Lately, I’ve been watching movies starring my early 2000s celebrity crush. Most of her movies are not very good, and I’ve always known they were not very good, so I’d never waste precious minutes on them when I only had a few hours of free time a week. But now that I’ve got all the free time in the world, and my inspiration for my novel is coming at me like it’s trapped in molasses, so this is the perfect opportunity. I’m remembering why I crushed on her in the first place, so if I’m going to look at the bright side of coronavirus, here it is.
Everyday YouTube sends me a video it thinks I will enjoy, and 19 times out of 20, it’s wrong. But lately, it’s been drowning me in “Chibnall is KILLING the Doctor Who franchise” types of videos, and the very titles foul my mood.
Here’s the thing about them, though, that I think unsettles me the most. You can’t tell them that if they hate it so much, stop watching, because in their minds, they’re the true fans. They have in their heads this ideal of Doctor Who that’s so shining and specific and beloved and perfect that anything that strays from that must be protested. They think they’re helping by demanding that Doctor Who be only its best. And of course there’s all the raging misogyny behind it, cleverly disguised by focusing their attacks on “bad writing” and Chris Chibnall.
In general, I’m the type of person who stops watching a show when I stop enjoying it, so this attitude is a little too masochistic and narcissistic for me, though I did continue to watch Doctor Who through the Moffat years, despite the fact that I wasn’t enjoying the show as a whole anymore. I hung on because I was open to the good moments and the performances, of which there were many, and I wouldn’t dream of demanding my favorite show’s cancellation. Stephen Moffat wouldn’t be showrunner forever.
I started watching Doctor Who during the Tom Baker years. If I decided that this was the only way the show could possibly be, I’d be one miserable tool right now. And that’s what they are, miserable and impossible to please, and meanwhile, we’re here as the Doctor Who Fans Who Actually Like the Show, and we’re having a great time watching a show we love. If this was a contest, we’d be winning.
Classic Doctor Who Will Always Be Superior to New Who: A Thesis in One Episode
I was recently discussing the Classic Who serial, “The Stones of Blood,” with my sister Rachel. The villain of that adventure is Stonehenge. I don’t mean a extra-dimensional monster that exists in Stonehenge. I don’t mean the Space Druids who built Stonehenge returning to fulfill its nefarious purpose. (Both of which would make excellent episodes of Doctor Who.) I mean the slabs of rock that make up Stonehenge, eating people. And the stones didn’t shoot lasers or fly or have big teeth. They slid along the ground at a speed of a sloth on Dramamine stuck in molasses.
Somebody pitched this at the writers’ table, and the showrunner (Douglas Adams, I think) said yes, make this dream a reality!
The ability of a monster to be convincing on Doctor Who rests on the ability of the actors, especially the one playing the Doctor, to sell its menace. Do you think Jodie Whittaker or Peter Capaldi or even David Tennant could face down a foam boulder on wheels being pushed by two key grips offscreen and be terrified? Tom Baker could. Nowadays they show off an actor in a fortune’s worth of makeup or an artist’s rendering of what the CGI is going to look like, and the Doctor barely has to try. Back in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, they had a hundred bucks and the wizardry of imagination constrained. Nowadays they have a pretty good idea of the formula and what worked. Back in the seventies, even after the show had been on for over ten years, they had no clue what they were doing, they just knew it was working.
I love the new show. I bought season 12 on iTunes for a lot of money, and I haven’t regretted it (even after that resort episode, yuck). The monsters could fit I to any sci-fi/fantasy show, and the most exciting plots of New Who are like last Sunday’s episode, fully self-referential to its own mythology. Arguably, the most exciting plot of Classic Who was that the Doctor meets an art thief who was actually an alien whose ship visiting ancient Earth was split up into a dozen or more selves linked psychically over the centuries who convinces Leonardo da Vinci to paint seven copies of the Mona Lisa so he can steal one and sell all seven at top price so he can finance his time machine to go back to his space ship and keep it from exploding but that explosion is literally the first spark of Earth life and if it doesn’t happen, humans won’t exist. What’s more fun, the revelation that the Doctor’s past may be a lie, or the Doctor wandering into an adventure that has no idea what genre it is?
In conclusion, New Who lacks the sheer audacity of Classic Who, and unfortunately, as the audiences are more sophisticated and TV is being considered art, we’ll never see a show like that again.
I’m thinking about the original Star Wars trilogy, and if we look at it only in terms of what we learned in the original trilogy, was the Empire that bad? Sure you hear about how bad the Empire is, with its ruthless something or other, but who do you hear that from? Princess Leia. A terrorist. You don’t see any of the ruthlessness they talk about in any of the planets they visit (although, to be fair, the only regular planet they visit is Tatooine). The symbols of oppression, the Storm Troopers, are checking vehicles for stolen droids that were used by the terrorists to smuggle classified data. That seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for a law-enforcement group to do. Basically, from what little we see of day-to-day life in the Empire, planets are self-sufficient and not really bothered too much. It’s a system of government that functions pretty well. Dissolving the Senate is not particularly democratic, but the Empire had been a dictatorship for twenty years, and spending all the tax dollars on a vestigial branch of government seems kind of wasteful.
Am I forgetting something? Oh, yes. Alderaan. Grand Moff Tarkin ordered the destruction of planet Alderaan, ending billions of lives. Evil? Not so fast. Exploding countless innocent people because they might have some connection to terrorists is a pretty routine thing the United States does. And, yes, Obama did it too.
Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, and Grand Moff Tarken are three very evil people, so they say. But they’re trying to run a galaxy here. They’re assholes, but maybe they’re just pragmatic.
I guess I’m saying that the original Star Wars movies are pitched to us as a clash of good versus evil, but we have to take a terrorist’s word that the bad guys are really that bad. Imagine you were living in the Star Wars Galaxy, and you worked a nine-to-five job, and you were married and had kids, and your best friend was an alien who spoke to you in their alien language, and you spoke to them in English. Now imagine you turned on the news, and you hear that some teenagers in fighter jets are blowing up military bases and shooting a bunch of troops. The worst part is, it is absolutely killing your commute. It’s not clear from that point of view who’s good and who’s evil.
And when you think about the Empire in the terms of a government that has to take care of billions of billions of people of all races and nationalities that is being attacked by guerilla warriors, what does that say about us? As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as plucky rebels overthrowing a ruthless, evil regime, but we’re really not, are we?
This week I declared war on Batman. I did it in a FB group where people were trying to make Superman relevant for 2020. Many didn’t think it was possible, and some commenters leaned into the fact that he’s an undocumented immigrant. I don’t think that really works, though, because Superman is a blue-eyed white guy from Kansas. He would never get picked up in an ICE raid. But he is identifiable.
Most people in the United States know what it’s like to leave home for the first time and move to a big, scary place, take an overwhelming job, develop a crush on your coworker who can’t see you in front of their face because they’re into someone flashier and better-looking than you, and have a side of yourself that you don’t want anyone to see because you want to come across as normal. As far as the superpower stuff that most think is impossible to write, keep in mind that, in the comics, his ultimate nemesis isn’t someone who can punch harder than him, it’s a human being—brilliant, soulless capitalist with unlimited resources. That sounds like an easy movie to make, Warner Brothers. Why do you have to go and make everything so complicated?
If you ask me, I will tell you that my favorite TV show is not Doctor Who, as you’d suspect, but Angel, the vampire detective show. It was on for five years, and between that and his three years as a major character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I found the perfect, most personal depiction of my particular brand of bipolar disorder.
Vampires in the Buffy universe are evil because they have no soul. They’re varying degrees of evil, and that appears to be tied into how much personality they had when they were still alive. An intense, tragic poet like William maintains that humanity when he turns into Spike, but someone like Liam, who exists only to sleep and drink around, has no humanity when turns into Angelus. He’s sharp, charming, more powerful, and supremely confident, like me in a manic episode. He destroys everything, and he does it for fun, and he does that until he crashes, i.e. his soul is restored.
Now he’s a creature of pure guilt, and eventually he believes that his redemption is through a girl. This leads to disaster, as it should. Eventually, in his own show, he finds that his redemption for his manic behavior is found in simply doing the right thing. He’s told that he will be rewarded with his greatest wish if he continues to do the right thing. By the end of the show, he doesn’t do the right thing for a reward or redemption, but because it’s the right thing, a true sign of maturing.
When the first season came out, it was about finding oneself in an exciting, scary new city, trying to figure out who you are and how to do it, and it came out the same year I moved to New York in pursuit of a new life. Season 2 was about the perils of thinking you’re smarter than everybody, Season 3 was about found families and a little bit about addiction, Season 4 was a dumpster fire, and Season 5 was about growing up and selling out. Buffy was a show about being a teenager growing up, Angel was about being an adult growing up. Angel wasn’t as good as Buffy, and is overshadowed by its source material, but it was still pretty good.
And speaking of Buffy, where the first three seasons of Buffy made them an OTP and then spent the rest of the series trying to walk that back, Angel acknowledged how unhealthy it was. His first meeting with Buffy after he left that show was contentious—she resented him for leaving, and he really wanted to assert his independence from her. We later find out that Buffy was a rebound girl that he projected all of his guilt and uncertainty onto, that in his mind, his OTP was always someone else, and that this love forever thing they had was all from Buffy’s perspective (which doesn’t make her bad or silly, it just makes her a teenage girl). Basically, his relationship with love is confusing and sometimes ugly, and even when he finds the right person, it doesn’t work out.
Angel is grumpy and awkward. He lives with the constant fear that something is going to go terribly wrong. Love is something that never quite works out, and eventually he decides to eschew it altogether. And there is a side of him, a wicked destructive side, that’s always there, waiting for him to let his guard down. The worst part about this side is that it is the real him, as real as the goofy, brooding him. And that’s me in a nutshell.
All that, and I didn’t even get to Spike, the actual OTP of the show.
Another day passes, and another person weighs in on this increasingly dumb Marvel-vs-Martin-Scorsese nonsense. I’m pretty tired of hearing about it, and I’ll bet you the only person more tired than I of the whole thing is Martin Scorsese. Mostly I’m tired because what difference does it make? There’s nobody who has ever said, “I was going to rent Ant Man & the Wasp, but Martin Scorsese said they’re not cinema, so I should watch Casino instead.” And when I hear about an out-of-touch Baby Boomer who has been living in Hollywood half of his life who is telling us that an enormously popular genre of movie that he’s probably never seen aren’t cinema, my first thought is, “Well, he’s not wrong.”
Marvel movies are about a lot of things, like honor, sacrifice, duty, personal responsibility, loss, family, and grief, but mostly they’re about a guy who dresses in red, white, and blue and calls himself Captain America hitting a large purple man with a hammer. They’re not high art. But perhaps Martin Scorsese or his sidekick Francis Ford Coppola (the director of Godfather Part Three and Bram Stoker’s Dracula who has a lot of nerve passing judgement over what counts as overwrought, pointless spectacle) would answer a question for me: What have gangster movies ever done for the world? Has society grown or become better because Joe Pesci flipped out and shanked a guy to death for making fun of his shine box? Has Marlon Brando sticking cotton balls in his mouth improved humanity in any way?
Don’t get me wrong, The Godfather and Goodfellas and all of these movies are really good. My senior year in high school I saw Apocalypse Now five times, and it holds up today. I went into The Departed with a bad attitude because I’d seen Internal Affairs, and how dare these Americans think they can remake a—okay, it was actually amazing. These movies are art, I won’t dispute that. But they’re movies, i.e. moving pictures. Yes, these two men and the filmmakers agreeing with them have come up with the most interesting ways to manipulate light against a screen, but that’s all they’re doing. And if you’re one of the people thinking that making yet another gangster movie starring Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro makes Martin Scorsese a better person than anyone, you need to get your perspective checked right away.
I love movies, but they’re movies. There’s plenty of things to get furious about right now, but one of them shouldn’t be an old man stating his opinion.
The reason they won’t let me write suspenseful thrillers in Hollywood or TV Land is because all of my stories would end like this:
*Our scene opens in the VILLAIN’S lair. The VILLAIN has been defeated, but he has left one dastardly trap for the heroes—a biological weapon that is primed to subject all of Los Angeles to an agonizing death. In a desperate attempt to stop it, the HERO and HEROINE confront the VILLAIN’S laptop.*
HERO: The only way to stop it is to enter the password!
HEROINE: We’ve only got two minutes left! Start guessing!
HERO: There’s a catch! If you enter the wrong password three times, it automatically triggers the device! I know an algorithm that can bypass the security node and access the device! *HERO types furiously, but the screen flashes red, and he pounds the table* Dammit! There’s a firewall eating my code! I can’t get through!
HEROINE: Two guesses left!
HERO: There was only one thing that he loved in this life! One thing that made him human! His daughter! *HERO types the VILLAIN’S daughter’s name, but gets another red flash* Dammit!
HEROINE: One guess left!
HERO: There’s only one thing we can do, and it’s a long shot! Before the Villain murdered him and his family, my brother entrusted me with a worm he coded! If it works, it’s like an electronic skeleton key that can—
HEROINE: *Slides the laptop over to herself and types P-A-S-S-W-O-R-D. With a dull hum, the device powers down*
According to the Legend of Joss Whedon, during an interview he was asked why he creates so many strong female characters. He responded, “Because you asked that question.”
I write a lot of female characters—the main character in my six-and-growing unpublished book series is a woman. The villain in my fan fiction is a woman. But I’m not doing it to be political. I’m doing it because, “Why not?”
My fanfic villain was conceived to be a man, but as I sat down to write, I scribbled an “S” in front of “he,” and now she is menacing the sweet holy hell out of Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, but as a petite, frequently underestimated Native American woman as opposed to the imposing badass I’d first considered. Why did I add the “S” in the first place? Because part of the character’s origin is in their spouse getting murdered, and do we really need another dead wife?
The thing is, it’s not that hard to write women. I don’t know why the entertainment world has such a problem with it. Yes, there are differences between the genders that, as a cis het-male I’ll never fully understand, but I can always ask. And even so, the real lesson here is that there are more similarities than differences between men and woman from a character-building standpoint. Men and women both want things, and as long as you understand that, for women, these wants don’t stop at pretty dresses and a man, you’re on the right track.
So yeah, if somehow my books got out in the world and I was asked about my female protagonists, the first thing I’d say is, “You know who could write women better than me, even? A woman.” Then I’d say, “Women are people. Try writing people. I don’t see why this needs to be spelled out for you.”
The “Why not” principal also works for races that aren’t yours, as well as sexualities. Just don’t make cartoons out of characters, and you’ll be fine.
Don’t read the comments.
I just perused a column where the writer posited the question, re: the new Joker movie, do we really, in this day and age, need a movie about an aggrieved white man who murders a bunch of people because of perceived injustices? The comments were instantly full of a bunch of oversensitive snowflakes (i.e. white men on the Internet) were upset because the writer pointed out that the Joker was a white man. But then there were a few comments that made me want to be the Picard WTF meme, the ones that said, “You haven’t even seen the movie! How do you know it’s about a white man murdering a bunch of people? That’s not what the previews say it is.”
So let me get this straight. You think that a movie called Joker, about one of the most famous mass murderers in comic book and cinema history, rated R, produced by Martin Scorcese, starring Robert DeNiro, set in a New York analogue in the eighties, is not going to be about a man murdering people? What do you think it’s about? A man who is beaten down by society (this is in the previews, by the way), puts on clown makeup, and the world is a happy place?
But that question is pointless because yours came from a place of intellectual dishonesty. You know the movie is about a white male killing spree, and you’re just being argumentative because your feelings, as a white man, are hurt, and you have no real counterpoint.
I’m just not interested in Joker because it doesn’t look interesting to me. I’ve seen these rampage movies before, and grease paint isn’t a really novel way of telling the same old story. And the Joker is a character that, like Batman, I think we’ve seen enough of. Also, in Todd Phillips’ filmography, Old School was the only movie I really liked. I know that puts me in the minority. The Internet is really excited about this movie, and God bless them. I hope they love it. But don’t tell me that it’s not about a disenfranchised white man murdering a bunch of people, because that makes you full of shit.