The story is hauntingly familiar. A young white man with untreated mental illness enters a school, armed with an assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition.  It’s a news story we come across all too often in America, but this one has a different ending

When 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill entered a Georgia elementary school yesterday, he was prepared to die and to take others down with him. He wasn’t prepared, however, for school clerk Antoinette Tuff to talk him out of the whole thing. Upon seeing the gunman sneak past security, Tuff immediately engaged him in an hour-long conversation that, by its conclusion, ended with discarded weapons, safely evacuated children, and a non-violent arrest of the would-be shooter.   

Heroic Tuff reasoned with a man in the midst of a mental breakdown, telling him about her own life and struggles and reassuring him that he didn’t have to go through with his violent plans. She told him that she loved him and was proud of him after convincing him to drop his weapons, and communicated with the police on his behalf. Hill ended up firing about six shots at policemen, but was ultimately arrested without anyone harmed.

This story and Tuff’s incredible bravery is the just one more reason why “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun,” rhetoric is not only an inaccurate, but a dangerous argument that does nothing to advocate for children’s safety. Armed school guards never would have had the reason, compassion, and sensitivity to protect the school the way that Tuff did. Remember that phrase that every child hears the first time they hit their little brother, “Use your words”? Tuff’s actions imply that perhaps the NRA and legislators should consider that age-old mantra instead. It’s true that this course of action doesn’t apply to all situations— stricter gun laws and better mental health care are a must in this country, too. Ultimately, if we prioritized “a good guy with a gun” as a last resort instead of a first response, there’s no telling how many lives could be saved.

 It should also be noted that because of the non-violent resolution of this almost-catastrophe, Michael Brandon Hill is still alive. He can be questioned, understood, and his illnesses can receive the treatment they require. In our current trigger-happy crime culture we rarely have the opportunity to understand the motivations of our most violent criminals, and therefore are left clueless as to how to foresee and prevent the next tragedy.

For a story with such a horrifically foreboding beginning, the ending is an inspiring relief. Over 800 elementary school children went home safe to their parents that day. Countless lives were saved, including the life of the mentally ill Michael Brandon Hill—who will now rightfully face charges and be afforded his American right of due process, and hopefully receive the treatment he needs to retain stability. The dominant Zimmerman-esque and Stand Your Ground notion that blood and death is the only way to solve conflicts isn’t always true, and we as a society should value and respect the courageous individuals who are the best of the good guys--- the ones who can take on a violent threat without a gun.

Like a good portion of America, I consumed all 13 hours of the new Netflix original series Orange is the New Black within 24 hours of starting the season. Wait… a good portion of America did do that, right? Well anyway, despite my fangirl-ing all over Twitter and Facebook about my love for the show, I’ve noticed that a small yet persistent number of people have yet to dive into the series. This is a grave mistake. Here are five reasons to watch Orange is the New Black (immediately):

1. It’s based on a true story

A privileged white woman gets sent to prison for drug-smuggling crimes from almost a decade prior, is forced to leave behind her fiancé to serve time, and finds herself in the same prison unit as her one-time lesbian lover and former partner in crime. You literally couldn’t make this stuff up (and trust me, the stuff is great). Orange is the New Black is based off of Piper Kerman’s bestselling 2010 memoir of the same title, and the show and its characters are inspired by her true stories and experiences. Kerman was involved in the development of the show, co-writing the material with “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan.

2. It paints a fascinatingly accurate portrait of prison life

…Or so I’ve heard. I’ve never been to prison, but The Washington Post called OITNB “the best TV show about prison ever made,” and the show has a gritty honesty that is both critical of America’s prison system and sensitive to its prisoners. Issues such as drug addictions, abuse, untreated mental illness, racial segregation, mistreatment of trans prisoners, and poor prison conditions are all tackled throughout the show’s hour-long episodes. The show also makes some poignant statements about how our prison system fails to rehabilitate and prepare prisoners for freedom, and the dire consequences of such a fundamentally flawed system.

3. So many strong female characters

It’s a little sad that “strong female characters” is still viewed as a bonus and not a given when considering the representation of women on television, but let’s be real here—in general, mainstream entertainment isn’t quite there yet. OITNB, however, is full of strong female characters--- and not just strong, but dynamic, complex, sexual, flawed, courageous, bat-shit, diverse, resilient, multi-dimensional female characters. The kind of characters that do justice to the actual depth and complexity of real-life women. Sure, a good number of them are significantly quirkier than people you’d regularly encounter, but not a single one comes off as a caricature, and they’re all honest and sympathetic in their own ways. The male characters are also thoroughly well written, making for a pitch-perfect ensemble show.

 4. It’s actually really funny

Orange is the New Black absolutely nails the “comedy-drama” genre. The subject matter and events are often really, really dark--- to the point where you’ll probably feel like you’ve been punched in the stomach at least once per episode. Yet miraculously, and without ever cheapening or trivializing the seriousness of the stories, the show still manages to be hilarious. In a Q & A with the LA Times, Piper Kerman discussed the authenticity of the comic side of prison life by saying, “There’s nothing funny about much of the reality, but there is humor to how people navigate every day to get through there.” The show is witty, creative, and laugh-out-loud funny, and you end up having a real affection and a certain respect for even the nuttiest of characters.

5. It’s available for binge-watching

This is a dangerous one--- I wouldn’t say that I recommend it, but I’m just saying… if you wanted to watch 13 straight hours of OITNB, you can. The whole first season is on Netflix, to be consumed at whatever pace you see fit. My advice would be to take your time with it--- after all, they’re starting to film season 2 next week, which means it might be a frustratingly long time before we get some new material. Take my word for it; finishing this brilliant show in such a short amount of time leaves you in a pretty dark place when you realize there’s nothing left to watch (and that you have to wait many months to see what will come of those insane last few minutes of the finale). But at whatever pace you choose, Orange is the New Black is out there, and it’s ready for you.

I could go on for longer about why you should watch Orange is the New Black, but I think you should let the show speak for itself. I apologize in advance if this encouragement leads to temporary but severe damage to your productivity in work, school, or other real-life responsibilities. Actually, nevermind, I’m not that sorry.

 

“First you were one year old, and then two years old, and then three, and then four… and how old will you be next week?”

“Five!”

It was hard not to listen in on the adorable conversation taking place next to me on the train. The young mother had her son on her lap, and the little boy, though clearly exhausted from a long day, was eager to discuss his upcoming birthday.

“What do you want for your birthday?” his mom asked with a smile. The little boy responded swiftly and with excitement: “A kitchen!”

Then my ears really perked up. I thought of yesterday, when my coworkers at a "Media Summer School" event for underprivileged youth panicked as they thought we had mistakenly bought pink school planners for 14-year-old boys. They’d be humiliated, the other kids would laugh, they wouldn’t want it—they breathed an audible sigh of relief when there were enough black and blue ones to go around.

Now, this little boy was actually asking for a kitchen set—certainly gasp-worthy by that standard of expectation. Having read one too many articles and seeing just enough YouTube videos to know that parents and strangers don’t always take kindly to little boys with “girly” interests, I braced myself for his mother’s response.

“A kitchen? Like your sister?”

The little boy said yes, making clear that he especially wanted a toaster oven. His mother didn’t flinch, and spoke to him in the same loving tone as before.

“Do you want a bike? Or a scooter?”

The young boy, easily distracted, chose a scooter over a bike and wanted some new black sneakers to go with it. They talked about the party he’ll have at the zoo as he drifted off to nap on his mother’s shoulder.

This little conversation was anti-climactic but important. At age four, the little boy admired his sister’s kitchen and had an interest in cooking of his own. And although I have no doubt that this loving mom will make her son very happy for his fifth birthday, I’d be willing to bet he won’t be unwrapping a kitchen set.

And just like that, his interest might fade away. He’ll have fun with his replacement gift, the scooter, and play soccer outside in his new black sneakers, but he won’t learn how to make toast or bake something tasty.

While FOX news pundits (and sadly, many others) may preach that the domestic female and dominant male roles are the natural order and that anything else is “terribly wrong,” there are a million little reminders that it’s not the case. When I was a seven-year-old girl, I sported a “boy haircut” and wore my “Bugle Boy” T-shirt almost every day, ripping the heads off family friends’ Barbies and opting for the Ninja Turtle version of the Polly Pocket (I hope at least a few of you can enjoy these wonderful 90s references). My three-year-old brother was getting his first make-up set and enjoyed wearing his Poison Ivy kids’ costume to the store and my outgrown purple one-piece bathing suit to the pool. He loved dolls, and it was pretty annoying when that one high-tech one glitched and demanded "More blueberries!" in the middle of the night. But none of it was weird to us—like most kids, we knew what we liked and what we wanted for our birthdays. The only difference is that we got what we asked for, whether it was girly, boyish, or anywhere in-between.

My brother’s love for make-up was later complemented by a love for horror movies—he taught himself to make the goriest, most convincing wounds and loved to give my parents and me disturbingly realistic scars, deformities, and injuries. I eventually grew out my hair, outgrew the Bugle Boy shirt, discovered Limited Too (ah, the 90s) and happily embraced strong female role models like orphan Annie, Matilda Wormwood, and the sluething Olsen twins.  

Little did we know, our parents were more clued into our short-lived gender-bending interests than we had been. They had spoken to each other privately about how both my brother and I should be free to love who and what we want to love, and be who we want to be—they even discussed saving up money in case I really wanted to have that sex-change surgery I had been talking about. But it turned out they didn’t have to—though I still feel comfy in boys’ hoodies and have never been one for heels, my brother and I have grown up to be happy in our own skin. Nevertheless, my parents’ unconditional support undoubtedly helped shape the people we are today—well-adjusted, confident, happy with ourselves and open-minded to others’ differences. 

I’ll always be grateful to them for that—for encouraging me and my brother to be ourselves at every stage of life, explore all our interests and form our identities without judgment or pressure to conform. And if I may say so myself, we turned out pretty great (but sometimes I do wish they had drawn the line when I insisted on wearing a hideous red beret in my school picture that same year). 

While I was happy to see the mom on the train not cringing at her son’s “feminine” request, we’d all be better off if parents’ unflinching response to a boy wanting a kitchen could be, “And what color do you want your oven to be?” When a boy asks for a kitchen, that doesn’t make him weird—but it could be the start of a future Top Chef, or at the very least, a very happy boy who gets to unwrap the perfect gift on his birthday. Steering kids towards normative gender roles doesn’t right any wrongs; their beautifully curious and open minds haven’t committed any wrongs to be righted. While my tomboy phase was temporary, other children have different journeys in forming their gender identities-- and all parents should embrace their children for whatever path they take. Maybe then we’d have 14-year-old boys confident enough that they wouldn’t have their livelihoods crushed by an association with the color pink, and adults who could celebrate diversity rather than use their differences as weapons against others. 

Buy the boy the damn kitchen.  

They’ve always been around. Ripping the newspaper to shreds in an angry rage. Pacing in their living rooms, fuming and ranting at the radio. Cursing at the television set. But in the new age of Twitter, they’ve gotten stronger, meaner, more powerful than ever. One off-handed utterance can have them on you like fleas, and with a fiery wrath that would scare the devil himself. Beware: The Patriotism Police.

Who are The Patriotism Police? They can be anyone. Maybe your neighbor is part of the force. Maybe your coworker—the one that brought those mysteriously tasty lemon bars to the office. It could even be your own mother.  The Patriotism Police may be diverse, but they are united by a single goal: to virtually destroy any celebrity, public figure, or individual that dares to speak of “America” in any other format than with the conventional prefix of “God Bless.”

Their most recent target is Adam Levine, the lead singer of Maroon 5. On last night’s episode of The Voice, on which Levine is a judge and mentor, two out of his three “team members” were voted off by American voters. With great disappointment in the result, he muttered the words, “I hate this country.” Of course, he wasn’t really making a political declaration—rather, it was more of a sore loser reaction to the fact that “America” didn’t put his favorite singers through in the competition. But for this, some members of The Patriotism Police suggested that Levine should be fired from his judging position and deported from the United States, taking his Twitter feed by storm with a quest for vengeance.

Monday, it was Lena Dunham. The Girls creator, producer, writer, director, and star, who is already known to make controversial remarks on her Twitter account, tweeted “Happy Memorial Day! I’ve already peed in two different Starbucks bathrooms!” While many would argue that this irreverent comment was more random than it was offensive, The Patriotism Police responded with accusations of “Traitor!”, and one went so far as to wish breast cancer upon her in punishment.

This is nothing new. Any public figure perceived as “unpatriotic” will suffer the same fate. And this hypersensitivity to anything but blind patriotism exists outside the scope of celebrities and twitter accounts—most average Americans also face the pressure.  We are allowed to criticize the President, the Congress, our laws, our wars, our citizens—hey, that’s freedom of speech. But criticize “America,” “this country,” or any other empty signifier that takes an all-encompassing view of the nation? How dare you. To The Patriotism Police, “America” is not about a functioning government with ever-changing policies, views, and people—it is a deity.

Why must “America” exist as an untouchable entity? Maybe it gives The Patriotism Police a false sense of contribution--- many of them do nothing to help those in need, and they may support politicians and policies that actively cause suffering both in and outside of our borders, but at least they can confidently say they do their part to protect “America,” against perceived villainous tweets and reality competition show sound bites. Or maybe it’s a matter of security—we may have our problems that sweep the news every day, but at the end of the day it’s still “America.” And America is flawless.

What people seem to be missing is that criticizing “America,” may be exactly what America needs sometimes. This isn’t about Levine or Dunham (neither of their comments were remotely profound, though hardly destructive either), but it’s about the need to take away our country’s baby blanket and allow it the same scrutiny we allow our other relationships. Whether it’s a frivolous tweet or a truly genuine rant against the state of our affairs, we should be able to discuss “America” in other contexts than that of blind patriotism.

We regularly criticize, battle, judge, and critique our family, our best friends, and our romantic partners, holding them to standards we believe they should achieve. We should be able to do the same for our country without fear of The Patriotism Police’s millennial version of tar and feathering. “America” is just a word, but censoring the ability to critically engage with it is hardly a noble cause.

It’s time to end the “unpatriotic” rhetoric. America has a thick skin—the country, our government, and we the people will survive whether or not Adam Levine’s singers go home or Lena Dunham pees in a Starbucks. If someone can’t even make a light-hearted 140-character joke, how can we expect people to hear larger, and potentially hugely important, critiques of our country? We need to stop the knee-jerk ear-covering, pointing, and shouts of “traitor!”. Sometimes America’s critics might have something valuable to say, and the boldest patriots should be those who are willing to listen.

Since its HBO debut in 2012, Lena Dunham’s Girls has become a platform for cultural debate. Dunham’s often self-referential character, Hannah, is one of the most divisive leading characters that has ever been on television—some see her as unlikable and selfish, while others view her struggles with relationships, friendships, work, and self-fulfilment as widely representative of millennial life. Her trademark sex scenes are considered brave by some, unnecessarily excessive by others, and have sparked widespread dialogue about young adults’ sexuality and the impact of porn culture. After two Golden Globe wins, a renewed third season, and achieving acclaimed cultural relevance, it must have come as a shock to Lena Dunham to hear that her complicated, political, and personal comedy-drama is now being adapted to a Hustler porn parody.

In the Girls porn parody, titled This Ain’t Girls XXX, Hannah supposedly leaves her boyfriend Adam, denouncing men and experimenting with women before eventually returning to her man. Richie Calhoun, who plays Adam in the parody, said “they didn’t have to do much” to adapt the original material to pornography due to the show’s frequent sexual themes.

Dunham first tweeted about the news of the porn parody yesterday morning, expressing her unhappiness by saying she wishes she “had a better attitude” about the situation.

A full twelve hours later, she took to Twitter again in a series of five tweets, clarifying why she is particularly disturbed over This Ain't Girls XXX, and why she feels it’s worthy of discussion.

First of all, good for Lena Dunham for returning to the subject after her initial “I’m just a crazy emotional girl with no sense of humor” response. It’s what many people are sure to tell her--- that it was bound to happen, to take it as a compliment, to laugh it off, or that the amount of sex and nudity in Girls itself is already comparable to porn. But Dunham is right to value and validate her concerns, even if her critics will likely write them off as a “bad attitude.”

She’s also right about why she shouldn’t just “laugh off” the Girls porn parody. Girls, in many ways, holds a mirror to society and millennial culture, revealing, scrutinizing, and critiquing the complexities of modern young adult life. The cringe-worthy sex scenes and rocky relationships unpack the harmful myths about sex and sexuality created and perpetuated by pornography; Adam’s tendency to sexually degrade his partners, Hannah’s psychosis over being “13 pounds overweight,” Shoshanna’s shame over being a 21-year-old virgin, and many other elements embody the notion “the personal is political.”

If Girls holds a critical mirror to society, This Ain’t Girls XXX is like a twisted funhouse mirror, absorbing Dunham’s personal and political subject matter and spitting it back out into the same recognizably harmful narrative that necessitated its very creation. It’s like taking an anti-war film and adapting it for the latest bloodthirsty version of the Call of Duty video game.  

The good thing is that with or without a porn parody, Girls continues to make its statement. The even better thing is that Lena Dunham can express herself in two worlds—the world through her characters’ eyes in Girls, and in the real world, where her personal voice as an artist has come to be respected as well. For Dunham to openly discuss the political and feminist nature of her show, especially in the wake of its porn parody, shines light on the unique gravitas of her work—and why its continuing success is more important than ever.  

In a move that is nothing short of formulaic, Seth Meyers is the new face of NBC’s Late Night. Just like his Late Night predecessor, Jimmy Fallon, Meyers is best known for delivering satirical news reports for SNL’s Weekend Update. And just like Jimmy Fallon, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, David Letterman, Craig Ferguson, and every other major network’s late night talk show host for the last 30+ years, he’s a middle-aged white guy.

With Fallon taking Jay Leno’s Tonight Show spot and Meyers stepping up to the Late Night plate, this shift (I’d hesitate to use the more significant word ‘change’) is an unsurprisingly disappointing move to the many people who know that plenty of funny, smart, and prime time-worthy individuals exist outside of the middle-aged white guy mold. In the weeks leading up to the announcement, many news outlets speculated about NBC’s opportunity to break from its boring tradition—suggesting qualified and deserving comedians like Amy Sedaris, Wanda Sykes, Aziz Ansari, Ellen DeGeneres, Amy Poehler, Melissa McCarthy, Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, Tina Fey, and Kenan Thompson. Any one of these names would have offered a fresh break from what CNN called the “white-guy-in-a-suit-sitting-behind-the-desk tradition” that has dominated for over 30 years.

But sadly, and without any offense to the admittedly funny Seth Meyers, NBC took the predictable route in hiring what’s basically a carbon copy of the status quo. Meanwhile, funny women remain banished to daytime talk shows and half-hour shows on less popular networks. As Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film said earlier to CNN, "Perception is reality. I think the perception is still that a network show is higher in status than a cable show, and that those higher status positions remain reserved for primarily white males." It’s a shame and a disappointment that NBC continues to perpetuate this twisted form of reality in which white guys are the only ones worthy of primetime fame.

The good news is, although white males may dominate the primetime talk show scene, there are other options for viewers who seek insightful comedy and wit from a more diverse set of personalities. Supplement talk shows with Veep, the HBO comedy starring the hilarious Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which makes a delightful mockery of the behind-the-scenes problems of political public relations. Chelsea Handler has had her own talk show on E! since 2007, and although it runs only 30 minutes, the nightly show regularly features diverse panels of smart comedians and Chelsea’s reliably funny dry humor. Watch Parks and Recreation and The Mindy Project, and DVR Ellen, who has some of the funniest, most moving, and most important segments shown on TV. 

It’s not hard to find proof that gut-busting comedy is not only a white man’s domain. If the late night talk shows of major television networks don’t reflect that, I know I’ll be looking elsewhere. 

Cornell University has taken the spotlight a few times this year for instances of rape and sexual assault on campus, but last week’s arrest of wrestler Peter Mesko was the first time an alleged perpetrator was identified. So why does the media put the victim on trial? 

According to court papers, a Cornell University student awoke in the middle of the night to find herself being raped by a total stranger.  She screamed and woke up her girlfriend, and they both were able to run away and lock themselves in another room. The victim’s girlfriend was able to snap a photo of the attacker, and they were later able to identify the assailant as Peter Mesko, who has since been arrested and charged with first-degree rape.

As the media covers this developing case, the Associated Press’s account, which has been published in The Huffington Post, USA Today, Fox News, The Washington Post, and other mainstream media outlets, includes one particularly eyebrow-raising detail from the night of the incident:

“Court papers said the two women had gone out for drinks Friday night, and the alleged victim told police she had had two beers, a shot of tequila and a whiskey and Coke.”

More local coverage also included this tidbit, including Cornell’s university newspaper, which stated:

“The victim consumed two beers, a shot of tequila and a whiskey and Coke, and was ‘moderately intoxicated,’ according to court documents. Still, the victim told police, ‘I remember the entire night and purchased my own drinks.’”

Though none of these articles directly place blame on the victim, I find it deeply troubling that the victim’s alcohol consumption that night was even considered relevant to report. What’s most disturbing is that this inclusion wasn’t random—it’s part of a normalized cycle of rape coverage that judges and scrutinizes victims in ways that would be unheard of for any other sort of crime. Victim blaming has apparently become so engrained in rape investigations and coverage that a victim can be randomly attacked by an intruder in the middle of the night and still have her own actions and decisions called into question for judgment, and it says a lot about rape culture that the world’s largest news wire service finds it necessary to publish these irrelevant details. I’m actually surprised they failed to mention whether or not she was wearing sexy pajamas.

What if the victim had been totally drunk during the attack? Would that have changed the fact that a stranger entered her room and raped her in her sleep? Many other rape victims don’t fit so clearly into the ‘ideal victim’ narrative of being attacked by a total stranger. Some rape victims are blackout drunk, others are friends or in relationships with their assailants, some are wearing “slutty” clothes, or walking alone too late at night—and these victims would probably have an even harder time finding justice. Giving weight to these unrelated details slowly blurs the line between what is and isn’t viewed as “real” victimization, and it shouldn’t. Eventually, it spreads the message that unless you’re a chaste, white grandmother walking home mid-afternoon after church, you better watch the way you act just in case a man decides to rape you later. That makes the world a pretty scary place for women.

Women should be able to get drunk, stay out late, wear what they want, and know that these decisions have absolutely no impact on whether or not they consent to sex. Yet still women are told over and over by the media, by the police, and by society that these things matter. After this case, my question for the Associated Press is this: did you have six beers, two tequila shots, and a whiskey and Coke before you decided to turn a blind eye to your role in rape culture? 

If you were spared from following yesterday’s most idiotic news, you might not know that some people have boldly decided to #boycottgoogle. Why? Because yesterday, on Easter Sunday, the search engine’s ‘Google Doodle’ wasn’t eggs and bunnies.

Instead of featuring an Easter ‘doodle,’ Google instead paid tribute to Cesar Chavez, the Latino American civil rights activist and labor leader. Cesar Chavez Day is an official March 31st holiday recognizing Chavez’s legacy of educational, environmental, and civil rights leadership. But despite the fact that Chavez dedicated his life to improving the lives of thousands of workers, it is important to note that he is still not bunnies.

I’d say the outrage that ensued is too dumb for words, but as a blogger, I can think of some.

Undertones of ignorance and racism are undeniably present in these #boycottgoogle tweets. Some people have condemned Google’s decision to honor a Venezuelan dictator (because anyone with the same last name is obviously the same person, just look at George and Denzel Washington!). Another guy tweeted, “#google honors #Chavez on easter, who knew google is anti-american?” Over at The American Conservative, Rod Dreher says, “Google could have ignored Easter, and nobody would have noticed. But choosing to observe something other than Easter on Easter Sunday is deliberate,” later going on to call Chavez “a relatively obscure cultural figure.” I’d like to offer some advice to these people: Wikipedia.

These lamentations make the writers’ prejudices extremely transparent. Many seem to have heard a Spanish name that they didn’t recognize, and without further inquiry, labelled his recognition as “Anti-American.” No matter, of course, that Chavez was an American, whose contributions to American society left a legacy to make the country “stronger, more just, and more prosperous,” in the words of President Obama. And yet, people suggest that they’d rather Google have done nothing than honor his legacy when the holiday fell on Easter Sunday.

As I see conservative sites and tweeters rail against Google’s act of “hostility,” “dishonor,” and “disrespect,” to Christians, I can’t help but hear distant echoes of, “And why can’t we have a white history month?” Somehow, their twisted logic insinuates that, despite the fact that white Christians hold the majority of power in America, a failure to further advertise their dominant religious beliefs is not only unacceptable, but also actually “intolerant.” To claim that Christian holidays, and Easter in particular, are not given enough widespread recognition is like calling for a “Men’s Appreciation Day.” Easter is already everywhere—it’s at Chipotle, when I desperately want a burrito and remember the store is closed. It’s at the supermarket, when aisles of snacks are dominated by chocolate eggs and marshmallow Peeps for the entire month. It’s in schools, when kids learn the story of Easter as if it were a history lesson while the non-Christian kids sit quietly and pretend to be invisible.  It’s true—for a country without a national religion, Easter has already infiltrated American culture whether or not it is recognized by a pastel-colored search engine.

At the end of the day, if you want to #boycottgoogle and start using Bing, go for it. Bing was the default browser back in my unfortunate Blackberry days and was the bane of my existence, but I hope you have a great time. But if you do get around to that Wikipedia search, you might want to note that Cesar Chavez’s activism included a 25 day fast to promote nonviolence, leading a five year strike for worker’s rights, and organising the largest farm worker strike in U.S. history. But of course, your switch from Google to Bing is very brave. 

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has never shied away from controversy. The events that unfold in the show’s sex crimes unit are admittedly and proudly “ripped from the headlines,” and whether the assailant is a fictionalized Jerry Sandusky or Chris Brown, the show’s unsubtle nods to current events can be quite powerful. In Wednesday night’s episode, a Congressman and quack doctor took the stand in a rape case to share his “expert” knowledge about how the female body has ways of “shutting down” pregnancy in instances of “legitimate rape.” Sound familiar?

The weekly show always opens with the line, “This story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event,” but after 14 years of covering topical subjects and mirroring real-life incidents, this statement should really come accompanied with a winky face. This week’s episode, titled “Legitimate Rape,” executes a pretty straightforward evisceration of conservative politician Todd Akin and other rape apologists who use de-bunked “scientific” evidence to blame the victim. The show brings the conservative politician’s faulty and offensive remarks front-and-center, exposing the blatant ignorance and thinly veiled misogyny that underlie these claims.

In “Legitimate Rape,” a popular sports reporter (Lauren Cohan) accuses her cameraman of rape and stalking, and later finds out she’s pregnant with his child. Bringing the rape to court destroys her career and personal life, and when her rapist decides to act as his own lawyer, she is forced to endure his subtle tactics of harassment and degradation publicly in the courtroom.  Her rapist calls in an “expert,” who flies in from out of town because he’s so passionate about the issue of “women lying” about rape.

Under cross-examination, the “expert knowledge” of the Congressman sporting a red tie and American flag pin unsurprisingly falls apart— citing the extensive research that has since de-bunked the doctor’s decades-old research, the prosecutor proves instead that women are just as likely to get pregnant from rape as they are from consensual sex. When the Congressman refutes by saying that women are less likely to conceive under stress, the prosecutor forces him to clarify that the research indicates that is only true for long-term stress, not short-term stress that would result from situations of rape.

But the Congressman’s words were enough to sway a single juror, which proves to be enough to get a rapist acquitted. After his acquittal, the rapist sues for custody rights and uses the victim’s subsequent PTSD and anti-depressant use to argue that she’s an unfit mother, successfully winning visitation rights with the infant. 

The episode shines a harsh light on the significant role that conservative politics play in perpetuating rape culture. The episode also makes a more timely reference to a New Mexico bill that would criminalize abortion for rape victims, hinting that Akin’s gaffe was not a one-off flub, but rather one of many instances that reveal that victim-blaming is embedded in right-wing ideology.

Of course, real-life conservatives claim to be the real victims of Dick Wolf’s Law & Order: SVU. Right-wingers have hated the show for years, stating that the show exploits current events to “promote liberal agendas and to bash Christians.” It’ll be interesting to see how those conservatives respond to this episode, seeing as a nearly verbatim delivery and factual deconstruction of Akin’s remarks is all that it took to so-called “promote the liberal agenda.”

 If right-wing conservatives don’t like being “victimized” by a prime-time entertainment television show, they may want to consider how much worse it must feel to, well, actually be a victim. When a little empathy and science seems to promote your enemy’s agenda, then you’re probably doing it wrong.  

Critics of the first season of Lena Dunham’s Girls moaned about privilege and “first world problems.” Others heralded its 26-year-old creator as “the voice of a generation.” The show won two Golden Globe Awards. After the buzz around its controversial inaugural season, the ten-episode second season couldn’t have been more highly anticipated.

Season one of Girls was hilarious. Remember “The Crackcident,” when the high-strung Shoshanna accidentally smoked crack at a party and then attacked Ray on the streets of Brooklyn while wearing only underwear?  And all those times Hannah ruined her chances of a career, from the failed rape joke at a job interview to that time she propositioned her overweight, married, too-friendly boss for sex because she thought it would make a good story? Season one was not all jokes and gags, but humor was sprinkled all over—Hannah once confronted Adam about how terrible he makes her feel, but did so with horribly drawn on eyebrows that made the whole thing a little ridiculous.  Jessa needed an abortion, but luckily got her period before anything got to be too much of a downer. Season one touched upon serious problems, insecurities, and issues without ever abandoning the comedy genre for which it ended up winning the Golden Globe.

Season two had a noticeable shift, one that got stronger and more intense as the season went on. Things got pretty dark, and writer and producer Lena Dunham didn’t lean on comedy much to lighten the mood. At first it was a lot to take in, and made a lot of people pretty angry (“But that episode wasn’t even funny!”). But Dunham is a smart writer, and trusted her audience enough to allow the show to take a slightly different path. The characters’ serious flaws, which we saw highlighted and exposed all throughout season one, finally brought on some real-life consequences. Jessa’s spontaneous wedding crumbled and caused her real pain, and Marnie lost her job, and more difficultly, her sense of identity. Shoshanna’s first love ended up becoming much less idyllic than she had probably imagined on her “manifestation board.” Adam and Ray, who had once been pretty obnoxious supporting characters, came through to show some serious complexities and vulnerabilities. And Hannah, overcome with pressure, loneliness, and a lack of support, re-developed horrible symptoms of OCD that destroyed some of her adolescent years.

The “first world problems” critics have been pretty silent—maybe because they’ve just lost interest in the show, but more likely because the characters in Girls are no longer so enviable. Hannah may have a nice apartment to herself in Brooklyn, but after the last few episodes, would anyone seriously volunteer to trade lives with her? Although some fans may get nostalgic for the good old days when Shoshanna analyzed Jerry Springer's dating show Baggage and Marnie and Hannah flung toothbrushes at each other after a passive aggressive girl fight, Lena Dunham’s bold decision to reduce the blatant humor and amplify the characters’ problems had an enormous payoff. Fans are hooked on the characters, and now Dunham has the artistic license to take greater writing risks, transform the mood of the show and introduce gritty darkness without any punch line guaranteed.

If the first season could be characterized as a comedy sprinkled with tragedy, the second was a tragedy with a dusting of humor. But last night’s finale left us with some salient developments for the leading characters, perhaps misleadingly indicating a light at the end of the tunnel for some. Marnie attempts to find herself again by reuniting with Charlie, but it’s hard to believe that their fairy-tale happy ending is going to be the end of their tumultuous story.  Shoshanna can’t bear the loss of her innocence, crushing Ray and moving on to turn over a new leaf in her young life. Hannah and Adam’s reunion was a long time coming, but they both have plenty of healing to do.

This progression in powerful writing is reflected in HBO’s decision to renew the show for a third season and extend the new season’s length from ten to 12 episodes. If last night’s season finale was any indication, it seems that the third season will have quite a bit of “picking up the pieces,” as each character seems to be finding new ways to move forward, or as Shoshanna coined it, they’ll each embark on some form of “personal renaissance.” Now that Lena Dunham has played with comedy and toyed with tragedy, often sewn together in poignant and unfailingly realistic displays, one can only wait and see what she has in store for the third time around.