Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Boy Who Lived, and that guy who died

These are chaotic times we live in. Violence and unrest plague the Middle East, AIDS is ravaging Africa, and Western civilization is beginning to crumble under the weight of its own self-righteousness and voracity for material wealth.

Of course, there's a more important issue everyone is talking about these days - Harry Potter. With the fifth movie in theaters and the final book recently released, the world is abuzz with questions: "What will Rowling do next?" "What will be the next Harry Potter-esque hit to take the world by storm?" "Why are there two Dumbledores in the movies again?" "Did Neville really kill Harry Potter in the 4th movie?" "Is Hermione a dude?" "My nose itches."
All very important, insightful questions.

I myself being a great intellectual and expert in the literary arts (Which in this day and age, simply entails having read one book in your lifetime, and no, having done a page of Mad Libs once does not mean you qualify.), I can't help but feel that it's high time a particular question is addressed. A question that lingers on everyone's mind, yet no one's had the guts, gumption, courage, chutzpah, or cojones to yet publicly ask. As such, it is my solemn duty to ask and look into this great question myself.

Is Harry Potter Jesus?

Has he really suggested this? Could it possibly be true? Is the author out of his mind? The answers are yes, yes, and no - I mean, yes, possibly, but that's irrelevant in the matter at hand. Shame on you for questioning my credibility. We just can't have civil discussions these days without it all boiling down to mudslinging, can we?

In order to discern whether or not these two exceptionally popular fictional characters do indeed match up, the scientific method not only calls for, but demands a direct comparison of the most important elements that make up these characters, so that we may determine whether or not one is, in fact, the other. In this case, only one element matters - super powers.

Now, let's take a systematic look at these two and how their super powers match up.

Jesus: Nope.
Harry Potter: With a broom, yes. Bonus points for catching the Snitch every time.
Winner? Harry Potter.

Jesus: Unlikely.
Harry Potter: With that cloak, yes. Bonus points for breaking school rules.
Winner? Harry Potter.

Jesus: Killed not once, but twice. Negative points for lameness, and also for dying.
Harry Potter: Not even Voldemort could kill him. And Voldemort didn't have a nose - or many discernible facial features, for that matter - and that only makes evil wizards stronger. (Note: They also look snazzier in suits than good wizards. Pimp, even, one might say.)
Winner? Harry Potter.

Ice breath?
Jesus: Nope.
Harry Potter: Not that I can recall, going by the movies and the first book. (They're the extent of my exposure to the series.) Let's put this in the maybe category.
Winner? Harry Potter.

Ability to talk to fish?
Jesus: Nope.
Harry Potter: No, but he did take some gillyweed and become like a fish during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Close enough.
Winner? Harry Potter.

Utility belt? (Sure, it's not a real super power, but for the sake of argument, let's say it is.)
Jesus: Not even one of these. Pfft.
Harry Potter: He had enough cool gadgets to make one if he'd wanted.
Winner? Harry Potter.

Jesus: Notorious for bumping into things in the dark.
Harry Potter: He could probably just strap a house elf to his head for a +2 infravision bonus, going by good D&D house rules, anyway.
Winner? Harry Potter.

Army of robot underlings?
Jesus: They didn't even have robots back then. Losers.
Harry Potter: He could probably conjure one up if he wanted, you know, with magic and stuff.
Winner? Harry Potter.

Sandwich-making skills?
Jesus: He was probably okay at it. The poor wouldn't complain about free sandwiches, anyway, even if they were kinda dry, and the pastrami smelt like old people.
Harry Potter: There's probably a spell to make an ultra-sandwich, and he'd know it.
Winner? Harry Potter.

The capacity to wear a hat?
Jesus: Hats frightened people and were banned as works of Satan back then.
Harry Potter: He could probably wear a hat if he wanted to.
Winner? Harry Potter.

And to take things one step further, we look at the focal settings of these stories.
The Kingdom of Heaven: A distinct lack of John Cleese.
Hogwarts: John Cleese in a small supporting role. Bonus points for awesome name.
Winner? Hogwarts.
However you look at it, anyone hoping to go to heaven when they die is going to be disappointed, unless their idea of heaven is a lack of screen time for John Cleese entirely. In which case, they'll probably die in an awkward bowling accident anyway.

And so, we come down to that ultimate question once again: Is Harry Potter Jesus? The results are still inconclusive. It is pretty suspicious that their parents were both wiped out by a nefarious wizard lacking a nose, leaving them with lightning bolt scars on their forehead. Not to mention the fact that Jesus' full name (Unlike the truncated version they use in most printed Bibles today.) is actually an anagram for "Harry Potter is the greatest work of literature in Western history. Also, C.H.U.D. 2: Bud the Chud is the best movie." These words baffle even modern scholars.

However, on the matter of whether Harry Potter is better than Jesus, there remains no question. There is a reason why fundamentalist Christians are terrified of the impact a popular series of novels about a boy wizard could have on the youth, after all. And it isn't just that Harry Potter blows the Bible out of the water ten to one on the beard factor. (Never underestimate the power of great facial hair in literature.) But when dragons attack your town, who do you want protecting you, the guy who can make an okay sandwich or the guy who might have ice breath? We all know the answer to that.

Now that this important issue has been cleared up, I leave you with this nugget of wisdom: Ravenclaw is the best house.

That is all.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

E3 2007: A Nerdy Retrospective

For many years, the sunlight deprived lot known as self-proclaimed "hardcore" video gamers have lived for one event - the Electronics Entertainment Expo (Or E3 for short.) - where all the major players in video gaming (And a few smaller developers.) show up to hawk their wares, showing off their planned releases for the rest of the year, and often part of the following year. Members of the gaming press attend and report on the latest news, announcements, and unveilings, while ultimately getting caught up in the hype over every other title - unremarkable as most are these days - and in turn incite each of the console-producing companies' respective fanatics. (Or "fanboys," as it were. Though most gamers treat that like an effective racial slur, in blissful denial of their personal biases. Also, apparently you're not a nerd anymore if you take pride in spending way too much time playing video games. Who'd've thunk it?) That has been the driving force in the game market for some time now though, this misconception that any of these hardware-producing companies have anything to do with you as an individual, and actually care about you on any level beyond your willingness to empty your wallet into their coffers. It's kind of like athletic rivalries - but even more pathetic and utterly meaningless.

In past years, E3 epitomized over the top, from its occupying a much larger area and allowing far more people in to the infamous booth babes. (Because nothing says you're confident in your products like objectifying women to win over the virginal attendees. All that button pushing, and yet there's no game teaching gamers about love. Though the average gamer cares less for a woman's heart than the flesh in front of it anyway.) After the 2006 show, all the major companies began to pull out funding, due to various financial issues, causing E3 to go from an event that would've made Caligula proud (If he'd spent his whole life sitting around "pwning n00bs" on the internet and living on instant ramen noodles, anyway.) to a relatively small show where software takes center stage. And thus, now we take a look at the unremarkable unfolding of this year's major American game show, post-liposuction, as it were.

Microsoft was the first to go up there and effectively shake their goods, as it were. No price drops, arrogant statements, inaccurate figure quotes, and whatnot plagued their press conference. The usual bullshit, in short. But they had a solid software lineup, between the overhyped Halo 3, and a number of other major titles. (Such as Bioshock, Mass Effect, a Viva Pinata party game, Blue Dragon, and Eternal Sonata.) All in all, Microsoft didn't shake the gaming world in any way, but they added some additional worth to the Xbox 360. Yet they're still suffering from rampant stability problems, largely blamed on issues of the hardware overheating, and ultimately, have dug themselves into a financial hole with those problems from which they won't soon be turning a profit.

Nintendo didn't dazzle anybody either this year. Sure, they had a very strong lineup for the DS and Wii, particularly with Super Mario Galaxy, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Metroid Prime 3 shown. They even unveiled a new Mario Kart game with further online gameplay. But did the fans particularly care? Of course not. The old "hardcore" crowd - which they're still primarily catering to - feels that they've been completely betrayed. And why? Because Nintendo dared to suggest that gamers exercise. (And that gaming is for more than those of us who spend all of our time playing games or ranting about our hardware of choice on the internet, hunched over a keyboard and letting our health go to waste. And yes, I'm well aware of the irony of my writing all this, given that I'm not much better than that myself, though at least I recognize it and am working to change.) They packed Wii Sports in with the hardware itself, and people in general have had a blast with it, at last being able to interact directly with a fun, light series of sports games with the motion-sensing Wii remote. But apparently that was offensive to those who take pride in their video gaming obsession, as though it in any way places them above others. Strike two, of course, was with the Brain Age and Big Brain Academy games. After all, why would "hardcore gamers" want to sharpen their mental functions and reaction time? Apparently we the "hardcore" are too good for self-improvement. And strike three? The unveiling of Wii Fit. A single casual Wii owner-oriented game with a pressure sensitive board that attaches to the remote, and effectively spurs you to exercise and track your regular progress in improving your health. (On a much more elaborate level than Wii Sports' Fitness Age testing you can do on a daily basis.) A single casual game like that for traditional and non-traditional gaming Wii owners alike to enjoy makes Nintendo a "traitor." There's some funny logic going on there, if you ask me. Personally, I enjoy these newer "casual" games just as I do the more traditional ones. And I can be honest - I'm an out of shape nerd, who really needs to work on that. And fusing exercise with video gaming? That's an effective way to help me along there, sad though it is that it takes that much. Though to me, in the end, the crown jewel of Nintendo's press conference was the announcement of Endless Ocean (The North American name for Forever Blue.), a deep sea diving simulator continuing the adventures from Arika's vastly underrated and overlooked Everblue series. But gamers in general rarely have any appreciation for games as geeky and niche as deep sea diving simulators.

And what did Sony do? They played the Killzone 2 card. Will it live up to the hype? Not likely. Will it make a big difference? Not likely. Just another first-person shooter in the tired genre's veritable sea of mediocrity. (And it's a "me too" game, no less, the big name FPS suddenly becoming critical to Sony in response to Halo - which I honestly couldn't care less about either - which they won't be able to surpass in popularity, when Microsoft was never a serious threat to their former dominance to begin with. They found their successes in copying Nintendo. And their downfall in trying hard to copy Microsoft too, when Microsoft still had yet to find a winning, successful formula in gaming with the Xbox line, having simply been able to bleed money with the first one, and they're having a hard time stopping that with the 360, in handling the overheating issue.) The Sony fanatics rave - as they do with every new PS3 release, hoping that it'll "save" the platform (Why hello there, repeated PSP history.) - but as usual, it's just another unremarkable title with shiny high-definition graphics.

That's of the HD consoles, though. It's all about the graphics, which tend to be stuck on some pretty forgettable games. A sad state the industry's in, in those regards, when Nintendo's the only one keeping focused on substance over dazzling shallow gamers with the shiniest graphics possible. But as I've said, that's E3. It's all about hype, getting the fanboys riled up, making mediocre games look great for a few shining moments, and then it's a downhill coast. "Microsoft pwned." "Sony's king again!" "Nintendo's doomed." Common mantras spouted by the fanatics these days. Does it make any of them true? Not at all.

As an avid but utterly jaded video gamer, E3 provided pretty much what I expected this year - a so-so presentation from Microsoft with some good software, at least, Sony continuing to flail desperately to compete while inciting their fanatical masses, and Nintendo delivering some nice surprises, but nothing mindblowing. At least one of the three's managed to create some worthwhile excitement that won't ultimately be muted by reality like the former two, with Nintendo's track record of delivering on their promises and not overpromising, while Microsoft and especially Sony are guilty of whipping their respective fanatics into a frenzy over what frequently amounts to overhyping of unremarkable, overpriced hardware and software and failing to deliver, and in many cases blatantly lying to get good press. These are factors, of course, in Nintendo's return to the top of the market, in addition to their getting the costs to developers and consumers just right, bringing us some top notch early software, and an innovative new controller video gaming has been dying for, after roughly two decades of playing with the exact same sorts of inputs, and much of the industry painfully stagnant and lacking in imagination and innovation. Having done what they have with the DS and Wii, Nintendo deserves applause, as they really earned their return to the top, perhaps even moreso than the first time. They're the one hardware manufacturer that's keeping gaming exciting these days.

But to reiterate one last time, in the end, the fanatics put too much personal stock into each company, then react violently when another takes to the top of the industry, it's rather sad and speaks of a general lack of maturity - though that's known for hardly being uncommon amongst video gamers - when they overreact in such a way. It's a hobby, and if it's your hobby, you should enjoy it, but not take things so personally. Objective analysis and respect for moves in a better direction while disrespecting greed are one thing, but it's a hobby many of its addicts lack a realistic perspective on. They're games by their very nature and nothing more. Most are completely meaningless at their core, and effectively all are in the grand scheme of things. There's nothing wrong with enjoying them, of course, as we all need to have our fun, but there's something to be said for keeping things in perspective.

At the end of the day, these companies owe you nothing, despite what many in particular insist of Nintendo after a decade of Sony dominance. And no gamer owes them anything either, as they simply provide what we seek to sate our hobby appetites. But no one has to buy any of it, and no one's forcing you either. The gaming populace drifted from Sony to Nintendo, as that's where the majority of games went. That trend is now seeing a shift in reverse, with solid spillover into Microsoft territory - enough to make them an actual contender this generation, technical problems aside. But this time, being larger in number, corporate loyalist fanatics cry out in further anger, as though they'd been some way betrayed, as though Sony were their friend and Nintendo their foe, regardless. Hardly the first time such attitudes have emerged, notably having grown up myself amidst the Nintendo/Sega rivalry. I played both companies' machines and games, rather than choosing sides, and enjoyed both. It's just a shame so many gamers today have fallen into the same old pitfalls.

None of these companies are your friends. They're just making products and looking for your money. And while many self-proclaimed Nintendo nuts cry blasphemy as Nintendo expands the market far beyond their traditional base, undeniably so, they never owed it to them to cater solely to them. Those of us who've kept an eye on the industry for some time know exactly how that's turned out, and had they taken the same route as their competitors, they would've been left relatively out in the cold for a third generation. It was simply a hell of a risky business strategy that's paid off in spades, the directions they've taken with the DS and Wii. They haven't stopped catering to their traditional bases, and yet despite still providing a strong software showing at E3 this year, the sheer fact that they're making a casual game like Wii Fit for a wider audience and releasing it at all is regarded as though Nintendo's spitting in their faces, as though they are simply obligated to produce games solely for their traditional core audience, who frequently complain about everything they do, regardless of the quality of hardware and software. They don't know what they want anymore. When they don't get what they ask for, they complain. When they do, they complain anyway. In the grand scheme of things, they're getting bent out of shape over nothing important. A real waste of energy when they could just take a deep breath, let it go, and actually enjoy themselves with the games for what they are, or even enjoy other hobbies, like people leading healthier lifestyles really could. (Says the uber-geeky hermit-esque internet blogger.)

In the end, to gamers, this has to be said - E3 has changed. The market is changing. The main competitors have all changed, some for the better and some for worse. But gaming doesn't exist solely to please a single group with a strong feeling of self-entitlement. If you don't like the changes that've been happening, that's frankly too bad, because they aren't going to stop just because raving fanatics don't like it. You can either let it go and get used to it, even learn to have fun with different things (As they certainly aren't necessarily worse, and it's not the end of the world that you aren't the one and only consumer anymore. It's just a hobby, after all. Life should've taught you that you aren't the center of that or any universe by now. And growing up should bestow, ideally, at least a modicum of open-mindedness.), or just move on with your life. There's more important things to worry about than whether your favorite gaming hardware producer is crushing their competition. You get nothing out of it personally either way. But it's not worth yours or anyone's time getting so bent out of shape.

E3's all about hype and nothing more, the companies all boasting at their respective press conferences (Though this year, Nintendo was really the only one who had room to celebrate their sales figures, but apparently it's arrogance for them to do that, unlike a certain competitor of theirs that refuses to admit they've gone wrong this generation at all or make any efforts to fix their problems.), fueling flame wars as their fanatics tear into one another over companies who couldn't care less about them to begin with, so much as their wallets. And so they squabble like petty children, each viewing their respective preferred company through rose-colored glasses while often disliking the others. Wild children lock horns out in the wilderness of internet forums. It'd almost be poetic, in a sort of National Geographic documentary sense, if it weren't for that in the end, it's just nerds flipping out at each other on the internet. Making the rest of us look bad by association. Thanks a lot, guys.

(Yes, a painfully indulgent, nerdy post. And my most over-long and rambling to date, no less. The next ones'll be more interesting to non-gamers, I swear. And less tiring to scroll through.)

Monday, July 16, 2007

For Whom The Inkwell Tolls

Being an aspiring novelist, it's rather shameful that I haven't written at all on the craft itself here, isn't it? Well, it's time to remedy that.

Today's musings on writing? The poor saps you managed to sucker into reading your tripe. I mean, your audience. When I was taking writing workshops in college, it was always emphasized to us that we had to know our audience - to have a clear picture in our heads of who we wanted to read our novel, or short stories, or poetry. There was an interesting assortment in the particular workshop I'm recalling here. There was the guy writing short stories wherein something always moved the male protagonist to tears - and those guys would cry at the drop of a hat. Then the woman starting a novel about a confused young bartender trying to make sense of her life in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks - a cheap cash-in? (Well, probably not, she didn't give off that impression, anyway.) And the older woman starting a novel about a woman running a brothel in the old west. She got criticized by the professor for writing genre fiction in that class. But isn't all writing genre fiction in some sense? It seems almost conceited to me to insist that your writing cannot be labeled, that it's simply fine literature, or however you prefer to look at your espionage story where America gets them terr'ists.

As for myself, I didn't really have a specific audience when I started writing my first novel project back then. (I will someday. I have too many good one-liners in there to keep to myself. And if that doesn't hint at quality literature, I don't know what does.) I just sat in the class caught between two frames of mind. In one, I was writing something brilliant, funny, and edgy, which would blow everyone's mind - in short, I was too cool for school. (Do people actually still say that?) In the other, I knew that while I had some modicum of raw talent, but couldn't let it go to my head (That's to be saved after one has at least one book in print. The main purpose in creating anything, after all, is earning the right to look down one's nose at people - till they jam a fork in there, anyway, as you're inviting.), and that I had to keep an open mind throughout the course, as there was much to be learned from it. And besides, I was looking forward to making friends and engaging in thoughtful dialog with fellow aspiring authors about the craft, what inspires us, and so forth. All that goofy crap you'd expect to see in some Lifetime movie about deep friendships among women in college. Why I transplanted images like that to an idealization of a writing workshop, I don't know. But I'd wager it probably has to do with hitting my head as a kid at some point. That, or all those drugs I've never actually done.

If there's one thing life excels at, as we're all aware, it's smashing the fuck out of idealizations. You actually think she'd give you a chance? Yeah, right. Sincerely believe that the free market will take care of everyone's needs? Good thinking, Einstein. Think that month-old pizza's still good? Think again. We were like a pack of vicious wolves in that workshop. Two people would hand out copies of their latest work - be it a short story or chapter from their novel - and over each half of the three-hour workshop, one of them would be eaten alive. Why didn't you break your text up into smaller paragraphs, huh? Whaddaya mean you can't give us an entire self-contained short story in a novel chapter? We want our answers now. Whoa there, that's not how you spell habeas corpus.

It was brutal, to say the least. And I have a feeling it only would've gotten worse, had I stuck with further workshops. (As opposed to signing up for less interesting, but far more required courses, so I could finish school in a leisurely fashion after five years, with a degree that won't have the employers lapping at your heels.) So even my descriptions are probably an exaggeration of something that I only experienced a small amount of. But being an embarrassingly sensitive individual at times (As opposed to the stereotypical male I'm supposed to be with an emotional hide thicker than leather. Apparently I'm supposed to care about organized sports too, but to dismiss it in the only appropriate manner - fuck that shit.), it's not a pleasant feeling when you've worked hard on something for many hours, and it all comes down to your peers competing to tear you apart. I think I got off easy though, all things considered, as my writing was pretty grammatically correct, and I was the only one in there really making an effort to make my readers laugh. (And I know, this blog has been more on the boring side lately, with not enough efforts at snarky comedy, but I'm still getting used to writing this way. And I kind of figure a more intelligent (Sort of.) approach to this for at least a little while would draw in and keep more potential readers than blatantly writing in my more comic misanthropic asshole voice, considering how alienating that can be.) It's hard not to take criticism personally on some levels. And I empathized while others were torn to shreds before my eyes, though I rarely spoke up. (Despite my rambling here, I'm a pretty quiet person in the real world.)

Anyway, boring vague details of that personal story from years ago aside, it all came down to a point - who are you writing for? This is a question all writers must face at some point. If you avoid it, it'll beat you with a sack of rusty doorknobs like the dirty vagabond you are. Yeah, I'm talking to you, train-hopper. Make up another tall tale, why don'tcha? About some guy who's literally larger than life and eats lots of huge pancakes, back in the old days. Anaheim Albert! The legendary obstetrician. Jolly good chap, yadda yadda yadda, blue ox, dead at twenty-five from heart complications caused by gigantism.

Ahem. I kind of got off track there. But the question still remains. Do you write for yourself? In its own way, that can be the most fun, and produce some of the most interesting of stories. All you have to do is just cut loose and have fun with your writing. If the author's having fun, it can be a pretty sure bed that the reader will too. At least, in theory. There's a line, though. If you're just having fun, you may end up writing stories without any meaning. Though perhaps that could be your intention. And we all use elements from our own lives and experiences in our writing, it's just a part of what we have to work with in the writing process. But you don't want to write a story that's simply about yourself. While your life and the idea sin your fiction often overlap, you want to be cautious that you don't bog things down with your own life's story and risk becoming self-indulgent. Self-indulgent tales tend to come in extremes, being either rich and compelling, or boring and selfish. My belief is simply that while it's good to write for yourself - and to write because you love it - you should not write only for yourself. This is something I'm working out with 27 Days, admittedly, as I'm trying to be bold (See: Probably incredibly stupid.) in confessing my long-term unspoken love for a woman through the story itself, integrating that aspect subtextually, aiming to enrich the writing with it in what ways I can, rather than distract from it. Whether or not it'll work within the story or reach her heart, only time will tell.

If not for yourself, do you write for another? In order to stave off excessive self-indulgence, it's important, and emphasized time and time again to know who you're writing for. In my case, it's an individual as well, wanting to write something that would evoke feeling in her, from laughter to tears to fondness and love. But admittedly, I don't have a set core demographic I'm targeting with my work. I feel like it almost takes away from writing to think like that, to effectively market and sell your work to a set group of potential readers. In fact, thinking about a specific group like that is distracting. I'd rather write my work for both myself and for she whom I want to entertain with my writing, then - pretentious as it already sounds, after my earlier ranting - publishing it as simply literature rather than genre fiction. This way, anyone who might be interested in reading the sort of stories I write - frequently comedies about young people coping with the world today with tragic undercurrents - would be able to easily find and pick it up. I'm not sure if that'd be foolish or not, focusing on writing my work for what it is rather than a set demographic to sell it to. Perhaps it's selfish, not wanting to focus on targeting a certain group or another, and perhaps it's the sort of thing that'd keep me from being able to find an agent and publisher at all. But I want to write books that will make people laugh, and also affect them in some way. Books waiting to be found on shelves, picked up and experienced by anyone at all intrigued by the story premises on the covers. And most of all, I want to keep writing stories she would enjoy, whether or not I reach her heart and see her again at any point. An ongoing tribute of sorts, writing both because I love to write, and an individual exists whom I love to write for.

Makes me the king of the fools, doesn't it?

Stay tuned later this week, as I blog about E3 last week! It'll be tremendously dull for anyone who doesn't care about video games - as most quite understandably do not. I'll try to write something else more meaningful later this week too, to make it up to the rest of you.

(I may not exactly have readers yet - that I'm aware of anyway - but that's no excuse for not writing more posts that might interest more of them, whenever they conveniently materialize out of thin air, anyway.)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Life was cocking the fuck-with-me gun.

Pop culture blurb this time, nothing profound, just a few jumbled thoughts.

Television - most of the time it's terrible, rare is it when a show comes along that isn't. Myself? I'm a huge Dead Like Me fan. Hell, you could pretty much consider me amongst the "trekkies" of that show's fans. There was just something wonderful and magical about that show about a team of grim reapers (The cast led by the delightful Ellen Muth and badass Mandy Patinkin.) leading the days of their undeath. If you haven't seen it, check it out, its mixture of poignancy and hilarious comedy is infectious and memorable, in all the grim subject matter covered from episode to episode. (But I recommend going for the DVDs over the Sci-Fi Channel broadcast - though it maintains the magic and quality, it's not the same without the copious amounts of foul language that punctuates the series' dialogue.)

The show was a pretty huge success for Showtime, and genuinely worthwhile viewing. So what happens? After the second season ended, Showtime's new head of programming back in '04, Bob Greenblatt (Often simply referred to by fans as "that asshole.") canceled it. There really wasn't any justification for it, but it happened. Needless to say, fans were pissed. Hell, I was pissed too, I'd just discovered the series back in the summer of '05, and was completely enchanted. Never before had a show resonated with me on such a frequency. (Though there've been a few others I've really liked - Firefly, Wonderfalls (Also by the Dead Like Me creator.), Freaks and Geeks, and Undeclared.) Morbid humor, effective drama, great music, and a strong cast came together in the sweet, sweet television-pie that was Dead Like Me, one of the freshest shows to air in a long time.

The fans rallied together, centrally around Dead Like Me Online, and campaigned for many months, even finding an ally in Jack Myers in seeking to have their anger heard. There was no justice in the cancellation. Granted, it's pretty much a fact of life that good TV shows get canceled, but that's usually due to a lack of viewers. But in this case, there was no tolerable reasoning behind it.

Of course, internet petitions are notoriously ineffective, and even with Myers' aid, the fans' pleas fell on deaf ears. After all, regardless of how successful the show was, an obscure premium cable series' strong cult following is relatively meaningless to programming execs. From what I've seen personally, at least, the only worthwhile Showtime series post-Dead-Like-mortum has been Weeds.

MGM, the studio behind Dead Like Me shopped the show around, but nobody picked it up. All hope seemed lost. (Yes, the ultimate cliched lead-in.)

Then earlier this year, they announced that a direct-to-DVD Dead Like Me movie was entering pre-production, with Ellen Muth herself confirming to fans at her site that she would be returning once again to play the lead, Georgia Lass, the cynical young reaper we'd all come to know and love.

Details remained scarce, but then, the effective curse of the follow-up DVD movie set in - casting changes. It was confirmed that Mandy Patinkin would not be returning to play Rube, the reaper unit's linchpin, and easily one of the most badass characters in a television series in years. A definite blow to the movie and fans. Then it's confirmed that Laura Harris won't be returning to play Daisy Adair, the promiscuous '30s film starlet, the tales of whose escapades we all enjoyed between her reaps. The big slap in the face there? The character's still returning, simply recast. It's one thing to do this with a tertiary character, as Fox had with Eric's sister Laurie on That '70s Show in one of its later seasons. But it's practically a cardinal sin - especially in dealing with such a strong cult fanbase - to recast one of its main characters.

On top of all that, they've announced a replacement head reaper to fill Mandy Patinkin's colossal shoes. There's yet to be a casting announcement, and I'm trying to hold my judgment until the movie's released and I see for myself how it turns out. But however you look at it, there will be a massive gap there which no one can fill, as Rube was a truly irreplaceable character. Likewise, two of the plotlines revealed as of far raise questions. On one hand, there's one we'd have expected, playing out some sort of reconnection between George and her still-living younger sister Reggie. I'm expecting that to be one of the film's strong points, personally. But then on the other hand, a major plotline has been confirmed focusing on Daisy, her search for love, and some sort of emotional downfall. This would all be great, if not for the recasting of her character and the fact that it involves the new head reaper. Kind of a kick in the gut to all of us rooting for her and Mason. (Played by Callum Blue, who had some of the best lines in the series.)

Of course, as for the remaining two reapers, Mason and Roxy (Jasmine Guy's character, who had woefully little screentime and development in season 2.), we've heard nothing, though MGM's promised the return of most of the cast. Losing any of the reapers is a major blow, but leaving us with three of the five we'd grown so attached to is pretty harsh. One would think they could've found a way - even in simply delaying production - to get Patinkin and Harris back. But with any luck, perhaps the other three's performances and parts of the story will make up for that, and Harris' replacement will be able to pull off at least a decent Daisy. Likewise, it seems we'll be able to expect the return of George's family (Parents, Cynthia Stevenson and Greg Kean, sister, Britt McKillip.), in Reggie's side of the plot. But I think we'll all be disappointed if we don't get so much as one appearance by the Happy Time gang, Delores Herbig (Christine Willes) and Crystal (Crystal Dahl).

As huge a Dead Like Me fan as I am, it's hard not to have mixed feelings about all this.

Pop culture junkie rant over. Be glad I'm not one of those Hollywood blogger types who goes on and on about "Brangelina" or any of that irrelevant garbage. These are simply conflicted musings as a big fan of a rare, truly wonderful work in the world of television that isn't exactly getting the send-off we were all hoping for. Hell, even Serenity, in all of its shocking twists, managed to retain its entire original cast. One can't help but wonder, regardless of how good the Dead Like Me movie ends up being or not, if they weren't perhaps better off leaving the series in the grave, when they couldn't find anyplace for it to continue. At least for fans of hers like myself, Ellen Muth's side of the plot as George should still be satisfying.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Summer Doldrums and Seasonal Change

Let's try something a little less rambling this time. It's midsummer, and it'll be over before we know it. The one season of the year that manages to be simultaneously ephemeral and yet interminable.

Everyone associates spring with youth and love. Your fancy is to conveniently crystallize and bloom into young, idealistic - and ultimately likely doomed - love. All the while, nature responds by making it impossible to breathe while making out by assailing us with a torrent of pollen. (You can literally walk outside for a minute and return completely caked in the stuff, awash in nature's bukkake. (And if you don't know what that means, you're probably better off not knowing, trust me.))

To me, autumn's always seemed the more romantic of the seasons. To step outside and breathe deep the cool, crisp air and feel alive. (Unless you live in the south, anyway. Summer's kind of an oaf down here, nudging spring away quickly and often charging right through fall, till winter finally gets its act together sometime in December.) To gaze upon a beloved one's reddened cheeks and enjoy the longer nights together. Call me a cheeseball, but that's always seemed romantic to me in its own way, cliche as it is. Not that I've ever had a good relationship myself, wherein I could make the most of such a season. But still, I've had nights when I'd look up at that autumn moon and wonder if the woman I've long loved might not be looking up at that same moon from hundreds of miles away, in another life where she may have forgotten me. We all have days like that, no doubt. Especially those of us challenged in revealing our emotions to others - in particular those held most dear.

And then there's winter, my personal favorite of the seasons. Half the world dies as the other is thoroughly baked in its summer. We don our coats, and our breath hangs in the air as we speak. If we're lucky (Or unlucky, depending on your take.), we'll see snow, as it dances down, canceling schools, complicating commutes, and silently blanketing everything around us. The coldest and by far most somber, and yet simultaneously the most poetic of weather. If you've friends to enjoy the weather with - as nothing can bring out one's long-forgotten youthfulness like sledding, snowball fights, and building snow goons - it can be tremendously fun. If you've a loved one you hold dear, there's no time better to be close than when the world itself is freezing around you, heating up your hearts in contrast. But to the solitary individuals, while beautiful, it can still be one of the loneliest and most depressing of weather. Reflecting the coldness slowly creeping into one's embittered persona. Something I'm working to properly reflect in 27 Days. (Without excessive melodrama, of course.) Winter's a time of extremes, bitterness, passion, depression, happiness, love, and emptiness. Somehow, it only makes sense that our holiday season would fall in the midst of such a time of year, filling those with the necessary criteria with warmth and love, and others with crippling depression and desolation - a season of love and suicide.

What do you love about the seasons and their transitions? Or what about them do you despise? Do you live to throw snowballs, or long for the freezing rain to drive those damn neighbor kids back inside? Does a sandy summer beach make your skin crawl, or does watching fireflies simply ignite your imagination? If anyone's actually reading this (Though considering now new this is, and that I'm still an unpublished nobody, it's unlikely.), present or future, feel free to share your thoughts.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Red, Off-White, and Blue

Independence Day having recently come and gone, what better time to bring up politics?

(Don't worry, I'll keep things a bit more readably succinct this time. Being new to the whole public blogging game, I'm still in that stage where I feel out just how to best approach my regular posts in terms of length and style. I know I'm in no position to ask you to bear with me here, given that there's millions of other alternatives out there in the "blogosphere" (I feel dirty using that word.), but I'm going to have to ask you to do just that, dear invisible/nonexistent readers.)

So yeah, when you get down to it, just what is Independence Day? A celebration of centuries of sweet sweet democracy and freedom (Ignoring all the racism, misogyny, and general bigotry that has punctuated much of American history.), wherein explosions take center stage? Or a sad exercise in commemorating our past-tense freedoms and democracy that the nation had at one point stood for? These days, it's looking more like the former than the latter.

At this point, we may as well light some incense and leave some flowers by the political branches and their now-deceased system of checks and balances. There was a time, as we can all recall, when we could count on Congress to actually step in and stop the Executive Branch from stomping all over things we used to value - Civil Rights and so forth - but these days? Not so much. Signing Statements, Executive Orders, there's really not much stopping Bush from declaring himself Dictator-for-Life. Save for that perhaps Dick Cheney's more interested in claiming that title for himself, now that the office of the Vice President apparently isn't a part of the Executive Branch (Despite his fondness of claiming Executive Privilege whenever possible. "I'm eatin' those puppies! Executive Privilege!" C'mon, you know you were thinking it too.), nor the Legislative Branch when it simply suits him.

When he's not duking it out with Batman or avoiding any sort of accountability in being anything but in actual public servant, Dick Cheney's finding his own shady ways of classifying documents - even those that hardly need classifying - bringing this administration a lack of transparency that's rather disturbing. Of course, this is a man who keeps man-sized safes in his office, as Jon Stewart revealed in a "You Don't Know Dick" segment on The Daily Show last week. But despite the secrecy mania he's spearheading at the White House, no matter how you look at it, there's no way those things are just hiding illicitly classified documents. Personally, I'd be using them to hide the bodies of my enemies. But then, I don't have any man-sized safes. Nor any enemies, really. Senator Patrick Leahy - whom Cheney himself had told to go fuck himself some years ago on the floor of Congress - has hit him with a subpoena. But will it make any difference? Probably not, given the administration's penchant for waving their hands and erasing any efforts to check their corruption with ease that puts even Harry Potter to shame. Case in point? The effective near-pardoning of Scooter Libby. And Bush hasn't ruled out a full pardon yet either. One needs not look even months ago to recall their simply brushing off efforts to get rid of Alberto "The Geneva Convention is quaint and outdated!" Gonzales.

Suffice to say, it's a scary time to be an American. (And this is merely speaking as a white middle-class male, no less. Things are even grimmer for women and minorities with the continuing attacks on women's rights - especially in regards to sexual health - and efforts to twist the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in a recent ruling rolling back parts of Brown v. The Board of Education, a case that like Roe v. Wade, should be effectively untouchable.) The Bush administration has dismantled the system we've been so proud of for so long - despite its flaws - with the greatest of ease, consolidating a dangerous amount of power through dirty partisan politics. They played the American people for suckers, and they didn't even have to cheat us the second time around. All they had to do was bandy about bullshit about "supporting the troops," which is nothing more than an empty catchphrase now synonymous with "don't question the Republicans," despite that this Vietnam-esque quagmire of an occupation they've trapped us in has no happy ending. We can't bring back our dead men and women, nor the appalling numbers of innocent Iraqi civilians we've butchered over there. The administration isn't listening to the people, nor acting in their interests, despite the role of the government traditionally being to serve its people. The approval ratings say it all, frankly. But these are not people who've any regard for the interests of the American people anymore. And they likely did not to begin with, given how quick they were to abuse the support they received in the furor following September 11th. And how many people have looked back at the tragic series of events that day, and really wondered why it happened? What have we learned from it? Very little, it seems. And until partisan bickering ends - when at this rate, there's no sign of that - there's little hope.

For many, the election we have coming up in November 2008 represents hope, whether you're supporting Obama, Hillary, Paul, or any of the other candidates promising change. But will we really see that change? The Democrats won the Senate last November by a small margin, but it hasn't changed much. They took the House by a far more solid majority, and they've been trying to push progress in whatever ways they could. But the House alone can do very little. It's hard to say now the American people will react to this. Will we vote for third party candidates and perhaps bring in our first Green Party president? Not likely. Real democracy is choked by our two party system. So that leaves us with two options - keep voting Democrat and hope they can fulfill those promises, or switch parties like Canadians did not too long ago in response to Liberal Party corruption.

Best case scenario, we'll see the left get a real voice again and take the government back, and we could see a rise in respect for centrism in frustration with how much damage partisan politics has done to our country. But even then, the Supreme Court is firmly in the far right's grasp now. That presents a serious long-term dilemma for any future left-leaning administrations to reckon with. But it also provides an insanely solidified amount of power for the current administration. At best, we'll see a somewhat crippled left-leaning political force in power, at worst, a continuation further into near-authoritarian right-wing domination and oppression, down this path the Bush administration has set America on. The leading Republican candidates seem to be largely running on continuing the Bush administration legacy. If one of these guys wins, whether legitimately or by foul play - as this administration has shown they are not above on many occasions - America is in trouble. Cheating would not be hard to foresee, given that this administration certainly would not want to hand any Democrat or left-wing candidate the kind of power they've secured for themselves. Absolute worst case scenario, they could quite possibly simply suspend elections, after keeping us at terror alert red as they have for so long now, simply looking to frighten the American people into supporting them, as has been a long-standing tactic of theirs. That would easily cement an effective dictatorship. Far-fetched? Yes. But a lot of things they've done lately would seem pretty far-fetched if you'd suggested them years ago. At this point, all bets are off when it comes to just how low this administration will sink. And hence, the fear for the future that comes with being an American today - one who values things like Civil Rights, and dislikes xenophobia, anyway.

Don't let anyone scare or bully you into voting for them in 2008 by referencing the events of 9/11. Things need to change, and at this point, bringing it up in debate is nothing short of insulting. "9/11 changed everything?" All that's come out of it in the end is political abuse of the tragedy, which is a disservice to everyone who died that day and their surviving families. It's a cheap shot and nothing more. We could stand to learn the value of peace as a nation. A tragedy like that should have been an opportunity to come together in mourning and mutual acknowledgment of how little violence accomplishes. But instead, the violence-obsessed nation and culture we are, we rose up together in the name of vengeance. Instead of reexamining ourselves as Americans, and all that we associate with our national identity, we rose up to attack the first country the White House pointed their finger at. Afghanistan. I didn't oppose the war there, and it was certainly good that we removed the Taliban for power. But to what ends? We never caught Osama Bin Laden, and he seems to be a relatively low priority these days. It's better to have an uncatchable target and a vague enemy - such as a concept like terrorism - to declare never ending war upon. Another step towards becoming a simple military state. But what will happen as we continue to completely exhaust our military? Another unpredictable, complicated factor.

The Bush administration deftly used our anger following the September 11th attacks to further their own corrupt agenda. That, we now know. But the question remains - what can we do? It seems as though no matter what the American people call through, whether through legislation or activism, we cannot make a difference, and that our voice does not matter. The entire now-broken political system is a joke. So we simply give up and absorb ourselves in our escapist fantasy popular culture, the Hollywood Blockbusters, TV dramas and dumb comedies, and so much more. Our love of escapism pervades American culture today, at times to its detriment. But it provides the escape we need from the crippling depression of American politics today.

And so in the end, what is July 4th? Perhaps it's simply becoming a day of mourning, while we theatrically celebrate a besmirched legacy as though nothing's changed. We choke our arteries with the cholesterol of freedom, watch our war movies that celebrate our militaristic culture, and we never stop to question who we are, and where we're going as a nation. People interpret questioning as a character flaw, after all, as insecurity. We devalue questioning our actions and mistakes over stubbornly sticking to our guns. And this is where it's led us. The future is uncertain and grim. But all of us who know these things, all we can do is keep trying to do what little we can. What little hope this nation has may lie in a complete overthrow - a new American Revolution - to weed out corruption and fix the system. But America today is not a nation of incensed political revolutionaries, we're a nation of people disillusioned with and apathetic to politics today. It's all a game - no matter which team you vote for, you lose. So we absorb ourselves in our escapist popular culture, whatever we can do to distract ourselves from a darker reality and uncertain future and maintain some degree of peace of heart. What we lack today is moderation, having crossed the line between healthy and unhealthy escapism. Call our culture what you will - selfish, greedy, shallow, self-absorbed. These are all legitimate criticisms, we're a fucking mess. But when you look at where we are, and where we're headed, why we have such a culture and act in such a way makes sense. And it's heartbreaking. The American soul itself, in a manner of speaking, is dying. And very possibly the nation with it.

I'd like to end with some sort of hopeful, reassuring message, but it's far too complicated and uncertain to be able to say that everything will be okay in the end. There's a very good chance that it won't. So all I can ask is for all of you to simply hang in there. Do what you can to make this country - and this world - a better place. Even if you can't do much, don't stop trying, even if it's hopeless. It's the only shot we have at creating hope in this dark reality. Don't feel bad for enjoying escapist hobbies, movies, TV, video games, books, and virtually everything else. After all, these are things we still enjoy, and can be quite important to us as individuals. There's no such thing as a perfect society where we're all faceless cogs in a machine living in a workers' paradise. There is no utopia. But we've dug ourselves into a deep, dark hole as a nation. In and of that, all we can do is do what we can, and do our best, vague as these statements are. "What we can" and "our best," these are things that vary from individual to individual, after all. If America is ever to return to any of the beautiful but difficult ideals it stands for, it's a battle that individuals must first fight within themselves as people. And if there's ever to be any hope, this is a battle that must be won.

(Looks like this one turned out vastly longer than planned. The next one won't be so tough to get through, I promise.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Words Tumbled Out

The time has come.

Like spring-loaded snakes in a pistachio can, the Spiral Reverie musings launch onto that glorious, glorious information superhighway. Or at least, what those poor fools once thought it might amount to before pornography and empty promises of free consumer goods choked the old series of tubes to its demise. Its saving grace? Cat macros. Don't agree? Go huff some paint, or stick some marbles up your nose, then we'll talk.


One's cue to reference Shakespeare. In my case, I'd settle for a less dreaming and more pure, blank slumber. Following my attendance of a local Japanese animation convention in late May, Animazement, illness hit me over the back of the head with a shovel. Again. Not a recommended experience.

Recovery dragged its feet, but eventually caught up after receiving anonymous threats of brutal violence. I don't know where they came from. Perhaps we'll never know. Perhaps, even, these threats are simply the forces of nature speaking directly to one's distorted circadian rhythms in the only way it knows how - through excessive profanity, vodka, and finger puppet theater. Alas, we mere mortals may never be able to understand these forces of nature and their mysterious ways, but one thing's for certain - they need a new therapist or I'm calling the cops. Regardless, these aforementioned threats certainly weren't an inane attempt at comedy concocted by my imagination when trying to write a compelling opening entry in an online blog through which I am pursuing my ambitions, nosirree. Knowing that, you can rest easy.

Suffice to say, fortune has a way of playing pranks on me, many of which, I am not too fond of. As such, just as I was celebrating the return of my health, fortune pulled that normal-sleep rug out from beneath my feet. Like something out of a bad sci-fi flick, a convenient barrier appeared around my brain, which repelled all sleep signals. Following a proper classic sci-fi narrative, I would have to enter Jedi training, which entails learning to levitate boxes, waving around a flashlight, and developing an incredibly dull personality for the prequel trilogy. If you're really good, you get to turn evil, then chuck the old guy you answer to off a balcony while your forces are easily defeated by little bears in a forest. Not exactly a swank occupation.

Of course, seeing as nobody's developing these convenient special powers in reality yet, rather than follow the path of the Jedi, I was left with the only real option the sleep-deprived have to turn to - drugs. Naturally, this is the part of the blog entry where it all starts to come together with the simple epiphany: "This guy's gotta be a crackhead!" Sorry to disappoint you, but this is one aspiring author who does no hard drugs. And in fact, no drugs at all. So I lied to you before. Disillusionment sets in. You begin to question everything you know. If you can't trust this weirdo on the internet, who can you trust? Certainly not the government. And the fiber optic cables are buzzing with the suggestion that librarians may, in fact, be hiding something. While you ponder this, I'll continue my train of thought.

Sleep aid-oriented dietary supplements - do they work!? Having been on them for the better part of a month now, I couldn't really tell you. At best, they seem to make my mind fuzzy. At worst, they seem to impede sleep entirely with the odd feelings they produce. Neither flips my brain's power switch into the "off" position. At nearly a month of out of control insomnia - which is much worse than a more pleasant controlled insomnia - frustration has begun to set in.

First off, there's Valerian Root, which both smells and tastes terrible for the split second the capsule rests on your tongue. Having not taken it on its own before, it's hard to say what it does beyond simply make me tired. Side effects include depression and apathy. Roughly status quo for myself, but I find myself wondering if the downturns in my trains of thought when trying to sleep aren't partially to be blamed on the root. Not to mention, getting out of bed is even more difficult, whether I slept or not. I also seem to be sprouting a pair of antlers on top of my skull. I'm beginning to suspect there's witchcraft and trickery involved those bastards behind the product have opted to leave off the label. I, for one, have no interest in becoming some sort of freakish half-elk/half-human man-beast. Given that this is the internet, there are doubtlessly individuals who have a fetish for these sorts of monsters, and these people will find this entry and be disappointed by its utter lack of detailed erotic fiction involving weird animal-human hybrids and possibly Mr. Spock. But Leonard Nimoy would not approve, and neither do I! For shame, websurfer, for shame, I say! Seek help. And also buy my book when it's released.

Then there's Melatonin, a natural chemical produced by the brain to help you sleep in the dark. And personally, I think a concussion would be a more effective sleep aid, though I keep taking it. Sure, it makes you a little groggy, but it still doesn't push you into sleep territory. It's a feeling I prefer to liken to the experience of being General Custer at his last stand. Except you want the natives to kill you, but no matter what you do, they won't, the jerks. The major side effect of Melatonin? Freakish, vivid dreams in the off-chance you actually manage to get some sleep. The kind of dreams that ensure you won't feel rested when you wake up. Par example, just a few days ago, I dreamed I was stuck in one of the Castlevania video games I was playing in the previous week. I was perfectly aware that I was stuck in a video game setting the entire time. Even the reality of the dream itself was rendered as in the game. An odd enough experience, as despite being an avid gamer geek, I rarely hit that sad level where I dream of video games. But the undead just kept sneaking up behind me. It was a futile exercise, and when I woke up, I felt in no way rested. Melatonin strikes me as not worth its side effects, and seems as though it would make sleep even more difficult to achieve if taken for a longer period of time.

The sleep I relish comes free of dreams, the sort of sleep where you simply drift off, then wake up when you're good and ready, with nothing in between. Rarely do I dream otherwise, save but for the occasional vision from my anxieties stemming from long term unrequited love never confessed. Until the publishing of Project 27 Days, whatever its final title ends up being, that is. Perhaps then, I'll yet have the slightest shot at reaching her heart. But that's another story, for another day.

The lesson to be learned from this opening blog entry? Sleep. Just do it. Don't question it. Also, something about snow goons being bad news, I think. If you survived such an inane opening entry, you should consider yourself an individual of great mental fortitude. And maybe partially retarded.

That said, I suppose I should formally introduce myself. I'm Benjamin Fennell, eccentric and aspiring author extraordinaire. If you gleaned any sort of enjoyment from what I've written so far, anyway, feel free to stick around. It'll get less dense and stuffy yet, I swear. Just breaking into this more professional-level blogging stuff, after all. And watch for my book! Writers of words seek those who would read them. And I'm actually kinda capable of being funny, sort of, some of the time, anyway. And if it's one thing we all know people are good at, it's settling for less. It's what America was built on, after all.