Subversion in Mindless, Silly Fun: Why Neutral Art is Impossible

Ievil-smiley-face’ve heard the phrase “mindless, silly fun” bandied about a lot lately, most often in reference to Transformers 2, but not at all limited to it. I think that people who use this term are a little misinformed as to what “mindless, silly fun” actually is and how subversive and deceptively influential such movies and books can really be. While it is certainly possible that one audience member goes out of the theater or closes a book being no worse for wear than having wasted a few hours of time, another audience member might be influenced (perhaps subconsciously) by dissident content carelessly placed in the property.

First of all, I know there are some movies and books that don’t aspire to be greater than the sum of their parts. Such works even aspire to culminate into something far lower than even that. And that’s fine. Movies like Crank and Shoot ‘Em Up come to mind. These movies do not try to be anything above what they appear to be on the surface. There are no themes explored or characters developed, and they only have plots in the loosest sense of the word. They exist because someone wanted a 90-minute action scene periodically broken up with some meaningless, forgettable dialogue. And that’s fine because that’s all they were ever intended to be.

But that still doesn’t mean that whatever is actually included in those movies does not impact people. Once produced, any creative work takes on a new life, uncontrollable by the creator, which is solely dependent on what the audience brings to it. What some people write off as being “mindless, silly fun,” I consider to be disarming at best and sometimes downright harmful. I mean, in Crank, Jason Statham actually starts to rape Amy Smart’s character in public, and she fights him off until she realizes how “hot” it is and starts to consent. On some level, it is feasible for someone to take this scene and consider it to be acceptable, when it really is not on many different levels. Any instance of rape should be frowned upon, but when “grey area” examples like this are portrayed in a positive light, it does nothing but lessen the impact of a legitimate menace.

I have two major concerns regarding this misnomer at the moment: Transformers 2 and Twilight, the latter admittedly more than the former. One of the most used defenses for either of these properties is that I am looking too hard at something that was never intended for such intense scrutiny because they are just “mindless, silly fun.” The problem with this assertion is that neither of these properties attempts to be just that. They both try (and fail, if you ask me) to delve into deeper narrative structure and philosophical discussions. They were formed not as a diversion, but as genuine piece of art in their respective media.

And when something like that becomes a media sensation, deeper scrutiny must exist in order to determine what makes it continually draw in new audiences and to examine whether the maker succeeded at creating something worthwhile or failed and left a husk that only hints at what was intended and actually does more harm than good. There has to be more than what I see on the surface of both of these properties because their surface is nothing but generic. They both appeal to the lowest common denominator in the audience with many elements, giving audiences what they think they want solely because that is what they are used to the media giving them.

Jenn pretty much sums up all of my feelings on Transformers 2 in her review, but let me go through my reasoning behind why the elements she discusses are detrimental and have no place in a movie that is just “mindless, silly fun.” While there are many stereotypes in the movie: men are scared of commitment, women’s utility is directly proportionate to how attractive it makes them, college professors are pompous windbags only out to sleep with barely legal co-eds, the one I’ll use as an example here are the two jive-talking robots (complete with gold teeth and articulated illiteracy!) in the movie passed off as comic relief.

racism_transformers_movie_twins1

Their most noticeable problem is that they’re not funny, but that’s entirely subjective. But that points out what is wrong with their inclusion in the first place. They perpetuate a stereotype which should not even be considered funny. They don’t tell jokes so much as exist solely as examples of a parody of stereotypical misrepresentation of African-Americans. Their inclusion in the movie is reminiscent of blackface, which has no valid use anywhere except in self-aware irony like Robert Downy, Jr.’s character in Tropic Thunder.

In order for such stereotypes and labels to lose any power they hold over a group of people, they must first fall out of common use. I sometimes like to think that our culture is moving slowly in that direction, but movies like Transformers 2 put us back at square one. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t think this kind of inclusion was based on any form of malice. Instead, I think it made its way into the movie out of pure ignorance. The robots were put in not to hurt anyone, but to entertain, and that’s where the movie being subversive comes in.

Just because something is not intended to have an effect does not negate the fact that the effect is possible.

Even though the robots are not intended to come across as a robo-slur, that’s what they are. And because there was no malice behind their inclusion, their destructive capabilities are heightened. It’s easy to overlook characters angrily shouting racial slurs and just assume they were (poorly) put in for effect, but it is when the degradation becomes a part of the background that its real power takes hold because the negativity is absorbed peripherally and never has a chance to go through any conscious filters. Only people who are already actively aware of such stereotypes are able to see through the pretense of hilarity. By making racially offensive robots “funny” rather than “in your face,” Michael Bay perpetuates a stereotype among people (children, for example) who might have never consciously considered this kind of subversion, and in doing so, he keeps the stereotype in use, which would make it begin to lose its power, rather than letting it die the death it’s deserved for decades.

twilight_movie_group_shot

Now, Twilight. Where to begin? Where to begin? Where…to…begin?

Admittedly, I have lots of dislikes regarding Twilight as a popular culture phenomenon and why I think it is sorely lacking the substance that other franchises of its stature have, but those quibbles aren’t necessarily pertinent to this argument, so I’ll stick with the ones that are. Primarily, Edward Cullen and Bella Swan’s first-person narration which justifies his actions to the reader.

But first, let me get this out there: I think Twilight had a great deal of potential, specifically dealing the narrative, but many factors (including poor writing, characterization, and worldbuilding) limit the series to where the potential was never realized. Instead, readers are subjected to four novels of fluff (and mind you, I like fluff) that influence what many people, even those outside of its target demographic, consider a healthy relationship. Again, I’ve been told that I’m looking too much into Twilight because it’s just “mindless, silly fun” that lets (mostly) girls fantasize about the perfect man they’ll never have.

And that’s my problem. Edward Cullen is not the perfect man, and people should consider themselves lucky that they never have to deal with anything similar to his abuse. Edward is perpetuating the myth that the more moody and tortured (to steal my girlfriend’s phrase) a man is, the more likely it is that he has a heart of gold underneath that can be uncovered if he is loved enough. And that’s bull. I’m not saying that there aren’t people who change over time when given the right circumstances, but staying in an abusive situation in hopes that one day he’ll magically be better because you’re in love is unrealistic.

But that’s Bella and Edward down to a “T.” Edward is often cited as being beautiful or seraphic or majestic or some other word that’s supposed to mean he’s pretty, and because of that, he has power over Bella. I know many grown women who have told me that Edward is what they wished they could have found in a mate. I think that is repulsive. When questioned, these women say that Edward is “sweet.”

I ask them about when he grabs Bella and forces her into his car against her wishes, and their response is generally that it was for her own good. I say: who is he to determine what is good for her? That’s a sign of a typical abusive relationship, and readers need to be aware of that. Bella accepts his behavior because he “loves” her, but if there was any real connection shared between the two of them, Bella would not be stripped of her independence. And that he does it by physically maneuvering her where he wants her makes it even more despicable. Readers should be very aware that a major sign of an abusive relationship is unwanted and forceful physical contact. But it’s okay in Twilight because they’re in love. Let me think about it in that regard. …No, it’s still not.

I then ask about him breaking into her house at night, only to watch her sleep? They respond that it’s sweet and he does it because he cares about her and wants to be near her all the time. I say: That’s not love; it’s infatuation at best and obsession at worst. I’m in love with my girlfriend, but I absolutely do not want to spend every minute of my free time in her presence, nor does she want me to. We are separate individuals with separate (but overlapping) interests and lives. Edward poring over Bella while she sleeps is analogous to an abusive partner keeping tabs on the other partner’s whereabouts and activities at all times. It’s unhealthy. But because Stephenie Meyer tells readers that it’s suitable (through Bella’s first-person narration), it becomes peripherally accepted as being okay when it’s not.

And then there’s Edward stalking Bella when she goes out of town with her friends. I ask the women I know who read it about this part, and they tell me that it’s okay because he was protecting her and looking out for her own good. I say: stalking is never okay. Yes, I’ll admit, Bella was in a sticky situation with the punks who were going to mug/potentially rape her, but she only put herself in that situation because she knew that Edward was literally stalking her (and she liked it!). In New Moon, Bella continually puts herself in harm’s way because she wants to hear Edward’s voice in her head telling her not to do something stupid. She is so enamored with him that she has become addicted to the very idea of him. Let me say it again: this is unhealthy. Women who see this kind of behavior and write it off as “protection” need to take a step back and realize that relationships are more than having one person keep tabs and determine what is best for the other.

buffy_edward_tshirt And yet, all of this could be looked over in Twilight, were it not for being presented through Bella Swan’s eyes. Because the novels are written in first-person, the reader has a front-row seat for only what Bella sees. There is no objective distance, so all events are skewed through the lens of her whiny, unsympathetic, pseudo-depressive teenage angst. Twilight falls into the same vat of problems that Transformers 2 does: it presents Edward’s behavior so that it is absorbed without passing through any objective filters. For the same reason stereotypes being billed as “funny” affects readers, so does first-person narration. There is no distance for a narrator to make it clear to the reader that “this is just how Bella sees it;” her words and thoughts are the only way that Edward’s abuse is relayed to the reader, making every action he takes become hazed by her rose-colored glasses.

If Bella doesn’t realize that her relationship is abusive, there is no way for an uninformed or easily influenced audience to either. The benefit and detriment to a first-person narrative is that the narrator is sometimes unreliable. It can make for fantastic storytelling, but it takes a master writer to develop the nuance required to pull it off. Stephenie Meyer is not a master writer. She might be like Michael Bay in that the subversion in her stories is unintended, but that makes it all the more dangerous. Without a steady hand guiding the prose to make sure that it is crafted well enough to not harm readers, chances are good that there will be someone impacted negatively because of authorial negligence.

So the next time someone tells you that a movie or a book or a game is “mindless, silly fun,” be sure to tell them that it will never be just that. There will always be someone impacted by a work, no matter how obscure or how harmless and silly it might be. The danger is even greater with works that become cultural icons because their reach becomes so wide that there is really no accounting for it. That places a great deal of responsibility on authors and filmmakers to make even the “mindless, silly fun” works actually possess content that is worthwhile instead of two and a half hours or a thousand pages of filler. I’m not calling for a revolution of politically correctness or anything like it. I just ask that creators have a little foresight and responsibility when they release something for public consumption. As Tesh, said in a comment on Jennifer’s review of Transformers 2, there is no “excuse for poor quality and offensive content. Garbage in, garbage out.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Comments

  1. Ben Miller

    Kevin Smith had some comments about how the Author/Creator tries to create their ideal world, which I found interesting. He went on to talk about how there was always a message in what he did, and saw it as a way to change the world. While I disagree with him on some of his viewpoints, I was glad that he at least understood the power of telling people a story, no matter the framework that you deliver it in, or the intended meaning. There will always be pieces of the story the author meant to do one thing and they didn't pan out, while there will be pieces that the author didn't intend to cause some thought or meaning to be attatched to, but the audience will take it and run with it. There is alot of power in Creation, scary terrible power at times. Anyone who wields a pen should be knowledgeable of this, but with the environment we've created where blockbuster stories can make people wealthy lots of people would love to just pen something to make some dough.

    Awesome post.

  2. Tesh

    Very nice. *bookmarks*

    We are the sum of our experiences, for good or for ill, virtual (entertainment/fiction/imagined) or real. Thoughts lead to actions, actions lead to consequences. Internal filters can help keep some of the garbage out, but if those filters are subverted or never developed in the first place, there can be real problems that affect real people.

    I may be oversensitive to this because I work in a creative industry and I've seen way too many people changed for ill by ill-conceived entertainment. Still, the act of creation is indeed a heavy burden, if you're the sort to pay attention to your conscience and consequences. A call to arms for people to use their creative power responsibly, in any venue, is sorely lacking in our culture. (Perhaps that's part of why I want to be a professor, rather than a cog in the machine…)

    I find the terminology telling; what does it say about a person if they subsist on "mindless" input? A lifestyle that is based largely on consumption can't help but be built on what goes into the system. You are what you eat. (Garbage in, garbage out, the long version.)

  3. We Fly Spitfires

    Someone is always going to be offended by something and someone is also going to love something. I agree that it's reckless to throw around he term "harmless fun" but I don't see anything wrong with making crap if that's what your intended audience is 🙂 I actually think people like Micheal Bay want to make – and think they are making – good films, it's just that don't succeed. We can't punish them for that 🙂

  4. J.Ayers

    I agree for the most part, especially about the rape scene. Namely, because this is a direct reference for a violent act.

    The Twins, as I have said, I liked. Granted if seen as proponents of stereotype, they are offensive. In "defense" of the writer though, keep in mind the first movie says they learned our culture via the internet, and their type of demeanor can be very prevalent on the Web.

    Not that I am trying to justify them, but I just wanted to say, it was not their ethnic-based personalities that I noticed, or really cared about. It was their wit. Their very sharp quick-wit. "It's an ass-whuppon, it's supposed to hurt." It was just comedy timing perfection and it made me laugh.

    Agreed, they do not have to reflect any stereotype or ethnicity for the comedic value, but in all honesty, short of them being blatantly racist (calling each other n-word, etc…) I really don't care.

    If people are offended by characters like the Twins, then by all means I do believe it should be rectified.

    In the long run, as I said, I really don't care. I get my laugh, I go on with my life.

    Now the question beckons there, does it make me not racist because I "looked beyond" their represented ethnicity, or does it make me racist because I "ignored" their represented ethnicity?

    I seriously don't know. Like I said, I really don't care. If that makes me a "bad" person, so-be-it. But I would rather be honest about who I am, than pretend it is something I care for.

    I will say, that I do find it interesting that so much value has been placed on the Twins' "negative" characteristics, but not many ever note their bravery in the "heat of battle," or the fact they are essentially soldiers at war for freedom, a notable honor whether fictionalized or real.

    If all of that is rolled into the stereotypes they portray, that might make them less offensive, and more just "simple."

    But then would that take it into the gray area you mentioned before?

    And if it does, does that mean that the "positive" aspects of their character should be ignored completely because their "negative" characteristics might lead to, what is essentially, racism?

    Even if it does mean the "positive" should be subverted only because of the "negative," how do we go about developing realistic characters, as we would not be able to display flaws?

    How far do we go, and who has the right to say?

    As for Twilight, Beej, you know I hate it as much as you, but I do so love being Devil's Advocate. 🙂

    In regard to, "stalking is never okay." The general connotation (and most definitions), state that it is only considered stalking if the attention is unwarranted or downright violent in nature. Since Edward was actually doing it to protect her (it was not violent), AND she liked it (warranted), then technically it was not stalking.

    As for Bella being in an abusive relationship with Edward, I agree it could be seen as that. However, I would also argue, that Bella enjoys the abuse.

    When I first started reading Twilight, I could not get past that she complained about almost every little thing she was having to do, even though she CHOSE TO DO IT. None of it was forced upon her outside of her own decisions. It was like she was just a glutton for punishment.

    Therefor, I would say that even if Edward is an abusive person, Bella enjoys it.

    So then that leads us to the following questions…

    First, is it considered abuse if she wants it? Second, is it really so bad that if it is what the female readers "want" themselves out of a guy, they enjoy the book? Third, where do we draw the line when it comes to the majority wanting "violent" or "stereotypical" entertainment? Should it be removed completely, do we need a "big brother" system to watch over it, or can we trust the judgmental faculties of the fans, even though they are wanting what can be considered morally wrong, or even violent?

    Just food for thought. I don't really expect answers, nor do I have any myself. I just get philosophical at times. 🙂

  5. J.Ayers

    "So the next time someone tells you that a movie or a book or a game is “mindless, silly fun,” be sure to tell them that it will never be just that."

    Also… Pong. 😉

  6. Beej

    @Jennifer: I look very forward to seeing what you have to say in this. We’ve talked about it enough, but I want to see it written down.

    @Tesh: I agree. That’s the problem that I have with the “author is dead” concept. There is still a responsibility any creator has before the work goes out to the public to actually make sure that it’s not harmful to the populace. Yes, people will always read things more in-depth than intended (hence J. Ayers’ comments about us all overthinking things). I think it’s entirely possible to subsist on entirely “mindless” input; I do. I read mostly SFF and Stephen King and other horror and genre writers that would be entirely unwelcome at the big academic conferences like MLA. But I find worth in them, and I think that makes the fluff a lot less “mindless,” hence this post. There’s something to everything, so creators need to be careful of whom they target.

    @WeFlySpitfire: I think the same thing. I think he wants to make good films. I just think that he doesn’t know how. And since he’s being rewarded for putting out garbage, he continues to think that’s what people want. I mean, I gave him money last weekend, so I’m perpetuating it, too. But it’s going to take a paradigm shift with the consuming public to make these filmmakers and authors (Michael Bay and Stephenie Meyer, specifically, in this case) realize that they CAN make good stuff, they just haven’t yet. They need to not ride the coattails of their (what I consider) ill-gotten success, and actually put out the movies they want to instead of pandering to the unwashed masses. I mean, I like some Michael Bay stuff—Armageddon and the new Friday the 13th. They’re not as sensationalist, so they’re not as blatant with what’s wrong.

  7. Beej

    @J. Ayers: Yes, their wit is sharp, and I did chuckle at that line. The thing is, it would have been equally funny if it had been delivered in any other accent. They didn’t have to be stereotypically black to deliver a funny line. Funny is funny. The problem is that the Twins might have some legitimate worth and wit that is destroyed because Bay felt it was best to bog it down in stereotypes.

    I thought about it after you said that, and it also sounded like something a redneck would say, and I would still have been bothered by that because it would perpetuate the “Southerners are ignorant” stereotype. We can display flaws, that’s fine. I want flawed characters, but stereotypes aren’t flaws. They just make people *think* they’re flaws. There’s no flaw at all in being African-American. I just want characters that aren’t decidedly one-dimensional.

    As for Twilight, yes, it is abuse even if she wants it. There are a lot of women (and men) who think they deserve to be treated poorly, and thus they seek that kind of mate out. Abuse is abuse whether the person likes it or not. There’s a difference in things like controlled abuse such as sexual BDSM (which can lead to genuine problems, though), and legitimate controlling and violent abuse. There are people who thrive on that kind of behavior, and they’re generally told by professionals to seek therapy to realize why. Because it’s unhealthy. Meyer perpetuates the “it’s okay because she likes it” myth without ever showing that it’s bad in the first place.

    I’d be fine with the books (and movies like Transformers) if they offered a two-sided deal for the audience to determine if what is going on is the correct way, but my problem comes in that these properties relay a single point of view and viewers are required to accept it as the norm, when in fact it is not. Were Twilight to have a narrator showing how Bella is making this choice, it would be different, but it’s not, and all the reader gets is that it’s okay all the time. In Transformers 2, the viewers only see illiterate, profane robots perpetuating a stereotype with no strong, African-American characters to balance the equation with. My problem comes from these creators showing something without giving readers and viewers a chance to determine for themselves that there might be another, better way. That make sense?

  8. J.Ayers

    "There’s no flaw at all in being African-American. I just want characters that aren’t decidedly one-dimensional."

    Before I answer this, I want it clearly known I am not intending to offend or defend offensiveness. I agree completely that there was no stereotype needed for the comedic side of the Twins. I even say that very plainly in my original post. Hell, I was even talking to my wife about it, we had decided it would have been even more funny if it was Ironhide telling Ratchet, "It's supposed to hurt."

    Wouldn't the flaw be their ignorance, not their portrayal? If… And this is a BIG if for most people, the Transformers get their language and human portrayal from the Internet, then their essential personalities are already developed before they come to Earth. This would mean that the Twins were actually ignorant BEFORE they came to Earth. Then studying a stereotypical portrayal of human activity from the Internet (which I think we can all agree the Net is full of stereotypes and bigotry), they picked up on what is essentially an offensive form for them to exist on Earth because they were originally to ignorant to know any better.

    I know this does not excuse the writer from putting in any offensive characters, but it seems logical to me. It may also be the reason I am not bothered by them. Generally if there is a logical reason for something that fits storyline, I am fine with it.

    "In Transformers 2, the viewers only see illiterate, profane robots perpetuating a stereotype with no strong, African-American characters to balance the equation with."

    What about Tyrese Gibson's character? Agreed, he didn't have a lot in the sequel, but he was a big part of the original. Most would assume the original would be watched first, or at least at some point in conjunction with the sequel.

    The funny thing is, I obviously hold comedy at a higher value than I would literary integrity. Hence why I did like the Twins, but it was Gibson's character that gave my favorite line of all in the movie.

    "I hope those fighters have good aim."

    The timing of that orange smoke was just freaking hilarious.

    So even if Gibson's character isn't prevalent enough to counteract the Twins on an "intellent" level, he does do so on a comedic level.

  9. J.Ayers

    "Edward poring over Bella while she sleeps is analogous to an abusive partner keeping tabs on the other partner’s whereabouts and activities at all times."

    I was thinking about this earlier today. Originally, I found it very disturbing myself. However, the more I think about it, the more I realize I do it myself with my wife.

    For simplicity sake, I need to set a few things as baseline. First, before Edward and Bella are "together" I do still think of it as creepy that he keeps watching over her. However, it does come off to me that it is more like he is watching her as a confused puppy trying to figure out a new toy versus obsession. Him being a vampire for so long and admittedly out of touch by humanity, he is confused by Bella since she is something "new" to him. Even so, it is still fairly creepy.

    Second, even though Edward does do it throughout the night, I assume that is because he does it to his full extent. He does not think, "I will watch her all night." He thinks, "I will watch her as long as I can." After all, being a vampire, time is of little matter to him.

    Third, one of the major reasons for this constant "tab keeping" is because he worries something might happen in her sleep. After all, it's not like their world is devoid of extreme danger. With the freely roaming bands of supernatural creatures running about. At least, this is one of the biggest reasons I get from Twilight fans.

    Fourth, I assume that despite the horrible portrayal of Bella and Edward's relationship, they are in fact, in love.

    So then, one can surmise, that with the extreme dangers lurking about (supernatural beasts), and an innocent (Bella), one who loves said innocent would want to be able to protect someone they love to their full extent (Edward watching her throughout the night).

    Granted, you take away the supernatural aspect, and it becomes this "average" person creepily peering over a girl all night long.

    However, context is key.

    Now then, in my case, I am not a vampire, but I do work third shift. So it is not beyond me to be awake throughout the night for "no apparent reason." Thus, when I do this, I can in fact, do it for a very long period of time throughout the night. That would be my full extent. No it is not constant, but as I said, I am also not an enduring vampire.

    Recently, we have discovered my wife (being the person I love more than anything else), has 5 out of the 6 genetic markers for blood clotting disorders, as well a congenital heart defect from birth that has caused a hole between the chambers of her heart where blood may clot when she is under stress. What this means is that due to one of the genetic markers, if she so much as crosses her ankles at night, or due to the heart defect, have a stressful dream/nightmare, she can cause a clot to form that would head straight to her brain and cause a stroke. I believe that signifies extreme danger. And yes it really is that easy for it to happen to her. At least according to the specialist. He seemed to be very adamant about it.

    I believe that placed in context, Edward is not being controlling over her while watching her sleep, but being available in case of (likely) danger.

  10. J.Ayers

    Granted, part of your argument is that if the author does not promote this properly, even in context, it can still cause the reader to be confused about what is acceptable behavior.

    However, one might argue that, as Tesh has pointed out before, we are the sum of our experiences. This is the very nature of assumption. The structure upon which stereotypes are built. The majority of experiences we have as individuals, as well as the experiences of the majority.

    This is also the basis of one person being able to understand another. The interesting thing, is that regardless of given context, many like minded people are able to autmatically "know" what the assumed context is when telling a story. All this because their experiences have produced behavior in themselves that promotes personal connection.

    Many of the women I speak to who enjoy Twilight often say Bella reminds them so much of themselves. Since the book is written in first person, one can legitimately assume that Bella is written to think as the author would. This would mean that despite the author's portrayal of the situations being poor to us, it is perfect for them. It would be the equivlant of the author telling the story to the reader. Since the reader is "like" Bella, the reader is "like" the author. In turn, the reader would be able to tell whether or not it really is an abusive relationship, or meant to be completely from assumption.

    Hence, they can legitimately tell the difference in a healthy relationship or an abusive one. They just wouldn't be able to author it into a way we would understand.

  11. Beej

    "However, the more I think about it, the more I realize I do it myself with my wife."

    That's fine. Because she's your wife, she deserves and requires your protection, and you deserve and require hers. The difference in you and your wife and Bella and Edward is that they are not a married couple; they are high school kids with a crush. Also, he breaks into her house and does this against her will (and that of her father's), whereas you and your wife live together as a family, where breaking and entering is impossible and watching over one another is a given.

  12. J.Ayers

    "The difference in you and your wife and Bella and Edward is that they are not a married couple; they are high school kids with a crush"

    Like I said, creepy before they are "together". But isn't Edward like 108 years old? That's a little out of teenage crush zone.

  13. Tesh

    Just because someone can rationalize something doesn't mean it's right or healthy. Just because someone isn't offended by trash, it doesn't justify its existence or propagation.

  14. J.Ayers

    "Just because someone can rationalize something doesn't mean it's right or healthy."

    If you are a Rationalist (as I tend to be, and many people), then yes, it does make it right.
    As well, if it is rationalized as being healthy, that would make it healthy (to a Rationalist).

    "Just because someone isn't offended by trash, it doesn't justify its existence or propagation."

    Short of purposefully making something only not to offend (which is rare outside of apologies), an object's offensive nature has little to do with it's justification.

    The problem here is the assumption that an object (literary or otherwise) can be made that will always have a neutral-positive effect. This is logically impossible. Hence the purpose of Beej's blog entry in the first place.

    Then the issue becomes, what does one decide as "trash" and what is not.

    However, there comes the point of one making the decision for another, and as Beej put it in regard to Edward and Bella, "who is he to determine what is good for her?"

    This would be no different. Because we may decide it is "trash," what right do we have in making someone else see our point of view?

    All we can do is point out the short comings in technical expertise of the author, but if the reader's argument is, "it is written like I think," who are we to say it is poorly written? Obviously, it is written for the audience it was intended. What we may see as a poor example of a relationship, they are able to see as what they conceive as "love."

    It may be that "garbage in is garbage out," but remember "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

  15. J.Ayers

    "Short of purposefully making something only not to offend (which is rare outside of apologies), an object's offensive nature has little to do with it's justification."

    Clarification: A person rarely decides, "This is a good story about a vampire because it does not offend anyone." It would be more like, "This is a good story about a vampire because it contains aspects that vampire fans enjoy." The assumption is then that as long as the context of the story is within the confines of what the audience deems acceptable, a non-offensive nature (or offensive nature as the case may be) is inherent.

    In this particular case, my point was not to justify the object's existence via it's offensive nature, only to question the opinion that it is offensive (or not).

    In all honesty, in regards to the Twins, I have been told I am no allowed to see objects like them as offensive.

    You may remember the outrage the New York Post ignited due to the political cartoon that many thought likened President Obama to a chimp. I too thought, "hey, I'm (indirectly) offended by that." Being the good little debater that I am, I instantly joined in the discussions on Facebook to help out those who would be directly offended (African Americans).

    To my surprise, they didn't want my help, and was actually offended that I "thought" I was offended. It was explained to me by several African American people, mostly middle-aged or older, that because I did not have a direct history with the racism in question (I am not black, I, nor an ancestor, has never been a slave, etc), it offends them that I think I am offended. Many of them were even more offended that I said I was offended and said that I was hurting their cause.

    So then what do we really consider offensive? What happens when the people who are the reason we think something is offensive, says we are not allowed to be offended?

    This is mostly the reason for my original opinion, "if it is offensive it needs to be rectified, but whether or not it is offensive, I do not care."

  16. Jennifer

    So sorry this has taken me so long; you know how this week has been. This is going to be a multi-part comment, I believe 🙂

    My first topic is the subject of the portrayal of abusive behavior.

    The problem that I see that connects a lot of these scenarios is the idea that if, in the end, the woman decides that she is ok with the abusive behavior, then that justifies the man’s decision to be abusive. There is a date rape scene in Seth Rogen’s Observe and Report that got a good bit of attention when the film came out. The scene shows Seth Rogen’s character having sex with Anna Farris’ character, who is completely unconscious. Rogen pauses when Farris starts to wake up, and her response is “Why are you stopping, m*****f*****?” The makers of this movie seemed to think that Farris’ line somehow retroactively made his decision to rape an unconscious woman ok. Seth Rogen said in an interview, “When we're having sex and she's unconscious like you can literally feel the audience thinking, like, how the f*** are they going to make this okay? Like, what can possibly be said or done that I'm not going to walk out of the movie theater in the next thirty seconds? . . . And then she says, like, the one thing that makes it all okay.”

    Her statement may mean that she won’t feel bad about what happened, but it does nothing to make Rogen’s character any less of a rapist. I haven’t seen the film (just that scene online), so I don’t know the context. For all I know, the film invites critical thinking about the events in the scene. I do know that it is a dark comedy and that Rogen’s character is supposed to be a jerk. I am not opposed to films depicting bad behavior, as long as there is some acknowledgement (or at least room for audience acknowledgement) that it is, in fact, bad behavior. I don’t think that Observe and Report is quite the level of subversion that you’re talking about, since it I doubt it’s hidden underneath such a façade of lighthearted fun.

    I think Beej is spot-on in asserting that the “mindless, silly fun” label actually makes some content more dangerous, since so many people use the label as an excuse to shut down any critical thinking. I don’t want to go too far down the road of assuming that people mindlessly emulate what they see in popular media, but I don’t think we can ignore the effects. In both Crank (in the scene Beej mentions) and Observe and Report, a male character’s decision to rape a woman is dimissed as ok when it turns out that the woman actually does want it anyway. I’m afraid that scenes like these, when not viewed with a critical eye, encourage a sense of sexual entitlement in some young men. That the scenes promote the idea of: “I am so good and she’s going to love it so much that she’s bound to change her mind once we start (or retroactively consent when she wakes up).” And I’m afraid that young women will be led to believe that men expect that sort of submission, and that they have to offer it if they’re going to be desirable. I don’t know. I hope people are smarter than that. But I volunteer for a rape crisis center, and I see the stats coming in every month, and something out there is perverting a lot of people’s ideas about sexuality and consent. A lot more than just pop culture, of course, but everything plays a role.

    Continued in next post

  17. Jennifer

    As for Twilight, again, I just don’t buy the retroactive consent idea. The fact that Bella later decides that she likes Edward’s stalking doesn’t excuse his decision to begin stalking her and breaking into her house without consent. If anything, I think that the fact that they enter into a relationship later makes the message of the novels worse, especially since their relationship seems to be presented as the ideal relationship in a lot of ways. The novels seem to suggest that, if you have a crush on a guy, then any behavior from him is permissible, and that the proper reaction when you discover that someone has abusive tendencies is to enter into a relationship with the person.

    However, I did recently see an opinion on a message board that made me adjust my view of Twilight a bit. The person said that the act of telling girls that they shouldn’t read or enjoy Twilight didn’t sit well with her. Instead, she insisted that people have the right to like what they like. She also pointed out that, if we tell girls that they’re not smart enough to know what’s good for them, then we’re being just as patronizing as Edward is to Bella and are therefore guilty of precisely the thing we’re complaining about. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I have to admit that she’s right. So I think the answer is to let kids read what they want to read (within reason), but for parents and teachers to read those things, too, in order to try to engage kids in critical thinking. Censorship isn’t the answer to problematic material. The answer is encouraging people to realize that it is, in fact, problematic, so they can then recognize and react appropriately when they encounter those problems in real life. So if you have a daughter, read Twilight with her, and then say, “OK, we enjoy this because it’s melodramatic and supplies an emotional roller coaster that is fun for escapism. And that’s great. But let’s talk about the way these characters act, and whether it’s ok in real life.”

    Anyway, these are my thoughts on the portrayal of abusive behavior in “mindless, silly fun.” I’ll try to get around to commenting on some of your theories about narrative voice (and considering my thesis topic, you know where this is going) later.

  18. J.Ayers

    "The problem that I see that connects a lot of these scenarios is the idea that if, in the end, the woman decides that she is ok with the abusive behavior, then that justifies the man’s decision to be abusive."

    Naturally, I think everyone here can agree that anything that portrays abusive behavior as acceptable is just wrong.

    Our issue, however, is how do we determine what is deemed abusive.

    Taking the original example of Edward forcing Bella into the car…
    (I assume this is the scene in Twilight where he grabs her by the jacket after she gets lightheaded from the blood lab. It is the only one that I can think of that she is "forced." Could be in New Moon, don't remember.)
    If we are looking at this from a technical standpoint, almost every definition (including legally, but that is at the judge's discretion) states that there has to be harmful intent before it can be considered abuse. In this situation, the most obvious intent was to keep her from driving because she might wreck, or cause someone else to wreck. Also, since he grabbed her by the jacket and not her physical body, this promotes the idea of playfulness, and she is never actually forced to get into the car, he only takes her to the door. He then threatens that he will chase her down if she tries to run, but there is no evidence as to if he will (more on this later).

    Going by definition, this is far from abuse. Maltreatment perhaps, an exercise in controlling behavior, likely, but not abuse.

    Now then, aside from the technical view, we have the contextual view. This is in which what the reader would assume the possibilities of intent are, based on context.

    This comes mainly from Edward's threat that he will chase her down. For me, it was entirely meant as a playful jest, as well to everyone else I ask about it. This, of course, means it is not seen as abuse. If she does not want to get in the car, he will let her go.

    However, at this point there is the possibility he is dead serious, and willing to track her down whether she likes it or not. This would then be the abusive behavior that we do not want promoted.

    So, if the readers automatically assume that there is no intent of abuse on his part, and understand the context as "playful teenage banter" can we still consider it abuse on the readers' part, only because we see it as such? Are we allowed to say your interpretation of context is wrong?

    The problem here, is that the story is written in first person (as Beej already mentioned), from Bella's standpoint. Therefor, we do not know what Edward's real intention is. This is error of the author. It makes the situation cloudy.

    In the end, it seems to me, it is just as folly to declare Edward abusive, as it is for a fan to say it is not.

  19. J.Ayers

    I think my points ultimately boil down to:
    1. Offensive and abusive behavior are not acceptable

    2. How do we define offensive or abusive?

    3. Using stereotypes and poorly written first person narrative is sloppy and lazy on the originators part, and makes for a great discussion on Beej's blog. 🙂

Trackbacks

  1. […] This is a guest post that my fiancée Jenn wrote up about the “utter awfulness” that was Transformers 2. While I thought the movie was terrible and bad (thus my Twitter review of it being “terribad”), she was much more appalled by the robotravesty that assaulted us IMAX-style than I was. Between her and Roger Ebert’s multiple reviews of the film (dare I call it that, even?), there is nothing for me personally left to say on the subject that I have not already said. […]