Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cars, Colonialism, and Clarkson

Usually, when I sit back and think about a TV show and deconstruct it in my mind and consider its social implications and just apply basic critical studies to it, it's well after the fact of watching it. When I ingest entertainment, I do it for the entertainment. I enjoy it or don't enjoy it based on pure emotional response and how well it creates it. Sometimes, though, the damn criticism keeps in during watching ti and I enjoy things less because of it. How dare thinking critically about something and its implications remove my enjoyment. Jerks.

Anyhow, it happened tonight with Top Gear. Top Gear is, usually, immensely entertaining to me, though I acknowledge its problems.

I mean, first, it's on the BBC. Which means it's partially funded by taxpayer money. Taxpayer money going into having three rich white dudes do stupid things with cars. I don't really have anything against taxpayer money going into stupid things. And a government could be doing way worse with its money than making a TV show- at least it's not killing anyone. Of course, it's not really saving anyone either. It could go into education or healthcare or infrastructure or any number of things. But, entertainment is something nearly every civilization has devoted a sizable about of time and money to. I'm not saying it's right or even okay, but shoot, it's hard to fight and if we stopped I'd have nothing to talk about anymore. So this problem hardly ever bothers me.

Second, the chaps are somewhat racist and xenophobic. This is just known as a matter of course. They got into a huge kerfuffle involving Mexicans a couple of years back and as least once a season they make some dumb comment. They have the kind of racist attitude that seems uniquely British- not any inherent belief in the inferiority of a different race, just a nationalistic belief that not being British is a terrible thing and you have some adorable flaw. Britain seems to exist with a sort of quantum nationalism: inerrant belief that Britain is best, while utterly despising being British. It's cute. Anyhow, they usually get called on it and make apologies and blah blah blah, everyone knows they're a bit daft. It's terrible, but rarely bothersome.

No, my problem rears its head rarely, but goes unacknowledged. See, they often have adventure episodes. And sometimes it's really cool, like when they were the first people to drive a car to the North Pole. Well done, nice show of automotive engineering. Or it's just good fun, like when they each bought a car for under $1000 in Miami and drove them to New Orleans, along the way painting their car with pro-gay, pro-Hillary slogans as they drove through rural Alabama- a decision which literally caused them to be hunted and followed by hicks in big scary trucks. Fun times. But this season's adventure was indicative of a worse problem.

They went to Africa, to find the source of the Nile River. Okay. Neat. Good adventure. Along the way, they praised Dr. Livingston and the great British adventurers who came before them. They drove through the Serengeti, exclaiming how beautiful it was and how could anyone be afraid to go to Africa. They enlisted the help of friendly locals who dug them out of ditches and push their cars through the deep mud to help them reach their glorious ending.

And, yet, there it is. Because those great and noble British adventurers did view these people as inferior. Maybe they didn't necessarily treat them as such, but they saw their land, their societies, and said "Neat! No one's ever explored this!" Then Europeans came in, found these people, on this land, with their societies, and said "Neat! This is ours now. Oh, you said this is yours? Okay. You're ours now too! Neat!" But that ended way back in the 20th century so it's probably not best  to dwell on it. But then, Clarkson, Hammond, and May go out, willfully oblivious to A) the enormous privilege they get from being the descendants of the colonial powers, and B) that they basically do the same thing. Oh, how nice of the throngs of poor Africans to push the noble white men's cars. How quaint that they want biscuits and candy for their efforts, look at them crowd and push. Jolly good show. And then they find their invented source of the River Nile and proudly put up the Union Jack. In the middle of Tanzania. Well done lads. Well done, indeed.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Metaphor, Star Trek, and Social Justice

On November 22, 1968, Capt. James T. Kirk was forced to kiss Lt. Uhura by a race of sadistic telepaths. This was not the first interracial kiss on TV, but it's easily the one that sticks in the minds of the American public. The episode itself doesn't remark on this fact even once, the kiss is forced because there is no attraction between Uhura and Kirk: they are friends and he is her commanding officer, nothing more. The humiliation is inherent in the loss of agency and free will, not their respective races.

Everyone on set knew it was a big deal, though. NBC intentionally made them film an alternate version where Kirk refuses to kiss her out of fear from reprisal from Southern viewers. Shatner intentionally overacted the hell out of this version of the scene so that they had no choice but to go with the kiss. (Which, just stop and think for a moment, that means there's a level of Shatnerian overacting that's so over the top it's actually unairable. MINDBLOWING.) The show intentionally normalized something that parts of the society didn't want to be normal, and it did it without obscuring the issue, but also without making it a big deal. This is not amazing- it is normal. Deal with it.

On October 30, 1998, Lt. Jadzia Dax kissed the woman she loved in a former life, Lenara Kahn. This was not the first same-sex kiss on American TV, but it was one of the first and one that ended up getting quite a lot of angry calls to Paramount. The episode, however, lets their relationship as a same-sex couple go unnoticed. The fact that they're two women? Unremarkable. Normal. However, it uses metaphor as a 'fuck you' to those would remark upon it. The entire episode revolves around social norms preventing the two from having a relationship. It's an intentionally thin metaphor, they're only not allowed to be together because of Trill taboos against starting relationships with people from past lives, but an effective enough one, because it lets the writers comment on the heartbreak of society keeping you from someone you love, while at the same time not adding any stigma to the real controversy.

However, Deep Space Nine had a problem with metaphor. The comically misogynist Ferengi episodes were...well, comic. The Ferengi come across as an unamusing parody of misogyny and patriarchy. "Look! They hate women so much they won't even let them wear clothes." So the episodes where feminism comes to Ferenginar also come off as equally satirical. There's no real life victory for the American woman when Moogie earns the right to wear clothes. That's already normal. The writers get to get their ya-yas out 'fighting the patriarchy' without attacking anything of substance and, in the process, made the entire subject seem ridiculous.

On February 5, 2003 Sub-Commander T'Pol was revealed to have an infectious disease called Pa'nar Syndrome. Pa'nar Syndrome is caused by mind melding(a practice stigmatized and derided in Vulcan culture at the time) with an infected Vulcan. This plotline came about from insistence up the chain of production command that all UPN shows have a plotline about the AIDS-HIV pandemic. So, instead of try to do anything directly, they framed it entirely as metaphor. And good lord, it was terrible. For one, they framed it as something that only comes from aberrant behavior, i.e. homosexual relations/mind melding. For two, they never even explain why this aberrant behavior might not be unusual at all, they just keep right on with that whole thing being unnatural (anyone remotely familiar with Star Trek will note that Vulcan mind melds are just a matter of course in every other series, but the episode, of course, doesn't acknowledge this because...because). By hiding behind a metaphor, not only is the effect of the intended acknowledgement of the AIDS pandemic weakened, but they manage to add stigma(haha! that's the name of the episode!) to an entirely different cause.

In the pursuit of social justice, metaphors can work. They can make people confront things they'd be defensive about if put bluntly. They can add power to a plot and underscore the issues at hand. But they can also be used as a shield, not just for protecting the writers/producers from controversy, but also protecting the public from acknowledging the reality of an issue.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kindle Commercial

Last night, watching Chopped, as I'm wont to do when given unfettered access to cable TV, a commercial for the Kindle Paperwhite came on. It was cheesy, a man sitting on the beach, using his iPad, when an attractive woman sits next to him. She's using the Kindle and can read on the beach without glare! He talks to her about it and she explains how much better the Kindle is for reading, at which point he buys one with his iPad. He then turns to her and says "We should celebrate," perhaps somewhat suggestively as though he were hitting on her. She smiles and says her husband is bringing her a drink. Then the man says, "So is mine." They turn and there's two men at the bar who wave back at them.

Whoa wait.



Did a nationally airing commercial for a major consumer electronic device just have a non-cliche married gay couple?! I buh...

America? Fuck yeah?


Apparently it's online, which is totally obvious that it would be in retrospect and I am dumb for not thinking of that.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

El Sabor

I love reality cooking TV. It is, perhaps, my most ridiculous entertainment weakness. I understand that this is, without a doubt, the nadir of first-world culture: watching people cook food as fast as they can and not even having the eating of it as the point. And yet, it's stupid entertaining.

Right now, my obsession is The Taste. Anthony Bourdain judging a cooking competition? Oh my god, yes. Please. Wait, wait, wait. Nigella Lawson too? Best show ever.

The other judges, meanwhile, amuse the crap out of me. Ludo Lefebvre is easily just on the show so they could have the most annoying Frenchman in the history of TV. He's nigh unintelligible, mean as hell, and the most arrogant jerk ever. It's hilarious. The other guy is named Malarkey. He lives up to it.

Anyhow, my absolute favorite person on the show is, without a doubt, Khristanne Uy, Charlie Sheen's former personal chef.  Look at her: 

Yeah. Badass. She's got a slightly arrogant confidence that doesn't make you think she's a terrible person, she's just honestly better than you at what she does. And what she does looks so very delicious. She's won more gold stars than anyone else on the show, by far, and she's just. Wow. Awesome.

Fun show. Want more. TVTVTV.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Subtle Racism of Actual Racism

I love racist old people trying to exist in modern society and not be racist.

My absolute favorite thing is when they tell a story about some nice young man who helped them at the store or something and was just the nicest thing and then, in an M. Night Shyamalan twist, he was 'colored'. Oh. My. God. You found him! You found the one nice black guy! My world is shattered.

The other thing that is amazing is how someone's race, if it isn't white, is somehow vital. "She ran off with some other man." vs. "She ran off with some black man." How the hell was that adjective important? Try other adjectives! "She ran off with some tall man." "She ran off with some six-fingered man."(Okay, that one might be vital information for some people.) It's silly.

It just betrays your entire worldview of "myself" and "them". That doesn't mean you think they should be paid less, or not allowed to marry your daughter, or not be president. But it does say if one of those things happen, you're looking at them and judging them differently. And so when, a half hour later, you say "Man, this is the first president that I just don't like," well, you kinda wonder why.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Smart Girls

How the dingdang butts did I not know Amy Poehler had a website? I haven't even started reading it but I'm already convinced this is the best thing I will learn all week. In your face, Vector Analysis.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Diverted Attention

Writing a post about reality cooking competition TVTVTV, but got distracted by my new favorite Reddit novelty account: Why_Thats_Racist. If only such a thing weren't necessary.

Friday, March 1, 2013


Just an update on the inevitable robot uprising in which we will surely all perish because The Matrix is nonsense and the robots have no reason to keep us alive:

Big Dog can throw things now. First cinder blocks, next your mutilated corpse into the enormous machine they use to turn biological matter into a sort of carbon sludge that's used to fuel their spaceships as they leave the Earth is search of new planets to conquer.