Sunday, August 30, 2009

X-Men & Sex Boys

1) This is a major expansion of a previous blog of mine.

2)  Before I start, let me address my credentials. I am a Spider-Man fan. I am such a geek I own over $100,000 of Spider-Man issues. Therefore I speak with authority, and I have a message to all you Batman lovers: get fucking laid.

Let’s backtrack here and get on neutral ground. Let’s enter the world of X-men.

There was a period of X-men where the comic book was actually a good read. The original Chris Claremont years were an interesting time specifically because he brought female teen angst into the picture. Sure you have your machismo Wolverine issues, but the angry Canadian (no such thing, btw) was often dealing with a team pussywhipped with estrogen: Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Storm, Jean Grey, Dazzler, Psylocke. When Stan Lee created the original X-men the ratio was a balanced gang bang: four guys to one girl. But by the time Claremont was through, the roster was so feminized the gang bang morphed into a girl/girl extravaganza, with Storm and her butch mohawk leading the way.

Unlike most comic books, X-men stories often revolved around the female heroines, and make no mistake, these were all horny girls.


The perception and common knowledge is that X-men is about racism or McCarthyism, but that is the defensively male-centric point of view. Different era’s produce different messages, and in the 80’s when the book was really clicking, plot lines mostly revolved around romances, escalating into marital issues and in the case of Cyclops and Jean Grey – loss of a child (Issue #200, AKA the Ashley Judd issue). X-Men wasn’t about racism or McCarthyism. X-men was Desperate Housewives with superpowers. The only thing Mutants were hiding from the public was the right for teenage boys to play Barbie.

So Bryan Singer got it right - but even more right than he thought. X-men is not an allegorical story where mainstream superheroes stand as metaphors for gay people. X-men is a mainstream superhero book for the teenage male readership to explore their gay side under the guise of fighting ridiculously fey villains - the Hellfire Club, or the supergroup that sounds like they popped out of a Village People song: The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. 

Right. The lady doth protest too much.

Meanwhile, Wolverine is the most butch character in the Marvel Universe because he is a shining counterpart to the Spice Girls he is a part of.  That’s right, for the shamed X-men reader, Wolverine is their beard.

This is the real practical lesson of X-men. We are all a little gay. And that’s fine by me.

Yet fanboys salivate at the theory of the “hardcore” X-men film with mutant powers exploding from Magneto’s hands (coincidentally played by gay gandalf Sir Ian Mckellan). They want “reality.” But like a James Bond villain with a giant laser scope aimed at his crotch, there is a forced tempered break in execution in order to fufill the audience’s wish. They don’t want to see Bond’s nuts vaporized, though that is the likeliest outcome when you are strapped to a table, and they don’t want to see their beard Wolverine die. So like a triumphant Wile E. Coyote, Wolverine manages to defeat Magneto, although his bones are made of metal and Magneto could easily crush him into anal beads for his next Paul Oakenfold rave.

Reality is a tricky thing to demand out of your superhero movies. The problem with asking for versimilitude is that the core superhero logic was designed for the brains of twelve year old boys. Even when the heroes get updated for the modern manchild who can afford $3.99 for a ten minute read, the supposedly complex themes now added to their cartoon origins can become ridiculous. For all the metaphors against anti-semitism X-men can try to infuse, it all gets muddled when you consider that there really are bad mutants trying to take over the world. For all of Xavier’s dreams of equal rights and that humans have no reason to fear mutants and their powers, he does call himself Homo Superior and he spends an awful lot of time trying to protect said human beings from Giant Blobs and crazy shape shifting killers trying to become President by murder. This is the equivalent of a Seinfeld episode in redneck Mississippi where Seinfeld saves their churches while fighting George Costanza, who is hurling bolting flames of World Bank Loans at Christians.

And so, no matter how “real” you may consider Heath Ledger’s portrayal of a preposterous criminal mastermind clown in a purple suit is, it’s still in service of a guy who barely covers his juicy rubber buttocks with a cape. Batman, as a concept, is fucking dumb.

Bruce Wayne is the richest man in Gotham and also the crime fighter who saves people from the city's rampant crime. Yet what causes crime? Poverty. What causes poverty? Poor business management and misappropriation of urban planning viz a vis mismanaged taxes and civic leadership. Who has the biggest business in Gotham? Bruce Wayne. Who has the most influence over urban planning and civic leadership? Bruce Wayne. Who apparently found tax loopholes to save money in his company and underfund Gotham's police force? Bruce Wayne.

The kicker is Bruce Wayne took his company private from the evil shareholders. So the poor workers can't even profit from investing in his stock as he rapes Gotham of every industrial contract he inevitably wins. In return for him running the city into the ground, Gotham gets the joy of Bruce Wayne running around in a rubber batsuit beating up on desperate poverty stricken criminals who do not get to go home to a mansion and a man servant at night. His gift to you: a scary bat to "keep you in line." Thanks, Bruce!

The story goes Bruce Wayne is righteous because his parents got shot. Cry him a river, because most of the criminals in Gotham never even knew their parents. They were abandoned while billionaire Bruce was closing down Wayne Industry shops and moving them to slave workers in China to manufacture 1,000 redundant bat ears (this is true, see Batman Begins). That is some straight up Enron shit.

Fanboys who like Batman better than Superman are fucking fascists. Not only that, they are pseudo-Republicans who spend in actuality more than Democrats and think like a 2003 Iraqi War council: Batman is supposedly a "real" superhero with no powers, except that with unlimited cash, he can fly (Bat-wing!), stop bullets (Bat-vest!), take down a heavily armed militia with just his karate chopping hands (Bat-surd!), and spread democracy to adoring, happy Muslims (Bat-fucked!).

Dark Knight? More like Douche Knight.

Reality and superheroes fit like Brandon Routh’s codpiece, bulging and snug because Warner Brothers needs to prove to their fanboy base that there’s nothing but heterosexual virality here. Not like those pussy X-Men at Fox. And definitely not like that queer nerd Peter Parker at Sony who is now in his emo/dancing musical phase.

Reality is the ultimate beard to wear on your manchild chin to prove that adaptations of  grappling, near naked wrestlers with the uncanny power to freeze each other’s balls off  are not gay. But there is always one way to queer-proof your Greek God fantasies: move on up to the next level. Replace your silly rubber suit with armour. Take away any unrealistic need for superhuman strength with a completely technologically sound exoskeleton for complete plausibility. Bonus points that your hero is a playboy, fucking hot models til his dick bleeds. And make sure he’s played by a completely heterosexual actor.

You know, like Robert Downey, Jr.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Transforming Michael Bay

I swear to God not all of my blogs are going to be about race and movies but that seems to be the subject du jour this summer. Batter up: Transformers 2.

Somehow, the feral internet has come to the conclusion that Michael Bay is a flaming racist because of the jive talking, Autobot hood rats in disguise. First, let’s knock out one specious accusation– the hood rats never claimed to be illiterate, instead they stated they could not understand an ancient dead Cybertron language only Optimus could read. You see, I speak fanboy.

As to the very nature of the comic relief’s buffoonery, every comic character in TF2 is a cultural caricature. From Shia’s repressed white-geek sheik, to Turturro’s ethnically ambiguous mommy-whipness, to the Joe Pescian Little Ceasar with attitude, right down to the horny humping dogs. It’s telling that only the heroes have identifiable stereotypes. All the Decepticons, bureaucrats, and robot sex bitches are shaded this side of straightforward evil. While Optimus and Bumblebee brim with personality, Megatron or Starscream are almost indistinguishible from each other because they are just different pieces of the Armageddon asteroid. Michael Bay is the opposite of Quentin Tarantino: he loves his heroes far more than his villains.

And Michael Bay saves all his broadest strokes for the things that he loves. This is in fact a mantra of what we advertising/commercial directors do for a living. We are trained to identify the iconography that most moves us in the shortest blast of time, and express that with the most impact. In commercials, we train ourselves to connect with shorthand positive imagery to move ideas. Iconography is a sister to the broad stroke. As the great philosopher Stephen T. Colbert says…”truthiness.”

Thus. Michael Bay loves Megan Foxe’s wet lips. Michael Bay loves John Turturro. Michael Bay loves John Turturro’s ass. Michael Bay loves fart jokes. Michael Bay loves tracking into women’s legs. Michael Bay loves his jive talking Autobots because Michael Bay loves Sprite commercials starring wooden Penny Hardaway puppets.

And Michael bay loves those Sprite commercials because Michael Bay admires the truthiness of black ghetto humor. The question isn’t whether those robot characters were racist depictions, but whether the critics of them are aware that the attitudes of their personaes are not out of line with what makes African Americans laugh too. Because here is the questions fanboys should ask themselves: are you laughing at the robots, or are you laughing with them?

Look it’s often foolish for one race to speak for another. I guess I’ll come across as the lovestruck Asian American nerd espousing the beauty of African American culture that I have grown to cherish, but you know what, that’s what I am. So: there is a shared collective sense of inclusion in many black artforms. I truly believe the key to black culture is the open solidarity of shared active emotions. If you don’t actively participate in the emotional journey, you will miss much of the magic that these uniquely American artforms thrive in. Jazz is an inclusive interplay between the inventive performer and the actively responding reciever. Rap’s underlying power is it’s active demand that the listener keep in constant communication with the lyrics. And often the greatest black comedy is one in which the performer’s ebulliant personality isn’t the goal – like a space cadet Jim Carrey or Mike Meyers - but a journey to the inner truth of that personality’s origin. Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Bernie Mack. Laugh with me, not at me.

I am not claiming the Autobots are Pryor or Mack, however I do claim that they follow a tradition of black comedy that contains a difference. It’s clear the very act of their ghettoness is the inside joke in a big budget movie about a suburban nerdy white boy. They are not simple court jesters. Their ghettoness is funny because they shouldn’t be there in the fanboy party who get erect every time Optimus Prime speaks. They lob an ebonics grenade into Shia’s two story white picket fence world and it’s ultimately his exasperation we laugh at. You can feel the glee that the actual black comics who voiced these animations perform their magic with. We are laughing with them.

With. Not at.

But really this shouldn’t be news to most young kids today. They live in across cultural world where rap, rock, soul, pop, and sometimes country pop blend together. Black, White, Latin, Asian, whatever culture blend together with each Gnarls Barkley mash up and their receptors just get it. The delineation between how black kids and white kids dress on a mass pop level is shrinking rapidly into one American Apparel melting pot. I’m not worried about them. It’s these Gap dressing older fanboy motherfuckers who need to be set straight.

I don't think it's out of line to say that many of these TF2-is-racist critics have no interest in black culture in the first place - from music to comedy to films. There is an intolerant aversion to ebonics or street slang/culture that in the case of TF2, takes on an ugly opportunism from Michael Bay bashers. I don't see a lot of fanboys analyzing Tyler Perry movies. Yet somehow they take morbid glee in the idea that they can absolutely label Bay racist along with the sexism already attributed to him.

Bay may like booty, but he is definitely no racist.

The truly ironic thing is, unlike their de facto hero Peter Jackson, Bay's filmography is filled with heroic and cool black characters.

He staked the beginning of his film career on probably the riskiest crapshoot a white video director could do:  a mid budget movie with two unknown black action leads - Bad Boys. Imagine the movie jail he would have been sent to if it didn't sell tickets. I love Fincher to death, but Bad Boys is culturally more ballsy move than Fight Club.  It looks like the obvious Bruckheimer play only because it panned out. But it was an action movie with two non-action black stars. Even today you’d need to put a John Travolta or Russell Crowe into the mix to get the studio money for those extra three explosions.

Instead, Michael Bay made it with his two black stars. And when he wanted that extra explosion, he just wrote a personal check to the studio.

That alone gives him the right to tell everyone who calls him racist to fuck off.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

District Nein

Apartheid was a clear case of a government in the wrong. The white government of South Africa suppressed the indigenous Africans and the subsequent removal of power of these knuckleheads was a great turning point in history. Period.

Unfortunately, a good chunk of  the much younger generation doesn’t  understand what that was all about, nor even that it existed. Apartheid is as familiar or pivotal a concept to them as Harrison Ford. You know, the old guy in that Mexican alien movie starring Shia Labeouf.

So it’s no wonder they can watch District 9 and claim it is not a “racial” movie. The same audience that slept through Apartheid lessons also slept through the concept of allegories in literature class.

But as allegories go, District 9 is a mess.

Begin with the basic premise. In the 1970’s, thousands of black Africans were removed from their homes by the white Apartheid government in the infamous District 6 ghettos. In the movie, these Africans have been replaced by a metaphor: mindless, violent bug-like aliens that are addicted to catfood (drugs), robbery, murder, and prostitution…basically hella ghetto.

Depicting the negative ethnic stereotypes of another race through animal counterparts is always a questionable device, but we are asked by the film’s premise to give it a pass. We have to. The film never promises this, but we as decent human beings tolerate this race baiting because obviously the filmmakers have some ironic point in mind by the conclusion. After all, if they find the requisite message that “we are all violent, catfood eating insects who can kill people with one swipe of our impossibly strong arms”, then perhaps the film will earn the goodwill we naturally give it’s offensive set up.

Normally when it comes to this type of race badgering, it’s just polite to atleast include a token “civilized” character of the ethnic group you are condescending to.  Like a Sallah or Joe Biden. But all the real black folk held nominal jobs while all the doctors and talking head psychologists were played by bad white actors. Having worked in South Africa a couple months ago, I can tell you, this is not fair. There are plenty of bad black actors to fill those roles too.

Instead, enter the primitive black Nigerian cannibal tribe whose members are having sex with giant bugs for weapons.


Before one argues whether this is patterned after realistic cultural behaviour, one has to ask, what the fuck is this villainous portrayal doing in a movie that takes the liberty of depicting Africans as insects? The obvious answer?


Take the following interview from Dark Horizons and the film’s director:

Question: Do you feel this is a comment on post-apartheid South Africa?

Blomkamp: Well, there’s no question that there’s a hell of a lot of important topics in there. But I definitely actively tried to not beat the audience over the head with it. And rather, take all of the elements about South Africa that interest me, and the real racial history, as well as the black-on-black xenophobic stuff that’s been happening since all of the Zimbabwe immigrants have been coming into the country. And I incorporated that, also. So really, I just used all of the elements of South Africa that make it South Africa.

Question: And District 6 existed during apartheid.

Blomkamp: Yeah, in Capetown. Yeah.

Question: So if you know about history, I guess there was that parallel as well.

Blomkamp: Yeah. And the forced removals, and all that, but, I mean, yeah. It was meant to incorporate all of the elements that make up South Africa’s background, but in a subtle sort of fabric in the movie. And the personal story is in the foreground.

So essentially the specific black on black xenophobia scenes are directly related to Zimbabwan refugees, but those are a minor subplot in the movie he “incorporated”. The greater plot is the historical Apartheid allegory of South Africa and District 6’s horrible race relocation...then they equivocated it all and mixed it up, and made a shakey cam action flick out of it.

This is the major problem with the film. It spends a lot of energy mixing two separate issues of South Africa that have very different politics, and ultimately neither works. The filmmaker is either madly detatched: are South African slums nothing more than a cool place to stage action scenes? Or is this white South African reluctance to separate those two issues – white Apartheid versus modern black immigration?

Furthermore, the allegory is so clumsily fused that it creates strange inconsistancies. The reality is in Apartheid white people were the aliens, when the black people were native. In the movie the aliens simply wanted to go home, but in Apartheid they already were home. Black people are South Africa. As a Zimbabwan refugee metaphor it only works if you erase the entire history of South African Apartheid from the collective discussion. And frankly, that is impossible and stupid to do in a race allegory set in South Africa.

On a story level, it’s the reason they delibrately made the Nigerians so over the top in their evilness - to force the counterpoint that “Africans discriminate too.” But Apartheid is a specific case of white people forcing natives out of their own homeland, which is different from Zimbabwan immigrants coming into a country causing inter-tribal friction.

District 9’s point doesn’t seem to be that Apartheid is horrible. District 9’s point is that the treatment of Zimbabwan refugees is just like Apartheid. District 9 is a South African race allegory with an asterick.*

*black people are racist too.