Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 27: Not-So-Quiet Aunt Jane (Pride and Prejudice)

In this episode, hosts Tori and Amanda discuss Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and discuss feminism, bonnets and how hot Colin Firth is.

An Entirely Too Complicated Discussion About Race and Picrew

I’ve been a very vocal supporter of representation in media.I’ve paneled on the importance of having one’s skin color, religion, orientation and more represented in the media they consume be it comics, movies, television and more. But when I’ve had these conversations, I’m always quick to say that we demand representation in Western media and to many, I give Asian media a pass. There are indeed methods to my madness; Japan is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries on Earth. For many of the religions that are minorities in the United States, they are minorities in Asia (hence the fetishization of Catholics and Catholicism in anime and manga). And, to be very real here, most of Asia still has incredibly conservative and strict views about homosexuality, transgender rights and more. It’s one of the reasons why yaoi is so odd as far as “representing” queer people since it’s mostly coming from a place that has strict sodomy laws and continues to fetishize and trivialize the lives of gay men.

To summarize, I just can’t hold manga and anime to the same standard I hold American media as far as representation goes. There is no excuse for an American comic book movie to have no black people in it. There is no excuse for a television show to not have queer people in it. There is no excuse for an American book to feature protagonists and characters of different body types, races and religions. I can’t ask Japan to represent me: a small black Catholic queer.

Picrew is an avatar creation generator that is Japanese and is incredibly popular. I started noticing these elaborate avatars being made by people and noticing variations on the same format. In fact, there’s a very famous Picrew template that features pride flags and has a huge variety of skin tones, pride flags and colors and gender and presentation options. Picrew is great for someone like me in that I have a great visual eye and style aesthetic but I could not draw a straight line if you threatened me. If you’ve seen some of my newer icons and branding online, those are all Picrew creations. 

Picrew is full of fun generators that allow users to make icons, avatars and more. I love Picrew but there’s been something that I’m very aware of: not all generators accommodate skin tones like mine. I don’t have this issue with many of the Western avatar generators: I’ve even found some that are pretty dead on. But every once in a while, I’ll click on a auto-translated title hoping to find someone in the options for skin tone that look like me and I just can’t find them. Some have no options at all for different skin tones while others have one option for “brown” that are either way too light for me or way too dark for me. 


I’ve always had an odd relationship to my skin tone: I’m not so detached that I don’t feel black but I’m lighter in tone than most of my family and in comparison to some of my friends, I’m also usually the lighter skinned one. There’s a lot of colorism within the black community that tends to favor lighter skinned black people and a resentment from darker skinned black people against folks like me. In all fairness, we’re the more represented of the entire group so I can understand the resentment while also being hurt by it.

There’s a strange dysphoria that particularly comes to finding a Picrew generator that has one or two options for brown skin tones and neither fit. I rarely feel dysphoric whether it comes down to gender or race but to see a generator that has either a tone far too dark or far too light, it’s almost painful. I had a similar moment playing Pokemon Sword when I began to question if I was truly as dark as my character is. I’ve been honest about me using skin-lightening productions for hyperpigmentation but recently, I stopped because I was spotty and far too light. I looked like a bad Monique Heart highlight job because of the bleaching agents in the cream and it caused even more pain about my race, my skin and my skin tone. After a few weeks of cocoa butter and vitamin E oil, I’ve been able to get back on track to what my tone is and now I’m even more concerned about the concealer I was matched to. What is my skin tone? What am I? How black am I? 

These questions are new and are frankly distressing and recently have come about from a silly avatar generating website.

On the flip side of that, there is a euphoric bliss to finding a match to my skin tone and making an avatar or icon just like me. It’s incredibly fulfilling to look at an icon and think “Yes, this is it. This is perfect.” I’m proud of most of the icons I’ve made and I do swap them out every once in a while just because as of this time, I’ve made quite a few of them mostly just for fun. Picrew became a way to work through my desire for kawaii avatars and icons without having to commission someone. As a long time lover of anime and kawaii culture, it’s nice to have chibis and bishojo and anime-inspired icons that do in fact look like me.

So by now, you may be asking: well, what do you expect? You did just say that you can’t ask more of Asian creators. To that I say, fair point. I do maintain that I cannot ask Asia to represent me; I can also say that it’s been sad to not be seen or represented in a medium I love so much. What’s even more interesting is seeing some of the generators’ creators mentioning that they have no intention of adding new skin tones or such after people ask for them which to me goes beyond simple ignorance and moves into full on intolerance. It’s one thing to not think of darker skinned people due to a lack of exposure and another to entirely just wish to not acknowledge them at all after people ask for more options on a generator that is popular. 

So what do we do? Well, Picrew is great even though it’s a little memetic at this stage to have a Picrew avatar (several even made an appearance in Contrapoint’s excellent video on Canceling). If you are of color: commission artists. There are plenty of artists all over the social internet who would be willing to accept a commission for an avatar or icon. Start drawing! Every once in a while, I’ll sketch out stuff: you’ll never see them because they’re bad but sure, I’ve done it. 

It took me years to feel proud of my melanin. It took me years to reconcile my blackness while being an otaku and lover of Japanese media and culture. It took me years to feel even a little bit confident in my skin and not finding avatars that match my skin or creators that refuse to acknowledge that darker people even exist seemed to push some of that progress back to nearly the same place I was as a teen that almost delighted when my great grandmother said she was happy I wasn’t a “darkie”. 

Not finding a skin tone that matches mine in Picrew seemed to bring up every moment of internalized racism I have kept in my body for the last two decades. So here is where I soft revise my statement. I do still think that, if you are a person of color, queer person, religious person or similar looking for representation in Asian media: abandon all hope, ye who do weeb stuff here. But can I also say that it is detrimental, painful and unnecessary for creators to actively and continue to ignore people of color as their media increasingly becomes global?

I sure can. 

Unfortunately, Required Reading- Episode 26 Withering Interest (Wuthering Heights)

In this episode, hosts Tori and Amanda read Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and by read we mean endure and by endure we mean complain for an hour.

A needed correction. In the episode, I misspoke about the Harlow experiment. I blame the gin in a cup.

My Shockingly Complex Feelings on Masons’ Cavies

Most Saturday mornings, if I am not woken up by my cactus’ automatic grow lamp, I wake up and slither over to my couch, open up my laptop and watch the Breecast. The Breecast is an hour long live stream featuring Sophie the Magpie and her male (Andy) and it’s the best balm in these trying times. Just a bird and her human answering questions, talking about biscuits and enjoying nature. It’s the best thing my anxious mind needs. But Sophie and her male are not the only British people with cute animals I follow. There’s also the herd of Masons’ Cavies. Masons’ Cavies is helmed by Sophie and Mark Mason and their herd of guinea pigs. At the start, there was around 50 but now the numbers are closer to 70 (but I have not recounted since a recent string of deaths in the herd). I found their page after a viral video featuring Mr. Mason as a waiter dropping off plates of food for the guinea pigs. I was instantly in love because long-time readers will know that when Carlos owned two guinea pigs I loved them more than he did. The group had a ton of guinea pigs that squeaked and had names and the Facebook page around them mostly featured cute videos of guinea pigs eating veggies and overall things just being okay which was exactly what I needed in the landscape of 2019. It was calm, cool and cute. 

Or at least, so I thought. 

One would assume that a Facebook page about guinea pigs would not be a complicated issue but oh the dram around Masons’ Cavies. Sophie Mason will tell you over and over again that her and her husband are not a rescue, yet she and her husband rescue a lot of guinea pigs. With their viral videos, her and her husband will claim to not need financial support from followers while also in every post ask for paid supporters on Facebook and dropping her Amazon wishlist and PayPal. Her and her husband insist that they are over the drama while also passive aggressively mentioning all their haters on live streams and posting entire musical montages about how people “need to calm down”. There’s an odd paradox to the Masons but if it’s just about the guinea pigs then I can swallow the drama. 

I want to really go into the money part because it brings up an issue I have with a lot of things which is having others pay for a hobby. Now, I have a podcast and that podcast has sponsors and I’m happy to have sponsors but that offsets costs and we have never asked for that money. And if we lose those sponsors, the podcast will continue because I’m okay with budgeting for cheese and wine and image assets. And I understand that taking care of 50 or so guinea pigs must be expensive and I understand that there is no issue with accepting money from those that offer but literally no one held the Masons hostage demanding they take these cavies. And if someone did, I would love to meet this person who is throwing guinea pigs at people and demanding they have a soft pet as penance. I do think its admirable that they do continue to rescue guinea pigs but good lord do they ask for money. 

Additionally, the Masons seem to be in the middle of a great deal of drama because of their unwillingness to just say they’re a rescue or to just continue to be some backyard enthusiasts with a great deal of time and energy put into their herd mostly because with their viral status, they do take up a great deal of attention away from actual rescues that aim to give guinea pigs homes or take them from terrible scenarios. 

There have also been concerns about the conditions the guinea pigs are held in. Now, I’m not a vet but the guinea pigs live in a shed that is nicer than my first apartment and if we ignore this recent string of deaths…I don’t ever question their care. 

The Masons are great people and I have no questions about that. The guinea pigs are well taken care of, that I have no question of. I love each guinea pig more than the last but ones that hold my heart are Squeak, Willow, Luna and Albus. I love watching these adorable creatures squeak and popcorn and eat more kale than I have ever seen in my life. It’s relaxing and innocent and it shows me that in theory, everything is going to be okay. It’s a shame that there’s so much drama behind the scenes of something that should be relatively unproblematic. After all, they’re just guinea pigs living in the English countryside. Why is there so much drama? And realistically, it doesn’t have to be like this. Sophie the Magpie has no such issues with her fan base. Anyone that asks about her enclosure are insured that she is happy and healthy. Anyone that asks about why she’s in an enclosure are told that she is an imprinted bird and is happy and that her male would not do live streams with her if he thought that she was unhappy or stressed in any way. Sophie the Magpie’s male goes out of his way to refuse money and overall, it’s just a chill time.

So where does that leave me? I’m just a lover of cute animals and viral videos. What am I supposed to do with all of this drama? Well, I still watch a lot of the Mason’s Cavies videos even though Sophie Mason cannot pronounce Pecan correctly and I’m sad that they seem to be dealing with an odd series of deaths in the herd. But I can’t help but admit that a lot of the drama makes it very hard to stomach. All of the asking for money and the passive aggressive comments towards haters…it just seems like so much. 

When did guinea pigs get so complicated? Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t I just think the best guinea pig is Squeak? And as a marketer and brand personality; I’m very aware of how difficult it can be to be in the public eye and to suddenly feel like everything you do is being viewed and judged. I know how difficult it can be to suddenly be famous (I’m not famous but I manage brands, calm down, I know I’m not famous). I do feel something that I assume resembles bad for the Masons. Sophie Mason recently suffered a horrible injury that she is recovering from and then there’s recent string of guinea pig deaths has been deeply emotional. And to be fair, people have been harsh. Folks, they’re guinea pigs who live in a shed bigger than my first apartment: they’re fine.

The internet is a strange series of tubes and cats that can manage to take something like a herd of guinea pigs in the English countryside and make it an entire Machiavellian drama. 

That was a lot but you all come to this blog for all of the hot goss when it comes to cute animals on the Internet. I don’t want this to be a super negative piece and I certainly don’t wish ill to the Masons. I do think they’re doing their best and their guinea pigs are truly a safe place in a hellish world. But I can’t help but continue to think that this all seems to be a bit much for the sake of a few furry creatures running around in a backyard.

Madeon Takes Us to Church

I have followed Madeon’s music since I saw him open for Lady Gaga years ago. As soon as I heard his music, I fell in love. His bass drops made my heart race, his transitions were fantastic and each song of his felt like a frantic video game’s mad dash to the end. His early music all felt like beautiful game background music and I rode every single high and low for years. His music powered me through college and through some of the darkest days in my home waiting for my life to start. Madeon is a talented DJ, always has been since he was too young to drink in the clubs he kept playing. 

I was thrilled when Madeon decided that he was going to do a full debut album. When Adventure came out, nearly all of the tracks felt like something new from the DJ I came to love. It all felt very pop, which was fine. I loved the featured artists that joined Madeon’s beats during Adventure and found myself nearly in love with every song on the album from the oppressive hype that was Imperium to the slow ballad that was La Lune

Adventure was exactly the album I needed when it hit me at all of 24 and moody and filled with ennui. I had just ended a long-term relationship, I was on my own and nothing felt like it used to. But Adventure wasn’t popular with everyone as it was probably one of the most pop ventures Madeon had ever done. If you came into Hugo’s work with him sampling Alphabeats or even The Killers then Adventure seems rather on point but if you came into Hugo’s work with Ellie Goulding or deadmau5 then yeah, Adventure is pop trash and you’re a dummy for liking it, I assume is what they think. In hindsight, I’m hot and cold on it. La Lune and Only Way Out still mean a great deal to me and Ok  and Beings can still get me dancing and listening with a few years behind it, Imperium seems like the kind of song that Raihan from Pokemon: Sword/Shield works out to. 

But we are spending a lot of time talking about an album that is a few years old and that’s not what we’re here to do. We’re here to talk about Good Faith. When Madeon released a single in 2018, I was happy. I had missed Hugo’s music. That single was All My Friends and in video theme and tone, this didn’t feel like a Madeon song. I was confused and frankly concerned that perhaps Porter Robinson was punking all of us. The video featured a ton of hand geometry and an interesting enough beat to it that I was curious but not sold. It was fine but it wasn’t Hugo.

All I had to do was wait. 

Dream Dream Dream was where I was sold before the album was even an album. The mood, the lyrics…all of it just spoke to me. I have also felt the weight of my dreams and indeed it does move me forward. I was still a little weirded out with the hand geometry in the videos but there was something about this song that reminded me of something that I had felt in the back of my mind and had noticed in the two songs that started up this album was suddenly clear. 

Gospel. 

My thoughts about Good Faith being Madeon’s attempt to take us to church were confirmed when the album got its name and when I heard No Fear No More. It wasn’t just the piano pieces of the literal damn choir or the literal damn children’s choir but it was more the themes. The idea of being fearless, of being joyful, of having that internal strength that tells you everything will be fine (yes, I made a pun about my other favorite song on the album) are all themes in Southern gospel. Black people have been telling themselves to have fear no more since slavery was a thing and encouraging their children and loved ones that through faith and perseverance that everything will be okay. 

Miracle more aggressively takes us to church with more pianos, more choirs and even more overt allusions that supernatural things will happen and while it’s a good song, I’ll trade it for Be Fine almost any day; mostly because the front half of Miracle features what I can only describe as Hugo’s pillow talk before it turns into a great song in the second half.

I want to close with the song that shocked me and the one that made me really feel a deep connection with the album: Heavy with Hoping. Without getting too personal, 2018 ended with me cutting several ties with people that meant the world to me but I had to remove from my life for personal reasons. I was going through a breakup so lines like: 

If I let you go

We end in tragedy

How would you know

How to get back to me?

I felt it in my bones. And the heavy vocals, minimal beats until the end (which is actually where the song loses me) that fades into heavy distortion as grief and pain often does distort voices and feelings just really spoke to me. But it was bluesy in a way that some gospel songs are as a way to remind Southern black of the pain and hardship we have endured and to show us that indeed, that pain is not invalidated by time. 

In Good Faith, Hugo takes us to church. He shows his wide influences and while honestly, I didn’t like all of the songs on the album, the ones I adored are ones that will remain close to my heart for the remainder of my days. A few articles claimed Good Faith was Hugo’s most pop-influenced album but to me that sells the damn thing short and erases that his influences are much wider than just pop or video game loading screen music. I maintain that Madeon is one of the most talented DJs alive and I’m proud to be a devotee of his work and indeed the album had me clapping along and raising my hands to the Lord above chanting “No fear no more.”