Sunday, August 15, 2021

The War on Chris Pratt and Where I Fit In

This is an introspective 2,000 word aritcle, that is split into two parts. The first is the typical attempt to poke holes at Woke Thought and Cancel Cutlure. The second is an attempt to be introspective on my role in it. If you've already read my doing my shtick with the first half, skip along to the second half.

Roxana Hadadi’s review of
The Tomorrow War is quite possibly the most offensive thing I’ve ever read from a reviewer. As I’ve written about elsewhere, there have been movie reviews that that ring like public service announcements to remind us of the existence of racism, homophobia and misogyny. There are also tremendous amount of reviewers who use their platform to police any violations of a narrow definition of politically correctness.

But I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a movie critic engineer a reason to hate a movie star simply because he’s white, religious and doesn’t get into his personal politics:

In her opening paragraph, Hadadi, writes:
“I don’t see personal stories that necessarily resonate with me, because they’re not my stories […] The voice of the average, blue-collar American isn’t necessarily represented in Hollywood,” Pratt said. That was a willfully ignorant statement back then, and it still is now.

Please note that this reviewer slams Chris Pratt for what he says in a press junket. These events exist solely for the stars to say positive things about their own projects.  The reviewer proceeded to slam him for equating that with championing whiteness and tacked on the claim that the film featured a lot of POC and women characters who are secondary to the hero. So by her logic, no white man can star in a film?

The engineering of a conflict against Chris Pratt is the hardest part of this to take considering there are no statements that Chris Pratt makes himself about race. A popular term on the left in their (in my opinion, counterproductive) war on microaggressions is “coded.” When a number of well-known intellectuals signed an open letter calling for less dogmatism in progressivism, many went on the offensive suggesting that the letter was a “coded” attack on the trans community despite the issue not being mentioned in the letter.

In the same way that people read coded hate in a letter to Harper’s or Chris Pratt’s churchgoing and treat it like real hate against the disenfranchised, the extreme fringes of the liberal party have thrived on intellectual sloppiness as of late.


The primary problem of wokeness when not used well is that it encourages people to see and advocate for a simplified world governed by dichotomies. One is either anti- or pro- racist, misogyny and homophobia and there’s no in-between. As someone who actively has campaigned for democratic candidates and would like to see the Senate and House remain blue, I know firsthand this is not a great world view to impose upon others.

In the case of Chris Pratt, this is an illogically messy projection. Pratt is undeniably gay-friendly and hangs around in progressive circles but is a church goer and the son-in-law of a Republican ex-governor. The phenomenon of
people calling for his head when it was discovered his preacher is exclusionary towards the LGBT population (not technically true in terms of the Church’s admission process) is symptomatic of the fact that we as Blue State America have never reckoned with the fact that we don’t have a way of reconciling Christianity into our current state of wokeness.

I don't feel any affinity towards Christianity and I don't believe we are a Christian nation but there's nothing to be gained from having an all-out war on anyone who's a church goer as to the kind of press that Chris Pratt was hit with.

As for being non-political, look at the take of
yet another writer who is dedicated more to reminding us racism exists than analyzing the situation in context: :


“Not everything is politics” is the most privileged thing a person can possibly say. There is only one type of person for whom “not everything is politics” and that is the straight, white, American male, because he is the center and everything is for him. Not everything is politics because politics defer to his point of view. But for the rest of us, yes, everything IS politics. Our skin is politics, our voices are politics, our bodies are politics, our marriages are politics, the way we do or don’t pray is politics, our right to flee violence and/or poverty to make a better life is politics.

Again, author Sarah Marss is reading a person’s stance to be apolitical as coded in ways that it probably is not. It is also assuming that Chris Pratt owes the author and her allies anything. Forgive me for reading something coded in this message, but the author is saying “You are not using your position as a wealthy citizen correctly to rally for my cause” as if there’s no debate to be had. Chris Pratt, it is assumed, would vote on the author’s side if he took an interest in politics. That, simply put, is dogmatism. The debate over whether voting is an obligation is a complex one that shouldn’t be put entirely on Chris Pratt’s shoulders.

It’s also strategically unsound. I have an uncle, for example, with ridiculously backward views and would have voted for Trump if he were properly mobilized to get to the polls, so the rest of my liberal family tries to keep him as apolitical as possible about actually going to the polls.

I agree with Marss that we shouldn’t take for granted that the government will affect certain oppressed populations more but from a strategic standpoint. As for voter apathy, as someone who knocked on doors in two campaigns in minority neighborhoods this past year, there are unfortunately many apathetic voters of color as well. For many people, an apolitical stance is a coping strategy against the madness of a field they have no control over. It’s not a mark of whiteness as many white people on both sides of the aisle are frustrated about politics and remove themselves from it.

The ultra-liberal fringes who are over-represented (look at pitch calls from Buzzfeed, Salon, Variety, AV Club and most lit journals about the desire to hear LGBT, women, and POC) in literary journals even if they are (I agree) tragically underrepresented in other industries hammer us with the same articles over and over policing the lack of diversity. In worst-case scenarios, it leads to what reads as  blanket attacks on whiteness such as the Time cover
“The Unbearable Whiteness of the Oscar Nominations”.

There are tons of instances but so we’re not here all day, I’ll just pick two that recently struck a chord with me:
First off, Sonia Sariya’s
review of Narcos:
The first episode is the unfortunate showcase of most of these missteps—including the most irritating one, a bizarre reliance on a narrator who is trying so hard to impress upon the audience his white, American maleness that he comes off as a caricature, not a character.”

And, again, Roxana Hadadi’s review of Mr. Corman entitled  “Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Mr. Corman is a Misguided Attempt to Finger-Wag at White Privilege.”
“But “Mr. Corman” also adds in aggressively twee animated flourishes, whirls Gordon-Levitt around a couple of songs, wastes time with an incredibly facile parallel-universe standalone episode, and builds up to a final-episode reveal that hangs all of Josh’s issues on his white privilege. A noticeable pattern is that nearly every person who criticizes Josh’s woe-is-me attitude is a person of color, most incisively the Korean American Emily (Jamie Chung). In a scene that “Mr. Corman” clearly thinks is allyship, Emily makes a broad generalization about Josh’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that is not just staggeringly dismissive, but also disrespectful to the people of color for whom the show thinks Emily is speaking. “

In the first case, I have no idea what the heck “impressing his white, American maleness” is even supposed to mean.


In the second, I’d argue that Hadadi’s similar insistence on reading the work through a black-and-white (forgive the pun) lens misses the point of the work. I’d argue that “Mr. Corman” isn’t a work centered around examining white male privilege. Instead, it’s about a white, male character in a funk whose journey towards being a happier person involves being a more selfless person. In the character’s moral orientation, being a better feminist and ally to people of color is important.

Hadadi essentially paints Gordon-Levitt’s character’s needs as irrelevant so long as he makes the POC and women look good. It’s ironic because what Hadadi is calling for is a reverse “magic negro” for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as both a creator and for his character. It’s also funny how Iranian-American writer Hadadi (by the way, I’m half Iranian-American), uses her experience as a “POC” to co-opt the experiences of South Koreans and weaponizes their perceived outrage at a complaint that barely holds water.


I agree with the Hadadi that the show is bland, but the “finger wagging” is done by Hadadi herself in explaining how the show should be rather than what the show is.  

PART II: Where do I fit in with all of this?

“Orrin, you’re not oppressed, you’re a s---ty writer, there’s a difference”
-Emily Van der Werff, widely respected film critic for Vox


When I read Roxana Hadadi’s review, I was so annoyed that I told her so on twitter. I prefaced it with the fact that I understand female writers probably feel threatened when they see people attacking them on twitter. I was promptly blocked and she took a swipe at me afterwards. To her and many people like her who I’ve crossed swords with in cyberspace, I’m some sort of ignoramus that stands in the way of progress. It’s easiest for them to group me with Trump-supporters or racists (my stance on racism is that it’s a loaded word and we’re all a little racist, as “Avenue Q” so wisely preached). I’ve been given a lot of crap (mostly in cyberspace) over the box that the identity politics crowd thinks I belong in and that just keeps providing me with more evidence that something is off about that line of thinking.

One thing that bothered me tremendously was the line above which came at a twitter exchange in which I pointed out that if the majority of critics view their job description as advocating for identity politics, can they still call themselves the minority?

In response to that, Van der Werff (one of the principal advocates against Harper’s letter on intellectual openness and someone who I’ve had brief exchanges with on twitter and through e-mail over a job application and entering their critique-a-thon)  wrote the following line.

"Orrin, you are not oppressed, you're a s---ty writer. There's a difference"

There’s so much wrong with that line—from Van der Werff’s 1) point-blank critique of my work as if only her opinion matters to 2)  her assumptions of what challenges I face from an ableist perspective as someone with disabilities to even my ethnic heritage (I'm of the same ethnicity as Caroline Famke--a half-Iranian Jew who wrote under Emily at Vox and she uses that in her reviews) to 3) her assumptions of why I write 4) sharing her opinions of my writing when my work I would assume was given to her in confidence, to 5) not acknowledging her own power as in she is (or at least was) a gatekeeper to that corner of the literary world as a board member of the TV Critics Association, to 6) not considering that I might have studied the issues she talks about (I do have an undergraduate degree in geography and a master’s in public policy).

But if I detach myself from that, it’s just a measure of how far removed one side is from the other and how a difference of opinions isn’t bridgeable even for people of the same party.

And that might include myself as well. Whether I should have bothered the reviewer personally over Twitter is something I thought about a lot afterwards. Still, that’s understandable that it’s hard not to group people in this polarizing era and I can be guilty of grouping all people who preach identity politics. If David Duke were writing movie reviews and kept wanting to use the format to express his societal views, how could I not be bothered?

And I’m not sure what comes next for myself. I’ve written over 20 pieces putting into words the ridiculousness of the direction identity politics is headed and what I perceive the damage of that to be. About 10 of those have been published in right wing outlets. Have I said enough? Is there more? I don’t know, but I aim to try to keep a line as best as I can of civil respect and decency in modelling a path forward.

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