Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Prequels Are... Not Horrible I Promise ... No Come Back... Just Give Them A Chance

People hate the prequels, but there is a good story in there  I promise you.

 Let's talk about Anakin Skywalker.

The primary problem with his portrayal is a bad script. In concept, I don't hate the story they had to tell.  The simple truth is that Anakin Skywalker should not have joined the Jedi Order. that's why he fell to the dark side. He joined the Jedi Order.

Light vs Dark
The biggest problem the of the prequels isn't Jar Jar or midichlorians or bad acting, or c-span in space. It's that for a lot of reasons the writers decided to frame things with a good-evil binary when a close reading of the movies sees that it's straining at that.

Why is Palpatine so evil that the Jedi's have to be idiots not to figure things out until the third movie? Because the movie wants the audience to KNOW he's evil. Why does Anakin go from "I don't want anybody to die" to killing YOUNGLINGS because the movie wants the audience to KNOW he's evil. Why does the dialogue suck? Because the movie wants the audience to KNOW who's evil and who's good.

And it breaks the plot. Which I am going to fix now just to prove how awesome it is but first let's talk about the light and the dark.

The pull between the dark side and the light side isn't good and evil it's about hedonism vs asceticism. The Jedi are all about self-denial and self-control while the sith aren't. They want what they want. They feel what they feel. And they have no qualms about acting on it.

That doesn't make the sith evil but it does make them dangerous.

Likewise, the light side requires constant vigilance, self-discipline, and self-awareness.

And that doesn't always come through in the script. The Jedi are portrayed as emotionless zombies when they have emotions they are just super disciplined about acting on them.

So Anakin's fall is really about the failure of his own mental defenses. It's about how he let his emotions destroy him by spending years with the flawed order that demands the refuse to acknowledge he has them.


The Civil War
Despite being ABOUT politics the movies actively avoid talking about it.

In The Phantom Menace, "Darth Sidious" cough ah Palpatine cough THE EMPEROR cough convinces The Trade Federation, a conglomeration of merchants, to blockade and invade a planet in a bid to get out of paying taxes to the Galactic Republic, the closest thing Star Wars had to the UN.

This creates a diplomatic crisis. As the Galactic Senate does not have and has never really needed a military force. They don't have away to compel The Trade Federation to back down. So they send two pretty smart guys to try to negotiate.

Most of Phantom Menace is stupid so I'll fast-forward. They somehow convince the Gungan Army to defend Naboo which wins the battle but not the war. Since it's clear the Senate has no real way to enforce it's laws it's members start backing out creating a separatist movement and resulting civil war.

The Ace, The Hero of the Republic
Out of the chaos, a young hero rises. One of the best pilots the galaxy has known and the most adept force user in recent memory. Anakin Skywalker. Over the course of a few years, he's managed to fall in love with a young politician from the planet the first battle of the war took place.

He wants to act on that love but the Jedi Order an organization based on the precepts of self-denial lecture him about how it is inappropriate to hold earthly attachments.

But he can't stop himself. He silently breaks his oaths and weds her in secret.

The Vision
As the war is coming to an end he wakes up in a cold sweat. He has seen a vision of the death of his beloved. It is the worst possible thing he can imagine coming to pass and he decides to do everything in his power to stop it.

He can not go to the Jedi for counsel for they would only tell him to accept a loss that has not yet come to pass. But there is another.

The phantom that started the war comes to him and claims he can save his wife all it will take is his loyalty.  After considering all he holds dear Anakin relents of this master of the forbidden arts can save his wife.

A moment comes where Anakin must choose between the Jedi Order he has spent his life dedicated to or the woman he loves and to him it is not even a question he chooses to what he must, to spare her life.

But he didn't understand the cost. In the ensuing chaos, a man he respects and admires is killed. In his regret and sorrow, Anakin sees no alternative but to continue down the path he has chosen for despite how much pain his choice causes at least his wife will live.

But when he returns home she has already heard of his deeds. She is repulsed by him, and that this monster will be the father of her children.

In her grief for the man he was, the man she lost, she dies.

And Anakin is truely lost. Everything that ever meant anything to him has died by his own hand.

He is a monster and he can not deceive himself into believing he is or can be anything more than that.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Personal Christmas Traditions

As you can probably tell based on my last post I have a love-hate relationship with the holidays and have developed a rather eclectic series of traditions. So why not.

The Lobo-Paramilitary Christmas Special

These days everybody has some sort of go to ironic Christmas... thingy and this is mine.

Also for a LOOOOOONG time it was hard to see Lobo in anything that wasn't Superman-Tas or the comics. And it still is. So it doubles as probably the most accurate portrayal of the character I'm going to get until that movie comes a long and even then... yeah I have no faith in DC's movies.

Christmas In Hollis

Apart from all that stuff I said the OTHER reason I hate Christmas is I can't escape all that horrible freakin' music. Let's be honest here. Most Christmas albums are soulless cash-ins because people will buy anything this time of the year.

Christmas in Hollis is probably the first though not the only Christmas song by mainstream artists I heard that didn't suck.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

On the other hand if you want straight Christmas music nothing beats the Trans-Siberian orchestra. Accept no substitutes. With one exception.

Tiny Toons's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy

You know. I'll get into the hokey specials in a bit but nothing more so captures what it felt like to wake up Christmas morning to a Sega Dreamcast/Xbox than Tiny Toon's rendition of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

which of course brings me to.

The NutCracker Prince

It only makes the list for nostalgia points. I haven't seen the ballet so I have no clue how "authentic" it is but it was probably my favorite Christmas special as a kid.


No. Bannon and Trump do not get to take Festivus from me. I need this. No. I will not allow it. If I have to have smiles painted on my soul for a month especially after the November I've had I get to vent a little in private. Screw those guys! I'm getting Festivus.

A Muppet Christmas Carol

Okay time to get serious now. While the holidays can be annoying and stressful I actually do like the IDEA of a day where all grievances are forgotten and we come together in good will and charity to all folk. I may have problems with the REALITY of Christmas but life is what you make it.

So I need a story to remind me to at least TRY to be a good sport.

If sworn enemies on the battlefield can do it I owe it to them and myself to at least try.

You know we can argue all day about what version of A Christmas Carol is the best but in order to get in the spirit of things requires me to remember things like, fun and joy...

Point is this is the version I liked as a kid so it's my favorite by default. I know Bill Murray is funny and Patrick Stewart is in the running for best actor of his generation but damn it The Muppets just captured something that stuck.

And it is a reminder for me to despite it all at least try.


I can't say that Frozen is my favorite of even the "new" Disney movies. But it came out at a time when I was seriously angry and depressed enough to earn a spot on the list of movies that changed my life. We're right back at the I need to at least try thing.

It's very easy for me become trapped in my own head if I let myself and Frozen was a reminder that I really do need to loosen up a little and not be so afraid to let down my personal barriers.

As uptight and frigid as I can be I do have a family that loves me and I owe it to them to at least put up an effort even when I'm nervous, pissed off or whatever. Whatever is going on in my head GENERALLY has nothing to do with them and they shouldn't have to suffer for it.

And hey it's a movie with a shit ton of snow.

The Snow Queen
Long before Frozen there was the Snow Queen. Like I said before I really do have a thing for fairy tales and since it was so long before Disney got there hands on it there are actually a lot of good versions of it floating around.

Hell I'll even admit it. One of the easiest to find is Disney's own Once Upon A Time. Rather than rehashing Frozen Disney tried to incorporate the characters into a modern retelling of the story and came pretty damn close all things considered.

That's not to say it's perfect.  But if you ignore all of the stuff that was established before the arc the story is basically intact. More over it was an interesting creative choice for stoic introverted Elsa to play the role of warm-hearted Gerda while Anna ball of extroverted energy Anna is playing the locked off Kay.

Seeing that evolution in a way that didn't seem like a total reversal of personality helped give me something to work for.

God do I have a love hate relationship with that show.

Rise of the Guardians

Another thing to remember is that Christmas isn't FOR me. It's for the kids. I had my time and they deserve theirs so don't be an ass about it.

Also if I'm lucky maybe the fun might be just infectious.

The Invader Zim Christmas Special

That being said I can still snark in my head.

Look I love Invader Zim. It along with Futurama, South Park and Aqua Teen Hunger Force are specials I watch during the year just because those are shows that were consistently funny during their runs. Thier Christmas specials included. Seriously I watch that stuff in June. If I think the season is getting too sanctimonious It's not hard for me to get a quick hit.

The Boondocks Christmas Special

I could have put this up with the rest but considering our little political foul up and how The Boondocks treats race I thought it deserved it's own space. It's basically is an homage to Charlie Brown's classic Christmas special but with the role of Charlie Brown being played by a quasi-militant black radical. Huey don't play that. 

I need that right now.

If I Were A Rich Man: Christmas Presents (Doubles As A Personally Cathartic Gift Giving Guide)


It's time for another one of these.

For the most part I've been kind of ambivalent about Christmas. I thought it was a hokey holiday as a kid but liked that I got presents and some time off school. And then I became an adult. The person who is suppose to be giving out the presents.

In the 6 years since I graduated college I've only been able to do Christmas the way I wanted exactly once. And I'd be lying if I said I haven't built up a certain amount of resentment to the holiday as a result.

That one year I had to damn near kill myself to get the money to get those gifts but I did it and I am not in a hurry to do it again. Or at least go that far. Especially as with everything else there are A LOT of places the money could better go.

Not only that but I have a huge extended family. If I were to really do Christmas the way I wanted I'm looking a probably a couple thousand dollars and that's if I don't also decide to host some sort of party or dinner which I can't anyway because I don't have a space to do it.

Let's just hope I all of a sudden become more interesting in middle-age.

But fine. Fine a man can dream so here is how I would do Christmas if I had unlimited funds.

Da List and Da Budget

So around September I would assemble a list of all of my numerous relations. I currently have a spreadsheet where I have fields for

  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Nick Name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Parents
  • Are They Paternally Related to Me or Maternally Related
  • Am I Getting Them A Gift
  • Gift Ideas
  • Have I Got Them A Gift
If I were going all out I would also like to mail out gifts to my more distant relations and set things up for some sort of party so addresses and the like would be in order.

But for now let's talk about presents. Like I said my extended family is huge so even in the best of times I probably wouldn't be able to get something for everybody. I would have to prioritize. The general rule is only people ages 2-13 get something. 

In general for kids less than two giving a gift is mostly a token gesture to the parents more so than a gift for the kids themselves as the kids that young are unlikely to remember jack all. Moreover, kids that young think very differently and I have no memory of that time in my life so it is hard as hell to get a good gift for kids that age. 

And after 13 let's be honest everybody would just prefer money. 

Even the adults. "The Gift of the Magi" is the stupidest thing I ever heard. Get that shit outta here.

Which brings me to the budget which is what the list really represents. I expand or shrink who gets what based on cost projections. Almost anything worth a damn is going to cost at least $10. And if there one of my relations who I like, or has hinted at something in particular or who has had a rough year and needs a pick me up that gets blown to hell.  So it's more responsible to budget $25 and see where I stand.

If there is any money left after the kids everybody gets a card and a visa gift ... card.  The teenagers can buy what they want online especially if it's music or movies or video games or whatever. And the same goes for everybody else.

Other than that I keep or try to keep an amazon wishlist year round of anything I think would make a good gift for the fam.

Black Friday

So we arrive at the capitalist nightmare-hell  (it warrants a new compound word) that brought this on.

Yeah no.


Uh uh.

Not doin' it.


The reason why Black Friday has significance to me is that it marks a date close enough to Christmas so that it's not unreasonable to buy stuff but far enough out so that if I buy stuff online it will be in stock and probably delivered on time, with the ancillary benefit of cyber Monday sales.

I am not walking into a store unless I'm desperate and chances I'm not going to be that desperate on Black Friday.

Spend the time making a list before and then spend an hour checking out and be done from my desk.

I have too much brand loyalty to Amazon. Thier lists make mass shopping like Christmas and personal projects easy, but I on occasion worry about knock-offs but there are some ways around that.
First off avoid buying from Amazon sellers and buy stuff straight from Amazon. They have to stand by their products or risk their reputation. That's not foolproof though so if you really want to be safe buy straight from manufacturers.

Gift Ideas

As I already mentioned, resist the urge to buy anything for teenagers. "But I remember what was like when"... no you don't and things travel a thousand miles per hour these days even if you did. Just give them money and be done with it.  They will thank you for it.

That said for younger kids there is a little more leeway.

Stick with the classics. They are the classics for a reason. Really young kids like physicality. Stuff they can manipulate with their bare hands. That's what toys have been since my granddaddy's day for a reason. So things like dolls, blocks, trains, cars and the like never get old.

But as kids grow older that start appreciating abstraction. It's not just what a toy is but what it represents.  Age matters. What is super special awesome for a 5 year old will be laughed out the room by a 10 year old. 

Which brings me to board games and the like and my same advice follows. Stick with the classics unless told otherwise by the kid or the parent. I know the urge to get "creative" is biting. You saw Betrayal on Geek and Sundry and started drooling but that's something for you. The holiday is not supposed to be about you 29 year-old Miles. You had your Christmas'.



The advertising may get confusing but keep in mind the same damn companies have been basically been making the same damn toys with tweaks and revisions for years.

When I was a boy Beyblades were a thing but as I look back I am surprised I didn't realize that they were nothing more than modular flashy spinning tops. That wouldn't have been wholly alien 50 years ago.

But to kids the small differences matter.

Beware Licenced Toys

This is the exception to the rule about sticking to the classics. Stick to the classic in form but in image don't. Unless you are amazingly plugged into the minutia of fictional media targeted towards children chances are your going to screw it up. And corporate America has vested interest in your ignorance.

That being said kids love stuff from the latest movie or comic or whatever. But if you screw it up they will be piiiiiiissseed.

Aside On "Gratitude"
As adults we all know the amount of time money and effort that can go into getting good gifts for kids but rule one when dealing with kids is don't punish them for being kids. Children especially young children often aren't aware of how much their stuff is worth and how all of that translates into tangible work.

And that's not their fault. At least not in the case of little kids.

So don't expect them to appreciate that that PS4 meant 2 weeks overtime until they're older.

We all want to pretend like Christmas is about family and all that jazz and if you're over 13 maybe it is but for kids let's be honest it's about having one of two days in the year where everybody else will bend over backward to get you what you want, everything else be damned. I didn't appreciate it when I had it.  And I wish to god I could pass it forward.

But I can't.

Don't Kill Yourself

So for reasons, a lot of reasons, it's time for me to revisit the concept of MANHOOD! Let me be clear while Donald Trump is the impetus for me actually sitting down and writing something I've been in a perpetual identity crisis since the end of college regarding what the hell adulthood and masculinity mean on a personal level when a lot of the stuff I want to do as a MAN seems just out of reach for me.

And I also want to be clear I don't blame women for any of it though that Fight Club clip might make it seem otherwise.  I've seen those asshats and want to say loud and clear I absolutely fucking hate them. And think they are part of the problem.

I blame racism, classism, and mostly myself for it all but I don't have it in me to do another Marxist diatribe right now. Wish I did but for some reason the wind has been knocked out of those sails.

So let's try something different.

For better or worse I contextualize my life via media (stick a pin in that) so let's talk about two media portrayals that at my coming of age defined the how I wanted my personal vision of masculinity to exhibit itself.  Gran Torino and Scott Pilgrim.

Also this gives me a chance to square my love-hate relationship with Clint Eastwood in an interesting way. Like I said Gran Torino came out at exactly the right place and time to define what adulthood and masculinity mean for me and then the primary force behind it comes out of the woodwork to essentially undercut almost everything I felt that movie was telling me.

Eastwood is so much of a cinematic force that it's easy to forget that a lot of his later movies aren't ABOUT the characters he plays.

At least not in the way his old school "classic" movies are.

If you really want to understand Gran Torino you have to realize it's not fundamentally Eastwood as Walt's movie. It's Thao's.

And dear god if that movie did anything more to make Thao like a 19 year-old me they would have had to turn him into a Black guy with glasses.  The movie is Thao's coming of age story. But it's doesn't adhere to the usual formula of a male coming of age story and in doing so becomes something new and different. Most of these stories are about what does a person have to do to be RESPECTED as a man but Gran Torino is more intrinsic. What does a person have to do to ACT as a man, to BE a man.

And the movie is all about the dissonance between what that means for both Thao and Walt.  Hell that is the foundation of their inter-generational friendship.  For Walt what defines manhood is sacrifice. And all the sacrifices he's made have left him a hollow shell of a man as the world has changed around him and refuses to acknowledge those sacrifices.

Despite not having a lot in common he looks at Thao and realizes he's just at the age where he's going to start making the sorts of sacrifices a man makes and wants to emotionally help him through it by preparing him for it.

Then the film goes into a giant left turn as Walt realizes that making those types of sacrifices will LITERALLY destroy Thao as he picks up a gun to go on a suicide mission to defend his family.

Thao deserves better than that so Walt scrambles to think up some other solution to the immediate problem.


The movie was screaming to guys like me don't be Walt. He's honorable in his way but there might be something better for you all if you choose to grasp for it.

The movie is vague about what that something better might be but it is clear that it's saying that modern masculinity should not be judged by Walt's standard. So what should it be judged by.

Dispite all the fight scenes, sight gags, and video game references Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is fundamentally about Scott's journey from emotional immaturity to emotional maturity.

While the movie isn't about repudiating 1950's style masculinity it is inseparable from the exact moment in time it was made. I could not and still can not escape the fact that if I tried to judge myself by my father's standards I would probably kill myself in the attempt to man-up.

ESPECIALLY as a young black guy. I don't want to say this glibly but a hell of an enormous amount of effort on my parents' part was spent trying to do anything in their power to keep me from anything that might lead to jail. And I DO NOT want to throw all that away.  And still I know people who despite their best attempts still wound up in that system.

I can't.

I can't.

I can't.

There has to be something else.  And Scott Pilgrim lead me to think about that something else. Scott Pilgrim is so far from Clint Eastwood it almost breaks my brain but by the end of it well he's obtained manhood. A different kind of manhood.

Time to stick a needle in Mr. Eastwood's eye. When Scott Pilgrim first game out there was a generational divide that caused it to fail miserably at the box office. There was this generational divide as a lot of older audiences found it to be all style and no substance. But the style was part of the substance.

By filling itself with ephemera seen as to be childish while still making itself about emotional maturity the movie was redefining what that emotional maturity was about. It's not about whether you still like video games, or anime. It's not about how many romantic entanglements you've had. It's not even about how much money you make.

It's about how you treat the people around you and respect their feelings and lives. And yeah the movie is about Scott going from not having a clue to all of a sudden getting that the people around them have their own lives, and emotions and desires worth taking into consideration.

By the end of the movie the quest for Ramona's heart becomes kind of irrelevant as Scott realizes that Gideon Graves represents everything that by then he's come to hate about himself and deserves a right ass kicking as a repudiation of it.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On Fidel Castro

First off let me say I am not Cuban nor do I  have an expertise in Cuban history.

But Fidel Castro's death seems like a learning opportunity a lot of the internet is missing. For me Fidel Castro represents the complexities of leftist politics, human nature and the fallibility of man.

Nobody can deny he did absolutely horrifying things.

But. And I believe that this is also important in the grand scheme of history he refused to easily conform to the narratives we Americans wanted to place upon him. That doesn't all of a sudden make him a hero. He still has a hell of a lot of death and misery on his hands. But it is a conversation worth having that I don't think I'm hearing.  (Never depend on Twitter for moral complexity.)

One of the failures of American diplomacy, that did in deed cause massive loses of life, during the Cold War was the imposition of binary narrative. Instead of trying to figure out how international figures and peoples thought we made policy based upon the labels we gave them. Communist or capitalist, good or evil,

Castro led a long and complicated life that I have no hope of coming close to understanding. I am not that smart. It defies a simple single solidifying story where he is either the villain or the hero. Because at different times and different places he was either, both and neither.

To me he is a symbol for all the contradictions in my own politics, writings, and soul as well as the blurred line between hope and horror as people, places and even ideas I champion may betray not only me but themselves in ways I find viscerally repugnant.

Life is messy and complicated as are people and everything that is built on top of human fallibility. And that is a truth that gets remembered far less often than it should.

Friday, November 25, 2016

On Paris Geller

I've watched the revival and I'm more or less done with it but one thing bugs me that it took a while to process. The revival HATES Paris Geller.  Geller is one of my favorite characters her slow defrosting is one of the few things I think the later seasons did right and the revival decided to completely undo it.

It shouldn't have taken me so long to figure out why because a character turns to the camera and says it.

"You rule the world what's your damage!"

Parts of Gilmore Girls very much plays out as a female version of  the boarding school drama. As originally envisioned Paris is Draco Malfoy.  She one of the primary mechanisms the show uses to criticize class and wealth.  The audience was never suppose to like her.

But partially by script and also by acting the character is a lot deeper than just snooty blueblood Rory has to prove wrong.

Geller herself dislikes her own status and subtly tries to subvert it in ways that don't automatically make her look like an ass.  I respect that. While she has the advantages of wealth she wants to use those advantages to prove to herself and all comers that she does indeed deserve said wealth.

She's still an antagonist to Rory but not strictly in the same way other school bullies are in these types of stories. Geller dislikes Rory because she is the first of her peers who actually gives enough of a damn to challenge her intellectual queen of the school status. She hates her because she does actually respect how damn smart she is rather than how in most of these stories the bluebloods underestimate the working class protagonist.

And that for the first three seasons was a very interesting dynamic as those two came to grips with the fact that despite personality and circumstantial differences they were more similar than different.

The problem is that Geller remained a fairly interesting character while the Gilmores themselves leaned more and more into the privilege of wealth in the later season undermining the original purpose Geller to criticize and show the flaws those systems.

Or to it put it another way, the roles of the two character slowly reversed with Geller more or less losing a lot of her parents' money and having to get by on her wits while Rory was able to sit on her ass for a year. And I can see how that could be considered a derailment both characters.

That said I also personally liked how direct and forceful Paris could be and liked that she added that to the character dynamics of the show. I liked how she was written in the later seasons showed how that "get shit done personality of hers" could actually be a positive thing.

I'm generally mild-mannered but life has taught me that sometimes you just need to use your big boy voice to get shit done. And that's something that as a character Rory Gilmore was seldom good at. I liked that there was a character who was good at it and wasn't doing it in small petty ways for small petty reasons... Emily.

Sometimes you just need an asshole to get shit done. And if well targeted Geller could be that asshole

TV Review: Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

 As a whole I love Gilmore Girls, but I went into watching the revival of Gilmore Girls the wrong way and I think that negatively impacted my view of it.  A Year in the Life has been advertised as Gilmore Girls Season 8 when it's actually closer to a series of related yet episodic short stories involving the characters.

The title says it all. "A Year In The Life". The original series had themes and character development and all that stuff while A Year In The Life seeks to be a much smaller scale anthology of moments in the characters lives. Which is fine if you go in knowing what to expect.

To be fair a lot of that isn't A Year In the Life's fault. It spends the first 2 episodes of four writing around the decisions made in seasons after creator Amy Sherman-Palladino left the show. During the first half, it almost seems a mean-spirited parody of those seasons. With most of the characters, Rory in particular, acting insufferably entitled in a universe that agrees with them.

That after high school Rory became a Mary Sue who could do anything she wanted and get anything she wanted without a whole mess of effort which is kind of annoying because earlier the show went to great lengths to show, not tell but show how much the eponymous Gilmore Girls worked to make lives they could be happy with.

The first two episodes are all about showing why that status quo didn't work and it seems purposefully hard to sit through.

Most of the characters in their late 20's and early 30s a lot of the characters are emotionally and professionally exactly where they want to be. Rory starts the revival off a well-off print writer regularly appearing in multiple nationally read publications. Paris who even with her Ivy League education shouldn't be out of residency yet is running an artificial insemination clinic. I find it infuriating almost none of my peers can come close to that sort of job satisfaction and security. And that leads to the another problem.

Over the course of the show's run it criticized class dynamics but with everybody more or less where they want to be the show doesn't really do that anymore and it was one of the strongest reasons to watch.

There are no more speeches about how Rory while benefiting from an education with the bluebloods still doesn't completely fit in with them. No more arguments about how the world is the limit for the Gilmores while Lane, Jess and Dean live vastly different lives. The conflicts between Luke and Lorelai as new monied entrepreneurs vs her parents as old money aristocrats are gone.

The third episode is about returning the show to feeling and vibe of the Chilton seasons. And the third episode stands out as the best to the point that it is the only episode I can unqualifiedly recommend. It exists primarily to rewrite the series' post-script into something more in line Palladino's version of the show rather than how it actually ended.

And that's really the point of the whole enterprise. It's not so much an eighth season of Gilmore Girls as much as an episodic bridge between the 7th and whatever Palladino decides to do with it next.

The closest we get to that is the 4th episode but by then so much has passed that there really isn't much of a plot left.  What is left acts as a memorial to Edward Herrmann straight plots that exist are all about the emotional hole Richard Gilmore played by Hermann left after his death and every emotional thing the characters say about Richard might as well be spoken about Herrmann.

I want to be very careful how I phrase this because I liked the man as an actor and everything I've heard about him as a man has earned my respect.

How you feel about the show's writing will depend on how you appreciate that. Prior to the fourth episode, A Year In The Life seldomly manages to transfer that thematic hole into actual plot and the loss always acts as subtext rather than text. I'm on the fence about that. Part of me likes the fact that the show took a chance on making itself about the lose of a loved one without making its story about the lose of a loved one. Life has to go on yet those who have gone before are not and should not be forgotten.

As an artistic decision, I can respect it but it does make the show less engaging. The revival is a lot less focused on narrative than the original and sometimes it feels like there isn't really anything happening. And directly dealing with that would have been, well  something happening.

Apart from that the show also makes subtle criticisms at the forces that retooled it. Yet again it chooses to be subtle about it.

Diverging into an Eat, Prey, Love style aside the show criticizes itself and the Mary Sueness of the later seasons.

Almost all of the ships come back and we are shown exactly why they wouldn't have worked. Dean's content being a regular guy while Rory isn't. While it's clear Jess actually does care about her he can never completely turn off his snark and show sincere affection. Christopher being unable to man the hell up when Rory was born is a sin that can never be washed away in the eyes of the Gilmores.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

When The Hell Did Populism Stop Being About Class Struggle (Donald Trump Does Not Represent Marxist Liberalism)

So one of the most infuriating things about the election is that I'm reading think pieces about how it fits within the larger confines of populist movements and how Trump's election represents a rejection of new identity liberalism in favor of old school Marxist liberalism (by the way those are great videos I'm just mad that it came down to that this election).

And it makes me want to punch something. A billionaire creating an administration with other billionaires who will almost certainly act in the interests of yet again other billionaires is about as far as my view of what populism is as you can get.

That is not populism.

That is oligarchy.

My view of populism is that a methodology for upsetting the relational power dynamics inherent in society and dispersing economic and political power amongst many actors so that together they can act as a check upon the systemic accumulation of wealth and influence and the power that it affords within a capitalist system.

So uh President Elect Donald Trump represents everything I hate about my country.

I love me some sweet sweet capitalism but even I'll admit that left unchecked it leads to an untenable stasis that makes positive economic and social change difficult as the moneyed use their resources to resist change that doesn't benefit them.

We need protected social mechanisms for upsetting the power imbalances inherent in society and I lack basic faith that Donald Trump represents that.

He has attacked those mechanisms and institutions speech, assembly, the press, unions, employment protections, education, human rights and the free market. Much of he has said and done since being elected has signaled that he does not respect these mechanisms and probably won't shield them when they become unpopular and might even go so far as dissolve them when it becomes clear they can be used against him.

So I'm going to spend the next four years as Benjamin.

I keep hearing of this faith amongst Donald Trump's supporters that he will act in their interest. That he's their man. He's not. Donald Trump only acts in his own interest and he's spent the last two years getting high off of his own ego. The truth of the matter is that I have a fundamental doubt that Donald Trump knows the sort of things the masses are concerned about and even less faith that he has practical... practical... PRACTICAL policy ideas to address those concerns.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

The White Veto

So I've spent the past week reading Twitter and news and trying to be a good sport about the election.

I lost. I lost cold. I lost a lot.

But I kept reading. And kept reading. I'm going to still try to be a good sport or at least want to but I'm pissed and I feel the need to explain something.

My vision of myself is greatly tied to being part of what I felt was the first generation of Blacks that could be Black without that blackness meaning giving automatic deference to white people or facing reprisal.

To be able to say, "screw whitey, I'm doing what I want."

This election feels like one giant ass reprisal.

Damn near every political writer is going on about how the dems failed to connect to the working class, and need to change the platform but let's call a duck a duck.

Donald Trump stood up and cried nigger. And let me be clear I'm using race and my race particularly because I'm speaking for myself. I imagine you can substitute nigger with any other slur you want.

He stood and told people that all their problems could be blamed on giving everybody but the milktoast too much leeway and he was going to rein it in. You couldn't take anything he said seriously and even his supporters knew that but at least he seemed like a white guy who wasn't too shameless to defend someone punching a Black guy in the face.

I tried not to and especially after the election has already been lost I definitely do not want to campaign for Clinton, let's face it between her and everybody who ran in the primary America had a choice and out of all of them we decided to choose the guy who wasn't afraid to call nigger in a bid to reassure white people they were still in charge.


Let me tell you what that means. It means that every time I have a grievance I have to be careful even when that grievance amounts to it's hard being X in America.

That's at least ONE reason why I'm so pissed off.

White America just told me I don't have the right to be both Black and proud.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Just Want My Life Not To Suck

The last few years haven't been exactly great for me, but I had hope. If I could weather the right now things would be pretty cool in a decade or so. That election, not just Trump but all of it.  beat the optimism right the hell out of me. It feels like every cool thing I had to look forward to is gone politically. Personally, my life wasn't all that great to start with. There are loads of people way worse off than me but part of the reason why I always look toward tomorrow is because my right now kind of sucks.

I get the idea of peaceful transfer of power. Let me speak plain. A lot of the stuff coming from the left would break the country. If the electoral college decided to give Hillary the presidency the other half of America would be just as pissed off right now, maybe even more. Trump has already promised a bunch of stuff he can't deliver but he pulls a complete bait and switch and morphs into Hilary-lite well than he's not the man they voted for and there you go.

One of my gripes with Trump is that he refused to recognize the legal legitimacy of a sitting United States President but back then he was just a reality show idiot. If anybody with actual power pulls that we turn into Egypt.  We are a global superpower.

Like I said my life isn't that great but I live in probably the most powerful country in the world. If this thing fails it won't just be the United States that feels the fallout. WE CAN NOT HAVE A EUROMAIDAN SCENARIO! It would blow up the world.

That being said. I want my life not to suck. I could claim to speak for gay people and trans people or Latinos, or Muslims, or even other Black people. I'm not. I'm speaking for myself. I've spent months thinking about how a Trump presidency could screw with my life. I don't have a lot of money but I have an education and a couple of tools I figured I could forge into a viable career if I worked hard enough. I personally know folks who've been done wrong by cops but I felt like in my hometown things were okay and with the conversations being had eventually I wouldn't have to put so much time and energy into trying to keep people from being scared of me. I've seen a lot of scary stuff in the media but the stats say that over the past few years on the whole things have been winding down.

Like I said I wasn't happpy with my life but I felt if I could survive the now life would be pretty great in a decade or two. I still feel that way but I'm less confident I can survive the now.  But I have to at least try. I'm not into the other option. This is my life and this is my home.

Not all of it is Trump's fault. He's a symptom not a cause. But he is President Elect.

Let me say it again. Donald Trump won a free and fair election for the United States Presidency and represents more than half of the country by the accepted constitutional rules of that election.  THERE ARE NO DO-OVERS.

That being said no matter who won the election people still have to live here. Trump's pitch was that he wasn't going to take into consideration anybody who disagreed with him. And in my head I get that he has a mandate. But we aren't just talking about esoteric policy but people's day to day experiences. A lot of the stuff Trump promised is the stuff that makes, not is going to make, but even before he got elected, makes their lives suck. People harassing anybody who has a brown skin tone as an undocumented immigrant. People trying to make lives together questioning the legal standing of everything they've done. And a lot of people thought that a Hillary win would do away with not all but at least some of that stuff and came to find out nope. Life still sucks. Life is going to suck for a really long time.

They have a right to stand up and say that's not okay and ask that Donald Trump realizes that they exist and that their lives have political meaning but that is the exact opposite of his pitch to the country, that he'll deal with things expediently by ignoring and even punishing people who disagree with him.

I begrudgingly accept that Donald Trump is President but I wish Donald Trump would at least try to convince people who disagree with him that he's going to try not to deliberately make their lives worse. That's what I want. For Donald Trump to get on a podium and say that  even if I disagree with him he'll try not to make my life suck.

But doing that is antithetical to who the man is.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Lost Shows

So I more or less skipped Halloween. It wasn't like I meant to do it but I'm generally not a people person so parties just don't do it for me. Whenever I do decide to get off my butt and get in the spirit it's normally in the form of marathoning some sort of horror themed media.

It occured to me I couldn't watch the show I was jonesing for not legally anyway.

So I might as well.

Here is my list of TV shows that have been lost to the sands of time. I'm going to be loosey goosey here. It's not so much that these shows aren't available but rather I think they've been left out of the nostalgia-fest that is modern pop culture and deserve some love. I'm going to try to keep this from being a giant list of me reliving my childhood and try to restrict it to things I'm not just nostalgic for but do think hold up. That being said.

Muppets Tonight

So the Muppets revival got a mixed reception. They turned the Muppets into the Office. ...

They turned The Muppets into The Office.

Maybe what the audience was hoping for was a nostalgic return to form. Maybe like updating one of the best incarnations the franchise for a new era.  Hmmm...


Yeah, they already did that. Muppets Tonight was basically nothing more than straight a 90's update to The Muppet Show and  in light of the reaction to the ABC show, I get the feeling that people maybe just wanted that. If you did it exists.

Living Single

You know there is this joke going around that Friends is for white people. SCREW THAT NOISE. Living Single made it to air first. And for my money is the better show. Why isn't it streaming on Netflix?  Yeah, whenever I want to start griping about racism in media marketing this is the scab I'm scratching.

They're almost the same show except for you know the obvious.

The Torkelsons

Hi. Redstate folks. I've said some not so nice things about you over this election cycle. Let me throw you a bone. I, as a black guy, know it can be tiresome to have to put up the majority of mainstream culture treating you, your friends and family and your general way of life as some sort of alien thing to be ignored, ridiculed or feared.

Which is to say, "Stop treating us like idiots." is one of the few grievances of this election cycle I think actually has some credence. Not everybody born past the Mason-Dixon line is a slack-jawed racist idiot. And it can be tiresome to have half the country assuming that about the other half.

So uh I like Reba.

And the Torkelsons is Reba 1.0.

And it was also one of the late Britanny Murphy's earliest gigs and I always liked her. I'm not going to act like I knew her but she had a lot of talent and brought a lot of stuff into this world that I liked.

Speaking of actors who left this world too soon.


I've said it before and I'll say it again.  If a story involves a dude with a sword I'm game. And hey look Heath Ledger as a dude with a sword. Okay then,

Okay, that being said what makes Roar interesting is it came out just slightly before what I'll just call the narrative revolution of TV. So while there is ongoing plot and continuity stuff  on its also in the background which makes it's structure something other than hey let's kill the monster of the week and sprawling epic as it's kind of both and neither. It's not a story you had to wait 20 hours in to actually start to understand what was going on.


On the other end of that spectrum is Spellbinder which actually does play like a sprawling fantasy epic. I find that interesting because back then not many television shows let alone children's television shows had the guts to do that sort of thing.

Also worth checking out is The Tribe. But it's got its own youtube channel so it's not exactly lost to the ages.


Growing up I was kind of an anime snob, but looking back the 90's were a golden age for satiric and surrealist animation.  And out of all of that, I think Downtown is the most underrated. I've seen a million videos proclaiming the brilliance of Clone High, and they aren't wrong, but Clone High is out there. If you want to get at it, you can. Downtown has kind of been erased which sad because it's a very good show and is representative for a lot of the humor Adult Swim would make it's bread and butter a decade later.

Early Edition

I could take easy pot shots at the spat of qusirelegious "god is watching" shows of the 90's. And a lot of them were not good. But one of them actually was with a great high concept idea.

What if god told you all the bad stuff  that was going to happen 24 hours in advance and tasked you to fix it.  Thus is the premise of Early Edition. Which played like a cross between Quantum Leap and Touched by an Angel.  I really like Quantum Leap.

Judging Amy

While I'll go on record as saying we are living in a golden age of television most of that is because we've finally figured out how to do genre shows right, balancing the conventions the audience expects with character and plot. We've discovered that within those conventions there is space to do a lot of interesting stuff.  But it still annoys me that there are so few down to earth dramas apart cop shows.

I spent a lot of time rewatching old episodes of Gilmore Girls over the past few years because it's hard to find realistic relatable stuff that's not a sitcom nor a police procedural. Technically Judging Amy is a courtroom procedural but since it deals with family court and is more concerned with Judge Amy Gray's personal life it has a different feel from all the Law and Order knock offs.  It's not about catching bad guys or anything like that. It's about the daily grind of life and trying to do right by people.

Boston Public

Hey, look a school procedural. It's one of the closest things I've seen in fiction to realistic schools that have to stretch their resources beyond their capability.  Or to put it another way. It's rare to on television or even movies to pull back the curtain and show school with all of the institutional clockwork.

That's just not how most people think of education Here is the thing most people only experience it as parents or students. Parents generally want to believe the sanitized apple on the desk version and former students may want to believe that version but a lot also never had much love for school in the first place

The truth lies somewhere in the middle and that's where Boston Public lies. It treats education as a public institution with many flawed players who are trying to do the best they can with what they have.

So it's The Wire of school.

And that's a view of school I don't see often in the media.

Watch There Will Be Brawl

Okay quick aside. I off-handily mention that I like Critical Role and it's one of those shows I don't know would survive if everything was run like it was on broadcast television.

Then I digressed into discussing how different types of media violence are framed differently and shot. And remembered that is the central joke of Matt Mercer's previous internet series There Will Be Brawl.

While there is a story and it's good the central joke is what if all the wacky goofy cartoony violence of Nintendo's golden age and Smash Brothers games was played dramatically.

And it is something to behold.

I Love Me Some Filmic Violence

So a few days ago, one of my favorite local columnists Rochelle Riley wrote an article calling out The Walking Dead and television violence in general. And the then the local alternative newspaper, The Metro Times wrote a response article....

Okay then...

So first off I dislike The Metro Times article. Rochelle Riley is one of the best writers in Detroit and I kind of felt she deserved more respect than lumping her in with all the other reactionary think of the children types, but the article she wrote is the article she wrote.


So my biggest least abstract disagreement with Riley's article is that she suggests the FCC should take on a bigger role in regulating cable broadcast decency standards. And I fundamentally disagree that that is the FCCs role or at least the one they should be taking.

While we Americans like to pretend otherwise government has had a profound role on both media and the speech it represents.

We like to pretend there is this giant wall between the two but there isn't. What concerns me more than pretending that that wall doesn't exist is eaking out how in a society that benefits in multiple ways from an environment of free exchange of ideas the government helps facilitate it.

This is what I feel the role of the FCC is and should continue to be in this regard.

There is very limited regulation in the United States in most forms of media but broadcast television is different.  Why because the spectrum is a public resource. And the job of FCC is to manage the use of that public resource.

While I do believe the government should have a light touch I also don't have much of a problem with it attaching some strings to the use of public airwaves for the sake of the public good.

Especially in the world where these rules developed where there were so few television and radio outlets.

Media Fragmentation
But cable and more importantly to me the internet developed in a fundamentally different way which while flawed I think does serve its own purpose. These spaces allow for more diversity and that diversity is facilitated if not created by how laissez faire the government has been in terms of how and what content is created. If it can be funded and or made profitable nothing is completely off the table.

How else do I get a series about a bunch of "nerdy ass voice actors playing D&D"

Not For You
Specifically, the thing I love about the internet is that creators have to worry less about making content "for everybody" one of the things that annoys me most about writing on the internet is when somebody complains that they don't get something or another that I say and wants me to  remove content.

And in those instances, I want to yell out and scream. I didn't write it FOR YOU. Internet creators can write to specific audiences in a way regular broadcasters can't. And dear god I love it. There is more freedom to make fewer creative sacrifices for the sake of broadness.

Which is to say I like that I have the opportunity to consume and perhaps even make content that was specifically tailored with me in mind or people like me. The same goes for everybody else.

And I'd be lying if I also didn't admit race didn't have anything to do with that.

I've heard some stories on that one.

The Line Between Distasteful and Non-Existant

And now I can actually get to the point at hand. There is a line between saying something is distasteful and saying it shouldn't exist. And getting government involved leans more on the latter than the former.

Like I said, I'm not going to pretend like government doesn't have anything to do with regulating speech or art or whatever but with a few exceptions which I am not getting into but you can probably guess, the government shouldn't be in the business of saying this or that form of speech shouldn't exist period and regulating decency standards on cable is close to that and the internet is definitely that.

While the use of violence in media should be scrutinized and discussed I don't exactly trust the government or rather law to do it. Law has to work on rules, on algorithms and those don't do nuance well.

Finally, Let's Talk About Violence

First off I haven't seen the episode in question and I'm probably not going to. I watched the first season and a half of The Walking Dead and while I don't hate it never made it the level of compulsory watching for me. And I'm not going to watch the episode in question now because the Walking Dead is one of those types of shows. The new breed of tv shows which are in essence filmic novels.  I would have metaphorically skipped 2/3 of the book.

That being said I do try to pay attention and the conversation around the episode in question is just one more instance of a much bigger discussion on how media uses violence, a subject you could write an entire book on.

Over the past 15 years there has been this push for more character-driven television shows and The Walking Dead has been trying to do it's darnedest to balance that and the general conventions of of both post-apocalyptic fiction and zombie fiction.

Shotguns and chainsaws. 

The argument I've been hearing has been more nuanced than "decency". Specifically I've been hearing that The Walking Dead and a lot shows like it have been using violence for cheap shock value at the expense interesting story opportunities and character continuity.


I also want to state that any real criticism of media violence needs to take into account for what I call language. There are differences, for instance, between artistic (visual) violencecomedic violence, kinetic violence,  invasive violence/body horror and dramatic violence,  or symbolic violence and all of these serve different functions within a narrative.

Specifically shows like The Walking Dead to balance between all of these different types of violence which serve different purposes  and have different rules and techniques.

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 Club's 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.

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