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Archive for May 2015

You may have noticed over the years that I am not a person who likes a lot of things. I have definitely noticed over the years that people often do not take kindly to my disliking something that they do enjoy. In an attempt to lessen any potential ire of these sensitive people, I have over the years developed a two-pronged approach to disliking things:

  1. Rather than implying that any particular thing is of poor quality, I instead frame my dislike in terms of my own reaction; i.e. “I didn’t like that,” instead of “That was TERRIBLE;”
  2. If the thing in question seems to be particularly beloved despite my own negative reaction to its unimpeachable quality, I just don’t bring it up.

Prong number two is why I never mentioned that I kind of hate The Incredibles.

I should clarify – I don’t hate The Incredibles. It’s fun movie, it presented a fresh take on both animation and the superhero genre that made both a little more grown up, and it brought attention to the very real dangers a cape poses to crime-fighters, attention that was, unlike the chapter in my 10th grade health textbook on the hazards of platform shoes, intentionally funny.

So I enjoyed The Incredibles. I applauded along with the rest of the theater when it ended, and I even voluntarily watched it a second time at a friend’s house, deliberately selecting it over other available dvds. And both times, though, while enjoying it, there were little things, minor, certainly, but constantly niggling at the back of my head that there was something, maybe, just a touch anti-intellectual about the film. Nothing to get all het up about, for sure, but still – something wasn’t entirely right with me.

And then I read this review of Tomorrowland, that mentions that Brad Bird, behind both T-land and The Incredibles, is a devotee of Ayn Rand, and suddenly I understood that, at least in this case, the problem isn’t actually me.

My understanding of the Randian philosophy is by no means thorough, as far as I can tell it’s basically the same philosophy of a frustrated high school mean girl who doesn’t understand why she’s not more popular since she’s clearly so much smarter, prettier, and just plain better than everyone else. And even though I’m sure I’m missing some of the nuances I can absolutely see how that would appeal to a certain segment of the population who constantly find themselves thwarted by their own inability to succeed entirely on their own merit or to motivate others to act on their clearly superior behalf.

In The Incredibles this comes across less high school than juvenile, as young Dash laments that everyone being special means that no one is. It’s smart of the movie to give this line to the youngest character capable of speech, since it is exactly the kind of thing you might hear from a four year-old who hates the new baby because now he won’t be the center of attention anymore.

But The Incredibles doesn’t dismiss this as the baseless and bratty whining it is; instead, it doubles down by having Syndrome, the bad guy, reveal that this is exactly his dastardly plan – to make everyday fools just as powerful as the Supers, to make everyone special so that no one will be.

I don’t want to dwell on the fact that this, in addition to being kind of a weird message for a children’s movie, is utter horseshit, both because you already know that and because I have another point to make. But I do think we should take a moment to acknowledge that this is utter horseshit. Because it is. Talent and ability are not zero-sum games; if I were a funny, talented writer, that wouldn’t preclude anyone else from being either funny or talented or both. And I’m sure that most people accepted this as merely a critique of the everybody-gets-a-trophy culture of the mid-aughts, I find the implication that some people are inherently less than other people offensive, in order, as a Jewish person, as a woman, and, somewhat surprisingly, as a vegetarian.

But what really troubles me about this message is that Syndrome – and, let me just say how irritating it is that none of these characters have actual names, although I’m sure it’s part of a deeper commentary on identity; but anyway: Syndrome’s ability to create these gadgets that will give everyone powers should actually be pretty impressive. It demonstrates innovative thinking, impressive skill, and probably years of dedicated study. Sure, he’s turned these talents toward the dark side, a phrase the movie really should have coined, but the real dastardly part of his plan is not that he’s willing to actually murder people (who, sure, are cartoons) in order to make himself appear the hero, but that he’s going to share his amazing gizmos with the world, that his technology will benefit others.

And I should admit that I probably know only slightly more about comic books and superheroes than I do about Ayn Rand; I watched Amazing Spiderman and the Superfriends or Justice League or some other cartoon as a kid with my brother, who was a big fan of comics, but back in the ’80s when it really wasn’t cool; and I’ve seen some of the movie adaptations of this millennia, although I tapped out when they started to be overrun by bombast because, for real: they’re grown-ups in costumes! Let’s not take ourselves too seriously.

So, what I know about comics is they have very much a love-hate relationship with technology: Batman has the Batcave and Batmobile and a Batbelt filled with Batgadgets to help him defeat his similarly geared-up foes; and, whereas technology saved Tony Stark’s life and made him Iron Man, it also lead to whatever The Dude and Mickey Rourke’s characters wanted in the first two movies. Even the Hulk, who’s is literally turned into a monster by exposure to gamma rays (maybe that was Godzilla?) still manages to find a way to use his enhanced strength to help people. The technology itself is neutral; it’s the application of that technology that makes it good or evil. But there’s really no good technology in The Incredibles: the supers have their powers, and the bad guys have gadgets. In the world of The Incredibles, Iron Man would be a villain, and Buzz Lightyear would never have gotten to fly because he’s just a toy.

Finally, let’s consider that the little boy who becomes Syndrome becomes Syndrome because, it is heavily implied, he is repeatedly blown-off by Mr. Incredible. I can’t find a clip to link to, so maybe I’m not remembering 100% correctly, but as I recall, Mr. Incredible is not, as you might expect of a hero, concerned for the safety of the young child who is in a dangerous situation and only wants to help; instead, he is exasperated by the nuisance posed by this little pretender, emphasis on little because, again, he is just a child. Sure, Future Syndrome should have had access to some other positive reinforcement that being rejected by his hero wouldn’t necessarily lead to a life of utter villainy. And sure, again, this was primarily viewed as a reaction against the coddling of young children, which can only lead to confidence for those with ridiculous dreams, which we, as a society, must stand firm against. And sure, Mr. Incredible was in kind of a hurry to get to his own wedding. But you know what? If the entire world calls you Mr. Incredible, and they’re not being ironic, you don’t get to be a dick to children.

Also? It probably has nothing to do with the influence of Ayn Rand, but Jack-Jack’s power doesn’t make any sense.

Our consideration of Amy’s place in popular culture continues as we compare a high achieving, buttoned up, by the book cop, with a high achieving, buttoned up neuroscientist who would undoubtedly be by the book if that were expected in her field. Only one Amy can reign supreme; will it be Brooklyn 99’s Amy Santiago, or The Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler?

Who has the better name?
Each woman spells her name correctly, so we have to look to their full names to make a verdict. Amy Farrah Fowler is often referred to by all 3 of her names. Not because she is being reprimanded by an angry parent, but because it’s an aspect of her formal, uptight nature; it is both proper and polite, not to mention accurate, upon making an acquaintance to inform them of your full name; that will help them differentiate you from any other Amy’s they might happen to know. Other, less precise characters, refer to her simply as Amy.

Amy Santiago has a job where camaraderie between partners is strengthened by calling each by their last name. No matter how she might introduce herself, when she goes by only one name, it’s Santiago.

Winner: Amy Farrah Fowler

Who has the better job?
Well, it’s a difficult time to argue in favor of a cop, even one on tv. To its credit, Brooklyn 99 has addressed the inequality and discrimination in police departments from its premier, when we learn that the new captain had not previously been given his own command despite an overwhelming competence and capability, because he is both black and gay. It’s unusual, and maybe even bold, for oppression to be the foundation of a comedy, but the show handles it deftly, making it clear that, while there is still quite a long way to go, the many good and decent people on the squad will ultimately prevail. But, you know, funny.

Neuroscientist, on the other hand, is not a career currently causing a lot of controversy. It does, though, take years of study. And, while there are any number of research careers that could show off a character’s smarts, Mayim Bialik, who portrays Amy Farrah Fowler, is herself a neuroscientist, and it is her real-life achievement that molded the path of her characters. That is pretty impressive.

Verdict: Both careers, at their core, have a goal of improving people’s lives, either through solving crimes or improving our understanding of our own physiology. But, while there may come a day when little kids play Neuroscientist and Blood-borne Pathogen instead of Cops and Robbers, that day is not today.

Winner: Amy Santiago

Who has the better fashion sense?
As an intellectual, Amy Farrah Fowler does not have much interest in fashion. Amy Farrah Fowler Her clothing tends to be comfortable, practical, and probably inherited from an elderly relative. She favors long sleeves, sweater vests, and skirts, topping it all off with sensible shoes. It’s neither fashionable nor flattering, but it does look comfortable.

As a cop, Amy Santiago’s style could best described as efficient: crisp button down shirts, fitted pantsuits. No-nonsense apparel that conceals her firearm but does not restrict her movement when chasing down a perp. Which is why, even though we’ve never seen them, I assume her shoes are practical. Amy Santiago

Verdict
Neither Amy is particularly aware of fashion, nor, apart from that time Santiago wore the same outfit as Boyle, is either particularly bothered by it. With style removed from consideration, we have to look to comfort for our decision, and I would frankly rather wear a sweater and skirt than a pantsuit any day. Plus, only one Amy has a tiara, and the guts to wear it in public.

Winner:Amy Farrah Fowler

Who has the better boyfriend?
While acknowledging that neither of these women is nor should be defined by her romantic relationships, let’s take a look at the Amyses’ romantic prospects.

In Sheldon Cooper, Amy Farrah Fowler has arguably one of the worst boyfriends on tv. On the plus side, he is scrupulous of keeping to the terms of their formal relationship agreement. And he did buy her that tiara. However, on the negative, he is immature, selfish, and not really interested in any sort of physical contact with anyone, much less an icky girl. His relationship with Amy did begin as one of intellectual compatibility, and then added a romantic element only because he was jealous of the attention she was getting from other men. Though their relationship has hit a number of milestones – including going to prom (despite being grown-ups), holding hands (again, as grown-ups), and an exchange of ‘I-love-you’s’ – Sheldon, oddly enough, falls into the role of television bad boy, in that he’s able to swoop in and deliver on the big moments, even as he leaves Amy hanging on the day-to-day. He’s like the worst possible combination of Jordan Catalano and Brian Krakow.

(Note to self, potential future blog topic: Brian Krakow; kind of terrible?)

While Sheldon is definitively kind of terrible, the romantic prospects of Amy Santiago are not much better. For 2 seasons she’s been half of a “will-they/won’t-they” couple with Jake Perralta who is basically a child’s idea of what an adult is, rather than an actual adult. As an example, he tosses all his mail into his bathtub unopened, rather than pay his bills, recycle, or bathe. He also had to have it pointed out that his competitiveness with Amy was based on his crush on her, and his honest confession of his feelings immediately preceded going undercover for several months, where he wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences, either positive or negative. On the plus side, he is a very capable detective.

Verdict: If we were choosing between order and chaos, Sheldon would be the clear winner: he’s unlikely to forget a birthday or anniversary, and, unlike Jake, has already set out the long road of becoming an appropriate boyfriend for Amy. But, all things considered, Jake’s road is shorter.

Winner: Amy Santiago

Who is more accomplished within her field?
Years of study have paid off for Amy Farrah Fowler, as she seems very well established as a neuroscientist: she’s had numerous studies published, she’s well-enough-liked by her peers to be invited to weddings, she’s been a guest researcher at other laboratories, and she always has a new study under way, even if the seriousness of her research is often undercut by the monkeyshines of, well, monkeys. Oh, monkeys.

Amy Santiago, too, is no slouch. She’s a dedicated detective of an elite squad known as. . . nope, hold on: wrong show.

She is a dedicated detective, though, with a high clearance rate on her cases. She has clear aspirations to be captain herself someday, and she does not allow the high esteem she has for her (very reluctant) mentor Captain Holt prevent her from addressing errors in his work.

Verdict: Santiago has already been recognized as having the better job (way up there at the top; have you forgotten already?), but is she better at it? Although both are amazingly competent women, Amy Farrah Fowler is further along in her career than Santiago, and so, in this case, although it’s very, very close, the victory must be hers.

Winner: Amy Farrah Fowler

Final Verdict
It’s tempting to say that we, the Amyses in the audience, are the winners of this contest, for having two such powerful representatives of the qualities that define us: both women are intelligent, capable, efficient, and uptight in the best possible way. They strive for goals they have the capacity and willingness to achieve. They’re reliable and forthright, and put up with minimal nonsense. Truly, it’s a wonderful time to admire a woman named Amy on television.

But, in any contest, there can be only one winner. Of the two, Santiago is the more competitive, while Amy Farrah Fowler is often just happy to finally be a part of a group. Which, honestly, are both good Amy qualities. But this is a competition, and so the one with the wider competitive streak wins.

Winner: Amy Santiago


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