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This is a type of racism.

10. Trek/LOTR: The False Empire

Personally I have nothing against hardcore fans of Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings because I don’t know any. But when I say the word, “Fan Convention,” you probably picture what you’ve seen on TV, the very stereotyped image of fat guys dressed up like Klingons, with the forehead and everything, or cute chicks in elf costumes (booth babes) paid to solicit sex appeal. Let’s focus on the fat guy though.

Thing about fans of Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings is they are what we think of when we think “uncool nerd.” Nerds today are cool, for whatever reason, but these guys are the traditionalists. They got heart. But they’re parody-magnets, and reflexively self-deprecating.

9. The Internet

This one would be #1 but it’s too broad. Let me specify. These are the guys who both attempt to get very high ratings on YouTube comments, and cannot stand it when people attempt to get very high ratings on their YouTube comments. These can be the most spiteful, bigoted individuals who form a mass collective of the faceless, shrouded and shielded in the armor of anonymity. It’s an old criticism, but these people have yet to stop.

8. Non-Conformists

This relates to #2 on this list. When there’s a big popular thing out, where right now it’s The Hunger Games and Twilight, there are people who will love them, and people who will refuse to touch them. The camps are set, and historically it’s always been this way. There’s a certain phobia people have about popular things, about maybe ‘selling out’ or ‘if you can’t beat em, join em!’ as if this was some sort of competition.

7. Ex-Star Wars

Being more of an Indiana Jones guy myself, I could recognize but not empathize with the Tragedy of Darth Vader, that is, the downfall of the Star Wars trilogy duology. Especially since the last live-action Star Wars film to be released (not re-released) is easily my favorite. 1999 was a crazy year for Star Wars fans, who bought tickets for Wing Commander just to see the trailer for The Phantom Menace, and then leave before Wing Commander started. But then, you know what happened. I think Spaced put the post-Phantom Menace angst the best (“Jar-Jar makes the Ewoks look like fucking Shaft!”) and it touched on that very real nerve in pop culture.

But it’s been so long that they’ve re-released Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, in 3D, yet in that time the fire has only grown, as Lucas has continued to make bad decision after bad decision and care only about technology and the Clone Wars, but I think I’ve personally had enough. Extreme hatred is of course a measure of passion, and Star Wars has elicited great passion over its many years in existence, but I don’t know. Lucas is a businessman first, having long since given up on being an art film director, and focusing on moving the franchise sideways, infinitely sideways. We won’t see any proper sequels, we won’t see that live-action TV series. Not in his lifetime, unfortunately.

6. Arcade Fire

I’ve never heard Arcade Fire’s music, but I know that fans of alternative indie-rock all seem to like Arcade Fire. But at this point, they probably diss on Arcade Fire because it’s old. That’s the beef I got with fans of that type of music. I’ve found that these guys are really sensitive about their fandom (like all fans), with the whole “I liked that band before they were cool” thing. Ownership of what’s fanned over (fawned over, equally applicable) is always uncomfortable, because no one person can stake a claim to what they’re into. This isn’t just something that reccurs within fans of this obscure type of music, who probably resent the movies Drive and Scott Pilgrim for opening up all sorts of weird genres to a broader audience, but in movies too, where for me it’s the most troubling.

Some people, and I’ve been guilty of this, don’t seem to get that more people experiencing what you like is good — unless #9 on this list plays into it. I would love to discuss all things Alien Quadrilogy with a fellow nerdlet, but then again, I would probably go seething if some fool rolled up on me and was like “I’m a huge fan of science-fiction… because of David Lynch’s Dune…”

5. Cinephiles

I don’t want to hear your crap about whatever obscure movie from the mid-60s in France (the only time/place good movies came out of) or theories or movements because it’s all garbage and get out. I think the real problem I have with movie superiority is trashing on ‘lesser’ films, which typically are those directed by Michael Bay. I’m not too keen on Transformers, but Michael Bay has a solid eye for visuals and action. He doesn’t subscribe to auteur theory, because that theory is actually horseshit.

The thing about people who delve into the obscure is that they do just that. In an Age of the Internet anybody can know anything at anytime. In a week I can learn a whole lot about… this insect. But I can’t waddle up to you the next day and be like, “The dung beetle is … and that’s fascinating because … significance,” because you could just as easily sling trivia about… this car.

4. Whedonites

What’s worse, people who love Joss Whedon, or people who hate Joss Whedon? I cannot decide. I’m a fan of Firefly, and I greatly enjoyed Dr. Horrible, but I’m not a real reader of comics, and I’ve only seen a few episodes of Buffy, so while I like Joss Whedon, I also tire of his quirks. But I’m talking about the people who don’t tire of his quirks, and specifically I’ve had two college professors profess their love for Buffy — one going so far as to say that it’s the most important TV show in its time — which to me is crazy. Does it piss me off? Of course not, but I’m aware that high passions for things generate all sorts of heat. This is Whedon’s year too — we’ll see what happens for the dude.

3. Video-Gamers

There’s so many layers to this one; how do we approach it? Most recently there was the Mass Effect 3 kerfuffle that spawned an irritating meme, throughout time (since mid-2000s) we’ve had ‘those 12 year old kids on XBL,’ and the persistent image of the gamer as an immature loser ‘livejournaling from his mom’s basement.’ Video-games have definitely gotten cooler and sexier and all that, but children do make up a majority of the audience — just walk down any video-game aisle of your local Bestbuy or Circuit City (?) and take a gander at all the blood-soaked, assault-rifle toting heroes of war, standing over the conquered Arabs or Aliens plastered on box after box.

Games like Heavy Rain and BioShock do attempt to legitimize the medium, but as long as vdeo-gamers will be predominantly kids… they’ll stay at #3. I hate kids.

2. Trenders

I guess another term for these would be like, “Mainstream Fans,” which might sound bitchy on my part, but hear me out. There are passionate fans of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, no doubt, but these things are so popular that you’ll get two types of non-fans: those who read or watch to join in on the conversation and keep up, and those who really get into it and then decide it’s uncool when everybody else has. They’re the real killers of these franchises (remember Eragon? Artemis Fowl?) although I’m sure quality of product plays a part.

When I was younger I always felt that Metallica would never die because while it was popular, it was never really like the biggest thing. That was always for like N Sync and Lady Gaga, so they could have their corner and keep it. In time of course I’d come to understand to some degree the complexities of the music industry, but I think the principle applies here. The Hunger Games unfortunately will fall hard, because it flies high right now. If I picked up The Da Vinci Code today, or hell, possibly even The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, I’d probably get laughed at for being behind on the times.

I’ll stick with my Philip K. Dick, although he’s starting to get really popular. That makes me so mad (#6).

1. Otakus

Well here we have the big one, the great godfathers of all fans and nerds. To explain, the ‘otaku’ is the term Americans use to describe American fans of Japanese anime & manga first and foremost, but also of Japanese culture. Otakudom is a scary thing, often synonymous with ideas such as the notorious and nefarious ‘furries,’ who often believe they are fantasy monsters born in the incorrect, human bodies.

This is only one example of why anime fans are so reviled by fans of anime and people who have tertiary knowledge of this culture — there’s also the anime/manga itself, which are mediums rife with tentacle porn, little girl porn, demon porn, alien porn — you get the picture. It’s weird stuff, the stuff that makes Akira look downright western. I’d recommend podcasts like Anime World Order or Fast Karate for the Gentleman for more information on the weirdness of anime. They’re fans, but also normal people, so they can comment on all the weirdness with a relatable voice.

The Otaku culture is one that’s maybe misunderstood, I don’t know. I do know that I would never, ever want to visit an Otakon or anything like that because… furries, man. I think American culture is a little hard on flamboyance, and I can understand that to an extent. I don’t appreciate the stereotypical ‘flamboyant gays’ when I see them because they, you know, perpetuate a dangerous stereotype, but these are just kids having fun. They do, frequently, take that fun too far, but fandom is a celebration of the things you like with people who share that interest. The Internet’s made that easier, and even if it’s caused a whole hell of a lot of hell, we got something good out of it. They did, at least.

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Major spoilers for American History X

One of the most startling criticisms of American History X is that the writing tends to favor the white supremacy arguments, and speeches made by Derek Vinyard and company are the ones that make the most sense. The conclusion to be drawn here is that the movie, in its attempt to counter racism, becomes racist.

I think it’s helpful to view the racism as a theme in American History X as a vessel of the truly significant theme: ideology. What’s important about the Neo-Nazism is not how it applies to race relations as depicted in the film, but that it is so strong. We witness Derek committing atrocities in the name of this mentality – assaulting a grocery store that had been taken over by a Korean and a group of illegal immigrants – and so it must be that his speeches are equally strong. It would be incorrect for us to take anything from these speeches but ‘he is so sick that he’s actually made sense of this.’

The change that Derek undergoes is so powerful because it is these strong ideologies that betray him and leave him entirely shaken. The black-and-white flashbacks to the first timeline show a Derek that is aggresive, strong, intelligent, and charismatic. Ethan Suplee’s character Seth and Derek’s girlfrield Stacy are both in love with him, but as the second timeline’s party sequence shows, they only love the Nazi within him. Once that Nazi was removed, he became the new Derek, released from prison, and an enemy of the cause.

The ultimate lesson taken out of American History X is that deeply ingrained philosophy and teachings can lead to narrow-mindedness, which is very dangerous. In this way, the Neo-Nazism in the movie which is such an important subject, could almost be swapped out for any other extremist ideal, and that bothers me as a fan of science-fiction, where the science-fiction elements are often not integral to the themes. That naturally leads me to the question: why were they selected? Sometimes there is a reason, as in the case of The Forever War, but I prefer the scenario where the SF is absolutely essential to the novel, as in the case of something like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? That movie is about two things, and they’re both androids. It examines the android as a detached human being, and in this way, discusses at length the android as fictional creation.

In American History X, other than the fact that Neo-Nazism is an extension of Nazism, and this brings in discussion of hate from the past (more on that later), I still haven’t quite come to the most satisfying conclusion as to why it’s Neo-Nazism other than it would be interesting to see. And it is interesting – the things that these people do are interesting and often compelling. But a very similar movie could have been done with even Muslim extremists. If the heart and soul of the movie is a redemption story that so perfectly conveys the message, the skin is the Neo-Nazism.

I don’t believe that this is negatively impactful on the final picture, because American History X is extremelypowerful. The use of slow-motion and over-the-top scoring in tandem is used to heighten small moments, like the shower scene of Timeline: Present, or Timeline: Past’s scene where Derek’s mother looks back on the house after boyfriend Murray leaves her, and is very effective. Stand-alone sequences like the Rodney King discussion and the party-crashing are very memorable, and of course, are all held together by a famously good performance by Edward Norton. The redemption arc, which in itself is interesting as an inversion of the classic revenge tale, hinged on the power of Norton, and he came through.

Perhaps the most important thing that the Neo-Nazism as subject provides for the movie is creating a sense of disgust in our perception of the character of Derek, and the fact that he ends up sympathetic by the end pays a testament to the strength of the screenplay. Somehow this character executes a black person and we know that he does this specifically because he is black, and later on we are rooting for him. The redemption story is very well constructed; a rare instance where a nonlinear timeline was put to great use. Here, the timeline jumping from past to present compares constantly the character at the two ends of the redemption, and foreshadows that the past is not so easily forgotten, and may come back to haunt us – a parallel to the ending of the movie.

The redemption story is almost a revision of the revenge story, where the revenge story finds a hero and turns him into a monster, which is a time honored tale reaching as far back as Shakespeare and finding a particular home with our modern Chan-Wook Park, but I find this redemption story as a template more profound: we start with a villainous, easy-to-hate character who throughout the events of the movie, becomes a hero.

Of course, the lesson of the movie comes full circle by the end of the movie, where the redemption story, while doing good for our hero, isn’t enough. Danny is shot for his actions earlier, and with these young gangster types, as we learn from Singleton pictures, kids with guns are opportunists and don’t get pushed far to be considered pushed. Ultimately, the evils of the past have serious ramifications – but only if we continue to let them. Neo-Nazism may just be important because it is a continuation of Nazism, and American History X teaches us (the title of couse referring to such unconventional teachings, a la Higher Learning) that strong ideologies that existed yesterday, like Nazism, brought into today that we let invade our minds can not be treated – it has to be prevented.

  
The day after watching Singleton’s fourth film, Rosewood, I found myself at a point culmination of long reflection: I didn’t want to write about this movie. It’s a movie that should be seen, but you don’t need me to tell you that. It’s certainly not a pleasant experience, and in this sense it’s a far cry from Boyz N the Hood and Higher Learning. Even if the movie wasn’t based on history, the movie would be tough to sit through – the imagery, the violence, the subject matter – it’s a rough one, kind of a downer. But I did want to chime in on Rosewood for the third entry in the John Singleton journey because I had one major issue with it.
As mentioned earlier, this is John Singleton’s fourth film after Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Higher Learning. It’s the first film he did not write, and this is very noticeable. I think the filmmaker’s strongest suit, despite showing a strong eye for visual detail with Higher Learning, is his writing. His penchant for having powerful human stories inside these reflections of the ghetto makes me think that he could’ve had equal success in novel-writing, and even though the subject matter couldn’t be farther apart, I’d liken some of his movies to the Kate Chopin book The Awakening.

 

I read that book a couple of months ago for high school and it was certainly an exercise in theme, and how the author interweaves that theme through the narrative. Boyz was a coming-of-age tale with a message that was told with the surface of gangland violence in South Central LA. Higher Learning was similar. Rosewood was a retelling of the Rosewood massacre, which saw the destruction of a black-dominated town in Florida by the hands of angry white people. The dual-narrative was there – we see Ving Rhames and a family try to escape the violence – but this story lacks the thematic punch of the previous movies.

The message of “we really need to understand each other” I think is implicit – it is the lesson that must be learned by the event itself. The point behind Boyz N the Hood was the impact of a father on a son, how being a responsible father can save a life in this environment. That came out of the personal story that was unique to Singleton’s script, not the premise of the world. I can empathize with the creators of the movie; it’s a powerful enough premise to reach at least the standard of a great film. I just don’t think it reached the John Singleton standard.

There were moments in the movie that really could have been expanded upon, interesting ideas that were almost fully realized. For example, we find out that Jon Voigt and Ving Rhames served in the navy and army, repectively. Like Michael Rooker’s sheriff character, they are bound to action by a sense of duty. The two are here in Rosewood fighting a second war – allies in this crisis. But on another level, they would be seen as enemies in this time period, based on the colors of their skin. The fact that they are brought together here as soldiers says a lot of things, but ultimately the movie itself has this element act as almost an afterthought. It’s treated like parts of the characterizations, which of course it is, but it could’ve been more.

 The Singleton-esque moments of payoff that did exist in the movie worked, like the resolution of the racist father and young son, but the point of the movie overall was a retelling of a story that got buried. The plotline they created to run parallel to the historical events was also pretty good, though I’ve heard the ending chase sequence described as “to Hollywood,” or some junk like that. The ending action was very well-executed, but I think the pain and suffering shown on screen that led up to the rather exciting climax (Ving Rhames + shotgun = people falling off of horses = totally sweet) undercuts it somewhat. It was hard to get back from where I was led, and I think the effectiveness of the last scene (not very effective…) is a testament to the effectiveness of all that led up to it. I was not spiritually with it by that point (if that’s not too stupid for me to say) because the bodies in the pit and the hangings in the swamp sequences were just too hard-hitting.

I recommend Rosewood, but at the same time, I don’t. It doesn’t reflect on the strengths of our director as something like Higher Learning does, and it sure as hell isn’t a popcorn, have-a-buddy-over flick. It’s a sombre, powerful, depressing picture that is a product of a sombre, powerful, depressing time.

 

 

Major Spoilers for Higher Learning

I think what John Singleton demonstrates with Higher Learning is his ability to get a message across in a Hollywood film, using a variety of methods – allegory, stereotypes, and even plain old good writing. If Strange Days is James Cameron’s best script, Avatar is probably his worst. Compare the latter with this movie: Avatar uses a plastic-transparent metaphor to tell us that we should get along with people who are different, or maybe it’s telling us that we should have when we invaded America, and nobody, not anybody, not even me, thought it was a good idea: that story was terrible. Even though Higher Learning says essentially the same thing, that we should all get along and junk, it goes about it in a fashion that is intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

Now, intellectually of course is a touchy word to throw around. This is not to say that Higher Learning is pretentious or that it is like the smartest thing ever, man. It’s not an Oshii film (pretentious). It is however, a movie about racism and hatred. It is more comparable to something like Do the Right Thing than to American History X, to give a frame of reference. There is no rigid plotline, but characters and events that eventually come together.

The movie is centered around a college, a place of higher learning, if you will. This is sort of a mechanic that Singleton uses to explore areas of hatred, fear, confusion, and most of all education. You go to school to learn about stuff, and then you enter society. It’s a stepping stone. According to this movie, high school would be for science, history, math, and language, but college would be for learning how to be a person, learning about yourself and your place relative to everyone else. The students in this school, Columbus University, learn by means of traditional educators, and perhaps just as importantly, each other. Not only do students pass around flyers for clubs and engage in discussions, they also struggle to come to grips with each other.

When the three main characters – Remmy, girl, and the main guy whose name I can’t spell or remember – go to college, are outsiders initially. They experience this new world their own ways, this world where, as Ice Cube points out early on, people are undoubtedly defined by their race or gender or sexual preference or mentality. Some fit in readily, some learn hard, and some are slow to be accepted.

The last of which is Remmy, played by Michael Rappaport. He’s probably the most interesting character, as he embodies most readily the idea of people as victims of their environments. He’s an outsider, from a town nobody else is, and he can’t seem to fit in with anyone. He moves out of his dorm because he’s at odds with Ice Cube, and he almost gets into a fight with one of the white people on the other side, over there. He’s a softspoken guy who uses the word “man” as a form of punctuation – he’s hard to hear, and he’s kind of irritating to listen to.

Cole Hauser sees fit to take advantage of this. Hauser, who I only ever see as the guy from Pitch Black, channels Remmy’s frustration and out-of-placeness into hatred by both feeding him skinhead agendas and creating both a target (other races) and a victim (white people by reverse discrimination). Remmy isn’t a bad guy, but he sure as hell becomes one. By the end, even after a gun is in his hands, he’s still just confused and frustrated, but we can add manipulated to that list. The development of his frustration into anger (that we don’t believe he is 100% consciously into) manifests itself as the neo-Nazis around him. These are his educators.

Malik, the student I could not earlier name, is just the reverse of this, ‘reverse’ being defined only by race. His teachers are Ice Cube and his crazy buddy. They are always yelling at the cops, and they’re usually right about things. Cops inadvertendly jump to certain conclusions (telling the black crowd to ‘break it up’ but not the white crowd) and Ice Cube is left angry. He sees this freshman who has to run on the track team in order to pay for school, and he sees inequality.

Tyra Banks, yes, she’s in this movie, disagrees. She tells Malik, played by Omar Epps, that many would die to be in the position he is. He’s actually in college. But she gets through to him only too late. “Getting through” are probably key words. The effectiveness of education is measured in real-world decisions: after Tyra Banks is shot by Remmy, instead of running to get help, as Laurence Fishburne wants him to, Malik runs after the shooter. This scene works twofold in terms of ‘the message.’ Not only is it affecting emotionally, but it is subtely allegorical. More subtle than when Remmy takes off his hat in the middle of science class, revealing his newly shaved head. He is flanked on all sides by people of different races, and makes his statement. The lack of dialogue in the scene draws the audience to the significance of the character’s actions – Singleton comes closest here to bashing us over the head, but at least it serves a point for the character, and is followed and preceded by more subtle examples.

Education for young people indicates the future. In this sense, Higher Learning is all about time. The age-old conflicts between races have deep ramifications that extend to the modern-day; Ice Cube notes that black people have been victims for centuries and stuff, and he compares the college to slavery in some way, implying that he and the African American slaves are one in the same to some level, I thought to myself: that’s the classic mindset that people who are racist have. They think that because people hated each other back in the day, that it should continue. Why does “white man’s guilt” exist today? What did my good buddy Podcast co-host ever do to a black person?

But this was intentional by the writer. A neo-Nazi fights with a supporter of the Black Panthers – they never experienced slavery or Affirmative Action, but they’re angry nonetheless. If you put people who are different together, there will be conflict. We just gave a name to it, racism, and thus created a problem that can’t be solved. If the past didn’t exist, these people would still be in conflict some degree. The words “gook,” “towelhead,” and of course, “nigger,” are used because once again, these students are victims, and they are in need of proper education. They feel they have certain claims, certain rights, that they can tap into the past and use it as a weapon in the present. The conflicts of the past were so heinous that the anger and hatred of yesterday is still felt today.

Higher Learning opens and closes on a shot of a large American flag. The country is like Babylon 5, the pilot of which I watched today. It was alright I guess. Better than BSG. It’s a cultural melting pot, and people even today enter here illegally because of the promise of a better tomorrow. That tomorrow means “I want to be an engineer,” not I want this country to be 100% not racist. People are looking out for their own, and this is what needs to be “unlearned,” which is what ends the film over the image of the flag, much like INCREASE THE PEACE was at the end of Boyz N the Hood.

This is more development for John Singleton. This is sort of an evolution from Boyz N the Hood – the problems at home are brought into school, which is a place that seeks to shape growing young adults. I’d say that Higher Learning is more complex than Boyz N the Hood, and this could also signal creative artistic development.

Character growth is defined by education. Around about the middle of the film, Ice Cube throws Malik out of his room because he’s reading up on Frederick Douglass for class, not for growing his own brain. At first he thought he was a smart guy, but no, he’s just doing it for class. Near the very end of the movie, Laurence Fishburne, the teacher character, leaves Malik on a note of wisdom – “without struggle there is no progress.” Malik responds with “Frederick Douglass,” and Fishburne is impressed; he hasn’t yet taught that. This scene is a payoff, and we find that Malik has grown because he has learned, and he has done it independently of the “system.”

In conclude, what’s the deal with Jennifer Connelly getting top billing in this movie? That’s an unfair misnomer; I’m a big fan of Jennifer Connelly, but she wasn’t in the movie all that much. For that matter, neither was Ice Cube.

One last note: there is a scene where the girl character speaks in front of a large crowd, talking about rape and sexism (I neglected to mention that portion of the film). People in the crowd hold up signs about anti-rape, but one of the signs, very visible to the audience, says “rape is a crime.” How is that sign material? That’s not clever, that’s common knowledge. If you’re reminding me of the fact, sign-writer, you have to keep in mind the audience, which is I guess the girl character, who not only got raped, but probably is aware that it is indeed a crime.

“This is college.”
“I don’t know about that no more.”

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