Never As One

So, England has voted to leave the EU.

Just for shits and giggles, let’s try to imagine the worst (or best, depending on your POV) case scenario of this whole Brexit business and the avalanche of succeeding secessionist news that has steam-rolled the interwebs today.

I live in Texas and there’s new interest in a Texit – and a lot of people in this state would love it if Texas were its own country.

And because I write fiction, please don’t take this as anything other than fiction – a humorous rumination on a ridiculous (yet still frightening) scenario…

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So, let’s say it spreads like wildfire. Every country that’s currently part of it, separates from the EU.  Then, in like manner, any other other country divided by state borders, splits from its overbearing and ineffective governments. It’s the domino effect – one by one, things topple.

And it keeps going… Russia gobbles up the upstart states it had lost, China and Korea bristle and fighting breaks out. India and Pakistan take the gloves off. Every country in the world suffers due to world-wide economic collapse…

Suddenly the political and economic landscape reverts to a kind of Pre-Industrial Age world outlook, where its every country for itself – only with high tech weapons and spy games. You think the fighting in Syria is bad?

Now, if I am alive during this phase of transition, I won’t be for long. I will most likely die within the first few months of this stampede of hysterics and closing of borders between states – because I won’t lift a weapon to defend myself and someone more desperate or incensed than I will cave my skull in to either steal my car, siphon my gas or simply for thinking I looked at them the wrong way.

So I’ll be free of the madness that follows…

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The US Government either collapses or consolidates into it’s own city-state/country and every other new “country” scrambles to gobble up the resources left behind in their now sovereign territory – state military bases, banks and mints, food stores.

The U.S. will no longer be the U.S. – it will transform into a collection of 48 new countries. Or more accurately, a smaller or odd number of countries because stronger states will absorb the weaker ones (as always happens in border skirmishes) and we will have new maps every few weeks or so that – at least for a few years – will be fluid and ever changing until some semblance of stability occurs. It’s the NRA’s wet dream. Everybody arms themselves to fend of those “a-hole Floridians” or them “godless Vermonters”.

Battles and skirmishes breakout on highway borders because trade agreements between 48 ‘countries’ will all be different. Some long haul trucker will need to carry sixty different permits and have his rig up to standard on different codes or face fines and violations. He’ll have to a crew riding shotgun on top to prevent pirates and hijackers from forcing him into a ditch so they can “liberate” his cargo.

48 different countries with laws and regulations that benefit those who are powerful enough or rich enough to enforce them… we slide into a new Dark Age – Stephen King’s Mid-World is made real by rampant xenophobia and the greed of the rich and powerful.

At least that’s what I see in my head…

But wait, you say – it would never get to that state, people aren’t that short-sighted. They’d stop before things got that bad. They’d try to work things out.

But here’s the thing – survival is what drives us. Fear drives us. If you are afraid you aren’t going to survive – what would you be willing to do…? People kill over tennis shoes and insults. When things start to slide and it becomes about survival… ugly things will happen.

Now – of course this silly little nightmare won’t happen. It’s just the dark little rabbit hole I went down, the cynical part of me that thinks that – in the end – we really don’t care about each other. That really, deep down – every single one of us is out for themselves.

It’s pretty clear that the majority of voters in England don’t want any more outsiders in “their” country.  Just as its clear that a lot of people in my country don’t want anyone “not of their kind” living here.

They don’t want a melting pot – they want things to stay the same. They don’t want unity – they want division. Unity is the bane of existence it seems – how can anyone be on top if we are all one, if we are all the same?

And that’s how everyone thinks – its has to be us vs. them. This vs. that. That’s how the world works – that’s this reality and its kill or be killed, eat or be eaten.

We won’t ever be as one – because we don’t want to be as one.

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Reconciling the Inescapable

For the last twenty years or so, I’ve been wrestling with an increasingly hard-line stance, one that proves to be an personal volatile moral quandary. That quandary being of course – the issue of gun violence in America.

I’ve made my stance clear in several other posts – but I’m also an actor and writer and one high profile project I’m involved with deals with some very violent and action-packed sequences that involve guns, gun use and the consequences of that particular type of violence.

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How do I reconcile my stance on the gun issue, when I am actively involved in projects that have them as part of the action and story?

I guess the simple answer is – its just entertainment. I try to look at it the way I look at plays I’ve been involved with… the same way that Shakespeare has weapons and violence as part and parcel of almost all his plays – weapons and the use of them in media is inescapable.

They are constant and ever-present in our lives.

And being an American male, a great part of my childhood and formative years I was presented and instructed – through visual media, playground shenanigans, history lessons, film, TV, books and advertisements that weapons and guns were normal, expected and manly.

If I didn’t like them – then something was wrong.

As a child, it’s easy to be swayed by the allure of weapons and violence. Especially when it comes to play and entertainment. There are no real consequences in those examples. You leave the playground and nothing much has changed — except for maybe feeling tired or worn out from the game… or maybe with a bruise or scrape – the coveted “war wound” you could brag about at school.

You leave the movie theater or turn the TV program off and you go about the rest of your day/night. The gunfights you witness come with a small thrill or rush of excitement – but it’s all just make believe. There aren’t any bloodstains or bodies to sidestep on your way to the lobby or on your way to the kitchen for a snack.

And so, on one hand, when I see the images for the project plastered on my social media, I get excited thinking about the project and the work it will take to bring it to the screen and to our viewing public. I can see that its just entertainment – its not real.

And in the same instant I look at those images and think: am I complicit in the promotion of guns as a solution – complicit in the propaganda that guns are necessary and a good thing?  That line of thinking — as always — is inflamed by the tragic news of yet another mass killing in this country.

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Orlando – 2016 – Pulse Nightclub Massacre

How can I maintain a stance against the use of guns and high-powered military grade weapons – when at the same time I am writing and acting in and promoting a project that involves the same type of violence and gun use?

It’s a very difficult question for me.

Because on one hand, I want to work and I want my work to be seen by fans and the public and hopefully to see it generate more work. On the other it involves something I make an active choice to avoid in my real life.

I went through Army basic and AIT training at Ft. Leonard Woods in Missouri in the 80’s. I learned to disassemble, clean and fire my M-16, as well as several other weapons. I learned how to operate and fire a LAW rocket, how to hold and throw a grenade, even how to load, aim and fire shells from a tank.

When I was working in the game industry I got the chance to get instruction from a retired police officer (who had been involved in the Hollywood Shootout incident) about how to breach and clear rooms for a SWAT game we were working on.

I’ve seen countless movies and TV shows where guns and shootouts occur with such regularity that they are boring – they’ve become something I can walk out of room during because I can already predict how they are going to turn out.

We see, time and again, characters involved in amazingly intense and graphic gun battles emerge no worse for wear… and perhaps that’s the aspect I really get nervous about. Because, as we’ve seen, in reality… things are not so entertaining.

In the end, I can only live my real life the best way I know possible and live my truth and maintain my stance as far as it applies to me.

When it comes to entertainment work – I’ll have to take things on a case by case basis – and wrestle with the notion of possibly turning down a role or a part if it truly seems to go against my personal convictions.

I really do long for that time in my youth when this kind of issue was one I wouldn’t think twice about, one I could easily ignore or dismiss.

When playing the hero or soldier was fun.

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Everything has to be “New”

So, Captain America is actually – and has been all along – a Hydra agent. WTF.

*face palm*

*face palm*

After picking my jaw up off the floor, I began to get really steamed about the reveal. Not because it’s a bad story choice or a giant ‘oh my gosh’ moment – but because – as James Whittbrook points out – it’s a gimmick.

I shouldn’t be shocked, I shouldn’t be upset. But I keep running into this kind of thing, (that thing being “You want new? Try THIS!”) and the reaction that follows. Maybe it’s because of personal circumstances where I’ve been forced over the last decade or so to divest myself of much of the stuff I used to own or because of present economics circumstances I’m just not purchasing or consuming products and items as I did when I was younger.

And yeah, I posted something on my Instagram today about ’embracing change” – but what I’m spending way too much energy and words on right now isn’t about change. It’s about the glut of ‘the new’.

As we continue on at our blistering pace through the seemingly unlimited content of the world wide web, our human peccadillo of wanting more and obsessing over the new has reached an almost laughable state of ridiculousness… to the point where somethings we took as tide and true, are being revamped and re-imagined to their detriment.

You can do your own research on the psychological and societal workings of why we market and consume goods and services… to do so in this little blog post would take up more time than you would want to read.

We’ve been raised in a culture that expects the “New”. We even project it into our visions of dystopian futures – Mad Max: Fury Road? “Shiny and Chrome?”

It’s a concept as old as society, that new is better. Even images of our supposed ‘afterlife’ are painted in images and words as a place that is ‘clean’, ‘bright’, ‘untarnished’.

Because, “New” is better.

Getting back to Cap. When the Marvel Civil War comics came out I will admit I was intrigued, but at the same time, thought it was a cheap and desperate grab at getting fans to buy comics.

And I understand that. The economics and keeping writers and artists employed, the money aspect of keeping a business afloat is entrenched in the need to produce new content.

So many of us creatives and artists wrack our brains and talent day in and day out trying to come up with content. To put stuff out in the world because we need to in order to feel fulfilled but also because we want to entertain and if we’re lucky also gain some compensation for it… and that’s what feels so soulless about this “shocker” concerning Cap.

There’s the part of me that really could give two shits. That’s the part of me that looks at the comics wall at a comic book store and understanding that, well, they gotta get your attention somehow.

Then there’s the part of me that just grinds his teeth at the idea of someone – just as creative as me (if not moreso) and under the gun to produce – makes the decision to make Cap a tool of the very agency he’s been fighting for decades.

You know, for reasons.

They’re perfectly logical reasons, I get that. I just don’t agree with them.

Let’s talk a little bit about apprenticeship. Trust me, it ties in.

Way back in the history of our society we had the concept of apprenticeship – where someone would take years to learn a trade or a craft. The purpose of apprenticeship was not only to teach someone a profession – but to also imbue them with a sense of purpose, appreciation and understanding. That a products worth, or a person’s worth as a tradesman, craftsman or artist was enhanced or valued because of the time and effort that went into their education or its making.

With the rise in population and the advancements of the Industrial Revolution – apprenticeships began to fall away and the gap between a fledgling artist and a Master, to almost disappear entirely.

Now – I’m not telling you that people today don’t work at their craft or that there aren’t good things being produce by people that do not have training or schooling or who haven’t spent 30 years studying and perfecting a technique or craft… what I am saying is the tradition and the appreciation that is gained by an apprenticeship is missing from the consumerist notion of ‘new is better’.

As consumers, we are bored and tired of the tried and true. You wanna know what I think is the greatest threat to the human condition? Boredom.

When you are bored… shit happens. Mistakes happen.

You could argue that a lot of good things are created out of boredom too… there’s always two sides to every issue or opinion. But what I’m asking here is, is the rabid hunger for the “new” truly innovative or is it equally destructive?

Take for example the innovations or “new” take on Batman and Superman in the DCU – the camps are divided on whether or not its value is good or even needed. Marvel has made it’s missteps too, lest you think I’m being a bit biased. Civil War (the comics) for example.

And when you consider that its all driven by $, then the reasoning behind the changes or the audience hunger or the ultimatums of a CEO … then its something to be a bit sad about, and also a bit bit “eh, so what.” about.

Somebody somewhere will buy it, and the cycle will continue.  I keep looking through my internet search history for a movie review video I saw the other day that I wanted to reference to illustrate this point, and if I do come across it again I’ll update the post with it – but the gist of it comes down to the reviewer disliking a film because they “wanted something new”.

I’m not saying ‘new’ is bad. For example – I think V for Vendetta the movie, relates the story and concepts therein better than the graphic novel.

I too enjoy being surprised and delighted upon discovering something, seeing something for the first time, being wowed by special effects and so forth and so on…

And really, when it comes down to it, this little blog post prompted by an ugly gimmick in a comic book is just so much wasted wind. My railing against an insatiable consumer market will be lost to the ether the moment after I hit the ‘publish’ button.

I trust the comics will work out the story and plot to reveal that Cap is still Cap, because in the soap opera world of comics, its just another day at the office.

Tomorrow is another day, and we’ve got to feed the Beast.

You’re not hip or cynical, you are just bored

So, a little while ago, I Hate Everything (real name Alex Bolton) posted a video about not caring about superheroes anymore. Be prepared, its a sixteen minute rant about what’s wrong with the genre.

And while there are some good points made in the video, what I got from it was this – its not that IHE hates or doesn’t care about superhero movies – its that he has a very narrow view of what makes a movie good or great. I would also chalk his rant up to a very real disease that all of us suffer from – boredom.

The criticism that the movies are two-hour long advertisements for the next movie is kind of crap, basically because the criteria that the movies should be self-contained and work on their own is a singular view point. And yes, I saw the big disclaimer at the start of the video that glaring displays the “this is my opinion” but that doesn’t automatically grant you a pass or free you from criticism of your criticism.

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There’s a definite air of intellectual arrogance with this type of video/vlog/rant that places IHE squarely in the supervillain category – and I use that term simply because of the subject matter 🙂 It’s the Loki speech: “Enough! You are, all of you are beneath me!”  Escpecially when he refers to those who may comment as

All of us has an opinion about everything – but that doesn’t make it valid. It may be shared by quite a few other people, but its still opinion. I like this, I don’t like that- and it sucks up a lot of energy and time – just take a look at any page on the internet – and you’ll find someone disagreeing with someone about something.

I’d point out to IHE that his problem with superhero movies isn’t the quality (though there have been some crappy ones) but that he is holding them to a standard they will never live up to. The word “great” is used, but what exactly is his criteria for a film deserving a “great” rating?

He says he’s looking at them for how they were written, directed and structured as movies. I can’t find any information about IHE’s education of film-making background and so I don’t know how much he’s studied filmmaking, or the business of movie-making or what it actually takes to create the content that he feels don’t measure up to his standard of what makes a movie ‘great’.

As far as I can tell – it’s just opinion. And his opinion is based on his boredom. He’s bored of superhero movies because a lot of them cover the same ground and tell basically the same story – bad guy(s) threatens city/world/loved ones – good guy(s) do what they need to to stop them… that’s the same story that’s been told since the dawn of time.

He wants things to be self-contained, easy to digest and then – gimmie the next one. It’s the whiny child asking for a piece of candy or a new toy because – they already have the other one. “Entertain Me!”

He points out that the Avengers was the pay off for five previous movies which he claims are forgettable and not worth sitting through a second time. I disagree – but hey, that’s just my opinion. 😛

He claims that of the five, only Iron Man meets his standard. Iron Man is a very good superhero movie. And yes, looking at it from one perspective, it’s self-contained. However, Iron Man was simply the first in Marvel’s attempt to translate their source material into a much larger presentation – and that it seems is lost on IHE.

His insistence that these superhero movies be stand alone, bite-sized nuggets he can devour and forget is entitled, childish and pretentious. His argument that it’s about the balance ignores the fact that these films are part of a tapestry of intertwined stories – but I’m sure I would be shouted down by the ‘they should be self-contained!’ argument…

Also, the assertion that these films are the only ‘blockbuster’ entertainment the studios is offering, just further points up the whiny bored attitude that pervades this video rant/opinion … how sad. Poor IHE. He has nothing to entertain him. Let’s trash someone else’s films because… I’m bored. There’s no real criticism in the vlog/rant, it’s just an excuse to tear something down without providing any real evidence or comparison to what is supposed to be a “great film”.

I do have to disagree with his assertion that the scores for the MCU are crap – they aren’t. Some are much better than others – but just expressing the opinion that they stink is equivalent to farting in a room and then walking out. What exactly is your criteria for good film music, IHE? That you can hum the theme? Seriously…

To refute IHE’s lambasting of the MCU as being bland and boring, I present the Phase Two Restrospective. I doubt it will change minds or even have any sort of impact on thise who dislike the films… but its a well edited bit that highlights the overarching picture of the MCU – and where it’s heading.

While there are some good points made about the BvS: Dawn of Justice film near the end, the rest of the video is simply an long winded diatribe about the films being products and not “art”.

I really don’t think they should be held to that standard. We’ll have to agree to disagree on what makes a film or movie “great” – if whoever you feel is qualified to write, direct and produce these films in order to make them art – ever did make them, they would not be superhero movies.

I’m sorry you feel that all of these superhero movies need to fit your mold of what is good and what isn’t. I’m sorry you are so jaded and cynical at the ripe old age of 22 that you cannot enjoy them and feel it necessary to have wasted our time with your oh so important view point.

I wish I could offer a suggestion about how to best alleviate your boredom.

Maybe taking a walk outsIde once in while?

Who Tells Your Story?

In the last three weeks I’ve been affected by two creative endeavors and the news of a suicide.

When I say I’ve been affected, I mean that they have touched me to my core and have made me think very hard about what the word legacy means. Since sometime during my sophomore year in high school, I’ve wondered about what my life’s purpose is for – and have tried my best to create something that will be left behind after I’m gone. That’s why I write. What we create can inspire others that come after us.

The two creative projects that touched me couldn’t be more different: one is a TV sit-com – Parks and Recreation, the other a Broadway musical: Hamilton.

Parks and Rec touched me because it is, at its core, a series about good people doing their damnedest to affect positive change for their community, town and fellow human beings.  Sure some of the events of the series are silly and over-the-top and exaggerated… but the characters are people I would dearly love to have as friends. They care deeply about one another, go to bat for one another, help, heal and support one another – without fail. They represent the best in all of us – and at the end of the series, I was emotionally raw and teary-eyed. I didn’t want it to end – because, I will miss seeing them and getting to participate in their shenanigans.

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I didn’t watch Parks and Rec when it was on TV – I caught it on Netflix and binge-watched while I was under the weather, and continued to do so until I finished it. I really enjoyed being able to watch episode after episode and that perhaps added to the amount to which it affected me. The compacted time-frame and the immediacy of seeing the stories that close together made it that much more poignant and heart-breaking when the final episode concluded.

I think each and everyone of us needs a Leslie Knope in our lives. Fiercely loyal and hungry to do the right thing, someone who wants to affect those around them for the better – who believes, down deep in her soul, that each and everyone of us are important and that it is what we leave behind that matters – that our lives are not just for now – but for future generations. I really wish I knew her personally – even though she is obsessed with organizing and binders. I really wish I had a cheerleader like her as a friend. I know she’s just a character on a TV show. But I wish she wasn’t.

And can I tell you how awesome it is that her last name is Knope? Because she never takes nope for an answer? That’s brilliant.

Her parting gift to Ron was a stand out/highlight moment for me – a true example of knowing what matters most to those who she cares about.

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The musical Hamilton has already been praised and written about extensively. It is a work of genius and exemplifies all that is good about musical theater. I have listened to the songs and music and have been mesmerized by the way the story is told and moved by the words of the final song  Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story?

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In this time of fractious politics and turmoil it is a testament to the founding principles that established this nation and to the hunger to make one’s mark on the world. It is a reminder that we can be great, not petty and hateful as some would want us to be.

But what really inspires and lifts me up about the work is beauty of the cast’s diversity and the moving performances told in musical styles that are traditional and non-traditional… and how it has taken the earliest beginnings of our story as a country and given it a voice that is of today.

The final words of the final song are something that is a sentiment I have been concerned with for most of my adult life. I am well aware that my actions, my words and my deeds affect not just myself but others as well – and I do hope that what I leave behind, little as it may be will be well thought of, that it might lift someone up – if even for a moment – that it has an impact and leaves the world just a little bit better.

Listening to the final song of the musical it is hard not to be affected by the beauty of the voices and music – that the lives of a few who were simply moving through history as we move through history, who were living lives as best they could, subject to jealousies and passions and hopes and dreams have been translated into a work of art that elevates them out of the history books and brings them to life once again.

It is a clarion call for everyone to examine their own lives, to look at their legacy and to make you wonder – will they tell your story? And more importantly – should they tell your story?

If you are not touched by it, then I feel sorry for you.

I think the folks in the political spotlight really should examine whether or not what they are squabbling about at this moment in time is what they want to be remembered for – because, as the song says, there is never enough time to do all we want to do.

Make the best of your time, do what you can and do things for others… that’s what is left behind.

When you time is up, have you done enough?

And that brings me to the third item that has affected me – the suicide of a an acquaintance.

What bothers me most about the death is that – I won’t ever be able to share with him the words I just wrote. I won’t be able to convey the sentiment I felt about Parks and Rec and Hamilton, to ask if he too had been affected to some degree by these creative works – to get his thoughts and feelings about them.

I didn’t know him well or at all really, we were lucky enough to have stories that were part of an anthology, we traded messages on Facebook – and that’s the extent of my relationship with him. Other than me being taken aback by the news of his death of course.

It bothers me that his death affected others – that it left hurt behind. I hope there was good too – as I said, I didn’t know him well… but I enjoyed his writing and so that is how I will remember him. That he gave of himself, rather than taking away from us.

Still – how much more could he have done? How much can any of us?

Our time here is brief, and though we can get easily caught up in petty human events and situations – we must try and see beyond them. We should do little things and big things to help each other. To hold onto those moments of connection and recognition – to speak our hearts when we should, not when it is too late.

Who lives, who dies, who tells our story?

That is up to you.

Give them something good to tell.

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The Frustratingly Awesome Issue of Cinematic Violence

So, as most people know, I’m a comic book geek, superhero nerd and that I was part of a show that is a pop culture phenomenon and that combines elements of both… mostly the superhero thing, comics are a by product of it (meaning that first there was the show and comics books about the show came after).

The World Laid to Waste

The World Laid to Waste

Recently, I’ve had a number of conversations with folks via the interwebs about elements of recent superhero films, including Batman vs. Superman and Captain America: The Winter Soldier  – to be more specific, elements of the polarizing film Man of Steel.

And like most discussions via the wonder of the internet, things get heated, harsh words are said and points of view are muddled and misunderstood. I’m guilty of that, just like anyone else. Most of that is due to poor wording when responding to a post or not making your point clear when responding or refuting another point. Seriously, there are times when all I can think of during moments like that is Dan Hedaya’s maddening “I’m not arguing that with you” opening scene from Joe vs. the Volcano.

And a lot of what I have to say about the subject of violence and comic book movies will fall on deaf ears or be passed off as something that is not of concern – they are just movies after all. The violence and destruction isn’t real… it’s just for entertainment.

I like to think it isn’t though. I’d like to think that it makes people think. What I fear, however, is that it feeds a darker need to bring it into being, to actualize it.

Its also true that some of what I will say about this subject will come across as hypocritical because, I enjoy these movies. I’ll go see each and everyone of them – and I’ll be thrilled and excited and enjoy the hell out of them while I’m watching them.

It’s what happens after the lights come up that is of most concern to me. Its the same sort of concern that takes place when you finish the last page of a comic book or a novel. You start to process and to think beyond the spectacle and the imagery and to really try and understand the impact and reason for the images you’ve just seen or watched or viewed.

I used three words there to describe a single action – and that’s also part of the issue when discussing these films or books – there’s going to be more than one viewpoint, more than one way to look at them.

I think that gets lost when people jump to defend a character or a movie they feel upholds their viewpoint and what troubles them when another’s take challenges theirs or forces them to look beyond their undying loyal reverence.

I say Man of Steel was polarizing because it really divided Superman fans. Essays and rants were posted about it – I loved it! I hated it!

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I was taken to task for suggesting the violence/devastation level in the trailer for Batman vs. Superman was troubling – because, it was argued, it was a natural consequence of the story of the film and realistic. Of course buildings are going to be destroyed. How silly of you to think otherwise.

I had the same feeling watching the end of Man of Steel and came away from that film finally understanding why Lex Luthor would hate and fear the Big Blue Boy Scout. A number of answers I got were along the lines of: “what do you expect from a superhero movie?” or “its realistic and so its OK” or “its just a movie – relax and enjoy it”.

And that’s what’s frustratingly fascinating about trying to discuss violence and superheroes … because in the end, you can’t have one without the other.

Stories about superheroes – going all the way back to the ancient myths that inspire them – are about people who can do what we cannot. They are powerful. They can defeat entire armies all by themselves. They exude confidence, attractiveness, strength and fortitude.

But in the end – they are POWERFUL.

They affect the world around them, while most of mortals can simply react to it. We cannot control many of the forces in our lives – hence we make up stories about beings that can. Because we want to be them.

Because we are POWERLESS.

It was pointed out to me that Batman is a symbol of hope, that he inspires people that if they train hard, hone their abilities and train their minds they can do anything.

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I happen to agree with that sentiment.  I do think that humans can do amazing things when we apply ourselves. When we push ourselves we can work wonders. But here’s the tricky thing – you have to make sure that on the road to becoming Batman, that you don’t actually become Batman. Or Superman, or Captain America or your fictional hero of choice.

Why? Because they are dangerous beings.

And believe me, I know full well the gravity of what I’m writing/typing/saying here and how much of an old crotchety fart I sound… I’m one of the neighbors in the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Downtown” video:

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Aspiring to Power is in of itself, not a bad thing. Becoming solely focused on gaining Power, is. That’s the line you cross – when you change from being a hero to becoming a supervillain.

When I posted on FB a link to the supercut of the Batman vs. Superman trailer (see link above) it sparked a number of threads in which the merit of violence was discussed, as well as the finer points of what motivates/drives the character of Batman.

The debate about Batman was off topic, but just barely… and at least one erroneous claim was made on the whole DC film universe being for ‘adults’ compared to the Marvel film universe ‘which is for kids’. We also went back on forth about the ‘accuracy’ of the films vs. the comics on which they are based.

The original reason for the post was to highlight what I thought was the excessive level of destruction that is wrought upon a city in BvsS… the same level as was shown in Man of Steel. To me, that was a point worthy of discussion – is that level of destruction necessary in order to tell superhero stories?

Of course I got a number of responses to the tune of : “a superhero movie without destruction? yeah, get real.”

And that to me is the very point of why I asked the question – its our reaction or acceptance of that level of violence as a given that speaks to who we are as people and a society. And it’s a frightening prospect to think that a lot of people are OK with it…

Another point that got bandied about was: “What do you expect them to do? Have a superhero movie without fighting? How will they beat Doomsday then?”

*mic drop*

*mic drop*

Boom! End of Argument Dave, in your face!

Which leads me to the conclusion that that is the penultimate reason fans go to see these movies. How boring it would be to see Superman not punching someone in the face. Maybe what they should release into the theaters are simply dialogue-less vignettes of four color heroes facing off against one another and just fighting and punching and tearing the world down around them.

Because, let’s face it, fighting is what superheroes do – in fact, its all they do. Each comic book you read, each poster you see, each film you watch is centered on the act of one being punching another being in the face. I’ve posted before about the nature of the world we live in and the constant state of war we are in with it – we cannot see it any other way, we cannot view life except as a series of fights and battles and struggles.

I realize I’m shouting into the wind. And it’s a hypocritical kind of shouting because I watch and enjoy and get thrilled and excited about these movies just like any other fan. I write stories about larger than life people that battle for one ideal or another – I understand the nature of conflict and the vicarious thrill of amazing feats of prowess or the edge-of-your-seat excitement when an athlete accomplishes an amazing feat of agility or speed.

And so, when I’m shown a scene of extreme violence and destruction on a screen 50ft x 70ft I’m awestruck. I cheer and clap along with everyone else…

Yet, it still doesn’t quiet that nagging voice in my head that says – wow, that was excessively violent – I mean, Kick-Ass? Kingsmen? Wanted? Jeez… it’s as though Alex from A Clockwork Orange is sitting in the studio boardroom and saying “Yeah, yeah. More of that guv’! Only we do it with Supes, right? And Bats too!”

And that’s the point I was attempting to discuss – that the more we watch these types of set pieces, the more we become numb to the level of violence and destruction – or worse we get addicted or stimulated by it.

I even pointed out in the thread that Batman was an overly brutal insane thug… and the response was: “…and?”

Which was heartbreaking. We’re already numb. We’re already addicted.

I’d like to think I’m immune, but I’m not. I’m subject to fits of anger and powerlessness just like everyone and I’ve found myself in a number of occasions where I felt like the only recourse I had was to lash out…

As I write this, someone somewhere is punching someone, or thinking about punching someone… or like me, writing a story where someone punches someone.

When does it stop? Will it ever? Or will it continue to get more and more excessive because, we in the real world, sit there in the dark, gazing up at the screen, munching snacks and thinking – ‘Meh, not really realistic enough. They should blow more stuff up‘.

I’m not advocating that superhero films should be about picking daisies or fluffy puff comedies or anything of the sort.

In truth I don’t have an answer. I’m just asking questions.

If you are not bothered by the fights and violence and destruction, then the questions mean next to nothing to you. And that’s fine, that’s your right and you are welcome to it. I wish I could be that blissful.

ignorant-man

 

Of all the people, by some of the people, for a few of the people

The more things change, the more they stay the same… we are living in a turbulent and fractious time, one that mirrors in some ways the end of the great Roman Empire. Except without the cool modes of dress, orgiesgladiators and problems with drinking water… hold up, wait… dammit we do have those things. So yeah, kinda like the end of the great Roman Empire.

Bickering leaders, childish tantrums, doublespeak and arrogant disregard for those they represent.

 DirtyLaundry

How long before the barbarian invades? We fiddle while everything burns down around us…

Hold on a second, let me give some background first.

Now, before you pass this off as some angry rant about the government – it’s not (maybe just a little). It’s about my no longer being able to care or comprehend it. It’s about a loss of faith.

Maybe I’ll regain it by the end if the post. Maybe the music will swell and I’ll stand tall and declare that I won’t give up, no matter what… that I’ll stand proud and American.

Maybe.

I was born the year Kennedy was assassinated and grew up in a time when America was throwing off the heavy overcoat of convention and post-World War 2 patriotism. I was too young to be a part of the hippy movement, too young to be counter-culture. I missed the Summer of Love because I was only four and as I got older, became more and more confused and puzzled by all the hub-bub about Vietnam and things like the Watts Riots and  Watergate. To be honest, I wasn’t really that aware of what was going on, just that my parents would watch stuff about these things on TV. The words and place names stuck in my head – but I really didn’t have a clue to what they meant. I was too wrapped up in Playing with toys or putting model kits together or reading comic books. I remember having the thought I was glad my name started with a letter that was at the front of the alphabet, because anything after the letter Q really seem to be about bad stuff.

As I entered into my middle twenties I started to look back at the time I grew up in, to examine it, because I was wondering what was so important about the late 60’s, why was there such a concentration of nostalgia about it… And I learned a lot.

The old guard had spewed poison at the new youth, the youth stuck the finger at the man.

Same old story. Your generation just doesn’t understand…

Hate and racism were pretty out in the open, Polish joke books flew off the shelves, the only black kids I knew were the Jackson Five and the deep South was some foreign country I never wanted to visit – why would I? They beat people with clubs or hung them from trees or blasted them with fire hoses and sicked dogs on them.

One of my clearest pre-teen childhood memories was thinking about something that scared me. And by “clearest memory” I mean, a memory I can actually recall analyzing, lying in bed at the end of the day and wondering about something that what was going on outside of myself, rather than just paying attention to my own wants and needs (which were at that point pretty much focused on playing with friends and reading comic books) .

I remember thinking how scary high school kids were.

I had probably had an encounter with some of them or with some Junior High kids one afternoon. We were living on the Air Force Academy in Colorado and we walked to school, so chances are I had walked through some cul-de-sac where teenagers were hanging out. I don’t have a distinct picture of it in my head, just an impression really but it was a real Kelly Leak type moment, the kind of subtle bullying that was pretty normal and that every kid experiences. You get called out for a shirt you are wearing or your pants or haircut, because you are alone and they are in a group… can’t really remember what was said, probably something like, “Hey kid, do you suck it?” which was creepy and confusing,  but whatever it was, they’d laughed about it. Happened all the time.

Plus, there were lots of ‘cautionary’ tales being broadcast at the time, tales involving bad things that teenagers would get into, or that would happen because they were rebellious and dis-respectful, or confused and wanted to ‘grow up’ too fast. “Go Ask Alice” and Sarah T come to mind…

So pretty much daily I had this vague uneasiness about anyone between the ages of 16 and 20. But it really wasn’t the kids in grades higher than me I was concerned with… what I was really dealing with, was what my parents and teachers and what was on TV and what everyone around me was conditioning me to be: I should be scared.

I had to be AFRAID. I had to FEAR things.

So, to me being in the fourth or fifth grade, high school existed in that place on the edge of the map that was marked with the phrase: HERE THERE BE DRAGONS.

High School kids listened to ZeppelinCaptain BeefheartAlice Cooper and Jefferson Airplane (compared to the stuff that was played in my house: Buck OwensGlen CampbellMerle Haggard, and Sammi Smith).

They wore bell bottoms and chinos, puka shells and they smoked cigarettes and spent a lot of time sucking face and sneaking out of the house. High School kids were rude and sullen and dangerous and were one step away from joining the Manson family. They appeared in after school specials as drunks and drug users and were always ‘bucking the establishment.’

70sdudes

It didn’t help me at all, on Halloween in ’72 or ’73, that the local high school was turned into a haunted house. And so my first impression of the halls of higher learning was one where classrooms had been transformed into a series of dimly lit, odd smelling chambers, filled with bowls of peeled grape eyeballs, half-cooked spaghetti guts, jump scares, scratchy record SFX screams, howls and creepy noises.

So I had this nagging, daily worry that at some point someone older than me – not an adult, but someone who was still considered a “youth” – would harass or pick on or threaten me.

But there was also this hazy sense that at some point, as I got older and more developed, that I’d deal with it best I could — because, that’s just the way the world works. I mean, we live on a planet where just about everything can and would potentially kill you, were it not for hundreds of thousands of generations of learning and adjusting and changing and adjusting the environment to make it better suited to our fragile existence.

Suffice it to say, I came through my childhood, youth and teenage years pretty much unscathed and no worse for wear. In fact, I’m sure that ‘fear’ I was feeling was quite beneficial in the long run. It’s kept me out of trouble, out of jail and fairly healthy.  And in fact, I don’t look at people with the same sort of trepidation I used to growing up.

In fact, I go into most interactions with people with the idea that the person isn’t out to hurt me in the slightest.

Except when I’m in city traffic and everyone loses their minds and behaves like the rules don’t apply to them. Then I’m pretty sure they are out to hurt me, because let’s face it… suddenly turning left across three lanes of traffic because you need Chipotle right that second is perfectly acceptable. And f**k the other guy for honking at you. The nerve of some people, coming between you and that tortilla-wrapped goodness.

sofritas_burrito

Fear also prevented me from taking some risks I should have, made me question tings I shouldn’t have and to turn down one path when I probably taken the other… Fear is a necessary curse.

Where was I? Oh yeah – Everyone is looking out for themselves. So, all of those notions we develop, of someone being rougher or more willing to treat you unfairly – either because they want something or because they get a kick out it – never really go away.

There’s always going to be someone or a group of ‘someones‘ that will exert force and establish their version of right and wrong in order to justify their place in the world. Because… they’re afraid.

Is it any wonder why we sell so many guns in this country? We are ruled by fear – it’s not about the right to arm ourselves or to ensure our safety or promote the general welfare… its the simple “you-can’t-convince-me-otherwise” kind of mind-numbing fear that drives so many of us — that someone is going to come and take what you have. For whatever reason they will break into your house because they don’t have the ways and means to get things themselves… or because they are mean and see you as simply weak and useless.

nofear1

As I’ve gotten older, as I’ve moved through each decade of my life, from teens to 20’s to 30’s, 40’s and now my 50’s… I see the US more and more as a country and a society ruled by fear. We are really slipping closer and closer towards a parody of what we should be – we are one dystopian step away (it seems) from the bizarro U.S. depicted in Escape from LA.  

It’s easy to understand why fear is such a driving force in our lives. We live such short ones, a mere 70 or 80 years, maybe 90 if we are lucky. We are around so briefly and experience things for what really amounts to a eye-blink of time… that its easy to understand why so many are afraid. And given the state of affairs in the world since the mid-70’s (that’s almost 40 years now – but in truth it’s much longer, we’ve been dealing with it pretty much forever) we are on a daily basis confronted by the threat of terror.

It’s thrust in your face anytime you click a news website or watch a news program. Or pick any entertainment – movie, TV show, video game or novel. It’s struggle and fighting and death and on and on and on…

You would think that after thousands and thousands of years a species we could figure it out. But we can’t. And maybe we’re not meant to.

We certainly don’t seem to know how to govern ourselves – outside of imposing rules and laws that are designed to benefit a few, not the whole. Actually – correction – we do know how to govern. We do know how to control.

Only its never been about what’s right or what’s fair.

We are not living in a democracy, and never really have been. We want it to be, but it isn’t. What we have is a plutocracy that passes itself off as a democratic or republic form of government. And whats worse, we have a populace that agrees to it.

plutocracy

We want things to be fair and balanced, we want to believe the system works to the benefit of all… but humans by nature, aren’t concerned with the welfare of all. We live in a world that’s trying to kill us, remember? You don’t fight back, you are going to cease to exist.

Think that the governments of the ancient world were archaic, corrupt and terrible?  Of course they were – it was the olden times, people were dumb and stupid then! Surely we live in a time so much more enlightened than that of Rome or Egypt! The silly governments were owned by the wealthy and powerful, the royal and the ‘chosen’ few – not like ours, we have free elections! They were decadent and Byzantine, they exploited a destitute lower class, engaged in slave labor and distracted the poor with eye-popping spectacles and ephemeral (who is gonna remember it ten years from now?) entertainment … and we’re right back to the top of the post again aren’t we?

Look around and tell me that we aren’t embroiled in the same type of governance. Tell me we aren’t … The more things change…

The definition of our supposed government – democracy –  doesn’t have anything to do with what’s fair. By definition, it will never be balanced. Because no two people ever really want the same things… we’ve agreed to some systems we can tolerate and live with, all the while hoping or striving to make sure we stay just ahead of the other guy at the expense of another guy.

And some will puff and preen and say, that’s freedom baby! Capitalism rules! It’s better than the alternative! What are you, a Communist? A Socialist? You’re anti-American son!

And we are right back to me walking by a group of shady looking teenagers who are taunting me because – I’m not part of the group.

Democracy isn’t a system designed to be one that’s fair and it  never will be – it is swayed by fear and jealousy and petty human greed. Because the people that its of and by and for, they are afraid and jealous and petty and greedy.

The sentiment “of the people, by the people, for the people” at first seems noble and altruistic… but it really just isn’t. Its a system put in place to keep you distracted by stuff you don’t need and to squabble over the stuff you do need.
Why? So you can gather as much as possible, to rake in whatever gigantic amount of wealth or collection of items that you can keep from someone else – for about 100 years before the estate is divided up or stolen or squandered by someone who didn’t earn it or who could care less that you spent so much time gathering it?

What’s it all for?

And so, when I surf over to CNN or HuffPost or see the twitter feed blasting out more vitriol and posturing from my supposed leaders and officials, I just simply can’t bring myself to care… and that’s on me.

The answer I will mostly likely get to that assertion is: if you want to change it, then get involved. Do your part to make the system better.

But how can you make something so broken and so hopeless, better? Especially if, even if positive change takes place… someone else, someone younger than me or more ambitious than me or more desperate than me, comes along and does everything they can to undo it. Or what’s more likely is that someone richer than me will spend way more than I ever could to make sure that… nothing changes.

Distract and misdirect, posture and bluster… and round and round and round.

roundandround

Can you start to see the ugly and vicious circle we are all trapped in? The one we trapped ourselves in? How do we even begin to start to fix it?

The answer of course, is to stop being afraid. Stop hoarding things. Stop trying to be the richest SOB on the planet. Stop thinking ugly about people you don’t know.

I want to be Zen or Buddhist about things. I want to Just Be. It’s a great concept, one that speaks to me and which I strive for… and fail more often than not.

But because I was raised as a Westerner, the idea of just Being is hard to grasp. There are things to do, things to write and things I have to deal with.

And when it comes to politics and governing, try really hard to be Zen. But then things get thrust in front of you and you just have to respond.

I don’t expect anyone to agree with me, I don’t expect anything to change.

What I do expect is that things are going to get worse before they get better. What I expect is that I will be disappointed about this country’s lack of fairness and self-righteous sense of privilege. Greatest country on earth? Once maybe… do I agree with everything that Sorkin says in that scathing bit of writing? Most of it, yeah.

And it was written in 2012. Four years ago.

Has anything changed? We have candidates on both sides of the fence (which is a whole other issue – why are we still mired in this idiotic two party system?) – who claim they can make America great again.

How? How can you make the US great?

Stop making us afraid. Start making things fair. Stop being so petty and ugly.

Start being kinder.

Fighting is Everything

So, as if you hadn’t already guessed from previous posts (and if you’ve read them, thank you :)) I am pretty much a pacifistic. I take great pains to avoid violence and ugliness in my real life. I push back if I’ve reached my limits, don’t get me wrong — being a pacifist does not mean I’m a pantie-waist or a pushover.  “Beware of him that is slow to anger; for when it is long coming, it is the stronger when it comes, and the longer kept.” to quote Francis Quarles.

Close-up shot of roaring lion

Close-up shot of roaring lion

I would just rather there not be have to be a punch-kick-gouge response to just about every situation in life. I know I’m going against nature with that line of reasoning, and it has caused me a fair amount of mental anguish in many instances, because its a problem that has no solution.

I was prompted to write this blog post after reading this little gem from Kotaku about someone who beat Fallout 4 – without killing anything. I’ll get back to this a little later in the post.

Like any male my age, having been born at the tail end of the baby-boomer generation, I do enjoy — or I should say I digest –a fair amount of violent entertainment. Part of that could be that as an child growing up in the US I was fed a steady diet of violent media through the usual means: comic books, TV shows and movies. I grew up watching these images and processing all of this information that was basically telling me or conditioning me to accept that a violent solution to any problem was the most likely – if not preferred – outcome. Even the family-friendly, ‘wholesome’ programming and shows I was exposed to had a high violence/aggression/struggle quotient. Think about it… how many of your favorite films or TV shows or games have a word or phrase that implies violence?

War of the Worlds? Star Wars? Fight Club? Warcraft? The Hunger Games? Game of Thrones? Car Wars? Captain America: Civil War? It’s so common we don’t stop to think about it. It’s expected and it sells… so why change it.

The most thought provoking image of how predisposed we are to violence and aggression that I can recall, and which has stuck with me all these years, is from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I remember making my parents take me and my friends to the theater to see it in re-release for my tenth birthday – I wanted to see it for the caveman/ape sequence because I was all about the prehistoric world in those days. Turns out the rest of the movie was way over our heads then and we came out a bit confused and didn’t quite know what to make of the rest of it – but those apes were pretty darn cool let me tell you!

Any way, there’s a particular scene which for me really speaks to our species propensity for violence. It’s the scene during the Dawn of Man opening sequence, after the ape has touched the monolith and is looking at a pile of bones (skip to the 6:00 minute mark to see the moment I’m talking about) – and makes a connection – a leap of intuition that leads to understanding and which propels our ancestors on the evolutionary road to become our modern selves.

The way its filmed and the camera’s focus on the bones and skull shattering and the falling bodies of the tapirs, it really is a showcase for how we see the world – violent and blunt and brutal. The caption under the video paints it in a more positive light than that: “…by the usage of tools, man could stop being a victim of the world to become an active element, who has the power of action over nature.”

And that’s generally the upside that’s assigned to our aggressiveness… we are the dominate life-form because we have the power to use tools, i.e. weapons, to overpower nature and obstacles.

My childhood and teenage years were filled with this type of imagery, from four-color heroes socking the bad guys on the jaw to the more vicious and harder pulp novels and the constant stream of all guts and glory and gun-glorifying combat films that were on steady rotation on Saturday afternoon TV or in the local movie theater.

aggressive

You gotta love Batman’s line — “American style — with my fist!”

This trend continued throughout my early adult life and for a long time I never really questioned it. It seemed perfectly natural that my interests and hobbies all had an element of violence to them… the games I enjoyed playing were centered around combat mechanics (Risk, Chess, D&D, etc.) and the profession I chose to study and go to school for – acting – involved putting myself into roles and characters that exhibited or engaged in violent, sometimes murderous violence and aggression.  And they were fun – because they were all “safe” activities or pursuits. None of the violence was real.

And I can hear you say… “Yeah, duh, Dave… what’s the big deal?”

I guess I’ve been asking myself – even if for a very long time I couldn’t actually put it into words – but I was struggling with the thought: is all of this focus on violence really what we should be putting out there?  And how deep of an impact does it have on a person and how has it contributed to the very real problem we are facing in this country today:  gun control and the consequences thereof.

Now, I realize that this isn’t an issue that will ever go away – not in my lifetime or in anyone’s lifetime for that matter. We live in a harsh and unforgiving world – one that insists on pitting one life-form against another for survival. That is reality.

The difference I think is the separation between what is necessary and what is entertainment. We live in an age where violence is a commodity – its packaged and processed and sold as entertainment and amusement.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s when home computers began to become affordable and were beginning to appear in every home – I found myself playing a lot of video games. And invariably, the games I was playing – Doom, Flashback, Mortal Kombat, Anvil of Dawn, and then later on Baldur’s Gate, Outlaws, Dungeon Keeper, and so many more… they all had as the main interface/interaction violent exchanges or goals… especially FPS games where almost every action in the games was geared toward ending the life of an ‘enemy’ combatant.

District 187: Sin Streets

District 187: Sin Streets

Which brings me back around to the player who beat Fallout 4 without killing anyone. There is a line near the end of the article, where the player laments that the developers focused so much on combat as the default and preferred method to “winning” the game.

Maybe its just that the interface we have for console and computer games hasn’t changed much in twenty or twenty five years – whether its keyboard and mouse or joystick or quad-controller – games seem to boil everything down to point and shoot. Or some variation on hack and slash, combos and ultra-kills. Even a game as innocent looking as Minecraft which places great emphasis on building and crafting… still has a fighting element to it.

Combat is easy,  it’s thrilling and it’s expected. We get to act out situations on a grand scale and no one gets hurt, so… what’s the problem? It’s just fun, right?

Flower released in 2009 on the Playstation doesn’t include one enemy or any gameplay that includes aggression or violence. To quote: “Flower was primarily intended to arouse positive emotions in the player, rather than to be a challenging and “fun” game. This focus was sparked by [Jenova] Chen (the developer), who felt that the primary purpose of entertainment products like video games was the feelings that they evoked in the audience, and that the emotional range of most games was very limited. (emphasis mine.) Flower was a critical success… but the best selling game of 2009? Surprisingly it was an exercise tool… but look at the list of the top ten games of 2009:

10. Street Fighter IV
9. Halo Wars
8. Resident Evil 5 (PlayStation 3)
7. Call of Duty: World at War
6. Killzone 2
5. Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360)
4. Mario Kart Wii
3. Pokemon Platinum Version
2. Wii Play (w/ Remote)
1. Wii Fit (w/ Balance Board)

Eight of them are fighting games.

Are we conditioned to think that picking up a bone or a gun or a game controller and using it to pound through an obstacle is the best way to interact with the world? If the #GamerGate travesty has taught us anything, its that there are a lot of people whose instinct is to react violently to get their way to to make their point known, as this article illustrates.

wearealwaysfighting

I don’t know if there is an answer to that question. On one hand, the films and TV shows we watch, the books and comics we read and the games we play are simply entertainment. They are provided as simply a way to distract ourselves form the duller aspects of life. We need them in order to feel mentally and emotionally challenged. We view them, we process them and we ‘forget’ them and move on to the next one, our minds distracted or piqued by the next bright and shiny thing – even though they are for the most part the very same thing only with a fresh coat of paint.

They are also subtle unconscious reminders that we need to be willing or prepared to fight or to do battle with whatever might threaten or challenge us.

Fighting is everything.

Infinitely Harder to Create

In this day and age of instant access information and opinion, any creative endeavor will come under incredible scrutiny and has to weather a firestorm of criticism as never before.

When The Empire Strikes Back arrived in movie theaters in May of 1980, the only criticism and nitpicking that found its way to the fan-base was through newspapers and magazines or video review segments from the likes of Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert. Either that or you got the latest skinny from friends who had seen it before you, dropping hints and spoilers wherever you happened to be hanging out – at home, in class or in the lunch room.

The internet allows for any and all opinions to be expressed, for any work of fiction or creativity to be examined and dissected in minute excruciating detail.

I posted the other day some thoughts about the new chapter in the Star Wars saga (Episode VII: The Force Awakens), and because the fan-base is so huge for this franchise, the inter-webs and office cooler talk has been all Star Wars, all the time – so it’s at the forefront of everyone’s news or twitter feed… and it has generated quite a lot of online opinions both positive and negative about the film.

Just today for example – I came across this piece on Comicbook.com from Max Landis, who has some strong and passionate opinions about The Force Awakens and most specifically with the character of Rey.

rey

Max Landis is a talented writer, and also the son of well-known film director John Landis. He wrote Chronicle, American Ultra and also Superman: American Alien. It is his claim that Rey is a ‘Mary Sue‘ character – one who is young and incredibly good at all the things – that has drawn fire from fans.

Film-making is an incredibly complicated business and there are so many details involved in every aspect of it that any film really is a technical miracle, and even more so that they make it to the movie theater for us to enjoy. We in the audience didn’t suffer through the decisions and compromises that had to be made in order for the finish product to spool out on the screen in front of us while we sit in the dark and watch it.

And so, is Landis incorrect in his assertion that Rey is a badly drawn character? Is he sexist for saying so? Yes… no… maybe? The choice is yours.

How much can a writer and director cram into 2 hours and 16 minutes that’s going to satisfy anyone? Simple answer: you can’t. You make choices and decisions based on what you feel is right for your vision.

While I was watching The Force Awakens, I too was struck by how easily Rey manage to pick up on her Force sensitivity and to do amazing things without training… and looking back at how capable and competent she was at a number of things, I can see Max’s point about her being ‘too good’ at stuff… just because. But does that mean she is poorly written?

I get where he is coming from as a writer… we all want our heroes to be well-rounded and believable. I think there is a bit too much of Luke-love in Landis’s rant, and his assertion that Luke wins by failing is in itself an interesting topic for discussion. In that regard it could be taken that his complaints about Rey are sexist, but I don’t think they are – he’s complaining more about how easy things are for Rey… and how she isn’t really in any danger. She will win because, well, she’s the hero.

The thing I was trying to get at in my previous post about this film, is that these films are attempting, in a fashion, to tell these stories through a mythic lens. Luke had been touted as the epitome of the mythic hero, called as such by Joseph Campbell because he follows the monomyth/hero cycle path – humble beginnings, call to adventure, refusal, supernatural aid… the whole shebang.

I would argue that Rey is on this path as well, she too matches the criteria of the monomyth hero. But is her journey or ability any less than Luke’s? If the film or character has a fault in this regard, it could be argued that audiences today won’t stand for too slow of a character progression. We want our heroes and we want them now.

And so if Rey is a Mary Sue it may be as much our fault as it it is the filmmakers… we expect so much of these films, these characters. We demand that they live up to our expectations because we want them to be something we already know and are familiar with… we nitpick and tear to shreds anything that we feel doesn’t live up to what we know or feel or  want.

The maxim has always been: It is harder to create than destroy.

writing

How many discussions and re-writes did they go through to arrive at what we’ve seen on the screen? How many conversations happened on set? Discussions about motivations and reasons, how many ‘help me understand what’s happening’ moments we won’t ever be privy to simply because there isn’t enough disk space on the Bu-ray for the special features section…

Its easy to beef about things you don’t like about a book or a movie. Its in our nature to gripe and complain.

What is harder these days, is to watch a film with child-like wonder and grin like a fool when a moment happens that intersects perfectly with your expectations…

That happened at least once for me in The Force Awakens, and I thank the people involved with the film for giving that moment to me… that one moment will wash away any faults the film has, at least for me.

Because, while I don’t feel the need to rush out and see it again, I am content with what was created.

Is Landis wrong in his assertions about Rey? As he says in the video, its just his opinion.

It is no more or no less valid than yours or mine. In the end, you will enjoy something or you won’t.

Me, I’m going to choose to enjoy.

I am not Deadpool – or am I?

So, I read Ryan Reynold’s GQ interview and my brain was piqued by the following quote:

“… I think one of the reasons that Deadpool has gained a lot of momentum isn’t just that it’s funny or isn’t just that it’s rated R. The meta aspect is very important. So I think Deadpool’s coming along at the right time, because it’s also speaking to that generation and that group of people that have seen them all, seen all these comic-book films and enjoyed them all to varying degrees of success. But I think it’s speaking to them as though the guy in that red suit is one of them, to some degree.”

NYCC-2014-DeadpoolGroup

NYCC 2014 Deadpool Group

I’m going to get a lot of push back on this – but, I am not Deadpool.

I wouldn’t want to be anything like him – or Frank Castle or Lobo or Spawn or any of six dozen other comic book ‘heroes’ or ‘anti-heroes’ that dominate the shelves these days.

That said, I do appreciate the stories that are told with these characters and the de-construction of the superhero archetype and the snark and “meta” aspects and all that’s become the accepted and desired defacto character type that comic fans and film fans want. I appreciate them through the lens of having grown up with comics, matured along with them – reading them when they were ‘kiddie’ books and later when they became mainstream and finally accepted as a legit art form or storytelling medium.

I appreciate the adult aspects of these characters — but I don’t accept them.

I think they have a negative impact, no matter how subtle. Just as I believe that slasher films, torture porn and splatter flicks have a negative impact. Regardless on whether or not you want to debate the merits of those types of entertainment, my own gut feeling is to turn away from them in disgust… not in denial of them, but simply because I feel they do more harm than good. And I’ve said this before, it’s hypocritical of me to take that stance, considering I hold in high esteem other characters in the medium who are just as violent as these anti-hero types: Captain America, Daredevil, Blade, etc. All of them are cut from the same cloth – that of the ‘justice must be served’ type. And that perhaps is crux of why I wrestle with the issue of violence in entertainment and in our society. Because I love these characters – part of me aspires to be them. And so if I am like my fellow geeks and nerds, and they aspire in some fashion to be like their heroes – what does it say about us?

Would I rather be Steve Rogers or Nelson Mandela? Matt Murdock or Henry David Thoreau?

What concerns me is the glut of this type of entertainment that floods the marketplace. The fascination with blood and violence is something no generation will escape – it’s been a part of our culture, society and entertainment stretching back through ancient history, to the time when we emerged from our caves and began living in gatherings of tribes.

We have a dark hunger for vengeance, retribution and power over the life and death of a rival, enemy or innocent.

And a few days ago in Oregon, yet again, we have another mass shooting at a school campus. Is Deadpool – or characters like him – responsible? No.

Or are they? I read David Niose’s post and agree with it wholeheartedly – and his statement that our nation’s gun culture isn’t a result of violent entertainment or video games or comic books, but rather a reflection of it.

Deadpool and other ultra-violent characters have always been part and parcel of our entertainment. Film and printed media have always had some element that glorifies blood and violence – it’s a money maker – and so it’s mass produced.

We as a species are enthralled with death and violence. We as a modern society like to think we are more civilized because we don’t have bloody arenas or “battles to the death” any more – kind of.  From MMA to Rugby, we still howl for real blood as opposed to accepting these activities as ‘just a game’.  Maybe Chess would be the number one draw if at some point the players would punch each other every time they captured a piece. I’m not a sports fan, and so can’t speak to the excitement or blood lust that fills an Eagles fan when his/her team performs or under-performs… though I do see a lot of their thoughts on my Facebook wall on game days.   Elegant Violence indeed.

Elegant Violence at Yancey Richardson Gallery

Elegant Violence at Yancey Richardson Gallery

We exist in a shared reality where every life form on our planet engages in a life-or-death struggle every single day.  One life consumes another is the norm… so naturally we reflect that in our entertainment.

In the grand tradition of Roman Gladiatorial combats and live execution of criminals and traitors, the Grand Guignol of  Paris created horrific and bloody theatrical experiences for the audience – showing them scenes of madness, torture, rape and murder. Some of the performances were so life-like that audience members passed out or had to be escorted from the theater.

I’m not a scholar who studies violence in society, or a psychologist who seeks to understand the effect of violent images on the human brain. All I have is my limited understanding and perception of these things as I understand them… and so my opinion on them only really applies to me. If I were living in a less civilized time, I’m sure I would already be dead – as I don’t have it in me to respond in a violent manner to a threat or attack.

I’m not afraid of death. I know and understand that it is inevitable. And that’s really what’s at the heart of violence in entertainment – the haunting understanding that our time upon this planet is limited and brief.

Each of us as human beings deals with death in a variety of ways – a lot of people ignore it or deny it – billions of dollars are spent to keep oneself young, or cosmetically appearing younger than we are, on drugs and pills to keep the body alive. We want to prevent death from ever coming at all – they would kill for immortality.

And then there are others are so fascinated by death, who are so drawn to it they think of it as a living entity. They don’t necessarily want to die, as much as they want to be Death or at least be one with death – a living undeath. Cultures across the globe have rituals and art and all manner of depictions of the Spectre that will come to claim us all in the end.

Why? Perhaps because were are so aware of our own mortality. We know we will one day, no longer be among the living – and so we try to face this inevitable consequence and the fear it generates through our myriad forms of entertainment. We revel in others who meet their ends at the hands of a psycho killer because, we are not them. We have escaped the killer, the mad man, the maniac.

As someone who has spent a great deal of his life in entertainment (in one aspect or another – from theater to film to video games and writing fiction), all the blood and gore and violence in our entertainment media can be parsed or filtered by my understanding that it is fiction. It’s not real. It’s meant to titillate or frighten. It’s created to alleviate the dull routines of work, sleep, paying bills and doing housework or homework and to excite and engage.

What we do with it beyond that is something each of us owns and is responsible for – to leave it as simply fiction or to act upon what we see and hear and read.

The statistics regarding the mass shootings in this country are horrifying – and when you read or hear that the latest perpetrator of this type of murder had fourteen guns in his ‘arsenal’ it should give you pause and it should make you take a long hard look at the argument that ‘more guns’ is the answer – or that the gun is a defensive weapon.

The gun IS NOT a defensive weapon. No weapon – by definition – is defensive. A shield is defensive. A wall is defensive.

A sword or a gun or cannon or a tank is designed to be offensive, to attack. Period. They are made to be used – to do unto others before they do to you.

And that I think is what really troubles me about Deadpool and his ilk in comics and film. He is a walking arsenal of violence and death. But then again, how is he different that any SWAT team member or Blackwater Security member?

Yes, fiction and entertainment is a reflection of what is real in society – we have gun violence and mass shootings because guns are sold as the answer.

They are the answer to fear. The answer to injustice. The answer to wrongs and the answer to the threat of a stranger. They permeate our culture and you cannot look at a movie poster or watch a TV show or read a comic book where a gun is not thrust into your face.

And that I think is the real harm – that we see this as normal. As acceptable. As no big deal. Observe a room full of people watching a movie or TV show where a gun battle is taking place. Note what you see.

I wonder how dies that affect them on a subconscious level, what affect does it have on their psyche? Are they desensitized? Or do they just understand its “play” or “fiction” or “not real”.

In the Deadpool trailer, the character – after causing mass destruction and mayhem on a freeway … holds up his hands and says “You’re wondering why the red suit? It’s so the bad guys can’t see me bleed.”

It’s meant to be a funny line. It’s part of that whole meta in-joke among comic book fans and movie fans – a comment on society’s thirst to see blood. As though we are meant to think “how cute!”

DEADPOOL Red-Band Trailer Proves Dreams Do Come True

DEADPOOL Red-Band Trailer Proves Dreams Do Come True

And then the very next scene is a ballet of guns, bullets, blood and gore. (and yes, the caption should frighten you)

I am not Deadpool. I refuse to accept guns as the answer.

We are better than that. We should be better than that.

And that is perhaps the necessity of Deadpool. To remind us, not to be him, or anything like him. At least that’s my hope.