Review: WTF 101 “Duels”

Close, but no topless princess smoking a cigar.

Overview (Spoilers Below)

In detention this week, Brad and Jason are fighting over what Jason perceives to be Brad’s constant stupidity. Mindy tries to stop them, but Professor Foxtrot thinks that their duel is the exact thing that many of history’s most notable figures did to settle their disputes. The detention gang, sensing one of Professor Foxtrot’s lessons coming on, try to protest, but it’s too late, as the demented educator whisks them back to France during the time of Napoleon.

She discusses how dueling was, in many cultures, legal up until fairly recently, and she goes on to show them one of the most ill-advised duels in history. One of the monarchy’s supporters agrees to tie himself to one of Napoleon’s supporters, and they sit in a carriage while it goes two laps around a fountain. They are also stabbing each other the entire time. A winner is declared, but not without at least six stab wounds in his face, neck, and chest. It’s agreed that this is insanely stupid, and the gang is teleported to early America.

There, Andrew Jackson ‘wins’ a duel by waiting until his opponent, a superior marksman, shoots him in the chest. He is then forced to stand stock-still, while Jackson takes aim and murders the man with a gut shot. Jackson, while the victor, had horrible abscesses from his chest wound for the rest of his life. Mindy declares both of these duels toxic masculinity, so Professor Foxtrot shows her one final duel.

The princess of Lichtenstein and a young new-money upstart engage in a topless swordfight over the flowers at a particular charity gala. The princess wins by stabbing the countess through her arm, and the gang is taken back to the classroom. Professor Foxtrot reveals that today’s lesson is that violence is a part of human nature, and no matter how much we civilize ourselves, the threat of it is always just around the corner.

Our Take

I will say this for WTF 101, it has not gotten stale yet. So far, each episode has improved upon the one before it, going to different and more interesting places. Like last week’s “Abandoned Military Ops”, the specific places in history that the show can go are not only surprising but actually entertaining as well. Whereas in the “Self Experimentation” episode, we covered masochism, and in the “Abandoned Military Ops” show, we covered a jingoistic desire for harm, the sadism in this week’s episode is on full display.

All three of these segments are individually cruel for different reasons. The stabbing duel in the carriage is self-explanatory. Jackson also shows off his tolerance for pain as well as his desire to do harm to others. The princess’s duel is also pretty interesting for its place in history as the first recorded European duel between women. Kudos to whoever is doing WTF 101’s research efforts for picking some cool stuff this time around.

My problems are pretty similar to what they have been the past few episodes, though. The lack of angle in this show continues to be an issue. The show seems to be content to leave the lesson as “violence is omnipresent in human history” and doesn’t really take a stance on it. While it’s interesting to see an educational show that doesn’t moralize the ideas of nonviolence, I worry about its influence in normalizing this kind of amoral behavior in shows that at least purport to be educational.

I also noticed a distinct Occidental bias in these historical examples. While it was fine in the “Abandoned Military Ops” episode (I’m not sure about the declassification policies of other nations), this episode managed to be about duels but didn’t have a single samurai? The preponderance of white people doing foolish and brutal things to each other is interesting, but it denies people of color the agency to do things that are less than noble or useful. I like that the show’s two characters of color defy their stereotypes, but it would do a lot to show that other countries’ histories are just as fraught as our own.

I understand why WTF 101 is backing away from showing historically marginalized cultures as foolish or primitive, but it’s an important part of world history. It’s a fine line to walk, but if WTF 101 wants to present people of color positively, it begins with presenting them as people. The show may surprise me in later episodes, as it does seem to only be getting better, but if WTF 101 continues its historical bent, ignoring nonwhite cultures can be just as harmful as portraying them negatively.

Score
6/10

Zach

Cartoon Philosopher

Zach has 127 posts and counting. See all posts by Zach