Thursday, August 30, 2012

The President is a Black man

Start Consuming Today

Another appearance by our Astronaut archetype in advertising. Hulu wants you to know that they're innovative and Good. Funnily enough, the "See what's new" video doesn't utilize the Astronaut theme any more, but instead shows off how they're features can make you a Zombie (perhaps visually expressed in the chubbiness of the Astronaut). The tagline is "Start exploring today," and it makes (over) use of the words "explore" and "discover".  It seems to me all 'new' features combine aspects of YouTube and Apple products, with the notable exception of the 10 second rewind which is new. And probably useful. The rest of the ad explains how the new Hulu will make making choices easier and faster. So that you can stare at the screen like the mouth-breathing consumer you are.

Now let me return to watching my show!!! 

Monday, August 27, 2012

To me, you are perfect, and I love you very much. God bless you, God bless America.

Meryl Streep heard Jack Nicholas say the words of this post's title when she won the 2004 AFI Life Achievement Award. Most people I suspect agree with his sentiments. The actress has been nominated for 17 Oscars and 26 Golden Globes. She won 3 of those Oscars, which only four other actors have done (Katherine Hepburn, earning one more than that, has the most). Not only is she the most nominated performer at the Golden Globes, she is also the most awarded with 8 on her shelves. Plus so much more. Dr. Streep reigns as America's greatest actress. No arguing.

I wanted to investigate her career more to figure out if there was another feminine archetype other than Girl. The works I've chosen only include her recent films (New American Mythology), and I've avoided the more obscure movies. Now, I havn't seen all these so feel free to point out my short-comings.

The Hours (Paramount, 2002), Clarissa Vaughn

Girl - This complex movie is essentially about Girl archetypes desperately trying to define happiness (and along with it independance). Clarissa Vaughn struggles with the emotions she has for her dying friend Richard, even though she is a lesbian in a committed relationship. This makes her a Girl because even though she has the sexual freedom to choose her lover and other liberties, her life is not 'happy' but filled with anxiety. 

The Manchurian Candidate (Paramount, 2004), Eleanor Shaw

Cowboy (in The City) - An apparently disappointing remake of a 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate is a conspiracy movie with Denzel Washington, Leiv Shreiber, and Meryl Streep. Streep's character has a total disregard of ethics, but still believes in America's potential. She uses other people for her own beliefs and gains without consideration of the others' lives. Hence a Cowboy.

The Devil Wears Prada (Twentieth Century Fox, 2006) Miranda Priestly

Cowboy -  Streep plays a influential executive of a fashion magazine. Andrea Sachs, the main character, along with most people in the movie perceive Miranda Priestly as cold and ruthless. Miranda does not care for others' emotions or aspirations, nor does sugar coat the truth. These ways have gotten her to the top of her business, but they have isolated her. In fact if she was a bit nicer and helped other people she could be a Astronaut. But that wouldn't make much of an adversary for our Girl heroine Andy.

Lions for Lambs (MGM, 2007), Janine Roth 

Girl (or Astronaut) - Streep plays a journalist who is told of a new government strategy to win the wars in the Middle East. She disagrees with the stratify, seeing it as political ploy. The scene here is after she knows the whole plan. The ethical implications of publicizing the story give Roth pause. She must choose to follow The Man's orders and spread the information as propaganda, or she can report the facts as a political manipulation of the military. The movie ends without revealing Roth's actions, but the story is presented in a positive (propagandic) light. We can suppose Roth decided not to fight back, seeing the repercussions a too great, and gave the story up. This would mean she's a Girl. Alternatively, if she decided to quit and get the 'true' story out on her own, sacrificing her security for the greater good. This would make her an Astronaut. But the story does come out, so more than likely, Girl.

Mamma Mia! (Universal Pictures, 2008), Donna

Cowboy? - This one is tough. The shenanigans in Mama Mia! actually aren't an epic story, but a fairy tale strung together with song. It's fun and quirky, but what is Donna? My initial reaction was to label her as a Girl, but she isn't struggling against The Man nor is she very conflicted. Well, her conflicts are inner emotional ones not ones that make her choose between having children or a career. She doesn't 'need' a man but she wants one.  Can I call her a CowGirl? Is that fair? 

Doubt (Miramax, 2008),  Sister Aloysius Beauvier

Zombie - Sister Beauvier is perfectly content in the Church's structure. So much so that she blindly follows the rules and acts only when she feels those rules have been violated. She does not struggle to live within the parish, nor does she live for her own success (that's why she's a nun). The Sister's strong beliefs eventually cause her to disregard the rules without any reason other than her intuition. So even though she's not trying to munch on the Pastor's leg, she 'eats away' at his resolve and reputation because her instincts tell her to.

 Julie & Julia (Columbia Pictures, 2009), Julia Child

Astronaut - Streep lent her talents to portray the heroic figure of Julia Child. The movie/Streep portrays Julia as a strong-willed woman not trying to fit into French culture, but instead embracing whatever circumstances she was in and making the absolute best of them. The chef had the gumption to follow her own interests, and the passion to share them with the world. She believed the knowledge of French Cooking could better the lives of cooks and eaters everywhere. Not only did she write a book, but she had a show on public television. She took American cuisine out of The City and into Space!! Bon Appetite!  [Julie on the other hand is quite obviously a Girl that happened to get lucky and got a book published. That part of the movie is actually quite dull.]

It's Complicated (Universal Pictures, 2009), Jane Adler

Girl - Jane Adler, a divorced woman, thinks life is finally going to straighten out and make sense when ! Complications arise! She's got two guys vying for her love, one of which she already made commitments to. She follows the path infront of her, but not without hesitation. Jane even confronts her therapist about the ethical implications of carrying out an affair with her ex-husband (making her non-Zombie). Eventually, she realizes she doesn't want her ex/past, but a new life. Her reluctance to say no to her ex makes her a Girl (not fighting The Man), as well as the complications and anxieties that brings about.

The Iron Lady (Film4, 2011)Margaret Thatcher 

Astronaut/Girl - This movie occupies an awkward spot in New American Mythology; it's a movie about a recent-ish British icon. Phyllidia Lloyd couldn't seem to decide between a biopic that focused on Margaret Thatcher's private or public life. If it had focused on the public life, she could have been an Astronaut or Cowboy (or the British version). The movie portrayed Thatcher's private life in a way that could have been Astronaut or Girl. Meryl Streep pulls both off well, which is why she won an Oscar for the role, but unlike Julie & Julia the director/editor/producers whoever couldn't pull off the dual storylines. It ends up being a stunning Streep performance in a mess of a movie that doesn't quite enlighten us on this public figure.

Hope Springs (Management 360, 2012), Kay

Girl - I havn't read or heard too much about Hope Springs. The Girl label here is just a conjecture.  Anyone watch this movie and want to have some input? Or how about the other movies? Leave a comment below.

I don't see any additional archetypes really in just Meryl Streep's characters. Maybe as I investigate New American Mythology further I'll find a neater title for characters like Donna in Mama Mia! or Margaret Thatcher. Please don't confuse these analysis of characters as an critique on Meryl Streep; clearly she can embody any of the archetypes flawlessly even when the directors don't know what they're doing. I think she's a self-possessed and kind lady. Even trying to poke fun at her makes you look foolish. So, in my book Dr. Streep reigns as Queen.

[Note: I left out Angels in America because I havn't seen it since it came out. The mini-series is too complex to analyze from clips on the internet. It wasn't that I was trying to downplay the importance or influence of the series, it was just that I knew I couldn't do it justice. Sorry.]

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nostalgia: How not to Time Travel

"Nostalgia is denial - denial of the painful present... the name for this denial is golden age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one's living in - its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present."

Surprisingly, perhaps, this is from Woody Allen's recent film Midnight in Paris (Gravier Productions, 2011). The movie itself is, well, a Woody Allen film- entertaining, introspective, rambling, and questionable at times. 

Why in the world did the poster designer pick van Gogh's Starry Night?????

We're not here to talk about Woody Allen though, but about Nostalgia. He defines it so well that I feel silly explaining the idea any further. I'm going to anyway. The fact that Allen made a film explicitly about Nostalgia shows that at least some people in Hollywood notice this trend in American Mythology. 

The hard part about Nostalgia is noticing it as an incarnation of The City. That "erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one's living in" is a loss of faith in humanity. So it's not just 'the past,' but using selective history to frame the present as not awesome. Nostalgia also isn't explicit exploitation of your heartstrings, although it can be. Sometimes it's something as simple as not coming up with a new idea, sometimes it's really explicit. Sometimes it's both. 

Quit being a Nostalgic hipster Ryan Gosling!
Oh wait...
Practically no genre of current American Mythology is free from Nostalgia, and it comes in various aesthetics. Although some Nostalgia 'look' old, others use old concepts or ideas. (But that does not necessarily mean all things drawn from the past are Nostalgic.) 

David Guetta's 'Titanium ft. Sia' is currently on VH1's Top 20 Music Videos. Kind of an odd story, but hey it's a music video. We've got this Astronaut-kid (isolated, has powers) with a sweet bike in 80's? suburbia made more old by the lens filters. Carly Rae Jepsen's somehow insanely popular "Call me Maybe" also utilizes the old lens as well as old cars and suburbia (but the guy wheres ipod headphones..?). Instead of being in suburbia, the suburban kids are at the beach in One Direction's "What Makes you Beautiful" music video, complete with 70's cars and more old filters. Justin Bieber rounds it all out in "Boyfriend" with filters again, old cars, Michael Jackson's dance moves, 80s clothes, and a hairstyle borrowed from New Kids on the Block. There's no plot or conceptual reason to have these vintaged music videos. You'll also note that these songs are (arguably) the worst of Pop music: repetitive and expected rehashings of the same angsty themes. Not fresh at all. 

The Help (Dreamworks SKG, 2011) particularly annoyed me for it exploitation of Nostalgia. The highly successful film had millions of white people nodding their heads saying, oh yes look how good we were, we freed the Mammies. Nevermind that the film misrepresents both southern black women and southern white women (I'm not saying people like that didn't exist, I'm saying that not all southern women, regardless of race, are dumb and demure), in this post I'm more concerned with the total disregard of the present situation. The book and movie could have spun the plot so that it made readers/viewers reflect on current racial tensions, namely the ones directed toward immigrants from Latin America, but this can also extend to 'The Help' who hail from Asia as well. Instead fans of "The Help" appluade at Emma Stone's performance and just blink accusations made at Sharon Stone.

It could have been so awesome...
Prometheus (Brandywine Productions, 2012)
At least The Help was an original idea. Ridley Scott's origin story/third(?) reboot of his Alien (1979) franchise Prometheus (2012) also could have been cool if he hadn't used themes from 20th Century Mythology. I really did want to like it, it just failed to remain/become relevant for today's audiences. Instead of capturing the wonder of space or search for god/knowledge and pitting it against greed and self preservation (which it easily could have), Ridley chose to play up the weakness of humanity against the force of god/nature/knowledge/people with money. That's not something the American people want to see. 

Other reboots and remakes include: The Expendables (for the actors), Dark Shadows (for the remake, actor(s), and director), The Bourne Legacy (plot), Total Recall (plot), Ice Age: Continental Drift (characters), and The Three Stooges (concept). In television: Charlies Angels (whole thing), Go On (actor), I Love the [Decade] on VH1 (whole thing). There's more too. Just wait til this fall, a whole wave of interdimensional feel good movies are coming. Maybe they'll be good...

Which brings up a bump in my dislike of Nostalgia. Sometimes the past aesthetic works. I don't quite know how to grapple with the fact that I really like Wes Anderson films which almost exclusively use Nostalgia (and quirky hipster-ness) to draw viewers, particularly his most recent movie Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Perhaps Anderson knows how to use Nostalgia in a way that conveys a deeper concept missing from most movies and makes it relevant. His movies, however, have to be watched multiple times, and Moonrise Kingdom hasn't come out on DVD just yet. When it does, it'll be on repeat as I mull it over. 

There's also The Artist which won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, which was filmed as if it were of the time period. But then again it's a French film, so maybe we can dismiss it from American Mythology and avoid the problem altogether. 

Also, I suspect the Great Recession has something to do the recent rise of Nostalgia. Or we can blame the hipsters.

Ideas anyone? 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

When you give an Astronaut a Chewy Bar...

What do we have here?

Fiber one is utilizing one of the archetypes to sell deliciously healthy Fiber One Chewy Bars. The terrible 'Mamagus' Alien has captured an Astronaut and won't release him until he eats a snack!! The terror!!!!! The Alien in the case only appears irrational to the Astronaut (WHY?! WHY MUST I SNACK!?!). Only when the kid tastes the snack and sees for himself that it's tasty does the Alien disappear and revert to being a normal human being (aka Mom). The Astronaut, however, stays in character.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But snack buyers everywhere will note the Astronaut's new discovery.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olympic Reality

During the past seventeen days, an average of 31.1 American million viewers tuned in every evening to watch the 2012 London Olympic Games. Even though NBC monopolized the event, they successfully gave America a Reality where greatness is meticulously measured. Each country sent its most fit and able individuals to compete against each other and prove their country's superiority.


The United States of America reclaimed the title as the World's Top Superpower by winning not only the most medals, but the most gold metals. We'll beat our pride-swollen chests as our flag rises above the others. We'll celebrate the soldiers'- I mean athletes' homecoming by calling them American Heroes that won the war with non-violent sportsmanship.  We'll politely say, "Nice Try China, it was good to see you again Russia, and that was an interesting show Britain" as our 46 gold, 29 silver, and 29 bronze medals flash in their eyes.

'I only beat you by 3.69 seconds Pereira,
maybe in four-years you can catch up
Unfortunately, like most Reality found on television, the Olympics does not accurately portray the world. The medal count seems like a fair way to gauge each country's athleticism (and therefore superiorty), but it ignores other important facts and figures that levels out the battleground. I've found this nifty (although a bit confusing) program that sorts countries and their medal counts by 1) Official Medal Count, 2) Gross Domestic Product to Medals, 3) Population Count to Medals 4) Number of Athletes to Medals, and 5) GDP per Captia to Medals. Columns 2 - 5, I believe, are weighted so that Gold equals 3pts, Silver 2pts, and Bronze 1pt.

First, I congratulate you if you have figured out how to work this cryptic table. If you still need help, here is an example:

China won 38 Gold, 27 Silver, and 22 Bronze.
 (38Gold x 3) + (27Silver x 2) + (22Bronze x 1)
 = (114) + (54) + (22)
 = 190 [weighted number of medals]

1,334,130,000 [Population] / 190 [Medals] = 7,021,736.84
Meaning for every 7million (or so) people in China, it got one [Weighted] Medal

The U.S. n 46 Gold, 29 Silver, and 29 Bronze.
(46Gold x 3) + (29Silver x 2) + (29Bronze x 1)
=  (138) + (58) + (29)
= 225 [weighted number of medals]

311,591,917 [Population] / 225 [Medals] = 1,384,852.96
Meaning for every 1.3 million people in the U.S., it got one [Weighted] Medal

So we beat China in this regard as well. Along with 70 other countries. In fact, the island country of Granada got the most medals per citizen despite getting only one medal.

1 Gold x 3 = 3
104,890 [Population] / 3 = 34,963
One medal for every 34,963 Grenadians!

'Take that China and USA!'
China does beat the US when it comes to GDP, GDP per Capita, and Team (which I think counts every number of medals given away, i.e. the Relay Team gets 4 gold medals x 3). Meaning, despite being poorer than America, its citizens being poorer than Americans, and sending less athletes, Team China won a whole lot of medals. The Chinese government sees value in showing athleticism to the world and pours money into such programs. Americans might find Chinese Olympians' dedication shocking, but it's just a different mindset; they probably think P&G 'Supporting Olympians' Moms' is bizarre.

My Ping-Pong Gold Medal cost less per citizen than  yours James!!' 
Regardless of all this penis-measuring, all of the Olympians worked hard to make it to and through the games. They all proudly represented their countries. (Well, not these people) The world should marvel at their skills and determination. Medals going to other teams does not make them less worthy or less amazing- they are competing against the best. We couch potatoes should remember that any of these athletes could whoop our muffin tops. (Zhang Jike's can hit ping-pong ball at over 60mph)

My message: Don't get too big-headed over Team USA's Offical Olympic Medal count. It's a false Reality that leaves out important statistical information. You can be impressed and proud of your countrymen, however. Just remember when you are bragging:

'You didn't break the Women's 4x100 Relay World Record'

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Dark Knight & Monomyth

***Moderate Spoilers***

Christopher Nolan's recently wrote about his highly successful Batman Trilogy:

"People ask if we’d always planned a trilogy. This is like being asked whether you had planned on growing up, getting married, having kids. The answer is complicated. When David and I first started cracking open Bruce’s story, we flirted with what might come after, then backed away, not wanting to look too deep into the future. I didn’t want to know everything that Bruce couldn’t; I wanted to live it with him."

As humble and idylic as the statement may be, it also shows Nolan's dream behind his Batman. Like Lucas and Star Wars, Nolan set out to make a great story without hesitation or compromise. They both realized that the true hero's journey does not simply end after his introduction. Their vision extended beyond their first movie, which they knew had to be good enough to allow for the hero's journey to continue and endure through time. The Batman trilogy is not merely a 1.6 million dollar (and growing) success. It successfully utilized the Myth to capture 21st Century America's hopes, fears, and beliefs.

I recommend you brush up on Joseph Campbell, author of A Hero of a Thousand Faces. His scholarship revealed the power and purpose of myth. Namely, the monomyth in which "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man" shows us the essential story-line that all of humankind's Epic Heroes follow. If your interest delve into anthropology, sociology, psychology, mythology, or philosophy, I strongly recommend you read or watch Campbell's work.

Hollywood utilizes the monomyth in most of its productions. The Dark Knight trilogy just happens to be an exemplar example of it. I've broken down each film, and then the series so you can better see how movies are in fact mythical stories. (I'm not making this up.) If you get confused, at least read the Wikipedia page.

Now, there are several variations of the Hero's Journey, but Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy follows Campbell's quite distinctly. Here (via wikipedia) is how Campbell broke the monomyth down:

Via Wikiapedia.

  1. Departure 
    1. The Call to Adventure 
    2. Refusal of the Call 
    3. Supernatural Aid 
    4. The Crossing of the First Threshold 
    5. Belly of The Whale 
  2. Initiation 
    1. The Road of Trials 
    2. The Meeting With the Goddess 
    3. Woman as Temptress 
    4. Atonement with the Father 
    5. Apotheosis 
    6. The Ultimate Boon 
  3. Return 
    1. Refusal of the Return 
    2. The Magic Flight 
    3. Rescue from Without 
    4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold 
    5. Master of Two Worlds 
    6. Freedom to Live

Now lets break down the Dark Knight Trilogy into plot points

Ra's Al Ghul tests Bruce Wayne's moral fiber in Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins

  1. Act I 
    1. Bruce Wayne has gone to wander the globe, 
    2. and is currently in a prison. 
    3. He meets Henri Ducard, who frees him and tells him to journey 
    4. withe a blue flower up a mountain where 
    5. The League of Shadows is located
  2. Act II
    1. Ducard proceeds to train Wayne is mental and physical combat. 
    2. At his Final Test, Wayne is exposed to Blue Smoke
    3. that distorts his senses, making his worst fears come to life. (Falling in the cave with bats)
    4. Bruce overcomes this fear (Father saving him from the cave with bats)
    5. but refuses to kill a prisoner, or even Ducard, which
    6. means he retains his humanity but also has superpowers
  3. Act III
    1. But he does not return to Gotham as the enlightened Bruce Wayne,
    2. and instead assumes the Batman persona and fights crime
    3. with the help of Lucius Fox, the grounding of Alfred, information of Commissioner Gordon, and the insight of Rachel Dawes.
    4. Only now is Batman able to fight Gotham's terrible underworld
    5. Which defeats both crime bosses and the Scarecrow
    6. So that Gotham is a little more safe. 

The Dark Knight

The Joker tests Batman's morality in The Dark Knight (2008)

The Rise of the Villian (The Fall of the Hero)
  1. Act I 
    1. A Clown Robs a Bank 
    2. but won't join the mobsters 
    3. and does not conform to rules 
    4. (Harvey Dent Takes Rachel on a date) 
    5. (Batman leaves Gotham to capture Lau) 
  2. Act II 
    1. Joker demands Batman reveal his true identity, starts to crash parties, etc 
    2. ( Rachel tells Bruce that revealing himself as Batman won't stop joker and will destroy any possibility of them being together ) 
    3. (Rachel rejects Bruce because he is Batman and he cannot think of her as his only way to a normal life.) 
    4. Joker refuses to cooperate, and actually gets the upperhand 
    5. by reavaling to Batman that he must choose between Dent or Rachel [Masculine/Feminine, The Mask/Normalcy, Compromise/Truth, Justice/Love, Public/Private, and a plothora of opposing adjectives] 
    6. Harvey Dent is saved, Rachel Dies 
  3. Act III 
    1. (Harvey Dent becomes disillusion and ) 
    2. ( assumes the Two-Face identity.) 
    3. (Gotham will not be rescued by Harvey Dent) 
    4. Joker reveals Batman has failed to save Harvey Dent 
    5. and that good can be corrupted. 
    6. Batman becomes a villian in Gotham's Eyes while living alone.

The Dark Knight Rises

Bruce Wayne tests himself/Batman in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

  1. Act I
    1. Selina (Catwoman) robs Bruce Wayne 
    2.  Bruce hasn't left the Manor for years (?) and has nothing to live for 
    3. John Blake reveals he knows Bruce is Batman, and explains Gotham Needs Batman 
    4. Bruce tells Alfred to investigate Bane, meets with Fox, and visits Gordon 
    5. Bruce pursues Selina. 
  2. Initiation 
    1. Bruce must try to unravel the Bane mystery as well as get his company back in order, 
    2. which includes meeting with Miranda-
    3. giving her control of the company (and sleeping with her). Also, he asks Catwoman for help to find Bane. 
    4. Fights Bane 
    5. Arrives at the Prison 
    6. Realizes he must accept death as a possibility in order to accomplish his goals. 
  3. Return 
    1. [Refusal of the Return doesn't happen, but you might be able to call Bruce's refusal of the rope as a refusing the possibility of failure without death] 
    2. Bruce escapes the prison and returns to Gotham 
    3. Batman returns (from the without) to Rescue Fox, Gordon, Selina, Miranda, and the rest of Gotham. 
    4. Batman saves Gotham not by returning the reactor to the power plant(?) (normalcy) but by sacrificing himself [Astronaut] 
    5. Batman becomes a legend in Gotham, an icon who is respected and remembered (and lives on). Bruce Wayne actually.... 
    6. ... gets to live a normal life with someone who loves him. 

Now if that doesn't explain it take this:

  1. Batman Begins [Pledge]
    1. Bruce Wayne is adventuring
    2. But finds himself just fighting criminals
    3. Meets Ra's Al Ghul 
    4. Returns to Gotham, finds fun tools to help him
    5. Becomes Batman
  2. The Dark Knight [Turn]
    1. Gotham still isn't clean, and Bruce might want a normal life
    2. Rachel says she likes him, 
    3. but will be with him only if he gives up Batman
    4. Joker Says Batman must choose between Harvey Dent (Public) or Rachel Dawes (Personal)
    5. Rachel dies and Dent becomes psychotic/ Two Face
    6. Gotham becomes safe/crime-free
  3. The Dark Knight Rises [Prestige] 
    1. Bruce doesn't want to be Batman anymore
    2. Returning as Batman, savior, finding his true self again.
    3. Loses his fear of dying (as both Bruce Wayne and Batman)
    4. Escapes the Prison, Returns to Gotham, Dies
    5. Batman becomes a living legend, Bruce is
    6. Free to live like he wants
["The first part is called the pledge, the magician shows you something ordinary. The second act is called the turn, the magician takes the ordinary something and makes it into something extraordinary. But you wouldn't clap yet, because making something disappear isn't enough. You have to bring it BACK. Now you're looking for the secret. But you won't find it because of course, you're not really looking. You don't really want to work it out. You want to be fooled." - Cutter from The Prestige (Touchstone Pictures, 2006, Director: Christopher Nolan)]

He told you what was going to happen!!
The Prestige (Touchstone Pictures, 2006)

I encourage you to look for the 'Hero Epic Cycle' in any narratives you happen to watch. Remember that each aspect can be emphasize or emphasize according to the director's wishes. Also, Epics are not the same as folk/fairy tales (pg. 21 onward of Hero of a Thousand Faces). Let me know what you think. 

Friday, August 3, 2012

God is a Well-Spoken Black Man

Bruce Almighty (Universal Pictures, 2003)

The title of this post shouldn't surprise anyone. We've seen, or rather, heard Morgan Freeman impart information that only a omnipresent, omniscient being could know. In March of the Penguins (Bonne Pioche, 2005) he revealed how penguins survive Antarctica's extreme climate with faithful love. He showed us what it means to live (and love) even when the end is near in The Bucket List (Warner Bros., 2007).   In Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2005, 2008, 2012), Freeman played a man who had all the tools, was smart enough to repair them, and who knew right from wrong. Even in Wanted (Universal Pictures, 2008) he represented Weaver, the one who chose the hits, who knew who had to die and who to live.

Morgan Freeman's voice-over in the Visa Olympic 'Go World' campaign, well, it's as if God is telling us to cheer for our athletes because He hears us and helps them achieve [our] goals. The 'Go World' tag even shows that God isn't biased. And uses Visa. 

Aptly named Freeman isn't the only Well-Spoken Black Man who gets to channel the voice of God. The 'Token Black' in movies and television has become the voice of reality/reason/truth. Let's look at some of our favorite television shows:

The Office: We have Stanley and Daryl. 

Stanley he doesn't engage in (many) of The Office's shenanigans, he just wants to get through his day and get out. He calls people (mostly Michael Scott) out on BS, doesn't put any pretenses up, AND wants to be a lonely Astronaut.

Darryl, entered The Office from the warehouse (the Other). As such, other characters (Andy) approach him as if he has some sort of 'Street Smarts' and often ask him for advice. Darryl is aware of his power and his freedom to make his own way through the office and keeps a cool, humble head. 

American Idol and other variety-competition shows:

What have Randy Jackson, Ceelo Green, and Nick Cannon got in common? They've appeared as the fair and balanced voice of Reasson. People tend to see the Black as unbiased and objective who rely on their knowledge/experience to make fair judgement rather than personal taste or preferences (opposed to 'mean' Simon Cowell, or 'nice' Sharon Osborn). The variety-competion shows don't limit Blacks to hosting and juding however. Arguably, their Black contestants are the most popular. Remember the dancer tWtich from So You Think You Can Dance (2008)? Or this year's Joshua Ledet on American Idol? They didn't win, but I believe they were the most admired individuals because they relied on their talents rather than mere sex appeal or general acceptance.

Joshua Ledet on American Idol (Fox, 2012)
Singin' with God in his Soul

Is that the key? Does our society see Black as individuals who can only advance with God-given extraordinary talents? A friend of mine explained to me that the only perceived way 'out' for a African-American man was through sports or other 'entertainment' media (aka talent). Don't believe me? Take a look at NBC's portrayal of one of our Olympians:

African Americans as God's chosen race counters historic records, but it makes sense if we look at today's facts. 79% of the African American population identify themselves as religious as compared to 56% of the general population. As a religious community, African Americans have added much to American culture, namely the long lineage of Gospel Music that African slaves brought to America and adapted to Christianity. Martin Luther King Jr., in-arguably the greatest American figure in the latter half of the 20th century, lead the Civil Right Movement with his preaching skills (and strong, resonant voice).

Of course, America now has an African American President, who ran under the campaign of 'Hope' and 'Change'. Presumably, Americans voted for this great man because they had faith in his talents to advance American in the 21st Century. We believed in Him. Barack Obama campaigned the same year Bruce Almighty came out. We can't really discern the movie first helped Americans see Black as the keeper of knowledge, or if it only happened after voters elected Obama into the Oval Office, but I propose the two were related.

What we do see in recent years is more African Americans portraying characters who protect and/or posses some sort of secret knowledge- whether that be technical skills, moral high ground, or outright intelligence. Although this does not mean representations of African-Americans in the media accurately reflect demographics, nor are all representations Black (i.e. Tracy Morgan's character in 30Rock). It does reflect a change in America's mind-set, one that acknowledges the African American community as valuable to America's well being.

Poster for Book of Eli movie

Other 'Black:'

  • Eli in Book of Eli (Alcon Entertainment, 2010): Do I need to explain this one? 
  • Nick Fury in The Avengers (Marvel Studios, 2012): Up until 2002 this character was white. 
  • Perry White in Man of Steel (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2013): Again, traditionally white character. He's the Editor-in-Chief at the Daily Planet.
  • Heimdall in Thor (Marvel Studios, 2011): The gatekeeper who sees both the Earthly and Asgard Realms
  • Storm in X2, and X-Men: The Last Stand, (Twentieth Century Fox Film, 2003, 2006): She becomes the school's leader (keeper) after Xavier's death. 
  • Troy Barnes in Community (NBC, 2009 - 2012): He has magical skills to fix A/C and Plumbing!
  • Agent J in Men In Black (Amblin Entertainment, 1997, 2002, 2012): He has the street-skills to save the world! 
  • Morpheus in The Matrix (Warner Bros, 1999, 2003): The guy searching for 'The One' to liberate the people. 
  • Mufasa in The Lion King (Disney, 1994): "Remember who you are..."

In Association with 'Black'

  • Oprah in Life (Discovery Channel, 2010)
  • Maids in The Help (Dreamworks SKG, 2011)
  • Shirley Bennet in Community (NBC, 2009 -2012)

Have more? Do you dispute my claims? Comment below.