The Truman Show (1998): Questioning Reality

During the late 90’s there was a spate of existentialist movies, that asked questions about the nature of reality, the self,  and questioned our sense of who we were. Movies like Dark City, The 13th Floor, Pleasantville, The Matrix, Existenz, and yes, The Truman Show, all questioned if the world we lived in was truly real, if we were real, and if nothing is real, does anything we experience matter.

The Truman Show didn’t just question reality. It asked questions about freedom, and self determination, as well. Truman is a man who has been imprisoned in a pleasant middle class, artificial, bubble his entire life, with a pretty blond wife, a non-descript job, one close friend, and a tragic past that’s specifically designed to hold him in place, and keep him from moving forward. His life is comfortable and certain. It is difficult not to see parallels to our own lives in Truman and his circumstances.

Truman has a daily routine. He does the same thing every day, with the same catchphrases, ordering the same food, the same magazines at the newsstand, driving the same route to and from work. Truman is mostly happy with his life, but its not an exciting life, so he fantasizes a lot.

Image result for truman show astronaut  gifs

One of the first images we get of Truman is his childlike fantasy of being an astronaut. Truman longs to do something different, go somewhere else, be someone else, but he is trapped in place, as so many of us are, by our jobs, our circumstances, monetary concerns, our families, and other obligations, that we consider more important than our freedom to do as we please. Like Truman many of us fantasize about being  someone else, someplace else, and for most of us, fantastical visions of riding dragons, or pretending to be a favorite cartoon character, are enough.

Many of us live in comfortable bubbles, occasionally  chafing at our restrictions, and any attempts to break free of those restrictions can get you branded with labels like mentally ill,  mid-life crisis, or hysteria. Your desire to  break free, can often make other people deeply uncomfortable, and can prompt them to deploy tactics that will get you back into your bubble, to be quiet, and complacent, once again.

Truman is a man who has been held in captivity, since he was born, by an avant-garde filmmaker, named  Christof, who adopted him, kept him imprisoned in a fake world, with actors and actresses as friends and family, and put his entire life on live television. Everything in Truman’s life is manufactured, his job isn’t real, his marriage was carefully orchestrated, his best friend is an actor, his father was conveniently killed when he was a child, and he has been socialized with a number of phobias (aqua-phobia) that make it near impossible for him to leave the fake set.  In other words, his world is carefully designed to keep him in place, keep him from questioning it, and keep him from growing, changing , or progressing.

Image result for truman show   gifs

Many of us live the kinds of lives we are reluctant to leave, it can be difficult for us to grow and move forward because we’ve become used to how our life is. It can be difficult to try new things, or make big changes in our lives, even changes we need to have, because we fear the unknown future. If you’re someone who has a great fear of the unknown, then moving into a future you cannot see, would be very difficult. This is how Truman engages with the world in the first half of his life, until a monkey-wrench called “first love” throws everything he knows into question. He falls in love with a young woman named Sylvia, who wasn’t chosen for him, and she is, rather traumatically, removed from his world. Truman developed such a special longing for her, that she came to represent the one thing in his life he didn’t have, uncertainty, and the unknown.

He begins to question the world he lives in. In other words, he starts to wake up, especially after  he experiences a series of strange events. like seeing his supposedly dead father, chunks of sky falling on his car, a photo of his wife with her fingers crossed behind her back (which indicates that she was lying). Truman attempts to express his nascent suspicions to his wife, mother, and best friend, who only try  to gaslight him, with temporary success. Over time, Truman begins to test his theory, and finally reaches the conclusion that the world he lives in, and the people he knows, is not real.

Related image

Truman only begins to ask the right questions, after he sees the patterns around him, and starts putting those patterns in the correct order. When he sees his dead father on the street, the man is immediately whisked away by a group of strangers. Later that week, there is a radio mix up, where he hears one of the camera men narrating what he is doing. He notices a pattern in the people who cross in front of his house. He notices  patterns and reaches proper conclusions. He begins to see the artificiality.

For example, he suspects that he is being watched, that the people in his world are fake, and  don’t know what to do when he does  unexpected things. So he disrupts his routine in small ways, like walking into a different building, or deciding to accompany his wife (a nurse) to a surgery that was made up in an attempt to explain something he saw earlier that day. By behaving unpredictably, he has introduced uncertainty, and the unknown to the set, which disrupts everyone else’s routine, as well.

Image result for truman show   gifs

Ironically, many of us suspect that the world we live in is a facade, as we seek to explain the uncertainty of our life, rather than the certainties. This theory was especially popular during the last years of the 20th century, which accounts for the popularity of  films, in which the protagonists question the randomness of their lived experiences. In the Matrix, Neo tells Trinity about a number of events that happened to him when he was unaware he was in the matrix, and asks her what that means. Trinity’s answer is that the matrix cannot tell you who you are. She is in essence telling him that when he lived in the matrix, that he was not his true self.

Since the events that occurred to Neo can be said to have been contrived by computer programs, his reactions to those events were inauthentic, and not evidence of his true self.  Another argument that can be made, however, is that such contrived events are not any different than random events contrived by a god, and if we can accept that our authentic self is in evidence when under the aegis of a mythological figure, than why can we not accept the authenticity of self while under the control of an AI?

One of the reasons that Truman gives for desperately trying to escape Christof’s prison, is that he wants a real life, an authentic life. Christof tries to talk him into staying in his artificial world by telling him that life is no more authentic, in the “real” world, than it is in his fake one. he tells Truman that there is no truth, thereby  illustrating a fundamental misunderstanding of Truman’s motives. Truman is not searching for truth. He is searching for “the real”, which is not the same thing.

Related image

But, as we all must do, if we hope to move forward, to progress in our lives, Truman takes a leap of faith, into the unknown. At some point, if we hope to meet our real selves, we must all walk through a mysterious door, into an uncertain future. Truman has no idea what is on the other side of the door he’s about to walk through, but like Red, from the Shawshank Redemption, he hopes to see Sylvia, and take her hand. He hopes to find himself. He hopes to be happy. He hopes to find love.

He hopes.

And so must we all.

 

Advertisements

Jet Li Unleashed (2005): Surviving Abuse

 

Related image

One of the more unusual martial arts films I’ve  seen, is one which stars Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), and Jet Li. Yeah, I said it. Morgan Freeman starred in a martial arts film. Okay he didn’t do any martial arts, which I definitely would have watched. He was a piano tuner, but that’s okay, because Jet Li engaged in enough rock’em, sock’em for everyone in the movie. This is an unusual movie, not just because of its dissimilar cast, but because it is as much of a drama, as it is an action movie.

Related image

The movie’s first title was Danny the Dog, when it was released overseas in 2004. When it was released in the US, in 2005, it was renamed Unleashed, and received moderate reviews, probably because most people didn’t get to see it, and the ones who did see it didn’t quite know what to make of it. Its not a bad film, but it is a tonally odd movie, that somehow manages to work, and that is entirely due to the acting, and what mindset you bring to it.

Related image

Morgan Freeman, as Sam, is his usual excellent self, and so is Bob Hoskins as an abusive gangster named Bart. Jet Li is Danny the Dog, and  does surprisingly well, as an emotionally stunted and abused young man, They are joined by Kerry Condon, as Danny’s bubbly love interest, Victoria. I actually enjoyed this movie, but then I walked in not really knowing what to expect, even though I had heard of the movie with its previous title.

Bart has been raising Danny, the son of a young woman he exploited and killed, as a beast who wears a metal collar, which, when it’s removed, is Danny’s cue to kill whoever  Bart has pointed his finger, first as one of Bart’s enforcers, and then in  underground fight clubs. Bart styles himself as a kindly uncle, who is just taking care of the helpless Danny, but he is horrifically abusive, treating Danny like an animal, putting him on a leash, making him eat out of dog dishes, and live in a  cage in the basement. He is a cartoonish example of abusive parenting, and clothes himself in virtue, by calling it love.

Related image

One day Danny accidentally stumbles across Sam, fixing a piano in an antique shop, and the blind Sam, is kind and friendly to him, something Danny has never experienced. He becomes fascinated by the piano, and later, asks for one from Bart, but a rival gangster takes Bart out of the equation, via car crash. Danny is injured in the attack, but manages to find his way back to the antique shop where Sam works. Sam takes Danny in, and patches him up.

So thirty minutes into the movie, it turns into a found family story, that’s rather endearing, carried mostly on the strength of the acting. Danny is from a highly abusive, even life threatening, relationship with the man who raised him, while Victoria and Sam have an open, loving, and healthy relationship, with more than enough room to welcome Danny. A significant portion of the film is taken up with montages, and scenes, of Danny discovering the joys of ice cream, kissing, and both familial and romantic love, learning to cook with Sam, and  play the piano with Vic, and just be happy. He starts to regain memories of his mother and begins investigating his origins.

Victoria is also an adopted child, but she had the good luck to be raised by Sam instead of  someone like Bart. Victoria’s biological father died when she was small, and her mother married Sam. After her mother died, Sam became her father, and moved them both to France, so that she could go to music school. Sam’s love for his child, is as it should be, sacrificial, and supportive. They are a  family that prays before each meal, and fully embody the Christian principles of charity and kindness, and become a model for Danny for how a healthy family behaves.

Sam and Victoria are the stellar opposite  of  Bart, and the various flunkies who surround, and obey him, who all witness Danny being treated abusively, and say and do nothing. Bart is a man with many pretensions. He is a user who pretends  at kindness, a gangster with pretensions to class and upbringing, and a bully, who pretends to be a father figure. Thanks to Bart, Danny is emotionally underdeveloped, withdrawn, anxious, and extremely focused on any given task.

The first time Danny wakes up in Sam’s and Victoria’s home, he is frightened and nervous, and hides under the bed. At dinner, he doesn’t know to use a spoon for his soup, and he is still wearing his metal collar. But Sam and Victoria adapt to him as he adapts to them, and are as loving and supportive to him, as they are to each other. They suspect that he comes from a violent situation, and are sensitive about how they treat him, by not asking questions they think would cause traumatic memories ,and they teach him how to live a normal life, as Danny has never been taught to do anything but kill and is completely inured to violence.

Related image

At one point, a fight breaks out in a local store that Sam and Danny frequent, which Danny entirely ignores, saying he was unconcerned because the fight didn’t involve him. This is how well trained Danny is with his collar on. Later, when Victoria reaches to take the collar off, saying its the last vestige of his old life he needs to get rid of, he is terrified that when she does so,  he will attack her, because the only times it was ever removed, he would kill. You can see his adrenaline spike just thinking about it, but he allows her to remove it, and when nothing happens you can see the relief on his face. He trusts himself now, in a way that would not have been possible, earlier in their relationship. As it turns out, he is not the natural born killer Bart trained him to be.

**************

https://www.loyola.edu/department/counseling-center/students/concerns/abuse

When children are exposed to abuse, they learn to protect themselves through denial, withdrawal, approval-seeking, turning off their feelings, acting out, and self-blame. Using these coping mechanisms during childhood has long-term consequences, which can include lack of trust, a fear of change and resultant difficulty in adjusting, difficulty knowing or showing one’s own feelings, being easily stressed and acting on that by abusing substances, food, and one’s own body, and feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.

****************

Related image

Sam and Victoria model for Danny how a loving relationship between a stepparent and child is supposed to work.When Sam and Victoria have a disagreement, they argue, come to a truce, and then make up. They disagreed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still love each other. Contrast that with Danny’s relationship to his evil stepfather  Bart, who gives the orders, and, according to Bart, “the dog obeys!” There can be no disagreement with Bart. When Danny insists that he wants a piano, Bart is angry, manipulative, and cajoling. He screams and/or lies, to Danny, to get what HE wants.

Later, Danny refuses to fight, deciding he doesn’t want to kill people anymore, and Bart becomes increasingly angry and more violent, but is unable to force Danny to do what he wants him to do. Danny sees this powerlessness, and finally connects his mother’s death (which he witnessed as a child) to Bart. He rebels completely and leaves him. This move may or may not be especially cathartic to abuse survivors, but its was certainly good to watch Danny reject Bart. After experiencing so much happiness with Sam and Victoria, he can’t possibly make himself go back to that life.

Bart follows him to his home, with Sam and Victoria, and attempts to kill them, because threatening Danny’s new family is the only leverage he has to make him obey. Danny nearly kills Bart, but is stopped by Sam and Victoria who tell him that he cannot begin his commitment to peace by killing Bart. Bart’s life isn’t saved because Sam and Victoria care about him. Its saved because they love Danny and believe, as he does,  that he should stop killing.

Related image

**************

https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/survivors-child-abuse-remind/

#3. You Are Still Loved, Even When It’s Uncomfortable to Accept Love from Others

****************

At the end of the movie, Victoria tells Danny  his life was saved by music, and this may be true, but really Danny saves himself, by the choices he makes. Like a lot of abuse survivors, he is presented with the option of staying, as the abuser tries to sweet talk him into coming back, and how everything will better, and the abuser will be a nicer person, who really loves them. Classic abuser speak, basically.

Related image

Danny realizes he actually has choices. He chooses to stop killing and commits to it,  he chooses to leave Bart, and sets the terms of it, and finally chooses not to kill Bart, not because he cares about Bart’s  life, but because he cares about his own. But one of the biggest choices Danny makes is the choice to accept  love and support, which is healing for him. With Sam and Victoria, Danny starts to do things he never contemplated when he was with Bart. He makes plans for his future, sets goals, and claims what he desires.

This is not a completely accurate depiction of surviving child abuse, because this is, after all, an action film, but it makes some interesting points about  it. I’m pretty sure  most of the people who walked into the theater to see this, had no idea this would turn into a movie about surviving domestic abuse, but I found it uplifting and fun to watch. True, not all martial arts movies have this level of  depth, but like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, they sometimes have messages, and deal with  serious issues.

 

 

  • Next up on martial arts movies: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and  Colonialism

 

 

Let’s Go Waaaay Back

Now and Again (1999-2000)

Related image

I remember this show aired for one magnificent season, waay back in the 90s, before its very abrupt cancellation. I was totally in love with this show and it was my first huge disappointment in standard network TV. This was a little while before Firefly ever happened. At the time we didn’t have the vast internet systems in place to save worthy shows, so while there was a bit of an uproar, the show didn’t have that vast following of teens and twenty year-olds, with social media accounts, because this was before Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Interestingly enough, the show also has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so somebody’s heard of it, and been watching it. I do know that several of the episodes are available on Youtube, so check them out.

The first episode stars John Goodman, as Michael Wiseman (get it?) as a tired businessman, who gets killed on the NY subway one night, leaving behind a wife and daughter, played by Margaret Colin, and Heather Matarazzo. He’s given a brand new bionic body (sort of like Steve Rogers) in the person of Eric Close. He is now an asset of the US government, his handler played by Dennis Haysbert.

The show ended on a cliffhanger, as it was abruptly (and by abrupt, I mean absolutely no fucking warning at all) canceled, after Michael Wiseman had, illegally,  teamed back up with his wife and daughter, and would have been on the run from the US government. Its been twenty years, and I still feel some type of way about getting burned like that. I learned a valuable lesson from that, and to this day, I keep my distance from most of network TV.

I was initially interested in the show solely because of the song from the trailer. A couple of years earlier, Janet Jackson had a hit song, using the same melody that was used in the trailer, and since I loved that song (I played the hell out of that song all year), I loved the show, and I made sure to tune in to watch the opening credits, since I didn’t have a DVR back then. The opening credits are gorgeous and I think the lyrics were specially written for the show.

The best parts of the show are the dialogue, and acting, although the plots were ridiculous. It doesn’t hurt that Eric Close is a fine looking White man, and Haysbert is just icing. Somewhere somebody is shipping these two characters. I just know it! The weakest part of the show are the uneven characterizations of some of the characters, and the occasional weird plot points, that raised more questions than were answered.

I loved the show for the interaction between the characters. Haysbert’s Dr. Morris, and Michael, had the most interesting and volatile relationship, as Morris, the head of the program that created Michael, was alternately threatening and very protective of his subject. He tried desperately to keep a tight rein on Michael, but Michael insisted on interacting with his past friends and family. The Wiseman ladies are the real heart of the show, especially Margaret’s Lisa Wiseman. Colin had to carry a lot of the episodes, sometimes entirely on her own.We spent a lot of time with her, and her relationships with all the other characters is key to the mood of the show.

There’s something about all these shows that aired before Buffy that is incredibly shippable, often consisting of two handsome men, of any race, and usually  opposite  personality types, who got on, either very well together, or not so well, but with great chemistry. The two men usually spent a lot of time together, often living with each other, so that a certain level of intimacy was expected. For some reason this happened in a lot of  the less well known SciFi /Horror type shows, and this show was no exception. At any rate, you cannot convince me that at least some of these shows weren’t trying to have LGBTQ representation, in a kind of low key manner, during an era where Gay and Lesbian characters were  forbidden to be out on mainstream TV.

It was the abrupt cancellation of this show that made me start examining the making of TV shows, and start looking closer at which shows got made, which ones, got renewed, and which ones got popular, and why. I also never fully trusted the Fox network ever again, so by the time that shows like  Firefly and Sleepy Hollow were getting  canceled, I was mostly calm about it, while for other people, this was their first time getting burned by that network.

 

The Others (2000-2000)

Image result for the others tv  series

I’ve been looking for this series forever, having only memories of the basic plot. I remember that I liked the show, but I couldn’t remember the names of the characters, or the dates it aired, or even the title. Well, I went on an all out search recently (I really just googled the plot and linked it to IMDB) and finally stumbled across the title.

The Others is about a small group of psychic individuals that get brought together to fight some nebulous evil that eventually takes human form, and approaches them in the form of a red-eyed woman, who confronts them with their worst fears and insecurities.

The group consists of a young girl just coming into her psychic abilities, played by Julianne Nicholson, an older gentlemen, who tries to be her mentor and teacher, as he’s an old hand at interpreting psychic phenomena, played by Bill Cobbs, a handsome standup looking guy, with formidable mental powers of his own, played by Gabriel Macht, Kevin J O’Connor plays the groups resident unstable flake, and a pretty young thing played by Missy Crider, who is the only character whose name I remember, Satori. The group, which most of the time acts as a kind of support group for psychics, is led by John “Neelix” Billingsley, who, I don’t believe, had any mental powers, at all.

I clearly remember liking this show, and I was fortunate enough to find all the episodes on Youtube. The show only aired in the year 2000,  lasted for 13 episodes, and then it was quickly forgotten.

*Sigh* I seem to remember a lot of forgotten shows.

 

Wild Wild West (1965-1969)

Image result for wild wild west series gifs

 

The Wild Wild West is another show that originally aired before I was born, from 1965 to 1969, but that didn’t stop me from watching the re-runs of the show when it aired on weekend afternoons during the 70’s. I told you about how I used to watch Westerns with my Mom, like Bonanza. This wasn’t a show she watched, but I was inspired to watch it, because I liked TV westerns, and by the time I started watching it, I was into my SciFi phase, and this show had gadgets, (and funky theme music), like Lost in Space.

It starred the very handsome, Robert Conrad as Jim West, and his smarter and less handsome partner, Artemis Gordon, played by Ross Martin. It also starred the little person, Michael Dunn, as the villain Dr. Loveless. For me, one of the highlights of the show was the technology and gadgets created by Gordon and Loveless. Jim West had clearly been modeled after James Kirk, because his job was to finesse his way out of the various traps created by the show’s villains, and romance various female characters, who showed up to distract him from his job.

In hindsight, this show is clearly in the  Steampunk genre, and yet another one of those eminently slashable shows where all of the proper elements were there but, for some reason, the show didn’t get the Spock/Kirk treatment. You’ve got two handsome White guys living together, and  a merry go round of female characters, who have no intention of ever becoming permanent, but something about this formula was just a little bit off, possibly the show’s timing in the aftermath of the cancellation of Star Trek, and the show never really took off, even though it lasted four years.

I do remember that though Loveless was the villain, none of the things he did was ever alluded to his size, and for some reason that stuck with me. He wasn’t a villain because he was  a dwarf. He was just a man  who kept coming up with  nefarious plans that Jim West kept getting in the way of.

 

 

Millenium (1996-1999)

Image result for millenium tv

Chris Carter isn’t only known for having created the X-Files. He created a couple more shows that were X-Files related in the sense there was a thematic dialogue between all of them about paranoia, state cover-ups, and government conspiracies. Millennium was more along the detective show spectrum and aired during the end run of the X-Files, when Carter’s star had reached its highest point.

Millennium aired in 1996 and lasted for three years. It featured one of my all-time favorite actors Lance Henriksen of Aliens fame, as a forensic profiler, with an uncanny ability to suss out paranormal conspiracies and serial killers. This uncanny ability is presented as the ability to see though the eyes of serial killers. He was retired from the FBI and worked as a consultant for his friend, played by Terry O’Quinn, who worked in the local police department. He had a beautiful wife, and a maybe psychic daughter, named Morgan.

I remember watching the show ,and I even liked a few episodes. I was mildly upset at its cancellation, but I wasn’t too put out, as the show really had run its course, and there were times when the show was a little too grim, and dark, and gloom-filled. Since it was something of an offshoot of the X-Files, this was to be expected. America was going through a specifically angst filled moment.  Some shows are only meant to run for a specific length of time, and then stop, and it was clear that in the third season the show was trying to figure out what to do with itself.

I think one of the shows biggest drawbacks was the acting of the side characters. Henriksen’s acting  was okay, but his wife and daughter were especially cringeworthy. Everyone on the show was deeply, deeply, serious, and dedicated to never smiling about anything. Also, that whole angst filled era, in the 90s, of dark conspiracies and government cover-up-itis, was starting to wind itself up, and seem less urgent. Millennium is one of those shows that, unless you were a huge fan of the X-Files, you didn’t even know existed, or you forgot about, the moment the show was canceled.

The most memorable moments for me was a brief crossover with the X-Files ,and the show opening credits which were suitably creepy, and the shows theme song. I have a head full of theme songs from long extinct shows, and this one is at the top somewhere in my mind. The creepiness factor is something that permeated the entire show, and every character interaction, no matter how light hearted the actors tried to be.

Frank’s interactions with his wife and daughter rang false, and a lot of the characters seemed weighted down by the show’s heavy gloom. This is not a show that was ever going to last. I think audiences just eventually got tired of that level of grim and gave up on it. I gave up in the second season, only tuning in to catch the occasional episode that hinted at Frank’s daughters psychic abilities.

Frank’s denial of his abilities, by the way, were the only funny highlight in the show, as he kept insisting to people that he was not psychic. In fact, I do wonder if the creators of Hannibal the TV series borrowed heavily from this show. Frank’s abilities were never illustrated,  so I’m not sure how they worked. It was only shown that he had a strange ability to encounter killers, which he did in nearly every episode of the first season. By the second season, the conspiracy stuff starting creeping in, and by then I think the audience had simply had enough of Carter’s doom and gloom. That doesn’t mean it was a bad show. It’s definitely worth watching, but  maybe not a weekend binge-watch. Small doses is  the key here.

 

Brimstone (1998-1999)

Image result for brimstone tv

This show had one season and during that time made quite an impression on its fans despite its low ratings. People loved the show, and wanted more of it, but there just weren’t enough of us watching it. Satan walking around and interacting with people is clearly a very popular concept, or we wouldn’t have shows like Lucifer or Sherlock, and if this show had aired anytime in the past ten years, especially during our current social media boom, it would have taken off like a rocket.

The show’s major claim to fame was its secondary star, John Glover, who was a really hot actor in the 90s, and who played a very laidback and snarky Lucifer. The lead character was played by Peter Horton as Ezekiel Stone, a cop who ended up in Hell for killing the man who murdered his wife. When 100+ evil souls somehow manage to escape from Hell, Zeke gets suckered into hunting all of them down, in exchange for a second chance at life on Earth, and the potential of getting into Heaven. The Devil is powerless on Earth, but seemingly has no problem harassing Zeke at every opportunity, and watching Zeke grow ever more irritable, and flustered, at his interference, especially since he and the viewers are the only ones who can see him. The two of them had great chemistry, and watching their interactions is  really the best part of the show. Plus its always fun to see John Glover just be snarky. It wasn’t always snark though as the two of them would have some fairly deep discussions about Heaven, Hell, Good and Evil.

Every week Zeke would hunt down some new bad buy, the most memorable of which was the soul of the man he killed, just before the series end. There were a handful of complaints  read on a few message boards about how he was only hunting evil men, most of whom had been serial killers in the world, and some viewers wondered if there were not  female serial killers. Well the writers had to have thought of it because later in the season there was an evil female who, according to my memory of these events ,was eiter a Bonnie and Clyde type character, or some form of a Typhoid Mary. Let me look it up…

Okay, there were several women souls that were hunted and returned to Hell. One of them was a partner in a Bonnie and Clyde type situation, and the other was a Typhoid Mary type, who caused diseases and pestilence. There was also a young French girl who killed the men who raped her in 1458.

That’s another thing. The souls spanned all of history. I particularly remember Richard Brooks being in an episode as a Roman soldier, and some of the souls had backgrounds that were not dissimilar to Zeke’s, in that they were sympathetic, and did not believed that they belonged in Hell because they were righting some wrong that had been done to them, like the French girl. And there were some who were just evil.

At any rate someone put a lot of thought, not just into the interaction between Zeke and the Devil, but into the creation of these one time character’s backstories, and I thought that was pretty cool, as I wasn’t expecting that. I expected the characters to just be one thing. I didn’t expect to care about any of them. If any show that’s ever been on TV is rife for a remake, or re imagining, its this one, but as I said, it may already have been done in the show Lucifer, which also mixes crime investigation and detectives, with the Devil.

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting In The Twilight Zone

 

Sadly, this is the final season for Into the Badlands. It was not renewed for a fourth season on AMC, and surprisingly, I’m okay with that. Into the Badlands was groundbreaking in so many different ways, and I really did love the show, despite how it treated its one Black female character in season two, (and I explained in a previous post why that didn’t stop me from watching the show), but most especially in its representation. It had an Asian male lead, adequate representation of women and Black people, in an alternate future timeline, and the show has the distinction of having the only Black/Chinese- American woman, Chipo Chung,  kicking ass on this show.

I’m okay/ not okay with the cancellation, because it will be followed by a first class runner up: Warrior, which is airing on Cinemax. I gotta get my Martial Arts fix! Warrior is an homage to Bruce Lee, featuring a concept he came up with early in his career (and eventually became the show Kung Fu),  but was not allowed to implement, because Hollywood had no fucking idea what to do with Asian men back then, except mock them or erase them.  I’m a huge Bruce Lee fan, so I’m here for it. The representation is beautiful and accurate for the time period, and its just nice to see more Asian people in TV shows, (although now we probably need to see fewer of them doing something besides Martial Arts and Comedies. Hi, Sandra!)

Warrior

Image result for warrior tv series

Warrior is a complicated show, with a lot of depth and detail. Its based on an early idea Bruce Lee had for a story about a man from China, wandering  the  American old West. This was basically the premise of the show Kung Fu, which starred David Carradine, about a Shaolin Monk named Caine. Actually that idea was stolen from Lee,  it generally lacked Asians, and when they were present, it was only in supporting roles, in a show that was supposedly about Chinese immigrants. David Carradine is not Asian, btw.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_Fu_(TV_series)

This show is produced and directed by Justin Lin, of Fast and Furious and Star Trek fame, so I expect the most out of this, since I like Lin, and think he’s a good director, and he mostly does not disappoint, The show is very dense with meaning and action scenes. You don’t need to know anything about the history of San Francisco, Chinatown, or what was going on in China, to watch the show, but it helps if you have a little bit of grounding, and pay close attention to what the people say on the show, because they talk about things, even though all the ass kicking is distracting. It also helps if you’ve religiously watched any of Bruce Lee’s movies, because there are  more than a few very nice Easter Eggs. That outfit, for example, that Ah Sahm wears below is a callback to the outfit Lee wore in The Big Boss, (although in all his movies, Lee’s shirt gets artfully torn off. Later, Ah Sahm’s shirt gets artfully torn off, too.) I don’t know if that actor is deliberately channeling Lee’s  acting/ fighting stances, but he looks great doing it, and it made me smile.

 

Image result for warrior tv series
Check the stance!

The series is based on the real life events of the late 1880s, in Chinatown, when there were a series of Tong wars, mostly over the Opium Trade. At the time, in China there was the aftermath of the Opium Wars, and the beginning of the Boxer Rebellion (against the Qin dynasty). Into this stew of rivalries, steps Ah Sahm, a Martial Arts champion of some kind, who is in America looking for his sister. He finds her in the first episode, so that mystery is out of the way, but she wants nothing to do with him. She has a traumatic past,  and current secrets, like being married to the leader of a rival Tong than Ah Sahm works for, secretly working behind her husband’s back with an American, who wants to keep Chinatown destabilized, and going out at night as a vigilante to kill White men who harm Chinatown citizens. (At least I think this is her, or perhaps a character we haven’t met yet.) Her dance card is pretty full, and the last thing she needs is an appearance from her wayward brother, trying to save her. Plus, she hates him.

In fact, a lot of the women in this show live in complicated circumstances. The pretty blond wife of the town Mayor, (I think her name is Buckley), hates her husband, has compassion for the Chinese,  and is having a very open relationship with his secretary, or brother, or somebody , who lives in their house with them. It is unclear if he approves of their relationship, although he most certainly knows about it. Oh yeah, there are a lot of bare  titties in this show, so be aware of that, if you’re letting your kids watch this, although I suppose if you’re letting them watch all the hyper-violence and cussing, you should not have a problem with female presenting nipples. (There’s equity, too, as plenty of male presenting nipples are also on display. Okay, it’s mostly Ah Sahm.)

Image result for warrior tv series

The show starts off with everyone speaking Cantonese, and gradually, during one long take, they start speaking English. That was done so smoothly, that I  missed it the first time. The residents of Chinatown have their own English language terms, their own slang, and it can be hard to know what some things mean. You pretty much get thrown into the deep end on this show, and if you’re not of Chinese descent, it can be a little overwhelming. Even though I know a little  something something about Chinese history, I was still having trouble keeping up, having to watch the  episode multiple times.

https://www.geek.com/television/the-story-of-warrior-bruce-lees-long-delayed-tv-series-1781391/

The title of the epis. is called The Itchy Onion, and I’m not sure what Onion means, except it’s a slur that some Chinese people were calling one another in the show. I know a slur when I hear one, and that’s exactly what it is. An “itchy” one is the equivalent of the Black people version of the word “froggy”.  As in , “Do you feel froggy? Then you just jump!”. Its a call out to a fight. And conveniently, Ah Sahm kept getting called out by everyone he meets. Some challenges he backed down from, but others he just jumped right in with gusto. Most especially, the first fight of the show, when he first gets off the boat, as he totally thrashes a trio of bullying White bigots. I stood and I applauded, because that is such a Bruce Lee thing to do, he could have written that scene himself. If you’ve watched any of his movies, then you know he hated bullies, and always stood up for the underdog.

And what glorious fight scenes we get! I’m telling you, I was tired after watching this show. Ah Sahm has several fights, all of them well done, and very cinematic, rivaling any scene in Into the Badlands. He also kinda has a big mouth and is well aware of his skills.

Image result for warrior tv series

Where the show falls flat is in the depiction of its female characters ,and some of the White characters are less than compelling. One of the most interesting of that group is a White police officer, who emigrated from Georgia after the Civil War, named Richard Lee, and played with a very  genuine sounding Georgian accent, by the very British Tom Weston-Jones. What is is with English men and Southern American accents? Anyway, he volunteers to be amember of a Chinatown Detective Squad after several of the residents are murdered by angry Irishmen, who are concerned about losing their jobs to foreigners. He is the only cop on the force with integrity apparently, and he does have some ass kicking skills himself. I’m looking forward to watching him team up with or face off against Ah Sahm, cuz you know it’s coming. They will probably team up though, because while Bruce was angry about a lot of things people did, he also believed that cooperation and unity between the races was a good thing, and he championed that in several of his movies, (most notably, Enter the Dragon.)

There’s a wealth of information out there about Bruce Lee, and an 8 part video series about the making of  the show. Each video is only about five to ten minutes long, but if you want to know more about Bruce Lee’s ideas about life and the show, there are several documentaries floating about Youtube, so check those out:

 

Further Reading:

Tao of Jeet Kune Do by [Lee, Bruce]

Bruce Lee Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Wisdom for Daily Living (Bruce Lee Library) by [Lee, Bruce]

Bruce Lee: Letters of the Dragon: An Anthology of Bruce Lee's Correspondence with Family, Friends, and Fans 1958-1973 (The Bruce Lee Library) by [Lee, Bruce]

The Twilight Zone

Image result for twilight zone new

I mostly skipped the first episode of this season, which seemed to have a The Shining vibe to it, as a man, Kumail Nanjiani, sells his soul and life in a comedy club. Its creepy and haunting, but didn’t really hit me much, even though Tracy Morgan gives a great performance, 0009199119299

and I’m not particularly interested in shows about comedians. I did watch the second episode, and I really enjoyed it, although I think it went on a wee  bit longer than it needed to.

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2019/04/with-the-comedian-the-twilight-zone-addresses-some.html

The second episode of the Twilight Zone, Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, is an homage to one of the every first episodes of the original series, and Jordan manages to pull this off very well, without me being able to predict what’s going to actually happen until a few minutes from the end, even though you’re told what’s going to happen at the end. The original story,  Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet was written by Richard Matheson and starred William Shatner, and I thought this episode would be a retread of that story. In the original story, one of the passengers sees a gremlin tearing apart the wing of the plane. He  has a panic attack, while trying to convince everyone on board that there is a monster on the  wing. This episode also managed to make its way into the Twilight Zone (one of my favorite) movie and starred John Lithgow.

In this remake, they change the story up a bit. Just as in the original, you  sort of travel around the cabin meeting various odd characters, as the lead character slowly loses his shit,  as he becomes aware that something is wrong with the plane.

Justin Sanderson tries to avoid Fate when he finds a listening device on the plane that is cued up to a podcast that discusses the loss/crash of the flight. He spends the rest of the episode trying to convince people that the flight is doomed, or trying to stop it, which, when you think about it, isn’t really his responsibility. This was more than a little frustrating to me, because I know the rules. In trying his best to stop it, he ends up causing the problem, and I could have told him that’s how Fate works.

Before this,  we get treated to some nice foreshadowing on the number 015, and he argues with his wife about the PTSD he’s been experiencing, after witnessing some shit go down in Tel Aviv. This gets the audience to question his sanity. So we learn a lot about him through dialogue, and he’s not an unlikable character, but there were times I wanted him to just sit his ass down, and stop trying to help, because I just knew HE was going to be the reason the plane crashed, and I also knew it would have something to do with that “extra” character on the plane, with speaking lines, who appears to have no actual purpose. But none of this weakened my enjoyment of the episode becasue it was just fun.

The character that does end up crashing the plane, a drunken ex-pilot named Bob, was someone who felt really off to me the moment I saw him. I was immediately suspicious of his presence on the plane, especially since he was so friendly with Justin, for no reason, and most especially after he said he was a pilot.

There’s a funny little moment when Justin confronts a couple of Sikhs, and tries to get them to stop speaking their language out loud,  or people would get suspicious. They just  roll their eyes at him and tell him they’re not Muslim, and to go away somewhere, which I thought was funny/but not funny. Jordan always makes sure to mention some social issue we’re currently dealing with in all his horror stories, and Muslims on airplanes is something (White) people are  still freaking out about in the US.

Jordan is very successful at upping the tension, especially in such a confined space, so in that sense, its as good as the original episodes, and well worth giving it a watch. And if you know little factoids about the original episode there’s some nice Easter Eggs in it.

10 Non-Spoiler Things We've Learned From Jordan Peele's 'Get Out'

But what stood out for me is Jordan’s summation at the end of these  episodes, in which he seems to be channeling the full spirit of Rod Serling. Standing there in a suit, holding either a glass of wine or champagne, with Serling’s vocal mannerisms intact,  this is more than a little creepy, and kind of funny. I’m so used to him being a comedian that I just expect him to burst into laughter at any second, as if he was just putting me on. I couldn’t help a nervous giggle.

For some reason people are so surprised at Peele’s turn towards Horror, and how he is so successful at it, but these must be people who didn’t watch Key and Peele. Peele has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Horror movies, and he was forever referencing them on the show.

In fact, a lot of the comedy on the show was clearly  horrific, with a punch line tacked onto them , like the episode, Das Negros,  where two Black men in whiteface pretend to be Nazis in order to hide from a Nazi officer looking for victims of the Reich. It’s a terrifying idea by itself, and it’s full of tension, but made hilarious by the idea that the officer is dumb enough to fall for their bad makeup jobs, and his silly stereotypes of Black people. Peele seemed to fully understand the idea that fear and laughter both spring from the same fountain, and can be turned towards one or the other by  the addition of the ridiculous. In the Twilight Zone remake, the tension and horror are still there, but the ridiculous has been removed, leaving a distinct unease.

Image result for twilight zone new

https://www.okayplayer.com/culture/jordan-peele-series-of-horror-films-get-out.html

I have four other social thrillers that I want to unveil in the next decade…The best and scariest monsters in the world are human beings and what we are capable of especially when we get together,” Peele said. “I’ve been working on these premises about these different social demons, these innately human monsters that are woven into the fabric of how we think and how we interact, and each one of my movies is going to be about a different one of these social demons.”

I’m so looking forward to Peele’s next work and the rest of his career. I’m also looking to the far future when he starts making those Dramas, that, like with  Cronenberg, I know live somewhere in his mind.

I Saw It On Youtube Again!

Purl

This cute little video, from Pixar, is an allegory for workplace sexism. I was especially drawn to it because Purl is so sunny,  and happens to be a ball of yarn, (probably wool) and I love knitting. I found myself rooting for her, and actually feeling disappointed, when she wasn’t behaving according to my expectations!

 

 

 

White Savior

This is one of the funniest sketches about movie cliches I’ve ever seen. Seth Myers perfectly captures the trope of The White Savior, who comes barrel rolling into every scene where a Black character might appear to need a little assistance. The part of the video that made me laugh the loudest is the scene where the Black woman befriends a racist character because yeah, these types of movies love to  present the idea that forgiving the  racist is going to end racism, and we would all just get along if Black cozied up to our oppressors.

Black people are so inundated, in movies especially, with the idea that we should not be angry about racism, that this leads me to believe that White people’s deepest, most terrifying, nightmare, is Black people being angry about racism.

 

 

 

Kitbull

I thought this video was just cute. It’s from Pixar, the same studio that produced Bao by Domi Shi ,which just won an Oscar.

 

 

Juanita

This movie, about a Black woman who just wants to go on vacation some where, any where, else, and stars Alfre Woodard,  and who is totally underrated as an actress, will air on Netflix.

 

Detective Pikachu

All I know about Pokemon did not come from being a fan, but from living in a house with fans. My two little sisters pretty much controlled the TVs in our house, when they were kids, so I got a crash course in Pokemon, even though I really hated the show. Nevertheless, I did manage to develop favorites like Pikachu, and Bulbasaur, so I was really tickled at the thought of this movie. Who came up with this crazy idea? And what were they smoking?

 

 

We Got Cows

There are a whole series of these videos about cows being attracted to yodeling women. They just come running! And then they just stand there listening. And nope,  I don’t understand why I find that deeply funny.

 

 

 

Hood Naruto

Everything I learned about Naruto came not from being a fan, but from watching gifs about it on Tumblr, and some things are just hilarious, even when you know almost nothing about the subject beyond the character’s names. From what I’ve observed, Black people really, really, really love Naruto, so that explains these types of videos. I am not, however, one of those Black people, and I have not bothered to fix it, probably because I just enjoy being a contrary asshole.

 

 

 

Time For Sushi

This was just a series of weird dance videos I found on Youtube. Watching this is probably going to really mess up my algorithms probably.

Yes, these figures are naked. No, they are not real people. No, I have no idea what the hell is happening, or why this happened, but if my eyeballs had to see this, yours do too.

 

 

 

Time To Do The Dancing

I don’t want to make fun of these people, but they make it so easy. Goths are so tortured with angst, that they can’t look as if they enjoy dancing, and that attitude makes this look like some weird exercise video. Nevertheless, they do  manage to approach their lack of enjoyment in body movement, with a great deal of enthusiasm. So, they probably like “the dancing” but can’t be seen to be enjoying themselves, since dancing pretty much goes against being “Goth”.

 

 

 

Stupid Spider Videos

There’s an entire series of these videos of mate-dancing spiders twerking it to various songs like YMCA, and Staying Alive. I do not like spiders, as a rule, but I can watch these without issue because they’re just so ridiculous. This one with the lightsabers was…well, see for yourself.

Tumblr Celebrates Black History Month

As a general rule, I try not to post a whole lot of negative stuff on this blog, unless it’s directly related to Pop culture. There has been a lot of racist fuckery, just this month, that we’ve been dealing with. I am, at this point in my life, inured to (i.e. tired of) the abject stupidity of the American public when it comes to the subject of race, and hey! it is Black History Month! What I’m not gonna do is turn this blog into a space that chronicles White wtf*ery towards Black people. There are plenty of places on  the internet that already do that. Let’s celebrate some positive/happy stuff. Like I said before, “Don’t bring me no bad news!”

I’m going to focus on the positive, like the first, recorded, Black, onscreen kiss. They are so cute!

GERTIE BROWN & SAINT SUTTLE

“Something Good-Negro Kiss,” the newly discovered William Selig silent film from 1898 is believed to be the earliest cinematic depiction of African-American affection. Thanks to scholars at the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California, the footage is prompting a rethinking of early film history. The performance by cakewalk partners Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown is a reinterpretation of Thomas Edison’s “The Kiss,” featuring May Irwin and John Rice. The film was announced December 12, 2018 as a new addition to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry—one of 25 selected for their enduring importance to American culture. The 29-second clip is free of stereotypes and racist caricatures, a stark contrast from the majority of black performances at the turn of the century.

 

@@

Bayard Rustin has been largely erased from the Civil Rights struggle. I wonder why.

dicksandwhiches 

Bayard Rustin was an openly gay Black man who was Martin Luther King’s right hand man. He planned the Million Man March and was subject to scrutiny for his sexuality and deemed a “deviant” and “pervert”.

Bayard Rustin can be found in nearly every picture of MLK yet he has undoubtedly been erased from history. We have to fix that.

Image result for bayard rustin

Well then, let’s bring that name back.

Bayard Rustin, openly gay, human rights activist, proud black man.

(the guy on the left in case you wondered)

Yeah he was literally the guy who was the head of planning the March on Washington.

If you want to learn more about him, there’s a great documentary on him called Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin

 

You can watch the full documentary here (until March 31st, 2016)

I did a research project on him, Ella Baker, Claudette Colvin and Stokely Carmichael comparing their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement to the lack of recognition and misrepresentation they received in commonly used high school American History textbooks. All of these people played major roles in the Civil Rights Movement—almost on par with MLK—yet they go largely unnoticed or unfairly pushed aside not only during their time, but even now in classes on American History. These men and women deserve to be remembered.

 

Source:

@@

There has always been a thriving Black film industry, especially for comedies and romances. Movies like Black Panther are not new, and it is mostly an outlier because of its sheer scale. But there a lots of beloved films about everyday Black life and romance that have little to do with the  stereotypes of mainstream Hollywood.

@@

 

I couldn’t wind this up without a shoutout to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Black LGBTQ+ Resources

It’s February, which means it’s Black History Month! Similar to how I made an LGBTQ+ resource post for Native American Heritage Month in November, here are some resources for Black LGBTQ+ people (as always, feel free to contribute if you have more resources!)

GLSEN Pages:

Historical information from the US National Park Service:

Some Black LGBTQ+ Creators:

Other Helpful/Informational Links:

Source:

Kingdom (Korean Zombie Series)

 

I cannot speak highly enough about this show, and I want to watch it again before the 15th (before I’ll be binging Umbrella Academy). If you’re a fan of historical fiction, zombies, and political intrigue, then this is your show. The fact that all the political intrigue takes place in Korea’s past is completely irrelevant, because you will enjoy the ride. You will especially enjoy it if you watched the movies, Train to Busan, or Seoul Station, because this is from the same creators, although it is unknown if the movies are part of a trilogy, with the show.

Now, I can’t say for certain, but it is possible that Kingdom is a prequel to Seoul Station, which takes place in present day  Korea, and involves a zombie contagion spreading among the homeless. Train to Busan is about a zombie contagion that takes place among a crowd of middle class commuters, in the present day, in another area of Korea, simultaneous to Seoul Station.

Image result for kingdom korean zombie series gifs

Kingdom takes place in Korea’s ancient past and is about a zombie contagion that spreads among the populace, after the King becomes infected. While the peasants fight for their lives, the Crown Prince attempts to do his best to help save them while the rest of the nobility fight among themselves for access to the throne.There’s some neat character arcs in the series. When we first meet the Prince, he is attempting to see his father, who has been incognito. What he doesn’t know is The King had been turned into a zombie by  the medicinal use of a small purple flower, that grows in the mountains.

The current Prince is next in line to the throne, and he is indolent and kind of lazy. He’s spent most of his time enjoying himself rather than learning statecraft. There is a rival clan that wishes to put one of their own on the throne because a daughter of that clan is the King’s pregnant wife. Most of the time at court, is spent driving away the Prince, and pretending the King is still alive, but in seclusion, until that woman’s child is born, as that child will have precedence to the throne over the current Prince.

Related image

As the crisis with the zombies deepens, we watch as  the Prince steps up to care for his people in their time of need, which parallels the journey made by the lead character in Train to Busan, who goes from a selfish man, who nearly gets one of the other passengers killed, to sacrificing his life to protect them. Several times the Prince risks his life to save peasants, including several children. He steps up to be as courageous, and smart, as the peasants believe him to be. The other officials, whose job it is to take care of the villagers, turn out to be a lot less so.

Each iteration of these stories addresses the  issues of classism and poverty from three differing points of view, so I can’t talk about Kingdom without talking about the previous two films, because even if the films are not part of a trilogy, they are connected by their themes. In Seoul Station, the entire contagion begins among the homeless , when one of the men in that community, dies  and resurrects. His brother tried get help for him, but kept getting rebuffed  by people who had nothing but contempt for him. If he had been able to get medical help for his brother, the situation would not have evolved the way it did.

Related image

In Kingdom, the villagers in the outlying areas are starving to death because the local officials are neglectful in their duties, being more concerned with their pleasant lives, than if people are dying. When one of the bodies the King has fed on, is shipped home to one of the villages, someone chops up the body, and puts it in a stew, which the starving peasants eat. For the record, most of the bodies the king has fed on, don’t resurrect because they have been immersed in a pond on the castle grounds.

One of the interesting things about these zombies is they only resurrect during the day. It isn’t until later that we find out why that is, but until then, since no one believes in their existence until its too late, no one takes the opportunity to get rid of the bodies before nightfall.  As soon as the sun rises, the zombies fall down, and appear to be dead. The bodies that have been dumped into  the palace’s pond have also not resurrected, for some reason.

Related image

 

The homeless man, in Seoul Station, spends nearly the entire  movie running for his life, after having met, and saved, the life of the young woman at the center of the film. She too is a member of the underclass,  a sex worker with no real home of her own, after she breaks up with her boyfriend. Neither of them have anywhere to go, so must stay out in the streets, trying to avoid the zombies. At one point, she and the old man have simultaneous emotional breakdowns about wanting to go home, and not having one to go to.

Related image

Every opportunity people have to help them, they don’t,  including the police. The two of them get attacked or turned away. Some of the characters declare that the old man smells bad. The young lady makes a less than favorable impression, as she spends most of the movie in her bare feet, after she loses her impractical shoes. No one will help either of them because they are considered smelly, or  dirty, or  worthless. The movie isn’t just an indictment against the existence of homelessness, but an indictment against the classist snobbery that does nothing to help them.

In Train to Busan, you have another class of people, the middle class, riding a train, when a contagion occurs. You have businessmen, grandmothers, high school students. In other words, respectable people. The kind who were looking down on the primary characters of Seoul Station. Trapped in an environment no one can escape, they are shown as being selfish, full of contempt for those they think are less than, having no loyalty to one another, yet  acquiescent to any form of authority.

The man with the most power and respect is openly malicious  towards the other characters, at one point, expressing a rage filled rant towards a teenage  girl he regards as stupid. At several points in the story, he gets people killed because he wants what he wants, and in his mind that takes priority over whatever those “lesser” people want. So once again we have the themes of classicism and selfishness and snobbery. All the other characters learn to be selfless too late to save themselves, as they really get  the chance to band together. The lowest person on the class scale is the wrestler and his wife, both of whom start the story as giving and altruistic people. There is also a homeless man in this movie as well. He dies too, but he does so giving his life to save others, just as the wrestler does. This same level of personal growth is shown in The Kingdom, when  the Prince rises to the occasion, to become a true leader who makes smart, brave  decisions for the welfare of the villagers, and  always from a place of empathy.

Related image

In Train to Busan, two old women, sisters, are watching news footage of the zombie attacks on TV and, mistaking the attackers for rioters, they both express disdain for “those people”. After one sister gets infected, the other gets everyone in her train car killed, after she opens a door to let her sister inside. Her selfishness, (because she certainly isn’t thinking of the welfare of the others in the car), is what gets everyone killed, which is an interesting turnabout, as it was the people of that train car who selfishly kicked  some of the other survivors out of that car, at the commandments of the selfish businessman.

In Kingdom, the ruling officials in the area, at every opportunity to save the villagers, elect to save themselves. During an uprising of zombies, a fleet of boats is burned, leaving only one boat left. The officials and members of the local nobility, decide to take the one boat for themselves, after promising to evacuate the villagers. Unknown to them, one of  the infected has made its way onto the boat. They are all killed, and their boat destroyed, when the contagion breaks out.

While the movie is full of Game of Thrones style intrigue, its still fairly easy to follow, although you will probably not remember any of the character’s names. Even though its a series, rather than a film, it’s every bit as intense as the first two films, with the quiet moments only serving to build up the tension before the next attack, which everyone knows is coming, so a lot of daytime events have time limits on them. It is a very intense show, with lots of running, fighting, and bare escapes. Yes, children are endangered in this movie, some of them are killed (offscreen) and there are child zombies.There are also some really good plot surprises, as well, so if you’re watching this  because you find the plot intriguing, you will be satisfied. The movie is both subbed and dubbed, so those of you who hate reading subtitles can listen in English, and vice versa.

I cannot recommend this movie hard enough to anyone who is a fan of zombie movies and shows.

Kingdom is a six part TV series available on Netflix.

Hannibal Season Three: Contorno (5)

Yes, I’m still writing these. I’m not finished. We are  coming up on the initial episodes of the third season, that I wrote reviews for, which were part of the Red Dragon arc. I’m going to rewrite those reviews in light of my new viewpoints.

When the season first aired, I wasn’t particularly interested in the first half. Like a lot of people, I stopped watching after the second season, and didn’t pick up the show again until the middle of season three, when the Red Dragon arc began. I missed all the stuff about Chiyoh, how Hannibal left Bedelia, and how Lecter was captured by Mason Verger, which in hindsight, was probably the most dramatic part of the season, as it reunites him with two of the people he most wronged last season, Alana and Mason Verger. That may have been the reason why some of the last part of the season was baffling to me. But I’m about to go through the process of re-reading those reviews, and see if my current thoughts line up with what I said back then.

 

Related image

This episode begins with three separate threads, and ends with all those threads converging on Hannibal’s location. This starts out as one of those quiet episodes that you don’t think will have much relevance and is merely setup for the next, after all Contorno means side dish. But side dishes can be very filling too, and this was a satisfying episode.

Will Graham has left Lithuania with Chiyo in tow, both of them headed to Florence by train, where Hannibal is holed up with Bedelia. Chiyo and Will discuss what they will do when they finally reach Florence. Will says something that alarms Chiyo, and she pushes him off the train. She has  appointed herself to be Hannibal’s protector, since she no longer guards his prisoner, and doesn’t seem to bear him any ill will for having put her in such a position. I do remember being initially confused as to why Will kept trying to kill Hannibal, even after he supposedly forgave him for killing Abigail. Chiyoh’s understanding of Will is very direct. She states that Will is afraid he will become like Hannibal, which means, of course, that Chiyoh knows exactly what Hannibal is, and seemingly doesn’t mind.

Image result for hannibal contorno gifs

Chiyoh seems utterly devoted to Lecter, which is something I have a problem with because you have this submissive Asian woman, this stereotype, following around, and protecting, a White male serial killer. Certainly she is deadly, but she is so passive in her interactions that she almost seems like she’s asleep. The most active thing she does is killing, so maybe she’s as much like Hannibal as Will , and that’s the reason she understands Will so well. I do wish the series had played that up more than it did, and established her as someone who, like Will, is trying hard to resist becoming like Hannibal, because this is not something made explicitly clear, and its also something which is at odds with how we are first introduced to her. When we first met her ,she had managed to resist killing Hannibal’s prisoner for years, but once Will sets her free by killing the prisoner himself, she is shooting people left and right, on Hannibal’s behalf.

Image result for hannibal contorno gifs/jack

Jack Crawford makes his way to Florence as well, where he releases his wife’s ashes into the river, and  relinquishes his wedding ring. Its as if, in the hunt for Hannibal, he is divesting himself of everything that makes him Jack Crawford. Jack is a straigt up “manhunter” now, with no distractions, and he is on the path of vengeance, something that wouldn’t be condoned in polite society, (or by his late wife), and he doesn’t want any vestiges of his old life, or the man he used to be, to interfere in that mission. He meets Reinaldo Pazzi, who tries to talk him into arresting Hannibal with him, but Jack demurs. He doesn’t want Hannibal arrested. He wants him dead.

Hannibal, heeding Bedelia’s warning that he is being hunted, is waiting for all these people to arrive, so he can get all this killing done. He knows Pazzi, Jack, and Will, are closing in on him.  Of the three men, Will is the one of which he is least certain, but then Will has always been a wild card for Hannibal, and difficult for him to predict his actions. Will could just as easily come into the situation and help him, as try to kill him.

Related image

Alana Bloom proves to the audience why she is who she is, as she figures out where Hannibal is, using “psychology”. She knows Hannibal  better than most, and uses her intimate knowledge of his tastes and habits to determine that he is in Florence, tracking him through Bedelia’s purchases of fine goods. In the meantime, it appears that Bedelia is trying to get caught, or get help ,or something. She makes a purchase, and then, wearing a very distinctive outfit, goes to the train station, so she can be caught on the station’s cameras. She wants someone, somewhere, to notice her. She is either asking for help, or concocting an alibi.

Mason Verger, having discovered where Hannibal lays his hat, puts out a bounty on him, which Pazzi accepts. Its illegal for a  member of law enforcement to take money in exchange for an arrest, (even in Italy), so Pazzi doesn’t inform any of his colleagues that he has found the Beast of Florence. Mason gives Pazzi instructions on how to collect the bounty. He must provide a fingerprint as proof that its Hannibal, and Pazzi meets with Hannibal to trick him into giving one. Hannibal kills Pazzi by gutting him and stringing him up outside a window, the way one of Pazzi’s ancestors was killed during the Medici era.

Related image

This particular scene is from the sequel to Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, in which Clarice Starling has tracked Hannibal to Italy attempting to capture him. In fact, some of the dialogue between Chiyoh and Will Graham,  is taken directly from that book. There are also several parallels, in the next two episodes, of scenes from the book, only with Will Graham and Jack in place of  Starling.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pazzi_conspiracy

Most of the conspirators were soon caught and summarily executed; five, including Francesco de’ Pazzi and Salviati, were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signoria.[2]:140 Jacopo de’ Pazzi, head of the family, escaped from Florence but was caught and brought back. He was tortured, then hanged from the Palazzo della Signoria next to the decomposing corpse of Salviati. 

Pazzi is the descendant of one of the most notorious Italian families of the Renaissance. His ancestor, Francesco de’ Pazzi, was hanged during something called The Pazzi Conspiracy, in which a plot was contrived by several individuals, to assassinate Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici. There are parallels to this story of people converging  to assassinate Hannibal, and there will be parallels to this history later in the series, as Jack, Will, Alana, and Frederick Chilton come together to take out both  Hannibal Lecter and The Red Dragon.

Image result for hannibal contorno gifs

Hannibal’s killing of Pazzi is interrupted by Jack Crawford, who followed Pazzi to their meeting, and there is a continuation of that fight that Jack lost in season two. Only this time, Hannibal gets his ass kicked, because Jack came prepared to fight dirty, and gives Hannibal no quarter. This is the first time we’ve really seen Hannibal  fighting for his life and on the defensive like this.. All the other times when we had seen him in danger, it was usually because of a stealth attack. Hannibal barely survives by using the disemboweled body of Pazzi to break his fall out of a window. Thoroughly chastened, Hannibal limps off to lick his wounds. He knows its just a matter of time before he gets caught, and that all he’s doing is postponing the inevitable, but he is determined to go down fighting.

My Favorite Smart Films

Inspired by my recent viewing of Annihilation, I wanted to take a look  at some films I really, really, liked. The kind that most inspired thoughtful reflection, confounded the hell out of me, or just made me smile with joy at the sheer talent involved in the making of it. Here are just eight of some of the smartest movies of the past thirty years, divided into four categories, movies for The Mind, The Body, The Spirit, and finally, Just For Fun.

Image result for take off glasses gifs

The Mind

Some movies are satisfying on an intellectual level. The plot, the  characters, or the design, and look of the film is mentally stimulating. The movie makes you ask questions, provokes thoughtful consideration of its themes , and leaves you puzzling over its message.

 

Dark City (1998)

One day I’m going to have a do a full review of this movie, because it really doesn’t get enough love. Released in 1998, and written by Alex Proyas, who also wrote The Crow, this movie so inspired  Roger Ebert, that he did three different commentaries for the DVDs. Proyas has credited the  look of the film as based off of the film noir of the 40s, most specifically, The Maltese Falcon. The film stars Rufus Sewell as an accused murderer, William Hurt as the detective who hunts him down, Jennifer Connolly as his wife, and Keifer Sutherland, as the mysterious Dr.Schreiber.

Image result for fibonacci spiral gif

Most of the film takes place at night and has a mysterious and ominous feel to it. The story is winding and circular, referenced by the Fibonacci spirals we see in the opening credits sequence, and again, when one of the characters paints the walls of his bedroom with repeated versions of the symbol. As a viewer, you enter into the outer rim of the  story, just like in the symbol above, knowing no more than its protagonist, John Murdock, who wakes up naked, with amnesia, in a bathtub, in room 314. (Look up Job 3:14 in the KJ version of the bible for the significance.) He is  forced on his journey, through the darkness of this cityscape, by a mysterious phone call, and the arrival of a group of malevolent Men in Black (a classic Scifi trope). As he follows the clues to his identity, so do we, slowly spiraling inward to the heart of the mystery of who John Murdock really is, and the existence of the nameless city in which he lives.

What I love about this movie is that viewers know exactly as much about what’s happening as Murdock. We don’t know his name until he does. We don’t know where he is until he finds out. We are definitely on a journey of discovery with him, and what he finds shakes the foundations of his world. Literally!

 

Inception (2010)

Image result for inception gifs

This movie wasn’t difficult for me to understand, although a lot of other people seemed confounded by it. It’s definitely one of those movies where you are given all the facts and the rules of its universe, and are then left to your own thoughts, to make of it what you will. If that is something you’re not used to doing, then the movie will only be confusing for you.

It is very well possible that almost the entire movie is no more than a dream, within a dream, within  dreams, and I’m inclined to think that way about it, if for no other reason than it explains much about Cobb and his crew, and some of the odd phrases and coincidences that occur in the film. My personal theory is that Cobb falls asleep on the airplane ride home to  see his children. I think the entire movie is  Cobb having a weird dream about dreaming, at least partially brought about by grief at his wife’s passing, and guilt at having spent so much time away from his children on a business trip. He has just heard the news of the death of Michael Fischer’s father, and has probably met him on the plane, and so his dream is bound up in all these elements. Here’s why I think this:

Ariadne: A mythical figure that is associated with mazes and labyrinths because of her involvement in the myths of the Minotaur and Theseus. Her father put her in charge of the labyrinth where sacrifices were made as part of reparations 

Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, is tasked with creating the mazes that the crew will be dreaming through during the inception of Fischer’s mind.

Related image

When I heard her name, I knew I might not be watching what I  thought I might be watching, and there are a number of odd moments, (his wife’s suicide while perched on the ledge of the building opposite him, his unwillingness to look at his children’s faces, and the fact that the children do not age, and no timeline is ever given for when certain things happen). There are bits of information, and other clues, that have lead to all manner of theories about this film. The overarching  feeling of all of these theories is that the entire movie is Cobb’s dream. Some people speculate that there is no purpose to his dream, some say it’s to alleviate his anxiety and guilt for going on a business trip and leaving his kids alone, after his wife’s suicide, and others say that the purpose of Cobb’s dream is to extract the truth of his wife’s death, and that it’s Ariadne’s purpose (like any good therapist) to help him do that. I do believe his story that he planted the idea of the world not being real in his wife’s mind.

When I first saw the movie, and Cobb claimed to have killed his wife, I  didn’t believe him. My very first thought was that it was just an expression of his guilt, and grief that he couldn’t stop her from killing herself, that he was the one who planted the thought in her mind that made her suicidal, and now he has left his children all alone to deal with their confusion. It is also not out of bounds to believe that the information of his wife’s death is being extracted from him for therapeutic purposes, in the real world, by Ariadne, and I like that idea, because it parallels the  emotional inception that he’s engaged in with Fischer, who is  dealing with guilt and grief over the death of his father. Fisher’s inception involves reconciling with with his father’s death, and Cobb’s dream involves reconciling with his wife’s.

One could argue that the thought incepted to Cobb is that his wife’s death is not his fault, so that he can free her projection from his dreams. Ariadne specifically states that his wife is trapped in his subconscious, and until he lets go of  his guilt and grief, his wife can’t leave. To that end, he and Ariadne have to make their way through the maze of Cobb’s mind, to the vault at his center, and release her.

Honorable Mention: Paprika by Satoshi Kon

 

The Body

Image result for the body gifs

These movies cannot, technically, be called body horror movies in the same way as movies directed by David Cronenberg, (who seems to have a lock on that subject), but they do involve thinking  about the body, and how we move through the world, of how we intellectualize our physical self, and what purpose we have, in the bodies we possess. These movies are opposites in a sense. In The Addiction, the lead character’s body betrays her attempts to control it, and she fights as hard as she can to reach some kind of equilibrium with what her body wants. In the second film, the lead character must learn to embrace his physical self. If he wants to be complete, to feel whole, he can’t simply ignore what he is,  but must accept all of it,  and to that end, he leans into himself, and learns to trust and control his body, much as his nemesis, Mr. Glass, had no choice to do, at a very early age.

 

The Addiction (1995)

Image result for the 1995  addiction movie  gifs

I am still confounded by this movie. I have some vague idea what the purpose of it was, but I think that, unless you’re a student of philosophy, you probably won’t have any idea what the Hell the point of this movie was either.

The Addiction is a 1995 vampire movie directed by Abel Ferrara. In it, a college student, named Kathleen,  played by one of my favorite actresses, Lili Taylor, gets attacked by a vampire played by Annabella Sciorra, who blames her for her attack. Kathleen then has to try to understand what’s happened to her, and how to deal with her new addiction to blood, without letting it destroy her life. She meets Christopher Walken’s character ,who tries to wean her off blood, claiming that he has conquered his addiction, but he is unsuccessful, and Kathleen goes on to infect several  people in her neighborhood. Looked at closely, it can seem like the movie is an an allegory about sexual assault, and how the survivors are permanently changed by what happened to them. But it can also be seen through the lens of infectious disease.

The most intriguing aspect, for me, is that Kathleen lives in a mixed neighborhood, and  infects one of the homeboys who live down the street from her. I would watch an entire movie about a Black guy from the ‘hood, who gets infected with vampirism, and how that might play out, especially if it were done in the same style as this. What’s interesting is the soundtrack reflects the environment too, featuring Cypress Hill, Rick Rubin, and Onyx.

At a party to celebrate  Kathleen’s dissertation, she and the other vampires stage a bloody attack on her faculty, and friends. Kathleen longs for death, and we find out at the end of the film, that she died over a year ago, when she visits her grave at a nearby cemetery.

It’s an uncomfortable movie, filmed entirely in black and white.  It’s unlike a lot of horror movies. There are no jump scares here, and the  mood of the film is melancholy. It feels harrowing, even though there’s not that much action, or gore, because the images are so stark. There are long interludes of dialogue, as characters attempt to come to terms with what’s happening to them, as Kathleen blames them for her addiction, and several scenes of Kathleen unsuccessfully fighting against her compulsion to feed. Much of the movie involves scenes of Katherine fighting against her need for blood, giving in to it, or trying to reason,  or come to terms with it somehow.

The film has been considered an allegory about drug addiction, as well as an allegory of the theological concept of sin.[1] It contains philosophical, theological and other intellectual content, including references to HusserlNietzscheFeuerbach, and Descartes. The film also features a vampire quoting theologian R. C. Sproul, who is a critic of Roman Catholicism.

 

 

Unbreakable (2000)

Related image

There is something viscerally satisfying about watching this movie, and discovering, as we go along, that we are watching a superhero origin story. The story is told in such a lowkey manner that, for at least the first half of the movie, you believe that characters are simply delusional. This is a more philosophical approach to a genre that’s usually more physically oriented, but it does follow the classic superhero origin story tropes. The protagonist discovers he  has abilities, he practices learning how to use them, and then an enemy presents to challenge him. Where this movie differs is that it is the antagonist who helps the hero discover his abilities, and the final confrontation between them doesn’t result in a fistfight, but is sad and horrifying because they have become friends.

Superhero movies are essentially about people dealing with physical power, in that almost all of them are about someone discovering they have such power. They have to relearn how to use their body, how it works, and then use that knowledge to find their purpose. This movie explores the same themes but in a much quieter way. The lead character is discovering his power, but he is a grown man who supposedly leads a full life, that he feels is empty, having given up the use of that power, for his future wife, when he was a teenager.

His nemesis is a man with almost no physical power, suffering from the disease, osteogenesis imperfecta. Unable to overcome his disease, he has spent his life concentrating his power into his intellect, and the only way he can experience a sense of worth is by having a foe, the kind of foe outlined in the comic books he’s read all his life, the physically perfect, unbreakable man, versus the fragile, but mentally superior enemy, something that is illuminated in the film’s dialogue. He doesn’t just have the task of discovering his enemy, but  has to make him realize his purpose. What they are to each other. Mr. Glass came to grips with his physical limitations when he was a very young child. He was admonished by his mother to not choose fear, or being afraid would become his go-to choice for  the rest of his life, and Mr. Glass is indeed fearless.

David must go through the same process as an adult, because earlier in his life,  he chose fear. Afraid he would lose his then girlfriend, he chose to ignore and suppress his abilities, and fear became such a habit for him that he was living an unfulfilling life where he could  find no joy in his family. That choice, to be afraid, ironically, almost results in the loss of his wife anyway, and an emotionally distant relationship with a son who is trying, desperately, to connect with his father.

Honorable Mention: Mad Max Fury Road and Akira

 

The Spirit

Related image

Some movies are satisfying on a spiritual level. It just feels good to watch them, as if you had eaten a very good steak dinner for the soul. This is the spiritual version of comfort food. The movie Tree of Life can be viewed from so many different angles, from the religious to the secular, that it could just as easily fit into the The Mind category, but for me the message of the movie is spiritual, mostly because of the music.

Tree of Life (2011)

Related image

I am not a religious person, in the sense that I’m not a believer in any particular belief system, but I do think about religion, and religious messages, a lot, and I’m not immune to media with a well thought out emotional, and spiritual message. This movie also subscribes to no particular version of Christianity, but its spiritual message seems evident.

You have to be prepared that most of the movie contains voiceover, and there is not much dialogue. Tree of Life is about a man looking back on his childhood, with his overbearing father, and his angelic mother, after receiving news of the death of his younger brother. That’s the basic plot. All else is gravy.

Tree of Life is a gorgeous looking movie, a perfect marriage of theme, visuals, and sound, and very possibly Malick’s best film to date. I have never been able to watch this movie without tears, or a sense of awe. Even if you’re not an especially religious person, the movie is worth seeing because its transcendent, evocative, and philosophical.  I would have put this movie under The Mind but the music propels it to a level beyond thought to one of deep feeling. One day I’m going to have to review this movie, because I have my own ideas about what  it means, but for now:

Here’s Bishop Fr. Robert Barron explaining the religious message behind Terence Malick’s Tree of Life:

 

The music of Tree of Life is a treat for the senses. Ethereal, epic, awesome. If you have not seen this movie, and you love larger than life drama, with cosmic set-pieces, and if you like movies by Bertolucci, Herzog , or  Kubrick, you will enjoy this movie.

 

 

Spirited Away (2001)

Related image

This movie is spiritually satisfying on multiple levels and a little hard to describe. On the surface this about a frightened, lonely and uncontent little girl, dealing with moving to a new village. Chihiro is whiny, frightened, and clingy in the beginning of the movie, but by the end of the film, she has discovered her power, her confidence, her self assurance.

There is something about this movie that so  deftly speaks to the spirit of little girls, that they all want to return to this world over, and over, again. This movie was released in 2001, when my youngest sister was ten years old. She immediately fell in love with it, and watched it at every opportunity, and so did her sister, who is a year older. Neither of them ever seemed to get tired of it.

Five years later, her daughter, hereinafter referred to as The Potato, was born, and I introduced her to this movie, when she was about five or six. She still watches this movie today. She has a sister, (nicknamed, Lil’ Mama) , who is six years her junior, who is also thoroughly enamored of this movie. At this point the movie has become a family tradition, (along with My Neighbor Totoro), and I expect to be around to introduce this movie to their daughters.

I’m uncertain what essence of  little girl in me is attracted to this movie, but I’ve never seen anime more wholesome than a Studio Ghibli film. Most of the primary characters in this movie are women, of all ages, body types, and  emotional demeanors.

 

 

Just Plain Fun

 

Some movies are just really, really fun, and therefor good for all three aspects of the self. They feel good, they sound good, and they look good. You never get tired of watching them because there’s always some tiny details to discover.

 

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Related image

There’s a lot to love about this movie, beyond its nontraditional structure, which is what first captured me about this movie. I loved the intellectual exercise of piecing together the linear plot of the movie after it was over, and I loved the dialogue, the side stories, and all the little details and sights that you miss if you’re not paying proper attention, and are a nice reward on subsequent viewings.

Ostensibly its about some odd adventures during the course 48 hours in the life of Jules and Vincent, who are hitmen for a local gangster named Marcellus Wallace, but there are several stories and sideplots, some of which are only tangentially related to Jules and Vincent’s day. The movie starts off in a perfectly normal gangster/hitman,  comedy type manner, with some banter and some killings between the two men, but as it moves forward, the feel of the plot starts to shift, to become more  discordant, until the end, when you’re left with a deep disquiet, as the  movie turns out not to be as  light weight, or “feel good” as you first thought. As the plot moves forward, things start to go horribly wrong, to go off key, and ultimately ends in tragedy.

In the meantime though, the subplots are very interesting, like the opening one, where Vincent accidentally kills an informant (wrong note number one), and he and Jules need to call in a Cleaner, called The Wolf, played by Harvey Keitel. Then there’s Vincent’s dance off that evening, with Mia Wallace, the wife of the gangster he works for. The dialogue is also a lot of fun too, showcasing Tarantino as a force to be reckoned with in that department. There’s the now famous conversation between Jules and Vincent about the names of burgers in Amsterdam, and a  conversation with Jules teasing Vincent about the significance of the foot massage, after he finds out about Vincent’s date with Mia. But the standout scene  is Christopher Walken’s character, a former military man, who tells a story about a pocket watch.

Yes, there are parts of the movie that are, to put it mildly, cringeworthy, but those parts don’t outweigh the sections of the movie that are the most fun, or nerve wracking.

 

Goodfellas (1990)

Image result for goodfellas gifs

This, too, is one of my all-time favorite movies, (and  completely different animal from Pulp Fiction), that I never get tired of watching, but not for the reasons a lot of people like it. I see it as chronicling  the decades long relationship, the rise and fall, of people who are supposed to be friends, Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry. For me, this movie is a fascinating dive into  these three very different personalities, and how all of them eventually come to a sad, and in one case horrible, ending because of the kinds of decisions they made in life.

Henry made the decision early in life to always be a follower. We follow Henry from his childhood fascination with the mobster life, through his initiation, his introduction to Tommy, his marriage, and his several falls from grace due to paranoia and drugs. Along for the ride is his wife, Karen, loyal to the end, his boss Paulie, a father figure who abandons him in his time of need, to protect himself, and Tommy, a psychotic rageaholic, who is as likely to kill a man as look at him.

The performances are superb, with Joe Pesci’s Tommy being, very probably, the most pants-shittingly scary gangster I’ve ever watched. Every moment he’s on screen is filled with tension because he is entirely unpredictable. Even Henry treads lightly around him, and Jimmy, who is also known as Gentlemen Jim, uses Tommy as his nuclear option whenever he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. At one point, Tommy accidentally kills a boy not much older than Henry was when he decided to be a gangster, without even a hint of remorse, and then there’s that classic scene between Henry and Tommy, ta scene that’s been spoofed in dozens of movies and standup routines  since then, when Henry, rightly, thinks Tommy might actually be capable of killing him, for thinking he’s a funny guy.

The camera work is extraordinary, the long traveling shots of Henry moving in and out of covert spaces at the beginning of the movie, and the busy shifts in  camerawork, and rapid  shifts in music, towards the end of the film, that parallel Henry’s paranoid, coke induced, freefall which  presages his capture by the police.

While we’re doing that, we get to listen to some of the greatest music of the twentieth century, showcasing scenes which have since become iconic feats of filmmaking, from Henry and Karen’s first date, serenaded by The Crystal’s Then He Kissed Me, to  the Lufthansa scenes, shot to the tune of Eric Clapton’s Piano Exit from Layla, followed by the death of Tommy:

The music in this movie could almost be considered another character. This is Scorcese’s masterpiece, and he has never topped it, (although Casino came pretty close  by reiterating the tropes created in this one). It’s Scorcese’s musical choices that make this one of the most incredible films of his career. This was a director at the top of his game. Its not a surprise that this movie won for Best Picture that year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Walking Dead: Mid-Season – What Came After

Image result for the walking dead season 9

I reported a couple of weeks ago about Rick Grimes leaving the show, and how the show would take a jump six years ahead, to see what Alexandria and Hilltop had gotten up to in his absence. This is what came after.

The three societies are no longer as close as they once were, and that has something to do with Maggie’s disappearance, and Jesus now  being the acting leader of Hilltop, in her absence. To bring the three communities together, Jesus and Ezekiel have planned a fair of some kind, so that everyone can come together to touch base, but the impression is that the Alexandrians have withdrawn from contact with The Kingdom and Hilltop because Michonne had some kind of falling out with Maggie. Michonne is the security chief of Alexandria, not its leader, but she makes hard rules for the others to live by, even thought there is a counsel. The implication is that none of the Alexandrians should have contact with the other two communties.

We begin by meeting a new group of people who have fallen afoul of a swarm of walkers in the woods. One of them is injured in the fight and Judith, Aaron, and the others happen to come along at the right time to save them. Judith decides they should be taken to Alexandria, but Michonne is upset that she did it and advises that the new people be sent away.

The new group consists of a young Black boy or girl, (I’m unsure which, because the character in the comic books is male, but its an actress playing the character on the show), and their older, deaf sister. They communicate using American Sign, a music former music teacher, (Kowalski from Fantastic Beasts), an Asian woman who was badly injured, and another woman who is an ex-con, with trust issues. I am glad to see these two hearing impaired characters on the show because its a way to answer questions about how people with various disabilities would navigate a zombie apocalypse. I actually like the two of them because you can see the  bond between them. I hope they survive longer than one season.

Image result for the walking dead season 9

The Alexandrians take them back to the compound where we find that Michonne is nominally in charge along with a kind of counsel. The Alexandrians we meet now are much less trustworthy than they were under Rick, which makes me wonder what they went through after he was gone. There is no sign of the surviving Saviors who were attached to that community, so there may have been some event regarding that group.

There’s a counsel meeting where the newcomers are rejected because one of them was hiding a weapon, and withholding information that she was an ex-con, who had killed people. Later, Michonne changes her mind about them and elects to guide them to Hilltop, which is now being run by Jesus, with Tara as his assistant.

The alliance between the three groups, The Kingdom, Hilltop, and Alexandria, appears to have seriously atrophied.

Rosita and Eugene go out  to broadcast radio signals from the top of a water tower because they want to contact new people. Rosita is currently in a relationship with Father Gabriel, which I didn’t see coming, but Eugene still seems to be crushing on her. One of the more positive moments I saw on screen is Eugene’s change from timid know- it- all, to born again killer of zombies. He is definitely hardcore, and I was glad to see that. It seems he really stepped up to help care for and protect the group after Rick’s absence. Eugene and Rosita get ambushed by a swarm of walkers who are acting very oddly, and very deliberately chase them, while communicating in harsh whispers about not letting them get away.

This is the introduction of the most famous group in the comic books, the  very possibly deranged Whisperers. With the addition of this new group, The Walking Dead just got really scary again, because we know nothing of this new group except that they live like the  zombies, by hiding among them. This season will also introduce Samantha Morton as someone called The Alpha, the leader of The Whisperers, during what the books call The Whisperer War.

Meanwhile, The Kingdom has been dealing with some raiders, the last surviving members from Negan’s Sanctuary,  who keep ambushing their supply wagons. Carol ,who is now married to Ezekiel, decides to accompany their son, Henry, (the little boy we saw them training last season) to Hilltop. They get ambushed too, but as you probably guessed, Carol gets through it by being her usual murderous bad ass, and after their adventure, they encounter Daryl, who has been living in the woods like the wild man he’s always wanted to be.

 

Judith Grimes: 

Image result for the walking dead season 9

I’m trying really hard not to compare Judith to Carl and her father, but its almost impossible not to do that. She seems so much like and un-alike either of them. At this time,  Judith is somewhere around 9-11. I don’t know what her exact age was six years ago.

She’s not like your typical child of that age. She is very resourceful and extremely self possessed. She is a child who knows her limits and her power because she has had to know these things. Unlike Carl, whom we watched as he began to understand his power as he grew up, she has always had to know hers, as the zombie apocalypse is all she has ever known. For children like Judith, born after the zombie apocalypse, the walking dead are just a feature of the world, and they have nothing else to compare it to.

 

Carol and Ezekiel:

Image result for the walking dead season 9/carol and ezekiel

Carol and Ezekiel are now married, a result of the marriage proposal we’ve seen him make a number of times since he met her. Jerry refers to her as The Queen, which kind of irks her a bit. Together she and Ezekiel have been raising Henry and refer to him as their son, The Prince. It’s interesting seeing the two of them being really together as Carol has always seemed to kep people at arms length, but they are very much in love with each other, and are not afraid to engage in PDAs. Their relationship is another one of the positive things about this episode.

Carol has not entirely given up her murderous ways, as she kills  the raiding group, that attacked her and Henry, by setting them on fire. Yeah, this ain’t the first group of Saviors  that she has set on fire, remember? Carol has always been willing to be extra, to protect her family, so this is entirely in keeping with her usual modus operandi.

 

Daryl:

Image result for the walking dead season 9/daryl

Daryl isn’t introduced until the end of the episode. Apparently, he has been living in the woods with his doggo, and looks his usual greasy self. How much of his current livelihood can be boiled down to Rick’s absence, we don’t know. Carol wants Henry to meet Daryl, because she is about to send Henry out into the world, and wants someone she can trust to be at his back. She knows Daryl well enough to know he will adopt Henry as his own, and he does just that. That evening, after they have met on the road, she spies on Henry and Daryl as they kill zombies together. She got exactly what she wanted – an alliance between  two of the people she most loves in the world.

 

Negan:

Image result for negan/ walking dead

Its been six years, and Negan is still locked in Alexandria’s jail. People still interact with him, but his little verbal schtick, where he mixes truth with lies to  emotionally rattle his interviewers, doesn’t get as much respect as it used to, and doesn’t seem to work at all on my girl, Judith, who not only sees right through his bullshit, but actively calls him out on it. She does not know or care who he used to be, and he can’t seem to  manipulate her the way he used to do  others.

 

Michonne:

Image result for the walking dead season 9/michonne

Michonne has been through a lot since she lost Rick, and I suspect some of that lot has to do with Maggie’s absence from the episode. She’s been raising Judith, and has been acting as Alexandria’s Head of Security. She is still not coping with Rick’s absence in a way I think is healthy. At one point, Judith walks in on her having an imaginary conversation with Rick or Carl, I’m not sure.  She has also been raising her and Rick’s son RJ, (Rick Jr.?) who was born not long after.

When we first see her, she looks as mean and cold and hard as ever, but by the end of the episode, we see that she can still laugh and smile, even if she only does it for Judith, who like her father, is very protective of her mother. It’s also kind of nice to see she’s stopped wearing that awful headband, as I was really getting tired of it. It’s Judith who helps change her mind about the newcomers to Alexandria, even after one of them comes to her home, planning to kill her. The woman’s hand is stayed  because  she witnesses Michonne interacting with her son, although Judith did have her back with Rick’s gun, which is bigger than she is.

Image result for walking dead /judith

When Michonne was getting dressed, we saw that she had some kind of x shaped scar over the place where her left kidney should be, and I wonder at the story behind that, and if that has anything to do with Maggie disappearing. The writers keep giving us hints that the reason behind why the three society’s are not in contact with each other is because of something Maggie did.

 

Mid – Season Finale

During the mid-season finale, Negan is freed from his jail cell, and goes hunting, probably for Lucille, and Jesus is the first casualty in the Whisperer War, after he and Aaron set out to rescue Eugene from a zombie swarm.

Michonne sees Carol for the first time in several years and their meeting is somewhat prickly. Something happened between the three  communities that was so bad, that the Alexandrians entirely cut themselves off from the Hilltop, and the Kingdom.

Henry gets into some trouble with the other teenagers at the Hilltop. It’s kind of like he went away to college. he’s supposed to be apprenticing with the blacksmith there but ends up in jail after a night of drunken zombie fighting, and is in danger of getting expelled.

Now the show has entered some seriously scary territory, because the Whisperers are so unlike anything these communities have ever faced, or like anything we’ve seen on the show, and there’s gonna be a lot more death before the end of the season. I’m not entirely sure I’m up for that, but this is the scariest the show has been since the first three seasons, so my nosiness will probably get the better of me.

 

White Men: The Pandering (Pt. Two)

Image result for white people gifs

Most Americans know the rest of the world only through the media they consume, and unfortunately, most of them are content to leave it at that level,  never bothering  to question what we know of the world, how we know it, or who gave us the information, and why they gave it to us. (The corollary to this is the rest of the world learns about America through the media we create.)

The media, especially popular mainstream culture, shapes our American worldview, and that worldview springs from the minds of largely one group of people, so it’s very interesting when White male critics (and let’s be frank here, these critics are primarily White, straight, male, and we must not forget it when talking  about this issue), when they talk about how the media is “pandering” to the SJW’s. At the same time these same men say things like “This is our media, and those people are invading it.” There’s a reason why they think Pop culture belongs exclusively to them, and that statement  is  both a declaration of ownership, and a subsequent lack of control over what they claim to be theirs.

If there are two essential truths in today’s media and popular culture, it’s these: One, virtually the entirety of mass popular culture is geared towards pandering to the wants, needs, interests, and desires of male nerds. And two, those male nerds often fail to believe that they’ve been pandered to quite enough.

 

I can’t cover everything, so this is going to be a broad 101 of the topic. There are going to be some subjects I avoid as being too lengthy, and deserve posts of their own. Some topics I’m going to  avoid talking about in depth, because I’m not a member of the community in question. There were so many resources I wanted to add, so many videos, so many links, but I simply couldn’t cover everything. I used the terms White characters, White men, and White people, interchangeably, but they are not all the same thing.  For the purposes of this essay (which I have edited the hell out of, and I’m too tired to go back through it and change all the terms) we’ll use them interchangeably here. (And yes, I am including White women in those terms, since they have often aided and abetted cis-heteropatriarchy in movies, books ,and TV.)

White Men Control The Stories

Image result for this is a white gif

Let’s talk about what pandering is, how it gets done, and what it looks like in Pop culture. I’m primarily going to talk about the three biggest forms of media:  Music, Movies and TV and Gaming.

One of the reasons we tend to think of White men the way we do, is because our point of view has been aided and abetted by the vast amount of entertainment we’ve consumed, that privilege the White, straight, middle class, cis-gender, male viewpoint of themselves, and the rest of the world. Narratives that are created, controlled, and distributed by White men.

 

White men are  prioritized and normalized in the stories we read, watch, listen to,  and play. This is so ubiquitous that most people never notice it, until other stories start being told. Their presentation,  desires, wants, opinions (of themselves, and others, and their needs, are often placed front and center in many of the stories we’ve consumed, while those of women, gays, PoC, and other marginalized groups are de-centered, or placed in the stories to make them feel good and look heroic. Issues like erasure and whitewashing serve the same purpose, and while those may  have recently become household words, some of the prioritization of White men  are much more subtle, and often go unrecognized.

For example, movies may appear to present an issue, but that issue gets sidelined to focus on how the White characters think about the issue, rather than how that issue affects the people involved in it. In the movie Three Billboards over Ebbing Missouri, the movie presents issues of police brutality. But…there are only three Black characters in the entire movie, and we don’t get any idea how they feel about what the police have been doing to them. Instead, the focus  is on them sympathizing with the White male cops who have committed  the brutality. Not only is the audience encouraged to see the humanity of these corrupt  police officers, but the Black characters (written by two White men) show sympathy and empathy for them too, unwilling to be angry, or hold the police to account for what was done to them. Police brutality of Black people is presented as background scenery for the story of a White woman’s feud with a group of White men.

 

Normalization, Exceptionalism and  Universalism

In books, movies, and television shows, White men’s activities, no matter what they are,  are presented as a normal outgrowth of being a man, and is something that can, and should, be applied to all men. The understanding is that the White male view of the world is shared by all men. The activities in which they engage, and their reaction to events, is something shared by everyone. Paradoxically, White men want to be shown to be rugged individualists, who are exceptional, and don’t share any mundane qualities with other men.

Related image

 

We see the “normal” nature of whiteness in film and television too, in which most main characters are white, and in the case where a show or film prominently features actors of color, it is considered a “Black” or “Hispanic” cultural product. Film and television that primarily features white people is “normal” film and television that is thought to appeal to the mainstream; those that feature actors of color in lead roles and casts composed predominantly of people of color are considered niche works that exist outside of that mainstream.

 

One of the more subtle ways that White men are depicted on screen is through sympathy and innocence. White men in movies and TV shows are often given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to criminal behavior, or sympathized with when they experience pain.

I mostly want to talk about this as a TV phenomenon, but pick a crime, any crime, and Western media has probably made a movie/TV series/play/etc. with a white person that romanticizes the criminal activity. No matter what, a white person can do whatever terrible crimes and still have a TV/movie fanbase that loves them. When you see black or brown people committing crimes on screen, you are to see them thugs and criminal masterminds and people to be beat down.

Image result for white male gaze gifs

Basically, every trope and stereotype present in film, and television, was invented, created, and reinforced through decades of use, by straight, White, middle class men, and the result is that White men end up looking heroic, commanding, smarter, mentally stable, and more powerful than everyone else. Their mistakes and transgressions are to be  forgiven or excused. Their abnormal circumstances and /or criminal behavior is meant to be sympathized with, and in some cases applauded as heroic. Even their most villainous behavior is meant to be understood, justified, and sometimes even romanticized. Witness the number of TV series and movies that romanticize White serial killers, for example. There are no shows and movies romanticizing the exploits of serial killers who happen to be men of color.

Some of this is obvious, some less so, but the end result is that White men are given a pass for their behavior, no matter how toxic, while  making themselves look sympathetic, in  television shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and Sons of Anarchy. There are few shows depicting men of color as mobsters and drug dealers in a sympathetic manner. Men of color who engage in criminal activity are painted as thugs, terrorists, and ne’er do wells. White men’s ideas about crime pervade popular media in the form of procedurals, reality shows, and action movies.

Simultaneously, White men  have also gotten to be the only representatives of law and order. Up until thirty or so years ago, men of color were not depicted as cops in TV shows, and rarely depicted as such in movies. There were no Asian cops in American police procedurals until the 90s, few Latinos, and no Muslims.  White men broke the law, but almost always as Anti- Heroes, and Likable Rogues, (unless of course they had accents, or were coded as Queer) who were justified in committing violent acts. They also happened to enforce the laws which made them look like heroes. The majority of the rhetoric one sees in online commentary about the police has been heavily influenced by decades of propaganda showing the police as society’s heroes, keeping, the usually Black and Brown criminals, in check.

The idealized image of the Los Angeles Police Department that the series portrayed, of a thoroughly modern agency dispassionately dispensing justice, is sharply at odds with the historical reality of an imperfect force beset by racism, brutality, and decades of scandals. 

 

 Thus these shows are also the closest we will ever get to putting on a metaphorical cape, defeating the villains, and saving the burning city from collapsing on itself. We are able to live out our criminal and heroic fantasies simultaneously through both the lawless perpetrator and the take-no-shit cop.

 

Image result for white male gifs

 

Even in movies that are ostensibly about other people’s stories, it is White men who get to be the heroes. In the movie Hidden Figures, a movie about the lives and careers of three  Black women who worked at NASA in the early 60’s, Kevin Costner gets to be heroic when he destroys the segregationist bathroom signage, that he never noticed or paid any attention to, until of course, it was pointed out to him by one of the Black women in his employ. Needless to say, this isn’t something that ever happened in the real world. Costner was  added to the story as someone for  White audience members to identify with, and feel good about themselves for doing so.

Image result for manliness gifs

 

 

Prioritization

From: ‘Forced Diversity’ in Modern Media

The expression“pushing identity politics/representation” is just the beginnings of addressing racism in problematic cinema

by: Thaddeus Howze

White people are in almost every movie and paint themselves as the heroes of every event, no matter how great or small. The complete invisibility of people of color, even in our own stories has been part of the American experience since mass media began. Even after we began to appear, it was always in subservient roles, either taking care of Whites or subservient to them.

White media paint White characters as indomitable, unstoppable juggernauts overcoming any obstacle. From seaside Viking raids to intergalactic alien invasions, no matter where it happens, the perception is, only White people will be leading the way and will WIN, because of their <insert ability inherent to and uniquely held by White protagonist here.>

This failed perception, this false worldview, is both problematic and reductive. It makes White people seem to be the only problem-solvers in movies and the lack of participation by other groups is because they have nothing to offer. The world view which says Whites are the ultimate expression of knowledge, culture, significance, beauty and creativity is a lie and it has been promoted through mass media since the turn of the last century.

This perspective has become so ingrained, people of color from around the world are bleaching their skins and divesting themselves of their own culture to gain access to the White hegemony and its oppressive racially-intolerant culture. Online bleating by racist fans of <insert media genre here> would have you believe the nature of inserting people of color into any media, no matter how appropriate to the very job of acting is an affront to their whiteness and the integrity of the work.

 

White male consumers are taught in a million subtle, and unsubtle, ways that everyone/everything belongs to them, centers around them, or is meant to serve their happiness. The industries of gaming, movies, TV, publishing, and music have been the fuel of their entitlement, and have pandered to White male fantasies of power, sex, and money, for decades.

Not only are White men the center of their own universe, they are meant to be the center of everyone else’s. They believe this because American media has been telling them that since its inception.

White men believe these things because they have been pandered to by a raft of  stereotypes and tropes,  from Whitewashing, to White Savior, to Mighty Whitey, to Generic Male Leads, which all designed to prioritize them. Their motivations, feelings and identities get to be the center of the stories, and they are the sun around which every other character (often  the marginalized, who are acting as emotional support and sidekicks) revolve.

Image result for you're a white male gif

White men have been the only characters available, (for everyone who is not them), to identify with in most  fictional narratives, even in stories that are not theirs, such as movies like Mississippi Burning, where the focus of the Civil Rights Movement is on the White FBI agents investigating the  deaths of  the Civil Rights workers, and  how that investigation emotionally affects them.

 

Despite a few outliers here and there, White men in TV continue to mostly tell stories that are only of importance to White men, (which accounts for the sheer numbers of White, male, coming of age stories so prevalent in books, movies, and sitcoms). White men love to tell the mundane stories of their childhood, many of which were unexceptional, but are always lauded by the White critics who identify with them.

“It’s important that Hollywood showrunners and writers recognize that many of the narratives they put out in the world and how they do business is not in the spirit of who they claim to be,” Hunt said. “White men dominate the major positions, and people of color and women have a long way to go to attain any type of equity.”

 

… that problem stems back to the underlying systemic racism in society. The publishing companies are run by White men who have decided what is able to be published, what people are willing to buy and base their latest books on projections that figure Whites are the primary purchasers and thus are the only audience worth catering to.

 

 In a 2015 study, novelist Nicola Griffith (Hild, Ammonite) looked at 15 years worth of data from a few top literary prizes. She found that fiction written by women about women won hardly any prizes, and fiction by women about men fared a little better. Books by men about men were miles ahead.

 

Prioritization doesn’t just happen in the making of media, it can happen within the story itself. Movies that would ostensibly be told from the point of view of the characters that the story is about, often get sidelined, in favor of telling the story from the point of view of  White men who have been added to the narrative. This particular form of prioritization (often called The Generic Male Lead) is a lot easier to spot than others, although it is so ubiquitous that it’s all but invisible to a lot of people. Not only are White men the centers of other people’s stories, their presence in the story seems to be of primary importance to all the other characters.

The Generic White Male Lead

Image result for average white male gif

I already discussed in The Pandering (Part One),  how movies, games, and shows are  written  to star a generic White male lead, because White males, aged 16-35, was the key demographic that was of most interest to Hollywood and advertisers. This particular trope is sometimes  called The Average White Guy, The Everyman, or just The Generic Guy. Most often this trope is little more than a power fantasy for the average White male audience it is aimed at. They can imagine themselves having heroic adventures in space,  the past, the present,  or obtaining the love interest. They’re still an average, mediocre fellow, but they get to be heroic, and have adventures, in the meantime.

White men are who the story is about, with the cultural histories, homelands, and marginalized people used as a  backdrop for their heroic undertakings, character growth, emotional angst, love stories, or family dramas.  Sometimes famous (or infamous) men and women of color are sidelined in their own stories, because the White man’s story takes precedence. For examples see : The Last King of Scotland,  and Birth of the Dragon, in which famous men of color (Idi Amin and Bruce Lee) are sidelined in their own stories, their lives used as backdrops to tell the stories of generic White men feeling some type of way about their circumstances, or falling in love.

The 2015 movie, Stonewall, came under fire from the LGBTQ community for centering a White man in the middle of a story that was supposed to be about the uprising of a group of transgender people of color at the Stonewall Inn in the 60’s. The original “real life” Queer people of color who were present at the event, got sidelined in a story that should have been about them, their lives, and their activities leading up to the rebellion, but they were instead used as  background color to tell the  coming of age story of  a generic fictional White guy.

…a San Francisco-set coming-of-age story involving a rough and tumble young white man who matches the feuding fighting legends in the brawl as he pursues a Romeo and Juliet romance with a young Chinese immigrant [JingJing Qu] under the control of the Chinese mob.

Many of the tropes listed here often overlap, and sometimes all of them can appear in just one movie. Movies where a White Generic Lead is Chosen to be a White Savior to a group of natives being colonized, or killed, by people who look like him, because it is his Burden, as a White man, to civilize those people, while being better at their cultural traditions than they are, and falling in love.

Image result for legend of tarzan gifs

A perfect example of all these tropes meeting in just one film is The Legend of Tarzan, which was released in 2016, (although all the Tarzan books and movies suffer from this, because it’s  what they are based on). In this modern retelling, Lord Clayton is a scruffy White dude, who is also the Chosen One of the African tribe which has adopted him. He knows how to be a better African than the Africans in the movie, making him a Mighty Whitey, as he talks to the animals, who love and obey him. As a White Savior, he has a responsibility to save his adoptive tribe from some evil Dutch Colonists. Further examples of all these tropes appearing in one movie are: Avatar, Dances with Wolves, John Carter of Mars, A Man Called Horse, and The Last Samurai. All of these movies have the same basic plot.

Mainstream video games are almost exclusively the province of the scruffy White every man. It is well documented that  White male audiences are prioritized when it comes to mainstream gaming. Women, LGBTQ, and PoC are often pushed out of gaming, not just by a lack of representation, but by the heavy sexualization of female characters, the mockery of Queer characters, and the harassment and violence of White male gamers.

Image result for White men in games

The problem faced by woman and minority-starring video games
is largely the same as the problem facing traditionally underrepresented groups across all forms of representation: their failures are treated as definitive,and their successes are ignored. Dozens of white man-starring video games have underperformed, but their failures are treated as specific to that game.

 

The White Savior and the White Man’s Burden

To this day, some people still latently believe what imperialists such as Rudyard Kipling said, that colonialism was important for everyone: the conqueror and, most importantly, the conquered. That without the colonizers, the colonized had no hope of survival. And by constantly churning out movies with plots in which white people “save” people of color, Hollywood reinforces colonialist dictum.

Image result for white male savior

In movies, the White Male Savior (and there are also more than a few female characters that fall into this trap, but this is a genre that is written, controlled, and distributed by men, so I’m leaving those movies that star White women in this space) happens often in film and television. When it’s women, they show up as characters like Daenerys in Game of Thrones, Skeeter in The Help, and  Leigh Anne in The Blind Side, with some of the most frequent depictions of the White Savior trope occurring in classrooms, with movies like Dangerous Minds, Conrack, Up the Down Staircase, and Freedom Writers. (No. To Sir With Love  does not fit this trope. That’s a story about a Black man saving a group of disrespectful White students.)

The number of White Male Saviors in movies are fairly  numerous and cross all genres: Movies like Amistad, To Kill a Mockingbird, Radio, Avatar, Dances with Wolves, District 9, The Soloist, Hardball, Gran Torino, The Great Wall, Tarzan, and The Last Samurai.

Sometimes this trope overlaps with the Chosen One, The Mighty Whitey, or The Generic Male Lead. The White Man’s Burden is a reference to the colonialist idea that White men had a responsibility to civilize the rest of humanity who were not as evolved, and neatly dovetailed with the White Savior Trope. The White Savior often functions as an audience identifier, which allows White audiences to believe themselves to be “good” people  because they identify with him or her.)

The white savior is a cinematic trope in which a white character rescues people of color from their plight.[1] Certain critics have observed this narrative in an array of genres of films in American cinema, wherein a white protagonist is portrayed as a messianic figure who often learns something about him or herself in the course of rescuing characters of color.[1][2]

…In the praxis of cinematic narrative, the white savior usually is a man who is out of place within his own society, until he assumes the burden of racial leadership to rescue non-white foreigners and minorities from their plights. As such, white savior stories “are essentially grandiose, exhibitionistic, and narcissistic” fantasies of psychological compensation.[4]

 

The Chosen One

Related image

The trope of the Chosen One isn’t always a White man, (occasionally women and men of color get in on it). It includes everyone from Harry Potter to Anakin  Skywalker. The Chosen One trope is old and tired,  but not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, the trope itself is rather neutral. The problem begins when  the special Chosen one is paired with any of the above tropes, which it often is. The Chosen One trope is an Average White guy fantasy that he is secretly exceptional, with some grand destiny. The Fantasy genre relies on this trope far  too often.

 

The Mighty Whitey 

Related image

This falls under the heading of  Exceptionalism, when it is only White men who get to be good at everything,  outdoing the people’s of the native cultures he has adopted (or who have usually kidnapped him.) We already discussed Tarzan, which helped to begin this trope in popular culture (although it existed before that), but The Last Samurai is also a near perfect  distillation of the Mighty Whitey trope. Tom Cruise goes to Japan as a colonizer, but gets kidnapped by a tribe of Samurai. In the space of a few months, however, he manages to befriend the leader of the tribe, Katsumoto, fall in love with the man’s sister, Taka, (despite having killed her husband), and master the use of the samurai sword after only a few months of lessons.

TV Tropes characterizes this trope as a typically noble Caucasian man who, due to often extenuating circumstances, comes to live with native tribesmen. He not only learns the ways of the native people, but surpasses their skill, becoming far better at being a member of the culture than those of the tribe, and naturally their greatest warrior or even their leader. The trope in some cases also involves a romantic story-line between the hero and the Chief’s daughter, who will often continue to love him despite the hero’s sometimes direct involvement with the death of a significant family member.

 

Many in the west clearly still believe we need an identical identifier on screen, if not a white savior than at least a proxy embedded into an exotic group. Someone apparently thought it necessary to have a white male lead in an early draft of Disney’s live-action Mulan remake. And a lot of people are still interested in seeing Tarzan as the superior white hero of Africa, given the global box office success of The Legend of Tarzan. Fortunately, discussions of the “Mighty Whitey” trope problem grow with every example.

 

Whitewashing

Roles that should rightly be played by  fat people,  people with disabilities, transgender,  gay, or people of color, will often be replaced by White men (and sometimes women) in a  story, but the term Whitewashing  itself, often specifically refers to the replacement of PoC with White people. Contrary to popular confusion, Whitewashing and Race Bending are not equivalent. Whitewashing also applies to more than just film and television roles, but across the whole of the entertainment industry.

The portrait is one of pervasive underrepresentation, no matter the media platform, from CEOs to minor characters. “Overall, the landscape of media content is still largely whitewashed,” the study concludes.

 

“It is the height of white privilege to think a white person is better equipped to play an Asian character than an Asian person.”

 

Erasure

This means the  removal of gender, racial, and sexual diversity from Historical, Present, and Futuristic Narratives in movies, television, and gaming, especially when they should be present. The past was not as homogeneous as people like to argue and  I consider the question of homogeneity, at any point in  European history, to be a thoroughly moot point, if one has also added dragons, orcs, elves, wizards, and other fantastical creatures to the landscape.

To remove marginalized people from present and future narratives is to make a deliberate choice to not add them, which says something (none of  it good) about the creators of such stories. Sometimes, the White creators of these stories cannot imagine a future in which PoC, gay people, or people with disabilities contribute to the creation of the culture, or have adventures separate from White people. In many of the movies in which these marginalized groups do appear, the writers cannot imagine a future for them that is any different from their past, or their current level of  oppression. Poc of color are still secondary citizens, who live to serve the needs of the White characters in the story, homophobia still exists, no accommodations have been made for the disabled, and  White men are still the leaders of everything. For  example see : Ready Player One (book and movie), Bladerunner, and any movies about the future that were made before 1979.

The Past

The Present

The Future

 

What all of the historical erasure of non -Whites  has led to, is the popular mainstream belief that different groups of people contributed nothing to the historical record, which is then used as an excuse for excluding them from fantasy narratives, which is  then extended  into the future, or any form of speculative fiction.   The impression that is  given is that  the only worthwhile contributors to all of human culture are White people, specifically White men. This also  aids in the perpetuation of the belief that it was exceptional White men who created civilization.

 

Cultural Appropriation and Orientalism

Related image

The most egregious purveyor of these two tropes are Science Fiction films, and most noticeable in films which feature an entirely Asian cast except for that White Savior, or   Mighty Whitey. It also includes appropriative narratives like The Handmaid’s Tale, which appropriates the oppressive histories of WoC, but  with a cast of White women, and just about any X-Men, comic book, or movie, where the histories of Black Americans, and LGBTQ people  are appropriated to tell the story of those oppressions happening to White straight, cis-gender characters.

Many of these examples are just allegories of oppression. The use of allegory and metaphor is a neutral act, and I don’t actually have a problem with allegories about oppression. I think the problem occurs when these stories are almost always told through the lens of straight, White victims. I discussed why in my reviews of A Handmaid’s Tale, and the series The Gifted.

 

https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/06/28/533818685/cultural-appropriation-is-in-fact-indefensible

Cultural appropriation can feel hard to get a handle on, because boiling it down to a two-sentence dictionary definition does no one any favors. Writer Maisha Z. Johnson offers an excellent starting point by describing it not only as the act of an individual, but an individual working within a “power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.”

The movies most notable for both cultural appropriation (and Orientalism) are the Bladerunner films, in which Asian (specifically Japanese) aesthetics are used as background settings for a story that uses the American version of slavery as an allegory, but which stars no prominent Black or Asian characters.

This doesn’t just happen with different Asian cultures, but with African American, and Gay subcultures, and in music and books. Cultural appropriation is a product of White Western thinking that finds the cultural artifacts of other nations to be nothing more than amusing or pretty trinkets.  There is rarely  any understanding of what’s being appropriated, and this is often coupled with a denigration of the people that produced whatever aesthetic was stolen. Often, it is only the cultural aesthetics that have any value. To the White people who do this, the people who produce what they’ve stolen have no value. There is also  the added side effect of centering White people in the middle of other people’s stories and culture.

Image result for cultural appropriation gifs

There is some confusion over just what constitutes cultural appropriation, especially when it comes to more shared activities like music, art ,and fashion, but sometimes there are clear cut cases where corporations have stolen design elements from Indigenous, or geographically exclusive cultures, and profited from the theft, without giving credit to the originators of those design. Cultural appropriation has been very well documented for several decades.

An example of an appropriation of a musical style was Disco, which was primarily created by Latinos, WoC, and LGBTQ creators, who were also primarily the audiences for the music. By the time Disco made it into mainstream culture, most of the elements that made it so appealing to those marginalized groups, had been stripped from it by White men seeking to make a profit. The faces of Disco became White, straight, and male in the form of Saturday Night Fever, Abba, and The Bee Gees.

Every musician has influences, that is very true. The issue, however, lies with the lack of proper credit to these influences, and more importantly, that these influences aren’t getting their due monetarily and popularity wise. Moreover, these black influences experience barriers in terms of industry gatekeepers, while the influenced white musician is skipping through an open gate. Lastly, the trend of showing off the negative stereotypes of black culture and disregarding the other parts that are involved, demonstrates a lack of understanding and respect for the music one is taking.

 

The film Saturday Night Fever, a fictional account of a hetero Italian-American disco fan, whitewashed the genre and sold it – very, very successfully – to mainstream America.

  • Appropriation of Indigenous Culture in the Fashion Industry

Appropriation is typically defined as taking an idea or reproducing an artifact for one’s own particular use, altering its original meaning, and doing so without the original producer’s consent. Cultural appropriation is often related to the exploitative and commercial use of traditional and customary elements of long-established cultures. 

Tokenism

Image result for tokenism gifs

Tokenism is something that can be applied to every marginalized group. Often they are the only member of their group in the narrative and don’t actually get to be their authentic selves, because their words are written by writers who aren’t a member of their group. There’s often only one woman, or one gay character, or that one lonely Black man, who gets killed first. And then there is the burden of representation, where that lone character now has to be all things to all the members of their group, because they are the only one present.

Because characters of color are rare on screen, when they appear, they carry ” the burden of representation,” which means that they are a symbol or representation for an entire community,…”For white people, this is not a problem, because their roles are so varied and so numerous that audiences do not see them as representatives of the white community, but simply the individual characters,…”

Narratives that contain two or more  gay characters, women, or  PoC, are considered niche markets, that are only of appeal to the group in question, and subsequently don’t get marketed to a larger more mainstream audience, which is what happens when members of the dominant group control the means of distribution. (This is very slowly beginning to change with movies created for, by,  and about marginalized audiences seeing mainstream release.)

Why do Black people like White movies? The short answer here is that we don’t have much of a choice.

 

One example of tokenism  are most of the MCU films, although this is a trope that can be spotted anywhere. The MCU film, The Avengers, fell under scrutiny for the  Smurfette Trope, as the only female character to appear in the movie, with a speaking role, was Black Widow. When there is only one token character in the story, the writers don’t have to expend time and energy imagining what such a character could be thinking, and they  certainly don’t have to imagine what two or more of them would talk to each other about.

Another trope I’ve been noticing recently is when there is more than one person from a marginalized group in the narrative, they may actually have names, and  speak to one another, but their relationship is antagonistic. Once again the MCU comes under fire, for this. The movies have been slowly adding more men of color to the franchise. In Captain America Civil War there are two Black men, Rhodes and Sam, but their relationship is antagonistic. There are two White women in the cast, but they have only two lines to each other between them. The rest of the time they don’t interact. The Netflix show, The Defenders, did slightly better by featuring multiple women of different races, but none of  them are friends, and in some cases actively work against each other. The only  two WoC who interact, and are shown being friendly, are  Misty Knight, and Colleen Wing. Even in the series Jessica Jones, only two of the several women in the cast are shown to be actual friends. The rest are all antagonistic to each other, and the lead character.

It’s almost as if the writers cannot conceive  that women (and others) would have any conversations that are not about White men, or what subjects other people could possibly be talking about, when White men are not  present, or even that they might like each other. This is especially easy to point out in the Token PoC Trope, where men and women of color don’t have lives that are separate from the White characters and they don’t seem to have friends or family of their own. Their lives (and deaths) revolve around the White leads.

Even the deaths of such characters are there to serve White men. People of color will sacrifice their lives to save the White characters. Women’s deaths have whatever meaning is assigned to them by the White man they’re  related  to in the story.  In  comic books women are “fridged” to provide an emotional arc for the lead characters, but  there are countless movies based on White men going on killing sprees that have been spurred by the deaths of wives, daughters, lovers… so many that this plot point almost constitutes its own film genre, The Vigilante/Revenge Film.

The Presentation of Everyone Else

 

Related image

In stories that are ostensibly about women, PoC, and Queer characters, White men still get the most speaking lines, get to portray the gay and transgender characters, and even non-White ones. According to White men, the past was all White, the present is almost as White, and the future is every bit as White as today. When it comes to fictionalized universes the  White  straight men who control these narratives,  are hard pressed to imagine any point in time in which they are not a priority.

Since the vast majority of Pop culture media is owned and controlled by White men, White men get to speak for, put words into the mouths of, and then give their opinions on, everyone that is not them. They have created all the labels, the identities, and the narratives of everyone who is not them, instead of allowing those groups to speak for themselves.

 

The Presentation of Gays and Lesbians

As chronicled in The Celluloid Closet, it was White men who got to decide what images of gays and lesbians were acceptable for TV and movies. There were gay men involved in the creation of gay characters on screen, but after the implementation of the censor codes in the fifties, they often had to hide, deflect, or depict gayness in a comedic or villainous way.

Hollywood accounted for the creation of some of the most egregious gay tropes, like the Sassy Gay Sidekick, Kill Your Gays, or the “It’s Just A Phase” lesbian. Hollywood often engages  in the erasure of gay characters, in movies like Alexander, and A Beautiful Mind. In the past, the only way that film studios could get gay characters past the censors was to present them as being laughably harmless, tragic, or associate them with crimes they could be punished for.

The Celluloid Closet is not available at this time for free streaming but it is available on Youtube, iTunes, and Vudu, for a fee. Since I’m not a part of the community in question, I don’t feel I should speak for them, but I can signal boost the voices of those who are.

 

Queercoding Villains

One of the ways Hollywood excuses violence against gay people is to cast them as villains, thereby associating gayness with crime, or evil activities in general. Sometimes though, a character’s homosexuality is only alluded to by gestures, and dialogue.

One of the most difficult things about approaching film and television’s use of queerness is that there will rarely be a single verdict on any given cultural product. With the exception of the most simplistically supportive or bigoted representations, there is room for much discussion and debate in determining a positive or negative LGBTQ presence. Because of this shift, seriously engaging with and thinking about the images we consume has become more important than ever.

Transgender Men and Women

Image result for transgender women gifs

Transgender characters come under special scrutiny in Hollywood. They are almost always cast as tragic victims of their “lifestyles”, or villains. Needless to say, since none of the imagery we see of transgender men and women are actually created by them, their depictions have always been problematic. Then there is the mainstream obsession with transgender men and women’s genitals, and whether or not they have transitioned, are going to do so, or are doing so right now. This is leaving aside that transgender actors  rarely if ever get to star in their own stories.

 “Media has a history of telling the world a story that transgender people are always victims or villains, instead of true depictions that show the transgender community as citizens worthy of equality and respect. 

In the past, transgender characters have been the butt of jokes, and objects of disgust, with transgender women being the focus of the greatest amount of  attention. That type of transphobia is to be expected when White, Straight, men are intrigued by them, mistakenly believe that them to be men in drag, and are  homophobic, and misogynistic. The hyperfocus on transgender women, as objects of ridicule and disgust,  is called Transmisogyny. There is also the common trope of transgender women as being male deceivers of straight men.

 

Transgender villains are often a common trope in Horror movies, too and serves the dual purpose of showing the creators disdain of the community, and associating transgender men and women with evil, and crime. Often the characters are not transgender at all, they are merely men dressed as women, and the effect is that transgenderism becomes associated with the idea that gay men are trying to deceive straight men, by dressing up as women to fool them.

Some of the most famous depictions of transmisogyny are from the movies Ace Ventura Pet Detective, Silence of the Lambs, Psycho,  and  The Crying Game, in which a member of the IRA goes to London to visit the girlfriend of a man he killed, finds that she is transgender, and reacts with vomiting and panic. In fact, vomiting at the sight of trans women was a common trope in the 90s, usually as a form of comedy.

Obesity

Image result for obesity gifs

This is a topic of considerable interest to me. Consider for example, that all of the media stories that feature fat people as  characters,  almost all are entirely written by conventionally thin people. This has real world consequences, and accounts for the worst stereotypes believed about  fat people, especially fat women. They are most often seen as comedy relief to be mocked or laughed at, or undisciplined, unintelligent, ugly and desexualized slobs, whose lives are a dysfunctional mess.

In the movie Death Becomes Her , one of the lead characters is played by Goldie Hawn, a conventionally attractive White woman wearing a fat suit. There’s a scene where her life is shown as having spiraled out of control due to her jealousy of Meryl Streep’s character. She is shown at home,  in her pajamas, messily eating tubs of food with her fingers, in a roomful of cats, while watching TV. Her hair is a mess. She is late on her rent and about to be evicted.This is a  type of shorthand often engaged in by visual media. There is nothing sympathetic about this scene or her character. It is a derogatory image meant to symbolize how pathetic her life is. The screenplay was written by David Koepp and Martin Donovan.

Related image

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/tv/2018/08/10/insatiable-netflix-fat-women-television-chrissy-metz-dietland-nicole-byers/945835002/

This is, inevitably, just new packaging for offensive stereotypes about fat women on TV. The logic goes that the “good” fat women are the ones trying to lose weight or who already have (Monica on “Friends,” for instance), because staying fat means you are lazy and disgusting. As a result, the characters that stay fat have to be the villains or comic relief (see “Mike & Molly” or any number of jokes in shows like “How I Met Your Mother” or even “Jessica Jones”).

Another example is a scene in Jessica Jones, a show about a female superhero, that’s meant to be empowering for women. There’s a throwaway insult made by Jessica about a fat character, seen through a window on the street. Why was this scene added? It has no bearing on the rest of the plot, and that character is never seen again. If it was put there to showcase how much of an asshole Jessica is there are other ways that could’ve been conveyed to the audience that didn’t require throwing fat women under the bus, and since that scene was written by women, has the perhaps, unintended side effect of making the writers seem like assholes. It has also been pointed out, that a show about abuse survivors is telling us, not so subtly, that verbal abuse of fat women is okay. That idea (and its associated stereotypes and myths) has always had real world repercussions for fat men and women. (Yes, the show is written by  White women, but they  have often been complicit in White patriarchy.)

https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2016/01/09/drive-by-fat-shaming/

This is drive-by fat shaming. Just a quick reminder to everyone watching/listening that it’s hilarious and cool to make fun of fat people – even on a show that is supposed to be feminist. 

 

None of the derogatory images we see of fat people are written by people who know what it’s like to live life as a fat person. Women of color are often “mammified” for being fat, while men of any color are most often mocked, even in sympathetic portrayals. It is Popular culture that is responsible for disseminating most of the myths we believe about fat people.

Image result for fat people gifs

…the film industry has a long and varied history of producing movies that feature overweight characters. Some movies portray weight sensitively; others make a mockery of the subject; but few politely disregard the subject of weight altogether – perhaps mirroring our collective real-life inability to do so.

 

Poverty

Many of Americans most entrenched  ideas  about being poor have come from politicians demonizing them,, and decades of watching the depiction of poor people, in movies and television, that were written by middle class people (who are themselves steeped in myths about poor people), and who have been conditioned by politicians to think of the poor as lazy, ignorant, and deserving of their fate.

Did you notice that a lot of the stereotypes and myths about fat people, poor people, immigrants, and poc are similar in nature. All that is said about the poor are the same things said about anyone who is not White, thin, middle class, , mentally abled, or male, and meant to paint the picture that the creators of these stereotypes are the norm, and anything that deviates from it is “other”, abnormal, or dysfunctional.

Image result for poverty gifs

 

…with more than 43 million Americans living below the poverty line, the topic is surprisingly rare in Hollywood films. And yet many common misconceptions about what poverty looks like, and how people can overcome it, have been reinforced by movies like Slumdog Millionaire, Precious, The Pursuit of Happyness, and The Fisher King. 

One of the most common stereotypes is that homelessness is exclusive to men, and that all homeless suffer from mental illness. That is who we often picture when discussing the subject. We do not often consider the idea of women and children being homeless, or that homelessness itself would exacerbate any already held mental illness, or sometimes even cause it. When we picture the homeless, we picture them looking a certain type of way. There are homeless people who look indistinguishable from everyone else, some of them  work and many  live in rural areas. Those people are called the Invisible Homeless.

Homeless people in movies and TV shows, are usually played for comedy relief. When they are shown sympathetically, it is usually to serve some well meaning and often middle-class, White  character’s personal  growth. This also falls neatly into the White Savior trope.

While the rural homeless may not be sleeping on city sidewalks or in public places, they are not any less homeless than their urban counterparts. They may be sleeping in their car, a church, an abandoned building, or, most commonly, on the couch of a relative or friend. 

Part of the problem, as it is in most years, is that few movies about poor or homeless Americans were made in the first place. My previous researchfound that between 1902 and 2015, of all the films made in the US, only 299 of them were in some way significantly concerned with issues of poverty and homelessness.

 

 

 

Image result for disability gifs

Disability

Characters with disabilities are almost all written and created by people without them. The characters themselves are often depicted by actors who lack the disability in question, and non-visible disabilities like chronic pain, or mental illness are  rarely depicted on screen, without attaching ideas of laziness or  violence to them. Why do we believe so much of what we believe about the different groups of people to which we don’t belong? We probably got those ideas  (and they were most certainly reinforced) from decades of television and movie viewing.

Not only are people with disabilities stereotyped, the full range of disabilities is not reflected in media portrayals. Lynne Roper of Stirling Media Research Institute, in her article “Disability in Media,” notes that “wheelchairs tend to predominate… since they are an iconic sign of disability. Most actors playing disabled characters are, however, not disabled. The wheelchair allows the character to be obviously disabled, whilst still looking ‘normal’, and does not therefore present any major challenges for audience identification.”

 

The media, however, especially the movies, portray schizophrenia in a different light than the actual disorder. Common misconceptions are that schizophrenics are violent, drink alcohol heavily or use narcotics, behave comically, or suffer from a non-curable disorder. Some believe that schizophrenia is punishment for acting immorally, or that contact with a schizophrenic can lead to mental disorder. Others believe schizophrenia is the result of poor parenting and that schizophrenics behave unpredictably, are loners and isolated from society, or manifest disruptive behavior.

 

On Race and Gender

White, straight, cis-gender, Middle class, non-fat men get to have their say about  everyone else. Narratives about fat people that aren’t written by fat people, stories about men and women living in  poverty, where not one poor person was actually consulted, stories about women’s lives written from a male point of view, along with stories about gay people, Blacks, Asians, Latinx, where the opinions of who they are as a group are given no priority over the White men in the story, or the White men who wrote the script, or directed the movie, or even critiqued it,  is what is meant when we talk about seeing the world  through a White male lens.

We only  get the White male  point of view, and that point of view, reinforced through decades of pandering to White male audiences, is that everyone else is less than.That people who are not like them do not deserve sympathy or the benefit of the doubt. That those people’s lives are unstable because those people are somehow dysfunctional. It is not that White men don’t get depicted in unflattering ways, it is the overwhelming sense that White men deserve sympathy and compassion when they’re lives are out of order, while everyone else deserves mockery, dismissal, or erased. Decades of television, and film consumption have made Americans less tolerant of the differences between them, which is a (sometimes)  unintended side effect of White men being in the dominant position of catering to their key demographic: other Straight, White men.

The White male lens on race and gender in movies and television is well documented. They have   crafted, over the past fifty to sixty years of television, many of the stereotypical images of race and gender seen on our screens. Many of these depictions have been the only ones fans have consumed, since many Americans simply don’t read very much. White supremacy, ignorance, a lack of imagination, and laziness help to perpetuate these depictions throughout mainstream media, and even into fandom. Once again we’re not talking about individual depictions of gender and race, or outliers from the stereotypes. We’re discussing the whole of cinematic and television history.

 

Here, Lindsey Ellis discusses the  “Male Gaze”, and also makes the point that the male gaze isn’t just about how women are depicted on screen. Its also about how White men are depicted. She uses the Transformers movies as an example of gender and race as seen through the male gaze.

 

The Presentation of Men of Color

Related image

Just as media images of White men can make their centeredness and superiority seem normal and inevitable, the stereotypical depictions of other men in media can do the same to them. It  becomes natural to associate Black men with criminality, Middle Eastern men with  terrorism, Latinos with sexual promiscuity, and East Asian men with technology. These racial stereotypes were created by White  creators, and  used as justification for inequality, racism, and White supremacy, and have been helpfully maintained by lazy and incompetent creators ever since.

I keep mentioning the Whiteness of the the creators, because I want you to imagine  an American made film,  which features a Black, Latino, or Asian man’s anguish at, or revenge for, the loss of their wives, daughters, or lovers. or at least imagine such a narrative wherein he is not punished for doing so. Men of color don’t get cast in mainstream shows and  films like that, because the media doesn’t cater to their power, fame, or money fantasies. A man of color can only be an adjunct to  a White man’s goals, whether those goals are avenging a loved one, or getting the girl.

One of the things to keep in mind when reading these stereotypes of men of color is that they are essentially all the same stereotypes, with slight variations. The same racist narratives used against Middle Eastern men has also been said about both  Black and Asian men. All men of color are uncivilized, and barbaric. That they  are both oversexed and desexed are stereotypes lobbed at both Blacks (The Black Brute), Asians (The Horndog),  and Latinos (The Latin Lover), and that they are all obsessed with White women, who need to be saved from their attentions.

One of the ways White men in pop culture seek to maintain hegemony is to desexualize or emasculate certain characters, Whether men or women,  while hypersexualizing others, and presenting these qualities as somehow admirable, when really those qualities are being promoted to make White male characters look good by comparison.

 

Black Men

Related image

Characters of color remain underrepresented in mainstream movies and TV shows, and those actors who land roles are often asked to play stereotypes—from maids and immigrants to thugs and prostitutes. This overview breaks down how blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Arab Americans and Asian Americans continue to face stereotypes on both the big and small screen.

 

…negative mass media portrayals were strongly linked with lower life expectations among black men. These portrayals, constantly reinforced in print media, on television, the internet, fiction shows, print advertising and video games, shape public views of and attitudes toward men of color. They not only help create barriers to advancement within our society, but also “make these positions seem natural and inevitable”.

 

There’s no shortage of black male actors playing drug dealers, pimps, con-artists and other forms of criminals in television shows and films such as “The Wire” and “Training Day.” The disproportionate amount of African Americans playing criminals in Hollywood fuels the racial stereotype that black men are dangerous and drawn to illicit activities. Often these films and television shows provide little social context for why more black men than others are likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

 

One of the more disturbing tropes I noticed in the MCU, but have since noticed in other media are White characters who are meant to be heroes, punishing and torturing Black and gay men. In Captain America The Winter Soldier, there’s the torture of a Black man for information. In the movie Magnum Force (1973), Harry guns down a fleeing transgender woman. In fact, Clint Eastwood made a career out of vigilante justice in films. In The Defenders, you have a group of White heroes torturing a Black villain for information (of note: they didn’t torture any of the other men of color).  Torture happens frequently in the shows 24, Iron Fist, and The Punisher. Americans have  been conditioned for decades, by movies, TV series, and comic books, to see torture and vigilante justice as a  heroic activity. : a heroic activity that is  engaged in primarily by White men.

American society has been conditioned through vigilante imagery, to the acceptance of the use of torture and violent punishment, and  one of the side effects of this is the idea that Blacks, Gays, Latinos, and even women, get  considered to be  “non-normative”, and deserve to be punished and  killed for their transgressions against White men. This has the effect of associating White men with  law, order, and stability.

Hollywood’s obsession with black torture porn: Why the genre’s not important.

The film industry has mastered this skill to a tee, feeding us skillfully written, romanticized versions of the black American plight and later showering us (i.e. in many cases, white producers and screenwriters) with the highest of film honors and nominations when award season rolls around. But it’s starting to fail.

 

Asian American  Men

Like Black women, Asian men are often shamed for being Asian, don’t get to be shown as being loved, or lovable. They are often emasculated, not seen as sexy, and are still the butt of nasty jokes involving their penis size. Asian men get to be stereotyped as a danger to White women, smart but unnattractive nerds, misogynists, and perpetual foreigners in their own country. They rarely get to star in their own stories. When they do they are often the sidekicks to White characters.

 

 

Middle Eastern Men and Orientalism

As for Middle Eastern Men, they are almost always depicted as villainous barbarians obsessed with sex, and the beauty of White women.  America has a vested monetary interest in subduing the Middle Eastern regions of the world, so the people of that region have become handy scapegoats to blame US problems on. Before these visual tropes existed though, the West engaged in what is known as Orientalism, where the East was exoticized and romanticized for its barbarity.

“Orientalism” is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing Arab culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous.

 

Growing up, it was quite normal for us to see ourselves on the silver screen in two scenarios – firstly as a terrorist/evil character/backwards thinking individual/collateral damage, or secondly absolutely nowhere at all. It was fine growing up – we were used to it. Hollywood was a place that we were allowed to watch, but not allowed to be a part of. 

 

Image result for orientalism gifs

When it comes to Hollywood, the White male creators of media there, have a keen interest in showing men of other cultures to be less than them, so as to make themselves look better by comparison. Men of other races have many stereotypes in common. They are often shown to be oversexed,  desexed, hypersexualized, uncivilized, barbaric, villainous , or unintelligent.

 

 

The Presentation of Women

I talked about the sexual exploitation of women in pornography and mentioned the same in mass media in another post.The exploitation of women in mass media is another entire post  by itself, and it too,  is very well documented.

https://documentarylovers.com/film/miss-representation/

Since most popular media is controlled by White men, and the women they are most interested in are White women,  they have crafted dozens of stereotypes and tropes in movies, books and TV shows, that while they can be applied to all women,  were specifically invented to condition  White women to accept White men’s behavior towards them, and show White women those qualities in a woman they consider to be most important. These tropes are so prevalent that they are all but invisible.

One of these tropes is the Born Sexy Yesterday trope, where White women are shown as childlike, fragile, and vulnerable, that you don’t actually have to listen to, because you won’t understand anyway. This trope appears in dozens of movies. It’s basically a form of wish fulfillment. This is what White male creators, and by extension, White male audiences, find appealing.

 

Tropes for White women include : The Final Girl, The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, The Just One of the Guys Girl, The Disposable Object, The Sexy Floor Lamp, The Nagging Wife, and The Strong Female Character, who overlaps with The Final Girl. These tropes are not all wish fulfillment, or sexual fantasy, some of these are created to shame behaviors that White men find displeasing, or as a way to center a narrative around White male anguish.

How to think of White women  isn’t all that  audiences  are learning. White men are also shown by these narratives how they should perform masculinity, and the things they should care about as men. These narratives reinforce the status quo by showing men how to be men towards both men and women. Men are supposed to have an interest in women, technology, cars, computers, games, the hard sciences, and sports, or they somehow are not real men. When they don’t choose to engage in one or more of these interests, they are losers, pussies, faggots, bitches.

In other words, they are equated to women.

Men are taught that being seen as  feminine is the worst thing possible for a man, and it is how they insult men of other races, by accusing them, not just of being less than human, but being like women. Not only are men being taught how to be men, but it is these same stereotypes that reinforce to  men of color how to behave towards women. So you have Black, Asian, and Latin men, all trying to be men according to  rules of behavior that were created by middle class, straight, White men. (Misogyny/machismo is not the sole province of White men. Trust me, those two things are a global phenomenon. But mainstream American media has done nothing to challenge either.)

Narratives that are created by White men also teach women how to appeal to men. Decades of sexist narratives teach White women how they’re supposed to behave for the reward of White male approval, (and that WoC need to be as much like White women as possible, but will still  be inferior to White women who are behaving properly.) They  prioritize those qualities they find most important, like sexiness without awareness of it, youth, vulnerability, submissiveness , thinness, thoughtlessness,  helplessness, and fragility. Through these narrative decisions White men shame those behaviors in women they find distasteful and/or inconvenient to fulfilling their needs, qualities like  physical and emotional strength, intelligence, ambition, immodesty, and being old, or overweight.

Related image

 

And yes, this applies to WoC too, who have gotten the message loud and clear. In the recent dustup over a cartoon image of Serena Williams, the White man who created it, called upon decades of Black female racial stereotyping. These were images invented by White men to demean and diminish Black women, to show why Black women were/are the least desirable of all women, while, at the same time,  the sexual assault and exploitation of Black women  by White men was occurring.

The legal and social double standard that allowed white men to commit sexual violence against black women with impunity, while the most baseless fear of sexual contact between a black man and white woman resulted in deadly violence, continued after emancipation. 

It is through entertainment culture created by White men,  that Black women learn that they are unloved, unlovable, and not capable of love. Latinas learn that they are desired for being passionate and sexy,  and that they will be rewarded with male attention for exhibiting such behavior, and Asian women will learn that they are the most desirable of all women, especially if they are as quiet and submissive as their stereotyping requires.The purpose of these stereotypes is to keep all groups of  women in their place, by teaching women that their purpose in the world is sex, that their priority should be procuring male sexual attention, and how that should be done.

 

Women who fail to gain the sexual attention of men (attract the male gaze) are denigrated, shamed, and/or erased. Women who reject male sexual attention (those women who are anywhere along the LGBTQ spectrum) are made to serve the narrative in other ways. They still need to be sexy and appealing to straight men, hence the creation of the stereotype of the “Just a Phase Lesbian”, who is only with women, until the right man comes along. Women in same sex relationships, must be made to seem desirable (and attainable) to straight men, otherwise they are of no use, and must be criminalized and punished.

Women are not worthy of male attention if they are  too old, too fat, too poor, or have a disability that cannot be classified as sexy, (for example, if you are a woman suffering from  certain types of mental illness, or depression, that kind of vulnerability can be made to seem sexy, fun or exciting, to a male audience.) The end result is that all women are taught that their highest priority is gaining the sexual attention of men, (without seeming to actually do so, because women who make it clear that they want that attention are also shamed for  that.)

Image result for latina stereotype

The most popular types of movies, even those prominently featuring PoC and women, often consist of  violent power fantasies, sexual fantasies,  and the use and misuse of technology. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, and there are plenty of movies that are exceptions, but most of the top ten highest  grossing movies  consist of these topics.  (Most White men have plenty of  interests outside of  those topics, but this s not what you would know from watching visual media.)

The Presentation of Indigenous People

Related image

It is very easy to make up stories about a group of people that everyone thinks are extinct, and White US Americans have been making up all kinds of stories about Native Americans since they arrived on these shores, stories that serve whatever purposes White people need them for.  When White people want to use and  exploit Native Americans, the women become sexy squaws, to be used and disposed of, the men become inspirations for sports teams. When White people  want to play White Savior, or steal elements of their culture, then the Indigenous communities  suddenly  become  proud, noble, downtrodden people to be saved, and the  theft of their culture, becomes elevation. They should feel honored.  Does a White man have a chip on his shoulder about his life? Well, then Indigenous people morph into a highly successful group who get free stuff, because they own casinos. When White people want to use their resources for their own ends, and Native Americans refuse to get out of the way? Well, then they are  transformed into a bunch of ignorant savages who need to be put down.

From fashion, to sports teams, to oil pipelines, Indigenous people in the US can be turned into whatever White people need them to be, and Pop culture (mainstream) media has aided, and abetted this exploitation, reinforcing whatever  stereotypes were needed for White America to accomplish their goals.

Most Americans know almost nothing about the lives of Modern Native Americans, as most of them have gotten all their information about them from TV shows and movies that are not created by them. When they get the opportunity to tell their own stories however, the depictions we get of Native American lives are significantly different from what is seen in mainstream media, which continues to erase their present existence, and get their past existences wrong.

 

It’s better to hear about their lives from their own lips:

 

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the western U.S. was exploding with colonialist ventures. For the U.S. government, their biggest obstacle was conquering Native Americans and establishing power and control over their land and their resources.

 

The murder and  exploitation of Indigenous women is ongoing.

 Native American women across the country are being murdered and sexually assaulted on reservations and nearby towns at far higher rates than other American women. Their assailants are often white and other non-Native American men outside the jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement.

Related image

This is not an essay about exceptions to all of the above. This is an overview, of as much as I am able, to cover of the past 60 70 years, of how White men having temper tantrums over how the current Pop culture is pandering to groups of people that are not them, is an accusation that stinks of hypocrisy. White men have been pandered to for decades, and the fallout from that pandering has helped to  create a level of ignorance about American life and history that is unmatched by other Western nations.

There are some real world effects to all this pandering. All these stereotypical images of PoC,  LGBTQIA, and Transgender people have real world repercussions, and a part of those repercussions come from the effects that all this pop culture pandering has had on White men. But Hollywood, and television are paying attention and thinga are very slowly starting to change, or at least be questioned by new thoughts, new imagery, new types of plots and characters. Contrary to White men’s tears, this new attitude towards diversity is not pandering. I really do like to stay positive on here, so I’m not going to dwell anymore on what Pop culture has gotten wrong. In part three of The Pandering, I want to end on a happy note, and talk about how this can be fixed, and what pop culture media is getting right.

AHS Apocalypse (Ep.1)

I’m going to put this here first. This is just these two, very nice guys discussing the events in the show, and giving their opinions. This is about twenty minutes long, and afterwards I’ll discuss what I thought about the show, my feelings, and my suppositions about what I think is actually happening, about which I may be totally, and completely, wrong.

Okay, so my thinking on this is that a lot of what we saw was faked. At least, I think their lives, after the apocalypse, was faked. I think maybe there was a limited nuclear exchange, and its possible it may even have been bigger than that, but I think the rest of the world is still there and  these people were brought to this place for the express purpose of harming and torturing them.

One of the biggest tenets of my personal belief system is: always question what I am being told, especially if it’s by someone in a position of authority, or power, over me. None of these people bother to do that. They’re  the kind of people who have unquestioningly gone along with the status quo their whole lives, and that has continued here, and I believe that’s why they were specially chosen to be in this place. None of them question anything they are told, no matter how nonsensical, or how much it conflicts with what they’ve been  told before.

A lot of the rules they live by just seem designed to be pointlessly malicious and make them unhappy and scared. For example, one of the first things the newcomers see when they reach the Outpost is an execution that I feel was timed and staged just for their arrival. I think the execution itself was probably real, although it serves no purpose to be killing off the members of your survivor group because they had sexual relations with one another, and if that was true, then why was Stu and his partner allowed to be a couple at all, before Stu’s probable death.

During the episode, there were a number of instances where I thought the two lead characters were engaged in what I call “harrowing”. They are basically there to make sure the participants suffer. There’s the possibility that the Coperative, or whatever, is simply a cult of some kind ,and this is the closest they will  get to willing participants.

Image result for ahs apocalypse

The food cubes  are to keep them miserable and distracted by hunger, so they don’t think to ask proper questions. After one of the participants goes on a long rant about why there isn’t any food, when they paid so much money to be there, it’s awfully coincidental that the two women just show up with stew, possibly, or not, made from Stu, a moment I found hilarious, and may itself have been staged. Notice that Stu’s partner is the first one who jumps to that assumption. It’s possible that Stu is dead, but I don’t think they made food out of him.  Turning a human being  into hamburger is a very labor intensive activity, and we haven’t seen either of the two women involve themselves in any activity more strenuous than changing clothes. And besides, that’s what the conveniently hierarchical  slave system is for, which is also designed to make the less rich participants just as miserable, too.

Everything in this setup strikes me as being just a little too pat, and a little too well thought out. How convenient is it that they know there are mutants and whatnot trying to infiltrate their borders? And then there was the pigeon. This is what clued me in that all of this might just be a huge farce designed to keep these people trapped. They ration the food pellets again, and then say their border was infiltrated…by a messenger bird from another Outpost. One of the women asks if they could eat the bird, and the attitude is that the bird is inedible because it’s been irradiated by the environment. Then there’s this huge thing where they claim someone is irradiated and could contaminate the others with it, so that person needs to be found and ferreted out.

Image result for ahs apocalypse

Yeah, that’s not how radiation works. I know something about this topic from having watched hundreds of Scifi movies, and that is the one topic such movies always get right. Radiation isn’t contagious. It’s not a virus or bacteria. You can’t pass it on to someone, although there can be contact transference. It mostly just causes sickness. Radiation poisoning is only dangerous to the person who has it, not to people who happen to be in their orbit.

Yet, the two leaders of the group act like radiation is this horrible sickness that they can all catch, so the person who has it needs to be sorted out.

They freaked out about one of them being contaminated. But bringing that irradiated pigeon ( its too poisonous to eat) inside is okay. Those two things directly contradict each other.

None of the participants in this charade are quite smart enough to figure out that all the rules are a pointless mess designed to keep them so miserable they can’t think straight about their circumstances.

Image result for ahs apocalypse

Another clue, for my theory, is the horrible music played on a constant loop, over and over, for months, only to be arbitrarily changed to another horrible song, for several months. The point of it all is to make everyone deeply miserable, thereby making them all more easily managed.

When they are visited by the so-called leader, at the end of the episode, he rides in on a carriage with Black horses, which are subsequently killed. Now I can understand not wanting to eat irradiated horses, because imbibing it is one of the few ways a person can get radiation sickness, but really, why kill the horses? He doesn’t plan on leaving, that’s why. And why bother to travel on horses at all, if their borders are constantly being violated by irradiated mutants trying to get their stuff.  And once again, bicycles are readily available everywhere, and anywhen,  but no one ever thinks to ride those after the apocalypse.

I think the whole story is bullshit, including the story about the other fallen Outposts, is designed to keep the participants scared and trapped. They can’t be allowed to know that the rest of the world is still out there, or they would try to leave. These are people too lazy and soft to ever leave their comfort zone. They didn’t leave their comfort zones even when they were back in the world, and they need to remain in that hellish place, for the “Cooperative’s” agenda.

Image result for ahs apocalypse

And remember, the two women in charge of the Outpost are both unreliable sources of information, and we only know about the world what they have chosen to tell their prisoners. None of the things they’ve said, about the rest of the world being gone, might be true.

The bottom line is, I don’t trust any of this.

Or I could get up off my lazy behind, watch the second episode, and find out I was completely wrong about all my assumptions…

Now I also want to point out how much I loved seeing Joan Collins, and what a thoroughly bitchy delight she is as a character. This is the kind of woman, after being told she may be eating human flesh, shows she seriously doesn’t give a fuck, and says  that it tastes great. Cannibalism doesn’t bother her at all.

I also thought the scene where the Black guy declares they’re eating his boyfriend was hilarious. It’s just so incredibly over the top and ridiculous. Stu is Stew!!! Omg!

Image result for ahs apocalypse

I lowkey thought that Paulson’s and Bate’s characters were in a lesbian relationship. They still might be, but I thought that was what we were going to see, for a moment there. it turns out that the two of them are simply up to no good together, is all.

Adina Porter is her usual awesome self, and I’m glad to see her again.  Actually, I’m having a few gleeful moments, as I watch these rich twats get treated like shit, and made miserable. They were such unlikeable people, when they were out in the world, that it’s really a lot  of fun watching them have these meltdowns over their lack of food, and freaking out about the music, which I also find lowkey hilarious.

By the time you read this, the second episode will have aired and I haven’t yet watched that. Depending on what happens,  I’ll have more about the show later. But this season looks to be fun in a way that last season was not, as it was hitting a little too close to home. I think Ryan Murphy is the one of the only showrunners who can infuriate me, keep me in a state of outrage, and still keep me laughing so hard, and glued to my TV, at the same time.

Fall Watch List 2018

There’s not really a lot of network TV that I’m looking forward to this Fall. There are some interesting shows on cable and streaming, though, and there’s some mid season releases I’m looking toward.

Sept. 4th

I have not watched the show that this one is a spinoff for, but I don’t care. I remember saying I couldn’t get into shows about Bikers because I know too much about actual Bikers, and the ones on TV are really just too damned pretty to be believable as a Biker Gang. The same is true here, but I’m gonna watch this anyway, even though I generally avoid watching shows that are about PoC committing crime.

The Mayans (FX)

 

Sept. 7th

I’m gon try this one mo’ agin! The trailer doesn’t look promising. In fact I’m expecting a certain level of racist wtf*ery anyway, but I’m gonna try to like it, if only because Colleen and Misty play such prominent roles. I’m probably never gonna like Danny Rand or the actor that plays him, but I can tolerate him, because I am a strong black woman!

Iron Fist (Netflix)

 

Sept. 12th

I skipped last season of this show because it was hitting too close to home, but I’ll try to watch this season, even though I skipped the very first season of AHS, too, which this is based on. It looks good though.

I’m moving away from in-depth episode reviews, unless it’s a show I’m super enthusiastic about, (like anything by Bryan Fuller). Some shows that are classed as being mildly interesting just won’t get that sort of treatment, but I will review as many season  premieres as I can.

American Horror Story (FX)

Sept. 21st 

I have no idea what this is about, and I am not a fan of either Emma Stone or Jonah Hill, considering them to be the blandest, most colorless actors that anyone could have chosen for these roles, but the premise looks mysterious, and mildly intriguing, in a science-fictiony kinda way, so I’m gonna watch it.

Maniac (Netflix)

Sept. 28th

This stars Jeffrey Wright traipsing through the wilderness, and some wolves, and that’s really all that’s needed to grab my attention, but the creators decided to add Alexander Skarsgard, who I’ve been in love with since True Blood, and now I’m committed. (It is possible after watching this I’ll  be committed, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

Hold the Dark

 

 

 

Oct. 5th

I couldn’t find a trailer for this, but I know it’s out there. Somewhere. The synopsis sounded as interesting as the title, so…

Into the Dark (HULU)

 

 

Oct. 7

I’m kinda off zombie shows, but this may be the last season to see Michonne get her kill on, and watch her and Rick canoodling. I plan to skip any and every episode that features Negan. I’ve  had about quite enough of him. I’m not super enthused about this season considering how the last episode ended. I’m not a particularly enthusiastic Maggie fan. She’s okay, but I suspect she’s going to be the next person I get really tired of seeing.

Oh, and I also have to keep watching to determine if Jesus is, in fact, as gay as I suspect he may be!

(Sorry for all the unnecessary bolding  above, but I’m too tired, and lazy, to undo it on this iPad. You’ll just have to turn down the volume on your computer.)

The Walking Dead (FX)

Oct. 9th

I don’t know why people are waiting so long to give us a trailer for this new season. I haven’t seen one yet, but when I find it, I will post it, forthwith!

Black Lightning (CW)

 

 

Oct. 11th

Well yeah….

Supernatural (CW)

 

 

Oct. 14th

I don’t know what to think or feel about this show yet.  I hated the original, but this one doesn’t inspire a great deal of enthusiasm either. I will watch it because I want it to have the support, especially after the fans of the original showed their racist asses about this casting, and hey, Mermaids turned out to be okay, so why not give this a try. Hopefully the magic represented on the show will have some elements of the ethnic backgrounds of the characters, instead of the usual European, colored lights styles, seen all over most of TV.

Charmed (CW)

 

Oct. 22

I’m watching this new season because the trailer is ridiculous, and I think Constantine is still visiting the gang. I do have this vague fear that this trailer I put up may be for last season, though, as my punishment for skimming those episodes.

Legends of Tomorrow (CW)

Oct. 26th

Heres a quick 9 minute rundown of what to expect in Season 2 of  Charlaine Harris’ second show. I thought the first season was completely uneven as far as the plot, but I did manage to get into the characters. This show does not have HBOs budget, or acting chops, but I think the show needs to embrace its cheesiness a bit more, like True Blood.  After all, this takes place in the same universe as that show.

Midnight Texas (NBC)

Nov. 28th

I think this is the last season for this show. I’ve been watching since the beginning, and haven’t always liked it, but it has been interesting.

Vikings (History)

 

Mid-Season Series – TBD

Brooklyn 99

This show,  which had run for a good five years, had been canceled by FOX, but has been picked up by it’s original creators at NBC, and will air for 13 episodes, instead of the usual 22, in January.

 

The Orville

I still don’t know how to feel about this show. It tries really hard, but it’s uneven, and sometimes the characters are hard to like. I watched quite a lot of last season, and it does look promising. If it can figure out what it wants to be it might be a great show one day.

 

 

The Passage

I really loved the books this show is based on, and the trailer looks intriguing with a father/daughter relationship between a rogue FBI agent and the little Black girl who trusts him. I’ve already posted the trailer , so here are some interviews with the actors about what to expect on the show.

 

Roswell New Mexico

Yeah, I’m  not watching this because I’m allergic to schmacting, but you know what, somebody, somewhere, is gonna love the hell out of this show. It’s like a teenage soap opera about pretty aliens.

 

Titans (DC SubScription)

I’m not subscribing to this.

 

Star Trek Discovery/ Season II (CBS All Access – Subscription)

I might subscribe. I’m still thinking about that, or just getting a jailbroken Firestick instead.

 

*I won’t be watching any of the 80s reboot shows that are all the rage this season. I’m not interested. I lived through the 80s already, I don’t wanna relive it through a bunch of shows I wasn’t all that hot about when they first aired. I’ll  try to find a better listing of new Fall shows for cable and streaming networks.

Hannibal Season Three: Secondo

I was not going to review this particular episode because its one of my least favorite of the entire series. I was just going to farm this out to another reviewer like:

Image result for hannibal season 3

http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/hannibal/35870/hannibal-season-3-episode-3-review-secondo

I’m just not particularly interested in the foundations of Hannibal’s psychology, or really in the foundational mindset of most serial killers. I’m not particularly impressed by their abusive childhoods, or teenage sexual experiences, or any of that.

But I will give this one a light review because I realized that it introduces a key character for the rest of the season, Chiyoh, and gives her something of a backstory. Chiyoh is an interesting character because what we have learned from Bedelia last season is that Hannibal is extremely good at encouraging and manipulating people into killing others. It worked with Bedelia, Will, and Abigail. He attempted it with Margot Verger, and managed to manipulate Mason Verger into harming himself. Chiyoh is fairly unique, in that she is one of the few individuals who has managed to resist his manipulations, and not kill anyone (although Margot, along with Alana Bloom, eventually kill Mason together, with his advice, later in the season).

In Secondo, we backtrack with Will Graham, a little bit, to show what he was up to, before he almost meets Hannibal in the catacombs beneath the Chapel in the second episode. Will visits Hannibal’s ancestral home in Lithuania, where he meets Chiyoh,  discovers how she is connected to Hannibal’s backstory and her  connection to Hannibal’s childhood.

Image result for hannibal season 3/firefly

When Hannibal was a child, he and his sister were  set upon by a group of soldiers who “supposedly” murdered and cannibalized Mischa. Hannibal imprisoned one of the soldiers and set Chiyoh, who was an attendant to his Aunt, to guard the man, probably in the hopes that she would kill him, But she does not, and the man is still imprisoned many years later. Will Graham pulls a Hannibal, though, and sets the man free, because, as he tells her, he’s curious about what Chiyoh will do. When the former prisoner attacks her, Chiyoh does kill him, and now free of her “penance”, sets off with Will to find Hannibal in Florence. Before they depart, Will also creates a tableau from the dead prisoner’s body, in the form of a giant dragonfly. When Chiyoh asks why he’s looking for Hannibal, Will explains that he is more of himself when they’re together,  and sadly, Chiyoh understands that.

So does Bedelia, as she is  warns Hannibal that he will be caught. We are rivy also to Hannibal’s pensive recollection that Will forgave him at the catacombs under the chapel. Season three is the first time that it is openly acknowledged by everyone, that Will and Hannibal have a twisted love for each other. Remember what I said about Bedelia. She is the show’s Truth-Teller, and every good show has one, especially if the show deals in lots of metaphor and symbolism. You need at least one character who is distanced enough from the narrative that they can plainly speak on its themes, and on what they have observed, to the other characters (and also spell it out for the viewers). Bedelia, for example, has managed to suss out that it was, in fact,  Hannibal who ate Mischa, as a form of forgiveness. She puts the idea in Hannibal’s head that the only way he can forgive Will, for his betrayal last season, is to eat him. It speaks to her level of complicity with Hannibal that I’m not entirely certain she didn’t do that deliberately

Image result for hannibal season 3/bedelia

While Will is exploring Hannibal’s castle, Hannibal ismurdering his academic rival during dinner. The few moments of sardonic humor Hannibal displays is often around killing. One of the professors of the museum, who insulted him at a party in the opening episode, gets an ice pick through the brain. It is Bedelia who puts the finishing touch to the murder by pulling out the skewer, however. Hannibal often asks her if she is observing, or participating, and she must feel some type of way about it because she tries to distance herself from complicity in his murders by claiming she is only observing. Hannibal challenges her by telling her she is actually participating since she has done nothing at all to stop him from murdering people, and I’m inclined to agree. She may be horribly afraid of him ,and he does have dirt on her, but she has also had multiple opportunities to kill him,  flee, or warn his victims, and yet she stays.

Anyway, this is one of the least interesting episodes for me because there  isn’t a lot of plot or character development. It’s mostly a  travelogue through Hannibal’s past ,and seems more of a filler episode than one that’s important to the development of the season. Things get a little more exciting in the next episode, titled Apertivo,  when Will and Hannibal meet for the first time this season.

 

Bonus Content 

The titles of the episodes throughout Hannibal, are often some reference to food. Here, the second episode is titled, Primavera, and means Spring, The episode is a new beginning for the series, and for Hannibal. Primavera is also a food reference meaning a selection of pasta with fresh seasonal vegetables. It is also the title of the painting by Botticelli which features heavily in the theme of the season’s first five episodes, (while the second half of the season is based on The Great Red Dragon paintings of William Blake, with no more references to food.)

The first episode of season three is titled Antipasto, which is an Italian appetizer, indicating the start of a formal Italian meal. This is a callback to the very first episode in season one, titled Aperitif, which is a wine palette cleanser, at the start of a formal French meal.  The first season titles are named after French culinary etiquette, the second season’s are named after a  formal Japanese meal, and this season begins with Italian food references.

Since we are starting the story over again ,where Will meets Hannibal after a long hiatus, the titles have started over too again, too, but at a slight remove, since all these characters are familiar to each other. A formal Italian meal consists of five courses. The Apertivo, is missing, but the first title refers to a pasta dish, called the antipasto, which is an appetizer. This is followed by the primo and secondo, a vegetable dish, followed by a serving of meat, usually veal. (This is  a sly reference to The Silence of the Lambs.) This third episode title is especially appropriate, because Secondo means the secondary (lower) part of a piano duet, which could be defined as Will Graham’s part of this story, since the season opening’s focus was on Hannibal and  Will is the secondary character here.

A Classical Italian meal consists of five parts. The Apertivo (small drink) which usually marks the start of the meal has been moved. The episode Contorno refers to a type of vegetable side dish that is  eaten along with the secondary main dish, followed by  Dolce, which is dessert. And finally the season winds up with digestivo, which is a light drink to finish off the meal, which also finishes of the first half of the season.

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978): The Loss of Self

 

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) 115 min – Horror | Sci-Fi

As a general rule, I like to avoid reviewing and analyzing  horror movies that are already heavily reviewed. My thinking is that there is little for me to add to the discussion, beyond what’s already been said. I think this year I may make an exception, and cover some of my favorites, and I can at least explain why it is I like them so much. Sometimes, in examining my tastes in visual media, I realize I have a type of film that I gravitate to, or find out what it is that is really scaring me, and such is the case with Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

 

In order to understand why this movie works so much better on me, than the others, I have to put things into historical context. America was just coming out of a period in the 60s, where people were greatly consumed by the idea of community. People had this idea that world peace could be brought about by a lessening of the concern for the individual, and more concern for those outside of oneself, something which  could only be achieved by living communally, also known as communitarianism. But this was a failure, and as a result, there were many  failed communities, with the most infamous being The Jonestown Massacre, in the late 70s, which marked the end of that particular era of thinking.

https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/jonestown-massacre-what-you-should-know-about-cult-murder-suicide-w512052

The Jonestown Massacre took place in 1978, and really was the last gasp of the Hippie/Free Love Generation, cementing the idea that communitarianism was a complete failure. By the time of the massacre, most of the hippies had given up that lifestyle, and America was fully enmeshed in the Me Decade. I was old enough to understand what happened at Jonestown, and  have the distinct memory of watching the news stories about it. A few years later, I watched, with horrified fascination, the Made-for-TV movie, while my mother explained the details of it to me, in ways than I was more able to understand, than when I was 8.

Image result for narcissism gifs

In the Me Decade of the 70s, the focus was on the improvement of the individual self, the development of, and getting in touch with, one’s better nature. People took up esoteric hobbies like Chinese cooking, in order to better themselves, they went to see psychiatrists for fun, and they joined movements, like transcendentalism, to reach their higher mental self. Dr. Kibner, a psychiatrist played by Leonard Nimoy, is the embodiment of this idea. But you can see elements of it in Matthew Bennell’s lifestyle, as he darts around his kitchen, frying up dinner in a wok, and in the everyday life of the Bellicec’s, who run a mudbath/spa.

https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/culture-magazines/1970s-me-decade

Economic and political shifts help to explain much of the change. From the end of the World War II (1939–45) until the end of the 1960s, the American economy had enjoyed one of its longest extended periods of growth. That growth came screeching to a halt in the 1970s, and matters got worse as the decade continued. An Arab oil embargo halted shipments of oil to the United States, forcing gas prices to raise dramatically and forcing rationing. Another oil crisis in 1979 continued the economic shock…. Many Americans turned inward and focused their attention on their economic problems rather than on problems of politics or social justice.

This version of The Bodysnatchers sits squarely  in the center of the Me Decade, with its insular focus on the self, and captures all  the dread and fear  in losing that sense of individuality, which the aliens represent. This movie could not have happened in the 80s, in the same way,  as  self development had advanced into narcissistic self involvement, by that time, and was called the Me First Decade, or Decade of Greed.

Several times in the movie, characters state, that when a person is duplicated, all the person’s memories are left intact, but since the fibrous bodies of the pod people are not organic, in the same way that human bodies are, the chemical rush of emotional connections are missing. You’re still an individual, but lack any ability to care, and there is no emotional connection to anything, which  would have seemed nightmarish to people who had spent the past decade caring very, very, deeply about everything.

Image result for its me gifs/miss piggy

I have spent a lot of time and effort in developing who I am as a person. As a young girl, I decided there was a type of woman that I wanted to be, (a combination of Grace Jones, Nyota Uhura, a dash of Ellen Ripley, and my Mom), and pointed myself towards being that person, with varying degrees of success. So developing and understanding who I was, am, and meant to be, is of huge importance to me. My formative years were during the 70s and 80s, when self discovery and enlightenment was of primary importance in popular culture. It helps that I saw this movie during that ten year time period, when I was discovering  what qualities I considered important for being my best self. I definitely think all of that  informs my reaction to this movie.

I have lost track of how many times I’ve watched this movie, and it has never NOT been scary to me. Unlike the first movie, where the emphasis was on the fear of  sameness, and conformity, the primary theme, of this story, is the loss of the  self, a loss of the uniqueness of self. A subtle, but important difference, although both movies contain elements of both themes. The 1978 version is able to  capture this better than any of the other versions, because it’s so well situated in the center of  the ME Decade, in the original city of self love, San Francisco.

The opening credits are interesting. It’s one of my favorite parts of the movie, because its one of the more unique versions, depicted on screen, of an alien invasion. And also because later in the movie, Nancy Belicec acknowledges this, by asking, “Why do we always expect metal ships?” And she’s  right. There’s no reason to assume that aliens cannot transport themselves through the vacuum of space in some other manner. In this movie, it happens in the form of spores, that travel along solar winds.

https://www.space.com/5843-legged-space-survivor-panspermia-life.html

The revelation that tiny eight-legged animals survived exposure to the harsh environment of space on an Earth-orbiting mission is further support for the idea that simple life forms could travel between planets.

This idea, called panspermia, is not new. It holds that the seeds of life are everywhere, and that microbial life on Earth could have traveled here from Mars or even from another star system, and then evolved into the plethora of species seen today.

 

 

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers gifs

The Bodysnatchers is horrifying, not just because of the inevitability of the invasion, but because its horrifying to watch this happen to the funny, quirky, vibrant individuals in this movie. For as little screen time as we get to spend with Elizabeth’s boyfriend, Geoffrey, we still  get an idea of what a vibrant, and energetic, person he is. The actor, Art Hindle, imbues him with such an  amount of character, in such a short time, (he’s an asshole), that his change after his duplication, (into a completely different type of asshole), is as jarring for us, as it is for Elizabeth, and we start to identify with her through her anxiety over this change.

Elizabeth becomes increasingly suspicious that Geoffrey is not Geoffrey, as she follows him to his appointments, stalking him through the city. There’s a scene of her striding swiftly through the downtown streets of San Francisco, the swish of traffic, and the low rumble of human chatter, the only sounds, as the camera pans jerkily around, illustrating her wound up emotional state, her paranoia, and her disconnect from the rest of humanity. The first part of the movie is full of such scenes of chaotic city life, as the camera jitters and shakes. The city is energetic, and loud, and vibrant, and these scenes show the disconnection between people, that city life encourages. People don’t actually know each other in the city, the population is too transient, and no one is really close to anyone. Well, the duplication process,  simply amps this quality up to eleven. As a Pod Person, you aren’t just disconnected from others, you’re no longer connected to yourself either.

Matthew Bennell works for the city health department, and is very obviously in love with Elizabeth, although it is unclear if she is aware of his feelings, his friends are certainly aware of his feelings, (including Dr.  Kibner). Elizabeth is either unaware of what he feels, or unaware of her own feelings. One of the more tragic moments, for me is, after Kibner has been duplicated, he declares  love to be irrelevant, and Elizabeth’s immediate response is to turn to Matthew, look him in the eye, and matter of factly state that she loves him, because she knows  she’ll be incapable of saying so, after her duplication. She knows that not only will she not love him, she won’t be capable of loving him, and what’s more, she won’t even care. According to the Pod people, she will remember that she once loved him, but she won’t be capable of caring that they used to care about each other.

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers 1978

Part of the horror is watching these friends fight against their inevitable duplication, as they argue, and love, and laugh. Then, as they are duplicated, one by one, we can see that the duplication process is not as peaceful as the Bodysnatchers would have their victims believe. They are alive, in that they appear to be who they once were,  but that essential part of who they were, what made their life worth living, is all gone. (I think this is where the other movies fell flat for me. I was not invested in the characters, or what happened to them.)

The aliens keep emphasizing that the process is painless, and that all the memories are left intact, and you can tell by this statement, that they lack  any ability to understand why the  humans are defiant, or why they might be afraid of the process, attributing their fear to pain, or loss of memory. The aliens are often puzzled by the emotional defiance of the humans around them, and  incapable of  understanding  that memories, without any emotional context, are  meaningless, and are an erasure of the “self”. Kibner flatly states, “We don’t hate you.” None of this is a personal thing for the aliens, and they are often mildly baffled at the personal reactions of the humans, to being duplicated.

In the scene where Elizabeth first meets Kibner, they are at a party, and a woman is having an emotional breakdown, as she insists that her husband isn’t her husband. She knows this because he got his hair cut short. He has a scar on the back of his neck that he always used to cover up by growing his hair out, but now, he no longer cares about the scar. There’s no emotional context for a habit he kept up for, possibly, decades. He simply doesn’t care. He can’t. That is the tiny erasure of a personality quirk that his wife understood, and possibly found endearing,  and that itty-bitty erasure of self, is for her, the clearest indicator that he is not who he claims to be.

During this woman’s  breakdown, the other party goers look on with detachment, some of them with faint distaste. These are Pod people. They don’t know, care, or begin to understand this woman’s hysteria, and just want her to stop making a scene. Actually, the aliens do have emotions…of a sort, but they are very faint, and very far away, a distant  memory of what they used to be. They all  display a faint,  muted, (as if through a thick wad of cotton batting), contempt for humanity.

 

Ironically, contempt for other people is such a part of Kibner’s natural human state, that one can see little change in his behavior after his duplication.When Kibner first meets Elizabeth, he engages in the worst sort of psychiatric practices, telling her what she’s feeling and thinking, instead of listening to what she says. This entire scene is infuriating  to me, having been on the receiving end of more than a few armchair psychiatric diagnoses, of whatever pathology that someone decided to slap on me, because I was doing something unexpected.

Image result for bodysnatchers 1978/belicecs

When Kibner is  counseling Elizabeth, he interrupts her,  and doesn’t  listen to what she’s trying to tell him, as if he knows better than she does, what she’s feeling, and why. Instead of helping her to explore why she thinks what she thinks, he already has a theory handy, and applies it to her circumstances. He tells her  she wants to get out of her relationship with Geoffrey because she’s frightened of having one, and that what she’s saying about Geoffrey is just an excuse to do so. It’s  the  same advice he gives to the hysterical woman at the party,  diagnosing their problems as  societal ones, rather than  personal ones, based on his newest book.

The scene where Kibner is counseling Bennell’s  group of friends is fascinating, because you don’t realize Kibner has been duplicated. He comes across as just a more sedate version of the man we saw at he party the night before, and it is not until after he leaves the meeting, that we realize he is an alien. This makes  sense of how uniquely unhelpful he is to the Bellicecs during that scene. Calming them down is not his objective, because, as a Pod person, he can’t do that. He has no understanding of their emotions, so can’t possibly counsel them. He only causes them to become more upset, and he is, once again, mildly baffled by their hysteria. Afterwards, Kibner says to the Geoffrey duplicate, that the duplication of Bennell, and his friends, can’t happen soon enough, and says it in  a mildly disdainful way. Those messy emotional humans!

The Belicecs are my favorite characters in the film because they really do seem like a quirky, odd couple, who also happen to be deeply devoted to one another. After they thwart the duplication of their entire group at Bennell’s home, they are pursued into the streets by Pod people. It is Jack who uses himself as a distraction so that his wife and the others can escape the crowd. Nancy, however, is having none of that and, refusing to be parted from her husband, chases after him.

Image result for bodysnatchers 1978/nancy

Surprisingly, it is Nancy (played by a superb Veronica Cartwright) who turns out to be the most resourceful. Its surprising only because  you are not invited to think this way about her during certain scenes,  although in hindsight, all the signs of her pragmatism are there. She runs a successful business, and compassionately, but firmly interacts with the customers. As one of them pressures her to turn off the spa’s music, she resists, saying its good for the plants (a tongue-in-cheek reference to the pods, I think). She may have a head full of fringe ideas, and her reactions are a bit extreme, but she knows how to take care of herself, and is the only one who figures out how to successfully trick the aliens into thinking she’s one of them.

We spend the rest of the movie with Matthew and Elizabeth, as they  attempt to outrun the invaders, getting caught and drugged by Kibner at one point. They escape Kibner, and a duplicated Jack Belicec, but the drug eventually kicks in. Elizabeth falls asleep, and  gets duplicated. The pointlessness of all that fighting and running, their defiance of the inevitable, is what fuels the horror, because everyone has to sleep, eventually. Matthew, in a fit of spite after Elizabeth’s death, manages to burn down a couple of warehouses full of pods, but that act is meaningless. The pods and their caregivers have had at least a couple of days to ship them everywhere. Eventually Matthew is himself captured, and duplicated.

The first time I saw this movie, I still held out hope that maybe Matthew had  managed to escape his fate. Part of the reason I got my hopes up, was at the end of the movie, he is seen walking aimlessly around the the areas he frequented when he was human, quietly observing the activity around him, engaging in his usual hobby of cutting up newspaper articles, or going to work, and I remember Nancy’s ability to fool the aliens. I hope that’s all Matthew is doing but how realistic is that?

Image result for bodysnatchers 1978/party

We can see what life is like in Pod-land, when Matthew goes to work. At the beginning of the film, he started his day with newspaper clipping, and he does so at the end of the movie as well. This is just a habit he remembers doing, and it makes me wonder if the articles he clips, when he is a pod-person, are different from the ones he clipped, when he was human, and it’s also sad, because without any emotional tie to what he’s doing, it’s just as pointless as his fight against being duplicated.  After all, whatever he’s clipping can have no emotional resonance for him. He wanders into Elizabeth’s department, and the two of them look at each other, through each other,  and don’t acknowledge each other’s presence. Elizabeth slowly reaches over and turns off a Bunsen burner, as if in dismissal of Matthew’s presence, and he slowly walks away, as if he’d forgotten why he stopped there. The  clicking of the burner, as it slows and stops, feels like an acknowledgment of the death of their relationship. There’s nothing to see here! Move along!

Ironically, Kibner’s theory about people moving in and out of relationships too fast, and searching for excuses to get out of them, has actually come to pass. Being duplicated is the ultimate relationship killer, and it also perfectly illustrates one of the movie’s premises about living in the city. People really are disconnected from each other now. Imagine the horror of  not being able to feel anything for your kids, although you certainly remember they’re your kids. Or your spouse. Or your parents. You remember that you have relationships with these people, but you don’t care. No one  acknowledges anyone else’s presence, as they all glide slowly through their routines, with the blank expressions of robots. A bell rings and everyone rises in unison for the exits. It’s time to go home, and do what? They are all just going through the motions of living.

This brings up a point that was well illustrated in a scene from the 2007 version of the movie. In that scene, several pod-people are having dinner, as  television news reports are heard of the Middle East Peace Agreements, and the de-nuclearization of other countries.  In such a world, everything that arises out of human emotions is meaningless. Jobs, money, bills, all of the usual anxieties of life are gone, but then so are all of life’s biggest issues. There are no wars, no pogroms, no rape, no domestic abuse, no violence of any kind. For what reason do people have to harm one another, in a world in which nobody feels anything for,or about, anyone? Kimberly says it best, it is a peaceful world, a world without strife or anxiety.

Recall what I said in my last review of these films, that the next remake of this movie should be done from the point of view of those right in the middle of some crisis, and not, yet again, from the  point of view of comfortable, middle-class, white Americans. What happens in an environment, (or to protagonists), who actually welcome the alien invasion, because it means an end to their suffering. The war has suddenly stopped. No more police brutality. No more racism. The prisoners have all  been freed. Your husband no longer hits you. Can you still make a horror movie out of such a theme? What if there’s world peace, and your personal crisis is over, but you don’t feel relief or happiness, because you  no longer care. What price to pay for this? This is part of the horror.  What if the revolution occurred and nobody cared?

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers gifs

 

 

*(Hey! You there! I love, love, love this movie, and writing this was a labor of love, so let me know if you loved it, too. Like it and leave a comment (if you’re not too shy!) let me know if I should keep doing these long form film essays. The topic for this series is The Foundations of Fear.)