Tag Archives: Pop Culture

How Ellie From “The Last Of Us” Does LGBT Characters Right

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In the current state of popular culture, one of the most emotionally-charged words is “diversity.” It gets thrown around like a nuclear hot potato. Anyone who holds it too long gets burned and anyone who doesn’t hold it long enough gets attacked. Whether it’s the handling of female characters or representation of minorities, diversity is one of those buzzwords that creates the wrong kind of buzz.

That’s not to say that it’s always mishandled. From a pure business standpoint, it makes sense for media companies to pursue diversity because the world is becoming an increasingly diverse place. New markets and consumer bases are emerging as people gain greater access to media, thanks largely to global connectivity. Any competent business would want to appeal to the most customers possible.

Economics aside, injecting diversity into a movie, TV, comic book, or video game is fraught with challenges and potential backlash. Movies have felt it. Comic books have felt it. Video games have especially felt it, thanks to scandals that seem to get more frustrating with each passing year.

The number of failed attempts to promote diversity is vast and tends to bring out the worst in many people. The successes, though, often fly under the radar and generate way too little attention. Other than the success ofBlack Panther” and the occasional Supergirl comic, the cases of diversity done right are few and far between.

That’s why I think it’s fitting that one of the best cases of diversity comes from the world of video games, an industry that finds itself in a new controversy every other week. It’s even more fitting that it comes courtesy of “The Last of Us,” a franchise I’ve praised before in how it portrays masculinity in a refreshingly positive way.

Beyond just being an excellent game with amazing characters, it also provides a case study in how diversity can be done effectively. It doesn’t have to be forced. It doesn’t have to be preachy. It doesn’t even have to have a larger agenda. It can just be a bonus on top of a well-made product.

The character in question this time is Ellie, the co-protagonist to Joel in the first game and the main protagonist in the upcoming sequel. Her story is every bit as rich and compelling as Joel’s. Her history, her personality, and even the way she complements the gameplay helps make her distinct. She’s a major reason why this game is so enjoyable and why it sold so well.

She achieved all this as both a female and an LGBT character. It sounds like one of those combinations that has to be forced, but that’s not the case with Ellie. In fact, anyone who plays the entire story of the first game wouldn’t even know about Ellie’s sexuality because it was only revealed through a DLC , or downloadable content.

Even within that content, though, Ellie’s sexual orientation was not a big part of the story it told. It effectively filled in a time gap within the main game while also exploring more of Ellie’s backstory, but at no point did it make her sexuality a bigger issue than it needed to be. You could’ve removed that detail entirely and the story would still work, but it wouldn’t be quite as memorable.

More recently, during a preview of “The Last of Us Part II” at E3 2018, Ellie’s status as a homosexual woman was reaffirmed. Again, it wasn’t critical to making the moment work. The fact she’s attracted to other women doesn’t take anything away from the emotional weight of the scene. It does help enhance it, though.

Therein lies the key. What makes Ellie a great character has nothing to do with her sexuality. It’s not a defining aspect of her persona, nor should it be. It defines her no more than Joel’s heterosexuality defines him. It doesn’t have to be thrown in someone’s face as this huge, all-encompassing feature. It’s just a small part of a much greater whole that is Ellie.

There’s no effort to make her this LGBT icon, which has a tendency obscure a character when forced. Her status as LGBT isn’t belabored, either. She’s not important to the overall narrative in “The Last of Us” because she’s female and gay. She’s important because of factors independent of those traits.

That importance grows throughout the story, but not because of her gender or her sexuality. It’s what she does that helps establish her as an important character and a compelling one, at that. Her story complements Joel’s and the various other characters she encounters.

In the process, she also demonstrates a unique personality. She’s tough and stubborn, but she’s also impulsive and temperamental. Many of those qualities are entirely gender-neutral. Some stand out more because she’s a woman and that’s okay because a girl acting girly isn’t a big deal, which tends to get lost with other female characters.

It may seem so obvious, but the fact that diversity in media is such an issue shows just how difficult it is to pursue. Ellie succeeds because the diversity she represents is never primary to her character. It’s not even secondary, either. That’s not to say her gender and her sexuality are ignored, but it’s never elevated beyond a certain point.

Before any of those diversity-related issues come up, “The Last of Us” works to establish who Ellie is and why she’s important. That process of establishing a good, compelling character without her gender or sexuality being the focal point does a lot to get you to care about her story. It’s a process that can’t be rushed and the game does a masterful job in that respect.

The person Ellie is when you first encounter her early in the game is not the same person by the end. She’s someone who undergoes a lot of growth, encountering more than a few setbacks along the way. There are times she’s easy to root for. There are times when she comes off as an arrogant brat. Before you ever find out about her sexuality, you learn about her as a person.

By the time her sexuality finally comes up, Ellie is already so much more than the gender she’s attracted to. She’s a survivor, a fighter, and someone who has seen everyone she’s ever cared about die or leave her until Joel comes along. She also has a vital part to play in the ongoing apocalypse the world around her faces. All of this, once again, is not dependent on her gender or her sexuality.

I know I keep belaboring that, but it’s worth belaboring because that aspect of character development keeps getting glossed over. Other efforts at diverse characters often rush to the diversity without establishing why anyone should care about them. It’s why all-female remakes rarely resonate. It also leads to characters whose diversity is so blatant that it’s hard to take them seriously.

That’s not to say Ellie is a perfect example of diversity done right. She has her flaws, as does Joel. There are times when she’s too tough for her own good. She has a tendency to push peoples’ buttons for the wrong reasons. She also has questionable tastes in jokes. Even proponents of diversity can find flaws in her.

Despite those flaws, there are many lessons that characters like Ellie and games like “The Last of Us” can teach when it comes to doing diversity and LGBT representation right. The most important can be boiled down to four basic components:

  • Don’t try and force diversity just to fill a quota
  • Develop the character before developing the diversity
  • Don’t make their status as a woman or LGBT their most defining trait
  • Have the character complement their supporting cast, regardless of their diversity status

There are probably many more lessons that I’m not qualified to teach, but I think characters like Ellie do plenty by just being memorable and endearing. She’s a great character within a great story. That wouldn’t change if she were straight, but her being a lesbian does help her stand out, albeit for all the right reasons.

It’s also worth noting that Ellie’s story is still ongoing. “The Last of Us Part II” is set to come out in 2019 and the next part of her story promises to get pretty dark. Whether she maintains the complexity and appeal of her current character remains to be seen, but she has a strong foundation to build on, which is key for any character, regardless of their sexual preferences.

Whether we like it or not, there’s a lot of animosity between both sides, there more diversity in future media because the world is a diverse place. It’s just a matter of going about it in a meaningful, compelling way. Ellie is an example of how an LGBT character can work and when done right, it works pretty damn well.

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Filed under gender issues, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, video games

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

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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!

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The Mixed (And Misguided) Messages Of All-Female Movie Remakes

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There are some topics that I really want to comment on, but the rhetoric surrounding it are so hostile and so controversial that I feel like any comment I make will put way too big a target on my back. Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who has talked about issues like abortionreligious extremism, and Wonder Woman’s BDSM origins.

In general, if I want to contribute to the conversation, I try to wait until the heat dies down and the Twitter bans subside. Sometimes, that takes a long time, so much so that I’m tempted to just drop the issue altogether. For this one, though, I think there’s no use waiting because it’s a trend now and the controversies associated with it are here to stay.

It seems so long ago now, but when I first heard that there would be a new “Ghostbusters” movie with an all-female cast, I was genuinely intrigued. I was not among those who thought this was the worst idea ever and that this was somehow ruining my childhood, as some upset fans had claimed.

Maybe it’s because I’m not as big a Ghostbusters fan as I am an X-men fan, but I didn’t mind the novel/gimmicky approach that director Paul Feig attempted. The long-rumored Ghostbusters 3 wasn’t happening. The original cast couldn’t get it off the ground and Bill “Peter Venkman” Murray had made clear that he had no interest in reprising his role. Why not try something different to reinvigorate the franchise?

It could’ve been a bold new approach to Ghostbusters. A fresh take, a new cast, and an infusion of female-centered star power could’ve really kick-started a whole new trend, one that both elevated long-dormant franchises and expanded the role of female characters, a trend that had already begun.

Then, the trailer came out and those possibilities became much more remote. While I, personally, didn’t despise it, I was considerably less intrigued. The fact that the trailer went onto become the most disliked trailer in the history of YouTube speaks volumes for how poorly this otherwise-novel concept came off.

I had originally intended to see the movie when it came out. Then, as new clips came out and I got a sense of how the story would unfold, I decided not to. When it finally came out on cable, I tried watching it. I ended up changing the channel. It’s not that I hated the movie. It just had none of the appeal I’d hoped.

I know that’s somewhat petty considering the many controversies the movie generated, complete with sexism, racism, and everything else that sets the internet ablaze these days. As soon as professional trolls like Milo Yiannopoulos got involved, I saw that as a sign that this was one of those controversies that would transcend movies for all the wrong reasons.

I don’t know if enough time has passed for the animosity to settle, but in reflecting on the controversies of “Ghostbusters,” I feel the time is right to confront it. Regardless of whether it succeeded or failed, it effectively kick-started the idea of all-female remakes. That’s an idea that I think still has merit, but the approach and overall message of “Ghostbusters” make clear that the Hollywood still hasn’t figured it out.

In a sense, the problem with “Ghostbusters” is similar to the ongoing problems with strong female characters in general. From the parts I saw, the approach to that movie was shallow and crass in that it painted nearly every male supporting character a bumbling idiot in need of female guidance. This was especially true of Kevin, the dim-witted secretary played by Chris Hemsworth.

I get that some of that approach was an effort to inject the kind of humor that made the original Ghostbusters so funny and memorable, but it really fell flat, almost to an insulting degree. It reinforced the notion men somehow need to be denigrated or taken down a peg for female characters to be strong.

While it didn’t offend me, personally, it certainly undermined the story. A world full of idiot men isn’t that bad. That’s a huge part of the appeal for shows like “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.” However, that kind of appeal doesn’t fit with that of Ghostbusters.

Beyond just making all the men seem like idiots, the way in which the all-female cast brought little nuance to their roles. They were just four women pasted into four roles previously played by men. That’s it. They brought nothing new to the table. I say that as someone who really likes Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones, but I know they’re capable of far more than they gave in this movie.

If the intent was to show that women could work these roles just as well as men, then that’s the wrong goal, especially for a franchise as beloved as Ghostbusters. That effort denigrates both men and women because it doesn’t send the message that they’re equals. It sends the message that they’re interchangeable, disposable, and not the least bit unique.

The original cast of Ghostbusters had unique, quirky personalities that were memorable and iconic. The all-female cast had some of that, especially Leslie Jones’ character, but not nearly enough. Too much of it was built around the persona these actresses had already established in other roles. They really didn’t do anything to set themselves apart other than fill a role once held by a man.

That can’t be the only thing an all-female cast brings to the table. Just being women cannot and should not be enough to carry a story or revitalize a franchise. It’s true that men and women have various character archetypes, some of which are more distinct than others, but there has to be room for innovation.

Great female characters like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Rey from “Star Wars,” or Sarah Conner from “The Terminator,” do a lot more than just do things men usually do while being women. They’re allowed to exercise their feminine traits every now and then. The all-female cast of Ghostbusters never got that chance. They tried too hard to be like the originals and it just didn’t work.

I won’t say that “Ghostbusters” utterly ruined the concept of remaking movies with an all-female casts. The movie wasn’t that bad. It just didn’t do nearly enough to make it really good. It didn’t kill a genre like “Batman and Robin” almost did with superhero movies. It does count as a setback, though.

It’s one I hope Hollywood learns from because, at the moment, there are similar movies in development. The latest, which I admit I’m also intrigued by, is “Ocean’s 8.” Unlike “Ghostbusters,” it’s not a complete remake and it doesn’t try to replace the entire cast of “Ocean’s Eleven.” It’s following a similar narrative, but using an all-female cast to tell the story.

While this franchise isn’t as iconic as “Ghostbusters,” it’s still bound to cause plenty of controversy and heated debates on sexism. However, based on the trailer, I’m intrigued once more. I know that burned me last time, but I’m still willing to give it a chance.

I still believe that all-female casts, even for non-remakes of major movie franchises, have great potential. Women do make up half the population, last I checked. They have plenty of stories to tell. If “Ocean’s 8” can succeed where “Ghostbusters” failed, then that can revitalize the concept. As Hollywood has shown before, it only needs to work once to start a trend.

I believe the concept will succeed once these movies stop trying to troll certain audiences and focus on building new perspectives within a story. The perspective of women is supposed to complement that of men, not subvert it. If a movie can succeed in that, then it can truly appeal to everyone.

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Filed under gender issues, Movie Reviews, sex in media, sexuality

Five TV Shows That Could NEVER Be Made Today (Thanks To Political Correctness)

It’s amazing how much our culture can change in such a short period of time, relatively speaking. It wasn’t that long ago that mixed-race couples were considered scandalous, depicting a toilet on a TV show was taboo, and Bill Cosby was a respectable public figure. Whether it’s decades, years, or just a few weeks, things can change quickly.

That change, however, isn’t always logical or in the right direction. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out the appeal of fidget spinners. While I like to think that most change in society is progress, I don’t deny there are instances where we all take a step backwards and sometimes fall on our asses.

This brings me TV, an undeniable catalyst for cultural change. For more than a half-century now, TV shaped, re-shaped, and upended our culture in all sorts of ways. From Elvis’ scandalous hips to the rise of music videos to shows like “Breaking Bad,” TV has been a force for better, for worse, and for just pure entertainment value.

There have been any number of shows, specials, and moments from TV that have come to define our culture. However, there are some shows that, if they happened today, would generate a very different response than they did when they first aired.

I’m not just talking about shock value or controversy either. I mean that if some these shows debuted in the current year, they would generate the kind of outrage, whining, and protests that flood social media and spur the kinds of debates that can only ever end with someone comparing someone lese to Nazis.

These are sensitive times for reasons I don’t think I have to articulate. We’ve made progress in some ways, but may be regressing in others. Some blame feminism. Some blame toxic masculinity. Some blame greed, bigotry, or political correctness. Some even blame the illuminati, but that may be pushing it.

Everyone seems to see something wrong in the culture of the past and the present. Everyone likes to blame someone or something different. More often than not, it’s a confluence of forces that make certain TV shows of the past ill-fit for the present.

Some of that is due to seriously outdated views and stereotypes. It’s entirely understandable why those shows would never work today. Most sensible people wouldn’t argue that. There are some shows, however, that would generate enormous outrage for petty, asinine reasons.

What follows is a list of classic TV shows that, whether due to content, style, or theme, would never air today. It would just be too controversial and not necessarily for the right reasons. It may reflect a lot about the sensitive nature of our culture today, but in many respects, it also shows just how erratic our collective tastes can be.


“All In The Family”

This one should be pretty obvious. “All In The Family” was already controversial in its day. It subverted the whole idea that a father figure in a sitcom should be respectable, upstanding, and just. Archie Bunker is none of those things and the show was memorable because of it.

Much of the show was built around Archie being a bigot, but a lovable bigot. In this day and age, that sounds like an oxymoron. At the time though, the early to mid 1970s to be precise, it worked for the same reason Sheldon Cooper works in “The Big Bang Theory.” You can be an asshole in a sitcom, but you can still be lovable.

Unlike Sheldon Cooper, though, making Archie’s bigotry lovable today is next to impossible without making him a B-list villain in a Tyler Perry movie. In nearly every episode, he says a line that would’ve caused legions of anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-bigot crowds everywhere to erupt on social media. Anyone who even pretended to laugh at that show would be crucified as a Nazi sympathizer.

Beyond Archie Bunker’s bigotry, though, the overall themes of the show would be enough to make it too controversial for TV. The show routinely mentions “the good old days.” Today, though, that idea has been taken to mean the days when people could be assholes to minorities and get away with it. However anyone may feel about the show or its message, it just would just cause too many shit storms to air today.


“South Park”

I know this seems odd because “South Park” is still on the air, having just completed its 21st season. However, even long-time fans of the show can probably appreciate why it should be on this list, especially when you consider how different the show was in its early days.

Even back in the late 90s, this show generated more than its share of controversy for its vulgarity, profanity, and tendency to kill Kenny every episode. It’s the finer details of those controversies, though, that ensure the “South Park” we saw in those earlier seasons could never air today.

Eric Cartman alone would’ve made the show too controversial. Like Archie Bunker, his overt racism, anti-Semitism, and attitudes towards the poor would’ve triggered plenty of outrage. Add depictions of sacred religious icons and characters like Big Gay Al to the mix and the show wouldn’t have made it past the first episode.

The fact that “South Park” is still on the air is less a testament to its staying power and more a testament to its ability to adapt. It is not the same show it was when it debuted in that it doesn’t confront controversy the same way it used to. Even with that adaptation, it still couldn’t debut today, not with someone like Eric Cartman on the cast.


“Two And A Half Men”

This is another show that ended in 2012, which isn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. Even so, a lot has changed since “Two and a Half Men” debuted in 2003 and not just with respect to Charlie Sheen’s public persona. In terms of the premise and structure of the show, it could never air today without generating way too much backlash.

This is one of those shows that would enrage both feminists and men’s rights activists, alike. Beyond Charlie Harper’s blatant womanizing, treating nearly every female character a disposable sex toy, there’s also his overly emasculated brother, Alan. In addition to having an ex-wife who routinely screws him over, Alan is needy, submissive, and constantly mooching off of everyone around him.

Even by beta-male standards, Alan Harper is an affront to any man with any measure of self-respect, just as Charlie is an affront to any woman with a shred of feminist inclinations. Granted, that didn’t stop the show from being funny. I admit I loved this show while it was on, even after Charlie Sheen got replaced by Ashton Kutcher. However, its brand of humor would just never work if it aired today.

That says nothing about the depiction of the dim-witted kid, Jake Harper. His depiction would come off as more tragic than lovable than it did in 2003. In terms of the sheer volume of people this show would offend in the current year, “Two and a Half Men” is in a league of its own.


“Baywatch”

First off, I need to make clear that I’m not referring to the sub-par movie that never should’ve been made in the first place. I’m referring to the original “Baywatch” TV show that debuted in 1989, much to the joy of straight heterosexual males everywhere. The show, with its premise built around beautiful women in bikinis and David Hasselhoff’s chest hair, had plenty of appeal.

That appeal is still there today. There’s always appeal for beautiful women and manly men. However, these days it’s become distressingly taboo to admire beautiful women in any capacity that isn’t associated with Wonder Woman movies. We’re at a point where just looking at a beautiful woman is considered harassment by some people.

It’s for that reason that “Baywatch” would never work today. I can already imagine the various angry protests it would incur. People will claim the show contributes to female objectification, rape culture, toxic masculinity, and all sorts of buzzwords meant to make anyone feel guilty for committing the terrible sin of admiring a beautiful woman.

I’ve made clear how absurd this trend is. However, I don’t see it changing anytime soon. As a result, “Baywatch” would just be way too controversial and would probably draw the ire of every feminist or uptight religious zealot with internet access. It’s sad that this world would deny us a show that so nicely depicts Pamela Anderson’s bouncing breasts, but that’s the world we live in.


“Married With Children”

Once again, this show finds a way to be relevant on this site. I’ve mentioned it before in breaking down other topics. I’ll probably mention it again because it touches on so many important aspects of men, women, and family life. Despite that relevance, there’s no denying that “Married With Children” could never be made today.

The list of people this show offended, beyond the angry woman that tried to get it canceled, is as vast as it is comprehensive. This show cracked jokes about women, teenagers, marriage, genitals, animals, fat people, minorities, transsexuals, homosexuals, and pretty much every other minority group you can imagine.

It cracked these jokes in the backdrop of a sitcom that went out of its way to subvert every feel-good family drama that ever existed, so much so that it was originally called “Not The Cosbys.” In many respects, “Married With Children” went even further than “South Park” and “Two and a Half Men” in crafting a sitcom around every offensive trope in the book. It did this with a bravado and glee that you can’t help but respect.

That kind of antipathy to everything that’s supposed to make a sitcom endearing is a big part of what made “Married With Children” so successful. It came along at just the right time to subvert existing trends in TV, creating characters and icons that were raw, unfiltered, and offensive. That timing is also why it could never be made today.

Between the fat jokes, Al joking about shooting his wife, and Kelly Bundy being a stereotypical dumb blond, “Married With Children” would find a way to upset everyone. However, I still think those same upset people would laugh at the show. It was just that funny. It’s a big part of why the show still ranks as one of my personal favorites.

Even if “Married With Children” could never be made today, it still reflects an attitude that I think many people feel whenever anyone gets upset over a TV show. In a sense, it serves as the model for how a show can be so offensive, yet so funny. The fact we’ll probably never see anything like it again makes it all the more special.

 

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My Top 5 Favorite Fan Theories

There are many guilty pleasures on the internet these days, although only a few require a total clearing of your browser history. I don’t deny enjoying some of those pleasures, but there is one in particular that I’ve grown fond of in recent years. It’s one of the few that requires extra thinking, but in a fun, non-tedious sort of way.

I’m referring about fan theories, also known as the biggest chunk of Reddit that doesn’t involve celebrities answering random questions about their genitals. Now, I didn’t realize how much I loved fan theories until I started exploring them. Like pumpkin spice lattes, they’re one of those strange novelties you don’t know you like until you try them.

I didn’t even know they were a thing until Cracked.com started doing articles about them. I was among those who didn’t bother reading too much into a TV show, movie, or song. I just took them in, singled out the ones that had beautiful women in bikinis, and enjoyed the extra butter in my popcorn. Fan theories inspired me to dig a little deeper and sometimes, it can change the overall experience for the better.

Granted, some fan theories are going to be much more absurd than others, as many “Game of Thrones” fans will attest. Some are so absurd that creators have to come out and shoot it down, as a “Friends” co-creator had to do when a theory involving Phoebe and meth-fueled fantasies gained popularity. Yes, these theories can get that crazy.

Sure, those crazier fan theories are good for a laugh, but I prefer fan theories that add nuance and depth to the story. Even if they require a few contrivances here and there, I find that they enhance the overall impact of the narrative. Sometimes, they can even clarify some ambiguous plot points.

As a general fan of stories that have impact, both in the heart and in the loins, there are certain fan theories that resonate with me more than others. That’s why I’d like to list my top five favorite fan theories and why I think they improve the overall story. If nothing else, I hope it gets people to watch a little closer at the media they consume. They may surprise themselves by how a little imagination can add to the experience.


Fan Theory #1: James Bond Is A Title, Not A Name

This fan theory is beautiful in its simplicity. It doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination. If anything, it helps connect a few dots that you didn’t even know where there. No matter which version of James Bond you prefer, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, this theory fits into it.

The concept is simple. James Bond, like the 007 designation itself, isn’t the name of an actual person. It’s a title. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every James Bond movie ever made fits into the same continuity. It just means James Bond is less a person and more a concept.

He represents the epitome of a spy, a badass, and a smooth-talking ladies man. In every era, from the Cold War to today, there’s a need for men like that. James Bond represents the ideal for those men. Like Navy Seals, only a few have what it takes. Those select few earn the right to go by that name that makes women of all eras swoon. I find that inherently poetic.

If you subscribe to this theory, it even enhances other movies. It ties directly into a theory about the movie, “The Rock,” and somehow it makes Sean Connery even more badass. The sheer reach of this theory is part of why it’s my favorite.


Fan Theory #2: Stan Lee Is The Watcher

As a die-hard comic book fan, which I’ve made clear on many occasions, this theory is near and dear to my heart, if only because it further immortalizes the legend that is Stan “The Man” Lee.

As anyone who has seen a Marvel movie since 2000 knows, Stan Lee often appears as a cameo in every movie. From a hot dog vendor in “X2: X-men United” to a Fed Ex guy in “Captain America: Civil War,” he seems to pop up everywhere, regardless of which studio owns the movie rights.

Well, this fan theory takes those appearances and turns them into something more than just a fun gimmick. It says that Stan is actually playing the same character in all his appearances, namely that of Uatu, The Watcher. Those who know Marvel lore understand why this is a big deal and why it makes so much sense.

The Watcher is like a cosmic historian, documenting and cataloging every major event in the Marvel universe, going back to the beginning. He’s been known to change appearance and show up unexpectedly throughout the comics. Who better encapsulates that spirit other than Stan “The Man” Lee?

This is actually one of those theories that became so popular that it was effectively confirmed in “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2” wherein Stan Lee is shown interacting with the Watchers. It could mean that this theory might expand the breadth of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, a feat that only Stan himself could hope to accomplish.


Fan Theory #3: R2-D2 And Chewbacca Are Secret Rebel Agents

I don’t deny it. I’ve seen every Star Wars movie to date in the theaters and I love every one of them, Jar Jar Binks notwithstanding. I know there’s a popular Jar Jar fan theory that helps make “The Phantom Menace” somewhat more interesting, but I don’t think it does much to enhance the overall saga.

That’s why this theory about R2-D2 and Chewbacca is much more intriguing. It claims that at the end of “Revenge of the Sith,” R2 did not get its memory wiped. Why would it? It witnessed the rise of the Empire and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. That’s very useful information for the future rebellion.

However, R2 and anyone else associated with the old Jedi order needs to lay low once Palpatine comes to power. That’s where Chewbacca comes in, who already established a relationship with Yoda in “Revenge of the Sith.” By becoming an agent of Yoda and the rebels, he can coordinate with R2 to spread intel among the rebellion right under the Empire’s nose.

It also explains how he ended up with Han Solo, a smuggler who constantly annoys the empire with his criminal activities. By being on Tattooine, he can keep an eye on Luke along with Obi-Wan while relaying intel.

More than any other theory, it provides connective tissue between the prequels and the sequels. It also makes R2 even more lovable, which in and of itself is quite an accomplishment.


Fan Theory #4: Andy’s Parents Are Going Through (A Nasty) Divorce

Honestly, who doesn’t love “Toy Story?” I question the emotional health of anyone who doesn’t. It’s such a fun, upbeat story full of heart and emotion. It helped make Pixar the gold standard for animated movies that make adults cry like children.

Well, get some tissues because this fan theory makes “Toy Story” just a little bit more emotional, if you can believe that. It helps make sense of why Andy is so imaginative, preferring to play with toys for hours on end in his room. The answer is simple, but solemn. His parents are going through a nasty divorce.

While there’s nothing in the movies that directly hint at it, the absence of Andy’s father is somewhat telling. Some eagle-eyed fans have even pointed out that Andy’s mother isn’t wearing a wedding ring. That hints that there’s something amiss in his home life. Either Andy’s father left his family or he got kicked out of the house. It also explains why the family was moving in the first movie.

I like this theory because it adds some context to Andy’s home life. It makes me understand why he loves his toys so much. He creates these wonderful worlds in his mind to escape and cope with a tough situation. Compared to what he could’ve done, I think it’s both healthy and refreshing.


Fan Theory #5: The Dinosaurs In “Jurassic Park” Are NOT Dinosaurs

The appeal of “Jurassic Park” is pretty easy to understand. In terms of summer blockbusters, it checks all the right boxes. It involves cute kids, running from monsters, and wondrous imagery that doesn’t entirely rely on CGI. It’s so wondrous that you don’t care that the dinosaurs in that movie look nothing like actual dinosaurs and the science behind making them is impossible in the real world.

That’s why this fan theory is so compelling because it adds an extra layer to that wonder. Simply put, Jurassic Park has no dinosaurs. All those creatures you see in every movie aren’t based on any actual creatures that once lived. They were all genetically engineered to simply look like what people think are dinosaurs.

While that may help make sense of why the creatures in the movies don’t resemble anything we see in the fossil record, it adds an even greater amount of intrigue to “Jurassic Park” because it gives Dr. Hammond a more subtle motivation. Why would he even ask a couple of paleontologist to visit his park in the first place?

This theory gives a more clear-cut answer in that Hammond knew that if he could fool a couple of paleontologists, then he knew he was onto something. He could call the creatures in his park dinosaurs instead of some zoo for genetic monstrosities. Remember, he wants to appeal to family and kids.

This theory, like the Stan Lee/Watcher theory, actually got some level of confirmation in “Jurassic World.” In that movie, Dr. Henry Wu flat out says that “there are no dinosaurs in Jurassic World.” Everything was engineered to up the spectacle. It’s one of those theories that makes too much sense, but in a good way.

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Villains vs. Anti-Heroes: There IS A Difference

Go to any message boards for comic books, movies, TV shows, or Twilight fan fiction and you’ll hear any number of twisted interpretations of certain characters. Everybody has their own opinions, but let’s face it. Some go out of their way to melt their own brain in an effort to interpret a character in a particular way.

Talk to certain Harry Potter fans and you’ll find takes on Voldermort that are creepier than all the clown makeup and anime porn in the world. As a noted comic book fan, I’ve certainly had my share of twisted interpretations, as well as heated debates on message boards. I understand that these debates are about as productive as spitting into the ocean in hopes of causing a flood, but it also reveals how broad our interpretations can be.

I bring this up because in my many discussions about evil, villains, and recent trends in villains, I knew there was going to be one major complication to this discussion that was sure to piss off certain fans of certain characters. Given how much time and effort some people put into dressing up as certain characters, that’s not an anger to take lightly.

For many of my discussions about Walter White from “Breaking Bad,” I referred to him as a villain. I even fit his narrative into the context of the “Villain’s Journey.” When I watch Breaking Bad and assess the story, I believe Walter White to be a villain.

I did this knowing that there’s a sizable chunk of Breaking Bad fans that refuse to label him as such. To these fans, and they’re not entirely misguided in their assessment, they see Walt as an anti-hero. They see what he did and why he did it as not being fit for a true villain. Never mind the problem with calling any villain “true” in the era of “alternative facts,” it’s not an unreasonable position.

Walter White is not Dr. Doom or Lex Luthor. He’s not Wolverine or Dirty Harry either. There are any number of debates fans can have, and there have been many, on this issue. I don’t want to have them all. My blog, if not the entire internet, simply isn’t big enough for that debate.

However, if I’m going to talk about villains like Walter White, Magneto, and Dr. Doom, I need to address the influence of anti-heroes. I hope to do another more in depth exploration of anti-heroes in a future post, but for now, I’ll keep it in the context of how they relate to villains.

First off, I think I need to make clear that villains and anti-heroes are not the same. Granted, they can be easy to confuse, but they are very different in terms of narrative, motivation, and personality. It’s possible for an anti-hero to be a complete asshat and still be heroic, as Wolverine regularly proves. It’s also possible for a villain to be endearing, as Freddy Krueger movies regularly prove.

So what’s the difference? What sets an anti-hero apart from a villain? Well, it doesn’t help that the definition of an anti-hero is somewhat vague. Even Wikipedia struggles to answer it. The simplest definition it offers is this:

An antihero, or antiheroine, is a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, or morality.

It’s not overly ambiguous, but it’s lacking in that it uses what a character lacks to define them. Unless you’re diagnosing personality disorders, that’s just not sufficient. Anti-heroes are as old as Ancient Greece, Don Quixote, and a time when Clint Eastwood actually had a successful acting career. By any measure, this concept does have roots.

Being a comic book fan, there are plenty of anti-heroes occupying my list of favorite characters. Wolverine is probably the most notable, but there are many others like the Punisher, the Hulk, Deadpool, and John Constantine. Some of these characters, like Deadpool, go out of their way to make clear that they’re not a hero. However, they do have some distinct qualities that set them apart from villains.

Anti-Heroes, especially those in superhero comics, still battle injustice in a larger world, just like traditional heroes. They fight criminals. They protect the innocent. They’ll even save the world from an invading alien army. The main difference is they’re just more willing to be assholes about it.

While most sane people have an innate aversion to assholes, we are willing to overlook a certain amount of assholery if it serves the greater good. Aristotle might have been a racist, anti-woman, douche-bag by most standards, but his contribution to western civilization was pretty damn important for our progress as a species.

There is a limit to just how much douche-baggery we’ll tolerate for an anti-hero, but core sentiment of the character remains. They still want to help others. They still want to save the day. They still, and this is critical, will do the right thing even if it doesn’t serve their best interests.

It’s that last quality that helps unblur the lines between villain and anti-hero. When faced with a chance to do the right thing or do something that’s self-serving, an anti-hero will most often do the right thing. They may be a total dick about it. They may even kill, destroy, or cuss like a hung over Quentin Tarantino. They’ll still do the right thing.

A villain will, at the end of the day, mostly favor the decisions that serve their interests. At the moment in the comics, Lex Luthor is a member of the Justice League and Dr. Doom is the new Iron Man. It’s a long story as to how this happened, and some of those stories are pretty damn awesome, but the sentiment of the characters is still the same.

Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom are being heroes because it still serves their interests. It’s not about doing the right thing for them. They may claim they want to redeem themselves, but that’s really not that altruistic when you think about it. They want to be perceived as heroes. They want to have that kind of adulation. On some levels, it’s inherently selfish.

Compare that to Wolverine or Deadpool. They couldn’t give two whiffs of a wet fart about how they’re perceived. They still do things their own way and their decisions aren’t always self-serving.

By this standard, Walter White is far more in line with a villain. He let Jane, Jesse’s girlfriend, die rather than save her when he had the chance. He poisoned a little kid as part of an elaborate plan to take down a rival. There are all self-serving decisions. These are, by most measures, morally abhorrent. That’s what makes him a villain and that’s what sets villains apart from anti-heroes.

I understand there are still arguments to be made about Walter White’s status as a villain and an anti-hero. I’ll save those arguments for another post. In the end, it’s still somewhat easy to confuse villains and anti-heroes. However, when you break down their character and what motivates them, the line isn’t as blurred as we think.

There’s a place for villains. There’s a place for anti-heroes. I imagine there will be plenty of debates about which is which and who is who, but it’s these very conflicts that help bring out the best and, necessarily, the worst in these characters.

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Love Or Obsession: Pop Music First Edition

Any form of media can seem innocent if presented in a cheery, upbeat form. You could probably present tax law and traffic tickets in a positive light if you just used a combination of boy bands, catchy tunes, and bland lyrics ripped from a Hallmark greeting card.

It’s an odd quirk of human psychology. If music is upbeat and catchy enough, we tend not to care what the lyrics say or what the song implies. Musicians like Van Morrison and Bob Dylan built entire careers on this quirk. Nobody can say it’s wrong because it really works. You can’t complain too much about the flaws in our brain wiring when it works so damn well.

If, however, you can dig beyond to upbeat tone and catchy lyrics, which is a pretty big if in many cases, you may find the contents of these songs can be a bit off. There are near infinite amounts of songs flowing through the various channels of media. A good chunk of those songs involve love, sex, and the pursuit of both, sometimes to distressing degrees.

Now I admit I’ve patronized many of these songs. My smartphone is full of sappy love songs, sexy dance songs, and gangsta rap that glorifies the female ass as if it were a holy relic. I love music and I’ll even dance to it, although it usually takes a certain amount of alcohol consumption. I think many of us are guilty of that in some form, sober or otherwise, at some point in our lives.

However you feel about the kind of bubblegum pop music that has been making teenage girls scream and teenage boys horny for decades, there’s no denying its impact on pop culture. It’s a part of our society. It’s a part of our lives. Hell, some of us may have even been conceived with help from these songs so we shouldn’t take them lightly.

With that in mind, I’d like to conduct another one of my “Love or Obsession” exercising on a few pop songs. I’ve already done it with TV shows and literature. Music is the just the next logical progression. Given the sheer volumes of bland, bubblegum pop music in the world, this will only cover a few songs. I intend to do others down the line. This is just the first and if someone wants to suggest a song to assess, I’ll gladly listen.

For this post, consider this the first edition of this analysis. I’ll stick to pop songs for now, but I’ll definitely consider genres for future assessments.


Britney Spears: Hit Me Baby One More Time

Love or Obsession?
Obsession

Let’s face it. Catholic school girls in mini-skirts are sexy as hell. Britney Spears found this out the easy way around the turn of the millennium. Being young, beautiful, and willing to dress like a sexy Catholic school girl, which is very much a fantasy of a good chunk of the male population, was a good way to achieve success.

Perhaps it’s because of that sex appeal that nobody looked closely at the lyrics to the song she sang in her first hit, “Baby One More Time.” The song talks about loneliness, being blindsided by a breakup, and wanting to stay in a relationship that clearly has some issues.

Now sometimes you do stay in a relationship out of love, hoping to make it work. However, when wanting to requires that someone “hit you one more time,” it’s getting dangerously close to abuse. You don’t endure abuse unless you’re trapped or obsessed. Given the context of this song, I go with the latter.


Backstreet Boys: I Want It That Way

Love or Obsession?
Love

Alongside the rise of Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys proved that basic sex appeal and catchy lyrics can sell a fuckton of records. These kids were on the top of the world in the late 90s. They sung cute, sappy love songs to get the hormones of teenage girls going and it worked. It worked very well.

One of their biggest hits, “I Want It That Way,” epitomized their appeal and was, by far, one of their biggest hits. Given the tone and structure of the song, it’s kind of hard to hide the lyrics. They’re a bit messy. If they were on a greeting card, it would be a very confusing greeting card.

However, at the core of the song, there’s the sentiment that someone doesn’t care about the flaws or shortcomings of a relationship. They don’t want to change it into something it’s not. They, aptly put, want it this way.

As sappy as it is, it’s actually pretty damn healthy in terms of love. Real love involves accepting both strengths and flaws in someone. This song nicely embodies that and is probably one of the healthiest love songs a teenage girl can listen to.


Aerosmith: I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing

Love or Obsession?
Obsession

This song was another big 90s hit that made Aerosmith relevant again. That alone is a hell of an accomplishment. It also accompanied a big Michael Bay movie of the time called, “Armageddon.” So between Aerosmith and Michael Bay, this song had a lot going for it.

Unfortunately, the sentiment in the song, despite Steven Tyler’s screaming, isn’t exactly very loving. It talks about just watching someone sleep and never seeing anything else when you close your eyes. The love he’s describing is literally something you can never not think about and not missing it seems like a live-or-death imperative.

This is the kind of song that Edward Cullen lives his life by. This is the kind of song that hopelessly-obsessed stalkers turn to when they want their obsession to seem like love. The implications are as distressing as they sound.


Rick Astley: Never Gonna Give You Up

Love or Obsession?
Obsession

Before it became an overplayed internet meme, Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” was a big freakin’ deal in the 80s. It was very much a product of the polished, prepackaged pop music of the time. Take a handsome guy with a handsome face, make him sing lovey dovey lyrics, and set it to weird techno-enhanced beats and you got yourself a hit.

With this song, however, there isn’t much need for analysis. It’s in the very title of the song. Never giving someone up, never letting them down, and always being around describes a very unhealthy mindset for someone to have with a partner. It basically champions making someone else the entire center of your world. That’s sweet, but wholly unrealistic.

It’s still a catchy song and the fact it became an internet meme reveals its staying power. That said, it has the same problem as “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. Break down the lyrics and it’s not a love song. It’s more a stalker/obsession anthem and there’s nothing romantic about that.


Hootie And The Blowfish: Hold My Hand

Love or Obsession?
Love

Here’s a band people love to hate for lousy reasons. Hootie and the Blowfish were a simple, but effective band at a time when music was emerging from the grim and gritty grunge era. Their music was upbeat. Their lyrics were simple. They didn’t try to look too fancy or gritty. They dressed like regular guys and made music.

Naturally, it became cool to hate them. It also ignored the fact that they were one of the most successful bands of the mid-90s. Their first big hit, “Hold My Hand,” got things going. It was not a dark and gritty grunge song. It was a simple, upbeat love song. Break the lyrics down and that sentiment just become stronger.

It’s another one of those songs that presents an oddly healthy attitude towards love. It doesn’t send the impression that you have to make someone else the center of your world. It says in the chorus, “I want to love you the best that (the best that) I can.” Trying to achieve an ideal is unrealistic and foolish. Trying the best you can is the most anyone can ask for, even in love.


Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

Love or Obsession?
Love (Mostly)

Here’s a classic from the late 60s and early 70s, a time when soul music and R&B began growing in popularity. It was also the pre-disco era so there weren’t any bell-bottoms or aphros. It was a better time is what I’m saying.

This song, which has been remixed and remade multiple times, has an upbeat tone and many unique rhythmic mantras. It’s pretty complex piece of music. As such, the lyrics are hard to judge. On one hand, they talk about there being no force on this world to keep someone from getting to you. That does sound a bit obsessive.

However, the context of this song, as well as the sentiment of the other lyrics, keep it from getting into that dark territory that “Every Breath You Take” fell into. As a whole, the song speaks more about keeping promises and being there for someone you love. That’s a good kind of love, even if the verbiage can be misconstrued.


The Beatles: I Want To Hold Your Hand

Love or Obsession?
Love

This is as simple and innocent a song from one of the biggest bands in the history of pop culture. Love songs and the Beatles are like peanut butter and jelly. They just go together so perfectly that it’s hard to imagine one without the other. Can anyone honestly imagine the Beatles doing a Taylor Swift style breakup song?

With one of their earliest hits, “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” the sentiment is simple. They don’t talk about wanting to watch you sleep, focusing every waking thought on you, or never being able to escape your love. They just talk about holding hands and sharing a simple kind of intimacy.

Being a hugger myself, it’s a sentiment I can appreciate. Holding hands is as innocent a gesture as it comes when showing love. It’s a far cry from never wanting to give someone up or watching them with every breath they take. For that, the Beatles deserve props for championing healthy love.

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