The Vicious Cycle of Minority Representation

This might not be my longest, most drawn out entry, but I came to a realization today when I was out talking with a woman. The whole crux of what I’m saying rests on an understanding of what the movie “Get Out” means to me, but not necessarily the specific plot points of the movie.

What made the movie such a huge deal for me was the way that it seemed so different from other movies, namely in that it chronicled experiences that I felt were things that only I had felt. It got into a personal space for me and put those things up on the screen for audiences of millions of people who might not have the same life experience.

And people loved it.

That’s the problem with Hollywood character representation. We have your “Get Outs” and your “Atlantas” and these things show a side of minority life that we don’t often see. A lot of film execs say things to the affect of “white audiences just don’t like to see minority characters” and that puts unfair blame on white audiences at large.

The real issue is that a lot of minority characters are stock types and they don’t seem genuine. Sure, there are going to be some bigots who don’t accept characters like them, but the writers are writing them and using other media they’ve been exposed to as a template and since there’s always been poor minority representation in movies it comes off as a parody of a parody of a parody. The real person there gets distilled down to a set of tropes that people are tired of seeing. White audiences are tired of it and so are audiences of color.

But the problem isn’t the white audiences don’t know how to accept those unlike them, the problem is that writers aren’t writing characters that should be accepted.

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Austin

I went to Austin for the first time in years the other day and one of the things that really shocked me is that it’s a different city than I remember it. Something must have changed about me or maybe it was the fact that I didn’t go downtown, but the city had a different life.

I’ve decided that, as part of my journey to become a better photographer, I need to make more trips to Austin.

In Which I Make a Text Based Rube Goldberg Machine to Blame Space Ghost Coast to Coast for a Problem I Have with a Trend in Comedy

Comedy has an intertextuality problem and it’s all the fault of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast”.

Okay, that’s a hell of an opener and it might not really make sense because there’s a lot to walk back and unpack there. Intertextuality is the relationship between texts, usually it is a term reserved for actual written texts. In the sense that I’m using it we’re just talking about a text as being any kind of media.

Every text or piece of media is influenced by something, hell, even if something is looking to actively ignore other texts that as a conscious decision is still a choice made because of the relationship to other texts. It’s not a bad thing by itself, but the way it’s come into comedy seems to mostly not work.

Back to the point about why this is all Space Ghost’s fault. Space Ghost was a shitty cartoon made in 1966 Hannah Barbera (I swear the word Barbera didn’t have an ‘e’ in it before I wrote this) and in 1994 Cartoon Network used old footage of the original show to make a late night talk show. This show was what started what we have come to know as Adult Swim (the late night programming block on Cartoon Network most nights of the week).

Adult Swim was pretty experimental at first and it wasn’t like anything else that we’ve ever seen on television. After Fox canceled “Family Guy” in 2002 Adult Swim stepped in to run the show in syndication and that along with huge DVD sales helped to cause Fox to take the show back, but pre-2003 Family Guy and later Family Guy became different shows. Audiences in 2003 were using online forums to talk about shows more than ever and audience reaction to some things changed parts of the show. Meg was kind of ignored before, but now she was outright hated by others in the cast and the cut-aways and references to other media and history and just anything got far more intrusive.

The show doubled down on the shock humor and just referencing other things. Not even referencing them in a way that informs the scene or the rest of the story. You see this kind of comedy used in other shows, not so much the cut ways, but the references. Some of them care enough to fit the reference into what’s actually happening. When Archer says “I hate surprises, well except surprise fellatio, unless it’s the Midnight Cowboy kind” that references another piece of media, but it’s also not stopping the action of the plot and even if the reference were removed it would be funny.

Family Guy just throws any old reference up into a space to waste time in an episode. Twenty-one minutes turns into thirteen when you find a way to waste the other eight on bullshit. And the huge problem with it all is that it’s become a way that people will talk to others. I can remember a time when just pointing out that you and someone else remembered something wasn’t in and of itself comedy.

Especially considering that a lot of people don’t even remember the things that are being referenced on Family Guy (seriously, does anyone really remember the DuMont Television network? It ran from ten years, from 1946 until 1956 when it was dissolved).

I’ve seen it creep into real life to a small degree with some of my friends. They’re not even referring to things from media some of the time, they’re just referencing unfunny, unremarkable bits from our actual lives. It’s usually used as a kind of exclusion of a party who is there that didn’t share in the moment. Can’t see any other purpose for it.

As I pointed out earlier with the Archer example this kind of thing can work. When enough people are in on the joke and the joke holds some relevance and doesn’t distract or when it’s just really smart, but not in a condescending way. Your average writing team on television isn’t crafty enough to pull it off, especially not on a weekly basis.

Maybe you can point out that it is a small thing or that it’s not really having any effect that wouldn’t have happened, but that’s just not how intertextuality works. Other works are going to be affected by what’s happened, even if they are affected because they resist the change.

A Review of Passengers and the need for a Hollywood Introspective

What the fuck is it that Hollywood wants? For the last several years it seems like at every beat of the year there’s some dark and gritty take on X. We got to see the gray, grim-dark, take on a Batman and Superman who are only outmatched in their hatred of each other in their hatred for themselves. We see scripts pushed darker by studio interference so often that no one ever talks about the alternative.

Rogue One is an example of a movie that was actually changed after a director got the go ahead to make it darker and that is actually an okay thing on some level, but we see the opposite with Passengers.

Passengers was a blacklist script darling that was supposedly one of the best movies that wasn’t being produced. It stayed in development Hell and was eventually supposed to star Emily Blunt and Keanu Reeves. The original script that the movie was going to have had a different ending that drew on the themes differently. While the troubling issues that the movie brought up were still present, they were explored in a more nuanced way and, to quote one friend, wasn’t “Hollywooded the fuck up”.

Spoilers past here for both the Passengers movie and the script that was never produced.

Here’s a quick rundown of the plot. A ship is carrying people to a far off world to colonize it. Everyone is placed in stasis pods and one pod malfunctions. Chris Pratt plays the man who wakes up. He goes for a year and three weeks alone before waking up a woman (Jennifer Lawrence) that he has spent time admiring and being in love with, but he lies and says she woke up by chance. He courts her, they fall in love, and the robotic bar tender in the ship let’s it slip that Pratt woke her up. It’s discovered later that the entire ship is malfunctioning due to the complication that woke Pratt up originally and he and Lawrence work together to fix the issue.

In the original ending they succeed in fixing the issue and manage to reboot the whole ship’s system saving the ship and themselves. But the reboot causes the ship to launch all of the other passengers into space. Five thousand people die. Lawrence questions whether she can come to grips with Pratt’s choice in waking her. On one hand he’s doomed her to never reach the new planet they’re traveling to, but on the other they’re alive because her pod wasn’t fired into space. When the ship reaches the new planet their descendants disembark.

The theatrical ending of the movie, the only one that was actually produced, ends with everything going down much the same, they have to reboot the ship and also open a door to vent plasma into space so that the core doesn’t rupture, but Chris Pratt has to go outside of the ship and actually manually open the door and is almost lost in space in the process. His suit ruptured and the tether broken, Pratt floats to what would be his death, but Jennifer Lawrence dons a suit and rushes out to save him, the two make up after he is revived and the problem of what he has done is essentially ignored. He does give her the option to sleep in the Sick Bay pod that they discover, but she declines and stays awake with him.

The real issue here is the issue that the movie seems to try and make a love story out of the idea that a man forced a woman to be alone with him in the hopes that she would fall in love. One of the deleted scenes on the blu-ray actually has her questioning him (after the big reveal) asking if he ever thought that if they’d just met back on Earth would he think she were capable of even noticing him. It might sound harsh, but it comes from a drunk woman who has been robbed of her life where any number of things could have turned out differently.

The movie gets a lot wrong along the way too. There’s a bit of dubious science that keeps this from looking like something like Interstellar or The Martian. There’s the whole Laurence Fishburn character that doesn’t actually have enough screen time or back story to make an impact and kind of just serves as a device to explain the problem of the third act.

With the almost everybody dies ending you’re getting at least one thing that kind of makes us realize just how fucked up the fact that he did this to her was, but she also rationalizes it with the idea that she could have very well died along with everyone else on the ship so she has whatever time is left as they travel. It’s still shitty what he did and he still robbed her of real choice, but he inadvertently saved her life and it would make her cooling to him make more sense.

In the theatrical script it seems like his risking his life to vent the plasma is more of an apology and that he is kind of assuming the blame for dragging her into this, but at the same time there’s some hope for him that he’s saving his own skin in the process. She makes the choice to go out and save him and to forgive him, but the choice of him saving her is more deliberate here. It’s not out of some predatory sense that he has to be with her that he saves her at the end. It kind of loses the theme of the movie for what was supposed to be a happier ending, but it also kind of tries to gloss over the big reveal just a few minutes earlier.

This could have been a much darker, better movie, but Hollywood didn’t want that. We can have plots about forced romances that get glossed over, but don’t let the ending be sad!

And real quick a note on casting. I love Chris Pratt. I think he’s super talented and charismatic, but the studio had a chance to cast someone potentially less attractive or at least less expected in the lead male role. I think that had we seen a black actor (less expected) that audience reactions and willingness to forgive the character would be less likely. Let’s consider for a moment that Donald Glover had been the Pratt character (just because I fucking love Donald Glover) and that he had done things the same way.

How do you think that would have changed the movie? How would that have changed people’s desire to see the Glover and Lawrence characters together?

How about if we picked someone less conventionally attractive. John C. Reilly steps into the Pratt role and he’s the same blue collar guy courting an attractive, younger, richer woman by dooming her to die in space? Is that a love story?

For a guy who likes brevity, I’m running long. But this was a conundrum of a movie that had a lot of strange angles that it was coming from. It touches on being an enjoyable watch until you think of the deeper issues with the science in the movie (if you were stuck in a large free floating ball of water in zero G you’d be able to swim out because water is still, well, fucking water) and the morality of what’s happened.

What’s happening is the movie is just disappointing. It could have been a much more interesting picture with some changes and I don’t want original scripts to stop being shot because of the shortcomings of this one. I want more science-fiction to come out of Hollywood. But I want them to be truly thought provoking and, if they’re going to go after the hard questions not to fuck it all up.

Is This Liberalism

I have never watched many of the politics based programming on television because it wasn’t having the kind of conversations that I want to see, but HBO seems to know me. Edit: There is an error with this theme for my Wordpress where contractions in the first word apparently fuck the whole post up.

“Last Week Tonight” and “Real Time with Bill Maher” have become mainstays of my weekend shows. I tend to watch them back to back late Sunday night after everyone else is in bed. I genuinely agree with most everything Jon Oliver says, and let me tell you he had a hard sells for me. I thought I was always see him in Jon Stewart’s shadow because of his years on the “Daily Show”. After the time that he filled in for Stewart proved that he had what it took, I still remained skeptical. I mean, a big part of the show was the writing staff.

His move to HBO did him some justice though and he surpassed the “Daily Show” in my mind almost immediately.

Real Time is a different beast all together. I was the show because the guests are people that I want to see discuss things. I skipped an episode once (the one with Milo Yiannopoulos) because I felt that even giving that kind of person a platform to reach more people was in bad taste, but the more I hear about the episode the more that I think I should have watched it.

There’s a phenomena in the liberal community that seemed to be at its height right after the election. The idea at its best is that social issues are less important and that we should concentrate on the big things and at its worse there are those who are only able to care about the issues that affect them directly.

Marijuana legalization would be a pretty big deal considering the number of people locked up for such a minor drug, but when that’s the only thing you’re considering important in a world with out of control pay inequality and where people are literally dying while the government could do something about then there’s something seriously wrong.

And let me just say that social issues do mean a lot. Maybe you’re not gay or black or hispanic or a woman, but a hell of a lot of people are and these issues are their day to day lives. Bill Maher brings legalization pretty often and he treats the whole thing with a sort of reverence. This past week when comments Bill O’Reilly made about Rep. Maxine Waters’s hair came up on Maher’s show her immediately shot the whole story down and say liberals sweat the small stuff. Let’s try to remember that the guy shot down a valid point she made about Trump by saying  “I didn’t hear a word she said. I was looking at the James Brown wig.”

There’s layers of hypocrisy to the statement itself, especially when O’Reilly is defending a man who has the hair that Trump does. But then add to that how Maher handles the statement by dismissing the whole thing too.

Maher is one of the only ones I see on the airwaves doing this kind of thing, but he represents a swath of the liberal population that seems to be unconcerned with real gender and racial equality and treat it like one of those things that we’ll get to after all of the other things are done.

So what party is left for the rest of us? We’ve got one that openly vilifies us and another that thinks of us as an afterthought or votes in their pocket to be drummed up every four years when they need us, but forgotten any other time.

I got into liberalism because I felt that it was the ideology that served the People with a capital “P”. I was pretty conservative for years and I grew up going to Catholic school and thought abortion was wrong and that we had to be patriotic and stand by our President no matter what things he did. I found those policies didn’t work for me slowly over time and I grew up and learned what was important to me.

If liberalism doesn’t represent the people and work for the good of everyone, what good is it to us? Liberalism that doesn’t do that doesn’t even seem like liberalism at all.