Social Justice League

Maybe the progressives can’t help themselves, but it does seem like they try to ruin everything.  No matter what it is–sports, Santa Claus, Twitter feeds about cute doggies–they somehow find a way to shoehorn the politics in, much like Igor stuffing the abnormal brain into Frankenstein’s monster, taking something you used to like and twisting it into some horrible hybrid.  Then, all of a sudden, the popular culture is less “Girls Just Wanna Have Fu-un” and more “Girls Just Wanna Smash the Patriarchy and Hillary Clinton is Just the Hammer To Do It.”  How depressing.

This is especially true for movies, which can no longer be seen as mere entertainments, but must now be viewed in terms of how they give voice to the marginalized and advance the cause of social justice.  While this approach might be fine with flicks like Manchester By the Sea and Moonlight, it’s a bit of a heavier lift for the popcorn munchers.  The PC Police, however, are nothing if not relentless–which is why the all-female Ghostbusters remake got such a boost from the usual suspects on the progressive left:  Women are just as funny as guys!  Women can carry a big budget action-comedy!  This one will be even better than the original!

The the trailer dropped, and people hated it:

My reaction to it was pretty much the same as most people:  “If this is supposed to be all the good parts, the rest of the movie must really blow chunks.”  YouTube collected more negative comments on the trailer than any other movie in recent memory.  But, rather than accepting the possibility that the picture might be a stinkeroo, the progs all got into gear and insisted that there was a darker, more nefarious reason for all the hate.

That’s right.  Sexism!

Now I’m not sure if this was a spontaneous thing that got dreamed up on social media, or of the studio realized they had a disaster on their hands and decided to whip up a viral marketing campaign aimed at guilt-tripping people, but from that point on it was pretty obvious that people were being urged to see it as a way of taking a stand against sexism.  In the end, though, Ghostbusters still flopped and the studio took a $70 million loss–pretty much because, in spite of all the social engineering, the movie really did blow chunks.  It’s awfully hard to overcome an obstacle like that.

Which brings us to the latest cause célèbre de cinema, the upcoming release of the latest entry into the DC Comics Cinematic Universe, Wonder Woman:

This one has also been getting a lot of love from the progressive left, not to mention the critics (but then I repeat myself).  The movie has scored an incredibly impressive 94% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is almost unheard of for a superhero movie.  Of course, there’s a rather important difference between this movie and the Ghostbusters reboot.  Wonder Woman actually looks like it’s good.

Ann Hornaday from the Washington Post is typical of the effusive praise Wonder Woman has been getting when she writes:

After a brief prologue set in modern-day Paris (presumably shortly after the title character’s encounter with Batman last summer), the movie plunges into flashback, when the young Amazon princess Diana is living on an idyllic island called Themyscira with her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and secretly training with the fierce Amazon general Antiope (Robin Wright). When a handsome World War I pilot crash-lands offshore, Diana — played as an adult by Gal Gadot — rescues him, which leads to a battle with German forces who are ultimately felled by the women’s acrobatic swordplay, superb equestrian skills, uncanny aim with flaming arrows and all-around badassery.

It’s a stirring, almost giddy scene, all these sisters doin’ it for themselves in gladiator sandals and messy fishtail braids.

And:

As a scene-setter for DC’s upcoming “Justice League” movies, this installment points up the fundamental need for smart, tonally lively scripts executed with both chops and an eye for pictorial depth and beauty. “Wonder Woman” has raised the bar. Now let’s see if the boys can clear it.

There’s even a “she persisted” sucker punch Hornaday tosses in as a pre-dig against any sexist conservatives who might try to derail Wonder Woman’s wonderfulness–but here’s the funny part:  everybody seems to have nothing but love for this movie.  It doesn’t seem to matter much where you are on the ideological spectrum.   Wonder Woman has charmed–and, more importantly, knocked the socks off of–just about everyone who has seen it.

It’s rare when we have that kind of unity, which is why I would prefer that the progressives keep their political mitts off of this one.  This is, after all, the Justice League, not the Social Justice League–and movie is well on its way to becoming a huge hit without the SJW crowd running interference.  Perhaps it’s just something we should all enjoy together, while we also enjoy a respite from all the bickering.

I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Joss Whedon is Poisoning Himself

I’m not going to pile on Joss Whedon, because I really love his work.  I was one of the few people who actually saw the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the theater during its original run, and was one of the fewer people who actually liked it.  When I finally got to see his original vision for that film fully realized in the TV series, it was a revelation of how cool and hip the horror genre could be.  I didn’t think it would be possible to top Buffy–until the spinoff series Angel debuted, and Whedon hooked me all over again with his amazing characters and whip-smart dialogue.  With his boundless imagination and a writing style that seemed effortless, he served as an inspiration for me as a writer, and always left me looking forward to his next project.

Whedon’s work on Firefly remains, to this day, probably some of the most libertarian ever shown on television.  That show also introduced Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin to a wider audience, both of whom are sci-fi fan favorites to this day.  Whedon gave us The Avengers, the best of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, then somehow turned right around and unleashed his creativity on Shakespeare with his jazzy take on Much Ado About Nothing–a love letter of a film that was also a happy reunion of the actors who had appeared in his TV series.  Almost everyone who has been on set with Whedon has described him as a joy to work with.  Even Jonah Goldberg from National Review once told me that while Charles Krauthammer was his hero, Joss Whedon was his master.

Yesterday, Whedon tweeted this:

I had to do a screen grab, because the original tweet appears to be deleted–and for good reason.  Whedon has gotten a significant amount of blowback for cracking what appears to be a pretty tasteless joke that, although he’s obviously targeting Paul Ryan, comes at the expense of the young women in the photo.  But it gets even worse when you see the actual context of the photo:

What is it inside of a man that would make him think it was cool to take a picture of female cancer survivors and turn it into a joke about their looks?

Only hatred can do that.  And Joss Whedon appears to be carrying a lot of hate in his heart.

You can even see it in the apology that he later tweeted:

This isn’t an act of contrition from a man who thinks he’s made a mistake.  It’s merely a justification for his hatred.  Instead of using this as an opportunity to let go of the thing that’s poisoning him, he’s just holding on to it harder than ever.

But why?

Whedon has tweeted in the past that the 2016 election has left him broken.  I would say that he’s correct in that–but not for the reasons that he might think.  If he’s broken, it’s because Whedon himself has made that choice.  Instead of looking at all the beauty in his life, and at the beauty he’s created, he’s chosen to give into despair over the stupidest of reasons:  politics.  So the election of Donald Trump has given you the blues?  Get over it.  Eight years of Barack Obama left me fearful for the future of the country, but it didn’t turn me so bitter that I forgot about my wife and kids, and all the other good things in my life.  And it certainly never left me consumed with hatred, no matter how outraged I was about the direction America was going.

That’s because I realized a long time ago that hatred is a burden, and a heavy one.  More than that, it consumes you.  It takes every last piece of what was once good, and leaves you with nothing but the hate.  And it shows up in everything you do, from the way you treat other people to the quality of your work.

Joss, is that really what you want to be?

I hope not.  I believe that you still have a lot of creativity and a lot of love inside of you–and given your position, one that so many of us can only dream about, you have the opportunity to share that with millions.  Don’t let the hate take that away from you.

Don’t let the hate take that away from us.

Brady Campaign: Kindly Thank ABC for the Gun Control Propaganda

Kiefer Sutherland’s new show Designated Survivor obviously isn’t afraid to tackle touchy subjects.  In fact, the entire premise of the series is based on the bombing of a State of the Union speech that kills the President of the United States and wipes out all of Congress, leaving Sutherland’s character–Tom Kirkland, the HUD secretary–as the only surviving member of the administration, and thus the man who assumes the presidency.  I’ll admit I was intrigued by the concept, and I’d liked Sutherland as an actor ever since I saw him as a vampire punk in The Lost Boys, so I gave the show a try when it premiered last September.  The premiere episode was pretty decent–but something about it made me uneasy, and it had nothing to do with a smoldering CGI Capitol laying in ruins.

It was more like a feeling that somehow, some way, the show was going to sucker punch me.

It didn’t take long.  The first slap came at the end of the pilot, when they planted the seed that the bombing had been staged to look like Islamic terrorism, but was really the work of some other group.  But the real backhander came in the Very Special Episode two, which featured a Michigan governor (Republican, naturally) who had the cops put the beat-down on some local Muslims until Kirkland channels some Jack Bauer intensity to stop him–but not before a Muslim teen dies in custody.

And just like that, Designated Survivor had jumped the shark.

Of course, it’s not like I hadn’t seen it coming–but I was pretty gobsmacked at just how ham-fisted it was.  Apparently cramming their lefty preaching into the show’s subtext was too subtle for the writers, so they brought out the bat and beat the audience senseless with it.

I gave up on the Kirkland administration after that.

Designated Survivor has soldiered on, though, with plot twists that make Sutherland’s previous efforts on 24 seem downright lazy by comparison.  Oh, and that bombing at the Capitol?  Yeah, it’s a conspiracy.  Something involving a congressman (white guy, former solider–a twofer!) who supposedly survived the explosion but really set it off with the help of a shadowy private security firm (probably run by more white guys).  Because, ya know, radical Islam couldn’t really the enemy, right?

Not able to leave well enough alone with that particular trope, the show has now moved on to another liberal bugaboo:  gun control.  In last week’s episode, President Kiefer–after encountering (again, Republican) resistance to a gun control bill–makes an impassioned speech to the newly sworn-in Congress, trying to sway just a few Senators so that the stalled bill can finally make its way to his desk.  He assures them:

I believe that the American people have every right to buy and own guns by virtue of the Second Amendment.  I would also like to take a moment to quash the myth that somehow gun control is equal to the Federal Government coming into your home and taking your weapons away. Nobody is advocating for that. We need to be doing everything we can to stop guns from falling into the hands of prior felons, people dealing with serious mental-health issues, people on terrorist watch lists. I mean, come on. We need to be using common sense. It’s as simple as that.

If that sounds like it came straight out of a Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence press release–well, that’s because they actively worked with the producers of Designated Survivor in crafting the message.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, one of the country’s leading gun control groups, said they gave a presentation to the team behind the primetime show starring Kiefer Sutherland.

 

“Our president Dan Gross presented to members of their team a while back before the season began about representing gun violence on screen and spent time educating them on the issue,” Brendan Kelly, a Brady Campaign spokesman, told the Washington Free Beacon. “It was part of that larger effort I alluded to in [a recent email to Brady supporters] to work with content producers and creators to highlight the issue of gun violence in America and the sensible solutions at our disposal.”

Furthermore:

“We hope integrating this issue into storylines can help facilitate more conversation about the everyday gun violence that kills 33,000 Americans a year and shine a spotlight on the sensible steps politicians and gun owners alike can take to help bring that number down,” Kelly said. “For us, it’s about changing social norms and rethinking the way we talk about guns. Of course we appreciate when the issue is reflected as accurately as possible, recognizing creative liberties can and often are taken in entertainment. We think Designated Survivor really nailed it on that front.”

For that, the Brady Campaign wants you to send thank you notes to ABC, praising them for propagandizing–er, educating–its viewers on “common sense” gun control.

The organization urged their supporters to thank ABC for the episode and directed them to a site which sends a message to the network as well as sign them up for Brady Campaign email alerts.

It sure is nice to know that ABC is so open minded that they’ll allow social advocacy groups to slip content into their entertainment programming.  Still, one wonders what kind of reception a group such as Live Action might get if they tried the same thing.  Call me cynical, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing too many pro-life storylines on Designated Survivor anytime soon.

If you like your escapism served up with a side of liberal platitudes, though, you’ll find a lot on ABC to love.  Why, just last night on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, I got treated to a HYDRA-ized version of nice guy Leopold Fitz vowing to hunt down genetically-enhanced inhumans (an obvious allegory for illegal immigrants) so that “we can make our society great again” (yes, really).  I tell ya, Negan from The Walking Dead Would be jealous of the barbed wire bat these guys have been swinging.

What’s more, the simplicity with which these shows present complex issues like gun control is enough to drive you nuts.  So, you want to keep guns out of the hands of people on a terrorist watch list?  Sounds sensible enough.  But how does a person end up on that list?  Is it based on hard evidence?  If not, it sounds an awful lot like someone is being deprived of a Constitutional right without due process.  And what if a person ends up on that watch list by mistake?  How long will it take to get off of it?  And what’s to stop the government from abusing its authority and putting people on a list just because they don’t want them getting guns?  The Obama administration once ruled that people on Social Security Disability were mentally ill for the purpose of restricting their ability to purchase guns–so don’t tell me it hasn’t happened before.

Or is that all just a bit too complicated for their simple “guns bad, gun control good” message?

Fifty Shades of O

The entertainment business is kind of crazy.  You might have already gotten that impression, what with the La La Land fiasco at the Oscars last Sunday and the ability of the Kardashians to prosper in television work.  But make no mistake:  that special kind of boogaloo applies in spades to the book publishing world, where editors are hired and fired on seeming whims and everybody is looking for the Next Big Thing.  It’s how sparkly vampires and BDSM fanfic end up on the best seller lists, and ungodly sums of money get thrown at projects that never see the light of day.  The truth is, like in Hollywood, nobody really knows what’s going to work–and in a fickle market, where traditional publishers are struggling to find their way, any tentpole book can be a huge gamble that can quickly turn into a disaster.  Just ask Simon & Schuster after they published Hillary Clinton’s last tome.

That’s why I nearly shot coffee through my nose when I heard that Penguin Random House is shelling out north of $60 million to Barack and Michelle Obama for a combined two-book deal:

“We are absolutely thrilled to continue our publishing partnership with President and Mrs. Obama,” Penguin CEO Markus Dohle said in a statement, according to The Associated Press.

 

“With their words and their leadership, they changed the world, and every day, with the books we publish at Penguin Random House, we strive to do the same.”

Okay, I get it–the Obamas are superstars, particularly amongst the New York glitterati, and I’m quite certain that they’ll sell truckloads of books to their adoring fans.  But $60 million bucks worth?  That requires a pretty heavy suspension of disbelief, and here’s why.

For those not familiar with how a publishing contract works, it goes something like this:  A publisher wants to buy your book, so they offer you what’s called an advance against royalties.  Basically, the publisher thinks it can sell enough copies of your book so that eventually your share of the cover price of each book sold will equal or exceed that advance.  This is important, because the author gets to keep that advance whether or not the publisher sells enough books to cover it.  That’s why big advances are harder and harder to come by these days, especially for newer authors.

Royalties are calculated as a percentage of the cover price of the book.  Using the Obama example, let’s just assume that they have a hell of an agent and they negotiated a 15% royalty for each copy sold.  Let’s also assume that each book sells for around $20 per hardcover copy.  That means Obamas will take home $3 for every book they sell.  Divide that $3 into $60 million, and they’ll need to sell 20 million books just to earn their advance.

But it’s the Obamas, you say.  Surely they’ll be able to manage that, right?  Well, it turns out that Barack Obama already has a publishing history with his books Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope (whether or not he actually wrote them–but that’s another story).  Both of those books sold a combined 4.650,000 copies–far short of our 20,000,000 figure.  So what on earth makes Penguin Random House think they’ll ever be able to make that money back?

Oh, sure–there’s book club sales, e-book sales, foreign sales, what have you.  But those only reduce the price per copy of each book, and with Amazon and the other deep-discounters selling the book way below $20 per copy we used as an example above, that’s only going to make it even harder to earn back that $60 million.  In short, the likelihood of the publisher making a profit on this deal is extremely small.

So why do it?  Maybe the people running the show think the prestige of having the Obamas in their stable of authors will help with the sales of their other books.  Maybe they just want to write off the loss.  Who knows?  But it’s probably going to make it a lot harder for lesser-known authors to make money off their work with all of the cash for acquisitions going to the former president and first lady.  That’s the price of doing business with celebrities, I guess.

The thing is, I firmly believe that the Obamas already know this.  You know how?  Because if they really thought they could sell that many books, they’d bypass a traditional publisher entirely and just distribute the books themselves.  Think about it:  they could cut the price in half to $10 per copy, and if they sold 20,000,000 copies they could still pocket $200 million!  But they know there’s no way that’s ever going to happen.  That’s why they’re going to take the $60 million and run.

On the bright side, we can only imagine how much this is annoying the Clintons.

Disclosure:  Penguin Random House is the publisher of my books Hammerjack and Prodigal.

Gaga at the Super Bowl

Just when you think you’ve given up entirely on popular culture, something happens that makes you take another look.

Start with professional football.  To say that the NFL had a bad year would be kind.  Between Colin Kippersnack’s antics and a ratings slide that would give Keith Olbermann pause, pro football seemed to be on its way to irrelevancy.  It also didn’t help that Commissioner Roger Goodell, with his politically correct virtue signaling, seemed all to happy to help usher the NFL out the door.  Then along comes Super Bowl LI to remind us all of why we watch professional sports in the first place.  Roaring back in the second half, Tom Brady led his Patriots back from a seemingly insurmountable 18-point deficit–and in a show of pure grit and sportsmanship, the team rallied, put the game into overtime, and then pounded their way down the field to win it with one final touchdown.  Not only was it a championship for the ages, it was proof that you should never let the impossible stand in your way–something uniquely American, in both its audacity and determination.

If all that wasn’t enough, there was that halftime show!  Now don’t get me wrong:  I’m a fan of Lady Gaga and have enjoyed her music for years, but I wasn’t much looking forward to seeing her perform when I heard the show was going to be about “inclusion” and “equality” (usually code words for “political” and “harangue”).  I figured she, like so many other “artists,” would use her time on stage as a forum to air grievances and give America yet another excuse to hit the restroom instead of watching some bloated spectacle of fakery and folly.  Boy, was I wrong.  It seems that Gaga actually meant what she said about inclusion, and figured that any message she may have had for the audience would be ill-served by alienating half of it.  Instead, she did what entertainers are supposed to do:  she entertained.  The show was an amazing piece of pop art from start to finish.  Not only that, it was truly brave (and not just because Gaga leaped from the roof of NRG Stadium).  Instead of lecturing, Gaga let her audience draw their own conclusions from the music and the moment.  And she blew everyone away in the process.

Tom Brady and Lady Gaga.  They both showed everybody how it’s done.

Here’s hoping that the NFL and Hollywood take notice.