Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

October 17, 2016 Southfield CIty Council Meeting

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Matrix By Way of Fight Club (Mr. Robot is Awesome)


Let's get that right out of the way. Over the past few years, it's become a thing to point out it's flaws. It's dated, pretentious, over-indulgent, and immature.

It's still the coolest damn movie ever!

So cool in fact that I borrowed my name from it.

But especially in light of the sequels and 15 years of looking back,  the old gray mare just ain't what she used to be.

Still,  both The Matrix and the sequels  (including the underrated Animatrix) are chock full of unfulfilled ideas of promise.

What if knowing what we know now about its flaws we could go back. We could do it all over. We could redo The Matrix but right.

One of the central "problems" of the Matrix is that it has a very dream logic permeating all of it. And that dream logic makes it hard to take it seriously as a conventional story. It's not surreal enough where I can excuse it and say, "but that's the point". But that dream logic is very much a part of what the Matrix is trying to accomplish intellectually.

By the way stick a pin in A Scanner Darkly.

Anyway, everything on screen when watching The Matrix is some sort of metaphor and the movie doesn't ultimately care if it all holds together narratively. And honestly it doesn't, but that's not the point. It's one of THOSE movies.

But it kind of does hit all my buttons.

Mr. Robot wants to have it's cake and eat it too. By commenting on and subverting the Matrix's dream logic and in doing so taking it's ideas further. And to explain why you kind of have to spoil the end of the first season.

Both Fight Club and The Matrix as films philosophical texts first and narratives second and are about examining the relationship between the self and the world.

The Matrix casts the self in opposition to the world, within a constant struggle to not be subsumed by it.  But Fight Club is all about the futility of that struggle. The self is always pushing and pushed by the world around it.

The sequels try very hard to call the original out on that but by then the Matrix had become a phenomenon, while the original takes a lot of risks the sequels are afraid to go to the mat in nearly every instance it counts. They are smart movies trying as hard as they can to pretend to be stupid."

And that dissonance destroys them.

For instance the scene everybody hates is the one I find most intellectually interesting.

Once you get past all the verbiage and the smugness what the architect says upends the original's central premise. Neo and Morpheus's resistance is ultimately futile because it itself is part of machines' structures of control and sublimation. All of Neo's powers and even his very existence is derived from the machines' system of control.

Neither he nor Morpheus will ever succeed in fully separating themselves from it.

The self not only pushes but is pushed upon by the external world around it and can not be considered as an entity independent of it.

Despite everything the original said and did Neo is not special. The rules do apply to him and nothing he says or does will change that.

That's a really interesting place to go but the movies ultimately do nothing with it. It couldn't, What had become an odd mid-budget cyber-thriller had become a Hollywood blockbuster franchise.

Like it's own characters it can not be separated from the vast systems that gave rise to it and can only go so far in destroying them before it begins to destroy itself.

Hmmm. We need a healthy dose of nihilism. A movie or a character who will acknowledge those systems and revels in destroying them.

Fight Club is...

Damn it. I have to say it. There are a lot of people who just don't get fight club.  The late great Roger Ebert dismissed it. Even people who like it don't get how smart it is.  Fight Club is a filmic textbook on the relationship between Nihilism and Existentialism as you go through the narrator's journey of discovering just how empty the world is and how that emptiness pulls on his psyche.

It is about the lack of inherent meaning within the world and the systems human beings construct within it. It is about how that lack of meaning leaves the individual adrift and in a constant state desperation and confusion, as the search for meaning outside of the self is futile.

To that end Fight Club is unafraid to destroy even itself as the last third of the movie is a deconstruction of the first two as even Tyler Durden the character who voices the movie's nihilistic philosophy is proven to be just another meaningless construct the narrator and audience are using to make sense of this meaningless world.

The Matrix constantly wants to cast Neo as an over-man unconstrained by the structures of the Matrix yet the movie is still constrained by the structures of society and Neo must remain a heroic character despite everything he says and does hinting at a certain type of amorality.  While Fight Club, on the other hand was unafraid to cast Tyler as an amoral force of nature whose morality is beyond the point of his character.

That The Matrix has to frame Neo as a good guy while also trying as hard as it can to tell the audience that that is beyond the point.

And it creates this irreconcilable dissonance within the franchise.

Aside: This is why love Agent Smith so much and wish the movies did more with him. He has no pretensions about being a good guy. He's just a force fully outside of the control of The Matrix and not even he knows what he's going to do with that freedom. That the heroes ally themselves with the machines to destroy the being closest to the freedom they wish to grant the world is the movie subtly commenting on its own limitations. 

Mr. Robot tries to retell the story of The Matrix with the benefit of 15 years of contemplation and dialogue.

It makes a lot of subtle references, updates and changes but by far the most intriguing one is using Fight Clubs nihilism to comment on the characters and premise of the Matrix.

The end of the first season of Mr. Robot reveals that Elliot the protagonist, the show's Neo is schizophrenic, and that his mentor, his Morpheus, Mr. Robot is his way of coping all of the aspects of his life he can not reconcile with his vision of himself.

The entire series is the supposition that Cypher was right. Ignorance is bliss. We are watching Neo's mental breakdown as he is unplugged and forced to deal with the fact that he is not a special little snowflake. He is not going to hack the planet.

The duality between reality and illusion  is irrelevant as both are chaotic and disorienting.

Life sucks get a helmet.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Movie Review: The Watsons Go to Birmingham

Well I might as well.

So the Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 is a 1995 Newbery award-winning book by Christopher Paul Curtis. It's good but not particularly remarkable ... until the end which I am now going to spoil.

Most of the book plays like your standard children's book about family dynamics and interpersonal relationships. And it's a very very good version of that, but the last few pages suddenly pull back the curtain to reveal that the book was actually about the Civil Rights movement, racial discrimination and all the ways it affected the kids lives.

The problem with adapting that book is that neither of those is more important than the other. All of the family drama makes the characters relatable and the racism they face is yet one more hurdle to solving what are very real problems to them.

At the same time the end of the book is done in a way that screams loud and clear that the book's entire purpose for being is to discuss how racism affected peoples lives and making the characters not so different from the children reading the book brought that home.

Why am I dancing around it?

It ends with the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, the characters are there and while none of them die there is a real fear from all of them that somebody might have been lost and the drama of that moment evokes an empathy that is hard to instill into not just children but human beings.

The question I asked as I was watching the movie was how was it going to handle that. Could it both be a lighthearted  Beverly Cleary style romp and that in the same way as the book.

I think ultimately the movie does that. But it's a struggle to get there. The book takes place over about 6 months and is paced like it. Not unlike a lot of this style of book it has a sort of sit-com feel as things are very episodic that serves as the context for character interactions.

But there is a narrative being told and the movie wants to keep causality in a way that while present in the book isn't as important. The book is much more episodic in its storytelling. Because of how the movie is structured it feels things are happening a lot faster than they did in the book. That 6 months feels a lot more like 2 weeks with the only clue against that being that the beginning of the book takes place in winter and could ONLY take place in winter.

That is pretty much my biggest beef with the movie.  The first half of the book takes place in Flint, Michigan with very little to give away that it's about racial discrimination. While not necessarily the purpose of the book that first half is important to accomplishing the purpose of the book.

But because the movie is compressed adaptation ,it's a lot more eager to get to the point it in a way kind of misses the forest from the trees as the Watsons are just a family like any other. That's not to say it doesn't try or is offensively bad in this regard but... the book was better.

For the first half of the book, there is a plot that the movie just kind forgets as it gets to the discrimination stuff and I find myself asking why couldn't it try harder to do both.

Okay real quick. Byron, the brother of the narrative and the protagonist has been acting out in a way that is starting to scare his parents. Until one day they have the idea to go to Birmingham to spend the summer with his grandmother in a hope that she and her country ways will be able to talk some sense into him.

There is a lot to unpack there and it is all very important. First off like I said we actually see all the stuff Byron does to get his parents to that point. In the movie not so much as it's in a rush to get to the books half-way point really if we're being honest the 2/3s point.

And also as an adult reading this, there is a sad irony that that change kind of misses. The reason why the Watsons brought their family to that place in that time was because they thought it would do them some good and the last third of the books slowly has their illusions slowly shattered about how the good old ways that specifically Mrs. Watson spends a lot of time clinging to aren't as good as she remembers from her childhood.

There are a lot of hints (mostly because it is still aimed at kids) throughout the book that Grandma Sands, who Mrs. Watson was counting on to teach her kids the good old ways is  a lot more forward-looking than her daughter and the movie had a lot of opportunities to make that subtext text. There is one scene where it comes close with Grandma Sands trying to politely tell her daughter that while the life she's made has its problems it's still better than the one she grew up with and that Mrs. Watson's probably better off looking forward than backward.

The book is very much about the city versus the country. While it has a respect for country living and people in that environment there are subtle criticisms of the notion of city life being inherently corrupting and sinful as the Watsons return to the South.

And both of those are points I wish a more adult version of this story could pull to the fore than the children's book could.

Also, the book is very clearly told from a child's perspective, specifically Kenny the middle child. It's is written in his voice and we the audience only know exactly what he knows.

Since the film is more visual it's a lot easier to see what he's missing.  That's both good and bad. It fundamentally changes the story so that we know things a lot sooner than Kenny does whereas reading the book as a kid I was just about on the same page as he was.

This isn't A Christmas Story or Wonder Years where a now adult version of him can look back and laugh at how dumb he was and Kenny while not being the wild child of the Watsons can be pretty dense. He's 10. And I as a grown man from 2016 also have the benefit of historical knowledge. So I get it but there are still times where I kind of have to facepalm.

To that end, the movie also spends a bit too much time using visual metaphors in a way that can seem pretentious. Especially considering it's an adaptation of a children's book. Like I said the book cleverly hides its messaging in a way that evokes actual surprise and empathy as you slowly realize it has a message to impart.

The movie is heavy-handed in a way I almost want to excuse but can't because... the book was better. Like I said it's from Kenny's perspective and Kenny being a child does not understand or recognize racism.

And teaching kids what racism is, is the point of the book.

So in the book, an audience of children saw the adults around him acting oddly but don't know why until the end reveals the larger context over which the book was taking place.  The book is subtle

 And man that ending milks it.  That ending is the one area of the book that while still from Kenny's perspective is extremely graphic and terrifying even as an adult. And's a made for TV movie it can't compete.

That having been said the actors are giving thier all with what they have and make up for a lot. The Watsons are pretty endearing.

If I Were A Rich Man: The Library: Holes

I am broke.

A few years ago in a fit of pique about that I sat down wrote a detailed outline of every damn thing I could see myself spending money on.

I don't know if it's why I did it but that document serves more or less as an outline for the type of life I would ideally like to live, describing not just the physical objects themselves but the general life objectives they fill. For a lot of reasons I feel it's useful to have what  amounts to several in case of "opportunity for the love of god break" plans

That being said, lately, my avarice has been acting up so it's time for another one of these.

Specifically what triggered this one was watching an adaptation book I liked as a child. One of the more common aspects of this particular version of my "I Want" pique is that I want to build a fairly substantial personal library. Right now I don't have the money to do it and even if I did I can rattle off the top of my head  a dozen or so better uses of the money.

But, still it keeps coming back to me. While I've compiled a list of volumes I would like to purchase this isn't that. This blog post itself would turn into a book if it were. This is merely to describe the methodology behind one aspect of one aspect of one aspect of a much larger methodology.

Before I start filling my library with new volumes I would want to make a commitment to filling holes. Obtaining books that are related to books I've already read and or own rather than just books I think I would be kind of interested in so here goes.


What kicked this off was nostalgia but unfortunately a lot of my books aren't in the best of shape. Part of that is time. But also ... I had a dog. I loved Rex but especially as a puppy he was damn destructive and he straight up wrecked a lot of my older books. (NEVER ASK ME TO WATCH THAT MOVIE!)  A lot of them are still readable but yeah I'd like to get new versions of anything that's pretty rough.

Fortunately or unfortunately most of the ones that are super wrecked are for little-little kids but you know I still think there is some value in going over those every now and again and would want to keep some of them around just for nostalgia's sake.

That said what he got wasn't just isolated to that stuff and a lot of the paperbacks are falling apart anyway. I would just like to straight up replace a lot of the rougher stuff.

Encyclopedias & Reference
In this day and age Encyclopedias are a damn foolish waste of money and you are a sucker if you lay down the grand it takes to buy a new set.

Don't care!

I was a nerdy little scamp growing up on PBS. And if I do want to recapture an aspect of my childhood I'd just like to have an encyclopedia set I could flip through when I'm bored. Oh sure just web surf you will say. Just follow the wiki hole.

Well if I'm building a library sure part of my endgame is a digital version of of all personal media including books kept on a private server but there is just something about books that even this technorati can't just give up.

Children's encyclopedias sets on the other hand actually still have some value and hold up. Especially ones that aren't organized alphabetically but by topic.  For my money Childcraft were the best versions of this and my set which his both still in my possession and readable was massacred by my dog.

If you have kids, and have the money they are a pretty good investment especially if you get them early. That said that's not why I want them.

A couple of volumes of Childcraft were actually children's literary anthologies, with works ranging from Pippi Longstocking to Paddington Bear. It's a god damned goldmine of children's lit.

Updated Editions of Anthologies
In my pondering on my ideal library, I realized just how useful my old English textbooks were. Specifically, the Norton and Bedford anthologies  ... are a god damned goldmine. They are comprehensive and pretty well-edited. And in general thumbing through my old English textbooks, and updated versions thereof is a pretty good foundation to build the rest of the library from. Not all of it mind you. But it's a good place to get ideas on authors and their work.

Updated Editions of Academic Texts
Because my mom spent 30 years as a teacher I would say about a good third of the texts on my shelves right now are academic textbooks. A lot has changed. I like having those books around to reference and even train my brain when I get bored or whenever I think I'm going soft but they are so old they just aren't reliable anymore, especially the science texts.

Whenever somebody gets uppity about libraries throwing out books this is why I have to look at them crosseyed. The books are just wrong in some places embarrassingly so.

That being said textbooks are condensed versions of fields of study combining several volumes into something accessible to the layman, especially those meant for children. Not unlike anthologies they are a good starting point for finding things like primary sources or notable works within a field and providing context that those sources alone might not.

Which is to say I've always wanted a set of the Feynman Lectures but want to make sure I have other texts to reference if I ever do decide to do a deep dive and reclaim my lost sciency self.

Works of Influential Authors

You can't turn over a stone in science fiction movies without seeing the influence of Phillip K. Dick. I realized this as a youth and bought an anthology of his work and while it has a lot of what he wrote what intrigued me wasn't there. I was interested in how his work got adapted into the movies I loved but those stories weren't in the anthology.

To this day I just want to buy everything the man wrote, sit down and read it to figure out how much Hollywood really owes him.

He's not the only writer I feel that strongly about. Most of Octavia Butler's work is is considered noteworthy yet all I have of it is Blood Child (in an anthology) and Lilith's Brood. And then there are authors of the traditional cannon of whose work I only have a bit of. I lost Tom Sawyer, and I while I have multiple copies of Hard Times I really want A Christmas Carol.

Roald Dahl

Growing up I loved Roald Dahl and I would be lying if I said those books didn't have a profound affect on me at a formative age. But well, I got them at an age when I just wasn't responsible with my possessions. A few of them survived but especially in light of the nostalgia trip that The Watsons Go to Birmingham gave me I very much want to restore and expand my collection of his work.

K.A. Applegate

It took me a long time to remember how much I liked Roald Dahl because after about the 5th grade my attention was beelined towards Animorphs and damn it those books hold up. Were they pulpy assembly line kiddie sci-fi. Yes. Yes, they were. But they were the best possible version of pulpy assembly line kiddie sci-fi they could be.

I still have most of the series but for a long time, one of my goals is to replace the books that are in rough shape from overuse and replace the holes I have in the series.

That being said I've also read some of K.A. Applegate's other stuff and it's just as good.

Everworld is very close to being the story I complain Once Upon a Time isn't.  And with, Remnants she beat a lot of folks to the punch in this current environment of young adult post-apocalyptic sci-fi.

Holes in Fantasy Series

I went through a fantasy phase... who am I kidding to this day give me any story that involves a sword and I'll at least try it. That shit is my jam. Now days if I want to buy those types of books I tend to buy them online but back when the bug first hit I was just spending a lot of time at Borders.

Which is to say I had very limited information. It was hard to know if a book was part of a series and if it was what volume. So I have a lot of incomplete fantasy book series, some of which I never even started reading because I have the second or third book. Some of these I know would be great based on everything I've heard about them but it's just not how I want to read the story. And its driving me nuts.

I have Clash of Kings but not Game of Thrones and it pisses me off so much. You don't even know.

Conversly while I have the first book of the Shannara series everybody tends to call the second book which I don't have the more interesting better read.

Series that Were Continued After My Pockets Were Empty
To that end it's been so long since I've had a book haul that a lot of my favorite series that were thought dead have been brought back and I kind of want to see where they go. Wheel of Time is complicated... in more ways than one but you know I want to see how it ends. Terry Goodkind is kind of ...insane,  but if you want to read gratuitous decapitations and fireballs burning the bad guys alive (and again that shit is my jam) he scratches that itch.

But the least guilty,  riddled with addendums and qualifiers is the Seven Waters series. I really want to see where the author went with it after she decided to continue the series. As loath as I am to admit it a lot of what I was reading stuck to the same conventions. Same song different arrangement but that series for a lot of reasons felt like something new.

At the time a lot of the shlock that was being poured out felt like a weaksauce retread of Lord of the Rings and since I liked Lord of the Rings so much I wanted more of it and was fine with that.  I still am.

But instead of playing out like the epics of Wagner the first book feels like and is a smaller scale fairy story where the stakes and motivations are more personal and more character-centric and up until that point I hadn't read fantasy like that at least not for a long time.

It was always about the armies, And the flags and the heroes, and the evil overlord. This was something different and forevermore gave me a greater respect for fairy tales, legends and folk lore.

Magic the Gathering Books
I am Vorthos

While yes I do play some games for the gameplay along what often hold my attention are the stories of the game. Not necessarily the stories as the writers tell them but the story that plays out by my actions as I play the game.

That being said the magic the gathering books often contextualize that cards adding to that story.

The Artifact Cycle of Magic the Gathering is great, brilliant, fantastic. Hell anything involving Phyrexians has my instant attention. (Oh how the Quest for Karn borked it)

That being said a lot of the books are hit and miss and after the threat of Phyrexia seemed soundly defeated I stopped reading. Every now and again I'll try to get back into the books but they are very hit and miss.

All the same if I ever do decide to do a deep dive back into Magic, and dear god is that another itch I can't scratch, I would want to know the lore. All of it. So I want to complete my collection of Magic books even the really stinky ones.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Well If ReBoot Can Make It Work Maybe So Can Power Rangers (Reboot Spoilers)

So Power Rangers is going darker and edgier. Something feels intrinsically wrong with that. Part of the point of Super Sentai is that it's goofy cornball fun with kung-fu and giant mecha. If you can't have goofy cornball fun with Power Rangers where can you have it?

Part of me wants to go on some sort of rant about it until I remember that one of my favorite television shows decided to go darker and edgier and the season it did it was absolutely brilliant. Let's talk about ReBoot season 3.

ReBoot was a computer generated children's television show with the very 90's conceit that all of the characters were computer programs and that everything the audience saw on screen was taking place within a computer.

So basically it was Tron the cartoon.

While it was a good show the first two seasons had the limitations of their time and format. The show was very episodic and despite having interesting voices and character designs the villains' plans seemed to have very low stakes that made them hard to take seriously.

The Lead In
The reason why I'm writing this because I feel the third season of the show was absolutely brilliantly conceived and written but not unlike Lost's better seasons (season 4 is the best in book the back half of season 3 sets it up)  a lot of the heavy lifting to get there was done by the previous season. Not unlike shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, and Avatar the Last Air Bender, the second season slowly revealed that elements of the show previously thought simply to be a part of it's futurist aesthetic actually did have a backstory and that in many ways the audience had come in media res.

Moreover, season two started to shake up the status quo. While the show hadn't magically transformed yet all of a sudden status quo wasn't God.

In television especially heavily syndicated children's television writers often assume you can't guarantee what order of episodes the audience watches. These days with shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones it's hard to imagine how heavily shows even dramas tried to snap back to the status quo by the end of the episode.

While there had always been serials, specifically daytime soap-operas that broke the rule, a lot of the episodic shows of the decade like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena broke that trend gradually slowly building multi-episode and even season long arcs and you can see that in the tail-end of Season Two of ReBoot.

All of a sudden two-parters would shake something up and irrevocably change things in a way that just couldn't be "fixed"  All of a sudden change happened and the show would stick by it.

Kid Enzo
Season 3 is very much his arc, his story but a lot of the stuff done in season two to lead up to it was about developing his character.

Enzo was the audience surrogate "kid character". Looking back he could have been highly annoying but oddly enough he wasn't and there was a reason for that. By the time the show hit its rhythm he just wasn't that important, mostly relegated to comic relief rather than a central figure.

The show seemed much more interested in the will they won't they character dynamic between his older sister Dot Matrix and series hero (this will be important)  Bob. Within the formula of the series those two were generally the ones to solve the story's  problem. Heck in the episode "The Tiff" they are the problem.

The show mostly used whatever crisis of the week to juxtapose their personalities and just let the two bounce off each other.

Bob for better or worse had a personality that it was very easy for a kid to like, he was good at being the paragon but also pretty laid back about it. In a lot of ways he was an idealized older cooler version of the kids Enzo was meant to represent  so early on Bob supplanted Enzo as the series protagonist. From where I sit that wasn't a bad thing. Like I said before Bob was a good character but it did put the series in the odd place of not having much for Enzo to do, especially since he was essentially a stand-in for the young kids watching the show.

 In a lot of ways the show throwing down the gauntlet was both the episode and character AndrAI

AndrAIa the episode is an obvious attempt for the series to reinvent itself by expanding on its lore. Even before AndrAIa herself is introduced the episode spends a lot of time expositing how the world works in a way that seems odd considering it's the second season and most of the stuff it talks about has just been happening by now.  That being said "AndrAIa" is the foundation of everything to come. It clarifies the stakes of the world in a way that allows things to occur with actual weight rather than the that's just how things work in this world way the first season operated.

That being said the real addition the episode makes is the eponymous AndrAIa. I don't want to diminish how compelling a character she is in her own right but having her around always tends to make Enzo more interesting than he is normally (even after the upcoming time skip). Bouncing off of her gives him something better to do than be the tagalong kid and provides opportunities for interesting B-stories which is basically how she's introduced. Bob and Dot are of doing relatively formulaic stuff while the two of them are off becoming fast friends.

And his introduction to her more or less sets up a lot of the conflicts and arcs of the next season.

When Enzo first meets her he lies about his past and basically casts himself in the role of Bob, and a lot of the second season is waiting for that shoe to drop. Except it really doesn't.

"AndrAIa" sets up a new status quo for a roughly 5 episode arc. While not much darker than the previous episodes or even season one there is the sense of urgency that what's happening on screen isn't going to be easily fixed the same way it was before, largely because each crisis somewhat creates the next.

And the season 2 finale drops the gauntlet for the big damn crisis of season 3.

Bob is MIA
Things eventually get bad enough that you wind up with a villain-hero team up. Guess how that ends. Can you guess? Can you?

Megabyte one of the two main villains of the show and the central antagonist of season 3 uses the chaos to basically blast Bob into this universe's version of space. And so the basic plot of the first quarter of season 3 is that Bob isn't around to hero it up and keep the villains' evil plans from succeeding and since they have an actual chance now they've gotten more ambitious.

Guardian Enzo
Well, remember how I said that Enzo basically cast himself in the role of Bob to impress AndrAIa and the show never really had to deal with the fact that he lied. Well, this is why. For a lot of complicated reasons it kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Before being shot into space Bob decided to go along with the lie and basically deputized Enzo since he needed the help anyway and why the hell not so Enzo is technically the only one around with the "Guardian protocol" making him the closest thing the series has around to Bob.

You know how despite it being sad Gurren Lagann is ultimately about Simon stepping up and filling Kamina's shoes. So too is the third season of Reboot except...

The show is clear Enzo is no substitute for Bob. The show was not secretly about Enzo all along, at least not the way Gurren Lagann was.  He'll try really hard but he has no clue what he's doing. He knows this. The supporting cast knows this. The villains know this. He can't win. At least not in the same way Bob could. The best he can hope to do is delay the inevitable.

The entire seasons sets up a tone of unending, inescapable desperation and despair as Bob's absence lingers and Enzo becomes increasingly aware of his inability to fill his mentor's shoes.

And the show is also clear that part of the reason for that inability is that Enzo is still just a kid. While he wants to be the hero he's not and it's not fair for the other characters around him to expect him to be but the situation is the situation and Enzo decided to be the one to step up.

That being said in this part of the third season there are a lot of small victories that bring hope that if given enough time maybe Enzo could live up to Bob's legacy.

Then the series closes the book with a definitive no. Nope. Enzo fails in an unsalvageable, irrevokable series-altering way.

I actually love how they did it. The show both at the end of that episode and the beginning of the next is sort of ambiguous, and takes a while to reveal exactly what happened, how big it was, and what happened in the aftermath, to the point that when I saw the next episode it took me a while to realize I was watching the same show.

The Renegade
The next episode features a time-skip but doesn't exactly tell you specifics. It's interesting and compelling but it takes a while to figure out how it relates to everything that happened before. Through a lot of complicated techno-babble Enzo has becomes lost like Bob but in a different way. The experience of trying so hard yet failing to protect his home has made him a very different character than his original incarnation.

He's Mad Max.

Everything about him, especially in the first episode of the time-skip screams Mad Max.

Especially as the next few episodes bounce from place to place with the plots in media res.

But as the show goes on you get it. He lost everything that mattered to him, except AndrAIa (and his dog). She's still around and is pretty much the only thing keeping him remotely sane. While she liked Mainframe she wasn't as connected to it. She cares about it mostly because it's a part of him she cares about him. As she puts it Mainframe is his home and her home is with him.

That being said she seems a lot more well adjusted and spends the next several episodes, hell the rest of the series saving Enzo from his own worst impulses. The next few episodes at first seem to be episodic in the vein of the first season but they are are very much about exploring how these characters have changed. There is this haunting feeling that even if Enzo or Matrix as he now calls himself manages to get home he's changed so much that things aren't going back the way they were. Specifically his relationship with Bob.

Like I said Bob's absence silently lingers over the season so much that later they just straight up make him a Jesus messiah figure with his second coming but right now that's not the point.

Right now the point is that Enzo is psychologically dealing with that he didn't live up to Bob's shoes before and now he's so far from his paragon mentor that he probably won't ever be able to and doesn't even know if he should bother trying anymore.

That's some heavy stuff from where the show came from.

For her part like I said AndraAi never took all of it that personally. And tends to be the voice of reason when Matrix gets downright nihilistic.

That being said from the midpoint of season 2 onward the show was broken up into clearly delineated arcs where the status quo  of the show would suddenly change sometimes into something else and this is no different

The Call Has You on Speed Dail Yo.

So the overarching question of the episodes immediately after the time-skip episodes is why does Matrix continue his search. Wouldn't he just be better off letting it all go and settling down somewhere? "Number 7" is a weird ass episode that serves to ask a big what if. What if the show hadn't changed? What if everything was left as it was circa season one. Which is more or less the greatest wish of Matrix, that the last several years of his life just hadn't happened.

It's an episode all about getting into his head and closing the book on his issues. Not so much in a way that he doesn't have them but in a way where he at least has an awareness of why he does what he does and can grapple with those questions. Not unlike the first episode of the time skip it's a massive mindfuck as it doesn't tell the audience exactly what's going on.

Matrix is still a hard ass but at least he's a hard ass on a quest. Both season 3 four have this duality of kid Enzo and Matrix. This episode is about Matrix reconciling and accepting all of himself. The weak child who couldn't protect anyone and the asshole he grew up into who hates himself both as he is and as he was.

He's not Bob. And he's not the kid he was. He's something else. Someone else. Someone who wants not to be Bob and probably couldn't come close even if he tried, which he did  but at least be someone Bob  would recognize as an ally.

And all of a sudden the next episode puts him back on the path of plot after all the naval gazing.

While "Number 7" was about Matrix's internal motivation "The Episode With No Name" is about returning him an external motivation with a lot of exposition (a lot of which won't be important until next season) and returning to him faith that he can actually win after the first half of the season beat the hope right out of him.

Since a lot of the exposition is setting up stuff that happens in season 4 I won't go into it but what's important to season 3 is that things aren't as bad as Enzo thinks but without him getting off the bench they will be.

"Stuff" happens that allows Enzo to be in a better position to search for Bob.  And they meet up.

Let's Do This
From there you can probably guess the plot.

The two find a way home, kick ass and take names and it is so satisfying. Like I know I'm spoiling it. But that's not a bad thing. There are a lot of predictable season finales that are satisfying BECAUSE everything the audience wants to happen happens.  I'm looking at you Avatar the Last Airbender. This is one of those.

Everything is both narratively and thematically is tied up. Except for the stuff in  "The Episode With No Name"

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Mulan and Filial Piety AKA It's Time to Deal With My Junior Issues

So. Disney decided to remake Mulan.  Okay then.

With the exceptions of Pete's Dragon and Maleficent, I have never quite been able to get on board with the Disney remake thing. While I see value in remaking these stories since many of them are folk tales that go beyond Disney, I have a general lack of faith that Disney will do anything new with them.

Which is a shame.

The reason why I like Mulan is because it introduced me to cinematic and storytelling traditions I might not have been paying attention to at 11. Mulan was my first war movie.

And not just a war movie. A Chinese war movie.

That being said despite how much I like it, I will freely admit that the movie was constrained by it's audience and its studio and I doubt within the confines of a Disney Remake I'm going to get the Mulan movie I want to see.

In almost every version of Mulan the concept of Confucian filial piety is cooked right in. And the sub text of the Disney version is all about redefining filial piety in a modern context and in remake I would like the subtext to become just text.

And this is the part where I admit I am not Asian and have a very limited understanding of Confucianism, and am using the concept as mostly a way to sort out my own junior issues. So take what I say with a grain of salt.

Father and Child

So the reason why Mulan is so important is because Mulan is the model to be followed. Confucianism is a system of morality dictating what is and is not virtuous action. And the story of Mulan is one of its standards setting forth its precepts about what the responsibility of a parent is to a child and a child to a parent, which in many ways it views as the foundational relationship.

Mulan's father has a duty to act honorably before his wife and daughter. It does not matter if he is sick and old and will die. He has a duty to do as the emperor commands even at the expense of his life. And knowing that it will he has resolved himself to it. He has resolved himself to act honorably before his family.

In the original story Mulan is motivated by a desire to maintain her father and her family's honor, not just his life. And that is something that doesn't really come across in the Disney version. Largely because it's harder for a western audience to understand why this old, sick, lame man who would probably be a liability that would get other people killed in real combat is mandated to go. When Mulan tries to stop her father from taking the draft papers a western audience sees the patriarchy and yes that's there but there is also something else going on.

He views his responsibility not just to his country but to his family is to act in a matter that would not bring shame upon them and refusing a direct command from your sovereign that will do it. From a certain perspective Mulan was out of line to try to talk him out of it. At that point in the story he was going to die and he had made his peace with it.

From there the story becomes about how Mulan decides to honor her father. How can she find a way to both keep him alive and fulfill his duty to the emperor.

America, Feminism, and Individualism

Mulan performed horribly in China.  For a lot of reason. There is a lot of mish-mashing of cultures and history going on, but I think the big one the biggest reason Mulan failed in China is because it kind of flouts and even on some occasions pokes fun at traditional Chinese values. 

I think done the right way by the right people that could work in its benefit.

Let's talk about Maxine Hong Kingston. When I read female Asian-American writers, there is very often this theme of rebellion. This dichotomy between the self and reverence for the family. And those issues have a broader importance in discussions of feminism.

Kingston's 1977 collection of short stories  Woman Warrior (Specifically "White Tigers") uses Mulan's break from traditional gender roles as a reoccurring metaphor to contextualize Kingston's own feelings about war, gender and family.

That the Disney movie speaks directly to these issues the is one of the reasons why it has stayed culturally relevant for going on 20 years.  Yet as I keep saying all of that is subtext not text.

As a character (in the film) Mulan's central conflict is between her personal loyalty to her father, his ideals and her own ideals and sense of self. Both of these things are important to her and her arc is about finding a way to be true to both of these things, to both be herself and honor her father.

A lot of people have a problem that Mulan goes back home at the end. But the fact that she went back is kind of an important part of the traditional story and how you subvert it would be equally important. The traditional story isn't one about personal honor, wealth and glory, but rather how Mulan can act in a way that will honor her country and family within established social structures which even in the Disney movie she does value.

That's why obtaining the validation of the Emperor is her resolution.  It's literally the highest praise she can get.

There is a lot of subversion going on in the movie regarding gender but Mulan isn't trying to break the wheel, but merely find balance. Again part of the point of Mulan is that she is the idealized Confucian daughter willing to die to maintain her family's honor. You can only have her buck the system so much before she stops being Mulan.

All the same done right an Americanized version of the story can and did redefine the notion of filial piety and I would like to see a version that takes those themes further than Disney did at the time.

The Veneration of Ancestors

The movie explains this but again it's much lower key than I would like. If Mulan acts shamefully, which she already has by lying to the government, the emperor and his representatives it brings shame not just upon her but upon her entire family past, present, and future.

This is a BIG DAMN DEAL and is part of her central motivation to act in a way that will honor her family while maintaining her sense of self. It's not enough to just do her duty but she has to be a national hero.

God Save Us From The Martians

The fact that Mulan doesn't just serve but is damn good at war, killing people is something that is really important to the story that the original being a Disney movie kind of just couldn't touch.

While like I said Mulan was my first war movie it is still a Disney musical primarily meant for children.

Remember the resolution for her arc is obtaining the validation of the Emperor, to know not just think, but to know that she has brought honor unto her family name.

That means she has to spend the movie doing WAR shit.

Okay. Mulan like most war stories is very much a story about  nationalism. I have very complex feelings about both war and nationalism. But the story is the story. And Mulan is fundamentally about the rise of a general via competency and proficiency at arms.

Now is not the time to go on some blessed are the peace makers diatribe but point out that  it's one the reasons why I don't know if Disney is up to this.

I don't know if Disney has it in them to really make a war movie.

No. That doesn't count. Hydra was so evil the Nazis kicked them out.

I don't know if you can say that about anybody else. So the new movie is going to have to explain how Mulan is morally right for killing everybody she lays to the sword, and I don't know if Disney is up for that.

Hell I don't know if America or China is up for that.

These days  people rightly give the side eye to any story talking about the honor, glory, and heroism of war.

And if I'm being honest I've internalized a lot of it but that is another blog post.

My point is that any modern (and American) rendition of Mulan is going to have to be about the modern perception of warfare and I don't know how that gels with original's view of Chinese martial and moral superiority and Disney is not the studio to split the difference.

1939 was smack dab in the middle of the Sino-Japanese war, the Disney version made the bad guys rat bastards, and the 2009 version actually gives a (mildly: the bad guy disobeys and murders his father to continue the war) nuanced motivation for the invasion.


A lot of the nomadic peoples the Chinese historically fought lived on land with very poor soil on which was very difficult to create the type of wealth and population generating food surpluses China historically has been known for.


Look, Disney pretty much scraps cultural context off of any story it does for the sake of broadening the audience. But the specific reason why I would want a remake of Mulan is for that cultural context. And I just don't think Disney is going to be the studio to do it.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Luke Cage Review (Spoilers)

Luke Cage is flawed. It's probably the weakest of the 4 seasons of the Netflix side of Marvel. That being said I still love it.

Seen It

The biggest problem I have with Luke Cage is that a lot of it is modeled after or at least referencing other cop/gangster/urban movies and television shows of the last 20 years and unlike the get down it isn't really using that as sort of a "language" It's just there for the hell of it.

I love Sonja Sohn but damn it every time she was on screen I had to ask myself. If I want a show about police dysfunction and how broken the system is why don't I just watch The Wire.

And there all these moments like this.  Luke Cage himself is basically spending the first act repeating Jessica Jones', "I don't get involved until I do" thing the second act doing, Daredevils, "If I'm going to do it I have to do it in way I can live with thing" and the show doesn't really become it's own thing until probably the last 3 episodes or so by which point it's basically back to being a lighter version of Jessica Jones.

The Text
What mildly redeems all of that and makes it work is the show's subtext. Who gets to profit from pain. As the hero for hire, that has always been in Luke Cage's DNA. At least in his comic book incarnation, he is the guy who doesn't mind profiting from other's misfortune.

Now while the television show dumps that for his character the subtext of everybody else's motivations and psychology is the examination of that idea. Who gets to profit from pain and why. The show makes some moral judgment's in the end but for most of that's not what it's about. It's about understanding the mental clockwork that allows people to decide that that's okay.

And that's the approach the show takes towards race. The unfairness of racism, sexism and classism underpin all of the villain's actions, and the show doesn't dodge it, yet still decidedly falls on, that's no excuse.

Moments after Luke says, "It doesn't matter where the money came from it only matters what you do with it now" his apartment gets blown up.

Mariah Stokes wants to use ill-gotten gains for the sake of a community building and the show bills her as it's 3rd of 4th string bad.

Diamondback's beef with Luke is framed as emotionally legitimate yet the show never lets him off the hook for all the stuff he's done.

The overall theme of the show is that just because someone has profited from your pain doesn't mean it is alright for you to do the same. 

There is  this brilliant moment where the show sits Misty Night in a room so she can confront that even she golden saint of the show has difficulty with that concept when she tried to lean on Night Nurse just to make herself feel better.

It ultimately serves as a microcosm for the show's larger theme. It's never okay to hurt people for personal gain even if it's just emotional gain.

Furthermore that's the lesson the show feels that not only it but Black history in general imparts. Very often Luke will go up to someone he feels is desecrating sacred ground and basically, with historical context repeat the lesson. Here in this place, it is a sin for you to profit off of the misery of the vulnerable.

Left Turn
3/4 of the way into it the show decides to kill off what at the time seemed to be its main villain, and I have to admit I had an odd feeling about that. There was a certain amount of build up but in all honesty,as I said if the story played out the way it seemed you would basically be getting a repeat of the Kingpin you just aren't going to beat him on the screen.

That being said after it happens there is this great big hole that's filled with ciphers. You knew that guy. You knew basically what he wanted and how he thought. The folks they got to replace him just aren't as compelling.

Has anybody seen Death Note? You need to watch Death Note.

The End
Also Jessica Jones had a bit of a messy ending but it was an ending. Luke Cage not so much. And that is kind of frustrating. I mean we know he's going to be in The Defenders so that ending will happen but all the same most of the problems he had going into the last few episodes he still has. Nothing got solved.

Which I suppose may be the point.

Jessica Jones had problems but she had different problems at the end of her show.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

There Was Never Any Peace

Vance's article also made me think of something else I want to get off my chest.

People argue.

That is all.

Okay, there is more to it than that but that is the gist of it. In this election, I have been hearing more and more people lament the loss of political civility. And I'm inclined to agree... to a point but it also seems like what people are wistful for is political agreement, national consensus.

And for I while I've wanted to take these people by the shoulders and shake them.
  1. With all the people who have been locked out of the political process throughout history can we really say the country has been agreement about anything?
  2. Do you really want an America without dissent, without argument, where everybody just does as the powers that be tell them? 
The price of freedom is chaos. You can't have one without the other. 

We're going to fight and that's okay.

Yes Everybody is A Little Bit Racist But That Doesn't Make It Alright

America had a stupid reaction to Hilary Clinton's "deplorables" comment. Most of the press wanted to stay far the hell away from actually confronting its content in favor of focusing on strategy and fall out everybody else well...

But  the New York Times ran an article by J.D. Vance explains why everybody is upset in a not crazy insane way and talking his article seems like a good way to address the matter.

He starts out by saying things I fundamentally agree with. Everybody is a little bit racist or at least tribalistic and judgemental (including myself).

We are most concerned about the wellbeing of ourselves and or people we can identify as being similar to ourselves. We view ourselves, our traits, views and the circumstances that inform all that as the default and believe any variation to be out of the ordinary rather than just a variation.

And yet despite all of that people are fundamentally decent.  

People are complicated and people are neither bad nor good they are just people.

But, here is the rub,  we aren't just talking about a person. We're talking about people and the thing about people is that they shape and are shaped by culture, social institutions, and social forces around them.

As a Black man in America, I've just gotten used to the idea that there is a certain amount of racism I'm just going to have to tolerate if I don't want to just write the whole damn country and most of the people in it off. While I fear racism I also fear what my anger at perceived racism could turn me into.

That being said, racism, sexism homophobia, and Islamaphobia have and can lead to people, not a person but people making horrifying macro-decisions. And on aggregate, there is no such thing as that stuff being harmless because it contributes to an environment that excuses or at least desensitizes people to those larger macro-decisions.

The "deplorables" comment was meant as a wake-up call, a way to acknowledge both societal and individual flaws, to recognize imperfection and if not fix it at least ponder its consequences, to at least entertain the question am I a little bit racist and if I am what does it mean. Is that racism hurting people and if so how?

Sure it was a naked political move in the hope that one of the obvious answers to that question is supporting a candidate for president who would make decisions based on that which would hurt people. But still.

Governments, specifically governments that are representative democracies, are made up of people elected into office by other people to enact policies they support.

The hard truth is that while Donald Trump is a racist, he is one racist in a vast ocean of racists. He could have only gotten this far, won the Republican nomination if a sizable portion of the country was alright ignoring the prospect of  an overt bigot in the white house or at the very least didn't understand what bigotry was when they saw it.

And that isn't on Donald Trump.

That's on his supporters.

Let me say it again. Either Donald Trump's supporters are fine supporting a bigot for the office of President of the United States of America, one of the most powerful posts in the world or they don't understand what racism is.

Either of those things is something that deserves to be called out or at least commented on.

Is it insulting and divisive?

Yes. Yes it is.   But it's also the truth. You can make the argument that they aren't voting in favor of Donald Trump BECAUSE of his racism but that doesn't change the fact that they are still voting for a racist candidate.

The word racist is more than an insult. It actually represents a concept. And the fact that being associated with that concept is stigmatizing doesn't change the fact that Trumps supporters have willingly associated themselves with a racist candidate and the overt more devout racists who also support him.

While that can be used as a moral judgment against them it is also a statement of fact.

Through that support, they are turning a blind eye to and excusing the racism of the rest of the Trump camp. That can have real consequences.

For the sake my argument I will limit myself to governmental consequences such as fairness in the appropriations process, government accountability in instances when policies are demonstrably disenfranchising minority groups and the defense of civil rights protections (which in many cases Trump's rhetoric already ignores), though there is a litany of other cultural ones.

I find that infuriating.

When discussing racism or any injustice really one of the hardest things to confront is societal complicity.

"Why don't we all do something?"

By not doing something, tacit approval is given, the message is sent that even if deemed unfavorable bigotry, that again can have real consequences, is acceptable.

In that complicity, lies the original sins of my country. Slavery and the Native American genocide, It was not just the deeds of evil men but willful blindness of  the country as a whole that allowed such horrors to triumph as they benefited from them.

That can not be ignored.  Both domestically and internationally the government is too powerful an institution to ignore how the policies it enacts at the behest of its people can negatively impact lives.

That being said I don't expect John and Jane Smith to join the revolution. People have lives and jobs.

But what I do expect is a little awareness and empathy. A desire to limit how much WORSE our actions could make others lives. One of easiest ways to do that is to take that into account when voting for leaders.

It is a sin to let people who don't off the hook in the same way I feel it is a sin to let the founders off the hook for slavery, Jackson off the hook for the Trail of Tears, FDR of the hook for internment,  or even Clinton herself off the hook for mass incarceration. And all of the people who supported all of that. It is a sin to let my country off the hook. We have too much wealth, power and influence not to take responsibility for the harm we do and have done and still can do.

We need to have the race conversation. And it needs to be a conversation. One side can't just get defensive.

How does race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and identity in general affect the way Americans interact with each other and the institutions that surround them? Finding truth is going to involve something I see rarely happen. How do these things affect how people perceive and are perceived by the world around them? The answers we find have to be deeper that racism is bad, I'm not bad, so I can't be racist.

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