In the inaugural episode of Sofa Justice Warriors, Joe tackles a mission statement movie and comes to a surprising conclusion.
If you’re angry about having to press “one” for English, think All Lives Matter is a better alternative to Black Lives Matter, and think Social Justice Warrior is an insult, you’re going to want to hate this show.
But I sincerely hope you can find it in yourselves to give us a shot. Because you are exactly who I want to reach.
Pour yourself a drink, alcoholic or non, sit back, and relax. We’re gonna’ die in a pit of failure and get laughed off the internet.
We’re gonna’ try to make talking about important social issues fun and entertaining.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, welcome to the couch. I’m yet another insufferable white guy shouting into the void.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, welcome to the couch. I’m a nobody who hopes he’s an ally and fears he’s butting into a conversation between people who matter.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, welcome to the couch. My name is Joe, and this is Sofa Justice Warriors: A show that analyzes media from a social justice perspective.
What is social justice? We made a whole video about that, that you can find at the top of this page, if you’re on our website.
If you’re on Youtube, and have annotations turned on, click here.
Otherwise, go to this address.
This is a show that will take many forms. Sometimes it’ll be a free-form conversation with guests.
Sometimes, like today, it’ll just be you and me, person-to-person. Sometimes it’ll be inexplicably weird.
But my promise to you is that here, on this couch, on this side of the camera, while never perfect, we will always try our best not to be assholes.
Which brings us to the topic of our first show:
In the mid-to-late 1990s, several groups of marginalized people gathered together to have a voice.
Black people. Gay people. Disabled people. Trans people. Along with everybody under the sun who had been given the short end of the stick, socially speaking.
Those people asked, of those with any influence, in any social arena,
“Hey. Can you maybe not treat us like shit?” And the answer we as a country gave them was a collective “NO! FUCK YOU!”
I’m ashamed to admit that as a scared white man, I was a part of this collective No. I was a teenager, and to be fair to teenagers, that’s exactly where this kind of asinine selfishness belongs.
That’s where it should begin and end. You’re allowed to be a stupid kid.
You’re not allowed to be an asshole adult.
This No we gave to human beings being treated worse than ourselves was, and is, the tantrum out of a spoiled child.
This “no” took many forms.
From sitcoms mocking and misrepresenting the rising support of social change, to political pundits perpetuating white supremacy, to those with very public voices mocking those beneath them on the social ladder.
Change was coming in the 90s, and those of us at the top of our social categories weren’t having it. And let’s be clear.
When we talk about social categories, we’re talking about race, sexuality, gender, ability, age, and a host of other qualifiers up to and including such woefully ignored dividers as body size and hair color.
Human beings love deciding who’s on top, and who sucks, almost entirely arbitrarily, and in the 90s, we as a country took great pride in shouting like an angry stereotypical grampa. Get off my lawn. Stop playing victim. Can’t everybody just take a joke?
Which brings me to the title of our first episode:
There’s nothing political about not being an asshole.
In the mid 1990s, a film was released called PCU.
It was a Jeremy Piven comedy vehicle in the vein of Animal House, whose message was, solely and entirely, that everybody should just shut the fuck up and let the straight white people party on unimpeded.
Don’t examine yourself. You’re fine.
It’s a comforting message, if it applies to you. The problem is, it only applied to some people.
I can think of no better film than this to start my ongoing war on assholery disguised as righteousness and victimhood.
This film is a wonderful example of throwing a tantrum because somebody respectfully asked you to be nicer to them.
-The film begins with Electric Flag Guitarist Mike Boomfield at the Monterey Pop festival.
-This is a 60s peace-hound, used here to co-opt a message about peace, born in partial ignorance, used as a weapon to tell people to shut up and “just be cool.”
Because what’s cool, in this film, as well as American’s mind, is letting people treat you like shit.
Fat guy asks you not to make fun of him? Shut up, fat guy. Be cool.
Black woman asks you not to be casually racist and sexist? Shut up, black woman. Be cool.
Trans person wants you to use the pronouns of their actual gender?
Nothing. We pretend trans people don’t exist.
From moment one, this film is tone-deaf as fuck.
-So we open the film with a pre-frosh.
A soon-to-be college freshman, touring the campus of Port Chester University. Clever. To find out if he wants to attend the school.
-Pre-frosh is lost, a woman helps him out.
He creepily stares at her ass, and while she gives him a chastising eyes-up-here throat-clear, she then smiles after he walks away, telling young men everywhere,
“it doesn’t matter what they say or how they act, women love being objectified.”
Now I know what many of you are thinking. “Oh, that’s fine. Who cares?”
As with all things we’ll ever talk about on this show, it’s not that it happened once. It’s that it almost always happens.
-This woman is never developed, nor given a reason to like this man, but naturally she winds up with him in the end, because that’s how movies treat women. I could devote a whole episode to that.
-Next, Pre-Frosh meets Jeremy Piven, our perennial manchild-asshole-treated-as-put-upon-victim and savior.
He’s the head of a formerly prestigious fraternity that has fallen into ruin.
The film treats this as if it’s a good thing, by the way, because the only way to grow out of terrible traditions is cynicism, evidently. More on this later with David Spade.
-Piven is in college in the 90s. The birthplace of political correctness. He pretty immediately explains what Political Correctness is.
-Except, that’s not what political correctness is.
Political correctness as a term is just a couple of words people utilized to say, “Hey. You’re being an asshole.”
The thing about being an asshole is, WE don’t get to decide whether or not WE’re being one.
We don’t get to spew incredibly hurtful diarrhea of the mouth, then decide that since we weren’t feeling hateful, nobody should feel harmed.
Simply put, and this is important, if you accidentally shoot somebody in the face, you don’t get to decide that they’re not dying, simply because you didn’t meant to shoot them.
When people say that you’re being racist, or sexist, or any of the other terms that make you defensive, maybe stop and think before you immediately dismiss them.
If somebody tells you you’re being an asshole, try to listen. You’re in your head, and they’re not. They know more than you.
Political correctness wasn’t people telling us to stop having fun, as this movie says.
It was people asking us to treat them better.
How does the movie portray this?
Let’s talk about straw people.
The straw man argument is one of many forms of the logical fallacy.
Simply put, it’s the act of fabricating a version of your debate partner’s argument that doesn’t match what they’re actually saying or feeling, and arguing against that, instead of what they’re actually saying.
Movies and television do the shit out of this.
PCU, in particular, creates entirely made-up caricatures of multiculturalist movements, painting them as people who just want to be angry.
Like, that’s all they want. Is to be angry.
A feminist, IN REALITY, is anybody who thinks women shouldn’t be treated like shit, or in any way unfairly, simply because they’re women. Whether you say it or not, odds are pretty good that you’re a feminist.
This movie, however, paints a very different picture of feminists.
In this movie, feminists hate men. And fun.
This is a straw feminist.
This is not what feminism is.
This is what a frightened man’s version of feminism is. And that’s the version with which this movie would rather argue, because it’s easy to win, when you pretend the other side is saying things they aren’t.
-One of these straw feminists — the traditionally attractive one who isn’t allergic to fun, because of course, — used to date Jeremy Piven’s character, because obviously.
-Next, we’re introduced to Causeheads – Because 90s cynicism dictates that the only reason anybody cares about anything outside of themselves, is because it’s fashionable.
In this screenwriter’s mind, nobody could possibly care about anything unselfishly.
-So our heroes respond to people committing the ultimate crime: protesting something, by dumping red meat on a bunch of vegans. Because fuck anybody who believes a thing I don’t.
-I could barely hear the movie over the sound of the screenwriters masturbating whilst high-fiving.
-Our main characters are bullies, and that’s perfectly okay, because people with opinions other than ours can fuck right off.
-Next, pre-frosh runs into a group of black men who immediately engage in the kind of behavior Fox News wishes were as commonplace as they like to pretend it is.
They complain about how racist it is that the chalk the school uses is white, and tell our hero to his face that he’s the white devil.
More straw people.
Because anybody complaining about racism must be ridiculous, and their arguments must be baseless.
Nobody’s racist, and bigotry ended the moment MLK opened his mouth and fixed it forever, or when Obama was elected, or when the slaves were freed, or any other moment white people drudge up to move the goalposts away from right now, and back into the past, where it’s comfortable.
We’re good people now. It was those other white people who were the problem.
-The kid runs away from the mob of straw people he’s just covered in raw meat.
We’re then introduced to the film’s antagonist: Amazing comedic force and wonderful actress Jessica Walter.
The women covered in meat use language that sounds ridiculous and rat out the meat-throwers.
The film treats them as buzzkills trying to ruin the frat’s good time, simultaneously mocking the language of social justice.
It sounds weird, and makes the normals uncomfortable, so it must be bad.
-We’re then introduced to another antagonistic force, and rare straw white person David Spade. The film’s reminder that if you adhere to tradition, you’re going to be a racist douche.
GOOD FOR YOU, movie!
Unfortunately, your presented alternative — cynical denial — isn’t much better.
Spade and Walter’s characters conspire together to close down the fraternity.
They hate it.
As well they should.
These are assholes who just threw meat on a bunch of vegans for fun. But they’re treated as the villains, for reasons I’ll get into later.
-Walter arrives at the the frat house — The Pit, — informing our heroes that their house is going to be repossessed if they can’t pay their damage bills.
They treat her like shit, because of course they do, and everybody’s indignant.
We’re the lovable assholes! How dare you kill our buzz by holding us responsible for anything?
-Our heroes decide to throw a party. Something the PC police would never allow them to do, because obviously anybody who cares about anything must also hate fun.
At no point did anybody ask us not to party. But this movie insists that getting drunk and laid is out of question for anybody who cares about anything.
Fuck you. I’m drinking bourbon and having fun while I care.
-Yadda yadda yadda, hijinx ensue as they try to pull the party together.
We get some legitimately funny moments NOT at the expense of marginalized groups, mostly coming from the awesome and talented Jon Favreau.
-Pre-frosh meets the straw white people, who hate anybody who isn’t straight, white, rich, cisgendered, etc. etc., and this is where the movie is at its most diabolical.
We’re making fun of racist, classist, misogynist assholes, right? We must be a force for good, right? Jeremy Piven has a black friend!
Just because you portray cartoonish, overt racism and homophobia as bad doesn’t mean you aren’t perpetuating the subtler forms of shitting on those society deems unworthy.
It also doesn’t mean your movie doesn’t have a terrible message, which, at its core, as we see when the film resolves, is
“Everybody shut the fuck up about your causes and stop fighting for equal treatment. The white people and their black friend have beer and music.”
-Which they do, and everybody puts down their signs.
They all decide to be cool.
They all decide to let their issues go and get along.
Because what everybody really needs in this world is to calm down.
Forget about racism and sexism! George Clinton’s here!
-That’s totally fine if you’re already on top, and this is where the word privilege comes into play.
Upon saying that word, I just heard the sound of a thousand buttholes clenching, and the tens of people who’ve made it this far in my little video clicking the little X icon on the top right of their browser windows.
But I hope you’ll stick with me, because this is important.
I was once out at a bar with a group of filmmaker friends.
One insisted that privilege wasn’t real, and was just language used to hate on men, white people, straight people…
whether you’ve said it or you’ve heard it, you know the drill.
I turned to every man, conveniently occupying the table on my left, and asked them, “When you leave this bar, what is your plan for avoiding sexual assault?”
Predictably, they all looked at me, dumbfounded and wide-eyed, and without a real answer.
I turned to the women, conveniently occupying the table to my right, and asked them the same question, one by one.
“I have mace in my purse,” one answered.
“I won’t walk by myself,” another answered.
“I hold my car key like a knife,” the last answered, as if that’s perfectly okay and not at all horrifying.
When people use the word privilege, they’re not constructing a narrative.
They’re not lying.
They’re using a word to describe how they go through some fucked up shit they have to deal with that you probably don’t.
Those women had plans for not being assaulted, sexually. Plans.
All of them.
Literally all of them had planned around it.
That’s how often they have to think about it.
The men didn’t. And that’s all we mean we use that word.
-Privilege is the ability to be oblivious. Do you not think about your race when you walk down a nice street? No? Odds are pretty damn good you’re white, then, because nobody else gets to do that.
We called pointing out that some people have it better than others political correctness in the 90s. And we demonized anybody who implied that we weren’t already awesome people, above reproach.
-The film ITSELF even points out that what we were calling political correctness at the time is probably a good thing, as David Spade’s character, a cartoonish villain, lists what he feels are the negatives of being PC.
-So why, then, if PC is a good thing, do we have this? <Cut to shock troops>
-It’s because this movie, like all of America, had no fucking clue what people were actually asking for. Protests about nuclear weapons and saving the whales weren’t remotely related to political correctness, and yet-
<cut to thing>
so people asking to be treated better were made to look ridiculous, and equated with ridiculous things.
-The film presents minority groups as whiny protesters ruining the cool kids’ good time, treats women like trophies, and reduces a movement designed to improve society to baseless stereotypes. It also ends on a literal rape joke.
So it’s evil, right? It must be stopped, right? You, weird internet guy with your craaazy ideas must hate it and want to see it burned in effigy, right?
This may surprise some folks, but This is an entertaining movie, and it’s extremely problematic elements don’t change that. I just wish it didn’t do those things.
I wish it were better than that.
-Here’s the thing: it’s important to engage with our media.
I don’t want to censor anybody. Censorship is bullshit.
But criticism is important. I don’t want to tell artists they can’t do a thing.
That’s never the answer to anything.
What I do want is for artists to ask themselves, “what message is this sending, both consciously and subconsciously.
Am I being a responsible storyteller?
Am I getting the right laugh, or the easy laugh?
Sometimes the media we love don’t love us back, and it’s okay to point out when that happens.
-PCU’s treatment of social issues is abhorrent. Its mistreatment of already marginalized groups is irresponsible at best. But with very few changes, this movie could’ve had all of the fun it had, and not at the expense of people who were just asking not to be treated like shit.
As a society, we tried to have this conversation in the 90s. We failed. Hard.
We screamed, and cried, and stepped on our own dick. As a society.
This conversation is happening again. I’m weirdly hopeful.
With the advent of social media, creators can no longer ignore the voices of those they hurt.
A litany of people are already doing what I’m trying to do, here.
I could keep my mouth entirely shut forever, and the work I’m doing would still be done by somebody. We’re progressing.
But I, and hopefully you, am done with letting 90s cynicism continue on, long past its expiration date.
I’m done keeping my mouth shut. I’m done insisting that I’m not an asshole, or taking pride in it, absolving myself from responsibility.
There are four words that will save the world, and they’re not “Stop doing that, please,” as much as that would be nice.
Because the response to “stop doing that, please” is also four words long.
It’s “I’m a good person,” which misses the point entirely.
The four words that will save the word are “dude, that’s not cool.”
So to PCU I say, you’re pretty funny, but dude, some of that shit wasn’t cool.
In the 90s, nobody was saying that we weren’t good people. They were telling us how to be better people.
And this time around, I think we can get it right.
For Sofa Justice Warriors, I’m Joe, it’s been an honor and a privilege, thank you everybody goodnight.