The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Friday, December 9, 2016

All Our Faves Are Problematic Or... Let's talk about Ian...



I've been trying to force myself to not write this entry for a couple of years, now. Ian runs a blog dedicated to tearing down "Gargoyles" and overlooking similar and deeper flaws in the 2003 4Kids "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". I'm not going to name it or link to it, but you can find it if you wish.

"Gargoyles" is pretty beloved in the animation community. Not by everyone, but that's okay. Even sacred cows like "The Simpsons", "Batman the Animated Series", and "Loony Tunes" have their detractors. Hell, I'm a detractor of a good portion of the Bruce Timm DC Animated Universe outside of Batman TAS... and yes, upfront, I am willing to admit my own butthurt that Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are placed on a higher pedestal than "Gargoyles". I'm admitting that now and upfront because I need to be intellectually honest before I dive into discussing Ian's words of... well, not wisdom. Let me also admit that back then I used to be very defensive of "Gargoyles", and while I still am, I am also more likely to just roll my eyes and click to the next page. It took a lot of growing up, and having better things to do with my time, but here I am. So, am I a hypocrite for this entry? Well, I'm willing to admit it. But if I'm still grinding an ax against "Agents of SHIELD" or "Lucifer" or, yes, even JLU in another ten years, I'll mention that to my therapist.

I first encountered Ian over a decade ago on ToonZone. Back then, he was going by the name "The Big Bad" and was using Rogue from X-Men Evolution as his avatar. He had an ax to grind about "Gargoyles" even back then. Mostly because the 2003 "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" cartoon wasn't as highly regarded as it. Any time someone would criticize it, he'd bring up something he didn't like about "Gargoyles" without fail. For a while it seemed like he mellowed. Then he started his blog.

Ian has accused "Gargoyles" of every crime in the book. Homophobia, sexism, cultural appropriation. If Tumblr is angry about it, then Ian has accused "Gargoyles" of it. And he's been doing it for ten years. Despite my dislike of JLU, I only ever found one big red flag like that (Tala and Flash), and while I have talked about that more often than I should... you know what, in an effort to be less like Ian, I'm going to stop. I made my point long ago, and it's tired.

Was "Gargoyles" perfect? No. It's heart was in the right place, and it was pretty damn progressive. Yes, "Heritage" is dated. Yes, the resolution of Tea and Fara Maku could have been handled better... and yes, those were two of the weakest episodes of the series for a variety of reasons. Even Greg Weisman, himself, would agree the show wasn't perfect and pushes himself to improve on representation, as you can read here.

It's amazing how you can predict these people, like clockwork. ALL of them want everything to be absolutely morally perfect, and to them, stories are only a vehicle for teaching values. That's where his anger about David Xanatos ending the series with everything he wants comes from. Newsflash, sometimes evil does win... and yes, Xanatos has done horrendous things, and yes the guy is charming. But the gargoyles still don't like him, even now that they're being harbored by him. I don't think the show was endorsing his behavior... just telling a story about a world and the people in it.

On one of his blog posts, he discussed how Goliath, like other marginalized people, should be able to "be angry" at those who mistreated him--forgetting that no living human save for the main characters know about him. It's not the same as real-world discrimination! And, quite frankly, I don't recall the show ever saying that Goliath and the gargoyles didn't have the right to be angry.

Political writing has different rules than storytelling, which is why the Tumblr critique fails so often. Because sometimes in stories it's necessary for characters to do the wrong thing, to be flawed, and for them to fail. Tumblr also tends to get upset when a show talks about making peace with enemies, since that's often not how social rights are won in the real world. But if it serves the themes and the story, it's fine. The purpose is not instruction. We make peace with our enemies, that's why it's called making peace; but try telling a bunch of excitable teenagers that. I don't take "reviews" of movies and TV that originate from Tumblr seriously. And, frankly, neither should you.

Ian is looking for absolute perfection and casing down anything that doesn't meet those impossible standards. These people drive me nuts. And you can't argue with them because they think they're doing God's work. It's fine to criticize the politics of a story, but there's a huge self-importance and over-dramaticness that is really ridiculous.

But what bothers me is that he doesn't focus that magnifying glass on his beloved "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" 2003 series. And I'm not going to bash that show. It was a pretty good show. Not the best, and it had some lows, but it did so much right and is pretty much my definitive take on that story. Well, at least the first four seasons and "Turtles Forever" are. But I need to point out that if I reach and do the mental gymnastics that Ian does, I can find as many problems with it as he flat out fabricates about "Gargoyles". Here are just a few:

  • White writers writing about Feudal Japan.
  • Michelangelo's girly screams are obviously making fun of the transgender community.
  • Leonardo holding a sword to Karai's neck was perpetuating rape culture.
  • Karai ultimately giving in to her stalker's advances and dating him... being presented as a happy ending for both characters.
  • All the physical violence leveled at Baxter Stockman, the only African-American in the show.
  • Garbageman being the only physically challenged character in the series... one could say that's ableism.
  • And, the big one, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is about four American teenagers trying to be Japanese ninjas. Cultural appropriation, don't you think?
I'm sure I could find more if I wanted. But I'm not going to. I don't have the time and, quite frankly, I lack the desire. I don't have an ax to grind against this show. I like it. I just hate Ian's hypocrisy.

Maybe Ian believes his own hype. He hasn't examined his motives, and believes it's some kind of social good he's doing by pointing out that a series that thrilled so many people "doesn't have perfect representation". Ian can take what he wants to take away from it, and I would like to be able to respect him; but considering that I understand his true motive, I understand the ax he has to grind, I cannot give him one iota of respect, and if anything regard him and his self-righteousness with contempt.

All our favorites are problematic. Even Jon Stewart had his shortcomings, even a civil rights icon like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had them if you decide to look for them. My favorite is problematic, your favorite is problematic. You live with it, and you move on.

I'll keep doing my part to fight for social justice by continuing to vote, by continuing to make donations to organizations such as the American Civil Liberies Union. To attend marches against the upcoming Trump regime. To volunteer. To make a difference. Ultimately, trying to make the world a better place for everyone and to stand up against bigotry of all stripes was what I learned from "Gargoyles", and I try to apply that to how I live.

11 comments:

  1. Came for the Itchy and Scratchy pic, stayed for the commentary.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post.

    I love Gargoyles but I'd never call it a perfect show, same goes for Batman TAS, the DCAU, Young Justice, and there are problematic things in all of them. You can't make a "perfect" show and since the people working on these aren't perfect either and bring their own biases (unconscious cultural biases at times) then these problematic things show up in the work. For example it would be spectacularly easy to look at any animated Wonder Woman and point out the many, many, problematic things about her feminism in them, because in those shows she's typically written by men who don't know anything about feminism other than "women complain about men doing stuff." And that's just an example off the top of my head that's not going into any of the the heavier stuff (ie the Flash rape stuff).

    But Ian's just being a dick about it, he wants Gargoyles to be awful and is using the "problematic" dog-whistle to try and make his lies about the show untouchable. He's hoping not many have seen a 20 year old cartoon recently and so he can tell half-truths about the show, things that sound plausible if you haven't seen the show in a while so you won't question his interpretation of events. Even then half his "criticisms" are moral self-righteousness, where the bad guys have to be unambiguously evil and they must get their comeuppance at every turn. No moral grey areas here. Then he'll turn around and complain about the show not being realistic enough, because it's not like evil businessmen succeed all the time in real life while screwing everyone over.

    Wanting things to be better is great, but trying to tear down the shows that try to be better and pretending like they're the real problem is just fucking dumb.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "because it's not like evil businessmen succeed all the time in real life while screwing everyone over."

      There was an evil businessman who was running for President in this last election cycle. What ever happened to that guy?

      Delete
    2. "But Ian's just being a dick about it"

      Because intellectual honesty is an alien concept to him. In that sense, he's a lot like Donald Trump. Making shit up, and so pathological and narcissistic about it, that he believes it... and can't see his own hypocrisy.

      Delete
  3. Great post and great point. Perfection is impossible, and striving for it would just make everything bland and lifeless. Anything truly creative will reflect the creative vision of the person or people who craft it, and therefore be a reflection of their views at that time. I actually love both Gargoyles and the "2K3 TMNT" show but as you said, there're fair gripes to be had for those with axes to grind. And there are always examples out there of creators whose art may be great but whose personal views or politics or personalities may be terrible. The realm of comic books and TV seems to have many examples.

    Tumblr I think is a good example of a place where the ideals may be righteous even if the execution isn't. Many of the crusaders there may want to fight the good fight but seem to fall into the same traps as many other zealots at times. Any viewpoint taken to an extreme is often dangerous. One of many lessons Goliath had to learn in Gargoyles.

    There also is a difference between an honest mistake or oversight and a clear and terrible agenda. Gargoyles I think was incredibly innovative and diverse for not just the 90's, but for today on rewatches, but we may be preaching to the choir on that on this blog.

    It really is the heart and soul behind something that matter. As corny and cheesy as that is. Something can have its flaws but still be a righteous effort, and something can check off everything on a DIVERSITY CHECKLIST and still come off as cold, lifeless, and troubling. Being a fanatic is dangerous regardless of what angle you come from.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I thought Ian removed himself from reality when he made the leap that Fara Maku was a rapist. What, because he was too selfish to let go? Since when is cursing someone to turn into a panther equal to rape? Sure, Fara Maku messed up, but RAPE? I stopped reading after that.

    ReplyDelete
  5. For a crowd stereotypically known for blowing the tiniest things out of proportion when it comes to certain types of media depiction, Tumblr fans seem to have had phases over the years when it was okay or even enthusiastic about declaring obviously undeserving anime as "feminist" simply for doing the bare minimum of having female main characters & passing the Bechdel test like the examples mentioned below (2016 and 2013 respectively):

    http://heroine-problem.tumblr.com/post/153961631953/dont-ignore-izetta-the-last-witch

    http://theroguefeminist.tumblr.com/post/79099552398/why-kill-la-kill-is-bad-for-women-and-everyone-in

    And to think those who saw such shows for the garbage that they really were made up a minority that was either called names or argued against.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Why don't you just reply to him on his blog?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. He wrote a guest article elsewhere. My friend, Jennifer, tried to comment with the following: "Is this a joke" and the mods deleted it.

      2. Someone, who commented on his blog, once suggested he ask Greg Weisman about a topic. Ian, being the arrogant ass that he is, said he'd be willing to engage Weisman if Weisman came to him. So, I'll be the same arrogant ass and say I'm willing to engage him if he comes here... though I don't care if he does or not, honestly.

      Delete
    2. You expressed my feelings far better than I could have.
      Every series has its strong and weak points. Often those weak points come not from the cast and crew but from the Powers That Be.
      People who are obsessed with running down a series instead of just moving on are, as you said, fixated on seeing the "perfect story." Problem is, they make up their own definition of perfect. It's not about the plot flow, character development, acting, dialog, setting, or anything else. It's about the story not living up to what they think it should.
      IMO, part of why Gargoyles was groundbreaking, and part of why I respect Greg W so much, is because it dared to be different. It let the story flow and the characters grow naturally. Real life doesn't happen like we want it, with good winning everything all the time. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. And vice versa! Gargoyles is one of the most realistic shows in that it showed how real life goes: the powerful often do win. It took a lot of courage to end the series like they did. Honestly, I can't think of any other ending being as believable, fitting, or satisfying. And yes, I'm aware that it's not the "end," per se, but it was the end of the animated series (I shall not speak of TGC outside of The Journey.)
      I love Gargoyles, but I know there are weak spots. It was written by people, so what do you expect? But I'll try to point them out just as much as I point out the strong points. Greg W's usually beaten me to it, though.

      Delete
  7. In fairness:
    1. Mind you I just speak of shows attempting the flawed casts in general as I do view Gargoyles/TSSM/YJ as the attempt done right.

    But making characters flawed can still arguably backfire if not done right. At least to me, besides bad writing other factors are:
    - A writer trying too hard rather than letting things flow naturally, but the same can be said when they're trying for a more positive tone as well so there's that.

    - Lack of moderation to a point. At least my own personal take is if it's just basically someone more concerned with telling us that the word suck over telling a story.

    Weisman's stuff as a counter example even when portions of his stories are darker just seem to feel more balanced.

    2. "Hell, I'm a detractor of a good portion of the Bruce Timm DC Animated Universe outside of Batman TAS... and yes, upfront, I am willing to admit my own butthurt that Justice League and Justice League Unlimited are placed on a higher pedestal than "Gargoyles"."

    Yes, but it's kind of a given though since it has many iconic characters or even just granting less famous characters with history a chance to appear onscreen (especially when DC would assume that only Batman and Superman can head a series), plus:

    - Actually not just getting an animated Justice League, but one that started in a continuity of other shows that a good portion of viewers hold in high regard. Doesn't mean it's good and I do agree Young Justice did better on writing overall.

    - Granted same can be said of Gargoyles/TSSM/YJ, the DCAU aside from problematic elements (the rape and letting criminals go for the lol factor) did tend to strive for a balance between dark and lighter toned stories than just going for either extreme.

    - Really not the best reason, but considering how DC would try to do reboots in their main comics, but not go all the way, the DCAU arguably provided the more streamlined universe promised but not delivered by Post-COIE or The New 52.

    ReplyDelete