Some time ago, on Twitter, another author was asking for Netflix movie recommendations, and I suggested THE HOST, a South Korean monster movie/family drama. I said the movie “didn’t need to be forgiven.”
That phrase surprised me, even though it was the one who typed it out. It sounded right when I said it, but I wasn’t sure what it meant or where it came from. Then it reminded me of something that happened when I was a kid:
In grade school, my second-favorite afternoon show was the Wee Willie Webber Colorful Cartoon Club. Basically, Wee Willie Webber got up in front of a camera, did a dumb joke, and said: “An now… Marine Boy!” and then an episode of that show would play. Some of the shows were racist as hell (every kid in my class loved Chongo on Danger Island but yikes) but it was running and fighting and slapstick and magic spells or whatever, so I loved it.
In the second grade, Wee Willie planned to hold a live event where he would play an episode of Ultra-Man, and I talked my parents into taking me. I was seven, and I sat in a huge crowd of kids in a shopping mall somewhere (not a theater) while they projected an episode of the show onto a little screen.
Now, this was 1973, and there was no pause button. I had never stopped a show in the middle in my life. But Webber shouted for the projectionist to pause the episode right in the middle of the fight, when Ultra-Man had his back to the camera.
“There it is, kids. Can you see it? That’s the zipper on the Ultra-Man costume.”
Which was a dick move. The costume was designed to mostly hide the zipper, so I’d never noticed it before, but of course I already knew they were just dudes in suits. The four-legged monsters went around on their hands and knees! Of course they were guys in suits!
But I loved the show anyway, because if Wee Willie was my second-favorite, Ultra-Man was my first. I was nuts for giant monster movies of any kind, even shit like Johnny Sokko. And it was a dick move for Webber to give seven-year-old me yet another thing I would have to forgive.
So, forgiving movies and TV shows is about all the things that you have to let slide if you want to keep enjoying what you’re watching. Monsters who are really just guys in suits wrecking a model city? Let’s pretend not. Did Wesley really spend five years murdering innocent people as the Dread Pirate Roberts? La la not listening! Is Neo really going to gun down all those cops and security guards just because they work for the wrong people?
In fact, why are those people dead at all? The gunfight happened in a simulation; couldn’t the evil computers just blah blah blah.
Movies and TV shows are full of plot holes, unconvincing performances, boring sequences, cringe-worthy special effects, and other errors that have to be overlooked in order to enjoy them. We have a good time despite those problems because we choose to minimize them while we watch.
Some shows have to be forgiven for more serious issues. As much as I’ve enjoyed the recent run of Marvel movies, it’s ridiculous that they haven’t come out with one with a female superhero as the lead before now.
I’ve also been hoping we could get another Remo Williams movie, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a good idea to cast Joel Gray in yellowface as the Korean teacher, Chun. That’s a terrible idea. An amazingly terrible idea. Having said that, I also recognize that it’s Gray’s performance that makes that movie so much fun. RW:tab was a bore until he was introduced. He shouldn’t have been there, but he’s the one who made that movie work.
Finally, I’ve been recommending that people should watch The Man From Nowhere on Netflix because it’s amazing. Unfortunately, it has only four parts for women, three of which are vanishingly small. The last is for the little girl who needs to be rescued.
Another problem with the film: Manpain.
Despite all that, I found the movie incredibly affecting, and I’m hoping to create a similar feeling in the book I just sent to my agent. I love that movie. That movie has problems.
Now, I am absolutely not saying that a plot hole about the Dread Pirate Roberts is equivalent to casting a white actor to play an Korean character. They aren’t equivalent at all.
It’s in our responses where the similarities lie. You’re watching something on screen, and then [thing] is there. Suddenly, you have to choose whether you want to Nope all the way out of the show or shrug it off and continue watching. Maybe the flaw is something incredibly minor, like costuming choices, but you nope out because the show has literally nothing enjoyable in it. Maybe the flaw is a massive dose of racism or sexism, but you keep watching because other aspects are so good, or because the show is old enough that you were expecting it, or because noping out of a show for this sort of flaw means you’d never get to enjoy anything in the genre.
Of course we can’t expect everyone to have the same tolerance for a particular flaw. Lots of folks reading this, after what I’ve said about The Man From Nowhere, will think ‘Meh. Not for me.’ And that’s cool.
That goes for Remo Williams, too, or for any film. It’s easy for me, a middle-aged Irish-American, to say I “forgave” the shitty choice of casting Joel Gray as a Korean. I grew up with that stuff. Tony Danza playing a Japanese guy on Love Boat? I watched that as a kid without understanding why it was a bad idea. It doesn’t have the same meaning for me that it would have for others.
And forgiving a show for its flaws is something that happens in the moment, while the show is still playing. It doesn’t require the audience to defend those choices later, or be silent about them. If we want to change the world for the better, we must speak out. The fact that I didn’t turn off The Man From Nowhere when I realized how few female roles it had doesn’t disqualify me from saying “Women deserve fair representation.”
Speak out. Be heard. How to be a fan of problematic things is recommended reading on the subject.
So then: Forgiving our entertainments so we can enjoy something. We’ve all done it. It’s a rare treat when we don’t have to.
And, obviously, my goal is to write books that never need to be forgiven, even though I’m sure I fall short.
On a personal note: on Sunday I finished revisions on One Man, and spent the rest of the day watching crime thrillers and drinking fancy beer. Monday, was the first day for work on The Twisted Path. (That’s the new Twenty Palaces novella I promised to work on.)
To start things off, I cracked open Circle of Enemies again. I haven’t looked at it since 2010, and I wanted to reacquaint myself with Ray Lilly’s voice. What I really did was remind myself of how many little details I’ve forgotten over the past 5+ years. I’ll keep at it, while continuing to take copious notes.