Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Why Does(n’t) Everybody Hate John Green?

The following invective is based loosely on an unpublished letter to the prestigious Beatissima Garbage. It’s also the last invective the Author plans on writing for some time because they’re really quite taxing to prepare and it seems like every other post on these Files is an invective of some public idiot whose moral squalor should be abundantly clear to anybody with a brain.

There was a new movie in town this last weekend that you may have heard of if not for a news story about some guy shooting some people at a showing of the new Amy Schumer comedy.  The shooting in question should never have happened, firstly because private citizens have no business owning guns unless they’re part of The Militia and secondly because the theater had an explicit policy forbidding guns on its premises, but somehow the gunman managed to bring a gun into the theater and use it on people who didn’t have guns while racist white killer cops rushed to stop the violence.  The media saw an opportunity to bring up old, emotional attacks on gun rights while simultaneously pimping Amy Schumer for yet another week, and so Paper Towns was condemned, as all of its author’s works, to smolder in the fires of neglect and obscurity and effective censorship due to… lack of free support from American press and schools.

And that’s a real shame, because according to John Green, it would seem like the whole world has it out to suppress and mock and ban his manifold artistic masterpieces, which he claims at the same time have spoken deeply to millions of readers.  From Looking Alaska to The Fault In Our Stars to his latest movie starring a lesbian supermodel and some dreamy Nice Guy, Green has faced staggering adversity and bumps in the road to becoming a multi-millionaire YA writer, teenage idol, and internet celebrity, so much so that the incessant barrage of hate and ignorance has forced him to rethink his activities on social media and officially declare he’s neither a pornographer nor a pedophile.  He’s such a poor guy, okay?  Okay? Okay?  Okay?  Okay???

Where do I even start to document the torrent of cyberbullying and misdirected parental fury that’s been levied towards the downtrodden rebel visionary Mr. Green?  I could look at the incredulous reaction of Depew High School parents in 2008 to the news that Green’s Looking For Alaska would be “taught” to 11th graders in the government school’s English curriculum.  Certain of these religious fascists objected to the explicit descriptions of oral sex and foul language contained in Green’s novel, particularly in light of the school’s (probably 100% symbolic) prohibition on students using obscenities. I too would sympathize with these parents, not because I think 16-year-olds shouldn’t read about sex or swear words under any circumstances, but because I think there’s something incredibly depressing about a taxpayer-funded, supposedly educational institution willfully, knowingly presenting twaddle to teenagers as great literature.*  I agree with their petition even more in light of the petty hissy fit Green subsequently threw on his Youtube channel (more on that later), excoriating the parents for trying to tell other kids what they can read (for school credit), which, in point of fact, no one was trying to do.  By Green’s purely libertarian, freedom-minded reasoning, the very state of being on the mandatory reading list at one time not only grants him an entitlement to stay on and consequently profit from that reading list for the rest of his career, but also irrevocably establishes his work as an incontrovertible, great American novel that all kids must be exposed to for their literary benefit.

I could look at John Green’s snippy, melodramatic swipe at the Riverside school district for deciding to remove The Fault In Our Stars from middle-school libraries.

People who don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump often believe that Rush and Trump are arrogant and dismissive of their rivals in the business, but many of these same people would adore and lean on the word of a man who unironically boasted that teens would never learn of death or grieving without entering the golden gateway of knowledge that is his weepy fiction aimed at fragile teenagers.  Green essentially laid claim to charting thematic territory that’s never been covered in three thousand years of literature, and no one batted an eye at his arrogance.  Does he know that the school which judiciously removed his bestseller (unavoidable in bookstores and public libraries everywhere) carries scads of other, eminently better books also dealing with death, including The Giver, Bridge to Terabithia, and Tuck Everlasting?

Does John Green even care to read any books not written by John Green, and is that why he holds such an inflated view of his own importance to the social, moral, and mental development of teenagers?  Green has repeatedly derided overprotective parents for “condescending to teens” and wrongly assuming they lack the means of reading critically, but how much more condescending is it to suggest that young adults should only read books tailor-written for their age group and can’t extend their search for truth into works that were actually written for grown-ups by grown-ups who didn’t bother with leading fan clubs or forming shallow connections with their readers?  Are high-schoolers so stupid that they can only be pressured to think about the world through government schools prodding them to read John Green, Twilight, Divergent, and so on?  Have their mental faculties deteriorated so much that the only literature they can handle is such that one could compress the entire book into a cutesy Buzzfeed listical of “19 profound John Green quotes that will inspire you”?
Some John Green profundities.  Left & right drawings by Christina Luna for Buzzfeed.

To be fair, Green’s not the only one to blame for this debacle; he’s just a symptom of a larger failure on the part of educators to focus on the truly excellent in favor of popular material (cough Kendrick cough) that “engages” reluctant readers and doesn’t require much thoughtful commentary from the teacher.  The state of public education notwithstanding, though, the only one condescending to teenagers is John Green, who says he doesn’t foresee himself writing any adult-oriented novels because they wouldn’t be as “useful” as the YA garbage he’s cranking out.*  So too does Green condescend to taxpayers by pretending that access to his products is a vital societal need that must be subsidized under some made-up “right to read”. How many copies of Fault does the author deem the library must purchase in order to avert his accusations of censoring beloved material?  If half the school’s students want to read his novel and the library only has enough copies to accommodate a quarter of the body, are administrators suppressing Green’s ‘ideas’ by forcing children to go to another public library or – heaven forbid – fork over $10 at a bookseller for their own paperback copy?  Does the school have a compelling obligation to make any book available for anybody at any time, let alone a book as prevalent and ingrained in contemporary pop culture as A Fault In Our Stars? Wouldn’t the school’s funds be better spent acquiring texts that have been reviewed and studied for longer than two years and have outlasted transient, media-manufactured hype?

Instead of dedicating his intellect – given that he possesses one – to penning genuinely worthy art, John Green wastes countless hours tweeting, instagramming, and building a vapid, intelligence-numbing social media empire on such high-brow creative outlets as Youtube and Tumblr.  If you don’t know what Tumblr is, you can watch the amusing illustrated video below, but it’s essentially a blogging-Facebook hybrid with hastag functionality optimized for emotionally distraught social justice warriors who are too lazy to make a real blog, a la The Author’s Files.

One could argue that Green’s rigid attachment to every one of these networks is highly unusual, even childish behavior when practiced by a 37-year-old married author.  In fact, some anonymous and completely irrelevant person did argue just that about a month ago, using the very online outlet embraced by Green to ridicule him for his systematic takeover of the internet.  Quoth the eloquent tumblrer:

Nothing in this little rant was factually incorrect or unjustified, as John Green has in fact made a business of pandering to teenage girls and has cultivated a following that is undeniably similar to, if not indicative of a cult.  Green’s army of self-professed nerdfighters, united under the banner of nerdfighteria, have their own hip vocabulary (decreasing worldsuck), study their own holy texts, celebrate their own (probably well-intentioned) holiday, think they’re “made entirely out of awesome”, and revere their leaders John and Hank, who made a gimmick of addressing Youtube video-logs (think Avatar) to each other so as to give people the impression that they knew the brothers on a personal level.  The extent to which Green goes to convince girls that he’s their friend and fellow nerd-in-fighting can definitely be seen as creepy or unfitting of a grown-up father, and he shows no signs of relenting from that habit in the future.

Instead of acting like an adult and facing up to the reality that the internet will always facilitate rude and negative comments about celebrities (especially ones who are vastly overexposed), John Green immediately set out to prove the tumblr writer’s point, taking to the internet to complain about how painful and difficult it is being a multi-millionaire author who gets bullied and misportrayed by hate-filled meanies on the web.

But John Green was never accused of sexual abuse or pedophilia, i.e. attraction to prepubescent kids, who clearly aren’t the audience for Green’s books or video series.  In most areas of the world and many American states, the kind of girls Green sucks up to are fair game legally, but that doesn’t mean his obsession with pleasing them is healthy or right, which is all the internet person was trying to say through an obviously sarcastic, hyperbolic post.  We don’t arrest people for being creepy, but being creepy has never been a really honorable character trait.  Still, Green’s too pathetic and insecure to suffer a joke at his expense, so he resorts to inventing straw man allegations which makes him look like much more of a victim than he really is.  He goes on to sermonize about the “complicated dopamine rush” that fuels his detractors and squeeze some false humility into his defense (“my various shortcomings, which are legion”) before vaguely pouting about how the bully has made him unable to continue blogging in the same way he has been for the last four years.

“I just need some distance for my well-being,” he closes.  One does not get any more pitiful than this. Green has essentially embodied America’s 21st-century entitlement state, loudly and impishly tattle-telling on anyone who hurts his delicate nerdfeels.  Whether he’s appealing to the defenders of Free Speech or to the defenders of Humanizing, Social Justice Language – that is, Not Free Speech – depends only on whoever’s pissing him off on any given day.
This is an official poster tagline.

Do I think that Mr. Green is unintelligent, nay, an imbecilic jackass?  Maybe.  He once compared capitalism to a pizza, says that protecting religious liberty means women will no longer be able to buy cars, and smugly perpetuates the delusion that Islam is a religious of peace… because Muslims sects spend so much time fighting each other and no one interprets the Koran quite the same way.  But in so far as John Green’s goal in life is to make money and feel like he’s filling an important role in people’s lives, he’s very good at manipulating young skulls full of mush into loving him.  He gives shout-outs to his “hardcore badass feminist mom”, consistently speaks the language of his fans, comically rubs his forehead like a cartoon character whenever he gets upset, says sex before marriage is cool, and even uses one of his characters to lecture to progressive, conscious readers on why they should never call anybody a faggot (far be it from me to speculate why he hates that word particularly, even though I just did).

Green does an excellent job overall of appearing to stand for everything that nerdfighteria stands for while actually standing for nothing.  He calls himself a Christian to mollify Christian readers, except when being a Christian means standing by convictions that Millennials find “discriminatory”.  He considers himself a capitalist, except when being a capitalist means opposing the minimum wage, nationalized health care, or carbon taxes to reduce nonexistent Global Warming.  He peppers his teens’ dialogue with the word “retarded” out of realism, until someone tells him that is ugly and wrong, at which point he has a radical change of heart and apologizes for his “dehumanizing language”.  I don’t think Harper Lee ever apologized for using the n-word in To Kill A Mockingbird because it hurt the feelings of some bozo who doesn’t understand the concept of a book.  Harper Lee, ironically, had more balls as an author than misunderstood pajama boy John Green ever had.  The latter’s greatest condescension to his readership is giving them exactly what they want to hear and nothing else, then having the gall to label himself a martyr for the status quo.

Ever the philosopher, John Green can be credited for at least one profundity.  “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities,” quips Hazel Whatever in A Fault In Our Stars.  If John Green’s infatuation with his uselessness counts as an infinity, then that must make him the biggest infinity of them all.

*Here’s an interesting piece on the dilemma of grown adults gobbling up books written for kids.

Stuff I missed the first time through
* John Green saying that his made-up cancer-stricken lovebirds parallel Anne Frank because she too “just died of illness like most people.”

* John Green ‘accidentally’ appropriating a 13-year-old Tumblr user’s adorable, deep quote, passing it off as a line from Paper Towns, and selling a crapton of merchandise based on the words to gullible nerd fighters.

* John Green denouncing the philosophy of Objectivism as “repugnant” and extolling his noncommercial, “idea-sharing, consciousness-expanding, storytelling business” as a ”persistent and direct opposition to the ideas put forth in Atlas Shrugged.  “We must strike down the insidious lie that a book is the creation of an individual soul laboring in isolation.  We must strike it down because it threatens the overall quality and breadth of American literature… so f*** Ayn Rand and f*** any company that profits from peddling the lie of mere individualism.  We built this together and we're going to keep building it together.”

No, John Green.  &#^! you and your You Didn’t Build That mentality.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Scientific Report: Amy Schumer Is Intolerably Acomical

Article written by George Stefano Pallas.  Misogyny and haterism expressed by the author were not expressed by the author but by Beatissima students and faculty alone and were merely quoted by the author.  In any case, they do not necessarily reflect nor should be construed as those of the Author, but let’s not be stupid.

The rumors have floated around for months, fueled in large part by a concurrent blitz of news media attention and love.  Now science has proven what every critically thinking individual already knew as fact: the only thing that’s funny about actress Amy Schumer is that anybody actually thinks she’s funny.

Student researchers and professors in Beatissima University’s esteemed Creative Writing program analyzed Schumer’s work through numerous historical, literary, and cross-cultural lenses, using data obtained from her Comedy Central skits, Twitter profile, and appearances on other marginally less unfunny persons’ talk shows.  All the evidence gathered corroborates a controversial thesis, which is that Schumer and feminist comedians in general are incapable of telling objectively funny jokes.

The abstract of the scathing, 20-page rebuttal reads:
“When she isn’t complaining about simple facts of human nature (such as men desiring attractive women over unattractive ones, all other things being equal), Schumer’s attempts at comedy take aim at and mercilessly eviscerate ‘standards of beauty’, male superiority, justification of rape, smile-shaming, and other cultural attitudes that don’t exist in the real world.  By making up such ludicrous, indefensible conceits and falsely presenting them as the mainstream or the norm, Schumer tactically beguiles gullible and comedically ignorant social-justice-warriors (SJWs) into perceiving her as a rebel against a backwards status quo  an important and enlightened messenger with a wit as sharp as her compassion is Progressive.
In reality, Amy Schumer is the fetal, swearing embodiment of every logically baseless internet cliché ever not aborted, and her habit of rehashing feminist talking points to appear socially conscious pointedly demonstrates how little she understands the function of good comedy, as comedy has nothing to do with being socially conscious or important. When Seinfeld consistently delivered laughs across a span of almost 10 years, it proved that social activism is, if not detrimental, completely tangential to true comedy.  Our algorithms yield that a show about nothing is, on average, 9.8 times more funny than Schumer’s shows, which she sincerely believes have to always be about something.”

Professor Thomas Peynton, who teaches No-BS English 101, pens: “I wouldn’t classify Amy Schumer’s brand as humorless per se, a la Magnolia, any Lars Von Trier film, Naked & Afraid, or House Hunters. Amy Schumer clearly thinks of herself as a funny person and prides herself accordingly.  Like most people, she has at least a rudimentary understanding of what humor is, even if she doesn’t know how real humor manifests itself.  The problem with Schumer is that she’s just so intolerably acomical.”

Senior Lacey Connor laid it out more bluntly. “Amy Schumer is doing to comedy what superheroes are doing to cinema.  She’s gonna wreck it.”
Another long forgotten picture of a prominent media darling.

The Beatissima brief ranks Schumer just above Lena Dunham and just below Sarah Silverman on the scale of funniness.  All fall well behind famous females like Lucille Ball, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ann Coulter, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Anna Kendrick, “for obvious reasons”.  Anticipating accusations of sexism and patriarchy, the group strongly rebutted the myth that women are never funny and merely feign funniness as a natural form of sexual flirtation.  “To be clear, there is no empirical basis for the misconception that women are biologically numb to humor.  Mean Girls and Juno and Harry Potter were written by women, as was Fifty Shades of Grey… A lot of other stuff was written by women too.”

How did Schumer get to be so assertively unfunny?  On this the researchers are divided and continue to test their own theories, but one common explanation called the Vicious Cycle Theorem attributes it to the comedian’s systemically escalating unattractiveness to men.
“Much of Schumer’s humor is predicated on perceived injustices committed against her by shallow, despicable men who don’t appreciate her as the successful woman she is.  These bitter attacks against the opposite sex only serve to further alienate potential mates, who now perceive her as bitchy and cold as well as plain.  As Schumer produces comedy and receives ever more recognition from the mainstream media, she comes to look more and more unmarriageable to males, which makes her feel more and more rejected and/or oppressed, which makes her produce ever more unrelatable, inaccurate, and unfunny sketches, all of which reinforce the not unfounded conspiracy that feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women equal access to the mainstream of society.”

Though Schumer skeptics are no doubt encouraged by the findings, the Beatissima report is unlikely to make much of a dent on her public image, originating as it did from Beatissima and written in dense, technical language that will likely confuse anyone who would gravitate to her unique sense of humor. Award-winning journalist Katie Couric of Yahoo! News has already inducted Schumer to her People To Watch list of 2015, an honorable position formerly held by Macaulay Culkin, Lindsey Vonn, Lupita Nyong’o, Lorde, and Kacy Catanzaro.  Still, at least one Beatissima student, @jennabeasic, linked to the study in a tweet.  “@amyschumer is overated af, stupid media baby. good thing i can always watch #parksandrec on #netflix and #bieberroast, HILARIOUS, #REALCOMEDY.”

Schumer leads an ensemble of comedic geniuses and SNL actors in Judd Apatow’s latest pet project Trainwreck, a dramedy about a sexually confident woman with realistic body proportions who avoids the perils of monogamous relationships until she falls in love in a white male heterosexual.  Trainwreck took off last night with a 93% Rotten Tomatoes score and some word of mouth and is playing in most theaters. You can also watch the Ant-man.

It is pretty unbelievable.

Still funnier than anything by Amy Schumer

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Horror Movie Roundup: It Follows

In which I share a positive opinion about something.  This is part one of a series that could end up being very long and might as well warrant another blog entirely.

Dark Pit Follows

Around nine months ago I discovered that I’m a bit of horror movie junkie, not because I especially like being scared or watching other people get scared, though I have shared many a good laugh over a horror movie with my roommate, who typically reads the Wikipedia summary to assure himself that everyone who matters gets out OK at the end.*  Horror movies can be a delight to watch with other people, but at their best they also tend to feature more impressive camerawork, production design, and sound than other genres.  At their worst, they can be so formulaic and artless as to have no emotional effect on one versed in horror’s tropes (mirrors and loud noises), but you could say the same of any genre.

Even being a doting scientist of horror movies and their often repetitive art, I can’t say I was always clamoring to see David Robert Mitchell’s independent horror film It Follows, nor can I say that the 95% approval rating it received from critics did much to sway me from my indifference.  As the acceptable but abundantly predictable The Conjuring demonstrated not two years ago, there’s such a surplus of terrible, made-for-streaming horror movies on the market that whenever something halfway frightening or visionary rears its head critics and fans will tend to freak out and embellish it with much higher praise than it truly deserves.  It Follows is an altogether commendable horror film that’s regrettably doomed to suffer from this same phenomenon when audiences find for one reason or another that it’s not quite as terrifying as the hype would tell.  Neither the obvious symbolism nor the message of the movie is very intricate, but Mitchell still manages to make viewers think and fret about the implications of sexuality while deftly avoiding the pitfalls of a moralizing talk on purity.

It Follows is a sweet indie coming-of-age film about a small-town girl in an ambiguous time period who has steamy car sex with a seemingly nice but mysterious guy and is subsequently haunted by a shapeshifting, sexually transmitted demon that endlessly stalks its victims until they let their guard slip and enable it to murder and (maybe) rape them.  The only way to get rid of It is to pass It along to another person through intercourse, and even that is only a temporary solution, because if It does kill one of those cursed, It will continue to work backwards down the chain of one-time partners, leaving no one completely secure and perpetually fearful that the monster will return to punish them for their carnality.  Those are the rules, and the movie manages to explain them much more coherently and quickly than any of the convoluted Insidious movies, Poltergeist, The Babadook, and so on.

The viral nature of the demon puts Its targets in a very tricky moral situation: do they try to pass It along to someone else, stretching the line and getting It as far away from them as possible, or do they resign themselves to outrunning the thing forever, putting themselves and everyone who preceded them at risk? Would you transfer It to a friend even if he fully knew and accepted the lifelong burden that would come as a consequence?  As the plot progresses and It forces the teens to grow from carefree, blissfully irresponsible children into self-reliant survivalists, sex also evolves from a weightless bit of fun into a willful, desperate choice for self-preservation.  Without totally spoiling everything, the final scene of lovemaking in It Follows is almost devoid of passion but nonetheless constitutes the most meaningful act of love the couple could share, for in so physically bonding they have symbolically bound themselves to protect and care for the other the rest of their lives.

The director deserves all the more credit for having the tact to show this development without directly telling us, “See this!  This is significant for reasons X, Y, and Z.  They started here, and look how far they’ve come! Ha ha ha.  Far they’ve come.  I am good.”  Judging from the IMDB message boards (which are good for judging nothing), a lot of people disdain Mitchell’s decision not to explicitly spell out all the key events and backstory details, but  it’s the mark of a strong director that he knows when withholding or implying something can be just as impactful as showing it.  One of the more emotionally potent scenes follows the heroine, Jay, driving home with wet hair and a distraught expression after we’ve seen her start wading out into a lake towards a group of men in a boat.  The combination of Maika Monroe’s forlorn performance and the bleak, disquieting cinematography is just as suggestive and affecting, if not more so than if the director had chosen to leave nothing in doubt over what transpired out on the water.

It Follows is beautifully filmed overall, using natural lighting and long, smooth camera rotations to great, unnerving effect.  I have no reservations calling it one of the most gorgeous-looking movies of the last decade, and many of the scenes will still hold up as thrilling many years in the future: the opening spinning shot, the car crash in the wheat field, the climactic standoff at the pool, culminating in a murky, ominous cloud of blood billowing to the surface.  The throbbing, synth-heavy music is also incredible, epitomizing everything that an intense and memorable horror score should be.  Between It Follows, Ex Machina, Mad Max, and Interstellar, this last year has been one of the most rewarding for film scores since I don’t when.

If I had to nag about anything, it would be some occasionally awkward dialogue/acting and a handful of cheap jump scares that don’t reflect well the building hopelessness that characterizes the horror of the film. There are at least three occasions in the movie where something unexpected and startling happens that poses no threat to the characters.  One of these is a self-aware fakeout involving some random person walking towards the group who isn’t really It, but the other two (ball hitting the window and old wall caving in) aren’t as excusable.  Still, the haunter of It Follows differs from a lot of paranormal movie monsters in that It represents a real, mortal danger to the haunted.  Whereas the ghosts in James Wan and James Wan-ripoff ghosting movies are too often satisfied just with orchestrating spooky, ghosty, totally harmless mischief (stupid stuff like clapping in the basement, knocking down the picture frames, taking the baby out of the crib, possessing a noisy toy and making it rattle around the house), It has only one objective, and that is killing everybody who’s contracted It.  Hence, whenever It appears on screen, you’re not just looking forward to It doing something spooky, you’re fearing for the heroes’ very lives.

The overall lack of adult characters as anything other than ghouls is also curious; is the director intentionally projecting the teens’ anxieties about intimacy and adulthood onto It?  Is the absence of parental figures a veiled critique of a society that’s surrendering more and more of the responsibility for its children’s upbringing to the schooling system, thus spurring kids to treat their sexuality more lightly and make more mistakes in the name of Experimentation?  I can’t give a definite answer either way, but the cool thing about It Follows is that it’s ambiguous enough to let you think about these – ahem – ‘problematic’ questions for yourself.

The same critics who extolled Mad Max: Fury Road for being a feminist parable have complimented It Follows for taking down slut shaming, rape culture and, like, whatever, but I think the movie at its core is more of a statement on the illusiveness of simple choices: things we tell ourselves are trivial and harmless usually have enduring consequences we fail to anticipate or just deny, and this is especially true of the friends we keep (or join with in “casual” coitus).  For a movie that’s all about a sexually transmitted demon, It Follows is probably the most refined and beautiful and somber movie one could make about a sexually transmitted demon.  If you can tolerate the premise and don’t know how to raise a child without the assistance of visual media, it’s an excellent film to show your teens to scare them out of having sex.  It Follows is rated R for scattered bloody images, a couple F-bombs, and boobs, though nudity in the movie is only ever used to horrify.  Given its subject matter, Mitchell’s film is surprisingly restrained compared to other horror pics, and the protagonist is oddly much less sexualized than, say, Jonas’ girlfriend in The Giver movie, though I’ll get to that catastrophe in due course. Suffice it to say that It Follows is a visually mesmerizing and imaginative work of modern American mythmaking, personifying our most primal fears about the natural world just as the Norse and Greeks of old.

The movie concludes on an uneasy note, leaving open the possibility that It’s still out there hunting the beleaguered kids.  While the custom of ending without an ending is a regrettable and lazy trend in horror, I’ll be first in line to watch It’s Getting Closer and It Got Me.  After all, It Follows is truly a remarkable film, and you owe it to yourself to pass It on.


* The Descent in particular was a riot to watch together.  Too bad the DVD broke right after this scene.

Bonus Commie Con Trailer Reviews
Batman vs. Superman colon generic subtitle – Let’s forget Ben Affleck is Bruce Wayne for a second. Is Superman now a metaphorical stand-in for every discriminated-against and hated-upon minority in America? How did an emblem for truth, justice, and the American way get perverted into a role model for illegal immigrants and homosexuals?  Would the Westboro Baptist Church really picket the Capitol over a flying guy in a red suit?  There are what, 50 of their members tops?  Why does the Social Network guy say, “The red capes are coming”?  Is that some kind of joke?  It’s kind of hard to tell in these lifeless Man of Steel movies.  Why does Wonder Woman look so weird, and why is she in this movie?  Why are they still decimating skyscrapers after so many people complained about the headache-inducing 9/11 imagery of the first film?  Why’d they even choose to adapt Dark Knight Returns in the first place?

Suicide Squad – Wow.  Harley Quinn.  Just wow.  Like, I can’t even.  Sold.  Screw Jared Leto as the Joker.  He’s just another freaking Joker.  But Harley Quinn raised every fanboy’s interest in this movie to a whole nutha level.  Hee hee hee.  You’re so dirty, Mr. J.

On a (more) serious note, the movie looks pretty dang good too.  I’ll probably be waiting on more story details, but for now it seems to be going a darker route than most superhero features, which is exactly what I’d want to see from a deranged DC villain teamup movie.  They actually got a competent director/writer, and the film appears to have a distinctive visual look to it between the costume design and cinematography.  It kind of reminds me of Watchmen at the moment, which was nothing if not a pretty-looking movie.  Consider me hopefully intrigued.

Deadpool – “I’m touching myself tonight.”  As are many others, I’m sure.  Say what you want about the money-grubbing business model of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, but at least they care about their fans and give them exactly the junk they want to see.  Not one of my Marvel devotee friends wanted to watch a PG-13 Deadpool movie, and the studio deserves a hearty pat on the back for taking a chance on financing a movie that’s more true to Deadpool’s character – an accurate but apparently very stupid movie.  I don’t think profanity for profanity’s sake is inherently funny, and what little action I saw in the leaked video was too small and blurry for me to form a conclusion about it.  The only halfway decent thing I’ve seen Ryan Reynolds in was Ted, and he didn’t even talk in that.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

We "Study" Rap Music In Public School Now. America!

Brian Mooney is an “English Arts Teacher” at High Tech, New Jersey who claims to “explore the intersections of hip-hop, spoken word, literacy, and urban education”.  One of those things, of course, has nothing to do with the others, but Brian Mooney has never been in the business of speaking truths.  He’s Christie’s fool.  Under ordinary circumstances we would simply pass this guy off as another miniscule, relatively powerless symptom of declining educational rigor in facilities run by the state, but Mooney’s rising celebrity status makes him a special case.  As the foremost champion of a burgeoning alternative to actual learning called “hip-hop education”, Mooney has swept up gushing praise from The New York Slimes, The Rolling Stoned, and other disreputable clickbaiters for developing socially conscious “English” studies that are funner, cooler and somehow more literary for incorporating contemporary rap songs by “poets” like Kendrick Lamar.  (We’re making an editorial decision to dispense with the sarcasm quotation marks around education-related words from this point onward because they’d get really annoying really fast.)

In the words of Rush Limbaugh, this is the kind of joke we would have laughed at twenty years ago, thinking it would never happen in a nation with at least a modicum of sanity, but now we’ve waded into such a quagmire of literary and intellectual malaise that the stupid, mostly childless masses believe teaching rap music alongside the Great Books is actually a serious proposal.  Progressives like Mooney rationalize the induction of To Pimp A Butterfly into classrooms by saying rap music “engages [students] in a pivotal conversation on race”, opens eyes to “internalized oppression”, and recognizes the “diversity” of increasingly stratified student bodies, but none of them are able to articulate a cogent theory for its literary value without reverting to non-literary pleas for extra blackness in the schools’ reading curriculum.

Of course, if anybody really cared about spotlighting strong black voices that students haven’t been exposed to on their own, Kendrick’s latest record would rank very low on the scales of historical significance and excellence in English.  As Mooney points out many times in a blog post that’s hilariously riddled with logical contradictions, “hip-hop has become a worldwide phenomenon, reaching every corner of the globe and shaping the identities of a whole generation of young people”, to the point that “demonizing” the music genre – or culture, as he often labels it with no cynicism – would be a grave and “symbolically violent” insult to the hipster groupie lowlifes who consider Kendrick Lamar’s dope beats to be an integral “part of their identity”.  Assuming as our apologetic white poet-teacher does that high-school students are already committed to hip-hop and worship Kendrick, J. Cole, and Lupe Fiasco as political and musical idols, what educational value does one derive from pimping their albums over infinitely more distinguished and eloquent writers students haven’t yet encountered?

Only in Mooney’s warped and fickle view of “cultural relevancy” does contemporary rap music deserve a higher pedestal of “literate-ness”, beauty, and nobility than the texts of Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Thomas Sowell, and a host of actual poets I read in high-school and willfully forgot about soon after because of my deep-set disdain for poetry.  One certainly doesn’t need to cheapen standards of good literature in order to analyze black authors, but the truth is that Progressive reformers like Mooney don’t really give a damn about analyzing or understanding the work of black Americans; they only care about the work of black Americans who seem to sponsor their political agenda.  Even granting that increasing representation of African-American art always fulfills a noble, compelling educational purpose (it doesn’t), hip-hop “education” has nothing to do with illuminating alternate perspectives, urban strife, or evolving style in the written word, and footage from the High Tech school proves that Mooney’s favorite rappers were already bona-fide superstars among Gen-Zers without the advertising bonus of a class applauding their artistic genius.  At its core, hip-hop education is just another poorly masked excuse to spread alternate-history versions of the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin shootings while brainwashing kids into denying every blessing implied by the American Dream.

This is why the media orgasms over a famous Compton rapper’s visit to a school of future voters, not because Mr. Mooney and Kendrick Lamar are teaching teenagers how to think for themselves, but because they’re teaching teenagers what to think ‘for themselves’ and doing so through an ostensibly educational framework that’s highly manipulative and entertaining and probably never feels like real work to students involved.  By supplanting true classics of fiction with A-list talent and platinum-selling albums, Mooney hopes to sell a dated, largely fraudulent form of racism under the guise of spearheading a socially conscious, holistic look at protest writing from the 60s up to now.  And if the responses by his students and supporters are any sign, he’s been doing a pretty bang-up job.

Some of Mooney's students on To Pimp A Butterfly.

The customary defense of hip-hop education usually boils down to a smear campaign, ridiculing anyone who disputes the material’s educational merit as close-minded, prudish, or somehow fearful of black people, whom Mooney perhaps erroneously presumes have a monopoly on the hip-hop “art form”.  Have you heard of Eminem, Mr. Mooney?  Beastie Boys?  The Dirty Heads, Pitbull, Everlast and House of Pain, Marky Mark Wahlberg, Kid Rock, Riff Raff, Iggy, Die Antwoord?  Even freaking Sublime to some extent? You may argue that a lot of these performers are terrible, but then again the majority of rap music is pretty objectively terrible. You yourself acknowledge this when you write that “commercial hip-hop is often sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, and violent”.  Four paragraphs later, you say that we should include “[this kind] of rap music in our classrooms if we want to have really meaningful, well-rounded discussions.” What I’m trying to ask is: what the hell is wrong with you?

Further, why do you assume that people who don’t like rap music don’t like “black music” or people in general, as if rap music is the very greatest and very blackest accomplishment from their heritage?  Have you ever listened to Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, or Michael Jackson?  Are those artists not “black” or intelligent or literate enough for you, and do you really suspect that Kendrick’s music will outlast any of theirs?  Are black voices the only ones who are qualified enough to speak about the highs and lows of being a black American?  Must we disregard The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, To Kill A Mockingbird, etc. etc. just because their authors were all “privileged” white people? Why are cultural and historical ignoramuses like you paid to steward the youth of this country?

I digress.  Let the record show that Mr. Mooney vastly overstates everything he knows about his favorite subject and likes to roundly dismiss skeptics of that subject as stupid or uninformed or racist, even though, in the case of Kendrick Lamar, those skeptic’s doubts are 100% affirmed.  Mooney says that “hip-hop is still the subject of intense, misdirected hatred and discrimination in schools” by “parents that object to profanity, even when it’s being used for a noble, just, and artistic cause”, and that he “finds it problematic [along with much else surely] to call an album like this ‘dirty’”.  But To Pimp a Butterfly is gloriously, unapologetically dirty, and was never intended to be consumed or exhaustively deconstructed by high-school freshmen.  Trying to filter the numerous f-bombs, n____ers, and sexual references out of the album for interpretation by a class of 15-year-olds just validates the distaste that a lot of these repressive, bigoted parents have for rap music, especially rap music foisted upon their children in a sham of an English class supported by Uncle Sam himself.  If it wasn’t profane or potentially offensive, then there wouldn’t be a need to edit it.  That the album is profane and controversial doesn’t automatically make it bad (or good), but it does shift the burden of proof onto Mooney to demonstrate it has a worthy purpose in a school curriculum, let alone a class purporting to study the finest, most significant works of writing craft.

But Mooney isn’t able to justify it any way other than repeating the pressing need for blacker, more diverse study lists and the social “importance” of music that sticks it to the white man for “murdering” Trayvon, Mike Brown, and the Pound Sign I Can’t Breathe guy.  Education isn’t about telling kids what to think politically, nor is it about ensuring the equal appreciation of different races’ commercial products.  Mooney whines about “Eurocentric” schools that classify “white” novels like Slaugherhouse-Five as “high art”, assigning Vonnegut as summer reading while branding “black” hip-hop with a stigma of vulgarity and baseness.  The problem with this outrage is that Slaughterhouse (soon to be reviewed at these Files) is actually a book that people are meant to read, whereas hip-hop is a musical genre mostly created by uneducated slackers who are too lazy or stupid to write or read a book, let alone their own “art”, which is usually slapped together by an army of co-songwriters and producers.  Celebrating To Pimp A Butterfly in the same category as classic literature is an insult not only to the “old, dead, white men” Mooney derides but also to the slaves and civil rights leaders who used their great minds to become moving essayists, authors, and orators.

For those who’ve read this far, I’ll just throw it out there that I quite enjoy Kendrick Lamar’s music, particularly Section.80 and much of Butterfly, which is to say that all the wisearse, tolerant rap music fans who are silently ridiculing me for my ignorance really have no moral superiority for thinking Kendrick should be taught in government schools.  As opposed to many acts, Kendrick’s beats actually incorporate live instrumentation, and his lyrics on “Keisha’s Song” (about a prostitute in despair who’s raped and murdered in the street) or “These Walls” combine with dark, sonic atmospheres to reveal an artist who actually cares about storytelling and isn’t simply settling for making a catchy tune.  But education isn’t about exposing me to art or ideas I already like.  If the only writing, or rapping in this case, I ever had to study was stuff I already liked, I wouldn’t be learning much of anything, and education traditionally used to be all about learning things – things that show one how to live and how to live in accordance with beauty and virtue.

It’s also true that Kendrick is one of the most overrated and absurdly idolized figures in American musical culture.  He wields racial slurs liberally whether or not the narrative or character he’s portraying calls for it, and the song from Butterfly he specifically chose to perform for High Tech revolves around a vapid hook that just repeats, “Nigger, we’re gonna be alright” over and over for no reason.  No one, not even Pitchfork’s staff, listens to Kendrick for his ornate or literary language; they listen to him because he unites a dream team of producers and is very good at venting anger on issues that make others really angry.  Indeed, the media’s unanimous infatuation with “the incredible Kendrick Lamar” as “a poet, lyrical genius, and positive icon” (this is Ellen Degenerate speaking) has begotten a series of running gay jokes in my own Beatissima dorm hinging on the latent desire of Kendrick fanatics, who have no frame of musical reference and consequently glorify the current fad as a masterwork, to orally pleasure the Grammy-winning man, the myth, the legend. Even The Daily Beast has picked up on this phenomenon, describing it as a “critical circle jerk” – a mutual admiration society that Mooney has ironically hijacked to teach kids… the value of thinking for oneself and forming independent, critical views of media.  Forcibly cramming Kendrick or any working musician into a classroom at the peak of his career is the total opposite of encouraging independent truth-seeking.  Instead of that, Mooney is merely condoning hero-worship while perpetuating the mythology that Kendrick, like Pixar, Apple, Netflix, Starbucks, and any other cult establishment, can do no wrong, when in fact his latest music video is just a slickly produced screed against the white-skinned po-lice that prioritizes style over substance.

A screenshot from Kendrick's latest PSA.

If there’s any hope to be found in this embarrassing debacle, it’s that students are probably wasting a lot less time talking about The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, a powerful rape simulator concerning a black girl who goes to the movies and wishes to look more like a white movie star, which incidentally is the same thing white girls do when they go to the movies or read a magazine.  I personally find it deeply sobering and humbling knowing I never had to put up with this nonsense as a homeschooler.  Without the Brian Mooneys of the world – educators, scholars, and poets who don’t even know what the word “ironic” means – how could we truly appreciate the great teachers who’ve mentored us personally and professionally?

So thank you, Mr. Perry, for trying your darndest to make a bunch of reluctant teenagers care about the Venerable Bede, Dante Alighieri, and a lot of college-level, Eurocentric Inklings texts we could barely understand.  Thank you, Dr. McM, for working through the multi-layered symbolism of Moby Dick with me even though I moaped and groaned about it being the dullest, most insufferable novel I’d ever read. Thank you, Dr. Gose, for leading your pupils in the dialectic instead of in the “cypher” and for challenging me to write an academic paper though I had no idea what the hell that was.  I must confess I never read the Funeral Games, but I’m sure the Prince of Darkness already figured that much out.  Thank you, Mrs. Justiniano, for never scheduling a field trip to Knotts Berry Farm or Disneyland under the pretense of observing science.  Thank you, Professor Larry, for being honest enough to tell me that you’re professing things instead of teaching them.  Thank you, Mrs. Weitz, for teaching me how to write and to distinguish beauty from dreck.  Thank you all for not asking me to “close-read/listen to King Kunta”, or to make a poetry anthology, or to write a reflection paper on some rapper guy’s visit to my school, or to answer either of these essay prompts.

Thank you for having the decency not to treat my education like a giant joke.

Now to write about America’s homosexual Supreme Court and homosexual corporations.