‘I’ ON CULTURE
Many of our leading media leaders have issued calls for more diversity, more inclusion, more social justice stories in our television and movies. And, yes, it is a good thing to have more minorities as heroes, more strong women, more calls for justice. The problem is that so many of the creators make a mess of the process.
Society has changed a lot. Why shouldn’t our culture reflect that? And there are many ways we see changes. For example, in the Thor movies, Asgard was pictured as a multi-racial society, and its heroes reflected that. I doubt that old Vikings were that inclusive. If they were, history does not reflect it. Sif is a gorgeous warrior in the movies; she was simply Thor’s jealous wife in the myths. Heimdall, a major Viking god, has been played by Idris Elba, although most Africans brought to the old Vikings’ area were brought in as serfs. OK, that’s Idris Elba, but there were all varieties of people in the movies presented as a society of equals.
The new Spider-Man films went even further. Shooting in a real New York City high school, the student body was truly representative and, as an old teacher, I felt comfortable. And Spider-Man’s girlfriends were both black. No one really cares. People flocked to the films.
Of course, the problems began to arise when, as expected, some cultural leaders went too far. The first Charlie’s Angels movie featured Drew Barrymore, one of the most adorable actresses ever, as a woman who always picked nasty boyfriends. And there was Cameron Diaz, who pranced around dancing in tight panties before being a klutz, and falling for a sweet guy. Lucy Liu played a sophisticated woman with a not-really-bright Matt LeBlanc boyfriend. And it made money.
A few years ago, a new version was made with far-less-known actresses and where just about every male was a villain and every woman a good gal. And this was supposed to be the kind of movie aimed at young men as the key target audience. They stayed away in droves.
Disney has been known for generations as a great place for family films. And it still makes wonderful movies and top TV shows. But some creative people there have talked about the need for gays and trans people in many of their shows, including those for relatively young children. In the last two big Marvel films, there were a couple of small hints, barely noticeable unless you were waiting for them, about same-sex couples. That was enough for campaigns to boycott the film. Some parents pointed out that if companies had the right to present material they found offensive, the parents had the same right to boycott.
The most successful films of the past year have been Spider-Man: No Way Home and Top Gun: Maverick. Pandemic fears and other restrictions did not hold people back from going to the theaters. And, despite some “woke” elements, they fit the mold of old-fashioned films.
I am not an absolutist by any means, and I don’t like censorship. If there was anyone I would choose to censor, it would have been the late comedian George Carlin. He was able to work children’s television, regular TV, cable and pay cable, understanding the rules for each. I hate censorship, but I also realize that it’s probably best that kids remain kids as long as they can. Things can get pretty nasty out there, and I like the idea of children retaining their childhood as long as possible.
It’s not easy any more. My oldest grandson, who spent last year in the first grade, sometimes talks about “his crush,” a little girl in his class. I doubt either child has the slightest real notion about such relationships, but the cool kids have them on TV.
So, what do we do? Yes, we should celebrate inclusion, etc., although quite often the term is misused and is exclusionary. I have heard inclusion and diversity used to defend segregation! But that is something for adults to either embrace, laugh at, or fight. For kids, I think parents should decide. Almost all teachers are responsible people, but there are others who feel that by taking a couple of college courses, they are all-knowing and can create damage.
So, parents, do your job, and as for adults in general, watch what you like, not what others tell you to see. We the people determine what’s popular.