A portrait of a media story: a satire

During the Republican Party nomination process, Donald Trump infamously boasted that he could shoot somebody on New York’s Fifth Avenue and he wouldn’t lose any voters.

I was struck by shifting narratives over the past couple of days how that would play out. Imagine if Donald Trump did shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue?

The first thing you heard about it would be indistinct: “a shooting”, something about the President. Then footage from people’s phones would appear on Facebook and Twitter. There would be a kind of sick relief that the US President hadn’t been killed (with all the implications of civil conflict that carries) and a shocked realisation that he had actually shot somebody.

What happens next would be the comprehensible part. The exact events would be unclear and Trump’s motives would be unclear and the whole thing would feel unbelievable (naturally because it isn’t something likely to happen) but there wouldn’t be any moral doubt here. Clearly you can’t go around shooting people no matter who you are — least of all the President of the United States.

There would be a moment of bipartisan certainty and clarity. Trump would need to answer for what he had done. The circumstance would be surreal but the reaction would feel “normal” despite the unprecedented events.

There would be questions obviously. Some people would not unreasonably ask why the New York Police Department hadn’t immediately arrested Trump. Other would not unreasonably counter that obviously the Secret Service would have whisked him away — that’s their job regardless. It’s around this point you’d begin to see the start of strangeness that follows. “It’s unfair to attack the police.” Somebody notable will say and briefly there will be an argument about that. Nobody will yet know the exact sequence of events yet but there will be competing scenarios appearing.

“We musn’t rush to judgement” somebody will say. They mean “we musn’t rush to judge whether the police should have immediately arrested Trump” or “we musn’t rush to judge whether the Secret Service should have stopped Trump shooting somebody”. It’s not an unreasonable point but its the start of a narrative roller coaster which will cast people as falling into two groups: those who “rush to judgement” and those who don’t. That casting into two groups will itself have little basis in fact and will ironically be its own kind of rush to judgement.

It’s around about now that we first begin to learn about the victim. This part will be heartbreaking. They’ll be a person who had a life. Briefly that moral clarity will re-assert itself as people see that it is terrrible that a real person (made more real that they had a name) was shot. There will be more bipartisan calls that Trump answers for what he did. Somebody will point out again that the police didn’t arrest him, somebody will point out all the young black men shot by the police in the past year for far less cause. It’s a reasonable point — it is rhetorical, the implication isn’t that police should summarily execute people more consistently but that they shouldn’t do so at all. It will soon get twisted into something else. It will be called “mob justice”, even though Trump is safely in the Whitehouse under guard and there’s no actual danger of somebody from Twitter dragging him off to a kangaroo court. Supposedly wise heads will nod about “due process” even though there appears to zero danger of Trump being prosecuted too quickly. Indeed the clock is ticking for the NYPD to get forensic evidence from Trump.

A new story about the victim will suddenly appear and with it a strange set of questions. It might be a story about a crime they committed once or a leak that allegedly the police attending the scene found marijuana on them. People on Facebook will be asking why this person was even in such a dangerous neighbourhood, don’t people realise how easy it is to get shot in New York? If the victim is a child the extent to which they were nearly an adult will be exaggerated and/or people will ask why their parents let them wander about New York. If the victim is a woman, a photo from her Facebook page in which she is holding up a bottle of beer will circulate, or perhaps one where she is wearing something other than somber clothes. If the victim is a Muslim this will be underscored. If they are black, a photo intended to make them look menacing will circulate.

A section of the internet will claim that the victim is an actor. A picture of somebody who looks a bit like them will form part of a rambling account of places this ‘actor’ has appeared. Photos of somebody on an anti-Trump demonstration will be pointed at, circled in red. Is that them? “Funded by Soros” will appear on a page about the victim and by this point, you’ll be unsure if the alt-right conspiracy theorists are claiming that the victim was a Muslim, a Jew or an atheist.

You’ll point to the horror of this demonisation of the victim and wise heads in the centre and moderate right will say “Like we said. Don’t rush to judgement. Look at all this social media nonsense.” When they say it they’ll point to both the rabid conspiracy theory about paid actors and that one tweet where somebody raised the issue of police shootings as if to say the two are equivalent.

“We don’t know what REALLY happened.” Says a wise head on the 24 Hour rolling coverage. That’s sort of true. Obviously you don’t. “Who knows what was going through his head?” The wise head says. “Nothing good” you think but you are distracted because the cable news channel you are watching needs to fill this rolling news coverage with something. All they have is past coverage about previous presidential shootings I.e. footage of past assassination attempts. Footage of Dealey Plaza and the Washington Hilton is on rotation because that’s all they have. There isn’t footage of past Presidents trying to shoot people. It’s not even an intentional attempt by the media to cast the president as a victim, it’s just one of those consequences of news coverage when people are hungry to know what has happened but there is nothing actually to report. Journalists and news anchors stand forlornly in “Live” feeds from outside the Whitehouse or from Fifth Avenue as if magically the events might repeat themselves.

“He felt threatened,” a spokesperson will say. Probably Giuliani. “His children are being very strong at this terrible time.” Says Sarah Sanders. “I can’t imagine what they are going through,” says a man with impeccable hair on the couch of Fox and Friends. Sympathetic coverage of Melania Trump will be rolling out on sympathetic media. “What about the victim’s family!” You’ll shout at the TV but the victims family have asked for privacy. They have no PR firm, no media contacts and the police have told them to say nothing. A cousin of the victim will be broadcast screaming in anger about what Trump did. He will look angry and unreasonable because he is upset and frustrated — who wouldn’t be? But a wise head will once again remind people “not to rush to judgement”.

“A man has a right to defend himself.” You will be told. There is more footage now. Leaked video from security cameras. It is circulated on social media before you see shorter versions of it on the news. In truth, it tells you nothing you didn’t already know. CNN shows 3 minutes of the leaked video. “Why,” asks a viral Facebook post “did CNN edit out 1 minute of this crucial footage? What are the lying media hiding?” You’ve seen all four minutes and you know the answer is “nothing” but later on the News, a Whitehouse spokesperson says the same thing.

Republicans who were vocal in that brief moment of bipartisan moral clarity are suddenly walking back their earlier comments. Everything they say now is more equivocal. “New facts have come to light,” they say but they can’t say what those new facts are. On right-wing media, the victim of the shooting is now routinely caricatured as a demonic terrorist. Some overtly claim the victim was attempting to assassinate the President, others just imply that. More ‘moderate’ voices do not claim that the victim was definitely an assassin, just that it is important to keep your mind open and not “rush to judgement”. A mainstream news channel has two people debate the issue. “There’s NO evidence that anybody but Trump was an assassin!” Shouts one of the guests, clearly angry at the slanders against the victim. The moderator of the debate tells them to call down and that nobody should rush to judgement.

The New York Times publishes a story that the victim and their family is being investigated by the FBI. In two years time, you’ll read about how the story was literally true but also that the investigation was a formality and arose only because Republican lawmakers had swamped the FBI with absurd claims about the victim that they had read on the internet.

You feel like you are in nightmare world now. The country is in three camps. On one side are people like yourself who think it is a simple issue: Trump shot somebody and he should be arrested. Meanwhile, Facebook and the right-wing news media feels swamped with people CERTAIN that Trump bravely defended himself from a would be assassin who was a member of anti-fa and funded by George Soros. There a wise heads in the middle saying both sides need to calm down and listen to each other’s points so they can understand them better.

The victim’s family have gone into hiding and are under police protection.

The world keeps going of course. Eventually there are other events that push the story from the front pages: a hurricane, an earthquake, North Korea acting sketchy. Trump’s lawyers promise that the NYPD will get to interview him soon but they are keen to point out that due process applies to EVERYBODY.

A month later and Trump still hasn’t been interviewed. His lawyers and the DOJ are raising legal questions about the jurisdiction of the States and the separation of powers. They are making demands that the NY Attorney General can’t agree to. At the same time, Trump’s lawyers are complaining about the delays their own actions have caused, saying that the delays are preventing Trump for exonerating himself.

A month after that the shooting can only be understood on partisan lines. Trump has a fundraising letter portraying the demands he should be interviewed by the NYPD as a witch-hunt and an attempt by the Deep State to undermine the democratic will of the American People.

The victim’s family are still in hiding. They are in constant fear from death threats.

You don’t know what to believe anymore. One day on a bus you see somebody in a MAGA hat and you just lose it and scream and shout at them. The video goes viral and you become the face of left-wing intolerance. The New York Times posts a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger editorial about how ugly the left has become. No wise heads say that people shouldn’t rush to judgement about you.

A year later, the shooting isn’t even the first thing people mention when they complain about Trump.

Speaking of movies we didn’t need…

“The Predator” managed to restore my faith in personal cynicism about redundant sequels/spin-offs. This sequel to numerous other Predator films appears to have been assembled from bits and pieces of other films in a way to make the film as derivative as possible.

Now when I say ‘derivative’ I don’t mean that it is far too like other Predator films — that’s not necessarily a fault if a movie series wants to be its own mini-genre. No, “The Predator” manages to be both derivative and unlike other movies in its own stable.

The films is chunks of bits from the Andromeda Strain, ET, Independence Day, plus almost any film with aliens in secret labs. The story makes almost no sense and the whole plot relies on an escape pod crashing near a US soldier on a mission in Mexico, while the main ship crashing near his home town somewhere in the US, which, by an amazing coincidence is not far from the secret government base investigating the Predators which in turn is not far from a military prison/psychiatric hospital where the same soldier ends up being held. Oh and also the soldier’s kid is an autistic genius, who (also by dint of coincidence) gets hold of the Predator tech when the soldier mails it to a PO Box but it gets sent to his old house instead.

The best defence about the film is that is trying to be positive about autism, and (separately) mental illness by relying mainly on ‘positive’ stereotypes of both (autism as ‘the next stage of human evolution’, mentally ill people as fun and wacky). It’s also better when it drifts into a parody of Predator movies (the Predator aliens now have Predator alien dogs and one of the Predator dogs learns how to play fetch). I’ll also concede the running joke that ‘Predator’ is a stupid name for the aliens works.

Maybe, if somebody had embraced the forays into comedy that the film makes and pushed into being a full on parody of the series, it would be a film worth watching but the jokes are too infrequent to sustain that specific momentum. Instead, we get a mishmash of sequences with a plot that can barely connect them together.

The secret agency investigating the Predators kills people for no reason. The soldier who first encounters the Predators (in Mexico, because that’s where US soldiers are?) knows that he has to hide things from this agency IN ADVANCE of ever knowing about them. He needs to hide the evidence! Why? Who knows, the character doesn’t. Also he has the Predator gadget for making you invisible but doesn’t use it to escape being captured by the army (who he’s running away from because…I don’t know…bceause that’s what you do.) The evil secret agency is evil though, we know this because they recruit a nice woman scientist and after the Predator escapes they decide to kill her for NO REASON AT ALL. Oh, and that same scientist works out early on that the Predator doesn’t attack unarmed people and so…spends the rest of the film carrying a gun.

The Predator also turns out to be a renegade predator who has come to Earth to give humanity a gift that will protect them from the Predators. This is part of the twist of the movie which also makes zero sense because for much of the film the renegade Predator kills people like a regular Predator.

Don’t try shouting at the movie. I tried that and it doesn’t work.

Best avoided.

Films we didn’t need but got anyway

I finally caught up with Tom Hardy in Venom and it was quite enjoyable. Mixing elements of horror, comedy and superhero origin stories, the film didn’t push any interesting new boundaries. However, it held its own as an entertaining superhero movie in what is now a crowded field with critically acclaimed comic book sourced films.

Venom was one of several films that I dismissed as pointless when I first heard about them. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse was another — really Sony? Desperately trying to get what money you could out of a franchise that was overdone and which was now being done better as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It is fair to say that my opinion was stupid. It was a bit stupid when looking at the final result of Venom (a Spider-Man free attempt to wring dollars out of the Spider-franchise), it was extraordinarily stupid when looking at the final result of Spiderverse — which was frankly brilliant.

Maybe I should just stop having opinions but perhaps two bad opinions is just a coincidence? Speaking of Spiderverse, two key people involved in that film were Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. As a duo they’ve certainly managed to work some magic into films that potentially were that promising on paper. Which leads me to a third film I was wrong about: Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Lord and Miller were initially hired to direct the Solo spinoff but months into production they were sacked by Lucasfilm and replaced by Ron Howard. To what extent the final product reflects Howard or Lord/Miller or an amalgam of both, who knows. Films in general and major commercial blockbusters, in particular, don’t really represent any one single creative vision.

Solo was a solid and entertaining Star Wars movie. It didn’t have the gravitas of Rogue One but it delivered a wry space opera with great performances from all the cast. Hampered by troubled production, unwise release date and that overarching sense of redundancy, the film didn’t do that well. Yet, it was worth having. It was entertaining and well made and Donald Glover’s Lando was worth the ticket price by himself.

But shouldn’t the studios be creating new properties? Shouldn’t they be generating new franchises or getting original films to the screen? I’m not saying they shouldn’t and I haven’t abandoned my desire for more heroic failures of new properties. However, I can fall into the trap that is the cult of originality. It is a trap and it can lead you to being too dismissive of not just movie studios mining franchises but also fan-fiction and also micro-genres where the framework of the story is strongly established.

Solo wasn’t that original in terms of setting and character and rested on some lazy moves (e.g. establishing sources for backstory trivia like how Solo got his surname, or blaster or what-parsecs-mean-in-context etc) but if you see “Star Wars” as just a mechanism to get a major movie studio to produce a space-opera heist western then it stops looking quite so derivative.

Venom was given a budget to convert the IP controlled by Sony into fungible currency but that only tells us about the financial motive for the film and beyond certain limits doesn’t predict what the qualities of the film will be. What we got was a dark buddy comedy, in which Tom Hardy’s Eddie Brock is sufficiently an obnoxious shithead to fit the character without being so much of a shithead that we’d be happy to see him die early of organ failure*. It’s nicely done, as is the symbiote’s later motives in the film (in which it concedes that in its own environment it is is a bit of a loser).

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse took this commercial subversion to another level, exploiting the frequently used comic-book crossover premise (lots of parallel world versions of superheroes!), to explore the absurdity of canon in superhero franchises, bring the Miles Morales Spider-man to the big screen and make a visually extraordinary animated film.

Yes, these are products of a cynical capitalist industry that aims to control our consumption by semi-monopolistic control of popular culture. That in itself doesn’t determine whether the end products are worth watching or not.

*[Viewers mileage on this point may very depending on your tolerance of shitty behaviour.]

Star Trek Discovery: Brother (S2E1)

Star Trek Discovery is back and as pretty as ever. Season One was a frustrating mixed bag of episodes: great visuals, interesting characters and stupid plots. The show didn’t know what it wanted to be, sometimes trying to capture the ethos of the original series, sometimes hinting at being a critique of the militaristic assumptions of Trek, at other times just going for ‘gritty reboot’. The best parts I found where it went off on its own thing — psychedelic interdimensional tardigrades, or full on evil galactic empire space opera. The problem though, the best episodes weren’t very Star Trek.

Two alternative directions were available for Season 2. One, of course, was the leaked script I revealed last year — weirdly not adopted by the studio bosses. The other is Discovery as an overt prequel to the original Star Trek. With Season 1’s (minor) cliffhanger ending, the show had already signalled that Captain Pike and the USS Enterprise would appear. It was also revealed that Spock would be a significant character in Season 2.

Launching into this first episode reminded me that I do actually like these characters. I felt happy to see Michael, Tilly, Saru and Stamets again. Also, Discovery remains visually impressive, it’s easily the best looking Star Trek. The promised story arc appears to be a mysterious simultaneous signal from five points across the galaxy — a signal that Spock knows something about and which (apparently coincidentally) Captain Pike has been tasked with investigating.

Most of the events in the episode are driven by some decent space gobbledygook (a collapsing/exploding asteroid with a crashed ship and weird gravity, racing towards a pulsar because racing towards a regular star wouldn’t be half as much fun). Just go along with it and enjoy the action sequences.

Behind the woosh, bang, whiz and non-baryonic matter, we get glimpses into Michael’s childhood relationship with Spock. Not much is revealed other than there’s an unresolved conflict between them. Despite the title, Spock himself doesn’t appear except in flashback as a child.

So, a decent episode with a fresh start for the Disco crew.

Rankings

  1. Brother – well obviously there’s only one episode.

Bits and Pieces

  • The proud Star Fleet tradition of sending your senior officers into life threatening situations continues. Hoorah!
  • The first red-shirt death of the new season is a blue shirt.
  • The Enterprise crew’s space suits were colour coded according to the new uniforms and Michael’s was silver. Which implies they had their space suits sent over? Replicated?
  • The Enterprise had recently got back from a five year mission and missed the Klingon war. Is that why they got new uniforms? “Sorry you missed the war guys and a chance to get medals but guess what? New uniforms!”
  • Alice in Wonderland is back.
  • I loved the bit where Tilly asks Michael to promise that she’ll come back safely and when Michael doesn’t answer explains that she means that Michael needs to lie to her.
  • I miss Lorca. He was an evil monster but…OK he was just an evil monster.
  • Also see Cora’s review here: http://corabuhlert.com/2019/01/19/star-trek-discovery-is-back-and-it-actually-feels-like-star-trek-for-a-change/

Looking for Fanwriters 4: A couple more names

Just adding a couple more names. Both regular contributors to File 770.