Thursday, June 11, 2020

HBO Max and the Curation of Movies

It was earlier this week that the streaming service HBO Max pulled Gone with the Wind (1939) from their catalogue. This move proved to be controversial, with some individuals decrying it as censorship, some individuals applauding the decision, and yet others striking a stance somewhere in between. It was earlier today that HBO Max announced that it will be returning Gone with the Wind to its catalogue with an introduction from an African American scholar to place the movie in historical context.

While Gone with the Wind remains the highest grossing film of all time when adjusted for inflation, the movie has proven problematic from when it was first released. The depiction of African Americans in the film, as well as its romanticization of the antebellum South, have proven controversial for years. Many of my fellow Turner Classic Movies fans and I then support HBO Max's decision to provide an introduction to the film to place it in historical context.  In fact, like many of my fellow TCM fans, I believe that it was a mistake for HBO Max to raid TCM's content, but to provide none of the films with introductions of the sort that we see on Turner Classic Movies.

If you are a long-time reader of this blog, you know that I love the Golden Age of Hollywood. Despite this, I know how problematic films from the Golden Age can be with regards to depictions of ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Many films from the era portray stereotypes that would be considered offensive in the extreme today. Blackface can be seen in movies from The Jazz Singer (1927) to Holiday Inn (1942). While I love Westerns, there are some from the era I actively avoid as their depictions of Native Americans offend me as someone of Cherokee descent. And here I want to point out that offensive content with regards to ethnicity is not limited to films released during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) featured Mickey Rooney in yellowface playing a very offensive Japanese stereotype. Twenty three years later Sixteen Candles (1983) featured an Asian actor, Gedde Watanabe, playing another offensive Asian stereotype.

Given the history of Hollywood, then it should come as no surprise that Gone with the Wind is hardly the only movie with offensive content on HBO Max. When I had my free trial of HBO Max, I noticed that the service features The Searchers (1956), considered by some to be John Ford's greatest film (I am not among them). While the film does not condone the racism of the settlers in the film (particularly that of its lead character, Ethan Edwards), its portrayal of the Comanches as "savage Indians" makes the movie extremely problematic. From my standpoint, The Searchers should be provided with an introduction by a Native American scholar to place it in historical context.

Indeed, to me providing problematic movies with introductions to place them in historical context should be de rigueur for both streaming services and cable channels. It is a much better solution than the way Disney has handled Song of the South (1946), which was to simply pull it form circulation entirely. Song of the South is simply available nowhere. It never received a VHS release or a DVD release in the United States, and it has never been released on any streaming service. While I am aware that the film contains some offensive content, I think this is a mistake. Entirely removing a film from circulation is effectively erasing history. What is more, making a film with offensive stereotypes unavailable is no guarantee that similar offensive stereotypes won't continue to appear in the media. What will reduce the continuation of offensive stereotypes is education, which means providing films featuring such stereotypes (The Searchers, Song of the South) with introductions to put them in context.

While I love the Golden Age of Hollywood, I will not pretend that everything in films released during the era is pretty. At the same time, I do not want to see these films removed from circulation as they are part of our collective history. Providing films with introductions or making audio commentary available on DVDs to add historical context insures that these films can continue being seen, while at the same time educating the viewer. To quote George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Twitter Should Allow Users to Disable Autorefresh

It was on June 1 2020 that Twitter finally shut down its old layout. For those of you who may have never used Twitter or have forgotten, on the old Twitter layout whenver one had new tweets in their feed, there was a message at the top of the feed letting you know there were "(fill in the blank) New Tweets. When one was ready, then, they could click on the message and the new tweets would load. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the new layout that was rolled in July 2019. The new layout introduced autorefresh, so that one might be reading a tweet only to have their feed suddenly refresh. Then one has to scroll down and find the tweet that they were reading.

Twitter's new layout has hardly been a roaring success (many, like myself, actively dislike it), and among the biggest complaints about the new layout has been autorefresh. To wit, a few days ago I was about to reply to a tweet when the feed suddenly refreshed. I was forced to scroll down my feed in order to find the tweet again. Sadly, looking at people's tweets, I am not the only one who objects to autorefresh. In fact, people have been complaining about it since July 2019.

Here I have to point out there are complaints from people who use the web version of Twitter (like myself), the Android version, and the iPhone version. I have read that one can access "Accessibility" under Settings, and click on "Reduce Motion" to minimise autorefresh on Twitter. Unfortunately, while it might work on the mobile apps, it appears to have no effect on the web version of Twitter.

The past few years Twitter has been all about engagement, even though in my ten plus years of using Twitter I have never noticed a lack of engagement on the social media service. What Twitter might be missing is that autorefresh (like the algorithm they seem to want to force on everyone) actually makes engagement more difficult. After all, I have to suspect that here have been plenty of times when people were about to reply to a tweet when the feed refreshed. In many cases they may have scrolled down to find the tweet again, and failing to do so, simply gave up. It then behooves Twitter to fix the autorefresh problem.

My suggestion to Twitter is simply to allow people to disable autorefresh. There could be a place in settings (perhaps under Display or Accessibility) where one could simply check a box labelled "Disable Autorefresh." Once disabled, Twitter would no longer autorefresh and would instead display the old message at the top of one's feed when there are new tweets. I know I would be very happy about that. And I know that it would make many other people happy too.