Saturday, February 25, 2017

Issac Marion's Fake Trump Tweet & The Death of Political Satire

Years ago during the opening credits of one of the Halloween specials "The Simpsons" does every year, one of the many gravestones with funny messages on them featured political satire as the dearly departed. As usual, the alien time travelers who write for that show foresaw the future in hilarious and frightening ways.

At the time, political satire was still viable, despite needing occasional trips to the doctor. However, the dominance of social media, something that should have been a force for increased knowledge and understanding of parody and satire, has actually aided in the swiftly encroaching loss of this most vital component of a supposedly free society. Instead, we're now moving towards an era where all attempts at irony become fodder for an increasingly easily offended population. And political affiliation is becoming meaningless, as the so-called "snowflake" mentality is just as prevalent among those on the Right as it is on the Left.

Recently, horror author Issac Marion who wrote the surprisingly engaging zombie romance satire "Warm Bodies" dared to post a humorous dialogue between himself and *urp* President Trump. I have also used the fake Trump Tweet app a few times. To my delight, nobody could tell if they were real or not in most cases. I never created a series of them like Marion because I knew some imbecile would screenshot it and, at some point, somebody would think they were real. It never occurred to me that a new breed of imbecile would find offense in the satire itself, but that's exactly what happened to him.

In a stunning display of contextual ignorance, angry people who thought the exchange was real and jumped to Marion's defense went on the offensive, reading him the riot act for daring to indulge a fiction writing exercise designed to make a point about a subject he finds repugnant. I'd mention the irony of the invective coming from members of the Left Wing, but since irony is a rapidly diminishing resource, I don't want to waste any of it by mentioning something so obvious.

Marion  breaks down his perceived "offenses" in list form, each point more ludicrous and asinine than the last. The most telling is Point #2, wherein he addresses an accusation of spreading the now ubiquitous and soon-to-be-meaningless concept of fake news. In his analysis, Marion writes:

I am a fiction writer. I wrote a fictional dialogue and posted it on my personal Twitter account, without any surrounding context to suggest that this was a real occurrence rather than just another bit of nonsense theater squirting out of my brain. If anyone thought it really mattered, a quick click to my profile—or Trump’s—would have revealed the truth. But no one bothered to do that because IT DIDN'T MATTER.
That's right, it didn't. People are so primed for and even seduced by the very notion of outrage now that fact-checking is regarded as quaint and wasteful. Not to toot my own horn, but my first instinct was to question the veracity of the reposting. It seemed too good to be true. Trump had finally crossed the line from journalism antagonist to displaying a woeful ignorance of the fiction writing process. And he'd chosen a lesser known writer to attack! Within moments, I'd discovered the truth and guess what? I was okay with it!

Granted, I'm a fiction writer as well and, while my renown is significantly lower even than Marion's self-described low number of followers, I am at least acquainted with the creative process. I don't expect everyone else to be, elitist as that may sound to those who aren't, but satire and parody are protected by the First Amendment! That means it's something all thinking Americans and indeed humans should know about.  There is no excuse for being so wrapped up in one's personal cause that harmless and entertaining humor becomes viewed as worthy of ridicule and scorn.

We are now entering a very dangerous era and it all started when the drawings of schoolchildren containing vaguely violent imagery became calls to the police and mandatory psychiatric sessions. Think of all the people of previous generations--people like me--whose writing and drawing could have ruined their lives in such a free thought hostile environment. Now the same preposterous censorship of the darker aspects of our minds are being scrutinized in authors by over-sensitive adults with too much time on their hands. These same people actually feel the need to write "sarcasm" after their barely sarcastic comments and insist that others do the same to avoid potential offense.

Isaac Marion created a satirical piece, mostly for his own amusement. Leave him the hell alone and get over yourselves.










Friday, February 17, 2017

Being the Anniversary of the Most Difficult Loss.

Back in November of last year, I posted a tribute to my mother-in-law because it was her birthday and because she'd passed away nine months prior surrounded by loved ones. Today marks the anniversary of her passing and I think it suitable and appropriate to repost my wife's words concerning her memories of her mother and the horrible pain she is experiencing (The original post and picture of their hands follows this one):

"Tonight at 9:10pm, I watched you pass away. I grabbed your hand (Chris took the pic while crying) and immediately realized I felt the most devastating loss I could imagine. It caused a physical pain in my chest that went all the way through to my shoulders and back. I got in bed with you and held you for a while and then somehow felt a presence that never left me.
My life immediately changed forever. You weren't just my mom, you had told me since I was a tiny girl that I was... your best friend and through my entire life that it was, "Always just you and me, my girl." 


 12 months have gone by and although your constant presence has been felt by even Chris and especially the dog, I miss hearing my phone ring 5 times a day. I miss you calling me at 9pm at work to go for "just a little bite to eat," because that was our thing. Many times you would just to drive through our old neighborhood where you, me and Cliff lived. You always wanted to see the home you had to leave in 2001.


 You lived for being around people your whole life. You loved music. You loved art. You LOVED the lakes and ocean and especially the east coast. You loved lighthouses. You loved the sound of ships sounding their horns. You loved birds, penguins, elephants, and dogs and you were kind to all living creatures. You loved Winter but also the look of an English garden. You loved your faith. You loved academics. You marveled at science and even metaphysics. You had every book on longevity and the mind and you refused the idea of giving up the fight. You cried and laughed equally. We would make each other laugh and also scream our heads off at each other only to hold hands and say, "I love you forever." 


 Our song sing I was tiny was, " You and Me Against the World," and we danced to it at my wedding. I waited nearly 41 years to get married and mamma you walked me down the aisle and I would never have it any other way.


 Life has grown cold and empty for me these past 12 months and time has stood still. I don't sleep and I've somehow grown very old in my eyes. I love you, my best friend and mamma. I didn't give up on you then and my heart will never forget. Love you more.


And mamma...it's still you and me."


At 9:10pm on Wednesday, February 17th, in the year of our Lord, Two Thousand-Sixteen, my mamma and my world passed away.
A light of the world went dark and the ...spark of light in me went dark with her forever.
There are no appropriate words. There is no comfort. I've been here several times. But mamma...my mamma.
There is no mamma. I will love you with my dying breath

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On Genre Ignorance & Politics


Trigger Warning:
The following post contains a bit of name-calling and a judgmental, possibly even self-righteous tone.

There’s a reason most writers of speculative fiction, i.e. science fiction, fantasy, horror and magical realism, shudder when we hear some overpaid media pinhead use a clueless expression such as, “It’s like something out of science fiction.” It’s not because there aren’t situations that might actually call for such a dubious phrase, however. It’s because the majority of the time, it’s being used stupidly to make a point better made by just discussing the issue at hand.

The most recent example of this started with an idiot being allowed to speak for an even bigger idiot. That first idiot is Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the *urp* President of the United States. I’m pretty sure you’ve already guessed the identity of the bigger idiot. And unless you’ve been on a self-imposed media blackout the scale of which would be truly impressive as well as enviable, you are probably aware of Conway’s insistence on the existence of “alternative facts.”

Her unfortunate and no doubt intentional phrasing has entered the lexicon in a big and probably unintended way.  Instead of being a viable concept, it’s become a running gag on social media the likes of which we haven’t seen since, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Naturally, not every piece of commentary has been satiricial, and that brings me right back to where this whole thing started: This well-intentioned but ultimately clueless letter comparing science fiction to alternative facts.
 
The letter's author, one Gordon Merseth of Portland, Oregon, seems to be making a case for science fiction and the sub-genre alternate history as being akin to the altered reality the Trump administration seems hell-bent on fostering on the American public. While that attempt might seem to work on the surface, it's a specious comparison rooted in genre ignorance not unlike the writing of a certain English school principal I wrote about last year. In the minds of non-fans and even those who have little appreciation for science fiction, it is little more than a weird distortion of concrete reality bereft of rules and somehow disingenuous as a literary form.
 
Fortunately, no less than one of the greatest living science fiction authors of all time, Ursuala K Le Guin,  took Mr. Merseth to task for his lack of a foundation in the genre in a letter to his letter. In it, she wrote:
 
 The comparison won't work.  We fiction writers make up stuff. Some of it clearly impossible, some of it realistic, but none of it real - all invented, imagined --  and we call it fiction because it isn't fact. We may call some of it "alternative history" or "an alternate universe," but make absolutely no pretense that our fictions are "alternative facts."
 Even if I didn't know any better, I'd side with a woman the Library of Congress named a Living Legend because of her outstanding contributions to the world of English Literature.

I understand the desire to describe the Trump administration's blatant attempts to gaslight as many Americans as possible in terms that clearly and intelligently do so. But when someone tries to do that using concepts and forms of expression of which they are ignorant or simply misinformed, it becomes the focus rather than the original intended subject.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Quote of the Week.

"The specter of the fuming President-elect railing against fake news, this from a man who had promoted for years the lie that President Barack Obama was not American and whose speeches on the campaign trail were often Briar patches of mendacity - was an irony verging on Shakespearean tragedy. But if Mr. Trump and his inner circle think that this type of authoritarian behavior will cow the press, I think they will find it will only embolden us."

-Dan Rather

Monday, January 9, 2017

A First Impression Review of "Star Wars: Rogue One"

Two days after "Rogue One" opened, I submitted this review to a movie site I used to write for. Three weeks later it still sat unacknowledged and unpublished, so I removed it and am  publishing it here instead. Please keep in mind these are my initial reactions to the movie and I am planning to go back and see it a second time. This is the first "Star Wars" film I haven't seen more than once within nearly a month of its release, so it should be obvious I was underwhelmed.

A second, likely shorter review, will follow this one once I've given it a second chance.

Review:


Ever since George Lucas sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney for a, in retrospect, ridiculously low sum of $4 billion, equal amounts of fans cried foul and raised their glasses in celebration. What would the House of Mouse do to the beloved space fantasy franchise. Would it be the savior for those who disliked the prequels or would it take a concept that was specific to its creator and start churning out by-the-numbers films every so often?
 
We are now two movies in to the Disney Era and it’s still too soon to answer that question. What we do know is there has been a successful saga relaunch in the form of Episode VII and a stand-alone adventure that appears poised to once again make gobs of money at the box office.  At this point, it’s a built-in moneymaker.  But is it any good?
 
Well, yes. And no.
 
The elements are certainly all there.  The film takes place between Episodes III and IV, at the very end of that twenty-year period where Emperor Palpatine is cementing his hold on the galaxy with the help of his physically and emotionally damaged apprentice Darth Vader.  This is the story of how the Rebellion got ahold of the Death Star plans, eventually succeeding in blowing it to hell and showing the galaxy they meant business.
 
It’s a story many Star Wars fans wanted told.  And in this era of nobody seeming to believe there should be any mystery in life and that every moment and nuance needs to be expanded upon, this was a wise move on Disney’s part regarding launching a stand-alone series of movies.  It’s also painfully unnecessary.
 
Because “Rogue One” isn’t a story that had to be told, it feels suspiciously like fan fiction.  Certainly there’s a different tone to this one; it’s a war movie featuring the requisite disposable characters based around a deadly, hopeless mission that will change the tide of the war. The stakes are suitably high, the battles are executed with great skill and the dialogue is serviceable without being memorable.  So, why isn’t it a better movie?
 
Story- Tony Gilroy who write the first two Jason Bourne movies as well as the stand-alone The Bourne Legacy has never been known for his breakneck pacing. He also tends to take long, unnecessary side-trips in his narratives. And while he is one of two writers of Rogue One’s screenplay, his earmarks are all over it. Thus we get a story that is somehow plodding yet moves too quickly without ever establishing motivations beyond the superficial needs of the Rebellion and the Empire and the supposed main character Jyn Erso (more on her later).
 
Directing- There’s no other way to put this now that he’s been given three chances to prove himself: Gareth Edwards is a sub-par director. He frames his shots well enough, although he tends to have an over-reliance on close-ups during scenes where a larger scope would be more effective. His major fault lies with the performances he gets from his actors. In a word, they’re terrible. Nobody expects Edwards to be a Kubrick or Ridley Scott-type director tormenting his actors with take after take, but Edwards’ takes seem almost Ed Wood-like in the settling that takes place. He also has a rare talent for taking what should be the most exciting portion of a film and rendering it about as interesting as watching C-Span.
 
Casting and Acting- There’s a lot of online chatter about the quality of acting in the Star Wars movies, especially the prequels. However, since this is a completely different type of film in the franchise, it’s fair to judge the acting in it without comparing it to the other Saga films. Felicity Jones is Jyn Erso, the daughter of the scientist whose work and research helped make the Death Star operational. She is supposedly a tough, take-no-crap orphan who was rescued by a militant rebel extremist named Saw Gerra (Forrest Whitaker). Jones is unconvincing and unlikable in the role and never once does it seem like she’s there for anything expect to collect a paycheck. Whitaker is just weird and off-putting. Deigo Luna is flat and uninteresting as Captain Andor, Riz Ahmed is laughably unconvincing as the defecting Imperial with no motivation ever explained, Alan Tudyk as the voice of K-2SO has insured that Jar Jar Binks can no longer be called the most annoying franchise character and Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen steal the show. Basically, with two exceptions, the main rebels stink.
Ben Mendelsohn as Director  Orson Krennic is a wonderful Imperial villain. Mads Mikkelson is utterly wasted as Galen Erso, but that’s clearly an editing issue.
 
Characters- One thing Star Wars movies have always done well is give us characters we care about. Until now. This particular band of doomed rebels is about as interesting as watching Whiteout dry. This is probably the best example of the lazy filmmaking on display here. Obviously it’s assumed that the concept overrides the characters, so even in a film populated by clich├ęs and dullards, the viewer is so consumed with how those Death Star plans were obtained that we’ll all be riveted.
 
Saga Tie-ins- This film is easily the one most filled with fanboy porn. There are more Episode IV cameos than one should expect, from a decidedly creepy Peter Cushing to all the pilots from the original to a certain main character whose CGI appearance at the end if bizarre and jarring. Darth Vader is on hand, although criminally under-utilized, and his appearance adds more bafflement to the story than it clears up. Still one cannot deny the utter coolness of his final scene in the movie.
 
Third Act- Disney demanded some reshoots of this film and it shows. The third act, which should have been a smaller, guerilla warfare conclusion, turns into one of the largest space battles in the franchise’s history. Why is that a huge miscalculation?
 
Inconsistencies- Simply put, this movie goes too big. It should have never been a film with a huge climatic battle sequence. This was supposed to be about a small tactical group of rebels ready to die in service of their cause. Instead, years of Star Wars history is reversed as we suddenly realize there was a pretty sizable rebel fleet before Episode IV. This renders the whole concept of there never having been much of a rebellion until after the destruction of the Death Star meaningless. Not to mention the pedestrian way the whole thing is dealt with at the end of the film. More lazy filmmaking on display. Also, there’s the issue of the prequel-level skillset of Darth Vader on display that is suddenly absent in Episode IV and the inclusion of Mon Mothma who is nowhere to be found during the Battle of Yavin.
 
Ultimately, “Rogue One” is a mediocre side-trip into the Star Wars universe that feels more like watching someone play a video game than a film with any dramatic stakes or relatable moments. It cements Gareth Edwards as a journeyman version of Chris Nolan and reminds us that what makes these movies work isn’t just a bunch of nifty ideas.

Friday, December 9, 2016

An Intelligent Response to the Moronic White Supremacist Call to Boycott Star Wars Rogue One

The history of science fiction, as a genre, has always held within it a firm and total denouncement of xenophobia and bigotry, and a boundless optimism for a pluralistic universe of possibilities.

Whether it is the extreme pluralism presented in the Star Wars universe, or the quasi-utopia of the Federation in Star Trek, or the much more blatant and outright denouncement of ultra-nationalism and fascism presented in Babylon 5, nearly every major science fiction narrative presents a denouncement against hate and those who use hate and fear as a means for accumulating power. None of this even begins to mention the history of Doctor Who as a political platform, or the works of Heinlein or Frank Herbert.

I've not yet seen Rogue One, but given the history of political undertones present in hints throughout the original trilogy, and placed front-and-center in the prequels, I wouldn't be surprised if this narrative continues here.

If those who exploit ignorance, hate and fear to justify and perpetuate their greed happen find themselves being called out in this film, or in any other, perhaps they should take a good long hard look in the mirror and ask themselves why.

- Scott Mulder