Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Category: pop culture (page 2 of 3)

Love this.

I’ve read a lot about all the people who are worried that CERN’s upcoming activation of the Large Hadron Collider on Wednesday is going to either:

a) destroy the world,

b) open up the gate to hell, which will destroy the world, or

c) create a microblackhole, which will suck the Earth through it, which will (you guessed it) destroy the world.

Obviously, all this speculation has a common denominator:

that, according to Brian Cox, a professor at Manchester University, anyone who believes any of it is a ‘twat.’

Which is awesome.  I’m so tired of ignorant people who claim that both sides of any argument need to be given some attention.  This is why the creation/evolution argument is still a debate; people want to be tolerant of other people’s views/beliefs, whether those beliefs are inherently ignorant or not (they are).

Scientists get death threats over Large Hadron Collider – Telegraph.

Have you heard the rumor about Sarah Palin’s youngest child, Trig?

I hadn’t until this morning, when I caught it via MightyGodKing.

Apparently, there’s a rumor Trig Palin might, in fact, be the child of Bristol Palin, Sarah’s oldest daughter.

Some of the details certainly make one wonder.

The official version of the story seems to be that Palin’s water broke while she was in Texas, at which time she flew back home to Alaska to give birth to her youngest child. If she did so, I’m relatively certain she would have had to take a private jet; commercial airlines prohibit women more than 8 months pregnant from flying.

But let’s say they made an exception because she’s governess of Alaska.

Still, her oldest daughter, Bristol, had been removed from her school for 4 to 5 months already, with a “prolonged case of mono.”

The other thing is that, even according to the Anchorage Daily News, when she announced in March that she was 7 months along, she “simply [didn’t] look pregnant”. She claims to have disguised it well.

The Moderate Voice vets both Palin and the story here.

I’m not convinced it’s true, but then, I’m not convinced it matters, either. I thought she was both batshit crazy and less than qualified for the gig before I heard any of the above rumors, and I still do. I think this whole back-and-forth argument between GOP supporters and McCain Democrats and PUMA supporters on one hand and Obama supporters on the other is silly, because I don’t think experience has very much to do with one’s ability to get a job done. Obama and Palin are, arguably, on equal level concerning experience, but Obama’s qualification vastly outpace Palin’s, and I think that’s what counts. Obama was the Illinois senator, and as such participated in national policy; Palin is governor of a state whose population is less than Brooklyn’s and may have participated in regional policy, there in Alaska, but isn’t Alaska a bit of an out-of-sight-out-of-mind state, anyway? People note it’s the largest, but Manhattan is more populous and impressive, no?

If it is true, however, I wonder if it plays into her anti-women’s rights beliefs. Keeping secret one’s daughter’s teenage pregnancy and then adopting the child as one’s own while actively concealing the entire thing seems somehow related to the “let’s all sweep sexuality under the rug, because the only real way to educate teenagers is to teach them abstinence. We won’t acknowledge sex education, we won’t dispense condoms to populations that might use them, and we will consistently teach that sex and its consequences are utterly shameful” belief system many fetus-rights activists seem to share.

What do you think? Would it make a difference, if true?

Lots of major political happenings the past few days. Obama accepted the nomination on Thursday, right down the street from me, but I deliberately avoided any and all proceedings related to the DNC (I have issues with crowds. And crowd control, which seems an oxymoron).

I watched his speech on Thursday. I wasn’t nearly as moved by his as by Hillary’s, but then again, I think that might be for the better. I’ve heard some people complain that it lacked his usual passion and rhetorical flair, but I have to wonder if that would have been the right place for either. I thought it was a basically nuts-and-bolts speech in which he accepted the nomination and then indicated what he planned to do. One of the biggest complaints against him (besides “arrogance,” but don’t even get me started on that) is that many people felt they didn’t know what he was running for or promising. They didn’t know what his policies were going to be.

I think we have a better idea now. We might not yet know how he plans to accomplish his plans, but at least we know he’s got them, and I think that’s the important part for anyone who was undecided, which is really who that speech was addressed to. I was going to be voting for him anyway, regardless of what he said, because really the other choice is a senile old man, and I think that his speech was for everyone who hadn’t already been swayed by his brilliant rhetoric and bombastic charisma.

And how about that senile old man? McCain’s the other big news with his choice of Sarah Palin, the Tina Fey-lookalike Alaskan governor nobody besides Alaskans had ever heard of before yesterday, to be his vice-presidential candidate.

So, basically, I think McCain believes that all the disenfranchised Hillaristas who are so upset Obama beat their candidate, hands down, are voting based on gender and not ideas or politics, so anyone in a skirt will appease most of them. I can’t think of any other reason. His most oft-repeated criticism of Obama is that Obama lacks experience; meanwhile, Palin’s been governor for less than two years, and of a state whose total population is less than that of Brooklyn. One could argue that she, as a governor, has more executive experience, but if one really wants to make that argument, she technically has more experience than any other candidate, none of whom have political experience outside of the Senate.

I wouldn’t make that argument. I think she’s totally crazy and completely scary. She’s anti-abortion rights. She believes Creationism should be taught alongside evolution in school.

And most of all: do you know that average life expectancy for an American man is 75.6 years? McCain turned 72 yesterday. Which means that, if he’s elected, and if he actually manages to live through his first term, it will actually be unexpected. And this is a man who’s battled malignant melanoma four times between 1993 and 2002.

So on one ticket we have a senile old man who wants to bomb Iran and his conservative, Evangelical Christian running mate who’s been a governor for only slightly less time than McCain is yet expected to live.

On the other, we have a man with solid integrity who seems utterly committed to uniting America in the change he sees as a vision for the future, and his senior Senator running mate.

It really should be no contest, and it’s a damned shame it’s not.

Earlier this week, blogger Kevin somebody-or-other was arrested for posting and streaming 9 songs, all of which appeared to be near-studio perfect recordings of GN’R’s long-awaited 6th CD, Chinese Democracy, on his blog. He appeared in court on Wednesday morning, when his bail was set at $10,000. In June, after he streamed the songs on his website, he apparently told Rolling Stone:

I’m not so worried about that. It’s a legal grey area since it wasn’t for download, it wasn’t a finished product. We aren’t sure who owns the recordings. I feel like I might survive this.

And I’m sure he probably will, but one might wonder precisely how.

Apparently, the songs were only on his website for a little while before two things happened: first, it sounds like the host’s server crashed (which makes sense, because ZOMG NOO GNR!!!111!!!), and second, someone associated with GN’R asked the guy to take the songs down and erase the digital files, which he did (which was why he couldn’t supply the FBI with the original files when they later asked). So, really, no telling how many people managed to catch the audio stream at exactly the right time. In the meantime, after the songs were taken down at GN’R’s request, copies managed to make their way around the tubes. It was one of those copies a friend of mine convinced me to listen to.

I had mixed feelings about doing so. I’ve heard a few people call Axl names for suing the guy who posted them, but I just can’t help seeing the situation from Axl’s perspective: here’s a guy whose name is on two of the greatest rock albums of all time (Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion). I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to have to try to make a follow up to Illusion; both CDs are, first minute to last, terrific. I still listen to them all the time. And Appetite? It’s turbo-charged summer on vinyl, barbecues and beers and bonfires, the groin-tightening excitement of making out for the first time, knowing you want to use your body but having not a clue what you want to use it for. So he’s got both those albums under his belt, and now everyone’s been waiting for the follow-up for, what, like, 13 years or something?

Not to mention all the press he’s gotten in the meantime. People who have probably never actually seen him in real life, even on a stage, writing about his “neuroses” and “depression” and “erratic behavior,” and etc. And I’m not saying his behavior hasn’t been erratic at times, but I am saying I can totally understand why he’d want to become total recluse. With pretty much everyone scrutinizing your every move, would you want to leave your house?

I wouldn’t. I’d sit down in the studio and I’d spend a decade trying to write something better than what I had done before, and it would probably take that long, too, because let’s face it; what he’d done before was awesome. So Axl spends more than a decade trying to get it right, trying to get it better, and then some random dude posts the unfinished work on his random website.

Heck, I’d be pissed, too.

But, then, as a fan, man, do I want to hear what he’s working on. Which was why I had mixed feelings about listening to the songs; on one hand, I’m just dying to. On the other, I know that if they’re not out yet, there’s a reason they’re not out yet, and Axl probably doesn’t think they’re finished yet. And I’ll admit I ain’t musical enough to detect an extra note here or a more produced layer there, most of the time, but then again, I’m not cinematic enough to really know anything about lighting or whathaveyou, and I wouldn’t presume to try to view, say, Quantum of Solace before I sit down to watch it in a theater.

In the end, the GN’R fan in me won out, and yes, I listened to those 9 songs. I thought it’d be neat to do a review of them, but then I thought: as a writer, would I want someone to review an unpublished novel I didn’t feel I had finished revising yet?

Of course I wouldn’t.

Hell, I’m not even sure I should tell you that I thought they were awesome. The kind of awesome, in fact, that’s worth waiting nearly a decade and a half for.

So I won’t. I’m not going to tell you that I think it’s the best thing the man behind Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion (I & II) has ever done.

Not right now.

Maybe when it comes out.

In the meantime, I think we should all wish Mr. Rose luck in finishing what he’s started.

Soon.

(cross-posted to MightyGodKing.com)

Last week, I caught on Amazon’s blog Omnivoracious, in its weekly roundup, this story that publishing house Random House was removing the word “twat” from Jacqueline Wilson’s book My Sister Jodie. Jodie is, apparently, a novel aimed at readers 10 and older. Wilson and her publisher mutually decided to change the word to “twit,” which is apparently less likely to send parents and librarians and teachers all a-fuckin’-twitter, because you know those are the only people complaining.

And apparently, only three people complained in the first place.

This, by the way, is the same publishing company who decided not to publish Sherry Jones’ Jewel of Medina, a novel concerning Aisha, the 9-year-old wife of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, due to an irate letter from one academic in Texas. Also the same company who, in the UK, is inserting morality clauses into its contracts. Not just about the books, but about author’s lives.

Editorial Anonymous posted her chagrin that Wilson had deigned to Random House’s censors. I noted there that I agreed that Wilson should have changed it, but had I been her, I would have changed it to “cunt.” In the comments section, though, someone had the idea of a naughty alphabet book. Which really set me thinking. Amazon’s got a listing for something called The Erotic Alphabet, but it looks more like a series. Then again, any series one installment of which is H is for Hardcore is totally okay on my shelf.

In my warped head, though, I started thinking about an illustrated kinky alphabet book. Fully illustrated and everything. A is for asshole, b is for bitch, etc.

But it’s hard to come up with a naughty word for every letter. Over at MakingLight, Abi Sutherland asked for comments/help filling up a list of obscenities, which yielded one of the most obscene and profane list of words I have ever seen.

I’m still coming up empty for “I.” The Alphabet series uses “indecent,” but that’s not really obscene. “Inbreeding,” maybe, but I think that’s more discomfiting as an idea than as a word.

I just watched the nation’s first female presidential candidate endorse the nation’s first black presidential candidate.

And yes, I cried as I did so.

I’m an Eagle Scout. On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country.

And man, at this moment, am I ever proud of my country.

Rock on, Hillary Rodham Clinton. What a brilliantly, beautifully dignified legacy you have. What a brilliant, beautiful speech you made on this, the anniversary of our country’s finally recognizing women’s right to vote.

You have not done your gender proud.

You have done our country proud. You have made me proud to be an American.

For that, I thank you. For that, I will be forever grateful.

I came late to Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, but as they say, better than never, anyway, because holy shit is it a good book.

I’m not sure why I never picked it up before; I’m familiar enough with Hill’s family that I probably should have based on that alone. You see, Hill’s real name is Joseph Hillstrom King. He is the son of Stephen (yes, that Stephen King) and the brother of Owen, which means that his father’s Needful Things is the reason I’m a writer, and I’ve shaken his brother’s hand and heard him read. On the other hand, that was probably Joe’s intention; he dropped his surname in favor of an abbreviated version of his middle name to distance himself from his family’s legacy. To which I really only say two things: why?, and mission accomplished.

Actually, that’s a bit disingenuous; I sort of get why he might (though I don’t know how I should refer to him? King? Hill? I’m going to go with Just Joe, if only because I don’t think he’d mind. Also: because this is one of those rare novels that makes you want to have a drink with its author, and for that reason alone it is fine). His brother Owen’s novella/collection, We’re All in this Together, was terrific on its own but markedly different from anything his father might have written; Heart-Shaped Box, on the other hand, is not so much, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t as good. In fact, it’s awesome.

Heart-Shaped Box‘s premise is simple; an aging rockstar named Judas Coyne buys a haunted suit off of an eBay-knockoff site, and chill-inducing story ensues. To tell you many details would be to give too much away; suffice to say, what makes H-SB so truly excellent is that it’s not just a ghost story; it’s a story about haunting, and all the different things that can haunt a person, in as many ways as a person can be haunted. Judas is a haunted man, but he’s haunted long before the ghost shows up; by his former career, by his family, by his past, by his former lovers . . .

The novel is partly confronting the ghost (as any good ghost story ought and need be), but also about confronting the past, and confronting yourself, and that’s why it ends up becoming more than the sum of its words. As I said, I get why Just Joe published away from the King legacy; there are marks of King all over this book, from its pop culture references to its repetition of certain phrases to its ghost itself. When the ghost tells Jude it wants to “ride the nightroad,” well, if that doesn’t conjure early-era Stephen King, you must not have read him back then. Nowadays it’s all “smucking” and lame-o Lisey or whathaveyou, but Stephen King used to be able to write the bejesus out of most stories, and Just Joe has certainly inherited that trait.

The book is not perfect, mind you; the ending, I thought, was particularly flawed, but then again, that’s another mark of Stephen, who can tell stories better than anyone else until he gets to the end. But besides that, there are so many subtle touches, so many graceful notes . . . it really does work. And though it wasn’t a book I couldn’t put down, it was a book whose characters I cared about when I did, and that, I think, is even more important. Just Joe’s descriptions of his characters can border on too spare, but that ends up working because I ended up conjuring them in my head; I’m not sure there ever was a full-on, dead-to-rights description of Judas Coyne, but still I feel like I know the guy. Hell, more than that, I feel like I’ve listened to his music, and that, that, right there, is a sort of sleight of hand most writers simply cannot pull off.

Also, that I can say you totally need to read the Acknowledgements section is another coup. I mean, how often do you say that? “Dude, the book was awesome. And the acknowledgements page? Totally rocked.”

Yes, well done sir. Well done indeed.

I know I’m supposed to rate the book, because I always see book reviews doing so, so, on a scale of Black Rain to Paranoid, I’m giving it a “Crazy Train.”

Click the link to buy the book at Amazon.com:

Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel

First Bernie Mac, then Isaac Hayes, and now, sadly, Leroi Moore.  Tragic all, but man . . . I love Dave Matthews Band.  I didn’t until Everyday, after which I became the sort of fan who paid $80 no less than 3 times to see them perform (and loved them every time).

I’m going to be playing their music all day now.

Dave Matthews Band Saxophonist LeRoi Moore Dead at 46 : Rolling Stone : Rock and Roll Daily.

The Bulwer-Lytton prize, named after the author who first set down “It was a dark and stormy night,” is a parody award given to bad writing.

This year’s “winners” have been announced.

Thing is, I’d totally read a novel that began:

Mike Hummer had been a private detective so long he could remember Preparation A, his hair reminded everyone of a rat who’d bitten into an electrical cord, but he could still run faster than greased owl snot when he was on a bad guy’s trail, and they said his friskings were a lot like getting a vasectomy at Sears.

Because, seriously, a Sears vasectomy is the sort of imagery that would keep me going at least 50 more pages.

In fact, I kinda think the only bad thing about that entry is the comma splice after “Preparation A.”

More winners:

2008 Results.

A Rolling Stone interview:

The Man Who Wasn’t There : Rolling Stone.

Via IO9, a link to a Moviehole interview in which Robert Downey, Jr. trashes DC and The Dark Knight:

My whole thing is that that I saw ‘The Dark Knight’. I feel like I’m dumb because I feel like I don’t get how many things that are so smart. It’s like a Ferrari engine of storytelling and script writing and I’m like, ‘That’s not my idea of what I want to see in a movie.’ I loved ‘The Prestige’ but didn’t understand ‘The Dark Knight’. Didn’t get it, still can’t tell you what happened in the movie, what happened to the character and in the end they need him to be a bad guy. I’m like, ‘I get it. This is so high brow and so f–king smart, I clearly need a college education to understand this movie.’ You know what? F-ck DC comics. That’s all I have to say and that’s where I’m really coming from.

Now first, it’s worth noting it sounds incredibly tongue-in-cheek.

But as I noted in IO9’s comments, I don’t think that makes it necessarily less true.

I noted just after seeing the movie that I hadn’t terrifically enjoyed it. I don’t think I actively disliked it, mind you, because I thought it had a lot of strengths and I thought I could see what it was going for, which I admired. Much of it had a very noir feel. Anyone who’s read my collection (as always, free here) probably picked up that I enjoy noir, as two of the stories are noir. I think the best thing Billy Faulkner ever wrote was The Big Sleep and that was because Chandler did it first, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is among my favorite movies.

The thing about The Dark Knight as noir was that Nolan nailed the atmosphere but not really the conflict, which caused the writing to suffer. I can quote The Big Sleep off the top of my head–

“I don’t like your manners.”
“And I’m not crazy about yours. I didn’t ask to see you. I don’t mind if you don’t like my manners, I don’t like them myself. They are pretty bad. I grieve over them on long winter evenings. I don’t mind your ritzing me drinking your lunch out of a bottle. But don’t waste your time trying to cross-examine me.”

But not so much The Dark Knight.

I think it was a little too dark, especially when Batman Begins had some nice, humorous touches (Morgan Freeman ftw [and: get well soon!]).

But I think my biggest problem was with the Joker. I’ve seen people cite the Joker, as a character, as the thematic counterpoint of Batman/Bruce Wayne, but he’s in fact not if solely because he has neither motivation nor backstory. The reason Bruce Wayne/Batman works is that we know how and why Bruce Wayne took up his cowl. We know his personal inciting incident (the death of his parents), and why he does what he does. We in addition know that he constantly wrestles with his own anger: witness the moment in Batman Begins when Wayne sneaks a revolver into the courtroom but then decides not to use it.

We know nothing of the sort about the Joker. Not where he came from, not why he does what he does. We don’t know why he paints his face. And most importantly, we don’t get any sense that he wrestles with his demons like Wayne does, or even that he has them. If we knew that he wrestled with them at some point and gave himself over to them in precisely the way Wayne refuses to, it might be effective. But we don’t.

“Agent of chaos” is one-dimensional characterization and lazy motivation at best and insulting at worst. At first I tried to view the Joker as a trickster-esque character, but he’s not that, either, because the trickster is amoral, beyond morals, lives by a slightly different moral compass than the rest of us but still has that moral compass. It’s why Jack Sparrow works so well. Total embodiment of the trickster archetype. And true, we don’t know his backstory, either, but we know his motivation, or, if we don’t, at least realize he has some.

Because of that lack of motivation, because it’s never clear what the Joker wants (he seems to start out wanting to kill the Batman, but it later turns out he feels the Batman “completes” him and seems to want to challenge Batman, which he never really does), the movie suffers. Especially in the final half-hour or so when every major character has an existential speech about the nature of good and evil and herodom so that they can telegraph to the audience everything the movie itself could not. The final half-hour of The Dark Knight may well be the most egregious example of telling over showing, lazy filmmaking, expository speech, and handing all your major characters philosophy theses as dialogue because you don’t trust what you’ve just made to stand on its own I have ever seen.

Oh, and after having seen Ledger’s performance, I still think Nolan missed a huge opportunity in not casting Christian Bale in triple roles as Bruce Wayne, Batman, and the Joker.

I’ve mentioned before I’m currently in the submission process with my novel, The Prodigal Hour. So far it’s okay; not spectacular, but not terrible, either. Of course, “spectacular” would probably be defined as “offered representation,” and I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens. I considered talking more about the submission process itself, but I think I’m going to do so more after I’ve been offered representation, and not before.

I’m going through the process as you’d expect; search the Internet and Writers’ Market and etc. for agents who are either actively seeking new clients or sound like they may be vaguely interested. And then I send a query, which looks pretty much as you’d expect a query to look: intro, synopsis, bio, and out. The intro gives me some trouble, though, because that’s where I mention the title, word count, and genre of my novel, and boyhow is that last characteristic ever a trouble spot. Many might think it’s easy: time travel automatically = science fiction.

But not so fast, I say.

Because I don’t feel like I wrote a science fiction novel. I don’t generally read science fiction novels. Science fiction is all wars among and treks across the stars, and it has a long and illustrious history I don’t feel a part of. Growing up, my choices for reading material were all Dean Koontz and Stephen King pretty much straight across the board, with digressions into Douglas Adams and Christopher Stasheff. Given that among my first experiences with Stephen King was a short story called “Strawberry Spring,” after which I read Different Seasons, I always had trouble thinking of him as a ‘horror’ writer. I never read It and never got to his straight-up horror until after I’d already read “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body.”

Try showing someone with no previous knowledge of their origins the movie adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me and then explaining to them they were both based on books by a horror writer.

Because they certainly aren’t horror stories.

Admittedly, King is a bit of an exception; he himself is pretty much as much a genre as “horror”. People buy his books for his name, not for the genre.

Few people are going to buy The Prodigal Hour for my name, and you’re probably already reading this, anyway.

So far, I’ve been calling it a techno-thriller, but even that is a bit of a misnomer. It is thrilling (well. That’s the hope, at least), but character and plot work in pretty much equal measure, and it’s certainly not just about the thrills.

I sort of understand the requirement; it determines, basically, where your book is placed on bookstores’ shelves, which is key. I rarely venture to the scifi/fantasy shelves except to grab Neil Gaiman’s newest book, and again, I’m buying the name, not the genre.

I’m also thinking ahead. This one may be about time travel, but my next two big ones are about vampires and then werewolves, and both do things with those myths I’ve never seen nor heard done before. You can lump them all into science fiction/fantasy, I suppose, but I certainly wouldn’t, and I honestly think publishers and booksellers do more harm than good in categorizing books. Yesterday, Mitzi Szereto wrote about how publishers label books and how those labels can affect their sales, specifically related to erotica.

One of the things that’s gotten me thinking about this, too, are the writers who write stories that seem pretty categorically genre but whose books are not placed there. Lethem started out writing mostly weird science fiction tales. Crichton’s got Jurassic Park and Timeline, at least, not to mention Sphere and The Andromeda Strain. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was narrated by a dead girl, while Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveler’s Wife seems like science fantasy.

And then there’s Michael Chabon. He just won a Hugo for The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The Hugo is a major award so known for science fiction that, when a handful of fantasy novels won (including JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Gaiman’s American Gods), some controversy got stirred up.

I haven’t heard any such controversy about the award having gone to Chabon’s novel, which is mostly an alternate history set in the present (I haven’t read the book. I tried. Got about twenty pages in before I gave up on it). But Chabon is an author with both mass appeal and a Pulitzer under his belt, and, in fact, more so than controversy, the win has mainly stirred up discussion like here, where IO9 asks which mainstream authors its readers would like to see write science fiction.

Personally, I don’t want any mainstream authors to deign to write anything they don’t enjoy. Personally, I’d like someone to point out, hey, wait a minute, twenty of the twenty-five movies with the highest worldwide gross ever have been genre movies, and, arguably, science fiction or fantasy movies. The only exceptions are Titanic, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Da Vinci Code, the last two of which are certainly genre movies (adventure and thriller, respectively) even if not science fiction or fantasy.

Seems like it’s mainstream to me.

It’s like people expect good entertainment from all media until they hit books, and then some weirdo mechanism steps in and says that it must be “literature” to be any good while preventing the memory that the whole reason Shakespeare is awesome is because he wrote swordfights and fairies and witches so damned well into really exciting stories.

I’ve been reading more stories, lately, about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, which is the European Organization for Nuclear Research (its acronym refers to the French Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire, which was its original provisional body before it became an organization in 1954). CERN is on the Franco-Swiss border in Geneva, and its reason for being is fundamental physics.

I’ve always been fascinated by physics, though in specific ways; I always sucked at math, and indeed nearly flunked physics in college, but I’ve always loved the study of black holes and relativity (at least, so nearly as I can understand them). When I was in high school, I read Leon Lederman’s The God Particle; I got through the first few chapters but then gave up when it started with its equations (which has always been where my brain shuts off. Numbers, fine, but I can’t handle letters if they’re not in writing and books).

The LHC is the latest in a series of 8 particle accelerators, which use electric fields to propel charged particles at high speeds. Basically, I think of it like if two bullets struck each other to explode and you studied the fragments, which is probably overly simplistic, but I’m no physicist. But the general idea, I think, is that, like, two protons or quarks or whathaveyou will collide to explode, thereby freeing the particles that make them up, and scientists are most excited about one theoretical particle in particular: the Higgs boson. It is, so far, theoretical, but it’s the only particle predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics that hasn’t been observed; scientists hypothesize that it may be the particle behind the property of mass.

They are excited because, as it is the largest, most advanced, and most powerful accelerator ever, they believe that the LHC experiments might produce one.

Some, however, have speculated it’s not all the LHC might produce.

As with everything that very few people fully understand, one of the things I’ve been reading about the LHC is the catastrophic results that may or may not occur. Everything from some wild speculation that it might cause a microscopic blackhole that could, in turn, suck the planet through it to the wilder speculation that one of its explosions might release enough energy to cause a small tear in the fabric of spacetime that would actually be a doorway into Hell and allow Satan and his legions of demons through to initiate the endtimes. In his novel FlashForward, Robert Sawyer wrote a story in which, for 8 minutes, all of human consciousness flashed forward a certain amount of years (I’d link to it, but I ultimately thought it was pretty bad). Richard Cox explored the idea of the Higgs in his novel The God Particle, which is more of a technothriller (and, to my tastes, better [though not quite as good as Cox’s other book, Rift]).

But the coolest, most awesome speculation I’ve heard?

That the LHC won’t actually work.

Because apparently, if it does work when they fire it up, the effects it produces might cause backward ripples in time, which could prevent its previous self from properly functioning.

I’ll give you a second to read that sentence again.

Z. O. M. G.

It’s one of the most exciting ideas I’ve ever heard in my life.

Of course, admittedly, the chances of its occurring are probably slim to none, and Slim just left. But even still, just the fact that a couple of major scientists (one from the University of Copenhagen, the other from Kyoto University, so it ain’t like they’re academic slouches, or anything) think it’s possible just blows my frickin’ mind.

I’ll admit I’m also excited for a rather selfish reason. You see, both the Higgs boson and CERN figure into The Prodigal Hour as major plot points. And yes, I tell you that to tease.

You can read more about CERN and the LHC here.

I thought that since I had already written about Doctor Who and Supernatural, I really should devote some screentime to my favorite show, House, M.D..

Especially since I’m so worried about it.

I don’t quite remember when I became a fan of House, but I certainly remember how: my best friend in my writing program at some point, told me I needed to watch it and lent me the first season on DVD. I don’t remember why, nor how it came up, but man, it hooked me right away.

Some background: I was, during college, premed. I got right up to the MCATs before I realized I’m not a doctor, and by then it was late enough that I ended up graduating with a secondary major in science. My primary major was literature, and I did my thesis on the connection between medicine and writing as embodied in the work of Arthur Conan Doyle and William Carlos Williams. Looking back, I think what ultimately made me give it up was realizing that I really couldn’t handle that responsibility. It’s not the blood or the guts or anything; it’s the fear of making a mistake the cost of which would be a life.

I was skeptical when my friend lent me that DVD, but then I started watching the show, and I found I very quickly couldn’t stop. I’d say I’m not sure there’s a better show on television because I’d have a very limited sample set (I haven’t really owned a television in several years), but I know I just kept going, straight on through. I watched the entire first season in a weekend, and then watched most of the second over my first USC winter break, my first Christmas and New Year’s on my own and in LA.

And I loved it.

For anyone not watching; House is less a show about medicine than it is about diagnostics, problem solving, and detective work, and House himself has less in common with, say, Doug Ross (or choose a favorite doctor character) than he has with Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. One can pretty much pick up the series with any episode; most are completely self-contained, and all focus primarily on a single case. With nearly perfect three-act structure in every episode. Plus, House is acerbic, sarcastic, and brilliantly curmudgeonly.

But after last season, I’ve been wondering if he hasn’t limped over the shark.

The first three were mostly terrific, and the third ended on a bit of a cliff-hanger in which he lost his entire team (Omar Epps, Jesse Spencer, and uber-hot Jennifer Morrison). It was set up well enough to be a dramatic development, and season three began first with House on his own, until his boss forces him to hire a new team. In typical House fashion, he basically has a marathon interview with, like, forty applicants. The third season pretty much became survivor in a hospital with House as Jeff Probst, with several odd-ish complications along the way.

I started to notice it most when House used a hunting knife and a wall socket to electrocute himself. I’m not sure how he did it, though; my father is an electrician, and so far as I know (do not try on your own), one needs at least two such implements, one in each slot of a socket, to complete the circuit and get a shock. How he managed to kill himself with just the knife is anyone’s guess (though, I guess, being House, he probably accounted for it), but moreso it took the character to a weird extreme. House is a Vicodin addict, certainly often a prick, and by most accounts self-destructive in some ways, but destructive enough to set aside survival instinct to see if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel? It felt very much against character.

I can really only hope that the issues that occurred midway through the season did so for the same reasons that I speculate occurred with Supernatural; that writers’ strike messed up productions several ways to Sunday, and about the only show I’d guess it didn’t affect would have been The Bachelorette and its “reality”-based ilk.

The season ended with the death of a character too prevalent and well developed, over the season, to really be called minor but not really exactly major, either. It seemed to come a bit out of left field, but it did complicate various relationships in the show in a lot of ways.

With a few weeks left before the new season starts, I hope they’ve gotten their act together and pull it off well. I’m interested to see where it goes. The friction between House and Wilson (played by Robert Sean Leonard– Swing Heil!) could be insanely tense, and Laurie and Leonard are two actors I’d love to see holding nothing back while going for each other’s throats. They have as dramatic and amazing a chemistry as Laurie ever had with Fry (and if you haven’t seen A Bit of Fry and Laurie, you must).

I’m also wondering if they’ll ever demonstrate just what Taub actually brings to anything, because so far, I’m not totally clear on his use in the show, and why he’s there.

I’m also hoping to see more of Jennifer Morrison. But that’s kind of an obvious request, probably.

(this entry cross-posted to MightyGodKing.com.)

I’ve never been a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens, but it’s mostly a divergence of thought and (perceived) personality. I’ve heard myriad stories that he’s not the most gracious of individuals, but then again, they’re just stories, and I’ve only heard them. I’d be interested to meet him. I think I’d have a lot to talk about that because of that divergence of thought; while I agree that there are few worse developments in all of history than organized religion, I just can’t make the leap of faith to atheism.

But that’s beside the point. Because one of the things I like about Hitchens is that he seems to truly believe in and stand behind what he says and writes and thinks. He seems a deeply principled man, certainly more deeply than many of the so-called quote-unquote Christians I’ve encountered.

Like here:

“Believe Me, It’s Torture,” in which Christopher Hitchens answers the for-some-odd-reason controversial question about whether waterboarding is torture by being waterboarded himself.

Brilliant. Well done, Mr. Hitchens.

(I’ve often said that anyone who says they’re not sure whether waterboarding is torture [or, worse, denies it is] should be themselves waterboarded. You know. Since they’re not sure and so they can figure it out. Only fair, I’ve always thought)

Well worth reading. Both powerful and extraordinarily well written.

(via)

The day: Southern California just south of Santa Monica, warm and oppressive as Los Angeles so often is. I’m in my old beater of a Mazda (which has served me oh-so-well through the years) playing the rock station I think Butch Walker introduced me to, if I’m not mistaken, when I hear a song by Katy Perry. It’s obviously pretty purely pop confection, with the kind of heavy, thuddy beat that masks the fact that there’s really nothing going on and then kind of vocal enhancement that tries to conceal that the vocalist can’t actually sing.

But don’t take my word for it:

My first thought on hearing it was: “Jill Sobule called. She wants her song back.”

Which is, I think, actually charitable. Because really, it doesn’t really rip Sobule off so much as insult homosexuality and the GLBT community in general.

Here’s Jill Sobule’s “I Kissed a Girl”:

You know what I love about Jill Sobule? She looks so happy and joyful. She’s having so much fun playing her guitar she nearly falls backward in her bed, and there’s her feet not reaching the floor. I love her facial expressions, and the way she sings, like kissing a girl was, for her, a revelation. An epiphany.

“They can have their diamonds while we have our pearls.”

It’s a rather defiant statement but one without anger or resentment behind it. It’s like she gets the fact that the most powerful and influential revolutionary, and the one who will most change the world, is the one who’s smiling.

And then there’s Katy Perry.

So the video opens with her on the bed, stroking her pussy (cat). Already, it goes, arguably, a little more toward crude and tasteless than Sobule’s. And okay, I get that we can’t really exactly compare the two videos, because videos are less about the artist and the song than they are about the record companies and the marketing.

So fair play. How about that song?

The first time I heard it was driving down that sunny California street (I was actually on Romaine, a block south of Santa Monica). Quiet residential streets flooded with hard sunshine. Which I tell you because I had no visual to go with it. All I had was the song and the lyrics. Which start off mostly okay; I didn’t take issue with her lack of planning or intentions. So it was sorta spontaneous. Took her by surprise. All right. It’s not what she’s used to, she just wants to “try you on.”

Not quite the best metaphor, I don’t think. Doesn’t “try you on” objectify the recipient? You don’t “try” a person “on”; people are not blouses that are not going to fit correctly and which you have to bring to your tailor to take in the sides. People are not high heels that look great but are totally uncomfortable.

Peoples, as I learned from The Muppets Take Manhattan, is peoples.

“I kissed a girl and I liked it/the taste of cherry chapstick.” And hey, sure, I identify with that. I’ve kissed girls and it’s generally something I like, as well. Some have tasted of cherry chapstick. Or vanilla. I like kisses sans flavor, personally, but that’s a personal proclivity we’ll not discuss farther because it has little to do with the topic at hand.

“I kissed a girl just to try it.” I’ve kissed a couple girls “just to try it.” I prefer to be romantically interested in the girl, because I kinda think just kissing someone you’re not actually interested in dating is leading them on, but then again I’ve gone on first dates I wasn’t entirely certain were going to lead to second dates but still ended with a kiss. Only a couple, mind, but still.

“I hope my boyfriend don’t [sic] mind it.”

Oh, now hold the phone. You’re romantically involved with someone enough to call him your boyfriend but still kissed someone else? Infidelity much? Sorry, here’s where I take real issues. Not saying, of course, that one can’t be in a romantic relationship and kiss someone else; lots of people have open relationships, but the “rules,” so to speak, of such relationships are generally clearly delineated ahead of time, no? I mean, it’s not something that you just go to a bar and start making out with random people, unless you’ve clearly established that’s okay beforehand. Otherwise, it’s really kinda cheating, ain’t it? And sure, I know lots of guys wouldn’t mind it if their girlfriends started making out with other girls, but the reason there, of course, is the visions of threesomes dancing like sugarplums in their heads.

Well, mostly, anyway. Probably. My point is, she kissed a girl without first discussing it with her boyfriend.

And then the next stanza:

“No I don’t even know your name
It doesn’t matter
You’re my experimental game
Just human nature.”

So on one hand: I agree about homosexuality. I don’t believe it’s a lifestyle choice, and I think anyone who does is bisexual (it seems to me that anyone who thinks gay people made a choice about which gender to be attracted to probably, at some point, made that choice themselves. Stands to reason, I think), which means that yes, I agree it’s human nature.

What I don’t agree with is “experimental.” I think there’s a Bill Maher or Chris Rock joke that goes something along the lines of “experiment my ass. Unless you’re wearing a lab coat and goggles, it’s not an experiment. An experiment? Really? So what was your hypothesis, Heisenberg?” To me, again, it goes back to objectification and just trying a person on.

I mean, again, it doesn’t have to be so, but only with the consent of both parties. And given that Katy Perry doesn’t even know the name of the girl she kissed, how can she know she has her consent to do so? The song states there’s alcohol involved; what if this poor girl Katy Perry kissed and whose name she never knew starts to struggle with depression and anxiety due to the questions about her sexuality kissing Perry raises?

“It’s not what good girls do
Not how they should behave.”

Oh, really? Kissing other girls is not what “good girls” do? So all lesbians are, by opposition, bad girls? Good girls shouldn’t be lesbians?

I tell you, all the fucking ruckus GLAAD raises over Eminem, where are they now? I Googled Katy Perry and GLAAD and got pretty much nill, except a pointer to this MSNBC story that notes the media is giving her homophobic music a free pass.

Which, in addition, led me to her other music video for “Ur so Gay”:

1) she’s not talking about gay; she’s talking about emo.

2) she opens by wishing someone would accidentally kill themselves by suffocating on their H&M scarf while masturbating (to Mozart? zuh?).

3) Zooey Deschanel called. She wants her look back, because, like with Jill Sobule, you stole it and don’t even do it right.

4) It sounds like she’s just bitter because emo dude with whom she fell in love and who later dumped her is prettier than she is, thinner than she is, wears make-up better than she does, and dresses better than she does.

And the only reason I link to that video is so you know I’m not making any of that up.

(well. Except for the prettier thing and all that, because obviously it’s just dolls in the video, so I’m just assuming that based on her looks/style)

And look, the funny thing is that I must confess I’m kinda completely a dude when it comes to lesbians (ZOMGLEZBIENSWOOTFTWBBQ!!!!111!). Like Charlie Sheen in Being John Malkovich: “Hot lesbian witches? That’s fucking genius!” And even though Perry never actually kisses a girl in her video, there’s a sequence where lingerie models have a pillowfight, and we all know what happens when lingerie models pillowfight.

What, no? But I thought—

Man, next thing you’re going to tell me is there’s no Easter bunny!

No, but in all seriousness, one of the major objections raised to Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy was that it implied that all lesbians really needed was a good, hard dickin’ to “cure them of their ways,” so to speak, and I think Perry perpetuates this somehow. Because the way I read the song, she’s doing it for attention and basically because she’s bored, as an experiment. And (and I can’t stress this enough) she already has a boyfriend.

So really, homosexuality is just confusion and experimentation and boredom, because it’s not what good people do, not the way good people behave. (/sarcasm)

I mean, can you imagine if a guy sang a song like this? Can you imagine if Justin Timberlake came out with a song called “Tickle Kiss” about making out with a guy who hadn’t shaved for a week? Nevermind that it’s all the news channels would talk about for a month while whatever evangelical preacher who cared lamented that it was a sign of the moral degradation of society and a signal that the end is NIGH!

But is it okay because it’s a chic–I’m sorry–girl? Am I making too much of girls making out, or do you take some umbrage, too? Why is what’s good for the goose not good for the gander?

Because it debuted before The Dark Knight, which, this past weekend, became the single most successful movie to open ever, the trailer for Zach Snyder’s Watchmen garnered a lot of attention. Lots of (well deserved) drooling, lots of controversy. My particular favorite note came from Galleycat, which said:

“Remember earlier this week, when a well-placed movie trailer turned Watchmen into a hit 22 years after the first installment of the graphic novel appeared in comic book shops?”

As if it were a trailer for the book and not for the upcoming moviezation. Also, I’m pretty well certain Watchmen has been a “hit,” off and on, for the better part of two decades. I’d bet that, if comic books sales systems pulled a Soundscan to remove the bestsellers overall from the charts (because stuff like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon still sells so many copies, so many years later, it would affect the sales reporting), Watchmen would rank up there along with The Dark Knight Returns and Sandman; books that still sell well so long after their original publication.

And so now this is where I admit something: I couldn’t get through Watchmen.

I tried. I picked up the book at some point either during college or shortly thereafter. I’m pretty sure I bought it at Midtown Comics in Manhattan, which I still consider the single coolest comics shop I’ve ever been to. Back then, I was a regular commuter between midtown Manhattan and southern New Jersey, and I often picked up comics or entertainment magazines at Midtown to read on the Greyhound back home. So I’m pretty certain I intended to read Watchmen on the bus, and I know I started it, but I also know I got about 30 pages in before I gave up on it. Even still, that paperback is somewhere in my parents’ basement.

I’ve picked it up again to skim a few times, hoping each time that I would appreciate it, get into it, like I hadn’t before. I hated Shakespeare until my sophomore year of college, when a professor-prompted epiphany finally demonstrated to me how awesome King Lear was. I read both The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye in high school but appreciated neither until I read them on my own while in college; I reread Gatsby a year or so ago, and discovered it was even better.

I keep hoping I will experience something similar with Alan Moore.

Because it’s not just Watchmen; I’ve read enough people I admire praise him that I’ve tried lots of stuff by him. Promethea. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. Lost Girls sounded vaguely interesting, because I always like modern fiction that remixes and revamps old stories to change the way we look at them, but I never did pick it up. But I’ve discovered the cool reaction I had to Watchmen is roughly the reaction I have to anything Alan Moore writes. And I really do want to “get” him, I think; I know he did seminal work on Swamp Thing, and I know he wrote a bunch of Superman stories a lot of people I admire think are awesome, and hell, the man gave Neil Gaiman what may be the most awesome nickname ever (“Scary Trousers”), which comes with one of the single coolest nickname stories in history:

(For some reason, WordPress doesn’t allow embedding of Google videos, so here’s a link instead.)

But I don’t. I never have, and I am unsure I ever will.

I keep hoping it will come with age. That as my taste becomes more sophisticated, I will begin to appreciate the writing, the nuance, the genius of Mr. Moore.

Because that’s his big thing isn’t it? That he’s such a genius? That he’s so smart, and he crams his writing so densely with references to literature and popular culture, that his work is above the understanding of most mere mortals? From The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to From Hell and such, everything I’ve seen of his is dense and verbose and meticulous, but more in the way that I want to say, “Yes, Mr. Moore, I understand you’re intelligent. Now if you’ll just stop attempting to demonstrate/prove it, can we please get on with the story?”

It’s because, of course, he wants to “keep out the scum.” No, really, that’s what he says. In this interview with Forbidden Planet, when asked about his to-come novel Jerusalem, the interviewer asks if it will have “one of these intractable, impenetrable first chapters like with Voice of the Fire,” to which Moore replies:

“Now, I did deliberately put the Hob’s Hog chapter in Voice of the Fire. I have been asked since why I did that. The only thing I could think of was, to keep out scum.”

Well, hey, mission accomplished, Mr. Moore. This particular scum? Totally kept out.

The thing about the Watchmen movie, though, is that I totally loved V for Vendetta, so maybe, I figure, this new one will be all right. I know a lot of people hated V for the changes it made to the story in the original comic, but I had the distinct advantage of never having read the comic before I saw the movie, which, on its own, I think, is just spectacular. Having only read a few dozen pages of Watchmen before putting it aside for something I might enjoy more, I can’t help wondering if I’ll have a similar experience with Watchmen; I’m one of the people interested in the movie but with no real investment in it either way. I like a couple of the actors (Crudup ftw! And seriously, the dad from Supernatural? Hell ya!), and the visuals, from what I saw on the giant IMAX screen with the holy-shit sound, were certainly impressive.

So who knows? I may just watch the Watchmen.

Reading it, though? Whole other story.

(Cross-posted to Mightygodking.com.)

I hadn’t planned to blog today, but earlier today, Chartroose pinged my “Batman Noir” post to tangent from as she wrote about Christian Bale and American Psycho, and now, in the truest spirit of Internet meta, I ping back to her in response, because I started to write a comment I realized might as well have been a blog on its own.

To sum up, while she was not a big fan of either the book or the movie, Chartroose seems to appreciate the book for what it is: a non-comedic satire. She mentions the outcry that occurred when the book was first published, then her own reaction to it:

I read until the wee hours of the morning and finished it the next evening. I decided the novel was total trash and stuck in my bookcase, thinking I would probably end up throwing it away later on. Disposal of the novel never happened though, in fact, over the next several days I found myself pulling it off the shelf and rereading entire passages just to make sure that I was recalling them correctly. I had American Psycho on the brain, and it was not an enjoyable experience. Even though it was creeping me out, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. It was the most disturbing book I had ever read.

She goes on to make some extraordinarily cogent points re: sociopathy and . . . oh, hell. Did you read it? You totally should. It’s totally worth it. In fact, here’s that link again, because otherwise I’m going to have to quote her penultimate paragraph, anyway.

Okay. So.

I can’t say that I loved American Psycho; like Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, it’s not an experience you can really love–it’s bleak and disturbing and kind of even hurts as you read it, so it’s not really something to love.

But good?

Yes, I think so.

I never heard the media outcry over the novel; I was a sophomore in college in 1997 by the time a buddy of mine read it and recommended it to me. And perhaps that’s very crucial; sophomore is Latin for “fool,” or thereabouts, if I’m not mistaken, and where I was in life at that time might have been instrumental in my reading of Ellis’ novel. To wit: back then, I was struggling with my identity. I’d just left my bucolic South Jersey hometown for Jersey City to attend a small Jesuit college that was, ultimately, a seminal experience in my life even though it wasn’t exactly the prototypical college experience. When most of my friends at other institutions were getting their bang on every bit as much as they were getting their book on, I had buried my head in credits and writing (back then I had just completed the first draft of my first novel, which clocked in at nearly half a million words, not one of which was actually really worth anything). I was struggling with identity to the point that I was even questioning my own name; my given name is William, and every man I know with the same name had become “Bill” by high school, and so I did, too. Until well into college, when I just wasn’t sure what I wanted people to call me anymore.

And finally, I was a nearly twenty-year-old dude, which meant I felt like society had certain expectations of me that I was meant to fulfill. Except I had absolutely no idea how to actually be a guy, and so I sought advice from the only resource readily available: Men’s Health. Not to mention Esquire and GQ. Every man depicted in the pages of those magazines seemed to be the ur-man, not just the uber-man but in fact the sort of prototype on whom the entire idea of masculinity is based. Washboard abs, Colgate teeth, well groomed hair, chiseled biceps, perfect jeans, tailored suit . . . you get the idea.

The perfect ideal of masculinity.

That was the mindset I had when I came to Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, and for that reason, it was the perfect book at the perfect time in my life. Not only did I feel like I got it, and what he was trying to do, but I felt too as though he had captured precisely the perfectly incredible absurdity of pretty much everything I was experiencing at the time. One device Ellis makes frequent use of in the novel is the extraordinary attention to detail the protagonist, Patrick Bateman, pays to the wardrobe and effects of those around him; anyone who’s ever read Esquire has encountered precisely the same thing. The ten best face washes. The thirteen best new colognes of the season. The four most realistic-looking fake tans.

And no woman can tell me such is relegated to the pages of men’s magazines. Cosmo does it constantly–this season’s hottest shades of lipstick! Next season’s hippest designer!

When I read American Psycho, I read it as a pretty much brilliant critique of precisely that aspect of our culture. Chartroose mentions:

American Psycho is trying to tell us that capitalism is as violent and merciless as Patrick Bateman, and Bateman’s disregard for women as anything but body parts to be abused and discarded is a mirror reflection of modern society’s objectification of women.

But I think it’s more than that; it’s not modern society’s objectification of women but rather our culture’s collective objectification of ourselves. Bateman doesn’t merely objectify women; he objectifies everyone, which is why every new character is described not in terms of a quality or a smile or a trait but rather in terms of the suit he wears or, famously, the business card he carries or, even more famously, the music he likes. When Bateman enjoys something, like Phil Collins’ “Su-su-sudio,” he does so not because he actually likes the music but rather because it is something everyone else seems to enjoy. He uses a Sony Walkman and wears headphones quite often, and when he listens to Whitney Houston, it’s not because he wants to dance with somebody but rather because he wants people to think he wants to. If Bateman objectifies everyone, it is because he feels himself an object; his lack of empathy comes not from his detachment from other people’s feelings but rather from the fact that he has none of his own. His clothes, his beauty regimen, his workouts; he’s not improving himself so much as improving the way the world sees him, and trying all the time to be a more beautiful object to those who view him.

I think it’s a rather brilliant critique, obviously, and I think it ultimately springs from the same sorts of disillusionment as inspired Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

Patrick Bateman is the reason Fight Club exists; he is a rockstar, basically, and he doesn’t chase cars and clothes because he already owns them. He has achieved everything society has told him he should want but still feels he has no purpose or place. He kills people, but mostly he understands that “On a long-enough timeline, the survival rate drops to zero” for everyone.

“Shut up! Our fathers were our models for God. If our fathers bailed, what does that tell you about God?”
“No, no, I… don’t…”
“Listen to me! You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you. This is not the worst thing that can happen.”

Patrick Bateman has achieved, as both a man and a person, pretty much everything society expects of him, or is on his way to. Society has convinced him that, if he does so, he will be happy, but that happiness . . .

Where is it?

Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.

Precisely.

Willy Wonka promised that the man who got everything he ever wanted lived happily ever after, but Jagger got it arguably more right; happiness isn’t getting what you want but rather in getting what you need and understanding why you needed it in the first place.

I know I probably shouldn’t get too uber-excited about this one yet, as it doesn’t come out until, I think, November, but this is another I just can’t help myself for.

Quantum of Solace:

Now, I figure this is going to big and loud as all get out, just as the first one was. And probably with bloat in places, as the first one was, too.

But I think it also has a lot of potential to be awesome.

The trailer above is 8 minutes, though only the first two are the content; there’s, like, six minutes of filler at the end. But the above trailer had the best aspect ratio and looked the best of all I found, so this is the one I went with.

Just got back from an afternoon IMAX showing of The Dark Knight.

I have very, very mixed feelings about the experience as a whole, not to mention about the movie in particular. Warning: here be spoilers.

First, IMAX is awesome, but you’ve got to sit toward the back of the theater or it’s just too big. I mean, huge. Ginormous. I saw The Matrix: Reloaded in IMAX, and I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoyed it on first viewing.

Second, what is it with long-ass sequels? Seriously, first movie performs well and suddenly people think it justifies three frickin’ hours? It’s like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Spider-Man 3; you cram too much shit into them and they just bloat. I saw Pirates 2 at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood and was restless for at least the final third of the movie.

This movie was at least better in that regard, but it was still a solid twenty minutes too damned long, while during the final ten or so I felt completely bludgeoned over the head by the “message” it was trying to send me home with: blahblahblah hero blahblahblah survivor blahblahblah what we need more than what we want blahblah.

The tone was sporadic: at times dark and intense, at times tedious to the point of boring. I mean, come on, Batman wears a giant layer of body armor he modifies, in the first ten minutes of the movie, to be both faster and lighter, and then, when it comes down to it, when he finally fights the two characters who become the major villains of the movie,

he fuckin’ talks at them!

(and that’s not even mentioning that apparently the Batsuit gives Bruce Wayne a tracheotomy every damned time he puts it on. Batman speaks in some weirdo gravelly mumble like he’s both smoked too many cigarettes and is just about to hurl)

And let’s talk about those villains.

About midway through (so: at the seven-hour mark), Aaron Eckhardt’s Harvey Dent gets half-blowed up and becomes Two-Face. Who has a gruesome make-up job (that comes off on his hospital pillow, by the way), as well as a big ole’ eyeball he can’t lube because he no longer has eyelids, but which never actually seems to bother him. Dent may well be the best character in the movie and certainly has more dimensions (which isn’t difficult, considering most of the others seem to have one); Eckhardt plays him at first heroically and then later tragically.

The other villain is the Joker, as played by Heath Ledger in borrowed vaudeville clothes and make-up he stole from James O’Barr; somewhere, Brandon Lee spins in his grave. Except: Lee actually has motivation in the story, and while Alfred has a nice speech that some guys just like to watch the world burn… well, meh. I’ve heard some talk of posthumous Oscars. I ended that sentence because I didn’t want to mention Ledger in the same one. It’s not a bad performance, exactly; in fact, it’s fun, in parts, and creepy in a few, but overall it’s not even nearly as good as Depp’s in the first Pirates movie.

And I mention that role for a specific reason: two vaguely trickster-y characters in two summer blockbusters lauded for the roles. But Depp’s Jack Sparrow is not just more nuanced but even more consistent than Ledger’s Joker. There’s quite ado that the Joker is just chaos and has no rules, which is all well and good, but ultimately, there’s no motivation for him, so ultimately he doesn’t really want anything Batman can stop him from getting, besides chaos, and that’s just boring.

Ultimately, it’s a bit sad, because Batman, more than most superheroes, is defined by his villains. The Joker is his ultimate nemesis, and I give Nolan kudos for not killing him in the end. I think that was one of the major flaws of Burton’s Batman movies; it should be a rule that you’re not allowed to kill the villain in a superhero movie, because the point of villains in comic books is that they always come back. The Spider-Man movies keep killing characters that have been around in the comics for half a century; the Joker’s been around since even before then, I think.

It’s the one thing Superman Returns got right; you don’t kill Lex Luthor. Superman’s allowed to beat him (that’s why he’s the titular character), but you can’t kill him.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I like the tone Nolan went for, for the most part. It’s like superhero noir–Batman noir–which was cool. And suitably dark, in places. And the characters seem to wrestle with their roles even if it’s not exactly clear what they’re really wrestling with. Wayne seems vexed–very, very vexed–over his cowl, but yet keeps right on donning it. He seems to want to give up the cape racket altogether at some points, but yet he builds some weirdo sonar doohickey that makes for some half-assed special effects in the final act we all saw in the eighties and didn’t really work much better then.

Oh, and I don’t care how strong your body armor is: you don’t jump out of a penthouse apartment in Gotham City, catch a girl on the way down, plunge onto a car you dent, and survive with nary a scratch. Last time I saw somebody jump off anything of great height (in the rad In Bruges), Brendan Gleason literally lost his arm.

But no, Batman and the girl manage to quip between them.

There are nice touches here and there. And I mostly enjoyed the experience. It ain’t a bad movie, or anything.

Still, I had more fun at Ironman, and enjoyed it way more as a movie. There was a superhero movie that knew what it was doing.

This one?

Not so much.

I will admit that I nearly opened with a joke about being given the keys to the Impala, but I figured, best just use that one to the once.

I don’t remember how I first encountered Supernatural; I’m sure it was an online discussion somewhere, but I don’t remember the specific pointer like I remember The Shakespeare Code. In fact, the first thing I remember about Supernatural is its Wikipedia page, which notes that its creator, Eric Kripke, cites Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and American Gods as influences.

That was really all I needed. I’ll state a caveat here in the interest of full disclosure: Neil Gaiman is the only person on Earth who has ever sent me into total fanboy catatonia. I had been 23 just a month when my best buddy trekked up to Jersey City from regions farther south so we could see Gaiman open for The Magnetic Fields at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. I had been corresponding (roughly) with Neil for nearly a year by then on The Well, but still I couldn’t bring myself to say hello (it took an introduction from Claudia Gonson of the Fields to actual render me speechful).

I had, by then, read everything Gaiman had written except Sandman, and I was totally looking forward to American Gods (the copy on my bookshelf, just a few feet away, was the first one signed on the American Gods tour, and it was signed at the Borders WTC. It has, of course, become somewhat of a talisman in my life).

I wanted to love American Gods, but I’ll admit, back then, I didn’t; my visceral reaction was that it read very much like exactly the debut novel it was–a writer learning how to write a novel as he did so. While it has grown on me in the years since, I still think Coraline and Anansi Boys are better, novel-wise, than American Gods was (Anansi Boys is, I believe, one of the greatest novels ever: very nearly fully achieved and perfect for what it is. It seems like it understands, in a way some few books do, what it means to be, and quite successfully achieves it).

My point is that I’d been reading Gaiman for a few years by then, and that he’s one of two novelists I continue to both read and enjoy (the same I cannot say for either King, Koontz, Carroll, or Pratchett [the other novelist is Rowling]). Which was why, when I saw that citation of influences, I just had to check out Supernatural.

Supernatural: two slightly dysfunctional but also very cool brothers drive around in a vintage Chevy Impala while listening to Asia and hunting things that go bump in the night.

And if that’s not very nearly a perfect logline, I don’t know what is.

Over three (so far) seasons, Supernatural has followed the brothers Winchester, Sam and Dean, as they drive back and forth across the country hunting . . . well, just about everything for which a season does not exist. Vampires? Check. Werewolves? Check. Djinn, changelings, and killer clowns (though not from outer space)? Check, double check, and wait, let me confirm–yep, check all over again.

And I think it’s way better than it has any right to be. I mean, one of the brothers is best known for a recurring role in the Gilmore Girls while the other has the sort of suitably pouty lips directors hire make-up people to moisten every ten minutes, but hell if it ain’t Tiger Beat heartthrobs battling evil, and boyhow does it work.

Don’t get me wrong; there are a couple of things about the series that, ultimately, unfortunately, fall flat, the single biggest being that the series seems to have an undue amount of trouble letting characters stay dead. Perhaps this is a reaction on my end, in that both television shows I’m currently most into (Supernatural and Doctor Who) don’t seem to want to let anyone actually die. And, of course, there is some wriggle room in Supernatural; when you’re dealing so much with things that go bump in the night, you are, story-wise, generally allowing that things do bump in the night, and the things that bump in said night probably used to be alive in some way, which means that there is acknowledgement of the afterlife. Especially when you’re dealing with demons and Faustian bargains and a bunch of characters who care about people they love more than they care about themselves.

When people keep dying but keep not exactly staying dead, it reduces tension for the viewer. It makes suspense and danger (not to mention: death) not mean nearly so much. You stop worrying when a character seems about to die, because you think, well, no biggie, they can just bargain that out of the way.

In most cases, the stakes are at least changed (and sometimes raised), but still, I feel the creators stumbled a bit with all the dead-not-dead stuff.

Even still, I remain impressed by the adventures of the brothers Winchester. Most of the episodes are self-contained, which is a hallmark of the shows I love (e.g., Doctor Who and House, MD), with development over arcs contributing to but not overwhelming the self-contained nature of each episode (or two-parter). I’ve always been the sort who avoids anything in multiple parts each of which can’t be enjoyed on its own, mainly because I’ve always felt like I’m being strung along (part of the reason I’ve always enjoyed TPBs to single-issue comics. Fuck single issues. Fuck waiting a week (or worse) to find out what’s going to happen next [the Harry Potter series is the notable exception, but then again, reading Harry Potter is a bit like watching a season DVD all in a go]).

Which is the other nit I pick with Supernatural; apparently, renewal goes to the creators’ heads, as each season pretty much ends on a cliffhanger of some sort. There’s a way to pique interest to keep people watching (or reading) and there’s a way simply to infuriate them.

But Kripke and McG (who exec produces) manage to avoid trouble by consistently putting together terrific, clever episodes. Some of my favorite bits: the names the Winchesters use to pose as detectives (Landis and Dante, Page and Plant, Bachman and Turner); the way Dean Winchester is written; uber-hot chicks in just about every episode; and layers. I’ve watched straight through Season 3, and all the characters seem so fully realized; the highest compliment I can pay, I think, is that you believe these characters had lives before you started watching, and you believe they had lives after the screen goes dark. I tend to think that in addition to the cited influences, Stephen King’s canon casts a long shadow across, at least in terms of character dynamics and interactions, as well as humor and story (and that’s one of the single highest compliments I would pay. Say what you will about Stephen King’s writing [hey, I like it], but you can’t claim he’s not a great storyteller).

I worry about next season; three seemed a bit uneven, though I wonder if that was mainly because it was truncated due to the writers’ strike (a lot like House, MD).

(cross-posted to Mightygodking.com.)

Celine Dion (and Anastasia) performing AC DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long.”

I can’t decide which is more disturbing: Celine Dion playing the air guitar (provided, her skinny arms can’t actually hold anything heavier), or the shot of her crotch as she sings about the walls shaking.

You can thank Widge at Need Coffee for your nosebleed.

I’m a regular reader of Mighty God King, who allowed me to guest post in his blog, like this one, on Doctor Who and stories.

And yes, I quite appreciate the irony of this post, given the one most immediately previous.

But hey, I also finished a chapter.

Do you care that I’m still “almost done” my novel? Something I’ve been saying for a bit, I realize (if, by “a bit,” I mean, like, two years), but well, closer every day. That stumbling block the other day knocked me a bit sideways, and the ending is, and always has been, a trouble spot. Namely because I know the precise effect I’m trying to go for but haven’t a clue how to frickin’ do it.

So I’m experimenting. I’ve written and rewritten it several times already, not counting previous drafts.

I’ve been hesitating to continue posting about it, though. One of my favorite Hemingway quotes, and perhaps the smartest (not to mention: most sober) things I’ve ever heard he said was: “Fuck ’em. Let ’em think you were born knowing how to write.”

Or something to that effect.

Which is why I’ll admit I sometimes struggle with blogging (and probably why I take so many breaks from it), not just as an activity but as a culture. With blogging and MySpace/Facebook and now with Twitter . . . just how connected do people need to be? How much do I really need to know about people? Do I care what you’re listening to? More important: do you care what I’m listening to?

The thing is, many regard it as the answer or solution for writers and publishing, which they see as “in decline.” Oh, whatever will we do, peepul dont reed no morez11!! You’ve heard the lamentations. You’ve seen the YouTube videos, and if you haven’t, there’s this one, which caught on in the blogosphere a while ago:

Yeah.

The thing about it is that I think it’s pretty uniformly utter bullshit (and I like that that video highlights that). Book trailers? Book videos? Lulu has some marketing package thing that includes bookmarks and, like, postcards or some shit.

I can’t believe readership is down, or if it is, not for the reasons many suspect, like the “ADHD Internet culture”; the utter and nearly spontaneous proliferation of blogs seems to me to demonstrate otherwise. It took, what, nearly 20,000 years or something for the human race to reach the 1 billion mark, while blogs reached double that number in, like, two hours or something (I’m using hyperbole here, obviously, but only just).

I think it’s more about a signal-to-noise ratio, because I think readers thirst for content. I think our culture is starved for it, in fact. I think one of the reason for this proliferation is that people are starving for something they are looking to such 2.0 stylistic hoodoo to provide.

If readership is down, I think it’s because there are too few writers, and I mean real writers out there actually doing their job. One of my other favorite quotes, which traces back to a pseudonym used on the Well many moons ago (but possibly still in use), was “You’re an author! Fuck off and auth!” How many writers with popular blogs have actually managed to write good books?

(and yes, I realize that begins to get into the subjective nature of “good” and such, but I’m not tackling that here)

One of the major points I think all this examination of web 2.0 and its relationship to writers and books has summarily and utterly missed is that you can market the hell out of a mediocre book and it doesn’t actually make the book any better. And readers know that.

The thing is that it’s focus on two disparately different things: the writing of a book versus the selling of it. Two completely different functions and activities with, I’d argue, very little in common. And yes, I would be among the first to note that it’s no longer enough for writers to simply write their books, that proactive energy is necessary, but while it may not be enough, that’s where it starts.

The other thing is that the Internet and its numbers don’t translate. I learned this personally, on MySpace; I established a rather substantial readership of nearly 4,000 friends and 1,200 subscribers to my blog. My blog had nearly 3,000 views per day when I realized I wanted to publish my collection. And I won’t say it was summarily ignored (far from it), but those numbers certainly didn’t transfer from one situation to the other.

I think Entrekin has gotten about as much attention as it ever deserved to; some, certainly, because I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t thought it was good, but not a lot, because it’s certainly not a great book–it’s a book collecting a bunch of stories by a writer discovering his voice in the process of telling them. The order of the pieces is very nearly chronological (which, I think, demonstrates said evolution), to culminate in the first two chapters of my novel. It’s not perfect (and even the novel chapters have since changed rather markedly), but it’s a record, and concerning the people in whom it does manage to strike a chord, it seems to do so deeply. What negative response it seems to provoke has less to do with the book than it does with people’s perception of me, as a person.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to digress and really have no idea how I ended up where I now find myself, but that’s my story. An ironic call to arms, probably, from a guy who maintains (roughly) three separate blogs, but I hope a call to arms nonetheless, if to no one else but myself. Because, really, it’s time for me to finish a good book.

I’m not quite sure why you actually have to be aware of this story to be able to find it, but it seems to be the case. I was told of it the other day by someone browsing the BBC news site, but on perusing it myself, I can’t find it. I checked all my major news sites, too: the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post and MSNBC.com. Heck, you’d hope one would find it through the New York Times, but no luck there, either. Just to confirm, I ran a search on it yesterday, and this is all I found:

I had to go all the way to Google, in fact, and when I did, I found an Associated Press story the associated press seems to have summarily completely ignored: apparently, whoever owns the World Trade Center proposed completely scrapping plans and deadlines for the construction of the new Freedom Tower because “nearly every project is delayed and over budget and that previous estimates are unrealistic.”

Sad, that. The first project scheduled to be completed–in time for the tenth anniversary of the attacks–was the memorial. Freedom Tower itself, along with the other buildings, weren’t expected to open themselves until 2013.

Shame, this.

Larry Silverstein is in charge of building three of the five towers (seems he’s the owner). He’s also the person to whom will be made payments of $300,000 per day for every day the construction of the towers goes beyond deadline. In fairness to him, though the article is not clearly worded, I think he’s also the one proposing scrapping the deadlines in the first place.

It puts me in mind of a paragraph from “What I Saw That Day (September 11th, 2001),” my essay (in my collection) concerning that day those years ago, and how I feel about it now:

I can’t seem to shake this feeling that it’s a bad dream. I can’t help looking at the plans and design for the new Freedom Tower and wonder why we can’t just build the World Trade Center back. Why we can’t recreate those buildings so that, one day, when we talk to our children and tell them about that day, they can look up at us and say, “What’re you talking about, Daddy? You mean those buildings? Right there? They falled down?”

There are days I miss New York, especially lately, but sometimes I wonder if I don’t miss Manhattan during the summer of 2000. It’s different when I go back, and then again, so am I.

(if you want to read my September 11th essay and haven’t yet, you can find it here.)

I don’t know how or why I finally thought of the approach, but I know it came from Billy Joel and “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” I think I won the tape in a dance contest when I was in, like, sixth grade. Or my buddy took that one and I took Faith No More’s Epic.

Anyway, I love this video:

It also led me to this one, called “Life is a Rock (but the radio rolled me),” by Reunion. Which I’d never heard of, but like a lot:

Both (especially the latter) remind me somewhat of Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” except that they’re, you know, kinda good.

This map, over at Strange Maps, is awesome. Basically, it highlights penitentiaries and the state in the 50s. The blurbs are worth the price of admission (which is, of course, free).

My favorite: “Here Vineland, famous for its contributions to our knowledge of the feebleminded.” And who knew Vineland is where the word “moron” was coined? You’d think I would have, being that I use the word often enough (and am from Jersey). I dated a girl from Vineland once. No, really: once. I found out she had a psychotic episode and was taking Zyprexa. She told me she wanted to run away with me and then promptly never called me again.

For anyone curious, I’m from halfway between Pennsgrove and Camden, right there near the Delaware.

When I got to USC’s writing program, I was lucky that I had already completed at least a draft of a novel; truth is, I’d finished several drafts by then, and I was about half-finished the then-current draft. I actually completed it a few weeks after I took my first class, and then I set it aside to write it as a screenplay before I picked it up to start it all over again.

I mention this because it had some effect on how I approached the program; besides the thesis/final project, there was also an opportunity to take a semester of guided research with the faculty mentor nearly of one’s choice. Given that I already had a draft, I bypassed that semester in favor of other classes and workshops.

When it came time to take my guided research, I chose a man named Sid Stebel as my advisor. Sid is a great, puckish guy with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and we got along like gangbusters. He can be very opinionated, but also allows he could be wrong. I guess what I liked was that he wasn’t afraid to make suggestions. That, and that the man knew stories. He knew them well (his book, Double Your Creative Power!, is built around his idea of secret story, which I’d actually like to study further), and a lot of times, you could just tell. Some of his suggestions for the way characters might interact in the context of the story’s structure . . .

Yeah, I learned a lot from Sid. I like to think there are ways we’re alike, and not just considering we’re both fair writers.

I mention Sid, however, because one thing Sid likes to talk about is Ray Bradbury; he and Ray go back many years, and they’ve shared a friendship through the years. When I found out, I kinda flipped a little.

I like Ray Bradbury for a somewhat obscure reason. Back when I was a sophomore in college, my history professor assigned Fahrenheit 451. I read and enjoyed it immensely, but what really caught my attention was a ‘Coda’ my buddy, captain doctor Brian, pointed out to me in his edition. In this Coda, Bradbury talked about critics and reviewers, and he said, and I’ll never forget this:

“Get off our fields and let us play.”

I loved that. Immensely. My father taught me early on about criticism, that there were always going to be people who had something negative to say, but they’re not the one’s down there, wrestling the lions–he used to allude to a quote by either Hemingway or JFK, I can’t remember which (though I think it was the latter). It’s something I continue to struggle with, in fact, the just-playing part, because I’ll admit I sometimes pay too close attention to how my writing is received. I know I shouldn’t, but old habits etc.

I’ve always liked allusions, and there are many in my novel: to Bradbury, yes, but also to Fitzgerald, Eliot, Williams, and Whitman, among others. They’re quick enough you’ll miss most of them if you blink, but they’re there. I mean, you write a time travel novel, you ought to pause time when there’s an explosion, and when it’s raining, and if it’s gonna be raining, it oughta be a storm, and if there’s a storm, you can bet there’s going to be a sound of thunder (all that’s part of story theory, by the way. That there are certain elements that just make sense given a story’s framework, and how it functions). My protagonist, in fact, happens to live on Bradbury Lane.

So when I found out Stebel was friends with Ray, I had to ask if he could get my novel to Ray.

Sid didn’t think that was the best idea, given Bradbury’s current health, which isn’t bad, exactly, don’t think that, but certainly Ray reads way less books than he used to. But, he said, perhaps an excerpt, a few pages where the story kicked, where there was something that really pulled out all the stops . . .

Well, lemme tell you, I’ve got plenty of pages like that. There aren’t any stops in my novel, because I pulled every last one of them out.

And if I sent him that, Sid could send the pages along to Ray. Maybe, he said, we could even get a quote from Ray for my book.

At this point, I’ll tell you, I’m struggling not to get too excited. Not so much about a possibly Bradbury quote to put on the cover of my novel, though, yes, of course, how fucking awesome would that be? But Ray Bradbury! Reading something I wrote!

Two weeks ago, I sent Sid a few pages from the climax of my novel. I was pushing hard by the time I wrote them, trying to fire on all cylinders at once, really nailing down the theme while never forgetting, hey, there are characters to care about here, and what’re they doing? I do some experimenting with both typography and formatting at certain points in my book, but I cut them from the climax, solely wanting an honest, sincere moment, making the effort to rely solely on the strength of my words to make readers feel something and trying to avoid clever at all costs.

Sid sent it along immediately.

So for two weeks I’ve been on pins and needles, here. Trying not to hyperventilate, and trying not to get too excited.

Turns out I probably shouldn’t have worried.

I got an e-mail from Sid last night; Ray called him late Wednesday evening to comment on what he’d read. He was, apparently, extraordinarily encouraging (Sid paraphrased), and he said to just sit down and write write write like he did with The Martian Chronicles.

Ray Bradbury. The Martian Chronicles. Write write write.

I’m smiling.

A quote, something to put on the cover of my book, even a single word like “Splendid!” probably would have been enough to start a career on. But then again, I realize, I already started it, and while a blurb from Ray Bradbury probably would have helped me sell it, that, up there, is the real part of it. The real part of it is not the selling it; it’s the sitting down to write write write every day, and maybe I needed that reminder. Sure, I’ll admit, I really would have liked to have a Bradbury quote, but maybe I’ve got to learn that I don’t need it, that what I really need is to work harder, to sit down and keep at it, and to be honest about it. Because it reminds me that a few words on either cover won’t have any effect on the words between them, and those are the ones that count. And those are really the only part I have any control over.

If I don’t remember that, no matter how many books I sell, no matter how many stories I tell, no matter how many pages I write, it arguably won’t be much of a career, anyway, much less a devotion.

My full memory of the following story is somewhat fuzzy, as is where I first heard it, but the cotent is what counts and has to do with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (hereafter: IJ4), which is what I wanted to mention. I’ve read several people lament the direction the series has taken (and from what I’ve read about the movie, I tend to agree), but I’ve also read about a direction it didn’t take. That latter is cited with sighs of relief that “It could have been worse,” but still I wonder.

So, the story: I think it was in On Writing–I’m fairly certain it’s Stephen King’s memory of the moment he was sitting in a movie theater, enjoying the serials before the actual flick, when the house lights came on and the theater manager’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker to announce that the Soviets had launched Sputnik, the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. This was in 1957, after the spectacular failure of a couple of American attempts, and, obviously, a full eleven years before the US managed to get a man on the moon. This in addition came during one of the worst periods of Communist fear in American history (McCarthyism began in 1950, when Joseph McCarthy began his investigations etc.).

I bring this up because both Spielberg and Lucas often cite those serials as the foundation for Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark began the franchise in 1981, and became, at first blush, pretty much one of the most commercially successful movies of all time. Its reception was better than I would have given it credit for: for a blockbuster, it was critically received well, and was nominated for a go-jillion awards, to match the go-jillions of dollars it made. Lucas and Spielberg based the story on those old serials, which both had watched when they were children.

And the trilogy did well. IJ2 and IJ3 both continued the tradition of the first, though Temple of Doom is kinda the oddball, darker in tone and scope. The Last Crusade featured Indy’s dad, not to mention: Hitler. The Nazis were the villains throughout those three. There was the face-melting tornado in Raiders, which mostly just affected the Nazis, and who can forget when Indy punched the Nazi on the zeppelin in Crusade.

And now IJ4. I have no inclination to see it; I learned my lesson from the Star Wars prequels, thanks much, and to quote ole’ Dubya, “fool me once, shame on… fool me twice… you can’t fool me again.” The reviews I’ve read have been mostly mixed, and the spoiler material has seemed to hit the two cardinal sins of entertainment: both dumb and boring.

But I’ve also read that Lucas had a different idea for the next installment: Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars, and I wonder if that wouldn’t have been the better direction. Those serials often went from action and Nazis in the forties to suspense and science fiction and Commies in the fifties, didn’t they? By the 50s, we obviously had our eyes to the heavens–we were in a space race, after all, which was why Sputnik came as such a kick in the can. The Day the Earth Stood Still came in 1951.

My point is, it’s obvious the tide was turning, and being that Indy is of that era, the best way to continue the franchise might have been to turn him, too, to his next logical storypoint: out of archaeology and Nazis and into space and Commies. Sure, it’s not really consistent with the character from before, but this movie seems more of a transition, anyway (if Indy doesn’t hand his fedora to Shia by the end of IJ4, I’d be surprised); Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars could have represented the 50s, when we were petrified with the Red Scare (and where better for the red scare to originate from than the red planet?); from what I’ve read, IJ4 is set in the fifties, anyway. And plus, it could have made a parallel between the red scare and the current political climate (PATRIOT act, al qaeda, terrorists, et al.; was it Twain who said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does echo?).

Indy’s world has always been exaggerated, from boulders and idols to madman ripping hearts out and 500-year-old knights of the Holy Grail. It’s always been a caricature, the ideal representation of its world, and really, the best way for it to continue is to follow its own lead by continuing to caricature its world (and not in a bad way; Indy’s always been a caricature, mostly, which is why you can recognize him by his hat alone).

Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that going in that direction could have sucked. But, then, from what I’ve read of the latest installment, it ain’t all that great, and shit, if it’s gonna be bad, it might as well go for broke, no? If you’re going to jump the shark, why not use a jetpack?

Does whatever an iron can.
Presses cuffs, flattens clothes.
Creases pants, just like those.
Look out!
Here comes the Ironman!

Actually, Ironman, as portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., does absolutely none of those things (he has a personal assistant who performs such functions, as well as, in one of the funniest lines of the movie, “Takes out the trash.”).

What he does do is carouse and carom wildly about the screen; trade witty barbs with assistants, friends, and robots alike; rebuild camshafts with toothbrushes; crack jokes; bed incredibly beautiful women; and basically demonstrate what a thoroughly interesting character brilliant, cool, and badass Tony Stark is.

Oh, and what he also does is blow shit up.

Ironman has gotten a lot of press and deserves every word of it. It’s a terrifically balanced movie, a great origin story about a man coming to terms with his own actions and realizing he has done some bad things but finding in himself redemption to do better. Batman saw his parents killed and, mentally, broke; Superman is just an overgrown Eagle Scout on ‘roids, and Spiderman struggles with everyman troubles while fighting rather outlandish villains.

Ironman is the first superhero movie we can believe in. For the first hour, its main villains are Middle Eastern terrorists, which is, provided, about as cliche as you get, but then it pulls a fast one, because Stark realizes that these terrorists are using the weapons he built. The whole movie is rooted in this world in ways I’ve rarely seen any movie deal with its problems, and I found it an even better meditation on the current, troubled world we live in than, say, Syriana. Sure, both movies had different tones and set to accomplish different things, but I’d argue that Ironman, for all its blow-shit-up/summer-blockbuster status, actually explored those themes more effectively than the more serious but also more ponderous and, let’s face it, more dull Syriana.

I geeked out all over the place throughout (one joke I saw coming; its repetition surprised me enough to make me giggle). There’s a silly cameo of Stan Lee as Hugh Hefner, but otherwise, it’s that rare beast: a socially and personally conscious action movie. Sure, it’s a dude with a make-uped goatee in a red-and-gold titanium alloy suit, but it works, and mainly because Downey, Jr. makes it work. This man is having a well deserved and well earned career renaissance, and it’s terrific, because all the press he ever got about being a ‘bad boy’ and passing in and out of rehab let a lot of people forget the fact that he’s one of the greatest actors ever. He doesn’t have the classic looks or personality one imagines of a leading man, but he has a rare intensity and charm that lends itself to carrying a movie (see: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).

The trailers included previews of both The Incredible Hulk and The Dark Knight, but, having seen them, I’m not sure either of them will become more than what they are. Sure, they look entertaining, and I’ll catch both (and Heath Ledger’s Joker so far seems brilliant), but they look like they’re going to be superhero movies, and Ironman, somehow, felt like more than that in the best possible way.

The trailer for Hancock sure looks interesting, though.

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