My Least Favorite Trope (and this post will include spoilers for The Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Matrix, Western Civilization, and—cod help me—Bulletproof Monk*.) is the thing where there’s an awesome, smart, wonderful, powerful female character who by all rights ought to be the Chosen One and the hero of the movie, who is tasked with taking care of some generally ineffectual male character who is, for reasons of wish fulfillment, actually the person the film focuses on. She mentors him, she teaches him, and she inevitably becomes his girlfriend… and he gets the job she wanted: he gets to be the Chosen One even though she’s obviously far more qualified. And all he has to do to get it and deserve it is Man Up and Take Responsibility.
And that’s it. Every god-damned time. The mere fact of naming the films above and naming the trope gives away the entire plot and character arc of every single movie.
i don’t want to be that guy but i get really weirdly offended and upset when people’s harry potter universe headcanons don’t take into account that the british/european use of magic would be this super colonialist fucked up thing? the assumption that every culture would have their own schools where they’re doing flippendo and wingardium leviosa and being all happy and harmonic and shit is just bonkers to me
like, let’s take the example of the united states alone:
european wizards arriving in america, assuming the native population doesn’t even know magic, what savages! they don’t know what a wand is? they are like children! only to learn otherwise, and to immediately view these populations as a threat, to use their powers on eradicating this strange new magic they do not understand. if they cannot teach them, they will destroy them
american wizards focusing their magic on new kinds of spells, spells of war and violence, trying to prove their european counterparts less worthy. they will rise as a power or they will fall. the threads of older european spells being woven into new blunter magic, bolder and simpler, more brutally effective
indian boarding schools where european wizard missionaries are cutting off the sacred hair of the sons and daughters of shamans and telling them they have to use a wand, forcing them to say the spells of latin origins, punishing them for practicing magic in the way they learned from their grandmothers and their people, saying there is only one way to do magic and any other way is dirty, undesirable, invalid
an immense and frighteningly more efficient magical slave trade, targeting the magic of africa. building plantations on black bodies, slaveowners using magic in unspeakable ways, cutting out tongues for the speaking of the name oya, burning flesh when offerings to damballah are discovered. voodoo evolving in the darkness, condemned by white wizards as unworthy magic, demonized as lowly and dangerous just as the white wizards will come to demonize the brujas, the curanderos, to commit massacres during candomble ceremonies
eradicating entire languages of magic, separating children from families so that there is no lineage to pass down their ways, destroying magical histories and cultures and kinships
and these magics surviving in spite of it
so no, i don’t think that all wizards and witches born in the united states will attend the salem institute of magic. i think there is all kinds of magic in this country and some will never attend an institute to learn magic, because it is not their way. some will learn from grandmothers and aunts and fathers and community leaders. some will be the children of immigrants, pressured into the american wizarding dream, feeling like they’ve disappointed their parents when they go with their friends to buy wands. schools of magic will recruit heavily for wizards of color, wizenkin from impoverished areas, but they will not be able to deny their roots as for and about powerful white wizarding families. schools built on the grounds of plantations will fight to keep their magic classes from being integrated. old new england schools will still cultivate their image as enclaves for the pastel-wearing descendants of european pure blood families. schools founded by radical wizarding folk, by magical people of color or magic folks in poor areas will get little funding, be seen as less legitimate than the old standards. rural wizards and appalachian wizards barely acknowledging schooling as an option at all. it will be messy and classist and racist as fuck
I asked seven anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians if they would rather have been a typical Indian or a typical European in 1491. None was delighted by the question, because it required judging the past by the standards of today—a fallacy disparaged as “presentism” by social scientists. But every one chose to be an Indian. Some early colonists gave the same answer. Horrifying the leaders of Jamestown and Plymouth, scores of English ran off to live with the Indians. My ancestor shared their desire, which is what led to the trumped-up murder charges against him—or that’s what my grandfather told me, anyway.
As for the Indians, evidence suggests that they often viewed Europeans with disdain. The Hurons, a chagrined missionary reported, thought the French possessed “little intelligence in comparison to themselves.” Europeans, Indians said, were physically weak, sexually untrustworthy, atrociously ugly, and just plain dirty. (Spaniards, who seldom if ever bathed, were amazed by the Aztec desire for personal cleanliness.) A Jesuit reported that the “Savages” were disgusted by handkerchiefs: “They say, we place what is unclean in a fine white piece of linen, and put it away in our pockets as something very precious, while they throw it upon the ground.” The Micmac scoffed at the notion of French superiority. If Christian civilization was so wonderful, why were its inhabitants leaving?
Like people everywhere, Indians survived by cleverly exploiting their environment. Europeans tended to manage land by breaking it into fragments for farmers and herders. Indians often worked on such a grand scale that the scope of their ambition can be hard to grasp. They created small plots, as Europeans did (about 1.5 million acres of terraces still exist in the Peruvian Andes), but they also reshaped entire landscapes to suit their purposes. A principal tool was fire, used to keep down underbrush and create the open, grassy conditions favorable for game. Rather than domesticating animals for meat, Indians retooled whole ecosystems to grow bumper crops of elk, deer, and bison. The first white settlers in Ohio found forests as open as English parks—they could drive carriages through the woods. Along the Hudson River the annual fall burning lit up the banks for miles on end; so flashy was the show that the Dutch in New Amsterdam boated upriver to goggle at the blaze like children at fireworks. In North America, Indian torches had their biggest impact on the Midwestern prairie, much or most of which was created and maintained by fire. Millennia of exuberant burning shaped the plains into vast buffalo farms. When Indian societies disintegrated, forest invaded savannah in Wisconsin, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Texas Hill Country. Is it possible that the Indians changed the Americas more than the invading Europeans did? “The answer is probably yes for most regions for the next 250 years or so” after Columbus, William Denevan wrote, “and for some regions right up to the present time.”
Quoted from the essay "1941" written by Charles C. Mann, about the major impact that Native Americans had on the Americas (ecologically and culturally) before white people invaded, bringing their diseases and shoving Christianity down the Indians’ throats and murdering them and banning their cultures.
Check out the whole piece (which is rather long). (P.S thanks to @cazalis for sending me this great link)
Human history, in Crosby’s interpretation, is marked by two world-altering centers of invention: the Middle East and central Mexico, where Indian groups independently created nearly all of the Neolithic innovations, writing included. The Neolithic Revolution began in the Middle East about 10,000 years ago. In the next few millennia humankind invented the wheel, the metal tool, and agriculture. The Sumerians eventually put these inventions together, added writing, and became the world’s first civilization. Afterward Sumeria’s heirs in Europe and Asia frantically copied one another’s happiest discoveries; innovations ricocheted from one corner of Eurasia to another, stimulating technological progress. Native Americans, who had crossed to Alaska before Sumeria, missed out on the bounty. “They had to do everything on their own,” Crosby says. Remarkably, they succeeded.
When Columbus appeared in the Caribbean, the descendants of the world’s two Neolithic civilizations collided, with overwhelming consequences for both. American Neolithic development occurred later than that of the Middle East, possibly because the Indians needed more time to build up the requisite population density. Without beasts of burden they could not capitalize on the wheel (for individual workers on uneven terrain skids are nearly as effective as carts for hauling), and they never developed steel. But in agriculture they handily outstripped the children of Sumeria. Every tomato in Italy, every potato in Ireland, and every hot pepper in Thailand came from this hemisphere. Worldwide, more than half the crops grown today were initially developed in the Americas.
Maize, as corn is called in the rest of the world, was a triumph with global implications. Indians developed an extraordinary number of maize varieties for different growing conditions, which meant that the crop could and did spread throughout the planet. Central and Southern Europeans became particularly dependent on it; maize was the staple of Serbia, Romania, and Moldavia by the nineteenth century. Indian crops dramatically reduced hunger, Crosby says, which led to an Old World population boom.
Along with peanuts and manioc, maize came to Africa and transformed agriculture there, too. “The probability is that the population of Africa was greatly increased because of maize and other American Indian crops,” Crosby says. “Those extra people helped make the slave trade possible.” Maize conquered Africa at the time when introduced diseases were leveling Indian societies. The Spanish, the Portuguese, and the British were alarmed by the death rate among Indians, because they wanted to exploit them as workers. Faced with a labor shortage, the Europeans turned their eyes to Africa. The continent’s quarrelsome societies helped slave traders to siphon off millions of people. The maize-fed population boom, Crosby believes, let the awful trade continue without pumping the well dry.
Back home in the Americas, Indian agriculture long sustained some of the world’s largest cities. The Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán dazzled Hernán Cortés in 1519; it was bigger than Paris, Europe’s greatest metropolis. The Spaniards gawped like hayseeds at the wide streets, ornately carved buildings, and markets bright with goods from hundreds of miles away. They had never before seen a city with botanical gardens, for the excellent reason that none existed in Europe. The same novelty attended the force of a thousand men that kept the crowded streets immaculate. (Streets that weren’t ankle-deep in sewage! The conquistadors had never heard of such a thing.) Central America was not the only locus of prosperity. Thousands of miles north, John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, visited Massachusetts in 1614, before it was emptied by disease, and declared that the land was “so planted with Gardens and Corne fields, and so well inhabited with a goodly, strong and well proportioned people … [that] I would rather live here than any where.”
and another excerpt:
In as yet unpublished research the archaeologists Eduardo Neves, of the University of São Paulo; Michael Heckenberger, of the University of Florida; and their colleagues examined terra preta in the upper Xingu, a huge southern tributary of the Amazon. Not all Xingu cultures left behind this living earth, they discovered. But the ones that did generated it rapidly—suggesting to Woods that terra preta was created deliberately. In a process reminiscent of dropping microorganism-rich starter into plain dough to create sourdough bread, Amazonian peoples, he believes, inoculated bad soil with a transforming bacterial charge. Not every group of Indians there did this, but quite a few did, and over an extended period of time.
When Woods told me this, I was so amazed that I almost dropped the phone. I ceased to be articulate for a moment and said things like “wow” and “gosh.” Woods chuckled at my reaction, probably because he understood what was passing through my mind. Faced with an ecological problem, I was thinking, the Indians fixed it. They were in the process of terraforming the Amazon when Columbus showed up and ruined everything.
People always seem to just run with the idea that “all interpretations are true”, but forget the corollary that “all interpretations are true so long as they’re rational and you can derive it from evidence in the text”. And by this, I mean that there’s a limit to fan interpretations/theories/headcanons that you can come up with before it sounds like you’re talking about a whole different work entirely.