251 Portraying White Male Rage: Raising Dion vs Joker

This week we watched the new Netflix series, Raising Dion. While we didn’t totally love it, (this cereal scene in particular stressed us tf out!), we were VERY impressed by the themes in the show and the lessons on boundaries and entitlement.

In This Episode

Advice

This question was posed in the VWPA Society by friend of the show, Mohera. (Thanks Mohera!)
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Potential CW: Religious talk around Christianity and Atheism

I’ve had a very weird life when it comes to religion. I didn’t grow up religious, but I was introduced to it later on. As a child my dad was an atheist and my mom was more or less a deist. My mom became friends with a guy who stared bringing her to church and she became a Christian and then she convinced me to start going and I became a Christian. The truth is that I questioned it for a long time, but it gave me hope, and I needed that.

Anyways, I’ve recently become an atheist and it’s been super liberating in a lot of ways. I haven’t really told a lot of people except my parents and my close friends. But yesterday, a few preppy, white girls from a college ministry group on campus came up to me and a few other people I was working with on a project and they asked us to fill out a short survey. In the survey, it asked what the meaning of life was and then it asked to rank how important faith was in your life on a scale of 1-10. For the latter question, I put down a 1. Then when we turned them in, my friend in the group asked me what I wrote (knowing I’m an atheist) and I told her I put a 1, because I wasn’t gonna lie, and she started laughing because she knows I don’t bullshit about stuff like that (we’re good friends). Then, our graduate mentor, who is also a preppy, white lady, was giving me this really weird look. Like I was contaminated or evil or something like that.I say all this because I am so sick of the stigma around atheists being assholes and monsters. While I do feel that there are a lot of atheists who are intellectual bullies, I sucks that so many people think that because I’m an atheist, I’m not compassionate or empathetic, when in reality, liberating myself from religion has allowed me to be more loving and kind. And it had given me the freedom to take a critical look at institutional issues, without religious bias or influence.

Just wondering if any fellow atheists struggle with the same thing or have any advise!

Joke

What do ghosts like for dessert?

Main Topic

With all the continued talk on Joker, we were thrilled to see a piece of media show white male rage, entitlement and the subsequent violence, in such an accurate and responsible way! While we think there were some issues overall with the pacing of the show and some of the writing, where it counts, this show has excellent themes, nuance and heart.

Produced by Netflix and Michael B. Jordan, directed by Dennis Liu, written by Carol Barber, based on Dennis Liu and Jason Piperberg’s cult hit comic book (purchase here)Nine-episode series launched on Oct 4

Spoiler-Free Review:

Overall, Raising Dion is a good show that is exceptional for the themes it explore and the scripts it gives us for talking to children about big topics like racism, grief and consent. It brings a much needed perspective to the genre, and in a way that is family friendly so the kiddos can learn the lessons without seeing massive violence. It has great diversity of voices and perspectives, both in front of the camera and behind. It has a lot of flaws – the script is weak overall; the acting is often awkward or forced; the show doesn’t really get enjoyable until four or so episodes in largely due to, I hate to say but it’s true, the actor who plays Dion being, well, not very good at acting and whose character was written to be loud and unconcerned with the very real threats around him which might be realistic but is also very hard to sit through, bad CGI, choppy pacing – but it also has a lot of heart and plenty of great moments that make it well worth watching and celebrating. 

Spoiler-FULL Discussion:

Dion is an 7-year old black boy growing up after the death/disappearance of his father – this means his mother is trying to support them on her own while dealing with her own overwhelming grief and struggling financially, forcing them to move so Dion is dealing with being in a new school that only has one other black student who is popular and not interested in befriending Dion – and he suddenly realizes he has superpowers. Kids at school don’t like him, his mom won’t tell him what happened to his father so he can’t grieve properly, he encounters racism for the first time tangibly in an authority figure at the school and he is aware that his mother is deeply sad and this impacts his ability to process his feelings because he’s overwhelmingly concerned about hers. 

Note: they explore in a subtle way that there’s an added layer of fear and risk here from the usual “oh no, I have powers I need to hide them” because Dion is a black boy (reduced a bit because he’s so young but still very much there) and there is much fear in a parent of a black child that they will be hurt, killed or incarcerated for appearing violent to white authority. CW’s Black Lightning also explores this concept heavily and effectively. Contrast this to movies like Joker, where his increasing sense of “power” and his acts of violence are given either an inevitable and therefore justified tone or even up to being vindicated and to be celebrated (Jenny’s clip of the guy saying “that was so great” over and over).

Case in point: this is a child undergoing several traumatic and stressful events, one on top of another, and he doesn’t turn into a serial killer, firstly. 

Enter Pat. Michael B. Jordan’s best friend and fellow scientist. He feels entitled to Dion and his mother. There are amazing conversations about consent and entitlement, and Pat is clearly shown as someone deeply in the wrong (up to and including being the actual villain – “The Crooked Man” who embodies a storm of unimaginable power that consumes other powered people in order to heal himself). His representation of white male privilege, violence and rage is spot-on perfect. 

“The discussion of toxic masculinity in the show is something I was really fascinated by when I talked to Carol. A lot of toxic masculinity or male entitlement is inherited or absorbed and people aren’t even aware they’re taking part in it,” said Ritter. “Those elements definitely come out in the show, where someone goes, ‘Well I’m not getting what I want even though I paid for everything,’ you know this really subtle stuff. It makes you think, so what was your plan, you paid a couple bills so now I owe you?”

“Pat thinks he’s a great guy, you know everyone thinks that they’re the hero of their own story,” Ritter went on to say. “But a lot of times people are keeping tabs and they’re hoping to collect despite the fact that they say they’re doing this out of the kindness of their own heart. But when they’ve lived in a world where most things have been handed to them, especially when they’ve been promised by movies or whatever that they are the heroes and they’ll get what they want, they lash out and get angry.”

“There’s not that many healthy outlets for men to talk about this stuff, and it turns inwards and festers,” said Ritter. “They meet all of these other people who are also festering and it gets worse and worse. And if we talk about it and put some sunlight and antiseptic on it — I’m not a doctor but I’ve heard — that will help.”

John Ritter from TV Guide article linked below

The storm survives on even as Pat is defeated, finding a new host in a young white boy who’s father was killed by Pat and whose mother is dead, a young boy possessed of great power and an inclination towards uncontrollable anger (particularly towards women); perfectly symbolizing the perpetuation of toxic masculinity as a systemic rather than individualistic problem, one passed from men down to boys and on again. 

Marginalization is handled beautifully in this show – characters who are underprivileged are full-fleshed out people, not tokens, and their marginalizations are brought up in a way that is natural and responsible, meaning, not too heavily focused on but also not ignored. Racism is addressed but so is ableism, consent, homophobia, and misogyny in the form of male entitlement, all handled wonderfully. 

Also – spoiler alert! – Esperanza is EVERYTHING <3 

Links Mentioned In the Episode:

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