Quickies: Transgender Activism, Amazing Astro Photos, and the Dead Mother Trope in Kids’ Films

BONUS: Joss Whedon Makes More ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (yesssss!)

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Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. Oh yes, I’d noticed the repeating dead mother theme myself! Related, in my mind, to the parental, adult, rule-enforcing mother vs. the immature, fun, rule-breaking father. Mothers represent authority and safety, and hence are incompatible with adventure.
    I grew up with a single dad, and my siblings and I almost always pretended to be orphans in our games. It was necessary that the authority figures be absent, and we knew that fathers were also all about authority.

    1. Exactly, and even in the couple recent of examples I can think of where the mother is alive at the end they were “indisposed” through other means. The mother was busy “being a bear” in Brave and the real mother and father were unknown to the princess for much of Tangled and even then Rapunzel felt guilty about defying someone who was so horrible to her because she thought she was her mother. Quite often the fathers are disposed of in those same stories through death or “being away” or being emotionally detached, I agree that it’s a overused trope but it almost seems necessary to any coming-of-age story.

  2. If a parent is present or available, the parent’s resources will be brought to bear on the problem. If the story is about the child’s dilemma and the child’s victory, then it must be the child’s resources which are brought to bear. If a parent is available, but their resources are not brought to bear, the reader will need to know why, or the story will lack verisimilitude; and the why needs to make sense to the reader.

    Dead or emotionally unavailable parents are easy to write. A parent who recognizes that this particular problem is the child’s to solve would be more difficult, especially as the story problem gets more serious, but a trivial problem is unlikely to hold much reader interest. To make the story the child’s story, you need to get rid of the buttinsky parents.

    1. Big time Harry Potter SPOILER ALERT!!!

      I feel there is a bit of that thought with regards to Dumbledore, as Harry’s ersatz father figure many thought that he allowed the very young Harry to handle his own problems a bit too much. Rowling mitigated this a bit by surrounding Harry with adults who (as is latter relieved, especially with Snape) were watching over him though they refused to actually listen to him at the time, that all becomes a bit of fridge logic after the entire story is relieved. Once again though all of those parental figures were unavailable to him for different reasons, from aloofness (McGonagall and played up by Dumbledore for his own reasons) to self-absorption (Sirius to an extent and definitely Lockhart) to extreme pragmatism (Lupin). The only one who seemed to help Harry in any significant way (except for the unwitting help Hagrid gave, or the last minute maguffin given i.e. time-turner) was Moody, and he was actually Barty Crouch Jr. using Harry to get what he wanted. So even non parental adults need to be stifled to a certain degree to allow for coming-of-age.

      1. What does it say that when reading the comments above, my first thought was also of Harry Potter? :-) I still don’t know if Dumbledore was right to pretty much ignore Harry, especially in the middle books, when Harry was so tormented. (This was before D knew he was dying, which I think changed things in the last two books.) But it is pretty clear from the last chapter that Harry has absolutely no intention of treating his own children the same way.

        Moody/Crouch was a reverse Snipe. In order to be a convincing ally, he had to actually help Harry as much as possible, though sometimes his Death-Eater cruelty peeked through, like when teaching the worst of the dark spells. Snape, on the other hand, to be a convincing enemy of Harry, could hardly help him at all. Good thing Hagrid was there, though he had other responsibilities (all the creatures in his care, and then his brother to look after. I think Rowling needed to remove him from the scene because he would have helped Harry too much.

    2. This was a problem in the first season of Roswell. Due to time/money constraints, they kept writing the kids’ parents out of the script. Since these kids were in high school, this was *barely* acceptable, but it left a lot of weird spots in the plot. Where *were* your parents when you took this three day trip to such-and-such to fight some aliens? How did they not notice all the magical alien powers you had?
      But, if you want the children to be able to act, you have to take the parents out of the picture somehow.
      The least creative way is to make one dead and the other consequently too busy to pay much attention.

  3. Not to derail too far … but the “perfect dad” is a (perhaps overdone) refreshing relief from the “fucking idiot dad” that normally exist on television.
    It’s as if, the moment I have a child, I lose the ability to cook, clean, drive, reason or empathize with anyone around me. One of the reasons I liked My So Called Life was that it was the one series available on my television at the time where the dad wasn’t a complete tool.

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