On June 23, 2018, Geoff Thew, creator of YouTube channel Mother’s Basement published a video analyzing the problematic social commentary of David Cage’s Detroit: Become Human. Thew details all the consequences of the decisions made for the game, calling Cage out for creating a racial allegory and then trying to deny what he made after it was clear the message of the game was offensive. Watching the second season of Carole and Tuesday, I couldn’t stop thinking about his video.
Carole and Tuesday takes place on Mars in a future where AI is used in every sector, even music production. It follows the titular young women as they pursue a career as musicians without the use of AI. The first season is great coming of age story that culminates in one of the best tournament arcs of any anime I’ve ever seen. It’s also framed as a story about not letting AI rob us of our culture and ingenuity. The second season is a confusing and muddled commentary about politics, immigration, and bigotry.
Tuesday is the daughter of a wealthy politician who runs away from home with her guitar and heads to Alba City to follow her dream of becoming a musician. In the first episode, we see her get into a bit of trouble on her own as she navigates life in the city. At the climax of the pilot, she crosses a bridge where Carole is playing an electric keyboard. Carole is an orphan living on her own and working several jobs to get by. The two are chased off the bridge by a police officer and run to Carole’s house where they write their first song, The Loneliest Girl.
The pair become famous when they sneak into the local arts center so Carole can play a real piano, something she’s never done. A music technician, Roddy, hears them play and records them. The video goes viral and a down on his retired music manager, Gus sees the video, finds the girls, and becomes their manager.
The rest of the first season is a pretty light hearted journey as the pair start their music career and enter the Mars Brightest competition, this universe’s version of American Idol. This is the show’s tournament arc and it’s incredible. It’s basically a string of amazing music videos. Carole and Tuesday meet several other musicians, including perhaps my favorite: OG Bulldog, an operatic gangster rapper.
During the competition, Tuesday is kidnapped by her mother, Valerie, and locked in her room until after an election to save Valerie any scandals. With the help of her brother, Spencer, she manages to escape and make it back to the competition. However, Carole and Tuesday are disqualified for being late, leaving their rival, Angela, to win Mars Brightest. But the crowd is so moved by Carole and Tuesday that the judges issue a second contract to Carole and Tuesday.
It’s a good ending. The first season is a fun coming of age story and I’m sure that kids would watch it and become inspired. Unfortunately, the show gets worse from here. In season two, we find out that Valerie, Tuesday’s mother, isn’t just any evil politician. She’s Donald Trump. Her campaign manager, Jerry, is Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica. Valerie has hired Jerry to use artificial intelligence and sentiment analysis to help her win the election.
We also learn that Earth is not as prosperous as Mars. And that many Earth people seek refuge on Mars. This is also the first moment when I realized that the darker skinned characters are all from Earth, while the lighter skinned characters were born on Mars. It’s not subtle.
On the advice of Jerry, Valerie runs her campaign on an anti-immigration policy. At first, Valerie isn’t keen on the policies. But, she comes around to it when she’s the polls. A journalist, Kyle, takes an interest in Valerie’s campaign. He starts looking into Jerry and the artificial intelligence. After a weather plant, the plant responsible for regulating weather on Mars, is bombed, Valerie sees her support and the support for her anti-immigration policies soar.
Spencer, disgusted by the policies, leaves the campaign and starts working with Kyle to uncover the truth.
Amidst this backdrop, Carole and Tuesday are still trying to become successful musicians. They work with a new producer and Tuesday become friends with Kyle. Meanwhile Carole runs into an old friend from her time in the orphanage. They hang out and he tells her that things are getting worse for immigrants on Mars. There’s a revolution coming and she needs to be prepared.
After several Earth(read: Black) musicians are arrested for speaking out about the Mars government, the girls decide to put on a concert to bring people together. Kyle shows Spencer proof that Jerry was responsible for the bombing and Spencer insists his mother couldn’t have known.
Spencer goes back to work for his mom and try to persuade her. In the climax of the show, Carole and Tuesday assemble every musician we’ve seen in the show while Spencer confronts Valerie about the bombing and Jerry’s involvement. Valerie fires Jerry, telling him “I’m dropping out of the race. I hated that policy of yours. Not having to enact it is more than I could have asked for.”
As the super group performs on the same stage that Carole and Tuesday went viral from, security forces try to shut down the concert. The group sings their new song, Mother, a song about acceptance and leadership.
With the rendition of Mother playing in montage across Mars, the Martian citizens join in support of the Earth immigrants. The show ends with the same line as the opening, “It was more or less a miracle. […] The miracle wasn’t what happened on this stage. I believe the miracle was what happened inside the hearts of every single person who heard this song.”
Let’s start with Valerie. What’s the message here? That if it weren’t for Twitter and Steve Bannon, Donald Trump wouldn’t be a racist, sexist, and homophobe? Or worse, are they saying that he isn’t, but those things are popular and he wants to win? Both of those things are demonstrably untrue by examining even the tiniest amount of Trump’s history. Moreover, they’re offensive to people who’ve watched this president use his office and administration to erode their rights.
Does Carole and Tuesday want us to believe that all Donald Trump needs is to hear a pop song about acceptance and leadership and he’ll suddenly be a good person? There’s also the problem of Spencer and Tuesday. Both are convinced that their mother is not a bad person and will stop once she’s given the truth. The show seems to be saying that Donald Trump would give up bigotry if only Ivanka would persuade him, a thing she has said she can’t do.
The bombing being a false flag operation is the kind of conspiracy theory that would make Alex Jones blush. Does Carole and Tuesday think that the whole problem of racial division was manufactured to rile people up instead of a long running persistent problem that is finally getting sunlight?
I also really hate the finale’s song. This song is so good that it ends racism. Seriously, that’s the message of the final shots of the series. Gus explicitly tells us with his final line that we can end bigotry if we just stop fighting and listen to pop music. What. The. Fuck.
Real world songs about revolution and social change are the capstones of years of struggle, pain, and loss. They are fueled by and reflective of the cultural climate of their times. They aren’t the primary drivers of it.
This show came out last year. So, it’s not explicitly about the Black Lives Matter movement or the reckoning we’re experience with this country’s treatment of Black people. But, the events of this year have showed us peaceful protestors getting gassed, people being beaten by police officers, people run over by bicycle cops, cops driving big SUVs into crowds of people, cops shooting at pregnant women just trying to get home after work. The murders of Black people have gone unanswered by our justice system. But, the solution for that is clearly for Taylor Swift to get her friends together and put on a worldwide concert.
It’s clear that given the events of 2020, this already awful message hasn’t aged well.
I was increasingly angry as the show rapped up. The ending of this show is so irresponsible. I believe that fiction can tell us hard truths. It can show us things about our world. There are people who will excuse Carole and Tuesday’s ending. The first season is a fun and inspiring story about two girls discovering themselves. I know people will think that the similarities to current American politics aren’t commentary. But that’s not true.
Like I said at the beginning of this blog, I couldn’t stop thinking about Geoff’s video. I want to close by paraphrasing something he said: If Carole and Tuesday wanted to use these real world events as window dressing for a story about music bringing people together, that just means that it’s saying everything that it’s saying about Trump, bigotry, and social change accidentally.
It’s irresponsible and hurtful. The messages of this show aren’t good messages. They aren’t an instruction manual for ending bigotry. They’re an excuse for bigotry.
- There are some other issues with Carole & Tuesday. Some have pointed out that the LGBTQ representation, while existant, is very problematic for its use of mental instability as plot devices for these characters
- I actually quite like many of the songs in this show. I think Light A Fire, Love Yourself, The Loneliest Girl, and Army Of Two are great, inspiring, and relatable songs.
- You can watch Geoff Thew’s video here
- Edits have been made for grammar and typos