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The Post-Game Show » 2010 » February

Archive for February, 2010

Sinking Ships: Chuck Versus The Fandom

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

I’m going to talk about this week’s Chuck, Chuck Versus the Mask, and the discussion will include spoilers, but they’re the sort of spoilers that ought not to matter to anyone. You know what comes after ‘boy meets girl’, right? Then these aren’t  really spoilers. You understand narrative momentum, don’t you? Of course you do. But you’ve been warned. Also, Torchwood spoilers, but if you’re not up-to-date on that by now, heaven help you.

brandon-routhBrandon Routh

So, this season on Chuck, they introduced a new contrivance to keep Girl and Boy apart, and they introduced the characters of Other Girl (played by a former Lana Lang), and Other Boy (played by a former Superman, above). And do you know what happens when Boy and Girl break up, and Boy meets Other Girl and Girl meets Other Boy? It’s called ‘a complication’. These are what they put in stories to keep the story interesting. These are what the put in stories to keep Boy and Girl apart so that the story can keep on going, because when Boy and Girl get together, the story is over.

You know all this. You don’t have a housekeeper who comes in and waters you twice a week. You know how this works.

And Other Boy is a guest star. And Other Girl is a guest star. And it’s a spy show, so chances are one or both of them will turn out to be a traitor, and one or both of them will end up dead, and Boy and Girl will get back together only for another complication to get in their way (or the show will get cancelled). And everyone waiting for Boy and Girl to finally get together once and for all can enjoy the long ache of deferred gratification, which is what a story is. Love stories, horror stories, adventure stories, war stories, comedies; they all rely on tension. Stories happen in the gap between expectation and fulfilment.

You know all this, because no-one sews your gloves to a long piece of string and feeds the string through the arms of your coat.

But certain fans of Chuck don’t seem to know this. TV reviewer Alan Sepinwall blogged about the latest episode, in which Chuck attempted to steal a mask of Alexander that blatantly looked like a mask of Agamemnon (travesty), and fans of the show revolted. But not about the historically  inaccurate mask, which would have been understandable; about the Other Boy and Other Girl thing.

Talk on Sepinwall’s blog is of how these plot developments have destroyed the show or torn out its heart; “that was the worst episode ever they killed the characters” (sic). One commentor (or possibly the same one - a lot of the negative comments are anonymous) even suggested a boycott, employing what must be history’s worst invocation of Howard Beale’s, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more”. (Beale’s cry is against the complacency of comfort represented by the pablum on TV; this anonymous fan is crying out to be pandered to by his or her television set. “Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything.”)

howard-bealeAnonymous

The coy nickname for these people is ’shippers’, meaning cheerleaders for a specific fictional relationship. Sometimes they cheer for relationships that are unlikely to ever happen - Wilson and House in House - and sometimes for relationships that are guaranteed to happen - Boy and Girl in Chuck. Either way, they’re usually nutty fundamentalists, with the former category sometimes insisting that their imagined relationship must happen, and the latter so protective of their promised happy ending that they would rather kill the show they love - as a successful boycott would do - than let the story play out.

Take, for example, Ugly Betty. With Ugly Betty officially cancelled, some of that’s show’s fans are adamant that Betty and her boss, Daniel, absolutely have to get together. One even suggested that the characters are contractually obliged to fall in love, because it’s what happened in other versions of the show (adapted from a Colombian telenovela). It’s not impossible that the hook-up could happen in the show’s last remaining episodes, but Ugly Betty long ago abandoned any attempt to play with that relationship as a will-they-won’t-they, because the two actors clicked better as friends than as potential lovers. They are not Boy and Girl.

Then there’s Torchwood, which never quite seemed sure how it wanted to handle its Boy-Meets-Boy romance until the time came to kill off one of the characters, at which point we found out it was a tragic love story. This lead a lot of rabid fans to promise a boycott, or to campaign for the character’s ressurection, and those bruises don’t seem to have faded yet. Boy has since flirted with Some Other Boy, and fans are furious about that as well, as if the character must forever remain chaste in memory of his one lost love, who was really only ever presented as a notch on his bedpost.

Now, I grant you that the death was written in a cheap, pointless way that robbed it of any dramatic weight, but that doesn’t justify the fans’ sense of entitlement in demanding that the death be undone and the writers responsible be flogged in the streets.

I don’t know if the internet invented the feeling among fans that they ‘own’ a show and that its creators should be indebted to them, or if the internet just allowed them to converge in frightening numbers, as it has for so many other fringe fetishes. The show Chuck might actually be grateful for rabid fans, as they may have helped it get renewed when it was on the brink of cancellation - but that in turn may have increased the feeling among some fans that the show should do what they want.

Fans are entitled to have an opinion, and they’re entitled to share it, and they’re entitled to stop watching a show that they don’t like. Where they cross a line is in thinking that their opinions represent a consensus, and that this false consensus should be used as a cudgel to batter the writers. If it were up to fans, shows would all skip past all the obstacles and go straight to the happy ending. That’s not how stories work. Being a good heckler doesn’t make you a good writer. Or, to put it another way; shut up, fans.

What’s Wrong With America’s Military?

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Gay men and women serve openly in the Canadian military. They serve openly in the British military. They serve openly in the Australian military, the Israeli military, the Brazilian military, the Spanish military, the South African military - they serve openly in thirty-one countries around the world. (Thirty-two if you count Russia, where only ‘well adjusted’ homosexuals are allowed to serve, but one hopes that the heterosexual recruits are also ‘well adjusted’.) In all of these countries, from Lithuania to Argentina, the military personnel are disciplined enough to conduct themselves with utmost professionalism.

So what’s wrong with the US military? Why is it so inferior? The US spends more than any other country on its armed forces. It boasts the greatest military strength in the world. It prides itself on being the best in the world. So why is the US military only the 33rd most disciplined?

This is not my judgement, mind you. This is the judgement of the defenders of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, who don’t think the US can be held to meet the expectation set by those other countries. It’s the judgement of California congressman Duncan D Hunter, a former US marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who told NPR that repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would be “bad for the cohesiveness and the unity in the military, especially those that are in close combat”. It’s the judgement of Hunter’s colleague ‘Buck’ McKeon, who wants evidence that repeal “would not degrade wartime military readiness”. It’s the judgement of Senator John McCain, who is concerned about the impact of repeal on the “readiness and effectiveness of the military”. It’s a judgement echoed by Bill Kristol, the conservative columnist and star of City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly’s Gold, who is intitimidated by the “organizational complexity” of repeal.

Estonia dealt with the “organizational complexity” of allowing gays the equal right to get shot at in service to their country. Why isn’t the US up to the task? Where is the rigour? Where is the commitment? What’s wrong with the US military?

Crankypants McCain is so unsure of the abilities of the men and women in the forces that he used to serve in that he’s famously flip-flopped on his commitment to follow the military leadership on the policy. Only four years ago, he said, “the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it”. Now that he faces a more conservative tea-bagger opponent in his upcoming Arizona primary, the senator is no longer persuaded by the opinions of either the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael McMullen, or the retired chairman who originated the policy, Colin Powell, both of whom have said, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy’.

Representative Hunter (who is quite the pretty young thing) told Wolf Blitzer that the difference between the US and other countries - countries that the US serves and fights alongside - is that “their military is much smaller than ours, it’s much more specialized”. The US military is too big for cohesion, readiness, effectiveness. That’s why they keep shooting their own allies.

Wolf pointed out that Israel faces some quite significant military challenges of its own. “[B]ut the Israelis have mandatory service,” said Hunter. “So in Israel, it doesn’t matter if you’d like it or not.” So in Israel they have to tolerate gays in the military, and that means… that the problem… just goes away.

To be fair to Rep Hunter, what he’s really saying is that recruits will be scared away if they know there are gays in the military. This didn’t happen in any of these other countries, but maybe Rep Hunter believes that Americans are less patriotic than people in other countries? Maybe Rep Hunter thinks that America isn’t a very good country, and its citizens aren’t proud of it the way that, say, Norwegians are proud of their country? (I think it’s Norway.) Maybe Americans know that their military isn’t very good, so they’re looking for any excuse not to be part of it?

US forces already serve alongside allies that allow gays to serve openly, of course, and Rep Hunter was in Afghanistan with NATO, so he may already have served alongside gay soldiers, but he claims otherwise. “I didn’t run into any open homosexual men or women with … the Brits, Canadians, Germans, French, the other people that I served with over there.” How would he know? Don’t Americans think that all Continentals are a little bit gay? And that Canadian practically means ‘gay American’? But, as I said, Duncan D Hunter is rather pretty, with quite the loveliest blue eyes, and anyway he was in the Marines, so, he’d know.

Except, the policy he seeks to defend is based on the presumption that he wouldn’t know. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell does not bar gay men and women from serving. It just bars them from pursuing or engaging in homosexual behaviour while in service - gays have to remain celibate, on duty or off, in uniform or out of it, from the day they sign up until the day they are discharged.

Gays don’t have to not be gay. Plenty of men and women in the US military are gay, and Rep Hunter served right alongside them in Afghanistan, and he didn’t know. And if the ban were lifted, he still probably wouldn’t know. First of all, he probably wasn’t the most observant guy in the corps. Second, whether gay or straight, you can’t go around shagging your fellow soldiers when you’re on duty. There’s a whole other set of rules against that. As strapping as he is, Rep Hunter had no reason to believe he’d know he was serving alongside homos, unless he thinks they all wear floral camo. Or little pink triangles.

Gays and lesbians serve in the US military today. Having them do so with honesty, honour and integrity should not be a threat to operational efficiency. Not in any military organisation of any worth, anyway. So what’s wrong with America’s military? Why isn’t it as good as Peru’s?

duncan_marines2Duncan D Hunter (right). Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Mind If I Do.