Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Russia's war with Ukraine is a weird and unsettling mess to watch.

The war in Ukraine that Russia started has been a really strange one to watch as it plays out on the world stage, and through incredibly well-informed media that is able to throw light on things. Moves that Russia has made would have been seen as clever or brilliant in another era. Now, they just look comically stupid and the acts of a deranged madman.

The latest of these "acts" is a ploy by Moscow to create a pretext for escalating the war in Ukraine by detonating a dirty bomb within Ukraine's territory and then saying that Kyiv did it and not Russia. This is what the Secretary of State calls a "false flag" operation, meaning it is done to create a pretext for intervention. In case you don't know what a dirty bomb is, it's a phrase that describes a conventional explosive wrapped with radiological waste.

Other such "false flags" that Russia created involved Ukraine supposedly planning to use a chemical weapon. Want a second example? American Intelligence uncovered a plot by Russia to hire crisis actors to create a false pretext for invasion. Like seriously...Russia was going to hire actors to run through a script so that they could appear as heroes coming to the rescue. This would be laughable if it wasn't real. And it's real.

The firehose of propaganda coming from Russia is a strange and unsettling phenomenon. In the past, it has worked really well. And we see it work really well in our own country as (apparently) it is easy to dupe people if they have a reason/grudge to buy into a false narrative anyway. For example, they've said that U.S. mercenaries were preparing biochemical weapons in Ukraine. A little bit later, the propogandists made up an explosion that supposedly happened in Donetsk in early February. And the list goes on and on. All of these things are designed to get Russian citizens and its allies on-board with the land grab that Putin is trying to complete. It's so weird, especially when you consider how big Russia is already.

One of the most unsettling things about all of this (for me) has been the realization that what we all know comes from either direct-hand observation or by believing other people. And by and large, the history of the world has been shaped by believing other people as direct-hand observation simply hasn't been possible until the modern era with cameras nearly everywhere. Cameras have been a godsend and being able to check the photographic record or the satellite imagery against what a person says has (time and again) exposed just how duplicitous, petty, and awful many people are. And history is always written by the victors, and it is clearly biased.

George R.R. Martin shows us this in HBO's spinoff of House of the Dragon. This is a story about the Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons. But more than that, Martin wrote it to show through a fictional lens what a historical civil war between two women might look like if it were written within the context of a patriarchy and the authors were men. And this is exactly what we are seeing in House of the Dragon. It's that last thing that really fascinates me about the series, and the two women (the two "Queens") devolve into petty hatreds and histrionics over their particular desires to rule the Iron Throne (or to install their heirs on it). Despite the comicality of imagining this as a fantastic tale, how is it any different than what we see in real life? It isn't...not one bit. And that is how wars start and hundreds (if not thousands or even millions) of people die as a result.

That is an incredible thing to observe and then realize about humanity. We are all living in the most interesting of times.

Monday, October 24, 2022

Dwayne Johnson is here to save the DC Universe with Black Adam

There are spoilers in this post for Black Adam. You have been warned.

It's taken quite a while for us to get a Black Adam movie. I honestly don't know if we needed one. After having watched it on Friday, I still don't know if we needed one. However, that's a uniquely short-sighted thought on my part as I don't "need" any comic book movie really. I enjoy them for entertainment. And viewed through that lens, Black Adam was a lot of fun. Also (disclaimer) I'm a fan of Dwayne Johnson. I follow him on Instagram, and I pretty much watch anything he does. So, this is a biased commentary.

Look...Dwayne Johnson is not a great actor. But I like watching him punch people as long as I know that he actually isn't really hurting anyone. He really could if he wanted to, because he's that strong. But it's so much funner to see him playing a character like Black Adam where he can do so with impunity, and we can just kind of enjoy him destroying things. The city that served as the location of the film took an absolute beating (for example). Personally, I'd hate that if I were living in this city in real life. But because it was obviously a movie set with CGI, it was really fun to watch statues topple, get hurled around, buildings explode, and mountains cave-in. Oh yeah...and bad guys were hurled miles to just go splat at the end. It was (overall) probably terrifying for anyone that was in Black Adam's way. The only thing I missed was Zack Snyder's touch. Snyder has a way of just making superheroes seem like they punch harder. I don't know what exactly Zack does, but you see it in the superhero movies he does direct. Superheroes just look awesome.

Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a., "The Rock", is also a bit dour in this production. His effervescent charisma and sense of humor is toned down. I imagine that being an "origin story," we will see more of the Rock at his "Rockiest" in the future, which you should read as funny and likeable. Another thing I enjoyed about Black Adam was that we saw a whole fresh slate of superheroes, and we saw a new web of relationships develop. It was kind of fascinating that the Justice Society are bad guys for the first half of the film, trying to reign in Black Adam's murder-lust, even though all the people he was killing were really bad men. They even get called out for not caring about oppression until they get ordered there to take out a superpowered guy who is actually doing something about the criminal mercenaries occupying their country. For all that Hawkman talks about due process, he's also there to capture Black Adam and shove him into a dark site prison with no trial or due process (and get paid generously for it, judging by the size of his mansion estate).

I do like that they cast Hawkman with a black man. This seems very much to be in line with his Egyptian origins. What I don't quite understand is why they turned this black man into the greatest maximum-aggressive AMURICAN-imperialist you can imagine. But...yeah, that's what they did. 

Dr. Fate is a superhero I've been wanting to see on-screen for decades. At first, I was dubious about Pierce Brosnan's casting. Even though it appears to be a one-off and the helmet will end up on a much younger person, Pierce Brosnan brought all the silver fox charm to the yard. As well, the effects they used to show Cyclone's powers was pure beauty. It was wonderfully made, like a church window turned alive, yet it didn't take away from her fierceness.

I would watch this movie again. It was big, dumb, fun. And there's a great cameo at the end with Henry Cavill's Superman returning for the role that I enjoyed a lot. I guess Dwayne Johnson is here to save the DC Universe. It's a good time for it too, because I'm getting Marvel fatigue if I'm being honest. She-Hulk was the worst in a downhill slope that started several years ago post "Endgame." I think the DC Universe has nowhere to go but up, up, up.

Friday, October 21, 2022

House of the Dragon is called adult epic fantasy because it dares to show humans with realistic behaviors.

The Targaryen Civil War coulda/shoulda ended here by burning the usurping cabal alive.

As House of the Dragon heads into its season finale, I want to say that although I don't think it is as great a series as Game of Thrones was, its been quite successful in blazing its own story. It would be simple to say that it's just a retread of "dynastic succession." I suppose you could say that this was (afterall) the crux of what Game of Thrones was all about: powerful people squabbling over who gets to be the one in charge and with unlimited power. We'd all like to think that someone with no checks on their power is benevolent. But more often than not, this isn't the case. They are a tyrant that rules with an iron fist, and people who are subjected to that power live horrible miserable lives.

The thing that I've enjoyed so much about House of the Dragon is that it's so real. Yes, there are dragons, which cannot and do not exist in our shared reality. And yes, there is magic too. But what is so real about the show is that it never shies away from how gross human beings really are. We are a miserable species, and the sanitized version that we used to get in the United States has convinced many of us otherwise through media filled with Disney musicals and to the lack of ever seeing a dead body unless it has been prepared by funeral homes for public viewing. In the United States, religion has forced and shamed sexuality into backrooms, public nudity including breastfeeding is shunned, and for the most part we pretend that certain "genitalia" simply do not exist. It's a thing we don't ever talk about. It's all clean, sanitized, tucked away, and there are messages on repeat saying, "no one wants to see your tuck them away." Shame, shame, shame.

House of the Dragon doesn't do any of this, and it owns its truth of just how gross, disgusting, and horrible people are not only to themselves but to one another. For much of the history of mankind, this is how humans have been (and they still are but no one wants to call people out on it for fear of being called hateful). And I've learned that a tiger does not change its stripes, even if it is plucked and trimmed and cleaned up like a Kardashian on parade. That's just a smoke and mirrors show, and one that psychologically convinces people to put others up on pedestals when we really shouldn't be doing that as much as humans do. Putting people onto pedestals makes them into something we look up to. It makes them into something to be admired.

However, our society could be far more enduring if we admired things that helped large groups of people to flourish instead of elevating undeserving people onto pedestals. What would the world be like if we could banish ideas that a person is "out of your league" and replaced them with "you should be grateful that someone likes you?" A lot of culture, particularly white culture, teaches that we need to find our best selves so that we can rise to the top. It's all about self empowerment. By contrast, indigenous people have a culture that emphasizes finding the best traits in yourself that will best serve your people and help your tribe flourish. It's an entirely different way of looking at things, and it explains a lot about why capitalism, particularly the brand we have in America, is so brutal. It also explains why people I know in real life really struggle with feeling gratitude toward anything. In my personal friend group, people don't like to thank others, because it makes them feel "lesser." It makes them feel like something has been done for them that they could not do themselves. That's a huge problem when your pride gets in the way of letting another person know you appreciate them. But that is America today.

So House of the Dragon is unapologetically grotesque, and I love it. But it isn't off-the-deep-end grotesque. Nope, it just shows people as how they really are. There's a scene in the penultimate episode where Queen Alicent, in order to get information she needs from Larys (the spymaster), must allow him to jerk off while he stares at her naked feet. It's so gross and so undignified. Surely, foot fetishes are uncommon, and this couldn't be a real world scenario. Think again. This kind of fetish is wildly common, and there are all sorts of people you interact with everyday who see sweaty, even stinky feet as a sexual object. Did you know that part of ancient wine-making involved people mashing grapes in vats with their bare feet? What made the wine ferment was the yeast between the toes, which is probably the grossest fact I know from reading articles about wine-making.

What about the multiple scenes of women dying in childbirth? Yep, we've just sanitized it all and thanks to advances in medicine, we've managed to make it possible for women to increasingly survive childbirth. But sex, childbirth, and bodies have always been grotesque, no matter how you size them up and clean them up and try to tighten this and prune off that. And incest is more common than many people want to admit (surely this doesn't happen in my neighborhood!), and people hating and plotting against other family members, and backstabbing at jobs and the list goes on and on. Ask any lawyer about how families tear apart when parents die and siblings argue over money. What about parents that end up having children that abuse them? This happens a lot too. 

People are awful, and they are gross, and it's wonderful. And it's not just poor ugly people. The good looking ones are awful and gross and mean too. They are amoral. I think that's the real beauty of George R.R. Martin. He knows all of this, and he crafts his stories around humans with whom we all can relate. It's anti-Instagram and anti-Tik-Tok. House of the Dragon throws mud and other body fluids on all carefully curated media posts to make cute girls and cute boys look like they are perfect dolls who don't fart, go to the bathroom, or have grotesque desires. It's like George's baseline is a garbage heap, which is how it should be. For example, a man that abuses his daughter with "benign neglect" rather than the other kinds of things at his disposal is actually a good person. Murder is the most horrific crime someone can commit by law. Yet, I'm beginning to think that everyone is capable of it given the right conditions and circumstances. Some will always be better at it than others, just like any other skill. And there will always be "those people" who actually enjoy it. Why? Because humans are terrible, and somehow we've tried to convince ourselves that we aren't.

In the penultimate episode of House of the Dragon we saw Princess Rhaenys (The Queen that Never Was) sneak below the Dragonpit which is filled with people to celebrate Aegon's coronation. Aegon is Alicent's son, and he's a weasel of a person, immature, undeserving, and he will be a terrible king. He'll basically be a tyrant. He's also not the heir. But his mother and the other backstabbing usurpers want the throne for themselves, so they hastily crown him basically ensuring that the country will be plunged into a violent civil war. At Aegon's moment of triumph, she breaks through the concrete floor, scattering small folk and shocking the Greens (Alicent's faction) on the back of her enormous dragon Meleys. Meleys is a swift, ferocious dragon, and with one word, she could end the entire cabal before her and burn them all alive. I would have done this without a second thought. But Rhaenys doesn't for whatever reason, and I think she will live to regret that decision A LOT. Her decision to not do it is very human too. She's in the moment of her power, and chooses to take the high road, forgetting that her opponents will always take the low road, because that's what people do. She chooses not to be a cold-blooded killer, not to be a kingslayer and a kinslayer, and to not have the blood of her nephews and niece on her hands. I know from the story that what awaits Rhaenys is not the same courtesy. But whatever. High road versus low road. I will remember that Rhaenys (in the end) was a decent person, and there are a few of those around. Not everyone can be vile. But it's finding out which ones are vile and which ones are not that makes for a good story.

It's weird to me that all of the things I've talked about above make House of the Dragon "adult" epic fantasy. This is why Game of Thrones is "adult epic fantasy" as well. When we talk about J.R.R. Tolkien's work, the term "Children's Epic Fantasy" comes into play a lot. So that's how I recognize the differences between the two. One is written for adults and one is written for children. And then it gets doubly weird when you meet adults who are obsessed with Tolkien, and you realize that they're arguing over "children's books." However, I wish that the above stuff I've described, i.e., foot fetish scenes, people being gross, murder, incest, and all the things that humans actually do, wasn't considered "adult." Rather, I'd like them to be rebranded. I would say that this story has "real humans" in them, and the other story you are reading has "idealized fantasy humans who are as real as pink unicorns with sparkles." It could come from a desire to interact with adults who truly embrace adulthood, instead of meeting forty-year-olds who act like children and who are married and do crossfit and complain that "adulting is so haaarrrddd." Anyway, I'm looking forward to the season finale, and I'm glad that it's been renewed for a season two. The civil war is going to be awful to watch, but I will thoroughly enjoy watching all these characters perish in horrible ways.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Generation X and every generation to follow was lied to from the beginning: Scarcity is real in everything.

When my friend Meg couldn't find an eighteen pack of eggs in the grocery store on Sunday evening, I realized the truth of that moment: scarcity is very real. And it's in everything. It just wasn't that real in America until 2020. There was an illusion machine here, made from twigs of propaganda, and by a profit-driven healthcare industry that makes money when Americans are happy.

But 2022 scarcity is more than just an uncomfortable truth. It's more than just, "Mike can't find a pack of 18 eggs and must settle for something else." It was also a moment of personal empowerment, because I had an epiphany. It was a moment of validation, because it provided an answer to A LOT of troubling questions I've had about life when things happened to me (and others) that didn't make sense. So, this particular post is dedicated toward pointing out all of this scarcity and making a mockery of the many gaslighty idioms that fall from the lips of people who lack self awareness of their own privilege.

Let's start with Alaska. If you didn't know, Alaska called off (for the first time in history) the snow crab fishing season that such shows as Deadliest Catch have highlighted for cable viewers. Why did they do this? Because the snow crab population has absolutely cratered. It's down like 90%, and they are so panicked by it that they want to conserve what's left and take measures to help the population recover. And that means that fishermen are out of business. So why is this happening? Scarcity...that's why. There aren't enough snow crabs. Who knows? They may go extinct. But the capitalist idiom that could be useful in this situation would be for some smug a-hole to walk around and tell those fishermen, "You just need to work harder." It's the most tone deaf attitude, but hey...I've heard that stuff all my life.

The Mississippi River too is drying up really badly in places. It's so low that barges are having difficulty operating on the "Mighty Mississippi." Below are some pictures, and they aren't from "Chy-NA!" Imagine Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer playing in those puddles near the Memphis bridge. Why is this happening? Because fresh water is scarce, and now people are finally seeing that this scarcity is real and it's everywhere. Is it in Utah? Yep! The Great Salt Lake is now half its size, and you can physically walk to the islands that are in it without getting your feet wet. Is it in California? You betcha. Every year another portion of it burns up. As a result, good clean air from the outdoors is getting scarce too. But maybe some smug a-hole should suggest that we all rake the forest or take shorter showers. That'll fix it! It's not the world that is terrible, silly! It is you! You need to pull on those bootstraps!

There's a loneliness epidemic in the United States. I'm not making this up. Seriously. There are tons and tons of people that no one wants to be around, and I can't blame them. I bet if I asked them, "Would you like attention?" They'd say, "Yes, I would." And then I could reply, "Sorry, there's an attention scarcity right now in the United States." Have you heard that young men are in crisis mode? Have you heard that a lot of angry and disaffected men are becoming violent, because they cannot find consenting partners? I'm gonna take a stab and say there's a love scarcity too. But how is this possible when I've been told on more than one occasion by smug a-holes that "there is someone for everyone."

What about good paying jobs? Surely, there isn't a scarcity of good-paying jobs! Oh...but there is, and there's data to prove it. Not everyone can have a good-paying job. There is always going to be someone who is stuck with the low-paying terrible job. That's how capitalism works. So why don't we teach this? Why don't we tell kids, " is terrible and hard. I don't know how yours is going to go, but you could seriously die alone, broke as a joke, and with no food and water. Everything is scarce, and you need to be grateful for every win and to not crap on people, because life is about survival." But this isn't what we say. Instead I hear, "Oh baby, you deserve anything, and you can do anything. You're so smart. Don't worry about anything. It will all work out." But no it won't! That's a lie. There are plenty of examples of things "not working out!"

Surely there isn't scarcity in food. Oh wait. Yes, there is! There are people in our country who don't have enough food. But wait a minute...this is least there's no scarcity in housing! Oh ding! Wrong again! In my own state, 76% of people can no longer afford a home. Why? Because the people who own homes don't want to sell them unless they pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the official reason (because no one wants to call their neighbor a greedy S.O.B. is that there is "more demand than supply," and "high interest rates" and blah blah blah). Scarcity in money, and scarcity in places for people to live.

I don't know how many times I was told growing up, and then in my twenties, and then in my thirties, and so on and so forth, "Mike...stop making excuses! You just need to work harder. People that work harder get the rewards!" This is a lie. It simply isn't true. Working harder only increases a random chance that something "good" might come of all that labor. But unless you are lucky, it will not overcome scarcity. Period. And living in denial that there is scarcity in literally EVERYTHING and that somehow all the things you failed at are YOUR FAULT BECAUSE...YOU LAZY is just a recipe for mental illness. Ironically, there is no scarcity in mental illness. We now have an abundance of that to go around in the United States.

Is there scarcity in quality medical care? You betcha. Is there scarcity in justice? Yup. Is there scarcity in people who can actually do quality work? Yes. Is there scarcity in good looks? Yes, otherwise a plastic surgery industry would not exist. Is there scarcity in intelligence? Yes, there is., I thought "all men were created equal". Uh...I hate to tell you...but that is just a nice saying to make people feel better. There is scarcity. In. Everything.

It frustrates me that more people don't live in the present and live in the truth of what's really happening. Gaslighting people is a hideous thing to do, and it makes it harder for our society to address scarcity in all of its forms. But in the least, I'm getting a certain kind of validation from the calamities of the world, because I realize that most of the things I failed at were out of my control. I just didn't have the luck and privilege of making those things a reality. It would be so nice if those who do have the luck and privilege (to overcome various scarcities in all of their forms) expressed a little gratitude for just once, instead of being a smug jerk.

How amazing would that be for someone to say, "I'm truly blessed, and I was born with a thing that I take for granted that you literally can never have?" They could finish with, "I am so thankful for this, and I feel so sorry for you. It isn't fair, and life sucks." But I've literally never heard these words from anyone in my life.

That kind of self-awareness (it appears) must be pretty scarce too.

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Rings of Power was a real treat and I'm a fan of hot and thirsty Sauron.

I feel like I'm in the minority based upon online conversations regarding The Rings of Power. But my close friends who watched it with me had as much fun with it by the end as I did. There was some small validation in knowing that we were right about Halbrand being Sauron, although the mystery of who that "other wizard" is, and for that matter who those three white-robed ascetics were who came for him thinking he was Sauron, is another matter. I had previously thought that the kind of power they wielded was reserved for other Istari or "Maia." They most certainly were not at that level, and I got the impression that they'd fought with Gandalf's kind before.

As for the one they referred to as an "Istar," most people think that the "follow your nose" comment means it was Gandalf. If so, I'm okay with that. But other online people who don't outright hate the show think he may be one of the blue wizards whom we know nothing of other than their names in notes from Tolkien: Alatar and Pallando. I think it unlikely that we would get any kind of story about those two, because their names don't appear in The Lord of the Rings or in The Hobbit to my knowledge. And since Amazon has the rights to the footnotes and endnotes of The Return of the King and the names aren't there, it may be that we can't get stories of them for that simple reason. It's also why Gandalf in the movies says of the two blue wizards, "I've quite forgotten their names." They didn't have the rights to them, so they can't say them on screen. It seems like a slight "missed opportunity" when it comes to storytelling. However, I can forgive them given that Sauron makes me thirsty. I think they were like, "Yeah...Sauron needs to be prettier than Aragorn was in those Jackson films." Mission accomplished. Hot Sauron it is.

One thing I learned about yesterday that I thought was impressive is that this show can't get canceled. Apparently, the Tolkien estate insisted as a part of the rights being turned over to Amazon that the show have a run of five seasons consisting of eight episodes each. That makes me happy, because I know I will get an end to this story, or at least one that meshes with the stuff of which I'm way more familiar. As for Galadriel and (almost-certainly-Gandalf), there will be a lack of tension in those two stories. They will spend the next four seasons walking around with invincible plot armor. And unfortunately, almost-certainly-Gandalf will have every nanosecond of his performance compared to Ian McKellan's.

I do have questions though, and they may go unanswered. One big one is: what the hell was Sauron doing in the ocean with those people, in the very first episode? There's no way he could have actually been looking for Galadriel, could he have? It seems like such a huge event to occur out of complete happenstance. I mean...a massive ocean and the one wayward Maia is able to find the one elf who decides at the last minute that she doesn't want to go to Valinor? Right place, right time? Those are some astronomical odds, and "Fate" just isn't enough to explain it. So, I'm thinking, maybe the others on the boat were more of the devoted "Ascetics" and they were trying to help Sauron sneak into Valinor and subvert the Ban of the Valar somehow? Or maybe Sauron was on his way to repent before the Valar, but Galadriel came along and changed his mind and plans?

Another question I have is that almost-certainly-Gandalf uses a lot of power without the need of a staff. And once he gets a staff from one of the Ascetics, he then becomes unbeatable. I'm just wondering why he was able to use the powers that he did before he got his staff, because I remember something about wizards being quite diminished without their staves.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to season two. Anyone else in that boat?

Friday, October 14, 2022

Why do we need fourth wall breaks? Is this a fad that can please go away now?

Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame were the peak. It's been all downhill ever since. Although I've been entertained by what came after, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (by and large) is not really all that good anymore (look...I liked the Hellraiser movie on Hulu, and it was not I have a low bar). The multiverse introduction, all the different Spidermen, and the fourth-wall breaking that we always get in every She-Hulk episode is (I think) not all that exciting. I also do understand that breaking the fourth wall is something that happens a lot in She-Hulk comics. I don't read She-Hulk, so maybe I'm lacking that experience on seeing how cool it is. But I actually do like suspension of disbelief, and it's kinda impossible to hit that amazing escapism you can get from a movie if your character goes into the writer's room, which is what happened in She-Hulk's finale.

Like, in the episode, Jen argues to Marvel that She-Hulk is at first a lawyer comedy and a Marvel series second. And then she gets to make changes to her own narrative. I mean...she used the Disney+ menu to enter another show. Like, really? She argues with the very writers of her show, who are actually writing this scene anyways, from the first scene of the show to the last scene. For what it's worth, I don't like the "it was all a dream" trope that writers sometimes use either. I think it's just a matter of taste, and my taste leans that way.

And to be clear, I'm all for watching something fun and goofy. Not everything has to fit neatly into the MCU puzzle. I'm also not clear on what Emil's whole purpose was in this show. Is he just doing self-help seminars now? I do get that he's part of the Thunderbolts, but the whole way of getting him there seems a bit sloppy with his character arc in She-Hulk.

It's got to be hard to follow up a huge story arc that ended with Thanos, a snap that removed half the life in the universe, and time travel that was necessary to reverse all of that wherein we still lost two great heroes. So, I appreciate that they are throwing so much at the wall to see what sticks. I really liked the show as a whole, but this ending fell flat for me. I guess maybe my expectations were out of wonk. Or something. I feel like I should be saying to Marvel, "It's not you, it's me." And leave it at that. Honestly...why do we need fourth wall breaks? Is this a fad that can please go away now?

I suppose that the next thing I need to watch is Werewolf by Night. I hope that ends up being more satisfying.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

AMC's reboot of Interview with the Vampire is a wonderful and modern adaptation of Anne Rice's most famous work.

I have been watching Interview with the Vampire on AMC. Jacob Anderson plays Louis de Pointe du Lac, who is the star of the book and the series. The last time I saw Jacob, he was playing "Grey Worm" on Game of Thrones (which ended in 2019). I was always impressed with Jacob Anderson in the role of Grey Worm. To be clear, the acting on Game of Thrones was some of the best that has ever graced the screen. So, I'm sure that Jacob rose to the occasion being surrounded by people who took their characters so seriously and who played them with such intensity. Anderson was no exception to this as he played his guts out of the role handed to him by the showrunners as the leader of the Unsullied. This new role as Louis is such a departure from that previous one that I didn't immediately recognize him until about twenty minutes into the show.

Joining him in this sordid tale of vampire love is another actor named Sam Reid, who plays Lestat de Lioncourt. I have to think that Anne Rice would be impressed were she still alive. Sam seems like a perfect casting of this character as he fits the description of Lestat from the books so closely that I instantly recognized him. Louis of course (in the books) was not a person of color. But that doesn't matter as the most important aspect of Louis was his gentleness that is at odds with the violence that being a vampire demands. Anderson captures this perfectly, and I think being a person of color in the show fits the narrative rather well, especially with it being set in turn-of-the-century New Orleans.

As I watch this show, I can't help but think that this is the kind of horror that I actually like to watch. I'm not one for truly scary "gotcha moment" shows or movies that feature slasher-like villains that stalk their prey throughout a movie. This tale of lovely vampires circling one another in a romance that Dante could have written is right up my alley. The series is also peppered with Easter Eggs for those with a keen eye by virtue of its art and paintings. In the second episode, there's a painting that the journalist interviewing Louis sees, and he is told by Louis that it was painted by an artist named Marius. I know from the Vampire Chronicles that Marius is an ancient vampire that watches over Akasha and Enkil, who are the oldest vampires on the planet (former rulers of Egypt) and in possession of the primal power from which all vampires derive their lineage. Another reviewer spotted a Rembrandt painting in one of the scenes that was famously stolen from a museum, and which is still unaccounted for to this day. Knowing that makes me like the series even more, because it shows a careful deliberation on the directors of this thing to build the world in which these vampires inhabit.

To be fair, this version of Anne Rice's work is different and reinvented. It takes liberties from the original work to update and diversify it for a modern audience. This is just how things are being done now, and I do agree that this needs to be done. However, I wasn't really a fan of other versions of these stores that had been done thus far, including the Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise led movie where I thought Tom Cruise had none of the charisma that Lestat is supposed to have, and Pitt was kind of a letdown as far as his portrayal of Louis. So, to me, this new adaptation had only to be better than the garbage that came before, and in just its first two episodes it has done that. I think Jacob Anderson does a much better job of hitting the notes that I thought made Louis special in the original book. And Lestat...well, as I've said above...he's honestly perfect. In her original writings, Anne Rice flirted quite a bit with homosexuality, but she never really went all the way. The producers of this show embraced the gay, and the characters are unapologetically so. It is a thing that I find both amazing and pleasing, that we could get these fantastic gay characters who are so lovingly written about by their creator. I can't help but think that it was something Anne Rice would have wanted, if she could have just shed the fear of having her writing judged by bigots. This fundamental fear is probably at the core of every writer, but especially true to someone like Anne Rice who had achieved so much and at the same time, lived a life filled with various tragedies.

There are peppering's too of what I think are Anne Rice's end of life beliefs (she was a complicated person through and through). In the latter half of her life, she became a devoted Christian, moved away from New Orleans, and quite frankly, wrote a lot of books that I will never read, because they are filled to the brim with her faith. One of the ways this shows up in Interview with the Vampire on AMC is Louis hears the "heartbeats" of twins inside his sister's womb, and she's probably only six weeks pregnant. Science has shown us that there is no heartbeat at this time, and that it is (in fact) the ultrasound machine that creates a false heartbeat based upon sensory readings. In other words, the "heartbeat" heard on an ultrasound is completely faked by a machine. When I heard Louis saying he "heard heartbeats" I thought to myself, "That's the ghost of Anne Rice confirming heartbeats in a womb that shouldn't be there to pander to Christians who may watch this thing." But...whatever. It's not a hill I'm willing to die on and quite frankly, any movement of a person toward more progressive views is a victory against fascism and white nationalism.

Another departure from the books is to change the location of the interview. Instead of being located in the states, the interview with Louis takes place in Dubai. I thought this was an interesting choice, but it does put the action a lot closer to the Middle East where the oldest vampires in the world reside in Rice's mythology. I (for one) look forward to seeing who they have cast for Armand, who is a 350- to 400-year-old vampire if memory serves. For a lot of vampires, he's the oldest that they know, but that's mostly because the truly antediluvian vampires just aren't that present anymore. They kind of keep to themselves and rarely reveal their presence, pretty much shunning the younger generation who are their children. It is Lestat (in fact) who begins to wake them up with his love for music. In the timeline of Interview with the Vampire, Lestat is asleep (in vampire torpor), because he's gotten bored of everything and the thing with Louis has become unsatisfactory, and he felt he had no power to correct the course. So, he chose to go to sleep for a long time. What wakes him up is that the world's music changes to something that enchants him, particularly heavy metal and other kinds of things he's never heard of. It slowly brings him to consciousness, and he makes an appearance to tell his own story after Interview with the Vampire becomes a best seller and captures the world's imagination. Lestat (of course) thinks Louis is just whining away, and I think in his own right, he wants to "set the record straight."

It is Armand (in the books) who comes into conflict with Lestat and Louis, so he'll have an important and divisive role to play in this show, especially once Louis creates a child of his own in Claudia (who was a fascinating if not doomed character). Antonio Banderas in the movie from many years ago was (quite honestly) a terrible choice for Armand, even if I enjoy his speaking voice quite a bit. Armand needs to be young, almost too young which kinda scratches at that taboo that Louis commits when he makes Claudia. They will need to be careful with the casting of Armand, because they won't want him to visibly age over the seasons that they plan to do this thing. Someone like Tom Holland comes to mind, who can still play a seventeen-year-old even though he's like 26.

I also enjoy the pettiness with which the actor Sam Reid plays Lestat. Lestat was always one of the petty gays (a stereotype). He was stunningly beautiful, but an artiste in his own right. He was never a master of any art, but he was good enough to be pompous and full of himself and to know what true genius looks like. And like any artist in this range, he has strong opinions about things like opera. If it is performed perfectly, he's in love and humble and grateful. If it is performed badly, he's moved to anger. There's a scene in the show where the tenor of an opera he takes Louis to hits many flat notes, and Lestat cuts his own finger and puts a spot of blood on the musical score on each place that the tenor fails. Then afterward, he takes the tenor to his home and humiliates him by telling him what he did wrong when he sang those notes. And then he and Louis make a dinner of the tenor, and they draw it out all night long as a punishment for the many transgressions that he visited upon Lestat by singing a note poorly. Killing him is an act of mercy by Lestat, as he removes this horrible singer from ever gracing a public stage again. It is a monstrous act, but one that befits an ancient serial killer if his caliber.

And this (I suppose) is the horror of this tale. It is (in fact) the story of a serial killer...just one that we aren't used to seeing. It's funny that I can be so enraptured in the tale of Lestat and by extension, Louis, and that seeing them kill humans doesn't bother me. There is little difference I suppose from Lestat and Jason in the Friday the 13th franchise. However, to me they are leagues apart. Yes, they both kill. But Lestat is a romantic figure that is dreamy, chaotic, and powerful while the typical killer in slasher flicks is nothing but a monster. I struggle to understand why I like one so much more over the other. But I do. It's obvious that others do as well, because vampires are probably the most successful monster of all time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

For October's Insecure Writer's Support Group post I identify the best characteristic of my favorite genre.

October 2022 is upon us. It's usually just "another month" for me, as I'm not really into scary things or decorating for Halloween. But this October feels a bit more special, because I'm really enjoying the fantastic entertainment that I get via streaming. It honestly feels like I'm living in a candy store, and I get to watch such delights as Hellraiser (Hulu), Hocus Pocus 2 (Disney+), the Rings of Power (Amazon), Andor (Disney +), Interview with the Vampire (AMC), The School for Good and Evil (Netflix), and The Cabinet of Curiosities (Netflix). And being the first Wednesday of October, it also means that I get to post once again for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. If you are a first-timer to my blog (unlikely but it could happen), then allow me to explain what the IWSG is.

First off, it was created by Alex Cavanaugh. You can find his website HERE. Alex has been blogging and for a long time, which makes me realize that I've been blogging for a long time. That's just really weird. Anyway, here is more about the Insecure Writer's Support Group, and why you should join.

Purpose: 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!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. 

The Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the October 5th posting of the IWSG are Tonja Drecker, Victoria Marie Lees, Mary Aalgaard, and Sandra Cox!

Every month, the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Remember, the question is optional!

October 5th question - What do you consider the best characteristics of your favorite genre?

The category in which I write and read the most is speculative fiction. So it is my favorite. Speculative fiction paints with a broad brush, encompassing genres with elements that do not exist in reality, recorded history, nature, or the present universe. Works of speculative fiction cover various themes in the context of the supernatural, futurism, comic books, magic, and many other imaginative realms. My favorite genres under the speculative fiction umbrella are fantasy and then science fiction.

I think the best characteristic of fantasy and science fiction is that it lets me be somebody else. When I read a book, I kind of become the main character, no matter if it is told in third person, second, or first. This is the magic that a book of speculative fiction can do. It takes me out of the banality of living in this world of ours where everything seems expensive and where interacting with others can oftentimes be traumatic and abusive and disappointing. It repackages us into another skin where we learn about things we never knew and see wonders that we would otherwise never see. It is a great thing to experience love and loss, heartbreak and hardship, all from the safety of one's chair. Or if one's living conditions are not so great, to have those walls melt away and to find oneself somewhere else for a while.

It's not easy to tell you why escapism is important, because the very idea of it is so complex. I just know that escapism is important for many people. Maybe not so much for the richest and most beautiful among us who obviously crave attention and receive more than they can use. However, few of us fit into that particular box. Speculative fiction in all of its forms is a human creation with the sole purpose of making our lives more tolerable. And it works, and makes a functioning society that more likely. What would our society be if we had no stories to listen to from books to television to movies? Especially for older folks who live alone or for folks who know of no one that wants to spend time around them, the hours and days would be very long indeed. And if you're someone that wants to tell me that loneliness is not an epidemic in the world, don't bother. I've seen how many older folks end up in America firsthand. Oftentimes, adults can't stand being around them unless they can score free stuff. If you have nothing to give, benign neglect is one of the better things for which you can hope.

Humans are very good at gaslighting others with phrases like "there's someone for everyone" and "violence solves nothing" and "honesty is the best policy" and "justice is blind" and "all men are created equal" and "all lives matter" when we see everyday things contrary to these sayings that cause people to flourish and be rewarded with riches. If anything, the power of speculative fiction allows us to see ways in which we can account for these traumas and horrors, and it empowers us with solutions to deal with the pain of living. Just look at the works of George R.R. Martin. There's a reason why in Game of Thrones Missandei's last words were, "Dracarys" before Queen Cersei had her head removed from her shoulders. The power of speculative fiction is here to remind us that we are not powerless before the things that hurt us and make our lives miserable. The imagination is such a marvelous coping tool for what ails us. I just wish that it wasn't so needed.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Here are all the thoughts I have about Rings of Power that must be said.

This last Friday, we were treated to a pretty spectacular episode of Rings of Power. The title of the episode was called Udûn, and from what I understand, in the Elvish Sindarin it means "dark pit" or "hell." Additionally, it is a valley of Mordor thought to have been formed by volcanic activity. Okay then.

In the events of episode 6, we saw (essentially) the formation of Mordor. I wasn't expecting this, but it was a real treat. I had just assumed that Mordor was always a choking ash-filled place of death. I never thought that it would have been green and lush with livestock around and people living there. I just didn't. And suddenly, I have so many questions and thoughts about what is going on in Rings of Power.

Using the magical handle of a broken sword, one of the humans (Waldreg) who swore allegiance to Adar (an elf that claims he killed Sauron, but obviously serves Sauron) in the last episode grabbed the handle and used it to "unlock" whatever it is that it was supposed to unlock. It turns out that it started a series of events that had been built (presumably) by Sauron. All of this is so damned unclear. But who else could engineer something like that? Here's what happened.

A dam that trapped a lot of water was released, the water flowed through tunnels dug by the orcs (so this was purposeful and maybe they got the message that these tunnels are essential for them to have a home), and it all emptied into the heart of a volcano which forced an eruption. I can only assume at this point, that this volcano is Mount Doom. And its eruption must create Mordor, which is a safe place for the orcs to live. They burn in the sunlight, and they really don't like green things at all. Smoke and ash and apocalyptic landscapes are kinda where they do their best thriving. And this suddenly made me understand that the orcs just wanted a place to live, and Sauron gave it to them.

So suddenly, I'm like...wait...the orcs just wanted a home? Am I becoming sympathetic to these blackened, slimy, crusty, ugly, and evil creatures? I mean...if I was an orc, I'd want a place where I could live and have baby orcs. I'm so confused now. Rings of Power is inserting all of these thoughts into my head that just weren't there before about this Tolkien property. But I seem to recall that Tolkien (somewhere) wrote that the orcs weren't inherently evil creatures. I just never assumed that this meant anything of real note here as it is a subtle thing to assume about orcs in Tolkien's Middle Earth. Like...what does that mean exactly? It turns out, it means a lot.

Here's another thought: I think Halbrand is Sauron, and Adar killed him like Gandalf got killed, but now he's back because some of the Maiar do that thing where they come back (sometimes more powerful). I also think that Halbrand/Sauron might have kinda wanted to go straight and just live as a Numenorian smith for a while, but Galadriel fucked that up. So suddenly I'm seeing that Sauron might not have been all bad (read this as he had good within him), and Galadriel has evil in her in that she's directly responsible for returning Sauron to Middle Earth (because she has a clear obsession with him). Additionally, there are such things as orcs who don't want to serve evil at least in the form of Sauron, but other kinds of evil. Maybe. Honestly, my mind has really been opened a lot by Amazon's take on this.

But someone might ask, why would Sauron be content with being a smith? I do remember something from The Silmarillion which described Sauron humbling himself and showing true repentance to Eonwe, the herald of the Valar, after Morgoth's defeat. Sauron was told that he would have to travel back to Valinor to beg forgiveness from the Valar directly, and then do many years of penance. Would you want to do that? Me neither. So suddenly, Sauron seems more humanized when I recall this tidbit of information. So Sauron, just like what we'd do, hides away until the Valar had all left Middle-Earth. So this is essentially what he's doing now, and killing time as a Numenorian smith seemed like something that wasn't "unreasonable" for Sauron to do.

And then there's the stuff about Sauron being in the North, and about trying to find some dark magic that eluded even him. I think this "dark magic" thing is probably Mount Doom. He needed to get that volcano going, and Mordor transformed so that he could use it to forge the One Ring. There's something special about Mount Doom. Maybe its fires burn hotter or there's some magical concentration of something that we don't know about yet that is crucial to him being able to forge the One Ring there. I need Amazon to tie the threads together for me on this, and relate it back to Celebrimbor and the super forge being constructed which will obviously be producing the other rings. 

Anyway, as you can see a lot of thoughts got started because of this last episode. I'm looking forward to more, and season 2 is already filming. What a treat we have all been served. Anyone else have any thoughts?

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