The True Theme of 2016: Never Meet Your Heroes

Hating 2016 and wishing for it to end has perhaps been the meme of 2016. It has been called a dumpster fire and was declared to “even sucked for Kim Kardashian.” Beginning in July and continuing non-stop, this year was deemed to “suck” and we saw a flood of hot takes either labeling it the worst year in living memory or at least asking the question of how bad it really was.

How bad was 2016?

I’ve only lived for thirty years, but am confident this wasn’t even the worst year I’ve seen of my lifetime. 2001 was awful. 2004 wasn’t great either. 2008 had the financial crisis, the rise of Sarah Palin, the death of Heath Ledger, and apparently Elon Musk’s personal rock bottom. Armed with the right confirmation bias and armory of evidence, one could make an argument that really any year is the worst.

It’s also worth noting that not every take on the outgoing year is as reductive and hyperbolic as “the worst!” Jia Tolentino called it “The Year We Played Ourselves” in The New Yorker. Stephen Pinker pointed out that, if you ignored headlines and value facts, 2016 is better than its previous years in almost every way. It was arguably the best year ever for black filmmakers and apparently the year that solar panels finally became commercially viable. The Economist, meanwhile, awarded “The Economist‘s country of the year award” to “plucky Estonia.” Congrats Estonia!

But there is one theme I see everywhere I look, from the Nobel Prize to the election of Donald Trump to the author of Harry Potter. One piece of wisdom, one particular theme, one pervasive lesson: the classic advice that you should “never meet your hero.”

heroes
Yes, this article is about heroes and 2016, and Bowie sang about “Heroes” and died in 2016, but it has little to do with Bowie.

To recap exactly how this theme presented itself throughout the last year, I’ve catalogued a list of disappointing heroes and their disappointed fans from the last twelve months.

Why shouldn’t we meet our heroes?

Before we jump in, it’s worth reminding ourselves of why exactly we should never meet our heroes. Ultimately, it always comes down to disappointment. They aren’t who you thought they would be. They’re not doing what you wanted them to do. The things they said that made you admire them? Either your hero never meant those things or they don’t mean them anymore or they never meant what you thought they did.

And now, let’s take a look at all the disappointment heroes unleashed on their admirers. Continue reading “The True Theme of 2016: Never Meet Your Heroes”

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Some Commenters Just Want to Watch the Internet Burn

A strange thing happened today.

Those of you who have read this blog with any regularity will recall my True Detective review in which I offered a fan theory about the fate of Ross Geller’s son, Ben. It was a strange blog post, in that it ended up being a theory about a show I haven’t watched in years. The other strange thing about that blog post is that it got a lot of attention, showing up referenced or summarized on Entertainment Weekly, Hello Giggles, Cosmo, Redbook, Refinery29, and a series of other websites.

I’ve written about the reactions to my Ross Geller fan theory a few times, most notably in a post entitled “Commenters Gonna Comment”, in which I pondered the angry and hostile comments that readers leave on inconsequential pieces of pop culture writing. Continue reading “Some Commenters Just Want to Watch the Internet Burn”

Is Harvey Two-Face Dent the Batman Character Trump Resembles Most?

This is the third installment of an ongoing investigation into which Batman character Donald Trump resembles most. You can read the beginning here

Harvey “Two Face” Dent represents the curse of the classic politician. He’s the fallen star, the Apollo destroyed by the harsh realities of politics. His ambition and ideals are corrupted by pain and reality.  He’s the Barack Obama who realized he couldn’t close Guantanamo in his first term, the John McCain who courted the religious right and chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, the Mitt Romney who denied inspiring Obamacare.

whos-who-two-face
Two-Face as depicted on the back cover of Who’s Who: The Definite Directory of the DC Universe #24, February 1987

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight

Dent divides the world into those who die heroes (Kennedy and Lincoln come to mind) and those who live long enough to become the villain (Julius Caesar is the example he uses, although one could think of many more). Trump is of a third variety.

How does Trump resemble Two-Face?

Idealistic, handsome, charismatic. Donald Trump is none of these things, and there are those who admire him for it. He does not appeal to our higher selves, does not court intellectuals or idealists. He is humanity at our basest: frightened, hateful, and angry. He appears to have little-to-nothing in common with Harvey Dent, but there are some ways in which they resemble one another.

They promise a better world, whether they can deliver it or not.

Trump promises to “Make America Great Again.” Dent is elected to Gotham City’s District Attorney in The Dark Knight on “a crusade to take back our city,” with the slogan “I Believe in Harvey Dent,” which itself is a reflection of Batman’s recurring line in The Long Halloween: “I believe in Gotham City. I believe in Harvey Dent.” Continue reading “Is Harvey Two-Face Dent the Batman Character Trump Resembles Most?”

Does Richard Dawkins Understand Free Speech Better Than Sarah Palin?

 

The latest victim of his own foolish free speech is Richard Dawkins, the celebrity atheist and comic figure who spends his time hate-tweeting, pondering conspiracy theories, and being a hero to evangelical atheists.

hawkins-shirt
This guy. (Photo from his Twitter account.) Cool shirt, bro.

As of January 27, Dawkins found himself uninvited to the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS) after firing off one offensive tweet too many. If you’re not familiar with it, NECSS is basically a get-together for atheists, skeptics, and other people in the overall category. Dawkins would arguably have been the biggest celebrity to ever keynote it, until they decided they didn’t really want him to be there because of his notable poor taste. Continue reading “Does Richard Dawkins Understand Free Speech Better Than Sarah Palin?”

Why I Stopped Feeling the Bern: Questions for Bernie Sanders on Violence and the Media

It’s been no secret that Bernie Sanders has an unusual history (for an independent / socialist / Democrat/ whatever he is) when it comes to gun control. And people are starting to talk about it, including articles such as “The Last Thing Bernie Sanders Needs it a Conversation About Guns” on NPR, which does a good job summarizing the situation so far.

As this moment on CNN indicates, I'm far from the first to point this out.
As this moment on CNN indicates, I’m far from the first to point this out.

To briefly give an overview of Sanders’s strange history with guns and politics: at one point, he voted against the option for victims of shootings to sue the manufacturers of assault rifles. He has tried to frame the gun control argument as if it’s about hunting, even when discussing assault rifles and mass shootings. Despite being someone who thinks we need more federal laws and regulations when it comes to anything related to economics, he thinks that states should make their own decisions about whether purchasing a handgun should require a waiting period.

But what is really troubling me is this: Bernie Sanders took to one of his two official Facebook pages on Friday (less than 24 hours after the most recent mass shooting) and posted a preachy, idealist monologue. In it, he said we need to be “comprehensive” and “sensible.”  His next sentence is some mild vagaries about mental health, the kind of thing that people on both sides are saying as a way to avoid having to do anything more concrete. (You can read the statement, along with some other coverage on his stances on gun control, here.)

And then we have the kicker:  “We also have to tone down the incredibly high level of gratuitous violence which permeates our media.”

This is such a shocking, disappointing, empty politician’s promise. And as someone who like violent movies and television and books, I’ve decided to respond about why he’s wrong.

Let’s break down all the problems with it with a few questions for Senator Sanders:

a) Is there any suggestion, any evidence, that consuming violent fiction (regardless of its medium) results in violent acts? Specifically, is there any kind of link between violent media and mass shootings?

b) Are you advocating for mass censorship? If our television, music, movies, video games and books are to have less violence, how is this to be accomplished? More petitions from family groups? A stronger, tougher FCC? The elimination of premium cable as an option? Doesn’t all of this reek of the banning of books and constraint of freedom of speech? Do you want to bring back the V-chip?

A commonly-banned book. The exact thing that Sanders's statement makes me concerned about.
A commonly-banned book. The exact thing that Sanders’s statement makes me concerned about.

c) The most popular drama in the United States is NCIS. It’s a cop show, in which protagonists are cops and the cops carry guns and sometimes have to shoot people. Should the cops in this show stop carrying guns? Should they stop shooting people? Is this show an example of the violence you’re discussing?

d) The most discussed show in the United States media is Game of Thrones, in which the characters carry swords and sometimes chop off the heads of other characters. Does this promote mass shootings?

One of the most violence scenes in one of the most discussed violent shows in the United States. Does this promote mass murder with an assault rifle?
One of the most violence scenes in one of the most discussed violent shows in the United States. Does this promote mass murder with an assault rifle?

e) Isn’t this argument very ’90s? Do you also want to ban Power Rangers?

f) In your opinion, what makes violence “gratuitous”?

g) Finally, I think it’s worth noting exactly what you said, Senator Sanders. The six questions so far have been responding to the idea that there is too much violence in our fiction. But that’s not actually what you said. You said media. Which includes news. And yes, you’re correct, there is too much violence in the news media. You know why? Because the United States is too violent. Because there are too many shootings. Too many mass shootings. So here’s the question: what will you do to have less mass shootings in our media, by having less mass shootings in our news, by having less mass shootings in our reality? You say we have to “stop shouting at each other.” I agree. If you think you can be President of the United States, what are you going to do?

These are the questions I want answers to. This is what worries me about Bernie Sanders. This is why I’m not “feeling the Bern” as so many other people my age are. The answer to mass shootings is not censorship. It’s not banned media. But yes, I do want less violence in the media, by having less violence in the news. Let’s hope Senator Sanders can help provide some genuine comprehensive sensible reform to the issues of guns, like he has promised.

For more on Bernie Sanders and his flaws, see Is Bernie Sanders the Ned Stark of the 2016 Election?

And click here for more Political Coverage.

Are Kubrick and Spielberg Renegades? (And Other Odd Film References in Pop Music)

There’s a new song on the radio by a band I hadn’t heard of. It’s called “Renegades” and they’re called X-Ambassadors.

In this song, they celebrate “running wild and running free” and “living like we’re renegades.” I like the song a lot more than I would expect to. But hey, I never claimed to have great taste in music.

But what gets me is this verse:

All hail the underdogs. All hail the new kids. All hail the outlaws. Spielbergs and Kubricks

And it’s strange, for two reasons. The first is that it comes in the midst of a lot of very odd film references in pop music (which I’ll get to in a moment.) The second? Well. Would you actually say that Spielberg and Kubrick are a) underdogs b) new kids c) outlaws d) renegades.

Hmm. Maybe? There’s another part of the song in which we are told “long live the pioneers.” And sure, maybe, yeah, that’s what Kubrick was and Spielberg is.

It’s been a very long since either Kubrick or Spielberg was anything resembling an underdog or a new kid. Kubrick made films from the ’50s to the ’90s. Spielberg has been cranking them out for equally as long, into the present but with a different start date.

As for outlaws? I’ll take that one. Maybe. Kubrick was, at least, with Lolita and Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut. He had decades of being an outlaw, even if he was also an establishment, backed-by-the-man, wealthy outlaw. (And yes, it’s preferable to be the kind of Kubrick outlaw than the Polanski sort).

lolita

But Spielberg? Spielberg was barely any kind of outlaw. He might pioneer and push things forward but the guy isn’t a renegade. He is Empire.

It makes you wonder where these lyrics come from.

And that’s not the only strange film reference being thrown around on the radio these days. Fall-Out Boy is invoking Pulp Fiction with a song about a woman who wants to dance like Uma Thurman. Vance Joy and Mark Ronson are both singing about Michelle Pfeiffer.

What does it all mean? Every one of these songs has teenagers as their target audience. Michelle Pfeiffer’s peek and Uma Thurman’s dance with Travolta both predate the memory of any of the teenagers that these musicians are singing for. So why are we getting these allusions on the radio?

This happened over 20 years ago. But have no fear: it is available on Netflix Instant.
This happened over 20 years ago. But have no fear: it is available on Netflix Instant.

The answer is: I don’t know. It’s some kind of cultural appropriation, taking actors or filmmakers and changing their meaning to fit that of the song. Whether or not it actually means something, actually matters, is what I do not know.

The better answer is probably that these are just meaningless lyrics to silly songs. Maybe I should go back to dissecting Jason Derulo songs.

Interested in reading some fiction by the author of this article? Buy the short story Wildcat by D. F. Lovett for only 99 cents. 

What exactly is Ballers supposed to be?

Herodotus told us to call no man happy until he is dead. The same is true of television: no series, no season, no episode can be called good until it is over. All endings matter. And it is for this reason that the first episode of HBO’s Ballers is good, while the subsequent two are bad.

The three things that you need to know before you keep reading are a) Ballers is the new Entourage, b) I do not like Entourage, but c) I kinda like Ballers.

Point A is not debatable. Everyone agrees that it is the new Entourage. To be more specific, it’s the “Entourage of the NFL,” and remember that Entourage was always “Sex and the City for men.” Which makes Ballers the “(Sex and the City for men) of the NFL.” (Sex and the City, if you cannot remember it, was the Girls of the late ’90s and early oughts.)

Regarding my dislike for Entourage: I have only seen two episodes. The first two. There was not a single moment during those first two during which I thought to myself that I should continue watching. I gave it two, rather than one, out of a sense of fairness,and because I’d finished The Wire and needed something else to watch. The second episode of Entourage is the worst episode of television that I can recall finishing. It’s a terrible way to spend thirty minutes. I would rather spend thirty minutes on an episode of Duck Dynasty or the first ninety pages of a Dan Brown novel.

Anything with this many smiles = boring.
Anything with this many smiles = boring.

The reason that Entourage is so bad is that it is nothing but watching good things happen to bad people. (I am aware enough of Entourage to know that, yes, the show continues within the mold of bad people, good things, throughout its run).  There is nothing more boring than a television show in which the characters continually get what they want. But enough about Entourage. Let’s discuss the trouble with Ballers. Continue reading “What exactly is Ballers supposed to be?”

Not Stopping, White Walls, and Double Standards: Miley Cyrus vs. Macklemore.

Note: this blog post is actually something I wrote last summer, but never posted on here.  I figured I would share it here now.

A few days ago, I heard “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus and “White Walls” by Macklemore on the radio. And I noticed something.

Both songs have been around for a while, so this is not exactly topical, but it struck me that in “We Can’t Stop,” Miley is censored when she sings about “…trying to get a line in the bathroom…” Oddly, Macklemore is not censored when he refers to a female passenger in his vehicle “doing line after line like she’s writing rhymes.”

Not even going to address the racial dynamics here.
Not even going to address the racial dynamics here.

Seriously, Cyrus says “line” once and it’s edited out, but Macklemore says “line” twice and both are allowed. Why? Continue reading “Not Stopping, White Walls, and Double Standards: Miley Cyrus vs. Macklemore.”