Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Their Ways Are Not Our Ways

I have such a deep reverence for the animated series Gargoyles that I will secretly bristle at any fan-made alteration to the canon series and its titular race. For that reason, I don't read a lot of Gargoyles fanfiction anymore, though I used to, back before this obsession with detail truly kicked in.

For what I did read, I’m not bitch enough to actually attack fanfic writers off, or even feel that they shouldn’t write anything I disagree with…it’s just that I do disagree with a lot of what happens in Gargoyles fanfiction, and there are trends which stand out to me in particular.

Many of these issues boil down to writing Disney gargoyles as, in my friend Greg Bishansky’s words, “humans with wings”. This means removing or ignoring a lot of the gargoyles’ distinct culture or inventing other aspects to it, in order to make them more like modern humans. I can understand the desire to do this, since humans are generally more to what is more like us, and fans could take it as a given that gargoyles would adapt certain things over time as they become more comfortable with the modern world.

However, when precious few American animated series try to develop any kind of culture for their fictional races, it’s annoying to see gargoyles, one of the rare exceptions, so often stripped of their distinguishing characteristics.

For your consideration:

Gargoyles learn to raise their offspring singularly rather than communally because humans taught them it enabled them to truly love their children

This is the biggest issue, though one whose resolution I partially blame the series for awkwardly communicating to the audience. Clans of Disney gargoyles lay their eggs at the same time, and raise their offspring collectively, with little regard for biological parenting. However, the last eggs of Goliath’s clan were raised by humans on Avalon, and there Goliath meets his biological daughter Angela.

Angela, under the influence of her adoptive human parents, starts asking for special emphasis on being his biological daughter, which Goliath is reluctant to give because of unseemly favouritism it shows, and because Angela’s biological mother is the now-villainous Demona. He is made to remember, however, that Angela is the only rookery child traveling with him, and all children demand special treatment from time to time--it’s really no big deal if Angela fusses over the biological connection.

The intent was that Goliath and Angela’s initial conflict is but an idiosyncratic hitch, not a revelation to the gargoyle species that collective raising is cold and de“human”izing. It’s an intent I agree with, because a positive portrayal of collective parenting shows initiative and imagination on co-creator Greg Weisman’s part.

However, a lot of fans seemed to interpret these events to be that sort of revelation I described above, and anticipate future generations of gargoyles to be subsequently raised in nuclear families. I party blame the series for communicating the matter awkwardly, and perhaps not pushing hard enough against the deeply-ingrained belief of the (mostly middle-class American audience) audience that nuclear families were the most loving option.

I’m not too inclined to be generous, though. Besides my preference for the canon, I dislike seeing one of the few attempts at a nonhuman fantasy culture in American animation undermined. It also seems ridiculous that an entire race, the race that viewers are supposed to consider mostly heroic, would then be written as having a culture devoid of parental love.

In addition, it looks completely wrong for a series that condemns bigotry between species and races to have a plot where one species’ parenting methods (humans) are Just Better, and they have to teach the poor, blighted gargoyles how to love their children.

Finally, if I could be Junior Biologist for a second, collective raising makes sense in a species like gargoyles, who live violent lives and can only lay three eggs maximum in their lifetime. It might thus have developed as a species instinct, rather than a preference, and so be difficult to “undo”.

Goliath and Elisa have a biological baby

While normally I dislike the pairing between a male non-human and a female human because of all it suggests about double standards, Gargoyles won my heart with the Goliath/Elisa relationship because, though it was obvious from the start, it took time to grow and be declared, and the story delved into the complexities such a relationship would have. Officially, Goliath and Elisa would always remain different species, and never be able to have children, yet it would be no barrier to their bond.

However, fandom likes to undo this by declaring several possible scenarios that either have one character or the other temporarily or fully become each other’s species, or science/sorcery allowing them to reproduce biologically without shapeshifting.

This agitates me on a different level, since good stories work best with a minimum of free lunches. This gives the characters something to strive against, obstacles to overcome. In this case, we get to see how the couple copes with the fact that they cannot have children by their own blood, and the happy ending is their understanding that it does not matter. To provide Goliath and Elisa with biological offspring would undermine this miniature character arc.

Furthermore, both characters are said to have a strong sense of self, one that prevents either of them from adopting the form of each other’s race. The idea of either character changing species is played with in the episode “The Mirror”, but ultimately the word is that both Goliath and Elisa value their selves, and their other commitments, far too strongly to ever change their species.

Others have also been intelligent enough to point out that any method that would bypass the biological barriers between Goliath and Elisa conceiving would involve parties who could not be trusted, namely fickle magical beings and mad scientists. It only makes sense that the couple would not try these people and decide just to deal with the matter.

By a similar token, gargoyles and humans easily fall in love

A lot of fantasy stories rely on this conceit, but the background of Gargoyles establishes that human/gargoyle pairings are in fact very rare, with one other known besides the Goliath/Elisa pairing.

Gargoyles subversion lends gravitas to the relationship of Goliath and Elisa, if it is so rare; it makes the power of love even stronger. This discrepancy also seems like a more sensible thing when you look past the expectations of fantasy. While the real world has many fans that gladly profess attraction to humanoid supernatural creatures, none of these beings exist in real life, no matter how great the special effects, and so we cannot gauge our true reaction to them. The Gargoyles tradition seems to align more closely with reality.

In the future, either far or near, gargoyles interact freely and openly with humans, including going to night school

This one is a little trickier, since Greg Weisman actually did intend for gargoyles to enter into human education at some point in their future. What I have left to complain about, though, is that fanfic often presents such ventures in a way that is far, far too easy.

Any issues that gargoyles would face when revealed to the human world be much more intense than what other oppressed groups have already faced. And yet most stories that I’ve read make little reference to this, treating it as a matter of course that gargoyles would become part of the world without fuss or muss.

As I said above, stories need a minimum of free lunches to work. The gargoyles should eventually get a chance to venture farther outward into the modern world that eventually knew they existed, but it won’t be easy and it won’t be the same for them as it is for humans. I see a missed story opportunity there, and an attempt to sanitize the story.

Gargoyles wear modern/human clothes

A sub-trope of the modern-world integration is the idea that gargoyles will begin wearing skirts, pants, t-shirts, jackets, and blouses, with a sub-sub trope being East Asian gargoyles wearing the traditional garb of their human culture. There’s not much to say about this except that it further removes gargoyles’ distinctiveness and is unimaginative, and therefore is the enemy. It also seems highly impractical when certain types of clothing would inhibit a gargoyles’ movement.

And yes, I know Brooklyn liked wearing sunglasses and once dressed as a biker, and the young gargoyles love their Halloween costumes…gargoyles wearing modern outfits on occasion is canon. But that doesn’t meant that all of them will adopt that as a permanent style, and I would hate to see it happen.

Gargoyles have human standards of beauty

Disney gargoyles come in all shapes, sizes, and colours. However, some fans like to think that gargoyles of a less humanlike visage are shunned, teased, and bullied by their own kin. Generally, this takes the form of beaked gargoyles being considered hideous and having brutal angst about that. A sub-trope is implying that this is only true for female gargoyles, which makes even less sense than applying it to both genders.

While gargoyles probably have their beauty standards, to say that they would react to the less humanoid gargoyles as humans would react to similar features shows a lack of imagination. The “inhuman” features of gargoyles have been part of their race from the start, and are not abnormalities or deformities. Therefore, the only equivalent to gargoyles considering certain appearances among their own kind to be universally monstrous, would be a universal human prejudice against those with a certain hair or eye colour. It’s just very hard to imagine, and further blurs the line between gargoyle and human.


It’s easy to spot a common thread among all these posts: I like to gargoyles’ distinctiveness, preserved, and to have the series continue to subvert several fantasy tropes that I object to. Without these things, Gargoyles would not be what it is to me.

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