Monday, September 16, 2019

Media Monday: Enjoy Entertainment For What It Is

Another short but hopefully thought-provoking post today.

First, I know this has the potential to draw in issues of social justice and other real-world problems that we are all struggling with in one way or another, and I get that. Entertainment is there, first and foremost, to entertain us, and that usually means some element of escapism. That kind of escapism is different for everyone, and while there are certainly some issues that should always be addressed, there are a lot of people for whom escapism means being able to step away from those issues. I am not going to say this is a good or a bad thing, just that it is a sentiment often expressed, and for those people, that sentiment is real. I guess that is my wishy-washy way of saying that I am trying to not directly address social issues here, but instead a more all-encompassing philosophy of entertainment.

For me, that philosophy breaks down to "Enjoy entertaining things for what they are, don't hate them for what they are not". No body of entertainment is perfect, nor can any one body of entertainment media address perfectly all aspects of itself that all consumers may find entertaining. If your go-to for entertainment is gross-out comedy movies, clearly that is not going to appeal to people whose go-to entertainment excludes gross-out humor. I see no point in anyone who dislikes gross-out humor watching such films and then complaining about them. This holds true for almost any form of entertainment, and while we might all be forgiven decades ago for going to movies or watching television shows that we were ignorant of, now that we have the Internet, that is a lack of due diligence on the part of the viewer.

I first started (recently) thinking about this when I saw the fan-rage over the teaser trailer to the latest Star Wars movie, Episode IX, The Rise of Skywalker. There's a moment with a folding lightsaber - yes, that moment, I can see you folks in the back already twitching in your seats - and within hours, never mind days of that trailer going live, the internet was flooded with people screaming and foaming at the mouth over how stupid a gimmick this was and so on. One particular YouTube channel had a 23-minute long video complaining about the lightsaber. Do you know how long it takes to produce a reasonably professional 23-minute long YouTube video? With props and everything? This person likely invested days worth of work to make it, all to complain about something in five seconds of a trailer for a move about laser swords and space magic.

And you know why? Because the video got tens of thousands of monetized views. But that's a whole other article for another day.

People like to get outraged about things. Yes, there are issues worth getting outraged about, but the shape of a science fiction laser sword isn't one of them. This obsessive, fandom-ish need to explain and legitimize and pick apart and deconstruct every single aspect of our entertainment media is not only exhaustive, it's honestly annoying. It becomes this battleground where people spend more time arguing over their entertainment than actually enjoying anything. This is one of the reasons I don't visit Facebook groups around WW2 films or books - everyone in there is a rivet-counting asshole, and if they aren't, they get shouted down by the rivet-counting assholes. Every single movie you bring up in such a group, there's going to be someone who hates it because some aspect of it was displeasing to them.

I remember someone complaining about the end of Saving Private Ryan because when the Tiger tank is destroyed by the airplane, the plane didn't have empty bomb or rocket racks attached to its lower fuselage. I also remember someone complaining about the movie Fury, and how "laughably stupid" it was that the Tiger in that movie - in real life the only operational Tiger 1 in the entire world, acquired from the Bovington Tank Museum for use in the film - was in its 1943 Tunisian camouflage paint pattern, and not what one would see on a Tiger in mid-1945. Yeah I am sure the staff at Bovington are just going to paint over and then painstakingly strip and re-paint the only operational Tiger tank in the world just for some asshole in a movie theater. I mean, yeah, this is a bit silly.

I guess my overall point here is, be honest about what you want from entertainment, seek that out, and don't complain about what was never intended to be there. Don't watch Wizards in Space for realistic engineering and physics demonstrations. Don't watch war movies if you'll have an aneurysm over the smallest historical inaccuracy. Don't watch horror movies if you're not prepared to see stupid horror movie tropes in action. Don't watch stupid raunchy sex comedies if you're not prepared to see cringe-worthy sex and gender stereotyping. For a large percentage of the population - for good or for ill - humor is about that which causes discomfort. The Office was all about "cringe humor". America's Funniest Home Videos was all about dads getting whacked in the crotch by whiffle bats. There is no getting away from this - it is at the heart of what is entertaining for some people.

Now, to circle back to my opening statement, you can be justified in being upset at something when it tries to do that thing, but actively fails to do so. If your entertainment is about female empowerment, but you fall back on cringy, decades-old stereotypes, or if your message is that female empowerment is in some way bad and you're trying to be edgy by subverting this...than people should call you out for what you are, because you are trying to do that thing and doing it badly. This also doesn't mean you can be left off the hook for obvious racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on just by saying "well this movie was never intended to address that". We live in too-aware a society for that to be a legitimate excuse anymore. I sort of look at it like the old doctor's premise, "First, do no harm". As long as you can avoid being actively racist, sexist, and so forth, I feel you are not required to actively address those and other social issues if that is not the nature and theme of your entertainment.

At the end of the day, as I mentioned in a recent post about modern reading habits and sources of entertainment, we only have so many hours in the day in which to consume entertainment, so why would we purposefully seek out entertainment that doesn't fit with our entertainment comfort zone? Life is too short and blood pressure too high already for us to do that to ourselves.


M Harold Page said...

Yes. This.

Christopher M. Chupik said...

Good timing on this. My Twitter feed this morning is full of people moaning about the way Rey is holding her lightsaber in a new picture from the movie. You don't like it? Fine. I just get tired of people who complain about it every day of the week.

Chris Lopes said...

In the first place it was probably more like within minutes/seconds not hours. There ain't no rage like nerd rage. And yes, it's stupid.

As to social justice, it depends on what kind of story you are trying to tell. If it takes place in the modern era, and you aren't trying to paint some of the characters as total a-holes, then racism, sexism, or any other form of bigotry is out of place. On the other hand, if the story takes place in something like the antebellum South, it's kind of required as long as you make it clear it's wrong. The problem is when you try to transplant modern values to times and places where they don't belong.