Retrospective: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Welcome back to the Hannibal Lecter retrospective! In today’s post we’ll be going over The Big One, The Silence of the Lambs. I mentioned in my review of Manhunter that that film felt dated, in part because it came before this landmark follow-up. Does Silence hold up better? Read on to find out…

I love this poster. It doesn’t give you any information about the film itself, it only gives you the title, a chilling mood and some symbolism to go off of, leaving your imagination to fill in the blanks. Also, if you look closely enough, you can see that the Death’s-head Moth’s skull has been replaced with a photograph of naked women arranged in the shape of a skull by Salvador Dali, further hinting at the film’s themes.

PRODUCTION
Sometime after completing Red Dragon, Thomas Harris began work on his next novel, which he decided would revolve around a strong female character. While not initially conceived as a sequel to Red Dragon, Harris’ female lead was almost instantly drawn to Lecter and the story developed out from there. The Silence of the Lambs was published in 1988 and was another success for Harris, winning him accolades and once again drawing the attentions of Hollywood. In 1987, prior to the novel’s release, prestige production company Orion Pictures (which were coming off a string of Best Picture winners, Dances With Wolves, Platoon and Amadeus) and Gene Hackman secured the rights to adapt the novel, despite Harris’ disappointment with Manhunter. However, they also had to negotiate to Dino De Laurentiis to get the rights to use the name “Hannibal Lector”, since he still owned these (which makes the fact that they spelled it “Lecktor” in Manhunter even more baffling). Disillusioned due to Manhunter‘s failures, De Laurentiis lent the rights to Orion and Hackman for free. Perhaps due to Manhunter‘s underwhelming reception, The Silence of the Lambs would be produced as its own stand-alone film, with references to the events of Manhunter/Red Dragon which were present in the book being omitted. Hackman was initially set to direct and star in the film, but halfway through the first draft of the script he dropped out and the studio had to step in to finance the film and find a replacement director. The job went to Roger Corman alum Jonathan Demme.

Jodie Foster had expressed great interest in the role of Clarice Starling, but was initially turned down by Demme, who approached Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan and Laura Dern instead. However, when these choices didn’t work out, Foster secured the role. For Hannibal Lecter, Demme originally considered casting Sean Connery, but he turned the role down (a pattern for Connery, who might be the most comically stupid actor in Hollywood for turning down projects he doesn’t understand). The role instead went to Anthony Hopkins. The role of Buffalo Bill went to Ted Levine, who was largely unknown at the time, having played mostly bit parts up until that point.

The FBI cooperated with the production, providing consultation with the actors and even allowing the crew to film at the FBI Academy in Quantico. Hopkins drew inspiration for his iteration of Lecter from studying criminal case files, visiting prisons and presiding during several court cases. Meanwhile, Ted Levine focused on Buffalo Bill’s queerness, visiting gay and trans bars and taking as much inspiration from David Bowie as he did from murderers like Ed Gein and Gary Heidnik. This led to the book and the film receiving criticism and protests from feminist, gay and trans activists over the portrayal of Buffalo Bill, who was viewed as demonizing gay and trans people, a reputation which still sours appraisal of the film to this day. In spite of the controversy, The Silence of the Lambs proved to be wildly successful, grossing $272.2 million on a $19 million budget and winning a number of accolades including sweeping the “big five” at the Oscars (Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director and Adapted Screenplay), only the third film in history to do so.

PLOT SYNOPSIS
Clarice Starling, a student at the FBI Academy, is recruited by Jack Crawford to interview the imprisoned Hannibal Lecter – outwardly, to try to profile his behaviour, but secretly because they suspect that he may have insight on a serial killer who has been kidnapping, murdering and skinning women. Hannibal finds Clarice intriguing, but tires of her questioning. However, when a fellow prisoner flings his semen at Clarice, Hannibal decides that he will give her a lead. This leads Clarice to an abandoned storage locker, where she discovers the severed head of one of Hannibal’s former patients, a man named Benjamin Raspail. Lecter reveals that he believes that Buffalo Bill murdered Raspail many years prior and that he will help to try to catch Bill if they will move him to a more accommodating institution.

While this is occurring, Bill kidnaps his latest victim, who happens to be the daughter of the state senator. Knowing that time is short for this latest victim, Jack and Clarice craft a deal with Lecter for his cooperation, with him demanding insight into Clarice’s childhood before he will accept the deal. However, it is soon discovered that Clarice betrayed his trust as the deal was entirely falsified. A new deal is made between the institution’s overseer Dr. Chilton and Lecter, which is agreed upon with the senator herself. However, Clarice realizes that the information Lecter gave her was misleading and confronts him at a holding cell in a Tennessee courthouse for more information. After providing more details about her childhood, including a traumatic event where she tried to save the spring lambs from being slaughtered, Lecter tells Clarice that everything she needs to know to solve the case is included in the case files. Clarice is escorted out of the building and soon after Lecter escapes by killing his two guards and then cutting one of their faces off, disguising himself as an injured officer as the paramedics rush him out of the crime scene.

Meanwhile, Clarice studies the case file in greater detail and realizes that Buffalo Bill must have known his first victim, which gives her a new lead to start from. After tracking down this lead she realizes that Bill is skinning the women because he’s using them to make a woman suit. Clarice begins tracking down acquaintances of the first victim and comes across Buffalo Bill himself. Quickly realizing that he is the killer, she confronts him and discovers that the senator’s daughter is still alive, trapped inside a well. After a tense chase, Clarice shoots Bill to death and the case is closed. Later, at her FBI graduation ceremony, Clarice receives a phone call from Lecter to congratulate her before he tells her that he’s “having an old friend for dinner” and hangs up, stalking an anxious Dr. Chilton into a crowd…

REVIEW
I’ve grown a lot in the decade since I last saw The Silence of the Lambs and watching it again has given me a newfound appreciation for just how overtly feminist this movie is. (What’s that, we’re talking about feminism on IC2S? Shocker!) Like, if this film came out today, completely unaltered, you’d have chuds whining about how it’s unrealistic, agenda-pushing propaganda. Conversely, it feels very timely for its release year of 1991, when films were still grappling with the idea of women having careers. The film isn’t even subtle about it, within the first couple minutes we get a shot of Clarice walking into an elevator at the FBI Academy surrounded by men who are all nearly twice her height and size, visually symbolizing her upward struggle. We also see several instances of Clarice being hit on and objectified by the men around her when she’s just trying to do her job – when she meets Dr. Chilton, when she tries to do research on the Death’s-head moth and when she is doing her morning jog and all the male recruits check her out after she passes. Oh, and that’s not even mentioning the fucking sexual assault prisoner Miggs subjects her to and the sexually explicit taunts Hannibal directs her way. Clarice always brushes these encounters off, but it’s obvious that they all make her uncomfortable at the very least and undermine her attempts to be taken seriously as an FBI agent on the basis of nothing more than her sex. This theme is woven throughout the film’s narrative, as Buffalo Bill is also exclusively preying on women, making their lives even more difficult and dangerous. Similarly, it is later discovered that Bill is, himself, trying to become a woman while Clarice is trying to shed the prejudice that comes with her gender (I’ve seen some critics say that she wishes she was a man, but I personally don’t get this sense, she just wishes that men wouldn’t objectify her). Clarice even delivers a haunting line near the middle of the film which is straight-up a declaration of the film’s message: “If he sees her as a person and not just an object, it’s harder to tear her up.” Clarice knows the feeling of being objectified by men constantly, but she is determined to achieve her goals in spite of these prejudices and prove that everyone is underestimating her capabilities. All the problems I had with Will Graham in Manhunter? They don’t apply here. Clarice is a fantastic emotional core to the film and she’s played wonderfully by Jodie Foster, who plays up Clarice’s strength, determination and desperation flawlessly. My only slight criticism about her character would be that Clarice’s goals stem, in part, from the well-worn female protagonist daddy issues trope (her father was her hero, a cop who died when she was young). This isn’t a major issue, but it might have been nice if the character’s motivation was just a tad bit more original.

If Clarice is the emotional core of the film, then Hannibal Lecter is the spellbinding agent of chaos, the true antagonist of the piece. Hopkins’ portrayal is truly electrifying. Whereas Cox played the character as a smug dickhead, Hopkins instead aims instead for a more theatrical portrayal, an irresistible mixture of charming and dangerous. His introduction has to be one of the greatest in film history, with Jack Crawford and Dr. Chilton both hyping up just how overwhelmingly dangerous he is to mind and body alike for nearly five straight minutes before we get to meet him. Lecter himself seems to follow a pattern with his playthings – he starts out charming, asking questions politely, reeling the subject in to make them interested. Then he says something shocking or repulsive just to see how the person reacts. In Clarice’s case, she stands her ground and even goes along with Lecter, in the senator’s case she becomes insulted and leaves him. However, Lecter then reels them back in again with a promise of something that they want. In Clarice’s case, he dangles the promise of helping her solve the Buffalo Bill case, making her career and some clues on Bill’s whereabouts, while in the senator’s case he provides details on Bill’s appearance. It’s a pattern that always sees Lecter in control, even though he’s in shackles for nearly the entire film. In spite of this, he does display moments of sympathy and honour, such as when he first agrees to help Clarice after she is sexually assaulted by Miggs. In retaliation, Hannibal convinces Miggs to kill himself in retribution, even though it results in him having all of his privileges stripped away. One particular detail that I found fascinating is Hannibal’s eyes. He spends the entire movie staring like a predator, fixated intently on the things that he wants. Initially we only really see him with Clarice, so it’s not particularly notable when he spends all their time together staring at her. However, later when he is being transported to meet with the senator, he spends most of his time staring forward, blankly… that is, until he sees something he wants, a pen which he plans to use in an escape attempt. Whenever this pen is on screen, Hannibal’s eyes dart to it and he stares with intensity at it. It’s a detail which makes his interactions with Clarice even more interesting. Like the other men in the film, Hannibal is fixated on Clarice’s body but there seems to be more to it than just simple lust. Clarice and Hannibal play off each other with fantastic chemistry, making for two phenomenal leads to the film.

Rounding out the main cast is Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill and… well, this is where the only substantial complaints I have about this film lie. Before I get into this analysis though, I just want to make it clear that I’m going to refer to Buffalo Bill as a man here, mainly because the film tells us that he isn’t transgender and that it seems to be the actual intent that he is not (as opposed to, say, Ace Ventura which portrays a trans woman but then acts like she’s a man). I definitely feel like there are issues here, but based on what we’re given I feel like this is the reading we’re supposed to come away with. Anyway, with that said, the portrayal of Buffalo Bill is fucking problematic. On its surface, the idea of having a character kill women because he wants to become one is ripe for reading as transphobic. I’m actually kind of impressed that Thomas Harris was aware of this and tried to go to great pains to avoid this interpretation, working a couple scenes into the novel of characters explaining that Bill is not a trans person, but rather has so much self loathing that he wants to become someone as far away from himself as possible. The film struggles even more with this, only including one scene where Hannibal states that Buffalo Bill isn’t really a trans person, which isn’t exactly the most reliable source. That said, considering that Harris was aware that this was an issue, it prompts two questions:

  1. If you know that this character is going to read as problematic, why are you bothering to include the problematic parts?
  2. If you’re insisting on going forward with it, why not get consultations from trans figures to ensure that you make it as respectful as possible?

Harris may have at tried to cut off any potential criticisms, but it didn’t seem to work because the popular perception became that Buffalo Bill was a villainous trans character and the explanations were forgotten. It also doesn’t help that the film tries to leave Bill’s queerness ambiguous, but Ted Levine plays the character so stereotypically gay (he’s got a goddamn bichon frise named Precious for Christsakes) and we’re clearly meant to find his “otherness” to be a monstrous aspect of the character. Levine is quoted saying “I think [Bill] at one point thought that he might be a rock star in the mode of a David Bowie, those guys who were really masculine but feminine at the same time”, denoting that we’re meant to be disturbed by Bill’s androgyny. The infamous “tucking” scene is also indicative of this (and, notably, was improvised by Levine), only really existing to make us think how strange and fucked up queer people are. I feel like the film might have gotten away with its explanations that Bill wasn’t really trans and avoided backlash from the LGBTQ community, but the tucking scene and the unambiguous queer coding push it way too far, especially at a time when positive queer representation was in a noticeable dearth. Buffalo Bill’s entrance a half hour into the film is truly chilling, with him preying on his victim’s sympathy to lure her into his clutches, it’s just too bad that he turns into an offensive stereotype from there. Luckily, his screentime is fairly limited, but it’s unfortunate that his portrayal is a permanent black stain on this film.

While the characters are the beating heart of The Silence of the Lambs, they’re greatly aided by a top-tier screenplay and direction. The films story is tense, exciting and lean, giving the audience the clues to solve the mystery on their own while not wasting a moment of screentime. Aiding this is Jonathan Demme’s expert direction, which allows the actors to get the most out of their performances. I noticed that Demme frames his characters in closeups and extreme closeups constantly throughout the film, giving us more insight into the characters’ unspoken emotions during all of the tense exchanges of dialogue. It’s a simple technique, but it’s utilized masterfully throughout the film to convey more than is said and helps to get around some of the issues translating a book to screen. There are all sorts of great moments utilizing these closeups, most notably during any scene with Hannibal and Clarice, but I was particularly impressed during the scene where Clarice inspects the body of one of Bill’s victims. The body itself isn’t shown, except in bits and pieces, and the focus is instead on Clarice’s face as she records the details. A lesser film may have revelled in the chance for some squeamish gore, but The Silence of the Lambs places the focus squarely on Clarice and all of the emotions that she clearly has just roiling beyond the surface, since this is what’s truly important in this scene. Demme also pulls out some truly thrilling sequences, such as Lecter’s grand escape (I can still remember the first time I saw it, piecing together what happened as I watched and being amazed when the big reveal was made) and the voyeuristic and claustrophobic night vision sequence at the end of the film. All-in-all, it’s little wonder that the film swept the Oscars, because nearly everything here is top notch.

I’ve always regarded The Silence of the Lambs highly, but I was curious to see how it would hold up nearly a decade after I last saw it and with a more critical eye directed towards the film’s representation issues. While I have to say that I’m disappointed by the problematic LGBTQ representation, if you’re able to look past this issue, everything else about the film is engrossing. I was also particularly impressed by the film’s feminist themes, which I hadn’t appreciated in previous viewings of the film. There really isn’t much more to say, The Silence of the Lambs is still a great, if flawed, film and definitely my favourite movie in the franchise.

9/10

Be sure to tune in again soon when we look at the next entry in the franchise, Hannibal!

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Death Note is Kind of Trash

I wasn’t really into anime when I was growing up. I watched localized successes like Sailor MoonPokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and checked out an issue of Shonen Jump once, but in general I was turned off of anime and manga by obsessive weebs. However, in the last few years I’ve been trying to get more cultured and have been checking out some of the big names in anime. One of these big names that I was sure I would like is Death Note. I mean, the whole premise it’s right up my alley: a notebook which kills anyone whose name is written in it? A cat and mouse game between the holder of the book and the detective hunting him down? A creepy demon monster following the protagonist around? Sign me the hell up. Hell, I was so certain that I was going to enjoy Death Note that I picked up the Blu-Ray set so I could enjoy it all at my leisure. I don’t tend to buy Blu-Rays blindly, but when I do it tends to work out splendidly for me (see: John Wick, The Raid, The Conjuring, etc). It has probably been two years since then and over the course of a few days I finally decided to sit down and watch Death Note in its entirety.

…and it kind of sucks. Like, I kind of want to just give away my Blu-Ray copy now, I disliked it that much.

It’s actually was surprising for me. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Death Note, some people going so far as to say that it’s one of the absolute best animes, so figured it would be a slam-dunk for me. Don’t get me wrong – the first 10ish episodes are quite enthralling as Light learns how to use the Death Note, L tries to discover Kira’s identity, and Light tries (poorly) to cover his tracks. However, it quickly starts to go down hill with only occasional moments of excitement. Hell, my disappointment was so surprising to me that I had to look up other reactions to the series to see if I was totally alone in my assessment. From what I’ve seen, most fans of Death Note will admit that the series drops in quality around episode 25 (some even agreed with me, that around episodes 10-15, the series’ quality definitely begins to decline). Considering that Death Note is a 37 episode-long anime, even if you think it’s good overall it seems like the popular opinion is that ~1/3 of the series is not great. And, if you agree with me that the series drops off quickly, it’s closer to 2/3 of the episodes being pretty shitty. Again, considering this has a good reputation, I feel like I need to explain exactly why I disliked it so much. And, in case it isn’t obvious, spoilers incoming.

First of all, let’s talk about those first 10 episodes that I did like and why they worked well. The premise of Death Note is fascinating – Light Yagami finds a notebook which will kill anyone whose name is written in it. The rules of the Death Note are also quite intricate and restrictive, crafting plenty of tension throughout the narrative (particularly the detail that the user can sell half of their remaining lifetime in order to see their prospective targets’ real names). This set-up naturally causes the viewer to think about what they would do if they had the Death Note and how they would use it. It also helps to make Light interesting because he has a very particular way that he intends to use the note to make a statement as “Kira”, the self-proclaimed god of justice, while also coming up with clever precautions to avoid ever being caught with the book. However, when the detective L enters the picture, the ease with which he is able to quickly narrow down the scope of the investigation is fascinating, largely because of the way it is written. L’s deductions in this early part of the series are based on clear evidence, and it’s easy to see how L could come to the conclusions he does – he’s just noticing details that other people would easily overlook. Furthermore, his hunches and evidence are often confirmed because of mistakes that Light makes. This makes for a thrilling cat-and-mouse game in the early episodes, as L tries to narrow down his list of Kira suspects, while Light desperately tries to cover his tracks and tie up any loose ends.

This tension begins to break around the time when L decides to confirm his suspicions and confront Light in-person. While at first this is interesting, and in order to keep the plot going it was kind of inevitable, the narrative really starts to slow down and become far less interesting at this point. It turns out that Light and L just aren’t very interesting characters in their own right. Their opposed philosophies are interesting to see clash, but when they have to interact with one another we see that there isn’t a lot to either of them. Even worse, their interactions are painfully repetitive – we see the same kind of scenes of L putting Light into a loaded situation, and then having Light debate about how best to respond without putting suspicion on himself, over and over and over. These moments also solidify that Light isn’t nearly as smart as the show wants us to believe. Sure, he’s clever, but waaaay too clever for his own good. Instead of trying to counter L head-on and remain as aloof as possible, if he’d just consistently act naturally and stop trying to thwart the surveillance on him, he wouldn’t be drawing suspicion on himself. Hell, the fact that he has FBI agents killed after they spy on him was just an idiotic move – it makes it obvious that Kira was indeed one of the people being watched, narrowing down the suspect list significantly. They suspected that Kira had access to police records, but why not deflect that suspicion, rather than confirm it? For that matter, why doesn’t Light engineer scenarios to deflect suspicion onto other people? All that Light ever does is thwart L enough that he can’t definitively say that Light is Kira, which just makes him look even more suspicious when it happens over and over again.

The slowing of the tension is bad enough but it’s around this same time when Death Note really starts to go down hill with the introduction of Misa Amane. In theory, the introduction of Misa could have been brilliant – most importantly, she has a second Death Note, which opens up the potential scale of the narrative immensely. Furthermore, she’s a Kira copycat who wants to meet Light, the shinigami Rem is in love with her, and she’s made the shinigami eyes deal so she can see peoples’ real names. Unfortunately, the writers of Death Note haaaaate her and her introduction has very little actual bearing on moving the plot forward. Misa is portrayed as being a complete idiot who is a constant burden and liability for Light. She’s completely devoted to Light, insisting that they should be a couple and does whatever he tells her to, despite the obvious fact that he doesn’t care about her at all. She’s also a professional model, which seems to have been done for little more reason than to make her seem more desirable for Light, to justify how she can be dumb and successful and to have the characters fawn over her. The thing is, the show tells us that Misa is an idiot, but I didn’t always believe that she was. She actually manages to outmanoeuvre Light and the police on occasion, in part because they underestimate her, which made me wonder if we are meant to think that she was actually far more clever than people give her credit for… but no, these moments are few and far between, and whenever they do happen, they are almost immediately followed-up by something that shows that they really do think she’s a complete moron.

I will give the show some credit, Death Note mostly shirks away from the ridiculous levels of fan service which are so common in anime. However, it’s not like you can’t have fan service and well-written female characters at the same time, and in Death Note the female characters are written horrendously. There’s the aforementioned Misa, who is literally treated as an expendable pawn by Light. She spends the entire series unwaveringly devoted to Light, never realizing that he’s manipulating her, even when he cheats on her (instead, she gets jealous and takes out her frustrations on the other woman). It would be one thing if the narrative made it obvious that the way Light treats Misa is awful, kind of like how it clearly disproves of his use of the Death Note. However, it never makes any sort of commentary on their abusive relationship, and the fact that the narrative constantly reinforces that Misa is just a dumb person only good for manipulation is troubling, especially when it also reinforces that Light is brilliant despite the boneheaded mistakes he walks into.

Other than Misa, there are a handful of female characters with any sort of importance to the narrative. First of all is Sayu, Light’s sister. She appears very briefly as a young girl during the first few episodes, but when she suddenly appears grown up later in the series it seems like she might be getting a more prominent role going forward. How exciting! …except, no, you didn’t think that the writers would give a female character an important role, would you? No, they just wanted to remind us she exists and make her intriguing so that way they could have the mafia kidnap her, have her be traumatized to insanity and then be left broken as she disappears from the story for the rest of the series! Holy shit! The other prominent female character is the “other woman” that I mentioned earlier, Kiyomi Takada. She appears early on in the series as a love interest for Light and he actually seems to be legitimately interested in her too, unlike Misa. Later in the series, she returns and becomes Light’s new love interest and closest follower. However, she’s jealous of Light’s relationship with Misa, which causes her to confront Misa and argue about who most deserves Light’s affections (considering that this is probably the only scene in the series involving two female characters talking to one another, that’s a hard Bechdel fail). However, it turns out that Light has been playing Takada hard, because he uses his close relationship with her to get her to kill his enemies and then commit suicide in order to deflect suspicion off himself! That’s… brutal, holy crap. The narrative definitely does not condone this, but the fact that this is just another female character manipulated, abused and then written out is not a great sign. It’s a pattern which, even more than the goth aesthetics and morbid subject matter, makes Death Note feel like it was written by and for teenage edge lords, because it’s the only role which women are able to fit into apparently.

Now, to be fair, there are two female characters in Death Note that I would be remiss to neglect mentioning. One is Rem, a shinigami who loves Misa and who tries to protect her from Light’s Machiavellian scheming. She’s actually pretty interesting, but disappears for a large chunk of the story and is ultimately manipulated into committing murder-suicide by Light in order to protect Misa. Perhaps my favourite character in the whole series though is Naomi Misora, a former FBI agent whose fiance is killed by Kira. Misora is so interesting because she’s just a regular person who makes the obvious deduction that Light’s attempts to cover his tracks are suspicious, causing her to realize that he is likely Kira. I’d argue that the single best episode in the whole series revolves around Light chatting with Misora and desperately trying to figure out her real name so that he can kill her before she reports her knowledge to L. It’s such an intense episode and Misora’s character is just so well-written that when she is finally tricked into committing suicide, it’s heartbreaking. Again, this is yet another female character manipulated and violently written out of the narrative. It would probably be palatable if Misora and Rem were the only female characters treated this way, or if there were other female characters with some importance to the plot who got to play a role in the story, but as it is it’s pretty easy to accuse Death Note of being misogynist (or, at the very least, having poor representation for women).

While the female characters get treated the worst, pretty much every character is wasted in Death Note. When L dies, he gets replaced with Near, who is like a carbon copy L but with even less personality and screen time, and who seems to just know things because it’s more convenient for the writers than showing how he deduced it. He’s also harried by Mello, an angry teenager who wants to prove himself a better detective than Near… which he does by basically becoming a poorly-fleshed-out gangster. Then there’s Mikami, who gets a terrifyingly evil and fascinating introduction which suggests that he could become even more of a dangerous fanatic than Light himself, but the narrative completely loses interest in exploring his character almost immediately. Most crucially, I didn’t even find Light or L particularly compelling. Like I said earlier, their philosophies are far more interesting than the characters’ actual personalities, which never really change substantially unless the writers force them to. Hell, I was calling bullshit when Light loses his memories of the Death Note and suddenly is fighting to stop Kira – he simply lost his memory of the book, are you telling me that he no longer agrees with his own philosophies and thinks that Kira is doing good? That was a bit of narrative convenience which did not make sense and was clearly just done to force Light and L to work together (again, revealing how little personality the pair have together for several episodes).

On a similar vein, there is so much wasted narrative potential in Death Note. It would have been so easy to deflect the perception of misogyny in the series with some more clever writing. For example, take Misa Amane: the narrative really runs out of things for Misa to do about 20 episodes in, meaning that she spends about half of the series doing absolutely nothing, because they wouldn’t just let her character grow or change any. Would it have been so bad for her to realize that Light was manipulating her and then throw his plans into disarray? It would have been way more engaging than having Light go head-to-head with Near, which just comes across as a boring retread of his relationship with L. Or what about Misa’s shinigami eyes? She ends up taking the deal twice, quartering her total lifespan. You’d think that this would have some sort of big narrative consequence, like suddenly dying at an inopportune moment when Light really needs her… but, nope, she makes the deal and it literally never comes up again. Hell, the elaborate uses of the Death Note aren’t really explored all that much. Early on we get some clever ways to use the Death Note, such as when Light tricks Raye Penber into killing himself and the FBI agents, or when he kills criminals every hour for 24 hours to send a message to L. However, the series very quickly moves away from exploring the Death Note, shunting it to the background in favour of trying to deduce Kira’s identity while we’re told killings are continuing. Perhaps the most clever idea here is that Light plants fake rules in the Death Note to confuse investigators and throw them off his scent, but this also just means that the Death Note itself goes missing for several episodes while the body count rises uneventfully. Even later on when Light takes on an even more extreme disciple, Teru Mikami, he is only concerned with writing as many names as possible, rather than dealing out sadistic punishments for them.

Hell, even ignoring all the wasted narrative potential, the narrative we get itself is just underwhelming. After those first ten episodes, here are maybe three or four interesting plot points, stretched thin between a gulf of uninteresting filler plot. These moments are: the way that Light resumes his role as Kira after wiping his memory of the Death Note, L’s death, the death of Light’s father, and Light’s brutal betrayal of Kiyomi Takada. Again, that’s four interesting moments spread out over the course of the last 27 episodes of the series, which is just way too much filler in-between. Hell, I didn’t even care for the ending all that much either. By the ending, Light’s convoluted plans have just gotten ridiculous, so it might have been fitting for him to be brought down by something deceptively simple, or to assume he had control of the situation and implicate himself. I mean, he practically announces that he’s Kira to the police when he believes that Mikami is on the other side of the door, so if the police had intercepted Mikami prior to this moment and even replaced him with an imposter, Light would have screwed himself over due to his arrogance. Instead, Light is foiled because it turns out that his new rival, Near, is even more of a convoluted thinker. While it is kind of nice to see Light visibly devolve into a whining brat at the end, the way that they brought it about was just lazy, in my opinion. By ending it this way the writers just confirm that they really do believe that Light is as smart as he thinks he is, but Near’s just smarter, so he’s the only one who could actually bring down Kira. Considering that Naomi Misora nearly had him dead-to-rights only a few episodes in, this clearly should not have been the conclusion we’re meant to draw from the narrative.

This also brings me to a weird aspect of the story. Light declares early in the series that he’s going to use the Death Note to bring justice to the world and establish himself as its new god. It’s a dark goal, but you could see it for a chaotic good character. However, he then quickly uses it to kill people who oppose him, including a criminal who he thought was L and the FBI agents who are observing him, revealing that he is an egotistical hypocrite who believes he’s solely qualified to decide what is just. As a result, you’d think that L and the police would then be the moral foil to this idea, pitting the law against Kira’s sense of justice. However, maybe I just don’t know Japanese law, but L uses some extremely shady, extra-judicial means to try to prove his case. First, he puts several cameras and microphones all through the Yagami house, including the bedrooms (this also results in spying on Light’s mother and little sister). Later he arrests Misa, blindfolds her and then isolates her so that she can’t have access to anyone (including a lawyer) for more than a month, effectively torturing her in order to get a confession. He does the same with Light, although at least in Light’s case he volunteered to be put through this torture first, so… that makes it okay, I guess? (Hell, the fact that he’s so desperate to prove his innocence that he’s willing to be put through torture is a pretty big red flag that Light has something to hide.) Oh, and then when they have absolutely nothing to go on, L bluffs that he’s going to execute Light and Misa, then allows Light’s father to kidnap them both and then threaten to commit murder-suicide in a last desperate bid to get a confession! HOLY SHIT!!! Yeah… so, again, I don’t know Japanese law, but I’m pretty sure that at least some of that is straight-up illegal, which goes against the whole concept of a moral and ethical high ground that the police have in this universe. Instead, it just turns into Kira’s justice versus L’s nebulous justice, with the police stuck working with the one who claims to be on their side.

So, as you can see, I really did not like Death Note. It’s a great premise which is squandered on poor execution, and I don’t understand how people can be so forgiving of it. I mean, just take a look at Code Geass: it’s clearly inspired by Death Note, taking a similar premise, structure and tone, but it follows-through on the narrative potential far better. This is primarily because the writing and characters are so much stronger… so I guess what I’m saying is that you should watch Code Geass instead because Death Note is kind of trash.

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Oh Look, Another Manufactured Dead or Alive Controversy

When last we checked in with the Dead or Alive franchise, anti-SJW types were stirring up a controversy about how Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 wasn’t being released outside of Japan and this was all feminists’ faults (despite no one actually giving a shit about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, the fact that this was 100% Tecmo-Koei’s decision, and that PlayAsia was clearly co-opting their outrage in order to make money). Fast-forward almost 3 years and now there’s a new controversy brewing about Dead or Alive 6. Sigh, what now? Are those special snowflake, easily #triggered SJWs complaining about the series’ trademark objectification of women and gratuitous jiggle physics?

Oh wait. No, it’s the anti-SJWs who are complaining again. And this time, it might be even more stupid situation than the last non-troversy was.

So, what could get people so riled up about Dead or Alive 6? Well, it all boils down to one simple statement that game director Yohei Shimbori made when the game was announced: female sexualization was going to be toned down and breast physics would be more realistic. Predictably, fanboys are threatening to boycott the game now just based on this statement alone. For example, One Angry Gamer is livid about the sheer mention of toning down and that the game is using a different engine than DOA5 and Xtreme 3Meanwhile over on Sankaku Complex, a Japanese hentai and porn news site (link is NSFW, obviously), there has been plenty of butthurt whining that SJWs have “ruined” the game before we’ve even gotten a chance to really see it in full. Perhaps even more predictably, some players are claiming that they’re going to buy Soulcalibur VI instead because it is leaning harder than ever into the fan service (for what it’s worth, I was planning on buying SC6 because I really enjoy the the gameplay of that series, until I saw how embarrassing the fan service was this time around). The reaction to this one little change really shows you how much value these “fans” put into the actual mechanics of their favourite fighting games.

Some of the funnier/stupid comments on Sankaku Complex.

Beyond that though, there’s more to why this is such a clear non-troversy. For example, read the following statement made by Yosuke Hayashi:

“We’ve always had the sex factor in the game; in the past, the female characters had to have big breasts, they had to have scanty dress. […] We’re trying to focus on the real women that surround us; the voice of a female, the mannerisms. We are being realistic about it. We want to show something that’s more high class, that adult males of our generation could look at a woman [character] and be impressed with her as a woman, not just as a pin-up. That’s what we wanted to tell our fans.”

That sounds like the sort of thing which would really rile up the anti-SJW types… except that this was said 6 years ago about Dead or Alive 5, and in terms of the sheer volume of swimsuits and new fetish-bait characters, that game ended up being the most sexualized game in the franchise (outside of the Xtreme spin-offs). Compared to this, everything said about Dead or Alive 6 has been pretty tame thus far.

This isn’t even taking into account the deluge of DLC which is sure to find its way into DOA6. DOA5 and (to a slightly lesser extent) DOAX3 both made bank off of their sexy costume packs, which would cost players literally over $1000 to purchase everything. Since DLC game into vogue last generation, fighting games have basically turned into costume factories and I can’t possibly see DOA6 passing this opportunity up. However, does this mean that all of the sexy costumes have been shunted off behind a paywall as some players are saying? Shimbori even made a point of changing series lead Kasumi’s sexy robes in favour of a more functional body suit, so are we no longer getting bikinis as default costumes? Well… it’s too early to say for certain, but somehow I doubt it. For one thing, take a look at Kasumi’s DOA6 costume and tell me that that isn’t sexy in its own right, even without having to show off skin. But not only that, the reveal trailer itself made it pretty clear that the game isn’t going to neuter the sexiness. Just look at Helena:

Camera pan to cleavage shot? Check. Panties visible? Check. Outfit that makes more sense for stripping rather than fighting? Check. Now, this is obviously just one character, but we haven’t seen what the more overtly-sexualized characters, such as Tina and Christie, are going to look like, nor have we seen whether the two most popular fetish-bait characters, Honoka and Marie Rose, will make the cut. In any case though, I do feel like the outrage that anti-SJW types have worked themselves into is premature right now at best, or downright ridiculous at worst. I’ve dragged Sankaku Complex into this article because, quite frankly, their coverage and pearl-clutching in this non-troversy has been hilarious. When Hitomi and Lei Fang were teased in fully-clothed silhouettes, they decried that “the developers [are] clearly sticking to their socjus agenda of preserving the purity of fictional video game girls”, which is particularly funny because they’re clearly wearing costumes of theirs from DOA5 and because the franchise has always had this weird sense of hands-off purity and innocent to (most of) its characters, emphasizing a voyeuristic take on sexuality rather than an active owning of it (which, honestly, is the main issue with DOA’s take on sexiness in the past).

Beautiful.

As for the breast physics, the One Angry Gamer article about claims that they aren’t even present in the current build of the game, but from what Shimbori has said, “we are trying to achieve some natural movement, so when you move, things move naturally. That’s our intention.”… so, the boob physics are going to be like the physics present in Xtreme 3 then? Yes, it does sound like they’re cutting out the exaggerated physics options which most games in the series have had… but oh well. That’s really all I can say about that, I’ve never understood the appeal of laughably exaggerated jiggle physics, especially when the game is going to aim for more natural movement similar to DOAX3.

The toning down of the sexier aspects of the franchise also coincides with a design shift towards esports and more brutal fighting. DOA has always prided itself on being the best-looking fighter on the market, which you can really see when you put it up next to Soulcalibur VI for example. Past games would dirty-up the fighters, but only to a certain point – for example, DOA5 made a big point about introducing dynamic sweat and dirt systems as the fight progressed which coincided with an art style shift, from more of an exaggerated anime aesthetic to one that looks much more natural. However, DOA6 is now building upon that more realistic aesthetic, introducing cuts and bruising which looks, quite frankly, painful. It has been stated that “the shift to more realistic graphics […] is thanks to the new engine. Characters visibly take damage during fights, with bruised faces and blood making combat feel more visceral in the process. Shimbori also said that they are thinking about adding in an option to disable those details for players less interested in violence.”

This right here feels like a fulcrum in this issue that is being overlooked by the more reactionary fans of the series. Let’s say that they kept this battle damage in and continued to play up the sexiness. Suddenly, we’d have a game which overtly sexualizes assault against women… hell, even with the toning down that they’re doing, I’m not entirely certain that it’ll be enough to make this not feel uncomfortable. Speaking as someone who enjoys this series, I’m actually questioning whether the move away from always having their fighters look “beautiful” is going to be worth it (especially if they start adding in the sexier outfits later on), but I’m willing to wait and see for now.

Other than the pervy, voyeuristic aspects that the Xtreme games really push, I don’t have a problem with the sexiness in the DOA franchise. It’s mostly harmless and the series has been tucked into its own corner for quite some time where it doesn’t really influence the industry much. However, that right there is something that Tecmo-Koei is clearly trying to escape – you can see how the excessive fan service since at least the release of Xtreme Beach Volleyball has made the series more and more niche with each entry. Clearly, something had to give if they wanted to try to broaden their audience. We’ll see if they manage to pull it off and come up with something worth supporting on its own mechanical merits.

Oh, and in the meantime, we get to laugh at people claiming that Dead or Alive now sexualizes the men more than the women (because men fighting without shirts is the exact same as women fighting without shirts of course).

95% of the comments section is people whining about SJWs to a chorus of upvotes, and then these guys pop in, say the objective truth and get downvoted, naturally.

Never change internet, never change.

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Let the Past Die

Solo: A Star Wars Story is out this week and for the first time since 2008’s Clone Wars animated movie, it seems like Star Wars fans could just not give a shit. Some of this can come down to the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi – for my part, I really liked it and feel like it will be looked upon very fondly in the future, but the fury with which many people have derided it makes any sort of dialogue on it very tiring. Some of the antipathy can also come down to the perception that, at least anecdotally, no one really seems to want a Han Solo origin film, nor do they really want Star Wars spin-off films. I also feel like Disney’s annualizing of the Star Wars franchise is dangerous to the franchise’s long-term health. Star Wars used to be a big event every 3 years (or more!), but we now are getting a new one every year. It’s hard to say that that doesn’t dampen the hype somewhat and if this is going to continue indefinitely, then who knows whether the franchise’s popularity will burn out in time.

Now, to be fair, this is probably all down to perception – Solo is still expected to break records (EDIT: well so much for that) (ANOTHER EDIT: OH SHIT**), which suggests that your average Star Wars fan is part of that silent majority who don’t participate in public dialogue. Similarly, I unfortunately can’t find the link anymore but I saw a poll on starwars.com recently where The Last Jedi was actually voted 2nd best in the series after Empire, followed thereafter by Revenge of the Sith (!!!), suggesting that the popular opinion is actually way more favourable to The Last Jedi that the Internet would have you believe (on a similar note, I’m not surprised that Revenge of the Sith is so well-regarded either, since it would be seen as the big, epic culmination of the series for many people when they were growing up).

I’ve been wanting to write about Star Wars and The Last Jedi for quite a while now, but what finally prompted me to write up a post was this rallying cry I’m seeing in the, shall we say, dark side of the fandom which calls for Disney to fire executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. This, to me, is just such a strange situation. I mean, how many executive producers get blamed for franchise woes? Hell, how many could your average movie fan be even expected to name? I mean, Steven Spielberg doesn’t get shit for Transformers, nor does Christopher Nolan get shit for the DCEU. So what is the difference here?
I feel like the answer to this has to be Youtube, right? I mean, where else is this common narrative that there’s a single architect who is destroying Star Wars from the inside going to be originating from? Just look at the most popular results that show up when you search her name on Youtube:

It’s either news, or overwhelmingly negative. Kathleen Kennedy is pushing a PC/SJW agenda. Kathleen Kennedy needs to go. Kathleen Kennedy is destroying Star Wars. On and on and on. I checked the Star Wars Reddit, which also tends to be a bastion for negative sentiments like this that could brew up, but it seemed pretty quiet on the Kennedy front and was actually less fractured than I was expecting on the whole. Obviously, I can’t prove that Youtube is the big influencer when it comes to the brewing anti-Kathleen Kennedy sentiment, but it seems incredibly likely. There are other sources as well of course, such as clickbait news sites (including this one which calls for Kennedy’s firing and says that Star Wars is in trouble because of a 71% tomatometer for Solo*, and claims that every Star Wars film Disney has made has gotten progressively worse, which is demonstrably false if you look at the audience scores, especially when compared to the prequel trilogy). That still leaves a question unanswered though – why does Kathleen Kennedy get all the flack while Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg, among other producers of discontented high-profile franchises, get off scott-free? Hell, if you really think that the Star Wars franchise is getting worse with each film, why not rage against Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote The Force Awakens and Solo: A Star Wars Story? Well, let me lay out my theory…

One of the big complaints about Kennedy and The Last Jedi is that they have been forcing politics into Star Wars, an assertion which is, in my opinion, frankly absurd. I mean, how is The Last Jedi any more political than any other Star Wars film? Decrying rich people, keeping the spark of revolution alive… these are certainly political statements, but they’re hardly pointed at any specific modern context, nor is are they more pronounced than what has come before in Star Wars. I mean, if Revenge of the Sith had come out in 2018, these alt-right types would have had an aneurysm.

Similarly, probably the most common complaint against Kathleen Kennedy is that she forces “politics” into Star Wars, and by that the complainants mean that she pushes for diversity in gender, race and sexuality in the franchise. That’s right, people are getting all riled up about “social justice warriors” again and it is, quite frankly, sickening. We’re well past the point where being staunchly anti-political correctness is an acceptable stance, ever since that mindset gave birth to the alt-right. Hell, it has gotten to a point where anti-PC types are arguably even more annoying than the actual SJW types that they rail against, having falling into this mirror image of the very thing that they oppose so vehemently. So yes, I believe that we’re seeing a micro version of the larger social zeitgeist playing out within the Star Wars fandom, with diversity being opposed by those who are calling for a return to the “purity” of what Star Wars should be. That’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate complaints about the direction of Star Wars outside of a racist/sexist/homophobic angle – there clearly are, but I feel like the more unsavory side of the fandom is co-opting that discontent to draw people to their viewpoint.

Hell, this shouldn’t really be considered news: at the time of The Force Awakens, there were people whining about there being a black lead in the film. When they then found out that a woman was the new hero of the franchise, the whining happened again. Similarly, people complained about how Rogue One was being led by a woman again (oh noes!) and that many of the leads weren’t white. This anti-diversity bent has been rumbling within the fandom for years now, the only difference is that now these people aren’t just being laughed off and shouted down. Now, they seem to be building in steam, which can only really be explained to me as a combination of the resurgence of extremism in society, and the growing sense of discontent within the Star Wars fandom in general. Now we’re looking at boycotts for Solo: A Star Wars Story, not because of anything in the film itself, but because alt-right types want to reclaim Star Wars for themselves:

“‘Disney continues to shove down their SJW feminazi agenda down our retinas.’
You mean creating characters, such as Daisy Ridley’s Rey, meant to empower women is a bad thing? Women holding an equal place within the Star Wars universe is bad? I don’t know where you get your delusions, laser brain.
Gabriel even claims that he’s not sexist.
Um, yes you are. News flash: if you use the term ‘feminazi’ you’re a sexist.”

Now I’m waiting to see what happens when the alt-right gets wind that Lando Calrissian is pansexual.

I don’t think George Lucas intentionally made Star Wars a predominantly-white franchise intentionally, it was just the reality of the business at the time and he didn’t think to change that up. Kennedy is clearly more aware of this and has the ability to push forth for more equality and so I’d say that it’s good that she tries to. Now, she could certainly go too far one way or another, but for now at least the diversity doesn’t feel like tokenism, nor are we looking at a “white genocide” by any means (I mean, just look at Solo, which seems poised to become its own white-male-led franchise here under Kathleen Kennedy’s rule).

For my own part in all this, I feel like Disney can’t mine the legacy of Star Wars forever. When I first heard that Disney was purchasing the franchise, I was hoping that they would be moving beyond the original trilogy and going forwards or backwards in time. Star Wars is a phenomenon and anchoring yourself to existing success only limits the creative expression you can have sooner or later. At some point, they have to push forward and make it their own thing if they want the series to last (and according to their claims, they plan on making them for the next hundred years at least), a reality which is going to alienate some long-time fans. I feel like The Last Jedi did this successfully, especially after the far-too-safe The Force Awakens. I read an article recently where a Star Wars fan basically agreed, saying that the film would have been fine if only Luke didn’t die at the end: “The most pathetic aspect of all of this is that Luke died because Kathleen Kennedy, JJ Abrams, and Rian Johnson wanted to make way for the new characters. They didn’t want them to be overshadowed. This isn’t what Mark Hamill signed up for. It’s ridiculous. Rey is a fantastic character, but Luke Skywalker defines Star Wars. It won’t be the same without him.” But that’s my point – a time would be coming regardless when Star Wars would be without Luke Skywalker. In a decade’s time, the Skywalker saga might even just be a starting point in the Star Wars franchise. Really, the sooner we cut that tie to the past, the easier it will be to expand Star Wars on to future generations, including those who may not have had heroes to identify with before, and to keep the saga from being stifled. As my home-boy Kylo Ren said, it’s time to let the past die.

*Because apparently angry Star Wars fans put their faith in the tomatometer all of a sudden, and despite obviously not understanding that the tomatometer is an aggregate of how many critics gave it a 6/10 or higher, not an actual score for the film… wait, is the writer of that article equating a 71% tomatometer with a 7/10 for a video game? Because film critics aren’t as awful as video game reviewers and a 7/10 is actually a good score… bloody hell.
**POST-SCRIPT: I feel like Solo is failing in part due to people who were burned by The Last Jedi not showing up, but probably more in the general disinterest in a Han Solo movie, the negative buzz that has been dogging this film, and probably most importantly, the diluting of the Star Wars brand and “event movie” status.

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Quick Fix: Beta Uprising

In the time period between #GamerGate (ugh) and the rise of Trump (BLEH), I started reading We Hunted the Mammoth to get an idea of the sorts of extreme sexism present in our society which people are largely unaware of. However, as the American election began to ramp up, these stories began to evolve. Small communities in the “manosphere” of men’s rights activists, incels and “red pillers” were becoming more extreme and latching onto other groups. More than a year before neo-nazis came back into the public conscious at Charlottesville, I was seeing how the manosphere was drawing people into the alt-right and neo-nazi beliefs through their insulated communities centered on little more than hatred. That’s why men’s rights activism is a total joke – men face real issues which could be fixed with a concerted effort. However, trying to organize an effort to combat these issues is like trying to throw a white pride parade – the people who latch onto that cause will steer the ship towards the people they hate and blame for their problems.

This brings me to the recent van attack in Toronto, in which 10 people have been killed (so far) and 16 injured. Initially, it appeared that this might be an organized terrorist attack of some sort, as it was clearly premeditated. However, it is now coming out that the perpetrator, Alek Minassian, was likely a member of the manosphere and alt-right, specifically an “incel”, who was radicalized by the group’s hateful rhetoric. To put it simply, this rhetoric has grown from, and appeals to, groups of insecure and sexually frustrated young men who are “involuntary celibates” (hence “incel”). In their version of reality, “Chads” are the successful men who horde all the sex with the “Staceys” (aka, “sluts”, because even in this version of reality, a woman is worthy of scorn if she has sex with somebody). They also have a very social-Darwinist view of the world, where the Chads are alpha males and the incels are all betas (if you ever hear an alt-right dumbass calling you a “beta cuck”, now you know exactly why to laugh at them). Even the name “involuntary celibate” belies a belief that they feel that men are entitled to sex and that it is women who are in the wrong for denying them this right, with some even going so far as to fantasize for a world in which men can force women to have sex with them.

If it seems odd that this might cause someone to go on a killing spree, you’d be right, but the hatred that brews within the alt-right is literally radicalizing people in a manner not unlike that of a more organized terrorist organization such as ISIS. Incels’ fantasies about a world where the betas get their revenge has led to further fantasies of a “beta uprising”, to the point where it has basically become a legend among incels (seriously, that is not hyperbole on my part, just Google beta uprising). To this end, we have had mass killers inspired by this rhetoric, most notably Elliot Rodger of the Isla Vista killings in 2014. Perhaps most disgustingly, some incels have latched onto Elliot Rodger as a hero who started the beta uprising.

Predictably, Alek Minassian is being hailed as a hero once again by some within the incel community. It’s actually kind of a funny situation, I wonder how many of these people would paint all of Islam with the same brush in this situation, but say “hey, not all incels celebrate mass murder” when the finger gets pointed at them. But I digress – as one of my friends put it yesterday, this isn’t a mental health issue, but it’s going to be painted as such because that’s easier than dealing with the serious issues that are funneling young men towards radicalization in our society. People will rail against political correctness and feminism, but sexism is still alive in our society and this attack in Toronto is, as it seems with the evidence we have right now, the sort of result that it leads to at its most extreme. We should remember that it isn’t religion that causes people to kill, as the common scape-goat goes, but deep-seated hatred, dehumanization and radicalization.

I’m going to end this Quick Fix with the words of David Futrelle in his comments on this latest tragedy:

“[…] It would be dishonest and dangerous to dismiss this as a ‘mental health’ issue. Incel is a poisonous and hateful ideology, not a form of mental illness, and killings carried out in its name should be considered deliberate terrorism just as ISIS bombings or KKK lynchings are. Misogyny is hate, just as racism and religious intolerance are. As I’ve been saying for some time, the incel movement is a real danger; it appeals to young men consumed by bitterness who don’t think they have much to lose. And instead of helping them solve their problems it radicalizes them and ratchets up both their bitterness and their ‘nothing to live for’ nihilism. It’s a movement that idolizes mass killers and that has only slightly ironically heralded Elliot Rodger as its patron ‘saint.'”

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Some Thoughts on the New Tomb Raider Film

It’s no secret that I quite enjoy the two most recent Tomb Raider games and the upcoming third game is probably one of the few video games I’m actually looking forward to this year. Despite this goodwill, I had very low hopes for the new Tomb Raider movie, especially after the first trailer was released. However, my girlfriend and I wanted to catch a movie last weekend and ended up seeing Tomb Raider on a whim. I came away more impressed than I was expecting to (at the very least, it is far better than the Angelina Jolie-led Tomb Raider films), but it makes one huge, fundamental blunder near the mid-point which really screws over the rest of the film. Hell, just thinking about it, Tomb Raider could have been great – dare I say, easily the best video game movie of all time*. This isn’t a review (off-the-cuff, I’d probably give it a 6/10), but more of a lament of what Tomb Raider could have been.

First off, I feel like I should acknowledge that, as expected, Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander does a superb job as Lara Croft. Angelina Jolie was the perfect casting decision for that era of Tomb Raider, but I definitely appreciate this more grounded take on the heroine, and Vikander nails it. She has the physicality and confidence to sell the role, while also knowing when she should be vulnerable as Lara gets swept in over her head (for example, throughout the entire scene involving the plane hanging over a waterfall, the look of terror on Vikander’s face just sells the danger and makes it feel far more real than you would expect). The film also does a good job of making us care for Lara, giving us around 40 very solid minutes of set-up to establish her character, motivations and resourcefulness, while also giving us a pretty badass bicycle chase too.

Honestly, the first hour of Tomb Raider is very solid. In this time, we also get introduced to another compelling character, Lu Ren, whose past seems to be entwined with Lara’s own. There’s a tangible chemistry between the two – not necessarily romantic, but they really light up the screen together, sort of like Lara and Jonah’s partnership in the video games. The villain, Mathias Vogel, could have been very bland, but since he’s played by the underrated Walton Goggins, he is imbued with a sense of desperation and sympathy where you can identify with him. He is definitely a bad guy, but he just wants to see his family again and will do whatever it takes do accomplish that. He makes for a decent foil for Lara and is certainly a serviceable enough villain.

After the first hour, it’s pretty clear that Tomb Raider has all the pieces in place to succeed. Lara’s on the island being chased by bad guys, Lu Ren has been shot and captured, that awesome waterfall-to-plane-to-parachute sequence happens, and then Lara is forced to kill her first human being. She feels awful about it and breaks down… and then sees a hooded figure in the woods watching, she chases them down and the movie never gets its footing back. (Let me reiterate here once again: SPOILER ALERT!!!) In a massive deviation from Lara’s backstory and history in all other portrayals of the character, it turns out that Lord Richard Croft is alive on the island and has been trying to prevent the villains from succeeding since he disappeared.

This is such a blunder for a number of reasons. First and most importantly, it diminishes Lara’s own role in the story in favour of a character who should be, for all practical purposes, a plot point. In most portrayals of Lord Croft, he exists only to provide Lara with a motivation (inspiring her to seek adventure, an emotional investment in her current treasure hunt, an existential emptiness from losing her father in a foundational period of her life, etc). The Tomb Raider film initially follows this pattern, establishing Richard Croft’s strong bond with Lara and he proves to be the crux of her desire to set out on a quest to discover what happened to him. His journal notes drive much of the early plot, but Richard himself is more of a plot point than an actual character – hell, the only reason we care about him at all is because Lara (who we already like quite a bit) cares so much about him. However, when he shows up in earnest, he begins to dominate the plot despite still being just a boring side-character. He doesn’t change at all, doesn’t do much to drive the plot other than an obligatory heroic sacrifice at the end, and basically just takes up screen time from the actual heroine. Michael Phillips’ review hits the nail on the head in this regard: “The Lara Croft reboot Tomb Raider isn’t half bad for an hour. Then there’s another hour. That hour is quite bad. It’s no fun watching your action heroine get shoved, punched and kicked to the sidelines of her own movie, while the menfolk take over and take turns overacting before expiring”.

To make things worse, the twist also ruins other elements of the film which had been working well up until that point. As I said before, the twist comes immediately after Lara’s first kill, which is supposed to be a major emotional trauma for her character. However, by having her encounter Richard within seconds of that this, the gravity of the situation is undercut. As far as the film’s concerned, she gets over it immediately. In fact, it’s bad enough that I wonder if perhaps Richard’s role was expanded in rewrites, its inclusion is that jarring. It also doesn’t help that as soon as Richard shows up, Lu Ren is sidelined for the rest of the movie, doing little more than helping some of the captives on the island to escape. Furthermore, the film has hammered home that Richard should be a dead a number of times before this twist. Richard states that he is likely dead in his recording to Lara, and even Mathias says that he straight-up killed Richard. When it turns out that Richard is still alive, we’re given absolutely no explanation as to how Mathias could have possibly mistaken this. They don’t even have hints of his survival beforehand either, he just shows up out of nowhere, so it’s not like they even attempted any clever foreshadowing to ease us into the idea. Again, it feels like something shoehorned in awkwardly during rewrites.

Furthermore, we can just look at the video game to see how Tomb Raider could have been better. The film actually makes quite a few deviations from the source material which are net positives (particularly the first act set-up in London), and others which are unfortunate but I can understand (condensing the colourful cast of side-characters down into just Lu Ren and Richard). However, I feel like the film made a pretty big mistake by changing the central crux of Lara’s first big adventure: in the film, this is driven by finding Richard Croft, but in the games this revolves around rescuing Lara’s best friend Samantha Nishimura. These are both pretty archetypal adventure movie motivations, but I feel like giving Richard Croft so much prominence was the weaker route to take. For one thing, making your female-led action heroine’s motivation boil down to “daddy issues” is very cliche and boring. Elena Nicolaou puts it well: “with another Tomb Raider movie about Lara Croft and her father, the gulf between the starkly independent video game Lara, and the daddy-pleasing movie Lara, widens again.” Think about how this story places Lara Croft – she is picking up after her father’s work and any agency she has within the plot are just directed at that and at her obsession with her father. The film certainly isn’t misogynist or anti-feminist (hell, it even passes the Bechdel test, if you’re the sort of person who cares about that), but it does undercut itself by making Richard such a prominent figure in a film which is supposed to be all about Lara.

Contrast this with the plot of the game, which (in broad strokes) revolves around rescuing Sam. Lara sets out on this adventure of her own desire and fights to rescue Sam because she cares so much about her. This story puts Lara at the center of everything, where she should be. Furthermore, having a female action hero rescuing her female friend is far less-trodden ground than daddy issues is, and presents far more fertile ground for interesting characterization (if the film followed the game’s plot, Sam actually would get a chance to be more than just a living McGuffin, she gets scenes where she works to escape alongside Lara). You could argue that the removal of supernatural elements from the plot makes the inclusion of Sam unfeasible, but c’mon, you could rewrite it pretty easily – Trinity clearly believes in supernatural powers, so it’s not a stretch to believe that they could mistakenly believe Sam could be the key to unlocking Himiko’s power.

Tomb Raider could have been great. As it is, it’s just decent, and most of its issues can be linked back to Richard Croft’s survival. Here’s hoping that a sequel can correct the issues on display here, but if nothing else, at least the recently announced Shadow of the Tomb Raider should continue to carry on the series’ legacy into the future.

*Instead, that honour continues to be filled by DOA: Dead or Alive. That sounds like a joke, especially considering my love-hate relationship with the games, but seriously, the DOA movie is a legitimately fun film that does pretty much everything with a wink and grin. I’ve been planning on doing a review of it for a long time and one of these days I will need to actually do so, because it’s really that good.

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Witch Hunts

Lately I have been reading Richard Beck’s We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s, a very interesting tale of the social and political attitudes which helped to foster the 1980s “Satanic Panic” regarding daycares being places of ritual satanic sexual abuse. Thankfully our society is so far beyond such ridiculous hysteria, but there is a through-line in the narrative which has been making me slightly uneasy about the way that #MeToo has been progressing, especially after the backlash faced by Margaret Atwood after she made a cautionary op-ed about the movement.

To put it simply, the title of We Believe the Children shows the philosophy which was circulating during the 1980s – historically, the stories of abuse done to children have not been believed, therefore it is imperative that we believe the children because they will be honest and are too innocent to lie about sexual violence. Now, obviously this isn’t a zero-sum game where you either believe the children or assume they always are lying, but there’s obviously a level of discernment which needs to be taken into account. The main issues in the case of these kids were that the parents essentially coerced their children into making up stories of abuse (thereby giving them actual traumas to deal with later in life), prosecutors would refuse to believe that the children were telling the truth when they said that they weren’t abused and would pressure them into giving a confession just so they would be allowed to leave, and the prevailing belief that children’s accounts should not be questioned*.

Now, before I get any further, don’t get me wrong – I think #MeToo is ultimately a good movement, and one which has been long overdue. However, in reading about how hysteria about child abuse overturned due process and led to grave injustices, I can’t help but get a bit uneasy about how #MeToo is progressing. In the article published on the Globe and Mail, Margaret Atwood calls for more transparency and cautions about “the historical dangers of ‘guilty because accused’ in which ‘the usual rules of evidence are bypassed.’ […] ‘Such things are always done in the name of ushering in a better world,’ she writes. ‘Sometimes they do usher one in, for a time anyway. Sometimes they are used as an excuse for new forms of oppression.'” The parallels to the witch hunts and Satanic Ritual Abuse of the past should be glaringly obvious just from that description. So what sort of response did Atwood’s words of caution receive?

Sigh. I get that Twitter isn’t exactly the place for reasoned discussion, and you can obviously make a real case about why Atwood’s argument is harmful, but bloody hell if this tweet isn’t the picture of the pigheadedness which typifies social justice types. Like, I disagree with the presentation of this tweet in basically every way. First, she calls for Atwood to stop warring with women, basically asking for there not to be a dialogue or any sort of gradiation within the #MeToo movement. Secondly, she talks about war on “younger, less powerful women”, which smacks of the highly flawed use of “check your privilege” to shout down contrary opinion. And third and perhaps most insultingly, she signs off with a call for Atwood to “start listening”… like, are you even aware of how that comes across? Does it sound like you’re listening to Atwood? Do you even think that she deserves to be listened to? Why should anyone give you any sort of respect if you aren’t going to give them respect in turn? And how dangerous is it that you seem to be arguing against fair and due process in a time when authoritarianism is on the rise? Is it only okay when it’s in the name of your own interests?

This controversy also happens to coincide with another public dialogue about how the name, shame and ostracize nature of #MeToo might be over-extending its reach, with an op-ed about allegations against Aziz Ansari dividing people on how far this movement should be reaching and whether there needs to be more thought given to control the damage it can cause. Is this more about educating people on proper consent and respect, or is it about naming and shaming for any sort of sexual grievance? Should we be comfortable with a situation where a public accusation can tank someone’s career and reputation with a presumption of guilt? This is very much the sort of questioning that Atwood was addressing and, if everyone is willing to listen, then such controversies might prove that “[#MeToo] is big enough to encompass another layer in the discussion”. These questions were not asked during the ritual abuse moral panic, and many innocent people suffered irreparable damage to their lives for it, including the children who were supposed to be being protected in the first place.

Now, there is one very obvious qualifier here which I must point out that differentiates #MeToo from the Satanic Panic, and that is that the accounts of women should probably be held to a higher level of reliability compared to that of children (who, as the Satanic Panic showed, were susceptible to coercion and coached statements). In addition to having the statistics to back up their stories, women who come out about sexual assault are almost always going to be subjected to uncomfortable levels of public scrutiny, leading to further harassment. And this is why I’m so uncomfortable about these developments in #MeToo – on the one hand, these accusations are statistically reliable and I can’t think of a high-profile case in this movement which I don’t actually believe to be true. However, on the other hand, we just saw how one false story can wipe away all good-will for a movement, with the story of the 11 year old Muslim girl who lied about being attacked as part of a hate crime. That whole embarrassment and the subsequent hatred it fostered could have been avoided entirely if some scrutiny was applied before it became a headline. That’s really what I’m concerned about in all of this – I want justice to be done for the women who have been abused, I would like guilty perpetrators to face that justice, I would like for the innocent to not be smeared unjustly and I would like to see attitudes towards sex and consent change for the best in the future. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer on how best to achieve all of these goals, but I will just sit here watching #MeToo with some unease, watching to see if they compromise any one goal for the benefit of another.

*The obvious hypocrisy here being that the parents and the prosecutors, the people who are supposed to be defending the children, clearly did not believe childrens’ accounts when they said that they were not abused. They were under the impression that children will hide any abuse, which prompts them to force them into a confession, but that is just wildly irresponsible.

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Movie Review: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

There few experiences more baffling in enjoying movies than coming across a movie which is incredibly flawed, but that you love regardless. It’s exactly how I feel about the absolutely brilliant, but fundamentally hamstrung Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and it seems like a lot of people have been feeling this about Suicide Squad as well. Recently, I rewatched another film which I felt was brilliant but flawed, the 2006 slasher film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane… and dammit, I just cannot stop thinking about it. The film is way deeper than it might appear at first glance, or even more than pretty much any slasher film I can think of for that matter, and yet it feels like the film was totally passed over and in need of a revisiting.

Good God that is a gorgeous poster, largely thanks to the equally-gorgeous Amber Heard. Fantastic tagline too, this poster basically single-handedly sold me on the film years ago when I first saw it.

Oh, and be warned – I’m going to attempt to dig deep into this film’s themes, so expect spoilers galore. Got it? Good.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane revolves around a girl, Mandy Lane, who comes off of summer vacation to find that everyone in the school now seems to agree that she has become smokin’ hot in the past couple months. She is content to stick with her nerdy friend, Emmett, but with her newfound attention, she starts drawing the eyes of the popular guys on campus, including football jock Dylan and his friends, Jake, Bird, Red, and also the admiration of these guys’ girl-friends, Marlin and Chloe. Dylan invites Mandy to a party in hopes of hooking up with her, but Mandy insists that Emmett has to come if she does, much to Dylan’s consternation. True to form, Dylan tries to seduce Mandy unsuccessfully, but then Emmett makes him look like a fool, causing Dylan to punch him in the face. Later, Emmett heads to Dylan’s roof to look down on the partiers, but Dylan comes up and tells him to get down. Emmett then convinces Dylan that he needs to do something to impress Mandy and make her fall for him – like jumping from the roof into his pool. Dylan decides to risk it and jumps, but strikes his head on the edge of the pool and is killed instantly.

9 months later, pretty much everyone in the school hates Emmett, and Mandy has seemingly moved on to the more popular cliques. She receives an invitation to go to a house party at Red’s ranch, which she agrees to attend along with Jake, Bird, Marlin and Chloe. All 3 of the guys brag about how they will be the “first” to hook up with Mandy, while Chloe and Marlin both vie for Jake’s attention. Throughout the party, Mandy is subjected to attempts to seduce her by the guys (particularly Jake and Bird), but she is very tepid about going along with the advances – she clearly isn’t interested, but the guys try regardless. Red’s ranch hand, Garth, shows up around the property at various points to keep things in order, and Mandy clearly finds him instantly intriguing (as does Chloe).

As the night goes on, Chloe and Marlin make a joke about Jake having the smallest penis at the party, which causes him to storm out in a huff towards the barn. Marlin chases after him and proceeds to give him an apologetic blowjob, but when it comes time to reciprocate, Jake just laughs and tells her to piss off. Marlin is furious, but is suddenly attacked and fatally wounded by a hooded assailant. Unaware of this, Jake returns to the house to try to force Mandy to sleep with him, but she rebuffs him aggressively. Frustrated, Jake gives up on Mandy and steal’s the group’s only vehicle and a gun as he drives off in a drunken stupor to find Marlin for another round. When he finds her, he gets drawn into a trap, where he is shot in the head by the hooded assailant.

The partiers hear the shot and assume that it’s Jake acting stupid and drunk, but Garth threatens to put an end to the party. Mandy manages to convince him to hold off until morning at least, until the car drives back to the house and the driver (who the partiers assume is Jake) launches a firecracker at them. Bird chases after the truck and Garth threatens to call Red’s parents, but they decide to just put an end to the party instead. When Bird catches the truck, he finds that the hooded assailant is actually Emmett. The pair fight, but Emmett ends up slashing Bird across the eyes to blind him before stabbing him to death.

The next morning, Emmett sneaks into the house to admire Mandy and leave a blood-stained message. Realizing that something is badly wrong, Garth tries to lead the group out of the ranch, but is shot in the shoulder by Emmett. Red and Chloe make a break for it out the back door of the ranch to get help, but Emmett intercepts them and shoots Red. Chloe runs back to the house to try to get Mandy to help her, but when she runs into her arms, Mandy stabs her to death. We discover that Mandy has been in on this with Emmett all along, and they had planned to kill the popular kids is a testament to their love for one another. However, when Emmett insists that Mandy kill herself and then shoot him in the heart, Mandy decides against this. Emmett becomes infuriated and tries to kill her, but Garth suddenly appears and shoots Emmett, wounding him. Emmett stabs Garth a few times before chasing after Mandy with a machete. The pair fight, but Mandy gets the upper hand and stabs Emmett to death. She then heads back to find Garth and save his life by rushing him to the hospital.

From the plot synopsis, it probably sounds like the film is pretty standard for the genre, but there are a few things which make it stand out. First of all, the film is absolutely gorgeous, with some fantastic cinematography from Darren Genet. That said, the night scenes, which make up the bulk of the film, aren’t nearly as memorable as his unnerving, incredibly harshly lit daytime segments, which run the gamut from an almost-tender shot of hand-holding in the sunset (if not for the rapey connotations of the scene itself) to the almost documentary-style way that the camera tracks Chloe as she runs away, screaming, as Emmett chases after her in his truck. Much of the film reminds me of the harsh, washed-out grittiness of Tobe Hooper’s slasher classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which almost-certainly was a major visual influence on the film.

The performances in the film are also fairly solid. No one really stood out to me as being poor, although the only one who stood out to me as particularly noteworthy was Whitney Able as Chloe. It might be because that character had the best material to work with, but she goes from “typical mean-girl cheerleader stereotype” to a truly pitiable and tragic person that I genuinely felt sorry for… unlike basically every other character in this not named “Mandy”. I also thought that Luke Grimes played a really contemptible asshole with Jake, putting in enough smugness that he’s kind of entertaining to watch rather than being unbearable (you should have been taking notes, all you irritating sacks of shit from Project X). I’d like to say that Amber Heard did great as Mandy, but I’m a little indifferent on her performance. To be totally fair though, she’s playing a character who spends the vast majority of the film in a (seemingly) passive role, so she isn’t able to really assert herself until the end (where she does a good job). If nothing else though, she definitely has the looks to sell the idea that these guys are all going crazy over her.

My main beef with All the Boys Love Mandy Lane though comes down to the script side of things. If you go into this expecting a slasher film, then you’re probably going to find that it’s fairly boring – very little seems to happen during its middle segment, and you literally get 60+ minutes into the film with more than half of the total body count occurring before any of the characters even realize that there might be a killer on the loose. For my first viewing, I was just sitting there watching the movie slowly go by with characters just getting killed off occasionally, seemingly without much consequence in the film itself, which was making me wonder what the whole point was.

However, the film is much more interesting on that second viewing, where you already know what you’re going in for and have your context recoloured. I didn’t miss the film’s clear commentary on aggressive hypersexuality the first time (it’s incredibly in-your-face about it), but when you go into the film realizing that it’s the entire point of the film (rather than being a generic slasher), it makes the film so much more coherent. My understanding of gender relations has also improved considerably since I first watched this film, which helped colour my perception quite a bit. When I first saw this movie, I was probably leaning more on the idea that this was a “Beta Uprising” slasher film and kind of empathized a little bit with Emmett. I had realized there were feminist themes to Mandy Lane in my initial viewing, but after my second viewing it seems pretty clear to me that the film is just saturated in them.

Of course, most reviewers picked up on the feminist themes in the film, but some didn’t think that the film’s approach was successful. Bitch Flicks’ review of Mandy Lane claims that the film stops short of being feminist because they felt that the film was declaring Chloe and Marlin were traditional slasher “whores” who were deserving of their deaths, and claimed that the film would have been better if they had only killed off the men as a message about the harmfulness of toxic masculinity*. However, I believe that this analysis was unfortunately shallow and off-center since they seem to think that Mandy is supposed to be the film’s innocent feminist icon. In particular, I’m not so sure that the film is condoning Marlin or Chloe’s death for being sexually active like they claim – after all, Chloe’s death in particular was incredibly sad and didn’t occur to me as being “comeuppance” like “whore deaths” so often do in slasher films.

From the moment that the film begins, Mandy is absolutely immersed in a culture of in-your-face hypersexuality and superficial relations. There’s a clear element of sexual entitlement amongst most of the male characters, as nearly all of them seem to believe that they are going to be sleeping with Mandy at some point. Even the least-aggressively entitled character, Red, seems to think that he is going to get with her at some point, despite not actually doing anything to see this hope through. In my opinion, the superficial relationships on display throughout the film are one of the first keys to understanding the narrative. If you pay attention you’ll find that, for all of their big talk about hooking up with Mandy, none of “the boys” actually bother trying to get to know her. Most of the time, their interactions with Mandy seem to come down to gazing at her lustfully, telling one of the other guys that “they’re gonna hit that” and then trying to woo her with transparently-empty attempts at charm. Chloe and Marlin aren’t much better – despite supposedly being best friends, the two girls constantly tear each other down, such as Chloe’s repeated insistence that Marlin is fat (she isn’t) or Marlin insulting Chloe for having pubic hair (which she insults as being “Sherwood Forest” down there). Both girls are completely complicit in the boys’ objectification of them. In particular, Chloe’s relationships also clearly revolve around the superficial – she spends the entire party trying to get with Jake, and when he ignores her she tries to seduce Garth in turn, unsuccessfully. In one of the film’s more tragic scenes, she also laments to Mandy in private that Mandy is so much prettier than her. Her melancholy tone conveys utter defeat, but the fact that this is the first thing she really says to attempt to connect with Mandy suggests that prettiness is the only thing that she really understands. Honestly, I think that this exchange might have been the moment which sealed her fate at the film’s end.

However, the film gives us a clear counter-point to the superficial relationships in the film in the form of Garth (pay attention, this is going to become a trend). Garth is the one character who actually makes an effort to get to know Mandy, and without the ulterior motive of trying to fool her into sleeping with him for that matter. In fact, during one of their bonding moments, he ends up feeling like he can’t be with Mandy because she is “about 10 years” too young for him. This conveys that he respects her and finds her very interesting, but doesn’t want to force a relationship with someone so much younger than him, while also standing in stark contrast to the other guys, who only really talk with Mandy if they think it’ll get them closer to sleeping with her. It’s also worth noting that Garth demonstrates his responsibility and seriousness throughout the film – on a number of occasions he decides not to party with the teens because he has work to do around the ranch, or he wants to keep them safe. Contrast this to Bird, who only volunteers to walk to the ranch because he thinks he will get to hook up with Mandy on the way there, or who gets pissed off when he needs to restart the generator because he thinks he’ll miss another opportunity. Mandy, for her part, clearly finds Garth very intriguing, but unlike Chloe, she wants to get to know him and not just use him as a one night stand.

The second major key to understanding the film is the idea of sexual competition. This is made very obvious near the beginning of the film when Emmett chases after Mandy wearing a shirt which has “natural selection” written across the front of it, which is intended to convey the old “survival of the fittest”/Social Darwinian philosophy shared by assholes everywhere. Going along with the superficial relationships, the film is absolutely awash in hypersexual competition amongst the characters. Pretty much every sexual reference which is clearly framed in a negative light is linked to some form of attempt to tear down or compete with others. Just as a short list of examples, we have Chloe insisting Marlin is fat, Marlin’s comments about Chloe’s “Sherwood Forest”, Jake bragging about having hooked up to girls from 42 of the 50 States, Bird volunteering to walk back to the ranch so he can get rather rape-y with Mandy, Jake refusing to reciprocate to Marlin after she gives him a blowjob, etc. One particular instance that deserves further elaboration though is when Jake’s rather extreme reaction when Chloe and Marlin agree that he has the smallest dick in the room. Jake is such a toxically-masculine character who has been constantly attempting to one-up everyone, that this rather public declaration of him having the smallest manhood is nothing short of a devastating blow to his ego (especially since he’s trying to get with Mandy at the time). This explains why he gets so worked up about something so trivial, because as far as he is concerned, he’s the top of the pile, the alpha male if you will. Chloe also comes to fit into a similar mold as the film progresses. She brushes off the “Sherwood Forest” comment at the time, but later in the film, she is seen breaking down and crying as she attempts to trim her pubic hair in order to up her perceived value. At one point, we also see that she wears a padded bra in order to make it appear that her breasts are bigger than they actually are – a superficial and somewhat short-sighted move in many respects, but one which allows her to compete more “effectively”.

It’s also pretty clear that all the obsession about Mandy is just an extension of this hypersexual competition. Everyone wants to get with the “pure virgin”, Mandy Lane because she is unconquered, and whoever gets to her first will have their status instantly boosted as a result. In contrast, Marlin and Chloe are both sexually active, so hooking up with them isn’t considered particularly desirable. This is most clearly demonstrated when Jake finally gives up on Mandy and decides to just go have sex with Marlin again, claiming that he’s going to go “back to the well”. There’s a sense that if any of the guys do get with Mandy, then that will be the end of it – they may obsess over her now, but that’s only because she is “pure”. If she started indulging the boys’ desires, then their interest in her will wane considerably until her “sexual currency” is worthless. The toxic masculinity of this mindset is extremely clear and should be distressingly familiar to anyone who anyone who pays much attention to the manosphere (particularly pick-up artists): the idea that real men should be having lots of sexual partners, but women who have had lots of sexual partners are dirty, worthless whores with shrivelled vaginas. The hypocrisy of this mindset is staggering, but in Mandy Lane, Marlin and Chloe are complicit in it – it’s not a coincidence that both girls are lusting after Jake, the biggest misogynist in the entire group. It’s also worth noting that this competition for Mandy’s attention ends up coming down to grand gestures (eg, Dylan jumping from the roof into the pool, as if that would make Mandy instantly drop her panties for him) or really transparent lies that they think will impress her (eg, Bird claiming that he “respects the woman” and then forcing Mandy to hold his hand and give him a not-so-innocent kiss on the cheek… as if his words speak louder than his actions). Who does end up impressing Mandy, you may wonder? Garth, who just… is. He doesn’t do any grand gestures or lie to try to impress her, he just is himself and does the right thing when it is needed. He out-battles the competition without even having to consciously compete.

The third key to understanding the film is in Emmett’s role… which, compared to the other two keys, the film doesn’t shed quite so many answers on, and so interpretation is going to be relied on a bit more. Based on the previous two keys though, it would seem to me that Emmett is representative of a different, more primal sort of “competition” than the other boys are involved in. I believe that this is the entire point of the film’s opening 10 minutes, which focuses almost entirely on interaction between Dylan and Emmett. In this opening, Dylan attempts to woo Mandy through sweet words, charms and his physique. Emmett very clearly realizes that he can’t compete with Dylan in this arena, as demonstrated by the scene of him standing in front of the mirror without a shirt… which he then puts back on in defeat before sitting alone at the pool during the party. However, when he heads up to the roof, Emmett figures out that he can compete using his brain and convinces Dylan to effectively commit suicide. In Emmett’s (clearly sociopathic) mind, he may think “sure, Dylan might have been a more charming fellow and have a nicer body, but what good does that do him if he’s dead and I’m not?” Emmett may hate the superficial nature of the popular kids in the film, but many ways, he’s not much different than they are.

Emmett’s ruthlessness can ultimately be boiled down to just more gestures and competition – on a far more vicious scale, but gestures and competition none-the-less. He believes that Mandy is impressed by his viciousness (and, to some degree, she kind of is), so he attempts to escalate it show just how devoted he really is. His obsession pushes him too far though, as the gestures and the ideas become the real thing he’s in love with. For example, I believe that Emmett is basically holding Mandy up like a goddess of purity. When he kills Marlin, just after she gives Jake a blowjob, he is particularly vicious. He forces her to fellate the barrel of a rifle before breaking her neck, a level of sadistic “comeuppance” which he doesn’t reserve for any of the other characters. While Bitch Flicks might argue that this is just a misogynist moment of “slasher-flick whore punishment”, I’m not entirely convinced that that is the intention – rather, I think it is intended to signify Emmett’s own sense of twisted misogyny which has developed from his obsession over a single, idealized woman. It is certainly within reason to believe that he views Marlin as a worthless slut who gratifies other men, unlike his perfect angel, Mandy, hence why he forces Marlin to fellate the gun barrel (an image which effectively symbolizes “sex = death”).

The crux of Emmett’s big display at the film’s end is that he and Mandy have a suicide pact, which he believes will show his ultimate devotion to her to the entire world. In fact, he believes that this display will be so effective that it will inspire “copycat killings”, like they’re the Romeo & Juliet of mass murderers. However, what would this gesture actually do for Mandy? The only person who “benefits” from this suicide pact is Emmett, because it will show the entire world just how much he loved Mandy Lane, while preserving her role in the plot so that everyone will still believe her to be the pure, virginal woman (in fact, if she’s dead, then she’s eternally untarnished). In a sense, the mass murder and then suicide pact would (in Emmett’s mind) set him up as the ultimate conqueror – the man who overcame all the other men he was competing with in a permanent sense and then won Mandy’s heart forever. Does he really “love” Mandy though, or is he in love with this idealized notion of her? The fact that he goes berserk when Mandy rejects the suicide pact suggests to me that he’s in love with his idealized angel and his own grand gesture, rather than Mandy as an actual person with her own beliefs and wishes. Ultimately, Emmett reveals that he’s no better than Jake or Bird – forcing his will on Mandy and believing that he is entitled to her, but unable to comprehend that maybe she isn’t interested (the fact that she rejects his suicide offer by saying “you should never do anything for me” just hammers this home harder).

As screwed up as that mindset is, I’ve been to the sorts of places that Emmett’s mind has gone in this film, and so I find his logic disturbingly understandable (y’know, minus the murder). In high school, I was obsessed with this one “pure” Christian girl who I missed my very brief chance of dating before she moved on. However, I couldn’t get over her and ended up shielding her from other guys in the school who I thought we assholes, much in the same manner. In fact, at one point I was sorely tempted to push one asshole down the stairs who wouldn’t stop creeping on her, and at the time I decided against it… because she’d probably sympathize with him and not me. Now I probably would have been too level-headed to actually go ahead with it, but that was the sort of obsessively-screwed up I was in high school. I was also so obsessed with her purity aspect that I was very consciously shutting out any sort of sexual thoughts or feelings in regards to her, and would get pretty furious if other people spoke about her in a sexual way. In fact, it was unhealthy enough that I wondered what the hell I would do if we ever did actually end up dating and get together, I’d probably not be able to cognitively handle it. So… yeah. You can probably understand why I saw a lot of Emmett in myself when I first watched this film.

The final key to understanding the film is Mandy herself, or rather, understanding her motivations. We’re never really given an entirely clear understanding of why she turns on her supposed “friends”, to what extent she was involved in their murders, or exactly why she turns on Emmett at the end (although, as I stated above, it’s likely that she had come to realize that he was no better than the other boys). As I wrote earlier, I think Bitch Flicks makes a mistake in holding up Mandy as a straight feminist symbol in the film. While there are certainly feminist ideals attached to her, her sociopathy makes it a little difficult to view her as a simple, Nathaniel Hawthorne-style walking symbol. It’s pretty clear that she’s not just railing against the patriarchy throughout the film, but that’s hardly enough to make the film “not feminist”. Rather, to me she seems to be more of an independent character through which feminist themes are explored.

In an initial viewing of the film, it feels like Mandy is a passive figure for most of the action. She spends most of the film being gazed at while other characters attempt to get with her, or is off somewhere else while those characters get brutally killed. However, on a second viewing, it becomes much more clear that she is in control nearly the entire time. Scenes where she appeared passive as she watches the other characters bragging about sexual conquests or belittling one another gain a sinister subtext as we realize that Mandy is not just witnessing – she’s cataloguing their sins. She’s an interesting sort of slasher anti-hero – instead of hunting down and killing the characters, she influences other people to eliminate the characters for her. This also is where I disagree with Bitch Flicks’ assessment that we’re supposed to hold her up as a pure feminist example, because as the film goes on, it’s pretty clear that we’re not supposed to be condoning the deaths of the characters. Chloe and Red in particular begin to grow close during the increasing stress of the night and are set up in a manner which makes it seem like both of them are blossoming into a real relationship which could help them both (particularly Chloe with her tortured self-loathing and feelings of inadequacy). However, when they are both dispatched, it is a truly tragic and heart-wrenching moment which we pretty clearly are meant to not feel good about. I’d rather see these characters become good people than lose their lives as punishment for their mistakes, but Emmett and Mandy see things otherwise.

Where does Mandy’s murderous motivation come from though? This is a puzzle that I had to mull over for quite a while because the movie doesn’t give us a straight answer. However, I think I might have come up with a convincing answer: the one big common feature which unites Mandy and Garth is the fact that both of them have lost someone incredibly close to them (in Mandy’s case, her parents; in Garth’s, his wife). If you’ve ever lost someone close, or listen to the Dead Things podcast, you’ll know that it’s a life-altering event which changes your entire outlook on the world. Now picture this – Mandy is surrounded by this superficial, belittling hypersexuality, which she has come to realize is meaningless next to the grand scope of mortality. Then, after the summer break, she comes back to school and suddenly finds herself immersed in the fickleness of this superficial attention, which causes her to resent it even more. She’s almost like the Jigsaw killer, lashing out at people for not appreciating their lives, and the lives of other people who they just use and abuse. This idea is also demonstrated when Mandy kills Emmett, declaring that she wants to finish high school instead of dying for him, suggesting to me that Emmett isn’t even really all that cognisant of the finality of his own actions.

There is also a seemingly inconsequential scene in this film which I think really hammers home this link between Mandy, Garth and death. During one conversation, Garth reveals that he had to kill off the entire herd of cattle at Red’s farm because they came down with an illness, to which the partiers are incredulously surprised that he had the stomach to eliminate the entire herd by himself. As Garth explains, it was his responsibility and it had to be done. The fact that Mandy and Emmett have their final confrontation in the mass grave that these cows were buried pretty-explicitly draws a link between the characters and this idea of eliminating the diseased for the greater good. For Emmett, eliminating the other characters improves his standing and acts as a gesture of his devotion to her. For Mandy, it would seem that she shares Garth’s view – she views the superficial, the toxically masculine, the competitors, as the diseased which must be eliminated for the good of the “herd”, and values honesty and the responsibility to step up and do what is necessary – hence why she turns on Emmett. This also helps to explain why she likes Garth so much, because she sees a connection in this philosophies… although Garth may not see them as quite so similar if he understood Mandy’s true nature.

And that’s All the Boys Love Mandy Lane. I do hope that I helped shed some light on why I love this film so much, in spite of its rather slow plotting in the middle. I understand the reasoning behind it, but I can’t help but be kind of deflated by the way that the film kind of drags and feels inconsequential at times. If you look into the film beyond the surface level though, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a real treat full of interesting themes and ideas – I mean, after all, isn’t looking beyond the skin what Mandy would want you to do anyway? Something to consider.

7/10

*For one thing, this could easily be construed as misandrist, which is something that the feminist community doesn’t need to be getting legitimately thrown our way. Furthermore, I believe that the existing message in the film is more nuanced than that heavy-handed sort of conclusion would have been anyway.

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Video Game Review: Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 – Venus (2016)

This happens to be my 200th post on I Choose to Stand, and I’ve put together something special… After all the shit-talking I’ve done about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, I thought that it was pretty unfair of me to just dismiss it off-hand. As a result, I picked up a copy of the PS Vita version (like hell I was going to get caught playing this on my TV) and set about writing this review. Is it as bad as I had predicted? Read on to find out…

Note that the game is very careful to highlight that you can use the touch controls to manually jiggle the girls’ boobs. Stay classy Tecmo, stay classy…

DOAX3 is a… umm… well, it’s pretty hard to place it within a genre really. The most succinct way to describe it is that it’s a minigame collection based around a voyeuristic appreciation of sexiness, with some very basic happiness-management and dating sim elements layered over it. The first thing that really struck me about DOAX3 was just how similar it felt to previous DOAX games – I had previously played a little Dead or Alive: Paradise, but even that cursory glance was enough to notice that DOAX3 has basically the exact same menu-based user interface and layout. Hell, even the locations are the basically the same, and the thumbnails look very similar too (the Sports Shop in particular looked almost identical to me). The game is also clearly carrying over a number of art assets from Dead or Alive 5: Last Round – the characters themselves appear to be updated, but the swimsuits and even some of the environments have been very clearly shared between the two releases (and the bulk of the “new” swimsuits are just palette-swaps).

Perhaps most egregiously, I also noticed that a very significant portion of the game’s gravure videos are lifted from previous games in the franchise, reusing the exact same animations and even camera angles. I didn’t do a comprehensive count, but when cross-referencing Hitomi’s scenes in Dead or Alive: Paradise, I noticed that quite a few were reused wholesale, such as her riding on inflatable orca in the pool, her very cute improvised dance session, eating an ice cream cone and going for a bike ride. They also directly lifted Hitomi’s Private Paradise scene from Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate‘s DLC. I’m sure there are more of Hitomi’s scenes reused that I just haven’t encountered in DOAX3 yet, and the fact that I’ve found this much recycling for just a single character is kind of a demonstration of how little effort seems to have gone into differentiating DOAX3 from previous games in the franchise. I don’t want to accuse Team Ninja of being lazy, but the sheer amount of recycled content makes me feel like they basically just put in a minimal amount of effort on this release – hell, they couldn’t even expand the cast past 9 girls, possibly because this would have required them to add in more items for the dating sim elements.

Controversially, DOAX3 also removed some features from previous DOAX games – in particular, the Marine Race (aka, Jet Skiing) and Water Slide have been removed entirely, presumably because the marina has been excised from the game (for no apparent reason other than lack of effort). The cast of characters is also kind of disappointing. Series mainstays, such as Christie, Tina and Lei Fang have been replaced with DLC characters from DOA5. I know that they put this up to a popular vote, but the fact that some of the main characters of the series have been excluded and have been replaced with people that we don’t have any sort of story context for makes the game feel significantly less true to the DOA name (naturally, the two highest-voted new characters in the poll were the two biggest fetish bait – the lolita schoolgirl, Marie Rose, and the biggest tits and ass in the franchise, Honoka).


On the plus side though, Team Ninja seems to have put most of their effort into the graphics and physics engines, which definitely shows. The PS4 version obviously looks superior, but the PS Vita’s graphics are pretty damn good as well. Aside from a reduced framerate and resolution, the only really noticeable downgrades in the handheld are, for whatever reason, that the girls don’t get suntanned and can’t suffer SFW “wardrobe malfunctions” during some of the minigames – hardly make-or-break issues, but their exclusion is a little odd. The game’s physics engine is also probably the best that the series has ever seen – DOA is notorious for its hilarious (often intentionally-so) boob-physics, but DOAX3 seems to have stepped up its game in a surprisingly-positive way. The boob physics appear to be much more, uh, natural this time around… plus they added butt physics too, because Team Ninja understands priorities. The only really annoying graphical issue is one that has persisted throughout the series – hair physics. The characters’ hair goes crazy all the time, clipping through characters, objects and generally just going bonkers while the physics try to make sense of their programming. Some of the swimsuits have the same sort of issues, particularly the leis (which are apparently glued to the girls’ nipples or something) – the dangle physics don’t seem to have been figured out yet, which is probably why we don’t have any men in the DOAX series yet (BADUM TISH!). Still, for a game based almost entirely around sexiness (and with so much recycled content), the emphasis on the graphics was probably the right call to make, with all of the girls looking even better than they already did in DOA5.

The actual gameplay of DOAX3 takes place over the course of 14 in-game days, each split up into morning, afternoon, evening and night-time segments. The morning, afternoon and evening segments can be used to play minigames, relax or buy new swimsuits, while the night-time segments basically just give you the opportunity to gamble your cash at the casino. There’s about one line of story for each of the girls which explains what they’re doing on the island, but beyond that there’s basically no overarching plot – you’re just on the island and you get to choose how you want to spend your vacation time. The game does present you with missions in order to earn “Zack Dollars”, upgrade your “Owner Level” and increase your girls’ happiness levels, but it’s really just up to you whether you want to accomplish these missions or not. The only real goal is to make the girls happy by the end of your vacation – the happier they are, the higher your final score is.

The bulk of the gameplay in DOAX3 revolves around a series of 6 minigames. Of these, volleyball is by far the funnest and most rewarding. It’s not particularly deep, but there is some actual strategy involved in winning and skill involved as you learn how to defend, set up plays and master better (but more risky) serves. The payouts are also considerably higher than any other minigame, so you’re probably going to spend most of your time playing this unless you’re just hunting missions all of the time. It’s also legitimately quite fun to play, with a reasonable amount of challenge involved.

The second minigame is tug of war, in which you just move the analog stick left to pull, or right to feint, and tap X to regain balance. However, when I’m playing I don’t find that there’s much reason to do anything other than just tug it constantly (heh heh). Easy-level opponents don’t really react quick enough to fight back, so if you just tug then you’re pretty much guaranteed a win. Normal-level opponents require a bit more strategy, but even when I’d open with a feint trying to be strategic, I found that I was losing a lot more. I just ended up tugging it mindlessly again after that (heh heh), and won 3 matches in a row with no effort. Honestly, winning in tug of war seems very shallow and is basically a crapshoot, because feints are unpredictable and can cause you to instantly lose if they pull one off. It can be fun as a diversion, but it gets stale pretty quickly.

The third minigame is butt battle, which feels like the most stripped-down (heh heh) fighting game ever. Basically, press O to bash the other girl in the butt with your own butt, and use the analog stick to dodge or sidestep. However, I have found that there isn’t a lot of reason to do much more than just hammer on O to win most of the time. For normal-level opponents and higher, butt battling feels a little more like a rhythm/timing-based game as you just wait to see if your opponent dodges or not. It’s still pretty shallow and doesn’t really seem to exist for much more reason than to make you laugh and appreciate the butt physics (oh and to show off the wardrobe malfunctions on PS4).

The fourth minigame is beach flags, which is basically just an HD remaster of NES Track and Field. Basically, wait until the game says go, then button mash X as fast as possible and then press O to dive for the flag before the other player does. It literally takes seconds to finish (heh heh) and, if you’re like me and can’t button mash for shit, then winning against hard-level opponents is basically impossible. It’s just not particularly engaging or skill-based, providing little more than an opportunity for quick cash if you don’t want to spend a lot of time on a minigame for whatever reason.

The fifth minigame is pool hopping. It’s sort of like a speed-based QTE game, where you jump to platforms marked with one of the Playstation face buttons on each one. Platforms are spaced apart at different distances, with a tap of any of the face buttons being required to make a small jump and a hold being used to jump over longer distances. In addition, players can use the face button that matches the platform to perform the QTE to gain additional cash. Honestly, I think pool hopping might be my least-favourite minigame, mainly due to the controls – the difference between a button press and a hold is miniscule, making it super easy to accidentally throw yourself into the pool and then scream in frustration at the annoying controls. Plus the game emphasizes speed, so it’s very easy to screw up as you try to stay ahead of your opponent. I find that I can’t even finish it if I’m trying to match the buttons on the platforms, so I usually just focus on whether my next move is a hold or a tap. Pool hopping definitely takes practice, which I guess makes it more interesting than most of the other minigames, but the frustratingly finicky controls take a lot of patience to acclimate to.

The last minigame is rock climbing, which was added in place of Marine Race and Water Slide. It’s literally just 40 seconds of QTEs, making it arguably the most boring minigame in the entire collection. It feels like it’s just an overglorified gravure video with some button prompts overlaid on it, but at least you get Zack Dollars for completing it (which is far more than I expected). Once you’ve finished it once, you’ve seen everything it has to offer.

In addition to the main minigames, the game also features a casino where players can choose to gamble their Zack Dollars with the other girls. The three offerings (blackjack, poker and roulette) are certainly functional but are very basic even in comparison and lack much visual flair to keep them interesting for long periods of time. Roulette seems like the most throwaway since it’s almost 100% luck based whether you make any sort of payout. I spend most of my time in the casino on blackjack and poker (which is using the five-card draw rules rather than Texas hold ’em, sadly), since there’s actually some skill involved. Poker in particular is pretty easy to rake in money with consistently if you know how to play, since you can just bluff opponents off the cards most of the time if they have weak hands (and as long as you don’t just go in with awful hands yourself all the time). A poker session can a pretty fun diversion sometimes, but most nights I just skip going to the casino since it doesn’t really change or give you much reason to keep going back aside from farming for money. Oh, also, for a game that is all about sexiness, I’m also disappointed that Team Ninja still won’t actually put animations of the girls you’re playing against in the casino. Instead, they just show bubbles with the characters’ heads in them acting as an avatar (the same system used in previous DOAX games). It once again smacks of a modicum of effort being applied, and is doubly unsatisfying since this is a game about sexiness – you think they’d play that up shamelessly here. As a consolation, we get images of the girls on all the playing cards, but it’s not much of an effort (especially since the pictures are basically all promotional renders, which might have taken an afternoon of work to apply to all the in-game cards).

Aside from the minigames, the other main feature in vacation mode is the ability to watch the gravure videos of the girls relaxing around the island. While they’re clearly intended to be the game’s main draw, I find that they aren’t particularly well-integrated into the game. You can choose to initiate these videos by visiting parts of the island to relax, but this is where, one of the major failings of all of the DOAX games comes into play – the games are clearly meant to be playing up sexiness, but triggering these scenes uses up a portion of your very finite schedule with no practical gain (as far as I can tell, they don’t even give you satisfaction, which is mind-boggling). Time you spend on relaxing could have easily been spent on volleyball, which is both funner and provides you with currency to buy new swimsuits. It’s like the game’s systems are actively discouraging you from doing the very thing that the game is designed to do, which is frustrating (good thing a quick Youtube search will give you all the DOAX3 gravure videos you could ever want without wasting any of your vacation time or spending a penny). This is my general problem with sexy/porn games – the “game” parts tend to clash with the actual point of the game (and where all the effort was actually directed… in this case, appreciating skimpily-dressed girls). While I’d probably rather be appreciating the gravure videos, I’ve got no practical reason to do so, which just ends up highlighting how unsatisfactory the gameplay itself is. I think it would be more interesting if the game gave you higher satisfaction yields for choosing to relax, while continuing to give you good money and satisfaction yields for completing activities, which would at least give you a strategic reason to pick between the two options.

It’s also worth pointing out that all of the minigames take up the same amount of in-game time, whether you spend 15 seconds playing beach flags (or falling into the pool on the first button prompt in pool hopping), or spend 2 or 3 minutes on a heated game of beach volleyball. It feels kind of strange to me that you can end up completing a whole 14 day vacation in probably 10-15 minutes if you choose to blaze through the shorter games. It might have been a little more interesting if there was more of a time-management risk/reward factor, where you can play volleyball for longer times but with a greater payout if you win, compared to the shorter games which would have lower payouts but smaller time investment, meaning you can play more games. As it is, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to play anything other than volleyball most of the time, since it’s both the funnest activity and the highest paying of them all.

That said, the emphasis on volleyball just highlights how poor the other games are. A glance at the trophy statistics shows that (as of the time of this writing), the percentage of players with 10 wins in each of the minigames is as follows: volleyball (41.3%), rock climbing (32.2%, shockingly), beach flags (27.6%), butt battle (26.9%), tug of war (26.8%) and pool hopping (20.5%). As you can see, the contrast between volleyball and all the other games is pretty stark. With only ~30% of players even hitting Owner Level 10 (about the equivalent of completing 3 vacations), it makes me wonder how many people grew tired of the game’s offerings within a couple hours, or how many spent all of their time on the only really good minigame on offer.

The one big addition to DOAX3 is the new “Owner Mode”, which allows you to play as a caretaker who Zack has entrusted ownership of the island over to. The basic ideas kind of play out similarly to a management game (think like the absolute simplest Football Manager ever). You can start a vacation as the owner if you’d like, or you can switch to it seamlessly at any point in the menus. The point of playing in owner mode is to maximize the happiness of all of the girls on the island as best as you can, which is where the game’s basic dating sim mechanics come into play. Each girl has favourite items, food and colours. While the game doesn’t just go out and say what each girl likes this time (aside from their colours, which makes it basically impossible to give them a bad gift wrapping), a quick Google search makes it easy to figure out what their preferences are. I know that some people enjoy dating sim elements in games, but I have always found them to be an absolute bore at best, and an irritating chore at worst since I’m just following a set of instructions to get the outcome I want. There’s no real strategy to it, you just do what the game expects you to to get the girl to accept your gifts. The only real reason it seems like they’ve thrown this in here is for the bonus sequences where the girls will try on their new swimsuit in front of you (giving you the option to peek, but of course this ends up being both SFW and exceptionally pervy).

Beyond happiness-management, owner mode also gives you a second pool of Zack Dollars which can be acquired by completing missions and gambling in the casino, and which can be spent to gift girls new swimsuits. Owner mode also gives you access to the Owner Shop, where exclusive swimsuits can be purchased. This is where the game’s microtransactions come into play, because of course they do. The microtransaction system (known as “Premium Tickets”) is disgusting – as you would expect, they allow you to buy premium swimsuits from the Owner Shop for real world money. This is egregious for a number of reasons. For one thing, many missions require you to buy a girl some special swimsuit from the Owner Shop. However, most missions don’t tend to have particularly great payouts, so the odds of you having enough Zack Dollars for the better ones have clearly been designed to incentivize the sale of Premium Tickets (unless you get really lucky in the casino). With the more expensive swimsuits running 14+ Premium Tickets, you’re looking at $10 (Canadian) or more just to gain the privilege of dressing your virtual characters in a single swimsuit that’s already in the game… and that’s before factoring Team Ninja’s inevitable future DLC plans (and their demonstrated history of horrifically shitty business practices there). Also, the contents of the Owner Shop at any one time are semi-random meaning that, like the shittiest free-to-play games, they force you to spend money to get the items you want because they might not be there when you can afford them. Microtransactions are just such a shitty thing to include in a full-priced game like this, especially when they have been so obviously manufactured to push players into spending money on them, and doubly-so on a game which seems to have put as little effort into it as this.

The other big feature of owner mode is your Owner Level, which represents how much work you have put into the game. It is also tied into some special swimsuit and item unlocks, but unfortunately the game expects you to put in an absolutely ridiculous amount of grinding (heh heh) to get stuff. Some of this is stuff that should be an absolute necessity for this sort of game, such as the ability to freaking pause gravure videos, which requires you to be a mind-boggling level 80 to unlock (a feature which was available from the start in Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, a game where sexiness and taking photos isn’t even the whole point of the experience). Honestly, the amount of grinding that the game expects out of you is absolutely ridiculous considering how little content or substance is on offer. As much as I want the ability to pause gravure videos, the thought of having to grind to level 80 makes this feel like the game is wasting my time.

Oddly enough, the least-flashy aspect of owner mode might just be the best part since it sticks to the central philosophy of sexiness – the ability to just sit back and watch the girls doing their activities without having to take direct control. This can be pretty relaxing, particularly if you’re enjoying a good volleyball match, and gives you the opportunity to take (inevitably pervy) pictures. The lack of a pause ability right out of the box is even more egregious in this mode because snapping quality photos is very difficult to pull off when you can’t anticipate the girls’ movements. Still, snapping photos is pretty fun and the in-game controls are robust enough that you can get some really great shots if you practice.

Honestly, DOAX3 feels like the sort of game which would have greatly benefited from a next gen design philosophy overhaul. How much cooler would this have been though if New Zack Island had used an open hub world system where you take control of one of the girls and navigate the island, relaxing and performing activities to your heart’s content? If nothing else, this would have been significantly more interesting and exciting than the existing menu-based UI system. The game could also do with some co-op functionality, especially since you spend the entire vacation with a partner anyway. Multiplayer was actually a feature from DOAX2 which was removed in this game, co-op could have been a great step forward. Naturally, I understand that Tecmo-Koei probably doesn’t expect the game to sell very many copies, so they probably figured that they couldn’t justify the sort of work that would be required to rewrite the game from the ground up. However, with Team Ninja’s insistence on recycling content, we’re left effectively playing an early Xbox game, just with shinier graphics than before. This already didn’t cut it when DOAX2 dropped in 2006, and it’s even more noticeable in a world where identically-priced games feature more refinement and meaningful content than ever.

As you can probably tell from everything up to this point, I don’t think that DOAX3 is a particularly good game. However, in spite of all the shittiness on display, I have to admit that I was actually finding it to be somewhat enjoyable in spite of itself. It’s a strangely relaxing change of pace from my usual sort of gaming entertainment, as I get smacked around in Bloodborne, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest and XCOM 2… and then use Rainbow Six: Siege to cool off. DOAX3 just lets me lean back and enjoy some minimal challenge while basically giving me the ability to do whatever I want to on my 14 day vacation. It’s kind of difficult to review in that sense, because it’s clearly extremely niche, lacking in meaningful content and difficult to quantify. I can kind of understand how it can get reviews as low as a 1.5/10, but I can also see why someone would give it something as high as a 6/10 if they were being very forgiving of its obvious flaws. For my own part, the lack of content, ridiculous insistence on grinding to make up for said lack of content, disconnect between gameplay and sexiness, and Team Ninja’s seeming overwhelming laziness push it into the negative side, but there is some sort of intangible relaxation that the game brings which make me feel like being at least somewhat generous to it. I don’t exactly recommend the game, but it is definitely going to only appeal to a certain kind of niche gamer.

4/10

…Oh, and did you think I’d not bother to mention anything about sexism? I decided to set that aside for my feelings on the game, but honestly I didn’t really have a particularly difficult time doing so. Maybe the shittiest sort of SJW-type would bristle at the very idea of this game existing, but I didn’t really care all that much when I was playing. The voyeuristic aspects of the game can be rather pervy at times and I sometimes have to stifle a laugh at how silly the game is when it’s trying to be sexy, but the game isn’t particularly offensive. It’s also strangely chaste in some ways – while the girls enjoy looking sexy, they seem to have little interest in sex itself (especially since the series’ more sexily-dominant characters, Tina and Christie, didn’t make the cut). Naturally, this has some troubling implications in itself, but at least the girls are all presented as “look, don’t touch” and beyond attainability, rather than just being sex puppets for our gratification.

If DOAX3 had come overseas, I honestly don’t think that there would have been much of a furor. Hell, I was at an EB games just this morning and saw Onechanbara and a bunch of other typical “sexy Japanese” games on sale without giving a shit. Of course, Tecmo-Koei used the controversy that grew from the lack of a Western release to bait even more controversy for sales (the announcement of “Owner Mode” was probably the most obvious example of this), while PlayAsia basically turned it into an art, effectively netting them their intended audience without having to spend a dime on localization. Really though, I think there’s room for this kind of game to exist – as I have emphasized all through my review, DOAX3 is a game all about sexiness, so if it wants to be sexy then fine. My problem is when otherwise-serious games, particularly ones with an exclusively-male-gaze version femininity in them (such as Metal Gear Solid V) come out and end up dominating the market share. We’re at a point where there are enough positive female characters, from Tomb Raider, to Life is Strange, to the upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn that I think we can afford a cheesy bit of fantasy in the form of DOAX3 without setting women back decades.

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In All Thy Sons Command

So it’s looking very likely that the (English) Canadian national anthem is going to be changed to be “gender neutral”, much to the consternation of seemingly everyone willing to put their opinions out there. For those unversed, the English variation of the Canadian national anthem goes as follows:

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,

The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

The proposed bill, put forth by a Liberal party MP dying of ALS (presumably as his final wish to improve his country), wishes to change “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command”. As one could expect, this proposal has unleashed a shitstorm of fury from people calling the proposal a shame to every soldier who has died fighting under that anthem and that it’s just the “political correctness police” forcing us to change over nothing. Naturally, the dishonouring veterans argument is a common tactic amongst so-called “patriots” in any sort of national debate like this, although it isn’t particularly effective since the proposed changes are closer to the original lyrics (pre-1914) and “O Canada” didn’t even become our official anthem until 1980 (with the only major non-peace-keeping operation since that point being the Afghan War). On the other side, we have people claiming that those who don’t want the anthem changed are supporting sexism, which just reeks of attempting to shame people out of arguing with them*.

In general, people hate any sort of change, especially when it gets forced on them. I know that whenever a new program gets introduced at my office, people will grumble and cry out about having to learn a new system, even if it’s demonstrably more useful and efficient. This is also why the US is so ass-backwards in still using the imperial measurement systems, despite it costing them (and the rest of the world) time and money every year by keeping it – they’d rather be proficient at something inefficient rather than take the time to get good at something demonstrably better. On a similar note, I think we could convince most people that inclusivity is a good thing in principle, but when you take that into the real world and apply it to the national anthem, suddenly you’ve got about 3/4 of the population disagreeing with the sentiment. If this goes through, I’m just picturing how much trouble this is going to cause – I can see the singers at sporting events getting booed for going with the new lyrics, or Olympians refusing to take the podium, or a singer deciding to go with the old lyrics to make a statement. For something so small, this is probably going to be quite contentious for a few years.

That’s the thing though – this might piss people off significantly in the short term, but in the long term “in all of us command” is going to become the only “O Canada” that any of us knew. Kids will grow up singing it this way and maybe their old fashioned grandparents will complain about how the change was made, to which the kid will just wonder what the hell the big deal is. Again, the lyrics to “O Canada” have been changed twice in the past, and they likely will get changed again sooner or later. I kind of like the idea of a nation that isn’t shackled to outdated structures over time (unlike the US and all the insane culture that the Second Amendment has fostered). Adapting to the times is one way that nations actually survive in the long term, so this might just be part of Canada trailblazing into the future and making itself better (but then again, an anthem that can be changed might hold less importance than one that is immoveable – we shall have to see on that front).

That’s my take on the situation, but what about my actual opinion on the change? Well, for my part, I am kind of ambivalent about the change. If it gets changed then that’s cool by me, but on the other hand I don’t consider it a great crime if it remains the same – the current anthem is, in my opinion, only “sexist” if you really stretch the definition to anything that is not completely inclusionary. In fact, I wonder if changing it might be a mistake. I can see the change fostering a significant amount of animosity towards progressives and feminists in the public sphere, and I would be shocked if the Conservative party did not take this and turn it into a rallying cry to oust the Liberal party when their term is up. It also kind of cements my opinion that the Liberal party is largely the “white, middle-class” party, since this is basically the political equivalent of a “first world problem”. I like that Justin Trudeau is pushing more of a progressive angle for the Liberals in his leadership, but when they end up focusing their efforts on championing something like this, it feels like a strange set of priorities. In fact, I think the biggest issue is that they didn’t bother to call a referendum – “O Canada” is a song which is effectively owned by all Canadians, not something which our government has dictated upon us. Not giving us a say in this change is extremely strange and stands at odds with the Trudeau government’s commitment to open and inclusive government.

Bottom-line, I guess I’m against the change in a sense, but mainly because I don’t want to have to listen to the whining and slippery-slope seething which is inevitably going to result in its passing. That said, it looks like it’s likely to become law here soon enough, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a part 2 to this article at some point…

*By the way, assholes, if you wanted to label this sort of person as an “SJW”, then that would be a far more appropriate usage of the term than the current meaningless label it has become.

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IC2S Playlist Update 23/03/2016

Whenever I go on long periods where the blog is only updated with Playlist updates (like it is right now), I feel kind of bad. I’ve been quite busy lately though, juggling an increased workload due to taking on a new position and getting into exam time with an online course for my job. Even my leisure time is squeezing out writing opportunities as I had to paint up a couple dozen models in anticipation for a Warhammer 40,000 tournament, plus find time to play Rainbow Six Siege and Fire Emblem Fates. Blogging has just been a fairly low priority for me at the moment unfortunately, even though I’ve got about a half dozen things I wouldn’t mind writing about.

First of all is someone that I haven’t bothered to write about yet… making me pretty much the only person with a blog who hasn’t. That’d be Donald Trump in case you were still wondering. I never would have predicted that Trump would be a lock-in for the Republican leadership nomination, although I still think that the odds that he will win the presidency are close to impossible. However, I was thinking about Trump the other day and the ways that he has been identifying with his significant voter base. Aside from the obviously prickish white supremacists, sexists and assorted other crazies who simply like Trump’s more unsavory aspects, the bulk of Trump’s support seems to stem from his anti-establishment rhetoric. Basically, if the political system seems broken, then get an outlier to change it – kind of the opposite approach to the “if it ain’t broke” axiom. Unfortunately, this is a pretty enormous gamble by the public, placing the leadership of a world superpower in the hands of an untested and ideologically-unpleasant individual just because they feel that they lack representation in the current system*.

These thoughts have brought me back to the opinion article I penned during the Canadian election, that politics are a game, that the voter is being exploited and therefore we should have voter education for eligibility. Few “democracies” have a game more tried and tested than the American political system, so it’s little wonder that the Republican party has essentially imploded in such a manner as the voters turn on the establishment which has consistently shown contempt for their opinions. That said, considering that people have turn to Trump (whose own statements can legitimately and justly compare him to Hitler’s politics without any of the political bullshit that usually follows that sort of comparison), you have to question the merits of a system like this. I mean on the one hand, sure this is what “the people” seem to want, but that doesn’t always mean that it’s the “right” approach to take, especially in the long term. I’m very hesitant to say that I support a oligarchical system, but every time I look at democracy lately it just pushes me further and further in that direction.

Then again, I have an extremely morbid curiosity to see what a Trump Presidency would look like, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to pull off his upsets at every turn. At least it’s not my country which will have to deal with it. USA! USA!

On a related topic, this morning I had a rather irritating conversation with my father. He was watching the Stingray Music Channel and a song by “Average White Band” came on, which prompted him to say “oh, you couldn’t name a band that anymore, everything has to be politically correct.” I said “eh, I figure you could get away with that without too much fuss.” He replied “you couldn’t name them ‘Average Black Band’, everything has to be politically correct.” Again, I said “I don’t figure that would cause much fuss,” to which he once again replied “everything these days has to be politically correct”. Attempting to argue with my father can be exasperating at times, but that’s besides the point** – is there anything “politically incorrect” about just mentioning race? As usual around these parts, it’s all about the context of course. If they called themselves “Average Black Band” and then made a bunch of songs about how stupid/awful black people are, then sure they’re definitely deserving of some scorn. However, it seems like these days there are more complaints about political correctness as an idea than there are actual cases of legitimately overzealous political correctness. In fact, from my experience (and that of my friends as well), those harping the anti-political correctness agenda the most just seem to be just assholes who are annoyed that they get called out for being homophobic/racist/etc. This seems to be coming to a head with Trump as well, as I know my father has said that the one thing he likes about Trump is that he’s not politically correct… as if that is something which should qualify someone for the presidency.

Of course, there will always be someone complaining about any sort of opinion – and not just from “those butthurt SJW-types”. If you get a massive group of people telling you to stop being an asshole though, then maybe at least give them a moment’s consideration to see if there might be something to what they’re saying. Think about what as you check out this week’s picks, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vidda” by Iron Butterfly and “December Flower” by Sleeping Romance.

(EDIT) Oh hey looked, Cracked sums me up perfectly once again!

*That said, I’ll take Trump over Cruz any day.
**In fact, after looking up “Average White Band”, plus “politically correct” and “offensive”, I found absolutely zero hits on the first pages of people complaining about the name.

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The Rebuttal: Context 101

It’s that time again – another round of The Rebuttal! I’ve had lots of content to pick through, but since I don’t want every installment of The Rebuttal to be about me making fun of the same men’s rights activist, we’re going to shake it up just a little bit. In honour of #OscarsSoWhite, I present this little gem:

Hoo boy, I’ve got a few thoughts on this one. First of all, this feels like the sort of thing a white 16-year-old just starting to wrestle with the concepts of privilege and the disadvantaged might put together and then deeply regret in a few years when they start to get a better idea of how the world works. It’s pretty emblematic of the mid-90s-to-late-2000s liberal ideal of “colour blindness”, where us white, middle-class folks decided that racism was finally over and we can start focusing on other things. Naturally, the last few years have demonstrated very visibly that this was simply a wishful fantasy and that racism (and sexism for that matter) is still ingrained deeply within society at an institutional level, and until that is addressed, things won’t get much better.

For my own part, growing up I thought that Nazis and literal racists were a thing of the past*. However, in just the last week I have encountered and sparred with an honest-to-God white supremacist. I have already documented some encounters with a self-described “humanist” with some decidedly toxic views on women, gays, trans-people and minorities. I see all sorts of modern misogyny and racism on We Hunted the Mammoth on a daily basis. Hell, one could make the very realistic argument that a white supremacist is the frontrunner for the Republican party this year. The progressive backlash has gotten louder and more visible in the last few years, and so now more than ever we need to identify it and try to treat this ideological cancer before it can gain any sort of social traction.

The other thing that’s making me think that the person who made this is only around 16-years-old is because their examples are pretty freaking weak. I know they’re attempting to establish a double-standard, but I don’t see either of the given examples as being particularly sexist or racist. Maybe that’s just me, but that just highlights one of the major issues with this image: both a lack of context, and a lack of understanding of context.

First of all, “you boys/girls are stupid” is not a sexist statement in itself, but the context is going to be really important if you want to make the argument that it is. Like, what caused the statement? Is it a blanket statement regarding the person’s sex/race? Was their shitty opinion based on prejudice? Or are they just saying that they think that this particular individual is stupid based on some prior experiences? It’s basically impossible to pass a judgement of sexism/racism on this situation without some real context.

Secondly, the authour has a severe lack of understanding of context. Let’s just assume that the example statements did have a sexist/racist intent. In such a case then it is important to point out the prejudice in the person’s statement because they’re being much more than just a “big ol’ meanie”. If they’re being a racist/sexist prick, then there is some sort of underlying prejudice which is causing them to formulate a negative, dehumanizing picture of people, and one which needs to be identified, addressed and eliminated from society. It’s almost like the authour doesn’t realize that this is the case, as if they think that racism/sexism is just a synonym for being mean which only applies to certain people.

Don’t get me wrong though – being nice to everyone is ideal. I hope that at some point we can actually reach this state. However, the issue is that there are ingrained prejudices which make this obviously-ideal philosophy untenable in practice. Furthermore, much like humanism, egalitarianism, free speech and #GamerGate, this sort of ideal is co-opted by racists, sexists, homophobes and various other unsavoury groups which pollute the term and destroy any sort of attempt at using it as an actual platform for positive social change. It’s a great individual philosophy to internalize and pass on to others, but the authour has to realize that you’re targeting the wrong people – don’t target the people pointing out inequalities, target the assholes in society who make things worse for all of us.

*This in spite of the fact that in one of my earliest years in school, a black kid had joined our class. When my mom asked me what I thought of him, I snarkily and defiantly declared “I don’t like blacks.” I was probably 6 or 7 years old and had never encountered a non-white person before. Suffice to say, the smack that I received from my mother was well-deserved, and it’s easily one of my most shameful memories. However, it has been a source of some pondering for me – what caused me to be such a racist prick of a kid? I think it was down to “he’s different, and I don’t like things that are different”, which makes me kind of concerned for all the people who grew up around me in a town which has been called “the whitest town in all of Ontario”.

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The Rebuttal: #MinifigLivesMatter

Oh looky, it’s time for another installment of The Rebuttal. What sort of dumbassery made its way into my Facebook feed this week? A friend of mine (we’ll call him Johnny) has an MRA/egalitarian friend, who made a ridiculous post this weekend. Johnny passed this post on to another friend of mine (we’ll call him Atlas), who then passed it on to me, knowing I’d enjoy it. Check it out:

Hoo boy… I’m not even going to bother going into his spurious claim that SJWs have “ruined” video games, STEM fields and have somehow destroyed every tech company… actually, wait, what the feth? Where the hell did he get that idea from? I assume that’s some sort of MRA talking-point, but for those of us not drinking the same Kool-Aid, the idea that SJWs are destroying tech companies sounds absolutely ridiculous. I didn’t really look into this very comprehensively, in part because it sounds like utter garbage, but the only site that I could find that was pushing this view was a damn pickup artist’s blog. Considering that I was searching for “women destroying tech companies”, you think that there would have been more results about women actually destroying the tech industry (in fact, most results showed how the tech industry is destroying itself via ridiculously long work hours… and by not hiring more women).

Anyway, getting back on track, I hadn’t heard any sort of SJW-types complaining about lack of diversity in LEGO, so I was curious if this was yet another case where a handful of complaints are conflated into a whole movement’s viewpoints. As a result, I came across this article which explains that LEGO decided to release their first wheelchair-bound minifig in an effort for more diversity. That is a fantastic move on LEGO’s part which has made many kids very happy, and has generally gotten a very positive reception. How can you possibly see this as a bad thing?

Let’s be charitable though. The original post alludes to Johnny’s friend not knowing the details of the situation, but just being annoyed by SJWs ruining everything. We all make those sorts of declarations without the full story. I mean, he’s not going to seriously advocate giving children with disabilities the middle finger, right…? Well, I wasn’t expecting this, but Atlas decided to sent Johnny the news article, which prompted Johnny to grill his friend for being overly-dramatic. His friend, unfortunately, doubled-down on his comments:

Sigh… First of all, he is relying heavily on the slippery slope logical fallacy* to try to make this seem like such a bad thing, but even then he’s on thin ice. So what if LEGO makes armless, trans (ooh, potential transphobia, nice!) or wolfkin minifigs? How is that going to “ruin” LEGO? Furthermore, it’s not like people can’t make armless, trans or even freaking literal werewolf LEGO characters already, so I’m not so sure that they’d even bother to acknowledge them. Either way though, this is the whole reason why LEGO is so amazing to begin with – it’s a blank slate which promotes creativity. Giving a paraplegic child an avatar with which to live out his fantasies as a hero with a disability is both empowering and absolutely awesome. LEGO is all about giving people the ability to live out their fantasy worlds, and I say the more people we can bring in under that umbrella, the better.

As usual, the real issue is that Johnny’s friend is deep in an ideological framework and the world is completely filtered through that lens (which is made worse by the fact that he subscribes to news sources which fuel this world view). He thinks that SJW-types have ruined all forms of entertainment (they simply haven’t, full-stop), or that “not being a prick” is not only self-censorship, but a truly henious thing. For an idea of why he thinks this, it’s worth mentioning that he is also seriously under the delusion that the disadvantaged have leveraged their status and supplanted white men as the real power within society.

Oh, and by the way, Johnny’s friend considers himself to be an “egalitarian”… which should more-or-less put to bed the argument that “feminists should try being more egalitarian!” Egalitarianism as a movement has been co-opted by MRAs and various other hateful organizations which have become deluded enough to believe that they have become the truly disadvantaged group within society. From that particular mindset, this is a reasonable view, but to anyone else… well, egalitarianism my ass. To all those who are stuck in such a mindset, I can only hope that you can one day you acquire the ability to take a step back and maybe admit that you were wrong.

To finish up, I’ve been ignoring the Taken reference this whole time because it is just your typical Internet tough guy, dick-wagging bullshit. Oh, you’re going to troll and debunk all of us SJW-types with your “egalitarian” knowledge? Well there’s only one thing I can say to that…

Good luck.

Somehow I think it’s going to work out better for me than it did for Marco from Tropoja though.

*Normally I hate throwing around accusations of logical fallacies when arguing with someone as they are often used the way “check your privilege” is, as a tactic to shut down an opponents’ argument without actually having to address it. However, in our one previous confrontation, Johnny’s friend was slinging logical fallacy accusations at me, so I figure that he more or less has it coming. Not to mention that his logical fallacy accusations were very strenuous (eg, he claimed that saying that I thought that most feminists would agree with me on something was a “No True Scotsman” claim, which it clearly is not, as I didn’t say “those who disagree with me are not true feminists”… and then he claimed that Reddit MRAs are not true MRAs and tried to explain that such a view was not a No True Scotsman fallacy… yeah).

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#OscarsSoWhite: Why We Need to Learn to Pick Our Battles

If you’ve read even a couple of my posts on this blog, then you’re probably aware that I’m a staunchly left-leaning “SJW”-type person. However, with that in mind, I am absolutely sick of the “#OscarsSoWhite” controversy which has been dominating the news cycle for the last week. Initially I was fine with it – it is certainly odd that we haven’t had a non-white acting nominee in 2 straight years now, which is a situation which is certainly ripe for discussion. However, my problem is that the prevailing discussion soon turned towards the Academy itself being racist by not choosing any black actors, which is really straining things as far as I’m concerned. Thankfully, Mark Gollom posted this very good article on CBC which covers all of the things I have been pointing out since this story first broke. In light of this, I think it’s finally time for me to throw in my hat as well on this story.

First of all, it has to be said that the real “objective” importance of the Oscars is ridiculously overstated. It is certainly the most visible stage for film appraisal, but not winning or getting nominated is only really important for the financial incentives and exposure it provides. The “best” movies or actors in a given year is an incredibly subjective question, and I’m certain that the average moviegoer’s list would look absolutely nothing like what the Academy comes up with most years. The fact that Mad Max: Fury Road made the shortlist this year is nothing short of a minor miracle, as it doesn’t fit the “Oscar-bait” mold which most nominees must adhere to in order to stand a chance.

Furthermore, many deserving actors get snubbed every year and it always causes some kind of backlash. Will Smith and Michael B Jordan didn’t really have a lot of buzz going their way, especially in comparison to the actors who did make the extremely-limited slate. Furthermore, Idris Elba was never going to get nominated, and that is down to film-making politics – Beasts of No Nation is breaking the “established rules” of film distribution, so like TRON‘s visual effects snub, it was never going to be recognized by the Academy. Compared to last year, these aren’t shocking at all, unlike the lack of major recognition for Selma, which left me absolutely flabbergasted, especially considering that it had some of the most positive buzz going into the awards (not to mention that most of the Oscar-bait from that year totally floundered).

#OscarsSoWhite activists need to start looking at the bigger picture if they want to solve this issue. They can start by directing their criticisms at Hollywood’s movie studios, which is where I would argue this whole Oscars racism issue stems from. Think about it – we have a severe lack of non-white actors because Hollywood studios think that there will be financial repercussions if they cast a minority in any major roles. This isn’t some sort of conspiracy, it’s just an attitude which has created some major inequality throughout the entire industry. At this point, it’s so obvious that it is basically a no-brainer. From not casting black actors in lead roles because “foreign people are racist and it’ll affect our bottom-line”, to the disgustingly frequent practice of white-washing characters because studios refuse to finance a movie without a bankable cast. Furthermore, it is believed that Selma was overlooked, not because of Academy racism and favouritism, but because of a lack of promotion:

Selma’s studio, Paramount, had mailed free DVD screeners to Oscar voters — but not to guild voters. Which raises the possibility that, with Selma having opened so late in the season, maybe not enough voters have seen it yet.”

This is just another look behind the curtain at the subjective nature of the Oscars. How the heck did Paramount not think that Selma was a legitimate Best Picture contender?

The final big issue here is that Will Smith and Michael B Jordan’s “snubbed” performances are in the Best Actor category, which is widely regarded as being one of the most competitive categories in the entire awards ceremony. Due to traditional wisdom in Hollywood favouring male leads, there are basically always going to be tons of Best Actor candidates. Furthermore, with Hollywood preferring white male leads in general, we end up with less bankable non-white actors, meaning that it’s significantly harder for an actor to get to the status of being competitive enough to actually stand a chance of getting a Best Actor nomination. In general, this sort of systemic favouritism of white males not only screws minorities throughout their entire careers, but it also is a prime factor for why women have a harder time making it in Hollywood as well.

In general, I think that #OscarsSoWhite is on the right track – there is certainly some very obvious cases of systemic racism within the film industry. However, by directing their efforts at the Academy, activists are missing out on the real root of the problem. We need to see studios and agents more willing to take risks on non-white actors, more diverse screenplays and casting, and more of a concerted effort to actually tell the stories of other people. Furthermore, we as the public need to continue to support films which do try to take these sorts of risks – Hollywood might finally be starting to understand, but it is going to take a very long time before a strong stable of talent is fostered instead of getting passed over.

Unfortunately, due to the current public discourse, all people are going to remember of this incident was that black people were playing the “race card” again to try to get ahead, even though there were legitimate issues to discuss. This is why I’m always telling us SJW-types to “pick your battles” intelligently, because the causes that we choose to fight for are arguably just as important as the actual messages in terms of public perception. If we want more people to sympathize with our causes, then they need to realize that what we’re saying is correct, rather than give them some dumbed-down talking point that any troglodite can disprove.

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