Practice What You Preach
It is late May, the culling time of television. The birthing season of fan petitions and thinkpieces by pedigreed “professionals” about how we watched TV wrong by not obeying their proclamations. The post-election partisanization of life has flavored this years crop. Rather than just duke it out in the trenches of Facebook. I thought I would stand on my soapbox.
First I’d like to discuss the left’s response. As exemplified by Maureen Ryan’s piece in Variety yesterday. After 8 shows that featured and/or were created by non whites/ non males, she rings the alarm: Whiteness is coming. She does note she hasn’t crunched the numbers. I will in my counter argument. Let’s begin with Fox: “Pitch” and “Rosewood”, both premiered low for broadcast (under 5 million viewers) and only went lower both failing to get more than 3 million to tune in each week. Compare to the renewed “Lethal Weapon” which brought in 6 (still low but twice as good and stars a non white lead). On Netflix- “Sense8” and “The Get Down” we don’t have viewing figures so won’t speculate there but in terms of production costs we know “The Get Down” cost over 120 mil for 12 episodes and still was terrible (on this critics will agree). Sense8 which filmed in over a dozen countries probably costed a similar amount. Thats alot for two shows that never achieved even critic darling status. On “Hulu” we have “East Los High” which is ending after 4 seasons (60 episodes) and a movie in the works. It was a low budget emmy nominated series that helped launch Hulu as a series creator. We don’t know the viewership but it was never had much buzz which is needed for a series for teens. On WGNA, “Underground” an expensive period piece that dropped from a million viewers at the beginning of season 2 to under half a million for the rest. It was cancelled because the owner of WGNA is selling the network and cancelled all of its scripted television as it pivots back to a focus on reality because viwership is down and scripted TV isn’t cheap. On MTV is “Sweet/Vicious” which had about 200k viewers on average on a network that averages around a million for a stable hit. On ABC is “American Crime” which in season 3 never got above 3 million viewers on broadcast, a sharp drop from the 8 million of the series premiere. This leads me to the grievances of the right.
The right doesn’t have many options in the 400-500 shows currently on air or streamed yet it makes up enough Americans to win the presidency and both houses of Congress. One show, they did have was “Last Man Standing” on ABC. It was the second most watched sitcom on the network (behind “Modern Family”) and averaged 8 million viewers in Season 6. This had lead to outcry from Trump supporters in particular as liberal censorship. As Tim Allen is a vocal Trumpist. In the end, It suffered from the behind the scenes money trail. It aired on ABC but was made by Fox. Part of the deal between the two companies was that Fox would cover the production costs through season 6. Now we are in Season 7 and ABC would have to foot the bill plus licensing fees to Fox for a show that has peaked. Any syndication money (its one of the few off network modern successes) goes to Fox. Thus it no longer is a money maker and the ax.
TV is a business. The shows are there to fill the space between commercials or an excuse to gig you a monthly fee. It also sells the audience. Every May is up fronts, presentations to Advertisers selling them spots based on viewership or prestige from awards. Over 50 million voted for Clinton last November, the left would have you believe that it is even bigger. Granted as I am a Clinton voter, who knows the actual number of progressives. Despite that, I do believe that the progressives are larger than the viewership of those shows. The ones I know watched none of those series. They watched the diverse shows not canceled like “The Mindy Project”, “Master of None”, “Dear White People”, and “Jessica Jones”. Viewership matters more than tweets or feelings. If more diversity is important to the left then they have to show up. I’m reminded of Frank Capra on the director’s cut: we have to show them we really care. His proposal to the studios was that a list of the ten best directors would be agreed by both sides and if a director ever messed up in editing, the union would fly in one of the ten even for a sixties sitcom to fix it on the union’s dime. Directors now have their cut. If diversity is the secret to success as claimed by progressives then they have to prove it. Make those shows, the shows to advertise on. Same goes for conservatives, a mild hit isn’t enough. There are a third of a billion people in America. You wouldn’t know that by the ratings. Be the person, you praise.
E.C. Fiori made a good point today about the value of criticism in the modern media saturated society. In light of this, I’ll attempt to demonstrate what that might look like.
*Art above by peterstrainshop
Since the turn of the century, there has been something of a trend in films that spans genre: the use of internal worlds as the physical setting for the film.
We’ve seen it be the setting for horror movies for years (confirming a theory of mine that horror almost always leads the way in terms of film trends, but it has at last made the jump to action, sci-fi, comedies, and dramas. Beyond the mere setting or plot device however, I’d like to focus on the Romantic Dramedy category, since they must trade in emotion and memory as is inherent to the genre.
I’ll begin with a declaration: Charlie Kaufman is a genius. Hyperbole? Maybe, but let me make my case.
Over the past ten years there have been two films, both celebrated, that attempt to show the entire course of a relationship through non-linear storytelling the way we remember our own. The first is 500 Days of Summer. The second, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
500 Days of Summer is, I believe, a great movie. It thrills in using every tool in the genre box to tell it’s story, switching from comedy, to drama, to musical, to documentary, to music video as it fits that moment in the relationship. When seeing it in the theater I was hooked right at the credits, and would be very proud if I was the writer of it.
But for me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind excels beyond others. Today I’m going to focus on one aspect of it. And it springs, from the confidence of genius.
There is a scene, right in the beginning of the film, where Joel is giving Clementine a ride, and she is asking him if he is a stalker. He replies that she spoke to him first, and she comes back with this:
Clementine: “That’s the oldest trick in the stalker book”. Let’s pause.
As a writer, how would you have the conversation continue from here? Joel is extremely introverted and closed off. He is starting to like this girl, and the ball is in his court.
I can tell you what I would do: I would have a call back. I would have Joel say “Do they stock that at Barnes & Nobel?” which she mentioned she works at just a few minutes before. She would reply that it’s a bestseller, or she saw him buy it, and the snappy banter would continue.
Instead, Charlie Kaufman has Joel say this:
Joel: “I gotta read that one.”
For anyone who has written anything with dialogue, the temptation to skew towards the memorable or (potentially) quotable is almost irresistible. If you’re writing dialogue, chances are you love dialogue- why wouldn’t you have Joel say something that people are going to remember and want to say in their own lives?
He doesn’t have to be suave either, you can give Joel something in character to say that is much more dialogue driven: instead though, Charlie Kaufman gives him a punishingly boring line. It achingly boring, and almost a wasted opportunity.
Until you realize just how brilliant it really is.
The film is filled with moments like these, with people not knowing what to say, and fumbling with expressing how they feel. Your co-worker just admitted he stole a client’s underwear and is now dating her? Share an uncomfortable laugh. Protagonist is skeptically wondering about side effects of wiping the memories of failed relationships away? You could answer his question about brain damage with a scientific explanation about how all memories degrade in time and the process just focuses and accelerates it.
Instead, almost tenderly, Charlie Kaufman writes this line from the doctor: “Well, technically the process IS brain damage.” It isn’t some big corporation bent on destroying love, it’s a mom and pop private practice.
Why is this brilliant? For one, it makes the acceptance of the idea of memory wipes much more palatable. Any screenwriter can make up a sci-fi premise, but selling that premise as part of a real world and not a sci-fi one is nearly impossible. Kaufman makes it look natural.
And more importantly because at the end, at the cathartic moment where we see if love conquers all, we don’t get snappy one liners, or a voiceover, a neat resolution, or a call back. You get this:
Clementine: “You’ll find things wrong with me and I’ll get bored of you because that is what we do.”
The script has been so well structured and woven together that this simple acceptance is like a grenade going off in our chests.
And if I was a genius, I wouldn’t have to resort to a simile. I could just tightly weave together a story about people, have every single one be familiar and raw, and end it all replaying a faded memory we’re suddenly so glad to have.
The “lala land” haters say escapism is a waste of time and just amusement but lala land is an expression of inner emotions that we all in la trying to make it face every day. It is a real truth in that sense. Moonlight on the other hand is escapism as exotic as a scifi piece in that I will never know the ghetto or that life and I get to visit distanced by screen from the hardness I and all the haters wont ever know that truth.
To be sure “Moonlight” is a masterpiece that will stand with the classics of Lang and Murnau. It is a brilliant and moving film. It saddens me how people ignore the pure quality to focus on highlighting the diversity. Despite the foreignness of the world it is set in, I did connect with Chiron. I do think “Moonlight” has universality to it but I think most praise it for being what the SJW call “important” aka not white. “Important” is a word used to silence discussion it is to say shut up and repeat after me as if life is an unending college lecture. It has become meaningless. Industry awards are inherently pointless but to give them out based on white guilt is insulting to the craftsmen.
“La La Land” is a great film as well. Shot on cinemascope, as big as the frame is the narrative and performances make it feel like a blackbox play at times. One of it’s greatest strengths that Jack Delaney reminded me of is it is sincere. Most retro old Hollywood inspired films rely on the irony: nudge nudge can you believe this used to be the pictures or that more people went to see these than the great stuff we have today. Much like Postman’s analysis of “1984” party members, Jack noted how eventually the mocking gaze becomes honest enjoyment like the party member running the antique shop front. Most are set in the time of peak Studio System especially the overserious nonironic period pieces that treat the subject like a simpler time as a background to smolder in front of. “La La Land” embraces cinema’s history and the timelessness of the struggles to succeed creatively. Set in present day, it challenges us to question our emotions and what we value. It is beyond postmodern pastiche and is a Hollywood jazz musical about love and not the empty Coldplay love sold to us. It is not novel and that rubs the haters wrong. They are upset that their shiny new toy isn’t new or shiny but worn with age and care. That dedication to yourself and others is something more than just to be satired. That self love isn’t buyable or postable, it is a reward in itself. That the audience’s urban community isn’t a community at all but a parasite that consumed the community that existed and now is dying without a host. People hate on “La La Land” because they feel they must change after viewing.
“Children of Men” is a great movie but I disagree with the notion it is representative of 2016 is wrong or more accurately why the left says it is accurate is wrong. Just like the 2016 election, Brexit, and the anger of the poor. Especially the Vulture article, as much as the author claims that the solution can only come from new ideologies. I cannot disagree more.
We have a crisis of humanity. The Global Elite to which a majority of critics belong to point the death of compassion on the white poor and religion. It is simple and easy to label their fear as xenophobic or racist. First xenophobia is a medical condition and to be an armchair doctor from high without certification or actual medical knowledge never has cured a soul. Second the modern refugee is not the professional class Jew of antebellum Germany, they are a manual skill laborer. A class that the Western professional class has waged war against for 46 years. Robbed of living wages, the current wave of rage began in earnest with the election of Clinton in 1992 who pandered to the deindustrialized people on the campaign. Once in office, their quality of life was ignored for the P. C. culture wars. Now the few jobs that they are allowed to work due to the investment in their communities that makes the cost of college and credit rating needed for fair loans out of reach. Even jobs that don’t require education or specialized skills such as data entry are reserved for the privileged conferred degrees as a consolation to the damage digital disruption is wreaking on our world. Now the professional class wants to further dilute the opportunities by increasing working class competition without sacrifices of their own.
The worshipped tech “geniuses” who take from those with the least to trickle up luxury to the anointed upper class look at us from their environmentally friendly manors sitting on their hoards. They bestow gifts on those who believe in their dogma without question or defiance. Charter schools selective in the children to be saved and the majority go to global causes to expand their influence and control on new populations. They ignore the communities who raised them because we are not islands. The false interpretation of the enlightenment as the individual above the world ignores the wisdom of our predecessors. Kings exist beyond job titles and the tech and financial worlds have returned aristocracy and fiefdoms into our lives long before Trump declared his candidacy. It is the loss of morals not the inadequacy that created this moment. Cuaron is not immune to luxury take “Gravity” a decadent experience that was not revelatory as much as indulgent.
There are no quick solutions to the challenges of climate change and overpopulation but some of the most inspiring innovators live by traditional values like Elon Musk. Investing in the future rather than paying out short term profits. Will the critics who spend their days judging mostly forgettable entertainment that needs no comment ever use their existence to better humanity? Of course not they would have to give up their celebrity chef curated tasting experiences and gilded bars with bartenders who frame themselves as scientists. Television and amusement in all forms especially pop culture academia have narrowed our worlds. There is no global pillars rather the peoples of the world were sold snake oil. Bending the knee and toppling the temples that carried them through the ages for the false idol that is cosmopolitanism. Falsely accused of being the true vision of enlightenment cosmopolitanism is the antithesis. Consider the difference between “Yes, We Can” vs “I’m with Her” and “Make America Great Again”. To the contrary of Trump’s later speeches his slogan is a call to action that offered an ignored people a hand in their faith. Clinton’s slogan was a pledge of fealty that asked people to give into the will of the elite, perhaps even further degraded a fashion statement.
The modern elites to which every member of the mainstream media is apart of (important note: local media such as small circulation newspapers are not the same as much as the titans of attention try to frame them as such) view us the people as malfunctioning machines. Think about how the jargon the media uses to explain psychology and sociology is borrowed from tech. We are “programmed” beings “wired” to “function”. We are not machines but souls born. We are not “designed” to serve but created by God to live and exist. Even the notion of the individual stems not from writing but the shift on architecture and technology. In the age of Socrates ideas needed more than one to be thought through discussion. The advance of the written world through the convenience of the printing press created a new medium of conversation. Rooms began to separate us. Our ancestors shared a space with each other and their livestock. The individual bedroom made the self which found itself in writing. The expansion of the world that writing allowed for was far beyond the seven mile radius that existed in the feudal villages. This new world connected by ideas allowed the new individual to group and create without the intimacy of proximity. That was the birth of the Enlightenment. Film continued the same, premeditated images shared.
Television ended the Enlightened world no longer was the audience separated by time from the idea and image. We all could share the events of the world as they happened disconnected from location. McLuhan’s global village. More than 90% of Americans knew that JFK died within 2 hours. Most of the country watched the live coverage of his funeral 3 days later. A moment almost literally shared by the nation. Now with smartphones and the livestream have completed the village. We are no longer ever alone. We are no longer selves as in the Age of Enlightenment. Our actions known to all as we act. The elites have used this to prey on the people for profit. Now the people understand the new age and have come for control of the village.