Like: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

August 14, 2010

For those of you who have not read the Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley, do yourself a favor and run (don’t walk) to your nearest store to purchase them. All read up? Okay good.

What you may have noticed in reading is that the books are surprisingly good. Not just fun, or funny, or inventive, but outright good. They’re about maturity in a decidedly immature zeitgeist; one largely dependent on style, imagery, and desperate attempts to stay young and (ir)relevant. It’s about our fleeting fascination with posture and accepting the kinds of difficult gray areas below the surface. Stuff like  personal, financial, and emotional responsibilities. In other words, heavy stuff but in a perfectly digestible context. In that regard, I think the books are transcendent.

What’s hilarious about that proclamation is that the Scott Pilgrim property gets a ton of crap from people who think it’s nothing but crappy “hipster stuff.” The irony of that is that Scott Pilgrim is essentially a careful annihilation of hipsterism.  Scott Pilgrim is not a hipster, honestly he lacks the kind of self-awareness needed to pull that off. Scott Pilgrim’s issues are deeply basic: love, insecurity, money, responsibility. He’s way more Homer Simpson than someone who’s too cool for school. Even more revealing is that the most obvious hipsters in the books are actually the bad guys. The evil ex boyfriends run the gamut of fame obsessed narcissism, pretentious dietary snobbery, militant life choices, and most of all, simply “looking cool.”  Even one of the bad guys has a horde of “evil hipster chicks.” It’s actually kind of obvious what O’Malley is going for here.

It’s not just about the outright rejection either. One of the reasons Scott Pilgrim is mistaken for being nothing more than hipster stuff is that the main characters largely wrestle with their own desires to be cool (and regardless of form, jock, rock star, hipster, etc. being cool is one of the universal goals of the immature). “Do we rock or do we suck?” is a question repeated through the series. And naturally the answered learned is that it doesn’t matter. Life amounts to everything below the surface. Besides, to lambaste hipsterism you need to outright engage it. Sure, people can toss their snarky hand grenades from afar, but they’re doing so simply as a reaction to the surface details… and thus they are essentially engaging in the same kind of surface evaluation that they decry hipsters for doing in the first place. How’s that for irony?

Okay, enough semantics. Now let’s talk about the movie.

Edgar Wright was the perfect person to handle the film. SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ are both modern classics. He’s so adept at propulsive filmmaking and genre bending. SCOTT PILGRIM continues to the trend and even manages to push the envelope in terms of story construction. Inventive transitions abound and not in a distracting way, but designed for story telling and establishing tone. The action is surprisingly well articulated. Each fight feels unique. The references (save for one or two) are not distracting in any sense whatsoever. He’s created a wholly valid world here. But what makes Edgar Wright actually good is not just the quality of work and references (something that sets him apart from contemporary filmmakers like, I dunno, McG? or something?) but how he balances them with a nicely observed emotional moments and arcs. It’s top-flight filmmaking, genre-intensive or not.

Part of Wright’s ability to weave resonance into a stylistic narrative is his seemingly innate ability to extract perfectly observed performances from all parties involved. This is an ensemble cast in the truest sense. We have our two leads of course, but the supporting figures are so richly weaved into tapestry and plot of the film that it simply would not work if anyone did not carry their respective scenes. This is largely because Wright slightly skews the of tone the books in favor of making the supporting cast be the driving force of the narrative. Seriously they are all fantastic. In order of my favorites:

Wallace Wells – Keiran Culkin balances the art of caring and supporting a friend and giving them a right proper kick in the ass (and often doing both at the same time). His deadpan lines just slay.

T0dd – Brandon Routh rocks the self entitled asshole rockstar and holier than thou lifestyle with such a nice sense of focus: meaning he goes broad, but it doesn’t feel broad. His bravado has a casualness. Tricky stuff. I loved it.

Stephen Stills – Stills always felt a little flat in the comic (or at least I wasn’t sure how to read him) and Mark Webber really makes him shine in the movie.

Knives Chau – Her story was really focused on in the movie (well, that makes more sense given the original ending) but I was originally worried that she would come off as pure slapstick (like she does in the trailers) but nope, Ellen Wong perfectly captures the shyness and soft-spoken 17  year insecurities beautifully.

Kim Pine – Alison Pill’s a force of sarcastic nature.

Lucas Lee – Chris Evans does go cartoonishly broad and STILL slays.

Stacy Pilgrim – Anna Kendrick nails a role I essentially forgot about. Her comic timing is just effortless isn’t it?

Comeau- The guy who plays the guy who knows everyone and he has to convey his character entirely in, like, three well-delivered lines. He nails it and propels even one of the better meta jokes in the movie.

And then there’s the leads. As Ramona Flowers Mary Elizabeth Winstead gets the opportunity to play something other than “pretty girl.” (Seriously, in Death Proof she is just objectification objectified… which was on purpose and all but you don’t get to show range). And she’s acquits herself admirably. It’s alluring without trying to be. Sarcastic without being cold. Distancing while not shutting off. Bitchiness without being a Bitch. Like I said, most of these performances are about balancing the way we we act in real life with the raging obtuse qualities of the characters and narrative. And Winstead knows who Ramona is and how to convey her. Bravo.

And lastly there’s Michael Cera himself. He was my biggest worry going in. Not because I don’t love Cera (I do) but because I wasn’t sure what he could do with the Scott Pilgrim character. Scott is unlike most of Cera’s other characters. He wears his heart on his sleeve, talks before he thinks, voices all insecurities aloud, and is constantly unaware of his situation (instead of being painfully aware).  I’ve always wanted to see Cera show his range and hoped nothing but the best for him… but this was beloved Scott Pilgrim. People just freaking love this character (as they should, he’s sort of like a young Homer Simpson)… The stakes just seemed too high… But Cera freaking did it. He’s really does figure a way to make Scott Pilgrim work with his style and timing. He’s hilarious. Sometimes he goes subdued, sometimes he goes exasperated, but it’s always measured  while still being organic.

I obviously really like this movie.

Which is funny because walking out of it I wasn’t as enthused. I thought about how if I had my druthers I would want a lot more of the “down time” parts of the books. I wished there were some more details of how Scott was poor and siphoned off others and always needed money. I would want to see him learning about getting jobs (“It’s like a job system?) but I recognize the inherent problems of their inclusion. There is a narrative to uphold here and I was amazed how coherent it all felt. It’s part of the propulsion and maybe Scott getting a job is fittingly on the cutting room.

The more and more I thought about it the more I realized that I really loved it.

Edgar Wright.

One of the best filmmakers around.

Bryan Lee O’Malley.

One of the best comic book writers around.

Here’s to a rousing success. They’ve made something really progressive.

And to think I was once worried.



April 16, 2010

No big review.

1) You will enjoy KICK-ASS if you like/don’t mind the following: gleeful amoralism, a sense of irony, insane amounts of violence, punk rock sensibility (the sensibility, not punk rock itself, though there’s some of that too), children dealing insane amounts of violence, children absorbing insane amounts of violence, children swearing, Nic Cage being awesome instead of corny (fine-line), hilarious/filthy dialogue, well-choreographed fight sequences, meta-commentary, surprisingly serious overtones, surprisingly silly overtones, surprising life-affirming overtones, Adam West cadence, and silly costumes.

2) One of the best parts about the movie is the managed to subvert a lot of the negative aspects of the comic. This doesn’t happen that often. It does away with most of the sexist stuff in Millar’s shitty opus and completely does away with the weird racist stuff (and yes, Mark Millar is  racist folks. It’s not “reflexive commentary,” he’s just got straight up issues). On the whole it’s a completely more functional tone and it’s much, much funnier.

3) KICK-ASS may seem to have a confused thematic message, but I’d argue it doesn’t at all; it just plays into a whole lot of gray areas which are more results from seemingly simple decisions… plus so much of the film’s success depends constantly messing with your expectations. It’s sort of a Coen-esque anti-movie at times, but ultimately it plays straight… which yeah, makes it seem uneven, but think of it like this: it’s a movie that uses anti-movie sequences as dramatic events. In the age of super-saavy audiences (especially with comic book movies), it’s a perfect device. I love that and it’s a pretty edgy film sensibility (almost Hanake-esque? In terms of what it’s doing, not how it’s doing).

4) If you’re on the fence, consider the following: the one thing this movie will do is prompt you to have a reaction. Good. Bad. Aghast. Enthralled. You won’t leave the theater and immediately forget it like that vast majority of consumed entertainment.

5) And if you ever see this girl on the street. Walk the other way:

Love: Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness, Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Universe

March 13, 2009

“Scott Pilgrim is one of my favorite comics.” Lots of people say that. That’s because it’s awesome.

Scott Pilgrim is 23 year old living in Toronto. He meets Ramona Flowers and is smitten. Author Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic is almost perfectly observed: tiny bits of interaction, nuance, dating intricacy, and wholesale anxiety. Perhaps the most wonderful part is that there’s a wonderful casualness to the style and the world. Most of scenes are simply hanging out, but rather than reflect significant boredom, there is instead a focus on just the kinds of things that make hanging out with your friends so exciting and fun.  Scott Pilgrim is perfect realism… except when it’s the exact opposite. O’Malley mixes the aforementioned realism with vivid fantasy tones and video game logic.  In order to date Ramona, Scott must defeat her 7 evil ex-boyfriends. Expect expansive fight scenes, traveling through the mystic void of “subspace”, people who go to “vegan school”, item rewards, robots, stat bonuses, and plenty of metaphysical indie rock. It’s a stunning amalgamation really.

The world is populated with wonderful characters, but Scott and Ramona a truly something remarkable. Scott is a perfect central figure. He is intensely like-able and funny, yet a ball of walking anxiety, stupidity, fear, and forgetfulness. He’s not exactly a simpleton, but there is something intensely “regular” about him. And it goes far beyond the “lovable loser” routine. Scott transcends it. Truth is, I can’t think of a similar central character off the top of my head. That in and of itself is wonderful. Ramona meanwhile transcends her own cliche. Nothing seems more inane right now than the recent influx of “magic pixie girls.” It’s a new cliche, flighty wonderful women who make your boring personality and existence more tolerable because they are so adventurous and spontaneous. At first Ramona may seem to be a perfect example. She’s a rollerblading delivery girl (even in winter), she dyes her hair every other day, she’s got some serious martial arts skills, and actually travels through subspace! But Ramona is anything but an empty shell of surface things that make a woman’s “personality.” That’s what a lot of males writing women don’t seem to get. Personality is suplemented by details (wheras their male character seem like empty templates of longing). Ramona has so many layers. Her complexity and distance are earned. She is marked by a sense of grief. Her “running” from people is not a sign of dejecting the screenwriter, but a reaction to her past. She is someone more mature than who she was, but not sure how to be the person she wants to be. My word, it seems as if O’Malley *GASP* knows an actual woman who is actual person! You know, instead of the crazy version of magic pixie girl they see as their desire from the outside looking in. Nowhere are Ramona’s layers more evident than in the most recent book (Volume 5). It’s a revelation to me. O’Malley has transcended the magic pixie girl. Good show old chap!

Tangent: There’s a movie coming out. Edgar Wright is doing it. Just going off Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, you may think that’s not exactly a perfect choice. But Spaced is the closest thing in tone to Scott Pilgrim I’ve ever seen. It IS perfect. Most of the casting is complete home runs. I have two big worries: 1) Scott Pilgrim is played by Michael Cera. Don’t get me wrong, I love Michael Cera. But the dude kind has his own style of delivery… And he seems nothing like Scott Pilgrim. So I’m worried. Hopeful, but fearful. 2) Looking over the casting… it seems like they’re cramming 4 books into one movie, maybe even 5 or the whole story (there are 6 stories). This seems like a huge, huge mistake. The four or five action sequences alone could take up so much running time that it wouldn’t leave room for the minor scenes of the story. And That’s what makes Scott Pilgrim so wonderful. I’m absolutely terrified. If anything it seems like it should be broken up episodically into 3, or at least certainly 2 movies (There is a great natural break at the end of the third book). Don’t get me wrong. I love everyone involved. I’m just scared as hell.

Don’t Like: Anthony Lane, and his review of WATCHMEN in The New Yorker (Spoilers)

March 7, 2009

Said review:

Anthony Lane’s review of Watchmen will possibly receive a lot of ire. The probable quality of most of those complaints will be inarticulate, awful, and possibly violent. What else can one expect from a fan base full of what he refers to as Wagnerian Ardor. But does he deserve said ire? Why would people specifically target Lane when there have been plenty of mixed reviews for Watchmen out there? I cannot say for sure, but I know there is a reason I have singled out his review.

When it comes to critics, the most common complaint of populist moviegoers is something akin to “they’re snotty.” It is an inane response, a joyful celebration of both stupidity and futility. On the other hand, nobody likes to be marginalized or belittled, even if the commentary may be accurate. In going over Lane’s review of Watchmen again and again, the problem is that I cannot understand or see the film from his perspective. It is an indignant perspective, a dismissive perspective, and perspective that (much to my chagrin in using the word) defines “snotty.”

The initial problem is that Lane intentionally sets himself up to be the pariah, never mincing his words about fans of the superhero genre; he derides their intelligence, values, and juvenility. Can comic book fans be those things? Of course. But to so callously lump the stereotyped fan-boy with the litany of people who just so happen to read/have read some superhero comics is folly. Not to mention that there are a host of excitable moviegoers who read the comic in anticipation for the release of the film. Many of those moviegoers subsequently found the novel to have some worth. Ultimately, I find what Lane assessment of the audience, and any critical proclamation of this nature, to be solipsistic. It singularly benefits him. It directly antagonizes the reader (even if they dislike the film as well). It is helpful and enlightening to absolutely no one.

Even the world of Watchmen seems to irk Mr. Lane. He laments the “bevy of brutes” on display; not to mention Nite Owl’s inherent Batman similarities (he calls “plagiaristic,” a falsehood), one hero’s shampoo-sounding nickname, Dr. Manhattans glowing “pornographic” phallus, Ozymandias’ boyish looks and qualities (somehow presented as criticism of itself?), and a complete misunderstanding of just what the heck was going on with The Comedian. These complaints are wholly tangential, but are somehow presented as evidence of Watchmen’s inane qualities. The observations are not useful criticism, they are a comedy routine. Which I suppose is fine in some forums, but as funny as it could possibly be it is wholly pointless to have a running commentary on the merits of character appearance in a five paragraph review in The New Yorker, especially when said comments serve no purpose in building to a specific point. This is even odder because these surface details that he observes have inescapable conclusions.

In a world where superhero movies are the most popular thing on the planet, how is a movie about their subversive id, selfishness, peculiar dress, and eccentric nature wholly without merit? No matter how banal the may seem? It seems like logical fallacy. Even if you find the philosophy beneath you, the superhero movie is entering a retrospective or deconstructionist phase (started 30 years ago in comics themselves). And Watchmen is important because it is about our very attraction to superheroes in the first place. We are a certainly a culture addicted to them. While the heroes themselves may provide some kind of commentary on the world, the real commentary deals with our desperation to be like them, to reek vengeance on the amoral of the world, or to be larger than life, or special. Watchmen is about the extremes of these behaviors and it goes to amazing depths to get to the heart of the dangerous reflexive relationship between them, even while it has no problem being hypocritical in doing so (more on that later).

Of course there are minor nitpicky things I can take with the review. It’s littered with inaccuracy, which has been a disturbing trend in Lane’s work. For what it is worth (and it is worth something) Dr. Manhattan is not a radioactive being. It is even the crux of the plot. He is not radioactive in the slightest, but the commentary lies in the popular perspective that he is indeed radioactive. His identity is synonymous with fear. Fear of nuclear war, of god, or even of death itself. The worst offense is that Lane seems to take a peculiar delight in spoiling the end of the film. Make no mistake, the film is a noir-ish mystery (he even says so) and casually tossing in the ending of a mystery (without even discussing its merits!) reeks of reader-directed sadism. Yes, we live in a spoiler paranoid culture and I have problems with that too, but it is a reality that every reviewer has to respect. We like the surprise of the mystery, even if one deems that mystery to be lame. That is how we universally watch films; even we The New Yorker readers. To deny that and to intently spoil, is nothing but 100% nihilistically glee, akin to the greatest contrarians, the malcontents, The Joker(s), and The Comedian(s). Again, solipsistic.

The only interesting comment I found in the piece concerned of Snyder’s “arousal” by vengeance/violence and the ensuing counter-productive qualities. It is a fair criticism that possibly subverts the intention of Watchmen all together. After all, the sociopath Rorshach is the most popular character. Our attraction to his violence is indicative our zeitgeist. Lane vehemently dismisses the whole relationship as juvenile and without purpose. One could argue it is anything but. Alan Moore acknowledges the hypocrisy and states that it is meant as an indictment of vigilantism and the psychology needed to behave that way. Snyder seconds the opinion, even if he overtly glorifies the violence. Snyder’s contradiction could be the real crux of Lane’s argument, but instead it is presented as a statement against the plot-level heroism of the characters; the gray meta-audience-intricacies are left hanging. Lane instead provides even more focus on his visceral dislike of the level of the violence itself. An indictment of the level of violence may certainly be valid, but it is wholly uninteresting in the context of other questions Lane seems to be dancing around; Watchmen certainly has more interesting things going on. It is a shame because second guessing the amount of the violence is more indicative of the kind of reviews one comes across on religious family-oriented websites.

I acknowledge that all this discourse as a matter of semantics. Maybe Watchmen is simply not meant for Anthony Lane. He is just one man, right? But I can’t help but come back to the Lane’s inherent distaste and disdain for the film, the world of the film, and the audience of the film. What is the job of a film reviewer? Is it to be entertaining? Possibly. But should not he/she be diplomatic in his/her mission? What is a critic supposed to be? Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure the reader who likes said movie should never feel insulted for having liked it. A good reviewer will establish his/her thinking, point to specifics, and then reach out to you. They make you ask questions, maybe even doubt your assumptions. We’re supposed to feel as the critic has engaged us in conversation, not assaulted our intelligence. And Watchmen is not a throwaway horror film or a juvenile sex comedy where you can get away with the “snark as review” approach. If anything The New Yorker IS the publication that shoehorns in the discourse no matter how unnecessary. So why does Watchmen get the contempt, the triviality, and the comedy routine? This is one of the most celebrated graphic novels of all time. It is a landmark achievement. There is some consensus on this. Or are we all banal idiots? I am convinced at this point that the stance of Mr. Lane comes from nothing but a lack of care and effort on his part. Is it really so hard to even engage with us, the ardent Wagnerians?

Rarely am I made to feel as if I am a philistine. It is certainly not a good feeling. There is something parental and authoritative about it, as if you are chided for your natural inclinations and lifestyle. No. I have to stand pat on this. I am qualified to be conversed with on an equal level. I have a bachelor’s degree in film (production, screenwriting, and cinema studies). I could have a conversation about Tarkovsky and “sculpting in time” if Mr. Lane would like? Or perhaps the merits Lynchian subtexts? The reflexive nature of watching television and its effect on our personalities? I could discuss cultural semantics of post-modern literature. Would these be of more interest? Is it a more worthy conversation? Is Watchmen below me then as he seems to insist?

See, I happened to think the political satire had merit. For this, I am apparently a “leering nineteen-year-old who believes that America is ruled by the military-industrial complex, and whose deepest fear—deeper even than that of meeting a woman who requests intelligent conversation—is that the Warren Commission may have been right all along.” There are so many ways to respond to this: the legitimacy of the problems with military-industrial complex, my complete lack of interest in JFK assassination, or my insistence of my mature relationships with intelligent females (and beautiful too, which Mr. Lane leaves an insinuation of implausibility). Should I have a sense of humor about this? Perhaps. But Mr. Lane is so declarative in his assertion that he does not even seem to even care about veracity. The quote above is said by the kind of a man who is sickened by my interests. I am stereotyped. I am something so neatly packed into pathetic-ness. Therefore, I can conveniently be dismissed. No matter who I may really be, I am automatically part of Mr. Lane’s oppositional Wagnerians.

This is not what I expect from The New Yorker.

Make no mistake, some intellectuals find Watchmen rather interesting: a metaphysical blue entity who plays the role of god, who sees the world through string theory and quantum mechanics (contrary to Mr. Lane’s belief the science that applies to his state of being is anything but junk), the Swiftian pursuit of the greater good, the deconstruction and sociopaths of vigilantism, the plight of American pseudo-fascism, and even the alternatives to our iconic history. But does it all have to be dressed up in an “overblown” and violent world where hyper-kinetic action is modus operandi? Of course it does. What other world could a superhero movie exist in? The biggest problem is that Mr. Lane cannot seem to come to grips with the fact that most Watchmen’s commentary lies in its own hypocrisy: it is both of and transcendent to the world it portrays. In the comic book world, Superheroes could literally tear humans apart, so why haven’t they? Watchmen is the answer to its own question. And to lament the conventions of a superhero movie is like lamenting over someone being killed in a horror movie.

This taps into a frequent problem I find with Mr. Lane. As intelligent and inclined toward thematic motifs as he clearly is, he often showcases a profound lack of genre understanding. I see it again and again, creating a pattern of problematic posturing. Is genre something that every reviewer should intrinsically understand? It is one of the reasons I have been gravitating to some of the more thoughtful reviewers on the internet (they do exist). And I constantly find myself being drawn back to the great Roger Ebert, who has no inclination toward liking superhero movies, but seems to have no qualms with dealing with a film in the context of his own world. And the Watchmen world is complicated and worth effort, so much so that Ebert even published a second review after feeling a responsibility to see the movie a second time and truly absorb it. Yes, the man with the populist “thumbs up” TV show (and therefore appears to be the antithesis of The New Yorker in some ways) is the one who took the time and the care to engage us (the reader) in a conversation. He is not some Ain’t It Cool News fanboy inclined to love the film from the get go, but instead the man often respected by film enthusiasts and the general public alike. This is not a coincidence.

Forgive the metaphor… Maybe Anthony Lane has simply become the Dr. Manhattan of film criticism; content with seeing movies on his own quantum level. We mortals are not privy to it. The way we see movies are trivial. Some of us may even be Ozymandias, the “world’s smartest man” who is no more significant to him as the world’s smartest termite. We see action movies for action. We see superhero movies for superheroes (only we don’t confuse “comic” for “superhero” while doing so). We watch giant robots fight each other because we think that is neat. We care about movies that most Americans will see and have some kind of response to them besides indignation. We might even be able to have an intelligent conversation about it. We really might be Ozymandias, our love of populist genre movies deforms the high art of cinema, just as he “deforms humanity.” Anthony Lane makes it clear he will take no part of that deformity. Maybe he recognizes the quantum analytical level of our film world as nothing but silly human affairs and nonsense. Perhaps then, as Dr. Manahattan, he should simply leave that world alone, and let us deal with it on our own.

I have read The New Yorker for what feels like my entire life and I’ve loved my experience. I also recognize that letter writing is often purposeless, at once cathartic and destructive to the letter-writer himself; but I felt it necessary at this point. Anthony Lane is intelligent for sure, but I’ve never once felt like he has watched a single movie with us. I have been talked at, but I have never had that conversation. It fills me with unquantifiable sadness.

Sadness because is indicative of my greatest fear. The New Yorker is a publication that prides itself on true reporting, journalistic integrity, and understand that the truth of liberal politics has nothing to do with posturing or contrarianism, but the merits of understanding. It is in other words, a cultural beacon. And the greatest fear as a reader of The New Yorker is that there is some veracity to what all the infantile opponents always say: it is “elitist,” “condescending,” “biased,” and “pompous.” I am filled with unquantifiable sad, because in the case of Mr. Lane’s review, it was true.

and remember we’re offiicial at

Like: That Zach Snyder Nailed “WATCHMEN”

March 6, 2009

I will keep this brief. (til a 2nd post)

WATCHMEN is nerely impossible to adapt. Zach Snyder did as great a job as possible. I saw a midnight screening last night and the audience ate it up. Lacking eloquence on purpose: Every actor was great. I knew Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Jackie Earle Haley would be fantastic and they hit their marks perfectly. Jackie did this wondeful thing where he kind of kept the stubborn little boy aspect of Rorshach completely in tact. Patrick Wilson was incredible. He’s the ethos and empathy of the piece and carries us with him. But Billy Crudrup and Matthew Goode surprised the hell out of me. They simply nailed it. Especially Crudrup. Even Malin Ackerman was fine (or didn’t bring anyone down). In a weird way, she fit the naivety of the role quite well.

Some may have issues with a few of the changes, but I think they streamlined the whole plot very well.

It actually felt like a damn movie.

Cheers Zach:

And remember, we’re offical at yay!

Like: Watchmen Babies in V for Vacation!

October 20, 2008

The more you know about watchmen, the more you know about comics, the more you know about the simpsons, and the more you know about I dunno, media socialization… then the funnier this is.

This makes me laugh every time I see it.

Don’t Like: 4th Wave Feminism (But It’s VERY Complicated)

October 18, 2008

Warning: This is a discussion of semantics.

I am a Feminist… I am a dude.

Understand I’m not trying undermine the notion of being a feminist. I know some women take issue with how liberally men are willing to label themselves as such and deeply respect that. I know this guy who considered himself a feminist and he was also a remarkable verbal abuser and one-time physical abuser.  But in his deranged head, he was “oh so feminist”. So one can understand the apprehension.

But… well, I’m going ahead and saying it anyway.

I’m doing it because feminism has a lot of different definitions, and most of them are pretty reasonable definitions. That’s what happens in a good discourse.

To be fair, 4th Wave Feminism isn’t even a thing. It’s a term some people kind of assigned to describe what’s happening right now in feminism. There were of course other real waves: 1st wave) suffrage. 2nd wave) women’s lib movement of 60’s-80’s. 3rd wave) early 90’s corrections to the “failures” ie women have the right to act like a man, earn the same wages/positions/etc. There’s more to third wave, but since there’s no singular defining trait/event, that’s an okay description.

So… 4th wave.

First off, let me state that I think that sexism is still such a huge problem in this country. HUGE.

Societal Problem #1- the mixed messages we’re sending young girls. We live in a culture with an increasing religious population which abhors both women’s sexuality, femininity, and homosexuality. At the same time, we have a secular society where sexuality is increasingly out in the open (some in a good way too, but mostly a bad way). Think about MTV/Reality shows. Hell, most everything on television is nuts. It’s not the “showing of the skin” it’s the unintelligent and crass way this sexuality is presented (HBO may be the most gritty but they deal with their subjects so intelligently it’s often to make a point… except Entourage but that show sucks).  With the two conflicting messages, every young girl is trying to fight between being a madonna and a whore. This conflict has always been an element to humanity no doubt, but within today’s culture there are a lot of new kinds of obstacles. (There was a great recent movie about this subject: “Towelhead” by Alan Ball.)

Societal Problem #2 – Frat culture – I’m not speaking ill of fraternities necessarily. I’m speaking ill of the associating stereotype of how “frat guys” behave. And we all know what I mean by that. Now going off that mentality, I have this dumb pseudo-pop-psychology theory and it goes something like following: Elementary school boys grow up and are afraid of girls. They want the approval of their guy friends and for those guys to think they’re totally awesome. They start to grow up and have problems relating to teenage girls and react by starting to get angry/misogynistic. It gets worse and worse and soon they’re just trying to score chicks so they can get high fives from their buddies. So they hate/resent women and only use them patriarchal status symbols…. And I think this is fucking 50% of the male population. I really do. I see it everywhere and it pretty much disgusts me. Don’t get me started on the college boys who put drugs in girls drinks at parties. To me there’s nothing more abhorrent than that kind of behavior. It’s a hate crime to me.

Societal Problem #3 – It was kind of always this way. These are not new problems for our society. It’s mostly just that sexual abuse is FINALLY starting to be reported with more frequency. And these aren’t the final numbers by a long shot. The amount of rural sexual abuse that goes unreported is simply stunning. Absolutely stunning… And historically it was even worse.

Societal Problem #4 – there’s no central concrete obstacle for feminism at the moment – the problems with the third wave feminism are only multiplied today because the perceived problems are all conceptual. With the advent of title 9, increased support for equal pay, etc. there are fewer and fewer concrete obstacles.  So why are things still so shitty? It’s because the attack is now on a thought system and that makes things, uh, rather difficult.

As a result, I think 4th wave feminism is pretty fractured. It’s somewhat like today’s music, it’s like there’s competing genres. Do you like emo or hip hop? Are you super indie Mr. Hipster or top 40? Feminism has similarities. There’s some more militant forms of feminism now, but since I tend not to like militant forms of pretty much anything, I won’t even get into that.  One the other side of the political spectrum, there’s the amazingly strange “feminists for life” group . The name does not imply they are feminists for the remainder of their living years, but instead being women who are intensely pro-life… that one’s… interesting. But most kinds of feminism today are now in the form of micro-analysis; the daily interaction of men and women, the subtexts of film and literature, and international comparison. It leads to a lot of fascinating stuff that I enjoy reading with vigor.

… It also leads to a lot of unfair stuff.

What’s specifically is unfair? Lots of stuff really, but one example of the negative aspects would be modern feminism as a game “of gotcha”. Now the dynamics of “gotcha” are now surprisingly popular in the era of Palin and her complaints of “gotcha” media tactics. The main difference is these journalists are trying to expose the woeful political ignorance of a candidate. Asking about the Bush Doctrine is not a gotcha question. Heck, if I know what the bush doctrine is it is NOT A GOTCHA question. Anycrap, I digress. Gotcha feminism is taking valid arguments and points and applying them to situations where they don’t necessarily apply.  It’s like (a) set up a valid point (b) apply point to a given situation that may not apply and (c) tear into it. Examples:

Example #1: The bechdel test

let’s go to wiki: The Bechdel test: The strip popularized what is now known as the Bechdel test, also known as the Bechdel/Wallace test, the Bechdel rule, Bechdel’s law, and the Mo Movie Measure. Bechdel credits her friend Liz Wallace for the test, which appears in a 1985 strip entitled “The Rule“, in which a character says that she only watches a movie if it satisfies the following requirements:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. Who talk to each other,
  3. About something besides a man.[4]

(ignore the boldness here, I’m have formatting problems, sorry) First off. I really love Bechdel rule. As a writer it helps me immensely. I also think it’s pretty obvious the point of the test is to really just point out how few movies actually do this… which is great. But following this test? My god. There’s so many great movies that say a heckuva lot of interesting things that do not pass this test in any way. AND there are a lot of shitty, pandering movies that say awful things about females and DO pass the test (I’m looking at you 27 Dresses). And yet I’m constantly surprised by how many people use the test as some kind of justification for a movie’s validity. (It all goes back to how most screenwriters are males who have no idea how to write female characters, that’s how simple it is).

Example #2 – Firefly is sexist!

Here is an excerpt from a feminist blog that got passed about the internet for awhile for it’s almost stunning over-reaction. It was in regards to Joss Whedon (a popular figure in the “girl power” arena) and his show Firefly. The author decided to tear into the show and expose it for the sexist piece of shit she thought it was:

Aside from women being fuck toys, property and punching bags for the men, the women have very little importance in the series. I counted the amount of times women talk in the episode Serenity compared to the amount of times men talk. The result was unsurprising. Men: 458 Women: 175. So throughout the first episode men talk more than two and a half times as much as women do. And women talk mainly in questions whereas men talk in statements. Basically, this means that men direct the action and are active participants whereas women are merely observers and facilitators.

That’s what we call gotcha tactic. The points she brings up have no real baring on whether a show is sexist or not. It simply can’t. It’s classic scientific conundrum of correllation and cause.  Add in the fact that most of the characters are male (especially all the evil baddies) and one of the female’s main character is crazy and only talks rarely, then well… it just seems even more irrelevant.

I really suggest giving this blog post a look … the funny thing is the more I read the post the more I find bits of validity to her points… but it is such a strong reaction to something that doesn’t have nearly the kind of malice she is describing. Of course the show doesn’t stand up as the perfect model of feminism. That’s not what he’s trying to do in the slightest. The kinds of feminist issues in Buffy aren’t even on this show’s radar. And more importantly, they don’t have to be. Firefly is really about a universe that’s crumbling. It’s crumbling on a epic scale and they live in a stunningly depraved world. So a lot of bad, bad shit happens. On top of that, much of whedon’s “sexism” is coming from a critical view. Every one of them is a deeply flawed character, that I don’t think he even had a chance to scratch the surface with (look at the first season of buffy… and where it ended up going. That first season was crap in comparison). I’m inclined to think that he’s cognizant of the females and I think he’s hyper-aware of their feminist drawbacks. But oh yeah… the show happens to be pretty darn good.

I showed the blog post to my friend and he simply wrote back “here’s a list of things that do not fit in with my narrow world view”

Sure that’s a little curt (he did so for humor’s sake) but it gets at the very point I’m trying to make. It may seem like I’m just picking on these two examples but there are countless other instances that overwhelm my impression of the direction of feminism (at least on the collegiate level). Most forms of modern 4th wave feminism are just so darn limiting in their scope. Does “not feminist” = bad? It’s just an inherent question one has to ask themselves when participaing in “feminism”. By adopting any ideology do we limit the exceptions?

At one point in the blog the author digs into the interracial relationship in firefly and makes this comment:

Let me just say now that I have never personally known of a healthy relationship between a white man and a woman of colour. I have known a black woman whose white husband would strangle and bash her while her young children watched. My white grandfather liked black women because they were ‘exotic’, and he did not, could not treat women, especially women of colour, like human beings. I grew up watching my great aunts, my aunty and my mother all treated like shit by their white husbands, the men they loved. So you will forgive me for believing that the character, Wash, is a rapist and an abuser, particularly considering that he treats Zoe like an object and possession. Joss Whedon does not share my view, of course, and he paints the relationship between Zoe and Wash as a perfectly happy, healthy union.

First off, I’ve personally known healthy white male/black female relationships. That statement is wholly fucking ridiculous and maybe even racist. There can’t be? Really? That’s simply naive. The author may claim I’m naive because I’m being ignorant, but that’s horseshit and i’ll stand by it. And yes, OF COURSE the aforementioned racist exoctism is an issue in our society. But that doesn’t mean we have to rush out and make every interracial relationship ABOUT the problems of the interracial relationship. That’s ridiculous. She even goes onto bring up excellent films which deal with the subject of racial sexuality and says we should watch those instead. The movies she mentions are all excellent (like Rabbit Proof Fence). But, folks, wtf does that have to do with Firefly. That’s not the subject

As a result of this kind of feminist gotcha-ism, many males go on to make ridiculous conclusions about feminism on the whole… like this:

Needless to say, but that’s a dumb conclusion. Is it complete without merit? YES. That is a sentiment without any merit. It’s a sexist statement down to its very core. But what it does highlight is an unintended consequence to some of the 4th wave’s more unfair analysis. Now I’m not JUSTIFYING a reaction like this in the slightest. A sexist reaction is a sexist reaction. But in the wake of discourse, it awakens the notion of pragmatism in micro-analysis.

There it is… pragmatism. It seems like the biggest obstacle of the 4th wave is the limits of its structure. Does micro-analysis eliminate the scope of macro-analysis? Does feminism need to incorporate the human condition? Can feminism adapt to incorporate a wide range of definitions?

Most of the male/female relationships I know are pretty even handed, both economically, socially, and fundamentally.  But some of them definitely would run against the grain of someone’s differing notion of feminism. And once again, YES this even-handedness is CERTAINLY not the consensus on the whole of this country. How can it be? The 50% frat culture I mentioned before and religious sentiments make me nuts. Most pornography makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Those are the obvious battles and I’m talking about the more subtle ones that stem from battles over the things that shape our modern cultural landscape like Firefly and the Bechdel test.

With that, how does 4th wave feminism, in it’s current position, move forward?

There are still some public obstacles. The glass ceiling in the economic front. I think there needs to be some rebellion against the confines of the growing religious attitude, the confines of frat culture, and a global movement toward feminist aid in 3rd world countries where human life is worth less than an IPhone.

And heck I’ll say it… In some ways I think the American feminist experience is becoming much more about redefining the male role than ever before. How do men indeed become feminists while still owning, well, let’s just call it “the male mystique?” (to borrow a phrase). Yes, I’m sick of the “frat” culture. I’m sick of the blatent sexism… but how does feminsm combat that? I simply don’t see the trend of micro-analysis helping. I don’t know… Sometimes it does very well and I’ll read an article that pinpoints these exact problems in our daily life… but a lot of times I encounter the other stuff.

Maybe we’re just approaching a difficult time where the line between feminism and humanism is becoming blurred.

* Final note: I fully realize this whole post is dangerous. Please keep in mind It’s not a paper. It’s not well thought out. I only looked over it once.  It’s kind of a stream of consciousness tangent designed to bring up points. That’s all it is intended as. And I hope all it’s taken as. Thank you.


-Finally have a second post that sort of adds to this discussion in somewhat tangential ways. About Gene Tierney’s performance in the 1944 film LAURA.