Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Well a couple of months ago I was pouring over my copy of Juno. So I'm watching the deleted scenes, finding them all pretty amusing. Amusing, but cut for all the right reasons. The racist old woman in the very first scene, for instance? Total tone breaker, kills pacing. That was obvious. What I found interesting was the scenes concerning Juno herself. In these scenes, she is a stark raving bitch. She sings about how Bleaker has left her up shit creek without a paddle, berates him at school (more harshly) and just treats everyone around her a little less than peachy keen.
People have said about Juno that she doesn't deserve Bleaker because she is so selfish, but I debate this. I couldn't if those cuts hadn't been made. That doesn't bother me. What bothers me is whether or not the theatrical Juno is the real Juno.
It's been said that in a movie's life, three movies are made: the movie of the screenplay, of the raw footage, of the edit. This is more or less true, considering multiple cuts and edits along the way. I still wonder, though, if I can separate the final character from the earlier version. When a film is so lauded for its screenplay, I'm not entirely sure it's right for me to divide it from the finished product so completely. Understand: the movie is entirely different, these scenes considered. You don't know for sure if Juno is a virgin or not when she and Paulie first make love, but I can tell you, in the script, she wasn't too vestal. Instead, she was so ego maniacal she rivaled Lex Luthor.
"Wait," I said, "this isn't my Juno. I love my Juno." This may be the true basis of my problem. She looked like my Juno, but I didn't know this person. And I didn't like her. At all. But here was filmed evidence of this doppelganger being a total shrew.
Can I watch Juno again and like the main character? Is this Diablo Cody's Juno? Does it matter? Well, yes, sort of, and no.
We have to disassociate the bad writing and filming that does get cut from what doesn't. The filmmakers did. If I considered Harpy Juno a sort of apocryphal, true Juno, I'd have to honor 1st draft Col. Kurtz (Holding a machine gun, "I can feel the power in my loins!" I shit you not.) They cut it, it's not real anymore. Cute, telling, food for thought? Yes. But Lucky Charms are food, academically speaking.
As far as the screenwriter goes, well, that's as far as she goes. She didn't direct Juno. Jason Reitman did. Cody did well, but she is not the author of the film. Sorry (don't read that as smug. I mean it.).
I wouldn't have met this Evil Juno whom I didn't recognize had I not the special access DVD affords us. She is a character put to death for being too unlikable for most audiences. Good. There are enough shitty people in real life. We don't need them as our heroes.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
The first point has something to do with my generation making excellent "Jaywalking" targets. I don't watch Jay Leno, as I read more than watch TV, but I don't think there is any real way to quantify this. Leno's team can, I'm sure, edit the segment for the best possible, oh, how should I say it? LOLs? Unless Bauerlein can crunch some numbers and prove, conclusively, that most of the "guests" of that segment were under 30, I'm calling foul from base one.
Then the inevitable "they don't read" argument. According to this article, while everyone has always hated homework, we are just now singing the praises of illiteracy. Mark Twain did say, "Those who don't read good books have no advantage over those who can't." I'm sure he was talking about us in 2008. Also, I checked into it; according to an Associated Press poll, one in four Americans read no books at all this past year (http://www.resourceshelf.com/2007/08/22/surveys-and-stats-us-reading-habits/). That's all adults. Bauerlein doesn't compare "tweens" to "real adults" with any sort of numbers, or boston.com didn't post those very same numbers. Either way, there's a lot of room for doubt.
"Lack of capitalization and IM codes dominate online writing. Without spellcheck, folks are toast," claims the article. Problem: IM conversations are not academic or scholarly. They are colloquial. Listen to an average conversation in which no one is trying too hard to impress someone else. Is their grammar flawless? Is their enunciation sublime? Does it matter? No, of course not. Read Their Eyes Were Watching God. See the errors in spelling. It's all dialog. Same thing here. You cannot use colloquial communication to decry in an idyllic sense. That's just dumb.
Point 4: "They get ridiculed for original thought, good writing." The smart kid has always been made fun of. Also, MySpace is not a realm to fairly typify all young people, as MySpace denizens are not necessarily a representative sample.
The fifth point has something to do with "Grand Theft Auto IV, etc." Bauerlein is trying to say there is some link between video games outselling other media and this somehow makes kids dumber. I've read this bit a few times, and I cannot find any semblance of causality so much as hinted. Wonderful fallacy, that, putting two "facts" next to each other is oftentimes enough to convince some people, but not this member of the "dumbest generation." If there is a link, pointing it out helps an argument.
Next is, "they don't store the information." Now, the article doesn't specify if this means storing it on the computer or in the ol' noggin, but either way it's the internet's fault for being an information conduit. Yes, the internet is notorious for "metooism," but this isn't unique to the internet. Lots of people above 30 "read something somewhere that said..." The internet is just another way of doing this. There is an assumption here that reading something then writing it in a research paper makes you remember. If fact, it's the same thing.
The next point puts responsibility on the adults who don't foster intellectual growth, allowing for self-esteem to supersede ability and allowing IMing at midnight. No, it's not because the adults in this country have abandoned both the inner-city and rural area schools in favor of rich, white neighborhoods. It's because of the rise of awareness of the student as an actual human being. Even in taking responsibility (albeit left-handedly), Bauerlein misdirects the information to serve him, instead of looking at the real problem: a sub-par educational system built on racism and elitism.
His eighth point? "Because they're young." Filling space, are we? Yes, we lack experience. That's a much more valid point than our news sources being habitually false and favoring celebrity trials over actual news. Even worse, the article is titled superlatively, yet you bolster it with a universal truism. This rather points out the problem with the article: there are no solutions. Not that there aren't any solutions to any of these problems. Rather, Bauerlein makes no attempt whatsoever to find them. I guess that doesn't sell books. It doesn't do anyone any good to attack another group of people and not even try to help. Is this generation a little slow? In some ways, yes. But our generation will make wonderful progress. Maybe it won't just be Americans helming the world anymore, but that may not be a bad thing. Bauerlein does not look at anything but the bad things, and complains about them. No fixes, just breaks. Well, in the words of my mother's generation, "If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
Saturday, March 8, 2008
There's this opening that feels like something out of a flick produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. You know how it is, all grayscale and mysterious and you just want to know more! You are then launched on a thrill-a-minute thrilling thrillride full of intrigue, twists and thrills!
Vantage Point is pretty entertaining, which should have been, more or less, what you expecting. The characters are at least fun to watch, like Superman secret service agent Dennis Quaid, cuddly Forrest Whittaker or compassion-rific President William hurt, just two parts of a reasonable well put-together cast. You don't get the sense these are real people, but they are at least they aren't obnoxious. Well, news media boss Sigourney Weaver is made of censor and fail, but other than that you don't hate yourself for caring about these people. The only character who gets any development is Quaid, who leaps from a shaky man in a suit to American badass superhero.
The whole film, while billed to be told from 8 perspectives, only serves to augment this one character's perception. A solid narrative tool, to be sure, but not as artistic or interesting as it could have been. You follow Quaid as he tries to foil the ill-defined geopolitical boogeymen in this one.
See, the crux of the film's tribulations is a plot to kill (?) the President. Supposedly. I'm not going to spoil the plot for you. You'll be able to spoil the plot for you about an hour or so into it. That's Vantage Point's problem: you know what's coming, which is not the best case scenario for a thrilling (remember the thrilling part?) tale of intrigue. The relatively by-the-numbers plot, bound together by, what, seven rewind transitions serves only to comment on how awesome America is, even in the face of adversity. Don't question who these people are or what they want; America Rules!
Even so, the obligatory car chase scene is adequately outrageous, the camera is, occasionally interestingly used, and it's overall an entertaining movie.
Worth seeing, but wait for the DVD. Or Blu-ray. Whatever you kids are watching these days.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
No Country for Old Men
There Will Be Blood
Who I want to win:
Who will win:
No Country for Old Men
Two of this year's nominees have really long titles. That doesn't matter, I just thought I'd point it out. It is a little odd. So, this year's batch has some fine films, to be sure.
Michael Clayton was pretty impressive, with a narrative style growing in popularity. It was an important, moving, complex film. Even so, it was accessible and interesting. I liked it, but it didn't resonate with me like others on the list did.
No Country for Old Men was remarkable, with vibrant characters, disturbingly precise shooting (film, that is. Not guns.), and a style pushing the envelope. The acting was also top-notch; after all, Tommy Lee Jones. The Coen Brothers should be proud.
Even so, my pick for the year is Juno. A movie like this only comes along once in a very great while. Few screenplays are sa imaginative, poignant, clever, thought-provoking and just plain good. It's funny, but not flippant. It's powerful, but not overbearing. It's delightful, but not condescending. It's everything we miss about movies from years gone by, with the edge we need in modern cinema. It also has an outstanding soundtrack, emotionally grabbing you and augmenting the overall experience. Also of note, the acting is so well-done. Ellen Page is flawless in her titular role. You cannot tell where she ends and Juno begins. You fall in love with the character, the movie, you believe in love after seeing all sorts of love gone wrong. It's intelligent. It's good. It's important. Thanks, guys.
Seeing as how I've only seen two of the Best Actor noms, I'll only share thoughts on those two.
George Clooney is up for Michael Clayton. Viggo Mortensen for Eastern Promises. Now, George did a great job, and, out of the two, I think it's the more "Oscar friendly" role. I watched that movie and, well, honestly I was thinking about how great that scowl would have been when he was Batman. I give an audible sigh.
That said, I'd love to see Mr. Mortensen win. Eastern Promises was a terrific movie, and Viggo played his part with such precision. Also, he had the (forgive me) balls to do a whole fight scene nude. "I'm a driver. I go left, I go right, I go straight. I know nothing." He's just too damn cool.
For Actress, I want Ellen Page to win. I detailed earlier her work as Juno, and why it was so splendid. As for who will actually win, I cannot even begin to speculate.
The Academy and I should both pick Javier Bardem for his work in No Country for Old Men. He invested himself entirely into the role. He made a character who is pure evil, yet human in his depravity. He was vivid and believable, yet beyond the realm of human emotion. Bardem did such a great job just making you feel what the Coens wanted you to feel. I think he'll get it, and he did so very well.
Original Screenplay and Best Director are just the Best Picture category. Best adapted, though, should be (I think will be) No Country. Come on. Just accept it.
For animated, I want Persepolis to get it, as the graphic novel is a masterpiece of coming-of-age literature. It captures the humanity of a people oppressed, given from the point of view of a child who doesn't understand. It's this naive nature that makes so clear the ridiculous nature of hatred and war.
Ratatouille will win. It's American.
That's all I really care to write about. Not that cinematography, for instance, doesn't matter to me, but those categories generally get mopped up by the winners of the big ones. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this look at the awards, and that your favorites win.
Friday, January 11, 2008
As I drive down South Main in
Enter Lloyd Sichling. Lloyd has been a correctional officer (that’s “guard” in English) at Hill for several years and has been in the employ of the Illinois Department of Corrections in general for eleven. Before that, he served on the Flossmore Police Department for a decade. His is a member of AFSCME, the state employees’ union. Lloyd is also a husband and has two sons, one in college and the other in high school. I wanted an inside look at the DOC and decided that the best way to really discover what is wrong with the prison system is to ask one in its employ. So, I gave Lloyd a call.
Now to understand how Lloyd would act toward my questions, you have to understand a little about him. You see, when he puts on his uniform, his face changes. It doesn’t get hard or mean. It doesn’t get smug, either. When Lloyd dons the dark blue fatigues of an officer, he becomes almost aloof. He is there to do his job. And this is a job that he doesn’t talk about at home. If, and that is if, he does, it is only an amusing anecdote from one of the prisoner’s letters or another CO. So when I ask him about the prison, I get a response that deals with how the state runs the institution. I’m lucky. That’s exactly what I want.
Now I want to remind you that this is a man who makes sure that murderers, rapists, and other bogeymen of our communities are safely locked away. He and his fellow officers protect us. And this is what this one had to say.
“Hi,” says the voice. His cell phone, the one that rings with the theme song from Star Trek: The Next Generation, has identified the caller as me, an assurance that lends his voice an air of familiarity. After a little chit chat, I get down to brass tacks. I tell him that I want to know about the prison system, specifically being a CO.
What he told me doesn’t seem like the words that should be used by someone who is holding those keys. He told me that, as an officer, you have a feeling of being replaceable. He told me that nothing is a sure thing and that, even though he feels that the state recognizes good workers, much of whether or not you have a job is in the politics of the warden. Moreover, he says that you “feel dispensable.” I never had any idea. Now, this didn’t seem right to me, and I told him so. I told him that it didn’t make sense. “Well,” he assured me, “if you’re an officer the union will have a job for you. If you’re in a commanding position, though, you have no union.”
This floored me. I knew that the IDOC is run in a paramilitary fashion, so an officer can move up and become a major or lieutenant. I also knew that Lloyd always registered in the same political party as the governor at the time. But the idea that politics affected commanding officers was mind-blowing. “Yup. If you’re a ranking officer, you can expect to be worked hard and let go.” I was astonished to find out that the people who make policy are in such a position. It made sense now that they felt, as Officer Sichling put it, “apathetic.” They didn’t necessarily have a job that would last.
He told me all this and I was appreciative. Certainly this was important stuff; the idea that people were treated so crassly in our prison system was appalling. But it also wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. So I asked my next question: “What about the current administration?” Without a beat, I heard, “Oh. You mean the Blagojevich Regime?”
I gave the affirmation and asked for specifics. I got enough of that material (which is oh-so dangerous to politicians) to choke a camel. And just so you know, that material is truth. Although if you were thinking I meant accountability to voters, morals, or a system of checks and balances that actually works, well, that’s just silly. Those don’t exist anymore.
Anyway, my interviewee then launched into his laundry list of problems supported or instigated by the current administration, the first of which being the closing of several correctional facilities across the state. Lloyd, being a fair man, was sure to point out to me that Blago didn’t set up the closings, but they were performed under his administration. These closings present several problems to the IDOC and the state a large. Firstly, as would make sense, the misplaced prisoners from these closed facilities have to go somewhere, seeing as how even our system cannot let all those criminals free at once. We have to pretend they were rehabilitated more cautiously. So all of these inmates are then sent to other sites which are ill-equipped to deal with the influx. Secondly, a prison is very good for a local economy. That’s why
Now, these things happen. There have been budget cuts across the board. But this isn’t when it got bad. No, according to Lloyd, it started to get bad when the rank of captain was done away with. Officers at that rank were either promoted or demoted. This blocks the line of ascension for those under them (which would be a violation of their work contract). It was also this act that destroyed the ranking officer’s union. All of that was, to be sure, pretty crappy, but not as bad as what happened.
This was the event that harkened in the use of efficiency analysts. Lloyd, again in the spirit of fairness, told me that this wasn’t an absolutely bad thing. “There was this guy,” he told me, “that just walked around. I had no idea what he did. He was probably a brother of the warden’s or something. Either way, he was out.” It did make sense on a constrained budget to cut such paper-pushing positions. It doesn’t make sense to cut more. The efficiency “experts” incited massive cuts to the workforce of the IDOC. The expectation was that fewer officers would do more labor. “Sadly, it worked for a while,” Lloyd said with a little laugh. The laugh left and I heard, “a while.”
To put this in perspective, I’ll tell you a story that Officer Sichling told me. Two of his fellow officers were watching the lunchroom of 200 plus inmates. Reread that if you have to. Now read my assurance that you read it correctly: You read that right. One officer per 100 prisoners! Now I’ll continue with the story.
This is not uncommon in the understaffed system. It gets hairier when a disgruntled inmate decides he doesn’t like his meal. A prisoner of just such a temperament walked up to one of the officers and complained about his food. When the officer’s answer was not to his liking, the prisoner punched the officer in the face, knocking him out cold and sending him straight to the floor, where a pool of blood from the back of the officer’s head would momentarily begin to pool. The other officer went for his mace. The mace, frighteningly, did not leave the belt. The prisoner then went to attack the other guard, and did so. Fortunately, the guard was not rendered unconscious by the blow, and he sent the inmate straight into the nearest wall.
Consider that. I mean really think about it. Governor Blagojevich has made our prison system one where our jailers don’t lock up incarcerates; they are locked in with them. If that second officer had been knocked out, think about what could have happened. They could have been killed, their weapons taken, and somewhere around 200 criminals would have free reign in that facility. That could happen to any officer, even my father, Lloyd Sichling.
I thanked my dad for his time and his help with this story. We talked a little while longer about the usual things we talk about: upcoming happenings in the Star Wars Universe, his hunting season and all things related to it, my goings on (which is pretty much just looking forward to the upcoming happenings in the Star Wars Universe). I hung up the phone and thought about what my dad had told me, what it really meant, and how to put it in a story to let people know and care.
Blagojevich, on the other hand, already knows and doesn’t care. In fact, the union, made up of men and women who are prison guards, supported him. He then turned his back on them. I wonder what else he could do as governor. I think that maybe these things should be considered in the voting booth this month. I think that Blagojevich has no business being in charge of our state. I think that if he keeps this up, it will kill my dad. Think about it.
So the “experts” have come to the conclusion the world is just going to get worse. According to these men and women, there will be more violence, more war, more suffering. To me, this seems more than just a little pessimistic, it’s wrong.
Granted, there has always been strife. In its circa 200 years of existence, the
While there is still fighting (obviously), there is less than imaginable. Congress is talking about taking the troops out of
There is more than the practical view, though. By declaring our planet a battlefield, we wash our hands of responsibility. We disavow our children’s futures to be grief-stricken and without promise. Certainly it is hard here, but we are learning. As the world gets smaller and smaller as we trade thoughts and concepts with other cultures, we will learn how to care for each other. As I go to class with students of diametrically different backgrounds than my own, as we read more stories from other cultures, as international trade increases, this is being accomplished. As these things happen, we will learn how to care for ourselves. Until then, yes, we have growing pains, but as we make the effort to learn and love there can be less war, less pain, less heartache. I suppose you could call it a “bloodless revolution.”
Understand, I'm not here to review the game, far from it. No, if you want to read how well-constructed it is, from its sheer entertainment value to its exquisite controls and graphics engine, be my guest. For some, it would be enough to say it utilizes the Unreal Engine superbly, but that is neither here nor there. No, today I'm going to reflect on why I enjoyed the game on a personal level. Oh, this is going to be fun.
See, back around the 40's there was this author name of Ayn Rand. Having emigrated from Soviet Russia to the States, she had a very particular view of economics. She developed her theories in her novels and sundry writings and called it Objectivism. You can research it for yourself at the Ayn Rand Institute website . It's a blast. For a summary, you can also check out The Simpsons episode "A Streetcar Named Marge". It's in the forth season. Look it up. For our purposes here, I'll just say I don't agree with such extreme and atheistic capitalism and have been an anti-Objectivist for quite some time now.
Which brings me back to Bioshock.
Bioshock takes place in a Randian Utopia at the bottom of the Atlantic. Brought to fruition by Andrew Ryan, Rapture was to be a place where man and man alone would individually reap the rewards of his own work. What he had belonged to him, and him alone. He was to strive for perfection in all things, including appearance, because that is moral. As a matter of fact, in Rapture, one could change anything about one's looks, which makes me wonder at everyone (save a scientist or two) being white. It was a celebration of "all for me" living. It was everything Rand would have wanted in the world.
Problem was, unchecked capitalistic abandon led to a few hitches: smugglers, cruel experimentation, mutation through genetic-enhancement abuse. The list goes on and on. By the time your character arrives, it is hell on earth, with monstrosities of all types running around eviscerating each other and, if you aren't careful, you. The upside is, it's the end of a world, and you have a wrench.
See, this is what I truly love about Bioshock: it puts right in the thick of everything wrong with lasseiz-faire economics and tells me to beat it to death with a wrench (and a wrench I upgraded to do cold damage, no less). I love it! Seeing how Socialist many of my views lean, what more could I ask of a game than to be unleashed upon evil capitalists with a shotgun? Answer: nothing.
This game eloquently, disturbingly, and powerfully comments on what would happen if any society chooses to leave each other to die for the good of the individual. Folks, we need to care about each other, and this is the heart of Bioshock. It's why you are rewarded for saving the Little Sisters (young girls turned into ghouls). It's why you need to help Atlas to save his family and himself. It's why we cannot allow ourselves to become too reflexive.
To me, that's the beauty of Bioshock. It points out how much we need to care about one another, politically and economically, lest we fall into decadent decay. And, to make its point, the game showcases masturbatory philosophy in all its sick grandeur and gives you one simple command, "Shoot it."
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Jason Todd died. I watched as he was murdered at the hands of the Joker. I watched as that madman beat him to death with a crowbar. I saw him get blown up. I watched it. He died. As a matter of fact, I paid 13 bucks to watch him die. $13 well spent.
But comic book authors so often have trouble with letting sleeping dogs die, so what do they do? They bring him back. I know Jeph Loeb could be held almost solely responsible for this, but I don't blame him. He has talent. And I like his work. But all these people that brought Todd back to life are foolish for doing so. Honestly, why? Why take one of the most important events in all of the Dark Knight's career and dump all over it? I'll admit, I haven't read any of these stories, and when I do if I change my mind I will make rebuttal for this paltry facebook note, but I just don't like the idea. It seems cheap, gimmicky, and stupid and I wish it hadn't happened.
Not that I have to respect that it did, but I wish it hadn't.
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about... I wish I could help you.
You know, it sounds trippier than licking a toad. And it is. And I mean good toad. But that's not what's truly great about this series. It's good fun, but where this show shines, if you let it, is its characterization. It's true. These people are handled so well and so touchingly that you can't help but smile watching this thing. Yes, the Japanese punk is fantastic and rivals Cowboy Bebop's tunes, the animation is better looking than a pancake breakfast, but the way it's written is beautiful. You fall in love with these people and really see who they truly are. I have fond memories of watching this show and I love it.
I love living here at NIU. I do. I even enjoy walking to class. Walking doesn't fly out in podunk where I live, so I enjoy the leisurely stroll. And what I enjoy best about these jaunts is walking along the dirt paths.
If you are a student with me here at Northern, you've seen what I mean. If not, then I will elaborate on these tangent paths. These are the kind of paths that emerge when people, too lazy to use the sidewalk designed for efficiency by engineering majors, cut a corner to reach the sidewalk they were already on more quickly. Simple geometry.
Understand that I do not take these courses out of laziness. Quite the contrary. Verily, there are times when, at the end of the day after getting two PSYC lectures (one on how we suck as students and the other to learn something), I appreciate the opportunity to create brevity in my circa twenty minute walk. But my real reason is that when I walk over the dirt, I can truly feel the Earth beneath my feet. Hokey? Maybe. True? Emphatically.
When I walk along these paths, even through the thick soles of my boots, I feel connected to everything that walks the Earth along with me. I feel reassured. This Earth has stood since about three days into the beginning of time and will possibly be here long after I'm gone. I feel comforted to know that the Earth that nourishes the corn in these fields, the rice in China, the deer back home, a child in Africa, is there to support me. I feel connected and free.
Which brings me to one thing that I hate. During the day, there is the sun. Whatever is in the sky is clear and lovely, to be sure. I don't like the day as much, seeing as how the air is not nearly as olfactorily pleasing when the solar heat burns the air, but it is at least an honest sky. I often find myself walking home after dark, though, and increasingly during these progressively chilly nights. And during these nights I find one thing that unsettles me to the core of my being: I cannot see the stars. I live out in the country and have for several years. Not seeing the stars was something that just didn't happen. There were few, if any, lights on the ground to obscure your view of the heavens and I liked it that way. You could see the entire majesty of the entire universe in fine little flakes of light and it was liberating. But when I walk home I cannot see these illuminations. I look up at a steel sky that offers no respite. And when this coincides with asphalt under my feet, I suffocate. The "splendor" of man, manifested in his brilliant use of stone and the electrical light, have sundered me from Earth and Sky and at times like these I just can't stand it.
"Why" you ask? Simple. The early American poets and novelists, including Emerson and Thoreau, believed in Trancendentalism, nay, they created it. They believed that The Creator, God Himself in all His Glory, could be seen in his creations. This was especially true of nature. They thought that being in nature one could decode mysteries of the Allmighty and grow closer and more connected to a personal Saviour.
And mayhaps there is some truth to this.
When I see the stars and touch the Earth, I feel connected to God in Heaven and man on Earth. I am a small, small part of a larger universe and tapestry of life. I am a beloved chilld of God and a real component of His creation. So when I walk home alone on those cold nights, cut off from heaven and earth, I feel cut off from everything. Luckily, I can come back home and see the friends who live mere feet from me and I realize that, while out there the world may be concrete and smog and isolating humanity, there is still a God in Heaven and all is right in the world. I am still part of something larger and greater than myself.
And I look forward to going home so I can see the stars.
No, I'm here to point out what all Star Wars/Video Game fans already know: We have all fought the battle of Hoth more times than we have done just about anything else. More times than we have been to Six Flags, more times than we have had a truly satisfying Italian dinner, more times than we've gotten laid (not that that's especially hard for a nerd such as myself, seeing as how if I had only fought the good fight once the ratio would be met, but still...).
I know it, you know it, Tycho and Gabe know it. But I offer a reconciliation to our ennui-overtaken souls. I would like you to consider the fact that you have had a lot of fun playing that same damn level on just about every game console you have ever owned.
Think about it. On the SNES, you got to actually go into an AT-AT and cut up stormtroopers as the valiant Skywalker. On the N64, you not only took to the skies as Dash Rendar in the level that was used to give the very idea of what Rogue Squadron would be, you got to fly the mission as a Rogue. I got a gold medal on the first try, which earned me my gold bar. On the Gamecube, it was a solid mission for Rogue Leader (even with agonizingly long cutscenes) because you got to leave the Speeder and hop in an X-Wing to defend transports. In Rebel Strike, it was one of the few decent missions. When you play Battlefronts 1 or 2 on your PS2, you get into the nitty-gritty of the war and may even see the battle from the point of view of the Dark Lord Vader himself. And some would say that there isn't enough life on this rock to fill a space cruiser.
That's the thing about Hoth: no single battle in Star Wars history offers as much variety as that of Hoth. Sure, the endless white burns your retinas. Granted, it pisses you off that no matter how much you do or how many you kill, that damn shield generator still gets blown up. But at the end of the day, you stood up for peace and justice in the galaxy and you looked at endless droves of snowtroopers marching toward Echo Base, their armor blending in with the land so that it looked as if the planet itself were coming to claim your life and you struck them down just long enough so that your friends could escape to fight another day. Try to feel that inspired about freakin' Yavin.
So with that in mind, I should give you a heads-up on what this album sounds like. If asked me you this in conversation, I would answer, “It sounds like beauty.” You would then, of course, consider me a vague idiot. You’d be right, but know I do this because I don’t want to sound like a trying idiot attempting to explain something so vast. The point is, stylistically speaking, this one everywhere. There are tracks sounding like the best in modern pop rock, as if Coldplay had suddenly decided to ditch Britain and sing about America’s number 2 corn producer and number 1 sweet-as-all-get-out maker. There is ambience which is not overdone, but rather measured to fit within its borders, which makes Iowa jealous and Missouri angry. Other times, there is a strong element of instrumentalism, from eerily melodic flutes (my weapon of choice against silent complacence), to blazingly inspiring trumpets. It is a sort of big band alt. rock. Sometimes, the entire track will be wordless, depending only upon horns and pipes to carry the homeland’s soul. They do so wonderfully. There are also some outstanding examples of the new standby for white males ages 16-24 (the acoustic guitar). That said, there is one approach taken here that impresses me beyond belief: using bluegrass. I know, it’s crazy, but Stevens actually embraces a genre stereotyped to hillbillies. The wild thing is, it isn’t a joke. There is no parody, pantomime, or even play at the homespun (redneck) style. It’s sincere, legitimate, and, get this… you ready?.. amazing.
Also, Stevens is making a lot of statements in this album. There is commentary on the depravity of man in the song, John Wayne Gasey, Jr. There is a message of the strength of character required to truly love in The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts. There are so many tracks on here, and they are all great, some serving as imperceptable interludes, but it works.
That all said, it is a thematically and musically advanced piece. I mean, there’s not much more to say than that. I’m so glad Stevens kicked his Unites States Project off with my home state, and I’m so glad I got to hear it. Thanks Sufjan, I look forward to hearing more from you soon!
So, are my loves less than socially shunned nowadays? I suppose the simple answer is, "yes." Certainly, those who know me well enough know I have very large places in my heart for comic books and movies, and by large, I mean these fandoms are enshrined, but the point is, there is some acceptance. For instance, comic book movies are making insane amounts of money. Video games are now being considered as art. My ilk and I are finally allowed to talk to girls (with mixed success, the mixture being that of "bad" and "worse."). We are no longer on the fringe of pop culture, but rather, in it.
The commerce market noticed before I did. Check it out. We have the aforementioned superhero flick, making mad cash from day one, we have no fewer than three huge bookshelves at my favorite Waldenbooks showcasing manga (while my beloved US books occupy a scant two rows), we have anime everywhere. I do mean everywhere.
Bringing me to the heart of the matter: with this influx of consumer goods, especially those of otaku fare, I cannot help but wonder: "with this level of mainstream acceptedness, is true fandom dead?" Think about it. Sure, Trekkies are rather... obscure people, but if everyone spoke Klingon or was aware of the Praxis Effect, there would be no real Trekkies at all. I wonder if anime fans are at such a crossroads. It's true. Consider, gone are the days of rummaging around in some video store bargain bin, the one next to the porn, getting eyed over by the other client el as you searched for a very badly-dubbed copy of Akira to call your own. No longer are we wapanese obliged to order comics from Japan, gazing at our heroes triumphing over evil and knowing the only way it could be better is if... we could read it. I can wear Batman t-shirts in public. Batman shirts. In public. As far as Star Wars goes, well, I have entire conversations in Star Wars quotes, so I'm a skewed source. The point is, I've been worrying, with the proliferation of goods and the internet, is fandom is dead.
I thought long and hard about this, thinking this essay would be a eulogy for my beloved eclectic nature, my idiosyncratic disposition, my weirdness. Rather, dear reader (you are dear to me if you've read this far), there is hope on the horizon. See, I was thumbing through an old issue of Animerica, an anime magazine, when something struck me as odd. On one side I saw the cutest thing you could think of: a smirking little hamster with his little hamster friends who go on big hamster adventures. Ah, Hamtaro, you frighten the living piss out of me. On the page opposite, I found, in all his badass glory, Optimus Prime, ready to take on any Decepticon come 'round. I looked at that gun-toting semi-bot. I looked at that kawaii (Japanese for "cute") hamster. I looked, at the giant robot. I looked at the little hamster.
This was the moment of my epiphany. I understood. Fandom isn't dead. It's never been more alive! These odd loves have brought together all sorts of people. People who love giant robots, people who love fantasy adventures, people who love seeing a girl snuggling up with the tentacled love of her life. These people all have something to talk about!
There it was, right before me. I realized, people are brought together, people who would (and by people, I mean, "me") otherwise be faced with their extreme social retardation. We find ourselves with a shared love. That is fandom. That is our love. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go watch The Simpsons.
“We murdered Bruce Wayne. It was us. Whoever pulled the trigger, that doesn’t matter. Whoever that killer was, he was just working for us. We couldn’t live with a giant in our midst. So we murdered him. All the rest of the heroes spared us the trouble. They went away… we couldn’t stand the sight of them. They made us feel small.”
The Funeral of Bruce Wayne
Three shots. Three shots heard around the world. But all it took was one. One bullet was all it took to kill a true Patriot. One bullet was enough to kill Captain
If you haven’t heard it on the news between pop stars and name calling, Captain
And as the dust settles, the question remains: why was he killed? On the surface, he was killed solely for his stance against the Superhuman Registration Act. Or so it would seem. But I believe there is more to it than this easy explanation. I believe Captain
Now, let me clarify. I am a DC fan. Some would even go so far as to say, “elitist”. That said, Marvel comics are not my strong suit. Yet I write this essay in the spirit of bi-partisanship, meaning to bring some solidarity and clarity. This is not just a commentary on comic books. This is more than a reflection on a literary character. This is an analysis of our national identity.
And our national identity demands we kill our heroes. And ol’ Cap may just have been the most American of all those heroes.
Such was Cap’s allure. Such was his downfall.
Which is why, when he was told to report to the
This is why he fought a civil war against his best friend and compatriot of years, Tony Stark, better known as The Invincible Iron
But he realized the fighting was in vain. He realized this battle could not be decided by men in costumes, but rather by the Americans he wanted so desperately to protect. So he turned himself in to be tried. He thought he could champion his rights and the rights of every American before a jury of his peers and redeem the
There is, however, more to it. There is more to this than a man being gunned down for standing up for an ideal. This is the gunning down of the ideal.
Still looming above is the great axe emblazoned with that most dangerous of syllables, “why?”. The answer is: we begrudge those who save us. The answer is: we are small. We are hateful. We are killers and the Captain’s blood is on our hands.
This is not so outlandish a claim. We were angry with Cap for wanting to save us when we were too scared to save ourselves. We were mad that he wanted to work for what was best when we were simply too lazy. We were upset that he was better than us. So we killed him. And we didn’t do it by fighting him, though God knows we tried. We didn’t do it through intimidation or legislation, though God knows we wanted to. We did it through cowardice. In our fear, with our fear, we murdered him.
To us, Captain
Then came the coupe de grace. To our chagrin, it was not a red, white and blue shield crushing crimson armor. Nor was it a laser beam incinerating a white star. No, it was a simple man wearing the very weight of Glory offering his wrists for bondage. We watched as he saved us once again by offering himself as a sacrifice. Boy, did that ever piss us off. Who did he think he was, stopping our suicide mission against ourselves? Where did he get off, ending the war by letting us decide? We would show him. We would show him but good.
So before he could deliver us from the penalty of our gluttony, we put three rounds into his chest. We looked through the scope, leveled off the weapon, put the crosshairs right above those broad stripes and right on that bright star. We then proceeded to pull the trigger. Three times we pulled the trigger. Three times we murdered Captain
After that, we surveyed our handiwork. With smug glee, we looked at the trouble we saved ourselves, the trouble of responsibility. We then took out our pocket knife and carved another notch into the butt of our well-worn rifle.
That’s right. This isn’t the first time. We always kill our heroes. We kill anyone who asks more of us than follow. If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself.
Abraham Lincoln had brought together a
looked back across five long years of animosity crying for him to administer wrath and he said, “No, you move.” Knowing citizens of this nation north and south had already long endured wrath, he asked only one thing of us. He asked us to forgive one another. We shot him instead.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy had given us something to be proud of. He had given us Camelot. He had given us a mantra with which to tear down the Wall. He had turned away the wrath of the entire Red world. In fact, he had stared down and through the Iron Curtain and said, “No, you move.” He had rescued us from others and ourselves. So, with the ear-splitting lion’s roar of “…but what you can do for your country” echoing in our ears and souring our tongues, we took the shot.
And now, we’ve killed Captain
We did these things because we were afraid and they were not. We did these things because we chose the easy way out and they would not. We did these things because we could be apathetic and they could not. We could not stand that they understood the value of life, so we took theirs.
Now all we are left with is a smoking gun and a choice. Do we continue to be the faceless mass begging for surrender without even so much as the declaration of war? Do we continue to demand the brave obey us because it is “for the best,” and crucify them if they do not? We cannot. We cannot.
We can and must, however, climb down from our rooftop and approach those courthouse steps. We must take responsibility, not only for the blood on our hands, but for our nation. We must take the flag down from the mount, we must pull the clothes off the body. We must mend the tears in the Colors. We must fix the bullet holes in the costume. This battle-worn banner on this heavy oaken staff is our cross to bear. This battle-damaged suit is our uniform to wear. We must carry it ourselves, none other can. We must wear it ourselves, none other can. The whole world is watching us, breath bated, waiting for us to do what we must.
When Peter Parker, former soldier of Iron Man, asked Captain America how he dealt with being not only the country’s hero, but the country itself, Spider-Man’s idol looked him straight in the eye and told him, “Being a patriot is standing up for what’s right. Even when the mob and the press bear down on you, even when the whole world has decided something wrong is something right, it is your job to plant yourself like a tree next to the river of truth, and tell them, ‘No, you move.’”
I ask you, when next the whole world has decided something wrong is something right, and you know it deep down in your heart to be wrong, and they tell you to move, what will you say to them? I, for one, am done moving for the masses. I, for one, am done fighting for what is wrong. I, for one, will no longer sacrifice my heroes. I, for one, will be a Patriot, and I will tell them, “No. You move.”
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Sure, we had our reasons. No one wants to put their job on the line for anything. You want to be able to take care of your family, and yourself, for that matter. You don't want to rock the boat. It's scary. I know. I'm scared, too. We live in scary times. Problem is, we can do something about it, and we don't, because we're afraid. We aren't protecting our families with our inaction. We are harming them. This nation's children are coming up in an age when rights are for sale, at bargain bin prices. They are growing up in an age of fear, when the only thing we can fear more than terrorists and other geopolitical bogeymen is our own government. As we allow the government to act unabated, we are putting ourselves on the line. Before long, dissent will be illegal, if we aren't careful. In which case, your exercise of your First Amendment rights will be grounds for jailing, anyway. Helluva compromise. I say, go for it now. Besides being the right thing to do, it's just practical. Things are getting worse, anyway.
And believe you me, they are. The federal government is breaking any law they so please. Prisoners have been detained, not just in Gitmo, but in a number of military installations here in the States, without even being so much as charged. This is a violation of Constitutional and international law. Wiretapping without a warrant is also blatantly illegal, but allowed by the Patriot Act. Your Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights are no longer viable. Congratulations. Not sending supplies to New Orleans was criminally negligent, and even more heinous when one considers it was because Bush doesn't give a shit about poor/black people. It was criminal.
Which brings me to something I've been wanting to drive at for a little while now. To be precise, I wanted to point out that George W. Bush is a criminal, and should be thrown in jail. The Constitution says the President can be impeached for "high crimes and misdemeanors," but there is no such action being taken. Never you mind the fact Bush pushed through legislation excusing himself and his posse from being tried of war crimes (is starting an illegal war a war crime?). The war in Iraq is illegal, by the way. Congress has yet to declare war, so the armed forces are being used illegally, not that anyone will call the US government on it. This provided, though, would make Bush responsible for over 3,000 Americans dead, unknown Iraqi dead, and millions of displaced Iraqis, but that may be a bit of a jump. I would be willing to settle on Bush being only partially responsible. Point is, if any other country's leader pulled this, the entire world, including many Americans, would decry the despotic and arrogant actions. Maybe we decry Bush's actions, too, but he's still in the Oval Office. He should be behind bars. To be fair, what can I or anyone else expect from a man who refers to the US Constitution as a "goddamn piece of paper"?
Granted, the next presidential election is quickly approaching, and many, many of these things could be put behind us. I'll take this opportunity to encourage you to not only vote, but vote for Obama (Paul if you go for the GOP). All this could easily throw into question the validity of this whole post. True, it may be pointless to kick Bush and his little cronies and of the White House at this point. The damage has been done. I would argue this same line of thought wasn't applied to the Nuremberg Trials, but that is all very well beside the point. The point is, there are greater considerations. My fellow Americans, we cannot allow this sort of abuse to continue. It has indeed been a long train of abuses and usurpations we've suffered at the hands of our own government, and we need to consider why we let that happen. We've been comfortable, but it was said, (I think by Ben Franklin, but I couldn't find the exact quote, so I'm paraphrasing) that democracy won't be destroyed by attack from without, but apathy from within. Consider that. You are responsible to your fellow Americans. You should consider yourself accountable to other Americans. This is not an optional, quaint idea. It is a moral obligation. John F. Kennedy said, "The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all." This is true. You need to take more responsibility in your government. Please do so, for your sake, for mine, for America's. With you voting, voicing, being active in your government, this country can truly stand for Truth, Justice, Freedom, Equality, all the angels we've trusted to look over us for so long. We've depended on these mercies to protect us and guide us. They will. All we need do is love them enough to stand for them. That way, this will not be a country where there are people and there is government, but a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. God willing, it will not perish from the Earth.
God bless you, thank you for reading, and please consider these things. May mercy and peace follow you, the wind be at your back, and your dreams before you.