Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Ignorant Internet Lynch Mob is Wrong About Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I’ve read so many articles incorrectly hating on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that I can’t take it anymore. The mob of screaming internet lemmings has wildly overreacted to the film’s treatment of racism—and missed the point entirely. They argue that the film encourages the viewer to read the character of Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) as sympathetic, despite the fact that he is a violent racist whose single attempt at an act of redemption results in failure; they argue that it is easier to read the character this way because we never see the torture Dixon is said to have committed against a black person; and they use Twitter (and bad writing, which almost goes without saying with such Twits) as a way to attempt to make an argument about the film’s lack of nuance, which is laughable.

(Thoroughly detailing the comprehensive incorrectness of these unobservant morts will require the discussion of a number of pivotal plot points in the film, so if you haven’t seen it and you don’t want to know what happens, now is probably the time to pull the cord so the driver can stop the bus for you to disembark.)

Since it is not possible to watch this film and miss how controlled and nuanced the ending is, especially when contrasted against the reckless abandon with which the balance of the story is hurled at the viewer, I can but deduce that the internet lynch mob is either intentionally missing the point so they can go on a self-righteous bender, or they got so pissed at Dixon early in the film that they went temporarily insane and lost the ability to comprehend the rest of the story. Part of me wants to give them the benefit of the doubt, because Jason Dixon is a repugnant character, so much so that he makes most of the first half of the film downright uncomfortable; but the truth is that they just wanted to follow the internet lynch mob, because it’s easy to see your self-righteous position on racism validated in a post-Trump world that vilifies straight cis white men as a matter of course. If Dixon was the only main character in the film, and he had been awarded some sort of medal at the end, this point of view might approach the cusp of validity.

Neither of those things is true, of course. The real main character is Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), and she’s a piece of work in her own right. She kicks two children in the crotch, which probably qualifies as child abuse elsewhere, but maybe not in rural mountain towns. She turns a dentist’s drill on him in a manner in which it was never intended. The people who are wrong about this film point to that in particular, when they can be bothered to criticize Mildred at all, as evidence of the film’s reliance on violence and lack of nuance to move things along. What they fail to mention is that Mildred is acting in self-defense because the dentist has threatened her with physical harm for putting up the billboards and publicly shaming the proud hamlet’s terminally ill police chief. She lobs Molotov cocktails at a building that, besides being the police station (headquarters of the officers who have not made an arrest in the cold case of her daughter’s rape and murder), is—oops—not as vacant as she thought it was.

These are the two main characters, and we can’t really get behind liking either one of them. And then on top of all that, the one character who is nothing but sympathetic, Woody Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby—the one with the terminal cancer—goes and kills himself. But before doing so, he pays for another month’s rent on the billboards, so the cosmopolitan townsfolk will be sure to go on hating Mildred for picking on a dead police officer; and he posts letters to Mildred Hayes and Jason Dixon. The contents of those letters softens these characters a little bit. Do the letters cast out evil and change Mildred and Jason, overnight, into better people, smiling and singing and riding unicorns in fields of green grass blowing gently in the summer breeze? Not quite; but they might now be somewhat less inclined to commit arson or defenstration. Watch them as they move toward the end of the film, and see what you think. (But don’t look behind you, because that might be nuance sneaking up on you.)

Some of the ranting internet lynch mob seem particularly exercised over the idea that Jason Dixon achieves redemption by film’s end. He endures a beating in a bar because he overhears his attacker bragging about a crime similar to the one committed against Mildred’s daughter. Dixon scratches the other man’s face and saves the tissue he gets under his fingernails so it can be sent to a lab, but it doesn’t match. Dixon achieves nothing, they would have you believe—and so cannot possibly be redeemed. This is poor logic that dismisses subsequent events, but the kinds of people who join internet lynch mobs won’t understand that, because they lack the ability to think for themselves. They have to jump on bandwagons and be told what to think. (If we lived in a country filled more so than not with people who could think for themselves, Fox News would not be the top-rated cable news channel.) Dixon is not redeemed, but he is changed. Note the way he speaks to Mildred when he is forced to break the news that they did not catch her daughter’s killer after all. Note too the way that Mildred takes the news. Is this the same woman who firebombed the police station?

Those who say that Dixon has failed because he did not catch the rapist-murderer miss the nuance. Maybe they have watched too many Marvel movies with too many big explosions, and would be oblivious to character development even if it fell out of the sky, landed on their lynch mob ignorant face, and started to wiggle (h/t to the late, great John Hughes.) In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred Hayes and Jason Dixon are damaged people so paralyzed by rage that they cannot see beyond themselves. By the end of the film, that tunnel vision has improved, though to what extent is unclear. That’s the thing about nuance: stories are not always wrapped up neatly with a bow. Sometimes they’re open-ended, and thought-provoking, and challenging. Sometimes they ask something of their audience.

The film is not about race, or gender, or rape and murder, or billboards, or even about the mountain-town hillbillies used (sometimes clumsily) to illustrate these ideas. It’s about acknowledging the darkness within, and trying to be better than that darkness. It’s about falling down (or being knocked down), and then getting up and pressing on. Mostly, it’s about healing. It asks you to look at a lot of bad people—even Mildred, damaged though she may be, is bad (remember kids, arson is bad, even if you have been wronged)—and give them a chance to do better than they have done up to now.

The ignorant internet lynch mob is wrong about this film, in every single way. They have said nothing right. They may have raped it of the Oscar for Best Picture that it should have won. They don’t care. They don’t care about being right, which they could have never have been in this argument, making the flimsy points they were trying to make, as long as they can be loud and make other mental defectives listen to them and fall into lockstep behind them. This is a difficult film that makes unpleasant points about America and Americans, so many of whom are stupid and afraid, and who refuse to countenance anyone saying anything negative about their country—especially a foreigner. This film is especially for people who need to be challenged, but most of those people are blissfully ignorant of how much they need such an intellectual exercise. Imagine that: Americans being completely unaware of that which they just might need the most. People who aren’t Americans—such as this film’s English-Irish writer-director, Martin McDonagh—might just understand Americans a little bit better than they understand themselves.

And that’s the damnable misery of it.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

13. Central State/Emporium Arcade Bar - Polyjuice Potion

“This collaborative ale is for wizards and muggles who solemnly swear they are up to no good. A sour brew concocted with plums, elderberries, and magical bits and bobbles.”

I’m always a sucker for a good sour, and I like the way the slightly funky Brettanomyces yeast balances the sour flavors and the high alcohol (7%). I don’t know exactly what the “magical bits and bobbles” are, but two of them plopped into the glass when I poured the last of the can. Pretty much everything Central State is doing right now is worthy of attention.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Deep Thoughts #159

Dear Mike Delph: Stop trying to impress Steve Bannon by fellating your own phallus. Lose the selfish amendment to the light rail ban repeal.