Sunday, 11 February 2018

The Cartoonish Vilification Of The Insanely Rich Innovator/Entrepeneur

I've been thinking about Elon Musk a lot lately. How he managed to strap his car into a space shuttle and launch it into space to the tune of David Bowie, creating an image with such poetic beauty that it could very well be the cover art of a soft-science fiction novel. I think about the Falcon Heavy launch of his both in the grander context of what it means for space exploration, and in the more selfish context of one's innate need to leave their mark on the world in some unique manner. After all, it's impressive that the rockets were able to break off and land in the exact locations with no problem. Moreover, the adolescent in me is just fucking hyped that there's a cool looking sports car out there floating around the Earth with a dummy astronaut on it. But really, the impact of the Falcon Heavy launch is not why Musk is on my mind. It's more his image.

While some see Elon as the next Tony Stark, others just see him as a young Lex Luthor. Many cite his views on urban planning as elitist, his interests lying more in bombastic spectacles out in space rather than helping out down on Earth. Not to mention he's not big on unions. Just around the time of the Falcon Heavy launch, Elon got into disputes with the unions, and has offered to his employees that if they go against them, they can enjoy all the frozen yogurt and rollercoasters they desire. Under this context, the launch doesn't appear as a symbol of humanity being on the edge of spatial exploration more than an over-hyped ego-stroking of a megalomaniac.

Such a view is perhaps a little too cynical (as well as ignorant of Elon's altruism and efforts to invest in greener energy), but Elon's not the only one to get negatively caricatured. Many other millionaires and billionaires get equated with the likes of Montgomery Burns, Gordon Gekko and Scrooge McDuck. It's only fitting that as you amass more wealth while others are left starving or struggling, that those on the latter will see your stockpiling as pretty dickish. But it's not just the grossness of one's net-worth that gets people riled up. It's also in adopting the role of the entrepreneur or the innovator. Those in this role often get more of the anger and vitriol than those in the entertainment industry. Sure, one might have some problem with the out-of-touch nature of the Hollywood types, but it's never to the extent that someone like Musk would get.

Of course that makes sense since the innovator/entrepreneur does more to affect people's lives and the way society (or politics in particular) acts. As such, it becomes important to look closely at the attitudes and the choices that these figures make, and be critical of what they choose to do with the money that they have. But these perspectives, couched with the general hostility that comes with the super-rich, often become harsh character studies of these people: Steve Jobs gets viewed as a fake-deep cut-throat, Oprah Winfrey as the jolly exploiter of human misery, Mark Zuckerberg as an alien weirdo; the current US president, Donald Trump, has been portrayed as an ignorant, idiotic, highly egocentric buffoon so much, it's not even funny anymore. All of them are created from actual problems that these people and their practices have created, but at times the over-reliance on these portrayals can prove to be overbearing.

Much of the problem stems with how these caricatures serve not so much to highlight the sins of the subject but rather to virtue signal about one's righteousness. When I was a teenager, I developed a massive hatred for Steve Jobs for how damaging his cult of personality was on others. To me, it bred this smug self-satisfaction among others who thought themselves as these unique individuals on the cutting edge of technology. However, I found that the more I bitched about how one shouldn't worship the turtleneck techno-hippie, the more I found that people weren't much too interested in talking with me. That's because I was more focused in turning this image I had of the devil that was Steve Jobs onto people to either chide them or make myself feel better for not buying into the hype. 

This problem was a lot worse when Trump was running as president. So much of the media was focused on building up this horribly exaggerated image of him to then parade around as a deterrent to supporting him,. This didn't really manage to convince those that were with him to deter, if anything, it only managed to magnified the posturing and hypocrisy of those who were using the caricature. The same could have been said for myself with Steve Jobs as I owned an iPod and would admire Bill Gates (who while more altruistic certainly was just as cut-throat, if not moreso). As tired as this conversation is to hear, it nonetheless emphasizes the problem with overuse of caricaturization. Rather than explaining the actual problems that exist with these individuals in a frank manner, one instead partakes in waving an image of the insanely rich innovator/entrepeneur with devil horns in the faces of others, expecting that they'll be converted rather than become apathetic or more ardent in their support.

It also isn't quite as fair to be so heavy-handed in the hatred of these individuals. It's not to say that I would outright condemn someone for being justifiably perpetually upset with how these people emphasize the massive economic inequality in the world (lest it reaches an obnoxious virtual signalling as stated above). But it is important to take in account the grey shades of the world every once in a while. There are very few people out there who are so truly bereft of any good, and for as much as innovators and entrepreneurs destroy, they also create. One needs only to look at the ever-explosive debate about Walt Disney to how each side of him left their mark on the world. Much as I greatly disagree with Elon's views, it's still remarkable to see what noble projects he's attached himself to as well as how he's managed to so thoroughly capture the public's imagination with the Falcon Heavy's launch. 

There would be no sense in me condemning the cartoonish vilification of the insanely rich innovator/entrepeneur. I think Jeff Bezos is the ultimate embodiment of everything wrong with capitalism. I take an insane amount of joy seeing Mark Zuckerberg fail in his efforts to be relatable to us humons. And some of my favorite MadTV sketches are the ones that portray Oprah as a nearly demonic being. It is both important to destroy the idyllic images that they wish to have portrayed upon them so as to not follow them blindly and cathartic to punch upwards at those who are probably too busy to care about what burns we lob at them. However if anything meaningful is going to come from pointing at their flaws, it's not going to be achieved merely with the plastering of their evil caricature all over the place. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Moments Without Zen: How The Daily Show Is Fairing Under Trevor Noah

Ever since Jon Stewart turned a soft parody of celebrity gossip shows to a full-on satire of the modern news cycle and all of its sensationalism, partisanry and over-budgeted graphics departments, The Daily Show has been one of the cornerstones of political comedy in America. Whether people were on the left or on the right, there was always an interest in seeing how Jon and his correspondents would tackle the week's events. He was always able to find the absurd and the bullshit in a world that often posited itself as reasonable and honest. Many would come to be inspired by his work on The Daily Show that they would go on to create their own version, and his absence, former correspondents of the show have now populated the comedy scene seeing if they too could tug at the whiskers of the politicos and the pundits. But in his absence, there was only one who took his throne. He was Trevor Noah.

For as much progress as Trevor Noah has made on the show during his year or so on it, the decision to place him on to replace Jon Stewart remains to be one of the more bizarre choices on TV. Sure, he has a significant amount of clout in South Africa and managed to make some impact on the American scene, but it didn't seem like he would fit to take the mantle of a show with a massive audience. One which had so familiarized itself with the host that to even imagine a replacement felt like a betrayal. But as we all know, Jon was a stranger after taking over for Craig Kilborn. It seems unfair to constantly try to compare Noah against Stewart so I'll try to keep the comparisons limited. After all, Noah deserves a chance. Has he made anything of it though?

The long and the short of it is, no. Or at least he hasn't done enough.

Now don't take this to mean that I outright hate him. I don't really hold any strong negative feelings towards Noah. I was probably more positive about Noah taking the helm as other people might have been. After viewing some of his specials, I figured he did have sufficient enough potential to work on The Daily Show. Much of his act dealt with political matters and he was genuinely funny. Furthermore, considering that he was coming right along to the dawn of the Donald, he was pretty much given a golden opportunity to show his stuff. But at best all of it has left me with a dejected "Eh". 

Part of the problem is the material, which is just too by-the-numbers. Jokes at the expense of Republicans? Check. Attempts to connect with the youth via topical references? Check. Semi-serious calls for political reform with a liberal slant? Double check. It's especially with the last two that Noah trips up, as he'll make some sort of effort to seem woke by comparing trans issues with the iPhone having no headphone jack or by using the term "woke" unironically. It cheapens the effort at making a biting social commentary in favor of that sort of corporate hipness that has turned every fast food Twitter account into a snarky troll.

The humor isn't so much poignant as it is passable. Which is fine if you're trying to do a decent set, but for a show like The Daily Show, there has to be a little more. There needs to be a certain level of investment, a certain level of passion that comes from the humor. Jon can bring about the same amount of energy and interest into a subject he cares about deeply like the Zadroga Act or something far more trivial like the American diet. In political satire and political comedy, there is more to the joke than a surface-level observation, there is an underlying point. There isn't a sense of Noah's unique perspective, and since he's more interested in tackling the surface, the point that he carries through becomes limp and lifeless.

You can't blame Noah for being too shallow in his comedy - after all he is a foreigner. He can spout lengthy analyses of the Constitution all he likes, but he is aware that above his head still reads the words "that South African comedian". Which leaves him in a bit of an awkward spot. Should he just bring attention to it in very pointed ways or should he make the effort to assimilate and hope people can play along? He's done both, but neither really yield enough of a result. His efforts to play to the crowd can come across as too obvious, and the jokes done about his South African roots are too simple. Personally, I enjoy it more when he's able to compare and contrast between African politics and American politics. You get more of a sense of his strengths and how he's viewing what's going on based on what he knows. I do that all the time with Venezuela. Going more international and broadening the perspective could play quite well if done right. 

Course, why go for that option when you could just stick to the gold mine that is Trump?

Here's where we fall into the main problem with Noah, and really, just the main problem with the comedy scene as a whole. Trump is just too easy. Noah's jokes about Trump and his administration is where he falls flat the most, because you can see the punchline coming from a mile away. And it's not so much that the humor's so politically biased (though it's not like it's really helping the hyper-polarization in the US) more that it doesn't really tell me anything I don't already know. I can see that Trump acts like a complete idiot, a braggadocious buffoon. Unless you really push the limits on the kind of joke you can make at Trump's expense or have something far more to say about his actions that no one else is saying, there's not much else to it. There's a reason people people describe the humor as "Drumpf" - because it comes across as performative, stupid and circle-jerking. Every late-night comedian faces the same problem, but where it becomes a problem with Trevor is that the emphasis on banking on this humor overshadows serious issues within society and the genuine hysteria within the media.

The Daily Show existed to be an exaggeration of the world we're exposed through by the media. Under Trevor Noah, it has become an exaggeration of the criticisms the show faced: that it pandered too much to younger audiences, that it wanted to feel bigger than it was, that it leaned too heavily for liberals (I can't pretend that Jon wasn't left-leaning, but he was a lot more even-handed than Noah has been, and a little more subtle too). It is lacking a sense of purpose, a reason to be. Other shows like Last Week Tonight and Full Frontal have done a better job of providing what The Daily Show once did with different perspectives too. Without Noah distinguishing himself with his voice, there isn't anything else to gain aside from a abridged version of the world news with a couple of silly quips. 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Local Convenience Store Still Has Outdated Limited Time Drink In Fridge

Montreal, QC - While doing some shopping at a local convenience store, Marsha Hayes was reported seeing a common but bizarre sight of a brightly colored beverage in the fridge which was part of a promotion that had occurred over half a year ago. "I could have sworn it was there a lot longer" remarked Hayes. "I managed to get one of them out of sheer curiosity. It was good for the first little while but after that it was just the weirdest thing. I don't know if it's because it was old or because the flavor just was too out there for my taste buds." The owner of the store, Lola Sakayashi, doesn't feel it necessary to throw away the drinks. "Most of the people going to my store generally are tired and just need to get something from here. I figure the least I can do to make their experience more interesting is by having a more eccentric selection. Plus, the drinks are in the fridge so they're not spoiled yet." At press time, Hayes decided to randomly purchase a foreign product, unaware of whether or not it was edible.

Monday, 2 October 2017

The Asshole Protagonist

Rick and Morty recently concluded its third season at a time where the show has managed to garner a great amount of attention on it. Though it mostly had to do with the pursuit of an old McDonald's sauce, part of it stems from the incredibly dark and cynical tone that the show has going for it. And no one manages to embody the mood of the show more than Rick Sanchez, a near-godly mad scientist with a drinking problem and a penchant for being an asshole. It was funny seeing how Rick would interact with the world in his hard atheist and sardonic tone, seeing it fit to talk down to everyone and coping with the effects of what his intellect has done to his mind. But in the latest season I found myself growing annoyed with the writing, particularly in reference to him. I understand that he's an asshole and that I'm not supposed to like him, but at the very least I should tolerate him. After all, he is a protagonist.

Though he may think himself as above the conventions of character classification, Rick is an asshole protagonist. An asshole protagonist has all the temperaments of an asshole but the focus and spirit of a protagonist. Asshole protagonists tend to be selfish, they are often finding ways to benefit themselves first before anyone else. Though some wish not to admit it, they are often emotional, with one of their main emotions being anger. They're also quick to fall into vices and sin. They view the world as either cold and unforgiving or chaotic and degenerate and as such feel that it's necessary for them to play dirty to achieve results. They're also vocal about their disdains, their hates, their loathings. You'll often find the asshole protagonist ranting and raving about society's ills. Despite their attitude, there's something about the asshole protagonist that other protagonists and characters gravitate to, enough to be able to tolerate their behavior. And even when at their worst, the asshole protagonist has some sort of "heart" that elevates them from just being an asshole.

The asshole protagonist is an interesting trope in our media. Though we feel like it's a modern convention brewed up by disgruntled Gen-Xers, we can trace it back to two little ducks: Donald and Daffy.

Both Donald and Daffy place their own interests before that of others, with Daffy being the more extreme case. They're also greedy, confrontational and often have fits about the most minuscule of inconveniences. Despite this, they're hailed as some of the most beloved characters of all time. To an outsider this would come off as ludicrous. What we're missing is that as protagonists, they rely on being relatable. When we see Donald Duck flip out from some bad news or Daffy Duck try and fail miserably, we're able to empathize with their situation. Sure, we might not rip a letter into shreds and rain it on ourselves like confetti, or hope that our frenemy gets shot in the face, but we feel for their plight.

The same can be said about other asshole protagonists like Duckman or Bender. With Duckman, we appreciate someone who is able to speak their mind freely as we often find ourselves trying to adjust or self-censor ourselves for certain audiences. We also like frank honesty, particularly when it agrees with our own biases on the world. Duckman is infamous for his insights on the modern world and we're willing to listen to him because they resonate with us. As for Bender, the liberty and lack-of-fuck-giving that he has provides a freedom that we'd like to have. Not to mention that he's freed himself from a job that didn't exactly offer much in terms of excitement.

Beyond reliability, well-written asshole protagonists have other components to them that allow them to function well in a story. For one, they are in balance with the rest of the world. They stand out, either because the world is not like them or the world is very much like them but only they are able to call attention to it. Bender is the counterweight to the rest of the Planet Express crew, serving as the wild card and comedic relief. Duckman works in his world because the world he lives in is absolutely shit and most people just seem to tolerate it rather than make mention of it.

Another aspect of a well-written asshole protagonist basically relates to having a good protagonist in general. That being that they should not be impervious to the world. It can definitely play into a plot point like say the asshole protagonist gets another protagonist into trouble and doesn't face any damage for it. But they too must also have problems that must be confronted or suffer for their actions. The advantage of the asshole protagonist is that unlike a regular protagonist, their morality and sympathies are able to drastically shift, either to maintain their image as a detached and rude person or to highlight their eccentricity.

One of the best examples of this is Helga Pataki from Hey Arnold. She is aggressive and bossy to others at school but in private moments, she has an undying passion for Arnold, the boy that she constantly pushes away with her character. Further information about her character provides us with the image of a neglected child who uses the tough-girl act to avoid being hurt by anyone, and ultimately desires to one day be freed from that role. With her, we're able to forgive her asshole attitude as we come to understand her character more and both laugh and feel sorry for her when she inevitably reverts to her role in the status-quo.

Though it doesn't have to be as sentimental when it comes to dealing with their pain. Sometimes we just want to see them in pain. This is where we get to the bare minimum of what an asshole protagonist should have - humor. Asshole protagonists are able to benefit as humorous characters because they both are able to inflict pain onto others and because we enjoy seeing them in pain. They're often written to provide snappy retorts or lead other characters down a series of wacky adventures through their actions. Furthermore, if ever there's a dull moment or the asshole protagonist is getting too much to bear, inflicting damage on them always helps to lighten the mood. Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force is perhaps the master at being the humorous asshole protagonist, constantly tormenting Meatwad and having his ego be cut down either emotionally or through physical violence.

How does all of this manage to tie into Rick? Well, during the first two seasons, Rick was able to fit the characteristics of a good asshole protagonist. He was willing to cut through the bullshit, but also had moments that allowed him to be vulnerable and show it. The world was also balanced in a manner that his presence didn't throw it off-kilter. However, when the cynicism of the rest of the world is cranked up along with others' abilities to be self-aware about it, Rick loses his place in the balance. Sure he's the the most asshole of the bunch, but if everyone's also a dick and willing to make reference to it (even when it doesn't necessarily serve their character), then Rick comes across as far more insufferable

Another problem with Rick in the third season is that he's impervious. He's essentially a god who's always right. Though one can argue that he lives a very toxic lifestyle, in regards to certain plot points, he can do no wrong. This has led to the idolization of his character by some on the internet as they'd rather be right and have all of his capabilities than be a decent person. Asshole protagonists are not someone to idolize, they're someone to empathize with. If they're to be idolized, they need to earn it by changing as characters, shedding what makes them terrible. Because if they're idolized as is, it only encourages apathy, resentment and anti-social behavior. Which is essentially what happened with Cartman.

Cartman is perhaps an odd inclusion. His behavior and relationship to the rest of his "friends" in South Park is far more fitting of an antagonist and indeed he works best when more directly pitted against others. Yet with the way that some episodes frame it (particularly Cartoon Wars, Imaginationland and The Coon), we come to follow Cartman as a protagonist through how much we focus on him. We are interested in his arc, for better or for worse. The story beats that he goes through reflect that of a normal protagonist, making it play off as though he has more innocent intentions. And in the end, he comes out of it not only unscathed but also achieving whatever goal he wanted. Though it can come off as humorous, this creates a similar warped admiration, where people wish to emulate him because he's an asshole who can get away with it. Which generally does not bode well.

In the end, an asshole protagonist is just a trope. And like any trope, there's a fair amount of subjectivity to them. Some people outright cannot deal with asshole protagonists. Others have varying degrees of what they're willing to tolerate. Ultimately, an asshole protagonist is someone that we can follow around without wanting to turn back. Be it because they speak some truth, have some emotional complexity to them or are just fun to be around. Take that away, and you just have an asshole. And no one wants to be around an asshole.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Amazonian Might - A Wonder Woman Review

Wonder Woman is not a movie that is designed for me. In a way I suppose you can take it in a sexist sense. As a man, the narrative of the Amazonian goddess does not exact seem all that relevant as I do not face the same struggles that a woman does. But more fundamentally, I am not familiar with the series in question. I come at this movie as a general movie-goer, not as a comic book nerd nor semi-familiar ultra-fan. I know no monumental stories involving her, I don't know any of the villains that she fights, I don't really even know where she lived. The only things I know are the aforementioned goddess title, the Lasso of Truth, the invisible jet and some of the more sensational parts of her character's background. I mostly came about watching this movie in part due to the wave of positive reviews that seemed to be a rarity for DC and in part to finally understand their main heroine whom I had neglected for so long.

Since it is the first film to ever have Wonder Woman as the lead, the film definitely seemed to cater to certain needs that a beginner like me would have. For starters, I was able to find that her name is Diana (yes, I did not know) and that she lives on the island of Themyscira with other Amazonian women. She is told great stories about the war between Zeus and Ares, and how Ares being the vengeful god of war that he is, came to corrupt man. She later is told that if Ares were to ever show himself again that only a weapon deemed "the god killer" would be able to defeat him. After saving Steve Trevor, an American spy who crashes near the shores of Themyscira, she comes to find that a massive war is brewing in the human world. Believing that it is the work of Ares, she goes along with Steve to stop the war.

I was generally optimistic when it came to Gal Gadot being Wonder Woman. Even though Batman vs Superman had her in the cameo corner, I could see that there was more potential. Wonder Woman proved to show that potential in full force as she could properly balance bright-eyed idealism with stern determination and fish-out-of-water antics with sophistication. Though her voice didn't have the proper energy for certain moments, her expressions and actions more than made up to express her character.

The whole cast was a ton of fun as well. I absolutely loved seeing the Amazonian women kick some serious ass as they went on horses armed with only arrows, swords and shields to charge at German soldiers armed to the teeth with guns. Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), much like the Cap who shares his first name, was able to provide a sincere charm and reserved demeanour that worked well off of Diane's more brazen attitude. Later on in the movie, we come across a group of mercenaries who offer some wonderful banter as we transition to larger scenes. And of course the villains were entertaining, with Dr. Poison (Elena Ayana) having a quiet madness to her and Ares relishing in the destruction of mankind through his ruthless actions.

As expected, the action was wonderful throughout the film. It was focused, with the proper angles and use of slow motion accentuating each movement, making each hit have it's impact. The cinematography was vibrant, with even dark and dreary scenes popping out like an intense comic page. Both elements would have been well enough to simply sate the masses but what I think took this film into riding the waves of high praise was what DC movies were lacking, balance. Wonder Woman allowed itself to be comedic, to be light-hearted, in a way that felt natural rather than as an awkward way to offset the rest. The characters were able to breathe and interact with one another as humans rather than exposition devices or melodramatic caricatures.  It was able to tell its story without rush, and let the pieces fall into place.

There are certainly some imperfections this movie has, most of which I can't speak of without spoiling it. But part of why I feel it necessary to embolden the strengths of Wonder Woman is that it is bold enough to deserve such. I could have not been more perfectly introduced to Wonder Woman's character and her raison d'etre. She carries the standard badass nobility of a superhero, but her warmheartedness and frankness allowed her to stand out alongside her contemporaries. The moral of the movie was not particularly new or radical but it was so genuine in carrying it through that I could not help but feel emotional over it. It disappoints me that by simple virtue of being a female lead that it will come to be a battleground for the constant culture war that the Internet wages. It is a movie that is larger than the politics that has surrounded it and will come to surround it in the coming days. Even if this film does not do proper justice to the source material for some reason, I feel that it can serve as a magnificent interpretation of her character.

At a time that superhero movies have become to feel derivative, I'm glad that Wonder Woman managed to stand out as a bright beacon amid the tired, the gritty and the hollow.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Area Man Suddenly Sad At Night After Relatively Decent Day

Toronto, ON - Realizing that his existence is utterly devoid of any meaning, area man Samuel Davidson said Wednesday that just as he was about to go to bed he had felt an overwhelming wave of depressing thoughts amid a day that was in his own words, "pretty alright".

Samuel Davidson, a 24-year old bartender at a downtown nightclub, told reporters that he had enjoyed yesterday as he was hanging around with his friends, managed to get a couple of decent tips and even flirted with one of the patrons, but that right when he was about to go to sleep, he began to feel his stomach sink.

"I just felt like every human interaction I had was completely fake. Like it seemed that no one was really being honest with me, they just humored my existence," said Samuel, adding that he felt that his life was destined to go down an even worse path due to past decisions. "It just seems like things are built on a house of cards, like I'll be lucky if I live over 30."

Davidson remarked that what had started the chain of thoughts is when he looked at the phone number that the patron had given him. He felt that the number was fake as he had past experiences where false numbers were given to him. This, he remarked, made him feel as if he was just an annoyance, that he couldn't properly small-talk with anyone, let alone flirt with them. Davidson would later find himself questioning how honest his friends were with him, figuring that innocuous jokes aimed towards him were really just major flaws related towards his character. Lying in bed, his mind then came across the haunting realization that in the grander scheme of things, he was insignificant to the world around him and that there was no real reason to go on.

"What does it matter if I live another day? I'm just gonna end up dead anyways," Davidson stated as one of thoughts that were going through his head that night.

At press time, Davidson was elated when he found that his favorite show had made up for the otherwise dull and dreary day he had today.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Area Man Given The Ever-Expanding Well Of Information That Is The Internet Keeps Watching The Same 5 Videos On Youtube

Vancouver, BC - Sitting in his home office on Saturday with his work completed, area man Brad Silverman was reported on his computer, repeating a series of videos rather than exploring the bounty of knowledge that was accessible to him in an instant. Brad, 31, told sources that he was "planning to look up art tutorials" as he had told friends and family members he was interested in improving his hobby but then found himself "stuck watching some goofy cat compilation videos" from user FluffyKittenz33. "On the one hand, I understand that I'm not taking advantage of just how much I can discover from the technology that I have at my disposal, but at the same time, there's just something about watching videos I've seen before that is so relaxing. Plus those cats are really silly." At press time, a slightly tired Brad informed us that he decided to binge watch a random show on Netflix so that he could have something to small-talk about to with his co-workers on Monday.