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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.

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.

Give the Boot to Reboots

7 Feb

It’s been about a year and a half since DC Comics restarted their entire line-up of titles with The New 52, a company-wide event that did away with the past histories of their diverse line of characters and started all over again to attract new readers. I thought it was a hare-brained idea at the time, but being that I don’t buy floppy comics and I’m fairly used to DC making incomprehensible business decisions, I decided not to opine. Sure, I was pessimistic, but that’s my nature. What the hell do I know about a good Flash comic anyway? The best thing you could do for a Flash comic, in my opinion, is cancel it.

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Well, the dust has settled, trade editions of the first New 52 comics have trickled out, and what we see isn’t a more tempered, sensible universe than the one that preceded it, but the same confuddled claptrap as always. Some origins have been changed, Barbara Gordon has overcome her paralysis to become Batgirl again, but there’s no sense that we’re seeing anything new and fresh. And why should we? DC Comics has a history spanning nine decades, one they periodically try to omit with little success. DC’s concern with its past seems to revolve around the fact that their characters have been portrayed in many ways over the years. This makes sense because different people have written and drawn the comics, and public sensibilities have changed radically in the last century. For some reason, this doesn’t sit well with the powers that be: they feel that Superman should never be depicted changing clothes inside a phone booth when we live in a cellular phone world.

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I think that DC Comics should embrace their storied history, and not in the cornball way they usually do by dragging kitschy characters like Challengers of the Unknown and the Bat Mite out of storage for a “modern” revamp. A “reboot” usually means the male heroes will all have stubble and wrestle with their consciences while they clobber globs of snot from outer space. Instead, DC should admit that they have a lot of characters spanning a healthy person’s lifetime and let writers do what they fucking want. You want to write a story about the early days of Wonder Woman? Go ahead. You want to depict Batman with an iPhone and a Bat-Segway? Let’s see what you’ve got. Many of these characters have become archetypes for our culture and personal gratification. The important part about Superman is that he can punch people through walls, not whether or not his adoptive Earth parents wore spectacles. Cut it out with these title-spanning events that change DC continuity and make Superman have to wear ridiculous costumes.

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What I’m saying is that a fictional world of people who can fly unencumbered through space and fire laser beams from their fingertips doesn’t need a reboot. It’s fantasy, and as such writers should feel free to depict these characters in any fashion, from any era, and respect the readership enough to take these stories at face value. I know DC has its Elseworlds line, but I’m talking about having fun with these heroes and villains in series. Maybe depict the Joker with some humanity. Allow Superman to fight alongside Aquaman with the bureaucracy of the Justice League getting in the way. Let the Green Lantern cut a fart now and again. His uniform already leaves little to the imagination, it’s not a far leap to begin showing his endocrine functions.

Scene to Be Seen

5 Feb

I have had the arguable fortune to be involved with two “scenes” in my lifetime: one surrounding New York City Hardcore music, and another tethered to hip-hop’s international popularity. I wasn’t anyone important, you won’t find me in any oral retrospectives or graduate theses about these times, but I attended a lot of shows and developed a cabal of like-minded friends, with whom I could argue redundantly about our scene’s particulars. He’s wearing a stupid hat. She’s got the wrong shoelaces on her Doc Maarten’s. Ultimately, we united in order to process our scenedom–a scene within a scene. And the main thing that unified us was our collective dismissal of anyone out of touch or new to the genre.

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Apprenticeship is nothing new, indeed its traditions stretch back to humanity’s earliest days. There’s no easy way around it, you’ve got to pay dues before you can effectively talk shit. In the work-a-day world, this makes good horse sense: I wouldn’t want an untrained surgeon poking around my smelly bits, nor would I want a budding plumber to take his first whack at my leaky toilet. Job training is a place where a would-be professional can be humbled by his mistakes without pissing off a client, or worse, killing someone. Being part of a scene, however, offers no such luxury: one must take their lumps in full view of the old guard, who already sneer with derision at your existence. You clique up with other newbies, pay your dues together, and heap shit on newer, smaller fans of whatever a particular scene revolves around. Mind you, most music scenes last three years at best, so this cycle is reiterated at tremendous speed. It’s only a few generations of supplicants before a genre devours itself and becomes irrelevant.

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I wonder how important that kind of scenester apprenticeship is today. To be acknowledged at hardcore and hip-hop shows, I bought and listened to a lot of music, wore certain t-shirts and accessories, steeled myself for interminable discussions about every aspect of the genre in question. I paid those dues, often literally with actual dollars, and earned the right to wear a long-sleeved BURN t-shirt. Today, you could download all the music I’ve ever owned and read the liner notes from the album covers in a weekend. All of that arcane knowledge passed down from asshole to asshole is right there on the internet, free for the taking. Do scenes even exist anymore, or is culture something to be devoured and assimilated before going on to newer things? Really, I have no idea. The only scene I’m looking at joining in the near future is the scene of dudes about to get their first prostate exam. I hope there’s someone experienced in the waiting room to instruct me on the finer points of having a gloved finger shoved up my butt.

White Dudes, Nobody Cares What You Think

14 Jan

Ever notice that many of the most ardent social progressives are young, single white guys? No matter what you do to get through your daily business, here’s ofay telling you that you’re doing it wrong. The food you eat is bad for you. The way you raise your children is wrong. The clothes you wear are evil because they disenfranchise some brown kids half a world away. There are alternatives, they tell us, in the form of sustainable, local wares that cost three times as much as the plastic-wrapped crap you get at K-Mart. But it’s all worth it! And you don’t have to give up anything, you can have all of your creature comfort treats and goodies. For example, you can eschew corporate ice cream for Bearded Know-It-All’s Iced Soy Milk, which tastes just as good. As piss-soaked snow.


It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that we in the Western world live pretty shittily. Why Professor Pothead has tasked himself with educating us, I have no idea. Because normally, socially-acclimated people don’t take advice from those on the fringes of society. I mean, you beanie cap-wearing weirdos think everything mainstream is wrong, that’s why you’re on the fringe. And now you want to tell me what shoes to wear? You opted out, buddy, the day you got that peace sign tattooed on your hand and decided to pierce your eyelids. It’s not about my prejudice, it’s about you living with the decisions you make. If you wanted to change the world for the better, then maybe you could have spent your college years learning about international politics or urban planning, or perhaps you could have gone and found work in a field other than dicking around on the guitar. You think tax laws are unjust, but you’ve never earned enough to necessitate paying taxes anyway. You act like you’ve got Phillip Morris by the balls because you roll your own cigarettes–friend, they own that tobacco, too.


You want to rail against Monsanto and tell yourself that shopping at thrift stores is more sustainable than Old Navy, be my guest. But no one is really checking for the opinions of surly white folks. Yeah, you’ve got seventy bucks for plastic shoes, but what you don’t have is two kids who need new shoes every year. What you don’t have is a mortgage, gainful employment, or the need to get regular haircuts. Your biggest concern is paying off your dealer. So perhaps as the Voice of a Generation, you fall a little flat. Maybe in ten years, when white people are actually a minority in America, we’ll listen to your pleas, if you have time to issue them in between finding work and keeping the lights on in your subsidized studio apartment. Come talk to me about Sri Lankan sweat shop workers after you get turned down at your twentieth job interview because the workplace has already filled their Mr. Charlie quota.

O Stalker, My Stalker

20 Dec

Used to be that stalking was hard work. It involved a lot of peering through high-powered binoculars and sifting through people’s garbage. You could follow someone to and from work every day for a week, and still not catch the details of their morning breakfast order from the McDonald’s drive-thru. Stalking was not for the faint of heart, or for the very sane. Mark Chapman lurked on Central Park West for three days before he saw an opportunity to shoot John Lennon. Three days of waiting, and there wasn’t even a brand new iPhone at the end of his loitering.


Nowadays, people throw the word “stalking” around like it’s harmless. And for the way it’s used today, which is to describe people who monitor others’ internet activity, perhaps it is. Because there’s no point in being stalked when you’re checking in to every location and uploading pictures of your family vacation for all to see. You’ve already done most of the work for a potential stalker. At one time, stalking burned up countless tanks of gas as creepy weirdos followed their targets incessantly to discern habitual movements. Now a stalker can sit on his fat ass munching Cheetos while you tell him and everyone else in the world what you’re doing all day long. It demeans the whole creepy voyeur community, quite frankly, and your claim to privacy rights seems a little disingenuous.


You see it about every other week, some rumor passed along facebook or twitter or what-have-you: a vague threat, cloaked in legal speak, about how the stuff you’ve posted is going to be repurposed for corporate number crunchers or outright sold to ad agencies. This is usually combined with a fake post or phony petition that will tell the dastardly powers-that-be how incensed we are to have our musings about Jersey Shore watched by White Devils. Friend, you’ve already given up the ghost. They had your number the day you registered to an e-mail address. Sure, you may be sharing your musings about rush hour traffic with your circle of approved friends, but that doesn’t exclude the people who run the freaking site. And it certainly doesn’t deter content aggregators from compiling whatever public information you do let loose for the perusal of every jilted lover and high school enemy that might do a google search for your name.


I think we’re too loose with the word “stalking.” If you’ve got an account at more than one social networking website, and you’re updating them frequently via your smartphone, then you can’t claim anyone is actually stalking you. They’re just reading the shit you’ve spewed into the ether. If you’re so paranoid that the people you’ve inconvenienced in your life and the corporations you hate are going to scrutinize your every move, then my advice is don’t fucking help them out with it. More than likely, the damage has already been done. Perhaps you should put in a little work, fake your own death and get plastic surgery so you can assume a new identity. Put in some effort like good stalkers used to do.

These Are the Crazies in Your Neighborhood

17 Dec

Back in my old neighborhood, there was a guy who lived in a private junkyard right next to an industrial launderer a few blocks from my house. He put together a makeshift shelter out of the body of an old Volkswagen Beetle and some dirty blue tarps. No one would have known he was there except that he had to make regular forays into the non-junkyard world to buy himself forty ounce bottles of Budweiser beer. Pass by the junkyard around ten o’clock in the morning, you’d hear the clanging of shifted metal as this guy hauled himself out of a scrap heap to panhandle. Pass by again around three in the afternoon, you might catch him shuffling back home through a hole in the fence, hauling a grocery bag laden with brown bottles of beer. I considered him a whacked-out wino, part of the natural scenery. He was only one of maybe two dozen drunken adults wandering thoroughfares from Main Street to Utopia Parkway in Flushing, Queens. You’d see them with their Army-issued field jackets and free t-shirts from various cigarette promotions, begging for change and openly drinking right next to the very bodegas that sold the brew.


And it wasn’t just my neighborhood, but every neighborhood I visited growing up. Times Square was littered with as many as a hundred stumbling, disheveled people, often sleeping openly right on the sidewalks. Friends’ suburban neighborhoods in Long Island each had their special crazies, often lurking around the local strip mall or panhandling at highway exit ramps. I called them bums, I called them drunks. I called them winos and homeless people and crazies. I paid them no more mind than a lamp post or a mailbox, these people were everywhere and I took it for granted that this is what society looks like. Where did they come from? How did they end up living in a small junkyard in Flushing? These were the kinds of questions I never asked. They may as well have been birthed right there in the gutter, weaned on cheap beer and raised by greasy rats.


Things are no better today. The homeless Vietnam Vets of my era have largely died off, to be replaced by homeless veterans from more recent conflicts. You’ve got junkies and schizos and people having loud conversations with antagonists visible only to them. There’s a guy who sits outside of my office and beats a stick against the bottom of a soup pot for hours at a time. You get used to them, let loose a little change here and there, but for the most part you blow by these people, since to stop and help everyone in need seems an insurmountable task. You might feel sympathetic, you might feel annoyed, but one thing people rarely think is that these people might be dangerous. What danger could a malnourished looney pose to a well-fed guy that’s got all his marbles? So we allow ourselves to become complacent.


Part of this complacency is borne, I think, of despair. What should we do for the mentally infirm? What can we do? We can lock them up and pump them full of Thorazine until their medical insurance runs out, then they’re back out in the wild. There are no miracle cures, no way to reason with someone who is perpetually hallucinating. We can intervene on our obsessive friends and family, we can commit our suicidal children, but there’s not a lot of help forthcoming for the strange dude lurking on the street. It’s assumed that there’s some dreary procedure in place to handle these outlying integers of society, but the fact is that there’s nothing satisfactory. Prisons end up picking up as much mental health slack as they can, and then only after someone has been convicted of a crime. Very often, that’s too late.


We live in a time that we can mitigate our anxieties with medication and indulge our narcissism in a therapist’s office. Many of us seem to accept the fact that modern life will drive you at least a little crazy. But why does this have to be the norm? Isn’t a society that drives you insane a failed society? And what about those without health insurance, do we accept them as regrettable casualties in the war to figure out what the hell we want to do with ourselves? Sadly, I have no answers, only more and more questions. Because the truth of the matter is that we’ve always had crazy people, and we’ve never known quite what to do with them. Maybe we should privatize mental health hospitals, make a business out of incarcerating the insane. But then I’d worry that I might ultimately be given a rubber room right next to yours.

George Lucas, You Are Worse Than Ten Hitlers

14 Dec

A while ago, I wrote this piece, in reference to George Lucas’ continued editorial meddling in home releases of Star Wars movies. At the time, I was kind of jocular about it, because, honestly, I don’t give a shit. I like the original Star Wars series, but I’m not hysterical over it. I never owned any of the toys, never considered following up on the expanded universe through novels and comic books, and though I did have a set of Star Wars bedsheets as a kid, I am fairly certain that these were requested by my brother, and not me–particularly since I was unaware that linens were something to be purchased. I figured the Fitted Sheet Fairy brought them or something.


About a year after the original Star Wars trilogy was released on DVD, I purchased it used from Academy Records on 17th Street. I had no plans to watch them right away, I merely wanted to own the movies in this format just in case I felt like popping them on. I was aware that Lucas had made changes to the movies–some slight, others major–and I didn’t really care. I mean, these are just stupid movies about space dudes in cloaks and giant bears wearing bandoliers waving around flashlights. I read a lot of the online vitriol against Lucas with a kind of bemusement, shaking my head at the poor souls who had invested so much of themselves into this silliness. So Greedo shoots before Han Solo. So Lucas added a bunch of cgi shit to Cloud City. So what? It’s not like the basic plot of the story is any more or less stupid than before. Star Wars is a space fairy tale, a story of wonder and whimsy and weird incestual overtones and maybe some religious dogma.


A few weeks ago, my girlfriend asked to watch the Star Wars series. I hadn’t sat through the trilogy in many years, and I was curious to know just what George Lucas had changed from the originals, so we started watching them. Immediately, I was entertained by the small and large changes to these movies. For one thing, the graphics and sound were definitely enhanced from what I remember. But I was more tickled by the incongruous cgi characters hanging around with crude puppets, extra scenes of worthlessness that didn’t pertain to the story, and obnoxiously overdone explosions which stripped the original works of their charm. All the while, I chuckled inwardly at the fans whose childhoods were ruined by these augmentations, as if one should be proud that their childhood is based on a blockbuster space movie in which Carrie Fisher adopts an awful British accent. Then, we got to the final movie, Return of the Jedi.


My relationship to Return of the Jedi is a strange one, to say the least. I wasn’t old enough to see the original Star Wars in theaters, but I did see Empire Strikes Back when I was about five or six. I was too young to understand the plot, and took away from the film a fear of Darth Vader and a love of Yoda. I was eight or nine when Return of the Jedi came out, and not only did I understand the plot, but I loved the movie: I loved the space battles, I loved the creepy Emperor, and yes, I loved the Ewoks. They were pretty much targeted to my age group, so it was difficult not to. It wasn’t until years later, when I would obsessively watch the trilogy on VHS with my college roommate, that I came to understand how Return of the Jedi is kind of a let-down in the series. It’s basically a big-budget remake of the original Star Wars, with Ewoks (who were initially supposed to be Wookies) patched in to pander to eight and nine year-olds. Still, it was the most technically proficient of the three movies, and though it doesn’t stand alone as a great work, it closes out the story as we know it rather nicely. It’s always held a special place in my heart, as “my” Star Wars movie, far removed from the Disco-era’s shitty spaceship models and poorly-done mattes which are hallmarks of the other two films.


So I naively thought that Lucas wouldn’t fool around with Return of the Jedi. What’s to update? By the time that movie came out, Star Wars was a multi-million dollar property and the movies’ formula had been exacted. Sure, there might be some technical changes, but by and large I considered it a perfect movie for the genre, one which was both ageless as well as a contextual piece for the Reagan era. How wrong I was. Due to my familiarity with the movie, I was able to pick out the alterations immediately: a horrible cgi scene in Jabba the Hutt’s compound where a bipedal, female fish sings a song about Jedis as Jabba’s concubine is playfully dragged to her death. Ugly-looking tentacles issuing from the toothy sand pussy meant to end the lives of Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Luke Skywalker. Every few minutes, there seemed to be another pointless addition to the movie, which either detracted from the tension and pacing of the original or padded out the film with useless footage. I found it all generally annoying, but it was nothing to get angry over. These are movies for kids, and as the theatrical version of Return of the Jedi pandered to my grade school self, so too should the DVD re-releases pander to eight and nine year-olds today. Maybe they want to see their sand pussies with beaks and tentacles, how would I know? The point of that scene wasn’t diminished, just its impact, which is sad but not unexpected from a champion of mediocrity like George Lucas. Still, I had to laugh at those who feel the home releases of these movies are “ruined.” Every change Lucas made to the movies made sense in terms of continuity with the newer trilogy, as well as technological advances and George Lucas’ softer sensibilities.

And then we got to the end of Return of the Jedi.

I can only assume you’ve seen these Star Wars movies, otherwise there’s no reason to have read this much of my essay. But to refresh those who may not have seen it in years, the end of Return of the Jedi depicts an Ewok celebration on their home planet of Endor (or one of Endor’s moons, I forget which) after Darth Vader and the Emperor have been killed and the Death Star blown up. During the celebration, Luke sees the ghostly images of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and his father before he went all black robot suit, smiling warmly at Luke as if to say, “Good job, bud.” There’s a song that plays at the end, a much lauded or hated song, depending on individual opinion. It’s kind of an Ewok chant that supports the action on-screen of Ewoks doing somersaults and dancing around in their stiff, costumed manner. In fact, here it is:

Well, they fucking changed the song in the DVD release!

Upon seeing this, I crossed over from the Light Side to the Dark Side of Star Wars fandom, from chortling at the whining pleas of those who would dress as Storm Troopers to joining their angry ranks, gathered at comic conventions, calling for the head of George Lucas. Why did you change this song? Why? Not only does it make the Ewoks’ scenes of celebration seem bizarre and out of sync, over the mild dirge that replaces the happy and annoying Ewok song, it also completely changes the end of Return of the Jedi from triumph to contemplative confusion. I’m not even mad at the stupid cgi scenes of interplanetary peace, though they look imported from another movie entirely. I’m okay with changing the original actor that played Darth Vader’s human ghost to the brooding dude from Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. That was all for continuity with the newer trilogy. But why change that final song?

Because, ladies and gentlemen, George Lucas is worse than ten Hitlers combined. Fuck him.

Forget the Stupid Justice League Movie Already

14 Dec

Hey, there’s been some recent news about the long-rumored Justice League film, due out 2015! Isn’t that exciting? Haven’t you been waiting for a movie about the Justice League for like freaking ever?! You know the Justice League, right? That collection of DC Comics properties that includes Superman, Batman…I think Wonder Woman is in it…also the Flash and Green Lantern, and…that green guy. No, not Green Lantern, I already mentioned him. The other one. The guy that’s as strong as Superman plus he turns invisible. Also the guy with the wings, Hawkman is in it. I think that’s it. Oh wait, Aquaman, he’s got to be in there. Basically everyone from the SuperFriends except the non-white characters.


Wait, there’s more heroes in the League? You say that the Justice League contains every hero belonging to DC Comics, going back to 1938? Well, fuck me. There’s something lackluster about a specialized league that anyone with a talent remotely approaching a super power can join. They have two heroes with the power to stretch themselves like taffy. There are about four that can run faster than the speed of sound. And there are so many meta-humans with the power of flight, that their base of operations has to be held on a fucking satellite. Otherwise, they’d have to employ air traffic controllers, opening up a host of labor problems. There are more people in tights in the Justice League than the Ringling Bros. circus. And every time they hold a meeting, there’s a rift in the space-time continuum or something that spells imminent disaster for the cosmos. I mean, I’m not saying there’s a causal relationship, but it’s a coincidence worth investigating since the fate of the universe seems to depend on it.


Why Warner Bros., parent devils to DC Comics are so gung-ho for a Justice League movie, I have no idea. It’s not like their other attempts at comic books-turned movies in the new millennium have been successful excepting Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and, to a lesser extent, attempts to turn Alan Moore’s graphic novels into movies. Green Lantern was an irredeemable piece of shit. Superman Returns was almost as confusing as it was boring. What DC has proven is that when they have a lot of input into how one of their characters is represented in movies, the result is garbage. Only when more talented people take the ball and run with it, like Nolan did, are the results satisfactory. “Perhaps,” you begin, pushing your coke-bottle glasses up the greasy bridge of your blackhead-specked nose, “comics are already in their perfect medium and require no film representation at all.” You might be right, despite the cloud of halitosis you belched in making that comment. But Marvel comics has made a bunch of superhero movies in the 2000s that are entertaining and enjoyable. They even made a pretty good movie around their clown costume conglomerate, The Avengers, which collects a bunch of well-known Marvel heroes, many of them already established in their own films.


That’s the first reason that the Justice League movie shouldn’t be made: we haven’t seen decent representation of the heroes involved outside of comic books and cartoons. And let’s face it, only nerds and fatties watch cartoons and read comic books. The rest of the world will be scratching their heads wondering why a hero like the Flash exists when there is already an even buffer dude named Superman who can move at super-speed. Batman as represented in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy obviously doesn’t exist in a universe populated by other superheroes, and besides–spoiler alert for this movie that’s been out for six months–Bruce Wayne gives up the Batman mantle at the end of The Dark Knight Rises. It would seriously taint an otherwise solid trilogy if DC dragged the same character out of retirement so he could fight space fish with Dr. Fate and Plastic Man. The implication of the article linked in the first paragraph is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt will play Batman in the Justice League movie, tying it to the Nolan trilogy since Gordon-Levitt was in the last movie. But that strikes me as totally unnecessary and stupid. For one thing, this would mean that Bruce Wayne will not be Batman in the Justice League movie, which will thoroughly befuddle and irritate the average person who is familiar with popular representations of Batman. For another thing, it’s entirely unnecessary. The tale of Batman is timeless, it can be (and has been) told and re-told a lot of ways, provided the basic tenet–that the son of wealthy socialites deals with the trauma of having watched his parents get gunned down before him by dressing up like a bat–remains the same. Jospeh Gordon-Levitt could fit that bill well enough, particularly if he’s to be surrounded by other heroes in their technicolor dreamcoats. He would be a cog in the Justice League machine, so a fully fleshed-out character may not be necessary.


But even given that fact, a Justice League movie would only serve the highlight the fact that DC has made little progress ingratiating their characters with the general public. Where is the long-rumored Wonder Woman movie? How about an attempt at telling Hawkman’s fairly intricate origin story outside of a film that will have to squeeze in the characterizations of at least half a dozen super folks? Baby steps, people. This apparent need for DC to skip to the end of the story was the main flaw in the Green Lantern movie. Yes, as I wrote before, Ryan Reynolds was mis-cast in his role as Hal Jordan. But it might have been a serviceable movie had his character not gone from ordinary test pilot to a cgi space cop battling the oldest evil in the universe in the space of one movie. In the comics, Hal Jordan doesn’t even get contacted by the Intergalactic Nerd Cops until he’s dicked around with his new ring for a while. They might have stretched the Green Lantern story into two and three movies, instead of making one largely incomprehensible piece of shit. And that’s what we’re looking at in a Justice League movie in two years.


It’s the movie few people understand and nobody wants. Maybe if I thought they’d do the Justice League from Keith Giffen’s run in the 1980s, I’d get on board. That was a group of secondary heroes doing a kind of Moonlighting/Hill Street Blues type of thing, and the characters were evinced through dialogue with each other. I guess I fear that the Justice League movie in 2015 might open with Batman and Superman standing on the bridge of their satellite headquarters, then during the credits they get attacked by Starro the space monster. Twenty minutes later, they’re already on an alternate earth fighting Owlman and Ultraman. By the last half hour of the movie, they’re replaying the events of Infinite Crisis to a thoroughly bewildered and bored audience. But maybe I’m too pessimistic. Or maybe I ACTUALLY WATCHED THAT FUCKING GREEN LANTERN MOVIE WITH RYAN REYNOLDS AND I WANT MY GODDAMNED TWO HOURS BACK.

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