Wake Up!

There have been a lot of talk about how Hollywood is going woke, which seems to mean to be aware of social issues. Nothing wrong with that. Climate change. Civil rights. Sexual equality. However, a lot of fandoms’ influencers are changing the word to mean something else, political agenda.

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I’m not sure if this is due to the #MeToo movement, where “I am woman hear me roar” is taking ground. Before you yell at me, I don’t have a problem with any story that has a strong female lead. My favorite is Ripley from Alien. Nothing about her character indicates that she’s a woman in a man’s role, despite the fact that it was originally written for a male actor. Alien, the movie, doesn’t have room for romance, however, Ripley doesn’t come charging out, kicking alien ass with her fists or her unearned skills with a weapon. What she uses to overcome the Xenomorph is her mind and her surroundings. In the end, human ingenuity overcame a formidable antagonist. She’s considered one of the best characters in film with good reason. The writing.

So, is fandom’s reaction to movies such as the 2016 Ghostbusters fitting?

The original is one of my favorite movies. As a kid, I watched it five times in the theater when tickets were $2.50 each. Yeah, I’ve been around. The comedy was situational, meaning the story created a lot of the humor. In the 2016 remake, the humor played to the audience, and when that happens, it isn’t funny.

One of the biggest mistakes was Chris Hemsworth’s role, Kevin. He’s the only male character in the Ghostbusters’ office, and to say that he’s an airhead would be putting it lightly. He’s outright stupid, but he’s hot. I mean, he’s Thor. I’m not sure what he added to the overall film, except to be eye candy for the four ladies. He doesn’t give them any revelations, doesn’t contribute to any plot point, doesn’t even contribute to what little humor there is in the remake. His purpose could be to contrast the intelligence of the women. So what does this say?

In order to highlight female strength and intelligence, men have to be put on a lower pedestal? If that were the case, then it’s utter crap. As human beings, we’re all equal. Some of us are taller. Some are more intelligent. Some guys have all the luck. That’s just how the dice rolls. 

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In Alien, there were men and women on the crew, and despite the hierarchy of command, everyone had an equal say in their survival. No one had to be illustratively stupid or weak, and everyone had an equal chance of dying. This made for compelling storytelling because plot armor wasn’t a thing with the first film.

With Disney taking over the reigns of Star Wars, they’ve created a character, Rei, who’s inexplicably skilled in everything that she does. She’s the definition of a Mary Sue. She can do no wrong, making all the right choices. This is also bad for womanhood because it suggests that to be a strong woman, you can’t make mistakes and must know everything. That’s impossible for any human.

Any good story will show that a character can overcome adversity, even one of their own making. Or that strength doesn’t have to come from having some sort of power be it physical or metaphysical. Cleverness is what peaks people’s interest. Again, I bring it back to Ripley. She doesn’t know how to kill the Xenomorph, but she knows she can’t physically take it on. No human can. By using her surroundings, namely the pressurized ship, she dips into a closet, puts on a space suit, sneaks over to a pilot seat, strapping herself in, and opens the airlock right before the Xenomorph can plunge its teeth in her. The monster is flushed out into space. Of course, the franchise used this method a lot, so...

Now we come to CW’s television series, Batwoman. They set Kate, the heroine, up as a lesbian street fighter. No issues here. And no, she doesn’t fight lesbians on the street. What the trailers show is how men have oppressed her throughout her life. Again no problems. Except that her reactions to those men seem heavy handed, meaning the audience can see the writers’ agenda. It’s one thing to have a message in your story. It’s quite another when people can feel the wokeness.

The first trailer makes obvious that Batwoman is about a strong woman in a male dominated world. That Kate will not take shit from any man. That this television show is about a strong woman. The trailer is dripping with this theme.

In the second trailer, Kate is shown giving money to a homeless woman. A man standing by the wall advises not to do that because it encourages them. Who’s them? The homeless? The homeless women? Not sure. But Kate smirks and gives the homeless woman her watch, then get’s on her motorcycle, smiling as if she showed him. Not sure what’s she’s smiling about because the man’s tone wasn’t derogatory. Her reaction didn’t match the motivation.

The fandom were roasting the two trailers. Men and women. Because the writing was manipulated into communicating an agenda. For me, women aren’t strong because men are idiots. Women are strong because they’re capable of amazing things. That’s it.

Now, Hollywood has turned up the heat, as seen at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. Strong female leads are flooding the market. There’s a female Bond. A female Thor. A female Spider-Man—Spider-Woman. A female Wonder Woman! Sorry. Again, I have no problems with this. What will be interesting to see is if the writing will be good or not. From the Batwoman trailers, the writing for the CW series may be shitty. I could be wrong.

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The other issue is the backlash the fandom is getting from the suits. One example of this—there are many—is from Tim Miller, director of the new Terminator film, Dark Fate. In a Variety interview, he mentioned that the Terminator movies have a trinity of main characters, one of which is the protector. In the original Terminator, Kyle Reese was sent back in time to protect Sara Connor. Dark Fate will have a female protector. The poster featuring the actress, Mackenzie Davis, had gotten a lot of hate speech. Tim’s response:

If you’re at all enlightened, she’ll play like gangbusters. If you’re a closet misogynist, she’ll scare the fuck out of you, because she’s tough and strong but very feminine. We did not trade certain gender traits for others; she’s just very strong, and that frightens some dudes. You can see online the responses to some of the early shit that’s out there, trolls on the internet. I don’t give a fuck.

It’s obvious he gives a fuck.

But not all of the backlash was hate. People seemed to be tired of the gender switching because they’re linking it to a woke Hollywood and bad writing.

There’s also another aspect. The entertainment industry is a business, and it’s a crapshoot one at that. Studios have invested hundreds of millions to see little to no returns, and often times losing out big time. But when they continually rehash a franchise, people get upset because they know it’s a cash grab. And the fans who see the film feel shitty for spending their hard earned money on a story that seemed to be pieced together by hacks.

To be fair, we shouldn’t judge Dark Fate until it’s released because we don’t if the story is good or not. But a combination of forcing an agenda into the writing, cash grabs and uncreativity have begun to piss off a lot of people. And the suits have taken notice because they’re responding much like Tim has.

One last thing...today, fans have a bigger voice than ever before. Due to YouTube and social media, their voices can be broadcasted cheaply and easily. Some are getting a big enough following that the suits have no choice but to listen. Personally, that’s a great thing. Hopefully, it’ll force the suits to just run the business and let the artists stretch their creative minds.

My Childhood Destroyed

It was 1984. Indy was exploring temples of doom, Beverly Hills cops received lessons in diversification, Nightmares on Elm Street were prevalent, Arnold, one of Fonz's friends, taught a kid Karate, feets were loose, a Schwarzenegger-looking robot went on a Sarah-killing spree, and a neverending story was told.

On my 13" television I saw a fuzzy commercial about a ghost movie. All I saw was electricity that transformed a woman into a satanic looking dog. "Nope. Ain't seeing that," I said to myself. Ghost movies weren't my thing because I scare easily. Even Gremlins freaked me out, despite Gizmo's cuteness.

"Hey, for my birthday," my best friend said, "we're gonna see Ghostbusters."

My mind flickered to the satanic dog. "Isn't that scary?"

My friend shrugged his shoulders. "Probably."

Being the good friend that I had been, I went with him and a slew of other brave kids and sat in the movie theater that seemed darker than usual.

The silver screen lit up, showing the main branch of the New York public library. A lone librarian strolled down a narrow hall of shelves, putting books away. As the old lady passed the card catalog, one by one, they slowly slid open. The cards flew upward like a geyser, chasing the frightened woman away. Then we see her scream from flashes of bright light. And I forgot how dark the theater was.

I saw Ghostbusters five times in the theater. Of course in the theater. There was no other way of watching movies until it came out on VHS. And no, I'm not talking about VHS the movie.

Ghostbusters became one of those 80's movies that helped define my childhood. I ran around with my friend, wearing an empty backpack, holding a small branch, chasing ghosts in a field where I used to live.

Over thirty years later, the remake has made it to the theaters. When I first heard that the four main characters would be all women, I was perturbed because the whole thing felt very heavy-handed, but I didn't put much thought into it.  Apparently there was a massive movement against the all female cast. There were rumors that Sony deleted mysogynistic comments about the new movie from their site. And a Roger Ebert reviewer said that Sony could have put more effort in making a better movie than removing those comments.

And I have to agree.

As a storyteller, I'm always itching to find out why certain stories work and why others don't. It was difficult for me not to compare the remake to the original. But in this case we should from a comedic perspective.

In the original, the comedy emanates from the situation the characters are in.

In the remake it feels like the cast is playing to the audience. When that happens, we're taken out of the story because we're forced to watch them 'talk' to us rather than enjoy what's going on in the scene.

An example from the original:

We're introduced to the first Ghostbuster, Dr. Peter Venkman, played by Bill Murray. He sits behind a desk in front of a contraption with a few flip switches. Facing him are two students, a female and a male, who have volunteered to test their psychic ability. Venkman holds up a card without revealing the face, a star.

The male student puts his fingers on his temple and thinks. Nodding, he says, "Square."

Venkman flips the card over, revealing the star, and says, "Good guess, but wrong." He flips a switch and shocks the student with a blip of electricity.

The good doctor looks at the female student, a slight smile crosses his lips, and pulls another card. "Tell me what you think it is."

She thinks for a moment. "Is it a star?"

The male student snickers. I would too. We just saw a star!

"It is a star," Venkman says, putting down the card without revealing what it truly was.

The male student looks at the card, looks at the girl, and can't believe what just happened.

The rest of the scene is more of that, and it's funny because the intention of Peter is completely understood without telling us. Not only that, he's destroying the results of his own study for the purpose of getting some ass. And the male student finally blowing up at the doctor at the end of the scene is its climax (good structure), giving the comedy punch. None of this is played for the audience. There are several layers at work that it messes with our minds, making us laugh.

Back to the remake. It seemed that a lot of the comedy is forced. I think part of it is because they tried to redo some of the original stuff. When the first three lady Ghostbusters encounter their first ghost, Kristen Wiig's character, Erin Gilbert, goes to talk to it like Venkman did with the original casts' first ghost. The class 4 entity throws up on her, covering her in more slime than Venkman ever had to suffer. It's not funny because it's not a new take on the paranormal. And much of the remake is filled with playing to the audience rather than creating situations that are funny.

The only character that seemed to be in the moment is Kate McKinnon's character, Holtzmann. Her wacky spectacles helped, but often she just sat there in her scenes and let them be funny rather than working so hard for the comedy.

I think a lot of remakes don't work because they're trying to reproduce what has worked before, rather than creating something new, a different perspective or take.

If you look at Chris Nolan's Batman, Bruce Wayne is shown as a human being with all of the vulnerabilities of a real person. There was a story arch that stretched over the trilogy, which meant Nolan wrote an origin story, progressing to Batman becoming a symbol, moving to an arthritic hero where its purpose has been fulfilled.

There are layers of storytelling because Nolan uses Batman to tell us something deeper than what we see as the Dark Knight. And that's genius.

Going Down Memory Lane

No, Memory isn't Lois' sister.

Lately, for the past couple years, I've been going to various spots that I used to hang out as a kid. I remember driving to the street where I used play kickball, where my best friend and I used to play with his Star Wars figures. The ones that are worth a lot of money today.

Those were the days way before cell phones were in. But all my friend's mother had to do was holler, "Jason!", and like a cub, he would scurry on back home. Even today, I marvel at that.

Jason was my first best friend. He was a big boy. Funny. Full of happiness. Why wouldn't he? He had grandparents that had always brought a mountainous pile of gifts when they visited for Christmas. Santa would shove one gift under the tree for me to share with my niece. We were close in age. Jason was always kind enough to share his loot with me. He helped me learn how to ride a bike. He had an old Spider Man one that had training wheels. We removed them, and I was off riding the bike for a second before falling off.

About a dozen times later I asked, "Can't seem to get it to work. How do you ride a bike?"

Jason thought for a moment and said, "You just run, jump on, and try not to fall."

Oh. Was that all?

When I was in elementary school, a few of us had gone to the cemetery just to check it out. At the time, most of the graves were really old. From the dates, a lot of the people that were buried there were born in the 1800's. Some of them had even made there way West with the Donner Party. I remember seeing a tombstone with that name as well.

During one Halloween, a group of about five or six of us eight-graders were going to go to the cemetery at night. It wasn't far from where we lived, within walking distance. We were all very confident that nothing would happen. No zombies. No ghosts. No werewolves. And vampires. Psh. They ain't real, I said.

The night was cold as winters seemed to have started much earlier in those days. Daylight savings also ended earlier in the year, which meant that day darkened to night faster than we had liked. We turned right onto the street where the main entrance laid open. The steel gate rarely swung closed, allowing cars to drive up the wide and long gravel pathway and park. Whoever the groundskeeper was didn't do a good job of getting rid of the weeds. Tall weeds grew everywhere adding to the low mist that seemed to hide the many tall and ancient tombstones. We all huddled behind the bravest boy, Alex, at the edge of the gravel.

I was scared. Plain and simple. But we made the adult decision and respected those buried there and headed on home. Of course, we weren't adult enough to not trick-or-treat some more.

Today, the Bay Area had a break from the cold weather. It was sunny, wisps of clouds flavored the sky, the air smelled fresh. It felt like it had been forever since I strolled outside. I'd been stuck inside working, writing inside cafes, hanging out with friends in bars or clubs or restaurants, that the feeling of being outside was calling to me. I decided to haunt one of my old stomping grounds. The Dublin Cemetery.

Driving up that same street, I remarked at how manicured this part of Dublin was. Not too long ago, they had built the Dublin Heritage Park & Museums, which houses a lot of different buildings that help represent what it might have looked like back in the late 1800's to early 1900's when working the land was a viable option.

Instead of the gravel pathway, the front of the cemetery is groomed and paved with a small parking lot. I walk in and notice that new graves have been added, but I assume those who are buried here are somehow connected to this area's past. There are signs around the cemetery the briefly discuss who some of these pioneers were. There are a few unmarked plots.

There was no sense of dread or fear that I remember feeling that fateful night. OK. Nothing happened that night. But even the odd scurrying sounds didn't unnerve me. Squirrels. But the heavy religious nature of the giant tombstones, the words inscribed on them, the old St. Raymond church with the cross cutouts in the wooden window coverings evoke a feeling within me. And I'm reminded of how we can so easily succumb to religion. Especially in those days where the miracles we take for granted today were seen as amazing back then.

As I make my way around the plots, I'm also amazed at how small this cemetery is. Standing at the far back corner, I can see clear to the front where I parked my car. In my dark childhood memory, the cemetery was large, and there were far corners where we had to trek through brush to get to. And I guess this is partly why I'm so fond of my childhood.

Everything then seemed so big and impossible. Things were amazing. I loved eating candy and ice cream. OK. I still do. But I remember taking a bike ride to the local store, which was located next to the cemetery, to buy a piece of candy with a penny was a huge journey. I watched Ghostbusters and Back to the Future five times each in the movie theater. Movie tickets were $2.50 then. I mean, the movies of the 80's are now considered classics. Watchutalkin' about Willis?

Maybe I'm fond of those memories because I'm experiencing my midlife crisis. I had a dream where I dreaded being eighty years old. Though, I've yet to go around yelling at kids to get off my lawn. But that's because I don't have a lawn. "Get off my cement parking spot!"

And I think that's why I don't like going to clubs, or bars, or doing stupid stuff like attending cocktail parties where small talk is the center of conversation. I just want to watch the sun set, watch the moon arch the sky, watch the ocean waves roll in, smell the clean air on slow hikes, spend time connecting with people that I enjoy, or even people watch.

Looking at these graves, I feel time is so fleeting. Ego is useless. What we have to show what we've accomplished is meaningless. For all the good and bad that happen in this world, for all the great people who are remembered and for those who will never even be given a thought, the meaning of life becomes a simple truth. It's the pure joy of living.