Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cable News Networks and Bias (Part 2)

          What about CNN? There are plenty of examples of bias on that network as well. According to First Things, when CNN reported on a Tea Party event that actually had hundreds, if not thousands, of attendees, they said that there were only, “at least dozens of people” (Hoft, 2010). The Tea Party is closely associated with conservatives, so this supports the notion that CNN has a liberal bias.
            A Harvard study found that during the primaries for the 2008 election, “The CNN programming studied tended to cast a negative light on Republican candidates—by a margin of three-to-one.” (“Invisible Primary”, 2007) It also stated that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards got slightly better coverage, but still mostly negative, “almost all due to extremely favorable coverage for Obama.” CNN seems to be in the same pro-Obama camp as MSNBC.
            In 2009, a former CNN correspondent named Chris Plante that conservative commentator Lou Dobbs left because of CNN's liberal bias and that “his opinions are out of lockstep with the rest of the mainstream news media” (“Former CNN”, 2009.). Plante also claimed that the last “conservative voice on the channel is gone.” since Glenn Beck and Dobbs left.
            The website gave an example that they feel proves that CNN is left-leaning.(“Jill Zimon”, 2008). CNN presented a blogger named Jill Zimon, who is an admitted liberal, as a moderate. The site produced an email that showed that Zimon told CNN that she “leaned left”.
            An article from the Business and Media Institute examines CNN”s coverage of global warming (Gainor and Menefee, 2005). It claimed that a special from March 2005, “cited almost every one of the left-wing environmental movement's hot buttons about climate change: claiming it's already a fact; preaching an apocalyptic threat; blaming mankind for temperature fluctuations...”
            However, some liberals have pointed out examples of a conservative bias on CNN. Media Matters ran an article demonstrating how the media, including CNN, “advanced the false talking point that oil drilling is environmentally safe because "not one drop of oil was spilled" during Hurricane Katrina.” (“Flashback”, 2010). CNN's Ali Velshi stated that oil rigs were sealed to stop oil leakage during storms, and that this worked during Hurricane Katrina. Then there was a “massive oil spill discharging 5,000 barrels/day into Gulf of Mexico.” CNN, just like every other network, is controlled by corporate interests. Therefore, the stations are unlikely to present ideas that may cause large corporations to lose money.
            During the Iraq War, the media was supportive of the Bush administration and didn't ask too many difficult questions. As quoted in Socialist Worker Online, CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour referred to the press as being “self-muzzled” and said, “Television was intimidated by the Bush administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News” (Selfa, 2003). No one, even liberals, wanted to be seen as unpatriotic after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For a couple of years, the Bush administration had a free pass in the media.
            Democracy Now quoted Michael Moore, who criticized CNN's coverage of the Iraq War (“Michael Moore”, 2007). He claimed that they wrote off his movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. The movie stated that the war would end up becoming a “quagmire” and that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Moore said that CNN made it seem like none of these things could be true; reality ended up vindicating Moore. He also claims that CNN misleads its viewers when it comes to healthcare.
            Fox News consistently gets better ratings than MSNBC or CNN. In an article for TV Week, Sergio Ibarra said, “Fox News averaged 2.3 million viewers during primetime in the first quarter [of 2008), according to Nielsen Media Research. CNN averaged 1.1 million viewers, while MSNBC had about 950,000” (Ibarra, 2009). This shows that Fox News is popular, possibly because it goes for the lowest common denominator. The article also states that Fox News did the best in the age 25-54 demographic, which is one of the most important demographics to advertisers. The O'Reilly Factor, as well as Hannity's and Beck's shows were the most popular programs. They are also the programs that contain lots of opinion statements.
            When it comes down to it, none of the stations are going to present ideas that are highly controversial or challenging to the status quo. There's just not enough profit in it. Many people think that the media is liberally biased because many journalists are left-wing. However, media editors and owners, who have much more power, are more likely to be conservative.
            The lower-level employees often try to bring their views in line with their superiors in order to help their career. Making money is more important to media companies than presenting any particular point of view. It just so happens that conservatives viewpoints often benefit large corporations.
            Republicans are usually in favor of deregulation of business and the free market. Liberals often want some checks on corporations. Which perspective is going to be presented in the corporate-owned media? Obviously the one that supports the bottom line. Additionally, stations receive pressure from advertisers to tow the line. For example, many  advertisers refused to run ads on Air America, the liberal radio station.
            All the networks are part of large conglomerates. NBC is owned by General Electric and Disney (the world's largest media conglomerate) owns ABC. Most local radio and TV stations are owned by companies that own hundreds of other stations. There used to be tighter regulations concerning these matters, but the Telecommunications Act of 1996 changed this. These companies are unlikely to want to upset those in power. Maybe to get out of this biased system, some more publicly funded news networks or outlets are needed.
            These problems are just part of a much larger issue. The news networks have become increasingly more sensationalistic. They will often do stories on celebrities. This is just a distraction from what is really important. When Anna Nicole Smith died, there was coverage round-the-clock over the circumstances of her death. This, all over someone who was famous for no legitimate reason and really had no important position in life. These so-called “news” programs often discuss the personal lives of athletes or movie stars. When Tiger Woods cheated on his wife, it was one of the biggest stories. These kinds of stories are a distraction from what is really important. Many Americans have no idea what's going on in foreign countries, but they know about the relationships of celebrities. People won't be upset at those in power if they are thinking about trivial matters.
            Furthermore, these cable news networks often run stories on missing women. It's unfortunate that these women are killed or kidnapped, but this isn't really a pressing issue on society. Not to the mention the fact that the missing women that are covered are almost always Caucasian. According to a CNN article, “When pretty, young women – especially white ones – are killed or disappear, media storms often follow... Media and social critics call the wall-to-wall coverage that seems to swirl around these events, “Missing White Woman Syndrome” (Foreman, 2006). The news stations seem to be more concerned with entertainment than actually getting across information.
            The way TV news is set up makes it highly difficult to get out ideas that are  out of the mainstream. Usually segments are only a few minutes and interviews are short as well. That's  not really enough time to present a cogent, detailed argument. Ideas that challenge the mainstream way of thinking may seem ridiculous at first, but if their proponents are given the chance to present evidence, they will be more convincing. However, this doesn't happen on cable news channels. Especially on Fox News, where hosts such as Bill O'Reilly often shout down guests and tell them to “shut up”.
            The documentary Outfoxed showed how O'Reilly had a guest on, named Jeremy Glick, whose father had died in the September 11th terrorist attacks. He claimed that Bush had inherited a legacy from his father, who led the CIA when it trained al-Qaeda. O'Reilly shouted him down several times, told him to shut up, and claimed that the man's recently deceased father would not have approved of what the man was saying. He doesn't even seem to consider the possibility that there is some credence to what Glick is saying.
            The documentary also demonstrated how Fox News consistently uses fear tactics. They would play up terrorism fears, with stories on anthrax scares that only affected a small amount of people. The film claims that Fox also used similar tactics concerning gay rights and immigration. This fear then leads to people wanting a strong government and national defense.
            Outfoxed pointed out several other ethical violations. Their anchors often use the phrase, “Some people say...” as a way of distancing themselves from the unsourced allegations they are about to make. Usually these “some people” are attacking liberals. They referred to suicide bombers as “homicide bombers” in order to make them seem less noble, even though all bombers are committing homicide and what makes these people unique is that they are taking their own lives in addition. Fox News also spent a lot of time attacking Richard Clarke, a former Bush administration official who later criticized the way that the administration handled the Iraq War.
            However, the documentary could be accused of being one-sided as well. No one interviewed in the movie denied Fox's bias. The makers of the film obviously have an axe to grind. Outfoxed also contains many clips that are very short and could be taken out of context.
            Fox News has been the subject of a massive amount of criticism. There have been many studies done, many by liberal groups, that document the station's conservative bias. Fox News has become the favored target of many on the left. Many of their anchors or hosts are avowed conservatives. John Moody handed down several memos that encouraged employees to support the Bush administration. Fox News is more likely to hire conservatives and many Fox personalities regularly raise funds for the GOP. Most TV viewers see Fox News as conservative, but Rupert Murdoch and other employees deny that they are partisan. Studies have found some differing conclusions about how the station effects voter behavior, but there is some evidence it causes them to vote for Republicans.
             A study has shown that Fox News viewers are more likely to hold misconceptions about the Iraq War. Some people have claimed that MSNBC and CNN are just as biased as Fox News. Conservatives claim that CNN is liberal, while some lefties say it has a right-wing, pro-corporate slant. Most of the mainstream media gave Bush a pass after 9/11. These outlets are all owned by powerful corporations that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The way that these shows are formatted helps keep the status quo intact as well.

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Title: Calvin College Hekman Library openURL resolver

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Cable News Networks and Bias (Part 1)

       In the past decade, many more people have been getting their news from 24-hour cable news networks. This is in great contrast to earlier times, when TV viewers only had the half-hour nightly news programs to watch. The main American news networks are FOX News, MSNBC, and CNN.    
      These networks are often much more ideological than the traditional news programs. They often take after talk-radio political programs such as Rush Limbaugh. CNN and MSNBC are often criticized for having a liberal bias, while FOX News is seen as right-wing.
            This paper will examine whether or not these perceptions have basis in reality. It will also examine what effect these potential biases have on viewers. Does biased reporting damage the political discourse? Does it simply encourage bickering between the two sides?
            FOX News is often the target of those decrying media bias. It first aired in 1996, and it was created by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch made Roger Ailes, who worked for Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the CEO of FOX News. Ailes was also a former NBC executive.
            The station often uses flashy graphics that contain patriotic symbols such as the American flag. They are usually colorful and attention-grabbing.
            Fox News also has a radio station that syndicated throughout the US. They recently added a satellite radio station as well.
            Many people have noted that FOX News seems to have a conservative bias. Two of the most popular figures on the network, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck clearly espouse conservative views. Hannity is right-wing, one of his books was titled, “Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda." Beck often refers to Obama and his policies as "socialist" or "radical". He compared churches that fought for social justice to Hitler and Stalin in an episode of his show.

Grindhouse and Postmodernism

Grindhouse and Postmodernism

            Grindhouse was released in 2007; it consists of two films, Death Proof (directed by Quentin Tarantino) and Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez). The film is meant to bring back the days of B-movies and exploitation films. There are also fake trailers in between and various interstitial segments. On DVD, Grindhouse was released as two separate films. They were also released separately outside of North America, partly because countries besides the United States don't necessarily have the grindhouse double-feature tradition. However, some saw it as a way to make more money, as people would have to pay for two separate tickets.

             The films don't really have anything to do with each other. There are a few connections, but they never congeal into anything meaningful. Death Proof is about a sadistic stuntman who hunts down women in his specially-made stunt car. In Planet Terror, there is an outbreak of a dangerous virus that turns people into zombie-like creatures.  Grindhouse is definitively a postmodern film. This is due to heavy use of intertextuality, mixing of genres, and the concept of simulacra.

            Tarantino and Rodriquez throw together aspects of all sorts of different genres. According to Javier Martinez " Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror simultaneously occupies a number of generic spaces: a horror film about encroaching zombie hordes; an sf film about an experimental gas that unleashes a biological plague; an over-the-top black comedy; a splatterfest drive-in film; a fetish film; a tragic love story; a film about the creation of a Latino utopia. (331)

             Grindhouse is mainly a horror film, but there are decent amounts of drama, action, comedy, and sci-fi elements as well. Planet Terror includes zombies, a common staple of horror flicks. There's plenty of disgusting, gross-out violence in both parts. Thrilling action sequences are also a key part of Grindhouse. There are many jokes as well, especially in the faux trailers. Planet Terror is, at times, intentionally bad, and this is played for laughs. Tarantino is known for mixing genres throughout his career. "…The film gleefully combined various periods, genres, and styles, producing the perfect postmodern cinematic stew." (Booker 48) Booker's quote refers to Pulp Fiction, but could just as easily refer to this movie.

            "Postmodern artists, however ingenious and inventive their works might be, are unable to establish and maintain a distinctive and easily identifiable personal style in the modernist sense" (Booker 188). The makers of Grindhouse aren't trying to make an original, creative film. Intertextuality in the form of reference to other films is another key factor that makes Grindhouse postmodernist.

             As stated in an article in Film Quarterly, "Rife with references to Rodriguez's other films as well as 1970s film conventions, Machete creates the past-and-present in which the rest of Grindhouse takes place. This blurry fictional temporality is figurally represented by the onscreen dust and scratches that appear in both Machete and Planet Terror" (Benson-Allott 1). The constant scratches make the film seem like an actual grindhouse feature that has been damaged from being shown too many times.

            In another quote that refers to Pulp Fiction, but could equally apply to Grindhouse, "The film exemplifies the postmodern appropriation of elements from the popular culture of the past" (Booker 13).  It does this in an "ahistorical" way with "little genuine nostalgia"(Booker 47) Also, "[Tarantino's] Jackie Brown nostalgically looks back on a number of predecessors in film, beginning with its opening airport sequence, a pastiche of the opening of The Graduate (1967)" (Booker 14). Clearly, Grindhouse is the continuation of a trend that has been present in Tarantino's career from the beginning.

            These and many other elements serve to constantly remind the audience that they are watching a film. This is in strong contrast to most movies that try to keep the viewer engrossed in the story and feel like they are in a fictional world.

            For example, "The title of Tarantino's contribution, Death Proof, is made to look as though it's been crudely spliced into the opening credits, as though, in the meta-world surrounding the film, the distributor hastily decided that the original title wasn't quite lowest-common-denominator enough to ensure brisk business" (Figler). Things like that actually happened in the real world with B-movies. This mood is set from the very beginning, when a title card saying "Our Feature Presentation" is shown that looks like it is straight out of the 1970s. Furthermore, when Cherry and El Wray have sex, the film completely deteriorates and a title says, "Missing Reel". When things like that happen, it's hard to forget that one is watching a film.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The History of Comic Book Adaptations to Film: Part Fourteen (2010)

2010 was a pretty big year for comic book adaptations as recent hits like The Dark Knight and Iron Man had convinced studios that they were here to stay and the floodgates began to open.


The biggest comic book film of 2010 was Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 2. Jon Favreau came back to direct and most of the cast returned as well. The most notable exception was the character of War Machine. He was played by Terrence Howard in the first one, but Don Cheadle filled the role in the sequel. The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but rumors indicate that payment may have been an issue as Howard was the highest paid cast member in Iron Man. It was probably for the best, as Cheadle is better suited for the role and reprised it again in Iron Man 3, Age of Ultron, and Civil War.

New to the franchise was Mickey Rourke who appeared as the villain, Whiplash. Elements of the Iron Man enemy Crimson Dynamo were included in the character. He's a pretty uninteresting antagonist and Rourke supposedly didn't enjoy the final product and even implied that Marvel Studios' films were "mindless".

The filmmakers also used Justin Hammer as a villain. He’s played by Sam Rockwell and there are a few differences between the MCU Hammer and the comic version. For example, in the comics, he’s an elderly man, but they decided to make him younger so he could be more of a rival to Tony Stark. It's worth noting that there was a Justin Hammer Jr. in the Ultimate universe. Hammer's also a very credible threat in the comics, whereas the film portrays him as an ineffectual buffoon.

Iron Man 2 did great at the box office, making $623 million overall, compared to a budget of $200 million. However, fans usually consider it to be a step down from the original. And now that there are 3 Iron Man films, it’s often chosen at the worst of the trilogy, a sentiment I agree with. The film's Rotten Tomatoes score was still a respectable 73%, it's just that this was significantly lower than the first's score of 94. Iron Man 2 did get one Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects.

A common complaint has been that the second Iron Man movie is too much of a set up for The Avengers. Black Widow, one of the major characters from The Avengers, is shown for the first time here in a pretty sizable role. Nick Fury is also fleshed out for the first time; he had only appeared in an after credit scene before this film. Also, Tony reads his father’s notes about an item called the Tesseract, which would be a plot point in both Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. Another reference to the greater Marvel universe occurred in the post-credits scene, which involved Agent Coulson finding Thor’s hammer.

This is easily one of the lesser Marvel Studios films, and probably the worst one, with the only movie in the same ballpark being Thor: The Dark World.

Kick-Ass was adapted from a comic by the famous writer Mark Millar, published from 2008 to 2010. The concept is basically what would happen if people tried to be superheroes in real life.

The violent, R-Rated film contains tons of references to various comics. The character of Big Daddy is clearly inspired by a certain DC hero, a fact lampshaded by a thug saying he was beaten up by a guy dressed like Batman. Nicolas Cage plays the character in the manner of Adam West from the 1960s TV show and when they show Big Daddy’s backstory, they do it in the form of comic book panels.

Another Batman reference comes at the end with Red Mist quoting The Joker from the 1989 film Batman. The protagonist also says he looks like Wolverine while at one point another character talks about reading Scott Pilgrim.

The movie is decently faithful to the source material but takes a few liberties. In the film, Kick-Ass decides to become a superhero for idealistic reasons, but the comic version was just bored. Also, Big Daddy’s backstory of being a cop is actually made up in the graphic novels, but in the movie, it’s all true.

Kick-Ass is entertaining enough, but I've never had a desire to rewatch it. It was very profitable with a $96 million worldwide gross more than tripling its approximately $30 million budget. Reviews were positive and it got a 75% on Rotten Tomatoes.


Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was originally a series of graphic novels written by Brian Lee O’Malley, released from 2004 to 2010. The film was directed by Edgar Wright, who first gained attention for the zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, and has also made Hot Fuzz, The World’s End, and most recently Baby Driver. Scott Pilgrim is his only film so far that was a financial disappointment.

The movie cost around $90 million to make, but only raked in $47 million worldwide. Obviously, this meant the film was considered a failure. It’s unfortunate because, like all of Edgar Wright’s work, it’s a really good movie. Part of the reason it didn’t do so well is that was released at the same time as The Expendables. Also, the over the top, video game-inspired style may have been off-putting for mainstream audiences, especially older people. The movie did get good reviews and it has an 82% at Rotten Tomatoes.

The original comic is excellent as well with a unique art style and this adaptation does a great job of capturing its feel and tone. A major difference between the two is the in the endings as the comic's was actually written after the script for the film was completed. Some subplots are excised and the time frame is compressed, but many plot points are taken directly from the source material and a lot of the characters stay true to their comic portrayals.


Jonah Hex was an abysmal failure based on the long-running DC character first seen in All-Star Western #10 in 1972. Warner Brothers originally hired the awful directing duo Neveldine and Taylor, famous for the Crank films among others, but they ended up leaving the project and just writing the script.

The director would be Jimmy Hayward, who has not made another live-action film to date, but has directed two animated features, Free Birds and Horton Hears a Who. The cast was pretty random with plenty of talented actors, like Josh Brolin in the title role, John Malkovich, Michael Shannon, and Michael Fassbender. But then were odd choices like Megan Fox, Wes Bentley, and Will Arnett. None of them embarrass themselves, but there's not much they could do with such a poorly written script.

The film was a massive flop, making only 10 million dollars on a $47 million budget. The critics were equally unimpressed as its Rotten Tomatoes score is only 12%, which makes this by far the most poorly reviewed comic book film of 2010.

Its main sin is just being boring but it also has lousy special effects and was nominated for two Razzies.

Jonah Hex's appearance is very similar to the source material, but he can bring people back to life, which isn't an ability he has in the comics. In fact, in most incarnations, he has no supernatural powers whatsoever.


Red was adapted from a miniseries published by the DC imprint Homage and created by Warren Ellis and Cully Hammer. Despite being under the DC umbrella, it was not produced by Warner Brothers, but rather Summit Entertainment. Red was directed by Robert Schwentke, who has also directed Flightplan, The Time Traveller’s Wife, and R.I.P.D., another comic adaptation. His movie is much more comedic than the source material.

It was critically successful, as the Rotten Tomatoes score is at 71%. Red also did very well financially, making almost $200 million. The excellent cast included Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and John Malkovich. Red is mildly entertaining but pretty standard and forgettable and I'd only recommend it to comic book movie completionists.


The Losers was based on a Vertigo comic book series that ran from 2003 to 2006. The movie starred 3 future cast members in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, and Zoe Saldana. It also featured Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who had just played The Comedian in Watchmen. This should have been a solid cast, but they are all wasted as the characters aren't very interesting.

The Losers was directed by Sylvain White, whose illustrious filmography includes gems like Stomp the Yard and I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer. The film has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 49%, but this is misleading in my opinion, as my feelings were strongly negative towards the film. It didn't do well financially either since it made less than $ 30 million on a modest $25 million budget.

It's full of annoying stylistic flourishes like freeze frames, a supposedly badass slow-mo hero walk of the main cast, and speed ramping as well as fake-looking visual effects. The editing is also irritating at times as it's way too fast and incoherent. Also, the antagonist is cartoonishly evil and silly and the plot and characters are generic at best.


Finally, we come to a French-language comic book adaptation called The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec. It was directed by Luc Besson, who also made The Professional, The Fifth Element, and the 2017 comic book movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The film was positively received, getting an 83% on Rotten Tomatoes.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

12 Years A Slave is a masterpiece (10/10)

DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen

     The newest film from acclaimed director Steve McQueen is based on a memoir by Solomon Northrup titled 12 Years a Slave. Northrup was a free black man living in New York who was kidnapped in 1841. He was sold into slavery in Louisiana and was finally rescued in 1853.

     The movie is an absolute masterpiece. Everything about the film, from the cinematography, to the acting, to the writing is excellent. What possibly stands out the most is how the film is shot. 

     There are plenty of long takes which serve to really make the viewer experience the painful, sometimes graphic situations the film portrays. The horrors of slavery aren't sugarcoated here, but rather pushed to the forefront. I'm a huge fan of long takes and McQueen has clearly mastered them. Several of them feature some magnificent blocking and camera moves as well. 

     McQueen has already proven himself with his two previous films, Hunger and Shame, both of which got rave reviews. This is his third collaboration with cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, who also worked on The Place Beyond the Pines and the upcoming Oldboy remake directed by Spike Lee. 12 Years a Slave was shot on 35mm film in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

    The amazing cast features quite a few accomplished actors. The main character, Northrup, was played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. He does a great job of portraying the terror of the situation while still maintaining a quiet dignity. Ejiofor has previously appeared in Salt, Children of Men, and Redbelt. There is a very good chance he could get an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. I can't think of anyone more deserving out the films released so far.

    The supporting performances are all top-notch as well. Michael Fassbender is perhaps the best of them all in his haunting role as a sadistic slave owner. Fassbender starred in the two previous McQueen features; they clearly work well together. Benedict Cumberbatch is also outstanding, as is Paul Dano. Brad Pitt does fine in a role that amounts to little more than a cameo. The youngest Oscar-nominated actress ever, Quvenzhan√© Wallis, also appears.

    12 Years a Slave is technically brilliant, but it's also a powerful film that packs an emotional wallop. In my opinion, it's the best movie of 2013 so far. I don't really see any of the upcoming 2013 films surpassing it. The only ones that could possibly compete would be the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis and Martin Scorcese's The Wolf of Wall Street. However, I don't see either of those reaching the heights of this film. 12 Years a Slave will almost surely get a Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, along with several others.

    The reception to this film has been almost unanimously positive. It has a score of 97 on Metacritic and the same on Rotten Tomatoes. It also has a 8.6 on IMDB.

RATING: 10/10

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