Everything is Competence Porn and That is Good

The reviews for Ridley Scott’s The Martian has been summed up as “competence porn” by many critics because it shows an intelligent person “science the sh*t” out of a bad situation. It seems like the 2009 coined term, competence porn, has a bad reputation when it shouldn’t. Every inch and cranny of our media consumption shows competent geniuses solving problems other average Joes’ could not. The same way competence is good for drama, incompetence is great for comedy e.g Veep or Silicon Valley. Every comic book film, Christopher Nolan picture, Shondaland TV show, and so many others revolve around the best and the brightest because intelligence is equivalent to magic to us.

Competence porn is a self congratulatory celebration of a writer or creator’s own intelligence. Watching extremely talented people do their jobs well is not dramatic. However, it is dramatic if you perceive everyone around you to be dumb and incompetent. Then you will have to use your expertise to save, con, take down, or conquer the idiots.

And I love it.

The Martian does this by making the planet Mars look like the idiot in the room.

According to Slate writer Sharan Shetty ” ‘competence porn’ is a truly excellent phrase for an old phenomenon; the frisson of watching smart people tackle tasks with freaky aptitude dates as far back as Robinson Crusoe. Liam Neeson, in movies like Taken and The Grey, is the James Deen of competence porn.”

We live in a world where everyone in our films and on our TV screens, digital devices and so on is Sherlock Holmes. They can look at a problem and figure it out in a mere few minutes. What makes this trope exhausting is not that everyone to 2009’s Star Trek to BBC’s Sherlock and beyond is a expert in their respective field; it is that the main characters are white.

Diversity will and has made this trope more interesting. For example, if the 2014 film Whiplash starred an black drummer from the inner city, the film would be drastically different than the one we have. The film is amazing as is but we have seen this before. One film that comes to mind is Black Swan.

We are already seeing this change on TV. Think about it. Annalise Keating portrayed by Viola Davis in How to Get Away With Murder is extremely competent at being a lawyer. Every case is solve in a matter of 45 minutes and she never loses. The fact that a black woman is shown to be the most competent on a TV show is impressive to me as an avid TV watcher when TV is flooded with extremely competent white characters. This can be said about Algernon Edwards from The Knick, Alex Parrish from Quantico, Olivia Pope from Scandal, Beaumont Rosewood from Rosewood, John Luther from Luther, Mary Jane Paul from Being Mary Jane and even Cookie Lyons from Empire who manages to save everyone on the show.

The best example of this competence porn featuring a POC is MR. Robot. Our main character Elliot is of mixed race and he manages to bring the down the entire global financial system all from a computer. It is a brilliant show and it is refreshing because it doesn’t focus on a typical white hacker/ programmer.

I mean if I was white, I would wonder: Are there any competent people of color? The oversaturation gets boring. It is like eating steak everyday of your life. The first few are delicious but sooner or later you will want chicken, fish, pork, etc.

New and different competent faces shakes up a trope that has been around since The Odyssey.

So yes The Martian is competence porn and that is not a problem. Hopefully, Idris Elba, Priyanka Chopra or Angela Bassett gets an opportunity to be competent in a similar film. That is all I am saying.

The Philosophy of Halt and Catch Fire

Published on the Celebritycafe.com

2015 has been a weird year for TV. Empire was the hottest show in the beginning of the year and Game of Thrones is currently the biggest show every time of the year. The irony is that these two popular shows are treated differently. GOT is proclaimed as a prestige show by TV critics. But some would ask why? It seems like every week there is a new controversy. There is an explicit and unnecessary rape scene. There is an unnecessary nude scene or sexposition. The writing and dialogue fluctuates drastically from season to season and episode to episode. Personally, the fourth season was the best of the show and the fifth lacks a good villain. So clearly GOT has some issues but it remains one of the most popular shows on TV.

Empire, however, is not a prestige show. The story of a street hustler becoming a rap mogul and the internal conflict in his family and business is front and center. This show was a national sensation pulling in 10s of millions each week and dominating Wednesday night. But will it win awards and will it become a prestige show. Maybe but more likely no.

What is and isn’t a prestige TV show is extremely random. A show can be seen by everyone and get nominated for a few Emmys and still be prestige. At the same time a show can be seen by no one and get overlooked by the Emmys but as long as critics adore it the show is prestige TV. To be quite honest there are only five American TV shows that aired in 2014 that is prestigious: The Americans, The Knick, True Detective, Halt and Catch Fire, and Mad Men.

All of the shows listed had great performances, great directing and cinematography, and fantastic writing. There is a consistency between each episode that other shows lack. Out of all of the shows, Halt and Catch Fire is probably the best and most under-appreciated.

This show is like Mad Men and the first two seasons of House of Cards had a baby and allowed Tywin Lannister to raise it. Halt and Catch Fire is a show about the early days of computing in Dallas AKA the silicon prairie. Three people will lie, steal, and destroy everything in order to build a portable computer that will change everything.

Lee Pace is Joe McMillan. A man who is a 1980s version of Don Draper with a splash of the scheming- Machiavellian- masterminds Francis Underwood and Lord Baelish AKA Little Finger. Mackenzie Davis is Cameron Howe the brilliant software engineer and outcast who does what she wants and don’t care. The last piece of the trio is the brains and designer of the computer Gordon Clark played by Scoot McNairy. The show focuses on the David and Goliath struggles of a small company competing with the likes of IBM.

Watching this show on Netfilx made me wonder why I didn’t see it in the first place and the answer is simple, the name is …different or just bad. However, I thought about it and as I watched the show the title began to make sense. It is a command that takes over the computer and makes it pretty much useless. This show plays out the idea of tech taking over people’s lives for the better and for the not so good. Cameron drops out of college and loses a friend/mentor over hacking and building the PC. Joe actively destroyed peoples’ lives because he wanted to beat his dad at IBM and prove that he can succeed without him. And Gordon almost lost his family and his talented wife,Donna, because of the need to build a machine and feel accomplished.

Simply put, Halt and Catch Fire is the best show on TV. Watch on AMC.