Saturday, October 29, 2016

Don't wanna be right

Poe's law strikes again:

I honestly cannot tell if the above graphic (found in a Google image search which somehow conflated my search terms - what should I be for halloween - with other tangential interrogatives - should I celebrate halloween at all and thereby risk my immortal soul - as algorithms are, I suppose, wont to do) is completely and utterly (and cluelessly) earnest in its admonitions, or a smirking parody of that way of thinking (or the outsider perception thereof).

On the side of sincerity, there's the fact that the text is deeply hokey in a way that seems utterly unironic.

On the side of satire, I mean ... if you want to put people off of something, why would you superimpose your message over an image that is so wicked awesome? Did you see that jack-o-lantern? That thing is rad as hell.

Ah well. Happy Halloween, anyway! And hey, remember a couple years ago when I used to talk about the How the West Was Weird anthologies I contributed stories to? Well, the fine folks at that publishing house, PulpWork Press, have an annual holiday anthology, too. And this year the holiday in question is Halloween. Hie thee to Amazon and you can buy a paperback copy or download a copy on your Kindle - and if you happen to be reading this on the intended posting date, today is the last day you can snag that Kindle edition FOR FREE!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Get us out from under

Today, according to no less an authority than the United Nations (which we all know will go down in history as the seemingly benign yet ultimately malevolent precursor of the One World Government run by the cabal of Lizard People who drink human blood and fill the atmosphere with mind-control gas) is ... WONDER WOMAN DAY!!!

2016 is in fact the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman's debut, and from here on out I will resist the urge to provide detailed historical context because, honestly, I deem it neither necessary nor advisable. I mean, it's Wonder Woman. Everyone knows her, she has instant name and visual recognition, and yet ... once you get past the stuff everyone knows (Amazon princess, invisible jet, bracelets, lasso) there is an almost immediate drop-off into extremely deep esoterica which is arcane and convoluted and more often than not self-contradictory (and that includes the behind the scenes stuff about her creation and stewardship by various writers and artists every bit as much as her labyrinthine fictional biography). Suffice it to say that however impressive you may find it that a fictional character would achieve popularity with the public and hold onto it for seven and a half decades and counting, it's orders of magnitude more amazing when you consider how many variations, re-inventions and utterly bananas developments Wonder Woman has endured in all that time.

When I was a senior in college my friends and I played a lot of Justice League Task Force, which despite the bureaucratically tinged name was actually just a classic (dumb) button-masher fighting game for the Super Nintendo. I remember Wonder Woman being a particularly fun character to play. Here is a screenshot from that game featuring the Themysciran champion kicking Aquaman in the head. Good times.

Happy anniversary, Wonder Woman. Assuming the Lizard People allow any human literature to survive the Great Epochal Molting, I look forward to enjoying your centennial by re-reading old Justice League comics via my cerebral implants.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Feminine mystique

Clearly I had a few election-oriented demons I needed to get out of my system, but fear not - this is still much more of a pop culture blog (such as it is) than a political one.

Case in point: this past weekend my wife and I finally got around to seeing the 2016 Ghostbusters. We had both expressed interest in seeing it back in the summer, but never got around to it. Then a Saturday night rolled around where our kids couldn't agree on what movie they wanted to watch (weirdly enough the eight year old and five year old wanted to watch Toy Story 2 while the three year old would settle for nothing less than Return of the Jedi) and since we were going to split them up to appease them anyway we sent the big kids up to the master bedroom for their Pixar screening and let the bino have the basement all to himself for Episode VI. My wife and I claimed the den (aka The Best Seats and Best Screen in the House) and figured we'd live on the edge and on demand ourselves a movie. And Ghostbusters it was.

The craziest thing was, after all the controversy through the development and pre-production and online trolls screaming about their childhoods being retroactively ruined and other, different kinds of trolls howling that "women aren't funny" and, to be fair, a good number of people defending the premise of the movie and its inherent right to exist, all that, through the movie coming out and not making spectacular box office and being considered a disappointment that probably wouldn't end up spawning a franchise-load of sequels, my wife and I delivered our verdict on the movie the next day and deemed it to be ... fine.

We liked it, but we didn't love it. We enjoyed it, but only as a satisfactory amusement for a quiet Saturday evening in. All of which would barely merit a blog post were it not for all the aforementioned hubbub that originally surrounded the movie.

I felt like the movie was a bit underwritten. Maybe there's a director's cut out there somewhere that gives the whole Abby and Erin arc a bit more drive, but it just didn't grab me. On the other hand, Patty and Holtzmann didn't have arcs at all, shapeless or otherwise, and that's okay because mostly they were dual comic relief, but I kept waiting in particular for a really gut-busting moment from Kate McKinnon and realized that I had already seen all her good bits in various trailers, reviews, and other bits of the collective pop consciousness. I heard that the ghost effects were spectacular in 3D in the theater, but since I saw it at home, I really can't speak to that.

Ultimately my wife hit the nail on the head when she said she had to admit - even though on some level it pained her - that the best-slash-funniest element of the movie was ... Chris Hemsworth.

Which I agreed to without reservation. He really was a hoot, and again it kind of reinforces how mediocre, good-not-great the movie was when "a hoot" can so easily clear the bar of being the best/funniest part.

I've copped in the past to utterly embracing the SJW label, and my wife is in the same boat with me. But I think this is a pretty fair example of the difference between actual, human SJW's and the haters' strawman arguments against them. My wife and I both want to see a fair and just world with gender equality (and racial equality and all the other components of enlightened coexist blah blah blah), which means we support the idea of anything that moves in that direction, gender-swapped reboots of beloved childhood properties included. We want to fall in love with these new pieces of art and we want them to succeed by winning over large numbers of people. But, since those pieces of art are made by human beings as flawed as the rest of us, sometimes they don't turn out as amazing as we might have hoped. And when that happens, we can admit it! We are fully capable of facing reality. I'm glad I only paid $5.99 to on-demand Ghostbusters from my couch rather than buying $34 worth of movie theater tickets. I won't insist that everyone else run out and see it, or sign petitions demanding a G2 in 2018 (despite the fact that I kind of liked where they were going in the epilogue; ultimately I just didn't think they earned it). On the other hand, when I do go bonkers for something and urge other people to embrace it as I have (ahem, ahem, Fury Road) I am 100% sincere and stand behind my proclamations fully. When the haters hurl accusations at people who are rooting for diversity in entertainment of being the thought police and insisting that everyone has to like everything across the board that ticks off the boxes of identity politics and representation and nobody's allowed to say a negative word, I just have to call bullshit on that. I don't do that, and I don't see anyone else doing that, and fighting against the fear of someone hypothetically doing that seems counterproductive at best.

So yeah, for me, the new Ghostbusters was a swing and a miss. But I am glad they took the swing.

P.S. The bino (who is three and a half now) wandered into the den during the middle of the movie. We didn't really make a big deal out of it, figuring that if he thought the ghosts were too scary or too intense he could always show himself out and return to one of the various other kiddie movies playing throughout the house. But he really liked it. He especially enjoyed the demonic apparition at the rock concert, though he insisted on repeatedly calling it a "dragon". Which, admittedly, is kind of hard to argue with.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Might be

If you've ever been sued by the federal government for housing discrimination ... you might be a racist.

If you've ever been quoted as saying "I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is, I believe that. It’s not anything they can control." ... you might be a racist.

If you've ever taken out a full page ad to advocate for the death penalty for black teenagers accused of rape ... you might be a racist.

If you stuck to your guns on that whole thing 27 years later even after those men had been exonerated by DNA evidence and had their convictions vacated ... you might be a racist.

If you've ever insisted that an American judge of Mexican descent can't be impartial in hearing your case because you're "building a wall" ... you might be a racist.

If the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives has ever characterized your remarks about that judge as "the textbook definition of a racist comment" ... you might be a racist.

If you think all minorities live in squalid conditions in the inner city ... you might be a racist.

If you think Black Lives Matter is a hate group ... you might be a racist.

If you've ever told rally crowds that "other communities" are trying to steal the election, and urged people to go to the polls and watch for trouble ("you all know what I'm talking about") ... you might be a racist.

If you've ever tweeted out a graphic that claims, under the heading USA Crime Statistics 2015, egregiously false stats like "Whites killed by blacks - 81% Blacks killed by blacks - 97%" ... you might be a racist.

If you won't disavow the support of David Duke, who is a white nationalist, antisemitic conspiracy theorist, Holocaust denier, and former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan ... you might be a racist.

And if you would elect, as President of the United States of America, someone who has done all of the above ... you might be a racist, too. Or, maybe, just maybe, you're not racist ... it's just that you're white and you're not really affected by racism and don't think it's that big a deal and you're willing to give a guy a pass on all that stuff because you're more concerned with other things. But that's hardly any better.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Ill Logic

So hey, did you all know that this is a presidential election year in the U.S. of A.? It's true! Much has been made of the fact that the two R/D choices available to voters in November are both sub-optimal. Some people see this as one candidate being flawed but acceptable, and the other being irredeemable. And some people see it ... in exactly the same terms, but with the descriptors flipped for the respective candidates. All of which is pretty much par for the course for partisan American politics in the 21st century.

(For the record, I'm With Her, for three reasons: her platform is one I very much agree with; her opponent's platform is one I very much disagree with; her opponent is a giant lump of orange dickcheese masquerading as a human in physical form but failing every conceivable test of having a human soul.)

And then there are some other people who insist on trying to slip between the horns of the dilemma, and full-throatedly back a Third Party Option. It seems like 2016 in particular has brought out a lot more of these folks than usual, or maybe has brought out the usual ranks more loudly than usual. Maybe it's just that this is the first prez-cycle during which I've been connected to Facebook. Maybe it's just been long enough since Nader in 2000 that the pendulum was due to swing again, or maybe it's not so much the pure passage of time as an unavoidable side-effect of eight years of relatively successful Democratic control of the White House and the potential for four more.

And I don't discount the undeniable influence of the major party candidates themselves. They sure are unpopular! If either one were running against almost anyone else, we'd be gearing up for a historic landslide, and if neither were running, it would likely be the same old, same old ho-hum party line voting. But with both in the mix, a large number of people are generally put off and discouraged, which does present a particularly opportune-looking moment for a third party to seize.

Don't get me wrong, I said "opportune-looking" for a reason. Looks can be deceiving. A third party is not going to win the Presidency; a third party most likely won't win a single electoral vote. Nevertheless, the neither/nors are whooping it up this year, convinced they have a real shot if only the sheeple would wake up and do the right thing!

In particular, I am of course talking about the Libertarians, and I have noticed a distressing trend amongst them (by which I mean, in the Facebook feeds of people I know who are All In For Johnson): they seem to spend less time touting the virtues of their candidate than in loudly declaiming that both R/D candidates are equally bad (which is absolutely absurd on the face of it by any rational metric) or going even further and asserting that SHE is even WORSE than HE is (which, see previous aside, times a million).

And how do they back up these specious claims impugning the Democratic candidate? Basically by regurgitating every piece of Republican mud-slinging, rumor-mongering, paranoia-stoking agitprop of the past 25 years.

How to account for this? The way I see it, there are two possibilities:

ONE: For all their smug boasting and bragging about how they are all fiercely independent free-thinkers and not mindless drones like the sorry two-party-system supporters, Libertarians are actually pretty stupid. They see multiple congressional inquiries yielding up absolutely nothing not as exoneration, but as proof that "something fishy is going on with that woman". The decades-long existence of the witchhunt proves that the witchhunt absolutely needs to exist. It seems strange that someone who was not already devoutly, rabidly Republican would latch onto this as an irrefutable truth, but I can't say it beggars belief. Libertarianism is political philosophy for babies. It requires a solipsistic worldview and a fundamentally backwards belief that, after two world wars and decades of cold war and the (not so much) recent global war on terror, the U.S. can just go back to international isolationism with no consequences whatsoever. It is the belief that life will be best for everyone if everyone can do whatever they want and no one is ever forced to help anyone else in need and all disputes are settled by the invisible hand of the free market. It's kind of cute when an eighteen year old discovers and embraces Libertarianism, but one would hope that a certain combination of empathy and pragmatism would eventually win out. For someone to be thirty- or forty-something and Libertarian just strikes me as pathetic arrested development. So yeah, maybe that contingent is incapable of critical reasoning, and ripe for the brainwashing by Republican oppo "research".

TWO: Libertarians are actually super-geniuses! They are deeply cynical master manipulators playing three-dimensional chess and thinking seventeen moves ahead. They realized all along that it's mathematically impossible for a third party to get even a plurality of votes when 35 - 40% of people are hardcore Dems and 35 - 40% of people are hardcore GOP and only 20 - 30% of the votes, tops, are actively in play. They further realized that the only way to increase the free share was to knock down the Big Two; it really is a zero-sum game in that sense. And on top of all that, they realized that HIS campaign was always smoke and mirrors and would eventually implode, so they strategically focused on knocking HER down as many pegs as possible. They see right through the bullshit that the Republicans have been peddling since the 90's but they also recognize that it has a certain hypnotic power through repetition, so they took hold of it to wield at will in their effort to level the playing field. So in the end, Libertarians are just another flavor of politicians, playing the same games, devoid of principles, defining truth as "whatever benefits me most in this election", and desperately hoping no one notices. That's not even a put down, really, it just is what it is, human nature when people jockey for power.

As I said, this all occurs to me because of specific things I've seen posted on social media by specific people, people I consider friends. And I honestly don't know which explanation would make me sadder.