No matter who you ask, a person of any race, nationality, creed, sex, ability, age, income, and species has a gripe with their depiction in media. Whether it’s outrage over Scarlett Johansson playing a Japanese character in Ghost in the Shell, Matt Damon starring in an Asian epic like The Great Wall, or a white guy starring in Birth of the Dragon, or outrage over the portrayal of dumb white guys in commercials, black people at the Oscars, working women on TV, housewives on TV, Russians, Chinese, Christians on Comedy Central, Muslims on Fox, Jews on Pewdiepie, gay people, straight people, sharks, or pit bulls. As media grows more and more global, more and more people who see their groups commodified will have the means to gripe about it. The more people gripe, the more other people will share anecdotes of “the other side”, which will breed more anecdotes of the other other side, etc.
This is the circular state of anecdotal media. One anecdote of injustice on one side must be met with an opposing anecdote of injustice to balance the books. A story of a crooked cop is met with a criminal who walks free, a story of an attack on free speech is met with a racist teacher, a bombing in Istanbul with a bombing in Egypt, Hamilton with Ghost in the Shell. The crowd demands apologies, retractions, boycotts, firings, or some other justice, followed by reciprocal measures taken by the opposing side. Both sides spiral into a battle of anecdotes. Political and social debate becomes totally anecdotal, with one side citing just enough data points to overpower the anecdotes of the opposing side. Anecdotes are dug up from the far reaches of the internet, weighted as heavily as possible with retweets and reshares, and the one who has the unanswerable anecdote wins. Meanwhile, ads are sold on every link. More shares means more ad revenue.
All the while, we’re scared to death of stepping back and claiming that all these anecdotes might be valid. Regardless of which narratives the anecdotes might uphold, can’t it be true that every demographic has valid concerns about how they’re depicted in media? Don’t we all resent being commodified in media? If so, we’re in a null zone where every anecdote equals every other, and our political dialog becomes meaningless. Some anecdotes begin to feel over-weighted, and we have no good reason to share them. If we’re no longer sharing in the narratives of guilt, fear, outrage, and social justice, then social media instantly forgets us.
This is a weird place to be, this non-anecdotal world. We immediately look around for a new narrative to be a part of, new models to emulate, a new institution. Looking on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or any mass media outlet doesn’t give us much to do now except follow sports. (This is to the credit of sports, which still fills its institutional role very well.) There are actually tons of these institutions, though you won’t see many of them re-shared because they don’t generate the ad revenue. Talking with neighbors, people at the bar, or locals in strange places are quick ways to find them.
We’re artists, and stepping out of the anecdotal media game, acknowledging everyone’s shared resentment of their depiction in media, is the first step toward abandoning anecdotal language and taking up structural language. Structural language is where all anecdotes are equal in weight, where Pewdiepie, Spielberg, Tommy Wiseau, you, and I are all equal to 1 and have equal power tell stories. The free market gives us all the tools we need for this. Nobody is prevented from making films in this world.
In 2001, globalism brought Hong Kong films to our doorsteps in Redding, CA, and we saw that there weren’t many cool gwailos (Westerners) starring in Hong Kong films. Gwailos were usually lame, scary, over-sexualized, or whatever outsider trait it might have been. They were your typical voiceless villains. American action at the time was also kind of lame. So we took our camcorders and made Hong Kong films starring us. We told our stories, but we knew that to foster a movement, we had to tell a new kind of story, not one based on resentment, but one that was structural.
Resentful storytelling for The Stunt People would have been stories of Hong Kong people as villains and gwailos as underdogs delivering justice to them. Down with the lame, scary, over-sexualized Hong Kong oppressors! Justice to the gwailos! Resentful cinema is just a mirror of the cinema we resent. “Revenge Cinema” like this is non-innovative as it uses the same language as its target of attack. It’s the exact same as anecdotal media. That wasn’t our game.
Creating action films without resentment is my small contribution to structural language. I make a decent living doing this full time, and I want everyone to partake. Your entry in the market poses no threat to me – quite the opposite. There are no passwords or special keys to access it, and I’ll give away every secret for free. It’s an empty throne where all can access the center, become producers, and inspire more to take up the task of producing. Your social media profile will be less about anecdotes and consumer stuff, more about structure and producing things. The more people do it, the more people are subsequently inspired to do the same and drive resources away from circular, anecdotal discourse into productive, structural discourse.
All one has to do is abandon their resentments, turn on their iPhone, and tell a story.