My Favourite Albums of 2017

Hey… it’s been a super long time since I made a post. Considering that I left shortly before all the bullshit with Trump started, that might have been for the best, but I’ll make an update on what has gone on in my life sometime soon… because damn it has been quite a year.

But anyway, I was thinking back on the music I’ve been listening to this year and it caused me to realize just how many albums I’ve checked out since January. Then, before I knew it, I suddenly had half an IC2S list hashed out and knew that I had to finally get back into the blogging game. So, here I present to you, the albums I listened to in 2017, ranked from worst to best. Naturally, I’ll note that music is super subjective, my list is nowhere near comprehensive, and I’d be shocked if you had listened to more than a couple of the albums on it. Just consider this some random loser on the Internet’s list of albums he listened to this year, if nothing else.

13) Tear the Roots, Kaleida
After the very promising Think EP and its mesmerizing title track, I was very intrigued to see what Kaleida would come up with in their debut album. The results are, unfortunately, very mediocre. “Think” reappears completely unchanged and is the one shot of adrenaline in the whole album, which doesn’t speak well to the new material. Tear the Roots is a competent release, but very mediocre and forgettable. I can’t ever see myself listening to it in full again, which should be about all you need to know about it really.

12) Pretzel Champions, Countless Thousands
As the album’s Bandcamp description states, Pretzel Champions was “written and recorded in the eye of a storm in only 24 hours. We like to tempt fate.” That more-or-less should give you an idea of what you’re in for, featuring 4 lean songs with questionable recording quality. It doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of Countless Thousands’ catalogue, although the obviously experimental nature and time-crunch that birthed it makes it certainly intriguing. “An Umbrella for the Golden Shower” and “Sunday Best” are really solid songs which I would love to hear in a bit more refined form sometime in the future. It’s not exactly a bad album, but the poor audio quality definitely holds it back.

11) Gone, Red
Red and I have a bit of a troubled history. End of Silence was a great debut and Innocence & Instinct was a great follow-up. However, cracks began to show with the forgettable Until We Have Faces, but it wasn’t until the bland, chart-seeking Release the Panic that I decided that I was sick of Red. However, the band seemed to realize that they had screwed up and made amends in fantastic fashion with, in my opinion their best album, of Beauty and Rage. So, going into Gone I was left wondering which direction Red was going to head – were they going to try to recapture that quality again? Or were they going to try to aim for that blander rock sound again? The answer is… well, a little bit of everything. In terms of sound, Gone feels like something of an amalgamation of all of Red’s albums thus far, for better or worse. The album’s at its best when it’s hewing towards those first 2 albums (“Step Inside, The Violence” “Still Alive”, “Chasing Your Echo”) or of Beauty and Rage (“A.I.”). However, it’s also gets questionable when it hews towards Release the Panic‘s electronic synthesizers and radio-rock sound. The title track is a good example of this – it’s a serviceable radio rock track, but then at the height of the chorus, it will suddenly switch into this electronic music which literally sounds like a generic top 40 backing track, and I don’t like how this gels together. On the other hand, “Unstoppable” is just awkward – it feels like Red want an anthemic crowd-pleasing rock track, but the chorus in particular feels half-baked and I’d feel really silly screaming that at a concert with any sort of sincerity. The closing track, “Singularity”, is the one track that feels quite different from what they’ve done and maybe points towards the future, with some eerie sampling and slow build-up towards its heavy ending. I have a feeling that Red has a diverse fanbase at this point, and in trying to give everyone something to enjoy, they can’t help but alienate others in the process. Gone isn’t bad, but it didn’t really reignite my passion for this band like I was hoping it would.

10) Humanz, Gorillaz
I would maintain that Demon Days is one of the best soundtracks to the post-9/11 and early War on Terror era, so I was really hoping that Humanz would be the Trump-era equivalent. While Humanz seems to have the aspirations to hit that lofty goal (further suggested by the various album covers which are reminiscent of the iconic Demon Days art), the results are unlikely to stand the test of time. Humanz is, simply put, a bit of a mess. There are some standout tracks, such as “Saturnz Barz”, “Busted and Blue” and “Halleujah Money”, but there are so many strange and sometimes forgettable tracks which just feels like they took absolutely everything from the studio and then threw it at the wall to see what would stick. Damon Albarn also takes a backseat on most of the tracks, which just further makes this feel like a mixtape rather than a cohesive album. It gets more enjoyable the more you listen to it, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this might be less “self titled debut” and more “The Fall“.

9) Cold Dark Place EP, Mastodon
The surprise second release by Mastodon in 2017, Cold Dark Place attempts to harken back to the band’s sludgier roots which they have left behind since 2009’s Crack the Skye, at which point the band moved more towards progressive metal. That’s not to say that Cold Dark Place is particularly heavy – it’s reminiscent of the slower parts of Blood Mountain (think “Pendulous Skin”) or The Hunter perhaps. The 4 songs here have a melodic and melancholic feed to them, making the album’s title and art actually quite effective for describing the feel you get listening to it. There are only 4 tracks, but they’re all solid and reasonably lengthy, so it lasts longer than you might otherwise expect. At this point, I’m just curious to see if this is just an experiment from Mastodon, or a sign of things to come going forward. I guess we’ll see in a couple years time.

8) No Grave But the Sea, Alestorm
Alestorm jokingly declared that they were scraping the barrel with their pirate metal antics 2 albums ago, but No Grave But the Sea further goes to demonstrate that they can continue to spin gold out of a seemingly finite concept. Part of the reason for this is because Alestorm does not take themselves seriously in the slightest, so every album is a reminiscent of a rowdy and rousing bar concert (like something out of Tangled). Tracks like “Mexico”, “Fucked With an Anchor” and “Man the Pumps” leave me simultaneously laughing and wanting to sing along at the same time, and that’s before you even factor in the bonus CD which replaces all the lyrics with dogs barking (…no seriously, that is not a joke, that actually exists). That’s not to say that there are no more serious tracks here – the title track and “To The End of the World” are quite badass and help to keep the album from going too far and becoming a total farce.

7) Outlive, Demon Hunter
Outlive has my favourite opening of the year with the badass “Trying Times” hyping you for what’s to come, and then leading into the blistering “Jesus Wept”. It’s then a bit of a minor tragedy that Outlive peaks immediately and doesn’t come close to matching that intensity again. All of the tracks are solid, but there are some forgettable stretches and only a few tracks really stand out from the pack, particularly the aforementioned opening duo and “Raining Down” (which has gone on to become a bit of an anthem for me this past year). The relative softening of Demon Hunter’s signature intense metalcore sound is also slightly disappointing, but the music is good enough that this isn’t too serious an issue. Outlive is a good release by Demon Hunter, maybe not as strong as their last album, Extremist, but certainly a worthy addition to their catalogue.

6) Alba, Sleeping Romance
Sleeping Romance’s previous release, Enlighten, was a rather standard symphonic metal release which was buoyed by the unexpectedly heavy and intense closing track, “Devil’s Cave”. My worry going into Alba was that Sleeping Romance wouldn’t be able to match that high point, but the album quickly put those fears to rest. The opening overture is appropriately gothic, operatic and theatrical, showing the band’s greater ambition and matured musicianship before transitioning into the familiar Sleeping Romance sound (strings, piano, heavy guitars and Federica Lanna’s dreamlike voice and particular Italian accent). There are also two tracks which very much rival “Devil’s Cave”, the first being “Forgiveness” with a very heavy opening and some fantastic solos in the latter half, and the second being the title track, which is clearly intended to harken back to “Devil’s Cave” before spinning off into its own thing. The album isn’t just trying to match previous beats though, as tracks like “Touch the Sun” and “Everything Behind” also stand out in ways that previous efforts never really did. In many ways, Alba could be said to be like a much more refined version of Enlighten, in that it treads similar ground, but in a much stronger package. I really wasn’t sure what I was going to think of this album, but I was left pleasantly surprised by how good it ended up being.

5) The Lost City, The Wise Man’s Fear
A friend of mine got me into Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle a little over a year ago. Shortly after finishing the second book in the series, The Wise Man’s Fear, I accidentally stumbled onto a fantasty-based metalcore outfit with the same name which was clearly drawing inspiration from Rothfuss. Suffice to say, I was intrigued and very quickly discovered an exciting new band that I have been listening to regularly ever since. While their previous release, Castle in the Clouds, hewed closer to Rothfuss, The Lost City sees The Wise Man’s Fear branching out more into their own fantasy creations. The fantastical elements lend the band a rather unique space in the metalcore genre, where the angst and intensity is not just the band getting out their own issues, but rather they’re telling the stories of a character and a world. The band’s vocal and sonic diversity are also impressive and help to distinguish the tone of each song – one minute they might be singing melodically before switching over to shouts, screams and death growls… and dammit it sounds so freaking good (hell, “Bloodlust” even has doom metal-style “bree bree” vocals at certain points). Particular standouts for me include “Grey King”, “What Time Brings”, “Codex” and the title track, but nearly the entire damn album is fantastic.

4) Sheep Among Wolves, Project 86
For a very long time, I considered Project 86 to be my second favourite band, so hopefully that helps to illustrate how disappointed I was in their last release, Knives to the Future, that I was quite hesitant about how their newest album was going to turn out. Thankfully, Sheep Among Wolves is Project 86 back in true form. While Knives suffered from being far too light, Sheep goes in the other direction (overcompensating even) and dials the band’s hardcore sound back up to 11. This album is relentlessly intense, moreso than any other Project 86 album before, and barely easing up until the final track (although it doesn’t reach the level of heaviness and darkness that their first few albums did either). Andrew Schwab’s songwriting has always helped Project 86 to stand out from the pack, and the lyrics here are as fantastic as ever, bringing a poetic side to seemingly straightforward headbanging hardcore rock. The album art is also really cool, probably my favourite cover of the year. If there’s one hesitation I have about Sheep Among Wolves, it would be a bit of unease about the closing track “Metempsychosis”. It’s as good a song as any on the album, but it tackles the idea of changing one’s self through surgery to try to solve deeper issues. Obviously, this is attempting to enter into to the conversation about transgender individuals, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. I’m not sure that I agree with Schwab’s assertion that there’s a spiritual issue at the core of these people seeking surgery, but at the very least he comes across to me as stating his position in a respectful way. If you’re dead-set on any sort of questioning of gender reassignment surgery then you’re probably going to be disappointed with this song, but it’s conveyed in a respectful enough manner that I at least think it deserves its place.

3) Ritual, In This Moment
I was a bit hesitant going into Ritual. Similarly to Project 86, In This Moment’s last album, Black Widow, was a major departure from their usual sound, taking on more pop vibes and losing some of its edge, and it could have easily represented a complete shift in how the band would operate going forward. However, In This Moment proved me wrong in spectacular fashion. I still feel like Blood is their best album, but Ritual is solid from start to finish. It also experiments with their sound in some interesting ways. Blood and Black Widow had both played up a level of gothic, transgressive sexuality which I had quite enjoyed. Ritual quite intentionally jettisons that tone, but is none the weaker for it, proving that, contrary to some opinions on the matter, sex may sell but talent speaks for itself. Instead, Ritual plays more towards In This Moment’s stage theatrics, weaving occultic tapestries which will also make for a fantastic live show (and I sure as hell hope so, I’m planning on catching them in Detroit with P.O.D. in the new year). However, unlike say, The Wall, the tracks here are all just as listenable without a live stage show to go along with them. “Black Wedding” in particular is a hell of a song, riffing on a classic while spinning it in its own direction. I’ve listened to it multiple times in a row on more than one occasion. “Twin Flames”, “Half God Half Devil” and “Roots” are also real standouts. Ritual is, all-in-all, a great album and thankfully puts In This Moment back on track and makes me excited to see where they go in the future.

2) Emperor of Sand, Mastodon
Maybe you’re starting to notice a trend, but I was initially concerned going into Emperor of Sand, because Once More ‘Round the Sun was unquestionably Mastodon’s weakest album to date. Hell, the title even referenced the workman-like nature of it, meaning that another year will pass and therefore another album and touring cycle for the band. Ever since their initial elemental quadrilogy ended, Mastodon have been spinning their wheels a bit, trying to figure out where they will go next. However, when it became clear that Mastodon were going to be going back to a style reminiscent of Crack the Skye (my personal favourite album of theirs), I got excited. Thankfully, Emperor of Sand does not disappoint. In fact, I’d put it on par with Blood Mountain, near the upper-half of their catalogue (which, to contextualize, are popularly considered some of the best metal albums since the 2000s). The album also focuses very strongly on the inevitability of death, and this brings an appropriately sombre tone to the proceedings. There isn’t a weak track on the album, but particular highlights include “Sultan’s Curse”, “Ancient Kingdom”, “Jaguar God” and especially “Steambreather”, which is most reminiscent of their sludgier roots. Between Emperor of Sand and the Cold Dark Place EP, Mastodon has had quite the year, and I’m very curious to see how they progress going forward. Perhaps we’re looking at the start of another thematic quadrilogy? One can only hope that Mastodon continues to challenge themselves and don’t ease back into a comfortable cycle.

1) Through Glass Eyes, At Dawn’s Edge
Two years ago I saw Sovereign Council in concert for the album debut celebration for Laniakea. The opening act that night was a band called At Dawn’s Edge, whose symphonic/power metal style instantly had me intrigued. I purchased their EP, First Contact, but was disappointed that most of their setlist wasn’t actually on the EP… and so began the long wait for their debut album to drop. However, nothing prepared me for just how impressive Through Glass Eyes was going to be, and HOLY SHIT is it ever good. For a small outfit, the production values are impeccable, the songs are ambitious and diverse and the band members all display a level of talent and maturity which are frankly insane for a debut album.

My only complaint is really just a nitpick – I vastly prefer the recording of “Utter” on First Contact over the version on Through Glass Eyes. This is a sore point for me, because “Utter” was by far my favourite track on First Contact. The contrast between the vocals of Tamara Filipovic and the male vocalist really made that song work fantastically, but in Through Glass Eyes, this contrast has been replaced with Tamara Filipovic’s singing only. It doesn’t sound nearly as good in comparison to me, and kind of ruins an otherwise good song. Like, I’m honestly at a point where I’m considering swapping in the First Contact version whenever I listen to “Utter” going forward, which would only make Through Glass Eyes that much better of an album to me. Really, this is a nitpick as I said, because Through Glass Eyes is a staggeringly good debut and makes me hope that At Dawn’s Edge have a long and successful career ahead of them. I know that I’ll be there to support them in it.

Quick Fix: Meme-o Kylo Ren

This probably shouldn’t be a super controversial statement, but I rather like Kylo Ren. In my mind, he’s the Star Wars equivalent of John Maguire – a very confused kid who gets caught up with the wrong people because he never had any proper guidance and then, before he can really realize it, he’s in a terrorist organization. This is a rather fascinating, timely and even untraditionally tragic characterization to give to a villain, one with plenty of amazing opportunity to either make him double-down on the villainy and become something truly monstrous or (and I’m hoping that this is what happens in Episode 8) have him begin to mature and realize that “holy shit, what am I doing with my life?” and attempt to make amends.

Naturally, with that sort of setup, the whole conversation about Kylo Ren has devolved into “emo”, angsty, whiner kid. This wasn’t the case immediately after release, but as soon as Emo Kylo Ren occurred, suddenly it was his defining character trait and people began harping on it. I’m gonna be honest, I’ve seen The Force Awakens four times now and I don’t really get where this is coming from. He only ever angsts once in the whole film, and that’s when he gets confronted by his father (who he doesn’t particularly like). Oh, and he breaks stuff twice, but is that really enough for people to label him as “whiny”? If nothing else, he is considerably less whiny than Anakin was in the prequels, and infinitely less insufferable and more understandable even when he is angsting.

There’s got to be some sort of word for this, where the public conversation ends up colouring the perception of a character. It’s sort of like a cognitive version of Flanderization; Memefication might be the most accurate term for it at the moment. We saw the same sort of thing happen last year with Jurassic World, an incredibly flawed movie which people couldn’t legitimately criticize without wasting all their time on Claire’s heels. I didn’t notice or give a shit about the heels while watching the film, they’re really inconsequential and hardly that unusual in these sorts of silly action movies. However, that’s what the conversation gravitated towards, so by God we’re going to beat this meme into the ground.

This seems to be something that’s only getting more prevalent due to the Internet allowing petty little complaints or skewed perceptions to echo throughout popular culture. That’s not to say that it didn’t exist before that though – arguably the absolute best example is Batman & Robin, since every time it gets brought up someone will go “oh yeah, that one is terrible, I mean they put nipples on Batman!”, as if that alone is some sort of signifier for why the movie was awful (that’s putting aside the actual problems of poor/overly-hammy performances, crass self-commercialization, bonkers directing, etc which make Batnipples look cute in comparison). Obviously this is not something super important in and of itself, but it is something worth paying attention to as you can perceptibly see how the conversation about a piece of media changes as the memes solidify.

…and to end on a completely unrelated topic, check out my badass Kylo Ren cosplay!

Ladies.

IC2S Playlist Update 02/03/2016

I saw The Witch in theatres this weekend, and it was a bit of a strange experience. On the one hand, it was really well shot and directed, turning the New England countryside into an incredibly dark and foreboding landscape. The horror elements also are very classically-styled, with long build-up and a tense score doing wonders to make the film’s horror-moments very unsettling. There were also some great performances, even by some of the younger actors.

Oddly enough, it seems like the sort of film that you’d have the most appreciation for if you have at least a passing familiarity with early American colonial literature. I’m sure that any horror fan can appreciate much of the movie, but some of the stranger elements might not make a ton of sense if you don’t at least understand Puritan beliefs and folklore (and the ending in particular). Stuff like cabals of witches in the woods, the devil taking form and hiding amongst us, the idea that God was an angry, vengeful monster looking for an excuse to damn you, witches kidnapping children and turning them into paste, the garrison mentality, etc – the film hews very closely to the folklore of the time, which is a very interesting idea, although it does weaken the narrative somewhat (again, particularly the ending). It’s one of those movies that I wasn’t sure what to think at first, but a couple days out I’m growing quite an appreciation for it.

On the entirely different side of the spectrum of quality though, the day after that I saw Street Fighter: The Movie for the first time. Similarly to Troll 2, it was so bad it was hilariously entertaining. I know it’s kind of a cliche at this point to praise Raul Julia’s performance as M Bison, but he was so deliciously campy and over-the-top. The film is objectively terrible, bloated with too many thinly-sketched characters and poorly-edited action scenes, but Julia manages to single-handedly make the film worth watching with his intentionally-hammy performance.

My selections for this week have basically nothing to do with any of that, aside from the fact that they continue my recent theme of songs which are extremely different from one another. On the one hand, we have the ethereal and subdued rock classic “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors, and on the other we have “Beyond the Grave” by Impending Doom, a death metal tune that compels you to scream along with it with your fist pumped.

Also, HOLY SHIT, HOLY SHIT, HOLY SHIT, Impending Doom finally updated their Spotify library, meaning that I can now use tracks from their 2 best albums, Baptized in Filth and Death Will Reign. Expect to see a lot more from them!

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).

#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.

SJWs Part 2: Xtreme Beach Volleyball

Depending on how much attention you pay to gaming news, you might have heard about the latest controversy to engulf SJWs. Koei-Tecmo’s refusal to release Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 outside of Asia has created a torrent of ill-will, the ferocity of which is hard to fathom. So how about those SJWs, amiright? Taking away our erotic volleyball matches and cartoonish breast physics! Well… the I think that the truth is far more complicated than the prevailing voices in this controversy would have you believe.

First off, I need to make one thing clear: unlike most people on either side of this controversy, I am actually a fan of the Dead or Alive games. I bought 3 different DOA games in the past couple years. I have actually played one of the Xtreme spin-offs. I follow Tecmo’s Facebook page, meaning that I actually got to see the progression of this controversy. I also have been mulling over a blog post about how the DOA franchise actually has some very positive and progressive elements about it for the better part of a year now. Hell, I even thought the DOA movie was a hell of a lot of fun. If there’s someone qualified to comment not only on this controversy but also on the DOA games themselves, then I think I’d certainly fit the bill as a reasonably educated party.

Hitomi is my fav! <3 I also really like Momiji and Ayane though, probably because I got into the series through Ninja Gaiden.

With that in mind, let’s look at how this controversy game about. From its very announcement, it was obvious that Koei-Tecmo was targeting the Asian market with DOAX3. They had a character poll to determine which girls would make the cut, and it was only open to Asian voters. Furthermore, while they did leave some possibility of a western release, they iterated during its reveal and all subsequent marketing that the game was going to release in Asian territories only. There was certainly some complaining and disappointment among people interested in the franchise (not to mention a petition to drum up interest in a Western release), but it was fairly muted and there was an assumption that these fans would just import it or create a Japanese PSN account to play it.

So what were SJW-types saying during all of this? Honestly, very little. When the game was announced, there was the expected head-shaking and “oh look, another one of these games are coming out”, but that’s more or less where the media coverage began and ended. There were no calls to ban the game or anything like that. This was not another Hatred-level controversy – people just didn’t care.

Context: you should learn it.

The problems began when someone asked why the game wasn’t coming to North America on the “Dead or Alive Game” Facebook page. A Koei-Tecmo employee responded with:

“Do you know many issues happening in video game industry with regard to how to treat female in video game industry? We do not want to talk those things here. But certainly we have gone through in last year or two to come to our decision. Thank you.”

Obviously, this is a pretty poorly-translated response which makes it hard to discern the exact meaning. However, based on what is there, I can actually understand why people would assume that the comments meant “SJWs took away your bewbs!” There also seems to be an undercurrent of wanting to avoid controversy in these words. However, it’s hard to be sure how seriously to take this, between the bad translation and the fact that Koei-Tecmo have since put out an official statement distancing themselves from this post (albeit, one which is extremely non-committal and unenlightening).

Even then, things still didn’t truly blow up until almost a week later when PlayAsia threw in their own 2 cents. Looking to get some sweet, sweet controversy dollars, they put out the following tweet:

“#DOAX3 will not be coming to the US due to #SJW nonsense. However, we will have the English Asia version available”

At that point, the floodgates absolutely poured open as DOAX3‘s lack of localization was no longer a point of consternation for what few fans of the series existed – it was now a political battlefield because damn those SJWs for taking away games that I never even planned on buying!

Oh, and by the way, during all of this SJW were still saying “guys, we don’t care about DOAX3, Koei-Tecmo can release it if they want to and you can play it if you want to as well”. There were no calls to get the game banned, meaning that all of this “SJW nonsense” was merely an accusation or a scapegoat rather than something which was actually happening. However, there was one troubling response which helped to fan the flames of the controversy. Likely in response to PlayAsia’s attempt to bait anti-SJW-types by creating another wave of controversy, a former IGN employee “Carolyn Velociraptor” tweeted that they had industry connections with PlayAsia who would be boycotting the company. This sort of strong-arming was obviously the wrong approach and just gave the anti-SJW crowd more things to complain about. Look, I’m not going to Carolyn Velociraptor’s actions here because they were ineffective, thuggish and out of step with the average SJW’s position on the whole controversy. If you have a problem with her response then that’s fair enough, but don’t think that this is concrete evidence of your crackpot SJW conspiracy theory.

Dammit Anita, we were so close!!!

Normally, when a controversy like this happens, it stems from the actions of one extreme individual or from some stupid action which ends up colouring the whole group as a result. For an opposing example, think of how feminists were shouting down all MRAs for the comments of a single blog poster who thought that Mad Max: Fury Road was going to be propaganda. Normally this is how these kinds of controversies come about, but this case is a little more interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it stemmed from the poorly-translated and unsubstantiated words of a single community manager, which were then passed on with the “SJW” hashtag thrown on to foster controversy. Secondly, we see that the hate for SJWs has hit such a boiling point that people will oppose them just based on principle. By and large, non-fans of the DOAX games didn’t give a shit about the franchise until someone publicly associated it with SJWs, at which point it became volatile as all hell. Thirdly, it demonstrates that “SJWs” and their actions are defined by those who are opposed to them. SJWs got our game banned! Oh wait, they didn’t actually do anything of the sort? That doesn’t matter, SJWs have created an environment which kept the game from being localized! When you have control over the label, it becomes… er… “xtremely” difficult to prove or disprove these sorts of grand assertions that have made up the bulk of the controversy – in the anti-SJW ideology, they already believe that they’re right and can spread the hate amongst themselves easily.

When it comes down to it, the SJW argument just seems to be incredibly overblown, especially when compared to the economic factors. Despite what the controversy would have you believe, DOAX is a niche spin-off of a second-tier fighting game, a relatively mediocre sales history at best, subject to poor reception in the West and hasn’t seen a proper sequel in almost 10 years. The fact that they’re even bothering to make another DOAX game is shocking enough to me, but the decision to not localize it actually does make some economic sense.

First of all, let’s look at some of the realities of game localization. There’s a pretty interesting thread on Reddit which has some info on the costs associated with it, from which I pulled this quote:

“Some publishers like releasing niche games in the west and such, but remember this is the industry obsessed with low risk-huge sales formula. 10-100k sales in the west even if localisation cost a fraction of what you earned or just reclaimed it’s budget? Fuck no, too few. 300-500k sales are more like it for a niche game in eyes of big publisher. That’s why we don’t see Yakuza 5 localization from Sega. These games just don’t sell a hundreds thousands copies.”

Koei-Tecmo is a relatively small publisher whose focus is clearly on the Japanese market – most of their games don’t even get an international release at all. As a result, they don’t really have a ton of money to throw around on a release that won’t earn them much of a return, especially with the rising costs of development, distribution and (especially) marketing. You also need to keep the market potential in mind – in Japan, hyper-sexualized voyeur minigames are far more economically viable than they are in North America. This isn’t necessarily a consequence of SJWs destroying the market, it’s just because we as North Americans aren’t all that interested in beach and pool party minigames, we want action, shooters and other traditional genres (such as RPGs, platformers, sports games, etc). In fact, I think this might have actually been what the Koei-Tecmo community might have been referring to in that fateful Facebook post. Is it so hard to believe that these comments might mean “the west has different views on female sexuality, which I believe make voyeur minigames and dating sims economically unviable”? I mean, if you’re freaking out about DOAX3, how many games like this have you picked up over the years? Perhaps the market might be more welcoming if we were exposed to a more diverse assortment of game types…

Hardcoregamer has some pretty interesting stats on the DOAX games’ sales figures and how small the North American market share is compared to Japan:

“According to VGChartz, 2003’s Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball has sold 0.59 million copies worldwide to date. Here’s the breakdown by territory:
North America: 0.36 million
Japan: 0.14 million
Europe: 0.08 million
Rest of the world: 0.02 million
By the time we get to 2006’s Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, the numbers drop precipitously. Xtreme 2 has sold just 0.25 million worldwide to date, less than half of what Xtreme Beach Volleyball sold. The ratios by territory are roughly the same, but the numbers are much lower for each.
At first glance, you’d think that means that North America is the obvious market for the game. After all, it sold more, right? Well, take a moment to consider that while Japan is a single country of 145,000 square miles and 126 million people, North America is an entire continent of nearly 10 million square miles, made up of 23 different countries and has a population of 565 million people. Simply put, it costs a lot more to market and distribute a game in North America than it does in Japan; it’s not a 1:1 comparison of sales figures.”

This is why I’m surprised that the game is being made at all. If the North American market wasn’t there back when the original DOAX games were released, how much worse will it be now? To get an idea, I used VGChartz to look into the sales of the most recent game in the DOA franchise, Dead or Alive 5. After I added up the sales of the 4 separate releases this game has gotten on various consoles, we end up with a rough worldwide aggregation of around 1.15 million copies sold. Looking at the regional breakdowns, the North American sales are usually only slightly more or slightly less than the Japanese sales, but considering the costs of localization and the much wider distribution that is required to actually give the game a chance of selling, this is pretty wretched. If you factor in the fact that the DOAX games tend to sell even less worldwide, then the economic prospects for a worldwide release of DOAX3 looks pretty grim for Koei-Tecmo. As a result, it actually makes some sense to release it in only one territory, go through certification and distribution expenses only once, focus your marketing, allow those who are interested in the game to buy it via import and, yes, avoid any potential criticism that might come its way, if that’s really something they care about.

With all the economic factors which are almost certainly the primary issue with the game not receiving localization, can we really pin any blame on “SJWs” for Koei-Tecmo’s decision not to release? Perhaps, but I’m really not convinced. For one thing, I can’t recall the last time there was a major feminist outcry about a video game since Dragon’s Crown. Anything since then has basically boiled down to criticism, which is something that you just have to deal with if you’re going to put out a piece of art. On the other side of the coin, you didn’t see Anita Sarkeesian stop her video game tropes series over the criticism she received, which was significantly harsher than anything that has ever been said about the DOA franchise. If she can stick to her guns and put out a product she believes in, I have a hard time believing that Koei-Tecmo can’t, especially if there’s a significant amount of money to be made.

If Koei-Tecmo were concerned about the opinions of SJWs, then why would they have released Dead or Alive 5: Last Round just this past year? In this release, they doubled-down on the fan service by adding Honoka, easily their… er… “biggest”* slice of fan service ever. Even with Honoka, DOA5:LR really didn’t make much of a splash amongst the SJW-crowd, who basically just shrugged their shoulders as they have with DOAX3 (and DOA5:LR even received reasonably good reviews which were more critical of it being a cash grab than anything else). If Koei-Tecmo were truly concerned about SJW backlash, then I doubt that they would have put out DOA5:LR in the first place, or especially made it “sexier” than ever.

Which brings me to my final, and definitely most important, point: guys, please stop freaking out about this game. I can guarantee you that DOAX3 is not worth your outrage. I seriously question how many of these angry people have actually played a DOAX game, because they are utter shit. For a laugh, I tried out Dead or Alive Paradise, and it was absolutely wretched. If all you wanted to do is oogle girls in bikinis, you should realize that that is barely a feature in the game. Most of what you do is boring menu-based busywork until you decide to play a minigame for about 30 seconds. It has more in common with dating games than you would expect. Now obviously there is a certain niche market for that kind of game, which is fine, but I doubt that they’re the ones doing the bulk of the complaining here. The extremely creepy tone and general pervy-ness are just a veneer over a husk of a game which very quickly goes sour. At least the DOA fighting games are build upon great game mechanics which make them very fun in their own right, even if you aren’t interested in the voyeurism. DOAX lacks that though and ends up being nothing more than sexploitation in the same vein as such esteemed “classics” as Bubble Bath Babes or one of those pornographic Tetris machines you see in the especially seedy bars.

As if that wasn’t enough, Koei-Tecmo have demonstrated through DOA5:LR that DOAX3 is going to be packed full of many of the corporate practices that gamers have been rallying against for years now. If your favourite part of the old DOAX games was unlocking all the skimpy bikinis then prepare to be disappointed – DOAX3 is going to be a DLC factory. Every re-release of DOA5 has been packed with a glut of DLC. DOA5:LR alone had over $200 worth of DLC available on day 1!!! Want to know what’s even worse? A significant portion of that (around $90 worth) was already on the disc and available in previous releases of the game as DLC. Usually when you put out an enhanced re-release, you pack all of the content that was available in the previous release, not sell it to everyone again…

Arguably the absolute worst offense they have committed though is releasing a $90 season pass… which literally was good for only a few months of mediocre costumes. Without warning, they launched a second season pass for the next year of content for the exact same price, meaning that super-dedicated fans of the franchise can be looking at upwards of $240+ to get the “full” experience of a game which came out years ago. Koei Tecmo is just taking the piss and this is almost certainly going to carry over into DOAX3. Oh, and all of those characters who failed to make the cut for the game, including such main characters as Tina Armstrong and Lei Fang? They’ll almost certainly be added in as DLC in the future as well.

After all of this controversy though, I wouldn’t be surprised if Koei Tecmo relents and announces in the next couple months that they’ll release the game exclusively via PSN and Xbox Live. Anti-SJWs will declare it a victory for free speech, while SJWs will just continue to sigh, shrug their shoulders and not care. Personally, there seems to be room for games like DOAX3, similarly to how we can have movies like Piranha 3D and Magic Mike. At this point, we’re more concerned about female representation in AAA games like Watch_Dogs and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, rather than the business of softcore porn fantasies. If you’re looking for someone to blame for this controversy, here’s where I would direct you: Koei Tecmo. If they really are being strong armed by us nasty SJW-types, then they should just have the balls to stick to their guns and trust the market.

And anyway, if they don’t release it in North America after all, then that’s what Rule 34 is for, right?

*Man, I’m really killing it with the puns today.

SJWs Part 1: Warriors, Come Out to Plaaaaay!

The amount of hate out there for SJWs at the moment is insane. I haven’t seen this much vitriol directed at a social group since around 2010 when “hipster hate” was just beginning to hit its stride. The backlash against SJWs has been playing out quite visibly lately, which has made me feel a need to put out a more comprehensive post on it than I have in the past. I had originally intended to put up one big piece on the current situation, but it ended up being really sprawling and incoherent, which has prompted me to split this into two parts. In this part, I’m going to try to unpack some of the issues people have against SJWs, while also pointing out some of my own criticisms about both sides of the divide. If you’re reading this on the publication date then be sure to come back in a couple days for my response to one of the current controversies that SJWs have been dragged into and some conclusions on the matter.

The cynical viewpoint… about half of these were cherry-picked from less-important titles and a couple of them are actually player customizable. It is emblematic of a the wider problem though when you consider that these are just game heroes from around 2005-2010.

WHAT IS AN “SJW”?
This is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Believe it or not, it is actually harder to define what an “SJW” is than you would expect. This is mainly because it is an insult thrown around by people who disagree with people advocating social justice causes. Naturally, I like the Rational Wiki’s definition which claims that it is “used primarily by right-wingers on the internet […] to describe liberals, progressives, feminists, and supporters of political correctness. The term is used to insinuate pretense and to label opponents as disingenuous people engaging in social justice arguments to raise their personal reputation”.  In many ways, this makes it seem to be similar to the “check your privilege” phrase used by some of the shittier SJW-types to shut down opponents without actually engaging them.

On a more neutral note, Know Your Meme has a brief article about the rise of social justice blogging (basically the source of SJWs as a group) and has some very fair criticisms of the movement. They state that “the group has been criticized for propagating unreliable information and espousing slacktivism and herd mentality, as reflected in the pejorative term ‘social justice warriors'”. That said, they acknowledge that “the influence of online activism on public opinion has grown significantly with the emergence of social justice bloggers”, meaning that these “armchair activists” are actually contributing to social change and aren’t as useless as your average flash-in-the-pan online outrage (anyone remember Cecil the Lion?).

Now to be fair to the anti-SJW side, I have also looked into the definition posited by Encyclopedia Dramatica… which, if you’ve ever been there, is about what you would expect. If you are curious about the mindset of someone who is against social causes, filtered through the voice of an angry, sarcastic teenager, then Encyclopedia Dramatica puts forth a very informative sketch of what you can expect anti-SJWs to think. This also helps to show why the term is so hard to nail down, because anti-SJWs range from people who just don’t care about social justice causes to full-on misogynists, Dugger-style proponents of patriarchy, racists and the like – in such an environment, “people I don’t agree with” can vary significantly.

That brings us towards the heart of the issue though. The big disconnect between “SJWs” and the people going around calling them “SJWs” is a difference in worldview (the ol’ ideological divide which has popped up on this blog many times in the past). Specifically, that SJWs are interested in advancing various causes, whereas their opponents don’t feel the need to change their worldview, could care less about social causes (or are actively opposed to such a thing) and want SJWs to shut the hell up. Obviously, “SJWs” are not the ones who came up with this label, nor are they the ones who affix it to people. This make it more difficult to properly pin down what makes a SJW. After all, a feminist will self-identify as a feminist based on their belief, whereas a SJW is defined by a third-party opinion as a reductive label. In many cases, there seems to be a strong vein of left vs right politics in the arguments – traditionally, the left tends to advocate for social justice for marginalized groups, whereas the right tends to want to maintain the status quo and are averse to change. Obviously, this isn’t always the case (I happen to know some moderately left-leaning individuals who tend to clash with SJW ideas), but it does give a general idea of how the lines are drawn.

I also feel that I need to say that I have always felt that “social justice warrior” is a pretty wretched blanket term for socially conscious people. Whenever I see or hear someone using this term in a serious manner to describe a group of people, it makes me cringe. I understand that there’s supposed to be a certain amount of sarcasm to it, but I think anyone who actually could be called a “social justice warrior” would see it as anything but insulting. I actually like that the Rational Wiki points this out, with many probable-SJWs (myself included) “reclaiming” the term and self-identifying with it, making it into a label of pride and robbing it of its intended power. That said, it is also just horribly unspecific, covering the causes of gender relations, LGBTQ rights, racism and ableism, amongst other things under one umbrella. Considering that there are already sub-factions and differing opinions within each of these movements, it makes SJW an extremely useless and potentially ignorant term.

It’s also worth pointing out that SJW is a term that is almost inextricably linked with video gaming. It seems to have its roots in Tumblr blogging about various social causes within the wider culture, but it really became a mainstream term thanks to feminism and LGBTQ voices that have cropped up in gaming within the last few years and the resulting backlash. As a result, I’m mainly going to focus on the SJW label within video games, but it is worth remembering that it can apply to a much wider cultural context as well (although with considerably less backlash in those areas).

The wishful thinker. When you think “video game protagonists”, many of the “diverse” options on display here are from unsuccessful or only moderately-successful, non-AAA games (eg, Gravity Rush, Brutal Legend, Rayman Legends, Guacamelee!, etc). This means that, again, the meme-creator was cherry-picking hardcore.
 
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS WITH SJWs AND THEIR OPPONENTS?

As much as I am obviously ideologically biased in favour of SJWs, I don’t think that they are perfect by any means and certainly have their flaws. For one thing, a lot of backlash against SJWs seems to stem from an exhaustion of activists constantly pointing out flaws in society and media. Considering that one of the main breeding grounds of SJWs, Tumblr, is seen as “the place where teenagers go to air their causes”, I can see how this would happen. In such an environment, social justice activism will often be reactionary and poorly educated as posts go viral, not unlike the shitty, unreliable image macros that make their way around Facebook. This sort of social justice activist is also responsible for such irritating argument-enders as “check your privilege” – a phrase which, while perhaps true, is extremely uninformative and only serves to jerk off the ego of person spouting it rather than actually inform the person they’re arguing with that they may have been brought up in an advantageous environment. To such individuals, I would suggest that they need to learn how to pick their fights, write more eloquently and try to avoid sounding frivolous.

Let’s be honest as well, as much as we decry the death threats, doxxing and other strong-arm tactics employed by anti-SJWs, these tactics are also employed at times by misguided SJWs who haven’t heard of the “moral high ground”. Let me make this clear – I don’t give a shit which side of the ideological line you place yourself, if you’re utilizing terrorist tactics to try to get your point across, you’re an utter asshole.

This segues into the next point though, that the group is defined by its worst constituent parts. This applies equally to SJWs and anti-SJWs. I am trying to keep my words in general terms throughout this post, because there probably are some SJWs who want to see everything they dislike get banned and maybe even a few who are radical feminists or full-on misandrists. However, in all of my experiences within a culture which would certainly be considered “pro-SJW”, I haven’t seen anything of the sort and they do not have a prominent voice in the culture of the various SJW groups. Most of us are reasonable people, so long as you have the presence of mind to consider “someone who disagrees with me” reasonable, and are just acting out of a belief that our actions will be more beneficial to others in the long run. Whether you agree with the details of that assertion is your own business, but if you’re one of those people who thinks that liberalism is a mental illness or that SJWs are just trying to get into womens’ pants (an assertion which says more about the accuser than the accused in my opinion), then you’re being disingenuous.

Similarly, many anti-SJWs aren’t MRAs, misogynists and crazy conservatives as they are often portrayed to be. As I wrote earlier, I know some people who at least seem to be rather anti-SJW, but this seems to stem entirely from their negative interactions with SJW-types. I was hanging out with these friends on the weekend and one of them said that he had been accused of being an “ableist” because he didn’t have a problem with movies using able-bodied actors to portray people with disabilities. Throwing around such labels isn’t exactly conducive to a dialogue, especially when they had a pretty damn reasonable argument to begin with (you can’t exactly get a severely autistic person to portray such a character on film, for example, nor can you get a paralyzed individual to portray someone who is seen walking elsewhere in the film). I also have a brother in the Canadian Forces who is strongly opposed to “keyboard warriors”. With the Canadian Forces starting to crack down on sexual harassment, he has been whining about how bullshit these policies are. In my opinion, these complaints stem from a self-centered aversion to change, as he has expressed many complaints about how he’s sick of hearing about how everyone else wants things to change – it’s not the arguments that aren’t swaying him, it’s just the fact that some people have the audacity to want things to be different and a rather ridiculous expectation that this might work out for him. In both of these cases, the individuals in question are not crazy, regressive individuals – they are just normal people like you and I who have different priorities and experiences which have coloured their interactions with the SJW crowd. We should keep their kind in mind when we attempt to spread our ideology.

No discussion of the “bad apples” would be complete without Anita Sarkeesian though. To the anti-SJW crowd, Anita Sarkeesian is The Devil. It’s hard to go through an argument about feminism in gaming without having her name pop up and driven into the ground as they decry what an awful person she is (and I have literally seen people say that she is the absolute worst person they can think of). With all the shit she gets, she is basically seen as the face of feminism in gaming… by the anti-SJW crowd anyway. The fact of the matter is that most feminists don’t seem to actually care all that much about Anita Sarkeesian (myself included). I think you’ll find a general acceptance of her basic points and some respect for her attempts to further feminism in gaming, but from everything I have seen, your average feminist could care less about her opinions and even criticize her for some extreme views and for her inaccurate, cherry-picked examples. The only reason that she has any sort of clout at all is because:

  1. She receives a disproportionately severe amount of abuse and harassment.
  2. Anti-feminists won’t shut the hell up about her, keeping her in the public consciousness.
The realist. This is probably the most accurate (if somewhat outdated) distillation of  major video game protagonists, but even then you’ll notice that there’s only 1 woman represented (although, to be fair, Samus could have easily made the list as well, not that that would make a real difference).
SO WHAT DO SJWs ACTUALLY WANT?

I can’t really speak for the other side, but I feel that a lot of hate against SJWs comes from a lack of understanding of their positions. I was reminded of this recently when a friend of mine tried to make a joke about how SJWs are trying to boycott Starbucks coffee because they don’t have “Merry Christmas” on their cups. Myself and a couple friends respectfully let him know that that is not an SJW cause, to which he replied that he had been put under the impression that it was something that they cared about. This friend has complained about how much he dislikes SJWs in the past, but this revealed that he really has no idea what SJWs actually stand for. Obviously this is anecdotal and speculative, but it does help paint the picture that there is a good deal of ignorance being fostered and used to fan the flames of the conflict. For another example, the Encyclopedia Dramatica definition claimed that SJWs “are currently the biggest hindrance to the arts, and are overall a cancer to society that needs to be put down”. Obviously, this is a completely idiotic claim (I’d say that mass market homogenization, lack of funding for artists, studio-enforced censorship, etc are all far worse for the arts), but it does show a lack of understanding of the driving ideology behind SJWs and the “destructive” power that people seem to think that they wield.

Just a couple weeks ago, I made a blog post about how feminism has been gaining influence within gaming in the last few years and how it has positively impacting female representations. Since I don’t want to repeat myself too much, put simply representations of women in gaming have often been ridiculously objectified or marginalized, if not completely absent, since games were traditionally marketed towards a young, white, male audience. However, since feminist and LGBTQ commenters have begun to receive a voice in gaming culture, we have seen strides made in their representations (Mass EffectSaints Row, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us, etc are some of the quality experiences which have been positively impacted by these efforts). Other SJW-types have begun speaking up as well, and we’ve even seen PlayStation implement control remapping on PS4 to allow greater accessibility for people with disabilities.

Now, just the simple act of writing about this is enough to have some people frothing at the mouth, but if that is the case then they’re probably missing a key point of context which runs through most social justice commenters: they generally aren’t calling for flat-out bans or censorship on things that they find objectionable. This is a point I have hammered home in the past whenever I write about feminism and pop culture. For example, Ninja Gaiden Sigma is one of my all-time favourite games, and it ticks off pretty much every negative female portrayal trope in video games. Would it utterly ruin the game if Rachel, our supposed action heroine sidekick, wasn’t dressed in stripper/bondage gear? Did she need to be rescued by Ryu on two separate occasions, despite the fact that she’s hyped up as a badass demon hunter and gets to do a far bit of ass-kicking in the Sigma rerelease? Asking for this sort of consideration isn’t a call for censorship, it’s a demand for better writing. Damseling the main female character and then giving them enormous boobs is probably not a key artistic choice, but it is extremely lazy writing and artistic direction used to shuffle the player from place to place and is directed at the lowest common denominator in the male demographic. Is it so bad for us to hold game writers to a higher standard, to think of the wide variety of audiences that are going to consume their product, or at least to make them consider their choices when they choose to use a trope? Or what about the glut of games on the market with white, straight, male characters in their lead roles? That said, I still love the Ninja Gaiden games, but I just think that they could be improved if they weren’t so juvenile in their approach to female sexuality and could stand to make their “badass” female characters more than MacGuffins in need of rescue (now much an uproar would there be if Ayane, Rachel or Momiji had to spend a good deal of a Ninja Gaiden game rescuing Ryu Hayabusa?). If that’s enough for you to still think that social justice-based criticism is nothing more than censorship, then maybe you should reevaluate whether “censorship” is such a bad thing after all, or whether you are just opposed to “censorship” as an concept.

Put simply, SJWs want gaming to become more of an even playing field which is directed at everyone, not just the young, white males that are generally the assumed demographic. As I have said, strides have been made in the past few years and we have begun to see developers respond with new IPs and sequels with better representation in them (such as Horizon Zero Dawn and Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate). I have a feeling that those who push against this often just don’t care about SJW-causes, are sick of hearing about them and are afraid that they might somehow make games worse. In response to this, I will put forth this great little quote I found by Kelly Flatley on Link Saves Zelda:

“It doesn’t stop there either as these people also disregard the push for equality of race and sexual orientation in games because “who cares?” I typically see this type of argument placed before me by white, straight, cisgendered males. I know it’s hard for some people to see the other side when they have privilege. […] Take a step back and realize that simply because your demographic is most often represented in games doesn’t mean that other people’s demographics shouldn’t be recognized because ‘oh well, I got mine’.”

What this quote demonstrates for me is that people need to broaden their horizons and realize that other types of people like the same things that they do. If you’re apathetic to SJW-causes, then you shouldn’t be opposed to more female representation, right? You also shouldn’t be surprised that those who are interested in female representation are advocating for it. Maintaining the status quo isn’t the neutral choice, it’s giving the middle finger to tons of people who would like to see it improved. Think about transgender rights for example. Up until a year or two ago, I had some pretty poor views on trans people just because I knew basically nothing about them. They got absolutely no representation in media outside of being the butt of jokes. When a person I knew from school had gender reassignment surgery, I made the (idiotic, in hindsight) observation that it felt like I had walked into some sort of sitcom because I had never been faced with this sort of thing actually happening. However, with the lives and stories of trans people becoming more and more visible in society, I have become aware of a whole kind of experience which I had never even thought about before. What this all says to me is if you’re just annoyed that people won’t shut up about things that you don’t care about, then they aren’t the problem, you are.

SJWs don’t necessarily want to take away you stuff, they just want there to be media that acknowledges them as well. There will, after all, always been macho shooter games and there even is a place for fan service and objectification to some degree – it just requires some balancing out.

Well what about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 you might ask? Didn’t the SJWs get this game banned? If you did think of this, then I’m glad because that is what we’re going to be covering in Part 2…

Circular Logic (aka, Let’s Blame the Feminists for Gaming Sexism)

So recently my morning started off in fantastic fashion as one of my friends on Facebook shared a forum post by Merlynn132 which blamed feminists for the issues with female representation in video games (click on the picture for the full-sized image):

Now admittedly, I actually found this guy’s points to be quite interesting at first glance and there may actually be some kernels of wisdom in here. However, the more I thought about the points that he was actually making, the more I realized that his argument is fundamentally flawed and falls apart under just a little scrutiny. So you know what time it is then, good reader: it’s time for yet another I Choose to Stand feminism post!

One big disclaimer before we move on though. I get the distinct feeling that Merlyn132 is directing some of these criticism specifically towards Anita Sarkeesian, but unfortunately its context has been removed to make it “shareable”. Admittedly, I haven’t looked into Sarkeesian’s criticisms myself, although I have found some of her examples to be at least somewhat suspect. If this post is intended to be a direct response to specific criticisms that Sarkeesian has made, then that’s fair enough (I would still disagree with its ultimate conclusion, but I could at least get behind some of its points). However, the tone and body of the post is written in such a way that it ends up being directed at feminism in general, which makes it fair game for a general response as far as I’m concerned. The lack of overall context for the post is unfortunate, so be sure to keep that in mind as the reality of the original post may somehow be shifted if we could see the whole conversation it was a part of.

As usual with this kind of criticism, Merlynn132’s first problem seems to be a lack of understanding of what feminists are actually campaigning for. His critique opens up with a statement that female characters aren’t allowed to have negative traits or feminists will cry out “sexism”. This could actually be the case with Sarkeesian based on some of the examples that I have heard her use for Feminist Frequency, but even that could be a misunderstanding of her intent when using these examples. As I have written previously, these examples are likely not intended to be blanket moratoriums, but rather ways to make writers make more deliberate choices when they write characters and to avoid lazy stereotypes (such as objectification, sexual violence for shock value or the desire to “fridge” a female character to give the male lead a motivation). An example of this in action would be the Tomb Raider games. Critics (not just including feminists) complained for a long time about how ridiculous Lara Croft’s boobs were, for good reason. However, they also praised Lara Croft for being a great character, in spite of the game constantly sexualizing her. Consequently, when Crystal Dynamics rebooted the Tomb Raider series, their much more realistically-proportioned Lara Croft was praised as she was still a very interesting character with a much less garish visual design to go along with it. Despite what Merlynn132 would suggest, this actually earned Crystal Dynamics two separate purchases of the game from me (not to mention that I’m eagerly anticipating the end of the Xbox One’s exclusivity deal on Rise of the Tomb Raider, whereas before I wouldn’t have even looked twice at a Tomb Raider game). All of this is comes down to Crystal Dynamics deciding to listen to their critics and making a better product for it.

Let’s tackle Merlynn132’s assertion directly though, that women can’t have a negative trait or it will be deemed sexism. Merlynn132’s own examples are less-interested in physical traits and more in reference to their character, so we’ll leave objectification out of this. I’ll address his second example first because it is just flat out wrong. He claims that women aren’t allowed to be mentally unhinged as they walk across a hellish battlefield, but this is just not true. Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot is made far more interesting as she feels remorse as she is forced to kill for the first time (although the gameplay-narrative dissonance in this aspect is annoying admittedly). I also just replayed Metal Gear Solid for my upcoming retrospective series, and found Meryl Silverburgh’s admission that killing for the first time made her not want to be a soldier anymore to be a fantastic character moment. If anything, I find it offensive that more men aren’t given this sort of treatment, as most big shooters just force you to stupidly mow down hundreds of enemies like a psychopath (with the Uncharted series being one of the most egregious offenders in this regard).

The first example that Merlynn132 gives is that men are allowed to be lecherous drunks, but women are not, because “sexism”. “Sexualizing women and what all” as he puts it. This is an example that I can actually see possibly happening, but the context of the character is probably the most important part in whether it will be accepted or not. Does her character start and stop at “lecherous drunk”, or does she have some actual depth? Are they a main character? Or are they background dressing that exists just to give the player something to ogle at? Such considerations make all the difference in this sort of situation, as there is no quick-and-easy answer. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s a contextual difference as well, since men are rarely sexualized in video games whereas women are quite frequently. Since it’s so prevalent for women to be reduced to sex objects, it can come across as very lazy if you put in a lecherous drunk background character unless you’re being very deliberate when doing so. Think of it this way: if I made a white character who loves watermelon and picks cotton, it would be fine. However, if that character was instead black, it would obviously be ridiculously offensive. This is because meanings change based on the contexts that they are placed within, so you have to be aware when you’re falling into a stereotype and, if you are aware, you have to have good reason for doing so.

Merlynn132’s third example revolves around a theoretical situation where Guybrush Threepwood is replaced with a female protagonist in Escape From Monkey Island. He is convinced that “Galwood” would never be allowed because she would be a cowardly, weak and socially awkward character hated by everyone around her. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced that this would cause a feminist uproar or even be considered sexist for that matter (depending on how the game handles these elements in a female context, as I said before). For one thing, this sort of character actually sounds rather interesting and would fit into the very different sort of characterization which feminist critics have been asking for for ages. I can’t be the only one who thinks that this description fits Amanda Ripley, the extremely well-received heroine of Alien: Isolation, right? Ripley is a strong, positive female character, not because she is a Markus Fenix-style meathead, but rather because she is absolutely terrified, avoids confrontation as much as possible and just tries to stay alive by being resourceful.

Secondly, Escape From Monkey Island was just a poor example for Merlynn132 to use for this argument. The main thrust of Merlynn132’s overall argument is that feminists are actually being sexist, and by being sexist they are making female-led games economically unviable. Using the Monkey Island games to support this idea is very strange to me as they are hardly a mega-selling franchise. In fact, the Monkey Island games have far more in common with the modern day indie-game scene where female-led games are far more common and interesting than in the AAA blockbuster space. I can’t even remember the last time that we had a proper adventure game, although Quantic Dream and Telltale-style narrative adventures seem to be the closest analogue… and what do you know, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Beyond: Two Souls and Until Dawn all tend to have pretty solid, flawed and interesting female characters without causing a feminist uproar.

The third, and probably most ridiculous, aspect of the argument is in regards to Merlynn132’s conclusion. Basically, they believe that feminists force female characters into a very specific mold, which makes female characters boring, which doesn’t sell, which is why we don’t have female characters leading our games. This is just so obviously bullshit that I shouldn’t really have to explain why… but will, naturally. The games market would be boring if there were more female-led games? Seriously? The market has ALWAYS been dominated by male characters, many of whom are the exact same macho-fantasy repackaged over and over again (Contra, every Call of Duty ever, Gears of War, Booker in Bioshock Infinite as the generic/requisite action game hero, etc). Despite featuring the same stereotypical leads over and over again, they still continue to sell and are often some of the highest-selling games of the year. It’s not feminists’ fault that female-led games are in the minority, it’s because publishers believe that their teenage male target demographic won’t play unless they offer them a male fantasy.

Just to look into this claim a little further, I decided to check the list of best selling video games of all time. I was actually surprised to discover that most of these games feature no distinct characters at all, either being 100% gameplay-based (Tetris) or 100% player determinant (Minecraft). Only three franchises dominate the list. Mario has the most entries, with 8 games selling over 15 million copies each. I think you’d be hard pressed to say that Mario has a personality that is anything other than boring, not to mention that the franchise formulas of his various franchises have been nearly the exact same for well over 20 years now. Call of Duty comes in second with 7 games selling over 15 million copies. The franchise is notorious for featuring paper-thin characters, iterating very lightly from game-to-game and for its macho-fantasy, male-dominated plots. While I, along with many others, would definitely argue that this franchise has gotten extremely tired in the last few years, the fact that the series still continues to sell is proof enough to me that the claim that “boring” female characters are the reason why they don’t get any representation is bullshit. The third highest-selling franchise is Grand Theft Auto with 5 games, and it’s a bit of an oddity since these games actually are known for their interesting characters and writing. However, I have a strong feeling that this is not the main reason why these games have had so much success, but rather that their core gameplay is extremely appealing. If this is truly the case, then the picture that these three franchises and the characterless mega-sellers paints for me is that characters are not a major factor in determining the success of a game, but rather fun gameplay. As a result, whether or not a “feminist conspiracy” caused female characters to end up being a bunch of bland copies, it shouldn’t matter because we already have a bunch of bland male copies running around and raking in the cash. Of course, if the actual argument being made is that “real gamers” don’t want to buy games with female protagonists, then at least be honest…

As I said in the opening paragraphs, I don’t really know the exact circumstances that prompted Merlynn132’s original post, but I kind of wish that I could understand where his perspective is drawn from. Is he directly responding to arguments made my Sarkeesian? As I have hopefully shown, his arguments will still end up being incorrect in the end, but if Sarkeesian’s arguments are just as flawed then that might make a difference in the way that this is all handled. Or perhaps Merlynn132 just misunderstands the whole point of feminism, having equated feminism with the opinions of its more extreme or unlearned factions, or worse, with the gigantic strawman feminist which is so often evoked in these sorts of rebuttals. In all honesty though, I’m glad that I came across this post. While I think that the overall argument is extremely flawed, it is quite interesting and is a good reminder that feminists could actually hurt their own cause sometimes with their critiques. I hope that Merlynn132 is open to this sort of critique, as I think that both sides in this debate could learn things from one another and hopefully come to a point where we can understand one another.

Review Misuse

Critical reviews are an endless source of discussion in popular culture. On the one hand, they offer a useful tool to sort through content and get a general idea of whether the product will appeal to you. On the other hand though, people often bristle at review scores and find themselves in a sharp divide between critical opinion and public perception. TotalBiscuit recently put out a pretty good video highlighting the disconnect between reviewers and the general public after the latest debacle regarding review scores of the Mad Max video game. In case you don’t feel like watching/listening to a 40 minute video, TotalBiscuit basically says that reviewers and the public have differing opinions on what constitutes value, that the public tends to value familiarity over innovation and that the public puts too much stock into review scores rather than the content of reviews themselves. While I liked the video, I think that TotalBiscuit waffled a little too much and didn’t really dig hard enough into the issues at hand for my tastes.

First off, I will agree 100% that people (particularly video gamers in my experience) put way too much emphasis into review scores. This is generally where the most ridiculous controversies spring from, such as the numerous occasions where reviewers have received death threats for giving games a glowing 9/10 review. This is due in part to some members of the gaming media’s really poorly skewed scoring system, which has messed with gamers’ expectations of what score a game should receive. I can’t be the only one who has noticed that many video game reviewers tend to score games very “softly”, giving almost every major release an 8 or a 9, with one or two huge releases typically getting 10s. For many gamers, this has created the expectation that games scoring lower than a 8 are unacceptable, even though the scale itself has been incredibly devalued and uninformative (and even then, they have a hard time accepting an 8 for a hyped, triple-A release).

In spite of its problems, I actually rather like the 10-point review scale (or its various gradients, such as the 100-point scale). As a bit of a stats geek, I like the idea of being able to quantify my feelings towards a piece of media through a simple system like this. This is the whole reason that I signed up for an IMDb account more than a decade ago and have been tracking every movie I’ve seen ever since. Obviously it’s still not perfect – “so bad they’re good” movies such as Troll 2 get a low rating for quality but I find them endlessly enjoyable. Other movies just may be super generic or very flawed, but I like them quite a bit anyway (such as Howling V).

That said, I don’t find websites like Metacritic to be very helpful*. Metacritic prioritizes review scores over the content of the reviews themselves, effectively making anything but that final score worthless. This also becomes problematic when different reviewers use differing review scales – since many game reviewers are “soft” these days, the few that actually do use the full spectrum of the 10-point scale can knock a game’s Metacritic score down and cause an uproar. This becomes even more distressing though, because publishers have been known to hand out bonuses to developers for hitting score-thresholds on Metacritic. How about this publishers: if you want the game to hit a score-threshold on Metacritic, then maybe give your developers more time to polish the game and don’t hold them to a hard-and-fast release deadline? Or worse, what are the odds that the desire for high review scores and sales stifles creativity by stifling innovation?

Another element that I thought that TotalBiscuit missed the mark on was the disconnect between critics and the public. He was acting like he thought critics were on a totally different wavelength from the rest of us. Personally, I think this stems from a misunderstanding of the purpose of critics. In essence, a critic is someone who has studied, and consumes, a lot of media and therefore has an informed opinion on whether individual media is worth consuming, which they pass on to the public as a form of service. Having seen a wider variety of good and bad content than most consumers, a critic tends to be better able to judge the quality of a piece of art. That said, it must always be remembered that a critic is just a professional giver of opinions – even the best critic will find themselves at odds with other critics and/or the public at times and it isn’t unheard of for peoples’ opinions to change over time. The critic’s own preferences can also affect the review process – it’s pretty common for horror movies to get mixed to negative reviews, even if they’re well-regarded amongst fans of the genre.

The disconnect comes from a couple elements of the differences between critics and consumers. Many consumers will have a very limited scope of the media – they may only watch summer blockbusters, or only play first person shooters, or not have a lot of interest in the finer points of a genre outside of whether they enjoyed it or not. As a result, reviews might not even be that big a factor in their purchase, but rather a badge of pride that something they like is considered “good”. These will often be the consumers most vocally hostile towards critics as, from their perspective, critics are held in high regard but do not line up with their understanding of media. This is related to arguably my favourite post on this blog, Translating Ideology, where I explored the gulfs that form between people with different world views. It’s a strange dichotomy – they may personally dislike critics for disagreeing with their perspectives, but still hold their opinions as authoritative and somehow able to diminish their media. Consumers in this mindset need to keep into perspective that, in the end, critics are just putting out their opinions.

Perhaps this prods at a deeper area of resentment though – the old hatred of “snobby intellectuals” versus the uneducated “everyman” who knows what is actually good and what isn’t (this is what Conservapedia would refer to as “the best of the public”, and you know it has to be great if Conservapedia endorses it…). I wouldn’t be surprised if there is an element of this in complaints about snobby critics, where the consumer is literally too unlearned on the subject to understand the critic’s perspective. Bear in mind that this isn’t to say that the consumer is wrong to enjoy whatever media they want to, but it is worth understanding that the divergence between critics and consumers comes down to a wide variety of personal experiences, not simply because “critics like innovation, consumers like what’s familiar” as TotalBiscuit boils it down to.

Wrapping things up, I think that we need to keep a few things about reviews in mind in the future. First of all, don’t put all your faith in review scores, but be sure to read the full reviews to see if you agree with their analysis. Secondly, understand that a “low” review score can still be great – I really enjoyed Lollipop Chainsaw and Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, both relatively low-scoring games which I feel deserved their lower score for technical/design reasons, but which were still well worth playing. I myself gave Alien Isolation a 6/10 on this blog, but enjoyed it for the most part and would recommend trying it. Lastly, keep in mind that the opinion of a critic is just that – an opinion. If you have different experiences than they do, then you may disagree and that’s totally fine. Don’t let it diminish your own feelings towards a piece of media.

*That said, I actually quite like Rotten Tomatoes’ system. Instead of just averaging the differing scales of a handful of critics, Rotten Tomatoes measures from the number of critics who “liked” and “disliked” the movie and then gives it a “fresh” rating if more than 60% of critics liked it. It’s a much better aggregate system in my opinion and tends to be my personal source for information on a movie’s reception.

5 Objective Examples of Sexism in Hollywood

Whatculture recently published an article by Jack Pooley purporting to cover 12 sexist movie scenes which prove that Hollywood hates women. Clickbait title aside, I found this article to be extremely inadequate. Its examples tended to be either extremely weak (The Wicker Man) or missed the point entirely (Gigli, Jurassic World, Transformers, Sex and the City 2), which made it very easy to dismiss. He also fails to explain why some of these issues are sexist, which is pretty key if you’re trying to convince uninitiated people that sexism is real (unfortunately, I have noticed that us SJWs tend to take it for granted that everyone knows what they’re talking about). Unfortunately, there is a kernel of a good idea within this article, but it focuses too much on its examples and not enough on the broader picture to be effective. With that in mind, consider this a broader response to Pooley’s article, going beyond specific, unconnected examples and focusing instead on the common trends which actually do go some way to showing the existence of sexism within Hollywood, and society at large.

5) Objectification/Sexualization
This is arguably the most obvious form of sexism out there, but as a result it also seems to be becoming less frequent and/or more subtle (well… outside of the comics and video game industries anyway, because holy shit guys). In case you’re somehow unaware of what I’m referring to here, it is when women are portrayed as little more than sexy background objects, when personality is stripped away in favour of highlighting their sexuality. Pooley’s example of Alice Eve’s stripping scene in Star Trek Into Darkness was a pretty gratuitous example of this, and most of the older James Bond movies revel in having background beauties for people to oogle at. If you watch HBO shows, then this will also be an extremely familiar concept. Game of Thrones features a ridiculous amount of gratuitous nudity from nameless background characters, often with no real justification for it beyond the sake of getting more boobs on the TV.

So why is this a problem, you might ask? What about all the male objectification out there in stuff like Magic Mike or Twilight you might also ask? Well I think that the main issue is not so much that objectification is completely unacceptable, but rather that female objectification outweighs male objectification significantly. Furthermore, works that feature objectified women often don’t feature any strong female leads either, so there isn’t any proper counter-balancing in place to keep things fair. If female objectification was less prevalent and if strong female characters were more plentiful, then I think this would be less of a concern for feminists.

4) Hollywood “Conventional Wisdom”
Studios are very adverse to taking risks, so their film scripts are often changed to follow trends and to give them more “mainstream appeal”. This is a major reason why so many movies seem to be the same these days, and not because they’ve run out of ideas.

This risk aversion leads to a variety of major issues for women – for one thing, many studio heads follow the “conventional wisdom” that audiences don’t like female leads, so they make most of their big blockbusters led by a male hero (eg, sure we can have an ass-kicking woman in Guardians of the Galaxy, but she has to be anchored by a loveable male hero). This is a main reason why there hasn’t been a female-led superhero film since 2005’s Elektra, and why Marvel is too scared to make a Black Widow film, despite fans asking for one since Iron Man 2 came out. I don’t care whether you’re a feminist or not, can you not admit that there’s something ridiculously messed up about that fact which seems to hint at some real issues in Hollywood?

3) Lazy Writing and Regressive Tropes
Lazy writing of female characters is a consequence of Hollywood’s “risk adversion strategy” which seems to have gotten a lot more attention this past summer, with Mad Max: Fury Road being praised for subverting it, while Jurassic World was called out for falling into it. Since many films are more concerned with the actions of the male characters, female characters are typically superfluous to the plot, or are written (or rewritten) in such a way that the male character is the one who gets the control. It can also happen when scripts are written and/or shaped by a male perspective, in which case it’s common for women to be written very stereotypically, as an idealized version for wish fulfillment (see A Million Ways to Die in the West for a particularly egregious example), or for them to just not even think to put in a female perspective.

Once you become aware of this issue, it’s hard to watch any blockbuster without seeing this lazy writing everywhere. For example, I was watching The Hobbit movies the other day and it occurred to me that there are maybe 4 female characters in the entire trilogy. 2 of them are Bard’s daughters, which are little more than objects in peril for the entire trilogy (even his weak son got to participate in the action a little bit). 1 is Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who gets about 3 seconds of screen time and is a (rather funny) harpy of a woman. The only woman in the trilogy who can actually be considered a “character” is Tauriel, but she’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, she kicks ass and is fairly cool. On the other hand though, she does nothing of consequence in the movies and her entire character is defined by the two men who are fighting over her. This is especially egregious because the love angle was added during rewrites when the franchise was expanded into a trilogy, and basically everyone agrees that this ruined her character.

2) Pay Gaps
Patricia Arquette famously brought this issue up in her 2015 Oscar speech. You may be tempted to say “oh boo hoo, I wish that I was only raking in a million dollars!”, but please put aside that knee-jerk reaction and hear this one out. If a woman stars in a movie, has just as much (or more) star power than her male co-stars and puts in just as much screen time, then she should make at least a comparable wage as they do, right? Not so much in Hollywood. For example, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence were both paid significantly less for their work in American Hustle, despite having comparable screen time and being just as high profile as their male co-stars. Women’s pay also starts to drop off significantly after they hit their mid-30s, whereas men remain pretty steady into their 50s. Since men tend to get more focus from studios, women end up getting less good roles to compensate, have a harder time affording turning down offers and also get lower pay as a result. Of course, they can always get their pay to go up… by agreeing to do nude scenes (like Halle Berry in Swordfish).

It has been said that the justification for this gap is because womens’ agents don’t negotiate good enough deals for them, which is probably true… however, it is also disingenuous. If the trends show that women consistently make considerably less than their male peers, there’s clearly something wrong there systemically which is forcing their agents to low ball them in order for them to even get exposure. I don’t have all the answers for this issue, but it is something to be aware of which shows how Hollywood seems quite sexist, even at an organizational level.

1) Women Aren’t Respected as “Characters”
This is largely related to the lazy writing issue, but it’s worth digging into this deeper because it’s probably the most sexist element of modern Hollywood. After all, as I have said before, why should the inclusion of a female character who is as strong as the male character have critics crying “feminism!” to the heavens like it’s some sort of big revelation? This isn’t feminism, it’s gender neutrality, but it’s sadly under-represented in Hollywood. If you analyse films then you’ll see that the sad fact of the matter is that most films don’t give a shit about the women who are in them.

Often, women are thrown into movies as little more than an “object”. Whether they’re something for the (male) protagonist to fall in love with, or need to be rescued by them, these women “characters” almost always have no real agency within the plot. They contribute basically nothing of their own to the plot beyond what they can do for the male character. This is because, at its core, the screenwriters are not writing about a “person”, they’re just writing plot points and plot conveniences which revolve around the actual focus of the story. This is how we end up with the essentially worthless women in basically every superfluous love subplot which has ever plagued a movie, and is also why so many films fail the Bechdel test. Or what about season 1 of True Detective, which is supposed to be concerned with the exploitation of women… but these women aren’t the focus at all, they’re just background images and plot points (and the “actual” women characters are even more transparent plot points which are meant to define the protagonists more, rather than actual characters in their own right).

This issue reminds me of Chinua Achebe’s essay “An Image of Africa”, which was about how Heart of Darkness is a racist text. At the time that I read it, I did not understand his point at all, and thought that he was being extremely unfair to Joseph Conrad. However, as I have matured, the point he has been making has become quite clear to me. Heart of Darkness is not a story about a man going up a river in the Congo, and it does not care about the Africans depicted within it. All that it really is focused on is a pair of white Europeans and everything around them bends itself to defining these people. The Africans depicted within are not “characters”, they are background objects. Similarly, women are often so ancillary to the plot that they could be excised or replaced by an object with little consequence. This is actually why I’m not as concerned with sexualization – as long as you go some way towards giving agency and developing a personality for the female character so that she isn’t just a background object, sexualization can actually serve some purpose.* By the way, this does not necessarily make sexist movies “bad”, much like how the presence of racism in Heart of Darkness does not disqualify it from being a classic novella.

Oh, and in case further evidence of this point was needed, the sequel will almost certainly dump the female character, oftentimes to start a whole new love subplot all over again (whereas the male characters are usually retained, such as in the Mission Impossible franchise). This just highlights how little the plot is concerned with the female characters to begin with, since they apparently think that they’re totally exchangeable, whereas the male lead was the real interest for everyone. However, it must be said that The Mummy franchise was a very unexpected and refreshing subversion of this trend, which almost makes its many other faults excusable.

Hopefully these five points will go some way to getting those who may not have understood what feminists are going on about to reassess their views. Just a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have considered myself a feminist at all. However, looking at pop culture with a critical eye really made me aware of how poorly the deck is stacked against women. In fact, it’s a recent enough change for me that if you go back to the first posts on this blog, you can chart my progress from egalitarian to full-on self-identifying feminist.

*I have actually been debating writing an article on this very subject since starting this blog back up, but have been having some trouble getting it off the ground.

Christian Media Industries Part II: Movies & Video Games

So in my previous post on Christian media industries, I ended up covering a lot of ground and a lot of different facets of the subject. However, I unfortunately covered so much ground that I skimmed over some stuff that I wanted to mention when I first conceptualized that article, and before it ballooned out of my control and turned from an overview into my concerns with Christian media. I’ll probably turn this into a small series, I already have a Part III outlined that I would like to write about. So with that in mind, we’re going to dive back into the surprisingly interesting world of Christian media industries…

When I first sat down to write about Christian media, I had intended to dedicate a section each to both Christian movies and video games, but I ended up cutting this out because I had a bunch of other things I wanted to mention instead. Previously I had said that “many Christian artists actually want to reach out to the broader culture, but their message doesn’t get the needed reach” due to the insulated marketing of the Christian media. This principle doesn’t really seem to apply to Christian movies or video games for the most part – almost all of them seem to be completely and exclusively marketed towards the Christian audience. The reason for this should be pretty simple: even low-budget movies and video games are very likely going to be more expensive to produce than books or music. This means that the risks that the producers are taking on are going to be substantially more compared to other segments of the Christian media. Considering that they are already cutting down on their potential audience with their low production and marketing budgets and Christian themes, it makes basically no sense for producers to market to the general public, especially if they want to turn a profit. The Christian market is, after all, rather large and potentially quite lucrative.

Low budgets and basically non-existent marketing campaigns have proven to be a good strategy for the Christian movie and video game industry, since Christians have basically proven that they will buy anything, quality be damned, as long as it has a Christian label slapped on it. There’s a reason why even major studios, such as Fox, have their own Christian division (specifically, an evangelical-targeted division). Hell, even The Asylum (the most notoriously parasitic, profit-focused studio out there) has a Christian division, and it’s not because they’re trying to push their sense of morality on anyone – this is the same studio that creates “mockbusters” and softcore porn, because it’s the most efficient way for them to get money. It has been proven time and again that producers can choose to invest so little in a Christian movie that they are basically guaranteed to turn a small profit, because many Christians don’t seem to be very discerning about the quality of their media, as long as it has the “right” message (hence why utter shit like Bibleman is able to get made and get God knows how many sequels).

Video games have a more difficult time on this front though. Video games are hugely expensive to produce and tend to take huge teams to actually see them through. As a result, the ones that do exist are generally made by parasitic publishers who are just looking to make a quick buck off a low-quality game, or are made on shoe-string budgets by well-meaning (but potentially crazy) people who drown the product in an obtuse level of preachiness to justify the expense. They also tend to be really derivative: on the best end of the scale, you get Guitar Praise, which is basically Guitar Hero with Christian rock music, and on the worst end, you get stuff like Bible Adventures (I actually used to play this game in my childhood… all I really remember is that it controlled horrendously and the art is pretty awful for a NES game). Games that try to do something different, like Left Behind: Eternal Forces, are hamstrung by their low budgets and get plagued with technical issues (not to mention that Eternal Forces has been mired in controversy, even if its gameplay wasn’t a buggy mess). Luckily for Christian video game publishers, parents who buy Christian games tend to not be very discerning about the quality of the game, so many of these games are able to scrape back their budgets.

One thing that helps Christian movies to succeed (and also why there has been a growing trend over the past couple of years for there to be one or two “big” Christian movies receiving a wide release) is the concept of word of mouth. Street-level buzz is a key factor that basically every movie wants in order to get maximized profits, but Christian media has it built-in with weekly church gatherings. This is the reason why The Passion of the Christ was such a massive success, why studios can risk a large budget on a mildly-Christian blockbuster such as Evan Almighty or The Chronicles of Narnia* and why we’re seeing more and more movies like God’s Not Dead and Expelled (low budget, limited theatrical release movies aimed squarely at the Christian market) – churches basically provide free advertising whenever a Christian movie gets any sort of theatrical release. This follows the social marketing principle of influencers, where you get market to a few key members in a group, who will in turn market to a wider audience with far more effectiveness than a traditional advertising campaign could accomplish. This was demonstrated quite effectively when church pastors were calling on their congregations to go see The Passion of the Christ, or when Sunday school leaders were putting up posters for Evan Almighty or The Chronicles of Narnia (not to mention that a large number of churches are going to buy up copies of the movies for their libraries).

Aside from the costs involved, I would argue that the second biggest issue with Christian movies and video games is the lack of talent involved. Unlike Christian musicians, there is no system built in to most churches which fosters movie making or programming talent, so these kinds of artists will have to search elsewhere to develop. Furthermore, those who do have talent will likely be turned off of the Christian media industry anyway due to the very limited number of opportunities and the industry’s notoriously awful reputation. Any who do stick around will probably find their talents stifled by creative restriction, shoestring budgets and those with significantly less talent.

Even when there is a modicum of talent, there still tend to be some major issues which keep Christian movies from achieving any sort of mainstream recognition. I would argue that the Kendrick brothers are probably the most talented Christian filmmakers out there at the moment, but they still get poor-to-mixed reviews… and for good reason. They can shoot a movie quite professionally, but their films struggle in most other departments due to a lack of talent elsewhere. First of all, their films usually feature amateur actors, which is really problematic because all of their films are dramas – arguably the genre which depends the most on good acting to succeed. Secondly, their scripts tend to be weak, relying really heavily on cliche, tropes and literal “deus” ex machina to solve the conflicts, with basically no subtlety whatsoever. Most egregiously though, their movies are RIDICULOUSLY PREACHY. As one review stated about their film, Fireproof, it “stops becoming relatable to us all and only to the already, or easily, indoctrinated.” I remember that when I saw Facing the Giants I thought it was pretty good, but lamented that you could never show this to a non-believer because it was clearly made for the already-converted, preaching about how good God is to us in basically every scene. Hell, it honestly even becomes grating to those who already believe – I get it, already, do we have to grind the film to a halt every 5 minutes to remind us that God is where our strength comes from? Bloody hell, some subtlety would instantly take the Kendrick brothers to higher places.

As you can probably see, Christian movies and video games have the rawest deal in the Christian media industry. Christian books and music have an easier time succeeding due to the lower costs involved and the fact that the church itself helps to foster their development, but movies and video games are basically left to the desperate faithful trying to get out their message, or predatory studios looking to make a quick buck off the undiscerning masses. With the recent high-profile disaster that was the Left Behind remake stinking up theaters, I can’t see this trend changing any time soon, unfortunately… However, I do have some hope with the increasingly growing indie development scene potentially producing some great Christian media which doesn’t seek to pander to the evangelical market, but rather seeks to portray Christian themes and foster thoughtful spiritual dialogue. One can only hope at least.

*However, they water it down quite a bit so that it still appeals to the masses of course, but play up the Christian elements when marketing it to the church.

Christian Media Industry

I consider this blog to be one largely about current events and popular culture, but occasionally I like to write about religion (or, let’s be honest, Christianity). Don’t worry – I’m not going to use this blog to try to shove the Bible down anyone’s throats, because I know that I HATE getting preached to. In fact, today’s post isn’t so much about the Christian religion itself, as it is about the chaff that surrounds the Christian community. I have touched on my thoughts on the Christian music industry in the past with my post on Ozzy Osbourne, but this post will expand on that to cover my thoughts on the entire Christian media industry.

First, I’ll lay a little groundwork on how businesses can compete with each other, to provide a context for what the Christian industry is and how it operates. The most visible and familiar kind of business is the one which is directed at the mass audience. This category would include stores like Wal-Mart (easily the best exemplar of this principle), major blockbuster films, pop musicians, etc. These kinds of businesses tend to have high overheads, but because their appeal is so wide, the potential for profit can be extremely high if they can capture that mass audience. This also means that their services and marketing will be tailored towards the lowest common denominator.

Attempting to compete with a mass market provider means that you’re going to have to go all-out, because if you can’t offer service as well as your competition, then you’re going to get left in the dust. The obvious example here is the mom-and-pop stores that Wal-Mart just annihilates when it moves into an area. However, it also applies to other big chains, such as Blockbuster. Another great example of this is Target, which recently was involved in a sudden and high-profile bankruptcy in Canada. They made an aggressive expansion into the country, opening around 150 locations and spending billions to get a major foothold. However, this was still not enough to allow it to compete with the Wal-Marts and other retail chains present in the country (not to mention that their service here was distinctly worse).

So what is a small business supposed to do to try to compete with the Wal-Marts of the world? The solution to this problem is actually quite simple and becoming increasingly popular: ignore the mass market, and focus all your efforts on marketing to a niche audience and foster brand loyalty. Some good examples of this philosophy would be vinyl record or health food stores, metal bands, low budget horror movies, etc. The thought process behind this approach is that there are a practically unlimited number of niches out there which the mass market cannot cater towards, so by providing their specialized service, they basically eliminate the need to compete with the mass marketers. In addition, there is a smaller overhead compared to the mass marketers, the individuals in the audience will typically spend more money than the individuals in a mass audience, and it increases the likelihood of repeat purchases and brand loyalty.

In case it wasn’t obvious, the Christian entertainment industries are in the niche market category and live or die by these principles. This can probably best be evidenced by how the money spent on Christian media seems to be tied into their rate of success (in order of their prominence, Christian media is dominated first by books/magazines, then music, then movies and finally video games being by far the weakest of the lot). This highlights the first issue I have with Christian media, and that’s the ethics of it. One of the more famous passages in the gospels is when Jesus comes to the Jewish temple and sees people selling sacrifices and creating booths for money changers (people who exchange currency basically, and who almost certainly would have been charging for this service). He drives them out in anger, claiming that they have turned God’s residence into a den of robbers. I’m torn on this particular issue. At its basis, the Christian media industry is either commodifying worship and teaching, or it is cynically preying on Christians’ beliefs to sell a product that wouldn’t be able to stand on its own otherwise. However, at the same time, this is how our society works. If we did not pay Christian artists for their work, then they wouldn’t be able to make a living (and for most Christian artists, it’s a modest living at that)… with that in mind, I think the bigger ethical issue is the use of the “Christian” label in the use of marketing them, especially when it is used in a particularly cynical manner. While there are obviously a lot of people within the industry who are actually looking to enrich the Christian faith, I think it’s fair enough to state that the primary drive of the Christian industry is to market products and make money.

Also, before I go any further, I really want to stress that I am by no means making a blanket statement that artists in the Christian industry suck or are worse than the mainstream media (except for the Christian film and video game industries, which just plain suck in general due to a lack of funding and talent, or because they are produced by “Christian” subsidiaries of major companies in order to make a quick and cynical buck). There are many who are extremely talented, but whose lyrical/writing focus does not appeal to a mass market, or because they have been trapped in the Christian label (which I will also cover soon). I should also mention that I believe that Christians probably have a disproportionately high number of talented musicians and singers, because the church system tends to foster and provide access these talents due to choirs, youth bands, worship services, etc. In contrast, someone growing up outside the church would have to find these talents through school, extra-curricular activities and adult encouragement – obviously not impossible by any means, but there’s just less access and fostering.

While the niche market approach may be what is keeping the Christian industry alive, it is also a major weakness in many ways. Probably the most obvious reason is because many Christian artists actually want to reach out to the broader culture, but their message doesn’t get the needed reach. This is because of prejudice towards Christian media in general, but also because the Christian industry only really caters towards the Christian market, leaving any further promotion for the aritsts to deal with themselves, or for the consumers to create word-of-mouth. In Christian music especially, when an artist does cross over into the mainstream, the Christian label continues to haunt them. Anberlin, Switchfoot, P.O.D. (especially), and countless other bands that have crossed over have been stuck forever with the label of “Christian” rock, which always remains a part of the dialogue surrounding them. As I Lay Dying has perhaps the most extreme example of this problem, as their lead singer, Tim Lambesis, ended up slowly finding himself renouncing Christianity. However, he was the head of a Christian band during this whole process, and he couldn’t exactly turn away from his Christian audience, or he would lose a huge portion of his audience. He ended up sticking around and pretending to still be devout, until he tried to have his wife killed, at which point all of this came to light. Of course, this led to the inevitable retroactive questions of “Can we really consider As I Lay Dying to be Christian anymore?”, even though Lambesis was the only member who had recanted.

Moving beyond these thoughts and onto more personal concerns, I have been wondering recently why it seems like the Christian industry seems to cater towards conservative Evangelicalism*. This should seem quite strange, since Catholicism remains the largest Christian denomination worldwide, with an estimated 1.2 billion adherents. I have come up with a few probable explanations to this question. For one thing, the USA is a cultural juggernaut and is the source of most of the Christian media. Of course, socially conservative Protestantism is the majority in the States, and so the producers will naturally cater towards their own understanding of Christianity (hell, as someone who grew up in an Evangelical church, I wouldn’t even be surprised if many of them were only dimly aware of other Christian traditions, or didn’t bother to acknowledge them with any legitimacy). Beyond that though, the majority of Catholics are based in Latin America and Africa, and which don’t tend to be priority markets. Another possible explanation is that the Christian media industries’ emergence as something distinct from the rest of culture correlates with the rise of Christian revival movements in the 60s-80s, such as the so-called “Moral Majority”, and the growing political power of right-wing evangelicals starting in the Reagan era. Naturally, this sudden surge to prominence and growing political important would require the market to cater towards them, and for the artists amongst them to express their faith to others.

It seems to me though that it makes sense for the Christian industry to market towards the social Evangelicals from a purely-economic mindset. A socially conservative Christian is more likely to consume Christian media, since they will be more opposed to mainstream culture than a mainline, Progressive or a Catholic. This, unfortunately, creates a bit of an evangelical monopoly in Christian popular culture though, which can have some serious problems… I can’t be the only person who grew up in an Evangelical church, consuming their media, and believing that they were the only ones who were doing things the “proper” way.

If it wasn’t obvious, this virtual monopoly means that, in North America at least, the conservative evangelicals control most of the dialogue on what is and isn’t “Christian”. It scares me when this gets applied to platforms like RightNow Media, which is obviously seeking to be the Netflix of the Christian media industry. If it succeeds in this regard, then the market will become even more monopolized. What are they going to allow/disallow as the gatekeepers of this content? Are they going to decide that it’s only “Christian” to teach young-earth creationism and leave no room for alternate interpretations (and then suffer the inevitable backlash from conservative evangelicals boycotting them if they do not)? Do they let people on who promote Islamophobia in the name of Christianity? Where is the cut-off line, and how is it determined? This isn’t just me seeing

When I was attempting to write my first novel**, I really had to sit down and decide if I was going to market myself towards the Christian industry or if I would risk going for something more mainstream. In the end, I figured I had a better chance of success if I went for the Christian market, but this affected the writing process somewhat: I had to exercise some self-censorship, mostly in regards to swearing and throwing in some arbitrary Bible allusions. The funny thing though is that either way, I’m still a Christian who wrote a book, so isn’t it more than a little arbitrary that it’s only considered a “Christian” work if I submit myself to the market gatekeepers’ standards?

…and as great as that last paragraph would have been to end this one, I can’t write about the Christian media industry without spewing vitrol about perhaps the most cynical corner of it: the prophecy industry. Christian bookstores dedicate multiple shelves to hundreds of books claiming to interpret the many vague prophies in the Bible, predicting what is going to happen in the “end times” and how current events tie into this. Spoiler alert: they’re all routinely bullshit. The people who write these books tend to be either misguided/short-sighted Bible scholars, cynics looking to make easy money by saying whatever they want to without having to have any accountability if it ends up being false, or people who are literally as insane as your average conspiracy theorist.

Let’s get this out of the way: it is frankly idiotic to assume that the so-called “end times” will occur in our lifetime. EVERY generation since the birth of Christianity has believed that they were the ones who were going to be present for Jesus’ return. I think that the Christians being slain by the Roman Emperors, Martin Luther going to war with the Catholic Church, the troops witnessing the horrors of the first and second World Wars and the even the people living under the threat of nuclear annihilation all had better claims to support this assumption than this generation, and yet it is the Christians living in a rich country with practically no Christian persecution who are screaming the loudest that their time is finally coming. It’s little more than human arrogance to believe that the “story” is going to end with us, and thereby contextualize the entire Bible according to our current and limited understanding of the world. For example, at some point during the Cold War, someone decided that the Bible was prophecizing that Russia and Iran would attack Israel based on a reference to a pair of “northern nations” who would do so in Ezekiel and Revelations… oh and what do you know, Russia and Iran happened to be our enemies at the time! With all of the evils that ISIS has been perpetrating for the last year, there is also a renewed sense of Islamophobia which is increasingly being worked into end times narratives (despite the fact that ISIS has been targeting its Muslim neighbours almost exclusively… in fact, I would bet that Israel is actually helping to fund ISIS to attack its enemies).

Anyway, to tie this back into the main thesis of this post, the prophecy industry only is able to exist and shill its toxic bullshit because of the economic realities of the Christian media industry. As a Christian, I enjoy quite a few aspects of the industry (many of my favourite bands are, or were, a part of it, and I quite like some of the authours within it), but I am left conflicted and concerned by the many ethical and ideological issues that plague it. Unfortunately I don’t have the answers to these issues, aside from a hope for some gradual cultural shifts… but I sure as hell can complain in the meantime.

*This is based on personal observation, so this might be just personal biases, but I am confident that this is the case. In general, Christian media will be ambiguously non-denominational, but when a denominational bias is intentionally put forth, it seems that the conservative Evangelical position is the most represented of the lot across all media.

**I never finished it, unfortunately. I got almost 40,000 words in before I grew really dissatisfied with it and shelved it. It was a post-apocalyptic road trip story about four people travelling west across the desolation left in the wake of a nuclear war, with the intent of making it more realistic than your average apocalyptic story. It was very much a therapeutic exercise for me at that point in time, dealing with how to love somebody, communism and some abstract religious philosophy. I started conceptualizing it in November 2010, but by the time I got writing it, post-apocalypse stories were already a really tired genre (and a post-apocalyptic road trip was already very much a thing with The Road). Plus, it was a really serious story, and I don’t really think I write “seriously” well enough. In addition, The Last of Us basically did the best post-apocalyptic road trip story I’ve seen, and covered a lot of the themes I was exploring as well, so the basis of the idea has more-or-less been done better than I could have. Finally, and probably most importantly, the personal issues I was tackling at the time have been resolved for quite some time now, so it just doesn’t feel relevant to me anymore. Who knows, maybe I’ll revisit the incomplete manuscript someday and give it a huge overhaul, but for now I’m going to focus on my efforts elsewhere.

8 Celebrities Who Have Turned Their Careers Around in Recent Years (For Better or Worse)

With the Oscar nominees recently announced, one or who names popped out at me as people who, a few years ago, would never have struck me as great actors. On the flip-side of that coin, there are other actors who had promising careers not too long ago, but are now some of the most hated people in Hollywood. Naturally, I’ve compiled a list of these actors for your reading pleasure, although there were quite a few more of them than I expected. Note that this is only listing actors who had major career shifts

Honourable Mentions: Ben Affleck (mostly for directing, although his acting was praised in Argo too… I’ll reserve judgement on this though until Batman/Superman), Adam Sandler (I consider 9 years removed from a decent movie too long ago to be “recent”), Mel Gibson (ditto), Joaquin Phoenix (went nuts for I’m Still Here, but thankfully ended that non-sense and is back to Oscar baiting), Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart (both were major up-and-comers, until Twilight annihilated their long-term careers… however, Pattinson is still in good graces and might just scrape out a career), Liam Neeson (from dramatic actor to action movie badass, although Taken 2 knocked the winds out of those sails).

8) Danny Trejo

Formerly: Ugly/badass extra in every damn movie (especially Robert Rodriguez movies)
Now: Machete, B-movie king

Danny Trejo is a workhorse. Look at his IMDb profile – he appears in dozens of films every year, usually as an extra. However, ever since Robert Rodriguez gave him his first leading man role in Machete, Trejo has suddenly become the go-to bad ass leading man in shlocky, straight-to-DVD B-movies… and honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Danny Trejo seems to be having a blast with his new-found recognition. I remember reading an interview for Machete Kills where Trejo was all giddy because he had to film a (rather tame) sex scene with Amber Heard, and couldn’t believe that he was actually getting paid for that job (which of course had Amber in stiches). And honestly, I’d probably be reacting the same way.

7) Sylvester Stallone

Formerly: Washed up action hero
Now: Modern-day action hero, redeemed actor

The Italian Stallion was one of the biggest names in Hollywood throughout the late 70s and 80s, creating such mammoth franchises as Rocky and Rambo. It should also be noted that he nearly won best actor and best screenwriter for Rocky. However, after a string of terrible Rocky sequels and weak action movies (buoyed only by Cliffhanger), 1995’s Judge Dredd pretty much marked the end of Sly’s career as a legitimate leading hero in the eyes of the public. The movie was an all-round embarrassment and marked the beginning of the low period in his career. So when Rocky Balboa was announced, obviously people were skeptical – Sly was too old, the Rocky sequels generally sucked, etc. Of course, Sly had the last laugh, because by all accounts, Rocky Balboa was extremely well received. After that came Rambo, which was easily the best film in that franchise since the original (and also one of the most brutal movies I’ve ever seen). Then came the Expendables films, which aren’t exactly amazing, but have helped keep Sly popular. He hasn’t been as successful in his smaller endeavours (eg, Bullet to the Head), but for the moment Stallone is definitely back in the spotlight.

6) Will Smith

Formerly: Will Smith, the most bankable star in Hollywood
Now: Will Smith, annoying Hollywood father

Will Smith has a ton of charisma and is a natural leading man. His IMDb profile reads like a list of major hits of the last two decades, with 2000-2008 probably being the height of his career as the man who could have any role he wanted to, regardless of race. Even somewhat shoddy or butchered material, such as I Am Legend, are elevated by Smith’s presence. Anyway, Smith’s career began to turn around with Seven Pounds, a film which was hyped to be the movie to earn him a Best Actor win at the Oscars. However, the movie fell flat (not due to Smith’s efforts however), and Smith decided to neglect his own career in favour of his son Jayden’s. The results haven’t been too good – since shelving his own career, Jayden has put out such dreck as The Karate Kid remake and After Earth, the latter of which features Will Smith in a cameo (which was clearly done to try to piggy-back Jayden to stardom on his father’s name). As a result, Will Smith’s own popularity has been dropping sharply, and if he’s not careful then he might lose audiences’ goodwill entirely.

5) Bradley Cooper

Formerly: Douchebag from The Hangover, Hollywood pretty-boy
Now: Bradley Cooper, two-time Oscar nominee and David O. Russell darling

Bradley Cooper’s career has been rather interesting. He slowly worked his way up to leading roles over the course of a decade until he gained real recognition in The Hangover as the pretty boy opposite Zach Galifianakis (the real break-out star from that film) and Ed Helms. However, this big break was nearly wasted on films such as All About Steve, Valentine’s Day and The A-Team, all of which didn’t display his talents very well. However, he was saved by the major hit that was Limitless, which displayed his leading-man potential. This drew David O. Russell, a favourite director of the Academy, to Cooper for the one-two punch of Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, earning Cooper consecutive acting nominations. At this rate, it seems that Bradley Cooper is like Mark Wahlberg in that he’s as good as the script in front of him, but there’s no denying that he’s a hot property in Hollywood these days.

4) Jonah Hill

Formerly: Fat, juvenile sex comedy star
Now: Legitimate actor (and another two-time Oscar nominee)

Jonah Hill is one of many major Hollywood names to get his big break from Judd Apatow (others including James Franco, Seth Rogen, Steve Carell, Lizzy Caplan and Paul Rudd). For years he was appearing in Apatow sex comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up before starring alongside Michael Cera in Superbad. Of course, this made everyone associate him with juvenile humour and/or sex comedies, meaning he was stuck with films like Accepted on his CV. However, out of nowhere, Jonah Hill decided to stretch his acting chops and got a Best Supporting Actor nod for Moneyball. Everyone was shocked – the Jonah Hill!?! Since then he has starred in the very successful 21 Jump Street remake, made fun of his public persona (and Oscar-nom status) in This Is the End and even bagged a second Supporting Actor nomination with The Wolf of Wall Street. It looks like Jonah Hill’s star is only going to be ascending at this rate.

3) Ryan Gosling

Formerly: Pretty boy from The Notebook
Now: Legitimate, big-name actor and badass action hero with a sensitive side

Did anyone expect that the pretty faced guy from every romantic’s favourite movie, The Notebook, would ever be seen mashing a man’s head on screen with his foot? Ryan Gosling was a bit of a joke for years after The Notebook, hated by a lot of guys for his pretty looks. However, he was building up his acting chops in the meantime, with an acclaimed performance in Blue Valentine (a film which got further exposure due to the MPAA unjustly slapping it with an NC-17 rating). However, it wasn’t until Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive that the public woke up and said “Wait… this guy is awesome!” The public hyped Drive up for Best Picture and Gosling for Best Actor (although neither came to fruition), and suddenly Gosling was getting choice roles, such as Oscar-hopeful The Ides of March and mindless actioner Gangster Squad. He lost some goodwill after Only God Forgives, but Nicholas Winding Refn has taken the brunt of that scorn. Gosling says he might be retiring from acting soon, but we will see how his career shapes up when or if that happens.

2) Shia LaBeouf

Formerly: Big-name child actor and major up-and-coming star for the new millenium
Now: Lindsay Lohan, with a dick

Shia LaBeouf got the break of a lifetime with the TV show Even Stevens, which looked like the springboard to a major Hollywood career. And to be fair, it worked – Shia started landing lead roles in such notable films as Holes and Disturbia. However, his major thrust into the spotlight came from Michael Bay’s Transformers, which surprised everyone by just how entertaining it was. LaBeouf’s performance wasn’t exactly acclaimed, but he was fine for the role. However, then Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull happened and suddenly the public turned on Shia. Pretty much everyone hated Mutt Williams, including Shia himself. Then Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen happened, and suddenly Sam Witwicky was irritating as sin. With the exception of Lawless, everything LaBeouf has done since 2007 has been the recipient of public scorn, and even in his private life he has become an object of ridicule. Really, he has become a waste of the talent and potential that he displayed ten years ago.

1) Matthew McConaughey

Formerly: The guy in every terrible romantic comedy
Now: Major acting powerhouse and probably this year’s Best Actor winner

I was too young to remember it, but apparently Matthew McConaughey was a pretty hot property during the 90s. However, I only really knew him as he appeared in the early-to-mid 2000s: the guy who shows up in every awful romantic comedy and slap-dash blockbuster. I don’t know if he was sleepwalking throughout that period, but I saw Sahara, it was stupid, and McConaughey phoned in his performance. However, legend has it that after seeing one of his romantic comedies (Fool’s Gold possibly? Maybe Ghosts of Girlfriends Past? Failure to Launch? Argh, there’s too many possibilities), he woke up and realized that he was wasting his talents and career. As a result, he decided to shape up with films such as We Are Marshall and his hilarious turn in Tropic Thunder. However, he didn’t move into a truly major performance until The Lincoln Lawyer. Since then he has been an annual Oscar contender for such films as Mud, Killer Joe and Dallas Buyer’s Club, while still entertaining the ladies in Magic Mike. Honestly, his career seems to be only getting better, as he is the lead in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. I never thought it was possible, but I salute you McConaughey – you really turned your career around and saved your reputation.

Feminism in Media

In modern North American society, feminists have about as bad a rep as a man goosestepping down the street with a Swastika on his shoulder. That’s not to say that everyone necessarily thinks that women should get back into the kitchen and collectively make us a sandwich. Rather, it would seem to me that both men and women are sick of feminists shoving their agenda down the public’s throat. I’m sure there’s a good deal of failed communication which is at the root of this problem (this is a huge generalization but from my observations, feminists don’t bother to explain their views to the uninitiated and get really angry when anyone goes against them). There’s also the issue that many people think that feminism is beating a dead horse – after all, aren’t women equal to men in society now more or less? I’m not exactly versed in women’s studies so I’ll leave that particular question to someone else to handle.

In any case, despite the stigma which is attached to feminists, I do have to say that I have really noticed considerable sexism and misogyny recently in the media I have been viewing. Three 2013 releases have gotten me thinking about the state of feminism in film today: World War Z, Gangster Squad and (to a much lesser extent) Machete Kills. World War Z is what really kick-started this entire article for me. If you saw the movie, then you probably know what I’m talking about – the entire first half hour of the film features Brad Pitt protecting his useless wife and equally useless daughters who seem to be doing their damnedest to get them all killed. I can guarantee that no one walked out of that film thinking “wow, I really liked Gerry’s wife and kids, they were great characters!” Now I’m not saying that the women should have suddenly picked up machine guns and blown away the zombies while making an obtuse point that women are as good as then men (a la 80s action films). Rather, it would have been nice if they had done… I dunno, anything. Sure, Karen can try to keep her children safe, but she can do that by trying to fight off the zombies sometimes. Or maybe she can not call her husband in the middle of an important life-threatening mission (and subsequently getting a lot of people killed). Oh and when Karen and the kids are holed up on the aircraft carrier, maybe they could try to help out? Hell, read up on the original ending of the film – it was supposed to be even more misogynistic than it ended up being.

Clearly the writers only threw the female characters into World War Z to be plot devices. In a movie like World War Z which feels like it was written and directed by committee, it’s clear that the studio didn’t give a damn about how the women were portrayed in the film or that casual misogyny would affect their bottom-line. In fact, I’m surprised by how well it did and was received in spite of this glaring issue. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Chinua Achebe’s essay “An Image of Africa”, where Achebe decries Joseph Conrad for reducing Africans and the continent of Africa in Heart of Darkness to nothing more than a plot device. While I don’t entirely agree with Achebe on his criticisms, he does make a good point, that reducing people and places to plot devices strips their history and identity away, making them little more than a reflection of the male protagonist.

If World War Z kicked off this article, then Gangster Squad sealed the deal that I was going to have to write about it. I was actually very surprised by how Gangster Squad handled women, although considering that it was a rip-off of The Untouchables I probably shouldn’t have been. I’m not really referring to Emma Stone’s character either, the generic femme fatale love interest (and plot device to add some tension for good measure). Instead, I’m referring to basically the only other female character in the film, O’Mara’s wife, Connie. Like World War Z, the women in the film are reduced to plot devices who the male characters don’t seem to actually be all that invested in. The film tries to be uber-macho, with the protagonist O’Mara dealing with organized crime the only way he knows how – by shooting it in the face. Of course, Connie whines to him that he shouldn’t be risking himself because she can’t live without him. Obviously, the point this puts forth is that violence is a man’s realm and passivity is for women… and according to the film and it’s hilariously hamfisted finale, violence is the only thing that gets results. Of course, the whole movie’s a complete fabrication, although you might have figured that out when you saw some of the over the top action in play. Regardless though, it seems that the whole “action gets results” message the film tries to get across is total bunk, making the entire film even stupider in retrospect. That said, I will acknowledge that Connie does get one surprisingly interesting scene where she actually helps O’Mara pick out his “gangster squad”.

Which brings me to Machete Kills. I actually don’t have a huge beef against it in regards to sexism or feminism or anything like that – it’s a tongue-in-cheek exploitation film and therefore it gets a lot more leeway than a mega-blockbuster like World War Z or “historical” film like Gangster Squad. However, it did remind me of a Cracked article in which the authour stated that women rarely get shot in the head on-screen in American cinema. To sum it up, the article states that “the reason that we so rarely see women getting their brains splattered? Masculine violation of, and domination over, a woman occurs on her body and not her head”. Machete Kills actually seems to subvert this idea, since in the opening minutes a female character is shot graphically in the head, on-screen. However, near the ending a pair of women fight and the more physically domineering of the pair shoots the other in the head, but this is left off-screen. The implications there are interesting, since that character’s actions seem to make her androgynous (not that she’s really overtly feminine anyway). I don’t really have any real profound conclusions to give in regards to that, but it’s certainly an interesting observation that’s worth keeping in mind and mulling over.

Before I close, I’d like to mention another example in a video game I played recently, called Lollipop Chainsaw. Again, it’s a tongue-in-cheek exploitation venture so it gets more leeway, not to mention that video games in general have a pretty big sexism issue. However, while I found the game to be quite fun, there was one annoying aspect which I found very grating and more sexist/misogynist than any of the objectification in the game. This aspect was that the enemy dialogue almost always consisted of gendered insults – seriously, nearly every time an enemy yells at you they call the heroine a “slut” or “whore” and, on one particularly colourful occasion, a zombie declares he’s going to “fist his ass with her face”. Ahem. Maybe if it had happened once it would have been shockingly funny, but when the game barrages you with that sort of dialogue over and over it just becomes annoying (at best).

Anyway, hopefully this little write-up has shown that as much as we love to hate them, feminists do have a purpose in society. Equality is still a work in progress, and media still has a way to go before it is truly adequate. Besides, equality doesn’t have to equal hamfisted morals, it can be an epic and subtle action romp like Dredd (seriously, buy the damn movie already!!!).