Overlooked / Underrated Fictional Characters I Wish to Bestow Accolades Upon (EXTRA!!)

As it turns out, immediately after I posted the main entries in this series I thought of a bunch of other participants I should have included. So, why not, let’s look at them now. Remember these are presented in no particular order.

Lucius Pinarius

In the previous entries in this series, I promised not to discuss anyone who had already been featured in their own standalone post on the blog. I feel the need to make an exception this time around though, because I have a lot more to say on Lucius Pinarius. (This is the only repeat though, I promise 😛 )

I was recently thinking about the Lucius Pinarius story again. Originally, I thought it was generous of Quintus Pedius to allow Lucius to visit his former-wife Julia even though he (Quintus) had no reason to honor their old relationship. Then it suddenly occurred to me that Quintus was actually pulling a power move, flaunting the prize in front of his rival as a show of confidence that Lucius will never be a threat to his new marriage. It’s like how Tom Buchanan insisted that Jay Gatsby escort Daisy home in his own car after thoroughly humiliating him. “She perceives you as too weak and too pathetic for you to ever steal her away from me.” And this interpretation further emphasized what I’d already known, and why that stupid short story from an otherwise mediocre book left such a huge impact on me: Lucius is the most thoroughly emasculated, defeated protagonist I’ve ever seen. Perhaps the most pitiable man in the history of fiction. Imagine having your own wife, who was at one time supposed to be your partner through life, your emotional rock in good times and bad, suddenly (and irrevocably) turned into an enduring symbol of your own personal failure. Imagine being unable to look upon the person you love most in the whole world without feeling deep shame. What if your inability to stand up for yourself or those you love became the defining moment of your entire life?

Anyone who’s suffered a severe heartbreak can relate to some extent. As can anyone who was unable to measure up to the unrealistic expectations society places upon people. (For example, guys who aren’t into the whole machismo culture and/or super-competitive sports but forced to participate due to outside pressure.) And that’s why this particular character resonates with me so strongly–much as I’m loath to admit it. He’s like Shinji, a gruesomely uncomfortable mirror held up to the audience, revealing a side of ourselves I’m sure we all wish wasn’t there. I’ll admit that when I first read this story before coming out of the closet as trans, I felt as though Lucius were the innocent victim of circumstance. However, upon rereading with more firsthand womanly experiences under my belt, I feel as though the love Lucius felt for Julia was more one-sided from the start than he realized. In particular, the fact that he gave his wife a vial of poison to commit suicide must have felt like a huge attraction-killer to Julia. It’s an admission that he was too weak to protect her and too scared to try.

As a lover of Ancient Rome, I found it interesting to enter the headspace of an insecure man who couldn’t measure up to the excessively chauvinistic standards of masculinity in the Roman Republic. In a highly aggressive culture where men were expected to fight back against all perceived slights, pressured since birth to rise up to the standards of their successful ancestors, surely there must have been some sensitive guys who couldn’t make the cut and were treated like garbage as a result. Especially during the time of Sulla and Caesar, who stole all the glory imaginable and forced anyone not in their camp to submit to their will in some manner, it must have been hard to compete for prestige as one was supposed to do. Without that ability, several men surely felt as though they were failures and unworthy of basic self-respect. We don’t get to read first hand accounts of the guys who failed to maintain dignitas in the cruel and turbulent world of the late Republic. But this short story provided an interesting window into what such lives probably entailed. For as much as being a disenfranchised woman must have sucked in the ancient Greco-Roman world, I daresay being a man probably sucked just as bad in its own way.

Somehow, this picture from Pinky and the Brain seemed like an appropriate visual to accompany such a depressing concept.

Trixie Tang

“You know, all week people have been asking me what I wanted for my birthday, and you’ve given it to me! […] You’ve given me a friend who likes me for who I am. […] Someone who isn’t afraid to say ‘Hey, I like Kissy Kissy Goo Goo and Skull Squisher!’ If you were a boy I’d totally date you. See you at my party! Bye!”
~Trixie Tang, “The Boy Who Would Be Queen”

Y’know…they really developed Trixie’s character in this episode for the better. Her quick acceptance of “Timantha’s” gender bending, capped off with this bit of dialogue showed that Trixie was deeper than she initially appeared to be. She valued meaningful qualities in people, wanted to have a headstrong friend to give her the confidence to buck the system and harbored a multifaceted set of interests. It was a really unexpected and well done bit of growth for someone whose sole function up this point was “token love interest.” I like to think the Trixie of this episode was genuinely impressed by Timmy’s speech at the end, but couldn’t show it because of her “cool popular girl” image among her peers. What would have been a wonderful arc is if she eventually came around as the series progressed and found the courage to embrace the person Timmy showed her he could be. The clear foreshadowing of this story was that Trixie would someday realize it’s more important to be yourself than be popular, and give Timmy a shot for opening her eyes to that fact. (If not as a girlfriend then at least as a friend.) Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but when Trixie perked up at hearing Timmy’s voice (which was exactly the same as it was when he was a girl) I took that to mean she recognized they were one and the same person, and while she couldn’t reciprocate in front of everyone, she decided to keep his secret.

ASIDE: They even could have had a scene in a future episode of Trixie slyly confronting Timmy about being “Timantha” in private. Maybe Timmy, caught off-guard, would explain away his magical transformation as him dressing as a girl to try to understand them better so he could get Trixie a great present. Then Trixie would be taken aback by how much effort he put into impressing her, as well as the fact that it was he who showed her such a great time that day at the mall. This revelation could either be the start of their budding friendship, or perhaps the writers could have delayed their coupling even further by having them agree to keep each others’ gender bending a secret. In this latter scenario, there’d be an uneasy but somewhat wholesome truce between the two, further building towards a greater bond to come down the line. I wonder if any fanfiction has touched on such a scenario yet–it’d make for a great story!

Unfortunately, the writers proceeded to fuck it all up in the rest of the series by reducing Trixie once again to the snotty, unobtainable, arm-candy, popular girl trope after this episode was over. Trixie and Timmy never had any meaningful positive interaction ever again, even though this episode proved that they got along perfectly together without peer pressure or cliquey labels to hold them back. A future episode (“Just the Two of Us”) completely contradicted the development in “The Boy Who Would be Queen” by reducing Trixie even further, to a shallow, self-obsessed airhead with the lesson being that her and Timmy would never work as a couple. Frankly, I don’t think the writers were good enough to recognize the potential for a stellar long-term payoff which they themselves had set up with her character in “Queen.” Trixie’s arc never recovered, and it’s definitely a shame looking back at what a missed opportunity this was.

I loved Fairly Oddparents as a kid. Sadly, looking back on it now, I don’t believe the series holds up particularly well. Not only do the characters never develop but I find the jokes to be pretty stale as an adult, the art style is not my cup of tea and the voice-acting is a little grating to my ears. One of my favorite cartoon reviewers on YouTube recently uploaded a video also criticizing the series for this “always reset to the status quo” mentality which bungled a lot of its potential. Though in his analysis, AlphaJay focuses on Timmy and Vicky’s relationship, the point still stands. Whatever its flaws though, Fairly Oddparents gave us this one amazing episode with “The Boy Who Would Be Queen,” a glimpse at what could’ve been. Considering how important this 11 minute cartoon was to my personal development, I’ll always be grateful for that.

Bloberta Puppington

In college, one of my friends recommended Moral Orel to me because he thought I’d enjoy the social commentary. I certainly did, but I remember a few days later, when we started discussing it together, the thing I most wanted to focus on was how adorable I thought the mom, Bloberta, was. I was going on and on about how cute her red collared dress looked and how much I admired the matching sunhat. (I must have weirded him out something terrible, or at least thrown him for a loop.) What I also found myself drawn to was her beautiful voice. (The actress, Britta Phillips has one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard.) It may sound really stupid, but I used to watch this super-cut of every clip of Bloberta from the entire series just to hear her talk; the sound of her speaking was very comforting to me. I tried and failed to emulate her voice as I went forward with my transition.

Besides being one of my models for how I wanted to present as a woman, I was captivated by Bloberta’s character arc in the series. Perhaps there’s better examples of the “stepford wives” trope out there, but I haven’t seen them. So, from my experience, Bloberta is the best demonstration of how miserable a housewife’s life can be–especially when your husband belittles and ignores you. Where does one seek validation from when they have no work colleagues, few adult friends, toxic parents and no man will touch “damaged goods?” Imagine how defeating it must be, that the most physical intimacy Bloberta gets is from the doctor doing a Gynecological Exam. Or how pathetic she must have felt when even her own son can see how awful her husband is for her. Or how desperate she must have felt for some kind of affection to settle for the first guy who comes along despite the obvious red flags even on that first night together. It’s a depressing existence, but one which is a reality for too many people.

I don’t enjoy saying it, but I see a lot of my own experiences in Bloberta: from being hampered by my sex at birth, to feeling left out of family stuff, to settling into a bad relationship just to avoid being alone. (I eventually found someone really special, though, I’m happy to say.) I notice a lot of discussion online regarding this series which emphasizes Clay (Orel’s dad, Bloberta’s husband) and how “deep” his character is. I don’t see nearly as many viewers talk about the tragic life of Bloberta Puppington, and frankly I think it’s long overdue.

Honest John

Pinocchio is all about how precious life is in such a cruel, exploitative world. Most of us never got captured by a gypsy man named after a sandwich or almost turned into a donkey. But those are imaginative substitutes for the harsh reality that there are people out there who’d rape you because they’re horny, or underpay you because they’re greedy or attack you because they got angry over a minor incident. There are people out there without your best interests at heart, who won’t treat you with the respect you deserve, and that’s just life. “When You Wish Upon a Star,” at first glance seems too whimsical for a story that’s teeming with scoundrels like Honest John and the coachman. But the point is that even though most people are awful, there are some good folks in the world worth living for…and even worth fighting a whale for. The film is an expression for how beautiful it is when a child manages to find their way and choose to be a good person despite all the terrible influences and very real dangers around them. It’s a very profound message which most children’s media is too afraid to touch these days. Say what you will about Walt Disney, but I love how he wasn’t afraid to expose kids to a little darkness; it makes the light all the more beautiful.

My favorite character in Pinocchio has always been Honest John. Despite only existing in the film for about ten minutes, he leaves a huge impact with his self-important demeanor and natural charisma. His voice, provided by Walter Catlett, is perfect for what the role requires–a certain gruff gentility, a lowlife who fancies himself a nobleman. I feel as though he has the perfect mixture of the Artful Dodger’s phony sense of aristocracy (notice how they both wear fancy clothes with patches or tears on them) and Tom Sawyer’s conman persuasiveness. There’s really not a whole lot more I can say in order to articulate why I love his character so much (after all, that’s why he’s on this list) except to reiterate each individual action. But when I saw this film again as an adult, after a 12 year hiatus, my first thought was “I’d pay to watch a whole movie comprised solely of Honest John and Gideon going on misadventures!”

Martha Dobie

I found a great example of LGBT erasure in media while discussing The Children’s Hour on MovieChat.org. For those who aren’t aware, the plot revolves around a spoiled, hateful child spreading a nasty rumor that two of her teachers, Martha (Shirley MacLaine) and Karen (Audrey Hepburn) are lesbians. The lie ruins their reputations, professional careers and in Karen’s case, her engagement. But most depressingly of all, in the film’s climax Martha reveals to Karen that the rumor was true–she’s a lesbian and has harbored a crush on her friend all this time. She tried to deny it even to herself due to internalized homophobia but after a child was able to see the signs, she cannot deny it to herself anymore. This is one of the cinema’s all-time greatest moments, and a heartbreaking glimpse into the pain closeted LGBT people have suffered throughout history.

Apparently, just letting us have this one iconic moment, much less asking straight people to understand the overarching tragedy the film touches upon, is too much. They insist that Martha was actually straight and just “confused” because of the child’s rumor. They claim, in these posts I’ll share below, that Martha and Karen were “just good friends” and the actual tragedy is that the child’s lie made Martha misinterpret her own feelings as romantic love. I usually laugh and move on when I see the posts from naive or closed-minded people on r/SapphoAndHerFriend, but I have to admit this particular instance really pissed me off. It’s probably because that monologue touched a nerve with me and spoke to my own feelings as I learned to accept myself. Anyone’s who’s ever been LGBT knows exactly what it’s like denying your true feelings in the vain hope that they aren’t really there due to fear of rejection from society.

There are many hints throughout indicating that Martha is gay:

1) Karen’s fiance at one point mentions to her that Martha seems clingy towards Karen and cold towards himself. (Because she loves Karen and is jealous of her fiance.)

2) As I recall, Martha’s aunt also at one point mentions how often Martha follows Karen around and/or how she doesn’t have any men in her life.

3) Martha recalls that when she first saw Karen, she thought “what a pretty girl.”

4) As Martha herself says, the lying child saw the ounce of truth in the idea that they were lovers–there are one or two instances where she notices a longing glance from Martha towards Karen. And how Martha reacts even upon receiving a friendly peck on the cheek from Karen.

5) All that Hayes Code Era “subtle cues to get past the censors” plus she directly spells it out in painstaking detail in that aforementioned monologue! I mean, listen to that anguish in her voice and tell me that’s anything but the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of repressed passion and self-loathing.

6) That last resigned look Martha gives Karen as she walks away, as if acknowledging how impossible her sexual desires are.

If one is going to postulate that the information the movie unambiguously and dramatically lays out for us is intentionally misleading, they better have some damn good evidence. But, when you look at the posts I’m referring to, you’ll see for yourself that they don’t. That’s because the only way to read Martha as anything except a closeted and self-denying gay woman is through deliberate or subconscious homophobia. They don’t want to admit they sympathized with “a queer,” that the movie is deliberately challenging the culture of intolerance which they’ve taken part in, so they will go to whatever lengths they have to in order to suppress it. Better to imagine Martha was “just confused” than admit maybe their actions helped lead to the death of an innocent woman (and many many more LGBT people.)

I really hate the fact that some straight people will just completely go out of their way to deny LGBT people exist and deliberately avoid facing the message of acceptance in the process. It’s the same mentality that feeds into hurtful friends and family claiming they “totally support” LGBT people, while denying that YOU yourself could possibly be one of them. It’s the same backwards double-speak my parents would often use in the early days of my transition to try to pressure me into living the way that was easiest for them. “I do support you!” (after constantly deadnaming me and telling everyone else behind my back I wasn’t really transitioning.) “I am an ally of the LGBT community” (and then undermines me by erroneously telling our mutual friends I wouldn’t mind if they deadnamed me.) “You can’t be a girl though–your room was always so messy growing up!” (and you always bemoaned the fact I wasn’t more masculine plus my heroes were mostly women and you kept commenting on how weird you thought that was.) It’s the same mentality which I’m sure some of my ex-friends use to justify themselves after claiming to be supportive only to stop inviting me for get togethers with the rest of the gang and leaving my messages on “read.” Erasure is just as serious of a problem as physical hostility, it feeds into the culture of intolerance, and denial that there’s even a problem which perpetuates the cycle of bigotry.

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