It was one year ago I left the cushy confines of the Washington, D.C. political world and arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia, to begin service to my nation as a United States Army officer. While in D.C. I had worked on and in media spoke on a variety of national security and defense policy issues now I was going to firsthand partake in the gritty groundwork of securing our nation.
After a year swirling around bases and seeing the functioning of our armed forces firsthand, I’ve personally come to believe even more how technology is increasingly not only becoming an essential military driver but perhaps the most important one of our foreseeable security future.
War is no longer fought with grand armies facing off on some forsaken battlefield just as security is no longer in troop numbers or fortresses. In the latter half of the 20th century nuclear weaponry was seen as the holy grail of protecting a state’s existence, a technological ward against any and all due to its destructive capability.
The 21st century has rapidly shown how the cyberspace, hardware, artificial intelligence, and aeronautical realms are the fields on which military dominance and security can be achieved. Unmanned drones have permitted everything from surgical strikes deep in enemy territory to reconnaissance to reducing the need for frontal assaults at all. Cyberspace, due to the reliance of much of the world economy, society, and government operations on the Internet, is increasingly a “battlefield” in which coders, hackers, and more compete for superiority, resources, and control.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is at the forefront of immense frontier developments in artificial intelligence for automating vast tasks previously undertaken - and risked - by boots on the ground. Low Earth orbit - and beyond - are increasingly sensitive and a realm in which protection is needed due to the prevalence of satellites and other uses of space, as the recently revitalized U.S. Space Command and potential U.S. Space Force may address.
Just as how the development of firearms changed the strategies and demands of warfighting from those of armor-clad knights and spear-wielding infantry so do our modern security requirements significantly change how we need to prepare and adapt to properly protect the United States and its interests in this technology age.
"If Mark Zuckerberg decided that he wants to serve his county in the military, we could probably make him an E-4 at cyber command” said a former Pentagon personnel chief in 2016 of the Facebook CEO. “There was no way to have him come in with the stature his professional abilities demand” said him in a follow-up in 2018. That recently changed, as the military has begun potentially offering direct commissions even up to the rank of Colonel for those deemed especially at need for our country’s defense, particularly in the cyber and technological realm.
As the 21st century moves forward we are likely to see the move towards not just a technology-supplemented but technology-based military security strategy. A future of wars fought almost entirely by machines, controlled and overseen - or not in the case of self-automated ones - by military persons back at headquarters, is not entirely guaranteed. Yet, with current trends, it’s not too far off a possibility either.
A bigger question too is how our military and society will adapt too as these changes become increasingly prevalent and demanded. I saw firsthand in Washington, D.C. how concerned policymakers are over the increasing security implications of rapid technological developments, many of which are well outside the realm of government control but still with immense, dramatic impact.
The 20th century was the age of technology in the sense of human-controlled and operated machines. However the 21st century will be the one in which we see machines increasingly operating on their own, designed and programmed and set loose. The impact and effects remain uncertain and pending.
China has been in the news a lot lately as pro-democracy protests have erupted in Hong Kong and the Trump administration continues to engage in hardball trade negotiations with them and other countries.
China and its almost 1.4 billion people, as a country in contrast to its current state apparatus, is no greater belligerent inherently than any other nation. However, its Communist government — the People's Republic of China (PRC) — has become increasingly hostile in recent years and has laid out a difficult foreign policy dilemma for the United States in both the present and long-run.
As we grapple with the PRC and their wide variety of military, economic, and social policies and actions, and its increasingly oppositional stance to the United States, we should be exact and informed on what kind of opponent we are dealing with and to what degree.
In the PRC’s early years it was eminently hostile to the United States. The U.S.-backed Republic of China (ROC), our ally in World War II, had been forced by the PRC off the mainland onto the small island of Taiwan. The new PRC, led by Mao Zedong, quickly found itself on not just the verbal but military battlefield against the United States directly in the Korean War and indirectly through countless proxy conflicts across the globe.
That would change when President Richard Nixon “opened” the PRC and brought it as an uneasy partner into not the free world but an anti-Soviet alliance. Mao Zedong after all was a tyrant responsible for the slaughter, labor camp, and starvation deaths of tens of millions of persons under his control as well as the torture, imprisonment, and subjugation of countless more. This strange but increasingly close partnership would continue until the fall of the Soviet Union as the PRC had already seen a number of ideological, economic, foreign policy, and even military conflict with the USSR.
By the mid to late 1980s and early 1990s there was great optimism for the PRC. Deng Xiaoping, China’s new primary leader, led numerous reforms that increased economic freedom in China and spurred hope for political freedom as well. Those hopes were quashed in the blood of the Tiananmen Square massacres in 1989 but the dreams of liberty still remained.
The next two and a half decades actually saw enormous, optimistic, bold, and serious moves towards political freedoms in the PRC — a “Glasnost” of sorts — even under the boot of the Communist Party. Powered by the internet, countless billions in foreign investment and international corporate activity, major freedom of travel, a move towards “leadership by committee and consensus,” and increasing internal pro-U.S. sentiment, many began to refer to China as a capitalist country but, only in name, still Communist.
That unfortunately mostly reversed in dramatic fashion this past half decade. That receding is a demonstration of how sensitive liberty is without engrained checks and balances and how quickly it can revert to authoritarianism. The internet in the PRC has become a censored keyhole to the wider net and a tool for citizen monitoring. Foreign companies have faced an uncertain environment as perceived openings by the PRC have been shaky. Anti-U.S. activities have increased dramatically, as the PRC seeks to build out its own international network, often in cooperation with the Russian Federation, in rivalry to the U.S. and free world.
This has all created a difficult situation for the United States. The last few decades have seen enormous exchange and interconnection that is difficult to unravel and yet is increasingly posing serious security and economic challenges. It still is unclear whether the PRC should still be pushed towards opening with a detente policy or fought against with a containment policy.
Whatever the case, we are at a pivotal point for U.S.-China relations and what will undoubtedly be one of the most defining and challenging relationships of the 21st century. Our nation must remain clear eyed on what the PRC is and the complexity of its, and our, past, present, and future.
A billionaire businessman and political outsider ran for office against the establishments of both parties. He promised to bring jobs back to the United States, renegotiate trade agreements, and restore the American worker’s voice in government.
No, I am not talking about — in this case — President Donald J. Trump. I am talking about Ross Perot, who passed away on July 9 at the age of 89.
Looking back, Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign seems even more improbable. Besides the occasional policy and political activity that all persons of wealth and influence find themselves sometimes engaging in, he was a complete political novice. He had no campaign infrastructure and faced both a successful incumbent Republican President and a youthful and charismatic middle-of-the-road Democratic contender.
Yet he spoke to something that rang with the hearts and souls of millions and millions of Americans. His warpath against the then-proposed NAFTA spoke to citizens in middle America who were left confused, hurt, and hopeless as their factories had already began shuttering and manufacturing jobs fleeing for parts unknown.
He wanted to balance the federal budget, to fight special interests, give a voice to frustrated Americans, and shake up Washington in a fundamental way, as he described in his aptly-named August 1992 book “United We Stand: How We Can Take Back Our Country.” His call for electronic town halls, years before the invention of social media, inspired citizens to think about how they could participate directly in national public policy in a nation as large as the United States had become.
The American people soon took note. In April 1992 he polled 24% in Gallup against President Bush’s 44% and Governor Clinton’s 25%. Yet by May he had risen to 35% to Bush’s 35% and Clinton’s 25%. In June he actually led both, as he reached a high of 39% support to Bush’s 31% and Clinton’s 25%.
As Charles Krauthammer prophetically said in July 1992: “Perot represents no party. He does not even pretend to. Perot is a one-man-band… [he] signifies something larger, deeper…the growing obsolescence of the great institutions… technology makes it possible to bypass them.”
Yet popular support wasn’t enough. He faced the daunting legal task of — without a party — navigating the independent ballot access laws of over 50 states. Yet despite immeasurable hurdles — and fierce resistance from both the Democratic and Republican Parties — Perot became an option in every single state.
Even the “establishment” began wavering. He hired as bipartisan co-campaign managers Hamilton Jordan, who had managed President Jimmy Carter’s successful 1976 campaign and served as his White House Chief of Staff, and Ed Rollins, who had managed President Ronald Reagan’s successful 1984 campaign and served in the White House under him.
Perot’s campaign eventually floundered due to a series of gaffes from July 1992 onwards, him dropping out of the race on July 16th only to re-enter on October 1st, as well as a campaign that meandered in an uncertain direction as staff cycled through and priorities and emphasis was left unclear and uncertain. Yet despite all of that, any of which would be unthinkable in a major party campaign otherwise, he won over 18.9% of the popular vote in an election that saw voter turnout soar to reverse a decades-long decline.
While Perot would try again in 1996 nonetheless it was clear his moment had passed. He still achieved the highest non-major party vote since essentially our country’s founding, minus when a former “Bull Moose” President of unique character and personality tried in 1912. Movements have a spark and momentum. While it is unclear if he could have truly reasonably won in 1992, nonetheless his impact on American history was clear, lasting, and perhaps led to our political and civic history of recent and current years.
As former Texas Governor Rick Perry recently wrote, long after his campaign Perot remained true to looking out for struggling and forgotten Americans in many ways. Indeed that demonstrates how Perot — a Navy officer veteran and IBM salesperson who rose to entrepreneurial billionaire status — never forgot the people of this country he grew up with in East Texas.
His spirit was fundamentally American, whereby no matter our wealth, power, or fame we still look out for and care for our fellow person. He embodied that civic duty and lived out it out in a way few did and could, as he strove to be a crusader for those of his fellow countrymen he believed were being left behind.
Rest in peace, Ross — America will always remember you.
Packed concession lines. Rowdy children. A sense of buzz and excitement in the air like a festival. Several super fans dressed in costume. Here I was, at last, in the same place as countless others across the world – Avengers: Endgame opening night.
As the last trailers finished, a great silence came across the packed theater. A mix of anticipation and dread, as we began upon what has been advertised as the conclusion to Marvel Studios’ epic 22-film historic run over this past decade.
Leaving the theater 3-hours later, even though it felt far, far, shorter, I could only be in awe.
Avengers Endgame serves as a perfect conclusion to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Undoubtedly there are more films to be made but the interconnected web that was built up, nurtured, and bloomed as the “Avengers” movies came to a beautiful end that feels both right and final.
Initial critics reactions to the film have described frequent teary moments during the movie and for those who have invested in the Marvel universe that will be almost inevitable, as the dreadful events of Avengers: Infinity War now settle into their universe-wide effects.
Endgame however is not “Infinity War 2.” It is its own film and that quickly makes itself felt and apparent. Infinity War, a magnificent achievement, was also the necessary connector to bring together the intertwining of all these different characters’ stories. Endgame therefore does not need to spend time on that setup and uses that opportunity to explore subtle themes in deeper ways that are only possible due to the intricate stories built up through the MCU movies of this past decade.
As viewers of Endgame will quickly come to see and the advertising of the film emphasized heavily, heroism and sacrifice are felt deeply in ways that the other MCU films touched upon. However Endgame is able to bring weight to these themes due to the deep stories that have been crafted over the series, allowing an introspective understanding of what it means to put others above oneself that not only hasn’t been seen before in the MCU but in much of the rest of cinematic history.
As I’ve implied, to fully appreciate Endgame one will need to have seen a good few of the prior movies and have invested in the story to a level deeper than say a viewer watching 2012’s Avengers or 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron needed to.
The flow of Endgame is constant and steady, with a swirling shift between suspense, humor, and action that revolves frequently enough to allow the audience to experience, rest, think, and then repeat.
The film’s exploration of the ideas of heroism and sacrifice are particularly worth noting. Many of the films characters have put themselves in harms way before and taken actions that could very well have been devastating or fatal, according to the rules of the MCU. However loss is undoubtedly also measured not only by the action itself taken but by what one is giving up in the process.
Our Marvel heroes – Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and more – have made America and the world dream and wonder for years with extraordinary cultural and philosophical impact. It feels like a deep moment in our collective spirit has passed with the conclusion of the MCU for all intents and purposes.
In many ways too the MCU had run its course, at least in its current fundamental form. There is only so much that can be built up in a connected story, even in a universe as complex and big as the one the MCU developed. Endgame found the right point to close it up and drive home the stories and ideas it had built up over so many years.
Nonetheless, the ideas and themes that the MCU inspired have made an impact on countless millions across the globe. Those beliefs in service, integrity, honor, sacrifice, hard work, brotherhood and sisterhood, family, friends, teamwork, and dedication to a higher calling are positive ideas the MCU has nurtured.
As time moves forward, undoubtedly the impact of the MCU – and Endgame’s incredible and necessary conclusion to it – will continue to be felt.
Originally Published in the American Spectator
The long cinematic drought since “Avengers: Infinity War,” with the brief comedic interloping of “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” has finally been broken with the much-hyped “Captain Marvel” starring Brie Larson, Samuel Jackson, Clark Gregg, Ben Mendelsohn, and others. After seeing it down in Richmond, Virginia on Thursday evening at one of its first showings to the public I believe viewers will find that their anticipation will be well-rewarded.
The film begins with action-packed confusion and seemingly a world gone as mad as that of which we briefly glimpse at the end of “Infinity War” and in the “Avengers: Endgame” trailer where half of all life in the universe has been wiped out. In this case the Kree, long an archenemy throughout much of the Marvel Cinematic Universe from “Guardians of the Galaxy” to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” appear to be portrayed in a benevolent, heroic, and sympathetic light. We even see some characters whom, in this universe set back decades before the events of the current MCU, we know turn out bad – increasing the feeling of how surreal and foreboding the whole setting is.
As the story progress we see it does not become really any more straightforward than how it began and audiences are set up for a plot as constantly flipping and complex as the shape-shifting Skrulls themselves are. Just as one is never certain if a character in the movie is “real” or Skrull, so the plot itself has so many ups and downs and flips that it is hard to retain any conviction of who’s good or bad, or even what is truly happening, as further layers are peeled off.
The “Captain Marvel” trailer scene of her being flipped and held upside down in a kind of stasis chamber describes well how audiences may too feel after seeing the movie – but in a good way, as it creates a complex plot that in the end feels immensely insightful, rewarding, and well-woven.
The film also connects more deeply to the still uncertain events of “Avengers: Endgame” in a more direct way, at least based on the information we know now, than “Ant-Man and the Wasp” did. With “Avengers: Endgame” coming out soon in late April it seems “Captain Marvel” was well-timed in bringing us back in to the upcoming climatic showdown with Thanos.
With rumors that Captain Marvel and Brie Larson will now be a central part of the MCU going forward as seemingly many previously essential characters will be meeting their ends in “Avengers: Endgame,” we may be seeing much more of Larson and the story built out in “Captain Marvel” as the MCU begins its next stage.
On a broader note, the “Captain Marvel” film itself had caught some controversy before its release due to actress Brie Larson, who stars as Captain Marvel, being vocal about the changes she believes are needed in both the entertainment industry and the media world surrounding it. In many ways Larson is correct in the need for the entertainment world, as well as its ‘evaluators’ in the media, to be more open and accepting of and to people of all backgrounds, as for too long many in the sector have implicitly or even purposely shunned diversity in the mistaken belief that audiences would not accept it.
As box-office-breaking recent films such as “Black Panther,” “Wonder Woman,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and now “Captain Marvel,” as the first MCU film starring a woman, repeatedly show, American audiences are not only accepting but particularly interested in films that reflect talent representative of and the experiences of all Americans rather than artificially pushing out any group. What Larson is saying and increasingly many others in Hollywood are echoing is that it’s not about ejecting anyone but rather bringing everyone in – as Larson herself said “[w]hat I’m looking for is to bring more seats up to the table. No one is getting their chair taken away…[t]here’s not less seats at the table, there’s just more seats at the table.”
Larson and “Captain Marvel” do a remarkable and excellent job in showing that the MCU can star women as not just a sideshow but a strong center and core. Undoubtedly this breaks barriers and inspires many, including not just women but of all backgrounds, who want to get a fair chance to be able to demonstrate their talent to audiences that similarly want such as well as even beyond the entertainment world.
As a film within itself, “Captain Marvel” does a great job in adding new flair and storytelling freshness to a MCU that is now 21 movies old in just roughly the past decade. But as “Captain Marvel” demonstrates well Marvel Studios and Disney do not intend to let audiences become bored. With “Avengers: Endgame” rumored to perhaps be up to three hours long that initially sounds like quite the challenge but if the skill and ability demonstrated by the MCU’s crafters in “Captain Marvel” is any indication then every minute likely will be savored.
[Views expressed are mine only and do not represent those of the Department of Defense]
The 2018 midterm elections are coming up in just barely a month and a few weeks. On November 6, 2018, members of the 116th Congress will be elected in states and districts across the country as Americans go to the polls in a beautiful exercise of “government by the people, for the people.”
It seems such a quaint and regular occurrence that we do not marvel at how historically distinct, even in our modern day, that as tense of disputes and attitudes as we currently have in our nation are resolved so smoothly at the ballot box.
Polls, as always, are erratic and everywhere. The old saying that “the only poll that really matters is the one at the voting booth on election day” is as true as it has always been. As usual, there are many candidates running without much attention or particularly noteworthiness while others are experiencing strange situations, such as in Arizona where six siblings of a sitting Republican Congressman have endorsed his Democratic opponent, are causing significant public amusement.
While every candidate every election will tell you how ‘this’ election is the most important of our lifetimes and will shape forever the future of the country, nonetheless it is true that each election remains essential in its own right.
For example, if this November Democrats take a significant majority of both the House and even perhaps Senate we could see a significant change in federal policy that includes the stoppage of further Supreme Court nominations by President Trump, let alone any conservative legislative priorities, to even impeachment proceedings.
If Congressional Republicans suffer significant losses on election day we also may see several opponents of the President, whether currently in the open or in secret, pounce and try again to tug the Republican Party away from the new blend that President Trump has taken it.
In contrast, if Republicans retain majorities in the Senate and perhaps even House then we may see more of the same as we have seen these past two years, which is the passing of conservative legislative priorities and the nominations of such persons to executive and judicial offices.
As we near election time all those whose jobs are suddenly on the line begin acting differently in a mix of defensiveness and hyper-aggression, as they seek to eek out every advantage to perhaps gain those few votes that increasingly seem to be making the difference in many elections, as several state-level elections in Virginia last year demonstrated.
Such partisanship serves a purpose, as it is a checks and balances system that allows the people to translate their will into our representative government as well as examine and possibly throw out those leaders who are not representing them sufficiently.
Unfortunately our modern political climate seems particularly corrosive in a way that challenges how effective the checks and balances intention should be working. We have some on the left who viciously and unfairly tar-and-feather those who agree in some or many ways with President Trump, demonizing serious public servants into mere caricatures.
The right is not innocent either, as dangerous generalizing, which has become increasingly common, of a few left-wing extremists as being representative of “all Democrats” is similarly grossly wrong and contributes significantly to polarization and the radicalization of the other side.
On November 7, 2018, I think our country will be recovering from the tension the months prior to election day have been built up and moving on to governing. Unfortunately compared to many past election cycles I fear that the attitude many embraced in 2016 of not accepting the election results and seemingly continuing to fight their legitimacy even months afterwards may continue for the moment.
In a few years I believe our country will look back at this time and see it in many ways as “democracy gone mad.” Everything from campaign money to social media to radicalization makes past “hard fought elections” like those during the 2000’s and first half of this decade, let alone prior, seem like a different world. Yet in some ways it also may be a learning lesson, as our country sees how cracked we can go before vowing one day to never venture that direction again.
And so on November 6, 2018, millions of us will be voting. In the meantime, we shall enjoy endless hours of seemingly cookie-cutter radio, television, YouTube, and other ads repeating some variation of “Trump, Trump, Trump” that we’ve all become so accustomed to hearing since it all began back in 2015.
A romantic comedy in which a bootstraps middle-class woman finds herself in love with a billionaire family. Entertaining, humorous, well produced, and creative, with one thing in particular that stands out – almost the entire starring cast are of Asian, primarily East Asian, descent.
The entertainment media has been abuzz as the Warner Brothers-distributed film that hit theatres the past few days is said to be the first of its kind in decades. In a Hollywood in which it has been widely covered on how actors of every kind of diverse background have faced a much tougher path to the red carpet due to studio worries over whether the market will accept it, “Crazy Rich Asians” is another in a line of films smashing down those barriers.
We saw with the groundbreaking film “Black Panther” back in February of this year how the all-African-American and African cast showed Hollywood that there was audience interest for a film where actors of diverse backgrounds commanded the starring roles, as the film grossed over $1.3 billion.
The stakes are also high for “Crazy Rich Asians.” Directed by Jon Chu and starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Nico Santos, Lisa Lu, and more, while it is doubtful it will hit Marvel-like box office numbers, nonetheless a strong showing will be essential for whether entertainment studios will pursue more films like it in the future as well as open up more movie roles to those of Asian and other diverse backgrounds.
The entertainment industry is fundamentally still a business and with particularly high up-front capital investment costs in producing movies to completion before seeing revenue, thereby leading to the risk-averse nature of studios towards anything outside of proven marketability.
Hollywood is but one sector but is essential for its cultural influence. Scenes from popular movies are replayed for decades to come and standout characters become immortalized in our societal lore. The ways narratives and casts are designed shape our collective imagination and have tangible impacts on the lives of all.
Giving equal opportunity and representation to the incredible array of people of every background and characteristic in this country is vital because it shows that we are all part of the American story and have an equal chance in it. Furthermore, doing it rightly – in a way that avoids derogatory stereotyping – is another key step where progress too is slowly being made.
The actual plot of “Crazy Rich Asians” both speaks to those of an Asian or Asian-American background in particular but also is understandable and enjoyable for broader audiences. As a romantic comedy it combines humor and intense relationship drama in a fascinating way, as it really is a modernized “Cinderella” story with its own unique twists and turns.
It seems 2018 is a year in which many cultural ceilings in the entertainment industry are coming down, This is great news for all, as this will allow an environment in which all people, whether producers or actors, can compete and work together on level ground and more focus on the best talent and product rather than other factors. Our broader culture gains from this as it is removing what has been shown to be an unnatural market barrier, at least in recent years, as we benefit from more stories and talent on screen.
The point of much of this experimentation is showing that films with diverse casts both can speak to a particular audience as well as speak to the general public too. As with many things in our country, if there is a buying market there will be sellers to it. It clearly took some executives at these entertainment companies to decide to take on some risk and explore these new paths, but as the box office numbers have shown it has been successful both immediately monetarily and in terms of a broader cultural shift.
I look forward to a future in which we see a wider array of films that feature our country’s entire lineup of people and communities – and undoubtedly films such as “Black Panther” and now “Crazy Rich Asians” are paving the way for that.
The public square has been alight in recent days as controversy has brewed over The New York Times’ hiring of Harvard Law-educated Sarah Jeong and her history of questionable Tweets.
Based on Twitter’s publicly available information, since joining the platform in June 2009 she has sent out over 103,000 Tweets. It seems many dozens of those have disturbing, cruel, and racist overtones towards various groups. The New York Times has issued a quasi-apology but apparently will retain Jeong, who has alleged much of it was satirical and also apologized.
This saga is extraordinarily complex because of both the immense amount of information and numerous norms, issues, and deeper societal questions involved.
On one hand, it is a reminder again about the strange power of certain social media platforms in now affecting our media discourse as well as business and public policy in general to some degree.
A platform like Twitter, in contrast to Facebook, is inherently designed to be far more of a public square in contrast to Facebook’s more “node-like” system. Many users have, over the years, accumulated extensive histories and thousands upon thousands of Tweets on the platform that are extremely easily searchable and retrievable.
Because of the nature of viral “movements” on the platform it is easy to create a ruckus that will cause an institution to feel they have to react even when it is but a tiny but vocal smattering of folks. We see this on both the left and right, as institutions feel compelled to react based on an over-estimation of the business threat of said movement but want to avoid the risk in testing how impactful any revenue impact may actually be.
On the other hand, this incident has also served a clear evidence again of a double-standard that exists in much of our public discourse. It shows how different norms apply to those on the various ends of the policy and ideological spectrum or, as lately our communications structure has been moving into, tribes.
When someone on the left does an egregious act, often there will be much more leeway, second chances, and other “safety nets” given. In contrast, if someone in the center or right does so, often the consequences, accelerated by the social media mob, will be more severe and unforgiving.
We saw this just a few months ago in The Atlantic’s firing of columnist Kevin Williamson, among numerous incidents before and since. While it is the legal right of such companies to act in such ways, as a cultural norm it moves in a dangerous direction in closing the “Overton window.”
The dangers are not only in the ideas being discussed in the public square being restricted but also in the societal reactions that come from it. Just as how people say “Twitter is not real life,” so ‘media is also not completely real life.’ Just as the daily discussions and representations on cable news are not a completely whole and accurate reflection of daily American life and world affairs, same with much of our media.
Shutting down voices is but a speed bump to a vehicle of ideas. If the idea is truly powerful enough, in a generally free society it will continue to spread and grow regardless with eventual impact on society at-large, even if outside of the media.
For example, then-candidate Donald Trump’s historic rise in the 2015 GOP primaries and victory in the 2016 election despite heavily negative coverage demonstrated how reactions can happen – whether with election results, readership and subscription metrics, or other business and social impacts.
In those cases it means media platforms are becoming disconnected from perhaps large segments of the general population, which is extremely worrying because of the essential role a free and open discourse plays in providing news, information, and commentary to our citizenry.
The New York Times has stuck by its hiring of Sarah Jeong as it stuck by its hiring of conservative, albeit “Never Trump,” columnist Bret Stephens last year despite immense outrage from the left. Yet the questions of how the norms of our public square are to be shaped in the Internet-age persist, and remain extremely uncertain and difficult to resolve.
This most recent controversy will soon likely be forgotten and replaced by a new one, but the lessons it reminds us again of – the nature of the Internet and social media, as well ensuring our public square is at the right balance of being free and open – are worth dwelling on.
Last week I had the chance to watch “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which is the 20th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The sequel to the 2015 “Ant-Man,” which grossed about $519.3 million worldwide, it again stars Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, and Michael Douglas as Hank Pym as the characters go in search of Pym’s wife.
I found the film overall a hilarious and family-friendly performance that is much more in-line with some of the early Marvel films, which had a less serious element to them. The plot had some interesting twists and turns, as well as some complexity which all however remained relatively contained within the movie.
There were some mentions of the events of “Captain America: Civil War” which set the catalyst for Scott Lang’s house arrest that is the original premise from which the movie starts. The ending also had some unresolved plot points which provide fuel for future sequels, yet it was, as mentioned, the kind of movie where you felt as sense of closure as you left the theater.
That comedic setting and somewhat sense of wrapping up stands in stark contrast to “Avengers: Infinity War,” which had just preceded “Ant-Man and the Wasp” by about two and a half months and is still the subject of immense public speculation and cultural attention.
With still about 9-months till the as-of-yet unnamed “Avengers 4” is released, the events of “Ant-Man and the Wasp” do little in particular to tie into all the theories about how that movie may proceed, particularly amidst persistent rumors of Ant-Man taking an important role in the film.
Though Ant-Man remains a relatively surface-level franchise compared to the bulk drivers of the Marvel film franchise, such as Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers, it still provides a new branch that the other films do not necessarily provide.
Indeed, given the dynamics of the film production industry, that the Ant-Man “series” appeals to an audience and interest the other Marvel movies may not is likely precisely why it was created and continued.
This is the kind of movie and series where one would not hesitate to bring one’s children to watch, as well as providing a light-hearted entertaining skit that requires little deep reflection afterwards.
For some fans that kind of movie may not be appealing due to its seeming lack of introspection. As one personally who has great appreciation for how the Marvel movies all generally connect together to form a larger co-mingled “universe,” I’ll admit the Ant-Man series’ seeming isolation does not put it on the top of the list for my personal favorite Marvel films, which remains the “Thor” series.
Yet “Ant-Man and the Wasp” does an excellent job at clearly what is intended to do, which is to provide a large serving of Marvel comedy spiced with a little drama and action. Peyton Reed, Kevin Feige, and Stephen Broussard did an excellent job with this spin-off and Rudd, Lilly, and Douglas all made excellent performances that showed you how comfortable they have become with their characters.
There are some plot twists and turns, as well as intellectual fascinations as will naturally happen when the movie revolves around the “quantum realm.” Supporting character roles played by Michael Peña, Randall Park, and, a favorite music artist of mine, T.I., were natural and incredible comedy both each individually and as a collective chorus. The anti-hero role played by Hannah John-Kamen was clever, strong, and impactful.
While not one of the crown jewels of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as a sidebar “Ant-Man and the Wasp” nonetheless remains worth the ticket price and watch as a de-stressor as we lead up, with “Captain Marvel” still coming up in-between, to the undoubtedly world-hitting drama of “Avengers 4.”
The Marvel movies have captured much of the public mind in recent years, scoring tens of billions of dollars at the box office and entertaining a wide array of audiences. However except for the occasional break such as “Deadpool,” as well as their recent cliffhanger and dark turns, they’ve largely followed a “happily-ever-after…till the next movie” model that plays to a positive optimism.
I recently had the chance to watch one of Marvel’s many derivative television series, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” produced by ABC and Marvel Television, which takes a completely different turn from the primary movies. It is much more gritty and “real,” as in incorporating more of the realities of the nature of military action even amid the science fiction premises.
At now over 110 episodes and 5 seasons, since its pilot in September 2013 its seasons have earned Nielsen ratings of between 3.5 to 8.5 million. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen, it stars the Marvel-favorite Clark Gregg, Chloe Bennet, Elizabeth Henstridge, Luke Mitchell, Brett Dalton, Henry Simmons, Ming-Na Wen, and many more.
One reason why the list of starring characters is difficult to fully list is because of the boldness of the series in doing something that the Marvel movies have often refrained from, namely “killing off” its heroes or other main characters.
Though the series’ premises are obviously science fiction, the series itself does not hesitate in engaging in far more realistic action sequences and storyline developments.
“Good” and “evil” characters do not engage as much in standard movie monologues, rather with the action and deaths happening quickly. Casualties happen, on both sides, with them sometimes as sudden and without prior sentiment as they would be on a battlefield.
There are few Star Wars “Luke vs. Stormtroopers” style “one hero against a battalion” scenes, rather with a far more sensible interplay of the factors involved in the tactical and strategic situations. Action series and choreographed fights are particularly impressive, especially because they embrace a greater element of realism than their standard movie counterparts.
The very nature of “good” and “evil” becomes completely confused as well, as a constant series of frequent betrayals, gray areas, tough decisions, and other complexities make it unclear who is outright “good” and “bad,” even with the series’ heroes.
While there are many action and science-fiction series out there, that Marvel has chosen to begun embracing this variant is a stunning switch in typical cinema and entertainment storylines for such a popular franchise of general interest.
When you take “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and contrast it to the movies, other fascinating and worthwhile deviations become apparent as well. The “realism” of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” stands in stark contrast to the nature of movies such as “Thor” whose very scenario describes the story of a large and accessible universe (literally) and “Gods” who act in it. The characters of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” feel small in comparison, just people trying to do their part amid enormous events and persons moving above their head.
“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” remains intertwined with the Marvel movies themselves, such as greatly expanding upon the “Hydra” war storyline that begun in movies such as “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” When events happen in the movies, they often have impacts on the television series too.
Yet beyond the extraordinarily writing and production, the series also has sociocultural and political impact within itself. The series has been noted for the bold moves it has made in its truly diverse and empowered cast, yet also not pointing that out but rather accepting it as a seamless normal.
In a Hollywood that has often faced criticism over its unwillingness to explore diverse and empowered casts due to worries over audience reaction and market performance, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has shown that you can do it effectively, and profitably, without making it seem awkward or forced.
I greatly enjoyed watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and am excited to see where the series continues to develop, amid Marvel’s large current expanded universe of other successful television series such as “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage,” and more. I am also excited however for the impact of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has on the broader entertainment production community and the push towards embracing all the talent our country has to offer.
NOTE: "The Conservative Voice" was my nationally syndicated weekly column from 2017 to 2018 printed/distributed by newspapers in dozens of states across the country. It offered conservative analysis of modern political, social, economic, and cultural issues. The 2017-2018 blogs in this section were part of "The Conservative Voice."