Friday, April 28, 2017

A true artist is someone that lives in another realm and just visits those of us that live in common reality some of the time

Alien: Covenant comes out May 19th. It's less than a month away, and I'm not ignoring all the love from Twentieth Century Fox. If you don't know, the studio's been releasing (ahead of the premiere) lots of promotional materials that include pictures and videos related to the film. One of the more serendipitous finds that came out was a walk through of the Australian set for Alien: Covenant done by former Myth Buster's engineer, Adam Savage. 
If you watch the short clip, you can see how Adam gets totally sucked in by the details of the alien ship that Dr. Shaw and David the robot (from Prometheus) use to pilot the vessel to the home-world of the Engineers (I'm guessing that's what the photos released by 20th Century Fox are showing when they give us images of the ship that Shaw's piloting, rotating in the air and docking with a much larger vessel). I've included a still of that image below so you can see what I'm talking about (fans are calling the other ship "The Scorpion" because of its tail-like appearance).
Below the ships is some kind of city, obviously not populated by humans but by Engineers (the tall muscly beings from Prometheus). I love how all of these images appear so awesome...in the true sense of the word. In other words, they inspire "awe" in me because they don't look like anything that I've ever seen before.
I think that if I were lucky enough to be in the same situation, I'd be just like Adam. That is, in a state of wonder, looking at the carefully designed set pieces in Australia and just allowing myself to drown in this world that Ridley Scott envisioned decades ago and brought to life alongside H.R. Giger. Just look at the attention to detail in the video, all the controls on the console, the pilot chair designed for the much larger Engineers, and the space suits and ribbing along the corridors. This is A-list treatment and production values applied to a fantastical science-fiction story. Below is a short that includes a lot of details from the ship, and bridges the gap of time between Prometheus and Covenant wherein we learn some of the fate of David and Noomi Rapace (Dr. Shaw). I expect that these are part of the main film, and it's a joy to watch.
I've thought about H.R. Giger quite a bit these last two weeks, not only spurred on by Covenant's impending release, but because I wanted a simple print of one of his well-known alien works (to get framed at some point) to hang on my wall in my new home. But good lord are they expensive, and it's not like I'm buying an original. This is just a photographic print, and they are definitely not in the "affordable" range unless you want one that's no bigger than a small plate. I suppose I could get something H.R. Giger-inspired, but it's not the same thing.

To clarify, nowadays there's lots of copycats for the late H.R. Giger's work. And the artists that are "Giger-inspired" definitely know how to draw as well as he did, but they don't possess any of his genius. People that have transformational ideas only come around once in a generation it seems (if we're lucky). Aside from Giger, two that I can think of that created the kind of transformations that inspired copycats galore are Kurt Cobain and Steve Jobs. These are by no means the only ones, but you can at least understand where I'm coming from and get the gist of how important I think H.R. Giger was as an individual.

Is there anything wrong with a knock-off? Of course not. But it doesn't inspire love, you know? We see this in genre writing all the time. Fantasy is replete with Tolkien and Martin knock-offs, because people develop this urge to consume more and there's only a finite amount of stuff to consume. 

It got me thinking about the nature of reality, and how I make assumptions all the time that people share my same reality. Maybe this is wrong though. I can never be sure, right? Earlier this week when I was at work, the janitor came through the door as I was watching the front desk. Where I work, there's a front desk office, and at the time, I was the only one there. When the janitor pushed his garbage can through, he stopped, looked at me, and asked, "Are you watching the front desk?" My first instinct was to think, "Why would he ask that when I'm the only one here? Isn't it obvious I'm watching the front desk." But then I thought...maybe he sees a different reality. I can't just assume that he's in the same reality as me. He could be seeing three different people here, and he may just be asking me to validate that I'm the only one here so that he could be more firmly anchored to the reality that everyone believes is the real reality.

So I answered his question, "Yes, I'm the only one watching the desk."

And I saw a little relief in his eyes as he went about his work. You know...the kind of relief that someone gets when they ask for affirmation about something, and they get it. The whole experience was kind of mind opening.

So then I started to think that maybe transformational geniuses like H.R. Giger, Kurt Cobain, and others aren't really part of the reality that you and I take for granted (if you and I even exist in the same reality to begin with). When you start to think like this, then you realize that what those people saw was probably normal for them. In a way, through their art they were just able to share that other reality with us in ways that we felt alien, but allowed us to grow creatively in an entirely new direction.

Maybe that's the whole point of art, and a true artist is someone that lives in another realm and just visits those of us that live in the most common realm some of the time because everyone's reality is just a little different from our own.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I think I know the identity of Savitar on the Flash.

The whole season 3 arc of The Flash has been either dealing with the repercussions of Flashpoint, or the cautionary story of Barry Allen deciding not to play with time anymore and live with the consequences of the reality he creates. So what if the rub of the great unanswered question of the season, i.e., Who Is Savitar, is just a version of Barry Allen whose reality was completely destroyed when Flashpoint was created. If you remember what happened in the season 2 finale of The Flash, Barry destroyed one of his own time remnants. But maybe that time remnant just got trapped in the Speed Force, not unlike Savitar, and having lost everything is destroying those things that main Barry Allen cares about, starting with Iris.

The time travel mechanics of The Flash are kind of mind-bending, and I have to hand it to the writers to weave these tales within tales, because they keep me guessing. I've pretty much loved this third season of the Flash, and at times I forget that it's an alternate timeline that shouldn't really exist. But that it does exist should have some kind of repercussion on Barry. I can't help but think how cool it might be that Barry is fighting himself, which is why he can't win.
Perhaps last night's episode of The Flash, entitled "The Once and Future Flash," is one huge Easter egg. Grant Gustin (who plays Barry Allen) said in an interview that it was one of the most challenging episodes to film in the season because it has a lot of scenes with Barry and Barry. Basically, he's his own scene partner. And the main villains of the night were Mirror Master and Top. The fact that Mirror Master is there makes me think that there's a strong hint of "look in the mirror and you'll have your answer," especially given that the only reason Barry meets Mirror Master in the first place is because he's looking for the identity of Savitar. Maybe he need look no further than himself.

I know I like to make predictions, especially when I sense that a series is building toward a season finale. So my prediction is that the big bad of the entire season, a.k.a. Savitar, is none other than a Time Remnant of Barry Allen himself.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Juicero juicer is just the latest money grab from unscrupulous people in a long list of money grabs.

This blog post is a rant. By now, you've probably heard that Juicero, the $400.00 juice machine that used to be $700.00, was based on a lie. In case you haven't heard of it, the juicer was the vision of yet another capitalist crook who wanted to reinvent something that didn't need to be reinvented, only this time, it's actually caving in on him and his start-up (which the world didn't need in the first place).

There are actually a lot of things that the world doesn't need, but because of capitalism and greed we have them anyway. We didn't need Uber or Lyft. Society had taxi drivers who were doing just fine, as hobbled as the industry was with local laws and regulations. But that's just the thing...those laws and regulations are there for a reason and when a start-up brands itself as "genius" because it smells a way to make tons of money by ignoring those aforementioned regulations to conduct business, it is not "disruption" or "brilliant." No, it's being an asshole.

More examples of things the world doesn't need? How about planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is why you have to buy a new phone every two to three years, or why you have to upgrade your computer, or why you need to change your light bulbs. Things are made to expire. Wouldn't it be great to live in a world where things didn't expire because humans programmed them to? It would certainly help people get ahead on things that matter.

And what about monthly payment plans? The monthly bill that never ends is starting to spook me. It seems like no one wants to sell you just one thing and be done with it anymore. In today's day and age, for a company to be successful, they need to deliver a bill to you on a monthly basis. I dread the day when movie theaters reinvent themselves and refuse to sell tickets. Instead, you'll need a subscription that you just pay monthly, in order to see new release movies. Or the day when your Windows operating system on the computer becomes subscription-based, and if you don't pay up, you don't get access to any of your files.

Being able to buy one thing that lasts for a long time is a cornerstone to being able to build wealth. For example, I bought a really nice saute pan with a lid this weekend, and it is guaranteed for life. I may use this thing for the next thirty years. That's a great deal. More things in life should come with that kind of longevity. It would be better for the health and well being of the nation.

I think I'm more bothered today by what I'm seeing "out there" than ever before. In my parent's day and age, it was a given that a person could expect to be treated fairly whenever business was conducted. People had a switch in their heads that made them realize it was morally wrong to cheat someone. But in today's America, you have to be extra vigilant to be able to get even a fair deal. On most business transactions, you've probably been taken advantage of and just don't know it. And more and more, business transactions are going horribly wrong. The mortgage and home building industry (as just one example) seems to be teeming with sharks ready to tear anyone to pieces that dares to dream of owning a house. I was sickened when I saw how a local home builder here in Utah out in this place called "Daybreak" had cheated a bunch of people that had bought townhouses by using the cheapest, shoddiest materials for construction and then hiding it. Only, it didn't stay hidden for very long because things started crumbling, which is now costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix, big lawsuit incoming.

Some days I feel like everyone is lying, I feel like everyone is dishonest, and I feel like facts no longer matter. I feel like there's a reason for all of this, and it's because we (as a society) overemphasize and worship the rich. I wish there was someway to make it stop. It's not that I'm against capitalism, but I am against cheating someone just to make a buck. If you have an honest invention that people need, then you should be paid a "fair" price for it. But never, in any reality, should a juicer cost $400.00 (and that's just one example).

Friday, April 21, 2017

I think Alien Covenant is a 2017 homage to H.P. Lovecraft.

I finally put into words what I've been feeling for a long time. The universe in which Alien, Prometheus, and other films take place (under the guidance of Ridley Scott and not the other directors) has a distinct Lovecraftian atmosphere to it. Though I'm no fan of Lovecraft's actual writing (which I find borish), I think that the man had excellent science fictional ideas and poor execution. That, however, could simply be because of the era in which Lovecraft lived.
For one, Alien has the same kinds of themes as Lovecraft: we aren't alone in the universe and if we could grasp the whole truth of what's really out there, it would drive us insane. That pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole xenomorph egg to chest-burster thing. The aliens themselves might not be godlike, but the ones that created them, a.k.a. the Engineers, certainly are.

Second, Lovecraft uses words like "cyclopean" and "non-Euclidean" and "primordial" to describe the Great Old Ones. In Prometheus (certainly) in the heiroglyphs left by the Engineers and in the opening montage, there is a feeling of something ancient and powerful and beyond our ability to understand going on in the worlds that are visited by the Engineers. If these aren't "cyclopean" and "non-Euclidean" I'm not sure what qualifies to fit in those descriptions.
And last, the set pieces were designed by H.R. Giger, whose work has a definite cosmic horror feel to them. Giger's most famous book after all is called The Necronomicon.

Think about it for a moment. The Alien movies (Covenant included--which is out this May) would fit quite well with the more science-fiction bent that Lovecraft explored as it developed, probably most evident in the novella, At The Mountains of Madness, where a group of explorers in Antarctica find a lost city that holds some kind of monster (I think it was an Elder Thing).

Anyway, that's my case and I'm sticking to it. It's also (probably) why I just love everything Alien. I think I just love stories that have to do with ancient unknown civilizations from another time (similar to what you get in the background of the 1930's version of King Kong). 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What is the Bottle City of Kandor?

If you watch Big Bang Theory, or read comic books, or are any kind of fan of Superman, you may be familiar with the bottle city of Kandor. It has a unique look. Imagine a city in a glass dome, and I'm including a couple illustrations of it in this post so that we can all be on the same page for the discussion of what it is exactly. Because, I'm sure you wanted to know.

Kandor is the name of the former capital city of the planet Krypton, and it is best known for being miniaturized and then stolen by the supervillain Brainiac. When Superman recovered it, he basically stored it in the Fortress of Solitude (Superman's home in the North Pole).

See...one version of Brainiac was into collecting cities. Eventually (in Superman #338 which came out in August 1979) Superman was able to restore Kandor to normal size, and they settled on another planet that revolved around a red sun. And that's about as far as my knowledge goes. I have no idea how it's been re-written since then, but I'm sure that some of that history remains somewhat the same.

So you might ask, "Why is Mike talking about Kandor?"

Well, another show that takes place in the Superman universe is headed to television, but it's a prequel to Kal-El (a.k.a. Superman). It takes place on Krypton, and the main characters are Superman's grandparents. A lot of it also takes place in Kandor. And rumors have it that the writing is going to channel the court-intrigue/melodrama that has distinguished Game of Thrones in the fantasy genre. Just imagine the pitch to this show to SyFy executives... "It's like Game of Thrones. But in Krypton." This is so unlike The Expanse, which is like Game of Thrones only in space. For what it's worth, I love The Expanse.

The audience for this show is obviously the same one that keeps Gotham running on Fox (I suppose I'm guilty). But I'm intrigued. If it looks good, I'll watch it. Especially if we get to see Brainiac steal Kandor and other such marvels from Krypton's dying days.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Star Wars Rebels is already over.

Well that's a disappointment. At Star Wars Celebration Orlando, Disney announced that the upcoming fourth season of Star Wars Rebels will be its last. I'm disappointed, only because I rather liked Star Wars Rebels. It had interesting connections with the universe at large, introduced us to the screen version of Grand Admiral Thrawn, drew connections to the movies, and allowed us to revisit beloved characters like Wedge Antilles (he's so goofy that it's pretty adorable).

The trailer (which I embedded below) for the upcoming fourth season is pretty heavy. But maybe Star Wars is at its best when the stakes are high and everything is falling apart. When Rebels first launched, I had my concerns that it would never live up to the growth I saw in Star Wars: The Clone Wars by Cartoon Network. But Rebels established itself pretty quickly as a show willing to commit to its premise and conflict especially in the back half of each season. Yeah, it was kind of goofy as a kid's show is aught to be, but it also got serious when it needed to (like in the showdown fight between Darth Vader and Ahsoka Tano--a character arc that was literally seven years in the making).

The most interesting character by far has been Kanan, mostly due to the fact that he's basically a fallen Jedi, and the Jedi are very interesting plot devices. However, Sabine has really grown on me, and her Mandalorian connections and the fact that she has the darksaber is quite cool. I also like the influences from Princess Mononoke that obviously made their way into this trailer for the fourth season.

I'm also still convinced that Ezra will end up being Snoke at some point. I guess we'll see.

Maybe by ending this series in season four, it means that the last season will be spectacular. Let's hope Disney gives it the sendoff that it deserves.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Is schadenfreude the most dangerous emotion?

When you derive pleasure from someone else's misfortune, you are experiencing an emotion called "schadenfreude." This may be the first time you've  heard of it, or maybe you got your introduction to it through the musical Avenue Q. But whatever you think of it, the power of schadenfreude is present everywhere in our society. I'm here to argue the point that it is more destructive than emotions most of us can relate to, i.e., joy, sadness, anger, and jealousy (just to name a few). In fact, I even think the Pixar movie, Inside Out, would have been better if it had included schadenfreude.

I started seriously thinking about schadenfreude in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election. In conservative Utah, it's a given that I'm surrounded by Trump supporters all the time, and I'm used to being drowned out, talked over, condescended upon, insulted by, and being routinely micro-aggressed to as I walk the steps of my daily life. It's just how reality is for those liberals choosing to plant their roots in a blood red state where political conviction stands tall upon the shoulders of Heavenly Father. For example, the Mormons here all believe the United States constitution was divinely inspired. I'm not even sure what that means, but what I do know is that god had nothing to do with it any more than god had to do with Harry Potter. Great minds are perfectly capable of coming up with great works without any intervention of the divine.
Anyway, something changed in the atmosphere with the election of the billionaire businessman. Several of my friends have children that experienced bullying at school, "Get out of our country you ****!" talk and one of my black friends was called a "N****r!" while walking along the street (accompanied with a strongly worded suggestion for what she should do with her life). I'd never seen this kind of behavior before, and rather than react emotionally, I was intrigued. I started reading online comment boards on Breitbart news, in particular the venom from those on the right who just wanted to see liberals suffer. Yes, my analysis of this really does show that (in many cases), seeing liberals suffer was the number one reason that drove many people to support Trump. His policies, and the way he acted, etc. was all secondary. It didn't matter if they got hurt in the process...all that mattered were "tasty liberal tears." And it's just a matter of fact that when someone takes legitimate pleasure at another person's suffering, we (the German's invented the word) call that "schadenfreude."

So I started googling articles to get to the bottom of this phenomenon...to educate myself as it were on why people love to see others suffer. I for one have come to realize that I have a great deal of empathy. I don't like to see people suffer and take no pleasure from it. I've had to adopt emotional blinders to keep the awful reality of what it takes to survive every day in this world from getting to me. Until we get beyond an economy of scarcity (Star Trek anyone?) this will be the norm for our speck of a blue dot hurtling through the universe. Where does my food come from? It's best not to think about that. Are there people starving to death in Nigeria? Well, it won't emotionally cripple me if I put on blinders and watch a movie on Netflix. It sounds horrific, and to be honest, it totally is. But this world is so filled with misery and terribleness that one person cannot process it all. It would totally shut you down. So you have to cherry pick your battles in order to remain functional. Whether or not any of us will admit to this, it's a thing that most emotionally healthy people take part in every day.

But what about those people that revel in suffering? That's a different thing entirely. So why does it happen? Do they have something to gain in the misfortune of others? Does it make them feel powerful? Are more resources made available for those who don't have the misfortune? Or is it simply a way to assuage those feelings of envy and contempt usually stemming from low self-esteem? Maybe it's all of these things. I know only one thing for certain: it's been going on for a long time. For example, Romans used to feed Christians to lions in front of a crowd of people gathered to have fun at seeing such events. What about witches burned at the stake? This being god's will was a great rationalization to avoid feeling guilty about the horrific nature of the crime. Taking joy from someone else's misfortune fills some people with feelings of power and of control, because what's happening doesn't involve you. Mel Brooks said it best: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." Perhaps a lot of this has to do with deeply seated ideals revolving around justice and fairness. The fact that life isn't fair makes us all acutely aware of the transgressions that life deals us, and many of us derive pleasure when (certainly) someone that we perceive as having it too good gets their comeuppance.

The reason I think that schadenfreude may be more dangerous, more insidious than anger (or any other emotion for that matter) is because of the reward (positive feelings) one gets when another is inflicted with misfortune. In fact, I postulate that on a widespread scale, it could tear a society or civilization apart at the seams. For example, it's arguably one of the driving forces behind polarization, where one side of a debate tries to get the upper hand to achieve an agenda and then laughs at the misfortune of those on the losing side (because they obviously have something to gain in another's misfortune). But why is this destructive socially? Because you have one team in a society hoping that another side actually fails. The only thing is, everyone is in the same boat, and if one side fails, it's likely that the other side will too.

Until we can all embrace the idea that someone else's failure is a failure for us too, I doubt that we'll solve any of our world's enormous problems. Just like in that popular Billy Joel song from the early nineties, the fire will keep on burning despite the fact that we never started it in the first place (and can enjoy a good laugh at the expense of those particularly close to the flames).