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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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.

South Park and Choosing to Care

I was a late comer to the South Park train. While a lot of kids were watching it all the way back in ’97,  I was aware of the show, but never seemed to see it. Comedy was a big part of my life growing up, though. I remember watching things like Mystery Science Theater on Comedy Central late at night and Comic View on BET when I happened to be over at my sister’s late enough.

I had a healthy appetite for comedy.

South Park was edited and aired in syndication around the time I was in high school, I think. By then I was old enough to get a lot of the jokes and the movie had come to cable, which I had seen a few times. I had a South Park shirt and considered myself a fan of the show. I thought the guys writing it ‘got me’–that they were the kind of guys I wanted to be like. I didn’t just want to not care on a personal, emotional level. Not caring needed to be the default reaction when faced with almost anything.

When you’re fifteen or sixteen it’s easy to see how this world view applies to you. It’s hard to find somewhere to fit in and when you’re already attending a school where graduating classes numbered under fifty students there was a good chance that you might not have the friend group that even outcasts had at bigger schools. Not caring seemed like a good way to deal with the pressure. What you don’t care about can’t hurt you.

South Park takes that to a deeper level. It poked fun at everyone, a thing I once greatly respected. It reinforced my notions about the world, or it reinforced the notions that I figured I should have: gays are weird and okay, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, but you’re not doing any disservice by calling people faggots as an insult. The younger generation is past racism completely, so all that’s left is to let all of the older people die off (there’s no way that racism is still really affecting us!). The choice between Presidential candidates means nothing, they’re both horrible.

From about ages fourteen to twenty I probably held some version of these beliefs and others that lined right up with the show. I didn’t mind when they took aim at targets that I cared about or liked or believed in. It was okay because they were making fun of EVERYONE, right?

As long as you’re indiscriminate in your fun poking, what’s the harm?

Fast forward to I’m thirty and I still love comedy. I still can’t get enough crude humor as evidence by being able to quote Louis CK and Hannibal Burress’s albums like scripture. Until a few months ago I thought South Park had been canceled. No one had mentioned the show in years around me (probably a testament to having friends that are ‘keepers’).

The internet was set on fire by this past years South Park seasonal target. PC culture, the new boogeyman of the Alt-Right, Brocialists, and just your garden variety bigot. This isn’t to say that there isn’t problems with hard-left liberalism, but to hear some people talk about it liberals are to blame for terrorism, the break down of the American family, and pretty much everything else under the sun.

To see South Park make season long antagonists out of PC culture seems less like the brave thing that people always claim that the show is and more like the expected thing for an audience that grew up watching the show. A lot of them became the adamant Bernie Sanders supporters that refer to Hillary Clinton as ‘a cunt’ every chance they get and don’t understand why it’s sexist (and unwarranted). They are the ones who refuse to look at race, sexual orientation, or gender even when it’s undeniably a factor (Elliot Rodger shooting, for instance).

I was a lot more moderate the right leaning when I started watching the show and I would say that I was more easily offended back then.  Me now still has a bit of that don’t care attitude. But I care when it counts. I care when you’re selling me a value system that’s flat out wrong and trying to reinforce views that don’t really work.

Yeah, it’s just a show. South Park isn’t the news or some politically commentary, except that it’s being used that way this past season and people have cited it before in the past to refer to their views. There are still some moments from the show that I can relate to, everyone expecting me to just like Family Guy because of my sense of humor (spoiler alert, I’ve hated Family Guy for almost the entirety of it’s run), but I think that I outgrew South Park years ago. I’m kind of glad that I did.

Some things are important to me and I don’t see that as a fault. Equal representation of all races and genders (at least in the sense of how they’re portrayed, because not all situations would have all types of people there) is important to me. Caring about politics is important to me, being well informed, and who gets elected is all important to me. PC culture isn’t such a dangerous thing that you need to go on about it for thirteen episodes or how ever long their seasons are.

And yeah, maybe the nearly one thousand words I spent on this was too much care, but I think it extends to more than South Park. And more importantly, it’s something that is relevant, because we live in a world where people actually don’t care enough.

Firefly Season Two

Joss Whedon had already made a name for himself by 2002; Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel had been on the air several seasons. A growing community of fans were picking up comics, tie-in-novels as well as watching the shows. When the announcement for Firefly came down I wasn’t really interested. I had dropped Buffy by that time, but still watched Angel religiously (and I will go down fighting that Angel was one of the best things Whedon did on TV).

12717659_1060323854011501_7933737666942233070_nFirefly’s advertising didn’t exactly appeal to my sensibilities. I don’t like the Western genre, or at least, back then I thought I didn’t like what the Western genre was supposed to be. I didn’t know any of the actors in the show well enough to be drawn in by that and the Fox network didn’t exactly make the show easy to watch.

When it was canceled I don’t think a lot of people were even paying attention. The internet had matured into the state it has today where websites track shows that are on the tracking block and organize huge campaigns to save them. Hell, if there had been enough people to organize it might not have gotten canceled.

It wasn’t until about two years later in college when I saw the Serenity movie because a girl at I liked at the time wouldn’t stop talking about it. We don’t even talk anymore, but if it weren’t for Allison, I can safely say I would have never checked this show out. I haven’t watched a Joss Whedon show since then and only his movies have really drawn me in.

Firefly is a good show. I don’t deny that despite not being the biggest fan of its creator. My reason for this post comes next: it’s fucking 2016. In a few months this show will have aired fourteen years ago. Fox cancelled it, no one wanted to pick it up after the movie, DROP IT. 

I don’t know what made Firefly into some kind of nerd Alamo. It’s the thing you’re expected to agree with: when you’re around geeks and nerds and someone starts to bitch about what Fox did to Firefly you’re supposed to rally around this as fact like it’s some inherent evil act perpetrated by the people at Fox; like it’s the Tuskegee Experiment or Japanese Internment camps.

People are still going on about it today, even while many of the actors have found life elsewhere, one is on a show that’s lasted almost a decade, and another has become a sexist sock puppet. I don’t get why this is the hill people choose to die on. Why is this show so vital? It had potential, but there are missteps in it and we can’t assume it would have gotten better. Especially since at an anniversary special a troubling rape plot line was revealed:

“She had this magic syringe, she would take this drug and if she were, for instance, raped, the rapist would die a horrible death. The story was, she gets kidnapped by Reavers. and when Mal finally got to the ship to save her from the Reavers, he gets on the Reaver ship and all the Reavers are dead. Which would suggest a kind of really bad assault. At the end of the episode, he comes in after she’s been horribly brutalized, he comes in, he gets down on his knee and he takes her hand and he treats her like a lady.”

Just let it be. It’s a good show that people have made into some kind of rally point only because it got canceled before it made any of the colossal fuck-ups that all shows seem to stumble through on a long enough time-line. Stop acting like you were done some grave injustice because a network canceled a show that wasn’t making them enough money, that you probably weren’t watching.

Fear The Walking Dead

Probably about the only thing familiar in Fear the Walking Dead is the prompt disposal of black dudes and the feeling that I’ve wasted an hour of my time.

I’ll be honest: when I first started watching The Walking Dead (back when it was beginning season three I caught up on Netflix) I loved the show. I felt that the first season was one of the best pieces of zombie-related media I ever watched. When I went to talk about the show to people they complained about the pace, but pace is something you don’t notice when you have the luxury of entire seasons at your fingertips.

And then I hit season three and everything slowed down. I kept watching and plowing through waiting for that familiar feeling of greatness to come back; I’m like a junkie chasing a high. And the funny part is most of the time just before I lose hope the mid-season or season finale come along and I think “Next part will be different.”

It starts off promising (nowhere was this more apparent than season five), but the issue is that it dips back into a lull of just kind of existing. It drags along until a bit before the next break and then all Hell breaks loose. Finally, we’re getting the action we’ve waited for.

I wish that I could say Fear the Walking Dead started with a bang, but after watching the two episode premiere I can say that it started with all of tenacity and velocity of a constipated shit. It looked like the script writers were young boys trying to get their first bra off a girl, but they didn’t know where it clasped and couldn’t make sense of how to unfasten it.

Are these the same guys who wrote the first episode of season five of the other show? The same guys who threw us into a scene where people were having their heads hacked off in buckets four minutes into a show?

The fans of the show are calling it a slow burn, but when you’ve got a two hour premiere you expect something to happen to draw you in.  I care about none of these characters (the daughter is cute, that’s about the only noticeable thing) and the people of LA seem to be stupid. I’m not talking about not knowing how to kill a zombie, I’m talking about the idea that a school district would close down schools because of a crazy cop shooting that was put on YouTube in the city of LA. A city that at one point averaged two car chases A DAY.

Part of me hoped for a clean slate to start with. There was a lot the people could have done with the idea and there were some interesting things that could have happened with a new show. In the first episode it seems like all of them were bypassed (why not make it about a gang that gets caught up in the chaos or a group of youngsters—a blended or broken family seems so…Day After Tomorrow).

The other problem this has is that it comes so late into the other show. By most accounts it’s been two years since the zombie outbreak took the planet by storm and we know most of the secrets of the creatures and how to deal with them. If this show had fallen between seasons one and two the idea that these things came from anyone who died would have been awesome to find out here, but we’ve known that for years now. With a lot of prequels it feels like the winters are just going through ticking boxes of things we already knew happened, but unable to show us something new or make us feel anything.

Why even write this? What’s the point?

And that’s my biggest question. What’s the point? I’ll continue to give this a try, because it seems that I like to chase the high of those great moments. Hopefully the show surprises me.

iZombie Season One Finale “Blaine’s World”

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I might have mentioned some months back, when this show first started, that I watched it at first because the idea of the whole thing seemed stupid. The marketing that I saw, which was mostly still images in magazines, comics and on billboards, just made me thing think that this was going to be one of those stupid CW romance driven shows for tweens.

What I got when I actually watched it was probably the best start to any show on the CW since Supernatural. The first episode was enough to carry me to the next and it seemed like it was just getting better each week.

The finale was huge with a scene that Rob Thomas, show creator (no relation to the band Matchbox 20), called similar to the ending of Taxi Cab. It’s really nice to see a cast like this built up over the course of a season and a thing brought to such a satisfying close. It helped to also know that there’s already a second season in the works.

If you don’t know what iZombie is the basic premise goes like this: Olivia Moore, a medical student is scratched by a zombie at a boat party and begins to turn. To maintain her humanity she must consume human brains and to get a steady supply she drops out of med school and becomes a coroner. The only problem is that when she eats the brains she can get flashbacks of the person’s life or even some skills of personality traits she they have and she uses this to help solve their murders and poses as a fake psychic (for the sake of police).

The whole thing sounds preposterous, but it’s put together in a really good way and with a really good cast. Some of the most satisfying moments of television I’ve had this past year have been because of this show and with only thirteen episodes under its belt that’s saying something.

Since it’s a CW show I’m certain it will show up on Netflix in the next few months—it’s worth a watch or even a re-watch.

Supernatural Season Ten Ending

Here there be spoilers….

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I’d geared myself up to watch Castiel or Crowley die. When the show creators said that there was going to be a character death at the end of this season I was sure one of those two would be it, but I was surprised again when it actually turned out to be Death himself.

The thing about Supernatural on the CW is that as formulaic and rinse and repeat as it can be, it always manages to throw a surprise in there. It’s always managed to make me care. I care about Crowley and I feel for Castiel as he’s really still torn between two worlds and rejected by both of them. Probably my favorite addition to this season has been Rowena.

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She’s one of those things that the show needed that we would have never asked for and she’s added another dimension to Crowley. And that’s one of the other things that this show is so damn good at: fleshing out characters. Crowley has been on the show since 2009 and I feel like I have a complete enough picture of his character to like him, but there’s more about him that they just keep packing in there. His long lost son, his mother, his family issues before he died or became a demon.

This show has kept me on the edge of my seat and excited since it started and I’m glad that it’s still going strong.

I don’t really like writing reviews of things, I struggled to make it through a single season of Doctor Who, but Supernatural is one of the most consistent shows I watch. It’s not the best, but it has been less disappointing than any other show for longer. This isn’t a review—this is just me saying that it’s been a pleasure to follow Sam and Dean Winchester for ten years and though I know there’s already a season eleven on the books, here’s to the hope there’s even more.

Why Media Matters (but it’s really very little to do with media)

The typical nerd pursuits have seen their universes shaken up a lot over the last few years. It’s not all been bad, but there’s a lot of push back against the changes. The Hugo Awards drama has driven a world between the writing world. Video games have seen a virtual war between a more progressive side and a kind of old guard. Comic books have suffered numerous issues with the inclusion of minorities and women and the hiccups that these changes cause. Media in general has been shaken up when it comes to race, sexual orientation and gender.

Exhibit A: Captain America fucking up the day of some criminals while flying

These aren’t the most important subjects in the world.

Baltimore is has been the stage for riots for the last few days. There’s an election coming over the horizon. The Middle East is still on fire.

And yet I can’t stop coming back to these things because they’re in my life everyday. I’ve grown to appreciate comic books and I grew up with video games and fantasy fiction. They’re a part of who I am, but not who I am. For so many people these things are an integral part of their person and that’s why passionate fights come out of the changes.

This has been written about extensively from both sides of all issues. If your mind is already made up one way or another I’m not going to be able to change it, but I land firmly on the side of the progressive in every case. Companies have realized that appealing to a wider audience can get them the big bucks and doesn’t have to be hokey or pandering. What’s wrong with that?

I’ve been black my whole life. It’s not the kind of thing you can wake up one day and realize or suddenly become, but I haven’t always understood why women had issues with being seen in a sexual light or why gays deserved any rights. When you come from a state like Texas it’s easy to get inundated with the culture. It’s really in all American culture. You don’t understand why the poor don’t just “get a job and work harder” and maybe you think “sexual harassment is something cooked up by women to give them an excuse to get special treatment”.

These things are baked into the clay we’re molded from and it’s hard to chip away at that mindset. A kind of cognitive dissonance is at play too. Being black and thinking that I deserve to be afforded the same rights as anyone else while not thinking the same about women or gays requires a little bit of mental gymnastics. We think of ourselves ahead of others. We consider our own problems first.

We get mad at women because we feel like they owe us their bodies and their time simply because we exist and we’re asking for it. We feel like gays are different or without God and therefore should be looked at as subhuman.

It’s hard to remember when the switch clicked in my head. I remember the steps to get there: reading testimonials by women who had been looked at like juicy steaks their whole lives and felt up by men they trusted. Or getting so angry at a friend who I claimed to be in love with when she didn’t return my affection that I cut her out of my life. Or finding out how many women I cared about and knew for years had stories of sexual assault. Or getting to know gays as people and finding out people I knew were gay and there was nothing wrong with them. It didn’t make me feel any different about or around them.

I’d say it’s maturity and growing up, but then there are those twice my age with the mindset I had at sixteen. And it’s easy to slip back into the old habit of thinking badly about someone solely because they’re different than you.

The culture around us is built on a foundation of cultures from all over the world and attitudes and mores that are centuries old shape the world we live in. Even when you’ve realized the truth, you’re immersed in the lie and it’s hard to keep believing.

That’s where the comic books, video games and other media come in. Media is often our first interactions with some things. We see Asians on television and we figure they must all be like that; it’s easy to think that people are like the races in Lord of the Ring. Well, it’s easy to think that about people who aren’t like you. All blacks are athletic, love watermelon and crime. Asians are bad with women, but good at math and science. Hispanics are somehow both hard working and lazy. Liberals are degenerates who hate America. Conservatives are sexist bigots who love war. Gays are fashionable, nosey and annoying. Women are bad at math and emotional. Feminists are man hating lesbians.

I can go on like this all day.

For a long time we’ve seen these things played out in media. We’ve had them hammered into our heads in print and seen them run their course on the screen. The country has only started to come around from a lot of the older ones in the last one hundred years or so and it’s been a slow battle. The progressive attitude toward characterization of the “other” in media has got to grow up, because it’s where a lot of the kids being born now will get their first taste of the world out there and where a lot of us reinforce our worst fears and best realizations about people.

These groups aren’t homogenized. I know a woman who is a math genius. I know a Conservative guy who let me borrow gas money when I needed and has a teen daughter that he dotes on and used to bring to play Dungeons and Dragons with us. I know a really hood black guy that loves his comics and treats women with the utmost respect. I have a gay cousin that loves him some Jesus and I have women who are among my best friends…the whole point to this rant is that we don’t need to take what people are as who they are or all they are.

Bad people exist in every group, but there’s a lot of good out there and if we just stopped being so quick to judge we’d probably see more of it.

Now, I promise I haven’t smoked anything and I’m not drunk. I’m just as guilty as anyone else of making the mistake of pointing to a whole group as bad as anyone else. And to me this whole battle over media culture is bigger than the characters and fandoms housed inside of that culture. We need to all work for that.

I don’t think I’ll change any minds, but I hope I do.

“Selfie” Review: John Cho and Karen Gillan’s new Sit-Com

selfieIn a world of the aging situation comedy (Two and a Half Men) and the mysteriously popular situation comedy (Big Bang Theory) it’s nice to have something to laugh at on Network TV. After season three of New Girl grew stale (I still haven’t watched the very ending of it) I thought I was done with everything on the over the air channels except for Supernatural and Originals.

And then I heard Karen Gillan and John Cho were coming to a new show, Selfie. I’ve been a fan of Gillan since she stepped in front of the camera on Doctor Who back in 2010 and John Cho provided me with a lot of laughs in the Harold and Kumar series and a show that probably no one remembers called Off Centre.

Selfie is a retelling of My Fair Lady, which was a retelling of Pygmalion (which I had never heard of until this past week). Gillan plays Eliza, a woman with questionable social intelligence who enlists the help of Henry (John Cho) to help fix her. The comedy beats seem to be well spaced out, but the show is funny and more than once I laughed hard enough that my roommate stuck his head in to check on me.

Despite what the title and the theme song might make it seem like the show makes a sincere effort at using the core material in an updated way and showing some genuine emotion. Cho and Gillan are always fun to watch and both really charismatic. The one small gripe I have is that they probably shouldn’t have bothered to try and change Karen’s accent because she’s not consistent with it and how hard is it to say she moved here as a kid and she just never started to speak like us. She already uses the slang of an American, so it makes sense.

I really want to see this show make it and see where they’re going to take it. I worry that the premise is something they will have to adjust once things get further along. If you’re not wanting to check it out on Hulu, Selife starts Tuesday September 30th at 7:00 PM Central/ 8:00 PM Eastern.

BoJack Horseman Is Actually Funny

MV5BMTUxNDYwMzEzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTM0ODkyMjE@._V1_SX640_SY720_I might have, in the past few days mentioned the show Bojack Horseman. It’s a Netflix original cartoon that follows a former nineties television star horse through his day to day life trying to navigate obscurity. Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) and Alison Brie (Community and Mad Men) were the personalities that attracted me to the whole thing and I have to say that the more I see of it the more I love it.

Apparently I’m not the only one, Netflix has already ordered a second season. It’s nice to see more things following in the footsteps of shows like Archer and using the cartoon medium to tell somewhat realistic premises in unbelievable ways.

Even better is the power of Netflix to basically fund shows that aren’t bound by the awkward (awkward in the way that boners during a junior high school slow dance are awkward) television censorship laws and that don’t cost you twenty dollars a month to watch.

If you’re a fan of dark humor, enjoy the voices of Will Arnett, Aaron Paul, Paul F. Tompkins, and Alison Brie, or are just looking for something to binge watch on Netflix, definitely give this one a try.