Saturday, April 30, 2016

How to Score US Politics

Score Politics? Wut? 

Yes, scoring politics. It's something we do unconsciously, but something we should start doing in a more analytical format. The best analogy here is football. When I say football, I mean US football: the NFL, etc. In football, a team gets points for touchdowns and field goals. For the last hundred years, the Blue Team has been kicking the shit out of the Red Team in this country. The score, which I can't be bothered to total, has to be at least 500 to 21 at this point. How am I scoring this? I'll explain.

First, let's posit that two teams exist. These two teams have different objectives. The small gov Red Team wants to maintain the traditional US governmental structure: aka small government. Blue Team are the progressives; they want more government to correct flaws that they think exist in the US. Now, for the purposes of this metaphor, let's agree that every time the Blue Team succeeds in creating a government agency, or expanding governmental power in some way, they succeed in scoring points. The creation of Social Security? That's a touchdown, for sure. Eliminating a few tax deductions for rich people? Eh, we'll count that as a field goal. Now, the Red Team will be scored for doing the opposite. Every time they succeed in reducing the scope of government power, they score some points.

Is your view of the scoreboard starting to come into focus? Ugly, isn't it? It's hard to remember the last time Red Team reduced government power. However, to be fair, there have been a few recent victories. The most recent one that we'll score as a touchdown was District of Columbia v. Heller. If you don't know what this SCOTUS decision meant for gun rights, let's just agree that it was a hugely important moment that strengthened the reality of the Second Amendment in the 21st century. Right to work laws passed by state legislatures are good too, but they're closer to field goals.

However, in the Obama era, Blue Team has done very well for itself. Obamacare, including the various SCOTUS decisions strengthening it, have dramatically increased governmental, specifically federal, power. Not to mention the usurpation of the power, traditionally held by the states, to define what constitutes a marriage. Also, while only scoring it as a field goal for now, the power of the FCC to interfere in the Internet, under the guise of "Net Neutrality," is going to prove devastating a few years hence.

"Well, of course Blue team did well, they had their guy in the Oval Office for eight years!" you protest. Very true. Let's look to see how well Blue Team did under Bush:

  • The Patriot Act
  • Creation of Medicare Part D
  • The monstrosity that is the TSA at airports
  • No Child Left Behind
Holy shit. What happened here? Well, it turns out that Red Team has a lot of players on the roster who might be described more accurately as Team Purple. The Red Team, when it takes office, has an embarrassing tendency to score on itself. Don't forget, Nixon created the EPA. 

A lot of conservatives, especially of the Acela/Establishment variety, like to argue that voting for Republicans is still a Very Important Thing though, because they are able to obstruct the Blue agenda. The fact that R's obstruct the Blue Team is true enough. But more and more, I've started to notice that these obstructions are getting counted as victories. And that, right there, is the problem. Delaying the Blue agenda by voting it down, or obstructing it via procedure, cannot be counted as a victory. In football, you don't get points on the board for playing defense. 

The Red Team killed a universal healthcare bill in 1993. Great. Good job, guys.  A sack is huge. Knocking the enemy QB on his ass is important, and  a big part of the game, but you do not get to put points on the board for a sack. It's important, and it delays the advance of the enemy team, but it doesn't give your side a lasting advantage. Because look at the current situation, Obamacare has now been passed and enshrined, and I think it's safe to say that universal healthcare in this country is under a decade away from being implemented, finally.

If the Red Team plays really good defense, maybe they stop a lot of drives and prevent new government programs from being created. However, if they never get their offense on to the field and score touchdowns, or at least some field goals, they can't put points on the board.

Republicans, and the Red Team in general, need to be evaluated differently. Currently, pundits like to point to obstruction as a win, but this needs to stop. Obstruction is good, but not enough. Red Team needs to start demanding  the repeal of government programs as a basis for continued support. Is that going to happen? Probably not. This game is in the 4th quarter and time's about up. But what could have made a difference, and what will make a difference, in whatever regime ends up replacing the current structure, is not viewing a delay as a permanent win. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Batman V Superman: Or Why You Actually Just Watched a Long TV Episode

Why the Hate, Critics?

At the time of this writing, Batman v Superman is currently rocking a 23% rotten score over at the noted vegetable aggregation site. However, said site also notes that 72% of audience members like it, with the average score being a 3.8/5. So, what gives? Why the disconnect between the reviewers and the plebs?

Is it because the movie is too "grimdark?" Could be. Critics have only reluctantly accepted comic book blockbusters as a legitimate art form. Marvel has occupied the lion's share of this space, and they're usually fairly upbeat, with constant jokes to maintain levity during near apocalypse situations. Nolan's Batverse is the exception here, but Nolan is clearly One of Them. The man is a director with plenty of bona fides that let critics give him a pass. So, if it's not the grimdark, what is it?

A Post-HBO World
Movie reviewers are, by and large, aesthetes. They consider a film on its merits as an individual unit. Because they consider it an individual unit, they dislike evaluating it in conjunction with other films, unless it's part of a clearly demarcated trilogy, like Lord of the Rings.

We live in the age of the comic book movie now, but more importantly, serialized dramas are what audiences have come to expect from their entertainment. The Sopranos transformed HBO into the mecca for premium TV, but it affected much more than HBO. Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead don't exist without a mobster in New Jersey exploring his midlife crisis via Lorraine Bracco. The Sopranos made creatives realize they could tell stories that had all the polish of a movie in a non theater format. Not only that, but they could tell them outside of a tightly edited 2 hour run time. Game of Thrones could last as long as 8 seasons, or roughly eighty hours of story telling time. That's the equivalent of forty movies.

HBO's success got Amazon and Netflix into the game. Broadcast TV is no slouch either. AMC, CBS,  and The CW have all attained success via series that started as comic book properties.

AMC has The Walking Dead which has six seasons so far, and it has spawned its own bastard sibling series: Fear The Walking Dead. AMC also had the mega hit Breaking Bad which also spawned its own bastard child: Better Call Saul. Better Call Saul contains nods and references to its parent series. Continuing the give no fucks attitude of the Sopranos, the writers simply assume you've seen the predecessor.

The CW, so far, has The Flash and Arrow. CBS is running Supergirl. But all three, on two different networks mind you, have crossovers, nods, winks, back-pats, and touches from one series to another. If you're only watching one show, you're only handling one strand in the web.

All of these interdependent series share a common assumption that viewers are smart enough to piece together the various references from one show to the next. And if not, there are plenty of click-bait sites that will piece things together for viewers even if they miss it the first time around.

As HBO Goes, So Goes the Nation

The aforementioned Marvel movies have easter eggs, and nods to previous iterations, but all of their movies can be enjoyed in situ. They're still films: each one an independently functioning piece of art. Warner Brothers, in its haste to catch up to Disney in comic book movie continuity, has stumbled on to what is most likely the next step in movies: continual, serialized films that do not function as as an Army of One, but instead are hoplites in the DC phalanx.

The first 90 minutes you keep seeing people bitch about? That's the cold open for the DC movie universe. It will make sense in time, but not at the time of the initial movie release. This isn't a movie that stands on its own, and most audience members understand this on an instinctual level. They've been conditioned by HBO and Netflix to accept serialized content. So, why would a movie be any different? The answer: Batman v Superman wasn't a movie. It was just the pilot.