Let Slip the Reindeer of War

Seeing as how we are post-Thanksgiving, I think it’s safe to say that the War on Christmas has begun again. I’m woefully under armored for this particular fight, having no t-shirts or jackets that actively disparage religion or Christmas in general.

In fact, I am a pretty miserable soldier in the War on Christmas. Yes, I commit the unpardonable sin of saying “happy holidays,” but there are those like Richard Beck who claim that I am actually being less blasphemous by doing so.

It’s blasphemous to post “Merry Christmas” all through a shopping mall. It’s blasphemous to slap the name of Jesus on all the Xboxs, Playstations, iPhones, and High-Def TVs. “Happy Holidays,” while still not great given that I don’t like the word “holy” being involved, is much better than “Merry Christmas.”

And the association of “Merry Christmas” with the local, state and federal governments is just as problematic. The Nativity set in the town square is just as profane and blasphemous as the “Merry Christmas” on the Xbox.

In short, while I’m very happy to have a more tolerant and liberalized shopping experience during the holiday season (out of simple civic respect I don’t want my Muslim or Jewish neighbours to be greeted with “Merry Christmas”), my deeper concern is how the “War on Christmas” panic is inherently blasphemous and idolatrous.

Leave it to Beck to ruin my fun.

Though, I have to admit, it’s a rather quiet war this year. I mean, we’ve had some early volleys with Sarah Palin’s failed book and Rick Santorum’s failed movie (point of order: what idiot thought to release a contemporary Christian film in theaters instead of direct-to-DVD?), but for the most part we haven’t been given the Full Fox Press on every retailer that didn’t address their specific holiday consistently. Maybe because it’s still Hanukkah and it could be considered anti-Israel to ignore that as long as it doesn’t conflict with December 26th?

Either way, unless Christians find some new way to weaponize The Christmas Shoes this year (a collectable card game, maybe?), I’m planning a nice, relaxing holiday season where I don’t have to worry about being berated for not paying obeisance to the cobbled together remains of somebody else’s celebration. So, here’s just some of the things I plan to do this December.

1. Listen to Holiday Music – This can include a lot of things. I’m always looking for new versions of Good King Wenceslas, since that’s my favorite carol. Of course, I’ll probably work on trying to learn the perennially beautiful White Wine in the Sun. I’m a big fan of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s A Very Scary Solstice and An Even Scarier Solstice (my favorites are “Harley got Devoured by the Undead” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth”). Otherwise, whether they’re religious or not, I love Christmas carols and will spend the next month singing them to myself and anyone who stands still long enough to listen.

2. Watching Holiday Movies – When I was growing up, I had a VHS tape that was just loaded with holiday movies. Santa Claus: the Movie, A Chipmunk Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and a number of others. I have since found digital copies of all of them seeing as I no longer own a VHS player and the tape is worn out anyway, and I make an effort to watch them all this month. I have since added a number of others. Alf’s Special Christmas is a tearjerker about love and life that shouldn’t come from a big nosed puppet Rodney Dangerfield rip-off.

The Muppets have so many Christmas specials it’s hard to watch them all (BTW: if you haven’t seen this year’s with Lady Gaga, watch it. It’s hilarious, and the gender-swapped “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfect), but I try. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a must, however, and it’s something the whole family enjoys. In fact, part of the tradition is gushing with my father over how entertaining the rats are in that film.

A Claymation Christmas, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Die Hard. I love them all and can’t wait to be able to start watching through them this year.

3. Charity – I find myself more in need of charity than able to give it this year, but I still plan to work for local charities when I have the opportunity. By sheer luck, the restaurant the Dark Lord of Bakery works at got in contact with the person who runs a local battered women’s shelter, so I’m going to try to help them do fundraising for that group. I also won’t donate to the Salvation Army for obvious reasons, but I do make a point of noting how much money I would have given a bell ringer and, at the end of the season, donating that amount of a local charity, usually one that takes in homeless LGBT youth like the Zebra Coalition. And there are countless opportunities to do good all season long that I will try and avail myself of.

4. Spend Time With Loved Ones- The Sovereign of Aesthetics and the Bladed Poet are having a gathering at their home this year for us to get together, drink, sing, and play board games. So basically the same thing we do all year long, but I get to do it in a sweater, and I look amazing in sweaters. I also plan to go over there, in combination with #2 above, to show said Sovereign the Muppet/Gaga holiday special she missed. Plus I might make my family’s annual Christmas party this year, which is always fun. And for the holiday itself, it’s a big Italian meal at my parents’ house. So there will be plenty of time to socialize and enjoy the company of loved ones this year.

I could go on, but this is how I plan to fight the War on Christmas this year. More to the point, I plan on fighting it by doing basically the same things as the religious right professional martyrs do, but with no obligation to say “Merry Christmas” unless I feel like it. I encourage everyone, this holiday season, to use the greeting they feel comfortable with, accept other greetings in the spirit in which they were meant, and focus your ire on yelling at your family about health care reform, as is traditional.

Happy holidays to you all, and keep an eye out for more posts as I can.

Poor Reaction to Affleck: He-Nerd Rage

ben-affleck-batman-tai-urban_wenn20441205__oPtWow. Been asked three times today what I think about Ben Affleck cast as Batman, once by a person I don’t know and who isn’t a reader. Hate to pass the buck, but with the exception of his dislike of Man of Steel that seems to increase over time (I still like it on the whole), I’d have to say that MovieBob pretty much nails it.

Yes, he’s been in some goofy movies, and yes he’s not as talented as Matt Damon (who probably wouldn’t be right for the role), but he’s a solid actor with a love of comics, two Academy Awards, who has played a range of different parts with depth and aplomb. Sure, his last attempt at a comic movie, Daredevil, sucked, but it wasn’t because of something he did. It was a poorly written movie where the hero was heroic because stories have protagonists and the villains were villainous because stories have antagonists, and in neither case was any motivation assigned to anybody. However, that didn’t keep Michael Clark Duncan from doing a great Kingpin and it didn’t keep Affleck from making a believable Daredevil and, more to the point, Matt Murdock.

I will add that I think Affleck is suffering from a largely male-dominated nerd culture that won’t let go of the brief moment when Affleck was considered a pretty boy instead of a legit actor. This was roughly when he was dating J-Lo, which was bad enough (he’s dating a POP STAR! Nerds stand against pop and everything pop represents!), but then he went and married Jennifer Garner, who was in enough leather-clad spy and super hero roles to have, again for a moment, set herself up as a male nerd fantasy. This combined perception of betrayal and appropriation seems to have set Affleck up as being entirely untenable as a potential Batman, the Mary Sueiest of Mary Sue characters.

And the thing is, I remember the hate directed at Affleck at the time and, to a lesser extent, Garner. Regular readers can probably predict what was said about Garner, but there was this overwhelming sense in geek circles that this guy sullied himself with pop star germs, then swooped in to ruin Daredevil and take Sydney Bristow from us, forever ruining what would have undoubtedly been many more Elektra movies. He had the gall to impregnate her, depriving us of another season of her kicking ass in skimpy outfits in Alias. He…he…something! It was all very confusing back then.

And, to be honest, it’s not just Affleck who gets this. Anyone remember the reaction to Heath Ledger as the Joker? Fortunately, the internet is forever. Did you know there was a time when that guy who did Inception was just some empty-headed pretty boy who only ever did one part and looked like a girl (TW: early internet webpage design)?

Now, I will admit that he has done a number of bad films. I won’t go into them, it was covered pretty well in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, but the guy has also done a lot of really fantastic ones. However, lots of people have. For example, did you know that before playing Batman, Michael Keaton was Mr. Mom? He was in Touch and Go. How about The Squeeze? Pre-Batman, this guy had basically one great film, Beetlejuice, and two good ones, Johnny Dangerously and The Dream Team.

But this has nothing to do with good and bad films. It has a lot to do with the perception of Affleck as a pretty boy, and most especially as Not One of Us. Oddly, Affleck himself seems to express the sentiment quite nicely in this interview:

People decided that I was the frat guy, even though I’ve never been inside a fraternity, or the guy who beat them up at school, even though that wasn’t me at all.

The pretty boy actor has a lot to overcome in nerd circles. They need to somehow prove their bona fides as real representatives of geek culture, because wide appeal to others marks them as…well, Other, and we can’t have that. And it seems that building his own goddamn Batcave in his house doesn’t count.

What I’m saying is, time to stop jumping on the “he’s going to ruin the role” bandwagon and think of this rationally. This is an accomplished actor and director. This is the guy who killed it in Argo, Shakespeare in Love, Chasing Amy, The Town, State of Play, and Hollywoodland, among others. He has the chops, he has the passion, and if they can get him to direct one of these films (he was offered the director’s chair for Justice League if he agreed to play Batman years ago), he certainly has more talent in that department than Zack Snyder. He is not just a pretty face, and it’s time that we stop knee-jerk reacting to actors who made their bones being marketed in parts for their looks.

Some Thoughts on Man of Steel

Well, I went to see Man of Steel last night with one of my best friends, Ryn Anhara (all nicknames subject to change based on the desire of the nicknamee), and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. And since I want to talk about it but need both the space and the option for people to not see if they’re afraid of spoilers, I am going to write about it here. Back to important things tomorrow.



First spoiler: Clark Kent is Superman. No, seriously, even though we all know this, the movie actually does a really good job of showing Clark dealing with his identity, whether he is Clark Kent or Kal-El or something entirely different plays a major role in the story.

What I will say is that I really, really enjoyed this film, but the things that it does well are also the things that it does terribly, and it goes by turns. I’m going to be jumping around and not fisking the whole thing, but it’s the best way I know to talk about this. Let’s begin.

The movie opens on Krypton and we get Jor and Kara-El standing around being so much smarter and more noble than every other Kryptonian in existence. These scenes are actually really fantastic, despite the El family being really, really Mary Sue-ish. The design of the world is believable and interesting, the technology we see is clearly advanced, but hasn’t changed in a long time, and the clothing is alien, but reasonably so.

Jor-El goes to the Council of Krypton and tries to shame them for hollowing out the middle of their planet to fuel all of their…stuff, I guess. It’s never really clear. They whine about how they had no choice, running out of natural resources, etc. There’s a moment of “Are you suggesting we evacuate everyone from Krypton?” to which Jor-El says “no.”

Now, this really perplexes me throughout the film. I don’t know why the Kryptonians don’t try to evacuate. We’ll get more into this later, but basically Jor-El says he has a plan and is interrupted by General Zod who is leading a coup.

This is the first point where I we see the good-and-bad-by-turns nature of this film. Zod (played by Michael Shannon who has done some great villain parts and this could really give him the stardom he deserves) is a fantastic and three-dimensional villain when we see him. He’s leading a coup because the Council clearly has no idea what they’re doing. They have scooped out the middle of their planet and now seem surprised that this may have caused a problem. If I were Zod and I loved my planet, I would also lead a coup against the morons who didn’t see this coming. Obviously, they are unfit to lead. The problem comes in when Zod is captured and we’re supposed to side with the Council against him at his trial. While the good general had just killed Jor-El and tried to destroy the ship carrying Kal-El, the first natural born Kryptonian in centuries (Krypton grows their babies based on genetic information from a child’s skull called the Codex at Jor-El stole and did something with before sending his son off), I can’t actually side against him completely since these people are arguably responsible for the genocide of their entire race except for the prisoners they just sent to the safety of the Phantom Zone for some reason.

Which reminds me, why did they send the prisoners to the one place where the imploding planet wouldn’t be a problem instead of leaving them on the surface and putting as many Kryptonians into the Phantom Zone as possible until the cataclysm was over?

Anyway, Clark gets to Earth and is raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent. This is mostly told in flashback and I have to give Kevin Costner real credit for playing Jonathan Kent as so…midwestern. He’s clearly a nice guy, but reserved and a little gruff. I had a hard time connecting with him because of this, but I can’t say it didn’t work for the movie. I believed in his performance and his obsession with keeping Clark’s power’s secret, even coming to clashes with Clark over the boy wanting to help people and Jonathan willing to sacrifice literally everybody else to protect his son.

We also see Clark basically living a nomadic lifestyle, taking jobs and keeping a low profile until somebody inevitably needs to have their life saved, which he does and then has to disappear again. Eventually, he finds his way to a government archeological site where he meets Lois Lane, saves her life for the first time…and has no chemistry whatsoever with her. Seriously, both Henry Cavill and Amy Adams do a good job in their roles, but they really have no presence together.

In fact, this is a good time to point out that if you’re heavily invested in a Clark/Lois relationship, this isn’t the film for you. For the vast majority of the film they have what I would classify as a friendship built on mutual respect, and that actually plays really well. In fact, I was hoping that they would just do that throughout the film, especially since they don’t even bother with having Lois not knowing Superman’s secret identity. It would have been a lot better if the feelings they had for one another wasn’t romantic, since we really don’t see that develop until they very suddenly kiss and I wonder where it came from. It felt like Zack Snyder and Chris Nolan thought that those two are supposed to get together, so they threw it in as an afterthought. I would have preferred they left it out entirely.

The first act ends with Kal-El finding that his biological father had uploaded his brain into the small key-thing he put in the capsule with baby Kal, so now Clark can talk to him. And he asks the questions the audience wants for the most part, but the answers aren’t really satisfying. For example, we are told that Krypton had started to colonize and spread out to the stars, but then they instituted population control and their colonies died, eventually leaving the whole race on Krypton with no resources and no planetary core.

But after hearing this, I can’t help but wonder, why they would institute population control while they were expanding to new colonies? Isn’t that the exact worst time to do that? Also, why were the colonies dependent on Krypton for resources? Isn’t the point of a colony that it is self-sufficient? Maybe not at first, but with “a hundred thousand years” of doing this, you have to be pretty damn bad at this colonization thing to have not created at least one other surviving planet.

Kal-El also asks his father why he and Kara didn’t come, too. Now, I happen to think this is a great question. In fact, why were the Kryptonians so reluctant to leave in general? It seems like this movie wants us to think there is something tying them to Krypton (its atmosphere and its gravity are both contenders), but we never really know what it is. Trying to answer these questions in the film is just frustrating.

Suffice it to say, he’s given his costume which is supposed to be Kryptonian armor with the insignia of the House of El on it, we get some awesome jumping and flying scenes, and I really have to give Cavill credit for playing this in a really believable way. He expresses such joy, such excitement, such absolute wonder at learning what we can do. I loved watching this scene.

The second act of the film has Zod arriving, since Clark activated a distress beacon in the ancient Kryptonian ship that also had his family’s special armor in it, and demanding that Kal-El surrender himself or Zod will destroy the Earth. At first, I didn’t get this behavior, but then Ryn Anhara pointed out the Zod is literally born and bred to fight, and a more diplomatic approach would have been out of character for him. However, this is where we also start to see Zod making decisions that make no sense, which is especially jarring since his initial motivations made so much sense. Instead, Zod wants to find the Codex to rebuild Krypton with the genetic information inside, which is fine. But he wants to do that by terraforming Earth, making it suitable to Kryptonians and killing all the humans in the process because…he’s evil? There’s no good reason given why he couldn’t just use one of the old colony planets or Mars or someplace that isn’t populated if he’s just going to terraform it anyway.

Up until this point, Zod hasn’t shown himself to be mindlessly evil, but again I feel like poor Zod is the victim of Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder realizing that the bad guy has to provide some sort of stakes for the hero, so he decided to have the guy occasionally just be uncharacteristically evil to give Superman a reason to fight. Zod is both my favorite and least favorite performance in the film because when he’s good, he’s really awesome, but when he runs into these “Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder are making me force the plot along!” moments, then he becomes as thin as the infamous cellophane S, and I no longer buy into him.

Let’s also talk about symbolism. One set of symbols was fantastic, and subtle, and made for an interesting pun. The other was blatant, ham-fisted, and nonsensical. The latter first.

Oh my Spaghetti Monster, the Christ symbolism. Seriously, I thought that Matrix Revolutions bashed you over the head with a cross, but this movie makes that look subdued. From the scene where Clark is deciding whether to sacrifice himself to save the world and you see the stained glass window of Gethsemane side-by-side with his face, to the fact that they mention he’s 33, to the Jesus Pose he does for no particular reason, they are really bludgeoning the audience with this.

And it’s not that I have a problem with Christ symbolism. It can be really well done and make a great statement about a character, but symbolism only works in a text when it’s subtle. That’s one of the reasons why directors like Tarsem are generally considered pretentious: they want us to know that they are very, very deep, and have no problem telling us.

Also, making Superman into Jesus is just inappropriate since he was created by two observant Jews who drew from a number of sources, but largely from stories of Moses. The insistence of primarily Christian filmmakers and audiences to appropriate other people’s myths doesn’t end at ones that are centuries old, and this is just another example of how clunky it is when you try to jam Jesus into the Torah.

That being said, there is symbolism they did really well, and that was the allusions to the Myth of the Metals. We hear about how on Krypton, the genetically created children are bred for specific tasks, and the ones that Jor-El mentions are roughly equivalent to Plato’s concept of people who are raised to work, to fight, and to lead (men of bronze, silver, and gold respectively). In the middle of the movie, you see Clark reading Plato at one point, which furthers the reference. It also makes the phrase “Man of Steel” a pun, since Kal-El, being a naturally born Kryptonian, has no genetic destiny and is instead an alloy, stronger because he is a mix of other metals (i.e. abilities). This works, and it works well.

My last little gripe is that I feel like we lost something in editing. Lawrence Fishburn does a good job as Perry White, but there’s a scene at one point where Metropolis is under attack and we get some of the other reporters at the Daily Planet being cool and saving themselves. However, at one point “Jenny” (who I assume is a gender-flipped Jimmy Olsen, though we didn’t hear her name until minutes before she is in danger) gets trapped under debris and Perry White is trying to save her. I get that Perry is supposed to be the father-figure of the Daily Planet, but we don’t see that in the movie. We see him be a tough-but-fair boss to Lois twice, but never see him interact with anybody else in the newsroom, so when this scene comes around, I don’t feel the danger. I think there was another scene where we actually saw Perry talk to this character that ended up on the editing room floor, because this is clearly supposed to be an emotional payoff, but with no setup, it just falls flat.

Otherwise, I really liked most of the stuff in the film. Cavill plays Supes with enough of an emotional range that it’s believable, but not overwhelming, and I like that you can tell how much this guy loves being a super hero. It’s fun for him, and even when people are jerks, he still is just a nice person. I love the fight sequences, especially since you can see how the Kryptonians and Kal-El fight much differently from one another, with the former being much more efficient in their movement and Supes just bashing people into shit over and over again while punching them. The second act fight in Smallville was pretty damn sweet.

I also liked that they didn’t do a whole lot of callouts to fans. There’s no Lex Luthor (though a brief scene of some LexCorp trucks in the background), no Kryptonite, they don’t bother making Lois too dumb to realize that Clark and Superman are the same person. And it all works really well for the movie. They strip it down to its basics and make the whole movie an origin story rather than trying to cram one into the first act while establishing another plot. But it’s an exciting origin story, and I would love to see them continue to make the decision to only use what actually helps tell the story.

I sincerely hope this movie does well so we can see a Flash, Green Arrow, or Wonder Woman movie. Also, the JLA film this can be part of the kickoff to. It’s not the greatest film ever, but it’s my favorite Superman film thus far and really worth a watch, despite its flaws.

Kurosawa on Life

Just finished watching the last Kurosawa film before they aren’t free any more. Glad I bookended it the way I did. I started with my favorite, Ikiru (To Live), which is about an old bureaucrat who learns how to make an impact on the world at the end of his life, and I am ending with Madadayo (Not Yet), which is the story of the impact a professor has had on the lives around him. Both are beautiful films that explore our humanity through the juxtaposition of old men who are quite childlike in their own way. Both are generally befuddled, which comes off as charming, but Wantanabe-san is approaching the world with a new found hesitation because it all seems so strange to him. Uchida-sensei simply refuses to grow up because the world is so full of wonder. Ironically, for Uchida this makes him more afraid, his imagination often running him into corners, whereas for Wantanabe, it drives him and makes him determined to build something that can stand against the darkness, even when he’s been taken by it.

It also just occurred to me that both films end with children playing.

I have never seen Madadayo before, but I really love it. It’s the last film Kurosawa made and I wonder how much of  himself he put into Uchida. He’s a silly old man with a lot of quirks, yet much beloved, always torn between the goodness of the people in his life and the wickedness of the world beyond his influence. Uchida literally makes existence around him wonderful just by being there, but is constantly reminded that he can’t make everyplace like that.

Either way, they were wonderful ways to frame an examination of the work of a certified genius. While I was disappointed that Hulu didn’t have Dreams, another film I love, it was great to rewatch his old samurai classics as well. But ultimately, it was Ikiru and Madadayo that spoke the loudest to me. They both addressed what it means to be human with one life to live and find purpose in. They both seem to say that we as people probably won’t change the world, but if we make a small bit of it better, then we can die knowing our life was well lived. Our legacies are small and often overlooked, but even unnoticed improvements make life more joyful for others.

“Intellectually Challenging” Doesn’t Mean “Not Fun”

Anthony over at Rev Rants has a new video up in which he discusses how every time somebody points out that video games should move away from the “guns and chainsaws” mentality that so many games seem to have and focus instead on creating games that address serious philopsophical issues, there are generally two camps: the ones who smugly agree, and the ones who get righteously furious at the idea that games should no longer be “fun.”
And that’s where I lose the argument. Anthony brings up some very good points about how if games are to to treated seriously as an art form, they have to be about more than just the physical challenge of pressing the right buttons at the right time to kill your endless stream of enemies in the most creative ways possible, but I take issue with the fact that he doesn’t really go into what I consider to be the major problem with this argument.
Media that challenges us intellectually can and often is really fun.
Now, I’m not saying that he doesn’t believe this or that I have a problem with the video, which I think is largely spot on, but rather that in arguing for games to be more thought provoking, he neglected to explicitly point out that that doesn’t mean the game isn’t suddenly fun, as if every medium has to have its share of “interesting” things and “challenging” things, and checks them off a list to fill certain quotas in order to qualify as “art.”
Some of the games he mentions, for example, are not only thought provoking and interesting, they are also a real blast to play. Braid is one of my favorite games that he mentions. It was clever, artfully designed, did really fantastic things with mechanics, and told a story that produced a wonderful twist ending without significant cut scenes, dialogue, or anything that explicitly spelled out what was going on. It was a beautiful game that told a great story with a lot to discuss, and was still hours of fun.
Similarly, Journey was fantastic. It was gorgeous, emotional, and thought provoking, but also a whole lot of fun.
Far too often, the idea comes up that something, anything, can be fun or it can be intellectually challenging, but it can’t possibly be both. I hear this most often when I talk about texts and do close readings of them. The common refrain is “Can’t you just enjoy the movie/game/song/book/whatever?” or, even worse, “When I watch a movie/play a game/etc., I don’t want to have to think about it.”
When did thinking become this gigantic burden? Seriously, I’ve been thinking for the 30+ years I’ve been alive and, quite frankly, it’s the most fun thing I do.
The Rev also brings up movies in this as a medium that struggled to attain a reputation for artistry, and even mentions in passing the idea of a “Citizen Kane of video games.” He does this to point out that despite how many absolutely awful movies come out every year, there is a “bedrock” of artistic films that prove that movies can be an artistic medium, giving big studios an incentive to create films that are contemplative, so we can have the American Beautys and Fight Clubs and even Willows (which I just watched again a couple of days ago because it has some of the most perfect storytelling I’ve seen in film) without those who for some reason I couldn’t begin to articulate don’t enjoy thinking too much missing out on another American Pie or [Fill in the Blank] Movie sequel. The existence of Casablanca does not preclude the existence of No Strings Attached. Because The Godfather was made does not mean that Corky Romano was not. And the filming of Arsenic and Old Lace did not prevent the filming of The Hangover, much to my continued chagrin.
To an extent, I think this goes with Anthony’s point about how a medium doesn’t have to be one thing, in that video games can be serious and they can be fun, but I feel like he’s separating those two ideas. A video game, like any medium can be serious and fun in a single game. In fact, I would hope that is the objective in most cases: to make a point and make that point enjoyable. I can appreciate the technical aspects both in terms of film and writing of Casablanca and still be deeply invested and entertained by the plight of Rick and Ilsa.
There are two more supplementary points to this video I would like to make. The first is that the Rev makes a point I rather disagree with around the 5:27 mark when he starts to talk about comics. The point he makes is that while there are some amazing indie comics doing interesting things, the mainstream publishers are basically super hero comics, with the implication that super hero comics can’t tackle meaningful subjects in a serious way. While I love and respect a lot of indie titles, I think this seriously underestimates the ability of super hero comics to deal with important , human issues. It doesn’t take a whole lot to see the metaphor for the civil rights struggle in X-men going back to its conception, nor Stan Lee’s refusal to change a story line in The Amazing Spider-man that dealt with drug addiction in order to get a Comics Code Authority seal for those three issues. There were the Green Lantern/Green Arrow crossovers that were designed specifically to deal with social issues, and to do so by pairing a highly liberal with a highly conservative superhero so they would be able to really delve into the ideological divides present. Shortly after taking over Green Arrow in 2004, in fact, Judd Winick started a storyline dealing with Speedy (Mia Dearden) testing HIV positive that was sometimes ham-handed, but a real attempt at dealing with a serious issue that didn’t drain a drop of entertainment from the comic.
Beyond those, look at the Marvel series-wide events, most specifically the Civil War, but also Fear Itself. I make no secret of the fact the Marvel Civil War is one of my favorite comic series of all time. In the midst of the War on Terror, Marvel decided to take a hard look at how we balance our need for security with our civil liberties and used its major characters to do so. And it doesn’t just focus on the heroes themselves: it takes the time to explore how it affects everybody and the historical connotations of what we’re doing. At the end of one of the Frontline issues, for example, there is a small vignette about a couple of Japanese Americans reporting to an internment camp, and the panel sticks in my mind is where the father is telling his child that the reason why they left their home and have to live there now is that they’re “good Americans” and this is what their country requires of them.
Superhero comics are absolutely able to be serious and give insightful treatments to real problems while still remaining fun.
The other thing that this makes me think of is the current problems within the atheist movement vis-a-vis whether atheists can speak out against social injustice in light of their atheism and skepticism or rather, as some people have argued, atheism is just a non-belief in the supernatural and anything beyond that is out of bounds. Much like video games can be more than one thing, so can the atheist movement. If we’re feminists because there is no rational reason to oppose equal pay for equal work or the perpetuation of rape culture, that doesn’t mean that suddenly people will start believing in Bigfoot. Anthony says that those who agree that video games should be about more will “look down their nose” at others who don’t, but the counterblast is often just as guilty of that behavior. Applying that to atheism/skepticism, there is a fair amount of “Well, I’m a real atheist because I don’t spend my time discussing LGBT rights, which have nothing to do with psychic scams,” and that’s not only not helpful, it’s a callous attempt to avoid bringing skepticism to its logical conclusion. That being said, it’s also not prohibited to focus your energy on combating pseudoscience just because my energy is on how blind faith in bad ideas makes otherwise good people do terribly cruel things to myself and other queer folks.
Things don’t have to be just one thing. Games don’t have to be either fun or contemplative. Superhero comics don’t have to be exciting or socially meaningful. The atheist movement doesn’t have to be just about stopping quack doctors from scamming people or stopping quack preachers from advocating for the death of homosexuals. We are capable, as humans, of doing many things for many reasons, and it’s important to realize that it’s not a zero-sum game.

Election-ish Coverage

Tonight I will be live-blogging the election, sort of. I’m actually, going to be watching the highly underrated Home Movies. I’ll be drinking martinis and will be updating what I find interesting. Because. So, here we go.

My martinips are made by taking gin, reminding it that it met vermouth at a party once, and shaking before pouring over three olives.

7:06 – Most things too close to call. Brenden Small has been accused of being at fault for a bike riding accident and sentenced to write an essay.

7:14 – Brenden’s slapstick barbarian picture has been set back due to injuries from the accident. Also, So far only the expected states have been called. New Hampshire looks to be Obama so far.

7:16 – Any suggestions on barbarian-oriented jokes for Brenden’s movie? It needs more funny dialogue.

7:24 – The question: are long lines signs of voter suppression or voter enthusiasm? This is a good question, and I don’t see that it can’t be both. Attempts to keep people from voting bring them out in droves.

7:31 – Joe Manchin won Senate in West Virginia. Not a huge surprise, he’s as moderate as Democrats get. Indiana Senate too close to call.

7:34 – Coach McGurk is screwing things up for Brenden in court, but since it’s Home Movies, there’s only so much that changes things

7:43 – Yes, Bruce Boxleitner played Tron. Brenden did a pointed excoriation of the legal system instead of his essay.

7:49 – That episode done. Moving on. No change in the election.

7:58 – Ah, the classic “anger management” plot

8:06 – Haha! Bill Nelson in Florida. That’s the first relief of the night. We’re not complete morons down here.

8:12 – They’re talking about how Orange County used to be a swing county, but isn’t any more due to an influx of the Hispanic vote. I drove a lotof Hispanic voters to the polls, so we’ll see.

8:28 – Just finished talking to Charlie Crist. I miss the guy. A Republican that I didn’t hate. Chris Murphy wins Senate in CT, so thank you Connecticutites.

8:34 – Brenden is starting to question his absent father. So much symbolism.

8:40 – McGurk gets to stay on as soccer coach! He controlled his anger.

8:45 – Next Home Movies is about politics. Yes!

8:55 – Looks like Democrats are up one Senate seat.

9:05 – Brenden won, but resigned because he thought the class bully rigged the election for him

9:07 – when did Obama win Michigan? Awesome.

9:15 – Obama wins Pennsylvania. Why is this considered a swing state?

9:27 – Bev Purdue lost N. Carolina governor. Not surprised. The surprise was a Democrat ever winning there. Again, why is that a swing state? Also, Brenden is going to win the walk-a-thon.

9:30 – Obama wins Walkerville. On Wisconsin!

9:32 – Sherrod Brown wins Ohio Senate by a mile. Lawrence O’Donnell points out that Romney has lost three of his home states now.

9:42 – Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts. I can’t believe that was at issue. Thinking the panhandle will give Florida to Romney, but we’ll see. Also, Joe Donnelly beats “rape is a gift from god” guy.

9:55 – The news is getting my hopes up about a possible Florida victory for Obama. Stop playing with my emotions, news!

10:07 – Another rape guy loses! Claire McCaskill wins in Missouri. I am happy to see all of these guys who want to qualify rape losing.

10:11 – Amendment 8 goes down! Thank you, and Floridians for standing up for secularism.

10:37 – Looks like Romney can only win by getting every swing state other than Colorado.

10:43 – Chuck Todd is talking about my old haunts. Obama wins in Minnesota. Brenden is trying to stop making movies for a little bit, but I think it’s doomed to failure.

10:46 – Legitimate Rape Akin is giving his concession. It’s a lot of god talk and meaningless platitudes. In fact, almost all of this is about God… And there’s a Benghazi reference. Basically, his concession is a greatest hits of dumb talking points

10:55 – Brenden and Jason have the best idea for future elections. Fight with jazz. Also, Tim Kaine in Virginia.

11:09 – Obama wins Iowa. That is very good news. Ohio and Florida are going to really be make or break now

11:13 – Obama wins Ohio and the presidency!

11:18 – We’re not done here. Still waiting on marriage equality votes and Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona.

11:37 – Sinema pulling further ahead with 51% of the vote in. Marriage equality might sweep tonight. No Prop 8 defeats this year, please.

11:52 – Carl Rove trying to get Fox to rescind their Ohio call. So very sad. Sinema still up. Obama pulling ahead in Florida! Colorado legalized pot.

12:10 – Colorado goes for Obama. Also, missed this in talks of presidential win, but Tammy Baldwin will be the first openly gay Senator!

12:19 – Maryland passes marriage equality!

12:37 – Rachel is poking fun at her cohosts for not telling her Colorado was called while she was in the bathroom. Tammy Duckworth wins. Alan Grayson wins (I worked for him)! Nutbars Michelle Bachmann and Allen West may just lose, both tied 50/50.

12:55 – Romney concession speech. He said he didn’t have one of these written. He pushes back on expected accusations that Ryan was a bad choice. Lots of thank yous, so this is good. Arguing for working together, one of his supporters doesn’t like that. Calling on teachers to inspire, I can get behind that. Pretty classy overall, if wooden. Good on him.

But more importantly, Kyrsten Sinema wins Az-9! That’s what I was waiting for, so I can go to bed now. Hopefully wake up tomorrow to more good news, but very happy about Representative Sinema!

I’m Ok With Disney Buying LucasFilm

Listen, I really freaked out when Disney bought Marvel. Part of the reason why is that I was heavily invested in my comic company of choice, emotionally, and didn’t want to see it turn from being about character-driven stories that question our humanity to simple action stories with no substance. And I was wrong to worry. Marvel has been pushing the envelope even more in recent years under the Disney banner, and Disney hasn’t interfered their running of things. Any screw ups have been entirely on Marvel and Joe Q. and not a result of pressure from the Mouse.

I’m not nearly as emotionally invested in LucasFilm. Granted, I grew up on Star Wars, loved Luke Skywalker, had the toys and saw the prequels in theaters, if only to regret it later. But honestly, I never connected the brand with the franchise, so Star Wars had very little to do with LucasFilm to me. At least, the good Star Wars has very little to do with LucasFilm. The company itself has been associated, in my head, with greed, contempt for the very nerds that support it, and a general lack of talent. Let’s be entirely honest: George Lucas has been resting on his laurels since 1983. He was never a great director and he’s actually a really, really awful writer. The original trilogy succeeded because he was surrounded by people to tell him when he was being an idiot, but then he became so big and powerful that nobody was willing to do the same when he picked up the mantel again. Letting somebody else take the reins for a little bit could hardly hurt a series that Lucas has been butchering like a 10 year old who rewrites Citizen Kane to add more explosions and gross-out humor.

Moreover, Disney has basically owned Star Wars in spirit if not in fact for decades. Have any of you been to Hollywood Studios? It’s where they host Star Wars Weekend at Disney every year. It’s where the excellent ride Star Tours is. It’s where they have Ewoks and Wookies wandering around and kids can have a light saber battle with Darth Vader and they have a Jedi Academy. For those of us who grew up around here, the link between Star Wars and Disney is well-established and hasn’t been done wrong yet.

I told my friend last night that Disney is going to do well by my childhood with Wreck-It Ralph and they will again with Star Wars. Maybe Episode 7 will actually be worth watching.

Or you can just listen to John Scalzi like the rest of the internet.

Puppet Dinosaurs and Anime People

For those who weren’t around last year, every October MovieBob turns his Escapist show “The Big Picture” into “Schlocktober,” where he discusses really bad horror films, their origins, and their influence on later works.

Today’s entry, though, is just spectacular in it’s insane awful/awesomeness.

Attack of the Super Monsters is a film about dinosaurs who can control the thoughts of other animals telepathically (and can talk) trying to take over the world. They’re opposed by a group of people in flashy, toy-like vehicles.

Yes, this was made in Japan. Kind of. You’ll have to watch to see what that means.

Most ridiculous of all, though, is that while the dinosaurs are Croft-style puppets, all of the humans are anime-style cartoons.

Since I can’t figure out how to embed anything other than YouTube videos (any help on that would be appreciated, you experienced WordPress people), here’s a link to the video.

When you’re done watching that, take a look at the Iron Man 3 trailer. Looks amazing. My only fear is that they’ll do that thing they do with super hero trilogies where they blow a gigantic plot load to take away everything the hero loves, even the things that we as viewers found iconic but inconsequential, just to up the stakes to impossible heights. They haven’t made a bad film yet, and I love the reference to The Avengers in the trailer, but a bomb of an Iron Man film could put a major crimp in future Marvel movies by reminding studio execs that they are still taking a risk, something they seem to have forgotten.