Friday, March 9, 2012

Criticism of the Nostalgia Chick

When looking up FernGully clips last year, I ran across the Big-Lipped Alligator Moment meme and traced it back to a funny video produced by two internet reviewers, the Nostalgia Critic (played by Doug Walker) and the Nostalgia Chick (played by Lindsay Ellis). They were so entertaining that I bookmarked both of their pages, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Lindsay Ellis is a feminist who makes video reviews from a feminist viewpoint. My appreciation of the Nostalgia Chick has greatly diminished over time, however, largely stemming from the character's absurd qualities being difficult to distinguish from Lindsay Ellis' honest criticism, as well as her bad (i.e. anti-feminist) taste in humor.

To understand the Nostalgia Chick, you have to look first at the Nostalgia Critic. Doug Walker is an intelligent comedian who decided to humorously criticize movies and TV shows he grew up watching, and he created the character of the Nostalgia Critic to be his avatar in doing so. He based the character off of Daffy Duck from Loony Tunes, and he has speculated he could have in part subconsciously based the Nostalgia Critic off of the Queen of Hearts from Disney's Alice in Wonderland. The Nostalgia Critic is bored, salacious, and angry to the point of regularly trying to kill everyone in the vicinity with a pistol. The Nostalgia Critic is not Doug Walker; however, Doug Walker sometimes uses the Nostalgia Critic to communicate positive messages in and around the angry gun nut. I would characterize Doug Walker as a feminist even though he doesn't identify himself as such, as he has used the Nostalgia Critic platform to criticize treatment of women in movies.

In response to requests that he review media aimed at girls, Doug Walker instead decided to hold a contest for the role of a female counterpart for the Nostalgia Critic, which he named the Nostalgia Chick. Now, the problem with this name is that it implies that a "critic" would be male by default. We have the "Nostalgia Critic", a man who reviews normal media, and the "Nostalgia Chick", which is the add-on specifically for that other demographic over there. This was reflected in their taglines. The Nostalgia Critic's send-off is "I remember it so you don't have to", while the Nostalgia Chick's initially was "I remember it because the dudes don't." Lindsay Ellis actually came to the same conclusion about it being sexist and dropped the tagline altogether as well as the restriction that she only review girl-themed media. The characters' names still pose a problem, though. I think what should have been done is have both of them be called Nostalgia Critics and have them individually known as the Nostalgia Chick and the Nostalgia Dude or Nostalgia Guy. You know, have both of them given gendered titles. As it is, we've still got a default critic and the special female variation.

So, anyway, Lindsay Ellis won the role of Nostalgia Chick and tried to find her schtick. She initially was just a pleasant, playful feminist reviewer who made snarky comments about how things for girls tend to be made, and then started incorporating a darker element to her character as she brought her friends into the show. The pleasant demeanor is now used to contrast with a load of morbid humor about the Nostalgia Chick being a horrible person. She's a stalker who spies on her friend Nella, who is actually hired to be her friend to make her look skinny in comparison. Alongside this, Lindsay Ellis preaches third-wave feminism through the Nostalgia Chick. The character makes feminist criticism while being a selfish abusive stalker. It can easily come across as the Nostalgia Chick being an evil feminist whose feminism is one of her negative traits. I have similar criticism about the Nostalgia Critic, but I think Doug Walker does a better job of keeping his own persona separate from that of his character's. When the Nostalgia Chick yells about "slut-shaming"--a phrase almost unheard of outside feminist circles--it can sound like like some weird aspect of the Nostalgia Chick's demented psyche rather than legitimate feminist criticism.

More than that, some of the jokes are just anti-feminist, and I really question her judgment in putting them in the Nostalgia Chick show. When criticizing the Christmas song "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the Nostalgia Chick has a flashback of a repressed memory in which her friend date rapes her by roofying her drink. Even though both characters act goofy and it's a little amusing to watch, this is still a rape joke in the middle of a feminist show. What the frak? And I do have to mention the infamous "rape rap" video that she's since taken down. I guess Lindsay Ellis got a weird comment that had a non sequitur about rape, and she wanted to make fun of the comment. It was something like "in my school, no one raps in the halls. they rape in the halls. and that is sad. :(". It's bizarre, but it doesn't treat rape in a problematic way. However, the Nostalgia Chick starts musing about if one could rap about rape, and she gets her convicted rapist friend (yeah, from the Christmas video) to improvise a few rape raps. Lindsay Ellis got an extreme negative reaction to the video and took it down, but... but what made her think it was a good idea in the first place???

There are also a series of videos depicting the reviewer characters on the site waking up in bed with each other. In "Spooning with Spoony", the Nostalgia Chick wakes up to find fellow reviewer Spoony has date raped her. Dear blog, what is up with her and the rape jokes? In "Linking up with Linkara", comic book reviewer and self-identified male feminist Linkara wakes up in bed with the Nostalgia Chick and other female reviewer Marzgurl, who indicate that they got drunk and had a wild threesome, but he can't remember a thing. He asks them to do it again, but they refuse because it couldn't possibly be as good the second time and say they'll just have sex with each other. He asks to watch, leading to the Nostalgia Chick saying, "No, you're a feminist. It's exploitation. It's bad." Uh, no, it's not because they already were consensual sexual partners. It would only be exploitation if he initiated the idea of them having lesbian sex at that point, as it would be specifically for his sexual pleasure, or if he continued to push after a rejection. Linkara reluctantly agrees with her and leaves, and then it's revealed that the gals were just playing a practical joke on him. So, now feminism is being misrepresented by feminist reviewers for humor aimed at an audience unfamiliar with feminist ideology.

...And I know this is an adhominem criticism, but I was rather offended by Lindsay Ellis' violent sense of humor as described in the commentary for her and Doug Walker's FernGully review. For the review, Doug Walker wrote a joke for the Nostalgia Chick that had her, as female lead Crysta, say that she intended to cut off male lead Zach's penis, and Lindsay Ellis was really reluctant to say the line when they were filming. In the commentary, Doug Walker implies she's a prude, and she retorts that she just doesn't find the joke funny. As an example of the kind of joke she would find funny, she suggests "Crysta" wanting to cut off Zach's penis as revenge against men for crimes against women. Not anything Zach did to Crysta, just men as a part of patriarchy in general. Doug Walker, presumably to be sociable, laughs along with her, saying "That's a Lindsay joke." I just don't see how anyone could be friends with someone like that. I mean, how is that significantly different from an MRA joking about how men should attack women for perceived oppression? Same hateful sense of justice, just with swapped players.

So... I'm not that into the Nostalgia Chick anymore. Lindsay Ellis does make a lot of good points, but there have been too many bad things. She doesn't make a very good distinction between the evil Nostalgia Chick and her own feminist views, and she doesn't seem to get the problem with rape jokes, and the bit about her thinking cutting off a man's penis out of feminist revenge being funny just makes me dislike her as a person. I know that's a logical fallacy, but who you represent yourself as to the world is important for an Internet personality, especially one for whom the lines between the actress and the character are indistinct. I actually like Linkara much better. Though the character of Linkara is different from actor Lewis Lovhog, Linkara is a superhero defending the helpless from supernatural evil, which is a far better personality for a feminist character than a stalker. Who would you rather have as a feminist character, Buffy Summers or Annie Wilkes? I thought so.


Qur'a 'Morhek said...

I understand that her sense of humour is not to your tastes, but I see her as an enetertainer first and a feminist second, which (as I understand it) is the point of feminism - that being one gender doesn't have to define your entire identity and role in life. I don't like rape jokes, but I get that some people funny, and I don't know that it's any more incomprehensible that a woman can find that kind of thing funny than a man doing the same. I never saw the rape rap, and I guess I'm kind of glad I didn't. And, yes, her persona of being a creepy stalker fangirl of a character who is also a creepy stalker fanboy of someone else is kind of...meta. They're actually together in real life, so I suppose that is the punchline to the joke.

On the other hand, I really enjoy when she discusses topics, not necessarily as a feminist, but as a fledgling filmmaker, writer and animation critic, analysing, say, Donald Duck's notorious propaganda short, for example. Or when she gives us looks at genuine female nostalgic stuff, such as the old My Little Pony (that one is hilarious, especially with Nella subverting the hell out of the "girls toys are lame" idea.) And, really, I don't see a lot of her feminism coming through most of her work, because really, if she analysed everything in a feminist context, she'd be there for hours analysing one film or series. Her aim is not to inform, but to entertain, and I think she succeeds at the latter.

Eliane said...

I understand why you like Linkara... I have a problem with his persona though. He is a man, and dresses as a superhero to save helpless persecuted people (i.e. women), and it implies their NEEDING a GUY to save them, so it's only perpetuating the Damsel in Distress Trope INSIDE feminism. It's really bothering me. I think the character wasn't well chosen because it's basically saying "I'll save you cause you can't", and THAT generally is the beginning of a mansplainer's comment under a feminist article. On the other hand, I'm really aware that Linkara didn't mean the costume and all that stuff to mean that kind of thing, and it's just clumsiness, but I really had to say what was bothering me in the superhero choice of a character.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, (and I'm not saying this is you) I find that many people will criticize Lindsay for doing a joke that, if a man did it, would probably blow passed them. That is why I can't accept most 'criticism' of the Nostalgia Chick because it often seems unfounded. They don't view her as a person or an entertainer, they view her as a female feminist, thus EVERYTHING that comes out of her mouth must be perfectly feminist. I really have a problem with this because she doesn't say, "Hi, I'm the feminist mouthpiece for That Guy With The Glasses". She says, "Hi I'm your Nostalgia Chick". She can have feminist views AND also have a twisted sense of humor. She is who she is, so hearing you criticize her for being anti-feminist is like hearing you criticize her for not being pro-hedgehog. She never presents herself as a certain thing, so how can you lambast her for not following through?

wynne said...

With the FernGully commentary, I think that's the point she was trying to make: It wasn't a very funny or good joke. She was being facetious.

mpp said...

It does seem like Lindsay, at times, is being judged by a different or "special" standard which is hypocritical or at least unfair. I think she does engage some interesting discussions and has done good critical work. BUT

My complaint is not particular to her feminism views, which seem mediocre or inconsistently developed. My problem is that overall she seems really lazy and then rips off tons of other peoples' jokes/criticism techniques.

She steals so much stuff right out of RedLetterMedia and it's not even really in a dialogue with them or expanding on the joke, it's just ripped off into a tired and worse thing when she does it.

And she puts very little effort into editing her videos smoothly or in an interesting way. Using wipes my dead grandpa would. but with worse timing. And she reuses the same clips over and over. Then she does gimmicky, "I'm writing a letter with inner monologue" review. What could be lazier or more boring to watch?

And to top off these flaws, she talks down to the audience. She makes super conclusory statements that are insensitive and ignorant. Even if they are meant to be funny or ironically insightful, "feminisms over" "90s adults had it so much easier than I do (maybe, but at least Ethan Hawke walked around and acted in his films)" or the "I'm so hot but i'm not ever trying to like call it out" larks, cf Matilda "the internet is already gonna be trying to decide which of us is hotter" they fall flat because she appears disconnected, cocky, inexperienced and insincere.

This gets me to my sense of the unavoidable George Lucas Skywalker problem: Lindsay has a lack of vision.

Maybe it is just this iteration of the N'chick having some inherent unresolvable flaws as this blog suggests. I mean, how asinine is it that "chicks" got to compete with rules established by "that guy" for his "leftovers?" And, maybe it is that she tries to do more in the reviews than she is capable of? Reviewing Nostalgia feminism when your so young (25?) and have spend your adult life in LA film school and NYC is a pretty loaded premise.

I still respect her and often enjoy her (more subtle) critical analysis, but there are a lot of problems with the entertainment aspects.

I don't want to overly suggest fixes but I would enjoy if the videos figured out their tone more. Some could just be entertainment and fun and avoid the politics. The Charlies angels review is a horrible offensive example of mixing politics and light hearted fun. Maybe it's trying to be edgy, but she keeps trying to make a bunch of serious points. It'd be like Margaret Cho describing the gay jokes her Asian Mom would make and then boom discussing rape in Japanese interment camps in the 40s and how wrong it really really was. Lindsay tries to make a point about not being objectified but instead of talking about herself and her shtick or working in film she tries to make some horribly offensive point about burkas? And it gets a ton of focus and airtime. Is she making some anti-muslim point in response to cash-grab reboot chick flick? THAT's the big connection she is going with? Muslims? not... idk TGWTG?

But yeah. I think basically she wants to be a writer or director, but doesn't like editing/framing/film "ground" work/etc. She wants to not think about feminism, but wants cred/attention from #gettingit. So. yeah...

mpp said...

I know Cho is Korean AND could probably pull off some version of the above joke. But she's.. uhm freakin' Margaret Cho.

Anonymous said...

The Nostalgia Critic himself makes regular use of transphobic humor for cheap laughs.

Parsa Hadidi said...

And looking at Lindsay now, I can safely say she's a damn sociopath who talks high and mighty to anyone who doesn't apply critical theory to everything while clearly not doing so herself because no sane human being thinks like that. Hell, the girl even shamed all nerds by comparing them to Thermians when she is a part of nerd culture and earned her fans from it. If you ask me its a projection of some major self-loathing onto everyone around her. Just look at the way she hugboxes her own site. <.<

Sarahwitch said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sarahwitch said...

Good god, are you paranoid. "Nostalgia Chick" doesn't mean that a critic is inherently male, it means that Nostalgia Critic is inherently male, since he was look for a female counterpart for HIMSELF.
However Nostalgia Chick is pretentiously unfunny, having little to no clue about the distinction between irony and sarcasm, as well as being pedantically pseudo-intellectual with big words and private theories to try to make herself sound deep and profound, but which are typically erroneous... nobody ever told her that "less is more."
In contrast, Nostalgia Critic is amazingly impressive in his range and scope, as a comedian, critic, film-guru and analyst, able to dissect a film and compare it to a dozen others in as many minutes. For example, the NC's respective analyses of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" were starkly telling about each one's comparative talents, with Doug revealing the various film-noir influences behind it, and Lindsay... basically starting out by claiming that the titular town of Sleepy Hollow was a real place, when in reality it was simply named after the story by Washington Irving.
So while Nostalgia Critic is a staple, NostalgiaChick was a flash in the pan based on novelty... which is sad because I like her perky manner, but she was disappointing for that reason.

Katie Ping said...

I thought the titles of Nostalgia Critic and Nostalgia Chick were a reference to the "default and the special female variation" trope that is very present in the era of media both critics review. It's mostly from the 80s and 90s, when Pac-man, Ms. Pac-man, and all the similar characters were common. Perhaps this was completely unintentional, but I always found it funny.

Mauricio Guaura said...

Take a shot everytime the writer says "feminist"...