Friday, January 8, 2016

The Force Awakens: One Big Politically Correct Recycling Machine

The Force Awakens: One Big Politically Correct Recycling Machine

Given all-time box office records for The Force Awakens, it’s pretty obvious almost all comic-con and Star Wars fans in particular do not bemoan in the least the lack of innovation in the latest franchise installment. In fact many seem to have enthusiastically embraced Abrams & Co’s decision to rework, with some new - but not too new - clothes of course, essentially the same trite story material of earlier films. For these fans, familiarly breeds praise. Still there is a considerable contingent of Star Wars fans who are deeply disappointed by this installment, arguing in fact that the film betrays the legacy of the original trilogy, IV, V, and VI, and is profoundly formulaic and unoriginal. The most analytic of these comes from Nicholas Spargo, whose youtube video, Why Stars Wars The Force Awakens is Worse than the Prequels, has gone viral.

But it’s hard to deny that Stars Wars: The Force Awakens, no matter what the film’s audience reception, is one big mother of a recycling machine. And not just in storylines and innocuous themes culled from the first two movies in particular, which in turn culled from countless other recycling literary and film factories, but in obvious character types who have not - as they could have been - repurposed, including a recycled dark side guy called Kylo Ren, with a redesigned black mask but the same flowing black cape and megaphonic voice (the flip side of the dark side father, a dark side son) but with a politically correct cast: one young black male lead (Finn), one young “strong” woman lead ( Rey, the flip side of Luke), two old people (four if you count the bonus characters, Lor San Tekka and Maz Kanata (named after a suburb of Ottawa [lol] and the the flip side of Yoda), one a woman (Princess Leia) and one a man (Han Solo) - both played by purposely recycled actors - one (two if you count the new flip side of Darth Vader, Kylo) young white dude (Poe, channeling Luke in the Top Gun sequences even as Ray and Finn channel Luke in countless scenes), one unintelligible tall hairy purposely recycled endearing guy (Chewbacca) and of course a cute recycled asexual droid standing in functionally for a plucky, courageous child, BB-8 (the flip side of R2-D2).
So what politically correct categories can we safely check off? Racism, gender balance, feminism, ageism, token young and old white males, big hairy guys, and very short rotund asexual droids.
May I suggest, then, that in addition to the strategy to recycle familiar-to-fans story material, which will inevitably turn out to be a mistake I predict, such adroit character choices might have something to do with marketing the film to every conceivable being - including hairy guys and droids or at least people who dress up like that - in the entire film galaxy?* 

*Despite this obvious effort to be politically correct, notice the absence of a gay character - no doubt also a marketing decision for various reasons.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Comic Con Dominates both Theatres and TV

Comic Con Dominates both Theatres and TV

In Canada, the only prominent national venue left for indie films would seem to be Superchannel though it too is beginning to drift in the comic con direction with shows like the over the top Ash.  Regular broadcast, cable, and streaming services have moved more and more towards the comic con films already dominating our movie theatres: Gotham, The Arrow, The Flash, Agents of Shield, Jessica Jones, DC Legends of Tomorrow , Supergirl, Daredevil, Agent Carter, etc. And these films and TV shows seem to appeal to an audience much bigger than the 18-24 year old demographic and teen market. Men in their 70s know who Magneto is.
I suspect they appeal to all those whose values have been shaped by neoliberalism and its naturalization in our culture over the last forty years or so, though there is an unconscious fear in this embrace of comic con culture, I think:   the fear that this wholehearted embrace of comic con pop culture might not be fully justified, the nagging feeling that something isn’t just right in such a full endorsement and that high or at least an alternative culture does in fact still exist recessed though it is, to be sure, but nevertheless still providing a different choice - in short, a troubling lack of confidence in even one’s “taste” in movies.*

This lack of confidence is abundantly evident in the recent fierce and absolute, sometimes outright neurotic defense of such comic-con fare as The Force Awakens on social media platforms or even in the wish to see politically correct feminist value in the now well established trend for "strong" women leads in both film and tv comic-con projects.   An illusion of the ideology of individualism, this is a taste of course totally constructed by corporate marketing strategies with budgets bigger than production costs in most cases. Resistance is futile, or, if you do have the social courage to resist, “you spend a lot of time in the corner,” as Joel Rubinoff laments, “keeping to yourself.”
Hollywood of course relies on the sequel both to avoid financial risk and exploit already established markets more expeditiously.  There is thus little doubt that we will be suffering from comic con and animated sequelitis for many years to come, but these established, known fictional worlds also generate a deep degree of psychological comfort for the comic con audience in more than one way.
Nora Loreto wrote recently in the CCPA Monitor, “Neoliberalism has… created an environment where young people believe that success and failure hinge solely on an individual’s capacities” - the illusion of individual power and choice inevitably resulting, however, not in freedom but in frustration and defeatism, she argues, because of socio-economic realities. 
These movies, as I’ve implied in another post, are pure escapist fantasy - marketed of course as “just entertainment” - dreams of individual choice and power, if you will, delusional fantasies in one sense but therapeutic in another and driven by desire if not need. And perhaps, ironically, given the socio-economic reality for their primary viewers - the prospect of secular stagnation and precarious work forever - useful if not necessary to survive psychologically. In this they repeat the primary psychological role of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s, which offered useful escapism galore against the socio-economic reality of the Depression and the horrors of WWII. 
One could argue, however, that in perpetuating the illusion of individual power and choice so massively these films in fact generate a deleterious effect by reinforcing the very values of neoliberalism from which escape is desired. Escapism in this instance cuts both ways: that is, these films are both an escape from neoliberal socio-economic reality and in fact, paradoxically, an endorsement of neoliberal socio-economic values.
Film is never “just entertainment.”
* Cf Andrew O’hehir’s take on fan insecurity referenced elsewhere on this blog.

Is a Referendum the Best Way to Determine an Electoral System?

.Is a Referendum the Best Way to Determine an Electoral System?

Theoretically a referendum may seem like the most obvious and democratic way to determine whether electoral reform is desirable in Canada; but, as we have seen with referendums at the provincial level in BC, PEI, and Ontario, the results almost always render the status quo, not change, largely because of the nature of the choices: the known against the unknowns. That is, first-past-the-post, whether on the referendum ballot or not, is stacked in a binary structure almost always against both a ranked ballot system and proportional representation. There is of course a built in psychological bias for the known in such a situation, and inevitably the unknowns tend to split the alternative vote. Those who want a referendum and favour FPP would seem to be aware of this potential structural deficiency, recognizing that first-past-the-post would inevitably be triumphant either by choice or default.  In this context, then, a referendum is an illusion of democracy.
And so it’s clearly in the interests of those who enjoy a substantial degree of power through first-past-the post to maintain it. In this case, that would be the good old Conservative Party of Canada, who  - let’s be honest - don’t really want a referendum because in fact they really don’t want electoral reform.* Instead, they just don’t want Parliament to consider the issue,** for their real concern is maintaining the power they enjoy through the status quo. Their call for a referendum, in other words, is a mere political ploy, not a genuine gesture in the direction of real democracy; and, sad to say, they’ve sucked in quite a few on the left of the political spectrum.  THE CPC know that were proportional representation, for example, to be established, in many of the ridings where they have won by FPP  - particularly rural ridings - their power would be significantly eroded.***
A referendum offers a second advantage to those who don’t want electoral reform in that it provides a much more straightforward opportunity to lobby if not propagandize against whatever systems are presented as alternatives to FPP by way of various media, editorials,**** op eds, radio talk shows and advertising - a much more difficult task to execute if reform were to be considered through a consultative all-party parliamentary process that would have the sanctioned weight of the representatives Canadians have elected to govern them. It is certainly one of the reasons some want a referendum rather than parliamentary consideration: it allows for substantial direct  “partisanship” spin.
*Cf. Robin Sears: “The Conservatives are already demanding a referendum on any change to the electoral system, secure in the knowledge that that would mean certain defeat for any reform. Some gullible journalists have defended a referendum as an essential democratic test. What that naively fails to recall, of course, is that there has never been a non-partisan “democratic” referendum. The final choice will inevitably be political and require partisan approval.” 
**Why would they? First-past-the-post is not on the agenda, as the Liberal election platform clearly says: “We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.”
***Under FPP, less populated rural ridings carry as much representational weight in parliament as do densely populated urban ridings. Because of that discrepancy, they are really less democratically representational. Both a ranking ballot system and PR in particular would in fact be more representational of all voters in a given riding and thus more democratic.
****This has already begun in rural newspapers and even The Globe and Mail.