In Defense of Fifty Shades of Grey

fiftyshadeshead“Let’s do something stupid.”

For too long now, I’ve needed a topic to get back in the blogging harness. I felt tied, if you will, to a certain routine. I needed… mmmm… discipline. Maybe something a little dangerous would get me back in the swing. The sex-swing. Which is an actual object I witnessed through fearful tears.

This week, I was determined to do something stupid. And it doesn’t get much stupider, much sadder, than…

“One for Fifty Shades,” I half-mumbled. The teller recoiled. Part of me died.

Another part of me was living...

Another part was living

With seven dollars willfully misused and the saddest four words in existence hanging like a stench, I fell to a transcendent new low. I lingered outside, pretending to wait for a nonexistent girlfriend as close to American Sniper as possible. But they knew. The pervy middle-aged ladies knew.

I realized too late the cost of waiting. I’d have to walk in when they were all seated. Damn. Damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn damn.

“WHERE IS MY DATE JESSICA WHO IS REAL AND IS DRAGGING ME HERE AND PERHAPS THIS IS THE WRONG PLACE FOR THE AMERICAN SNIPER FILM?,” I skillfully proclaimed upon entrance.

Luckily we were all similarly shamed. An unspoken agreement wafted around the room: We tell no one. 

gag

That’s how I ended up with a bunch of women at a Fifty Shades of Grey matinee. Most were aged half a century. I was surprisingly not the only male in attendance, but the others had the luxury of coupling. Hen-pecked husbands with little to lose.

My envy welled. Lucky bastards.

Of course, by the end, no one seemed particularly lucky. Because I can think of no reason anyone would enjoy Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s amateurish, stilted, the leads have no chemistry, the motivations are atrocious, and (this is the oddest bit) it’s not in the least bit sexy.

In my notes, I have three ALLCAP lines. Two are “NO CHEMISTRY” and “REPULSIVE, HOW TO DEFEND.” And my very first line is “WHY ANNIE LENNOX, WHY?

With that, let’s review my notes.

notes

Good lord, I hope everyone knew I was taking notes…

The film begins with dark city skies and an Annie Lennox song. I know, I was also crestfallen. It wouldn’t be the last time either, since the Rolling Stones have a song attached and Beyoncé has two. Two. Oh Queen Bey, what have you done?

I have many notes from Anastasia and Christian’s first interview, but I’ll spare you the details. It’s mostly weird platitudes and emotionless flirting.

“I could offer you a job here.”

“(breathy snort), I don’t think I’d fit in here, look at me…”

“I am.”

Oh gag me with a… well, I can never use that phrase again.

And when Christian literally stalks Anastasia to her job at a hardware store (“oh, of course,” I noted), they have a bit more wispy flirting as he buys tape and rope. I am now unable to buy either without gagging… hmm, can’t even use the word.

After more super-creepy controlling behavior, Christian and Anastasia eventually get it on. You see boobs, possible inner thigh kissing, ass from both parties, one shot of thrown panties and hands hitting a bedspread. I’m unsure of the exact proceedings. It’s all so inky and moody and stupid.

“Why can’t they turn on a light,” whispered a nearby woman I nicknamed Berta. Her husband, who I will call Burt, responded with a distracted “Eh?”

The next morning, Anastasia dances to “Beast of Burden.” It’s now the second thing I think when I hear that song.

After this, Christian attempts to convince Anastasia to sign a contract. A contract filled with descriptors like “The Dominant” and “The Submissive.” And nothing is sexier than a table read of legalese jargon. Those court documents get all the ladies hot and bothered.

And when Anastasia asks for regular couple stuff outside the kinky weekends, Christian rebuffs with…

“Dinner and movies aren’t my thing. Try to keep an open mind about this. Agree to be my submissive, and I’ll be devoted to you. This is what I want.”

To her credit, Anastasia runs away from this creep. But she relents after a walk, where Christian reveals that he was a “submissive” at age 15 (!!!) for one of his mother’s friends. He tells Anastasia of the many benefits of bondage, of being free from all choices. Because… I can’t even make a joke.

Real talk: Are any of you turned on by this horseshit? This damaged, molested jackass talks about the “freedom of giving up control,” freedom “from making your own decisions.” Is that what anyone wants, to be a brainless piece of meat? To be used by a sadist in manipulative mind games? To be stripped of personhood for sexual gratification? I am volcanically outraged by this.

Afterward we get a semblance of denouement. They have a long, dark scene of veiled BDSM set to underwater Beyoncé. The slap-happy couple go rich-people plane gliding. Christian calls Anastasia his “girlfriend,” which shouldn’t be a character peak but is played thusly. And it all ends with an angry Anastasia storming out and boarding an elevator, the threat of “sequel” hanging in the air. But I admit, I was almost too angry to care.

I wrote, “REPULSIVE, HOW TO DEFEND” in my notes, underlining a few dozen times for irate emphasis. But I think I found some answers. Thank God for Burt and Berta.

As the credits rolled, Burt asked his wife, “Well, did you enjoy it?” And Berta, bless her soul, responded with an unamused “Eh. Nothing I’d want to try.”

I personally disagree. The rich-people plane gliding looked awesome.

I personally disagree. The rich-people plane gliding looked AWESOME.

As Cracked author  points out in his article “4 Reasons ’50 Shades of Grey’ Is the Limp Bizkit of Sex,” you can tell a lot from ticket sales. He links to a couple different lists, one for the most pre-order ticket sales for Fifty Shades, the other for most religious states. Bell eloquently asserts, “it’s the same fucking list.” And while Bell writes about commercialism, I choose a different tangent.

I’ve read calls to boycott the film and Christian pleas for purity, but the uproar speaks to the fact. Many of the ladies seeing the film are religious. Some of those women must be a little… well, bored. Maybe outwardly prudish. A little curious. Maybe sexually repressed.

If they’re turning to this, they must be desperate.

This is hotter.

Better than the movie.

If nothing else, maybe Fifty Shades of Grey shows a need for communication. If you’re feeling dissatisfied with your marriage and sexual life, there are ways to liven it up. BDSM is one of those options, but not as depicted in Shades. BDSM folks hate this series with a passion. They say it’s an unsafe and unhealthy depiction of their hobby, and I’d trust the lady with the leather whip.

Burt and Berta were uninterested, but maybe they displayed the point. Openness about possible kinks is a surprisingly good goal. Most of the ladies watching Fifty Shades might find it embarrassing or perverse to talk about their fetishes. A lady must be a lady at all times. But here’s a guy secret:

We kinda like when you talk about fetishes. I know, what a surprise.

"Martha, is this what you meant when you..." "Shh shh shh... let me have this..."

“Martha, is this what you meant when you…”
“Shhhhh… let me have this…”

It helps to not be sadistic, and to not demand someone give up autonomy. I don’t respect power plays and selfishness. But it’s not really about what I respect. Maybe that’s what some people need.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m disturbed and deeply repulsed by the idea of sexual dominance. But some people are weird. Fifty Shades might be for them. After all, I represent a minuscule portion of their intended audience. The “misanthropic, moronic young male” market probably isn’t a high seller.

In the end, I’m forced to admit that Fifty Shades might help couples feel more fulfilled.

There’s other admirable discussions derived from this series, like thoughts on gender equality and amount of change required for a relationship. And most importantly, there’s articles about abuse, and not the “fun” kind. I’m talking about psychological and emotional abuse, like Christian displays repeatedly in this (need I remind you?) terrible, terrible film.

Granted, this series might convince people in abusive relationships that everything will turn out alright, that their sadist partner can be normalized and that free will is bad. I weep for that possibility. But I believe it’s more an exception than a rule. And who knows, maybe the sequels (good god no) will correct the flaws of the source material. Like… this movie did?

I just recoiled. Another part dead. Oh well, I’m not defending the source material. I don’t want to talk about Twilight fan fiction.

See you next week, when I’ll defend… dammit, fan fiction? Really?

Dammit.

“Let’s do something stupid.”

In Defense of Sony Pulling ‘The Interview’

interviewhead

“To be fair to North Korea…” I wrote that. Fantastic.

Thanks, Sony! Because of your movie and controversial decision-making, I get to play devil’s advocate for an infantile dictator and his posse of yes men. I already defended rapists and child abusers and perverts, and I just love sliding further into the murky swamps of evil. Times are good/bad.

I’m sure I’ll enjoy my future classics like, “Let’s be nice to serial killers, because they’re people too!”

She doesn't look so bad OH GOOD GOD.

She doesn’t look so bad OH GOOD GOD.

But old murderesses have to wait. This week, I need to defend North Korea, their terrorists, and the American company that caved to their demands. Fan-fucking-tastic.

So here we go. To be fair to North Korea, we did make their leader’s head explode. Kinda a gimme.

Kim-Jong-un

Subtle.

Technically, the cranial fireworks were in a rough draft of the movie. According to leaked emails, Sony showed that version to US State Department officials and a North Korea specialist. Of course, they reacted by explaining the possible international tensions this could cause, advising that removing the scene might be a tactful course of action.

Kidding!

"MOOOOOORE!"

“MOOOOOORE!,” they exclaimed.

According to this article at Breitbart.com, the head-explody version got the blessing of at least three government officials (but was cleaned up slightly, meaning darker head goop). And one praised showing the assassination in gory detail.

North Korea specialist Bruce Bennett claimed that the untimely death of Kim Jong-Un is “the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government,” and backed up those claims in his essay for the RAND institute.

Here’s a quote from Bennett, verbatim from the weirdly hilarious NKnews.org (and if you don’t trust that, Mediaite.com and FOXnewsradio.)

“Thus while toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will).”

Pretty much saying, “We want them gone, so let’s goad people into assassination.” Like ordering a hit via Hollywood. I’m all for freedom of speech, but subtlety is occasionally a good idea.

Fatty like industrial lube? What's that fatty, can't hear over all your fat!

Fatty like industrial lube? What’s that fatty, can’t hear over all your fat, fatty!

But this is clearly just a comedic film, no real murder meant. And true, Kim Jong-Un could stand to have his ego deflated a bit (dictator after all). But maybe we aren’t ones to judge.

After all, how would we respond if a foreign nation made a comedy about presidential assassination? Let’s say the French made a madcap farce titled “Lorsque la Tête du Président Washington a Explosé.” 

georgewashingtonfacemelt

It’s this, for three hours. French.

Instant classic. Historical figures are fair game. Lampoon the hell out of Chester A. Arthur. Accidentally dismember Woodrow Wilson. Inflate Ronald Reagan to bursting, then have him fly around the Oval Office…. France, if you’re reading this, call me.

But “Lorsque la Tête du Président Obama a Explosé”? A harder sell. At least, to non-crazy people.

teaparty

Tea partiers tend to throw off my stats.

Regardless, it’d be an international incident. We’d get offended and vow action against the French. No war or threat of war, but tense. Again, tea partiers might throw off my assumptions and demand war with France, but c’est la vie. But the French, they’d just say we have no sense of humor.

Because we don’t, at least not when the joke’s at America’s expense.

No nation has a sense of humor about itself. It’s playground politics. Sorry, politics, gotta remove redundancy. So is it weird that North Korea doesn’t like it when an American movie explodes their leader’s (considerably inflated) head?

To be fair to North Korea… I kinda get it.

But should we accept that terrorists are telling us what we can watch? That Sony caved and pulled their own movie like a bunch of cowards? What the hell, Sony? You made a (kinda poor) decision here, but you have to follow through! Why would you pull it?

Wait, what?

Firstly, a few clarifications. Sony claims to have pulled the film after theater chains refused to air it. So, theaters could also be blamed here. But those claims only came after the backlash, prior to which Sony said it was their decision. Again, politics. But passing the “coward” label isn’t the point.

I’m not accusing them of cowardice. I’m accusing them of greed and manipulation.

Question: Would anyone have cared about The Interview before all this? And now that we can’t see it in theaters, how many people are going to watch this middling stoner comedy when it’s on DVD? It’s patriotic duty and natural curiosity combined.

poster

As the saying goes, “Curiosity filled the fat cat’s pockets.”

If anything, this Cracked article accuses the American public of being cowardly. Sony and multiple theater chains are just reacting to our collective pants-pooping.

Robert Evans writes, “The theaters backed out not because they were super worried about the threat of terrorism but because they thought we’d be scared and avoid going to the movies altogether. They bet their money on the irrational fear of the American people. And they were right.”

So that’s my cynical, cynical defense. To recap: I understand North Korea being upset, believe film companies are being manipulative and think our public is far too paranoid. I’m so getting flagged by the NSA.

Speaking of flags, here's a neat one. It's...

Speaking of flags, here’s a neat one. It’s…

AMERICA. HE LIKED THE AMERICAN FLAG. I MEAN... I... LIKE...

AMERICA. HE LIKED THE AMERICAN FLAG. I MEAN… I LIKE…

The murky swamps of evil are certainly here. The wicked North Korean dictatorship might be the worst thing I’ve mentioned (seriously, pure evil), but reacting to evil does not give us permission to act poorly and stupidly. I hold us to high standards.

Pulling the movie seems to have been the only option for Sony, at least for now. Blind bravado wouldn’t have worked great here. Just think of the lawsuits if anyone did get hurt, or the loss of possible revenue when theaters started to abandon ship. And think of how much more money could be gained by making it into a talking point. OH, and all that delicious free advertisement and air time. And when it’s released on DVD… more of everything. Seriously guys, pulling The Interview was the only decision that made (fiscal) sense.

To be fair to Sony… I get it. I understand. But I don’t feel fantastic.

pun

That’s it. I’m dun. DAMMIT!

In Defense of New Christmas Specials

specialsheadUnfortunately for us all, not all Christmas specials can be Rankin/Bass. But rather than follow Hermey’s attempt to become a dentithst for the 800th time, I challenged myself to try the new specials. Perhaps I could find charming, bananas-level holiday absurdity without the aid of 1960’s stop motion.

All I found… were these three. They should all be ashamed.

Luckily, I have a blog where I attempt to defend the very worst of pop culture. And if this terrible trio is any indication, New Christmas Specials could certainly use someone in their corner. So without further ado…

TOY STORY THAT TIME FORGOT

toytop

In this half-hour special, Woody and the Gang (good name for a country band) go on a play date with their owner, Bonnie. Trixie the Triceratops wants to act as a dinosaur, instead of whatever Bonnie’s youth-addled mind dictates (old lady at a lunch counter, baby reindeer, etc.). She finally gets the chance to stop playing pretend when she meets some dino action figures. However, the Battlesaurs take things a bit more realistically, which only puts the rest of the gang in prehistoric peril. Can the power of Christmas save the toys from Tyrannotyranny (good name for any band)?

Surprisingly, no. No it can’t.

By which I mean, Christmas doesn’t do jack squat in this movie. Stupid lazy holiday…

See the little cat with the soulless eyes? That’s Kittysaurus, a.k.a. the only thing in the movie relating to the holiday season. It essentially twinkles around, carols on a trumpet when facing doom, and occasionally spouts Hallmark Christmas card jargon. It has about as much personality as one should expect from an ornament, being stuffed in a box for 11 months a year. You’d be bland too, if your only companions were tinsel and a bunch of spheres.

HELL-O. YOU WILL BE MY SLAV-FRIEND. I MEANT FRIEND.

HELL-O.

I thought the themes might be Christmas-related, but… nah. It’s about the toys surrendering to the whims of their owners, about finding joy in giving up your identity for the sake of others. Which, you know… is really weird.

You also get toys not knowing they’re toys (yawn), controlling underlings via maintained ignorance (yawn) and a vague admonishment of video games (angry yawn). It’s not really bad, per se. It’s just soulless and boring, like a certain kitty cat ornament.

Despite all those themes, this is 15 minutes of material stretched into a Holiday Half-hour. And as a Christmas special, it fails tremendously. I suspect it was an unrelated short, until they shoehorned in a holiday. But it’s inventive and colorful and well-animated, so it’s hard to be angry. Being insubstantial is better than being offensive (note for later). Plus, it’s hard to make Toy Story truly bad.

A sell-out, sure, but not bad. Probably. Hopefully.

A sell-out, sure, but not bad. Probably. Hopefully.

Speaking of offensive and bad…

HOW MURRAY SAVED CHRISTMAS

murraytop

In this 40-minute special, Murray Weiner runs a diner in the town of Stinky Cigars (don’t give me that look, I didn’t write it), where all the holiday figures live and play and sing and, most painfully, rap. But it’s Christmas Eve, so Santa Claus is running his slave labor camp to get toys ready. I’m not exaggerating. There’s a song about it:

“Oh, we work work work work work work work;
we really bust our hineys,
They hire us for this work work work;
‘Cause we’re cheaper than the Chinese.”

But when Santa is knocked out, someone else must take the literal reins. And who better than the best delivery man in town, a grouchy old curmudgeon by the name of Murray?

Seen here with a leprechaun, a mass murderer, a rabbit and Lincoln's forehead.

Seen here with a leprechaun, a mass murderer, a rabbit and Lincoln’s forehead.

How Murray Saved Christmas was written and directed by Mark Reiss, a long-time writer for The Simpsons. This should explain some of the off-kilter humor, and there are chuckle-worthy moments here. But oddly, Murray aims to be a family affair. Cracks at working without health insurance makes the proceedings a little awkward. But maybe that’s just a weird moment of bad humor and poor taste? Nah.

  • A quack doctor claims he got his degree from Colombia. BOGOTA COLUMBIA! BUH DUM CHA!!!!
  • An 8-armed Indian convenience store owner, when threatened, says he’s “Vishnu… Vish’n you wouldn’t shoot me!” BUH DUM CHA!!!!!!!!!!!
  • There’s a song near the end about how gay the main character feels, how super gay he is and how this day made him gay. Followed by uncomfortable glances from the townsfolk. Um… Buh dum cha?

Are these moments offensive? Perhaps. But poor taste can be overshadowed by humor, if done well. Unfortunately… also not funny. So we have a conundrum.

How Murray Saved Christmas - Season 2014

“Sir, exit the sleigh. Slowly.”

But actually, Murray is saved by what Toy Story lacked.

Mr. Weiner delivers all the toys in record time, so he decides to give gifts to the bad kids as well. He’s going above and beyond the call of duty, because that’s what Santa should be about. Not toys. Not baubles. Not farting dolls (an actual “joke,” written with clear malice).

Christmas, Murray says, is not about behavior, it’s about giving and forgiving. After 40 minutes of tired ethnic quips and fart humor, I was shocked to have a genuine idea in the mix. But there it was.

Granted, that’s 10 minutes stretched to 40, but overall I’d say it’s a success. Murray has no idea what audience to pursue, which really hobbles it from the get-go. It’s too stupid for adults, too adult for kids. It’s offensive and weird and confounding, but it’s also brightly cheerful with a certain acerbic charm. There’s heart here, so it’s hardly worthy of outright disdain.

The art of the source material, though...

The source material art, though, is unforgivable.

Speaking of “worthy of outright disdain”…

GRUMPY CAT’S WORST CHRISTMAS EVER

cattop

This one made me cry. But I’ll get to that.

This 80-minute Lifetime special follows Tardar Sauce (sic), a.k.a. the internet-eponymous Grumpy Cat. Grumpy lives in a mall pet store which is about to go under, unless the owner sells a rare dog within 2 days. BUT the mall manager wants the dog to disappear so he can replace the pet store with a Jamba Juice. ALSO, some rock star dognappers and a crooked cop attempt to steal the dog. BUT, they’re found out by a lonely 12-year-old named Chrystal, who can talk to Grumpy for unknown reasons. Chrystal’s lonely because her mom is dating a mall elf so she feels left out. Grumpy’s lonely because she’s been returned to the mall twice, and doesn’t believe she can find another home. Can they thwart the bandits and find a friend in time for Christmas?

grumpy1

If the scattered plot didn’t deter you, it’s also brimming with meta humor. Grumpy Cat (narrated by Aubrey Plaza) constantly utters lines about how stupid the movie is, as if agreeing with the audience is endearing. Commercial lead-ins ask why we’re still watching, to which I could only scream in fury. And Grumpy Cat, in turn, would quip “I know, right? But we needed advertising money, so here we are. Can’t get all our dough from the merch.”

Did I not mention the merch?

There’s at least 3 instances of purposefully inelegant Grumpy Cat product placement, preceded by lines like “hey, isn’t product placement awful?” It’s like the producers are in on the joke, but hate the joke and are desperate for cash.

These qualities, combined with the Home Alone meets Beverly Hills Chihuahua stupidity, make “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever” very very well titled. Somehow, it’s 0 minutes stretched to 80. It’s mathematically impossible.

And caught in the middle is a cat who clearly doesn’t want to be jostled around to carols (a fact they mention, because meta is so meta). Poor Tardar Sauce wants nothing to do this, in agreement with everyone. Including Aubrey Plaza.

That’s a real scene from the movie. Aubrey Plaza actually appears, and mentions she has top billing. I KNOW.

Like Toy Story That Time Forgot, it’s bland and hollow and boring. Like How Murray Saved Christmas, it’s offensive and weirdly dark and not appropriate for kids. In particular, there’s a scene where Grumpy imagines her life if the pet store closes…

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 6.29.25 PM

Thrown out

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 6.25.16 PM

Life on the street

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 6.25.49 PM

Put on death row

Screen Shot 2014-12-06 at 6.26.11 PM

Euthanized WHAT THE FUCK?

But I mentioned this hallow, greedy, cash-grabbing, nonsensical, stupid movie made me cry. And in retrospect, I think it affected me more than both my other entries.

I know.

Even Tardar doesn't approve.

Even Tardar doesn’t approve.

See, I cried for obvious reasons. Pain, fear, loathing. But also because the movie starred two lonely characters finding companionship. As a plus, one was a cute widdle kitty cat. And at the end, when all Chrystal wanted for Christmas was to adopt her best friend Grumpy, and her parents reveal her gift… I found it predictable and enraging, but also oddly moving. Shut up.

But Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas, more than many other specials I’ve seen, shows how the worst qualities of the season (commercialism, cynicism, greediness) can actually give way to even the slightest hint of purity. Even as it’s plagued by all manner of foul sentiments and lack of emotion, it can still inspire both sentimentalism and emotion.

If we shoehorn in and sell out Christmas, it still works. If we corrupt Christmas, it still works. If we actively try to ruin everything it stands for, it still works. It’s kinda remarkable.

This week, I hit Christmas special rock bottom. But even down in the very deepest depths, light can still come through. It’s a pretty faint glimmer, but dammit, I’m glad it’s there.

But let’s end with something good. Good ole’ Rankin/Bass. God I love them.

In Defense of Bill Cosby

cosbyhead

A talented comedian can find humor in tragedy. So maybe, just maybe, this post won’t be a labored slog into a rape case. Maybe the legacy of Bill Cosby should be defended, and I can accomplish that with my typical mix of empathy and sarcasm. Maybe.

Unfortunately, I’m no comedian. This post will be laborious, the Cosby legacy deserves some reconsideration, and “sarcastic empathy” makes no goddamn sense. I have no idea where I’m going with this, so let’s just spin into darkness together, wanton and bewildered.

Because I might be defending a serial rapist.

My thoughts exactly.

Exactly.

For the uninitiated/willfully naive, here’s a brief rundown. A woman named Andrea Constand accused Cosby of battery and sexual assault in 2005. The lawsuit mentioned 13 Jane Does, all with similar stories of sexual misconduct. Cosby settled out of court, with no admission of guilt. Done, except not. Few things are that simple.

Now, the Jane Does are telling their stories. This prompted more women to come forward, more discussion online, more jokes from comedians, and fewer Cosby Show reruns. As accusations pile, Mr. Cosby has been stonewalling journalists. A perfect shitstorm of drama and controversy.

Cable news executives were both prudent and restrained. Obviously.

Cable news executives were both prudent and restrained. Obviously.

I remind you, these are alleged acts, and I’m not prepared to deem Bill Cosby innocent or guilty. Far smarter people are going to hash that out. But if you want more info, here are some horrifying Newsweek articles.

More, weirder info? Here’s a video of Cosby gibber-stuttering around journalist inquiries.

To be fair, it's his primary mode of communication.

To be fair, it’s his primary mode of communication.

But whether or not he’s guilty, I have a problem with these allegations. Well, a lot of problems. It’s a rape case. No amount of funky sweaters or pudding pops can make that less disturbing. But I have problems beyond the natural response to forced sex.

In my research, I found many comments yearning for ignorance. People who “wouldn’t tell their parents,” who were “raised with Bill Cosby and refuse to imagine him as a criminal.” Many possess a yearning to retain his legacy, as it were. To them, Bill Cosby is somehow “too good to be remembered this way.” “I’ll just ignore all this til it blows over,” wrote one individual.

Frankly, it’s disgusting.

Exactly.

Exactly.

Maybe I can’t understand. After all, I have no childhood memories of The Cosby Show. I was raised on Nintendo, The Simpsons and Homeward Bound, none of which star real people I’d recognize. Mario wasn’t a personal father figure (phew), Bart Simpson wasn’t a role model and Sassy the Cat didn’t commit crimes in the years after her Incredible Journey.

That we know of.

“Don’t ask questions, boy.”

But no matter what, putting someone on a pedestal is grossly unfair. It’s what children do while still young and stupid, before they find out their parents are actual people with flaws and downfalls.

No one deserves the infallible label, because no one can live up to that.

It’s this willful naiveté that I find disturbing. Maybe these allegations are false, and this has become a witch hunt. Maybe the women are finding mild celebrity in this (most are not seeking financial compensation, so that dose of victim shaming can be disregarded). The Cosby scandal could dissipate and leave us with halcyon reruns.

But imagine these allegations are true, and we resign to willful ignorance. So what then, possible rape cannot be addressed because we like the guy? Ooh, he’s silly, he couldn’t have done this? Sins are impossible because he’s funny?

What kind of message does that send?

Imagine the trouble respected celebrities could get into with that kind of immunity and non-accountability. Bill Cosby doesn’t deserve that. No person alive deserves that, because no person can retain humanity under those circumstances.

That we know of.

“Yes… no person indeed…”

But in equal measure, we shouldn’t rush to demonize.

According to this Huffington Post article, Raven-Symone had to refute rumors that Cosby molested her while she was on his show. If you recall, she was practically a baby. And adding “pedophile” to a list of possible wrong-doings should only be done with prudence and careful restraint, not haphazard rumor milling.

Cable news executives were both prudent and restrained. Obviously.

“WHEEEEEEE!”

But that’s what we’ve become. We either deify or demonize, and see no area or possibility for gray. Gray isn’t bold and simple like black or white, but most of the world possesses that shade. We should probably grow up and get used to it.

Granted, careful consideration is hard. This Cracked article addresses why it’s easy to ignore the allegations, and this Boston.com article talks about the difficultly of separating Bill Cosby from his beloved TV character. It’s hard. But we can’t ignore the truth simply because we need The Cosby Show. It’s not fair to anyone, including Bill Cosby.

And eventually, maybe we can separate Dr. Huxtable from his portrayer. One day, The Cosby Show can start to recover. But no amount of fondness is worth denying the possibility of serial rape. Once The Cosby Show‘s back… just, um, ignore Dr. Huxtable’s profession.

Hell, if nothing else just watch it for Clair.

Dayum, guuurl.

Dayum.

Does putting Phylicia Rashād on a pedestal make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. But I mean dayum.

In Defense of Lena Dunham

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“Do we all have uteruses?” I asked my mother when I was seven.

That’s, um, not me. It’s a quote from Lena Dunham’s new book, “Not That Kind of Girl.” To reiterate, that quote was not me. I’m a late bloomer, so I’m texting my mother that question right now. And… back to Lena.

“Yes,” (my mother) told me. “We’re born with them, and with all our eggs, but they start out very small. And they aren’t ready to make babies until we’re older.”

Ah yes, exactly what my mom just said. Oh, sorry, I’m sure you’re just enthralled by Ms. Dunham’s account of anatomical discovery. I’ll be quiet.

I look at my sister, now a slim, tough one-year-old, and at her tiny belly. I imagined her eggs inside her, like the sack of spider eggs in Charlotte’s Webb, and her uterus, the size of a thimble.

“Does her vagina look like mine?”

“I guess so,” my mother said. “Just smaller.”

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina.

Woah woah woah, what the what?!? Oh, sorry, shutting up…

She didn’t resist…

What?

and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.

Wait, WHAT?

My mother came running. “Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!”

WHAAAAAAT?

My mother didn’t bother asking why I had opened Grace’s vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did. She just got on her knees and looked for herself. It quickly became apparent that Grace had stuffed six or seven pebbles in there. My mother removed them patiently while Grace cackled, thrilled that her prank had been a success.

Ahem. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

whaat

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?

So yeah, this week I’m defending Lena Dunham. Let’s see how this goes.

Okay, real talk. We all did embarrassing stuff as kids, right? Kids are weird. I remember chucking my clothes at my brother when I was seven. Though I clearly had valid reasons. He was being a jerk and I needed projectiles. We’re all plagued by childhood weirdness for a few years.

And yet, that doesn’t come close to Lena’s tendency to TMI. But that’s her shtick. We’re talking about the frequently-nude writer/star of Girls, after all. Watching Girls is like an anatomy lesson, with awkward hookups and kooky, half-mumbled dialogue. So, like high school sex ed.

Banana

So many bananas…

So maybe the awkward story about her youthful vaginal curiosity is just another kooky overshare. In the same book, she talks about masturbation, bribing her sister to practice kissing, sexual encounters… but something about that one excerpt has caused abundant backlash. Well, that and this sentence:

“Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.”

All of this is provocative out of context. Hell, it’s kinda disconcerting in context. That’s kinda the point. But it seems to be time for everyone to hop aboard the anti-Dunham bandwagon.

Meanwhile, she's just anti-pants. But really, aren't we all?

Meanwhile, she’s just anti-pants. But really, aren’t we all?

Conservative critics hate Dunham as much as ever. After she starred in an ad comparing voting for President Obama to losing one’s virginity, a Minnesota Republican accused her of being in league with Obama and Satan. For conservatives, it doesn’t get much worse than being in cahoots with Obama.

But on the more recent Dunham scandal, The National Review published an article about the evils of her childhood escapades and vaginal discoveries. Author Kevin D. Williamson writes…

“Dunham’s writing often is unclear (willfully so, it seems), but the context here — Grace has overheard her older sister asking whether her baby sister has a uterus — and Grace’s satisfaction with her prank suggest that Grace was expecting her older sister to go poking around in her genitals and inserted the pebbles in expectation of it. Grace is around one year old at the time of these events. There is no non-horrific interpretation of this episode.”

Um… it’s a joke? Dunham made a joke at the end of a weird story. Pretty non-horrific.

Unlike this dress!

Unlike this dress!

But Williamson has other problems. He accuses her family of coddling her (fair), says she’s crude (also fair), says she’s overprivileged and vain and narcissistic (Justin, you’re supposed to defend!). Um… ah, here we go… Williamson claims Dunham has a degree from a school that doesn’t know “the difference between ‘nauseous’ and ‘nauseated.'” There’s a difference in the original Latin, but language evolves and dictionaries no longer distinguish between the two. So… there’s that.

Urp... was thinking about vaginal pebbles...

Urp… was thinking about that turquoise floral print…

Williamson also maligns that Dunham didn’t make her rapist a character in her book. Apparently, her rapist isn’t treated fairly. Talk about nauseating.

But those are conservative analysts. They’ve disliked Dunham since she rose to liberal stardom. More shocking is the vitriol received from liberals and feminists.

The Twitter pile-on was swift. Ex-followers compared her vaginal pebble anecdote to child predacity. “Creepy.” “Not normal.” A “self-promoter.” “Full of herself.” A girl who needs to “sit the f–k down and learn something.” ​She was told to “get some boundaries.” To “stop being weird.” Her story was, as one blogger put it, “best kept in the confines of your family kitchen over Thanksgiving.”

thanks

“Wait… you found what in her what?”

So now, all her detractors accuse her of child molestation. From when she was seven. Do you see the problem there?

This Daily Banter article by Chez Pazienza contends, “What Dunham did is absolutely the kind of behavior I would have had a few very candid discussions about were I her parents, but I just don’t think it rises to the level of full-on sexual assault. Even Dunham’s analogizing herself to a sexual predator sounds more like her usual dry provocation than it does an actual admission that she was grooming or molesting her sister. I just can’t understand her actions being interpreted differently.”

And it should be said, this kind of curiosity is not abnormal. And her sister defended her, saying she gave permission to publish the story. Her parents’ laissez-faire reaction might be a little off, but it’s difficult to blame Dunham for that. So she was a weird kid with weird parents who let her explore the weird world. Hardly worth hate. In fact, candidly writing about those abnormal experiences could be considered brave.

Though some of her experiences aren't abnormal... right?

Though some of her experiences aren’t abnormal… right?

Or maybe “brave” isn’t the right word.

As this Vulture article asserts, Dunham isn’t brave. Oversharing is the job of an artist. She’s just doing what she gets paid to do.

“Writers are narcissists,” author Brian McGreevy writes. “They presume that their personal obsessions and neuroses are of deep fascination — or even beneficial — to potentially millions of people. This is not a negative. Narcissism is as essential to the artist’s temperament as competition to the athlete’s.”

So maybe now I can defend.

Unlike this dress!

Well…  not that.

Lena Dunham has apologized for the insensitive sexual predator line, but she hardly deserves the other accusations thrown her way. She’s just sharing her stories and monetizing her artistic voice, which is an impressive feat. Maybe that doesn’t excuse her behavior, but she’s certainly good at what she does. Her job just happens to be narcissistic oversharing.

Lena Dunham has supporters and detractors, but that’s a good space for any artist. No one is universal. You don’t have to like her, but she’s still capable and successful. I say, good for her.

And to reiterate, she’s not a child molester. Or in league with Satan. Though she does support President Obama, so take from that what you will.

LENA-DUNHAM-OBAMA

Just go to your local polling place and… ew.

In Defense of Left Behind 2014

leftbehindhead

I feel the need to be upfront. I haven’t seen the recent Nic Cage version of Left Behind, whose art I’ve lovingly appropriated above. But worry not, ye Doubting Thomases. My defense of “Left Behind 2014” may not have technical weight, but it’s surprisingly iron-clad in perspective.

That said, the movie is shit.

After reading reviews there’s a lot I could talk about, but I’ll zero in on something specific. Near the end of the film, a Little Person gets punted down a slide like a football. He’s apparently very angry and abrasive, but still… punted. If God made an Eleventh Commandment, it’d probably be against kicking Little People off playground equipment. The Twelfth would be the same thing underlined.

commandment

“Seriously guys? I thought that went without saying.”

If you need further info on the film’s quality, Rotten Tomatoes published a pretty fantastic critic consensus. It reads: “Yea verily, like unto a plague of locusts, Left Behind hath begat a further scourge of devastation upon Nicolas Cage’s once-proud filmography.” Oh, and it scored 2% approval. 2. Ridiculous.

But I’m not going to defend the film’s quality. Let’s talk about Left Behind. You know, the series. The series I’m notably not defending.

Left Behind

Which means I can be as mean as I please.

In reading reviews, I found a Christianity Today article that was particularly enlightening. I expected it to assert that the film is not Christian, a point writer Jackson Cuidon emboldens with extreme enthusiasm. It’s as if he wants to distance Christianity from Little Person punting, for some reason.

Zacchaeus

No wonder Zacchaeus was in the tree.

However, Cuidon did something I didn’t expect. He criticized the popular source material.

“Growing up, I was horrified at the idea that the books were supposed to represent my positions, or the positions of most other Christians,” he writes. “(The books) talked about Christianity, sometimes. But, at their core, they were political thrillers, featuring characters directly transposed from better Tom Clancy narratives—still violent, hostile, and un-reflecting, they just prayed a little more and took communion sometimes.”

Interesting. See, I grew up in the heyday of Left Behind, and my mother occasionally shopped at Christian bookstores. So I recall the overwhelming merchandise opportunity brought by this particular series. Popular rapture theory makes a lot of money, which is kinda weird if you think about it.

rapturecar

It also brings out assholery, which is also kinda weird.

I had always considered Left Behind a big part of 90’s Christian media, and 90’s entertainment at large. I recall a “Left Behind Kids” series I perused in 5th grade, which wasn’t anything special then and is simply bizarre in retrospect. Just kinda pulpy Christian thrillers, but nothing terrible.

Of course, if you ask a Catholic…

“There is nothing wrong with having a successful publishing franchise, but when that franchise contains anti-Catholic prejudice and bad theology, that is a problem,” writes Jimmy Akin of Catholic.com. Akin has a particular objection to the second book:

“In Tribulation Force we learn that when the Rapture took place, the Pope was one of those taken to heaven. That doesn’t sound anti-Catholic, but (the authors) go on to explain that this Pope ‘had stirred up controversy in the church with a new doctrine that seemed to coincide more with the ‘heresy’ of Martin Luther than with the historic orthodoxy.’ In other words, the only good pope is one who agrees with Protestant teaching.”

Not only that, but the post-rapture Pope is one of the major villains. He also hates Martin Luther. Coincidence?

"These are my 95 Theses. 93 are about Catholicism, the other 2 are for Little People. Seriously guys, not cool."

“90 are about Catholicism. The other 5 are Little People and slide etiquette.”

But there’s other issues. According to Charles Henderson of Godweb.org, the books are “as American as apple pie.” The main characters are American, the ideals are American, the themes are American, the bad guys are European liberals… it’s almost as if Left Behind was written to bait American Conservative Evangelicals, to draw on paranoia and fear for monetary profit. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

"It might be the end of the world, but I feel fine."

Make it rain, Rapture. Make it rain.

Theology’s not the only problem. There are people who dislike the books as pure literature. Jason Rosenhouse of Scienceblogs.com writes, “Even granting their somewhat idiosyncratic understanding of Revelation, as literature this is pretty thin gruel. Paper-thin characters, clunky writing, implausible plot twists… Most of the pages are given over to outright proselytizing, whenever the characters can be persuaded to take time out from mocking unbelievers.”

Even today, there are pastors hosting radio shows and publishing books responding to the errors of Left Behind. Their woes range from theology to philosophy, sociology to literary standards, interpretation to end-time apathy… the only thing they have in common is disdain for Left Behind.

That, and very poorly designed websites.

That, and very poorly designed websites.

So, how does that make the recent movie defendable? Well, Left Behind 2014 has excised the weird pseudo-Christianity. The books should be considered (at best) light thrillers with a rapture twist. But some evangelicals saw the Christian plating and fell for a ruse. Some actually base their theology on what amounts to a poor Tom Clancy novel. Do you realize how ridiculous that is?

Left Behind 2014 has no pretensions on being Christian. It’s not confusing, it doesn’t cause any problems in Christian circles, it doesn’t mislead. It’s distilled stupidity, and there’s value in truth. Maybe it’ll take the series down a peg. And if this shlock can help Christianity be a little more pure, it is both good and worthy of praise.

And for everyone who doesn’t care about Christianity, we have another Nic Cage flick to laugh at. Really, that’s all I needed to say in the first place

tumblr_lzqxqz2d7i1qdytxb

Those are the crazy eyes of a LP punter.

In Defense of Romantic Comedies

romcomhead

It’s June, so get ready to catch bouquets and make your friends wear horrendous dresses! Yep, wedding season is upon us! Statistically speaking, you’ll be getting hitched (will eventually be hitched, have been previously hitched) within the month of June. Merry month of matrimony! Well, one day of matrimony… hopefully.

June weddings actually date back to the dark ages. Some say it lined up with ancient rituals, others believe it was an attempt to birth in non-fatal seasons… but it’s important to note that a person’s annual bath usually fell in June. So a lesson from our ancestors: time your marriage so you don’t smell like excrement. The more you know.

But let’s depart from bathroom speak. This is June! It’s wedding-time! So let’s celebrate the season of love by talking about romantic comedies… and how they’re essentially shit.

Oops.

The toilet is too good for some.

The toilet is too good for some.

I’ll defend them eventually, I swear. But in order to properly defend, I must first destroy (I’d make a great lawyer, huh?). So this week, I will attempt to summarize the prosecution. And I have chosen to rebut the wonderful hilarity of the Cracked After Hours video, Why Romantic Comedies Are Secretly Bad for You. Also known as: “Why Romantic Comedies are Poison.”

“People get their panties in a twist over sex and violence in movies all the time, but the real threat is love.”

That’s a quote from Katie Willert, one of the hosts of After Hours, to give a general sense of her rom com cynicism. She then makes a joke equating rom coms to pornography, which is obviously a huge leap. Pornography is poisonous because it gives people false interpretations of relationships, right? It takes something intimate and special, but makes it cheap and tawdry. Porno is just disgusting. It’s nothing like…

“(The female leads in rom coms) are all gorgeous, and they work these totally kick-ass jobs like events planners, or they own their own bakery or they’re on TV… until one of their friends says, ‘No, your happiness isn’t real. It’s all meaningless until you find love.'”

Okay, so some of the interpretation is false, and it cheapens the experience a bit. But it’s a movie, and movies by nature must simplify. No one could sit through an hour-long ode to true love. Hell, Shakespeare couldn’t do it in three hours. Some of our expectations are already a little warped.

"Oh Juliet, I'm so infatuated with you I WOULD KILL MYSELF!" - healthy relationship

“Oh Juliet, I’m so infatuated with you I WOULD KILL MYSELF!” – healthy relationship

But even if rom com love is oversimplified, it isn’t truly demeaning. It’s still important for people, especially the young women who comprise most of the viewership. Romantic comedies lead to something healthier, right?

“That is not a healthy love in those movies,” says Soren Bowie, another After Hours host. “There’s nothing mutual about it. Those women aren’t in control of anything… The men do all the work in those movies. They pay the compliments, they give the gifts, they do the broad sweeping romantic gestures. The women’s job is just to absorb it all. In those romantic comedies, love is something men do. It’s something that women just fall into. They’re completely passive and they’re powerless to control their fate.”

Um… right, but…

Willert again: “Romantic comedies have taught us that if a woman is looking for love, then she’s either desperate or hopeless. But if she’s blindsided by love when she least expects it, then that’s how you know it’s real. Which is totally the reverse of how it works in real life.”

Because reality is important to these movies.

Because reality is important to these movies.

Daniel O’Brien, a third After Hours host, tries to defend the trademark rom com witty barb trade as proving the couples are on equal footing, to which Michael Swaim, the final host, replies, “farting noise of disbelief!”

They end up accusing romantic comedies of, ahem:

  • Focusing solely on the first part of any relationship
  • Validating lies on the path to “true love”
  • Getting people to say “I love you” or “Let’s get married” is the ultimate goal
  • Saying that falling in love is hard, but relationships are easy
  • Treating “hard” relationships as “bad” relationships
  • Stalking people until they love you

“C’mon,” says O’Brien in a final defending point, “no one’s really taking those to heart. If they were, people would be getting divorced left and…”

“Right!,” asserts Swaim.

… okay… but it’s not as disgusting as pornography!… That may be the best I got.

I don’t really like rom coms. They can be pretty cheap and/or false in both concept and execution. I believe After Hours is convincing on both those points. However, that is only if people confuse infatuation and love, a la Mr. Montague up there.

Whereas infatuation involves caring about people for what they can become and how they can fulfill your needs, I believe love cares about people without the expectation of change. In essence, you want to become what theyneed, and vice-versa. In that kind of relationship, both parties can mature in a truer fashion.

So do all romantic comedies fail in this regard? No, but they are highly susceptible. Just like we are all highly susceptible. It’s not really a problem stemming from rom coms, it’s a problem stemming from us. Our issues have infected our romantic comedies.

This is our fault.

This is our fault.

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I possess a laughably small number of them. However, I can understand where rom com critics are coming from. But it all comes back to us, like some boomerang in the shape of Meg Ryan.

Romantic comedies present a squeaky-clean, easy version of love that’s done in two hours. In real life, it’s hard, difficult, frustrating, weird, enjoyable, scary and frequently quite shitty. Rom coms may not be real or always healthy, but they aren’t supposed to be road maps. In essence, they have one crucial function.

Love is hard. Romantic comedies are not. Sometimes we need to be reminded of the highpoints while we endure the lows.

For medieval example: how you both smell 11 months of the year.

For medieval example: how you both smell 11 months of the year.