Saturday Night Special

I started out writing this with the whole idea of structuring an argument around how the United States has an angry white male problem, and that’s the real driver behind all these mass shootings. It really does always feel like that’s a root cause of these things, doesn’t it? White guy is angry because he feels slighted by the world around him, hates that women, minorities, and the gays are getting everything, and needs to do something about it? Decides that the best way to fix the problem is to get a gun and shoot a bunch of people? I mean, it fits, but it’s a little too stereotypical for our needs here (although there is this interpretation which has some strong arguments about the anger issue). While I was trying to organize my thoughts on all of this–I mean, it’s kind of nuts that we keep having to do this every few months–I fell into a real webhole for about two days, just reading stuff so I could try to back up my arguments. I didn’t find a lot outside of the realm of opinions that could back me up, but I found so much other stuff that has left me kind of sad and a little numb. So yeah, here are some disjointed thoughts about all this shit, just to get them out of my head at this point.

Columbine happened in April 1999. That’s nineteen years ago. Nineteen. I was a senior in high school back in April 1999. That shit could have happened to my school. Yet, here we are nineteen years later (like the ending to the Harry Potter series), and it seems like we’re even farther away than we were then to any meaningful change. Also, let’s consider that we have now had a full generation of kids who have never known a world where a mass shooting at their school isn’t at least a possibility. Instead of laws that might make it supremely difficult for someone to carry out this sort of thing, they get mass shooter drills, and somehow we call this okay.

And how is that possible? Well, I found this very interesting piece by Vox that talks about how the NRA got overrun by conservative loons during that weird post-Watergate era in the 70s. Interesting to me is how legal thinking before this was pretty staid. The Second Amendment said militia, so they must be talking about an organized militia. You know, the state calls you to service and you have a right to be armed during that serivce. Today we call that shit the National Guard, and no one has a problem with them having rifles. They do get some training, right? It also brought up an interesting argument about how Southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention wanted this in place because they used militias to go after fugitive slaves. Oh, and also, it turns out that there was fairly comprehensive gun control that existed in Colonial times. So the loons at the NRA revolted in 1977 and took over the organization, fueled by God knows what (but probably a lot of that white rage that I started out thinking about, especially as a lot of inner cities really went to shit in the late 60s), and sprouting this idea that the Second Amendment was not meant to protect the government from disarming militias, but for allowing people to be able to rise up against government tyranny instead. And, fueled by extreme government distrust in the wake of Watergate, that message succeeded. And over the next 40 years, they chipped away at any sane notions about what to do about guns, to the point where you get laborious legal interpretations like this one, which helped lead to the Heller decision and fucking Scalia’s view that militia meant any individual person since any person could be called to serve in a militia. Great. This isn’t what the guys in that painting up top meant.

By the way, quick sidebar. I do love how court conservative politicans and jurists love to rail against legislating from the bench and preach the gospel of “originalism”, but had no problem doing it when it helped their pet causes. Fun, right?

Oh, here’s another thing that popped up since I started writing this. As it turns out, there was an armed security guard at the high school the day of the shooting. So, the theory the gun nuts love is that “a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun”, right? Guess not. Turns out the guy hid outside while the carnage was happening. Some rounds at the range against a paper target, or spray and pray against a defenseless deer might get your juices flowing, but it isn’t going to steel you to actually put hot lead into another human being, is it?

Anyway, the biggest takeaway is all the research that comes to one conclusion: limit access to guns, stop a lot of gun violence. Illegal guns may play a big role in shootings in places like NYC, Chicago, and LA–and that is going to be difficult to fix–but when it comes to these mass shootings? Research shows that most of these people got their guns legally and easily. I mean, maybe we need to look at this. The kid who did the Parkland shooting could not have gotten a handgun legally at his age, but there was no problem getting a fucking AR-15 style semi-auto. What the fuck is that?

Lastly, let’s return to that white man anger problem. I mean, you can kind of piece together how that is very possible. Did you hear about Wayne LaPierre’s CPAC speech which basically said that any regulation of guns means the end of Western Civilization as we know it? Or the idea that having one of those semi-autos in your hands brings about a very inflated sense of power? Or how maybe, just maybe, you feel like society has declined and that AR-15 is your only defense against wild chaotic left wing anarchy? Yeah, you can see how angry white people might think they need to shoot first and ask questions later. And if that’s not enough, there’s always the gun manufacturers themselves, letting you know that you’re not really a man unless you have a gun. Fuck, no wonder we are where we are today.

(Header Image: Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull)

Dirty Laundry

So the news broke recently that Angelina Jolie is divorcing Brad Pitt, ending what may be the last true “power couple”. That isn’t what I want to talk about, though. What I want to talk about is the media’s reaction to this. I found out about this thanks to a CNN breaking news alert on my phone. I bopped onto cnn.com on my computer and, look at that. Not only is it their top “news” story of the moment, but they put the words “It’s Over” in the same giant ass font that you normally reserve for talking about war, terror attacks, or the outcome of a presidential election. I don’t know about anyone else, but this seems to sum up so many problems we have in our world right now, and how the media fuels them.

I cannot be the only person who has felt the rise of celebrity-driven journalism over the past few years, right? We care about celebrities almost more than we care about actual events happening in our world. Hell, there’s a whole group of celebrities who are famous just for being famous (can anyone honestly explain the appeal of the Khardashian/Jenner clan in any other way?). This is the kind of shit that people care about, and people who run news organizatons seem to know this and pander. After all, they need to satisfy shareholders and cororate boards that they’re making their fair share of money, right? Am I alone in thinking this has done a disservice to what media is supposed to stand for?

I don’t think I am. And I brought this up because I think this has shaped our election coverage, and I’m not alone.

If you go to the 40 minute mark of this podcast, the guys interview a reporter from CNN, who pretty pointedly says that the executives (who care more about eyeballs and ratings) can do a lot to drive coverage more than actual news editors and the like. I think this is a big part of how a bigoted joke like Donald Trump became a major party candidate and has come so far. The man is a celebrity, and a bad one at that. But we love celebrities, so we cover the circus that follows them. If there had been any measure of journalistic integrity, they would have dismissed this clown out of hand last year. Instead, we are where we are.

Sometimes, seeing what makes “breaking news” is way more telling than it should be.

I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing

What follows contains all manners of spoilers about the finale of Mad Men. If you haven’t watched it already, don’t read.

Overall, I thought the Mad Men finale offered a lot more fan service than I expected. Matt Weiner is like David Chase in the regards that I don’t think he really cares what fans think, he’s going to tell the story the way he wants it (his paranoia about spoilers and leaks, though, is unmatched). That’s been obvious throughout most of this season, as we’ve watched Don go after yet another conquest and frankly cost two or three episodes that could have been spent exploring other things. Despite this, the finale tried to deliver for the fans. Our core group of people all got resolution to their stories, and an ending, even if we might not have liked each one. Even Meredith, Don’s ditzy on the surface (but obviously a lot smarter than she looks underneath) secretary got a nice send off. That’s a lot more than a lot of shows will offer. I’m good with how Joan, Roger, and Peggy ended up, even if some of the endings were a bit saccharine (although the Peggy and Stan thing feels right. She has the job and the man and the man understands her love of the job. Could she ask for more?).

Here’s my problem with the damn Coke commercial and the obvious insinuation fact that Don’s whole takeaway from the time at the retreat thing was a better way to sell fizzy sugar water. When you look at it that way, I feel like it invalidates what they were building to this entire season with Don’s actions, the pursuit of the damn waitress, and etc. When you simply look at it as “Don’s done it again! It’s the next Carousel”, why did we bother with anything? Let’s just skip to the usual refrain. Don is unhappy being one in a sea of many. He runs away, because he’s fucking Don Draper and Don Draper always runs away. He magically comes back and wows the world with some new fake nonsense from his fake life. End of show.

If you instead look at Don’s epiphany, or whatever you want to call it, as finally accepting who he is and that he has personal value, things are so much more interesting. Then the Waitress story makes sense. Here is Don, doing Don things like always. And it ends poorly, like all of his other conquests do. Except, this one isn’t the same. Don can’t let go. Maybe he saw a little too much of himself in her. Maybe there’s a pang of remorse about everything. Maybe the fact that he’s just a cog at McCann is weighing on him. Whatever it is, Don watches that airplane flying through the sky and realizes that he needs to find… something. Maybe this waitress to fulfill those Don Draper things he needs. Maybe something else.

Cut to Don on the road. He doesn’t find the waitress. But he finds something else. The courage to tell the truth about the real Don Draper to a bunch of vets. The desire to try and turn that young con artist’s life around before he becomes the next Don Draper. The need to try and help Stephanie, misguided as most of Don’s attempts to help are. And so on. And it all culminates in his experiences at the retreat place. For most of this, this is Don being Don. He can’t relate to the old woman in the one session. He’s clearly skeptical of everything and can’t believe he’s there. He’s pissed when Stephanie takes off with the car and strands him. He’s sticking out like a sore thumb. But he’s not the same. The weight of his calls with Sally and Betty are weighing heavily on him (and can we discuss how those two still are in love with each other in spite of all the terribleness that they endured together?). He breaks down on the phone with Peggy, perhaps the person he has the greatest hopes for. He’s left sitting in front of the phone in an almost catatonic state when that seminar leader pulls him into that class, and he sees that schlub guy break down, talking about how unlovable he is. And you see that look of recognition on Don’s face. That guy is him, the Dick Whitman he has spent years burying under his Don Draper facade. Suddenly, this whole season of nonsense has paid off. Maybe Don can become a new man, an honest man.

And when we get to him doing yoga on that cliffside, it certainly looks that way. But no, same fucking bullshit from another show creator who thinks that he’s way smarter than us. An empty payoff. If we were just going to get this, why not just let it be Don being Don at this place and then he comes back and says “I know how to market this staid beverage to these young people.” That would have felt way more honest about things. Or, even better, why not let Don keep his moment of enlightenment and come back to New York and see Peggy, his protege and one of the very few people he actually respects in this world, and tell her about his experiences and let her go off and do the damn song. That would have felt honest and vindicating, because while the show may have been about Don, it’s often felt like the show has secretly been about Peggy, and her trip up the ladder in the 60s. Tell me those outcomes would not have been way more satisfying.

Overall, still a good ending, and I didn’t have to worry that the cable went out like I thought during The Sopranos finale. Still, sometimes it pays to stop thinking that you’re the smartest guy in the room and see the big picture. Just saying. Ommm.

Lemon Crush

So the girlfriend and I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron over this past weekend. In short, this is what I thought of it:

  • Not enough of the stuff I liked: character development, conversations between characters, motivations for why they do what they do, etc.
  • Too much of what I don’t: Giant action set pieces, destroying whole cities with little or no consequences, and good luck keeping track of who everyone is and what they’re doing.

Let me break this down a bit more, because I think this highlights a lot of the problems that we’re experiencing with comic book movies as they become more and more popular and lucrative.

The too much of what I don’t is pretty easy to figure out. It’s become a growing (pun not intended) problem with these movies as they progress. Too much time spent on these action pieces that are almost indecipherable sometimes. Can you really keep up with all these different people fighting through a whole city? I didn’t think so either. And it’s not just this movie that’s guilty of it. Putting aside the fact that Zach Snider really has no idea whatsoever about what Superman is really about, does anyone really think that there would not be repercussions for most of Metropolis basically¬† being leveled at the end of The Man of Steel? And putting aside the fact that Christopher Nolan turned one of the best superheroes ever written into a one super dour note guy by the time we got to The Dark Knight Returns, they more or less turned all of Gotham into a prison! In the real world, no government would have let that happen.

There are plenty of reasons we could look at for why this happens. A lot of it has to due with international audiences, I’m sure. Stuff doesn’t always translate away from English all that well, but everyone speaks the language of explosions. That’s part of it, but I think the fanboys are the real reason we’re here today.

People forget this by now, but when it was announced that Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in the 1989 film, the fanboys were angry as hell about it. They’re letting the guy who did fucking Mr. Mom be the Caped Crusader? What the hell is that shit?? Yet, the 1989 Batman movie was a revelation that picked up the baton that the Superman franchise had dropped and pushed comic book films into the stratosphere. If that wasn’t bad enough, fan boys are still angry about the retconning of the Joker’s back story. They dared change an iota of Bruce Wayne’s backstory? That’s fucking heresy. Forget that the change made the whole thing more compelling, not less. I think you get what I’m saying.

I understand the desire for some fanboy service in these movies. If you don’t do that, you end up with Batman & Robin and George Clooney is the caped crusader with BatNipples in his Batsuit. I’ll never understand the thought that went into those meetings, but I think everyone involved with that movie wishes it had never been made. The problem is when you surrender completely to the fanboys and offer up some sort of orthodoxy that these kinds of movies cannot really sustain. Even when you go with a mostly original story like they did in Age of Ultron, fanboy service must be met and it changes the tone and effect of the movie.

Instead of tearing up a whole town, give me more of the interactions between the characters. That scene where all of the Avengers, plus Falcon and War Machine are at the party trying to lift up Thor’s hammer? Give me 45 more minutes of it. I would have loved to hear more of the banter that would have surrounded that. Playful insults and injokes and innuendo. That would have made for great fun. After all, it could be you and your friends sitting around a table joking around, except that there’s a Norse god, a billionaire, a 100+ year old super solider who still looks under 30, and a few other interesting characters involved. Tell me that would not have been better than the appearance of the Hulkbuster and demolishing half of a city just to more or less say that they got the Hulkbuster into one of these movies? I thought so.

While we’re at it, give me more of that Banner/Romanov… uh… whatever that was. They could have done so much more with it, but didn’t. Maybe it’s because fanboys are scared of girls and fear romance? Who knows.

More than anything, give me tons more of Tony Stark’s broken psyche. There’s a lot of fertile ground there. The actual Iron Man films did a decent job exploring some of this (including daddy issues in the 2nd one; if my daddy was Roger Sterling, I might have some issues as well), and there are some scenes here where we can tell that Tony was very affected by what happened at the end of the first Avengers. That’s super interesting stuff in the right hands! And Joss Whedon was those hands! But, still, nope, need to make room for another robot being blown up super easily.

I think it may be time for comic book movies to rein it back in a bit. Take on smaller stories and let the characters shine through. I say this because both a good superhero and a good villain are more defined by their internal shortcomings and fallacies than just oh look I’m the bad guy, and he’s the good guy.

In the end, though, these movies keep making obscene amounts of money, which will make studio heads decide there is more and more need for bigger set pieces and more action. And it is only we, the fans, who end up losing out the most in the end.