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A Sensation in Horror: The Saw Movies and the MDQ

 

 

A couple of years ago, I watched all of the Saw movies in a row. I recently redid it when they all became available on Amazon Prime because they tend to stick in my head. It’s not the gore that gets me. It’s the writing. I believe there was a reason these movies were some of the most financially successful horror movies of all time, and I believe that the reason is the writing. Spoilers for the Saw films and, strangely, Speed. I talk about the most recent one, but don’t spoil it. Before you read this, I highly suggest you watch all of the original seven. And Speed. That’s a good movie if you can look past that archaic title card. You can skip to the bottom of the Saw sections to see my ratings for each; however, I spoil previous movies in talking about next movies, so hopping around is not suggested.

The MDQ

My first semester of college I took a writing class wherein I was introduced to the Major Dramatic Question by a playwright by the name of Evan Smith using a movie I knew quite well: Speed. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen that movie, but the answer is surely more than seems necessary for an action romance movie. Before I get into the MDQ, let me just say, that the stunts of that movie are some of the best and most ballsy ever done. Especially for the time, considering it would have been unimaginable to have your lead actually on a mechanic creeper under a moving freaking bus (Reeves was always dedicated and crazy) or to actually jump a bus with a stunt driver inside it across a gap. Insane. And awesome. Totally unsafe. Back to the class: Smith asked us what the climax of the movie was. Most people don’t know the movie as well as I do to remember the subway train after the bus. But after the bad guy has been defeated, there’s still more movie. Jack (Reeves) can’t get Annie (Bullock) free and can’t stop the train, which means she’s probably going to die. Once that pesky business is out of the way, the movie ends with Jack and Annie kissing and a sense of completion in the audience. Because the major dramatic question of Speed is “Will the guy and girl get together?” Answer: Yes, until the sequel and Reeves is too expensive to hire again or something.

A major dramatic question is usually presented pretty early on, in the first act. Character-focused movies can have one per major character, usually best for ensemble casts, but a movie without one is very blasé. It’s a movie most people walk away from without ever wanting to watch the movie again, without being able to remember the movie very well, and without a feeling of satisfaction. Due to rewrites, poor writing, changing directorial hands, and studio interference, some movies make it to audiences without this question. I’d say that blockbusters require these more than any other film. Indie films are actually allowed to get away from the MDQ because they are sometimes instead character studies. Movies that focus on a twist can sometimes get away from this if the twist is well set up (see The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable for the best examples and none of the rest of Shyamalan’s movies–including the much enjoyable but nominally twistless Split). Most movies though need to use an MDQ and answer it to be successfully entertaining. A lot of viewers get bored without one, but for established franchises, ala Star Wars and Star Trek, people are willing to give them a pass because they are fans. I’m usually willing to give Star Trek a pass, except for the new ones, but First Contact did have an MDQ focused on Picard (Can he overcome the violation the Borg perpetrated upon him? Think about it: the movie starts with a Borg-based nightmare he’s having). Typically though I won’t watch a movie again without an MDQ because it isn’t satisfying. It’s like if you took three bites of your meal and then your waiter just whisked it away from you. It’s just unfulfilling. The number one reason I believe I enjoy the Saw movies is the fact that the majority of them have an MDQ.

Saw

To be perfectly honest, I didn’t watch any of these in the movie theater. I wasn’t interested. One month a couple of years ago, the first four were available on Netflix, so I decided to watch them. Wild hair and all that. I very much enjoyed the first one. It has a rawness to it the rest don’t have mostly because it comes from new faces in Hollywood, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, who happened to be given free reign and a new studio to work with, Twisted Pictures. The two were fresh out of film school and had an idea, and they even filmed a bit of it to show to studios. Their idea was picked up, but they were given very little budget. This is pretty obvious in the movie, especially when compared to the others. I’m sure a lot of the budget went to hiring Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, and Dina Meyer, but even with what little they had they did a fantastic job, using CCTV footage to round out the movie and having Whannell step in for one of the parts and some shots of other characters to make sure they got everything. The rawness of this movie reminds me a great deal of The Evil Dead (the original, not that run-of-the-mill remake). Wan moved quickly when filming, managing to get all of Shawnee Smith’s scenes done in a day, while she had a fever. The bathroom scenes were filmed sequentially, which is virtually unheard of, but lends a realness to those scenes, as the griminess of their clothes and skin increase true to life the longer they are in there. Is it the best movie I’ve ever seen? No. It is one of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen. Is the acting amazing? No. Elwes is often fighting to act through using an American accent and Whannell is unrefined. But they both do an amazing job during the dramatic climax, which is what matters most.

That scene is amazing and answers the MDQ of the movie: How far will Dr. Gordon go to save his family? Answer: Pretty freaking far! One of the reasons that scene is so good is that most of the sawing is not shown. Instead we see the start of it and then most of the shots are of the two characters’ faces as it happens. The horror and pain on their faces are enough to make the audience cringe. This is also the most graphic thing to happen in the movie. The other movies are very much torture porn but the first one is not. I also believe that it brings up a very good point. In previous games shown in the movie, the victim is only fighting to save their own life. In the main game of the first movie, he is fighting to save that of his family. Most of the previous victims were not able to save themselves, but Dr. Gordon wasn’t fighting to save himself. And while he wasn’t able to do it by the due time, he was still more successful than most of the other victims. There is an emphasis on mind games and traps in the other movies, but in the first one, Dr. Gordan and Adam must solve puzzles and riddles, not work their way out of elaborate traps. Jigsaw is still playing mind games in this one, partially by being in the room the whole time, but the mind games are rarely focused on the actual victims of his games in the later ones and instead are focused on the police as a whole and on his disciples. So it seems obvious that while the first one and a few that follow involve writing by Whannell, it is also obvious that this first movie is different, partly due to its budget constraints (notice the fact that there are almost no exterior shots) and partly due to its freshness which comes with some sophomoric qualities but produces a movie well worth watching. My score is 7/10, IMBD has a 7.7, and the Metascore is a failing 46. On an estimated budget of $1.2 million, it made $103.9 million, giving it a return rate of 8558%.

Saw II

This movie was actually written by someone not connected to the first one and then the studio thought it would make a good sequel. I’m not usually a fan of this way of making movies, as I mentioned in my adaptations post in relation to Bug Hunt at Outpost 9 vs Starship Troopers (and making 10 Cloverfield Lane a sequel when it was not intended to be as written makes JJ Abrams again an asshole because a viewer spends the whole time wondering how it is related to the first one and not giving the story shown their full attention), but the studio was smart enough to bring on Whannell for rewrites. He even stayed on set to make sure any changes could be made to the script and sometimes didn’t have pages for them until they were ready to shoot. Now that can lower the quality of a movie, but that’s what multiple takes and good editing are for. Overall, this one lacks the rawness of the first one, pumps up the use of traps ala the reverse bear trap, and is a tighter movie. A second watch actually makes John Kramer’s comments to Dave Matthews somewhat tongue-in-cheek in a good way. “A safe place?” Hardy-har. On a first watch, I spent a good deal of time trying to place the brunette woman (Emmanuelle Vaugier) until I just looked her up and saw that she was in one episode of Supernatural. But besides that distraction, the movie did a really good job. I did not see the twist coming, even though the first one had a twist. This early in a franchise, it’s too hard to tell what methods will be carried over to other films, so a twist wasn’t necessary at this point in creating a Saw movie. This one still wasn’t really torture porn. It wasn’t overly graphic while still being horrifying. However, the scene where Xavier cuts off his number is a bit–okay, a lot–corny. It’s just not very well edited and the whole production of it makes it out to be more horrific than the actual situation calls for. It’s far more horrifying when Dave Matthews is screaming in anger and fear in the dark bathroom. Bloody gruesomeness is less horrifying than the idea of dying slowly in the dark alone. The MDQ: Will Dave Matthews be able to restrain himself? Answer: Apparently not! I also give this one a 7/10, which has an IMDB rating of 6.6 and a Metascore of 40. With an estimated budget of $4 million and a gross of $147.7 million, it had return rate of 3592%.

Saw III

Whannel wrote this one, and gore is kicked up a notch. The story is like the second one, split in two: we have the doctor working to save Kramer and Jeff going through a maze of traps. This is the first movie to have the single-person maze/journey, as Jeff is the only person running the maze, whereas in the second movie we had a big group of people. At this point, they have finally solidified how they are writing these movies. Either it is a group of people who are supposed to work together or it is one person trying to work out their issues as they solve the traps. I feel the single journey movies are stronger, because the focus is narrowed, unlike in the multiple people traps. That’s a stronger foundation, but it doesn’t mean it will be better. The idea that Jeff is so wrapped up in his anger that he is incapable of letting go of the past, moving on, and forgiving is such an interesting idea. It is also the major dramatic question, and each of the rooms are designed to test it. The parts with Lynn, Kramer, and Amanda are a little distracting to this, and this is really when the movies start to bring in their overall storyline, which they barely pulled off at times. When Amanda opens that note and starts crying, it is incredibly frustrating and distracting because we don’t get an answer to what it was about until a later movie. I felt the gore was just below the threshold of “too much”, but no other movie takes it just to the edge as this one did. The twist was actually pretty good. Jeff was too much of an idiot to be able to forgive, and it cost him a lot. The beginning of blending the movies makes this movie not as good as it could be. This one also gets 7/10 from me, has an IMDB rating of 6.2 and a Metascore of 48. It had an estimated budget of $10 million and earned $84.6 million, giving it a return rate of 746%, making it the first to drop below a thousand percent return.

Saw IV

This movie is similar to the one before it in that it is about a single person. All his tests are based on the same question, which is also the MDQ: Can Rigg prevent himself from running through an unsecured door? At the same time, Agent Strahm is chasing after him and is a general dick about everything. This movie is one of the most focused because they don’t show us what’s going on behind the traps, and there is an awesome reason for that! This was my favorite twist of the whole series. Not Hoffman. That was surprising but not as amazing as how much they hid the timeline. Whannell did not write this one, but what brilliant writing. They didn’t even cheat. Unfortunately, this means the movie cannot stand on its own at all. To enjoy it, a person would absolutely have to see the third movie. That and Rigg’s less than compelling character prevents this movie from being better than the others even with its tight focus and amazing twist. Again 7/10 from me, but it has an IMDB score of 5.9 and Metascore of 36. With an estimated budget of $10 million and a gross of $139.4, it has a return rate of 1294%.

Saw V

This movie starts immediately after the fourth one, and it’s when the series kind of loses focus. While I enjoyed it, mostly because of Julie Benz, who is enjoyable in anything, I could see it wasn’t very good. Hoffman is a dumb character and weak antagonist and while Strahm is played by one of my favorite TV actors, he’s still just a major dick. Now the movie is pretty much all about the behind the scenes crap with Jigsaw’s disciples. The story of the five people in the trap is the most interesting part of the movie and is minor in the plot of the film. This is also where the gore is ramped up to comical levels. For all that, the movie is lesser than the others and has gone off the rails of the original intrigue and intensity. We’ve got a problem in that our MDQ isn’t the focus of the plot nor related to the main traps: Can Strahm follow instructions? Now we’re down to a 6/10 from me, and it has a comparable IMDB score of 5.8 and a Metascore of 20. The budget was estimated at $10.8 million and the movie grossed $113.9 million, resulting in a 955% return rate.

Saw VI

The quality drops a notch further. Again the traps and the main focus of the plot are unrelated. The real question is if the FBI and police can figure out that Hoffman is the new disciple. While the best work is done with Easton, the CEO of the insurance company that denied Kramer an experimental procedure that might save his life. It brings up important issues with health insurance and shows how mercenary and unempathic those who work in that industry can be. This is where the real writing is being done. But we have so much with Hoffman, who is just bleh. And something’s going on with Jill. Jeeze, who cares? The gore level is now outrageous and sensationalist. Not worth the time they put into it. I only give this one a 6/10, the IMDB score is a matching 6 even, and the Metascore is 30. The estimated budget was $11 million but it only grossed $27.7 million, giving it a low but profitable return of 152%, which shows that people stopped caring so much at this point.

Saw 3D: The Final Chapter

Man, if only. Again, the focus is not on the traps, which are being navigated by a false victim who wrote a book about his experiences before, during, and after as a Jigsaw survivor. There’s more about Hoffman and Jill. Oh, and look, Dr. Gordon is back. Unrelated, I wonder what the twist will be about. Obviously, I’m not a fan. We also don’t even get an MDQ, so we don’t even know what we’re waiting for. I have a problem also with the fact that Bobby doesn’t manage to save anyone, even his girlfriend, who had no idea he was a complete liar. Guilt by association is not something early Jigsaw would have done. Then there’s the 3D gimmick. Also by this point I am sick of hearing that twist music and that horrible metal music in the credits. Now, we’re at a 5/10 from me, a 5.6 from IMDB, and a 24 from the Metascore. It had an over-bloated budget of $20 million and grossed $136.2 million, giving it a return rate of 581%.

Jigsaw

I’ve not seen this one yet, but it doesn’t involve Whannel or Wan as writers or directors, who moved on to Insidious and The Conjuring—though Wan is a producer. Instead, it is directed by the Spierig brothers, who have done Daybreakers (which I enjoyed), and written by Pete Goldfinger, most of his experience being in horror films no one has ever heard of, and Josh Stolberg, who has worked with Goldfinger on many of the same movies, but his most well known film is Good Luck Chuck, which is absolutely a completely different genre of movie. I’m not sure what to make of this combination of major players. The premise also seems off the mark from the cannon ending of the seventh film which is that Dr. Gordon and the two young men from the beginning of the movie are going to continue the games. Whereas, the description I read says that a new series of murders is taking place and it seems like it is John Kramer. Maybe since it was so bad, most people won’t remember that ending, but it was such a shock to so many viewers that I’m sure fans will remember it. Or maybe they are pulling a Bryan Singer ala Superman Returns and ignoring some of the later, and frankly worse, sequels. But look how well that turned out for him! I imagine they are just going to retcon it, especially considering I’ve not seen Jigsaw hitting Elwes’ IMDB acting credits. I’m not expecting much from this movie except to say that it will be a studio beating a dead horse. Currently it is sitting at a 5.9 from IMDB and a 39 from Metascore. The budget was a respectable $10 million and has grossed $38.1 million. This puts the return rate so far at 281%. As I said, not much hope.

Too Make a Long Blog Post Short . . .

Too Late! Horror as any genre can be done well, but like any genre of film requires focus on a singular question. Without which, the audience will not know what they are waiting for and will no longer care, shown partly by lowered return rate over the course of the series. The shine has also worn off by the sixth movie. It may have been too soon to try again. There were only seven years between the seventh and eighth films, but that could mean that the cooling off period was too short or long, in that either people were still sick of Saw films or that people no longer cared for them at all. It’s hard to tell and depending on who you talk to you might get different answers. To be honest, while I give my opinion on things, I do not much care for the aggregate opinion on most things. Critics don’t like horror films, and a lot of regular joes don’t either, thus bringing down the scores of horror films in general. But to gauge audience retention, aggregate scores are helpful. Overall, I believe the Saw movies have merit. There is often good writing being done, in that the focus is sometimes there and the themes are at the very least brought up if not exhaustively explored. Obviously, horror is capable of being thematically capable as shown by It (2017) and Stranger Things. Without focus and theme coming together, a movie of any genre is not going to be good in my book, and I will not judge a horror movie (or any other genre film) by the same expectations beyond those two metrics across genres. Which is why my scores may seem high for some of these movies. I would say that there was a reason for the outrageous success of the first film, and it wasn’t the twist, and it wasn’t the gore. It was the focus on Dr. Gordon as a character and just how far he would go to save his wife and child from that goddamn Benjamin Linus!

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Posted by on February 13, 2018 in Craft of Writing, Uncategorized

 

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Do You Need Money or Something, Disney?: Reboot, Remakes, and Sequels

 

Now, I’m going to be making fun of Disney quite a fair bit in this post. But they aren’t the only people doing this right now. They also, however, seem to be the company doing it the most without reason considering the fact that they own the MCU and Star Wars and now also Fox and any of that IP. Now, the MCU and Star Wars are endless sequels. Technically. And the MCU movies are all really adaptations. However, they are all pretty solid movies. They are entertaining. Which is the ultimate goal of a movie or TV show. Otherwise, what did you think you were doing?

I haven’t seen all of the Disney live-action remakes. I haven’t seen Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon, or Maleficent. I also don’t want to based on the ones I have seen. I have seen Alice in Wonderland, Alice through the Looking Glass, and The Jungle Book. I recently watched Beauty and the Beast. Like really recently. I haven’t been impressed by any of these movies. I’ve ended up looking at my Facebook feed which is what I do when I’m bored. I’m not saying that the fairy tales and children’s stories of old Disney animated fare cannot be remade into new and interesting movies. I love Mirror Mirror, but Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsmen: Winter’s War, and The Legend of Tarzan (also recently watched) were again extremely boring and those weren’t even Disney, even though Disney has a version of Snow White and Tarzan. So I won’t be addressing Cinderella, Pete’s Dragon, or Maleficent, but will be using examples from the Alice movies, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast.

Why, Just Why? Because? Money?

Disney is worth a lot of money. Like 55 billion dollars in 2016. They are one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world. They own Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney Theatrical Productions, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Entertainment, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, The Muppets Studio, Radio Disney, and Disney-ABC Television Group, and own hefty percentages of ESPN, A+E Networks, and Hula. To name some of their most recognizable subsidiaries. And they just bought Fox. That’s a lot of pots stirring and bringing in the moola. So I question the need to not take risks. Especially considering the cash that Marvel Entertainment ($676.2 million from 2008), Marvel Studios ($12 billion worldwide for MCU titles), and Lucasfilm ($1 billion estimated profit from purchase price) are all raking in. No one thinks that Disney is suffering. The evidence is in the purchases they’ve made over the years, that all produce high profits. Disney would have to be making crazy stupid decisions to be leaking money at this point. Crazy stupid decisions like financing Adam Sandler’s career. Oh, wait, that’s Sony.

So why are they rehashing old material? Why aren’t they taking risks with their live action films? Why do they plan to remake, reboot, or sequel all of their animation titles in the next decade? I’m not saying that Disney shouldn’t be making movies under the Disney brand. I’m just wondering why they’ve chosen to do nothing new or truly creative under that brand. The results of this plan are a bunch of very boring and nostalgia-driven pieces of crap that are full of bad acting, bad cinematography, bad CGI, bad dialogue, and bad story.

The Plan

What’s coming to theaters from Disney soon?:

  • Sword in the Stone
  • Mary Poppins
  • Mulan
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  • The Lion King
  • Cruella de Vil (One Hundred and One Dalmatians)
  • Aladdin
  • Peter Pan
  • Tinker Bell (Peter Pan)
  • Dumbo
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Chernabog (Fantasia)
  • Pinocchio

That is 14 titles to add to the six that have already come out. And bear in mind, not a single one of these was an original idea when it was adapted into a movie by Disney before. Why is this the plan? Why not try new things?

The Alice in Wonderland Films

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These are horrible messes of films. I’m not sure why a sequel was made when the first one was so terrible. First of all, Alice is so bland and no one can care about this girl. She’s as bland as the people she can’t stand. She travels to Wonderland to get away from a destiny she doesn’t want, only to be told in Wonderland that she is destined to do this thing. Don’t follow your destiny unless it turns out to be incredibly dangerous! ~the motto of this movie. Also the caterpillar keeps saying that Alice isn’t Alice, which is a weird message again, as it suggests the idea that changing is inherently wrong since the last time she was there was when she was a child. Children grow up and become more mature. There is nothing actually wrong with that. In fact, it’s a good thing. If they mean that Alice losing her gumption and sense of imagination are bad thing, that’s a good message, but they don’t actually present this idea well, especially when they are all telling her that she needs to do what she is destined to do. It also suggests that the caterpillar’s idea of who Alice is is more important than who Alice believes she is, moving her identity away from her ownership and leaving it still with other people. Or caterpillars as the case may be. When she comes back from Wonderland, she talks to her crazy aunt telling her to stop believing in her own crazy stories. Why is this moment in the movie? Is it to confuse the audience? Oh, Alice’s crazy story is true, but that woman’s just suffering from mental illness. Only pretty, young women can be believed when they tell crazy stories?

This blandness and the weird messages continue into the second film, but the plot is even more convoluted. The idea that proving to the Hatter that his family is dead will somehow cure his emotional wasting sickness is freaking weird. Also he keeps saying that Alice isn’t Alice, that everyone is not quite right, which is a little bit of a callback to the caterpillar but suggests that there is something wrong with everyone in Wonderland. That’s not the case. He’s just referencing the first movie. That’s not helpful to the audience trying to figure out what they are waiting for. In fact, I have no idea what we were waiting for. This movie actually made me think that Alice and the white queen were the bad guys. Alice steals the time machine, thus endangering everyone throughout all time in Wonderland and the white queen has been lying for years mostly to herself about how good she is, having gotten her crown by lying about her sister and resulting in her sister’s injury which is still a problem for her to this day. And the part where they resolve this decades long problem is so quick and not at all satisfying.

Then there’s Johnny Depp. Ugh. If Tim Burton doesn’t finally screw Depp and get it over with so we don’t have see him do these increasingly substanceless parts in Burton films, I may never watch Depp in a film again. It seems that Depp doesn’t want to actually act anymore. All his parts are the same now. Wild and crazy look, weird compared to everyone else, and the absolute center of attention or he will burn the set to the ground. He’s in the second one less but is still annoying and eccentric. Watch his performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and then watch him in Through the Looking Glass and you’ll see what I mean. He has stopped trying. He lacks all subtly and internal action. While some may say this is an unfair comparison, I say no! Robert Downey Jr. is still able to bring that into even his outrageous comedies such as Tropic Thunder. Whereas his friend Depp only looks the part. Depp: Divorce yourself from Disney. They are sucking out your lifeblood. You need to do something with some substance. The Lone Ranger, the Alice movies, the Pirates movies, and Dark Shadows (which isn’t even Disney) are all terrible movies. The first Pirates film is enjoyable, but Depp does not steal the show; he shares it with Bloom, Knightly, and Rush, who all do a great job. But later films are all just about Depp doing crazy things on camera. That’s all that really happens in the films listed above, and I find those movies boring, no matter how much action they also throw into the pot. In fact, I didn’t even finish The Lone Ranger. Having Depp behave and look weird isn’t enough to carry a movie. It wasn’t what made Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas amazing. It was all the Rum Diaries tried to do. Depp isn’t a bad actor, but he hasn’t produced the kind of performance that truly deserves an audience’s attention in quite a while.

So the second film. What can truly be said of this mess? I can’t quite describe when the movie went astray, possibly when it turned out they were going to do basically the same character development as the first one all over again. Alice is back in England and people are trying to make her life as bland as her personality is again. But no! She’s a ship’s captain. Whatever. The movie was not at all helped by the time traveling plot or Sacha Baron Cohen. I like this guy. I watched him from his early HBO days, and he was great as King Julian in Madagascar, quite possibly the most quotable character of that movie. Problem is, a character like King Julian can’t carry an adversary role in a feature length film, and since he wasn’t really the bad guy, he didn’t really have a place in the movie. Children’s movies do need to be direct with plot and character dynamics. This movie doesn’t do that at all. It is half-way between the dynamics of a serious drama (the main character is screwing everything up in a monumental way) and a children’s film (cooky characters without real motivation). It’s just too hard to get behind something that doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s called focus. How can the audience focus if the movie can’t?

Beauty and the Beast

I love the 1991 Beauty and the Beast. It got a Best Picture nomination. The first animated film of all time to do so. That’s a big breakthrough. It’s got its problems, such as the fact that the prince was only eleven when the enchantress cursed him or that she cursed all of the castle inhabitants just because they happened to be employed there. You know, so they could feed and clothe themselves along with their families. But it has a great charm. The songs are amazing. I could watch the Gaston song five times in a row and I’ll still laugh every time he says he uses antlers in all of his decorating, throwing that leg up in the air. I love this movie. It’s not my favorite animated film of all time, but it is certainly in my top ten.

So I can’t be accused of not liking the remake because I don’t like the material. I can be accused of liking the original too much to enjoy a remake; however, there are very clear reasons why I don’t like the remake. Again, it is boring. There isn’t enough new in this movie to create a feeling of discovery in an audience. They changed very little: the prince was shown to be an adult at the time of cursing, they tried to justify the cursing of the staff of the castle, and they added a song. That’s about it. Oh, yeah, they added a magic book. The change that the prince was an adult was a good one, but the second change is still a crap reason for cursing everyone. Oh, they didn’t stop him from becoming a monster so that’s why they deserved it. You mean, in a time when a nobleman could conceivably ruin a person’s life to the point of them begging for alms and dying in the mud, the staff could have done something? Suuuuure. I seriously doubt that they had much control over what kind of man the prince became. I didn’t see his childhood nurse among the staff nor any of his tutors. In fact, none of them would have had much direct interaction with the prince based on their positions except to take and fulfill any orders beyond their traditional duties. So there really is not reason why they should be held responsible. Also, the cursing of Chip throws a major wrench in that theory as a child surely is not responsible. It’s still dumb. In fact, it’s dumber for them trying to fix it.

On the other changes, they weren’t all that enticing to me. The song is good and Dan Stevens does a good job, but overall, the majority of the songs pale in comparison to the original performances, mostly because the original was made in a era when Disney insisted on hiring good voice actors and good singers that weren’t necessarily the same person, doubling up the voices behind many of the parts. This means most of the original singers were just that: professional singers, not actors. This go round, that’s not the case. The actors shown are the people singing, and most of them don’t compare to the professionals of the original.

The final change, the book, I pretty much forgot about since it made very little impression on me. I believe, it was a device to further develop Belle as a character and explain why she was so different from the other villagers. It seemed overall a bit too clunky to achieve much of anything which is probably why I almost didn’t remember to include it here.

Oh, there was one final change. The gay character. If you could call a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment much in the way of a “character” feature. They made such a big deal about this. It was in all the press and internet discussions leading up to the release of the movie and I can only assume that it was to drum up interest in what was essentially an uninteresting remake. Making it as minor as possible in the actual film suggests that Disney wanted to be able to point it out, but also wanted it to be as unassuming as possible as to be unoffensive to those family movie-goers who are homophobic. Basically, they were trying to have their cake and eat it too. I hope we’re smarter than that kind of ploy in the future.

The Jungle Book

What a strange movie. Not many people remember the original. It is very old at this point, but I’m sure any of us could sing The Bare Necessities if given a few notes of the melody. We can all thank Screen Junkies for reminding us what this movie was like since Disney locks that crap down harder than Fort Knox in their stupid vault. When babies are born every year, I’m still surprised at the use of that brilliant concept. I had to look it up, but that crap is still going on. Genius. I’ve read some of Kipling, and his anithropomorphic animals are strange, so the remake managed to capture a lot more of that than the original did. This movie did go in new directions. Even interesting ones. It was almost ironic in the end. I appreciated that quite a bit, but there were some issues with this movie.

First of all, the only real thing through out most of the film was Mowglie. This always bothers me. At that point, all I can think is just make the whole thing animated. It’s not like the brilliantly shot Dinosaur wherein the locations were all real but the animals were CGI. No, most of the actual environment of The Jungle Book was CGI. I’m more impressed by the effects of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? which still amaze me to this day. Making nearly everything CGI felt like a cop out. It’s now cheaper to render entire environments than it is to film on location. That’s fine. Then just make the whole thing CGI. I’ll watch a realistic CGI animated film. I have no problem with that. What’s the problem with Mowglie being the only real thing throughout the majority of the movie? It makes it harder to suspend disbelief when you have a very real boy touching not just CGI panthers, bears, and wolves, but also touching CGI leaves and rocks. Now had everything been CGI or just the animals, it would have seemed either more like a cartoon or more like reality. Instead it was stuck in this halfway place, much like the Star Wars prequels. So often throughout the movie, I couldn’t help but think that in the real, real world and not CGI world, Mowglie would be the deadest child in the world.

They left only two of the songs in the movie. The two everyone knows and had two men who can’t really sing perform them. It was jarring to hear those two beloved songs mangled as they were. Don’t get me wrong. I love Bill Murray and Christopher Walken, but neither of them is famous for their singing ability. Murray is a funny actor, who can bring great depth to his face. He’s not a singer. Walken can be terrifying or hilarious, sometimes even both, and is an amazing dancer. He’s also not a singer. We would have been able to tell very clearly had they decided to use singers for the songs instead of the two actors, so maybe they should have just cut them altogether. John Favreau was really trying to tell a more realistic story and frankly closer adaptation of the original Kipling material, so these moments were nothing but sore thumbs and I would love a version of this movie without them.

Overall this movie evoked a kind of meh response in me. It could have been better, but it could also been worse. It was mediocre at best. Right now, that seems like a not bad place to be as a movie, since there are so many horrible movies coming out, and making loads and loads of money for some strange reason. This movie wasn’t as entertaining as it could have been, mostly because those two songs slowed down the progress of the plot, and it didn’t really grab me because of the weird choice of using nearly all CGI. That’s about it.

The Point

Why make all these movies? Why try weird sequels to one, a nearly exact remake of another, and a nearly full reboot of another? There are other stories to tell and other ways to tell the stories that Disney has animated in the past. As I said, Mirror Mirror was very enjoyable and original. The telling was completely different and charming. It even had great art direction. So it is not impossible to do something new or exciting with the material. I think the big difference here is that while the writers and director of Mirror Mirror cared about the project because they had an idea of what they wanted and had little to no interference from their studio, Disney is the driving force behind many of these movies. They are scraping their barrel of IPs and asking someone to do something with each one. It’s easier. It has little risk. But there is a lack of care in the projects shown in lackluster films such as Beauty and the Beast because the director and writers were given a paint by numbers film plan. Or the studio butts in on what could be a good film and tells them to do certain things, like have songs that don’t fit the tone of the film being made. Or they just own Johnny Depp’s soul and think he is still profitable. If Disney just wants to have someone to create a film based on each of their IPs, they should let writers and directors who have clear and personal ideas about each IP hold the reigns and not butt in. They would make much more solid and enjoyable films, instead of passable to horrible movies that no one should even waste their time on.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2018 in Film Criticsim

 

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Patreon’s New Fee Structure: Chang.org Petition Link

https://www.change.org/p/patreon-patreon-drop-the-external-service-charge

Please sign the petition above to tell Patreon that the $.35 Fee per pledge damages creators.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Passive vs Active: The Language of Victimization, Victim-Blaming, and the Intent vs Effect of Communication

Recently some friends on Facebook posted this spiel about the use of passive voice in talking about gendered crime and statistics. Read it for yourself below.

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I immediately felt uncomfortable with the whole thing. I have several reasons why. Keep reading if you’re interested in why.

Passive Voice and Crime Reporting

The quote above by Katz is focused on gender related victimization; however, we use the passive voice when speaking about crime in general. Reporters will often write or say “Last night a man was mugged while walking to his car” or “Many people’s identities were stolen last week” or “A teenager was hit by a car yesterday”. So right off the bat, I question the validity of linking the use of passive voice with gendered crime exclusively. “Was murdered”, “was attacked”, “was car-jacked”, “was mugged”, “was abused” are all terms used in the reporting of crime and do not specify gender. I argue that rape isn’t even a gendered crime, so I cannot help but feel that Katz is limiting the use of passive voice to gendered crime is a limit of the mind and excludes victims.

Counting Crimes

Another issue with this argument is that the number of victims and the number of perpetrators is disproportionate. We can easily count those who have been victimized. We cannot count perpetrators until they have been convicted. The teen pregnancy is the best example of where in reporting the number of instances, the pregnancy count is more accurate than the number of males involved in those pregnancies. First of all, the chances of a male getting more than one teenager pregnant is pretty good (which is horrible, I agree), but we have no way of tracking that. We can, however, track the teen pregnancy amounts. If the guy got pregnant or had some sort of messed up score card emblazoned on his forehead, we would count that instead.

Focus on the Pain = Focus on the Victim

I don’t believe we should take the narrative of the event away from the victim. In doing so, we remove the focus on the pain they have suffered. We can argue that active voice about a perpetrator can express outrage; however, outrage should not be the focus. Empathy for the victim should be the focus. We do this by presenting the narrative of the event from the perspective of the victim. We keep the victim as the subject of the sentences. When the media reports on victimed crimes, they are required (generally) to do so impassively. They cannot present outrage in their tone, especially with written reports vs verbal ones. As such the narrative with the perpetrator as the subject of the sentences can create a dissonance because we are used to narratives wherein we are meant to believe and empathize with the subject of the sentences. We all have years and years of training to think this way. Imagine the story of Brock Turner and his victim as presented by him vs the letter she wrote to the judge. Or compare the dispassionate reporting of the events from his perspective vs from hers. If the press gave his story first, most people would be predisposed to disbelieve her story coming second. The act is not made illegal based on the inner thinking of the perpetrator but for the damage it causes the victim. While I see the dangers of passive voice in fictional narratives, I see it as a necessity in the reporting of victimed crimes to focus the empathy on the victim.

Passive Voice and Victimization

Katz presents the idea that by focusing on the victim, we are also holding them responsible for their victimization. However, besides leaving the victim as the subject of the sentences and thus the focus of empathy, passive voice perfectly matches the reality for victims. Being a victim is a passive act. Victims did not do anything to bring on their victimization. Of course, passive voice should be used when describing victims. They were not active in their victimization. It is the very opposite of victim-blaming to use passive voice. Victims themselves are allowed to use whichever form they please (I was mugged vs Someone mugged me) because as the authors of the sentences about the event, they are already forcing the audience to acknowledge them. But if a reporter were to use active voice with the victim as the subject, that sentence would have to be very carefully structured to avoid victim-blaming. I foresee sentences like that being unwieldy and unclear.

Violence Against Object Phrasing

While I get what Katz is saying that men aren’t involved in the structure of the phrase “violence against women”, the argument ignores the fact that most organizations that fight against violence structure it that way: Violence Against Children and Violence Against Animals are both used in organizations lending assistance to those groups. Most Violence Against groups are victim focused first. They try to help the victim out of bad situation. Secondary to rescue actions are education actions. It makes sense then that the title should focus on the victim of the act, not the perpetrator as the organizations usually have no direct contact with those people and legislative lobbying is not as big a focus.

If a person searches for “violence against” in an online search engine, most results will be about women. Half of those will be organizations with Domestic Violence in the organization name. I believe that Domestic Violence is a better term. While many believe that the term Domestic is problematic because it can imply Privacy, I relate it to Domecile, which implies co-habitation. Domestic Violence is specific to two people in a relationship living together, one of whom has become abusive of the other. This is non-gendered, which to me is highly important. So often, people say that domestic abuse is not about who is physically stronger, but who is more powerful and controlling. This is not a gendered issue, also because people of non-cis-sexualities are capable of domestic abuse. Believing that a man simply by being physically stronger can never be a victim of domestic abuse feeds into toxic masculinity and just compounds the gender divide. That is why Domestic Violence is a more inclusive way of describing the problems. Women can and do abuse men, emotionally, verbally, and yes, physically. However, abuse can still happen if the two aren’t living together, so even that term is not enough. Inter-relationship Violence is most encompassing of the terms I can come up with because while we have a word for a guardian abusing a child (Child Abuse), we don’t have a word for child to child abuse or a child abusing a parent, both of which do happen. Our terms unfortunately are based on archaic ideas of relationships and family, namely the nuclear family. The nuclear family was rarely a reality and even rarer now than it was when it was considered the norm. So I agree with Katz in saying that the term Violence Against Women is problematic, but not for the same reasons.

Intent > Communication > Effect

When I pointed out to someone that I felt that Katz argument was flawed, I mentioned intent and was parried with the statement that intent did not matter. I’ve been reading up a lot lately on how to speak to someone who has distorted thinking in order to properly communicate intent to the right effect, all of it written by psychologists and psychiatrists. So I’m going to break down what I’ve learned.

  • Intent: Person A’s desired effect fed or countered by bias, emotion, thoughts, memories, and situation – example: to report on a recent crime in an objective manner to make Persons B knowledgeable of the crime
  • Communication: the words by which Person A will attempt to match effect to intent
  • Effect: Persons Bs’ mental and emotional reaction to the communication, influenced by their pre-communication memories, thoughts, and feelings

Of course, in a perfect world, intent and effect would always match. We don’t live in a perfect world, so they don’t always match, because Person A’s conscious intent can be greatly effected by their unconscious intent. Person B can also be suffering from distorted thinking. Distorted thinking is a symptom of depression, anxiety, PTSD, several personality disorders, and other mental health issues. Disorted thinking can warp communication to mean something it doesn’t mean, such as seeing hostility where there is none. When the issue is Person A’s bias or unconscious intent, they can have this gently pointed out them and re-evaluate how they communicate their conscious intent. When the issue is Person B’s distorted thinking, they should be made aware of this, probably with a professional, and use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help them change their reactions to the communication.

Triggers

CBT is used to help people have more rational reactions to triggers. Now, I’ve been hearing a lot about trigger-warnings and safe spaces. About people trying to prevent people who suffer from bad reactions to certain things from experiencing those certain things. Especially victims. Now, victims of crimes are not the only people who experience triggering events, as explained above. Those with anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and depression who may never have been victims of crimes experience triggering events as well.

Every psychologist I’ve spoken to and every book on the subject I’ve read by psychologists and psychiatrists has stated that it is best if patients limit their contact with triggering events, but that they also learn to change their reactions to those events through therapy methods such as CBT or DBT. The goal is not to walk around in a bubble, silencing everyone around them to prevent them from ever feeling pain. Friends and family are meant to help by not exasperating the bad feelings by triggering them; however, strangers are not meant to change their behavior. Therapy does not expect this. In fact, it explains that a patient can expect to be triggered through non-personal interactions on occasion. Just because the patient is triggered, does not mean that their reaction is appropriate or requires change from others. Again, therapy expects the patient to eventually change their reaction. The basis is always that a person can control only themself, not others. We can only control ourselves and our own reactions. This is actually very helpful to hear when dealing with other people who have distorted thinking.

Does this mean that people get to be insensitive? No, of course not. There needs to be a balance between communication that matches the intent, which shouldn’t be to harm, and the reaction, which should be free of distorted thinking. Both sides require empathy; it is the only way for understanding to happen.

But there is one group of people who get to be purposefully insensitive: comedians. Why? This again takes understanding. First of all, it is a long standing tradition, as in centuries old, for comedians to be able to say what no one else is daring enough to say and to use that daring to satirize issues in our society. This includes sensitive, triggering subjects. The understanding from people listening to or reading comedians that is required is that comedians will do this and that is their job to do so. Acting surprised and hurt that a comedian said something shocking about a sensitive subject is frankly silly. Comedy is meant to make us laugh about sensitive subjects and relieve some of our tension and pain on those subjects. It’s also supposed to make us think about them differently. That’s a good thing. I’ve had bad reactions to jokes before. Yes, some of them were in poor taste and/or not funny in my opinion, but that just means I don’t have listen to that joke again. I can say I don’t think it’s funny or that it’s not for me. I can turn off the special and decide not to watch that comedian again. Again, I can only control my reaction and actions. I let my feet doing the talking when it comes to my opinion on comedy. I don’t expect the comedian to change. But if enough people agree with me and decide not to watch that comedian, well, that comedian will get the message that they aren’t all that funny. But then again, maybe other people think they are funny and that’s fine. Even if they are offensive. It’s called freedom of speech.

Conclusion

Language is a tricky thing. It is also one of my favorite subjects to think about and discuss. It’s a subject that requires a lot of critical thinking. I don’t believe I have all the answers because language is constantly changing because society is constantly changing. Some things are always the same. Comedians make jokes. People get hurt. People say hurtful things, both on purpose and by accident. People learn to get past being hurt. Or at least, they should try to. I react to things in overly negative ways too. I say things that get distorted. I say things that are hurtful. We all do these things. This is life. It requires us all to think about what we say, what we mean, and what others mean. There are no easy answers, and we can’t just look at one way and expect everybody agree with us. I don’t expect all of you reading this to agree with everything I’ve written here or even any of it. That’s discourse. If you still agree with Katz’ point of view after reading this, that’s fine. I’m not upset. It’s not necessary that you agree with me. You’re your own person, so you’re allowed to have your own point of view. That’s also life.

 
 

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Couple Fights: Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald vs Leonard and Virginia Woolf (and Jim and Aurora from Passengers a bit)

Amazon Prime has a new show called Z which follows the life of Zelda Fitzgerald, starting from around the time she met her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I watched the pilot during the pilot season more than a year ago and was immediately hooked. It doesn’t hurt that Christina Ricci is an amazing actress and the Modernist time period is one of extreme interest. A few months ago, I read an article on the women behind the men whose names we all know, while the women, who actually did the work, are hardly known to most of us. Zelda was one of these women, and in the brief history of her life that was given, my whole world and my trust in all the American Literature courses I took in both high school and college was completely destroyed. Suddenly, I understood the social justice warriors’ need to force our schools to shape up. Because the truth behind the juggernaut that is F. Scott Fitzgerald destroys any enjoyment I ever had of his work. But this isn’t just about how horror music should play in Amazon’s show when Zelda meets Fitzgerald. It’s about how two real life couples, in the same time period, in the same creative business, with very similar personal hardships and backgrounds, resulted in two completely different outcomes, both tragic, but one absolutely outraging.

Outrage

So many people hated Jim from Passengers and they hate the movie for forcing Aurora for forgiving him and they hate her for doing so. I love this movie and I love Jim and Aurora, and it’s not just because it’s interesting sci-fi or that Jim and Aurora are played by two of the hottest and funniest and, it turns out, most talented actors of our age, though that helps a lot. We all know that Jennifer Lawrence is an amazing actor. She kills all her parts. I was not expecting Chris Pratt to deliver the same level of skill in that movie. Now, I remember the trailers presenting the film as a sci-fi romance, and to some extent it is, but it is more of a satirical examination on romance and what some people consider romantic. Many people would say that that statement is a little too deep for such a film, especially because it just makes them so uncomfortable. But uncomfortableness from fiction is usually a sign of a theme that no one likes to think about. People often display outrage at satire that is totally justified but they aim at the creators of the piece and not at the idea they are showcasing as messed up.

We see this a lot on Swift’s A Modest Proposal. It happened when he wrote it, and it still happens today in our college classrooms. I don’t remember realizing that Swift wasn’t serious about eating Irish children. I just know that I knew that. Too often teachers have to explain to students that Swift is trying to create outrage in the English people against the mistreatment of the Irish by bringing that mistreatment to a ridiculous level. This happened in the last century again on the stage production of Caberet, which has a song wherein a man dances with a gorilla, saying how much he loves her and how everyone treats him like a pariah for his love. At the end of the song, he drops the bomb that she’s Jewish. There was a protest over this by a Jewish organization because they didn’t get the idea that the song was pointing out that that is how the Nazis thought about miscegenators, not how the minds behind the song felt, and wasn’t that just a messed up way of thinking about Jewish people and those who loved them. Sigh. I hate having to explain satire. It hurts to do so.

But I will explain how Passengers actually is satire here because I am tired of all the hate it gets. Most romance movies are under fire right now for showing stalking, harassment, and sexual assault as “chasing” or “courting” and thereby, acceptable. Passengers dives right into that debate with more vehemence than any journalist or debater is capable of. The trailers somewhat misled people into thinking that Passengers would be like any other romance movie: sweet, light-hearted, and sexy in it’s presentation of their relationship with a bit of disaster thriller thrown in there for conflict. The truth of the movie far more interesting. Jim, who wakes up alone ninety years early, tries his best to make the best of the worst possible situation. He has no way of fixing his situation and he holds out against his two only choices for as long as he can. Those two choices: kill himself or consign another person to his same fate. Being alone is only a choice in stasis. As long as he is alive, he is constantly going to be battling those two choices. He nearly kills himself. Then he becomes obsessed with Aurora, in a way of self-medicating his loneliness, much like any stalker does. But unlike a real stalker, Jim has no misunderstandings that waking up Aurora is wrong. Stalkers believe the other person loves them and they believe they have a relationship. Jim knows they don’t and knows he has no right to wake her up. There are several scenes wherein Jim debates doing it, shows extreme self-hatred for even considering it, and begs himself not to do it. But I argue that the movie showed Jim going through every possible other option of living in his situation for as long as he could before this was the only thing he could do to survive. I also argue that by showing Jim as a normal guy at the beginning, nervous and excited to meet the other passengers and even smiling at the second word he uttered upon waking up (“Friends”), that not only were they trying to show that anyone in his situation would choose to wake someone up but that Jim fought the urge as long as he could which was torture for him considering the fact that he is an extrovert. We would all do what Jim did. Only an actual hermit wouldn’t wake up someone else. We are all Jim, and we are all capable of this horror.

Does that make it okay? Of course not, and the movie says so. When Aurora finds out that Jim woke her up, the cinematography and music shift dramatically from low-key romance to thriller and horror styles. The point of view of the shots also focus on her instead of him, in contrast to the previous scenes of the film. The movie makes no bones about whose side you should be on: hers. As such, the film does a brilliant job of showing how typical film romance tropes are in real life dangerous and sometimes violating. You are meant to be outraged, revolted, and uncomfortable. And frankly, you should feel that way when you watch a bunch of other romance movies. If the man lies, stalks, harasses, or manhandles (something Jim never does) the woman, you should feel that way. Regardless of the tone the film presents. Passengers sets the romantic tone before she finds out to juxtapose it with the reality which is horrifying, and when that tone flips with her new knowledge of his lies and stalking, near murder and some would argue rape through misleading circumstances, it is drastic and we all feel it viscerally. It is in the movie. The shot does that Hitchcock move that throws the layout off kilter, her face is a silent scream, and the music warps from smooth, caressing notes into discordant and painful sounds. The following scenes show her fear and her anger. When he tries to explain himself over the PA and she screams that she doesn’t care, we all get it, and so does Jim who stops trying to explain himself. When she attacks Jim, we all get it, and so does Jim who doesn’t even defend himself. She is now the center of the movie and his violation of her is the focus. The only reason we and Aurora don’t want him dead is because he doesn’t defend himself from her. He acquests in that moment that what he did was worthy of death and she has every right to do it to him. He already hates himself for what he did, and he is completely prepared to die in reprepration. Some may argue that because he did date her and have sex with her that he only hated himself after he was caught. I counter that the dating period allowed him to forget on a conscious level what he did, but because he was doing everything he could to be the most movie perfect romantic boyfriend ever wasn’t just a way of the film again playing off romantic tropes but also from a character standpoint, born out his extreme guilt. As if he could offset what he did by being absolutely perfect in every possible way for her.

Jim again proves that he is ready to die to make up for what he did at the climax of the movie. Why does Aurora try so hard to save him? She says she can’t live without him. I believe when she realized that he was possibly going to die, that she also realized that if he did, she would have to live the rest of her life alone, the prospect of which was more terrifying than living with him. This fear also made her further realize that that was what Jim faced and what he did was completely understandable, not justifiable, but also irresistible. Why does she forgive him? That’s easy. He found a way to fix what he did. Jim found that he could put Aurora back to sleep, and then he told her about it. He let her choose whether or not she would do it. It wasn’t that he saved the ship or was willing to die to save the ship. It was that he was willing to go back to being alone, meaning he would let her go, and die (probably within a year because he would commit suicide) without her all based on her choice alone. That’s why Passengers is a real romance. It’s not perfect. It is in fact painful and hurtful at times. But it is truthful, and Jim learns that it is about letting Aurora make her own decisions. This makes Passengers better than most romances.

On a side note, I found the final point of decision to be contrived and flawed. The idea that there is only one Autodoc for 5500 people is insane. There was a way to create this same point of decision without that flaw: someone had to be outside the Autodoc to activate it. Voila! Problem solved and impact intact.

But why is Passengers so important to how I feel about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Leonard and Virginia Woolf? It’s because it showcases a troubled relationship in a perfect balance and in a way, Leonard and Virginia Woolf are similar to Jim and Aurora, only often the roles were reversed. While the Woolfs make me think of how similar the Fitzgeralds’ situation was and how perverted their relationship was. The Fitzgeralds’ relationship is the way most people see Passengers. Only, in my opinion, even worse than people see Passengers. So I guess we should get to it.

Premarital Life

Virginia Woolf née Stephen born in 1882 suffered many nervous breakdowns since she was a young teenager and was even institutionalized. Her mental health issues, which were often manifested as depressive episodes, were thought to be caused by sexual abuse at the hands of her half-brothers and brought to the forefront by the loss of family members, such as her mother, a brother, her father, etc. It is believed that Woolf suffered from bipolar disorder as opposed to major depressive disorder. But before her marriage to Leonard Woolf was not entirely a time of unhappiness for Woolf. She, in fact, took part in a hoax, along with Leonard Woolf. Leonard also happened to be a writer, though he would never reach the notoriety that Virginia would. I have heard, however, that before they married no one told him that Virginia had suffered multiple breakdowns, preventing her unstable mental health from scaring him off. If true, it is a serious lie, but given the times, also understandable. To read Woolf’s journal entries pertaining to him though, one clearly understands how much she loved him.

Zelda Fitzgerald née Sayre was born on the other side of the Atlantic, eighteen years after Woolf. Zelda was always a very outgoing person. She liked parties and often lead the charge of her social groups in the changing ways of her times. She very much liked being the center of attention, shown in her long-running relationship with the ballet. She also liked to flout social conventions and started rumors about herself skinny-dipping. Her life very much encapsulated carpe diem. All this along with what would become of her later, however, has led many people both in her personal and professional life and those looking back on her biographically to believe that she was mentally disturbed in someway. This actually seems unlikely to me. Many people who are simply different or just don’t like the way society wishes them to act are erroneously considered mentally ill. Though I do believe that the circumstances of Zelda’s life led to mental instability, though so did F. Scott Fitzgerald’s.

Married Life

The Woolfs married, and I wish I could say, they lived happily ever after, but that was not to be. Virginia and Leonard started a publishing company together that often did not do well financially. Then they met a popular writer of the time, Vita Sackville-West, who loved Virginia and helped boost her self-confidence, pushed her to write more, and starting publishing with the Woolfs’ company as a way of helping support them financially. Not only was she there for them in those ways, but Virginia and her started a romantic liaison of sorts. Leonard knew about this and didn’t take issue with it. In fact, the couple set their relationship as an open one. To many people, this would appear to mean troubled waters in a relationship, but Virginia and Leonard never expressed any bitterness or resentment over their extramarital relationships. This is obvious in Virginia’s diary and her suicide note to Leonard, expressing nothing but love for him and guilt over her illness and how it affected him. Some may argue that the guilt was a sign that he blamed Virginia for her illness, but depressed people often feel like they are dragging down their loved ones and that their death would free them. It doesn’t seem to matter how much their loved ones express the falsehood of this belief. As such, I don’t believe that Leonard ever truly pushed Virginia to believe her illness or herself were an albatross in his life. I don’t believe her expressions of love for him could be so heartfelt if that were true.

The Fitzgeralds married once he got his first novel published (a common occurrence for couples to wait for financial success of the man at the time) and moved to New York. The two blazed through the party scene, surprising everyone with their antics. The two drank to excess and only slightly slowed down once she became pregnant. Even then though, the two didn’t let parenthood stop the party. During this time Zelda no longer performed in any ballet and really only wrote sporadically, though she continued to write in her diary regularly, as many women and writers, such as Virginia Woolf, did at the time. This diary became a point of contention between the Fitzgeralds, not for anything that Zelda wrote, but because F. Scott would steal entries from the diary to include in his novels. Parts of The Great Gatsby are taken straight from her own writing about her life. Zelda was even once asked to write a review of her husband’s latest novel, upon which she discovered the bits of her diary in the novel and stated that Fitzgerald believed that plagiarism began in the home. While written in a flippant tone, one could understand the underlying resentment that would begin to fester. Once the two moved to France, F. Scott met Ernest Hemingway, who did not get along with Zelda, and spent less time with her. In this period, Zelda grew close with another man and asked for a divorce. F. Scott’s reaction was nothing less than abusive and mentally unstable: he locked Zelda in their house until she gave up. Let me restate that: he imprisoned his wife who was asking for a divorce until her will was worn down. The two of them, at this point, really couldn’t stand each other. I’m not sure why F. Scott resented her so much, when she was the one with all the cause for feelings of resentment, except to say that he didn’t like that he couldn’t control her, which her wildness is what attracted him to her in the first place. At one point, the two went back to the States because Zelda’s father was dying. F. Scott did not stick around for his passing, instead, going off to Hollywood to begin writing scripts. After her father passed, Zelda was in and out of mental hospitals with F. Scott barely around. During one of these hospital stays, Zelda was inspired to begin writing seriously. Upon getting out, she wrote a novel: it was highly autobiographical and included her attempts to get back into the ballet and her father’s death. She even got a publishing deal; however, F. Scott was furious and demanded that she change many parts of the novel, removing whole sections of it, which he wanted to include in a novel he’d been working on. The result is a very broken novel that has never garnered much attention from the public. F. Scott even berated Zelda’s writing and her will to do so. Zelda’s fragile self-confidence was even further shaken. This whole time F. Scott was drinking more and more and his own self-worth was damaged by a lack of further success, but he had also started a long-term affair with another woman.

Through the Years

At one point a lit-crit writer published a book about how Leonard Woolf never supported Virginia emotionally in her endeavors and actively worked against her until she killed herself. This writer is an idiot. A lot of people also disagreed with her. I say if she wanted to write about a creative woman who was driven into an early grave by a horrible mistake of a marriage, she should have written about Zelda Fitzgerald, who sadly died in a fire when the asylum she was checked into burned down. We have work by Woolf, lots of work, enough to fill a grad level course all on its own. We have one novel by Zelda, we have no ballet performances by her, we have barely anything by her. Obviously, she was the one of the two women who was actively and successfully silenced by her spouse and the world around her. And still some people look upon Zelda’s wild lifestyle as the reason behind or a symptom of her mental illness and downfall, even though F. Scott was just as crazy. Without knowing which sections of Fitzgerald’s novels are word for word from her diary, we should be printing them as novels “by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald”. So far this is the only instance wherein I feel like “correcting” history, but as a writer, I can’t help but think that if people were to quote from my blog or my private journal and pass it off as their “fiction”, I would want my freaking credit!

We have so much outrage over the satirical depiction of romance in Passengers, but way less people know about the horrible reality that was Zelda’s life. We have a TV show depicting her life now for a wide audience, and my hope is that it shows F. Scott for the theif and controlling jerk that he was. If they try to show his kidnapping  of her as somehow romantic, hopefully the Passengers outrage will carry over. But if they try to do it satirically, I’m okay with that, and then hopefully, the outrage will be focused on F. Scott Fitzgerald as it should be.

What do you think? Should Zelda be recognized in the lit classrooms of our colleges and in the English classrooms of our high schools? We don’t teach Woolf much here in the US, but we do teach The Great Gatsby all across the country in high schools. Shouldn’t our teachers be telling the students that pieces of this work are straight from her mind? Shouldn’t it be obvious by the print on the cover of the book?

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2017 in Gender Relations, Social Issues

 

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Doctor Strange: A Comparative Review

Spoilers below for Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War,

I just recently watched Doctor Strange for the first time. Afterwards, I immediately went to two of my three favorite reviewers to see what they had to say about the movie. Screen Junkies and Hishe both compared the movie heavily to Iron Man, saying that it is basically the same movie. Instinctively, this felt wrong to me, mainly because I was thinking of the main characters and how different they were, despite everyone seeming to think they are the same. So I went back and watched Iron Man again, because let’s face it, it’s been a while, and luckily it was on Prime (btw, Iron Man is distributed by a different company than later MCU movies, along with Thor and the first Captain America movie, so it is doubtful that you will see all of the MCU movies on the same streaming service or in a box set). Having watched it again, so quickly after having watched Doctor Strange, I can tell you without a doubt that the only two things these have in common are that they are both hero’s journey stories (which is one of like five stories you can tell) and both superhero origin stories (which is needed when you introduce a new superhero. Duh.). Otherwise, I found these movies very different.

“But Aren’t They Both Just Arrogant Jackasses?”

Arrogance is a trait both Tony Stark and Stephen Strange carry; however, in truth, Strange only seems arrogant. Many people have previously called Stark a narcissist. In point of fact, by psychological definitions, he is not. Strange, on the other hand, very much has narcissistic personality disorder. Stark is full of himself, but he grew up in money and prestige and genius with a demanding and distant father. As such, Stark doesn’t care about much except having a good time when we are first introduced to him in Iron Man. He is child without adult supervision. He has fun whenever he can, however he can. He doesn’t care if the company is truly successful or how, just that it keeps him in money (i.e. fun). He has no real goals. It’s just party, party, party all the time.

He plays craps when he should be getting a prestigious award and gives that award away to a stranger on a whim, because awards from society or friends don’t matter.

He races his bodyguard/driver to get to his private jet, where he left his more serious friend to wait hours.

His flight attendants bring him drinks and double as strippers. It’s all fun. And it is all pointless. His lack of care is what almost got him killed. If he had been more on his guard, more involved with his company, he would have figured out that Stane was selling their weapons to terrorists and kicked him out long ago. But he didn’t care. He was having fun. What did Yensin say to him? “Don’t let your life be a waste.” Most everyone puts Tony Stark as either an ENTP or J. You can look up their profiles here and here.

Now compare that to the Doctor Strange we are introduced to at the beginning of the film. He prides himself on knowing useless information so that he can stump his coworkers, a way to one up them. He also prides himself on beating his coworkers down when they make a mistake. He’ll do this in front of everyone and make sure everyone knows that the gravity of his coworker’s mistake and that he’s the one to fix it. He wants to break new ground medically and wants procedures he creates named after him, even though he has to be reminded that he alone did not create those procedures. He loves going to award ceremonies for himself.

He has only the best home, only the best clothes, only the best accessories, and only the best cars.

Only the best.

All his past awards are displayed in a rather large and showy case, so that anyone who comes to his home knows just how awesome his is. He has to pass all other drivers to show that he is the best driver. He refuses to take cases that others can solve and refuses to take cases with a low probability of success. For him, everything is about status. Showing to the world around him that he is the best. That no one is as good as him at anything and that he is perfect and never fails. What does the Ancient One say to him? “You did it because of your fear of failure.” I would put Doctor Strange as an INTJ because he is a jack of trades when it comes to knowledge, has a great memory, doesn’t see the point in much social interaction, is a self learner, and rules that don’t make sense are ignored, but once they make sense from new information, they are followed. Others have agreed with this, while others disagree. But personality types are hard to lay out on a character in the first place, but the two in question are obviously not the same type.

Inciting Incidents

These two men are faced with very different psychological problems. There isn’t really a disorder for what Tony has (maybe there should be: HPD, hedonistic personality disorder?), but it is clear that Strange has NPD. Tony Stark is shown to have no fear of failure, and he shouldn’t because he is an inventor. They fail all the time. It’s a constant working through set backs and failed versions. We get three different Iron Man suits in the first movie. We get multiple tests that go haywire too. None of that seems to set Tony back at all. He just keeps going, working out the kinks. In fact, we laugh with him as he works them out. While his lack of care got him into trouble, that trouble got him out of his apathy. When Yensin dies, he suddenly has a reason to care. He realizes that by ignoring his company, innocent people were getting hurt and that was his fault. So he was going to do something about it. Failures be dammed.

Strange’s own psychological problems led to his own downfall as well, but Tony obviously recovered much quicker and better than Strange did. He could still work no problem. The car crash, caused by Strange’s desire to be the best at everything, resulted in the loss of his abilities as a doctor. This destroyed everything Strange had been working for all his life. He couldn’t work anymore. There would be no more awards, no more breakthroughs, no more adulation. He wasn’t just a failure; he couldn’t even try. Unlike Tony Stark, who became a better person for his inciting incident, all the worst traits of an NPD were maximized in Strange upon his accident. NPDs are hard enough to be around when they are successful, as they tend to rub everyone’s nose in their success, but they are far, far worse when they have failed. They lash out at the people around them in cruel and hurtful ways and may even become violent for it. So failure only worsens their condition, which is why Strange avoided it all his life and career. Strange becomes obsessed with fixing the cause of his failure as he sees it: his hands. The reality is that his failure came from his fear of it because he had to be the fastest driver. It is almost cruel of a writer to do what happens to Strange, not because he was such a nice guy, but because he was functioning somewhat well even if he couldn’t have healthy personal relationships.

The Journey

Tony Stark’s journey is pretty straight forward: shut down the weapons manufacturing, create a better suit to help the people his weapons have hurt. He gets a little side-tracked on the second part because it is more fun, thereby making it harder to do the first part. He’s still a little too focused on the fun. But it’s not much of a sidetrack really. Iron Man, by and large, is a very simple, plot-based movie, so it’s hard to give the hero’s journey too much attention. Tony actually keeps choosing the more fun options throughout most of the movies. Fun for Tony is also about what is most interesting from a scientific standpoint. That’s why he made Ultron. It’s not until after Ultron that Tony finally realizes that scientifically interesting may also mean dangerous. That takes quite a while.

Strange’s journey is more focused and interesting. He has to learn “that it’s not about [him]”. The Ancient One keeps recognizing exactly what’s wrong with Strange and saying it to him point blank. This is where things take an interesting turn from a psychological and social standpoint. NPDs never seek professional help, because they don’t think anything is wrong with them. After all, they are perfect, the best of the best. Everyone else has a problem. But when Strange loses the use of his hands and Western medicine cannot help him at all, he becomes so desperate that he is willing to look for answers in places that don’t have the kind of controls that modern medicine has. He has looked everywhere else for the answer, so now it’s time too look in the shadier corners. When he comes to the Ancient One, he believes that she is still a scientist, but that she is doing something illegal. When it turns out that she is more of a mystic than a scientist, he scoffs at her ideas. Until she blows his mind. Now we don’t have the ability to blow the mind of an NPD the way the Ancient One did, but if we did, I imagine it would have a profound psychological impact on them. After he asks her to teach him and she refuses, we see just how low Strange has been brought. He is there for hours, begging to be let back in. The last thing he says before they open the door is “I’ve got nowhere else to go.” Strange truly has been destroyed at this point. He is a complete and utter nothing. But when they open the door, amazingly, the first thing out of his mouth is a feeble “Thank you.” It gets a laugh, but it also shows something interesting. I do not believe that had he fallen through a door before he had been brought this low that he would have said “thank you.” Instead I believe he would have berated the person for opening the door while he was leaning against it. He has been changed. Finally.

But he is still arrogant and still afraid of failure. Well, a cure for a personality disorder doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. Now, some psychologists and laymen don’t believe that personality disorders can be cured, especially not NPD. It’s just who they are, right? Why else would they call it a personality disorder if it wasn’t a personality? Well, they’ve found that with certain treatments some people can lose symptoms of a personality disorder, thus sliding out of the DSM requirements to be diagnosed with that disorder. The one that seems to have some of the best results is borderline personality disorder, which with certain medications, one-on-one counseling, and group DBT therapy can cause actual recovery. The problem is that too many psychologists don’t try to get their patients to recovery, just through the day to day, and too many sufferers of personality disorders consider themselves unworthy of treatment, incapable of recovery, or, in the case of almost every NPD, perfectly fine the way they are. Now there is not a lot of research into if NPDs can recover because of the very fact that they don’t think anything is wrong with them. Doctors can’t research patients that don’t go to the doctor. But recovery from any ingrained psychological condition, especially one that took someone as far as it took Doctor Strange, is time consuming and not at all quick. So yes, Strange is still kind of a dick. But why is the Ancient One’s method’s working at all?

Many Western philosophies deal in the idea of the individual and the importance of each individual. Things such as subjectivity vs objectivity, perception, sensation, aesthetics, and signicance tend to run through most of these philosophies. Many Eastern philosophies, on the other hand, deal greatly with the unimportance of self, the destruction of the individual, sacrifice of self, all to achieve a greater unity with the world. NPD, which most laymen will understand is about narsicsim, is all about the self. The self is most important. Especially, the perception of others of that self. So perceptively, the Ancient One doesn’t buy the bull that Strange keeps trying to sell her. She repeatly calls him Mister and corrects him when he tries to correct her. Every time he tries to tell her who he is or what his motivations are, she calls him a liar. And he confirms what she says too. He has been brought low by his accident, then shown how insignificant he was when she showed him the multiverse, and she will not let him lie about who he is. He is experiencing a distruction of self. Whether he likes it or not. It’s interesting to note at this point that most psychological disorders do not cross cultures. The WHO is trying to come up with an international way of looking at psychology, but it seems that culture ties too tightly into what is considered disordered and how disorders form. As such, I’ve never heard of NPD in China and the like. An ingrained cultural sense that the self is unimportant may in fact prevent NPD altogether. So perhaps the correct treatment of NPD is the destruction of self.

Because what happens at the end? Doctor Strange is destroyed, and again, and again, and again, and again. And again, and again, and again. In fact, as he puts it he’s losing over and over again. Finally, Strange understands that failure is not to be feared. In fact, at times, it is the only way to succeed. It is also interesting to note that Dormammu was played by Cumberbatch as well, adding into the internal struggle metaphor of Doctor Strange. Not only did he set it up so that he would fail over and over again, but is also being destroyed by himself every time.

Now some would counter that Strange doesn’t really have NPD because he loves Christine and NPDs and some other personality disorders preclude the capability of love but I just believe it often precludes healthy expression or experience of love. No where in the DSM definitions of personality disorders does it list a symptom as “incapable of love”. It may say “poor interpersonal relationship skills” or something to that effect. So please stop saying these people are incapable of love. Strange displays the required number of symptoms to be diagnosed as a NPD, and by the end of the movie he has lost enough symptoms to be considered cured. He is humble and self-sacrificing. A complete 180.


Vs Iron Man

We just don’t get the kind of in depth character ark or metaphorical play in Iron Man that we got in Doctor Strange. It was the first attempt. They didn’t have much of a script. And they didn’t really know what they were doing. We’re now in phase three. The characters are starting to become better out the gate and the older ones, like Tony Stark, are becoming more complex real people as well. It’s not really until Iron Man 3 that we see that Tony can be vulnerable, it’s not until The Avengers: Age of Ultron that he allows fear to get the better of him, and it is not until Captain America: Civil War that we see him try truly to make up for the mistakes he made as Iron Man. Iron Man’s journey is actually the journey of the MCU. It’s all fun; whoa, things just got scary, better step it up a notch; crap, I went too far. In fact, in Iron Man it’s all fun even when killing people, which Tony has no compunctions about. Which makes sense given the fact that he grew up on the money of weapons manufacturing. Doctor Strange, on the other hand, is introduced in the “crap, I went too far” stage, so he kills one guy and is immediately upset by it. After all, he is a doctor. The Ancient One kind of calls BS on him again, but I don’t believe Strange is really lying when he says he’s upset for killing that man. He was fighting for his life and he gets that, but he’s not okay with how far he had to go. He didn’t want to be part of a mystic war. In fact, he said just that right before the fight started. Tony has no issues killing what he probably thinks of as “enemy combatants”. There is no moment of “Oh, my god. I killed someone” for Tony in the first movie. Probably because he knows as a weapons manufacturer he has blood on his hands and to him making and selling the weapons is no different than firing them. It is actually an admirable stance for Tony to take for it makes it clear that to him he is responsible and that is his fight in the first movie. But it is barely touched on. The whole movie is party and doesn’t go too deep into the ideas of responsibility or hedonism.

Finally the Facial Hair

Interestingly, Stan Lee has stated that Tony Stark was based on Howard Hughes and Doctor Strange was based on Vincent Price. Now, Stark was based on Hughes’ personality wise, the high-flying, the girls, the parties, etc. Strange was based on Price’s look. He’s often voiced in a Price kind of way too. Luckily, we didn’t get that in the movie from Cumberbatch who just played him straight. So the beards seem kind of like a coincidence to me. I’ve never quite gotten Stark’s facial hair to be honest. It’s just a very strange look, that they even did in the movie. It tends to go back along his jaw but not all the way along his jaw and up around his mouth but not to meet his mustache. That’s weird. They did eventually change it in the movies to just a bushy, dark van dyke so that it wasn’t so weird. Strange’s on the other hand is a pretty straight forward thin van dyke. I can dig that. It’s been done before. Stark’s not so much. Who the hell takes the time to do that to their face? Stark apparently. I guess he is rich. Probably has a barber come in and do it for him on a regular basis. They’ve also pretty much updated it in the comics too. For which, I’m glad.

Conclusion

Way better than Iron Man. Like a thousand times. And Iron Man is enjoyable. It’s just not got the depth and social implications and work that Doctor Strange has. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Doctor Strange as much as I did, but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy as much as I did either. My favorite Marvel characters are Spider-Man, Wolverine, Psylocke, Deadpool, and Black Widow, and so far Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Strange have been my favorite movies. It’s hard to please me when four out of five of my favorite characters are not readily available to MCU. Now Spider-Man is and I’ve been disappointed by what they’ve done with him so far. It’s hard to top Spider-Man 2 for story and character development. And I am not a fan of Iron Man knowing his identity as no one is supposed to know who he is. Overall, I think the greatness of Ant-Man, Guardians, and Strange come from the actors and/or great story and character development. Doctor Strange was directed by a (creative) fan of the character, which I believe we can all agree can be very important to the success of an adaptation. See below.


Here’s a singular idea: don’t direct it if you weren’t a fan. It means you didn’t understand or care about the central themes. That’s important to creating a new story with that IP. More than the world creation or plots. Scott Derrickson got that and that’s why he did such a good job with Doctor Strange: themes, not plots, matter.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

P.S.

I will be going to a double feature for Guardians fo the Galaxy tomorrow before it premiers on Friday, so look for my first thoughts this weekend. I usually like to watch a movie several times and think about it a while before I write my full review but I’ll try to give a recommendation at the very least. Happy watching and reading!

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in Craft of Writing

 

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A Lack of Respect: The Path to a Trump Presidency

A lot of people are upset with how things are going right now politically. Most people were angry throughout the entirety of the election. In fact, most people were angry before the election. But the dissatisfaction of the American people is at an all time high. But people on the left keep questioning how Trump, a man that was unrepentantly offensive, unintelligent, and selfish in their minds that there was no way he could win, is now president. There are answers to this. They reach back several decades and they involve both sides and others degrading the foundations of our democracy, insulating the fourth estate from unbiased thought, and the ignorance of history.

The Presidential Debate Commission

Before the Presidential Debate Commission control the Presidential debates, it was controlled by the League of Women Voters. The Leauge voted in complete agreement to pull their sponsorship of the debates in 1988. This is said to be due to demands made by the Democrat and Republican parties that in the League’s opinion would degrade the quality of the debates. In fact, the president of the League at that time stated that to meet their demands would be to “perpetrate a fraud on the American votes” and would be “hoodwinking the American public.” What demands were these? Well, after the League pulled out the CPD was formed. One of the biggest changes? Now the third parties needed 15% in specific polls to be allowed to debate. Since third parties don’t have major primaries to choose their candidate, the candidate does not have as much recognition as the two major party candidates. Before the best way for a third party candidate to get recognition were the debates. So by making this change, the CPD basically cut the American public off from their third options. Other changes include allowing candidates to see the questions beforehand. I don’t have too much of an issue with this, because I think it is pretty nice to be prepared. I can also understand that letting the candidates be surprised can be insightful.

What I have noticed, however, is that the debates have had a lower quality each election year. By lower quality, I mean, that candidates have displayed a lessening amount of decorum over the years. On both sides. They constantly undermine their opponent with eye rolling, head shaking, and other non-verbal methods. What’s next? Making the jack-off motion? Then there are the verbal methods: talking over each other, ad hominems, straw men, appeals to the crowd, and on and on. I’ve seen more decorum from high school debates. Hell, I’ve seen more decorum from elementary school debates. How is it that children who are still learning social rules can give a better quality debate than adults who claim to be professionals? I’d rather watch Rory Gilmore and Paris Geller eviscerate their opponents using sound logic and data to back it up, and THEY AREN’T EVEN REAL! This has been going on for decades. A lot of major party affiliated people have defended it to me by stating that the other side is doing it and their candidate would have no chance of winning if they also didn’t stoop low. Two wrongs don’t make a right and have some freaking integrity. Is it really any wonder that Trump flourished when the press, the CPD, and the major parties created an atmosphere that promoted fallacies, claims without backup, and disrespect? The press loves debates that are disrespectful because that’s interesting. The CPD wanted them to be a little crazy so ratings would go up for their sponsors. The major parties didn’t see how rapidly they were letting them get out of hand and weren’t willing to step up for their responsibility in making it worse, thereby deciding not to stoop low. They made a home for Trump. They made it clear to the American people that being the most disrespectful is what made you the better candidate because that’s how you won the debates, because apparently disrespect and strength are the same thing. I was sickened by the atmosphere all the way back to W in the debates, so when Trump came along all I could think is “He’s going to win.”

The Exclusion of Independents in Primaries

There were a lot of protests during the primaries from Independents and unaffiliated citizens who were mad that the primaries weren’t including them. I was upset by this as well. Not just because I personally wasn’t being heard, but because it is an extreme mark of stupidity from the major parties. It says: “Even though your vote counts in the major election, we aren’t interested in who you’d vote for. We know your vote could swing the election either way, but we don’t care who you’d rather have from us.” God forbid the major parties look after their own interests by seeing who the large chunk of Independent and unaffiliated voters would rather have. God forbid they act as if they care about those citizens. Making it insular like it currently is, is illogical. It means the parties are not putting forth their candidate with the best chance to win. Instead, they put forth the candidate that their party, and their party only, wants. Well, members of your party are not the only people voting. It is also a sure way to turn Independents and unaffiliated voters away in the main vote. The thought is “Well, you didn’t care about my opinion then, what makes you think I’ll believe you when you say you care about my vote now or what I want for the future later?” Way to go, you shot yourself in the foot. I believe the election would have had completely different candidates had others been allowed to vote in the primaries. I think we would have been looking at Bernie Sanders, D; Ted Cruz, R; Gary Johnson, L; and Jill Stein, G. I would have been happy with either of the major party candidates in that scenario. Instead, about half of the voting public didn’t vote at all in the 2016 election, which suggests extreme apathy over the two main candidates. The thought probably was “What’s the point? Neither of them represents what I want.” Apathy was probably one of the predominate feelings of this election, and I believe it came from the choices themselves. As everyone always says, third parties never win, so no point in voting for them, but if Clinton and Trump were both antithetical to your needs, no point in voting for them either. I feel the voter turn out would have been dramatically different had the primaries been more open to citizens. Because to those who had been excluded, the battle had already been lost.

The Media’s Private Circle

Everyone was so surprised. “I was surprised. Were you surprised? I was so surprised.” How could he have possibly won, they asked themselves. When the press kept telling them that Clinton was a shoe-in, how could he have won? The press lied, to themselves and to the American people. They wanted to believe that there was no way he could win. No way. He was a joke. They depicted him as a joke. A bad one. How could a joke win the highest political office? He can’t, right? No way. Well, wishes aren’t horses. Just because you believe it, just because you tell yourself it, just because everyone you know says it, doesn’t make it true. And that’s the biggest issue. Most of the media is owned by a handful of companies. One of them is right leaning, the rest lean to the left. Those that lean left are mostly made up of reporters who unabashedly say they are Democrats, and most of the people in major parties don’t spend any time with anyone from the other side or even in the middle. So in their personal lives, these journalists are surrounded by other Democrats. And their Democrat friends, coworkers, and family were all going to vote for Clinton. But it isn’t just a personal or professional bubble they are living in. It’s also regional. With the advancement of digital communication, most of the country knows the same twenty journalists, five news stations, five papers, and five magazines. They may not get all of the information, and they certainly don’t get it all from the original source material. Typically it comes from the websites of these stations, papers, and magazines. And their stories are run down the line to the local level. Recently I saw a joke on some show where they showed a compilation of news broadcasts around the whole country all using the exact same phrase on the same story. And they weren’t the same station only local. It was cross-station. It was funny at first, then horrifying to see just how far we’ve fallen that every single station not only runs the same national stories, with the same bias, but with the same phrases. I thought the video was about to end and then it went on longer and that’s when I just started screaming out loud. All of America is getting the news from New York and LA, whether or not we agree with how they view the state of things, whether or not their view is even applicable to the region, state, county, city, or community we live in. National events are covered by the same people with the same thoughts and they don’t search too far for their data. Well, what about polls from around the country that showed how she was leading? See below. The media thrived on wish fulfillment while reporting on the election. They wanted the first female president. They thought it was only logical that people would vote for her over him. They didn’t want to think that their personal opinions were wrong. They didn’t want to think that logic might lead to a different result overall. They didn’t want to believe they were a minority. They didn’t want to admit that the anger behind Trump supporters couldn’t just be brushed off. They didn’t want to admit that they had a hand in electing Trump by giving him the most airtime because they were using him for ratings and the time to laugh at him. “Shucks, what’s he gonna do next?” Win.

Identity-Politics and Rejection

It seems like politics has gotten more vitriolic recently. Some may argue that this is just perception bias, but I don’t think this is true. I think over the past few decades that adversarial tactics have been used more and more in politics. It has come down to shaming the other side. Finger-wagging seems to be the first response in any disagreement. While most of the worst of this shaming comes from the average jerk on the internet, our politicians are where we got it from. It’s why I can’t stand to see political news. The representatives of our country are constantly shaking their heads at the other side or the American people. Psychologically this is the poorest tactic for getting someone on your side. It only makes people feel unheard and rejected. Because trying evoke shame in a person means you are judging them and not listening to them. Now some people may say that we don’t have to listen to certain people because of what they are saying. That’s crazy. You know why? Because someone else will come along and listen to them and feed into the frustration they have felt from not being heard and being put down and take advantage of them. Does that sound like anyone you’ve heard of?

The hardest part is when there is a large group of people in the middle who are told by both sides that they should be ashamed. These aren’t the extremists. These are people who just don’t fall into easy black and white categories. And each side rejects them by assuming they are of the other side. What’s most ridiculous about this is the fact that political ideology is not even just a one dimensional sliding scale. It actually has a y axis too. I suggest everyone find out where they are on that graph and retake the test every four years. I myself am literally a centrist on that graph, smack dab in the middle, so being called a libtard or a fascist is incredibly shocking. Based on one issue, a person will decide what you are, died in the wool, and no amount of stating your opinions on the myriad of other issues will ever change how they feel. Things are far more complex than that. There are always more than two choices. The world is not simple, no matter how much we wish it were. So please, stop using an us versus them mentality to “discuss” politics, because let’s face it, it’s not a discussion if name calling and shaming tactics are used. Those are ad hominems and don’t help anyone. This is also why a large amount of people didn’t even want to say who they voted for or previously, who they were planning to vote for, because everyone was so angry and mean for the answer given. Repeatedly telling the people in the middle that they are the other side or that they are stupid for not choosing your side are both horrible tactics for getting them to vote for your side or to even get an honest answer out of them in polling and conversation. Losing the middle, who always sway the vote because they eventually pick one of two sides if they are willing to give up their dreams of a middle candidate, is the surest way to lose the election. While most of this came at its most extreme from everyday people, a milder version came from major party players in the Democrat party; thereby, ensuring a major loss. This just didn’t work. Obviously.

Tired of the Same Old People: Republican or Democrat

People have been upset with the two choices they’ve been given for decades. In my speech class during my undergrad, I gave a speech about Independent voters and how the numbers were actually much higher than the two parties would have you know because a little less than half of voting Americans don’t vote for a candidate or party but against the other side. That’s a lot of dissatisfied people, and that was about a decade ago. My guess is the numbers only went up past the half-way mark. The conclusion of my speech was that people should vote for third party candidates that more represented them and that the statement that this is a wasted vote is circular logic. It perpetuates itself. If everyone in the next election had never heard that statement before and just voted for who they wanted, then no Republican or Democrat would stand a chance because people are sick of them. Hillary Clinton was just more of the same. Not as in she’s just Bill 2.0, but that she’s just like any other candidate they’d seen before, only now this one comes in double XX flavor as if that might spice her up a bit. It didn’t. She was just as selfish and into the special interests as any other major party candidate has been for the last few decades. So a big chunk of America decided to skip the middle man and go straight for the special interest himself. He was like nothing before seen in that he was obviously lying, in it for himself and his buddies, and arrogant, instead of being all those things and hiding it well. (Jaded, you say? I raise you with Frustrated.)

The Republican party didn’t really want Trump as their candidate. Some of them did, but a lot of them turned to third party candidates as the election went on. Not that it helped them turn the tide to a more believable Republican candidate, and a large amount of the party stood behind their candidate, no matter how crazy and unintelligent he seemed because the people seemed to like him. He wasn’t like any of the more legitimate candidates they put forth. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is just like all the other candidates before except for one thing. This one thing was not enough to distinguish her from the previous candidates and suggests that those people who were disillusioned with all the previous candidates didn’t put much emphasis on that one difference because, to be honest, her sex has very little to do with her political leanings and practices which like many previous candidates have been in flux over the course of her career. For example in leanings, voting for the Iraqi invasion or not supporting homosexual rights. For example in practice, using a private email server without a cleared and established IT security team. Whether or not that is illegal or deliberate obfuscation, it is at the very least poor IT safety and shows a lack of forethought and a high level of incompetence. Some people find those attributes more dangerous than deliberate treason. Most people are tired of incompetence and unethical actions in our politicians, especially when they get away with it. Right-leaning press were given ample ammunition against her in a cultural climate that had had enough. Did they blow it out of proportion? Probably. But this was a barn full of hay and all the press did was fan the flames.

Hillary Clinton and the DNC vs Bernie Sanders

A large amount of Democrat and third party citizens wanted Bernie Sanders as their candidate. He was well spoken, he didn’t pull any punches when it came to what the people needed and who was standing in their way, and he has been pretty steadfast in his political leanings since the days of Martin Luther King, Jr. It says a lot of a person who sticks to his guns for that many decades. I’ve never questioned whose side Sanders is on, and by sides, I mean special interests versus the people. Sanders, while I don’t agree with all the ways he wants to do things, has always wanted to help the people. Sanders should have been the Democrat candidate. He had a much larger support group in the people than Hillary Clinton, including a large group of Independents and non-affiliated voters. For some reason that I just can’t really fathom, the Democrat party wanted Hillary Clinton over him. They and she did everything they could to put him down and promote her. Some of it was underhanded and unethical. That alone put off a large amount of voters because it made them feel unheard and that the whole thing was dirty. The press was also part of this and often didn’t report on Sanders. She really messed up and put a lot of people off when she was going on about how she had fought for health care for all and didn’t know where Sanders was during all that, when he had been right freaking behind her at many of the rallies and that could be seen on video as she gave her health care speeches. Talk about a gaff. It was a low-handed jab that couldn’t even land. It looked like bullying. The whole primary the media and the Democrat party pushed him down and pushed her to the forefront, trying to sell her. America didn’t buy it. The delegates did, but the citizens wanted him.

The History of Post Two-Term Presidency

Hillary Clinton had been told from early adulthood that she was probably going to be the first female president. That might have been true, but it also seems to have gone to her head, because it is the only thing I can think of to explain the absolutely poor timing of her bid. Not only were the citizens tired of the same old people, but there is a history associated with post two-term presidencies like Obama’s. After two terms of one party holding the presidency, the citizens almost always choose the other party candidate. The likelihood of a Democrat president after Obama’s second term were close to nil. No matter who was running, and since Hillary Clinton was just like previous Democrat candidates, she brought nothing to the ring to differentiate herself which is why early polling only showed her beating Trump and no other Republican. Bernie Sanders did have a lot to differentiate himself which is why that same early polling showed him beating all the Republicans. I’m not sure why she felt that this was her only chance. I’m sure that had she waited for a riper environment she could have won. But after this election and how she and the party handled it, I’m not sure she will ever be considered a viable candidate again.

The Danger of Arrogance and Moral Superiority in Progressives

I’ve heard a lot of people put off by the vehemence of Progressives. The you’re-with-us-or-against-us mentality and the downright outrage the most vocal of them show off is a lot like the emotions at a Trump rally. Or from Hitler’s supporters, I imagine. What makes it worse though, more dangerous in my opinion, is the idea that history is on their side. It’s like they think they have a crystal ball or Cassandra in their corner. They are so sure they are right, because how could minority rights or entitlement rights be wrong? Bring up more complex sides of these topics or ideologies that are at odds with how these are implemented, like less federal control, and be ready to be shouted down into oblivion or at the very least spoken to with contempt and disdain for your intelligence and personal leanings that can only come from a sense of moral superiority and the arrogance of knowing the future. Everything is always more complex that two choices. Always. I have never heard of a situation that is truly black and white, unless I’m literally looking at a Yin Yang, and even that is more complex because of those two inner circles. So the attitude of “But I have concerns over x” is a completely reasonable one to have when it comes to politics. In fact, you should always have concerns because politics, federal and state legislation and policy, economic reaction to such, and social result is a highly complex system and can never be seen in crystal clarity. So no, you can’t know the future. Is wanting everyone to have access to affordable, good healthcare right? Yes, absolutely. But it is not so easy to just make it happen. Forcing everyone to have insurance is probably not the best way to go about it. Insurance at all is not the best way to go about it. But socialized medicine has its own problems. A young woman in Canada was going to have to wait several years to get a hip replacement, but gained the system by being a volunteer at the hospital, but she still had to wait more than a year. Socialized medicine can be extremely slow and doesn’t allow for much medical research. But insurance also doesn’t allow for much medical research and often means people go without proper medical care. Neither is perfect. And like with most things, I suggest a more central approach. And this is just one of many dozens of issues that politics tries to address. So this or that is not going to solve any of them, and as such this adversarial attitude won’t work. It and belligerence don’t get people to vote for a candidate either. Do I think all Progressives are like this? No, obviously not. And of course some Traditionalists are also like this. I don’t believe any group is homogeneous. But aggressive Progressiveness is dangerous because it believes that history will say it was right, which means a barrelling forward without looking to unintended consequences or the pain it will cause others. Certainty is by far one of the most dangerous feelings. It promotes arrogance and stubbornness and an inability to see what went wrong. And I think the more vitriolically verbal members of Progressiveness put a lot of people off. Those same people knew that the similar Traditionalists were trying to roll back the clock, and that just seems like trying to push back a waterfall. There was arrogance visible in other ways, such as a lack of emphasis on the importance of internet campaigning or campaigning in Michigan (that’s a sure bet, right? No need to focus on that state too much). These kinds of things built on each other until a lot of the voting public was sick of it.

Pride Goeth, Right?

The day they announced the winner was an odd one for me. I opened Facebook, big mistake, after already knowing who had won, and someone in my feed posted this: “Fuck Gary Johnson!” Most of the posts from my leftist friends were like this, and of course, my right-sided friends were all happy. Me and and other centrists and libertarians felt like we came close, with Johnson at 3%, when we were all hoping for 5%. I can’t help but think that some people didn’t learn anything, because thinking that third parties were the biggest factor in the Democrat loss ignores so many other factors. Did the Russians have a had in it? Probably in the same way the US had a hand in swaying elections in other countries during the Cold War (or as it seems the DNC did in the RNC primaries), only we’re way more outraged by their influence even though they probably won’t be able to influence us into military coups like the US did to those countries that the Socialist parties were more successful. Isn’t history fun? But getting back to the point, I don’t believe that the Russians could have swayed the vote without all the other factors involved. I was actually pleased when Trump won, not because I wanted a Trump presidency or looked forward to the changes he would (try to) implement.

But because I hoped this election would be wake up call. The old way of doing things doesn’t work. You can’t promote negativity and sensationalism and expect the person best at those things to lose. You can’t piss on everyone else’s opinions as being outright wrong and get enough people on your side to win. You can’t ignore the internet, because the TV isn’t enough anymore. You can’t brush off incompetence. You can’t ignore what the people obviously want just because you think you know better than them or you just want it your way. The US is not a giant Burger King, the voting public are not the employees, and the political parties are not the customers. The parties are here to serve the public. They should allow as many people as possible, even those not in their party, to vote in primaries. That is the only way to guarantee the best possible candidates that appeal to the most people. Then the main election can be close like it was in 2016, only it will be between two people that the public actually wants.

I feel like this election has severely damaged both parties, the Democrat party more so. I’m pleased by that, because when I think “Drain the swamp”, I think of new parties, not just new politicians. I do not believe that either party represents a large portion of the population. Even if they were to stick around, I would at least appreciate if a third option were more viable. About 42% of eligible voters didn’t turn out. If democracy is about representing the people, then we are failing. I certainly feel as though my government as failed me. Not because my party lost, but because I don’t feel like my government cares about my or like-minded people’s opinions. Our votes don’t count, because under the current system, we aren’t even represented. Should we dump some tea into the harbor? Would that get your attention? While I don’t feel represented, I still vote, but I don’t vote for one of the two. I can always hope for that 5% for a libertarian or another third party closer to representing who I am. But the Democrat and Republican parties have prevailed in beating the hope out of so many people, so they don’t vote or they don’t vote for who they really want. With this election though, it feels like it might be changing. The two parties seem desperate to prevent a sea change, much like the oil companies, but once change starts taking over society, much like the growing consensus that gas has got to go, it’s downright impossible to stop. It’s not as if political parties in the US haven’t died before. I say let ’em fall. The walls that divide us have become bloated and unstable. The anger and violence are the signs of the instability. We can only do what we think is right. We can only stand firm in the wake the desperation and calmly say “No. We want something different. We deserve better.”

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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