Chasing Alexander

Everyone knows of or has heard of Alexander. Or Iskandar as he is called in the East.

A bust of Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, (356 - 323 BC), son of Philip II of Macedon and Queen Olympias, circa 330 BC. The sculpture was found in the Roman Capitol. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A bust of Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, (356 – 323 BC), son of Philip II of Macedon and Queen Olympias, circa 330 BC. The sculpture was found in the Roman Capitol. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Alexander was the Macedonian King whose military exploits were the shining example of what human arrogance and achievement can accomplish. Exploits that were emulated for thousands of years after, proof that one man can do wonders. That one man can conquer the world.

Although, conquer is a strong word. Alexander sought to unify the world. To bring it under one ruler and therefore banish the ills that plagued it… which is an over simplification I know. In order to do that, the was a lot of war, blood, death and carnage, and the attempt ended in defeat. Defeat is a strong word to, and may not be entirely accurate. But this post isn’t concerned with an in-depth historically accurate portrait of Alexander.

No, what I really want to write about, to put out there in the blog-o-sphere, are my thoughts on the the 2004 film, Alexander by director Oliver Stone, starring Colin Farrell, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer, Jared Leto and Rosario Dawson.alex2004

 

A retrospective/reappraisal of Stone’s original theatrical release was writing by for rogerebert.com in 2014, which you can read here: A REAPPRAISAL OF OLIVER STONE’S “ALEXANDER: THE ULTIMATE CUT”

The film was panned when it was first released and since then it has had a number of re-edits and versions – talked about in the article above and so is now seen as a much better film than when first released. Though it still has flaws.

It’s long and flips back and forth in time, and the battle and action scenes while grand and epic, can be hard to follow at times. Its hard to encompass the idea of Alexander, as Anthony Hopkins explains in the beginning. How do you tell the story of a man who is more legend than reality?

I recently re-watched the film – which is currently streaming on Netflix) and was struck by the words Alexander uses during one of the arguments that Alexander has with he ‘companions’. The debate and discussion comes as they push further and further East, away from their homeland of Greece (Macedonia). The men are weary and trying to understand Alexander’s bid to reach the ‘outer sea’. He wants to sail back round to Africa, travel up the Nile and to Egypt, thus encircling/conquering the known world.

The argument I’m talking about in the film is, essentially, very pertinent to what we are dealing with today, here in the US and around the world. And which seems to be the only thing that matters to our society/culture/species – this never-ending conflict between East and West.

Alexander’s companions are tired, war-weary and beginning to question his motives and leadership. To them, he seems much more enamored of their enemies and to be forgetting who he is. He’s taking on their mode of dress, participating in their customs – he even takes a “barbarian” wife.

The men are naturally upset – because it goes against everything they’ve been raised and taught to believe. The tribes and people to the East are beneath them. They are decadent, overly emotional, savages. As Aristotle (played by Christopher Plummer in the film) tells them: “…the Oriental races are known for their barbarity and slavish devotion to their senses. Excess in all things is the undoing of men. That is why we Greeks are superior, we practice control of our senses. Moderation.”

The movie was released three years after 9/11 and the start of the War on Terror. In one sense, it can be seen as a pro-democracy film. Greece was the birthplace of Democracy after all. So, this film and others, like Zack Snyder’s 300 in 2006 do very much play as a reminder and assertion that the West is, as Aristotle states, superior.

The end of the argument between Alexander and his men ends with the young king furious with his men –

Parmenion: He never lusted for war, Alexander, or enjoyed it so. He consulted his peers in council, among equals! The Macedonian way. He didn’t make decisions based on his personal desires.

Alexander: I’ve taken us further than my father ever dreamed! Old man, we’re in knew worlds.

Cassander: Alexander, be reasonable! Were they ever meant to be our equal? Share our rewards? You remember what Aristotle said. An Asian? What would a wedding vow ever mean to a race that has never kept their word to a Greek?

Alexander: [throws Cassander against the wall] Aristotle be damned!

Hephaistion: Alexander!

Alexander: By Zeus and all the gods, what makes you so much better than them, Cassander? Better than you really are! In you and those like you is this!

Hephaistion: [pleading] Alexander…

Alexander: What disturbs me most is not your lack of respect for my judgment, but your contempt for a world far older than ours!

Of course this is dialogue written for a film. Its not the actual words that passed between Alexander and his men. Its thinking that is modern, said in a modern way. But it captures an aspect of what Alexander was trying to achieve.

And that argument, I think, is what we are still facing and fighting today. We’ve been entrenched in this conflict for thousands of years – West vs. East.

The East in Alexander and in 300 is painted as an alien culture and landscape, they are dark and ugly and cruel. They are ruled by despots and tyrants, made rich on the backs of slaves. They pay men to fight to enrich themselves.

The West on the other hand is light and good and fighting for freedom – the same rhetoric we hear today. Which of these is true? It all depends on where you stand.

Many won’t understand Alexander’s last line in the film scene quoted above. They think and believe as Alexander’s men do, as Aristotle did: that they are superior.

When you listen to the speeches of our leaders listen to the words that are used. Its not so much the people of Ancient Persia we are fighting against now, but ideologies and beliefs which did not exist in Alexander’s time

We not battling not the barbarian hordes, its Radical Islam.

I always am bothered by arguments on the subject that treat it as though this is something new and that can be stamped out. the truth of it – in my own mind – is that the ugly things happening out there right now: immigration bans, terror attacks, the rise of populist leaders, the Left vs. Right bigotry and hatred – stretch much further back than just a very horrible and terrible day in September 16 years ago.

And I think people forget that. I think people only see what is front of them.

Like Alexander’s men… they don’t understand the dream he was trying to achieve. The thing that drove him, the thing he was chasing and what many after him chased as well. What some still chase today.

A unified world.

Many don’t want that in this day and age. The current political climate in America is very much not about unity.

What many see, and what many want is separation and division. Them above the other. They are in the Right and we are in the Wrong.

Its an argument that stretches back millennia… and one that will not have an end in my lifetime.

At the close of the film Anthony Hopkins has the following speech:

Old Ptolemy: The truth is never simple and yet it is. The truth is we did kill him. By silence we consented… because we couldn’t go on. But by Ares, what did we have to look forward to but to be discarded in the end like Cleitus? After all this time, to give away our wealth to Asian sycophants we despised? Mixing the races? Harmony? Oh, he talked of these things. I never believe in his dream. None of us did. That’s the truth of his life. The dreamers exhaust us. They must die before they kill us with their blasted dreams.

Those who dream exhaust those who want things to stay as they are.

And they fight against a dream of unity because they fear they will be lost in it. If we are all the same, how can I be me? How can I be just one?

We the Devouring and Insatiable

So, as a creator (not that I’m great at it, but I try) I keep up with those things that influence my writing and storytelling. I read, watch films and a few non-network TV shows and I spend far too much time reading articles on the web.

There’s been a lot of ink and time spent picking apart/discussing/analyzing various popular shows or entertainment properties, especially since the ascension of geek and nerd culture as the top source for those items that a great many people obsess over – from comics to video games, to superheroes and shows about sentient robots (Westworld), a fantasy world with dragons (GoT) and humans doing despicable things to one another during a world ending event (TWD).

To be honest, there’s so much content being produced its really kind of overwhelming. But I guess that’s the result of years of advertisers and media moguls chasing after the next billion-dollar profit maker – because in the end, profit is all that matters.

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But, maybe that’s not the whole issue.

We’ve reached a point in our civilization where we have a great deal of free time due to industrialization and automation and surplus, we are – a lot of the time – bored with life.

I happen to think that the vast majority of us are insatiable when it comes to content and entertainment. We demand it at an insane rate, and devour it so quickly that we feel unsatisfied and letdown or immediately hungry as soon as we finish a book or a show.

Ask yourself how many times you been on your computer, surfing Netflix or clicking through the media guide on your TV or browsing a book shelf or scanning the comic book wall and seeing nothing that interests you… Maybe its not that way for you – maybe you easily hop from one thing to the next and aren’t bored… but have you ever felt overwhelm by the choices presented to you?

Either way, boredom or the feeling that there’s just too much, leads to a sort whining childishness – a pouting demanding sense of privilege entitlement.

Entertainment must and should be provided to us whenever and however we want. One of my favorite comics, Dana Gould, had a great bit where he stops in the middle of his act and kind of deconstructs it – he turns a chair around and with his back to the audience rants and vents about what they (we the audience) EXPECT from a show.

Do a dance, sing a song, smash some fruit! ENTERTAIN ME!”

We are constantly faulting films and shows and comics or *insert product here* for being either bad or unfulfilling. Because our expectations are not met. Advertisers and film studios and publishers tease and promote these products to an absurd degree — to the point where by the time they are released, we expect them to be the NEXT BIG THING – only to walk away from them let down or bummed out.

People will find fault with anything. Its not just the teasing and the ads and the promos that are the problem… If I had to put a finger on it, I’d say that its just simply our demand that we have more that’s the problem.

In this day of instant gratification, content streaming, on-demand programming and one-click purchasing options… we’ve become monsters that consume and devour at a frightening pace.

I just read an article [Comics Should Be Published Weekly]that “demands” the comics industry immediately switch its distribution model from once a month to weekly – simply because asking a reader to follow a story parceled out in increments every month isn’t reasonable. The author cites the example that comics should be created the way TV shows are created, and gives examples of how this has worked in the comics industry… And perhaps he/she has a point.

But what galls me about this is the assertion that entertainment should be shoveled into our hands at an accelerated rate… because WE WANT IT NOW.

Information and content is fed to us, thrown at us, pushed at us at such a speed that we don’t take to digest or appreciate it. We gobble it up, toss it aside and are immediately looking for the next thing.

We don’t appreciate waiting periods of any kind. Ignoring the benefits of pause, of taking time to relish what we have just seen or heard or tasted.

It’s already soured in our mouths and we need something else to wash it away.

More, More, More!

The long, prolonged derangement of the senses that Morrison spoke of , the thirteen channels of shit on the TV to chose from that Floyd sang about — they have become an avalanche – a tidal wave of consumerism that mires us in a swamp of content overload.

I don’t think comics need to be provided to us on a weekly basis.

Rather than demanding that outside forces need to change and alter to fit our will, it’s our expectations that should change.

We need to re-discover our sense of wonder and fun – instead of expecting it to be spoon-fed to us every second of every hour of every day.

Sacred Childhood… uh, not really

First, I just want to say, this isn’t about taking anything away from anybody. This is just my opinion – and you can feel free to reject it, piss on it or flip me the finger… That’s your right.

Just as it’s my right (as this is my blog, my soapbox) to say what I’m about to say.

No matter what you may think – your childhood memories aren’t sacred.

They are simply, your memories… just as the memories of your grandfather as his memories, or your grandmother her memories. Yeah, the ones you thought were sooo lame and out of touch.

Welcome to that point in your life when your idea of what’s what runs headlong into a new generation’s newer, shinier, better and cooler what’s what.

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So… that’s my two cents.

 

 

 

50 Years Difference

The Magnificent Seven is 56 years old. 3 years older than me.

It’s very interesting to see the changes and difference between two films telling the same story, fifty years apart.

The original 1960’s version is a timecapsule of sorts… made at the height of Hollywood’s love affair of the Western, before more realistic depictions of the genre would focus on the blood and violence of the American Frontier. The violence and action in it is of the sterile, stylized Hollywood kind: all of it staged and non-threatening. It’s a romantic film really, one that glorifies the hallmarks of the shoot ’em genre: blood that looks more like paint, perfectly round bullet holes, shooting guns out of hands, etc.

The 1960 version (based on Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai) stars  Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Steve McQueen, and Horst BuchholzCharles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, James Coburn, and Brad Dexter.

Fifty years ago, the gun was seen as something pure. It was the weapon that won the West, what established America as the land of the Free, home of the Brave.

It didn’t quite carry the stigma it does today, or maybe that’s just me looking back at it through the lens of nostalgia. Guns and violence still happened in 1960’s America… it just didn’t seem to happen as often as it does today.

Image result for magnificent seven

From the moment the film starts and Elmer Bernstein’s rousing score fills the speakers, you know you are in for a “feel good” kind of movie. It’s a straightforward good guys vs. bad guys situation and the music lets you know its going to be fun, exciting… something to cheer for.

It’s a throwback to watch it, having just sat through the Antoine Fuqua 2016 re-make with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Byung-hun, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Haley Bennett, Luke Grimes, Matt Bomer, and Peter Sarsgaard.

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What strikes you about the original is its bravado – it’s almost naive chivalry and lighthearted tone.

Both films open with the villains first, showing us the rough and ugly side of the West – only, the 2016 version is set in an unnamed territory (somewhere, apparently, a week’s ride from Sacramento) whereas the original is about the hired guns protecting a Mexican village over the border and outside the USA.

The tone is strikingly different in each – the 1960’s version is almost upbeat, the Mexican bandits not all that threatening, except for Eli Wallach who slaps a guy around and then shoots a man dead. The 2016 version is right from the start more dramatic and dangerous, with Sarsgaard’s greedy, land-obsessed Bogue threatening a child, burning the town’s church to the ground and then shooting a man dead.

In the 60’s version you kind of get the impression that (because of the music and the staging) that the stakes and consequences are not really that high. The men that join the Seven are noble knights on a quest – they expect to die in battle, for honor and glory.

The 2016 version however, never really gives you that impression. It can’t. Because those kind of ideals don’t really hold water these days. The men who sign up for the Seven in the modern take are more mercenary, more brutish in a way… they walk into it knowing that they will probably die – but they also will be taking a lot of “bad” guys with them.

Its interesting to note that the subtle, subconscious politics of the 1960 version – that the poor Mexican farmers need to cross the border into America to buy guns and hire more able-bodied fighters to defend their land and homes. The USA was still seen as the savior of the world then, before Vietnam, before Watergate and Irangate, before Iraq and 9/11.

And it’s another (almost embarrassing) re-iteration that only the White Man is capable of taking care of business. All of the hired hands in the 1960 version are White men – except for Horst Buchholz who plays kind of a half Mexican hothead (its not stated outright only implied) whose name is Chico.

The 2016 version of the Seven is more diverse, with the leader being black, and including not only a Texican (“There’s no such thing as a Texican” I think is the line from the script) but a Korean knife-thrower and a Comanche to boot.

Not that it matters in the slightest really – race and nationality don’t really matter when you are putting together a team of gunslingers. What matters is are they good and are they willing to kill.

When we first meet the leader of the gunslingers in the 1960’s version, he’s taking on the job of escorting the body of a dead Indian to a graveyard – its a statement against racism in a kind of backhanded way – seeing as how the white dudes are helping out a dead guy.

The issue of race never really arises in the 2016 version, at least it didn’t seem to for me – the confrontation at the end between Denzel Washington and Peter Sarsgaard didn’t really seem to be a racist one so much as just a bad guy getting his for being a outright sonofbitch and doing nasty things to innocent people back in Kansas. The racism in that exchange isn’t blatant or outright, but it’s there… and I found it very interesting to see how the good guy is black (dressed in black – an homage to Yul Brynner’s character in the original) and the bad guy is white (but also dressed in black) and how it speaks (intentionally or not) to the tensions that are taking place in our streets as I type this.

The reviews for the 2016 remake praise the acting but also point out that it really doesn’t change or innovate much from the original – other than they are fighting to protect a bunch of white farmers from greedy white men, rather than protecting Mexican farmers from a gang of Mexican bandits.

The gun fights and killing in the 2016 version is a bit more brutal than that of the 60’s version (with more explosions of course) but no where near as gory and gut-wrenching as say The Wild Bunch or Rambo.

But the one thing that struck me about the film was the ending.

In the 1960’s version, at the end, the aftermath of the violence and the impact that it has on the villagers is pretty much the same as the townsfolk in the 2016 version. But whereas the 60’s version is more somber and quiet, the 2016 version is a kind of weird celebration with lots of dead guys and townspeople congratulating themselves and the three surviving gunslingers. It just struck me as odd.

And like the 60’s version, there’s still a speech about how the ones who died will be remembered as heroes – but when the music swells and the survivors are riding off in the original, the music sounds out of place. It’s overly heroic, but it doesn’t have the rousing thematic quality of Bernstein’s score – which comes rushing onto the screen when the credits start to roll, which is almost jarring and a blatant reminder that this is a re-make: look, were using the same music here! Clever, huh!?

It was a decent re-make, a more modern take, a more realistic one. But I can’t say its better. I think original did a better job of making the Seven likable and identifiable – more human in a way.

But that’s the trouble with re-makes, I guess. Comparisons are inevitable and its rare when a remake improves on something. Finding the right ingredients is always tricky.

But, go see it for yourself, make your own judgment. It’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours.

The Myth of the Magician

When I was a young boy and well into my young adulthood, I viewed the world through a distorted lens. That lens was fixated on the idea that the mystical and the magical that I read about in books – stories that ranged from the myths of Ancient Greece, endless versions of the Arthurian legends, Charles de Lint’s urban shamanism, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft’s antediluvian and Stygian practices of mad wizards and priestesses, Carlos Castenada’s Don Juan cycle, Huxley’s Doors of Perception, Walker’s Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, and any number of books that purported to be about piercing the veil between this mundane world and the world of “the other side”.

The typical stuff a white nerdy guy in middle America assumed was the right kind of material to gain hidden or secret knowledge.

I wanted to be something other than what I was. I wanted the things I read about, and the characters I portrayed on the stage (Merlin in Camelot, for example) to be accessible; to be actual. I wanted them to be what was real, not the dull and dreary plodding normalness of what I was experiencing as the “real world.”

I was guilty of wanting. I was guilty of a White/Western way of thinking that the simple desire or yearning for a thing granted me the right or ‘specialness‘ required to gain access to or ownership of a secret or hidden knowledge.

whiteshaman

I wanted the world and I wanted it now.

I want to talk about apprenticeship.

If you read the article in the link above you’ll find a particular passage and message that resonates with me and which I’ve talked with a few friends about before and that is the lack of and almost non-existent practice of apprenticeship in the Western world.

“In Western culture, most people will never know a shaman, let alone train with one. Yet since ours is a literate culture, you do not have to be in an apprenticeship situation to learn; a written guide can provide the essential methodological information.”

Now, before someone jumps on me about that statement, let me go on record and say that this is just my perception – this is just my viewpoint. Whether or not it is actual fact or true is quite debatable. I’m sure some will say that Medical School for example, or four years of undergraduate and four years + of graduate school in order to get a degree or another four if you want a PhD, is “apprenticeship” and get steamed because my statement seems to dismiss that… which it doesn’t.

What I’m saying is that it isn’t the same thing.

Education is a good thing. Books are a good thing. Learning of any kind is a good thing.

But what I’m talking about is the practical application of that knowledge. A work-a-day practice, a years-long study alongside a higher level teacher or leader. Clothing, shoes, art, painting, sculpting, carpentry, stone masons, any and every profession had a set number of years where you were known as an apprentice.

Being an apprentice was a good thing. It notified others that you were attempting a craft, you were learning. You had prospects.

To illustrate how we think about apprenticeship these days – we turned it into a reality TV show. The Apprentice. Which really wasn’t about apprenticeship so much as a mad scramble for dollars and a “get the job” prize at the end. It highlighted everything that’s Western and privileged about how we view things.

In my chosen profession of acting, there used to be (and yes I realize there still are) troupes that would traverse a country or countries performing plays and characters for audiences. These troupes were the ‘schools’ of their time. They were the standard of how to learn the craft of performance. Because it wasn’t just putting on a costume and walking out on the boards to say lines.

That doesn’t make you an actor. No more than putting on scrubs and walking into a hospital makes you a surgeon. Or putting on a suit, and walking into the stock exchange makes you a broker.

It’s the time spent in honing your craft that leads to profession. And I think its a lot longer than four years.

I wish I had taken part in a program or opportunity like a troupe – I think I would’ve had a better work ethic, more appreciation for the reward and a greater understanding of how to shoulder the wait that is necessary in order to reach some goals.

It used to be that a man or woman could not lay claim to the title of professional until a higher up had either retired or passed on. That the ranks and rungs of the ladder were climbed slowly and steadily and that “success” was something that was the culmination of a lifetime of experience, learning and honorable practice of one’s chosen craft.

But here in the West, here in the modern world of books and graded courses, of online diplomas and standardized testing – practice and practical knowledge is dispensed with and a certificate or a award is the marker for moving up in a profession – in fact, in a real sense – that award is seen as the be all and end all of a profession. And its celebrated as such.

In my late twenties and early thirties I became very disenchanted with my pursuit or my hope of ‘breaking through’, of finding the hidden world behind the veil of this very dull and burdensome real one. But the real truth is that I was disenchanted with reading and reading and reading about this elusive thing I thought existed. I didn’t practice it, I didn’t seek out a teacher… I blindly followed the tradition I was taught in my Western schools – I stuck to the written guides that were supposed to open the door and grant me access to the other side.

And so, like so many before me, I quit. I quit seeking the mystic and the magical.

I think this also led to my disenchantment with my chosen professional path. I stopped auditioning, I stopped acting in or going to plays, I turned away from reading about acting or theater.

As a matter of fact, I stopped reading altogether, for the most part. And for almost a decade or more, didn’t have anything to do with either acting or books. I felt very disappointed in them both, one because it was too easy for me (and by easy meaning I found myself in a position of being cast often, in a community that knew what I could do and how reliable I was) and the other because they just seem to repeat themselves over and over. I wasn’t learning anything new, I didn’t feel challenged.

And I had a great feeling of dissatisfaction in my life – not just professionally, but in pretty much all aspects of my day to day experience.

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In the mid-90’s I was cast in The Grand Tarot by Charles Ludlam, written for the Theater of the Ridiculous and probably the last time I participated in something that was even closely tied with anything esoteric or mysterious. I played the Magician and if I remember correctly (memories are tricky things), he was seeking a divine union with the High Priestess. In the play its expressed as a physical union as well as a union of the senses or spirit. It was a fun play, lots of comedic moments and overall a great time.

The magician in the play is pretty much like a lot of people, and like myself as well. Misguided, seeking answers in places where they aren’t and hoping that life can be summed up in a single moment, or a simple set of magic words – utter a spell and the world will be healed. He wants a quick answer, he rushes about sure that if he can just do this one thing – everything will be open and explained.

And that’s the myth of the magician – that there is an easy way to get what you want.

We humans seek answers. Aside from the basic necessities of sustaining ourselves, that’s what we do… We live for puzzles and challenges, to expand our world.

There used to be a period of apprenticeship that served not only as guide to make a living or to create things that a community needed, it was a way to know more about one’s place in the fabric of this reality. It wasn’t a method for keeping people in their place or establishing class distinctions (at least in my perception – I could be very wrong about that). Apprenticeships fell into decline and disappeared as the Industrial Revolution progressed and machines took over menial labor and lesser jobs that had once been performed by human apprentices.

And this seeped into the pursuit of the esoteric, the pursuit of the spiritual and mystical. Traditional means of achieving enlightenment or hidden knowledge was no longer about sitting at the feet of a Master, but rather doled out in pamphlets and placed on book shelves in stores and libraries.

Can I say that this has truly been harmful to us as a society? I don’t know. There are examples of individuals who either bucked the system or dropped out of school or simply worked out their own method to produce works of art or to make a discovery or climb a corporate or business ladder that didn’t rely on years of study or practice. Their natural or innate talent and ability allowed them to circumvent the traditional mode of tradecraft. Films and movies too are filled with this type of “success” story, which furthers the notion that you don’t have to follow the beaten path.

We celebrate those that skirt past everyone else, who break the rules and do it their way, who disdain tradition and triumph over the odds. Winning is everything.

Nerd portion of the post: I guess that’s why I have such a hard time with BvS: Dawn of Justice and the portrayal of both Batman and Superman in that film. The assertion that “this is anew Superman” rubs me the wrong way because its this whole ‘let’s ignore the history of the character and let’s skip his apprenticeship – he makes mistakes, and that’s ok. But he’s still the pinnicle of what a meta-human should be’.

Only, for me – he isn’t. He hasn’t earned it.

He simply tells people “I’m going to do things on my terms. Trust me.”

Which is everything great about America (since that is what Superman represents after all “I grew up in Kansas… I’m about as American as you can get.”) and everything awful all in the same sentence.

We don’t need apprenticeships because we are just that good.

Only we’re not.

And we have a country full of dissatisfied and despondent people who were sold on the idea that you can be the best. That you deserve to be the best – simply because you want it. There aren’t any apprenticeships anymore because what we are told is – all you have to do is cross the finish line ahead of the others. It’s only when you cross the finish line do you realize that there are a thousand thousand that have crossed ahead of you. And a thousand thousand coming up behind.

The end is what’s important. Not the journey.

The simple path, the easy answer. That’s the lie.

I still want there to be mystical and magical things in the world. I still want to break through and reach beyond this one. But I won’t find it in books or by simply wanting it. And at this stage, I’m a bit tired and a bit old to go looking for it.

Maybe in a few years, I’ll get to a point where I’ll be ready to start my apprenticeship. I’ll be ready to get my head out of the dirt and set my feet on a path, I’ll find a teacher. And I’ll starting learning.

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So much rage, so much hate

I get angry at times. I think we all do.

Life is frustrating, complicated, annoying and at times infuriating. Too many cars on the road, long lines in the grocery store. Make a list of all the things that get under your skin and you’ll probably find at least one or more of them really sets you off. You know, the one thing that as soon as its mentioned or as soon as it happens you just get angry – really angry.

It could be something someone said to you, or it could be getting cut off in traffic or whatever – take your pick.

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In any case, the level of response is disproportionate to the offense, usually. Are there cases where the response is justified? Of course. But so many times the anger that erupts, the rage that spews forth isn’t just because of one thing.

It’s been building, for a long time, and is tied to other things in your life or others lives.

I read an article today about gamer rage that resulted in an arrest and is just one example of thousands of instances that happen daily (the rage, not the arrest) – because there are a lot of angry, rage-filled people out there.

Pick your poison – politics, film, TV, comic books, a female opinion – they are all triggers for people to suddenly go off in a fit of apoplectic hate and derision. The interwebs are filled with so much vitriolic, racist, sexist and just plain angry comments, screeds and book-length diatribes about any given topic that it is soul-crushing and mind-numbing.

Why?

I’m sure some of these rants healthy ways to purge the anger one feels about a Ghostbusters movie or to just get it out of your system that this or that really bothers you.

But it seems that most are just put out in the world to cause misery. “I’m upset, so others need to be too.” “You said something I think is stupid or something I disagree with so *insert insult* and *insert insult* and *insert slur* … ad infinitum until a desired outcome is achieved – that outcome either reducing someone to tears, quitting twitter or – in the worst of cases – taking their own lives.

The article I mentioned earlier that landed the angry gamer in jail details a new policy that Blizzard Entertainment has instituted to deal with those people who play their games that harass or insult other players in game, through chat messages or private messages – usually offensive or threatening messages – aimed at making other players angry or miserable, ruining the experience or just for simple dickery.

The solution Blizzard implemented, to deal with problem players, I felt was exactly the right one – they would “silence” the offenders account, basically preventing said player from sending messages for a set period of time.

The most effective thing you can do to someone who is clamoring for attention is to take away the ability for them to do so – trolls cannot live in a vacuum – if their bile is spewed out and the only ones that hear it are themselves, it loses any potency.

And so, after being ‘silenced’ the troll, whose anger was so consuming they felt it necessary to message the company directly – and to use threats of a violent and destructive nature, going so far as to tell them he would show up at their offices “with an AK47 amongst some other ‘fun’ tools”.

Sitting far away, in the relative safety of my room, its easy to shake my head and wonder: Why?

Why on earth is this person so angry? What is it about life that has caused this level of anger or hate or rage?

In my limited view and opinion, this isn’t abnormal. Sadly, its actually pretty normal behavior.

The social nature of the internet has – and I’m not saying anything new – pulled back the thin veneer of social graces and niceties we supposedly taught growing up and allowed for the dislike that we generally have for our fellow human beings to come spilling out. In great waves. But what do you expect people’s behavior to be like when they are fed a steady diet of dissatisfaction, bad news, high prices and any number of other little things that make living a chore?

On a tribal level, we have a natural human instinct to choose someone around us and attack them – most often this presents its self in the form of bullying or harassment. There is a pecking order among us, those on top, those beneath and bullying and harassment is the most basic way to establish your place in that pecking order … shit flows down hill, so better to be higher up than down below.

Ten thousand people maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

In one sense I really don’t think we were meant to live in groups this large. We are able to do so because we have mastered our environment – through tools and intellect we have bent rivers to our will, grown more food than we know what to do with and subjugated, controlled or  destroyed every other species on the planet – including our friends and neighbors.

But is it really in our self-interest as a species to continue growing and expanding? Bumping up against one another is greater numbers generating even more pecking orders and hierarchies to fight through in order to be seen, to be heard, to live in relative safely and security?

I’m not sure. I’m not an expert, I’m not qualified to really speak on the issue – I haven’t researched the social, environmental or geographic data to support or to refute the idea I have about there being too many of us.

It does however seem connected to the issue of the anger in us.

So many opinions, so many critiques and so many people who simply play games and get lucky or who are better and so forth become targets for vicious, ugly and violent messages and posts designed to hurt and belittle. And why? Just because they can. The need or impulse to vent, rant or otherwise puke out one’s thoughts and opinions is part of the internet’s beauty and appeal – the sense of freedom and that someone, somewhere will agree or support your view is quite appealing.

Unfortunately, the downside is there is a lot ugly out there.

The best tool in my arsenal to fight against such ugliness is to ignore it. To silence it in my sphere of influence – meaning in my limited reach, in the fifty or so feet around me personally or by monitoring my social media – I can feed the trolls a steady diet of the one thing that will starve them.

Silence.

“Hello darkness, my old friend…”

“…a little human compassion…”

Bob Hauk: Plissken, if you get back in that glider and fly back here without the tape or the President, I’ll shoot you down myself! You try to climb out, I’ll burn you off the wall! Do you understand that, Plissken?
Snake Plissken: [beat] A little human compassion.

Probably my favorite moment of Snake’s.

The exchange above, is of course, taken from John Carpenter’s dystopian cult hit Escape from New York, which celebrates it’s 35th Anniversary today, July 10 (it was released on the same date back in 1981.)

Backed by Carpenter’s simple but effective score, one of the top ten anti-heroes in cinematic history took over the imagination mid-summer the year I graduated high school. I remember going to see at the Grand Theater in downtown Paris, Tx. Probably on a Friday or Saturday night, with my friends if I recall correctly. It wasn’t a date movie – it was a guy flick. A good ol’ testosterone neo-noir sci-fi western of sorts… a lone ex-military convict, forced to save the President from Manhattan Prison.

In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem River, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don't come out.

“In 1988, the crime rate in the United States rises four hundred percent. The once great city of New York becomes the one maximum security prison for the entire country. A fifty-foot containment wall is erected along the New Jersey shoreline, across the Harlem River, and down along the Brooklyn shoreline. It completely surrounds Manhattan Island. All bridges and waterways are mined. The United States Police Force, like an army, is encamped around the island. There are no guards inside the prison, only prisoners and the worlds they have made. The rules are simple: once you go in, you don’t come out.”

A lot of my fellow geeks and nerds would no doubt attest to wanting to be Snake, and might even had affected his tone and mannerisms (which Kurt Russell patterned after Clint Eastwood) in the privacy of their own homes. I myself remember mimicking his voice, trying to match the gruff, whispered tones, trying (and failing) to grow the right scruffy beard and maybe even sliding an patch over one eye.

What really struck me about the film is it’s bleak outlook about the human condition – and it’s assertion that we will, left to our own devices, bring about our own doom.

It’s a stylish, low budget sci-fi pop-corn muncher and it’s also a social commentary – maybe a lot closer about society today than when it came out thirty-five years ago. Back then, it was just a fantasy… today, looking at the mass incarcerations here in the USA and the fascist political rantings happening daily on TV and the internet – not so much.

And in the middle of it there’s this wonderful little human moment – with Snake, alone in a city of criminals and psychos and cannibals, listening as Hauk growls and threatens . And Russel’s response, his line reading isn’t what you’d expect. He doesn’t growl back, he doesn’t spit out a witty one-liner.

He sees the futility of it all. He sees the death of empathy and hope. The cost of one human life – his life – doesn’t stack up against another’s. Compassion is dead.

If you haven’t seen it, shame on you. Find a friend who has a copy – I know you have one who does. Get it, watch it.

Happy 35th, #EscapeFromNewYork

Bob Hauk: You going to kill me, Snake?
Snake Plissken: Not now, I’m too tired.
[pause]
Snake Plissken: Maybe later.

Snake