Category Archives: outrage culture

Why The World Needs “Beavis And Butthead” Now More Than Ever

This is cool.

This news is so cool.

I wish I could do the laugh, but you’ll just have to use your imagination. It may take some paint fumes and expired soda, but it’ll help convey how cool this is. “Beavis and Butthead,” the lovable, dim-witted, foul-mouthed burnouts from the heart of 1990s MTV, are coming back to laugh, chuckle, and sneer at everything we hold dear in the 21st century.

It had been rumored for a while, but it was finally confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter.

THR: ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ Returning With Two New Seasons (and Spinoffs) at Comedy Central

The Viacom CBS-owned cable network is reviving Beavis and Butt-Head, with series creator Mike Judge returning to relaunch and reimagine the franchise as part of a sizable deal that includes a two-season order and plans for additional spinoffs and specials.

Judge will return as the show’s central driving force and will write, produce and provide voices for both of the iconic characters, who became pop culture sensations in the early 1990s on Comedy Central’s corporate sibling MTV.

In the new incarnation, Beavis and Butt-Head will enter a “whole new Gen Z world” with meta-themes that are said to be relatable to both new fans, who may be unfamiliar with the original series, and old.

For this, we should all be grateful and not just because “Beavis and Butthead” promise the kind of crude laughter we all badly need right now. I genuinely believe that we, as a culture, need this not-so-dynamic duo back in our lives.

Those who weren’t alive or of age in the mid-90s neither understand nor appreciate the impact that “Beavis and Butthead” had. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that they were very much the pre-cursor to shows like “South Park,” “Family Guy,” and “Rick and Morty.” They pushed the envelope at a time when we could afford to push it and pop culture is better because of that.

They were very politically incorrect, even by the skewed standards of the mid-90s. I remember plenty of parents protesting their vulgar humor. They were also one of the few shows that my parents would not allow me to watch. They’d still let me watch R-rated movies like “The Terminator,” but “Beavis and Butthead” was off-limits. That’s how crude they were.

In hindsight, I’m sure my parents might feel differently. By today’s standards, “Beavis and Butthead” almost seem quaint. They were a couple of brain-dead teenagers mocking and scoffing at the world around them, not caring about larger issues or bigger pictures. They just wanted to hang out, slack off, and look at boobs. They are the antithesis of the hyperactive activists who swarm social media with politically-charged rhetoric.

That’s exactly what makes them so necessary at the moment. It feels like every show these days, be it an adult cartoon or a sitcom, has to take part in some larger discussion about politics or social issues. It can’t just be funny or entertaining. The professional whiners of this world won’t let that happen. I have a feeling those whiners will have a hard time with “Beavis and Butthead.”

They can yell, whine, preach, and criticize these two all they want. They could scold them for objecting women, perpetuating stereotypes, or offending the wrong people all they want. The reaction would be the same. Beavis and Butthead would just keep laughing and snickering, not at all moved by their rhetoric, and make some crude remark.

I believe, in some respects, that kind of reaction is what a lot of young people are feeling these days. They hear so many protests, criticisms, and complaints about the present and the past. Everyone is yelling, whining, and accusing the other side of being Nazis. At some point, it all just becomes noise. It burns out your mind, your soul, and your capacity to give a damn.

Beavis and Butthead” offers those tortured souls a breath of fresh air. They’re not going to preach to them. They’re not going to demand that they take a side on any issue. They’re just going to laugh, snicker, and make dirty jokes. Given how toxic the world has become in recent years, that’s just what we all need.

Leave a comment

Filed under outrage culture, political correctness, television

On “The Last Of Us II” Reactions, Review Bombs, And Recourse

How do you follow up a masterpiece? Whether it’s a painting, a TV show, a movie, or a video game, how can you improve on what many see as the best of the best? It’s a relevant question and one the “Terminator” franchise has failed to answer for 20 years.

Now, “The Last of Us” is facing that same issue. Years ago, I cited this game as an incredible achievement in terms of storytelling and characterization. Like so many others, I eagerly awaited the release of the sequel. I wanted to see the next step in Joel and Ellie’s journey.

Then, the infamous leaks came out that spoiled large parts of the game. After that, my enthusiasm for the game quickly diminished.

Now, “The Last of Us II” has finally come out. Enough time has also passed to confirm how accurate these leaks are. In that sense, there’s some good news and bad news. The good news is, the leaks weren’t as disappointing as implied. The bad news is, they’re still pretty goddamn disappointing.

It’s akin to being run over by a Prius instead of a fully loaded dump truck.

The reasons for that disappointment are many. I haven’t bought the game. I actually canceled my pre-order after the leaks came out. I still intended to buy the game if the leaks were debunked, but that didn’t happen. I only confirmed them through both a friend and through a few Twitch streams.

I won’t get into the details of the spoilers. I’ll just note that they present a very bleak, very depressing resolution to this story that got us so emotionally invested in the first game. For a game company with as great a track record as Naughty Dog, that’s quite a downgrade. To appreciate just how bad it is, imagine if this was how the “Logan” movie played out.

In the first 20 minutes of the movie, some random character that nobody has ever heard of, let alone cared about, brutally kills Logan in front of Laura. Then, for the rest of the movie, it attempts to make us sympathize with this character who killed Logan. On top of that, when Laura gets a chance to avenge her fallen father, she opts not to for reasons that don’t make sense. She just lets this person go, offering no closure or catharsis.

Those who have played the game can probably fill in the blanks. Again, I don’t want to detail too many spoilers. I’ll just say that there’s a character named Abby in the game and she might very well go down in history as the most hated video game character of all time. It’s not just what she does that makes her deplorable. It’s how the game tries to make players care about her.

To some extent, I get the intention. The premise of the game actually has a novel concept. It attempts to send a message that violence and hatred is a brutal cycle. The more you pursue it, the more it perpetuates. In pursuing that path, you don’t know just how many people you hurt, destroy, or ruin. That’s a good message and a great premise, but this game just fails at every possible turn to make it fit the story.

It shows in how fans have reacted to it. As of this writing, the Metacritic score from users is in incredibly low. It stands in stark contrast to the critical reception of the game, which is always quite telling, as certain movies in recent years have shown. A recent Forbes article attempts to explain it away, using bigotry and bots.

However, I don’t think that’s accurate. I think that’s just making excuses for a story that clearly didn’t work with the audience. Now, even the creators behind the game are starting to attack that audience, which is a problem. I know I’m not a successful author or creator. The chances of me ever getting that success are very slim. However, I know enough to understand how idiotic it is to attack your audience/consumers.

It leaves me genuinely concerned about the larger impact of this game. It also has me concerned about what this will do to an industry that is already laden with controversies and negative hashtags. I’m already bracing for plenty of rants, excuses, and whining from every side. At this point, it’s inevitable. I also seriously doubt that “The Last of Us,” as a franchise, may have just destroyed its future.

It’s tragic. Hopefully, the pending release of “Cyberpunk 2077” and the graceful presence of Keanu Reeves will balance things out in the gaming world.

1 Comment

Filed under Current Events, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, video games

How Much Should The “Central Park Karen” Be Punished? An Honest Question (And My Biased Opinion)

Karen

In general, I try not to comment on an ongoing surge of internet outrage. In my experience, joining the digital riot often leads to misguided and misappropriated anger. Sometimes, it’s based on flawed assumptions that mirror the same flaws as the moral panics of old.

That said, I’m going to make an exception for the recent case of the “Central Park Karen,” as she’s come to be known. I hope this is a rare exception, but I feel compelled to comment because I think perspective is important when the outrage is fresh. In addition, I have some personal experience with some stereotypical “Karens.”

To those who don’t know the story yet, consider yourselves lucky. This is one of those stories that won’t damage your faith in humanity, but it will raise some challenging questions. The basics are as follows:

  • An African American man was bird-watching in Central Park
  • He saw a white woman walking her dog in the same area without a leash
  • He tells the woman to put her dog on a leash, as is required by law
  • She gets upset and threatens to call the cops on him, claiming he’s threatening her life
  • He records the incident, posts it online, and the woman is vilified
  • The woman is later fired from her job

Overall, it’s a case of a woman being an asshole and potentially putting a black man’s life in danger. Sadly, around the same time this incident unfolded, a black man was killed while being subdued by police in Minneapolis. She might not have realized how dangerous it was for her to threaten this man in such a manner, but it’s still a dick move. She could’ve gotten him killed or seriously hurt over a goddamn leash law.

In this case, the facts are hard to dispute. The whole incident was captured on video. There’s no ambiguity on who was being the asshole here. It has become the ultimate manifestation of a stereotypical “Karen.” For those not familiar with this term, it’s an internet meme turned slur towards a certain type of woman. Here’s a quick rundown of those traits by Wikipedia.

The Karen archetype carries several stereotypes that are common to “basic white women”; the most notable is the stereotype that a Karen will demand to “speak with the manager” of a hypothetical service provider.[5] Further common stereotypes associated with the Karen pejorative include anti-vaccination beliefs, racism against black people, use of Facebook and a bob haircut with blonde highlights—pictures of Kate Gosselin during the airing of Kate Plus 8 were used in earlier memes about a “can-I-speak-to-your-manager haircut”,[6] and continue to be used in Karen memes[5]—engagement in multi-level marketing schemes, and Facebook posts sharing trite motivational messages.

With respect to this incident, the woman in question, whose name I won’t use out of privacy concerns, epitomized one too many of these traits. She acted like the law didn’t apply to her and threatened an innocent person of color, likely knowing that she had an advantage by being a white woman. In watching the video, it’s hard to much have sympathy for her.

I say that as someone with some admitted bias. That’s because I’ve had multiple jobs in the past in which I’ve encountered quite a few “Karens.” In fact, every job I’ve had has resulted in at least one encounter with someone who fits one too many traits of this stereotype.

When I worked at a fast food restaurant, I had Karen yell at me for trying to clean parts of a nearby table while her family was still eating.

When I worked at a software company, I had to respond to numerous Karens who demanded urgent assistance for issues that were trivial at best.

I know these kinds of women. I understand why they evoke so much animosity. I’ve harbored some of that resentment before. I don’t deny that my past experience affects how I interpret this story. While I try to be understanding in situations involving internet outrage, that’s considerably difficult in this case.

The outrage for this woman has already led to some major impacts. The woman has already been fired from her job and has had to make a public apology. On top of that, since her name has already been made public, she’s been subject to plenty of hate and harassment. By any measure, she has faced severe consequences for her actions.

That still raises one important question.

Has this woman been punished too harshly?

It’s not an unreasonable question, even from someone with a bias against stereotypical Karens. There’s a good chance that this woman’s life has been damaged for years to come. She lost her job. She’s being relentlessly harassed. She even had to give up custody of her dog. That’s quite a harsh punishment for someone who wasn’t arrested or charged with any crime.

At the same time, we can’t lose sight of the fact that she threatened an innocent man in a way that could’ve ended very badly for him. She openly and eagerly abused her status as a white woman flaunting the law. Had this not occurred, or had the video not gone viral, she wouldn’t have changed her ways. She would’ve just kept doing what she was doing.

That kind of behavior doesn’t just put innocent people of color at risk. It gives no reason for this kind of Karen-like behavior to stop. It’s only by facing consequences for her behavior that she realizes how wrong it was. Hopefully, others like her see what could happen to them if they were to behave in a similar manner.

That’s the best case scenario, but those scenarios are rarely the end result. At worst, this woman now has even more reasons to resent people of color. She might not have harbored overtly racist attitudes before, but she might feel differently now. She and others like her will now just have to be more tactful with their hate, which could subsequently lead to worse incidents that don’t go viral.

It’s hard to say without knowing the woman personally. I’m usually inclined to accept someone’s sincere apology. I genuinely hope that the woman was sincere. If the man she threatened accepts her apology, then I think the right thing to do is for the rest of us to accept it as well. She has faced plenty of consequences already. Forgiveness should be our first inclination when it is an option.

In a perfect world, the outrage would cease if the person wronged decides to forgive. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world. I sincerely doubt the after-effects of this incident are over for the woman involved. It may take a long time for her to recover and in the long run, the outrage could do more harm than good.

It leaves me genuinely torn. I believe that asshole behavior like this should be confronted and punished, especially when it puts an innocent person’s life in danger. I also believe there should be a limit to that punishment. I just don’t know what that limit is and I think it’s worth contemplating.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, extremism, gender issues, human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, women's issues

Michael Jordan, Intensity, And Championships (With References To Glengarry Glen Ross)

There has been an ongoing, and at times insufferable, debate in the world of basketball. Who is the greatest of all time? ESPN recently released their ranking. The top five are as follows:

  1. Michael Jordan
  2. LeBron James
  3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  4. Bill Russell
  5. Magic Johnson

Do you agree with this list? How do you even go about determining who is the greatest player, given how much the sport has changed over the decades? That’s not an easy question to answer, especially for a sport like basketball. Unlike football or baseball, it is possible for one player to make a huge difference on a team’s chances of winning. Just ask the Cleveland Cavilers.

That question has gotten more scrutiny lately and not just because there are no sports to distract us. A comprehensive documentary entitled “The Last Dance” has added some rhetoric to the greatest of all time conversation. This documentary covers the career of the number one player on ESPN’s list, Michael Jordan.

If you haven’t seen this documentary and are marginally interested in sports, I highly recommend checking it out. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, it’s worth seeing for reasons beyond the sport it covers. It offers an unprecedented insight into the life, drive, and mindset of a player that many believe to be the greatest. That insight is also something that has inspired some mixed feelings.

Now, I’m old enough to remember the second half of the Michael Jordan era for the Chicago Bulls. I remember seeing his team win those last three championships and being in awe. To say he was an iconic athlete would be an understatement. In the same way it’s impossible to describe how big Michael Jackson was in the 1980s, it’s impossible to articulate how big Michael Jordan to the sports world in the 1990s.

Being like Mike wasn’t just a marketing slogan. It was a testament to just how much Michael Jordan dominated at everything he did. I know there’s an entire generation of basketball fans who only know the greatness of Steph Curry, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, but in terms of sheer star power, Michael Jordan was bigger.

There’s always caveats about whether he would dominate as much in today’s game. I’m of the opinion that he would. Like I said, I grew up watching him in his prime. He’s one of those rare athletes who would have found a way to dominate in any era. However, that’s just my opinion. We’ll never truly know if Michael Jordan is better than Lebron James or Bill Russell.

However, Jordan’s greatness isn’t the only thing on display in The Last Dance.” In some sense, it exposes the dark side of being great. In public, Michael Jordan is that smiling, friendly guy who tries to sell them overpriced sneakers. In private, and during games, he was not that. He was incredibly intense. Some even call him a bully.

While that may surprise others who only know Jordan through his marketing team, it really shouldn’t. You don’t win six NBA championships, multiple MVPs, and a nickname like “Air Jordan” by being overly nice. In the world of professional sports, you can’t be Mr. Rogers. You have to be intense, sometimes to an extreme.

Michael Jordan was the epitome of extreme. Even as a kid, I saw it in the games. The man looked like he was ready to run through a wall and over people to win. The way he played the game with such intensity almost made him seem superhuman. That makes for amazing television, but on the court and in the heat of the game, it makes him something else.

That intensity reminds me of another famous insight into what it takes to succeed. It’s not nearly as iconic as Michael Jordan making the winning shot in the NBA Finals, but it’s close. It’s Alec Baldwin’s legendary speech about closing in “Glengerry Glenn Ross.” In case you need a reminder or some brutally honest motivation, here it is.

Look at Baldwin’s demeanor. Listen to the intensity of his voice. He sounds like a bully. He doesn’t sound at all likable. He sounds like the kind of guy you wish you could punch. Unfortunately, he also sounds like the guy who succeeds at what he does.

He’s intense.

He’s abrasive.

He demands greatness from others and has no sympathy for those not willing to put in the effort.

That won’t make him many friends, but it will make champions. That’s the kind of intensity that athletes like Michael Jordan channel. It’s not something that just anyone can do. It’s not even something you can entirely fake. You can try, but it only goes so far. You either have it or you don’t.

Being intense, competitive, and a little abrasive is often unpleasant, but it’s critical in pursuing success. Whether it’s selling real estate or winning six NBA championships, you need that kind of intensity to raise your game and those around you. You can have all the talent and charisma in the world, but it’ll only get you so far if you don’t have the drive to push yourself.

Michael Jordan had that drive. He pushed himself and those around him. He stepped on a few toes. He made plenty of enemies. He strained himself and his teammates. He also made mistakes, but that only fueled his intensity.

That’s why, in my opinion, he’s the greatest of all time.

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sports

A Note On The “Last Of Us 2” Leaks (And Spoilers In General)

People have mixed, but intense opinions on spoilers. I know people who will get downright violent if you threaten to spoil something to them. I also know people who just roll their eyes and brush them off, as though they’re no big deal. It’s one of those issues where there’s very little middle ground.

In the age of the internet and social media, it’s almost impossible to avoid them. Some movies, video games, and TV shows can be completely spoiled in a single tweet. There are unmoderated anonymous boards like 4chan where every detail can be spoiled, alongside posts of trolls determined to make ordinary people gouge their eyes out.

Personally, I prefer to read spoilers before I see a movie, buy a game, or get invested in a show. When I saw “Dark Phoenix” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” I read spoilers beforehand. They actually made me more excited to see those movies because I liked what I read.

Sometimes, I make exceptions. I avoided spoilers for both “Avengers: Endgame” and “Breaking Bad.” In those cases, I really wanted to feel the impact when I saw how the story played out the first time. While I doubt reading spoilers would’ve made me enjoy both stories any less, there was an element of impact that I couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

I think a lot of people make exceptions when it comes to spoilers, but sometimes they have an impact that goes beyond spoiling a surprise. That’s what happened recently with “The Last of Us Part 2,” one of the most anticipated video games of the past decade. As someone who played the first “The Last of Us” and praised it on multiple occasions, I was among those brimming with excitement.

Then, an employee at the developer, Naughty Dog, leaked the entire story. Out of respect for those who still don’t want to be spoiled, I won’t go into detail here. I’ll just cite the report by Den of Geek, who also made a concerted effort to avoid such details.

Den of Geek: The Last of Us 2 Leaked Plot Confirmed by Naughty Dog

The Last of Us Part 2‘s story has been leaked. Various clips that showcase nearly the entirety of the game’s story have made their way online. Naughty Dog has recently confirmed the leak via a tweet that asks fans to not spoil the game for others and to avoid spoilers if possible.

The extent of this leak is massive. Not only do these leaked clips include nearly every major cutscene from The Last of Us Part 2, but it seems that fans have also gotten their hands on a leaked level list that details the story structure of the sequel.

Now, I’m going to be careful with my words here because I don’t want to spoil this game for those who don’t want to be spoiled. Even though the leaks have spread on nearly every platform, I don’t want to compound the issue. The primary reason I’m bringing this issue up with The Last of Us Part 2” is because this whole situation with spoilers has some important insights that are worth mentioning.

The biggest insight, thus far, is just how much these spoilers effect the perception of the game. Before the leaks came out, “The Last of Us Part 2” was by far one of the most anticipated games of the year. Naughty Dog’s reputation was very polished and there weren’t many people saying bad things about them.

That situation has been completely reversed.

While it’s hard to gauge every reaction, I’ve seen a fairly consistent pattern. Almost everyone, including those who were very excited about this game, are incredibly disappointed by this. It’s not just that the story was spoiled. The details of that story have rubbed everyone the wrong way.

Without getting into specifics, they effectively undermine some of the most important aspects of the first game. The journey the players took in The Last of Us was a deeply emotional experience. Even if you’d read the spoilers ahead of time, there’s a lot of appeal to that experience. I knew the basic of the game long before I played it. It still had a profound impact on me by the time I got to the end of the game.

With The Last of Us Part 2,” that impact is effectively undercut. The journey that we took in the first game doesn’t matter as much in this game. Everything that made you fall in love with these characters and their struggles is either ignored or overshadowed by something else. For anyone who loved the first game, where’s the appeal in that?

There are also some “political” overtones to the story that have rubbed people the wrong way. I put “political” in quotes because in the world of video games, “political” is usually just code for “political or ideological leanings that I don’t agree.” I’ve never cared much for that. In general, I try to avoid it, but it has become an unfortunate trend in video games, thanks to scandals that have only gotten more absurd with time.

The only aspect of “politics” that I resent in video games, and media in general, is how it tends to hallow out a story. If the point of a story is to just score certain points with certain ideologies, then it renders the story bland and predictable. When done poorly, it becomes outright propaganda.

Based on these spoilers, I won’t say that “The Last of Us Part 2” reeks or propaganda, but the ideological themes are not exactly subtle. While those themes don’t bother me personally, I’ve seen enough internet outrage mobs to know the reaction it’ll incur. That reaction will only obscure any legitimate criticism of the game and its story.

I had not pre-ordered this game, but I was planning to once a new release date was finalized. Now, I’ve no desire to play this game anytime soon. I’ll still follow reviews and feedback. If parts of these leaks prove to be inaccurate, I’ll gladly change my tune. To date, however, nobody at Naughty Dog has denied them. That’s often a sign that they’re real.

To some extent, I’m grateful. I’d much rather learn about this before I dropped over $60 on a game that was only going to disappoint me. During these times, nobody can afford to waste that kind of money. I’ll wait until others play the game to see how the full story plays out. Maybe it’ll work out in the end, but I’m not very hopeful.

It’s a disappointing turn for something that I was genuinely excited about. It also darkens the prospect of this franchise becoming a how on HBO. It’ll be interesting to see how these leaks and the reactions to them effect the sales of the game. If it’s as bad as some dread, then the emotional journey that this franchise took us on could come to an abrupt and tragic end.

2 Comments

Filed under Current Events, LGBTQ, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, video games

How Much Agency Do We Really Have?

How much agency do we actually have in our day-to-day lives?

How much freedom do we actually enjoy on a pragmatic basis?

I ask these questions as part of another thought experiment, albeit one that requires more introspection than the others I’ve posed. I think it’s relevant at a time when we’re dealing with a global pandemic that has severely restricted everyone’s agency to significant degrees. It’s also relevant because it’s something we rarely scrutinize.

There’s another reason I’m discussing matters of agency. It has less to do with current events and more to do with frequent criticisms of certain stories. As an aspiring writer and an avid consumer, especially of superhero media, the agency of certain characters is an integral part of that process. You can’t tell a meaningful story without characters exercising some level of agency.

What has become a major issue in recent years is the source, degree, and structure surrounding that agency. I’ve noticed critics and consumers alike scrutinizing who makes the major choices in a story, as well as what role they play, how they look, and why they’re doing what they do. While these are relevant details, that scrutiny can be misguided.

I see it whenever a female character is perceived as having no agency or having too much.

I see it whenever a male character is perceived as being the only source of agency for every major detail.

I see it whenever a character of a different race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation play a role that isn’t just restricted to tokenism.

It has derailed many meaningful conversations about some genuinely great stories. It has also established this standard for some people that if any character with agency happens to be of a certain gender or ethnicity, they roll their eyes and discount the story as pushing some sort of agenda. I find that to be incredibly shallow and short-sighted.

That’s why I think it helps to analyze how much agency we think we have in the real world. It’s easy to quantify that agency within the rigid structure of a story, but the real world is larger, more complicated, and a lot less predictable. How can we determine how much agency we actually have in the grand scheme of things?

How much agency did you have in being born into a particular time, place, or socioeconomic level?

How much agency did you have in falling in love with the person you married?

How much agency did you have in getting the job you have or the career you pursued?

How much agency did you have in finding the friends and social circles you’re part of?

On the surface, it may seem like you’re exercising your ability to choose in these circumstance. I ask that you take a step back and think a bit harder about it.

When it comes to our lot in life, did we really have much say in the economic and social system that we’re part of? Sure, we can choose to not participate, but in doing so, we either starve to death because we don’t have money for food or we become completely isolated from the world and any semblance of social support.

We think we have choices when we go to the supermarket or a restaurant, but how many of those choices are already chosen for us? We don’t always by the cheapest brand of cereal because we want to. We buy it because we have to. In that same sense, we don’t always buy the car we want. We buy what we can afford.

To a large extent, our agency is incredibly limited by our economic resources. It’s limited even more by our social structure, as well. We can’t always do what we want, no matter how depraved. We can’t just walk outside naked, rub our genitals against the nearest person, and yell racial slurs at the top of our lungs. We’d get arrested, imprisoned, or ostracized, at the very least.

Even if what we do isn’t illegal, we still limit our choices because of peer pressure and social stigma. It’s not illegal to watch porn on a public bus, but it will get you odd looks and plenty of scorn. To some extent, we sacrifice some of our agency to maintain an orderly, functioning society. It’s just a question of how much we sacrifice and how much we’re willing cling to.

With all that in mind, see if you can take stock in the amount of agency you exercise in your day-to-day life. You may be surprised by how little or how much you actually have. It may not be the most interesting thought experiment you can do for yourself, but the implications it offers are profound.

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, psychology, Thought Experiment, writing

How “Megamind” Subverts Expectations The Right Way (And Why Recent Attempts Keep Failing)

Every now and then, a narrative trend comes along that I neither care for nor understand. I get why many trends catch on. I’ve even been caught up in a few. I remember when stories about asteroid impacts became popular, as well as romance stories that relied on best friends falling in love. Some lasted longer than others. Some burn out. I think “Friends” alone killed the whole friends-falling-in-love-gimmick.

However, certain trends seem to catch on for all the wrong reasons. I’m not just referring to the gimmicky tropes of every sitcom attempting to rip off “Seinfeld,” either. These are narratives that attempt to troll the audience in hopes of a bigger reaction, as though that can somehow take the place of a compelling story.

Lately, the trend that I’ve found particularly frustrating is the idea of subverting expectations. It’s become a major buzzword in recent years, but not for good reasons. It became a big deal after the fan reaction to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and only intensified with the final season of “Game of Thrones.”

Now, I don’t want to get into extensive discussions about those emotionally charged subjects. I’ll let the fan bases continue to debate that in whatever way they see fit. Instead, I want to take a moment to look at this trend, note how it can be done well, and highlight why recent attempts are misguided and counterproductive.

While subverting expectations sounds cunning on paper, it’s one of those concepts that’s difficult to make work. The concept is simple. You take an audience’s expectations about a story, build up some narrative tension, and then go in an unexpected direction that changes and enhances the impact of that story.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. When it works, it’s amazing. When it fails, it’s downright toxic to itself. I would argue that neither Star Wars: The Last Jedi nor the final season of Game of Thrones” succeeded in that effort. However, one movie did succeed in this effort and it did so back in 2010, long before this trend even began.

That movie is “Megamind,” a film I’ve praised before for how it parodies the superhero genre. There’s a lot more I can say about this underrated gem, but this is one element that I feel is more relevant now than it was when the movie first came out. To date, I’ve yet to see a movie subvert expectations as well as this one.

The way Megamind” goes about this is not at all subtle, but it’s still powerful. It’s in the premise of the movie. It asks what happens when the evil genius supervillain actually defeats the handsome, square-jawed superhero? What do they do afterwards? Why did they pursue this goal in the first place?

The first 15 minutes of the movie do an excellent job of setting up the basic, generic premise of every superhero narrative since Superman. Metro Man is the hero. That’s how he carries himself. That’s how others see him. That’s how he’s perceived. Conversely, Megamind is the villain. That’s how everyone sees him. The prison warden himself says it before the opening title screen. He’ll always be a villain.

Everything is in place for a traditional hero-versus-villain struggle. Old concepts like justice, hero worship, and public perception come into play. Then, in the first real battle we see between Megamind and Metro Man, the unthinkable happens. Megamind, despite his grandiose boasting and casual bumbling, defeats Metro Man.

It’s not framed as some M. Knight Shamalyan twist. It’s not an attempt to shock the audience. It’s not some minor plot point, either. In fact, the rest of the movie is built around this sudden subversion of standard superhero stories. Every event, choice, and character moment stems directly from this subversion. It’s not just a minor element of the plot. It is the plot.

What makes it work is how this subversion helps tell a very different kind of superhero story. It’s not just about flipping the script for the sake of novelty. It makes a case that superhero narratives are capable of doing much more than simply having the hero save the day from the villain.

Throughout the movie, Megamind finds himself playing a part in every tried and true trope we’ve come to expect in a superhero movie. He starts off being a villain because that’s what he assumes he’s meant to be. He starts questioning that assumption because by defeating Metro Man, he finds himself without a greater purpose. In pursuing that purpose, he find out that those assumptions had serious flaws.

Such assumptions weren’t inherently right or wrong. It was a matter of digging a little deeper into the concept of heroes and villains, finding out along the way that the role he thought was right for him wasn’t the one he ultimately wanted. By the end, he still dresses like a villain. He’s still not nearly as handsome or powerful as Metro Man. However, he still chooses to become Metro City’s greatest hero.

This subversion of expectation works because it’s used to build a story rather than just tweak a few details. Moments like the revelation about Rey’s parents being nobodies or Arya Stark killing the Night King had only minor shock value, but they didn’t really factor into the larger plot.

If someone other than Arya had killed the Night King, then it wouldn’t have changed much in terms of how the last few episodes of “Game of Thrones” panned out.

If Rey’s parents turned out to be someone important in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it wouldn’t have substantially altered how the events that followed played out. Rey still wouldn’t have joined Kylo.

Ultimately, those subversions just felt like trolling. These details that people thought were important just turned out to be tricks or ploys meant to get a reaction. It comes off as both dishonest and insincere. They might not have been intended as such, but given the fan reactions, I can understand that sentiment to some extent.

You thought all those prophecies about Jon Snow and the Night King meant something? Well, that turned out to be a big waste of time.

You thought Rey’s parents would impact the course of the movie? Well, that was just a complete waste of time, at least until “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” changed that.

At times, it felt like the story was tempting people to get engaged and then slapped them in the face the second the plot went in a different direction. As a result, it didn’t feel at all surprising or engaging. It just felt insulting.

Contrast that with “Megamind.” At no point does the plot attempt to demean the audience or anyone who enjoys the traditional superhero narrative. The subversion is in the synopsis. That same subversion is used to build a larger story that fleshes out characters who started out in generic roles, but ultimately embraced a different role.

This shift never feels forced or contrived. It’s not done just to get a cheap thrill or to stand out. At its core, Megamind” uses the concept of subverting expectations to tell a better story than it could’ve told if it stuck to the traditional superhero narrative. That’s why it works.

Unfortunately, that’s also why other recent attempts keep failing. Whether it’s a movie, a TV show, a comic book, or a video game, the concept has been used in a misguided effort to do something different. Subverting expectations has become synonymous, to some extent, with doing something new and bold. The importance of telling a compelling, coherent story is never more than secondary.

I get the importance of trying new things, especially when that genre has been played out in so many forms. However, doing so does not mean taking audience expectations and defying them in a way that feels blatant. At best, it just makes the story confusing. It’s just different for the sake of being different. At worst, it insults the audience and makes them feel denigrated for enjoying that narrative in the first place.

It can be done and done well. “Megamind” is proof of that. It doesn’t just subvert expectations for the superhero genre. It dares to build a story around it and even have a little fun with it along the way. It doesn’t at all take away from the genre it parodies. It just uses it as a foundation to tell a unique story.

No matter how many expectations you subvert, there’s no substitute for a quality story. Megamind” gives us that and the undeniable charm of Will Ferrell. That’s what makes it so enjoyable.

Leave a comment

Filed under Game of Thrones, movies, outrage culture, rants, Star Wars, television

Loneliness, Bitterness, And Perspectives From Pandemics

See the source image

The crisis surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic affected our world and our lives in ways too numerous to list. I hate talking about it and lamenting on all the things we’ve lost because of it, from March Madness to movies to new comics. Unfortunately, it’s unavoidable. Unlike misguided outrage or clickbait, I can’t just step away from my computer and escape. The world around me is still quarantined.

It’s a rare, unprecedented level of awful that will likely resonate for decades to come. It’s awful on so many levels, but it’s often through awful experiences that new perspectives emerge. I’d like to offer one today, if only to divert attention from how bad the news keeps getting.

Let’s face it. If you’re a very social person who enjoys going out, meeting new people, and forging new connections, this experience has been hell. It’s not just that bars, clubs, malls, and movie theaters are closed. You can’t even get close to people to connect with them anymore. Social distancing has made everyone less inclined to get close. For people who value that closeness, it’s nothing short of devastating.

At the same time, the less social crowd has probably noticed just how little their lives have changed. If you enjoyed sitting on your ass all day, watching TV and playing video games, then chances are you’re not feeling the impact that much. You might even take a perverse satisfaction out of the fact that your hobbies and passions have already equipped you to weather this crisis.

Between those extremes, however, lies the insights that are worth noting. Before this crisis took hold, it wasn’t uncommon to cite lonely, anti-social people, most of which were men, as damaged and dangerous. They’re behind many of the insults thrown at the “incel” community or those who debate feminism and social justice on message boards.

I know because I’ve been called that on more than one occasions. It’s often some variation of “basement-dwelling neckbeard” or something of the sort. I honestly don’t pay much attention to those insults. I’ve been on the internet long enough to grow fairly thick skin. At the same time, I think this crisis can offer a new perspective on loneliness to those who aren’t used to it.

Being trapped at home for days on end, unable to go out and socialize, means a sizable chunk of people who haven’t experienced loneliness to this extent can now know what it’s like. While I genuinely hope it ends soon and doesn’t leave any lasting scars on people, I hope it makes the necessary impression.

If you’re lucky enough to have a family, then you’ve got some support. If you’re lucky enough to have a lover, then you’ve got a source of intimate contact that feels like a precious luxury to many. That assumes that nobody you care about is sick, which adds a new level of dread to the loneliness. It’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s also a feeling worth scrutinizing.

To get that point across, I’d like to pose some questions to those who have ever labeled someone an incel, toxic, problematic, or any other insult that makes them unworthy of compassion.

How does it feel to have the desire to connect with others, but not the means?

How does it feel to be cut off from intimate human contact through no fault of your own?

How does it feel to have hours on end to yourself with nothing more than your hobbies to occupy yourself?

How does it feel to feel so utterly alone through no fault of your own?

How does it feel to be completely powerless to change your current situation?

I apologize if any of these questions come off as harsh. I hope they still convey the necessary message. Some of it may be personal for me. I’ve had people insult me whenever I’ve admitted to feeling lonely. Being a man, I feel like I don’t get much sympathy. People just assume I’m not doing something right and it’s up to me to fix it.

While part of that might be true, there are also parts that are simply beyond my control. A global pandemic is one of those things that’s beyond everyone’s control, from young men who play video games to world leaders who wield real power. For once, we’re all at the mercy of the same overwhelming force. We can’t hide from it or its effects.

There’s no patriarchal conspiracy, radical feminist plot, or secret cabal of lizard people working against us. This is just something that emerged from nature and hit us where it hurt at the worst possible time. For once, we’re all on the same page in terms of how vulnerable and concerned we are.

It’s a rare, but bittersweet opportunity. In recent years, there has been this narrative about lonely, bitter men, as well as lonely bitter women. They’re lonely and bitter because the world didn’t give them everything they wanted on a silver platter, so they take it out on everyone else.

They want the world to cater to their sensibilities.

They claim their preferences are right and anything to the contrary is flawed, political, or in some ways invalid.

They cling to their opinions, citing only the facts that justifies them while attacking those that oppose them.

Everyone is guilty of doing this. I certainly am. It’s tempting to write them off as products of a bitter, lonely existence for which they are wholly responsible. If nothing else, this pandemic shows that everyone is at the mercy of their circumstances.

Whatever someone’s attitude may be, even if it is misguided and flawed, it doesn’t make their loneliness any less real. It’s easy to insult those kinds of people when your situation is entirely different and arguably better. Now, this disease has put every one of us in the same boat, relatively speaking.

I hope we all remember this feeling and how much it sucks. I genuinely hope it inspires and educates others to understand how crippling loneliness can be for some people. Not everyone deals with it in a healthy way. Many will continue to cope in unhealthy ways long after this crisis is over.

At least now we know what drives those feelings. Whether you’re a lonely man, a lonely woman, or just lonely in general, we’ve all experienced the struggle it brings. Keep that in mind the next time you judge someone who seems bitter and angry at the world. They may just be lonely and no matter what your politics or ideology may be, it can make us feel as sick as any pandemic.

Leave a comment

Filed under gender issues, health, human nature, men's issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sex in society, sexuality, women's issues

Marvel’s “New Warriors” Brings Out The Dumbest Criticisms (From Whiny Losers)

A big part of being a fan of anything is enduring the hard times. Whether you’re a fan of a sports team, a celebrity, or a particular author, there are going to be missteps. For every “Dark Knight,” there’s going to be a “Batman and Robin” that’ll make even the hardest of hardcore fans cringe.

It’s no different for superhero comics. There have been times when being a fan of X-Men, Justice League, the Avengers, or Batman have not been pleasant. Sometimes, the quality of the material being produced just isn’t that great. Sometimes, it’s downright infuriating. Just ask any Spider-Man fan about One More Day or the Clone Saga.

However, there’s a big difference between enduring hard times and just whining about something. There’s a big difference between criticism and whining, but some people who claim to be fans can’t seem to tell the difference. A few even manage to whine loud enough to draw an audience, albeit for the wrong reasons.

If you follow comics as closely as I do, you know who I’m talking about. They’re the kind of people who find a comic, single out a few particular elements, and go on these long whiny rants that basically say the same thing.

It’s all blah-blah-blah-SJW-blah-blah-blah-political correctness-blah-blah-blah-it’s too damn woke-blah-blah-blah-the industry is doomed-blah-blah-blah-they’re insulting older fans. I won’t single out any of these frail, emotionally-stunted losers by name or handle. They don’t deserve the extra attention and I refuse to give it to them.

They’ll claim they’re defending the industry they love. They’re just whining loudly and hoping to attract clicks in the process. It’s pathetic. It’s also predictable. That’s why I groaned when I saw this recent news from Marvel regarding a relaunch of their New Warriors series.

Marvel: Introducing The New ‘New Warriors’

When Kamala’s Law goes into effect in the highly anticipated one-shot, OUTLAWED, super heroics will be left to the adults and underage heroes will be banned unless they have official government assigned mentors. That’s where THE NEW WARRIORS come in.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of New Warriors. I’ve heard of them before and I know their history to some extent, but this is hardly the most outrageous thing Marvel could’ve done. They’re not killing off older characters and replacing them with young, diverse characters, a la Riri Williams. They’re not radically changing the background or history of established characters, like they did with the Maximoff Twins.

In fact, they’re doing exactly what these same whiny losers always say they should do. They’re creating entirely new characters with diverse backgrounds instead of forcing them into roles that others have occupied. They’re not canceling, changing, or undermining the characters we’ve loved since the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. They’re just creating something new to supplement those characters.

Despite that, these same “critics” still whine about it. They whine the same way they whined endlessly about “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.” The mere fact that this new title exists, especially its two non-binary characters, Snowflake and Safespace, is enough to make them cry like immature babies who just had their blanket taken away.

It’s one thing to criticize Marvel for trying to force new characters into the roles of established characters. That rarely works out. It’s quite another to complain when companies like Marvel try to make new characters from scratch who don’t resemble the many other characters around them. It’s almost as if characters aren’t allowed to be different beyond a certain point.

If that weren’t bad enough, these same whiny losers are judging this book before they’ve even read it. I admit it doesn’t look too appealing to me, but I haven’t read it. How am I supposed to know if it’s good? How will I know that Snowflake and Safespace aren’t good characters?

There’s a word for people who judge things before they actually give it a chance. It’s not a very flattering word, but I doubt the same whiners will admit to knowing it. They’ll still claim they’re defending their preferred genre, but all they’re doing is trying to justify their prejudice by whining.

Once again, the wise words of Abraham Simpson sum it up best.

giphy

Nuff said!

2 Comments

Filed under Marvel, outrage culture, political correctness, superhero comics

A Quick Perspective On Controversy, Scandals, Politics, And Elvis’ Hips

Every controversy seems absurd when you look at it with enough hindsight. Think of all the big social and political controversies going on right now. From mansplaining and safe spaces to all-female movie remakes to sexy Super Bowl Halftime shows, there’s no shortage of outrage and moral panics. In general, I try to avoid contributing, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t affected to some extent.

Even if the issues feel genuinely serious, it’s worth taking a step back and maintaining a certain perspective. What seems serious now won’t always end up being that serious in the grand scheme of things. Things like the Cuban Missile Crisis were serious. The impact of playing Dungeons and Dragons don’t even come close. For the most part, these controversies become obscure footnotes in the history of pop culture.

In the interest of preserving a balanced perspective, I find it helpful to think back to Elvis’ hips. For anyone under the age of 50, I’m sure that sounds strange, but make no mistake. At one point in time, Elvis’ hips were the most controversial thing in the world.

It’s hard to imagine now, given the accessibility of sexy music videos and internet porn, but there was a time when Elvis Presley shaking his hips on live TV was the most scandalous thing in the free world. People at the time deemed his dancing too sexual and obscene. There was serious, genuine concern that this was just too shocking and lurid for innocent eyes to see.

Granted, this took place in 1956. The world was a very different place in 1956. However, that’s not exactly an ancient time period. There are plenty of people alive today who were alive in 1956. They lived through that controversy. They might have even watched that fateful episode of the Ed Sullivan show where Elvis dared to shake his hips in too sexy a way. Now, compared to a standard Beyoncé video, it almost seems quaint.

Even if it sounds absurd now, take a moment to appreciate the context of this controversy. There was a time when people genuinely thought Elvis shaking his hips was too obscene. These same people genuinely thought such overt sexuality would do serious damage to society.

Now, look at everything we deem too obscene, controversial, or damaging today. How much of it will seem just as absurd as the sexiness of Elvis’ hips several decades from now? We may think that our standards have been fully refined, but history has shown time and again that this rarely holds. What is obscene today may be mundane tomorrow and obscene again a decade from now.

Controversies are fleeting, petty, and often build on a foundation of absurdity.

People are often irrational, following emotions over logic while claiming every emotion is perfectly logical.

Trends are unpredictable and fleeting. In 1956 it was Elvis’ hips. In 2003 it was Janet Jackson’s nipple. Who knows what it’ll be this year or in the years that follows?

With time and perspective, it rarely ends up being as serious as we thought. Even if it was, people and society adapt. That’s what we have to do, as a species. We might make fools of ourselves along the way, getting worked up over something that ended up being so petty and contrived. The best we can do is laugh and learn from it.

Think about that the next time someone complains about a halftime show or a music video. Remember Elvis’ hips and the perspective they offer. It’s every bit as powerful as his music.

Leave a comment

Filed under censorship, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, sex in society, sexuality, Uncategorized