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Pab Sungenis Posts

“Love, Simon” – Why It Sucks

I have a running joke about my husband Bryan. I don’t ask him what he thought of a movie until about a week after we see it. That way I can get a proper answer. You see, movies are like hand grenades for him: they only explode after time has elapsed. The more he thinks about a movie, the more likely he is to hate it. I think the world record for fastest turnaround with him was Star Trek: Generations, where after the lights came up, he was gushing about how great the movie was. When we were out in the hall he was like “wait a minute.” And by the time we started the car he was saying “WTF was that piece of shit!?”

My opinions about Love, Simon by comparison have gone full circle. I hated the idea of it, then I loved it, now I can acknowledge that it does, in fact, suck.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda I loved the book the movie is allegedly based upon, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agendaso I was cautious going in. (Much the same way I am dreading seeing Ready, Player One in the theaters, knowing that no matter how good the film is it will never live up to my imagination.) I was especially concerned because all the trailers and advertising were making it out to be an epic love story, which the novel is not. In the novel, the romance is really the “B” or “C plot, just the catalyst for the main storylines. I won’t give away any more for those of you who have not read the book. No spoilers here if I can help it.

Seeing the movie, and the fact that they at least made the book’s “A” plot the “B” plot, I felt better. I was especially entranced by Nick Robinson, who I had earlier fallen in crush with watching The Kings of Summer and how he realistically portrayed Simon Spier. So I felt good leaving the theater.

Now, with distance between me and the screen, I can look at the movie with clear eyes and acknowledge it for the shitstorm is actually is.

Inappropriation

Probably the one time each year that the average American thinks (if they do at all) about “cultural appropriation” is around Halloween when the backlash against racist, sexist, and other -ist costumes once again makes itself known. It’s when people who are not part of a culture dress themselves (figuratively or literally) in a stereotype of that culture for amusement’s sake. For a more recent example, consider how the 12.5% of me that is of the O’Donnell Clan feels when they hear “everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.” Hint: it feels worse than the Polish part of my ethnic heritage, which is always afraid that the German part of my heritage is going to invade it again.

Cultural appropriation is wrong. I acknowledge that. The use of “Indian” stereotypes like Chief Wahoo are subversively racist and have no place in today’s culture. And while my alma mater’s team will still always be the Brown Indians I agree that the school was right to change it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Love Simon is the gay equivalent of if Chief Wahoo and the Washington Redskins had a gangbang with the Frito Bandito and sired a love child who would grow up to be a big buck-toothed squinty eyed “Japanese” character out of a World War II Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Let’s start with, sadly, the book. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a coming of age, coming (or being forced) out story about a young gay man written by… Becky Albertalli.

That’s right. This story about a gay boy was written by a straight woman.

In and of itself, this is not a big problem. It’s just a symptom of a larger problem. After all, about 90% of all books about gay teens that are on bookshelves are written by women. Another 4% are written or co-written by John Green. That leaves 6% or so of books about gay teens that are actually written by gay men. And 5.8% of those are by David Levithan. In the competitive world of retail bookselling there isn’t much room on the shelves for people like Bill Konigsburg or Mark A. Roeder and nearly no room at all for up and coming authors. Booksellers have to go with what they know will sell and to them YA is written by women for women.

Now let’s go on to Nick Robinson. Nick is straight. Openly straight. Almost flamingly straight. When there are so many young out actors, or those who are on the verge of coming out, the protagonist of what is being billed as the first great teen gay romance is being played by the straightest of straight boys. I don’t know whose decision it was, whether the studio forced the straight boy onto the project or if Greg Berlanti, the openly gay director and creative force behind the film, made the choice himself. But it’s not encouraging to see that gay leading roles still have to be played by straight men who are “brave” for making the choice to play against their orientation. (This is nothing new; I’ve been bitching about this for 20 years ever since straight Eric McCormack beat out gay John Barrowman for the part of the gay leading man on Will and Grace.)

“But there are actual gay boys in the movie,” you’re saying. Yes. There are three. Oh, what the hell.

SPOILER ALERT!

One of them is Joey Pollari, who plays a straight waiter named Lyle. Another is Keiynan Lonsdale, who plays Bram, who in a fake-out the novel did not need, we are led to believe is straight the entire freaking film. And before you ask, the kid who plays Cal the pianist (who has a much larger part in the book and is acknowledged as gay therein) isn’t number three; Miles Meizer is straight.

Number three is Clark Moore.

Oh, Clark.

Stepin Faggot

Clark Moore plays Ethan, who is the movie’s homophobic comic relief. He swishes and sways, wears his hair long, and is played like someone plucked off the runway of RuPaul’s Drag Race (“Category is: realness!”) and dropped in a high school. He is played as every bad mincing stereotype for maximum comedy, and no main character (not even newly outed Simon) treats him nicely or even as a human being. The script and direction surely don’t. He’s there to make straight people laugh at him, a Stepin Faggot character of the worst kind.

There is literally no reason to have Ethan in the movie. Other characters with more actual impact (like Simon’s older sister) who were in the book were cut out of the film, so why keep Ethan who has no impact at all on the plot?

Just to show everything “gay” that Simon is not.

Ethan is there to show what people expect gays to be: effeminate, swishy, just south of cross dressing. Simon is none of those, so Simon is the acceptable gay. Especially because he’s played by a straight boy.

Clark Moore and Nick Robinson are very talented actors who deserved better than to be stuck in these sad stereotypes of femme and butch queer kids.

The film loves to ask “why is straight the default” so much that they sell freakin’ T-shirts with that slogan. Here’s the answer: it’s the default because Hollywood insists on casting straight actors for gay roles.

But that’s okay, because we queers aren’t the film’s target audience. Straight girls are.

YOW-eeeeeee!

For those of you who have not been around manga-obsessed teen girls in recent years, “YAOI” is a form of manga about boys in love with each other. The term comes from a Japanese acronym for “no climax, no plot, no meaning.” It’s just slightly androgynous boys getting it on with each other to make straight teenager girls aroused. It’s written by women for girls and the men are just objects of the audience’s lust.

Love, Simon, is American cinematic YAOI.

Written by women (novel – which is not YAOI but has a compelling plot – by Becky Albertalli, screenplay co-written by Elizabeth Berger) for teen girls.

Simon is portrayed throughout the film as ideal boyfriend material, played by a masculine actor who is not unpleasant to look at, to provide a sex symbol for teen girls to desire. And when he kisses another hot boy at the end? Boom.

For Hollywood, this is not a bad thing. Teen girls first showed their power by keeping Titanic afloat for so long, seeing the film and its love story multiple times.

(For the record, I almost linked to the theory that Jack from Titanic is actually a cross-dressing woman here, but when I went googling for a link I got scared; never search for “Titanic Transsexual” if you know what’s good for you.)

But I digress. Teen girls in cinema.

According to MPAA numbers for 2014 (most recent I could find online), more women than men buy movie tickets, and 40% of all tickets are bought by people 24 and under. So if you can win over a big bunch of teenage girls and get them to see your movie multiple times it’s a formula for success.

Yes, it’s nice that gay teens have representation on the screen. It’s nice that a gay teen love story did so well. And it’s wonderful that it’s inspiring gay teens to come out to their parents.

But kids? Make no mistake. You are the side effect. This is not your movie. You were not the intended audience. And this is not going to blaze a trail for real gay cinema. This is just another teen girl-targeted romance. This is this year’s Everything, Everything or The Fault in our Stars as far as Hollywood is concerned.

Conclusion

Is it worth seeing? I guess. I don’t regret seeing it. I may watch it again when it comes to Netflix. But so much about this movie leaves a bad taste in my mouth. (No gay pun intended.) It reinforces the “acceptable gay” trope. It continues the tradition that only straight boys can play leading roles (or, even, gay roles!). And it’s appropriation by straight women of gay youth culture and stories by straight women to appeal to straight teen girls.

All of which I would have thought Hollywood would be long past by now.

 

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Yet Another Book Building Application

I love Cory Doctorow’s writing. I’ve read most of his novels multiple times. But there is one area where he has caused me great tsuris over the years.

Cory has a new book out called Walkaway. I plan to pick it up soon. But you see, between my fading eyesight and the fact that I spend a lot of time in my car, I prefer to get my literature in audiobook form when possible. Most of the time, that means going through Audible, who are the 8,000 pound gorilla in the audiobook business online.

Cory doesn’t make his books available through Audible because of their “digital rights management” policies. I happen to agree with him (although as a much less popular author than he I have to deal with them). So he makes the audiobooks of most of his works available through his website, and I have bought directly from him in the past with relative ease.

But his audiobooks come in what is an inconvenient format for me: a series of individual .mp3 files breaking the book down chapter by chapter or, in two cases, CD by CD. As a guy who has built a huge folder of audiobooks over the years and still prefers to listen to them on his old iPod Classic, this is not how I prefer my books. I would rather have the single huge file that Audible offers, or that you can get by building an .M4B file for iTunes.

In previous years, this would have meant using a program called Chapter and Verse, which would take those individual files and spit out an M4B. But Chapter and Verse hasn’t been updated in years, doesn’t work with modern versions of iTunes (which it needs to convert files), and is stuck in the mindset of the old days of 32 bit systems and thus doesn’t like creating audiobooks over 8 hours when it will create anything at all.

Of course, you know me. I come from the old school where the answer to not having software that does what you want is to write it yourself. So here is a quick and dirty, yet fully functional program, for all of you.

Yet Another Book Building Application

YABBA is a front-end for two other programs, FFMpeg and AtomicParsley, which respectively convert and add metadata to your audiobook files. You select and add files to your project, rearrange them if necessary, and can retitle the individual chapters. You can add cover art and information for author, title, year of publication, and description. Then just press one button, wait a considerable amount of time (how long depends on length of the book and speed of your computer) and out will pop a fresh baked audiobook. Add it into iTunes and you are ready to go.

I wrote the program to be as intuitive and simple to use as possible. Just feed it a bunch of MP3’s and some other information and let it do its work.

I wrote this program over four days when I had nothing much better to do simply because I needed it, and am happy to share it with any and all who want it. Use and copy it all you want, just don’t charge anything for it. If you find it useful, kick back a donation through the button at the top of the page.

Download Yet Another Book Building Application: Windows 32-bit Installer, Windows 64-bit Installer, Lazarus Source Code

If you found this post by kibozing for Cory’s name, you might also want to check out “…Only to Find Gideon’s Bible,” my short story set in the universe of Cory’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. And if you read this, Cory? I’d love to record an “official” audiobook for DAOITMK; you can donate whatever fee you would normally pay a narrator to EFF if I do.

 

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The Greatest Bit SNL Ever Did.

I’m working on a Youtube series that will debut at the end of June 2017 called Thirteen Week Theatre about short lived TV shows, both the underappreciated gems and the absolute horrible bits of tripe.

One show I’m working for it is Saturday Night Live ‘80, the retitled, revamped version of the classic show that debuted in November of that fateful year. It took me a while to track down copies of the 12 episodes that killed Jean Doumanian’s TV career (along with those of people like Ann Risley and Charles Rocket), but I found them so I could watch them again and get some footage to work with.

At the time I was foraging for VHS copies of those 12 wpisodes I decided to seek out another little-remembered SNL season: Season 7, the first full season for Dick Ebersol and which would prove to be the second year in a row that half the cast was fired by the end of the season.

I did it mainly to seek out one particular bit: one that can’t be found online because NBC rightly polices the hell out of YouTube and because Lorne won’t allow them to have much if anything from Ebersol’s reign on Hulu or the web. A bit that I had only seen once almost 36 years ago and had stuck with me until I tracked it down tonight.

In my opinion, it’s an example of what made SNL great. Probably the greatest bit they ever did.

The official title was “An Editorial Reply,” about the week when Life and Time both had Marilyn Monroe on their covers and some telefilms were in production about her life. In reality, it’s probably known better for the refrain of the musical number. Mary Gross played Marilyn in a wonderful parody of the quintessential number from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

“If Life Magazine needs my face to sell issues, then downers are a girl’s best friend.”

I can’t confirm that it was written by Michael O’Donohugh, but if it wasn’t I’ll eat my hat and worship at the feet of whoever did write it.

This bit shows the genius that SNL had in its early years. It was edgy bordering on offensive. (The “downers” that are being sung about are supposedly books about her, but it’s also an obvious swipe at how Marilyn killed herself.) It didn’t talk down to you. It presumed that you knew the original source material that was being parodied. It presumed you knew about Marilyn, who she loved and how she died.”

“Capote! Miller! Garson Kanen! Talk to me, Norman Mailer! Tell me all about me!”

It’s brash. It’s bold. It’s 3 and a half minutes that are right on target.

“If made-for-TV films ’bout me must be written
Downers are a girl’s best friend.
And writers who write on the… men I was smitten
with… make so much dough
and write as though they really know!

“Dunaway would run away
to play me, though she’d need my rear end!
This isn’t defensive!
To me, it’s offensive!
Downers are a girl’s best friend.”

And you know what? It’s witty and funny as hell, but for those three and a half minutes there is not a single laugh to be heard. Maybe a couple of gasps when the word “downers” is first used, but no laughs.

Yet the audience goes nuts at the end. They didn’t need to laugh out loud. The wit was enough.

No need to pull a “Debbie Downer” and try to deliver a punch line every 20 seconds. No hammering away at a catchphrase. No condescension. The sketch refuses to play to the lowest common denominator. Who cares. It isn’t too hip for the room; if it goes over your head go laugh at the “Rubik’s Teeth” commercial elsewhere in the episode. But the more you know the funnier it is. And the wittier. And the sadder.

It’s the perfect example of what SNL was supposed to be. It’s just how Lorne Michaels envisioned the show.

As Lorne prepares for his annual bloodletting, firing stars who are underperforming in an effort to keep the show under budget, and trying to once again reinvent the show without reinventing it like they did in 1980 (and 1981, and 1984, and 1985, and 1990, and 1995, and… Well, I could go on) he would do best to go back and watch some of the Ebersol years. They were uneven, they relied too much on one or two cast members per season, but they did have times when they had pure genius.

Remember that the greatest sketch SNL ever did, the quintessential “edgy” yet “highbrow” moment, the sketch that best illustrated what you wanted from the show, happened while you weren’t there.

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