Tag Archives: celebrity culture

Contemplating The Lies, Sincerity, And Dishonesty Of Public Figures

53,509 Lying On Back Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

When you lie down in bed at night, alone in the dark with your thoughts, I believe that’s when you’re most honest with yourself. Whether you sleep alone or with a lover, this is one of those few times when we can allow our minds to wander freely. Sometimes, we find ourselves thinking things that make us uncomfortable. While it may be distressing, I would argue that’s healthy.

I freely admit that I find myself contemplating a lot of strange things when I lay down to go to sleep at night. I doubt I’m alone. I would question the honesty of anyone who claims their private thoughts perfectly match those they contemplate in public.

With this in mind, I’d like to pose a relevant question. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a thought experiment because this is one of those questions that may have a definitive answer. Granted, it’s an answer we’ll probably never know for sure. However, I still feel it’s worth asking for the sake of the bigger picture.

It has to do with public figures. By that, I don’t just mean major celebrities like movie stars, musicians, and what not. I’m also referring to well-known politicians, political commentators, and even popular social media figures on sites like YouTube and Tik-Tok. To all of them, I pose this question.

When these people lie in bed at night, do they genuinely believe the things they do, espouse, or support?

I think the answer to that question, even if we cannot know it, is incredibly revealing.

Let’s face it. These are all people who have a very public persona. Most people who know who they are know them only through that persona. Whether they’re a politician known for saying dumb things, a celebrity with a nasty reputation, or religious preachers with controversial views on certain subjects, they have a public face and a public personality.

It’s also incredibly common for people to not be honest with themselves. Most of us have done that at some point in our lives to varying degrees. We carry ourselves as someone we’re not. We convey feelings, ideas, and emotions that are not entirely in line with our true selves. Why we do this varies, but it can be incredibly damaging if taken too far.

For certain public figures, though, there are many additional layers of complications. For some people, especially politicians, shock jocks, and social media personalities, they have to present a certain version of themselves to the public. That version is almost always carefully crafted and refined. It rarely reflects a completely honest version of that person.

On top of that, this version of themselves is presented as a means to obtain money, power, influence, attention, and everything that comes with that. They say and do whatever reaffirms or builds upon that persona. If it gets any level of attention, be it positive or negative, it gets reinforced.

It can quickly become a cycle, but one that’s reinforced with money, power, and influence. At that point, a public figure doesn’t just have an incentive to keep up this persona. They have incentives to double down and take it to new levels. Even if it makes them infamous and hated, they still get enough out of it to justify the effort, no matter how dishonest it might be.

With those incentives in mind, I often find myself wondering how much or how little certain public figures are aware of them. Perhaps when they lay in bed at night and are alone with their thoughts, they acknowledge that hard truth to themselves, but wouldn’t dare acknowledge it to anyone else.

Think about someone like Bernie Madoff. Before he got caught in his infamous Ponzi scheme, he knew what he was doing. He knew he was a fraud. How much or how little did he realize that when he was in bed at night before he got caught?

Think about some of the most radical, right-wing or left-wing politicians you know. Think about some of the craziest beliefs they espouse. When they lay down at night, do they realize how crazy they are? Do they even truly believe what they say? Do they just say what they need to in order to keep their persona going?

Think about some of the radical religious preachers who bilk money from the faithful. Do they truly believe the terrible things they espouse? Do they really believe that they are somehow more holy than everyone else? When they lay in bed at night, do they realize that what they’re doing is antithetical to their religion? Is it possible that some don’t even believe and are simply doing what they do because it earns them money and influence?

We’ll probably never know the answer. Regardless of how you feel about these public figures, especially the ones most decent people find deplorable, the question is still relevant. It should also inform our perspective about certain public figures. If someone has a powerful incentive to keep being who they are in public, then expect them to keep doing what they’re doing. The only time they may acknowledge it is when they lay in bed at night.

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Filed under Current Events, philosophy, political correctness, politics, psychology, religion, Thought Experiment

Why Superhero Secret Identities Are More Relevant Than Ever

Superman

You don’t have to be a lifelong fan of superheroes to know the role that secret identities play in their over-arching narrative. It’s one of those story elements that often goes hand-in-hand with a hero’s journey. Part of becoming a hero involves forging an identity and, more often than not, this identity can’t function alongside the one they start with.

It’s a story that has roots in the early days of modern superhero comics. It wasn’t just a common plot point. It was practically a given. It was as necessary as capes, colorful costumes, and punishing masked criminals.

From a practical standpoint, having a secret identity has some legitimate merit. There are things Bruce Wayne can do as Batman that he cannot do and vice versa. The same goes for Superman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and many other iconic heroes. In “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne set the stage for his secret identity by crafting Batman as a symbol, one that conveyed an idea that went beyond the person in the costume.

In recalling that scene, I think that idea was more prophetic than Christopher Nolan initially intended. When I look at how secret identities have come to define many characters, I believe they’re more important today than they have been in any other era.

I don’t just say that as a long-time fan of superhero comics who has used his knowledge of the genre to explore serious issues. I believe that we, as a society, are entering uncharted territory when it comes to how we manage our identities. The influence of the internet, social media, and an increasingly connected world is more powerful than any fictional hero. It’s already finding its way into superhero media.

This topic became especially relevant for Superman fans because back in late 2019, the release of “Superman #18” officially revealed Superman’s identity as Clark Kent. Now, it wasn’t not the first time Superman’s identity has been exposed, but this time it wasn’t a gimmick. Now, Superman had to learn how to be Superman without a secret identity.

Over the past decade, the value and vulnerabilities of secret identities have been under fire. One of the most jarring moments of the original “Iron Man” movie was the very end when Tony Stark didn’t attempt to hide the fact he was Iron Man. For those not familiar with the comics, it might not have seemed like a big issue. Trust me, it was a major shift.

While Tony Stark debuted as Iron Man in 1963, his identity didn’t become public until the early 2000s. That’s nearly four decades of him operating with a secret identity. In the context of his journey, this was not a trivial decision.

What happened to Spider-Man at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was even more jarring. While his secret identity has been revealed many times in the comics, it’s almost always retconned. Like Batman and Superman, he has to have a secret identity. He has to have a civilian life that’s separate from his superhero life.

There’s even a notable episode of “Superman: The Animated Series” in which Superman flat out admits that he’d go crazy if he couldn’t be Clark Kent. Think about that for a second. Superman, one of the most powerful and iconic superheroes of all time, admits that can’t handle a life without a secret identity. This is someone who can handle Lex Luthor, Darksied, and Brainiac. If he can’t handle it, then what hope do we have?

That question might not have been too relevant 20 years ago. Before the age of smartphones, broadband internet, and social media, a superhero might have been able to get away with having their identity exposed. You could say the same for anyone who happened to have a dirty secret or a double life. Whether it was an affair or a secret hobby, you didn’t have to work that hard to keep it secret.

Back then, not everyone had a fully-functional camera in their pocket or a means of sharing their media on a mass scale. Even if someone did manage to take a compromising picture or video, it wouldn’t be a huge revelation unless it was published by a major news source and even then there was no guarantee it would have staying power, especially if other major stories broke at the same time.

Now, anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection can capture compromising footage of anyone and share it with the world in seconds. In the world of superheroes, it makes keeping an identity harder than ever. Spider-Man found that out the hard way at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Ordinary people and major celebrities are finding that out as well in the real world.

The internet and social media has created an unusual, yet potent system that skews the dynamics of having an identity, secret or otherwise. On one hand, it’s easier than ever to create an anonymous persona on the internet. With that persona, people are unbound by the propriety of real-world interaction.

It’s part of why the comments section of any website or social media feed is full of deplorable rhetoric that highlights the worst in people. Ordinary people can use the anonymity of the internet to say thing they would never say to another human being face-to-face. At the same time, celebrities and people of influence have the opposite problem.

In this hyper-connected world, every word and every action is permanently archived and subject to greater scrutiny. Every mistake or misstep is amplified and blown out of proportion. Every bit of subtext and nuance is completely lost in the various biases and agendas of the public. In essence, public figures have little to no control of their identity. They are very much at the mercy of how others perceive them.

That kind of scrutiny can have benefits and drawbacks. You could argue that the added scrutiny of social media has held celebrities and people of influence to a higher standard. They can no longer operate in the shadows with impunity. Dirty secrets will come out. Bad behavior will be documented. The O.J. Simpsons and Bill Cosbys of yesteryear could not get away with their deplorable behavior in today’s environment.

That may be a good thing on some levels, but it comes at a cost and not just for those who have had their lives ruined by the internet. In a world where anonymous identities are easily created and valued identities are easily ruined, how can anyone hope to maintain a balanced perspective? Whether you’re an accomplished celebrity or just some random blogger, don’t you still need a persona that feels true?

For people who are stuck in difficult situations, such as those belonging to racial, religious, or LGBTQ minorities, having that secret identity might be the only one that feels true or genuine. If that gets exposed, then those individuals could be in legitimate danger. There are parts of the world who will punish these individuals in ways far more serious than online trolling.

In the past, these kinds of people didn’t have an outlet or a means of connecting with others who share their struggles. They either had to organize in secret or set up their own communities, which often meant making themselves real-life targets. The ability to create an identity, secret or otherwise, can be a powerful mechanism for helping people forge an identity that feels true to who they are.

To some extent, superheroes embody the importance of these identities. They can’t do what they do without them. They can’t remain connected to the people and the world they’re trying to protect if they’re always in costume, trying to maintain this persona they’ve created. Without it, they become disconnected and overwhelmed. As a result, they can’t be the heroes they need to be.

For people in the real world, having these identities is more important than ever. You don’t have to be a superhero to appreciate their value, but as our world becomes more connected, it’s become a lot easier to understand why Spider-Man and Batman work so hard to preserve their secret identities.

The fact they still struggle, despite having super-powers and billions of dollars, is a testament to just how difficult it can be. As the world becomes increasingly connected and increasingly tribal, it’s only going to get harder.

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Filed under Current Events, Marvel, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, Spider-Man, superhero comics, superhero movies

Being Blessed Vs. Being Lucky: The (Major) Difference And Why It Matters

Picture, for a moment, the following scenario.

You’re at a prestigious awards ceremony. The nature of the ceremony and the award aren’t important. The only factor that matters is the awards are granted to only a few individuals who have achieved feats that few human beings have achieved. It’s an honor just to be nominated, but an even bigger honor to win.

With that in mind, imagine two different winners for two different feats. The first winner comes up onto the stage, accepts their award, and gives a heartfelt speech that’s something along the lines of this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I’ve been so blessed with wondrous gifts and amazing support. To them and to the higher power that blessed me, I am eternally grateful!”

Chances are you’ve heard a speech like that before. We hear it all the time with athletes, celebrities, and major public figures. They achieve something spectacular and their first inclination is to say they are blessed. They don’t always thank a god for it, but it’s such a common refrain that most come to expect it. Some even joke about it.

That being said, try to imagine your reaction for the second winner. They come out on stage with the same immense joy as the previous winner. They also give a heartfelt speech of their own, but it goes like this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I was just really lucky to be born with talent and amazing support. I like to think I’ve made the most of it. This award is just part of it. For that, I am so proud of myself and those who helped me!”

I doubt a celebrity has given an acceptance speech like this before. If they did, chances are it would either be a joke or an elaborate act of trolling, which some celebrities are known to do. For the sake of this little thought experiment, imagine the person was sincere. How would you feel about them? Would be different than the first?

I crafted this scenario as a way of illustrating the difference between being blessed and being lucky. These terms tend to get used interchangeably. In common language, they’re somewhat synonymous. Even though dictionary definitions have some key distinctions, the standard usage of these words carries a particular meaning.

Part of that meaning stems from the general discomfort we feel about the universe being so chaotic and meaningless. We’re wired to seek patterns and surmise order. It doesn’t even matter if the patterns or order is real or an outright trick. When people can make sense of the world, we’re better able to function. It’s a big reason why humans have been able to adapt and survive with such success.

The ideas being lucky and being blessed reflect opposite sentiments of a similar principle. We see luck as a fluke. There’s no meaning behind it. It just happens randomly and without any defined goal.

A kid is randomly born with talent that makes them a great athlete.

A person randomly picks the winning numbers to win a big lottery prize.

A person just happens to be in the right place at the right time to meet the love of their life.

None of these situations are inherently right or wrong. That’s part of what makes it so distressing on some levels. The people who benefit from luck do nothing to deserve or warrant their good fortune. It goes against that innate sense of fairness that most sensible human beings have wired into their brains.

Being blessed, on the other hand, carries a very different connotation. To be blessed implies that some person, deity, or sentient force chose to grant someone such benefits. It’s not random. It’s part of a larger plan. It may not seem like one on the surface. It may even be an outright illusion. That ultimately doesn’t matter. The semblance of a plan is enough.

To be blessed also carried with it a sense of humility. Someone who just says they’re lucky doesn’t come off as moral or gracious. Even if they’re entirely ambivalent about it, they won’t inspire respect or admiration for acknowledging their luck. If they say they’re blessed, though, it changes the context.

A person who is blessed with talent means their achievements have a greater meaning.

A person who is blessed with picking winning lotto numbers means their good fortune is part of some larger plan.

A person who is blessed with meeting the love of their live means their love is somehow pre-ordained by fate.

The difference lies within the meaning. Being blessed conveys influence from a source greater than the person receiving the blessing. To show gratitude to that force is to accept that it’s not just about you. There’s a larger plan and you’re just part of it. That sounds humble, but at the same time, it detracts from the true extent of an achievement.

Luck or no luck, it takes effort and dedication to achieve something of value. Whether it’s an award for world’s largest nose ring or setting a record for most pop tarts consumed in a day, an accomplishment still requires work. Even lottery winners have to go out of their way to pick the numbers, get the ticket, and claim their prize.

To call that process a blessing is to dehumanize the actions involved. It undercuts the countless other factors in play. Some are entirely controllable. A champion of any sport usually has talent, determination, and a willingness to refine their skill. Others are simply beyond their control, from the conditions of an event to just the general randomness of a particular moment.

To assume these factors as part of some over-arching plan is to assume there’s a governing force that consciously cares about these random happenings. Whether that force is a deity or some idea of conscious fate, people will consciously devalue their own worth to believe they’re part of something greater. It might not be real, but that’s beside the point.

It helps us wrap our brains around incredible achievements and improbable events. It shows in how people can resent those who are just deemed lucky. Again, just look at lottery winners. Those who have enjoyed that rare level of luck can attest that they are generally looked down upon by those who gained their fortune in other ways.

This isn’t to imply that the whole concept of being blessed is inherently wrong. There may actually be a higher governing power behind certain peoples’ fortunes, be it an all-powerful deity or the shape-shifting lizard men of the Illuminati. There’s no evidence of it now, but as believers and conspiracy theorists will often point out, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

That said, I believe the dehumanizing aspect of blessings over luck does more harm than good in the long run. Humility is an admirable trait, but there are better ways to encourage it that don’t involve assigning some arbitrary meaning to random events. In addition, saying someone or something is blessed has some indirect implications that are even less desirable than a random universe.

If one person is blessed, then that implies other people were deemed undeserving.

If one moment is blessed, then those that came before it are nothing more than prelude, no matter how much they meant to those involved.

If a people or society are blessed, then that basically declares that everyone else is somehow beneath them and that mentality rarely brings out the best in people.

Human beings are capable of remarkable feats. Many of those feats don’t require a higher power or some conscious force. They simply require an opportunity and a willingness to strive for something greater. Granted, opportunities can be random and there’s only so much anyone can do to control the luck they get. However, I submit that gives it even more meaning in the grand scheme of things.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, politics

A Quick (And Critical) Lesson On Tolerance And “Cancel Culture”

There are certain topics that I find difficult to talk about, but I’ll still make the effort because they’re worth discussing. That’s why I’ll write something about abortion or religion every now and then. These are serious, emotionally charged issues. There’s merit to discussing them.

Then, there’s “cancel culture.”

I’m sorry, but I’ve yet to see a single discussion about “cancel culture” that has ever been productive. Some say it’s a threat to free speech and western values. Some say it’s not really a thing. I say both are wrong and both aren’t helping by making sub-par arguments.

Every few months or so, it starts trending and for bullshit reasons. Usually, what some bemoan as “cancel culture” depends heavily on their political affiliation. A conservative won’t see Colin Kaepernick being shut out of the NFL as cancel culture, but they’ll whine endlessly about Rosanne Barr getting fired from her show.

Conversely, a liberal will cheer when Lou Dobbs gets fired, but will make endless excuses for liberal celebrities who say objectively dumb shit. It always seems to boil down whether you’re politics align with whoever or whatever is canceled. It’s arbitrary, it’s petty, and it’s absurd. I really don’t have any other way to describe it.

Now, I could rant for hours about bullshit “cancel culture” arguments. However, I’d rather do something more productive with my time. I’d also prefer not to add to the whining. The only reason I’m bringing this up is because that’s all anyone has been doing since the story about Gina Carano broke.

If you’re not up to speed, consider yourself lucky. I won’t recount the details. The long and short of it is she got fired by Disney for some stupid tweets that mentioned the holocaust. Now, I won’t give my opinion on the contents of these tweets. Again, that’s not a productive use of my time or anyone’s time, for that matter.

However, I don’t want to bring this topic up just to rant about it. Instead, I’d like to use the ongoing whining about “cancel culture” to offer some perspective about what it is, what it isn’t, and why it matters. I could try to put it into words. Thankfully, people far smarter and more talented than me already have.

The following image that I found on Twitter sums it up nicely.

If that doesn’t get the point across, please see this helpful little image detailing the paradox of tolerance by Karl Popper.

In short, being tolerant is a good thing. Protecting free speech is a good thing. However, there are lines, limits, and context. Failing to understand them will only cause more outrage and whining. The world already has too much of that. Let’s not add to it.

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

A Band, A Song, And A Music Video That Has Aged Too Well

It’s a sad fact of life. Certain movies, TV shows, songs, toys, and products just don’t age well. For every timeless classic, like “Citizen Kane” or Mozart operas or Betty White, there’s an “All In The Family” or “Gone With The Wind.” That’s not to say these pieces of popular media are bad or should be censored. They just have a cringy impact in today’s climate.

I love classics as much as the next guy, but even I can’t deny that the lyrics for songs like “Brown Sugar” or “Under My Thumb” by the Rolling Stones have some distressing connotations. I don’t judge anyone who still enjoys those songs or loves the Rolling Stones. Let’s just acknowledge that times change, societies change, and certain media just doesn’t fit anymore.

That being said, it’s also possible for something to age a little too well. Again, I’m not just talking about Keanu Reeves or Betty White. Every now and then, you revisit an old movie, show, or song that doesn’t just fit right into the current cultural climate. It almost fits too well.

That’s how I felt recently while going over some old music. I was updating my workout playlist when I came across some old songs I had from Rage Against The Machine, a band I hadn’t followed closely since high school. In re-listening to some of those songs, I realized two things.

One, they still rock. They rock every bit as much as they did when I was a teenager.

Two, their music has aged way too well in the current political climate.

Now, if you know anything about this band, the kind of music they play, and what they stand for, you’re probably not surprised. Rage Against The Machine is not subtle. Their music is very political. It always has been, going back to their formative years in the mid-1990s.

They’re anti-authoritarian, revolution-heavy act that you don’t see much outside the heyday of the hippie era in the 1960s. As a teenager, I didn’t appreciate that kind of political rhetoric in music. At the time, the only politics I cared about involved how many snow days we were allowed at school.

Now, having grown up and become painfully aware of the current state of politics, I find myself appreciating Rage Against The Machine even more. I know it’s a couple decades too late, but it’s still profound. Just listening to the songs I have, I feel like they could’ve come out today and be just as relevant.

The best example that I came across just happens to be my favorite Rage Against The Machine song of all time, “Sleep Now In The Fire.” When I hear this song, it blows my mind that it came out in 1999. It feels so long ago, but it still rings so true.

Even the music video, which I remember seeing on MTV regularly, has aged remarkably well. I would argue it aged too well. Just see for yourself.

To anyone born after the year 2000, please take a moment to appreciate what the band did here. They defied a decision made by New York City. They played on the steps of the Wall Street Stock Exchange for this video. That could not happen today. In a world after September 11, 2001, they wouldn’t get off with a fine or a warning. They’d go to prison.

Then, there are the lyrics. Just take a moment and read over these lyrics. How much more relevant are they now compared to 1999?

Yeah
The world is my expense
The cost of my desire
Jesus blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire
So raise your fists and march around
Just don’t take what you need
I’ll jail and bury those committed
And smother the rest in greed
Crawl with me into tomorrow
Or I’ll drag you to your grave
I’m deep inside your children
They’ll betray you in my name

[Chorus]
Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire
Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire

[Verse 2]
The lie is my expense
The scope of my desire
The party blessed me with its future
And I protect it with fire

[Pre-Chorus]
I am the Niña, the Pinta, the Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist, the fields’ overseer
The agents of orange, the priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
Sleep now in the fire

[Chorus]
Hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire
Hey, hey, hey
Sleep now in the fire

[Verse 3]
For it’s the end of history
It’s caged and frozen still
There is no other pill to take
So swallow the one that makes you ill

[Pre-Chorus]
The Niña, the Pinta, the Santa Maria
The noose and the rapist, the fields’ overseer
The agents of orange, the priests of Hiroshima
The cost of my desire
Sleep now in the fire
Yeah

It’s downright eerie. The whole song is about how the rich, powerful, and well-connected can get away with anything. They lie, cheat, and steal with impunity. They’ll pay lip service to revolution and change, but never hesitate to throw people in a fire if they get out of line.

It feels like a perfectly dystopian indictment of the current political rhetoric. People on both sides of the political spectrum, liberal and conservative, jealously protect their power and influence. They’ll tell people what they think they want to hear, stoking hatred and fear, all while enjoying the fruits of their position.

Regardless of your politics, you can’t help but appreciate this kind of hard-hitting message. It feels like we’re always at the mercy of the rich and powerful. They play political games. We’re just brought along for the ride.

Rage Against The Machine was making music about this long before the internet, social media, and cable news made those politics so hateful. They dared to rage against a corrupt system before it became a common tool of political theater.

They warned us.

They yelled it out in song.

We didn’t listen and we should’ve.

At the very least, they still rock.

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Filed under Current Events, media issues, music, political correctness, politics, YouTube

What Exactly Does “Canceling” Someone Solve?

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

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

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

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

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

Both efforts are equally absurd.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What exactly does canceling something achieve in the long run?

At what point does canceling something amount to censorship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can tear down every monument.

You can censor every byte of media.

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

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

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

Bojack Horseman: A Real (And Honest) Face Of Depression

Whenever a TV show, movie, or other piece of media tries to do a realistic take on a serious issue, I tend to roll my eyes and brace myself. That’s because nine times out of ten, the writers and producers of these rarely sincere efforts get things half-assed or ass backwards. Sometimes, they’re not just wrong in their portrayal of an issue. It’s downright destructive. See the first season of “13 Reasons Why” for disturbing proof.

That makes any show that succeeds in portraying a serious issue all the more powerful. By that standard, “Bojack Horseman” is a diamond within a golden crown atop a pile of steaming cow shit. I apologize for the visual, but I feel like that’s the best way to get my point across.

I’ve found plenty of reasons to praise this show since it ended, but being stuck at home for weeks on end has given me more time to appreciate the many amazing things this show achieved. It’s hard enough to get emotionally worked up over a show about real people. To get worked up about a show of cartoon human/animal hybrids counts as a special achievement.

It’s not secret that Bojack Horseman tackles a lot of sensitive issues with varying degrees of sincerity, humor, and tact. The show always tries to entertain, but it also makes a concerted effort to approach these issues in a way that doesn’t feel shallow or half-hearted. Again, see 13 Reasons Why” for an example of how poorly this can go.

I’ve already highlighted how this show gives a well-developed take on the nature of addiction, an issue that is rarely more than plot catalyst for zany antics in most shows. There’s another issue that “Bojack Horseman” handles with just as much skill and it’s one that shows almost always get wrong when they try to tackle it. That issue is depression.

I’m not talking about the kind of depression we feel when a loved one dies, a spouse divorces us, or the show that made us a famous actor in the 1990s gets cancelled. I’m referring to real clinical depression, which is a real medical issue that plagues a lot of people in the real world, including people I know personally.

Now, I understand why depression is so difficult to confront in a half-hour/hour-long TV show. It’s not like the flu or some visible wound that you can treat directly and watch heal. Depression, at its core, is a one-two punch of chemical and mental that complement one another perfectly to make someone miserable to a crippling degree.

It’s chemical in that there are parts of the brain that just aren’t operating properly. The systems that usually make someone happy and content just aren’t working right. They often require medication or extensive cognitive therapy to get that system going again.

The mental part plays off those deficiencies in that they foster this mindset that keeps people in a constant state of doom, gloom, and misery. That mindset often acts as a catalyst for various destructive behaviors, from substance abuse to violent outbursts to self-harm. The effects vary wildly from person to person, but the mentality remains the same.

Where TV shows and movies often fail with depression is two-fold. First, it fails to depict the extent of someone’s depression. Second, it fails to show how it’s properly treated. Just showing someone in a saddened state isn’t the same as showing someone who’s clinically depressed. It only gets worse when that same show or movie tries to treat it as though it has a singular cause.

Sometimes, it’s because a character was abused.

Sometimes, it’s because a character lost a loved one.

Sometimes, it’s because a character didn’t make one single choice that haunts them.

Those are all decent catalysts for character development, but that’s not how depression works. It doesn’t just come from one action or inaction, nor can it be treated by confronting it. You can’t just go on a quest, save the day, and suddenly be a glowing ball of happiness. Depression is more complex than that.

That’s why it was so refreshing to “Bojack Horseman” take a very different approach. Throughout the show, Bojack is shown to have many issues. Depression is just one of them. He’s a substance abuser, a narcissist, and insanely self-destructive. If he went to a therapist, they’d need overtime to treat all his issues.

However, most therapists would agree that Bojack meets the criteria for clinical depression. He’s in a constant state of misery throughout the show and goes to great lengths to alleviate that misery, but often ends up making himself more miserable due to bad behavior and terrible judgement. In essence, his other personal issues often compound his depression.

Unlike other shows, though, the source of his depression is never framed as one particular thing. While he is shown to have abusive parents, substance abuse problems, and crippling guilt from his many bad decisions, there’s never a point where one issue becomes the source.

That, in and of itself, is an important distinction in portraying depression in a realistic way. However, of all the moments that highlight the extent of Bojack’s depression, one episode stands out over all the others. That episode is aptly called Stupid Piece of Sh*t.”

In this episode, Bojack is trying to deal with his previously estranged daughter (who turns out to be his half-sister) and his abusive mother, who is declining mentally in her old age. Like the many other challenges he faces throughout the show, his depression makes this difficult. What makes this episode stand out, though, is how it’s rendered through Bojack’s thoughts.

Through the colorful animation and the haunting voice talent of Will Arnett, these internal monologues give a voice to a depressed mentality the likes of which few shows have captured. It still utilizes a semi-humorous tone, but never stops being real or serious. It’s a powerful insight into what Bojack goes through every day. It doesn’t excuse his awful behavior, but it does provide an important context.

What makes this portrayal all the more powerful is when Hollyhock, his half-sister, asks him about it later in the episode. Like Bojack, she appears to be struggling with that same inner monologue and it’s not a pleasant feeling. She’s young hasn’t lived long enough to make Bojack’s mistakes, which makes her question at the end downright heartbreaking.

That voice in the back of my head that tells me I’m dumb and stupid that’s just stupid, it goes away it’s just a teenage girl thing right. Those voices… they go away, right?

That question, and the way Bojack answers it, cements this episode and this show as one of the best portrayals of real depression in any medium. At a time when we’re all isolated, I think it’s important to understand what real depression looks like. Even if it comes from a show about talking horsemen who sound like Will Arnett, it’s an important perspective that we can all appreciate.

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Ricky Gervais Offends, Insults, And Charms At The Golden Globes

Some people are just born with an innate talent to entertain. Others simply stop giving a damn at some point in their lives and say what needs to be said with a mix of hilarious wit and brutal honesty. If every this concept took a human form, it would look and sound like Ricky Gervais.

In case you didn’t see it, Mr. Gervais hosted the 2020 Golden Globes for the fifth and final time, presumably. As he’s done before, he teased, offended, and insulted the entire landscape of Hollywood with his trademark British charm and intoxicating smile. It was politically incorrect, over-the-top, and beautiful on every level.

It also reminded everyone in Hollywood that, at the end of the day, they’re still a bunch of rich, entitled fame whores with an inflated sense of importance. For most people who will never be rich or famous on that level, it was nothing short of refreshing. If you’re not convinced, see for yourself.

Thank you, Mr. Gervais. What you said needed to be said. I doubt anyone could’ve said it any better or funnier than you.

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

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

Two people meet.

They gauge one another’s interest.

They decide to engage in an intimate relationship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Flaw In Happy Endings According To “Bojack Horseman”

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

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

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

I promise it’s funnier than you think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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