The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. I’ve been working on this for a while now. I’m aware of the various criticisms that superhero media has received in recent years, from political pundits to former writers like Alan Moore. I’ve been wanting to respond to that criticism in some comprehensive way. This video is my way of addressing it, as well as reaffirming why I love superheroes and why they mean so much to so many people. Enjoy!
Category Archives: Celebrities and Celebrity Culture
These are scary times for many people. Between pandemics and politics, a simple scroll through your daily news feed might as well be a horror movie. However, for those concerned about abortion rights in the United States, it’s even scarier.
There’s a very real possibility that abortion rights could regress. Now, with a new vacancy on the Supreme Court, it’s very likely that the laws surrounding abortion will change considerably in the next several years, regardless of how the election pans out.
If you’re a woman, I feel for you. I honestly have no idea how frightening it must be, the prospect of going back to a world where abortion had to occur in the shadows.
Now, with abortion being such a relevant issue, I’m tempted to write about it more. I’m also considering doing a video about it for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. I’m not quite sure I want to invite those kinds of politics to this site or my channel just yet. If I do, I’ll be sure to announce it.
In the meantime, I still want to leave those debating the abortion issue with something of substance. Thankfully, the late great comedian, George Carlin, already masterfully broke down this issue years ago. To date, I’ve yet to see anyone make a more effective statement on the abortion issue and the absurdities surrounding it. Just watch and see for yourself.
He could’ve said every word of this today and it still would’ve been relevant. It still would’ve been true, accurate, and concise. Honestly, it’s kind of sad that this didn’t end the debate completely. It’s even sadder that neither side has come up with better arguments.
We miss you, George Carlin.
This world really needs someone like you, right now.
Abortion is such a sensitive issue and one that will only get more divisive in the coming weeks. I don’t know what the endgame is. I just know it’s going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. We’re all subject to certain biases and assumptions. Whether it involves religion, politics, or which movies you like, we can only ever be so objective. We’re not machines. It’s next to impossible to analyze a situation with cold, unfeeling logic and render a perfectly objective judgment.
I make that disclaimer because I’m about to talk about the ongoing situation between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Please note that I’ve been avoiding this topic, but not because it involves serious, emotionally charged issues. I’ve touched on issues of spousal abuse and double standards in the past before. I’ve even attempted to pose distressing thought experiments about gender politics and double standards.
This case, however, is one of those instances where it’s just too late. There’s no possible way to have a balanced discussion anymore. It has gone beyond he said/she said, celebrity gossip, and double standards. At this point, this whole case is just one big, ugly affair in which any side can find a detail to confirm whatever bias they want.
The details of the case are simple, but disturbing. When the anti-harassment movement was picking up steam, Amber Heard accused her ex-husband Johnny Depp of serious abuse. Her stories were disturbing, but enough people believed them that he was ultimately fired from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
At first, Heard’s story checked all the boxes for a standard #MeToo narrative. It was easy to believe because Johnny Depp, whatever you think about his movies, is an odd character. He’s no Tom Cruise, but many see him as eccentric, even by Hollywood standards. It’s not too hard to imagine him having a dark side.
Then, the narrative changed. During a number of legal battles, he accused Heard of being physically and emotionally abusive towards him. It’s not the typical narrative. There’s still a major taboo, as well as a gross double standard, surrounding women abusing men. It’s either not taken seriously or brushed off.
However, there’s one detail about Depp’s accusation that sets it apart from Heard’s. Unlike Heard, there’s actual audio evidence to back up his claims. This isn’t some rumored recording either. It was made public. It included direct quotes of Heard saying stuff like this:
“You didn’t get punched. You got hit. I’m sorry I hit you like this. But I did not punch you. I did not f***ing deck you. I f***ing was hitting you. I don’t know what the motion of my actual hand was, but you’re fine, I did not hurt you, I did not punch you, I was hitting you.”
To date, there has been no evidence to back up Heard’s claims about Depp. That didn’t stop her from doubling down on her claim as an ongoing libel trial wraps up. She still stands by her claims, even though she doesn’t have audio evidence to back up those claims. Even without it, there’s no guarantee the audio will make a difference.
This is where an uncomfortable, but unavoidable truth emerges. Regardless of your gender or your political leanings, this case has revealed something that has and will continue to disrupt any efforts towards gender equality.
Johnny Depp, and men like him, will never get the benefit of the doubt.
In making this statement, I’m not just referring to cases of spousal abuse. In the grand scheme of things, with respect to the various injustices driven by gender politics, we just can’t treat everyone by the same standard. We can try and we really should, but the results are always going to be mixed to some extent.
It’s hard to avoid. Were it not for that audio recording, how many would give Depp’s accusations of abuse by Heard any credence? He’s an eccentric, yet very successful actor in an industry that has a long history of enabling awful men. Him being an abuser just fits the standard narrative of how most people imagine spousal abuse.
Even before the anti-harassment movement, many of us already had that narrative ingrained in us. The idea of a woman abusing a man just doesn’t fit with every idea and assumption. We think spousal abuse and our immediate reflex is to think about a man abusing a woman. That’s the default. Anything other than that is going to draw skepticism.
On top of that, there’s also the beauty factor. That’s another distressing, but understated truth that this case has exposed. Amber Heard, however guilty she might be, is still a beautiful woman by most standards. Like it or not, beautiful women are far more likely to get the benefit of the doubt for pretty much everything, including abuse.
That’s not an extreme opinion. It’s well-documented that beautiful people have things easier and are given more credence. There’s even some biology to it. People are both drawn to beauty and feel compelled to trust, revere, and preserve it. Even if Johnny Depp was just as beautiful as her, relatively speaking, being a woman still gives her an edge.
Like I’ve noted before, women’s bodies tend to be more valued than men. As such, we’re just going to be more inclined to trust them, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons. That means, even with a verified audio recording of Amber Heard admitting physical abuse, we’ll give her the benefit of the doubt before Depp.
It’s not fair.
It’s not right.
It’s certainly not just.
Regardless of your gender politics, abuse is abuse. Women suffer from it, but so do men. Celebrities like Corey Feldman and Terry Crews have been vocal about it for years, but no matter how much awareness they raise, our biases don’t change. In cases of serious abuse, we’ll still never give them the benefit of the doubt.
There’s so much I can say about this case, which is one of the reasons I’ve avoided it. I’ve seen a lot of heated discussions between feminists, anti-feminists, liberals, conservatives, and even moderate-minded people. Very little actually comes of it. There’s no way this case will ever change anyone’s mind or shift their gender politics in any way.
Any instance of abuse is awful. Regardless of the outcome, it’s still going to leave everyone unsatisfied. Depp and Heard will have their respective supporters, but the overall narrative surrounding this case won’t change. A man accused of abuses a woman cannot and will not be viewed the same as a woman who abuses a man.
It’s tragic, as well as frustrating. That’s just the current state of affairs for gender politics. A lot will likely change because of this global pandemic, but this ingrained narrative will likely persist. The end result is more abuse and less justice.
Time, age, and hindsight have a way of changing how you see things. The attitudes and perspectives you have when you’re 35 are bound to be different than the ones you had when you were 15. It’s just part of life, as you get older. The world is such a different place through the mind of a teenager than it is to an adult.
This manifests in many ways, but the one I’ve found most revealing has to do with the way I see old TV shows that I watched in my youth. Some shows age better than others. I recently cited “Chuck” as one of those rare shows that seems to get better with age. Most shows don’t get that benefit. Some age so poorly that there’s no way they could ever air today.
Thanks to the joys of being quarantined, I’ve had a chance to re-watch and re-visit some of the shows I loved in my youth. Shows like “Chuck” have only reaffirmed why I loved it so much. Other shows evoke a different reaction. One such show is “That ’70s Show.”
When I was a teenager, this was one of my favorite shows. In terms of TV sitcoms, it checked all the right boxes. It didn’t try to revolutionize the genre. It kept things simple, using 70s aesthetics and proven sitcom tropes to make an entertaining show. It never got too extreme. It never tried to cross too many lines. It just tried to have fun with a certain time period and a cast of colorful characters.
Most of the characters were lovable in their own right. My personal favorite was Fez. Some of the best lines in the show came from him. However, one character often stood out even more. In many ways, he was the show’s primary antagonist. He was Red Forman and when he wasn’t threatening to put his foot in someone’s ass, he was a frequent obstacle to whatever scheme the kids had conjured.
In many respects, any sitcom that involves a cast of teenagers needs a character like Red. He embodies the hard-nosed, uncompromising, uncool authority figure. Most of his roles revolve around stopping the kids from doing what they’re doing or punishing them as soon as they get caught. In that context, he’s easy to root against most of the time.
I certainly did when I watched the show in my youth. In fact, Red was one of my least favorite characters in the show because he was just such a hardass. He didn’t have any of the charm or likability as other sitcom dads. Al Bundy might have been a lousy dad, but at least he was funny. Red was rarely funny, his foot-in-ass remarks notwithstanding.
Then, after watching a few episodes recently, I found myself looking at Red Forman differently. I also saw the teen cast differently. While there were certainly times when Red was an unambiguous asshole, those times were a lot less frequent than I remember. In fact, I came to appreciate Red a lot more as I watched the show from an adult perspective.
In hindsight, it’s easy to understand why. When you’re a teenager, authority figures are often barriers to all the things you want to do. They’re the reason you can’t stay out late at night, drink beer, smoke pot, or hook up with your significant other. They enforce the rules that keep you from having all the fun you want to have. They’ll rarely explain those rules. It usually comes down to them being the parent and you being their kid.
This certainly plays out in “That ’70s Show” throughout many plots. I remember watching those same plots as a teenager and rolling my eyes whenever Red Forman got involved. Then, after watching them again, I found myself siding with Red and not just with respect to who deserved a foot in the ass.
When Eric, Fez, Kelso, Jackie, and Donna do something stupid, it’s rarely because of the rules or the authority figures who enforce them. More often than not, they do what they do by choice. They don’t think things through. They think about the consequences to their actions. They are, after all, immature teenagers in the 1970s. They’re more inclined than most to do stupid things for stupid, selfish reasons.
Red Forman may not be the best when it comes to helping them mature, but he’s not wrong for calling them out on it. Most of the time, they are on the wrong side of the dumb-ass equation. Their efforts to eat, drink, have sex, and avoid responsibility are all products of their own immaturity. Someone like Red needs to be there to remind them of that.
Is he the best father figure for helping teenagers navigate their immaturity? No, he isn’t.
Is he better than most of the bumbling dads who tend to populate most TV shows? Yes, he is and he’d kick the asses of most of those dads.
As a teenager, I had a hard time relating to Red Forman. As an adult, I can’t help but respect him. He is surrounded by a lot of dumb-asses and a wife who’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown every other day. The fact he hasn’t put his foot in more asses is a testament to his restraint.
If you need more proof, please see this series of clips. If you haven’t seen the show in a while, then you may find yourself remembering Red more fondly than you thought.
Red Forman may be a hard-ass. He’ll never be father of the year or the first person you invite to a party. However, in a world of dumb-asses, he’s a beacon of order. For that, he deserves our respect.
Back in 2012, Tupac Shakur appeared in concert at Coachella in 2012. That’s quite a feat, considering he died in 1996. The Tupac at the concert was just a hologram, but even his digital presence helped make that concert an experience to remember.
In 2019, Samuel L. Jackson played a young Nick Fury in the “Captain Marvel” movie. That too is quite a feat, considering Mr. Jackson was 70 years old at the time. He was able to appear young, thanks to advanced CGI that effectively de-aged him.
Other dead celebrities have shown up in other media. The since deceased Peter Cushing reprised his role as Grand Moff Tarken in “Star Wars: Rogue One” thanks to similar CGI technology. Paul Walker was able to get a proper send-off in “Fast and Furious 7” after his tragic death thanks to this technology. As the technology improves and other famous celebrities pass on, this practice is likely to continue and expand.
That raises some interesting questions that has some profound, yet disturbing implications. Some of those questions are easier to answer than others. This is the easy one.
Will there eventually be a celebrity who becomes digitally immortal?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is eventually, but there will be some complications along the way.
Modern CGI technology is amazing. We’ve come a long way from the flashy, but wholly unrealistic graphics of “Tron.” Through the development of technology like artificial intelligence deep fakes, which has its own mix of dystopian uses, it’s possible to replicate someone’s appearance, voice, and mannerisms. This replication isn’t perfect, but it’s getting to a point where it’s hard to tell it’s fake.
As this technology improves, it’ll get to a point where a rendering of a celebrity isn’t just indistinguishable from the real celebrity. It’ll be capable of saying, doing, and acting in any way a studio or producer would want. While that has some dangerous possibilities for political ads and porn, it could also completely change the entertainment industry.
That Tupac hologram I mentioned earlier was basically just a recording synched to a projection. Even though Samuel L. Jackson was de-aged in “Captain Marvel,” the actor still had to be there to give him the necessary voice, mannerisms, and attitude. He couldn’t have been a hologram and be believable. The technology just isn’t there yet.
It will get there, though. There doesn’t need to be some huge leap in computer technology or artificial intelligence to make an entirely digital celebrity. It’s just a matter of processing power, data crunching, and better hardware. It will happen. It might even happen within the next couple decades. That raises another key question.
Who will be the first digitally immortal celebrity?
By digitally immortal, I don’t just mean recordings set to holograms or faces projected onto body doubles. A truly digitally immortal celebrity will be capable of starring in new movies and TV shows long after their dead. They’ll be able to make new music and perform it, albeit through a hologram. While their bodies might be gone, they’ll never stop contributing to pop culture.
That definitely has some legal implications. I doubt any studio could get away with creating a digital rendering of Carrie Fisher to star in a new movie. However, I suspect one celebrity will eventually license their figure and likeness so that they can keep being celebrities, long after they’re dead. Maybe they’ll do it so their families can be fincianlly set for life. Maybe they’ll do it because they never want to leave the public eye.
Whatever their reasons, someone will eventually do this. It’s just a question of who.
Will it be Taylor Swift?
Will it be Tom Cruise?
Will it be Jennifer Lopez?
Will it be Samuel L. Jackson?
It’s hard to say. If I had to bet money, I’d put it on Samuel L. Jackson. Knowing Disney and their vast resources, I’d be shocked if they weren’t investing in this technology this instant. Bankable celebrities are an increasingly precious commodity in the entertainment world. The incentives are there. It’s just a matter of time and a matter of whom.
Personally, I’d love to hear Samuel L. Jackson call people motherfuckers for generations to come. That’s just me.
Every TV show, from sitcoms to talk shows to adult cartoons featuring dimension-hopping super-genius, attempts to capture a certain theme and hone it to the utmost. They try to craft the right kind of characters who exhibit the necessary traits to convey those themes while still being memorable, likable, and endearing. On top of that, they have to do it for multiple seasons, at least until they achieve syndication.
It’s an enormous challenge. Few shows succeed and even fewer do so consistently. Even among those select few, there’s a risk that the characters and stories will get stale. Due to the nature of half-hour TV shows, there’s only so much you can do before Archie Bunker’s casual bigotry becomes more pathetic than funny. That doesn’t even get into shows that end up crashing and burning in the series finale.
Then, there’s a little show called “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” In the annuls of TV history, this show is basically a unicorn wrapped in gold, covered in diamonds, and encoded with the browser history of every active politician.
Pragmatically speaking, this is a show that should not have lasted 13 seasons. For one, it airs on FX, a network most people probably don’t know they have, if they actually have it. In addition, the show’s budget is incredibly limited. The pilot was allegedly shot for less than $100 by a cast of aspiring actors who had zero name recognition, at the time.
On top of that, there’s the premise of the show. In its simplest form, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” follows the shameless misadventures “the Gang.” This crew consisting of Charlie Kelly, Ronald “Mac” McDonald, Frank Reynolds, Dennis Reynolds, and Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds basically take every traditional approach to making an enduring TV show and punches it in the kidneys.
This is a show where the characters will buy a boat with the intention of entrapping women.
This is a show where the cast will make an unauthorized Lethal Weapon sequel, complete with blackface, homoerotic subtext, and gratuitous sex scenes featuring Danny DeVito.
This is a show where two people are tricked into digging up the body of their dead mother.
This is a show where you’ll see people hold a funeral for a baby to get out of a tax audit by the IRS.
These are not the activities of lovable characters. Even Shelden Cooper had moments in “The Big Bang Theory” where he came off as genuinely compassionate. With the Gang, there are none of those moments. Sometimes, they’ll be teased. In some episodes, the Gang will give the impression that they’re about to finally realize just how deplorable they are.
Ultimately, they don’t just revert back to their less-than-reputable selves. They demonstrate that they never had any intention of changing their ways. Anyone who believed otherwise either hasn’t watched more than two episodes of the show or are deluding themselves. As antithetical as this is for crafting a compelling TV show might be, it doesn’t change one inescapable fact.
“It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is funny, enjoyable, and obscenely entertaining.
It almost sounds like a paradox. As someone who only recently became a fan of the show, I have hard time explaining that appeal to most people in a way that doesn’t sound weird. It takes a moment to appreciate the appeal of watching a cast of self-absorbed, narcissistic alcoholics. However, within the tone and context of the show, it doesn’t just work. It achieves something profound.
Specifically, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” is the perfect manifestation of dark comedy at its finest.
Comedy, in any form, can be difficult. Jokes, gags, and bits can become overplayed and stale. There’s only so many times you can watch Charlie Brown fail to kick a football and still laugh. Dark comedy is even more difficult. It involves taking distressing, taboo subjects and trying to make them funny. Some, like George Carlin, can pull it off masterfully.
I like to think that if George Carlin were still alive, he would be a fan of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” The show’s approach to dark comedy isn’t overly complex. It’s just exceedingly overt. It doesn’t try to balance out those dark themes with something serious or nuanced. It blatantly takes things to an extreme and dares to laugh at the absurdities.
Take, for instance, the funeral for the dead baby that I mentioned earlier. There are only so many ways you can make funerals and dead babies funny, but this show never shies away from a challenge. It also helps that every character in the Gang has the moral fiber of a Big Tobacco lobbyist on crack. They won’t just cross lines. They’ll make it a spectacle.
In this particular case, Sweet Dee is getting audited and for good reason. She acted as a surrogate to carry the child of a transgender woman that Mac used to date. Trust me, it’s more absurd that I can ever put into words. However, Dee didn’t do this out of the goodness of her heart. Nobody in the Gang is ever that altruistic. She did it because she got paid. Then, she decided to list the kid she gave up as a dependent for the tax benefits.
Naturally, this put her at odds with the IRS. Like every problem the Gang faces, she tries to run away from it or pass off the problem to somebody else. However, the problem only escalates. In most TV shows, especially half-hour sitcoms, this is the point where the characters face the consequences of their actions and try to learn from it. Instead, the Gang tries to resolve the problem by holding a baby funeral.
It’s undeniably dark, but the way it plays out is still funny. The way Dee and the rest of the Gang conducts themselves is so irreverent that the inherent darkness of the issue only makes it funnier. It shows just how far the Gang is willing to go to shirk responsibility and avoid consequences. It gets bad and it belabors just how irredeemable these characters are, but it’s still funny.
A big part of what makes that approach funny is how blatant this show is when it comes to the time-tested tropes that TV shows have relied on for decades. Take any show, from “Breaking Bad” to “Friends,” and you’ll see a concerted effort to develop and progress the characters over time. Ideally, they achieve some sort of ultimate goal by the end.
Instead of growth, the Gang actively avoids any effort at growth. Their only goal is to continue being the unapologetic assholes they’ve always been, drink heavily, and recklessly pursue whatever crazy ideas they come up with. Who they are in the first few seasons of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” aren’t considerably different than who they are in the latest season.
In any other show, characters who don’t grow and progress usually derail the underlying themes. Sometimes, that’s unavoidable. The very structure of a TV show, especially a half-hour sitcom, ensures that the characters can only grow so much. Even after the show achieves syndication, it tries to stick to a formula, even if doing so undermines the very process the characters need to evolve.
By going out of their way to not evolve, the Gang insures “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” never deviates too far from the qualities that make it funny. It even channels its use of dark comedy to poke fun at the same tropes that other shows heavily rely on. From the frustrating use of clip shows to turning romantic sub-plots into a case study for excessive stalking, the show seems to revel in spitting on these time-tested methods.
What makes that comedy even more potent is that after 13 seasons, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” has lasted longer than some of the most iconic TV shows in history. It has outlasted the likes of “Cheers,” “Mash,” “Friends,” and “Frasier.” Moreover, it keeps finding a way to be funny and relevant. I think a non-insignificant part of that is how it uses dark humor.
There’s plenty more to be said about the show and why it has lasted so long. Even some of the show’s cast members have a hard time explaining why the show is still on the air. Even more likely wonder how the show can keep getting away with being so brazen about using dark comedy to tackle issues surrounding race, religion, gender, sexuality, mental health, and bird law.
There are likely many factors that have contributed to the success and longevity of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.” It helps that the actors and crew of the show really enjoy working together. There’s something to be said about a show in which the original cast have a genuine passion for their work. It’s well-documented how a toxic environment behind the scenes can derail successful shows.
At the end of the day, though, “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” works because it’s funny and entertaining. It found a way to take the best aspects of dark comedy and run with it. As long as it can keep doing that, the show will have an audience. If it can include more episodes that involve Mac dancing or Danny DeVito getting naked, then that’s just a bonus.