By Drew Anderson (@AndersonEvolve)
I’m a sucker for remade cartoon series from my childhood. I sat through the originals made in the 1980s and they are just not good; seriously, keep your nostalgia intact and don’t rewatch your childhood favorites (video games hold up though). After rewatching all nine seasons of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) cartoons, I realized only 2 seasons could be considered good. Cartoons today are just better written and better animated. I’ve enjoyed Disney’s remake of Ducktales (David Tennant!!), Nickelodeon’s remake of TMNT (also David Tennant for a season), Netflix’s remake of Voltron, and even though it didn’t get a good run, Cartoon Network’s remake of Thundercats. I’m also happy to introduce these shows to my daughter (she’s almost got the theme song down to Ducktales). Whoo hoo!
The show I’m going to discuss today is one of my daughter’s favorites and one I’ve made it through all 13 episodes about six times now (twice in spanish!)—She-Ra. This is not a full on review of the show and I have so many thoughts on it (e.g., I find Scorpia more sympathetic than Catra and for all the body positivity, it still falls into the high fantasy depictions of good = beautiful and bad = monstrous). Instead I want to point out it hits a trope that is quite common in stories with a scientist component: the mad/driven scientist who ignores morality in favor of their discoveries or “progress.” In this case that niche is filled by an admittedly fun and quirky character, Entrapta.
Our first introduction to Entrapta has her working on First Ones’ tech, causing robots in her kingdom to go crazy and terrorize her people. She doesn’t care about the harm, only the way the robots react. She only helps Adora and Glimmer because they insist and she’s curious about solving the problem. When we see her again, the group is invading the Fright Zone and she repeatedly wanders off to investigate something she thought interesting without a care as to why they are there, which was to save Glimmer. She ends up separated and sneaks around while fiddling with tech; eventually joining Catra so she can “tinker.” Her final experiment literally destabilizes the world and she is fascinated. If any player in a D&D campaign asks to be Chaotic Neutral, I would have them watch her so they would understand how bad an idea that is. She doesn’t mean harm, she only is only interested in learning things, regardless of the outcome.
SPOILERS END HERE
Media loves to paint scientists as uncaring or willing to ignore what is right for the sake of their discoveries. Sometimes their motivations are good (The Lizard, Dr. Octopus, Dr. Malus—Jessica Jones), others just want progress (Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Wu—Jurassic Park), others have gone insane (Drs. Isley, Quinzel, and Doom—Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, and Dr. Doom respectively). Even good scientists are often portrayed as eccentric (Dr. Malcolm—Jurassic Park, Dr. Okun and David Levinson—Independence Day), aloof (Dr. Strange), or careless with their work (Iron Man, Dr. Banner, Dr. Brundle—The Fly).
Society seems to view scientists as apart from society rather than part of society. What’s interesting about that is that in science ethics class we, as scientists, are asked to keep tabs on our thoughts and opinions while not letting them interfere as we work on our results. In general, we’re asked to only provide results and advice as well as to identify potential sources of bias and conflict. Many of us though do care a lot about society and those around us, so some feel the need to speak up and participate. Applied scientists, those that work on things with direct benefits to the public, are especially important in this respect, as their discoveries and how they’re used directly affect society. Basic scientists, those that determine how the world works, without directly trying to affect society, are also important, but their work is farther removed from direct application. Even still, we are hardly uncaring or willing to cause harm (even unintentionally).
That’s not to say scientists haven’t been involved in some horrible things. Most recently we have had the CRISPR-modified babies, there was that whole period of eugenics (which isn’t gone considering the debate on using CRISPR on embryos), and the racist/sexist history of human experimentation. We can also notice the list I provided above isn’t diverse and the two female examples I’ve come up with aren’t treated kindly in their depictions, but this is about personality tropes, as Entrapta works independently of whatever physical representation she’s given.
While we do see some good scientists (Peter Parker, Dr. Wattney—The Martian, and Shuri—Black Panther), Hollywood still could do a better job of realizing that scientists are people with the same strengths and failings as anyone else. We are diverse in our personalities and mannerisms, despite common perception we’re not all INTJ on Briggs-Meyer (which is bunk test by the way). We even have different aspirations; for example, I would like to learn some things about sexual selection and contribute to the knowledge base while teaching others, but I don’t have grand aspirations of transforming the field (though if I made a discovery that did, I would certainly be excited). So perhaps, some writers would be better thinking of character traits and motivations before assigning them “scientist”, as it might just make for a more compelling and different story.
Got thoughts/feedback? Can you think of any pop culture scientists that aren’t eccentric/oblivious/unintentionally harmful (i.e., a “normal”-ish person—we’re all different)?
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