Category Archives: Celebrities and Celebrity Culture

PSA: Disagreeing With Someone Is NOT A Violent Act

There are certain basic, inherently decent truths in this world. Most reasonable people understand them to some extent. We don’t need to be persuaded of their merits.

Being a selfish asshole is a bad thing.

Lying, cheating, and stealing is a bad thing.

Compliments and kind words help us and others like us.

Not everything you see on the internet is true.

These are just a few. I hope they’re not controversial. I like to think I have enough life experiences to make these statements with some credibility. Ideally, we don’t need to remind each other of these simple truths. They should be a given for anyone with a functioning brain.

Unfortunately, we live in an exceedingly imperfect world and years like 2020 only intensify those imperfections.

So, in that frustrating spirit, I’d like to make a quick public service announcement that I hope will function as a simple reminder. Please note I’m not referring to one particular person or a single group. I’m addressing as many people as possible. If you can, please forward this along because this needs to be said, reinforced, and belabored.

Someone disagreeing with you is not a violent act against you, nor should it be construed as one.

I know. That sounds like common sense. It is, for the most part. Most of us learn in grade school that someone disagreeing with you is not a big deal. You don’t have to like it. You may feel angry about it, but it’s hardly damaging. We live in a diverse society with diverse people. You’re going to encounter people who don’t think or believe like you do.

That’s fine.

That’s life.

However, lately it feels like the mere act of disagreeing with someone is somehow construed as this aggressive, violent political statement. Just telling someone you don’t agree with their politics or voted differently in the last election is no longer a simple point of disagreement. It’s an outright affront.

I see it in social media, comments sections, and in person debates. It gets incredibly ugly and it escalates way too fast. It often goes like this.

Person A: I voted for this candidate/hold this position/support this effort.

Person B: Really? I voted for the other candidate/position/effort.

Person A: You horrible piece of fucking shit! You’re ruining this country and this world! I hate your fucking guts and everything you stand for! You should fucking die a horrible death!

I wish I could say that was hyperbole. I really wish I could. Sadly, that’s a painfully accurate paraphrasing of the rhetoric I see whenever people start arguing. Whether it’s about politics, pop culture, video games, or which fictional characters they like, it gets so ugly, so fast that it’s disturbing.

It’s not treated as a difference of opinion. Some treat simple, differing opinions as a series of kidney punches delivered by Ivan Drago. It’s a gross, irrational, unbalanced response to the mere act of holding an opinion. If you don’t believe me, just try making these comments on any social platform.

I enjoyed Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

I support professional athletes protesting police injustice during the national anthem.

Brie Larson is a great actress.

There should be more diversity in certain franchises.

These are innocuous opinions. They don’t physically harm anyone. They reveal only a tiny sliver of who someone actually is. However, the mere utterance of these opinions is often a trigger for the most vile, hateful, rage-fueled reactions you can imagine.

That’s not just wrong.

That’s not just misguided, either.

It’s fucking stupid.

There’s no other way to describe it. These reactions are not the least bit warranted. Someone disagreeing with you is not an act of violence. It’s just not. Treating it as such is absurd, not to mention regressive.

Nobody, I don’t care who you are, is ever going to live in a world where everyone agrees with them. Humans just aren’t wired like that. Getting so upset about it is not a productive use of our time, energy, and passions.

I realize this will likely fall in deaf ears for some, but I hope others will take a step back and reassess how they react to someone voicing an opposing opinion. This world is messy enough. Let’s not make it worse by fighting each other for petty, unwarranted reasons.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, censorship, Current Events, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, rants

George Carlin (Still) Perfectly Explains The Abortion Issue For 2020

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.

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Filed under abortion, Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, politics, religion, women's issues, YouTube

Why Johnny Depp (And Men Like Him) Will NEVER Get The Benefit Of The Doubt

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.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, media issues, men's issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, sex in society, women's issues

What Exactly Does “Canceling” Someone Solve?

In general, I try not to comment on “cancel culture.” It’s not because I don’t have an opinion. I just think it’s a waste of time, for the most part. I’ve never seen it lead to a productive conversation on anything. Most of the time, it just amounts to people publicly whining about something they find offensive to a point where others cave, if only to stop the whining.

I am not a fan of this, to put it mildly.

Every time I see it trend, I want to bash my head on my computer screen while telling some of these people to grow thicker skin.

The world is a chaotic, ugly, offensive place. We can only do so much to change it. No matter how much change we manage to implement, it won’t change the past or the context in which it transpired. That’s especially true if the people others are trying to cancel are long dead.

Now, as much as I despite the term and what it represents, I also understand that it’s not as simple as its critics make it out to be. At times, I find the people who whine about cancel culture to be just as insufferable. Their whining can basically be boiled down to, “Other people want to cancel the stuff I like and it hurts my feelings!” That’s just as pathetic as wanting to blackball a celebrity for old tweets from 2009.

Both efforts are equally absurd.

Both efforts do nothing to make the world a safer, more tolerant, more inclusive place.

Most of the time, I find the effects of “cancel culture” to be inconsistent, at best. People will complain about the lack of diversity in media, politics, business, and certain industries, but those same people can’t be bothered to vote or support the things that reflect those preferences. They always revert to whining.

People on both sides of the political spectrum will do this. The same people who laugh at those who complain about a video game character being too sexy while whine just as much because Brie Larson said something that hurt their feelings. They’ll claim their efforts are not contributing to cancel culture, but it’s the same damn concept.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of decent human beings with thick skin and a good sense of humor, cancel culture is still a thing. People are going to condemn celebrities and public figures for things they said or did years ago. We saw it with Kevin Hart, which cost him a chance to host the Oscars. We’re seeing that now with celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel and Sarah Silverman, who once did skits involving blackface.

All this is happening as statues of historical figures who did deplorable things are coming down. Never mind the context or bigger picture of why they’re historical in the first place. They did something awful. Any image that exists that may glorify them in any way is just too much for our tender sensibilities.

In addition to people, the urge to cancel all things offensive has extended to art. Movies like “Gone With The Wind,” which definitely had some offensive imagery, was removed from streaming recently. Shows like “Paw Patrol,” which is geared towards children, was seen as too offensive at a time when police brutality is a hot topic.

Now, I’m not going to justify old tweets or outrage about movies from a different era. I know there’s nothing I can say to change the minds of those who are so offended by statutes, celebrities, or the names of football teams that they want them all canceled. There’s also nothing I can say to change the minds who think it’s part of some elaborate censorship effort meant to destroy freedom.

Instead, I’d like to ask a few simple questions for both sides to consider.

What exactly does canceling something achieve in the long run?

At what point does canceling something amount to censorship?

Why is canceling something more viable than simply growing thicker skin?

At what point does context stop mattering for something that’s offensive?

How does condemning the ugly history of the past make the present or future any better?

What right do you have to be offended by the feelings and preferences of someone else?

I won’t claim these are easy questions to answer, but to those who are behind or protesting certain cancel-this hashtags, I hope they offer perspective. Like it or not, cancel culture isn’t going away anytime soon. People are always going to be offended by something or someone.

In years past, it was uptight religious zealots who were aghast at anything that didn’t reflect or promote the values of a 1950s sitcom. Now, it’s uptight activists who are aghast at anything that doesn’t reflect their utopian fever dream that just happens to align with their politics. The passion is real, but the motivations are misguided.

You can tear down every monument.

You can censor every byte of media.

You can rewrite every textbook or novel that ever reflected outdated attitudes.

It won’t change what happened in the past. It won’t prevent people from being assholes in the future. If anything, it sends the message that people are too weak, stupid, or traumatized to handle certain ideas. That, in my opinion, is the most offensive thing of all.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, rants, television

How I Came To Respect Red Foreman From “That ’70s Show”

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 citedChuck” 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.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, media issues, philosophy, psychology, television

Who Will Be The First (Digitally) Immortal Celebrity?

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.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, futurism

Why “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” Is The Perfect Dark Comedy

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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.

Trust me, they’re doing exactly what you think they’re doing and then some.

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.

Trust me, it gets more absurd than this.

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.

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What Does It Mean For A Woman To “Own” Her Sexuality?

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In a perfect world, human sexuality wouldn’t be so political. From  a biological and societal standpoint, the fundamentals are simple.

Two people meet.

They gauge one another’s interest.

They decide to engage in an intimate relationship.

Together, they make a mutual effort to enjoy the fruits of that relationship.

Ideally, an expression of sexuality is a mutual exchange between two people seeking an intimate connection. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a heterosexual relationship, a homosexual relationship, or something more elaborate. So long as those involved are willing, considerate, and open, everyone shares in the benefits.

Sadly, we don’t live in that perfect world. Like it or not, human sexuality is one of the most politically charged topics anyone can discuss. It’s connected to hot button issues like abortion, sexual assault, domestic violence, child welfare, poverty, crime, human trafficking, and even religion. Considering its role in propagating our species, it’s understandable why discussions about about it get heated.

That said, some of those discussions are political for all the wrong reasons. A few are even built on a foundation of absurdities that only serve to distort our perspectives on human sexuality and not in a good way. One of those discussions involve the idea of a woman “owning her sexuality.”

This idea isn’t new, but it has become a more common refrain in recent years, often in conjunction with media depictions of female sexuality. It’s become a slogan, of sorts, for whenever a female celebrity or fictional character does something that’s sexually empowering. Depending on where someone is on the political spectrum, they’ll either cheer or scorn their actions.

However, what constitutes “sexual empowerment” is poorly defined and exceedingly inconsistent. In some cases, empowerment involves a woman being more sexual than society at large deems appropriate. In other cases, empowerment involves a woman being less sexual or less feminine. Here are just a few examples.

When Miley Cyrus was nude in one of her music videos, some saw this as empowering.

When Lara Croft was redesigned to be less sexy in her 2014 reboot, some saw this as empowering.

When Muslim women justify restrictive Islamic dress codes, some saw this as empowering.

When some women decided to stop shaving their body hair, some saw this as empowering.

Regardless of what form it takes, the empowerment is framed as women either reclaiming or owning their sexual selves. What it means is often vague, but it usually carries a particular set of connotations.

To own one’s sexuality is to break a set of unspoken rules, give the finger to an unjust system, and forge your own sexual path. It’s like that moment in every great sports movie where the underdog beats the odds and triumphs over their evil opponents. In that triumph, their notion of what constitutes a fair and just expression of human sexuality is vindicated. All others are somehow flawed.

I concede that this is a gross generalization, but it’s the most common narrative I see whenever there’s a story about a woman owning her sexuality. It’s built around the assumption that female sexuality is always the underdog and to own it, a woman needs to somehow seize it from the clutches of repressive, misogynistic men.

Now, I don’t deny that there are many injustices in the current social landscape. Historically, female sexuality has been subject to seriously repressive taboos. Even today, there are still various taboos about female sexual pleasure. Many women genuinely suffer because of it. The idea of women enjoying sex as much as men is still jarring to some people. Some even find it threatening.

In that sense, I don’t blame women for wanting to embrace their sexual selves in an environment that treats their sexuality as tool for political issues or marketing. Like men, they have feelings and desires. They have every right to pursue them with the same passion as anyone else. When it comes to “owning” it, though, the terminology tends to obscure that pursuit.

The fact that “owning” your sexuality can mean so many different things ensures it ultimately means very little. It has become one of those vague, catch-all terms that’s supposed to mark something as meaningful, progressive, or enlightened. In many cases, it comes down to people using sexuality to provoke a reaction, garner attention, or protest an injustice.

While I’m in favor of protesting sexual injustices, the fact that “owning your sexuality” is such an ambiguous act makes it a poor form of protest. All it does is assert that you can make choices about how you express your sexuality and you’re willing to endure the criticism. That doesn’t say anything about the injustice itself.

If anything, the very concept of owning your sexuality raises more questions than answers. To own something implies possession. The fact that a woman owning her sexuality is so celebrated implies that the woman didn’t possess it in the first place. If that’s the case, then when was it taken from her? At what point did she not own it? What did she have to overcome in order to get it back?

To some extent, for a woman to own her sexuality, she and others like her must buy into the idea that someone else governs it to some extent. In some cases, it’s the media with their depictions of idealized feminine beauty. In others, it’s repressive religious dogma that seeks to control female sexuality.

While there are real instances of women having to escape repressive environments, there’s a big difference between a female celebrity posing nude for a magazine and a woman being brutally punished for committing adultery. One involves someone escaping a coercive force that causes them real physical harm. The other involves them doing something that will only subject them to harsh scrutiny, at worst.

In that context, a woman owning her sexuality is no different than willingly enduring extra criticism and aggressive slut shaming. Can it be excessive? It certainly can be. Is it the same as someone putting their life and their body at risk in order to express their sexuality? I would argue that it isn’t.

I know my opinion may not count for much on this issue since I’m a heterosexual man. I concede that there’s only so much I can understand about the female experience. At the same time, I feel inclined to point out that men are human too. Men are also burdened by various taboos and double standards. As such, a man “owning his sexuality” is subject to entirely different standards.

The fact that those standards are so different implies that there’s little substance behind the concept. If a woman can act overtly sexual in one instance and exercise extreme modesty, yet claim to own her sexuality in both cases, then where does the ownership come in? At what point is it any different than just making choices and living with them?

If there is no difference, then the concept is ultimately pointless.

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Mia Kalifa, The Porn Industry, And Why Her (Lack Of) Earnings Matter

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Imagine that you’re young, low on money, and in need of a quick buck. You do a few side-gigs, like drive a taxi or do some yard work. You make some money up front. You’re grateful for it. You wish you didn’t have to do it, but you still did and you’re ready to move forward with your life.

Now, imagine that same work you did ended up making someone else a boatload of money that continues to flow in, even though you’ve long since finished your part. Maybe while mowing the lawn, you discovered a priceless artifact under a tree stump. Maybe while driving a taxi, your car became the site of an infamous crime. Anyone with a white 1993 Ford Bronco SUV can attest to that.

With those ideas in mind, let’s talk about Mia Kalifa. If you don’t know who that is, just ask any straight man with an internet connection and a suspiciously large supply of tissue boxes. You might not get an honest answer, but rest assured, she’s a known public figure and not just because she has over 15 million followers on Instagram.

One of the reasons why she has so many.

She’s worth talking about, but not because she’s a former porn star who still garners a great deal of popularity, despite having not worked in the industry for years. Recently, she made the news after revealing that, even though she was one of the most popular porn stars in the world for a time, she made a total of $12,000 for her entire career.

For someone who was that successful in an industry that’s already exceedingly crowded by an abundance of content, that just doesn’t seem to add up. Most working people make more than $12,000 in a year, even if they’re paid minimum wage. They even get to keep their clothes on. What’s going on here?

There is a context to that story. By her own admission, she was in the industry for about three months. She only got paid a flat rate of about $1,000 for each scene she did and, given how few she ended up doing, it’s still more than minimum wage. She basically made $12,000 for approximately two weeks of work. Ignoring, for the moment, that the work involved making porn, it’s not a terrible rate.

However, what stands out most about her story is that she continues to generate money for the companies that initially paid her. To this day, those scenes she shot still generate traffic for popular sites like PornHub and that traffic still makes its parent company, MindGeek, some additional profit.

Most people don’t know, or want to know for that matter, that the most popular porn sites and studios are owned by MindGeek. Think of any site your significant other won’t admit to visiting. Chances are, they own it. They’re basically the Amazon of porn. They’re so big that there really isn’t a close second.

It’s because they’re so big that Ms. Kalifa’s story isn’t unique. Most people who enter the porn industry, be they male or female, have to go through MindGeek in some form or another. They’re basically a monopoly and because of that, they can get away with shady practices, such as underpaying workers or short-changing them with fine print.

Listed above are sites few will admit to knowing.

Most porn performers, including Ms. Kalifa, only get paid a flat rate per scene. They basically function as independent contractors, which means they’re not salaried employees who get benefits. They’re basically Uber drivers, but with sex. Unlike Uber drivers, though, the top performers can actually make a lot more, but they’re the exception and not the norm. Most performers are in Ms. Kalifa’s situation.

It’s not a situation unique to porn. Other elements of the entertainment industry have used similar practices for years. The music industry has plenty of examples of successful artists who sell millions of albums, but still go bankrupt because most of that money went to the companies they worked for rather than the artists themselves.

It even happens in the comic book industry. Few individuals have created and drawn more iconic character than Jack Kirby, but because he was a work-for-hire, he didn’t technically own his creations. The companies he worked for, both Marvel and DC Comics, owned them. As a result of this, there were some lengthy legal battles with Kirby’s estate. Not surprisingly, the companies won.

Think of any industry that involves performing or creating some kind of art. There’s a good chance that there are cases where someone creates something that becomes successful, but the creators themselves don’t profit from it. Only the companies profit.

Again, there’s a context to that. In industries like music, the top one percent of performers earn over three-quarters of the revenue. Most creative endeavors fail to turn a profit. As someone trying hard to break into the publishing industry, I can attest to how common failure and rejection are. These industries, as shady as their practices might be, need to make a profit and that often requires enduring many losses.

That’s exactly why Mia Kalifa’s story matters. It doesn’t just shed light on the less glamorous aspects of the porn industry. It highlights how the actual people behind popular media don’t reap as much of the benefits as we think. For porn stars, current and former, that’s made even harder by the stigma and taboos surrounding the industry. Ms. Kalifa endured those unpleasant elements more than most.

It’s a system that’s only getting worse. There was a time when porn stars could make considerably more money and even earn some residual income from the booming DVD market. Thanks to the advent of streaming media and excessive piracy, that’s no longer the case. It’s why many porn stars are turning to escorting or licensing products.

Given the dirty nature of the business, few politicians or advocates will loudly proclaim they want to help the people in the porn industry. The last few years have been very difficult for anyone in the sex industry. Laws are making sex work more restrictive and more dangerous to everyone involved. Performers will end up with the stigma, but the companies will get most of the profits.

To some extent, what happened to Mia Kalifa’s career is a microcosm of what’s happening to entertainment in general. We’re currently in an era where big companies are acquiring as much intellectual property as possible. Companies, be they major movie studios or porn producers, have a vested interest in controlling the content at the cost of the performers.

Since so few entertainment products turn a profit, these companies have too much incentive to short-change performers and creators. There’s no law that requires companies to give performers a small percentage of future earnings. There’s no law that stops them from exploiting the content created by performers, even if those same performers don’t want to be associated with the work anymore.

Given the money and influence of these companies, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, Mia Kalifa did us all a service by making people aware of this very flawed system. The fact that she did this while fully clothed and being brutally honest in a world that lives in alternative facts might be her best performance to date.

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The Flaw In Happy Endings According To “Bojack Horseman”

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The world can be a harsh, unforgiving place. The extent of that harshness often depends on circumstances, attitude, and even blind luck. Most people, no matter how rich or successful they are, learn that lesson at some point in their lives. It’s rarely pleasant and often leaves scars that don’t heal.

Even with those scars, many cling to a hopeful, wide-eyed idealism about how much better the world could be. Moreover, that world is worth pursuing at every turn. TV shows, movies, music, and literature convinces us that it can be done and still have plenty of room for commercials, ads, and movie trailers. Nearly every great narrative tries to sell us on some unique kind of world-healing happy ending.

Then, there’s the strange and exceedingly depressing world of “Bojack Horseman.” If ever there was a show that went out of its way to kill happy endings with the force of a billion gut punches, it’s this one. Think of all our most cherished ideals from popular media, social movements, and ideology, in general. “Bojack Horseman” finds a way to crush it all while still being funny, albeit in its own dark way.

I promise it’s funnier than you think.

I say that as someone who has watched “Bojack Horseman” since the first season, but I find myself appreciating its dark themes more and more lately. However, it’s not just because the harshness of the real world is a lot harder to hide in the era of the internet and social media.

Recently, I had a chance to re-watch the past couple seasons. In doing so, I noticed just how much our collective worldview is built around our hope for a happy ending. Almost every character on the show, from Bojack Horseman to Diane Nguyen to Princess Caroline to Mr. Peanutbutter, is driven to achieve some idealized ending for themselves.

For Diane, she seeks to become a successful writer who exacts meaningful change through her work.

For Princess Caroline, she seeks to be an accomplished, independent woman who has it all, both in terms of career and family.

For Mr. Peanutbutter, he seeks to make everyone around him happy and pursue every new project with wide-eyed passion.

For the titular character, Bojack Horseman, pursuing that ending is more complicated. Through him, the harshness of reality seems to hit everyone and everything he comes across. It’s not always through his actions, which are often selfish, reckless, and downright deplorable. His story, which helps drive the show from the beginning, reveals how pursuing idealism can leave us vulnerable at best and destroyed at worst.

To understand how the show does this, it’s necessary to understand what makes this show both unique and appealing. If you only watch the first few episodes, then “Bojack Horseman” doesn’t come off as all that deep. It just seems like a story about a narcissistic washed-up actor who happens to be an anthropomorphic horse in a world full of various human/animal hybrids.

After a while, though, you start to appreciate how Bojack reflects the ugly reality of self-centered celebrities. Whether they’re at the height of their popularity or have been out of work for years, they live in a world that basically requires them to be utterly self-absorbed and completely detached from reality. Living in that world tends to obscure what reality is and provides one too many mechanisms for escaping it.

In the show that made him famous, “Horsin’ Around,” everything was skewed. Every problem was solved within a half-hour. Everyone was happy by the end of the episode. Bojack seems at his happiest and most fulfilled when the cameras are rolling and the show is on. Behind the scenes, which is where most of the show takes place, the ugliness of his reality takes hold.

Without the show, that ugliness consumes him. Over time, it wears on him, causing him to seek that idealized ending that his show often espoused. Throughout multiple seasons, it leads him down many paths. At the same time, others like Diane, Princess Carolyn, and Todd Chavez attempt paths of their own.

From this foundation, any number of ideals can take hold. In Hollywood, or “Hollywoo” as it comes to be called in the show for hilarious reasons, an entire industry is built around telling stories or crafting media that either champion those ideals or distract people from reality. For someone like Bojack, who gets crushed by reality harder than most, it’s the worst place for him to be.

Bojack, and his colorful cast of supporting characters, either embrace or get sucked into this fanciful world. Throughout the show, they get put into positions where they can pursue their dreams, achieve what they think will make them happy, and even are allowed to succeed in some instance. If this were any other show, then that would be the happy ending that both the characters and the audience expect.

Bojack Horseman” is different in that it goes out of its way to expose the flaws in those idealized endings. The creator of the show, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, has even gone on record as saying that he doesn’t believe in “endings,” at least in the way that TV, movies, and popular media present it. In a 2015 interview, he said this about endings.

Well, I don’t believe in endings. I think you can fall in love and get married and you can have a wonderful wedding, but then you still have to wake up the next morning and you’re still you. Like, you can have the worst day of your life, but then the next day won’t be the worst day of your life. And I think it works in a positive and a negative, that all these things that happen are moments in time. And that because of the narrative we’ve experienced, we’ve kind of internalized this idea that we’re working toward some great ending, and that if we put all our ducks in a row we’ll be rewarded, and everything will finally make sense. But the answer is that everything doesn’t make sense, at least as far as I’ve found. Maybe you’ll interview someone else today who’s like “I’ve figured it out, here’s the answer!” But I don’t know the answer, and so I think it would be disingenuous to tell our audience “Here’s the answer!” It’s a struggle, and we’re all trying to figure it out, and these characters are trying to figure it out for themselves.

This sentiment plays out time and again over the course of the show. On more than one occasion, Bojack seems like he’s on the verge of achieving that happy ending and turning those ideals into reality.

He thinks getting cast in his dream role as Secretariat will give him that ending, but it doesn’t.

He thinks being nominated for an Oscar will give him that ending, but it doesn’t.

He thinks being cast in a new TV show will give him that ending, but that only makes things much worse.

At every turn, reality catches up to him. Whether it’s his many vices, his habitual selfishness, or his terrible choices, it always comes back to haunt him. Even when that happy ending seems achievable, it always becomes mired in complications that Bojack can’t always control. The same complications often impact other characters seeking their own happy endings, as well. For some, it ends up being downright tragic.

At times, the show paints a grim picture about even attempting to pursue a happy ending. Even when Bojack has insights into the process, it’s never as easy as his old TV show makes it out to be. However, the fact he and others around him keep pursuing that ending says a lot about everyone’s need to achieve something greater.

Even in a world without talking horsemen, that’s something a lot of people can relate to. Most of us build our lives around hopes and aspirations that we’ll forge our own happy ending. There may even be moments when we feel like we achieve it, whether it’s graduating high school, getting married, having children, or finally beating level 147 in Candy Crush.

However, even after those moments, the credits don’t roll. Things don’t end. The things that led you to that moment only work to the extent that they led you to that one singular moment. Life still continues and the happiness fades. Bojack experiences this at greater extremes, some of which are downright absurd, but people in the real world experience it too throughout their lives.

I can personally attest to this. When I finally finished high school, I thought that was like slaying the final boss in an impossibly hard video game. I felt the same way after graduating college, getting my first girlfriend, or publishing my first book. If the credits started rolling at that moment, it would’ve made for a great ending.

Unfortunately, life just doesn’t work like that. “Bojack Horseman” belabors that every chance it gets while still managing to inject some meaningful comedy along the way. It’s a lesson worth learning, especially for Bojack. It’s one he’ll probably keep learning in future seasons. Chances are, we’ll all learn with him along the way.

In many respects, the one who best summed up this sentiment isn’t Bojack himself. In Season 3, it’s Diane who lays out the harsh reality that everyone in the real and fictional world struggles to accept.

“It’s not about being happy, that is the thing. I’m just trying to get through each day. I can’t keep asking myself ‘Am I happy?’ It just makes me more miserable. I don’t know If I believe in it, real lasting happiness. All those perky, well-adjusted people you see in movies and TV shows? I don’t think they exist.”

It sounds depressing, but that’s par for the course with “Bojack Horseman.” Reality is often depressing, but it’s not utterly untenable because happy endings are impossible. There are many points in the show that try to make that case. Even Bojack himself tries to make that case, albeit in his own twisted way.

I would even argue that the show’s brutal attack on the very concept of idealized happy endings is uplifting, in and of itself. By making the case that all the happy endings we see in the idealized versions of fiction are flawed, it shows how futile and counterproductive it is to pursue them. The real world is harsh and brutal, but you can find moments of happiness along the way. They’re not endings. They’re just part of life.

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