Category Archives: Celebrities and Celebrity Culture

Aziz Ansari: A Case Study Of He Said/She Said And Impossible Justice

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Ordinarily, I prefer to wait until an ongoing scandal involving a celebrity dies down before I comment on it. In my experience, it takes time for the full story to emerge. Most of the time, a more complete story tends to render any premature comments moot. John Carpenter recently provided a notable example of why such prudence is important.

That said, there are times when patience is also moot because the narrative follows an all too familiar pattern. It becomes so predictable that you can practically set your watch to it. Over the past several months, especially since the Harvey Weinstein scandal, we’ve seen that pattern play out in all sorts of disheartening ways. That’s why I’m opting not to wait on offering comments on Aziz Ansari.

By now, everybody with an internet connection, a social media feed, and a predilection for celebrity meltdowns knows the story. Aziz Ansari is the latest case of the Weinstein Effect. His name has officially been added to the growing list of male celebrities being accused of sexual misconduct.

The story first broke on Babe.net where a 23-year-old Brooklyn-based photographer calling herself Grace, which isn’t her real name, told a very distressing story about a night she had with Ansari. That story reads like a bad date, but still echoes with some of the same themes that Harvey Weinstein has helped make infamous. Naturally, this story is already striking a chord with the ongoing anti-harassment movement.

The way Grace tells it, she got into a situation that she lost control over and Ansari took advantage of that situation. I don’t want to get too caught up in the details. They’re just too unsexy, even for an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

Before I even attempt to comment, it’s worth pointing out that Grace said herself that she confronted Ansari about this privately. On the surface, it seemed like a terrible example of miscommunication and mixed messages. According to the article, this was the exchange.

Grace: I just want to take this moment to make you aware of [your] behavior and how uneasy it made me.

Ansari: Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.

If this had occurred several years ago, that probably would’ve been the end of it. The incident would’ve been a nasty experience for Grace and an uncomfortable memory for Ansari, but it probably wouldn’t have made the news, outside a few disreputable tabloids. Since powerful men harassing women has become a far greater issue, though, this is now national news.

It’s already generating the kind of divisive arguments that have been cropping up since the Weinstein scandal. Supporters of the anti-harassment movement are siding with Grace, accepting her story as another example of powerful men exploiting women. Opponents, including a few celebrities, are saying this movement is going too far and devolving into a man-hating witch-hunt.

Neither side is going to convince the other they’re wrong. Both sides have plenty of rhetoric to make their point. When I look at this story, though, I see far greater forces at work. I also see a devolving situation that is doing more to divide people in lieu of addressing real issues surrounding men, women, consent, and harassment.

When you read over Grace’s story and then read the statement Aziz Ansari issued in response, there’s one inescapable fact. It’s impossible to vindicate or disprove either version of the story. It is very much a classic he said/she said ordeal. She said he assaulted her. He said everything they did was consensual. There’s no way to be certain.

Sure, there’s a distinct possibility that one of them is lying. Everyone, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, is prone to lying. There have been documented incidents of women falsely accusing men. There have been men who have lied and gotten away with sexual misconduct. However, without knowing more details about the incident, it’s not possible to truly know.

Me being a guy who places a lot of faith in people, I suspect that both Grace and Ansari believe they’re telling the truth. I believe that if you hooked them up to a perfect lie detector, it would verify that both of them believe their respective stories with all their hearts.

This sounds like an impossible position until you remember that our memories are not very reliable, especially when it comes to unpleasant memories. Beyond simply not remembering the details of a terrible situation, our brains are wired to avoid the kind of mental discomfort that comes with enduring or committing a sexual assault at all costs, even if that means mis-remembering the truth.

It’s because of this that the he said/she said nature of stories like this is difficult to process. It creates a scenario that’s different from most other crimes and injustices. There’s no dead body. There’s no lost or damaged property. There’s nothing tangible to highlight the crime or misdeed. There are only two conflicting stories. As a result, it leads to a situation of impossible justice.

Even if everything Grace described happened exactly as she said it did, there’s no way to prove it in a courtroom or even a civil case. Even if Ansari is one-hundred percent innocent and is the victim of an elaborate extortion plot, there’s no way to prove that either, absent a confession or new information.

In both instances, there’s an injustice being committed. Since humans are wired with an innate sense of justice that shows even when we’re infants, that situation is untenable in our collective minds. People hear a terrible story like Grace’s and that inner justice system goes into overdrive.

Since we don’t have the time, energy, or even the capabilities to gather all the facts, we’re left relying on a certain degree of prejudice. This is where the impossible justice of he said/she said gets real ugly and this scandal with Ansari demonstrates it. When people start relying on prejudices, it tends to bring out the worst in humanity.

For those who believe our culture is full of entitled, misogynistic men who see women only as objects to be owned, then their prejudices will be reinforced by this story. For those who believe the movement against sexual misconduct is going too far and all men are being demonized, this story does the same.

That’s greatest tragedy of an impossible justice. It gives certain people the anecdotal evidence they need to further their agenda. It also gives those who stand against that agenda even more incentive to fight back. In the end, it only serves to heighten hostilities and intensify the rhetoric.

At a time when men and women are increasingly divided, especially in matters pertaining to sex and intimacy, this sort of story really drives us in all the wrong directions. It frames all men as sleazy pigs who jump at any opportunity to harass a woman. It frames all women as victims who must fight back against everyone and everything attacking them, real or imagined.

For me, personally, this story makes me sick to my stomach because it’s one of those stories that’s perfect for pushing an agenda, but not for pursuing justice. If what happened to Grace is true, then I’m in favor of having Ansari face justice for his misdeeds. I say that as someone who has been a fan of his comedy and his work on “Parks and Recreation.”

As it stands, though, there’s not enough evidence beyond the he said/she said dynamic to convict anyone of a crime. Absent that kind of justice, people are filling in the blanks with whatever gender-driven prejudices they want to strengthen.

In my personal opinion, which may put me at odds with both sides, I believe that there’s a third version of this story between Grace and Ansari that is closer to the truth. In that version, Ansari isn’t a total gentleman and Grace isn’t a hapless victim either. It’s just an experience that becomes awkward and unpleasant for them, the memories of which later get conflated and influenced by outside sources.

In the end, it’s still impossible to know for sure. Short of high-definition video, unambiguous audio, and an ability to read the exact thoughts of both Grace and Ansari during those moments when they were together, we can’t know how consensual or hostile the situation was between them. It messes with our desire for justice, especially when it comes to how men treat women.

In seeking that justice, though, it’s important to remember that there are instances where the truth isn’t just elusive. It’s physically impossible to ascertain. In those instances, trying to fill that uncertainty with agendas will only lead to more injustice in the long run for everyone.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society

Why The Men Were Silent At The Golden Globes (For Good Reason)

When I was in middle school, I had a particularly vindictive gym teacher one year who had a knack for breaking the spirits of pre-teens. If we forgot to wash our uniforms, failed to take our seats on time, or just farted too loud, we were given a choice. Either we had to run a mile or do 100 push-ups. We got to choose, but both choices sucked.

The real kicker was that if we didn’t choose, then the teacher would choose for us and would go out of his way to make that choice seem extra cruel. It was one of those situations where it really didn’t matter what we said or did. One way or another, we were going to suffer for our actions and inaction.

This brings me to this year’s Golden Globes. Bear with me. I promise that’s not as big a non-sequiter as it sounds. There’s a valid reason I brought up the story of my vindictive gym teacher and it ties directly into the ongoing social movement to combat the sexual misconduct of powerful men.

I’ve talked about this issue before and, to be honest, I wish I didn’t have to keep discussing it. I would much rather be telling sexy stories, sharing sexy thoughts, or discussing upcoming superhero movies. However, these issues surrounding sexual misconduct in Hollywood have an undeniable impact on the sexual landscape and as an aspiring erotica/romance writer, that’s not something I can ignore.

A lot has been said and done since the movement began in wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. There has been a great deal of outrage, complete with protests and hashtags. Powerful men have fallen. Careers and reputations have been ruined. Entire movies and TV shows have actually been changed, as a result of this effort.

In some respects, it’s a good thing and I have pointed out the silver linings. Men harassing or abusing women is not something a just society should overlook. This isn’t one of those irrational moral panics, such as Satanic ritual abuse or the impact of violent video games. These instances of men abusing women have happened and some of the accused have confessed.

However, this ongoing crusade against powerful men, as well as horny men in general, has walked a fine line between a pursuing justice and demonizing any man who ever dared to admire a beautiful woman. It’s not quite at the level of an old-fashioned witch hunt, but it’s already in that dark territory where passions obscure reality.

What happened at the Golden Globes might end up being the most telling sign of all. Initially, the big news for this event was positive. Some of the most prominent women in Hollywood, including Emma Watson and Oprah Winfrey, came together in a show of solidarity against the sexual victimization of women. They all wore black dresses and got behind the newly-created “Time’s Up” movement.

Like other movements before it, the intent is good. This movement seeks to provide legal defense and resources for those who have been victimized by sexual misconduct. That’s an objectively good thing, but that wasn’t the most revealing moment of the Golden Globes. Instead, the biggest message came from what was not said.

It has been reported by more than one outlet. While the women at the Golden Globes were quite vocal in their ongoing efforts to clamp down on sexual misconduct, the men were mostly silent. Other than a brief remark from Seth Meyers at the beginning and some men dressing in black, Hollywood’s male stars were largely silent.

To some, this is already very problematic. I imagine it’s going to stir quite a bit of outrage among those trying to further the movement. However, when you take a step back and look at the situation in which these men were in, their silence makes complete sense. In fact, those same women who are determined to combat the Harvey Weinsteins of the world may very well have made it their only option.

To understand why, think back to my vindictive gym teacher for a moment. That teacher understood that to break the spirits of powerless pre-teens, it was necessary to put them in a situation where their choices mattered less than the ugly gym uniforms the school forced them to wear. By establishing just how powerless they were, it made any effort to speak up seem pointless.

These men, as powerful and successful they may be, were in a situation not unlike the one my hapless classmates were in that year. There was nothing they could’ve said or done that wouldn’t have been deconstructed, dissected, or misconstrued. No matter what they said or didn’t say, it would be used to label them as enemies of the movement and of women, as a whole.

If one of the men stood up on that stage and gave an impassioned speech condemning Harvey Weinstein, then his reputation would suffer. He would be labeled a virtue signaling white knight who was compensating for something. After what happened to Joss Whedon, those concerns wouldn’t be unfounded. He may even still face condemnation among women for not speaking up earlier or naming other harassers.

If that same man stood up and tried to give an impassioned speech on the importance of confronting the issue responsibly, then he would likely have suffered condemnation similar to that of Matt Damon, who dared to question whether all harassment should be treated equally. Even hinting at such nuance would’ve earned that man the toxic label of a misogynistic victim blamer.

Essentially, the men at the Golden Globes knew they couldn’t win either way. No matter what they said, it would’ve been used against them or undermined their career, somehow. These men, as powerful and successful they may be, are still human, despite what Tom Cruise may claim. They want to protect their jobs and their reputations. They can’t do that if they get slapped with these toxic labels.

In the end, silence was their safest bet and that, in and of itself, reveals the extent to which this crusade against sexual misconduct has gone. It’s past the point where people can have reasoned arguments about the issue. Now, it’s all outrage and hyperbole. Either you’re completely on board with that outrage or you’re just as bad as Harvey Weinstein. There is no gray area.

That lack of gray area means men have to be silent, which is the exact opposite of what the women in the movement are trying to achieve. It’s ironic, but understandable. These men aren’t going to garner much sympathy. They’re rich, handsome, and successful. There’s only so much sympathy they can inspire, due to their position.

Silence is the only way to avoid the added scrutiny that would undermine a career. Silence is the only way to avoid saying something that might offend, enrage, or upset a public that has shown in recent times an uncanny unwillingness to ruin lives and reputations. It’s actually worse than censorship, when you think about it, because it is self-imposed rather than coerced.

The fact that the men didn’t speak up at the Golden Globes may or may not represent a tipping point, of sorts. If the anti-harassment movement has created an environment that’s so frail that silence is the safest recourse, then that same movement lacks a critical component it needs to succeed.

Like it or not, men need to be part of the conversation with respect to sexual misconduct. Silence on their part means the crimes, the culture, and the attitudes that fosters such misconduct won’t change. Moreover, their point of view cannot be discounted as virtue signaling or “mansplaining.” The fact remains that if people feel helpless, then they won’t care enough to make the effort.

Like the broken spirits of my old gym class, if the men don’t think their words matter or may be used against them, then it makes perfect sense for them to remain silent. Outrage, awareness, and condemnation alone is not going to inspire meaningful change in the dynamics between men and women.

Both sides actually have to listen to one another and feel their words actually matter. It’s only then when silence will no longer be the most preferred and logical recourse.

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Why Rey From “Star Wars” Is NOT A Mary Sue

There are a handful of character types that tend to evoke a collective groan from most audiences. Being an ardent comic book fan, as well as a general fan of sci-fi, romance, and fantasy, I’ve listened to those groans and even contributed to them. At a time when it’s easier than ever to share opinions and/or voice frustration, these frustrating characters tend to be more vulnerable than ever.

Chief among those groan-inducing characters is the dreaded Mary Sue. Chances are you’ve heard that cute little colloquialism after browsing gaming and sci-fi message boards for more than five minutes.

Usually, it applies to a female character, but can just as easily fit apply to a male character as well, often in the form of the equally groan-inducing label of Gary Stu. Sometimes it’s a criticism of a character. Sometimes it’s a flat-out insult. In most cases, it rarely has a positive connotation.

It’s for that reason that characters slapped with the Mary Sue label tend to be either controversial or destructive to an underlying narrative. Many writers, myself included, go out of their way to avoid crafting characters that might attract that label. I certainly made that effort when I wrote “Skin Deep” and “Passion Relapse.” I doubt I’m the only one who tries to avoid it.

These days, though, there’s one particular character getting slapped with that label and it has been generating discussions for a couple years now. It comes from “Star Wars,” one of the biggest franchises in the history of modern fiction and one of many productive cash cows for Disney. The character in question is Rey and I know that discussions about her tend to bring out the dark side in any “Star Wars” fan.

Now, I personally really like Rey. After seeing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she solidified herself as one of my favorite “Star Wars” characters of all time. I wasn’t entirely sold on her potential after seeing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I’ve since been convinced. Rey is a great character and one of the best things to come out of this new generation of “Star Wars.”

That said, I’m aware of the criticisms levied against her. She is very much at the center of an ongoing debate about female characters, in general, and what constitutes a Mary Sue. I tried to avoid those debates after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I feel comfortable entering the fray now after seeing Rey develop over the course of two movies.

Before I offer my assessment on whether or not Rey deserves the label of a Mary Sue, it’s helpful to highlight just what a Mary Sue is. There’s actually not any clearly-defined criteria, to date, and that criteria is constantly evolving. According to TVTropes.org, the simplest definition of a Mary Sue is a character that’s just too good to be true. More specifically, those traits include the following:

  • A bland, shallow personality that’s overly pure, overly good, and incorruptible
  • Flaws that are forced and only ever meant to glorify her purity and goodness
  • Beauty that is either flawless or idealized for any given world, fictional or otherwise
  • Physical skills that are exceedingly good to the point of never facing any real challenges
  • Mental acuity to the point where she’s never wrong, never foolish, and always on the moral high ground
  • Unlimited and contrived access to every tool or resource, be it something mundane or a Deus ex Machina
  • Always ending up with the perfect romantic partner and/or forging friendships with every meaningful character
  • Being at the center of every plot and sub-plot by default

Again, these are just a few traits associated with a Mary Sue and there are likely more. There are far more thorough insights into the traits of a Mary Sue, one of which was done by the YouTube channel, Overly Sarcastic Production. After their wonderful breakdown of strong female characters, I would put their assessment far above my own.

Whatever the criteria, the Mary Sue is such a fluid concept, which is part of why it’s such an empty criticism. However, it has become a more serious criticism and since it’s being applied to “Star Wars,” it’s definitely carries more weight than usual.

With all that said, does Rey fit that criteria? Is it a valid criticism to call Rey a Mary Sue whose portrayal is weighing down the overall narrative of “Star Wars?” It’s a debate I’m sure will continue for quite some time, but here’s my definitive response, for what it’s worth.

No. Rey is NOT a Mary Sue…for the most part.

Now, I’m aware I’m being somewhat vague by adding that little caveat at the end. However, there’s a reason for that and I’m fairly confident that they qualify as reasons and not excuses.

For one, Rey’s story is not complete. That much needs to be said from the beginning. It’s something that I find many debates involving Rey tend to overlook. Yes, her story is lagging a bit more than those of Luke, Leia, and Han Solo did in the original trilogy. There are other reasons for this, but they’re unrelated to the debate at hand.

Even with an incomplete story, I believe that Rey has done enough over the course of two movies to prove that she’s not a Mary Sue. I think she established that shortly after her appearance in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

In terms of appearance, she comes off as someone who could put on a set of clothes from Wal-Mart, walk into a typical high school, and not generate much reaction. She doesn’t radiate the kind of beauty or royalty that often defines a Mary Sue. Even if she later proves to have a special destiny, that basically puts her in the same category as Luke Skywalker and every other legendary hero.

In terms of personality, she’s not exactly gushing with love and likability, which is another key trait of the Mary Sue. In many respects, Rey is somewhat cold and detached when she first shows up. She doesn’t whine or lament about her less-than-extraordinary life, nor does she eagerly jump at the chance to join the resistance when she encounters Finn. Hers is a more complex journey.

In terms of skill, this is where I think most of the Mary Sue accusations come from. I admit that I thought her excessive skill with the Force, flying the Millennium Falcon, and defeating Kylo Ren pushed the bounds of her character a bit too much. Even I was tempted to throw that label on her after seeing her accomplish so much with so little training.

However, when I step back and look at the larger plot, as well as incorporate the events of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” I see that those traits aren’t enough to warrant calling her a Mary Sue. They are a flaw in her character. That much, I don’t deny. Just having that flaw, though, doesn’t make her a Mary Sue.

I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” did a lot to help distance her from that label. It did so by having her make a few bad judgment calls while also not winning her battles quite as easily. When you look at the sequence of events in that movie, she didn’t actually succeed in most of what she sought out to do. Most of the success in that movie came from others, namely Kylo Ren, Finn, and Poe Dameron.

While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Rey failed miserably in her efforts, I think “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” established that her skills have limits. She has all sorts of natural talent, but she doesn’t always apply it effectively. That’s not unusual for real and fictional characters. You could even make the argument that her missteps help really help to improve her likability.

A Mary Sue is supposed to be sickeningly perfect and hopelessly ideal, so much so that there’s no need for a plot since they just fix everything with their charm. Rey isn’t like that in either movie. In fact, the final battle in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” didn’t really involve her. More than anything else, her role really complemented all the others by the end of the movie.

Now, I’m certain there are more than a few ardent “Star Wars” fans with X-wings tattooed on their chests who will claim I’m dead wrong. Those arguing that Rey is a Mary Sue have more than a few points to make and I don’t deny that some of those points are valid. I just don’t think they’re sufficient.

Rey is a great character, but one with some obvious flaws. I would call her overpowered and over-skilled, but you could levy that criticism against other iconic characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and even Batman. Unlike those iconic characters, though, Rey is very new to the cultural landscape and her story still has room to unfold, as director Rian Johnson has pointed out.

I don’t doubt that debate over whether or not Rey is a Mary Sue will continue for quite some time. While I don’t think the next “Star Wars” movie will definitely resolve that, I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t have to be at this point. I think Rey has done enough to subvert this dreaded label.

She’s still a great character with a number of conceptual flaws. I think she has a bright future in our culture. She’ll always have her critics, but all great characters do. It’s just a matter of how they navigate that criticism. Given the cultural weight “Star Wars” carries, I’d say she’s handled it much better than most non-Jar Jar characters could ever hope.

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Making Sense Of Sexual Misconduct, Valid Arguments, And Matt Damon

We like to think that when there’s a serious problem, our first instinct is to approach it with a logical, reasoned understanding of what it is and how to go about solving it. Ideally, that’s how competent, civil societies go about these things. By those same ideals, though, nobody ever cheats on their taxes, lies on their resume, or downloads free movies from torrent sites.

In the real world, there are some problems where our emotions surrounding an issue are so powerful, so intense that they undercut our ability to approach it logically. It’s part of the flawed wiring in our caveman brains that seems to crop up in every major issue I discuss on this blog.

That brings me back to one of the most emotionally charged issues of the day in sexual assault. It’s an issue that has touched everything from movies to video games to the comic book industry that I’m so fond of. Between the scandals and the movements they inspire, it’s one of the most heated issues that doesn’t involve Star Wars fan theories.

It’s because the emotions surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment are so heated right now that trying to force any level of logic or context into the discussion is next to impossible. If done poorly, it can come off as victim blaming, which is tends to intensify emotions even more.

This brings me to Matt Damon, an actor who has built much of his career about having to be rescued. Unfortunately, he didn’t get that memo about the current emotional state of this issue. It’s still very raw and very charged. There’s a reason for that, but that reason is secondary right now and he just found that out the hard way.

It happened during a recent interview for ABC’s “Popcorn with Peter Travers.” During the interview, Mr. Damon decided to give his opinion on the issue, as many other celebrities have on the issue. This is what he had to say.

“I think it’s wonderful that women are feeling empowered to tell their stories and it’s totally necessary,” he said. “I do believe there’s a spectrum of behavior. … You know, there’s a difference between, you know, patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation, right? Both of those behaviors need to be confronted and eradicated without question, but they shouldn’t be conflated.”

The bold parts are my doing. That’s because these are the parts stirring even more emotion within an already heated discussion that shows no signs of settling. Harvey Weinstein triggered it and subsequent celebrity scandals escalated it. Matt Damon may have escalated it even more by trying to put a kind of logic into a discussion that isn’t ready for it.

On paper, what Mr. Damon said isn’t unreasonable. In fact, it’s fairly logical by most standards. There is, indeed, a spectrum of behavior for sexual misconduct, just as there’s a spectrum for behavior of any kind of deviance.

In the same way that stealing a bag of candy from a grocery store isn’t the same as stealing the Mona Lisa, an unwanted hug at an office Christmas party is not the same as a brutal rape in a dark alley. There is a spectrum for that kind of behavior. One warrants serious punishment and prosecution. The other warrants disapproval and scorn, but not much else.

However, that kind of approach is just too logical for something that’s so emotionally charged. I know I keep saying that, but it’s worth belaboring and it really does matter. Sexual assault is an extremely emotional topic, one that incurs an immense amount of trauma and suffering to the victims. To them, logic and spectrums mean as much as the weather on Neptune.

As a result, the reactions to Mr. Damon’s words have been more than a little charged. The most vocal reaction came from Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver. This is what they had to say on the matter.

Now, I don’t doubt their sincerity. These are two women who have been in the entertainment industry long enough to know more than a few dirty secrets. There’s plenty of emotion and disdain in their words. They go out of their way to focus on the bigger picture that’s fueling the outrage, emphasizing past injustices and systemic problems that pre-dated them, Matt Damon, and most people alive today.

In terms of the emotions surrounding the ongoing discussion, their words struck all the right chords. They focused on the pain and suffering that sexual assault has done to women like them and many other before them. They also emphasize how these injustices went overlooked and unpunished.

That’s where they have Mr. Damon beat because, like I’ve noted before, we have this inherent sense of justice hardwired into us from birth. Injustice rightly makes us upset, uncomfortable, and outraged. However, it’s that same reaction that can also blind us to the logic behind the injustice.

There’s nothing that Ms. Driver and Ms. Milano said that disproves or undercuts Mr. Damon’s points. They don’t even try to argue that everything, from a hug to a rape, is equally egregious when judging sexual misconduct. They just point out that Mr. Damon is a terrible person and part of the problem they’re trying to fight. As such, there’s no reason for them to take his words seriously.

That may help them win the current argument, but it doesn’t necessarily make them right in the long run. I’ve said before that there’s a huge difference between winning an argument and being right. One matters in the long run. The other doesn’t. For an issue as serious as sexual misconduct, that’s a dangerous precedent.

Again, I get the reason why women like Ms. Driver and Ms. Milano react so strongly. It’s very personal for them. I doubt Mr. Damon has ever been a victim of the kind of misconduct they’ve endured. Therein lies the problem, though, if either side is serious about confronting the issue.

It’s so personal for some people. It’s a problem to be solved with logic and understanding for others. At the moment, those sides just can’t coexist. It doesn’t matter whether Matt Damon, a well-known celebrity, makes a valid point. It doesn’t even matter if that’s an important point to make in order to prevent this movement from enduring a backlash, which some have already expressed concerns about.

However, it has to matter. In order for us, men and women alike, to create a more just society that confronts sexual misconduct appropriately, both the high emotions and the logic has to matter. It’s the only way anyone can be motivated and informed enough to do something about it.

I’m not going to say that Mat Damon was wrong for saying what he said. I’m also not going to say that Alyssa Milano and Minnie Driver were wrong for reacting the way they did, either. I’ll only say that overlooking logic and ignoring context never work out in the long run. At some point, reality catches up to us all. In the long run, reality wins every argument, regardless of our emotions.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, sex in society

Bryan Singer, Harvey Weinstein, And The Double Standards Of Sexual Abuse

What does it say about the state of our culture, our society, and our sexuality when every week seems to bring a new sex scandal to light? That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. That’s a question that many are trying to answer. I’ve certainly tried to answer parts of it, but with every new scandal, that effort gains a new complication.

By now, most people know the famous names, the ruined careers, and the sordid extent of the allegations. Names like Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., and Bill Cosby are now etched into the public consciousness for all the wrong reasons. The outrage and anguish surrounding their egregious actions evokes all sorts of passions.

It eventually culminated with Time Magazine recognizing the women who brought these scandals to light as the collective person of the year. For the most part, these women have been hailed as brave and strong for coming forward and exposing these crimes. It’s because of them that these powerful men can no longer hide their misdeeds, which is a good thing.

I don’t deny the importance of what these women have done. They’ve helped kick-start a movement that has made people more aware of these egregious crimes. It’s because of those efforts that even powerful people who are inclined to use that power to exploit women can’t hide from the consequences of their actions. In the name of furthering a just society, I think that’s a good thing.

However, and this is where I know I may upset some people, there’s a part of that effort that’s still incomplete. There’s a missing piece of this ongoing battle against sexual misconduct, one that has the feel of a very subtle, but deeply distressing double standard. Having talked about the less obvious double standards in our society, I feel like the extent of this one is only growing.

Recently, a fresh sex scandal came to light involving another powerful name in Hollywood. Bryan Singer, the accomplished director behind “The Usual Suspects” and the architect of the X-men movie franchise, has been accused of raping a 17-year-old boy. We’re not talking about loose bath robes, groping, and shady casting couches. This story involves full-blown rape.

It’s not the first time Singer has been accused of sexual misconduct. To date, he hasn’t been proven guilty in a court of law, which is an important detail to note. False accusations do happen and people in positions of power, like Hollywood, are easy targets.

I’m not going to speculate how true or exaggerated the accusations against Singer are. The details are still not clear and information is still coming out. However, there’s an important element to the news of this scandal that’s worth pointing out.

Unlike the scandals with Weinstein and Cosby, the victims in this case weren’t women. They were men. If you don’t think that matters, then take a second to recall the reactions to other scandals.

When the sordid stories about Weinstein came out, they generated all sorts of outrage. It was a hot topic on the news, social media, and even “Family Guy” jokes. The fact that these men did such disgusting things to women got a lot of people talking. However, when the victims are men, the narrative is different.

Before Bryan Singer, the only notable scandal involving men was that of Kevin Spacey. However, the outrage he generated had less to do with the gender of his victim and more to do with how he used the scandal to come out as homosexual. That upset people, but the alleged crime he committed against his male victim became an afterthought.

This is where the double standard gets uncomfortably apparent. We, as a society, agree that assaulting and harassing women is a terrible crime. We rightly condemn it. However, when it happens to a male victim, and it happens more often than we think, we’re not quite as vocal with our outrage. It’s still a crime. It still involves exploration and pain. When the victim is a man, though, we don’t see it the same way.

I’ve highlighted this to some degree with a thought experiment. However, it plays out in other ways throughout our culture. Stories about women being victims are often harrowing and brutal. Stories built around male victims of sexual assault, though, can be comedies starring Will Ferrall and Kevin Hart.

There are any number of reasons as to why that is. Male victimization, especially in matters of sexual misconduct, carries with it some unique taboos. There’s this idea that men, being the ones with more power and influence in this world, can’t be victims in the same way as women. Never mind the fact that the pain any victim feels is real, regardless of gender. We still treat one victim differently than another.

It plays into this notion that men are just supposed to shake off that kind of victimization and women need some sort of special treatment. In a sense, it’s insulting to both genders and obscures the actual substance of the crimes involved. Whereas there’s an entire movement behind the effort to combat sex crimes against women, the crimes against men just fall to the wayside.

That’s not to say it’s being completely ignored. Some are making an admirable effort. Corey Feldman, a former child star, has been among the few celebrities who have been outspoken about the abuse young men have suffered in the entertainment industry. Terry Crews, a successful actor and former Old Spice Man, has spoken out against it as well.

However, to date their efforts haven’t generated the kind of notoriety and outrage as the movement to protect women from these same crimes. Their voices are often drowned out by other scandals that fit into this overall narrative of creepy, sinister men in power exploiting women.

For reasons that are too voluminous for one blog post, the narrative surrounding scandals like that of Bryan Singer aren’t quite as enticing. The notion of a powerful man victimizing another man just doesn’t come off as the kind of struggle that makes everyone feel more virtuous by joining.

It certainly doesn’t help that the taboos surrounding these scandals also mix with other taboos involving homosexuality. Those attempting to take a stand against male victimization have to be careful with their outrage because if they don’t, they can get labeled as a homophobic bigot and that’s not the crowd most people want to be part of.

In a sense, voicing outrage against the female victimization is easier and safer. There’s little ambiguity. A powerful man victimizing a vulnerable woman has clear, defined lines of injustice. The only emotions we deal with are those involved with our aversion to injustice.

With male victims, those emotions are still there, but they’re complicated by these uncomfortable ideas that don’t fit that narrative. It goes beyond double standards in that it requires us to contemplate the kind of crime that we don’t want to believe happens as often as it does.

That mentality is downright dangerous because it creates the sense that some victims are more important than others. Whereas a female victim will get all the love and support that hashtags and talk shows can offer, male victims have to fend for themselves. That’s a problem because fighting the same injustice with different standards is an injustice in and of itself.

The allegations against Singer remain to be proven and may end up being false, but the fact that this scandal doesn’t carry the same weight as others involving women reveals that ongoing efforts to combat sexual misconduct are incomplete. Until some of these double standards are confronted, then the injustice will continue.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Gal Gadot’s Message To Misogynists (And Why It’s Incomplete)

It has been a good year for Gal Gadot. When you’re the woman who brought Wonder Woman to life in one of the most successful movies of 2017, as well as the highest grossing superhero origins movie of all time, you can objectively say you’re doing pretty damn well for yourself.

Ms. Gadot has every reason to be confident and not just because she’s the second woman since Lynda Carter who can call herself Wonder Woman with a straight face. She didn’t just make the “Wonder Woman” movie an unmitigated success while also getting Chris Pine naked in the process. She did it in a way that was truly empowering to women, female superheroes, and guys who just appreciate women who can kick ass.

As such, Ms. Gadot’s words carry a lot more weight than most people, regardless of their gender. She could say tomorrow that pineapples and beaver testicles are the greatest pizza topping of all time and we, as a society, would still take her seriously. That’s how much power you get from making an awesome “Wonder Woman” and doing part of it while pregnant, no less.

That’s why when, during a promotional interview with IGN with her “Justice League” co-star, Ezra Miller, Ms. Gadot made a bold proclamation. Granted, it wasn’t entirely serious and Miller had goaded her, but since she’s Gal “Wonder Woman” Gadot, these words still carry weight.

“Misogynist sexists, your wrath upon this world is over!”

If you want to see the full interview in order to get the full context of the statement, which is important here, you can watch the video here.

Again, the statement wasn’t on the same level as a full-blown protest, complete with bra burning. This is her and a co-star goofing around, but some of that sentiment stems directly from some distressing recent events involving powerful men being dicks to women. These issues are serious, bringing out the best and worst in people.

That’s why Ms. Gadot’s message matters. As I write these words, there are probably people out there taking them far more seriously than she intended. Some may even use it as a rallying cry to wage war against everyone with a penis who dared to have a dirty thought about a beautiful woman. While those people may be a fringe minority, the message still resonates, due to the unique time we find ourselves in, as a culture.

There’s no question that 2017 is a turning point and not just for female superhero movies like “Wonder Woman.” USA Today is already calling it “The Harvey Weinstein Effect” and has been maintaining a list of powerful men who have lost their jobs and/or reputations, due to sexual misconduct.

At this point, even if you’re a card-carrying member of the patriarchy, you can’t deny the growing trend. It’s gotten to a point where anytime you see a male public figure’s name trending on social media, there’s a good chance that they’re somehow involved in some sordid sexual misconduct. Say what you will about the merits of this trend, but it’s happening.

Going back to Ms. Gadot’s bold proclamation, I think it’s partially accurate in that it’s already being fulfilled. Powerful men who have harassed women are losing power, reputation, and influence. Influential organizations are cutting ties with those who are embroiled in sex scandals.

If you’re a powerful man who loves using his power to coerce sexual favors, this is not a good time for you and Ms. Gadot’s words should strike fear in you. While that part of her statement is valid, and most people would probably agree with it, there is one issue with it. It’s incomplete.

By that, I don’t mean Ms. Gadot misspoke. I am not foolish enough to tell Wonder Woman herself how she should talk when she could probably kill me with her pinkie toe. In terms of the overall substance of her message, though, it’s one of those instances where the rhetoric is more ambitious than the words.

The problem is that the message gives the impression that there’s an actual war going on. Coming from Gal Gadot, who served in the Israeli army before becoming Wonder Woman, it makes sense for her to frame it in such a way.

However, when it comes to powerful men exploiting vulnerable women, that’s not a war. That’s an societal problem on top of a leverage problem on top of a biological problem within the ongoing problem that is our caveman brains. Granted, that’s a lot of problems, but framing it as a war only compounds them.

That’s because wars, and wraths by default, are chaotic and bloody. Wars have casualties and most of the time, they’re not just enemy soldiers. Declaring a war on something, even if it’s an objectively bad thing, is bound to stir chaos that will affect others than the intended targets. Just look at the casualties in the ongoing war on drugs for distressing proof of that.

Ms. Gadot’s comment also implies there’s some shadowy army of evil Harvey Weinstein clones, each plotting and planning to create a world where they can harass and assault women with impunity. That may very well be a plot for another Wonder Woman movie, but it’s not reflective of the real world.

The kind of misogyny that creates men like Harvey Weinstein is not the result of some shadowy conspiracy that only Alex Jones would buy into. They’re largely a result of unequal power structures, outdated ideas about gender roles, and people generally taking advantage of opportunities that other horny men can only dream of.

It’s not an agenda or a wrath that’s in play here. It’s injustice and exploitation, coupled with greed and corruption. That, in and of itself, is a pretty toxic combination that affects people of any gender. It can get pretty bad at every levels of power, but it’s not just restricted to misogyny or general sexism.

Now, there’s no question that there’s still a lot of injustice and sexism in the world. If Ms. Gadot wants to fight that, both as an advocate and as Wonder Woman, I would gladly fight beside her, along with anyone else who would heed her call. That call, however, can’t be the same as a war cry against a secret cabal of misogynist sexists. It has to have more substance than that.

For the most part, people already despise misogynist sexists. Neither Ms. Gadot nor Wonder Woman need to convince anyone of that. Men with sordid pasts are already seeing their reputations and authority being undermined by recent efforts. Ms. Gadot herself even played a part in one of them involving Brett Ratner.

However, it can’t be like Wonder Woman’s final battle against Ares in the “Wonder Woman” movie. That’s not how sexism manifests in the real world. It’s not one of those things that can be fought with fists and godly powers. It’s one of those things that can only be fought with understanding, knowledge, and compassion, all of which are among Wonder Woman’s core tenants.

I don’t know what a better rallying cry would be for Ms. Gadot. Even if I did, it wouldn’t mean much coming from a male erotica/romance writer. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexism are all serious issues. As such, any effort to confront them needs to start with the right message and I hope Gal Gadot is among those who delivers that message.

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The TomatoMeter: Is It Ruining Movies?

Let’s not lie to ourselves. We all have that one movie that we love, but everyone else, from our friends to professional critics, hate with a passion. I don’t deny I have my share. In fact, I have more than one. Some of my favorite guilty pleasure movies involve such critically panned classics like “Dude Where’s My Care?” and “Terminator Genisys.”

I don’t apologize for loving those movies, nor should anyone else apologize for liking the movies that they like. Everybody is entitled to their own tastes in movies, TV shows, comics, and porn. Granted, tastes in porn can be somewhat revealing about a person, but that’s another discussion for another article.

The discussion I’d like to have now has less to do with our ability to love critically panned movies and more to do with what’s happening with the movie industry, which has released more than it share of terrible movies. These are strange times for Hollywood and not just because it’s much harder to hide a sordid sex scandal.

Anyone who has watched at least one movie or been to the non-pornographic parts of the internet for at least ten minutes has probably heard of a site called Rotten Tomatoes. It is to movies what a rectal thermometer is to your health. Most people don’t like using it. Many try to ignore or avoid it. Sometimes, though, it tells us important things about our general health.

I’ll try to keep the rectal analogies to a minimum because there’s a growing issue with respect to Rotten Tomatoes and how it’s effecting the industry. More than one major producer has come out and bemoaned the site’s impact on the industry. Granted, one of those voices is Brett Ratner and his credibility has taken a huge hit lately. That doesn’t make that impact any less serious.

There was a time as recently as 2007 that a movie could get a lousy score on Rotten Tomatoes and still do well at the box office. Most recently, movies like “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” were the poster boy for this phenomenon. That movie earned a pitiful 19 percent on the Tomatometer, but it still managed to rake in over $836 million at the box office.

Personally, I really enjoyed that movie. I thought it was a lot of fun, despite Shia Lebouf’s goofy demeanor, at times. However, that movie might have been the last of its kind in that it failed so hard with critics, but still made plenty of money, both domestically and at the foreign box office. Later movies did much worse domestically and had to rely on international box office receipts to turn a profit.

Since then, a bat Tomatometer score can really hurt a movie’s profits. Most recently, the two movies that suffered this the most were “Fantastic Four” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Both of these movies didn’t just under-perform. In some cases, major studios singled them out as a reason for declining profits.

Even more recently, the “Justice League” movie took a major hit when its Tomatometer score tanked, even though the majority of audiences liked it. There’s already a lot of doomsaying going on that, due to the poor reception of the movie, it could end up losing a great deal of money for Warner Brothers.

Think about that for a moment. The critics hated that movie, but the audiences loved it. However, due to the poor Tomatometer score, a movie like “Justice League” is doomed to go down in history as a failure. Even if the point of the movie is to entertain the audience, which “Justice League” seemed to achieve, it’s going to fail because a handful of critics said so.

This is where the influence of Rotten Tomatoes gets kind of scary. There are a great many movies that audiences love, such as “Independence Day” and “Home Alone” that have lousy Tomatometer scores, but were still huge box office successes. They succeeded because they pleased audiences and not critics. They’re certainly not the only ones.

If those movies had come out today, then they wouldn’t have been as much a success. Today, it’s easier than ever to look up how acclaimed a movie is and judge its quality, based on its score. Some of the people who ended up loving movies “Home Alone” might never have seen it, just because of the Tomatometer.

On some levels, that’s understandable. People don’t want to pay to see a movie that sucks. We waste our money on enough crap these days. We don’t want to pay $15 to see a movie we don’t like. However, how do we even know we won’t like it until we see it? Are we really going to trust critics to do that kind of thinking for us?

Now, there will be some who never pay much attention to what critics say. Even if Rotten Tomatoes had been around years ago, I still would’ve seen “Dude Where’s My Care?” because that’s just the kind of guilty pleasure movie I love.

However, if too many studios are concerned about what the almighty Tomatometer says, then movies like that might not even get made in the first place. Sure, the world wouldn’t change much if a movie like “Dude Where’s My Care?” had never been made, but that’s not the point.

If an entire industry is going to obsess over what a handful of critics on Rotten Tomatoes say about their movie, then they’re going to focus on pleasing them instead of audiences. This has already caused some consternation among movie fans, some of which suspect that there’s something corrupt going on behind the scenes.

While I don’t usually subscribe to conspiracy theories, I don’t think this one would take a full-blown CIA operation to achieve. If a movie studio wants to spend a few extra million dollars bribing movie critics to prop up their Tomatometer score, then I can’t think of how anyone could stop them.

Sure, it’s unethical, but nobody is going to prison for that. Human nature tells us that if there’s a low-risk way to achieve high-risk returns with little chance of getting caught and only minor repercussions at best, then it probably will happen at some point. It’s not unreasonable to suspect that it has happened in the past, but those involved are smart enough not to get caught.

With the Rotten Tomatoes, though, that kind of corruption becomes even easier because the result is quantifiable. You can see it in the Tomatometer score of a movie. It’s hard to imagine such a powerful tool not getting corrupted at some point.

For now, I suspect this trend will continue with Rotten Tomatoes wielding greater and greater power over a movie’s success. That trend could easily change or reverse down the line. For now, though, I won’t go so far as to say that Rotten Tomatoes is actively ruining movies. I’ll just say that it’s setting a dangerous precedent.

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