Friday, February 13, 2015

Law & Order SVU: Modern Exploitation or The Reefer Madness of 2015


for those of you who haven't seen this, this is the trailer for a little movie that happened in 1939 called "Reefer Madness".  I can say this in absolute certainty that this the crown jewel of schlock cinema. I've watched it with friends, and we laughed our collective arses off. It was quite the entertaining piece, but it had no educational value what so ever. Why am I talking about this on a video game blog? Well this ties into yesterday's piece on that dreadful Law and Order SVU episode about the consumer activism / Game Journalism reform movement known as #GamerGate. Another crown jewel of schlock which actually wasn't entertaining in the least, and like the former has no educational value what-so-ever. 

So today we'll be exploring the two and the fallout of their existence. Sit back, light one up and let's get high on information, shall we?

I don't really have to go into too much explanation on Reefer Madness, because there are tons of articles and discussions on the movie and it's origins. A search through The Internet Wayback machine, lead me to this article that was created in anticipation of the Musical version of the movie.
Reefer Madness began its cinematic life as a 1936 cautionary film entitled Tell Your Children. It was financed by a small church group, and was intended to scare the living bejeezus out of every parent who viewed it. Soon after the film was shot, however, it was purchased by the notorious exploitation film maestro Dwain Esper (Narcotic, Marihuana, Maniac), who took the liberty of cutting in salacious insert shots and slapping on the sexier title of Reefer Madness, before distributing it on the exploitation circuit. Esper was an absolutely notorious figure who would do things like stealing unattended prints of studio films out of projection booths and film exchanges, and then physically drive them from small town exhibitor to small town exhibitor until the authorities caught up with him. A delightful, poignant and detailed portrayal of this lunatic opportunist is featured in exploiteer Dave Friedman's autobiography, A Youth in Babylon, which is a book every cult movie or pop culture enthusiast ought to read.

After a brief run, the film lay forgotten for several decades. There was no concept of after market in those days, especially for films that existed outside the confines of the studio system, and were therefore considered "forbidden fruit." For this reason, neither Esper nor the original filmmakers bothered to copyright the movie, and it eventually fell into the public domain.

Enter Keith Stroup, founder of NORML (Nation Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws). In 1971, this enterprising gentleman up bought a print of Reefer Madness for $297, cleaned it up and started showing it at pro-pot festivals. It was gigantic hit. Distributing Reefer Madness to college campuses of the 1970’s helped bankroll the burgeoning film company New Line Cinema, which today is a major player in the Hollywood film industry. Today, the film is a cult phenomenon dwarfed only by The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and "Reefer Madness" is a bona fide catch phrase.

Reefer Madness is an interesting example of an Exploitation film, but what exactly dictates an Exploitation film, you ask? Well let's use popcorn horror's definition as our compass...
To begin, let’s look at what an exploitation film actually is. Typically very low budget, these types of films would often be seen to ‘exploit’ a trend, niche or controversy – such as sex, violence, or drug use. Often screened in seedy drive ins, or small independent theatres, genre fans would gather to watch some of the trashiest films ever created. The exploitation genre, closely tied with grindhouse, has it’s roots as far back on cinematic history as the 1920s, but was fully realised in the late sixties and seventies; mainly as a result of relaxation of censorship rules. Exploitation is very loosely defined, and has more to do with a viewer’s perception of the film than with the film’s actual content. Titillating material and artistic content often coexist, as demonstrated by the fact that art films that failed to pass the Hays Code were often shown in the same grindhouses as exploitation films. Indeed, many films which may at one point been considered exploitation are now considered culturally significant; the most notable examples being Night of the Living Dead or Tod Browning’s Freaks. As such, modern film critics have examined the cultural influences which have effected whether a film is classified as exploitation – noting that if Eyes without a Face had been made in American it would have been viewed as a low budget horror, while if Carnival of Souls had been been in France it would be considered an art film.

Reefer Madness perfectly fits this definition, and oddly enough, so does Law and Order SVU, for that matter. SVU episodes definitely at times appear low budget by today's standards, hence the crappy Twitter and CGI footage of the often corny depictions of subcultures and worldviews that deviate from the moral center of the target demographic. For the sake of argument we'll just be talking about "Intimidation Game", though there are multiple episodes about different subcultures that are just as equally misrepresented in other episodes (especially the silliness that was the Second Life send-up, "Avatar" of Season 9).
above: One angry developer

The fallout of "Intimidation game" is interesting, as just like Reefer Madness, it was originally intended to be a used by the "morality police" (IE:Gaming Journalism via people like Brianna Wu, and Ms. Sarkeesian) In order to help the outside world fully realize the threat of sexism in gaming and how women are constantly being harassed by these horrid white male gamers and their Toxic forms of Masculinity. The problem is that this backfired hard. So hard, in fact that now we see outlets like Kotaku and Polygon doing some form of damage control, while shifting blame on the events that transpired in late August, with outraged gamers raging against these media sites for proven claims of Conflict of interest, while facing censorship on a grand scale.

   Unfortunately, this being prime time network TV, we're forced to endure some seriously awful game-related dialog. The young woman, after being assaulted, says her attackers have "leveled up." This is borderline offensive, given the circumstances. As the show progresses, it takes a turn into predictable cop drama fare. This salacious show's primary focus is on sex crimes, not video games, and the script follows a generic pattern, drifting into some really unpleasant scenes. But it's clear that the crimes being perpetrated here are motivated by a desire to humiliate and subjugate women, pretty much in line with the aims of the real hate campaigners.

Hilariously, It's not understood as to what people were expecting when a topic such as #GamerGate has been drug screaming through the muck and the mire many times before thanks to people such as Zoe Quinn, Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu. Claims of sexism , death and rape threats, and outright violence against women is right up the alley for shows like Law and Order: SVU, so this would definitely be played up to it's fullest extent in order to bring the narrative that was being pushed by these provocateurs to full fruition. So this should not come as a surprise, when you see the end product as it is. Media sensationalism at it's core needs a good guy and a bad guy, and will make the bad guy's alleged atrocities look as damaging as possible in order to get a rise out of their intended audience, which is likely the neutral party who avoided the events in the first place. As we go on, expect to see more things like this, because I'm sure this episode was a definite ratings grabber (for all the wrong reasons, of course).

And as we go through this fantastic fallout, we tend to ask the question that's been going through forums and spaces alike; "If this is ripped from the headlines, what headlines do you think this had been ripped from? "  This question is obviously directed at those poor harassed women that were featured on shows like Nightline, Good Morning America, The Pakman interviews, and Huff Post live. How did you expect this to be spun? Not in a way that would have all of us "neckbeard misogynerds" look at that episode and stop what we're doing, finally realize that we're horrible people, and eventually come to our senses. Because, that would be silly for multiple reasons. You can especially tell, that this has a negative impact, when Zoe Quinn, herself is taken aback by the episode's ending and it's implications. Of course, the accompanying responses paint a picture that #GG supporters are claiming this as a win, however gamers knew all along that they're going to get the short end of the stick. That's always been the case when it comes to mainstream media, and no one thought any justice would be served at this juncture.

Realization slowly starting to sink in....

Though, like Reefer Madness, I can see this episode being shown as a counter-culture comedic look about how the mainstream media sees Gaming culture, and like NORML, we'll see more reform against the negative stigma that the media has placed on such culture. Kotaku is already been name dropped, so the microscope is definitely going to be on them. As it will be on it's parent company, Gawker (Like it hasn't been already?). You can definitely tell that the ground is ready to collapse under the weight of all the bull that's been toted around by these sites, Something has to give, and when it does, it definitely wont be pretty.

Nostradamus of gaming..

However, for all the bad that this situation has done to the gaming community; which is the possibility of pushing back into some strange subculture, and possibly inviting more speculation of whether this may ultimately lead into another possible crash (due to consumer groups hopping on the bandwagon to "protect the children" by weighing down Gaming in regulations by the dozen), Gamers, and more objectively supporters of #GamerGate will push on in their unyielding quest for Ethics in Game journalism, as well as a full-on pushback of (im)moral bullies trying to push their own agendas. While the media and the ideologues who pushed this narrative, are trying to desperately wade through the sticky paper of the flytrap they mindlessly meandered into, Gamers will continue on. We've faced scrutiny from our peers, from our parents, from the media, from the church, and from greedy lawyers and senators looking for a leg up, and we have continued on regardless. Gamers will endure this and eventually we will rise like we always have. Because if anything, gamers know how to endure hardships and fight an asymmetrical battle and always come out on top.

Game On !

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