Thursday, December 26, 2013

On Youth, Fascism, and Enlightenment

Subtext can be a tricky, subtle beast. I’ve looked back on my own fictional work and been surprised to find, say, what had been envisioned as a thunderous sci-fi romp wherein humankind was not top galactic dog also happened to look exceptionally critical of the UN if you squinted hard enough. I like the UN! So I understand how, in the push to bank some Harry Potter and Twilight bucks by making something similar, sloppily conceived YA serieses end up with themes and undertones not necessarily intended. Still, though a strange alchemy of themes, tropes, and archetypes, lots of these lesser YA series end up feeling, well, a bit fascist. Specifically, a peculiar, youthful sub-thought I’d call Nerd Fascism, a strange mixture of young alienation, entitlement, cliquiness, with archetypal monomyth elements of the special birth or hidden parentage blended in, creating something that can feel thematically distasteful—a sense that the work believes some people are born better than others. But, in the vastness of culture oriented toward the young, not all special births are equal, and some handle their themes better than others.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Snowflake's Chance in Hell

Martyrdom is an idea that seems burned into the human soul. We love martyrs almost on instinct, as they reflect our highest ideals, they are what we're supposed to be. The 20th century gave us a host of them, figures that still loom large over American culture, rightly venerated. And in our pop culture, we particularly lionize them, telling their stories over and over. At times, we almost obligate their demises. Earlier this year, as Spartacus reached its final episodes, some fans started speculating that the creators would pull a fast one, and let their historical hero skirt his destined martyrdom and escape into the Italian mountains. After all, we don't really know how Spartacus died. Appealing though a happy ending for long suffering Spartacus was, creator Steven DeKnight, however, quite rightly pointed out how troubling it would be for the man to let hundreds of thousands die for his cause, then walk away. DeKnight was right, of course. But martyrdom is a hefty burden and not all martyrs get such clear moral stakes. In the last act of Dragon Age II, the mage-guarding Templars are ordered to kill their charges, fed by the fear that the mages will soon become demonically possessed. For the mages, there are two options—die a horrible stabby death, or let a willing demon take over their body so they can fight. Each mage picks the latter. Many players didn't accept that the mages would make the choice that, in effect, proves the Templars right. But to me, it was a simple recognition of this truth: the moral high ground is hard to appreciate when you're dead.
            I've been thinking of this ever since I beat The Last of Us.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Reminder of Superman

Last week was a rough week. Already fraught questions and debates got derailed by events, and may get derailed even more as we learn more about this week. In the midst of it all, a little frivolity, a trailer for the latest Superman movie was released. I think it’s exactly what we need right now. Not because we need to be reminded that massive media companies are releasing movies, and not because we need to narcotize our brains forget our troubles in a rush of special effects and not because we need to believe in invincible heroes who can’t be hurt by bombs. What we need is to be reminded of what America is, and Superman is uniquely equipped to do this because of what his story is.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Lecture on Lectures

            The gentlemen of the website Giant Bomb recommended that Bioshock Infinite come with a warning: “Give yourself two hours between completion and bedtime.” Having just beaten the game the night before, at about 1:30 A.M., I think this is a great idea. I spent most of the night laying there, contemplating what I’d just experienced, identifying all the pieces, examining and considering them, and pondering over their gestalt. A lot to unpack, but the easiest and perhaps best take-away is quite simply this: Infinite is a game of rare and deep power. In the midst of all this thinking, I looked up what some others were thinking, dropping by a spoiler thread. Pretty quickly, I had to leave, because—well, I’ll be honest, I read some criticisms of certain themes that were infuriating. Infuriating, primarily, because they were directly connected to how juvenile just about everything is these days, not just games.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Gun Nerds are the Worst Nerds

For every human creation or concept, there is a nerd who has devoted some chunk of brainpower subsuming every available nuance. And a lot of them are eager to share. Most of the time, I’d say that’s great. Lit nerds, movie nerds, music nerds, game nerds, all can provide context and information that enhances enjoyment. Computer nerds fix our stuff. Car nerds can give invaluable consumer advice. Nerds are instrumental elements of our society. Yet, not every nerd encounter is a positive one. All of us, even we nerds, has had the experience of watching something unspeakably awesome, like, say, Guy Pierce and Shannon parachuting to Earth from low orbit, only to have some physics nerd say “The structural integrity of their suits wouldn’t have made it past the thermosphere. I don’t have a problem with dumb movies, but I hope someone got fired for missing that detail.” You can’t help but think “Jeez, shut up, nerd,” even if you are one. But eye-roll for eye-roll, annoyance for annoyance, pound for pound, none are worse than gun nerds.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Belated Movie List

 In the days since I last proclaimed my love of lists, they’ve well and truly metastasized. They have long been a reliable space filler on the internets, but the past few years have seen them adapted into something that feels unseemly. Lists are by their nature, pretty trite, which makes them easy to write, easy to read, the perfect junk food. Quick little chunks, they are far from a weighty critical tool, but lists are increasingly used like they are—“15 Problems with Movie X,” “9 Reasons Film Y Makes No Sense,” these are the new archetype, because unlike the classic New Year’s form, they can be posted year-round. These sorts of lists bug the shit out of me, not just for their laziness, but because their laziness unintentionally or not recasts the alchemy of story as pure, cold mechanics. Someone compiling their 10 Favorite Musical Stings of the Year, that’s fun, but 7 Plot Holes That Ruined Series Z, invoked as valid criticism? That bugs me. Maybe I don’t love lists so much anymore.
            That doesn’t necessarily mean I shouldn’t have Five Resonant Films of 2012, though, right? I didn’t get to see every movie I wanted to this year, not every great movie came through my town this year, and I’m even still waiting for a few to arrive, but of what I saw, these struck nerves.