Tag Archives: movies

2012 Pop Culture Prognostication

Breaking Bad castI’ve done a political clairvoyance act for the last few years on this blog, with more than a few teaspoons of satire thrown in for good measure. But 2012 doesn’t feel like adequate fodder to me, because hello, Barack Obama is going to be reelected President, and all of the other commentary around the election is just noise. So I’m setting my sights on popular culture this time around. With that, here are my thoughts for what I see will be terrific stories, so-so pop moments, and overhyped crap: Read More…

Actual Signs of the End Times: Pop Culture Style

Anonymous movie posterOnce again we’ve passed a doomsday, this one set for October 21, 2011. Well, Hello, October 24. I guess we made it. Hysteria around the Mayan Calendar aside, there are perhaps a few other signs that collectively we’re about to face Armageddon anyway. Here are my guesses, for what it’s worth.

The movie AnonymousOf course the theory about Shakespeare’s fraud on the world of playwrighting has been around for millennia, but to put it into a blockbuster movie, by the same director who made us all terrified of 2012? It’s got to be evidence that soon we won’t need movie making anymore. Because we’ll be fighting over the last can of succotash in the bombed-out grocery store, that’s why. Read More…

The Metaphor Translations: Doomsday Narratives

doomsday movie still

This is the first in a series on narrative deconstruction, looking at tropes.

The other day on NPR, they were talking about Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Seriously, public radio hosted an hour of discussion that sounded more like a promo for a movie and its expected series of new films than journalistic reporting. I need to dig a little now and see if NPR has received any money from 20th Century Fox, the attention on the film’s production and narrative was so all-encompassing.

At some point they got to conversing about why we have a fascination with this idea of our ancestors uprising against us. Is it a narrative about anxiety, or tension about our place in the world? Cultural control issues? Read More…

A Brief History of Bad Product Decisions

I’m old enough that I remember the introduction of “New Coke,” when the soda pop manufacturer decided to make their formula taste closer to that of Pepsi, which I find is most useful as a scrubbing agent rather than a thirst-quenching beverage. It was April 23, 1985, and while it was a little late to be included in all of the Orwellian weird events of 1984, it certainly can still be grouped into the moments we all would love to forget about the 1980s—big hair and scrunchy socks notwithstanding.

There was actual public outcry. People poured the redesigned drink into the streets, and Coke executives were floored. Soon, there was “Coke classic” on the shelves of grocery stores again, and we all breathed a sigh of relief, even as we muttered to ourselves about stupid executives. Quietly, some time later, Coke pulled the new formula altogether. Read More…

Fleeing vs. Invading

This is cross-posted from an article I wrote for I Fry Mine in Butter, a terrific popular culture blog.

holocaust mini seriesIn thinking about the anti-immigrant it’s-okay-to-use-racial-profiling law that passed in Arizona last week, my mind flashed back to V, all the way back to 1983. Knowing that it’s only a matter of time before the Gestapo, I mean, the Visitors, come to take them away for being illegal, I mean, scientists, they ask their former landscaper, Sancho, to get them over the border. Though this storyline and plot moment is fraught with all kinds of stereotypes about Latinos, Jews, police, and the power dynamics between these, it’s still written from the point of view of the smuggler as hero. Of the Latino smuggler as hero, no less. I can wrack my brain (okay, I have wracked my brain, through a nasty course of stomach flu, in fact) and I cannot come up with another instance in the last 40 years in which a mainstream television show or movie depicted illegal immigration by Latinos in this way. (To see the clip, start watching about a minute into the segment below.)

I can, however, come up with dozens of positive depictions of other people fleeing across borders illegally and/or without proper documentation, including, but certainly not limited to:

The Sound of Music

Holocaust (American mini series, 1978)

The Terminal

In America

The Visitor


the visitorThere are also films too numerous to count with positive depictions of legal Latino immigrants in the United States. So why the gap? Wasn’t the U.S. founded by . . . uh, wait a minute. I suppose the U.S. was invaded, after all, over a course of hundreds of years, mostly by Europeans. So perhaps it doesn’t bother us to cheer for people who are emigrates from say, Austria to Switzerland. We can identify with wanting to leave the Continent, is that it? Those countries are so small anyway, it’s like you could sneeze from one sovereign nation to another, so it’s okay if you know, you happen to be on one side of the border, because it’s so likely it would like, be a total accident. Sure. We can get behind that.

Many of these positive narratives spend quality time explaining the circumstances that drove the characters to seek refuge in another country without proper paperwork, in fact, they justify why documentation wasn’t possible under the circumstances. Hell, Clan of the Von Trapps don’t skirt across the Alps until the last 20 seconds of the movie, and that shit is 3 hours long. So, for fascist governments, real or pretend, fleeing is okay. Emphasis on fleeing, as in leaving. Neither the Von Trapps nor the scientists in V are entering the USA.

elian gonzalez at 16The Arizona law also fascinates me because we’ve just passed the 10th anniversary of the Elian Gonzalez fiasco, in which his mother and he set out for the US, leaving behind Cuba and his father. His mother died en route, his relatives in Miami laid claim to him, as he was, after all, fleeing a Communist nation we would accept him once he set foot on U.S. soil. He was 6 at the time. The legal battle that ensued, the taking of Elian by gunpoint from his quiet Florida bedroom, those were shocking images at the time. But we were happy to have him here, even though he didn’t have a stitch of paperwork on him. He was fleeing from forces that weren’t his own making. He was running to a better life.

I think perhaps that’s where we all get caught up. It’s this idea of a better life that is possible here, and not in say, Canada. Mind you, tons of people immigrate to Canada every  year, but we don’t pay that much heed. We’ve got the damn melting pot. Those Canucks, as they told us last Olympic Games, have the tapestry. Whatever. My point is, we’re not paying attention to the circumstances of immigrants—legal or otherwise—when we talk about neo-fascist laws like this one in Arizona. We’re only debating the effects of the law. Immigrants in this polarized, often reductive debate get reduced merely to some monolithic infiltrator: they’re coming here, they want something from us. Maybe we don’t have enough melting pot goodness to go around, and they are looking hungry for s’mores.

It doesn’t suit hegemonic ideas about what the U.S. stands for to say this immigrant is not equal to my grandparents who were immigrants, because every new wave and new region of immigrants has received its due course of stigma in this country. But culturally speaking, as narratives go, the idea that new bodies are in our midst who want our jobs gets a lot more air time, and with the fear that Latinos will be in majority in just the next 20 years, well, that gets some English-only speakers a bit nervous, perhaps. Here, of course, jobs are watered-down as well, not the focus of the conversation, because once you get into which jobs we’re talking about, the hate-mongering around undocumented workers makes no sense. Are we really afraid that there won’t be enough migrant farm worker jobs? Or other poorly paid, under-the-minimum-wage jobs?

Maybe we could use some more narratives, some more instances to humanize the humans who are here with us. It would have to be better than nothing. I’m not suggesting that art and narrative changes culture, but I think the time has passed where we can continue to frame immigration from Latin America as a wave of less-than people coming to take something that isn’t theirs, when that isn’t the case and when that wasn’t the criteria for our Founding Fathers.

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