Film & Television Opinion

The Arrogant Stupidity of Rick Fanboys

Rick and Morty has a setup that’s an obvious play of the one in Back to the Future, with an elderly genius inventor supported by his teenage assistant. The style of humour is probably best explained by comparing it to Monty Python – mixing smart and dumb humour, the profound and the silly – with an added streak of nihilism.

Rick Sanchez is referred to several times as the smartest man in the universe, and he’s not shy about his brilliance. There’s a long-running pop culture association between intelligence and arrogance. Tony Stark, Gregory House, Gaius Baltar, Sherlock‘s Sherlock, Sheldon Cooper. There are public figures who play up to this idea by acting dismissively to ideas that clash with their own – Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, almost any of the main hosts on Fox News. I think it’s only in recent decades that this idea of arrogance and intelligence being intertwined has become so dominant, but celebrations of this personality type goes back as far as Winston Churchill and Oscar Wilde, possibly further. It’s been argued that the fact people associate arrogance and intelligence could be one of the reasons behind Donald Trump’s presidential victory, which makes sense. How else can you explain a candidate saying “I have the best words“, “my primary consultant is myself“, “I’m much more humble than you would understand” and still be taken seriously? Continue reading “The Arrogant Stupidity of Rick Fanboys”

Film & Television Opinion

Semiotics of the Vulcan Hello

Semiotics, in brief, is the study of how we construct meaning. For example the phrase ‘green light’ has a meaning beyond a literal green light – it can be used metaphorically as giving permission to go ahead. Even if you’re not familiar with them, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Lorde song Green Light and the Ting Tings song Traffic Light are not about literal lights.

Ferdinand de Saussure wrote about the relationship between a ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ – the sign and the thing it represents. So a nuclear waste sign is not dangerous itself, but signifies that radioactive material is inside a container, or nearby. Similarly a lit green light is associated with the abstract concept of going, and a red light with the abstract concept of stopping.

Semiotics can be confusing – I’ve studied it at university level and still find a lot of de Saussure and Roland Barthes mind-bending – but it’s a process that almost all of us have a basic understanding of on a subconscious level. We make sense of these signifiers on a daily basis without really thinking about it.

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Film & Television Opinion

Initial (spoiler-free) reaction to Star Trek: Discovery’s two-part pilot

It’s been delayed several times from a planned debut early in 2017, but the first episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are now on Netflix. I’m planning to write another post going into detail on the first two episodes in the next few days, but these are my initial impressions, with very little detail of the contents of the episodes.
  • Michael Burnham – a human woman raised by Vulcans – follows in a tradition of Star Trek characters caught between two cultures. It’s a path previously tred by Spock, Worf, Odo, B’Elana Torres and Seven of Nine. This is a good choice for the sake of drama, as it allows for a conflicted main character, and debates around what it is to be Human. By making Burnham a genetic Human raised in a Vulcan culture, Discovery manages to sidestep the dodgy racial essentialism (for example that Torres’ anger comes from her Klingon side) that often accompanies this trope in Star Trek.
  • There are apparent ‘historical’ contradictions in Discovery. For instance the design of the Shenzou bridge is much darker than on Kirk’s Enterprise, despite them being set in roughly the same era. And there are numerous uses of holograms to communicate over long distances, despite this being introduced as a new technology in Deep Space Nine, set roughly 120 years later. But I wouldn’t want a new show to stick to inferior design and creative choices for the sake of consistency, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and let the writers tell the best possible story they can this time around.

Continue reading “Initial (spoiler-free) reaction to Star Trek: Discovery’s two-part pilot”

Opinion

Feminist Values in the Life and Fiction of Joss Whedon

Over the weekend Joss Whedon’s ex-wife Kai Cole wrote an article on The Wrap saying that Whedon had “multiple affairs” during their marriage, including with women he had authority over on shows he ran. Obviously, social media’s reaction to Whedon has not been gentle.

When I first saw Chinatown I wasn’t aware of Roman Polanski’s crimes, and so I was (and to an extent still am) able to think of it separately from it’s director. Maybe it’s because I formed an opinion on the art before I knew about the artist, or because the film is an excellent neo-noir that is incredibly compelling and immersive, but I’m able to keep my opinions of the two separate. Even though Polanski appears on-screen in a significant role, I’m able to draw a line in my mind and consider it as a story in its own right.

When Polanski adapted Robert Harris’ novel The Ghost, his involvement caused controversy throughout production. (Though he’s always directed steadily, this was a fairly big name cast, including Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor, alongside Kim Cattrall and Tom Wilkinson.) I felt the film was a slightly inferior adaptation of the novel, which lost a bit of the tension but added more action. But I also felt a little uneasy about the film’s existence before watching it, and the extent to which McGregor seemed willing to defend Polanski struck me as self-serving. That’s not to say that I totally condemn McGregor’s statements – the fact that Polanski’s victim has forgiven him and wants the conviction dropped complicates the issue. But I doubt I’ll be able to watch another Polanski film without a sense of unease.

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Film & Television Opinion

Be More Joey

Earlier this week a twitter thread by Claire Willett defending Rachel and Joey’s relationship in Friends went viral. Willett not only defended the broadly unpopular coupling, but made the case that Joey was a better, more supportive partner for Rachel than Ross was. I’d recommend reading the full thread (Buzzfeed has compiled the highlights).

When you’ve done that, I’ve a few thoughts on what writers can learn from Ross and Joey’s behaviour towards Rachel.

 

We often mistake epic romance with healthy romance

…in fiction at least. It’s easy to forget that – in the opening scene to Romeo and Juliet – Romeo is heartbroken over Rosaline, who had rejected him before he fell for Juliet. While Romeo and Juliet is a story of teenagers in love separated by an idiotic feud between families, it’s also the story of a double suicide for the sake of a romance between teenager who’ve only just met.

At the beginning of Friends Ross is recently divorced and Rachel has ran away from her wedding. You can see the foundations of a story they could later tell people about how this shows that they were ‘meant to be’. With Joey and Rachel, by contrast, the romance grew out of friendship while living together, at a time when Rachel was pregnant with another man’s baby, which doesn’t seem as romantic in a thirty second anecdote. But looked at in detail, it’s warmer, more human, messier, more relatable.

 

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Film & Television Opinion

Sex, Gender and the Thirteenth Doctor

The casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor has predictably caused a venting of fury, and mocking of the furious. It’s sad, because it should have been a cause for excitement at casting such a talented actor.

I’m one of the few people in the UK not to have seen either Broadchurch or Downton Abbey, but I’ve been a fan of Whittaker since seeing her in Attack the Block and Venus. Her performance in Venus is probably one of my favourite ever performances – as a young, chavvy girl she has a weird quasi-romantic relationship with an elderly actor, played by Peter O’Toole. At various times Whittaker’s Jessie is warm-hearted, funny, sympathetic and vulnerable, exploitative, emotionally indifferent and tender. Taking aside the question of her sex, Whittaker is clearly qualified for the role. While there were justifiable questions around the lesser-known Matt Smith when he was cast, Whittaker clearly has the CV to take a major role like The Doctor, and I’m excited to see what she’ll bring – probably more so than any of the new era of Doctors.

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Film & Television Opinion, Opinion

Samuel L. Jackson and the Politics of Self-Representation

Recently Samuel L. Jackson made headlines by apparently arguing that black British actors shouldn’t take as many black American roles. This was inspired by Daniel Kaluuya being cast in the political horror-comedy Get Out, which premieres in the UK this week.

Speaking to the US radio station Hot 97, Jackson said that

“I tend to wonder what would that movie have been with an American brother who really understands that in a way. Because Daniel grew up in a country where they’ve been interracial dating for a hundred years. Britain, there’s only about eight real white people left in Britain… So what would a brother from America made of that role?”

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