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Fake News?: What Happens When Trump Is Right

Have you heard the latest news debacle? Video has surfaced of a group of white teenagers bullying a Native American U.S. vet. Or so that’s what most media organizations big and small are selling for their headlines. Definitely gets clicks and shares. Like my headline. Thing is though, I don’t make any money if you read this. I also hate the idea that Trump is right about fake news. He shouts it like Oprah giving away prizes and about things that are typically not fake. But not so in this case. I’ve had issues with news media manipulating the public before, but this instance is only proving that it is getting harder and harder to do so what with the internet and now we can all feel free to call the intent of the news into question.

The Reporting

Take a look at what was originally said of this incident on major news sources. The Washington Post shows four minutes of the incident and speaks specifically to Phillips the U.S. vet and several representatives of the Native American rights associations: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/20/it-was-getting-ugly-native-american-drummer-speaks-maga-hat-wearing-teens-who-surrounded-him/?utm_term=.acfbde9d2669. ABC has less than two minutes of video but interviews on a more balanced level despite the click-baity title: https://abc7news.com/politics/boys-in-maga-hats-mock-indigenous-elder-in-dc-video/5097427/. The initial CNN report video shows only seconds of the footage but makes many moral judgements using tone and statements, but forces the responsibility on society as a whole, but seems almost ironic when it moves on to the idea of people promoting “going viral” considering how much news itself relies on audience attention and shares (and the fact that the video didn’t come from the teenagers themselves): https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2019/01/19/maga-video-teens-native-american-unfiltered-vpx.cnn. Fox News obviously didn’t say much about the video until the backlash started. Yahoo News shows less than two minutes of video and then four minutes in another embedded video and had no interviews: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/maga-hatted-teens-harass-native-182138098.html.

There is actually more than an hour of footage of this incident, including moments of a group of Black Hebrew Israelite protesters taunting the teenagers with racist and homophobic slurs, but most shockingly of all the video starts with the Black Hebrew Israelite group blaming the Native American protestors for the loss of their land on their “idol worship” and that’s just the first 30 seconds. You want to talk about offensive? That’s offensive. Why isn’t that the headline? Because it is two minority groups butting heads instead of a majority group and a minority group. While the clip everyone is showing has one kid being silent and a Native American banging a drum and singing, the beginning of the whole video includes a shouting match between a Black Hebrew Israelite protestor and what appears to be a Native American woman. “Half of understanding is listening,” says the guy that’s not listening. After eight minutes in, the man filming turns the camera on himself to spout extremely sexist comments. Then the main protestor starts asking where her husband is. He calls another woman a “culture vulture” as if telling Native Americans that them worshiping idols instead of God isn’t disrespectful of their culture. The person recording then calls who seems like the MAGA teenagers crackers and threatens to “stick [his] foot in their ass”. A chunk of the video after this is the Black Hebrew Israelites discussing religious history with a Native American man as the Indigenous Peoples’ March kicks up a bit. After a while, the main protestor starts shouting at the Native Americans again, suggesting that their march is useless, but recognizes the similarities in Native American and African-American struggles. Afterwards, they point out the teenagers again and use the N-word. Then there is a lot of political/religious preaching, followed by the reasonable question “When has America ever been great for us?” Which he then hurts his message by calling the kids peckerwoods. But he keeps promoting separation of White people from the other races as they are all oppressors to him. Then he disrespects Native American culture and religion again. A Native American man started yelling at them for not showing respect. The Black Hebrew Israelites call them the N-word, stupid, ignorant, demons, and Uncle Tomahawks and ask why the Native Americans don’t yell at the MAGA teens (who’ve been quiet thus far on the video). Then the MAGA teens come over and the man recording talks about how disrespectful they are to the Native Americans for wearing those hats at their march. A woman starts yelling at them and the Black Hebrew Israelite leader start asking about her husband and after she starts preaching love, peace, and unity, he says he’s done with her. More preaching. A man points out that they are proselytizing. More preaching. Then some anti-Semitic comments. The man recording starts pointing out the teenagers again. The boys don’t do anything. More preaching. Then homophobic comments about a pedophilic priest. Then homophobic comments about Trump and Giuliani and the Catholic Church. More Uncle Tomahawk comments about a member of the crowd, telling him he might as well put on a MAGA hat and calling him the N-word and coon. The guy filming asks them why they won’t yell at the teenagers. Then he walks up to the teenagers and calls them crackers. They still don’t do anything. The Black Hebrew Israelite leader calls them all future school shooters and the man filming calls them animals. The teenagers put some distance between themselves and the Black Hebrew Israelites. More political/religious preaching, including something about UFOs. Some guy skateboards through the area playing music, and they start threatening him with “punishment” if he gets too close and call him a clown. A woman talks to them about a prophecy. More preaching. A near fight breaks out between the skateboarder and the guy filming. The skateboarder goes off, but circles them still, and the man filming says he’s going to hit him. The leader starts talking about Bill Clinton, Haiti, and Paris. The man filming continues to point out the teenagers, that still haven’t engaged. The skateboarder’s music is still playing, as he seems to be trying to drown them out, and they keep threatening him. More preaching. A man starts shouting, but he’s really hard to understand, but they call him a five dollar Indian. A woman shouts that we love everybody. The leader shouts “We love you as much as Donald Trump loves us.” More preaching and threatening of the skateboarder. Someone asks if this is a Stand Your Ground State. More preaching. Then they call the teenagers incest babies and bastards. The teenagers start chanting, but it is not “Build the Wall”. They call the teenagers dogs and hyenas. A water bottle is on the ground between the two groups and one of the teenagers runs forward to pick it up. It is not clear where the bottle came from, if it was thrown or dropped or by whom. The teenagers then chant and focus on one of them who takes off his shit, and after that the man filming calls them cavemen. He says they are surrounded by them but you can clearly see a way without any of the teenagers that people are walking through. The teenagers keep chanting. Then we can hear Phillips coming and he stops between the two groups and continues drumming. The teenagers jump up and down in front of him, and yes, some of them are disrespectful. They chant Hey in time to the drum and clap, then it sounds like some of them sing O, but some of them are still and quiet. A couple of the teenagers engage with the Black Hebrew Israelite leader, booing him for calling them school shooters. It’s hard to see Phillips, but we can still hear his drum. Some of the teenagers say at best cheeky things to the leader at worst immature. Some White adults start making the teenagers back up. School chants ensue, one kid says they are being racist. More cracker and N-word slurs. Most of the students are standing there but are very close. The man filming calls one of them a young clansman who had said something I couldn’t understand, and the man filming appears to be holding a stick (like a broom-handle). The students appear to be about four feet at least from the protestors. One of the students says they can’t vote. More preaching and the kids are shocked by many of the things he says. One teenager says you can swear on a law book instead of the Bible, one says they don’t judge them. Some of the teenagers are laughing. An adult says Let’s go, the teenagers cheer and leave. Then the Black Hebrew Israelites start shouting at a group of Native Americans. More homophobic comments. A woman comes up and says We love you. He asks for his land back. A White man says that Black Africans sold others into slavery. After more stuff about religion and child molestation, a woman says “You’re not going to change their minds.” At this point it is clear that nothing will stop these protestors from shouting down the people around them, using racist, sexist, homophobic, and disrespectful comments. This is so hard to watch. It is so hard to sit and listen to everything these two men say. I did it though. I watched the whole thing, and I know it is hard to watch anything longer than five minutes these days, but it is worth our attention, so here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQyBHTTqb38. I won’t say enjoy, because I didn’t find anything about this enjoyable.

I want to say that I don’t understand why the headline is about the teenagers. I want to say that I don’t get it. But I do understand. It is about an agenda of divisiveness that increases viewership. It’s about clicks.

Assault, Harassment, and Defamation

Because of how the media has presented the events of the quick bit of video they show, the main teenager in the video and his family have gotten death threats, he is facing expulsion from school, and is one of the most hated figures of social media right now. It’s no wonder that he came out with a version of events from his perspective, even if it laden with rhetoric to make himself out to be the victim. To be honest with you, considering that he and the other students are underage, I don’t believe the video should even be shown with them in it with their faces clearly identifiable. Other countries do this, and it’s high time we did, but minors should not be part of the media circus. To me, it prevents mob mentality from judging minors for life, in the same way we protect them from the stupid, inexperienced criminal choices of their youth by sealing juvenile records. Not everything is protected as if they are charged as adults, then it sticks. But I certainly don’t think any of these teenagers committed the kind of felonies in the video that would mean we never let them forget it. But the media has decided to vilify these teenagers. And if some of them did see the whole video before reporting, they decided to hold minors to higher standards than adults.

I don’t agree with why the teenagers were there, I don’t agree with their support of Trump, but they are still young and people change quite a bit in their early to mid twenties from who they were as teenagers. I also believe they have the right to march in a rally that I don’t believe in. They have the right to buy hats I don’t like. We can’t assume they deserved to be vilified simply because of those hats, as some people vilify women for wearing low cut necklines or LBGT people for wearing rainbow hats and shirts nor do we accept them being harassed by others. But apparently we’re supposed to okay with a minority group heckling Native Americans. Those two men also had the right to be there and they also had the right to say what they did. I don’t have to like it, and I don’t, but they still had the right. Everyone had the right to be there. There were some near assaults when people started to get into each other’s personal space, and only if people followed someone around and said horrible things to them repeatedly would it be considered harassment. The event itself was fine. Uncomfortable. But legal and fine. As Trevor Noah put it “All First Amendment and no Second Amendment.” It was fine.

The Backlash

What isn’t fine is how the major media networks decided to reframe this video to rabble rouse and sow division. As if things aren’t bad enough. And after everyone found the long video, many people were upset at having been misled, and now the pendulum is swinging the other way. Those on the extreme right feel vindicated and able to character assassinate Phillips, as if that’s okay too. It’s really not. I’m a huge opponent of ad hominem. I don’t believe it promotes empathy, trust, or the seeking out of the truth. Very rarely do I see a purpose in condemnations of others unless a true argument with evidence to support claims is given as well.

People who are typically in the middle, like me, see this news debacle as disheartening. For me, it is just more of the same. I’m unsurprised by their decision to manipulate their audience, but this has given a lot of people something to think about. A lot people, despite Trump shouting fake news, trusted the major news networks to give them unbiased information, but now they feel lied to or misled. They may even look back at previous reports on political and social topics and wonder. My hope is that more people will start digging deeper as a result, which is now easier to do with the internet.

A lot of the old guard think that the internet actually makes it harder to know what is real and fake, but a person just has to be discerning in their sources. It also one of the only places Americans can get international news as while interest hasn’t dropped, reporting from the major networks has (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ly7Btx0Stg). There is still some left push back, people saying that the teenagers deserve what they get both in the video and by way of punishment and harassment since they were wearing MAGA hats and were there for a Pro-Life rally, but as I said before, they have a right to believe what they believe, wear what they want to wear, and protest what they want to protest. I don’t have to like it or agree with them, but they have the right, just like anyone else. That is what America is about. Even if it isn’t always pretty.

But some of the networks are defending what they did as it is not always easy to get the whole picture before you have to publish, and that’s a load of bullshit. We now have 24 hour news cycle, but I suggest if they can’t do it ethically and competently in the amount of time they are giving themselves, that they need to slow down. It’s their job to fact check. You don’t win anyone over by whining about how hard it is to do your job. They’re more afraid that someone will report the story before them that they are all jumping the gun than they are of getting the story wrong, but look at what it has gotten them. If they hadn’t jumped the gun, if they had done their due diligence, they could have reported on the video accurately and looked like the good guys. Now they just look like assholes. It is shameful that they have misstepped so badly as to allow extremist right shouting of Fake News to be credible.

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Oh, but Fox News does it! Yeah, and they’re wrong when they do it too. You can’t control what someone else does, only what you do. CNN is not responsible for what Fox News says, but they are responsible for what they say. You can’t hold yourself to the standards and principles of those you don’t like or find unethical. You can’t think of it as winning or losing. Disseminating information is not a game. It is about ethics, the truth, and honesty. That’s what you hold yourself to. I can’t believe that I have to pull out an adage meant for five year olds to talk about major news networks comprised entirely of adults. That’s the kind of immaturity that exists in that industry. I understand that there is a competition for viewership, but there should not be a competition for hearts and minds. The news should be objective, despite the flashlight theory–it should at least strive to be as objective as possible. The point of the news is to provide the people with information, not to sway them politically or socially. That’s the job of politicians and activists. The real problem is the death of local news and coalescing of news, especially in major print and TV services, to a few sources. A few people get to decide that the truth is less important than a political or social goal, even if people are trampled by their manipulations. But the news is sold to us as an informational source, not a persuasive argument. So we have a mockery of that idea in all the major networks. They may claim to be news sources, but really that is a mask they wear to put forth a perspective subversively. It seems that yellow journalism rules the day. Left, right, I don’t care. I don’t want my news littered with rhetoric designed to manipulate me. And neither should anyone else.

Why This Is So Bad

But this debacle is going to have long term consequences. I can foresee in 2020 any “outrageous” things being held in suspicion. I foresee that if Trump does run that swing vote people will go for him because they won’t trust sources like CNN and ABC who will be pushing for a democrat winner. They already had a hand in Trump winning in 2016 (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/a-lack-of-respect-the-path-to-a-trump-presidency/). I know this sounds like conspiracy theory, but at this point too many people believe that left leaning news networks are not worth trusting and we can’t pretend that they’ll get over it. I figured out all news networks were trying to manipulate me a long time ago. Teaching rhetorical analysis gave me the edge needed to recognize it, and since I am a Centrist I did not ignore it from any source because no source was telling me what I wanted to hear. I don’t buy into the narrative that one side is evil and one side is good. I believe most politicians are in it to win it, no matter what, and are willing to promise anything to get a vote. So when any news source promotes one candidate over the other, and it’s not an Op Ed, but the kind of subtle jabs at one candidate and subversive advancement of another while “reporting” on debates or campaign appearances, I’m just pissed. And I think it is safe to say that more people are pissed at them after this incident then before, and I think they will remember, mostly because the right is not going to let it go. So great job, any left leaning media, you’ve shot yourself in the foot.

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Posted by on January 26, 2019 in Gender Relations, Politics, Social Issues

 

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Disney Stupidity Strikes Again!

I’ve complained about Disney making stupid decisions before. Their need to allow marketing to shape the creation of Star Wars. The extremely poorly thoughtout plan behind Thanos’ motivation in Infinity War. Their nearly utter lack of risks under their own titles by way of live action remakes, sequels, and reboots. But now they are doing it again. Disney is not renewing their contract with Netflix and has decided only to release digital copies of their titles on their own video streaming service. This is beyond stupid. This is near suicidal.

So Late to the Party, It’s Over

There are three big streaming networks: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Netflix added their streaming line in 2007, Hulu launched their content in 2008, and Amazon Prime’s streaming service switched from only on demand to a subscription service in 2011. That means Netflix has been around for 12 years, Hulu for 11, and Prime for 8. All three hold titles from many different distribution companies and in the last few years, all three have been creative Emmy winning original titles as well. Netflix has 137.1 million subscribers (https://www.statista.com/statistics/250934/quarterly-number-of-netflix-streaming-subscribers-worldwide/), Hulu has 20 million subscribers (https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/hulu-statistics/), and Amazon Prime has about 100 million subscribers (https://variety.com/2018/digital/news/amazon-prime-100-million-subscribers-jeff-bezos-1202757832/). Netflix being the first explains why they have the most, and Amazon Prime offering other perks, such as free two day shipping and digital copies of a selection of books and music, explains why it is second. The only other real competition to these three is HBO Now, as HBO has been creating it’s own original content for decades before streaming subscriptions were a thing, and they regularly get recent blockbusters. This past year their relatively new online subscription service has hit over 5 million subscribers (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-01/hbo-s-channel-for-cord-cutters-surpasses-5-million-subscribers). This was actually a relatively natural progression for the channel, and other paid channel networks have followed suit with less success. The point is that the most successful streaming services offer both original content and multiple distribution companies’ titles and have been around for nearly ten years or have a sweet package that includes other benefits. The streaming wars haven’t just begun. They’re long over. Only something with extremely competitive benefits can even get a foot in the door. Another Amazon Prime. I could see Apple successfully doing this if they were willing branch off of their own tech products (i.e. all smart TVs and Windows computers) and converted to a subscription service, like their Apple Music. Disney’s package is not competitive. My guess is that it’s going to be priced too high because Disney thinks they are worth more than they are.

Big Dumb Animal

Disney is one of a handful of major media corporations. Nearly all of them are know for doing stupid things on a regular basis. Universal tried making their dumb dark universe. Warner Bros is failing spectacularly at creating a DCCU. Fox just makes bad movies because they trust Ridley Scott far too much. Other endeavors don’t do so well either. The news sections of the major media corporations are lackluster as almost all of them use rhetorical techniques and spotlighting techniques to incite fear and manipulate public opinion to political sides or to raise their own ratings. They often make business decisions that would kill smaller companies, such as cancelling Emmy winning TV shows, not marketing movies that need it and over-marketing those that don’t, designing creative titles by committee, watering down acquired IPs for mass markets, performing unethical and illegal acts that obstruct a criminal investigation simply to keep a news story going, one arm of the company suing another arm of that same company, not backing video streaming when it first came out. These big media corporations are stupid. They are frankly too big not to be stupid. They aren’t innovators. They aren’t trail-blazers. They copy each other and they copy the innovators, thinking that they can “do it better”. They typically can’t. The problem is inspiration. They don’t have it. Maybe one day they did, years ago, but they don’t have it anymore. Now, they have demographic data, marketing teams, and financial optimization. These are not the things that create new ideas. These are the things that keep big businesses big and, they hope, bigger. Disney is just like any other major media corporation. Large, full of MBA buzzwords, and mostly empty-headed.

You Have Hulu?!

Case in point: Disney owns a controlling interest in Hulu, one of the three major video streaming services, and they want to launch a new, Disney-branded video streaming service that would be in . . . direct competition to . . . the one they already own with 20 million subscribers. Hmm. I don’t think it needs to be explained why that would be a dumb move. I could foresee Disney pushing a vote to close down Hulu, which is dumb, to cut this competition. Why would this be dumb? Well, Hulu is established, it’s built. All the investment that was needed to create Hulu has already been spent. Disney is now spending what has to be a comparable amount of money to build a Disney-branded video streaming service when they already have a pre-built video streaming service. Is it entirely theirs? No, part of it is owned by Comcast and AT&T, and the 30% that was owned by Fox is now Disney’s, which means Disney own 60%, a controlling interest, and thus a majority profit. They could rebrand Hulu if they wanted to (don’t do that), and after Hulu’s deal with Spotify, Hulu is even more attractive as a product then it used to be. Disney is not going to be able to compete with that. I seriously doubt that the new streaming service is even going to compare with the amount of content and the quality of the original content on Hulu. I got Hulu exclusively to see The Handmaid’s Tale, an award winning show. I doubt Disney’s channel with it’s branding tied specifically to the Disney name will have the kind of deep and dark content allowed on Hulu. And it’s just going to cost them so much money.

Money Sink

Disney has a lot of money. Of that, we can be sure. They bought Star Wars and the Lucas companies for billions of dollars. They acquired Marvel through similar means a few years before that. Recently, they purchased 20th Century Fox and all their IPs and subsidiaries. They have money. Frankly, they could stand to take a few hits in that department to make them beef up their quality. While Marvel is still doing well financially on the film front, the quality of writing has gone down dramatically since the Russo Brothers have replaced Joss Whedon. Star Wars fans have finally woken up to the idea that Disney Star Wars is the worst Star Wars–something I’ve been saying since Rogue One and knew after The Force Awakens. But hardcore Disney fans still drink the cool aid when it comes to these live action remakes and sequels. My hope is that this new video streaming service will be an absolute waste of money, much like the A Wrinkle in Time adaptation was. I can see Disney not investing enough to build a truly workable service, with a good customer service system, spending more money on marketing the service, and then over-charging for the whole thing. I can also foresee them pulling the whole “Disney Vault” bullshit and rotating old titles in and out of their own service arbitrarily, thus creating a false supply titles. What I’m saying is, I foresee an utter waste of money for both Disney and fans.

An End to the Defenders

It was a sad, sad time as each new day brought another notice of a Defenders cancellation. Were all the shows good? No, of course not. Luke Cage and Iron Fist were terrible, and the second season of Daredevil, much like the second Iron Man movie, was too focused on introducing new things into the mix as we had more of the Hand, Stick, Elektra, and the Punisher then we knew what to do with. But the quality of these shows overall were better than say Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. They covered deeper, darker subjects than other MCU titles. And now thanks to Disney being a jealous dick, we’re not getting any more of them. When Luke Cage and Iron Fist were cancelled, I was not shocked as I had just finished the second seasons of both and yee, gods, man. What the hell were they thinking? When an audience member literally says out loud “What the fuck?” upon the final scene of your show, that may be a sign that its time to hang it up. But Daredevil season three was great! And I can’t wait for the premier of season three of Jessica Jones or of season two of Punisher. Jessica Jones season two was still very awesome. And the first season of Punisher, while shockingly brutal, was freaking amazing! This is just a tragedy of TV that we won’t have anymore Charlie Cox Daredevil, Krysten Ritter Jessica Jones, or Jon Bernthal Punisher. Or will we? No, probably not. Disney isn’t smart enough to move it something like FX or Hulu, where something that dark would make sense, and with the new way of TV original content being separated by different video streaming services, it wouldn’t really make sense to have some seasons on Netflix, where the distribution rights lie for those seasons, and have new seasons on another service. So I don’t foresee a revival for any of these unless Disney can unjam their head from up that deep, dark cavern they’ve decided it belongs.

Devalued IPs

Speaking of IPs like the Defenders, Disney has been systematically watering down and killing their major IPs. Most of you will think I’m talking about Star Wars, and I totally am. Disney has managed to drive away the reason they purchased Star Wars in the first place. You know, the fans. It wasn’t just virtue signalling narratives, it was also poor narrative construction with uneven pacing, badly developed characters, marketing that over-saturated the market, and getting in bed with the worst game publisher in the world that resulted in a huge PR nightmare and loss of public trust, when they could have just used the publisher that came with the purchase from Lucas (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/star-wars-why-i-dont-like-it/). But Star Wars is not the only IP they have harmed in the last decade. What with their need to milk the shit out of their own titles, resulting in remakes, reboots, and sequels up the wazoo, Disney movies have gone down in quality, resulting in mostly boring live action remakes that aren’t as good as the originals (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/do-you-need-money-or-something-disney-reboot-remakes-and-sequels/). Then there is the sequels with Pixar. Luckily, Pixar still has some ideas, like Moana, but you know its going to get a less than stellar sequel. While I love The Incredibles and I’ve always wanted a sequel, when I watched the trailer, I got a bad feeling. Finding Dory was basically Finding Nemo, but with Dory and Nemo switched places, and a lot of having their cake and eating it to when it came to making fun of people who were different and suggesting that they are complete individuals deserving of our respect. The trailer for The Incredibles 2 just seems like The Incredibles only now instead of Bob running off to do superhero stuff while Helen stays home to take care of the kids and house, she’s running off to do superhero stuff while he stays home to take care of the kids and the house. It’s a problem. And really, they’re going to do a Toy Story 4? Isn’t that a bit much? Finally, the MCU. Their golden goose. Well, it was, before Joss Whedon decided he was done and they went all in on the Russo Brothers, who suck hard core. The main storyline of the MCU has become increasingly plot-hole filled with villains that have plans without any sense or structure to them and characters whose development is abused by main plot points. The stories are contrived for the purpose of creating drama. And I’m sick of it. While most audiences still like the MCU, the quality is fucking awful now. The only thing holding it all together are the great actors. I swear, it feels like the Russo brothers were asked to dismantle the MCU, because it is the only thing that makes sense. So yeah, Disney has flooded the market with horrible movies, and don’t even get me started on their TV channel! That’s been horrific for decades.

No Risks and Stupid Risks

I’ve said before that Disney was in a position to take risks. When I said that, I meant creatively, as in coming up with new IPs instead of remaking all their animated movies. I didn’t mean jump into the video streaming service market five years after it matters and after having acquired one of the big three. That isn’t a risk. That’s a jump off a cliff. It baffles me that they would not take real risks with their creative work, but do something that will in all likelihood fail as business venture. I know that these decisions are not made by the same person, that Disney is large corporation made up of a lot of people and subsidiaries, but it has a corporate culture of no creativity and cutting out the middle man. This new venture isn’t about innovation or customer support. It’s about making the most money they think they can. They see the profits that other video streaming services rake in and think they could have all that money by cutting out Netflix. But that’s potential profits, not real profits. They have no idea how much money they will actually make off their video streaming service. This is a stupid way of looking at things too because Netflix makes the money it does not because it has Disney titles, but because it has Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Sony, etc. titles and original content and no commercials. Disney is only one part of how they make their profits. They have an amazing contract with Warner Bros that allows for CW shows exclusively. And we all know how popular, if not good, those are. So for Disney to be looking possibly at Netflix profits and thinking, those could be our profits, is dumb, because they aren’t the only draw of a varied and long-standing video streaming service.

“Well, I’m Going to Cancel My Netflix Subscription”

Sure, the five million people who do this will leave “quite” a dent in Netflix’s profits. As if Netflix doesn’t have Stranger Things. Suuuuure. Netflix is gonna suffer sooooooo much. Netflix’s biggest competitor isn’t even Amazon Prime. It’s YouTube. Not even YouTube Red, Google’s attempt to get YouTube out of the red and into the black. Just regular old YouTube. But that’s because YouTube has content no one else has. No, not live TV or news clips. No, let’s plays, and gaming news and lists. The most watched videos on YouTube are related to gaming, something no other video service comes close to getting right. Twitch could eat their lunch in the viewership numbers if they weren’t just live streaming, as gaming news and lists and game walkthroughs are another huge draw, which are harder to do live. So when I hear the counter that people are going to leave Netflix for Disney, I scoff, because no other video streaming service competes on the same level. Prime looks like it does because of its numbers, but some Prime members aren’t there for the videos. They’re there for the two day shipping. Will Netflix take a hit over this? Yes, but it won’t be a company breaking hit.

In the End

I rag on Disney a lot, and despite that, they are not my least favorite media giant. That spot is firmly held by Sony. But Disney is a close second because they have so much, do so little creatively, and make dumb decisions. Because Disney owns so many major IPs, this upsets me. They have some of the best material, material that has huge followings built into them. It’s upsetting to see them gobble up more and more with the feeling that they are just going to waste all that potential and talent on half-assed projects, that they are going to end good ventures simply to get all the money in the world. They think their shit don’t stink. But it does. God, but it does. Is something like this going to take them down? Well, if EA is still around despite all they’ve done the last few years, I seriously doubt that this straw is the last straw for Disney. In fact, I see there numbers being high enough in the beginning at least for them to think this is a justified venture. They are also huge. They can absorb this quite easily if it is a loss. Will they learn a lesson if it fails? Most likely they won’t. Their vault BS has been working for them for decades. The problem is their size. They’ll stub their toe and just move on to the next dumb idea. Disney fans will continue to swallow the cool aid, and they will continue to make enough money to think they are untouchable. They’ll look for any answer that doesn’t hold them responsible for any failures, as they have in the past. And they’ll kept on doing what they’ve been doing. But now they own nearly everything of value. If they buy Warner Bros, we’re fucked. Because you know damn well, they’d end the Arrowverse in a heartbeat, despite its success and the world it has built. I’m just tired of Disney getting more and more and doing less and less of value with what they have. Aren’t you?

 

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Copyright Nightmares and Plagiarism Heists: How the Law Is on Your Side and Corporations Don’t Care

I once uploaded one of my own audio recordings for my YouTube channel to iTunes since it was really hard to get the recordings into the apps I used to use for video editing. iTunes DRM locked my own recording, locking me out of using it in apps. What the fuck kind of sense does that make, Apple? Come on, Tim Cook, grow your baby’s-first-computer company up and teach it copyright. Despite international copyright law being pretty cut and dry (to me at least) and it recognizing fair use, most people don’t understand what copyright means, how it works, how it is infringed, and what qualifies for plagiarism. I’m going to try to break down some basics and explain why I think international courts need to start cracking down on the disruption of fair use, and what we as creators and critics can do to make them.

Copyright vs Publication: Stephenie Meyer and the Midnight Sun Leak

A few years back, Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series was working on a novel called Midnight Sun covering the events of Twilight from Edward’s perspective, when it was leaked on the internet. Some people erroneously thought that since her novel hadn’t been published yet that she had no legal recourse for the leak. This is simply not true. I believe these people were confusing publication with copyright. Before I publish this post on my blog, it is subject to copyright. As I come up with the idea and write down notes on the post, it is subject to copyright. Copyright protects the creators of intellectual property from plagiarism at all stages of the creation process. However, it is much easier to prove in a court of law that something is your intellectual property once it has been published. The digital age has made it a little easier than it used to be to prove that something was yours before publication, but seriously, was there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Midnight Sun was written by Stephenie Meyer? She decided against going to court because the person who leaked it had done so accidentally and she posted her own version of the incomplete novel for people to read. She did, however, lose her motivation to finish it, which is the risk of your creative project being distributed in an unfinished form without your consent.

Fan Fiction Gets Published

Technically, fan fiction can be considered plagiarism. And before I start talking about E. L. James, I’ll talk some more about Stephenie Meyer. A few years ago, I decided to try to watch Roswell, not the new CW TV show called Roswell, New Mexico, but the first one with Katherine Heigl. After one horrific episode, I wasn’t just shocked by how terrible it was but also by the fact that all this seemed familiar. Why? Because the plot of the first episode is basically the same as the first half of Twilight the novel. There is a small group overly insular kids, who are only friends with each other, and our main character, a girl who doesn’t consider herself attractive and isn’t popular, is saved by one of the male members of that group in a miraculous and inhuman way. They start to fall in love even though his friends don’t want him to get close to her. It’s the fucking same. I know Roswell wasn’t good (certainly not worth a remake), but I don’t think Melinda Metz and Jason Katims deserved to have their shit ripped off.

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A lot of people think that the Fifty Shades of Grey books are Twilight fan fiction, but I’ve had a joy of seeing Secretary, and I’m pretty sure those books are more of ripoff of that great movie, considering that both the men’s names are Grey and it is focused on a budding BDSM relationship.

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The Hunger Games series has been frequently compared to Battle Royale, of which Suzanne Collins claims never to have heard. Yes, because movies, a manga series, and a novel are all hard to miss, even if they are Japanese. Koushun Takami didn’t bother going to court over it because sales of the various Battle Royale works increased after people starting pointing out that The Hunger Games was basically the same thing. Neither of them are very good novels, but if you are going to read one, read Battle Royale. The translation may not be great, but the subject is far better treated by Takami than it is by Collins.

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I know a lot of stories are derivative, but sometimes creators aren’t very good at hiding their sources. I’m okay with people doing this if they admit it, because I believe art is cumulative, but in our litigation heavy world, the homage and the retelling is getting harder and harder to do with more recent works. Paradise Lost is a retelling of Genesis and can be called fan fiction. Ulysses is a retelling of the Odyssey and could be called fan fiction. It’s called influences, and we shouldn’t have to live in fear of what inspired us as creators.

Social Media and the Age of the Meme

The internet and social media especially has exploded the number of creators in the world. Blogs (like this one), YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook has created an excess of bite size media producers, most of the work being referred to as Memes, which basically now means a graphical joke, either still or moving, but typically short. The number of comic artists being seen, especially parody creators, has skyrocketed. And this is where copyright gets fuzzy. Is is plagiarism to take someone’s photo, art, video, audio, or copyrighted creation, put your own spin on it and publish it online? I argue that yes, it is. In the U.S. at least. The first amendment protects parody, so all those comic artists creating jokes around how stupid Infinity War is are completely legal. The fair use doctrine also protects those who comment and/or criticize an intellectual property that is not their own, which, to me at least, covers a lot of memes. This is debatable and is not accepted by all nations, despite fair use also being part of the International Copyright Laws. Many Japanese companies often ignore fair use entirely and China often ignores copyright wholesale. I believe, though, that there is a good basis to argue that memes are fair use and protected by law. I think this is good thing as well because creation should be more fluid and people should be able to comment and criticize other creative works, even in bite size ways.

Europe, Are You Insane?

As a writer and artist, I believe that creators own their work, and I don’t believe in censorship. As a critic, I understand that any one not technically working for a company, but creating individual commentary has the right to do so while using copyrighted work to make their points. The European Parliament has passed laws on copyright and creation they think will help things. And I have a hard time not laughing and then breaking down in tears over the bullshit they call progress on this front. Automation is main goal of the biggest websites, like YouTube, Facebook, WordPress, etc. It’s hard to hire enough people to cover all the content that ends up on a site of that size, and it’s also very costly. The European Parliament is putting the responsibility of preventing copyright infringement on these platforms. This will mean automation, upload filters as they are known, to check to see if the content violates copyright. Since copyright law is complex, it’s hard to imagine that any automated system will be able to recognize the difference between something that is stolen vs something that qualifies as fair use. The law will also limit sharing of links for some unfathomable reason. Because showing your sources is  . . . bad? Because sharing knowledge with others is . . . wrong? They also think this law is going to help small journalists. Somehow. In Europe at least. Founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, along with several other big names of the internet, signed an open letter against the law, saying that the internet would not be what it is today if a law like this existed 25 years ago (source: https://www.wired.com/story/europes-copyright-law-could-change-the-web/). This suggests that other newly developing websites will never reach the level of something like Wikipedia with this new law in place. I am not okay with the idea that growth will be stifled for new content creators and platforms, thus locking in the big websites without any chance for real competition and innovation.

Journalism, Big and Small, and Fair Use

Rooster Teeth, one of the biggest online creator groups, known for RWBY, Red vs Blue, and the journalistic series, The Know, is breaking up with YouTube. Rooster Teeth existed before YouTube was big, and they’re probably going to survive this breakup just fine. There are many other smaller or individual journalists on YouTube, many of them focused on gaming news, such as YongYea, Laymen Gaming, CleanPriceGaming, Jim Sterling, and movie news or mixed news, like WhatCulture, ScreenJunkies News, and critics, like AngryJoe, Screen Rant, Nostalgia Critic, Red Letter Media, Yahtzee Croshaw, and myself, AlexofAllTrades. All of us, including The Know, were/are utilizing copyrighted material under fair use. We are commenting on it. We may not be NBC, CNN, BBC, Fox, ABC, or CBS, but that doesn’t give us any less rights to the fair use doctrines. We just don’t have the lawyers or clout to back us up. Which is why I question how Europe’s new law is going to help small journalists, when automated copyright checking on YouTube has failed time and time again to recognize fair use and taken down videos and whole channels because of this. So forcing other websites to do what YouTube is failing to do well is a bad move for smaller journalists around the world.

YouTube, You Unethical Jackass

Europe’s new law basically forces the large companies into using upload filters and currently YouTube already has an upload filter. I must say that this is used ineptly at best and unethically at worst. The upload filter does not recognize fair use. It makes sense that it should go after clips of items that don’t have commentary in the form of audio or text over the clip or before or after the clip. However it does go after clips that have commentary. A YouTuber does not have to talk over the clip for it to qualify for fair use. They could talk before or after the clip and the clip is either being used as evidence of a point or being examined closely. That’s the reality of fair use. That’s just good composition. The upload filter does not recognize this however. That’s where it is inept. It is unethical in that it allows large companies first dibs, before a video is live to say that the video is their property. Normal individuals do not have this capability. That’s unethical as it is unfairly applied. YouTube does not review the claim of copyright infringement before taking action against the video uploaded. The company claiming copyright is given carte blanche to remove the video, block the video from view in multiple countries, and/or monetization. Any claim prevents the YouTuber from monetizing the video, and if the YouTuber was not eligible for monetization already, the company can make money off their video when the YouTuber never could have. This is also unethical. If the YouTuber disagrees with the claim, they can dispute it. The dispute is not reviewed by YouTube or a third party legal department, but the company that claims the infringement. They typically reject the dispute, regardless of what the YouTuber puts for their reasons. YouTube has no acknowledgement of mixed copyright items. So if a video qualifies as fair use in reality, but the company fails to acknowledge it, the company and YouTube by the way they have built the system is violating the copyright of the YouTuber. If I do a review of a Sony Pictures movie and include clips and stills to illustrate my points, that is fair use. If Sony Pictures monetizes my video under the YouTube system of handling large corporations copyright, they are in violation of my copyright and engaged in plagiarism. This is the same as if Sony took the profits from an issue of BoxOffice because the magazine did a feature on the movie Venom using images from the movie. It doesn’t make any sense in that instance. It’s obvious copyright infringement to make money off of the labor of the critic who wrote the feature and the magazine itself. Why would doing this suddenly make sense to do it on YouTube? YouTube doesn’t make any money off those YouTubers who can’t or don’t monetize. This gives them an incentive to allow big companies like Sony erroneously to monetize small YouTubers videos. It also allows big companies to lower the impact of negative reviews, such as my review of Arrival, which is blocked by Sony and Paramount in about 275 countries and wasn’t exactly glowing. YouTube allows and frankly encourages these kinds of copyright infringement. If after the company rejects your dispute, you’d like to contest it further, your contestation does not go to YouTube. It still goes to the company claiming infringement. If they reject it again, the video is taken down and the YouTuber is given a copyright strike. Three strikes and this channel is taken down. Only then if you contest the strike, does it go to YouTube. This is lazy on top of being incompetent and unethical. Who are we to believe that the same would not be done when other websites are forced to add upload filters? I think we would be suckers to believe that it would be any better.

Giving It Away for Free, You Awesome Slut: Doing the Work vs Selling the Work and Your Options as a Creator

A lot of creative people give content away for free. Not just little things, but big things too. It doesn’t mean their copyright doesn’t apply; it just means they aren’t making any money directly off the content. My YouTube channel and this blog are entirely free without ads as well. I make no money off of either. Why would an artist do this? Well, for one thing it’s the “get them in the door” method and for another, whether or not I got paid to do those things, I would still do them. Currently I do not have a lot of subscribers or followers and frankly, I’m okay with that. Creative people who think the notice and money are the marks are success are often tremendously unhappy when they have neither of those things. John Kennedy Toole wrote two novels, neither of which were published in his lifetime. He shopped his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, around a lot, but there were no takers. Toole eventually killed himself. I can’t help but think that if he had found more satisfaction in the work he had done, in that he had actually done it, he accomplished what many can’t, he completed a novel and then moved on to new projects while shopping his novel around, that he may not have become so depressed. Does it suck not being noticed? Yes, it does. But the real work, the real accomplishment, is in doing it, is in improving your skills. If a person were to prioritize that, then I believe they could be okay.

And now with the internet, it is much easier to give it away for free. To me, second after actually doing the work, is getting people to look at it, not to make money. Even if it is just a small number paying attention. To the one or two people who will read this, even if you don’t write a comment, I’m still thankful for your time. Some types of work should be free, and I believe YouTube videos and blogs fall under that category. But to swing it back around again to Stephenie Meyer (I swear I’m not a fan; she’s just had a storied career), she gave away her novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. She didn’t have to do that. People would have paid for it. It was only for a short period, but still, to generate interest in something fans would still have gladly paid for, she released it for free. Some people argue against creative people giving away work for free. It is true that the majority of us don’t make a lot of money. I do believe that creative people should be valued and that means being paid. Before anyone drags out my “When Opportunity Knocks, It’s the Opportunity to be Exploited” Higher Ed Chronicle letter (https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/letters/when-opportunity-knocks-now-its-the-opportunity-to-be-exploited/), there is a difference between systematic exploitation and working pro-bono. Creative people should choose what work they want to be paid for. They should not be forced into working for free. That’s called slavery and it’s not only inappropriate, it’s illegal. Artists often provide their work for free to charities or to in need demographics. Look at Pixabay. Robin Higgins provided 108 free images of herself there under a creative commons license (Thank you, Robin). Many of the memes you see, come from websites like this, with images supplied by photographers, artists, and models specifically to support the internet culture. The internet is a culture of sharing, so frankly, these people are the heroes of the internet. If you find a reference to a peer reviewed article you’d like to read, but don’t want to pay the periodical for access, you can contact the writer and they will in all likelihood send it to you for free as they don’t make any more money when you pay the periodical for it. The internet isn’t just a culture of sharing memes. It’s also a culture of sharing knowledge and ideas. This is a good thing. The internet also gives IP creators a chance to control with a fine touch what they can make money off of and what they give away for free. It’s a good idea to take advantage of this. Decide who, how, and on what you make your money. It’s your choice.

The Law Is on Your Side, but the Real Issue Is Money

It’s important as a creative person and as a critic to know international copyright law, in order to protect yourself and to make your own decisions about what to do with your work. And always remember that if someone takes your idea, but not your exact words, without crediting you, they are still committing plagiarism, much like Filip Miucin did to smaller YouTubers. Reviews often cover similar ideas, but when the organization of the review is exactly the same, despite the words not being the same, then we’re dealing with plagiarism. No upload filter is going to catch something like that, and upload filters do not recognize quoting and the development of sources as fair use. So when you start working on the internet, it’s a good idea to look into a lawyer to protect yourself. But most of us can’t afford one. So here are some sources on pro bono lawyers that focus on copyright infringment: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/intellectual_property_law/resources/probonostates/ . Unfortunately, you will have to do a search in your specific locale for a law firm, as lawyers are allowed to practice per state or nation, so you want to make sure that you find a local lawyer. There is also the possibility of filing class action lawsuits against websites with systematic issues of copyright infringement against multiple individuals such as Facebook and YouTube. With there being so many individual creators without a lot of money, this is the best option. The problem is that someone with more notice will have to get the ball rolling, putting out the word that a class action lawsuit is needed. Small artists and critics need to work together to make real change happen, and before you think it is impossible, large groups of people with not a lot individually have made changes before. And before you think litigation is unsavory, realize that the law and litigation are there to help you as well as large businesses. Also, most of the negativity over litigation in the US was promoted by PR firms hired by large corporations, as the McDonald’s coffee case with the older woman was not the first case brought against McDonalds on the temperature of their coffee and that woman had a prolonged hospital stay and nearly died. The real villain of that story was McDonalds. So please, if you have been victimized by a non-criminal offense, please find yourself a lawyer and fight it. Do not think: This is just the way it is. That’s the kind of thought that allows more and more people like yourself to be victimized again and again. Protect yourself and stand up for yourself. We all need to do this as creators and critics, especially in the new world of global, individual creation and publication. Let’s fight for ourselves, together.

 

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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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Premature, Mature, and Postmature Cancellations: TV Show Endings (All in Running Metaphors!)

Some T.V. shows are cancelled before their time, some go on too long, some should never have been made, and some lucky few actually have an ending, and some of those few are even luckier to have a good ending. Everyone has that one show they loved that they wish was still on the air, the one they wish had never been made, and the one they wish hadn’t gone off the rails. I’d like to examine some shows I’ve watched and explain why they should, shouldn’t have, or were cancelled. So Spoilers!

Running Past the Finish Line, Way Past: Supernatural

This is the only show on this list still on the air, and therein lies the problem. Supernatural is a great show. It’s funny, heartbreaking, dynamic, epic, and totally worth watching. However, of late, there have been some great stinkers of episodes. Such as, in season nine when they introduce Oz into the mythos. What was with those ruby slippers? I could find better quality shoes at Payless. Don’t get me wrong. There have been some great moments still. Timothy Olmundson is just amazing in any part he plays. I mean, look how angry he is. Every moment, even when calm, he looks like he will murder everyone around.

But a lot of recent episodes are poorly written and some lack good research, such as Artemis, goddess of hunters and virgins, having had a lover. Do they know nothing of Greek mythology? The only reason the show is still watchable at this point is the actors and the characters they play. Ackles, Padalecki, Collins, and Sheppard still bring their all to the show, making their interplay still really fun to watch. The characters are still dynamic. However, if you watch the entirety of the show over a roughly single sitting (not truly possible, but watch them all in a row stopping for sleep and work), you’ll notice some weird cyclical character developments:

  1. Sam’s done something bad or thinks he’s evil, Dean’s mad at him, Sam tries something drastic to make up for it: Sam drinks demon blood, tries to kill Lilith; Sam frees Lucifer, quits hunting/sacrifices himself to the cage; Sam thinks he’s just b-b-b-bad to the bone, does the trials to close the gates of hell.
  2. Dean tries to sacrifice himself for the greater good/Sam because he doesn’t believe he is worth saving: Dean sells his soul; Dean wants to do the trials; Dean takes the first blade. (1 & 2 are what I like to call: One of the Winchesters is trying to dive off a bridge.)
  3. Sam wants out of the life, tries to help others stay out, Dean tells him it’s impossible: The many freaking times Sam has quit.
  4. Dean tries to help others stay out, Sam tells him it’s impossible: Speaking to Adam about the life. (3 & 4 are The Godfather Part III: “Everytime I try to get out, they pull me back in!”)
  5. Cas does something he thinks is for the greater good, Dean gets mad at him: Betraying the Winchesters for the Angels (which time am I referring to?), Working with Crowley, Staying behind in Purgatory, Working for Hannah (even if brainwashed).
  6. Crowley is their friend: During the Apocalypse, Against Abaddon.
  7. Crowley is their enemy: During the fight for Purgatory, During the trials. (6 & 7 are essentially the daisy game: He likes me, He doesn’t like me, He likes me . . .)
  8. Dean thinks all monsters deserve to die, Sam argues otherwise: the good vampires episode (also the introduction of Gordon), Ruby (though he is right about this one), the episode with Jewel State (the kitsunke).
  9. Sam thinks all monsters deserve to die, Dean argues otherwise: Crowley (Sam never trusts him) and Dean thinks they should work with him, when Sam meets Benny. (8 & 9 are the dumbest flip flops on the show).

Some of these are paired together because they show a switch of positions, but all of them happen at least twice in the show. But why do all these pop up again and again? Well, that easy. They’ve run out of ideas to make the characters grow and create conflict. Why? Also easy. Season Five was the real conclusion of the show. Armageddon was stopped, Sam made up for his most drastic mistake, and Dean lived out a happy life with Lisa and Ben. The end. No more. But the show was too good and too profitable to stop there. I totally don’t blame them for continuing the show, a big part of me is glad they did. I love this show. But I can’t deny as a writer that the complete (cannonical) piece is just five seasons. This is why we get some pretty crappy episodes and cyclical character development. Because the characters and the actors are so good, Supernatural is doomed to repeat the same developments over and over again until one of the major actors quits. No major plot development can compare to ending the Armageddon. It’s basically impossible. Also impossible is continuing dramatic conflict with having your characters actually, permanently learn from their mistakes (sounds like the opposite of a soap opera). Like that’s ever going to happen, Looking at you Cas!

Tripped Mid-stride: Lost

This is the juggernaut of the list. Critically acclaimed. Loved by nearly all. I was patently uninterested when it was airing, because I refuse to watch shows one episode per week, especially when they are as confusing and complex as Lost. Everyone was telling me I should watch it, but I held off until it was over and on Netflix in it’s entirety. Then I tried watching it. I got bored, really bored, mid season six and about a year or two later, tried coming back to it. I started where I left off, had no idea what was going on, so I went back to the beginning of the season. I was still completely lost, so I went back to the beginning of the show. I watched it all in a row. (Unfortunately, someone else was sometimes in the room saying things like “Oh-kay”, “Aaall right”, and “What the fuck?” every time something weird or dramatic happened, which is freaking always!) This is a great show. It has a great story. It has great characters. It should not have been six seasons long. It should not have had so many character groups. Half the watching time is trying to remember who the hell this or that person is. For example, we have the fuselage passengers (or main characters), we have the Others (who by the way are never explained as how and why they are on the island), we have the tail section passengers, we have the Widmore mercenaries, we have the Dharma Initiative members, and we have the Ajira flight passengers. And that doesn’t include people from the past who are meaningful to the main characters, Desmond, Daniel Faraday’s mother, Rousseau (and the original members of her team), Richard Alpert, Jacob, the Man in Black, their mother, their real mother and her people, the past Others. THIS IS TOO MUCH. When Illana was introduced in season six, along with her crew, all I could think is “I. DON’T. CARE.” But this is just a problem of trying to create an opus of a T.V. show. The real problem is the weird floundering that happen halfway through the show when the Writer’s Strike happened.

J.J. Abrams and crew all quit writing for the show and took to the picket lines. While this ultimately was good for T.V. writers and writing, it was not good for Lost. Why? Writing a specific piece is about being in a specific mood for that work. It’s hard to sustain creative motion after stopping. Sometimes one can get back into that mood by re-experiencing the progress so far. However, sometimes the work is too big and too deep to get back into that mood. And T.V. shows have added constraints of compromises with the studios that produce them. Which is why Annie (can you possibly remember this character without me showing you a picture?) is dropped like a bad habit in Lost. It is why the dark versus light foreshadowing of the first season is not brought up again until season six, which most viewers would have forgotten in the first place, but is the main point of the show. Instead of getting bogged down in what stupid thing Locke is doing now or what contrary and stubborn thing Jack is doing now, we should have been reaching more main point stuff much earlier on. Season Six: Oh, you remember those caves from season one? No, here they are. Remember those bodies and the stones in the cave? No, here they are. Now we can show you Jacob’s origin, since you forgot all that stuff long ago (even if you watched it all within one month, let alone the six years it was on the air).

There is some great character development in Lost though. Locke desperately wants his faith affirmed, Jack will say no just because someone asked, Kate will run away, Sawyer will sabotage any interpersonal relationships, and everyone loves Hurley, because duh. But eventually, Locke realizes his affirmation of faith is not as important as people, Jack says yes because he believes, Kate stops running, Sawyer can have a stable relationship, and everyone still loves Hurley, because duh, but also Hurley doesn’t think he’s crazy or cursed anymore. So watch it, but be prepared for some missteps (the whispers are the Others as confirmed by Ben when he takes Alex from Rousseau–No, wait, we meant the whispers are the sounds of the people who died on the island who can’t move on as confirmed by Michael when he speaks to Hurley as a ghost) and some dragging.

Crappy Equipment: Eureka

Eureka is one of my all time favorite shows. It was just so funny. But it only has five seasons. I’d say this is the best amount, because there was a chance for Eureka to have a season six of six episodes but their budget was being pulled by Comcast. The creator and producers decided instead of doing six really crappy episodes, they would use the much smaller budget to create a finale to the show. Bless their hearts, because I’d rather have a conclusion to the show than have six badly made episodes wherein we get no closure afterwards. It sucks that the show had it’s budget dramatically reduced, but to some extent this is because viewership started to drop off.

This happens for three reasons in our current television age: 1) the channel keeps changing the time/day on which the show is aired, 2) the channel does not advertise new season premiers enough, 3) viewership is calculated through ratings which do not take into account online viewing on the channel website or paid streaming services such as Amazon Video, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Hulu Plus, or Netflix. The first two are totally Sy-Fy’s fault, and they did do these. I remember Eureka was changed to Tuesdays from Fridays between two seasons, and I missed the premiers of new seasons of all their shows because I never heard about them until after the fact. Sy-Fy, when I was watching cable or satellite T.V., has a tendency to not advertise new seasons enough or evenly across all shows and over advertises new episodes of currently airing shows, which is usually when I found out a new season had premiered. The third one is because ratings, and studios by extension, have not caught up to the changing technology of viewership. I have left the ratings count completely, and I’m sure there are a lot of other people who have too. Which means studios need to get with the program and stop defunding shows that possibly have higher viewership than they are currently willing to count. How people watch T.V. is changing rapidly, and no matter how many stupid mail flyers Cox, Dish, or Direct T.V. send me, I am not going to pay $150-$300 to have annoying ads most of the time, censored/truncated content, inconvenient air times, and channels I will never use (Looking at you, CSPAN and ESPN!).

But back to Eureka: a show losing it’s budget is a good reason to just close up shop. Some may disagree with me and want as many episodes as possible, even if they suck. But I’m no fanboy. I want the story and the production to be of quality, so I’d rather have shows do what Eureka did than have them flounder out weak, shoddy episodes. This is a case of quality over quantity. I miss Eureka, but I consider it, for what it is, to be nearly perfectly done (one major misstep, read further below). It had a formula that it stuck to, but the characters grew and their lives changed. I’m glad it exists and will always treasure it.

Fell Face First Right Out the Gate: Charmed

I watched a couple of seasons of Charmed, and to be honest, I’m not sure why it lasted as long as it did. Frankly, I’m surprised it made it past the pilot stage. There are a couple of shows that are awful from the very start: the production is low quality, the writing is passe, unrealistic, or lazy, the acting is phoned in. This is one of those shows. Some people love that show. I’m not sure why. The one good actor on it, Julian McMahon, didn’t have much to work with. Shannen Doherty was unwatchable. And the rest of the actors were pretty green. Other shows like this include Roswell (Twilight anyone? You know before Twilight was written) and Bones. I like Bones, but I like David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel, so maybe that’s the only way shows like this work.

One of the worst things Charmed ever did was shoehorning in the night club wherein a different flavor of the month band would play every other episode. They did this on T.V. shows a lot in the nineties, and every once in a while a show will try it again, Bones again. Thank you for wasting two to five minutes of each episode to a band no one cares about anymore or maybe even by the time the episode aired, instead of, you know, spending the time resolving the plot in a meaningful and acceptable way, instead of going “We need to tie a bow on this, got to get to the band scene!” This is a bad idea. Don’t do it. Most shows are cutting out theme songs and actor shots (ala Lost style) to save that time too. Don’t waste even more time than that on a stupid band I couldn’t name two seconds after you announced it.

On shoddy production, Charmed takes the cake, and sets it on fire. Almost all of the show is shot in about two locations, which could be fine, but the real problem comes with the special effects quality and the monster creation. It’s certain they didn’t spend any of their budget on writing, but with how the show looks, one wonders where the money went. I could say something catty about the actors, but I’m going to refrain because the joke lacks any truth, I imagine. Shows of the nineties, and Supernatural, have an annoying habit of having monsters and aliens just be people, more times than necessary professional wrestlers specifically, wearing weird makeup, latex, and/or contacts. Never is it something completely inhuman. They’re all upright bipeds with two arms and basic facial features. Sometimes, the show just says they’re something inhuman, which is only displayed by powers (ala the dragons and phoenix from Supernatural–why not show us what the freaking dragons looked like picking up a chick? Because now I just picture that guy doing it in cargo pants and a zippered jacket. Not very exiting.). This is the sign of a low budget, or a budget that isn’t valuing creating the world. I gave Farscape a pass on this because Jim Hensen’s Workshop did Rigel and Pilot, and those were awesome concepts, but Star Trek (all of them, even the recent movies), Charmed, and Supernatural display a complete lack of imagination when it comes to showing us crazy, different forms of life. I’m not saying every monster needed to be something totally different, but at least the ones that are traditionally so and a few every once in a while. If Buffy can do it (ala the mantis from season one), so could they. Charmed was the most pathetic when it came to showing us interesting monsters. Oooh, Cole really looks like a WWE member with red and black makeup on. How intriguing.

Charmed really never should have been made. It didn’t really have anything going for it, and I watched a couple of seasons, so you can’t say that it was the season one growing period. There just wasn’t anything there of substance or quality. Maybe it was made and sustained entirely on girl power, which just makes it all the more insulting to the discerning viewer. I’m all for strong women kicking butt, but this show was more about showcasing “sexy” women’s butts (Milano & McGowan are sexy) and telling us they were strong. It was a relief beyond measure when Doherty was no longer on the show, like when someone gives you morphine after you’ve been stabbed, but it’s not like the show got all that better afterwards, what with that stupid elusive enemy of The Source. The Source of What?!

Lost a Shoe in the Middle of the Race: House, M.D. and Two and a Half Men

The cast of a show is as important as its writing. Writing is limited by what actor is available after a certain point in a show’s lifetime. Bewitched lost the original Darren, Dick York, but replaced him with Dick Sargent, when they really should have just cancelled the show. Eureka lost Ed Quinn. Lost lost Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (wow). Charmed let Shannen Doherty go. Misfits lost Lauren Socha. Two and Half Men dropped Charlie Sheen, and House, M.D. lost Kal Penn to politics and Lisa Edlestein possibly over her not wanting to take a pay cut. Actors leave T.V. shows for many reasons: they get sick, they want to do other projects, they get sick of the show, they get arrested, the show gets sick of them, or they argue over money (match ’em up). But this affects what the show can do. They can replace the actor as in Bewitched, which sucked after the change. They can write a goodbye episode, wherein the actor is still used, as in Eureka, Lost, or Charmed. They can write the character out of the story after the actor is gone, as in both cases of House, M.D. Or if the actor they lost was a main character, they can try to desperately hold on to the structure of the show around a new character, as in Two and a Half Men.

Some think that Kutner got a goodbye episode in House, M.D., but a goodbye episode requires the actor be there, which is why when Kutner dies, it is completely out of left field and the writers are trying to salvage the situation. I’m not sure why Penn didn’t stick around for at least a goodbye episode considering how he appeared on the show at least two more times after his character’s death. It was, however, quite clear that Edlestein was done with the show completely once she left it, but it seems her leaving had more of an impact. Possibly because the main dynamic of that show is House, Wilson, Cuddy, and Team (which can change without too much impact because of the other three). Some believe the show unfinished because Cuddy wasn’t at House’s funeral and feel that the House/Cuddy question was never resolved. While stuck with the fact that they could not include Cuddy because the actress would not take part or because they did not wish to work with her, the question can be pretty well resolved within the story of the show. She wasn’t at his funeral. She left the hospital. She obviously didn’t want anything more to do with him. There’s your answer. Maybe it wasn’t the one you wanted, but it is still an answer. If you want your answer, try to imagine House five months after the end of the show. Maybe he killed himself. Or maybe he went and found Cuddy and apologized for all he did, and she took him back. We don’t know. But the show lost something when it lost Edlestein. The interplay between House and Cuddy was very interesting, but the show took a major misstep when it broke them up over his relapse, especially considering that he was contemplating relapsing when they got together and she told him it was his choice. It’s like they weren’t watching their own show. I do not blame the writers for concluding the show at that point. It was a pretty good conclusion, but I wish they hadn’t introduced two new characters in the last season, because like Lost it was too late in the show to make anyone care.

We all remember that Charlie Sheen kind of went off the deep end a few years back. As a result, his presence on Two and Half Men was no longer a good idea. Nor was the continuation of the show. By that point, the show had gotten boringly cyclical: Charlie sleeps around, he meets a serious woman whom he considers a serious relationship with, he’s in a serious relationship with her, he messes up the relationship and it ends, he sleeps around, he meets a serious woman whom . . . and so on and on until Sheen was no longer on the show. I’m not sure why people kept watching it after three seasons, but I’m especially not sure why the writers and studio decided to continue the show after he was gone or why anyone kept watching it. Maybe to see how bad it got. I’d understand that. If in season five of House, M.D., Hugh Laurie quit the show, I wouldn’t have expected them to continue the show. Nor would I in shows that don’t involve a title character but a main one, such as Quantum Leap, Supernatural, or Eureka. I can’t imagine what would happen if these shows lost Scott Bacula, either of the JSquared, or Colin Ferguson, and decided to keep going. That just seems crazy. Some shows are built around a single actor, and sorry to the other One and Half Men, but Sheen was the main character. It seems like the show, that already wasn’t that good, was a wash at this point and should have been cancelled instead of calling in Ashton Kutcher to try to take his place in some strange way. Sorry to those fans out there, it hurts but the truth often does.

Tripped End Over End and Ate Dirt: Heroes

I watched Heroes religiously when it premiered. I loved it. I loved Mondays because of it. Every episode was a treat. The conclusion of season one was a bit of a letdown, just wasn’t as climatic as it should have been. Season two premiered, and I eagerly watched. That wasn’t all that awesome. Season three I watched on Netflix, and that was awful, and then I stopped watching halfway through that season. What happened? How could it all go so horribly wrong? I’m not entirely sure. I can’t remember another show that fell apart quite so badly, to the point where the show became a punchline on The Big Bang Theory (“They lowered the quality season by season until we were glad it was cancelled.”) I haven’t done a lot of research into this phenomenon, but when something like this happens it can usually be because of one of three reasons: 1) The main creative force left the show, 2) The main creative force has run out of ideas, or 3) The studio has a different idea for the show than the main creative force. Either way the quality of the episode stories decline rapidly as a result of a loss of focus. I’m still really surprised by how bad this show got, especially when it started out so good. For example, Peter left his Irish girlfriend in a horrific future and never mentioned her again! That’s insane. The writers forgot about her? Didn’t care about her? The studio wanted to drop that storyline? What? Tell me. If you have some backstory on this, I’d like to know it. Another example of bad writing is when Sylar kind of becomes a good guy, at least he’s not killing the other heroes. He’s traveling around with Elle and is kind of at peace. That is until suddenly and out of no where he decides that he’s still a bad person and kills her. There isn’t really any impetus for this decision. He just does it. We saw him develop into a less evil person and then suddenly for no reason he decides to go back to his old ways. I think maybe people were unhappy with the turn that Sylar’s character took, or maybe the studio blamed the decline in viewership on the turn, so they told the writers to make him evil again, and because this change didn’t happen organically like the first development, it was done poorly. The show only gets worse from there. Don’t know how I feel about the upcoming Reborn series.

Took It Way Too Seriously: Warehouse 13

This show was always pretty campy. It was very silly, which is why to some extent it made sense as being part of the same world as Eureka but not so much Alphas. The villains were always rather cartoony and the artifacts were often silly. That’s not to say that the characters didn’t have problems or that the plots didn’t go to darker places. In one season conclusion/season premier, all hope in the world is destroyed, one of the agents is stuck in a cell just big enough for her body, and another agent is shot. But that all seemed to be a progression of the plots already related to the warehouse. What wasn’t a progression was Myka getting ovarian cancer. It had nothing to do with stopping villains or the warehouse. She just got cancer. As people do. But the show was silly to begin with, so bringing in this very heavy real world issue seems to be a big ole damper on the viewer’s fun. We understand that people get cancer, but they shouldn’t on a show where a man switched brains with a dog. That’s just incongruous. The show was cancelled before the thrilling conclusion to if Myka was okay or not, then returned for a final season to conclude it. I haven’t watched this last season yet because it’s not on Netflix, but I can’t image that the tone is repaired after such an out of character conflict. It’s very important that a show stick to the tone it started with; otherwise, viewership is lost. I don’t expect a laugh riot with Lost, but I did with Warehouse 13 (especially with the hilarious Christmas episodes).

Decided to Run Back and a Lap and Try It Again: Fringe and Eureka

These two shows are both hour long sci-fi stories, but that is where the similarities end. Fringe was a serious police drama as well, while Eureka was a small town comedy (the theme song said it all; Andy Griffith meets The X-Files). However, because they are both sci-fi, they both made a drastic mistake, one I hope all sci-fi shows learn from: Timeline Shifts. Now, this is okay in one episode wherein everything is back to normal at the end of the episode, such as the conclusion of season one of Eureka. But it becomes a major problem when those changes are permanent. Eureka and Fringe both did this at the beginning of season four. In Eureka, several things changed. Allison wasn’t head of GD, Fargo was head of GD, Lupo was head of security for GD (who did this before?), Zane was still an ass, Henry was married, and Kevin was no longer autistic. Those are the changes that were made obvious to audiences immediately. Questions, though, were left up in the air, because everything we knew happened didn’t. Was the artifact ever at GD? Did it go in Kevin? Did Nathan still die? Did Kim still die? Etc, etc. We have no idea what all happened in the past. If it happened as we saw it on the show or if it happened in an entirely different manner. Obviously, it was different. And we didn’t see it happen. That’s frustrating.

Fringe did the exact same thing, and we had to question even more when the change was that Peter died as little boy. How did Olivia get to see Walter when they said only family could see him? Peter is how she got to him in the first place. Half the problems on Fringe in the first three seasons are solved because of Peter, so now the audience has to question the outcome of all the past cases. Olivia went to the other universe to get Peter back and that’s when Fauxliva becomes a part of the story, so why in the new timeline did she still replace Olivia when Olivia had no reason to go to the other universe in the first freaking place because Peter didn’t exist? Then Olivia remembers everything as we do, and that just makes everything more confusing. I have no clue what happened in the timeline of the first three seasons of the show as the characters know it, so I can’t help but feel like the show is worthless at that point. My impetus to watch dropped dramatically in season four and disappeared almost entirely by the time I reached season five. You can see why voiding everything the viewer knows up to this point is a bad idea. It leaves too many questions that are almost never resolved and makes the viewer feel as if their time has been wasted.

Trying to Teleport down the Track: Fringe

I wrote above that season five of this show left me basically devoid of any reason to watch it and that is the other time pitfall shows tend to fall into: jumping into the future. I don’t mind a quick jaunt into the future (the episode before the conclusion of season three is a good example) or months or maybe a year tops into the future, but anything more than that makes me question the writing of a show. Fringe first jumped into the future in season four episode nineteen, and it ruined all tension of the season four plotline. Gee, do they stop Bell? Well, I don’t know. The earth was still there in episode nineteen, so I guess so. Thanks. They tried to not give away what happens to Olivia at the season four conclusion, so that still had some surprise to it, but the major dramatic question (Will Bell succeed/Will they win?) was resolved before the climax by that stupid episode. Then we have the huge jump in time between season four and five. Why do those decades destroy the show? Mostly, it makes viewers feel like they are missing out on stories, it creates a need for flashbacks (which lets face it, if the show wasn’t already utilizing those, it’s a bit late to be adding them in) which are typically not as active and therefore interesting as current scenes, and puts your characters on development ice. Now for some of the years, they were frozen in amber, but for some they weren’t, wherein we would imagine the characters went through some growth as per usual. The most important development we missed out on is probably the Observers decision to invade. I mean, that’s huge. Now, they tell us why they invade, but since these characters were already pretty central to the show, we needed to see their point of decision. The loss of this moment due to the time jump makes their actions seem completely out of character after the invasion and the invasion itself is questionable at this point. Time jumps leave far too many questions and a feeling of having missed major events in our characters’ lives.

Mimicking Another Runner: The Event, Flashforward, Insert-Lost-Copy-Name-Here

Lost really isn’t the first show like itself (that sounds really strange). Instead, I can name The 4400 as the first otherworldly mystery dramatic epic (that’s a lot of adjectives, but that is pretty much the best description of Lost, its fore-bearers, and successors). However, Lost made this type of show a seemingly money-making setup. A large group of people, something weird happens (sci-fi or magical), and they have to deal with it and their own personal problems. This also almost entirely describes the Global Event Magical Realist form. Shows starting popping up all over cable and broadcast trying to follow this format. For most of them, it didn’t pan out. The two big failures are The Event and Flashforward. Both these shows only lasted one season, and left us all with a bunch of questions. The Event was especially bad. In the first episode we see the main character in a past event with his girlfriend on a cruise ship and now trying to stop an airplane. Never in the entirety of the show do we see how he got from the cruise ship to trying to stop the plane. How did he know he needed to stop the plane? How did he physically get from the cruise to chasing down the tarmac? No clue. No answer. Most likely they didn’t have a plan for that. The show ends after one season on a cliffhanger. Flashforward, which also ends on a cliffhanger after one season, was based on a work of fiction that was not an epic dramatic mystery so much as it was more typical sci-fi that asks questions about how science affects our understanding of life. This show is better done than The Event, but still tries too hard to be Lost. They did hire Charlie and Penny (no, I’m not going to look up their real names). The show also, like Lost and The Event, was too bloated with too much going on. Most of these Lost copies don’t do all that well because they tend to lack vision as Lost had. Most come out of a desire to make that Lost money, as opposed to someone having a good idea.

Running in the Wrong Direction: V

I’m a big V fan. I can watch the original miniseries again and again. It has direction and good imagery (some of which is stolen for Independence Day). It’s heartbreaking at times in very real ways and its play on Nazism is very well done. The Final Battle is okay by comparison, and I never watched the series. I did watch the new series when it came out a few years ago. First of all, I hated the fact that they kept saying V stood for Visitor. I hated Tyler. Most annoying teenager ever. They were far too in love with the green screen. But that’s beside the point. The real problem with this show is how the rebels, for whom the audience was rooting, never won a single fight. Not only that, but somehow, everything they did kept making things easier for Anna. They blow up a shuttle, she makes it look like it was full of humans. They try to destroy her power plant, instead they knock out all the human power. They try to kill her, instead she looks like a brave hero and kills her mother. It’s the most frustrating plot progression ever. The only ground they ever gained is when Erica killed all the soldiers. After that, it’s all a pretty smooth ride for Anna. Hell, she even gets the hybrid. Second season was especially bad for this, and they tried to make it more palatable by having Diana and Marc Singer. That was nice, I guess, but it’s no coincidence that Anna basically won all of Earth and then the show was cancelled. It’s not an underdog story if the underdog doesn’t win.

Tripping Up on the Second Lap: Battlestar Galactica

I’ve never seen the original TV show, but I watched the new mini-series and series. I, for the most part, enjoyed the show. Gaius Baltar and Caprica Six were very interesting. It was fun trying to figure out if he was crazy or if she was really there. Though the show took things too far at times with the mysticism, such as Starbuck’s storyline. Bringing in Admiral Cain was a major misstep, because her character and her methods were so hateable, it made it hard to watch the show. Rape as a form of interrogation is not just the most ridiculous and detestable of ideas but also a form of sensationalist writing that the show should have avoided. The series finale tried to compete with The Return of the King for most endings, to the point where I stopped caring and just wanted it to end so I could move on with my life already. Then there was Dean Stockwell’s death at the climax that seemed so slapdash and quick that for a moment there I thought I was watching a parody. The show started to show its true issues in the first episode of season two. No progress in plot was made in this episode. It was all a stall to not answer questions or resolve issues. They couldn’t remove the bullet from Adama’s stomach but were able to open his chest and perform open heart palpitations? That’s insane. Open chest surgery involving a person’s heart is so much harder than removing a bullet from the abdomen. I remember being confused as well by the sudden appearance of Ty Olsson as Capt. Kelly, but at the time, I hadn’t been able to see the miniseries yet. I wonder what Olsson had been doing instead for all of season one. The reason why this first episode was all a stall is that a show usually has way more time to develop season one than they do season two. As a result, season two can sometimes suffer from rushed pre-production. If you pay close attention, you can see that this also happened in the first episode of season one because the real first season is the mini-series which had more pre-production time than the first season of the show. Second seasons have a tendency to be kind of weak story-wise, but some are more weak than others, namely Battlestar Galactica and Heroes, both of which premiered their season two with lackluster stories. For some strange reason that is completely beyond me, a lot of people liked the season two premier of Battlestar Galactica. Nothing happened in that episode. Nothing. What’s there to like?

Going Too Slowly: Caprica

This attempt at a spinoff wanted to show BSG fans how the cylons were made (but, doh! the show it spins off from gives conflicting origins, Oops!). It could have been really interesting. But it totally wasn’t. This is the main reason it never took off on its own. That show is boring. It’s hard to believe that terrorists, parents dealing with the loss of their children, the invention of AI, and really cool technology couldn’t hold any interest, but when the show goes at the pace of snail making its way through mud and dicks around with far too many subplots, viewers tend to lose interest. I don’t believe this show was just cancelled because it was boring, but also because it was contrary to the plots of Battlestar Galactica. There isn’t much to say about shows like this because nothing much happens in them. Well, it was okay, but I’d rather watch something else even if I’ve seen it before is the most one can say when it comes to boring shows. Could’ve been good, wasn’t.

Running in First, But the Coach Decided to Run on the Field and Tackle Their Own Runner: Alphas and Firefly

Now this may be the saddest thing you’ll ever see on television: a great show, with great writing and production, that’s killed too early. Alphas, Firefly, A Gifted Man. These are just a few of the heroes we’ve lost to consumerism. There is nothing wrong with any of these shows. Alphas lasted two seasons and ended on a cliffhanger. A Gifted Man lasted one season and ended up in the air. Firefly didn’t even get a full season, but we were lucky enough to get a movie. Alphas was great. It was better than Heroes. It had a tight cast of characters and a single direction (unlike Heroes which was far too much like an actual comic book). A Gifted Man was pseudo magic realism and followed one man’s journey into becoming a better person and saving lives in the process. Firefly, like Alphas, had a tight cast of characters but was much more about adventurism. It was better than Farscape. Why were these shows cancelled? It wasn’t the writers, the directors, or the actors. It was the channel and the studio. Sy-Fy strikes again with Alphas by not advertising enough. At this point, I don’t trust Sy-Fy to actually conclude a show ever again. I never heard of A Gifted Man until it was on Netflix and my spouse suggested it. Again, feels like a lack of advertising and not keeping up with changing viewership. Then there was the clusterfuck that was Firefly’s handling by Fox. They put it in the nicknamed “Friday Night Deathslot”. You can pretty much trust sci-fi nerds like myself to stay in on a Friday night to watch a show, but we all already were staying in on Friday nights to watch Sy-Fy’s Farscape, an already established show. I didn’t even hear about Firefly until years after even the movie came out, and I love sci-fi. Then Whedon tried to work with Fox again what with Dollhouse, and we all saw how well that worked out. I hope some execs got fired over there once The Avengers was the top grossing film of the year. Serves them right.

Cancelled

Being cancelled is not always the worst thing to happen to a show. Sometimes they drag on forever getting worse and worse as time goes on. Sometimes they suck from the beginning. Sometimes they go off the rails, and they can do that in several different ways. It is, however, very hard to handle when a good show is cancelled for no good reason. For the most part, it comes down to mishandling scheduling, advertising, misunderstanding viewership, and feeling like the project is “not successful enough”. Not that it isn’t successful, but that the project isn’t making as much money as they would like. They could, in fact, be making money over their costs, but the studio isn’t satisfied with the profit margin. That seems like a crazy attitude. It means that the studio is willing to cancel a sure thing for a possible loss or possible better thing. It just seems stupid. I get wanting to make money, but if you are already making money, why scrap the project? Just invest in getting more viewership, or wait for word of mouth to do it for you. All I’m saying is stop making bad decisions about TV shows, stop fighting with the creators so much. Demographics, statistics, and ratings are at this time very unreliable information. Move with the times, of fall in the dust.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Craft of Writing

 

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