Toxic Fandom

Toxic Fandom

Reviews for the new Amazon Prime series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power have been delayed by Amazon for up to 72 hours amid concerns of review bombing and trolling. Reports of racist and sexist attacks against the cast has ignited the usual Twitter foray of “forced diversity”, “wokeism”, and other tired generalisations pertaining to modern entertainment, with no nuance to be spared. But while these remarks have thankfully been denounced, a broader discourse on the nature of “toxic fandom” has emerged which adds an unfortunate but very much discernible crinkle to what one might expect of this subject.

This idea of “toxic fandom” has become prevalent in recent years, mostly due to the nature of social media amplifying the voice of disturbed passionate fans. Where the extremist fans were once left to toil away with their posters and toy collections, they now have an avenue for embracing their fellow comrades in arms and turning on them at the slightest criticism of the IP they love. We’ve seen this most notably with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the fandom has become divided over the old era output and more recent Phase 4 material. Perhaps a brief list of talking points will illustrate where the fandom gets imbued with toxicity:

  • Yeah, I love Marvel but these new series (She Hulk, Ms Marvel) aren’t doing it for me.
  • Your sexism is showing.
  • Well, the stories just aren’t as good.
  • It’s them building up to another Avengers. You’ve gotta give them time.
  • That twerking scene with Megan Thee Stallion was such a low.
  • I bet if it was Tony Stark doing it you’d love it.
  • Why is Harry Styles in the MCU? He can’t act.
  • Harry’s talented. You’re just jelly.
  • Ugh… Marvel’s gone so woke.
  • Tell me you’re sexist without telling me you’re sexist.
  • That election was stolen off Trump! F- the MCU.
  • Wait, what?

These idiots kind of fans can usually be found on Twitter, where vitriol runs rampant more than any other social media but the discourse feeds into entertainment news too and colours the greater picture of toxic fandom. Now, to be fair, there are actual bigots criticising these shows and movies (as evidenced by the comments on Rings of Power and House of the Dragon) but in the chaos of the comments’ section, it becomes a lot easier to paint any criticism of these IPs with the broad stroke of toxicity, which brings us back to Tolkien.

Having watched three episodes of The Rings of Power, I deem it decent without being exceptional. The nature of my criticism may raise an eyebrow or two though because while I feel it is visually stunning, the characters are mostly dull and without personality. Especially the Elves. Now, because one of the leads is a female and because people on social media refuse context and reading beyond click bait headlines, this crictism could be rejected with a comment like “oh of course the man doesn’t like Galadriel doing everything Aragorn could” or something akin to that. It would even give me pause for thought because let’s face it, bigotry is embedded deep within our subconscious from an early age, in one way or another. Maybe there is a case to be made for traditional fans of fantasy (men, mostly white) having a blind-spot and actively trying to gate-keep a genre, without even releasing the extent of what they’re doing. It is genuinely a valid concern.

The question then arises as to where that leaves us however. We shouldn’t accept inferior art just because it promotes diversity or a particular ideology. That’s woefully condescending and allows any creators to invalidate criticisms without anything more than the label of “toxic fandom”. But we must also acknowledge that while not all modern criticisms lean towards toxicity, a fair number still do. We’ve seen this through review bombing of movies, books, and TV shows yet to even be released, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens (when the trailer showed a Black stormtrooper), Captain Marvel and She Hulk. We’ve seen this in the way fans of certain singers (Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Harry Styles) react whenever someone criticises them in the mildest fashion (e.g. 24 writers credited to a recent Beyoncé song- you just don’t get it- Queen B knows what she’s doing). We see this through cult of personalities springing up around certain celebrities like Johnny Depp (and yes I know, Amber Heard was toxic but fans were willing to overlook every single dodgy thing Johnny did or sad with freakish devotion).

Toxic fandom is a thing; it’s just not everything though. And by denouncing large portions of a fan base, I don’t think Marvel or Disney or Prime will be doing themselves any favours. Rather, an open discussion is needed in order to articulate where valid criticisms differ from petty, tribalistic ones. Amazon can continue spending all the money in the world but it can’t buy the respect and devotion deservedly earned by JRR Tolkien and Peter Jackson before. (But look, I’ll keep watching.)

The 90s vs. Today: Liberal & Cultural Shifts

The 90s vs. Today: Liberal & Cultural Shifts

Millenials and Gen Z are often put at loggerheads with Boomers over a variety of socio and economic issues, primarily revolving around what’s been lost in privilege and ambition. To an extent however, our experiences parallel those of the youth in the 1960s when cultural revolutions stirred fresh bouts of hope and vigour for civil rights and a new quasi-enlightenment. Now, if we travel back to the 1990s, we can see quite a juxtaposition in the cultural values and liberal ideals espoused then, by the rising Gen X, against what’s promoted today.

In the 1990s, a new world was born from the metaphorical ashes of the Cold War. What was important in the 1980s became promptly unimportant in the 1990s. George H.W. Bush’s policies no longer reflected America as they had done four short years before and in 1992, the people were ready for a new kind of leader and Democrat (and you may interpret that “kind of” as you please) in Bill Clinton; a fresh young face of 40-something. In the meanwhile, the gaudy, glitz of 80s popular culture was eviscerated and torn a part by the ushering in of a more natural, albeit pessimistic dress sense and music scene. Nirvana rose to prominence in glorious fashion, even if it was against their singer’s instincts. Bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden followed suit, undoubtedly talented and unique in their own way, though far from what one could have imagined ten years before, occupying the mainstream Skateboarding took on a whole new dimension of popularity. Indie, auteur filmmakers emerged as the exciting current in cinema. The Simpsons undercut the idealistic family-centric tendencies of 80s television and the attitude which dominated youth culture got drawn as one of indifferences and cynicism.

It was a time buoyed by economic growth and hopeful prospects in America but, alas, the spirit of the 1940s, 50s, 60s, or even 70s wasn’t there. Perhaps this can be attributed to the age-old truth that successive generations will go against what their parents did before (or at least go in a different directions). Perhaps, a new attitude was born as a reaction to the overt-commercialisation and rightward trend of 1980s politics. It’s difficult to determine any one specific truth, especially when covering a subject as broad as generational divide. It’s fascinating, more so, when we reflect on these cultural values in light of what we see today.

A good case study for this cultural shift can be found in the Bill Clinton scandal. The Monica Lewinsky one. Today, we look back on it as an abuse of power and a classic case of sexism dictating media. We acknowledge that Lewinsky was treated unfairly, especially with the hindsight of the toll it took on her mental health. This wasn’t the popular perspective of the time however. People were certainly outraged that Clinton had acted the way he had but more so because he lied about it under oath and because of the headache the ensuing impeachment hearings caused (which eventually yielded a positive upswing for him in the polls, when people felt the Republicans were pushing it). Lewinsky, meanwhile, was subjected to a barrage of late-night jokes and dismissed by many as a silly, immature home-wrecker.

Was it a case of people back then lacking empathy? Well, the treatment Lewinsky was given by the media was cutthroat and cruel but for many, Clinton too had been given merciless scrutiny from the get-go; like no other president before. And for the most part, Democrats were happy with his performance. What was this scandal in light of the greater issues at hand then? Of course, today, this scandal still comes to the forefront of any profile on the 42nd president, which suggests perhaps that we take these work-relationship dynamics more seriously and/or have lost perspective on what’s actually important, feeding the outrage machine further.

This conveys that people were somewhat looser with political correctness in the 1990s. The decade before had been a PC one, in its own sense, albeit of a right-wing, religious kind; apparent notably via the relatively safe-handed approach taken to TV sitcoms and movies. Where the ’70s had reflected a Vietnam-era, mistrust in authority attitude (with the likes of Taxi Driver and Serpico), often with morally ambiguous protagonists, the 1980s saw the rise of a more capitalistic, spectacle type of entertainment. The good guys were once again the good guys.

Artists of the 90s sough to separate themselves from the 80s by creating less formulaic, hero-first works, by returning (in part) to the ethos of a now-nostalgic 70s. Quentin Tarantino was at the forefront of a new kind of cinema; a fantastic of 70s films, he instilled his with references to the greats, morally-ambivalent characters, and violence. Indie darling Richard Linklater meanwhile, made movies like Slacker, Dazed and Confused, and Before Sunrise about clever, if somewhat aimless characters just trying to figure their way out in the world. Plot wasn’t even a concern in these cases. Kevin Smith’s Clerks followed suit. And in these movies and TV shows of the time, what emerged was a prevailing sense of disillusionment with the ways of old, a “whatever, man”, middle-finger approach to the world.

Some of that independent spirit can still be found in movies today, though it rarely makes the mainstream or a cultural footprint as it did back in the 90s. And where many 90s shows (e.g. Seinfeld) couldn’t have given a damn about pertaining a moral message, today we’re seeing politics enter the narrative of even Marvel TV shows. The politically incorrect, apolitical tone of the 90s (and 00s’ media) is no longer cute but irresponsible. Critics and social media hounds are always ready to pounce if something “problematic” should arise.

This kind of activism really divides the cultural outlook of today against the 90s. Between social media, regular media, and the arts, everything feels politically-driven today. It’s easy to decry this but within the vortex of political correctness and cancel culture, one could argue that we at least try to care a bit more. “Woke” culture may lead to some seriously cringe Twitter posts by “allies” but at its essence, it demonstrates an active effort to diversify and better the prospects of others. Such thinking wasn’t necessarily disparaged in the 90s but authenticity was key to credibility in such instances (i.e. they had much a more acute BS radar). To sell out and commercialise yourself (or play to the masses) was just about the worst thing you could do as an artist. (Nowadays, musicians make songs for food delivery services.) With that said, the 90s seemed to glorify dangerous trends such as the ultra-skinny heroin chic look which showed that maybe there was simply just another orthodoxy to follow (bringing into question the idea of authenticity).

In so far as a narrative is concerned, history will often find fashion trends fading and returning. This applies to cultural outlooks too, in broad strokes. Just as we look back on the 90s and early 00s with rose-tinted glasses, so too did people in the 90s look back on the 70s (Dazed and Confused), and people in the 70s looked back on the 50s (American Grafitti). The lesson here is similarly broad but pertinent, given the self-righteousness of some liberals today: you’re not necessarily right about everything. So as heroin chic was seen to be a psychologically damaging trend, maybe too will we see the current body-positivity movement to be fraught with complications, sidelining health issues. Maybe Clinton’s neo-liberalism set the Democrats back progressively but maybe today’s progressives are undermining the electoral credibility of their party? History has to move on and we should not be apathetic about our cultural values but we shouldn’t arrogantly assume that we’ve reached the nadir of enlightenment either. Every generation could be marked out for its mistakes and embarrassing philosophies. I’m sure ours will be just another one.

Confident Leadership Isn’t Competent Leadership

Confident Leadership Isn’t Competent Leadership

The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.—Bertrand Russell

In our culture, confidence is heralded as an important attribute in defining success. With presentations, interviews, press conferences, and more, we feel most assured when whoever’s addressing us is able to project strength in vision, even if they’re unable to answer all our questions; the age-old mythos that the alpha must lead the pack. But action and rhetoric are so often at the helm of stupidity. Coming out of the Trump and Johnson eras, it is important that we examine the nature of such leadership, for it often undermines our best interests.

Let’s begin by taking a trip down memory lane to the 1980 election. It was Jimmy Carter vs Ronald Reagan. The peanut farmer vs the Hollywood actor. The detail-oriented micro-manger v the guy who fell asleep in meetings. Now, the Carter administration had a host of problems that arose in part from his decision-making to adverse world conditions (inflation, Iran, etc.) but to most people looking in, Carter was clearly the smarter, more even hand. But because things weren’t going so well and because he projected such charisma and confidence on the campaign trail, Reagan was able to make issues (like energy sustainability) far less important than they should have been. He knew the key to victory was presenting himself as the stronger leader. Similarly in the 2000 election, Al Gore’s apparent weakness as a viable “strong” leader undermined his chances against the (shall we call it) broad-stroked George W. Bush.

Indeed, with increasing frequency since the dawn of the TV age and televised debates (starting in 1960), marketability has become the most crucial factor in determining such elections. Where substantive debate is needed in tackling the major but (popularly) uninteresting issues of health care, economics, and more, we find that quick, quipy responses and a “trust me” demeanour most beneficial to the candidate running. As clickbait articles and social media have exasperated this problem sevenfold, so have we seen the rise of a new order of woefully incompetent, if tragically confident leaders. I speak of course of Donald J. Trump.

Now, I could talk about that administration at nauseam but let’s face it, there would be no point. Everyone should know by now that he was a con-man whose interest in the job extended only so far as the reach of his power. The details and long-term projections of departments established previously (such as a pandemic response team) were gutted for the simple gain of “playing the part” and conveying himself as the man who would accept no waste, i.e. strong, confident, decisive leadership.

Politics shouldn’t be reduced to such rampant bravado and ego-pleasing rhetoric. The great works of our time haven’t been accomplished by mindless leaders. The Affordable Care Act became a reality as a result of decades-long campaigning, adjustments and compromise, detail-oriented legislation, and perhaps most crucially, hours of bland, administrative work. The accomplishment of getting a man on the moon didn’t come to pass because John F. Kennedy said it must be so but because the work was put in by scientists at NASA, albeit with the backing of Cold War capital. The reality of historic achievements is far less dramatic and entertaining than you would believe. Just watch Lincoln.

For effective leadership, confidence must be backed by credibility. The act isn’t enough. As shown in the series The Dropout, biotech entrepreneur and founder of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes made her fortune and name off of the back of inaccurate blood-testing data and fraud with investors (who included Ruper Murdoch, the Walton family, and the DeVos family). With further associations she managed to sway and charm such as Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, she legitimised herself (even though her company was publishing what wasn’t there and bypassing the ethics of proper scientific procedure). A fan of Steve Jobs, she understood the importance of selling an image and in 2015, made Time’s “100 most influential people” list. Of course, when the whole charade was exposed, things changed and in 2016, she joined Fortune’s list of “World’s 19 Most Disappointing Leaders”. Karma, at its finest. Except for the people whose lives she played with.

The important lesson to be gained here is that need to be more critical in our thinking and to stop taking images of success at face value. Influencers on social media aren’t necessarily as rich or successful as they purport to be in their calculated, often staged photo ops. Not every rapper has a host of women following them to parties or a yacht. Not every entrepreneur is brilliant or the next Steve Jobs. Heck, even Steve Jobs wasn’t Steve Jobs. Unfortunately, the “fake it till you make it” mantra has become popularised and ingrained in the American ethos. The Jordan Belforts of this world thereby get rich while gambling the fortunes of those less well off, who also think they may have the shortcut to success. Confidence may hold merit in some circumstances but it’s not as important as a healthy dose of doubt, close analysis, and competent thinking.

Rating The Royals

Rating The Royals

Another decade has passed which means another jubilee! Yes, unless you’ve been hiding away at a Pizza Express, you’ll be aware that the Queen is now in her 70th year as the head of state. Quite a remarkable feat. But you now, it’s not all been easy. Indeed, she’s had to witness the general decline of the British Empire in the latter half of the 20th century and put up with a bunch of dodgy characters, both inside and outside the palace walls.

For this occasion, we thought it would be quite fetching to take a look at some of those characters within. And here to help us, is our Belfast correspondent and conspiracy enthusiast, Belle. Together, we’ll run through the main players of the monarchy’s stage and rate them on four important factors:

1. Their Suitability To Their Role
2. Their Associations
3. Their Entertainment Value
4. And… The Rogue Factor

So, without further ado, let’s get to it:

Queen Elizabeth II, 96, Single

Suitability (8.5/10)

Belle: “Begrudgingly impressed she has held on for so long. All hail the lizard queen (shoot me)” 8/10

Andy (Washington Walrus): “Quite dignified in comparison to others. Generally apolitical.” 9/10

Associations (8/10)

Belle: “Who knows? Mystery. Lizard people. Freemasons.” 8/10

Andy: “She doesn’t seem to care for many besides her dogs. Also, Prince Andrew is her fave. But when you have that sh#*^ show to contend with…” 8/10

Entertainment (3/10)

Belle: “Yawn, she could take tips from her (alleged) autistic paedophile son”. 1/10

Andy: “I do enjoy how unimpressed she seems by everything.” 5/10

Rogue Element (5/10)

Belle: “Lobbied so that she wouldn’t have to hire immigrants, married a man who was not only her 3rd cousin but her 4th from the other side of the family. No wonder her children turned out the way they did! I hold this woman in the utmost contempt.” 6/10

Andy: “Very stoic but maybe she has a wicked sense of humour? Who knows? I’ll go by the points above, though compared to the rest of the family, I hold her in higher regard.” 4/10

TOTAL: 24.5 / 40

Prince Charles, picky eater

Belle: The poster boy for why you must never sleep with your cousin.

Suitability (6/10)

Belle: “Appropriately inbred but he just seems kind of weak, like he’d blow away in strong winds.” 6/10

Andy: “He brought Diana into a loveless marriage whilst pining after another woman. That took guts. England needs guts.” 6/10

Associations (3.5/10)

Belle: “My nan met him once but aside from that.” 2/10

Andy: “Stephen Fry likes him. That’s about all I know.” 5/10

Entertainment (2/10)

Andy: “He holds the Prince’s Trust each year.” 2/10

Rogue (5/10)

Belle: “Whacking your ex-wife who was pregnant is pretty rogue by most standards but maybe not by royal standards.” 5/10

TOTAL: 16.5 / 40

Prince Andrew, honoured veteran

Belle: The medical miracle himself. The nonce who could not sweat. The Queen’s favourite, albeit the bar is in hell. A man so inbred he sticks out from even this sorry lot.

Suitability (10/10)

Belle: “Straight back to the Dark Ages. I like it. Very medieval.” 10/10

Associations (9/10)

Belle: “The sex trafficking ring barely scratches the surface of his associations I’m sure.” 10/10

Andy: “Sketchy to say the least.” 10/10

Entertainment (10/10)

Belle: “That interview was ICONIC”. 10/10

Andy: “It took guts to tell so many strange lies. The royal family needs guts.” 10/10

Rogue  (10/10)

Belle: “Prior to the minor indiscretion of being found to be associated with a sex-trafficking ring, Andrew was already well known for his eccentricities, including but not limited to a teddy bear collection of 70, mostly dressed in sailor suits, arranged in a very specific way by his maid or else he would throw a tantrum (bearing in mind he was an adult, this was after he came back from serving in the Falklands.) Anyways, imagine my shock when he turned out to actually be an (alleged) paedophile”. 10/10

Andy: “Rogue or just loyal to old friends? I think we all know the answer here. Rogue.” 10/10

TOTAL: 40/40

Prince William, Douche of Cambridge

Suitability (6/10)

Belle: “Oh, he is so dull. Pass. Despite being the heir to the throne, I keep forgetting he exists.” 6/10

Andy: “In the case of not rocking the boat, I suppose he is suited to the role.” 6/10

Associations (4/10)

Belle: “Not exciting. He should take a leaf out of his Uncle Andrew’s book. Haha just joking.” 4/10

Entertainment (2/10)

Andy: “I am not entertained.” 2/10

Rogue (0/10)

Belle: 0/10

Andy: Agreed.

TOTAL: 12/40

Prince Harry, great at costume parties

Suitability (2/10)

Belle: “Honestly neither weird or inbred enough. Glad he got out of there.” 2/10

Andy: “He’s gone too woke for me. I need my royals regressive.” 2/10

Associations (1/10)

Belle: “He seems to have fallen in with a rough crowd since his Nazi days. James Corden. Yikes.” 2/10

Andy: “He’s gone very Hollywood and the news that he arranges playdates with James Corden is very disturbing. Such associations make Prince Andrew look all that much better.” 0/10

Entertainment (8/10)

Belle: “Nazi garb” 10/10

Andy: “I miss the old Harry, partying in Vegas and just being the wild card in general. Alas, he’s become a total beta in recent years.” 6/10

Rogue (8/5/10)

Belle: “My personal favourite out of the Royals. Notorious for his transgressions even prior to marrying a divorced, annoying American D-list actress. But to be honest, if my Mum was whacked by my Dad’s family, I’d probably act out a bit as well. Besides, who among us hasn’t impersonated a Nazi in a fit of teenage angst.” 10/10

Andy: “Hmm an interesting one. Rogue in recent years, certainly- though one wonders if that’s just the work of Wicked Meghan pulling the strings? Rogue in his party days. But.. he was also in the army, which is not so rogue.” 7/10

TOTAL: 19.5/40

Kate Middleton, presumed neighbourhood watch founder

Suitability

Belle: “Good looking. Maybe she would install a soft dictatorship.” 5/10

Associations

Belle: “Her sister’s bum is famous.” 7/10

Entertainment

Belle: Perhaps the least entertaining of the lot”. 0/10

Rogue

Belle: “If beige wallpaper could smile and wave politely. Has anyone actually heard her speak before?” 0/10

TOTAL: 12/40

Meghan Markle, Margery Tyrell of the Royal Family

Suitability

Andy: “Well, she wasn’t exactly a star before but she’s certainly good at putting on a performance. And that’s a part of being a Royal. On the other hand, as Belle’s pointed out, the inbred factor is important and she’s simply not close enough to the… source, shall we call it?” 4/10

Associates

Andy: I know Harry’s close with James Corden. Not so sure about Meghan. I’ll give her a partial pass but again to be in that radius… Hmmm… Anyways, she’s thatched herself on to the Hollywood elite and keeps the family at far range (or some of them are toxic or something, I don’t know). 4/10

Entertainment

Andy: The only performance I’ve seen of hers was that tabloid interview with Oprah. Oh, and she has a brief role in Horrible Bosses. 5/10

Rogue

Andy: Well, she disturbed the order. So that’s something. On a socio-political level though, she plays by modern morals and standards. And I’m not having that. Not in this family. 5/10

TOTAL: 18/40

Prince George

Belle: “All hail George! Future overlord! May he have a long and tyrannical rule.” 

No categories needed, TOTAL: 100/10

Honourable mention: the late Prince Philip, gone but never forgotten

And now the rankings…

Kate- 12
Will- 12
Charles- 16.5
Meghan- 18
Harry- 19.5
Queen- 24.5
Andrew- 40
George- 100

Well, that quickly went dodgy. Perhaps, these weren’t the proper categories for rating the Royal Family at all but there you have it, the young George has much to live up to but is already surpassing the powerhouse that is the Pizza Express enthusiast, Prince Andrew.

Happy Platinum Jubilee celebrations all!

Streaming Wars: Netflix’s Reign Coming To An End?

Streaming Wars: Netflix’s Reign Coming To An End?

With reports of 200,000 lost subscribers in its first quarter this year, Netflix’s stock has plunged lower than its average original movie rating. Excuses have been made, including the widespread use of password sharing (which has always been a factor) as well as the growth of competition in other streaming services and recent economic turmoil. To this end, they have warned the time may come to crack down on said sharing and maybe even consider ad-based revenue options (something that was initially marked as the anthisises of their model). Suffice to say, I can’t imagine these tactics winning any more admirers, especially considering how much their monthly subscription rates have increased in recent years. Indeed, it may be that Netflix has reached its peak and is on a decline, no matter what.

The problems lie externally as well as internally. How many other services are available now? The major contenders are Prime, HBO Max, Apple TV, Disney+, and Peacock. They have many attractions Netflix doesn’t and are (on average) cheaper, if with less content. (Just to note; film buffs hate this word and I’m not fond of it either as it cheapens the craft but for the purposes of discussing all this, we’ll stick with it.) Internally, the problem also arises from the model Netflix has adopted; to get as much content up as possible (no matter the quality). It seems like they have an original movie out every week now, as well as a plethora of true-crime docs-series, original TV series, and more. The choice is overwhelming. And many a watcher is dismayed when a show they do like gets cancelled after a couple of seasons. On this latter point, it may simply be a case of low numbers (which Netflix doesn’t release) but it could also be that unless it’s super popular (like “Stranger Things”) it’s not a cost-effective approach to drawing in and retaining subscribers. For one, actors’ salaries usually rise (by contract) at this point and two, it doesn’t move you on as fast to something else. Netflix starts up something straight away before you’ve even taken in a minute of end credits (undercutting the emotional tone of what you’ve just finished).

Plus, let’s face it- most of Netflix’s output isn’t that good. It’s C-grade fodder for filling time. Especially their movies- looking you at Kissing Booth, Kissing Booth 2, and Kissing Booth 3. HBO Max, undoubtedly, produces much higher quality material. Apple TV, despite a low range of original content, is showing promise in its investments. Disney+ is a whole other ball game, if primarily focused on franchises and animation. Prime, while messier, has a vast network of shows and movies that are close to rivalling Netflix (plus it’s cheaper). We’re heading into subjective territory here but the point is clear; there’s plenty of capable alternatives.

These alternatives have also taken back some of their original material from Netflix (at least in the US where Peacock and Hulu are available). This means beloved shows like “The Office” have been lost and considering the fandom there, that’s a major factor. A lot of people binge and re-watch that show regularly. These are natural retention properties. At least, they’re still holding onto Friends and Seinfeld. For now.

This piece has been harsh on Netflix, chiefly because they’re the kings of streaming still and have a soulless model… but in truth, the main point of interest in these streaming wars lies in the fact that the choice of platform is becoming as overwhelming as the choice of content on them. If you throw yourself back to the 2000s, piracy was the major issue. It remains one, though it became less talked about in this avenue because the likes of Netflix made things so cheap. Similar to the effect of Spotify on the music industry. Now, to get a hold of all the most desired content (“Succession” on HBO, “The Boys” on Prime, “Stranger Things” on Netflix, “The Office” on Peacock”, etc.) requires multiple accounts. It’s almost become counter-active in its appeal. This had led many to consider whether cable could be due a lucrative comeback to the top?

I’m not sure. Many shows are now streamed weekly but because Netflix popularised binge-watching (by releasing a season at once), the average viewer has probably lost a modicum of patience. On the other hand, Disney+ has opted to make their Marvel shows a week-by-week watch, like the good old days, and has seen dramatic success. HBO too follows that line. Maybe it’s as simple then as individual viewers making their mind up about what they truly want; prioritising their preference, based on budget- choosing one or a couple of platforms? This could result in a plain of healthy competition, where Netflix no longer leads. Undoubtedly however, we will see several platforms fall by the wayside (Peacock holding on to due “The Office” for now). Maybe (optimistically), Netflix will invest time in making better movies and less stuff like “Red Notice”, “Spenser Confidential”, “Bright”, and “Tall Girl”.

Will Smith Represents Celebrity Narcissism At Its Worst

Will Smith Represents Celebrity Narcissism At Its Worst

Following Sunday night’s debacle, Will Smith has roundly been criticised by the media and public alike, marking one of the most instant and dramatic falls from grace. Once the darling of the chat show circuit and a perceived “class act”, it now seems as if people are waking up to a facade. I feel vindicated as I’ve long held him to be full of sh-t, based on several observations:

– The nepotism of his children who were shoehorned into the film and music industry; Smith deserves at least a portion of blame for their annoyance and entitlement. Especially Jaden.
– The narcissism he exhibits when it comes to chat shows and promotional material. On Graham Norton, where there’s several guests, he really sucks the oxygen out of the room and brings everything back to him.
– He talks like a person far removed from the norm, dispensing cheesy, hackneyed variables of life advice on visualising success, creativity, and other BS.
– He doesn’t feel genuine (to expand on the latter two points); his laughs are just a bit too forced and save Sunday night, he feels calculated like a politician, almost. To be fair, this could be said for a few actors trying to play the media game.
– The way he (and his wife) openly discuss their marriage under the guise of establishing healthy discourse (on issues normally avoided) while really, just trying to stay relevant.

Will Smith’s a curiosity in that he’s an A-list star with D-list mentality, thus the need to constantly keep afloat in the world of entertainment news. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was manifesting such a destiny when he slapped Chris Rock but he certainly made the event all about him, overshadowing the wins of the successive Oscars handed out.

Perhaps it’s naive of me to think that I stand alone in my distaste for the Smith family however. Increasingly, people have bemoaned the details that have been volunteered about their private life on Jada’s show “Red Table Talk”- a show devised for those who find “The View” too challenging. Especially with regards their “open” marriage (or whatever it is), Will Smith has taken on a less dignified air than ever before, almost emasculated. Maybe he’d been building up to an outburst for awhile?

People are free to live their lives however they want, so long as it doesn’t harm others. Since the Smiths so ardently share everything that should be private however, I think it’s fair game to criticise them. It really is celebrity elitism at its most cliched and cringe-worthy; thinking the world could really learn from them. They’d almost be Kardashians, if not for the saving grace of Will’s actual talents.

With all this said, I don’t believe Will Smith should be “cancelled”, if that concept means anything. He acted like a spoilt brat, even in defending his wife’s honour, and probably should’ve left (he refused to, apparently) but he’ll suffer enough (in terms of his reputation) and hopefully learn a bit of humility. Actual humility, that is, and not the Hollywood version. In Independence Day, 26 years ago, he went out to Space. Now, it’s time to come back to Earth.

The Culture Of Anti-Ageing

The Culture Of Anti-Ageing

Perhaps it’s my early balding or perhaps (more optimistically) it’s my principles but the culture of anti-ageing has taken on a sinister and repugnant undertone. An obsessive zealousness now marks social media with regards filters, facial tweaks, fitness, and beauty standards. What were once the (albeit hushed) hallmarks of Hollywood and the elite (Botox, cosmetic surgeries, etc.) now seem to have become all-too-common, begging the question of when our desires become our expectations; and where we go from here.

One only has to compare photos of one’s parents or grandparents in their 30s or 40s or 50s compared to today to see that stylistically, things have changed. And not just fashion wise (although that has some effect). People use moisturisers a lot more nowadays and proper UV protectant suntan lotion and hydrate. Nutritional advice is a lot more varied. Supermarkets stock a wider selection of foods. Dietary requirements are better met. There’s many natural, progressive, and clever changes resulting in a more youthful complexion across all generations. So to some degree, we are all bound to look a little fresher than the boomers did back in the day.

However… while such changes are reasonable and encouraged, they’re inevitably bound to this notion that beauty ideals are an ever-changing target. When does taking care of oneself with the appropriate supplements and foods cross the line from being healthy to being health-obsessed? When do once extravagant routines become the norm? Well, with Botox, it seems as if we’re reaching that point. As Amanda Hess wrote in her New York Times’ piece “The Art of Botox” (last year), “[it] once suggested vanity, delusion, and self-consciousness, but now it has fresh associations; with confidence, resilience, even authenticity, as the idea of ‘having work done’ has come to be seen as a legitimate form of work.”

This is eye-brow raising stuff. Well, not for people with Botox. For others however, the idea of regularly injecting yourself with a needle to stiffen facial muscles seems extreme. At least, it did to me but again, it’s becoming increasingly common. So, maybe the taboo is based on ignorance. After all, if it promotes confidence and makes someone happy, who are we to judge? Well… there’s two points I’d counter with here: 1) does such a procedure then encourage one to follow onto the next step, e.g. plastic surgery and 2) is it use as a preventative not reflecting the very issues we try to tackle with the mental health of young women? With the latter point, Botox is increasingly being used from a young age (early 20s) to prevent the appearance of lines or wrinkles ever appearing. For all the horrible beauty standards advertised on social media, is this not us directly heading the wrong way? That’s a whole other level of pressure to contend with. And what does it say about how we treat older women with regards the ability to express themselves freely?

We live in a strange time as regards the discourse of beauty standards and mental health. Celebrities and influencers (like any dumb Kardashian) promote self-actualisation with cheesy quotes, while looking, themselves, like ageless narcissists. What follows is an uncanny-valley like, cognitive dissonance in rectifying the gulf between inner confidence and outer beauty. If you’ve spent hours on the make-up chair, gotten Botox, and surgeries, and applied filters, well then your message promoting such confidence or fighting unrealistic standards kind of rings hollow.

It may be an obvious point but Hollywood deserves blame. For how long now, has a male lead been coupled with a female two decades younger than him? Why are there so few roles for women past their 30s? (By which I mean women who actually look their age?) The same could be said for men, to some degree. It may all be a case of good genes but really how many men in their 60s do you know keep a full head of coloured hair? A lot of them look better in their 40s and 50s than they did in their 20s. That wasn’t the case back in the 70s or 80s. Something fishy’s going on there too…

Or how about beauty brands actively going out of their way to promote falsehoods. When Cara Delevigne was 25, she was chosen by Dior as the face of its “Capture Youth” line for which the target audience was women in their 30s? I won’t even try breach the nonsense of Kylie cosmetics or anything else that loathsome family promotes (to save you time, have millions and go to a plastic surgeon, then add some blush or something, I don’t know). Let’s, at least, not presume innocence on the part of these companies. The beauty industry thrives on the insecurities of its consumers and when you campaign against something as common as ageing, the possibilities are endlessly toxic.

Look, one can’t determine what’s right or what’s best for anyone else. In many cases, exercise and proper dieting will do you wonders. In many other cases, tweaks are (not needed) but implemented to instil confidence. Sometimes the buck ends there and sometimes it’s a shallow confidence that can never be satisfied. The bigger, albeit darker picture that emerges from this train of thought is that, consciously or not, we are pushing the boundaries of what’s expected with beauty standards. And in this culture of anti-ageing, ugly perversions emerge that undercut a so-called “healthy” lifestyle.

Do The People Want An Interventionist America?

Do The People Want An Interventionist America?

President Joe Biden has issued some major economic sanctions against Russia in the midst of the ongoing invasion of Ukraine. These measures have largely been supported by the public, both in America and across the world, as strong displays of condemnation, without taking the next dire step. The question arises everyday then: will such a step be taken? If we consider the trajectory of America’s recent interventionist past, I would say it’s unlikely. (Of course, such postulation may be emboldening Putin so there’s a caveat to consider there.)

Anyways, to take the first view, let’s look back at Syria in 2013. Obama was concerned that if the US didn’t intervene, it would undercut the severity of chemical weapons’ usage there. Rather than go in all-guns blazing like his predecessor had with Iraq though, he instead went to the Capitol to seek approval. It was determined America wouldn’t intervene. Years later, a divide remains over whether they should have with a Guardian piece in 2018 entitled “The Epic Failure Of Our Age: How The West Let Down Syria”. I mention this, not to weigh in on any specific view, but to show that it’s not always clear-cut when, where, and why America should intervene.

Had Syria’s crisis come ten or twenty years before, America may very well have sought a different approach. As it happened, George W. Bush had led the nation into two costly wars in 2002-3 with Afghanistan and Iraq. We know all about how those went but it’s interesting to consider that at the beginning, support for the Afghanistan War was close to unanimous (90% according to Gallup). Iraq wasn’t ever quite as popular but it got a whole lot less so in the following years. But what if it hadn’t gone so wrong? Yes, I understand and completely agree that the invasion of Iraq was wrong from the get-go but in the eyes of the American public, what if there had been less casualties and more success associated with it? Like with the Gulf War a decade before?

George H.W. Bush sent the military in to liberate Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion. It was a quick, bold, and decisive victory that skyrocketed his approval ratings to 90%. The mission was complete but a lot of his supporters felt he should have gone further (into Iraq) and removed the problem of Saddam Hussein there and then. He declined, though years later (under the auspices of the War on Terror), his son determined America could not hold its head high while Saddam continued to violate international laws (and maybe have nuclear weapons???) Perhaps, an invasion in the early 90s would have gone just as poorly, even with the senior Bush proving a formidable foreign policy strategist. Indeed, his interventions in Panama and Somalia (while contested and dubious to many) were well planned out and successful. Well…

With regards Somalia (which began just after Bush had lost election), the people were initially thankful for his swift intervention. His record would then turn out positively when Bill Clinton took over and Somalia descended into chaos (with Black Hawk Down and more). Bush didn’t have to deal with the eventualities such interventions can bring, where Clinton was faced with an uphill battle he hadn’t even sought. The rest of his presidency would be tested on the question of when American intervention should and shouldn’t occur with critics (and himself, later on) citing a late entry to Rwanda and Bosnia as unfortunate, if not shameful, chapters in history.

In 1996, Eric Carson wrote a piece for the Rand Organisation entitled “Public Support For US Military Operations” exploring the factors that restrained presidents, in this sphere. Having come out of the Cold War just a few years ago, America had entered a “more confusing world” where the objective wasn’t always clear as had been with something like World War 2 (where people acknowledged the gravity of the situation). Further to that, political divisions or disagreements were having a knock-on effect on public perception. To bring this back to the present, we can see the potential of this political divide crinkling American support for a “next step” as many Republicans weren’t long ago flaunting a “rather be Russian than Democrat” motto.

Public support is essential when a president has a paper-thin political majority or faces contentions. This is another reason why I feel a strong intervention from the US is less likely today than it was years ago. After 9/11, George W. Bush had the nation’s support, even if he would quickly squander it. Back in World War 2, Franklin D. Roosevelt was a president in his third term. Even though Truman’s reputation would for years be bashed by the Korean War, there was still general support for a policy of Communist Containment.

Vietnam, the follow-up to Korea, truly took on its perception as an abject failure when the public started seeing what was going on through the medium of television. With public marches and demonstrations, bolstered by the counter-cultural movement, a new picture of American interventionism and soldiers themselves (quite harshly) was ingrained in the public’s psyche. What if Vietnam had happened ten years before, however? Well, as already mentioned, Korea was a contentious affair, though the South remained free of Russian influence but it is reasonable to assert it wouldn’t have been as unpopular or ended in quite the fashion it had, heavily influencing an election cycle.

Is it bleak to conclude that Americans will support American intervention then only if success is assured? It seems to be the case though such luxuries are never realistically afforded them. Popular support, as a result of today’s media, rancour in politics, and recent dubious interventions, has become nigh-on impossible. The best a president can do, in this age, is justify the chances of success should an intervention occur, answer how the nation is a threat to US interest, exert all means of diplomacy, and run the usual course of air strikes. Though as much as history has taught us how any conflict resolves in the public’s imagination, it is also worth remembering how easily people forget history. In a 2019, YouGov poll, the people were vary much split on whether the Gulf War was justified, for example. So as an addendum, one must note that we can’t even assume a clear or factual basis for public perception when such crises arise.

The Washington Walrus’ Guide To The Supreme Court

The Washington Walrus’ Guide To The Supreme Court

Joe Biden has announced his first pick for the Supreme Court: Ketanji Brown. She would become the first Black woman appointed, should she be confirmed. Yes, the should has become a most dubious matter of late, since the Democratic majority hangs by a thin thread, as if taken from a cat-ravaged sweater. They’ll need every Democrat in the Senate on board and likely Kamala Harris too (as the deciding tie-breaker) should no Republicans offer support. Which they won’t.

Sadly, the Supreme Court nominating process has become embroiled in the same petty politics that dominates basically every other major appointment or campaign in Washington. And it’s much more consequential since Supreme Court justices don’t have terms limits (Clarence Thomas has been serving for 30 years now). So a lot is on the line. Plus, this is just replacing one Democratic appointee (Stephen Breyer) with another. The Republican appointees (i.e. conservative judges still hold a majority of 6:3 which is unlikely to change anytime soon. Can anything be done and what’s the best course of action? There’s really no clear-cut answers but we’ll delve into it, after first taking a look at the justices:

  1. John G. Roberts (Chief Justice; appointed by George W. Bush; 2005; confirmed 78-22 vote)
  2. Clarence Thomas (appointed by George H.W. Bush; 1991; confirmed 52-48 vote)
  3. Stephen G. Breyer (appointed by Bill Clinton; 1994; confirmed 87-9; to be replaced)
  4. Samuel Alito Jr (appointed by George W. Bush; 2006; confirmed 58-42)
  5. Sonia Sotomayor (appointed by Barack Obama; 2009; confirmed 68-31)
  6. Elena Kagan (appointed by Barack Obama; 2010; confirmed 63-37)
  7. Neil Gorsuch (appointed by Donald Trump; 2017; confirmed 54-45)
  8. Brett Kavanaugh (appointed by Donald Trump; 2018; confirmed 50-48)
  9. Amy Coney Barrett (appointed by Donald Trump; 2020; confirmed 52-48)

Just at a glance, a couple interesting points can be drawn:

  • The votes have become increasingly contentious (for the most part)
  • Donald Trump has secured three appointments in a single-term without even winning the popular vote

It would be incorrect to say this process hasn’t always involved politics or clashes over nominees. Indeed, history shows that as far back as Washington, there’s been rejection and compromise (when he failed to make John Rutledge the Chief Justice in 1795). John Tyler (the first VP to ascend to the top job) only had one of his five men appointed by the Whig-majority Senate. So, it’s nothing new exactly. But… it has gotten pettier and that bit more combative. In 2017, Trump appointed Gorsuch even though it was Obama’s duty to replace the conservative judge Antonin Scalia (the Republicans basically blocked Obama and delayed). Amy Coney Barrett was then quickly rushed through in the wake of Ruth Badger Gisberg’s death in 2020; appointed only a week out from election. (Her nominating process, between hearings and other such matters, took only 28 days, where it’s taken 2-3 months on average the last 50 years for other justices).

The short-circuiting and politicisation of this process has not been lost on the public. From August 2019 to January 2022, a PEW Research Center poll found favorability ratings of the court had fallen from 69% to 54%. Democrats are naturally more miffed , considering the general ideological imbalance. Many conservatives, unsurprisingly, find the court to be closer to neutral in their judgment. For Jack Schafer (writing in January for Politico), the differences of perspective are irrevocably hard to reconcile. He writes that Joe Biden’s declaration of Black female justice (motivated by endorsement of S. Carolina representative Jim Clyburn) parallels Reagan’s promise of a female justice in 1980. He also feels that judicial philosophies cannot easily be separated from personal ones (if at all) as evidenced by rulings which “track so closely with the positions of the parties whence they came”. Basically, nobody’s buying Amy Coney Barrett’s bullshit statement of apolitical duty and everyone has an agenda or bias anyways.

Had Joe Biden opted for a moderate justice then, would the path towards a more levelled Supreme Court be paved? It would be entirely naive to think so. Plus, he doesn’t have the luxury of experimenting since (again) they’re at a 6:3 disadvantage. Certainly though, it’s clear that the appointment of Brown has riled up conservatives who will paint her as ultra-liberal counterweight. And unless the current political discourse (as a whole) is tempered, we’re unlikely to see much change in the courts. Perhaps, Pete Buttigieg’s proposal of 15 justices (10 affiliated across both parties with 5 selected by them or something similar) would help dilute matters but it’d likely result in a bureaucratic mess too and given the popular perception of Washington as indecisive, one can’t imagine that playing out well.

Unfortunately, it may be a matter of simple expectations and hopes placed on the justices we have at present. Should Joe Biden add more, one can only imagine what a Republican president would do, in turn (even though they cheated with Gorusch and Barrett). Really, all he can do is try his best to get Brown through and maybe rally public support behind the values of his causes. Of course, then we go down the rabbit-hole of how liberal the Democrats should present themselves, among other things. And so we leave another article on another, nice ambiguous …

Book Bans In Schools

Book Bans In Schools

Book bans and boycotts are nothing new. Throughout history, select titles have caused ire amongst religious factions, political divides, and parents’ unions for various reasons. The Harry Potter novels, for example, received backlash in their heyday for the supposed influence of black magic at play. To Kill A Mockingbird has become a problematic novel for its use of racial slurs and the white saviour motif, despite once being heralded as an important text on racism. The Handmaid’s Tale is constantly challenged due to its depiction of sexual violence and religious criticism. There’s a long list with contentions that range from the expected to the head-scratching, and plain bizarre. Usually, however, these problems haven’t expanded beyond mere parent-teacher associations and small organisations. Usually. It seems now things might be starting to change.

With an “unprecedented” 330 book challenges recorded by the American Library Association (ALA) last Autumn/Fall, there’s been a sharp increase in calls to curtail cultural change, particularly in the South. Texas State Representative Matt Krause put over 800 books on a “watch list” recently; many of which deals with race and LGBTQ issues. In Oklahoma, there was a bill filed to ban books that address “sexual perversion”. In a county in Tennessee, the Holocaust-themed Maus was outright banned (for violent and sexual imagery). Police in South Carolina challenged The Hate U Give for perpetuating a “distrust in police”. And perhaps most surprisingly, Governor Greg Abbott (of Texas) called for criminal charges against school staff member providing access to young adult novels considered “pornography”. (This would be somewhat understandable for a school, except for the fact that you must question who deems the category.)

Despite popularising the term “snowflake” for liberals, it seems most of these contentions are coming from conservative factions and parents. Their concerns are not necessarily without merit, to be fair. It’s important for students to be given a broad and comprehensive reading list in their curriculum; not one which tilts too largely towards a political ideology. With that said, these challenges have expanded beyond any traditional coursework to libraries stocking books students may just happen upon. And… the process of taking these books down has been short-circuited with librarians growing weary of “concerns” and withdrawing controversial titles before the appropriate committee has even made a decision.

This is particularly unfair for LGBTQ students. Titles like All Boys Aren’t Blue and Heather Has Two Mommies have been challenged just because they don’t present an old-fashioned, heteronormative view in line with the cultural values of certain areas. It sends a message of exclusion to them while running the mistaken exercise of thinking you can shut out knowledge. As Emily Knox (author of Book Banning in 21st Century America) stated in an interview on Slate.com, “people are trying to get books like Maus banned because they are afraid that if their children read them, they will have different values” from their parents. Perhaps then, this can be seen as a desperate last leg to stand on in the generational and culture wars.

With the ALA reporting a 67% increase in attempts to ban school library books from September 2020 to September 2021, one can only worry where this will go next. Primarily, these contentions have come from the right, although it must be acknowledged that the left’s concerns over appropriate language for today’s sensibilities (with Mockingbird or something like Huckleburry Finn or Of Mice and Men) should draw concern and ridicule too. The banning and boycotting of any books, even with the best of intentions, reflects an insecurity on the part of the challengers as well as a high level of patronising. Hopefully, the #FReadom campaign in Texas (of school librarians), among others, will help reinforce the obvious notion that banning something makes it all the more interesting.