November 4, 2018

WANG | Even Ravens Get Bored of Scarecrows

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In the biggest game of his life, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda had finally run out of surprises. In a critical Game 4 of the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, Maeda had been asked to bail out the Dodgers in another sticky situation. Bases loaded, two outs, down 5-4, he was tasked to holding the Red Sox from expanding their lead any further. Up to the plate came Steven Pearce, who looked like the kind of guy who spent his spare time wrangling cattle just for kicks.

As a pitcher, Maeda is particularly meticulous. He likes to pitch backward, which is baseball lingo for saying he liked to start batters with his slower pitches, before blowing them away with his fastball. It is a good way of keeping batters off balance, and judging by the fact that the Dodgers were paying him $25 million, he had been pretty successful so far.

The problem was, he had already pitched in Game 2 and Game 3 of the World Series, and was already risking overexposure by appearing in Game 4. The Red Sox knew what to expect, so when pitch 1, a slider, sailed by Pearce for strike one, he knew what was coming. On Maeda’s next pitch, a fastball, Pearce crushed it for a 3 run double. Game over. The next night, the Red Sox would hoist the World Series crown.

The Dodgers aren’t the only one wondering if they would have been better served changing up the formula. The “Halloween” franchise, of Michael Myers fame, is somehow back again for *checks notes* the 11th time, featuring the same standard slasher formula: violent psychopath stalks a group of people, group of people is whittled, lone survivor somehow escapes from Myers. The movie itself is marked improvement over the miserable string of sequels that came out in the mid 2000s, but the whole premise is incredibly stale at this point. Guy meets girl. Guy stalks girl. Girl escapes. Rinse, Repeat, Profit.

There’s a reason why horror franchises and baseball pitchers always fare worse the second and third time around; they don’t know how to reinvent themselves. The scares himself don’t land as effectively as they did at first; the pitches don’t land at all.

Compare that with Burning, the recently released South Korean Horror/Mystery film. The characters take on new life in a different kind of setting. Instead of masked men, it’s the slow burning smiles and innuendos of the character that build a more organic tension. A love triangle, set on the Korean Peninsula, run amok. The horror comes not from jump scares and leering shots of the killer, but a disturbing plot device that sweeps readers for a stunning reveal, before setting everything ablaze.

It’s not a coincidence the best two films of this genre in the past few years, Burning and Get Out, have something to say. Both movies touched on social issues that tied them to the ground. Getting to the destination is key, but the process there is meaningful. They’re innovators. Every step counts; every word matters. There’s fear mined in the unknown. It’s authentic; it’s different.

And it’s this conundrum that has defined the last few weeks leading up to the U.S. midterm elections, or more specifically, the particularly troubling messaging from our president. In an election cycle that has been marred, to a greater degree, by partisan fighting, the rhetoric from the president has declined even further below his usual standards. The problem is, once you hit rock bottom, anything else seems like a cheap imitation.

First, it was his attack on the migrant caravan in Central America, moving toward Mexico, where he theorized that the group contained “Middle Easterners.” It calls back to his similar remarks about Mexican immigrants during the 2016 election cycle.

But at a time when pipe bomb attacks and shootings are perpetrated by men who could have been easily as mistaken as middle-aged shopping mall dads, it rings especially crude and short sighted. But because Trump has nothing new to say; nothing fresh to offer, because he can’t get out of his own head, he has nowhere else to go. He’s a pitcher who’s been figured out; a slasher film that scares no one. It’s tiresome, and worn out, and at this point, utterly surreal.

When he attacked Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida for being a thief, and Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia for being unqualified, you could almost hear the populace sigh. What was remarkable about the entire exchange was that at the same time while praising Gillum’s opponent, Ron De Santis, being Harvard Law School educated, he crushed Abrams for being unprepared, despite having graduated from Yale Law School herself. If the irony flew over his head, he must have missed it. Nothing new, nothing unexpected. Same old Trump, same old nonsense.

The whole cycle is predictable. Win or lose, Trump’s administration won’t change. He’s done the same thing over and over again, backed by his pantry of yes men. It’s no longer infuriating. It’s dull. They point to the same imagined threats and prey on the fears that they know will play to their base. It works, unfortunately. They’re scarecrows, but they’re only scaring themselves.

William Wang is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Willpower runs every other Monday this semester. He can be reached at wwang@cornellsun.com.