I Don’t Know Why You Say Ello, I Say Goodbye

30 Sep

There’s a hip, new social networking site sweeping the internets’ social media outlets right now called Ello. You can take a look over here, though you won’t be able to see much. As Facebook and Google Plus began, Ello is currently invite-only. Presumably, the doors will be thrown open eventually and the place will be deluged with people who yearn for the days of geocities website design and who need an outlet for their ideas. Because, you know, there aren’t enough fucking internet opportunities for that already.


Ello’s big hook is that you won’t have your feed clogged with advertisements. But what they don’t promise is that your feed won’t be clogged with pithy life-affirming quotes, desperate pleas to prove your friendship, numerous listed things of no relevance or importance, and fake news stories treated as truth. The lack of advertising sets Ello apart from Twitter and Facebook, but it’s no different in this respect to Instagram, Tumblr, Google Plus, and dozens of other social networking sites known only to those sixteen years of age or younger. The point being: we are not suffering for a lack of places where we can impart our interesting thoughts without having products hawked in the sidebar. We are suffering for a lack of interesting things to post, period.

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Here’s some food for thought: if you use Facebook and other social media sites, but don’t like the format, or the advertising, or the people that also post there, or anything besides your ability to burp up random complaints and musings to uninterested parties, then perhaps what you really don’t like are social media sites. The internet was not a device conceived so you could stalk your fifth-grade crush or so you can spout your uninformed opinions into the ether. You don’t “need” social media in order to use the internet effectively. So if Twitter and Co. is pissing you off, then maybe instead of building a better mousetrap you could divest yourself from these sites completely. Go ahead, give it a shot. Because these sites are only as good as the people that use them, and every person, to a one, sucks.

Be sure to follow Reggie on Twitter at @reggiereggie and on Facebook at facebook.com/reggiereggie! Irony!

Our Mothers, Our Whores

29 Sep

I was born a male. I have lived my entire life as a male, and barring something unexpected I expect to die a male. It is not a source of pride, really, but an incontrovertible and undeniable aspect of who I am. I am a male, my astrological sign is Leo, I wear a size 11-1/2 shoe. These are simply facts about who I am.

I considered myself an “Enlightened Man” long before I’d even hit puberty. Owing largely to a strong maternal figure and a liberal upbringing, along with generally being more bookish than rowdy, I had a cadre of platonic girl friends at an early age (which, incidentally, endeared me in no way to the boys at school.) I was raised to respect women, to assume their intellect as I would assume any man’s. And for a long time, I thought I did this–even admitting an opposite sort of prejudice where I expect more from women than men, because I think women are generally smarter and better at constructing logical arguments. And so I went in my smug little way, happily traipsing along, silently denouncing the cat-calls of blue-collar workers and frowning disapprovingly at my friends’ misogynistic comments. Whatever vitriol being heaped upon men by feminists certainly did not apply to me, because I was an Enlightened Man.


Recently it began to dawn on me that I may have been, to borrow a French phrase, full of shit. There has been lots of warranted feminist outrage on the internet lately, from GamerGate to the wrongful termination of Jennifer Williams, to the #YesAllWomen twitter campaign, it seems like women are using the digital platform to take a stand for themselves. My gut reaction was to largely ignore these controversies because I didn’t think I should get involved. Surely I’ve never denigrated a woman or made her feel uncomfortable. I’m one of the “good guys,” the fellows that compliment ladies on their clothing and ask women for relationship advice and only look at their boobs for a few seconds rather than entire minutes. I believed I was supporting the fight for feminism by not diluting it with my testosterone. And then I decided to go against common sense and check the comments section.

I was absolutely stunned by the aggressive, angry responses I saw to these current events. Venomous, hateful threats of violence and rape. Denouncing what women wrote as divisive libel, women being called stupid and fake and sluts. Claims that women should take their grievances to lawyers or the police–I suppose to the Men Are Being Mean To Me Department, headed by Sergeant Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head–instead of bringing these discrepancies to light. It made me ashamed to have been born a male, and that’s when it dawned on me that perhaps I have been an unwitting misogynist all my life.

I have never physically hurt or threatened a woman, I don’t think I’ve even yelled at women. But I’ve definitely dismissed women for being “hysterical” or “crazy” when they complained about inequities. I’ve certainly leered at women inappropriately–and thought I was somehow better because I did it quicker than some other men. I’ve told women I like their blouse or hairstyle, never thinking that maybe women in specific and people in general don’t feel like striking up casual conversations based around the fact that you’ve been scoping them out. At a young age, I was taught that if you like a girl, go ask her out; the worst she could do is say, “no.” I wasn’t taught to respect others’ privacy and not to open a relationship by asking someone to entreat partnership with a stranger. The discrepancies between my thought and deed piled up. I considered myself a swell guy for considering most men idiots while regarding most women as geniuses. It didn’t occur to me that I was actually giving guys a pass while rigorously subjecting women to my expectations.


As it turns out, I am a male, and I feel all of the entitlement that men feel towards women–that they should be grateful for my existence, that they should be buoyed by my attention, that somehow I was doing them a favor with my condescension. I even considered my non-involvement in Feminism as some kind of benevolent acquiescence to women. “You go girls!” I thought in self-satisfaction, “Tell those nasty men off!” Never thinking that I might be one of these “nasty men,” or even that my non-involvement was more evidence that I marginalized women and their silly feelings. It’s both a comforting and terrifying thing to learn that I can have profound realizations about myself this late in life. It’s nice to know I can still learn and grow, but about what else am I kidding myself?

I find I am the subject of a lifetime of conditioning, despite my Ms. Magazine mom, and that my lifetime is but a sliver of societal conditioning stretching back to the dawn of humanity. We all come to accept some things as simply true: sex sells. Women work hard to look pretty and should be regarded for it. If a woman wears certain clothing, she wants you to gawk. These aren’t concepts I arrived to through careful consideration but by observing the world around me and being trained by the same concepts that train everyone else. We are all in this together, men and women, all of us educated from womb to tomb that boys like farts and girls like flowers, and never the twain shall meet. And, if you don’t get my point by now, that’s absolute bullshit.

How will I proceed? Well, for one thing, I’m going to cut the crap. I can silently appreciate a blouse and roundly chastise my friends for misogynistic comments. I can attempt to regard women on their merits and not based on some condescending notion about their superiority. The problem isn’t that women aren’t running the world, it’s that women by and large aren’t running shit. That even well-respected women in positions of power can be called “emotional” for speaking their minds. And I might have counted myself among those who waved off women’s problems as “Woman Problems.” The one thing I know for sure is that women aren’t going to become equal by screaming into a vacuum that no man can hear. It will be up to us, menfolk of the world, to change our perception of women and how we treat them if we’re going to see true gender equality. If you believe in fairness and respecting others as you would want to be respected, then I don’t see how you could do any less. And if you don’t believe in fairness and think women should be seen and not heard, then go fuck yourself and throw yourself into the mouth of the nearest live volcano.

Here’s the Solitary Reason Marijuana Should Be Legalized

21 Aug

There’s been a lot in the news recently about decriminalizing the marijuana pots in the United States. The two sides of this issue seem particularly polarized: on one side, you’ve got folks clamoring that patients should have access to medical marijuana; that hemp (the boring form of marijuana) could be used to make paper and cloth while reducing our reliance on petroleum; that marijuana arrests are clogging our privately-owned prison system and forcing higher Federal subsidies to these institutions; that pot gets you high, which is a pretty nice feeling. And on the other side of the issue you’ve got people that hate fun. I mean, really, barring the conspiratorial forces that benefit financially from marijuana’s prohibition, I can’t understand why non-smokers should care. You might look down on someone that uses reefer, you might think potheads are kind of lame, but is that any reason to rail against this recreational activity? Dispense with television and smart phones if you’re so worried about citizens being vapid and unambitious, these contribute far more to people’s lameness than any gravity bong. Because the fact of the matter is that the utter nonsense my generation was force-fed under Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” programs turned out to be complete bullshit. Weed is not a gateway drug, potheads do not make effective criminals, and the worst thing to come from common marijuana use is painfully shitty music.

Medicinal reasons and the ability to purchase cheap Corona baja sweatshirts are swell reasons to legalize weed, though they don’t necessarily resonate with all people. To my mind, there is one reason that marijuana should be legalized that is shocking and compelling and should affect everyone. As detailed in the book El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency by Ioan Grillo, Mexico is currently in the grip of about three dangerous Mexican drug cartels, staffed with ex-military officers trained to combat Leftist rebels in Mexico and Central America, and the stuff they do is pretty fucked up. Really fucked up, actually. Like “beheading every male member in a town and leaving their heads in the center square as an example” fucked up. Like “kidnapping children and murdering bound people in the street with gunshots to the head” fucked up. Like “bloody public gun fights that result in a dozen or more casualties” fucked up. And the main thing that started these cartels up was shipping marijuana to America. I can’t help but smirk at the disconnect between your balding high school guidance counselor taking a bong rip while the weed he smoked left several orphans in our neighbors to the South.

And the thing that causes all of this death and bloodshed, which keeps a country in terror and causes immigrants to stream across our borders, is the U.S. policy against marijuana. We’ve helped the situation along for decades, actually, stretching back to when the U.S. military contracted with Mexico to supply opium for our war-wounded during World War II. And those ex-military drug lords that fought against the Sandinistas and Communist insurgents were actually trained by the CIA. Oh, and we gave them their guns and vehicles, too, including a substantial air force via a particularly botched-up deal with the DEA. Are you getting it now? The situation in Mexico is our fault. We caused it, and we perpetuate it by allowing these scumbags to stay in business because we don’t see fit to sell and tax weed our damn selves. This trumps every other reason, I believe, for legalizing marijuana. There will be other benefits, there will be many problems, but most of all we won’t be killing a nation and its culture because of some mixed-up policies that are at least partially-founded on misrepresentations and lies. Yes, legalizing pot in the U.S. will present new troubles, and it certainly won’t do anything to reduce America’s obesity epidemic, but at least we can say that we’re not blithely contributing to some of the most sickening atrocities in the world happening just adjacent to our own country. That shit really harshes my buzz.

Thank You, Crazy Idiot, for Dismantling the Patriarchy

27 May

A horrible thing happened last weekend: a kid named Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in California and killed six people, wounded several others. It was another in a growing list of homegrown atrocities being committed at an increasing rate here in America. It’s gotten so common, there’s a list of questions that instantly generate once we hear about another mass slaying: Was it at a school? Were there guns involved? Were the guns obtained legally? Each one of these tragedies forces us to look at ourselves and our neighbors differently, mixing suspicion and empathy in unequal amounts to arrive at the unsatisfying conclusion that we, as a society, have our priorities out of whack. Rodger’s rampage had another wrinkle, though. It was preceded by a creepy video manifesto.

We perceive this awful, misogynistic video as unusual because it is reasonably coherent. We don’t expect our spree killers and maniacs to be so well-spoken, looking so normal. One result of this video, as well as the release of other vitriolic, hateful stuff Rodger produced, is a nationwide discussion about how women are still regarded as little more than fuck objects by our patriarchal society. And it’s been a good discussion. It led to a twitter hashtag, #yesallwomen, where women (mainly) detailed the inequities and harassment they encounter every single day. It’s caused a lot of women to speak up about otherwise routine stuff they deal with on the street, with their families and at their careers that many of us men might take for granted. It’s exposed a pervasive belief that women somehow owe men sexual satisfaction, that by not reciprocating on advances they are being prudes, or bitches, or doing something incorrectly. If the result of Rodger’s assault is that the male-dominated infrastructure weakens and crumbles, if it effects a real change in gender inequities, then perhaps we can extract some good from this terrible event. There’s one aspect of the whole thing that doesn’t sit right with me, however: it’s another case of a severely disturbed man being held as evidence of a misogynistic society.

Please don’t get me wrong. We do live in a misogynistic society. There are severe improprieties and injustices perpetrated against women in the United States that need to be addressed. But it doesn’t seem fair that the staged ramblings of a severely disturbed individual should be used to evince this fact. Yes, the way Rodgers talks in his video is in line with the way many men think–many men believe they are entitled to female attention, for sure. But many men aren’t going to commit revenge murders over it. Indeed, most men might harbor lots of misogynistic thoughts while interacting with women in a pleasant and professional way. But we don’t persecute people for thoughts, we persecute them for their actions, and the actions of Rodgers, and his justification for them, do not mirror mine in any way. I am very willing to be schooled by women in the ways I might have been less than egalitarian in my dealings. I want women to speak up, I want to know about the invisible oppressions I and my fellow males perpetrate without realizing it. But I will be damned if I’m going to let myself be lumped in with some cruel asshole who’s romanticized his first-world struggle.

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I suppose the discussion is what’s important, less so the impetus. Like I’ve said, if every guy reading the #yesallwomen feed takes it upon himself to correct his behaviors, and admonish the improper behaviors of those around him, then it’s all been for good cause. It’s a sad truth that only the most outrageous, horrifying incidents galvanize people to speak up–be it about gun control, how we care for the mentally ill, misogyny, or whatever else is sticking in our craw. I merely wish it didn’t take a hyperbolic example of a young man’s anger to get people to discuss gender politics. Because I am a man, and I have certainly behaved less-than-great to many women in my life, both knowingly and unknowingly. I deserve to be called out on these instances, I want to be instructed in the passive misogyny I carry from the earliest days of being taught. But damn it, I won’t be compared to Elliot Rodger. That guy is fucking nuts.

A Poem About a Bird

10 Mar

I spied a tweeting songbird

Hop along the ground

In all my years of watching birds

I’d never heard that sound

starling

I listened to the songbird’s tune

A seductive note array

With stealth, I sidled closer

But the songbird flew away

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I waited for that bird’s return

I stood for days on end

Eventually I up and left

Without my feathered friend

starling3

I waited for that bird’s return

I stood for days on end

I’d never heard that song before

And I never will again

A Meeting of the Minds

6 Aug

An airport taxi pulls up to a trendy restaurant in the Malibu Hills whose name, “Hohu” is back-lit by purple neon. The back door of the taxi opens and comic book writer FRANK MILLER emerges, pauses dramatically, and drinks in the lush surroundings. He begins walking to the entrance of the restuarant. Past the colored fountains of mythical Ambrosia, past the live mermaids playfully swimming in giant tanks, right up to the door of “Hohu” which is an exact replica of the front door of the Wizard’s castle from The Wizard of Oz. The door opens ceremoniously and FRANK MILLER steps through it.
Inside the spacious and lushly-decorated restaurant we see a single, circular table with three settings and a dim lamp as the centerpiece. Seated at the table and facing the entrance are CHRISTOPHER NOLAN and ZACK SNYDER, famous movie makers. They wave FRANK MILLER over and gesture for him to take a seat, which he does…

CN: (grinning) I’m glad you could make it, Frank.

FM: (taking his seat) Please, call me Frank.

CN: I suppose you know why we’ve asked to speak with you.

FM: Of course I know. The whole goddamned internet knows. You want to talk about Batman.

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A slight and obsequious WAITER shuffles over to the table and, in a deep bow, utters

WAITER: Good evening gentlemen. May I take your drink orders?

CN: I’ll have a liter of angel’s tears.

ZS: I’ll have the chilled blood of a Dodo bird in a straight glass.

FM: A can of Schaeffer beer from 1958, please.

WAITER: Very good, sirs. WAITER exits, walking backwards and still in a deep bow.

ZS: Anyway.

CN: How was your flight, Frank?

FM: Let’s get down to brass tacks. You asked me here so we could discuss the Batman. So let’s discuss the character.

ZS: (nervously tugging at his collar) Hurm.

CN: Yes, well, no need for formalities. Obviously you know by now that the sequel to this summer’s blockbuster Man of Steel will feature Batman.

ZS: Indeed.

CN: And more than feature Batman, it will actually pit Batman against Superman. We were inspired by that scene from your historic comic book work, The Dark Knight Returns.

ZS: Oh yes. Very inspired. A runner appears with the drinks, arranges them at the table, and slinks away without ever making eye contact.

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CN: We would like to pick your brain about that scene, the characters, their motivations.

FM: Cracks his beer and takes a long sip from the can. I’ll make this real simple for you. Superman is a jerk, Batman is an asshole.

ZS: (with alacrity) Ulp!

CN: Hmm, yes. Our take on Superman was a bit different.

FM: I didn’t see your silly movie so I wouldn’t know, but I assume you made him a real pansy. And he is a pansy, but he’s also a government stooge. Batman stands in opposition to that because he’s a complete asshole.

CN: Right.

FM: (continuing) See Batman’s whole motivation is to avenge the death of his parents. That’s his only motivation. But he can’t avenge them without pummeling the shit out of everyone. And that includes Superman.

CN: What about Batman’s pursuit of justice?

ZS: Yes, uh, what of justice?

FM: Are you fucking retarded? Justice? There’s no justice, just pimps and hookers and junkies and pedophiles all heaped together in a pile of shit. And on top of that pile, the King Shit of all the little shitlings, is Batman.

The WAITER sidles up to the table, again in a deep bow, and speaking to his shoes, utters

WAITER: I beg your pardon, gentlemen. May I take your orders?

CN: I’ll have a Bengal tiger fillet with a side of Gingold.

ZS: I’ll have an everlasting Gobstopper in fairy’s wing sauce.

FM: Steak. Medium-well.

WAITER: Very good, sirs, I’ll bring that right out. WAITER backs away again, disappearing into the darkness.

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CN: Frank, let me ask you…do you like Batman?

FM: What do you mean?

CN: Well I wouldn’t expect someone who likes Batman to describe him as “King Shit.”

ZS: (nods spastically)

FM: Of course I like Batman! I’ve written dozens of Batman comic books!

CN: Of course, we must defer to your wisdom. Tell us more about the Batman, as you see him.

FM: Well another thing you should know about Batman is that he dislikes people.

CN: What?

FM: Batman dislikes people. Doesn’t care for them. They interfere with his mission.

CN: I see. If he dislikes people, why is he saving their lives all the time?

FM: Just to shut up their whiny mewling. He sees them as annoying hurdles in his war against Superman.

CN: Batman is at war with Superman?

FM: Of course, he’s at war with everybody.

CN: What about Robin?

FM: He’s at war with him.

CN: What about Alfred?

FM: He’s at war with that limey.

ZS: Sweating nervously, ZACK SNYDER looks about ready to pass out.

CN: Why does he employ them if he’s at war with them?

FM: First of all, he doesn’t “employ” Robin. Robin is some little dickwad that keeps hanging around Batman while he’s trying to wage war on everyone.

CN: Right.

FM: It’s almost more trouble for Batman to throw Robin off a cliff than you let him bounce around during fights. Plus he can distract villains and draw their fire.

CN: But Batman is shown to clearly care for Robin in the comics. Did you ever read Robin Dies at Dawn?

FM: Oh, I don’t read comics.

CN: What?!

FM: That’s kid stuff. I write comics, I don’t read the stupid things.

CN: (looks over at ZACK SNYDER who is pale and quivering) Okayyy…

A runner arrives with plates of food, which he sets before the seated men and quickly and silently absconds, never making eye contact.

CN: I don’t know if we are going to go in this same direction with Batman, Frank.

FM: (chewing on a piece of steak) Okay, what’s your take?

CN: Extends his arms and articulates his thumbs and forefingers as a makeshift frame. The movie opens in darkness.

ZS: Nods head enthusiastically. Darkness, definitely darkness.

CN: From the darkness, we see a shadowy fist emerge.

ZS: Darkness. Pitch black darkness.

CN: Is it Superman’s fist? Whose shaded fist can this be, issuing from billowy blackness?

ZS: Lights out. Dark. Darkness.

CN: Everyone’s going to think it’s Superman’s fist.

ZS: Everyone.

CN: But it’s not.

ZS: Darkness.

CN: It’s Batman’s fist. In a sequel to Man of Steel. Can you picture it?

ZS: Boom.

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FM: Yes, well, what happens in the movie?

CN: We haven’t gotten to that part yet. All we’ve come up with is the thing with the fist.

ZS: And the darkness.

CN: Yes, we came up with the darkness. We were hoping you would help us flesh out the plot.

FM: I see.

CN: Though honestly I’m not sure if we can use your hateful, spiteful Batman.

ZS: Nods slowly.

FM: Oh, so you want to use some pussy Batman? Like the Adam West bullshit?

CN: (thoughtfully) Hmm…maybe. But darker.

FM: Abruptly gets up from the table, pushing his chair back, and throws his cloth napkin onto his half-eaten steak. FRANK MILLER chews what he’s got in his mouth slowly and methodically, holding CHRISTOPHER NOLAN’s gaze with a piercing stare. After two full minutes, FRANK MILLER swallows his last bite of steak, clears his throat, and speaks. Gentlemen, you offend me. I thought you brought me here to teach you about the Batman, his motivations and complete hatred for humanity and life. But I was wrong. You’re just a couple of slick Hollywood hucksters who want to take the pure story of a complete douchebag’s struggle against sluts and jerkwads and turn it into some kind of rodeo circus. Well I, for one, will have no part of it. Don’t you know who I am? I’m goddamned Frank Miller! Good day. FRANK MILLER strides purposefully from the table and is enveloped in the surrounding shadows.

ZS: In a state of shock, begin weeping.

CN: Watches FRANK MILLER exit, then begins eating his dinner. Well that was unpleasant. Looks around the empty, darkened restaurant, and waves his fork at nothing in particular. It’s a bit bright in here, isn’t it?

The Art of Art

29 May

On a trip to Venice, Italy, I visited the Palazzo Ducale, the Renaissance-era Venetian palace of…Ducale, I guess. It was definitely impressive, in fact it captured my mind (and about 1 GB on my camera’s memory card) days before I visited the actual structure. Once inside the palace, I was struck dumb by all of the ornate woodwork, gold leaf trim on everything, and depictions of Jesus paneling the ceiling. Lots of pictures of Jesus. Lots and lots of pictures of Jesus. Jesus up on the cross, Jesus down from the cross. Jesus doling out bread and fishes, Jesus standing gloriously outside of a cave. There were some images of the Virgin Mary and assorted cherubs, but–Jesus Christ!–there were mostly paintings of Jesus Christ. I thought about the guys who painted this stuff, it was probably their lives’ work to decorate the ceiling of the Palazzo Ducale. And here I am, about half an eon into their future, snickering at all the naked boobs.

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I figure the people who painted all of these Jesuses on the ceiling probably got really good at painting Jesus after a while. I remember seeing a documentary on Charles Schulz in the 1980s: a camera filmed his weathered hand as he drew perfect depictions of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and Lucy Van Pelt in ink without any pencil guides. I was pretty impressed at first, then my dad pointed out that I might have seen the ten-thousandth time he’d drawn these particular characters. Years later, while ruining page after page of my looseleaf notebook trying to come up with new graffiti styles, I noticed that I developed a different relationship, a sort of understanding with the letters I’d chosen to compose my tag. These phenomenons are what happen through regular practice, through routine. Any action performed over and over, day and and day out will become rote after a time. When you first learned to walk, you had to concentrate on keeping in one direction without falling down. Now you walk and fall down without even thinking of it.

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It seems like art in the Western world, specifically beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, is about self expression: we only paint Jesus when we want to. My friend Justin points out that it’s an outgrowth of the American Dream, that you can be whatever you want to be and live freely to throw paint buckets at a canvas. There’s certainly something to that, it appears as if many people get into art because they believe it to be contrary to the shackled, work-a-day world of regular pay and health benefits. There’s also the possibility that you roll the dice on Life As an Artist and come up with a financial boon. But is this something worth gambling over? You can make the most trite, banal song and license it to a commercial for lots of money. You can scribble a few lines on a page and upload it to the internet to be viewed by millions of people. Will someone stand before your work and regard it in five hundred years? What intrinsic value has been created outside of the temporal context of its creation? If financial gain is the objective, then I tell you that you’re better off at that work-a-day job collecting a paycheck.

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My impression is that, based on some of the modern art I’ve consumed, that a lot of people need to go back and paint some more Jesuses. So much output in the digital age is derivative, belying their creators’ lack of acumen. Paint your Jesus, write your essays, work on your robot conqueror every single day. You will get better at whatever you pursue, and you’ll understand new things about your craft as it continues to be exercised. Don’t talk about it, be about it. And once you’ve put in your time, paid some dues, then you know that when you paint boobs, you’re doing it as an artistic choice and not for some churlish idiot to snicker at.

Big Bang Theory Isn’t That Fucking Good – Redux

1 Mar

A couple of years ago, I wrote this essay about how confused I was that CBS’s The Big Bang Theory was getting such high ratings on Thursday nights against NBC’s Community. I blamed the Nielsen ratings system. It’s not that I expected Big Bang Theory to get low ratings, or that I thought Community could or should eclipse it, I was just boggled by the fact that Big Bang Theory was the highest-rated sitcom, period, and decimated NBC’s offering by a factor of five. I mean, to be clear, I think Big Bang Theory sucks, but I’m not amazed that it’s popular.

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Last night, the fourth episode of the fourth season of Community aired. This season, which was supposed to begin in October 2012 but was inexplicably pushed to February of this year, is the first without creator Dan Harmon on writing staff. He was canned for reasons about which I am unclear and don’t really care to know. I like Dan Harmon, I think what he did with the show touched upon brilliance, but I don’t think he’s a flawless writer. There were lots of dropped points and gaping plot holes left in his wake. But it was pretty clear, and is crystal fucking clear now that Harmon loved these characters. Even Pierce, despite Harmon’s public feuding with Chevy Chase, was handled with humanity when it came time to film. I say this with renewed appreciation for Dan Harmon, because Community fucking sucks a dead dog’s diseased dick right about now.

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It’s tough to wield such a large cast every week, at least I can imagine. But that doesn’t mean you need to shoehorn every character into each episode just to justify their paychecks. Write them in. Use your ability to write. I could make an episode of Troy and Abed having a conversation while every other character gets a walk-on opportunity to cut a fart. But I wouldn’t have really written anything except for Troy and Abed’s lines. This is sort of where the show is now, an A plot and a lamer B plot and then Pierce and Shirley are marginalized to mutter under their breaths or–this is actually true of the first episode–make a series of lame dick jokes. Dan Harmon was good at satire and parody, and the show reflected that under his guidance. I expected that to change with a new writing staff. What I didn’t expect was a lazily-written sitcom so contrived that I wished there was a laugh track so I’d know when something funny happened.

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Last night’s episode, where the study group fought for their study room, was the last straw. Never mind the fact that the foosball episode from last season was one of the least likeable episodes, if you’re going to revive that annoying German trio, then at least have Nick Kroll back. The whole thing with their “war” was worse than a Scooby-Doo hallway door chase scene. The resolution, where the group painted a bunch of broom closets to appease the rest of the school, was stupid and difficult to believe. The scenes with the Dean and Chang were painful, and these guys are supposed to be the comic relief–on a show that is already supposed to be funny! Fuck this show. If you’re still watching it out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, you’re an idiot. Flip over to The Big Bang Theory instead. At least that show has a laugh track to tell you when to chuckle.

Goddamn You, Robert Kirkman

1 Mar

I’ve been reading The Walking Dead in trade editions since they started coming out in 2004. For those that think this essay might be about the TV show on AMC called The Walking Dead, it isn’t. I don’t watch that show. I saw the first season and the first episode of the second season and dropped it. I found the show plodding and aimless, the dialogue ridiculous to the point of insulting, and generally found the program to be a huge letdown. I have heard from some that it’s gotten better (though others tell me it sucks still), but I don’t care. How many chances am I supposed to give a show? If you can’t ramp up to speed after the first season, then your show is a failure. Maybe I’ll catch it all one drunken weekend when the series has wrapped up, but I’ve no interest in following it week to week, and I’m not prepared to discuss anything specific about it.
The comic, however, I’ve been reading in trade editions since 2004. Frankly, I didn’t like that at first, either. The art was uneven and the drama was pretty sappy, and I wasn’t connecting with the characters enough to care whether they survived a zombie apocalypse or not. There was an introduction in the first paperback which told the reader how great the series was going to be, how profound and changing it would become, which turned me off. I walked away from the series for about a year, then went back when the story in paperback was up to where the protagonists met the Governor. I got hooked. This was no Mad Max dystopian future, it wasn’t full of insightful, annoying social commentary, it had become the rather touching story of human beings being fucked up to one another in order to survive. Even at this early stage in the story, the zombie horde was little more than an occasional nuisance. The real threat came from other members of the living.

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This point was made shockingly clear in a splash page scene of the main protagonist’s wife getting shot in the back while clutching her newborn baby. I realized at this point that I had grown to like these characters, enough to hope for their success, and to see this hopeful thing snuffed out in a very large, graphic way was disheartening. I became a fan, and started to follow the adventures of this widower, Rick, and his increasingly weird son Carl as they tried to make it in a world where no one could be trusted. I picked up volume after volume, gripped by the depths to which our heroes would sink in order to stay alive and defended. I scanned panel after panel of them walking through the wilderness, scavenging what little they could and losing hope for a stable future. I read, and read, and read about their actual and metaphorical journey. Then I started to get bored again.

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At one point, they are led to a fortified suburban enclave where a group of people have holed up and formed a community. Then it started to feel like a soap opera. Just people fucking each others’ partners and getting jealous about it. Yeah, people died, but it was often due to over-the-top reactions by blowhards with post-traumatic stress disorder. It wasn’t like I needed to see more death or deaths caused by zombies, to the contrary it seemed like deaths were being shoehorned into the plot in order to make it engrossing. I was getting bored of the series, and figured I would drop it soon if things didn’t turn around. And turn around they did, in vol. 17, Something to Fear.

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It hardly necessitates me claiming “spoilers” when this edition has been out since last November, and the floppy comics produced well before that. Anyone who reads this blog knows that I willfully spoil shit without penitence. How else am I supposed to write about the things I want to discuss? Besides, I’ve already dropped plenty of plot points in this essay already without cautioning “spoilers,” so fuck yourself. So by this point in the story, the folks in the suburban enclave have met another larger, far off community who is willing to trade supplies. Unfortunately, this larger community is being terrorized by a gang known as the Saviors, who demand half of their supplies in exchange for not fucking up the commune. Our heroes have a run-in with this gang, kill several of them humiliatingly, and then are back on the way to the larger group for supplies when they’re accosted by the Saviors. I’m leaving a lot of incidental stuff out, but the important thing, the instance that makes me want to shake my fist at Robert Kirkman and which will keep me buying new trade editions for the foreseeable future, is that the leader of the Saviors pulls Glenn out of the group and bashes his head in with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. Oh, and Glenn’s girlfriend, Maggie, had just revealed she was pregnant. Did I forget to mention that? Glenn was brutally snuffed before he got to be a real dad for the first time.

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And there it was, the same sickening pitch that lured me in the first time will lure me in for another half dozen or so volumes. Fucking Robert Kirkman. Playing with our sensibilities and emotions like some puppeteer. Forcing us to face our most deviant proclivities while you toy with our heartstrings. I don’t necessarily want to read a comic where a main character gets his head caved in so badly that his eye begins to pop out, to watch him calling for his girlfriend while a spiked bat crashes into his skull over and over. You made me do that, Robert Kirkman, with your slow burn suspense story and pandering to the lowest gory denominator. Goddamn you, Kirkman. Just take my wallet and leave me sobbing in a corner with my brutal self-realizations.

The Curious Case of Prostitution in Grand Theft Auto

28 Feb

I was interested in playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City because I’d heard so much about it. Phrases like “sandbox-style” and “the first truly open world” were bandied about by bloggers and reviewers, and I wanted to see what the hubbub was about. My girlfriend and I crossed the lobby of our building to visit our neighbors, friends with the correct hardware and newly-purchased software, for the express purpose of seeing and playing Vice City. That was my purpose, at least. I’m sure my girlfriend wanted to see the female counterpart of our neighborly hosts, to talk perfume and tampons and whatever else ladies converse about.
I was duly impressed by the video game. It was actually the second of the Grand Theft Auto series to feature point-of-view game play, but this was the first to make it look believable. It looked like Miami, sounded like the 1980s and felt like you were in Goodfellas. Game developers Rockstar Studios presented this slick, engaging world whose playability could be measured in tens of hours. Even my girlfriend was impressed, until she saw something in the game that horrified her: my neighbor showed us how you could actually have implied sex with a prostitute for money, then kill her immediately afterward to reclaim your payment. That was it for my girlfriend, she had seen enough. She insisted the game be turned off and we departed shortly after so she could go home and simmer.

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Over the years since, I’ve seen this specific aspect–that one can employ and murder hookers in the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise–come up again and again. Very recently, I saw it referenced on a repeat episode of The Big Bang Theory. It’s obviously a sticking point with many people, something fundamentally revolting that supersedes the more average revulsion reserved for prostitution or murder alone. It is true, you can hump and then slay prostitutes in the Grand Theft Auto series. You can also kill business people, students, and scores upon scores of police officers, FBI agents, and the military. The carnage eventually becomes so absurd that it would be a feat to avoid killing prostitutes, peppered as they are between explosions and streams of automatic weapon fire. In fact, you don’t actually recoup your losses by killing prostitutes after services–a point I laughingly tried to impress upon my girlfriend in the Vice City days: when you kill hookers, they cough up a randomized amount of money like any violently deceased citizen, so that you might actually earn less than you tendered all told. Of course, this point of video game coding was lost on her.

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There’s very little in the Grand Theft Auto series that isn’t calculated to offend your sensibilities. You can gun down an old woman pleading for mercy. You can lay waste to throngs. Still, there’s something about killing a hooker you’ve just poked that rankles more than blowing a police helicopter out of the sky with a guided rocket launcher. I think there’s an element of misogyny implied in the act that heightens indignation. This collection of colored and textured polygons meant to resemble a prostitute is just trying to ply her virtual trade. She’s got enough pain in her life, theoretically, without having to be murdered by a video game sprite. Hookers are fairly marginalized in mainstream society, that’s why many serial killers test their skills on a half a dozen of them before moving on to blond women and closeted homosexuals. And a 128-bit murder is still murder, I suppose.

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But isn’t it fantasy, a “thought crime” at best? If someone thinks about having sex with hookers and then offing them, but never actually does it, has a crime really been committed? This is sort of topical now, as the “Cannibal Cop” court case begins in New York. The case involves, in short, a NYPD officer chatting online with like-minded deviants about wanting to capture and cook women. There are transcripts of him discussing how to prepare his wife, how to bind and properly subdue her, as well as boasting by another party about the women he’s eaten. But no ropes, no chloroform was found. The officer talks about a house upstate with an oven suitable for cooking people, but no such place seems to exist. So it seems like this officer was talking a lot of shit, but the nature of his shit-talking is, itself, a crime. Using this logic, anyone who has written or produced a horror film is subject for arraignment.

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Similar questions are raised in the haunting HBO documentary Capturing the Friedmans. If we can be arrested for the things about which we’ve fantasized, then I’m set for death row. And I won’t be lonely, because I know that many of my male peers have considered scenarios so offensive that they’ve disgusted themselves. Perhaps it’s women, to an extent, that do not consider these dark fantasy scenarios, and it’s too bad really because you could be imagining breaking my balls for some video game infraction instead of MAKING MY ACTUAL LIFE A GODDAMNED LIVING HELL FOR THE LAST HOWEVER MANY YEARS FOR FUCK’S SAKE! I need to blow off some steam now. Time to kill a virtual hooker.

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