The Politicisation Of Entertainment

The Politicisation Of Entertainment

In recent years, celebrities have adapted to an increasingly politicised world by themselves becoming more outspoken and vigilant on the issues. On various chat shows and through social media outlets, they’ll let their opinion ring out, regardless of research, originality, or grammar to attain that seal of approval needed to go on working in the industry without being seen as problematic.

So what’s the problem then?

On the surface, it’s not that evident. Celebrities should be entitled to their opinions. They don’t necessarily have to play ball with any mandate. You can simply scroll by if you don’t like what Whoopi Goldberg or Matt Damon has to say. Big whoop!

Well, the problem is that this politicisation has begun to affect the art itself and the culture surrounding it. For example, the other day I decided to punish myself by watching 10 minutes of the Video Music Awards (VMAs) to see what was what with the youths of today. They had a category for “Best Video With A Message” which was delivered to Billie Eilish for her (unusually) unremarkable song “Your Power”. She proceeded to offer vague insistences of people using their power responsibly or recognising privilege. I wasn’t able to pay attention, really. I was transfixed on the fact that this was an actual category at the VMAs- the dumbest awards’ ceremony ever created. After she had finished her speech, several performances then followed featuring twerking and lyrics about haters being haters and speaking one’s truth or something equally embarrassing. But back to the category. When did this vapid, moronic ceremony feel the need to pay tribute to ambiguous social issues? When did these issues, furthermore, become so commercialised?

If one has something genuine to say about race, mental health, addiction, or inequality, you shouldn’t bemoan or ridicule them necessarily. Sometimes, even celebrities can offer nuggets of wisdom with first-hand experience or a good depth of knowledge. Nowadays however, it’s enough to just hitch your ride to this wagon for the sake of trending on Twitter or getting a few, click bait likes. (It’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s career plan.) What was once seen as pandering and distasteful is now seen as courageous and important. (One has to wonder, on a side note, how courageous it is to say something you know will go down well?)

It happens in the music industry with many of the top-charting songs today addressing empowerment on a fundamentally basic level, in literature (with an increasing number of novels tackling issues and story/plot trailing behind as a casualty), and in TV/movies. With regards the latter, this problem is most evident. On press junkets, actors will often be asked to elaborate on an issue or theme in their work (better suited to a director or doctorate student) that their PR has clearly tapped them on. When they don’t answer quite convincingly, it can elicit a Twitter storm. For example, Margot Robbie’s lack of dialogue in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood garnered negative reactions from those who sought to make a sexist out of Quentin Tarantino (ignoring Jackie Brown and Kill Bill) when he refused to pander and answer the question. (Poor Margot wasn’t quite sure what to say but felt she’d been given a good opportunity.)

Hollywood has always been a predominantly liberal market. This is nothing new. Politics have aggressively come to the fore in recent years however, as evident with the movies put up for major awards that lack general popularity or remote commercial appeal (Nomadland) and an increased emphasis on ideology over art. Too often now, I see reviews focusing on the importance of the subject rather than the quality of the project itself, e.g. Black Panther. Similarly, many of the reviews for the Star Wars sequel trilogy were built around subverting expectations and the promotion of a female lead rather than the nonsense stories roughly hewn together without a plan (not even my analysis; J.J. Abrams confirmed it would’ve been better with a plan).

This trail of thought can go a little awry though so it should be stated that diversity is, in fact, a good thing in cinema and TV. It gives an increased number of actors, writers, and directors an opportunity. It promotes a wealth of stories, not seen before. And it attracts a wider net of audiences.

It can’t be the be-all and end-all of creating art however. Problems arise when producers think it’s enough and don’t do the proper work involved in actualising the reality of the stories represented by various cultures. For example, the female-reboot of Ghostbusters was widely ridiculed because it felt, from the offset, like a cheap cash-grab. By ridiculed, it is worth noting, I mean by audiences. Critics are a different matter.

As aforementioned with the Star Wars sequels, reviews can be skewed. Social media dictates a lot of what we’re willing to say today which is why any Marvel criticism can cause a stir online or why super popular figures are beyond criticism in their camps (Beyoncé, Obama, Oprah, etc.) With the politicisation of entertainment, it’s only become a tougher job to give an honest critique of a musical performance (lest you undermine how women are perceived by criticising Little Mix) or a movie like Nomadland (which said a lot about America without the distraction of remote entertainment or story). It takes tact to be a successful critic, these days.

We live in a time when politicians try to grab the public’s attention with the flair or a celebrity and when celebrities speak with the calculations of a politician. For all the good that’s come of these last years, opening the floodgates for diversity and tackling subjects previously not remarked on, we’ve somehow permitted political correctness to infect the arts. If history has taught us anything, it’s that many of the great pieces of literature (Huckleberry Finn), film (Citizen Kane), and TV (The Sopranos) were not created in a space of orthodoxy and permissiveness. Simply stated, the problem lies in thinking we can mandate artistic relevance and excellence.

Review Bombs: Cancel Culture’s Pettiest Epithet

Review Bombs: Cancel Culture’s Pettiest Epithet

In a world rife with injustice, it’s understandable that we sometimes turn a blind eye to minor hiccups or due process when it comes to getting results. How else are we to tackle the above-law antics of the Trump legions? How else are we to defend fundamental human rights when the odds are ever stacked in the favour of for-profit, billionaire conservatives? How else are we to be heard when all else around us is so loud?

Cancel Culture has become prominent in recent years for its maverick, f- due diligence approach to taking on those who would in (extreme cases) avoid legal penalty or in more trivial but common scenarios, go unpunished or challenged for the problematic viewpoints they espouse / funnel into the zeitgeist. It’s become popular because it’s effective, at least on an emotional and socio-political level. It helped topple the creeps in the #metoo movement and set some wrongs to right when it came to diversifying casting in Hollywood, demanding greater equality, and calling out BS journalism. One could argue it was a well-deserved slap-in-the face for the orthodoxy.

But in all this gesticulation and generalisation, where exactly am I heading, you might ask. Well, let’s face it. It’s not exactly an easy topic to delve headfirst into. Indeed, the previous two paragraphs are fodder for insulation, backtracking, and defence, as much as they are a prelude to what I’m about to criticise. For you see, such base, emotive reactionary attacks don’t always serve us well. They, often, lower the intellectual bar and nuanced appreciation for discourse we once cherished so dearly as part of a free-thinking society. They placate the once common-sense approach that all cases should be regarded individually and contribute zealously to the polarisation of political ideologies; you’re either with us or against this- none of this “on the other hand” schlep.

A case in point- Review Bombs.

What are Review Bombs? They’re basically attempts to undermine a work of art based on ideological speculation or information related to an associate partner of said art. For example, JK Rowling has recently received enormous backlash for her views surrounding gender theory and the place of women in society with legions of once-fans accusing her of transphobia and encouraging others with similar views, owing to her expansive Twitter following and influence in the media. This resulted in a swift bombardment of her latest novel, Troubled Blood (under pseudonym Robert Galbraith), even though no-one had had a chance to read the 900+ page tome, when it emerged from one review that the plot concerned a serial killer who dresses in women’s clothing.

It’s pretty easy to take sides when you have a predisposition. Especially in this scenario. When you read into it a little more, it gets complex and interesting, if depressing however. Is she transphobic? Possibly. Not in the robust sense of outright hatred but in the more coy (yet increasingly challenged) manner of trying to undermine LGBTQ progress by pushing far-less prevalent concerns surrounding the placehood of women if chromosomes don’t matter, etc. Some have expressed support for the trans community while pointing out she may have a point while others have pressed the importance of whole acceptance. In real life, they argue, trans people face incredible challenges the likes of JK Rowling cannot fathom. Why does she have to make things that much harder?

Most figures, faced with such controversy, have usually amended their positions with retractions or halfway-apologies. JK Rowling, seemingly, has buckled down on hers which has made the publication of this latest novel all the more controversial.

So when the novel’s general plot line was revealed, it was brought down by a series of 1-star reviews on GoodReads (alongside greater media coverage) with comments ranging from distaste for what the author had become to how they would never read this novel. When people then actually started to, the five-star reviews came abounding bringing the average up to 4/5, with some rebuking that previous assertions of transphobia were based on second-hand info and minor points, not central to the focus of the novel. Was she vindicated? In terms of commercial success, absolutely. It seems JK Rowling will go on. But even with the 5-star reviews, one has to wonder how many of those were written after a complete read of the novel (again, 900-pages long; these reviews came within a week) and how many of them were reactionary in the same way the 1-star ones were?

When it comes to Cancel Culture, a fine line is drawn between reasonable outrage and outright pettiness. In the case of JK Rowling, it seems both were there in measure, distorted by (let’s face it) an increased laziness in media coverage (mainstream too, not some poxy blogs like this) which sought to do anything but review the novel in its own merits.

And don’t take this as a defence of JK Rowling. At the very least, I find her concern with women’s issues vis-a-vis the trans community obsessive and tedious at this point. Having once made the point, herself, that you can’t have a reasonable discussion on Twitter, she should have then stopped proffering her points via Twitter. With that said, I tend to disassociate my love of movies/music/novels with the person behind them because frankly, a lot of the greats have been problematic and with generational changes in attitude, we’re only ever going to be disappointed by one thing or another if we dare to dig deep enough.

Review Bombing and Cancel Culture, however, is an issue worth tackling and it applies to conservatives as much as it does those easily agitated PC-liberals. For example, Captain Marvel was met with a slew of negative buzz before anyone had a chance to see it because women-starring role-traditionally men-change = bad. With increased diversity and promotion of minorities in these major budget movies, there was always going to be a push-back. It’s a recurring aspect in generational passing of torches but the review-bombing of this movie proved the other side, to appropriate their claims, had equally fragile egos.

The Last of Us 2 racked up its fair share of hatred this summer upon release for the PlayStation 4 as well. Taking the slow-burning, zombie-survivalism of the first game (from 2013), it should have been a hit. But they ruined it. By making the lead character gay and inserting a bunch of LGBTQ stuff into the mix. Typical Hollywood, right? Or whatever libtards got their hands on this… Actually, I thought it was a very entertaining sequel and fun game but as with many things now, the actual entertainment value doesn’t matter as much. It’s all about subtext.

That’s why Star Wars: The Last Jedi is bad- because it promotes a different world viewpoint to what we had grown accustomed to when really, it’s actually bad because they disregarded the tone of the previous movie and f-d up the trilogy.

Anyways… It’s a new way of being heard; online assault. And it’s a petty, oft-misdirected means of making your point, whether that point is valid or not. So as much as we should oppose discrimination, perhaps reviewing a book we haven’t even read isn’t the way to do it. If you think Hollywood and associated media are inserting too much liberal ideology into your favourite franchises, then stop watching and don’t ruin it for others (as some did by leaking the plot of The Last of Us 2). Acting this way doesn’t gain you kudos or respect and it doesn’t even have the desired effect most the time. Last of Us 2 still sold impressively, Captain Marvel grossed over a billion, and Troubled Blood recently topped the charts. Congratulations review-bombers. You saved marketing a bucket load of money!

A couple years ago, in a debate on political correctness, the author, comedian, actor, etc. Stephen Fry remarked that one of the great failings of our time is when people prefer to be “correct rather than effective”. This self-righteousness has increasingly frayed political and social-political discourse. If we can’t even offer each other a presumptive measure of respect, can we really go on saying, “if only we had politicians as good as our people?”

“You’re #cancelled Bro”-Cancel Culture

“You’re #cancelled Bro”-Cancel Culture

Part One- John Wayne Rediscovered

Recently, an old Playboy interview with John Wayne from nearly 50 years ago was rediscovered which revealed some horrendous beliefs he held about race relations, white supremacy being a good thing, and homosexuality. This sparked outrage with the usual suspects who a) don’t contextualize anything and b) know nothing about John Wayne. Now, let me preface this with the painfully obvious but excruciatingly important detail that I am, by no means, defending John Wayne or what he said. In fact, I’d even go so far as to posit that his opinions were particularly racist for a racist white guy in the early 1970s. They were vile, stupid, and yes, offensive but- they were not made by someone alive or of our generation or even the two before it.

john wayne

If you have ever watched a single one of Wayne’s movies, you simply wouldn’t figure him for some kind of liberal. You might even, to take a very minuscule leap, gather that he was of a very old, patriarchal, white-bred kind of background. That doesn’t make what he said okay but to be shocked or outraged by someone’s words, I would at least attest that you’d have to have thought of them in some other kind of context. Basically, it’s not that surprising to learn an old white star, who was by then in his 60s, held some bigoted beliefs. And it doesn’t make much sense (and this is the fundamental point) to make a career of sifting through an old star’s interviews from decades ago with a modern lens of morality. Years from now we will undoubtedly be judged for what we did, yes, but for the likes of Wayne, we should probably still be able to enjoy his output while acknowledging that he wasn’t exactly a symbol of tolerance.

 

Part Two- The Rise of Cancel Culture

The modern trend of social justice, in the forms of #metoo, political correctness, and cancel culture has risen and taken storm as a result of frustrations built upon years of a lack accountability on the part of powerful figures. The courts can be slow to deliver proper punishments, if any, in even the most high profile cases. Political systems have been infected with a slew of problems, so cumbersome that they’ve become almost insurmountable. And even shows like The Big Bang Theory continue to thrive despite the fact that they are clearly dreadful. In such times, the mantle of social media can appear attractive. It has given a voice to the voiceless. It has helped promote awareness of issues we never would have thought of. It even gets you quick customer service where all other avenues fail. It’s also dangerous however.

The problem with social media is not so much that it can present biased, clickbait visions or news pieces, without much resistance, but that it’s populated with the worst kind of people you could ever listen to. Any given day on Facebook, I can scroll through my newsfeed, and find a barrage of comments on an article that has obviously not been read in full or countered. Too many people don’t want to have their viewpoints challenged so they cling to familiar publications or channels (like liberals for the Huffington Post and conservatives for Breitbart) and ignore that which falls between, taking in sensationalist headlines which eventually build up a picture of someone or some idea without much shade or nuance.

I don’t want to get into bi-partisanship however. I’ve impressed the above point only to account for the lack of accountability people afford themselves when they interact with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. They react instinctively and without good measure when allegations arise, which brings us back the way of cancel culture. Let’s take the not-so-comfortable example of notorious racist Liam Neeson. The thing about Neeson is he’s not our classic idea a notorious racist. Some say he’s just another human being who admitted to a detestable moment in his life, when he sought vengeance for a friend of his who had been raped, by roaming the streets and looking for a “black bastard to kill.”

2018 NYFF - "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" Premiere, New York, USA - 04 Oct 2018

Let’s unpack this slowly and carefully. First of all, it was racist and horrible and I don’t think anyone can expect any black person to take this account without offense or anxiety. After all, this is the kind of hate many have had to deal with their whole lives, resulting in unwarranted arrests of murders. Neeson’s story, however, was not happened upon by some journalist. He told it himself, as a way of admitting his own guilt, clearing his conscience perhaps, and illustrating the the deep-rootedness of bigotry in society. He felt shame, yes, but he also said he could’ve killed someone. So, do we #cancel him or at least, evaluate the details of his story first?- because it if both a typical and untypical example of prejudice influencing a person’s mindset.

Putting aside whatever conclusions you may come to, the problem for me with this story, was how it got reported and discussed by the majority of people in social and regular media. For one, many seemingly missed the point where Neeson asked for the details of his friend’s attacker (height, hair, etc.) as well as the details of the story as a whole, and focused immediately on the headlines. For another, people called him an “idiot” for simply bringing the story up which granted was stupid, given he was promoting a movie. If we can’t discuss difficult topics like this however with some grace, how can we begin to actually solve them?

 

Part Three- Art and Morality

Woven into the tapestry of this debate on cancel culture is the thread of modern morality and “wokeness”. Can we separate art from the artist or do we need to stop making excuses for facilitating the careers of harmful individuals like R. Kelly?

Undoubtedly, a few good things have arisen in this current climate of social justice. The #metoo movement, for instance, finally got a great many people to pay attention to the rampant culture of sexual harassment dominating work spaces. It impressed upon men, in particular, that if you behaved a certain way, you would be held to account (not that it’s been wholly effective or noticed everywhere). We’ve come to appreciate that racism is systematic beyond the plain and obvious insults and attacks of past generations. We tolerate less so that more are accepted. We’ve also come to confront an issue that never seemed like much of an issue too; toxic fandom.

In a sense it’s easy enough to cancel a celebrity like Neeson or Kevin Spacey by refusing to entertain any more of their work. With someone like R. Kelly, it’s tougher because he had a large fan base and produced many hits, for himself and an array of other artists. A radio station can withdraw “Ignition” from the airwaves but they can’t exactly strip it of its appeal. And what about Michael Jackson then? The controversial Leaving Neverland documentary, which aired in our parts last week, saw two fresh allegations presented over the course of four hours against the late King of Pop. Are people really going to forget or condemn songs like “Billie Jean”? Some radio stations have already begun to stop playing these, on the basis of this wound being “too fresh”. Many of his fans however, on the opposite end of this spectrum, are flat out denying the validity of these allegations. Their concerns aren’t without logic but as documentary favorite Louis Theroux has pointed out, they can act “willfully blind” in the name of their hero.

MJ

That’s where we come to the idea of toxic fandom as a tide fighting against #cancel culture. It’s a lot easier to stand by an artist like Michael Jackson who’s greatly influenced you than it is to accept the allegations leveled against him. It’s almost too much to bear for people who want everything about this icon to be pure and unquestionable. In this sense, perhaps the trend of social justice is doing us a necessary, if painful service, like ripping a bandage off. We need to learn to accept our favorite stars might not be as great in their personal lives as they are in their art which has been true throughout the course of history.

Balance will be the key to all of this and it will take some time but I don’t think it’s necessary to discard the works of these fallen giants. After all, MJ opened a lot of doors for black artists in the industry. That can’t be taken away from him, just as Cosby’s influence on comedy can’t be eradicated. The fans don’t need to feel guilty for enjoying these people’s work but they should accept that deification of such figures gives way to a toxic and irresponsible culture, where abuse of power rests comfortably and heartache inevitably follows. In extreme cases such as theirs, we cannot turn a blind eye to their conduct (alleged or proven) but we should also not shackle ourselves to the notion that every celebrity, politician, or Twitter provocateur deserves to be cancelled and erased from history. Nuance is key, redemption is possible, and forgiveness is not at all a weak act.