Banter M Issue 50

In this week's issue of Banter M: 

Politically Correcting the Past - Chez Pazienza is none too happy with a writer at XO Jane who attempted to recast Ferris Bueller in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' as an example of male white privilege. "What you have in this article is a harmless 80s teen comedy, an uncharacteristically smart one, being viewed through the prism of an overly serious, identity politics-obsessed Millennial's worldview," writes Chez. Ouch.  

Goodbye to All That Noise - Sick of catching online male abuse over her excitement for the upcoming all-women 'Ghostbusters' remake, Jamie Frevele has decided to make good on a little threat of hers and delete her Facebook account. 

The Final Days of The Tragically Hip - Choking back the tears, Bob Cesca pens a lovely eulogy to Gord Downie, the lead singer of Canada's The Tragically Hip. 

Politically Correcting the Past

by Chez Pazienza

I think I might have figured out a new piece of the puzzle when it comes to the anger over the new Ghostbusters movie. Before I even get to it, though, let me say that I understand that this really should have been a subject I maybe touched on months ago at best and then left to its own devices because it's the kind of thing that's impossible to write about as a guy and not have your motives questioned. I asked what I thought was a decent question about the film in a recent piece here -- whether it's possible to dislike the idea of a new Ghostbusters movie without being a misogynist prick -- but, yeah, that probably should've been the end of. But now a seemingly unrelated item has been published that has me looking at the outrage over the film -- some of it completely unreasonable no matter how you slice it -- in a new light. The article in question has to do with another legendary 80s property that was the cornerstone of so many Gen-X childhoods: Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

In the lengthy and yet high school book report-quality piece running over at Uproxx right now, writer Jen Chaney supposes that with the 30th anniversary of Ferris Bueller coming up next month, now's exactly the time for all of us to come to terms with the fact that we've "been watching Ferris Bueller wrong" all these years. I have to assume that in addition to the younger people who've discovered the John Hughes classic only within the past maybe ten or fifteen years, she means my generation as well. You know, the ones who literally grew up with the movie and its now beloved characters. According to Cheney, the real hero of Ferris Bueller's Day Off isn't Matthew Broderick's Ferris character, the guy whose name is, you know, in the title -- it's actually Ferris's pissed-off, put-upon sister Jeanie Bueller, played with acerbic aplomb by Jennifer Grey. Chaney sees Jeanie Bueller as "mistreated" and "misunderstood" -- not simply a "petty, jealous sibling" but rather "a female voice of reason raging against a society that demeans her and disregards her opinions."

Now sure, that sounds a little heavy-handed but for the moment we're still within the parameters of a potentially entertaining piece that reconsiders Ferris Bueller's sister and her role in what was without a doubt a movie meant to be lighthearted and escapist. Read a little more, though, and that's when the true intent and tone of the article becomes crystal clear. In the eyes of Jen Chaney, Ferris Bueller's charms are in fact "the personification of white privilege"; Jeanie's eventually winding up at the police station after calling the police on an intruder -- Principal Rooney -- is "victim-blaming taken to new levels"; and of course Charlie Sheen's drugged-out character's advice to her is -- wait for it -- "mansplain(ing) her life to her." She concedes that John Hughes probably wasn't "consciously attempting to comment on gender politics or white privilege" -- you fucking think? -- but to Chaney the subtext is undeniable. Particularly given the "passage of time." 

The passage of time. That's the key point here. Because what you have in this article is a harmless 80s teen comedy, an uncharacteristically smart one, being viewed through the prism of an overly serious, identity politics-obsessed Millennial's worldview. The tiresome buzzwords, shibboleths and litmus tests applied to, and which spring from, every exchange of ideas, whether within or without the media, are now apparently necessary to retroactively cleanse the sins of pop culture past. Certainly times change, societies grow and that which was once acceptable isn't anymore. It's the natural order of things. But this goes far beyond that: It represents almost Orwellian need to -- and here I'll make up my own silly word -- "SJWash" history in the name of ensuring no one's feelings are hurt even by established properties. And yet the lingo is so absurd even in the year 2016 that it's hard not to laugh at what Chaney is doing with it here. And what she's doing, at the risk of using a term that's been rendered a meaningless cudgel by the right, is "politically correcting" Ferris Bueller. 

We've seen this kind of thing before, with young writers assuring us that despite its numerous obvious "problematic" elements, it's okay to still enjoy a show like Friends. (Whew! Thank God.) But seeing a landmark Gen-X movie like Ferris Bueller's Day Off put through the wringer of the perpetually offended by every little goddamn thing is -- well, it's kind of infuriating. It's a feeling that there's seriously nothing Millennials can't hyper-seriously ruin by injecting their relentless hand-wringing over identity politics into it. In an apparent need to correct the grave injustice of Ferris Bueller's Day Off heaping undue praise on a charming, rebellious teenage boy -- whose actions are of course a manifestation of white, male privilege -- 2,300 words need to be dedicated to recasting a woman as the true hero of the story. Millennials have already made their youth an eternally dull place where transgressive disobedience is shunned and pop culture is relentlessly policed into, ironically, a kind of homogeny. Now they want to do it to my youth. They want to remake my generation's cultural touchstones.     

And that's what brings us back to the new Ghostbusters. There's no doubt there are misogynists out there who simply despise the reboot of Ghostbusters because they dislike women and don't want them taking part in any of male nerd culture's reindeer games. But peel back the layers of why some might be against an all-female cast in a straight remake of a legendary comic property that trafficked in a lot of "guy humor" and maybe the answer is this: the implication is that there was something wrong with that and that the filmmakers behind the remake are setting out to, yes, correct an injustice. I don't think that's the case, although Sony's Amy Pascal and director Paul Feig made it clear from the beginning that they wanted to redo the movie with all women, which likely made some feel like that was the case. You can make the argument that, well, who gives a shit? Male fans of the old movie aren't entitled to anything. But that's not entirely true, regardless of gender. When a piece of art becomes hugely popular, it ceases to be completely the domain of the artist. The public has a certain amount of ownership of it. This is a reality that George Lucas should have learned before he decided to continue tinkering with the original Star Wars films long after the cement had dried in the cultural consciousness.    

Now, no, I'm not claiming victimization or saying that guys are somehow under attack. Men have it pretty good in our society and always have. There's definitely a worldview, though, among left-wing Millennials that social justice doesn't equal justice so much as it does merely turning the tables on the "history of oppression" and letting the people who were formerly on top taste the bottom. It's a hilariously short-sighted and reductive way of looking at things -- given that it sets everything up for an eventual pendulum backswing -- but that's the kind of moral absolutism you deal in when you're young. That view impacts everything, but especially pop culture. And when you're a generation that's come up at what often feels like the end of art -- meaning that everything has either been done before or is now being produced only in the name of commerce rather than artistic merit -- making sure old properties reflect "new ideals" is all you've got. Which sucks because there's still a generation out there for whom many -- though not all -- of their own ideals don't feel outdated just yet. 

Maybe that's just more of that natural order of things: that what one generation believes strongly in is supplanted by what the next generation believes strongly in. It's just a shame this particular next generation has produced so many cultural scolds with oversized sticks up their asses, people desperate to rewrite the past so it's not quite so icky to their sensibilities. Because, like it or not, Ferris Bueller is the hero of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and there's not a thing wrong with that. Now Sixteen Candles's Long Duk Dong -- well, that's a different story.  

Next: Goodbye to All That Noise - by Jamie Frevele

Goodbye to All That Noise

by Jamie Frevele

Well, I finally made good on a little threat of mine. Last week, after the last essay I wished to receive about how much the new Ghostbusters movie was "going to suck," I deactivated my Facebook account. It wasn't only because I was sick of my (male) friends lecturing me -- mansplaining, if you will -- why a movie that has not been released yet was going to be terrible, though that was one reason. It was the election season, the unsolicited essays and opinions about everything I couldn't care less about, the shame I felt every time I saw my friends going on vacations or announcing blessed life events -- it was the noise. Facebook was just so much damn noise, and it was taking up hours upon hours of my time.

So I'm done with it. I wasn't being bullied, and while I'd classify the annoying Ghostbusters hate as the mildest form of harassment (men going out of their way to shit all over my parade), I was not being harassed. Every once in a while, I'd get a creeper trying to get closer to me in an uncalled for way, but I could hardly classify it as a barrage or creepers. What's actually great is that now I can tell guys trying to hit on me to find me on Facebook, which is now a I place where I no longer exist! So that's going to be a neat little trick!

Mostly, I have taken away the power that some people had to annoy me. I know, "annoying" is a very minor thing, but if there's a way to avoid being annoyed, I think it's okay to go ahead and not be annoyed. Like some idiot, I would go on Facebook, scroll through it for hours -- hours -- and think that the vast majority of the people I followed were the basest bunch of dullards walking this planet. Spreading mindless memes, getting outraged over the things that are supposed to entertain them, telling really bad jokes, making inane observations... Meanwhile, what the fuck was I doing? Sitting on my ass and getting annoyed by all of it, which does not make me any better because I was doing something worse than nothing: I was watching other people doing bullshit while doing nothing. I was being royally counterproductive. This is not how I should be spending my precious time.

We have one life. One short life on this planet. Plus I live in the best city in the world. Why. The fuck. Am I sitting around letting the loudest silent cacophony of nonsense drown my brain for hours at a time when I could be doing something that other people could be complaining about?

I have been cooking up multiple stories in my brain -- fictional, non-fictional, and that's in my spare time. When I'm at work, I've been trying to shape stories and was using Facebook to find more. But smothering the possible stories I could pitch was all the noise of my friends, loved ones, minor acquaintances, and people whom I should have unfriended a million years ago. Do I love seeing my cousins' children growing up and accomplishing things, my friends living it up all over the world, once-unhappy people finding joy in other people or the planet they live on? Of course! I have a friend who, in the course of a year, met a guy mere weeks after complaining about being single, became engaged, and got married, and now she's expecting twins with her new husband. Her wedding was beautiful and it's impossible to be anything but overjoyed by the direction her life has taken. This was what I loved about Facebook and what kept me on. My beautiful baby cousin is getting married this summer and she is deliriously happy, and it's wonderful to witness. Other friends of mine are betting published, making art and showing it off, adopting puppies and kittens, building things, making movies… It's amazing to know so many people living such productive lives. I also know that they've been able to see me go from a deep, deep, scary depression and difficult period of unemployment to where I am now, working at the company of my dreams and living in an apartment on my own with the best dog who ever lived. My existence has improved, but how much am I really living?

I'm too old and busy to care about seeking approval from Facebook. I have often posted things wondering "Who is going to give a flying fuck about this?" because I can't help but wonder the same thing about 99 percent of the stuff my Facebook audience posted. And that's the thing: Facebook was providing people an audience to talk about nothing. Some of us are creatives who genuinely do seek out and utilize an audience to witness and appreciate what we make for them (and each other). But what about everyone else? There's nothing wrong with not being creative, but why do those people get the same audience that I do when they have nothing to say and make nothing? There's something really cockeyed about making people believe that they deserve a vast audience for merely living a life, doing everything and expecting approval or a reaction. It's not necessary. When I cook something, which is a basic human function, and I post it on Facebook, I did it because I finally got off my ass and made something. But is that really an achievement? We've gotten to a stupid place if we need hundreds of people to coddle us for feeding ourselves. And I am 100 percent guilty of seeking that kind of approval. I post food pics all the time. I tried to limit myself to meals in restaurants that brought me to near-orgasm. (Neargasm, if you will.) But if I made stuffing for Thanksgiving, or I was catering to a pasta-and-veggie craving, I felt the need to pat myself on the back for putting in the effort. Effort is the default. It's how we go from our beds to other places and then back to beds at the end of the day. Effort is everyday life. We don't need to document it, we need to live it.

I suppose there's something to be said about "reality TV," which has been rightfully rebranded "unscripted TV" because "reality" has no right to be on TV. Because TV is supposed to be informative and entertaining and reality is neither of those things. But even unscripted TV is making something out of nothing, creating imaginary drama where it doesn't exist. Facebook is doing the exact same thing. And I hate to break it to you, but that's boring as fuck. I don't watch unscripted TV because I feel like I'm consuming empty calories that are adding a layer of fat or slime to my brain that will eventually give me a psychotic, homicidal mutation of Alzheimer's disease. Many people feel this way, but their lives are so unfulfilling (because they spend all their time on Facebook, probably) that they "hatewatch" these shows, which is a way of justifying their giving time to mindless bullshit because they're watching it with an air of superiority. That's what I was doing on Facebook, and since I'm in no way superior to any of my friends or family, this stopped feeling good a long time ago.

So I quit. I'm ready to spend my life doing the things I have only acted like I was doing, which was creating things. I need to live up to the version of myself who was a writer and storyteller and start telling stories again instead of watching, sharing, and scrolling through everyone else's stories. If you feel the same way, I strongly encourage you quit Facebook too. If you enjoy it and like the debate and real-time photo album, both of this are not meant to be read as derogatory, then stay on. As you can probably tell, Facebook was no longer a productive use of my time and it was making me feel negative. But that's me. I will miss parts of it, and I might lose touch with a bunch of people, but I need to go live a life now. Without an audience.

Next: The Final Day of The Tragically Hip - by Bob Cesca

The Final Days of The Tragically Hip

by Bob Cesca

This obviously isn't my usual beat, but I have to write this, especially as I choke back the tears. Please, do me favor -- and a favor to the subject of this piece -- by reading on. Maybe listen to a few of the songs provided herein. Not everyone will fall in love with the music, as I have, but there will be few who will deny its originality and emotional content.

Now, about cancer...

During a year in which we've lost too many giants of music, we learned today that Gord Downie, the lead singer of Canada's The Tragically Hip was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer at the too-young age of 52. 

During a press conference on Tuesday, Dr. James Perry, one of the Canada's most esteemed neurological oncologists, announced that surgeons were able to successfully remove most of Gord's tumor -- a tumor nearly identical to the one that killed Joe Biden's son, not to mention Ted Kennedy. (Similar protein markers on the tumor allowed Dr. Perry to draw that conclusion.) Sadly, however, Gord's tumor is expected to grow back. It's too early to know how much longer he'll survive, though it's a good sign that the band intends to tour one last time this Summer.

It's difficult to imagine such a scenario -- touring as the front man in a rock band while knowing you're dying of cancer -- though it underscores Gord's dedication to his art, as well as the iron-clad substance of his character. For so many reasons, his decision to hit the road sets Gord and The Hip apart from so many others. Myself included. 

On Twitter the other day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau observed, "Gord Downie is a true original who has been writing Canada’s soundtrack for more than 30 years. #Courage." Courage barely begins to describe what he, his bandmates and his closest family and friends are illustrating today, even though it's worth noting that countless millions of others have either matched or topped it, without applause or accolades.

If you're an American, chances are, you've never heard of The Tragically Hip, even though, next to Rush, they're considered to be the Beatles of Canada. Despite their relative obscurity here, their music transcends borders. 

At first glance, The Hip sounds like REM-meets-country-meets-alt-indie, and Gord Downie's vocals extend far beyond merely singing his own nationalistically esoteric, occasionally non-sequitur lyrics, driven by life in the Great White North. 

Unlike many rock vocalists, Gord performs the lyrics, acting them out nearly to the point of sounding awkwardly dramatic, complete with his trademark vibrato, but never beyond the realm of good taste or sincerity. The result is that we feel the words with the band, which, itself, backs Gord's performances using simple, straightforward though never simplistic accompaniments.

Illustrating his vocal style by way of introducing my fellow Americans to The Hip, this is "Bobcaygeon":

 

Like many Americans, I first learned about The Hip when "Bobcaygeon" sneaked across the border and became a modest hit for the band in 1999. It's an unexpected though extremely poignant ballad capturing the newness of a relationship and the longing to circle back for the comforting safety of its new embrace. ("Bobcaygeon," by the way, is the name of an attractive small town in Ontario.) 

From there, I fell in love with songs like "At The Hundredth Meridian," figuratively written about the arid swaths of the midwestern United States.

 

There's also the companion track, "Gift Shop":

 

More recently, The Hip worked with producer Bob Rock to create "We Are The Same," an epic album featuring the emotional breakup song, "The Last Recluse":

 

The next song is one of the first I pulled up on my iTunes after hearing the news about Gord's diagnosis. This is "Fiddler's Green":

 

And finally, there's "Now For Plan A" -- a 2012 track about Gord's wife's battle with breast cancer. Now, several years later, it's Gord's turn.

For reasons unclear to me, I have a strange connection to Canadian music, specifically alternative bands, musicians and supergroups like The New Pornographers, Alanis Morissette, The Tragically Hip, Rush (of course), Metric and Broken Social Scene. Perhaps it's the creative freedom afforded to Canadians by generous tax incentives for the arts. Or perhaps it's something to do with the frozen, bucolic lifestyle there. Who the hell knows? Nevertheless, while Rush often takes up the most time and space in my personal playlist, they're often joined by The Hip. In fact, during one of Rush's early 1990s tours, The Hip was supposed to open for Rush, but it was determined that they weren't well-known enough in America to be an effective draw. It's sad, really, since the coupling with Rush would've greatly augmented The Hip's exposure south of the border.

Too often, artists like Gord Downie only receive adequate recognition after it's too late. In this case, however, we're aware of his diagnosis in advance of his death and can truly appreciate his talent while he's still around to receive our gratitude for one last tour. Hence this post. In America, Gord's life and work will be seldom discussed, even though the mourning has already begun in Canada. Though I hope that in some capacity, the seismic loss of a music genius like Gord will resonate into the states. He and his band thoroughly deserve the recognition.

I'm glad to say Gord's music has enriched my life in ways I can't begin to explain, and I'm profoundly grateful for it. Like so many of us and our favorite bands, The Hip has been an immovably loyal companion to my latter adulthood. And now, it's also a reminder of my mortality. I don't know if this is good or overly morose. After losing Chris Squire last year -- an artist I actually knew personally -- as well as the deaths of David Bowie and Prince, and learning of Rush's non-fatality-related retirement from touring, I'm beginning to hear the formerly imperceptible slowing of the metronome. I wish I could say that I'm bravely embracing it, but then I'd be lying. The good news is that we'll have thousands of soul-enriching songs to keep us smiling -- and feeling -- along the way. The Hip will always share a place in heavy rotation, and cancer can never take that away.