Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014 In Review

2014 is a few days from being over. So once again it’s time to go through my rants essays from this year and pick out the special ones.
Five Most Popular/Viewed Posts

#5: Relationship Advice from Scott Pilgrim
The thing about Edgar Wright movies is that they work on so many levels. I was… off put the first time I watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World, so I watched it again, realizing what I was in for and loved it. One of the reasons is that despite (or perhaps because of) it creating a video game sort of reality, it tells a very serious story about love and self-respect.

#4: Representation, Big Hero Six, and Me
Representation is something that I care about, in case my running commentary on female protagonists didn’t tip you off. But Big Hero Six is special to me because there’s a kid like me starring in a Disney action movie! And that makes me very happy.

#3: Verified Fiction
The idea for this one had actually been brewing since I saw that TIME article a couple years back. Took a while for it to come together in and now it’s something that’s pretty bloggish and yet still about storytelling.

#2: About That Noah Movie
Look at me being topical. I suppose this was more for me to collect my thoughts and weigh in on the film. Seems that jumping on the train got my a bunch of views, so there’s that.

#1: The LEGO Hero’s Journey Part One and Part Two
I could do two separate entries for these, each of which got three times as many views as the Noah one, but I figure they should go together since they’re interlinked. The LEGO Movie is easily one of the best movies of this year, in no small part because it’s about a very normal boring person undergoing the Hero’s Journey. It was a lot of fun linking up the beats of the movie with the Monomyth, and hey, I guess some other people enjoyed it too.

And there we have the five most viewed posts. As with last year, what follows will be a few posts that I really like, for various reasons. These posts are also posts that aren’t in the afore top five.

Josh’s Pick of Three

#3: Of Ludonarrative Dissonance
I took a class on video game theory this past spring, which probably shows when I use terms like ‘ludnoarrative’ and ‘narrative architecture.’ Video games really warrant a closer look than they’re often given.

#2: The Mustache of Self-Actualization
Okay, so this is a more recent one, but I love when I’m able to use this blog to write a scholarish rant essay on something that isn’t very scholarlish (see a close reading of Pentecost’s speech). Being able to write about Hot Rod like this was a lot of fun and also good practice. So hey.

#1: Nerd Culture, The Big Bang Theory, and Chuck
I know it very much comes down to opinion, but I still love the way nerd culture was portrayed in Chuck and I’m waiting for something to do it as well (though SHIELD is doing alright, with Mack and Fitz bonding over Halo and Bobbi wearing a Star Wars tee). Man, Chuck was a special show.

So there you have it. Nine posts out of the fifty-two that made up 2014. Thank you for reading!

Here’s to 2015.

(And then it’s 2016 and then 2017 and then 2018 AND A CAPTAIN MARVEL MOVIE)

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Of Movies and North Korea

I have a strange fascination with a certain North Korean dictator. Maybe it’s because he’s barely eight years older than me, hangs out with Dennis Rodman, and tyrannically rules a country of 25 million people with a combination of a cult-of-personality and sheer terror.

Like I said, fascinating.

So naturally I was really looking forward to The Interview. I had passes to a preview of it on Thursday and was all set. Only, it turns out, North Korea was really pissed about it and, a hack and couple terrorist threats later, and it’s been pulled from cinematic distribution. And I’m bummed.

Because The Interview is satire and satire is important. Because North Korea is terrifying; for there to be a country that, well, crazy is scary. But that’s the thing: we make fun of what scares us.

Satire takes away the teeth. It’s why The Great Dictator exists, why videos about Iraqi loyalists like this exist, and, of course, what makes The Interview funny. But what’s worth noting is that The Interview, like that video about subtitles and terrorists, seemed ready to make as much fun of the ‘good guys.’

The comedy of the subtitles video comes not out of how the reporter (and, by extension the media) treats the soldiers, that is her insistent condescension to them. The Interview’s comedy, based on the trailers, looks to stem from the bumbling antics of Seth Rogen and James Franco in a place where they really shouldn’t be. Plus, Kim Jong Un and all of his eccentricities makes for great fodder. Taking the piss out of him with a movie like that doesn’t diminish his status as a threat, one that everyone is aware of, but reminds us that he’s still human. ‘cuz Supreme Leaders are people too.

But now I didn’t get to go to my screening and theater chains won’t be showing it. Granted, there’s some justification in not wanting to incur the wrath of North Korea, but it’s the precedent that’s worrisome. Another film about North Korea in production, Pyongyang, has been canceled for much of the same reason. There’s a weird sort of fear that’s stifling satire and fiction. Which, again, is a shame. Without it we wouldn’t have The Colbert Report taking shots at everything from terrifyingly conservative politicians to, of course, North Korea.

Now, there’s a distinction here to be sure. We make fun of the part that scares us, not what saddens us. There’s no comedy about those dying under the Kim regime, just as Jon Stewart couldn’t find anything funny to say in the wake of the grand jury’s decision on Eric Garner. There’s a line between the amusing and the not. Kim Jong Un exists on that line, almost caricature that he is. He’s an easy target, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking the shot.

So I’m of the opinion that The Interview shouldn’t have been canceled. Even if it’s cinematic release has been pulled, then at the very least there should have been plans made for an immediate digital release. It doesn’t make sense for the Hermit Kingdom to be the one calling the shots on what gets released in a different country. If anything, this has also upped the hype for the movie more than an advertising campaign could.

Because, hey, what gets a public’s attention more than an international incident?

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The Mustache of Self-Actualization

I use this blog to hash out ideas for papers sometimes. Writing weekly helps me get ideas sorted or even just to keep churning out 600-800 word rants essays keeps me on my toes. One thing I’ve found myself needing to work on recently is zeroing in on one aspect of a work rather than only looking at the big picture. So I thought I’d do that.

“All great men have mustaches,” says Andy Samberg’s character, Rod early in Hot Rod, hence his choice to wear a fake one while attempting to defeat his stepfather, Frank, in hand-to-hand combat to earn his respect. That is to say, Rod wants to be respected by a “great man” and he believes that the only one who can bestow that on him is his stepfather. Since Frank cares little for Rod’s amateur stuntmanship, Rod’s only recourse is to beat him in a fight, a seemingly impossible task.

Essentially, Rod seeks self-actualization, “to realize one’s own maximum potential and possibilities” [x]. The mustache becomes a symbol of Rod’s desired manliness and: his dead stuntman father had one; Rod adopts a fake one when attempting stunts and combating Frank. Rod can’t grow one (due to a “hormone disorder”), but sees it as necessary to the manly identity of the adults he respects. In a sense he’s playing at being being a man, wearing the mask of who he wants to be.

The occasions where Rod wears the fake mustache reinforces this. Initially, we just see him wearing it when jumping ramps on his moped and fighting Frank. But after he finds out about Frank’s fatal condition and hatches a plan to save him, we also see Rod wearing it while doing stunt work to raise money for Frank. Here Rod is doing things of his own to raise money, entering the sphere of adulthood on his own terms.

But when his plans come crashing down both in the short term, losing the money raised save Frank, and in the long, finding out his father was not a stuntman, Rod grows disillusioned. He tears down posters of stuntmen, stomps on his cape, and, notably, rips apart the fake mustache. Rod is later seen wearing a tie, looking for all the world like a normal adult, albeit one without a mustache.However, he still does not have Frank’s respect and his crew, who’ve stuck by him thus far, leave him. Here he is called out by his love interest, Denise: “You’ve always done exactly what you wanted to do, and everybody else just grew up, and got boring, and sold out, but you stayed exactly the same.” Rather than continuing to emulate the ideas of manliness which he worshipped before, Rod has forfeit his mustachioed goals in favor of becoming boring and selling out to the mainstream conception of adulthood.

So now it’s fitting at the film’s climax when Rod attempts to jump fifteen school buses in a last ditch attempt to earn money for Frank’s surgery, he is once again waring a fake mustache, though this one presented to him by his reunited crew. The use of the mustache is key: his friends already believe that he’s a man worthy of respect both for risking his own life to save his stepfather and for doing it regardless of what other people will think. Rod then attempts the jump and fails. But unlike the last two jumps we’ve seen, where Rod shorts it and crashes into a mail truck or falls into a pool, Rod overshoots and raises enough money to save Frank. After they both heal, Rod — now able to grow his own mustache — confronts a healthy Frank and defeats him, forcing his stepfather to admit that Rod is, in fact, a man.

But Rod has a real mustache in that last scene — and thus is self-actualized — before he defeats Frank. Though he thought that defeating Frank was his goal, it was not the means for his graduation into manhood. Rather he is able to grow a mustache after making something of himself on his own terms: by being a stuntman not because his father was, and not because it was inherently masculine, but because it was taking matters into his own hands and doing what was necessary to achieve his goals despite the setbacks along the way. Rod’s arc culminates with his self-actualization, not by the approval of his stepfather, but by growing from a imitator of men to a person who had discovered what it meant to be a man in his own right..

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Of Belchers

I hadn’t seen an episode of I Love Lucy until last year when I had to binge-watch it for a Writing for TV class. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and at the end my overall feeling is one of ‘meh.’ I mean, it’s notable for what it pioneered, but I guess it’s not so much up my alley.

One of the things that I noticed about I Love Lucy, especially in comparison to The Honeymooners, a contemporary show I also had to watch, was how the conflict among the couples was different: in Lucy it was internal, in Honeymooners external. That is, in many plots Lucy would have husband and wife scheming against each, whereas Honeymooners had Ralph and Alice against the world at large. Way I saw it, there was a more genuine feeling of family from The Honeymooners than I Love Lucy. Ralph’s inane get-rich schemes were to make life better for him and Alice, there as a sense of togetherness and of being a team. Conversely, Ricky and Lucy (without the financial strain) would try to undermine each other’s plans, which while funny, often felt a little mean.

Of course, the fun of pitting family members against each other is hardly unique to the ‘50s. That ‘70s Show gets a lot of mileage from the tension between Eric and his father, Red. But it’s still a very sitcom family, meant more for entertainment and comedy. Emotional beats come more from Eric’s relationships with his friends rather than his parents.

Bob’s Burgers, on the other hand, might just be the best representation of a comedic on-screen family I’ve seen. Which sounds a little bizarre, given that the Belcher family’s animated live in a very goofy world.

So why’re they the best? Because they’re actually like a family. Like The Honeymooners, Bob’s Burgers seldom pits the Belchers against each other antagonistically. Rather it’s usually an outside force: Bob gets frustrated with his son, Gene, when he unwittingly steals the attention at a cooking show. Conflict between them is born out of it, but it’s never done in a way to have them hurt each other. Linda, in this case, doesn’t side with either her husband or son and is instead more along for the ride.

But what really makes the Belchers feel real are the small family moments they share. Bits like the kids crawling into bed with Linda really make them feel real. This grounding helps, especially because the episode in question includes by Bob and a friend going to a weekend stuntmen bootcamp to get in shape and Linda and the kids starting a battle dome on the ice rink in their restaurant’s walk-in freezer. It’s a really small beat in the episode (“Friends with Burger-fits,” if you’re wondering) but it’s one that really cements the Belchers as being an actual loving family.

It’s all this that makes Bob’s Burgers so wonderfully refreshing: it’s not remotely mean. This stands in great contrast to I Love Lucy where many of the plots had Ricky and Lucy acting against each other or That 70’s Show where characters are usually the butt of the joke. The characters of Bob’s Burgers never become malicious and remains one of the funniest shows on TV. How? By letting a family be true to itself and having the humor come from the characters being themselves, combining a wonderful blend of the funny and the heartwarming in the process.

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