The topics of our two podcasts this week are vastly different from each other, although both are quite well known within their own realms. “Overdue” tackles what is arguably Kurt Vonnegut’s most popular novel, while “The Bechdel Cast” dives into the world of a well-known Disney fairy tale.
“We decided to get unstuck in time,” Craig declares at the beginning of this week’s episode, referring to the famous line from Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five.”
The book follows protagonist Billy Pilgrim throughout his life, from his service in World War II to his career as an optometrist with a wife and children. His life is told out of order, as Billy believes he has experienced time travel as a result of being captured and experimented on by an alien race. The bombing of Dresden during WWII, which Vonnegut himself experienced, acts as a central event in Billy’s life.
While Craig read the book this week, Andrew had read it before — along with conducting this week’s contextual research — so the two of them are able to have a more in-depth conversation than normal.
They discuss the narrative style, which Craig considers akin to “reading a journalist’s account,” given its somewhat detached nature. This connects to the repetition of another famous line of the book, “so it goes,” which appears 106 times within the text. The hosts speculate that the line is a way for the narrator — Vonnegut himself — or Billy to quickly move past a horrific event when there is not enough time to fully process it.
Craig and Andrew then move on to unpacking the time traveling aspect of the text, which has always been considered ambiguous. It is unclear if the reader is meant to believe Billy is literally traveling through time or if it is an illusion caused by his traumatized state, having survived the bombing and the larger war.
Craig believes the time traveling is essentially a personified mental break. He says, “It’s an attempt for him to make sense of what he saw. … How could the world be this bad?”
Andrew agrees: “(The bombing) is such a bad thing that I can tuck it amongst all of these fantastical sci-fi things, and they both seem as unreal as the other.”
Craig adds that Billy may see being kidnapped by aliens as just as plausible as a bombing that killed mostly civilians.
The hosts wrap up by stating that they feel as if they jumped around a lot in topics this episode, with Andrew joking, “We did it okissn purpose. … This is how literary allusions work in the space of podcasts.”
This joke is a nice note to end the episode on, even though their well-thought-out, careful dissection of this complex plot is far from all over the place.
“The Bechdel Cast”
Jamie declares that she still has a “crying response” (in a good way) to this film, despite the heavy critique that is to come. This week’s film is “The Little Mermaid,” a beloved childhood classic to many people, including Jamie. She and Caitlin are joined this week by guest host Clara Pluton, a comedian and podcaster. The well-known plot follows the mermaid Ariel, who dreams of becoming human. She makes a deal with sea witch Ursula to trade in her voice for legs, which allows her to move to land and quickly fall in love with Eric, a human.
The hosts start by addressing some of the fairly wide criticisms that have arisen over the years. Ariel completely changes herself for a man — she literally gives up her voice, and Eric supposedly falls in love with her without knowing anything about this. Jamie notes that, while these are all major issues, there are even more that aren’t as commonly discussed.
The hosts begin with the fact that Ariel starts off as a complex and intellectually curious character interested in learning about a culture that isn’t hers. She acts out against her father, King Triton, with whom she disagrees and who disregards her. This promising beginning is then derailed, as Ariel’s story becomes solely about a man.
Furthermore, there’s the film’s dubious approach to consent. Ariel’s budding relationship with Eric acts as the basis of the very famous song “Kiss the Girl.” In it, Ariel’s crab sidekick Sebastian encourages Eric to kiss Ariel. The song is not only well known but was even nominated for an Academy Award in 1989. The hosts point out the somewhat glaring flaw in the song, which is more apparent today — Ariel already doesn’t have a voice, and her desires are completely disregarded in this scene. One male character is encouraging another male character to take an action that would remove Ariel’s agency.
Finally, the three take issue with Ariel’s familial relationships. While she has many sisters — all of whom are named — she has no storylines with any of them. The sisters are essentially present for no reason, while the significant supporting characters — e.g. Sebastian, Flounder, Scuttle — are all male. Meanwhile, her relationship with her father depicts a controlling, unsupportive bond. King Triton disregards what Ariel says and throws away her prized collections of human knickknacks in a rage. In the end, their conflict is resolved — with Ariel saying she loves him— but the underlying tensions between them are never actually worked through.
The episode ends on somewhat of a bittersweet note, as Jamie remarks that she still loves this film from her childhood but that it has been “decimating the lives of children for going on 30 years.”