Arts & Entertainment

Sidenotes: Meaningless trains of thought on Terminator and all of Sarah’s shitty male allies.

Note: I wrote this as an tangent in the middle of a slightly more thought through and organized essay about my role within the patriarchy. This is a tangent, and just musings on connections my idiot brain has made between reality and a dumb movie that has resonated with me. In classic Michael Stevens fashion, it isn’t proofread, so if you quote me, please correct it if you don’t want to look dumb. Also, if something grammatically REALLY bothers you, please write a letter to Mark Zuckerberg about his (and his tech CEO peers’) role in the 2016 election and  the downfall of serious, trust worthy, journalism. 

I was thinking about my own masculinity from the lens of Terminator 2, one of my favorite action movies. I was talking about it at lunch with my friend Meg who pointed out to me that Sarah Connor should be read as a survivor of trauma.

Read the plot. After the conversation, it’s hard for me not to see Sarah Connor as the “Everywoman” kind of action hero who deals with everyday macro/micro-agressions from men on a magnified scale, where the stakes are as high as the survival of humanity.

Sarah Connor is every woman who gave her account of what happened that men decided not to believe. Fuck, she spends most of the movie getting gaslit.

Now there are way too many goddamn men in this movie, and I hope they do something about that in the next one, BUT, in this movie the men fall into categories that I think many of us need to recognize:

Femininity

Sarah Connor = All Women. Linda literally made this shit so easy for us to understand…she is the ONLY woman in the film. I know that it’s weird that this one white lady is supposed to stand in for the myriad traumas that all women have suffered, but I didn’t make the movie, I just have watched it a lot. She’s the survivor. She burdened with being the teacher, the savior, and the victim and gets none of the future renown and glory that shitty ass John Connor gets for like 13 movies.

Toxic Masculinity

Skynet = Toxic Masculinity. Our programming.

The T-800, from the flash forwards in the future = Obvious Abusers and Toxic Men. The men we’re train to recognize as bad. The men we’ve all agreed are known toxic abusers.

The Terminator that get the skin treatments and travel in time = Abusers and Toxic Men. The men we are trained to identify as bad. The dude who, because he has skin and bleeds, we assume is human and harmless. Fuck he might be you.

T-1000 = He’s just like the above, but he’s proud of his abuse. Think like Gavin McInnes types.

Those dudes at the asylum that beat and gaslight Sarah = That’s probably the average of where most men tend to be. This is you if you use words like “friend zone” and talk about “making moves” on people who have not expressed enthusiastic consent. This is probably you in a room with no women, laughing at a peer’s joke about his “crazy bitch of an ex.” This is probably you in the office investigating your female co-workers concerns and saying shit like “No, I see what you mean, but I don’t think that’s like harassment…did he touch you?

These characters I think fascinate me the most, because I find their brand of wrong doing to be the most common.

Characters that aren’t as toxic, but probably still need to STFU

The Reformed Terminator = Might be you after you deal with some of that faulty programming. What I like about this Reformed Terminator is that he is best used when he is a tool to signal boost Sarah’s more compelling arc. He’s not the fucking hero of the story. He’s a device. He’s not the most perfect ally, but he understands what is wrong with him, and shares his goal with Sarah.

The franchise is called Terminator, but it’s story is really centered on how Sarah’s survival guarantees humankind a fighting chance against tyranny. Similarly, we’re called mankind, but our story is centered on elevating the rights, lives, and voices of the other half of the world so that we can call this on world we have a good one…fuck I’m off-topic.

Kyle Reese = This is a character I’d like to identify with, but as the exposition character/protector, he’s also kind of like a perfect standing for keyboard white knights and mansplainers and male feminists who mean well, but will talk over you because they are “passionate” about what they have to say, but not about whatever it was that is about to come out of your mouth. He could also be the guy who is surprised to see you say #metoo. You’re like “of course.”

He may also be a victim of corrosive masculinity, but he still has to take a step back and recognize his own role in the resistance against the machines. Also, he should shut the fuck up because that’s why he dies in the first movie. Sarah’s ideas are why we’re even still here.

But Kyle talks too much and should shut the fuck up.

John Connor = I went back and forth on this, but ultimately I want to focus on the best version of this character which is Eddie Furlong’s clueless, bratty, messiah. John Connor is the dude in your women’s studies class who is very vocal about the fact that he comes from a female family. The good thing about him is that he could use his “powers for good” to end Skynet for good. The annoying part is you probably are doing so much emotional labor for this dude. He’s the type of dude that like probably never dealt with his mommy issues that you’re cool with, but he talks too much and should shut the fuck up.

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WOW! I might not be Harvey Weinstein, but I enable a culture that allows him to be a prolific abuser.

Lol, which motherfucker is next on the list of powerful pieces of misogynist shit hidden in plain sight?

I’m elated to see these powerful motherfuckers fall, but something about that feels hollow. Yes, I’m a pop culture person as we were all groomed to be; I have a stake in the zeitgeist and how it will continue to shape the way we behave and act our parts in the nauseating tap dance of being a person.

I had some shit to say about stars and ones with large amounts of mass becoming black holes, but the comparison was cumbersome as fuck, and I kinda want to talk and think about real shit, and all the shit that be swirling in my consciousness.

I kind of wanted to write something funny or satirical, but I’m kind of feeling some of that weight that we (men) would normally to a smart lady to carry. Maybe I will later? I don’t know. Harvey Weinstein, the man who made Quentin Tarantino; Ben Affleck, Daredevil, Batman, the fuckin’ “Grade B, extra-dairy George Clooney ass nigga”; Roy Price, a dude who might as well be Darth Sidious, because I don’t really know his face; but I seen the shit he can do… these are just the niggas on my mind right now, but YOU KNOW there’s a fuckload of others…

The commonality with all of these motherfuckers is that:

  • a) these are all powerful dudes
  • b) they did their shit out in the open because of the kind of power they had
  • c) all rewarded for their misogyny
  • d) all probably espouse/perform some form of liberal ideology.

Now, I’m a self-described-mild-not-spicy-store-brand-ice-cream-apple-pie-on-a-Sunday-with-grandma,-Frank-Ocean-listening-ass-softass-nigga, but that last commonality burns a little blacker.

We’ve constructed an image of the bad guy, that is mostly conservative, mostly “unwoke”, mostly uncharismatic, mostly obvious. And I can tell you, when most men (and most soft ass betas like me) construct an image of an abuser or a misogynist, we will build you Trump or some conventionally unattractive hairy chested dude in a sleeveless undershirt holding a beer bottle hitting a white woman. We’ve got an easy to swallow tableau with our own picture of not only what an “ideal abuser” looks like, but also what a “textbook victim” should look like. Our social imaginations are just stuck in a 90s PSA. We don’t look at good guys like the Afflecks’ like pieces of shit until someone gives us evidence we can’t deny. Even then, there’s still debate about why or why not “it might have been okay.”

Fuck, remember that time Adrien Brody sexually harassed Halle fucking Berry on national television, and we turned it into a cute narrative that for the most part objectified Halle Berry, as if she were another little meaningless statue he had won.

But like…even this shit is shit that happens on TV. It happens, and then maybe we talk about it on Monday at lunch. There’s always real shit happening around us. In offices, our families, at school, with friends, in church, in our small, strange, and scrappy comedy / entertainment microverses. And usually when shit goes down, women are the ones of carry the burden of talking about this shit. And men, sometimes we participate — sometimes out of sheer desire to comfort/support our friends, or sometimes its because of optics*. 

There are various levels, various contexts, various nuances of this type of shit that men need to start talking about. And not just the mansplain-y “this is what feminism is” shit that we did in college. We (specifically men) all need to do a better job:

  • a) accepting responsibility for our part in unnatural corrosive masculinity. We’ve been part of the problem.
    • We are part of the problem. This is not to say that we are all bad people, but I see so many dudes out there who like… seem to be very concerned with the optics. Instead of talking about why other guys suck, I’ll tell you straight up that I was this guy, and am trying to unlearn it. Speak to any woman I dated pre-2014 and ask her how many times I tried to mansplain feminism.
    • I was never the kind of motherfucker who wore a “consent is sexy” shirt, but I was pretty much convinced that my words and performed politics absolved me from any responsibility I had in supporting a social realm that disregards and speaks over women.
    • We’ve been conditioned a certain way, and not a single one of our minds is superhuman enough to reject all of the shit crapped into our brains.
    • Corrosive masculinity is like a prison.. no…it’s like the human centipede. Sure, some people in the series have way worse shits, but it passes through all of us. If that’s like…a disgusting image, I’m sorry.
  • b) do a better job rejecting/unlearning our programming.
    • Around the time I started to reconcile my maleness, masculinity, and sexuality, I began to do a lot of reading. Got into a few arguments here and there.
    • Started to realize that I will never unlearn everything.
    • We’re not like iPhones or computers. The shit that slips and slides around in our heads sticks and so we have to run into our issues on a regular basis. We have to recognize the “wrong” in us so we don’t pass it forward.
  • c) stop rewarding this kind of social toxicity with social currency at every level.
    • Cause even if you perform your “wokebae ally” bullshit like motherfucking Daniel Day-Lewis, and the optics of your politics is akin to motherfucking Jesse Williams, it doesn’t mean shit if you mindlessly laugh at some shitty dudes jokes to maintain the “optics” of your sense of humor. This is probably a poor example, but there’s literally so many different versions of this scenario.

The Harvey Weinstein story is nice, but fuck if there ain’t shit that happens close to us.

*The Optics of Wokeness is something I really need to talk to someone about.

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Beauty & the Beast, My Capgras Delusion, and my disorganized film review of myself.

I love very few films more than Moonlight. I hate few films more than La La Land.
 
Nothing has filled me with more nebulous, creeping fear, than Beauty and the Beast. I am terrified of what this movie has done. How easily I am manipulated into a false sense of safety and joy. How easy it is to weaponize nostalgia against myself.
 
Two terrified, bleeding thumbs up. Dear god. I hate that I liked this movie.
 
Beauty and the Beast is the sensation of experiencing the Capgras delusion as a child, where the person tucking you in at night looks and acts just like your parent, but is not your parent. They feel like a total stranger. And all of my friends who love this film (like me) are like siblings who are SO READY to believe that this rough beast is Mommy. Even though we know that this is an impostor.
Saw Beauty and the Beast yesterday.  I am the enabler of my slaver. I cannot give this movie a negative or positive review. Instead of a review of the film, I am going to give a review of myself:
 
a. What is wrong with me?
b. What was I even expecting from this movie?
c. Why do I feel like a kid that is too big for the McDonald’s playpen?
d. Am I so hard-hearted that this movie could not reach me? Is my criticism about the movie or the industry?
e. Am I a cliche?
f. Why does this movie feel like someone just tried to wipe my adult ass?
g. Did I like this? I think I liked this?
h. Am I a white woman? I do not think that I am a white woman. 
i. I am unable to even pick out anything related to politics related to this movie… I did not expect for it to be very perfect in that regard… but also… it is not innocent.

I love this movie the way someone who is imprisoned in a castle loves their captor.

I think this movie is fucked up and weird and I am in love with the sense of terror it has instilled in me. I have never questioned the fabric of who and what I am as an audience member as hard as I have after seeing this movie.

WHO AM I? WHAT WAS THIS? AN OLD FRIEND? NO. MUCH SCARIER. BUT I DON’T KNOW WHY.

Maybe Lion King won’t be as scary.

*I am unsure of what idea I am trying to express here. But I assure you that from this point forward, I will be performing my love of this film evermore. Until I rediscover what it was that made me human.

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Dear Ally: A Short PSA On Not Becoming The Asshole You Hate

1. It’s not cool to shame 45 for having a mental disorder. You actually don’t need to shit on the mentally ill to shame that man. I dunno. Talk some other shit without punching down.

2. It’s also not cool to shame Sean Spicer for occasionally mixing words or letters up. If homeboy has dyslexia or any kind of speech or language disorder, or even shows signs of it, maybe it’s *super not okay* to point fingers and call him a dumbass for that. There are a million other reasons to insult the man, but goddamn there there good people who suffer from these kinds of disorders? I dunno. Maybe it feels good, but it *~*actually*~* helps no one and erodes your decency. Being decent is hard sometimes, but again, don’t punch down.

3. *~* Lists a bunch of other ethical compromises…

4. Also, SNL is generally garbage. Sometimes they hit, but lets not forget some of this horrible shit:

a. that Alec Baldwin has been casually homophobic and sexist — so he’s probably a laugh riot, but let’s not go lifting the motherfucker on our shoulders.

b. This is also a show that played a large part in normalizing 45. They helped.

c. This is the same show that fat shamed Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky. Listen to women and all that.

d. I could go on, but let’s just be aware that this show has some easy meaningless wins, but it ain’t our values.

5. Don’t be an asshole.

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Dear Ally: My Issue With Hidden Figures

Dearest Beloved Ally,

We disagree on this movie, but that’s okay. We can agree that the story itself is important, and that the performances were stellar (no pun intended/I am Satan).

I’m glad you saw and supported the movie, and I’m more glad that it’s a movie that has sparked conversation, thought, and a desire to understand the realities that black people had to face and still have to face. The film does tell an important story, and it is important to share these stories so that people think about what they can do to be better people and more understanding people.

Black people have a plethora of stories about us overcoming adversity on our own. Black women have even more of those stories because they got two checks against them in society. So this particular story is truly amazing and spectacular. So in the sense that it is important for black stories to be exposed to people, and that it is important for black people to be visible on the big screen, I will say that that Hidden Figures was an especially significant film.

But there are many ways to make a movie and tell a story. My main issues with Hidden Figures and movies like it, is that they are often made without black creative teams to flesh out any nuances specific to black or in this case, black female experiences. This was a movie written by a white woman/white man, and directed by a white man. So the things that were fabricated in the film were designed to assuage the guilt of a liberal white audience. So ultimately the issues I have with this movie are the issues I have with the industry are the issues I have with white dominance in creative spaces. And there may be things here that probably should be reserved for more of an intraracial conversation, because a great deal of what I feel about white dominance is hard to imagine and downright horrifying, but I digress. The makers of Hidden Figures made up too much, and they took too many things lightly that could have been more fleshed out by a team that understood the reality, thus what could afford to be rewritten.

People were scared when they were stopped by cops. Katherine Johnson didn’t run 500 miles to the black bathroom, she went to the white one because THAT was where she chose not to give a fuck. But because I guess we needed a laugh and an extra 15 minutes, they threw that sequence in. Kevin Costner’s character did not exist, because there was no white hero championing them in that way. There was no heroic smashing of the colored restroom sign. They did not let her into mission control. They slammed the door in her face and that was that. But recognition from white people is not what made their work important, and I wish that point was accentuated better. These women did thankless work and remained thankless until another black woman decided to write the story and Obama became president. But it wasn’t enough for her to be proud of her work or for her girls to be proud. We had to have them make up that scene where Kevin Costner pats her on the back.

Black women have been lifting each other up forever, and that was the movie I wanted to see. But I don’t expect the writers of the film to get that.

And history is rewritten all of the time in movies, so my problem is who does it serve? This is why I had as many issues with it as I had. Especially since they don’t always make movies about black women in science. I would love to be able to compare this to other movies, but I can’t because Hollywood threw us all a bone with this movie. How many years will it be till we get another (hopefully better) movie about black women in science? And will it be a priority for studios to get black women in the writers’ room? The director’s seat?

I was wrong to call this movie trash. It was an excessive statement to make, without considering or praising it’s finer points, which, honestly was the attempt to make a movie about blackness that wasn’t mired in pain, and the performances were very good. I just think black filmmakers would have done a more authentic job.

But the extreme “this is trash” reaction is to parts of it that were very upsetting to me. Because black women deserve better work. More capable work. The opportunity to tell their own stories. However well intentioned, this kind of revisionist American social fan-fiction is every bit dangerous as the fake news from Breitbart.

There is this fantasy perpetuated by Hollywood about the way things “used to be” and the way things were “back then.” The shitty reality, is that racism never “went away” and black folks for as long as you and I have been alive will not taste the same draught of freedom that you will taste.

Like the artificial intelligence of the Terminator robots, racism only became easier to hide and accept. Racism adapts to every victory we liberal folks tend to tell ourselves we have. It’s embedded into conservatism, liberalism, capitalism, etc. Any major institution that we support, it is embedded there, and we may not ever truly rid ourselves of the disease. That’s why as a black audience member, it’s important for me to critique and/criticize films like Hidden Figures while also praising them.

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Re: Why I celebrate Black History

This post is a response to a friend’s post.

Re: Yup, never hold back criticism to spare guilt. I think this is a constructive question. I thank you fore asking this, and will likely end up reposting this long ass response on my blog. Do I have permission to credit you with asking this in a screen shot?

tl;dr: I celebrate black history now like it’s my lent, because being me is my religion and I am endlessly, impossibly grateful to ones that came before me. I’m here for a good (not a long) time

Now . I started off as one of those well intentioned, but misinformed and annoying black liberal men who lived with the illusion, that black history month was somehow wrong, because it excluded black history from the mainstream. “Black history was just history” I would tell myself. This was before I learned the vital importance of  a) having your own shit AKA your own table to sit at and b) never wanting to apologize.

I lived my life prior to Obama’s second term with the idea that we had “beaten” racism. This is despite the fact that I was doubly conscious, and somewhat paranoid in white spaces/institutions.Though I had been raised in predominantly black environments, I was one of those annoying terrible mansplaining pop-liberal black men who spoke out loud that we had overcome the gigantic specter of Racism.

So “why does everything have to be about race?” I would ask. “I’m just a person who happens to be black.”

And I’m a man. It should have been easy to select my race first because of how corrosive and Eurocentric mainstream masculinity is… It should have been easy for me to know “I am in the world, and I am black” but there was this made faceless shame I wanted to outrun. It was not put there by me of my family. It was something I absorbed as a black boy when I was not seeing my face reflected back at me in a positive light. You get me? I was straight up brainwashed, and because I am a man, I could afford to be. I could afford to avoid race, because the white folks I was ingratiated with “didn’t care.” I was bougie and weak AF until I really thought about what it means for me to be Black before anything else. Mind you, I don’t think anyone HAS to make that choice, but it is important for a person to know the first foot you walk on in this world.

And mind you, my family this the blackest black there is. My parents are first generation true New Yorkers, but my blood is from the south, when my matriarchs were “in a family way” and had to run up North with they baby daddy. And the stories of slavery and segregation were abound in my youth, and we celebrated Kwanzaa, and my mom made us pretend to be slaves once so we could feel what it was like (she was a terrible massa)….You get the idea? I had one-million reminders that I grew up successfully ignorant was because I thought “the world wasn’t that way any more.” I ignored my struggle and the struggle before me and I did not progress or evolve.

Don’t get it twisted, I knew racism was “a thing” but it was always a weird thing. So when the reminders came, it was funny and uncanny to me, rather than chilling and familiar. My mom would kiss me before I left the house like it was the last time she’d see me and I’d laugh. White folks would tell me “I spoke well for a black guy.” I’d laugh. Black men would talk about “going after the girl with the light skin.” I’d laugh. Fuck, one time the security guards at my college accused me of stealing thousands of dollars of inventory from the performing arts department, AKA the most insane and candy ass heist in the world.

The struggle for me I think was the intersection between my desire to be accepted as a young person, my insecurities about not feeling welcome within my own community because I didn’t fit ‘the mold’, and my fear that I would be somehow letting down my race. It was much easier to be uninvolved. Invisible.

So I’ve starred some of the lessons.

So the change in mind didn’t happen over night, but when I went to an all black public school, it was a chance to define myself among my own peers who were dealing with a lot of the same sort of identity challenges. *There I learned that the kind of black man that I am is valid. Then college racism, my own direct experiences as a young man, and all the systemic/societal racism was a large factor in getting me to realize that the pain of racial tensions never dissipated.  *Racism is alive and well. Those experiences alone got me seeing myself as Black first.

Also I rejected Christianity, which I also think held me back.

Once I saw myself as Black, before any other element of my identity, things came a little easier. Black is good. Black is great. Black is why I have my money. Black is my yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And black is me. It’s a shared language where I can see you on the street without knowing you, and nod in your direction because we can just DO that. Black is pain and joy in lock-step. I swear to god. Being black is it’s own special power, and it means that I can evolve, flourish, and survive.

So remembering all of those that came before me who had to survive through every evil thing that tried to stop them is an action that moves me nearly to tears. Here we are still fighting. Still remembering. But still moving forward.

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Homeschool. Movies. John Hurt.

Dear God.

As I may constantly remind you, I was homeschooled as a child. In place of a social life, I would spend a lot of time with family, or a great deal of time alone entertaining my brain. This was a good time in my life. It was during this time that I think I figured out the very basic fundamentals of who I was.

My sister and I didn’t have a consistent allowance, so we would often collect recycling and turn it into change and turn the change into dollars. We would save it up in empty Mott’s Apple Juice containers and we would usually scrounge together quite a bit of money. It was a fun time. I would look forward to what I would do with the $20 or the however-so-much I had saved. I often walked to the K&B Toy Store on Myrtle Avenue to see what caught my eye. Usually it was one of the Marvel Legends action figures back in the days when Toy Biz had the license.

The other high points in my week were watching or helping my Mom cook dinner, reading books out loud during “class,” and watching movies with my Dad.

There was a Hollywood Video around the corner so we would usually rent about 5 movies per week as part of our routine. Sometimes he would make popcorn on the stove, sometimes not. Sometimes we’d return the movies on time, sometimes not. Sometimes, if we were lucky, we could rent a video game as well to help the time pass by.

I have a theory about why movies are so important to me, but I will save that for when someone else dies.

I saw so many movies during this time and some faces became more familiar than others. Samuel L Jackson. Halle Berry. Harvey Keitel. Angela Bassett. Michael Caine. John Hurt.

I was about 11 or 12 when I saw Alien and Elephant Man for the first time. One of the movies that had the most profound effect on me as a kid was Elephant Man. Around that time I had been developing a fleeting interest in the stranger corners of the human experience, so my Dad rented that one, a few other weirdo movies, and like, Magnolia or some shit like that.

But boy, oh, boy…Elephant Man fucked me up real good. I’ve seen a million things with John Hurt since then but that was the one that took the cake for me.

This is getting long. And it meandered here.

I really, really, really liked John Hurt. Definitely one of the most fun actors to watch. Such a talent and prolific worker. My TOP favorite things he did were Elephant Man, Hellboy, and his turn as The War Doctor.

What I loved about his performances was that he was a moving cocktail of fierceness AND gentleness. There was always something delicate and frail playing with something wry and scrappy. He wasn’t a big guy, but there was just something in his face and voice that sparkled. And other times that something exploded.

But mostly, it was the sparkling thing.

The last thing I saw him in was Jackie, and at the time I didn’t know he was in it. I was overjoyed. It felt like an old friend stopped by to say hey. In his performance, I thought to myself, “This is that magic thing that movie do. This is why I go.”

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