Comedy and “punching”

July 29, 2016

So, Siobhan at “Against the Grain” is commenting on the new Ghostbusters movie. She likes it, but I find one of the reasons she likes it worthy of comment:

Humour: Anyone who thinks women can’t be funny clearly needs to see this. More importantly, the humour usually doesn’t need any minority to be the butt of its jokes–just cishet white men, the most privileged demographic in the West. It’s a “punching up” film through and through.

So, let me just ask this one simple question: why in the world is our comedy relying on “punching”?

In general, comedy is going to rely on stereotypes. This is because it generally isn’t going to be funny to build up a complicated character that you can then rely on to drive the humour. So comedy is going to rely on very simple character concepts and, yes, archetypes and stereotypes a lot to drive its humour. And, potentially, those stereotypes are going to be based on nationality, race or gender. In theory, Social Justice theory ought to insist that basing humour on those last stereotypes is risky at best, and should not be done at worst, and theory — but definitely not in practice — that would be true even if it is the most privileged demographic in the West, because the problem with this sort of stereotyping is that it promotes prejudicial thinking, the sort of thinking that insists that all members of a group really do think or act that way, which is just as wrong whether that category is a minority or privileged.

However, if we put aside the fostering of stereotypes — which, in my opinion, is best combated not by removing the stereotypes entirely, but by not simply taking the easy way out and putting all characters of that racial group or gender into those stereotypical roles — it seems to me that simply doing that ought not count as “punching” in any way. “Punching” requires more than simply presenting the stereotype, but must instead present the stereotype as the punch line. Bad as presenting all members of a certain group as being alike may be, that pales in comparison to taking that stereotype and using that, in and of itself, as the source of humour. For example, while many people tell me that I ought to watch “The Big Bang Theory” — since I probably count as being a nerd — I have seen criticisms that say that all that show does is bring in stereotypical nerds for the audience to point and laugh at, and so makes the fact that they are stereotypical nerds the source of the humour. This is in contrast to a show like, say, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” where Will Smith was definitely playing to the inner-city black stereotype but the humour was at least mostly not just the stereotype, but instead on how someone with that stereotype would be in the completely different environment and situation of Beverly Hills. For the most part, it wasn’t just that they pointed at him and laughed, and in fact much of the time his views were presented as something that the Banks’ needed, and what was missing from their life. From this, we get an understanding that being different isn’t bad, just different, and that everyone needed to accomodate each other to make this work.

Because the stereotype isn’t presented as being bad, just different, and you’re not supposed to laugh just at the fact that the stereotype “isn’t normal”, we don’t have punching. But if you’re just supposed to laugh at the stereotype, then that’s punching at the stereotype. And it sounds like the Ghostbusters movie punches — quite deliberately — at the stereotypical nerd who reacted with disdain to the movie:

Allegory: The villain is a white nerd boy who feels disenfranchised because he has been bullied. This is demonstrated on screen briefly, in a cartoonish and almost exaggerated fashion. When he delivers his villainous diatribe to the protagonists, he sounds like he’s reading off a Reddit forum, claiming the protagonists must have been treated with dignity if they don’t want to burn society to the ground. They promptly point out that no, people have been and continue to be assholes to them, but they don’t see that as a reason for mass murder.

The problem with punching is that you can definitely hit people who aren’t aiming at (the concept of “splash damage”). Here, for example, you can run into the problem of presenting the villain as being someone who was bullied and, depending on how exaggerated the bullying was, then have people who were objectively treated better insist that they know what it’s like to be bullied that way based only on their skin colour and/or gender. But punching against stereotypes also fails unless you are clear what the stereotype you are aiming at is, because taking this one and the first quote together it may look like they’re aiming for a stereotype of “white cis-het male” instead of the minority of them that reacted that way to the movie. And, taken all together, if you punch at a stereotype you either are trying to cause hurt to someone, or else don’t care if you hurt someone, and I can’t see how this is good for everyone. It’s important to note that the “villain who feels unfairly shunned but really wasn’t” is, in fact, a standard trope as well; it’s not like this is anything special, except that casting it as a commentary on gender and race pits people who got academic degrees and succeeded there against someone who is purportedly more “privileged”, despite the fact that even getting those degrees reflects privilege in and of itself.

The thing is … to present this situation and get humour out of it, they didn’t need to take shots at the stereotype at all. They could have, for example, used a black person or a woman here, and the overall story would have worked just as well. The only thing that would have been more difficult is to pull off the “we’re discriminated against!” angle … but even then it could have worked and been even stronger if the villain was presented as personally self-centered. For example, if the villain here was a black woman, then her claim that if they weren’t trying to destroy the world then things couldn’t be that bad for them would be countered by her thinking that only she was impacted by this, but this is really a global issue, which gets the point across, it seems to me, more effectively while not having to punch any group.

But that, I think, explains why it was done this way: people like that annoyed and annoy them, so they wanted to “punch” them, to annoy them and to hurt them as they’ve been hurt. But just as an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind and toothless, punching groups in retaliation for some people in those groups punching your group only leads to fistfights. And you can do perfectly good comedy and even make perfectly good points without having to punch anyone. If you resort to punching anyway, that says something about you.

Early Thoughts on “Bloodlines”

July 27, 2016

So, I’ve started playing “Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines” over the past few weekends. I had bought the game quite some time ago, and played it a little, getting as far as the final mission in the first area before getting completely confused over how to escape the warehouse before the bomb went off, getting frustrated, and quitting. Which was a shame, because it meant that I never did manage to meet Heather Poe and get her as a ghoul despite my having done the quest that kicks that off.

This time, I used a walkthrough to try to get past the warehouse … and still failed. But I simply walked through the warehouse over and over and over using a save from before I set off the bomb to figure out the way to get there, and so after an hour or so of doing that was able to trigger the bomb, beat the two vampires who were going to come after me, and then escape. So I finally made it to Downtown, and finally got my ghoul.

So far, what I have to say about this game is that the non-combat — although not necessarily non-violent — parts of the game are the most fun. I’m not much for stealth games, but sneaking through the areas to get what you want instead of killing people is, in general, a lot more fun than trying to take them on in combat … at least, when that’s possible and you have access to walkthroughs to explain how to get through it (and even then things can be tough). But what’s even more fun is wandering around the areas and using persuasion and seduction — and possibly even Dominate and Dementate — on people to get what you want. I’m playing a female Toreador and my seduction and persuasion skills are high enough to both pretty much get through any option that allows them, but also to seduce the street walkers for a free fill-up of blood (Anita Sarkeesian would likely not approve [grin]). The use of stealth and disciples and skills in dealing with everyone is, in fact, so much fun that I really wish the game was all about that, and so the story missions — which tend to be combat-heavy — are kinda boring to me, although I liked the haunted hotel quest — although not as much as I did the first time — but really liked Grout’s mansion, up until the point it caught on fire.

I’m running with the latest unofficial patch, but don’t think I’m running with the one that makes things really, really hard. The controls are terrible and there are some … interesting bugs, and all of this is made worse by the fact that the game is at times so dark that you can’t even see where you’re going. This only makes the combat even more difficult, and there are no difficulty levels. However, I seem to be getting better at it … except when fighting humans that are on fire. Fortunately, careful blasts of a shotgun managed to get me through that part.

So far, it’s entertaining, and I hope that I won’t hit a combat wall where I’m not tough or rich enough to get the equipment I need to win a fight to advance the game. If that doesn’t happen, then I plan to play it a second time as a Malkavian, because from what I’ve read you really should play it as a Malkavian at least once.

Thoughts on “Wagers of Sin”

July 25, 2016

“Wagers of Sin” is the second book in the “Tales of the Time Scouts” collection that I bought. This book takes a minor villain from “Time Scout”, Skeeter Jackson, who in the first book essentially tried to scam Margo into thinking that he, a simple con artist, could train her to be a Time Scout, and tries to make him into a sympathetic character, by pitting him against another minor villain from “Time Scout”, Goldie Morran, in a wager to see who can scam the most money, with the loser having to leave the station forever. Trying to redeem a character that even this book admits is simply a scoundrel is a tough task. Does the book succeed?

Read the rest of this entry »

Diversity Through Replacement …

July 22, 2016

So, according to Time, Tony Stark is going to be replaced as Iron Man, in the comics, by a black woman. Essentially, she’s some kind of genius who builds an armoured suit in her dorm room, which impresses Tony, which leads, eventually, to her replacing him after Civil War II. And as I read that, it came to me that there have been a number of moves to attempt to add diversity to the admittedly not particularly diverse — but not completely non-diverse either — Marvel Universe by replacing existing characters with diverse replacements rather than building new characters or giving more prominence to existing characters. And I think this is a big mistake.

Let’s take one of the earlier examples, where Thor was replaced by a female Thor, despite the fact that Odin had to essentially retcon all of history by calling “Thor” a title and not a proper name, and ignored all of the other previous characters who had held the title of “God of Thunder” who were not Thor. No, they went with a female Thor, essentially replacing the existing Thor with a female version. And since the fact that this character was female and so added diversity was played up by many, that this added diversity does seem to be a major reason for the move. Except … if they wanted to focus on a female Asgardian with special abilities doing … whatever it is that the female Thor was doing, why not elevate Sif and give her her own book and series, or at least temporarily replace Thor’s book with a book for her? Or put her in some of the Avengers teams instead of Thor? After all, in the Thor movies, the character filled a warrior role quite well and was, it seems to me, rather well-liked, so trying to play on that to both increase the popularity of the books and the character should have been a slam-dunk. And it worked well for Phil Coulson. So, then, why wouldn’t they take an already well-established character and let her be herself and see if that could float? Why not try to add diversity, if they wanted that, by adding instead of subtracting?

Replacing Captain America with Falcon makes even less sense, in my opinion. At least in this case they were leveraging the success of Falcon as a character in the movies … but Falcon, as Falcon, was a long-running, well-established character, even as an Avenger himself. He might have been Cap’s sidekick in the movies, but in the comics he really was his own character, semi-distinct from Captain America. To strip away his unique identity to shoe-horn him in as Captain America should have been seen as a grave insult to any of his fans. And especially since there were always characters who were more tightly tied to the Captain America mythos — Nomad, for example — that could have taken over and whom it was more logical for them to take up the shield, as again Falcon had no real need to take it up. Now, since I haven’t read how that came about, you could argue that it all makes sense in context … but taken as an overall idea it seems to make more sense to highlight Falcon as Falcon and, if you have to replace Captain America, do it in a way that allows you to establish a completely new identity for the character.

The same thing can be said for this new replacement of Iron Man, which is ironic because Iron Man has actually had a successful replacement that promoted diversity, as right around the time of the “Secret Wars” Tony Stark was replaced by James Rhodes, who was a) not in any way a scientific or engineering genius and b) also happened to be black. But he also happened to be a long-time friend and confidante of Tony, and someone Tony could clearly trust. And he was popular enough that even when Tony Stark returned, he ended up getting his own suit of armour, the War Machine, and becoming a stable enough character to play an important role in both the Iron Man movies and the Avengers movies.

If they wanted to diversify the line-up while replacing Tony Stark, why not someone like Pepper Potts? Which they already did in the movies and I think even in the comics at some points. She’s trusted by Stark and could provide an interesting new perspective on the whole thing. Instead, they’re going with someone with a similar background to The Beetle, although presumably she won’t try to take on heroes to prove herself first. Hopefully.

Even the new Ms. Marvel reflects this odd thinking. Sure, Carol Danvers got promoted to Captain Marvel, and so wasn’t really replaced … but why invent a new character and then stuff them into a specific existing role, especially one that you then had to build a relationship to Captain Marvel to? Heck, replacing Wolverine with X-23 and having rename herself Wolverine seems odd … and was a reason why when Wolverine died off and I was considering actually, you know, switching to a book with X-23 in it I didn’t, because X-23 as X-23 was interesting, but X-23 as Wolverine was not. Yes, the stories might be different, but it’s still true that at that point the X-23 identity was subordinated to the Wolverine one. Sure, as a tribute to him it made sense … which is more than I can say about the other ones, I guess.

It strikes me that the people pushing for diversity seem to want to be able to piggy-back on the name recognition of existing characters, and are afraid to try to sell their diverse characters strictly on their own merits. That’s why they want to see Miles Morales replace Peter Parker in various media instead of simply getting his own books/movies under a different name, and why they want the movies to make Peter Parker gay instead of introducing a gay character. This, at a minimum, sells those characters short. She-Hulk, for example, finally managed to get some popularity not by replacing the Hulk, but by being very different from him. Deadpool’s success comes from him being unique, not from being a rip-off of Deathstroke. Emma Frost at least used to be one of my favourite characters because who she is, not because of who she’s emulating (and I’m still bitter about the cancellation of her solo series, which I really enjoyed). Magik is another one of my favourite characters because I like her as a character, not because she gets shoe-horned in as the new Doctor Strange or some other such nonsense.

If you want diversity, you need to have more confidence that diversity can work on its own. If you don’t have that confidence, then “cheating” by fooling people by playing on name recognition is not the way to gain diversity, because more than anything else it shows that even you don’t think these characters can work on their own. And if even you don’t believe that, why should anyone else?

Inspired by Doctor Who …

July 20, 2016

So, I’ve started watching Doctor Who again, hoping to get through all 8 seasons (that I have access to). I had started Season 8 at one point, but then dropped it, but I do really want to watch it because I really like Clara Oswald. I think she’s my favourite companion so far. I don’t have a strong opinion yet on Capaldi as The Doctor other than I think he’s better than Matt Smith was but not as good as Tennant or especially Eccleston was (who’s my favourite out of all the Doctors).

At any rate, I recently watched the episode where the Doctor and Martha Jones — one of my favourite companions, too — meet Shakespeare, and I remembered that there were a lot of Shakespearean plays that I had never read or watched. So I decided to browse around and see if I could get a complete collection for a price that was reasonable for me. And I did. I also managed to find a complete collection of Lovecraft’s work — since it was recommended as something that people who bought the Shakespeare collection also bought — and since I spend a lot of time playing the “Arkham Horror” board game that’s inspired by Lovecraft, for a reasonable price, which I also bought.

So, right now I’m finishing off a run at some of my old books, and then after that I have a couple of Star Wars books — “Tarkin” and “A New Dawn” — to read, and after that I’ll be free to turn to the Lovecraft and Shakespeare. I think I’ll start with the Lovecraft first since it’ll probably be more manageable to try reading in my spare time. I’m also a little nervous about the Shakespeare because while my ability to understand the old English in which it’s written is pretty good, I know from my experiences when reading them for classes that sometimes I struggled a bit with it. But that was when I was paying attention, and here this is mostly going to be in the spare time I have to read. So I might not be willing to put the effort in, but that might hurt my enjoyment of it … especially if I read it while something is on the TV, as I tend to do. So we’ll have to see how it goes.

Thoughts on “Time Scout”

July 18, 2016

So, when I went out looking for new books to buy, at some point I came across “Tales of the Time Scouts”, which republished two of the works in the “Time Scout” series by Robert Asprin and Linda Evans. I’ve read some of Asprin’s other works before — notably the “Myth” series and the “Phule’s Company” series — and liked them, and so decided to give it a chance. So what did I think of it?

Read the rest of this entry »

Two Common Misconceptions of Kant

July 15, 2016

I’ve probably talked about these before elsewhere, but today I’m going to make a specific post dealing with two common misconceptions of Kant, which lead to two “cheap” counters that really don’t work against him. I was inspired to do this by reading another ignorant comment by Azkyroth on Kant, when I had proved in other comments that he really doesn’t understand Kant’s view … and he’s not alone.

So, first, let me address Kant’s absolute admonition against lying. Kant says that lying is always morally wrong, which leads many people to take the cheap out of the murderer example: if someone that you know wants to murder someone asks you where they are, why would it be immoral for you to lie to them in that case? The argument, then, is that Kant is building an invalid absolutist moral position, and this is used both against Kant and against absolutist moral systems in general.

The problem is that Kant’s position here doesn’t have to be absolutist at all. Kant’s overriding principle here is that one cannot make something a moral principle that one cannot universalize without it becoming self-contradictory. In the case of lying, if you make is a universal — and universally known — maxim that one ought to lie, then no one will believe anything anyone says. But the whole purpose of lying is to get people to believe what you’re saying. If no one will believe you, then there’s no point in lying in the first place. On the other hand, if you make it a universal maxim to tell the truth, then people will believe what you’re saying, which is what the purpose of telling the truth is. So you can universalize the maxim “Always tell the truth” but can’t universalize the maxim “Always lie”, and thus it is immoral, in general, to lie.

Now, could there be cases where you can, indeed, have exceptions to the rule “Always tell the truth”? In short, can you say “In this case, you ought to lie”? Well, sure, because Kant’s not after universal laws here (really) but is instead after moral maxims that can be universalized. So even though he didn’t make — or, if I recall correctly, attempt to make — exceptions to the lying rule, if we could, in fact, universalize an exception without it becoming self-defeating then it is indeed perfectly consistent with Kant to say that this is a workable exception. Thus, we would have a rule that cannot be, in general, universalized but with some exceptional cases that can be, and that should work out fine in a Kantian framework.

So, can we universalize the murderer case? Well, it turns out that we can’t. Again, if there is a universal maxim to lie to a murderer, then all that will happen there is that the murderer won’t believe what you tell them. But if you are going to lie to the murderer, it’s because you want them to believe you and go to the wrong place. Since they won’t, this exception is still self-defeating. And there’s a perfectly good, universalizable alternative: say nothing. The purpose of saying nothing to the murderer is for them to not find out where the person is, and this is better if universalized because then if they ask you “Are they here? Are they here?” you won’t only be silent when they hit on the right place.

The issue here — and it’s what I had when I first learned about Kant — is that people tend to think that the universalizability constraint is about whether you’d like it if the rule was universalized, when it’s really about whether the rule still makes any logical sense if universalized, meaning that everyone knows about it and practices it. It’s not about whether we’d have a good world if everyone followed it, but whether it would have any purpose at all if everyone followed it.

The second one is about masturbation, which is not something that I’ve followed much in Kant beyond when others complain that it’s a stupid rule, generally on the basis that masturbation can’t be bad based on whatever morality they hold rather than what Kant argued. This one starts from the idea of using yourself merely as a means and not as an end in itself, but we need more unpacking to see what that argument is. So here’s the section:

As one’s love of life is intended by nature for the preservation of his person, so is his sexual love intended for the preservation of his kind, i.e., each is a natural end. … Now, the question arises whether the use of one’s sexual capacity, as far as the person himself who uses it is concerned, stands under a restrictive law of duty; or whether, not having the end of reproduction in view, he be authorized to devote the use of his sexual attributes to mere brute pleasure and not thereby be acting contrary to a duty to himself. …

A lust is called unnatural when a man is stimulated not by an actual object but by imagining it, thus creating it himself unpurposively. For his fancy engenders a desire contrary to an end of nature and indeed contrary to an end more important even than that of the love of life, since it aims only at preserving the individual, while sexual love aims at the preservation of the whole species.

That such an unnatural use (and so misuse) of one’s sexual attributes is a violation of one’s duty to himself and is certainly in the highest degree opposed to morality strikes everyone upon his thinking of it. Furthermore, the thought of it is so revolting that even calling such a vice by its proper name is considered a kind of immorality; such is not the case with suicide, which no one hesitates to opublish to all the world with all its horrors (as a species facti). It is just as if mankind in general felt ashamed of being capable of such treatment, which degrades him even below the beast. Even the allowed bodily union (in itself, to be sure, only animal union) of the two sexes in marriage occasions much delicacy in polite circles, and requires a veil to be drawn over the subject whenever it happens to be mentioned.

However, it is not so easy to produce a rational demonstration of the inadmissability of that unnatural use, and even of the mere unpurposive use, of one’s natural attributes as being a violation of one’s duty to himself (and indeed in the highest degree where the unnatural use is concerned). The ground of proof surely lies in the fact that a man gives up his personality (throws it away) when he uses himself merely as a means for the gratification of an animal drive. But this does not make evident the high degree of violation of the humanity in one’s own person by the unnaturalness of such a vice, which seems in its very form (disposition) to transcened even the vice of self-murder. The obstinate throwing away of one’s life as a burden is at least not a weak surrender to animal pleasure, but requires courage; and where there is courage, there is always respect for the humanity in one’s own person. On the other hand, when one abandons himself entirely to an animal inclination, he makes himself an object of unnatural gratification, i.e., a loathsome thing, and thus deprives himself of all self-respect.

So the essential point here is that sex is primarily for reproduction; that is its proper end. Masturbation, obviously, doesn’t support that end, and so has to be aimed at another end. But the only end it can be aimed at is satisfying animal and imaginary pleasure, and thus that’s always wrong. Thus, masturbation is always morally wrong.

If I had to criticize it, I’d argue that by this he would make seeking pleasure of any kind morally wrong, even in addition to achieving an end. He can argue that in that specific act there is no other end aimed at, and so it would be wrong in that case, but then drinking a soft drink for a momentary pleasure seems equally morally wrong, as it doesn’t really achieve any other end. From the Stoic viewpoint, this seems to be placing too much emphasis on pleasure; as long as it doesn’t stop you from achieving other ends, are you really treating yourself only as a means if you decide to, when it would impact nothing else, seek simple pleasure occasionally? Doing so doesn’t have to mean “abandoning” oneself to the animal inclination, as long as one does so properly, in complete control, and with proper knowledge. If one chooses to masturbate instead of having reproductive sex, or instead of doing the things that they have a duty to do, then that would be immoral, certainly … but masturbation, in general, cannot be.

The only argument left is to hold to a very strict idea of treating yourself as a means and not as an end, because you don’t have a valid end to aim for. To argue for this would require me to dip much deeper into the idea of using someone as a means and not as an end in themselves than I’m willing to do here, but ultimately my view of that is that it has to be a proper, considered, rational choice that preserves the agency of the people involved, which in this case would be myself. This, then, would again lean towards an argument that masturbation as a reaction to any kind of compulsion — ie actually giving in to feelings of lust that overwhelm you instead of deciding to do so with careful consideration of the circumstances — would still be wrong, but general masturbation itself cannot be considered wrong.

It Got Worse …

July 13, 2016

So, as I talked about in this post, I’ve been having some issues with how Marvel handles subscriptions, and how it handles its books in general. When I last commented, I had SHIELD, Darth Vader, Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars, Inferno, and Uncanny X-Men in my list. Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars moved to Deadpool, SHIELD moved to Agents of SHIELD, I moved Inferno, I think, to Black Knight, and moved Uncanny X-Men to Extraordinary X-Men. And out of those, I like Deadpool, loved Darth Vader, was fond of Agents of SHIELD, tolerated Black Knight, and was underwhelmed by Extraordinary X-Men. Black Knight ended, and so I switched it to X-Men ’92 (I have no idea how I’ll feel about that series, since I haven’t read an issue of it yet). I don’t see myself re-upping with Extraordinary X-Men. Agents of SHIELD has moved to “tolerable” from “liked”, as I pretty much only like Coulson and find that they underuse characters like Melinda May, but I still like it better than the TV series, which I’ve stopped watching. I still like Deadpool and still love Darth Vader.

Except … Darth Vader is ending after only a few more issues, and I don’t know yet what they — or I — will replace it with.

So, out of my subscriptions, there’s one that I like and won’t change, one that’s ending and so will have to be changed, one that’s okay for now, one that I haven’t read yet (ie I just changed it) and one that I probably have to do something about at some point. So, Marvel not only keeps changing things directly on me, but also changes their other titles so much that there are new series that might be interesting to me if, well, they would only stick around long enough, and would fit into my list of subscriptions. And all the changes are forcing me to read them as soon as they arrive, which is less than ideal for me.

I’d start trying to replace these with buying graphic novels — the “Darth Vader” series would have worked better as a graphic novel if I’d known, and I just bought and read “Deadpool: The Complete Collection Vol 1”, which I loved — but when buying them I always choke on how expensive they are given what you get from them … although, compared to subscription rates, maybe it isn’t as bad as it looks.

Alternatively, I could stop buying and reading comics altogether. I don’t think that’s what Marvel had in mind when they came out with … whatever strategy it is they’re using.

Anyway, I’m boxed in by that strategy and it’s causing me more annoyance than I’d like. I’ll have to see how I go on in the future.

Just don’t get me started on the crossovers …

(Totally Unfair) Thoughts on “The X-Files”

July 11, 2016

So, I recently saw a complete edition release of “The X-Files” on Blu-Ray, and thought that I really, really should watch it, and the price was reasonable (in the 1 to 2 dollar per hour range), which only got better when I noticed someone’s gripe that they were actually cheaper if you bought them separately instead of in the complete edition. So, I bought all nine seasons, and watched them all. And … I didn’t like the show.

Now, my comments are this are, as stated above, totally unfair because I didn’t just watch the show, but instead watched it while doing other things, including playing “Dragon Age: Inquisition”. This means that there were a number of episodes that I was only half-paying attention to it. It’s a valid criticism to say that X-Files is an arc show and that if you don’t pay attention you’re going to miss a lot. Fair enough. It’s possible that one of the reasons, for example, that I found that the show was acting as if I should care more about what was happening to the agents than I really did was because I didn’t have in my head all of the backstory and emotional baggage that the previous episodes had indeed managed to build up if I’d only been paying attention to it.

But I don’t think this is a sufficient explanation, because typically in arc shows the problem people have with it is that they don’t know what’s going on and so get lost and frustrated. For the most part, I never felt that way. I always felt that I at least roughly knew what was going on, but typically didn’t care or was bored or annoyed by what was going on. Sure, paying more attention might have made me care more, but on the flip side the show didn’t make me want to look up and pay attention more often either, like better shows do. So there seems to be more to it than that.

For the most part, it’s my opinion that the very best episodes, for me, were the ones that were, in fact, simple joke episodes, where they made everything be ridiculous and you’re supposed to roll your eyes at what they’re doing. Any time they attempted to mix the two, however, the episodes were, in fact, utter disasters. And the “straight” episodes just weren’t as good. Now, they were dealing with paranormal things and so things that would strike us as being ridiculous, and so maybe that was just hard to pull off, so that when they embraced the madness, it all worked, but when they didn’t that ridiculousness dragged everything down. Sure, but there are a lot of shows that manage to make that work. Doctor Who is a prime example of a show that manages to embrace the insanity and how crazy that’s all going to look while still managing to build in deep emotional scenes, drama and story arcs without looking out of place. And then we also have shows like Buffy, Angel and Smallville that manage to do the same. So what is it about X-Files that makes it come up so short for me?

Well, the first thing is that I think the show takes itself too seriously. It seems to trying for these sorts of serious and dramatic scenes so much that it becomes jarring when they step out of that. All of the other shows that I’ve mentioned deliberately and consistently include humour, and the drama seems to grow organically from the characters themselves. When they get totally serious, things are bad, and if they joke when they shouldn’t, the others point it out. Arguably, Mulder could have managed to pull this off with his snark, but he definitely took the X-Files very, very seriously, and Scully was from the start set up to be a serious character. In short, in a lot of ways they were both straight persons, which made the humour seem out of place when they acted as the goofball. Sure, the snark itself worked — although it worked best when both Scully and Mulder snarked, as when only Mulder snarked, especially at Scully, it seemed more like him being a jerk and her long-suffering — but the comedy relief didn’t. And good comedy relief is necessary in good drama to relieve the tension, otherwise it becomes overwhelming.

Additionally, the show itself seems to be overly dramatic, aiming at creating massively dramatic scenes that came across as forced, so much so that we started looking for the punchline, or else felt that they were overreacting (and possibly overacting). The end of “Jump the Shark” is a prime example of this, with Scully, of all people, commenting on how much The Lone Gunmen had meant to her in an overly dramatic fashion, so much so that I was looking for it to be a fake or a hallucination on the part of the Gunmen (it wasn’t). But there were a number of other scenes where the drama was stretched and expanded so much that it was almost self-parody. This made the actual self-parody harder to detect and so it didn’t come across; I was wondering if it was a joke or if it was serious.

Also, I think they had issues with the setting. In all of the other shows, at least the principles knew what was going on, and that these things were real, while others may not have. But with Scully being the skeptic for most of the show, there was always someone directly involved who kept pointing out other reasonable explanations, that just happened to be wrong. This always, then, tied it in that this was our world and so kept the paranormal and supernatural events as odd events and not as things that were normal but that others didn’t see. This, then, kept reminding us how absurd this all was and so broke the suspension of disbelief, which then only got worse when some of the things really were ridiculous. The show encouraged us to question and assess the rationality of the explanations which then only meant that we noticed the plot holes. And there were a number of plot holes.

The result is a show that you can’t take seriously but you can’t laugh that, that is desperately trying to get you to take it seriously. That’s not a recipe for entertaining viewing.

Some more general thoughts on the show:

Gillian Anderson’s acting in the first season is really stilted and artificial, but she gets better after that … up until they make Scully an angry, tough chick when she gets pregnant and has a child in the later seasons, which really didn’t seem to fit.

The Lone Gunmen, in general, were entertaining, at least in small doses.

At one point at the end of Season 5, I was getting into the show, and starting to like it. I was even interested in the alien conspiracy, which hadn’t happened up to that point. Then the next season, quite early, started with the ridiculous concept of Mulder switching bodies with that really annoying guy — a concept that they dragged out over two episodes when the concept itself barely supported one — and then followed that with the utterly ridiculous episode with the ghosts at Christmas trying to get Mulder and Scully to shoot each other and failing … somehow, and the effect was ruined. At that point, I not only wasn’t really enjoying it anymore, but was in fact actively mocking it and even hating it. The show never recovered from that, and it took force of will for me to completely the series.

As the show went on, it did indeed become more unreasonable that Scully would still be skeptical of the paranormal after all she’d seen. They lampshaded it, but missed, in my opinion, a great way to resolve it. The big issue was that Mulder was always right with his intuitive leaps, and Scully was always wrong. What they needed to do was make it so that sometimes the right explanation really was the scientific one, which then could justify Scully taking an Occam’s Razor approach and saying that she’s sticking with the explanations that have actually happened elsewhere before jumping to the completely new explanation. If they didn’t want to do that in actual episodes because they felt it might undermine the show or Mulder, all they needed was for her to reply to that, for Mulder to ask when those explanations have ever worked, and for Scully to start listing off cases — that happened off-screen — where it did. This then would make the relationship seem less antagonistic and more sensible, leading to an explanation for why the X-Files needed to be restored by pointing out that the combination of Mulder’s intuition and Scully’s scientific approach have led to more resolutions — even if not arrests — than happened in all the years before that. Of course, then they couldn’t have argued 9 that Doggett needed to stay because he was better at it than they were (which was dumb in an of itself).

Season 8, with the departure of Mulder, didn’t work, because Doggett couldn’t capture Scully’s skepticism, and Scully couldn’t capture Mulder’s intuition. Scully may have come to believe, but unlike Mulder she had no real reason to want to believe … and many reasons to want to not believe. Thus, the whole dynamic was thrown out of whack, which went very badly. Also, making Doggett the superior in the relationship worked out really badly considering how experienced Scully was; they had to make her stupid and risk-taking just to make him into the person who did things right. Season 9 worked better but Scully’s constant presence worked against the dynamic of Reyes and Doggett, which seemed to me to work but needed more time to develop.

So, the final question: Would I watch this again? If this was 10 years ago, when I had less to watch, I probably would give it another chance. But I have too many things to watch to give this another chance, at least not for a long, long time. I’d rather watch Farscape again than watch this, which is not a good thing for X-Files. Overall, I was very disappointed in the show.

Quick Bonus Post on the new Ghostbusters Movie …

July 11, 2016

So, I’ve seen a number of trailers for the new Ghostbusters movie, and my reaction to all of them has been consistent: Where are the jokes?

Also, the new Star Trek movie looks dreadful. This all makes me very glad that I don’t go to movie theaters anymore.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 41 other followers