Tag Archives: social justice

A Simple Comment On The Criticism/Whining On “Birds Of Prey”

Sometimes, a movie just fails to find an audience.

It’s not because of some larger social agenda that backfired horribly.

It’s not because of some huge backlash caused by misguided marketing strategies, either.

Most of the time, the world isn’t that fanciful. It’s just chaotic, unpredictable, and messy. No matter how much a movie, TV show, or product attempts to appeal to a broad audience, it can just fail. That’s all there is to it.

Trying to fit an agenda into that failure is like trying to build a conspiracy around why you’re stuck in traffic. The world isn’t out to get you or people like you. Most of the time, shit just happens and you’re just caught up in it. That’s not to say that agendas never squeeze themselves into the media. It happens, but it’s effect is often exaggerated. Most of the time, the final product just doesn’t work.

That brings me to “Birds of Prey.” Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I completely forgot about this movie. I had no excitement for it and not just because I was underwhelmed by “Suicide Squad.” I like Margot Robbie. I like Harley Quinn. She’s a great actress who plays a great character. The movie just did not grab my attention.

I saw the trailer. It was fine, but forgettable. I didn’t feel compelled to watch it 10 times in a row, as I did with “Wonder Woman 1984.” I didn’t feel compelled to see the movie, either. Even though it got good reviews, it just didn’t appeal to me. I planned to watch it when it came out on cable. Based on the early box office haul, I’m not alone in that sentiment.

I’d be perfectly fine to leave it at that. In previous years, I wouldn’t even bring it up. However, due to the growing inclination to make everything political, the under-performance of “Birds of Prey” is already getting the wrong people talking about it for all the wrong reasons.

Some are already lumping this movie in the same category as 2016’s “Ghostbusters” or the horrendously bad “Charlie Angels” reboot. Now, I don’t want to get into the politics behind it, mostly because I value the integrity of my brain cells. I’ll just say this. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, feminist, traditionalist, anarchist, or Marxist, there’s one thing to remember.

It’s a goddamn movie. Sometimes, movies just fail to find an audience. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.

Maybe it eventually becomes a cult classic, like “Blade.” Maybe it rebounds with good word of mouth. Either way, it has nothing to do with an agenda. The public, as a whole, just didn’t respond to it. Any criticism/whining beyond that is just asinine.

That’s all I have to say about “Birds of Prey.” Harley Quinn is still a great character and Margot Robbie is still a great actress. Your agenda, whatever it may be, has no bearing on that. It never has. It never will. Get over yourself and just watch the movies you enjoy.

 

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Filed under gender issues, media issues, movies, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, sex in media, sex in society, superhero comics, superhero movies

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Pursuing A Dream

Today is a day in which we remember a dream. In a world that’s full of hard truths, fake news, and gross injustices, we need that dream more than ever. It’s a dream I like to think that humanity has always had on some level, but it took a remarkable man named Martin Luther King Jr. to put it into words that will resonate for generations to come.

In general, I don’t like talking about politics. I’ve written about sensitive issues before, but I honestly think it’s a waste of time. I don’t think it’s possible to change someone’s mind by just debating the issues. I also don’t think it’s possible to convince someone that they’re wrong through discourse alone. It’s not impossible, but it’s exceedingly difficult.

Dr. King did something remarkable during his tireless pursuit of justice and civil rights. He confronted hatred, but he didn’t fight back with it. He dared to inspire, appealing to ideals greater than politics or tradition. He presented a dream of a better world. He preached a message of hope and love. It might not have changed the minds of his opponents at the time, but it inspired generations of others to pursue that dream.

It’s a dream that’s still worth pursuing. Some may argue that we’ve regressed. I respectfully disagree. While we haven’t made as much progress as most would prefer, signs of progress are there. There’s still room for improvement, but the dream is relevant as ever. As Dr. King himself once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

If you need another reminder as to why that dream is still important, you need only listen to Dr. King’s most famous speech. It’s a speech that made the dream feel real and it’s a dream worth pursuing now and for generations to come.

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Why Organized Religion Opposes Assisted Suicide (For The Wrong Reasons)

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Most people under the age of 40 are too young to remember the controversy surrounding Dr. Jack Kevorkian, also known as “Dr. Death.” For a time, he was one of the most polarizing figures in the world because he made assisted suicide a major socio-political issue. From 1989 to 1998, he took part in approximately 130 assisted suicides. It’s because of him that every state has a law regarding the practice.

Before I go any further into this very sensitive, exceedingly emotional issue, I want to make one thing clear. I don’t have a strong position on assisted suicide. I’ve had a hard time arguing in either direction. On one hand, I can understand someone in chronic pain wanting to end their life. On the other, I also worry that making such a practice mundane could undermine efforts to treat debilitating conditions.

I have people in my family who have fought debilitating illnesses. Some have lost those fights. Others won out and are stronger because of it. I believe that if you had talked to them on a particularly bad day, they might have seriously considered assisted suicide as an option. It’s a heart-wrenching issue that I’m not qualified to debate.

Despite those qualifications, I believe I’m still capable of scrutinizing certain aspects of the debate. Reasonable people can make reasonable arguments for and against assisted suicide. I’ll leave that part of the debate to people smarter and more informed than me. For the bad arguments made by unreasonable people, however, I think I’m as qualified as anyone.

One of the most vocal opponents of assisted suicide come from organized religion, especially the Catholic Church. Their position is fairly clear. Suicide is an egregious sin and a crime against human dignity. Even if you’re in debilitating pain, it’s not your place to take your own life. Only the all-powerful, all-knowing deity of their faith can do that. Some go so far as to claim that suicide automatically condemns a soul to Hell.

Setting aside, for a moment, the kind of theology that would condemn suffering people to more suffering in the afterlife, it’s worth taking a step back to ask why assisted suicide is an issue for organized religion in the first place. What interest could any religion have for getting involved in such an immensely personal issue?

To answer that question, it’s also necessary to distinguish between organized religion and the personal faith that people have. Your personal faith is personal. It’s between you and your loved ones. When religions get organized, they become impersonal and subject to different influences. As demonstrated by corporations or governments, those influences aren’t always holy, to say the least.

An organized religion, be it a huge institution like the Catholic Church or just a small denomination of churches, temples, and mosques, are driven by the same incentives. They need money, adherents, labor, and support from as many followers as possible. How they go about obtaining those resources varies from faith to faith. When it comes to maintaining those assets, however, things get less varied.

I’ve noted before how religious institutions have used dogma to maintain and reinforce social inequality. Any institution, religious or not, has a strong incentive to keep its followers in a state of ignorance, poverty, and dependence. It also can’t have too many people questioning the dogma, nor can it have people with enough resources or comforts to function without its help.

With religion, those incentives are easier to codify because it can claim that their doctrine doesn’t come from law, money, or brute force. It’s ordained by a powerful deity that is on their side. People can argue against politicians, protest greedy businesses, and question long-standing traditions. They can only do so much against a powerful, invisible deity.

It’s within this context that organized religion clashes with assisted suicide. Like with inequality, assisted suicide directly undermines the manpower and resources of religious institutions. It doesn’t just take from them an adherent or a potential convert. It strikes at the foundation on which organized religion builds its influence on people.

In the same way that a business needs customers with money to spend on their goods, organized religion needs people who feel deficient, impoverished, or desperate. It’s a well-documented phenomenon. Those who are poor, hungry, and suffering tend to gravitate towards organized religion.

Sometimes, this is a good thing because there are religious organizations out there who provide food, comfort, and care. Even if doing so acts as an indirect way to recruit adherents, it still provides tangible help to people who need it. That’s an aspect of organized religion that deserves respect. When it comes to suffering and dying, however, the practices aren’t nearly as commendable.

When people are dealing with a suffering loved one, it’s incredible difficult. It takes an emotional toll on both the individual and their family. It’s heart-breaking on so many levels. It’s also an unscrupulous opportunity for organized religion.

While they won’t outright prey on someone else’s suffering, they’ll often act as a source of relief and comfort. They’ll try to act as a shoulder to cry on, telling both the person suffering and their families everything they want to hear. It earns them points from both them and the larger community. They can claim they’re helping a suffering family, but without actually helping them.

They stop short of paying for an expensive, life-saving procedure. They’ll also stop short of paying medical bills that might have piled up. They’ll sometimes promise to promote scientific research to treat whatever is causing so much pain, but in terms of over-arching incentives, that makes sense in the context that any organization wants to keep its adherents alive.

When assisted suicide enters the equation, the religious organizations miss out on that opportunity. Instead of comfort from a priest, mullah, rabbi, or monk, those suffering can get relief from a simple medical procedure. Their family can also enjoy a sense of closure in that their loved one isn’t suffering anymore. No religious influence is necessary here.

For some, that’s not just a problem. That’s a threat. Anything that subverts the need for the religious organization undermines its ability to maintain and grow its influence. Assisted suicide does all that and then some. However, it goes beyond simply not having the chance to endear themselves to sick people and their families.

From their perspective, assisted suicide sets a dangerous precedent. If too many poor, desperate, suffering people start killing themselves to escape, then they lose one of their best sources of new adherents. It’s the same reason why they discourage abortion and contraception, hoping that adherents produce more adherents for the organization. It all comes back to maintaining and growing the institution.

That usually isn’t the stated purpose. Almost every major religion that discourages assisted suicide will argue from a moral perspective. However, the indirect effect is certainly there. That’s not to say that the heads of these religious organizations secretly meet in dark rooms and craft their dogma with these factors in mind. It’s simply a byproduct of large groups of people responding to incentives.

Even if the implications of opposing assisted suicide are indirect, it’s still not a good reason to oppose the practice. It requires that people overlook the suffering and pain of others while convincing them that they don’t have the right to make important choices in their lives. That effort only leads to more suffering and that can never be justified, no matter how much dogma is applied.

As always, I want to make clear that I’m not calling all religious organizations malicious for opposing assisted suicide. I don’t believe that those within these organizations are out to cause more suffering. Most believe, in their heart of hearts, that they’re doing the right thing. The problem is that dogma, doctrine, and powerful incentives can overshadow those efforts.

There are good, legitimate reasons to oppose assisted suicide. Unfortunately, organized religion rarely relies on those reasons. On top of that, they have one too many incentives not to focus on those reasons.

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Movember Memories: A Story About Sweat (And Other Manly Issues)

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Greetings and I hope everyone is in the Movember spirit. Last year, I decided to become a part of this effort. I feel it’s an objectively good cause that aims to help real people in need. I sincerely hope others join that effort over time.

For those who are unaware, Movember is a movement that started with the Movember Foundation. This foundation works to raise awareness of and donate money towards major issues that predominately impact men. Those issues include research for prostate cancer, mental health treatment, and suicide prevention. These are all wonderful causes to support and I encourage everyone to donate to the foundation.

As part of my effort to help with this cause, I shared a personal story last year about the time I grew a thick beard in college and some of the colorful lessons that taught me. This year, I’d like to do something similar and tell another story. However, this is a different kind of story and one I think offers a more relevant message to the Movember spirit.

This particular story comes from right from one of the most respectable men in my life, my father. He told me this story a few years back when he recounted the time he’d spent in the military. It’s a story that, at the time, we just thought was funny. I still think it is. I also think it has a deeper message that’s more relevant today, especially for men.

Before I continue, I want to make clear that I may not get all the details of this story correct. My father, who I know occasionally reads this site, might reach out to me and note a few corrections. If that’s the case, I’ll gladly update it. That said, I recall enough to ensure I can capture the heart of the story.

The setting of this story is fairly simple. It’s the mid-1970s on a military base in the Midwest. At the time, my dad is done with basic and is officially on active duty. However, he hasn’t been deployed so much of those duties involve basic grunt work around the base. It’s a typical, standard military life for a young man at the time.

One unique part of that life, however, involved a grizzled old officer who, out of respect for this amazing American, I’ll just call the Colonel. The Colonel is basically the senior officers of senior officers at the base. He’s been in the military all his life. He fought in World War II. He probably knows General Patton’s shoe size.

He’s also old enough and has enough seniority to not have a filter. He does not give a damn and won’t hesitate to say the things that would get a typical private punched in the jaw. As a result, he has a special kind of respect and admiration from young soldiers, like my dad. They would gladly share a beer with the Colonel and joke with him without the fear of push-ups.

While that lack of a filter made him popular with soldiers like my dad, it made the Colonel a nuisance to the other officers. Most were content to just overlook his charming personality and chalk it up to being a cantankerous old man. However, that same jaded charm sometimes caused a spectacle.

This one particular spectacle occurred on a day in which the officers and recruits had another regular meeting in the barracks. This was standard for active duty soldiers and my dad had gone through it many times before. He sat in his assigned seat with the rest of his unit. The officers, including the Colonel, sat in the back.

These meetings were often tedious, but a big part of what made them such a drag was the heat. These barracks did not have air conditioning and were not well-ventilated. It was basically an over-sized locker room, full of several dozen men in full military gear. Needless to say, it got uncomfortably sticky at times.

However, since this was the military and good soldiers were conditioned not to complain, nobody said anything about it. My dad certainly didn’t. No one in his unit did, either. They all wanted to. It was one of the most common complaints among his unit.

Finally, one day, the Colonel spoke up. His exact words were as follows.

“Hey! How come no one wants to talk about sweat?”

For other young soldiers, like my dad, who had sat through one too many sweaty meetings, it was a true Spartacus moment. This old guy who hadn’t given a fuck since the Kennedy Administration finally said what they all were thinking. It still earned him an irate look from the other officers, but he got the message across.

This was an issue. It mattered to them. It was taboo to bring up so the one guy whose filter died years ago broke it. It might not have solved the problem, but acknowledging it was a good start.

I wish I could describe the grin on my dad’s face when he first told this story. I could tell it was a fond memory from a strange time in his life, but it’s a story that still resonates with me. It’s also one I think we can learn from.

One of the chief goals of the Movember Foundation is to raise awareness of issues that affect men, but that’s tricky these days, given the current state of gender politics. When the topic of men’s issues come up, it often gets cast aside as rabid anti-feminism or cloaked misogyny. Even if there are legitimate issues, such as prostate cancer and mental health, it still carries negative connotations.

I get the sense that has changed somewhat in recent years. I think there has been somewhat of a backlash to the more extreme elements of gender politics. Issues that effect men are being taken more seriously and I think the Movember Foundation is helping with that. The challenge is being the one to stand up in a hot, crowded room and asking the questions that others are afraid to ask.

How come no one wants to talk about sweat?

You could just as easily apply that to other issues involving men.

How come no one wants to talk about the disparity in cancer research between prostate cancer and breast cancer?

How come no one wants to talk about men committing suicide at higher rates?

How come no one wants to talk about men falling behind in pursuing higher education?

How come no one wants to talk about male victims of domestic abuse?

These are all real issues that effect real people. At the end of the day, regardless of what our gender is, we’re still human. Even issues that effect only part of us ultimately impact all of us. I hope we can all channel the spirit of the Colonel and ask why we’re not talking about these issues. While that old man might not be with us, his message still is. It started with sweat, but it can apply to much more.

Again, in the spirit of Movember, please consider donating to the Movember Foundation and supporting the meaningful work it does.

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Filed under gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights, men's issues, sex in society, sexuality

Theon Greyjoy and Sansa Stark: How “Game of Thrones” Managed to Avoid Double Standards

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The following is an article written and submitted by DC-MarvelGirl 1997, who is a friend of mine and a talented young writer. She has a website and a YouTube channel that I highly recommend. I sincerely thank her for taking the time to write this, as it relates closely to other issues I’ve brought up on this site regarding gender, double standards, and media depictions. Enjoy!


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In a world of double standards, there comes a point where we should question when something is no longer a joke. With television shows such as “Cobra Kai” and “Married with Children” managing to poke fun at emasculation and male circumcision, after the fact we oftentimes question why we find those jokes funny. If those same jokes were made about women, it would be considered “sexist”. When it comes to men, it is almost as though we are okay with men being brutalized.

It’s pretty hard to avoid double standards in this day and age. However, I would say that there might be an exception to this. Today, I will be discussing the television series “Game of Thrones”, and how they managed to avoid double standards about gender.

Now, I’m not expert on “Game of Thrones”. In fact, I’ve only started reading the first book, and I am halfway through it as I am writing this. When you find a story that genuinely intrigues you and piques your interest, you want to keep reading it. With “Game of Thrones” it is no exception. Additionally, when it comes to issues such as gender, the novels do not hold back. The television series most definitely didn’t hold back when it came to showing brutalization of various characters. The throne room scene where Sophie Turner’s Sansa Stark is being stripped and beaten in front of noblemen forever solidifies for me why she’s such a great actress. In fact, it is my favorite scene to view in general. However, naturally, we as human beings would be uncomfortable seeing women being beaten and brutalized. And I can attest as a woman myself that it is disheartening to watch happen. I think a huge part of it is because we consistently try to protect women and keep them as pure as possible. It consistently shows throughout history, as well, how women are treated in comparison to men.

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In Sansa’s case, she’s received her taste of brutality on more than one occasion. She’s been forced to suffer and endure so much throughout the course of the television series. You watch the scenes where she is being beaten by Joffrey’s men and the scene where Ramsay Bolton rapes her on their wedding night, you cannot help but feel discomforted viewing it. I don’t think any rational person wouldn’t feel uncomfortable watching scenes like that.

However, what is even more uncomfortable is what occurs with the character of Theon Greyjoy – who throughout the course of the show, and the books, has gone through as much brutalization as Sansa. I would argue that what happens to Theon on the show is worse. When I say that “Game of Thrones” doesn’t hold back with showing brutalization of both men and women, this is where I make my point.

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With the character of Theon, we are introduced to him as the character who is taken pity upon by Ned Stark, who proceeds to take him in as his ward. Theon starts of similarly to that of Sansa – arrogant and overconfident, and the character that is probably one of the least liked on the show in the first season. Nonetheless, he gets a taste of what it’s like to be broken to nothing after he makes mistake upon mistake, betraying the Stark family. This leads to he being captured by Ramsay Bolton – who at that point is leading Winterfell with an iron fist. This leads to Theon suffering his own torture.

As if Ramsay cutting Theon’s fingers off isn’t bad enough, but Ramsay further emasculates him by cutting his genitalia off. It simply gets worse as Ramsay is next shown eating a long and plump sausage right in front of his captive, making Theon believe that Ramsay is eating his genitals. In addition to emasculating Theon, Ramsay proceeds to rename him “Reek” to further degrade him.

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With “Game of Thrones” and the way they portray torture so graphically, there is never a moment where emasculation and brutalization are treated as a joke. Whenever you watch those moments, you can hardly help but feel uncomfortable. With “Game of Thrones”, it’s rare that you will find any double standards regarding the treatment of men and women. In Theon and Sansa’s cases, these would be handled differently if these characters were on a sit-com. Sansa’s situations of rape and being stripped and beaten would be treated seriously on almost any cable network show. Unfortunately, Theon’s case would more than likely be turned into a joke about male circumcision and put on an episode of “Married with Children”.

It comes to show that the book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” and the TV show “Game of Thrones” give a truly eye-opening look at how different genders are treated. It displays an old-fashioned viewpoint of the traditional gender roles, which is a given. Nonetheless, it doesn’t display hypocrisy when displaying torture being thrust upon men and women. Theon and Sansa alike are both treated by various characters with a level of brutality to further humiliate and degrade them. It strips them down to being polar opposites of who they used to be before. Sansa starts off as a bratty and pretentious princess who slowly unravels to a woman who is a lot more hardened, yet she manages to not lose her compassion for others. Theon starts off as an arrogant show-off whom after being emasculated is broken to something else utterly. Nonetheless, you cannot deny that there is something to be said here.

With “Game of Thrones”, both men and women alike suffer and get put through more than we could ever imagine. Both genders are shown to receive the same amount of brutal treatment, and there is no sugarcoating anything at all. If anything, the books and the show alike give us material where you don’t need to talk about double standards, because there are essentially none. However, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth discussing and bringing up.

DC-MarvelGirl 1997

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Filed under Game of Thrones, gender issues, media issues, men's issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, television, women's issues

How Jar Jar Binks Exposed The Flaws (And Dangers) Of Social Media

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Every now and then, something extraordinary happens that reveals how flawed our current system is and how far behind we are in terms of fixing it. Sometimes, it’s tragic. Sometimes, it’s frustrating. In rare cases, it’s hilarious, albeit in a distressing way. Personally, I find those cases most revealing.

Recently, there was one notable instance that included one of the most reviled fictional characters of the past 20 years. No, I’m not talking about King Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton. I’m talking about Jar Jar Binks. If you’re a “Star Wars” fan, then that name likely inspires all sorts of anger, dread, and distress.

Jar Jar is both a joke and a cautionary tale. Aside from proving that George Lucas has no business directing another “Star Wars,” he demonstrates just how wrong an attempt at comedic relief can go. While he wasn’t the only problem with the prequels, he augmented the flaws. On top of being annoying, incoherent, and incompetent most of the time, he was a major symptom of a much larger disease.

Once again, everything that makes Jar Jar such a pariah in the cultural landscape has exposed another disease in a place that’s not far, far away. For reasons that many found confusing and confounding, Jar Jar started trending on Twitter. While there was a someone legitimate reason for this, it was indirect and unintentional. There was no concerted effort to get him trending. It wasn’t even part of any elaborate trolling.

The fact that it took a while to explain why this infamous character was trending says more about social media than it does about Jar Jar. There’s no question that social media has changed the media landscape in ways that cannot be overstated. We current live in a world where companies invest a great deal of time and resources into making their presence on social media unique. Some definitely do it better than others.

At the same time, social media has not always had a positive effect on the world and its users. There have been plenty of cases where social media has been used to brutally harass people and spread blatant lies. There are even some cases in which social media played a role in directing real harm to innocent people. The dangers are there and well-documented.

Most people with an internet connection know those dangers are there. Many see it as the cost of doing business for a technology that has an uncanny ability to connect people. I certainly pay that cost, given my own presence on social media. However, what just happened with Jar Jar on Twitter demonstrated that the cost might have hidden fees in the fine print.

Remember, there was no concerted effort to get Jar Jar trending. Even after he did, nobody could figure out why he was trending. On top of that, the fact that nobody could figure it out only got people more curious, which made him trend even more. It was a self-reinforcing cycle that was funny in some respects, but distressing in many others.

It’s somewhat similar to what happens with people who are famous just for being famous and little more. This unfortunate, but inescapable aspect of celebrity culture rarely creates people who garner respect or admiration. If anything, they foster cynicism and disconnection from the culture. That kind of fame just feels so random, unearned, and empty. Thanks to Jar Jar, we now know social media trends can do the same.

Things can trend for no discernible reason. Matters that nobody even wants to get trending can garner unexpected and often unwanted attention. Thanks to the mechanisms of social media, the mystery behind why something trends can make it trend even more. While that’s going on, legitimate issues that warrant attention can slip under the radar.

Human beings only have so much attention to give. When something like Jar Jar trends for no discernible reason, a non-significant chunk of our collective attention is redirected. It would be one thing if it were just some masterfully act of trolling, but this is something we do to ourselves collective. That means we have no one to blame but ourselves when something like Jar Jar trends.

We’re the ones who make and share these hashtags. The social media companies are just tools and businesses. Like many companies, they’ll engage in plenty of shady activities. They’ll do whatever they think will make them more money. At the end of the day, though, we’re still the consumers who shape social media.

That should be cause for concern because this isn’t vapid celebrity culture we’re dealing with. The things that trend on social media have real-world consequences. Companies have suffered significant harm. Lives of non-celebrity people have been ruined. A random person who becomes famous for no reason rarely causes actual harm to anyone. Social media trends can do so much more.

In some cases, it can cause a great deal of good. If the right thing gets trending, it can rally people to a worthy cause. It can also inform the public of a serious issue. It can even turn real-world tragedies into a powerful force for good. Personally, I think this good overshadows the bad, but when I see Jar Jar trending, I can’t deny that there’s a flaw in this system.

Is there a fix? I believe there is, but I don’t believe it’s as simple as companies tweaking their rules or insulting people who share hash tags. Jar Jar may have been a source of frustration in the early 2000s, but he’s only relevant in 2019 because we make him relevant. It’s not him. It’s not George Lucas. This is all us.

I believe we’re better than that. Despite all the awful things I’ve seen trending on Twitter and Facebook, I see far more positives that warrant far greater attention. Jar Jar might be a symptom, but I take comfort in the fact that he’s a symptom that often burns out quickly. When something is empty, people get bored of it much easier and nobody should ever underestimate the power of boredom.

In the grand scheme of things, Jar Jar trending for no reason isn’t necessarily a setback. It’s just a sign that we, as a tech-savvy society, have a long way to go with respect to managing social media. In an imperfect world, dumb things will trend for dumb reasons. However, when something like Jar Jar starts trending, that’s a sign that we have plenty of room for improvement.

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Filed under human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, Star Wars, technology, War on Boredom

What “Malcolm In The Middle” And “Joker” Can Teach Us About Deviance

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What makes someone deviant? What turns otherwise normal human beings into the kind of deviants who go onto commit crimes, foster discord, or lash out at the rest of society? These questions are often contemplated by psychologists, police, politicians, and people who just want to live in peace.

The answers aren’t easy, but they often make for compelling movies and TV shows. Some dare to offer answers that are as revealing as they are distressing. That’s part of what made “Joker” such an impactful movie. It’s also what triggered the controversy surrounding its subversive message. I tried to explore that message my review of the movie, but in doing so, I uncovered something surprising.

The themes in “Joker” are more relevant today than they’ve been in years. It makes the case that when people denigrate, marginalize, or ignore those in the lowest rungs of society, they’re going to create the kinds of monsters and supervillains that undermine the current order. Moreover, they deserve the chaos and deviance that these individuals cause.

In “Joker,” Arthur Fleck was a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances and societal denigration. While Gotham City didn’t turn him into the Joker, they put him in a position to make those fateful choices. Nobody tried to help him or give him other options. If anything, the help and options he needed were taken away. It was part of what made his deviance both compelling and understandable.

It reminded me of a famous TV show that made a similar point, albeit one from a very different genre and medium. It dared to make that point decade earlier, long before the current controversies surrounding mass shooters in movie theaters and so-called “incel culture.” That show is “Malcolm In The Middle.”

The two narratives couldn’t be more different. One is an R-rated movie that defies the conventions of the superhero genre and explores the twisted mind of an iconic villain. The other is a prime-time sitcom full of funny, cartoonish antics from a dysfunctional working-class family. One is dark and serious. The other is funny and light-hearted.

Despite those vast differences, they convey very similar messages. They both make the case that a callous, negligent society will create deviant individuals within its most disadvantaged. They also highlight how efforts to push them aside or suppress their deviance will only make things worse.

In “Joker,” it turned Arthur Fleck into an agent of chaos who went onto inspire more chaos in others. The circumstances in “Malcolm In The Middle” were very different and a lot more subtle, but the underlying message was still there.

It’s subtle, but it’s there.

From the first episode of the show to its finale, Malcolm and his family are depicted as both dysfunctional and disadvantaged. In some instances, they’re downright destitute. On many occasions, they deal with crippling debt, dead-end jobs, and arrogant upper-class types who look down on them with disgust. More often than not, Malcolm and his brothers get back at them in their own creative way.

Whatever form the antics take, the show never uses the lower-class status of Malcolm’s family to justify their behavior. Much like “Joker,” it establishes that the characters have agency. They’re dealt a lousy hand, but they still have opportunities to make non-deviant choices. They’re rarely forced into deviant acts. Opportunities arise and they exercise poor judgement, to say the least.

The very least.

Malcolm and his brothers didn’t have to lie about what happened to Dewey’s bike in Season 1, Episode 15. They did it anyways and things only escalated from there when the consequences caught up with them.

Malcom and his brother didn’t have to buy their mother a terrible birthday gift in Season 2, Episode 3. They still did and the end result led to them fighting an army of clowns in one of the show’s most memorable moments.

It’s not just the kids, either. Hal didn’t have to resort to unorthodox tactics when coaching Dewey’s soccer team in Season 3, Episode 16. He still did and things only got messier from there.

Lois didn’t have to force Malcolm to getting a job as terrible as hers in order to teach him a lesson in Season 5, Episode 6. She still did and, in doing so, taught him an entirely different lesson about just how screwed people like them are. It’s a message that even found its way into her memorable speech in the series finale.

It’s an important component of the show’s brilliance and humor. Malcolm and his family are a mess. They’re constantly getting screwed over by circumstances, bad choices, and other people who look down on them. However, they never come off as victims, nor do they carry themselves as such. They have opportunities to become less dysfunction, but often squander them.

Arthur Fleck had chances to become something other than a killer clown. There were a number of instances in “Joker” in which he could’ve gone a different path. He simply chose not to and society didn’t lift a finger to help him. If anything, they took away what little help he got.

Throughout seven seasons in “Malcolm In The Middle,” Malcolm’s family finds themselves in similar situations. One of the best examples is in Season 4, Episode 17, which happened to be the second clip show episode. In that episode, Hal and Lois recount the births of their kids as they prepare for the arrival of another.

In every instance, the births are subject to strange and hilarious circumstances. In one of them, Lois goes into labor in the driveway of their house because Francis locked her out of the car. Then, while she’s writhing in pain from the labor, a jogger passes by. She yells out she’s having a baby, but the jogger just ignores her and congratulates her.

It’s funny, but symptomatic of the family’s lot in life. Nobody goes out of their way for them. Nobody offers to help them. It even happens again a few episodes later in Season 4, Episode 21 when Lois goes into labor with Jamie. Even though someone calls 9-1-1 and an ambulance arrives, they don’t get there until after she gives birth. The EMTs even joke about how they stopped for coffee.

Like Arthur Fleck, the society around Malcolm’s family doesn’t care about them. They even go out of their way to avoid or neglect them. In “Joker,” Arthur is repeatedly victimized by both the system and individuals who go out of their way to harass him. His situation is already bad, but these ordeals only make it worse.

Early in the movie, Arthur does show signs that he’s capable of being a decent person. He tried to make a kid on the bus laugh. He entertained sick children at a hospital. He could’ve been a productive, positive force in society. Then, society started screwing him over and bad choices on his part led him to become a dangerous deviant.

While Malcolm and his family didn’t become as deviant as the Joker, they still did plenty of damage with their antics. At the same time, there were plenty of instances that showed that, as dysfunctional as they were, they could still be good and decent to others when given the chance. They just rarely got those changes and society rarely provided the incentives.

It’s a powerful message with respect to what makes people deviant. Some people are at the mercy of bad circumstances, be they poverty, mental illness, or having an overbearing mother like Lois. They’re still capable of being good, but it’s easier for them to become deviant when society neglects them. That deviance only compounds as a result of poor judgement and bad choices.

Yes, they compound a LOT.

There are plenty of differences between “Joker” and “Malcolm In The Middle.” Whereas “Joker” takes things to the worst possible outcome in the descent towards deviance, “Malcolm In The Middle” manages to maintain a more hopeful outlook. People can still be deviant and dysfunctional, but they can rise above it. The events of the series finale affirm that.

Those differences aside, this movie and this TV show offer lessons and insight into something that all societies must deal with. There will always be a certain level of deviance. There will also be those more inclined to pursue it. It’s just a matter of how to confront it. More than anything else, “Joker” and “Malcolm In The Middle” shows the consequences of confronting it the wrong way.

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