Tag Archives: social justice

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

1482574113135812936

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.

Leave a comment

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

Why Social Media Is NOT The New Tobacco

social-media-addict-needles-e1515160737606

It’s a full-blown crisis. Kids are spending hours upon hours using it. They’re becoming mindless, unmotivated zombies. Every day, it’s getting worse. It’s all around them. There’s no escaping it and if something drastic isn’t done, it’ll corrupt an entire generation beyond repair.

No, that’s not some hysterical rant from Jessica Lovejoy on “The Simpsons.” It’s not referring to smartphones or social media, either. That urgent message was referring to television. This isn’t another one of my thought experiments. This is one of my memories. It’s true. Televisions was a real concern when I was a kid. Some called it a full blown health hazard.

If that sounds strange, then chances are you aren’t old enough to remember a time before the internet was the ultimate addiction. It really existed. It makes me and many others in my cohort feel old, but it happened. When I was a kid still in grade school, especially between first and sixth grade, the internet wasn’t the thing destroying kids. It was television.

That memory I mentioned wasn’t unique. It came courtesy of an assembly my school held. I don’t entirely remember the purpose of the assembly. I was just a kid and it was an excuse to get out of class. What I do remember, though, was the common refrain about the dangers of television.

Adults of all kinds would find creative ways to tell us to stop watching television and do something “productive,” which I took to mean more homework, more chores, and anything else my teachers made me do. It didn’t really appeal to me and I don’t think it changed the TV habits of my peers, either.

That panic, while nowhere nearly as extreme as the Satanic Panic of the 80s, came and went like many moral crusades tend to do. Some are just forgotten, but others just evolve into a whole new panic. That seems to be happening with the internet and social media now. Watching TV is actually in decline among younger cohorts while their usage of the internet and social media is increasing.

I imagine those same teachers who bemoaned the impact of TV when I was a kid would be giving similar lectures on social media now. They would have competition too because parents today worry about their kids’ internet usage more than their drug usage. Some go so far as to call it the new tobacco to belabor its damaging and addictive nature.

While that kind of comparison strikes all the right emotional chords with concerned parents, I think it’s an unfit comparison to say the least. At most, I would call it absurd. The memories of all those warnings about the dangers of TV leave me inherently skeptical of anything that’s allegedly poisoning children. Unless it’s actual poison, I think the tobacco comparisons are premature.

Now, there’s no question that the internet and social media are having an impact on young people, old people, and everyone in between. There are documented cases where people have exhibited addictive behaviors surrounding their internet usage. Before you make any nicotine comparisons, though, keep in mind that people can be addicted to all sorts of weird things. The human mind is just that strange, powerful, and flawed.

Tobacco, and the nicotine it delivers, is an outside chemical that enters the brain and has real, measurable effects. Using the internet, whether you’re checking FaceBook or browsing Instagram, is not like that. That’s why internet addiction is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that legitimate doctors use to diagnose addiction, but substance abuse is.

It’s also why porn addiction is not considered a true addiction, which I’ve talked about before. However, porn is more specific in its purpose and its effects. There’s also still a stigma, albeit a damaging one, surrounding it that sets it apart from the rest of the internet. A kid browsing the internet, for the most part, is no less damaging than watching cartoons on TV all day.

That doesn’t stop a growing number of people from expressing sincere concern about the effects it’s having on their minds and their health. Some may even prefer that their kids watch old Hanna Barbara cartoons rather than tweet, text, and live-stream all day. There’s a growing sentiment that the internet, social media in particular, hacks our brain’s rewards system.

On paper, it makes sense. You pick up your smart phone, you turn it on not knowing what to expect, and if you find something you like, you get a quick release of pleasure chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. It’s basically a form of gambling. A slot machine works the same way, but you don’t need to be a high roller to enjoy the gambling-like thrill.

Like so many other ideas on paper that go onto fail, though, it’s nowhere near that simple. The human brain can’t be that crude with its chemistry. As a good rule of thumb, if you ever hear someone other than a legitimate neurologist talks about the effects of dopamine on pleasure or addiction, chances are they have a very limited understanding of it at best.

While dopamine does play a role in how we experience pleasure, that’s just one part of a wide range of functions it has within our brains. Trying to understand addiction through dopamine alone is like trying to bake a cake with only a teaspoon of flour. There are many more chemicals, processes, and interactions at play.

Using social media may offer its users a rush whenever they get exciting news on their feed or see something that intrigues and/or offends them, but our brain processes that in a way fairly similar to anything else that catches our attention. The primary difference with the internet and social media is that it happens solely through a digital screen and that does somewhat limit those reactions.

I know that undercuts the concerns of parents who think the internet permanently damaging the collective psyche of their children, but I think they’re overestimating the influence of things that are experienced solely through a screen. Much like TV, the internet and social media can only effect so many senses and that is a major mitigating factor in its impact.

To understand that, go find a picture or video of an exotic location. If you’re a heavy user of Instagram, chances are that won’t be too hard. Look at those pictures. Watch that video. Take in the sights and sounds of that location. To your brain, it’s an appealing bit of visual and auditory sensations. However, those are the only two senses it stimulates.

What about the smell of the air, the feeling of the wind, and the sense of place that being in those locations evokes in our brains? Even if you experience it through hyper-realistic virtual reality, it’s still just sights and sounds at most. Thinking that alone is enough to damage a kid’s brain is like thinking someone can win a sword fight with a sewing needle.

That’s not to say the internet and social media can’t have a powerful psychological impact on certain people. That’s the key, though. It impacts certain people the same way TV impacts certain people. Sure, there are documented cases where social media played a role in a major tragedy, but those are the exceptions and not the norms.

In the same way not everyone gets addicted to a drug after they try it, not everyone is going to be irreparably damaged by the internet, social media, or TV. There’s a reason why extreme cases of people being heavily influenced by these things makes the news in the first place. It’s exceedingly rare.

I would still make the case that the internet and social media are more influential on people, society, and our culture than TV ever was. By being so hyper-connected to such a wide audience, the professional trolls of the world have a way to effect others in a way that just wasn’t possible, even with TV.

As bad as some of those trolls are and as tragic as it is when some suffer because of them, blaming the internet for those ills is like blaming umbrellas for hurricanes. Lumping it in with cancer-causing drugs only further obscures the real issues associated with the ever-evolving internet.

There are, indeed, serious issues with how people use the internet and how it manifests. However, treating it like a dangerous drug did nothing to address the issues surrounding TV. It’ll do just as little in addressing the various controversies of the internet. Until the next “new tobacco” comes along, those same people who lectured me on too much TV will bemoan the dangers of the internet while ignoring all the good it does.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology

Free Speech And The Long-Term Fallout Of The “Rosanne” Cancellation

rosanne

When it comes to free speech and freedom of expression, I consider myself somewhat of an extremist. If I were in charge of setting the standards, I would permit un-bleeped profanity, unfiltered hate speech, unblurred nudity, and anything else that One Million Moms finds offensive. That’s how much I believe in free speech.

It’s probably for that reason that I would be woefully unqualified to establish a legal framework for what constitutes free speech and how it would be enforced. I’m not a lawyer, a legal expert, or some colorful TV personality who pretends to be one. Despite my qualifications, though, I do feel like I have something worth contributing to an ongoing debate surrounding free speech.

If you’ve been anywhere near the internet or a TV over the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard about the scandal surrounding Roseanne Barr. Simply put, Rosanne Barr made some offensive tweets that she blamed on sleeping pills. The tweets triggered a major outrage across social media. As a result, ABC canceled her hit show, which had been generating strong ratings since its return.

On some levels, I can understand this reaction. ABC is owned by Disney, a company that has one of the strongest brands in the world. They are not the government. They are a publicly traded company and as such, public perceptions affect their profits and their image. If you think that doesn’t matter, just ask the NFL what happens when a brand gets undermined.

On every other level, though, I see this reaction as one of those short-term solutions that could create many other problems in the long run. Whether you agree with Roseanne Barr’s politics or hate her guts, she was still just voicing her opinion. Yes, it was in bad taste and had some racial overtones, but she did apologize for it. The sincerity of that apology is hard to gauge, but the effort still counts for something in my opinion.

Even without that apology, the potential precedent and backlash are already in place. We, as a society, have established a process for punishing speech that we don’t like or find offensive. The process has nothing to do with an authoritarian government cracking down on its people. It doesn’t even involve the kind of mass censorship that other countries routinely practice. We’re doing this all on our own.

Essentially, we’re doing Big Brother’s job for him. We’re just not calling it censorship or a crackdown. Instead, we’re creating our own category of speech that a significant number of people believe ought not to be expressed or shared. There are no lawyers or police enforcing those standards. We’re doing that through a type of speech-based vigilante justice.

Me being a die-hard fan of superhero comics, many of which are built around vigilante justice, I’m somewhat sympathetic to those who want to right the wrongs that our imperfect justice system leaves unfinished. In this case, however, I don’t see the kind of justice that Batman would pursue, nor do I see the kind of villainy that the Joker would carry out.

I see an emerging system where a huge population of well-connected, well-informed, and generally well-meaning people want to confront people and ideas that they feel our damaging to others, themselves, and society as a whole. I don’t doubt their sincerity or their idealism. However, I seriously doubt they understand the implications of what they’re doing.

I don’t agree with Roseanne Barr’s comments. I didn’t find them funny, but I didn’t find them that offensive either. I see far more offensive comments on message boards and Reddit at least twice a day. That sentiment is out there. It exists. Even if the internet disappeared tomorrow, people would still have these thoughts and opinions.

That’s exactly why the outrage, protests, and subsequent consequences don’t necessarily achieve much beyond removing a few offensive comments from an immense network that’s full of so much worse. It does nothing to actually change the sentiments of those expressing the speech. If anything, it just makes them regret getting punished.

It’s akin to the inherent conflict we feel in accepting a criminal’s apology. We can’t know for sure whether they’re genuinely sorry for doing what they did or whether they’re just sorry they got caught. One is very different from the other. Without reading Roseanne Barr’s mind directly, we don’t know if her show getting cancelled has changed her political persuasions or just made them worse.

Moreover, her losing her show, her job, and her credibility reveals to a hyper-connected world that this is how you combat speech you find offensive. You don’t try to change someone’s mind. You don’t grow thicker skin and deal with it. You just get enough people to voice enough outrage and eventually, you can both remove the speech and punish the person who spoke it.

For those who didn’t like Roseanne’s comments or were genuinely offended by them, I doubt that seems like a bad thing. They are, after all, simply voicing their own free speech and using that to effect change from a non-government, publicly-traded company. They probably see themselves as the heroes in this story.

What happens, though, when the script is flipped? It’s not unlike the distressing thought experiment I pitched a while back that involved swapping the genders of famous movie or TV scenes. Reverse the roles and suddenly, the situation takes on a very different context.

You don’t even need any imagination to contemplate this because it already happened with Colin Kaepernick. Like Roseanne, he expressed himself in a very public way that triggered a very public backlash. He ended up losing his job and any prospects of getting another.

The same people celebrating Roseanne Barr’s cancellation likely protested how Kaepernick was treated. Some of them even protested on his behalf in a very public way to apply pressure not unlike the kind ABC faced. While the two situations are not exactly the same, the general premise is clear.

If someone expresses a political opinion that you don’t agree with, you and those like you can protest as well to silence that opinion and publish the one who expressed it. Conservatives can do it to liberal figures. Liberals can do it to conservative figures. The end result is the same. The speech is silenced and the speaker is punished, but the underlying attitudes remain untouched.

It’s those untouched attitudes that may end up having the biggest long-term impact of both the Roseanne Barr situation and that of Colin Kaepernick. Being public figures, these two made themselves targets with their controversial expressions. However, the way others confronted it is potentially damaging to the very concept of free speech.

Thanks to the internet, social media, and outrage culture, both situations make clear to those of any political persuasion that you don’t have to confront the actual substance of someone else’s speech. You don’t have to thicken your skin, evolve your thinking, or learn how to process offense. You can just protest the speech and punish the speaker, all without getting the government involved.

That’s the kind of approach that does not foster a free, open exchange of ideas. If anything, it ensures that people internalize their feelings and sentiments that others may find offensive. In doing so, that makes it even harder to confront them and potentially change their minds. Roseanne losing her show isn’t going to convince her that her critics are right. If anything, it’s going to make her hate her critics even more.

The end result of this kind of self-censorship is downright dystopian. Imagine a world where everything online, on TV, and in movies is so filtered, so watered down, and so overly polished that nobody even has an opportunity to voice anything offensive. The government doesn’t enforce it. We do.

In that world, hate and bigotry still exists. It’s just hidden and we have no way of knowing about it. History and human nature makes clear that internalizing these feelings can be very damaging. Now, we’ve just given Roseanne Barr and everyone who shares her views to be angrier and more hateful. We’ve also given them a tool with which to fight back against those they disagree with.

It’s a dangerous situation with damaging implications for the future of free speech. We could argue whether or not ABC was right to cancel Roseanne’s show or whether a company like Disney has the right to fire people who damage their brand. At the end of the day, though, the source of the outrage and conflict still comes from us. If offense is all it takes to censor speech, then speech is no longer free.

3 Comments

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

The Boredom Filter: How To Know If Your Agenda/Politics/Ideology Is Doomed

image1

Whenever I talk about boredom, I make it a point to emphasize that it’s a powerful force that’s easy to overlook. In a society that’s full of distractions and ongoing outrage, it’s easy to shrug at the effects of boredom because it’s so easy to find something that keeps you from remembering just how agonizing it can be. I would argue that only makes us more vulnerable to boredom and it’s corrosive effects.

That said, I don’t intend to belabor the power of boredom more than I already have. I feel like I’ve made my case in calling it a potential plague of the future and a force with the ability to subvert the entire concept of Hell. Instead, I’d like to use the power of boredom as a critical tool of sorts, one that might prove useful for those seeking to avoid or exploit its influence.

I call it the Boredom Filter. It’s not unlike the Simpsons Filter that I’ve referenced before in that it’s a method of assessing a message or ideology in terms of how it’ll appeal to the masses. In that context, the Boredom Filter is kind of what it sounds like, but runs so much deeper.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal, a conservative, a communist, a reactionary, a theocrat, or an anarchist. It doesn’t even have to be a political ideology either. It can be a philosophical underpinning like Marxism or a social movement like feminism. The Boredom Filter applies to it and, if used properly, can reveal just how viable that ideology is in the long term.

That is, after all, one of the most important measures of an ideology. Any idea, be it a social movement or a new philosophy, can enjoy a brief wave of success. It’s a matter of how well it endures over time that shows just how valuable or useful it is. From fad diets to one-hit wonders in music, the Boredom Filter help reveal whether an idea has what it needs to really last.

Applying the filter is actually fairly simple. It does require some speculation, a few quick thought experiments, and even a touch of brutal honesty. That might be difficult to contemplate for those immersed in extreme ideology. As I’ve noted before, people clinging to those ideologies will make any excuse to justify them.

With that in mind, here’s the process for the Boredom Filter. To ensure the best results, I urge those using it to be extra thorough.

Step 1: Assess the ultimate goals of the ideology and identify which elements may be prone to boredom.

Step 2: Imagine, for a moment, that all the goals of an ideology were achieved and integrated into a society.

Step 3: Within that ideologically pure society, assess how much conformity is required for it to work and contemplate the mentality of the common people residing within it who have no political power.

Step 4: Ask and honestly answer the question as to whether the lives those people are allowed to live, under the ideology, will get boring over an extended period of time.

Step 5: If the answer to the question in Step 4 is no, then the ideology passes the filter. If, however, the answer to the question in Step 4 is yes or even a probably, ask and honestly answer the question as to whether the ideology is flexible enough to adapt over time.

Step 6: If the answer to Step 5 is yes, then ideology passes the filter, but only to a point. If the answer to Step 4 is still yes and the answer to Step 5 is no or even probably not, then the ideology is doomed.

I understand that part of that process involves contemplating the boredom threshold for other people. That can be somewhat subjective. Everybody is wired differently. Some people can crunch numbers on spreadsheets all day and never feel bored. Others will get bored if it involves spending more than five minutes of reading. For some, it can get so bad that it requires medication.

That said, you don’t have to know or assume everyone’s threshold for boredom. When it comes to speculating on applying an ideology on a large scale, though, it helps to assume a fairly low threshold. That’s because, if history is any guide, people tend to get frustrated with any system that requires a significant level of conformity.

It may not seem like conformity to those who champion the ideology. It definitely won’t seem that way to those the ideology empowers to enforce it, be it a dictator, a religious zealot, or revolutionary. That makes applying the Boredom Filter for those contemplating the ideology all the more critical.

As an example, let’s use the Boredom Filter to examine the two most common political ideologies, liberalism and conservatism. Now, I know these ideologies mean different things to different people in different regions of the world. For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to try and keep things general.

For conservatism, I’m referring to the kind of conservatism espoused by right-wing, religiously-driven ideology that emphasizes traditional morality, gender roles, and free market economics. For liberalism, I’m referring to a brand of ideology that emphasizes secularism, evolving social norms, and economic systems that emphasize regulated management over free enterprise.

I know there are a lot of other intricacies to both ideologies, but it’s not necessary to account for every one of them. The most important aspect, with respect to the Boredom Filter, is knowing enough to speculate how it would function if implemented on a large scale. By that, I don’t just mean a small community or tribe. I mean on a scale of at least 100,000 people that is not totally isolated and has contact with the outside world.

With that in mind, let’s picture a society that’s a perfect model of conservatism. It’s basically the utopian world envisioned by Ben Shapiro, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity. Everyone goes to the same church, loves the same historical icons, favors the same social policies, condemns the same media messages, and lives in the same family structure. It’s basically “Pleasantville” for Republicans.

Does that world pass the boredom filter? If we’re applying it honestly, the answer is no. It doesn’t. Remember, that world involves a society in which monogamy is the only acceptable relationship, non-procreative sex is condemned, and scandalous media content is censored in the name of protecting children. It’s a world that does not lend itself to a diverse range of activities that alleviate boredom.

Eventually, a world where you have only a certain kind of sex, consume only a certain kind of media, and live a certain kind of lifestyle will get boring at some point. Some people might be able to cope, but others won’t. Even if they still manage, their kids and their grand-kids won’t stand for it. At some point, they’ll be so bored that they demand change, if only to offer a different kind of stimulation.

I’ll give a few conservatives a moment to fume on that assessment, but bear with me because I’m going to do the same to liberalism. You might think that liberalism would be more adept at passing the boredom filter. It’s ideology, at least the classic version, is built on freedom and individual rights. How can boredom possibly infect that?

Well, and I’m sure self-identified liberals will be just as upset, but this ideology doesn’t pass the Boredom Filter either. It’s more flexible in some areas, namely those involving social norms. Liberalism accommodates different family structures, artistic expressions, and social expressions. That certainly provides some of the flexibility necessary to alleviate boredom.

Where liberalism fails, at least in the context of modern liberalism, is how it tends to promote micromanaging of life, economics, and feelings. It may not favor censorship, but like conservatism, it does play favorites. The rise and growth of political correctness has really strained liberalism’s ability to pass the Boredom Filter and it may be getting worse.

In that liberal utopia that Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, and Rachel Maddow envision, there’s not just equality. There’s enforced equality. That equality is done in the name of fairness, but in trying to be so fair, it’s much harder for any person or idea to stand out. If nothing stands out, then everything becomes more monotone and monotone becomes boring.

Liberalism’s association with belaboring oppression and victimhood don’t help either. It’s not that fighting against oppression and protecting victims is a bad thing. Conservatives are against that too, albeit from a different angle. With liberalism, though, that effort has become clouded with endless virtue signaling that comes off as a never-ending struggle.

Even if it’s a struggle worth fighting, it’s going to get boring if there’s no nuance to it. Taken to an extreme, everything becomes too fair and too bland. Media isn’t offensive anymore. History, debates, and discourse are watered down. Add micromanaging the economy to some extent, even if it’s in the name of preventing exploitation, and you end up with the same economy in fifty years that you have today.

In the long run, the Boredom Filter undercuts pure liberalism just as hard as undercuts pure conservatism. I say pure because, contrary to what Fox News and the Huffington Post may claim, few societies in America or any other country not run by Dr. Doom are ideologically pure. Even in the most repressive regimes, there are some moderating forces.

Technically speaking, every political party in every country is moderate to some degree. The key is understanding the extent of that degree and using that as the basis for the Boredom Filter. From that, you can make a fairly accurate assessment of their goals. Some will even state them outright.

Use that as a guide when both applying the filter and contemplating the world this ideology is trying to create. A conservative world that has no porn, only one acceptable family structure, and one moral code that never changes is going to get boring. A liberal world where nothing offensive is allowed, the economy rarely changes, and life is micromanaged by government gets boring too.

It’s rare, if not impossible, for an ideology to ever get to the point where it can implement every policy it seeks and achieve every goal it pursues. That’s why boredom hasn’t destroyed conservatism or liberalism yet. However, the failure of extreme systems like communism and repressive right-wing dictatorships shows that such ideologically pure societies tend to be unstable, at best.

That instability may not always be related to boredom. However, the documented effects of boredom combined with extreme efforts to engineer that utopian society every ideology seeks make for some significant obstacles. For most, if not all, boredom presents an insurmountable obstacle that no ideology can overcome. By applying the Boredom Filter, it helps to uncover which ideology is more vulnerable to it.

2 Comments

Filed under human nature, philosophy, political correctness, religion, War on Boredom

Are Cheerleaders An Endangered Profession?

cheerlader

There are certain professions that go extinct and for perfectly valid reasons. Occupations like elevator operator, switchboard operators, and milkmen are all jobs that just don’t have a place in the economy or society anymore. Technology and trends have rendered them unnecessary or obsolete.

For a small, but vocal contingent of regressive individuals with a low threshold for outrage, there’s a particular occupation that they’d like to add to that list. That is the profession/hobby of cheerleading, specifically the kind that involves parading beautiful women in sexy attire so they can dance, shake pom-poms, and get a crowd excited. Hell, it’s not like there’s anything inherently appealing about that.

That last sentence was sarcasm, by the way. I want to make clear that, as both a man and an avid sports fan, I love cheerleaders. They embody so many wonderful concepts about the world. They combine sports, sex appeal, dancing, and excitement. They bring happiness, excitement, and spirit to an event. There is literally no downside.

Unfortunately, that regressive crowd who insist on seeing sexism, misogyny, and oppression at every corner sees none of that. They only see beautiful women being paraded around in sexy attire for horny men to gawk at. It doesn’t matter if those women choose to do so or are paid to do. Beautiful women attracting the attention of horny men is seen as inherently oppressive to all women everywhere.

 

That was sarcasm too. I’m sorry if I’m using more than usual, but I find it’s the best way to highlight the sheer absurdity of this attitude. However, it’s an absurdity with serious implications because it reflects a growing trend. Now, in an era where it’s suddenly scandalous to depict the female body in any sexual context, cheerleading is a growing target.

It’s a target that has already taken a few hits. Earlier this year, Formula One Racing announced that it would no longer utilize grid girls, who are basically cheerleaders for racing. This act was cheered by the radical anti-sex feminist crowd. It was probably secretly cheered by priests, mullahs, and monks, as well. While it did inspire somewhat of a backlash, it hasn’t stopped that same crowd from aiming at other targets.

More recently, NFL cheerleaders are in the spotlight. In terms of cheerleading, as a profession, this is basically going for the very top of the hierarchy. The NFL is for cheerleaders what the Pro Bowl is for NFL players. It’s seen as the very pinnacle of the profession and it may be in danger.

It hasn’t helped that there have been some distressing scandals involving how some NFL cheerleaders are treated. The recent scandal involving the Washington Redskins cheerleading squad has only added more fuel to the outrage. Never mind that the facts of these scandals are limited and anecdotal, in some cases. It gives the regressive crowd everything they need to cry sexism and misogyny.

Now, none of this is to downplay some of the real issues surrounding cheerleading, as a profession. There are certainly issues with respect to how much cheerleaders are paid and how their lives are micromanaged. Those issues should be addressed and reformed. However, that’s not the conversation anyone wants to have.

Instead, cheerleading is getting lumped into other outdated traditions like arranged marriages, virginity tests, and being forced to cover their ankles in public. It’s not a profession or a passion that needs to be reformed and improved. It’s something that needs to be outright purged from society.

That’s not just an extreme reaction to a job that isn’t even the most dangerous or the most prone to sex scandals. It’s an attack on the very idea that beautiful, sexy women can and should be used to promote anything, be it a sports team or a fast food meal. The problem isn’t how the job is unfairly managed. It’s the job itself.

From the perspective of cheerleading’s opponents, it objectifies the female body and commodifies female sexuality for the consumption of men. In an era where sexually harassing a woman is seen as the ultimate evil, whereas sexually abusing a man isn’t nearly as outrageous, that’s just unacceptable.

The attitudes of the women who seek this profession don’t matter. The attitudes of the men who enjoy the sexiness and excitement that cheerleaders inspire especially don’t matter. All that matters is that cheerleaders are too sexually stimulating to the masses and that’s feeding a culture of misogyny and sexism. I wish that were sarcasm, but that’s what these regressive people genuinely believe.

For them, undermining the freedom and agency of those who want to pursue cheerleading and those who want to admire cheerleaders is a price they’re willing to pay. While some, like the Grid Girls, try to fight back, they’re facing an uphill battle and it’s one that cheerleaders might end up losing.

That’s because these are exceedingly sensitive times. Just trying to inject reason and criticism into the movement against sexism is subject to irrational outrage. Matt Damon found that out the hard way. More and more, people are just avoiding the conversation altogether because it just keeps fueling more outrage.

The current dynamic is as simple as it is unfair. If you stand up for cheerleaders, then the regressive crowd can just claim you’re a sexiest who wants to gawk at beautiful women. Even if you’re a woman speaking on behalf of cheerleaders, your criticism can be cast aside because you’re just brainwashed by the patriarchy and you’re for the objectification of women.

Never mind the fact that the very concept of objectification is fundamentally flawed. Never mind the fact that that flawed concept is also prone to some pretty disturbing double standards. The protests against cheerleading is framed as a protest against sexism, misogyny, and patriarchal oppression. It doesn’t matter how wrong or misguided that notion is. That’s the perception and there’s just no way to win that argument.

These days, being called a sexist is bad for business and for your profession. I believe the regressive crowd knows that, to some extent. They understand that the NFL is a business and one that has already been ravaged by negative press. Their success and their profits are dependent on their brand. If they see something as potentially damaging to their brand, then they’re going to either get rid of it or downplay it.

I’m not good at predicting the future, but depending on how these recent cheerleading scandals play out, I suspect that the NFL might just slowly phase out cheerleaders, altogether. It’s the path of least resistance. Keeping them around means keeping the outrage around. That’s just more risk and frustration than it’s worth.

It would be another major loss, one far bigger than the loss of the Grid Girls. However, as much as I love cheerleaders and the sex appeal they bring, I can totally understand why a major organization like the NFL would resort to such an extreme. By just removing cheerleaders, altogether, the crowd of regressive outrage will move onto their next crusade and, hopefully, leave them alone.

It’s a scenario that nobody wins. If the NFL ends up eliminating cheerleaders, it won’t be because they’ve seen the error of their ways and are now champions of women’s empowerment. They’re just protecting their brand. They’re trying to stop the whining, an approach that only offers the illusion of progress and not actual progress.

Personally, I hope the NFL resists the outrage. The more ground we give to regressive attitudes, the more regressive our society becomes. This is a crowd that won’t stop until everything that might potentially evoke sexual feelings or portray women in a sexy way is either eliminated or stigmatized.

As both a fan of all things sexy and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, that’s not a world I want to live in. That’s not a world that even other women want to live in, as the Grid Girls have shown. It’s a boring, unsexy, downright dystopian world that’s worth resisting and I hope there are plenty of cheerleaders, male and female alike, who will cheer on that effort.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, gender issues, media issues, political correctness, sex in society, sexuality, sports

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

1488462637_058409_1488464865_noticia_normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, media issues

Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Joel From “The Last Of Us”

cc579d19ebf45fbc7dc3d7a8e58527e5-e1508672973350

For the past few years, it has become a popular pasttime to label certain elements of popular culture as toxic or “problematic.” Take any character, song, plot, role, or trope from any brand of media. Apply an excessive amount of scrutiny, distorting it as much as necessary along the way. In the end, some people will find a way to make it offensive.

It’s through that process that shows like “Seinfeld” can be called racist. Movies like “Crocodile Dundee” can be called culturally insensitive. Movies like “Big” can be called creepy. Even classic video games like “Mario” and “Zelda” can be considered sexist. Scrutinize it enough and everything becomes racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and culturally insensitive.

I find that whole process to be an exercise in trolling that does more to spark outrage than it does meaningful discussion. It’s the same process that created the idea of “toxic masculinity,” a concept I’ve gone out of my way to deconstruct on more than one occasion.

I don’t want to bemoan all the flaws and frustrations that occur when regressive attitudes mix with regressive agendas. There’s enough debate, discussion, and outright shouting going on in that field as it stands. Instead, I want to shift the tone of the conversation by going to the opposite end of the spectrum.

By that, I mean I’m going to do the opposite of highlighting something that some may find “problematic.” Instead, I’m going to cite something that I think is inherently positive from which we can learn. In fact, I’m going to try and coin a new phrase that’s more uplifting than some of the other buzzwords used by the regressive crowd.

I call it “noble masculinity.” It’s the idea that there are noble, admirable traits in male characters that are worth celebrating in the context of a larger story. Having talked so much about toxic masculinity and why I think it’s such a flawed concept, I feel it’s only fitting that I attempt to counter it with something more positive.

I know it’s popular to criticize and complain about male behaviors these days and, as a man, I don’t deny that we can do some foolish things. However, men are also capable of incredible acts of virtue. Those traits deserve more attention, if only to remind everyone that men can be more than outrage fodder.

There are a lot fictional male characters from movies, TV shows, video games, and comics that I could cite who embody positive masculine traits. Characters like Superman, John McClane, and even James Bond come to mind, although I’m sure there are some who would disagree with the last one.

However, in this initial exercise of exploring noble masculinity, I want to cite a lesser-known male character from popular, critically acclaimed video game that some have called the most riveting, emotionally resonant story-driven epic of the console generation. That game is called “The Last of Us” and the source of the noble masculinity comes from Joel, the grizzled, yet vulnerable male protagonist of the story.

For those who haven’t played “The Last of Us” or just don’t play video games in general, Joel may initially come off as a mix of old cowboy tropes and John McClane rip-offs. However, by following his story, he reveals a level of depth that includes instances of noble masculinity that men and women alike can appreciate.

Joel’s story is not built on prophecies, superhuman abilities, or dumb luck. As a character and a person, Joel is largely defined by a grit that’s uniquely masculine in many ways. At the beginning of the game, he’s not looking to become part of some larger struggle. He’s just a single dad, trying to make a living and provide for his daughter, Sarah. In world full of dim-witted father figures, it’s pretty refreshing.

Then, within the first 10 minutes of the game, Joel suffers the greatest loss any parent can endure. He tries to protect his daughter from first stages of a full-blown apocalypse, but ultimately fails. He ends up watching his daughter die in his arms. It’s a very emotional moment, one in which Joel’s pain is palpable.

That defining moment establishes Joel as a man who fights to protect those he loves, but is all too human and very much at the mercy of forces beyond his control. There’s only so much that he do when the world around him is falling apart. No amount of anger, lament, or sorrow can change that. He, as a man and a survivor of this apocalypse, has to find a way to cope.

While his coping skills aren’t perfect, as evidenced in many powerful scenes throughout the game, Joel’s grief helps drive him. It also lays the foundation for the emotional development he undergoes after he meets Ellie, his young female co-protagonist who becomes a critical part of the gameplay and the story.

I could probably write another article about Ellie and why she’s one of the most compelling female characters in modern video games, but in the context of noble masculinity, she’s very much a catalyst for Joel’s emotional journey. Her own story is remarkable, but her influence on Joel is where she really shines.

It’s not a case of a knight rescuing a princess or a female character trying too hard to be an equal to her male compatriots. In fact, Joel’s first impression of Ellie isn’t a good one. She comes off as an irritable brat with a bad attitude. Essentially, she’s the kind of immature teenager that guys like Joel go out of their way to avoid.

However, their stories soon become intertwined. They end up having to work together, rely on each other, and fight for one another in order to survive a post-apocalyptic world that has been destroyed by zombies, toxic fungus, and military-enforced curfews. Before long, they establish a bond that brings out the best and worst of both characters.

For Joel, the best is reflected in those same paternal instincts that caused him so much pain and sorrow at the beginning. He comes to see Ellie as a surrogate daughter, of sorts. At times, he resists that and even gets upset when the idea is thrown in his face. In the end, though, he doesn’t avoid it.

As a result, Joel’s story embodies more than the love a father has for his child. It also reveals how willing a man is to form a bond with a total stranger, who is not even that nice to him in the beginning, and tries to protect them with that same paternal dedication. It doesn’t happen all at once. He even resists it at times. He still embraces it and all the tribulations that come with it.

That, more than anything, is the most important element of noble masculinity that Joel embodies. He’s not Superman, nor does he pretend to be. He’s also very aware of his own shortcomings, saying at one point that he trusts others more than he trusts himself. Most men are reluctant to acknowledge such insecurity, let alone reveal it. Joel doesn’t hide from it. If anything, he channels it.

It’s something that resonates with Ellie too. Throughout the game, she has opportunities to cut ties with him and go along with someone who might be better-equipped to help her. However, she choses to stay with Joel. Just as he comes to see her as a daughter, she comes to see him as a father.

The fact that he and Ellie go through this journey in the midst of an ongoing apocalypse makes their bond that much more powerful. It also requires that Joel push himself harder and confront the limitations that kept him from saving his daughter. Being a father made for great sorrow in the past, but it also made him stronger and more determined in the future.

That’s not to say that Joel doesn’t have his low points. There are moments where Joel does not come off as noble. Some even argue that his decisions towards the end of the game undermines his nobility. I would argue that it actually reinforces it.

When the world is already in the middle of an apocalypse and people are willing to sacrifice innocence for what they think is the greater good, then that’s when traits of noble masculinity become most critical. That’s when a father’s willingness to protect his child should be at its strongest.

That dedication still comes at a price. With a sequel in “The Last Of Us Part II” already in the works, it’s likely that Joel will continue to pay a price for his choices, however noble they might be. The fact that he still makes those choices and is willing to accept the risks reflects the challenges and strength that come with masculine drive.

Joel is probably not the greatest example of noble masculinity in all of fiction, but I would argue that his is the most relatable. He’s not perfect, nor does he pretend to be. He doesn’t have any capabilities that are impossible for other men to achieve. He’s a man who was utterly destroyed when he lost his daughter, but didn’t run from the chance to be a father again and to a total stranger, no less.

Flaws and shortcomings aside, I still contend that the noble masculinity that Joel shows throughout “The Last of Us” are far greater than any of the “toxic” traits that others may cite. In playing the game, it’s hard not to empathize with him or his journey, especially if you’re a parent. In appreciating his strengths, though, it shows that there is room for a brand of masculinity that anyone of any gender can admire.

6 Comments

Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in media, video games