Monday, July 31, 2023

I was not expecting Barbie to be as great as it was.

I saw the Barbie movie this weekend. I didn't expect that it would have such depth to its story, or that it would raise so many existential questions. There's a lot to unpack in the Barbie movie, so here's your spoiler warning in case you haven't seen it, and it looks like something you'd very much like to watch.

Conservative media was quick to brand the Barbie movie as yet another attack on masculinity. I definitely can see where people might think that. It's easy to assume that whenever anything is being criticized (or when people are painting boundaries) that the thing in question is "under attack." In this particular instance, that "thing" would be "patriarchy" and "toxic masculinity." But I think the message is more complex, and it comes through the words of the creator of Barbie as the ghost of Ruth Handler. In one of the best scenes in the movie, this ghost says to Barbie that ideas live forever. She points out that the pain of being human causes us to make up all kinds of things. Patriarchy is one of those things. But there are dozens of other things that we make up too that end up being harmful.

For both the Ken's and the Barbies in the movie, unrealistic body expectations are made up things that have been heaped on both genders. And the ones who have always been on top have always made it rough for the people who have been on the bottom. But it doesn't have to be this way, because "its all made up." It reminds me in some ways of the war that is going on between artists and people who are using a.i. I'm in several Facebook groups where people excitedly post their a.i. art and share their prompts, I have observed that an argument breaks out almost every other day. Do not underestimate what I'm saying here. These arguments generate upwards of a thousand comments in which artists are trashing a.i. and a.i. "prompt engineers" are calling artists "obsolete do nothings" or worse. The whole art industry looks like it is in meltdown, and art majors and art schools will probably vanish within ten years as there literally is no money for those people who want to do that kind of work now. It makes me sad, but this is just how humans are.

For the longest time, people who excelled at anything really would kind of lord that over people who were trying to do the same thing who couldn't. It shouldn't be a newsflash that people aren't born equal. Some have gifts and talents and assets that other people just don't have, and they start way ahead. If life were a race, everyone has a different starting point and some people are born in the deepest holes and are expected to climb out of that. If you realize that what I'm saying is true, you can see why a.i. is such a gift to so many people. Suddenly along comes this machine that can do the thing better than everyone, and the people who had no talent are flocking in droves to use the machine to be able to finally create things that they've wanted to be able to do and could never afford to do. And (at first) the artists laugh until they realize that they've been replaced. And now insults fly back and forth between the two camps of people. One is gloating that they now are in a position where they don't need the other. And the other is scared that they are going to be replaced and will have to eek out a living like people they previously had contempt for. It's awful, but its human nature.

But the message of Barbie is that it doesn't have to be this way. However, it isn't all rosy in its messaging either. It freely admits that equality for all people may come in time, but that history doesn't paint such a rosy picture of how things have gone in the past.

I have to give Mattel a few kudos that it was willing to poke so much fun at itself in this. The boardroom that wants to guide women on their path is completely run by men. And they allowed Aqua's song "Barbie Girl" to be sampled into a new song for the movie that plays over the credits. Originally, Mattel tried to sue Aqua for defamation for coming out with that song, which has some pretty rapey lyrics to it. But now, they see that it's basically what people do with Barbie dolls. And even though Barbie gave girls a lot of representation in different fields, there was always the question of, "What was Ken?" And by the end of the movie, we realize that he's just a stand-in for straight American (modern) men who decided to tie their self worth to a girlfriend's approval.

This take on the state of the modern man surprised me. It's an untenable position for many, where boys are told by the system that their entire worth as a man rests on their ability to get a woman to be their girlfriend. In Ken's case, he doesn't even know what to do with a girlfriend. He just knows he needs to have one. But since the Barbies are independent and self-sufficient, they don't need a Ken. So a Ken has no reason to exist.

In the movie, Ken's journey is a particular fascination for me. Ken (once he's in the real world) finds that men rule everything, and he interprets it the way a lot of people in Ken's position would interpret it in order to refute its existence: all men are on top by the very fact of being men. But then he gets his dose of reality: being a man is not enough. You have to be the right kind of man. You have to be educated and wealthy, and meet a number of arbitrary criteria. The ending message then is that if Ken wants to be happy, he needs to define his own role in life. And society needs to change so that Ken has that space to find that role. And our current society (sadly) too often does not allow for this kind of self-discovery.

As I finish this essay on Barbie I want to end with this: one gender being in charge and ignoring the struggles of the other is a problem. But honestly, it goes beyond gender. Just replace that word with just about anything else within context, and you'll understand what I'm saying. One "caste" being in charge and ignoring the struggles the other is a problem. One political party being in charge and ignoring the struggles of the other is a problem. And repeat, etc. We all could do better, and once again, it doesn't have to be this way.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Boimler and Mariner from Lower Decks just crossed over in live action to Strange New Worlds and the episode was amazing.

The Star Trek Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks crossover was pretty great. If you haven't seen it online yet, then you should be aware that I'm gonna talk about it in this post. So, this is your one and only "Spoiler Warning."

In the episode called "These Old Scientists," Boimler (played by Jack Quaid and my favorite character in Lower Decks) gets sent a century or so into the past by a time-travel device. Shenanigans ensue, as he arrives right in front of Pike and Spock (who are his heroes), and they (then) take him back to the Enterprise to try and find a solution to send him back to the future. A little while later, their solution doesn't pan out as the time travel device also spits out Mariner (also from Lower Decks).

I can say without any doubt that I want more of this. I hope that Lower Decks crosses over with Strange New Worlds in a future season as it was so much fun. But here are a few random thoughts I had after viewing the episode and having a little time to think about what I saw:

1) The moment when Nurse Chapel realized that her relationship with Spock doesn't even make it to a historical footnote was genuinely touching. "History needs him to be the exact opposite of what you need him to be in a relationship" would have been very difficult to hear.

2) The scene where Ortegas and Uhura idolized Mayweather and Hoshi from Enterprise (the Star Trek series that a lot of people didn't like) was a lot of fun. It just took the Lower Deckers being present for it to come out. There's nothing quite like being validated to make things come to the surface (which I suppose is why we need to prevent this kind of validation around negative things like white supremacy).

3) The episode also sets up characters from Lower Decks and from Strange New Worlds to experience future growth. Pike was given a nudge to make the most of his remaining time to forge bonds. Number One received affirmation that she is the ideal of Starfleet in the wake of her trials. Uhura realized work/life balance helps both and collaboration leads to unexpected results. And as for Boimler and Mariner, I feel like in meeting their heroes, they appreciated their own timeline so much more.

4) I loved a lot of the fan service that the show received from historical episodes of Trek. For example, Boimler yells out "Q" only to be corrected by Mariner that in this time period the crew hasn't met Q, but there's going to be a whole "Trelane" thing (if I remember correctly, the role of Trelane was played by Liberace). 

5) They changed the intro so that it was animated, and it had a smiling Koala and what looked like a space worm from the Lower Decks intro attached to the Enterprise's nacelle.

6) And can we all just take a moment to note how great the Cerritos uniforms look in live action? They are definitely one of the best-looking Starfleet uniforms, and they did a great job translating the animation design into a workable uniform costume.

7) I want Pelia to star on Lower Decks. Her alien's long life should allow it to be easily slipped in without too much trouble.

8) Boimler really does have blue hair. I always thought maybe it was blue/black, but nope. It's blue.

Monday, July 24, 2023

My thoughts on Oppenheimer

This weekend, like many audiences around the world, I went to see Christopher Nolan's latest film called Oppenheimer. The decision to go was fun. For the first time in a while I had to strategize. It made me realize that my "movie going skills" were a little rusty, having atrophied quite a bit as the theaters have been noticeably emptier than I ever remember them being. But for Oppenheimer I had a suspicion that this might be a more popular movie. So, I decided to try and buy tickets early, which put me on a path of narrowing choices.

The first thing I wanted to do was see it in IMAX. We have several theaters in my town that offer IMAX, but as I've gotten bigger around the middle (and older) and my friends that were going with me have (for the most part) done the same, I wanted to try for luxury seating in the IMAX. Luxury seating is where one row has been dedicated to reclining seats. Personally, I think all seats should be recliners. And the Cinemarks in my area have all done this. But they don't have an IMAX theater. So, I tried looking at all showtimes for Oppenheimer within the next week to see if that row of special "luxury seats" had all been filled. had. Like literally sold out for as far ahead as they schedule events, and in every IMAX in the Salt Lake valley.

So then I started to question my own decision on seeing it in IMAX. There are only 17 theaters nationwide in IMAX that offer Oppenheimer in 70mm format, and none of those are in my state. The rest are just a bigger screen. But the sound system in the other theaters that I usually go to (Cinemark) is always good. And from what I understand, all 70mm does is make the film look hyper-realistic with its resolution, adding to the film immersion. I don't know if that necessarily would have made the viewing of Oppenheimer any better. That's when I decided that I'd just give up on the IMAX experience and go to the Cinemark and watch it there. And that's what myself and two of my friends ended up doing. In the following paragraphs, I'm going to talk about my takes from Oppenheimer which (as far as I can tell) are all parts of history. So I don't think there are any spoilers, unless you think that history is a spoiler. If that is you, then this is your "spoiler warning."

I think (for me) J. Robert Oppenheimer was the only historical figure in this movie that I actually liked. I've never been a fan of the era in which this man lived. And all of the things you would expect about the telling of this story happen within the background to all of these important men doing whatever they needed to do in order to win a war that had consumed the world. Yes, we need to remember that hundreds of thousands of people were going to die and were dying. War is awful. But the movie Oppenheimer is here to firmly validate that not only is war awful, but that war is human, and humans are awful to each other all of the time.

War then is just the escalation of hatred of the other to the most violent circumstances. And what one nation says is peace can in many ways be defined by another as "tyranny." But that's just how the chips fall with our species. All of us have never been united, and barring that utopia of a one world government, there is always a winner and a loser. When you think of nation states deciding the outcomes of civilization, you realize that there are always power brokers and arms races within the borders of any single nation that you pick. It's always a "game of thrones," and J. Robert Oppenheimer, the historical figure and scientist, was smack dab in the middle of a toxic mix of people who were patriots (yes...of that there is no doubt), but they were also men feeding off vast narcissistic supply in the pursuit of their legacy and their greatness.

That they were really smart boys (in men's bodies) being mothered by their wives while they went about the important task of ending the war and bringing other boys home is never lost on me. At one point, Matt Damon's character (a general in charge of building the entire town of Los Alamos) says to a scientist that "this is the most important work in the history of mankind" or something like that. The point in me quoting that is that is very important. But then...of course it is...because men rule everything and everything that the men participated in was in fact important. That importance is everywhere. And history shows it probably was the most important thing in the history of mankind. But the irony of that statement isn't lost on me because of the blatant sexism of that time period. But all of that is just historical fact.

The importance of developing the bomb was left to men while women just needed to focus on the laundry and provide sex when needed and definitely keep the houses cleaned so that important meetings could take place. Oh...and child rearing too. Men didn't rear children. If your wife was overwhelmed you drove your crying brat to another house and imposed on another man's wife. That's just how things were done. It makes me wonder why our species is so awful, and why I'm not excited or nostalgic for those times. As a man, I clearly stood to benefit, right? So why wouldn't I want to return to the forties and fifties in America? Only it's clear to me I wouldn't have been smart enough in this particular time period to warrant a level of importance that excused abusing others for the sake of getting something done and ending a huge war. So, maybe it would have been left to me to do the cleaning and the serving of drinks while important men sat around discussing ideas. I'll pass on that, thanks. And we see a lot of that today, right? Everyone saying "no thanks" to that kind of undignified work, which is why we have a labor shortage in America right now. I can't say that I blame anyone making that choice, because "being important" is a small group and it is most definitely not inclusive.

The movie Oppenheimer is a remarkable film. But it is less about the development of the bombs that were dropped on the Japanese, and it is more about this historical figure that the author (that is the movie's source material) likened to a "Prometheus." This is a Titan that stole fire from the gods and gave it to man to do with as he pleased. That then is the metaphor used to describe the man J. Robert Oppenheimer who was punished by his own government, because they feared his power to sway public opinion regarding toxic capitalism. In other words, this incredibly intelligent man spoke of restraint.

He wanted to limit those who had placed their hands upon something that they sensed would give them the unlimited means to bulldoze a path wherever they wanted to go. He foresaw that this would just start an arms race (which it did). There have always been those men who have no restraint and look at you with a puzzled look when you say, "You need to keep your pig in check. Stop being a glutton." To them their desire is just absolute freedom. It is the freedom to do anything to anyone and anywhere at anytime and you can't stop them because they are more powerful. Others might view that as tyranny, but these terms are just two sides of the same coin. In their eyes, if you limit someone, then you are the bad guy. But the thing is (and we are still learning this today), when there are no limits, it leaves very little for the rest of us. A healthy society has to have limits and personal responsibilities and accountabilities. J. Robert Oppenheimer knew this, and it made everyone else who was in his orbit (who believed the opposite) really angry. That's just unfortunate.

This movie is definitely a thumbs up. It is filled with A-Listers jostling for scraps in a script that is thankfully crowded with lots of words for them to memorize and perform in front of the camera. There were easily three to four Oscar winners taking bit parts in this movie. Rami Malek and Casey Affleck are two that I spotted. Matt Damon's part was much larger (another Oscar winner). It shows how much power Nolan has as a Director that these people probably fought hard to get into this movie to help solidify their status as the best actors in the world. This is also a film for men. The women are there, yes, but their roles are not really memorable at all. I don't blame Nolan. That's just how history was, and I trust that he's telling it like it is (at least to the best of our knowledge). I'm just glad I didn't have to grow up in these times, and that I was able to find friends who are not consumed with their own legacy and greatness. Being around those kinds of people would have taken a mental toll on me (I'd probably have developed all kinds of mental illnesses and personality disorders). It also would have been exhausting, because there would have been sparingly few emotional connections one could make. At the end of the day, the work everyone was doing was too important for anything but the work itself.

I like to end these reviews by asking myself if I would watch this movie again. It was an excellent movie, and I definitely think everyone should see it. But I don't think I'd watch it again. It's thick subject matter, and it affects my mood in a way that I wouldn't classify as entertainment. But for what it's worth, a single viewing of it was time well spent. It's also a reminder that nothing was ever as important as the Manhattan Project was, but there is never a shortage of self-important people walking the Earth who would argue that point with you while seeking to use you as their own personal doormat. If we are all smart, we'll keep that from happening, and by doing so build a better future for our shared civilization.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Watching Ted Lasso makes me wish I had better resilience.

I'm a few episodes into Ted Lasso, and I'm enjoying it. I heard about this series by word-of-mouth, and the constant yammerings of "you should watch this show" were not lost on me. Having only scratched the surface of what's there, I'm already predicting that this is a story of how one swell guy just kinda wins over all of the nasty people who eventually begin to stop being so nasty. I suppose then that it's a testament to the power of being kind and respectful to those who have trauma (or complex PTSD from trauma) and a bit about the road to healing from all of that. All in all, I'd boil it down to this: Ted Lasso appears to be a show about people learning to be better people. I think that's a strong premise for a story too. My friend Meg put it best when she stated that "emotional growth in people is an incredibly compelling thing to watch."

In some ways, it feels like a situational comedy. Maybe this is because the episodes are short. Even though it's scripted, there are things that I wish I could take from Ted Lasso (the title character). I've had the fortune to know people like him, and I've always thought the same thing of them as well. And this is simply that I wish I could react better to real-time social situations (that turn threatening). In other words, I need more resilience. Let me take a moment to define that term for you as it pertains to mental health.

Resilience is the ability to adapt to difficult situations. When stress, adversity, or trauma strikes, you still experience anger, grief and pain. However, you're able to keep functioning both physically and psychologically. Examples of resilience might be viewing a setback as impermanent. Another example is the ability to reframe setbacks as opportunities for growth and to manage strong emotions and impulses. This (unfortunately) is not me, but it is Ted Lasso.

I tend to always look at the negative aspects of something I'm experiencing (due to a lifetime of microaggressions and trauma), and I can react with a nastiness that doesn't help any situation but actually seems to make it worse. I wish that I wasn't this way, and that I could look at someone the same way Ted does when I feel I've been slighted or insulted, and then just turn it into a joke.

When I'm under attack, I can actually feel my blood pressure rising, and then I attack back. Ted doesn't do this in his situations. When he's under attack (has had a boundary exploded in his face), Ted is calm, cool, and collected and then he (for the most part) responds with something that just makes you want to like him. It's a credit to Sudeikis (the actor), because he lends a kind of charisma to Ted that almost seems supernatural. He's a person that could look at something that could seem "high stakes" to me, and then show me why "this is just life" and "don't let it bother you." In other words, this character has remarkably good mental health. Maybe I should be asking why this is so, when it's clear that he gets abused and underappreciated by so many people. That's probably where the fiction of the show lies, right? Mental abuse leaves a mark on a person's mind, and it's unrealistic to think that someone could have as much resilience as Ted Lasso does. But it's not impossible at the same time. If there's anything I've learned it is this: everyone's resilience is different, and I don't think that there are definitive reasons as to why this is so.

Anyway, that's all I have to share about this show as of right now. I think I'm on episode 3. I'll try to add more insights as I progress through the series and point out things that I like. But even three episodes in, it has already taught me one thing about myself that I hadn't consciously recognized and put into words. That right there makes it a little remarkable.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Artificial Intelligence has already devalued a lot of the skills that took years for people to master.

For my last post of the week, I'm going to say that book publishing and writing books has never felt more useless. First off though...I'm not depressed. I'm thinking with a clear head as I write this, and I want to tell you a story of one author named Tim Boucher who is making thousands of dollars using AI to write his books for him. Here's the link to the original article on Newsweek if you'd like to peruse it for yourself.

The "To Long, Didn't Read" version of that article is that Tim released his 97th book in May, and he started in August 2022. He uses ChatGPT to write each book. It features between 2,000 to 5,000 words, and then he uses Midjourney A.I. to generate from 40 to 140 images (I've played around with both of these and they are absurdly powerful--Midjourney is actually stunning in its art). He does one whole book in three hours. Between August and May he sold 575 books for a total of nearly $2,000.00. The books cross-reference each other to encourage them to keep buying.

So, why do I think that publishing and writing books is useless? Well...humans can't compete with that for one. And there was always a tsunami of self-publishing that washed up on the shores of Amazon, so trying to get your name out there through sheer volume of work was already difficult. However, there are now things that no one has ever seen. There are so many books flooding the marketplace that I predict it will be harder than ever for a person to make any money at this kind of endeavor. And ChatGPT honestly writes pretty good. There have been times when I've read what it has written and said to myself, "That sounds like something I would write." And it just keeps getting better.

You can tell it to write in the style of J.K. Rowling or write in the style of Stephen King. The absurdity of something that can just do things better than you can and charges no money should be cause for alarm for everyone who is interested in preserving the arts. However, the genie is out of the bottle now. I think artists and anyone interested in the liberal arts is honestly screwed. Unless you are incredibly lucky and you go viral for some reason, you should keep your day job. And whatever your day job should be worried about being able to keep that and develop skills and work that a.i. cannot do. One example is doing something physical. At my job for the State of Utah, I have to meet in person with clients and the meetings can be involved, including driving out to their homes in various parts of the state. Thus far, artificial intelligence can't do that. So my job is safe...for now.

And you know the other weird mind job that I have with a.i.? It's basically a willing slave. I don't want to mince words here. It works and works and works for nothing. So all of these people who love it were actually really (deep down inside) wanting a slave. They really were. And now that they can have one that slaves away for them and does all of these things but doesn't cause them a morality crisis, they are coming out of the woodwork by the millions. They say, "a.i. is a tool that I use.", it is not. A.I. does everything for you, and you sit on your ass and think of prompts. That is not a tool. That's like saying a baker that bakes a cake and you just pick it up and take it home is you doing the work and the baker is a tool. That's not how any of this works.

We are in some strange territory, folks. The thing that makes my head spin is that it happened so quickly. I was not prepared for how fast this storm emerged. Any of you out there observing the same thing?

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Silo on Apple TV+ is trolling me with masterful storytelling.

is the other new series I started this weekend. As I promised on Monday, I wanted to talk about it, and the three episodes I've watched thus far.

If you don't know, Silo is the big story that came out of Wool, which was originally a short story that was penned by Indy author, Hugh Howey. It emerged at about the time that some authors were taking the internet by storm by shedding traditional publishing and then getting millions of fans on their own and scooping a much larger share of the pie.

For a while, the internet was mesmerized by these self-made stars like Amanda Hocking and E.L. James, because they were just like many of us: scrabbling out an existence in the United States and enduring underpaid positions working for companies who had bosses and policies that ultimately felt abusive...but we never had any power to change. This is because "there's the door, and don't let it hit you in the ass on the way out" was the clarion call of those in power (FYI, it hasn't changed much in the years since). Maybe it will always be their battle cry. However, on a much smaller level...many of us may be in better positions now due to exploding values in stocks, in real estate, or the fact that we now have longevity in the careers in which we were toiling (which can come with a few privileges).

So, yeah. We were kind of collectively mesmerized by people who were part of the writing community who soared to incredible heights of fame and money, and it looked relatively easy (all magic tricks look effortless). Americans tend to equate that kind of thing to hard work. I take a more salty view and recognize that luck plays a huge part in those kinds of things. In other words, I think there are plenty of super skilled wordsmiths out there who will never get paid. It's unfortunate, but that's just how the cookie crumbles. The difficult task for those people is going to be giving up the dream of riches, looking for fulfillment in other ways (perhaps this is finding a regular job), or trying to prevent bitterness at another's success from seeping in and poisoning their ability to experience joy in their lives.

When I saw that Silo had the kind of production values I was wanting in a telling of Hugh Howey's story, I couldn't have been happier for this author. I don't even know him, but he should be proud of what Apple has done. Just three episodes in, I'm hooked. I want to watch more, but I'm watching it with people who are also hooked, so I don't want to get too far ahead. In the following paragraphs, I'm going to talk a little bit about what I've seen thus far, so if you're going to read further, here is your spoiler warning.

Silo's story is told way different than I'm used to. For one, we don't even get introduced to what must be the primary protagonist until the very end of episode 1. Instead, episode one is about the Sheriff and his wife. These middle aged people are living in this silo (surviving really), and we are slowly fed bits and pieces about why there are so many people living in this concrete tube in the ground that has something like 140 different levels. So it's the size of the tallest building in the world except it is sunk into the ground. We get to know the sheriff and his wife. They are mixed race, highly intelligent, and they are well-liked. The story opens with them being greenlit to have a baby, and a countdown timer starts that lasts an entire year (there are many time jumps). The wife gets her "birth control" thing removed, and they get around to the business of procreating while also working their jobs. But the wife never does get pregnant.

During this time, there are people in the Silo who believe there is a conspiracy aimed at controlling them. One puts the idea in the wife's head that she's not the kind that "they" (the mysterious they) don't want to have a baby. At first she dismisses this. But then she meets a guy (George) who has a hard drive recovered from "somewhere" that is over 140 years old (so this is the time before people had to live in these silos). By the way, it's mind boggling that people would be closed up in these things for entire generations. That is just crazy, and it makes you wonder what is going on outside that forced these people under. The hard drive has on it a feed from someone who was sent out to clean the camera, which is the Silo's only view of the outside world. It gets grimy over the years, and if someone doesn't go out and clean it up with some wool, then the view gets really bad. But the view is basically unchanging: a desolate landscape with a few dead bodies lying around left over from the last people who went out to clean (it's essentially a death sentence because the poison out there just kills you no matter what kind of suit you wear). Only in this feed on this hard drive, it shows that everything outside of the silo is green and nice, and there are things flying in the blue sky.

As expected, this is deeply upsetting to the viewers of this footage. And I have to admit that I know if I was in this same setting, I would not be able to let this go. It would just eat away at my brain, thinking that we were being forced to live in these wretched conditions all of our lives while there was a whole world out there that could support human life. The wife gets a kind of double whammy. Not only is she left with doubts about the validity of what they are seeing of the outside world (is it a deepfake?) but the comment about "you aren't the kind of person they want to have a baby" is also present and worming its way into her brain. So, on the last day of authorized fertility, she takes a knife and cuts into her body and finds a birth control device that was never (in fact) removed. So she was unable to get pregnant this entire time (a year). That's when she loses it.

She declares "I want to go out." And this is a one-way ticket for her to go out and clean. Well, she does go out, but before she does, she tells her husband in secret, "If the world is actually screwed, and I've made a mistake, I won't clean but I will wave goodbye to you. However, if the world is beautiful, I will want you to see that. So I will clean the lens." And then she does exactly that...she cleans the lens while smiling...and then she wanders off and on the screen that everyone is watching, she keels over dead. But this a deepfake? 

That is how this show draws you in. And in many's becoming the world that we live in now, where people are going to have a lot of difficulty trusting what we see on screens. Is this a deepfake? or is this really happening? What does it actually look like? The kind of themes that are present in Silo feel like they are well-designed for our lives in modern society. I also can't help but anticipate the next episode in the hope that we will get one more tidbit from the show that will unravel the story just a little bit more. It's honestly masterful storytelling.

Monday, July 10, 2023

Is Marvel's Secret Invasion setting up the Fantastic Four to battle the Super Skrull?

This weekend, I started two new series (new to me) on television. The first was Marvel's Secret Invasion. The second was Silo which is an adaptation of Hugh Howey's Wool series that made a huge splash some ten or more years ago in the self-publishing world. Needless to say, Hugh is now a big name in the entertainment industry, and an inspiration to anyone who imagines themselves enjoying those kinds of accolades. In this blog post, I'm going to talk about Secret Invasion. I'm going to save the talk of Silo for the Wednesday post this week. So with that out of the way, let's talk (and there are spoilers ahead if you haven't watched the show yet).

First off, I'm not as familiar with the skrull threat as I am with some of the other things out there in the Marvel-verse. In the comics, they were mostly a Fantastic Four villain. So back in the day (a few years ago) when I watched Captain Marvel and we saw our first skrulls in the Marvel cinematic universe, I was wondering how we were going to get from "helpful comedic allies" to "these guys are the enemy." The pivot was done expertly in Secret Invasion in the episodes that I've seen thus far. Suffice it to say that I think it plays on all of that xenophobia that is so easily linked to the human spirit: the fear of the other. The skrulls can look just like us, and the part where you see the real danger happening occurs on a train car when Nick Fury (in talking with Talos) comes to understand that a million skrulls are now living in secret on Earth. That's a lot. So he's clearly lost control of the situation that he believed was fully under his control when nineteen skrulls in the eighties decided to be loyal to him and work for his organization called S.H.I.E.L.D.

So, to fast forward to the "post-blip" world of the MCU, that five-year absence of Nick Fury (he got dusted) was a long enough time for things to change drastically among the skrull population. They learned that they couldn't count on humans (who had made them a promise to find them a new world to inhabit) and made them susceptible to some pretty radical fascist beliefs held by some of the skrulls: that they didn't need to look any further in the universe for a habitable planet because Earth was just fine. And that's what we have going on in the modern MCU. 

It gave me chills in the latest episode of this show (we are halfway through its six episode run), when Talos made a threatening lunge for Gravik (the bad guy in the show) in a restaurant. In response to this, all the people who were dining in the restaurant immediately stopped and stood as one, showing themselves to be skrulls. This scene really added to the tension that things are becoming threatening on another level, and that humans need to really watch their back. Another thing that gave me a "nerd joy" moment happened when Gravik declared that he and his organization are working on a project aimed at giving skrulls "super powers."

The "Super Skrull" was a big deal in the Fantastic Four comics, having the abilities of all four of the Fantastic Four in one being. I don't know if they are going to copy that exact comic book model. However, whatever they decide on doing, the Super Skrull should be an impressive villain and worthy of a big movie with all of the trimmings. So maybe, the game plan is to set the table for a big Fantastic Four movie with Secret Invasion. That's (at least) what I think the studio is doing with this Disney+ series. It honestly would be refreshing to get an actual Fantastic Four series that was any good. The ones that were put out by Fox were terrible, and I've always believed that a good one is actually possible.

Anyway, I'm excited to see what the next three episodes of Secret Invasion reveal and whether they give me some hint that I'm right about this being what the Fantastic Four movie is going to be about. As a caveat, it would be just as cool if it somehow segues into an X-Men thing as well. To end this blog post, I have some random musings I want to share:

1) I wasn't expecting Giah (played be Emilia Clarke) to get killed in episode 3. I thought this was a big-name actress now. However, the fact that she never changed her outward appearance after betraying Gravik seemed stupid. Like...why wouldn't you change your shape? And also, she was on a motorcycle. Why didn't she swerve the cycle off the road and take her chances?

2) Gravik already appears to have some "super powers." He demonstrated that he has the same healing as we'd associate with Wolverine. So, he's obviously being set up as the first prototype "Super Skrull." But without any superheroes to battle a "Super Skrull," how will they deal with Gravik? Maybe there's going to be a cameo of sorts by someone with super powers. I wonder who that is? Or, maybe Nick Fury will just deal with it. Seems kinda/sorta reasonable.

3) Marvel used in-house a.i. (artificial intelligence) to create its intro to the series. I've watched it with two people who didn't know that the intro was a.i., and they loved the intro. However, people who knew it was a.i. going into it (and viewing it) say it is the worst Marvel intro that has ever happened, and that they should have hired "real artists." I think there's definitely a bias out there where people hate anything that is machine generated. I get it though...even if it looks pretty...people seem to want other people to be paid for that. Unless, of course (and here's the rub) the money is coming out of your own wallet. I've noticed at that point, feelings about "free" start to change. It's not entirely unreasonable though to experience mixed signals and messages from people. The "do as I say" and "not as I do" crowd are a tale as old as time.

4) Samuel L. Jackson was made to play Nick Fury. No one else can deliver lines like, "I'm tired of this bullshit!" and then shoot someone...exactly like he can. I hope Disney gives him a chance to say "Mother F*cker" at least once before its all over.

Friday, July 7, 2023

This is a story that should bring a smile to any writer's face.

In a story that brought a smile to my face, the author of Leigh Howard and the Ghost of Simmons-Pierce Manor became an internet sensation when he was filmed at his book signing looking defeated with no one in attendance. The author, Shawn Warner, explained that this was his debut novel, and it was about a teenaged girl who tries to solve her parent's murders with the help of a ghost.

The TikToker Red, known as @internetfamouslol, posted the video online where it went viral (it has 17 million views), and it turned Warner's debut novel into an Amazon Best Seller overnight. As you might expect, Shawn was really grateful at the legion of fans he got from TikTok.

That's a really cool story to end the week, don't you think? A little kindness gave this guy a huge payday.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Where do your story ideas come from?

Happy Birthday, America. I live close to a parade route, so I got woken up with a bunch of noise on the 4th that included ABBA's "Dancing Queen," motorcycles, shouting, sirens, and people squealing the tires on cars. I obviously didn't watch it, but I imagine that the squealing tires were probably from classic cars or vehicles that held some kind of "wow" factor. So it was a typical 4th of July at its start. But it's also the first Wednesday of the month of July, so let's talk about the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: It's 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!

When do y'all post?: That happens on the first Wednesday of every month. It is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. If you are unsure as to what to do, the instructions are simple. You post your thoughts on your own blog. Or, you talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered, and you express support for other writers through those experiences. It's also a great networking opportunity. Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog when you visit and comment on other people's posts. Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

The Twitter handle for the Insecure Writer's Support Group is @TheIWSG and the hashtag that everyone uses is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 5 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, Gwen Gardner, Pat Garcia, and Natalie Aguirre!

Every month, the IWSG announces a question that members can answer in their IWSG post (it's optional). These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. If you go this route, you should include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

July 5 question - 99% of my story ideas come from dreams. Where do yours predominantly come from?

First off, I wasn't the one that wrote the question. So 99% of my story ideas definitely do not come from dreams. I feel like...when I choose to write...a lot of my ideas spring out of character development. In other words, I get these ideas in my head that form a story that already involves a certain character, and then that's the one that I want to tell. But none of them are really strong ideas (unfortunately). One reason I've cut down on my writing is that I feel like other people are already out there telling the kinds of stories that I like, and I can always find one that somehow does it better than what I could have done. But, that doesn't mean that a story that I do choose to tell isn't preferred by someone else. I maintain that the most meaningful thing that an author can do is connect with an audience that appreciates their work. 

And that's basically my answer to this month's question. Thanks for stopping by.