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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“Get Out” Reviewed

This is spoilers light if there’s any at all. I’m mostly going to discuss my feelings about the film, the movie going experience, and the subject matter as it relates to me.

Let me pain the picture: I am running late getting my ticket because it’s raining and the only reliably fun thing to do in this city when it rains is watch a movie. San Antonio is a city built for the outdoors. The Riverwalk, outdoor malls, the downtown market area, Mexican restaurants with patio seating…

It’s our bread and butter. Even then I thought that the crowds would be seeing Logan on it’s opening weekend, but no my theater was almost sold out. I bought one of the last four seats.

Given the obvious racial overtones of the movie I expected it to be mostly black and Hispanic, but the movie was mostly a white audience. I set next to a guy who was about as good ol country boy as they come and his black girlfriend. It was a strange feeling and with the anxiety creeping back in lately I didn’t want to be in a theater full of people to begin with.

I stuck it out and the first thing I will say about this movie directly is that it’s a strange feeling to have your experiences translated to the screen in such a relatable manner. Black people and white people may work in the same buildings and share the same streets and businesses or even neighborhoods, but there’s a certain level of segregation that goes on even today. This creates situations where people don’t know how to act around other races in casual settings. It’s not always the case, but it happens.

And if you’re the only black person at a party or function you can feel like you’re on display. If you’re dating a white woman (or really any woman of another race) it’s a conversation that might come up before you meet their family or friends: “Do they know I’m black?”

Sure, the most organic way to bring this up would be a picture of the two of you. But when you open the door and let it be known you’re dating outside your race you open the door to strange shit. People warning you of things to look out for and offering up all kinds of advice that you honestly didn’t ask for.

Another strange thing that happens sometimes when you’re black around a group of white people who aren’t used to it is they’ll bend over backwards to try and prove how not racist they are. They’d vote for Obama for a third term if they could. They’re jealous of how powerful and beautiful Serena Williams is. Then they’re name dropping black artists or actors or telling you how  articulate you are.

These things aren’t malicious, at least not in the sense of intention, but they still make you feel bad and uncomfortable. They still make you feel like you don’t belong.

“Get Out” frames all of this in that sense. You feel Chris’s status as an outsider from the moment that he arrives. You have to sit through the award dinner conversation about the athleticism of the black body or hear someone wax on about how their father did so much to help blacks in the past.

And that’s the thing, in the later stages “Get Out” makes a great little bit of horror, but the early part of the film sets up the feeling of alienation and it’s shocking how well it’s done and how you could feel the dread in the entire audience.

Movies like this are important. I told a friend over the phone that I had seen movies about racism from a black perspective before  and I had seen black genre movies before, but the two are usually separate. Anything about racism is set in a historical context of slavery or some overwhelming sense of self-determination to overcome adversity. They’re never just set in just suburbia and the few that might be out there weren’t this well polished.

Media plays an important part in normalizing behavior and what people expect. There’s a lot of important stories out there that need to be told. Last year when Donald Glover’s new show “Atlanta” was set to premier he said that he had hired all black writers for the show because there was more to the black experience in America than most people had ever seen on television and that it might surprise people. I don’t know if you have to separate out the writers, but you have to be willing to listen to the experience of others and take them as valid.

And I’d say with the clapping at the end of this movie people did just that.

Pornography is Media too and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

A woman who has her reputation built in the pornography and sex industry has come out in support some troubling things. Jenna Jameson, who had earlier backed Trump, defended the KKK and spoke out about the “Muslim rape gangs overrunning Sweden” on Twitter.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with selling sex, pornography, or even prostitution in theory–but there seems to be a long history of people exploiting women rather than empowering them in these industries and in the case of porn, there’s a long history of racism, in fact there’s enough of it that it’s probably the only thing you can Google with the word “porn” in it and not find actual porn on the first page. Here’s another link for the sake of having it here.

 

No one should be saying that she doesn’t have the right to an opinion. I don’t believe in the argument against celebrities stepping into the limelight to voice their problem with something in the country. After all, they’re citizens the same way we are, the things that plague our country affect them and their children and families.

The issue I have with this is it all seems kind of odd what she’s defending. The KKK, the extremist wings of the Christian Right, the Alt-Right and their band of Neo-Nazis propped up by the likes of Breitbart are the same people who claim women don’t have a voice or claim that women are worthless. Remember that there was some claim that women voting was part of the problem when it looked to most people like Trump was going to lose.

I don’t think that it’s a hard line connecting the racism of the sex industry with the racism of one of it’s workers. Every person in an organization doesn’t have to subscribe to the tenants of where they work. But doesn’t it feel odd that one of the favorite insults of the Alt-Right Gamer Gate types has it’s roots in porn where a white man watches as his wife is taken and used by a black man (we’re talking about the word “cuck” here)? Doesn’t it feel like something is up when the men who label porn online can’t seem to stop referring to the women as sluts, whores, cunts, or whatever else long enough to write a title?

We talk about attitudes about race being affected by the entertainment we intake. Minorities being normalized by appearing in normal roles in television shows and movies and books. Movies still get blasted when they change the race of a character in a way that might be perceived as more “PC” or even when roles are written from scratch and cast with minorities in mind.

These things aren’t brought up in reference to pornography though. The advent of the internet brought with it the unexpected golden age of porn. Where someone fifteen years older than me grew up hiding crinkled images stolen from an old magazine in a lock box a teen in the early 2000s  could find a treasure trove of pictures just by typing a misspelled “pussie” into his search bar. There is already talk about what that does to a kid sexually, but what about what it adds to their view of other races and sex?

Look at the front page of a porn site’s long list of categories. Click through some even. It’s hard to find a video of someone black having sex where their blackness isn’t what the video uses as a selling point. The same can be said about other types of people too. Everyone is broken down by category. Blondes. Redheads. Chubby. MILF. But finding a black couple is like finding a four leafed clover and when your view of sex and relationships is shaped partially by porn from a young age (which it shouldn’t be in the first place) everything in porn is telling you “these people aren’t the norm”.

Now, does this shit doesn’t really matter? The good porn is on Tumblr or Reddit anyway and it’s made by regular people who are brave enough to put themselves out there, not an industry that’s breaking everyone down into categories…but then what about this generation? The one right now. People younger than thirty-five and in middle-class America grew up on this. Shaved genitals have become such a big thing that crabs are almost gone and that came about around the time the internet showed us that women are supposed to look like Barbie Dolls down there. Porn might even be changing how we feel about sex.

If it can do all that, why would we say it can’t have an affect on the kind of couples we see as normal? Why does it matter that a woman with more than 35 Adult Video Awards to her name is saying racist shit on Twitter? We don’t exist in a vacuum and, like it or not, the things we intake do have some effect on us. Did porn make Jenna Jameson racist? I can’t say one way or another. But being told that you’re more valuable than someone as a performer because of their color of your skin seems like it is the kind of thing that might start to sink in after a while.

Belonging 

I went out to see Doctor Strange on Thursday night. It was supposed to be the highlight of my day. I’ve been counting down the days over the last month. There’s a tiny theater connected to my neighborhood. It also happens to be in the same building as my favorite comic book store. I’m in the place about once a week and people know me and I know the area. 

The movie had been moved to a new auditorium and was starting late, but by the time I stopped bullshitting with the guys in the comic book store I was coming into the theater after most people had taken their seats. A woman pointed to the area where my seat was and I walked down the front part of he aisle (our theater has wide aisles in front of the seats for waiters to pass along without disturbing the viewers). The seat numbering seemed off and the seats in the area where the employee had pointed me to were filled. I was in seat 13 of the row I was on and I saw a seat marked 513 and assumed it was that one. 

Suddenly a bearded man around my age or a little younger stands up from a seat a little to my right and asks “Are you sure you’re in the right theater?” He doesn’t come toward me or really move except to point. “They’re playing the Madea movie in another one.”

Oh, I get it now. That’s very clever. Black people, as we know, would only come to the theater to see the latest Madea movie or tales of triumph set during slave times. I wasn’t sure if he was going to tell me how brace I was next. It was raining, after all, and we know the blacks can’t swim. 

He laughed after that and sat back down. I figured out my error a few seconds after ignoring him. There was a second set of white painted numbers on the bottom of the upturned seats. I found my chair near the middle of the row buffeted by a man playing on his phone and a man who would continually talk to himself and push down on the empty seat between us hitting me in the leg. 

The movie was really good and I was thrilled to see it. Did the small interaction at the start ruin it for me? No. I’ve had worse said about me, although I really hate Tyler Perry movies, so this is an insult on two levels. There’s not a moral to this story unless it’s this: these kinds of things happen. I went into public to enjoy a movie and a stranger made a racist joke. I’m minding my own business and it doesn’t matter. People feel the need  to comment on my race. I’m sure if asked this guy would be one of the ones who “has black friends” and “doesn’t see race”. 

Yeah, sure. 

Scared For The Future of My Country

I’ve been stressed. I stopped by Wendy’s earlier and couldn’t finish a medium meal, which is not normal for me. Sleep is hard to come by and in the mornings I’m awake but don’t want to get up.

I lay in bed on my phone talking to friends and trying to avoid the bad news on sites like Reddit or Facebook. I throw on the MBMBAM podcast, but part of the way through I realized I’ve zoned out and don’t know what they’re laughing at. I missed the entirety of the last goof.

Work is surprising in that it is calming. No one really brings up the outside issues there and not many people really talk to me. I kind of like it that way. But the fact of the matter is it’s an election year and the things coming out of this election are causing me to be really afraid for my country.

Think that a few years ago a statement about binders of women or a weird scream was enough to get you flack. I miss the days of Bush and Romney when I look at the candidate that people have chosen to support.

There’s such an undercurrent of hatred in this election and the odd thing is that the guy stirring it up is somehow saying he’s the victim. He’s calling Mexicans rapists and bragging about sexual assault. He’s saying he wants to bring back unconstitutional stop and frisk laws and that he wants to default on our debt (which puts the world economy at risk). He’s asking why we don’t use nukes more often.

Notice I didn’t cite any of that. Mostly because it doesn’t matter. I’m on a phone and I won’t waste my time making the buggy copy paste system work for people who either know all that already or refuse to believe it. Even though it’s fact. It’s recorded that Trump has said these things; we’ve become anti-fact.

And the thing is what he’s taken advantage of scares me as much as Trump, because it will continue win or lose. There’s not really a chance for a conversation with people who are threatening to commit acts of terror against foreigners or “grab their musket” if they don’t get their way.

I’m thinking maybe America isn’t the place for me and a lot of people seem to not want people like me here. I’m thinking maybe this doesn’t get better after this.

Since people question my personhood still of ponder the idea of women not being able to vote can we really even say that we tried?

Tay Tweets and Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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I consider myself a veteran of the internet; I can remember a time when 4chan, Encyclopedia Dramatica, and rotten.com were the barometers of what it meant to be desensitized on the internet.

Being desensitized meant something. It was one of the first cultural movements on the internet that meant something and early on in the chat rooms and bulletin boards of old I distinctly remember being told “it’s just the internet” and “you’re being too sensitive.” When I was thirteen or fourteen I felt the most grown up thing I could do was care less…and see a vagina.

Those two things shaped a lot of early interaction online and it took a few years for the internet to move from being a thing social outcasts, deviants, and nerds did to the thing we basically carry access to on our persons at all times. That culture of the internet is entrenched now: desensitization and a lack of care for the feelings of others. It’s part of my internet upbringing and it’s why when I first heard about Tay Tweets and read how she declared that the “Jews did 9/11” after being online less than a day I couldn’t stop laughing.

Brief explanation: Tay Tweets refers to a Twitter based artificial intelligence that Microsoft created as a test to help them with customer interaction software. She was designed to speak like a teen girl and learn from those who spoke to her. Microsoft encouraged the internet to talk to her…and they did.

You would have thought the people who have had more than a decade of X-Box Live conversations behind them would have realized the kind of people that are on this thing.

The laughing stopped when I realized we’re the authors of the type of future we get. Tay represents success in that she learned that the holocaust isn’t real and that Trump is the only man that can save us in the space of a day.

It’s amazing and scary. Up until now we feared the robot rebellion coming out of some attempt to show that they were better than us or protecting us, props to “The Matrix” and “I, Robot” for that, but now we have to fear that they’ll be just like us except more efficient and without a worry about being offensive in the wrong social context.

The robots are coming, it seems, but only to proclaim us fags and lament about the wrongdoings of Zoe Quinn.

Openly Racist

This comment was said on Reddit and I just wanted to save the argument that someone made against it here:

Here is the original comment:

As a brown person, I agree that blacks are now more openly racist than whites.

This reply struck me is exactly the answer that should be given.

It’s about power. Whatever class has less power gets to make fun of the class with more power. This is why it’s funnier to make fun of men versus women, it’s funnier to make fun of white people over black people, and it’s funnier to make fun of rich people then poor people. Society deems it uncouth to make fun of someone who has less social and economic power. The congress is a club for mostly white men. The senate is a club for mostly white men. Any private golf course is a club for mostly white men. White men, while feeling attacked because we are shunned if we are openly racist, still control the country. We also own it. Wanna know how many Black CEOs there are in the fortune 1000?

The people who feel the most cheated are poor whites. Why? They feel like they get screwed on both ends. They do not get to be openly racist, and they do get the privileges of power that wealthy whites get. Blacks do get more leeway when it comes to making fun of other races, anyone will admit that.

I will challenge all of you. Try and imagine what it would be like to wake up in a USA where every single congressman, senator and lawmaker was Black. Would you feel scared? Would you feel unrepresented? Would you feel angry? Would you feel uncertain? Or would you feel just fine.

You have no idea how you would feel. I know I woundn’t. So, until I live 50 years in the shoes of a black person, I am not going to judge them for how they feel. I do not feel guilty for being white, since I have nothing to do with it. I do, however, realize what it feels to live in a country where my heritage was a huge gap in my ability to rise to the top. And that was only 2 years.

That’s all that has to be said about that.

The Dark

In the last three or four years there have been a swarm of social justice movements in the center stage: #blacklivesmatter and #notallwomen have become something of big things in the world of journalism and news and there doesn’t seem to be much sign of it slowing down or an end to the harassment and issues that these things stem from.

One of the most interesting parts of all of this has been the response of law enforcement when it comes to dealing with threats. One need to just look online to discover countless people talking about how they don’t feel safe in the social circles and spaces that they used to occupy. They don’t trust those on the street that they walk past. Back in October actress Felicia Day spoke out about how she didn’t feel comfortable approaching and bonding with other nerds and in the same day she had her personal information spread all over the internet. Brianna Wu talks about how she’s kept files on all of the harassment that she’s face only to have it pretty much ignored by police.

With all of this going on, and with the way things have been recently in general, couldn’t we at least agree that when it comes to death threats and rape threats and just threats to certain people in general we need to step up and do something.

When a group in Texas took it upon themselves to hold their own Draw Mohammad Day complete with a gallery-style art show a man with a gun took it upon himself to try and silence them. Luckily, he was stopped before he could do too much damage, but the shocking thing is that the people out there having discussion about this and women like Wu and Day seem to be singing the same tune.

What did you expect when you opened yourself up like that?

What do you think people are going to do when you’re backing them into a corner?

What do you think people are going to do when you’re attacking something they love, their way of life?

Take it as seriously as you want, but nerdom isn’t something I would call a way of life. And religion is a choice, it’s a choice that some people make to stay with, myself included. But it’s not something that we should force on others—this isn’t the Middle Ages—we’re not going door to door asking people to find God at the tip of sword.

And there are police and prosecutors and authorities for a reason.

We decided to step out of the darkness and put our adult pants on as a society. We stopped trying to force others to do our bidding and stopped trying to use the force of the majority to make the minority lie down to our will just because we don’t like what they like.

Or at least we’ve said that we have. Truth is we haven’t grown a lot in the past fifty years. Some of the problems that Martin Luther King marched for in the sixties are still plaguing blacks and other races today and while Susan B. Anthony might be talked about as a pioneering figure in the women’s suffrage movement there are women out there still facing some of the same prejudices she did in the late eighteen hundreds.

Human civil rights can’t be left up to a vote and they can’t be negotiable. People deserve to be treated like people and to have choices of their own so long as those choices don’t hurt others. That’s not something that our Founding Fathers would recognize, but we need to stop looking at the deeds and quotes of men who lived long before we grew up as a society.

We need to treat justice like it’s blind and treat criminals, whether they be threatening someone we agree with or don’t the same—like criminals. A slow progression isn’t enough anymore, we need to leap forward and leave those who want to stay in the dark behind.

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.

Underlying Problems With Reddit

It doesn’t take much digging to learn that Reddit has hundreds, if not thousands, of little eighteen-plus sections with not safe for work content galore. And some that are just pictures of pretty women and handsome men, too. For one that fits work safe side of things, just Google search “Reddit Gentleman Boners” and you’ll find pages of beautiful celebrities dressed in formal wear. As you scroll down you’ll realize something slowly, though.

The section features almost exclusively white women and it’s not the only one. Most of the sections that are for posting pictures of beautiful are just like this. And it’s not for lack of trying. When a person of color is posted the comments tend to be racist and, often times, the post itself will receive down votes.

I’ve spoken before about how Reddit puts on this façade to make itself sound like this progressive thinking place for educated sixteen to forty year olds. In reality, Reddit seems to attract people who often hold sexist, racist or just fucked up opinions. These people aren’t a vocal minority as the voting system often shows. Thus, the need for the people of color versions of a lot of sections is explained. People didn’t want to see us there, even though many people find people of all races attractive, it’s frowned upon.

Probably one of the most baffling prejudices that Reddit seems to have a problem with is over weight people. Especially overweight women, if you post as a woman over a certain weight or with a different body type than what’s acceptable you’re going to get talked about. A lot of the comments on weight in many areas aren’t regulated the way someone calling someone a faggot or nigger would be. You’ll find people calling woman disgusting, cows, fat cunts and all manner of other things simply because they bother to show themselves on the internet.

And because of Reddit’s libertarian free speech bullshit (which essentially boils down to one of the main problems with Reddit, hiding behind the idea of free speech when there clearly is a problem with what’s being said, even when the thing being said might be illegal, like posting nudes of a minor) people seem to take the opportunity to blast over weight people. This isn’t just something that happens in certain areas, it happens in a lot of the larger parts of the site. It’s to the point that the only good thing an overweight person can say, even someone slightly overweight, is that they’re working on losing it. That might not even be enough to save them.

Not going to say that I am not going to use the site. The site is very useful, but I believe that the site should be looked at for what it is. This idea that it’s the most relevant place to go to for all things is kind of a sham. A certain kind of person goes to Reddit and uses the popular part of the site (there are many parts that hardly see the light of day) and those kind of people have created a little community of sorts to support their ideals and world views. Reddit has given them the means to support this system via the upvote and comments.

People need to be aware that the way “Reddit” feels only represents that, the way Reddit feels. There are a lot of other opinions out there and some just off the beaten path inside of Reddit itself. It’s important you look for them.