Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.
1. How Pop Culture’s White Supremacists Help Us Feel Good About Ourselves. Though our post-9/11 world has seen a proliferation of Islamic terrorist straw men in pop culture, white supremacist characters have remained on film and television. In the aftermath of Dylan Roof’s attack of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg analyzes how pop culture’s white supremacists validate audiences’ prescribed values of “good white heroes” and “bad white racists.”
Even as pop culture has given us more stories about terrorists inspired by Islam, white supremacists have stuck around as villains, in part because they’re convenient; few people are going to complain that Neo-Nazis and the Aryan Brotherhood are unfairly stereotyped when they’re painted as violent criminals. In the 1995 movie “Die Hard With A Vengeance,” the terrorist Simon (Jeremy Irons) exploits this antipathy, having John McClane (Bruce Willis) dropped into Harlem wearing a racist sandwich board. McClane is, of course, innocent of such sentiments, and he’s saved by Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus Carver, who sees through the ruse and rescues him from violent retaliation. (The movie throws in terrorists sponsored by Iran’s religious authorities for good measure.) But the differences in the stories we tell about Islamic terrorists and white supremacists are stark: Muslim extremism is apocalyptic, while white supremacy, however violent, comes across as fundamentally criminal. Terrorists inspired by Islam (or from Middle Eastern countries) are potentially everywhere, while white supremacists are contained in prison systems or rural communities. Recently, white supremacist violence has been part of tough male characters’ backstories. But the thing that really distinguishes these stories most is how little attention they pay to the people of color who are the targets of racist rage and violence. White supremacists make particularly good targets for the Golden Age of television’s white male anti-heroes, who don’t have to earn anyone’s respect or support with conspicuous displays of moral goodness: unlike non-violent protesters, they can fight back against Neo-Nazis or members of the Aryan Brotherhood with relish. The result is that in Hollywood fiction, white supremacy’s not an opportunity to tell stories about structural racism, or about black resilience. It’s a device for sorting out bad white people and good — or at least slightly less bad — ones.
2. Mark Wahlberg, the “Post-Sexual” Movie Star. Today on Daily Reads, we have two takes on the career and celebrity of Mark Wahlberg, in light of his starring role in “Ted 2.” For Grantland, Alex Pappademas charts Wahlberg’s transformation from sex symbol to asexual movie star, from Calvin Klein underwear model to modest performer.
Wahlberg began his career as a sex symbol — a rapper turned underwear model with comic-book abs you could juice a lemon on. Nearly every story anyone’s written about him in the ensuing years contains some reference to his brief stint as the face and torso of Calvin Klein, usually as an ignominious origin story he’s managed to live down (along with a teenage history of cocaine abuse and violence) through professional accomplishment. But what’s interesting and a little bit sad about Wahlberg’s post-underpants career arc is the degree to which he seems to have overcorrected this image problem, particularly during the last 10 years. He’s more buff than ever — in “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” he’s like the third-biggest truck onscreen — but he has also become a weirdly closed-off, almost asexual performer. He’s 44, but his screen persona seems more than ever like a young boy’s idea of a man.
It’s hard not to feel like there’s something missing — and increasingly difficult to remember that when he first hit billboards in the ’90s, Wahlberg was a symbol of evolving ideas about masculinity, sexual display, and even race. “Good Vibrations,” his first (and last) no. 1 single as “Marky Mark” of the Funky Bunch, is considered a white-rap landmark on par with Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” from a year earlier, but to 2015 ears it just sounds like house music, complete with a soaring vocal by disco diva Loleatta Holloway. In the beginning, Wahlberg played both straight and gay clubs, but he took a carefully managed approach to capitalizing on that kind of attention. “One club he planned to play even asked him to sign an agreement promising to take off his shirt,” the Chicago Tribune reported in 1993, before adding, “(He didn’t; you can’t plan stuff like that.)” Ironically, the next great leap of his career wouldn’t have been possible without the involvement of two (or maybe three) of the most culturally influential gay men of the late 20th century — photographer Herb Ritts and designer Calvin Klein, who’s rumored to have cast Wahlberg on the recommendation of David Geffen.
3. Mark Wahlberg’s Classic Hollywood Playbook. Mark Wahlberg has portraits of James Caan, John Garfield, Steve McQueen, and James Cagney hanging in his house. All four actors represent a certain type of actor, one with a reliable acting style that can be easily transferred to multiple projects with a certain quality to them. Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Peterson explores how Wahlberg’s old-school classical Hollywood approach to celebrity has made him the surest bet in Hollywood.
But image shaping and public repentance couldn’t make Wahlberg a star if he wasn’t also cranking out product. For most of the ’30s and ’40s, films were made in four months, if not less, and actors transitioned swiftly from project to project. There were some stars, mostly transplants from the British stage, like Laurence Olivier, who approached acting as an art form, but this was a decade before method acting and the notion that a star would somehow immerse themselves in a role. That’s an attitude that Wahlberg embraces. As he told GQ, “The James Cagney philosophy always made more sense to me. Prepare for the part. Be the part. And with no great effort, play the part.” Some argue that Wahlberg, who was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “The Fighter,” was out-acted by Christian Bale, who won an Oscar for his. Yet that’s a very 21st century understanding of acting, in which we reward the performances that are the most transformative. Bale was acting like a very contemporary and very showy method actor. He was doing it well. But Wahlberg was acting the way that classic Hollywood stars acted — and, arguably, doing it better.
4. “Inside Out,” Childhood Depression, and the Emotional Stranglehold of “Minnesota Nice”. Pixar’s newest film “Inside Out” chronicles protagonist Riley’s emotional struggles with moving from Minnesota to San Francisco and her acceptance of sadness as an important part of emotional well-being. Salon’s Libby Hill writes a personal essay about how “Inside Out” embodies her own Minnesotan childhood and her struggle with depression.
In “Inside Out,” this sense of emotional misrepresentation makes for a perilous situation, leaving a young girl, raised in an environment where appearing happy is valued over all else, left unequipped to process difficult emotions when they come calling. Riley and her parents’ relocation to the West Coast is more than a story catalyst, it’s an opportunity to undo the latent damage of a restrictive social environment. For Riley, that is. To look at the emotional consoles of Riley’s parents is to see the cost of living too long in a place that encourages uniformity and repression. Running each parent’s respective console is a team made up of a single gender, uniformly represented. For mom, the team leader is Sadness. For dad, Anger. For both, Joy takes a backseat. While each parent has a fully functioning console run by a cooperative team, it’s telling that they each default to emotions far from the Joy they encourage their daughter to exhibit. The Midwest is a beautiful place full of many genuinely kind and loving people. But too often there’s a pervasive sense that unpleasantness is better off not seen or heard or, if possible, felt at all. My own depression, with me since I was born, went undiagnosed until I was 18 years old because, despite my parents’ love and affection, we did not have the vocabulary to speak about the dire reality of my situation and because of that, we all suffered.
5. A Collection of Male Readers Telling Female Film Critics What They Can’t Review. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. The Internet hosts a lot of misogynistic jerks, many of whom come out when a female film critic deigns to critique an established “male” property, such as a Marvel film, or an Adam Sandler movie, or the movie about the pot-smoking teddy bear embarking on a civil rights crusade. Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey compiles some garden-variety bile from these people to illustrate the old maxim that the Internet always forgets: respect other people’s opinions and experiences.
You see, mouth-breathing fans get especially worked up when a female writer dares to critique the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Amy Nicholson found out when she published the first negative review — not even a pan, just an admission that the movie merely ‘almost works” — of Joss Whedon’s 2012 mega-hit [“The Avengers.”] And then the trolls came out. The general tenor is best summarized by this bon mot from the commenter/misogyny-robot “3490314”: “She asked her boyfriend what score she should give. Just stick to rom-coms, bitch.” In another thread, the same credit to humanity offered up this zazzier version of that witticism: “This what happens when you send a woman with Katherine Heigl posters on her bedroom walls to review a comic book movie.” And in yet another (busy day for this guy, must’ve had a long lunch break to waste down at the think tank), we get this lovely bit of full-on sexism: “Her boss/lover says it’s better than having her make the coffee and answering phones and besides what else was she going to do with that creative writing degree daddy paid for?” “DVDA” (look it up if you don’t know what it stands for — y’know what, take that back, don’’) muses: “See internet, this is what happens when you give your PA the change to write reviews because it’s cheaper than hiring a proper male writer.” Ah yes, a proper male writer. Anyway, these assholes got the review a lot of attention, boosting Nicholson’s name and visibility; she eventually landed a cherry gig at L.A. Weekly. So, living well is the best revenge, I guess?
Tweet of the Day:
We should probably thank the gods there’s not a new Back to the Future coming this fall, with Marty’s kid traveling back to 1985.
— Todd VanDerWerff (@tvoti) June 26, 2015