Things Entertainment Can Stop Doing Before 2023
by Travis Hedge Coke
Hi. Welcome to the Common Era year Two Thousand and Twenty-Two. I’m your guide; an edutainment bot leftover from an issue of 2000AD before that title felt nostalgic.
These are some things we can all just stop putting into our entertainment, right now, because it is the year Two Thousand and Twenty-Two. And, that, when it is in our entertainment but someone else put it there, we can raise a fuss over and say No, no, I don’t think so, no more, k. bye, before we dump them in the waste receptacle that because the world is coming to an end, is also our food trough after it comes through a processing engine!
This week’s Patricia Highsmash is just this optimistic! Feel cheer, Citizen, celebrate and enjoy and remember to always stream the whole series every time, even if you are only catching up on one episode of a program, because streaming services care about watching in long blocks, not your twenty-six minuet to two hour window of actually paying attention.
Take heart, though, reader. I could be wrong.
Slaves Wanting to Be Slaves
Again, it is 2022, so we already have Django Unchained, Mandingo, and Drum, and Gone With the Wind, and generations of white people angry that Song of the South is not more easily available to them than just going to look for a copy and getting one.
A Superman comic just spent about one year serializing the story of how some slaves just gosh darnit like being slaves. Aw shucks, sometimes, it is just a comfortable safe position for these poor folks.
It is not an uncommon sentiment, in entertainment and in Conservative and Neoliberal politics. “The slave mentality.” The “slave morality.”
You might think after a 4chan, a 6-, 7-, 8chan, enough people might have typed, “slave morality,” who have not ever cracked a book by Friedrich Nietzsche and not someone his sister would have more admired, we could retire the entire concept, but nope. Educating people at a child level on the intensity with which chattel slaves were shamed and destroyed into that form of slavery, from rape and murder to torture and humiliation, might bring a change in how, in general, anglophone cultures deal with the notion that some people just have slave brains, but no. It appeals to a wide enough base of people who come from a background which ensures they both have no slaves in recent generations and will not have any in the too soon future. So, it is repeated.
Slaves did not become slaves or stay slaves because of horrible brutality. On some level they want it. Them dirty slave bastards.
This posits that, to a degree, slavery will always be inevitable and with us. That there is a clearly identifiable kind of person for whom slavery is preferable. And, generates and fosters the notion that slaves and those at risk of slavery cannot trust others under similar risk because oooh them traitors.
On a lighter, but still haha you could get murdered note: Are you ready for your Mystery Gay?
The ambiguous queer, the possible sapphic, the mystery gay. This is when someone has a character who seems to be queer in many ways, but the actor, director, writer, or someone else in a position of authorial power, believes – or espouses to – that it is absolutely for the best if that character never be confirmed as any specific, particular, real and canon kind of queer.
They enjoy the frisson of maybe-lesbians, but actual lesbianing is on the nose and might sour their lesbians-are-for-straight-men demographic.
If this was truly about demographics, I imagine the dial swinging in the opposite direction more often, because you can get queer people to try almost anything if we think there will be queers in it. And, not even out loud and big about it.
It blew minds when Our Flag Means Death and the new League of Their Own television series had genuine, up front queer content and real, fully existing canon queer characters. We watched because maybe somebody would give somebody a look.
What really is going on, is that Mystery Gay is a game that can be played safely by cishet creatives or people who would like to be thought of as cishet a little bit longer.
When homosexuality and transgender existence even in fiction was fully criminalized in anglophone nations, this kind of crypto-homo and queer semantics was amazing. James Coburn and Ned Glass are the coolest, evil little gay couple in 1963’s Charade, and because it was 1963, that is alright. It is as far as you could take it and not risk a lot. The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), like Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is remarkably queer, even if you do not know that queers were pulling the strings. 1996-2003’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s cohabitating, co-parenting aunts are played by actors (Caroline Rhea and Beth Broderick) who barely – and often not at all – concealed how queer-coded their characters are.
In 2022, it is not trying to slip something past a criminalizing board, or to speak truth in the face of oppression. It’s just being smug.
It being 2022, we have the internet, and we know who the abusive people are. They get outed and even if, when outed in 1973 or 2004, it was seen as an oh well scenario, we can dig it up now, someone will dig it up now, and we ought to just start acting on that as a fact. This means, we need to quit celebrating abusive celebrities. Sitcom dad was a rapist? Fuck him. Beloved editor groped and harassed teenagers? Fuck. Him. US President was a genocidal cannibal asshole? See above.
We can simply stop making movies that present horrible abusive people as if they were pretty alright. We can quit having theme weeks or theme months or special anthologies to quaint up sexual abusers, racists, misogynists or unabashed fascists, unless they are going to be squarely focused on that aspect of their character and life.
If you are truly against the horribleness of a person, let us say, the author of some children’s books and some screeds against Twitter that run more words than James Joyce’s Ulysses, there is no need to invite her to a show, or to pick up her new work, or to take up for her creative soul. You either have a percentage in doing so, or you do not. You make that clear to everyone else by your choice.
Bigotry In the Guise of Genre Terms
And, what the hay, while we are cutting out these abusive people, let us take a moratorium on some words that are bigoted or carry with them bigoted politics, even if they are terms you remember from something old enough you are nostalgic for it.
Using “men” to mean “people,” only just feels old-timey and high fantasy to you if it is a use that carries no threat to you. And, let us not be fooled and think that even means all men. It is only too easy for a government or culture to decide men who are queer, men who are of a particular ethnicity, religion, region, politic, who embrace a particular fashion or interest, are not men.
Men, in the “Age of Man” high fantasy sense, is white guys who have potatoes without having to steal them from Indigenous peoples.
I know that we are not ready to sacrifice the warring sides trope of mixed-ethnicity characters, especially not in science fiction or fantasy where one side will inevitably be a fantastic-ethnicity or species, but we can retire phrases such as, “half-breed,” or scenes of someone feeling their ethnic boil up inside them.
Bigotry But Calling it Satire
If you using racism or transphobia or any form, really, of bigotry, satirically or as parody, and you are not included in the group you are parodying or satirizing – if you are a cishet white man making big-afro pimp blaxspoitation or lampooning the cover of Maus to promote a comic about how the internet has a bunch of bullshit, perhaps do not.
There is a longstanding argument that if cishet white men, primarily, do not do these satires, nobody would. It is an argument which has always been as bullshit as those dark web territories someone thought they had to make a gore-porn Maus parody to promote.
Reservation Dogs can make comment where a white-run program, even with multiple Indigenous characters, might fumble that ball. And, Reservation Dogs had smoother application of queerness than so many pushing-the-edge keeping-it-real white-led tv shows of the past two years, for not turning it into abuse in the guise of satire.
Black people will satirize things which affect or include Black people. Transgender people of any ethnicity know how to auto critique trans existence and trans oppression. Chinese lesbians are going to make a better parody of Chinese lesbian culture than Junior Chevy Chase, and yes, for the non-Chinese sapphics reading, they have already made that your google searches may have just now fomented in your brain, about H being addictive. Theirs was better than the one you were going to come up.
Your story about sex-jaded high schoolers solving a murder mystery does not have to include you solving homophobia by putting a boy in with the girl group and then having him raped or called twenty slurs over a season.
And, if you can include the slurs – racial, sexual, whatever – you can include the genuine representation. Which you won’t. But, we can dream.
We need to insistently critique our art – the art we take in as audience, the art we create ourselves, and art extant in the world. What we cannot risk continuing, is a habit of conflating healthy art with a mythic purity which is, instead, a mask for bigotry. Anyone who promotes racial purity, is promoting racism. We know this. And, maybe you know it, when someone talks of a sexual purity or or sexual deviance. But, all of us have some point, some area, in which we forget or cannot divine what is behind the mask, and accept the mask.
I use parent guides frequently, for movies and television, to steel myself if the movie is going to kill a pet dog onscreen or a television show is going to get heavy into graphic or intense rape. Parent guides are usually crowdsourced, and in that, often a mix of religious worriers, earnest adults, and fair weather trolls who will tell you a movie has zero sexual content so long as there is no x-rated hardcore penetrative scenes.
The purity culture propagandists are more difficult to identify, and the trolls baiting parents into showing their toddlers adult or intense fare only confuse things more. The type who pretend when they were four all they watched were R-rated action flicks and hardcore pornography and any child who watched a children’s program (which they very much claim as their total domain, now) is weak and coddled. They are not agents against purity culture, just another wing, playing unpaid intern bogeyman.
Purity can mean two things. It can mean, “freedom from adulteration or contamination,” and it can mean, “freedom from immorality (especially sexual).” The purity of water or air versus the purity of someone you want to socially destroy. Because, that is what the second definition is for.
One of the purest things I have ever seen from Julie Goldman’s show, Celesbian Interviews, when Nina Hartley demonstrates how to properly pull hair and nibble an ear. She demonstrates on Kate McKinnon, whose response is to stand up, walk around goofily, kick over a placard, flustered.
(Go to the eight minute mark.)
That is undiluted.
Avoiding all consequences of sexual assault except the excitable heroic part where George stands up to Biff to save the virtue of a fair maiden, turning in a rejected undergraduate thesis on why them snooty baristas and pampered lefty bartenders need to give sexist, right wing, racist militants every extra chance to sleep with them as an exploration of political relativity, or avoiding every sexual dynamic except Tony Stark making rape jokes or having a retractable pole on his plane is not pure. It can be rated for children. It can be marketed to children. It will not make it pure except in the deluded second definition, a definition whose only purpose is to be weaponized.
Filling Every Gap
Not every Clone War needs to be elaborated on. Some background details can remain background, some macguffins can be macguffins and nothing more.
Five years or a step can be skipped between stories or bullet points without it meaning anything other than the points made in the skip.
Prescribed Run Times
Run time. Page count. Number of panels. Inches. Word count. Canvas size. Ratio. They can and should all be what they should and can be. Let a filmmaker, a penciler, a writer, painter, actor, singer, violinist decide, not a production house or distributor or someone who simply tweets about it quite a bit.
Radio hit is dead. Theaters are boutique. All is arthouse now. All is catered. Self-selective or the illusion it is.
There is no prescriptive perfect run time for motion pictures, no magic number of episodes for a serial show or need to build commercial breaks into the pacing of your streaming-first programs made for venues with no advertising breaks.
The dimensions and page count of a standard monthly comic book are mutable and have been changed before. They are artifact, luxury items. You do not have to. You can. You can do anything you want.