4 Recent TV Examples for Why I Love Hopepunk

When Breaking Bad and Games of Thrones were the most beloved TV shows I watched them with all the joy of a vegan eating an exquisitely prepared lamp chop. Yes, I could see why viewers liked their tense plot twists but their grimdark messages turned me off.

On a NPR podcast, fantasy author Alexandra Rowland defines grimdark as a philosophy “that everyone has an essential core of evil or malice or just petty selfishness that can’t ever really be overcome”, so it’s naïve to fight for a better world, instead you fight for yourself.

I disagreed with this grimdark philosophy and searched for shows that had hope. I didn’t need unrealistic happily-ever-after endings, but I wanted a more balanced view. People in my life are decent – sure we have our flaws – but we’re trying to care for others and do our best. Was grimdark really the best we could hope for? During the Trump years this has been an especially dark message. Where were the well-written stories about people I knew and the hope we have for society?

Thanks to the miracle of streaming TV I found a whole treasure-trove of shows that gave me what I needed. Many of them had smaller followings and less buzz than the grimdark shows but they had the same high quality writing and acting.

Then I discovered a name to categorize these shows.

What is hopepunk?

In 2017 Alexandra Rowland coined the term hopepunk on a Tumbler post that said, “The opposite of grimdark is hopepunk. Pass it on.” 

Many embraced that term and there have been numerous articles, podcasts, message boards and even classes discussing exactly what hopepunk is. Like most broad categories there are different views on the details.

In the 1A NPR podcast, “Do Get Your Hopes Up…Rocking Out with Hope Punk,” Rowland says that hopepunk is, “…not so much about whether the glass is half full or half empty. It says that there is water in the glass and that’s something that’s worth defending.”

Rowland adds, “…we’re all capable of doing some real atrocities to each other and also we’re capable of choosing to do something better and make the world a better place.”

In the same discussion, podcaster and freelancer Wil Williams says, “This is a time that we need something that is subversively optimistic and pointedly rebelliously empathetic.”

Yes! This is exactly what I want in a TV show during dark times.

In one of my favorite articles on the genre, “Hopepunk, the latest storytelling trend, is all about weaponized optimism”, Aja Romano also speaks with Rowland who says, “Hopepunk says that kindness and softness doesn’t equal weakness and that in this world of brutal cynicism and nihilism, being kind is a political act.”

Romano also interviews Andrew Slack, the creator of the non-profit Harry Potter Alliance, who says, “Hopepunk is a radical call to arms for us to imagine better.”

The idea that a TV show could explore what a better world might look like —while also accepting that everyone is struggling with their own flaws— appealed to me. I craved shows with main characters that struggle to be better people and often succeed, much like the people in my own life. 

Ubiquitous grimdark shows have given me an intimate understanding of the inner workings of troubled white men who give in to their darker impulses, but I was interested in characters usually relegated to secondary status in grimdark shows — people of color, queer people, and/or women. I wanted to see what a world would look like where they got to be the focus. I’m glad that these shows are starting to be made and hope for even more to come.

Here are four of my recent favorites:

Jane the Virgin

This is one of the best TV shows I’ve watched, but I almost missed out because I judged its premise as ridiculous. 23-year-old Jane Gloriana Villanueva is a virgin, saving herself for marriage, when her gynecologist accidentally artificially inseminates her with the sperm of a man she barely knows. I kept hearing how good the show was from people I respected, though, so I gave it a try and fell in love.

Genres about women’s lives – soap operas, telenovelas, and romance novels—are presented as fluff in our society. Issues that affect women are considered niche issues while issues that affect men are considered universal, despite the fact that women are slightly more than 50% of society.

The writers of Jane take their mostly Latinx characters seriously. We feel their pain, sorrow, heartache, pleasure and joy through out each soap opera plot. Yes, Jane has been inseminated accidentally, but now she’s really pregnant. She’s a real woman, with real dreams, and a real boyfriend. How will she handle this? Will she have an abortion? If she continues the pregnancy how would she care for the child while finishing college?

Jane’s relationships with her devotedly Catholic abuela and her fun loving mother, who had her at sixteen, ground the show. The baby-daddy is the owner of a luxury Miami hotel and his life provides a host of colorful telenovela plots and characters. The magic of the show is how it juggles wild soap opera plots with heartfelt human interactions.

The show also cleverly uses a narrator who breaks the fourth wall, catching viewers up each week and expressing dismay at how Jane’s life is “straight out of a telenovela!” The writers use technology in clever ways. Texting is used to create real emotion and one character’s constant hashtags add a whole new level of fun to watching.

Jane’s writers also realize abortion is at the heart of a women’s daily life. Every character— whether pro-choice or devotedly Catholic and pro-life— is respected. There’s a character that chooses to have an abortion and a pro-choice character that chooses to not to have an abortion. Both characters have good reasons for their choice. Abortion isn’t viewed as some abstract political argument, it’s seen as a very real decision in women’s daily lives.

Sex is another “guilty pleasure” that is also taken either too lightly or grimly in our society. In Jane the Virgin, sex and romance are given the thoughtfulness they deserve. Characters take their need for romance, love, pleasure, flirtation, and even lust, seriously.

The series showcases healthy, realistic families in many forms. There are single parents, married straight couples, widows, gay couples, and uniquely blended families. Everyone is flawed, but still trying to do their best.

I also personally loved that the main character has long dreamed of being a romance writer (another women’s genre seldom taken seriously). Throughout the series she struggles with typical writing issues like self-doubt, lack of time, and the frustrating realities of getting a book published and then promoting it. At one point she even gets her MFA and has to defend romance novels to her advisor.

The funny, entertaining way Jane the Virgin manages to take women and their issues seriously is a true hopepunk miracle! 

5 seasons of 17-22 episodes each, complete with a satisfying series end. Streaming on Netflix.

Please Like Me

In this Australian show, 20-something Josh realizes he’s gay and starts dating guys, while dealing with his mother’s mental heath issues. Like many of my favorite shows, this one takes a few episodes to get into. It has a naturalistic vibe that feels like you’re hanging with a group of clever friends, rather than watching a TV sit-com.

In many shows, gay relationships are treated as a subplot, a tragic tale, or steamy soap opera fodder. Please Like Me treats Josh’s dating life like it would the star of a well-written straight teen dramedy. Josh falls into romance, fumbles, and tries to figure out who he is and what he likes, while his straight friends provide subplots. It’s one of the first shows (besides Schitt’s Creek) I’ve seen that treats gay romances with the same importance of straight ones.

The show also treats mental illness in a naturalistic way rarely seen on TV. Josh’s mom is loving, funny, real, and deeply ill all at once. The show has some absolutely fantastic episodes that explore the love and heartbreak of having a parent with mental health issues. As an added bonus, Hannah Gadsby has a small recurring role in seasons two and three, prior to her break out performances in the Netflix specials Nannette and Douglas.

My favorite episode (in season three) involves Josh’s discovery that one of his backyard chickens is a rooster. The way Josh and his friends solve this problem is uplifting and heartbreaking in a realistic way, plus it involves one my favorite impromptu renditions of Adele’s “Someone Like You.”

4 seasons with 6-10 episodes each, streaming on Hulu

Schitt’s Creek

With seven recent Emmy wins this is best-known show on my list and proof that hopepunk can be just as popular as grimdark. If you know me personally, you know how much I love this show because I talk about it endlessly.

Why do I love Schitt’s Creek so much? First off, the basic premise is as subversive and hopepunk as you can get. A super rich family loses their money and is forced to have relationships with people they can’t buy. Along the way, they become happier, better people.

Like Dan Levy said in response to his wins: ”Our show at its core is about the transformational effects of love and acceptance and that is something that we need more of now than we’ve ever needed before.” Total hopepunk!

The show’s message that we’re all flawed, but worthy, plays out in such a delightfully funny way, too. Each member of the Rose family is ridiculous but very specific. For instance, former soap opera star Moira Rose (played by the fantastic Catherine O’Hara) dresses like she’s the Queen of the Haute Couture Underworld and speaks as if she’s on old-time movie. She loves her husband dearly, but tends to see other people as audience, and has to learn how to interact with everyone again, to include her own children. It’s a delightful journey to behold because Moira never stops being Moira, even as she grows. The other members of the Rose family have equally satisfying character arcs and quirks of their own.

Schitt’s Creek assumes the best in people. No one in the small town is racist or homophobic and women are not sexually harassed. The quirky citizens are proud of their town and their lives. As a result, the most compelling couple on the show consists of two gay men—whose romance stands in for the romantic feelings we ALL feel, not just the gay community— a very hopepunk sentiment.

It’s one of the few shows on TV where long-term couples don’t bitterly snipe at their partner. Sure couples tease each other about their idiosyncrasies but they also clearly love each other. Those idiosyncrasies are why they’re together.

Lastly, Schitt’s Creek knows how to balance sentiment with humor. The show’s human moments are sweet but never saccharine. Each scene deftly takes you to the edge of feeling and then makes you laugh.

Warning – This show is a slow burn. Everyone’s pretty unlikable in the first couple episodes. The enjoyable show people rave about really starts midway through season three, though season one and two definitely have their moments. Push through season one because they all start growing as people, and that journey is so much fun!

6 seasons with 13-14 episodes each, streaming on Netflix

The End of the F***king World

This show starts out with what seems like a very grimdark premise, 17-year-old James thinks he might be a psychopath and decides to go on a road trip with schoolmate Alyssa in order to work up the courage to kill her. Alyssa is also using James as a means to escape her self-absorbed stepfather and mother.

The neat fake out is that this is a hopepunk show, so instead of showcasing the worst in each other, James and Alyssa’s connection slowly shapes them into healthier people.

I should note that are a couple of very disturbing scenes, and not every one in the show is working as hard at improving their lives as the main characters. But the overall message is surprisingly hopeful, and laugh out loud funny at times.

Warning – Each episode cliff hangs, which means it’s likely you’ll binge the entire series once you start it.

Just 2 short seasons of 8 episodes each. Season 2 ends in such satisfying way I don’t even want a third season. Streaming on Netflix.

Other Hopepunk Shows Worth Watching

Brooklyn Nine-Nine – They’re still making new episodes of this funny, beloved series. Yay! (NBC, Hulu)

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – One of the best shows about mental health – with humor and songs! (Netflix)

Parks and Recreation – A Hopepunk classic about value of optimism and local government. (Netflix)

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power – Fantastic new cartoon remake with an emphasis on female friendship.  (Netflix)

Sex Education – Set at a fictional British high school, this fantastic show explores sexuality—in many diverse forms—in a frank, healthy way we don’t usually see in teen shows. (Netflix)

The Good Place – An irreverent show about heaven that starts out slow but totally delivers on its hopepunk promise by the series finale. (Netflix)

What are your favorite hopepunk TV shows?

Book Review for: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition, by Charles Eisenstein

Sacred Economics

Title: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition
Author: Charles Eisenstein
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adults
Rating:  3.5 stars
Versions Available: eBook, paperback

How come doing the right thing for the environment is often not the smart economic choice? Why does it feel like most people are falling further and further behind economically, despite machines doing much of the hard labor these days? Is there another economic system that would allow people to live their values? Charles Eisenstein asks and attempts to answers these questions in his intriguing book, Sacred Economics.

Eisenstein assumes his reader knows nothing about economics and patiently explains the history of money and how exactly our current economic situation works—pointing out both the value of this system and the many problems and side effects it causes. He goes over what we’ve been taught are the “rules” of economics and neatly points out, one by one, how these “rules” aren’t real. They’re all made up and are only true because we as a society let them be true.

Eisenstein then focuses on the problem with interest-based loans and points out how this particular “rule” of always having to get bigger harms our society and has caused much of the inequality we have today. He explains in great detail how interest-based loans are the driving force behind climate change, lower worker wages, and the general hamster-wheel life most people feel trapped by.

Early on in the book Eisenstein makes a promise to the reader when he says, “Long ago I grew tired of reading books that criticized some aspect of our society without offering a positive alternative. Then I grew tired of books that offered a positive alternative that seemed impossible to reach: ‘We must reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent.’ Then I grew tired of books that offered a plausible means of reaching it but did not describe what I personally, could do it create it.”

Does Eisenstein make good on his promise? Yes and no. He does lay out a plan for realigning our economic system so it works better for most people. Much of his plan has to do with getting rid of interest, putting some kind of expiration date on money to deter hoarding, and tying the value of money to the health of the earth, rather than the gold standard. He goes through each point carefully, explaining how the current system works, and what kind of new system might take its place.

While the new ideas are intriguing and worth reading about, Eisenstein does not concretely describe how his most intriguing idea—tying the value of money to the health of the earth—would work in concrete terms. By the end of the book I did not feel like I knew exactly what my role was in changing things either. I did however have a much better understanding of how money works and why our current economic system works so poorly. I was also introduced to some very cool ideas about how we as a society might change things, which for me was worth the time it took to read the book.

Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost, by Felicia Day

FD pic

Title: You’re Never Weird on the Internet, Almost
Author: Felicia Day
Genre: Memoir
Age Range: Adults and Teens
Rating: 5 stars (I loved this book!)
Versions Available: Audiobook, eBook, Hardcover

 

I’ve been a fan of Felicia Day since 2008 when I watched her play Penny in Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog. Then a friend told me Day’s own Internet show, The Guild, inspired Joss Whedon to make Dr. Horrible, so I watched all six seasons of this fun show on Netflix.

The Guild, written and produced by Felicia Day, is about a group of World of Warcraft-like gamers who end up meeting in person. The group represents the variety of computer gamers that exist—slacker teenagers, bored stay-at-home moms, penny-pinching middle aged men, socially challenged twenty-something guys, and sharp-tongued college  students. It’s available to watch instantly on Netflix.

I’m also a frequent watcher of Day’s Vaginal Fantasy Romance Book Club on YouTube—where she and four friends discuss speculative fiction and historical romance novels that have a feminist bent. Plus, though I stopped watching Supernatural regularly after season six, I always watched the two Supernatural episodes she appeared in each season, as quirky computer hacker Charlie, .

Day writes about her unusual childhood being homeschooled in the south– “for hippy, not Jesus reasons”, how she got a full scholarship to study violin and math at the University of Texas at sixteen, how she built her acting career after deciding she didn’t want to be a professional musician, and how she ended up finding a more fulfilling career on the Internet. Her book was utterly charming and inspiring for me as a writer.

Day is very honest about her struggles with perfectionism, procrastination, and her lack of confidence. Her homeschooling childhood is fascinating, but the best parts of the book, for me, were the details of how a writing class, and then a critique group, pressured her into giving up her Internet gaming addiction and take the plunge into writing. Her group then helped her produced her own TV pilot. The details of how The Guild became an Internet success are interesting, funny, messy and so real.

Day follows these exciting chapters with several soul-searching chapters on dealing with the pressures of success in an honest reassuring manner. Success is one of my biggest nightmares and so it was especially comforting to read about Day’s struggles and triumphs dealing with her own demons and health issues. Spoiler alert: She even had her own thyroid health problems!

The last chapter on Gamegate is a good summary of the nightmarish attack on Internet  women. Day is honest about how hesitant she was to speak out about these attacks and why. Her story of what happened when she did finally speak out is harrowing but inspiring. Like other women on the Internet, she’s come to terms with how thick-skinned women need be, and has found her own way to be honest and real with the public, while at the same time protecting herself. It’s reassuring, inspiring stuff!

Day reads the audiobook herself, which is like having your coolest friend tell you all about her Hollywood/ Internet adventures while you do the dishes or clean the house. I highly recommend this book for anyone who writes, likes gaming, enjoys popular culture, or just likes a good memoir.

 

Book Review: Stranger and Hostage (Books 1 and 2 of The Change Series) , by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Image- StrangerStranger (The Change, Book #1), by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

Targeted Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Stranger is an enjoyable new young adult science-fiction novel that stands out among the many teen dystopian novels published since The Hunger Games made the New York Times bestseller list. Instead of predicting that humans can only respond to hardship with aggression and malice, Stranger imagines a world in which the best of human nature also comes out after disaster.

The story takes places generations after a catastrophic event rocked the world and wiped out most of its technology.  Leftover radiation changes some people, giving them unique powers.  The “change” tends to occur during times of strong hormonal upheaval—pregnancy, birth, adolescence, or menopause.

The City of Los Angeles has been reduced to a small frontier town now called, Las Anclas—full of diverse people— who work together, for the most part, to keep the town independent from despot King Voske’s nearby empire. In Voske’s empire, which looks a lot like the typical dystopian society, “the changed” are controlled by the king and used to keep the commoners in line.

While Las Anclas works to value all its citizens, there are those in the town who fear “the changed”. The town’s sovereignty depends on guarding the city walls against Voske’s army though. Volunteers, called Rangers, protect the city. The town needs every strong warrior and that means accepting any man or woman willing, including “the changed”.

Sheriff Elizabeth Crow rescues teen prospector, Ross Juarez, one of the stories main characters, during a shoot out with one of King Voske’s men. Now the people of Las Anclas must decide if they will protect Ross and let him stay—despite his change.

Brown and Smith fill their world with a diverse cast of fully developed characters, free of stereotypes, and full of progressive ideas about relationships. The story is told through five narrators: Ross, three teen girls, Mia, Jennie, and Felicité and another teen boy, Yuki— each with their own unique personality. Yuki is gay and his romance to another local boy is treated as if it’s any other romance.  In fact, there are a couple of non-straight romances in the book, between minor characters that are also treated as completely ordinary.

The multiple viewpoints made me very aware of the complexities of a town’s politics. As Ross, Yuki, Mia, and Jennie rush to defend their town’s unique hopeful nature, I felt like I was right in the center of a story of action and danger hoping for the best to happen right along with them.

 

Image- Hostage Hostage (The Change, Book # 2)

Target Age: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction / Fantasy

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

I won’t say too much about this book except that it satisfyingly continues the story of Las Anlas and Voske’s Gold Point City, again using multiple points of view to tell the story from many sides.  I’m looking forward to the next 2 books in the series.

 

 

Favorite Movies Watched in 2013-2014

Romantic Comedies

Obvious ChildObvious Child –  In this funny, feminist rom-com movie, Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a New York City stand-up comic dealing with the break up with her long-term boyfriend and with an unwanted pregnancy after an amusing one-night stand. The movie deals with abortion in a funny, sweet, no-nonsense way as Donna figures out how to deal with the earnest guy from her one night stand. Jenny Slate, who played the hilariously obnoxious Mona-Lisa in Parks and Recreation, is both appealing and humorous as Donna.  I also loved the interactions between Donna and her parents—overall an enjoyable movie. (Available on Netflix DVD and Amazon Prime, also on iTunes for purchase.)

Dramas

PersepolisPersepolis– This movie had been on my to-see list forever and I’m glad I finally broke down and watched it.  It’s based on the graphic novel of the same title and follows a young girl’s experience growing up in Iran during the Iranian revolution.  Her family has some connection with France too, because she and her family speech French—so the whole movie is in French with English subtitles. I remember watching the Iranian revolution as an American teen but only knew the details from an outsider perspective.  This movie shows how the revolution personally affected its own citizens, especially young intelligent women.  (Available on Netflix Instant and for purchase on iTunes or Amazon online.)

Frances HaFrances Ha– One of those slice of life movies about some lost young creative person living in New York. I tend to like these kinds of movies.  In this one, Frances is a dancer who is coming to terms with the fact that she’s probably not going to make it professionally in dancing. It’s a more likable Girls or Woody Allen movie. (Available on Netflix Instant, Netflix DVD, and available for rent or purchase on iTunes.)

 

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars- (Available on Netflix DVD, also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Online.) I think by now everyone’s heard about John Green’s charming romance about two teens with cancer.  While I slightly prefer the book, the movie does an excellent job.  If you’re one of the few people who haven’t read or seen it, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s sad at the end, but it’s also funny, insightful, and utterly charming all the way through.

 

Animated

Princess MononokePrincess Mononoke– (Available on Netflix DVD) – My son watched this movie with me when I was super sick with thyroid issues.  I can see why it’s one of his favorite movies.  It’s unique to western animation films in that there really is no “good guy” and no “bad guy”.  Instead there are two groups with opposing ideas that they are equally passionate about.