Homecoming and the Homecoming King
Jul 17, 2017 • Matthew Wang
~ 14 minute read • 2544 words
During the summer, a lot of people go on vacation. Paris, Hong Kong, Mexico City, Sydney, even Cairo. I’ve never been a huge vacation person, which probably isn’t a good thing; there are lots of benefits of seeing the world, even if it means you have to leave the comfort of your home. I’m in Toronto for my entire summer break, but that’s okay. I still try to travel the world, just from the comfort of my chair.
The Homecoming King
I’ve long accepted that I’m not funny, but I unfortunately still try (and fail) to make people laugh. Since humour is this arcane art that I’m still trying to learn, I’ve been getting into watching standup recently. One of my favourite “standup” shows I’ve seen recently is Homecoming King by Hassan Minhaj.
I actually chanced upon this set through Netflix’s “recommended for you” list. I had been binging Donald Glover, Louis C.K., and Dave Chappelle shows, with mixed results. I wasn’t going into Homecoming King with high expectations: I had no idea who Hasan Minhaj was, and even seasoned comedians like Dave Chappelle weren’t really my kind of thing. Oh boy, was I wrong.
Hasan tells the story of being a Muslim immigrant growing up in Davis, California. He was essentially the only brown guy in a very, very white neighbourhood, facing hardships in a post-9/11 America. He faces explicit, overt racism, such as people calling him “sand n**” after 9/11, and more casual racism, such as his story with Bethany and her parents. I think the latter is the more important and complex subject, one that Minhaj delves into quite well.
Casual racism is something that isn’t easily definable; I had a tough time explaining to a friend exactly what it meant a few weeks ago. A quick google search gives an interesting definition:
Casual racism concerns not so much a belief in the superiority of races but negative prejudice or stereotypes concerning race.
When people say that “racism doesn’t exist in our society anymore”, they’re wrong. Not only does overt racism still exist (see: white supremacists), but casual racism is still very much ingrained into everything we do and say. I’m not going to go super in-depth on it (that’s a whole different article), but I suggest you check out this Economist review of Get Out for an interesting way to look at its place in society.
So, back to Hasan Minhaj. The story of Bethany Reed is one of the main arcs of his set. I suggest that you check out the actual show to do this story justice, but I’ll do my best to sum it up. Bethany Reed is Hasan’s high school crush, and Hasan plans to go to Homecoming with her. Unbeknownst to him, Bethany’s parents hadn’t approved of his unphotogenic-ness (read: brown skin), and someone else ended up going to prom with Bethany.
This isn’t someone overtly saying that brown skin is inferior to white skin. But it’s definitely still racism. I think this is the type of racism that plagues Western society today, the type that makes white people say that “racism doesn’t exist” and still, you know, be racist.
Minhaj actually has a great quote about this. It reads:
I’d eaten off their plates. I’d kissed their daughter. I didn’t know that people could be bigoted even as they were smiling at you.
I feel that. I’ve been friends with people who’s parents believe that my “english isn’t so great” and that they didn’t want me to “feel culturally uncomfortable on vacation with them”. That’s why I loved Homecoming King so much: it did a great job of being light-hearted and funny, but also socially engaging. Minhaj did an amazing job telling a story about life, with all of its ups and downs, and its casual racism.
Hasan later gets his revenge (seriously, go watch the special), but even then he shows his humanity: he’s not a perfect person, just like everybody else in the world. Throughout the show’s run time, I felt like I could sympathize more with him than most comics. He made mistakes: he was awful to his younger sister, and he definitely wasn’t “the bigger person” when confronting Bethany. But the decisions that he made felt like decisions I’d make, and the experiences that he went through felt like experiences that I had went through.
I’m essentially a first-generation Canadian immigrant, so I understand a lot of the hardship that Hasan faced. I lived through the “tiger parent” phase, and I definitely get his dad’s policy on “no friends, no girlfriends, no fun”. I don’t celebrate my birthday, and my parents are subtly and hypocritically racist. I laugh harder at Hasan’s jokes because I know that they’re true.
But I’ve also been luckier than Hasan. My car has never been vandalized, and the racial slurs that are yelled at me are few and far in between. I’ve never been dumped at prom due to my race (that’d require for me to go to prom first). There isn’t a political figure that is calling for the systematic crackdown of my religion. I sympathize for Hasan, but am also grateful that I haven’t had the same form of racism in Canada. I’m lucky that I got a generally good roll in the lottery of birth, even with the problems that I still encounter. I still have the audacity of equality, but I’m lucky to mostly have it.
Ultimately, Homecoming King is the first standup set that I can really connect with, because it tells the story of a person that I know, not a showreel of funny moments in life. It’s a new medium of funny but personal social commentary, and that’s why I love it so much. I already pester my friends to watch this. You should too.
If you’re interested in a more objective review of Homecoming King, The New Yorker did a great piece on it.
Work this summer has left me quite busy, but I got the chance to see Spider-Man: Homecoming with a few friends just a few days ago. I absolutely loved it. I’ll keep the spoilers on this one to a minimum, because this won’t be about the plot at all.
Growing up, I wasn’t as into superheroes as a lot of other kids were. Granted, I still like them, but I never had Superman clothing or Batman toys. I liked Star Wars significantly more (I actually still have a plastic Sith lightsaber), and that kinda continued into adolescence.
Here, I felt the largest disconnect with superheroes: I looked nothing like Superman, Batman, or even Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man. I felt like they weren’t this super cool person I could be, but rather were just a bunch of good-looking buff dudes that reminded me of middle-school bullies. So, I kept liking Star Wars and imagining scenarios where I get to invent my own lightsaber.
Enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I never read any of the comic books, so my first interaction with Marvel was Iron Man. Man, was that guy cool. He wasn’t some super-buff dude who used his amazing good looks and awesome body to save people: he was a self-made billionaire (kinda) who was super smart and used that to his advantage. Granted, RDJ is still pretty attractive, and he looked nothing like me, but it was a step in the right direction in swaying Matt Wang to the light of superheroes. Now wait, don’t you say, isn’t that kind of the appeal that Batman has? Maybe, but I never really liked Batman. The vigilante justice didn’t have as much appeal to me as it did to others, and I really, really liked Iron Man. He’s the first superhero that I had some sort of aspiration to be.
Then, came Captain America. This was actually a net negative at the time for me. You started with a scrawny, underweight, unathletic Steve Rogers. That’s basically me at that time (~2011), but white. That dude wasn’t fit for, well, anything. What I ended up getting from Captain America: The First Avenger was that for me to be cool, I’d need a super-soldier injection. Wonderful message.
Superhero movies trudged on for me. I watched The Avengers, which I enjoyed, as well as Iron Man 3, which I also enjoyed. I never really liked any of the DC releases at the time: I always thought that DC movies sucked (and critics back me up here). I really enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, though I thought that Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man were both mediocre/good, but not great.
Then, I saw this poster.
The first thing I want to point out is how our new Spider-Man is framed. He looks like, well, a teenager. That could be me, minus the web hammock. In short, that sums up most of the interest I had in this movie going in. Tom Holland as Spider-Man seems like someone I can relate to: a nerd who’s on the trivia team, gets bullied, and doesn’t fit the normalized super-macho stereotype that superheroes have had for a long time (thanks DC).
And then, I actually watched the movie. This movie is fucking awesome. I think Tom Holland did an amazing job as Spider-Man: to me, he really was a nerdy teenager stuck with the responsibility of being the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. His idea of fun is building a Lego Death Star with his best friend, and I definitely get that (for me, it was no Lego Death Star, but I did build quite a few TIE fighters). He’s awkward around girls (get that), awkward around Tony Stark (get that), and is, well, awkward (get that). He’s the closest a superhero has ever been to being me, and I appreciate that a lot. It’s what makes me like this iteration of Spider-Man, especially when compared to hotty mchotty (Andrew Garfield).
I also like how they accurately portrayed a high school. A lot of movies and TV portray high-school like this:
“Highschoolers” in Riverdale, High School Musical, or previous Spider-man movies don’t feel believable. They’re a bunch of 20-somethings who pretend to be teenagers with whatever a 40-year old director thinks teenagers act like. That’s why I appreciate movies like The Breakfast Club or Edge of Seventeen (the Hailee Steinfeld one), which actually accurately portray high schoolers (from my experience), or Mean Girls and 21 Jump Street, which are at least self-aware and somewhat satirical with their potrayal.
I think Homecoming hits the nail on the head. Bullies like Flash (not the Flash) aren’t these big, bulky jocks that shove kids into lockers: that’s a thing of the past. Flash is a dickhead to Peter through social cues: calling him Penis Parker, consistently “playfully” making fun of him, and two-facing to adults. That’s what “bullies” are like nowadays: nobody at my school shoves people into lockers any more, but kids consistently “jokingly” go hard on kids verbally and on social media. The “A-type” Liz was significantly more believable: she wasn’t perfect in her own way, and had a minor rebellious side without going full Annie Edison (still love Community though). I literally have friends that are exactly like Ned, even down to the love for being “the guy in the chair”. And, I thought MJ was quite believable, hilarious, and super cool. My only complaint with the character development, in fact, was to see more of MJ. Alas, I’m sure it’ll get wrapped up in the sequel.
Outside of me basically roasting myself, I thought the movie was well-done. It was pretty funny, and I think it did a good job of not compromising the story for cheap shots (I’m looking at you Suicide Squad). The plotline fit well into the MCU: Peter Parker isn’t against an Ultron-esque supervillain, but a more believable, reasonable Vulture. Without going too much into spoiler territory, I also thought the villain was more believable: he wasn’t some sort of ethereal being, but a human that we can sympathize with. RDJ reprises his role as Tony Stark quite well, going into a little bit of existential dread as he realizes that he has to be his father. Donald Glover and Marisa Tomei do a great job in supporting roles (Aaron Davis and Aunt May, respectively), giving a breath of fresh air to this third reboot of the franchise. I’m more optimistic than ever to see the next Spider-Man, especially in contrast to the disaster that was Spider-Man 3.
After watching Homecoming, I spent the weekend catching up on the MCU: I watched both Captain America sequels, Doctor Strange, and I plan to nab Guardians of the Galaxy 2 when I can (I missed it in theaters). I truly think that Spider-Man: Homecoming reignited my love for superheroes: Marvel’s brand we have now are more relatable and more human than any iteration I’ve ever seen before.
As sort of a tangent, I think this is partially why Marvel is doing so much better than DC in cinema. Marvel’s characters are wholly more human than anything DC ever churns out. The MCU definitely has its flaws, but each of its characters is well-crafted: they have goals, they have flaws, they have personalities. In contrast, DC creates, well, marketing material. DC “heroes” rely too much on dated tropes and ideals and don’t shift to what people are like in the real world. They don’t focus on telling stories, but rather creating a movie that looks good in a 1:30 trailer. And that sucks.
These two stories/reviews seem unrelated, but there’s actually a common link to them. Both of these forms of visual entertainment did a good job in connecting to me as a person, in a world where most media really doesn’t. 20 years ago, every popular superhero was rich, buff, and white. Standup was done by, and done for, white Americans. Since I was born, we’ve made massive steps in being more inclusive as a society, but media has lagged behind. I think both of these Homecomings, if you will, are the start of a new target demographic. Hasan Minhaj connects with millions of immigrant Americans and Canadians in a way that no other standup really does. Spider-Man: Homecoming connects with millions of nerds that have their own Lego Death Stars and can’t talk to girls. Film companies should realise that while ideal superheroes are cool and all, a lot of their fans just don’t relate to rich white buff dude. The entertainment industry should realise that most of their consumers are no longer white, “American” families, but people from all different backgrounds. Marketing to that should be a win-win: companies get a new demographic, and the millions of kids like me get a much more realistic role model. It creates characters that are really people in this day and age. And that’s why we watch movies, right? To see people that are really people, even if they can also shoot webs out of their hands.
This was: Homecoming and the Homecoming King
Jul 17, 2017 • Matthew Wang
~ 14 minute read • 2544 words