These days, it seems like we're living in fiction rather than reality. With a world that seems more divided than ever in beliefs and what constitutes as right vs wrong all while in the age of a global pandemic, our every day feels like a season finale fit for an anime. TikTok comedian James Rehwald takes that feeling to the next level, creating satirical videos on his TikTok that critique today's societal events in his own unique anime-esque film style. Today, The Global Spotlight talks with James about all things satire, comedy, current social issues, how we can make a change, and anime.
A lot of people know you for your America: The Series videos. Can you tell me more about the creation of this series?
With the pandemic raging, healthcare workers pushed to the limit, racial justice protests kicking off, and violent police repression accelerating, 2020 in the United States felt like a real-time TV series. I wanted to illustrate everything that had dominated our news cycle but with a comedic leftist angle underpinning inequality and class. I had the idea of doing an anime intro-style video at the same time I started discovering all the Japanese city pop music from the 1970s/80s.
After the first video went viral, I worked on new episodes as key events occurred such as the 2020 election, Jan 6 insurrection, and new COVID mutations spreading. Cutting through the media noise and taking jabs at our failed institutions and leaders has kind of been my way of processing everything while hoping it does the same for others watching.
Your videos oftentimes depict messages about politics and social issues through the use of comedy. Recently, people have been divided over what can or can not be spoken about or included in comedy. Do you think that, if used the right way, politics should be something talked about in comedy?
Absolutely. Socially conscious humor can be cathartic. It’s tough hearing unpleasant realities and honest political critiques so using comedy as a vehicle can help broaden the appeal.
It’s interesting hearing all the discourse around what’s appropriate or not in comedy and I encourage comics to welcome the challenge. I see a lot of famous comedians, some among my favorites, that land in hot water for making jokes in poor taste. It’s in those moments I hope they listen to feedback and grow from the experience. When they lose sight of seeking truth behind their message and persistently uphold bigotry and misinformation, they become the joke.
Similarly, I hope consumers become more critical of what makes them laugh and don’t just parrot their favorite celebrity’s every word. It’s great to see the progress in the entertainment industry but I think there is plenty more potential.
The types of comedy you use in your videos aligns with various forms of satire, a sort of comedic practice meant to hold a mirror to ourselves as a society. What are you hoping your satirical videos can do for those who view it?
I really enjoy satire and think it can be a great way to spur conversation and challenge long-held beliefs. I’ve come across other satirical videos that force me to confront my own biases and hypocrisies, so I try to channel that same energy in my videos. Sometimes that uncomfortable, offended feeling after hearing a joke can be a good thing.
I hope to inspire curiosity to critique ourselves and the status quo. It’s easy to look at society and believe its faults are human nature. Bystanders held these notions in times of slavery, feudalism, and colonialism but we’ve obviously improved since then—and it didn’t happen on its own.
We can solve today’s issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, climate change, imperialism, etc., by collectively organizing to dismantle all systems of oppression. Comedy can play a role in working towards egalitarianism. The fact that comedy is weaponized for the opposite effect calls on us to fight back. I aim to be a part of that.
You also take a lot of inspiration from anime. What about anime inspires you and which ones do you draw inspiration from?
I feel like I’m behind on the latest anime shows and movies but I definitely have an affinity for the nostalgic 1990s anime era I grew up watching as a kid. I love Cowboy Bebop, Akira, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, Samurai Champloo, and the Hayao Miyazaki films. The distinct hand-drawn animation, dystopian futuristic settings, neo-noir styles, fight scenes, and genre-bending aspects always caught my attention. The Boondocks and Avatar: The Last Airbender, which drew inspiration from anime influenced me as well, especially the socially driven plots and characters.
Can you tell me more about the creative process behind making your videos?
It’s fun making videos like the needle drop movie scenes where the video matches the music score. I love seeing filmmakers like Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino do this while following the “Show, Don’t Tell” motto.
I have an ever-growing playlist of songs I see as good contenders for a video. Likewise, I have an ongoing list of video topics I jot down on my phone. Sometimes I’ll sit down and think of topics, or I might randomly encounter something that sparks an idea. It’s a bit of a struggle syncing up a video idea with a song but eventually one clicks and I’ll adjust the video concept to fit the song’s progression. Other times I’ll just hear a song and start screenwriting to it.
Have you ever considered making more longform comedy videos like comedic short films or even a web series?
For sure. I’ve been trying to get more familiar with videography and audio editing to make other types of content beyond my usual bite-sized music videos. One of my series ideas is to create YouTube-style satirical advertisements poking fun at morally bankrupt people, corporations, and government institutions. Kind of like what I’ve already done with some of my TikTok videos, but more long-form with narration.
I have some movie ideas too but it’s wishful thinking without a production company haha. If I could one day make a serious film, I’d want to tell the story of David Fagen and the Buffalo Soldiers during the Philippine-American war.
What other things should followers expect from you and your content in the future?
I plan to keep expanding my knowledge on ways to fight for equality while finding new methods to convey those through storytelling and comedy. I want to keep experimenting with creative concepts and improve my video production and direction into something more professional. Perhaps if the opportunity comes up, I’ll collaborate with other likeminded creators.
I’d also like to draw from my Filipino identity and mixed race for new ideas. Filipinos, Filipino-Americans, and the Filipino diaspora are rich with revolutionary history where present-day movements are rooted in that same spirit. It’s awesome seeing Filipino artists on screen and I hope to contribute to that growing diverse image that has been underrepresented for so long.
All comedy aside, what ways would you suggest we all try to make the world a better place before it’s too late?
Join an organization. There are global communities working together, reaching for the same principal goal of developing a truly democratic, sustainable world. If there’s anything to learn from history, we know that powerful people do not willfully enact large reforms. People must organize into mass movements demanding change.
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