Would John Wayne Approve?

Guys are funny, right? And immature. Definitely immature.

You’d think this if you see nearly any movie with a male protagonist. He’s an overgrown man-child, always there with a quip or an obnoxiously immature pastime that holds him back, while the kick-ass riot grrl rolls her eyes and does all the real work, maybe letting the dude accidentally do something right or lift something heavy.

Maybe it’s be a male character full of power and competence who still has to be funny. Because serious people–adult males, especially–are boring!

Or so hundreds of Hollywood screenwriters would have us believe. Not just screenwriters, but novelists, TV writers, and those in the comic book business.

Jamaul over at Jamual Writes discusses this in a great post called “Always Be Funny.” The new God of War video game, and its strong, silent, and brutal male protagonist got him thinking about the phenomenon:

So, I was just on Twitter talking about the new God of War video game, which I’m watching via YouTube.

I love this damn game. It’s amazing.

But I did notice something about the main character – Kratos.

Dude is uber serious. Never crack jokes. Never smiles.

Even Wired wrote a piece on Kratos – and his appetite for violence, claiming that’s he’s toxic.

I disagree. I think Kratos is just a personality type. Strong, but silent type. A warrior. And that’s the thing with the personality type – they don’t think, they just do. Tough, stoic.

Much like the John Waynes, Clint Eastwoods of the old Westerns, which I love.

These characters don’t talk much, quick to anger, disagreeable, grumpy, strong, leaders, and blaze their own lane.

They’re my favorite type of characters. Which seems to be a relic, nowadays.

The pathetic state of video game journalism aside, imagine a world where a quietly bad-ass character is considered “toxic.” Throw out all your old John Ford westerns and Mickey Spillaine noir thrillers, I guess! Nope, men have to be seen as non-threatening, cute, cuddly teddybears.

I think what Jamual is noticing is that male characters used to have some kind of danger to them, an edge, an element of unpredictability that could erupt at any moment–and here’s the important part–against the bad guys.

Charles Bronson wasn’t mowing down the innocent in Death Wish. Clint Eastwood wasn’t abusing women and children in Dirty Harry. Richard Roundtree wasn’t beating down the righteous in Shaft.

These guys were just bad mofos doing what had to be done. Even Han Solo, grumpy and quippy himself, was competent, and his humor fit the character and his swashbuckling way of life. Which is masculine. Which is why, I think, our cultural elitists in charge of making this stuff need to neuter the men. As Jack Donovan is so fond of saying, strong men acting together are the biggest threat to the nanny state. So the “gang,” if you will, must be broken. Continue reading “Would John Wayne Approve?”

Kid’s Stuff: Children’s Entertainment Doesn’t Have to be Bland

My son likes cartoons and books and movies. Who doesn’t?

Here’s the thing: I can often tell the quality of the product by how often my son talks about it when it’s over and how much he laughs.

I will use two cartoons to illustrate this point: Doc McStuffinsand Masha and the Bear.

Doc McStuffins is one of the most bland, anodyne, and actively beige cartoons I have ever seen. My son likes it because he’s interested in medical stuff, but there’s nothing there. The main character is perfect, the conflicts are utterly trivial, there are lessons shoehorned into every single aspect of an episode, and the humor is non-existent. I mean, the show is not funny at all, not even good for a chuckle. The mark of a funny children’s show isn’t how often an adult laughs at it, but you’d think a kid’s laughter would be a good indicator.

But nope. When he watches Doc McStuffins, he just blankly accepts what comes on, and then is on to the next one. He doesn’t talk about it after the fact. The show feels carefully crafted by a committee of bean-counters tick points off a checklist. It’s just another widget churned out by the institutionalized entertainment factory that is Disney. I should be careful criticizing them too heavily, though, since Disney will soon own every single piece of entertainment that you read, watch, listen to, or otherwise experience, including this blog. It’s a hungry mouse.

Contrasting Doc McStuffins with Masha and the Bear is pretty eye-opening. Masha and the Bear is a Russian-produced animated show loosely based on Russian folklore about a hyper-energetic, slightly destructive though ultimately well-meaning little girl named Masha and her adventures with, and slight terrorizing of, a big friendly brown bear. The bear doesn’t talk, communicating in gestures and grunts. In fact, none of the other animal characters talk, just Masha and occasionally her cousin Dasha.

Anyway, all Bear really enjoys doing is gardening, hanging out at his house playing chess or reading, and reminiscing about his glory days as a performer with a circus in Moscow. Masha, of course, has other crazy ideas, which always leads to some form of chaos that is ultimately resolved. In the process, Bear and all the other animals are exasperated to the near breaking point, but things work out in the end (hey, it is a kid’s show, isn’t it?).

Unlike Doc McStuffins, Masha and the Bear has actual conflicts: Bear’s battle against the black bear for the lady bear’s affections, Masha’s rivalry with Bear’s panda cousin from China, Masha finding a penguin egg and forcing Bear to take care of it, and so on. The episodes are short, snappy, chaotic in the old Warner Brothers tradition, and funny.

There are sight gags that have my son erupting in side-splitting laughter, and I’ll admit: My wife and I get a kick out of it too. It’s nothing intellectual or snarky or anything like that. It’s just dumb cartoonish slapstick akin to what you’d see Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck engaging in. There’s a reason why the classic Warner Brothers shorts are still held up as the benchmark for cartoons to be measured against.

There are lessons in Masha and the Bear, but here’s the distinction between them and other Disney-fied pablum: the lessons aren’t rammed down the kids’ throats. Instead, they are demonstrated through the characters’ actions. In other words, the show shows and doesn’t tell.This is storytelling 101, and kids absolutely pick up on that. Continue reading “Kid’s Stuff: Children’s Entertainment Doesn’t Have to be Bland”

The Influence of Art (and Other Hypocrisies)

[Preemptive request: I don’t buy the “video games cause school shootings” argument, so kindly don’t spam the comments to the effect that I do. Thanks.]

It’s a well known fact that violent video games create violent people. Except when they don’t.

It’s just like movies and TV: These things have absolutely no effect on the behavior of those who watch them. Unless they do.

The President waded into this recently after the terrible school shooting in Parkland, Florida, suggesting a summit to discuss the effect that video games have on young impressionable minds. He was widely mocked for this. It’s settled science, after all, that video games don’t make players violent gun nuts.

But they do turn gamers–especially white male ones–into misogynistic racists who hate gays. Or something. I don’t know.

And movies and TV, which influenced people to stop smoking, most emphatically don’t make viewers more violent. Except when they do. But they also paved the way for America to accept gay marriage. Except showrunners and moviemakers are unbiased souls who just want to make art and not propaganda. I guess.

My point is that this entire debate is pointless nonsense. Of course art influences people. How couldn’t it? Continue reading “The Influence of Art (and Other Hypocrisies)”

The Pinnacle of Flatness

Maybe it’s just me, but everything is starting to look the same.

Not just look, but sound and feel the same as well.

Kind of weird lament from the guy who just warned against excessive individualism, but hear me out.

This thought struck me as I was driving with the family last weekend, and my wife and I got to talking about what kind of car we might buy next. Looking around the highway, seeing the vehicles on the road, and comparing them to what we already had, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “What’s the difference?”

I know what you car-types are thinking now: There are huge differences in engines and transmissions and overall quality and so on. But I’m talking from a design and aesthetics perspective, because these things do matter.

Extrapolate this line of thinking to cities and towns the world over. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Toronto looks like London looks like Los Angeles looks like Berlin, and so on. Not identical, but close enough. Modern architecture is but one way in which ideas of design seem to be converting on something universal…and kind of beige.

And then there’s urban sprawl and the explosion of squat, concrete strip malls, fast-food joints and gas stations, and big box stores everywhere. It seems like that’s all some towns are.

And this, of course, goes for the arts as well. Movies all feel the same, screenwriting formulae aside. Music, books, television shows, education, pop culture…the list goes on.

Is this just where things always lead? Is there an “ultimate design” that we as human beings have finally reached? Or is it the natural consequence of a society that embraces Adam Smith’s “capitalism” while rejecting the “guided by moral principles” part of the equation?

In other words, is function driving this sameness, or is commerce? Or is something else? Continue reading “The Pinnacle of Flatness”

What Can You Give Up?

Yet another American institution has become a flashpoint for political controversy. This time, it’s professional sports. I’ve already written about the firestorm Colin Kaepernick started last year when he decided to protest what he saw as America’s continued unjust treatment of blacks and other minorities by kneeling for the National Anthem.These protests have intensified this year, at least during the first few weeks of the NFL season.

I refrained from writing about this, because hot takes like these are rarely useful and serve to be mostly nothing more than empty virtue signaling with no mention of a solution to any such problems, perceived or otherwise. There’s also typically a debate about free speech, which no one, including me, seems to understand fully anyway.

All I know about free speech, the rule of law, and everything in general involving man’s relation to government is this: Power is really all that matters, and the illusion of self-government will exist until it becomes too expensive to maintain. He who has the guns, wins.

America’s done a pretty good job with the illusion of self-government because we were founded by people who believed in the illusion too. But I digress. The takeaway is that this is the world we live in, so we need to know how to navigate it.

If you’re sick of politics in things like professional sports, your movies, your place of worship, your workplace, and other forms of entertainment or spheres of your life, what do you do? If there are no alternatives, you can create alternatives of course. You can also vote with your wallet. This doesn’t have to be an organized boycott. You can just . . . give it up.

Think about all the stuff we do in life that really doesn’t matter. That’s mere entertainment. Do you really need to know who beat whom in which sportsball event, or which character raped/murdered/lied to which other on Game of Thrones, when most of the people involved in the production of both events probably hates you merely for your difference of opinion?

Back to sports. Of all American cultural institutions, it seems to provide the least value. Let me explain before you jump down my throat: I’m making a distinction between participating in and spectating.

  • Participating in sports. Important. In addition to athletics helping promote a healthy body, they inculcate mental toughness, teamwork, pride and ownership, self-discipline, and being gracious in both victory and defeat.
  • Spectating. Watching. Sitting, eating, and drinking. Maybe getting drunk. Cheering for laundry, for players and owners that do not care about you. Obsessing over trades and stats. Letting the outcome of an event literally govern your thoughts and emotions.

You get this in any form of entertainment, really. Look at comic books, right? Even if you don’t care about them, the seemingly deliberate destruction of the industry to parrot an incredibly narrow, though highly influential, strain of far-left identity politics is stunning to behold, and instructive to how this happens across many such industries. The writers and artists have made it clear that they don’t care about storytelling. So why be a fan? Why devote time and money and energy to it?

Everything is a business. Your favorite musicians, artists, athletes, writers, actors, and so on, all want to get paid. They care about you inasmuch as you will give them money. And if you’re a participant in any of these endeavors, you likely feel the same way. And there is nothing wrong with that.

We used to live in a world where creators gave the audience what it wanted. The debate as to whether that leads to high or poor quality isn’t worth getting into here. But I think we can say that there are certain universal human principles that make for good storytelling, the kind that people want, but will still allow for maximum creativity on the part of the writers and directors and actors and everyone else down the line. Hollywood used to understand this. Not anymore.

People, all people, can engage in whatever speech they want. Let’s stop pretending that some speech isn’t deemed more important or acceptable than others though.

This all gets me thinking about what I can, and have, given up, and why. Continue reading “What Can You Give Up?”

Nihilism and Its Discontents

Nihilism Calendar

Ah, nihilism. The belief that everything sucks and that nothing matters. Province of the cool kids as they dress in black, smoke cigarettes, and watch depressing movies and listen to depressing music. Lots of us outgrow these types of thoughts around the time we graduate high school. But for many, nihilism isn’t just the way that they live their lives. It’s something they want to push onto all of us, especially by targeting our children.

How do they do this? By changing the culture, of course.

If you want to change the world, go into entertainment.

I’ve said this countless times, and I mean it: More so than politics–which obviously has an effect on our lives through laws, rules, and regulations–entertainment, whether it be books, movies, or music, is far better at that all-important job of changing hearts and minds.

Politics is downstream from culture - Andrew Breitbart

This is not to say anything so outrageous as “Video games make you kill people!” But culture matters. Look at how television shows like Will & Grace, for example, helped change the culture to be more accepting of gay marriage, so its creators say. Or how the original Star Trek broke barriers of race and nationality by having people from all different parts of the world, and also aliens, just all treat each other as equals.

So art has an effect. And artists love to talk about how they are subversive, that is, undermining things about society they do not like.

Dissidence is well and good, and it can serve a vital purpose. But what if the things that the art is looking to subvert are actually good? Something like, say, all of Western civilization?

Drastic? Maybe. But let’s take a topic near to my heart: The way fathers, and men in general, are portrayed in movies and on TV, including many geared towards children.

Dad is always a bumbling schmuck, who can’t do anything right and gets no respect from his children or the women in his life. 

If you don’t think that has an effect on people, then maybe you’d like to come over here into my windowless van . . . I’ve got candy . . .

This goes to my broader point which is this: Nihilism, though trendy, is bad for the future.

The kinds of narrative that permeate a society matter. Let me explain. Continue reading “Nihilism and Its Discontents”