Category Archives: media issues

Why Nobody Should EVER Be As Famous As Michael Jackson

JACKSON GRAMMY AWARDS 1984

A lot has been said about Michael Jackson’s legacy in recent years. Like so many others, I remember just how big he was. I’ve listened to his music. I’ve watched his music videos. I’ve also read some of the many weird stories that have been told about him. While I never considered myself a huge fan, I don’t deny that in terms of sheer star power, he’s in a league all his own.

The extent of that star power is difficult to fathom today, even for people who become stars for all the wrong reasons. It’s impossible to overstate just how big Michael Jackson was as an entertainer and a celebrity. Anyone under the age of 30 can’t hope to understand the status he had in the mid-1980s and early 1990s. He was the closest any celebrity ever came to becoming a full-blown demigod.

Whether you cared for his music or not, he forged an unparalleled legacy that will likely never be matched. Ever since his death in 2009, however, the narrative surrounding that legacy has branched off into two very different directions.

One attempts to celebrate just how much he contributed to entertainment, highlighting how he ascended from his days as the cute kid in the Jackson 5 to one of the undisputed King of Pop. The other attempts to cut through the breadth of his fame to reveal his egregious misdeeds, which may have included child sexual abuse.

The stories surrounding these misdeeds have recently gained greater attention thanks to the “Leaving Neverland” documentary that aired on HBO. In this film, the kids Jackson allegedly abused, who are now adults with families of their own, get to tell their stories. Without spoiling too much, the details of those stories are not for the faint of heart.

It’s impossible to know just how true some details are. I’ve noted before that people should never take documentaries too seriously. I’ve also pointed out that human memory is notoriously unreliable. Even though Michael Jackson was ultimately acquitted, there’s still an underlying sentiment that he’s an abuser who got away with his crimes.

Personally, I don’t blame people for thinking that way about him. Jackson was a weird, eccentric character and for understandable reasons. He was a child star who somehow managed to become an even bigger star as an adult. He even said in the days leading up to his death that he never had a childhood. His whole life was consumed by fame, celebrity, and stardom.

Even today, there aren’t many parallels. Even the biggest celebrities of today, from Taylor Swift to Ryan Reynolds, never had to endure fame to that extent. They got to have childhoods. They had a chance to anchor themselves to the real world, if only to a limited extent. Even the children of celebrities have some breathing room, although not all of them handle it well.

Michael Jackson never had that opportunity. Shortly after he achieved stardom with the Jackson 5, his life became consumed with celebrity. He ceased becoming Michael Jackson, the kid, and forever became Michael Jackson, the celebrity. He never faded into obscurity, like many other child stars do. He remained this superstar icon who, no matter what he did, couldn’t escape the fame.

It’s a caliber of fame that, logistically speaking, just isn’t possible today when one mis-worded tweet or one scandalous video from a smartphone is enough to cause a celebrity’s downfall. Personally, I believe that’s a good thing. I would even go so far as to say that nobody should ever achieve the level of fame that Michael Jackson had.

It’s not just that fame can corrupt otherwise decent people. Michael Jackson already had issues beyond fame, from his lengthy list of medical ailments to the way his father disciplined him and his brothers. Fame, in many cases, acts as a fuel rather than a catalyst. It compounds the good and the bad in people. For someone who has real demons, the bad can lead to real tragedy.

The level of fame that Michael Jackson achieved wasn’t just fuel, though. It was more akin to weapons grade plutonium, bombarding him with a level of volatility that no human being is equipped to handle. Through both the interviews he has conducted and the anecdotes of other celebrities, the effects of such immense fame are painfully clear.

Michael, as talented and weird as he was, couldn’t handle it. The pressure of navigating that kind of celebrity isn’t just daunting. It’s impossible. It’s also likely that pressure played a role in some of the health issues he endured later in his life. It probably played a role in his less-than-normal mental health.

Now, none of those issues should absolve him of any crimes he may have committed. The fact that he’s no longer alive to defend his legacy against a contrasting narrative is worth considering when judging him, as both a person and an icon. That won’t stop some from furthering a certain narrative, which has already had a substantial impact on Jackson’s legacy, but it should provide context.

Regardless of the narrative that best reflects the truth, there are lessons from Michael Jackson’s famous story that are more relevant now than they were when he was alive. Currently, we live in a world of outrage culture where the internet and social media has given people unprecedented access to the world of celebrity. With that access, the dark side of that world is harder to avoid.

Even at the height of his fame, Michael Jackson just had to dodge reporters and the paparazzi. He could also rely, to some extent, on people not taking the tabloids too seriously. After all, some of those tabloids published stories that were weird, even by his standards. Today, he would have to worry about everyone with a smartphone and social media account.

On top of that, the very nature of the internet and human psychology have made it so that even proven lies somehow become accepted as truth. They never go away. The internet never forgets. Once you’ve been labeled with an embarrassing smear, it doesn’t go away. Even if you’re innocent, the label sticks.

Someone of Michael Jackson’s fame and eccentricities wouldn’t last long in the current social climate. It’s remarkable how some celebrities manage to sustain themselves for extended periods of time, but those individuals are few and far between. In addition, none of them have ever come close to achieving Jackson’s level of fame.

Perhaps, it’s for the best that no one will ever reach the level of celebrity that that Michael Jackson achieved. The human psyche, no matter how talented or resilient, just isn’t equipped to handle that kind of stardom. What it means to be a celebrity is rapidly changing, thanks to the internet and even to Jackson’s influence on the culture, at large. Chances are the pace of that change will only accelerate.

For better or for worse, Michael Jackson’s legacy is a testament to how damaging fame can be when taken to ridiculous extremes. In an era where fame is both fleeting and increasingly irrational, it’s harder than ever to escape that damage. Even if it’s no longer possible for someone to achieve that level of fame, the lessons of that legacy are worth learning from.

 

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology

Understanding And Appreciating The Work Ethic Of Hank Hill

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As kids, we don’t always appreciate the deeper messages of certain TV shows, movies, or songs. I imagine most kids who saw “Jurassic Park” in 1993 didn’t care that much about the larger points Ian Malcom made about tampering with nature. They just loved seeing dinosaurs eat cowardly lawyers off toilets.

That’s why re-watching shows you loved in your youth can be insightful. Sometimes, it can be a little distressing, seeing themes that aren’t quite in line with today’s taboos and social norms. However, I don’t want to focus on those unpleasant instances. Instead, I want to focus on insights that we appreciate more as adults than we do as kids.

This brings me to a show that, even by today’s standards, has uncanny appeal. That show is “King of the Hill,” a show I’ve already singled out as home to Hank Hill, a strong example of noble masculinity. After rediscovering the show, thanks to Hulu, I’ve found myself appreciating the less obvious messages of the show.

One clear message that seems to come up several times over the course of the show’s 13 seasons is the value of a work ethic, especially when contrasted to those who have none. It’s a value few kids and teenagers appreciate. That’s understandable because in the innocence of youth, most go out of their way to avoid hard work or laborious tasks.

What makes “King of the Hill” stand out, more so to adults than to kids, is how it portrays work and the way people go about it. One of Hank Hill’s core traits is his dedication to his job. Among his most memorable and oft-repeated quotes is that he sells propane and propane accessories. That’s not just his job, though. It’s part of his identity.

Hank, unlike many male protagonists in animated sitcoms, actually loves his job. It’s not just something he does to pay the bills and provide for his family. He genuinely loves selling propane and propane accessories. That love is played up in plenty of comedic ways. In one episode, “Hank’s Back,” even doctors had a hard time believing that anyone would avoid a worker’s comp settlement.

What makes that comedy work is the common expectation that few people actually like their jobs. If they do, it’s only because they’re rich and it affords them all sorts of fancy perks. However, Hank is not rich. One episode even goes out of its way to show that, even by middle class standards, he’s not that well off. He’s no Al Bundy, but he’s not Charlie Harper, either.

That doesn’t matter to Hank because his is not entirely about money or even the opportunity to make more money. It’s about doing something he loves and deriving real meaning from it. His job selling propane and propane accessories gives him a unique sense of fulfillment that can’t be quantified with money.

This sort of approach to work isn’t just unique among sitcom dads. It reflects an approach to work that is rarely emphasized, even in a world where work is changing due to automation. Growing up, the nature of work and careers is presented in a certain way. It’s not always through the media or movies like “Office Space,” either.

When kids and teenagers are encouraged to think about future careers, it’s almost always framed as a means to an end. First and foremost, a career provides money and resources with which to build a life, whether it’s a family or just a home in general. It’s part of a much larger process of becoming a productive member of society.

Most counselors and teachers will encourage kids to find a career they actually like. That’s the ideal. However, it’s a poorly-kept secret that few people ever land their “dream job.” Just as few people end up working jobs that are related to their college major. On top of that, many of these people who graduate college are underemployed, which put them in a similar position to Hank.

To some extent, Hank Hill is in an ideal career because he’s doing something he loves and he’s getting paid for it. That alone sets him apart from many career-seekers, both in the real and fictional world. However, the love he has for his work and his career actually runs deeper than that.

To him, his job isn’t just a means to an end. It is the end. The work itself is the reward. The money he makes is only ever secondary. For Hank Hill, the best moment of his job isn’t when he gets his paycheck. It’s when he sees the look on a satisfied customer’s face when he sells them a new grill or helps them refill their propane tank.

That kind of fulfillment isn’t just rare in an animated sitcom that includes a self-professed conspiracy theorist who never realizes that his wife cheated on him for years. It’s a rare and unique state of being, having a job in which the work feels so rewarding. Even in the real world, this sort of mindset is rare, which is part of what helps set Hank Hill apart.

For most of human history, people didn’t have careers. They just had things they had to do to survive another day, whether it involved hunting and gathering or growing crops. In modern times, a new host of jobs gave people a variety of ways to earn a living, but the nature of the work was rarely fulfilling and often laborious.

The idea of having a job that you actually like and feeling fulfilled in the work you do is akin to a modern nirvana, of sorts. It takes the very idea of work and turns it into something other than that stuff people have to do in order to make money. Hank isn’t just lucky in that he has that kind of job. He’s got the perfect attitude for it.

That attitude of seeing work as something inherently fulfilling often puts him at odds with other characters and sub-plots throughout the show. On many occasions, Hank’s approach to work often clashes with other characters who go out of their way to avoid hard work or seek to make as much money as they can for as little effort as possible.

His son, Bobby Hill, often embodies that sentiment and not just because he’s terrible in gym class. In multiple episodes, Bobby’s fondness of laziness is not very subtle. When faced with the prospect of having to work hard, he usually does what he can to avoid it. More often than not, trying to avoid the work backfires or ends up being more laborious than the work itself.

He’s not the only one who harbors this attitude. Hank’s loud-mouthed neighbor, Kahn Souphanousinphone, attempts more than one get-rich-quick-scheme throughout the show. To him, work is always a means to an end. Even though his job affords him more money and better material assets, or so he claims, he rarely comes off as fulfilled as Hank.

Even when money isn’t the endgame, others still approach work with a different end in mind. Hank’s wife, Peggy, approaches her job as a substitute teacher with more passion and purpose than most. For her, though, the work she does is less about the money and more about feeding her inflated ego. In some cases, it borders on outright narcissism.

Regardless of intent or goal, “King of the Hill” often comes back to the same theme with respect to work. Hank, for all his faults and shortcomings, has the right attitude when it comes to work. It’s not just about having your dream job and doing what you love for a living. It’s about seeing work as inherently fulfilling, regardless of money or material aspirations.

At a time when the future of work will likely change what it means to have a career, Hank Hill may very well be ahead of his time. Even in the current work climate, his has major value. It’s a perspective that most kids and teenagers don’t appreciate. For some, it may not even be an idea they’ve ever contemplated, the notion that a job could be so inherently fulfilling.

It may still seem like an impossible ideal for many, but Hank Hill shows that it’s not that impossible. Selling propane and propane accessories isn’t one of those jobs that requires a rare set of skills or talents. It requires only basic people skills, salesmanship, and a working knowledge of propane.

Hank didn’t go to college and he didn’t go through some rigorous training to achieve what he achieved. He simply took a simple job selling propane and propane accessories and made it part of his passion. Even in an animated world where impossible things can happen, Hank makes his approach to his job feel attainable, even in the real world.

Appreciating Hank’s work ethic was not the first thing that appealed to me when I watched “King of the Hill” when it was still on the air. However, as I get older and see people wrestle with their careers, I see more and more merit to Hank’s approach to work.

I don’t deny that hard work can be tedious, at times. I also don’t deny that every job, even so-called dream jobs, have bad days every now and then. Even Hank has a few bad days at Strickland Propane throughout the course of the show. That still never discourages him from doing his job as well as he does it and getting genuine fulfillment from it.

There are plenty of lesson in “King of the Hill” that are as relevant now as they were when the show first aired. It’s possible for people of all ages to appreciate those lessons and the comedy that comes with it. That’s part of what made the show so successful for so many years.

When it comes to work ethic and approaching a career, Hank Hill stands out more than most. He sells propane and propane accessories better than anyone has or probably ever will, but that’s not the point. For him, the work itself is the greatest reward. Whether you appreciate his many other quirks or not, that’s a sentiment worth respecting.

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Fun, Happiness, And Why People Wage War On Them

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There’s a famous quote attributed to American journalist, H. L. Mencken, on Puritanism. It goes like this:

“Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

I’ve always found that sentiment humorous and more than a little revealing. It’s one I often notice with people who have extreme views on politics, religion, or some other arbitrary social construct. I see it those who are overly liberal or exceedingly conservative. I see it in organized religion among adherents who are exceedingly-strict with their dogma. I even see it among ardent comic fans to some extent.

Wherever you find a subject in which people can hold extreme positions, you’ll find people who are aghast at the idea that someone else within their domain is happy or having fun. Some take it as a direct insult, as if anyone who isn’t as passionate about their opinion is an affront to their very being.

Some Christians and Muslims are genuinely appalled when they see someone getting drunk and fooling around.

Some Hindus are just as appalled when they see someone enjoying a big hunk of beef for dinner.

Some feminists are outraged when they see men acting extra-masculine or even women acting traditionally feminine.

Even some anti-feminists are outraged when they see women exercising some degree of freedom, be it sexual or legal.

What’s going on here? I get why people get upset when they see a gross injustice in the world, be it a natural disaster that claims many lives or some atrocity committed by a violent psychopath. Human beings are naturally empathetic creatures. It makes sense for us to get worked up about those horrible situations. Why would we get just as worked up about people having fun or being happy?

I found myself asking that question a lot after a non-scandal broke out involving Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the United States Congress. Being young, female, beautiful, and an unabashed liberal, she’s bound to attract criticism from her rivals and she certainly has since her election.

I understand there’s always going to be some mud-slinging in politics. However, an attack involving an old video of her from college took the discourse to a new domain of absurdity. What was that old video that a conservative rival used in an attempt to discredit her? Did she go on a racist rant, joke about sexual assault, or give unsolicited opinions about Israel?

It was none of that. It was just a video of her dancing in video that mirrored a classic scene from “The Breakfast Club.” Seriously, that’s it. She’s just dancing, smiling, and having a great time. Remember, this was intended to attack her.

Much to the chagrin of her rivals, it backfired. Most of the people who saw it thought it was adorable. I thought it was great. She and her friends are smiling, having fun, and enjoying themselves. What’s wrong about that? Why is fun and happiness a political weapon?

These are serious questions that are hard to take seriously when an issue involves happiness and fun. After all, who could possibly be against that other than those misery-loving Puritans that H. L. Mencken joked about? Well, there is twisted logic to it and it’s distressing in its implications.

This actually isn’t the first time a video of young people dancing and being happy caused a political scandal. Back in 2014, six youths in Iran were arrested and punished for having the audacity to dance together in a video to the Pharrell Williams song, “Happy.” This being Iran, a country ruled by a radical theocratic regime, they just couldn’t tolerate that.

The face of a man bent on killing fun.

The reasons for that intolerance weren’t the same was those behind the attack on Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, but the twisted logic was the same. These people were doing something other than working for the advancement of a particular movement, specifically Iran’s theocratic regime. Moreover, they were having fun in the process. From the perspective of the ruling state or radical ideologues, that’s just untenable.

I’m not being coy in making that point. People having fun and being happy is a legitimate problem for any religious, social, or political movement. That’s because, much to the horror of adherents, people who are content generally don’t want to get worked up about anything . They’re enjoying themselves. Why should they want to change anything about their current situation?

Happiness and fun are essentially kryptonite to anyone who wants to rally supporters to overthrow a government, the patriarchy, or angry “Star Wars” fans. They’re not just the ultimate distraction. They send the message that the current state of affairs is good and doesn’t need a radical upheaval. For those who want that upheaval, it’s a huge obstacle.

To some extent, the success of any movement requires that people never be happy or have fun. It’s how you keep the revolutionary fervor going. It’s how supporters of a movement stay energized. If they’re angry, upset, and distressed, then they’ll stay motivated. They’ll keep working and sacrificing to alleviate this troubled state.

Even in the absence of a powerful moment, fun and happiness can be a problem for an established order. Whether it’s a Western-style democracy or an old-school autocracy, people who have too much fun can become a liability. Too much fun and happiness could negatively impact their ability to work in the interests of that order. Even when times are good, there’s a tendency to attack anything that’s too fun.

Think back to the outrageous moral panics of the class, such as those involving comic books, dungeons and dragons, and various forms of music. In fact, you don’t even have to venture into the past. Just look at the current panics surrounding video games, porn consumption, and illicit drugs. There are all things that people have fun with, but they’re a not-so-subtle threat in the eyes of the established system.

From the perspective of those fueling the panic, all this fun won’t just keep people content and distracted. It’ll bring down the whole of society. That’s not just hyperbole. In their minds, they envision a world where everyone is having fun reading comics, doing drugs, and listening to heavy metal music. While they’re having that fun, though, the world around them is suffering.

Nobody is going to work and sacrificing for the community. Nobody is pairing up with an appropriate partner and having children that go onto be productive, tax-paying workers/consumers/adherents. For the rulers, politicians, and religious figures who benefit from that system, this vision is nothing short of apocalyptic.

This gets especially touchy whenever sex gets involved. If you want to understand why sexual promiscuity and the LGBT community have faced so much condemnation over the years, look no further than the constant refrain that they will ruin civilization. It’s not just that they don’t produce families/children/workers/taxpayers/adherents. There’s too much room for personal fulfillment.

Granted, their concerns are unfounded. The idea that everyone in a society would suddenly be distracted indefinitely by something that’s just that much fun underscores just how easily people get bored or distracted. People are chaotic and diverse in how they live their lives. They can’t even agree on the color of a dress or whether this picture of Bill Murry or Tom Hanks.

It’s still a crippling fear for every ideology or existing society. Too much happiness and fun will just cause it to collapse entirely. Even individual people who have too much fun are somehow flawed because they’re not passionately and angrily pursuing some sort of larger goal.

People NOT protesting. The horror.

Think back to the attack on Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her fun-loving dance. From the perspective of her attacker, they thought they were showing that this woman was incapable of pursuing the goals she promised in her campaign. They thought it would undermine her credibility, as a politician and a potential threat to the opposing party.

However, those same attackers made the same mistake that everyone in a moral panic tends to make. People, in general, like having fun and being happy. They even appreciate those who can achieve it in their own unique way. It’s a losing battle, waging war on fun and happiness. It’s also a battle that those seeking to preserve power or pursue radical change can’t avoid.

Happy people having fun aren’t going to care about whatever angry rhetoric they’re trying to sell. Why would they? They’re too busy enjoying themselves.

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Filed under human nature, media issues, outrage culture, philosophy, political correctness, psychology, religion, sex in society, War on Boredom

Why The Outrage Over Brie Larson And “Captain Marvel” Is Misguided (And Counterproductive)

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Celebrities sometimes say dumb things. I doubt most people would contest that. Sometimes, celebrities say things that aren’t dumb, but badly taken out of context. I imagine most people would agree with that too. However, in an era where outrage is a national pastime and social media makes it way too easy to blow things out of proportion, it’s easy for a celebrity to cause controversy for all the wrong reasons.

Brie Larson, whose star is set to rise considerably with the release of “Captain Marvel,” is learning this the hard way and a large consortium of angry people on the internet are intent on making it harder. What should’ve been a culmination of a young woman’s career and a female hero’s ascension to the superhero A-list is now mired in the ugliest kind of gender politics.

The origin of that controversy actually had nothing to do with Ms. Larson’s role on “Captain Marvel.” Back in June 2018, she made some overly political comments while accepting the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film. While celebrities making political statements is nothing new, Ms. Larson’s statement was hardly extreme.

It wasn’t some radical feminist tirade.

It wasn’t some angry rant about the outcome of 2016 Presidential Election.

It wasn’t even some act of elaborate virtue signaling by some smug celebrity.

All Ms. Larson did was advocate for greater diversity among film critics. She didn’t just make such a statement on a whim, either. She did so in response to a study published by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism that revealed a significant lack of representation in the industry of film criticism.

That’s not an unreasonable concern. The western world is becoming more diverse and the success of movies like “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” shows that there’s a market for such diverse tastes. Advocating for greater representation in the field of film criticism makes a lot of sense.

Unfortunately, that’s not the message that some people gleamed from Ms. Larson’s comments. All they heard was that she doesn’t want to hear from white men anymore. They somehow got the impression that Brie Larson resents white men and her movies, including “Captain Marvel,” aren’t made for them. They’re not even welcome in the conversation.

Who these people are and the politics they represent is difficult to discern. I don’t think it’s accurate to call them conservative, liberal, feminist, anti-feminist, leftist, or any other political label. Outrage culture rarely gets that specific, but given the heated politics surrounding movies like “Ghostbusters” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it’s a frustratingly familiar narrative.

While I can understand some of the outrage surrounding “Ghostbusters” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” in this case I don’t think it’s justified. That’s not just because I’m a big fan of Marvel Comics, superhero movies, and all things Captain Marvel. It’s because the actual substance of Ms. Larson’s words don’t warrant the controversy she has generated.

For specific reference, here’s what she actually said during her speech in June 2018. Read it very slowly and try to understand the context of her statement.

“I don’t want to hear what a white man has to say about ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ I want to hear what a woman of color, a biracial woman has to say about the film. I want to hear what teenagers think about the film. If you make a movie that is a love letter to women of color, there is a chance that a woman of color does not have access to review and critique your film. Do not say the talent is not there, because it is.”

Remember, she said these words after learning how little diversity there was among movie critics. Unlike most people, she was actually in a position to do something about it. Being an Oscar winning actress who was poised to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, her words carry more weight than most.

Even so, those words were construed as racist and sexist, two exceedingly loaded terms that bring out the worst in people, especially on the internet. Never mind the fact that she made clear in her original speech that she did not hate white men. Never mind the fact that she has since clarified her words. She is still being attacked as some angry radical feminist who hates men, especially those who are white.

It would be one thing if she had said outright that white men should be banned from criticizing certain movies. Many celebrities, including a few still relevant today, have said far worse. However, that’s not what Ms. Larson said. She never, at any point, advocated disparaging white men. She didn’t even say that people who hate her movies are racist and sexist, something the “Star Wars” crowd is painfully familiar with.

Again, all Ms. Larson spoke out against was a lack of diversity among film critics. That part is worth emphasizing because it renders the outrage surrounding her statement as utterly absurd. It also makes the targeted attack on the fan reviews for “Captain Marvel” both asinine and misguided.

Even though the movie isn’t out yet, the movie is being targeted with negative comments on Rotten Tomatoes. Since it has only screened for a handful of audiences, it’s unlikely that any of these people actually saw the movie or were inclined to see it in the first place. Some are even claiming that this has already impacted the projected box office for the movie.

Whether that impact manifests remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting that when “Black Panther” was targeted with similar attacks, it failed miserably. At the moment, early reactions to “Captain Marvelhave been glowing so the chances of these attacks hurting the box office are probably minor at best. If the pre-ticket sales are any indication, the movie will likely turn a hefty profit for Marvel and their Disney overlords.

Even if there were an impact, it would be for all the wrong reasons. It would send the message that there’s a large contingent of people who are willing to work together to tank a movie because of comments a celebrity said that had nothing to do with that movie and weren’t the least bit controversial, when taken in context.

In this case, it was simply twisting someone’s comments to make them sseem like they said things that they never said or even implied. Then, those who bought into that narrative simply use that as an excuse to disparage a movie that they haven’t seen. That’s not just absurd, even by the skewed standards of outrage culture. It sends the worst possible message from those who think they’re protecting their favorite movie genre.

It tells the world that they don’t care what a celebrity actually says. They actively look for an excuse to hate someone who doesn’t completely buy into their preferred status quo. It would be one thing if that status quo was just and reasonable, but that’s not the case here.

All Ms. Larson did was advocate for more diversity among film critics. If that is somehow too extreme, then the problem isn’t with her or celebrities like her. It’s with those determined to hate her. There are a lot of issues in the world of celebrities and movies that warrant outrage, but advocating for more diversity in film criticism isn’t one of them.

I can already hear some people typing angry comments stating that if she had said those same words, but changed the demographic to something other than white men, then it would be an issue. However, the fact remains that this isn’t what she said.

It also doesn’t help that Brie Larson identifies as a feminist and that term has become incredibly loaded in recent years. However, she has never embraced the kind of radical rhetoric that other, less likable celebrities have espoused. Until she does, those determined to identify her and “Captain Marvel” as racist, sexist propaganda are only doing themselves and their politics a disservice.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, extremism, gender issues, Marvel, media issues, men's issues, movies, outrage culture, political correctness, superhero movies

Rise Of The Phony Nihilists

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A while back, a relative of mine told a story about a college professor and a smart-ass student. The student claimed he was a hardcore nihilist. He genuinely believed that there was no inherent purpose to humanity, life, or the universe. His professor didn’t respond at first. However, that didn’t stop him from making a point and sending a message.

Shortly after that initial encounter, the professor handed out grades on the first paper. He gave the self-professed nihilist a zero. When the student protested the grade, the professor just shrugged and reminded him that he was a nihilist. If he thought nothing mattered, then why should he care about his grades?

Regardless of whether this story is true, it makes an interesting point. That professor, who I suspect a PHD in trolling, exposed his arrogant student’s hypocrisy. He claimed to be a nihilist, but he still cared about his grades. He may have overestimated the extent of his nihilism, but the professor proved it only went so far.

It’s a lesson that’s a lot more relevant today because nihilism, in general, has become oddly fashionable. We have popular TV shows like “Rick and Morty,” “True Detective,” and “Bojack Horseman” that each espouse a certain degree of nihilistic philosophy. Iconic villains like Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” also embody the random chaos that often reflects the chaos of a nihilistic worldview.

As much as I love the “The Dark Knight” and “Rick and Morty,” including its unique approach to exploring nihilism, there are serious issues with applying their philosophy to real life. These are fictional characters unbound by the logistics and consequences of real life. Nobody could reasonably do what they do and get the same result. We already have enough scary clowns committing crimes.

That hasn’t stopped some people from taking those complex philosophical concepts more seriously than most. It also happens to complement the ongoing rise of trolling, both on the internet and in real life. That makes sense because the mentality of a troll has to be nihilistic to some extent. When your goal is to cross lines and demean people for the thrill of it, you can’t be too concerned with greater meaning.

That’s not to say there aren’t trolls who are genuine sadists. I’ve encountered more than a few who would qualify. For the most part, though, nihilism is an excuse rather than a motivation. Some pretend they just want to watch the world burn when they say something that’s horribly offensive or laughably absurd. They’re just trying and failing to be as charismatic as Heath Ledger’s Joker.

It’s a phony brand of nihilism and one that defeats itself when you apply the slightest bit of scrutiny. It often leads to empty arguments on otherwise serious issues. It usually breaks down like this.

Someone will say something absurd, wrong, or just flat out offensive.

Someone else calls them out on it.

An argument ensues that usually involves an escalating amount of hatred, insults, and frustration.

Ultimately, the person who made the triggering remark claims they’re just in it for the kicks, the cheap thrills, and to taste the tears of their enemies.

In the end, they try to come off as this enlightened, above-it-all intellectual who has somehow transcended the petty arguments that the non-nihilists of the world keep having. They pretend they’re above it all or just don’t care. Again, it’s an excuse. They’re not full-on nihilists in the traditions of Rick Sanchez or Friedrich Nietzsche. They’re just assholes trying to hide from the fact that they’re assholes.

These same people who claim to care nothing about the greater meaning of the universe rarely practice what they so poorly preach. They still pay their taxes. They still work jobs that they probably hate to make money so that they can function in this undeniably flawed society we live in. If they were truly nihilists, they wouldn’t see the point in any of that.

If they got sick, they wouldn’t go to a doctor to get better. What’s the point?

If they lost all their money, they wouldn’t worry. What’s the point?

If their lives were utterly ruined by their behavior, they wouldn’t complain about it. What’s the point?

The phony nihilists pretend they can be Rick Sanchez or Heath Ledger’s Joker. However, they never come close to turning themselves into a pickle or setting fire to a giant pile of money. Those are things that a hardcore nihilist would do and they wouldn’t bother arguing about it. Again, and this is the question that phony nihilists avoid answering, what’s the point?

More and more, nihilism is being used less as a philosophy and more as a rhetorical tactic from trolls. In an era where it’s easy to troll and people are extremely divided, I understand why this brand of phony nihilism is emerging. I can even see why it has an appeal. It allows people to skip the part where they have to justify their beliefs or take responsibility for the actions. It’s more about convenience than conviction.

I don’t expect the trend of phony nihilism to stop anytime soon. If anything, it’s going to intensify as the world becomes increasingly complex on every level. There are over 7.7 billion people on this planet and it’s getting exceedingly difficult to feel like you matter in such a world. Falling into a nihilist trap is easy and even comforting for some.

It’s still not an excuse to be an asshole. Even if you think nothing truly matters and we’re all just globs of matter waiting for the heat death of the universe, you’re alive in this world with billions of other people trying to find their place in it. Being an asshole, whether it’s out of nihilism or some other philosophy, is never justified.

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Filed under human nature, media issues, nihilism, outrage culture, philosophy, psychology

Five Comic Books I Would Recommend To Bill Maher

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I love comic books.

I love superhero movies.

I love geek culture and actively participate in it.

I also understand that there are people who don’t share those passions. Some may even see them as childish and foolish. That’s perfectly fine. It doesn’t make them a bad person, by default. It doesn’t even mean I can’t get along with them or agree with them on other issues.

The fact I have to make that disclaimer only makes the current state of affairs more frustrating. I feel it’s more necessary now because I’m about to address a topic has evoked all the wrong emotions for all the wrong reasons. Normally, my first instinct is to avoid such controversy, but since it involves superhero comics, I feel inclined to respond.

It started late last year with a blog post by Bill Maher, a late night talk show host for the long-running HBO series, “Real Time With Bill Maher.” That blog post came shortly after the death of Stan Lee and, without going too heavily into details, attacked the culture behind comic books and superhero media.

Many took that post as an insult to the legacy of Stan Lee. Having read that post multiple times, I really didn’t get that sense. I won’t deny that I took some offense to it, but I’ve read far more offensive things in the comments section of YouTube videos. The fact that it got such a visceral reaction only skewed the conversation even more.

Then, this past week on his show, Mr. Maher finally addressed the issue again in the closing commentary on his show. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.

The long and short of it is his commentary had less to do with Stan Lee and more to do with people who think comic books warrant serious cultural weight. He goes onto bemoan how people cling to the things they loved as kids as a way of avoiding the adult world. It’s less an indictment on people who like comics and more a criticism of people who whine about adulting, in general.

To some extent, I understand his criticism. There are people in this world who try to avoid adult responsibilities at every turn. They don’t want to deal with the harshness of the real world and cling to fantasies about having superpowers that render those problems moot. Even as someone who loves superhero comics and movies, I think that’s an issue for some people.

For most people though, it’s just fun. Mr. Maher seems to completely overlook that. I don’t care how old you get. Having fun is fun. Comics are a lot of fun to read, follow, and enjoy. The more “serious” pieces of literature that he recommends in his commentary probably have plenty of merit, but they’re not nearly as fun.

The idea that he finds superhero media as childish is understandable. Bill Maher is over 60 years old. For most of his life, comic books and superheroes have been for children. It’s only within the last 30 years that they’ve matured to a point where they appeal to all ages, so much so that they’ve raked in over $20 billion at the box office. You don’t make that much money on childish things.

In addition to box office billions, some comics have gained serious acclaim. A select few have even been recognized as some of the greatest literary works in the past 100 years. I doubt Mr. Maher is aware of this because most of these amazing works happened after he became an adult. I imagine that if you were to ask most people his age, they would agree that comics shouldn’t be considered serious literature.

I respectfully disagree with that notion and I know many others disagree as well. That said, I doubt anyone will ever convince Mr. Maher that he’s wrong. He has made his politics very clear on many occasions and I don’t doubt he’ll say other offensive things in the future.

At the very least, I can offer Mr. Maher some perspective. I believe that, if he were to give comics a chance, he would see their literary value. He may still think they’re childish, but I think he would have a greater appreciation for the medium, if only because he sees how it has evolved since he was a kid.

What follows are five comics that I would personally recommend to Mr. Maher. I feel these books would help show just how salient comics can be in terms of society, politics, and art. While I doubt he’ll give them a chance, I hope others who share his sentiments take a moment to see why comic books and superhero media have become such an integral part of our culture.


Watchmen

This is an easy choice and not just because Watchmen routinely ranks near the top as on of the greatest comic books of all time. This seminal work by Alan Moore and David Gibbons actually speaks to the same criticisms that Mr. Maher levied against superheroes. Watchmen is, at its heart, the ultimate deconstruction of the entire concept of superheroes.

This story isn’t just about heroes fighting villains or heroes fighting other heroes. Watchmen is a story with deep, philosophical overtones about what it means to wield power and make peace in a chaotic world. It casts a harsh light on the dangers of relying on superheroes or super-powered beings to solve big problems on the global stage. It’s a sentiment that Mr. Maher himself has made on more than one occasion.

Being a political person, I believe Mr. Maher would find a lot to enjoy about the world of Watchmen. Beyond the art and the complexities of the story, it has a message that goes beyond good guys fighting bad guys.

In many respects, Watchmen was the comic that broke all the rules and ushered the medium into a new era. It proved that a comic could make serious contributions to the world of literature. Between its unique place in the history of comics and the awards it received, I think Watchmen can prove to Mr. Maher that comics can be great works of art that tell relevant messages for the real world.


Sandman

This is another series that routinely gets mentioned in discussions surrounding the greatest comics of all time. Like Watchmen, Sandman pushed the limits on what a comic book could be. It’s not a standard superhero comic. It’s not about heroes searching for some ominous glowing object, which is something Mr. Maher pointed out in his criticism. Sandman is deeper than that.

The writer of Sandman, Neil Gaiman, dared to craft a more mature fantasy. This is a world where mythological figures like Morpheus, Lucifer, and even characters from the bible interact with one another in a complex narrative that provides insight into spirituality, religion, and philosophy.

I believe that insight would appeal to Mr. Maher more than most and not just because he’s a self-admitted stoner. Say what you will about him, but he’s a very intelligent man who went to an Ivy League school. He also majored in English, which I think would make Sandman that much more appealing to him.

The story in Sandman is not something most children will understand or appreciate. Even most adults may struggle to make sense of the various themes that Gaiman explores throughout the book. It’s a powerful story, but one that works best in the medium of comics. I think if Mr. Maher gave Sandman a chance, he would see that.


X-men: God Loves, Man Kills

Even though Mr. Maher singled out superheroes as the most childish element of comics, I believe there are still a select few that would still appeal to him, if only because of his political leanings. Mr. Maher has always identified as a liberal and routinely espouses the value of liberal principles. He grew up watching the civil rights movement unfold and it has clearly had an impact on him.

That’s exactly why a comic like X-men: God Loves, Man Kills would resonate with him. Even though it follows many common superhero themes, this classic X-men story by legendary X-men writer, Chris Claremont, goes much further in linking the struggle of the X-men with that of civil rights.

This story is less about the X-men fighting killer robots and more about confronting the depths of human bigotry. In addition to providing the inspiration for “X2,” it explores a kind of bigotry that feels like it was ripped from the real world. It even throws religion into the mix with the introduction of Reverend William Stryker, a man who has drawn more than a few comparisons with Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr. Maher will probably notice those parallels more than most. He has made no secret of his disdain for organized religion and the people who use it to justify their bigotry. X-men: God Loves, Man Kills tells a story of just how dangerous that kind of religiously-motivated bigotry can get. Even though it’s still a superhero story, it doesn’t hide from the real-world parallels.

Good literature, whether it’s a comic book or a novel, often reflects the controversies of its time. The X-men were created right at the onset of the Civil Rights Movement. Stan Lee has gone on record as saying that elements of the X-men were inspired by real life heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. As both a proud liberal and a critic of religion, Mr. Maher will find plenty to like about this classic X-men story.


All-Star Superman

This story might be the toughest sell for Mr. Maher. However, I think if any comic can demonstrate the value of superheroes, it’s All-Star Superman. This love letter to Superman and all the fanciful themes surrounding him is a celebration of the ultimate hero. Even if Mr. Maher thinks idolizing heroes is dangerous, I think even he’ll appreciate why Superman is such an icon after 80 years.

What makes All-Star Superman special isn’t in how it depicts the Man of Steel at his best. It’s not just about him saving the day, defeating Lex Luthor, and winning the love of Lois Lane. More than anything else, the story that Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly tell demonstrates just how much Superman inspires those around him.

Throughout the series, there are many great moments that are full of heart, hope, and compassion. Some of it is cartoonishly over-the-top, but it never feels corny. There’s never a point where Superman takes a moment to tell a bunch of kids to eat their vegetables and stay in school. It doesn’t try to make Superman someone he’s not. He’s the ultimate paragon of virtue and this series just runs with that.

To further raise the stakes, this version of Superman is living on borrowed time. As powerful as he is, he has saved the day one time too many. He basically has to do what he can with what little time he has left to make the world a better place. It’s an endeavor that even Mr. Maher can appreciate.

More than once, Mr. Maher has tried to inspire others to be better. Even if his efforts are politically motivated, the will to inspire is something he’s always shown, going back to his days on “Politically Incorrect.” Even if he thinks Superman comics are for kids, he can still appreciate Superman’s efforts to inspire the good in others.


Y: The Last Man

This is another acclaimed comic series that doesn’t rely on superheroes, fancy costumes, or superpowers. At a time when gender politics are such a hot topic, a series like Y: The Last Man is more relevant than ever. This beloved comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra takes issues surrounding gender to an apocalyptic extreme.

As someone who has routinely criticized how the debate surrounding feminism and gender has evolved, I believe Mr. Maher will find a lot to like about Y: The Last Man. This is a story that puts men and women in the ultimate bind. One day, without warning, every creature on Earth with a Y chromosome just keels over and dies. Only one man, Yorick Brown, and his pet monkey, Ampersand, survive.

The story the follows is both a fight for survival and a critical insight into what happens when gender dynamics operate in extremes. The world that Vaughan and Guerra show just how much men and women rely on one another without realizing it. When one is completely removed from the equation, it pushes people beyond the brink.

At the same time, it shows just how resilient people can be in terrible situations. The will to survive knows no gender. It can bring out the best and the worst in someone, but the best is what usually keeps driving us. Mr. Maher has often spoken urgently about issues like climate change. The apocalyptic setting of Y: The Last Man shows why that urgency is necessary.


Again, I don’t expect Mr. Maher to change his mind on much. He has made it abundantly clear in the past that he is very set in his ways. However, if he is genuinely open to seeing the merits of comic books, these titles should help. Comic books may have been for kids when he was a kid. They have since become so much more and their legacy, like that of Stan Lee’s, will continue for generations to come.

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On Martin Luther King Jr. Day And Escaping Hate

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To everyone out there who values peace, justice, and equality, I wish you a happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To some, this is just a day where kids get an extra day off school. To others, it’s a reminder of just how far we’ve come in the struggle against racism, injustice, and bigotry. Even though it seems like we’re stagnating at times, we’re still world’s better than we were in the days of Dr. King.

It’s hard to for young people today to understand just how entrenched racial attitudes were 60 years ago. For generations, inequality and bigotry wasn’t an aberration. It was the norm. Fighting that was like fighting the tides for a lot of people, but unlike the tides, hearts and minds can change.

That’s something Martin Luther King Jr. believed in. He dedicated his life to confronting hate and pursuing justice for everyone, regardless of race. His legacy lives on today for minorities of all kinds, from the LGBT community to immigrants. It may seem like an uphill battle at times and even after Dr. King’s death, there are still plenty of bigoted attitudes in the world today. Some people cling to those attitudes more than most.

However, it is possible for someone to let go of their hatred. It’s not easy, but it does happen. In the spirit of this day that I’m sure brings out a lot of conflicting passions in today’s society, I’d like to share one of my favorite Ted Talks.

This one is from Christian Picciolini, a former Neo-Nazi and white supremacist who managed to leave his hateful past behind. His story is one that’s especially relevant on a day like today because it doesn’t just reveal how people end up in hate groups. It shows just how difficult it is to get out. It can be done, though, and Mr. Picciolini’s story is one worth telling.

Whatever your politics, prejudices, and attitudes, we are all still human. We all inhabit this planet together. We all want a better future for ourselves and our loved ones. Ultimately, we can achieve much more by working together than by hating one another. That’s what Dr. King fought for and his legacy is worth celebrating, now more than ever.

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