When silence is deafening.

Leslie Jones has had a rough summer. Between the launch of her well-received (if not high-grossing) blockbuster, a renewal of her SNL contract, and her invitation to the 2016 Olympics she’s had a great summer. But she has had a rough summer. And it’s all thanks to trolls.

et_071016_lesliejonesscandalhuluIt started when Ghostbusters was released, and Jones began receiving a near constant barrage of hate-filled messages. When she decided to not hide the racism and sexism she received on social media any longer, it drove her off Twitter for a few days. And then just today her website got hacked, with malicious hackers posting photos of her and her passport/driver’s license, and even her phone number.

On Twitter it’s lead to an outpouring of sympathy, anger, and love for Leslie. But none from her coworkers. And that silence is speaking louder than anything else.

At worst they’re turning their back on a co-worker who’s on the receiving end of a firehose of personal, harmful attacks just for starring in the same movie they did. The most optimistic way to look at it is that, as her friends, they are reaching out in real life and ways more effective and out of sight of the public than social media. Perhaps they’re doing so to not wade into the fray or paint a target on their own backs (or, as high-profile women on social media, simply turn around so people can see it).

But how can that be the best case scenario? How can we continue to accept the barrage of sexism, racism, and hate spewed at women—and in particular women of color—on social media as a “norm”? Why do companies seem to think that this isn’t a flaw only a byproduct?

What luck, for these trolls, that they are able to just represent the status quo and not stand out as a black woman. What luck. What a fucking curse.Lemonade Gif smashing window

Medium/Large: Episodic Moves in Television and Movies

Many television critics have been bemoaning the death of the episode in TV lately. As our culture shifts to online, streaming, and binge watching, the episode has become less of a chapter and more of a sentence in the seasonal books we watch. More and more the shows we watch resemble 10-hour movies rather than episodic television. The flip side of that is that our movies are starting to resemble the episodic television we’re more accustomed to.

On the surface level these are driven by two different goals. Television is increasingly embracing the streaming platform’s structure of releasing a whole season in one go, which encourages long periods of watching, which doesn’t have as much need to break up the story into chunks like network television does. Movies, meanwhile, are caught up in the desire to be like Marvel, and create a shared cinematic universe. It’s the reason Captain America: Civil War is able to build on the characters, relationships, and events that people have been watching play out for almost a decade on the silver screen, or why The Force Awakens was able to exist paradoxically as a reboot, a sequel, and a retelling without fully standing on its own. star-wars-the-force-awakens-15-1200x630

But underneath it all it’s the same principle: To get people obsessed with your content. Marvel has always understood that building out narratives across issues and decades creates generations of fans. Star Wars invented modern blockbuster culture because it turned out to be a smash hit. Shows like BloodlineSense 8, and beyond are able to take advantage of the interest in telling long-form stories and connecting (deeply) with characters week-after-week to use whole seasons as pilots instead of one episode. And so they borrow strategies that worked for the other in order to build their medium up. Similar to the way genres have started to bleed into each other, formatting now is as well; blockbuster movies are more often than ever before just episodes of a longer story being told across a franchise, and television is just an imagined story that functions more like building a puzzle rather than a daisy chain each week.

Commodified Feminism Is Gonna Kill Us

I mean think about it for a second.

How else do we get fragrance creators telling us what female empowerment smells like? Or articles telling us that Stranger Things is “not the feminist show of our dreams?” No duh; that’s why it’s of our dreams. And that’s all before we get into how the article slights teenage girls for making irrational decisions about dating and moms for grieving their missing kids, all the while slamming those teens for wearing makeup and yelling at the moms (cash-strapped and frantic as they are) for not.

st_107-108_unit_0754_r_cropThese are the sort of ghosts of philosophies that
are haunting modern feminism discourse. There is something to be said for the fact that narratives frequently dismiss women who don’t fit a standard (attractive) archetype, or how a character who undergoes abuse is doing so because the creator framed it that way. But there’s a difference between Game of Thrones‘ quick trigger on putting any and every woman through sexual assault, and showing that sometimes teens—even teens who have sex on the regular—can be assholes about people having sex.

To flatten all feminist concepts into basic buzzwords—”slut-shaming,” “looking pretty,” “love-triangles”—ignores not just what feels fresh about shows like Stranger Things who feature an array of female characters, but tramples all over the progress that got us here. In another world Stranger Things would’ve been just about the men in Will’s orbit, finding Will by kicking ass. In Stranger Things, it’s about a community.

Shows aren’t perfect; lord knows Stranger Things wasn’t. Ideologies aren’t perfect. Neither are the people that hold them. But holding things you love to dichotomous standards of “feminist” or “not feminist” is a sure fire way to ruin things you love and feminism.

Tights and T-Rexes:

Well guys Suicide Squad has come and gone, and at no point did it go over well with critics. But audiences—or some vocal portion of them—liked it, and are as unhappy with critics as the critics are with the movie. Which lead to some accusations in the raging rapids of Twitter and social media that critics are just shills for Marvel, or even that critics have no place in our lives.

I’ve gone on record as favoring Marvel, and I’ll admit that I share no excitement about seeing Dawn of Justice. But I think it’s possible for both critics and DC fans to exist in this world of ours.

Take The Witch. The movie was trumpeted by critics, beloved for being a return to arthouse horror and building dread without jump-scares. It boasts a high critical rating on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. But audiences weren’t so enthusiastic. I loved the film, but I’m not immodest enough to say that’s because it’s objectively one of the best movies of the year, let alone that some audiences are “just dumb” as some may argue.

Movies are such subjective experiences, built on the backs of so many people and for the enjoyment of even more I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a movie that everyone loves and could agree was an objectively good movie. So long as you’re able to appreciate what it is you enjoyed about the movie, reflect critically on that, what’s the harm? It’s ok for a movie to be good to you, and have all the elements you wanted from it and for critics to not agree.

I love dinosaurs, particularly of the underwater variety. So for myself, Jurassic World had everything I wanted and more. But I can also acknowledge that if you aren’t me, and weren’t flooded with adrenaline over the action sequences it’s a pretty subpar movie. Conversely, I like my horror films to really wig me out (while not being too gorey) and while It Follows gave others those feelings I wasn’t on board—no matter how much I appreciated the artistry of it. I’m a sucker for smart action films, so Marvel’s cinematic universe excites and thrills me, but that doesn’t mean A.O. Scott is wrong when he called it homogenous. It might mean that we value that differently in our enjoyment. Jurassic World dinosaur

To say that any one audience is “smarter” than another is gross and white-washes the issue. It’s more accurate (and kind) to say that your interests, values, and pleasure is simply stocked in different places. The whole idea of having a wide range of pop culture is that there’s something for everyone, not everything for someone.

When you read a critic’s review and it seems to be overly harsh or bashing on something you love, ask yourself: Is it? Is it just that we disagree? Is this a critic I have a trust and understanding with? Can I get over myself and just enjoy what I enjoy without validation?

Gaming Translations

What makes for a successful board game based on a pop culture artifact?

Obviously you have more souvenir/revenue generation machines on the one hand: Your Simpsons Monopoly, Seinfeld Scene It?’s, The Vanilla Ice Rap Game (no joke). There’s also things like game shows that just convert simply. Everyone’s wanted to prove that they, too, want to be a millionaire, meaning the core concept of a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? game would be fairly easy to adapt for a home audience to play what is essentially Trivial Pursuit with a new brand name.

But the flip side of this would be games that are intended to—like a film adaptation or novelization—adapt the concept and qualities you so love about a show into a board game. It’s sort of like challenging an audience (or perhaps a hardcore subset of an audience) to pony up and put their money where their mouth is; if they think they could hack it in the imagined world, prove it.

For that to be successful, you need more than just cutesy namechecks. I think that you’d theoretically want people to feel rewarded for engaging with your media on such a high level: The game Harry Potter: Mystery at Hogwarts is essentially Clue—except for a few key developments. For instance there’s more pieces at play with different (in the theme of Hogwarts, maaagical) powers that can affect gameplay. But some Harry Potter trivia comes into play as well.

Games like Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones are intricate and detailed, in order to better resemble the show. Sure the titular game of thrones is not won so easily, and the cylons are not likely to be defeated by just finding a few spies in your ranks. But the core ideas of the show—winning power over others, rooting out the humanlike robots amongst you, defending your people—are preserved. A Game of Thrones fan might enjoy the game even if it weren’t branded as such because the like the powerplays that come into question. Battlestar Galactica as well.

For the rest, who just like the drama of it all—well, that’s just bonus.

 

Surprise! You already know.

Has surprise casting ever worked? I don’t mean like Kevin Spacey at the end of Se7en. More like casting a notable actor in a film (typically a reboot or franchise) as a rando new character before ultimately revealing that—surprise—they were this character all along. Think Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness or Marion Cotillard as Miranda Talia Al-Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises.

At this point fandoms have become accustomed to the studio’s schtick: There’s no such thing as adding a new character to an established franchise, they’re only there if it’s a bait-and-switch. Whether it seems to happen because they want to withhold some plot development later on (see Dark Knight Rises) or they want to be able to justify not casting a POC (Star Trek Into Darkness, and arguably Iron Man 3) without fan outrage, it’s a common enough practice that audiences—especially those that leak, clamor, and obsess over anything released by the studios regarding franchises—aren’t buying it anymore.

KhanSequel_FEAT-970x545.pngI’m all for spoiler warnings and avoiding knowing the plot ahead of time before movies (if that’s what you want, I don’t really see the harm in reasonably facilitating that for yourself). But too often it seems producers just straight up lie in order to avoid—what, controversy? Discussion? All they’re really doing is hoping the can is kicked far enough down the road that viewers will be more sympathetic, or at least understanding, of the artistic junket choices they made. But in my experiences no one likes feeling conned. And when these experiences don’t pay off artistically it makes it all the worse. It’s too simple to say that witholding information like this should enhance a viewing experience not dampen it, because that’s probably what creators thought they were doing with Talia and Khan.

But compared to something like (to grab another Spacey-villain-reveal joint) The Usual Suspects, where the person pulling the strings the whole time is played in a bit of misdirection—even acknowledged misdirection, as we see Spacey orchestrate the initial robberies even as he tells us that it was someone else. It’s nuggets like that that can create repeat and rewarding viewing experiences. Compare that to trying to reboot and slip a villain in under the radar in an established franchise under the wire while keeping it under wraps that it’s what you’re doing and the game is considerably more dicey (and as we’ve seen in both Rises and Into Darkness, prone to failure and letdown).

Perhaps the latest comes with the news that Zendaya won’t be playing a random “Michelle” in Spiderman: Homecoming, she’ll be playing none other than the red-headed heartthrob Mary-Jane. Though I’m hardpressed to believe that (if the rumors are true) there’s any real reason Marvel would withhold this information other than to have a couple more months without the ire of racists on the internet directed towards them, at least for once it’s being used to get a person of color into a white role, rather than the other way around.

The Artist and the Work: A Separation

As the world awaits Nate Parker’s highly touted The Birth of a Nation, it was only a matter of time before the media went antsy and digging. Parker, to his credit, tried to own the story, but I imagine that in the week or so since it’s spiraled beyond what he may have expected: In attempting to acknowledge and defend against rape allegations that were made against him and a friend (and coworker) in college, Parker has invited in more awareness to his past.

Whether he thought that would be enough to clean house I can’t say. What does seem clear was he was unaware the internet would be so vigilant about the ways in which he actively played up his life since: The “importance” of the movie he’s bringing to the world; the fact that he mentioned his wife and four daughters multiple times (after inviting the journalist into his home strewn with remnants of a family life); the ultimate fate of the woman who made the accusations; the notorious failure of the criminal justice system when it comes to sexual assault.*

EraserheadAnd so fans, interested parties, and pop culture connoisseurs are once again plunged into the debate: Can you separate the work of the artist from the artist? Should you always?

In a perfect world I want to say yes. It’s possible to duck into a theater, a show, or a book without knowing the creator’s politics, without ever being influenced by them. Theoretically they are utterly separate; like how David Lynch maintains that the married-too-young and father-too-fast period of his 20s had nothing to do with his work on Eraserhead, a movie that (amongst other interpretations) is about a young man grappling with an unexpected pregnancy.

But in execution I haven’t much found it to be possible. As if it weren’t enough that many of the people who insist on the Chinese wall don’t seem to have any skin in the game in this sense, there’s seldom a piece of art that you can’t examine at least some sort of message or motivation for. And I’m not sure I think we should strip it of that. Cultural context matters. The atmosphere around production and artistic decisions is compelling, it furthers philosophies, and it adds to the significance of it all.

I’m not sure whether Nate Parker will effect my viewing of Birth of a Nation. I can’t be certain where the hammer will ultimately fall for me on the issue of artist vs. art. All I know is it seems far too simple to just try to hide under the rug.

 

*I don’t mean to reinforce or express my own personal belief here. Just trying to flag the major sticking points for a lot of people I read.

Does Late Night Need Youtube?

Or, How I Learned to Keep Mourning The Nightly Show and Love the Bomb

It’s no secret that the measure of late night programming is often in the viral video.

It explains why Jimmy Fallon was killing the late night game and why James Cordon is becoming the singing jester that stole his crown. That’s the explanation for why Colbert might’ve defined the cultural landscape as a character while nearly vanishing as he wedges himself into the talk show format. And it’s why every Monday morning you see headlines about how John Oliver eviscerated, dominated, and destroyed some concept or another. Each of them has that sharability—and that fresh Youtube account.

As cord-cutting drops TV subscriptions about eight percent overall and 19 percent in young adults (the theoretical cable buyers of the future), networks aren’t counting on pulling viewers in through the traditional means at the traditional times. But it turns out the only thing better than water cooler talk is hundreds of thousands of shares on social media. Sharing videos, segments, and even episodes in whole on the internet is just one more way of show viability through virality.

461796278-0And it’s something The Nightly Show never had. Comedy Central was (oddly) one of the slower adopters of internet video sharing. For the longest time clips to their content could only be found through their own website, on a special video service all their own. Eventually they warmed to the idea, and now The Daily Show is sharing segments from its own Youtube account. But The Nightly Show isn’t; they only come from the Comedy Central account. Sure, you can search for them in Youtube, but if you’re just trolling the account page, The Nightly show is buried under clips and segments from Not Safe with Nikki GlaserTosh.O,  and even more Daily Show clips. Heck, it doesn’t even come up on the initial account page for its own subchannel.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, there’s probably a whole cocktail of reasons The Nightly Show will be keeping it 100 for only one more night. But not having access to the modern means of getting itself out there? Definitely didn’t help.

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. 

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.