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Social Media Doesn’t Ruin You. Snark Media Does.

This New York Times article confirms essentially what many are fearing about social media of today: the wrong tweet, post, or comment, removed from context, can explode in a wave of social mob outrage, destroying lives and careers in the process. Shaming, a form of bullying that ridicules people just for the existence of one personal aspect of their lives (whether physical, verbal, emotional, or spiritual), has become democratized; in the process, it has become a weapon of the masses, regardless of class, race, sex, or gender. But it’s basically a nuclear warhead, and unlike Kennedy, there’s little to no leader at the head on that program.

I think the question though is why certain comments on the internet become pitchfork-worthy and other, equally hateful and terrible comments are either ignored or, in fact, celebrated. The opening couple of paragraphs of that Times article show that Sacco isn’t particularly a PC-minded person on her Twitter account, despite being a PR rep. (Buzzfeed went further and collected her 16 worst tweets.) But the one that caught fire was different. The one about the German? Rude, but personal. The bad teeth? Lazy stereotype, but direct. The joke about AIDS in Africa? Well, that’s snark. Sacco lays it bare:

    “To me it was so insane of a comment for anyone to make,” she said. “I thought there was no way that anyone could possibly think it was literal.” (She would later write me an email to elaborate on this point. “Unfortunately, I am not a character on ‘South Park’ or a comedian, so I had no business commenting on the epidemic in such a politically incorrect manner on a public platform,” she wrote. “To put it simply, I wasn’t trying to raise awareness of AIDS or piss off the world or ruin my life. Living in America puts us in a bit of a bubble when it comes to what is going on in the third world. I was making fun of that bubble.”)

Ladies and gentlemen: it is 2015, and snark is done.


 

SNARK was fine as a quick, biting, responsive form of comedy. Snark always existed, the literary bridge between irony (a legitimate literary device) and sarcasm (a punchline, a tightly-squeezed form of irony reduced to end a joke.) Whole worlds are build on irony – Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, for the easy examples – and sarcasm was one-and-done, easy-peasy toppers to gags – heroes yelling, “This is going well!” as they sink into the quicksand. Snark was culled from those two concepts and built an attitude around it, often used to mask certain feelings or behaviors.

It makes sense though. Irony masked truth (or more accurately, satirical truth) nearly one hundred percent, and sarcasm barely masked the obvious (clearly, things are not going well). Snark was the middle ground, the way for so-called geniuses or experts to expel their version of the truth to the world while sort of, kind of, justifying their obnoxious behavior. Snark got big in the early 90s, the Dr. Houses and Dr. Kelsos of the world seemingly inspiring a burgeoning class of people with now-regrettable desires to be like them: smart, with the hot-shot ability to put down everyone with elaborate ridicule, under the premise that, deep down, they were broken or flawed – you know, human. This began the horrid wave of “I’m an asshole, but that just me, so get used to it” mentalities that thrived in the late 90s to the mid 00s. Some people were proud of their worldview. Others didn’t flaunt it, but nonetheless were expressing themselves as such, usually in passive-aggressive ways. Everyone thought they were a comedian, or a satirist masking “brilliant” insight behind abject meanness. Hell, Family Guy built a show around it (although I would argue it didn’t start out that way).

The rise of nerd culture embraced snark like no other. It’s a perfect attitude for lovers of geek culture, now embracing the cultural cachet that once pushed them to the margins. They have the knowledge – of classic comics, old-school games, and ye films of olde – and now they could impart that knowledge on others, particularly on those that once shunned them. It was as if The Simpson’s infamous Comic Book Guy was now in charge. What better way to both express that knowledge as well as exact revenge by using snark? What better way to thrive into the 21st century as cultural leaders than to be a smartass blogger?


 

THE thing about snark is at a certain point, no one will tolerate it anymore. Everyone has a breaking point, and we as a society reached it. Social media let that happened. Snark was everywhere: comments implying inferiority behind knowledgeable superiority. People were being snarky without them knowing they were being snarky. Chris Christie is a good example. His “bullying” was once celebrated, telling people to shut up as he expunged his own brand of nonsense, but now, people are sick of it. More and more people are calling out snarky behavior and commentary, and that’s what Sacco learned the hard way.

Everyone “ruined” in that Times article was ruined by the internet’s response to, specifically, a snarky comment or photo: Stone and her goofy gestures at the Tomb of the Unknown; Lynch and her Boston Marathon Victim costume; hell, even jokes about dongles. Regardless of seriousness or intent, all were examples of people joking “all in good fun,” attempts to be comical under the idea that their comments couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. And while most people think that the lack of context and wave of social media is what ruined them, I’d argue that indeed social media knew exactly that they were being “funny”. They didn’t object to the joke regardless of context; they responded to the snark, the “what’s the big deal?” attitude around it.

Such reactions were exacerbated by the rise of minority voices. Nerd voices and their “snark” rose, but so did feminists and transgendered and black voices, and they all kind of, sort of embraced snark (with its passive-aggressiveness, flippant jokiness, and direct meanness masking an indirect point) and it’s lead to a line in the sand. Snark versus snark – smug ironic comedy veiling satire (regardless of quality) pitted against itself – was a lose-lose. The dongle gag lead to both sides being attacked and being fired. Biddle, he who called out Sacco’s snarky AIDS gag got his own karmic retribution when the internet turned on him with his “Bring Back Bullying” comments. All of which ties to Gamergate, perhaps THE biggest depiction of the fallout against snark. Gamergate surges onward because of aggressive responses to snark; any sarcastic jokes that put men in any kind of harsh light will get their full wrath, regardless of how “obvious” the joke is. As Sacco learned.

Snark has become so toxic that sincerity – directly stating how you feel – has become preferable, regardless of belief or stance. Had Stone, Lynch, or the dongle-jokers been candid about their jokes – expressed themselves directly, they might have have been rewarded. There’s precedence for this belief. It’s reached the point that sincerity has been earning more respect. It’s better to outright air your opinions, law-breaking be-damned (Cliven Bundy, Darren Wilson) then to cutely “beat around the bush”. Today’s role models, for good or ill, are those who are candid with their words and deeds.

Snark can work, but it has to be approached positively, not a reflective response to justify assholery or masking poor, ill-thought out behavior under some guise of comedy or satire. Social media has exposed everyone to snark’s insidious side. Those who have been at the receiving end of snark all their lives are calling it out now, and those who have embraced it as a so-called defense mechanism, are entering a tougher world to manage, and may want to tread carefully before releasing another smartass comment out into the world. Because they get the joke. They just don’t like the attitude behind it.

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CHILDHOOD REVISITED – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)

Through 155 episodes, 4Kids’ 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles managed to maintain a relatively consistent high quality, but not by committing to the tone of the comics – by committing to itself.

The one thing that every good cartoon needs isn’t great animation, tight storytelling, excellent art direction, or appealing characters. Sure, all of those are desirable, and every creative team should aspire to achieve those goals, but the number one thing necessary to a sustainable, enjoyable cartoon is commitment. Cartoons are, almost by definition, so loose and free and unrestrained, that any ridiculous, unrealistic premise can take surprising form and shape if everyone on board commits to the idea(s) and the ideal(s) of the cartoon. Commitment isn’t something you can put on paper or thrust into a few characters. Everyone has to agree to the set-ups AND the various plot catalysts that are inherent in the show’s premise. Everything that does happen, no matter how crazy, has to somehow come back the the core nature of the show and its characters.

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This is a roundabout way of explaining why basically the 2003 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles managed to maintain a high (well, appealing) quality through its seven season, 155-episode run. Whether shooting the four brothers across space, cyberspace, dimensions, time, pseudo-time, dream-scapes, or whatever crock-pot crazy story the writers cooked up, the show never shied from some core, committed basics: the natural characterizations of the four brothers and their pseudo-father (and their rich, always-potent familial connection); the intense, well-done action scenes; the unique seasonal choices that threw the cast into unique and varies circumstances; the myriad of diverse, outlandish characters that popped in and out of the turtles’ lives. SO much happened in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles during its entire existence, but whatever DID happen, the writers and animators were committed to it. Even its weakest, wackiest premises were given solid, well-told stories: with seven season and one final TV-movie to muck things up, I’d be hard-pressed to declare any season or arc as an abject failure (and I’ll get more into that during this review).

I’m going to put a lot of the show’s success on Chuck Patton and Roy Burdine’s shoulders, the directors of the majority of the episodes (with credit also to the sheer influx of various writers that flowed in and out over the years). Every iteration completely up-ended the show – whether by changing the tone, the designs, the flow of action, the locations, the story-arcs, etc., all at the expense of a (increasingly obvious) shrinking budget and network interference – and Patton and Burdine managed to crank out fantastically energetic, entertaining episodes day in and day out. Even if the Lost Episodes, Fast Forward, and Back to the Sewer episodes disappointed fans (something I’ll get into a bit later), they still managed to produce delightfully watchable television.

All that’s primarily due to the show’s commitment. No matter what crazy event came into the turtles lives, the writers and animators approached it one hundred percent. No matter what insane limitations and forced changes were passed down on the creative team, they bit the bullet and cranked out good work. With cartoon writers these days seemingly struggling with storytelling with a 23-minute timeframe (The current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Adventures of Puss and Boots are two glaring examples), it’s refreshing to watch a show that can handle a solid, straight-forward story with genuinely tight action, real dramatic stakes, impressive characterizations, and actual humorous moments – all done within structurally competent stories and direction.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s major strength probably came from two key aspects: 1) treating the show like a comic, and 2) spending the time to establish every and all major plot changes. The first allows for slick visuals and dynamic animation (including constantly changing aspect ratios, the TV way of mimicking comic panels), particularly around large-scale fight sequences, while the second allows for characters and plot points to breath, particularly important when time/space/dimensional travel becomes a lot more significant. Animators get creative freedom; writers get creative freedom. Combined, the two aspects allow audience members to get drawn into borderline-incredulous storylines. Sure, the basic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story – where Leo is stalked, thrown into April’s apartment; where they all escape to the farmhouse and recover; where they return to New York and finally beat back the Shredder – is there, and smartly drawn out to emphasize the sheer seriousness and intensity of the arc.

When the brothers are warped into some bizarre space war between humanoids and alien-dinosaur people, discover an underground civilization of transformed monsters, battle along side parodies of Marvel/DC superheros, or when sucked into an alternate universe that involves a large-scaled, competitive battle nexus, a la Mortal Kombat – these kinds of stories threaten to completely throw the core nature of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for a loop. But the show maintains its composure, focusing on those two aspects from above, delineating multi-part arcs to ease in the strangeness – mini TV movies, basically. This opens up the door to some pretty crazy, but wildly entertaining stories down the line, both dark and light, and for the most part all intriguing.

A lot of fans disliked the fourth season take on Leonardo, who became a darker, more emotionally-distant brother after the crazy events of the third. I thought it was a bold choice; the show clearly didn’t take Leo’s view as gospel, and the remaining brothers/Splinter tried desperately to help him. It was a real challenge, and it worked well, making Leo’s breakthrough all the most satisfying. It unfortunately led to The Lost Episodes, which didn’t originally air at first. They were released after the Fast Forward season, and it’s clear why. It feels like the creative team wanted to try a “Turtles, but in school” set-up, but also attempted to go for the strangely popular Dragon Ball Z fanbase. Clearly cobbled together in a rush, The Lost Episodes are, while not awful, definitely way out the creative team’s range. But they try, and the very attempt makes it a lot more watchable than it has any right to be. Still, The Lost Episodes are by far the weakest season.

Fast Forward, meanwhile, definitely feels like network interference. Throwing a cast of familiar characters into the future was always a go-to move to try and revitalize a series. It’s also a bit more sillier, with Serling’s robotic annoyance, Constable Biggles uselessness, and Mikey’s more mischievous, goofier behavior taking up more screen time. But the writers, being professional, still make the most of it, with some solid, tense episodes and pretty intimidating villains. That season’s potential was also cut short, with a bunch of episodes left on the storyboard wall as Back to the Sewer debuted. It has the same tone as Fast Forward, more or less set up to finish up the series on a high note. Even though that season also was clearly cut short, time-and-budget-wise (nothing comes of the first episode’s “three Shredders” set up), the season is still relatively strong, its characters still on point, and its stories still well told, with a rushed but wonderfully resonant finale that sums up the entire season as a whole. “Wedding Bells and Bytes” exemplifies the show’s core strength – it’s constant commitment to whatever change comes its way.

The glowing praise here can’t mask the show’s few flaws, which are, while tiny, rather significant. The main one is that every single villain is a mustache-twirling figure of evil of some type, heavy on exposition and rants with little in terms of development. They do try to explore Stockman a bit, but his life story comes a bit too late, his massive ego way too ridiculous to pull back from. (Bishop’s arc overall is much better, although he’s was so much more entertaining as a villain). Stockman’s literal, constant dismemberment is also disconcerting, as being the only major minority character on the show; watching his hubris, submission, and destruction to others is a bit uncomfortable to watch, time and time again. Poor treatment of female characters is also the show’s flaw. April is established as a scientist but only occasionally exercises that level of intelligence; her training by Splinter never results in anything, either (Karai, on the other hand, fares better). Generally speaking, the characters are second-fiddle to the scope of the show, which is fine, but major players like April and Stockman deserve better.

Yet despite the flawed characters, changing premises, shifting tones, and various character designs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles never really lets up, constantly chugging out engaging episodes and real character moments that remained at a high caliber. The series ended its run (and celebrated its 25th Anniversary) with “Turtles Forever,” a fantastic, high-energy trip down memory lane, with the 2003 team meeting up with the 1987 team and battling 2003 Shredder, Karai, 1987′s Shredder, and 1987′s Krang. It’s filled with cameos and references to the various versions of the franchise, culminating in a self-referential (and self-deprecating) battle with the 1984 Mirage Comics version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s hilarious and amazing, with top-notch animation and clever touches, making it one of the best parodies/homages in ages. It also makes a fantastic capper to a fantastic show, a distillation of a series that ran its paces and constantly delivered.

Turtles forever, indeed.

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CHILDHOOD REVISITED – Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

In the episode “Help Wanted,” Harry Boyle has to let his truck driver go after yet causing another accident due to his poor eyesight. Yet for some reason, everyone around Harry gives him gruff about this. He was such loyal worker, they claim, but no one seems to acknowledge the fact that he was terrible at this job and a threat to people’s lives, let alone Harry’s self-made business in selling cookware. Things grow to absurd levels as characters push Harry’s search for a new truck driver into what we might categorize as “social justice warrior” territory; his new worker has to be representative of African-Americans, or gay people, or women, implying that this egregious pursuit for political correctness goes against the “oh-so-simple” fact that Harry is just looking for the right man to do the job. At no point does this episode suggest that one of these minorities could be a fit; he’s hiring a truck driver, so anyone with a license and a modicum of experience could do it. Laughably, Harry is coerced to go to the government to assist in finding a minority hire; the government rep he meets with is portrayed so incompetently that Harry – white, male, middle-class, Protestant American Harry, who is the only person in this world that has any sense, hahaha – has to basically coach him through using his own census machine.

To underline this episodes abhorrent point, an African-American gentleman stops by to sell magazines. Harry politely declines, which for some reason compels Harry’s family – the hippie and comically overweight daughter Alice, the hippie and lazy son Chet, and even the loyal but frustratingly misguided Irma – to call him a bigot. Just so we’re clear, this show’s approach to affirmative action policies consists of the belief that white men has to accept all offers from minorities, practically or not; otherwise, those damned young liberals will call you racist. In desperation, Harry re-hires the dangerous worker to drive his truck again, accidents, mortality rates, and liabilities be damned, since Harry is just so sick and tired of fending off those interfering activists.

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home 05 Help Wanted

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Dear readers of Total Media Bridge: it is with great restraint when I say that Wait Till Your Father Gets Home is vile, lazy shit.

But let’s back up for a bit.


Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

In 1971, All in the Family changed television. Produced by Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin, the CBS hit show nailed the provocative changing landscape of the 70s, engaging in the heady and serious topics of feminism, sexual assault, racism, and sexuality, through engaging characters, tightly-woven stories, and top-notch comedy. It topped the Nielsen ratings for five years in a row and cemented itself as one of the most important and influential comedies of all time. Practically every show today takes its cues in some way or another from All in the Family, including The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Hanna-Barbera is a difficult company to categorize. The two animators brilliantly streamlined animation for the low-budget realm of television through simple techniques like recycling backgrounds and covering up characters’ necks. Their hit shows bring a lot of charm to its characters too; there’s an aesthetic verve to shows like Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, and even Space Ghost that stand the test of time. They’re also incredibly, undeniably lazy. All three shows have been incessantly recycled into other awful, broken shows (Jabberjaw, Magilla Gorilla, Shazzan for example). And the company has been co-opting live-action (and itself) hits for ages. The Flintstones is a stone-aged knock-off of The Honeymooners. The Laverne and Shirley in the Army show gave the the two female stars a talking pig for some reason. Wacky Races just cobbled together past characters in what might be charitably called the first “shared universe.” Hanna-Barbera quite frequently just grabbed whatever that was out there and repackaged it in sub-par, if striking, animation.

So it comes as no surprise to see Hanna-Barbera co-opting All in the Family with Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which ran in syndication on NBC in 1972. Starring Tom Bosley as head-of-household Harry Boyle, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home sought to snatch, in animated form, the kind of edgy provocation surging through America that All in the Family was thriving in. The set up was similar, too: Irma was the Edith, Alice was the Gloria, Chet was the Meathead (Mike). They were also given a younger son, Jamie, and a dog. That might have been the largest amount of creativity and thought put into the show; beyond that, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home is utter, utter crap.

This may come off a bit biased, as the show is clearly espousing a more conservative viewpoint, a direction that runs counter to my own politics. It also may seem like I’m speaking from a contemporary point of view, beyond the show’s temporal setting. I assure you, I’ve taken all of that into consideration. I can watch All in the Family and relate with Archie Bunker, despite his abject bigotry. The writing is sharp, the direction is fantastic, the acting is nothing short of incredible, and, most importantly, the show understood all the angles of a debate. Wait Till Your Father Gets Home doesn’t give a fuck about the issues. Harry Boyle, according to this show, is the oh-so-poor victim of a growing scourge of progressivism, forcing him and his self-made image/business/family through inconvenient assaults on his personhood and American righteousness, via the most laziest arguments ever.

The rundown of “Help Wanted” is a perfect example of the show’s misguided narrative; “Permissive Papa” is even worse. Alice wants to date a boy who exhibits nerdy and hippie-esque attitudes, which has Harry thinking of the boy as a potential pervert. So he sets Alice up with a typical conservative middle-class boy instead. When she returns on her date, disheveled, Harry becomes angry, thinking the first boy sexually assaulted his daughter. As he should be. But when Alice revels it was the second boy who attacked her, Harry only reacts with a big “Ooops” for interfering in his daughter’s love-life. To be clear, Harry was going outright kill the hippie kid for non-consensually touching his daughter, but the supposed “normal” kid gets a pass. And never mind the actual attack on, and the well-being off, his daughter, as the whole thing is just gleaned over.

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home 27 Permissive Papa

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The show possesses a direct, single-minded approach to Harry and the “persecuted” role of the white middle-class male, truly believing that it’s everyone else encroaching on his normal lifestyle. Everyone else – women, activists, gays, the government, hospitals, and ESPECIALLY kids these days – are just in the way and just don’t get it, man. Certainly not to say that there weren’t problems with the more aggressive set of “liberals” in the 70s, but to completely ignore their good points and/or their genuine struggles is uncanny. Sure, there’s Chet, who refuses to get a job and lazes around the house, only to go to the soup kitchen to feed the poor a few times a week. Yes, there is a problem there, but could the show at least pretend that there’s some value in the boy’s charity? Not so. Harry can only shoot out snarky comments, which are supposed to be ironically funny (coupled with the worst laugh track in history), but come off more dickish and insensitive.

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home fares the worst with feminism and women rights. (It’s right there in the title of the show – only the father will solve THIS problem once he gets home, I’ll tell you what!) It’s as if the writers had no conception of why exactly women were all “up in arms” back then – because, well, they didn’t. Alice gets a lot of shit, but it’s Irma who gets the worst of it. First of all, she’s wildly inconsistent. One episode, she’s acting like an idiot, the next, she’s smart as a whip. Irma constantly gets caught up in random issues – charities, or the idea of working, or keeping up with random, snooty neighbors – and always fucks things up, leaving Harry to put her in her place and solve everything. My favorite bout of laziness, though, has to be the show’s attempt to make Harry’s “ding-a-ling” a thing – Archie’s “dingbat” to All in the Family’s Edith. Hilariously they only use it one episode.

Lest some of you think Harry is too conservative and, perhaps, missing the point, the show introduces Ralph, a conspiracy-minded ultra-conservative who’s insane ideas are meant to be the extreme versions of Harry’s ideals. “See?” the show asks. “Harry is middle-of-the-road compared to Ralph’s militant extremism!” The show’s writers are terrible, though, so while it might seem Ralph’s extremism is heavily exaggerated for comic effect (kinda like a proto-American Dad), but save for a few comic moments he just comes off racist and idiotic. Which raises the question: why does Harry even hang out with him? Harry clearly hates the guy. Because this show is insufferable.

The entire (liberal) world is out to get Harry, who is just trying to be a normal middle-aged white guy with his own business! Why is every single person, with their “issues” and “concerns” and “opinions” always on his case? Why can’t people just leave him alone? These liberals are always interfering in his life, forcing Harry to spend a lot of money, money that Harry constantly complains he never has. He’s buying pools to impress neighbors and dresses to constantly make Alice happy, despite his complaints about prices and costs and extravagance. Yet he never actually puts his foot down on buying these things. The show tries to present Harry’s financial middle-class issues as a real thing but never follows through. If Harry lacks the money to buy something, then he should be unable to buy it. The show wants to present Harry as a run-of-the-mill, check-to-check member of the underclass, yet he’s somehow able to “scrape together” enough funds for the most lavish of expenses. It’s as if Fox News went back in time and animated a show.

If you can call it “animated.” Wait Till Your Father Gets Home might’ve been tolerable if the art was decent, but let’s be frank: this show looks like shit. Inconsistent character models and terrible walk cycles are placed upon legitimately unfinished backgrounds and washed-out colors. With a bit of effort, the unfinished look could’ve come off as a unique artistic aesthetic (and, to be fair, some of the nighttime visuals have a bit of a style to them), but even basic artistic concepts are failed here. Doorways and thresholds are unfinished, with linework not even reaching the top of the screen. Very little thought or effort was put into this program, and it shows.

The worst part of Wait Till Your Father Gets Home is the absolute casualness of its politics it exudes. Provocative-if-lazy shows at least attempt to shock or be edgy, but Wait espouses its crap with an unearned and misguided confidence in its worldview, presenting “shocking” elements only for the great Harry Boyle to crack wise, then tell you how it really should be. It’s The Newsroom before The Newsroom was a thing, but without the hint of a creative/technical mastery of the form. Wait Till Your Father Gets Home has no redeeming value; there’s a reason that only about six episodes have been re-aired within the last twenty years.

Actually, I’m only somewhat wrong; there is one thing that’s kind of well-done (aside from Dan Adams guest-star appearance, who was funny despite the awfulness of the episode he was in): Jamie. In a surprising bit of prescience, the show seemed to predict the 80s generation’s focal concerns for money and greed, portraying the young kid as sort of a savant who treats allowances with the business acumen of an up-and-coming Wall Street executive. But make no mistake: Wait Till Your Father Gets Home puts in the most pedestrian of efforts in order to ride the coattails of All in the Family, making a show that’s lazy, offensive, indigenous, ugly, and flat-out stupid.

At least Hanna-Barbera’s other animated efforts had a talking animal.

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