Women & Geek, Pop Culture - STAHMA TARR

Women and Geek, Pop Culture

A blog series on observing changes women present in the wonderful world of geek, pop culture.

By Christopher Harris

Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of “Women and Geek, Pop Culture”. If you haven’t read the first piece or the introduction, then this series, like the name implies, will highlight some of the more authoritative roles women have in geek media. For example, the series will pin-point certain forms of media by briefly underlying how a particular show might diverge from tropes and reoccurring narratives we expect to see today. It’ll analyze fictional characters in TV, comics and video games, and emphasize the effects these characters have on future media and the representation of women.

The spotlight was on Korra, from the hit animated series Legend of Korra. I explained several reasons why she represents a fundamental change in how women can be portrayed in media, even in cartoons!

This week is another personal favorite, and when I originally wrote this article, the character was just starting to blossom. Now she has bloomed into a character the show simply cannot do without.

 She hails from the planet Casti but now calls the ruins of St. Louis home. 

Stahma Tarr

 http://www.syfy.com/sites/syfy/files/styles/syfy_cast_detail_normal_1x/public/Defiance_cast_stahma_tarr.jpg?itok=IyaayDcg

http://www.syfy.com/sites/syfy/files/styles/syfy_cast_detail_normal_1x/public/Defiance_cast_stahma_tarr.jpg?itok=IyaayDcg

Defiance – Syfy

(Plot spoilers will be at a minimum but I will have to reference some of her actions to make points!! Defiance is on the Syfy channel so it goes without saying that this show may not be for everyone.) 

A post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama that knows how to cater to its audience. Defiance is not without its flaws but if you want a decent story told through a cast of colorful characters then this show is for you. Developed by Rockne S. O’Bannon (FARSCAPE), Kevin Murphy and Michael Taylor. The story of Defiance opens with 7 alien races making up what is called the Votanis Collective, showing up on Earth’s door in the year 2013. An extremely convoluted chain of events occur with the result ending in a 7 years’ war between these aliens and humans. With both sides suffering heavy losses, humans and mixed aliens are forced to co-exist on a war-torn Earth and this is where the fun begins.

For the sake of this article I want to point out Stahma’s race in particular. As mentioned before, Stahma comes from a planet called Casti, making her Castithan. There a very few physical differences between Humans and Castithans. The obvious being the pale skin, pink-lavender eyes, white hair, and apparently their xeno-specific body parts. Castithans are known for being sly. Their religious beliefs lead them to be very conservative in most aspects of life. The best examples of this, and this is important, is their use in a culturally fixed caste system. Subsequently, female Castithans are subservient to their male counter parts in every way.  Castithan traditions and law lump all their women together and strips them of their identity. This old imperialistic tradition breeds the idea of continuously stripping the power away from the females until it’s the only thing they know. They’ve been deprived of their own voice for generations they don’t even realize they have one. They know no other way. Their regality is also matched by their extremely open-minded views on sexuality, which is also important but not for this article.

So how does Stahma play into all of this? Well she is certainly no exception to the Castithan rules. Or is she?

When the series begins, Stahma is the tactful, encouraging wife character to an egotistical chauvinist alpha male. She faithfully serves her husband Datak, the leader of their Castithan people in Defiance. While backstories unfold you get the sense of the caste system and Castithan traditions very early on. During this time you see Stahma as her husband wants you to see her. She’s silent, deadly and above all, dutiful. When called upon Stahma will do every bit of Datak’s dirty work, and carry out the task with style.  When she isn’t “taking care” of the family’s enemies, she’s taking care of her husband and her son, Alak. She follows her role to the letter.

But even in the early episodes, she is still a major player. The few times she’s out from under Datak’s largely casted shadow, is definitely when Stahma has a chance to shine.

As you watch the first season you begin to see Stahma for who she truly is. While she does her misdeeds you can see the spark in her eye. She isn’t just murderous trophy wife. Stahma has the uncanny ability to blend her submissive nature with her cunning intellect, throwing off any suspicion to her character. Stahma is timid, polite and kind, yet as the viewer, you know the things she’s capable of. The way she interacts with other characters is how she acts around her husband. Even he doesn’t truly understand her, which makes her such a unique character. It’s this fine line she walks that allows her to “cheat the system”, in every sense of the phrase. Her ambitions are able to flourish at the end of season 1 when her carefully orchestrated planning raises her husband, Datak, to a position of power in the town of Defiance. She is single-handedly responsible for propping up Datak’s stature and he doesn’t even realize it. The winds start to stir and by the end you have no choice but to consider that there might be more to Stahma’s character as a whole.

Now this is where Stahma’s character breaks out and is worthy of being on WGPC.

When season 2 goes underway, Stahma appears to be the loyal wife you remember from the previous season. A substantial amount of time passes and Datak is in jail for, well, being Datak, and their son is busy playing at being human. Stahma has inherited the business and put Alak in charge of it as a figurehead. Castithan women, as you might have guessed it, aren’t allowed to surpass their husbands in every possible way. I suppose it stands to mention Alak is more human than Castithan as he doesn’t have the fortitude to participate in the more extreme forms of Casththan tradition.  When Datak eventually finds out that his loving and thoughtful wife has the mind to betray him, it takes everything in his power not to kill her. There’s a look that Stahma gives him at the end of a GREAT scene that sums up the fear and rage inside of her. In the very next episode she throws traditions, the caste systems and all ways of Castithan life out the door when she has him beaten by the very same men he used to command. Stahma and Alak look on as Datak’s once loyal henchmen beat him to an inch of death then leave him out in the street for the town to see. Stahma kneels down to a broken Datak and whispers “You should have made me a partner!”

It’s one of the greatest scenes in the show and it’s really just about an alien spousal dispute gone to the extreme!

Everything about Stahma and what she represents can scarcely be found on most shows today. Stahma is the living embodiment of Women’s equality and Stahma, like the issue, will not be ignored. Of course its sci-fi drama, and her methods are a bit extreme, but at her core, Stahma’s whole purpose for being isn’t to usurp authority or take control, it’s to be represented equally and treated fairly. She literally has to fight to be “partners” with her husband. A feeling most women can relate to in predominately male professions. Her story on the show is the bridge between issues of equality and gender misrepresentation and how we as men as women might overcome them.

Defiance is a show all about new beginnings, as you’ll come to understand if you ever get a chance to watch it. Stahma’s fresh start is to be the woman she knows she is, without predetermined notions from words written by old men from a time way passed the point of relevancy. She strives for her husband to see her worth.  She decides to explore other options from observing human women and how they’re afforded the luxury of independence.

I don’t need to explain the irony there.

Stahma breaks her shackles of submission by interacting with other characters on the show that introduce the idea of equality into her life. It’s the idea of being treated fair because you have that right. Stahma wants it that so badly that she ends up breaking the most sacred Castithan laws.

Her character also goes hand in hand with all the joys and pains of a marriage. Her and Datak are the only married characters with substance on the show. Datak goes through the series, clinging to his traditions on a new world that he doesn’t see the potential rising in Stahma. She plays the supportive role extremely well only to be ignored by her husband and his thick bravado. He doesn’t see it until it’s too late and eventually even he is in the way of her ambitions. What’s great about Stahma’s character is when she finally does take control of the family, she eventually breaks through Datak’s tough masculine armor by communicating with him, albeit, after beating him up and kicking him out of the house.  However the end result is positive. She was able to get through to him, to make him ackowlegde his own faults, not behave violently or lash out, and then make steps to change for his family. Which is nothing short of spectacular.

                                                                    They work well together, as two manipulative maniacal murderers in marriage.

                                                                   They work well together, as two manipulative maniacal murderers in marriage.

The thing I find the most amazing about Stahma is that her character role is so unexpected. You’re reading this article and have some knowledge of events during the season, and the conflict she goes through but when you watch the show you will see just how this character suddenly explodes and then realize that the match was lit the whole time.  Kudos go to the creators, writers and staff. If not for them this character would not exist. They made a choice to tell a narrative that is hardly ever told in a genre that at best, gives women decent side roles to put alongside a main male character and to be honest in the first season, that is exactly Stahma’s character. She delivers some the greatest lines of dialogue and her screen time is always a villainous delight. The way the writers tell and display her character in such a way that seems fresh and new is just, well, its amazing character writing.  It’s the type of writing and character development we need to practice repeating. We need to see more of in all types of media.

Shot out to the wonderful Jaime Murray, who does a phenomenal job owning Stahma Tarr’s character. I couldn’t see anyone else playing that character. Stahma has that devilish charm that only Jaime Murray can portray accurately, I think.

W&G,PC -Times are a'changin'...

Hey everyone,

And welcome to another installment of W&G,PC. I know, I know... its been a while but I'd like to start of with something new. 

I'll be releasing my other articles shortly... until then... enjoy this cartoon!

Still keeping with the themes in which Women and Geek, Pop Culture was founded upon, I thought I'd present this cartoon I made. Saying what it is would spoil it, so you'll just have to read it. I've had it for a while but wasn't exactly sure how to present it, so I held on to it but i figured I could submit it and bring W&G,PC back... so that's good news! 

Women and Geek, Pop Culture - KORRA

By Christopher Harris

Hey everyone and welcome to the first segment of “Women and Geek, Pop Culture”. If you haven’t read the introduction piece then this series, like the name implies, will highlight some of the more authoritative roles women have in geek media. For example, the series will pin-point certain forms of media by briefly underlying how the particular show might diverge from reoccurring tropes and narratives we almost expect to see today. It’ll analyze fictional characters in TV, comics and video games, and emphasize the effects these characters have on future media and the representation of women.

I’m excited to present the very first Woman in Geek, Pop Culture:

 Korra. Digital image.  Comic Vine . CBS Interactive Inc., 2014. Web. 2014.

Korra. Digital image. Comic Vine. CBS Interactive Inc., 2014. Web. 2014.

Korra

The Legend of Korra - Nickelodeon/Nick.com

(This article is SPOILERS free!! If you haven’t seen this show though, I highly recommend after reading this you find a way to watch The Legend of Korra: Book One – Air. IT’S GOOD!)

From the talented trio, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko and Joaquin Dos Santos (Avatar: The Last Airbender) comes an inspirational story of a young woman trying to find her own path when the entire world sees her as the Avatar, a living embodiment of peace that’s able to manipulate (or “bend”) the four Elements.  The Avatar is essentially tasked with keeping the world “balanced” and the humans that inhabit it from being at each other’s throats. It’s Korra’s job to protect and serve without playing favorites, and like previous Avatars, always manages to step on toes.

The Legend of Korra is a well-written animated drama with a female lead. You don’t see this too often. I watch a lot of cartoons and I’m pretty close to saying I just don’t see it at all. For that reason alone, it was easy to choose her first. The show does a great job at giving you the perspective of a young woman having very little choice than to deal with a multitude of social and political problems.  In the middle of all that craziness, Korra has her own personal life to manage!

 Korra. Digital image.  Comic Vine . CBS Interactive Inc., 2014. Web. 2014.

Korra. Digital image. Comic Vine. CBS Interactive Inc., 2014. Web. 2014.

So let’s talk about Korra, shall we? Why does she make the list? How does she encourage the empowerment of women on TV, and on a cartoon no less? Well let’s first take a look at Korra. 

Korra definitely dons a commanding physique, yet still keeping her feminine body shape. She’s no distressed damsel as it’s obvious she can hold her own in a fight. The Legend of Korra airs on Nickelodeon so you don’t have to worry about seeing her in revealing lingerie as she battles the forces of evil. Though, it is still nice to see some practicality where a feminine character in geek culture is concerned. Her “water tribe” garb design doesn’t make her an object of sexual desire (unless you’re into fur) and it certainly doesn't distract from the narrative. It’s simple and elegant, and if you’re an artist or writer, you've probably said to yourself “I wish I’d thought of that!!!” 

Korra’s personality really matches her design.  She’s energetic, she’s rather impulsive and even a bit aggressive. Korra can be rash, but it’s an issue she is aware of and puts effort into rectifying. Her internal conflicts are able to give her a substantial level of depth, something female characters in most cartoons don’t even come close to reaching.

There is also a single significant quality to Korra. Yes, her name is in the title, but there’s a reason she is the alpha of her group.  It's not because she has the powers of an Avatar at her disposable. It’s because she emits confidence. It’s the fundamental difference between this Avatar series and the previous one. As the Avatar she can bend all the elements at will, which no other human can do. If there was no such thing as an Avatar I feel like she would be able to manipulate all the elements just fine, because of her personality, because of her confidence. It’s the reason why this series is such an excellent stand alone.

Confidence is a characteristic that doesn’t define too many characters these days. It’s been replaced by “swagger” or “bossy”. The type of roles that come off annoying and flat. After watching The Legend of Korra, you can only deem Korra as a great role model! She represents the type of person people can virtually look up to. For young women and girls, this is especially true.  

 Korra. Digital image.  Comic Vine . CBS Interactive Inc., 2014. Web. 2014.

Korra. Digital image. Comic Vine. CBS Interactive Inc., 2014. Web. 2014.

Korra is a leader, but she isn’t cookie-cutter either! It’s that blend that makes her character so unique. She can be every bit of who she is, in any situation. When she talks, people listen and most times when other’s talk she’ll listen, given the situation. Korra’s interaction with other characters are always displayed with deep emotion. She could be conversing with bad guys and you feel the tension. When Korra is kicking butt, you really feel the strength of her blows. Alternatively, when Korra is feeling vulnerable, you get that sense of uneasiness. You won’t see that kind of character interaction on any other recent animated series.

Korra’s character is never diminished. Korra is never put in a situation where she made a mistake and is just left not learning anything by it. Due to the dramatic nature of the show, Korra deals with her not-so-trivial personal issues like a champ. She doesn’t waste time whining or complaining or asking the same questions over and over again. As a character she never gets too hung up on one thing. Korra keeps it moving and she gets results. It may good, it may be bad, but something will happen.

The Legend of Korra has, without a doubt, changed the game on how women can be represented on TV, at the very least cartoons. The series doesn’t just reuse the same types of clichés you see in run of the mill animated series’. Its breaks redundant plot devices down and builds in its place, a foundation in which writing and art can grow into something new, something different. It’s hard not be inspired by it!

 New Friends. Digital image.  Comic Vine . CBS Interactive Inc., 2014. Web. 2014.

New Friends. Digital image. Comic Vine. CBS Interactive Inc., 2014. Web. 2014.

A special thanks goes out to the wonderful creators and all the staff, and I mean all the staff, involved. Thanks to them Korra has the right look, the right attitude, and an incredible world in which a limitless story can be told. The writing, the art style, the acting, the music, it’s all just fantastic! It’s the unbelievable attention to detail everyone puts in that makes The Legend of Korra awesome!!

                                                        Fishfryin' Korra. Digital image.  Korra-gifs.tumblr . N.p., 2014. Web. 2014.

                                                       Fishfryin' Korra. Digital image. Korra-gifs.tumblr. N.p., 2014. Web. 2014.

...and thank you Korra for being the ray of light in a pillar of darkness! 

Janet Varney, the voice of Korra, just knocks it out of the solar system with phenomenal voice acting that literally breathes life into the character

                                  Janet Varney. Digital image.  Speak Geeky to Me . Copyright © 2014 Speak Geeky To Me, 2014. Web. 2014.

                                 Janet Varney. Digital image. Speak Geeky to Me. Copyright © 2014 Speak Geeky To Me, 2014. Web. 2014.

Women and Geek, Pop Culture

Is there a trend rising?

Blog series on observing changes women present in the wonderful world of Geek, pop culture.

Ms Marvel. Digital image. Other Dimensions and Galaxies. BLOGGER, 2014. Web. 2014.

 

 

 

I watch a lot of TV. I play video games. I’m reading and lurking the latest and greatest news in comics when I can. I love sci-fi! Yup! I’m a geek by all accounts and in this day and age I’m loving every minute of it. There are tons of amazing and inspirational stories from writers using characters that I never thought were all that interesting before. So inspiring, in fact, I’ve taken up writing, as you can see. However, there’s something I did notice…or rather I felt it missing, and that’s the presence of strong women in these types of media’s. 

 

Now this particular subject is basically the battle-cry for anything even remotely feminist-ic and yes, sometimes those cries can be a bit excessive. Still, it does warrant the question, why? You see these discussions all over the internet. So what exactly is happening to combat misrepresentation? If everyone asks and wonders, why isn’t anything happening? Where and when will this change occur?

Well that’s a topic for another discussion in another series, for now, I want to move away from the philosophical. Instead, this series will focus more on what’s actually being done differently AND possibly what can be done to feel more involved in how the media treats the representation of women. Personally, I do see a change in the way feminine characters are being portrayed, albeit, in a few shows that 10,  maybe 15 years ago, would not have had the same type of charisma or strength I see today. I’m reading comics and I’m watching television and I can see it. You can too! You just have to know where to look, and once you know where to look, you can analyze and apply.

Korra. Digital image. Nickalive.blogspot.com. BLOGGER, 2014. Web. 2014.

In future segments I’ll talk about all the various shows and movies I watch, the comics I read and even some of the video games I play, that not only support, but encourage strong female leads. Shows like Defiance and even cartoons like The Legend of Korra are fine examples of great stories with strong female leads. This series will explain the forms of media that break traditional tropes we assume are the norm in most narratives. It’s refreshing to see once redundant plot devices turned around and made new by just switching gender roles. Other forms try their best but fall short, and though it may not take away from the plot itself, comparatively the character in the show may not be as dynamic. I will touch up on that as well. 

The first part of this series is less about the usual reviews and more a unique analysis of character. How feminine characters interact with other characters, their environment and even themselves.

The topics range from all types of genres, and I will do my best to give a wide variety of coverage to them all. First, I’ll start off with what I know. The fun part will doing research in the near future since I know there’s even more out there I don’t know. 

                            Aveline AC: Liberation. Digital image.  Http://www.gameskinny.com/ . © 2014 Guild Launch, LLC, 2014. Web. 2014.

                           Aveline AC: Liberation. Digital image. Http://www.gameskinny.com/. © 2014 Guild Launch, LLC, 2014. Web. 2014.

So keep reading. At the very least you’ll come out of this with the knowledge about well-written, character driven shows or graphic novels that you may have slept on or passed up!