Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Price of a Bomb: A Rundown with Batwoman

Today I thought I'd share something close to my heart with you. See, while my brother is a Marine and I support the idea on a war on terror, I think the military budget should be cut. Let's start with, oh, 1%. This translates to about one billion (1,000,000,000) dollars. To put that in perspective, that is about half of what it would take to start up the public health insurance option (which would seem to cost no tax money anyway). Considering this, I thought we might consider on what we could be spending that money, where else it could go and why the military is not the best place for it. I am not an expert on economics or military science, so I brought in someone who also is not an expert, but opinionated and fiery. Today's guest is Batwoman. Batwoman, how do you feel about the amount of money the US is putting into its military and not into its healthcare? Would you say it makes you mad enough to kick a gorilla?

And some to spare, I guess. You even drew some blood. Well, let's get down to business, then.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the US spends 5.3% of its GDP on education. That ranks us 57th in the world. That's below Slovenia (41), Ethiopia (43) and the Sudan (42). We're behind Cuba (9!). The only countries we respect above us are Switzerland, Norway, Finland and the UK, which spends 5.6% of its GDP on education. With our GDP at about 14 and 1/4 trillion, that's a lot of money, but we're .3% behind England, which doesn't seem like too big a deal until you realize that England has (besides its health care) free secondary education. That's right, the English get free college. I have to take out about 48 grand in student loans this year. Granted, I'm going to a private school (I actually wanted to learn how to turn on a camera), but that is just way too much damn money. I am getting loans from the government, but really, there is no good reason for me to be paying this much, let alone being punished for trying to improve myself and my position. Imagine if everyone could go to school for free. Just think of how much better this country would be if everyone were trained to think critically, compose arguments succinctly and stop being so stupid.
On the other hand, if college were affordable, a lot of people would stop joining the armed forces. What do you think, Batwoman?

Speechless and slinking from a geisha's room? Me, too.
As I mentioned earlier, the $1 billion that constitute 1% of the US military budget would go halfway to getting the public health insurance option running. Some people think this program shouldn't exist at all, which makes sense when you consider that children should be allowed to die from entirely treatable diseases. We could take $1 billion from the 17 going to nuclear weapons to make up this money. Some people might think this is also a bad idea, and they're probably right; the fact that our current cache of nukes is hundreds of warheads, each about one hundred-fold more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb just goes to show how much more we need to make. Do you think these people are right, Batwoman?

You're right Batwoman, those bitches are silly.
Now, I'm not saying we should take money from the $3 billion spent on family housing. I've seen some of the houses troops' families live in, and they still aren't that nice. Those people more than deserve that money.
I'm by no means saying the $70 billion spent on retired pay is wasted, as that money is going to people who served their country and deserve their pension, just like anyone else.
I'm just saying, I'm sure we can find 1% we can spend somewhere more worthy than, say, building a new fighter jet when the US already has the best jets ever.
A good choice might be helping the poor. From 2009 taxes, almost 12% will go to help the needy, compared to the 44% going to the military. The gap between the rich and poor, and the rate at which that gap is growing, is larger than anywhere else in the world and the largest its been throughout American history. With $1 billion, Obama could bring back the Food Commodities Assistance program, which cost $300,000 and help struggling single mothers get a bag a groceries free every month. That money could fund soup kitchens or help poor children get free lunches at school. Instead, it's building bombs and buying guns.
By the way, the military spends about twenty two times more than what is spent on education and jobs, science and the environment and over double what is spent on health care.
I was thinking recently about something I read in a book of Norse mythology. It talked about how warriors and sailors were guaranteed a special place in the afterlife, the high seats at Valhalla, for their professions on earth. I also remember a statement issued by a union around WWI, mourning the deaths of soldiers but wondering why their brothers who died in mines or on railroads were unsung. Nothing has changed: we still hold fighters aloft and let workers toil unappreciated. I'm not saying my brother should be given anything less than the best, but I think we should try to respect all Americans, all people. This might be the best way for us to get along.
We all might end up getting better, being happier.

Or we might all get shot at by terrorists while fighting gremlins and werewolves. Both are equally likely.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I'm Going to Pick a Few for Myself

I'm a Jungian. I like the idea of, not expunging, but rather embracing my faults. This works with my faux-egomania defense mechanism and almost, kind of, artificially, boosts my self-esteem. Which is unhealthy, probably more so than alcohol, but it is cheaper. That is, until I finally decide to suck it up and see a shrink. Does calling them "shrinks" hurt their feelings? Analyst, then.
There is something to be said for my method of shadow dispersal, despite its rampant self-destructive nature: it acknowledges bad parts of me as parts of me. I'm never going to be rid of my most basic character flaws, the first of which is my near total lack of character. "Just because you are a character, doesn't mean you have character," quips Mr. Wolf near the end of Pulp Fiction. This is shortly before he offers the advice of, "move out of the sticks." I should listen to Harvey Keitel more.
Still, old Carl would have me look at my insecurity, self-loathing and juggernaut inferiority complex and say to them, "you are part of me and I don't have to like you, but I need to like me." Which is probably healthy, but I don't know; I'm not a doctor. Or even a post-graduate. Or graduate. Or... anyway, in an attempt to overcome some of my more malodorous aspects, I've been looking over, little by little, Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project blog. I noticed one of its cornerstones is a list of 12 commandments to guide her through this process of achieving a real, meaningful and lasting joy. You should check her out, because she's pretty sharp, but also rather pretty. Everyone loves redheads. I am not a redhead. I can give you an idea of her precepts as being things along the lines of being comfortable with herself and embracing love and proactivity. Hunt down her blog and check the list out for yourself. It's a good list, and we all love the hell out of lists.
Looking at Ms. Rubin's roll call of self-improvement, I thought I'd give my own a shot. This is largely precipitated by my yelling at my fiance earlier when she was, and I'm choosing my word carefully here, encouraging me to try harder in seeking employment. Now, I'm not going to say I was wrong in how I felt, but I communicated this poorly, much like yelling at someone for jumping your car with their own cables: I'm just pissed I can't help myself.
So, here goes:
  1. Being Brandon.
  2. Rubin's is "Be Gretchen," and I like the reproducibility. When I was in high school, I was often told I didn't seem like a Brandon. While I could never get an answer as to what I did seem, I would also hear a lot of, "you would, Sichling." This is the sort of thing that's great for your self-image. So, I think from here on out, I'm going to stop letting others define me and work at my process of distinction, hence the gerund.
  3. Remember: that person is not necessarily an asshole.
  4. Even if there is a good chance. In the past couple of years especially, I've chalked a lot up to this, and it hasn't done me a lot of good. A few people who I've written off have become very dear friends. One or two I've initially embraced have turned out to be, well, take a wild guess.
  5. Remember when Jesus got good and pissed.
  6. My all-time #1 hero, sorry, Christ, is Batman and has been since I was very little. Reflecting on this recently, I realized part of the character's attraction for me is the unquenchable blaze of his rage. I like that righteous anger. Too bad mine is like a blind kid with a bolo, tripping up others and himself. I need to be more willing to womp evil and less ready to smack Robin.
  7. Silence is not judgment.
  8. It is not my responsibility to entertain everyone with something to say, and just because I'm not doing it doesn't mean everyone else thinks I'm too lame to come up with a witty remark. Like this here description, there was nothing witty in it and that's okay.
  9. I don't have to be polite, just fair.
  10. I'm taking this one from Rubin, but she asks both of herself. I've been plenty polite to people who were willing to treat myself and others like crap. Now, maybe they're just having a bad day, and I can understand that, but it's not my job to suffer for it any more than it's other people's job to suffer mine. Likewise, if I'm having a good day, I will not use that as an excuse to make someone else's day better. Have your own good day.
  11. Don't take life seriously.
  12. Oscar Wilde said, "life is far too important a thing to ever talk about seriously." My junior high shop teacher asked if I ever took anything seriously. I didn't use to, and God willing I can be that frivolous with vitals again.
  13. I don't have to be prefect
  14. I don't have to be a person appointed to any of various positions of command, authority, or superintendence, as a chief magistrate in ancient Rome or the chief administrative official of a department of France or Italy. Nobody's prefect.
  15. Blame myself once, move on.
  16. Another piece of disturbingly sagacious advice from Homer Simpson. He once told Marge to not keep blaming herself, once was enough. Feeling guilty about stuff done to ex-girlfriends is not nearly as fruitful as feeling guilty about stuff doing to current girlfriend. I also get a jolt of contrition when I see commercials for NBC's new show Trauma. If you want to know why, you can ask.
  17. It's okay.
  18. I am not as well-read as Neil Gaiman, I am older than Bradbury when he was first published, I am not as well-toned as Random Guy at Gym, I am not as asked after as my brother, I have not gotten any merit scholarships and I have not been invited on Charlie Rose's show. And it's okay. Not that there's any reason why it's okay, but it'll just have to be.
  19. I am not above flipping burgers;
  20. flipping burgers is beneath me. I can do the work, and I may need to yet, but I am too good for it in the long run and I will get better jobs. Maybe, someday, I can be a shoeshine boy. Which is to say, I want to steal scores of left shoes.
  21. People's opinions are important, as long as I care.
  22. I need to remember that a person's opinion of me should only matter as long as I have a high opinion of that person. I have a habit of holding my fiance's parent's thoughts on a similar level with those of some beggar. I need to prioritize a little better, because the homeless are excellent judges of character.
  23. Pray about it.
  24. Because God has to listen. He doesn't have to do anything about it, but He has to listen to me, no matter what I say. Suddenly, I feel empowered.

I just wanted to share this with my vast readership, and I thank you both from the bottom of my heart. It means a lot to me when you read these posts, and feedback is always requested. If you write your own list, I'll read it. We're all in this together. Now excuse me while I aggrandize myself with breakfast cereal and the edifying, soothing words of Harvey Keitel: "You're gonna be okay. You're gonna be okay. Say the goddamn words! You're gonna be okay!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vitreous, not Humour

Feeling weighty fog,
Feeling my rat's callous bite
I dig out my eyes

Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Apartment Window on Congress, Near State

I can only see the back of the canvas
And wonder of the other side.
Even though the Easel is lovely,
I'd love even more to know the Image she constructs.

Does she paint the street as she sees it from her perch?
No. How could she?
How could one bear to reproduce the
Homeless beggars and wide-eyed youth,
Preparing for college, together?

Possibly, I almost hope, she paints the street as
She she sees it from her mind:
Clean, quiet, bustling, free,
A tollway whose charge is kindness.
I'm sure she does not
If only because I'm sure that from where
She is, the problems seem so small as to not be
Worth the fixing. Or ignoring.

She could, if she had any sense,
Be painting something neither here nor there.
She could just be making something up,
something redeeming, wonderful.
This is unlikely, as
Most artists need models, and there are
None handy to show a tolerable world.

Or maybe someone else's painting
Rests on the easel. Possibly it is
Merely decoration.
It would be a shame, but the easiest one with which
To live.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

That Third One

If I got up in front of my parent's church, or just about any church for that matter, and said "goddamn," regardless of context, it would be a scandal. I'd be asked to leave. It would make the paper. Old ladies would faint... upon reading it in the paper. Never mind what my future in-laws would do.
Taking the Lord's name in vain (the Third Commandment, for those playing at home) is not kosher. It's offensive. I was recently wondering, though, if merely saying "Oh, my God!" to a shoe sale or funny joke, defined as one not told by Dane Cook, is too narrow a definition of this sacrilege. Understand, I am not for the light usage of the Name of the Most High, even if I have mused as to whether or not you can content "God" and "Lord" are names and not titles. In this, I remain unconvinced, but stalwart in my fear of a self-proclaimed "jealous God" able to destroy my very soul. Anyway, I wondered if invoking the name of God for an action beyond the mere intoning, compounded the sin, should be considered a more true taking of the name in vain.
I took a history class in which we discussed early American movements. John Brown and Nat Turner were discussed. They both killed people for a greater good, the whole class was on board for this interpretation, but we divided them on another issue altogether: John Brown was just pissed off to all hell, which I've always wondered about, and Nat Turner got his marching orders from God. Why God would suddenly change his policy on slavery, I don't know, but Nat was convinced. In light of this schism, general consensus came in that Brown was an angry man, possible a terrorist, while Turner was, in academic parlance, bugfuck. So, when you attach God's name to something, there's some significance in it. You may thing this is a bygone, though. Brown and Turner were about 150 years ago. Normal Americans generally don't give God a second thought, let alone kill in His name. Right?
Wrong. You know better than that. Dr. George Tiller, an abortion doctor (don't worry, I'm not getting into that now), was gunned down on May 31 of this year by Scott Roeder during church service. Tiller was handing out bulletins at the time. Roeder may or may not think that God told him to do this. It doesn't really matter, but when Randall Terry, professional ignoramus, said he "reaped what he sowed," among other similarly ignorant comments, he attached God. He approved of murder in God's name, an attribution in vain.
Killing in the Name is nothing new, but not as nicely confined to the Middle Ages of history as we'd like to think. The American-Philippine war was waged, partially, to "Christianize" the Philippines. Never mind that Spain had already converted an overwhelming majority of the population to Catholicism, America was saving them for Jay-sus (the name I give to the American Conservative God). That was in the early 1900's, by the way. And don't think this Imperialism in His Name isn't still going strong: Bush ran on the platform of Christianity, despite his many evils, like starting a war in Iraq. It shouldn't be surprising that the Muslim world thinks this has been a Christian v. Muslim war because, as far as they can tell and the US has acted, it is. We'll see if there's a faith-based appeal to intervene in Iran and end the repressive Muslim regime. It is oppressive, but most Iranians were Muslim before the Koran was being used to abuse them, and many will continue in that faith when they are free.
We make all these claims about God being on our side, asking God to bless America and facilitate our Imperialism. President Lincoln said, "...I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side." We can no longer justify our actions with a doctrine of divine inspiration. The United States government's actions and inactions will reflect well or poorly on them and their people. Let us no longer allow them to reflect on God, for it compounds our sins.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The New Nerd

"It did the best a musical has ever done at the box office, I know," I said about Mama Mia!, "but I don't know why they'd put it up against The Dark Knight."
"Brandon," my mom admonished, "not everyone wants to see a Batman movie."
"Well, It's made over a billion dollars, so, yes, they do."
Congratulations, Reader: you are a nerd (you're reading my blog, after all). You, friend, boosted Batman to the top spot. You are making video games an industry to rival film and television. You, yes you, made sure Star Trek opened at the top of the box office. Scientifically, Star Trek is to box office as matter is to anti-matter. This stuff is for everyone, and everyone wants it now.
Notwithstanding my prior comments on the proliferation of nerdom, I'm pretty happy about the way things are right now. I'm a lifelong Batman fan, so even though the comics suck right now, I've been getting a lot of other media to keep me elated. Be sure, I have the collector's edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum pre-ordered. I have been Hitleresque in my nerdiness. Society has proven a capable David Lloyd.
The benefits aren't just mine, though. I have no love for Transformers or G.I. Joe, but they're both stepping out this summer. I have a great love for Terminator, and my dad and I finally got our movie focusing on the war with the machines. With that and Star Trek, it's been a sexy summer, and the bikini of pop culture is revealing, flattering and one size fits all.
Even the cool kids. My dork brethren, you have been trading blows with me about the Star Wars Prequels for a decade now. You're established. It's everyone else who just showed up to the party, and we need to welcome them, putting aside past abuses and usurpations. The new nerd is the Halo fanboy, who is also on the football team. He mixes this up with some Gears of War, but XBox exclusives, either way. Christian Bale is dreamy, Heath Ledger was riveting, and the sorority sister has recognized the allure.
This isn't a one-way cultural diffusion. Indeed, none are. Those "regular" people we supposed to have existed are invited to Comicon this year. "Hope to see you there!" Edward Cullen smiles his fangy grin. New Moon is making its debut at the Seder of nerdism. Twilight is appearing with the spandex-clad and gun-toting heroes of our extended adolescence. Of course "normal" people are coming into "our" culture. We've invited them. They're the cool kids (check out Rayne Summers of Least I Could Do. We're all the cool kids.
Which is good. Twilight, not so much, but what these trends represent is. It's not just that nerds are now more accepted. That's becoming old news. What's exciting is now, we are going to pick up new habits, pass times and fandoms. Me, I work out, and have become something of an athlete. I've even watched a couple of football games in the past few years. I'm reading different books, seeing different films. It was in my supposed nerdy differentness I got engrossed in a lot of the same. This culture is growing, and we need to be inclusive. Except for, you know, the kids who wear cosplay items in public. Everyone else is in.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Time at the Picket Line

“Those who produce should have, but we know that those who produce the most - that is, those who work hardest, and at the most difficult and most menial tasks, have the least.”
-Eugene Debs

While, in general, I lament things being “lost,” there are bits of human consciousness I am glad to see go, or rejoice at my awareness of their having left. Bell-bottoms, feudalism and electing Republicans to the Presidency all make the list, along with the chant, “What do we want?” “Justice (et al.)!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!” I always thought this antiphonic rallying call invited smart assness with its inanity, yet repulsed the same by being such an easy target, much like “(repeat)” showing up in printed lyrics.
So I was pleased when this little bit of phraseology didn't show up today as I attended my fist “street action,” a picket line around the Congress Hotel, Chicago. This was my history class, instead of talking about worker's struggles. A few classmates and I went, found our professor and posed for a couple of pictures. Most of the group, having been counted, bolted, leaving my new friend Eric, whose father is a surgeon, and I to take a lap 'round the Congress Hotel. Which took a while, as the picket line had surrounded the building, a picket line that taught me as much about the American Working Class, America itself, as any textbook could hope, a picket line illustrating the American bravado, diversity, foolhardiness and heart inherent in a healthy democracy.
What first struck me on this march was the size of the thing. I had heard the figure of 5,000 people, but I was not prepared for the impressive spectacle the protest was. I guess I was expecting something more along the lines of the YouTube video our class had watched a week or so ago: it was the same hotel, with Columbia students joining the much smaller fight. Now, it was an event, a cultural presence. There were signs, giant inflated rats, t-shirts, stickers, chants and so many people. I was there, man. I was one of the people. I got this sense as soon as I took up the walk, and had it bolstered as a woman handed me a sign of my own, which served as my lightning rod, galvanizing my zeal.
It was a sign of the local union. It had plain type, telling its reader to “UNITE HERE,” in red, with “Local 1” in black. There were other signs, though. There were several featuring the President, who has said he will walk with this picket again (he did so as a senator). There were many signs similar to my own. There were even some homemade signs, evidencing a spirit you can find in any Illinois prairie if you merely look in the sod.
The variety of signs was matched by t-shirts. I saw many shirts of the Local 1, but also the wagon wheel of the Teamsters. I saw AFSCME shirts, picking them out of the crowd easily; they are a particular green, a green emblazoned on many magazines delivered to my house for my father. What enlightened me was a group in blue. These were representatives of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs. I labor under a misconception of Jews being generally affluent. This is mostly prejudice, buoyed by the only Jew I know being something of a JAP. Even so, here they were, supporting laborers. So, there goes that crap theory, but it wasn't what really surprised me.
What got me was the fact that one of the guys wearing this blue shirt was black. Which is to say, I'm pretty sure he isn't Jewish. On my walk today, I heard a bit of “¡Si se puede!” Which I expected, and black people being there didn't surprise me, but it was the sense of cross-cultural inclusion I admired. I was part of this, and anyone could be.
Not to say this was an entirely amicable function. Sure, people were laughing, smiling, joking around. People are ebullient when in the process of emancipation. Still, they don't take to the streets because they're happy, and these people were pissed. People entering the hotel were reprimanded by the crowd. “Shame on you! Shame on you!” Truth to tell, I felt this was a little unfair. These people weren't the bigwigs in charge of the building. These people had no control over where their company was having the annual bullshitting convention. Nor were they necessarily aware of the poor conditions of the hotel for both workers and guests. These poor, unwitting folks just clicked on whatever Orbitz or Travelocity or whatever the hell site told them had the best price. Oh, well.
What pervaded my thinking at the time was not the unfair chiding, nor was it the heterogeneous group. Rather, I was suffused with a sense of how American all these things were. Even while the crummy conditions of these workers is ubiquitous in America, it is in America people can take to the streets and be angry about it. All these little wonders coalesced into something sublime, democratic. I was, more than any other time in my life, proud to be an American, proud to be the son of parents who believe in the union, the son of workers. My parents, as a second job, do cleaning work themselves, and I help out fairly often, so this was my struggle. It wasn't my fight just because I've done a lot of service work myself, though. It's my task because it's my fellow Americans' task. Today, I was dedicated to that great task that lies before our nation: that all people be respected. A sentiment, I pray, never goes out of style.

“When we are in partnership and have stopped clutching each other's throats, when we have stopped enslaving each other, we will stand together, hands clasped, and be friends. we will be comrades, we will be brothers, and we will begin the march to the grandest civilization the human race has ever known.”
-Eugene Debs
If you want to learn more about the Congress Hotel strike, visit http://www.congresshotelstrike.info/ .

Friday, June 12, 2009

I Want You So Ba-a-a-a-ad

How is your beauty?
To posses, to hold, to hurt
No one but myself.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It Isn't About You

Sad, Lonely Author,
Creating dramas
More his own than tales.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Like You've Never Seen a Cute, Goth Girl Before!

What a pretty smile
And you are even polite
Oh. You're Death? Dammit.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review: Dragonball: Evolution

Right off the bat, I miss DBZ. Just so you know.
When the name Dragonball: Evolution was announced, I was a little disappointed. Dragonball did not need a subtitle, let alone one as generic as “evolution” (X-Men: Evolution, Underworld: Evolution, Darwin’s The Origin of the Species 2: Evolution Reloaded). Then, I saw Dragonball. Not only did it need a little clarification as to what it wanted to do, but it should have had a different qualifier. It should have been Dragonball: Contrivance.
DBE, as a character self-consciously passes as dialog, follows the story of freshly 18 year-old Goku. Goku is an abnormal boy who enjoys learning martial arts from his chicken foot-eating grandfather, imagining hot Asian girls who will later be important to the plot eating strawberries in a field of flowers and, it would seem, shopping at American Eagle. He is also a Senior at futuristic Japan/America High, where he learns what causes a solar eclipse. I guess everyone’s just too busy learning kung fu to worry about science.
On this day when Goku becomes a man, his grandfather gives him a magical dragonball. It helps summon a wish-granting dragon, which is probably the best kind of dragon, mostly because if I had one wish, I might wish for a dragon. It’s already out of the way if the dragon is the one granting the wish. So this dragonball, well, evil alien warlord Piccolo wants it. Don’t ask why. He just hates people. So Piccolo and his worthless, but formulaically necessary hench-chick waylay Grandpa Gohan’s house, killing the old man. Don’t worry. Goku isn’t there, as he was conveniently called away from a family tradition of birthday celebration to the hot girl’s party. Her name’s Chi Chi, but don’t worry about that, because all she’s in the story to do is have big, tan boobs. Sorry, Chi Chi.
Goku comes back, meets Bulma, who gives an account of her backstory/motivation so you don’t have to discover it in pesky narrative, and they go find Roshi to help in the quest to find the dragonballs before Piccolo. Desert bandit Yamcha makes an appearance as a decent character.
While I’m talking about characters, I want to point out how odd Roshi’s character feels. Chow Yun-Fat was the only actor in this movie trying to act; Goku’s “mourning” period for his grandfather amounted to, “I heard your grandfather died.”
“Oh. Yeah. Sucks. Anyway, do you have a dragonball and if not may I sleep with you?”
Thus Fat is the only one acting. But it’s an acting in which he chews scenery as if it were one of Grandpa Gohan’s delicious cooked songbirds. You just have to gnaw and gnaw and gnaw on it. Every other actor is just a set piece, filling up space, moving the plot. I'm going to say Fat did a great job and everyone else let him down. They were just so wrapped up in being nebulous and useless.
Which makes them just like everything else. Everything in the movie is so step-by-step and by the numbers, it only functions under the most artificial plot developments. Piccolo needs to get around, so he has an airship. Goku needs to cross lava, so he builds a bridge out of fallen enemies. There needs to be a love subplot or two, so characters who previously hated each other very suddenly and inexplicably fall in lust. And that’s just to get the plot moving. The combat, which you may recall as the point of a kung-fu movie, gets its share of streamlining. Goku can prodigiously bend air, with the incentive of those aforementioned boobs. Characters don’t use real guns when they actually hit people. None of the main martial artists actually have a martial arts battle.
What made Dragonball (Z) so special was that very violence. DBZ didn’t pull punches, unless Cartoon Network censored it. In DBE, all the violence is stylized and adulterated. And I don’t mean wire-fu stylized, although that’s here, too. I’m talking about how all the important combat is enacted through air bending and ki manipulation. All the good punches, all three of them, were covered with particle effects (a great video game term).
In fact, a lot of this movie seems to have come from a video game. There’s a fetch quest (not a quest narrative. Fetch quest.), leveling up system (jugs=exp) and even video game dialog. There is a scene in which Goku is actually told that there are five unlit lamps in a courtyard and for every one he lights, he gets to step closer to those perky Asian hooters. This is at least a motivation, one worth lighting lamps with chi magic or any other means, but it is also what you expect from the tutorial level of a video game. It’s the part of the level that comes right after they tell you to press the jump button to jump.
And while I’m watching this bad fighting game unfold on my screen, I’m wondering things. I’m wondering things like, “why didn’t they just fly the Humvee the whole way?” Or, “I understand Goku needs to gain muscle, but having him carry the gear for an hour isn’t going to do it. And driving at his running speed is very, very slow. Isn’t there a whole ‘time is of the essence’ thing?” I couldn’t help but ask, “if Bulma only knows about one dragonball, why would she build a radar?” “Why is Piccolo using such a worthless hench-chick?” “Why does Piccolo do anything he does?” This is a diminutive list, rest assured. Point being, I was wondering these things because I was bored. I was bored watching what should have been a grab you by the short ‘n’ curlies violence fest. Instead, it was all so tame: no real combat, no on-screen shootings, no overabundance of kicks and Roshi’s prized porn collection became a swimsuit catalog. It was the Dragonball I knew so well, only less.
Which was hard to believe. I went into this expecting little; very little. But I got less. I got less character, less action, less violence. I wanted to be entertained. If only people had really, honestly beaten the living hell out of each other, I would have forgiven everything. Instead, I’m wondering why Goku’s clothes are indestructible over lava, among other things. That was among so many other things...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blind Cartographer [Destiny]

Turning, Unfolding
Pages, stories, final words.
Inert Sisyphus.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mister Henry Clay

Light, oily leaf around
Colombian tobacco
Art, burning toward me

Sunday, April 5, 2009

You Have to be a Little Obvious, Little Birdie

I've started twittering (or do I also say "tweeting" to clarify my presence on Twitter?). Of course, I know you'll all rush over to your own accounts and hit my "follow" button, but while you're at it, you should also add Neil Gaiman. I did, and I'm a better person for it, but sometimes I'm taken a little off guard.
A few days ago, I was looking over my tweets (or everyone else's. Who do they belong to?), and noticed Neil had posted a number of them, as he usually does. By the way, Neil and I are on a first name basis. If any of you see him, please tell him. One of his posts linked to an article in which were both a woman claimed she had no sexual attraction to the superwriter, and another woman who, essentially, called "bullshit." The other woman, the article read, had written a book on Gaiman's sexiness.
Then, "neilhimself" posted another article. This one was about the possible revocation of his Newberry Award for The Graveyard Book. Having just finished the book, I was more than a little interested. I mean, I was interested in the first article, but only a little. I know how dreamy Neil is. Ahem. Anyway, I read over this new bit of disquieting info: Neil's Newberry was null for nary else than a nefarious librarian needling the rules. One of the book's chapters had been published previously, and this woman claimed this disqualified the work.
I wasn't too upset. I loved the book, sure, but things like award revocations just don't happen that often. In my estimation, it wouldn't happen here. Then, I noticed something amiss: a photo of the plaintiff and two other women. It looked photoshopped, and badly, I might add.
My suspicions had become peaked by the time I got to the third article. It was about the prevailing effort of inducting Gaiman to sainthood. If it were up to me, I might just recommend him, but there was a quote in the piece I thought a little out of place. Gaiman was quoted as saying words to the effect of, "I have to finish a miracle... man comic script. Yeah. Miracleman." And then I knew the whole thing was a sham; Neil hasn't written Miracleman in years.
Also, it was April first.
When you're sarcastic in text, you have to be careful. Even if what you say is unbelievable, someone will believe it. They will believe because people are stupid. Which isn't as easy to quantify as you'd think. One could easily say I was stupid for biting on any of those aforementioned articles, but remember, I'm a satirist myself. Read over the Miracleman bit again. Oh, and I have subtly used language to suggest I have multiple, that is, more than one, readers. Obviously, I'm as full of it as the next guy, so my own idiocy is not the sole reason you should forgive your audience, when you make fun. The real reason is, your supposed subject may be stupid, and your audience cannot plumb those inane depths.
It's happened to me. I remember, years and years ago, an article I came across online reporting the Bush administration banning Final Fantasy VII. It's pretty much my favorite game ever, so I was pissed. As I read, I learned the reason for this was because the game's heroes, members of a group called Avalanche, were environmental terrorists. I was a kid, and didn't know much, but it was my opinion that the Bush oligarchy would do something so despicable. Now, being older, I would probably still believe it. W. is pretty evil.
Maybe it's a video game thing, though. I saw in an issue of Game Informer a letter complaining about how a hypothetical Metal Gear game made by the creators of Assassin's Creed would be an abomination on the face of gaming. Game Informer came back with the usual antipathy they exhibit for their readership (something at which I marvel, and would never do to any of you), lambasting him for his inability to see the obvious kid being made. The thing about kidding is, though, that you have to, humorously, present an idea that just cannot be true. GI is neither humorous, and the idea was pretty tenable. In MGS4, Snake can unlock Altair's costume. That, and I've seen some deficient games in my time, like MGS4, for instance. Just so you know, the sentence immediately preceding was entirely heartfelt.
So much of irony depends on tone. You're reading this with the voice in your head, which is more or less how you hear yourself. I mean, I read in Dr. Farnsworth's voice (Good news everyone! Now you are, too), but that voice doesn't know when and where to inflect for that comedic twist. Good writing has tone, but between my faithlessness in both the general public's (not your) intelligence and many writer's abilities, I can't always tell when there's a snicker or two in there.
The way to fix this is to develop of voice in your writing. And if a reader comes back and makes a for serious comment, be nice. Just don't stop being funny. Or, in some people's cases, start.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I Won't Leave You Now

My reader recently voiced a complaint that I hadn't updated this little journal in a while. I don't think that's a fair statement, but who am I to argue? I must respond.
I was running one night, this was when I was still living in DeKalb, and an SUV pulled up beside me. From it, an occupant ordered that I "eat his asshole." Similar things have occurred to me, and the result is always the same: I lose faith in humanity and the offender drives off. Cowardice does that, yes, but maybe it's a matter boorishness. Maybe it isn't about fear.
It's not so much that these people are afraid of me: I like to smile. People just like sniping from an unassailable position. They like it. It makes them feel safe. This explains my recent flamewar on YouTube. I made a considered comment, and got reprimanded. I offered an explanation, which was ridiculed. I then proceeded to tear into this guy on terms of his illiteracy. He responded with liberal application of variations of "fuck."
Looking around, I see a lot of people who deserve to be put in work camps, as they are obviously too inept to be allowed in regular society. Not that I'm saying we should do that, mind you. I just like the thought. When I realize this plan will never come to fruition, though, I get to the next thought. Which is, "this world is terribly, terribly boned. Hard."
I know it's not a new observation, but this place is unfair and ignorant. I think the extent to which our society has become an idiocracy is newer, but it's been around for some time. We're embracing views pretty blindly, simply because someone might have told us something one time, and that equals truth. You know, Truth!
It was an adherent to Truth I was listening to when I was driving to DeKalb one day, and I paid him mind because he was reviewing Watchmen. My excitement for the movie was palpable (I enjoyed it a lot, by the way), but I wasn't expecting to enjoy the review. I'm not a big K-LOVE fan. The reviewer described the movie as "pornographic" and claimed it looked like The Dark Knight. While the first assertion did not, at least, surprise me, the second was clearly incorrect. I came across another Christian review for Watchmen earlier tonight. One reader comment claims "without storyline, it is like a castle without a story." I have no damn clue what in the hell that even means. These people are idiots, the very kind of people who make us targets for the dreaded "liberal media" and terrorists. And, assuming the increasingly cacophonous voice of these people, I might learn Arabic.
All this comes to me at a time when I am not particularly pleased with God. I still believe the Gospel, and that I need Christ. Actively need him, that is. I just have been unsure if I want Him around. I've been thinking about some things, like His killing of Egyptian children, revoking His promise from Moses, and allowing AIG CEOs to continue breathing (Look! I'm topical!). Of course, a lot of this is my jockeying around frustration I have in my life, but I can't sell a single piece of writing while He allows Dan Brown to publish, and Hannah Montana to release a movie. To clarify, I just think both produce crap, no opinion on personal outlooks withstanding.
I look at where I am now, and of course I'm angry. And then I think about how we are to know that the evil in the world is our fault, but everything from God is good. Well, I have a little problem with this one, as I don't think it should be so easy to have it both ways. If I took this concern to a pastor, I would be told, "God can do X, but you can't do X because if God does it He's right and if you do it you're sinning." "X" can be things like being jealous, revoking vows or killing. I understand the theology, but it's still maddening.
It bothers me because I don't even get the chance to argue. The statement I want to debate rides away in an SUV with "DON'T BLASPHEME!" printed on the side. I just can't approach "eat my asshole" or "God's always right" safely. One might get me run over, the other could accompany threats of eternal damnation. Again, I know I'm saved, but I've been questioning how much I want to be associated with all of this, this Christianity.
But tonight, I got my answer. I remember why I need to identify with Jesus. I read a Christian review for Coraline, a book and movie I adore. Read it here. Go ahead, I'll wait. I hope you're sufficiently raging, because I'm going to continue, now. I look at something like that, and remember: my problem with God is not nearly as important as other people's. Some people look at bits of writing like that, and cannot understand how someone so ignorant, confused and downright mean could possibly be right about the big mystery. Michael Karounos's problem with God is having turned Him from a tower of refuge into one from which you can pick on people. To be fair, this guy has it right. But the idiots, they don't understand Christianity, Christ, either of those entities' place in our world or said world. If I walk away from Jesus, saying, "I've gotten all I need from You, but You and your Father, well You're just too difficult," I'll let these fundamentalist fools poison the minds of people who might need to see Jesus instead of JAY-sus. That's JAY-sus as in, "JAY-sus heal this poor woman... and while I have your attention, good job on that whole AIDS thing. Faggots had it comin'."
If I stop running the race just because something that doesn't sit well with me comes along, I lose, anyone I could help loses, and that's unacceptable--especially since these are both criteria, really, in which I win. Sure, God has a plan for me I won't always like. And He doesn't think He needs to let me in on it, let alone ask for input. Even so, I think that's reconcilable in terms of, you know, avoiding eternity in Hell. His is the kind of forgiveness that teaches me to not kill stupid people for principle's sake alone. I still need Him, and even though He might not need me, these jerks do. That's three links, by the way.
So, I'm going to go back to God, say I'm sorry for my tantrum, and continue to pursue the de-idifi...unstupi... I don't want people staying dumb. Watch out, YouTube commenters, car-yellers and hardliners. I'm back, and I'm armed. With knowledge.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Looking Forward to the Night

I am riding home on the L tonight
I feel restful in the fading light
But I consider my fellow travelers’ plight
They look forward to the night

There is a woman sitting a few seats down
She was once a girl in this town
But she saw her mother’s debt and frown
Timeworn and poor and looking forward to the night

There is a, was a, white collar man
He had a future for himself, his family, a 401k plan
But that was before the Japan hangman
Broke and looking forward to the night

The El continues along its course
We passengers wish to scream 'til we’re horse
But enthusiasm, like self respect, is a dwindling resource
What choice have we but to look forward to the night?

There is a smudged child with choppy hair
The Parents unable to afford healthcare
But universal insurance would surely be unfair
So damn those with nothing but to look to the night

No more could I sit and be silent
Waiting to be the one to suffer affront
But when I left my seat and went to the front
I found the conductor only worked for those
Who buy those looking forward to the night.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Exultation of a Wheelchair Comic

My first stand-up gig was by far my hardest. Don’t get me wrong, I was funny, and it was great being up in front of an audience, but getting there was hard. Not just for the fact that the nearest comedy club wasn’t wheelchair friendly, but more that the chair makes people want to not laugh.
“I don’t think we can help you out,” explained Mr. Waylon (we’ll call him Mr. Waylon), “because, well, people in wheelchairs make people…”
“Laugh?” I asked, hoping that was the answer.
“Uneasy,” he sighed.
Even so, I was able to convince Waylon I should perform. Waylon has no sense of humor, which is actually a pretty good idea for a comedy club owner, but not so much for a manager. I convinced him people would come in for the novelty of a not-so stand-up comedian. So we signed the papers and I started going over my act for the next few days. I was up on Friday night.
So the big night rolled around and it turned out I was right; the place was packed. They had already been warmed up and were a little tipsy and I was ready to go in for the kill. A couple of the bartenders lifted my chair and me onto the stage and I wheeled on out.
Dead silence.
I looked at them for a minute, looking at me. Some of them looked confused, some agitated, some almost concerned. I have to admit, this left me a little phased. I was expecting a wave of goodwill, some encouragement for being “so brave,” as they like to call it when us non-walking folk do anything at all. But no, I was getting the concern kids give a dead bird. “Poor little birdie,” says Suzy. This is quickly followed by, “No I will not touch it!” I was a dead cardinal in a polka dot bowtie.
“What?” I asked them. They stayed quiet and I glanced down. “It’s the tie, isn’t it?” I started taking it off. “My wife bought me this thing and it would break her heart to know you guys didn’t find it funny. Truth to tell, I hate it.” They chuckled and I decided to let them know what they were in for. “I was worried for a second you guys were all quiet because of the chair, which couldn’t have been the case. You can all read, can’t you? Then you weren’t befuddled by the wheelchair comedian ads, were you?”
The ones who still had sticks up their butts after the bowtie thing start smiling, offering “Well…” and “Yeah…”
Those of you who have done public speaking of any sort know you have to get your audience on your side, and I had about everyone. Everyone except those people. “Those people” is how I refer to… those people who see me and think, “Oh great. He’s gonna talk about being in a wheelchair. How unexpected.” I had a message for them.
“And for those of you,” I began, sounding stuffy as possible, “who are worried I’m going to spend my time up here talking about being in a wheelchair, I’m just going to let you know that you are, of course, absolutely right.” I could tell a couple of the people out there were some of them, particularly a fat old white dude with a perpetual jowl-frown. “But let me assure you I am not here for your pity. As a matter of fact, by tonight’s end you should all hope to be as fortunate as I. And hey, give me a break, will ya? You don’t have to be so hard-up about everything.”
I notice a pair of young lovers in the back. They are making out like there’s no tomorrow. I think about picking on them, but stick to the script instead. “Now, your parents probably told you not to laugh at people in wheelchairs and let me tell you, that simply is not fair. We can be funny, too. And, hey, we laugh at you guys.” A few members of my audience seemed legitimately shocked by this. “Yeah, we do. You guys trip and stub your toes and get bad knees and all I ever have to worry about is a can of WD-40 to keep me going strong. And as for us making fun of those less fortunate, which we all do (the honest ones always nod with me), my friends and I make terrible fun of quadriplegics. When we’re feeling really mean, we’ll sit in front of a few of ‘em and just comb our hair, talk about how great it is to be able to wipe our own asses.” The young couple in back have started paying attention with all the laughter going on around them, and cease to interest me. Now I’m gunning for the alcoholic on the end of the bar. He will pay attention to me. “So please, I give you permission, no, I implore you, please, laugh at me. It determines whether or not I’ll be able to keep up my extravagant lifestyle, including all the fine dinging I do. See, people ask me how I stay so fit, and I tell them I cannot cook very well at all. I make my wife do it. ‘What’s the difference?’ you ask.” I lean toward them, whispering into the mic. “She can’t use her arms.” The guy at the bar is still unimpressed, and I wonder why he’s here. “So we go out a lot. And I scratch her nose for her. This is one of the nice things about being in a chair, one of many by the way, is any place is a sit down place.” My audience, save a few stragglers, is with me.
“Oh, yeah,” I tell them, “there are lots of neat things you can do in a wheelchair. And I don’t just mean this,” I pop a wheelie, one of the first tricks I learned. “For instance, you’re at a coffee shop and you want cocoa in your joe. If you ask for it, they’ll tell you to put it in yourself. Me, I wheel on up to the counter and try to reach for it while balancing my coffee and lo and behold I have a pretty young lady bestowing the chocolaty richness unto me. Before, I was an asshole. Now, I’m pampered, and people are too busy being nice to notice I’m still an asshole.” Now my friend jowls is smirking, so I’m not too worried about him anymore. Bourbon over there is not rapt, but there’s still time. “The comfort of being yourself is the joy of the chair. If I get a little drunk at the ol’ watering hole, I don’t have to worry about stumbling home. My only concern is a drunk driving ticket.” I wobbly wheel around a little for effect.
This is where I like taking people with the wheelchair jokes: the mean stuff. They think being in a chair is so horrible. They can’t imagine how they would get by. Screw that. They like being taken here, anyway. “Incidentally, I entered the legions of gimp when a drunk driver hit me with his car, so naturally people ask if I’ve an aversion to alcohol. I can assure you I don’t. In fact, I’m a little buzzed right now.” I did waggle my eyebrows and I’m pretty sure they believe me. “But when people ask if I want to crusade against drunk driving, I get a little pissed. If you,” I tried not to motion directly toward the fella at the end of the bar, but to little avail, “want to get absolutely smashed and drive home and wrap yourself around a telephone pole, be my guest. Just don’t hurt anybody else. Other than that, go for it. Be the drunk you always knew you could be! I’m asked sometimes to go to schools and tell kids not to drink and drive. This happens on a lot of prom weeks. I tell those principals, ‘Hey, the kids might enjoy it and who am I to tell them not to?’ I hated those assemblies and they obviously didn’t do me any good.” I know I’m getting a little preachy, a little angry, and I decide to pull back. “People also ask me if I miss it. You know, using my legs. I tell them, ‘Oh hell no!’ What’s so great about your legs? Always havin’ to walk places, do things.” I glanced over toward the bar. The guy left and I was proud. “I wasn’t partial to walking, I hated running and I will never have to do it again.” Some of the dopes out there really looked like they thought this sounded good. I decide not to tell them about how damn hard it is to get into a car. “The hard thing, the worst part about losing your legs, though, is the initial depression. Learning you’re a cripple is the kind of news you have to take sitting down, ya know? Anyway, when I found out, I was really depressed. I sat at home playing video games all day, eating Hot Pockets and bitching online.” At this point I grew visibly despondent, staring off into space. Then, “Which wasn’t any different than any other day, mind you. I just frowned more doing it.” In the space of the laughter I noticed the guy back at the bar. Probably just went to the can. I can see he has slicked back hair and a brown leather jacket, and now that I’m not talking about drunk driving he is looking at me. “And I was doing this for like, a long time when I realized I was looking at this whole never walking again thing the wrong way. All I could think about was how I had lost my legs. I realized a great truth, though: I gained all of yours! You people will go out of your way for me, now. You’ll push the button at crosswalks and put cream in my coffee and grab stuff from the shelf and I could easily do all of these things but I’m just too lazy! It’s great!” The laughter subsides and I’m ready to wrap up. I try not to look into the eyes of the guy at the bar with the slicked back hair and brown leather jacket, but only because the lights hurt my eyes. “And I think you all do it because you feel a little guilty. You think that by helping me out you are appreciating your legs better. Don’t do that. Take your walking for granted. That way, when you get fat, I can beat you to the last doughnut. I may not even want it, but I love the look on a fat person’s face when they see me eat a pastry their handicapable fat asses couldn’t get to in time. Because a cripple was there first.” The guy at the bar was smiling, then. I realized that for the first time that night, I was, too. “So short of that, give yourself a break, okay? Night, folks.”
I nod to the audience, get a few nods back and make my way off the stage. I’m glad that guy was there that night. No, of course he wasn’t the guy who hit me. Don’t be so melodramatic. But it felt good to let him know it was all water under the bridge, anyway.

The end.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Let's Look at This One More Time...

Postmodernist revisionism has us by the nuts. Or, in English, we all have hard-ons for perverting what we traditionally think to be innocent. Maybe "perverting" isn't the right word. A better word might be, rationalizing. Nowadays, people want an escapism that isn't escape at all. They want to see their world, exciting. We love/hate our world, plus; our world plus superheroes, our world plus video game characters, the list goes on and on. With the release of the long-awaited Watchmen and the less long-awaited second episode of There Will Be Brawl, I've been thinking about how we rethink our heroes.
For those of you not in the know (both of you), Watchmen is, ultimately, a collection of stories about superheroes and their irrevocably messed up lives. The book is pretty old now, and was always a fiercely postmodern work, but the movie takes a couple steps forward in this area, so I'll focus on it. Watchmen denies a lot of what we assume about superheroes. You can attribute various proxies to its characters; I like to describe the sundry costumed adventurers as "______ if he/she didn't give a damn about anything." The Comedian is, in my mind, who Captain America would have been under Nixon. Dr. Manhattan is even more powerful than Superman, but has no real attachment to his home, unlike the Man of Steel focusing so much on his adopted status. I know this is a cursory way of explaining the characters, but it serves to get my friends into the book.
And when they do, they see what I mean. These characters would have nothing to do with the tried and true, primary-colored champions of American Exceptionalism we know and love. Comedian would probably consider Captain America (at least Steve Rodgers) as something of a faggot, not wanted to mow down dissenters and protesters. Manhattan would summarily dismiss the Man of Tomorrow's desire to save life. To Ostermann, it would simply be superfluous effort. In the movie, Nite Owl is much more brutal, and Silk Spectre II is a killer. While these may be extreme examples, but they shed some light on how we are beginning to look at superhero--for lack of a better term, as "comic book" would include A History of Violence and Road to Perdition--escapism. Considering the trend, superheroes are getting more realistic. Spider-Man existed in a more believable world, and now Batman and Iron Man look at real world problems, being solved and exacerbated by the presence of masks. These new superheroes are darker, meaner and more relevant. This is no longer Tim Burton's Batman. That was a world from which the viewers could safely distance themselves. It was a bleak, sprawling and, most importantly, idealized landscape. Now, if you watch a superhero movie, you will most likely recognize the world as your own. Gotham looks an awful lot like Chicago. The Middle East looks like the Middle East. It can be terrifying to think of the insanity of society or war encroaching in our lives, which is why the heroes win. And they should. We need Batman and Iron Man to triumph over evil because, for decades, that is what they do: they save us.
This is where Watchmen questions our desire to be safe. It presents a world that looks and sounds similar to our own, but is subtly different. If Bill Finger and Tim Burton crafted a dystopian 40's/80's American city, Moore and Snyder showcase a recent past/near future in which you wouldn't want to live. Watchmen postulates if superheroes would be so great after all, and offers mixed evidence. I still feel it, both as a book and a film, has mismatched priorities in some of its storytelling, but it is, at best, skeptical of cowled do-gooders. Which is why it's a classic: we want to know what would happen if our heroes failed, not so much in their exploits, but in their persons.
There Will Be Brawl thinks about this same thing, and decides that the characters are correct, Mario is still Mario, Princess Peach is Princess Peach, but the world around them is suspect. Mushrooms are drugs. The Koopa Coins littering the Mushroom Kingdom are avarice given shape. Even when it seems the characters are the ones who have changed, its a matter of interpretation. Boiled down, Kirby is a monster, a cannibal. The Mario Bros. are brutal mushroom heads (not literally, like Toad). Peach is not a cocktease, as you'd think from the games, but rather a slut in a little crown. Unlike Watchmen, There Will Be Brawl shows us a world we only know from its approximation in our own. Watching it, one could wonder if something was lost in translation, and this was a more accurate way of looking at the Nintendo universe. What is scary is, the series candidly represents what the Nintendo world would be like if it was our world. Watch the first episode here.
These are the games many children of my generation grew up playing, and now we can see them more as we see ourselves.
In the end, this is what all the pomo, all the revisionism is. It is a means of rending imaginary worlds into our own. Superheroes like Batman and Iron, Man along with Rorschach and V, ask hard questions about our world while making what was once a safe way of asking, movies and comics, dicey territory. The Nintendo denizens throw in our faces what we loved as children, only to find it has become mired in the filth in which we live. This is not something we should find disappointing or disenchanting. It is something to consider. We no longer read old Batman comics for a reason: they're outdated. Superman Returns was largely panned because it was found to be preachy. People want heroes with whom they can identify in worlds they can recognize. This newfound importance in the postmodern "hero" is a shepherd. We do not have to root for A because he is good and B is evil. We can ask questions about our own lives, what our heroes really say about us, and grow as people. Our new superheroes demand of you, would you implement a Big Brother network to catch a madman, beating cops in the process? Would you use the tools of war to do good? Would you, well, I'm not going to ask you what Watchmen asks. Go see/read it yourself. It may be a hard question, but our new heroes lead us not by telling us where to go, but forcing us to find the answer within ourselves.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

My Brother's Best Suit

My brother Andrew and I hail from western Illinois, a place where hail is seen every so often. It's said our state has only three seasons: cold, colder and construction. Much to the chagrin of everyone, it gets cold around late August, and by mid-December, you're just about ready to die. In a fire, if you can help it.
With temperatures dropping like anything drops in a vacuum like everywhere not Chicago in Illinois, it gets absurdly cold by Halloween. Growing up, my brother and I had to trick or treat in out coats more than once. It's awful for a kid to have to beg for candy in a hand-me-down coat.
"Oh, look, two little hobos."
"We're Batman and Robin."
"Oh. Well. You know, the coats."
"Yeah. That and hobos are known for having pointy ears and masks."
"Get off my porch."
To a child's mind, Halloween being so cold just isn't fair. Batman didn't wear a coat when he fought crime, so why should I wear one in a quest for sugary deliciousness? My parents always answered this by telling me to put on my coat, successfully circumventing an argument I was bound to lose.
One year, deciding the best course of action would be to avoid the whole coats/no coats, but long underwear conversation, my parents purchased for my brother and me costumes containing hooded sweatshirts. It was a masterstroke, to be sure. And in what was, in retrospect, an even more portentous move, our parents picked out the costumes themselves, apparently according to our personalities.
I was a mouse. My brother was a devil. We went out on All Hallow's Eve, got a bunch of candy, and had a great time. What worked out pretty well for our parents is, after the holiday, we could still utilize a good portion of our suits. Not that I didn't keep a number of batsuits, mind you, but the blue ranger and Dracula have both been lost to time. So, Andrew and I would wear these outfits to go out and play in the next to our house. We would be having a swell time in the leaves, and then Andrew would do something that I absolutely hated.
He would play dead. We'd be running around and he would drop like a stroke victim. This scared the holy living hell out of me. What would Mom do? Dad would kill me.
"You were supposed to be watching him!"
I was barely able to tie my own shoes, and here I was, foreseeing my father berating me for being unable to combat ST(oddler)DS. This, playing out in my mind, revealed the most traumatic part of all: Mom would cry. And she wouldn't cry like she had on the roller coaster at Six Flags. No, she would full tilt lose it, balling and calling for her little boy who I had allowed to perish in the balmy Illinois fall, in a pile of dried, red leaves. Well, I wasn't about to let that happen. So, grabbing Andrew by the wrist, I would pull him toward the house. He may die, but it wouldn't be on my watch. Let Mom and Dad deal with this. So I would drag him, worried sick and maybe crying a little myself, and he would laugh and laugh and I would get so mad at the little shit for it.
Years have passed, and we are still a mouse and a devil. I have graduated into a clever mouse (see me write these entertaining little stories?) and he has become a Devil Dog. Yup, he's a Marine, complete with rifle, boots, the whole shebang. We have both traded in our jackets for more substantial clothing. Not to say those jackets weren't warm enough. They were fine. No, what we wear now defines us better. I wear my writer's fedora, which makes me feel all artsy, like I should sip on absinthe and be poor. And he wears a dress blue jacket with gold buttons. Each button is embossed with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor the Marines proport to have taken over responsibility for from God Himself. It makes him look appropriate to attend the Marine's Ball. It's BDUs he wears to kill people.
I remember when he decided to earn that uniform. He and Mom and Dad went to see the sergeant at the mall recruiting center. I was not allowed in, for fear I would start with my drivel about peace and not let the man speak his. I consented to absence, with the understanding Andrew would not be allowed to sign up for the delayed entry program. That night I found out I should not allow my parents to go it alone. Andrew was signed up for the Marine Corps.
He was all smiles, my parents had a look of solemnity about them, and Andrew got a "Congratufuckinglations" from the poolee who would be given credit for helping get my brother's name on the line. I was disappointed, and a little worried. This was my little brother, after all. I had seen him in the direst vulnerabilities. I had seen him deal with untrue friends and girlfriends, battle with weight gain and could even remember buying diapers for him. I remembered how much he cried when his guinea pig died.
And I made a choice. It is a cold world. We all choose the best way to get through it, and in choosing, decide who we want to be. I decided the best way was to tell stories. Andrew picked "oorah." I could have tried to pull him toward the house, put him in front of Mom and Dad and say, "look, he wants to go and get killed." I know I have to let him. I wouldn't want him to stop me, tell me what I do isn't right. I will not say the same to him. The truth is, despite the danger, in spite of the fear I now possess more than ever for his safety, I'm proud of Andrew and would not change his profession for anything.
He has chosen the costume to wear to protect him and who he is, and it's something he wears in autumn as red leaves float to frozen earth, or if hot sand and lead whips about him. I will not pull him from either.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Poster Plaster: How to Effectively Decorate Your Home with Movie Posters

I was reading a men's magazine recently, and it said to get real conversation starters on your walls, not movie posters. Well I think that's a little narrow-minded. Movie posters can be great conversation starters! And let's face it, if taking down your Friday the 13th poster is the best way to festoon your digs, you'd rather be bland. Here are a few thoughts on how hip you can be with the square.
All (manly) men love Scarface. It's a great movie. But if you want to make your home a little more intriguing, pick stuff a little off the beaten path. You don't have to go too far, either. If you like Scarface, maybe a Goodfellas bill could be up your alley. Instead of The Boondock Saints, maybe you could throw up a History of Violence ad. If you get a little more "out there" with your choices, you can turn what would normally play out as, "That's a great move." "Yeah." Into, "Wow, you like that movie, too?" Which will cause a real back and forth. You might want to stop yourself from being too oddball, though. Keep Saturday Night Fever over Stayin' Alive. Please.
"But I like Scarface," you say. That's fine. You can work with that. Instead of the usual A run poster, look for something a little more obtuse. Some people like to get foreign posters. While you can't read the text (which you don't need to), you can sometimes get some pretty wild art. It's nice to perform this little excercise in cross-culture. And you know, deep down in your heart, that the Japanese posters for Star Wars are cooler than the US releases.
One of the other cool things about not getting the actual theater poster is it can pull something from the movie in a more meaningful way than an advertisement. I once saw a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas poster, on which was printed a picture of Johnny Depp and his character's "Drug Collection" monologue. I've never seen the movie, but that poster told me more about the story than anything that's ended up on a DVD case for the film. Likewise, my fiance has a The Breakfast Club poster with a cast photo and the letter from the end of the film. If the movie means something to you, it will get you every time.
Generally, when you're trying for posters that wouldn't have been used in theaters, you'll come across older movies, films that have taken time and found a place in our culture. My advice on the olies: go for it! Make sure it's a movie you've actually seen, but always favor put-ups for older films. Pretention aside, there's more to talk about when the movie is older. People generally know more about Raiders of the Lost Ark than Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Everyone knows the story about Harrison Ford being sick as a dog, thus shooting the scimitar-wielding warrior. But if you know any anecdotes for the most recent Indy film, chances are your guest doesn't.
Another good reason to go old is the quality of the posters themselves. I have a Breakfast at Tiffany's poster that is absolutely gorgeous. It features an illustration of Audrey Hepburn, along with a smaller drawing of her and George Peppard kissing in the rain. All this on a white background with a primary colors border. It just looks good, and it always ellicits conversation. Being a man, not all of them have been pleasant conversations, but that's life. It's also an incontrovertible fact these drawn pieces are head and shoulders above the photoshopped, oversaturated collages we have today. If you saw Dirty Work with Norm McDonald, you might remember a scene in which he and his buddy are trashing apartments, and his buddy comes across this old From Russia, With Love poster. He steals it. It's sexy. Keep that in mind.
The other thing about that particular poster, is it was small. Vary size. I have a couple of smaller posters, like my Pan's Labyrinth, V for Vendetta and Halloween pieces. Variations in size will draw in the eye. Mixing it up will also help you fit more pics, which is not to say you should wallpaper, but more to say you can create a sort of texture. You can squeeze in more of you.
Maybe you don't like old movies, though. Maybe you like widely-known blockbusters. Maybe you don't care for art films or foreign films and just want a Stepbrothers poster on your wall. Maybe you hate American movies, but worry your friends won't get your 8 1/2 poster. Put them up, dammit! I proudly display my posters for The Fountain and Spanglish. Those movies mean a lot to me. The whole point is picking things important to you. This is your house, where you live and it will reflect you. Just make sure what you put up there is important to you, and you will be happy with it. If you have good friends, they'll love it, too.

Friday, January 23, 2009

You People are Pompous Jerks: A Fair-minded Open Letter to the MPAA

Dear Academy,
How are you feeling today? Proud of yourselves, I hope. I'm glad you were able to almost entirely disregard The Dark Knight for any of the nominations it deserved. You passed over a great film for the best picture category, an outstanding director for his work and you gave an obligatory nomination to an exemplary actor not because of his talent, but because he died. And all this because you refuse to sully your arrogant waters with such comic book fare. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
Titanic is the top grossing film of all time (right now) and received 11 Oscars. Interestingly enough, it is not on the iMDB top 250. The Dark Knight is #5 on this list, currently behind The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather (1 & 2) and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. TDK received universally positive reviews, many of them lauding it as a great film, one representing a paradigm shift. It is one of the best movies ever made and is simply being fobbed off for having a man with a cape.
Memento is a great movie. So is The Prestige. So is Insomnia. Christopher Nolan directed all of these films, along with TDK's predecessor Batman Begins, which was nominated for cinematography. Nolan has proved himself an inventive storyteller, crafting films that strip characters down to their basic ambitions even while putting them in imaginative and often bizarre circumstances. His daring use of camera (including filming parts of TDK with IMAX cameras), his understanding of emotion and motivation and his ability to tell a rich, deep story should have garnered him a nomination. Unfortunately for him, the Academy looks down on someone who would dare make a movie about something as childish as comic books.
So if the rest of TDK has been shunned so, one would resonably assume its actors would be as well. I will be the first to admit Heath Ledger did a magnificent job as the Joker, but it seems Oscars are not being given out based on actual talent. This is a token nomination, which is a shame. It is a shame to diminish such talent by essentially nominating out of pity. I suppose I'll just have to wait and see who wins.
The passing-over of The Dark Knight is yet another example of movies being overlooked because they aren't up to the high brow standards of elitists and self-styled aristocrats. It's just a pity films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which is getting lukewarm reviews, are so rewarded while movies like The Dark Knight are treated as little more than pulp. Which is saying something, because this is the same institution which gave the Oscar for best song to "It's Hard out here 4 a Pimp" from Hustle and Flow. This just makes me sick.

-The Renaissance Writer