Controversy in Netflix Comedy

After watching two of the comedy shows performed by Dave Chappelle, The Bird Revelation and Equanimity, I felt pretty offended. I think what made it worse too, was that Chappelle stated how easily people get offended these days, as if current issues featured in the media weren’t already difficult to talk about, he had to disrespect everyone who doesn’t take controversial issues lightly. From the shows, I got the feeling that Chappelle was advocating using language and upholding ideas that are just wrong. For example, in his show, The Bird Revelation, he talks about how the women who were assaulted by famous actors could have just walked away, said no, or hung up the phone, when in reality, assault, and all the things leading up to assault are much more complicated that what Chappelle makes them out to be.

Chappelle’s show was not funny. He didn’t make many jokes that were relatable to people; instead, he simply put down and made fun of individuals who may have experienced horrific acts of violence. He also shames members of the LGBTQ community and doesn’t care how this reflects on himself.  He even goes so far as to acknowledge that the LGBTQ community actually really dislikes him.  I don’t blame them for it either, I think Chappelle is undermining the progress the LGBTQ community has made for themselves.  In Jamie Loftus’ article, Dave Chappelle Can’t Shock Jock His Way Out of the #MeToo Movement, he references a quote of Chappelle’s: “Everything is funny until it happens to you” as his opener to the show on Netflix.  I felt that he was using this as a way to justify his “jokes” and soften the blow of offending people. This is not appropriate for any topic revolving around assault.  Even if Chappelle was trying to start a conversation about the issues at hand surrounding the alleged assaults by famous actors in Hollywood, he was not doing so with class or in a way that was affective at all.  I got the sense that he was endorsing the archaic view that it is the woman’s fault she was assaulted, like when he said “you could have just waked away.” In Jason Zinoman’s article, Dave Chappelle Stumbles into the #MeToo Movement, he agrees that the assaults by men in Hollywood are belittled be Chappelle. I believe this could be potentially dangerous to women and victims because Chappelle does not use his influence to support better treatment of women, instead, he just makes a joke.

In her article, Kevin Spacey Deserves to be Scorned, But Can I Still Watch House of Cards?, Hanna Parkinsons talks about how it is easy to separate art from the artist.  I think this is true in many mediums, like paintings, but in standup comedy, I think it is more difficult.  In art works like paintings, I think that their meanings are often ambiguous, which allows the viewer to come to their own interpretations and emotional responses to the piece, whereas in comedy, I would assume that the comedian is being very representative of how he or she sees the world around him or her and it’s not up for interpretation.  In Dave Chappelle’s Netflix Special, he talks about other famous actor’s behavior and doesn’t condemn it, which I feel is very inappropriate.  I am surprised that even though Netflix fired two actors from successful shows, they still put Dave Chappelle’s show up for viewers to watch.  Is there any hint of hypocrisy in this?

 

Fandom

Stranger Things, Black Mirror, and Iron Fist might attract fans through their fantasy and interesting characters.  In Stranger Things, I think a lot of people became fans because of the empathy they feel towards the young characters and begin to relate to one or more of them.  In Black Mirror, the show has a different story every episode but presents deep and philosophical ideas about the world, which could be addicting and enjoyable if one is partial to this kind of entertainment.  Iron Fist features a superhero who struggled to get his share of his parents business back and is now an extremely wealthy person with powers.  I think that in shows like Iron Fist and Stranger Things, fans like to live vicariously through the characters as an escape from their own personal realities. Who wouldn’t want to be someone who has a lot of money and can fight off gangs of ninja-like people and have powers?

Hardcore fans of Iron Fist might show their enthusiasm for the show by taking up kung fu classes, or fans of Stranger Things might decorate their house like it was from the ’80s. In general, I don’t have a positive view of fandom as I think it could start to control a person’s life.  Personally, I haven’t ever gone beyond the text with any show or became a hardcore fan, so I haven’t had the same sense of community that other fans have.  Another aspect of fandom that I think is very negative is the sense of entitlement fans develope, like when they expect actors to give attention to fans or engage in romantic relationships offset, as discussed in Dee Locket’s article, Here’s Why Stranger Things Star Finn Wolfhard Was Forced to Speak Out Against Inappropriate Fans.  

I think that Black Mirror’s, USS Callister, did a good job of presenting toxic fandom, where a fan feels that he or she has some kind of control over what happens outside of the script.  The USS Callister episode features a man who goes by the name of Daly, obsessed with his favorite show Star Fleet, so much so that he has created a game to play where he is the captain of the ship and the hero when they achieve anything.  At first, it seemed quite innocent, but as the episode goes on, the audience discovers that he has essentially stolen DNA of his coworkers to create slaves inside the game.  Daly exerts so much control and is very evil in his actions towards his “crew” that one of the characters refers to him as an “asshole god.” I think this analogy can be compared to how hardcore fans feed into their obsessions, as they would like to be the controller of the worlds and stories they enjoy.

I do enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I can’t say I would commit significant time, energy, or money into it.  I really enjoyed the Marvel movies, but I didn’t like watching Iron Fist as much, but because it was so strung out and didn’t have as much action as I would have liked to see, as compared to the Marvel movies, such as The Avengers.

 

Race and Netflix

There are a few shows on Netflix that feature people of non-white ethnicities.  In Luke Cage, Dear White People, and On My Block, racial identity and multiculturalism are definite themes presented in the shows.  In these shows, racial identity is paramount. In Dear White People, the main character, Sam, is shown discussing the struggles black people face on her predominantly white college campus.  Being mixed raced, she touches on how asking the question, “What are you?” is not only annoying, but also perpetuates putting people into categories of race instead of viewing individuals as human beings.  Another interesting in part in the first episode of Dear White People, is when Sam’s black friends find out that she is hooking up with a white man.  This upsets them, as they feel that Sam is being hypocritical and not living up to her “black power” ideals by doing this.  While watching the episode, I wasn’t sure how Sam’s white boyfriend was going to tie into the plot as a positive or negative character.  I thought the point of his character was to show that interracial relationships are normal or that Sam doesn’t hate white people.  However, it seems that his character is to challenge Sam’s thinking about how to include white people in her group.  Since I only watched the first episode of Dear White People, I don’t know how Sam’s boyfriend will contribute to the themes, but I think that Netflix could have done a better job of focusing on the racism that Sam and her peers experience, instead of throwing in a white person to undermine that focus.

In the three shows mentioned, I think that racial stereotypes were perpetuated and challenged.  I think Netflix did a good job of acknowledging the stereotypes, but also used the characters to challenge them, or at least give some context for empathy.  For example, in On My Block, one of the hispanic characters, Cesar, is shown being affiliated with a gang, but his character shows that he is less than happy about it and seems to be in the gang to protect his love interest, Monse, from another gang member.  Cesar tells Monse about how deep gang culture is ingrained in his family and that he feels stuck in it.

In Luke Cage, the Luke’s character is shown as a good-guy, super hero amidst a lot of bad guys who are black and portrayed as thugs.  I think that in Luke Cage, the thug stereotype is perpetuated and perhaps they could have used other ethnicities as bad guys, but I think that it was a safe move on Netflix’s part to not show white people as the bad guys.  This would likely have ended in even more pushback from white Netflix viewers than the show already has received. In Lang’s article, “Luke Cage and the Racial Empathy Gap: ‘Why Do They Talk about Being Black All the Time?,’” he talks about the racial empathy gap and how responses from white people to shows like Luke Cage essentially proves the point that there is still a huge amount of racism among white people. I think that shows like Luke Cage will not change the mindset of bigoted viewers, but will only provide exposure to people who are less stuck in a racist worldview.  Hopefully these shows will positively portray ethnic communities and influence a better attitude and more empathy towards these groups.

I thought the most compelling character in these three shows was Sam from Dear White People.  She had a big personality and made her struggles blatantly obvious to the audience. I was not able to relate to her struggles, being a white female.  I felt I could relate to her boyfriend though.  I have found myself in situations where people of other ethnicities have made me feel like I don’t belong or like I don’t have any place to want to care about their struggles.

 

The Reality of Reality on Netflix

In the past, I have watched few reality television shows, but most memorably, was America’s Next Top Model. The show was about beautiful women competing to become a model.  I remember it being a bit trashy, but still a guilty pleasure to watch.  The other reality show I watched was Extreme Home Makeover, which as a kid I loved, just to see the crazy rooms that the kids would get once their house got a makeover. Netflix’s Queer Eye  conforms to both America’s Next Top Model and Extreme Home Makeover by fixing up people’s homes and giving them a new physical makeover.  However, Queer Eye focuses on what seems to be a more charitable cause, like Extreme Home Makeover does, while America’s Next Top Model is more of a fight to be the best model.  In America’s Next Top Model, there is a lot more drama that Queer Eye.  Queer Eye has some drama, but its not mean.  It is very emotional and focuses on bettering the life of someone, not just getting into the cut-throat fashion world.

Personally, I think that the makeover subgenera of reality television is most appealing because it has a story like dating programs, but is less trashy.  I think the audience can live vicariously through the people on the show and maybe learn something new, maybe about fashion or cooking, like in Queer Eye. Conversely, the dating programs seem to be just drama for drama’s sake.  I think that all subgenera of reality television give are emotional in one way or another and the audience is able to be attached to their favorite people, which is why they keep watching more. If the audience is curious about what happens to their favorite personality as the show progresses, they will keep watching.

Queer Eye challenges attitudes on masculinity and maleness by showing that participating in things like cooking and fashion (which arguably, could be traditionally considered a woman’s area of expertise) can really improve a straight male’s life.  I think it was really fun to watch the Fabulous 5 helping others through their areas of expertise, and even thought they are all gay, it was still great to see men doing things that may still be atypical in society.  I’d like to predict that through these kinds of shows, featuring individuals of different sexual orientations, will influence the attitudes of audience members watching the show to be more accepting and open to changing their ideas of masculinity.

I think Nailed It! can credit its success to the popularity of memes.  There are tons of “Nailed It!” memes on the internet and they are hilarious.  Watching average people attempt to make decadent food masterpieces is comical because of how terrible the contestants made their projects.  I think the show sends a positive message about personal failure- to keep a good humor about it. I don’t think the show is meant to be hurtful to the contestants, but have a good laugh and win prizes.

Netflix and Documentaries

Sudeep Sharma explains in his chapter, that Netflix acts as a sort of “newsstand” as compared to a library with its choice in documentaries.  The newsstand metaphor means that Netflix’s content is on a “rotating basis” where content is supposedly pushing Netflix’s commercial needs on to the viewers as the content is available, rather than the viewers choosing what they want with content that is perpetually available. Sharma also suggests that watching a documentary is more meaningful that watching fiction, which I would agree with, as I think that documentaries offer the viewer more than just entertainment.

Netflix’s documentary, Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, does support what Sharma argues, that the documentaries that Netflix chooses are relatively “traditional” as it was a documentary about a social issue in Hong Kong. The film style was typical of most other documentaries, where there is footage of actual events occurring and interviews.  Another characteristic I noticed of the film are the short sentences that pop up intermittently to explain what is going on.  Sharma also explains that Netflix has a tendency to choose “edgy” films, which is not far off from what was seen in the Joshua documentary.

The film was about a teen-aged boy in Hong Kong who stands up against the Communist regime, fighting for an education curriculum that does not include brainwashing to be obedient to the Chinese government.  The students in Hong Kong were successful in this battle and they then got involved in another movement that was fighting for true democracy in Hong Kong. The documentary was very enriching in my opinion.  It did bring about greater understanding about the issues in China.  Particularly the one country two systems aspect of the government.  Through the film, it really showed what the one country two systems thing was, and how the greater government of China, especially the president, has been trying to undermine Hong Kong’s system and make it join the rest of China.

It was very inspiring to see such a young group of people standing up for what they want from their government and to see how they grew in their understanding of how to make change happen.  The majority of the film showed the people of Hong Kong protesting, but at the end, the students involved with the movement decided to end their protesting and instead place themselves inside the government to have greater influence on the direction their country takes.

In comparison to Joshua, a multi-episode documentary series Netflix currently has available is The Keepers, a story about a murdered nun in Baltimore. The initial question that the producers ask is “Who killed Sister Cathy?”  The story then delves into the complex issues inside the Catholic school that Sister Cathy taught at.  The multi-episode style that this documentary has allows more information to be presented on the murder and it introduces more individuals who were involved.  I think that having a longer story through the multi-episode style does encourage the emotional investment of the audience.  After the first episode they leave the audience on a cliff hanger where you are interested in knowing who killed Sister Cathy, but curious about Jane Doe.  In the second episode, Jane Doe is introduced and she tells her emotional story of abuse she experienced by the school counselor. As the story progresses, it seems to move away from the initial question of who killed Sister Cathy, and presents a story about the students and the suggested perpetrator.  The documentary most definitely has more of a narrative than Joshua did, which made the audience participate more in the documentary.  In The Keepers, I felt like I was investigating the murder just as much as Gemma and Abbie were, as opposed to Joshua, where it felt like I was just given information.

 

Multi-Cam Sitcom

I just learned that the multi-cam sitcom, Friends, was filmed in front of a live audience.  I had always thought that the laughter in the background was fake.  I also found it amazing that the audience sat through many retakes of scenes. I assumed that the cast just put on a sort of play for the audience, and it happened to be filmed. It’s crazy as well that all the sets had to be set up and taken down during filming, the writers often rewrote things they didn’t like.  From my new knowledge about how these multi-cam sitcoms are produced, it would seem that many members who take part in making are overlooked, especially anyone who isn’t a producer or actor on the show.

Netflix’s, One Day at a Time, is also a multi-cam sitcom with a domestic theme.  The show is smartly crafted, as in genera, the multi-cam sitcom gives the show a bit of an old/traditional feel, but also engages current issues, like immigration and white privilege.  I think the show is relatively progressive in its ideals, but also has some conservative tones, or at least presents them.  For example, in the fifth episode, there is a debate about immigration, after Schneider admits that he is living in the US illegally, but his attempt to seem cool with his neighbors gets shut down by Penelope because he is white and didn’t have much of a struggle getting to the US or dealing with discrimination after he overstayed his visa. The debate continues when Penelope’s coworker, Scott, chimes in and gives his more conservative view on immigration and that immigrants should follow the rules to get in, to which Lydia agrees. After this, I think the show tries to push its viewers into having more sympathy for immigrants when Elena’s friend’s parents get deported.

Besides the show presenting progressive ideas, the fact that it has a Cuban family as the main characters again pushes progressiveness to demonstrate how the white majority in the US is changing to be more representative of minority groups.  I think that this show goes against the traditionally “low-brow” multi-cam sitcom stereotype by being incredibly cultured and intelligent. I think that having this show be produced in a multi-cam sitcom style is actually smarter than having it be a single-camera show because of the sense of community it creates.  The show has to be set up in away that the audience feels included and a part of the show’s community.  I sometimes get the feeling that in single-camera shows the audience is expected to live vicariously through the characters.  There should be an appreciation for both styles of producing, but in One Day at a Time’s case, multi-cam style is best because of how family oriented it is.  Betancourt’s article, Make ‘Em Laught Track: How Netflix’s One Day at a Time Resuscitates the Multi-Cam Sitcom, argues that this style fails to show the “complex storylines.”  I disagree.  I think that anyone with an imagination can understand what happens beyond the boundaries of the set and doesn’t take away from the issues within the show.  Perhaps this is why people have lost favor with this style of television production, its lack of edginess.

Genre in Netflix Shows

Two of Netflix’s shows, Godless and Lost in Space, demonstrate classic themes in their respective genres.  Godless, falls into the Western genre by showing typical iconography of a Western show such as horses, guns, cowboys, and Native Americans.  In the show, as in many Western themed shows, there is an outlaw villain with a posse of followers who help the villain and make him look more powerful and intimidating.  In Godless, this is Frank Griffin, who at the beginning of the show loses his arm after being shot.  I like this detail in the show because even though Frank Griffin has lost a limb, he is still incredibly intimidating and just goes to show how tough he is.  Another interesting aspect of the show is Netflix’s choice in who played Frank Griffin– Jeff Daniels.  In the movies I’ve seen with Jeff Daniels, he typically plays characters who are kind, fatherly, nurturing, and in all respects the furthest thing from being threatening.  Yet, in Godless, Daniels is still all of those things, but he is actually evil.  With this choice in actor, I want to like him and have a comfortable feeling when he come on scene, but I can’t because he is obviously a terrible person.  I think this makes the show quite interesting.

Conversely, the hero of the Western is Roy Goode, played by Jack O’Connell, who seems to have all the necessary skills to survive in the world of the Wild West (good with horses, good with guns, and good with the pretty girl’s kid) and will likely get significantly rewarded for being the hero, but only after he struggles a lot.  In the show, Roy Goode also gets shot, like the villain Frank Griffin, and has to recover all the while demonstrating how tough he is so the other characters and audience earn his respect.

In Sophie Gilbert’s article, What Godless Says about America, it is mentioned that the show was meant to be a “feminist western,” which I would have never guessed from watching the first episode.  The show still seems to be pretty male dominated, which is what I would expect from a Western show.  Perhaps this is the case in Godless so that the show doesn’t come across as cheesy or suffer too many criticisms.

Another show Netflix has that demonstrates the Science-Fiction genre is Lost in Space. The show has a clear victim from the beginning, Will Robinson, the youngest child of the Robinson family, who is quite possibly less nerdy than the rest of the family, but still provides solutions to problems, like when his sister, Judy, gets frozen in the water, so he is a bit of a hero as well.  The show is also set on another planet and integrates use of advanced technology, like the spaceship and the walkie-talkie-like things everyone wears, which is typical of sci-fi films and shows.  The first episode also does a good job of showing another common aspect of the genre: threats to the natural order.  This is seen in the flashbacks of the family members on Earth where there is pollution so bad that they have to wear gas masks, or when Maureen explains to her kids that they are on this mission because of Earth’s deterioration.

I like both of these genres because of the action and problem solving involved with them.  I like how there is usually a fight between good and evil and when the good guys win it makes me feel nice and satisfied when the bad guy gets locked or take out. I prefer these kinds of shows over ones like The Santa Clarita Diet.  Even though the horror-comedy is entertaining in its own respect, I didn’t feel that there was much of a plot as compared to Godless or Lost in Space.