Category Archives: Bitter Dramaturgy

Jeff Sessions Does Not Know His Bible

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Jeff Sessions. (Source: Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Today, speaking in Indiana, Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 to justify the Trump Administration’s brand new policy of stealing children from their parents at the border and locking them in detention centers. He said, “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

Sessions does not understand Romans 13.

Time for Bitter Gertrude Bible Study!

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Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

It appears that Sessions has not read the full chapter. For example, Romans 13:6 tells you to pay your taxes, yet the Trump Administration changed the law so wealthy people would not have to pay their fair share. Romans 13:9-10 states that all God’s laws boil down to “love your neighbor as yourself,” and that we should therefore “do no harm” to our neighbors. It says that love itself is the “fulfillment of the law.”

So I think it’s clear Sessions has not read Romans 13 in its entirety, or he would not have called attention to it.

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No, Sessions got no further in Romans 13 than Romans 13:1-5. I won’t quote the whole thing here. (The full chapter is linked above if you’re curious.) Romans 13:1 gives you the basics of the text and the basis for Session’s quote:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Romans 13:1-5 tells us to obey the law. Using this to defend the brand-new policy of the Trump Administration is an egregious– and deliberate– misuse of the text.

“Obey the law” does not mean “the law should never be changed.” If it did, Sessions and Trump would be in a Biblical bind because they very recently changed the policy to order border agents to steal children from parents at the border. This policy change was ordered specifically for its cruelty, as Trump and Sessions believed that people considering coming here to seek work or asylum would reconsider if they knew their children would be stolen from them and locked in cages. The Trump Administration has  snatched infants at the breast. They’ve pulled screaming toddlers away from weeping mothers. These stories are being witnessed, recorded, and retold every single day. Those appalled by this horrific human rights violation are demanding the policy itself be changed, not that individuals disobey the law. It is not against Romans 13 to demand that an immoral law be changed. If anything, it’s required by 13:9.

“Obey the law” presents a serious Biblical problem for the Trump Administration, as border agents are stealing children from legal asylum seekers as well as from undocumented workers. It’s the law of our nation that people can come here, claim asylum, and live under US protection while their cases are being considered. The Trump Administration itself is in violation of US law by stealing the children of legal asylum seekers, in addition to being in violation of Romans 13:1-5.

“Obey the law” and “authorities have been established by God” do not give those authorities carte blanche to commit whatever cruelty they please as punishment for disobedience to the law. Undocumented people crossing into the US are breaking US law, but the Bible—and basic human decency—forbids us from torturing children simply because their parents brought them here. In fact, Romans 13:9 is very clear that cruelty is forbidden, and the Bible specifically forbids cruelty to strangers in our land repeatedly throughout the Old and New Testaments. In Matthew 25:37-46, Jesus himself damns those who did not “take in strangers.”

An infant cries as U.S. Border Patrol agents process a group of immigrants in Granjeno, Texas, outside of McCallen on June 25, 2014.

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. — Matthew 25:41-46        (Photo source: Jerry Lara/San Antonio Express-News/Zuma Press)

Romans 13 does not support what you’re doing, Jeff Sessions. The Bible is abundantly clear that what you are doing is wrong, which is likely why so many religious leaders– even (finally) conservative religious leaders – have spoken out against it and against the Trump Administration’s denial of asylum to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence. If Senate Democrats do not succeed against the Republican majority in their attempt to reverse this policy, it will not be long before the other world powers issue sanctions against us for it, as indeed we have done for similar human rights violations in other countries.

Jeff, as you pointed us to Romans 13, I point you to Isaiah 10:1-3. If Trump cared about the Bible in the slightest, I would ask you to read it aloud to him (since he won’t read it—or anything—himself):

Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.

I’m no Christian—I’m even a bad Jew– but I do know how to interpret text. Jeff Sessions, you lied about your own Bible to defend an unjust policy that breaks numerous Biblical precepts and US law. If you truly believe you will one day stand before your God on Judgment Day, you should repent—and quickly, before more people get hurt.

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Stop Telling Me to Watch Stranger Things

This post is full of spoilers, so be forewarned.
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I know I’m late to this party, but the ongoing cult status of the Netflix Original series Stranger Things  (written and directed by brothers Matt and Ross Duffer) inspires men to tell me, a D&D playing, scifi loving nerd, that I would LOVE IT OMG WHY HAVEN’T YOU WATCHED IT all the time. So I did. I watched the whole thing. I wanted to love it. I hoped I would love it. That hope ran aground on Stranger Things‘ predictable sexism.
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The male characters are lovingly crafted and fully detailed. The main hero is a paunchy small town cop whose life is a mess, and not a glamorous mess in the way this trope usually goes. He does save that particular day, but he’s morally suspect and almost certainly colluding with The Bad Guys in some way. His younger narrative counterpart, the teen hero, is an outcast with few social skills and a tendency to stalk pretty girls, yet is still framed as one of the most courageous people in the series. The meganerdy science teacher is one of the best-drawn characters in the whole thing, framed as bighearted, brilliant, and charmingly clueless.  The three main boys are all D&D nerds. One of the actors, Gaten Matarazzo, has a disability, and his character, Dustin, of course has the same disability. This is a massive step forward in casting and something that should be openly lauded, as the disability isn’t presented as “inspirational” disability porn but as just one aspect of his character. The male characters are all interesting and specific.
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Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin.

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The women, however, are generic sexist tropes yet they are continually held up as “strong women,” even “trope-busters.”
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The main female characters are the Distraught Mother (Joyce), the Pretty Young Girl (Nancy), the PYG’s Less Pretty Sidekick (Barb), and the Extraordinary Woman– in this case, an eleven-year-old girl with telekinetic powers, named, irritatingly, Eleven. Without describing anything else about them, and without having seen the series, you can predict how these characters are portrayed and what happens to all of them. The character that pushed me over the edge, however, was the Extraordinary Woman, a type I can no longer stomach.
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Young Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in Stranger Things. She did a fantastic job portraying this character, making her one of the most interesting characters in the series.

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The Extraordinary Woman is a character type who breaks rules and has some kind of extraordinary qualities or extraordinary power. When an Extraordinary Woman is introduced, the Narrative Sexism Clock beings its countdown to her destruction. She is either subsumed within a more ordinary role (she loses her powers, forgetting everything; her narrative is detoured into a romance; she regrets having powers because all she ever wanted was a baby) or she is removed from the narrative entirely, dying or disappearing. Very often, she sacrifices her powers to marry an ordinary man, or she sacrifices her life so that the ordinary male character(s) can live.
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I have watched and read precisely infinity narratives featuring the Extraordinary Woman. From Charlotte’s Web when I was 8 to Stranger Things a few months ago, I have been watching my culture tell me over and over that the best happy ending I can ever hope for is propping up a mediocre white man, and if I reach for extraordinary, I’ll be sacrificed. The most tedious response to this is “Eleven might still be alive.” It reminds me of a class I was in when Thelma and Louise first came out in 1991, wherein I made the very same critique I’m making here. A male classmate responded to me, “You don’t know what happened to them. The car could have gone up.”
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Eleven, kidnapped as a baby and raised in a lab, is the subject of torturous experiments, and is relentlessly pursued by a shadowy government agency when she escapes, yet after her disappearance, no one in the town seems interested in her well-being or current whereabouts, despite the fact that she has living family.

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Eleven sacrificed herself to save the boys whether the men who wrote her decide to bring her back to make more money killing her again or not. Everyone got a happy ending but Eleven. Even if she’s alive, where is she? How is she surviving? She’s a little girl with telekinetic powers, the use of which weaken her considerably (of course), not Bear Grylls. She’s treated like a stray dog. The cop leaves food for her out in the woods at the end as a narrative device to imply that she might yet be alive although we watched her sacrifice herself a few scenes earlier. If the cop thinks she might be alive out in the woods, why isn’t he launching an all-out search for her like they did for the lost little boy?
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Eleven exists solely as a plot device. She is almost entirely mute (because of course she is). She has no needs or desires that anyone cares about. Her safety is ignored at all times. When she disappears in her final burst of power, the entire town shrugs its shoulders. Oh well! Is she dead? Is she in the Upside Down? Who knows! We’ll leave some frozen waffles in a box in the woods just in case. A little boy goes missing and the entire area goes on a massive search for him, but Eleven (and Barb, for that matter) are treated as if their disappearances are about as serious as losing an earring.
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Barb is engagingly played by Shannon Purser, whose performance has inspired a cult following for a character that only appeared in a few scenes.

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Every woman in Stranger Things conforms to a specific sexist trope. Barb is the less pretty friend, so she dies simply to raise the stakes, her death treated as otherwise unimportant. Even her supposed best friend, Nancy, rarely mentions her after a certain point. Nancy herself is a box standard Pretty Girl Gets Tough in Dire Circumstances, immediately recuperated into her relationship with the douchey popular boy at the end. I will hand it to the writers for not pairing her with the antisocial stalker boy, although she forgives him with a smile for taking stalkery pictures of her because the writers are men. But the douchey popular boy is no better. Did it ever occur to the writers that she would be better off without either of these jerks? That she might be remembering Barb in her final onscreen moments? Probably not, because without that recuperation back into a relationship with a man, reflecting the only happy ending possible for women written by mediocre men, Nancy veers dangerously close to an Extraordinary Woman. For Pretty Girl Gets Tough in Dire Circumstances, she can either be shunted back into a “normal” female role (mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter) or die for becoming too extraordinary.
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The mother, who insists her missing son is still alive, is called “crazy” and portrayed as unrelentingly hysterical. When she’s finally proven right, it’s glancingly acknowledged while she’s immediately pushed into the narrative background. She’s literally behind the man when they go into the Upside Down to save her son. We’re at one of the most important climaxes of the series– a moment that vindicates everything the mother has been saying– and she is almost entirely ignored as the scene focuses on the cop’s experience, the cop’s memories, the cop’s heroism. The mother is terrified and nearly panicking, barely holding it together, instead of marching in there, buoyed by her vindication and determined to get her child. Instead she cowers behind a man while we see his memories of characters we’ve never met. It’s weak writing, but it apparently never occurred to the male writers that the emotional center of the scene should be the woman.
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Joyce, played by Winona Ryder, should have been the Big Damn Hero.

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There wasn’t a single plot point I couldn’t see coming from a mile away. That’s not always a bad thing, but in this case, the series was structured as if every plot point was a huge SURPRISING REVEAL and spent far too much time building and building and building to a PLOT TWIST that was already obvious. I was dreading the death of Eleven from the moment she was introduced. I KNEW. How could I not? This is always what mediocre men imagine for extraordinary women.
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I’m not mad that you like Stranger Things, even though we both know the women in the series deserve much better than the writers gave them. Many of you forgive Stranger Things its sexism and obviousness due to the nostalgia factor. And that’s truly fine. But I do not want to watch yet another show where women die to raise the stakes, where a box standard Pretty Girl Gets Tough is considered an achievement, where a woman who is right is called “crazy” and then when proven right, acknowledged with a few quick lines as she’s forced back in the narrative behind the man. I never want to watch another show where the extraordinary woman sacrifices herself at the end to save ordinary men. Never.

 

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