X-Men First Class: Finally


So I played hookie today to see the latest reboot of the X Men at the opening screening. I must admit that I was a little worried after the train wreck that was the last film in the franchise and the move to push it off it’s traditional memorial day weekend slot; but, I love James Mcavoy. Despite his decision to participate in Wanted, I trust that he has the keen sense of science fiction and fantasy folklore necessary for the complexities of Professor Xavier. I was also curious to see the interim years between the concentration camp and the battle weary Magneto of old.

Eschewing special effects driven drivel that has defined the genre of late, First Class returns us to the basics of storytelling and relationship. We are introduced to a bevy of mutant characters without the feel of the high school lunchroom that usually happens in films that have to introduce a lot quickly. (Except in the scene where they choose new code names, which was a bit of a show and tell.) And all though the film gives us the prerequisite young people behaving stupidly scenes, it leaves most of the heavy lifting to its seasoned lead actors: Kevin Bacon, James McAvoy, and Michael Fassbender. In fact, the two most compelling things about this film are the relationship between McAvoy and Fassbender and Fassbender’s compelling portrayal of a concentration camp turned long term abuse survivor working through the horror of his traumas with his abuser-father figure. Magneto’s violence is always tempered by Fassbender’s inflection of pain and pathos and McAvoy’s striking ability to display profound depths of compassion without a single word. The connection between these two actors and these two characters is better than the vapid connections the studio thinks will bring in audience, i.e. pre-professor X drunken college days, his awkward “ack put that blueness away” relationship with Raven/Mystique, and especially his ridiculous connection with Rose Byrne’s character which was so throwaway I don’t even remember her name.

The only relationship in the film as compelling, exempting for a moment the conflictual relationship between Magneto and Shaw that the film does not spend enough time on for obvious reasons, was the short encounter between Magneto and Mystique. Again and again, Magneto offers her unconditional positive regard and the holding space to have faith in who she is on the inside and the outside. His kindness with her starts from the moment he sees her. And it is their relationship that gets at one of the central questions of the film: do you embrace who you are or hide in shame? Interestingly, young Professor Xavier seems to share in some of the shame that these young mutants carry. When asked by Mystique if he could love her in her real form, he seems as though he has eaten something slightly off, though he tries to be positive. When he sees her naked later, the top-level reading of him as prudish gives way to a deeper level reading that might explain why she ultimately chooses Magneto.

The way the film frames questions of identity lends itself to dual layer readings constantly pitting the X Men against Mutants who simply want to live their lives and recognize from the battlegrounds of history that there may only be one way to do that. In the intial Singer films, which I loved, they steered clear of any implication that Xavier might be engaging in compensation but this film dares to look at the interpersonal pain of each character and ask very hard questions in what is ultimately an extremely positive way. When Magneto asks Xavier about arrogance it is powerful enough to make you reflect on the meaning of hero complex and why so much self-acceptance on the side of the X Men is peppered with shame and attempts to hide, change, or fit in.

What divides Xavier and Magneto will always be the willingness to do harm and the driving force of fear versus hope in their lives. Again, rather than take these differences lightly, the First Class follows in the footsteps of Singer by exploring what these two world views ultimately mean in a world that is operating outside of the existential crisis the mutants are having with themselves and each other. Xavier’s consistent message of mindfulness in the face of trauma, exclusion, and violence, shows us the better part of both men. While Magneto’s willingness to ask hard questions about genocide and arrogance hit home for both his warped mirror image in Kevin Bacon’s character and his possible best Self reflected back at him through Xavier.

The film is not without slippages however. Despite a bevy of female characters,acting in main, supporting, and background roles, none of them manages to make it through this movie without walking around in their underwear at least once. Several of them play sex workers in seedy clubs that are often scenes that combine fantasies of male sexual power and actual state power (ie the power to destroy or save the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.) and physical violence trotting out the trite connedtion between arousal and violence that Singer helped put to bed in the first two films. In one of the more benignly demeaning scenes, Magneto and Xavier sip wine on a bed while Angel spreads her wings and the three of them exchange sexual innuendo. Meant to make male audiences laugh and certainly the least of the many scenes in which powerful women take off their clothes to prove they are capable or get their jobs done in this movie, the underlining absence of female subjecthood throughout the bulk of this movie is disconcerting.

On some levels, Raven’s character counters the stereotype. She explores her insecurities with great depth despite Xavier’s dismissing them as “concern about her body” and she tries her best to reflect back a sense of pride in oneself to Beast even as he tears them both done. Though much of her angst falls into the same tired, offensive, trap of a girl pining for a man who will never really see her and acting out sexually when she doesn’t get what she wants, when she walks into the light naked in this movie, she does it not as titillation but as a fully realized Self whose body is all her own.

It is a much more powerful message than the psuedo-feminism of Frost who sits in her underwear rolling her eyes about men while she projects an image of herself into the mind of a Russian diplomat to get him to do what she wants. If Frost can project her image into the head of a diplomat, why does her image need to get naked to get the job done? And if Frost is powerful enough to block Xavier and sense when he has grown stronger, then why is she so often using sex as her prefered weapon? And if itmis because of Shaw’s warped connections to sex and violence, why not make that more explicit, since itmismhinted at more than once.

Lastly, ask yourself this question at the intersections of race and class, why are all the women blonde and blue-eyed in this film except for Angel, the only mutant woman of color? While Rose Byrne has brown hair, she isn’t a mutant, AND she is a CIA agent who puts up with endless sexist remarks about her competence because she is a “girl”. In other words, she plays the Diana Prince to the amazonian Wonder Women around her. In the same way “pretty” is explicitly linked to white and blonde, Rose’s hair color is meant to mark out the stereotype of “smart woman” even as she too is relegated to running around in her underwear under the in your face gaze of several men. I suppose some will justify this trite tropes by pointing out Byrne gets the man in the end, unlike the blondes. But she doesn’t actually get him, he wipes her memory without her consent and she seems happy about it because she remembers vaguely he kissed her first … More successfully empowering than hollywood pseudo-feminism is Byrne’s character’s intelligence, integrity, and success despite the sexism in her workplace. She is instrumental in stopping Magneto’s planned massacre as well as in getting the mutants on board to stop a nuclear war. It’s just too bad these feats culminate in her empty headed kiss memory.

The people of color in this film are central enough in the background. Two of the first mutants they pick to join the still forming X Men are played by black actors and meant to be Latinos. (I am going to just leave you to ponder that casting on your own for now … You should note, there is a Latino actor with an important role on Shaw’s team but he has no lines, and sits in the background until it is time for him to use his power) In the show and tell turned frat party the young members have post-recruitment, both characters get to show their stuff just as much as any of the others. And when push comes to shove Darwin is the only one who acts, dragging Havoc reluctantly into it, to stop Shaw and his crew after they massacre an entire base. For his efforts, Darwin is the first and only mutant to die. Angel on the other hand, is the first and only mutant on Xavier’s team to join Shaw. So both black actors are eliminated from team X Men before they even start training. All of the people of color in the film are also absent from most of the promotional material and when they are pictured, it is usually only Angel (played by Lenny Kravatiz’s daughter) and she is in the back. ( see image at beginning of this post for an example.)

I have to say that despite these glaring slippages and the pointless partying scenes in the beginning of the movie, I found X Men First Class a compelling film with several important reflective questions about identity, power, and humanity. In embracing the complexities of the main male characters it gave us a chance to look at both the Self and the Shadow of each man and wonder what we would do in their place. It’s messages of self-esteem and self-respect, healing, and forgiveness are all things we could spend more time cultivating in this world. It also gives us several distinct reflections of masculinity that run counter to man=big gun and damsel in pseudo-feminist distress storyline that dominates summer blockbusters; and as I have implied some of that masculinity has queer window dressing all over it. And it manages all of this in a slick summer package full of special effects and nods to movies’ past.

Go see it and tell me what you think.

(PS. the director has said that the sequel will need a new opponent for Magneto because Xavier is in a wheelchair, so look for me to revisit ablism next year when that film comes out.)

all images are the property of 20th Century Fox (2011) “X Men: First Class”

Oscar? What Oscar? Where?

In a year in which the nominees for the biggest awards are sans people of color and the hosts are 12, and at least in Franco’s case lack any class whatsoever, I find comfort in this:

There is so much love in their eyes it makes me believe the Oscars are about more than patting each other on the back in expensive outfits the cost of which could help some people pay their health insurance bills, eat real meals, and survive another day.

Oh well, at least Robert Downey Jr. did not take this opportunity to talk about having sex with all the female nominees (including the underage one from True Grit) during their award announcement like the last award show. BUT WAIT instead we had an aging Douglas flirting with the women hosting and up for Best Supporting Actress. It was nice to see him up and talking, and even better that the Academy Awards allowed an elder man with a speech impediment give an award; something other “shiny, pretty people” shows should do more often. However, sexism is sexism is sexism. Somebody please tell men chosen to present awards that neither the SAG nor the Academy Awards (or the Emmys for that matter) discriminate on the basis of cisgender alone and these awards are neither named “pretty girl award” or often given to people without real talent who have worked just as hard as the men who are not objectified win they win their’s.

Oh well, maybe they will leave Mr. Blackface Downey Jr. out of the memorial montage, like they did to poor Corey Haim. That’s two prestigious award shows in which his passing was not mentioned. Once is an oversight. Twice? Especially after Feldman’s public berating of the SAG organizers? That’s just a shame. He may have been troubled but a lot of people made a lot of money off of him in his hey day and more importantly, he turned critically acclaimed performances in films like Lucas. He deserved better in death even if they could not give it to him in life.

(and to think Hattie McDaniel actually risked her job to try and make this role less offensive than written;

can you imagine what the script says)

So yeah, I could analyze the mtv-ization of the awards in ways that were not funny nor entertaining, or slag off the wardrobe choices, or even celebrate the wonder of first time winners. But instead I am just going to say perhaps they need to hire a real comedian, learn to leave the sexism behind, and actually honor all of the stars that the Hollywood machine once praised and then spit out when they didn’t taste as sweet. You can do that can’t you? Afterall, I had to sit through a montage of Gone With the Wind from the people who used to give out a DW Griffith award, I think you can at least get some things right.

(yes I did file this under bitter much; I know my shadow)

Cheryl Dunye New Film on Lesbian Elders

Allgo is co-sponsoring a showing of Cheryl Dunye’s new film OWLS: Older Wiser Lesbians on September 11, 2010. Director Cheryl Dunye will also be on hand to discuss her motivation in making the film and her career as an out black lesbian director in the independent film scene.

At first glance, OWLS is a murder mystery in which two lesbian elders accidentally kill a much younger genderqueer lesbian and then try to cover it up. The real story however is about intergenerational conflict and competing visions of lesbian culture.

In keeping with her longstanding thread of connecting history and cinema, Dunye examines the lesbian utopian movements of the past that rejected the image of lesbians as doomed, failed women, and tragic spinsters and instead dared to dream “somewhere there is a place for us.” She asks us to think about what it meant to have lesbian only spaces and collectives in a time when same sex attracted women were incarcerated in prisons or mental health facilities or otherwise physically, sexually, economically or emotionally punished for daring to love and how those spaces shaped the optimism of lesbian movements in the 80s only to become a battleground between the women who sustained those movements and brought them into the modern era and younger women who grew up in a world in which nationally syndicated papers refer to “lesbian chic”, out lesbians host talk shows and news shows, and questions about who counts as a woman requires a radical rethink of the biological determinism that once defined not only lesbian utopia but feminism itself. The film questions why the lessons learned and the activism done by these women is undervalued by both straight people and younger lesbians. It questions why places and spaces are shrinking or seemingly shrinking for lesbians of a certain age even while younger women thrive on the privileges gained. And while it no doubt maintains the comic timing and humorous endings that typify Dunye’s work, it should and aught to open conversations about intergenerational community and activism that embraces both critical changes in perspective by younger lesbians and the knowledge and strength of those who came before amongst lesbians and within the larger social justice community.

Please note, I have not yet seen this film in its entirety and cannot vouch for how it handles gender or younger lesbian characters. If you have seen the film, please weigh in in the comment section.

If you would like to see the screening:

When: Saturday, September 11, 2010, at 11:30 am
General Admission $10, Students & Seniors $5
Where: Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival at the Alamo Drafthouse South (1120 S. Lamar Blvd Austin TX)

New Documentary on “Hidden” Dis/Ability

htp What Sort of People

There is a new documentary out by and about people with traumatic brain injuries called Brain Injury Dialogues. From what I have seen, it seems like a good teaching tool for expanding the discourse surrounding ability. The documentary tells the story of several people with TBIs as well as the types of support available and coping skill development they need, while also highlighting how certain aspects of their lives/thinking are impaired in ways that other people excuse, minimize, or otherwise fail to recognize. It also points out how the divides between hidden and visible may be keeping people with TBIs from receiving needed services and developing needed skills and support networks to thrive. It also discusses the import of disability rights activism for shifting the way differently-abled people see and advocate for themselves and how people with TBIs fight into this activism community.

For me, the documentary represents an important entry point for talking about what it means to move from able-bodied to differently-abled and to understanding the nuances of hidden disabilites which are assumed to be easier to cope with because of an ability to access able-bodied privilege but in fact are hard in a different way because the lack of recognition or the willingness to ascribe personality or social problems rather than physical and mental issues to people with hidden disabilities impedes them in similarly disabling ways. It also sheds light on a growing population in the differently-abled community that remains largely underserved by both mental health services and disability services, especially on college campuses in the U.S.

The Documentary is on sale now for $25 and can be bought here.

Related Images

God Willing … A Spike Lee Joint

This week marks both the 5th year anniversary of Katrina and Spike Lee’s return to New Orleans and the people whose stories he helped bring to light in the aftermath of the Republican made disaster.

shadowandact.com

I have watched the 4 hour documentary twice now and am still processing the radical difference in tone Lee’s documentary takes from all the much more celebratory documentaries/news specials produced by mainstream media. (I am also still processing some of the personal stories and the flashbacks Lee’s documentary induced, so we are going to focus on other things in this post.) While some have dismissed Lee’s work as polemic, the results of recent studies on New Orleans cannot be ignored. According to one such research project, white people have returned to New Orleans in greater numbers than black people, mixed race and white neighborhoods have been largely rebuilt or sustained less damage so they were easier to bring back, and white transplants to the area are enjoying a middle class lifestyle that has actually made costs of housing, food, and other essentials inflate beyond the means of original residents. Black residents or former residents in the study have less housing options, less economic security, higher rates of suicide, drug addiction, violence, homelessness, and incarceration. Many cannot and have not returned due to widescale gentrification and intentional rezoning and rebuilding policies that have neglected rebuild in the 9th ward, closed down public housing, and failed to re-open schools in traditionally black, poor, areas of NOLA. There’s is not a story of recovery, it is one of intentional abandonment and current displacement. Add to that the BP spill, which Lee’s film shows is hitting working class and subsistence level creole and immigrant fishermen the hardest and the story of recovery begins to look a lot like a gigantic lie.

In fact, as I watching Spike Lee’s film, I found myself thinking about the tsunami. I was teaching an activism course at the time as well as participating in several Ford funded faculty reading groups. I remember that the campus lit up with concern for tsunami victims and that my class organized a donation drive as part of their final project. All of our book groups were redirected toward discussions of how to help and organizations to support. And all of this was done in the spirit of altruism and deep concern for fellow human beings, not some paternalistic charity model. But when the giving was done, the posters, updates, and discussions came to an end. When the world stopped looking, the government swooped in and used a little known or used statuette to reclaim beach front property and build high end resorts, restaurants, and other tourist oriented businesses to capitalize on the new found interest in the region. Like former first Lady Bush’s comment that the hurricane would help Nola finally get rid of its problems and her son’s belief that this was an ideal opportunity for big businness, the post-tsunami government felt the same way, displacing thousands of working class and subsistence survivors permanently in the name of “progress” “recovery” and “rebuild”. And also like Nola, the story is not solely about victims and re-victimization, many people received some aid or even enough to start to rebuild their lives, but the story only Lee seems willing to tell is about how many did not.

hbo.com

As someone who has kept a close eye on Katrina and its aftermath, someone who like many black Americans took to heart how easily the national and state government could turn on black people with guns, militarization, and life-ending indifference, nothing in Spike Lee’s film is new. There have been multiple rallies over the loss of low income and public housing in New Orleans reported here on the blog. The mental health crisis hit home for me as someone with family members who served both displaced Nola residents and then people still in the city during and after the initial crisis and I wrote about the clinics that were trying to make up the slack for the closing of the only mental health crisis center in poor black neighborhoods as well as what that closure meant over 1.5 years ago here on the blog. And while Lee’s film only touches briefly on women’s issues in favor of focusing on the violence being experienced by young black men in the city, I also wrote about the particular impact Nola had had on women and children and the work that New Orleans’ based feminists were doing to create women’s centers, health clinics (which granted could not find a trans positive physician but were not guilty of “killing trans women” as some claimed on the internet), domestic and sexual violence support groups and safe spaces, and feminist libraries here on the blog. So having spent so much time writing about what is going on in New Orleans, Spike Lee’s film seems fairly mild to me given what he could have included. He did not indict the Red Cross, who as I wrote here, sat on housing funds for displaced people until the cycle for that funding almost ran out. Nor did he talk about the 100,000s of pounds of aid that was never distributed, looted, or shipped elsewhere by FEMA when doing his comparisons to Haiti in the film, whose people, as I wrote here and everyone else wrote about in the news, suffered and died waiting for dispersal of aid. He did not mention the number of women who have been raped, beaten, or abused by their partners, strangers, or the police during and after Katrina as part of a predictable trend in crisis and crisis aftermath around the world; but of course, in this case, I think that was because Spike seldom mentions women’s issues in his films. Nor did his discussion of medical needs in the community extend to the discussion of what happened to both the HIV population and trans people whose access to meds was limited during Katrina until queer and inclusive clinics stepped in and whose access now remains under-reported or addressed.

So why such animosity or ambivalence about Lee’s version of events vs the happy-go-lucky promos flooding my tv every night for 5 years later specials? Why is it that when interviewers bring up the issues that remain, intelligent reporters like Brian Williams respond by talking about all the good going on in New Orleans? Is it because we need a feel good story after so much devastation? Or is it because, once again, we as a culture want to minimize longstanding racism, classism, sexism, homophobia and transmisogyny and how it played out in the aftermath of Katrina, not just the event itself? And more to the point, we want to be able to blame the victims who are still suffering so that we don’t have to ask why they are suffering, who benefits from their suffering, and why prosperity seems to be mapped on racial as well as class lines?

Ultimately, I think it is both impulses. I think we do want to see a New Orleans that has returned to the magic and splendor of its hey day. We want to honor survivors of Katrina who say they want to talk about growth and recovery not pain and abandonment, they want their city to be remembered for the good times not the lows. But we are also invested in a narrative in which black people are always guilty and poor people have invited their own suffering and where the people and systems that abuse them go unnoticed or with a simple slap on the wrist. More so than ever, this nation has divided in ways that highlight racial hatred and victim blaming and shifted the language of oppression to crown the oppressors as the most oppressed. Spike Lee’s film refuses that narrative with a force that makes it hard to ignore and so we are left with the only dismal most people can imagine “polemic” because after all, it is Spike Lee. But I would encourage you to watch this film carefully. Pay attention to the cited studies and actions and then look them up yourself (using more than wikipedia and blog posts). I think you’ll find that Spike Lee’s “If God is Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise” is quite tame compared to what is really going on in New Orleans.

The film next airs on HBO this Friday and Sunday and will play throughout the month

—–

Some specific issues I will raise in a follow up post

  1. the smugness of Brownie, which seemed to mirror BP
  2. Lee’s discussion of BP which will forever stand for “Bitch Please” from here on out
  3. LSU’s implication in the closing of the major hospital serving poor and working class people of color and mental health patients in the name of profit
  4. why Brad Pitt seems to be the mainstream media’s take away moment from this film  … grrr …
  5. how this event sent the message that black lives don’t matter & what Lee’s film tells us about the people left to survive after such an intimate lesson

If God is Willing … Katrina Doc

If you missed the first half of Spike Lee’s follow up documentary to the Katrina-Bush disaster in the Gulf, you should not miss tonight’s conclusion. While the first part revisited families and their traumas and rebuild, the second half is meant to address the BP spill and its impact on already struggling communities. I promised to review the film today on twitter, but that was before I found out it had more than 1 part airing on more than 1 night. So for now, take a minute to look at the preview for the film:

As you can see the documentary covers many of the topics decolonized and racial justice feminists have been blogging about since Katrina happened. Organizing continues and the need is still there.

The second half airs tonight at 6pm PST and 9 pm EST

“From Text to Film”

blogging librarian flickr/ http://libraryofdigress.files.wordpress.com

One of the great perks about blogging is that you get to have conversations with a wide range of people about things you may not have thought about or about which you had not thought of in the ways you do as a result of those conversations. I’ve been joking around for a while now that I wanted to teach a class on novels adapted to film. While many people have done this before, and I get a lot of leeway in my department(s) with my cinema courses, novels to film is fairly clearly in the realm of the English Department, the one place at this uni I don’t teach. The other issue has always been that since my courses tend to meet both the gen ed and the specialization cores in several fields, there are certain expectations about the material my courses contain. In thinking about the novel to film genre, it means that I would likely have to expand to Made for Television movies to incorporate enough diversity into the curriculum and then the discussion becomes not only about shifts from one medium to the other but also the freedoms or lack there of granted television vs film. I did not want to get bogged down in discussions solely about the latter to the detriment of the overarching questions about identity. While I knew I could probably pull this course off if I modified the time-frame, ie set it in the historical period I teach, that would mean having to read novels that would ultimately get us bogged down in discussions about period and expectation around identity vs the movement from one form to the other. Ugh, does your head hurt yet? Mine certainly did. So I let it go.

Enter Scott Pilgrim and his bevy of fans + the book meme, in which I mocked the film “Bram Stroker’s Dracula” for not actually following the story and rewriting some key characters. Like an aha moment, I found these two blogging conversations combining to make me question the age old encoding/decoding debate in new ways. In other words, there is a metaconversation taking place about the meaning of movies that is radically changing the discourse of how see and understand film. This post is about those changes; if you want my movie review of Scott Pilgrim look here.

In talking about my experience of the film/reviewing it and  its racial and gender content, I have received multiple comments here and elsewhere that reference the graphic novels as counterpoint. In looking at commentary on the internet, I found the same thing. In other words, people reviewing the movie have largely talked about the movie itself: its content, the acting and directing, and the overall plot, and occasionally, its niche appeal. The people responding to their reviews have pretty much all gone back to the source material to contradict what people say is in the movie. Yet, what most have reacted to in the film: (1) the absence of female perspective, (2) the focus on a largely unlikeable character or characters, and (3) confusing or choppy plot, have all been fairly consistent. Are we to believe that because the original graphic novels make clear that Scott Pilgrim is meant to be unlikeable that the film does a good job of telling its uninformed audience this information when so many did not get it? Or are we meant to excuse the absence of female subjecthood in the film because the graphic novels apparently center them and their thoughts?

brian o’malley/oni press

As I said in my review, should Scott’s supposed growth, reduced to a few minutes in the film that I argue are undermined by the way he once again treats Knives at the end, negate racialized and/or racist depictions of API Americans in the movie? This is an issue that most reviewers and comment makers have yet to address precisely because one of the film’s more stereotypical scenes is taken directly from the pages of the graphic novel without any editing or changes; sadly, the reviewer from the Harold seems to explain it best when he says that as a white surbuban gaming male who fits the intended demographic he was easily able to overlook the bollywood scene until a comment on twitter about race in the film made him think through the movie with race in mind. Like it did for me, the meta-conversation surrounding this movie, ie between novel, film, and multiple internet and social network sites, is creating a radical rethink of meaning on all sides. And for everyone who has gone off the deep end over Dr. Laura’s comments, tell me, what is the difference between Dr. Laura  calling a black woman “oversensitive” because she does not like the racist jokes made by her white husband’s friends in her home and white fans of Scott Pilgrim saying “hater” to anyone who mentions the racial depictions of API Americans in this film?

Race issues aside, there seems to be a struggle going on between those who saw the film on its own and fans who saw the film and read the graphic novels or simply read the graphic novels but have not gone to the film. The latter have been quite vocal about the fact that people criticizing the film “don’t get it” despite the consistency of the reviews. This reaction varies considerably from earlier fans who willingly critiqued films for failing to represent the text upon which they were based. Films with huge fan bases in fact, have almost always had to address fan expectations in order to be successful at the box office. When fans say the film is not accurate enough, movies generally tank at the box office.

(note the Asian mom’s broken English)

Brian O’Malley/Oni Press

Scott Pilgrim is tanking at the box office. Yet fans are defending it and the studio is blaming it on Michael Cera. Apparently, several of Cera’s last few films did not do well, so he is an easy whipping boy. Yet I can think of no one better to play a 20 something year old slacker who quips about life, resents having to defend himself, and looks like the kind of guy you expect to see in the arcade and root for when attacked. I think he was a perfect choice and his comedic timing are spot on as always. Even if we factor in the people who have just had enough of his t-shirted, saggy chords, skinny boy schtick, there is still something more interesting going on here.

The cry from fans of “you don’t get it”, seems like a generational issue to me. In this context, the film becomes irrelevant. What is at stake is youth who identified with Scott Pilgrim as a graphic novel and see it as a depiction of their generational angst in the same way people thought of American Graffitti, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club, or even The Big Chill or Diner.  Their embrace of the graphic novels at a gut level combines with the total rejection of the movie by accredited film reviews who are all over the age of 30 (to riff on that old adage “don’t trust anyone over 30″). These “older” reviewers have combined their general dislike of the movie with comments about largely negative comments about the slacker generation and in some cases outright ageism. This stance makes them easy pickings for youth who already feel screwed over, ignored, or condescended to by the generations before them. The more these youth respond with “you don’t get it”, the more older people bristle. Yet the mode of this conflict is not one in which either side is openly talking about age and stage but rather cinema vs text, with one group pointing emphatically at the failings of the movie and the other willingly filling in the blanks or omitting those failings with the original text in order to maintain their stance.

I find this fascinating.

First, I do think there is a generational issue in the reception of the film. I walked out of the moving clear that there were at least two cultural reasons why this film did not appeal to me and that they overlapped. I also know there were other people in my theater who felt the same way, because they kept looking over at me in confusion. And when I frowned at the racist parts, they were so attuned to my presence that they reacted as well. Nothing like being a zoo exhibit or a fossil at a movie screening …

Second, I’m wondering what it says about the nuances of marketing that they can graft a film so carefully onto an identity as to make those who identify with it ignore the disconnects present. In other words, when other movies have differed from the text people have complained. These films were marketed as stories or true adaptations not as cultural artifacts. This movie seems to be encoded and decoded by its core audience as the latter and therefore omissions and lapses are forgiven or ignored. Even the feminist viewers in this group have been largely silent about the absence of well-rounded female characters in the movie. Those fans who acknowledge it, only bring it up to once again point to the source material as a way of avoiding the critique of the film.

In some ways, it reminds me of the limited critique of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Despite including episodes in which Native Americans were evil genocidal ghosts on Thanksgiving, spreading syphilis and needing to be killed because “they were engaging in genocidal revenge”,  resurrecting “the primitive” in discussing Buffy’s origins, or including rape of beloved characters by other beloved characters, fans of Buffy refuse to address race and gender issues embedded in the show. Those who breach them are summarily dismissed as “not getting it”. And like Scott Pilgrim fans, when footage of these events or director’s script notes are actually shown to an audience as proof, as happened at two conferences I went to in the late 90s, fans simply make up elaborate excuses based on the overall storyline of the show. And of course there is always the a line or two that are included in these scenes to mask the overarching racism that they can glom onto.

So what is that spark needed to so thoroughly fuse audience with product? And why does it work so well at erasing or allowing for the justification of marginalization even for audiences who are quite savvy about how marginalization works? What makes something off limits? And why do these conflicts seem to take on generational significance whether it is between reviewers and fans or fans and older non-fan directors?

I’m going to be mulling this over for the rest of the term because, as I said, I find it fascinating but also because now I really am going to teach that course in a way that places it firmly in my disciplines and gets at some difficult questions about race, gender, sexuality, class and fandom. In Spring, the campus bookstore is going to be full up on graphic novels, required itunes passes for videos of tv shows, and classics on Race, Class, Gender and the Media. I can’t wait!