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Why is Aimée Morrison in a movie talking about assholes?

Friday, May 3, 2019

Who knew that a Waterloo Arts prof would co-star in a film on assholery with retired python John Cleese?

“So far as I know, I’m not the titular asshole,” says Professor Aimée Morrison, who premiered on the big screen at this year’s Hot Docs festival—along with Cleese and other observers featured in the new documentary, Assholes: A Theory.

Morrison admits she was skeptical about the initial email request to be part of the film. “I mean, when you do social justice research and a lot of media and Twitter like I do, you become a bit wary of random requests to appear in a movie about Assholes. So I made sure to do my due diligence.”

It turned out to be a legitimate production directed by award-winning Canadian documentary filmmaker John Walker. Assholes: A Theory is based on the 2012 bestselling book of the same name by Aaron James (who also appears in the film), which “investigates the breeding grounds of contemporary ‘asshole culture’ — and locates signs of civility in an otherwise rude-n-nasty universe,” according to the film’s website.

What does Morrison say in the film? “I have no idea what I said!” she said the day before its Toronto premier. “I just know I gave some strategies for dealing with assholes—basically how to block their worst excesses without producing any conflict, but in a way that you don’t feel like you’ve expended untold energy on it.”

James supplies the film’s working definition of an asshole as one who “systematically allows himself to enjoy special advantages in interpersonal relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.” The pronoun isn’t accidental — Walker’s film ventures into what is a predominantly male domain.

So, what was it like to be filmed by the pros? “It took most of a day to film!” says Morrison, whose shoot was located in her Waterloo home. “I have learned that the reason everything looks so great on film is that they (director, director of photography, sound recording technician, and production assistant) really do sweat all the details. John (Walker, not Cleese) fussed everything that would be in the frame, moving some throw pillows and blankets around to get the right look, and even tilting some of the framed art on my walls… We wound up with me sitting at the threshold of my living room, with the crew shooting through the very small foyer. It looks great on camera but it’s not a spot anyone would ever sit in real life!”

As a digital humanities scholar, Morrison digs deep into people’s behaviours on social media, and, as she indicates, is herself quite outspoken @digiwonk —so that's probably why Walker invited her expert commentary on tackling assholery.

Assholes: A Theory is playing at the Hot Docs festival until May 4, and after that, check the National Film Board or the film’s website for upcoming screenings.

 
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