Nitish Pahwa: A New Netflix Hit Has Fans in Ecstasy, but They’re Missing Its Troubling Subtext (Slate)
Let’s start with the religious iconography. This is hardcore Hinduism through and through, an apt representation for a country that’s employed authoritarian tactics to empower violent Hindu nationalism and transition to a de facto ethnocratic state.
The Rama iconography later in the film, added to Bheem’s submissiveness, makes this narrative choice seem more pointed: Commemoration of the Ramayana has been one of the bloodiest flashpoints for Islamophobic violence in India, with Hindu nationalists having destroyed a Mughal-era mosque that was supposedly located at Rama’s birthplace. The Rama temple now constructed in its place is a symbol for the belief that India should be a holy land for Hindus; it’s even been put on billboards in Times Square. It’s likewise worth noting that the Vande Mataram custom flag that appears in essential scenes like the boy’s rescue—protecting Bheem from the train’s flames, for one—was in part designed by Veer Savarkar, the father of Hindu nationalism.
Kate Wagner: Don’t Let People Enjoy Things (The Baffler)
An issue common to all of our LPET posters is that they think criticism means forbidding people from enjoying media in general. First of all, people are just as allowed to *dislike* things as they are permitted to enjoy them—you can’t trick them into changing their minds with your authoritarian meme posting. Second, I introduce this radical idea: you can still enjoy things while being critical of them—it can even lead to a greater appreciation of societal and historical context, and it can make you usefully wary of the role the shit forces of the world play in the media we consume. It can also help us maintain our political and social integrity while watching or reading or listening to whatever is offered to us. For example, my peacenik, anticapitalist proclivities may make me critical of many mainstream blockbusters, but they also afford me a greater appreciation of movies like ‘Office Space’ and Dolly Parton’s classic ‘9 to 5.’ Finally, though our LPET posters think otherwise, it is indeed possible to *like some things about a piece of media and dislike things about that same piece of media all at once*.
Jasmin Mujanović: 'Borat 2' misses the mark because it perpetuates cruel stereotypes and is a vehicle for mockery (Insider)
In an attempt to expose American prejudices about the "savage East" and the country's perceived drift toward illiberalism, Baron Cohen has actually helped repopularize an Orientalist view of what some still generically refer to as "the former communist states." His work, therefore, fails as the critical cinema it purports to be.
While the film is doubtlessly a satire of US politics, it is just as much a vehicle for the mockery of Kazakhstan and its people. Because the country that is (not actually) depicted in the film is almost entirely alien to most Americans, Baron Cohen becomes the architect of its popular image in the West. And that image is cast in brownface.
By trafficking in centuries-old anti-Romani tropes and imagery in his films, while also liberally borrowing from various anti-Muslim themes, Baron Cohen gives his audience license to indulge in these sentiments too — whether they fully understand who or what they are laughing at or not. Those who see these depictions as satire may feel they are in on the joke, but, doubtlessly, a far larger portion of the audience is laughing at Baron Cohen's portrayals of "Kazakhstan."
Accordingly, the issue with "Borat 2" is not that it's "offensive" — comedy almost always is to someone, somewhere. Nor should the intent be to "cancel" Baron Cohen. The matter is altogether more straightforward: Baron Cohen is clearly of the belief that comedy is a tool to be used to afflict the comfortable. That is an enviable objective, but only if one does not further stigmatize those who are already afflicted.
Connor Wroe Southard: ‘Parasite’ and the rise of Revolutionary Gothic (The Outline)
An emergent genre explores how class conflict is always part ghost story, and how the only answer is insurrection.
Interpreting Parasite and Us in tandem, regardless of their differences, helps us understand crucial and complicated elements they share. In both movies, the violence enacted by the subterranean specters is emotionally and morally fraught — exactly who deserves to suffer or die like this, and why? Is it doing anyone any good? Once we understand these movies as Revolutionary Gothic, it becomes clear that’s the wrong question. We’d have to start with: Why wouldn’t we expect spectacular violence to erupt from the hidden violence of forcing human beings underground? Why would we expect the ghosts we’ve created not to haunt us?
Revolutionary Gothic is less about the inevitability of overthrow than the inevitability of rupture, of all that haunts us coming back for a reckoning. These stories don’t try to comfort us with victory; they unsettle us with the implications of ongoing defeat.
The more Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is regarded, the more it seems to vanish in the spectacle of its acclaim.
The emphasis on universality is achieved through a negation of the particular in a typical display of liberal chauvinism. Consequently, the more Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece is regarded, the more it seems to vanish in the spectacle of its acclaim. Parasite has made history; never mind how history has made Parasite.
This is not a charge against any attempt to relate Parasite to other contexts. Bong’s social critique concerns the international conditions of globalized capitalism, but particular to Korea’s neoliberal and neocolonial present. Examining the film as a story of class in the neocolony shifts it from a decontextualized tale of rich and poor to one of compradors and the colonized. This lens takes Parasite from an allegory of “class conflict” to one of imperialism, and illuminates the film’s recurring motifs of English, militarization and appropriated Indigenous material culture.
The specter of war represented by Geun-sae and the space of the bunker are crucial to interpreting the film’s climax. The ongoing war in the Korean peninsula, sometimes called the Forgotten War, is often narrativized as “over” in a manner reminiscent of how the colonization of the Americas is regarded as complete. The recognition of either process as unfinished undermines the solvency of ruling class power, even as that power is sustained by an endless cycle of colonial violence. There is more than simple analogy at work here; there is a direct genealogy that links the US invasion of Korea to its invasions of Indigenous nations.
Faced with the impossible situation of division and occupation, the only solution Ki-woo can imagine is rooted in the neoliberal ethos of hard work and constant striving. He pledges to miraculously become rich and buy the Parks’ house one day, so he can reunite with his father. Ki-woo’s solution is not only deeply unrealistic; it does not address the fundamental problem at hand. Even in this fantasy scenario, Ki-taek would still be contained in the house by a legal system that would seek his prosecution and imprisonment. The forces that created and upheld the Kim family’s separation would not be undone, merely adapted to. The class system and the war enabling it would continue unchanged. Bong’s final shot, which clarifies that the solution Ki-woo envisions is just a dream, seems to dare us to dream harder.
Media narratives that spin Parasite’s acclaim through the lens of liberal assimilation miss the mark; a Hollywood that is more open to Asians or other people of color is no more of a solution than Ki-woo’s dream of buying the house that imprisons his father. The promise of inclusion is a distraction from the wars that haunt Parasite, Korea and this continent. As I write this, Wet’suwet’en land defenders are protecting their unceded territory from an invasion by Canada, which seeks to steal land for the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
American popular culture hasn’t caught up to a world where brains and gumption are no match for larger material forces. At least, it hasn’t caught up consciously: “Parasite’s” feting at the Academy Awards — where nominees received gift bags worth more than $225,000 that included gold-plated vape pens — could itself be seen as a decadent satire about inequality.
Recently, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez elicited spasms of outraged mockery from the right-wing media when she called the idea of lifting oneself up by one’s bootstraps “a joke.” But maybe “Parasite” has struck such a chord because for too many people inequality is turning modern capitalism into not just a joke but a nightmare.
Brian X. Chen: ‘Parasite’ and South Korea’s Income Gap: Call It Dirt Spoon Cinema (NYT)
The movie is the latest South Korean film to pit the haves against the have-nots: see this year’s No. 1 movie there, “Extreme Job,” as well as recent titles like “Burning” and 2013’s “Snowpiercer.” It’s no coincidence that income inequality is a recurring theme in the nation’s cinema. Experts say the films, for the most part big hits at home, capture the essence of Korean sentiments at a time when the country’s income gap continues to widen.
South Korea’s income distribution is remarkably lopsided. In 2015, the top 10 percent of South Koreans held 66 percent of the nation’s wealth, while the poorer half of the population held only 2 percent.
How Black Panther Asks Us to Examine Who We Are To One Another
Rahawa Haile considers how, by sliding between the real and unreal, Black Panther frees us to imagine the possibilities — and the limitations — of an Africa that does not yet exist.
How then does one criticize what is unquestionably the best Marvel movie to date by every conceivable metric known to film criticism? How best to explain that Black Panther can be a celebration of blackness, yes; a silencing of whiteness, yes; a meshing of African cultures and signifiers — all this! — while also feeling like an exercise in sustained forgetting? That the convenience of having a fake country within a real continent is the way we can take inspiration from the latter without dwelling on its losses, or the causes of them. Black Panther is an American film through and through, one heavily invested in white America’s political absence from its African narrative.
When Killmonger goads a museum curator early on in the film, calling out a history of looting, it is condemnation that falls squarely on Britain’s shoulders. Rarely must the audience think about the C.I.A.’s very real history in Africa. The fact that viewers were steered, at any point, into rooting for Martin Freeman, a British actor playing an American C.I.A. operative who attempts to purchase stolen resources from a white South African arms dealer, means that even a cinematic turducken of imperialist history gets a pass.
The convenience of having a fake country within a real continent is the way we can take inspiration from Africa without dwelling on its losses.
Aziz Ansari on Acting, Race and Hollywood (NY Times)
Arnold Schwarzenegger is an unsung pioneer for minority actors. Look at “The Terminator”: There had to be someone who heard his name tossed around for the role and thought: Wait, why would the robot have an Austrian accent? No one’s gonna buy that! We gotta get a robot that has an American accent! Just get a white guy from the States. Audiences will be confused. Nope. They weren’t. Because, you know what? No one really cares.
Nathan Rabin: Your Childhood Entertainment Is Not Sacred
The entertainment of your childhood is not sacred. Adults, our childhoods are over, and waxing apoplectic over Michael Bay’s Transformers or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies won’t do anything but broadcast our inability to move beyond the silly, entertaining ephemera of our youth, or understand how it might appeal to a younger generation with a different set of ideas about how entertainment works.
It turns out … spoilers don’t spoil anything. In fact, a new study suggests that spoilers can actually increase our enjoyment of literature. Although we’ve long assumed that the suspense makes the story—we keep on reading because we don’t know what happens next—this new research suggests that the tension actually detracts from our enjoyment.
But as much as he was teaching me about movies, Roger Ebert was also showing me how to write-- I became a student of clean and concise sentences that emphasized clarity and the right balance of humor, thoughtfulness, and accessibility, as well as how to shape my raw impressions into well-rounded opinions that cohered on the page into narratives. The idea that the most interesting part of a movie happens after you see it-- during the post-mortems you have with others and with yourself in your own head-- was something that carried over easily to the songs and albums I was discovering at the time.
Jason Zinomas: Just Like Candy: Following the Trail of Good Ideas (Howlround)
What endures more, for me at least, is the pleasure of thinking about a work of art, arguing with myself over it, getting frustrated while going nowhere and then coming out of that mess with a slightly clearer sense of what I believe. Or maybe it’s a better context to put the work in. Or it could be as minor as solving the problem of striking the right tone to end a review in a way that captures exactly what I think with a bit of flair. The privilege of calling that your job is, to steal a phrase from Hamlet, devoutly to be wished.
Misérable Politics: Why Anne Hathaway Should Go-Away (Tits and Sass)
Celebrities seeking to provide “a voice for the voiceless” would do well to remember that sex workers aren’t voiceless, just consistently ignored. There may well be women out there who relate to Fantine, but in reducing the experiences of all sex workers to one tale of tragic misery, Hathaway’s comments silence and dehumanize the same women she seeks to ‘help.’
John Norris: Amrit Singh Puts the Indie in Indian Food (Interview Magazine)
A fine way to school yourself on the finer points of Indian cooking—and be entertained by some of the more talented men in indie rock in the process—is to check out Dosa Hunt, a new short by filmmaker and music journalist (and Stereogum's Executive Editor) Amrit Singh.
Steven Hyden: Lena Dunham, Lana Del Rey, LCD Soundsystem, and the end of indie exceptionalism. (Grantland)
…the notion of indie exceptionalism (and its white, urban, and upper-class trappings) was repeatedly questioned this year, almost always by the very people who benefit from it. Indie-ness in 2012's pop culture has been depicted as an outmoded cliché, an indulgence for the rich and deluded, a jokey lyrical reference, a house of cards, and/or a pile of cool clothes for pop stars and corporations to try on and discard.
Daniel Mendelsohn: A Critic's Manifesto: The Intersection of Expertise and Taste (The New Yorker)
what has made us all anxious about truth and accuracy in personal narrative is not so much the published memoirs that turn out to be false or exaggerated, which has often been the case, historically, but rather the unprecedented explosion of personal writing (and inaccuracy and falsehood) online, in Web sites and blogs and anonymous commentary—forums where there are no editors and fact-checkers and publishers to point an accusing finger at.
It’s scary how the Memo makes Sandler and Murphy whipping boys, simply to sustain true Hollywood vulgarity. It perpetuates the collapse of critical thinking. When Sandler-bashing (and I don’t just mean the ludicrous Razzies, ratified only by tabloid media) turns into excoriation, it is necessary to examine the media’s cowardice and prejudices. The Sandler Memo has reduced criticism to a profession of chain letters.
Bill Simmons: The Career Arc: Eddie Murphy (Grantland)
Why doesn't everyone ever point out that Eddie is the most successful comedian ever, by any calculation … and really, it's not even close? That he's one of the best stand-ups ever? That, before Eddie, only white actors were considered sure things at the box office? That Eddie made more money making kids' movies than anyone ever? Doesn't this seem … I don't know … relevant?
Steven Hyden: Adam Sandler's inexorable march toward truth (Grantland)
Sandler's truth is that his onscreen persona has aged with his fans and experienced the same things at roughly the same time they've experienced it. Over the course of 20 years, Adam Sandler has gone from being a staple of sleepovers to dorm rooms to lousy apartments to the suburbs. And in that time he's remained, essentially, the same guy: He's "That asshole!," the incorrigible dickwad with a heart of gold, the loudmouth buddy who's progressively less fun to hang out with as you get older, the dude your wife forbids from crashing on the couch for "just a few days, I swear."