be replicated so easily. Night in the Woods tried and succeeded. And Oxenfree. But otherwise, there haven’t really been many others.

But this isn’t about Life is Strange being unique. It’s about the complexity and cross-generational appeal of teenagers in media. I know it wasn’t about that in beginning, but that’s what it’s about now. Because it’s my post and I call the shots.

Teenagers are fun to write. You can tackle complex adult problems, but with the naivety and often flawed problem-solving that comes with being inexperienced and bold. Rebellion against authority, dislike of following the rules, a general need for adventure. All backed by lack of life experience and a blindness to consequences. And often un-hindered by the restraint or disillusionment imposed by adulthood. The world is terrifying as an adult, but a little less as a teen. For a writer, this translates into something engaging for almost any audience. You can get away with petty drama and shitty decisions. Your characters can be unaware and self-absorbed without it coming off as immature. Your characters can react to situations in ridiculously extreme ways and it can even come off as relatable to both teens and those who were once teenagers.

Teenagers can change. They can grow. And we can see it happening in real time. This change is more impactful if the character is young. It reminds us of course own journeys, of how we navigated the minefield of being young. Essentially, a young character can get away with almost anything. They can be forgiven for nearly any mistake, because they’re just teenagers. Intelligent, but sometimes foolhardy. It’s beautiful and frustrating to watch.

An informal look at “Oxenfree”

Some very mild spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.

I hate writing reviews. Nothing ever comes out right and I just end up rambling about one little point for several paragraphs. And of course I mainly review games and TV shows that have been out for years and months. I’ve almost always missed the interest window. So this isn’t really a “review” of Oxenfree or even an analysis. It’s several thoughts about several things, and I might fit my honest opinion of the game in there somewhere.

“Life is Strange” changed my entire perception of video games. Before I played LiS, I’d never really touched a legit story-based game in my life. The closest I’d come was “Bastion” and “Transistor”. But the fighting aspects of both games interested me just as much as the storyline. “Life is Strange” changed that. It changed everything. It made me feel things I didn’t even know I could feel. I fell in love with everything: the storyline, the characters, the setting, the art. And of course I cried my eyes out when I had to make that final choice. The game almost broke me. I thought it couldn’t get any better, that I was never going to find another game like LiS.

Fast forward to several months after I finally played LiS for the first time. I was late. I missed the hype train by several years on LiS. And in the meantime, a little game called “Night in the Woods” was in the works. And a whole two or three months after it came out, I finally picked it up because I had no idea what it was about. And it turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made. “Night in the Woods” is the best video game I have ever played. The characters made me laugh, the story made me cry, and the conclusion left me with a massive hole in my chest. And like a masochist, I wanted more. I demanded more pain, more sorrow.

Every time I probed the Internet for game suggestions, “Oxenfree” was always on the list. “Games similar to Life is Strange?” someone on Reddit would ask. And always–always–“Oxenfree” would be mentioned. It had been months. I’d already played “Night in the Woods”. I was ready to be hurt again. The game went on sale and I bought it. I was satiated at last.

And just like that, I was in love again. A gorgeous unique art style, characters I liked, a setting that took my breath away. It was Life is Strange, it was Night in the Woods. It was everything I wanted. It was like playing Life is Strange all over again. The same feelings, the same doubts, the same questions. I was replaying it over and over again, like a broken record. And I didn’t want it to stop. Everything about it spoke to me. The music informed my own specific taste. Folk, alternative, dreampop, post-punk, lofi. I saw not only my life, but lives I could have lived in countless alternate universes. The cross-section of human experience, the interconnected constants of life for teenagers and young adults in most of the western world. A once-prosperous town on the edge of ruin due to a failing local economy, an island converted into a party spot for teens, a dying town dominated by entitled wealth and plagued by violence. And most importantly, the teenagers and youing adults trying to survive and thrive despite tragedy and a general lack of control. And most importantly, the teenagers and youing adults trying to survive and thrive despite tragedy and a general lack of control. All of these protagonists struggle with control, because the supernatural events surrounding their lives can’t be controlled. Just like everything else in their lives, it’s uncertain and daunting. And none of them know how to deal with it.

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