Slave Ownership As Seen Through Roots

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This may surprise you, but slavery is still a pretty hot-button topic in America. Despite being in a “Post-Obama” America, most people still have a hard time taking an objective look at the slave trade that existed roughly between the mid-1700’s till the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865. And this is for good reason: we’re still suffering the effects of it. African Americans still lag behind their white peers economically. Culturally, we still deal with many of the hang ups that began in slavery (anti-intellectualism, self-hatred, etc). It often feels as if the chains of slavery have loosened, but not broken.

This is evident in mainstream film as well: most works dealing with the period have to be so weighed down in sentiment that they have a hard time saying something productive. Surprisingly, despite being created when the Civil Rights movement was still very prominent America, Alex Haley’s Roots (1977) is one of the few even-handed portrayals of slavery. For some background, Roots was a miniseries that ran on ABC for six episodes. It was based on a (loosely) historical novel by Haley which follows his direct ancestors from Africa to his present day.

The series was enormously successful, winning 9 Emmys, being nominated for 28 others, and to this day being in the top ten most successful series of all time. What’s so striking about the series to me is that despite mainstream success, it actually makes a subtle and nuanced commentary on slavery. Granted, there’s tasteful sentiment, but along with that we have characters that elucidate aspects of the slave trade.

Of particular note in Roots is the governing structure of slave owners. Any major industry or organization needs varying roles in order to sustain itself. You just can’t have accountants dealing with your legal problems or your human resource manager doing location scouting. This extends to institutions as well. For example, most major religions thrive due to both casual and devoted followers. The zealousness of devotees maintains structure while fair-weather followers allow for numbers. Slavery was supported by both division of labor and sentiment, with those who owned slaves rarely overlapping with those who actually worked with slaves. In Rootsthis is best exemplified by the first slave owner and overseer that we meet, John Reynolds and Ames.

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Reynolds (seen above) is first introduced buying Kunta Kinte (the protagonist for the first three episodes). The first thing we get from the guy is that he depends heavily on his house slave – Fiddler –  since HE’S the one who actually scouts Kunta as a good slave. He’s also kind of smug. On the way back to his plantation, he has Fiddler put new shoes on his horses. When Fiddler rationally asks why the task needs doing in the middle of the road, he states “The beast is property…a wise man always takes care of his horses and his slaves “. What sage wisdom coming from guy lying down while eating an apple.

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Even worse, he leaves Fiddler alone with Kunta on the same road. Fiddler rationally brings to his attention that two unattended slaves could lead to them being viewed as runaways (which would be costly for the slaves and Reynolds). Reynolds’ retort? ” Then i wouldn’t take too much time shoeing that horse if i were you “, followed by a dickish grin.

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The demeanor of Reynolds is very similar to another douchebag superior: Bill Lumbergh in Office Space (1999).

In the Google eBook Reading the Everyday (2005), social historian Joe Moran postulates that Lumbergh’s non-confrontational phrasing (‘Uh, great, yeah, listen, I’m going to have to go ahead and ask you to) “masks the reality of management coercion“. That guy HAS to do what Lumbergh tells him to do, no matter how he phrases it. Office Space‘s satirical tone means that Lumbergh attempts to obscure this are hilariously unenthusiastic, he doesn’t even wait for employees to respond to his cordialities before making his “requests”.

Likewise, Reynolds owns Fiddler, so there’s no need for him to have a dialogue with him. Reynolds is masking the realities of slavery by affecting a paternal tone towards Fiddler. In the horseshoeing scene, Fiddler is making a valid, mature point about the danger for Reynolds’ “property”, but, like an aloof father, he has a casually dismissive reaction. This is similar to how Lumbergh never acknowledges his employees’ desires when giving orders. Granted, whereas Peter from Office Space is merely a beleaguered employee, Fiddler is a slave. In a modern office setting, there are checks and balances to make sure that superiors aren’t callous towards their subordinates. Even simply cursing at an employee can make a labor lawyer’s ear perk up in America. For his own protection, Lumbergh has to at least make some effort to be polite. Slaves had no such protection, so Reynolds could literally have just told Fiddler to shut the fuck up both times he contested him. So why did he engage in shallow banter? I would wager to guess it’s because Reynolds DOESN’T think its shallow. He thinks that their paternal relationship is actually genuine. He really does believe that he “takes care of his horses and slaves“, as he claimed earlier.

Reynolds confirms this perspective later when he has conversation with his family and Ames about slavery.  He incredulously asks Ames if he does not believe in “the natural ability for the white men to dominate the black“. For him, slavery is the natural way of things. Racial hierarchy was a large component of white support for black enslavement. Thinkers of the time such as Frenchman Arthur Gobineau believed that blacks existed at the bottom of the racial totem pole, even if they did have some positive traits. As such, they thought slavery couldn’t be thought of as detrimental. Hell, many thought it was BENEFICIAL for blacks to be enslaved if it meant they can get some positive influence from whites.

What’s intriguing about the character of Reynolds is that the series takes a surprising interest in him as a character outside of being a slaveholder. When he returns home after buying Kunta, we get a family scene that wouldn’t be out of place in The Brady Bunch

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The scene sets up his very charming relationship with his family. He’s not afraid to be silly with his daughters and is affectionate towards his wife, constantly referring to her as “my love”. This image of a idyllic family structure is challenged during Reynolds slavery argument with Ames and his brother. While Reynolds is engaging in the debate about his confidence in white superiority, there are several conspicuous cuts to his brother and his wife looking at each other in a…friendly manner.

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This obvious eye-fucking is not a throwaway moment: it’s later revealed that not only have the two been engaged in an affair, her youngest child is a product of it. What’s important to remember is that this occurs DURING Reynolds’ conversation with Ames (Reynolds is sitting down)

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At any time, Reynolds could’ve just looked over and thought “that looks suspicious”. What’s even worse is that when Reynolds does see them flirt with each other, he states that his brother is a ladies man in an offhand manner. Even when reality stares Reynolds in the face, he’s too fucking stupid to realize it. Years later, after Kunta has already attempted to runaway and has been insubordinate for a decade, Reynolds STILL trusts him to leave the plantation to work for a neighbor. Why? Because Kunta promised he wouldn’t run away, and why would an infinitely-indentured servant with a history of escapes break a promise like that?

As with Calvin Candie and his french fetish in Django Unchained (2013), these aren’t necessary elements of the plot, but it illuminates Reynolds’ worldview. A wealthy, comfortable man like Reynolds doesn’t have to question much about his existence, so he doesn’t. It’s easy for him to have trust in the fidelity of his wife and his slaves, even when a quick spot-check would reveal why he shouldn’t. His feelings dictate his relationships and not logic. Reynolds could be thought of as the “clueless” buffer that made up a good chunk of slave owners, who were more ignorant than malicious. Most cultures believe that they have a degree of superiority to someone, Americans just had the unfortunate benefit of being able to institutionalize that perception. Personally, I had a hard time hating Reynolds when I first saw this series, since he just seemed like a bumbling dad who happened to live during time when you could buy slaves. He actually treats most of the slave characters decently (in comparison to his contemporaries). He’s still a smug jerk, but it once again feels like a product of his sheltered upbringing. Unfortunately, his ignorance (as representative of the country’s at the time) allows for slavery to thrive, as otherwise most would hesitate to be party to the enslavement of those they consider equals.

The thing is, not everyone could have been as ignorant as Reynolds. While slavery has always been a thriving business, the sheer quantity of African-American slavery required more work to maintain as an institution. You needed someone to turn men into slaves. This work needed those who understood the underwriting of slavery and could counterbalance morons like Reynolds. And in Roots, that man is Ames.

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The first mention of Ames establishes him as a foil to Reynolds:  at one point Fiddler reasons that Reynolds’ care is what keeps slaves from running away, but Reynolds corrects him as Ames believes it’s “fear of the whip” that keeps them in line. Fiddler notes that Ames is a very different man then Reynolds.

Part of that difference we see is that he’s much more pragmatic than Reynolds: when Kunta is brought to the plantation, he recognizes that Reynolds shouldn’t entrust him with regular slave duties since he hasn’t been broken in. Whereas Reynolds has a much more fanciful relationship with the slaves due to his naivete, Ames is much more wary of them. What’s funny is that it isn’t due to racism, quite the opposite actually. Ames KNOWS blacks aren’t inherently inferior, which is why he cautions Reynolds during their debate to not underestimate them.

The film gives some backstory to explain Ames’ worldview: before becoming an overseer, he was an indentured servant for 7 years. Despite the common assumption that all slaves were of Afro-origin, there were several colonies that took slaves of Anglo-origin (Virginia, Massachusetts, Barbados, New York, just to name a few). Scotsmen like Ames were particularly easy targets as they were vastly poorer than other Englishmen and thus could be bought and sold without much recourse. Slave owners (and slaves themselves) often treated black slaves BETTER than white ones because they lacked the paternal relationship that whites built up with blacks (which led to the creation of the term ” white trash “). With all this in mind, it makes sense why he states to Reynolds that “slaves aren’t born, they’re made“, which makes his acts in the series all the more cruel.

In case you weren’t aware, Ames is responsible for the series most famous scene, where Kunta Kinte is beaten until he accepts his slave name. The episode builds to this moment earlier on, when Ames himself recognizes why Kunta won’t accept his new name. Reynolds and his brother believe that if Kunta is as smart as Ames says he is, he should be able to learn it, but Ames claims that BECAUSE he’s smart, he won’t accept his name. As a former slave, he recognizes that one of the first steps to becoming an inferior is giving up your identity. Oddly enough, Ames is one of the few characters (without even including other slaves) who recognizes the kind of man Kunta is.

Notice how different his manner of speaking is compared to guys like Reynolds and Lumbergh. Ames makes no attempt to hide “the reality of management coercion” and instead speaks to them with direct brutal assertion. Rather than employing defusing humor like Reynolds (“Then i wouldn’t take too much shoeing that horse if i were you“), he uses hostile innuendo: “If you don’t understand my meaning, i’ve got a dictionary at the butt end of this whip that’ll make my meaning clear .” He also, unlike Reynolds, knows when slaves are fucking with him, not accepting the excuses Fiddler gives for Kunta’s insubordination. Nor does he seem to fall for Kunta’s faux earnestness at the end of the scene (once again, in contrast to the later scene where he pulls the same act on Reynolds). Ames sees Kunta as an equal and therefore knows he has to be broken severely.

Most viewers would probably agree that Ames is one of the most despicable character in the series. That isn’t just due to his torture of Kunta, but also the fact that he’s perfectly aware of what he’s doing. ” Modern wisdom ” dictates that racism, and most  of what results from it, is a result of ignorance. We see here that while ignorance does account for several actors, a sizable amount were just taking advantage of the opportunities of slavery. Working-class whites were able to get jobs that allowed them some power, which wasn’t possible without a slave workforce. The series even acknowledges that Africans themselves were the biggest suppliers of slaves.

For many, slavery was just an economical choice, not a racial one. As Ames himself points out, “was a slave for 7 years and got my freedom, but in 7 years a nigger will still be black.” Blacks couldn’t reintegrate into society, making them the perfect engineered underclass. It just made SENSE to use them as slaves from a fiscal perspective. And as dark as that sounds, that’s how the horrors of black slavery began: with a fiscal decision. Ames represents the opportunistic spirit of slavery, which is what kept it alive for so long. Combined with the fanciful worldview of men like Reynolds’, American slavery became an institution that continues to weigh heavy on America.

For more posts on African American race relations:

Django Unchained: Reflections on Calvin Candie

Black Masculinity in Narrative Media Part 1: Cornball Brothers

Black Masculinity in Narrative Media Part 2: Black Supermen

Black Masculinity in Narrative Media Part 3: Noble Savages

 

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Riddick Review

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The Riddick series is pretty damn weird. The first film was a Sci-Fi horror film with action elements ( kind of like Aliens ). The second film is barely related and turns into Conan The Barbarian IN SPACE with a combination of Star Wars ” space opera “and Warhammer 40kstyle gothic bleakness. So what did director David Twohy and screenwriters the Wheat brothers think up for the next installment? A variation of the first film. No, seriously, by the third act the film basically becomes Pitch Black ( 2000 ) again. To be honest, when I saw the trailers I thought Riddick was a remake of Pitch Black. This is an odd move on the writers’ part, since the scope of the series takes a HUGE step back in order to achieve this, taking a guy who ends up as the king of alien royalty and knocking him back to where he started in the first film. I presume this choice was a reaction to the less-than-stellar reception of The Chronicles of Riddick ( 2004 ) which arguably had an overly complex plot and backdrop that didn’t work that well for a standalone feature. Riddick seems to be attempting to reignite interest in the franchise by returning to its roots. But enough background, lets talk about the film itself.

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The film’s plot begins where Chronicles leaves off: Riddick, King of the Necromongers, has become a controversial king due to not taking religious vows (with particular antipathy towards sexual abstinence). Feeling unwelcome on his throne world, he decides to venture to his home planet of Furya. In order to find it he enlists the help of Vaako from Chronicles (played by the always casually terrifying Karl Urban) who “surprisingly” double crosses him and has Riddick stranded on a random sun-drenched planet. Separated from civilization, Riddick has a baptism that turns him into a ” nature hero ” of sorts who overcomes his environment. But when a storm approaches bringing a threat even he can’t handle, he has to call upon bounty hunters in order to get off planet, with the obvious complications present.

Plot-wise, the film is straightforward yet with each act taking notable shifts in terms of focus. The beginning of the film is seemingly trying its best to acknowledge as little as possible The Chronicles of Riddick. Don’t let IMDB fool you, Karl Urban as Vaako is in ONE SCENE in the film and its just minor exposition. Once we get beyond the exposition, the first act unfolds beautifully as we see Riddick returned to the root of what made Pitch Black so enjoyable; casting a ” terrestrial ” narrative in a extraterrestrial backdrop. Pitch Black was about people being forced to work together in a disaster, the disaster just happened to be a spaceship crash on an alien planet. Riddick is important because he’s the most ” primitive “, giving him traits the others lack. Riddick begins with the titular character getting in touch with nature ( albeit a nature not of Earth ).

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His goals at this point are simple; get food, get water, don’t get eaten by amphibious monsters. This film has a huge lessening of scope from the previous film’s grand narrative. It also reminds us how smart Riddick is: he has to create weapons for himself and figure out his to outsmart apex predators. This segment is reminiscent of the 1957’s The Incredible Shrinking Man, where a man gets an illness that causes him to shrink till he’s an insect’s size, putting him at odds with his previously mundane environment.

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Eventually, the man is so small that he can no longer interact with other humans, and his own home becomes a gauntlet of challenges that must be overcome. The man is returned to a primal state of living, where his only goals at the end of the film are defeating the spider in his house ( seen above ) and getting a crumb of food, all the while his inner monologue shifting to acknowledge this changing of goals. This ” primitivizing ” allows him to rediscover his role in the universe as a living thing.

Similarly, Riddick, former Space King, is at odds with relatively ( at first ) low end threats  that come from being outside of civilization. By facing these things, he remembers who he is and what makes him the badass he always was. Vin Diesel’s performance is really at its best in this act, we’re actually sold on Riddick being in dire straits. Upon being attacked by a monster, Riddick, lacking any weapon, stares at it soulfully as he contemplates what to do. Diesel manages to act through his CG’d eyes in order to depict Riddick as worried, which isn’t an easy feat. Later on, he pauses and winces tenderly as he braces his leg by screwing into it. This is a departure from the Riddick from Pitch Black who could dislocate his arms with barely a groan. Riddick doesn’t begin the film as an invincible hero, he’s a physically and probably mentally broken man.

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(From left to right) Dave Batista as Diaz, Jordi Molla as Santana, Nolan Gerard Funk as Luna, Katee Sackhoff as Dahl, Conrad Pla as Vargas, Matthew Nable as Boss Johns

The second act is also quite strong, albeit for different reasons. Instead of man vs nature, the film is again man vs man. Men have come for Riddick and a conflict arises between he and them and between themselves. At the head of this are two characters, bounty hunter Santana and a Marshall who’s name is a bit of a spoiler, wonderfully portrayed by Jordi Molla and Matt Nable.

Molli as Santana is captivating, vile, and pathetic. Recognizable from films such as Blow ( 2001 ) where he played Johnny Depp’s traitorous business partner, Molla is an expert at playing unsavory figures. His character reminds us of the weaselly breed of humanity that unfortunately populate the future of the franchise.

In contrast, Nable as the Marshall is very upright and authoritarian. Nable’s neutral yet assertive vocal performance makes him someone you trust, but know you shouldn’t fuck around with. The conflict between the two and how they lead is the primary conflict of the second act.

The secondary characters don’t have as much screen time as they did in Pitch Black, but they are still mildly interesting. Katee Sackhoff, famous for the Battlestar Galactica and Stargate series, appears as “Vasquez-from-Aliens” equivalent Dahl ( an unfortunate homonym as the only female character ). Her role’s pretty straightforward: token action girl who also builds sexual tension as the only woman in the film. For wrestling fans, there’s Batista, who is surprisingly charismatic as second in command to Santana.

The only character I didn’t like was the devoutly Christian Luna. I get why he’s there: like the Imam from Pitch Black, he contextualizes this universe as still being ours i.e. there are real religions present and not some “Crystal Dragon Space Jesus” ( which is part of the reason The Chronicles Of Riddick seemed so unrelatable ). With that being said, he lacks characterization beyond being a Christian and being a newbie; unlike the Imam from Pitch Black. He barely seems to have a connection to his own party, begging the question of why he’s in a violent mercenary band. Thankfully, he’s a relatively minor character. Overall, an interesting group of characters occupy the film.

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The third act is yet another plot shift, a return to original film. Without giving much away, this portion will be pretty familiar; nothing too surprising happens. Not to say its BAD per se, it’s just expected. There’s a a nice elaboration on the first film’s conflict, which serves to make it a somewhat more productive reiteration of the first film’s third act.

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And I came all this way without discussing action! It’s decent. I think the beginning scenes work well, primarily due to Riddick being more vulnerable than usual, since we realize his situation is dire. This element is lost in the second act where he returns to the perfect warrior of previous films, able to move noiselessly and launch projectiles with his feet. Once again, Riddick is set apart from similar action heroes by making him crafty, using tactics such as forcing his opponents to deactivate their sensors through annoyance rather than outright destruction and banking on their belief in his inhuman stealth skills to actually allow for laughably mundane methods. The third act’s action is to me some of the least impressive, focusing less on the tension present in Pitch Black and instead opting for the old hyper-violence. When viewed with Pitch Black in mind, however, we get a sense of progression for the character and his world view,   as the other characters might not be what he assumes they are.

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Final Verdict

All in all, the film is enjoyable, if a little disjointed at times. You can tell that this film wanted to get back to what made the character so interesting and I for one think it succeeded.  Go see it if you liked the first film, like Vin Diesel as an actor, or just want to see a matinee. Don’t see it if you want another film like the The Chronicles of Riddickhaven’t seen the first film, or would like a more fluid story than the one I described.

Ben Affleck As Batman: Why So Serious?

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“…by playing a superhero in Daredevil, I have inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero… Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me and something I wouldn’t want to do again soon”-Ben Affleck preparing the words he’s going to eat

You ever have one of those moments where you perceive something but don’t really believe it? To the point where it seemed surreal? I had one of those last week when I perused IMDB to come upon the news that Ben Affleck is playing Batman in the sequel to Man of Steel (2013). Ben “Fucking” Affleck. My response was…confused. I didn’t know how to feel, but i know i had a feel. For most, this feel was pretty straightforward: fuck that guy. The internet exploded with a surge of hate that I will dub the “Affleck-tion”. The Afflecktion has taken many forms. For example: there’s a twitter hashtag titled “betterthanbenaffleck” that contains “suggestions” for better actors.

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There’s even an honest-to-God petition by fans to somehow oust Affleck from the role. So why all the hate for the guy? He just won an Oscar, is married with kids, and has several great films under his belt recently (Argo, The TownGone Baby Gone). Isn’t that good enough to get some respect? Unfortunately, the Afflecktion runs deep in the body of American moviegoers, far before his casting as Batman.

I subscribe to three primary reasons why Ben Affleck has such a bad rap…

1. Perceived lack of contribution to Good Will Hunting 

When Good Will Hunting debuted in 1998, Hollywood was enamored with the Cinderella tale of two Bostonians who wrote and starred in an Oscar-winning film. So much so that, of course, many inquired about the impetus for such a film. Here it goes (as described by the writers themselves in Boston Magazine): Matt Damon, a Harvard student, wrote a short story about a genius Southie who’s brilliance garners the attention of the government. Later, Damon took a screenwriting class, where for a final project he turned his story into the first act of a film, telling his professor “I might have failed your class, but it is the first act of something longer“. The professor, Anthony Kubiak claimed that it even in its early stages “it was very authentic and real“. Wow, Matt sure did a good job on that screenplay. Ben Affleck’s account? He helped write it. That’s it. No specifics. No details. He. Helped. Write it. Mind you, this is his OWN WORDS.

The only thing in his interview Ben mentions that speaks on his specific contribution is that, when he thought the producers weren’t paying enough attention, he’d sneak in blowjob scenes just to see if they would notice. No, really. So as you could imagine, many began to feel that Ben Affleck basically broke into Hollywood on the coattails of Matt Damon with minimal effort on his part. People thought he didn’t “deserve” his success. It didn’t help that many filmgoers viewed Affleck as an idiot due to his brashness and boisterousness. It made it easier to visualize a drunk frat boy Ben offering meager assistance whereas bookish Harvard alum Matt Damon actually writes the film, which is realized in this Family Guy clip.

The relationship between Sean and Will in the film was oddly paralleled with the image of Matt and Ben in real life: Matt was a genius who far outstripped his lesser best friend Ben. This dynamic defined the two for awhile: Matt Damon went on to be in other well received flicks such as Rounders, Saving Private Ryan, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Ben Affleck? Well, here’s where we get to the next reason…

2. High-profile yet lowly-received films

Like Matt, Ben was in some pretty big name films after Good Will Hunting, particularly Armageddon and Shakespeare In Love (both in 1998). He wasn’t the star of either film, however, and most of his films as a leading man were mediocre in terms of audience turnout and reception. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, since it means most of the filmgoing audience didn’t have a record of bad movies to look to. Unfortunately, when Ben Affleck did start heading major flops, it was something everyone remembered. The first was Pearl Harbor (2001), which was an obvious Hollywood attempt to recreate the success of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). It didn’t turn out that way: the film’s several inaccuracies, tedious love triangle, and association with the increasingly despised Michael Bay made it a commercial disappointment. And guess who’s name is on full display on every poster?

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Afterwards, he was in Daredevil (2003), Marvel’s attempt at another blockbuster superhero film that combined the stylishness of Spider-Man (2002) with the “dark and edginess” of X-Men (2000). While the film did a decent job of characterization, audiences didn’t know what to make of the obscure character and therefore spent more time focusing on the actor, who had already begun to lose public credibility. The film’s lukewarm reception was heaped onto Affleck and comic fans never forgot about it. While these films garnered negative feedback, none of them put as big a nail in the coffin as Gigli (2003)

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This film had bad press before it was even released due to conflicts between the screenwriter and the director, leading many to believe that the final product would be disjointed. Once it was released it set box office records for the biggest second-weekend drop in box office gross of any film in wide release since that statistic was kept; it dropped by almost 82% in its second weekend compared to its first. By its third weekend in release, only 73 U.S. theaters were showing it, down from 2,215 during its first weekend, a drop of 97%. The film has since gone onto be considered one of the worst films of all time. One of the primary reasons for the failure of the film is also my final reason for the Afflecktion…

3. Bennifer

Generally speaking, America loves “super couples”.

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Drake and Josh were meant for each other

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Unfortunately, one they didn’t care for much was Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Sure, at first they grabbed the public eye like any other celebrity couple, but that attention quickly turned to scorn. I postulate that it was due to the fact thatbecause they had the unfortunate distinction of being both absurdly famous and absurdly unrelatable. Ben was viewed as a jockish douchenozzle and J.Lo was viewed as an egotistical diva. A blog post on whatever-dude.com called them Hollywood’s Hitler and Eva Braun“. Ben himself recognized the hate they received, outright saying in an interview with Suzy Byrne that he felt as if he was “the press’ whipping boy” during those two years. What’s worse is that much of the hate was due to Jennifer Lopez being considered “better” than him. She had a more successful film career, and a music career, AND a fashion line. Doesn’t help that SHE broke off the engagement. As one blogger put it, he came across as being “desperate and needy and lacking in self confidence, as if he were under some kind of love spell“. Arguably, the ultimate Hollywood insult directed at him during this period was during VH1’s “200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons” television special. Oh sure, he was included as #119, but look closely at his portrait by Robert Risko…

7373 (1)Yes, they literally have J.Lo on his jacket for NO discernable reason other than to remind the viewer that a large amount of his fame is due to being engaged to someone more famous (she was on the same list as #15, btw) . Even worse, every celeb in the special had an indicative tagline that was a famous quote or phrase (i.e. Arnold Schwarzenegger-“I’ll be back“, Hugh Hefner-“Big Pimpin‘”) . Guess what his was? Mr. Jennifer Lopez. Damn.

So should Ben Affleck play Batman?

Given all the vitriol i’ve just shown, obviously not, right? Honestly, I know i’m blasphemous for saying this but I really DON’T CARE who plays Batman. Batman isn’t this deep, nuanced character, he’s a franchise. The reason why DC has gotten so much use out of the property was because they can do whatever the fuck they want with the character without violating his identity. He hasn’t “grown” in the near century since his inception, just reinvented. Why do you think that the 60’s Batman series, the Burton films, the Schumacher films, the Nolan Trilogy, and the Animated series are all so different yet successful? It’s because the character is malleable. He’s a concept that can fit any story imaginable. Compare Batman to Spider-Man, who, while having different series, is always the same character that Stan Lee envisioned him to be. You’ll never see a “dark and gritty” Spider-Man or a “realist” Spider-Man. That’s because Peter Parker is intended a REAL person who has a specific personality. If he were to be in a world similar to the 60’s Batman series, he’d have to lose most of his flippancy just to sell us on the campiness. If he were in a comic similar to The Dark Knight Returns (1986), he’d have to lose much of the whimsy associated with the character. He has his limits as a property, you can’t just make him, say, a pirate.

Unlike some people

Unlike some people

Fact is, Batman is such a loosely conceived character that anyone with a decent chin could put on his costume. This isn’t to say he’s a flat character, he’s just a ‘high concept’ character, like Superman, who focuses more on connotations and iconography than character traits. By virtue of this, any actor can bring something to the character: Michael Keaton brought an eccentricity to Wayne that made him more affable, Val Kilmer brought a coldness that made Batman seem more like a shell-shocked soldier. I’m not the best person to comment on Ben Affleck as an actor (i’ve only seen a few of his films), but I think he could have a very interesting take on the character. Maybe he’ll have a lighter approach than Bale; maybe he’ll be a bit more vulnerable. It’s hard to tell. A lot of people said Michael Keaton was a bad fit for Batman, but afterwards many said he put in a decent performance. Same was said for Heath Ledger as Joker, and look at how THAT turned out. Personally, I think that no matter how he plays it, Affleck will add to the wonderful tapestry of Batmen to date. Or at least fuel some great memes.

For more commentary on the Batman franchise:

Batman As A Heroic Psychopath

Superstitious and Cowardly Cops: Police Corruption in Gotham City