Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: April 2018

Thursday

26

April 2018

0

COMMENTS

Homeland and The Joys of Habitual Viewing

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A couple weeks ago my partner was deciding when to head back to her place on a Sunday evening. I said she was welcome to stay as long as she liked (naturally), but that Homeland was coming on and I needed to watch it because my grandfather and I usually discuss the episode the next day. This notion was particularly important because in previous seasons my grandfather would e-mail or text his thoughts before checking if I’d seen it, which had revealed some spoilers (this has not happened this year), which is a reflection of the fact that until relatively recently, that was what people did.

Nowadays, it’s far less certain when people will get to their shows. DVRs have tons of space, and every premium channel has a streaming app for those who don’t have cable. The necessity to physically be in front of the TV when a show comes on just isn’t there anymore. The shows that carry a high risk of social media spoilers, like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Westworld tend to fall into this new category of “event viewing” which has essentially replaced the concept of the water cooler show in the American lexicon. Gone are the days where a program like ER could capture the attention of an entire office for twenty-two weeks out of the year.

Homeland is not a worldwide phenomenon watched by over a hundred million people. It has respectable ratings for a show in its seventh season and remains a perennial awards show presence even though it’s been years since it won a major trophy. It is past its prime, but still entertaining to watch, beyond the joys I get from discussing it with my grandfather.

As someone who writes about TV, I watch a fair amount of shows on a week-to-week basis, but there are very few I feel compelled to consume the same night they air. I almost never watch shows that air during the 10:00 pm hour live, though that’s reflective of the fact that I now live on the West Coast, where the premium channels air their content at the same time as the East Coast. Being able to watch Game of Thrones at six in the evening is the kind of luxury that doesn’t make you want to stay up late to watch it live, especially when you have a TV in your bedroom (though that only a Roku).

The streaming era has dulled the sense of urgency to watch a show when it’s on, just as binge-watching has normalized the concept of a backlogged DVR full of stuff to pick from. The sheer number of quality shows out there is pretty intimidating even for a pop culture fanatic, but I can certainly remember growing up having to pick between a Boy Meets World rerun, a Hey Arnold rerun, or a Johnny Bravo rerun if I wanted to watch something. Having full autonomy over one’s remote does represent an underrated achievement of the modern era. We’ve cured boredom.

There’s still a part of me that takes a simple pleasure in sitting down to watch a show at a certain time, romanticizing the notion of curation. Tony Kornheiser used to close out Pardon the Interruption by asking Michael Wilbon variations of “give the people something to watch tonight.” I almost never listened to his suggestions, but I always liked hearing what he looked forward to watching.

Goodnight Canada

It’s a stupid thing to care about, but as a devoted fan of SiriusXM (particularly 1st Wave), I like the idea of a human being showing me things that I might be interested in, something to look forward to at the end of the day. You get to feel as if you’re part of something bigger, even it’s an hour of dragons or CIA agents foiling terrorist plots. In a world full of seemingly endless options, it’s nice to have a few picked out for you.

 

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Wednesday

25

April 2018

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COMMENTS

Far Cry 5 Is (Unsurprisingly) Not a Political Game

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Politics is everywhere in American culture nowadays. It feels like forever since we lived in a time when major news organizations didn’t dedicate significant coverage to the social media habits of tweeter-in-chief. Far Cry 4 came out two years before Donald Trump’s inauguration, and only a few months before his final season hosting Celebrity Apprentice. It seems rather natural Far Cry 5, with its Montana setting and fanatical religious zealots, would draw comparisons to the Trump presidency, especially as it is the first game in the series to have a domestic setting. Numerous articles have popped up over the past few weeks noting this phenomenon, many suggesting a deliberate association between crazed cultists and the man who once implored his Twitter followers to check out a sex tape in the middle of the night.

Having played Far Cry 5, I can’t really say there’s much more evidence to further the theory that the game is meant to be a commentary on Trump. I don’t think the game has much to say about cults either, except for the fact that they are bad. The game has a hallucinogenic drug called Bliss, clearly inspired by the opioid crisis, but the big takeaway from its inclusion is also fairly rudimentary. Drugs are bad.

Far Cry 5 is not a complex game. You liberate a county in Montana from a cult leader by going around and shooting things. You can customize your character with various perks, but those processes are far less complex than something out of Fallout 4 or Skyrim. Essentially, the game is a cross between Grand Theft Auto V and Assassin’s Creed: Origins. There is no real point where the character stops to examine the morality of their situations or the broader ramifications for a country that allows religious zealots complete autonomy over full counties.  For many, that’s not surprising.

What might be surprising to people is that Far Cry 5 was made in Canada, a joint venture between Ubisoft’s studios in Toronto and Montreal. Ubisoft itself is a French company. While these facts certainly don’t disqualify them from being able, or wanting to create a narrative that offers complex commentary on the current state of American politics, it is not insignificant to note that the people developing this game do not necessarily live in an environment where everything revolves around Trump. It is possible that they just wanted to make a video game.

A not surprising notion is that a major company would not want to potentially alienate, or anger, much of America by turning a video game into a political referendum. That dilemma cuts both ways, potentially pissing off the Trumpkins as well as those who would rather just blow things up than consider what the narrative says about society as a whole. Politics often bleeds into entertainment, but video games tend to skirt the association. Far Cry 5’s $310 million dollar opening week probably best explains why.

Far Cry 5 clearly did not want to explore the nuances of the deplorables. Its main villain Joseph often sounds like a cross between Matthew McConaughey and Albert Wesker in the final battle of Resident Evil 5, offering extremely lame lines that rarely evoke feelings that hardly suggest there’s something philosophical underneath the layers of generic evil. I could see him as a radical televangelist appearing on a Hannity segment, but not as anything resembling an intellectual.

Ironically, Far Cry 5 has received criticism for being too apolitical, or bland, which is where I see the danger in associating everything with Trump. The game drew fire in 2017 for its perceived attacks on Christians, and then got slammed for avoiding that subject. Neither of these positions reflect the actual substance of the game, which does carry a certain sense of blandness in its repetitive gameplay and uninspired villain.

The reviews for Far Cry 5 have mostly skewed positive in spite of those criticisms, earning a B- score if you average the Metacritic scores across PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. From my own experience, that’s a fair rating. It’s a fun game, but a flawed one.

I can’t shake the idea that the whole Trump controversy made it so that the B- ratings essentially represented the ceiling for the game. The gameplay might be a bit bland, but the story was essentially destined for that label by token of not containing the politics that people assumed would be there a year before the game came out. Far Cry 5 can’t be evaluated solely on its own merits because of a media “controversy” that it never really deserved.

You could apply the same standard to any game. I could write an article on how the Nintendo 64 game Yoshi’s Story, which was released in North America in 1998, was meant to be a commentary on the rising obesity epidemic using the game’s Fruit Frame plot device as the basis for the argument that the game is subtly trying to get kids to eat healthier. That theory might sound ridiculous, but if something had raised that point before the game came out, some of the reviews would naturally address whether or not the cute dinosaur had ulterior motives for his adventures.

Is there an ulterior motive for all these healthy foods?

Is that fair? No, but that doesn’t mean a compelling case couldn’t be made, especially before the game’s release. Just like that, the story structure of an entire team of developers that took years to create could be undermined by a think piece that draws lines between things that don’t necessarily need to be related.

Far Cry 5 was probably inevitably going to draw comparisons to Trump, which is unfortunate. It shouldn’t have to be viewed through the lens of a political scope just because someone can do that. Anyone can do that for any game. The fact that this one had a Montana setting and bunch of religious loons might make it easier for someone to write an article connecting the two together, but that doesn’t mean it was deserved. The kind of logic is lazy, and gave a bland game a predetermined aura of blandness that seems like the only possible outcome.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of Far Cry 5 for my review. I’ve had Yoshi’s Story since I was seven and still play it often.

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Tuesday

17

April 2018

0

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Renly Baratheon: Queer Icon

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Power is a dangerous thing to assign motive toward. Its allure is so strong that it tends to skirt the good/bad spectrum in weird ways, as the seemingly noble can turn out to be completely full of it. People, just or evil, often find themselves drawn to power for the very same reasons.

As someone who’s championed the #StandWithStannis movement from the moment D&D committed character assassination against the One True King, I’m never been a huge fan of Renly Baratheon. He’s a terrible brother. He’s the kind of guy you might have fun with at a rave, but you probably wouldn’t count on him to show up to help you move apartments. Donal Noye’s observation that, “Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day” (ACOK: Jon 1) pretty much tells you all you need to know about the man.

Except one big detail. Renly is gay. I could say that fact doesn’t matter, or affect any of his decisions, but of course it does. LGBT people don’t live in a world where that fact doesn’t affect the macro order of things, especially one’s employment.

Renly challenged the status quo, not as the rightful claimant, but as the most desirable one. He was not the grumpy choice, the sadistic child option, or one that would split apart the Seven Kingdoms. He didn’t have a great claim, but he had a big army.  Under the old way of thinking, that wouldn’t have been enough, but gay people are used to encountering that kind of mindset that tries to keep a hold on the future. Renly wasn’t about to let the dated patriarchal structure dictate his ambitions.

Those who deny the existence of privilege often do so by pointing to a lack perceived “added bonus” for being white or male, ignoring the institutional benefits that stem from a system controlled in perpetuity by the patriarchy, a concept that occasionally manifests itself through the term, “boy’s club.” That concept has altered my approach to career opportunities since I came out, giving the stakes a heightened sense of importance each time one comes around. I am aware that there are plenty people out there who will never give me serious consideration strictly on the basis of my gender identity. Plenty of politicians want to make it so companies can legally discriminate against LGBT people. The playing field has never been fair.

The Westerosi power dynamic shares a similar fondness for nepotism. Kings are born, not chosen. Robert’s Rebellion changed that to some extent, but it wasn’t really until the legitimacy of his offspring came into question that the subject of the line of secession became a point that could be debated. Suddenly an opportunity presented itself.

Enter Renly.

Stannis & Joffrey claimed the Iron Throne by right of birth. Robb & Balon took a more isolationist, regional approach based off theory that King’s Landing was too much of a mess to properly govern over their regions. As for Renly, well, he just kind of wanted it. He said some stuff about how he’d be the best king and all, which probably wasn’t true, but that’s not really that important. What matters is that someone, namely House Tyrell, gave Renly a chance. LGBT people don’t get that many chances.

Can we fault Renly for seizing the greatest opportunity of his life? Some might point to the mess he made, costing Stannis the throne, or how he probably wouldn’t have made a very good king. The fact that Stannis was more qualified to rule Westeros is not that important when you consider that the throne is not decided on merit. The sole consistent qualifier is that the person should be the eldest male heir. Once that certainty was tossed out the window, there really weren’t any merits from which that question should be decided. That’s why war started.

People point to Renly as selfish, ignoring that being king is selfish. Selfish people rule Westeros just as they rule every institution of power. By comparison, queer people don’t rule over all that much. Renly tried to change to that.

There is a counterargument in the sense that as Lord of Storm’s End, Renly was already in a position of power, but this is not particularly relevant. Complacency is the enemy of activism. Few in the LGBT community are interested in settling for the victory of Obergefell v. Hodges when there’s so much progress left to be made. We don’t want to be told to be satisfied. Renly didn’t either.

Renly would not be my choice to rule Westeros, but I admire his drive. He saw something he wanted, went for it, and likely would have succeeded if he hadn’t been executed by a shadow baby. As a fellow member of the LGBT community, I admire his drive. It’s tough to throw yourself out there, knowing some people will laugh and think of you as a fool just because of who you are.

I don’t love Renly, but I’m glad Westeros’ most prominent gay character made a play for the Iron Throne. Life is about opportunities, including the ones you create on your own. Renly knew a thing or two about taking what he wanted, even he’d rather play at tournament than lead men into battle. At least that was his choice to make.

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Thursday

5

April 2018

1

COMMENTS

Best F(r)iends Solidifies Tommy Wiseau’s Status as an American Icon

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Tommy Wiseau does not get enough credit for his genius. The key fault of both The Disaster Artist and its subsequent film adaptation is that they foster the illusion that The Room was an accidental success. That notion makes a lot of sense when you consider how beloved the film is for its comedic value despite being conceived as a drama. Wiseau himself deserves credit not just for unintentionally creating a masterpiece, but for singlehandedly fostering the environment through which The Room was able to engrain itself into American culture. Through Wiseau’s constant marketing, and the mystique of his persona, the film broke through the barriers that separate cult from mainstream. Wiseau achieved his dream and became an American icon.

Best F(r)iends is essentially a victory lap celebrating that feat. Part of why The Room continues to captivate the public’s interest fifteen years later is that there’s so much more to the story than just the film itself. Chris-R’s backstory isn’t just a mystery, Tommy’s is as well. The movie’s success on the midnight circuit, the adaptations of the story, and Tommy’s own often bizarre interviews fuel this ethos, giving fans something to chew on long after Denny’s tears over his deceased friend have dried up.

Wiseau’s acting has a remarkable sense of timing, possessing the uncanny ability to deliver both hilarious comedy and riveting drama within the same scene. His character Harvey is layered in mystery in a way that bears far more of a resemblance to the real-life Wiseau than The Room’s Johnny. He’s comfortable in the character, delivering lines with a kind of confidence that often eluded his earlier performance.

Best F(r)iends is a bizarre film. It has more of a streamlined plot than The Room, but there are plenty of non-sequiturs, including an impromptu wake honoring a deceased acquaintance through the consumption of Chinese food. The cast is far smaller than The Room, which makes sense when you consider what anchors the entire story of Tommy Wiseau: his genuine friendship with Greg Sestero.

The relationship between Wiseau and “Sestosterone” has served as a lasting point of intrigue since The Room’s initial release, which certainly makes sense given that it’s also the main plot driver for The Room, The Disaster Artist, and Best F(r)iends. Not since Martin Scorsese teamed up with Robert DeNiro has Hollywood encountered a more important partnership than Wiseau and Sestero. The film serves as a fitting tribute to the power of this friendship, bringing out the best in both of them while delivering plenty of unforgettable moments for the audience to enjoy.

Like its predecessor Best F(r)iends skirts the standard good/bad binary through which we usually judge art. This is not the kind of movie Stanley Kubrick would create, or likely anyone who studied film in a professional setting for longer than half an hour. It is the product of a force that understands a world outside expectation.

The Room is a singular force in American culture. There is a reason Tommy Wiseau possesses such a loyal following, who return to his work time and time again with a passion that most in filmmaking can only dream of. He gives his audience something they cannot find anywhere else: true escapism. When you go to a midnight showing of The Room, you experience a phenomenon you cannot find anywhere else. That sense of individuality is the essence of the American dream.

Best F(r)iends delivered on the only expectation fans could reasonably possess. It offers plenty of unforgettable moments between two actors with genuine affection for each other. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a whole second volume coming in June. The story of The Room would have lived on in American culture if it had been limited to that one movie. I’m not sure that would have been enough to accurately portray the sheer force of nature that is Tommy Wiseau. Thankfully, both for contemporary society and future historians, there’s plenty of story left to tell.

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The Transgender Manifesto