In these trying times, it’s nice that we can still take a short break from harrowing events, to fight online about things that are absolutely meaningless. At yesterday’s press conference, Mike Lindell, better known as “The MyPillow Guy”, was given a high profile opportunity to address the nation from The White House. Normally, this sentence might seem absolutely surreal, if not for the fact that Donald Trump- DONALD TRUMP- is The President of The United States! Anyway, at a White House press conference with millions and millions of viewers, Mr. Lindell announced that his company was making 50,000 masks, a very necessary step in the fight against the coronavirus. In addition to this announcement, he threw in some very nice words about God and Donald Trump himself, although it’s unclear if the President was able to make the distinction. But I digress.
Anyone who spends too much time online could see what was coming a mile away. On one side, there would be snickering about the spectacle of watching a guy from late night infomercials, addressing the nation during a very serious crisis. On the other side, there would be people countering against these “elites”, daring to mock a man for showing his faith, while contributing his company’s services to the only cause that seems to matter these days. Of course, very little of this was actually about Mike Lindell at all. He was merely a proxy for the ideological battle that has been going on in this country for decades now, and particularly since Donald Trump was elected. Throw in the fact that our sports leagues have been taken away from us- hopefully not for too much longer- and THIS has become the nation’s pastime.
Without diving further into this issue- I mean, seriously, there are far bigger things to worry about- what Mr. Lindell is doing is a net positive for the country, and we need industry to step up with these types of efforts as much as possible. But for those who are not MAGA types, let alone those who identify with “The Resistance”, the presentation seemed tacky. We’re in the middle of a life or death situation, and this guy is giving a speech that could could have easily been saved for the Republican National Convention! Surely there are other companies out there who have also reallocated their resources to “fight the good fight”, but those companies are not headed by big-time Trump supporters, so they won’t be getting valuable prime airtime that could have been put to much better use. Some liberals even suggested that Lindell used his time in the spotlight to cynically promote his company, to which conservatives defiantly responded by saying they would be sure to make purchases from MyPillow. None of this resolves anything, of course, other than confirming that Mike Lindell really does know how to advertise.
All in all, though, the whole thing provided a somewhat entertaining, if unintentional, distraction for us. And regardless of what you think of Donald Trump, Mike Lindell, or the MyPillow product itself, we could all use a little bit of entertainment these days, whenever and wherever we can find it.
It seems surreal to think that not even two months ago, we were treating the tragic death of Kobe Bryant as the defining moment of a generation. Indeed, the events around it were extraordinary, and in terms of public figures, his death alone was AT LEAST on par with that of Princess Diana and John Lennon. Factor in that his daughter and seven others were in the private helicopter with him, and it made the whole event even more painful to think about. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant was still just one man, and outside of the few individuals close to him, his daughter, and the others lost in the accident, life would go on the same for all the rest of us.
But here we are, barely on the other side of an event that apparently changed American life more than anything since December 7th, 1941. (Yes, including 9-11.) The Coronavirus, something that entered our lexicon at the end of 2019, has fully taken over our society, days before the Spring of 2020 commences. Indeed, its spread has taken on a life of its own, like the deadly virus that is, but at least so far, in a very unexpected, ironic way. Rather than infecting our immune systems at the exponential rate that has been predicted, it has infected our society and way of life, in a way that we will likely not recover from any time soon. By trying to preemptively stop the virus from harming us in mass numbers, we have ended up harming ourselves. The whole thing kind of feels like the episode of South Park, where the parents banished the children from the town, in the hopes that they wouldn’t be kidnapped.
None of this is to make light of the Coronavirus itself. It has created chaos in the health industry across the rather motley crew of Iran, Italy, and especially China, where the virus started. It is far deadlier than the “common” flu, and more contagious than other diseases that have made their way to the headlines in the early 21st century, such as Ebola, SARS, and H1N1. But in a highly interconnected world of 7+ billion people, these types of disease are, unfortunately, inevitable. While the worse case scenario projections are terrifying, the reality so far is nowhere near a fraction of that. Nothing in our lifetimes- at least for those of us under 80 years old- has ever altered the course of our collective lives so dramatically as this. We still do not know if these draconian actions are justified, as only time will tell. But what we DO know is that there is no turning back.
But what exactly caused this event to “succeed”, in a way that The Cold War, Radical Islamic Jihad, the aforementioned diseases (H1N1 killed over 10,000 Americans), climate change, and various other scares did not? Part of it is the spread of social media, which in some ways, behaves in a virus-like way itself. As news permeates through the internet, stories that have “sizzle” manage to grow exponentially. We watched through the news what was happening in China, and knew that it was only a matter of time before SOME variation hit home. Then in early March, Rudy Gobert, a star player in the NBA who had mocked the Coronavirus with a crude “prank” just days earlier, was diagnosed with the disease. Within two days, professional sports leagues were shut down, creating shock not experienced in generations throughout society. Sure, this happened for a very brief time during 9-11, but that was because the country was in mourning. This time around, sports leagues, along with all the industries that followed, were shut down as a preventative measure for a microscopic menace, fearing that those in crowded spaces could catch the virus very easily. It also didn’t help matters when Tom Hanks, a larger-than-life figure in a similar vein to Kobe Bryant, turned out to be mortal as well. People don’t like to say it out loud, but when bad things happen to these “invincible” celebrities, we wonder what kind of chance the rest of us have.
So now, we have toilet paper shortages- another irony, seeing how Coronavirus is not THAT kind of disease- as well as soap, hand sanitizer, and other products that are running low on the shelves. But all that is merely a warmup act for the TRUE damage we are just beginning to experience- the shutting down of the global economy, “led” by the American consumer. For a small, vocal minority that included yours truly, this has been in the pipeline for decades, as financial institutions and their willing-if-unknowing accomplices have been kicking the can down the curb, hoping to put off the inevitable juuuuuuuust a little longer. It was always heading for disaster- glimpses of that could be seen after the DotCom bust, followed by the one in real estate a half decade later. What’s so surprising is that it is not an external event that likely took the whole thing down, but that it was dismantled willingly by a society fearful of what MIGHT be. And make no mistake- even if the shutting down of commerce “only” lasts for two weeks, as unlikely as that seems, it will cause catastrophic waves that will be felt for years to come. The global economy was set up with an appetite similar to the hummingbird- it needs to be fed constantly, or it will die. Whatever unprecedented measures await us to keep it afloat, on top of the unprecedented measures that DID keep it afloat up until this point, they will have unintended consequences that will likely change the way business is done forever.
And what of this soon-to-be defunct economy, that is all most of us have ever known? If we’re looking for silver linings- and if we ever needed silver linings it would be now- one might be that the power will be shifted away from industries that have done more long term harm than good. Around the same time that the current President made his infamous comment about Mexican immigrants in 2016, Michael Bloomberg, the wealthy tycoon and former New York City mayor who ran a disastrous Presidential campaign, said something arguably as offensive and ignorant. Trying to make a point about the superiority of the Information Age businessman over the seemingly-archaic blue collar farmer, Bloomberg implied that those who succeeded in the Information Age (eg. people like him) did so because of superior intellect, whereas “anybody” could learn how to farm. Bloomberg, who apparently thinks his food is grown in a Sparrow’s pizza chain restaurant, completely disregarded the critical importance of the farmers that allow us Americans to take for granted just how easy it is to fill our bellies whenever we feel like it. As the financial system that helped Bloomberg become one of the world’s wealthiest men crumbles in real time, while our digestive systems still demand three meals a day, it will be interesting to see whose skills are really necessary to keep the world going.
Finally, a cold, perhaps even cruel question that needs to be asked- how many deaths will justify the dismantling our way of life? Until the last few weeks, we were told that the largest threat to our society was climate change, although very few practical changes were made, even by those who claimed to be most concerned. If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, even in its early stages, it’s that our fragile society can be hit by any threat at any time, without any time to prepare. Now that we have been caught flat-footed, our leaders are trying to make up for it by overcompensating. When we look back at the actions that are being taken as this blog post is being written, will we be able to say it was worth it? More than half a generation ago, George W Bush got lukewarm support for the invasion of Iraq, on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction. A few empty canisters later, the whole thing appeared to be a catastrophic miscalculation at best, a deadly set of lies at worse. This is obviously a different threat, in that we KNOW it’s real. But justifying our countermeasures will be a Catch-22. If the number is too low- let’s say, below the number of people killed by H1N1- the whole thing will be seen as a supersized, overly sensationalized media news cycle. If the number is too large- let’s say, approaching or, heaven forbid, EXCEEDING the Spanish flu of 1918, the last TRUE American plague- we’ll say that the social distancing movement was a giant failure. So, the number probably be somewhere well above H1N1, but well below the Spanish flu, to even TRY to justify the current actions being taken.
If I may emphasize the point, I know how heartless this sounds, and it’s not to minimize the tragedy that we have already seen, nor the tragedy that still lies ahead of us. But sometimes, overreaction can be as bad or WORSE than doing nothing at all. (Keep in mind Saddam Hussein was, after all, a mass murdering tyrant.) For those who think that these actions are justified, even if they only end up saving a relatively small number of lives, consider this- is bringing the national speed limit down to 25 miles per hour worth the tens of thousands of lives that would be saved on the road? Remember- throughout most of civilization, the only time anyone traveled more than 25 miles per hour was when they lost control of their chariot.
Anyway, best of health to anyone reading this. Let’s hope that when it’s time to look back to see how well this blog post held up, we’re all around to do so.
No, sports guys and gals, you don’t have to stick to what you’re paid for- but the NBA’s kowtowing to China shows why you should.
For at least a quarter century now- and arguably going as far back as the Nixon administration- the country that currently deems itself “the world’s only superpower” has bent over backwards for a vicious regime that has brutalized many of its people since the middle of the 20th century. (This blog post isn’t really about that, but for just a few examples, click here, here, and here.) As challenging as life may be for some Americans, none of us can comprehend what it’s like to live under a dictatorship like China, other than the ones who have had to escape from one. This is especially true for those who believe Donald J. Trump’s presidency is the worse thing imaginable. But again, this post isn’t about that- not primarily anyway.
People go to Twitter to take all kinds of stands on various issues- politics, sports, ice cream toppings. But those in the public sphere who do so often create more of a stir than intended. Such was the case with Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets. With Hong Kong rising up against the Chinese regime for months now, Morey expressed support for the protesters with a seemingly simple tweet. But in today’s hyper-polarized social climate, very few things are simple, particularly with one of the NBA’s biggest international customers.
The NBA, usually lauded by the virtue signalers for speaking out “courageously” on social issues, was not silent on the issue, although they probably should have been. They took the extraordinary step of criticizing Morey for supporting the protesters. But it didn’t stop there. In fact, they were just getting started. Paying fans who held a banner that said “Free Hong Kong!” were removed from a game…in Philadelphia, no less. Is there a more pathetic symbol of what’s happening with this country, when the city that once hosted the Declaration of Independence signing doesn’t allow fans to support freedom for others? What does that say about our freedom?
Getting back to the NBA, though, the story reached a crescendo when LeBron James, who has bounced between the spectrum of sports hero and villain more times than we can count, had the nerve to criticize Morey for commenting about a subject that he (Morey) “wasn’t educated” on. That’s right- the same man who was once infamously told to “shut up and dribble” by a conservative gadfly was now doing the same thing to a highly esteemed general manager, for speaking out on a worthy cause.
Ultimately, this issue is not solely about LeBron James- or Warrior’s coach Steve Kerr, who disgracefully invoked sporadic mass shootings in America as a shield to widespread Chinese oppression. It’s about the culture of expecting athletes to be more than athletes. Starting with Babe Ruth and leading up to Michael Jordan, superstar athletes were thought to be more like real life superheroes, long before “MCU” became part of our lexicon. Partially overlapping that period has been the socially conscious athlete- or what is sometimes derisively referred to as “woke athlete”, derived from the idea that someone is awake to the problems our society is facing. This can be traced back at least to Muhammad Ali, a very controversial figure in his own time, who took on the establishment in protesting the Vietnam War, at considerable personal cost. Whatever shortcomings Ali had as a human being, this act of bravery has been lauded, at least in hindsight, as a positive example of an athlete being more than just an athlete.
Unfortunately, many poor imitations have been attempted since then. When addressing issues in today’s society, athletes and their backers (click here for the original “stick to sports” blog post) will predictably invoke Ali, in a nauseating self-congratulatory circle-jerk. We have freedom of speech in this country- Philadelphia 76ers pregame debacle notwithstanding- so it’s fine when a future Hall of Famer wants to speak his or her mind about topics beyond what their famous for. But they should not automatically expect to be congratulated for “bravery”, particularly when the endgame of what passes as “sacrifice” turns out to be signing a lucrative dollar contract with Nike, a multi-billion dollar company that has cynically and successfully turned “woke culture” into an even bigger cash cow than the one that they’ve been milking for decades.
So the next time LeBron James, Steve Kerr or anyone else want to speak out on an issue, it’s worth remembering that it’s their right to do so. It’s also worth remembering that when real sacrifice was on the line, they refused to remain silent. They took sides with the oppressors.
(Meanwhile on the court, opening night for the Lakers is on Tuesday, as they face off against the new look Clippers. And if I may exercise my free speech, by the time the circus at Staples Center gets going, aging LeBron’s off-court debacle will be the least of his worries…)
Sixty-three degrees and an astonishing thirty-three percent humidity are producing some of the bluest skies I can recall seeing in quite a while. I wouldn’t even believe the pictures below were of central New Jersey, if not for the powerlines in the background!
(I had to use the word was instead of is, because as I’m typing this, we’re a few days into what is considered to be a nasty selloff, by this decade’s standards.)
The Hunger Games was an entertaining movie, and Modern Family is an entertaining TV show. But that’s no reason for Elizabeth Banks to be the face of midcap stocks. Even more incredible, we see none of the snarky Occupy Wall Street style comments about this ridiculous advertisement, that used to makeup the landscape not that long ago.
(This would normally be the part where I’d say something like, “Don’t say you weren’t warned!” but I know that’s pointless.
I moved back to the east coast in September 2017. That was a very difficult month for me personally (for details, see http://www.tbi-online.com), but also the nicest month for weather that I can recall since moving here. This past week, though, was fantastic. However…
The fall of 2017 was the first and LAST “transitional” (spring or fall) season that I can recall since moving here. It’s gone from hot to cold to hot to cold and so on and so forth. As I’m typing this, on the first official day of fall, we’re entering record high territory AGAIN! But, that doesn’t take away from the first full week of consistently nice weather in nearly two years, so hopefully, we’ll get a few more before the inevitable cold returns.
A couple of years ago, an unhinged leftist shot up a baseball park, where Republicans politicians were practicing for a game. One congressman in particular, Steve Scalise, was critically wounded. I usually leave my political rants on Twitter, saving my Facebook page for typically lighter content, to not offend those that I know personally. But this story seemed so abhorrent, I figured I’d make an exception, as no one could POSSIBLY take issue with a call for unity.
I was wrong. One of my Facebook friends, an acquaintance in real life, took great exception to my exception, telling me that I had decided to focus on a story for a privileged white man, ignoring many other atrocities that occur in our country on a regular basis. That’s not how I meant it at all, but I did understand her point, however distant it would be from my own. That was the last time I posted any “soapbox” material on Facebook again, deciding to keep away from controversy. There are plenty of other places for me to discuss opinions that some might consider incendiary…such as this one, for example.
I bring this up now because on the day I’m typing this, July 19th, 2019, sportscaster Dan LeBatard decided to use his sports platform for something that had absolutely nothing to do with sports. Assuming that the issue he was addressing was so abhorrent that it transcended any “cowardly” (as he saw it) boundaries that had been put upon him by his bosses at ESPN, LeBatard went on a screed about Donald Trump, his supporters, Colin Kaepernick being blackballed, the civil rights movement of the sixties- a movement that he claims hasn’t seen change (?!)- and “old rich white men” that falsely (again, as LeBatard sees it) believe they have grievances against anyone who isn’t like them. Most jarring of all, LeBatard gave this impassioned monologue under the premise that this was all rooted in fact, not his personal opinion, and that- quote- “this isn’t about politics”.
If there’s nothing else I say here that you agree with, dear reader, at least believe me on this- whenever someone feels the need to declare, “This isn’t about politics,” it is, in fact, about politics. In this case, BY DEFINITION, it’s about politics, because LeBatard was defending Ilhan Omar, a congresswoman from Minnesota, against President Donald Trump and his supporters. Both Trump and Omar, in the most literal sense of the word, are politicians.
By now, people all over the world have seen the, “Send her back!” chants at Trump’s rally, along with Trump’s indifference (if not tacit approval) as he allowed the chants to continue. For what it’s worth, I thought the chants were despicable, and I am not a fan of the President. I didn’t vote for him the first time, and won’t vote for him the next time. (I only bring this up because I have no doubt that many will read this, and picture me writing this with a MAGA hat on, and a Confederate flag draped from my wall. Not that this disclaimer will change that false image. But I digress.)
None of these facts are designed to change anyone’s mind about Omar- she is a very popular figure among some, and as troubling (if not more so) than Trump among others. They’re merely included to help demonstrate just how much more complex this debate is than LeBatard’s one-sided argument is, and how the roots of the division go beyond Donald Trump and his supporters. And yes- millions of people are applauding LeBatard’s words as I’m typing this, but I’m betting at least 99% of them already believed everything that he said, prior to him actually speaking.
Whatever its problems are, ESPN is there to provide sports entertainment– that’s what’s in the name itself! Dan LeBatard is not secretly broadcasting from some clandestine spot in a dictatorship- no matter how much Donald Trump may act like a dictator, this is still very much a free country, one which has more platforms than ever for discussing every issue under the sun. Sports fans tune in to ESPN, FS1, and the other sports networks, in part, because they want to escape the ultra-polarized environment we find ourselves in. Those who buy what LeBatard is selling already made the purchase. Those who don’t will just tune into something else. In fact, there’s probably a third category that isn’t being considered here- those that do agree with LeBatard, but are just looking for something else at the current time. (Sorry, but no matter how impassioned someone is about ANY issue, it’s unhealthy to be Lisa Simpson allthe time.)
So personally, I agree with some of LeBatard’s points. I disagree with some of his others, particularly that this “isn’t about politics”. But my personal opinion isn’t what matters to me here. There are plenty of other outlets for LeBatard to discuss his personal beliefs. Heck, he can start a blog! But he was hired, and paid good money, to talk about sports. There are plenty of other career choices he can make for himself if he wants to expand upon that. Until then, when a company is paying him well to discuss sports and that’s it, he should…well, you’ve seen the title of this blog post. You get the idea.
When discussing the highly acclaimed “Get Out”, there are two separate elements that need to be considered. It’s hard to judge them individually, as they’re so closely connected. Nevertheless, I’m going to try anyway…
“GET OUT” The Movie
All in all, I thought it was pretty entertaining, particularly the first two thirds. I was somewhat puzzled by the “R” rating for a while, but towards the end, they more than made up for it. I thought the acting was very good- not necessarily in a traditional sense, but each character did what they had to do. The protagonist, Chris, was intelligent, likable, and cynical. His girlfriend Rose seemed trustworthy, compassionate, and a bit naive. There was something clearly not right about Rose’s father, as he seemed almost intentionally awkward in trying to prove he wasn’t racist- an early queue to the audience that all was not as it seemed. The mother was very mercurial, as she seemed the most in-tune with who Chris truly was, yet didn’t reveal her true intentions- neither to the audience, nor to Chris. Rose’s brother was kind of gratuitous in the grand scheme of things, but seeing his friendly banter turn outright racist as he got drunk was cringe-inducing, in an effectively tension building sort of way. It was also a good contrast between the other minor characters’ overt racism, who were so over-the-top in their ignorance and rudeness, it was more funny than infuriating to witness. As for the other black people in the movie, their odd behavior was the biggest mystery of all, with the white people (or should we say “caricatures”) being a very close second. Last but not least, Stephen Root, as the one white male who seemed to have some redeeming qualities, turned out to be arguably the biggest scumbag of all. (Though, truth be told, it was probably a multiple-person tie.) In a nutshell, the setup was perfect.
Nevertheless, this was far from a great movie. I felt like the scene where the mother hypnotized Chris- producing the iconic closeup of his teary-eyed face- somehow managed to simultaneously have too much going on, while not being properly explained. It was effectively done and sufficiently chilling, but the premise was confusing. In the guise of helping Chris to quit smoking, she takes him to his worst memory, to put him in a “sunken place”, to prepare him for the process of transformation? Wait…what??
Then, there was the big revelation, which turned out to be…body switching. Okay, I admit that there were some clever clues, and I appreciate movies and TV shows that give the audience a chance to stay a step ahead of the game. (The Sixth Sense, Arrival, etc.) I just wished there was a more satisfying explanation for all this creepy behavior, which dominated more than half the movie, than “the ol’ switcharoo”.
Also, this movie was sold as a “comedy-horror”, and while director Jordan Peele is a genuinely funny man, I really didn’t find much humor in this movie at all- good, bad, or otherwise. Were we supposed to laugh uproariously at the wacky sidekick, who didn’t get integrated into the main story until the very last scene? I’m sorry, but he just didn’t do it for me. He wasn’t terrible, but I don’t really remember laughing out loud at anything he said.
By far, the biggest (and most confusing) error was Chris finding out that his sweet girlfriend was in on it the whole time…twice! First, Chris discovers a whole bunch of pictures of Rose with a number of black men she had dated- and one woman, who happened to be the family maid- after saying that Chris was her first one. Right there, we know Rose is no good. But then, not long after, we see Rose pretending to be horrified at her family’s actions, as Chris pleads with her to get the car keys so they can leave. Mid-panic, Rose stops, and looks at Chris with a deadly stare, giving some sort of Hal from 2001 Space Odyssey response- something like, “You know I can’t do that, Chris.” Well he SHOULD have known, anyway. But seriously, was Chris supposed to be surprised? Were WE? We already KNEW she was in on the plot- did Peele and the rest of the Get Out crew forget about that earlier scene? They simply could have hinted at it- for example, having Chris discover a picture and ONLY one picture of Rose and the maid- or, they could have had Chris confront Rose about all the pictures later, at an appropriate time. But the way it was done just didn’t make any sense.
Last but not least, once Chris escaped and made his way off the property, the movie just kind of felt like a pretty standard slasher film. That’s really not my cup of tea, but even if it were, the cleverness pretty much seemed to dry up at that point, as blood took over as the main element. The one small exception was the aforementioned wacky sidekick, who FINALLY provided a purpose as the film closed out, which is discussed more in the next section. Speaking of which…
“Get Out” The Statement
Although the movie’s humor was unfortunately lacking, the critical reaction did a great job filling the void, albeit unintentionally. Sometimes, life imitates art, and such was the case with the endless praise that this movie received for its social commentary, almost proving Peele’s point after the fact. In the same way that Rose’s father “bragged” that he would have voted for Obama a third time if he could, the largely white, liberal movie critics could not stop gushing about the thought provoking metaphors used in this movie, basically showing well-to-do affluent white liberals using black people nefariously for their own selfish purposes. Lest anyone think I’m exaggerating, some ACTUAL reviews stated that Get Out was “a compassionate, thoughtful look at race” (“compassionate”??), a “sharp-eyed allegory”, and “so special”. The praise was so non-stop, one can almost imagine the critics saying, “I would vote for Get Out as Best Picture TWICE if I could!”
Lest anyone think that I, a white man, am offended at such a depiction, nothing could be further from the truth. Politically, I lean more right than left, and enjoy few things more in life than seeing someone point out the hypocrisy of liberal virtue signaling. I just think that this movie did not do a particularly good job of that, outside of Rose’s father getting acquainted with Chris early on. The shindig (which turned out to be an auction for Chris’s “services”- talk about lack of subtlety!) just showed a bunch of aging white people, callously evaluating Chris to his face, as though they were shopping for a car. As a Twilight Zone-esque plot device, it was fine. As the kind of scene that was supposed to “make me think”, it fell very short.
The best thing I can say about this movie as a conversation about race is the statement that it DIDN’T make, which ultimately ended up making the movie slightly better. As Chris nearly escapes, killing the whole family in the process (with his girlfriend being last), a police car pulls up to the property. Jordan Peele allegedly considered having the movie end with Chris’s arrest at the gory scene he left behind. Now I admit, THAT would have offended me, with the message being portrayed all too clear, to a public already sharply divided on this issue. Fortunately, Peele went for the “safer” ending, having Chris’s best friend get out of the car, to take Chris away from the scene. In addition to wisely choosing to end the movie on a “high” note (relatively speaking), it was also an unexpected twist, in a movie that seemed to have run out of them. It also gave Chris’s wacky friend an actual reason to exist in the movie, and not a moment to soon.
So all in all, the movie itself was pretty entertaining, if a bit too gory for me in the latter part. But as far as contributing anything more serious to the broader conversation about race relations in modern America? Well………………………..
Maybe Drogon destroyed the Iron Throne because he thought it fatally wounded Dani. It IS made out of a thousand swords, after all!
Sometimes, an opinion is so close to unanimous, it’s practically a fact. Such is the case with Game of Thrones’ disaster of a finale, a series that was so epic, it’s hard to believe it was the same show. The final season had already been panned by many, but also had a fair number of defenders, as well as some genuinely entertaining moments. Some enjoyed The Long Night, while others seethed that the long winter we had been promised for nearly a decade lasted less than two hours. (And yet there are STILL people that don’t believe in climate change!) I already wrote plenty about it all myself, and my initial opinion was mixed. After the second to last episode, though, I’d given up all hope on a remotely satisfying conclusion to the series.
Nevertheless, I’d spent much of the past month and a half on this thing- reading, analyzing, and writing- so of course I was going to watch the last episode. But I was watching with very low expectations- low expectations, as it turns out, that would not even be met. Not only did the writers just mail it in, they forgot to put the postage stamps on! To use an NFL analogy, it would be like watching the team you root for in week 16, after being eliminated in week 15. “Maybe there will be a great catch, or something else worth salvaging to see,” you think to yourself. Instead, your team loses 45 to 7, and the only touchdown comes from the star running back, who suffers a career ending knee injury when getting tackled at the endzone.
All those episodes, all those story arcs, so many of which were insufficiently answered at best, completely neglected at worse. In fact, I can only remember one which ended far more powerfully than it began, and was so minor in the grand scheme of things, most of us didn’t even know it was a story until well into the series. And it can be described in exactly one word-
THE BLAME GAME
After each episode (except the finale…hmmmmm), executive producers David Benioff and David Weiss- or D & D, as they’re commonly referenced as- would take a victory lap, in the form of an explanation on what the viewers just saw. As such, they were literally putting their faces on the final product, making sure everyone knew who to thank for what was arguably the greatest show on television. While it was widely known that George RR Martin (GRRM) was the literary genius behind the novels (at least for a while), the TV show was D & D’s creation.
Throughout most of the show’s existence, this worked out well for them. Things started to turn ever so slightly, when the show started to run past the content of the novels. Unlike Lord of The Rings or Harry Potter, the creators of the onscreen product had to largely come up with their own content, working only from an outline that Martin shared with them. Many people, not just book snobs, noticed the drop in quality, but for the most part, stuck with it throughout. Most still thought the show was very good, and were already way too invested in this thing, anyway.
So the years continued on, and GRRM still hasn’t release any new material. Eight years and counting, and he’s been working on TWO Game of Thrones novels…and other projects, as well! Weirdly, it kind of makes sense- part of GOT’s greatness was the way one story would divide into a multitude of stories. Apparently, this is how GRRM operates in real life, as well. A man with so much on his mind surely can’t concentrate on one thing, much to the detriment of the fans.
Back to the show…fairly recently, D & D apparently declared that they had enough, and wanted to wrap things up. While a show like Big Bang Theory continued on, years after its glory days, D & D were already thinking about their endgame, with the war of the seven kingdoms nowhere near a conclusion. (Ironically, The Big Bang Theory, a standalone sitcom with a secondary story arc, apparently had a better conclusion that Game of Thrones, which was BUILT around the conclusion.)
So here we all are, in May of 2019, and it’s undeniable- even for the relatively small group of fans who tried to defend season 8, at least prior to the series finale- that everything felt rushed. And there was a reason for that- because it WAS rushed! No need to go into too many specifics- we all know the deal by now. But if the writers had to have Dani take over Westeros and go mad (in that order), that’s got to be, at a minimum, a half-season, not a half-episode. Similarly, Jon killing her and having his fate decided by the leaders of Westeros is a multi-episode affair. The way the action (or lack thereof) went straight from Jon stabbing Dani, to debating what to do with prisoner Jon… *record scratch*
Wait, wait- Jon is a prisoner?! How did he get captured? And even if he DID get captured, how did Grey Worm- not exactly the most laid back character- resist from killing him right then and there? How is Jon alive at all? HE COMMITTED REGICIDE AGAINST A QUEEN WHO HAS A MILITARY THAT SPANS AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE!!!*exhales* Sorry, I’m getting into specifics. But seriously- the whole thing reminds me of an episode from the Simpsons heyday, where “Poochie the Dog” unceremoniously gets taken out of the Itchy and Scratchy show, and after his final scene, a quick graph shows up that says…
…and hey- in this intentionally awful plot explanation, at least the Itchy and Scratchy show had the decency to EXPLAIN what happened to Poochie! (More on this Simpsons episode in a bit.)
Even somehow forgiving all this nonsense, how did BRAN end up ruling Westeros? I have yet to see one person defend this, let alone in a way that makes sense. (The actor himself thought it was a fake script, setup for a laugh.) The only explanation that remotely makes sense is that’s the way GRRM has it planned out, and D & D wanted to honor that. If that’s the case though, he has thousands of pages to set it up, whereas D & D had “Tyrion”- or whomever that morose character that Peter Dinklage was playing at that point- unconvincingly try to explain it in a few sentences.
As of this writing, most people are laying the blame for this debacle at D & D’s feet, with some occasional grumblings about GRRM’s going nearly a decade without releasing a new book. So does the novelist deserve a bigger piece of the pie in the blame sharing? When the TV writers turned A Song of Fire And Ice into a long running TV series, did they expect him to be done by now? Did they have any indications to the contrary? The backlash feels more like something seen in sports, like when a heavily favored team loses in the playoffs, and everyone blames the coach. But without any background information, we just don’t know how this came to be. Hopefully, someday we’ll here more about this debacle. Maybe THATcan be GRRM’s next novel!
WHO OWES WHAT TO WHOM
As this is playing out in real time, there’s an interesting existential debate going on, regarding how much the fans are “owed” by the writers, particularly GRRM. On one hand, this is a universe HE created, HE worked on, and HE took chances with. The reason we all flocked to Game of Thrones in the first place is because of HIS genius. So does he “owe” us anything now?
Getting back to the example of Poochie and the Simpsons, that episode came out at a time when the Simpsons had been on TV for a while, and some fans were grumbling that it had lost its edge. (Oh, if only they knew!) Word was spreading to the writers via message boards that there was some grumbling going on. Having the public react en masse like that was a fairly new phenomenon, as the internet had only been mainstream at that point for a few years. (Again, if only they knew.) Comic Book Guy, representing disgruntled fans, told Bart that he believed Itchy and Scratchy “owed” him. Bart, representing the writers, complained to Comic Book Guy that cartoons provided entertainment for free, and if anything, Comic Book Guy owed THEM. The response was the now famous, and very applicable to GOT’s series finale…
THIS TIME IT’S DIFFERENT
Bart had a point about the entitled fans, but it’s not entirely applicable to Game of Thrones- and not just because HBO isn’t free. Just like with The Big Bang Theory, the Simpsons is a standalone show, where viewers tune in to be entertained for a short period of time. Any continuity is icing on the cake- not many care a whole lot about the consistency of the storylines, as they’re mainly just designed to keep the jokes going. There have been controversies here and there, such as when Principal Skinner was discovered to be an impostor, but it didn’t take away from the series as a whole, and CERTAINLY didn’t negate all the greatness that preceded it. With Game of Thrones, the main “unwritten rules” are the same ones we apply to series like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings- from Day One, we’re going on a journey that will lead somewhere. And when we get there, wherever “there” is, we are promised it will all make sense- and in GOT’s case, “it” was a lot!
So, we absorbed all the storylines and characters, along with a lot of emotional wreckage along the way. Each episode was judged on its merit, but it was always understood that it was just a small point on an arc. I’m trying to find the words, but I just can’t, and since a picture is worth a thousand of them, here’s something that’s been going around-
Truth be told, the warning signs have been there for years. South Park’s GOT parody is primarily famous for its “Wiener” song and the jokes that go with it, but in hindsight, the part that was best lampooned was right here, way back in 2013-
I guess the best way of saying it is that if you watched Game of Thrones with a soap opera mentality- just enjoying all the drama and action as it came, not knowing or caring much about the future- it was fantastic, with far more great moments than bad ones. But, if you watched it expecting to walk out of the journey as satisfied as you walked into it, you probably should have listened to Butter’s advice, and gotten out when you had the chance.
“I’d Like To See YOU Do Better, Random Blogger!”
Fair enough, fictional skeptic. Let’s start out by giving D & D the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say they wanted to stay as close to GRRM’s vision, still unknown to the public, as they possibly could. And let’s assume that given that he has thousands of pages to fill in, whereas they only have a few hours, it’s literally impossible for the story to live up to expectations. Fair enough. That STILL does not excuse the atrocity that was the series finale, where characters wandered around for a third of the episode, like a kid starting a 500 word book report with, “I really really really really really really enjoyed it.” On the contrary, they should have been trying to figure out how to fit TOO MUCH into the short span of time, not stretching it out! It felt like they had short timer’s syndrome. It’s way too late now, but just thinking here and there over the past couple of days, I strongly believe this would have made a better series finale. I’m not even saying it’s good- I’m just saying it’s better. You decide. Here goes…
Everything up until Tyrion getting captured stays the same, minus all of the walking around. (In MY version, the characters have some work to do!) Arya convinces Jon that they have to rescue Tyrion. Jon is reluctant, (“She is my queen! And my aunt! And my maybe girlfriend!” etc. etc.) but goes along with it.
Next scene- Jon encounters Greyworm. Jon tries to reason with Greyworm about Dani’s madness- he used to love her, but he has to kill her. Greyworm shows the slightest bit of acknowledgement that Jon is right, but ultimately out-Jon’s Jon. (“She is MY queen!”) They battle.
Cut to Tyrion jail cell. Jon shows up, explains that he killed Greyworm, and that he’s going to free Tyrion. Along comes Dani, to remind Jon that Tyrion is not just a Lannister sympathizer- tryingto reason with Cersei, costing Missandrei her life, then freeing Jamie- but is an ACTUAL Lannister! Jon reminds Dani that she burned innocent people. Dani reminds Jon that this is the place where those innocent people cheered his father’s beheading. Jon is moved by this. Dani says they can rule together. Tyrion looks horrified at what’s unfolding. Jon and Dani go into kiss, and then…Jon stabs Dani. Dani screams. Hearing the screams, Greyworm (?!) and Jon (?!!!) come running to the scene. Everyone is looking at each other in disbelief and/or disgust. The “Jon” who killed Dani reveals himself to be…Arya! The faceless man trick! The real Jon goes running over to Dani. Dani says, “What have I done? I just wanted the world to be a better place!” Jon says, “I know.” Dani says, “You know NOTHING, Jon Snow,” and dies.
Okay, NOW we cut to the scene with the leaders of Westeros. In this script, GREYWORM is the prisoner. The group need to figure out who the next ruler of Westeros is going to be. Bran says that the Lord of Light brought Jon back to rule Westeros. Sir Davos responds, “Yeah well, the Lord of Light’s been wrong before. Personally, I don’t think much of the (c-word).” Uncle Tully gives his dorky speech, Sansa dismisses him. Everyone smirks. Sam takes a sip of his Aquafina, the audience has their comic relief. They decide Arya is to be queen, as she slayed the previous queen. Arya doesn’t want it, saying, “That’s not me,” and winks at the camera (or not), gives it Sansa, who has shown her political depth and skill to be worthy of ruling. Everyone agrees. Greyworm is pardoned, and to not go to war, he is given rule over King’s Landing. Greyworm, being Greyworm, sneers and says that the moment he is released he will be going to war with Westeros. THEN Sir Davos gives his “too much war already” speech. Tyrion reminds Greyworm of Dani’s original goal to be a liberator. To break the wheel. The wheel has been broken. It’s up to Greyworm to build a new one. Greyworm is moved, but reminds everyone that the queen’s death will not be forgotten by the Unsullied, Dothraki, etc. etc.. The group decides that Jon will take the fall for the queen’s death, much as Ned Stark did all those years ago, for a cause greater than himself. Jon will be banished to the wall as “punishment” for what “he” did. (And yes, he gets to pet ghost.)
Gilly leaves Sam, as she’s been plotting her revenge for the perfect time all these years, for leaving her in that brothel. Also, because she has options now. Arya goes west to discover the Game of Thrones version of America. Jon goes back to The Wall, looks at the gaping hole and says to the Justin Turner lookalike, “Okay- we’ve got work to do!” Out in the distance, a dragon flies towards the screen, which goes to black. The words, “GAME OVER” flash. Roll credits.
MOVING ON NOW
That’s it. Hopefully we’ll have some other non-narcotic entertainment to get addicted to soon. Until then, enjoy the rest of your lives, everyone!
Okay, yes- the headline is clickbait. Obviously there will be no remake any time soon- certainly not in this generation- no matter how many people sign that petition. And death has been a cornerstone of the franchise since the very first scene of the very first episode of the very first season. But we are now less than 24 hours away from the series finale, and quite honestly, it feels like an episode of “Deal or No Deal” where the main choices are between the suitcase with $4 or $8. So how did we get here?
The Law Of Diminished Returns
All the significant deaths in the show’s earlier history had a purpose greater than the characters themselves. Ned Stark was sold to us as the main character, and he was around just long enough for us to be invested in this deception. He was the first McGuffin Protagonist in television history. When he lost his head, the viewers lost their minds. But as it turned out, this is what really kicked the show into another gear. The truth, in hindsight, is that Ned really wasn’t long for the GOT world- the survivors in this reality are cunning, devious, one step of the game, etc. etc.. Ned was as straight a shooter (or swordsman) as it gets. Had he somehow lived, we probably would have grown increasingly tired of his “honorable” behavior.
This is even more true of Robb Stark and Katlyn Tully Stark. Robb was a pretty boy who thought he had it all figured out. Katlyn offered wisdom such as, “Never trust a Greyjoy!” -right in front of Roose Bolton, no less. Their deaths took place in arguably the most famous scene in GOT history- aka “The Red Wedding”- which is really saying something. Given that Arya was right outside the gates when it all happened, it really had us invested in the tragic fate of the Starks, as well as the horror felt inside and outside of the wedding. These are characters (along with Robb’s wife) who were far more important in death than in life.
Things started to turn, ever so slightly, in season 4. Yes, we ALL wanted Joffrey dead. As the most unique hybrid of spoiled brat and ruthless tyrant ever depicted onscreen, his mere presence sickened us. But he was a worthy antagonist for the series- almost TOO worthy- which was never recaptured once he left. And it’s true that his death produced one of the most interesting subplots of the series for a while, leading up Tyrion’s trial and outburst. But once that simmered down, King’s Landing just didn’t seem quite as interesting- especially after Tywin Lannister got taken down, as well. (I couldn’t have been the only one hoping for an Arya vs Tywin face-off down the road.) Basically, Cersei was left to carry the whole thing on her own, which she did a great job of. But then the Tyrells were killed off, along with the High Sparrow. These were Cersei’s greatest opponents, and they all deserved a better fate (from a storyline point of view) than, “Cersei blew them all up.” And now, in addition to that, Cersai and Jamie are gone! And what was all that about her getting pregnant? What was the point in that, other than Tyrian to remind us, for the trillionth time, that Cersei isn’t a monster because she loves her children?? Calgon, take me away!
SUBPLOTS BURNED TO THE GROUND
The ever sprawling subplots were always a potential weakness in Game of Thrones, as the universe expanded beyond The Wall, King’s Landing, and Winterfell. (I’m excluding Daenerys’s journey, as that was basically a separate universe with only one thing happening at a time, prior to Tyrion and Varys arriving.) I can only speak for myself, but I had trouble keeping track of it. By the time I finally figured most of it out, it turned out not to matter, because someone was always getting killed and changing direction of the whole thing. The Veil, The Iron Born, Dorne, Stannis Baratheon, The White Walkers featuring The Night King on Lead Guitar…where the hell did that all take us? How does ANY of that fit in to where we ended up, with King’s Landing laid to rubble? Back in season 3, I complained there was too much “Khaleesi” (I didn’t know her real name, since Jorah kept calling her that). In hindsight, they should have spent MORE time on her, as her descent into madness was the main thing that ended up mattering. Along the way, they could’ve mixed in some Sansa, Arya, and Jon- the TRUE protagonists of the show. (Sorry to not include Tyrion, everyone’s favorite character, including mine. But since he was reduced to an incompetent, overly-sentimental adviser, his journey didn’t matter much, either.)
As I’m typing this, I realize how cynical it all is. The true answer lies in the fact that the writers probably didn’t plan this far ahead. All the subplots were entertaining while they were going on. But this show isn’t Happy Days, where we can just watch the episodes we enjoy, and just shrug off everything after the shark was jumped. This is more like a movie series, like Lord of the Rings, where all these different elements are supposed to matter in the end. This was true of Harry Potter, which also lost some steam as the series went on- as most series do- but made sure that long insinuated story arc were ultimately explained. I’d be happy to take all of this back if I’m wrong, but with exactly one episode left, it’s hard to see that being the case.
EXCLUDING THE DRAGONS, WHAT WAS THE POINT OF ALL THAT SUPERNATURAL STUFF?
Stannis got the Red Lady pregnant. To some sort of demon monster, who killed Renly. (Some say it was dark magic. I just think a one thousand year old woman getting pregnant is bound to lead to some complications.) That was the last we heard of it. Jon Snow was dead. Then he wasn’t. The Red Lady told us Stannis was going to lead a great army. Then he didn’t. There was a mystical king of the undead, leading to a massive attack beyond The Wall. There was a Three Eyed Raven who knew the past, the present, and the future. There was a faceless man who spoke in third person. But at the end of the day, we’re left with the Starks trying to defeat Daenerys, which begs the question, WHAT WAS THE POINT OF ALL THIS???
SANSA THE TORTURED…AGAIN
The stuff with Joffrey was very convincing. When Sansa was being humiliated and enduring unimaginable cruelty, we all felt the cruelty with her. And then…Joffrey died. So, Sansa ends up being “rescued” by Littlefinger. She showed some real growth in her dealings with Littlefinger. And then? Littlefinger drops her off at the pound, to be with Ramsey Bolton. HUH?
Ramsey’s hold of Winterfell was one of the more worthwhile subplots, even in hindsight. Having Rickon run towards Jon in “The Battle of The Bastards” finally gave Rickon a reason to exist in the GOT universe- and that reason was to die. (Sorry, Rickon, but you know it’s true.) But did we need to get poor Sansa involved in all that? She ended up escaping (I still don’t know how, but whatever…) and going back to the Veil. Wouldn’t it have been better for her to be at the Veil the whole time, where we can watch her and Littlefinger play against each other? From what I understand, that’s what happened in the books. And Ramsey was more of a Theon story-arc, anyway. Inserting Sansa in there just felt gratuitously cruel. And there’s plenty of cruelty in Game of Thrones that we don’t need anything gratuitous thrown in there.
Oh, one more thing- Littlefinger playing Arya against Sansa seemed to have so much potential. Bran telling them the truth just felt like the easy way out. Littlefinger’s demise was inevitable, but like so many of the other deaths late in the series, the whole thing just felt rushed.
Daenerys vs Jon may have been a worthy battle, had there been more of a buildup. As I’ve said before, I was expecting Jon to be torn between Sansa (and Arya) going against Dani. But that’s all been ripped to shreds. It’s a simple battle of good versus evil now. The most curious thing to me is not so much how it will play out in the show, but how it will play out in our culture– we are living in a time where strong female leads are all the rage. Now, Game of Thrones has left us with the strong female lead turning into all rage! And not 100 Aryas, or Sansa, or Yaras, or 10 year old girls running The House of Mormot (seriously- what was THAT all about??) will be able to make up for that. The potential fallout from this is likely to be the most interesting thing of all.
Even though the series fell apart at the end, it’s still worth remembering that this throughout most of its run, Game of Thrones was one of the greatest TV shows of all time. It’s just that the early seasons were the best- basically, everything through season 4- and it’s not even close. This is near unanimous opinion. This isn’t to say I don’t respect other opinions- I’ve had plenty of opinions throughout my life that go against the grain, and I have a strong distaste for those who mistake conventional wisdom for absolute truth. So if you like the later seasons better, that’s fine. But if you’d like to make a case as to why, in the hopes of having others reconsider their own, it had better be a good one.