EXPECTING THE EXPECTED: On the day this podcast episode releases, so too does the newest cinematic installment of the main Star Wars series with Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. But Andrew and D. aren’t here to talk about the movie––they haven’t seen it yet. Instead, they’re here to talk about the talk about the movie, specifically the rather surprising amount of negative reviews coming from––not internet trolls––professional film reviewers. It leads to a multi-faceted conversation about expectations, fandom, and even the changing landscape of cinema narratives.
Shortcast 61 – All-New, All-Same (29 June 2018): Where D. and Andrew talk about Lucasfilm putting their “A Star Wars Story” series on on hold after the failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story in theaters (possibly due to the meddling of internet jerkbags).
Empty Justice (01 March 2019): Where Andrew and D. document the attempted review bombing (and Rotten Tomatoes‘ subsequent change in review policy) of Captain Marvel.
WEEK IN GEEK(kind of): It turned out to be an accidental Week in Geek episode as D. Bethel talks about his disappointment with Valve Corporation’s sidelining of Campo Santo’s Firewatch followup, In the Valley of Gods. On the opposite side of breaking news, Andrew finally gets around to watching Star Trek: Discovery and kind of unabashedly loves it.
Friend of the show, André La Roche, shines a light on the controversy surrounding the release of Warner Bros.’ Joker.
By now, it’s safe to say that the movie Joker is unlikely to incite self-professed incels to violence—a fear that’s beenwelldocumented across the internet. What interests me is the question of why, when so little was known of the movie, was the fear amongst certain individuals so strong and so palpable? And now that the movie has been in theatres for three weeks, and the threat of violence diminished, what value can its skeptics find upon viewing it?
It’s always difficult to enter a discussion on a topic when emotions have run high, hot, and intense. The emotions themselves that people felt leading up to Joker’s release—fear, anger, revulsion—are all obviously real and experienced, especially in light of the potential for politicized real world violence such as the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. There is no arguing with the fact that those emotions were validly felt. However, there is plenty to gain in evaluating why we had those emotional reactions to this particular movie in the first place.
I remember first seeing this narrative of “Joker as inciting violence” when the first trailer dropped. Scenes of Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck sitting heavy with defeat in therapy or walking around the squalid streets of Gotham City. This contrasts with his voice-over telling the therapist how his mother thought that his purpose was to bring laughter and joy to the world. Fleck is presented as a man relentlessly abused by society and takes it with a quiet restraint: a victim. A wordless montage set to the crooning vocals of Jimmy Durante’s “Smile” depicts him dancing with his mother, on a date with a young woman, at Arkham State Hospital (or Arkham Asylum for the cool comics readers in the back of the room) before the chaos escalates. “I used to think my life was a tragedy,” he informs the viewer, as the montage cuts between scenes of his own personal deterioration and adoption of the Joker persona, and Gotham City’s wider descent into lawlessness. “But now I realize it’s a comedy,” he concludes, as he strides confidently down a white hallway, fully clad in clown face paint, green hair, and a purple suit, exuding a confidence that we can assume is only gained by fighting back.
The legal act of inciting violence essentially requires a specific call to violent action against specific targets in a specific manner…something that a movie about a fictional character living in an early 1980s fictional city is unlikely to do.
One of my friends wondered via Facebook posting, “Is this the right time for a movie about a loner white male out to get revenge on society?” From there, I only began to see more and more individuals pose the same or similar questions. All from just a trailer and description of a movie.
There were fears about a repeat of the Aurora, Colorado shooting conducted by an individual who was (erroneously) reported as having dressed as the Joker. But there were no concrete threats. At least not until after the narrative had gained traction and taken root in the public consciousness. But for the majority of time leading up to the film’s release. . . nothing. Much ado about that.
“Well,” some might say, “This film could have incited violence.” But again––“could”, devoid of any actionable evidence or credible threats seems like a large leap to make. Moreover, the legal act of inciting violence essentially requires a specific call to violent action against specific targets in a specific manner—such as saying, “I implore my listeners to find local attorney Joe Smith as he’s on his way from home and kick the living tar out of him.” This is something that a movie about a fictional character living in an early 1980s fictional city is unlikely to do.
The film’s focus was untethered to any single ideology, but rather promised an ur-mythology regarding a fall from grace of a favored son set against the backdrop of revolution. A paradise lost, if you will.
So, in the absence of evidence of a credible threat, or of incitement, why so much fear about a movie that was yet to be seen? Why so much fear about the mere artistic treatment of notions of alienation, loneliness, and violent reprisal? I’m honestly unable to provide an answer to that, because I didn’t count myself among those concerned about the film’s influence on society. For one, I simply didn’t see anything in the trailer that inclined me to think this movie was going to have a message that resonated with incel culture. Instead, its focus on personal deterioration, and a vague implication of social upheaval were untethered to any single ideology, but (as is the nature of comic books) rather promised an ur-mythology regarding a fall from grace of a favored son set against the backdrop of revolution. A paradise lost, if you will. These themes can be found in any and all political or religious doctrines. In short, I saw this film as promising to deliver tantalizingly dark cinema. By the time it arrived in theaters, I was not disappointed.
So why the initial outrage? Instead of trying to answer the question, I’ll turn it back on those who were the most concerned about Joker’s impact. Why did the mere idea of this movie unsettle you so much? What was it about the vague descriptions and trailers of its themes and contents that caused this movie to register as politicized agitprop that would inspire alt-right and incel mass shooters as opposed to just being about a violent and nihilistic madman?
And dare I make the suggestion that the best, most honest
way to answer the above question for yourself is by sitting down and just
watching the movie. Now that Joker’s out, you know you won’t merely be consuming
political propaganda that you disagree with. Observe how it depicts its
fictional reality and characters, observing within yourself the moods that
those depictions stir, and how they impact your worldview? And then maybe, just
maybe, after walking away from the movie fully informed, reflect upon why you
reacted as you originally did. Perhaps the answers and insights that you derive
will surprise you.
Otherwise, if the reaction that was directed at Joker is indicative of what future “dangerous movies” can expect, it’d be enough to make an individual wonder whether it was just them, or if it was getting crazier out there.
WEEK IN GEEK: Taking a break from the news, Andrew and D. Bethel talk about the things that have been interesting to them over the last week or so. First, Andrew goes back to finish Unknown Worlds Entertainment’s Subnautica. Then D. Bethel finds much to appreciate––and much to make him uncomfortable––in the recent film, Joker. Then, to round things out, Andrew also gets underwhelmed but intrigued by the possibility found in Lazy Bear Games’ Graveyard Keeper.
It’s Always A Game (08 Feb. 2019): Where Andrew first talked about his time with Subnautica.
Tummy Drums (04 Oct. 2019): Where D. Bethel mentions “grotesque” art when discussing Warhammer 40,000 (the show notes also include a link to the Wikipedia explanation of “grotesque” in art and literature).
A BLIZZARD OF CONTROVERSY: Activision Blizzard––makers of such hit games as World of Warcraft, Overwatch,and Hearthstone––have hit a geo-political wall as they take a stance over controversial statements made by the winner of a Hearthstone tournament about the protests in Hong Kong against the People’s Republic of China. Andrew and D. Bethel investigate the complicated relationship between popular American entertainment and China.
TWO MAN’S SKY: With No Man’s Sky Beyond––the newest big 2.0 patch for the open world, sci-fi survival game, No Man’s Sky––it kind of brings to a close the long, arduous, but ultimately heartwarming story of this unique game by the small team at Hello Games. Andrew and D. Bethel talk about the years-long journey of this game.
“I’M NOT LISTENING”: Amid the stories about the varoius #[Insert Noun]Gates and #MeToo stories circulating through nerd culture, one of the bigger cases in the last year revolved around voice actor, Vic Mignogna, known for work in many anime, especially the Dragon Ball franchise. When allegations were made about his misconduct in the workplace, he started suing people and companies when they started dropping him from their employ. In the last few weeks––in an almost comical fashion––a few of Mignogna’s cases were dismissed, casting his defense and seriousness about this fight in doubt despite crowdfunding nearly $250,000 to pay for his legal fees. Resident nerd lawyer, Andrew, talks Dan through this bizarre moment.
E3 2019: This year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has been a strange one with big players absent and new hardware on the horizon, but it’s still bringing announcements and trailers to make our jaded hosts excited.
Games discussed: Cyberpunk 2077, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Fallout 76, Pokémon Sword/Shield, among others.
MARVELLOUS DEBUT: A quick check-in with the toxic male comics fandom to start the show. A few weeks ago, Andrew and D. Bethel talked about how proponents for ComicsGate and their robot army were trying to tank Captain Marvel well before it released into theaters with negative scores on Rotten Tomatoes. The hosts just wanted to recognize that Marvel Studios’ newest movie debuted to record-breaking ticket sales, thoroughly debunking and neutering the latest efforts by those who try to gatekeep and, honestly, destroy comics fandom and its associated medium.
A LOT OF GREY AREA: A new trailer for the live-action adaptation of the classic Disney animate feature, Aladdin, went live this week and while the first trailer made Andrew and D. cautiously optimistic, this new one got both of them fully on-board. They talk about adaptations again, specifically from medium to medium (like, in this case, animation to live-action) and why it’s a good thing for adapters (is that the word?) to break with tradition and say something unique even with a beloved property.
Shortcast 74 – Texas the Rabbit: Where Andrew and D. Bethel talked about ComicsGate’s first attempt to show how comics should be made (and fail at doing so). Also, the RELEVANT EPISODES in the show notes have a comprehensive bibliography of other episodes where ComicsGate was discussed.
21st Century Mouse (22 Feb. 2019): Where D. Bethel discussed the live-action adaptation of Battle Angel, focusing on the choices the filmmakers made to bring the story of the manga and anime to a live-action film.
“Boasts of Bethel: Getting to the Point“: Going into the wayback machine, D. Bethel wrote down his thoughts about adapting stories from one medium to another, using the relationship between A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones as a reference point (spoiler free).
HIGHER, FURTHER, FASTER (THAN THE TROLLS CAN FOLLOW): As with many nerdy movies lately that have been labeled as being damaging to the field, Marvel’s upcoming tent-pole film, Captain Marvel (the first from Marvel Studios to have a woman in the lead role), aggregate review site Rotten Tomatoes have been targeted by these organized hate campaigns by getting “review bombed.” This means people have taken the steps to make sure sites like Rotten Tomatoes––a site many people visit to see how upcoming movies are trending and reviewing––show a low anticipation or review score with the hope of scaring off potential viewers and condemning the film to low box office receipts. Star Wars: The Last Jedi was victim to this as was 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot and, in possibly in a successful campaign, Solo: A Star Wars Story got hit hard. However, Captain Marvel is on track to break records with ticket presales and be a big smash at theaters.
Andrew and D. Bethel investigate this continuing trend, how Rotten Tomatoes is actually, finally, doing something about this habit, and discuss how and why Captain Marvel seems to be beating the odds.
A brief overview from Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics‘ episode about Milestone Comics:
POST-APOCALYPSE NOW: After D. Bethel talks a bit about the California fires (he’s safe albeit drenched in smoke from the Camp Fire––please donate money over supplies to help most during this time of containment and rebuilding), Andrew discusses his hour or so playing Fallout 76.
#IRONSHITES: Richard Meyer and the ComicsGate controversy has been covered many times before on the show, and the latest installment has Richard Meyer aka “Comics & Diversity” putting his money where his mouth is. His 120-page graphic novel, Iron Sights, (written by Meyer, art by Ibai Canales) has been released (it cost $20 for a copy of the book if you contributed to its Indiegogo campaign) was summarily criticized by Twitter user, Jafleece, in a spectacular and validating fashion. The 60+ thread starts here:
Andrew and D. discuss not only what they saw from the thread, but what this says about the claims Meyer and ComicsGate have been levying toward the industry for awhile now.
END BITS: Also, they spend some time at the end to discuss the death of Stan Lee, below is the clip that D. mentioned was his favorite Stan Lee cameo, from this year’s Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games.
And, for good measure, the Pokémon: Detective Pikachu tralier:
Shortcast 49 – The Sweet Beats (30 Mar. 2018): Where Andrew and D. Bethel talk about Fallout 4, also the RELATED EPISODES of the notes contain a comprehensive list of the other times Fallout 4 was discussed on the show.