Friday, May 14, 2021

Jupiter's Legacy is the first superhero story I've been exposed to that doubled down on straddling the gulf and conflicts that can arise between generations of people.

I finished watching Jupiter's Legacy on Netflix, and I gotta say that I enjoyed it quite a bit. I guess the show is adapted from a superhero comic book series created by Mark Millar. It's the first time that I'd taken notice of his work, although I guess he has quite a bit of superhero cred having penned Captain America: Civil War and Logan. Those are two stories that I enjoyed very much.

When I first saw the trailer for Jupiter's Legacy, I was going to watch it eventually. But then I heard or read some background information about Mark Millar, and it convinced me that maybe I should make watching the show more of a priority. One of the things I heard was that Netflix was looking at Jupiter's Legacy as a possible entry into the whole "shared-universe" thing. Thus far, I've liked what I've seen of "shared universe" story arcs, so this was an exciting development.

For example, I like what the CW has done with the Arrow-verse (which is now dominated by the Flash), and I like Universal's "Monster Verse" with King Kong and Godzilla. I also like the MCU and I like the DCU as well, even though I think DC would be stronger if it embraced (rather than shunned) its small screen stories. Why actors in movies and actors in television have always had a strained relationship is beyond me. But I think it has to do with a "stigma" that someone who appears on television is not a "real movie star." But are there actually any real "movie" stars today? I personally like to give all the credit of a "thing" being good to the writers and the directors. In the case of television, it is the showrunner that I pay respect to. But actors? Not as much.

Anyway, for all of the above reasons, I got more excited to see Jupiter's Legacy. And then I heard a story about Mark Millar talking with Stan Lee. I guess the two were chatting about Mark's work at Marvel, and Stan encouraged Mr. Millar to branch out on his own to tell his own stories. He said something like "Spiderman and the Avengers are old stuff. Every generation needs its own stories and its own superheroes, and I think you might be the right person to tell those stories." Even if this is paraphrasing (and it is) that would have been a remarkable conversation to have with someone of Stan Lee's magnitude. So Mark Millar took his advice and started doing his own stuff. That really got me interested in taking a deeper look and seeing what's there.

For what its worth, Jupiter's Legacy really does a good job straddling the gulf and conflicts that arise between generations. At the core of the story are these aging superheroes who really want to pass down a nice legacy to a group of youngsters with astounding powers. But "The Code" that they used to police their own activities doesn't fit well with the troubles of a modern world, and it puts them at unnecessary risk from increasing and horrible violence perpetrated by supervillains.

Jupiter's Legacy also happily embraces the dysfunction of families, at how the Superman-figure called the Utopian might actually just be a raging narcissist, and how the kids are riddle with anxieties and depression from being reared by a toxic narcissist. Every "super teen" in the show is pretty much broken in the mental department (neuro-diverse?), only they have tremendous powers and lashing out is incredibly destructive. But it also doesn't go quite the way of Amazon's The Boys which doubles down on the idea that the world is filled with nothing but horrible people. Instead, Jupiter's Legacy spends its eight episodes carefully convincing us that if we want a better world, we need to put in the hard work to make it happen, even if a lot of that work no longer makes good sense. With the end of the eighth episode (and season finale) I feel like the table is set for some bigger storylines, and some family drama that will end up changing the world of Jupiter's Legacy in a very interesting way.

Anyone else watch Jupiter's Legacy and care to share their opinions?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

What is the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight about anyway?

I read the story of  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight way back in my college days as an undergraduate in the English program at the University of Idaho. For what it's worth, I read it in Middle English, which (if you haven't done so) takes some time to look up all the words and process what they mean. It's not nearly as hard as Old English, which is essentially a foreign language. But English majors want to study English, right? I guess that means "to study the language in all its forms."

So what did I learn? Well, the Green Knight came for a game on Christmas, and as games go, it was "strike me in whatever way you want now, and in a year I get to do the same to you." Gawain does so, and the Green Knight does not die because magic saves his life. So, Gawain is honor bound to seek out the Green Knight to conclude their game in one year's time. When he does so, he comes across a castle where the Lord of the Castle's wife seduces Gawain over the course of multiple days. In the end, it was all a trick arranged by Morgan Le Fay to test King Arthur's knights and notably, to test Gawain who was known to be the purest of them (Gawain is caught with the Lady's green girdle if I remember correctly). Oh, and the Lord of the Castle was the Green Knight.

The interesting stuff unfolds as follows:

The Knights of the Round Table are supposed to be brave, but other than Arthur or Gawain, they're all too afraid to strike the Green Knight in any way when he comes calling.

Gawain straight up attempts to murder the knight (but the knight was asking for this). And this isn't a problem because knights were all murdering bastards anyway (all sewn up into the romanticism of the age). 

Gawain is warned that there will be repercussions for his actions. However, Gawain's hubris leads him to believe he can easily kill this obviously supernatural visitor, and thus not have to worry about consequences. It's some heavy-handed Christianity in the lesson of eternal justice.

Gawain knows he's going to die if he goes to meet the knight, but he does so anyway to keep his duty and his promise.

With regard to the Lord of the Castle's wife, Gawain is supposed to refuse the Lady's advances. But it's not just that. He's supposed to do so in a way that doesn't offend her. So he ends up compromising by allowing some kissing to happen.

Despite having come all this way to die, Gawain doesn't want to die, and he breaks his promises by accepting her allegedly magic girdle and not telling her husband about it. The magic girdle is supposed to keep his head attached when the Green Knight goes to behead him (and instead it will be the girdle that falls). 

Gawain assures the Green Knight that he's the most honorable knight in the kingdom. However, we've seen him break his oath before in the story, so this is really more a commentary on the inadequacy of Camelot than on Gawain's virtue.

The tester is Morgan le Fay. Technically she's the bad guy and Arthur and his boys are supposed to be the good guys. However, in the story it is Morgana who is holding the knights up to their impossible standards of virtue, and they don't pass. Camelot is always shown as possessing lots of chauvinistic hubris.

Anyway, there never has been a good adaptation of this story, so I'm glad that one is on its way. Did I picture Dev Patel playing Gawain? Not really, but he will do. Because Gawain is described as being innocent and virtuous to the point of naïveté, I think I personally would have went with a wet-behind-the-ears teenager who knows nothing of the world other than his own cockiness. An annoying thirteen or fourteen year old would do. Keeping with the idea that young people did very adult things back in the dark ages, this wouldn't have been out of line. But finding someone that young who could actually act would probably be a challenge that is impossible in the age of Covid.

If you haven't seen the trailer, I've linked it below for your viewing pleasure.

Monday, May 10, 2021

I have thoughts regarding the Saturday Night Live episode that aired this weekend with host Elon Musk.

This weekend, I (along with millions of others) watched the Saturday Night Live appearance of Elon Musk as a host of the show. There are lots of people who hate this guy for his anti-trans and anti-masking statements. He's managed to accrue an amount of wealth that is staggering to even imagine, and by being the poster-child for that kind of income inequality is to invite comparisons to a Smaug-like dragon sitting on a pile of treasure while others die of poverty (this is completely true by the way).

He makes weird choices when naming babies. He's also a hypocrite (being high on Joe Rogan's podcast while representing Tesla and then terminating the employment of anyone who dares to show up high to work at any of his companies). This last one is (honestly) more about middle management gate-keeping and policies to protect company assets (H.R. departments, risks, and whatnot) than it is about the ethics of employment. But still, there's lots to hate this guy about.

On the flip side, Elon is pushing forward car electrification, space exploration, and solar energy, which seem to be all good for humanity. He's used his PayPal money to kind of push humanity in what I think is the right direction. As the old expression goes, "You can't break an omelet without cracking some eggs." In this case, there's a whole lot of egg cracking going on in our society right now. When you think of those eggs as the lives and fortunes of human beings and find empathy for them, then I understand why people are angry and upset with Elon Musk.

I (personally) don't know how to feel about him. He isn't important to me. I don't look up to him, but I also don't hate him. He's just a person who seems to have an enormous pile of money that should be distributed more evenly. But we have a society that (by and large) does not have the power or teeth to do that kind of thing without violent revolution. And as I'm not a revolutionary, I guess I'll just take the fact that he's some kind of celebrity that I should know about if I'm going to take any interest in this world of ours.

So, how did he do as a host for Saturday Night Live? Well, I will tell you that I was surprised when he outed himself as someone with Aspergers. I had no idea that he was on the autism spectrum. Additionally, I'd like to point out that the term "aspergers" is dated, but I get what he was trying to say in his opening monologue. He's also not an actor, and that is obvious in the stiffness with which he delivered his lines. I've read online that some people would like him to donate money to researching neurodiversity, and (I think) this comes from a place of wanting to find a cure for it.

However, there probably isn't a "cure" for autism. Rather, research is usually focused around trying to understand what it is and to teach others solutions and methods that work when dealing with the challenges this disability presents. The idea is that if neurotypical people can alter how they interact with a neurodiverse person, it will empower "neurodiverse" people to lead productive lives in our society. In other words, it's not them that needs to change. It is you, and that means work on your part.

It sounds all good on paper, but when I recall how hard it was to "teach" people to respect others enough to wear masks (and it didn't happen and resulted in violence), I honestly don't know if we can teach at least a third to half of the population how to deal with neurodiverse people in a way that is respectful. It feels impossible, and I'd say, "Good luck with that, and I hope you don't get punched or shot by someone who doesn't want you to impinge on their freedom to be an asshole."

As far as Elon on SNL is concerned, it looked like he was trying his best to be funny. It fell flat a few times, but I laughed out loud during the Chad on Mars section, where Elon got to play himself. I think that was the funniest skit. Here's a link to it for your viewing pleasure.

If you don't know who Chad is when referencing Saturday Night Live, Chad is a recurring character played by Pete Davidson. He's supposed to be an apathetic, easily distracted youth with limited conversational skills whose catchphrase is "okay." He also seems to be rather stupid, and he is not moved at all by grandiose displays of love. For some reason, I find the "Chad" sketches to be funny, because (I think) I know people in real life that behave in this manner.

Did anyone else watch Saturday Night Live this weekend? If so, I'd like to hear what you thought about it.

Friday, May 7, 2021

I like to use the group texting function for my Dungeons & Dragons game to talk about deep issues on which I ruminate.

 I like to submit questions to people in my social group on a regular basis to help me figure out the important issues of the day (or to just make sense of my crazy thoughts). One of the wisest people I associate with (who also plays Dungeons & Dragons with me) responded to two of my questions that I posed on Thursday. The first was in the form of a hypothesis, and here it is:

Many psychiatrists who I consider to be professionals within their field have diagnosed former President Trump as a psychopath. I agree with this diagnosis, based upon the things I have read. However, I also don't think he is beyond the norm if you were to consider how white males behaved in the 1940's and 1950's. So my question to my group was: If former president Trump (by modern standards) is a psychopath, does that mean that a lot of the men from the 1940's and 1950's would also be diagnosable as psychopaths? Does this mean that we are literally the children and grandchildren of psychopaths?

Just so you know, my group is pretty liberal. We have one or two conservatives kicking around, but I purposely exclude them from these discussions, because there is no point talking with them. I can learn nothing from them as I've lived around them in Utah and Idaho my entire life. I already know what they will say and can write it down ahead of time. They also possess a lot of "white fragility," which is a term that was not coined by me, but you can look it up on the internet if you like. Still interested in the answer I got? Then read on.

Most of my group was silent on this particular question. But Geneva responded with this (and I wanted to share): 

"I think Trump, and many of his peers both historical and modern, are narcissists rather than psychopaths. Here's why: at the malignant end of the cluster B personality scale, the difference between someone with antisocial personality disorder (what used to be called sociopathy/psychopathy) and a malignant narcissist is that the narcissist cares about his public image. The person with antisocial personality disorder doesn't give a crap what other people thing. Trump and his ilk care deeply what others think, and lash out with rage if they feel that their outward facing image as a dominant "alpha wolf" has been compromised. The psychopath is less likely to act out publicly. He'll simply have you killed."

I find this very interesting, not only because of what Geneva had to say, but if she was right, then the people of the 1940's and 1950's who were white, straight, and male probably possessed diagnosable personality disorders like narcissism in above average quantities. But does the shoe fit? How would this compare to my own family? Well, knowing what I know and how mom and dad lived their lives, I can say with 100% certainty that (in my opinion) my father could probably have been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (using modern standards). It explains so much in the terrors I experienced growing up, and the violence I saw within my own family.

I love that we have explanations and words to describe these disorders. It is so empowering, and it has allowed me to understand (and properly frame) events that I recall from childhood and teenaged years. Being able to understand behavior has helped me with healing. Have your life experiences been similar? Are you (as well) grateful for the words that we have available today to describe behaviors? If so, I'd like to hear about them in the comments. And have a nice weekend. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

In the May Insecure Writer's Support Group post I ask you to consider writing a small vignette for a character prior to including them in your next story and see how that goes.

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone. Today is the first Wednesday of the month, and it's time for an Insecure Writer's Support Group post. The purpose of the Insecure Writer's Support group is to share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! If this interests you, please sign up at this website HERE.

I usually answer the monthly question, but I'm skipping it this month. Instead I wanted to talk about a really fun writing experiment orchestrated by the players in my weekly Dungeons & Dragons group. I challenged my group to email me 400-500 word vignettes about their characters doing "a thing." Picture this as a slice of their character's lives, and you will have envisioned what I asked for perfectly. I told them that my intention was to read these out loud to the group, so if they send one in, they are to be prepared for others to hear what you have written.

The first one that emailed me was regarding a pirate character, and it was called "knife juggling." In the story, the lady's pirate character is having a romance with another in-game player (Lailata), but that character's player is courting "madness" by embracing Cthulhu-esque gods (Lailata is obsessed with the ancient power of the Great Old Ones). Captain Ava (the name of the pirate character), was simply out juggling knives in the morning (its an activity she does) outside their encampment deep within the hot jungles of a place called "The Island of the Snakes." It's a hostile and unforgiving land where dinosaurs and other things are roaming, and where danger is right around the corner. However, it is also a place that can suddenly surprise you with its astounding beauty.

Anyway, Captain Ava was juggling her knives and reminding herself that you should never catch a falling knife. And (of course) the romance with the character who is courting madness has become a bit of a "falling knife." But there is also the added problem of detaching oneself from a character like that, because "just maybe" there's enough there to keep them from spinning off into utter darkness. So, she kind of feels trapped in a relationship that is not as fulfilling as it used to be. Anyway, it was a very interesting read and the whole table enjoyed it.

I've had other snippets emailed to me. One character (who is having a romance with the hag Baba Yaga) wrote a dream about a world that he left behind, and how he now accepts people for who they are on the inside rather than their outward appearance. A third story I received was about a woman learning how to deep dive in the ocean, when the ocean came alive to show her how. A fourth story was about a paladin being taught how to gamble and play a game called Three Dragon Ante by a roguish sort that was about as direct opposite of a person as one can be from this paladin. The fifth story I got was about two royals who are betrothed to one another, eating pie, and figuring out that neither of them likes to eat cheese with pie.

I guess if there's anything I could say about these stories it's that we've all enjoyed them. However, they have also strengthened the connections each person had to their character, and they've made their  characters come alive in the minds of each other. As important as a plotline is to the integral part of writing fiction, I now feel like these "vignettes" could be a better way to flesh out a character even before you begin to include them in a larger story (like a novel or a series of novels). I also might suggest that if you are feeling stuck, to maybe crank out 400-500 words about a thing in the life of that character. Make it come alive by focusing in on a single small event in their lives. You never know where this exercise might lead you, or how it may affect your next writing project.

The awesome co-hosts for the May 5 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, PJ Colando, Tonja Drecker, Sadira Stone, and Cathrina Constantine!

Have a great day, everyone.

Monday, May 3, 2021

I had no idea that Hawaiian rainbows were the most spectacular on Earth but there's science to explain why.

Having never been to Hawaii, I was fascinated to learn this weekend that the remote island chain produces the most spectacular and intense visible rainbows in the world. The scientific article went on to explain why. If you are curious, I'll explain what I learned.

First, and as a result of its isolation, Hawaii's remoteness means that the air is exceptionally clean and free of air pollution, continental dust, aerosols, and pollen. This doesn't just mean more rainbows, but it also means more rainbows with purer and more defined colors. Aerosols in the air in other locations of the Earth refract the color as the wavelengths approach the eye, diverting some of them and reflecting back only the color in the wavelength specific to the aerosol in question. This results in more muddled and less intense colors.

It can also work the opposite way with sunrises and sunsets, as aerosols can "filter" light already bending around the curvature of the earth to intensify one or two colors as they absorb the wavelengths from the white light and reflect sunset-y colors to the eye.

I also learned that rainbows are so important in Hawaii that their native language has different words to describe them. "Uakoko" means "earth-clinging" rainbows, "kāhili" means "standing rainbow shafts", "punakea" means "barely visible" rainbows, and "ānuenue kau pō" means "moonbows." These are just a few terms to describe the popular optical phenomenon.

A second reason for Hawaii's spectacular rainbows is that, being out in the middle of the ocean, its weather is heavily influenced by northeast trade winds. This causes frequent rain showers with clear skies appearing between those showers. Warm sea surface temperatures heat the air close to the surface of the ocean while the tops of clouds is cooled by the proximity to outer space, resulting in deeper rain showers in the morning that produce rainbows in time for breakfast.

A third reason is that Hawaii has big mountains which redirect trade winds to assist in cloud formation.

Now that I know all this, the big question is whether or not I will ever get over to Hawaii to actually see any of this. I'm not sure of that answer. I don't like to travel all that much, as mostly my mind sees a new place as just a change of scenery for things I do everyday, which is eat, go to the bathroom, entertain myself, and sleep. I've often found that I sleep much better in my own bed, than I do when traveling. So traveling really is just a change of scenery for things I do everyday but throw in "bad sleep," which means being tired all the time. I also enjoy reading. But I feel like if I went to a new place, and blew the money to do so comfortably, that reading a book would be a horrible way to experience it. 

So, anyway, the jury is still out on that question. However, if any of you have been to Hawaii (who are reading my post today), would you confirm please on whether the rainbows were the most spectacular you have ever seen? Inquiring minds (like mine) want to know.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Jeff Goldblum is going to play D&D now which really does show you how much reach Dungeons & Dragons has in the world.

I'm continually amazed by the celebrities that are piling and/or coming out of the closet regarding Dungeons & Dragons. I always thought that my nerdy and geeky hobby was something to be ashamed of. I remember in the not-so-distant past when I was sitting with an attractive guy I was interested in and his cool friends were in the kitchen mixing drinks and making mojitos. They asked, "Where did you two meet? I'm really curious because you are so different." That was their way of letting me know I was fat and ugly without being rude and to let the guy I was interested in know that he was hot. At least that's how I read it.

So, naturally, I answered immediately in a loud voice that filled the house. "We play Dungeons & Dragons together. That's how we met." The girls preparing the mojitos looked at each other and were like..., "Really? I never would know...guessed that you played that weird game (insert name of male friend here)." He (of course) was kind of embarrassed. He shrugged and said, "Yeeaaahh....well...I kinda love it." Girls with blank stares..."Uh...okay then. Anyone want drinks?" It was just awkward, but I kinda loved it.

Fast forward to today. People are still judgy about D&D, however, they get less so every day because the list is long of famous people who play this game: Vin Diesel, Asa Butterfield, Wil Wheaton, Henry Cavill, Joe Manganiello, Matthew Lillard, Mike Myers, Jon Favreau, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elon Musk, Felicia Day, Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper, Kevin Smith, Stephen King, James Franco, Patton Oswalt, Chris Hardwick, Dame Judi Dench, Deborah Ann Woll, Ashley Johnson, Gerard Way (My Chemical Romance), and the late Robin Williams.

Well, I guess now Jeff Goldblum is going to join us. He's going to be playing D&D as part of a podcast called Dark Dice that starts on May 12. His role? Playing the eleven sorcerer Balmur. Dungeons & Dragons is undergoing a kind of renaissance, and it's been very interesting to participate and be a part of it as the game grows and sucks in new players.