Archive for the ‘Philosophical Writer's Guide’ Category

Thoughts on “The Aftermath”

February 21, 2019

Of the Ben Bova novels that I’ve read, “The Aftermath” is by far the worst.

The book is seemingly a continuation of previous works of his, covering what was called “The Asteroid Wars”. As usual, Bova creates an interesting world of asteroid mining and various colonies and the political situation between them that led to the wars. “The Aftermath” covers the, well, aftermath of the wars, which I suppose places it behind the 8-ball a bit for someone who hasn’t read any of the previous works covering it. The emotional connections won’t be there and so what’s in the book will have to carry things more than normal and than expected. However, it seems to me that the book’s flaws would still hold for people who have read the previous works.

The problem is that the book has too little plot for people who aren’t already invested in the world but too much for those who just wanted to see a resolution to hanging plot threads from the previous works. The book starts by following a family that is caught in the war itself, with their huge mining spaceship being damaged, the father separated from his wife and relatively young (teenage) family, and the ship itself being sent off into an orbit that will take years for them to return. And while showing the effects of growing up in such a desperate situation could be interesting — Piers Anthony’s “Bio of a Space Tyrant” does this in the first book to show how that impacts our budding space tyrant — the book doesn’t actually follow that at all. Instead, it flips between that plot and the father’s attempts to find them, as well as the attempt of the person responsible for that massacre to atone, as well as the influence of the strange artifact that was clearly introduced in an earlier work, the story of the commander tasked with killing the atoner and how a member of his crew works for the person who wants to kill the atoner and not for him, space pirates, and the son of the person who wants to kill the atoner who wants to take over. There are far too many threads here that seem be being developed mostly new to just be the resolution of dangling threads, especially in how they are presented.

All of these threads come together later, but in a way that doesn’t seem like a natural or destined arrangement but instead completely by chance, which weakens them and makes the arrangement of them far too convenient. But most damningly, they aren’t particularly interesting. There are interesting aspects to every thread, but none of them get properly developed and most of them don’t even get resolved, which is definitely a no-no if he wanted to resolve plot threads. And when they are brought together pointless conflict is created that gets resolved in an uninteresting manner.

So, overall, the book just isn’t very interesting. The characters aren’t developed enough to make them interesting but too much time is spent on their development to just treat them as characters brought forward from the other works in the series. The plot threads aren’t developed enough to be interesting but, again, too much time is spent on developing them for me to think that I’m just missing things from not having read the previous works. For the most part, the book just isn’t very interesting.


Thoughts on “Salem’s Lot”

February 12, 2019

So, I was starting to watch some of the horror movies I’d singled out on Crave, but that was because what I really wanted to do was watch some of the horror movies that were more mainstream or well-known, starting with the collections I have of Stephen King movies, but the first one was “Salem’s Lot”, which was a whopping 183 minutes long, and I couldn’t figure out when I’d get a chance to watch it. And then I had a morning free where I had the time to watch it and decided to do so, which then would clear that out of the way and let me keep watching those collections. And then I went shopping and picked up a whole bunch of new cheap horror movies. So the long and short of it is: don’t expect any sort of consistency out of me wrt horror movies for the next little while other than that I’m going to be watching and commenting on them on a regular basis.

I actually have a history with “Salem’s Lot”. I read it when I was younger, and it actually gave me nightmares (I might have been a little young to read it at the time, but I read absolutely everything at the time and have always kinda liked vampires as a concept). But the book itself was overall interesting, and one scene stood out to me, when the priest who was converted to vampirism decided to reject it and pray to the old God, but couldn’t enter the church because of his vampirism.

That scene isn’t in the movie version, and is just one reason why the movie of “Salem’s Lot” highlights the difficulties of converting from one media to another.

In the movie, there are a lot of little events. The relationship between the teenage boy who loves horror movies and his parents. The real estate agent having an affair with his married secretary, with her jealous husband discovering them and a long scene about how that plays out. And the teenage boy and his parents being attacked by the vampire and the priest — whom we had barely, if ever, seen previously — sacrificing himself to save the boy. Many of these are the sorts of things that can establish a feel of an average, normal town getting corrupted and converted by an outside influence. This even seems to me to be something that Stephen King is generally noted for in his works, if I recall correctly (I’m not actually a huge Stephen King fan). The problem is that in a movie — or even a TV mini-series, as this seems to be — you don’t really have the room to do that, or at least you don’t have the the room to do that outside of the initial introduction. “Salem’s Lot” intersperses these scenes throughout the entire movie, and yet none or almost none of them ever pay off in any way. Take the scene with the priest. A big deal is made out of them converting him, enough that they are willing to actually let the kid go. Why? Not answered. And his being converted does nothing else in the movie, neither his resisting it (or leaving at the end, as I seem to recall occurring) nor his being converted doing something or even symbolizing something important to the villains. A big deal is made of it, but nothing comes of it. For all the impact it had, the movie could have removed the scene entirely and simply had the kid say that his parents were killed and he escaped but didn’t want to talk about why, which could have even added some suspense. So the scene didn’t add anything and only slowed the movie down. It really seems like they wanted to add those scenes because they were iconic and/or notable, but didn’t have the room to really explore them and, so, to keep in what made them notable in the first place, which is something that adaptations always have to be careful of (I think that “Watchmen” failed at this while “P4: The Anime” mostly succeeded in capturing the heart of the events without having to use the events directly).

Other than that, however, “Salem’s Lot” was entertaining, even given its length. Even with the mostly pointless scenes, it moves pretty well, and the main characters are acted well enough to be sympathetic, which is good given the ending. The ending itself is a little vague, as it presents the vampires early in the movie as needing to keep up the Masquerade and yet at the end they are powerful enough to track the two of them across continents and send people to kill them, despite supposedly being crippled at the end. It really makes it seem like there’s something missing there that makes this a bit confusing. But I could watch it again at some point, although that will be problematic given its length.

Thoughts on “Our House”

February 5, 2019

So, with my now having Crave TV which includes some movies, I had gone through and listed out some movies to watch with it. This included some horror ones. While I still have quite a few horror DVDs to watch, I thought that after my latest run of DVDs I’d start to make a dent in that list. And so I decided to watch “Our House”, which is distinctive for two main reasons:

1) After my spate of American, Taiwanese and Chinese movies, it’s a Canadian movie.

2) It wasn’t on my list to start with, so it was either added later or I missed it.

Anyway, the main premise of the movie is that a young student is trying to invent a device for wireless power, and ducks out of staying with his family — who hadn’t seen him in months — to work on it. It fails, but the next morning he gets a call telling him that his parents died in a car accident. He moves back into the house to take care of his younger siblings, and then eventually starts working on his machine again, only to discover that it seems to be bringing spirits to life in the house, starting with his parents but eventually leading to other, less benevolent spirits.

Let me start with the most positive aspect of the movie: the acting performances are incredible. Every member of the family is believable as the role they are in, from the struggling Ethan to Matt to the girlfriend Hannah. Special credit has to go to Kate Moyer as the incredibly cute little girl Becca who knocks it out of the park, especially with how she can express happiness and sadness evidenced right from the very first scene. Really, these are the best acting performances I’ve seen in a long, long time and they all work.

The thing about the movie is, though, that it works really, really well as a family drama, and the supernatural elements get in the way of that. The underlying emotional problems and them all struggling through them are realistic and realistically done, and if the movie had built on that it could have been a very strong family drama. The supernatural elements weren’t at all needed. Having Ethan continue chasing his dream of making the wireless power machine while the rest of the family struggles and Matt, the younger brother, continues to blame that obsession for all of their problems would have made for compelling drama all on its own, and the relationships with the other people could have been fleshed out to add to the movie and carry on that theme. Since the movie spends the first half almost exclusively on that anyway it’s a shame that they didn’t just commit to and run with that.

This isn’t helped by the supernatural elements not being particularly well-done. As already stated, the movie spends a lot of time on the family drama which leaves less room to develop the supernatural elements. It doesn’t help that the movie is confusing about what’s actually happening, as it implies that the machine did indeed really bring back some spirits including the villainous ones but at the end Ethan convinces Tom that his wife can’t be appearing as a spirit and is really gone, which contradicts that. But the overall ending still implies that the little girl who was murdered, Alice, really did return as a spirit. The movie doesn’t take any time to establish the spirits as a real threat until the very end, which then made the purportedly suspenseful parts where Ethan and the others are walking into places where they might be attacked not very suspenseful because we weren’t sure that there was any actual danger. And Ethan takes far too long fighting Tom over turning the machine off at the end rather than just saying what he knew: that Becca was in danger from the evil spirit Henry. That this is how he does convince Tom at the end only makes that worse.

The movie ends on a happy ending as they move to a new house and start healing, and while the doll reappearing after Becca left it in the old house might have been aimed at being creepy it could also be seen as being a hopeful sign since it was associated with Alice, whom we all sympathize with at this point.

The overall problem with the movie is that since it doesn’t really commit to either the supernatural or the family drama aspect, a lot of the movie seems superfluous and drags. The family is developed more than needed for a supernatural horror movie and the supernatural parts are too prominent for a family drama. So you spend a lot of time wondering where this is all going. It kinda works as a family drama but not so much as a supernatural horror movie. I could watch it again, though, for the performances, even if the movie itself is a bit lackluster.

Thoughts on “The House That Never Dies: Reawakening”

January 29, 2019

Seemingly, “The House That Never Dies: Reawakening” is a sequel to an earlier movie that I haven’t seen, and so I’d have to be prepared to be a little confused when watching it. However, about the only thing that could be in common between the two is the house itself, which is a little weird because that’s not really mentioned in the movie. So if it’s a sequel and if the movies are directly related, then the movie itself doesn’t do all that great a job of highlighting that or tying it into the plot, which is similar to how “The Tag-Along” worked wrt “The Tag-Along 2”: other than bringing a character back and referencing the mountains, there’s not a lot of plot continuity between the two.

Like those movies, this one is, again, an Asian horror film, with all the good and bad that that implies. This one focuses around the story of a doctor whose husband is restoring an old house which is linked to a story in the past about a disgraced and semi-exiled general, his wife, his second wife, a doctor, and difficulties in childbirth. There is a strong jealousy and cheating undercurrent, and this undercurrent starts to manifest between the main character, her husband, and his assistant. The movie flips back and forth between the historical events and the current day issues, with odd, supernatural events happening throughout the modern parts.

This, however, is what most hurts the movie. The historical tale is actually interesting, but we don’t get to focus on it very long before it returns to the modern story. And the modern tale could be interesting even as a straight drama but it doesn’t get the time to properly develop because of the historical flashbacks and the pauses to do creepy things. Ultimately, it seems like both stories would have worked better as Western-style horror than as Asian-style, where the focus would have been more on the characters being supernaturally influenced to essentially become the historical ones rather than simply having parallels between their stories and potentially an implied influence (that doesn’t really seem to be there, as the assistant was never interested in the husband). As it is, the drama is interesting, particularly the historical drama, but the supernatural elements and having to link the two drags it down.

The movie wasn’t terrible, and so killed some time. Like so many of these movies, it’s not a movie that I hated and so could never watch again, but I have no strong desire to watch it again.

Thoughts on “The Killing House”

January 22, 2019

While this movie was, again, relatively cheap, what grabbed me about the movie was its premise as stated on the back cover: three people trapped in a house killing each other over and over again in a competition until one of them manages to win. It also then added that they were running out of food and so might all die anyway unless they manage to come up with some other solution. Which is, I suppose, true, but is massively misleading about what kind of movie it is. For example, it suggests that the movie might well be a Saw-like movie of creative kills, but as this is an Asian horror movie — it’s Chinese, I believe — that’s not what it’s about.

For all of these things, I tend to analyze more how the movie works and issues I have with it or that the movie raises rather than do an actual review, so of course I tend to massively spoil the movie in talking about it. I’m going to do that even more so here, and this one seems relatively recent, so I’m going to continue below a fold here in case someone wants to watch it unspoiled.


Should I Boycott Ideological Entertainment?

January 17, 2019

So I’ve been talking a bit about ideologically infused entertainment this week, talking about Doctor Who becoming Social Justice Oriented and a bit about how the Persona games, in general, aren’t. Recently, I came across a post at Vox Populi talking about Marvel inserting a drag queen into its comic with reactions to this, especially in the comments, calling for boycotting Marvel. This raises the question: you’ve found that either a new work that you were considering buying or an existing series is or has become ideologically infused, and in particular to an ideology that you aren’t in agreement with (whether that’s Left, Right, Front, Back or whatever). What should you do? Should you boycott it?

The first thing to think about is whether or not it really is ideologically infused. If you just look at this specific Marvel example, that’s not really enough to conclude that it’s ideologically infused. Drag queens as characters aren’t uncommon. After all, Persona 5 includes one and we wouldn’t call that game ideologically infused. The important thing to remember is that while the notion that all media is ideologically infused (or political) is just plain wrong, creators have their own views and biases and sometimes, no matter how careful they are, those views will bleed through. Just because a work expresses positively an idea you dislike or denigrates an idea you like doesn’t mean that it’s pushing that as an ideology. It just might be a creator unconsciously including an idea that they hold that you don’t. It doesn’t seem to be reasonable to stop consuming an entertainment media because they happen to hold different ideas than you do, or at least that’s not reasonable for me.

Now, people will protest that in the Marvel example they’ve done plenty to prove that they are, in general, ideologically infused, which isn’t an unfair complaint. So, what do you do then? Well, what we need to consider here is that the worst ideologically infused works are essentially deliberate propaganda: they are works designed to present a specific view and encourage you to adopt it. And what I think, for me, is that I shouldn’t boycott propaganda works for being propaganda works, but instead should judge them just like I’d judge any other work of entertainment: Are they entertaining or not? If I’m being entertained by them regardless, then I don’t see any reason to stop consuming them. And if I’m not being entertained by them, then the boycott problem solves itself.

I have two main justifications for this:

1) Most works that are deliberately ideologically infused aren’t very entertaining anyway. So the very worst of the lot will solve themselves anyway.

2) If I recognize that something is just propaganda, it’s not likely to impact my actual thinking. In fact, once I recognize the views that it’s trying to promote, I’m actually quite likely to spend my time arguing against them rather than giving in. So there seems little risk of the propaganda having its intended effect on me, so I can indeed treat it like any other form of entertainment.

Now, the objection will arise here that if I and others still buy it, then the companies will continue to produce it. If we don’t like ideologically infused media — and I don’t — then the only way to make people stop producing it is to vote with our dollars and not support those attempts. For me, my counter is that if it’s entertaining, then it is fulfilling the purpose of entertaining, and so is worth my dollars. I don’t feel the need to vote with my dollars for things other than “entertaining” when it comes to my entertainment.

But this is one of those things that is actually subjective. If you don’t like something that a company does and want to stop giving it your money, knock yourself out. We all have our own desires and principles and lines we won’t cross. For me, though, when it comes to entertainment, my line is entertaining. I don’t want to put more thought than that into my entertainment. If you do, then that’s fine, but you don’t really have an argument saying that I shouldn’t.

If I have to put too much effort into filtering my entertainment media, then all I’m going to do is retreat to the things I already have and already like. Ultimately, this is what will kill ideologically infused media. The more work buying entertainment media and being entertained becomes, the more people will find other ways to be entertained … and ideological infusion of entertainment media always adds more work, both in buying it and consuming it.

Persona as an example of actual empathy

January 16, 2019

So, earlier I talked about assumed versus actual empathy as related to Social Justice Oriented works. Today I want to talk about an example where real empathy is aimed for and required in order to make the stories work, by talking about the Persona series.

Starting from Persona 3, the Persona series incorporates S-links as an important part of the overall game, which involve the player character getting to know people and helping them through various issues they are having. This is not only limited to your teammates — in fact, in base Persona 3 most of your teammates aren’t S-links — but also to people that you meet, either in school or outside of it. Even among your teammates, there is a very wide range of personalities and issues that you have to deal with, and of course this is even more true when they are expanded to include even more people. There is no way that the player is going to be able to simply rely on those people being like them or like people they would normally hang around with. And yet, the S-links only work if you can actually relate to those people and their issues. So if you can’t rely on them being like you or your friends, how can you possibly relate to them?

As discussed in my comments on Doctor Who, what good works do is not just give you people who are like you so that you can relate to and feel empathy for them, but instead try to build empathy by having you understand them. S-links last for at least 10 encounters (if not more) and in general all of them build through you coming to know them and understand them and their issues. As such, it’s always made clear what their issues are, how it impacts them, and how the resolution works for them. Given this, you don’t have to have experienced those things to feel sorry for them or to be happy when their problems are solved. You don’t have to be faced with an arranged marriage that you don’t want, guilty over potentially contributing to the death of a student by stopping tutoring them, looking for a former partner who disappeared looking for a story, disappointed over working hard to improve your physical looks only to find that people still don’t like you, or dying from a disease while working to leave some kind of legacy to understand and enjoy the relationships with those people. You relate to them not because they are like you, but because their stories resonate to deep emotions that we all have, even if the situations that spawn them are different.

In Persona 5, the game even tries to generate empathy for the villains, with the villains being people who, yes, did despicable things, but they are presented as having disordered cognitions, corrupted versions of themselves that drove a lot of that, and when those distorted desires are repaired they reform. For the most part, the main villains are still seen as villains while the more minor villains that you find in Mementos get fully reformed. The only real exception here is Haru’s father, who seems to be more properly reformed … but this reformation is necessary for us to really feel the shock and horror at his death later. But we don’t have to be him or even be able to relate to someone that wealthy to understand it, or to understand Haru’s horror at having her hopes that his reformation would take things back to the way things were before dashed when he dies.

Now, of course, many of the S-links tap into stories that have been done again and again in various media, so we recognize the archetypes and situations in there, and so can get away without developing it as much as some other stories might. But even those familiar stories often started with a work developing an emotional situation that wasn’t necessarily common. Many of the familiar stories here are stories that tap deep into very common emotions but are such that we can apply them to a wide variety of people in a wide variety of positions, with a wide variety of possible variants on them to keep them from getting stale. But even that relies on us being able to translate the experiences of others into the more familiar experiences that trigger those emotional and empathetic responses in us.

Given this, it’s no wonder that in the Social Justice Oriented review of Persona 5 that I talked about that the author was concerned about the phrasing of the attack on Shiho while declaring the S-links boring and monotonous. She misses all of the actual empathy and blames it on missing assumed empathy, which sadly seems common, as I’ve said, in Social Justice Oriented works and criticism.

Thoughts on “The Haunted”

January 15, 2019

“The Haunted” DVD I have actually contains two movies, “The Tag-Along” and “The Tag-Along 2”, which pretty much seems to be, at least, the original set of “The Tag-Along” movies. These are Asian horror movies — specifically, Taiwanese — and as such do follow the same sorts of horror tropes as other Asian horror movies. Mainly, they focus a lot on the characters and getting us to feel attached to them, the horror is very much driven from their character and the things that have happened to them, and there are a lot of really odd events and scares in the movie (or, at least, odd from a Western perspective; it’s possible they find our jump scares odd events as well). As such, overall, they can drag at times but in general work well to draw the viewer in and keep them emotionally invested in the outcome.

When I watched these, I watched them all one shot (which is why it took me a while to get around to them), which I thought would be the best way to do it. That was still probably the right way to do it, but it drove home the major issue with the set: the first movie is a pretty good horror movie, the second one is an okay one, but watching the second one in light of what happened in the first one made me, at least, very, very upset at the second movie, so much so that it ruined any possible enjoyment I might have gotten out of it.

So let’s consider them separately first. The main horror premise of the first one is that people end up disappearing for several days and then return, at which point someone else disappears. The implication is that they are taken to a strange world and are only released when they “name” someone else, at which point they are returned and the person they name is taken instead, while all the while the world tries to break down their will and get them to name someone. The characters here are a woman, her boyfriend, and his mother. The mother is nagging her son to get married to his girlfriend, as they’ve been together for far too long without getting married. Essentially, she’s the typical over-protective and over-involved mother. However, on the flip side, the woman is altogether too resistant to getting married. Even when her boyfriend shows her the apartment he’s going to buy for her, she’s hesitant … especially when he keeps talking about having children, which she reacts very strongly against.

You might think that what I said was too much detail about them, but again, this is an Asian horror film and so this is all really, really relevant.

Anyway, a family friend or family member — close in age and close to the mother — disappeared after that group of elderly people took a hiking trip into the nearby mountains. She then returns, but the mother disappears. Soon after, the mother returns and the boyfriend disappears. The woman spends a lot of time investigating the disappearances, with the help of another family member, and of course they’re supernaturally related. Eventually, she tracks down the urban legend of “The Girl in Red” and ventures out into the mountains to rescue her boyfriend. It turns out that the reason she was so opposed to having children was because she had an abortion when she was younger, and eventually has to face that and the future to get her boyfriend back. They then get married and are set to have their first child, with everyone together as a happy family.

The second movie continues on with the urban legend. This time, a woman who had an unplanned pregnancy which is causing issues with her actual daughter discovers that her teenage daughter is herself pregnant. The woman pretty much demands that her daughter get an abortion, but before that can occur her daughter disappears, taken away by a strange little girl. She confronts the teenage father of the child, who is some kind of mystic able to rather oddly tap into some kind of Tiger God but is mostly annoying otherwise. They discover the link to the mountains, and also that the curse is likely linked to a mother whose child was killed and who tried to bring her back to life, but when she came back as a supernatural murdering monster ended up betraying her and locking her away, which didn’t work forever. They try to contact the spirit, but do so without the protection of the Tiger God and so it lies to them, convincing them to send the mother of the deceased child to reconcile, but it’s a trap and the child kills the mother. However, the mother finds her daughter and they try to escape, with the Tiger God transforming the guy into a tiger to protect them from a massive attack until they can break free and everyone goes home reunited with the birth of the child.

In the first movie, the main female lead is very sympathetic and the other characters work well for their roles. The story resolution is appropriate and hopeful. The movie moves along pretty well, keeps the mystery front and centre without beating us over the head with it, and drops enough clues for us to figure it out before the end. The second movie has much less interesting characters, a somewhat ridiculous plot, especially with the introduction of the strange Tiger God and his rituals, and the angst over an unplanned pregnancy isn’t as poignant as the abortion one, mostly because it’s usually used to allow the teenage girl to snipe at her mother despite the fact that even early on we know that her mother loves her, so it’s more of a bratty teenager than a real conflict. The first movie, in my opinion, was quite a bit better than the second one, and had far more interesting characters, but as a standalone movie the second one is still serviceable, if a bit more boring.

So what did I hate about it so much? Well, there’s a separate subplot in the second movie involving the second daughter of the mother of “The Girl in Red”, whom the main character of the second movie ends up meeting because the mother has hidden her away to protect her. It turns out that “The Girl in Red” wants to kill her, too. Not only is them meeting this way a contrivance, it also involves the main character from the first movie. It turns out that there was a “car accident” that killed her husband and his mother and caused her to lose her baby, and so she enters the movie not the capable and confident woman she was, but an utterly broken woman. While, sure, that kind of trauma would realistically do that, we end up with a returning character that I really liked who is nothing like she was in the first movie, nor shows any of the traits that I liked about her from that movie. And, ultimately, her role in the movie seems to be nothing more than to resolve that subplot … a subplot that we didn’t need. She ends up saving the child — while the others are under siege in the mountains — and adopts her, but to get to that part of the “happy ending” cost her husband, mother-in-law, and first child (and she may not be able to have any more children). I don’t see that the child subplot was really worth doing all that for, and using that as an extra link back to the first movie is at the cost of undermining the actual ending to that movie and eliminating characters that we had come to like for, it seems, no real reason. That’s what I hated about the second movie.

Knowing this, I don’t think I’ve ever rewatch the second movie. It wasn’t all that great on its own and what it does to the main character will always annoy me too much to enjoy it. The first movie, however, I might rewatch at some point, especially since it does come across as being a pretty much complete movie on its own, without really leaving a huge mystery that needed to be resolved with a second movie.

Has Doctor Who Become “Social Justice Oriented”?

January 14, 2019

I’ve been watching Doctor Who, and at the end of it I found myself pondering this question. Now, I don’t want to ponder this question. I’d much rather just be able to sit down and watch it and simply enjoy things without ever wondering what place the show has or has had in the current cultural battle filtering through all aspects of life, including entertainment. Unfortunately, not only will the Internet not really let me avoid that, but the show itself won’t let me do that (which, I suppose, spoils the answer to the question in the title).

One of the main reasons I don’t want to ponder the question is that it’s even hard to figure out a way to formulate the question without insulting someone or being presumptive. The side on the “right” prefers the term “converged”, implying that it’s some kind of subversive attempt to take control, and while that’s embraced by some on the Social Justice side it seems far too intentional to be entirely accurate, when many of them really seem to just be acting on beliefs they have. The Social Justice side tends to prefer “diverse”, but when they can call an all-woman cast “diverse” and justify it with an inane argument about summing it over three movies where two were all-male and don’t actually leave any room for actual diversity of viewpoints that doesn’t seem to fit either. So I’ve decided on “Social Justice Oriented”, which means is a main or the main focus on expressing Social Justice Values as opposed to simply trying to make an entertaining work. Now, different creators will always at least let their own views bleed into their work, but for me the key here is that the Social Justice Values are not merely personal and if the work seems to be making a concrete effort to express them.

And, for me, Doctor Who, in Capaldi’s run, ended up there.

Not every episode or arc, of course was very overtly doing this, but the show seemed to be trying to do this more often than not. You can start with character decisions to introduce more “diverse” characters into the show. There’s nothing really wrong with this, but much of the time it seems like it was done to introduce those characters and hit those diversity points rather than just to try something new. The biggest example of this is with Bill, where her lesbianism was pretty much only referenced to reference it without adding anything to the show, even humour. In the episode where her dates kept getting interrupted, this could have been an attempt at humour showing how that’s all frustrating for her except that the comic set-up for it and Bill’s expressing that was barely referenced, while of course that she was dating a woman was front-and-centre, which ruins the joke. And since we never saw that character that she was supposedly desperately crushing on before or after that episode it didn’t have an impact on anything. So, like so many other parts of it, it seems to be there to remind us “Hey, we have a lesbian character! Take that, bros!”.

Their handling of gender, especially later in the series, is an even better indication of this. There are numerous cases where female characters take shots at the Doctor and others for not being able to see things or do things because he’s a man and that women would see it, which is of course quite sexist if you don’t buy into the idea that sexism against men isn’t really sexism. But what makes it worse is that no man other than a complete villain — and, as the series goes on, not even them — ever says anything even remotely similar to that, and so it’s not playful banter between the two characters over either perceived differences or in a scenario where none of them actually believe that there are those differences but they just want to tweak the noses of the others over it. In the episode where Clara leaves, the Doctor ends up killing a male Time Lord, who regenerates into a woman, who makes a seemingly totally serious comment that now that she’s regenerated into a woman things can be solved because a man couldn’t, and then proceeds to in fact be totally competent and in the right for the rest of the episode. So there are a number of cases where women get to proclaim that they’re better because they’re women in a way that is never replied to, argued against, or portrayed as being in any way wrong, and there are no cases where the opposite is true, either with women portrayed as wrong because they are women or men portrayed as right because they are men.

This is only made even more idiotic because Capaldi’s Doctor also gets an incredibly irrelevant and ham-fisted speech about how the Time Lords have evolved past the primitive focus on gender, despite a) there still being significant physiological differences between male and female Time Lords that b) that Time Lady above relied on to make her big opening comment that we are all supposed to take seriously. If he was going to do that, he should have done that when he was being insulted just for being a man — by pointing out that they were being unfair to him using that outdated notion — and not just when it was used. But it’s there to drive home to the audience that gender distinctions are primitive and wrong without ever having to address any of the issues or discussions with them or, in fact, how that would be inconsistent with both their own show and their other attempts to promote Social Justice.

The worst episode for this, though, is the two-parter “The Zygon Invasion” and “The Zygon Inversion”. The plot itself is again a ham-fisted pro-immigration stance, despite the fact that the Zygons were originally quite murderous and the fact that they can assimilate as humans undetectably actually makes them a deeper threat. The big fear out of this would be that anyone could be a Zygon, even someone you used to know — as they take on the aspects of actual people much of the time — and could be working directly against you. Since the Zygons started out replacing people and were, in fact, still doing it, and doing it in a horrific way, being afraid of them was entirely reasonable. So much so that it would have made more sense for the people to demand the blocking of the Zygon’s shapeshifting abilities and so have them go about Earth as Zygons to eliminate that threat. Taken to its analogical extension, the actual example would seem to demonstrate that letting those people simply assimilate into the nation just like anyone else was taking a risk that at any moment any of them — or even most of them — could rise up and start killing people (because that’s what the Zygons did). I don’t get the impression that that was the message they were trying to get out, however.

Moreover, everyone who does anything of any significance is a woman. I’ll forgive Osgood for her role, because not only do I like the character but her role followed from their introduction in the new series. But a lot of the things the others did were either things the Doctor should do, or else things that seem to be invented to give the character something to do (Kate Stewart’s seems to be the most obvious example of that). This leaves the Doctor little to do in his own show. Additionally, many of the scenes are built around making those characters hyper-competent rather than realistic or consistent with the show. Kate’s is the worst example, as she ends up alone in a town with a disguised Zygon who tries to kill her. When she returns, there’s a brief bit of drama over whether the Zygon has replaced her, but it becomes clear that Kate survived and killed it. How? Well, she just shoots it, and the reveal is complete with badass one-liner. Which is utterly ridiculous because a) the Doctor seems content with that, despite in general hating that sort of callous disregard for life, b) Kate being presented originally as more of a scientist than a solider (yes, she’d be capable of doing it given who her father was, but even he wasn’t that callous) and c) it making more sense for both the show and the character for her to outsmart the Zygon rather than outshoot it. An easy example would be to follow on from the Zygon’s line that she was waiting to see if Kate had back-up before attacking to have her attempt be foiled by Kate’s incredibly well-hidden back-up, showing that she had planned ahead and made sure that she kept her back-up hidden, both physically and with her words. Instead, the show feels the need to make Kate out to be a badass instead of smart, and the Doctor who prefers intelligence to badassery merely smiles in approval.

Me isn’t the worst example of this, but she’s the best example of where I want to go next and talk about probably the biggest defining feature of Social Justice Oriented works. As Ashildir, she’s actually an interesting character, and one that we can relate to, and one that could have been done in past series with either male or female characters. As Me, however … she’s just incredibly annoying. Her character redesign seems to have been done more with an eye for, again, making her a badass instead of making her an interesting or sympathetic character. I don’t buy that she’d forget her own name and so just call herself “Me”, and doing so makes her seem incredibly arrogant and self-interested. If the Doctor calls himself the Doctor because it reflects who he is, then I can buy that her calling herself “Me” does the same thing. This is borne out by the fact that she betrays and manipulates the Doctor twice, with the second one resulting in Clara’s death (which, to be fair, she didn’t intend, but couldn’t grasp the idea that someone might sacrifice themselves for someone else). Despite this, at the end she doesn’t really do anything to redeem herself and yet flies off with Clara, all things forgiven, it seems, despite the fact that at best we didn’t like her enough to have her going around with Clara and at worst we wanted to see her gone for all the terrible things she’d done. But the show seems to think we’ll like her — and, to be fair, some people will like her — and so goes all in on that at the end. If that fails, as it did for me, it will all fall flat.

Which brings me to the main feature of Social Justice Oriented media in my opinion: assumed empathy. Black Panther, for me, is the best example of this. We are supposed to care about these issues or characters or their “status” because of that, and not because the show has done anything to set that up so that we can care about them. Thus, it works for people in that situation or group or who have had similar circumstances, and fails massively for those who haven’t.

The issue, I think, is in their misunderstanding of other media and, particularly, other media where they can’t relate to the main characters. Let me start a bit with how most people actually do empathy, at least in my view. We do so through simulation, where we mostly unconsciously put ourselves into someone else’s place and run things forward to see what we would feel in that situation. As should be obvious, this tends to fail if we are dealing with someone who is different than us, so we have other mechanisms that allow us to translate their situation to a similar one for us so that this can work. But if they are too different, simulation empathy will still fail.

Those demanding more representation and diversity, I hypothesize, are people who have watched certain media and not gotten that empathetic rush, but have determined that the problem is that the main characters aren’t enough like them and don’t have issues similar enough to what they have for them to empathize with them, and so conclude that the solution is simply to plunk in characters that are “like them”. The problem is that the things they are using to determine that someone is “like” them or someone else, well, aren’t. A white character or a black character doesn’t necessarily have that much like you just for sharing that skin colour, and so you aren’t actually likely to empathize with them just based on that. So you’re going to need to add more traits and more qualities just to make them more like you. But because everyone has different experiences, doing so will just eliminate more and more people from that kind of empathy, thus leaving more of the work using assumed empathy while leaving more and more people out of that empathy experience.

And the thing is that good works don’t rely on assumed empathy, but instead on building empathy by allowing you to understand the characters and so to be able to map their struggles onto your own. Ironically, one of the better shows for this was “The Fresh Price of Bel-Air”. It took on a lot of issues that are at least more common among black people than white people, and yet as a white person I didn’t have all that much problem getting the emotional notes that it was trying to hit with those. People who had never had a parent abandon them could still understand and be affected by Will’s feelings of rejection and abandonment when his father walked out on him again. People who didn’t have to worry about being stopped on the basis of their skin colour could still understand their feelings about that possibility, and most importantly could do that even if they disagreed that it was profiling. Good media, media that makes us really feel for the characters in it, does that by allowing us to get to know the characters so that we can understand what they are going through, even if we’ve never experienced it ourselves. In short, they reject assumed empathy and take the time to build real empathy.

Using assumed empathy but promoting “diversity” can work, but only if you convince someone that they should be excited about seeing someone “like them” in a role that they weren’t normally in (even if that last part is actually false). You can feel a rush and get vindication from seeing someone “on your side” purportedly “succeed”. This is likely what is behind the emotional reactions to movies like Black Panther and Wonder Woman. The problem is that this is not actual empathy, nor is it based on their actual character, and so it will fall flat for anyone who doesn’t feel they are on that “side” … even people who, say, are black or a woman.

It seems to me to be no coincidence that most of the complaints of the worst things are for media that aren’t very good at building real empathy. Sarkeesian and others in the gaming space focused on FPSes and not the RPGs — especially JRPGs — that are good at building empathy even if you aren’t like the characters. For movies, they tend to focus on action movies which have never really relied on empathy to make them work. And so on. While it’s true that they won’t really feel empathy for the characters in those things, their mistake is assuming that the white males who are playing it actually do. Most of the time, they don’t, and at best like the character because their macho talk is, well, funny. As evidence of this, while many people demanded that Doctor Who be diverse few actually ever complained that they couldn’t empathize with the white male Doctors. This is because the show was generally pretty good at building real empathy and was pretty good at making empathy not matter when it wasn’t going to bother with that. But the lesson they’ve taken from the other media is that people like things and characters because they empathize with them, for those works it must be their traits that get the empathy to work, so what they need to do is build media where people are like them and thus empathy and thus good characters. And when others recoil from that reliance on assumed empathy they demand that they open up their empathy instead of realizing that empathy doesn’t work that way.

Doctor Who has quite a bit of assumed empathy in its later series, which can be contrasted with the early ones where the empathy follows more from us understanding the characters. Even as I disliked Martha’s unrequited crush on the Doctor, I could understand it and feel for her in the situations where it was relevant. I could understand Rose’s father-issues and disappointed in his fall and joy at his redemption because I understood her. That’s not assumed empathy; that’s real empathy. Add in the constant ham-fisted declarations of typical Social Justice talking points and, yeah, Doctor Who really does seem to be Social Justice Oriented. And that seems to be hurting the quality of its entertainment.

Which, to bring it back to the beginning, is precisely why I had to ponder the question. Because I enjoyed it less and had to wonder if they were related. I don’t want to have to wonder about that anymore. Hopefully we can get past this before the reason I don’t have to wonder about it because I’m not watching it anymore.

Thoughts on “Gothic”

January 8, 2019

So, here we are at “Gothic”, the last movie in the “The Shadows” collection. It would be nice to finish this run on a high note but … the movie isn’t very good.

The story is ostensibly an examination of what happened on a certain night or nights when Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, her husband, her step-sister and John Polidori met and challenged each other to write or tell horror stories. Unfortunately, the movie spends most of its time having the characters get drunk and drugged up and run around acting like morons most of the time, at which point they scare themselves and the others with visions and stories and things like that. There are some minor suspenseful moments, but for the most part none of the characters are sympathetic — Mary Shelley is the closest we get — and so we don’t really care about what happens to them, which only makes the fact that they are acting like debauched nobles without a care for anyone or anything other than their own hedonistic pleasures all the more annoying. I wouldn’t really want to watch people doing things I myself would find fun for an hour and a half; I certainly don’t want to watch them doing things I wouldn’t want to do because it’s just too far down the hedonism scale for most sane people.

Even the links to the books are weak. I could see someone who was a fan of the works or the authors wanting to watch this to get even a fictionalized glimpse into their lives and inspirations, but I suspect that many fans will be outraged at perceived character assassination if they did.

So this isn’t all that great a work, which is a sad way to end the “The Shadows” collection which, overall, was worth what I paid for it but which also had a significant number of absolute clunkers in it.

As such, let me rank all of the movies from the best to the worst:

1) “The Ghost Walks”: Not much of a horror film, but by far the most entertaining film of the bunch.

2) “Backwoods”: Bog standard hillbilly slasher film, which is probably its charm.

3) “The Black Raven”: A boring mystery plot bogs down the decent actors and characters here which places it lower on the list than it would have been otherwise.

4) “The Shadows”: Tolerable, but the confusions over the mystery and the character motivations make it less interesting to watch than it might have been otherwise.

5) “Netherworld”: Its attempts to be surreal, sexual and gory seem outdated, and it doesn’t give us anything else to work with.

6) “Feeding Grounds”: There’s some attempts at characterization and story, and the not-so-main heroine is appealing. But, overall, it’s boring and confusing and spends too much time building up the characters as being unsympathetic and then trying to make us care about them getting sick.

7) “Gothic”: Unlike “Feeding Grounds”, this movie doesn’t put much effort into making us care about the characters that it made unsympathetic.

8) “Blood Predator”: Everything that could go wrong in this movie did. It’s just bad and there is no chance of it being “So-Bad-It’s-Good”.

So that’s the “The Shadows” collection. But I still have lots and lots of other cheap horror movies to talk about, as well as the more big budget collections that I’d like to get to, so don’t expect me to stop writing about these things any time soon.