Tag Archives: cracked.com

Why Most Complaints About Hollywood Are Empty

hollywood-sign-mulholland-highway

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

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

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

5 Things Action Movies Need To Stop Doing

8 Things Hollywood Needs To Stop Doing With Female Characters

7 Recurring Gags That Movies Need To Stop Using

14 Things TV Shows Need To Stop Doing With Minority Characters

15 Ways Hollywood Is Still Racist

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

9 Common Hollywood Practices That Need To Stop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, media issues, movies

How Men Are Set Up To Fail With Women

When it comes to seeking love and sex, I kind of need to be on top of things. I’m trying to get into the business of writing sexy romance novels. I’ve got another novel coming out in a couple months and a couple manuscripts I hope to submit to my publisher very soon. If I want to tell quality romance stories with the right amount of sex appeal, I need to know about the dynamics of these intimate processes.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot harder than it sounds and few people who aren’t billionaire rock stars/supermodels would contest that. Finding love and finding sex aren’t always mutually exclusive, but they tend to be linked for reasons I don’t think require much explanation. Humans are a sexual, passionate species. Ideally, we should make the process of seeking those experiences clear, efficient, and understandable.

I’ll give everyone a moment to stop laughing because I know we’re a long way from that ideal. In some respects, we’re doing the exact opposite. We’re actually making it harder on ourselves to find love, sex, and everything in between and I’m not just talking about the effects of recent sex scandals. We’ve gotten to a point where men and women aren’t just on the same page. They’re not even reading the same book.

This brings me to a recent article from Cracked.com. I know they’ve been hit or miss lately. Between their poor understanding of what makes someone a pervert and their knack for complicating ideas of consent, they’ve had a bit of a regressive streak lately. They’ve been less focused on humor and more focused on pushing the kind of everything-is-sexist agenda that is rarely funny.

This time, however, they’ve managed to step back from that agenda and offer some insight into the other side of that equation. Yes, women do face their share of challenges in pursuing love and sex with men. Sifting through the crop of potential partners, trying to figure out who one wants something meaningful and who just wants a quick romp, is frustrating and the source of nearly every romantic comedy ever made.

However, the other side of that struggle with the men, has its own set of challenges and our culture does plenty to add to the difficulty. Since I am a man and I’m familiar with some of these challenges, I feel it’s worth talking about. I’m also glad Cracked.com took the time to write something like this. For those interested, here’s the link:

Five Ways Society Trains Men To Expect Sex From Women

This is one of those articles that will likely generate plenty of discussions among feminists, MRAs, egalitarians, and romance fans, like myself. There are some parts of it that still come off as overly-gendered preaching. However, I think the article presents the situation in a way where those discussions need not involve threats or insults to each other’s mothers. Then again, this is the internet.

Chief among the arguments that this article makes involves how our culture, from movies to TV shows to comic books, gives the impression that good men have do things a certain way to get love and sex from women. However, those things rarely involve the kind of work, strength, and achievements that women and men alike find attractive.

Instead, sitcoms and romantic comedies constantly feed men the idea that just being meek, passive, and constantly friend-zoned will eventually earn them their dream girl. At no point is there any effort to actually find out what that dream girl actually wants in a lover because that just wouldn’t make for a good romance movie, even if it makes total sense. The article puts it even more succinctly.

The idea that women will eventually find their lengthy secret crushes cute if they cling to them is an anxiety-reducing godsend. So they keep waiting and waiting for the “right” time. But that time never comes, because their life isn’t being written by a hack. So they get bitter and frustrated, because they don’t just feel rejected; they feel ripped off, like they were owed love, but it was somehow denied them.

It’s basically an extension of the old “nice guys finish last” diatribe that I’ve criticized before. I admit that even I bought into that growing up and my lack of romantic interest from other women is testament to how flawed this concept is. It also says something that my favorite romantic movie, “Crazy/Beautiful,” does not follow that trope.

It gets even worse than that, though. Beyond presenting a false understanding that good men have to be meek to get the girl, there’s also this weird/unhealthy idea that every romantic pursuit has to be its own epic narrative. In the same way people erroneously believe they’re the hero of their own story, they believe they’re one of the lovable nerds in “The Big Bang Theory” who ends up with the cute girl.

Never mind the fact that some of the romance in that show may be very unhealthy, there’s a sense that sex and romance has to fit into this narrative or it’s a total failure. There’s no room for more mundane notions that a guy just asks a girl out, she says no, and they get on with their lives. That story just seems wrong and doesn’t fit the epic love story/sexual conquest that men build up in their minds.

This is where it gets really soul-crushing for men looking for that kind of romance and sex that bad Julia Roberts movies are made of. For men who try to play by those rules, being the meek and lovable underdog that they think will get them love and sex, what happens when it fails? What happens when Leonard Hofsteader doesn’t get the girl and ends up alone, heartbroken, and frustrated?

It can be pretty traumatic and the article points that out, giving the impression that men have no room for error. If they fail to get the love and sex they seek by playing by the rules laid out in every romantic comedy ever made, then they will die poor and lonely.

So Nice Guys see countless stories wherein women vent about creepy encounters they’ve had with men who interrupted their days, and it freaks them out. That venting is understandable — I’d be angry too if I was constantly getting harassed about my chiseled good looks while trying to run errands. But Nice Guys end up under the impression that every encounter ends in either a sweeping success or a reminder of why mace was invented. They think there’s no margin for error, because there’s a constant fear that failure will end in loneliness and humiliation. There’s a brutal contradiction. Nice Guys are told that they need to meet new people, but also that if they fuck up even a tiny bit, they will be mocked.

This is also where some of the gender disparities really show, especially from the male end of the equation. That’s because within this epic romance narrative that men think they’re part of, there’s one component that amplifies the tension between gender. It has to do with who decides the when, where, how, and why of love and sex.

Even within a society where women are vulnerable to various forms of sexual misconduct, they are still very much the sexual and romantic gatekeepers, as the article calls it. In that narrative, the women are the ones who decide whether or not anyone has any sex. The women are the ones who decide whether or not a relationship ensues. It’s not like sex and romance have any cooperative elements, right?

That last part was meant to be sarcasm, but it’s no laughing matter in the context of the narrative that men think they have to follow. So much of it is built on the idea that women are the final decision-makers. It’s an idea that frustrates men and is rarely acknowledged by women, creating the kind of inequality in a relationship that is rarely healthy.

It’s a component that does more than just set men up for heartbreak and women up for frustration. It can be downright unsexy when it comes together. The article puts it better than I ever could.

So while many men from generations past thought that the female orgasm was a myth and that a clitoris was an African insect, most Nice Guys readily accept that a woman’s sexual satisfaction is important. But in getting that message across, we’ve accidentally started telling men that while it’s wrong to try to seduce women in most situations, when sex does happen, you’d better be goddamn incredible at it.

Think about the disconnect in that dynamic. Since women are the sexual gatekeepers, men can’t readily seduce a woman without coming off as a creep or a Biff Tannen wannabe. Even when they do get the go-ahead for sex, if they don’t satisfy the woman with the prowess of Wilt Chamberlin on crack, then they’ve failed.

Considering sex, like anything in life, takes practice and cooperation, this kind of imbalance is bound to make for some less-than-romantic situations that’ll leave everyone involved unsatisfied. Men, particularly, build up all these expectations around what they think movies, TV shows, and bad porno says is important and grade themselves on that steep curve.

It’s not too hard to imagine why men get so frustrated and women are so disappointed, which only serves to heighten the hostilities between genders. Real life simply doesn’t play out the same way that movies, sitcoms, or sexy romance novels do. If they did, then there would be no appeal to those things in the first place.

That’s probably the most important take-away from this article. Yes, there are still parts where it tacitly mentions the ongoing sex scandals that make men groan, but the message is fairly concise. The way we’re going about finding love and sex is exceedingly imbalanced. It’s making men and women despise each other far more than they should.

Being the optimist I am, at heart, I believe that our inherent desire for love and sex will gradually change this narrative. Men and women, as hostile as they can be to one another, still seek love and the toe-curling pleasure that comes with making it. It may take time and more frustration, but we’ll find a way to go about it. Genuine love and great sex is worth it.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

People Who Admitted They Were Wrong (And Why We Should Respect Them)

There’s one sentence that nobody likes saying. Hell, it’s a thought we avoid thinking at all costs. It’s painful, stressful, and downright damaging to our entire understanding of who we are. No, it doesn’t involve distressing phrases like “unfortunate accident,” “slight complication,” or “broken condom.” This incredibly gut-wrenching concept can be boiled down to five simple words.

“I admit I was wrong.”

I’ll give everyone not named Kanye West a moment to stop shuddering. I know. Just reading over that sentence was stressful. I’m only being half-sarcastic here, but I’ve been on the internet long enough and seen one too many comments sections to know the sheer power of those words, if only because they’re so rarely said.

More than ever, we live at a time when nobody wants to admit how wrong they are. It doesn’t even matter, in some cases, when someone is proven wrong beyond any possible doubt. People will still deny it. To make matters worse, a lot of these people tend to be in major positions of power.

There are a lot of things I can say about this phenomenon. Hell, I don’t deny that there have been times when I’ve clung to demonstrably wrong sentiments much longer than I should have.

A lot of it has to do with the flawed wiring of our caveman brains, which I know I constantly belabor on this site. We have this mental picture of who we are in our minds and being wrong is like a stack of dynamite to the foundation. It’s often why people will go to egregiously misguided efforts to protect that mental compilation of who they are.

However, I don’t want to spend too much time belaboring that. I’ll save that for other topics, preferably for a time when our collective faith in humanity is due for its regular gut punch. Instead, I want this post to inspire a sense of hope.

As hard as it may seem, it is possible for people to admit they were wrong. It’s even possible for them to make amends. It’s even possible for some of those people to be celebrities, individuals whose grasp on reality is often tenuous at best. I admit it sounds as impossible in an age where celebrities believe in aliens, chemtrails, and 9/11 conspiracy theories. It does happen though.

Recently, the fine and sexy folks at Cracked.com did a compilation, which they call Pictofacts, of people who undertook the agonizingly difficult task of admitting that they were wrong. Here are some highlights that should give everyone pause, if only to marvel at how any human being can humble themselves in the face of such distress.

Entry 20

Entry 19

Entry 17

Entry 15

Entry 3

These are just a few cases. There are plenty more out there that are every bit as profound. Even so, take a moment to appreciate the breadth of these admissions and the change of heart that these people underwent.

These aren’t just people who watched too much Fox News or listened to their crazy uncles too closely. These are admitted racists, homophobes, bigots, and even a goddamned Neo-Nazi who stood up, admitted they were wrong, and tried to make amends.

It’s impossible to overstate how dramatic this is, from a purely personal standpoint. The inability to admit when we’re wrong is hardwired into us. Making such an admission is akin to resisting the urge to eat when you’re starving or avoid staring at a pair of exposed breasts when you’re horny. It goes against some fundamental forces of biology.

It essentially requires that someone take a baseball bat to the entire foundation of their psyche and rebuild it from scratch. That is not an easy process, nor is it pleasant. It can cost friends, family, reputations, and even careers, as some celebrities like Leah Remini are finding out.

Despite all this, these people still do it. They still do what they understand to be the right and decent thing. It’s not just something that warrants respect. It should be celebrated. Stubbornness isn’t just an unfortunate default setting in our biology. It’s one of those forces that’s getting a lot worse. Anyone who can overcome it in this environment has a strength that not everyone has.

It’s because of that environment that cases like this, where people admit outright that they were wrong, will become more rare. In the age of the internet and social media, it’s too easy to find a group of like-minded people who will reinforce any position, no matter how wrong they are. Why else would flat earth societies still exist?

That makes acknowledging those who do admit their mistakes all the more important. Now, that’s not to say that everyone should overlook whatever misdeeds they did when they were wrong. As I said in my piece about forgiving sexual misconduct, there are some things that just shouldn’t be overlooked.

Even in the extreme cases, though, it’s important to give people a chance. We need to place faith in people, something I’ve lamented before. We, as a society, need to reward those who endure the agony of admitting that they were wrong. We should keep in mind just how difficult it is for anyone to come to such a realization, especially if they’re a celebrity or someone of major influence.

Admitting that you’re wrong requires strength. It should not be seen as a weakness. At a time when billions of people have access to unlimited information, including half-truths and outright lies, it’s important that people value what is true and just. It’s still a difficult process and our flawed biology will fight us every step of the way. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues

Weird Taboos (And Why They Exist)

When it comes to taboos, we love to laugh at the crazy practices of the past while ignoring the equally-crazy ones in the present. We look at how ancient people used to sacrifice goats, sheep, and parts of their genitals and laugh and/or cringe. Then, we go back to wearing our lucky underwear because we think it’ll help our favorite football team win.

The failure to see the irony in that sentiment reveals the power of taboos. I’ve talked about them before, but usually in a narrower context. Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m naturally going to focus on the distinctly sexy taboos, as well as the overtly non-sexy ones. I doubt that surprises anyone.

However, taboos actually get much more ridiculous than what we can or can’t do with our genitals. You don’t even have to go back to the Bronze Age to see them. Some of those taboos happened within the past two centuries. Some of our grandparents were alive when they were popular. It’s kind off funny when you think about it, but it’s also kind of tragic.

Recently, our old friends at Cracked.com did a little article on some of the weird/crazy taboos we had in the past. They called it “15 Everyday Things That Used To Be Scandalous.” Today, they seem so innocent. Back then, though, they were a big deal. Breaking them meant social stigma, condemnation, or even arrest. These days, most people are just concerned about becoming an internet meme.

Make no mistake, though. A lot of these taboos are pretty ridiculous, even by non-21st century standards. There’s a damn good reason why they didn’t last or fell out of favor. We humans may be slow when it comes to embracing social change, but we eventually get around to it. It’s just never as fast as we’d like.

To give you an idea of how ridiculous those taboos were, here’s a quick sample from the Cracked article. Remember, they may seem crazy now, but there was a time when simply talking about it would earn you unwanted attention from the nearest constable, priest, or parent/teacher association.

Entry 15

Entry 14

Entry 12

Entry 7

Entry 6

Entry 1

I know. They are pretty ridiculous. I mean soda pop and reading at night? How could that possibly count as taboo? You can kind of understand why people would be a little reluctant about women in bikinis, especially in the days before internet porn, but soda pop?

Ridiculous or not, there are a few common themes in these taboos. If you go back far enough and look at some of the most overt taboos, you’ll notice how a lot of them deal with female sexuality, rebellious teenagers, and empowering poor people in any way. I know that all sound like stuff that angry rich old men whine about when they haven’t taken their meds, but it actually runs much deeper than that.

Taboos don’t happen in a vacuum. People don’t just make them up because they want another excuse to be a dick to each other. We already have plenty of those. There are reasons they often take the shape they do. It’s rarely due to some grand, patriarchal/communist/hippie conspiracy. A lot of it just has to do with people being weary of things they don’t see as “normal.”

I put “normal” in quotes because the very concept of “normal,” even in a legitimate scientific context, is laced with bullshit. However, there is something to be said about the unspoken social norms under which we all live. Those norms, as crazy as they might be, are an integral part of how we function as a society and a species. The fact those norms tend to screw up our sex lives is kind of a nasty side-effect.

The way it works uses a mix of both caveman logic, faulty brain writing, and skewed common sense. We, as individuals and as groups, tend to function better when there’s a sense of predictability. If we can be more certain of how people will react in certain circumstances, then that can help us create a system, of sorts, to carry out the various functions of a tribe or a society.

Think about it. The systems we have for standing in line, driving on the highway, and complimenting someone’s ass all have certain checklists of sorts that we go through in our minds. Not all of them are enforced by laws. Some aren’t even enforced by anything. It’s just one of those basic understandings that we all collectively acknowledge, albeit indirectly.

Here’s a simple example. When I was going through the soul-crushing process that was high school, there was this unspoken taboo on the bus. When you got on, you never just sat in the front seat. You always went to the back and filled it up from there. If you did dare sit up front, you got weird looks, as though you’d just rubbed your ass on the window. Nobody ever talked about why we did this. We just did it.

That’s a fairly simple display of how unspoken social norms manifest. Considering it happened in high school, it wasn’t even the tenth most awkward thing I endured. However, it does help put some perspective into these ridiculous taboos.

Now, take that perspective and add a little sex appeal to it. Suddenly, you’ll sense a few assholes tightening. There’s no getting around it. Even in 2017, we still have weird attitudes towards sex, especially when it comes to female sexuality and teenage sex. We have almost as many weird attitudes about the poor. As such, it makes sense that so many of our taboos are built around both.

To understand the ridiculousness behind those taboos, you have to imagine yourself in a society that’s very different from your own and operates under a very different set of social norms. That’s not easy for some people. Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I like to think I have more imagination than most.

You’re living by a certain set of norms and practices. They don’t always seem logical. Maybe you never wear red clothes on a Friday. Maybe you salute every pregnant woman you meet in public. Maybe you shave your ass every other Tuesday as part of some elaborate cleansing ceremony. It can be anything really. The key is that it just doesn’t have to be too detrimental to our ability to survive and reproduce.

By living with these norms and practices, they start seeming right. They seem like this is how society is supposed to function. Anyone who questions them might as well be promoting dead puppies on every street corner. You, and everyone around you, are convinced that these taboos have merit, even when they have no logic behind them.

That sentiment is understandable to some extent, but it’s when you inject sex and social class into the mix that it gets really messed up. As I’ve pointed out before, people have all sorts of weird hang-ups and attitudes about sex. Some of them have some merit, such as the real health issues that often come with sexual promiscuity. Others are more subversive.

The key to any successful society is some measure of stability. To have stability, you need some level of control over various social functions. Like it or not, sex is a major social function. Without it, societies can’t propagate. New generations can’t take over for those that die off. Naturally, people are going to put a lot of emphasis on it, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.

This is why you get societies where most marriages are arranged and marrying for love is actually taboo. It’s also why controlling female sexuality is so heavily emphasized. They’re the ones who carry the babies inside them. They’re the ones who nurture them after their born. Since sex makes babies, people are going to want to control it to some extent, as fruitless an effort that might be.

It’s just as bad for the poor. In every society thus far, there has to be some sort of underclass that toils in factories, farms, and various low-paying, low-skilled labor. I say there has to be because, until we can get robots to do it for us, their work is literally the foundation on which civilization is built.

That puts the rich despots, kings, and business people in a tough position. They understand on some levels that if the poor knew how much they were being screwed over and how their toil subsidized the obscenely lavish lifestyles of the rich, they wouldn’t be too happy about it.

That’s why having taboos that discourage laziness, education, and questioning persist. That’s why there’s an entirely mythology around the “dignity of work.” They’re an indirect way of maintaining existing social norms and protecting whoever happens to be benefiting from them from the horrors of inconvenience.

Not every taboo can be attributed to repressing sexuality or keeping the poor in their place, but the dynamics are the same. They have just as much potential to be ridiculous, illogical, and even downright cruel, as many boys can attest. So long as our caveman brains keep using them to preserve our social norms, they’ll always be here. I just hope we can one day ditch those that involve mutilating our genitals.

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A (Distressing) Thought Experiment On Gender Double Standards

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/diehard/images/e/ea/DH3_-_John_McClane.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20130411165945

Whenever I pose one of my thought experiments, I do so with the hope of inspiring novel, entertaining ideas that get people thinking for all the right reasons. Ideally, these ideas are fun and enlightening. If they make people horny in the process, then that’s just a bonus.

Every now and then, however, it’s not enough for an idea to be enlightening or sexy. Sometimes, for a thought experiment to work, it needs to make people feel uncomfortable. It needs to create some sort of mental distress.

I know that’s something most people avoid. I’ve even pointed out how our brains are wired to do anything and everything to avoid mental distress, even if it leads to outright hypocrisy.

Well, as uncomfortable as it is, mental distress has a purpose. It forces us to contemplate an idea that highlights a major problem in the world. It’s often one of those problems we know is there on some level, but avoid thinking about because it’s too daunting. For this particular thought experiment, it’s not so much that the idea is overwhelming. It’s more that it reveals something about our attitudes that we don’t often scrutinize.

So with that in mind, here’s the experiment. Think back to any action scene in any major action movie of the past couple decades. Given the glut of superhero movies and “Die Hard” rip-offs out there, that shouldn’t be too difficult. Specifically, think of a scene where a female character was kicking ass. Given the rise of strong female characters, that shouldn’t be too difficult either.

A good example comes from the memorable Black Widow fight scene in “Iron Man 2.” By any measure, it’s a wonderfully entertaining scene. It has Scarlett Johanssen kicking ass in a skin-tight outfit. What’s not to love about it? Most people who watch this scene, especially comic book fans and people who find Scarlett Johanssen sexy, would be rightly entertained.

Here’s where the thought experiment comes in. This is where it gets really uncomfortable. Watch the scene above once as you usually would. You don’t need to know the context too much. This is just Black Widow beating up the hired goons of Justin Hammer, the primary antagonist of the movie. Use that first reaction as a baseline of sorts.

Now, watch the scene again. This time, though, reverse all the genders of the characters involved. Make Black Widow a man. Make Justin Hammer’s goons women. Let it play out in your mind, this lone male character beating up all these women. Does the scene evoke the same reaction? For most people not named Chris Brown, it probably makes you sick to your stomach.

This goes beyond the typical double standards between men and women, which I’ve talked about before. It even goes beyond strong female characters, which I’ve also touched on in various ways. This is one of those dynamics that has always been there right in front of us. We just don’t take the time to scrutinize it.

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We can watch scenes of James Bond beating the crap out of a bunch of SPECTRE henchmen and be entertained. We can also watch scenes of Black Widow, Sarah Conner, and Furiosa do the same and be entertained. Swap the genders, though, and it becomes extremely distressing. We don’t see powerful characters kicking ass anymore. We just see a man beating up multiple women.

Find a scene like the one above from “Iron Man 2” and do the same thought experiment. Look for a scene where a woman beats up a much of male thugs. Then, swap the genders. Chances are, the feelings it evokes are just as distressing.

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For a greater sense of context, I came up with this thought experiment after reading an article on Cracked.com about the way Hollywood treats men. I’ve cited Cracked before because and while I don’t always agree with them, they’re good at tackling serious topics in a humorous way, even sexy topics. This one, however, had a hard time being funny.

6 Backwards Ideas Hollywood Still Has About Men

Some parts of the article were more inane than others, like pointing out how every leading man has to be at least a half-foot taller than the average guy or how tortured men are somehow compelling. Some of those details are just quirks, blatant examples of style over substance.

Beyond the quirks, though, there are some genuinely disturbing dynamics at work. We find such entertainment in women beating the crap out of men. We also find entertainment in men beating the crap out of men. However, when it’s men beating the crap out of women, context doesn’t matter. It always makes us feel disgusted and repulsed.

The thought experiment I just posed highlights that. However, it goes beyond violence as well. Rape is one of those super-sensitive issues that’s impossible to make funny or sexy. However, if you put it in the context of prison rape where men rape men, then that somehow changes things, so much so that jokes about rape will even find their way into an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

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Then, there are the cases where women rape men. Yes, that does happen in real life. Women are capable of domestic violence against men. However, it’s still okay to joke about. Christopher Titus has even worked it into his standup. It even finds its way into cartoons that air on prime-time.

The best example of this is the “Futurama” episode, “Death By Snu Snu.” In that episode, the cast encounters a planet populated by big, hulking, hostile Amazonian women, albeit not of the Wonder Woman variety. Through a series of hilarious antics that are entirely appropriate for a show that has a hard-drinking, sociopath robot, the male characters end up captured.

This is where the line between hilarity and distress blurs if you dare do the same thought experiment. Once captured, the Amazonian women decide to “torment” their prisoners with “snu snu,” which is their alien verbiage for sex. The reaction of Fry and Zap Branigan is a mix of horror and intrigue.

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Granted, it’s presented in a funny way, but that doesn’t change the actual substance of what happens. The women rape these men. They rape them and it’s portrayed as humorous. I’m not going to lie. I did laugh somewhat at how the episode played out. Most people with a healthy sense of humor would.

However, if you do the same thought experiment with the Black Widow scene in “Iron Man 2,” it takes on a very different context. Watch the episode again, but turn the hulking Amazons into men. Then, turn Fry and Zap into women. Suddenly, that scene takes on a much darker undertone.

It would push the line even for the most hardcore porn. Think about how that would play out, a group of warrior men taking a couple of women who just stumbled upon their world and deciding to rape them to death. It wouldn’t just be rated NC-17. It would be outright banned and subject to protest from every women’s group in the world.

What does it say about our attitudes, our culture, and our standards when we’re okay with one gender dynamic and not the other? Now, there are inherent differences in those dynamics. Human beings are a sexually dimorphic species. That means there are inherently different traits within the genders that are impossible to overlook completely.

However, the sheer breadth of the disparity here is cause for concern. If flipping the genders of a story or scene evokes such a different reaction, then that’s a serious disconnect that’s worth scrutinizing.

That’s not to say that the scenes in “Iron Man 2” or “Futurama” are wrong or not entertaining. There’s just something inherently revealing about ourselves when we flip the gender dynamics and react to the same scene. We may not like what that reveals, but it’s not something that can or should be ignored.

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We’re ALL Perverts (According To Cracked)

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In the interest of science, sex, and having an excuse to talk about subjects that get our blood flowing in all the right ways, I’d like to do a quick survey. Don’t worry. This isn’t a pop quiz. It’s not another one of my sexy thought experiments either. It’s just my way of making a point, one that may very well be important to our collective understanding of sexuality.

It’s just four questions. Anyone can take it. They’re simple yes/no answers. If it takes you more than 20 seconds, then you’re just overthinking.

Question 1: Are you a man?

Question 2: Are you heterosexual?

Question 3: Do you enjoy the sight of female breasts?

Question 4: Do art forms that depict female breasts appeal to you?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then congratulations. You’re a pervert. That’s right. According to a growing sentiment within our culture, any straight man who dares to admire female breasts in any form of media, be it video games, movies, or TV, is somehow a pervert.

That’s the message that a recent article of Cracked.com gave. Usually, I’m very fond of Cracked.com’s work on discussing matters of sexuality. However, every now and then, they write an article that reeks of politically correct horse shit. This particular article talked about how video game developers put a lot of effort into the physics of breasts on female characters. For some reason, that makes them and those who play these games perverts.

 

Let’s step back for a moment and try to make sense of that without hitting ourselves in the head with a baseball bat. This is apparently an issue now. Men admiring women’s breasts is controversial. Granted, women’s breasts have been subject to controversy in the past and I’m not just talking about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance either.

We’re still a culture that gets exceedingly queasy when we talk about sex in any form. We all remember how awkward it was in health class when we learned about the inner workings of a penis and vagina. Boobs have a sexual component to them. So unless you’re on a nude beach, at Mardi Gras, or in a Super Bowl halftime show, it’s going to be awkward.

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Now there’s nothing inherently wrong about feeling awkward about sex or certain body parts. Who doesn’t feel a little awkward when they find out their best friend’s mom got a boob job? That doesn’t mean it qualifies as an outright perversion, does it?

Thankfully, we’ve advanced our society to a point where we have these things called dictionaries and this amazing achievement allows us to actually check the definition of a word to see if it fits a certain context. The definition of pervert in a sexual is actually fairly concise. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition is as follows:

An aberrant sexual practice or interest especially when habitual.

The keyword in that definition is “aberrant.” That means unnatural, improper, or abnormal. Now I know people don’t agree on what’s natural, proper, or normal. In fact, I would argue that most people can’t agree on that. They can’t even agree on pizza toppings. However, when it comes to our biological wiring that helps us survive and reproduce, I think we can find some common ground.

With few exceptions, straight men like breasts. They like the sight of breasts, the feel of breasts, and the depictions of breasts. I know this, both as a straight man and as someone whose readers regularly demand more vivid depictions of breasts in my novels. It’s as natural as enjoying a cold beer on a hot summer day.

So why is this wholly natural, hard-wired predilection being classified as a perversion? Why would the brilliant writers at Cracked.com see the efforts of video game creators to make more appealing breasts as a catalyst for perversion? Do they think men even need a catalyst to admire breasts or want to see them?

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Well, a lot of it is our fault. By our fault, I mean both men and women alike. The media, and video games in particular, has been subject to much greater scrutiny lately in matters of sexism. If something can even be slightly misconstrued as sexist or objectifying, then that’s the end of the conversation. It’s sexist. It’s wrong. It’s immoral. Anyone who enjoys or appreciates it is a monster.

That last part was sarcasm, but I worry that sarcasm can’t do justice to the sheer absurdity of that notion. I don’t want to say it’s entirely a product of feminism, political correctness, or prudishness. However, it is a bad sign.

I don’t doubt that those at Cracked.com and those who complain about breast physics in video games have good intentions. They see beautiful, big-breasted women in media and think that’s objectifying and degrading. That’s an understandable sentiment. They completely lose my sympathy, however, when they try to conflate objectification with basic biological wiring.

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The science is fairly conclusive. Humans are visual creatures, as evidenced by the significant amount of brain matter we dedicate to processing visual images. Art, media, and everything in between seeks every possible way to generate attention and garner interest.

Female breasts naturally create powerful imagery and not just for straight men either. They are a distinct feature within a sexually dimorphic species. As such, we’re going to respond to that imagery. It’s not a perversion in that it’s unnatural. Hell, you could make the case that it’s one of the most natural reactions human could possibly have.

I don’t deny that there are many facets of sex, nudity, and breasts are still taboo. However, it does our culture and our species a disservice when we start identifying natural reactions to natural sights as perverse. That conflicts with our own sexual nature and, as any Puritan will tell you, that nature is hard to suppress.

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So in this case, Cracked.com is dead wrong. We are not perverts for enjoying the sight of female breasts. Game developers who put a lot of time and effort into the physics behind breasts should not be shamed or shunned. If anything, they should be celebrated. They’re putting that much effort into one of nature’s most beautiful creations. On behalf of all straight men who appreciate the sight of breasts, I thank them.

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How Professional Trolls Hack Your Brain

Here’s a quick non-rhetorical question. What do Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter, Bill Maher, Lena Dunham, Bill O’Riley, John Oliver, Alex Jones, and Sean Hannity all have in common? Other than being richer, more successful, and more well-connected than you or I will ever be, what could possibly tie them together in a way that would help them get along at a barbecue?

Take all the time you need. I know this is one of those questions that’s not going to have a very satisfying answer to anybody. I also know it’s one of those questions that pisses people off, even before they answer it. This is the internet. People get pissed off for far less.

Are you done? Well, knowing full-well that I’ve already pissed off plenty of people, here it is. They’re all trolls who use the exact same tactics to make themselves successful and relevant. They may not do it overtly. They may not even admit to it, but on some levels they understand what they’re doing and why it works. Sadly, it works very well.

Now when I say they’re all trolls, I don’t mean to imply that they’re the kind of internet trolls that harass people on social media with insults, death threats, or pictures animals eating their own shit. Those kinds of trolls are a different breed. Granted, they’re annoying and should be ignored at all cost, but these professional trolls are on another level in that they make a damn good living doing what they do.

What these professional trolls do is as brilliant as it is disturbing. Pick any notable public figure who says controversial things. It can be Milo Yiannopoulos making derogatory comments about Muslims. It can be Lena Dunham saying she wished she got an abortion. Just think about any controversial thing that any controversial figure has ever said.

Whether it’s entirely planned or one of those instances where they don’t shut themselves up fast enough, the results are the same. People get outrage. Hashtags get started. Protests erupt. Venomous hate clashes with vocal support. There’s basically all this noise full of anger and passion.

As all this is going on, Milo and Lena are probably laughing to themselves at how much free publicity they just got. Anyone who has ever been in show business, media, or publishing will probably agree. The hardest part of success in Hollywood is getting publicity. There’s only so much of it to go around and people have a very finite attention span. Being able to get free publicity is like being able to play a game with cheat codes.

Now we’ve all heard there’s no such thing as bad publicity before. That sort of sentiment pre-dates the internet, going all the way back to the days when Ozzy Osborne bit the head off of a bat. Today, there’s one key difference that takes this phenomenon, gives it an unlimited supply of crystal meth, and sticks a nine-inch needle in our collective brains.

That difference is immediate access to information. From the internet, to our computers, to our phones, and into our pockets, we no longer have to wait for the evening paper to hear about these atrocious events. Thanks to social media, alerts, and annoying text messages, we can know about them mere minutes after they happen.

While this is a marvel of modern technology and communication, it does have a downside and it’s one that the professional trolls of the world have exploited to the utmost. That downside has to do with how stupid our collective brains are.

By that, I don’t mean that people themselves are stupid. I may be in a minority, but I believe that people, in general, are fairly decent and competent in their day-to-day lives. When I say our brains are stupid, I’m referring to the overall functionality of the hardware involved.

This goes beyond caveman logic, which I’ve cited many times before on this blog. This even goes beyond humans being wired for survival and reproduction rather than logic and reason. This is a byproduct of nature being too much of a blunt instrument rather than a scalpel. In this case, it makes professional trolls rich, successful, and famous.

They do this by hacking an unfortunate quirk in the human brain and using it to their advantage. It’s called “Misattribution of Arousal.” Unlike other convoluted scientific phenomena, this is exactly what it sounds like.

Have you ever been on a roller coaster? Have you ever been really scared by something? Well, if your brain is in working order, it got you extremely aroused and alert. You were afraid, excited, anxious, or euphoric. You could’ve felt any number of emotions at the time.

From your brain’s perspective, though, it’s the goddamn same thing. You’re aroused. There’s a stimulus you need to respond to. That’s all there is to it. As brilliant and complex as the human brain is, it’s still a pretty crude organ. It can’t do math worth a damn. It can easily be tricked by the David Copperfields of the world. It can, however, be tricked into getting aroused for all the wrong reasons.

This is what professional trolls do. They do or say something that gets people aroused. It’s not enough to just get their attention. I’ve already covered how attention is a big part in the “Always Be Closing” approach to success. However, attention only does so much. Adding arousal to the mix does something far greater.

When your brain is in a state of arousal, it doesn’t care much for specifics. It just knows its aroused and needs to respond to something. When you have instant access to information that upsets, angers, or thrills you in any way, that triggers arousal. That arousal, even if its the bad kind, causes the release of dopamine and this is where it gets really dangerous.

For those of you who aren’t caught up on neuroscience, you should still know what dopamine is. That’s the feel-good, everything-is-awesome chemical that our brain uses to reward us for doing things we like. Naturally, it’s a big part of our sexual response. If your brain is swimming in dopamine, that means you’ve had amazing sex.

Now the outrage/interest/arousal we fell with professional trolls doesn’t release quite that much dopamine into our brains. However, it does release some. It releases enough to get a response and due to the crude wiring of our brains, that’s more than enough.

That means that, on some levels, we like being outraged or upset by professional trolls. We like the feeling we get when we despise certain people, groups, or ideologies. Anger, hate, and fear all trigger the same arousal. Our brains enjoy that arousal to some level and thanks to modern communication, it’s far easier to get today than it has ever been in human history.

It’s uncharted territory. If these professional trolls were around 40 years ago, they would probably have a much harder time building an audience. They could say some of the most horrendously-offensive things anyone could possibly say, but it wouldn’t get a lot of attention because word would spread too slowly. The internet, along with social media, is changing that in a big way.

The professional trolls are maximizing that change to their benefit. They’re finding all sorts of ways to anger, upset, or inspire us, even if it’s stressful. Again, our brain doesn’t care. It still arouses us. It still gives us a non-trivial dose of dopamine. That’s all it takes to get people going.

It’s the hidden, unknown, unacknowledged secret that we’re just starting to understand. Whether you’re a die-hard social justice warrior or an outspoken supporter of the alt-right, you use the same methods as the professional trolls. You say and do what you need to do to get people aroused.

It doesn’t matter if it’s true or honest. You don’t even have to believe it on some levels. There are probably many figures out there who, in their private moments, know that what they’re saying is wrong or foolish. They just don’t care though because they’re not looking to say something right or uplifting. They’re trying to get people aroused and worked up.

Now I don’t know which professional trolls feel this way in private. I believe that on some level, they all really believe in what they’re doing. I also believe that on some level, they understand that some of it is misguided and flawed. There’s this vast gray area of understanding that’s hard to grasp and we’ll probably never know for sure just how much these professional trolls believe their own rhetoric.

Whatever the case, this is the world we live in now. We’re all very much at the mercy of the flaws of our collective brains. It’s hard to say where we’ll go from here. I don’t see the methods of professional trolls changing anytime soon. What they’re doing works. It’s making them money, getting them attention, and earning them fame. Until that changes, they’ll keep doing it.

There’s a lot more I can say about this topic and the science behind it. I’ll probably do a few other posts on it, if only to explore the implications for my own efforts to become a successful erotica/romance writer. Until then, I’ll leave some of the other details the brilliant people at Cracked.com.

A while back, they did a podcast on this subject. They bring up some pretty interesting/disturbing points about professional trolls. I don’t agree with their sentiment on every issue, but I do think they make some valid points. For anyone who is generally annoyed by professional trolls, those points are important to understand, if only to maintain a healthy perspective on why trolling works so damn well.

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