Category Archives: media issues

Why Most Complaints About Hollywood Are Empty

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There are a many annoying trends in the media these days and I’m not just talking about “fake news” or “alternative facts.” Those are trends that only bring out the worst in people whenever they’re discussed. While still annoying, there’s at least some legitimate substance behind those discussions. The trends I’m referring to are as empty as the whining they inspire.

It involves a new online cottage industry. It utilizes criticism wrapped in an agenda that’s disguised as meaningful social justice. It usually takes the forms of articles with click-bait heavy titles that give the impression that this is an official statement on behalf of all those who consume media. In reality, it’s just empty rhetoric that hides more whining.

You’ve probably seen these articles before. They’re often made by sites like BuzzFeed or Cracked, a site I’ve been reading for years and even reference frequently. They usually contain heavy-handed titles like this.

5 Things Action Movies Need To Stop Doing

8 Things Hollywood Needs To Stop Doing With Female Characters

7 Recurring Gags That Movies Need To Stop Using

14 Things TV Shows Need To Stop Doing With Minority Characters

15 Ways Hollywood Is Still Racist

37 Ways Movies And TV Are Still Offensive To Women And Minorities

9 Common Hollywood Practices That Need To Stop

None of these titles are to real articles, but you don’t have to look far to find articles like them. If there’s a legitimate and/or petty way to complain about the way Hollywood does business, then chances are there’s an article about it. Some pretend to express real concern about real issues. Most just whine about it, though.

I get that Hollywood is easy to criticize. It is, after all, a very shallow and cut-throat world with a history of scandals and less-than-ethical business practices. However, discussing those issues and trying to reform them is hard. Just whining about some of the content Hollywood puts out is easier and allows certain people to virtue signal. It’s not that hard to understand why people do it.

Even so, it doesn’t change a few inescapable facts that render all these click-bait articles utterly devoid of substance. Most of those fact come back to the simple truth that Hollywood is, and always has been, a business. It does have an agenda, but that agenda begins and ends with making money. Everything else is an afterthought.

It’s not very glamorous or sexy, but you could say that about almost every business venture. The only difference with Hollywood and the media is that pursuing that goal requires them to present a fantasy that sometimes requires that the goal be less obvious. That’s how you can get movies that protest corporate greed, but are still produced by corporations driven by greed.

It’s that same desire to make money and turn a profit that often leads to the kinds of practices that these wannabe media critics complain about. In general, people want to see beautiful women and attractive men following the kind of tried-and-true that has entertained people for centuries, long before movies and TV even existed.

From a pure business perspective, it’s easy to understand why Hollywood and media companies use these tropes. Like it or not, they work. People still aren’t tired of seeing male action stars like Tom Cruise run from explosions. People still aren’t tired of seeing beautiful women like Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlet Johannsen run around in skin-tight outfits either.

If the masses want it, then those in Hollywood would be lousy business people if they didn’t try to give it to us. There’s a demand for something. They supply it. That’s economics at its most basic. What these articles are basically asking for, to some extent, is that Hollywood stop doing what has historically made them money and do something completely different that may not work at all.

Think about that for a moment and try to appreciate the implications. You’ve got a job. It’s a good job that pays well. It involves doing something you know how to do and have seen, time and again, how well it works. Then, some person comes along who has never done your job and yells at you for how you do it.

On top of that, they claim that doing your job the way you do it contributes to all the horrible things in the world. Somehow, your job is what fosters all the racism, sexism, and bigotry that makes the world such an awful place and it’s your obligation to change everything about your job, risking your own money and livelihood in the process.

How would you feel about that person? Would you be all that inclined to listen to them? Would you even take them seriously? Chances are you wouldn’t and it’s not that surprising that Hollywood rarely responds directly to these complaints. The only reason Hollywood ever changes its approach to entertainment in any capacity is to make more money. That’s all there is to it.

It’s the biggest flaw in complaints about things like whitewashing, the Bechdel Test, and every damsel in distress trope. People can complain all they want. As long as movies, TV shows, and video games keep turning a profit, they’ll keep getting made. Hollywood and the media would be irresponsible, as a business, not to do just that.

That’s not to say Hollywood is doomed to remain stagnant. Hollywood, like any business, tries to follow market trends. That’s how we get things like a half-dozen superhero movies in a year and a glut of “Die Hard” rip-offs. When you find a winning formula, you stick with it. Those that don’t usually don’t stay in business for very long. The fickle and unpredictable nature of markets sees to that.

However, those who complain about Hollywood are basically demanding that they adopt this inherently risky method for producing media. They’re demanding that they ignore market trends and go out of their way to produce content that’s new, unproven, and politically correct to cultural and social sensibilities. They demand all this, regardless of how much it costs or how much profit it turns.

In general, when people make such unreasonable demands, they doom themselves to disappointment. For the professional whiners of the world, that basically creates a self-reinforcing cycle. They demand the impossible or the impractical. Then, when it doesn’t happen, they get upset and blame those who didn’t go out of their way for them.

It’s petty and annoying, but it’s the nature of the current media landscape. Thanks to the internet and social media, every has a platform and a voice. They have a mechanism for making demands that their media cater to certain groups and agendas, despite having no understanding of the business or economic forces behind the things they consume.

On top of all this, the process of making movies is getting more expensive with each passing year. That means producers have less room for error. If they make a movie that bombs, the losses are a lot bigger. It also means that even if a movie does well, the amount of profit it generates isn’t quite as great. That’s why the most profitable movies tend to be low-budget films that are unexpectedly successful.

It’s that unexpected part, though, that’s so frustrating to Hollywood. Nobody truly knows if a movie will be a hit, even if it’s from an established franchise. Sure, we can question how George Lucas thought Jar Jar Binks was a good idea for a character, but most every competent movie maker creates their products with the expectation and hope that they’ll be successful.

Now, none of that is to say that some themes aren’t overplayed. In recent years, Hollywood has made a concerted effort to improve how women are depicted in film and TV. The recent success of “Black Panther” has shown that there is money to be made in crafting products with a more diverse appeal.

However, these efforts weren’t the results of people complaining about a lack of diversity. They were the results of a business following market trends. The world is getting more diverse and so its consumer base. Naturally, a business will want to appeal to the most people possible. A successful business doesn’t care about the gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation of the consumer. The money is just as valuable.

For some people, though, that’s not happening fast enough and it doesn’t make up for past transgressions. Never mind the fact that history can’t be changed and doesn’t give a damn about how people feel about it. The fact that something once existed or doesn’t exist yet still offends some people.

At the end of the day, whining about the prevalence tropes, jokes, or themes that pervade Hollywood is no different than whining about how too many people like something that you hate. It’s selfish, petty, and asinine on every level. If it keeps making money, then it’ll keep happening. Until capitalism and economics radically changes, then those who keep whining about these trends will just have to deal with it.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, media issues, movies

Stereotypes, The Simpsons, And The (Empty) Complaints About Apu

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For nearly three decades, our society has had an unspoken, but clear understanding. For something to become culturally relevant, it has to be mentioned “The Simpsons.” Whether it’s a major plot on something like boy bands or a subtle joke about a classic novel, it’s not truly a mainstream idea until it shows up on “The Simpsons.”

I happen to be among the demographic who have always lived in a world where the “The Simpsons” existed. I honestly cannot remember a time when this show wasn’t on the air or relevant in some ways. For a show that has been on the air for nearly 30 years, it’s remarkable just how much impact it has had, despite so many changes in trends, culture, technology, media, and tastes.

There have been controversial moments, though. I still remember how controversial it was when John Waters voiced a gay character on the show. That was considered controversial in 1997. Looking back on it, I can see why. The more recent controversies, however, are a bit harder to understand.

That brings me to Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Springfield’s lovable Indian owner of the Kwik-E-Mart. I say he’s lovable because, for the most part, he’s one of the show’s most colorful side-characters and for the right reasons. He’s smart, he’s got a unique personality, and he’s undergone plenty of growth over the years.

However, according to a documentary by Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu called “The Problem With Apu,” this established character on an iconic TV show is contributing to a serious social ill in the world. The fact that Apu exists is a factor in the many causes of social injustice, racism, and bigotry. He’s almost as bad as video game characters being too sexy. If I could write that with more sarcasm, I would.

With all due respect to Mr. Kondabolu, who lives a minority in a country that has a spotty history with race to say the least,  I sincerely question his method for picking certain battles. There are many serious issues surrounding race relations in America and throughout the world. Those issues have all sorts of complexities and nuances to them.

Instead of scrutinizing those, however, he singles out a popular cartoon character to make his point. Even That doesn’t just undermine the serious issues he discusses in that movie. It ensures that his point will get lost in the collective groans of those who bemoan political correctness.

I know that whining about political correctness has become a source of whining in and of itself, but there is a continuum of sorts that separates serious issues about representation in the media from outright trolling. The separation isn’t always clear, but in the case of Apu and Mr. Kondabolu, it’s too petty to be subtle.

The idea that Apu is now problematic, a word that has gained a lot of frustrating connotations in recent years, sends an indirect message that I don’t think Mr. Kondabolu wanted to send. It’s not that racism and bigotry aren’t important issues. It’s the idea that anyone who enjoys “The Simpsons” and appreciates characters like Apu are somehow on the same level as old school, George Wallace level racists.

For most reasonable people, that notion is both insulting and absurd. Again, I doubt that’s the direct message Mr. Kondabolu was saying, but that’s the subtext of the message he sent with that documentary. “The Simpsons” and the people who enjoy it are somehow bad people and contributing to a problem.

Understandably, both fans and the creators of the show aren’t going to respond with homemade chocolates and hugs. Even though the creators promised to address it, the way they did so did not involve an extended apology about how the show has depicted Apu and paying massive reparations for all the hurt feelings it has caused.

Instead, they worked it into a side-plot in the episode, “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” wherein Marge tries to rewrite her favorite book so that it’s free of anything that might be considered offensive in 2018. As many in Hollywood and the media are finding out the hard way these days, that’s next to impossible.

It all culminated in a moment where Marge and Lisa partially broke the fourth wall, Deadpool style, and indirectly confronted the controversy by basically saying that there’s not much you can do when old characters who weren’t offensive at first become offensive years later. Those characters exist, as do their stories. Lisa flat out asks to the camera, “What can you do?”

It’s a very relevant question that Mr. Kondabolu isn’t able to answer. In fact, I don’t think the question has an answer. At the very least, the scene didn’t mock him directly or discount his feelings. It was surprisingly even-handed for a show that regularly mocks popular trends. This is how the scene that played out.

Needless to say, that response rubbed plenty of people the wrong way, included Mr. Kondabolu. According to Entertainment Weekly, this was his response.

“Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked?” wrote Kondabolu. “Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.” In another tweet, he said, “In ‘The Problem with Apu,’ I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”

I want to be sympathetic to Mr. Kondabolu’s feelings. I really do. However, the problem with his response is that he didn’t even try to answer the question that Lisa asked. She asked what can you do. He just whined that this response wasn’t the one he wanted from the show. On top of that, he didn’t even try to explain what he’d hoped to hear.

This why I find his protest of Apu so empty. It’s also why I find a lot of complaints about offensive characters or stereotypes so asinine. It’s not enough that someone is offended. They basically set it up so that there’s no way for them not to be offended. They present a problem with no solution. If they offer one, it’s vague and easy to move the goalposts when someone doesn’t respond to their satisfaction.

For Mr. Kondabolu, he doesn’t just move the goalposts, though. He essentially tries to play an entirely different game on an entirely different field and expects everyone else to know the score. Even by scrutinizing the content of his own documentary, Mr. Kondabolu reveals just how misguided his arguments are. In another article by Entertainment Weekly, this was his justification for singling out Apu.

As Kondabolu made clear in his film, the problem with Apu extends beyond a brown character voiced by a white actor; the problem was not just with The Simpsons, but with its viewers, the drunk idiots on the street who call any South-Asian person “Apu” and who repeated “Thank you, come again,” as a mocking refrain.

I highlighted those bold parts because they’re the most revealing part of Mr. Kondabolu’s argument, as well as the greatest flaw. He links the depiction of Apu to the “drunk idiots” who harass people like him of South-Asian descent. From his perspective, the problem isn’t the drunk idiots doing the harassing. It’s the cartoon character.

In that context, it’s understandable why even a bleeding heart liberal like Lisa Simpson, a notable lover of cartoons, wouldn’t take up Mr. Kondabolu’s cause like she has so many others. It’s not just empty. It completely overlooks the actual source of the problem, namely the drunk idiots.

Are they drunk idiots because they watched “The Simpsons?” Are they drunk idiots towards people of South-Asian descent because of Apu and the stereotype he represents? Well, if that’s the argument Mr. Kondabolu is going to make, then he’s got a much bigger problem. “The Simpsons” are full of so many other stereotypes that to single just one out as “problematic” isn’t just asinine. It’s petty.

Homer Simpson is a stereotype of a dimwitted, drunk middle class working stiff.

Lisa Simpson is a stereotype of a whiny, bleeding heart liberal social justice lover.

Marge Simpson is a stereotype of a nagging housewife.

Groundskeeper Willie is a stereotype of an angry Scotsman.

Barney Gumble is a stereotype of a fat, drunk alcoholic slob.

Cletus Spuckler is a stereotype of a white trash hillbilly.

Luigi Risotto is a stereotype of an Italian chef.

Fat Tony is a stereotype of an Italian mobster.

I could go on, but with nearly 30 years of characters, “The Simpsons” has such a huge cast of characters that there’s no way I could list every character and the stereotype they represent. In fact, it’s because “The Simpsons” has so many characters and so much history that it’s possible to find a character that embodies an offensive stereotype of some type. The only requirement is that you have to be really petty.

That’s what Mr. Kondabolu had to do. He had to get really petty to single out Apu, which also required he ignore the real, non-animated people who were harassing minorities. Again, none of this is to say that racism and harassment aren’t problems. They are. However, when highlighting this issue requires a level of pettiness that involves singling out cartoon characters, then there’s something wrong with that approach.

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Filed under Current Events, media issues, political correctness