Friday, January 31, 2020

You'll navigate life much better if you understand that expecting businesses to respect you is the same as putting lipstick on a pig.

You may have heard of the book, American Dirt, recently in the news. Oprah is catching heat for it for recommending it as a "must read." Latinx writers and readers are upset because they feel that the author, Cummins (who identifies as white and Latina) is getting a payday for writing a story built upon harmful stereotypes about migrants from Mexico and Central America. You may have heard that the marketing campaign for the book is tone-deaf. I (personally) have never read the book, but in any sense of the word, I am here to argue that the marketing for it is doing exactly what it was supposed to do: sell books. It's a blockbuster as far as these things go, and harmful stereotypes don't matter (yet) in the world of big business.

This weekend, many people are going to watch the Superbowl. It too features harmful stereotypes. One of the teams in particular is a shining example of cultural appropriation. If you watch the game, you will see on the television people parading in red-face...showing their pride for their team... the "Kansas City Chiefs" and doing the "tomahawk chop." The Chiefs and any other team in the N.F.L. is just a business. They are there to make money. That's what capitalism is all about, and the N.F.L. knows how to make money. Businesses in the capitalism dystopia of the United States of America do not face (yet) any monetary consequences for making choices that harm minority groups.

I don't know how to properly feel about the "outrage machine" that is constantly burning and churning in the United States. People seem to think that businesses are supposed to be respectful. I'm here to tell you that they aren't and never have been. Could they be? Yes. But I'm pessimistic that this could ever happen. I go one step further by being "accepting" of the status quo. The fight to change all of that takes more than I have to give, and I suspect that a lot of people are in the same boat as me.

As a citizen of this country who experiences all kinds of trauma every day from capitalism, I too want to live in a world where the trauma creators are held accountable and punished. I would love to live in the world conjured up by Elizabeth Warren. However, even if she's elected president (which I see as a long shot), I'm pessimistic that real change could possibly happen without fire and blood. Her vision of America isn't the world we live in. Trauma creators and abusers are given full license to continue to traumatize, and they make a ton of money doing so, and that's just the way it is. I as a singular person don't see how any of this can change, and I'm left dumbfounded that new people, fresh people, everyday discover this truth and are shocked by it. My only explanation for this is, "you must have been raised with idealistic and loving parents, because they hid from you the entire truth of this world." A few years from now every one of these "newly minted" adults will be suffering from anxiety and depression. You can't go from a childhood of love to an adulthood of abuse and not get these two personality disorders.

In terms of humanistic and idealistic goals, the human race as a whole is pretty much garbage. For example, we have garbage for a president. Honestly (and this may shock some of you), but Trump kind of represents what I've come to know of a lot of people in this country. He's a con-man, a liar, a grifter, an abuser, and the list goes on and on. Folks, that also describes some of my neighbors and people I hang out with on a Saturday night. I'm being perfectly serious. So unless you want to live the life of a hermit (which I don't) then you end up making friends and socializing with trauma creators and abusers. Very few people are all bad, but we are all better off knowing the truth about ourselves. As a side note, it's also why we should allow people in prison to vote. Many prisoners and criminals only differ from us in one aspect: they got caught. You'd be surprised at how much scum is out there that is actually voting. If we allow that kind of pond scum to cast a ballot, we should allow the rest of it too.

You may be reading these words and thinking, "Boy, Mike must keep some terrible company...he needs some new friends." My response to you is, "If you think that the people you keep company with are noble and virtuous human beings, you know nothing of the people you spend time with." Going back to the dumpster fire we have as a president...well, we have a representative democracy. From my point of view, the shoe fits, and we're wearing it. Trump has probably (forever) torn down and rubbed mud over the highest office in the land. I'm no fan of his, but maybe it was about time. We put the people that served in that office on these high pedestals and celebrated them as the best of what we had to offer. Why did we do this? I think it's because we wanted to think it represented who we were, which was never true with the exception of a tiny minority of people.

And just like us, our entertainments (the things that we find "fun") for the most part, are not worth celebrating. Can we all stop putting book readers on some kind of pedestal? The same goes for college professors, CEO's, actors, and people who play musical instruments. "Oh you read a must be smart!" No, no, no. People who read books are no smarter than people who watch Jerry Springer. It's just another market for entertainment that isn't as cool as Tik Tok these days. And people who write books are not "geniuses" (an overused word). They're just introverts who may have personality disorders who decided that their narcissism might best be captured by telling some kind of story. My caveat to this is that some are better at coming up with ideas than others who have emptier heads. Combine that with discipline and bam, you've got a writer. That's it. That's all a book is. It seems weird to me that a book is just a celebration of discipline. Maybe actual "discipline" is so hard to find these days (which says more about our society than anything) that it's worth celebrating? I hope that this isn't true, but I fear that it is. Sigh.

Remember Ricky Gervais's speech at the Golden Globes? Here's a small part of what he said to the Hollywood elite with a "nod" to the fact that he knew this was his last time hosting (it's obvious he didn't care about any consequences):
"Seriously, most films are awful. Lazy. Remakes, sequels...the actors who just do Hollywood movies now do fantasy-adventure nonsense. They wear masks and capes and really tight costumes. Their job isn't acting anymore. It's going to the gym twice a day and taking steroids, really. Have we got an award for most ripped junky? No point, we'd know who'd win that.

"...Apple roared into the TV game with The Morning Show, a superb drama about the importance of dignity and doing the right thing, made by a company that runs sweatshops in China. Well, you say you're woke, but the companies you work for in China--unbelievable. Apple, Amazon, Disney. If ISIS started a streaming service you'd call your agent, wouldn't you?

"So if you do win an award tonight, don't use it as a platform to make a political speech. You're in no position to lecture the public about anything. You know nothing about the real world. Most of you spent less time in school than Greta Thunberg.

"So if you win, come up, accept your little award, thank your agent, and your God and fuck off, okay?"
Everything Ricky said is completely true, and I loved it. This. Everything. This is the world that we live in. We shouldn't put these people on any kind of pedestal. They are entertainers and our entertainment is garbage. I consume garbage, and so do you. So does everyone. It's okay to like garbage, but let's not call it something else. This isn't to say that we shouldn't appreciate the garbage that brings us joy. However, if our garbage is served up without the beautiful trimmings of cultural awareness and respect, I don't think we should act as if we are shocked that this is happening. Ever hear of the phrase, "Putting lipstick on a pig?" Entertainment is business, and business is "the pig."

The demands for a better world from business is trying to put lipstick on a pig. To change how business operates, there needs to be consequences. There needs to be laws. There needs to be fire and blood. So without any of this, how about we celebrate American Dirt for achieving remarkable sales, and then throw away the lipstick that we want to put onto it? Sales and money were always the bottom line of the content creator and the publisher. Writing is not art, it's a business.

If this is an upsetting truth, then've just experienced abuse. Welcome to capitalism. It's trauma-tastic. However, I think you'll navigate life much better if you understand that expecting businesses to respect you is the same as putting lipstick on a pig.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Witcher is an enjoyable mess of a show but it doesn't reinvent anything.

The Witcher is an enjoyable mess of a show. I finished watching the Netflix fantasy series in December, and even having read the books, I got a bit lost with all of the time jumps. It was nice to see real life versions of Yennefer and Dandelion (you may know him as Jaskier), Marigold, Ciri, and Geralt. However, there were times when the computer generated graphics did remind me of Xena (the gold dragons were one of these sections, although I may have been comparing them to how good the Game of Thrones dragons looked, which is clearly a mistake on my part).

And regarding the books, there are a lot of reviews out there that say that the author, Andrzej Sapkowski, reinvented the genre for many readers. To be honest, I don't really see this when I read the books. Surprisingly, the majority of the narrative seems to be taking place either through Ciri's eyes or through events that have to do with Ciri, and maybe this is what they mean. Here we are finally presented with a story that is "epic fantasy" in flavor wherein the main character is a woman? Possibly, but I'm not sure. It could also be that the reviewers who are saying this aren't actually as well-read in the genre as they claim to be.

But what about "the Witcher?" What about "Geralt?" Geralt is there, yes, but he's less than 40% of the story...maybe he's even down to 30% in parts. It's weird that there's so much emphasis in the title of these stories (and the cover art) to really pin the story to Geralt (a specific Witcher), when his only real purpose is to serve as a vehicle for a story, kind of like Indiana Jones in Raider's of the Lost Ark.

The translation from Polish also presents its difficulties. I didn't realize until I watched the show that the bard's name was Jaskier as "Jaskier" literally means "Dandelion." So the translation refers to the character as Dandelion in all the dialogue. I was confused and at one point I was like, "This character has to be Dandelion, but I don't know why they aren't calling him that." There are also descriptive sentences that don't quite make sense, because I wouldn't have expressed myself in that same manner. Translating a thing from Polish to English has got to be challenging, so I don't fault the translator. At the end of the day, I still understood what was going on, but on occasion, it felt weird.

As far as reinventions go, however, I don't see that the Witcher is blazing any real new ground. There are monsters being killed by a person with fantastical strengths, there's an overarching story of a school of magic-users manipulating governments, and there are multiple worlds from which all of these monsters originate. In the books I read, I saw no incredible insights into the psychology of humans. An example of what I'm talking about is the phrase, "History is written by the victors." This was a profoundly deep observation that George R.R. Martin made regarding the human psyche that I've seen reproduced nowhere else. As you no doubt know, this one thing resulted in the greatest mystery of modern fantasy fiction: Who is Jon Snow? When I sit back and think about this singular aspect to Martin's fantasy epic, I'm kind of left in awe that he pulled it off so well. So yeah...there's none of that in Sapkowski's work.

But what the hell does reinventing something even mean these days? It seems like a buzzword to try and market something, and I'm not even sure that it's necessary or means that something is better. Reinventing the wheel is more than likely just trying to push you into using something that is less efficient than the wheel. In capitalism, they call this kind of thinking "disruption," and there are lots of things that "disrupt" the way services are provided, but I don't necessarily believe it leaves any of us in a better place. Yes, we now have Uber and Lyft, but we always had taxi's. How is it any different other than taxi drivers don't make any money these days, and now...they can't support a family?

The closest thing to a reinvention that I've read (recently) is with Michael J. Sullivan's Legends of the First Empire books. The reason these fantasy epics seem like a reinvention to me is because they take place during the Stone Age of a civilization instead of the Medieval European Age of civilization. So you have magicians and fighters inventing things like the wheel, the bow and arrow, and pockets. I've been finding the reading of these things to be very interesting and refreshing in a way that I didn't (at first) expect. Oh and the main characters are pretty much all there's that too. It seems odd to say that the Stone Age is breaking new ground, but it is. I think there's an irony in there somewhere.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Sex Education season two has one small problem that really bugs me.

The series Sex Education dropped its second season on Netflix about two weeks ago, and I finished watching it with my friend Meg this past Friday. If you haven't watched the show, I feel like it's this generation's coming of age story, albeit fully embracing the sexual escapades of adult actors playing teens in a teenage situation (actual teens would probably be too problematic for this show). It's a highly entertaining and awkward romp, and for the most part, the series works because it goes to many lengths to be honest and not hide from itself, even if it does stretch itself into unbelievable territory (the high school production musical of Romeo & Juliet looked unbelievable because of how well it was actually done...especially in the costume department). However, it didn't spoil anything for me as far as suspension of disbelief goes. But there was one particular scene that happens in the season finale at the very end that does break this for me, and it really sticks in my mind as something that wouldn't be possible. Warning: Spoiler's Ahead if you continue reading.

The event I'm talking about is when Isaac (pictured above and on the left) accesses Maeve's voicemail on her phone (without her knowledge) and listens to a message and then deletes it. As far as I know, you cannot do this without unlocking the phone. Look...I know that accessing the voicemail is crucial so that we can set up all kinds of drama that will happen in the love triangle that is Isaac, Maeve, and Asa Butterfield's character, Otis. However, phones are notoriously difficult to crack these days and there's just no way that Isaac, having access to Maeve's phone because she set it on a table and forgot about it, would be able to do this. Even the F.B.I. has trouble doing this kind of thing to an unlocked cellular phone in order to obtain information regarding terrorist activity that may be on those devices.

It's a very small detail within the context of the show. But, it bothers me. And (as far as I know), just deleting a voicemail does not get rid of it off a cellular device. There's a sub-menu called "deleted messages" that would need to be cleared or she could still listen to it. Additionally, Maeve would see in her notifications that she received a call from Otis because that kind of thing is stored in "recent calls." So the move by Isaac to erase the honesty and love message that he left for Maeve to try and patch things up is anything but gone, and Maeve could get it back if she pays attention to her phone in any way. Oh and I'm not so certain that Maeve would leave her phone lying around anyway. Teenaged girls these days live with their phones attached to their fingers. And Maeve pretty much does this from season one through the end of season two, only to somehow forget it in Isaac's trailer so that he can erase the voicemail that Otis specifically told Isaac to have Maeve listen to (Isaac said that he would do this but he obviously has no intention because he's a manipulative man).

Anyway, my small rant is over. I'm looking forward to the next installment of Sex Education. Other than that one small thing, I really enjoyed season two. Anybody else a fan here?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Saying one thing and meaning another makes the modern world a complicated place to navigate successfully.

The modern world of the United States is growing increasingly more difficult for its population to understand, and a part of this has to do with the English language and how it's used to communicate. English has a lot of euphemisms in it. Complicating these euphemisms are lawyer-esque terms that people employ so that they aren't lying or guilty of a wrong. And then there are the terms that are co-opted as a marketing ploy that further dilute the meanings of the words that we say on an everyday basis.

Here's one example: I was recently observing a funeral held by some very religious people, and I was struck by how much grief there was present. Not that this is unusual, but... it did make me wonder why there isn't more jealousy and envy at a funeral. If these people are true believers, then the person who passed away is partying it up in the afterlife. They are with so many loved ones...gone basically through a doorway...and are on permanent vacation. Why wouldn't a single person in a hundred experience an emotion other than sadness? Answers: people are selfish creatures? People will miss what the person did for them? Funerals are not for the dead, but are for the survivors? I've heard the reasons. However, deep down inside I think the person may not be in a better place. In fact...there might not be a better place at all (I'm atheist after all). But could religious people share some of my doubt? If they did, then they aren't true believers (which is the very meaning of the word "doubt."). Then why put on a show that you are? It makes no sense.

These are the kinds of behaviors I'm talking about: saying you are one thing when in fact you are not. Let's call it "hypocrisy" for purposes of this conversation, though I don't mean to demean mourners. I merely want to illustrate how many of us say one thing, or label it, and don't actually mean it. This is confusing, and picking apart what a person actually means (from what they say) is a difficult task. It requires a person to "read between the lines." Just look at the above illustration that I put at the top of this post. How many people could actually suss out what the person on the left is actually saying? I'd venture "not a lot."

Want another example? What about other labels we use? "Yeah your son got approved for that unpaid internship. It's gonna look great on their resume." "Oh your daughter has a calling to run a daycare three days a week for four hours." "Can you volunteer to do this thing on Saturday?" In every one of the above is being asked...and no money is being offered in exchange for said work. There are also severe restrictions placed on a person's otherwise "free" time. Additionally, they might not be able to say "no" without the fear of some kind of social reprisal. I would argue that these "phrases" are just couched euphemisms for slavery, if the definition is "Unpaid toil with restricted freedoms."

In what other ways are people muddying the waters with language? Ever hear of the phrase "alternative facts?" What exactly does that mean? What about "Drain the Swamp?" I bet a lot of people are confused about the definitions of both phrases, and you won't get the same definition from two separate people. Along these same lines, I have a friend that says he's only been wrong four times in his life. If you try to point out a situation in which he was wrong, he might say, "I overestimated my time," or "You misunderstood me (which is gaslighting by the way)" or some other thing.'s using language to confuse and misdirect.

And what about marketing? You go into any Apple store and they've co-opted the word "Genius" to mean something else entirely. I personally think that "genius" has lost any meaning. I saw on Facebook that someone labeled another as an "Archery Genius." What does this even mean? There are "musical geniuses," "creative geniuses," "archery geniuses," "Apple Geniuses," and the list goes on and on. I think people just like attaching the word "genius" to things to say that someone is skilled at a thing. But why not just say: they are skilled? Why ruin a perfectly good word?

Anyway, I think our modern world is already complex. But the language in which we use to communicate has grown increasingly more difficult to identify a thing properly. The confusion generated by this is already reaping negative consequences, paralyzing people with inaction or anxiety, or leaving them open to exploitation. I wonder where it will all end up when what we say does not resemble what we mean in any shape or form.

Thoughts? I look forward to your comments.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

I think I know why people are so lonely in America.

There have been many reports from reputable organizations and news agencies that have reported on the epidemic of loneliness in America. I've seen reports that as much as 47% of Americans say that they are lonely in their lives (this is quite high, people). There are a lot of theories as to why, but I think many of them miss the mark. You can read about them online if you like. I just won't talk about them here.

Now, I've thought about the epidemic of loneliness a lot, and I identify four solid reasons (that come from my observations) that cause Americans to live alone and to experience vast swaths of loneliness without actual human contact. It's an unhealthy dystopia we're living in, and I don't think it's going to change anytime soon. If you feel lonely and are reading my words, I'm sorry this is happening to you, because it will affect your overall health and life-expectancy. But I don't think it will change. If anything, it's going to get worse.

So, without further ado, here are the reasons I've identified:

1) People have no time for growing relationships, because they are career and experience/ professional-achievement driven. You might hear this reason: "I don't have time after school, work, etc. to do anything because I'm busy achieving 'X'." And "X" in this case can be anything.

2) People are not suitable for relationships with anyone, because society/religion/capitalist dystopia has repeatedly traumatized them, and/or they have traumatized themselves by making poor decisions and have essentially "bombed out" in life (also known as "failure to launch."). This trauma and failure has allowed personality disorders (take a pick) to set in, and if you don't know, personality disorders are lumped under the generic term, "mental illness." So loneliness seems like a logical consequence of having mental illness. And of course mental illness often is a gateway to drug use and the spiral around the drain begins....

3) People are not suitable for relationships, because they become delusional about their personal achievements and they are looking for a partner that matches that particular delusion. The only problem is...matching a person to a delusion inevitably doesn't work, because a delusion is "not real." All sorts of things come out of this particular reason, like FOMO (fear of missing out), anxiety, depression, and just general lack of enthusiasm or lack of appreciation for another human being. This is basically a version of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which was a study that identified how people believe they are far more skilled at a thing than they actually are.

4) People have no time for growing relationships, because their family controls all of their time and all of their activities. To get to know a person in this situation, you basically have to marry the family, get approval from the family to spend time with a person. IF you manage to do this, then you actually get to know the person. If the family doesn't like you or feel an incentive to like you, then you are out of luck. To some extent, there is an old adage that plays to this by saying, "If you want to get to know 'X,' then befriend the friends of 'X'." Only, I really do mean "family" these days as "family" has become synonymous with extremely close friends as well as family's who are so distrustful of strangers that neighbors hardly talk to each other anymore. An example of this is any neighborhood in Salt Lake City where I live. You'll see that there are walls and gated communities everywhere. My brother says, "Good fences make good neighbors....", but all of those walls and gates are really broadcasting a message akin to "Keep Out." In some situations it may even be a message like, "I'm putting up this wall to help you contain your shit, because I don't want any of your crazy over here."

It's a sad truth of modern life, but getting to know people beyond their biography on a screen is (I think) more difficult than it has ever been in history. How we got here might be a symptom of society becoming increasingly more difficult to meet basic physical needs for oneself. As the bar to get 1) housing, 2) food, 3) education, and 4) healthcare keeps going up, then that added pressure is going to force people to hustle for fewer opportunities that are any good.

Anyway, this is just my two cents. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Thus far 1917 is the best movie I've seen out of the 2020 Oscar nominations for Best Picture.

Since American Beauty came out many years ago, I've been a fan of film director Sam Mendes. I also share the opinion of many that Skyfall (a Sam Mendes film) is probably the best one out of the James Bond films. Even if you don't agree with me, I know it's a trophy for Sony Pictures, and it was only recently eclipsed by the Tom Holland Spiderman movies (at the box office). I think Mr. Mendes' secret weapon in filming is he likes to tell intimate stories, and he does so with a delightful and indulgent style that reveals aspects of a thing (the subject matter of the film) that we weren't able to see before, and it just sucks you into the story.

His latest outing on the film stage is 1917, which is a gory and beautiful piece of cinema. 1917 is uncomplicated, in that it's a relatively straight-forward story that shows an exhaustive linear timeline of two soldiers who have a very important task to do. It takes place on and between battlefields that few remember from World War I. I don't even think the names of the soldiers are that important. By watching the film, you become them, running alongside while ever wary from shots directed at you from the dark. By not knowing the main character's name until the very end, it might as well be you, just trying to survive and accomplish a heroic deed before it's too late, and before many lives are lost. The brutality and horror of war is unspared and uncut, which is probably why it got its "R" rating.

Those of you out there who are film buffs might also recognize that 1917 is filmed in one cut. It feels like "one cut" in this instance might be a technical achievement in that the scene unfolds without breaking from beginning to end in one long stream. You are there with the main character through every moment, even his walking, and you can see him respond to situations as needed and be completely overwhelmed by the events that are taking place. This very tight viewpoint takes us down into the trenches and we are now made the pawn in this horrifying game of chess, and see life exactly as it unfolds from the pawn's perspective.

The overall feel of the piece becomes surreal in moments, as horror can shift suddenly to the character becoming aware that he has entered a place of great beauty. There's a hallowness to these scenes, and the absolute chaos of the actual war makes little sense. In one scene, our hero pulls himself from a river, sopping wet and surrounded by falling cherry blossoms from a gorgeous orchard, only to pull himself onto the river bank atop dead bodies of soldiers caught within fallen tree trunks. Exhausted, and beneath these gorgeous trees, he starts crying. And that's when ghostly singing filters through the tree trunks. all of this singing a beautiful song without musical accompaniment. The effect is haunting. You ask yourself, "How can all of this exist within the same place?"

I've seen a few of the Best Picture nominees. The ones I have left are: The Irishman, Ford Vs. Ferrari, Parasite, and Marriage Story. Quentin Tarrantino's film was good, however, among his films I think it ranks as the one I enjoyed the least. I can't see why Once Upon A Time could possibly earn him Best Picture this time around when others he created in prior years were far more deserving and failed at this task. JoJo Rabbit was excellent, however, it didn't cause "shock and awe," which is exactly what 1917 did for me. I do intend to polish up the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars air in February. However, I suspect that I've already seen the Best Picture winner. I guess we'll see. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Dr. Smith is the most fascinating character in the Netflix series Lost in Space and she reminds me a lot of myself.

Netflix's reboot of Lost in Space is a solid show that I enjoy re-watching with friends, and it's one I look forward to seeing new seasons from when they are released. It hasn't been "officially" renewed for season 3, however, the showrunners are already working on it. So this seems to be a good sign that it's coming, and they just haven't gotten around to issuing any press releases about it.

Pretty much pulled from the 1964 version of the series and given a new coat of varnish with updated special effects, the thing that works for me in this show is how they keep the stories very small. The Robinsons are never part of some galactic event like you might see in other science-fiction shows like The Expanse. One season (thus far) tends to explore maybe one or two locations at most. There's usually an Earth-like world to walk around on and have conversations, and there's usually an outer space location that's some kind of spaceship with stunning vistas out the windows and viewscreens. Season Two's setting was mostly this ship called The Resolute and the "alien" elements were a gas giant and a bunch of robots. It's more or less a show about overcoming challenges, so it has that element where you are picturing yourself as a member of the crew trying to figure out (along with them) how to solve a particular challenge. And each crew member is given their moment to shine.

The most interesting crew member of Netflix's reboot (for me) is Dr. Smith. She's the "villain" of the show if there is one, but I really sympathize with her in certain situations because I see a lot of myself in this character. Mostly, she's a selfish person and has no qualms admitting this to people. In her own words, she says, "I love myself. How is that any different than you loving your children? Instead of someone else whom I'm willing to sacrifice anything for, I choose to do that for myself."

When she put it that way, it completely made sense, and I liked it. I know from experience what it means to be consistently devalued by everyone around you in such an abusive chorus that you have little option other than to hate yourself and who you are. I of course turned out much different despite this abuse, because I chose to love myself and see myself as worth the best things in life even if others never shared this philosophy. So I get Dr. Smith...I get her a lot.

And just to be clear, Dr. Smith and I only share some similarities. I would never describe myself as a villain. But I think I'm perfectly honest if I believe (without remorse) that I'm not necessarily a "good" or "virtuous" person. There are plenty of people out there who try to put up a public facade that would convince others that they are "good, just, virtuous, etc." These are the role models of society, and I am so happy that they exist for others to idolize. I am not one of these people, nor do I strive to be. I am a gay atheist, which in some parts of the country is just above slime that pools in the gutter (let's be honest here). And I don't really care that some people view me as scum like that. I get along fine.

Additionally, I obey laws because the consequences of not doing so seem pretty terrible. I also provide help to people when asked, but I also have no problem saying "No," which can make people angry at me. And I'm not the kind of person who believes in self-sacrifice. Giving money away to beggars does nothing for me. It doesn't make me feel good or deserving of heavenly rewards. It just makes me feel like I lost money, and given the importance money has on our society, it actually feels like I made a mistake. That isn't to say that I don't give to charities. I cave into peer pressure like everyone else to avoid looking like the asshole that doesn't chip in for a co-worker who is sick, etc. And I donate to political campaigns occasionally with the idea that hopefully, someone will get elected that can make a positive change. But a hero I am not. That's just not in the cards for me. I'm just trying to survive out here...not trying to be a paragon of light to the masses.

Dr. Smith is very much like this too, and she has some incredible dialogue. She's essentially this somewhat craven and heavily traumatized person who was devalued all of her life, and she knows she can only count on herself to get by. However, she does make choices that I would never make. That being said, she's surrounded by people who (quite honestly) don't have to put in much work to look the part of a hero(by science fiction standards). They have love and support and respect from everyone, are incredibly smart and handsome/pretty, and they stumble into answers (which are caveats to the writing of the show). As a result, they are driven by very strong moral compasses because it works out for them and with a lot of social payoff. I've yet to see a situation that hasn't worked out for them, as they seem to be able to heroically overcome any challenge by just trying a bit harder. I'll speak from experience in my life that "trying harder" didn't work in a lot of situations I got stuck with in life, and I think the same thing can be said of the fictional Dr. Smith, which is why I relate to her on so many levels.

If anything, Dr. Smith just seems like a realistic portrayal of a flawed human being, and it makes the show incredibly interesting. The people around her have no idea what to do with her, because Smith is quite smart and knows how to manipulate people and how to be cunning. These are traits that the Robinsons in particular have no experience with, because (again) they just have to meet everything head-on, give a particular challenge all they've got, and as a result, they power through to a solution that leads to a happy ending.

I hope it gets renewed for a season three, and that the announcement comes soon.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Expanse season four was just one of many gifts us fans of science fiction received in December 2019.

December 2019 was a big gift to people (like me) who enjoy shiny new entertainment options to indulge in while on the couch. In one month we got the conclusion of Star Wars: The Mandalorian, the second season of Lost In Space, the fourth season of The Expanse, and a brand new Star Wars movie (one that author Patrick Dilloway alone has probably said all that needs to be said on it). For what it's worth, I agree with nearly all of his assessment but am mostly still preoccupied with the question: Why is the Force so much more powerful in the last three movies? I probably won't ever get a satisfying answer to that other than "Because it looks great on the big screen." And when it comes to Star Wars properties do we honestly expect anything more? I think the bar for that story (and any stories in that universe) is firmly grounded in visuals and optics. As long as it looks cool, then it belongs in Star Wars, even if nothing ever makes sense beyond the age of 12. So I'll leave that at the door and move onto what I really wanted to talk about in this blog post, which is the fourth season of The Expanse.

Without even knowing the details of the behind-the-scenes negotiations, backroom deals, and how any of "the sausage gets made," I can say that I'm thoroughly impressed with what the influx of Amazon/Jeff Bezos money has done for this franchise. Season 4 felt even more impressive on its surface than any of the prior three seasons, which I loved. Season 4 also made small decisions to cut certain storylines that I felt were extraneous to the plot of the fourth book in the series, Cibola Burn.

For example, much of the book is taken up with the perspective of the botanist from Ganymede named Prax, who proves to be incredibly resourceful in finding solutions to keep a cargo carrier from the Ilus colony from burning up in the atmosphere (when nuclear fusion gets "turned off" in the system in which Ilus lies). It does serve to strengthen that character going forward (in the books). However, by cutting him, the showrunners made clever decisions that weaved plots from short stories, novellas, and book five (called Nemesis Games) into the narrative to tell a more cohesive story that makes sense within the entire arc of The Expanse as a whole.

It also sets up season five to be incredible (and yes it's already been renewed for a fifth season), because it gave us "just enough" of the new big bad of the series, Marco Inaros. Because we are introduced to Marco now, he's more than just Naomi's former lover. We understand him as a true psychopath whose motivations kind of echo what our real-life President Trump says when he shouts, "America first!" In Marco's situation, he's screaming "Belters first!" But what does that really mean? In the universe of The Expanse, it translates to Marco stopping at nothing to ensure that "the Belt" is served very well by his actions. He does not care one inkling for Mars or for Earth, because they are "The Other." If you are familiar with the books, Marco's direct actions result in the deaths of 30 billion people, and that's going to be horrifying and exciting to see how a psychopath stands atop all of those corpses with a belief that he is serving his people in the best way that is possible. How could anyone see him as anything more than the worst monster ever produced by humanity? And, how is this going to affect Naomi, who is Marco's ex and the father of a son she loves very much?

I know that part of the reason The Expanse had to cut sections of book four to weave in these other narratives is also because actors are on contract and they need to get paid and to act in this series. Book Four of The Expanse series does little if nothing to grow the characters of Avasarala, Bobbie, and Clarissa Mau (who got a single cameo in this season, but is exceptionally important in books five and six and seven). To expect them to stick around through a season in which they do nothing might not have flown over well. So the compromises the showrunners made seem to be remarkably intelligent, preserving the core of the story really well (far better than what was done in Game of Thrones), and the whole series continues to be something I savor and revisit often by re-watching with friends who haven't seen any of it. 

My final thoughts on The Expanse might answer the question: Is the transition to Amazon noticeable? From my perspective it feels seamless, even down to the introduction sequence. However, it also feels even more gorgeous and immersive than it has ever been. Up until this season, the stories were smaller. The sets were incredibly detailed, but I think this wasn't hard for SyFy to do because a lot of the action took place in tunnels, in space ships, and in locations on Earth (so they could just film on location somewhere). Season Four takes place on an alien planet, so I know it had to be expensive. And you can see that Amazon cut no corners with the alien ruins (which look cyclopean/Lovecraftian in the same way H.R. Giger's ruins looked in the Alien movies or in the movie, Prometheus). The acting talent is top notch, and the writing is super-tight. The sets (as well) are so detailed and lovely. There is so much to look at in every screen that the show just feels epic in a way that not many shows these days can accomplish. Absolutely nothing looks cheap. So, I'm just gonna say, "Huzzah for Amazon!" 

On my Wednesday blog, I think I'm going to talk about another show I really love called Lost in Space. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Many writers are too desperate for Hollywood love.

I recently finished Old Man's War by John Scalzi. I loved it. So I googled the series to see if there was any news regarding a made for television series, and I discovered Netflix has secured the rights to it, and that they are making it into a movie. John Scalzi (the author) wrote about it on his blog in an announcement that reassured fans that this adaptation of his work would be wonderful. Sure. Only in my opinion, it's going to fall far short. He really needed to tell Netflix, "No" and that it needed to be a ten episode mini-series.

In the book Old Man's War, the main character goes to enlist in an intergalactic army of humans from Earth who are engaged in an ongoing stellar war with various alien species. So in two hours time, we've got to see him enlist, take the space elevator into orbit where he meets several friends who become members of the "Old Fart's Club," bond with them, get transplanted into a new super human body (which he then has to grow comfortable in using), get training on various worlds, meet the Consu (a race of very religious super aliens), fight other species, meet his dead wife's body and have conversations with the personality inhabiting it, and then fight for control of Coral (an Eden-like world taken from them by aliens who eat humans for breakfast and are using Consu technology).

Every single one of the above events impacts the storyline. Even the fighting with other alien species who are not Consu and the alien Rraey (who attack the human colony on Coral) is important, because it not only serves to illustrate the main character's ingenuity in combat, but it also shows that the human race is using only one solution to interacting with the galaxy: going to war. This is an important and nuanced thing...that war is being over-used and that entire civilizations of intelligent aliens are being wiped out because humans need real estate and can't be bothered to use any kind of diplomacy.

It blows my mind that John Scalzi thinks that all of this can be done in a two-hour Netflix movie. And to cut any of that is going to change the story significantly. What we end up getting may be something similar to The Dark Tower movie adaptation (which didn't have the time to be faithful to anything).

And this happening to John Scalzi is not anything new. Look at Terry Brooks and the Shannara series. MTV made huge unnecessary changes to the storyline and shat out a tale that bore only fleeting similarities to the author's content. Yet Brooks went on record to defend the adaptation on his blog. Why? I think he was desperate for some kind of Hollywood love. I think Scalzi is too, which is why he gave a green light for a movie instead of bargaining for a Netflix series of at least 8 episodes.

Writers need to have more backbone and just stand up for their work with a big fat, "No! You can't do this to my work!" George R.R. Martin should have defended Game of Thrones against the showrunners, and said, "No, you cannot shorten the remaining seasons. We need time to show that Daenerys is transitioning to a mad queen or it will all go to hell!" But he didn't, probably because he was just overjoyed that HBO was doing such a good job (and spending so much money) on his work to make it look fantastic (which it did). He probably didn't want to rock the boat, which is understandable. Other writers are guilty of the same thing (of course). Anne Rice should have stood up for her works a couple of decades ago (especially with the awful Queen of the Damned adaptation).

I suppose if there are any writers out there who are reading my words, you might ask yourself what would happen if Hollywood came knocking to adapt your writing for the screen? Would you just let them do whatever they wanted as long as you got paid? Would you stand up for your work even if it meant saying, "No! You cannot do that to my story!" And I guess that some of this rant probably comes from a place of ignorance (on my part). I don't know what it's like to try and get a published work adapted for a screen (and I probably never will as I have no interest in that kind of thing at the moment). But even if this post falls on deaf ears, I want to say that I think many writers are too desperate for Hollywood love, and the world of entertainment would be a better place for all if they would grow a backbone and learn to say, "No!" But then, maybe we wouldn't get any adaptations at all. However, I think it's worth the risk.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Insecure Writer's Support Group asks what started me on my writing journey?

Because last week had the New Year falling on a Wednesday, the Insecure Writer's Support Group is posting today.

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. It was originally started by author Alex Cavanaugh. If this sounds like something you'd like to participate in, then go HERE and sign up.

I (long ago) started going with the optional question of the month, rather than write a post on some aspect of my writing or my writing progress. So here's the January 8th question of the month:

What started you on your writing journey? Was it a particular book, movie, story, or series? Was it a teacher/ coach/ spouse/ friend/ parent? Did you just "know" suddenly you wanted to write?

I wrote my first "novel" length story in my Junior year at the local high school. My creative writing teacher wanted us to explore our writing, and I was playing a Dungeons and Dragons game with friends after school and believed that it would be fun to have all of our characters star in a story. I was proud of the book, and I did it all on a typewriter, which was the only kind of technology I really had access to in the mid-eighties as computers were not common things to see at that point in time. As a matter of fact, I didn't own my first computer until I was a Junior in college. The dot matrix printer and Word Perfect felt like such luxuries back then. I don't think I ever envisioned an age where I could be typing like I am now into a screen without ever owning any software.

Anyway, I learned then what I know now about myself and my own writings (it hasn't changed over the years). I have a vice when it comes to writing, and that is (simply) that the act of writing is awfully self-centered for me. It's almost a mental and very masturbatory kind of exercise, with my own ego kind of guiding the words to fall on a page toward some self-congratulatory end. I wish that it wasn't this way. I feel like truly great writers can write about anything and can effectively remove themselves from a story to talk about social issues or to highlight changes that society needs to make (by telling a kind of fiction that feels all too real). I'm so happy that there are people who do this on a continual basis. Through their writing, the world becomes a better place.

But in any event, I found a lot of comfort in writing. So yeah...I knew I wanted to write.

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