Thursday, July 30, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Some Anti-Nostalgia Towards One Unmemorable Chick

Think she knows her shirt is referencing a story that bunches the panties of political correctness worse than Huckleberry Finn?

You know, being in GamerGate isn't always easy.  I used to enjoy my time on sites like Kotaku and Cracked, and I loved Joss Wheddon's work in The Avengers.  Every once in a while, I feel put-upon in the "Disrespectful Nod" boycotts against those I still had some love for, yet unjustly smeared my group and my kind, and by extension me.

How lucky, then, that at least there is one person I can disown without any love lost!  Lindsay Ellis, once of Channel Awesome, has quit not a moment too soon, and gone into business with her own SJW nest (I hesitate to see either "think-tank" or "cultural commentary site"), and now rubs against vile beings the likes of which may destroy our proud western civilization. (I'm not talking about Cthulhu, either.)

For a while, many of us were understandably shocked that Ms. Ellis, who always seemed perfectly fine with her own sexuality and fine being eye-candy for Channel Awesome viewers, ended up aligned with such a prudish sex-negative harpy as Anita Sarkeesian, but maybe we shouldn't have been.  After all, if Gawker is any indication, it's perfectly possible for an organization to deal in sleazy sexually-oriented bait for bucks, while at the same time promoting arguments against dealing in sleazy sexually-oriented bait for bucks, so why couldn't that hypocrisy be vested in one person?  Yet I think the real reason Lindsay Ellis has gone full SJW is that their business of continually looking for reasons to find art problematic is the perfect place for the sort of pretentious, pseudo-intellectual schtick that The Dudette has honed her ability to spew for years.  The verdict is still out on whether SJWs are less irritated by arbitrarily breaking into song than nerds are, but I suspect she'll find out soon enough.

You may (or if you're reading this, probably do) remember Lindsay as that girl who won Channel Awesome's contest to find a female counterpart to the Nostalgia Critic; only to quit the job, use her position to advance loads of questionable sociopolitical musings on people who got increasingly annoyed with her, and then bragged about her accomplishments in doing so.  People of her ilk seem to operate on the belief that if you're a single, upstart commentator "punching up" at the much louder broadcasts of mainstream, multi-person pop-culture (the astute will recognize this as often being in essence a paternalistic demagogue punching against socioeconomic democracy), you can aim all the direct digs you want at them but nobody should be aiming direct digs at you.  I was among many people who got fed up with her modus operandi, and now I take you back to 2011, when I aimed a pointed rebuttal at her ill-conceived Disney Vs Dreamworks: Rise of the Eyebrow:

If you look at my icon and signature, [Editor's Note: They were, respectively, a picture of Disney's Chicken Little and a message saying it was there just to annoy an obnoxious forumgoer who never shut up about how much he hated the movie] they allude to the fact that I have some unique tastes in cinema. (Among other things.)  So I don't know why I expect anybody to read a post about my views and take anything seriously.  Notwithstanding, I saw Lindsay's "Disney Vs. DreamWorks" video and it just rubs me a lot of wrong ways.  There's the bit about her possible misassessment of the old rivalry with Warner Bros, but it's the direction she took with the modern rivalry with DreamWorks that really got to me, and that is what I want to discuss today.  First, though; some history.

A few years ago I saw a series of rather amusing trailers on TV.  They featured various romantic scenes of various past Disney animated movies, playing roughly as normal at first, and then suddenly getting crashed and subverted by a rude, crude hellraiser introduced as Stich, to the tune of AC/DC's "Back in Black."  Each time these came on, I felt mesmerized.  My jaw was dropping hard at the thought that Disney, a straight-laced, conservative company, was lampooning themselves and making a new animated movie starring badass, rebellious antihero.  I was stoked; I saw this brash, fresh take on the Disney animated feature, I read publicity about how parents were complaining about the trailers and I got even more stoked, and I couldn't wait to see it.  Then I actually did see it, and it had Elvis as its musical motif instead of AC/DC, a subplot about a dysfunctional family, Stitch turned into a Mary-Sue that basically alters physics in his favor, and a tired-out message about how family is good.  Though I'll grant it still wasn't exactly like a classic Disney animated film, it had me feeling sucker-punched for going to see it based on the fun bit of irreverence the trailers promised.  I have never been so enraged at a trailer misleading me; that even includes Snow Dogs.  Yeah; Snow Dogs was a piece of shit that wrote that whimsical dream sequence in so they had something to throw in the trailer and convince us was the whole movie, but watching the trailers for Snow Dogs only convinced me that it might be a charmingly goofy film.  The trailers for Lilo and Stitch made it look like an outright revolutionary one.  I got served, and I don't appreciate getting served.

So now, I'm naturally a little distressed to hear that Disney's ad campaign for Tangled has tried the same sort of ploy: Put on a show in trailers to make it seem like a subversive, irreverent take on old tales, only for it to actually be a very traditional movie.  I haven't seen Tangled [Editor's Note: Since writing this, I have, and actually quite liked it.], and I saw a trailer for it maybe a total of one time, but I'm going by what everyone else is saying about the movie.  Still, what's more distressing to me than just hearing about how Disney is trying that trick again, is hearing that people are apparently lauding the end result--people who now include Lindsay.

Did I miss something here?  Maybe it is just fringe films like Chicken Little that are getting a lot of hate as post-modernist, alternative retellings of old stories, but I doubt it, because now there seems to be a boggling large presence of people who don't like revisionist animation, with the Shrek films having gotten the largest share of ire.  It feels like there's a huge movement of backlash against these sorts of movies, in favor of old-fashioned ones, a movement now epitomized by Disney's fallacious new marketing techniques, and the appraisal they're getting from people like Lindsay and Nella in their video.  To all the people who are part of this backlash, I have one question.  WHY?

I get tired of these sorts of people nitpicking DreamWorks' movies for being loud, goofy, hip bundles of pop culture references.  By what authority do you claim that being such a movie is a bad thing?  Because I'll tell you this; from where I stand, your presumed frame of reference, classic Disney movies, doesn't look very good the way I see it.  How, exactly, is a film full of hipster comedy worse than a needlessly serious, over-romanticized and cliched portrayal of everything? [Editor's Note: I think I probably should've used a different term than "hipster" there; maybe "populist".]  Because that's my honest perception of the traditional animated films Disney makes.  At least pop-culture references change, based on what's currently popular; Disney's movies are the same narrow handful of tropes being slammed at viewers every time.  Always with the heroes and Princesses and their "I Want" songs, always with the Princesses being wistful dreamers who muse about their problems when magic's about to disrupt their existence, always with the deliberately, hyperbolically-dark villains whose design leaves no question as to the fact that they're villains.  If this is your standard par excellance, reexamine yourself.

It's not just me saying that.  It's a common complaint lots of critics have had of Disney throughout the ages.  That critique has died down, and a lot of nostalgic pinings have started back up as Disney animated films were looking like they might be on the verge of extinction for a while, at the hands of DreamWorks' more hip approach.  That doesn't mean, though, that these critiques are less valid now than they used to be.  If anything, given we're in a new century filled with people that have moved on, they should be more valid.  Lindsay and Nella did a lot of bitching about how John Lasseter committed some evil act by making the Shrek films to spite Disney.  Did anyone ever consider that maybe Disney had it coming?  Because I did.  That was how Shrek appealed to me.  I don't know what's kept you from noticing, but a princess who's so pure that cute, but very-wild animals come up and let her pet them and sing with them is fucking stupid.  It was fucking stupid the first time they did it in Snow White, and it's been fucking stupid every time they've done it since.  I'm glad the Shrek films thumbed their nose at that in a rather brutal way--and I don't usually say that about a scene where a cute animal explodes.  I found The Brothers Grimm to be a hideous abomination of deliberate offense, but with Shrek, I liked it because it was tearing down a hated fairy tale trope that Disney helped to perpetuate.

It's like that all across the board, in ways that should be obvious to anyone who's seen it (and who hasn't); the hero is a monster, the princess is a tough fighter, the villains are the traditional heroes of fairy tales reenvisioned as a bunch of superstitious racists--and why not?  Medieval folks were a bunch of superstitious racists, and most of the monsters they tried killing were probably innocent people.  In one sense, Shrek is a hip modernist reenvisioning of the Middle Ages.  On another level, though (and this is reminiscent of what my father, a history teacher, explained to me about why he appreciated Blazing Saddles), it's the first animated movie that gets them right.

Lindsay complains about how DreamWorks has pushed Disney into a corner and reduced them to the dishonest tactic of pretending to emulate DreamWorks to draw crowds to traditional animated films.  What she's neglecting to tell is why.  It's because DreamWorks deserved to win the ground that they did.  Disney's contribution to the animation world was holding people's conceptions down; reducing the national consciousness as to what fairy tales and animated films were supposed to be.  It's been engrained in society for so long that it was just begging for innovation and parody to stir things up, and DreamWorks charged in and filled that niche.  When Disney now tries to sell traditional animated Disney movies with trailers that attempt to deceive viewers into thinking they've moved on to DreamWorks' revolution as well, they no-doubt think they're ahead of the game.  They're not.  They're tragically behind the game, as people tend to get when they insist on making the same movie over and over again despite the fact that times, and the stories they're trying to do, change.  That they see a need to keep doing this proves that, despite them having a few left over aficionados, the majority of Americans have moved on, and I commend them for it.

Now, I am not a vacuum DreamWorks fan.  I grant that many of their CGI Family films are mediocre and forgettable, and that their aggressive approach can grate at times.  Still, this is me comparing them to Pixar, another great innovator in the world of animated films.  Compared to Disney, all I see is a load of movies that are even more formulaic and banal.  The issue I have is not that people are being too cruel to DreamWorks, but that in doing so, they seem to be putting the old set of tired-out cliches on a pedestal; a pedestal they frankly do not deserve--and that's another thing.  One thing that enraged me about that video of Lindsay's enough to the point that I actually wrote about it in that video's thread, is how they seem to be ripping on DreamWorks for no other reason than "They're capitalists."  Oh no!  DreamWorks is making movies that aim right for the short attention span of Americans to make a quick buck!  Whatever; you know who else are capitalists, and have been sniffing around for your money far longer than DreamWorks has even existed?  Your hero, Disney.  Their whole life-story is the story of an engineered, regimented media empire that repossesses old stories and spins them into stuff they can charge money for, and now they're also making forays into the music business with shit like Brittany Spears and Miley Cyrus.  That's the way Disney's chosen to evolve; is Dreamworks' business strategy really that bad?  Seriously; don't make me laugh; if you want a fast way to mark yourself down as a massive, biased hypocrite in my book, then make a video complaining about capitalist filmmakers, and end it with you going to Disneyland, where they ban you from bringing in food so you have to buy their overpriced shit.

So there's my rant.  I wholeheartedly support revisionist animation, I don't like that Disney is dragging their heals against it, and I especially don't like that they're getting praised for it.  Now that I'm done ranting; I'll come clean, there are plenty of Disney films that I enjoy and plenty of DreamWorks films that I don't.  I liked The Princess and the Frog, and I didn't like Kung Fu Panda.  My principles stand, though; The Princess and the Frog has a black cast, something no old Disney movie would have done, as well as other innovations like an American setting and a heroine who takes more active charge of things than the man in the movie.  Likewise, I didn't like Kung Fu Panda because it's story is just way too cliched for a film called that; I was sick of martial arts films about reverence to elders and believing in selves ten years ago; I wanted something new here.  The point is, I like innovative cinema; I'll watch it no matter who does it, but go against it and I'm the first to call you out on it.  We also aren't as innovative as I would like; I want there to be at least one CGI comedy film starring anthropomorphic animals that's rated R; I think that would be a big splash.  I'll leave readers to ponder everything above, now.
 Final Note:  My views on good cinema have changed a bit since then.  I'm not a progressive snob, though I sure know enough of that territory that I can call out progressive snobs for hypocrisy.  Still, I'm not overly fond of cliches, as in the case of Jurassic World, which I enjoyed for what it was, but I do think it made so sure to tick every traditional box of Jurassic Park tropes that it eschewed the suspense that truly great horror films thrive on.  I was meaning to review it when it was new, but other things came up.  Think I still should?

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