Monday, December 5, 2016

Here a Cuck, There a Cuck. Everywhere a Cuck-Cuck

As anyone who's ever read Shakespeare knows, our concept of cursing has changed over time. Ol' Bill's plays are full of quaint zingers like "zounds" and "'slid," themselves bowdlerizations of equally perplexing phrases like "God's wounds," and "God's eyelid."

Part of the issue is a natural erosion of what constitutes offensive language. As David Milch has said numerous times, if he'd made the characters in Deadwood talk like actual 19th Century roughnecks, they'd sound like Yosemite Sam. What shocked people back then is mild to us today. To make his characters feel as uncouth as they would've in their period, Milch and his writers had to upgrade "damnation" to "cocksucker".

But this also indicates a second, broader issue -- the categories which offend us change over time. From Shakespeare's day until the early 20th Century, profanity--taking God's name in vain and wishing people to Hell--was every bit as bad as vulgarity--the Seven Words You Can't Say on Television--but since the '60s, religious cursing has been majorly downgraded. Nowadays "go to Hell" is only offensive for the sentiment, while "oh my God," won't raise eyebrows from anyone but the most devout clergy members.

One way to think of it is to divide language into three classes--(A) that which can be used in polite company, (B) that which you can use around your friends but would never use at work or in front of your parents, and (C) that which is absolutely verboten. Back in the time of Deadwood, "God damn you," would've been in Class B, whereas telling someone to go fuck themselves would've earned you a broken nose at the very least. Most everything in Class C in the 19th Century is Class B today, and much of what would've been Class B back then is Class A today.

Some might argue that this is a sign of our enlightenment--that we've thrown off the shackles of Victorian prudery and are no longer beholden to the view that there are words that shouldn't be said; others would say the exact opposite--that our acceptance of such coarse language is a sign of modern depravity.

They're both wrong.

Just as one piston in a car never goes up unless another one comes down, so too growing acceptance of vulgarity has been accompanied by the establishment of new taboos. But whereas the old taboos focused on the sexual and excretory, the modern taboos focus on insults about someone's identity. Racial epithets are the most obvious, but derogatory terms about sexual orientation and gender are rapidly taking on the same stigma, as are terms like "retard" and "cripple" that a few decades ago could be thrown about in casual conversation, even in public.

Which brings us to the term "cuck". Those who've been following the emergence of the Alt-Right over the last few years have long since grown accustomed to the term, but it's started leaking into the mainstream this year thanks to our most esteemed and revered soon-to-be Maximum Leader. The word derives from "cuckold," one of those great SAT words that's teetered on the brink between obscurity and archaicness for decades, preserved mainly because authors like to throw it into their books despite the fact that nobody's used it in actual conversation since 1908. A "cuckold" is a man who's wife is cheating on him, and especially one whose wife has been impregnated by another. The term derives from cuckoos and their habit of laying eggs in some other bird's nest, thus absolving themselves of the responsibility of parenthood.

If that were all there was to it, "cuck" would make a great addition to our vocabulary, even if it did come out of neo-Fascism. It's short, begins and ends with harsh consonants, and its meaning is insulting without treading on taboo areas. Frankly, it's amazing Chaucer or Shakespeare didn't invent it.

But of course, nobody on the Alt-Right is even half as smart as Chaucer or Shakespeare. They didn't actually come up with the word. Instead, they stole it from porn. Cuck videos are more or less what you would expect--a woman has sex with one guy while her boyfriend watches (often forced to watch) or sits obliviously in the next room. But there's a wrinkle--most cuck videos are interracial, with a black dude stealing a white chick from a white dude. And if you listen to how the Alt-Right deploys the word, that racial connotation is absolutely intended. They use "cuck" in an almost sociological sense--a cuck isn't just a guy who's too wimpy to keep his girlfriend satisfied; he's a guy who's standing idly by as black men grab up all the white women, thus tacitly condoning "white genocide" (another favorite term from the Alt-Right). The implication, of course, is that if you don't want to be a cuck, you need to posse-up and ride out to serve justice on black men, like something out of Birth of a Nation.

So, where does that put "cuck" on the continuum of acceptable language? The plain meaning is no worse than "bastard," and it's not something any television network would censor, though the similarity to other, harsher words might get you funny looks if you used it in public. But that racial tinge suggests we should treat it the same way we would n----r, s--c or k--e. The problem is that most people aren't aware of the baggage the word carries. To them, it just appeared in conversation one day, de novo. Americans are horrible at understanding coded racism--there are still people who don't see anything wrong with "welfare mother"--and explaining how "cuck" relates to white supremacy is going to end in rolled eyes and mutters about "hypersensitive liberals".

There's also the temptation to turn the word around and use it against the Alt-Right--to say, "Who's the cuck now, huh?" every time Trump sells them out. If they're not going to abide by civilized discourse, why should we?

Well, there is the fact that we're the ones fighting for the maintenance of civility. We don't want to be like the soldier in Vietnam who said, "We had to destroy the village in order to save it." If your enemy attacks you with mustard gas and small pox, you don't respond with your own CBW weapons--you prepare a war crimes tribunal. Convincing people that "cuck" should be a taboo term might be a bridge too far at this point, but we can still fight its normalization. Instead of trying to declare cuck beyond the pale, we treat it as the ad hominem insult it is, and mock those who use it for resorting to childish name calling. Remember, Internet arguments are a spectator sport; the point isn't to convince your opponent that he's wrong, but to convince those who are watching the argument unfold. If you treat "cuck" as a stupid, immature insult, even without explaining why, the people around you will get the idea, and they'll look askance anytime they encounter an Alt-Righter using the word.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Trump Proposes Anime Tariff

Japanese newspapers are reporting details on Trump's meeting with Prime Minister Abe, and it bodes ill for the anime industry. According to the Yomiuri Shimbun, Trump is deeply disturbed at the way Asian animation companies have been taking work away from Americans. He specifically singled out South Korean sweatshop studios, but he also noted the disturbing increase in the number of Americans who are turning to Japanese shows for their entertainment needs. "In order to make Hanna-Barbera and Filmation great again, we're going to have to impose a 25% tax on anime licensing fees," Trump reportedly told Abe (this was translated from a Japanese translation of Trump's remarks, so something may've been lost).

Crunchyroll and Funimation released a joint response calling Trump's proposal "an unmitigated attack on localization companies that provide hundreds of jobs" to Americans.

More to come as the story develops.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Niemoeller Instinct

It's already started.

Whether you turn on TV, read the paper, or go online, you're sure to hear it. The muttering of people who don't want to acknowledge that they're living in a nightmare. "Well, maybe Trump won't be that bad," they say. "Maybe we should give him a chance." "Some of his domestic policies are kinda liberal."

"Maybe it won't be that bad."

This is the wishful thinking of people in denial, people who can't admit that America as it's existed for the last 240 years is dead. They want Trump to take off his mask and show that the last eighteen months were just an act. They'll take any twitch of his eyes as a sign of conciliation. They gush about his speech last night and say, "He's right. We've got to bring the nation together."

They want everything to go back to normal.

It's not going to.

It will never be normal again.

The only mask that came off last night is the one that hid middle America's white nationalism, the contempt large parts of this country feel towards immigrants, people of color, women, sexual minorities, and non-Christians. That is something we can never walk back. Pretending otherwise is like being the woman who says, "Well sure, he just punched me, but he was angry. He's not really like that." By the time the evidence piles up that, yes, actually, he really is like that, it's too late.

During the 1930s, the German minister Martin Niemoeller felt the same way. He watched as Hitler consolidated his power and lashed out against his enemies, but Niemoeller did nothing about it. Later he wrote,

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

That's how fascism works. One enemy at the time, starting with the smallest and least popular.

But the problem here is that people don't believe Trump is fascist. The word's been abused for so many years that it's lost its power. People -- even those who should know better -- reflexively flinch when you use it to describe anyone in a major political party, especially the leader of a party.

But Trump is a fascist. What he represents is a fascist movement.

The term is notoriously hard to define -- in no small part because the manifestos written on the subject are mostly incoherent gibberish. But one of the best definitions comes from the Italian scholar Umberto Eco, who actually grew up in Italy under Mussolini. He laid out fourteen points of what he calls "Ur-Fascism," or "Eternal Fascism," and Trumpism hits every single one.

The Cult of Tradition

The key tenet of any fascist movement is the myth of a lost Golden Age which has been stolen from us, and which only The Leader can bring back. Hitler had the mythical Wagnerian Age of the great Nordic heroes, and the First Reich of the Holy Roman Empire, which had been undone by Those People. Trump has MAGA -- the hazily defined period when the United States was totally awesome, Americans all worked in factories producing actual stuff, and Those People knew their place. Like the Wagnerian Age, this period never existed. It's based upon schoolbook history which elides all the bad bits and exaggerates America's accomplishments. (Note Trump's constant invocation of Patton, as though Old Blood and Guts actually won WWII instead of the overwhelming power of the Red Army.)

Rejection of Modernism

As Eco notes, Fascists certainly embrace all the shiny chrome of the modern world, but the ideals of the Enlightenment are trash to them. Even before Trump, the Alt-Right was fighting against feminism and multiculturalism for the ways they "destroy" science fiction and video games by opening them up to different perspectives. Our modern world is built upon the idea of embracing the Other; Trumpkins consider this an existential threat to our culture.

Action for Action's Sake

In 1990 Trump gave an interview with Playboy that's highly illustrative of his views on government power:

What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?

I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; The signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That's my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.

You mean firm hand as in China?

When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak... as being spit on by the rest of the world—

Why is Gorbachev not firm enough?

I predict he will be overthrown, because he has shown extraordinary weakness. Suddenly, for the first time ever, there are coal-miner strikes and brush fires everywhere—which will all ultimately lead to a violent revolution. Yet Gorbachev is getting credit for being a wonderful leader and we should continue giving him credit, because he's destroying the Soviet Union. But his giving an inch is going to end up costing him and all his friends what they most cherish—their jobs.
He doesn't view any of these events through a moral lens -- all he cares about is whether a leader was strong or weak, with strength being defined in the simplistic terms of General Ursus in Beneath the Planet of the Apes: "The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!"

But Eco's point here is more nuanced.

Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes.

Every time Trump has been pressed about policy specifics, he's brushed them off as unimportant. When pushed by advisers to prepare for the debates, he brushed them off and made fun of Clinton for actually making the effort.  To him, leadership is about making snap decisions, doesn't matter if they're informed decisions. Doing something is important, not doing it right.

Eco goes on to identify fascism with, "such expressions as 'degenerate intellectuals,' 'eggheads,' 'effete snobs,' and 'universities are nests of reds.'" To this we can add, "elites," "social justice warriors," and, of course, "cuckservative".

Disagreement is Treason

True culture is monolithic and any crack in its facade is intolerable. The suggestion that a multiplicity of ideas brings strength is heretical. There is one solution, it is obvious, and anyone who disagrees is a cuck. Trump supporters are upset that the cosmopolitan elites embrace the multiplicity -- different genders, different sexual orientations, different cultures, different religions. These guys from New York City (Trump excepted, of course) are an alien influence within the United States.

Fear of Difference

The monolithic culture is also fragile and cannot withstand differences from without, either. The Outsider must be shunned, for anything that is different -- Muslims and Mexicans, let's say -- is a threat to the monolith.

Appeal to a Frustrated Middle Class 

Though in the case of Trumpism, it's not so much the middle class as a privileged racial caste having its power challenged, but the phenomenon remains the same one Eco describes: "a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups."

Obsession with a Plot

Fascism preys upon the minds of its followers by presenting them with a narrative -- everything wrong with their lives isn't a product of uncaring, impersonal forces that can only be fixed through broad systemic changes. It's a conspiracy. Those People are out to get you, and you can only stop them if you get them first.

Trump embraces conspiracy mongers like Alex Jones and then spins their fantasies as his own. Why is ISIS ascendant? Why is the US letting Muslim refugees into the country? Could it be because Barack Hussein Obama is secretly on their side? Maybe. I dunno. But it could be. And why is he doing that? Does it have anything to do with gay marriage? Black Lives Matter? Sure, why not. Trump's approach is scattershot, and he'll never spell out what he believes (if, indeed, he believes any of this). Instead, he throws out hunks for people to grab onto and make up their own narratives. The only thing that matters is his followers believe there's some plot to keep them down, and only he can save them.

Humiliation by the Wealth and Force of the Enemy

If we used to be great but we no longer are, naturally somebody else must've taken our place (Fascism requires a belief that the world is zero-sum). Their existence is a humiliation to us. We have a natural right to be the best in the world. (Remember, because we're a monolithic culture, considering the other side's point of view is not allowed.) China, they're eating our lunch. Iran is hoodwinking us. They're getting together behind our backs and laughing at us for not wearing the right brand of tennis shoes. Of course, because we're naturally great, it'll be easy to stomp them into the ground, if only we had the right leader who didn't kowtow to them and deal with them as equals. Someone who'll come along and say, "This deal is no longer applicable. We want to renegotiate everything, and we're going to get the better half of the bargain."

Life is Permanent Warfare, and Pacifism is Trafficking with the Enemy

Why are we negotiating with Iran when we should be stomping the shit out of them? Why did we leave Iraq without stealing the oil? That's weak. Weak is bad. Life is struggle and struggle is life. In everything there is a winner and loser -- thus has Trump defined his entire life.

Contempt for the Weak
 If you've ever had the mispleasure of dealing with Trump's Alt-Right supporters online, this should be familiar to you. Any complaint about the social structure of our country is met with reflexive jokes about "safe spaces" and "drinking your tears." Men who side with feminism are "cucks" who stand aside and let their girlfriends get fucked by black dudes. Fascists are weak, therefore they must believe they are stronger than someone. And doubly so for The Leader, who validates his manhood by the fact that everyone bows down before him. Listen to the stories about how Trump treated Christie -- and Christie accepted it all because he wanted Trump to make him strong.

The Cult of Heroes

Heroism isn't just something to be respected in others -- not being a hero yourself is a failing. We've seen this repeatedly with Trump and his attempts to make his draft-dodging heroic -- avoiding STDs was his "personal Vietnam," and spending money to pay employees was his personal sacrifice. Even he realizes he's wanting in the grand scale of things and has to build himself up with bravado while tearing down real heroes like John McCain.

The Ur-Fascist Transfers His will to Power to Sexual Matters

Does this one need any explication? We've all seen the Access Hollywood video.

Selective Populism

Sayeth Eco,

For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.

 Hey, did I mention Eco wrote this in 1995?

In Trump's world, the voice of his followers (which echoes his own, naturally) is the only legitimate populism -- Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, feminism, and other social movements are illegitimate intrusions of the Outsider. The Vox Populi is that which supports Trump, and everything else can safely be ignored.

For now this echo chamber is limited to Fox News, Breitbart and the like, but we already see signs of it encroaching on CNN with their inclusion of Lewandowski and his ilk on panels. Add to that Trump's veiled threats against the Washington Post and the strong likelihood that he'll limit press access to his White House and you can see the shadow of a monolithic media environment.

Ur-Fascism Speaks Newspeak

Eco isn't talking here about individual euphemistic phrases, but more broadly of Orwell's original conception -- a language stripped bare of the vocabulary for dissent. Much has been made of Trump's simplistic language, and how he barely speaks at a fifth grade level. Without nuance, his ideas sound plausible to those who are ignorant of the subject. The complex arguments necessary to refute him are too long and detailed, and they end up sounding like flimflammery next to Trump's straightforward rhetoric.

We see this, too, in his followers. A phrase like "social justice warrior" reduces a slew of complex issues to a simple, pejorative phrase. Once somebody calls you an "SJW," the conversation is over. The merits of your argument don't matter -- it's SJW logic, and SJW logic is wrong by definition. Shut up and go away.

The goal of Trumpkins and the Alt-Right is to illegitimate opposing ideas. In the next few years we can expect the basic premises of modern, pluralistic society to not only come under attack, but to be declared incoherent due to their complexity.

This is what we face over the next few years. Trumpism is not merely an alternate political view. It is an assault on the very fabric of post-Enlightenment civil society. Pluralism, multiculturalism, even religious liberty outside mainline Christianity are all going to come under assault as Republicans gain control of all three branches of government, and Trump gains control of the Republicans.

America is already over. All that's left is the screaming.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Manafort Destiny: Earth S2016 E33

Once more real life takes a toll on the plot. As we've all heard by now, the actor playing Paul Manafort had a little issue with driving into a lamp post while drunk off his ass, and the producers dumped his ass like an empty candy wrapper. This has happened  numerous times throughout the show's history, most notoriously back in Season 1963 when the actor playing JFK got caught with a couple underage girls. But the people writing Earth in season 2016 don't have a twentieth of the talent of the writers from 1963, which is arguably the last great season the show ever produced. Oh, the current writers clearly adore S1963. We can see it all over recent episodes with the resurgent Russia and the return of high-stakes spy shenanigans. But suddenly outing Manafort as a Russian agent and having like five news organizations make major revelations about him in a single episode ... I mean, come on. (Yes, I know there was some foreshadowing of Manafort's foreign ties before this, but the way it was revealed was as subtle of a sledgehammer).

Of course the sudden change of course left the producers scrambling to find a new campaign manager for the Trump campaign. Personally, I wish they'd bring Lewandowski back. His odd-couple relationship with Trump and the wacky shit Trump said at his assistance was the highlight of the last season. But instead they bring in the Breitbart guy, and Roger Ailes, and Sean Hannity, which, again, heavyhanded. By the time we get to the election, Trump and his staff are going to be goosestepping around in Nazi uniforms. Lewandowski at least kept everything farcical. The current direction of the show seems to indicate that we're supposed to take Trump seriously as a villain, which ... no. I'm sorry, the guy playing Trump isn't nearly a good enough actor to convince me that he has fanatical followers. (The actors playing his followers aren't much better. I mean that scene with the lawyer on CNN demanding "What polls?" was painful. I can believe these twits would follow an idiot like Trump, but I can't believe that Trump is in the position he's in when these are the best followers he's got.)

And to top it off, the end of the episode doesn't even make sense. If you're going to bring in these crazy whackjob characters to run Trump's campaign, you can't go and have him suddenly start acting reasonable and apologizing for hurting people's feelings and walking back his position on immigration. It's one or the other -- he's going to go more extreme, or he's going to start playing at being a real candidate (and it's about twenty episodes too late for that). Having him do both at the same time is nonsensical writing.

And in the middle of all this, we have the conclusion of the Olympics arc. I'm glad they pushed it down to a B-pot this week and didn't focus on any stupid sports, but the subplot where the athletes break a door and lie about it and get arrested ... were the writers trying to be funny? That's the only thing I can think of. If they wanted to be dramatic, surely they could come up with a better crime (though I suppose having one of the athletes get into a drunk driving accident was off limits due to the Manafort business). Having Brazil arrest the guys over something so minor is a real eyerolling moment.

NEXT WEEK: A Clinton scandal. Exactly what nobody in the viewing audience wants.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Gold Record: Earth S2016 E32

I hate sports episodes. Let's just get that out of the way up front.

I hate the annual Super Bowl episode. I hate the March Madness arc. I hate the World Cup storyline. They all bore me.

But above all, I hate the Olympics. It's always the same storylines over and over. Oh look, somebody broke a world record. Again. Then in the next episode it's going to turn out at least one of the record breakers was doping, and it'll be a huge scandal and blah-blah-blah. We've seen it all before. Writers, it's time to move on. Come up with a different plot line.

I mean, it wasn't always like this. Used to be the Olympics were world shaking events -- remember season 1936 when they were set against the backdrop of the Hitler arc, and Jesse Owens humiliated the Nazis in the heart of their empire? That was great writing. Or remember the Olympic boycotts and how they came just as the Cold War arc was at its most exciting?

That's how you do something like this.

But the last few years, it's all been lackluster. The 2014 arc could've been something, coming right at the start of the Ukraine storyline, with Putin cracking down on political dissidents in the background, but the writers completely blew it. And this year, the big plotline they came up with was the Olympics taking place in a city with shitty water -- literally. And it hasn't even played a part in the plotline.

But my big problem with the Olympics is the writers' stupid insistence on making them coincide with the American Presidential elections. This was a dumb move from the get-go, but it's become more so in the last few seasons as the American election arcs go on longer and longer. Here we are at the most exciting point in the story, and we're taking time away for a two part sports story.

The writers had a chance to fix things when they decided to stagger the Summer and Winter Olympics. The smart thing to do would've been to move the summer games, since those are the ones that occur right before the election climax, but instead they shifted the Winter Olympics, which used to take place right before the primaries. So we're stuck with the Olympics reducing the American elections to a B-story.

And what a lame B-story. I don't think the writers were even trying this week. Trump's statements are getting more and more ridiculous -- rants about rigged elections and suggestions that someone should shoot Hillary -- but we're still supposed to believe that Ryan, Priebus and McConnell are supporting him? No rational politician would stick by this guy, especially with his polls tanking. There better be a revelation coming that he has pictures of the Republican leadership committing sex crimes, because the current direction this story is taking has broken by suspension of disbelief.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

I'm Not There Right Now: Earth S2016 E31

After last week's horrible episode, the series tries to get back on track ... with yet another Trump controversy.

Really? We've had like five thousand of them this season. Some of them have been fun, but we all know at this point that they aren't going to stick. The writers are just throwing them in to stir up drama because they don't have any real ideas about how to advance the plot. Worse, the Khan thing is a rehash of Trump trashing McCain last season -- if that didn't bring him down, why are we supposed to believe that suddenly this is a major crisis for his campaign?

Likewise we have Trump's crashing poll numbers, but we know he's not going to flame out quite yet. There are a dozen more episodes before the election. The writers have to keep the tension up. They played this card before, with the Mexican judge episode, and just when it looked like Trump was about to implode, they had the FBI announce their conclusions on Clinton's email screwup. Clearly, the writers are going to do the same thing again -- probably be Wikileaks this time releasing some dirt on Bill.

On top of that, suddenly the writers are setting up a potential coup d'etat within the Republican party. We're supposed to take this seriously now? For the last twenty episode we've been hearing how there's no way to stop Trump once he gets the nomination, that the convention was the last chance to do something.

Don't get me wrong, I like the fact that what finally pushed the Republicans over the edge wasn't any of the egregious things Trump said, but the fact that he wouldn't back Ryan. The expression on Trump's face when he said, "I'm not there yet," was classic -- as always, the best part of this season has been seeing the Republicans get their comeuppance -- and I loved that whole, "Why is this guy still here," reaction to Priebus.

The real problem with this plot line is twofold.

First, the writers are having some Republicans defect for Hillary, but they're only minor characters. I mean, when Meg Whitman is the big name you throw out for shock value, you've got problems. Come on, why not Romney or the Bushes. If they went over, that would be shocking. Whitman, not so much.

But second, at the end of the episode, it looks like Trump is finally cowed and he endorses Ryan and McCain. Come on now, does anyone actually buy that? It's a cheap cliffhanger that's going to be forgotten within a couple episodes. I guarantee you, two episodes from now, Trump's going to be back to his old antics, Priebus will be wringing his hands again, and it'll make exactly zero difference to the ongoing plot, if it's even mentioned again.

NEXT WEEK: The show puts the election storyline on hold for ... a sports episode?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Shattering the Ceiling - Earth S2016 E30

This will teach me not to get my expectations up. After last week's awesome episode, I had high hopes that the series was finally getting back on track, but, no.

Hillary's always been a problematic character. Her first introduction back in season 1992 was exciting -- at last, after the dismal failure of Margaret Thatcher, the writers were going to give us a real, strong woman in a central role. Remember how excited everyone was when she said that voting for Bill would be a two-for-one deal?

So what did the writers do? Right out the gate, they had her fail in passing healthcare reform. There we were with what was supposed to be a revolutionary presidency, and they kneecapped it right in the first season!

And if that wasn't bad enough, the ratings started to tank right after that. Now anyone with a brain could figure out the problem was the end of the Cold War arc. The Persian Gulf War had been good, but that was over in a single season, and the whole Balkan subplot was too confusing for anyone to follow. But rather than building up a new conflict, what did we get? Billy gets a blowjob from an intern. The single dumbest plot in the show's entire run. Three seasons of story revolving around an affair.

And to make it work, the writers had to neuter Hillary. They turned her into a good wife who stood by her man through thick and thin. For me, that was the moment when the character lost all credibility.

Honestly, Hillary should've been written out of the show at that point and the writers could've tried again with a more credible female character, but instead they brought her back as a Senator from New York. (Why New York? Who knows! She had no connection to the state before season 2000, but the writers waved their magic wand and suddenly she was a New Yorker.)

And immediately after that, the writers made her look ridiculous by having her get duped by George, Jr. (George, Jr!) into supporting the Iraq War. Seriously? What happened to Hillary, the strong female character who was going to be Bill's co-president?

After that, of course, we got the Obama arc with Hillary promoted to Secretary of State. Given the mess George, Jr. left the show in, you'd think this would, finally, be her time to shine. But no. First thing to happen, she gives a reset button to Russia, even though it's blatantly obvious to everyone watching that Putin's being set up as the second coming of Stalin. Yet again, the writers undermined her character by letting her get duped. Then the show got mired with these stupid subplots about Benghazi and her emails -- subplots that are still going on, even though nobody gives a shit. It strains credibility that characters in the show actually think any of this stuff is a major issue. But they do.

By this point, the writers should've given up on the character. She's been nothing but a trainwreck. They've undermined her at every turn. And the character's pushing 70. But instead of letting her and Bill retire quietly, now they're pushing her as a Presidential candidate?

I don't get it.

I just don't get it.

Every episode this season, I've been expecting some twist to come up that would make Bernie the nominee. Or better yet, the writers would find some way to make Elizabeth Warren the candidate. Anything but four more seasons of bad writing for Hillary.

My biggest fear right now is the writers are setting her up for a fall. They want Trump to win and shake things up, so they've positioned the worst candidate on the Democratic side -- the only candidate who might believably lose to that shithead. (The fact that she picked Tim Kaine as her running mate supports this -- if the writers were plotting some shocking twist that would elevate the VP to the Oval Office, surely they would've gone with Warren, or anybody more interesting than the piece of cardboard that Hillary picked.)

(And while we're on the subject, can we take a moment to discuss the decision to recast Chelsea Clinton? I know the actress who played the teen Chelsea has run into some problems in life. It happens. I wish her the best. But when the producers decided to bring a new actress in for the role, did they have to make her such a babe? I feel that totally undercuts the original Chelsea's character arc, where she learned to value herself for her intellect and personality and to ignore what Rush Limbaugh had to say about her looks. All that's been thrown out now so the new, super hot Chelsea can stand in counterpoint to Ivanka. But think of how much more of a contrast she'd present if she still looked down to earth and a little frumpy, more of an everygirl character.)

So now I guess I have to discuss the elephant in the room -- the Wikileaks twist.

What a clusterfuck.

As I said last week, I understand there've been problems between the producers and the actor who plays Assange, and that's why he was written out of the show with that rape plotline even though he was an immensely popular character. Fine. But to bring him back and ruin his character like this?

It doesn't even make sense. The last time Wikileaks was a major plotline, the Republicans were up in arms about the group and wanted to hang Assange. But now, suddenly, he's working for them to destroy Hillary under orders from Vladimir Putin? WTF. Are we supposed to believe he's been a Russian agent this whole time? Way to retroactively ruin one of the most interesting plot lines from the last few seasons. Throw in the part where the Republicans are suddenly against NATO, and the terrorists are targeting France instead of the USA, and I have to wonder, are the writers even watching the show anymore? Nothing makes sense. They're coming up with random plot twists for no good reason. The way this show's going, they might as well make Trump president and have him start WWIII, that way the show can go out with a big bang and we can finally be done with it.

NEXT WEEK: The return of Harry Potter. Wow, I guess they really are desperate for ratings.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

EARTH S:2016 E: 29 Cruz Control

Like a lot of people, I've been down on the current season of Earth with its ridiculous plot contrivances and inconsistent characterization, but I have to say, last week's episode was a real return to form.The show hasn't hit one out of the park like that since the early days of the Al Qaeda arc.

The ep started a bit shaky. We all knew the #NeverTrump campaign wasn't going to succeed, but we still spent an inordinate amount of time on it, and then it's followed up with a comic subplot about Trump's wife plagiarizing her speech -=eyeroll=-. With all the strong female characters on the show recently, it's a shame for it to take a step backwards with such a stereotypical character. If the writers actually make Trump President, I hope they write Malania out in favor of Ivanka, who already looks to be a more interesting character. (Though did you catch the way her dad patted her ass? I really hope the writers aren't going there -- we get it, Trump's evil. No need to make him any skeevier than he already is.)

But the real meat of the episode was in the second act. Ted Cruz has never been one of my favorite characters, not least because the actor who plays him sucks giant red donkey dick. Everytime he opens his mouth, he comes off as a smarmy little kid who thinks he can put one over on the adults. For a character who was introduced as this diabolical genius, the acting never matched up. But here, in what I can only assume is Cruz's swansong, the show actually made me feel bad for him. Sure, his motivation for dissing Trump was purely personal, but that actually made it more compelling than Romney or Kasich who are just standing on some generic principle. (There are the Bushes, of course, but after everything George, Jr. did, it's hard to respect Jeb and Papa George for standing by him. Rafael and Heidi, though we never saw much of either, are far more sympathetic characters.)

Still, Ted's always been a jackass, so despite the pathos, there's more than a little schadenfreude with him getting booed by his own party. I've got to hand it to the writers, as much as I hated the whole Tea Party arc, their handling of Cruz and especially Christie this season has been outstanding. Now if only they find a way to get Huckabee his comeuppance, everything will be right with the world.

Of course, we also have to talk about that cliffhanger. Oh my god! Can you believe it? After all this time, they're finally bringing Julian Assange back? I know he popped up briefly for that Sony hack subplot a couple seasons, but this is the first time he's played a major role in the story in years. (A lot of people seem to think he had a falling out with the producers, hence the ignominious way he was written out, but I guess if there was an issue, it's been taken care of.) And what a way to make his grand re-entrance! After Bernie's constant accusations of Democratic double dealings -- boom! -- we have total proof. I did not see that twist coming. I thought he was just paranoid. If Assange and Sanders team up, this is going to be so epic.

NEXT WEEK: A Hillary episode. Kill me now.

Friday, July 22, 2016

8 Sitcom Characters Who Are Supporting Trump

At the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump trotted out some of the biggest stars of Hollywood -- Scott Baio! Antonio Sabato, Jr.! Angelina Jolie's skeevy dad. With a roster like that, it's no surprise that many people got left off. So here are profiles of eight sitcom characters who've come out in support of the Donald:


The transformation of Steve Urkel from lovable dweeb to one of the Internet's leading Men's Rights Advocates has shocked many people.

"I knew him since he was a baby," Harriet Winslow says. "He was a sweet boy. A little trying at times, yes, but sweet. The way he is now ... it's like I don't know him anymore."

Her son Eddie agrees. "Steve was a handful, but you could always count on him to do the right thing."

Not everyone who knew him shares that view, though. "Steve was a creeper as long as I knew him," Laura Winslow says. "I was always telling my dad not to let him come over, but daddy wouldn't ever listen."

"I was wrong," her father Carl admits now. "I always thought Laura was being overly sensitive. As annoying as Steve could be, I always encouraged her to get along with him. Help him to not be so highstrung. Hang out with him at the mall instead of our house."

That all came to a head one night not long after Laura started college. "I was living at home, commuting to campus. One night I woke up, and there was Steve standing at the foot of my bed, just watching me with that creepy grin of his. I screamed for dad, and he kicked Steve out of the house, told him to never show his face there again."

After Laura finally took out a restraining order against him and her dad threatened to shoot him if he ever came near their house again, Steve gravitated to the world of Pickup Artists, but he soon became disillusioned after discovering that bedding random women didn't fill the loneliness in his heart.

Instead of learning his lesson and becoming a better person who could handle relationships with women as equals, however, he gravitated to the dark side of the PUA scene and became a Men's Rights Activist. Over the next decade, his life entered a tailspin. He dropped out of grad school and ended up working a low-paying tech support job. He was arrested when he tried to crash Laura's wedding, and was later investigated for making death threats against Anita Sarkeesian.

When Trump announced his candidacy, Steve didn't give it much thought at first -- he'd enjoyed The Apprentice, but he figured Trump was pulling a publicity stunt. But after listening to Trump's rhetoric, he came around. Now Steve sees Trump as a way to save American masculinity from the insidious forces of feminism.

"Trump wants to make America great again. That means returning us to traditional notions of masculinity and femininity. A country where women know their place in the world and don't go slutting it up at bars unless they want a man to make a move on them. None of this, 'Oh, I'm just here with my girlfriends for some fun.'"

"That kid," Carl sighs after hearing about Steve's views, "he's got a mind but he don't know how to use it. No wonder he sees himself in Trump. God help us, but so do lots of people."


To the occasional visitor to Cheers, Cliff was a lovable scamp, always sitting at the end of the bar, entertaining people with odd bits of trivia. But the staff and regulars knew better. His friend Norm Peterson says, "Yeah, by closing time on a Saturday night, Cliffy was a different man. Get too many beers into him and ... it was bad." Says Sam Malone, manager and sometime proprietor of Cheers, "Early afternoons, he was okay, but late at night it'd be, 'It's a fact Sammy, the Jews control 90% of the wealth in the Jew-nited States.' It was sad watching him get that way, but at least he was here with friends who knew not to take him seriously."

But when Cliff retired from the Postal Service in 2011, things took a turn for the worse. Unable to afford drinking out every day, Cliff took to staying home with a case of beer and watching The Gameshow Network. He also found Internet chat boards where he felt uninhibited in sharing his views.

"2013, that's when he really changed," Peterson says. "On the occasions when he showed up to the bar, he'd just go on and on about how Barack Obama is a Kenyan with a fake birth certificate."

"We had to kick him out a few times," Malone admits. "He was riling up customers. Yeah, I guess you could say it got ugly."

Even before Trump announced officially, Cliff was a supporter. "That dingleberry, he loved Trump for saying Obama weren't no American," waitress Carla Tortelli recalls. "He said he'd vote for Trump if he ran for President. What a jerk."

Since Trump's announcement, Clavin's worked his way up in the campaign organization, becoming the manager for Boston, where he's widely credited for Trump's stunning primary victory, one of the few times that Trump polled above 50% in a contested state.


I know it's shocking. You were expecting her brother Alex to be the Trump supporter.

"Yeah, that's not happening," Alex says from his brokerage in Manhattan. As he explains it, "Look, I'm a believer in Milton Friedman and monetarism. I think free trade has made our country so much better. And I think cheap immigrant labor is fantastic. Trump is anathema to the Republican Party that I grew up with. The fact that so many Republicans today are willing to go along with him ... I don't get it. I'll be voting for Gary Johnson come November."

But his sister Mallory is another story entirely. In 1991 she married her on-again-off-again boyfriend Nick, a struggling artist. "We knew it wasn't right," her mother Elyce says. "It was horrible. We didn't want to be classist or anything like that, and it should've been good for her. Mallory was always so materialistic growing up, so putting that aside for love ..."

"But there were problems from early on," her father adds. "She'd come home after spending the night with him and insist upon wearing these big, goofy sunglasses and putting on heavy makeup even at breakfast."

"I didn't realize what was going on until later," Alex says. "I was young, stupid and naive. I didn't recognize the signs. If I had, you bet I would've sent that punk to the hospital."

Mallory's marriage to Nick didn't last, and they separated in 1995 after having two kids together. Working as a single mother proved tough, and Nick rarely made his contribution to child support. "There were a couple years there where I paid her rent five months out of twelve," Alex says. "I think mom and dad covered three or four more."

But Alex and his parents discovered that the money wasn't going to food and shelter. Instead Mallory, working as a receptionist for a plumbing company, had become addicted to methamphetamine. When her kids' school became concerned over signs of neglect, Child Welfare stepped in. Mallory lost custody of her son and daughter, who went to live with their grandparents.

"We love little Tina and Mike," Elyce says, "but we wish they could be with their mother."

But over the next few years Mallory developed a persecution complex, coming to believe the government was out to get her. "She felt that social services were some kind of conspiracy," Alex says. "A plot to destroy the American family. I think that's a lot of the reason she supports Trump now. The last time she felt happy in life, it was the 1980s. She thinks Trump will bring that back. She's deluding herself, but what can we do?"


Life was good for Joey Gladstone in the first decade of the 21st Century. His standup career finally took off, thanks largely to his ability to do spot-on impersonations of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. His "Bush and Dick" routine won him guest appearances on Letterman, The Tonight Show and The Daily Show, and at one point he had a sitcom in development at ABC (the network rejected it after the pilot proved unpopular with urban audiences).

"Man, I couldn't believe it. After twenty years bunking in my attic, Joey finally got his own place out in Petaluma," Danny Tanner says.

But success came with a dark side.

"He and Uncle Jesse always kept a pot stash in the house," DJ Tanner tells me. "Me and my friend Kimmy would sneak some buds all the time. They never realize it. They'd blame each other and get in these huge fights, but when my dad came home, they'd have to make up some silly reason for their argument -- if dad knew they were smoking up in the house, they would've been out on the street."

"I've got no comment," Jesse Katsopolis says.

But, like so many comics before him, after finding success on the stand-up circuit, Joey gravitated to harder drugs. "Mainly uppers," says Kimmy Gibbler, who dated Joey briefly. "Coke and speed were his faves. He needed a way to maintain that high energy on the road. He'd have me hanging out in local bars during the show trying to score drugs for him."

The drugs, however, made Joey's act erratic. "He couldn't get the big clubs like before. More and more he was playing Indian casinos and little bars in college towns," Gibbler says. "Obama becoming President certainly didn't help."

The nadir came in 2014 when video surfaced showing Joey breaking off his routine halfway through to launch into a racist tirade against black comedians. "How come they can say 'n***er' but I can't? And I'm the privileged one here? Fucking bullshit! Fucking bullshit!" Joey screamed as he hurled a drink at the audience.

"Joey had dumped me by that point," Gibbler says. "He was going on with this toothless crackwhore he'd picked up in Ft. Lauderdale. I only saw the video when it went viral. I can't say it surprised me, though. That was how he talked in private."

After the video showed up on TMZ, Joey's bookings dried up completely. He blamed African-Americans for his misfortune. "He called me up one night," says Michelle Tanner, "and wanted to talk about this cabal of black comedians who secretly control the American comedy circuit."

After Trump announced his candidacy, Joey quickly came out in support on Twitter. "@realdonaldtrump will end the tyranny of political correctness that is destroying our culture."

"It's pretty sad," Danny says. "This is a guy who voted for Mondale and Dukakis. He even went with Nader in 2000 because Gore wasn't liberal enough."

Joey wouldn't respond to requests for interviews, however his Facebook page contains this explanation for his change of heart:

After thirty years of being duped by lying liberal politicians, I feel this country needs a revolution. I don't agree with everything Donald Trump says, but I believe he will demolish the secret powers who've neutered our nation. They know who they are, and they're quaking in fear right now. Good. That's how it should be."


The son of famed Hollywood lawyer Philip Banks, Carlton grew up in privileged circumstances. "When I first moved in with the family, Carlton didn't even know black people were oppressed," his cousin Will says.

"That's an exaggeration," insists Philip Banks. "Mostly."

Nonetheless Carlton has always been further to the right than anyone else in his family, even his father. "I remember in elementary school," his sister Hilary says, "he started a Black Republicans club. He was the only member."

"He was the only black student in his school" Philip says.

Whatever the case, Carlton has remained a staunch conservative, serving in the Schwarzenegger administration as senior fiscal advisor. "I couldn't have been more proud of him," Philip says.

But with the emergence of the Tea Party in recent years, a rift developed in the family. "I can't condone what the Republican Party has become," Philip says. "It's been hijacked by the worst part of the American people and turned into something I don't recognize." Philip, who served as state treasurer for both Mitt Romney and John Kasich's campaign, formally renounced his party membership this last April after it became apparent Trump would win the nomination. "I don't want to vote for Clinton, but at this point I see no honorable alternative."

His son, however, remains faithful to the party. "This is an historic opportunity. We're seeing poll data that indicates that Trump has a chance of winning by a landslide in the inland portions of the state, which are vastly more conservative. If we can leverage that, we might be able to flip the state for the first time in decades. The carry-on effect in state offices would be monumental."

"I think Uncle Phil shoulda smacked that boy more," Will says.

Asked if he's done anything to persuade Carlton away from Trump, Will says, "I went to Costco a couple weeks ago, bought the biggest thing of Oreos I could find and sent it to him. He texted me a thank-you note."


Opie Taylor left his hometown of Mayberry, North Carolina in eighth grade, but he returned in 1981 to set up legal offices. When he arrived, he found the town greatly transformed.

According to Arnold Bailey, "When Opie's father was sheriff, Mayberry was notorious as a sundown town -- no black folks permitted within the city limits after dark. There were a few families that lived just outside town in rickety shacks that dated to the 1920s, but most blacks steered well clear of Mayberry."

That changed in the late 1960s after Sheriff Taylor relocated.

"Publicly, the Taylor's moved because Sheriff Andy was getting married and took a job with a life insurance company in Raleigh," says Ellie Walker, "but the truth is, he was under investigation by the Justice Department. He agreed to step down in exchange for them not charging him with Civil Rights violations."

At first Taylor's successor, Sheriff Fife, tried to continue his predecessor's policies, but as African-Americans moved to town in greater numbers, his political power slipped away. In 1974, the county elected its first black Sheriff, Tyrone Pendergast.

"The town suffered mightily from the economic problems of the 1970s," Bailey recalls. "White residents blamed the blacks, especially for the drug problem that started to creep into town. When old Mr. Campbell OD'd on smack, everyone said it was one of the new black employees at the furniture factory that got him hooked."

Racial tensions in town rose, and in 1977 there was an attempted lynching of a black high school student who was dating a white girl. Sheriff Pendergast arrested five men for their involvement, but charges were eventually dropped due to a lack of witnesses willing to testify.

When Opie Taylor returned to town in 1981, the situation was bleak. The furniture factory, which employed 60% of Mayberrians, had shut down the year before and attempts to lure new industries were failing. The welfare rolls were at record numbers.

Taylor ran for Sheriff in 1982 on a platform that many critics described as "race baiting" and won by a substantial margin. He set about modernizing local law enforcement, applying for federal grants that allowed the department to upgrade its equipment. Over the next quarter century, the department expanded from a sheriff and one deputy, to twenty-five officers, complete with a SWAT team -- something that would've been unthinkable in the elder Taylor's day, when Deputy Fife wasn't even allowed to carry his revolver loaded.

The black community accused Taylor of focusing his enforcement on them, but he insists that he was merely directing his forces at problem areas. "Look, we had a drug problem in the area. It wasn't on Elm Street or Maple. It was in the new Section 8 apartment complexes off Route 7. That's where I put my men. If that happens to be where the blacks live, what am I supposed to do? Ignore everything?"

The situation festered in Mayberry for decades before finally popping in 2014 when Deputy Timothy Fife, son of the former sheriff, shot an unarmed black man in the town square in the middle of the day.

"It was a tragic accident," Taylor insists despite numerous witnesses who describe the act as cold-blooded murder. "Tim's always been a little shaky with firearms. He once shot himself in the foot while sitting at his desk with the gun in its holster."

But Black Lives Matter protesters weren't so willing to write the incident off. Mayberry erupted in massive protests, which turned to rioting when Sheriff Taylor ordered his men to break up the demonstrations. Eventually Governor McCrory had to call in the National Guard to restore order.

"I stand by my actions," Taylor insists. "There are elements in this country who want to undermine law enforcement -- the very government itself -- and they're using these minor incidents as an excuse to stir up trouble. I have my suspicions about where they're getting orders from -- you can't think this is a coincidence, how all this started after we elected an African Muslim as President, can you?"

As for the Presidential election, Taylor says it's no contest. "Trump's the only candidate who fully stands by the police. If we elect Hillary, she's going to pass laws saying it's not a crime for black men to shoot law enforcement officers. She's going to pack the Supreme Court with liberals who'll make it impossible to get criminal convictions. We've got to stop her. We've got to crush her. It's not a choice -- if we don't, there won't be an America four years from now."


"I don't even know why we're bothering with an election," Wayne Arnold says from his home in New Jersey. "Hillary Clinton is a criminal. She shouldn't even be allowed to run."

Arnold, who grew up on Long Island in the 1960s and '70s, describes Clinton as everything wrong with '60s liberalism. "She sounds like my brother. Always whining, whining, whining. Vietnam, Civil Rights, women's rights, now it's the f*****s and t******s. What's next, dog fuckers? Jesus. I don't know how anyone can look at America and think we're going in the right direction. We've been going the wrong way almost my entire life -- I guess that's why libtards like f*****s, they're always sticking their dicks in the wrong way."

Wayne's younger brother, Kevin, says he's not at all surprised that his brother is voting for Trump. "Wayne believed everything Trump says he stands for before he stood for it. He was the sort of guy who thought our mistake in Vietnam was not being tough enough."

Sister Karen is even more damning, "Wayne was a damn fascist, even when he was a kid. I remember him seeing a story about Martin Luther King protesting somewhere, and he said the cops should just arrest him for making problems."


In a nondescript house in suburban Colorado, Michael Scott runs his latest business venture -- professional Pokemon guide. "It's just an idea I had. Lots of people want to play Pokemon Go, but they don't know where to look. I take them out to the best hunting grounds."

How's the business going?

"It's a growth industry. Yesterday I saw two prospective clients. They were seven and could only pay me with a piece of gum they dropped on the carpet, so I had to turn them way."

This is the latest in a long line of startups that Scott has run since leaving Dunder-Mifflin. "Yes, I also run a service for people who need to create fake Facebook pages for job interviews. I tried to start a 3D print shop, but there were problems. My lawyer says I'm not supposed to talk about it. Oh, and I install gardens on balconies for people who live in apartments."

When asked why he's throwing his support to Donald Trump, Scott replies simply, "He's going to win."

"You don't want to throw your vote away by supporting a candidate who has no chance. Voting for Trump is the only possible choice."

Asked how he can be so sure of Trump's victory, he explains, "I've been in sales for twenty years. I know a thing or two about the art of the deal -- in fact, I picked most of them up from Mr. Trump. Fantastic writer, you know. So what I'm seeing in this campaign in the perfect pitch. You know, this is how you do it. You show your audience that they have a problem, then you tell them your product is the solution. First you get people to think that they're losers -- everything's going wrong with their life, the rest of the world is laughing at them -- then you introduce your product and explain how it'll make them into winners. For instance, when I was selling paper, I'd tell people that anyone can have a website. Anyone can send an email. You can do it out of your basement. You can do it in your bathroom. Nobody will know. But paper -- high quality paper -- that's something special. If you want to distinguish yourself in the world of business, you still need paper. Even if nobody ever looks at your catalogue, the fact that you have it says, 'I'm not just some guy working from home. I'm a real business.' And people bought it."

"Trump's brilliance," Scott continues, "is that he's not selling a product. He's selling himself. America's got problems, and he's the solution. Nobody can resist a pitch like that. He's going to win, and if you want to win too, you've got to get on board with him."

Friday, July 1, 2016

No, Whitewashing Isn't the Same as Diversification

The long gestating American adaptation of Death Note is finally moving forward as a Netflix original movie. The main cast includes Keith Stanfield in the role of genius detective L. For some reason this has triggered an adverse reaction in certain corners of fandom.

I can't imagine why.

This comes on the heels of the Ghost in the Shell movie casting Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi.

This decision was also highly controversial, but in entirely different circles. Apart from people who think any Western adaptation of anime or manga is inherently doomed, there's very little overlap in people upset at these casting decisions, which has led some people who dislike Stanfield's casting to cry, "Hypocrisy!" (Nevermind that nobody on either side is particularly upset about Nat Wolff playing the other main character, Light, unless they happen to hate Wolff as an actor. Ditto Margaret Qualley as the female lead.) But there's nothing hypocritical here. Though the issues may seem similar at a glance, there are actually key differences.

Americanization vs Whitewashing

Whenever Hollywood makes a movie based upon foreign source material, it's fairly standard for the setting to change to the United States unless the source material contains an appealing "exotic" locale, or is set in some historical period. Hollywood does this to movies from Europe just as much as anywhere -- look at Insomnia, which changes the original movie's Norwegian setting to Alaska, or The Vanishing, which changes the Netherlands to middle America. While one can argue whether there's any need to remake foreign films (especially in the case of The Vanishing, which butchered the original), if it's going to be done, it's natural for the studio to want to do it in their normal filming locations, not halfway around the world. This is simply Americanizing the movie.

Whitewashing, on the other hand, is the process of eliminating jobs for minority actors, either by changing the character's ethnicity (changing real life Asian-Americans to white guys in 21), or casting a white guy in the role and hoping nobody will notice (Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan Noonien Singh).

Obviously any time Hollywood adapts source material from Asia, Africa or Latin-America and relocates it to the United States, character ethnicities are going to change . That's something that most people accept as the cost of doing business. Preferably the filmmakers will keep at least one of the main characters as their original ethnicity (Death Note is doing this by having Paul Nakauchi play Watari) and cast more than white people in the other roles, but it'd be pretty weird to set a movie in America and have everyone be Japanese or Brazilian, or even Norwegian.

The problem with Ghost in the Shell is that it's not following Hollywood's normal pattern of Americanization. Instead of making a cultural adaptation, everything so far indicates that the story is still set in a cyberpunk Asian city in the nebulous future. Most of the announced cast is Asian or Pacific Islander. But the main characters, with one exception, are white people. Even more disturbing, there are reports that the studio tried to use CG to make the Caucasian actors appear more Asian.

White Tokenism

We normally think of tokenism as actors of color being cast in minor roles so filmmakers can say, "See, we're being inclusive and diverse." But there's a flip-side to this phenomenon -- the casting of white actors in major roles in films about people of color. This is especially common in movies about the Civil Rights movement where studios assume that white audiences (and most filmmakers can't imagine any other kind) won't be interested in the struggles of black people unless there's a white person for them to identify with. And so when Hollywood makes a movie about a regiment of black soldiers in the Civil War, the main character is played by Matthew Broderick; when they make a movie about Stephen Biko, the focus is on a white journalist played by Kevin Kline; and when they do a movie about the murder of Civil Rights activists in Mississippi in the 1960s, the heroes are a couple of white FBI agents played by Willem Dafoe and Gene Hackman.

But this problem crops up elsewhere. When Hollywood makes a samurai movie, it's not enough to make a movie about samurai. No, there has to be a white guy in there somewhere, because apparently samurai aren't cool enough on their own. Sometimes there's an historical basis for this, sometimes the filmmakers have to twist actual history to make the white guy fit into the story, and sometimes. They. Just. Don't. Care.

GitS fits this mold. The white characters aren't being included because there's any logical reason for them to be there, as would be the case if the setting were transferred to a futuristic American city. They're there because the studio doesn't trust the audience to care about a world full of people of color if there aren't any token white people driving the plot. Diversity is only okay as long as we recognize white folk are the only ones who can be the center of a story.

Opposites and Symmetry

Of course those who are upset at Stanfield playing L will argue that there's a double standard here. When there's a white person taking on an Asian character, that's bad, but when a black man takes on a white role (L is British in the original manga) it's no big deal. This argument has become more frequent of late as there's been an increase in actors of color being cast in roles that previously would've defaulted to white actors -- Noma Dumezweni as Hermione in the new Harry Potter play, Idris Elba as Roland the Last Gunslinger -- and there've been calls for the next Doctor Who and James Bond to be black.

But people who make this point fail to understand that just because two things are opposites, that doesn't mean they're symmetric.

If a director sets out to make an Oscar-bait melodrama about life in the suburbs, the reflex is to look for white actors for the main roles. Ben Affleck will get considered. Tom Cruise. Kevin Spacey. Will Smith ... probably not. Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne ... not likely. The role of a suburban family defaults to white unless the story is about race. A film about a black family living in the suburbs can't be about life in the suburbs as far as Hollywood is concerned. It's about being black in the suburbs, something totally different. And once a movie becomes about being black, it's no longer seen as being of interest to general audiences (i.e., white people).

Black actors at least can hold down lead roles in action films, no problem, these days. But of course action films aren't prestigious. If they want to be taken seriously as actors, they need to get roles in dramas, and those are often only open to them if the film is something like Twelve Years a Slave or Straight Outta Compton. Other minorities, though, are less lucky. Asian (especially South Asian) roles are in short supply in any genre, as are Hispanic parts. One can almost imagine a movie like American Beauty getting made with Will Smith and Halle Berry, but not Daniel Dae Kim and Ming Na. The idea that Asians might live in the 'burbs and have interesting problems has barely registered in the minds of Hollywood executives.

So when there's a role out there that's actually designed for an actor of color and the part gets changed to a white character, or the director just casts Johnny Depp in the part without making any changes, it's taking away from a limited supply of roles.

On the other hand, when somebody makes an updated Sherlock Holmes with Lucy Liu as Watson, they're creating diversity where none existed before. Such a casting choice has virtually zero effect on white actors, who still have numerous opportunities.

Imagine you're trying to balance a set of scales. The left side has five kilograms of sand, but the right only has three. Obviously the way to do this would be to scoop sand off the left side and add it to the right. If somebody came up to you and said, "Hey, you're not being fair. You should be taking sand from the right side and adding it to the left, too," you'd think the guy was a complete moron. But that's exactly what people are arguing when they say that casting Stanfield as L is no different from having Johnny Depp play Tonto.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Vive de Gaulle!

Three months ago when I began listening to Dominic Sandbrook's doorstopper duology on Britain in the '70s (State of Emergency, Seasons in the Sun), I didn't think I'd be sitting up listening to the Winter of Discontent and rise of Thatcherism while furiously reloading the BBC while witnessing the biggest crisis Britain has faced since the Thatcher regime. It's funny how life works sometimes.

Just to be on the safe side, I'm not reading any books on Nixon or Hitler between now and November.

As for the Brexit ... well, that's certainly a thing that happened. My main takeaways from the fiasco:

De Gaulle Was Right

Britain was actually a latecomer to the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the modern European Union. It's not that British leaders didn't want in, but during the early days of the EEC, Charles de Gaulle held immense sway in admissions, and he absotively, posilutely didn't want Britain joining. His animosity wasn't simply lingering resentment over British backstabbing in WWII. No, de Gaulle recognized that the British, and especially the English, have a strong aversion to transnationalism (at least transnationalism that doesn't involve them bossing brown people around) and would inevitably get cold feet and wreck any sort of European community they joined.

But, alas, de Gaulle wasn't immortal. After he retired, his successors began the process of admitting the UK to Europe. And the Brits, for their part, immediately set about trying to prove de Gaulle right by launching the first Brexit referendum in 1975, barely two years after joining. But Britain was in the post-imperial doldrums, and being part of the EU was better than being a failed empire by itself, so the referendum failed.

But now the Brits have decided to hold a rematch for no good reason, and this time the Little Englanders won.

And somewhere the ghost of de Gaulle is screaming, "See, I fucking told you so!"

The Ghost of Neville Chamberlain Can Sleep Easier

Thanks to David Cameron's moronic decision to bring EU membership up for a vote, Neville Chamberlain will no longer be the go-to example of an ineffective and bumbling British Prime Minister. Even the Left can retire Margaret Thatcher as their favorite bogeywoman.

Congratulations, Davey! You'll go down in history as the Prime Minister who fucked a dead pig and wrecked Europe's economy!

What a twat.

We May Yet See the Final Dissolution of the British Empire

My Caledonian and Hibernian brothers find themselves in desperate straits. Both wish to remain within the civilized embrace of the European brothers, but their barbaric Anglo-Saxon overlords insist upon dragging them out. Already there are mutterings of secession. Should they succeed, the barbarians will be left with Cymru as the whole of their empire. Soon the Celtic peoples shall reunite and rise up and push the hated invaders from the shores of Britain. Let the Anglo-Saxons return to the frigid wastes from whence they came! Let the Gaets and Suiones deal with them.

The Wheels of History Are Beginning to Turn in Europe Once More

At the end of World War II, the nations of Europe looked at each other and said, "Let's not ever do that again." They set about constructing a post-historical enclave against the world. The early going was tough thanks to the United States and Soviet Union putting Europe in the crossfire of a stupid and esoteric political feud, but the Western Europeans managed to create the first iteration of the system that's become the modern European Union. Once the Soviet Union fell apart, the Europeans picked up the pieces and created what appeared to be a genuine post-historic paradise. There were a few lingering conflicts around the edges -- the Troubles in Ireland, the Balkan wars -- but even these were resolved by the turn of the century.

But over the last couple of years, the flaws in the plan have become obvious. Europeans could get along with each other, but they couldn't wall themselves off from the rest of the world. They kept taking part in adventures outside their domain, either dragged along by the United States, or cleaning up messes in their former colonies. But these adventures weren't enough to stop crises from spreading in Africa and the Middle East (and in some cases -- particularly those instigated by the United States -- the adventures exacerbated the problems). Refugees poured into Europe in increasing numbers. Political revolutions in the Near East created new threats. And a resurgent Russia, nervous about EU expansion into its old sphere of influence, started pushing back.

And now Britain drops out of the EU. Even if this turns out to be a one-off event, it signals that the current European system is just as ephemeral as the Peace of Westphalia and the Concert of Europe. Rather than an End of History, Europe has been having a brief respite. Nationalism and its attendant ills are not gone from the continent. Once Britain -- and England especially -- sobers up, they're going to be mighty pissed about what they let slip away, and the Farages of the country will twist that into some stab-in-the-back myth.

This isn't the end of the problem. This is the beginning.

The EU Must Make Britain Feel Pain

If the European Union wants to keep other countries from following Britain, it must make Britain pay for the Brexit. The Leave campaign tried to convince everyone that the status quo would remain the same -- Britain would be able to keep all the cushy trade deals that came with EU membership while shedding all the obligations people don't like. If that were to actually happen, why would anyone want to remain in the EU?

So, when it comes time to negotiate Britain's departure, the EU should take the house, the car, the kids, the dog, the TV, the furniture and the wedding ring too. If Britain wants to keep anything, they must renegotiate from scratch, and the EU should drive a hard bargain.

In the Long Run, We're All Dead

In grand historical terms, though, this is all meaningless. If the EU manages to survive, Britain's brief membership will be a footnote. If the EU collapses, its whole existence will be a footnote. Most of us would be hard pressed to explain what the Hanseatic League was, and that lasted for centuries. Two hundred years from now, all of the EU's history up until this point will barely warrant a paragraph in school textbooks. Even if worst comes to worst and Europe descends into another orgy of bloodshed, this will be a boring prelude that makes students' eyes glaze over.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Zombipocalypse: Japan

You'd think the whole zombie thing would be played out by now. I mean, in almost fifty years since Night of the Living Dead, we've been stuck with the same story over and over again -- the pack of hardy survivors in a Hobbesian world where human nature is nearly as much a danger as the flesh-eating ghouls who've overrun the world. How many ways are there to retell the same story?

But as the continued success of The Walking Dead shows, some formulas never go stale. Hell, even Archie is battling the undead these days. And it should come as no surprise that zombies are popular across borders, with even manga experiencing a boom in the genre. The Japanese version of the zombipocalypse isn't that different from what you find in American zombie films, though the flavoring can be a little weird at times, such as School Live! which mixes zombies with the cute-girls-doing-cute-things genre, with surprisingly effective results.


The most important ingredient for any zombie story is the setting. The audience is paying money to see the familiar world getting torn down, so coming up with an interesting and familiar locale is key to capturing their interest. That's why Dawn of the Dead is the most effective of all zombie movies -- even putting aside the heavy handed anti-consumerist message, who doesn't want to see a shopping mall get shredded?

Which makes it amazing that it took until 2006 for anyone to come up with the idea of using a high school as the setting for a zombipocalypse. As much as we don't like to admit it in the post-Columbine world, every kid at some point, in the darkest part of their id, fantasizes about their school blowing up, or a despised teacher getting run over by a car, or Cthulhu rising in the middle of a football game and devouring the varsity team. It's a natural way of dealing with the frustrations of adolescence, and as long as it remains fantasy, as it does for 99.9999% of kids, it's no problem. Zombies and schools should fit together as naturally as an Oreo.

The first manga to take this idea and run with it was Highschool of the Dead by Daisuke and Shouji Sato (no relation). The series established what has become the standard set up for a school-based zombipocalypse. Our Hero Komuro is moping about on the school roof because Rei, the girl he has a crush on, is dating his best friend Hisashi. Suddenly his attention is drawn to a commotion by the front gate -- a gym teacher confronting a bedraggled man who's trying to get onto the school grounds. The man gets his head through the gate and tears out the gym teacher's throat. Other teachers rush over to help, only to get bitten when the gym coach comes back to life.

Komuro rushes back to class and grabs Rei, telling her she has to come with him right the fuck now, and yeah Hisashi can tag along. This doesn't sit well with the teacher, but the shits Komuro gives are not two.

Once the zombies get into the school, the situation deteriorates rapidly. If the students stay in their rooms, they become a smorgasbord; if they go into the halls, they get caught in a stampede. Best friends turn on each other as they realize the truth of the old adage -- you don't have to be faster than the lion, just faster than the slowest person running from the lion.

Komuro, Rei and Hisashi make it to the roof and try to hide out atop the water tank, but, alas, Hisashi is btten and Komuro has to murder his best friend, ensuring that any romance that develops between him and Rei will be filled with glorious teen angst. Komuro and Rei venture back into the school where they hook up with a couple other survivors, Saeka Busajima, the kendo club captain; super nerd Kouta Hirano, who is handily knowledgeable about guns and power tools; rich girl Saya Takagi; and school nurse Shizuka Marikawa, who happens to own a car.

At this point, only one volume into the story, the series abandons its title in favor the characters fleeing the school to search for their parents.

On the face of it, this is a perfect set-up for a zombie story, and in many ways it lives up to the premise. You've got action. You've got drama. You've got romance.

But, there are issues.

First, the artist, Shouji Sato got his start with X-rated comics, and it comes through here. All the female characters (save the little girl Alice who turns up later) are ridiculously well endowed -- seriously, there's a stat page in the omnibus edition that includes bra sizes, and the smallest size is DD -- and Shouji chooses his POVs to emphasize their bodies. This goes beyond the male gaze and into creeper territory as a number of shots provide up-skirt views of the women. And that's not even getting into the chapter where the characters find temporary refuge in an apartment and the girls bathe together.

The anime adaptation takes this to parodic extremes with a bullet-time sequence more ridiculous than anything in The Matrix.

If you can somehow tune-out the objectification of Shouji's art, though, the actual story still works and is less sexist than The Walking Dead.

At least, as much of the story as exists. Which is the other big problem with the manga -- it's been on hiatus since 2011, coming back for just one chapter in 2013. The story itself looks to be on track for the climax in just one or two more volumes, but there's no sign of that happening any time soon. Or ever.

No one's sure of exactly what the cause is, though the fan speculation is that the author, Daisuke, called a halt so he could work on other things (he's also a novelist), and Shouji got fed up with waiting around. We do know that Shouji started his own series, Triage X, during an earlier hiatus, so it's quite possible that he doesn't feel like putting in extra work on somebody else's story.

But that's okay, because in the meantime a ton of HotD knockoffs have sprung up, so there are plenty of other options for people looking for zombie manga.

The most direct imitation is Magical Girl Apocalypse by Kentaro Sato (no relation to either Daisuke or Shouji -- Sato's just that common of a name). As the name indicates, this isn't strictly a zombie story, but the plot of the first volume is a near one-to-one copy of HotD, the only difference being that the monsters are "magical girls." But don't let that term fool you. These aren't Sailor Scouts reliant on the power of friendship. These are eldritch horrors that happen to take the form of dark, twisted magical girls.

They use their wands to make people explode in bloody balls of giblets, and then resurrect their victims as new magical girls. (So it's still,kinda, a zombie story.)

As with HotD, the hero and his companions escape the school by the end of the first volume. Unlike HotD the hero's companions don't acquire plot-related immunity, and the death count continues to tick upwards until the reader is left wondering whether there's any point to getting attached to the characters since they're guaranteed to die within a couple chapters.

Thankfully the series arrests this tendency quickly, and, after briefly ripping of HotD's third arc (the inevitable, "we're trapped in a shopping mall" storyline), the author starts coming up with original ideas, spinning out a complex story involving time travel, double crosses, and the Kwisatz Haderach of witches.

The down side, however, is that MGA is basted in misogyny. With HotD the sexism was mainly confined to the artwork, with the actual story letting the girls be kickass heroines. If someone were to redraw the series with less objectifying art, HotD would be less sexist than the average summer blockbuster.

But in MGA, not only do we have sexist artwork, but one of the main characters is a police officer whom other cast members refer to as "the rapey cop." When he first appears, he's trying to use his authority to sexually assault survivors of the magical girl invasion. That'd be bad enough if he were presented as a bad guy, but instead he's one of the protagonists. At first he's presented as pure comic relief (yes, even his rapey tendencies), but he quickly becomes the most badass member of the main gang. And any time he does something heroic, it's because he hope if he rescues a woman from danger, she'll let him feel her "fun bags". And if his heroics fail and a woman dies, his only regret is that now he'll never get a chance to feel her "fun bags." Hell, even when the guy loses his arms, his only worry is that now he's never going to be able to touch a woman's breasts.

And this is supposed to be funny.

Much like MGA, the opening chapter of Hour of the Zombie is a straight lift from HotD, down to individual scenes being copied. But even more quickly that MGA, HotZ strikes out in its own direction, introducing a new twist that completely alters the direction of the story in a fascinating way. In this world, zombism isn't a permanent state. Rather, those who are infected turn into ravening zombies for about an hour, then revert to normal.

Naturally this alters the dynamics of the zombipocalypse at the most fundamental level. Normally the uninfected get to run around blasting anything that looks like a zombie, no remorse necessary. Sure, they'll shed a tear when a familiar face turns up growling, "Braaaaiiiins!" but then -- pop! pop! -- two to the head. But when the zombie will go back to being a regular person in short order, you can't do that unless you're a complete sociopath.

Of course being set at a high school, there are a couple sociopaths who are ready to slaughter the zombies no matter what, and even some who want to do it when the zombies return to their human state, since they're more vulnerable that way.

But on the flip-side, the infected aren't going to stand there and take it. Because they have no memory of being zombies, they see a situation where their classmates have gone crazy and seem ready to reenact the Rwandan Genocide. They respond by barricading themselves in one of the school buildings and planning a defense.

Only one volume of HotZ has been published in the US so far, and there are no scanlations, so there's no way of peeking ahead, so it's hard to tell exactly where the story is going at this point. Unfortunately, despite the innovative conceit at the center of the story, the execution so far has been plodding and by the numbers, so unless the story picks up in the second volume, the series won't be worth following.

 Out of all the high school zombie stories, School Live! is far and away the best and most audacious. The story begins with one of those twists that are supposed to be a sucker punch to the audience even though it's impossible to market or discuss the series without describing the twist, thus ensuring that nobody will ever experience the twist as a surprise. In this case, simply mentioning this as a zombie story is a spoiler.

The first chapter is ostensibly about Megurigaoka High School's "School Living Club," a group devoted to developing sustainable living techniques. As such the three members, Yuki, Kurumi and Rii, live on campus at all times, camping out in the club room and spending their afternoons tending a garden on the roof, from which they derive most of their food. Realistically this is a ridiculous club that no school would ever allow, but anime and manga are full of clubs even more ridiculous. The most prominent recent example is the anime series Girls und Panzers, in which high school girls fix up WWII era tanks and engage in mock battles. By comparison, the School Living Club barely strains credibility.

And that's where the twist comes in. In the first chapter, the narrator, Yuki goes around the school acting like the main character in any moe comedy, engaging in wacky antics, having silly conversations with her friends, and just plain exuding happiness on a level that would make Snow White barf. But there's something subtely off throughout the opening chapter, which is only revealed as the supposed twist at the end -- you see, School Live! is actually set in a world where the SLC would be ridiculous and no school administrator would allow it to operate.

But it exists because there are no school administrators. Or students. Or teachers. Or even a world outside. The zombipocalypse has already struck. The three members of the SLC are the only survivors on campus. Traumatized by the site of all her classmates turning into vicious zombies, Yuki has retreated into a world of self-delusion, imagining that the zombies that roam the lower halls are still her classmates, the classrooms are all still neatly ordered, and there are still adults running things. Not knowing how else to handle Yuki, her two surviving classmates, Kurumi and Rii have decided to humor her by creating the School Living Club.

The series is thus just as schizophrenic as its heroine, with the gritty reality that Kurumi and Rii have to deal with daily being juxtaposed with the insipid comedy of Yuki's happy fantasies, creating a melange that is even more unsettling than if the story were a straight up story about survivors holed up somewhere.


 Hard as it is to believe, not every Japanese zombie story is set at a high school, and some don't even feature teenage girls. Case in point -- Fort of Apocalypse, about what happens to the inmates of a juvenile detention center when the zombipocalypse breaks out.

As fans of The Walking Dead know, prisons make excellent strongholds until human conflicts come into play. They're among the few fortified structures in modern civilization, with strong walls and open land all around. They even come with a limited number of firearms, an important consideration in less gun-crazed cultures like Japan.

But while The Walking Dead involves a prison appropriated by survivors, Fort of Apocalypse is about the prisoners. When the zombipocalypse breaks out, the walls don't prevent the infection from getting inside, but the guards are able to stop the initial outbreak and seal the gates against further incursions. Too bad for them they lost so many men in the defense that they're now at the mercy of the prisoners. After a short and bloody coup, a new regime takes hold of the prison, and the story looks like it's going to settle into a classic zombie-seige situation. There's even a handy counter at the end of each chapter to keep track of how many people are still alive on the inside.

If only the series had stuck to that.

But instead the main group of protagonists fall afoul of the new boss-man and he decides to send them on risky recon missions. Meanwhile some shady military force shows up at the prison, things go south, and by the midpoint of the series, the focus is no longer focused on the tension amongst the survivors, but on fighting the zombies. Things take a turn for the weird in the later part of the series when the author decides to introduce mutant zombies with intelligence and special powers (read: a lot of gobbledygook) that turns the story into a morass of action scenes.

It's too bad, the first five volumes are quite good, but as a series as a whole, it ends up going nowhere.


For all their quirks, the series I've discussed so far have followed the traditional formula for zombie stories laid out by George Romero in the original Night of the Living Dead. The next one, though, is that rarest of commodities -- a zombie story with original ideas.

Do you remember when Twilight first came out and there were bunches of horror fans upset that vampires were being used in romance novels? One common refrain at the time was, "What's next, sexy zombies?"

Well, now that you mention it ...

Chihiro Furuya is the son of a Buddhist priest, which means he gets to live in a totally bitchin' old temple full of fascinating relics. One day he's cleaning out the attic when he stumbles across a dusty grimoire which seems to contain notes on how to resurrect the dead. Chihiro happens to be a huge fan of zombie movies, and his room is stuffed with collectibles of all sorts, so naturally he grabs the book and gives it pride of place in his collection. He has no intention of ever using it, until one day his beloved cat Bub is run over by a car.

The recipe for creating a zombie seems pretty straightforward, but there's one bit where the writing is a smudged, and he can't quite make out one of the ingredients. He knows it's some kind of blossom, but he doesn't know what. So he packs Bub on ice and totes him over to an abandoned bowling alley where he sets up a lab.He figures he'll have the place to himself, but as he works into the night he hears a noise outside and goes to investigate.

What he finds is Rea Sanka (Sanka Rea in Japanese name-order), the daughter of a wealthy industrialist who lives in town. Rea's dad is an abusive asshat who's raising her as a pawn he can eventually marry off to seal a strategic alliance. (This is something that happens a lot in Japanese popular fiction, though I've never figured out whether it's an outdated cliche or something that still happens in the upper echelons of Japanese industry.) The only chance Rea ever has to be herself is to sneak away from her family's estate late at night and hang out at this derelict bowling alley. When Chihiro approaches her, she's surprised to find somebody else there, but she's fascinated by his experiment and offers to be his Igor.

Chihiro doesn't get any results that first night, so he comes back the next, and then the night after that. After a week, poor Bub's body is starting to decay despite being covered in ice, and Chihiro has to face facts -- if he can't figure out the last ingredient by the next night, he'll have to give up. Rea's horrified at this -- Chihiro's the first real friend she's ever had, and if he gives up on Bub, he'll have no reason to hang out with her any more.

On the final night Chihiro tries one last concoction with hydrangea blossoms as the missing ingredient. But before he can try it, Rea's dad shows up. He's grown suspicious of the way Rea's behaving and followed her out. He flies into a rage at seeing her with a boy and chases her out behind the bowling alley, where she tumbles into a gully and breaks her neck. Mr. Sanka is horrified at what he's done and gets the hell out of there. But Chihiro climbs down to the body and gives her the latest concoction,

And it works.

Rea returns to life, seemingly the same as before except for some problems with her digestive tract. But as time goes on, Chihiro realizes that the zombie elixir is less than perfect. It reanimated Rea, but it didn't stop her body's decay. He has to keep her out of sunshine, as that'll exacerbate the problem, but even so she still starts to deteriorate. The worst part is that it affects her mind as well, causing her to take on more and more zombie-like traits, including a desire to eat the people she loves.

The story goes through several distinct arcs. Early on it resembles nothing so much as E.T., with Chihiro trying to hide the fact that he has a girl living in his bedroom. Later a zombie researcher arrives and Chihiro learns the truth about the grimoire and how it relates to his own family, then things take a turn for the action-oriented as he and Rea are whisked away to a zombie research station where he hopes to find a way to arrest the decay ... but of course zombie research stations are always bad news, and the people running them even worse.

The series constantly walks a fence between romantic comedy and zombie horror. The tension between these two extremes can be jarring at times (particularly the aforementioned zombie researcher, who oscillates between comic relief and ominous presence), but overall it works. As the series progresses it tends more towards the horror side, making the moments of romantic comedy heart-wrenching as they become fewer and father between. The ending, without getting into spoiler territory, tries too hard to be all things to all readers, but the ride to get there makes the series worth it.


You know how the joke in the first twenty minutes of Shaun of the Dead is that the zombipocalypse has broken out but Shaun is too thick to notice? Kengo Hanazawa's I Am a Hero takes that premise and plays it totally straight.

The titular hero is Hideo Suzuki, a struggling manga artist who's forced to work as an assistant for another artist. Working late into the night and sleeping through the morning, Hideo's main source of news is Boob Morning Japan, a show that airs at 3:00 AM and focuses as much on the anchor's chests as the stories they cover. So when reports pop up about strange incidents throughout Japan, Hideo barely notices. Even when he witnesses one of these incidents himself -- a woman gets hit by a taxi and walks away like it was nothing even though her neck's bent 90 degrees -- he doesn't think much of it.

Because, you see, Hideo has a tendency to hallucinate. A woman walking around after getting run over is no stranger than the little boy who appears in his toilet bowl.

But other people are only slightly more with-it than Hideo. In part this is thanks to the slowness with which the zombie plague spreads. Whereas movies often assume it would only take a single night for things to get so bad that law-and-order break down, or at most a couple days, the epidemic here simmers for a full week before reaching critical mass. The media tries to play things down to avoid panic. People go about their lives, not realizing the world is ending until it's too late.

What makes this possible is that nobody in I Am a Hero seems to have ever seen a zombie movie. This is implausible unless we presume this takes place in an alternate timeline where George Romero never made Night of the Living Dead, but it does avoid the problem that a lot of modern zombie movies have. When a character in a horror movie encounters a vampire or a werewolf, they know what to do because they're familiar with the "folklore" surrounding such creatures. Even when the folklore was invented by Bram Stoker or F.W. Murnau, the audience can still pretend that it's actually ancient knowledge that's been passed down throughout human history.

But folkloric zombies are nothing like the ones that populate the typical zombie movie. No, movie zombies are derived almost entirely from NotLD with a few tweaks from Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead (the originator of both fast zombies, and brain-eating zombies). Worse still, zombie movies almost always treat zombies as a de novo problem -- you never see a movie where zombies have always been around, or where there have been past zombie outbreaks that have been suppressed throughout history, so there's not even a possibility of fictional folklore for the characters to draw upon. So if they know how to handle zombies, it's because they've seen zombie movies. But how does that make any sense? That's like somebody inventing a time machine that just happens to be powered by a flux capacitor that needs 1.21 gigawatts of juice, and only works when the vehicle it's in is traveling at 88 miles per hour.

This is of course why Danny Boyle made a point of not using the z-word in 28 Days Later and making the infected behave in ways that are kinda like zombies but not quite. But most zombie movies just handwave the problem away, or ignore it outright. O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead, which treats Night as a documentary about a chemical weapons accident, is the only zombie film that I've ever seen to address the issue head on.

So Hanazawa's tactic of creating a world where nobody knows what a zombie is, is a refreshing change. If zombies are going to be presented as a new phenomenon, then everyone should treat them as a new phenomenon. And so we get scenes like the one where Hideo kills his zombified girlfriend and tries to call the police, and when he gets a recording he writes a note confessing to what he did and explaining why he had to do it. Seeing people having to figure out how to deal with zombies is a lot more interesting than everyone grabbing a gun in the first five minutes and shooting everyone who grrrs.