Saying goodbye to The Nightly Show 

Larry Wilmore’s Comedy Central talk show might not have found a lot of viewers. It might’ve been a bit odd; a meandering change of pace compared to the quick zingers that flew from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for all those years. But it shouldn’t have been cancelled. 

This is not a unique opinion. Since the news broke yesterday many people have bemoaned the fact that the late night landscape has a hole, and as a whole is that much whiter. Clearly not enough for Comedy Central to count them as viewers, but not an insignificant number. 

From my view, The Nightly Show was trying to do something no one else was. Like the best of The Daily Show alum from its prime in the aughts, Wilmore adopted the humor and insightfulness of his time with Jon Stewart but recalibrated it into a new format and a different style of talk show. The result was unique: Like Last Week Tonight or Full Frontal, Wilmore was able to use talk show set ups and comedy people were familiar with to discuss similar issues. To some it seemed light on jokes. And it was arguably not going to reach the people it should’ve, but for once there was someone consistently “reporting” and doing in depth discussions on the major issues of the day. Often the show dealt with the racial inequality and police violence that has been at the forefront of American politics for two years. Wilmore and his gaggle of guests never had to shy away from topics, they only needed to illuminate them. 

Any problems with The Nightly Show itself could’ve been overcome had there been a stronger base supporting it. By which I mean, The Colbert Report could count on at least some built in, carry over audience from The Daily Show; Jon Stewart even threw to him at the end so audiences could get a taste. But since Stewart’s departure and Trevor Noah’s time at the helm, TDS has lost its cultural foothold. In an election year it used to be a thriving factory of jokes and burns. Now it’s barely on the radar. 

Whil Wilmore’s format might’ve been a bit too fresh, his topics a bit hot button, his jokes a bit drawn apart, I’m guessing audiences could’ve ultimately found time to adjust, as they did when Colbert went full into character on his own show. But you can’t cancel an institution (at least not within two years of its first change in more than a decade) and so The Nightly Show got the ax. 

It will be missed. 

Advertisements

Lampshading in the Aughts

Arrested Development was clearly ahead of its time in terms of meta humor. Whether you like the style or not, it’s brand of meta (and lampshading) has really caught on in the 2010s, with show concepts as whole as Community owing it for paving the way, and other shows just adopting their methods. 

But it was (obviously) an outlier. More often than not shows that were quintessential 2000s shows–like Gilmore Girls or Gossip Girl–or 90s shows that carried over avoided it almost completely. Save for a few choice throwaway jokes, shows in the aughts often ignored the real life narrative around their shows, sometimes to a detriment. Gilmore Girls, for instance, has a number of plot holes and retcons littered about that aren’t even so much as alluded to at a certain point. They chose to just gloss over the inconsistencies in the narrative (why was Liz supposedly a mess? Where the hell is Lane’s dad?) and never address anything that fell off the map. Friends similarly had a few choice jokes about how they never seem to hang out with other people or go to work, but nothing on the weird shifting timelines of the characters.  

White-washing in the Shell? On the ScarJo rumors for live-action anime

I’m as ecstatic as anyone to see Scarlett Johansson’s career of “badass female kicks ass and takes names in a way no one can even touch” take off. She’s a talented actress, and dedicated to boot. Yet she’s constantly reduced to her looks.

Which is a little what I’m about to do. I’m not pleased that she’s been offered the lead in the long-awaited “Ghost in the Shell” live-action remake, specifically because she’s white. Helmed by Steven Spielberg, the rights to the Hollywood recreation of the anime about a group of Japanese counterterroism folks who fight cyber-crime in some sort of futuristic backdrop have been tossed around since the anime’s popularity in 1995.

Seeing as how (at least publicly) this role has been discussed with two, white, blonde actresses it seems that there has been little–if any–consideration of Japanese women. Or women of color in general. It wouldn’t be the first time that Hollywood enacted racist practices when it came to casting. It may not be new, but (as a white person) the invasion of “Ghost in the Shell,” which holds a special place to the anime community, feels strikingly unpleasant. The character’s name is Motoko Kusanagi, for God’s sake.

Ghost in the Shell protagonist Motoko
“They’re thinking about casting who?”

Who knows if that detail will make it to the film. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shift coming to the Ghost in the Shell world. Which can be interesting, and it’s exciting to see women-lead action flicks leading the box office of 2014, I’m just tired of it coming at the cost of people of color. Instead of getting a taste of these cultures we are clearly and absolutely appropriating them; sampling what suits our white tastes, and using eyeliner to fix the rest.

How I Disappointed Your Mother: Love, Perspective, and Ted

Warning: Season 9 spoilers for HIMYM and gifs below

Does anyone else remember where they were March 31, 2014? I was sitting on my bed, getting my heart broken. But not by my person or a rejected job offer, instead it was by “How I Met Your Mother.”

My best friend/writing partner and I had watched the show for years against our better judgement. Though we’d often than not we’d yell about how the show runners were teasing out the eponymous mother, we stuck with the show’s ups and downs to the bitter end — and boy, do I mean bitter. We watched that finale together, that dark and stormy Monday, and as layer upon layer of ending was revealed we shouted each time. But once it became clear that after everything, after all this time, energy and effort put into establishing Ted and Robin’s true friendship, the writers were committed to sticking them together.

I read the outrage, and I read the favorable reviews for a couple days post finale. After that I refused to return to the show, and couldn’t talk about it without getting mad. To me, it was more than a betrayal of the characters (who suddenly seemed boxed into an ending written years ago), and the audience (who was forced to reconcile decades of changes in these characters lives in only 10 minutes). It changed the fabric of the show, and the strange optimism behind it.

tumblr_mus2g7XXao1rh78g4o4_250
In its infinite wisdom, “Bob’s Burgers” continues to just get me

Where sitcoms often find their niche appealing to a generation of aimless 20-somethings, HIMYM marked an interesting intersection between a generation coping with the onset of a vaster, more technologically driven world, and the typical shrug-off of past generation’s values. Where HIMYM stepped in, was navigating the idea that “kids these days” might be interested in casual relationships sometimes, even while on the road to their “one true love.” Although in his heart of hearts Ted loved Robin, the audience knew that the kids knew her in the future as Aunt Robin, forcing us to reconcile ourselves with the fact that–OTP or no–Ted was wrong about Robin. And though we can all understand the aching of a lost or unrequited love, the fabric of HIMYM’s universe held that Ted would someday be blissfully happy in his own right. It was an inspiration for kids who were aimlessness of their 20s; a pleasant reminder that everything we know now could be temporary. Those 20-something pangs would be glimmers of the past, in that big, bright future we were barreling towards.

What we got instead was a legitimization of the friendzone myth.  Thanks HIMYM.

Me too, Ted
Me too, Ted

Stray “Pacific Rim”-ing

Recently, while rewatching “Pacific Rim” with some folks who had never seen it, there was something that I hadn’t quite registered the first time around.

Initially, something in the movie felt off to me. I couldn’t quite pinpoint what it was; the closest I could get was to say that it was somewhere between an ensemble piece and a coming-of-age story but I couldn’t quite understand whose.

But here’s what I noticed about the introductions of characters:

Raleigh:

tumblr_mzwwcbQqVY1sef23ao2_1280

Raleigh is literally the first character we’re introduced to, when he wakes up to a call to arms. The opening sequence follows as he and his brother suit up and take on a kaiju in the middle of the night.

If this were a “Star Trek” or “Fringe” episode, literally all these two would need is a red shirt. From the very first second their peppy, underdog nature just screams “gonna bite it.” And yet, there’s a voiceover he’s giving, so we get the impression that he’s the main dude. And to a certain extent he is, until…

Mako Mori

Hers is the coming-of-age story, we follow her as she goes from assistant to badass Kaiju fighter all in the span of a couple days. And her introduction sort of reflects this, as it plays like some sort of main-character, wind-blowing, dramatized introduction:

 

I mean, she’s even got the blue hair. Clear indicator of an anime protagonist.

It felt to me that it’s almost as if the movie was created to be Mako’s vehicle, but maybe del Toro had to tell the story through the eyes of Raleigh, the “relatable,” every guy (who just happens to be straight, white, male, cis, etc.; #shocker). If that’s what del Toro set out to do, I’m not sure I can get fully on board. Characters are much more interesting to me when they are told through the scope of themselves, not the guys who fall head over heels for them — even if it is interesting to see that played out as a guy falling for a girl.

Both characters have ways to be interesting in their own right, but the movie sets up Mako to be the action star. I can only hope that in “Pacific Rim 2” she gets a full spotlight.

The Pride Family

I have a friend who hates seeing little kids at political rallies. A fair viewpoint I suppose; we’ve all had the occasion we wished Mom and Dad hadn’t dragged us to in hindsight.

This thing is, he was telling me this belief at a gay pride parade.

I tried to let him out of it; he had made cissexist comments in the past, and I figured maybe he just needed a little nudging in the right direction. But he held firm to his stance. That kids shouldn’t get indoctrinated with these sort of political shenanigans so young.

I thought about how I could argue with him about it without seeming like some sort of crazy, liberal Seattle-ite basking in their own radical Northwest utopia. But the thought I keep circling back to is that this is their lives. They are living this, they are basking in the celebration of being able to have their family be not only tolerated but recognized and respected. Just because they’re kids doesn’t free them from the distinct “othering” that comes from living outside a societal norm (hello, playground?).

And while I suppose the case could be made for those children who are made to go to church before they’re able to make up their mind about anything, or even just a tot dragged along to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear or whatever, I feel like there’s a distinct missing link for straight people.

To have your identity politicized may seem like a “get out of jail free card” or a social justice nusciance to those who have had the privilege of living within the status quo. But really it’s just exhausting. To have yourself be viewed as a political act is taxing, and while it may seem like pride parades or “privilege shaming” are a mindset that’s being pushed on you, but maybe it’s not about changing your views at all. Maybe it’s just about living.

 

1404067462566

Writing oppressive humor for dummies

Nine seasons in and the characters of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” have committed handfuls of felonies and societal faux pas in their endeavors to be sophisticated and accomplished. And yet for all its dark comedy each episode seems to exist almost in a vacuum, (almost) never needing the characters to learn from their mistakes in the past. It’s curious, since the show has covered themes like cannibalism, arson, scamming, adultery, murder, terrorism, welfare, child exploitation, abortion, fraud, alcoholism, and (good lord) even more, why “It’s Always Sunny” would be widely considered one of the smartest comedies on TV right now.

Indeed in an age of heightened awareness around helping groups who were previously marginalized, it’s because “Always Sunny” is political incorrectness at its best, because it does what so many comedians try to: it punches up.

In a culture so over-saturated with jokes at the expense of oppressed people — often defended by bullshit arguments like “first amendment” or “don’t be too sensitive” — it’s a rare comedic gem that can so wholly call itself on its bullshit. It never quite crosses the line into self-aware, but the show does manage to make it clear that the joke is on the characters themselves. This narcissistic gang of children are the ones who are really at fault. “Always Sunny” has often joked about homophobia, trans*phobia, racism, sexism, but the aim is to put those who further oppressive culture, rather than make light of those who carry the burden of these -isms.

Though the show isn’t perfect (what media is these days?) it’s not telling offensive material just for the sake of being edgy, or even just because the aloofness of these questionable acts so often verges on ridiculous. It’s real “edginess” comes from the fact that the butt of the joke is the characters who are so insensitive and cavalier in their unconcerned way.

Who we feel we are allowed to laugh at reveals larger cultural discourses. Pretending that comedy exists in a vacuum of culture or should be free of awareness is a fool’s errand; analyzing humor in all our media allows us to better understand assumptions we take for granted. “Always Sunny” just makes it look easy.

 

I will go to the mat for trigger warnings

Let’s just clear the air around this: There’s a common misconception that trigger warnings are put there to protect overly-sensitive people who want to be protected from the harshities of the world. Some people consider them “almost 100% unnecessary” as a “sign post for the weak minded.”

 

Trigger warnings, or content warnings, are used to advise people that there might be triggering material in a post, written piece, or medium. To say that a material was triggering is not to say that it made them simply unhappy, or got their delicate feelings hurt. It would be more accurately characterized as a significant mood-altering experience of anxiety. A trigger could be anything from a smell to a description about a triggering topic, and symptoms can range from dizziness to a full-blown panic attack.

I cannot, for the life of me, understand opposition to trigger warnings (and believe me, I have tried to read the other side). To say that they exist to simply indulge people who want the world to blanket them is to ignore that they are legitimately put in place to mitigate harm.

To say that having such alerts only serve to make us more sensitive, “an over-preoccupation with our own feelings to the detriment of society as a whole” is patently false, and surprisingly in line with the exact thinking it speaks against. They do exist in the real world (movie and game ratings, for instance) and I firmly believe there is a place for them online. I have been through some experiences that would commonly be described as “triggering” and I don’t need a trigger warning for them.

So what? I know that people do. Those people have asked for something that can make their day a bit easier and I am more than happy to oblige them. And on those days where I am feeling particularly sensitive then I appreciate them all the more.

Even if it serves as nothing more than a mental signpost people fly by I find trigger warnings helpful, and I hope that the culture they are ushering in spreads further than the Internet.

Game of Naughty Zones

(Content warning: rape, sexual violence, comments on violence)
Anyone who’s been near pop culture in the last four years is no stranger to the provocative nature of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Between unsparing battle scenes and frank sexuality, it’s not your Grandmother’s fantasy realm. Or maybe it is, but it’s certainly not your six-year-old cousin’s.

And while I’ll fight anyone who argues that women’s nudity can only be a tool for “shock value” to pull in viewers and demean women, “Game of Thrones” gives me a peculiar sense of vexation when it comes to nakedness.

1. The Sexposition

A pioneer in “sexposition,” or the strategy of men speaking their inner monologues or plans out loud while women drape  themselves around them, flaunting their bare naughty bits, “Game of Thrones” frequently uses naked women to…well, pull in viewers. Or at least treat them as objects while men talk about their important plans.

Game of Thrones sexposition example
Because otherwise this scene would just be some dude talking. Who would be able to watch that?

All in all, I’m generally pretty neutral about sexposition as a plot device. Though it’s worth noting that for a show that’s just trying to knock down the puritanical hangups around sexual relations with a more natural and open portrayal, it’s strange that basically all women share the same beauty standards across the board. There must be one helluva profiting waxer in Westeros.

What I do have a problem with, is the fantasy trope that is a strong danger for these sort of expositions: you run the risk of your female characters being sex-centric. Again, not something I can say I’m wholeheartedly against, but it’s a common element of fantasy novels to have women few and far between. Those women who are featured are often stuck using sex as their only tool or weapon. “Game of Thrones,” does display a pretty hefty roster of strong, complex women, has featured a whopping number of sex scenes, wherein (according to a Buzzfeed breakdown of the first two seasons) had an imbalance between how the characters were portrayed. Leading me to the second point:

2. Where have all the nude men gone?

Buzzfeed infographic
Part of Buzzfeed’s infographic on the first two seasons of “Game of Thrones” and sex scenes

Now I could break down for you what the scale of each of those squares means (or you could click through to the Buzzfeed page itself), but realistically, there’s no way this breaks down well. So while I’ll rage against the machine or anyone else who says that these women are inherently cheapened because they feel comfortable showing their body, there is an imbalance here that can’t be ignored.

The fact of the matter is that though “Game of Thrones” has had its share of coitus, the display has been almost consistently women going bare. By no means would I argue that these women reduced to just a pair of boobs (at least, not by any intelligent viewer). Women on “Game of Thrones” are each powerful and nuanced in their own way (though their power is still, often, filtered through their role, which is intrinsically linked to their gender). But when there’s such a disproportionate difference between men’s nudity and women’s nudity, something’s off.

Though the quality in writing has changed, a long-time selling point for premium cable has been that it was uncensored. But when your show is more comfortable with showing a man busting out of his skull rather than busting out of his pants, you’ve got some messed up priorities. There’s a way to have women be in the buff and not have them be just straight photography, but one-sided nudity is a quick route to over-sexualizing your female characters.

3. A bit (too much) of the old ultraviolence

When the show first started, it seemed tapped into the (largely) feminist-friendly (ish) vibe of its source material. And yet, over the years the show’s sexual nature has featured a growing rate of violence in Westeros.

In most fantasy novels, TV shows, and movies, “medieval misogyny” is believed to be par for the course, making it common to parade of sexual violence–most often against women. Similar to casting choices in Thor, while Westeros is a land of magic and dragons, it’d just be too unbelievable and just plain illogical if the women of Westeros weren’t subjected to some sort of sexual threat. Four seasons in, many of the main female characters, and a number of background women, have been raped. And a man has, at one point or another, threatened any women who haven’t yet been sexually assaulted.

And to screw up the narrative even more, several sex scenes from the book—which were at worst questionably consensual—were added to the show with a uncomfortable dynamics. In fact the character Ros, a street-smart prostitute who was invented just for the show, existed pretty much entirely to be hurt at the hands of men. Although it could be argued that at one point she served as if not a player in Westeros than at least an intelligent pawn, very little came of her plotline beyond her own pain, and eventual gruesome death.

It seems the model for Westeros is that if you want to hurt a man (like Oberyn Martell) you hurt a woman. And if you want to hurt a woman (like Ros, Cersei, or basically any other female character) you hurt a woman again.

 


 

 

At the end of the day, those who engage with “Game of Thrones” will have to decide for themselves how they feel about the show’s sexual politics. The creators certainly don’t seem open to the discussion. But maybe it’s time we recognize that just because women in Westeros are afforded certain power, privileges, and freedom from FCC regulations, doesn’t mean they’re not also being used to satisfy and perpetuate the same tired problematic relationship to women’s bodies.

Why Marvel is optimism prime

In the name of Pulp Diction, friendship, and love of films, I have had many a heated argument over opinions on movies with my best friend and writing partner. Though perhaps none as heated as the time we started to review “The Dark Knight Rises.”

We had gone to see it with a large group of people, shelled out for the gaggle of us to see it in eye-popping IMAX, and built up the potential in our minds for eons. Walking out of it though, I seemed to be the only one who seemed skeptical of how the end of the great Nolan/Batman trilogy had turned out. Surprising, since my bestie and I are normally so far on the same page it’s scary.

We debated, back and forth, for a couple hours when it came time to write the review. The argument came to a head when I asked him if he really liked “The Dark Knight Rises” over, say, “The Avengers,” or if he just felt like he did because it had a more somber tone. Though I would say in the end we found a common ground in the voice of our review, the debate struck a chord with me that I haven’t been able to shake.

Though my sisters and I have often scampered around the comic realm, we’ve always been slightly more partial to Marvel over DC. I’ve heard it said that “DC comics are about superheroes who happen to be humans, Marvel comics are about humans who happen to be superheroes,” and I think that’s reflective of the tone picked up in most comic book movies that I didn’t full realize until my debate around “Rises.”

Where DC seems to be reveling in their shade and gloominess, Marvel is celebrating in the sheer absurdity of its comic universe. It’s a tonal reflection that often happens in pop culture, believing that a serious setting is worth more than a comical, or more palatable framing (see also: almost any Oscar ballot).

But it’s a little exhausting, that universal bleakness. I could probably tell you a handful of points I enjoyed around last year’s “Man of Steel,” but it is tiring, following Superman–who has a symbol for hope on his chest–fly around such a dreary mis-en-scene.

What’s refreshing, as both an independent viewer and a reader of comic books, is how Marvel doesn’t seem to be ashamed of its zany elements or its outlandish schemes, costumes, or acronyms. Sure it might tone them down a bit–change the time frame, make the costumes a bit more realistic (or at least VFX friendly)–but at no point in its production does it seem to be doing anything but going balls-to-the-wall when building their universe up, with enthusiasm fully engaged.

So while there’s cases to be made for each side’s television, movie, and minority representation, you’ll have to drag me away from Marvel kicking and screaming. And, likely, from a line of Marvel fans all doing the same.