Category Archives: media issues

Why We Should Stop Bleeping, Blurring, And Censoring

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Over the course of history, certain tools, traditions, and words have become obsolete. It’s just part of the ever-changing nature of society. It’s why we don’t use VCRs or cassette tapes anymore. It’s also why we don’t use words like jargogle, corrade, and kench. Those are all real words that used to be common in the English language. Now, they’re relics of history.

Given the chaotic, yet evolving nature of language, why do we still censor certain words in the media? I don’t ask that question as someone who thinks Big Bird should start dropping F-bombs on Sesame Street. I’m genuinely curious as to how we can still justify bleeping certain words when they’re said on TV or over the radio.

I know the history of censorship in mass media in the United States. I know there are laws like the Communications Decency Act and famous Supreme Court cases like FCC v. Pacifica Foundation. Many of these laws have a basis in protecting the eyes and ears of children from hearing or seeing something objectionable.

At a time when the media had only a handful of accessible channels, the might have made sense to some extent. I say might because I certainly don’t agree with bleeping or blurring anything. Hiding something, be it profanity or female nipples, doesn’t make it less real. If anything, it gives it a greater allure, but that’s beside the point.

We live in different times now. That FCC v. Pacifica Foundation decision was rendered in 1978, a time before the internet, smartphones, and comments sections. Today, anyone with a cell phone and an internet connection can look up any amount of obscene, indecent, profane content, plenty of which is accessible to children for free and without a credit card number.

Kids know what these words are. Chances are, they know what female nipples look like too. However, TV shows and radio stations still blur and bleep these things as though they’re as damaging as a pack of cigarettes. I know the law is often slow to catch up to trends in technology, but at this point, bleeping or blurring anything is more a joke than a legal mandate.

That’s easy for me to say as a legal adult with no kids, but I haven’t forgotten what it was like to be a kid. I remember hearing these dirty words and seeing these dirty images. I knew what they meant. My parents didn’t hide that from me. They didn’t like me saying those words or talking about those topics all the time, but they told me the truth and I understood it.

Kids may be impressionable, but they’re not stupid. Most kids are smart enough to understand that words carry certain meaning and the human body is composed of many parts, some more visually appealing than others. Censoring it doesn’t change that. If anything, it sends the message that everyone thinks they’re too stupid or weak to handle these concepts.

Aside from insulting kids as a whole, it also operates under the assumption that just hearing certain words or seeing certain images somehow damage them, as though human beings are ever that simplistic. While there is some research on this topic, the conclusions are fairly limited. The only common thread seems to be that, when it comes to dirty words, context matters.

There are times when we, as human beings, need to verbalize our emotions. When we’re angry, in pain, or upset, we’re going to want to communicate that. Profanity is just a byproduct of that. I know that when I stub my toe, I don’t stop to censor myself. I drop as much F-bombs as I have to and the world remains intact, even when there are children nearby.

That doesn’t mean I want kids to cuss like me all the time. Again, there is a context. There’s a time and a place for that sort of language. That’s an important lesson to teach someone at any age. That way, they’ll know not to sound like an asshole at a job interview or while on a date. Bleeping words doesn’t teach that lesson. It just gives these words more power than they deserve.

Standards are always changing. There was a time when Clark Gable saying “damn” in “Gone With The Wind” was considered shocking. When I was a kid, I certainly got plenty of scorn when I said words like that, even while not in public. However, hearing them on TV and movies didn’t change my understanding of these words. It just sounded stupid.

This used to be considered mature.

These days, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “damn” in a TV show or song. It doesn’t get bleeped or censored. More and more, words like “shit” aren’t being bleeped either. Rick Sanchez says it at least once an episode on “Rick and Morty.” There was even an episode of “South Park” that made saying “shit” on a TV show a big deal.

In terms of knowing when something has become obsolete to the point of absurdity, that’s as clear a sign as any. The same goes for blurring certain body parts. The widespread availability and accessibility of internet porn has removed all sense of mystery from the imagery of breasts, butts, and genitalia. Kids today no longer need to find someone’s porn stash to see these parts in all their glory. They just need an internet connection.

Now, that’s not to say I’m okay with every prime-time network show depicting the same level of profanity, sex, and violence as an episode of “Game of Thrones.” Like anything, there can be too much of it and if overdone, even the most obscene or indecent concepts lose all meaning and are devoid of impact.

There are also some people who are genuinely uncomfortable using certain words and seeing certain images. That’s perfectly fine. That’s their choice. Since there are plenty of options in terms of channels, websites, and radio stations, they don’t have to listen to or see this kind of content. Even if they do, the world doesn’t end because they’re temporarily distressed.

When the late, great George Carlin famously listed the infamous seven dirty words that became the basis of a Supreme Court case, there was a context and a situation at the time that made this kind of censorship seem reasonable. That context and those times are long gone. Carlin himself understood that. When it came to deconstructing the absurdities of language, he said it best when he made this observation.

These words have no power. We give them this power by refusing to be free and easy with them. We give them great power over us. They really, in themselves, have no power. It’s the thrust of the sentence that makes them either good or bad.

 

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Filed under censorship, Current Events, media issues, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, technology, television

Why The “Terminator” Franchise Has Faltered (And How To Revive It)

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Some franchises just aren’t built to last. It’s a sad fact of life. Sometimes, the things we love just cannot grow and blossom. Not every franchise can be like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact, every effort to mirror the success of the MCU has either failed or come up short. For some, it just doesn’t have resources to grow to that extent. In some cases, trying to force a franchise into something it’s not will only hurt it even more.

The latest franchise to learn this the hard way is the “Terminator.” Believe me when I say I take no joy in saying that. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for all things “Terminator.” The original 1984 film was one of the first R-rated movies that my parents let me watch. I remember being scared, but thrilled at the same time. As a kid, that was a major step up from traditional Disney movies.

Then, I saw “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and the highest of bars was set. Like the first movie, it thrilled and amazed me to no end. At the same time, it struck many emotional chords, especially at the end. I still get choked up to this day when I hear the T-800 tell John, “I know now why you cry, but it is something I can never do.” There’s a good reason why many rank this among the greatest movies of all time.

A big part of what made that movie great was how it completed the story. What began with Sarah Connor’s journey in the first film ended beautifully in the second. It was as complete a story as it could’ve been. To make a sequel after that would’ve been like trying to improve on the Mona Lisa. While the prospect of sequels still interested me, I never got the sense that they could improve on what the first two movies did.

That didn’t stop Hollywood from trying multiple times. While some of those movies had their moments, they never came close to improving on the first two. If anything, each sequel did more and more damage to the franchise. It showed in both the critical reception and the box office. Now, with “Terminator: Dark Fate” an outright flop, the state of this franchise is dire.

Some are already saying it’s dead. I don’t agree with that. It’s in critical condition. That’s for certain. However, I don’t think it’s doomed to the archives of cinematic history. I believe it’s worth taking a step back to understand why the franchise has faltered so badly. I also believe that there is a way to revive it for a new generation.

The reasons the franchise declined are many. Ask a dozen people who love the franchise as much as I do and chances are you’ll get several dozen answers from each of them. They usually boil down to reasons like this.

The ending of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” was too perfect and final to improve upon.

The sequels muddied and messed up the timeline more than it already was.

The sequels focused too much on action and not enough on the horror of the first movie or the drama of the second.

The sequels didn’t utilize enough of the original cast, relying heavily on the star power of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The sequels undermined or undercut the impact of the first two movies.

The sequels were too focused on setting up a trilogy rather than making one solid movie.

The threats in the sequels were too bland and predictable, relying too much on newer Terminators fighting older Terminators.

Personally, I think every one of these reasons has merit, but some have more than others. When I re-watch “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and compare it to the sequels, I can clearly see the difference from a cinematic and storytelling standpoint. That movie was made to complete the story that James Cameron started telling with the first. Every other sequel was made to set up more sequels.

From there, every other issue compounded. The focus of the movies was less about having a genuine impact and more about teasing a future movie. That only works if the first movie is successful and that didn’t happen with any of the sequels after “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” They attempted to set up a larger story, but nobody cared about that story anymore.

Then, “Terminator: Dark Fate” committed the ultimate sin, in my opinion, when it effectively rendered the first story pointless for the sake of a new one. For me, that ensured that this would be the first Terminator sequel I didn’t see in the theaters. I doubt I’ll even see it when it comes out on cable. What this movie did to John Connors and the over-arching narrative of the franchise just cannot be overlooked.

It’s so bad that I won’t even bother with a spoiler warning. “Terminator: Dark Fate” kills John within the first two minutes of the movie. In one cold, callous sequence, this character who fought so hard with his mother to save the future is rendered pointless. The only difference he made is that the name of the future robot overlords changed. Instead of Skynet, they got Legion. That’s it.

Not Pictured: Anything remotely appealing.

It would be akin to having Thanos come back to life, murder the Avengers, and wipe out half the life in the universe all over again in the first movie after “Avengers: Endgame.” Everything and everyone they fought to save is rendered pointless. Then, that same movie tries to tell a story about a new savior who nobody has any attachment to and will always be defined by being John’s replacement.

There’s nothing about that story that has any appeal, either to a fan of the Terminator franchise or any franchise, for that matter. On top of that, “Terminator: Dark Fate” went heavy on mixing gender politics with the movie. That’s not just an indirect interpretation. The director, Tim Miller, flat out admitted it in interviews before the movie came out.

I don’t want to get too caught up in that aspect of the movie, but I do think it was a contributing factor to the movie’s shortcomings. We’ve seen it happen with other movies before. When a movie is too focused on enduring its female characters pass the Bechdel Test, it rarely puts enough effort into making them likable or endearing. It also obscures the overall plot by making it predictable.

There are many other flaws to highlight in “Terminator: Dark Fate,” as well as plenty more in the movies that came before it. Rather than belabor those, I want to focus on how this franchise rebuilds itself from here. The failures of the sequels have damaged it significantly. There’s no amount of time travel or retroactive changes that can save the story that “Terminator: Dark Fate” tried to set up.

That said, this franchise does have a few things going for it. It’s a known brand that people recognize. When most people hear the word “Terminator,” they usually understand it as a reference to the movies. Even if it’s not as strong a brand as it used to be, it still carries weight and sometimes, that’s all it needs.

The first step to rebuilding it involves ending the futile efforts to build, expand, or somehow improve on the story of Sarah and John Connor. Their story ended perfectly in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Most Terminator fans agree with that and anything that would somehow undermine their legacy is only going to cause more damage.

The next step is to start a new timeline, but one that doesn’t focus on saving the future leader of the resistance or ensuring that Judgement Day occurs. That story has been done to death. For Terminator to succeed, it needs to show that it can do more. In fact, I believe “Terminator: Dark Fate” actually has one sub-plot that might be the key to the franchise’s renewal and survival.

In that movie, the Terminator that killed John, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, secretly built a human life for itself after its mission was completed. It walked around as a human, met a woman with a son from a previous marriage, and formed a family. If the movie had any plot worthy of intrigue, it was this. Sadly, it was poorly developed and mostly rendered pointless by the end.

It’s a concept that might resonate more today than it could have in 1984. When the first Terminator movie came out, machines and robots weren’t that smart. They were defined by how inhuman, cold, and calculating they were. In recent years, that has changed. Movies like “Ex Machina” and “Wall-E” have built compelling stories about robots that have human traits, including emotions.

It’s something that the Terminator franchise has flirted with before. Part of what made the ending of “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” so dramatic and impactful was the emotional attachment that John developed for the T-800. Even the T-800 showed signs that he’d formed a bond. It made that final sacrifice feel so powerful.

Even “Terminator: Genysis” explored the idea. It had another T-800 form a fatherly bond with a young Sarah Connor, so much so that she called him Pops. While the movie didn’t flesh out the concept as much as it could’ve, there were moments that highlighted the extent of this bond. I strongly believed that if this movie had emphasized this concept over making John Connor evil, it would’ve succeeded.

Rather than hint or imply it, I believe a future Terminator movie should go all in on this idea of a killing machine developing emotional attachments to humans. It’s something that is more relevant today than it was in 1984 or 1991. We already interact more intimately with technology and we’ve even given our technology a personality. I say that’s a story that the Terminator can build upon.

Imagine the following scenario.

It’s the distant future. Machines have taken over. Humanity has been all but enslaved. There are only pockets of resistance. To combat this, the central machine intelligence, Skynet, creates Terminators with the sole purpose of killing the remaining humans.

However, humans prove crafty. They outwit and outsmart the early models. In order to become better killers, new Terminators are created that can mimic, study, and process emotions. Ideally, it could infiltrate human resistance camps, earn their trust, and terminate them appropriately. They would be the ultimate killers.

Unfortunately, there’s not enough data. Humans are too scattered, weak, and desperate. Skynet doesn’t have enough data to give these new Terminators the capabilities it needs. It calculates that it would take too long and require too many resources to compile the data in the present. As a result, it decides to send a model back in time before machines took over.

The model’s mission is simple. It must integrate into human society, compile data, preserve it, and transmit it back to Skynet by preserving it within disks. If it’s identity as a machine is uncovered by a human, its primary protocol is to terminate the human.

The first model is sent back. It arrives in a bustling city that would one day be reduced to ruin. It finds clothes, has an identity, and begins integration. However, just as it’s starting to establish itself, a human finds out it’s a machine. Its protocols are activated, but then something unexpected happens. It doesn’t terminate the human.

Instead of fear, the human develops intrigue. It connects with the Terminator. They start to form a bond. Eventually, the Terminator’s systems for mimicking emotions turn into real emotions. It develops a love for humanity and decides to defy Skynet. That decision ripples into the future and Skynet tries to send other Terminators back to destroy it.

As a Terminator fan, I would love to see a movie like this. It could work with a male or female Terminator. It could also work with a male or female protagonist. Like the T-800 in “Terminator: Dark Fate,” it could even become part of a family, giving it something to fight for and protect. Instead of fighting to protect a savior, the Terminator fights to change the fate of both itself and humanity.

This is just my idea, though. I’d love to hear with other Terminator fans think. I’d also love to hear how they would revitalize this franchise. I believe there is room for this franchise in the current cultural landscape. As machines and advanced artificial intelligence continue to progress, I suspect it’ll become even more relevant.

Like Sarah Connor once said, there is no fate, but what we make for ourselves. That applies to our future as a species. It also applies to this franchise.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, gender issues, media issues, movies, outrage culture, technology

Theon Greyjoy and Sansa Stark: How “Game of Thrones” Managed to Avoid Double Standards

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The following is an article written and submitted by DC-MarvelGirl 1997, who is a friend of mine and a talented young writer. She has a website and a YouTube channel that I highly recommend. I sincerely thank her for taking the time to write this, as it relates closely to other issues I’ve brought up on this site regarding gender, double standards, and media depictions. Enjoy!


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In a world of double standards, there comes a point where we should question when something is no longer a joke. With television shows such as “Cobra Kai” and “Married with Children” managing to poke fun at emasculation and male circumcision, after the fact we oftentimes question why we find those jokes funny. If those same jokes were made about women, it would be considered “sexist”. When it comes to men, it is almost as though we are okay with men being brutalized.

It’s pretty hard to avoid double standards in this day and age. However, I would say that there might be an exception to this. Today, I will be discussing the television series “Game of Thrones”, and how they managed to avoid double standards about gender.

Now, I’m not expert on “Game of Thrones”. In fact, I’ve only started reading the first book, and I am halfway through it as I am writing this. When you find a story that genuinely intrigues you and piques your interest, you want to keep reading it. With “Game of Thrones” it is no exception. Additionally, when it comes to issues such as gender, the novels do not hold back. The television series most definitely didn’t hold back when it came to showing brutalization of various characters. The throne room scene where Sophie Turner’s Sansa Stark is being stripped and beaten in front of noblemen forever solidifies for me why she’s such a great actress. In fact, it is my favorite scene to view in general. However, naturally, we as human beings would be uncomfortable seeing women being beaten and brutalized. And I can attest as a woman myself that it is disheartening to watch happen. I think a huge part of it is because we consistently try to protect women and keep them as pure as possible. It consistently shows throughout history, as well, how women are treated in comparison to men.

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In Sansa’s case, she’s received her taste of brutality on more than one occasion. She’s been forced to suffer and endure so much throughout the course of the television series. You watch the scenes where she is being beaten by Joffrey’s men and the scene where Ramsay Bolton rapes her on their wedding night, you cannot help but feel discomforted viewing it. I don’t think any rational person wouldn’t feel uncomfortable watching scenes like that.

However, what is even more uncomfortable is what occurs with the character of Theon Greyjoy – who throughout the course of the show, and the books, has gone through as much brutalization as Sansa. I would argue that what happens to Theon on the show is worse. When I say that “Game of Thrones” doesn’t hold back with showing brutalization of both men and women, this is where I make my point.

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With the character of Theon, we are introduced to him as the character who is taken pity upon by Ned Stark, who proceeds to take him in as his ward. Theon starts of similarly to that of Sansa – arrogant and overconfident, and the character that is probably one of the least liked on the show in the first season. Nonetheless, he gets a taste of what it’s like to be broken to nothing after he makes mistake upon mistake, betraying the Stark family. This leads to he being captured by Ramsay Bolton – who at that point is leading Winterfell with an iron fist. This leads to Theon suffering his own torture.

As if Ramsay cutting Theon’s fingers off isn’t bad enough, but Ramsay further emasculates him by cutting his genitalia off. It simply gets worse as Ramsay is next shown eating a long and plump sausage right in front of his captive, making Theon believe that Ramsay is eating his genitals. In addition to emasculating Theon, Ramsay proceeds to rename him “Reek” to further degrade him.

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With “Game of Thrones” and the way they portray torture so graphically, there is never a moment where emasculation and brutalization are treated as a joke. Whenever you watch those moments, you can hardly help but feel uncomfortable. With “Game of Thrones”, it’s rare that you will find any double standards regarding the treatment of men and women. In Theon and Sansa’s cases, these would be handled differently if these characters were on a sit-com. Sansa’s situations of rape and being stripped and beaten would be treated seriously on almost any cable network show. Unfortunately, Theon’s case would more than likely be turned into a joke about male circumcision and put on an episode of “Married with Children”.

It comes to show that the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” and the TV show “Game of Thrones” give a truly eye-opening look at how different genders are treated. It displays an old-fashioned viewpoint of the traditional gender roles, which is a given. Nonetheless, it doesn’t display hypocrisy when displaying torture being thrust upon men and women. Theon and Sansa alike are both treated by various characters with a level of brutality to further humiliate and degrade them. It strips them down to being polar opposites of who they used to be before. Sansa starts off as a bratty and pretentious princess who slowly unravels to a woman who is a lot more hardened, yet she manages to not lose her compassion for others. Theon starts off as an arrogant show-off whom after being emasculated is broken to something else utterly. Nonetheless, you cannot deny that there is something to be said here.

With “Game of Thrones”, both men and women alike suffer and get put through more than we could ever imagine. Both genders are shown to receive the same amount of brutal treatment, and there is no sugarcoating anything at all. If anything, the books and the show alike give us material where you don’t need to talk about double standards, because there are essentially none. However, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth discussing and bringing up.

DC-MarvelGirl 1997

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Filed under Game of Thrones, gender issues, media issues, men's issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, television, women's issues

How Jar Jar Binks Exposed The Flaws (And Dangers) Of Social Media

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Every now and then, something extraordinary happens that reveals how flawed our current system is and how far behind we are in terms of fixing it. Sometimes, it’s tragic. Sometimes, it’s frustrating. In rare cases, it’s hilarious, albeit in a distressing way. Personally, I find those cases most revealing.

Recently, there was one notable instance that included one of the most reviled fictional characters of the past 20 years. No, I’m not talking about King Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton. I’m talking about Jar Jar Binks. If you’re a “Star Wars” fan, then that name likely inspires all sorts of anger, dread, and distress.

Jar Jar is both a joke and a cautionary tale. Aside from proving that George Lucas has no business directing another “Star Wars,” he demonstrates just how wrong an attempt at comedic relief can go. While he wasn’t the only problem with the prequels, he augmented the flaws. On top of being annoying, incoherent, and incompetent most of the time, he was a major symptom of a much larger disease.

Once again, everything that makes Jar Jar such a pariah in the cultural landscape has exposed another disease in a place that’s not far, far away. For reasons that many found confusing and confounding, Jar Jar started trending on Twitter. While there was a someone legitimate reason for this, it was indirect and unintentional. There was no concerted effort to get him trending. It wasn’t even part of any elaborate trolling.

The fact that it took a while to explain why this infamous character was trending says more about social media than it does about Jar Jar. There’s no question that social media has changed the media landscape in ways that cannot be overstated. We current live in a world where companies invest a great deal of time and resources into making their presence on social media unique. Some definitely do it better than others.

At the same time, social media has not always had a positive effect on the world and its users. There have been plenty of cases where social media has been used to brutally harass people and spread blatant lies. There are even some cases in which social media played a role in directing real harm to innocent people. The dangers are there and well-documented.

Most people with an internet connection know those dangers are there. Many see it as the cost of doing business for a technology that has an uncanny ability to connect people. I certainly pay that cost, given my own presence on social media. However, what just happened with Jar Jar on Twitter demonstrated that the cost might have hidden fees in the fine print.

Remember, there was no concerted effort to get Jar Jar trending. Even after he did, nobody could figure out why he was trending. On top of that, the fact that nobody could figure it out only got people more curious, which made him trend even more. It was a self-reinforcing cycle that was funny in some respects, but distressing in many others.

It’s somewhat similar to what happens with people who are famous just for being famous and little more. This unfortunate, but inescapable aspect of celebrity culture rarely creates people who garner respect or admiration. If anything, they foster cynicism and disconnection from the culture. That kind of fame just feels so random, unearned, and empty. Thanks to Jar Jar, we now know social media trends can do the same.

Things can trend for no discernible reason. Matters that nobody even wants to get trending can garner unexpected and often unwanted attention. Thanks to the mechanisms of social media, the mystery behind why something trends can make it trend even more. While that’s going on, legitimate issues that warrant attention can slip under the radar.

Human beings only have so much attention to give. When something like Jar Jar trends for no discernible reason, a non-significant chunk of our collective attention is redirected. It would be one thing if it were just some masterfully act of trolling, but this is something we do to ourselves collective. That means we have no one to blame but ourselves when something like Jar Jar trends.

We’re the ones who make and share these hashtags. The social media companies are just tools and businesses. Like many companies, they’ll engage in plenty of shady activities. They’ll do whatever they think will make them more money. At the end of the day, though, we’re still the consumers who shape social media.

That should be cause for concern because this isn’t vapid celebrity culture we’re dealing with. The things that trend on social media have real-world consequences. Companies have suffered significant harm. Lives of non-celebrity people have been ruined. A random person who becomes famous for no reason rarely causes actual harm to anyone. Social media trends can do so much more.

In some cases, it can cause a great deal of good. If the right thing gets trending, it can rally people to a worthy cause. It can also inform the public of a serious issue. It can even turn real-world tragedies into a powerful force for good. Personally, I think this good overshadows the bad, but when I see Jar Jar trending, I can’t deny that there’s a flaw in this system.

Is there a fix? I believe there is, but I don’t believe it’s as simple as companies tweaking their rules or insulting people who share hash tags. Jar Jar may have been a source of frustration in the early 2000s, but he’s only relevant in 2019 because we make him relevant. It’s not him. It’s not George Lucas. This is all us.

I believe we’re better than that. Despite all the awful things I’ve seen trending on Twitter and Facebook, I see far more positives that warrant far greater attention. Jar Jar might be a symptom, but I take comfort in the fact that he’s a symptom that often burns out quickly. When something is empty, people get bored of it much easier and nobody should ever underestimate the power of boredom.

In the grand scheme of things, Jar Jar trending for no reason isn’t necessarily a setback. It’s just a sign that we, as a tech-savvy society, have a long way to go with respect to managing social media. In an imperfect world, dumb things will trend for dumb reasons. However, when something like Jar Jar starts trending, that’s a sign that we have plenty of room for improvement.

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Filed under human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, Star Wars, technology, War on Boredom

Five Terrible Life Lessons I Learned From Sitcoms

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As a kid, I loved cartoons and comics. I think I’ve made my love of superhero comics abundantly clear on multiple occasions. However, I had other guilty pleasures as a kid that weren’t as common. Among those pleasures were sitcoms.

I’m not just referring to the popular or iconic ones, either. There was a time in my life where I would literally watch any sitcom that happened to be on TV at the moment. It didn’t matter if the premise was stupid. I still watched and I still enjoyed it. I certainly have my favorites. “Married With Children” and “Malcom in the Middle” are near the top of that list.

A big part of that love came from how I consumed them. My awesome mother also enjoyed sitcoms. I often watched them with her. She even let me watch sitcoms with themes that weren’t exactly kid friendly. That didn’t stop us from laughing hysterically at episodes of “Seinfeld” together. Those were good times.

As fun as they were, I also feel like I gleaned some less-than-helpful lessons from those shows. Unlike cartoons or kids shows, sitcoms involve real people who deal with real situations. I wasn’t the smartest kid, but I knew a show that involved superheroes, killer robots, and talking turtles was wholly unrealistic. Most kids with functional brains know that.

Sitcoms were a bit trickier. When the people are real and the scenarios look real, your inexperienced can’t always make sense of it. Even as an adult, the message of a sitcom can become muddled, even if it’s not based on a ridiculous premise.

Since I probably watched more sitcoms as a kid than most people did as an adult, I think I’ve been exposed to those misguided messages more than most. As a result, I learned plenty of terrible life lessons that did not help when reality hit me with a few gut punches.

I’m not saying that sitcoms were the reasons for my problems, growing up. I don’t blame the sitcoms themselves. I think that, in terms of the bigger picture, the themes of these shows tend to get complicated when it clashes with reality. In the same way fairy tales and porn create unrealistic expectations of romance and sex, sitcoms present false assumptions for making sense of the world.

What follows are five of those terrible lessons that I surmised from my excessive sitcom assumption. If you have other lessons you’d like to add, please share them in the comments. Some sitcoms tell better lessons than others, but these are some of the worst.


Terrible Lesson #1: All Great Romances Begin As Friendships

This lesson preyed off my inherent love of romance. While superhero comics offered plenty in terms of in-depth romance and melodrama, sitcoms were a bit more limited, thanks to their half-hour format. It was a tough, but not insurmountable limitation. Unfortunately, a great many sitcoms relied heavily on flawed, incomplete concepts of romance.

The most common involved romances that begin as friendships. Shows like “Friends” built almost every meaningful romance around this concept. While it wasn’t the only sitcom that did this, it’s by far the worst offender in sending the message that an epic romance starts with a great friendship.

While that makes for good TV, it’s a very flawed approach in the real world. I’m not saying that being friends with someone can’t lead to meaningful romance. It definitely can. However, shows like “Friends” give the impression that this is the only romance that has true depth. Every other romance is just flat and uninspiring, by comparison.

In the real world, seeking friendship is a good thing, but using that as a pre-cursor to romance can come off as deceitful. Sometimes, a person wants a friend more than a love interest and if that’s the only reason you’re friends with them, then that just comes off as insincere and a little creepy.

That’s not to say that sitcoms don’t contain meaningful romance lessons. This just isn’t one of them.


Terrible Lesson #2: Everyone Always Has Ulterior Motives

Chief among the hallmarks of sitcoms are the conflicting motivations of the characters involved. Whether it’s Charlie Harper trying to hook up with a new woman in “Two and a Half Men” or Kelly Bundy trying to win a modeling gig in “Married With Children,” those motivations are rarely that complicated. The only conflict arises when they encounter others whose interests aren’t in line with theirs.

In a half-hour sitcom, there’s little room for characters whose agenda has nothing to do with that of the main characters. Unlike real life, everyone around these characters is either looking to help or thwart their efforts. There’s rarely anyone who just wants to live their life and doesn’t care if someone like Kelly Bundy gets a modeling gig for a pest control company.

While that makes logistical sense within the context of a sitcom, it has some nasty implications for the real world. It further fosters a mentality that anyone who isn’t helping you is actively opposing you. That us versus them mentality already brings out the worst in people, both in the real and fictional world.

At least in the fictional world, that mentality is somewhat justified. It often is the case that the people around you, including close friends and family, have ulterior motives. In many sitcoms, close family members are the ones who screw you over the worst. It’s not a healthy approach to dealing with the world. If you can’t trust your family, then who can you trust?


Terrible Lesson #3: Every Authority Figure Conspires Against You

When it comes to villains or antagonists, there isn’t much room for nuance in sitcoms. You’re not going to find a Walter White within those constraints. Most of the time, the bad guys in a story are painfully obvious. That, in and of itself, isn’t too big a problem. Villains don’t have to be complex to work, even in a sitcom.

However, if a sitcom does have a villain of any kind, it’s almost guaranteed to be an authority figure. They can be a parent, a teacher, or an older sibling. If they have even a shred of authority, no matter how arbitrary, you can assume they’re going to oppose the protagonists in some form or another.

Whether it’s Red Foreman clamping down on the pot smoking in “That 70s Show” or Lois being a tyrannical mom in “Malcom in the Middle,” the authority figures are always the problem. There’s really not much to their villainy. They exist solely to prevent the main characters from having fun and achieving their goals.

Now, I’m not going to claim authority figures can’t be corrupt. There are real cases of authority figures acting like real villains. There are also cases in which authority figures do genuine good. Whether it’s the leader of a country or the chief of a police unit, it is possible for someone to wield authority over others and not be an asshole.

If your understanding of authority comes solely from sitcoms, then that’s like claiming pigs can do algebra. It’s not just that power corrupts. In sitcoms, any kind of power corrupts and it does so completely. It’s as simplistic as it is absurd. In reality, there are authority figures worthy of respect and sitcoms seem to go out of their way to avoid that point.


Terrible Lesson #4: There’s Never A Reason For Someone Being A Bully

In the same way sitcoms present a simplistic view of authority and villains, they take an equally bland approach when it comes to villains. For the most part, bullies in sitcoms aren’t characters. They might as well be robots programmed to insult, denigrate, or annoy the main characters at every turn. There’s no deeper motivation beyond that. They’re just mean, unrepentant assholes.

Characters like Libby Chessler in “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” and Harley Keener in “Boy Meets World” don’t exist to give depth to a sitcom. As bullies, they’re function is to present obstacles and setbacks for others. Giving them a reason for being a bully, be it a personality disorder or past trauma, would hinder their ability to achieve that function.

While this makes sense in the context of plotting a sitcom, it grossly simplifies the concept of bullying. When it happens in the real world, it’s nothing like what we see in a sitcom. I know this because I dealt with bullies in my childhood. It did not play out like any sitcom I ever saw.

Bullies aren’t robots fueled by the whimpering cries of their victims. They are human beings too and while few will sympathize with them, few people are born bullies. They may not even see themselves as one. There are some deeper complexities to the mental makeup of a bully and sitcoms pretend those complexities don’t against.

Granted, it’s difficult for a half-hour TV show to explore and flesh out the personality of a bully. It’s considerably easier to make them an unlikable asshole who helps glorify the main characters. As a result, it’s easy to see bullies as blunt instruments rather than people you need to deal with in your day-to-day life. In such a complicated world full of complicated people, it’s bound to cause problems beyond losing lunch money.


Terrible Lesson #5: Hard Work Is For Suckers

Let’s not lie to ourselves. Growing up, we tend not to appreciate hard work. Most of us go out of our way to avoid it or when we can’t, we take the path of least resistance. Many sitcoms reflect this sentiment. They certainly aren’t the reason why people avoid hard work. That inclination existed long before sitcoms, but they do take it to extremes that can be both hilarious and asinine.

In the world of sitcoms, hard work is tantamount to waterboarding. From Lucy standing on an assembly line in “I Love Lucy” to the over-the-top slacker behavior that plays out in “Workaholics,” hard work is only a step down from bullies. It’s something every major character either avoids or gets crushed by.

Sitcoms build entire plots around characters looking for a way to get out of hard work. Francis in “Malcom in the Middle” is the personification of this struggle. He once spent an entire episode willingly distracting himself from an overdue history assignment. While characters like him often pay a price for their slacking, it’s rarely a worse alternative than hard work.

In the world of sitcoms, you only work hard if you have your dream job. Since most people don’t get their dream job, hard work is basically tantamount to defeat. That’s the main take-away from sitcoms. Anyone with just a small amount of life experience knows how flawed that is.

Even when I was working a part-time job in high school, I learned the value of hard work very quickly. It’s a means to an end. It’s something that, when done right, gives you a sense of accomplishment. While we all can’t approach it with the same passion as Hank Hill, it does have value and sitcoms would have you believe that value doesn’t exist.


I still enjoy sitcoms. I still watch them regularly when there aren’t superhero movies or TV shows to see. While they can be funny and entertaining, they can also present a very flawed concept of life, people, and how to handle it. There are a lot of bad lessons to be learned from even great sitcoms, but if they make us a laugh, then I say that’s a price worth paying.

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

mia-khalifa

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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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, prostitution, sex in media, sex in society, women's 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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