How is a Car-Chase Action/Sci-Fi Film A Visual Rhetoric Masterpiece? (The FINAL Post)

Film has always been a great love of mine, despite the critical lens I tend to put on it. To lighten my critic’s mood, today I want to discuss something really close to my heart. Science fiction has been my jam since I was a little strawberry, and sci-fi action flicks were the first films I watched that I ever gave multiple viewings. Yet, the more film-intelligent I became, the more I wished my first loves could always be as deep and rhetorically artistic like other films. Because, let’s be honest, Resident Evil and Underworld may be fun, bloody, and badass, but not exactly masterpieces of cinema. And the ones that were artistic and brilliant tended to lack on that badass edge that first brought me to the bright excitement of science fiction.

 

Then came Mad Max: Fury Road.

 

Now, this clearly wasn’t the first rhetorically stimulating sci-fi action. Movies like District 9 and Inception are pretty action packed and still thought-provoking and complex. But Mad Max was a different monster to me. I was enrapt. But why?

 

Because the rhetoric was largely only visual, and the dialogue in the movie was very sparse. Yet it was still very clever and well done, and I felt so mentally stimulated and also into the action because of it. District 9, Inception, and others took several viewings because first viewing would be largely plot and action attention, and then more viewings would contain the rhetoric.

 

However, first time through Mad Max: Fury Road I could feel all the rhetoric teeming on the screen, even if I wasn’t always attune to all of it. It was amazing. I’ve watched the movie at least 3-4 other times, and it’s been just as wonderful each time. It’s like each corner of the screen has something of interest and idea in it.

 

So, beyond my fangirling, why do we care?

 

Well, it seems most sci-fi action seems to fall into two camps: mind-benders or badass junction. The mixing is rare. See, mind-benders have badass moments, but other than their 2-3 badass moments, it’s pretty solely focused on philosophy, theories, and the characters. Badass junction ones have very few character scenes, and even less with philosophical, thought-provoking meaning, but a lot of intense and exciting action and fighting.

 

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the few, beautiful love childs of the two camps. And I absolutely adore every minute of it.

 

Now, as I mentioned previously, Mad Max: Fury Road accomplishes this blend of badass and mind-bending through its extremely intent, masterful, and clever uses of visual rhetoric. But, as everyone may not have studied the topic, let’s give a brief friendly overview. Visual rhetoric is the art of using very specific visuals to elicit very specific thoughts and connection in viewers’ brains. A super easy and common one is the use of ravens to signify death or a bad omen. Funnily enough, Mad Max: Fury Road even uses this really common one when foreshadowing the death of one of the antagonists. Now, though some are simple like the raven, others are more complex and take some time to think about, but still make you make associations in the story without saying a word.

 

And without furthering ado, here are prime examples of Mad Max: Fury Road’s visual rhetoric excellence.

 

One of my favorite examples, and also I believe to be one of the strongest, is the use of mask imagery in the film. If you look for the imagery through the work, its a plethora. The war boys and Furiosa all have black marring their eyes, like a small face mask. Immortan Joe wears a giant face mask, blocking his mouth. The first act of the movie, Max also wears a mask over his mouth until the fight on top of the oil rig. The base effect of the mask symbolism is simple: people hiding their real selves behind imposing masks. Furiosa and the war boys are hiding the more vulnerable human behind their tough personas as underlings for Immortan Joe. The more Furiosa reveals her closeness to the wives and her desire to find her way home, the more her black-eye mask fades away. By the end of the film, her face is clear and she shows true emotion and humanity. Immortan Joe, dissimilarly, uses his mask to increase his intimidation factor and make him look like a fierce, immortal leader. However, once the mask is removed, he is simply an old, crippled man clawing his way over others to obtain his cruel power. And Max, our titular character, has my favorite of the mask transformations. Max wears a mask the first act of the movie, haunted by the people he has tried to protect and save throughout the years and being cut off slowly from humanity and becoming more and more mad. He also is solely focused on surviving, but once he makes the conscious effort to help protect others, in the case of the movie Furiosa and the wives, his mask is ripped off, and the more humane hero in Max is revealed. The point is no matter how mad Max gets, deep down he is a heroic person who will always work to help save others. Therefore, through the multiple uses of the imagery, it not only creates singular character rhetoric, but also an overarching film rhetoric of how people wear masks in  this new world to survive, but underneath are all still humans struggling in a barren, brutal world.

 

And on the note of that brutal world, the movie also tells the entire background of the war boys without saying much at all about it verbally. Throughout the entire first act, through visuals and scenery, we discover how war boys are not only relatively unhealthy (constant need for human blood bags, pale, sickly skin) but also indoctrinated by Immortan Joe from a young age to be his personal henchmen (Their suicidal tendencies for the sake of war, the reverence of Valhalla, their craving for Joe’s approval, the child war boys around the entire complex working as slaves). Barely anything is told directly about them, but you learn copious amounts of information concerning them without having to get an exposition trash pile dumped on you. This is used her with a lot of elements of the movie, conveying a lot of information but not overwhelming a viewer with someone sitting down and telling you all of it. It sets up the movie to have more space for the badass action mentioned earlier while still saying a lot about deeper topics, like with the masks and other symbolic devices.  

 

I could go on and on forever about even more of these imageries and visual rhetorics, particularly with characters like Knux and centered on Max but he barely speaks, but you get the point. Instead, I’ll proceed to my conclusion.

 

Through the employment of these visual rhetoric practices and the non-verbal cues that help explain the exposition, the movie pulls off being a rare gem full of wild, badass action scenes, yet also remaining full of moments that are slower and truly get a viewer to think about the topics discussed. I get to love brutal chases scenes and flaming guitar guys while also thinking profoundly when one of the wives, The Dag, contemplates the future of her child being the son of a monster, and Knux quietly dying just for the red-haired wife, Capable, because of the first true, human bond he has grown. There is bright, flaming violence to the movie, but also a quieter beauty. Its an eclectic film, and in my personal opinion, a masterpiece in its great use of visual rhetoric and balance of all its wonderful elements. Mad Max: Fury Road has helped change the way I look at films, and has raised the bar for good action films. A movie can be a fun watch and also brilliant. Gargantuan explosions can be beautiful, inside and out.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: So guys, as mentioned in the title, this will be my last Offbeat Rhetoric. But not for bad reasons! I have been accepted as a writer for The Critic’s Den, a website for movie critics talking about movies and stuff just like I like. So after this, all thing I write will go to there. I’ll still link through social media and jazz, so don’t worry! I just won’t be posting on my own page.

Thanks to anyone who read and supported me, its been a great journey. Now off to be a critic! Who knows where I’ll end up next?

Sincerely,

Stephanie

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The Walking Dead pt. 3: What is Clickbait TV?

And, at last, the trilogy ends. The trilogy that took forever because I thought trying to do a trilogy of blog posts during my last two months of college was genius. We can all see the obvious planning wrong with that, but alas.

Today, we’re here to finally wrap up The Walking Dead analysis trilogy. And this post is actually my favorite of the three, which makes it more mind-boggling why it took forever. But hey, that’s what you get when you overload as a college senior.

So we’re going to have to stop and talk about a serious, grave issue with our media nowadays. So grave that it tears me up a little inside talking about it: Clickbait.

Most people are heavily bombarded by clickbait in their daily lives, popping up on their newsfeeds and plaguing their interwebs. But for anyone who may be a lucky enough soul to avoid this, clickbait is the wildly over-exaggerated and sensationalizing use of word choice and rhetoric to encourage a reader to click on an article. Unfortunately, though, the topics discussed are never as exciting as the title says, leading to deeply disappointing content. For example, a classic clickbait title would be: “20 Celebrities Who Married Too Young; You WON’T Believe #7!”. See, it is sensationalized by treating the topic as a huge deal and also, whatever #7 is,  is either inciting intrigue in those who have no clue what #7 may be, or inciting indignation in those who think they know everything about celebrities who married too young.

The catch is that our internet media is so saturated with clickbait that it’s become some sort of an internet epidemic.

Now, you may be wondering “Stephanie, this is interesting, but what the hell does this have to do with TV and zombies?” Well, readers, what is fascinating about clickbait, and also vital to leading to where we want to go involving The Walking Dead, is that its use stemmed from an innocuous, clever rhetorical tool and evolved into an over bloated, overused, and tiring trope.

Clickbait actually likely stems from the internet rhetoric of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Writing. SEO Writing is centered around writing articles and/or tags so that a piece online is as effective as possible in attracting as many people as possible, but also the correct audience, while also not just using generic tags/words because that could make the article fall into the hazy, blurry fold of vague internet articles. It’s a balancing act to appeal on the internet in the best way possible for your website/brand, without trying to hard to appeal to too much.

Now, the process of using SEO writing is completely reasonable and intelligent, because you’re just trying to be as effective as possible with your writing. But that mindset of trying to attract attention through internet rhetoric and tools has warped into this whole new thing where the entire point is to get as many clicks as possible, without the effectivity and nuance of SEO writing.

Things have become a little more hectic, though, as this clickbait mindset (more viewers, no nuance) has begun to leak into other facets of media. And this is finally where we meet our good old buddy, The Walking Dead, the strongest example of Clickbait TV that I know.

Someone may ask, how is it Clickbait TV and not just TV that likes to use cliffhangers and such? Well, I’m glad you asked, someone. Here’s why. We can even use early seasons of the show itself versus current ones to explain the difference between reasonable, strong cliffhangers from good writing techniques versus Clickbait TV.

A great example early on in the show is the ending of episode 4 in season 1. Rick came into this zombie world in horror, and joins a settled camp outside of the city, where he meets back up with his wife and son. Just as things start to feel more comfortable and settled, a zombie horde attacks the camp and kill quite a few members of the group and ravage the site. The episode leaves off on a cliffhanger of sorts, uncertain what the future holds for these survivors as everything they had built just was destroyed in a single night.

This is not an example of clickbait for several reasons. Though it was shocking and the end left the group hanging, there was an eerie sense of understanding that this was establishing that nowhere really was safe, and getting comfortable isn’t exactly going to work for these survivors to make it. They got comfy because the walkers were sated on city food, but they were running out there and so sitting outside wasn’t an option anymore. They learned through this act that not only is the situation not isolated, but it can affect them at any time. They can’t just walk away and things will be safe now. The walkers won’t stop coming. The eerie understanding of this made the technical cliffhanger have questions, but none that were enraging or confusing. It just made sense to establish that in this story that trying to stay outside of the problem will always fail. This idea is repeated in later episodes as well, with the Governor and Hershel’s farm. The event also gave motive and development for characters, established a tone and mood for the setting and situation of the group, and developed what the walkers of this story were like. Slow, clumped up, but always hungry. The scene may have counted as a cliffhanger, but it was a cliffhanger that made sense and left more feeling in you than just shock and confusion with little substance. 

A pure counterexample of clickbait TV was episode 2 in season 6 where (—SPOILER ALERT—) it was uncertain if Glenn was devoured by walkers or not when his scouting partner killed himself, dooming them in a trapped alley. While I cannot properly comment on if this was proper development of the scouting partner, I have looked into the Glenn aspect of this and how illogical and unnecessary the entire situation was for the growth of Glenn’s character and the plot. At the end of the episode, the writers’ deliberately leave it vague as to if Glenn has been eaten or not. This sets up for next episode him being trapped, then found, then working his ass off to get back to Alexandria. While it does bring proper setting and mood-relevant tension, the way it was gone about was needless and only used because it would get viewers to click on articles and debate it and watch it over again to try to figure out if beloved Glenn was dead. See, viewers knew Glenn had to be dying soon, as he was far past his comic counterpart’s life, but didn’t know when or how. This gave the producers and writers a cheap way to make their viewers look up and debate and talk about their show, without having it progress anything at all. Thinking Glenn is dead between episodes serves no one but the makers of the show. No one saw Glenn get trapped,  thereby negating any effect and growth of other characters. There was no questioning tension about it, per say if he went missing for the rest of the season,  negating any deep effect on the rest of the season and the plot. He didn’t actually die, negating those possible meanings and repercussions entirely. The scene was precisely written to end an episode, make viewers scream about it, and then deliberately be negated next episode. He could have been trapped, with viewers uncertain how he could make it, without any leading implications of him getting eaten. But instead they chose to make it vague just because they wanted you to click so damn bad. The episode’s ending, faking a Glenn death, was literal Clickbait TV.

This concept and mindset that’s beginning to pervade into other medias is greedy and honestly, boring. This is why horror movies were so bad for so long; jump scares are basically also clickbait. Quick shock but ultimately, nothing that stays with you or is worthwhile. But the extra shitty part? Corporations are now finding ways to monetize these shitty jump-scare/clickbait scenarios to make easier money. It’s much easier to write needless cliffhangers and shock values than make tight, interwoven, clever plots. And they’re finding ways to use that and get rich off of it. The Walking Dead honestly used to be one of my favorite shows. The episode with Lizzy and Carol is still one of my favorite TV episodes ever. But now I despise it and have refused to see anything directly since early season 6. 

So what about it, though? What can we, the singular people, do? Noticing things doesn’t stop them from happening.
And that’s exactly right. We may notice it, as many people have started wondering why The Walking Dead seems more shock-value, but now we need to take action. We can’t just tolerate clickbait, we have to actively reject it. No matter if you’re a little interested, don’t click on the article just to roll your eyes and make fun of it. Don’t watch shows just for shock-value. Just simply don’t click. Don’t give them exactly what they want, because terribly enough, us enjoying their media is not the point anymore. It’s just getting us to click. People are more than clicks, and deserve better. Expect better from your media, and don’t let it turn the world around you into twisted clickbait. Help make more media mean something.

Get it on like an after-school drug PSA, and say no to clickbait.

 

The Walking Dead pt. 2: Why Do We Like Gritty TV So Much?

First let’s get this out of the way. Yeah, this post has been pushed hella out of the way. I won’t sit here and make excuses. Yes, I’m a college senior. Yes, I’m hectic and busy. BUT I made a commitment so I dropped the ball and I’m trying to make it better now, so let’s leave it at that.

So, here we are. Part 2. Of zombies. But it’ll get more widespread and interesting, trust me. There’s more to talking about the dead things. The Walking Dead, as we talked about is more than just groaning flesh eaters. But what else could stem from this TV show that’s got me in a rhetorical tizzy?

Well, the answer stems from another question: why do we love gritty, bloody TV?

Think about it. The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Westworld: a bunch of our most popular shows right now are very gritty and serious and, mind you, full of murder and blood. Why is that?

One way to look at it is the argument that people enjoy those because they are more realistic. After years of soft, censored TV, viewers want to go hard into grittier things. I won’t knock this theory, because I do think that is part of what factors into the popularity of these shows. But I do think there is another important reason.

Before I jump into my theory, I have a preface of sorts to add to help explain the roots of the logic. Last year, I was learning in an agricultural engineering class how popular science studies tend to be shaped by what’s going on in our world. Hence, energy and sustainability are heavily invested in topics right now. Though science seems objective and revered, it also can be subjective by design of what people are worried about or interested in. Though we talked about only science, I don’t think science is the only culprit of this. Art, I believe, is completely the same way.

Though as a culture there is a pull to be hopeful and inclusive in America nowadays, we also are in a violent, turbulent world therefore violent, turbulent shows are becoming a hot topic. Think of it as a personification of a “life is hard so we want hard” kind of mindset.

Now, then you might ask “so what?”. There is nothing inherently wrong reflecting our current world-state, nor in wanting something real. So is there a point to me talking about this other than just “look at how connective and book smart I am?”

Why, yes there is. I swear I am in no way shooting for pretentious know-it-all.

There is a flaw in this violent TV show mindset because there is a chance that we are getting a little too violent and serious; the American culture is literally splitting in two, between “realism” and “optimism”. Between wanting that violent grit and hardness and wanting more hopeful softness. Now, I don’t want to get too political right now, this point is NOT about that. There are even great parts of this grittier TV in that some shows that were normally too delusional and unrealistic shows are getting more human and realistic and awesome; and also some shows are more willing and open to being kinder and sensitive and smart. It is a good thing on some fronts.

But oversaturation or polarization of ANYTHING can taint a culture. Life is just like a healthy diet; you may have a favorite food but it still needs balance and variety. It’s not like we’re only all watching gritty shows, but the main formulas are: Gritty drama, family sitcom, friend group/workplace comedy. No one can live on just steak, carrots, and gravy. And I’m not saying you have to become some TV health nut, watching every kind of show, but being stuck on one thing and never seeing new opportunities is bad.

Yet again, not that these TV shows and growths aren’t good, but we all need new things. Maybe media should try a little more variety, and we should too; and before anyone rebuffs that, some people may make more varied shows, but we need to watch them too. Like I said before in different blog posts, we shouldn’t become placated. We should always expect better, even from media. One sad case currently is the wildly brilliant show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that few people watch but hangs by a thread only because it’s smart and has won awards. The sharp-witted and clever Galavant fell into similar shoes.

Why not take a chance on wild, new things?

Furthermore, I mean, wild things can work, right? We’ve all fallen in love with new things like iZombie, Jessica Jones, Orange is the New Black, or Mr. Robot. They all have their flares for gritty, but also can have great moments of comedy or softness. They worked because they were well-rounded. And though Walking Dead and Game of Thrones are not bad per say, they are supremely serious and sometimes a person just needs a laugh, not the fate of the world and face biters.

All I’m saying is that being complacent with things should never be the same as “the best”. People can like those murder-serious shows, but I also think other shows and trying new things should be given a shot if they’re done well. We shouldn’t just be complacent with these murder serious shows being “the best”. It’s kind of like thinking Oscars movies are the only real movies. They can be super damn good, but also movies not there can also be super damn good. I mean, look at Mad Max: Fury Road. It only forced itself there because it was so damn good, even though it had no chance of winning much because it wasn’t like the other movies there.

Who knows what could happen if we just let new, adventurous, and good things be the best instead of any formula.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Marceau

 

Why Do Bloggers Need Realistic Expectations?

Hi everyone,

So yet again, I’m back at it to try to make up for my negligence, and I think I’ve come to the realization/solution on why this has been so hard for me lately. One, I’m nearing the end of my college career to I’m hella busy, two, as this is my first time trying a blog and while being very busy, once a week for fully fleshed out rhetorical analysis essay was a little more ambitious than I bargained for.

When I had enough free time and brain power for it, it was great. But trying to shove essays out of me has slowly been making me like this less, which is never what I wanted, nor truly how I feel about writing these. I love doing this blog. I just think I need to give myself less pressure and more wiggle room.

Therefore, starting next Monday, I am going to switch to a bi-weekly format of blog writing. It keeps me more sane and keeps my love for this blog true. Also, it leaves space for other creative free-time instead of taking up all of it and making me feel stilted.

I’m ambitious and passionate, and most times push my ass to do things and then get them done, but sometimes I do need to be realistic, take a step back, and do what’s best for a project and my sanity. I’m sure with this internal honesty the blog will come back next week even better than ever.

Any questions?

Sincerely,

Stephanie Marceau

What Has Happened to The Walking Dead?

Author’s Note: Despite the feature image being far to accurate on how I feel right now, I will apologize that this is late yet also still rushed. I went on spring break last week and I’ve been a bit frazzled. But I was determined to get a post to y’all, so here it is!

So there’s been this popular show on TV that a lot of people talk about and argue about spoilers. It’s kinda violent, and gritty, and i think it’s called The Walking Dead? I dunno, I don’t have cable, so I’m such a peasant.

Ok, all bad jokes aside, I have seen at least the first 4 seasons of The Walking Dead, and I used to be a mild fan. But recently, the show has been giving me some rhetorical troubles. As I’ve worked more on this blog, the more I’ve realized I have to talk about this show, and the several important pop culture rhetorical topics tied to it. Hence, this is part one of a three-part blog series stemming from The Walking Dead.

For part one, today, we ask the ultimate, show-centric question: Why is a show called The Walking Dead have more human threats than zombie?

Quite mind-boggling, eh?

You see, writers are clever. Though the zombie trend was big when it came on TV, they knew it wouldn’t last forever. Therefore, the TV writers and producers were super clever about picking up this zombie comic about humanity as a show. It went along with the current hot trend and the zombie appeal, but once zombie love died down they had a mainly human-based story to anchor to. They roped people in with the decay, but for the human struggles they stay.

Furthermore, the title is clever because not only is it a allusion to the fact that in this disarray humans already feel like they’re dead, or at least the old them is dead, but also it brings in the zombie appeal although the main interest point for this show is by far the humans.

Now, to disclaim personally, I originally thought this was one of the strengths of the show. The Episode with Lizzie and the flowers was one of my favorite ever. It showed the harsh issues of this world, and how in the old-world Lizzie would get help, but in this dangerous world a dangerous girl was better off dead. It was so goddamn painful and well done. It was also a great growth of Carol, who previously had to watch someone else shoot her zombied little girl, and now had to shoot one herself. It was the true, largest change of her going from scared wife to badass Carol. It was great character growth as well as questioning humanity during such a dangerous time. Seasons 3 and 4 were honestly probably my favorites (regardless of the destruction of Andrea’s character).

Speaking of Andrea’s character, that also was the first sign of things going down; the writers destroyed an important character for the sake of her being used by the plot. Half her actions didn’t make sense, it’s just the plot needed her to be dumb or do dumb things to get where it wanted. Those characters it built up were easily destroyed for what they wanted the story to do, not what made the most sense.

Because of this shift, as time went on, the writers were relying too heavily on people’s’ previous attachment to characters to force interest in events, instead of writing events and storylines well or logically.

Now, as an important aside, a vital rhetorical concept to pay attention to with these discussions are the Modes of Persuasion: Pathos, Ethos, Logos. Pathos is when something appeals to someone emotionally, logos is logically, and ethos is credibly. While all three are important, and some stories may focus on one more than the others, all three are vital to good storytelling, particularly in longer stories, like The Walking Dead. Now, initially the story had all three: emotional attachment to well-rounded, intriguing characters (pathos), a complex narration about man v. man v. science, and the complicated world that would occur after social and physical collapse (logos), and a vaguely referenced science to why things are happening and rules to the walker disease (ethos). Now, in recent seasons, things have been slowly getting more jumbled and less rhetorically clever and fleshed out, and it has slowly begun to show in the events of the TV Show.

One of the best and less recent events that show this was Beth’s death. Beth was known for being the wholesome girl who basically was “corrupted” by the apocalypse. Now, what I mean by Beth’s death is not per say the fact she died. Her arch was definitely leaning towards her death the entire time, be it by her becoming a monster OR by the apocalypse literally consuming her instead of just figuratively. She was an interesting character by the end, but her end was such clickbait. (And another note to pay attention to, I will be using this word a lot here and in later posts in this series). Beth was nearly out of the woods, and she was getting corrupted by the world, but what made it clickbait and not just good was the fact her death was such a tease and used for utter shock value. What would have been a great ending for Beth would have been them coming to save her, only to find she was a monster of a woman now or already dead. But very deliberately they chose a subtler corruption so that the audience could feel the satisfaction of her safety before violently ripping it away. I don’t even think the stabbing was the worst way to go about her corruption. But using her death as a shock value buzz for the audience was. And ever since it’s become the Walking Dead M.O. Shock value clickbait. It relies heavily on people’s emotional ties to Beth, but it doesn’t quite make full sense, nor does their use of shock value add any credibility to the realism of the event.

This became even more painfully true with the case of Glenn. Not only did that have a huge fake-out death for him, but then a real, cruel death as well. Glenn has always been a fan favorite, so they heavily used him as a tool of interest and shock for the audience. They love Glenn? Better will-they-won’t-they with his death! Within about eight episodes (EIGHT!) The writers tease his death, let the audience breath, and then murder the shit out of him all over again. Now, the Negan death made sense credibly because it happened in the comics. Now, in the comics it made more sense because Glenn was truly randomly picked and launched Maggie into being the strong leader she was always on the cusp of being. This time, not only is he not the initial random choice, but they have Daryl be a needless dumbass just so they can get in two murders for the price of one. Now, Daryl has always been one to think with his fists, but he’s never been an idiot. And this was idiotic AND got Glenn killed AND got writers to get all the juicy, lazy clickbait and shock value they could ever want. First, they make the audience relieved for not losing Glenn, then they get a convoluted reason for possibly the biggest fan favorite to get tortured and become constant source of over-relying on emotional attachments, AND still kill Glenn to rub in that shock value. How pathetic (in a rhetorical and adjectival way).

Of course, I also can’t just finish up and pass through without mentioning Negan. The Negan shit should not have been drawn on that long. He was hinted at and teased for episodes because he was a popular villain and people knew what came with him. Instead of weaving him in naturally, the writers use him as an excitement and tease for a whole season, only to still draw out his big event until the next season, literally using him and his actions as a clickbait for next season. To forcibly try to convince people and cliffhanger out the ass to still watch. Though, logically, no psychotic man waits a couple months to murder the hell out of people.

Once, the walking dead TV show was a great analysis into what can happen to people during the end of the world. Now it’s a clickbait to get people to the next season. You Love Daryl? Well you’ll NEVER guess what Negan does to him… You heard about Negan, the horrible guy? Is he right around next episode? Guess you’ll have to wait and see!

I wish this hadn’t happened to it, as I once respected and enjoyed the quiet and clever analysis, but I wish it luck. I won’t be watching, but I hope it gets better for its own sake and its watchers’ sake. They both deserve better than what it’s devolved into.

What do you think would make The Walking Dead better again?

Sincerely,

Stephanie Marceau

Why is the DC Cinematic Universe Identity Crisis So Important?

So here’s a trip for us this week. I thought after such serious topics lately, we’d get a little bit light-hearted and talk about the disastrous DC Cinematic Universe. Now, before anyone gets in a huff, yes, the movies can be enjoyable and interesting. And, personally, I love the Nolan Batman films and slightly favor DC anyway, so I get it. But we all must objectively accept that Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and Suicide Squad were not cohesive, effective films.

The DC Cinematic Universe has become like that friend you have, you know the one, that always promises they won’t get hella wasted and keep on expressing how great the night will be with them. And you do love them; they’re bombastic and interesting, but also every single time you go out they ruin all those great plans they promised and become a jumbled mess. And though you try to give them the benefit of the doubt, they do it. Every. Single. Time.

So why does is matter more than being this awkward, nation-wide embarrassing friend?

Because though it’s gaining money, it’s forcefully exposing Hollywood for a thing they do too frequently and too lazily: copying. Hollywood has a terribly habit of going for the buck rather than the bang. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am so impressed with cinema and am quite the movie-lover. But it doesn’t mean that big money doesn’t still mean attempts at big shortcuts.

This whole franchise is so painful because people are putting their hard work into this and it’s becoming a joke. Yet because so much money’s been invested, they won’t let it die so it can’t be swept under the rug. The copying problem is becoming so blatant because the DCU refuses to find its own identity, and its making this cinematic borrowing out of laziness and shortcuts over artistic borrowing a glaring issue.

Now, before I can truly talk about how the copying issue is panning out, I have to be a good argumentative researcher and give proof on how painfully copycat and identity-less the DC Cinematic Universe is. To pull evidence, I’m going to discuss and dissect Suicide Squad & Man of Steel (as I couldn’t get up the energy to watch Batman v. Superman and REALLY don’t want to get hyped up on my anger over Martha). Man of Steel will be compared to Captain America: The First Avenger and the Nolan Batman Trilogy. I’ll explain why that makes sense in a minute. Suicide Squad, of course, will be compared to Guardians of the Galaxy, and will be an easily cringeworthy comparison but it’s needed.

Ok, so Man of Steel first. Man of Steel was the first official movie of the DC Cinematic Universe. Before we even start, the title itself gives a serious tone difference. It’s not Superman. It’s the more gritty title, Man of Steel. Now let’s get back to that Batman thing: As the Nolan trilogy was so successful, the first place the DC movies tried to find their identity/voice was in the grittiness of Batman. While that’s one way to look at it and it’s at least some sort of identity, be the dark version while Marvel is light-hearted, it doesn’t work because the whole point is that Batman is the grittiest part of of the DC universe, so to have everyone JUST as gritty as him was a little intense and didn’t really feel like DC. Ergo there’s this sort of identity crisis, because none of these characters except Batman really feel like themselves. I won’t even get too into my personal rant about how in the comics/cartoons Superman killing people is always a much more culminating, terrifying thing than the climax of a first ever movie. It’s a major plot point that any of the few times Superman ends up killing someone it basically drives him over the edge into insanity/totalitarianism, so the ending of Man of Steel is a lot to handle. Batman is grim and shadowy, but Superman is meant to be the more hopeful of the two and is often called the boy scout of the group. Though showing a grittier side of him is cool, the movie seems to take it too far and basically make a totally different character.

Then there’s Captain America. The first Cap movie, Captain America: The First Avenger, focused a lot on Cap finding his own morality in the role he had been given. Was he a symbol, a soldier, a friend, a hero? He was finding his place with the cards he had been dealt. Now, let’s think about the internal turmoil of Superman during Man of Steel. Eerily similar description of character arc, eh? Except, you know, in the end of The First Avenger Cap makes the ultimate sacrifice and is a truly hero, while Superman destroys a whole city and kills a man, saving people but also causing horrible mass destruction and terror. Supes is the edgy, gritty one, get it guys?

Its frustrating with these movies, because it’s interesting and clever that they want to push envelopes. But they don’t push it in an artistic way, but more of an edgy “see, Dad, look what I can do” type way. The premise of Batman v. Superman actually really interested me. It was always a big thing for Batman that he thought superheroes, though helpful, were also serious dangers. So him seeing Supes ruin Metropolis was a big deal. But then the movie became an over-bloated clusterfuck that didn’t know how to solve its own big moral dilemma or how to really get their characters, and half-assed the worst solution to a serious problem that I’ve ever heard. (God dammit, ended up at the Martha shit when I didn’t want to). But basically, something with promise got overrun with all these directions and distractions that made the movie a mess instead of what it could have been.

Now to Suicide Squad. Oh, neon bright, Hot Topic-esque, hot mess, trainwreck Suicide Squad. Yet again, I was hopeful and excited when first hearing about this movie. I love DC villains so much and also love Harley Quinn. I wanted the brilliant yet abused woman’s story in a movie. I wanted her to be properly portrayed and invested in. I wanted DC to try to be fun again and have those elements of whimsy. I can see it, DC is darker. But it still has fun, still has comical characters, still has heart and light moments. Suicide Squad seemed like a hope for me after the “edgy” gloom-fest of Man of Steel (NOTE: his adoptive father basically walked into a goddamn tornado for Christ’s sakes. I can’t.)

God, was I disappointed.

Oh, Suicide Squad was (trying) to be more humorous, so I’ll give it that. But god, was it lost on its own identity and focus. Was it twisted? Was it partially a love story? Was it about Enchantress? Or Harley and Joker? Why did Amanda Waller’s harsh tactics seem more violently homicidal than calculating genius? When did the squad members become friends? Where was their bonding? How much harder can I painfully snort in laughter when poor El Diablo calls them his new family out of the blue and with no reasonable motivation?

So many things were wrong.

But I’m getting off my point. Now let’s look to the highly popular Guardians of the Galaxy. That was a whimsical story with a crew of characters, but it had a focus as well as a clear main character. There was fun older musical hits and a misfits vibe that very much worked. And no one bonded until they had to go through, shockingly, seriously bonding experiences.

Suicide Squad tried painfully hard to be Guardians of the Galaxy. To the point one of the songs they used in Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack, Spirit in the Sky, was repeated for for Suicide Squad. Also, as Starlord was our main and Gamora our secondary, Suicide Squad put emphasis on Deadshot and Harley. The tone, feel, etc. of Guardians of the Galaxy were simply attempted to be copied to try to gain a buck and try to show the DC Cinematic Universe could be a contender next to Marvel. But the thing is, the Suicide Squad is about unsocial supervillians being forced to save people to lessen their prison sentences. Though a team, it was still based around selfish self-interest. Yes, some people ended up caring about one another and being more empathetic. But certainly others didn’t. Guardians of the Galaxy have a different identity: they were all complex and a bit anti-hero, but never actively trying to ruin the rest of the world (save Gamora at times, but we know that’s complicated as well). The Guardians generally don’t want the universe to go goddamn haywire, even if they are thieves and at times selfish people. The Squad doesn’t give a shit. They most times only care because they will be better off if they do. Yet the movie foregoes the logical, complex identity of the Suicide Squad to favor a more Guardians-esque one that doesn’t really make sense.

I’m sure you’ve all noticed that I’ve mentioned identity a bunch. And it’s honestly the root of the problem, and the root of the negative copying in Hollywood and all other media. I mentioned it in my YA dystopia post: media should not be about straight copying. It should be about interesting, thoughtful stories.  

So don’t think I’m writing off all remakes. As the phrase goes: everything’s a remix. Furthermore, movies always do this, and in a way it’s not always a bad thing. One of my favorite books, Gone With a Wind, is a variant and draws from a lot of Wuthering Heights. The famed teen movie 10 Things I Hate About You is a Shakespeare retelling of Taming of the Shrew. Copying or borrowing from other mediums and pieces just needs to be done with innovation, invention, and creativity. It can’t just be “I’m going to copy for the sake of fame/money/etc.”. Therein lies the exact problem of the DC Cinematic Universe. It isn’t using other material to grow its identity and make its work stronger. Its borrowing from other things to make more money and to very directly try to compete, but in turn that inherently makes their work weaker.

The hard truth is that you need good characters and good plot more than you need a good thing to copy.

So thanks DC Cinematic Universe, for being such a blatant rip-off fest that doesn’t know its own identity so that people look at moves a little more critically. Thanks for making people expect more. That’s how it should be. More and more people have been getting away with copying in recent years, and hopefully this DC fiasco helps shut that down more. In the 90’s, everyone knew of the Disney rip-offs, but knew they were shit plots and just awkwardly shrugged at them. But the fact identity-less copy movies have made it to deep Hollywood with high production budgets proves something needs to stop. No one should expect half-ass copying in a major motion picture.

Now, to give my main squeeze DC a break, despite the cinematic mess, they are amazing with their animated movies and cartoons. A lot of them are on Netflix, and I highly recommend them. I particularly love Flashpoint Paradox, Son of Batman, Young Justice, The Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited. DC isn’t trash and that is not at all the point of this post. But they have lost their cinematic identity, which is a serious and true problem. If they took notes from their animated universe, which is innovative, creative, compelling, and clever, they could pull out some bomb-ass movies. I still love them, no matter how much the last three have been painful to watch. They just need to do some self-care work to get their identity back together again.

And last but not least, they made Batman and I can’t really ever hate anyone who made Batman.

After watching all this madness shake out, and really analyzing what the hell has been going on, what do we do as viewers to make the cinematic world a better place?

What do you guys think?

Sincerely,

Stephanie Marceau

What’s The Big Deal About Lasagna?

Hey Everyone! So since I missed the Sunday blog, I wanted to give a treat: “Lasagna”. This is a story I wrote for my friend on a dare, when I said any word she gave me I could write a story out of.

I was just being a cocky son of a bitch, but it actually turned into one of my favorite short stories I’ve every written. 

So, to pay for my sinful transgressions, here’s “Lasagna”. 

I met the worst thing to ever happen to me at a run-down diner on the outskirts of Chicago. I have never fallen so hard. She had a gorgeous laugh and a quirk of tapping her fingers on her thighs when she’s anxious. It didn’t take long after saying hello to get her to keep coming back for longer and longer, chatting me up. The woman was innocent and sweet with her ramblings of the beauty of cities and classic books she wished she understood and recipes she found on the internet that she never could get quite right. When I finally blurted out how much I disliked the pasta, and maybe she should try and make it better, it was already too late. She bit her lip and smiled, her suddenly still hands crossing in front of her, mentioning not-so-slyly how attractive I was.

That first time, she left her number on the check with a little star next to my name. I thought it was because I was special, because I was someone she’d want to see again and again. I called her the next day. She didn’t answer; she never answers when I call first.

Every morning I’m with her, it’s the touch of her skin. Each feel of her fingertips awakens the senses, and I believe, for a single second, that I am loved. It’s easy to forget when she’s not around, and I harken back to that dark corner that holds me, holds me harder than she ever does. It seems to only have gotten worse since I met her; as long as she’s not around, that is. She knows little of it, only allowing my freedom for her nights and her pleasures and then disappears in the morning, locking me away.

She seduces me with lasagna, isn’t that baffling? Promises the contents of her fridge and then leads me elsewhere. I know she’s leading me on, but I eat it anyway. She stares at me while I eat, always begging with her eyes to say yes to her irises even though I know will only bring me pain in the end. I pretend not to know, but I do. The meat is dry and the noodles are hard, but I swear to her that it’s always delicious.

Her lips perk up in a delicious smile, her skin looking enticing, her curves entrancing. I can barely eat looking at her. She’s funny and has a twinge in her laugh that makes my heart lose itself to her. I become helpless. Then there’s always that sick, nauseating feeling when her fingers stop twitching and lay flat on the table. It only gets better halfway through the meal when she licks her fork and swings her hips my way and suddenly I’ve regained my appetite.

I know I love her. She knows I love her, too, but she doesn’t care. She just plays with me at night and in the morning makes some excuse of how she must go. Ruffling my hair and saying thanks for the good time “sport”, like I’m some kid. I foolishly nod and let her walk out my door. Finally when I can’t see her rosy cheeks behind my eyes is when I kick the rug and throw away all the lasagna. I swear under my breath and in my head insist that I’m not a child. I am a man and my only crime is that I love her with all of my heart.

Yet love doesn’t seem to be enough for her and every Tuesday she proves that. The love’s not enough, the sex’s not enough, I’m not enough. Just another pretty toy to please her. Each Tuesday I almost decide to stop. But at the last minute she always mentions how great I look in the morning and compares me to a summer’s day, insisting I’d be a wonderful Hamlet.

Every Tuesday I come back. I always will. I will until the calls stop, and her beauty stops, and the world stops.

Maybe it’ll never stop.

I’ve found my soulmate over a plate of half-baked lasagna, but the funny thing is, she couldn’t care less.