Steve Likes Almost Everything: Introduction, Nightcrawler, and Big Hero 6
November 10, 2014 § 2 Comments
Call it a rebranding, or whatever it takes to get me to use this blog more: From now until I decide to stop, I’m going to be calling any reviews I write here “Steve Likes Almost Everything.” I will continue using this title whether or not it proves to be true (and I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t).
Using the name for a few reasons, then. First is that I’m very clearly not a professional reviewer, and the things I review will be what I was drawn to or drawn to writing about anyway, which are usually media I wanted to consume anyway.
Second, and more important I think, is an idea I’ve been kicking around about the tone and objective of critique, especially more rigorous and academically informed critique. Even though I am proudly #notafuckinggradstudent, and what I write would certainly not deserve any attention in the world of thinkpieces and longreads, thank god. But if the author is dead and interpretation has primacy, shouldn’t we focus on interpretation that leads further towards media we can enjoy? And trumpet those interpretations, no matter how outlandish, if we so choose?
Like, for example, I watched like 3 hours of South Park last night. Now, I’m fairly sure as a person committed to social justice I’m supposed to hate South Park—the ethos of “we make fun of everyone” is a false equivalency, they often fail to “punch up”, and most episodes feature crude or regressive stereotypes and caricatures of subaltern identities. And Trey Parker and Matt Stone are Libertarians! I’ve heard it all and more, from people I like and trust immensely.
I’m often told that I shouldn’t watch things like this, for what seems like a lot of different reasons: to not give their bad critique berth, or that it might affect some sort of purity of my own critique of the world. But the scariest reason is when it’s hinted to me that I ought not to watch these things because, as a member of our subculture or someone who shares a certain set of ideological markers, I ought not to like them.
I hate this. I think liking things is an admirable goal of consuming media. And I think the same tools we use to critically disembowel media and explain why it’s so bad—and importantly, the same amount of effort—can be used to come up with a reading we like. I really like South Park, even though it’s a completely different show now than the one I fell in love with in junior high school. I think there’s so much to learn from and enjoy in the way their particular style of humor and topicality can be used to discuss George Zimmerman’s acquittal that says so much more than the 20th thinkpiece you read on the subject.
Tl;dr, all media is going to be found, in some way or another, problematic. What I propose is not just that we should compartmentalize the good with the bad, but that we can learn from both and make things better.
Ok, with that tangent out of the way, let’s talk movies that I saw this weekend. Very very briefly, because I’m still chewing on them.
Nightcrawler had more to say for itself, which is probably why I have less to say about it. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character sounds exactly like your boss, perfected. The scariest thing isn’t even his callous disregard for human life, it’s the fact that he never, ever makes a mistake or wavers from his trajectory as, in his mind, the ideal version of himself. He mentions that he’s (quote is remembered and therefore not accurate) “self-educated from the internet on a wide berth of subjects”—keying on this line, his character comes off as a rebuke of the internet, of MOOCs, and as a lens on the type of psycho that emerges from digital alienation. We never, ever see him interact with another character outside of a professional capacity, and it doesn’t look like he misses it, either.
His chosen career as a freelance crime videographer doesn’t seem to offer a very fruitful parallel to this reading. But it does directly lead to another thing I liked a lot about Nightcrawler: how cool and exciting Los Angeles is depicted at night, and how sickly and depressing it looks during the day.
Big Hero 6 is still unraveling in my mind. Particularly, I’m trying to sort out what it has to say about the tech industry, capitalism, STEM education, and why the fuck it took place in the mashup city of “San Fransokyo”. Let’s start with the last one.
San Fransokyo is, like you’d expect, not built on equal power relations between the two source cities (just like the inequality in power between Asians and whites in tech). It’s the geography and landmarks pretty exactly imported from San Francisco, with orientalized aesthetics. There’s a Transamerica pyramid but no real Shibuya. Yet despite the imbalance of influence between the two real cities upon the fictional one, it’s hard to find a believable or reading for San Fransokyo as a future San Francisco transformed by political and cultural upheaval.
Instead, it feels like San Francisco and Tokyo were tapped for the mashup for the way the cities act as the thematic representations of technology and the future, respectively. In one reading, this puts Tokyo in a subordinate role to San Francisco: a clear theme of the movie is the potential of technology as a means to unlock both the intellectual and productive power, but also the emotional power and health of the human individual (Baymax is kind of like a wearable health tech accessory for the soul). Thus the future, as represented by Tokyo, would only have importance in order exists to advance San Francisco’s technology to a sufficiently advanced level to allow the situations of the plot to take place.
In the world of Big Hero 6, or at least in the plot of the movie, the only businesses are protagonist Hiro’s aunt’s hip café, and tech. Hiro’s brother pressures him to do something special with that brain of his, but there are no discussions of what that might entail or what Hiro is interested in: there is no intellectual pursuit outside of the breathy dreamers at Hiro’s brother’s university, the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. The school is home to all sorts of (awesome) inventions from many different scientific and engineering disciplines. But there’s no superhero with a working knowledge of Deleuze. STEM rules everything around me, and in the future, all the buildings will look like iPhones.
The overall look at tech is pretty uncritical, which is especially interesting right after watching Nightcrawler. Instead of Louis Bloom’s sociopathic managerial voice, we have the greedy, ruthless CEO Alistar Krei, who the group assumes is their kabuki-masked villain until it turns out he’s not. I found it really cool that nobody ever had to make a case or present evidence that the greedy tech CEO would probably end up a supervillain for everyone in the movie to believe it unquestioningly. However, it is because of Krei’s greed (though not specifically his Silicon Valley-esque self-importance) that the main conflict of the movie ever happened.
The driving force of Big Hero 6 is health care robot Baymax’s protectorship of his 14 year old ward, Hiro. But, viewed after Nightcrawler and the hellish consequences of its protagonist’s reliance on computers for his essential learning and socialization, that friendship seems a little different. Big Hero 6 seems to be arguing that it’s not a problem to have meaningful personal relationships with computers, we just have to have those relationships with the right computer—one with its own will and desires.
That’s it for the review. Also, it’s my birthday! I’m 29 now. Wtf.