Dissenting


We Elle Woods and Chery Horowitz continue our journey into the judicial abyss of Pop Culture with the second Pop Culture Supreme Court Case.


Pop Culture Supreme Court Case 2:
In the current media environment, are radio personalities being held to a different and tougher standard than their peers in print and on television?

Opinion
If by standards, we’re talking about public approval standards, my answer is no, radio, television and print are not held to higher standards. When standards are breeched, there are consequences regardless of the method of communication. Unless you are Ann Coulter, in that case you are pretty much allowed to say anything you want without fear of repercussions because clearly you are the devil and nobody wants to mess with you.

Don Imus- Radio Race Ruckus

“My goal is to goad people into saying something that ruins their life.” –Don Imus

The more visibility you have the more likely you are to suffer repercussions for your behavior. There is no way to slide under the wire or request a do-over unless by do-over you mean rehab. In today’s media, public opinion spreads like wildfire via blogs and viral video. In minutes what may have been a few hundred FCC complaints can turn into hundreds of thousands. Consumer watchdog groups and advertisers are in tune with today’s media and can act more quickly when public opinion shifts. As the third most popular morning radio program with a daily audience of over 350k listeners, clearly Imus had the visibility and his remarks were heard ‘round the web. If he were someone with little visibility or he had an editor reviewing his comments before publication, he may have been prevented from making his comments publicly. But probably not, he is after all, Imus. Even if Imus had an editor or censored his comments they could have been leaked and he may have faced the same scrutiny and eventual firing as in the Isaiah Washington case

Isaiah Washington: Television Talent Taunting Talent
While Isaiah Washington’s homophobic remarks were not spoken on air, the news of his onset comments regarding TR Knight’s sexuality was posted on hundreds of websites eliciting thousands of reactions. More people have an opportunity to hear what celebrities have to say as all of the media groups lead with the same story and set it on repeat. Sadly there is a segment of the population that reveres celebrity status and sees celebrities as idols and role models. Celebrities are more visible than ever and along with that visibility comes great responsibility. Kind of like Spiderman.

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Extra, extra: Pen Thinks Before Wielding Sword
The nature of publishing allows for a kind of immediate hindsight. Magazines, newspapers and journals have editors who review content before sending it off to print. It is planned as opposed to live television and radio, which are essentially immediate. While the print medium is accountable to watch dog groups, their subscribers and their advertisers, there is no FCC for print. Magazines and newspapers aren‘t celebrities. Sure writers are famous but they aren’t out front in the public consciousness as much as someone involved in television or radio. If an opinionated reader sends in an offensive editorial and it is printed, that reader doesn’t make headline news and unless his boss gets wind of his remarks and in turn fears for his other employees’ safety or he spews his hatred on fellow employees, it’s unlikely he will be fired.

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Are You Meaner Than a Fifth Grader?
All this talk of consequences is giving me a flashback got me thinking, what we are dealing with here are full grown bullies on the grown up playground of life. How far off are we from the real playgrounds filled with schoolyard bullies when someone is punished by being fired for their remarks? What would the consequences for the same behavior exhibited by the above-mentioned celebrities if in fact they were in the 5th grade. So wearing our most responsible looking ensemble, went to the source consequence distribution: we interviewed a real life grade school principal. Here is what we learned:

Me: What are the consequences when a child uses language like Don Imus or Isaiah Washington used, towards another child?

The Principal: That kind of behavior is UNACCEPTABLE!! We would at least talk to the kids about why
they said that and try to get at why they are being racist or whatever, because that stuff is
racist. From there, depending on the age, we would call the parents and work on some consequences. If it were a 5th grader, the consequences would be serious, possibly suspension.

Me: How about when a kid makes an offensive joke? What are the consequences?

The Principal: This is serious stuff – it is a manner of bullying and we don’t allow students to treat each other that way. We try to maintain a culture where kids don’t want to hurt each other and we try to educate them about how it makes a person feel etc.

Mr. Willis to the Principal’s Office

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“I hate to think we live in a time when you can get fired from your job because of what you say. [Isaiah Washington] didn’t punch anyone. I think we’ll think differently with hindsight.”

– Bruce Willis to Time magazine

So in response to the quote above, yes, Mr. Willis, you can get fired from a job for what you say but only if you didn’t learn the lessons of human decency while on the playground.

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In conclusion: no, radio, television and print aren’t held to different standards – however, the visibility of the speaker may make it appear that way. In this age of wall-to-wall news, off-the-cuff remarks are going to get a lot of exposure, and the nature of print doesn’t lend itself to off-the-cuff remarks. Thus, it’s natural that radio and TV would be seen as having the highest scrutiny.

Fun with the FCC

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The question of remakes has been long-discussed elsewhere. The evidence against them is apparent in any number of films made as more or less direct copies of older films, an onslaught that seems to grow every year. But I’ve chosen to focus on just one case against: the 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the 2003 remake of said film.

The original version is a true classic of horror in the best grindhouse tradition. For the first half of the film, nothing much happens, except for characters just talking and yelling and fighting. Some kids on their way to a concert get lost in rural Texas, and stop to use a phone. One unlucky soul wanders into someone’s house… and suddenly, a tall man with a mask made of human flesh and a butcher’s smock walks out from behind a metal sliding door, knocks him in the head with a wooden mallet and, like a butcher with a dead pig, pulls him into a blood-stained room. The door slams shut behind them.

And even with the bits of weirdness we’ve seen so far, we’re left to wonder.

What the hell just happened?

That kind of unease is not only what drives the movie; it’s the entire point of the movie. Not the violence—what there is of it; you think you see a lot more than you actually do—but the intense schism between what we know as the mundane of the every day and the sudden randomness of cruelty and terror. In a sense, the film has no real plot, not in a sense that the plot tells a story. It’s fairly simple grindhouse stuff: some kids talk for 45 minutes, then something weird happens, and the last 45 minutes are intense as, for lack of a better word, a monster chases the victims until one of them gets away. There’s no real story there; it’s just action.

But the movie is about something, and it’s much deeper than monster chases pretty girl. It’s about violence. It’s about horror. It is a reaction to the mood of America in 1974, trying desperately to get out of Vietnam and reacting to the tense mood of the country. The death of the sense of brotherhood and togetherness of the sixties was occurring, and it was being replaced with something more selfish and, at the same time, more fearful. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in 1974, said that even in the American heartland, we are not always safe. We can’t walk into someone’s house and treat them in a cavalier manner, because we never know what’s hiding behind the door. And that is the terrifying truth at the heart of the film’s horror.

 

Jumping ahead three decades, the remake of the film is released. The plot is essentially the same, but the effect is completely different. Knowing that the audience is at least passingly familiar with the original movie, the filmmakers try to up the ante by having strange things happen earlier. But they don’t seem to know anything about the grindhouse structure, and telegraph their scares with moody music and overwrought production design. The film simply tries too hard to shock.

The remake also falls straight into one of the problems I have with current American cinema: they explain too much and feel too little. So the film tries to come up with an origin for the monsters, but can’t sell it because of the lack of genuine character in the film. The people in this story are really here to be moved around by the conventions of the action film genre. Which is fine, if you can make it work; the original film was much the same, but conveyed a feeling and made a social point simply by the fact that the film was so genuine. The remake is slick and cynically made to be merely a popcorn movie. It is a commercial enterprise, and all that entails. Nothing more; nothing special; nothing memorable. And there are no surprises.

Ultimately, the remake fails because it trades horror for cruelty. There is a meanness of spirit to it. The film is no longer about anything; America, people, or otherwise. It barely resembles the original, so why even bother calling it a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Disassociation wouldn’t make it a better movie, but it would at least give the illusion that the filmmakers set out to make something that wasn’t merely a copy for the sake of money.

And overwhelmingly, this is the reason why I have to decide that direct remakes should be disallowed in American filmmaking. They trade on a familiar property to make some quick cash, and the few films that actually add something or tell a genuine story are lost in the shuffle or tainted by association with inferior remakes. And with remakes of nearly every truly good horror and science fiction film of the 1970s and early 1980s planned, the future of filmgoing is looking bleak indeed. No wonder more and more of us are staying at home and watching our DVDs of the originals.

Remakes are the bane of the current Hollywood system, and with every passing year, the glut of recycled and modernized versions is slowly destroying our culture. Now I am not talking about movies that take an old tale and reforge for a new setting and audience, like for instance O Brother, Where Art Thou’s take on The Odyssey. No, I am talking exclusively about the direct remake, because let’s face it, for every Ocean’s Eleven or The Thing, there are five remakes like The Wicker Man, Alfie or Planet of the Apes.

And the onslaught of remakes is getting worse year after year, as the studios rely on these kinds of movies as safe investments. They choke out the flower of original thought from being developed by the studios much like weeds and with the power of those same studios and theatre chains behind them, for every remake that is produced, that is money that doesn’t go into original production. And it is getting to the point where even relatively recent independent films are starting to be remade as star vehicles, like 1992’s Meet the Parents, which was transformed into a Ben Stiller/Robert DeNiro blockbuster just 8 years later. And one would think that will television being less hospitable for writers because of reality programming there would have been a net increase in the breadth and quality of cinematic writing, but that has not been the case.

It is true the argument can be made that throughout the history of the arts, certain stories get told over and over again, and it is a totally valid argument. But at the same time, these stories were propagated in societies that produced a wide variety of original thought and expression, whereas the current crop of remakes are quite frankly creatively bankrupting our collective cultural experience. And it isn’t like this is a recent problem, as one only has to look back on 1976’s King Kong to understand that, or the fact that in the past 100 years, there have been 7 versions of Brewster’s Millions. Seven. Did there need to be seven version of this same story? I don’t think so. Granted, I can imagine young entertainment writers in the 1950’s and 60’s lamented about the fact that the major studios were remaking Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments with cutting edge technology, even though in many cases, the parties remaking these films were the original filmmakers themselves.

There is a certain arrogance that these filmmakers have to have, especially when they set out to remake a film that is either a classic or has a cult status, to think that they can somehow bring something new to these projects. For example, Gus Van Sant must have just been full of hubris when he took on the task of remaking Psycho shot-by-shot, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s classics, or Tim Burton believing he could somehow erase the memory of the original iconic Planet of the Apes with his own tepid effort. Yes, there are those rare occasions when a second look at material provided room for it to develop into a better story, but what usually happens is a ham-fisted production that is often devoid those elements which made the original what it was.

But my problem with this phenomenon goes further than that. When you look at the history of filmmaking, yes, there were almost always remakes, but the ratio of these kinds of films to original work was much more balanced. Think about it… if you compare how many remakes were being made even 10 years ago and the output today, it is quite startling. Using lists compiled at Wikipedia to come up with a rough estimate for remakes scheduled for this year vs. those released in the year 1997, the ratio comes out to 35:21, a 66% increase More than a few of those titles in 1997 were television productions as well, and if factored into that rough calculation, today’s remake output is nearly double that of a decade ago. At this early date, the totals for 2008 are already up to 14 in development or production, with almost 18 months left until 2009, so this trend looks likely to continue.

There are two things that happen when you see a bad remake of an earlier movie you haven’t seen. Either you want to see the source material to see what the current cast and crew were imbibing when they agreed to do the awful remake or you are forever soured to that storyline entirely. But I worry not so much about myself, because, let’s face it, I’m a big boy and I can look after myself. No… I worry about the children. I mean, if all they ever get to see are crappy remakes, how will they ever know quality cinematic entertainment? Even though a lot of the movies that are being remade now weren’t A-List material to begin with, they still collectively represent a sizable part of our shared pop cultural heritage.

So on the question of “should there be a moratorium on remakes”, there is only one way I can answer? Absolutely, because if we don’t stop them now, they will soon come after every movie we ever loved. They are already coming for Clash of the Titans, Escape from New York, Adventures in Babysitting, The Birds and Logan’s Run. How many more of the movies we loved as children and young adults must be sullied by inferior remakes?