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March 17, 2016

Is It Enough?

With the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just around the corner, I have seen the endless debate about Superman as Clark Kent "getting away" with simply putting glasses on. Most fall on the side of "I would spot him in an instant" or "that's totally lame, he still looks the same!" Well, no, actually. What people don't understand is how much how you know someone is entirely based on context.

For example, have you ever been out shopping and had your mail-person stop you in the store and say hi? Until he/she says who he/she is, you probably draw a complete blank. Same with your hairdresser, next door neighbor, priest, and even some coworkers. This is because each of them wears a specific 'costume' when you see them, or you know them contextually based on location: the mail carrier uniform, an apron, a frock, and a suit and tie.

The human brain is a wonderful tool, but it can be easily confused. This is how magic works; tricks rely on the brain's inability to do some things for some tricks, or its desire to compensate and "fill in the gaps" for other tricks. That's how misdirection and palmistry work. And the same is true for people and faces. It's why we see the face of Jesus in toast burns and window reflections.

A great case in point is the large number of popular artists who are able to walk around freely in cities the size of New York and Los Angeles (and others) without being spotted. Some are always spotted, because they tend to dress and act similarly to some of the roles they play (Robert Downey, Jr as Tony Stark, for example), yet others, when simply dressed in jeans and a shirt, are completely hidden from view to the average person.

Take, for example, Henry Cavill. As a test, he recently walked around in NYC wearing a Superman shirt and hanging around Batman v Superman posters and yet no one recognized him (link). Without the proper context of the costume, or the red carpet and a tuxedo, people just don't recognize Cavill. But dressed as just Average Joe wearing a Superman shirt? Nope. I'm betting at least one person saw him and said, 'He looks sort of like Superman, but Superman is taller, I think.' Now they see that article and they kick themselves.

Just changing your hair color can cause people to be confused and walk right by you on the street, so why wouldn't completely changing your clothes, putting on glasses, and acting in a different manner work, too? Of course it would. Why do you think that the police, FBI, etc., release Most Wanted photos with examples of different hairstyles and hair colors? It's because they know how easy it is for a person to not see who they are looking for if the fugitive changes the style or color of their hair. So they put the person into more contexts for the viewer to make it easier for them to help find the fugitive.

Long story short: yes, glasses and a change in posture, vocal inflection, and/or simply context is enough for people not to see that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person.

March 16, 2016

Learning the Wrong Message

Deadpool recently debuted and became a smash hit. Hollywood was completely surprised by how successful, and many studio executives are left scratching their heads. So far, however, it appears they are all coming to the wrong conclusion: that Deadpool is a hit because it is R-rated. Warner Bros has announced that they will release an R-rated cut of Batman v. Superman and the studio behind the upcoming third Wolverine movie have announced they will plan on it being R-rated.

The R-rating is not why Deadpool was successful. It was successful for a couple of reasons:
  • The marriage of actor with source material. Deadpool was created as a wise-cracking, 4th-wall breaking, madman. He is the only comic book character who KNOWS he is a comic book character. He's called the Merc with a Mouth for a reason. Ryan Reynolds' career is based on being a wise-cracking, smart-assed, but ultimately good-hearted guy. All he ever really needed was the costume, and he would be Deadpool.
We saw the same thing happen when Robert Downy, Jr. was cast as Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie. He became a franchise, and created the "Marvel" way of making movies and minting money. Getting a guy or gal that everyone agrees is exactly right for the role can push your movie over the top.
  • Staying true to the source material. So often the studio says "we must have X, Y, or Z" in this movie. They dictate that a "big name" must be cast to draw in audiences. And they insist on making changes to the source material to make the material "more" something and "less" something else. In essence, they say, 'We want to use the name of the source material, but let's change it so that it is completely something else because we don't think the source material will sell.' And then they wonder why it flops. Deadpool kept close to the source material, treated it with respect, and simply updated it for a different genre (movies vs. comic books).
There have been quite a few comic book movies that kept close to the source material (while updating it for the movie genre) that have done quite well: The Dark Knight; Avengers; Spider-Man 2 (2004); Captain America and CA: Winter Soldier; Hellboy; Iron Man; Guardian of the Galaxy; etc.
There is an equal (maybe longer) list of comic book movies that the studios destroyed with their "vision," and that drove the target audience away, let alone casual viewers: Catwoman; Batman Forever and Batman and Robin; Daredevil; Fantastic 4 (pretty much every version); Ghost Rider (both movies); Punisher War Zone; Spider-Man 3; Green Lantern; Elektra; etc.
  • Story. I can't say this enough, the story rules over everything. If you have a good story, people of all races and genders will go watch it. If you have a bad story, the best you can hope for is a big opening before it goes belly-up. Frankly, all of the comic book genre movies (and most movies in general) can be fairly easily processed into those with a good story told well and those with a crappy story, and the results will fall neatly into line with either the box office results, or the box office expectations of the studios.
Others have done the research and shown that most of the successful movies throughout history have been R-rated. Hell, you can go to and see how many on the list were R-rated vs. PG-13. The PG-13 designation was not meant to be what it has become for the last twenty years (see here for a great explanation). But the R-rating by itself isn't the determining factor here; it is the quality of the story, the quality of the source material, and the marriage of the actor with the role.

In other words, Deadpool wasn't successful because it was R-rated. It was successful because it defied expectations, had a great leading man, told a good story, and stayed close to the source material. Now, if we can just convince the studios of this fact.

Do Your Damn Job

If you or I did not do our job regularly and with unconcealed malice our bosses would fire us. Well, guess what? The Republicans in Congress have been avoiding their jobs for almost 8 years now. When "forced" to do their jobs, they have, instead, done their best to filibuster anything that isn't theirs, or push only their agenda. Congress has the worst record of any Congress ever during Obama's presidency.

Not only that, but John Boehner actually said he was going to urge obstructionism when Obama was elected. Meaning, before Obama had even suggested a single piece of legislature, they said they were not going to do their job. They said they were going to obstruct what did get written and put up for a vote. It's the same as you being hired and vocally proclaiming you aren't going to work, and then setting about doing anything but working right in front of your boss. I'm not sure your boss would like that, and I doubt you would hang around very long.

However, the Republicans have gerrymandered districts such that it is nearly impossible for them not to get re-elected. Congress currently has a slightly above 90% incumbency winning record, meaning once someone gets into Congress, it is a virtual lock they will get re-elected year in and year out. This leads to the contentious nature of Congress's dealings these days, as there isn't the proper amount of turnover and new faces and fresh ideas.

Obama just announced his Supreme Court nominee. Since he's still President for 10 months, the Congress has a legal obligation to hear the appointee and make a decision. The Republicans continue to believe Obama shouldn't (although there are plenty of precedents that this has happened before and Congress acted accordingly), and claim that they will delay the nomination until he's out of office so the next President can nominate someone... because they assume the next President will be a Republican.

If they do this, I feel President Obama should go on a very public TV campaign and tell the American people directly that Congress, and in particular the Republicans, are not doing their job. He should tell the American public to fire their representatives and hire new ones who will do their job. People who bring those fresh faces and fresh ideas to Congress as a whole.

The American public seems to have forgotten that Congress serves at the public's behest. The public can vote them out and change the entire course of the country by doing so. Right now, Congress (on both sides of the aisle, frankly) think they are safe and secure. That they have the public under their thumb and neutered. All it takes is voting to change this. All it takes is picking any new name, anyone who hasn't been to Congress before, and voting them into office. That's it. It's entirely in our hands.

The other thing we can do is force Congress to create and pass term limits on Senators and Representatives. I strongly suggest no more than 2 full terms plus the conclusion of another person's term (in the case of someone being forced out or dying while in office). This would get the turnover going that we need in Congress. This would make those in Congress to have to work with new people, to vote based on conscience and the people's will, rather than on party politics.

It's in our hands. Let's do something about it.

March 15, 2016

Careful What You Wish For

I am almost hoping that Trump does get the GOP nomination and, eventually, the White House. In a case of "be careful what you wish for," I think the world, and the Americans that voted for him, will see what happens when someone without a plan, without political know-how, and without the acumen to be a President is elected.

It surprises me that he has made it this far. Most of the time, people who lie even once during a campaign are done. Trump has managed to fill nearly every single speech, answer, and comment with multiple falsehoods, but somehow he's just "saying it like it is." Really?

Seriously, how can anyone be elected when, objectively, no woman, no Latinos, few other minorities, and no one who is not Christian will vote for you? Hell, women make up not quite 52% of the American population... that alone should stop Trump in his tracks. Latinos make up 17% of the population... how can a presidential hopeful hope to overcome not getting any of those votes? Non-Christians make up around 15% of the population... that should be enough to stop someone from being elected.

Yet the Trump train keeps steaming along its tracks. I know that people are fed up with Congress, and politics in general, but isn't a better way to show this disdain voting against all the incumbents? Get anyone out of office who has been in for longer than 10 years. Period. Then you'll see change in politics. You'll hear new voices, and you'll see new ideas. You'll see more compromise and acceptance, because everyone will be new and everyone will be forming new relationships.

Trump is, categorically, racist, sexist, homophobic, and a general hate-monger. He lies with impunity. Hell, he even lies when he doesn't have to, which makes it seem pathological. Why would anyone want a person like that to represent the country?

After eight years of Obama slowly but surely repairing the United States' reputation around the world (yes, he has... read articles from the BBC, CBC, and other news organizations outside of the US, and you'll see it... the US news doesn't appear to have a clue any more), I can only imagine the muck and mire the country will be in with Trump representing it, thinking he can treat a fellow dignitary as he does a rival businessman.

I simply cannot fathom how this man has made it this far. I can't grasp that people are so angry they would want someone like this to lead them. I can't understand ... I just don't understand it, at all. Have we truly become so cynical, so filled with fear, that this is who we want to lead us?