Imagination Connoisseur, Dave T Geek, asks some tough questions about political commentary in film and the source of such commentary. Just how deep do the political decisions run in forming our consumable entertainment?

Dear Burnettwork,

I need to articulate something on the topic of “politics” in film.

When we talk about a section of fans couching their criticisms in politics… there is actually a deeper truth being expressed by those fans, that even most of they themselves are failing to express clearly, or to diagnose precisely.

Do those fans tend to reduce everything to politics and/or culture war?… yes,
But does that invalidate their points entirely? No. And it frustrates me when intelligent people… I mean, people like the insightful John Campea, and yes, even sometimes the ever-open-minded Robert Meyer Burnett… when intelligent people dismiss the topic as some kind of projection on the part of politically motivated fans.

People who avoid the debate about politics in the films usually make the case that “The politics/commentary are not the issue, because you can make a good film that contains political themes or commentary. So let’s just focus on the technical problems with script and story, because that’s the real problem.”

Sure… That’s a valid argument… but it excludes the possibility that the political lens of the creators is partly causing these problems. Even Apolitical problems with things like script and story.

Fans who keep bringing up politics, feminism, etc. in modern films, are intuiting a very real phenomenon. And they are observing an ever-increasing correlation between the political pre-occupations of creators and things like decreasing quality in films or increasing subversion of franchises.

People who desperately avoid the topic of politics are closing the door to discovering a phenomenon that, in fact, goes DEEPER than the politics themselves. To be fair, the people who dwell on the politics are also failing to dig deeper… but at least they were willing to dig a bit deeper into the dirty layer of politics.

What almost no one is considering is the possibility (although I would say it’s essentially a fact) that Hollywood is a social media obsessed industry (writers being particularly guilty in my opinion). And this social media obsession verifiably creates large echo chambers and increased political engagement. It is extremely common to look at any given actor, writer, or director’s timeline, and to find spades of political tweets and retweets… spanning the course of the day, every day.

We are not considering, that we have almost an entire industry, that is less and less capable of turning off its political indignation when it goes to work. Modern day creators are nurturing a political lens of reality that they see EVERYTHING through. People are failing to entertain the very real possibility that modern day writers and directors are filtering every single creative choice through this lens.
A lens which will affect movies in all kinds of ways. Not just in a bit of ‘on-the-nose’ commentary, or a smidge of pandering to political correctness, or a dash of innocuous race or gender-swapping.

No. It is possibly affecting every single story choice… design choice… character choice… dialogue choice… and so on.

Now, you might argue, “how can someone’s feminism or politics affect EVERY single creative choice or aspect of a film?”. And to that I would say, “Sure. You are correct. Many things will be unaffected in any real way. But ANYthing CAN be affected, and MANY things WILL be affected in ways both expected and unexpected; intentional and unintentional.”

A simple example of this would be the desire to curtail a romantic subplot for a female protagonist, whether or not it would be good for the film, because the creator is worried about the character appearing less independent.

Another good example is the latest Birds of Prey film. Cathy Yan, the director, was very explicit in her intentions to subvert the franchise and the genre. The prime example of this was in the character of Cassandra Cain becoming the polar opposite of the character from the comic books. Cain is supposed to be a very stoic and silent character — a master assassin with pathos. Yet in the film, she is a generic, talkative street kid. So why did they change every key aspect of the character? For the story? Nope. Cathy Yan and the writer thought it was not a good message to send to young girls of color to have a young Asian girl who wasn’t constantly speaking her mind.

So, even though the movie did not have Cassandra Cain making some overt political statement in the film, Cathy Yan’s political lens led her to subvert… nay… to undo the character. Their ideological lens also led them to pick AWFUL designs for the characters — and that has ZERO to do with sex appeal. The costuming was ugly by any standard, and contributed nothing to the story or characters.

We got a sparkly chicken lady costume for Harley Quinn and a bunch of Hot Topic trash that was 100 times worse than in Suicide Squad. And again… not because Yan wanted to come up with better designs, or designs that would make more sense, or inform the characters… But, by her own admission, because she wanted to reflect her view of women being imperfect and comfortable and desexualized and to subvert expectations.

The fact is, that in many cases, the problems with story, writing, direction, and/or design, are only SYMPTOMS of a deeper problem.

You can’t just tell a writer to write a better script without addressing the fact that they are spending copious amounts of each day ranting about politics and activist causes online. That kind of political indignation… especially when it snowballs into snarky retorts and contentious back-and-forths… is not easily turned off in the mind after the phone is put down. Hollywood creators are less and less capable of keeping their twitter feuds out of their writing. That’s even one reason why dialogue is sounding more and more like online posts than it sounds like face-to-face interactions… all filled with snark and swearing and what I can only describe as “lol so random” humor.

I noticed this most recently when watching a clip of Star Trek Picard, where Raffi unloads her gripes about class on the privileged Jean-Luc Picard. I said to myself, “People don’t talk like that to other people “IRL”. That’s a twitter call out if I’ve ever seen one.” Add to that lines like, “Science is so f***ing cool!” or “Sheer f***ing hubris” or “Romulans are SO into Drama.”

The fact is… the “political agenda” that people keep identifying, is less of a political conspiracy… and more of a symptom of social media echo chambers, and their vastly disproportionate effect on left-leaning Hollywood.

The social media Hollywood bubble has them (1) thinking that everyone talks like a twitter thread, (2) believing that everyone is big on politics, (3) believing that most people have the same views as them and (4 )has them largely incapable of turning off the constant reverberations of their echo chamber when it’s time to create… potentially affecting any to all of their creative choices in a myriad of negative ways.

Considering this is at least part of the recurring problems with the handling of modern franchises, then it would follow, that the cure would in-part be a heightened self-awareness by creators pre-occupied with politics or activism, combined with a finger on the pulse of more of the audience (particularly the primary pre-existing audience)…

And this is basically what the so-called “political” fans are TRYING to impress on the industry when the “couch” their arguments in politics. They are simultaneously trying to say, “Hey! Hollywood… snap out of your largely political social media trance! And get in touch with the IP, get in touch with the story, and get in touch with your audience.”

In short… get in touch with REALITY. Because, forget the Hollywood bubble… they are trapped in the much more powerful social media bubble that is hurting their ability to create. And if we can allow ourselves to dissect the increase in politics — real or imagined — then we can discover something deeper.

And, finally, let me re-iterate: Modern social media obsession is not the sole cause of anything. But it is a very significant factor, that is highly correlated to increased politics, but also increased subversion, decreased creativity, and an increasing gulf between Hollywood and the average viewer.

Geekfully yours,
– Dave T Geek

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