Tyler Marshall
The Greatest Story Ever Told

"We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are, I’m no different." - Memento, 2000

What is the greatest story ever told? A story of love? A story of achievement? Self discovery? The triumph of good over evil?

There is no singular answer to this question. In fact, it may be the broadest question ever asked. The answer, of course, depends on the person. In this piece I will attempt to answer the question using film as a medium for story.

To be invested in a story or character on an emotional level, one must experience or empathize with the losses of the main character. Every great story has the main character losing someone close or dealing with that loss.

Leonard Shelby (Memento, 2000) is on a quest seeking vengeance for his wife, who was killed during a home invasion. Leonard, left with no long term memory, has only the clues left to himself by tattoos on his body. Throughout Memento, we see Leonard trying (and failing) to come to terms with the loss of his wife. The reason is simple - Leonard simply cannot make progress or grieve since he cannot feel time due to his condition. How long has it been since she died? Leonard himself hasn’t a clue.

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Along with the element of loss is the presence of love. The element of love is often paired with the element of loss. Characters often go through a maze of emotions to arrive at acceptance. Dom Cobb of Inception (2010) only way out of the maze built in his dreams is letting go of his past, which includes the love of his life - Mal. You’ll see in all of the films I mention in this article the elements of love and loss being tied together.

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A great story makes us question our own beliefs. In Minority Report (2002), the authors and writers ask: are our actions are predetermined or do we really have a choice in what we do? The film’s main protagonist, John Anderton, is the subject of a manhunt that he himself used to lead, to catch murderers before they strike using a system to predict murders. When John himself is the suspect in a predetermined murder, he goes on the run to discover who he is supposed to kill and why.

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Similarly, the filmmakers behind The Dark Knight (2008) ask us what lengths we are willing to go to save someone. The film’s main antagonist The Joker (acted phenomenally by Heath Ledger) is unreachable, and seemingly has no demands. The Joker exists only to wreak havoc. At what lengths is the Batman willing to go to stop the Joker? Would he take a life? In the end, Batman and his associates knowingly violate the privacy of 30 million people to put an end to the Joker’s reign of chaos.

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A great journey is incomplete without an element of self-discovery. Much like Leonard in Memento, every great story has a main character trying to discover something within them self or return to something they once knew or were. As you may have noticed by now, I am a huge fan of the 2010 film Inception. Contained in the film’s themes is one thing we can all relate to, and that we all do almost everyday - we all just want to go home. Whether it be after a long day at work, or rough day in general, we all experience the feeling of wanting to go home. Cobb’s goal the entire film is to complete a risky job so he can go home to his kids. The journey home takes Cobb through a route of self-discovery, acceptance of loss, and the acceptance of his belief in reality.

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The end of the journey may not be one that you like, but it is often the most fitting of the story’s themes. Whether the ending is one that kills off the protagonist, or provides the audience few answers, the ending isn’t always what is important - it’s how you got there.

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Habermas’ Public Sphere Explained Through Popular Film and Television

Habermas’ concept of the public sphere is important to be understood not only in terms of how it functions, but also how it came to be.

In this article, I am going to explain Habermas’ concept of the public sphere using characters and scenarios from various television shows and films.

Habermas’ concept of the public sphere is defined as the “realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed.” (Habermas, 49)

If a tree falls in the woods, but nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? The same question can be framed to fit the context of the public sphere – If an opinion or thought is expressed, but nobody is receiving it, is it still within the public sphere? Habermas explains that only private individuals assembling can form a public body. (Habermas, 49)

Habermas also explains the history of what is deemed public opinion and how it evolved.

King Joffrey Baratheon, Game of Thrones 

King Joffrey is known by Game of Thrones fans as an antagonistic tyrant with a fetishism for violence. The ninth episode of the first season titled “Baelor” accurately depicts the kings incluence and power within the realm of the seven kingdoms. In this episode, King Joffrey has just “inherited” the Iron Throne from his father Robert Baratheon. Rumours have been leaked that Joffrey is not the true heir to King Robert, and that he is the inbred bastard child of his mother and “uncle” Jamie Lannister. The rumours, as we later find out, are true. Whistleblower and former “hand of the king” Ned Stark is set to be executed unless he recants his statements about the new king. During a public court, Ned falsely admits to fabricating the lies about the king in order to spare his life, but he is none the less executed anyways. This episode resembles public opinion through the middle ages. The king, Joffrey in this case, is the true ruler, creator and moderator of public opinion. He alone holds the right to create the commonly held truth and the right to execute those who oppose or challenge him. The court itself is also an example of allowing public access in trials – to expose citizens to public reason and opinion, which are both owned by King Joffrey in this situation. Ned Stark’s execution was meant to send a message to opponents.

 

Eddard “Ned” Stark, Game of Thrones

Ned Stark is recruited by King Robert Baratheon to come to the capitol and run the kingdom while the king himself lives out the rest of his life doing things only to entertain himself. Ned is given the title of Hand of the King. Habermas calls this public representation of power, which were often churches, princes and other nobility. (Habermas, 51) Ned, and many others in the capitol, hold power on behalf of the king and operate in his interests.

 

Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation

Leslie Knope is the head of the parks & recreation department of local government in fictional Pawnee, Indiana. The departments job is to oversee the development and maintenance of parks within the city. Leslie is known for going the extra mile for the citizens of Pawnee. Habermas would describe Leslie, and the entire government in which she works a “division of power.” (Habermas, 52) The difference between Leslie’s position in Pawnee government to the first two on the list is that Leslie is part of an insitution that represents the people and their interests, rather than a ruler that “owns” or decides what the interests of the people are. (Habermas, 53)

 

Ron Woodroof, Dallas Buyers Club

Based on a true story, Dallas Buyers Club tells the tale of Ron Woodroof – a man diagnosed with AIDS given seven days to live. Ron refuses to take the diagnosis as a death sentence and begins smuggling treatments drugs into Texas. By finding loopholes in the system, Ron is able to avoid the law by remaining within it. Soon after making an impact in Dallas, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) begin cracking down on Ron’s “unapproved” (but still technically legal) drugs, essentially outlawing him. Ron blames the downfall of the Dallas Buyers Club on the FDA for interfering with a public matter on behalf of drug companies who want to shut him down to make profit on their drugs. Habermas highlights the problems of private institutions and governments interfering with public affairs. (Habermas, 54)


Nick Naylor, Thank You For Smoking

On the flip side of the problem displayed in Dallas Buyers Club, Thank You For Smoking is an example of Habermas criticism of private corporations interfering with public opinion. The movie centers around Nick Naylor, a spokesman for a cigarette company who is an expert at spinning an argument in his favour by taking over arguments and covering up the bad with useless facts and irrelevant information. (Habermas, 54)

To answer the question simply cannot be done. If one does express an opinion in the modern day, it could be within the public sphere due to recording technologies available to anyone who can afford a cell phone or computer. A person no longer necessarily has to be “there.” They only require a computer and an internet connection.

Sources

Benioff, David, writ. “Baelor.” Writ. D.B. Weiss. Game of Thrones. HBO: 12 06 2011. Television.

Brenner, Robbie, prod. Dallas Buyers Club. Prod. Rachel Winter. Focus Features, 2013. Film.

Daniels, Greg, prod. Prod. Michael Schur. Parks and Recreation. NBC: 09 04 2009. Television.

Habermas, Jurgen, Frank Lennox, and Sarah Lennox. “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article.” New German Critique 3 (1964): 49-55. Print.

Pressman, Edward, prod. Thank You For Smoking. Prod. David Sacks. Thank You For Smoking, 2005. Film.

"So Long, Dumbass!" - TV Dads for Millennials

The golden age of television is arguably making a comeback, though it depends on who you ask. If you ask me, we’re currently living in the golden age of TV dads. The father of the family used to be one who represented the morals of the family, and thus, the families watching television. Today, dads are among the most flawed, unmoral, and sometimes unforgiving characters on television. They often represent or portray the dysfunction of a modern family.

Here is a list of some great TV dads for the millennial generation.

Hal (Malcolm in the Middle)
Nobody doubts the acting abilities of Bryan Cranston. Before he landed his signature role as Walter White on Breaking Bad, he was mostly known for his role as a hard working father of four (and as the series went on, 5) who could never quite catch a break in the early 2000s sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. Hal was obsessive about almost anything he got involved in, which, as it turns out, is a lot. Whether its an addiction to bulldozing increasingly large objects or risking his families Christmas to cover up a lie, Hal’s boundaries knew no limits. When Hal isn’t busy making the audience laugh, he’s often the heart of the show, and that’s what makes Hal one of the greatest TV dads of this generation.
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Michael Bluth (Arrested Development)
Next on the list is Jason Bateman’s most memorable role as another TV dad who can’t catch a break - Michael Bluth. Michael, for the most part, represents the frustration in the Fox/Netflix sitcom Arrested Development. Logical may not be the best word to describe Michael, but he does often seem self-righteous in almost everything he does, be it right or wrong. Watching Michael makes me borderline angry. He is a man who contradicts himself almost every episode, something the show does a good job of mocking. One minute Michael is preaching the importance of family to his son, the next he is abandoning them repeatedly because he cannot stick to his own beliefs. The irony of Michael striving (but failing) to be a good father is an element Arrested Development that applies not only to Michael. The show’s representation of fatherhood is that of an absent father, also depicted through Michael brother Gob, his own father George, and his brother-in-law Tobias.
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Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)
Homer may be the most iconic dad of our generation. He embodies everything we envision the average white North American father to be today, both physically and morally. Homer is an overweight, middle class husband and father of three with a mid-level dead end job and bills to pay. Homer, quite simply, is the every-man. Homer hates his neighbour, enjoys watching television and drinking beer and loves his family to death. It’s hard to find a quality of Homer Simpson that can’t be found in any father you can probably think of.
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Red Forman (That 70s Show)
This TV dad is nothing like those previously listed. Perhaps its because he embodied the average dad of the 70s, or maybe its because TV didn’t need another dumbass, as Red would put it. Red is a blue collar worker who has a hard time dealing with his feelings and the antics of his teenage son Eric and his infamous gang of friends. What makes Red great is his intolerance for nonsense and his equally, and very quotable reaction to jackassery. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Red’s dumbass and foot-in-ass jokes.
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Simply put, today’s TV dads don’t have the answers or explanations they used to. Red Forman is a bridge between the golden age of television and today. Instead of offering real advice or a sincere answer, Red offers only sarcasm and harsh reality. Today’s TV dads are more flawed than ever, and we wouldn’t have them any other way.

Have a TV dad I should have mentioned or an idea for my next list? Ask me a question at my blog. Follow me for more lists!

Sticking the Landing: TV Shows that Knew How and When to End

With How I Met Your Mother coming to a close tonight, I found myself left with distaste for the finale. Although the writers claim to have had an ending in mind for 7-or-so years, it didn’t quite feel that way. Setting up a finale is a lot like performing gymnastics (metaphorically, of course). You can make a mad dash towards that springboard and execute an impressive jump, all the while looking flashy, only to botch the landing and to write it off as a waste. TV, unlike gymnastics, is not as forgiving. There are few chances for a redo.

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How I Met Your Mother unfortunately lands in this category, using its framing device (time jumps, flash forward/backward etc) to deceive viewers into caring about something they shouldn’t - a plot device. The Mother of Ted Mosby’s children, at the end of this story, is nothing but a speed bump in the Ted/Robin story. Barney, too, became a victim of the writers decision to have Ted and Robin end up together, essentially amounting to nothing but a go-to character for gags who, all within a 5-minute window, knocks up some random woman and then realizes a respect for women (ironically born out of a disrespect for women) by being the father to a little girl. The writers, to put it bluntly, used the narrative frame to pull the wool over its audience eyes and failed to find a satisfying way out of the maze they had built and trapped themselves inside over the show’s nine season run.

Here are a list of shows that set up satisfying endings that were well executed and also a few others I wasn’t a fan of.

1. That 70s Show
The sitcom has executed the excitement and liveliness of adolescence quite like That 70s Show. The show quickly found its footing near the end of its debut season and never lost its way… Until it’s dreaded eighth season. Much like Community, That 70s Show’s eighth season (or the “gas leak year” as Community calls it) saw the departure of series leads Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher. The show limped its way to the finale with the lacklustre Josh Meyers filling the void and failing to recreate the chemistry of the former series regulars. None the less, the show knew when to call it quits and was able to go out on a high note. The series finale payed homage to long time running gags and featured the return of Eric and Kelso to give the series closure. It featured everything that was loved about the show from the signature circle-cam shot to foot-in-ass jokes. To date, this series remains one of the most re-watchable series and Red Foreman will always be one of my favourite TV dads.image

2. True Detective (Season 1)

True Detective’s success can be attributed to its format. Each season being a story with a definitive end and its own cast, the show allows itself to refresh and reinvent itself every year. Nothing on TV quite compares to the unsympathizing dark depths that True Detective’s first season immerses its audience in. The show succeeded by knowing both where to begin and end, and gave its audience the information necessary to fill in the gaps left by the distorted narrative. True Detective may not be the show that gives you exactly the ending you’d like or want, but it sure as hell knows how to execute a series finale that is on par with the rest of a near-perfect season.image

3. The Office

Many fans were right - it should have ended when Michael Scott was no longer the branch manager at Dunder Mifflin/Sabre. The only problem was, there was so much more story to wrap up with the remaining ensemble, namely Jim, Pam and Dwight. Not unlike That 70s Show, the Office’s eighth season was remarkably pointless. The writers had decided to replace Steve Carrell’s Michael Scott with Ed Helms’ Andy Bernard. In previous seasons, Andy worked as the embodiment of temper in the office. In seasons 8 and 9 he functioned more as a Michael Scott 2.0 minus the part where he’s ignorant (which is what made Michael so funny). The Office’s final season played out more like a drama, at times, than it did a sitcom. Suddenly Jim and Pam have relationship problems. Dwight and Angela make an unremarkable reunion in the eleventh hour to set up the finale. Although the show did not necessarily execute a funny ending, it did steer towards being emotionally satisfying by sending all of its characters off into the sunset to presumably live happily ever after. At least they knew when to call it quits, even if it took them nearly two whole seasons to realize.image

4. Futurama

To talk about Futurama’s ending is one and the same with any animated sitcom, in my opinion. Be it The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers or any animated show (save Robot Chicken), there’s something to be said about an animated series’ built in reset button. Futurama is a perfect example of this - after being canceled numerous times, Futurama has always found a new home. Watching the Futurama series “finale” on Netflix made me realize a few things. It wasn’t very much of a finale at all. As I have previously alluded to, mostly every animated sitcom has a built in reset button. Viewers tune in week to week to find The Simpsons or the Griffins exactly how the show had left them the previous episode. Futurama’s final episode seems like one made for a finale - it puts Leela and Fry in a world where time is frozen for everyone but them, and they happily grow old together. This could have been a satisfying series finale, but the writers of Futurama know better. By the end of the episode, the two discover a way to reverse the effects that froze time, and agree to go back to the past and live as their young selves again even if it means that they won’t be together for a while, or perhaps ever again. Should Futurama find a new home on another network, it can pick up right where it left off and it would be as if this iconic show had never been canceled… Again. This is the beauty and appeal of animated sitcoms.image

5. Late Night Television

Saying goodbye to the host of a late night talk/variety show isn’t necessarily the same as the previously mentioned programs. The thing that makes a finale like the final episode of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno special is the fact that Jay Leno is a real person and not a character portrayed by an actor. The same goes for Johnny Carson and other former late night hosts. Saying goodbye to a person who has graced your television set for decades always gets a little sappy. Although this may be Jay Leno’s second time leaving the Tonight Show, it still feels like there is a void in late night television. Regardless, the send offs for late night hosts are usually very personal, nostalgic and warm hearted. (Sorry Conan)image

Endings I didn’t like: Breaking Bad, Lost, How I Met Your Mother

Shows I fear may not end well: Game of Thrones, Community

Thanks to Hilary for helping me come to terms with the HIMYM finale. Check out her reviews and other hilarious videos on her YouTube page.

Follow me for more lists and reviews to come very soon.

2014 Films I’m excited to see

Enemy (Jake Gyllenhaal)
A Million Ways to Die in the West (Seth MacFarlane)
Interstellar (Matthew McConaughey)
Captain America 2
Edge of Tomorrow (Tom Cruise)
The Amazing Spider-Man 2
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Oscars 2014 Recap
Oscars 2014 Recap

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fallontonight:

Only a few more days 'til the Tonight Show! In the meantime, just gonna leave this righhhhhhtttt here. 

fallontonight:

Only a few more days 'til the Tonight Show! In the meantime, just gonna leave this righhhhhhtttt here. 

Best skits on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Real People, Fake Arms

Wheel of Carpet Samples

Freestyling with the Roots

Thank You Notes

Various TV Show parodies (including Lost and Breaking Bad)

latenightjimmy:

It’s time for an all-new Thank You Notes!

latenightjimmy:

New Thank You Notes tonight!

latenightjimmy:

New Thank You Notes tonight!