For the vast majority of the lives of every writer here at CWR, wars and rumors of war have been a part of daily life. As of 2013, over 43% of the US military is comprised of men and women aged 25 or younger, an additional 22% just barely older. The majority of this nation’s army are tasked with fighting in conflicts many are barely old enough to remember the start of. The once rare presence of a person in uniform has now become a commonplace in airports all across the continent, and for good or ill, the armed forces have become a major element in our culture, and we here at CWR have engaged the subject over and over again.
Today’s post comes to you on Memorial Day for Americans. In the spirit of the day, I figured we should take a moment to offer a review on the material we’ve produced on the subject of the military. The good, the bad, the ugly- altogether.
Violence in media is often cited as being one of the chief sources of violence in everyday life. But is our paralytic fear of showing blood and gore actually a good thing? Here we argue that disturbing images need to be seen for us to be really and truly disturbed, and that there’s no better place to start than with war. How else can we measure the real cost?
Fortunately cancelled after only four weeks of airtime, NBC’s Stars Earn Stripes stands as a demonstration of just how depraved we can be when it comes to exploiting the horror of war and our sympathy for folks in uniform. Here we break down every repellent detail of why this show (and shows like it) are as damaging as they are deluding.
During the height of tensions with North Korea during the spring of 2013 there was more than a little bravado on the side of Americans mocking the little dictatorship and laughing at the prospect of bombing the country out of existence. Frustrated by the cavalier attitude of so many, we provided this reminder of the actual nature of war and conflict.
Later that same year, Evan covered the trend on militaria as a fashion, targeting the ironic(?) use of Vietnam War caps specifically. Disrespectful to veterans? Trivializing of combat? Read on to see for yourself.
(Admittedly, the title’s probably a giveaway. It’s still a good piece- read it anyways.)
In what was perhaps the most shocking titles ever given to a post here at CWR, yours truly argues that the sympathy offered the members of the armed services (especially on days such as today) are by and large crocodile tears. Actual gratitude to the men and women in uniform has a strange habit of disappearing when it involves any actual sacrifice or effort on our part. Read on to discover why.
While real support for the armed forces is no easy task, honest criticism’s no picnic either, as Evan demonstrates in his analysis of the reactions to American Sniper. In addressing the legacy of celebrated marksman Chris Kyle we examine how quickly both history and our depictions of it can be distorted to complement our own views. If you look at nothing else today, look at this one.
Few things have revolutionized culture and the modern world as much as the internet has. Art, music, news, gaming, communications, shopping, education, politics- there’s not a single aspect of life that hasn’t been affected by it. Heck, revolutions that no one imagined could take place have, and the innovations and collaboration the internet has given a platform to have largely been credited as playing an integral role.
Not of course, to say that praise doesn’t ultimately go to the bravery of the Egyptian, Kurdish, and Syrian protestors…
At no other time has humanity had such access to democratic development and discussion.
I’m writing these words in the last hours of what has been a quiet May Day.
For me, at least.
Elsewhere in the world, red and black flags are being proudly waved as people march through the streets, chanting and singing. In Greece, a nation-wide strike is being carried out in defiance of massive lay-offs enacted by the government. In Bangladesh, thousands are protesting after the collapse of a sweatshop resulted in the death and injury of hundreds of workers. Similar protests have broken out in the Philippines as nearly 10,000 workers march in Manila. Youth in Spain are raging against the nearly 30% unemployment rate. Korea, Cambodia, Turkey, Indonesia- just to name a handful- are witnessing similar turnouts.
EVAN: Today’s topic is something that I hold very near and dear to my heart. Years of research on the topic has made me witness to all of the arguments that can be used against needing to have racially accurate casting, and because of this I’m going to propose something a little different
EVAN: That I switch sides for this conversation, and speak out against it.
GORDON: Intriguing. Mind starting us off with the first salvo?
EVAN: Statement: Racially accurate casting is not important. The most talented actor should be the one who gets the role.
GORDON: Doesn’t appearance play a key role in what makes an actor good? Peter Dinklage is good, but you wouldn’t really find him believable playing Abraham Lincoln or Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
EVAN: In this case his stature, not his race, is what would keep him from playing either role in a convincing manner.
GORDON: But isn’t that essentially the same issue? Imagine the great Denzel Washington playing Lincoln- you’d be sitting there the entire time, no matter how much of a powerhouse Washington would be, taken out of the film because you have to deal with a black guy playing a white guy during the height of the civil war.
In any piece of film where you’re expecting realism, you’re going to expect the actors to conform to the styles and facts of the time. If you portray Georgia in the 1960s, you’re obviously not going to have a largely black cast portraying the upper class or if you were to set the scene in early 1900s Ghana you wouldn’t have a cast comprised of Caucasians. It wouldn’t make sense, no matter how good they are.
EVAN: If anything, Cloud Atlas at least proves that a talented actor can portray whoever they like, given an adequate amount of makeup. Halle Berry plays a Korean Man in the film, and does so in a convincing fashion that doesn’t at all take viewers out of the film in the least.
GORDON: I haven’t seen that film, so I can’t speak to the use of the actors for the parts they play. From my understanding that was a work of fantasy (or science fiction, I’m only going off what I can gather from the trailers). And in one or two movies, it’s probably not a big deal. After all, Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan.
But imagine this applied to each and every movie, it simply wouldn’t work. Realism would deteriorate- and this would be especially detrimental in a film trying to deal directly with race relations.
EVAN: I personally feel that allowing any race to play any other speaks much more in terms of race relations. That’s a world where colour is a non-issue because it shouldn’t be.
EVAN:I’m dying, Gordon. My life force is seeping out of me.
GORDON: Try to stick with it…
GORDON: And while it’s true that race ought to be a non-issue, that’s simply not how things are or have been in the past. Using black actors to play black characters and white actors to play white characters is fundamental to demonstrating past inequity and injustice with American racism and segregation. And that’s just one element.
Let’s talk about Indians playing Arabs. It happened in Lost and it happened in Community (with multiple actors), but Arabs look nothing like Indians. Indian actors are used simply because they fit the stereotype of what most people think an Arab looks like. It perpetuates an inaccuracy.
EVAN: Isn’t the fact that the role is an Arab important a large enough step? This is a minority with a major role on a TV show, and an opportunity for minority actors to step up, which they have in both cases.
GORDON: Barring Monk and Arrested Development, when’s the last time you saw an Arab actor? I’m not trying to argue against Indian actors, or actors of Indian heritage getting roles, but for the purpose of portraying the world as it is (or at least with some realism) we should have actors with some vague resemblance to the people they’re portraying on film.
After all, would you not be thrown off by guys with German accents playing French resistance fighters during WWII?
EVAN: If they had German accents then they simply wouldn’t be right for the role, which brings me back to my first point.
GORDON: Which, by proxy, brings us back to my first response. Ethnicity (depending on the situation) is just as valid an element of a guy’s candidacy for a role dealing directly with ethnicity as accents, or height, or any other factor (actual talent, of course, being the most important).
Vincent Cassel should probably not play Malcolm X. Adrien Brody should probably not play the Queen of England, though that would be pretty funny.
EVAN: If we’re going to stick with believability, than why is it so important that Indians not play Arabs? No one has ever made a big deal out of this, so clearly people believe that they are what their role calls them to be-
Likewise a Korean can to play a Chinese person can play a Japanese person. Audiences can’t tell the difference and believe that they are whatever the role is, and that’s okay.
GORDON: But Koreans do not look Chinese, Chinese people don’t look Japanese, and Arabs and Indians certainly don’t look like each other. The only reason this happens is because most people either don’t know (partly due to this inaccurate casting) or don’t care (in other words, all non-whites are basically one homogenous mass.
If all your life, you had seen black men and been told “these are Uzbekistanis,” then you’d go your whole life simply assuming that Uzbekistanis are, in fact, indiscernible from guys from Benin.
Your ignorance should not dictate which actors get which parts. Further, no Uzbekistan could really ever get a chance to play and Uzbekistani because of the years of misinformation.
EVAN: But there is a huge difference between a black person and an Uzbekistani. The examples I made have similarities that the example you used clearly does not.
To be such a stickler for accuracy is the other extreme, and just as wrong. You wouldn’t get someone with mental problems to accurately portray a character with mental problems, that just doesn’t make sense. Race should matter if it is noticeable, and like I said in the case of shows like Lost it is not.
EVAN: The logic above was used against me by someone in a thread on Reddit You can check out our exchange here.
GORDON: Granted, my example was extreme, but that doesn’t change the point. Even though a Thai guy and a Japanese guy share more similarities than a Beninese guy and an Uzbekistani guy, there are still distinct differences between people from Thailand and people from Japan.
With regards to being a stickler- I admit, as I have previously, that you don’t have to have an exact replica of the character you’re trying to portray. Jet Li, I imagine, is doing pretty well for himself, and I still wouldn’t doubt his ability to portray a poor man very well. However, while you don’t need to be point for point, you do need to have some general similarity. That’s why we don’t have Emma Stone portraying Fidel Castro.
EVAN: I feel like the extremeness of your examples is damaging your point. If we’re sticking with race we should do that, and not bring in gender.
GORDON: It’s to demonstrate the underlying point in all of this: Verisimilitude. Realism. Accuracy.
EVAN: And since you said “you don’t have to have an exact replica of the character you’re trying to portray” why isn’t it okay to have Naveen Andrews play Sayid Jarrah on Lost?
GORDON: But the distinction is great enough. The accent is Indian, not Iraqi. Naveen does not look Iraqi. When an actor neither looks nor sounds like the character he is meant to portray, we have a problem.
EVAN: So if Jarrah had managed to sound Iraqi, would that have helped?
GORDON: It would’ve added to the realism and accuracy, yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s very clearly Indian, not Arab.
EVAN: Clear to a very select few. As mentioned, people didn’t seem to notice for the most part.
GORDON: Clear to a very select few. As mentioned, people didn’t seem to notice for the most part.
Most people don’t know what an Arab looks like. Do they know that Monk is Lebanese? That Cousin Maeby is Iraqi? Most do not. Ignorance is not an excuse for inaccurate casting.
EVAN: And that brings our exhausting exchange to an end. Trying to argue for something I so strongly disagree was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. I hope that in reading this you were able to see the holes in my argument and the truth in Gordon’s.
The past few paragraphs alone have had the same effect on Evan as that life-sucking device in the Princess Bride. Commend him for biting the bullet.
And as for our discussion next time, your options are: What do we make of the upcoming Star Wars sequel?
EVAN: And. . . how about . . . How much artistic merit is there in a show like Adventure Time?
GORDON: I like it.
And to our beloved and devoted followers (who would organize into a vicious and unholy army of darkness if we ever were to ask it of ’em), feel free to suggest your own topic down in the comments section.