Netflix and Controversy: Blurred Lines Between Artists and Their Work

How Netflix treats shows which are wrapped in controversy varies, as do my feelings towards it. The fact that House of Cards took a major hit due to the actions of one man evokes some sympathy from me (for the show and everyone else working on it, not for Spacey). Compare that to Netflix’s backlash from 13 Reason’s Why’s treatment of suicide, and I feel a lot less sympathetic because that controversy is due to the actions and decisions of many people. The line between art and artists is a blurry one, but I do not think one should simply cast out a person as well as their work for their misdeeds. Casting out the person is, of course, debatable depending on what they have done.

Personally, I feel like the Paste article pulled many of Chappelle’s jokes out of context, which makes them sound much worse than they are, when explaining why Loftus did not like many of his comments. Are Chappelle’s jokes raunchy and was a cringing through my laughter of his jokes? Very much so. Were the jokes still relevant and got me thinking? Yes, which I think is the point. It started a conversation about a modern topic in a casual setting, which I think is one of the biggest  purposes of comedians, right next to making people laugh.

I agree with Parkinson’s comment about how remorse needs to be taken into account when considering artist’s work who have done something awful in the past. While they said they are glad Weinstein had been “tossed in the trash” and I agree with that, I also feel like we need to be careful with this “cancel culture” which is developing. Now, Weinstein and others are exceptions after numerous accounts of wrongdoings again and again to the point where they are undeniable. However, I do not think it is a good idea to automatically dismiss an artist and all of their works the moment anyone hears that they did something immoral ten or more years ago. Primarily, so much culture would be lost in this case; culture which took many, many people to create should not be dismissed on account of one person. Sure, in the case of Spacey, he was the lead actor in House of Cards, but why does that mean we must stop watching the show where hundreds of other people poured their hearts and souls into this work?

In comparison, the New York Times article by Zinoman took on more of a professional and respectful tone when it came to writing about Chappelle’s comedy skits which brings up how he talks about what everyone, including himself, is afraid to say. That, I think, is the purpose of comedy. Comedians need to wade into a gray area, and this is often where they find most of their material, because otherwise they might be hard pressed for jokes that are culturally relevant and start a conversation. Otherwise it would be difficult to draw the line in regards to what comedians can and cannot speak about, not to mention who gets to draw the line to begin with.

As someone who has never been sexually abused, it is difficult for me to say what is and is not respectful towards victims of sexual abuse. However, I can see how some of Chapelle’s jokes could be seen as disrespectful and harmful due to the crass nature of them, yet I have a hard time saying when a comedian should stop. I could say the same about Chappelle’s jokes about the transgender community, but again, I am not transgender so it is difficult for me to say what is and is not alright. In a way, I think Chappelle is right about the audience’s “brittle ears” and yet that is not a bad thing. Yes, people are offended often now, but I do not think it is because people are more easily offended. Rather, I think this is because people now feel as if they have the rights and the ability so speak out when they are being offended. So I do not think anything has changed, merely the climate has, which has brought about change in terms of how people deal with controversy and offense.

Why Going “Beyond the Text” Should be Encouraged… to an Extent

Shows like Stranger Things and End of the F***ing World may attract cult fandom followings because of their uniqueness and allure. For example Stranger Things takes what looks like normal, everyday people at first glance and toss those characters into a bizarre situation. In the case of End of the F***ing World, based on my viewing of the first few episodes, it romanticizes running away and murder, something the average person normally would never consider, but in the realm of a television show, the viewer can fantasize it just as much as the characters do. The idea of being able to take a break from your day to day life, or imagine your dull in comparison life could be turned upside down in a similar way to the characters’ lives, could be what draws viewers in to this cult fandom. Also, the shows much be well written, have interesting characters, and a compelling plot in order for this fandom to grow, otherwise it never lose steam and quickly die off.

When it comes to my personal take on fandom, I believe media, be that television shows, movies, books, comics, even YouTubers, etc. can be a form of escape for many viewers. The lives of the characters and the worlds depicted in these forms of media are often seen as better than reality, and through this media consumption, viewers can escape from their lives even if only temporarily. This is what fuels fandom culture as a whole, specifically going “beyond the text” and the use of things like fanfiction, cosplay, fan made photo edits and fandom merchandise such as t-shirts, look alike props, posters, and many more. I strongly think this can be healthy and should be encouraged, to an extent. Liking something and wearing it on a shirt, or having a replica prop from a form of media you enjoy, shows your devotion to the media as well as what the media means to you. My personal opinion is that media should carry emotional weight, and have, to some degree, the capacity for the viewers to relate on a more intimate level. For example, a character may struggle with similar issues such as mental health as a viewer which prompts them to care more for that character and their world than the average passive, “mindless” viewer might, or it can be as simple as someone believing they belong to a certain Harry Potter house due to their character traits. This can lead to smaller involvement within a fandom when it comes to owning clothing or merchandise. When it comes to more involved forms of fandom such as fanfiction, it can be a good creative outlet for the viewer to think of themselves as a writer for the media which they consume, and add onto the media in a way which the real writers did not consider. I am of the belief that good production and storylines should leave holes. Not plot holes, of course, but holes where not every single second from beginning to end is told in detail to the viewer, and this goes for script writing, book writing, directing of films and television. This leaves gaps where the media consumer is not certain of every moment within a characters’ life prior to or after the events of the main media, which leaves more interpretation and room for viewers to draw their own conclusions. These holes are a good example of where fanfiction or other fan produced content could fit in.

There are some very blatant “red… lines” which should not be crossed when it comes to fandom, particularly what is touched on within the articles for this week. Being unable to separate the actor from their character is one of those things. The fact that Stranger Things actors Finn Wolfard and Millie Bobby Brown have to deal with fans “shipping” them as people, despite their ages and their characters ages, is simply not alright. Stalking actors due to one’s “devotion” to their content is also not alright, in fact, it borders on creepy and possessive. It definitely is unhealthy. This separation between what is real and what is not is crucial especially within a society where actors are put up on this almost perfect pedestal.

In regards to the toxicity of fandom in relation to toxic masculinity, Black Mirror’s USS Callister is a prime example. The main character, Daly, embodies what many would view as a hard-core fan of Star Trek parallel Space Fleet, and this fandom turns horribly toxic very quickly to the point of it entirely taking over Daly’s life as he abuses others into helping him fully immerse himself in the world. Once more, having action figures and collecting the media and hanging posters is all well and good, but there is a point, and Daly crossed it long ago. It is a satirical example of how so many popular forms of media both historically and in modern day are dominated by white male leads—Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, largely Marvel and DC’s biggest films prior to a few years ago, etc. Anything depicting characters other than this white male lead means, in their eyes, and in the words of Rolling Stones’ writer Jenna Scherer, that something is “being taken from them.” In the case of Black Mirror, however, this white male lead turns into the very antagonist that so many fandom members love to hate because of how they obstruct the protagonist from achieving their goal. Overall, fandom can be very beneficial—it can be an even greater escape from reality, a creative outlet, and a way of expressing one’s self when they can relate to a particular media. Or fandom can be toxic and unhealthy, for both those involved in the fandom and those responsible for the creation of the media the fandom is based off of.

Netflix and Why Racial Identity Matters

The depiction of characters in Dear White People, On My Block, and Luke Cage do challenge the traditional and stereotypical representations of ethnic minorities because of how fleshed out the  characters all are. Stereotypically, ethnic minority characters are very one dimensional, made to only embody one trait, and are not center stage of the television show. Rather they are in the background, or are the protagonist’s friend. In these shows, however, they are the main characters and have just as much depth to them as any white protagonist normally does, as well as just as much screen time. A large reason behind this, I believe, is because more ethnically diverse directors and writers are being given this opportunity by Netflix to create media. As Lang pointed out in the Salon article, from 2007 to 2014, a massive three quarters of characters with speaking parts in major Hollywood films were white, and of the 732 movies that were eligible for an Academy Award between the years of 2011 and 2015, only 58 had two black leads, which is equal to 7.9% of those nominated films having black leads. Those numbers, plain and simple, are not equal.

One thing that I took notice of, although unfortunately did not shock me, were the tweets included in the Salon article about white viewers being up in arms due to the fact that Luke Cage was “racist” for not portraying white characters. Now, I am speaking from the perspective of a white person so my understanding of racism will never be complete and I have much to learn, but within a society where whiteness is praised, one cannot truly say it is racist to lack the very same elevating whiteness which saturates our media every day. You have so many other films and media, Tim Burton and Wes Anderson were touched on in the Salon article in particular due to their success, that hardly ever casts black actors. This is a large part of the reasoning behind this discomfort with shows like Luke Cage, On My Block, and Dear White People in the eyes of white viewers—it is unfamiliar. This is why there needs to be more people of color represented accurately within the media and more people of color writers, directors, producers, and actors need the space to produce content so as to further educate. Netflix at the very least has created more of a platform for this exposure, and through this I believe minds and wordviews of bigoted viewers can be changed because it paves the way for informed, active, viewing. Not everyone who has bigoted views will change and I understand that, but more exposure to groups of people who have not had equal exposure in the past is a good place to start.

I personally loved all of the shows and many of the characters, and while I could not relate to them entirely because, as a white woman, I do not face the same challenges they do, I appreciated Sam due to her involvement in journalism, which is something I am interested in, as well as the friendship dynamic between the kids in On My Block and how the neighborhood setting and conversations reminded me of some of my middle school and high school dynamics from an age standpoint. I also have a love for Marvel, which sucked me into Luke Cage from the start.

These characters’ problems and concerns are relevant to me because I live in a society where racism exists. For example, in Dear White People, as a white person I could use that media to help recognize what is and is not alright for me to say, and stand against things like blackface parties which Simien says are more common place than we might think. Also, as someone who takes part in social media, I see the anonymity fueled trolls which Sam deals with all of the time on every social media platform so much that it is inescapable, even if I am not dealing with anyone trolling me on the topic of race. Simien brings up how in conversation, people tend to stick to the topics which are safe and correct, saying, “Let’s not talk about slavery. Let’s talk about Abraham Lincoln.” Well, no matter who you are, having those tough conversations about slavery rather than Abraham Lincoln are necessary for progress. Also everyone has to acknowledge there was a problem and a knife (both of white being racism) to begin with, as Simien references the knife in the back quote from Malcolm X. This includes me as a white person and everyone else in this society in an effort to help minimize and put an end to racism. Even though my experiences are different from what any person of color will experience, I loved all three of these shows, and look forward to being able to continue watching them and more importantly continue learning from them in the future.

Netflix, Viewers, and the New Opportunities of Reality Television

Reality TV is vastly different from scripted programs, but in the case of Queer Eye, there are some similarities which did not entirely depart from the latter genre. Those depicted in the show, both them men who host the show and the guests, had some “character development” throughout the first episode. One man refused to enter a church at the beginning of the show due to his experiences of how the church treats those within the LGBT community, but halfway through the episode he talked with Tammy about his experiences, and her experience, and they came to the point that Tammye believed God loves everyone, and that not all Christians are good, but there is vastly more good than bad. Then, at the end of the episode, the same man entered a portion of the church to show the work they had done on the building. Also, Tammye’s son, Myles, refused to attend Homecoming due to his experiences with how the church treated him as a gay man, but after various conversations throughout the course of the show, he decided to attend.

Queer Eye offers a different perspective on masculinity because it shows five men entering someone’s life to improve their physical appearance, state of their home, the way they cook, as well as their overall well-being. These are all things which many believe exist in the domestic sphere, which is therefore dominated by women. To see men in these roles breaks the barriers that state masculine men cannot have anything to do with this sphere. It proves that masculinity doesn’t have to be tough and stoic, rather it can be quite the opposite. It also goes against the perspective that men have to be attracted to women, since all of the men in the series are gay. Essentially, it breaks down many stereotypes about men, for the better.

Nailed It, in my opinion, could not have been more different from scripted television. The vague plot of a baking show was overshadowed by the comedy of the entire premise—tossing a few amateur bakers into a room and telling them to replicate wonderful pieces where they have no hope to begin with. It was amusing, but did not have the same wit as BoJack, nor was there any “character development” like what is regularly shown in scripted shows, and even appeared in Queer Eye.

I recognize Nailed It is a comedy and therefore this should be taken with a grain of salt, but I think it can be problematic in the way that it applauds poor bakers. In a bigger message, it applauds failure, which is not necessarily a good thing when the rewards is $10000. The show sets contestants up for failure, and although it does award the person who does the best, none of the contestants attempts at recreating cake pops and a wedding cake were good and the show recognized that and congratulated it anyways. I think the show is fun, offers an outlet for those who have tried baking and never had a knack for it, and should still exist, but I would be tentative for some viewers to see it and think all it takes to succeed is to do horribly on a gameshow. There needs to be more drive.

When it comes to genres of reality television, I definitely believe they can be broken into smaller categories. Mostly dating programs, game programs, talent programs, home programs. The article pointed out that within the United States demand for unscripted shows jumped 125% in the first quarter of 2018, and so that has to count for something in terms of popularity. I think people can use reality shows to escape in a more realistic sense, because they know they are watching other’s lives, which can make it appealing. Also, it shows what can be possible because it is more realistic, and this sense of possibility can also be what is so alluring.

Dating programs would be all of the shows similar to Married at First Sight and The Bachelor, where the primary focus is romance, although I would argue that sometimes these shows can be scripted to an extent, making their existence in the reality television realm a little blurry. Game programs would be things like Big Brother where the goal is to compete to win something of monetary value, usually. Talent programs are things like America’s Got Talent, American Idol, and American Ninja Warrior (although this could be either a game program or a talent program, my entire biased fascination with the fitness level needed to compete put it in the talent competition). Home programs could be shows on the HGTV, Travel, and Food networks.

In terms of my own preference, I find the talent programs and the home programs the most interesting. The prior I love because of the hope behind it, seeing people practice at something to the point where they excel in it and can be recognized for their talent is inspiring for me. The home programs I love because of the unique view on culture it offers. Mostly I enjoy watching House Hunter’s International and the various shows Andrew Zimmern hosts due to the vast perspectives on foods it allows viewers to see. I enjoy the concept of being able to travel different places, even if it is only for thirty minutes and through a television screen.

The Educational, Practical Art of Documentaries

Documentaries are different from movies, but by no means should that mean they are not as beneficial or engaging. Rather, it is quite the opposite. As Sharma pointed out, documentaries acquired by Netflix are typically traditional in terms of film style and format, therefore conforming with what an average movie goer would expect from a film. This is true in the case of the documentary 13th. The cinematography style is very reminiscent to what one would expect from a documentary and a movie. Almost all of the interviews featured the subject either in the lower corners, therefore utilizing the typical rule of thirds, or feature the subject in the center of the screen. The backgrounds of the interviews were artistic to an extent without being distracting—featuring plain white brick, brown brick, an old slightly crumbling building, or a house. Occasionally the camera would show the person being interviewed from a side angle, therefore changing the background, lighting, and angle of observation for the viewer. The documentary utilized many clips of old film as well as old photography. Much of it was from the Civil Rights Era, Jim Crow, clips of Birth of a Nation, interviews with politicians, and interviews with those who were in the prison system. This use of old media was mixed in with modern film so that the viewer was never watching one clip for too long, which kept them engaged.

There was some differentiation in comparison to average media, however. Occasionally when the documentary was transitioning to a new subject, a song about the prison system would play and show only the lyrics in white text over a black screen which dramatized the words. This same technique was sometimes used for interviews. Also, there would be infographics about the amount of people in the prison system over the passage of time. While the use of infographics is not entirely out of place for a documentary or a film, it is not always used in media as it gives the video more of an artistic feel. This sometimes can be a hindrance, but I saw it as an added benefit.

Despite the fact that there are some differences, I overall agree with Sharma that documentaries typically take on more of a traditional expression of film. Without this traditional expression, people might not watch it. This way, documentaries are familiar in style, if not in content. Most people watch movies to be entertained, but most people watch documentaries in order to learn. This constant keeps people engaged and makes it less likely for them to feel as if documentaries are too foreign for them to view, benefit from, and enjoy.

The documentary 13th brought a high awareness to the issue of oppression within the prison system and how the justice system treats people of color. The interviews were with people of high credibility, such as Angela Davis and various college professors across the nation. It educated viewers on how those in poverty and those who are any race other than white are much more impacted by the prison system. For example a few statistics provided was how black men make up 6.5% of the total population within the United States but represent 40.2% of those incarcerated. Also white men have a one in seventeen chance of going to jail throughout their life, but black men have a one in three chance of going to jail throughout their life. The documentary also takes a historic stance, going throughout history starting with the ending of slavery and working up through the Civil Rights Movement and the cocaine outbreak towards modern day to show how, with the passage of time, laws and the nature of incarceration changed drastically.

Prior to watching Flint Town, I was unfamiliar with long-form documentaries, but have grown to enjoy them. I think one blatant benefit to long-form documentaries as opposed to a single movie length documentary is the amount of information which can be condensed into it. They can be much more educational because the increase in time allows for a more in depth immersion to the content. Also, in the case of Flint Town, it almost feels as if I am following the characters of Bridgett and Robert and Tim, as opposed to Bridgett and Robert and Tim, the real Flint police officers. I can almost forget that I am watching a documentary because it feels like a television show with a plot. I became very invested in the story, especially as Dion join the police force and Bridgett began wrestling with her application to the FBI, and it was this investment in the characters that made me realize it could very well be an example of reality-based programming because I felt no difference other than the added educational benefit and having to remind myself that these people are real and there are no scripts. I think both long-form documentaries and single movie length documentaries have their purposes. Some topics need more time, and others need less. Sometimes I am in the mood for a single movie and other times I want a whole show. I would not do away with one or the other, rather I would keep both styles, and utilize them when one is better than the other.

The Laid-Back Beauty of Animated Television

As someone who, to this day, greatly enjoys cartoons as well as animes (although I would argue those are different culturally from the American definition of cartoons so I won’t touch on that much), animated television matters greatly. I believe animated television has a laid-back feel to them. They are just as capable of conveying serious tones, but not in the same intense manner as live action. Whenever I watch live action shows, I almost feel second-hand stress, fear, or anger on behalf of the characters. Whenever I am watching animated shows, however, this stress goes away. I can enjoy the characters and the plots without getting as sucked into it, which I enjoy. Whether this is the same with others, I know not, but in my opinion it is an added bonus of animated television. Whenever I want to lose myself in a show but not suffer any negative backlash from the downpour of emotions, I can do so.

When it comes to what animated television can and cannot do, it is definitely more “free” than traditional, non-animated programs. Like Randell-Moon and Randell pointed out in their article, animation is not as constrained by shot types and can get more creative with their cinematography and color choices because, due to everything being animated, there is literally no limit to what they can and cannot do. The show can portray creative imagery and more abstract concepts which simply are not possible in any medium other than animation. This is obvious by BoJack Horseman having characters who are animals who behave and look like humans to an extent, to Big Mouth depicting basketball players as literal walking, talking, penises, and F is For Family showing the television store as this brightly colored, almost overwhelming, high when the parents walk in to make a purchase.

Animated television shows have some “affordances” of being able to be more abstract and strive for a wider variety of content. There is a fine line between conveying serious adult themes such as alcoholism, drugs, sex, depression, etc., in a medium traditionally meant for kids shows. In a way, this allows for these themes to be portrayed in a less intense manner but still just as accurately or intensely as the directors wish. As Randell-Moon and Randell pointed out, it is also faster in terms of production and takes less time. There are no locations or costumes or sets, which makes production easier for quite a few people.

I do not believe Adult Swim to be confined to a narrow or niche demographic but I understand how young men aged 18 – 24 tend to be more attracted to the content offered by it. The transition between Cartoon Network into Adult Swim makes the switch of content easy to see and slip into, especially for those in their teens. This is how I was introduced to the concept of adult cartoons as well as some animes, because when I was younger—about 13 or 14 perhaps—I would watch Cartoon Network and if I stayed up late enough Adult Swim would start automatically. I would say more than those within this demographic watches Adult Swim and similar programs, especially with the prevalence of adult cartoons on mediums such as Netflix. The Simpsons and Family Guy are similar programs which contributed to this more common shift of these animated programs having more “worth” because, based on my personal experience, they attracted a wider array of audiences. My dad and I would watch the Simpsons together over dinner when I was in high school, so these shows were not limited to this age group of those in their late teens and early twenties. This age group is, however, likely more attracted to animated television than other demographics so it is natural that they view animated television and represent the show, so to speak. I  believe Adult Swim’s block of nighttime programming has made a positive impact of animated television because of its exposure which made animated television more recognizable to viewers who may not have been aware of it, and once it was getting views, it paved the way for similar content creation.

Why multi-camera sitcoms like One Day at a Time are better than one-hit wonders

While watching the documentary Friends – The One That Goes Behind the Scenes, one major thing that I learned was how many writers there were, and how many last minute changes that were made. While there were not many aspects of the production which came as a surprise to me, the documentary was still very educational and entertaining to watch.  I was heavily involved in journalism, television production, and theater in high school, so most of the positions were familiar since I’ve been able to be in those roles for high-school level productions before. However, seeing these positions in a large professional production such as Friends was very fun and helpful, especially to see the backstage production which many do not consider as they are watching the episodes.

Considering not many shows anymore have live studio audiences and multiple cameras, the audience adds an entire new element to the show. This combines television and entertainment with theater in a fun way. I hadn’t realized that the studio audience is present for five hours as they re-shoot the scene multiple times, while rewriting the script, and a comedian keeps the audience entertained and wired. I also hadn’t realized that they ask the audience about what they think in regards to jokes, if they get jokes or plot, or if there is enough exposition. The film developing also is something I had not considered in the production process, since I’m used to seeing digital film. I hadn’t realized that editors filter out the unwanted background/white noise, and not the video editors.

Unfortunately, many positions of production are overlooked other than the actors and the director. The art director going over the set in its entirety, the set dressing department, set choreographers, and set construction who puts the sets together are seldom credited. Prop master who overlooks the props on set and anything that an actor touches (even when they have to make multiple, like six dollhouses, because they are light on fire) are not frequently discussed. Gaffers works with the director of photography to make sure the entire set is light properly are crucial and yet many do not think of them, or even know what their name means. Make-up and costume are critical and also can be overlooked, along with the script supervisor who has to go through the dialogue and make sure everything is conducive, in time, and makes sense with the blocking, etc. Folly artists also are not very widely considered even though they add a whole new element to the production to make the scene/audio better. Music editing is also overlooked, as they screen the show once editing is complete and they add music at the end to add more depth to the show.

I believe that, even though production set-ups similar to Friends and One Day at a Time are considered “low-brow” entertainment, they shouldn’t be. The repetition of this set up is a testament to that. Given the nature of the lives studio audience, there is more pressure put on everyone to do everything professionally, in a way that is entertaining, as well as a whole new element to the show and what it means to make an episode successfully. The presence of multiple cameras adds some stress because they all have to be operating in different ways at the same time, and the show captures elements of both television media and theater which is seldom seen. Due to the added pressure, I think these shows deserve more respect and admiration than they are given, and are just as enjoyable, if not more genuine, than shows with a single camera and the potential for unlimited takes.

Betancourt was onto something when they mentioned that One Day at a Time is an “urgent recasting of an older formula” because One Day at a Time is able to use a familiar medium to communicate newer, more progressive ideas. I think that were the TV show set up differently than the multi-camera, live audience orchestration that it possesses, the progressiveness of the topics such as femininity, discrimination, undocumented immigration, religion, etc. would be more difficult to communicate. In a way, it eases audiences into its newer aspects by delivering them in a way the viewers may be more accustomed to or feel more nostalgia towards. This live studio audience also offers a bigger sense of community because the audience is actually involved in the show, the jokes, the amount of humor portrayed by the actors and reflected by the viewers. This also makes the viewers at home, not in the studio audience, feel more involved because of the laugh track. At least for me personally, I feel more inclined to laugh out loud with a show when there is a laugh track, it makes me feel more relaxed as if I am allowed to respond more readily to the content. Although the show is produced in a more “conservative” way, its delivery of more “progressive” ideas finds a balance between the two which makes it more palatable for a bigger market of people, which helps make it so successful.