The Nostalgia Critic’s talent aggregate website, Channel Awesome, has been under fire for the past few days due its horrific treatment of their past employees. Things like refusing to pay anyone for their work yet forcing insane deadlines, firing their HR Director the day after she had surgery, telling some of the staff that no one will ever watch their content, and much, much more.
If you want to read up on the highlights of what went down, go here:
The reality of the whole situation is that this isn’t new and the contributors have been saying some pretty wretched things about the site for a very long time now. Yet, these whistle-blowers have all gone on to create bigger and better things while Channel Awesome continues to linger in an age of internet comedy long since past.
I am not here to talk about the terrible work conditions of Channel Awesome, but rather to examine Doug Walker (aka The Nostalgia Critic) and analyze his “artistry,” and how that lead to this blatant disregard for the lives of others.
Since the #MeToo movement has begun, there has been a lot of backlash and apologists coming out of the woodwork to say that we are being too harsh.
Aziz Ansari isn’t a bad guy — he just — uh — it was a bad date! Oh, ya know, at least Louis CK like — apologized — for forcing other women to watch him masturbate. Or in this case, oh ya know, Doug Walker may have been involved in all these incidents but it’s not like he hurt anyone, he just looked away and let it happen. He’s too busy making the Nostalgia Critic, he didn’t do anything wrong.
This digs into a complicated issue — is it okay to shut someone down? Should we really stop watching after we see their name blow up on Twitter?
I am of the opinion that yeah — we should. Context dependent. First, we need to answer three questions.
Can people change? Yes.
Do people change? Not often enough.
Can we accept change in others? We are naturally inclined to not forgive those who hurt us, but yes, we can accept that. Because validating the change in someone is really the only tool we have to forgive. You have to let their narrative continue in a new direction.
Lindsay Ellis is one of the best video essayists there is on YouTube right now. Her current work is extremely thoroughly researched, and as such, evades discussions on the obvious points and instead focuses on the deep dive. Her videos are funny, teachable, and very acutely aware of the misogyny that runs through most media.
Before Lindsay Ellis had earned the right to be known by her name alone, she was the Nostalgia Chick. As the Chick, she came under fire frequently on the Channel Awesome site for being an unapologetically offensive feminist. Keep in mind, this was almost ten years ago now, but some of her old videos contained a pretty heavy amount of misogyny and other carelessly offensive humor.
Even while #ChangeTheChannel unfolds, people still call Lindsay out for those old faux-pas, criticizing her for making dead baby jokes while she exists as a woman who has had an abortion.
As a transwoman who in the past has been made some art that was pretty transphobic, I can understand why she made those jokes when she did; it comes from a place of pain that is difficult to understand from the outside.
Or rather, difficult to want to understand. Because it is easier to give into hate than it is to take a moment to understand.
We can forgive Lindsay because her work has starkly improved and instead of focusing on explanations of what she did wrong, she creates with the knowledge of what to do right.
With Doug, it is a very different case. His work has never changed from the old 2007 screaming internet man formula, and when he has acknowledged his mistakes, it comes through either as didactic to the point of being condescending, or through one of his other, um, “characters,” Douchey McNitpick.
In his thirty minute “art” film, The Review Must Go On, Doug Walker, the “artist,” has an oddly serious conversation with his “creation,” the Nostalgia Critic. Doug’s voice becomes so low and stiff that it’s almost as if Christopher Nolan directed it.
If we want these jokes to still be fresh and funny, I’m going to need more time on them. That’s two weeks.
Jeez man. Save it for your LiveJournal.
Yet when Doug returned to making the Nostalgia Critic, there was barely a difference in what he made before and what he makes now. It quickly became apparent that all that talk about change was just that — talk.
His work is so insensitive and tone death that even after Justin Carmical, also known as JewWario, passed away after a long, hard battle with depression, Doug proceeded to use “shooting himself in the head” jokes for his videos. But how did he even get to this point? Why did the Nostalgia Critic work so well initially that it has carried him now for more than a decade?
Doug rose to internet fame back in 2007 because his shtick perfectly blended with the times. Before my generation had access to the internet, many of us felt lonely. We had no one who could understand us, or were even interested in the same things as us.
So when a shrieking man-child showed up on YouTube who complained about all the movies we wanted, no, needed, someone to lampoon, we all bought into it. So much of his humor then was based on acknowledging and replicating the humor of the things that we all liked.
For example, in his infamous review of The Room, Doug beat-by-beat lifted material from The Dead Parrot Sketch, replacing a few words from the original sketch with contextually matching words from The Room. Back then, this was hilarious.
But in 2015, when his review of Food Fight lead in with an uninspired and very irrelevant recreation of a scene from Batman Returns, it’s not funny. It’s just kind of sad.
If you really want to deep dive into the hacky comedy of Doug Walker, you should check out the thing he believes to be his magnum opus, To Boldly Flee, a remarkably pretentious movie that is somehow longer than Schindler’s List running in at three hours and twenty nine minutes.
To Boldly Flee is the finale of a trilogy of anniversary films directed by Doug. It is a sci-fi epic that takes place almost entirely within Doug’s parents’ basement, and occasionally if we’re lucky, a random field.
It is a movie that is so convoluted in its story that I think if you ran Schindler’s List twice in the background as a timer, I would fail to explain what happens in To Boldly Flee.
It is a movie that clumsily makes extremely heavy-handed political commentary on the SOPA bill and the definition of “fair use,” that then goes on to lift entire pages of script from Star Wars.
It has such little of a handle on any of its cast that instead of viewing the individual material that any of them have made and using it as a basis for their character, the film has each of them dress up as random sci-fi characters like Robocop for no discernible reason, and have that instead be their character.
As such, our supporting cast, the reviewers, are just bodies to pad out the film and make it seem like people actually like Doug.
This is also the movie where the Nostalgia Critic fucking dies. He merges with the “Plot Hole,” his body becoming imbued with blue light, and when he opens his eyes we see that he is pupil-less. All set to a crazy intense Latin chorus.
This is also the same film where Doug runs around in a bad Judge Dredd outfit that can’t keep its helmet on straight.
For a movie that revolves around heady themes like art vs. the artist and the purpose of a critic in this world, it is engaged so little with the people that created it: the twenty or so content producers, and instead focuses on the importance of the Nostalgia Critic.
The individual personalities that they brought into the website and served as its backbone dilute into the one dimension with Doug’s “writing.” These abused artists who were essentially bullied into working for the site by that point, are merely just bodies added to make it seem like people actually like Doug.
The only difference between Nostalgia Critic 2007 and Nostalgia Critic 2018 is that instead of his videos taking place in his parents’ living room, his videos now take place in a remarkably unappealing looking studio.
The studio is additionally the rotting carcass of his short-lived web-series, Demo Reel, that he gave up on the second people started to criticize it.
The thing about Doug is that ever since he started making videos, he has refused to change. Watching his earlier behind-the-scenes videos, you can see that when he “directs” the other actors, he does that shitty thing Charlie Chaplin used to do, which is perform the scene for the actors and make them shoot take after take until they do it exactly as he did. Watching his current behind-the-scenes videos, you can see him still do it.
The entire point of having actors perform for you is so you can collaborate. When you create art, you want new ideas. But with Doug, that isn’t really the case. You end up watching Doug surrounded by Li’l Dougs who were told to act like Big Doug, who over time has become a Li’l Doug to his former Big Dougness.
Channel Awesome was never about having an open portal of new talent and voices; it was about Doug. Given that the response from the site so far has been to ignore and block people trying to discuss #ChangeTheChannel with them, it seems like the site will also persist to be about Doug until the day it dies.
This is particularly frustrating to me as a fan of Doug because despite his innate pretension, he is clearly very ambitious. He wants to do new things with internet content creation; the problem being that he is too attached to his old shtick to move forward.
Demo Reel, his one season web-series, didn’t fail because it was a bad idea. It failed because he never committed to it; he had an idea for something that wasn’t the Nostalgia Critic and instead of making it its own thing, he did it exactly how he would do a Nostalgia Critic. He thinks too inwardly when creating, only drawing from himself.
This becomes painfully clear when he has an “epiphany” in his Mad Max: Fury Road review where he claims that people really like that movie because it follows the simple formula of the Loony Tunes, which has been a basis for his own work.
But like — what?
If he were to for once in his life let go of his ego so he could be honest with himself and listen to what the former producers of Channel Awesome had to say, maybe his career could move forward for the first time since 2009.
Until then, Channel Awesome will only serve as an uncomfortable time portal back to an era long since past.
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