Tag Archives: media

Kamala Khan Vs. America Chavez: How To Succeed (And Fail) With Female Superheroes

birthday_present__marvel_team_up_by_viktormon-d7mq5iy

It shouldn’t be that difficult or controversial to create compelling female superheroes. In a perfect world, it would be no different than creating quality male heroes. As long as they’re compelling, enjoyable, and foster great stories, that should be enough.

Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world. You could even argue it has become even worse in recent years for female superheroes because they’ve become entwined with identity politics. It’s no longer sufficient for a female hero to just be likable and interesting. They have to take part in the never-ending whining contest that dominates outrage culture.

As a lifelong fan of superhero comics, this really frustrates me. I get that comics, like any medium, often reflect the issues of the time. That’s not new and comics have taken positions in those issues. Iconic stories have been crafted around them. The current situation with female superheroes, however, is less a reflection of the times and more a liability.

To illustrate this point, I’d like to single out two female superheroes, Kamala “Ms. Marvel” Khan and America “Miss America” Chavez. Both characters were created within the past 10 years. They’ve also been cited as prominent figures in the recent push for diversity within comics that has caused a lot of uproar or all the wrong reasons.

What sets them apart is that one character, Kamala Khan, has become a success story by most measures. Since her debut issue in February 2014, she has become popular and beloved. She has received and won numerous accolades and her graphic novels have made it onto the New York Times Best Sellers list. I consider myself a fan of hers. She’s one of my favorite female heroes.

On the other end of that spectrum is America Chavez. She debuted in 2011 and went onto have her own ongoing series. Unlike Kamala, though, her series received no accolades, sold poorly, and did nothing to endear her to fans of superhero comics. She has had opportunities to establish herself as a quality female hero. With few exceptions, she has failed at every turn.

These two characters represent a stark dichotomy in the current world of female superheroes. One provides a template for success. The other is a cautionary tale of how not to create a compelling female superhero in the current climate. It’s pretty striking how two characters created within a similar cultural environment can go in such wildly different directions. However, that difference also carries with it plenty of lessons.

To be fair to the medium I love, creating female superheroes today is very different compared to past decades. If Wonder Woman, Storm, Carol Danvers, or Supergirl were created today, they wouldn’t have the same impact. They came out at different times and under different circumstances. Those circumstances played a key role in how they became iconic.

Great female superheroes, and quality female characters in general, have traits that allow them to resonate in any era. However, the timing and influences have to be right for them to carve a place in popular culture. Kamala Khan and America Chavez dealt with similar circumstances when they debuted. That makes them a good case study in how female superheroes can succeed and fail.


Why Kamala Khan Succeeded

I still remember the day I read Ms. Marvel #1. I hadn’t been planning to buy it. I remember clearly that it was a light week, in terms of comics. I happened to have a few extra bucks to spend. I had heard that there was going to be a new Ms. Marvel. Having been a fan of Carol Danvers, I decided to check it out.

I’m glad I did because that one fateful issue made me a Kamala Kahn fan for years to come. The story it told struck all the right chords. It presented a character who felt real, genuine, and relatable. The fact that she was a girl, a Muslim, and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants was secondary. She still felt like a character that I could be friends with if she were real.

The reasons why Kamala was so endearing had little to do with how many diversity points she scored and everything to do with how the writer, G. Willow Wilson, went about developing her. She spent almost the entire first issue just revealing who Kamala was and what sort of life she had. We learn about her family, her friends, her hopes, her dreams, and even her favorite hobbies.

She quickly becomes more than just another teenage character. She’s a self-professed fangirl who writes fan fiction, plays MMO games, and loves gyros. Wilson approached developing Kamala the same way Stan Lee approached developing Peter Parker. She developed the personality before turning them into a superhero.

When Kamala finally does get her powers, Wilson establishes a solid reason for why she’s a hero. Just getting powers isn’t enough. Unlike Peter Parker, however, she doesn’t need a loved one to die. Being a fan of superheroes and having decent parents puts her in a position to make that choice without anyone dying. That, alone, makes her worthy of admiration.

From that point forward, it’s easy to root for Kamala. She carries herself as someone you want to root for. She personifies how fans of superhero comics are inspired by their heroes. Her having a chance to be a hero like the ones she idolizes isn’t just endearing. It’s special. That’s why she succeeds and why it’s very likely we’ll see her enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe at some point.


Why America Chavez Failed

Take everything I just said about why Kamala Khan works and why she’s so lovable. Then, reverse it completely. That’s basically who America Chavez is and why she’s more a joke than a success.

On paper, America has a lot going for her. She’s not just another generic female hero. She’s Latina, she’s a lesbian, and she comes from a very different world, literally and figuratively. In terms of diversity points, she checks as many boxes as Kamala. She has her own unique style and she even uses a familiar moniker that has been successfully used by others.

Beyond those traits, however, there’s nothing about her character or her story that will get superhero fans cheering. She’s not relatable like Peter Parker or Kamala Khan. She’s from a place called Utopian Parallel, which is exactly as boring as it sounds. Her world was threatened with destruction, but her parents sacrificed themselves to save it. They’re the only respectable heroes in her story.

America, for reasons that are poorly told and poorly developed, decides to prove that she’s as good a hero as her parents. Her world is a utopia. It doesn’t need her. As a result, she just looks for a world that needs heroes and happens to choose one that has a massive glut of them. Already, her judgment is questionable.

If you’re expecting me to explain the depths of why she’s a hero and how she distinguishes herself, I’m sorry to disappoint. That’s the extent of her heroic journey. She doesn’t answer the hero’s call as much as she looks for an excuse. She doesn’t work her way into the world of heroism. She just throws herself into it and skips the part that makes it a meaningful story.

It certainly doesn’t help that she’s grossly overpowered in a way that makes every battle feel boring. Unlike other powerful characters, including Superman or Captain Marvel, there’s no real intrigue to her abilities. Whereas Kamala Khan and Peter Parker struggle, seeing their powers as burdens at times, America Chavez rarely strains herself. When she does, it feels forced and contrived.

On top of all that, America never comes off as a likable person. In nearly every scene she’s in, she carries herself with an in-your-face, screw-you, I’m-better-than-everyone attitude that isn’t the least bit endearing. She basically tries too hard to be a badass female hero, but forgets the part where heroes are actually supposed to be admirable.

It’s not enough to just punch a Nazi, which she does at one point. Being a hero means embodying ideals that go beyond gender politics. America Chavez’s story is so contrived, at times, that it feels like the most shameless kind of pandering. It’s why those who bemoan Marvel’s diversity push often cite America Chavez as the personification of everything wrong with that effort. Sadly, she gives them plenty to work with.


Lessons For The Future

I have high hopes for Ms. Marvel. I even hope that, at some point, America Chavez becomes a solid character. There’s plenty of room for new characters that resonate with everyone, regardless of gender, race, creed, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of established characters, either. Heroes can be anyone. That’s what makes them icons.

Now, I understand that there are plenty of people out there who don’t like Kamala. I don’t deny that she has her flaws and she’s had some pretty unflattering moments. I also understand that America Chavez has her share of fans who think I’m not being fair to her. I don’t claim that my take on her is definitive.

I singled these two characters out because I believe they embody the struggle facing female superheroes in the existing cultural climate. Like any creative endeavor, there is a right and wrong way to go about it. Kamala Khan and America Chavez provide important lessons on what to do and what to avoid. They include, but aren’t restricted to, the following.

Lesson #1: Build the character before the hero

Lesson #2: Appeal to everyone and not just a select few

Lesson #3: Make their struggle feel real and genuine

Lesson #4: Give the character a distinct and endearing voice

Lesson #5: Don’t just rely on punching Nazis

There are many other lessons to be learned from characters like Kamala Khan and America Chavez. Some of those lessons have to be learned the hard way, but they’re worth learning. More quality female superheroes can only help the genre, as a whole. Superheroes, by definition, are supposed to inspire others to be better. That inspiration need not be restricted to gender, race, or any other distinction.

2 Comments

Filed under censorship, Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, gender issues, media issues, political correctness, sex in media, superhero comics, superhero movies, women's issues

Five Overused Romantic Sub-Plots (And How To Fix Them)

videoblocks-romantic-couple-in-paris-eiffel-tower-embrace-kissing-honeymoon-enjoying-european-summer-holiday-travel-vacation-adventure_slmvy-k4ox_thumbnail-full01

Being a self-professed romance fan, I know more about the intricacies of romantic sub-plots than most men would ever dare admit. I’ve consumed an absurd amount of romantic media over the years and I’ve noticed more than a few common themes, some more endearing than others.

However, by consuming so much romantic content, I’ve also seen certain themes get overused and badly mishandled. I could list countless instances promising romantic sub-plots collapsing because it fell into a narrative trap. Sometimes, it’s because of poor writing. Sometimes, it’s because the story has too many constraints. I’ve even cited a few famous cases that exhibit both.

Whatever the case, it’s not hard to screw up a romantic sub-plot. I’ve done that more than a few times with the stories I’ve written. Lately, though, there are certain types of sub-plots that have lost their luster. They’ve either been done too many times or haven’t innovated in way too long.

Overused or not, I believe there are elements of these sub-plots that are worth saving. They just need some refinement and polish. What follows is a list of five overdone romantic sub-plots, why they’ve become so bland, and how to fix them. I’ve covered some of these elements before. This is just the romance lover in me offering some tips for future romance stories.


Romantic Sub-Plot #1: Best Friends Turned Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

I think you can thank sitcoms like “Friends” and movies like “Clueless” for this sub-plot to fall out of favor. Personally, I blame Ross and Rachel for giving this theme a bad name. They took the whole friends-falling-in-love plot way too far. Towards the end, it was more annoying than compelling.

These days, this sub-plot isn’t as common as it used to be. I think a lot of romance fans were burned out on it in the 1990s and early 2000s. There’s only so many times a character can say in so many words “I didn’t realize that what I was looking for was right here in front of me” and sound genuine.

How To Fix It

Simply put, this sub-plot needs to shake up the setting. Too many times, a story about friends becoming lovers is built around one friend having had feelings for the other over many years. That can be sweet when done right, but it’s way too easy to be done wrong. These days, it almost comes off as a long con or stalking.

To fix it, the emphasis needs to shift towards two characters undergoing major upheavals. Perhaps they go through a tragedy or trauma that changes the way they feel about other people. It can’t just be restricted to their friend/lover, either. This upheaval should affect their entire world and from there, they come together in a new way.

It has the potential to show two characters go through major growth as individuals, which eventually turns into growth as a couple. That kind of growth can work wonders for any romance and could offer something more meaningful than old friends hiding their feelings.


Romantic Sub-Plot #2: Love Triangles

Why It’s Overdone

I’ve already made my hatred of love triangles very clear. I’ve gone so far as to cite one from the X-men as the worst of all time. Beyond the comics, though, it’s not hard to see cases of this sub-plot done horribly wrong. Even contemporary romance like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” have made this troubled trope more insufferable.

Simply put, love triangles reduce everyone involved to prizes or plot devices. It’s next to impossible to make every character in a love triangle feel like a real character. It turns romantic development into a competition and in the long run, nobody wins and certain characters lose badly.

How To Fix It

I’m tempted to say that love triangles should be abandoned and killed with a 12-gauge shotgun, but I’m not a fan of throwing away romantic themes, no matter how much I despise them. For this particular theme, I think it needs more than just a fix. It needs a complete overhaul.

By that, it can’t just involve two people competing for someone else’s affection. That gets old fast. If there is going to be a love triangle, then it should actually take the time to show why someone is torn in the first place. It needs to be clear that someone genuinely loves more than one person and there’s a reason for that love.

This is also a sub-plot that may benefit from shifting taboos. Non-monogamy is becoming more mainstream and there aren’t many real romance stories about that idea that aren’t bad pornos. A love triangle has to stop being an either/or plot and become a why/how plot. There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure everyone involved gets some sort of emotional resolution that doesn’t involve someone getting screwed over.


Romantic Sub-Plot #3: Destined Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

If you’ve gone through any high school English class or are just familiar with certain literary traditions, you’ve probably seen this in all kinds of media. “Romeo and Juliet” is probably the most famous, but it still shows up frequently throughout romantic media. It’s prevalent in movies like “Titanic” and comics like “Superman.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have a soft spot for star-crossed lovers who are destined to fall in love, but it’s a very bland sub-plot. There’s no real sense of conflict. You know two characters are going to end up together and where’s the intrigue there?

How To Fix It

For this sub-plot, I think a simple shift in context would help. Most romance featuring destined lovers emphasis how they come together, despite the obstacles in front of them. I think it might be more compelling to explore why these characters are star-crossed to begin with. Is it just destiny or are there other forces at work?

There are a lot of factors that go into romance, even those of the non-destined variety. Why not explore the concept of destiny, as it relates to love? Why not dig a little deeper into the intricacies of how it unites people so completely? That wouldn’t just offer a meta-perspective of love, as a plot device. It would give us all an opportunity to reconsider what it means to be in love.


Romantic Sub-Plot #4: Love At First Sight

Why It’s Overdone

This sub-plot is very similar to the destined lovers trope. It’s often a pre-cursor to two people finding out they’re destined to be together. For many of the same reasons, it’s pretty bland and basic. One character sees another, some sappy music starts playing, and the love story is effectively laid out.

We see it happen very overtly in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Titanic.” We see it manifest in some form in most romantic comedies. A character just sees someone they find attractive and that becomes the catalyst for their love. It’s sweet, but not very deep and it has just become too predictable at this point. When two people fall in love at first sight, what other story is there to tell?

How To Fix It

This one can’t be fixed with the same methods as the destined lovers sub-plot. This is one of those plots that doesn’t have to be radically altered, but definitely needs fresh nuance. Finding that nuance means injecting more than just love into the mix when two characters first meet.

The first encounter between two characters is always pivotal. It helps set the tone for their relationship, romantic and otherwise. To make this sub-plot work in new ways, characters need to intrigue each other in new ways. It can’t be enough that they’re attractive. There has to be something else about them.

Maybe the character has a skill that someone has never seen before. Maybe the character causes someone to re-think a past assumption. Maybe it sends them on a new journey that their love interest can join. There are many opportunities here. There doesn’t have to just be one.


Romantic Sub-Plot #5: Sex Complicating Love

Why It’s Overdone

This one is probably the most overtly sexual romantic sub-plot that also happens to be the most predictable. Ironically, it’s “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” that summed it up best. Things go from “Don’t worry, it won’t get weird” to “It got weird, didn’t it?” That’s every sex-complicating-love story in a nutshell.

This one also has the burden of being weighed down by long-standing sexual taboos. While it may seem like those taboos have faded in the 21st century, it’s still the slutty women and stud men who die first in slasher movies. Sex, even in a romance story, still comes off as something dirty that somehow undermines a romance.

Even though sexual attitudes have evolved a great deal, the idea that sex complicates/ruins a relationship hasn’t moved very far. It’s why sex tends to be an afterthought in modern romances. Sometimes, it’s ignored or assumed and that’s just a waste of quality sexual chemistry.

How To Fix It

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’ve been working on that for years. While I can’t claim to have a definitive answer, I have surmised a few ideas turn sex from a complication to a catalyst. It doesn’t have to be overly titillating or pornographic, although that can work. It just has to supplement the romance rather than subvert it.

Sex in romance is often treated like an endgame. It’s marks the culmination rather than the progression of a relationship. I believe that’s a missed opportunity. In any romance, sex should function as a progression, of sorts. It takes the relationship to a new stage, one where new opportunities for emotional and personal growth emerge.

When two characters have sex, it can be more than just a chance to depict genitals and female breasts. It can be an exercise of intimacy where two characters strengthen their bond, rather than sully it. That gives greater meaning to the sexiness and nothing makes romance hotter than genuinely meaningful sex.

2 Comments

Filed under Marriage and Relationships, media issues, polyamory, romance, sex in media, sexuality

The Humor In Mutilating Men Versus The Atrocity Of Harming Women

45ee4ed9041461da247f826745881661e77f2046

It’s one of the most traumatic things a man can experience, the permanent damage or total removal of his penis. Whether by accident or intentional violence, he’s badly injured on a physical physical and psychological level. His ability to identify as a man, experience intimacy with others, or just feel basic pleasure is irreparably damaged.

Just mentioning the possibility of losing his penis will make most men cringe. Joke all you want about how much men glorify their genitals, but it really is an important part of their bodies and their identities. Losing it is like losing a limb, which does plenty to cause serious mental trauma. Add losing a key aspect of their masculinity to the mix and that trauma becomes amplified.

Despite that trauma, men losing their genitals is fodder for comedy. Recently, Netflix released a movie called “The Package,” the plot of which is built entirely around a man who loses his penis in an accident. That movie, if you look it up on IMDB, is listed as a comedy. Imagine, for a moment, a movie that tried to make a comedy out of female genital mutilation. How much outrage would that generate?

There’s nothing funny about women’s bodies getting mutilated or even harmed in any serious way. For men, though, it’s actually a pretty common trope. You don’t have to look too deep into the history of media to find jokes about men losing their genitals.

It’s a famous line in “The Big Leboswki.”

It’s a recurring theme in “Fight Club.”

It’s a sub-plot in an episode of “Rick and Morty.”

It’s a primary plot in an episode of “Family Guy.”

Even in media that isn’t overtly comedic, it still becomes a joke. Just look up the various internet memes about Theon Greyjoy from “Game of Thrones” for proof of that. In each case, the mutilation of men and the loss of their masculinity is portrayed as something that’s inherently funny. The fact that Netflix made a movie about that premise shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Even in the cases of real stories about real men losing their genitals, it’s prone to plenty of humor. The most famous case is probably that of John Wayne Bobbitt, whose wife cut off his penis after he raped her. While Bobbitt was, by all accounts, a horribly abusive man who deserved plenty of condemnation for what he did, his name still inspires jokes.

When people say the name Bobbitt, they don’t think of all the abuse he imparted on his wife. They think of how funny it is that his wife cut his dick off. While he was able to get it re-attached, many other men aren’t so lucky. Whether it’s public perception or daytime talk shows, a man losing his penis is still seen as funny.

Conversely, any media that shows a woman being harmed in any way, even if it’s just a slap in the face, is seen as an irredeemable atrocity. Watch shows like “Married With Children” or “The Simpsons” and you’ll see plenty of scenes where Al Bundy and Homer Simpson badly injure themselves through their antics. However, there are exceedingly few scenes that ever lead to the women being harmed.

Anything that leaves any lasting scar on a woman is inherently abhorrent. There are even major international organizations that work to combat practices like female genital mutilation. When women lose their reproductive organs from disease or injury, it’s seen as a tragedy. Anyone who laughs at their pain is rightly scorned.

Why is this, though? Why is it that an entire comedy can be built around a man losing his penis while any plot that involves a woman getting hurt in any way is dead serious? That’s not an easy question to answer. It can’t be entirely attributed to the gender-driven  double standards that I’ve singled out before.

I don’t claim to know the full answer, but I think it’s worth discussing, if only for the sake of maintaining a balanced perspective. I don’t doubt that many have their theories. Some may attribute the humor we find in men getting mutilated to trends in modern feminism. I would strongly disagree with that.

I believe that this idea of laughing at male mutilation while gasping at female victimization preceded modern feminism by a great deal. I would go so far as to say it goes back much further than that. I believe this unique quirk in gender dynamics has roots in ancient pre-modern societies that transcend geography, culture, and ethnicity.

At the core of this phenomenon is one unpleasant, but inescapable truth. I’m probably going to upset some of my fellow men by saying this, but I think it needs to be said.

We NEED to be comfortable with men getting mutilated on some levels.

Take a moment to stop fuming. Then, take a moment to consider why we would need to be okay with this in both current and ancient societies. From a purely logistic standpoint, it makes sense.

For most of human history, men were expected to carry out the dangerous, back-breaking, body-maiming work that built our civilization. Regardless of location, culture, or traditions, putting men in these situations was necessary. Someone needed to fight the wars, plow the fields, hunt dangerous animals, and work in factories.

Until very recently, men had to fill that role because women were at a severe disadvantage due to the dangers and risks of child-rearing. In the pre-modern world, the most vulnerable individuals in a society were pregnant women, newborn infants, and women in labor. In 18th-century England alone, there were 25 deaths per 1,000 births.

With odds like that, there was a legitimate reason to give women extra protection and care that was not afforded to men. Men didn’t have the babies and no society could survive in the long run if it didn’t have a growing population. That’s why, for better or for worse, there are so many cultural and religious traditions that encourage women to remain in domestic roles.

Those same traditions, however, establish a dynamic requiring that we accept a certain level of male victimization. It’s one thing for a man to die in battle or having his genitals maimed in an accident. It’s quite another for a woman, who are tasked with birthing and caring for a new generation, to endure similar harm. Another man can still impregnate a healthy woman. No amount of men can impregnate an injured woman.

I know that dynamic is offensive to both feminists and men’s rights activists because it reduces their value to their reproductive capacity. I get why that’s offensive. Even I find it offensive, as a man. However, therein lies the most critical detail with respect to male mutilation versus male victimization.

These disparate standards, which predate the modern era by centuries, are still very much ingrained in our society. We still see women, especially those of breeding age, as more valuable than men. We romanticize young men who heroically sacrifice themselves in war, but recoil at the idea of young women suffering a similar fate.

Add emerging demographic issues with respect to declining fertility rates and the same incentives for accepting male mutilation are there. We still need people to have children for society to grow and function, but more women are having fewer children and more men are eschewing the pursuit of families entirely.

In terms of logistics, that increases the value of every woman who wishes to have a children and decreases the value of men who refuse to go along with that plan. In that system, a man losing his genitals or suffering a severe injury has to be funny in order for the situation to be tenable. By the same token, any harm coming to a woman has to remain extremely taboo.

Logistics aside, it’s still an unfair predicament that undermines the suffering and trauma that men endure. The fact that we have to be okay with their suffering while overvaluing the suffering of women is bound to fuel more egregious double standards. Movies like “The Package” certainty don’t help, but so long as this age-old gender disparity persists, men losing their penises will remain fodder for comedy rather than tragedy.

6 Comments

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

The Hard Consequences Of Soft Censorship

internet-censorship

If you walked up to any random person on the street and asked them how they feel about censorship, chances are they would say they’re against it. Absent any context, most people equate censorship with tyranny and rightly so. Historically speaking, tyrannical societies are not beacons of free speech.

When you add context to that same question, though, then people are a bit more diverse in their response. They may say they’re against censorship, but they’ll also oppose hate speech and even support efforts to remove it from certain venues or platforms. It’s not the same as government-suppressed speech, but it’s still censorship on some levels.

A government’s effort to prohibit or punish speech is more daunting. That’s exactly why we have things like the First Amendment. Governments are big, powerful entities with armies and tax collectors. Their brand of censorship is a lot more concrete than others. That’s why such extensive legal protections are necessary.

When it comes less overt forms of censorship, though, the line isn’t as clear and neither are the legal protections. It can take the form of de-platforming a controversial speaker, which has happened on college campuses. It can also take the form of banning certain websites or certain subgroups within a website. These efforts aren’t usually called censorship. They’re usually referred to as preventing the spread of hate.

Personally, I don’t buy that excuse. As much as I abhor some of the things people say, both online and in person, any attempt to indirectly silence them is still censorship in my book. I call it “soft censorship” because it doesn’t involve government force. In many cases, it’s a grass roots effort to combat certain ideas that many find offensive.

That seems to be the most notable standard these days, the offensiveness of certain speech. That’s understandable, given how the world is more connected than it has ever been in human history. It’s now easier than ever for hateful, offensive speech to spread. Conversely, it’s also easy for the outrage to that speech to spread as well.

As a result, the forces behind that outrage are often the most powerful forces behind soft censorship. That outrage takes many forms too. It can be driven by political correctness, religious dogma, and general trolling. Censorship or suppression of speech is not always the stated goal, but it is often a desired result.

Given the ongoing changes to the media landscape, this brand of censorship seems to be getting more prominent than anything government effort. In fact, the reason I chose to bring this issue up is because of a few notable incidents that highlight the growing disconnect between free speech and movements to combat hate speech.

The first incident happened earlier this year and came from the gaming world, a domain that is no stranger to censorship and targeted outrage. The outrage in this case, though, had nothing to do with how beautiful women are depicted and everything to do with the policy of the popular Steam platform by Valve.

The particulars of the issue are simple. Valve was getting criticism for allowing too many violent, adult-oriented games on their platform, including those with overtly erotic themes. For a while, it looked like they would follow the same policy as Nintendo and Apple, who don’t allow anything that can’t be shown in a Disney movie.

Surprisingly, and refreshingly for some, Valve opted for a more libertarian policy. The standards are simple. As long as the content isn’t illegal or outright trolling, then it’s permitted. In the context of freedom of speech and creative freedom, this should count as a victory. However, that’s not how some saw it.

Almost immediately, Valve was heavily criticized for this freedom-centric policy and for all the wrong reasons. Some went so far as to call it irresponsible and cowardly, daring to permit games on their platform that might be overly graphic, crude, or sexy. Being a private company and not a government, that’s certainly their right.

Even so, it generated outrage. People didn’t see it as an act to promote free expression. They see it as a means of spreading hateful, offensive, sexist content and profiting from it. At at time when the video game industry sparks outrage every time it depicts a female character, Valve really took a chance by taking this approach and it’s sure to generate plenty more controversy, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Those same reasons showed up in another incident involving Reddit, a site on which I’m very active. Specifically, it involved a subreddit called KotakuInAction, which emerged in wake of the infamous GamerGate controversy in 2014. As a result, it has a reputation for being pretty brutal in its criticisms of regressive, far-left attitudes.

It’s oftent cited as one of the most “toxic” places on Reddit. There have been more than a few efforts to ban it. At one point, for reasons that I’d rather not get into, it was actually removed by its original creator. However, it was saved and put back up within less than a day, much to the relief of the nearly 100,000 subscribers.

Few will call that a victory for free speech. Those who criticize Valve and Reddit for permitting it don’t see their actions as suppressing speech. They see it as combating harassment and hate. Therein lies the problem with that effort, though. Harassment and hate are serious issues, but attacking only the speech is like attacking a single symptom of a much larger disease.

Even if Reddit had permanently banned KotakuInAction and Valve had opted to censor offensive games, it wouldn’t have made the ideas behind them disappear. Like putting a censor bar in front of female breasts, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re there and that they have an impact.

You could turn off the internet, burn every book, and shut down every newspaper tomorrow. That still wouldn’t stop people from thinking and feeling the things that lead them to want to say something offensive or create an offensive game. Speech is just a byproduct of ideas. Attacking the speech is not the same as confronting the source.

In fact, doing so can be counterproductive. There’s a real phenomenon called the Streisand Effect wherein efforts to hide, remove, or cenors something ends drawing more attention to it. The fact that Area 51 is a super-secret government facility that everyone knows about shows how powerful that effect can be.

In the context of combating hate, efforts to censor those behind it can end up elevating their message. When someone is censored, there’s an application of force implied. Whether it’s from a government or a moderator on a message board, censorship requires some level of force. Applying it to anyone is going to put them in a position to feel oppressed and that oppression tends to fuel hatred.

Harassment is different because when it comes to free speech, the line between discourse and threats is a bit less ambiguous. The Supreme Court has established a criteria for what constitutes “fighting words,” but it’s when things happen on a computer screen where it gets tricky.

Like hate, though, there’s a right and wrong way to deal with harassment. The right way to deal with a direct threat is to contact local law enforcement. The wrong way is to make it into a spectacle that requires that both the harasser and the platform they used to be condemned.

It’s an inescapable fact of life in any functioning society. The same platforms we use to interact will be used by others for disgusting, hateful, and offensive activities. We may feel disgust and revulsion for these things, but trying to silence both the people and the platform doesn’t make the sentiment behind it go away.

That’s the ultimate danger of soft censorship. It’s not like a censorship-loving government that can be overthrown or reformed. It’s a mentality that seeks to remove content from certain mediums in hopes that it will subsequently discourage the mentality behind it. Unfortunately, human beings aren’t wired that way.

That’s the ultimate danger of soft censorship. It’s not like a censorship-loving government that can be overthrown or reformed. It’s a mentality that seeks to remove content from certain mediums in hopes that it will subsequently discourage the mentality behind it. Considering the impact of the the Streisand Effect, it’s utterly backwards.

I’m all for confronting hate and combating harassment, but not through censorship, hard or soft. It’s hard enough trying to change someone’s mind in an era where they can customize their news feeds. At the end of the day, we can only truly affect someone’s heart and mind by focusing on the person and not what’s on their computer screens.

Leave a comment

Filed under censorship, Current Events, human nature, media issues, political correctness

The (Distant) Future Of Marvel, Disney, And Entertainment

unnamed

I like to talk about the future. I don’t claim to have any special insight, but I suspect I give it more thought than most. I also believe I tend to think farther into the future than most. Whether it’s contemplating the future of how we’ll organize our society or how our sex lives will evolve, I try to contemplate possibilities beyond the next iPhone upgrade.

One aspect of the distant future that concerns me has to do with boredom, namely how it may become a much larger problem and how we’ll go about alleviating it. I’ve done plenty to argue that boredom can be a dangerous force, from creating immortal super-villains to subverting the very concept of Hell. If our future is to be stable, prosperous, and fun, we’ll need some form of entertainment.

With that critical goal in mind, I’d like to speculate on a potential brand of future entertainment that ties directly with the industry that we know today. Specifically, I’d like to imagine how big entertainment companies like Disney will continue to function in world where advanced artificial intelligence, brain implants, and near-universal access to the internet is a thing.

I feel the time is right to think about such things because just last week, Disney radically altered the entertainment industry by purchasing Fox. Beyond just getting the X-men and Fantastic Four rights back for Marvel, Disney bought a massive library of intellectual property that is potentially worth billions. Being a successful business with shareholders, and all, they’re going to want to make billions more.

How exactly are they going to go about that, though? That’s a question worth asking because the answer for the near future is probably not going to work for the distant future. Sure, Disney will probably rake in plenty of profits at the box office, just as they’ve done with Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars. However, the movie and toy industry can only go so far.

While box office revenue is up, actual ticket sales are way down. More people are opting to stream their content directly, bypassing pay TV and theaters entirely. The same is true for print media, including comic books. Even toy sales are in decline. This is not good for a company like Disney, which has built its empire on media and merchandise.

That’s not to say things are dire. Disney has been around for almost 100 years. In that time, it has adapted through plenty of upheavals. If it’s going to survive another 100 years, though, it’ll have to adapt to a radically different landscape. Buying Fox is likely part of that process. Disney has already made clear that it plans to start a streaming service to compete with Netflix and Amazon.

That’s a good start, but a streaming service is probably not going to be enough, especially in a future where people live longer, work less, and can share more than just text messages with one another. If Disney wants to continue being at the forefront of entertainment, it’ll have to innovate in ways that leverage future technology in new ways.

After the purchase of Fox, though, Disney may actually be in the best possible position compared to every other entertainment company that exists today. That’s because, unlike its competitors, it has a wealth of intellectual property that it owns outright. From Micky Mouse to Marvel heroes, the library of Disney-owned characters is truly staggering.

In the past, this gave Disney the ability to make or license movies, toys, and games for billions. In the future, those mediums won’t be nearly as profitable, but not because those things will fall out of style. I believe that for Disney to make more billions, it’ll utilize its intellectual property in a very different way, one that will likely require an entirely new approach to entertainment.

Think, for a moment, about the current experience you get from a movie theater, a TV show, or even a life show. You sit in a seat and you just watch. You take in the sights and sounds. If done right, it creates a spectacle that you enjoy. However, the fact that the spectacle only utilizes major senses is somewhat limiting.

What if, instead, you weren’t just an audience member sitting in a seat? What if it actually felt like you were there? What if you felt like you were standing next to Captain America as he battled the Red Skull? What if you felt like you were there when Micky Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy all broke out into a joyous musical number?

I’m not just talking about better animation or virtual reality. I’m talking about a form of entertainment that makes your brain actually feel as though you’re experiencing something. It’s not quite like the holodeck on “Star Trek.” It’s more like plugging into “The Matrix,” but for reasons other than learning Kung Fu or having existential breakdowns.

Unlike “The Matrix,” though, you wouldn’t be the catalyst for the story. That’s something Disney would take care of, providing only the world and the vast array of sensations that come with it. Instead of paying for a movie ticket, you pay for an experience that lets you interact or feel part of a story involving Iron Man, Micky, or Buzz Lightyear.

That will likely be the most valuable resource of future entertainment, powerful experiences that give customers the rush and fulfillment of being there. Instead of going to a theater or theme park, they would just plug something into their brains, possibly through an implant like the ones Elon Musk is developing with Neuralink. From there, the experience will be directly streamed right into their brain.

It may sound invasive, but we already share so much of ourselves online, from what we had for lunch to the most intimate aspects of our personal lives. We’re already in the early stages of merging our technology. We already see our smartphones as integral parts of our lives. Why wouldn’t we do the same for brain implants?

Unlike a smartphone, a machine/brain interface can’t be dropped into the toilet or left behind by accident. That same interface won’t just augment the ability of our brains to access the entire wealth of human knowledge. They’ll allow us to directly stimulate the areas that forge our entire perception of the world around us.

This has huge implications, some more profound than others. For companies like Disney, though, that link will be critical with respect to maintaining its place as a dominant entertainment company. People already pay for powerful experience, be they movies, video games, or a full-body massage at a spa. Disney could simply cut out the middle-men while leveraging its vast library of intellectual property.

Sure, in the future, you could probably pay for fancy experiences like those offered in “Total Recall.” However, if you want an experience that allows you to be a Jedi, an Avenger, or a singing animal, you’ll have to go through Disney and they’ll be happy to sell you that experience for a price.

Every week, you’ll be able to select from a range of intense experiences the same way you navigate your Netflix queue. For some, you don’t need to leave your bed. You just plug a device into your brain and let it go from there. For others, maybe you travel to special venues that function like the holodecks in “Star Trek.” There, you could share the experience with others, making it a communal experience.

Disney would still likely need content-creators to craft those experiences. That means people like George Lucas and Kevin Feige will still have a job in this future. The particulars of those jobs would be very different, but the goal would be the same. They would create experiences and stories that people are willing to pay for.

As unpredictable as the future is, it’s still safe to assume that people are going to want entertainment. Wherever there’s a want, there will be a business willing to provide it. There will be competition. There will be billions, if not trillions, to be made in profits. Not every company around today will survive that competition. Disney, however, is already in the best possible position to thrive.

2 Comments

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, futurism, media issues, movies, Sexy Future, War on Boredom

How And Why It Became Trendy To Hate “The Big Bang Theory”

1488462637_058409_1488464865_noticia_normal

There was once a time in the mid-90s when Hootie and the Blowfish was the hottest band in the world. They’re music was everywhere. You couldn’t listen to the radio for more than five minutes without hearing one of their songs. I didn’t consider myself a huge fan, but I found plenty of their songs catchy and fun. I still have “Hold My Hand” on my phone.

Then, for reasons I still don’t quite understand, it became cool to hate them. Suddenly, admitting that you enjoyed your music was akin to admitting that you did shots of paint thinner to win a five-dollar bet. It got to the point when even “The Simpsonsmade a joke about them in an episode.

The same thing happened to Nickelback in the 2000s. They went through an early period of intense success. Their fourth album, “The Long Road,” sold over five million copies. That’s success that most artists only ever dream of. I even admit I have that album and I love it. Their song, “Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good,” is on my workout playlist.

Then, for reasons that I’d rather not speculate on, it became cool to hate them too. While that hasn’t stopped them from selling over 50 million albums and becoming one of the most successful acts of a decade, it’s still trendy to despise them as everything wrong with music. It doesn’t seem to matter how successful they are. For some strange, esoteric reason, they embody everything wrong with the world.

If I would write that with more sarcasm, I would. However, this piece isn’t about Hootie and the Blowfish or Nickelback. I reference them because they’ve already gone through what’s happening to “The Big Bang Theory” seems to be enduring right now. They’ve risen to the top, defying the odds to achieve a level of success that most can only dream of. Then, it becomes cool to hate them for any number of reasons.

Now, I know I’ve criticized “The Big Bang Theory” before. I’ve cited it as the show that contains one of the worst romances in all of fiction. I don’t deny that it’s brand of humor and reliance on nerdy, socially inept men can be dry at times. That said, I do consider myself a fan of the show.

I watch it regularly. I even laugh at it. It has flaws, but I think the things it does well do plenty to overshadow those flaws. Sheldon is eccentric, but funny. Amy is quirky, but endearing. Howard, while creepy in the early seasons, has really grown up in all the right ways over the years. I would even go so far as to say that the show is worth watching just for Raj Koothrappali.

It’s not the best show on television, but like Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish, there’s no denying its success. It’s been syndicated and regularly ranks as one of the highest rated prime-time shows. Then, somewhere along the way, it became cool to hate the show as much as Nickelback.

You don’t have to look far to find articles of people whining about the show. Even Cracked, a site I often reference, once wrote a scathing article that flat out insulted anyone who dared enjoy the show. This is a direct quote.

Who are you people? The people watching The Big Bang Theory, I mean. Show yourselves. The world demands explanation. I mean that, too. In every way, shape, and form, this is the Justin Bieber of television shows.

I know the internet is full of this kind of trolling, but we’re not talking about snuff films and public crucifixion here. It’s a goddamn TV sitcom. It tries to be funny and entertaining. It doesn’t always work for everyone, but it still works for some. Are those people, which I guess includes me, somehow damaged just for liking this show?

I could probably ask the same of those who enjoy music from Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish. I could even offer a partial answer if I only use the basis of personal taste. That is, after all, what the consumption of all media is, be it music, movies, or TV. You tend to consume what you like. It’s that simple.

However, for an issue like this, there are added complications when something becomes cool to hate. Suddenly, it’s no longer a matter of just liking something different. It’s a matter of having some inherent personal flaw for liking something that has a vocal contingent of critics.

Call those critics whatever you want. Call them hipsters, trolls, or any number of other names that would warrant fines from the FCC. They’re still driven by the same focused outrage that dominates politics, religious disputes, and Overwatch tournaments. The only real question is why a show like “The Big Bang Theory” gets singled out.

It’s a hard question to answer and I’m not qualified to answer it completely. However, I do think something strange happens to movie, TV show, or band when they get so successful and so acclaimed that those who don’t like the show just can’t stop at not watching it.

It’s rare for any show to achieve the kind of success “The Big Bang Theory” has garnered. Success makes a show a bigger target. If shows like “South Park” or “The Simpsons” weren’t so successful, nobody would care how bad some of their jokes were or how controversial a certain character might be.

Some of that might be out of envy. There’s only so much success to go around. The fact “The Big Bang Theory” is so successful means, in the eyes of those who hate it, that it’s robbing success from shows that might be funnier or more worthy of it. Never mind the fact that the humor and worthiness of a show is completely subjective. Fans of that show will see “The Big Bang Theory” as a thief and a fraud.

Like it or not, envy can be a pretty powerful source of emotion. It’s underrated compared to outrage and hate, but still potent in its own right. However, I don’t think that’s the sole reason why “The Big Bang Theory” gets more hate than most prime-time shows that don’t involve CSI spin-offs.

I suspect there’s a deeper reason driving the hatred towards “The Big Bang Theory” that even Nickelback doesn’t have to deal with. I think part of that reason has to do with the archetypes the show uses. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the combination of nerdy, socially awkward young men and a cute ditzy blonde conjures some heated emotional reactions, to say the least.

There’s no doubt that combination is contrived and relies heavily on old stereotypes. Then again, you could say that about a lot of other shows. The fact this one uses nerds and cute blondes, though, just makes it seem more overt. It makes every joke, every plot, and every gag seem cheap or forced.

It makes some of the resentment to the show understandable, but I think that resentment is even more compounded by trends in political correctness. Chief among those trends is a growing aversion to stereotypes. Characters and archetypes once considered inoffensive are now controversial. Jokes that were once just in poor taste are now the source of intense outrage.

Since its inception, “The Big Bang Theory” has relied a lot on stereotypes for its characters and its humor. Like all shows, it exaggerates certain personas. Sheldon Cooper, alone, is a testament to a character whose quirks are taken to a ridiculous extreme.

By relying on these stereotypes, though, it makes itself an even bigger target. Laughing at the show, in the eyes of some, means accepting some of these stereotypes and having the audacity to find them funny. That appears to be the undertone of the Cracked article I cited earlier. It seems to be the undertone of a lot of the hatred the show gets.

Now, I don’t deny that “The Big Bang Theory” can go overboard with cliches and stereotypes. There are a number of episodes in “The Big Bang Theory” that even I find bland. However, for the most part, I still laugh. I still find myself enjoying the story. Even when I can apply some of those stereotypes to myself, I still laugh.

At the end of the day, “The Big Bang Theory” is still just a TV show in the same way Nickelback is just a band. Nobody forces anyone to watch it. It’s easy to just change the channel and watch something else. However, when a show becomes so successful while relying on a premise that is getting more politically incorrect with each passing year, it’s bound to attract criticism and not just from the hipster crowd.

I still enjoy the show and I intend to keep watching it. I also intend to keep all the songs by Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish on my phone for the foreseeable future. If that makes me uncool in the eyes of some, then so be it. To me, it doesn’t matter if something is cool to hate. Petty hate is still petty hate.

I also expect to see plenty more hatred directed at the show for how it treats nerds, women, minorities, and humor. It’s just too successful and too big a target to avoid that kind of scrutiny. In that situation though, as with Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish, sometimes the best you can do is just laugh and enjoy it on your own terms. Bazinga!

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, media issues

Prostitutes, Dirty Jobs, And The (Flawed) Concept Of Degradation

1510761202171

Certain concepts are inherently subjective. Art, beauty, and the extent to which body hair is attractive come to mind. One concept, which isn’t subject to nearly as much scrutiny, is that of degradation. By that, I don’t mean the kind of degradation you see in a car that stays parked in the desert for too long. I’m talking about the kind of degradation we ascribe to certain people, jobs, and lifestyles. Sometimes, they’re all the same thing.

The concept of degradation gets thrown around a lot whenever sex and the sex industry comes up. It also gets thrown around whenever someone talks about a lousy job they’ve had. I’ve shared one such horror story about my first job, complete with depictions of baby vomit. For the sake keeping the discussion concise, I’m going to try and focus on the sexier side of this issue, but only to a point.

The problem with degradation, be it in the adult entertainment industry or the fast food industry, isn’t just with the subjective nature of the idea. It’s the inconsistency with which it’s applied. In some cases, the inconsistency reflects a mix of double standards, generalizations, and assumptions that require mind-reading abilities on a massive scale.

Image result for working at hooters

While degradation has a dictionary definition, there’s no universally-accepted criteria to determine what act, job, or life is truly degrading. It is possible for someone to be happy working as a prostitute, just as it’s possible for someone to be happy working in fast food. Not everyone is going to share that sentiment, but that doesn’t make their happiness any less valid.

When it comes to the adult industry, though, degradation takes on a greater importance. Beyond the misguided crusade to label porn a public health crisis, the frequent criticisms of the industry are often built around how it degrades the people in it and the lives of those who consume it.

Words like objectification and abuse will often get thrown around. They’ll often highlight people who have had bad experiences, as though a single experience is enough to generalize an entire industry. By that logic, every fast food worker was as miserable as I was at my first job and still has nightmares about baby vomit.

Image result for miserable fast food worker

That logic is flawed, but it still gets taken seriously when the adult industry is involved. The stories of those who don’t feel degraded or objectified don’t get told while horror stories of former porn stars and sex workers get pushed to the center of the discussion so that the degradation is on full display to evoke the necessary emotions.

It’s such a common tactic when talking about the sex industry that it’s kind of expected. Nobody is really that surprised when news comes out about a former porn star who suffered horribly. Nobody is surprised when a former prostitute details how terrible and degrading the experience was for them. Never mind the fact that human memory has a nasty tendency to exaggerate. That’s when degradation matters.

However, it’s the situations where degradation isn’t applied that can be just as revealing. While it’s somewhat understandable that the adult industry would be scrutinized more since it involves sex and sex makes people uncomfortable, it also negates the degradation that others experience.

Image result for sex worker

Most of us who have worked menial service jobs at some point in our lives know those experiences well. Fast food workers tend to have more than a few, but those are the most obvious. Think about the people working these jobs and don’t look for reasons why it may be degrading. Think about why we, as a society, don’t consider it as degrading as a sex worker.

A trash collector literally has to touch our trash, no matter how much it smells or leaks. Why is that not considered degrading?

A janitor has to clean up our messes for minimal pay and no gratitude. Why is that not considered degrading?

A factory worker has to stand on an assembly line around dangerous machinery, functioning as an easily-replaceable cog in much larger enterprise. Why is that not considered degrading?

A bartender has to serve drinks to obnoxious customers, listen to them whine, and deal with occasional bar fights. Why is that not considered degrading?

Image result for men in coal mines

There’s a long list of jobs out there with varying degrees of degradation. From interns to cashiers, they all have plenty of potential for degrading experiences. Whether it’s from the work itself or the managers who make the work miserable, there’s plenty of degradation to go around. However, it only seems to matter when sex and women are involved.

To put the inanity of that concept into perspective, consider this. Earlier this year, five porn stars died and that was major news. Granted, that is quite an anomaly given that deaths within the porn industry are extremely rare. However, when compared to other industries that are more dangerous and degrading, it’s not news at all.

In 2016, over 100 people died working in the roofing industry and nearly 1,000 died working in the trucking industry. These aren’t injuries, social stigma, or bad press. This is death, by far the most serious kind of degradation. These are also industries where the majority of the workforce doesn’t consist of beautiful women and doesn’t give some the potential to strike it rich.

Image result for Jenna Jameson

Again, and I know this question is already getting old for some people, why is that not considered degrading? The entire concept seems to break down when you see it being reserved for a specific class of people within a specific kind of industry. The fact that the class consists primarily of beautiful women is not a coincidence.

When it involves men putting their lives at risk to make a living, it’s not degrading. It’s just work. When it involves women having sex for money, though, it’s degrading. It’s as though no woman could possibly want to get paid to have sex without being degraded. It’s as though every woman’s mind is so fragile that they cannot possibly understand the risks and must be protected from it.

That last part was sarcasm, by the way. I’ll give every woman a moment to stop fuming, but it’s something that should concern them, if only because it treats them like children who can’t make decisions for themselves. Whether it’s radical, anti-porn feminists or uptight religious zealots, the idea that women are so easily degraded should be insulting to any woman who values their sense of autonomy.

Image result for degrading work

It should be just as insulting to the men who work jobs that don’t involve sex, but are far more dangerous, both in terms of risk and degradation. If one entire industry is going to be condemned on the basis of degradation, but not apply to others, then that’s not just illogical. It’s downright asinine.

It just becomes another excuse to whine about an industry where people have sex in ways that might make priests, rabbis, mullahs, and monks uncomfortable. It also becomes an excuse to overlook the danger and toil that people endure in other industries, just to make a living.

In the end, it’s insulting to men, women, and everything in between. There are serious issues in any industry, regardless of whether or not naked people are involved. However, if degradation is only going to apply to one special class of sex work, then that should reveal just how empty it truly is.

9 Comments

Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in society, sexuality