Tag Archives: Movies

Quick Thoughts on HBO’s Confirmation

This past weekend, I had the chance to watch HBO’s Confirmation. It’s a dramatized version of Clarence Thomas’ confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States. I probably shouldn’t be wading into an issue like this, especially without a fully formulated opinion, but I wanted to put proverbial pen to pad to work out some of the things that came to mind during (and immediately following) my viewing of the film.

The first, and probably most important thing that came to mind was the undue hardship that society places onto the victims of sexual assault. I can’t imagine what it was like for Anita Hill (or her friend and family) to have to experience what she experienced, especially given that she was approached, rather than her seeking out someone to tell her story. This seems wrong. It’s unjust. Victims of sexual assault shouldn’t have to weigh the potential consequences to their lives should they come forward. It shouldn’t be part of the equation — at all. Just the fact that they’ve experienced sexual assault first hand is enough trauma for one lifetime and then to put them through the media circus… that doesn’t sound like justice to me.

Of course, most sexual assaults aren’t escalated to a high-profile nature like that of Thomas/Hill’s. That doesn’t make them any less painful or any less difficult for the victims to come forward in their communities. In fact, some might argue that it’s harder in these kinds of instances because there might not be the kind of support (i.e. skilled lawyers, etc.) for the cases that aren’t high-profile.

The second thing that came to mind was the timing of the confirmation hearing. It took place in the fall of 2011. About six months later, there were the Los Angeles riots. And about two short years after that, the OJ Simpson trial. I’m sure there were other key events that took place (as an elementary school student, I wasn’t really interested in national/world news, mainly whether or not the Blue Jays or the Leafs won). Any of these events taken on their own seem like touchstone moments for a country grappling with race relations, but then to have three like this grouped so closely together…

Some may quibble with my inclusion of the confirmation hearing with the LA riots and the Simpson trial, but to my mind, there’s a thread that links all three. I mean, I can’t know this for sure, but I bet that most people would agree that if Anita Hill were white, Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearing may have gone very differently.

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I want to circle back to my point in the beginning. Injustice. It seems that there’s a perversion of justice when someone who has suffered harm has to then consider suffering more harm in the pursuit of justice. That’s not right. Given the structure of the justice system in the US, I don’t know what the solution would be, so that there’s protection for the victim, but that the accused is able to face their accuser. It seems like this is an area ripe for innovation.

Pitch Perfect 2: A Sociological Perspective?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to see Pitch Perfect 2. In fact, it was the first movie I’ve been able to see in the theatre since becoming a parent and I have to say, I’m glad that it was one like this. If you’ve been reading the things I’ve written, you know I like to take a look at things in the grander picture. (In fact, I didn’t realize this until I started writing this post, but I wrote something about Pitch Perfect a couple of years ago.) Anyhow, the grander picture.

*SPOILER ALERT*

I should warn you that I plan on talking about elements of the movie that may spoil it for you, if you haven’t seen it, so either stop reading and go watch Pitch Perfect 2 right now (and then finishing reading when the movie ends) or read on with the knowledge that you may have part of the movie spoiled. If you’re reading on past this point, you’ve been warned…

The portion of the movie I’d like to discuss is right near the end. The Bellas are at the a capella World Championships and their nemesis — Das Sound Machine — has just given a great performance. Halfway through the Bellas performance, I’m thinking to myself, there’s no way the writer(s) could have written something that the Bellas could do to top what Das Sound Machine just did and the first half of this performance is proving that. At this point, it’s looking like the Bellas are ‘toast’ as they’ve begun singing an “original” song (is that a no-no in a capella competitions?). And then all the lights go out on stage and the singing stops momentarily. When the lights return, we see more than just the Bellas on-stage, we see Bellas from previous generations! Women that have long since graduated from Barden University have returned to help the current Bellas in their time of need.

Of course, that was enough to convince me that the performance was worthy of being deemed better than their opponents, but the more important part for me was the symbology of these previous generations of women who had come back to help the current generation of women. Forget for a moment that this is ‘simply’ a singing competition — this competition means a lot to these women. They’ve put their heart and soul into this and they really want to win. Their desire is no different from athletes who really want to win the championship in their sport of choice. So, seeing the previous generation of women come back to help the current generation was a very touching moment.

As a “white male,” I feel like don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to talking about the experiences of any minority (women included), but just the image of these mothers (and grandmothers?) who were doing what they could to help out the young folks was heart-warming. It feels like in today’s society, there’s a greater collective awareness of the plight of women. In fact, the first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Even with this greater collective awareness feminists alike will tell you that we’ve still got a long way to go before there’s parity between the genders. With that in mind, I enjoyed seeing a movie that starred, was produced and directed by, women.

The “Real” Purpose of TV (& Movies): Education, Inspiration, and Storytelling, Part 2

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the purpose of TV and I think I sold it (TV) short. That is, in that post, I essentially decried TV:

Watching TV is a mechanism that allows people to stay at jobs that they are otherwise less pleased about. Being able to tune into a created reality (or sometimes an actual reality) of a situation that they envy or can vicariously live through is something that I think allows people to feel better about themselves and by extension their life. Feeling better about one’s life makes one less likely to reflect on the things that aren’t going as well as they would have planned in life. So, like I said, I don’t proclaim to know the real purpose of TV, but I think that it can be argued that a fair majority of television is meant to entertain, allow for escapism, and sustain employment.

While I still think that there’s some truth to what I wrote over 4 years ago, as I indicated earlier, I think I’ve sold TV short. And while we’re at it, movies, too. Maybe there’s more to TV and film than entertainment, escapism, and employment. Well, of course there is, but let’s get into it.

Maybe there’s also an element of education to it. Remember my post from the other week on fictional presidents and the sunk cost trap? If the the script were written differently, that could have shown viewers the more optimal choice.

Or what about the idea that watching a TV show or a movie can inspire us? Last year, Reese Witherspoon starred (and was rightfully nominated for an Oscar!) in the movie Wild. The movie was based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir regarding her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. Importantly, the movie didn’t give viewers misconceptions about hiking 2,500 miles. It’s hard. With that being said, consider this:

“People are definitely worried about the ‘Wild’ effect, though we can’t really figure out what it is yet,” said Dan Moe, a baker from Portland, Oregon who’s hiking this year.

He said while he thinks there are more hikers on the trail this year, he hasn’t yet met anyone who’s out there because of the book or film.

“At least they don’t admit it,” he said.

To add to that:

Before the book was published, about 300 people would take out permits to attempt the full hike, which usually takes four to five months. It’s not yet known how many will try this year, but estimates range from 1,600 to 3,000 — 10 times the number who tried before the book came out.

So, while we may be wrong to infer causality here, there certainly appears to be a correlation worth noting.

There are two more things I want to address. The first, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” This is the motto of a movie/documentary of which I’ve written about many times before: Miss Representation. There has certainly been a lot of progress (at least there appears to have been) since that movie came out, with regard to women having more prominent roles, but similar to the anecdote from above, I’d caution on inferring causality. However, I will say that I’m glad to hear that it appears that there’s this concerted effort arising. For instance, did you know that there’s going to be female Thor? Or that they’re bringing back Macgyver as a female?

Lastly, there’s the idea that TV is a mechanism for storytelling. While that may seem obvious, consider the time before movies, TV, and radio, when we’d have to sit around the fire and tell stories to each other. This was the way that many things were passed on from generation to generation and now we have things like the Internet where we don’t even need to hear the story from someone — we can read all about it (and the blatant hyperbole contained within).

There was a great article on Vox a couple weeks back with the main thesis that the recent string of superhero movies have been an attempt to rewrite the images of 9/11. It’s really a very interesting read and I encourage you to check it out, but I think this adds to the idea that TV (and movies) are and can be much more to us than a place to escape. They can also be a place where we heal. That may seem somewhat ironic given that the average American spends 3 hours a day watching TV (and, in a sense, accelerates their ageing/death because of sedentariness), but maybe it’s time we have a bit more compassion for those among us who would rather go to the movies or binge-watch a season of Star Trek.

What’s Better: Binge-Watching TV or Movies?

Quite some time ago (maybe 1-3 years ago?), I remember Matt Yglesias writing something about how movies were far superior to TV shows. That opinion has stuck with me for a while. It’s not that I agreed or disagreed, but I found the idea curious. With the explosion of binge-watching, I wondered if Matt Yglesias still thinks that movies were far superior to TV shows.

That is, when you can watch 3-5 hours of a TV show and really get into the intricacies of the plot in one sitting, does that somehow make it better than a 1.5- to 2-hour movie?

More recently, there’ve been a couple of interesting articles about movies and binge-watching. The first, on movies, discusses how going to the movies is a shared experience and how that might be dying out. The author explains that fewer people are going to the movies, even though ticket sales are at an all-time high (increased prices). She closes by saying that she thinks only a limited number of movies will debut in the theatre and the rest will go straight to video.

I think she’s right — the movies as a shared experience is dying out. However, I don’t think “shared experiences” are dying out. Instead, I think they’re moving away from the movies to other events like the one the author mentions, but not in the same context, the Oscars. Or perhaps the Superbowl is another good example. More than that, I wonder if we’re substituting the shared collective experience of going to the movies for binge-watching.

The second article, on binge-watching, argued that humans are wired to binge-watch. With the rise of online video streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (Prime), it’s not surprising that people are spending more time watching videos online and at home than they are going out to the theatre. I would posit that as more people binge-watch, the more other people also want to binge-watch.

Think about shows like House of Cards or Orange is the New  Black. These shows were released all at once on a Friday. As a result, some people will have watched the whole season before going back to work on Monday. As a way to stay “part of the conversation,” some people may feel compelled to watch the whole season, too. Given that we’re already wired to binge-watch, it’s not surprising that this might become self-reinforcing. 

This leads me to my argument that binge-watching might be replacing movie-going as the norm when it comes to shared experiences. After you’ve binge-watched House of Cards or some other series, maybe you start binge-watching that series that you never got into when it was on TV (Lost? Frasier? The West Wing?). There are a lot of series that are on Netflix and there are also lots of series on some of the other online streaming sites.

After having a baby fall asleep on my lap/shoulder night after night, I think my vote might be for binge-watching.

Why Love Actually is a Good Christmas Movie

While Christmas happened a few days ago now, I wanted to write a quick note on Love Actually. You may or may not have heard of this Christmas movie. It was first released about a decade ago, but many people seem to want to watch it when Christmas rolls around. I didn’t realize just how popular this movie had become at Christmas time (my wife and I have watched it just about every Christmas since we’ve been married) until I started seeing notes about the movie in my twitter feed.

That is, there were some folks who were vehemently against Love Actually as a “good” romantic comedy. In fact, one person wrote:

The fundamental problem with Love Actually is that it presents romance as either absurdly easy—something that strikes you like a thunderclap and requires only a single grand gesture in order to be fulfilled—or all but impossible. Notably absent is the idea that love might ever be worth a little sustained effort: some mutual exploration and discovery, a bit of care and nurture, maybe even the overcoming of an obstacle or two. Indeed, it’s hard to shake the sense that what is “classic” about Love Actually is not that it shows us anything about how people fall in love, but that it so conspicuously declines even to try.

But there are also those folks who feel quite the opposite. That is, they think the film is actually quite good:

More than anything, Love Actually is a movie by people who get it. That get that the holidays are about love and loss and memories. It’s about new beginnings and it’s about endings. It’s about family and second chances, and sometimes it’s about the same old, same old. It’s love, in its many, many forms, lighting the way through the coldest season.

Then, there are those who are trying to figure out whether the movie should actually qualify as a classic (over 80% of voters on this CBC website think that it should be).

I can stipulate that Love Actually might not be promoting the “best” version of love, but I would say that with a level of maturity and understanding that some of what’s being portrayed is actually tongue-in-cheek (do all British men really think that their accent is enough to get American women to sleep with them?) the movie can be quite heartwarming. Putting that aside for a moment, one of the best aspects of the movie for me is the message of truth-telling. On a number of occasions we hear the characters saying something to the effect of, “It’s Christmas, so I wanted to tell the truth,” (or “tell you,” or “check with you,”).

To me, this is great. I enjoy that there’s this subtle albeit noticeable message that it’s important that we tell the truth with people we care about and/or are interested in spending time with on a regular basis. So, if you do decide to watch Love Actually at Christmas time or any time for that matter, maybe pay less attention to the “fake love” parts and pay more attention to the “truth” parts.

On the Absurdity of Celebrity: To Rome With Love

It’s been a little over a week since my last post as I’m still settling into Ottawa. As a result, I’ve accumulated some things to write about. I’ll try to get through them all in the next couple of days as I’m really excited to get back to writing posts that are appropriate for Research Blogging.

As you can see from the title of today’s post, I happened to watch To Rome With Love (thank you Netflix!) I had seen Midnight in Paris some time last year and folks recommended that I might enjoy Woody Allen’s next film (actually, it was his next next film, but who’s keeping track?) To Me, Rome seemed to be a lot different from Paris, but I won’t really talk about any of the differences in case you haven’t seen either and might want to. However, I do want to talk about one of the subplots of Rome — celebrity.

Leopoldo Pisanello, played by Roberto Benigni, is a clerk who lives an otherwise mundane life. However, one day, he wakes up to find himself a celebrity. Reporters and paparazzi swarm him at his front door asking questions and snapping pictures. He ends up on TV and the host asks him about what he ate for breakfast, whether he wears boxers or briefs, and if he thinks it’ll rain. He gets a promotion at the company he works at and the boss’s secretary sleeps with him. He goes to fancy movie premieres, but the attention wears on him. You start to see the character become fatigued from answering so many mundane questions about himself.

Towards the end of this subplot, the character has a bit of an outburst. During this outburst, the press spot another man who looks “more interesting,” so everyone floods over to that man as paparazzi snap pictures and reporters ask questions.

I’ve never been a celebrity, so I can’t speak personally to the experience, but I think that Woody Allen does a great job at poking fun at how we, as a society, have created this absurd culture of celebrity.

 

Chapter 5 – The Commercialization of Everything: What Money Can[’t] Buy, Part 5

About a week ago, I got back to the series I was doing about the chapters in Michael Sandel‘s book, What Money Can’t Buy. In the first chapter, we looked at things like when it’s okay to jump the line. In the second chapter, we looked at the difference between fines and fees. In the third chapter, we looked at fairness and inequality. In last week’s post, the fourth chapter, we looked at corporate-owned life insurance and placebos. In today’s post, the fifth and final chapter, we’ll look at the commercialization of everything.

I wasn’t expecting to come across sports in this book, so I was pleasantly surprised when the first few pages were about stadiums being renamed by corporate sponsors. I didn’t realize that this was a fairly new thing. In 1988 only three sports stadiums had been renamed by corporate sponsors. Sixteen years later, in 2004, there were sixty-six. The amount of money went up significantly, too. In 1988, the deals totaled $25 million, while in 2004, the amount came to a whopping $3.6 billion! In 2010, over 100 stadiums in the United States were named for corporate sponsors. So, in the span of less than 25 years, we went from 3 corporate-sponsored stadiums to more than 100.

Having grown up in Toronto, I still find myself referring to Rogers Centre as Skydome. 

This chapter also discussed the idea of athletes selling their autograph. In the old days, this wasn’t even something to be considered. Many athletes willingly signed cards and sports equipment (i.e. baseball, hockey pucks, etc.) for fans. Near the same time that stadiums were being renamed, some athletes were beginning to sell their autographs rather than giving them away. This may seem greedy at first, but consider that athletes from before the 80s weren’t necessarily making lucrative contracts. In fact, athletes back then were not only often paid much worse than athletes today, but they were more on par with what you’d be paid to be an employee at a “normal job.”

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The chapter then moves into a discussion of — in my words — the commercialization of everything.We’re now seeing advertisements and commercials in places we wouldn’t have ever imagined. For instance, when you pump gas, there’s a TV above the pump feeding you advertisements. Or how about when you’re driving down the highway. It’s kind of hard to ignore some of those catchy billboards, isn’t it? Then, there’s the always in vogue idea of product placement. Some of the places you find product placement was a bit surprising. I didn’t know that police stations were in talks to have cars with advertisements on them nor did I realize that in some state parks around the US are there advertisements for things like North Face.

I was surprised to read about some of the commercialization in the US, especially when I know that in some states, there’s a ban on billboards (Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont). Moving outside of the US, I know that some countries (or maybe the citizens of those countries) have a real aversion to commercials seeping into unwanted places. For instance, São Paulo in Brazil hasn’t allowed public advertising since 2006. I also know that TV commercials in Germany aren’t nearly as frequent as they are in the US. On most German TV stations, there can’t be more than 20 minutes of commercials (before 8pm).

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The last part of the chapter ends the book almost exactly the way I would have [Emphasis added]:

Once we see that markets and commerce change the character of the goods they touch, we have to ask where markets belong — and where they don’t. And we can’t answer this question without deliberating about the meaning and purpose of goods, and the values that should govern them.

Such deliberations touch, unavoidably, on competing conceptions of the good life. This is terrain on which we sometimes fear to tread. For fear of disagreement, we hesitate to bring our moral and spiritual convictions into the public square. But shrinking from these questions does not leave them undecided. It simply means that markets will decide them for us. This is the lesson of the last three decades. The era of market triumphalism has coincided with a time when public discourse has been largely empty of moral and spiritual substance. Our only hope of keeping markets in their place is to deliberate openly and publicly about the meaning of the goods and social practices we prize.

In addition to debating the meaning of this good or that good, we also need to ask a bigger question, about the kind of society in which we wish to live…

At a time of rising inequality, the marketization of everything means that people of affluence and people of modest means lead increasingly separate lives. We live and work and shop and play in different places. Our children go to different schools. You might call it the skyboxification of American life. It’s not good for democracy, nor is it a satisfying way to live.

Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common life. What matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of everyday life. For this is how we learn to negotiate and abide by our differences, and how we come to care for the common good.

So, if you prefer not to get too deep into a discussion of inequality that focuses on wealth, then I’d encourage you to think about the ideas that Prof. Sandel is talking about here at the end of the book. He’s just spent the last 200 pages explaining how markets (in some places), to some people, are corroding the value of these goods. Regardless of which side of the fence you fall down on, maybe it’s time we start talking about this. Maybe it’s time to have a dialogue in the public square of more moral and spiritual substance. Of course, this might not be as easy as it sounds, as he says, the last three decades have been void of this.

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If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.