I just finished re-watching George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck. It was like stepping into a time machine, although not in the way of throwing back to 1953 and Edward R. Murrow’s fight against Joe McCarthy (not to dismiss the excellent historical portrayal of the era). It was a time machine into the Bush Administration, which is what the movie is really about. It was about a fiercely-divided America that had been fundamentally ruptured by the attacks of 9/11 and war-hungry response of the Bush Administration. We were at war not only with “terror”, but with each other. And our news couldn’t save us. The news we trusted helped facilitate a march towards war.
I was in college at the time, and being a college student is already far too quick with half-baked ideas. It’s the last time you can revel in the concept that you know everything (post-academic life quickly lets you know how little you know). I became a big fan of Michael Moore, because in the 2000s conflict, each side had its heroes. I look back and shake my head, but Clooney’s film, which I saw in my senior year, persists, while Moore is a joke.
Nevertheless, it was an intense time, and yet oddly simple. We saw the wedges and knew the problems insofar as the issues. There was a flood of information, but pro-war, anti-war was easy to understand. Meanwhile, there was a gathering financial storm that no one cared to notice, and now that we’re still suffering its aftershocks, we still don’t understand it. We know things are bad, but the reasons are too complicated, and intentionally so. You instinctively know that it’s bad for someone to fight and die on a lie. Or perhaps you’re persuaded by the “Fight them over there so we won’t have to fight them here,” argument. But how many people can explain a credit default swap and why that financial instrument was partially responsible for the downfall of our economic system. In a run-up to war, we will (hopefully) never again be so quick to accept information because we’re motivated by fear. But how do you stop a crime you don’t understand? Obama hasn’t taken any serious steps to punish those responsible for our economic collapse nor has he set up any measures to stop it from happening again. We still live in dangerous times. We just can’t clearly articulate it for a variety of reasons. There are so many distractions, so many opinions, and so many “facts” we glean from the Internet, the box that provides trivia and calls it knowledge.
Bush is gone and the world has tried to forget him (and he’s done his best to help), but I feel like we live in even more dangerous times. I don’t like thinking that because I know part of that fear is simply me getting older, getting stuck in my ways, looking at the future and fearing what’s to come. Namely, I fear a world where we’re all disconnected but think we’re closer than ever. Social networks will provide the illusion of intimacy just like a glance at a webpage or reading a single article will provide the illusion of knowledge rather the truth that we’re swimming in a sea of confirmation bias.
Earlier this week, the Bush Library opened its doors, but it was a small story (as such openings are) mixed in with news about flight delays caused by the sequester, and further developments in the case of the Boston bombers. The easy joke is to openly wonder if the Library contains a copy of “My Pet Goat”. I think back to 2005 when ridiculing and despising George W. Bush was a matter of course. I certainly don’t think Obama would have been elected without Bush. The extreme change of electing a black president couldn’t have been accomplished without a thoroughly reviled and unpopular previous president (it also didn’t hurt that Clinton ran a shit campaign, and McCain imploded by selecting Palin as his running mate). But our problems persist, but the political air isn’t thick in the same way. It’s the air of a stalemate rather than battle. Washington is broken, it’s broken behind closed doors, and the American people are exhausted from four years of intransigence.
Clooney tried to explore the difficulty of political change in his 2011 film, The Ides of March. It doesn’t really work since it’s a mixed metaphor where the movie is supposed to be about disillusionment, but because the disillusionment comes from such heightened circumstances (spoiler alert)–the candidate sleeping with a staffer and then the staffer committing suicide–it doesn’t ring true like Good Night, and Good Luck. It’s because it’s so much tougher to see where we are right now, and that’s the difficulty of the dramatization.
If I sound wistful for the days of Bush’s clear-cut-nation-dividing, I’m not. I’m absolutely rambling (but it’s for my personal blog, so who cares), but I wonder if I’ll be sitting alone on a Saturday night eight years from now, and looking back at a movie that makes me thinking about the 2010s, and the new kind of dread it inspired. Will it be about a herald leader not up to the task? Will it be about a political system that can no longer function because it’s been warped and twisted by time, culture, technology, and money?
Then I have to look at history, shake my head, and laugh a little bit because I feel silly. I feel that we have to hope because living in hopelessness is no way to live. Living in fear is no way to live. Of course, these sentiments are luxuries of a privileged life, and I write them sitting comfortably from my desk chair on my nice computer.
If I don’t stop soon, I’ll ramble on until dawn, so I’ll quickly finish by saying that on November 3, 2004, when Bush had been reelected, the world looked bleak. It’s almost ten years later, and we’re still here. Talking about what’s with us will keep me rambling until dawn.
I did not have a pleasant experience at Oberlin College. I made a few amazing friends and had the support of unbelievably gracious and loving family members in the community, but when it came to the actual college, I thought you had a bunch of sheltered liberals (and keep in mind, I’m liberal) who created some perversion of diversity by failing to understand that diversity has to extend beyond race and sexual orientation and tap into belief systems. If everyone is an “outsider”, then no one is. It created a safe space at the worst time to create a safe space: at the cusp of adulthood when the world is about to get unforgiving.
[Side note: I also reject the notion that the college was there not to prepare people for the outside world, but as an institute of learning. It's not learning when you're writing papers to appease a professor's ego. Write what they want to hear and you'll get good grades. It's playing the game of school, not the game of learning.]
When I was at Oberlin, an ethnic minority of students felt they needed a “safe space” where only their minority could gather. They needed this space on one of the most accepting, diverse, liberal colleges in the nation. And the college should have said, “Grow up. If you can’t handle it here, you’re going to crumble when you get out of the safe confines of our cozy campus.” They did not say that.
Oberlin now has had to face a popping of the bubble they created. Real racism has crept on to the campus, and the campus response has been typically Oberlin: “Let’s talk about it.” Yes, law enforcement is on the case and they should be on the case. But rather than send out the message that hatred exists in our world and the best way to deal with it is to walk with our heads held high and not let it deter from the noble goal of learning, Oberlin canceled class so they could have “a conversation.” I wasn’t in attendance, so I don’t know what the fuck there was to talk about. In a recent interview with CNN about the incident (the news has garnered international attention; I first read about it on the BBC’s website), Oberlin’s doofus president Marvin Krislov calling the conversation “courageous”. Yes, it’s courageous to talk about why hatred is bad.
During the interview, the anchorwoman says that they’ve heard from sources that the suspects are students, to which I would respond OF COURSE THEY’RE STUDENTS. After first hearing about the incidents, my immediate thought was, “Students are doing this.” As I said, you take a group of kids who have spent their teenage years feeling like outsiders. You bring them all in, and they lose their outsider status because everyone is an outsider and therefore no one is an outsider. Most students would find it a relief to find acceptance. But if you’re a young person (and I’m also willing to bet the suspects are freshmen or sophomores), and your identity is based around being an outsider, then your reaction is to be the intolerant person in a tolerant community. My biggest surprise isn’t that this happened, but that it hadn’t happened sooner.
And what came of this glorious “conversation”? Watch to the end of the video:
You have students running into the background chanting “Bullshit!” while the representative of the college tries to defend the college and therefore all of the students and faculty (there’s also covering his own ass, obviously). To Oberlin students, the President of the college serves two purposes: Representing “The Man” and raising money for the university (in that order). Nothing else gets in their thick skulls because their beliefs are never seriously challenged by anyone.
Oberlin isn’t a community of intolerance or hatred. It’s a community of ignorance laboring under the false impression that they’re progressive. There’s nothing progressive about turning away from education for a day so that everyone can have a meaningless group hug.
After last year’s painful loss to the Giants, I wrote about how I was proud to be a Falcons fan, and that it was important to be “hometeam”. I almost became a major hypocrite last week as it looked like the Falcons would never get over the playoff hump. As someone who is also a fan of the Braves, that one-two punch of teams that quickly get kicked out of the playoffs is almost too much. But last week, the Falcons performed in Falcons fashion: came on strong, lost the lead, pulled out a victory in the end.
That is both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the Atlanta Falcons. As my friend Brad said, “They play up or down to the opponent they’re facing.” Credit to Mike Smith for being the best coach in franchise history, but his style has fried every last nerve of the fans. We “rise up” because we fall down. A lot. With so much talent on the field, it’s peculiar and infuriating to see a pattern where we can cheer a comeback even though it’s from a hole the Falcons dug themselves.
The 49ers are a great team. They were the favorite, and we played them close. It wasn’t a blowout, and it’s always wonderful to see the Falcons fire on all cylinders like they did in the first quarter. I will still root for the 49ers in the Super Bowl because I don’t hold a grudge. They played a good game, and they deserve to win it all (I also don’t have any love for either AFC team).
But this blog post is about the Falcons. The pundits will likely pick them apart, which is fine. This team will probably never get the respect it deserves until it at least goes to the Super Bowl. The fans can wait because the fans will remain. The victory over the Seahawks was more important than the NFC Championship. The Falcons obviously wanted to go all the way, but the support from fans is stronger than its been in over a decade.
I will proudly wear a Matt Ryan jersey every time I watch the Falcons next year (and jerseys are expensive!). He makes mistakes, but he’s clutch. Today was just one mistake too many. But he’s undeniably matured as a quarterback, and I truly believe one day we’ll talk about him with the same respect people show Peyton Manning.
It will be hard to see Tony Gonzalez retire, but he’s earned it many times over. He will go out on top and as the greatest tight end of all-time. I’m honored that he played for our team and that he’ll end his career as an Atlanta Falcon.
We have so much talent on this team, but there’s undeniably more work to be done. I trust Arthur Blank, Thomas Dimitroff, and Mike Smith will do what needs to be done. They’re smart, thoughtful guys who know how to manage a team, and I believe the Falcons will be even stronger next year.
They couldn’t come back in this game, but they’ll come back from this defeat.
When I wrote about the Aurora shooting, I noted how that gun violence continues to happen whether we note it as massacres or ignore the single or double-homicides as if those crimes aren’t worthy of putting a spotlight on our atrocious, borderline non-existent policy on gun control. Gun violence wasn’t going anywhere, and there certainly wasn’t going to be any legislation. Sure, a bunch of people died because they had the audacity to see a blockbuster movie at a midnight screening, but what could we do? It was an election year, and the gun lobby is bulletproof.
Now the murders in Newtown have happened, I just feel sick and outraged. With Aurora, I was shocked, saddened, but now wholly surprised. These kinds of massacres went into high schools, college campuses, places of worship, and all kinds of locations where we should feel safe. But we didn’t want to imagine where the next horrific massacre would strike. We all knew it would. We knew it wouldn’t be too long to wait. We just didn’t know where.
There were other massacres after Aurora, but Newtown is unforgettable. And yet I feel outrage that we will forget. It will blow over like every other massacre. We’re already going through the motions:
- Confusion over the death toll
- Focus on the killer’s background
- Names of the victims
- Tales of heroism
- Stories of the victims
- Wait until the next horrific massacre.
In between, we have a “conversation” about gun control. In the 21st century, we take to our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to share a link or a 140-character comment, and then move on with our day. We’ll also be sure to note how our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their loved ones, as if that means a fucking thing to the victims and their loved ones. Every parent who lost their child will forever be broken. That scar will never heal. Prayers and thoughts won’t provide any measure of solace.
There are no words for this, and yet I have to write and share my outrage because I just want to scream about how sick this makes me. About how I can’t stand this anymore. About what’s even more horrific about the massacre is how we allow it to happen again and again and again and again and again. It’s an unnatural disaster that we continue to accept.
Of course, who can take on the NRA? We all should because they support the murder of children. Guns aren’t a right, and even if they were, there’s no right worth having that allows someone to freely purchase weapons capable of mass murder and kill children. The NRA, an association that could just as easily support gun control as it does gun “freedom”, supports the murder of children. When they say nothing and when they do nothing, they say that it’s more important that people own guns than making sure that a madman can’t get a gun and murder children.
The NRA supports the murder of children. It is that simple. And in our silence, in our complacency, and in our fatigue, we share that responsibility.
I don’t know the exact answer to this problem. I’ve also heard cries that we need to do a better job of identifying and treating mental illness, and while I agree, we can’t legislate mental illness. We can legislate the tools that turn mental illness into a destructive force. But we don’t. We go through the motions.
Barack Obama has the chance to break the cycle. To say that this is the last straw. That maybe we shouldn’t wait until another madmen goes into a fucking nursery and creates another incomprehensible horror. But I don’t know if that’s in him. It’s likely no other President in history has been so aware of a possible assassination attempt. We are all incredibly blessed that such an attempt on his life hasn’t been made despite the vitriol and hatred that has come from his opponents. But it’s scary to go after the guys with the guns, because they don’t keep the guns for decoration. When they say that they’ll have to pry the gun from their cold, dead hands, it’s because they’ll be cold and dead after dying in a shootout. Someone with a gun-fetish only sees the resolution ending a bloodbath rather than reasonable compromise.
Again, I don’t have any answers but looking at the situation only makes me sad and sick and angry, and this post was the only way to maybe lessen that distress because I can’t listen to anyone else talk about “hopes and prayers” or recite the same statistics anymore. And I’m scared not only of the next massacre. I’m scared of how quickly we’ll forget this one.
Last night, I had an odd double feature of Death Wish and Christmas Vacation. It was my first viewing for both films, and while I found Death Wish the more entertaining of the two, both movies left me with some thoughts regarding their cultural commentary and the historical context that commentary was made. I posted my thoughts on Letterboxd (a fantastic site for keeping a movie journal), but in case those comments were to vanish for some reason, I wanted to keep them here as well (my site is indestructible). Keep in mind that these are not reviews but simply a collection of disorganized thoughts that I wanted to put down before I went to bed.
[Note: minor spoilers ahead]
An absolutely fascinating film. If the Bernie Getz shooting hadn’t happened 10 years later, I could have sworn it would be the influence for Death Wish. The film is borderline unapologetic in its values, although there is an awkward moment where a background character has to explain why Paul Kerney (Charles Bronson) is killing so many black people isn’t racist (she has a fair point, although it ignores the larger social issues, which falls in line with the rest of the movie).
Death Wish is an angry fantasy for anyone who has ever been a victim of a violent crime or known the victim of a violent crime. It reaches deep into the futility having crime seep into our safe worlds and show us how powerless we truly are. And the only solution comes not from the police, but down the barrel of a gun. It also helps that in the world of Death Wish, most criminals carry switchblades and not guns.
Oddly enough, the police aren’t seen as ineffective as much as allied against the individual rather than supporting the community. An entire department seems to mass around stopping Kerney, but they shrug their shoulders when his wife was murdered and his daughter was raped. There’s media sensationalism to the vigilante, but no character ever brings up the point that the cops are now investigating the murder of a criminals rather than the murder of an innocent women.
Of course, this all plays into the notion of the One Man Against the World fantasy Death Wish (winkingly?) embraces. The movie makes sure to position Kersey not as the outlaw, but as the noble gunslinger. He’s always looking for trouble, but he’s righting the wrongs the law can’t or won’t stop.
It’s also strange that the criminals gravitate towards Kersey; in one scene, a couple punks go through multiple train cars just to get to him even though there are other people on the train and he’s just some guy reading the newspaper. Bronson may not be intimidating (although we see at the beginning of the film that he’s absolutely ripped), but he’s also doesn’t convey weakness. Why would criminals target him as a victim?
It’s tough to tell if director Michael Winner is playing it straight, but either way, it’s a damn interesting and entertaining film. It’s heavy-handed as hell, and I honestly don’t know if it’s satire or preaching. Personally, I would like to see it as satire since I think that makes it a smarter movie. Then again, the film could also be played as a tragedy. Kersey is an honest, hardworking man and violence consumes his life and becomes his addiction. At the end, rather than give up his gun, he gives up on his family and moves away so he can kill more street punks.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Billed as a “Christmas classic”, I was a little underwhelmed by Christmas Vacation. It wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped it would be, nor was it particularly memorable. The family dynamic felt like The Ref but with all the hard edges rounded off to a PG-13 rating. More often than not, the movie relies on slapstick and rarely finds a satisfying build-up and pay-off to its farcical elements. The best moments are when the Griswolds continue to unintentionally ruin their neighbors’ lives.
Where Christmas Vacation caught my attention wasn’t so much in its comedy, but in its values. Coming out a year after the Reagan administration, it’s a movie that champions the pursuit of the middle-class becoming the upper-middle class while still retaining good, old-fashioned American values. The Christmas miracle isn’t getting to keep the house. It’s getting to keep the house AND get a swimming pool. If your house has a swimming pool that not inflatable, then congratulations: you’re upper-middle class.
Meanwhile, Uncle Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his brood are the disgusting poor. They’re not necessarily bad people, but they’re uncouth, dumb, and most importantly, they mooch off the goodwill of the Griswold clan. Uncle Eddie may be good for kidnapping the wealthy, but he’s also the guy who expects you to open your wallet and pay for his kids’ toys because he’s too lazy to get a job.
Meanwhile, the film also doesn’t want to alienate the aspiring middle class by saying the wealthy (Clark’s boss) are inherently good. But they’re certainly not bad. They’re just misguided, and if they could only see how much a middle class family like the Griswolds appreciate Christmas, then the rich folks would realize that maybe they shouldn’t slash the bonuses of hardworking Americans. This dream scenario would truly be a Christmas miracle.
It’s also important that the Griswolds are a very specific kind middle class family. They live next door to the Chesters–a horrible, selfish couple who may be in the same income bracket, but they’re not REAL Americans. They don’t have kids, they don’t celebrate Christmas, they’re not friendly, and they simply don’t share the Griswolds values.
While I would like to give screenwriter John Hughes credit for crafting a ridiculously subtle satire of the American dream, his screenplay for Ferris Bueller’s Day Off shares the same kind of me-first values of the Reagan era. When the characters sing the National Anthem at the end, it’s not ironic. It’s taking national possession of the holiday. It’s not “Happy” Christmas, you British bastards. It’s “Merry” Christmas. If you don’t like it, you can get out.
We had the Olympics this past summer (where people seemed more focused on how NBC was ill-equipped to handle broadcasting time-delayed events in the digital age), but the real games begin this fall. Baseball playoffs are about to begin (go Braves!), football is in full swing (go Falcons!), and we’re about to have the Presidential debates (go America!).
If you don’t think politics is a game, you haven’t been paying attention. Policy is serious, but politics—particularly the way it’s covered—is a game. It’s a game that has far-reaching implications for the future of our country, but we hear about it in terms of a game. Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s gaining? Who’s losing? Did Candidate X hit a home run with his speech? Did Candidate Y fumble the response to the question?
And tonight, the first of three Presidential debates begin. I hesitate to put the word “debates” into question marks because it seems too cynical. The candidates are responding to each other in real time, but the time is so short. Everything is condensed. Points and counter-points have to be rapidly delivered. But do these debates really tell us anything? The candidates are simply reiterating points they’ve been making for months. The format has changed, but the messages are the same.
But the debates matter for the small sliver of the population that somehow, for reasons that defy understanding, haven’t made up their minds. We’re not talking about Jack Johnson and John Jackson. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have fundamental disagreements on the direction for our government. If you believe that government has an obligation to help its people, then vote Democrat. If you believe that unregulated businesses benefit the country, then vote Republican. The differences regarding social issues couldn’t be clearer: Pro-choice or pro-life? Gay rights or discrimination? Expansion of health care or go broke and die? And on the issues where there’s no daylight between the candidates—war on drugs, prosecuting financial crimes—they’re not going to change their positions.
Nevertheless, the debates will dominate our media landscape for the next couple of weeks because that’s where the game is played. For those who couldn’t be bothered to do research into the candidates, they’ll now get the biggest political ad possible. And at the end, the punditry will squabble over who won. Who was the most eloquent, who stumbled over a question, and who now has the edge.
Except there will be no edge. Strangely enough, even though they’re designed to convince independent voters, debates don’t seriously sway presidential elections in the modern age. The candidates enter at their current popularity and they leave at about the same level. This is entertainment, and no one becomes a Texans fan simply because they played well on Sunday.
Looking at where the candidates currently stand, Obama wins the election. The chattering class can go on about how close it is, but they’re looking at the nationwide poll, which would be important if Presidents were elected by popular vote. But we use the Electoral College, and as you’ll see, Obama is almost at 270 electoral votes. On election night, Obama may not have dominated the popular vote, but according to polling guru Nate Silver, Obama is likely to win the election. Republicans will harp on the popular vote all day, but it won’t matter as long as Obama wins it by at least 50.1%.
So when you tune in for the debates, remember that we’re watching condensed stump speeches, and unnecessary ones at that. The best thing that could happen is if Obama’s opening statement was “I killed Bin Laden, and Mitt Romney hates 47% of America,” drops the mic and walks away. I’d vote for that.
I know how dorky this looks. I swear I wasn’t trying to look cool. It’s just that everything looks cool when you slow it down to 2500 frames-per-second. Now I know why Zack Snyder uses it ALL THE DAMN TIME.
A couple weeks ago, Dan Cathy, the President and COO of Chick-Fil-A, made the following statement on the Ken Coleman Show:
“We’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”
Dan Cathy is an idiot. He’s a bigot, and he’s on the wrong side of history. In 2004, George W. Bush was re-elected in part because Karl Rove was able to prey on homophobia and intolerance (and also by getting people to believe that a decorated veteran was less able to lead the country in a time of war than a guy who never saw a day of combat in his life). Eight years later, more states have legalized gay marriage, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is no more, the President came out in favor of gay marriage, and a nationwide movement began with “It Gets Better”.
But refusing to eat Chick-Fil-A on moral grounds isn’t part of turning the tide. Since Cathy’s statement, there has been an uprising on social networks chastising the corporation for its homophobic believes. Somehow, people were surprised that a business that’s closed on Sunday to observe the sabbath had deep ties to Christianity. This shock has led to not only Facebook and Twitter posts against Chick-Fil-A, but calls to boycott the business.
There seems to be a misunderstanding regarding the efficacy of boycotts. It’s a bit of a throwback to the 1960s when civil rights organizations boycotted segregated businesses. However, these businesses tend to be small, family-owned shops. If your restaurant was located in a neighborhood that was half-black and half-white, and all the black people stop eating there, then you’ve lost 50% of your revenue, and you were forced to consider whether how much money you’d be willing to lose because of bigotry.
Boycotting a corporation like Chick-Fil-A, however, doesn’t register to them. While they obviously can’t ignore the media blowback from Cathy’s statement, there’s no way for them to measure how many people are boycotting. Maybe profits are lower because people are eating out less since the economy sucks. Maybe more competitive business are rising up around their locations. And how will Chick-Fil-A fix this problem? I doubt Dan Cathy will make an apology and even if he did, how many people would it bring back? Isn’t it easier to lay people off or raise prices? I assume if Chick-Fil-A’s profits dropped steeply, that would be their move because Dan Cathy’s convictions are stronger than his detractors.
As I said, I think Dan Cathy’s views are despicable, but we should acknowlege that he’s willing to sacrifice millions of dollars for them. Chick-Fil-A could be making 1/7th more money than it makes now by being open on a Sunday. The bible says to take a day off for the sabbath, and Dan Cathy will abide by that commandment. You, on the other hand, can’t be bothered to do more than not spend money on fast food.
This isn’t to say that people haven’t gone out to protest. If you picked up a sign, staged a sit-in, or did anything that required you to do more than sit at home, this post is not directed at you. I commend you on taking action, taking time out of your life, and showing people that you truly care about this issue. You have done far more than someone who posts a negative Chick-Fil-A meme on Facebook followed by a funny picture of an adorable animal.
Because we now live on the Internet, and are defined by how we share our beliefs and spend our money, then a simple post qualifies as protest. “I’m so angry, I shared someone else’s link.” We’re past the point of raising awareness (and again, if you weren’t aware that Chick-Fil-A’s management has Christian beliefs, then you weren’t really paying attention in the first place), so it’s really just to make yourself feel better. You’re pro-gay rights, and you lifted a finger to do something by clicking on your mouse. Well done.
I can’t stand that anymore. I can’t stand this unearned self-righteousness and people refusing to truly sacrifice for what they believe in. Honestly, I’m not that bothered by eating at Chick-Fil-A. As I said, history inexorable shift towards gay rights is unstoppable, and it doesn’t matter how much money Dan Cathy and his ilk donate to anti-gay organizations. They’re on the wrong side of history whether I buy an 8-piece chicken nuggets or not. I’ll support gay rights right now and you can too: click here to donate money to the It Gets Better Project.
“But if you’re pouring money into Chick-Fil-A’s coffers, then you’re just negating what you’re putting into It Gets Better!” a person I just made up might say. Except Chick-Fil-A is on the wrong side of history. I will happily give them money so I can watch them waste millions of it on a social issue they’re going to lose. Their money is poorly spent. It Gets Better’s money is wisely spent because they need momentum, and they will touch the lives of countless young people who will in turn support each other. Chick-Fil-A can’t create homophobes, so unless they’ve concocted an anti-aging formula that runs off intolerance, then the company can’t change the fact that homophobic people are the past and enlightened young people are the future.
However, if your argument is that you can’t in good conscience give money to a homophobic business, then that’s fine. But what are you willing to give your money to? In all likelihood, you own some piece of technology made in a factory in China. In China, they work long hours for slave wages in factories that are so bad that one corporation, Foxconn, had to put up suicide nets. Working conditions are so terrible, that they had to come up with a way to stop employees from killing themselves. Nets are cheaper than higher wages and decent working conditions.
If this bothers you, then I encourage you to throw away any piece of technology that was made on the backs of this kind of harsh labor. Chick-Fil-A might be against gay rights, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t any suicide nets on the premises (I guess an argument could be made for the ball pit on the playground). Also, if you put gas in your car, then why do you support endangering our oceans? As we learned a couple years ago, deepwater drilling is incredibly hazardous, and conditions have not significantly improved since Deepwater Horizon.
Except giving up your technology or your car is sacrifice. It won’t stop tech companies from using cheap labor or oil companies from drilling, but you will feel that sacrifice every day because your life will be more difficult because of it. Circling back to Christianity, the notion of tithing doesn’t have a bad premise. If you were forced to give up 10% of your income to charity, you would most likely feel it. That’s sacrifice. That’s the courage of your convictions.
This morning, the country woke up to the tragic news that a gunman had opened fire at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, and killed 12 people. The number of injured was initially reported at 38, but new reports have put it at 59. I want to say it’s “shocking”, but it’s not. It feels inevitable.
But today, social networks are in an uproar about gun control and gun violence. It’s the roar that comes every 6-12 months because it rarely takes longer than a year for another one of these massacres to occur. And then the uproar dies down, and we move on to the latest news story. It’s also a little strange that gun violence only seems to rouse people to action when it’s in a cluster. Massacres make headlines, but I don’t hear an outcry on Twitter on a daily basis. There were 12,632 gun-related homicides in 2007. What makes those gun deaths less notable than those that happened at the Aurora Century 16 theater?
The question we’ve become forced to ask ourselves is not “Why does this happen?” but “Why doesn’t this happen more often?”
There’s no political will to make it stop. If Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords getting shot in the head doesn’t spur congress to action on tougher gun control laws, then a bunch of Batman fans at a midnight screening isn’t going to register. Just like a bunch of college kids at Virginia Tech didn’t register. Just like the birthday party killings in Texas didn’t register (I didn’t even remember the one until The New Yorker mentioned it). Taking on guns is a political loser because it means wasting a lot of money fighting the NRA, and stronger gun control doesn’t get candidates elected. Americans don’t like being told what we can’t do and what we can’t have.
This post isn’t a call to ban guns, or a call for stricter gun laws. This isn’t a call for anything. It’s just an observation about how we could have had today’s discussion about guns yesterday, and we’ll probably be having this conversation a year from now. The problem of gun violence in America never dies.
I’m going to put this to bed once and for all:
I’m not a negative person.
That seems to have become my reputation. I know part of that comes from what I say about upcoming movies and my comments on trailers, posters, and other aspects of a marketing campaign. My coverage of movie news is part-mockery and part-criticism. I can’t go back through every single news story I wrote in 2011, but people get defensive over minor things. The trailer for The Dark Knight Rises didn’t change my life and I made fun of the collapsing football field because it’s funny. I don’t think the movie will be bad. It’s a criticism of a trailer that shows a football player who doesn’t realize that everyone behind him has fallen into a pit and died. Also, the quake ended when he scored a touchdown, so it worked out well.
But I also get excited by good trailers. I do a Top 10 list at the end of the year to prove it. And most importantly, I don’t let any piece of marketing lock in my opinion. Marketing on major movies is a non-stop assault, and I can’t avoid it, but I can try to stay objective before being subjective.
However, I can go back through my reviews and try to empirically prove that I’m not negative. I’ve come to the point where I almost want to stop using a letter grade. The reason I keep using them is because hopefully it will serve as a hook. Readers will scroll down to the bottom, see the letter grade, and then read the review to see why I gave that grade. Sadly, the rating tends to dominates the content. We’re in the Rotten Tomatoes age where people want to see a percentage and take that as the final word on the film’s quality. Keep in mind that RT works on a binary-system. A film is either “fresh” or “rotten”, so a B- has the same weight as an A+. Even as a shorthand, Rotten Tomatoes is imprecise.
But since people are so fixated on grades, and then they want to turn around and say that I’m negative, I’ve provided the following chart, which breaks down how many As, Bs, Cs, Ds, and Fs I gave out in 2011:
As you can see, the highest percentage of my reviews were either a B+, B, or B- (the exact number was 56). “B” means “good”. “A” means excellent. I have seen enough movies to understand the difference. Hollywood and even indie films don’t hit a grand slam every time they go to bat. “A” is a high standard and when a movie meets that high standard, it should mean something.
The next highest percentage was “C”, which means “mediocre”. I hate to say it, but there’s plenty of mediocrity in the world. Not everyone is a superstar and a lot of movies just get by. They’re forgettable or they’re a wasted opportunity. I don’t hate these movies. I just don’t get much out of them.
Perhaps this disconnect is that my critics want my film criticism to be “one higher”. Cs should Bs, and Bs should be As. But I demand more from my movies. I see the flaws not because I’m “negative” but because criticism is my business and it’s my job to break down movies and see how they work and how they don’t. I don’t “turn off my brain” nor would I want to. It seems ungrateful considering it got me to where I am today. I don’t like subjecting it to Sucker Punch, but we’re in it together.
There’s no agenda for me. There are movies I look forward to and movies I dread, but I give them all a fair shake. And if you don’t think I do, then look past the letter grade and read the actual review.