The Dumbledore Syndrome

Shiro

Within a single hour, Voltron: Legendary Defender has gone from a beloved revival of both a long running franchise and action animation as a whole to a highly divise series. This controversy is primarily rooted in how the show has decided to tackle the issue of LGBT representation: one of its main characters, the former black lion paladin Shiro, has been officially revealed as a gay man, but his love interest, Adam, is killed off unceremoniously and ultimately he is left romantically alone while all other main characters are hastily grouped into heterosexual relatiionships. Adding to this are the fact that the only other LGBT characters in the series are killed off with varying degrees of brutality and the reveal that non-english dubs all render Shiro and Adam’s relationship strictly platonic.

 

I cannot stress enough how this cannot be blamed on the series’ creative staff. According to executive producer and showrunner Lauren Montgomery, VLD’s iteration of Shiro/Sven has always been planned to be a gay man, but this decision was opposed by DreamWorks’ executives, who desired him and Adam to be simply “roommates”, which resisted the idea of LGBT representation to a virulent extreme. With the reveal that DreamWorks and possibly Netflix CEOs are surprisingly homophobic, it’s hard to fault the series showrunners and writers for being backed into a corner. Even the highly contentious 2018 SDCC panel and interviews – already cited as queerbaiting by less-than-pleased fans – can be easily excused as making the best of a situation outside of their control. It’s clear that the deeper issues within DreamWorks and Netflix – and perhaps all film companies, given Disney’s recent endorsement of neo-nazis – need to be addressed, as these sorts of attacks on creative freedom cannot be endorsed, let alone for regressive reasons.

 

The outcome nonetheless introduces what I consider to be a new variable in discussions of LGBT representation in media. A trope that’s surprisingly well defined in spite of what can be called a relatively recent debut and a set of circumstances that couldn’t possibly be more unrelated. This trope is like all tropes somewhat older than what I have observed, but due to the relative notoriety of another example of it, Dumbledore from Harry Potter, I think it is proper to name it after him.

 

Henceforth, I present the Dumbledore Syndrome, defined by the following:

 

  • A gay male (ostensibly cis in both cases).
  • Occupies mentor role within cast.
  • Is associated with light (albeit with the caveat that it may mean different things: in Dumbledore’s case, for instance, its typical “light = good”, while in Shiro’s case is more likely due to the status of white as the color of death in Japanese culture).
  • Is an ideal, accomplished figure (Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts and one of the most powerful wizards of all time, Shiro is the Garrison’s prodigy who starts the series with a massive list of records, and eventually becomes the de facto ruler of Earth).
  • Is skilled in the mystical arts (Dumbledore is a wizard, Shiro has a spiritual connection to his lion and gets an enhanced prosthetic arm that allows him to cast mekhanokinetical spells).
  • Is considered a borderline if not outright messiah figure.
  • Has a love interest in youth but whose fate is tragic in nature, leaving him alone.
  • Said tragic relationship is in fact the reason why the character swears off love (Dumbledore because he feels his romantic attachment made him weak, Shiro because he is traumatised by Adam leaving him).
  • Spends the remainder of the series celibate, and is the only character to not be allowed a romantic conclusion to his story.

In short, a character who would seem like the ideal LGBT representation (accomplished, flawed but idealised, beloved by every main character as a father figure and leader, powerful in ways that terrify his enemies and inspire his allies, et cetera) but suffers from a very important negative trait: he is not allowed a romantic conclusion.

 

In this, he is a very offensive character type because it essentially implies that, for all his accomplishments, a gay man should not be in love. At best, it suggests that he is a character who is remarkable in spite of his homosexuality; at worst it portrays homosexuality as a flaw to be overcome. Both Dumbledore and Shiro was conceived by people who at least hypothetically respect LGBT rights, so they were not paired off with women as older characters would have been, but the homophobia behind the creative decisions left no choice beyond celibacy.

 

In essence, Dumbledore Syndrome is the unholy spawn of compromise and its absence, made by people who desire change but cannot fight either external homophobia (DreamWorks) or internal homophobia (Rowling’s). The result is a magnificent but tragic character, one whose lesson is that you may become a wise man but a fundamental part of your personality is disgusting, and as such your heterosexual pupils will always surpass you both in following your legacy and in accomplishing what you will never accomplish: love.

 

Besides Shiro and Dumbledore, there are a few potential candidates that do solidify this trope as a concept. Again, these are characters I identified:

 

  • Oviya Pashiri from Magic: The Gathering’s Kaladesh is a lesbian artificer, but otherwise fills most of the checklist, having lost her beloved and now serving as Chandra’s mentor.
  • Paulie from Circles checks on nearly everything except his love life, ending in a second relationship that leads to marriage. He may potentially be disqualified from the trope, as he was accomplished in all ways and got a romantic happy ending.

 

With or without more examples, I think it is clear that this trope is solid enough to be a genuine pattern. As such, future discussions on LGBT presentation would do best to mention this and learn from these mistakes.

 

Only then will problematic character types disappear.

Thylacophocids

The most mysterious lineage of marine mammals, thylacophocids are a cryptic but incredibly diverse clade ranging from small, otter-like forms to whale sized marine predators. They are the most successful and disparate group of non-therian mammals, their ancient origins in part implicating for both their bizarre body plans and ecologies as well as cryptic habits, having been pushed to specialised niches by more recent placental swimmers.
Thylacophocids diverged from all other mammals in the early Jurassic, being slightly closer to therians than to monotremes. Genetic divergence rates within the group suggesting a Maastrichtian or Paleocene origin, which is supported by the appearance of Waitoreke-like forms in the early Paleocene of New Zealand and Antarctica. The group probably evolved in these regions, where ‘archaic’ mammals would continue to survive well after they became extinct in northern landmasses; in fact the Miocene Saint Bathans mammal fossils may very well represent small thylacophocids. Thylacophocids probably evolved in response to the extinction of large marine reptiles and the declining landmass of Zealandia, becoming coastal seal-like species.
Thylacophocid diversity remained mostly focused on the southern oceans, but by the Eocene they already developed fully aquatic forms, perhaps driven further by the aftermath of the PETM. It is possible that fully aquatic lifestyles developed independently twice or even more, but regardless these mammals enjoyed a brief global success, becoming important components of marine faunas around the globe.
However, the evolution of cetaceans and the climatic crises at the end of the Eocene began to thin out thylacophocid diversity, pushing fully marine forms to more specialised niches. This ecological displacement wasn’t immediate, and some may even argue that an outright decline didn’t happen per se, but regardless across the Cenozoic fully marine thylacophocids were pushed into more extreme ecological roles while whales underwent several adaptive radiations. ‘Seal-like’ forms nonetheless remained common in the southern oceans until the Miocene, when pinnipeds made their way down there. Unlike the gradual and possibly ambiguous displacement of fully marine thylacophocids by cetaceans, this event was almost immediate and obvious; by the Pliocene only a few freshwater species remained.
The exact number of extant thylacophocid species is unclear, with some arguing for a surprisingly high diversity comparable to cetaceans and pinnipeds, but it is clear that they are highly cryptic animals, being rather hard to observe and generally leading solitary lives.
Waitoreke (Zealandotherium mantelli)
The most basal living thylacophocid (though its ancestors were probably marine and recolonised freshwater biomes in the late Miocene), the Waitoreke makes its living in the lakes and rivers of New Zealand’s South Island. The smallest living thylacophocid at around 5 kg, it is an otter-like mammal with sprawling limbs, a spotted coat and a large broad tail. Much like other ancient non-therian mammals, it possesses venomous spurs in its hind limbs, the only thylacophocid to retain them; occurring in both sexes, these deliver a milder venom than that of the platypus, inducing severe pain that lasts for a few days in human beings. This renders them relatively unaffected by introduced predators aside from particularly stupid dogs.
The Waitoreke is a mostly nocturnal animal, resting during the day on the shore or in the shallows and foraging at night. It is possible that this behaviour was acquired after the Maori arrived to New Zealand and that it was originally cathemeral, much as the kiwi, as it has a rather bright coat and an excellent eyesight which can perceive ultraviolet light. The average sleeping time is 14 hours, though it might engage in hibernation that lasts for up to a week at a time during winter months.
Other than resting and molting it spends most of its time in the water, hunting fish, invertebrates and waterfowl, though it occasionally ventures into land to catch bird hatchlings, lizards, tuataras, insects, bats and introduced mammals such as rats. The Waitoreke swims mostly with its limbs, reserving the tail for quick bursts of speed when ambushing prey.
Adults are mostly territorial, leaving only their turf during the mating season which lasts from June to early August. Both juveniles and traveling adults prefer to wander through water, either taking advantage of local floods or venturing into new water bodies via the sea, but they are known to travel long distances on land if forced. Intersexual competition occurs in both males and females, resorting to the spurs to stab each other.
Like all non-placental mammals, Waitorekes give birth to undeveloped young, pregnancy lasting for about 28 days. Like in platypodes, females lack a pouch and instead use their broad tails as a pouch-like environment, pressing them against their stomach and shielding their young. Also like in monotremes there are no nipples, the young being rather active and walking around their mother’s abdomen in search of mammary glands to lick. The mother stays on shore for about five weeks, when the puggles grow large enough to stay unattended while she forages. They will remain with their mother for about an year of their lives, learning to hunt from her, before they go separate ways. Sexual maturity is reached at about 6 years of age.
Bunyip (Thylacophoca hirsuticus)
Occurring across most of Australia, Tasmania and southern New Guinea, the Bunyip is the last representative of a lineage of seal-like thylacophocids that was common across the southern oceans, disappearing due to competition from true seals. Its ancestors colonised the Australian freshwater habitats during the Miocene, more or less at a time when Australia was becoming drier. As such, while a mostly aquatic mammal that stays in water ways whenever possible, it is also adapted to travel long distances on land, and it bears unique camouflaging behaviours to protect itself.
About as large as a small seal, the Bunyip bears a thick shaggy coat, black or dark brown in colour. Like the Waitoreke, it has an excellent eyesight, and it has traded the typical mammalian scent communications for primarily visual ones, developing large, floppy ears for this express purpose. This lack of scent allows it to blend in while resting on land: by pressing itself against tree trunks or the ground, the shaggy coat breaks its bodily contours, allowing it to remain concealed from predators. As a downside, it has little insulating oil, so like a cormorant it spends a great deal of its time basking. Unlike the Waitoreke it does no possess venomous spurs; its main predators are saltwater crocodiles, dingoes and wedge-tailed eagles.
The Bunyip is cathemeral, bearing more nocturnal behaviours in warmer regions and more diurnal ones in colder areas. It uses its powerful paddle-like limbs to swim, chasing a variety of fish, amphibians, reptiles, water rats, crustaceans, aquatic birds and turtles, occasionally ambushing terrestrial prey as well. When swimming it presses its ears against its neck and head, allowing for a more hydrodynamic profile. The limbs are proportionally larger than those of the Waitoreke, allowing simultaneously for higher speed while swimming as well as more efficient terrestrial locomotion, a difference similar to that between seals and sea lions. Instances of Bunyips collaborating to trap fish have been recorded, and for this and its complex social behaviour it is considered to be among the most intelligent of thylacophocids.
The Bunyip is a rather nomadic animal, travelling across waterways but occasionally walking long distances on land. It is mostly solitary, but conversely it is among the most social of thylacophocids, gathering in small groups whenever there are enough resources to sustain several individuals. The breeding season is highly variable, but it usually occurs from July to September. Competition for mates is mostly non violent, animals displaying their large ears in a complex series of rituals.
Much as in the Waitoreke, the female Bunyip uses her tail as a pouch, staying on land for about five weeks. The young remain with her for up to two years, sometimes even longer if circumstances allow for it. Sexual maturity occurs at 4 years of age.
Dingonek (Dingonek odobenomimus)
Dingonekines are an unique lineage of walrus-like tusked thylacophocids. Although they likely evolved in a marine context – the earliest representative of this group, Eodingonek mangarsahoci, is known from Miocene marine deposits of Madagascar – they have colonised the water ways of Africa where they can only be found today, and are most well represented in Miocene and Pliocene fossil sites, where they co-exist with early hominids. They have likely been ingrained in human consciousness for the longest time, as several African cultures that do not even directly co-exist with the Dingonek have words for this animal and depict it in art. The sole living species occurs in the Great Lakes region; as populations in Lake Victoria and Lake Turkana have been likely seperated for thousands of years, it is possible that they represent different subspecies.
The Dingonek is a massive animal; reaching up to six meters and surpassing a ton in weight, it is way out of any predator’s league aside from the very largest Nile crocodiles. Unlike the Waitoreke and Bunyip – and indeed quite possibly all other thylacophocids – it relies on its massive, muscular manatee-like tail to propel itself, swimming slowly and deliberately but capable of reaching speeds of 30 kilometers per hour in short bursts. It is almost fully aquatic, only periodically dragging itself ashore with its tusks; combined with the warm climate of its habitat, this lead to a loss of its bodily hair, but some individuals still retain patches, which often form clumps that are mistaken for scales. It resorts on blubber to insulate itself, though naturally it has relatively little of it compared to the Arctic walruses.
Being almost fully aquatic, it displays a remarkable reproductive strategy. Like more derived thylacophocids, it has developed an actual pouch, opening close to the cloaca, though this presumably evolved independently from its relatives and in order to free its tail as a propulsive mechanism. Like in both the marsupial Yapok and more derived thylacophocids, this pouch has a sphincter and can be sealed off, allowing for the young to remain waterproof. It hasn’t yet developed into the complex mechanism of other thylacophocids, however, so the female periodically leaves the water to clean it and relax the sphincter. The single puggle is abruptly expelled from it at about four months of age, when it grows too large to be contained, and it remains with the mother for about seven years, when it reaches sexual maturity and leaves. Breeding happens every two years.
The Dingonek is mostly solitary, often defending patches of territory from competitors with its tusks. It is a generalistic carnivore, but it feeds primarily on molluscs and crustaceans it finds along the lake bottom, sucking them up with its lips. Besides dragging the animal unto land and being used in fights, the tusks are also used to feel along the bottom, trailing across the substrate as the Dingonek feeds. The Dingonek is cathemeral and is active across the day. It has a relatively slow metabolism, almost ectothermic, which allows it to save energy and consume less food.
Gambo (Gambonessa burnhami)
Occuring in the Congo River system, the Gambo is the last representative of a lineage of fully aquatic dolphin-like thylacophocids that prospered during the Eocene and disappeared with the appearance of basilosaurid-grade whales, and is essentially their answer to a river dolphin. It has lost most of its fur covering as well as its external ears and its limbs have become paddle-like, allowing it to swim in a rather peculiar way, flying like a penguin using its forelimbs but also undulating its body in a dolphin-like manner; its muscular tail lacks flukes, so it uses the pelvic flippers in their stead, a method of locomotion likely also practised by early whales.
Its teeth have become conical much like those of cetaceans, and while some of its extinct relatives might have had a decent eyesight the murky river water has ensured that the Gambo’s eyes are vestigial; instead, it relies on its long vibrissae as well as electroreceptors along its snout to feel its way. Its nostrils remain close to the snout’s tip, allowing the animal to surface only the tip of its jaws as a “snorkel” and otherwise remain fully submerged.
At 4.6 meters in length the Gambo is the apex predator of the Congo River. It feeds on everything from crustaceans to crocodiles to carrion, bearing a preference for large fish and aquatic birds. It has a dark brown upper side, allowing it to contrast against the murky waters and ambush its prey. It is cathemeral, hunting at all times of day. When it rests, it remains in a diagonal or vertical position, its nostrils surfacing; sleeping is rather brief, lasting for about 2 minutes at most, but performed in series for a period of up to seven hours. Compared to other thylacophocids, the Gambo has a relatively large brain, but there is little evidence of particularly intelligent behaviour in relation to its relatives. Rather, the large brain evolved as means to process the extremely well developed vibrissae-derived touch and electroreception.
The Gambo is a solitary, nomadic predator, travelling up and down river in responses to the seasons, taking advantage of floods to hunt in the flooded rainforest and making its way down to the estuaries during the dry season. Breeding occurs year round, and it usually takes place every four years. Gambos lodge each other to their partner’s flippers with their teeth, often leaving bite marks and occasionally even gouging limbs off. In most non-placental mammals the penis is bifurcated, having somewhere between two (marsupials, platypus, most thylacophocids) and eight (echidna, Waitoreke, Dingonek) heads. The Gambo is however unique in possessing an asymmetrical penis, with one right head and two left heads; the latter tend to be undeveloped, but become larger in response to the right head being damaged.
As a fully aquatic thylacophocid, the Gambo’s pouch is a perfect illustration of the complexity seen in the more derived species. Muscular and well vasculated, this organ essentially functions as an “external” womb, its opening close to the cloaca. After gestating for 28 days, the puggle passes immediately to the pouch only briefly contacting external water, finding it full of milk. During the first week or so of its life, the puggle has non-functional lungs, so it absorbs oxygen and nutrients from this specialised milk, before a combination of vascularisation-driven oxygen deposition and muscular contractions expel the milk and replace it with humid air. The pouch actually has higher oxygen levels and less carbon dioxide than atmospheric air, so the puggle survives on this sealed environment for a period of 3 months. During this time the female surfaces more often, breathing more frequently to supply the pouch with oxygen and expel carbon dioxide from her system, and is in general less active. After the puggle grows large enough, it is expelled from the pouch, which is emptied by surfacing the abdomen and compressed against the body until the next reproductive cycle. The young remains for a period of about five months before leaving. Sexual maturity is reached at around seven to eight years.
A species of bichir relative, the aptly named Congo Country Fish (Cunnopiscis congoensis) bears a commensal relationship with the Gambo, a relationship that may be rather old as these fish diverged from other bichir in the Eocene. These fish, usually free swimmers, are drawn to female Gambo prior to the puggles being born, likely detecting milk particles that may escape into the water. They gather around the pouch and enter it alongside the puggle. They quickly establish themselves within it, feeding on the milk and the puggles faeces and fending off parasites like worms and crustaceans. Males guard a patch usually near to one of the mammary glands, where females lay their eggs. When the pouch is emptied, the eggs and larvae exit it, but some of the adults stay, walking around with their fins and cleaning the puggle, sometimes opening wounds to drink its blood. They are inevitably crushed to death by the growing puggle, which may eat their corpses before exiting the pouch.
Long-Necked Seal (Megalotaria longicollis)
In spite of its name, the Long-Necked Seal isn’t a true pinniped, but a member of a clade of specialised thylacophocids which specialised to a similar style of swimming to true seals, undulating their bodies laterally and losing their tails altogether, resorting instead to their fused hindlimbs. Unlike true pinnipeds, it is fully aquatic, and it developed a specialised pouch similar to that of the Gambo independently, differing in that it is empty rather than temporarily filled with milk and juveniles need to crawl into it, doing so while the mother surfaces her abdomen. Consequently, they have somewhat leg-like forelimbs, and small individuals can still crawl ashore if they find it absolutely necessary; this is not possible for adult animals, which may reach spectacular lengths of 19 meters, making them among the largest non-cetacean mammals of all time.
Besides their massive size, Long-Necked Seals are incredibly bizarre mammals. They have unique elevated snorkel-like nostrils, the only thylacophocids to show substantial nasal retraction, which appear almost horn-like, as well as long necks that may account for a third of the animal’s length; these are used to allow it to breathe without having to surface very quickly, reducing the risk of DCS. It is mostly a bottom feeder, using its muscular lips to dislodge sea cucumbers, starfish, sponges, soft-bodied corals and other invertebrates, essentially grazing the depths. Larger individuals forage deep in the abyssal plains, though it is found just as often on shallower waters, even in freshwater bodies. Having a rather slow metabolism, these animals can hold their breath for up to an hour, though females with puggles usually don’t hold it for more than 12 minutes.
Long-Necked Seals are cosmopolitan, and it is likely that they may form a worldwide species complex. During the last glaciation, a number of populations have ended up in isolated lakes such as the Loch Ness; being only recently separated from their marine counterparts, they are not very genetically distinct, but already show signs of dwarfism, being considerably smaller and rarely exceeding 7 meters in length. Their slow metabolism allows them to survive in these relatively ecologically impoverished areas, feeding on the detrivores that composed most of the fauna.
Sexual maturity is reached at around 9 years of age, and animals usually breed in spaces of two to five years. At their large size only orcas and large thylacophocids pose a threat, with large sharks occasionally attacking juveniles; lake populations have almost no predators to fear.
Tizheruk (Tizheruk suchocephalus)
Inhabiting the waters of the Arctic and North Pacific, the Tizheruk is a seal-like predator that also resorts to the same locomotion style as the Long-Necked Seal. They are in fact close relatives, but in the Tizheruk the pouch opens in sea water, allowing the puggles to swim to it before it closes and ejects the salt water, quickly replacing it with milk. Not needing to climb, the young have no need for forelimbs, which are now vestigial, handless stubs. Tizheruks produce litters of 5 to 7 puggles, which initially co-exist within their mother’s pouch for a period of two weeks before it is emptied, prompting them to eat each other.
Tizheruks are mostly pelagic animals, occupying a macropredatory role away from the more coastal and benthic domains of the orcas, polar bears and sleeper sharks, though they may lurk near ice shelves during winter months. At lengths of 6 meters they are formidable predators of their own right, relying on their speed and crocodile-like dentition to tear chunks of flesh from larger animals such as cetaceans and other thylacophocids, though most prey items are still comparatively smaller fish. They rely mostly on their eyesight to hunt, having lost their vibrissae in order to avoid drag, but they also have electroreceptors along their upper lip.
They are the thylacophocids most hostile to humans, and apparently have learned that turning kayaks and other small vessels results in tasy, defenseless treats. This, as well as global warming and depleting fish stocks, have drastically reduced Tizheruk populations, rendering them the most visibly endangered thylacophocid.
Tizheruks are solitary through most of the year, but during their mating season lasting from April to May they gather in small groups. Males have inflatable nasal and horn-like sacs much like those of several seal species, usually concealed to avoid breaking their hydrodynamic profile but inflated when aroused. As water temperatures are rather too cold they display these structures by surfacing their heads and necks, bobbing them in mad frenzies and occasionally breaching, seemingly running on the ocean surface like grebes.
Cadborosaurus (Cadborosaurus willsi)
The closest relative of the Tizheruk, both lineages diverged around 12 million years ago. It has been speculated that they represent a clade of North Pacific thylacophocids, though this may not be the case as the Cadborosaurus once also occurred in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Black Seas until medieval times, having been extirpated from these regions due to hunting. Currently, its only known breeding spot is in the Cadboro Bay, though adults have been found as far away as Rapa Nui.
Like its relative, the Cadborosaurus is a pelagic predator, and has modified its locomotive style to a cetacean-like vertical undulation, the fused hindlimbs forming its equivalent to a tail fluke. Like the Gambo, Long-Necked Seal and Tizheruk it has lost its fur, bearing particularly visible skin fibers similar to those of sperm whales. With these adaptations, it has reach speeds comparable to those of the fastest dolphins, and indeed it occupies a similar pelagic predatory niche, hunting fish and squids. At the size of an orca, it can hypothetically target prey as large as a bottlenose dolphin, but it otherwise prefers relatively smaller targets. Its horse-like visage allows it to perform suction feeding, bobbing its head like a seahorse and sucking small prey with its muscular lips. It has no teeth, facilitating this process.
By contrast, juveniles are coastal animals which sometimes will even breach to exploit crustaceans and other beach morsels, but the basic technique is still the same. Breeding takes place every three years, adults gathering offshore and courting through bizarre echolocations, resonating through their deep muzzles. Like in the Long-Necked Seal puggles crawl to the pouch as their mother surfaces the abdomen, and as such these animals still retain claws on their flippers, which come in handy during mating. Juveniles acquire independence rather early on: after six months inside the pouch, they fend for themselves, staying in Cadboro Bay until their 8th birthday, where they leave for the open sea and might not return for another six years.

Aerocetes

So in the light of the ridiculous “Titan Dolphin” here’s my idea for flying cetaceans replacing The Future Is Wild’s flying critters:
 
1- Five million years ago, a lineage of cetaceans acquires the habit of flapping its forelimbs while porpoising. Over time, the flipper replaces the tail as the main propulsor, leading to penguin-like cetaceans (gannetwhales).
 
2- Over time penguin-like cetaceans develop progressively larger flippers, allowing for true powered flight. Cetaceans are already mildly exadapted for flight: their bones are spongy, they rely on anaerobic power for large quantities of time and they have large brains to coordinate flight. Plus echolocation.
 
3- By 95 million years aerocetes have become a dominant clade of flying vertebrates, taking super-aerial niches that require almost no contact with the ground. The forest of Antarctica are filled with swift-like flutterdolphins, with a particular nectivorous species, the spitfire dolphin, harboring dangerous chemicals in its blowhole, spitting them at predators. The windrunner is a fully aerial cosmopolitan species where the tailfin enlarged to become a pair of secondary wings.
 
4- A massive extinction kills nearly everything, but aerocetes survive because, like Neornithes, they take care of their young, and like nyctosaurs they never touch the ground. They once again diversify but the ground is now devoid of predators, so some become flightless and use their flippers as legs. Some are desert-hopper herbivores, others are carnivorous Titan Dolphins. But those that did remain on air continue to develop more complex brains, and make a city in the sky.
 
The end. Now illustrations pls.

Portugal & Lusitania

Visto que é um dia de orgulho nacional decidi fazer a pergunta: “porquê os lusitanos”? Porquê basear a identidade portuguesa num povo a maioria do território era na Espanha e cuja cultura foi absorvida pelos celtas e romanos? Não há continuidade entre Portugal e Lusitânia.

A única similaridade entre a nação de Portugal e os povos lusitanos são apenas sombras genéticas.

Jugulator amplissimus

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Another commission by Julio Lacerda, this time depicting Jugulator amplissimus as a majestic flying mammal. As you’ve known I long argued for powered flight in volaticothere mammals, to which I will up-date my list of reasons:

– Like most eutriconodonts volaticotheres are carnivorous (Kielan-Jaworowska et al 2005, Meng 2006, Grossnickle et al 2013, Sigogneau-Russell & Butler 2016). Gliding mammals are noted as primarily herbivorous, with gliding having evolved to cover large distances in the search for static food sources (Luo et al 2017, Jackson et al 2012). Volaticotherium antiquum in particular is compared to insectivorous bats (Meng 2006) and falls under the insectivore range in  study documenting Mesozoic mammal diets (Grossnickle 2013), while Argentoconodon fariasorum falls under the carnivore/omnivore range in the same study (Grossnickle 2016).

 

– They are cosmopolitan, with Argentoconodon fariasorum’s occurrence in the Toarcian of South America in particular being noted as rather unusual given its early date and the predominance of eutriconodonts in laurasian landmasses (Gaetano 2011, Sigogneau-Russell & Butler 2016).

 

– The aquatic locale of Ichthyoconodon jaworowskorum. Again, evidence against extensive aquatic transportation (Sigogneau-Russell 1995).

 

– The femoral speciations in Volaticotherium antiquum and Argentoconodon fariasorum, which would have restricted terrestrial locomotion but benefited flight. In fact such speciations are absent in gliding mammals like the contemporary gliding haramiyidans (Meng 2017).

 

– In spite of its adaptations to aerial locomotion Volaticotherium antiquum does not fall under the usual proportion range of gliding mammals (Meng 2017). Its limb bone elements are noted as rather thick (Meng 2006, Meng 2017) which could suggest quadrupedal launching as in bats and pterosaurs (Witton 2013).

 

– The hand of Volaticotherium antiquum is noted as incomplete, with its phalanges being atypically broad at their distal endings (Meng 2006). While a structure identical to chiropteran wings can be ruled out on shorter metacarpals, it could suggest a novel wing structure.

Pride month statement

Since this is pride month, I feel like detailing a bit of my history as a queer individual. As a child and teen I have been in the closet, but I never lied about who I was. Never had a beard (closest thing was a childhood friend), never overcompensated with machism. I just stood silently, nodding here and there, until I felt strong enough to look the people around me in the eye. I may have been passive, but never dishonest.

 

I take pride in that, more than anything.

Seven Left Wing Reasons To Despise Thundercats Roar

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So, like with every major complaint of how the entertainment industry is mishandling itself, lots of right-winger trolls and sociopaths have taken advantage of the complaints against the new Thundercats reboot, Thundercats Roar. Apparently making fools of themselves with the recent ComicsGate scandal wasn’t enough, because they’re still at the same petty, parroted insults like “soyboy” and “numale” well after these have been pulverised. This nonetheless makes otherwise good people feel pressured to be in favour of this show out of strawmanning.

Instead, I’m going to focus on actual legitimate reasons to consider Thundercats Roar a massive misstep to take. It is an affront to both artistic integrity and humanitarian values, aspects that are rarely addressed by both sides of the issue, yet bear the most weight on the legacy this show provides. As someone who holds human rights and universal economical and social equality to be of the utmost importance, I present several reasons as to why Thundercats Roar is a work that should be universally condemned by left-wing activists.

You don’t have to sell your soul in order to be a good person, and here’s why:

1- It is a soulless celebration of capitalism

laika-auction-a-1280x600Laika is a perfect illustration why pure capital should not be the driving force in animation. Sure, it is supported by a car company and one of the wealthiest men on the planet at that, but it exists outside of the pressures to be a product in and of itself, which is why its movies have artistic integrity while Thundercats Roar doesn’t.

This one is rather obvious, so lets get it out of the way quickly.

Obviously the western animation industry is, well, an industry, it exists within the samsaric cycle of suffering because it cannot fully escape this. However, capitalism has been shown again and again to lead to stagnation when left unchecked, due to the obvious need for a product, and the greatest animated classics are nearly all incidents of when external support is provided.

This is why, say, Studio Saloon or Laika productions are on average considered better movies than Sony or Disney movies. The former’s movies are nearly always endorsed by or even outright commissioned by pan-european cultural and artistic organisations and the latter is supported by an entirely different industry; they are not forced to fit a square peg into the round hole, so the only real limits both have are the whims of the creators and media laws within their home countries. The former relies heavily on 2D animation and the latter on stop-motion, both artistic mediums considered dead in the desert of the western film industry, and yet both still stand tall.

Cartoon Network, naturally, does not have nearly as many luxuries, but it has a practical demonstration as to why pure capital is not the answer. Case in point, their own previous reboot of Thundercats: it was a show that did in fact have a large audience, but CN shot itself on the foot by destroying its advertising and time slots because it didn’t sell toys. Greed, and short-sighted, virulent, idiotic greed at that, killed a show that would have worked even within the landscape of consumerism.

Thundercats Roar is the living embodiment of a need for a product at the expense of artistic integrity, and it shows why capitalism is a force for stagnation and stupidity.

2- It offers an easy strawman

DdhTuBFW0AESZVjI think that, in isolation, Cheetara’s redesign actually works extremely well, cow ears aside. In context, however…

I don’t really want to harp on the artstyle, since the “CalArts” complaints are borderline idiotic since many cited works like Steven Universe and The Amazing World Of Gumball are actually not CalArts productions, the actual term was coined in an entirely different context and there are many CalArts shorts that you have to be legitimately insane to not like.

However, the decision for the individual character designs are extremely short-sighted and help to legitimise toxic right-wingers. There really was no need for a supposed action show to reject things like skeletal structure, weight and, you know, actual animation other than to make it clear that this is Teen Titans Go 0.2. Most characters with the exception of Cheetara are stylised as to appear literally edgeless and thus “non-threatening”, and the very idea that a show with a grim atmosphere has to be repainted in bright colours is pretty much the ideal that accusations of infantilization are justified.

In essence, its like taking Alien and turning Ripley into The Looney Tunes Show version of Lola Bunny. The idea is already repulsive in and of itself to any self-respecting human being, but Ripley was a defiant example of female agency, so mutating her into a non-threatening, child-like form would be making a pro-sexist statement. Thundercats Roar does that to male characters, inversely solidifying sexist viewpoints.

Sure, there is such a thing as a false-equivalency in cases like this, as some adaptational changes are powerful statements that should be made (i.e. Bobby Drake coming out in All New X-Men). However, they should always be done in considering with the context of presentation, lest they produce a frankly unnecessary backlash. In the current politically volatile climate this is more true than ever: always pick the battles you can easily win first, because otherwise you will either lose or see yourself locked into a miserable stalemate.

There is no real reason for the creative changes in Thundercats Roar other than for marketability. There is no statement on body types since everyone’s stylised and there is no statement on gender roles since everyone’s still strongly gender coded; even Cheetara’s supposed “feminist pandering” is still a traditionally feminine design, that doesn’t look out of place in both the 80’s and 2011 series (cow ears aside; serious, what the hell?). The only accomplishment here is making plush-toys, and saving money.

On the plus side, it makes action shows with representation like The Legend Of Korra and Young Justice all the better in comparison, which is all I truly need.

3- It is homophobic

tumblr_oqonb3IZLQ1r0pqleo6_r1_500Wolf Pack, an actual CalArts short you should watch.

It’s no secret that sexual minorities are extremely underrepresented in western animation. We’re in an extremely sad situation in that side-characters that barely display affection towards one another are considered victories, as if we’re seagulls satisfied with fat in a whale’s carcass. Still, progress has been made, with The Legend of Korra having an outright bisexual main character and Steven Universe featuring allegorical LGBT issues as extremely relevant plot points.

Reboots reset this progress.

As demonstrated by shows like Voltron: Legendary Defender, creators are looking to play safe by not making any main characters LGBT (which, in the interest of fairness, can hardly be blamed given how the shipping community is only slightly less toxic than a pitohui’s feather), rendering the already dim possibilities for representation that actually matters all the smaller. After all, now you have a proper “excuse” for homophobia: exploring a character’s sexuality and making them officially end up with another main character of the same sex would be “pandering to Tumblr” and “disrespecting the original show”.

As shown in the previous section of this article bringing up Bobby Drake, this is a false-equivalency towards actual irreverent adaptations, as representation is not only important but actually a vehicle for deeper characterisation. This is one of the battles you should pick as it is one you can actually win for a variety of reasons ranging from the fact that you’re in the underdog position to the fact that the opposition comes across as inherently hypocritical (i.e. homophobic animation fans consistently being fine with sexualised little girls but sending death threats to producers over adult, consensual male/male relationships).

Based on already established reboot standards and tendencies, it’s extremely unlikely that Thundercats Roar will have LGBT main characters. At most, Cheetara will probably be bisexual, and male characters will have semi-homophobic homoerotic gags. In and of itself this isn’t bad, but it will give both content creators as well as executives the impression of “yup, that’s as far as we need to go”. In the outright worst case scenario, you have instances like Powerpuff Girls‘ “Horn, Sweet Horn” where a narrative that wasn’t originally meant to be LGBT thematic was hastily done so to fill the show’s quota, ending up as one of the most vile transphobic messages imaginable.

Mind you, the prospect of not seeing myself in a show where the protagonists don’t even have any sort of humanity isn’t something I will shed tears about. But it should be a massive redflag to all LGBT fans of animation, since Cartoon Network aims to bury your dreams in Teen Titans Go clones.

4- It promotes oligarchy

Dd08nd2U8AAUW7z“Yeah, all that passion and work you put into your dreams? Screw you, you didn’t like a show where Beast Boy cums on Wonder Woman!”

Many recent “gate” movements like ComicsGate and GamerGate are ultimately nothing more than neo-nazis and sexists respectively being upset at people calling them out on their bullshit, with even the supposedly non-bigoted justifications being exceptionally flimsy and always drowned by the very instigators of both movements. The same cannot be said about the animation industry’s reaction to criticism of Cartoon Network shows, who have openly admitted to nepotism and favouritism on the basis of reactions to their shows.

Suffice to say, this is a borderline criminal activity and I can’t imagine them not suffering severe legal repercussions down the road. In the meantime, this is a gross display of oligarchical behaviour, building walls around an already vertical mountain as means to weed out people in what should be a communal form of self-expression. Worse, it has visibly intimidated various figures within the animation community, making it open oppression.

There are some admittedly reasonable reasons to be anxious around critics. As stressed before, a sizeable amount of right-winger sociopaths have rallied behind the backlash against Thundercats Roar to harass people. However, the fact that already established persons within the community are afraid for their jobs out of what amounts to nothing more than artistic integrity should never be tolerated, let alone deciding on whereas anyone is “in” or “out” based on their opinion of a show.

Probably the most severe reason why this is a particularly heinous offense is that the american animation industry has been progressively more egalitarian and inclusive for the past two decades, to the point where the previous accusations of CalArts favouritism became meaningless as creators of all sorts made an impact on Cartoon Network, including the recent releases of Steven Universe (whose creator, an LGBT woman, has made a point of hiring people outside of CalArts), The Amazing World of Gumball (a primarily British-French production), Villainous (a show by a Mexican animator with a production team centered in Mexico) and The Heroic Quest Of Prince Ivandoe (a British-Danish show with an emphasis on scandinavian cultures). This is clicking the reset button to the point that the index bleeds.

5- It induces the Streisand Effect

nakedcatsNow every kid in the world knows about how raunchy the original Thundercats were.

There is an on-going war about how children should be exposed to mature contents in media. Many right-winger trolls throw accusations of “shielding the children” and how previous decades were a lot more mature and entertaining because of that. Ignoring the frequent hypocrisy of those claims (they are made by conservatives after all, whining about topics handled in modern cartoons), I think a middle-ground is ideal: handling mature subjects as early as possible, but with taste and dignity. Kind of like what Steven Universe does, actually.

Regardless, my opinions on that are irrelevant because in the age of information even supposed “child friendly” settings skip content like Elsa and Spiderman videos. There simply is no way of truly shielding anyone from anything, so the best outcome is simply to not incite curiosity. A parent that’s concerned that the grotesque body horror, hell imagery and fanservice in some Teen Titans episodes is beyond what their child can handle would simply make sure that their child isn’t aware of that, but now a massive amount of children are because they research Teen Titans due to being fascinated with Teen Titans Go.

The more you censor something, the more people will want to check for themselves. Is what’s called the Streisand Effect after the infamous incident with Barbra Streisand’s Malibu House, and no doubt the consequence of my very exploration of Thundercats Roar. Children will stumble across previous iterations of Thundercats because Thundercats Roar is bringing attention to them; in fact, I would be surprised if a sizeable population of the target audience for this reboot hasn’t already.

Now neither the original Thundercats nor the 2011 series contain things I would consider outright child-unfriendly per se, but many people would probably be upset at the levels of violence and sexual content both have, particularly the latter. The same people who argue that Thundercats Roar is a better alternative because of its disregard for these things are unwittingly opening the gates and throwing neon lights on these scenes, which is mildly hilarious.

This is why most reboots are geared at attracting older audiences rather than focusing exclusively on sanitising the work for children. That’s what edited reruns are for, after all. If you’re making something that appeals to the past, you should be aware of who actually should wield that knowledge.

This is an issue that affects all sides of the political spectrum, as everyone has different ideas about how children should learn about things. Still, it is an apolitical point few people seem to understand, so here it is.

6- It praises toxic masculinity

Capturar“Durr I like killing tv’s with my stick durr!”

Ironically, for all the talks about “soyboys”, right-wingers do get a perfect representation of their ideal of masculinity. Lion-O in the previews is consistently depicted as a moron who uses violence as a first response and constantly abuses Tygra. All the male characters are stylised as to emphasise their muscular mass, implying that if not for the simplistic art style they would be similarly built to the original counterparts. If the Teen Titans Go inspiration is an indication all the male characters will be borderline sociopaths, something that’s not been disproven thus far.

All the characters suffer in these types of reboots, but both Teen Titans Go and Powerpuff Girls default to gender stereotypes and characterisations. Men for the most part are still portrayed as a default of being lazy, selfish, gross sleazebags with no sense of morality, the only difference from a typical 90’s anti-hero comic being that they are drawn more childlike.

True, they don’t openly praise these behaviours and characteristics, but they do make the statement that they are the natural default of men and that they’re okay. Hell, things like homophobic jokes are still used in these shows, subtly implying that the characters have a duty to uphold social norms on a more subtle level. This makes them far more insidious than any 80’s action movie, as they impose passive sexism as something that even the most progressive societies can never step out of.

Cartoon Network shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Over The Garden Wall and even Regular Show take their time to make male characters nuanced and promote their positive qualities, and you know you’ve sunk at the bottom when dudebro the show is better than you.

7- It treats genocide as a joke

Capturar2Can’t wait to pitch my Fall of Númenor wacky adaptation.

Finally, there’s the very description of the show’s plot. It’s bad enough that what was described by the original creators of Thundercats as an attempt to insert high fantasy drama is being turned into a cash-in, but the sheer amount of disrespect to the setting and the consequences of action-and-cause is something that I wasn’t quite expecting.

The reason why the 2011 reboot is so well celebrated in spite of its severe flaws is because it knew that what it was handled to it wasn’t funny. The first three episodes render what could easily be a flashback sequence into a spectacular display of an empire’s fall, the cracks that was within it before it did and the sheer grief and guilt its survivors acquired. It didn’t need to be a profound character piece, yet it was, which made the decline that would last for the remainder of the series all the more bitter.

By contrast, it appears that the idea of mass devastation and tragedy is amusing to the creators of Thundercats Roar, which I suppose it’s only fair given how inflicting suffering on other people is the modus operandi of the “heroes” in Teen Titans Go and how selfish indulgence to the point of obliviousness is the defining character trait in the new Powerpuff Girls. Really, what can I add at this point?

Conclusion

thundercats-roar-cheetara-1110440“It’s not a queef its just a Thundercunt! (Thundercunts!)”

Thundercats Roar is a disaster.

It’s a horrible message to not just fans of animation, but civilisation at large as it seems to revel in promoting selfishness, lack of empathy and generally the worst traits of humanity. Its defenders, already “boldly” defying conventions like appealing to children’s intellect and respecting the emotional arousal that art is meant to induce, have sided with half a century worth of dismissing animation as something that cannot possibly be serious or dramatic in any capacity. And as shown above, it goes an extra mile to promote systems of oppression in incredibly insidious manners.

Discourses on animation bear a rather important parallel to social justice movements. After all, animation as medium that can raise thought provoking questions and portray humanity in drawings always stood against a paradigm of silly cartoons for children or raunchy adult pictograms. The “safe”, “default” state of animation is to be the modern era’s bread and circus, to provide a distraction against reality and thus maintain its order. A fantastical oasis to shield against the desert of the real, so to speak.

Thus, the push for the boundaries of dramatic demonstration in animation has been strongly correlated with societal progress. It’s part of the reason why the cartoonist archetype is left wing or libertarian in nature, after all. Voices for the sanitisation of children’s entertainment have been consistently right-wing in nature, either in the form of greedy executives, “edgy” animators focused on adult cartoons or religious groups finding all forms of entertainment satanic. All seek to destroy the exact same enemy, the people oppressed by the status quo and who desire a change, even if their motivations or even the exact means of doing this are downright alien to each other.

Thundercats Roar is a celebration of the status quo, of stagnation in all forms of the word. It is a vessel through which sincerity and humanity are mocked, rendered atavisms that should be done away with. It’s the simple statements of “money is worth more than feelings” and “we are Ahriman and you are Taxmoruw” made into a show, an antithesis of everything animators have fought for decades and an affirmation that all fights are meaningless.

Don’t ever be deceived by the notion that this show and its message are worth defending. You’ll find it has more in common with the right-wingers that complain about it than your own values.