Archive | January, 2012

Comedies Have Messages Too

27 Jan

By: Tim Byerly

Step Brothers is a movie that is extremely undervalued due to its pop culture characteristics. It’s widely known as one of Will Ferrell’s finest comedies as he deals with his new step brother, Dale, while they move in and live together with their newly married parents (who were previously divorced). They both are 40 years old living with their parents, yet they act as juveniles. With that being said, all of the glory of this film comes from their obvious immaturity, yet there is more to be valued than just the outrageous, crude humor that more viewers need to be able to see. This movie possesses real life problems that are present now more than ever before: marital problems, blended families, and children and their elongated dependency on their parents.

With a deeper look into Step Brothers, one can see that producer is portraying the whole idea of the increase in marital problems in America. The producer seems to convey that with an increase in marital problems it will lead to a divorce (like Brennan and Dale’s mom and dad before they got married). A perfect example in the film that deals with marital problems is Brennan’s sister-in-law Alice. She is unhappy and unsatisfied with her marriage with Derek (Brennan’s biological brother), and one can argue that she married Derek for the wrong reasons, most evidently for money. This is a great lesson to teach viewers not to be “gold diggers” or simply not to marry for wrong reasons.

On another note, it’s considerably difficult for children to begin the blending process of a “new” family and to be comfortable living with their new step brother and/or sister, especially the older the children are. In the film, Brennan and Dale constantly fight, whine, and do childish things (at the age of 40 keep in mind). These types of events continue all throughout the movie; however, the same concept is still there involving the troublesome of divorce leading to dysfunctional family blending and combination.

The childish actions by step brothers Brennan and Dale demonstrate the next real life problem present in the movie that is overshadowed by all of the humor. Nowadays, it seems as if kids are becoming more dependent on their parents than in previous years. It is custom for a teenager to turn 18 and move out of the house to begin their individual life. That is not the case in Step Brothers. Brennan and Dale are both 40 years old and living with their parents and unemployed. Perhaps director Adam McKay is trying to convey to this pop culture world that parents need to “cut the umbilical cord” sooner rather than later for the child’s well-being in the future. Parents need to stop babying their children and make them go out, get a job, and get prepared for the real world for when their mommy and daddy are no longer around.

Movies with never-ending humor are great and entertaining, I assure you of that. However, oftentimes humor can cause viewers to stray from themes intended, or even unintended, by the producer. Step Brothers is a great representation of how elementary themes can be found within the most absurd comedies. However these themes can be lost with an excessive amount of humor. This goes to show that one can learn valuable lessons from pop culture movies with a deeper look into the movie.

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Donald Glover – A Comedian to Take Seriously

27 Jan

Nerds in American society are associated with the out of style, strange, and ostracized individuals who fail to conform to the standards of the popular crowd. Many of these nerds fail to be recognized by others despite success, as they are incapable of obtaining respect due to behaviors that are found out of the ordinary. Growing up in the heart of the traditionally racist Deep South, a young African-American was faced with a life of misplacement and obscurity as a result of his “nerdy” behaviors. It is these simple downfalls that propelled Donald Glover to the power he know holds and works to develop. The young comedian embodies a past that is unlike most of the entertainment profession. Rather than face an economically deprived childhood, Glover was able to live a suburban life that did not require an extra effort to lead to a safe future. However, it was his wish to escape from the normality of this life that led the young comedian to exert a higher effort and establish himself as a figure of popular modern culture. Donald Glover uses his comedic talents to obtain success despite his eccentric and abnormal tendencies. Stand up is not the only avenue of success for Glover as he applies his many talented assets in order to achieve greatness. Writing, acting, and even rapping serve as the pedestal that works to deliver Donald Glover’s comedic message. As a result, the comedian, artist, actor, all collaborate to define the laughs we all seek through his multiple facets of comedy. While many would write him off for becoming a pop culture icon, Glover ‘s work can teach us something about pop culture and why in some cases it deserves further analysis.

Glover’s ability to establish a connection with his fan base began from his early days as a writer for the nationally televised 30 Rock. Behind closed doors, the young comedian’s potential was continuing to grow and he was able to receive help from entertainment giants Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. However, it wasn’t until Glover walked away from the show that he began establishing his own style and purpose for comedic work. Employing the use of the Internet, Donald established an online sketch comedy show and rekindled his childhood love of music creating a band under the name “Childish Gambino.” By opening these avenues of entertainment for himself, Glover became recognized by major media outlets. His acting career was continued on the NBC comedyCommunity and he grew as a popular face to many throughout the country. However, Comedy Central opened the door for him to reveal his talents through stand up and his work on stage worked as the avenue for Glover to deliver his message to a wide and captivated audience.

Recent trends of comedy reveal that comics resort two three methods in order to achieve laughs and supply a message. The superiority, incongruity, and release theories all apply to many works of Donald Glover. It is his emphasis on the superiority in jokes that leads to his largest impact on the audience. His work is based on putting others, including himself, down for the benefit of the crowd leading to a high success rate. One of the main targets for Glover was one of his own weaknesses, which was the inability to be popular or fit in. Donald Glover attacks those who can be considered “nerds” and he as well as other entertainment stars fit into this stereotype. During his comedy central special, Glover states, If you like strange, specific stuff — that’s a nerd. Kanye West is a black nerd. He likes strange, specific stuff. If you go up to Kanye West and say, ‘Hey, what are your favorite things?’ He’ll be like, ‘Robots and teddy bears.’ That’s a nerd.” It is clear through the joke that Glover’s play on the definition of a nerd is enough to insight laughs as he is segregating the obsessions of those who are considered outsiders. His play on the idea of a “black nerd” allows the audience to feel superior not on a basis of race, but on a basis of acceptance. African-Americans attempting to be nerdy is not socially common as the more normal association for black culture is to follow the lead of athletes or rappers. In response, Donald Glover’s music and stand up routine are effective in playing off this and earns laughs from his attack on those who are different. Ironically, the entertainer himself embodies the exact qualities of his “black nerd” allowing him to communicate his comedy by playing off his own weaknesses. Glover’s message effectively alienates others, including himself, in order to promote laughter as a result of imperfections.

Glover utilizes past and modern culture to construct his comedic insults leading his audiences to fall in line with the bullying approach taken by many comedians. Disregarding his own personal feelings or the emotions of those the jokes are aimed at, Donald is effective in distributing criticism to appeal to his crowd. Attacking not only actual entertainers, but also fictional characters is the approach Glover employs throughout his acts. The jokes are pointed in the direction of the “Uncle Tom” view of African-Americans as if he is almost celebrating the unruly behavior of the common thug or rapper. However, Glover is putting the “black nerd” in the spotlight by pointing out their downfalls. Through refusing to offend or emulate the “cool” black culture, Donald is able to put the actions of an unknown side of African- American culture to the forefront.  Insulting the likes of a famous African-American Sitcom figure Steve Urkel is one of the many techniques the comedian uses to both poke fun at and spotlight “black nerds.” Glover jokes “Urkel was retarded, let’s be honest. No, he was. If there was a kid named Steve Urkel who went to your school — dressed like Steve Urkel, eating cheese all the time, always asking this girl named Laura to marry him — you’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, Steve. His brother hit him in the head with a brick when he was five. Very sad situation at the Urkel house.”  Once again Donald Glover relates to the crowd through establishing a connection in the fact that this famous symbol from the past was clearly a misfit with complete imperfection. A majority of the reason Glover attains his laughs is found in his ability to highlight the obvious and, sometimes, hidden defects of those in society. Through this play on others failures, the comedian is able to obtain power over the audience and keep them on edge as they gain a false sense of superiority over those insulted during the act.

The irony found behind the comedic style of Donald Glover is palpable.  The comedian’s main focus and intent through his work as an entertainer is to promote the idea of being a “nerd” over fitting into stereotypes. Despite his ability to continuously put down others in his act, it is the simple fact that he, a black nerd, has taken over the spotlight that contributes to Glover’s purpose as a performer. His collaboration as an actor, writer, musician, and comedian have worked to prove that refusing to assimilate to fit in with others can lead to high levels of success. Rather than continue to force himself to mesh with the black stereotype or establish a strong connection the popular kids, Glover provides evidence that success does not hinge on the opinions of others. Its this belief that has lead Glover into a business that requires him to constantly face the opinions of others.

Glover’s work allows us to conclude that, through utilizing the superiority complex to point out imperfections; you can effectively build the confidence of your audience and deliver a deeper message. His message being that no matter the societal pressures and circumstances of life, one should never surrender the right to being themselves. This message is something one might not expect from a pop culture icon, but it is this that requires us to take people like Donald Glover seriously. Glover is just one of many artists that give pop culture its value and shows that a much more extensive analysis of pop culture might lead to unexpected depths.

Calvin and Hobbes

27 Jan

Popular culture has often been described as shallow and lacking substance. Others have accused pop culture of taking something of substance and reducing its complexity and adding worthless content. However, this is not always true and it can be argued that there are many examples of pop culture that deserve a deeper look and more serious consideration. One comic series that deserves a more comprehensive analysis is named in reference to two great philosophers, John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes were pioneers in thought and asked profound questions about the nature of society, and the comic series “Calvin and Hobbes,” by Bill Watterson contains allusions to their thoughts. The comic follows Calvin, an imaginative, creative, intelligent, selfish, and insanely rude six year old, and his trusty stuffed tiger Hobbes. In the comic, Calvin and Hobbes have many exchanges and adventures in Calvin’s imagination, and what appears to be a simple comic about a young boy and his stuffed tiger reveals surprising depth and content about values of our culture.

Occasionally, Calvin and Hobbes discuss our society’s interpretation of happiness. In this comic, Calvin and Hobbes converse about if they had a wish, what they would wish for.http://picayune.uclick.com/comics/ch/1992/ch920920.gif

The superficial punchline of this comic is that Hobbes gets what he wishes for, and Calvin doesn’t. A closer analysis shows there is a subtle commentary about what our society quantifies to be happiness. Watterson uses Hobbes, who is not constrained or influenced by human society, as a character to make a comment about the how happiness is measured in our culture. Watterson continues this message in another comic.http://www.nedhardy.com/wp-content/uploads/images/2011/december/calvin_hobbes/calvin_and_hobbes_7.jpg
This comic more boldly remarks about how happiness is taken for granted in our society. “Happiness isn’t good enough for me! I demand euphoria!” is an extension of the attitude that Calvin has from the previous strip. Calvin has a warm place to live, no need to worry about food or danger, and has free education. The three basic needs for survival, food, shelter, and water have been fulfilled so Calvin should be happy, yet he has been influenced by society to always want more. In these comic strips, a deeper analysis shows one value of analyzing pop culture as revealing the interpretation of happiness in our society.

Watterson also uses Calvin and Hobbes to remark on how our society treats other animals and their natural habitats. One example is a comic where Calvin writes a morbid science fiction story about the destruction of the human race by aliens.

http://www.progressiveboink.com/jon/images/calvinhobbes/jon2.GIF
Hobbes has a interesting reply, “Not enough, really.” This short reply invokes a question, why isn’t doesn’t he consider the story strange enough? In Hobbes’ view, the plot of the story closely resembles how humans actually destroy animal habitats to make profits, and so the idea of aliens annihilating habitats for their jobs is not a new story. From Hobbes’ viewpoint as a tiger, humans are the aliens and animals are the victims of Calvin’s story. An analysis of this comic reveals how destructive and uncaring our society is when it comes to our jobs against the habitats of animals.

Another value of our society that Watterson writes about is the value of growing up. In one comic, Calvin and Hobbes find a dead bird on the ground. The corpse ignites a very solemn conversation about how life goes by in a flash, and how after something dies the world just continues without them.http://calvy.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/dead-bird.jpg

Calvin’s last comment and the way the comic ends begs readers to question themselves. How many times when we were children have we been told that things will make more sense when we are older? Are we actually any wiser about topics such as life and death as a result of living longer? This topic of growing up is not just contained inside this comic, but it is an integral part of the entire series. Watterson draws Hobbes as a living, breathing character when only Calvin is in the strip, yet when any adults or other people come in Hobbes turns back into a lifeless stuffed animal. This shows the relationship between Calvin and the world he lives in versus the “grown up” world, and Watterson has been asked about how the portrayal of Hobbes changes in an interview. In the interview, Watterson explained, “When Hobbes is a stuffed toy in one panel and alive in the next, I’m juxtaposing the ‘grown-up’ version of reality with Calvin’s version, and inviting the reader to decide which is truer” (Christie). This technique forces the reader to consider seriously, is Calvin’s philosophical discussions and the conclusions that he reaches with Hobbes worthless because they took place in his imagination? An analysis of Calvin and Hobbes also reveals questions about the importance of growing up.

Because of its medium as a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes is considered to be pop culture. There are very few, if any, comic strips that our culture considers worthy of deep thought and consideration, yet an analysis of Calvin and Hobbes shows that conversations about very profound questions happen quite frequently. It is no coincidence that the title names of two great philosophers John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Calvin and Hobbes embody the same questioning spirit of values of our culture as the two great philosophers, as a serious inspection of the comic series reveals important ideas and outlooks our culture values. Calvin and Hobbes is only one example of many items of pop culture that not only serve as entertainment, but also reveals values of our society.

 

Citations:

Christie, Andrew (January 1987). “An Interview With Bill Watterson: The creator of Calvin and Hobbes on cartooning, syndicates, Garfield, Charles Schulz, and editors”. Honk! (magazine) (Fantagraphics Books) (2). Retrieved 2011-12-24.

That’s SO Fetch!

27 Jan

 

“There are two kinds of evil people: people who do evil stuff and people who see evil stuff being done and don’t try to stop it.” –Janice Ian

 

The main idea of Mean Girls is blatantly said in this one quote, the idea of good versus evil. The good versus evil theme is a prominent theme that is seen over and over again in classic novels, poems, and other forms of literature. So why not have it shown again in a popular chick flick? The Mean Girls movie was adapted from the Rosalind Wiseman non-fiction book: Queen Bees and Wannabes, which explores how popularity and cliques affect self-image and personality. The movie is based on Cady’s journey of fitting into a public high school after years of homeschooling. Cady is introduced to various cliques and forms of hierarchy in public high school with “The Plastics” being the queen bees. The movie develops as Cady develops into being a Plastic and completely changing her personality.

 

Although many aspects in the movie are over done by Hollywood the movie still demonstrates how a real high school works. This is prime time of a teenager’s life. The golden years where an adolescent figures out who they really are. They explore their surroundings and their options, as they become adults. Many high school students begin to party at this age just as it was shown in Mean Girls. As Cady is introduced to her first high school party she is also exposed to alcohol, boys, and skimpy dresses for the first time. Many high school students believe that this is the way of life when in reality, lots of boys and girls live their lives without getting involved in that lifestyle. By watching Mean Girls it was evident that the fast life also had its downsides. Everyone faces being judged by someone else with rumors and gossip being spread like wild fire. It is interesting to see how the Plastics display their gossip by scrapbooking it into their “Burn Book”. The Burn Book is what caused the Plastics to fall, which shows that the good always prevails.

 

 

Of course an actual high school is not set up the same way as North Shore High School, but at the same time there are many similarities in the social structure of a typical American high school. Many teenage girls feel pressured the look, talk, and dress a certain way to imply be accepted or liked in by other girls. Often times this play with the self esteem of girls and can turn into an identity problem in the future. Mean Girls can be a form of inspiration to many teenage girls across the world. It sends out a message to simply be yourself. By analyzing Cady’s journey of being nobody to being somebody it is obvious that her wardrobe, hair, attitude, and her personality as a whole underwent an extreme makeover. Cady changed herself just to fit into a crowd that did not even like her in the first place and lost her true friends along the way, basically Cady became a “mean girl”. This proves that it is simply not worth it to be who someone else wants you to be, and many girls can learn from this and grow from it as well.

 

After Cady realizes the Plastics is not who she is and she really hurt the ones who loved her she turns around and returns to her normal lifestyle. She joins the mathletes, gets her best friends back, and gains more popularity in school just by being nice and being true to herself. Sometimes it is important to figure out who you really are without having someone down your back at all times just as how Regina was. Regina transformed Cady into a bitch that no one liked or looked up to. This shows how much a teenage girl’s personality can be manipulated by her peers just to fit in. After the Burn Book was discovered everything was revealed: The lies, the gossip, and the rumors. Students and teachers were both hurt and came to speak about their feelings at the assembly which was the point where Cady took the blame for the book which shows teenagers to be courageous and to stand up for what’s right.

 

Often times Mean Girls is undervalued as a work or art. There are many lessons to learn from this movie such as the good always prevails and to be yourself. It is very difficult for girls to understand both of these concepts. Mean Girls is an important factor in a teenage girl’s journey into becoming a woman. A girl should grow up to be a strong, independent woman, not a mean girl and this is what Mean Girls stands for.

Samiyah Malik

An underanalyzed Classic: Napoleon Dynamite

24 Jan

By Andrew Schuster

A good example of a pop-culture classic that probably doesn’t receive the proper recognition it deserves is the cult classic Napoleon Dynamite.  Originally a movie in the Sundance Film Festival, the movie quickly progressed to be a quite well-known and popular movie; during its peak, the movie managed to inspire everything from t-shirts to kid’s toys and even today it has been converted into a television show.  Many may wonder how a movie so bizarre and utterly unfocused could have become so popular.  Its popularity may have lied in its interesting design and plot, which combine to make a truly strange and yet oddly satisfying story.

One thing that a viewer may take from a preliminary screening of Napoleon Dynamite will probably be how a lot seemed to be going on, but none of it had to do with anything.  This, however, is probably the most crucial thing about the movie.  The question that passes through my mind asks who the movie is really about.  Is the movie about Uncle Rico trying to relive his high school football days, is it about Kip’s late blooming into manhood, or is it Pedro’s ascension from nobody to the class president?  Even though the title bears his name, Napoleon seems to have nearly no real place in the movie.  In fact, his only real role seems to be unifying their stories, which proves to be the most important role the movie offers.

Taking a deeper look at Uncle Rico’s storyline reveals this superficial man to actually have quite a deep past.  We take a man whose prime years were spent playing football in high school, looking to a grand future that awaited with the numerous scholarships, which for some unexplained reason he turned down.  This leads to the falling apart of his life, as can be noted by his mention of a lover that left him as well as the fact that he lives in a van.  In an attempt to recapture his youth, he spends time throwing footballs into a camera, hoping in some way it will bring him back.  At one point in the movie he even gets so desperate as to purchase a “time-machine” off the internet, which to his dismay only results in shocking him.  At first a powerful character, Uncle Rico boils down into a man who had potential and lost it, reaching his lowest point after Rex breaks his arm.  There is a glimmer of hope, however, when that lover he mentions returns to him at the end of the movie, showing that even after all his failures, self-inflicted or otherwise, he’s capable of redemption.

Pedro’s story is very noteworthy as well, and the one with which Napoleon is most directly involved.  As a new student to this small town (and even smaller high school), Pedro is very quiet and keeps to himself.  It’s also obvious he has some self-esteem issues, which he decides to confront by running for class president.  This is Napoleon’s biggest role in the movie because he takes it upon himself to do aide Pedro in the election in various manners such as campaigning and offering protection, with his single greatest feat being his dance to “Canned Heat” after Pedro’s speech.  Through this, Pedro overcomes his social awkwardness, defeating the popular choice for the election.  It’s truly an underdog story and a rise up from complete oblivion to become a social figure.

The final important sub-plot of the movie to be discussed rests with none-other than Kip, Napoleon’s man-child brother.  From the moment that Kip is onscreen, it’s apparent that something has stunted his development somewhere along the line of his life seeing as he still lives with his grandmother and has not job.  In an attempt to become manlier, Kip tries out a class to learn “Rex-kwon-do” and bulk himself up, unfortunately to no avail.  Uncle Rico takes Kip under his wing in order to sell Tupperware products and make him get a job, the first step into actually growing up.  After a while, Kip also finds a woman online and he eventually meets her to further his progress into growing into an adult.  After the credits, Kip ends up marrying the woman he met online, which proves to be the point where he has finally achieved adulthood.