Tag Archives: Mad Men

Shame Day: Your Fave Is Problematic

Writing “Shame Days” is harder than it looks. You gotta find a subject that’s extensive enough to merit an entire post of ranting without it being so reprehensible as to leave you speechless (Scott Lively, you satanic **********er, I’m looking at you). With that in mind, and as it’s rapidly approaching 9:00 PM as I write these words, we’re going to revisit an old subject that I personally don’t think got the lashing they deserve.

So who’s being drawn and quartered today?

It was in the title of this piece, so I guess the question’s pretty dang redundant.

“Your Fave is Problematic” is a Tumblr blog devoted, much like these Shame Day posts, to calling out celebrities and artists who the authors view as having committed bigotry in some form or another. Evan and I have both briefly touched on these guys, with us generally concluding that while noble in intent, they tend to be a bit extreme in their measures of what is and isn’t acceptable. Evan specifically stated that “I truly believe that Your Fave Is Problematic is doing a good thing”, however, after myself digging through their blog a bit more, I really just can’t say the same.

These guys are *******es.

Let me break it down here. Continue reading

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Shame Day: The History Channel

shamehistoryWhen I was growing up in Syria, we had two channels. One was the state-run propaganda channel, the other was the same channel, but with slightly less static. When my family did make an infrequent trip out of the country, the first thing on my agenda (after ratcheting up the AC to somewhere between “high” and “arctic gale”) was to plop down at the end of the bed and flip on the TV to see if they had Discovery or National Geographic or- best of all- The History Channel.

Of course, this was back before.

[Editor’s Note: Since 2009 The History Channel has gone by the one-word name “History.” Gordon will continue to refer to it by its original name for old times’ sake]

Now when I covered webcomic Sinfest for a Shame Day, I directly addressed the comic’s creator, Tatsuya Ishida, in the off-chance that he might stumble across what I had written. While I don’t think (1) anyone from the History channel is going to come across this post or (2) give a flying **** about it if they did, talking straight to the source came pretty naturally, so I’m going to be employing the same technique again. Continue reading

Beyond Good and Evil

Act 2, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has the titular character declare that “there is no good or evil, but thinking makes it so.” Years later, this same sentiment would be echoed by Milton’s Lucifer in Paradise Lost, vowing “The mind is its own place, and itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Moral ambiguity, in case you haven’t caught the drift, is the subject of today’s post. Our culture is becoming increasingly saturated with concepts and figures embodying this general rejection of our traditional measures of what right and wrong is. Jump back twenty years, and the definition of a bad guy would be fairly straightforward. A bad guy breaks the law. A bad guy hurts people. A bad guy lies. A bad guy uses people.

Today, all those things would describe five minutes of screen time with Breaking Bad’s Walter White…

Or Sin City’s John Hartigan…

Or The Walking Dead‘s Rick Grimes…

Or even any of these guys…

And lest anyone think that women are excluded from this mentality…

Now this isn’t the first time we’ve had a run of morally questionable heroes/antiheroes dominating popular culture. If I were to describe tough, unflappable, characters struggling against each other for their own ends and agendas, often in contradiction of the law- you’d probably assume I was talking about characters from some film noir piece.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Throw a mass of people in an economic depression with no end in sight, mix in distrust of the powers that be, add cynicism in regards to any progress or change, and when else can you expect but a tacit respect for the handful of people who do manage to carve themselves out a living. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, “right and wrong” doesn’t quite seem so relevant as “effective or not.” When you feel helpless and voiceless, chances are anyone whose managed to be independent and powerful is going to be attractive- be he/she a suave criminal, a cunning businessman, a shrewd politician (à la Game of Thrones), or even just an all-around tough guy (see Sons of Anarchy).

And we’re not just talking about TV shows here.

Who are the good guys and bad guys in Inception?

Think about it- exactly which characters were representing the side of justice, truth, and freedom? Or Killing Them Softly? The Godfather SeriesThe Big Lebowski?

Our heroes today aren’t crusaders, they’re survivors. They’re those who manage to carve out a slice for themselves in spite of law, society, and conventional morality. “Good and evil” simply aren’t relevant.

And y’know what? I’m not hear to pass judgement on any of that.

There’s strong arguments to be made on all sides for whether or not this is a good or a bad thing or, to put it into morally ambiguous terms, a productive or a destructive thing. There’s even a strong case to be made for the “morally ambiguous” characters on TV and in the movies still never straying too far from anything truly socially unacceptable. Alternatively, you could (and I would) potentially argue that the moral system we had before all this wasn’t actually all that moral to begin with.

And what about the issue of cultural plurality in our ever-shrinking world? When what is right according to my moral code wrong according to yours, how do we proceed? Do we try to find some sort of umbrella system to keep us from fighting each other? Maybe we should declare moral anarchy and simply duke it all out based on the strength of our convictions. Certainly Nietzsche would approve of that.

All that’s to say that the issue’s complicated.

I don’t know, Michael Cera gif, I don’t know…

Speaking for myself, it is nice to see some kind of conviction, even if I don’t agree with the cause at hand. There’s a case to be made for apathy being the pinnacle of all evil. In a world where the greatest battles the average person (or rather, Westerner) faces are over such petty, empty things as getting a dinner order right or having to wait in line, seeing any kind of drive makes for a nice change. As with so much in this past year, it might not be great, but it’s a start.

Superman: The Man of Steel Re-Cast

Some time ago, I submitted a brief post recasting the Batman universe. Today, I will be doing the same for the Last Son of Krypton, a challenge greater than that of the Dark Knight first because it will be pretty much impossible to find a better Lex than Kevin Spacey…

…And second because of how much I hate and despise Superman.

Now I know that’s gonna be shocking news. After all, who could find anything but love and appreciation for an inherently powerful, indestructible being serving the US government and acting without any accountability? What could possibly go wrong?

But my issue with Big Blue is neither here nor there. Presented below, for your thoughts, consideration, and potential outrage are my picks for the cast of the perfect Superman series.

Kent Clark/Superman:

Actor: John Hamm

Why We Want Him: Because in addition to being the spitting image of Superman, Hamm is probably best known for his role as Don Draper, 1960s businessman. While I can’t say that I see Superman downing enough whiskey to kill a bull elephant, I can see Hamm’s immersion in a world with an antiquated sense of morality (and uncomfortable suits) as being a huge bonus in playing Clark Kent.

Cons: Weird as it may seem- Hamm is only 6′ tall- a full four inches shorter than Clark Kent’s reported height. While I like the idea of a slightly older superman, the simple truth of the matter is Hamm may be relegated to the speaking roles while a stunt double or two takes on any action scenes.

Lex Luthor:

Actor: Jason Isaacs

Why We Want Him: I’ve seen Isaacs play some pretty despicable characters (The Patriot), but also nail some complexly heroic ones as well (Brotherhood). Ideally, Lex is meant to be tragic hero- someone who could’ve or should’ve been a great leader of men were it not for his obsession with defeating Superman. If there’s anyone who can do this, it’s Isaac’s (also, did you know he played Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter? I just found that out).

Cons: He’s not Kevin Spacey.

Lois Lane

Actress: Jennifer Morrison

Why We Want Her: It’s tough to respect an investigative journalist who can’t recognize Superman as the guy who works the next cubicle down from her simply because he’s wearing glasses. This being (in my experience) pretty much the extent of what Lois does in any Superman book, filling her shoes is a job that pretty much anyone can do- the question is, who can do it best? I submit Jennifer Morrison (House, How I Met Your Mother). She’s played intelligent characters, and we’re banking on that offsetting Lois’s apparent ineptitude.

Cons: As I said, L.L., having the same basic role as Princess Peach, could be played well by pretty much anyone- John Hamm included.

General Zod:

Actor: Viggo Mortenson

Why We Want Him: Because we (or at least, I) have yet to see him deliver on being a truly evil character (SPOILER ALERT: he’s a good guy in Eastern Promises).

Cons: I can’t say for certain that I can see Mortenson pulling off the self-assured, swaggering crypto-Fascist character that Zod has.

Bizarro Superman:

Actor: Benecio Del Toro

Why We Want Him: You might think that the anti-Superman would still be best played by John Hamm. I disagree, and submit instead Benecio Del Toro, who (and I mean no disrespect to him, I really like his work) looks more or less how you’d expect Hamm to look if you took a shovel to his head for a while.

Cons: Del Toro is slightly taller than Hamm, and like Hamm, may be beyond doing some heavy-duty action scenes at this point (but hey, 45 is the new 38).

Pa Kent:

Actor: Rutger Hauer

Why We Want Him: Because the man improvised the “Tears in the Rain” monologue in Bladerunner. That’s right- this guy right here made up on the spot one of the most iconic and moving speeches in film history.

Cons: What about “Improvised ‘Tears in the Rain'” did you not understand?

Ma Kent:

Actress: Jessica Lange

Why We Want Her: Because I’ve seen this woman do some incredibly moving scenes and play her insanely layered and complex characters to the hilt.

Cons: She’s terrifying. AHS fans know what I’m talking about.

Jor-El:

Why We Want Him: Because Rickman, in addition to being just generally awesome, has that strange accent (something entirely beyond British) that’s almost alien. Even if Jor-El is only going to have a few moments of screen time, you want to make ’em count for something- who better for the job than Rickman?

Cons: There’s a strong chance that the accent might be too much- but hey, he could always do that flamboyant American one that fooled John McClane.

Jimmy Olsen:

Actor: Rupert Grint

Why We Want Him: Because of the three ginger comic-relief go-to-guys ( the others being Seth Green and Fran Kranz), Grint is the only one young enough to actually pass for the Daily Planet’s whipping boy.

Cons: Not sure if he could do an American accent.

Manly Culture

Even if you haven’t recognized it for what it is, chances are, you’ve seen elements of it. The resurgence of beards, comments on period piece clips like “Why don’t we wear hats anymore?” or “Dang- they knew how to dress back then.” Or perhaps you’ve stumbled across The Art of Manliness or are (like me) a faithful apostle of Ron Swanson.

Now whether you’re aware of it or not, there is a growing culture based around this general perspective of “manliness” that supposedly existed from 5,000 BC to 1974 AD. The resurgence in the popularity of the beard, the wave of internet memes centered around being “classy,” our love affair with period pieces- all of this compounded has created the beginnings of a whole new subculture.

Don’t believe me? Just take a look at some of our favorite TV characters.

Don “F***-You, Liver!” Draper

Jack “Even Ayn Rand Thinks I’m Egotistical” Donaghy

Rick “Bad Decisions” Grimes

Walter “Tied with Draper for Making People Love Fedoras” White

Barney “Legen- wait for it… -DARY!” Stinson

Cullen “I Will Punch You For No Particular Reason” Bohannon

Comedy, Drama, Action/Horror, Westerns- this is a pretty broad range, and we’ve got the same strong, dour antihero type in all of them. Men who remind us of our fathers and grandfathers. Tough as nails bastards who came to this country with only a dollar in their pockets- who took a break from their honest 8 to 8 jobs of hitting metal with other pieces of metal to kill Nazis and look dapper doing it.

So what’s this culture all about? As with any group, we can talk about the superfluous or cosmetic elements- in the case of the “manly” group, handshake etiquette, strait-razor whetting, and driving stick- but to really understand ’em, we’re going to need to look at the underlying values in play here.

Independence:

What do all the men shown above have in common? A degree of independence. They’re DIY guys. Men who aren’t reliant on the help or charity of others- in short, dudes who can take care of themselves in most any situation, from car repair to providing for the family to killing the undead. And on that note…

Initiative:

These are all men who don’t allow themselves to be victims. They’re proactive moment-seizing leaders who don’t wait idly by for someone to step up. Good or bad, they’re leading the way- and speaking of bad…

Stoic:

These are guys who tend to lend credence to the stereotype of the unspeaking, unfeeling male. At best, the strong, silent type- at worse, the uncommunicative lout. One way or another, they don’t let the situation get the better of them. That’d be undignified, and if there’s one thing that they’re about, it’s…

Dignity/Pride:

It’s in the way they dress, the way they speak, the way they expected to be treated. A kind of code that prohibits some things and makes others compulsory. You can’t hold your head high, then what’s the point in having one?

Moral Ambiguity:

These men are all, to varying degrees, antiheroes. Guys with their own agendas and a certain degree of moral ambiguity that keeps you on your toes. There’s a level of egotism, self-centeredness, and disregard for others that makes them pretty good at what they do, but what they do not all that good- certainly they don’t fit the traditional mold of the selfless, self-sacrificial hero.

Wealth:

And while it’s not true for all of them, money tends to be a major element of their stories. A drive to be successful, prosperous, and (again) independent. It’s the age-old dream of being your own boss.

So what does all of this boil down to?

Power.

It’s about power. These guys represent everything we, as a generation, aren’t. Independent, wealthy, self-assured, proud. Does that sound like us? Not at all. We’re the casual dressed, globally conscious masses struggling to make it by, and taking whatever miserable, degrading soulless job we can find. We’re not strong like these glamorized images of our grandparents are (having conveniently erased the racism, bigotry, and misogyny).

But we want to be.

And so begins the perpetual motion machine of life-imitating-art and art-imitating-life. Epic Meal Time, Memes, Period Pieces- the list goes on.

So is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, there are good and bad elements to every culture (some more bad than good, and vice versa), but let’s list out the positives and negatives.

The positives have been wrapped in bacon

Positive:

  • We can stand to toughen up a bit a lot as a generation. We don’t need to be bending horseshoes with our teeth, but some basic survival skills and a thicker skin when it comes to discomfort and hardship would be nice (battery running out on your phone doesn’t count as suffering).
  • In these tough economic times, be able to do basic repairs to your house and car aren’t just good- they’re necessary. Same goes for any of the thrifty elements of the culture.
  • Even if we don’t have it quite yet, demanding a certain level of dignity in our work and our day to day lives isn’t just good for you as an individual- it improves society on the whole.
  • While we probably shouldn’t worship the fedora or declare the suit to be the only appropriate clothing for a man over the age of twelve, it certainly doesn’t hurt to know how to dress ourselves, or conduct ourselves well in any given situation.

Negatives:

  • The glorification of the past can, as I jokingly mentioned above, lead to the uglier elements of it being glossed over. We hail our grandfathers as being great men, forgetting how easy it is to make a name for yourself when none of the good or prestigious jobs can be given to equally qualified women or non-white men.
  • The culture really doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for women at all, other than the kitchen. This is not to say that all adherents of the culture see it this way, but when you’re trying to espouse 1950s society, that includes 50s traditional gender roles as well.
  • It can’t be denied that there’s a strong conservative appeal in this culture, as well as hints of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. Glorifying wealth and success, especially when coupled with a “do whatever you need to do” mentality, can lead to the twisted perspective that poor people are poor because they are lazy.
  • This culture, despite the intentions of its adherents, does give a home for sexism. The uglier elements of the masculinity movement, those who view women as belonging in the home and nowhere else will doubtlessly find it a lot easier to fly under the radar in a culture that’s utterly dominated by males.

So what’s the final verdict?


“Manly” culture doesn’t appear to be either helpful or harmful- at least, not yet. The underlying issue being power, it’s going to be faced with the task of walking the thin line between empowerment and megalomania. So long as self-control is kept in mind, they oughta be fine.

Be sure to look for next week’s installment: “Science” Culture.