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Media

Star Wars: The Force Awakens–Discussion with Spoilers

Saw it last night. So, what do you think?

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Media

On Not Seeing Fantastic Four

Every once in a while, Hollywood pulls in all its resources, organizes itself, and everything comes together to create a perfect movie to skip. Last night, I really enjoyed not seeing Fantastic Four. I can’t tell you any details about it (because, you know, I didn’t see it), but I can say that I’ve rarely had such a wonderful time not seeing a movie.  Now, I admit, I was a little worried before not going into the theater.  I had earlier not seen Ant Man and I still have sort of mixed feelings about it.  Would not seeing this be more rewarding?  Well, I shouldn’t have concerned myself–from the time the lights didn’t go out, I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be.
 
It opened with me not being there, and I was instantly enthralled.  To be fair, there was a moment about half an hour in where I regretted not having any popcorn, but then I remembered that I had my own popcorn. I made it, and from then on, not seeing the movie was simply an utter delight.  By the time the movie was over, all I could do was sit there and say, “Wow.  And I still haven’t seen it.”  I assure you, this is an experience I’m going to not carry with me for the rest of my life.
 
I understand we all have different tastes, but if you’re like me, then you must not pass up your chance to not see Fantastic Four. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
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Media

We’d Watch These

A sampling of television programs Steve and Jen are looking forward to in the coming season:

Arc of My Heart: A teen historical romance following Joan of Arc and her high school class as they discover love and fight the English.

Ep 01: “Pilot.” In 1428, Joan and her classmates enter their junior year at Orleans High, home of the Fighting Maids. Joan has no plans to marry, as she is saving herself to be a magical paladin-bride to Jesus, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t interested in the latest dresses and helping her friends Margaret and Catherine catch husbands! Margaret has her eye on the Archangel Michael, who is secretly the bastard half-brother of Louis, Duke of Orleans, but he’s been promised to Tiffany, the mean blonde handmaiden of the Duchess. Can the ladies finish their alchemy homework before English bowmen attack?

Ep 04: “The Rose.” Joan’s encounter with the handsome garrison commander has her questioning the value of holy virginity. Handmaiden Tiffany is with child, possibly by the mad Headmaster Charles VI, freeing Michael to court Margaret, but Joan has a vision and is forced to decide whether to tell them that their romance could doom all of France. There is a mystery beast from the forest terrorizing the teachers’ lounge.

Ep 10: “Redder Than Blood.” Now secretly wed to the Dauphin, Joan travels to Burgundy with Catherine and Michael’s half-angel infant daughter in a desperate bid to raise troops. Michael continues building Joan’s +2 Armor of Siege-Lifting in shop class, but runs into trouble when mad Headmaster Charles VI starts asking too many questions. The mystery beast from the forest turns out to be a friendly highwayman who teaches the handmaidens a very special lesson about disability and Christmas, which may have been inside them all along. (Guest star: Aldis Hodge)

*****

Mercutio and the Nurse: He’s one of the finest blades in Verona, she’s a foul-mouthed dry nurse. Together, they fight crime.

Ep 01: “Pilot.” Friar Laurence goes missing. Notes are delivered to Capulet and Montague that they must each produce 1,000 ducats, and deliver them together, or the friar will be killed. Capulet and Montague, though both fond of Laurence, will not cooperate. Can Mercutio and the Nurse find the kidnapper in time?

Ep 02: “Too Too Flimsy Evidence.” A mysterious stranger comes to town and reveals himself to be a prince. Mercutio and the Nurse must accompany him to Denmark to solve the mystery of his father’s murder, lest he take the law into his own hands, with dire consequences for all.

Ep 09: “When In Florence.” Mercutio and the Nurse receive an urgent message from their friends Leo and Nick, who have been accused of fomenting rebellion against Pope Alexander VI. Can their innocence be proved? (crossover)

*****

Leo and Nick: In this screwball comedy set in Renaissance Italy, Leonardo da Vinci is an expert on everything except politics, and Niccolo Machiavelli is a political fixer. Along with papal spy Lucrezia Brogia and her well-meaning but bumbling brother Cesare, what will they get up to next?

Ep 01: “Pilot.” Leo and Nick decide that the best way to give Florence access to the sea is to reroute the Arno River. Everything is going fine until Cesare Borgia shows up to help. Hijinks ensue.  Meanwhile, Lucrezia searches the papal residence for a “B” plot.

Ep 02: “Been Weighting Long Enough.” When Leo invents an anti-gravity device, Cesare Borgia accidentally flies off in it. Nick has to keep the secret from his girlfriend Lucrezia until Leo can find a way to get him back.

Ep 10: “Questionable Taste.” Leo invents a time machine, and he and Nick travel to the New World in the 21st Century. In a place called Louisiana, they meet a Moor who is surrounded by vampires. Charmed by his jambalaya and his strangely enjoyable smoke, they decide to save him. (crossover)

*****

True Weed: In this “True Blood” spinoff, Lafayette cooks and deals his way from one side of the country to the other, helping those in need with his wisdom and outstanding stash.

Ep 01: “Pilot.” While passing through Austin, Texas, Lafayette meets a group of hipsters who plan to steal his dope. He is warned by Byron, a handsome stranger in cowboy boots. Lafayette must hang onto his weed while teaching them about fair play and how to cook crayfish.

Ep 2: “And Vine.” Lafayette and his new sidekick Byron reach Hollywood and run into a bunch of studio executives. This is his chance to convince them to make the “Black Widow” movie we’ve all been dreaming of. His pot is good, but is it good enough? (Guest star: Scarlett Johansson)

Ep 11: “Hearts and Minds.” Lafayette and Byron arrive in New York City. A famous TV personality is on a campaign to tighten drug laws. Lafayette goes on his show and wins his heart with his famous Cajunburgers. But he’s put something extra into the dessert. Will it be enough to change the TV personality’s mind? Meanwhile, Byron insists they visit Times Square for reasons of his own. (Guest star: Larry King)

*****

Sons of Piety: This steamy crime drama features Pilgrims as you’ve never seen them before. Through witch trials, gang wars, and international ergotphetamine smuggling deals, one family will learn that loyalty and progress are the most important values.

Ep 01: “Upon This Plymouth Rock.” Goody and Goodman Teller rule crime in the north side of Plymouth Rock, from manufacture of forbidden Catholic dispensations to black market trade in maize and flax. The family’s daughters Elizabeth and Abigail have just invented eyeliner, and combined with their boredom from being confined to narrow-minded gender roles, trouble is brewing and bubbling double-time.

Ep 02: “The Trial.” The girls have accused their mother Tara of witchcraft, along with Wendy the Cook. The town tattoo artist is accused of slipping the devil’s mark into tattoos. Plymouth Rock might be shattered by the accusations, especially when famous traveling barrister Alan Shoreman comes to defend them. (Guest star: James Spader)

Ep 10: “New Kids on the Block.” When five handsome Quakers arrive with a musical message of peace and love, they’ve got it–the right stuff, that is. Many of Jax’s foot soldiers start hangin’ tough with the Friends. Worse, Jax suspects Goody Tara of having pantsfeelings for their leader Jonathan. Does she want to be his girl? Will the fight get bloody, or will Jonathan talk Jax into a dance-off? (Guest stars: Donny Wahlberg, Jonathan Knight)

Categories
Art Media Politics

Baltimore, The Nation, The Wire

Following a link on Making Light, I just read this piece from The Nation. It brings up a number of interesting questions about police violence, about art in general and The Wire in particular, and about The Nation.

Before I get into what I think is the main point of the essay I want to discuss something that appears early in the article. Dave Zirin, the author of the essay, is speaking of how Baltimore residents he knows feel about The Wire, and relates being told that, “living in Baltimore was a struggle and the idea of anyone making commerce out of their pain was simply not their idea of entertainment.”

This is a very telling remark. It relates closely to much that I’ve heard about “cultural appropriation.” Let us perform a thought experiment: take “commerce” out of the sentence I quoted above and replace it with “art.” At this point, it seems to me that any reasonable person would have an attitude something like, “Well, that depends how good and how honest the art is.” It now becomes clear that the issue is commerce. We are all aware of the multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry, and the idea of human misery being exploited to increase their profits naturally turns our stomachs. But there is the corporation, and there is the writer; the conglomerate and the artist. They work together, they are in conflict, they need each other, they battle each other. So long as we live in a capitalist society, artists cannot, in general, create their art unless they are paid for it (to be sure, there are exceptions, but none of these exceptions are on major television networks).

My point is this: artistic problems with depictions of exploitation in art are about honesty, integrity, sensitivity, and technique: how effectively are you telling the truth? Moral problems with depictions of exploitation in art are a problem of capitalism. If you remove the profit motive  you also remove the moral issue.  Of course, it needs to be stated  that the only way to remove the profit motive is to destroy capitalism, which would likewise remove any reason for those conditions to exist in the first place.  I hope we can all agree that the existence of poverty and oppression is a far bigger problem than if and how it is depicted! Those who object loudest to “cultural appropriation” are those who accept capitalism as permanent, and thus consider the inhuman conditions caused by capitalism to be unalterable.

Let’s move on.  The thrust of the article is that there are two flaws in the TV show The Wire that seriously undermine its value in the eyes of Mr. Zirin: that it understates the level of police violence, and that its central focus is on how individuals are crushed by systems while it ignores “grassroots organizations who have, in a state of MSM invisibility, been building movements for years to fight poverty, end street violence, and challenge police brutality.”  Let us consider the first of these points.

In the article, Mr. Zirin observes that the police in Baltimore are, in fact, far worse than depicted on The Wire. I’m glad to know Mr. Zirin is finally aware of this, though it makes me wonder just where he’s been hiding until now. And yet, the central issue is this: a major television show depicted police violence, not as an aberration, but as part of a system. And did so with good writing, sympathetic characters (brilliantly played by some amazing actors), and genuine heart. Certainly, it would have been better if it had been more honest–if the innate viciousness inherent in the need to constantly terrorize and oppress those who have been discarded by capitalism had been even more highlighted. But there is no understanding of history or art without context, and a critical evaluation of The Wire needs to begin, in my opinion, by recognizing that this is the first time there has appeared on US television a program showing the police that didn’t simply assume they–or, at any rate, the majority of them–were heroes whom all ought to respect and admire, even if there is, here and there, a “bad apple.”

But the second point is more significant, and cuts to the heart of the matter.  In speaking of his “grassroots organizations” he says, “But when bureaucracies battle social movements, the results can be quite different.” At this point, I want to ask the author just what movements he has in mind and what those movements have accomplished lately? If these social movements are doing so well, Mr. Zirin, what led to the explosion of protests–some of them violent–that caused your epiphany?

“Why were those fighting for a better Baltimore invisible to David Simon? …those fighting for their own liberation? Why was The Wire big on failed saviors and short on those trying to save themselves?”

It is valid to ask that of Mr. Simon, and in my opinion the answer has to do with his own limitations: he cannot see beyond  capitalism, and thus can see no way forward for the “human refuse” capitalism produces.  In my opinion, it is very much to his credit that he shows them, and shows them as human beings, rather than stereotypes.

But I would also like to address the same question to Mr. Zirin.  Why have there been no effective mass movements against police violence, unemployment, grinding poverty?  When he refers to “social movements” it is vague.  And that is exactly the point.  He seems to be speaking of some sort of, “people getting together to do something,” without a particular purpose, direction, program. This is important: what first brings people together in opposition to cruelty and injustice might be anger, desperation, the desire for justice.  But those feelings, powerful as they are, never last beyond the short-term.  What holds a movement together long enough to accomplish change is it’s program; and when there is no program, there is nothing to hold a movement together.  Under those conditions, what does the movement do?  Sometimes it dissipates into apathy.  Sometimes it explodes into justified but unproductive violence.  Sometimes it is swallowed up by an organization that can make the right-sounding noises and actually has a program in place–such as the Democratic Party.

There have been many such movements in the past, and they have all led to the same place: back into the safe, non-threatening waters of the two major parties of big business.    Why have there been no effective movements of the oppressed in recent years?  The answer to that question is: so far, those “fighting for their own salvation” have been stuck in protest politics and identity politics and efforts to pressure the Democratic Party. It is no accident that this essay appears in The Nation–a magazine that epitomizes exactly that: the drive to harness and control the legitimate outrage of the most conscious elements of the oppressed and divert it harmlessly into the left wing of the Democratic Party. That is exactly The Nation’s agenda. And the results? Is Mr. Zirin aware that Baltimore is controlled by Democratic Party politicians? That the mayor is African-American?  That more than 40% of the Baltimore police force is African American, including the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner? That is the result of his “social movements.” How has that worked out for you, Baltimore?

Here the ultimate cynicism of this essay is revealed: He asks why “social movements” are ignored by The Wire. The answer is because they have had no effect, and that is because, hitherto, these movements have been led into a dead end because of exactly the sort of politics Mr. Zirin is advocating: the empty, formless, content-free “social movement.”  And, like all pseduo-left radicals, the working class–the one force in contemporary society that is actually capable of effectively fighting the attacks of capital–appears nowhere in his essay or his perspective.  Like all of those who are frightened for their middle-class positions, nothing terrifies him as much as a working class that is fighting independently of the capitalist parties.   Today as the working class is becoming more angry by the day, and are showing signs of beginning to organize, the desperation of forces like Zirin and The Nation to do anything, anything to keep the rage of the oppressed safely confined within capitalist channels becomes almost palpable.

The problems of Baltimore–of police violence–will not be solved by “social movements” in the abstract–but by united action of the working class and the oppressed following a program that rejects the two parties of big business. The oppressed have no way forward today except by organizing and uniting under a socialist program. And among those who have to be fought are those who would lie and mislead us, with The Nation at the top of that list.

Categories
Art Books characterization Incrementalists Media

The Incrementalists Audiobook Giveaway Contest

Okay, first of all, let me say that I am love with the audiobook. I’ve now listened to it twice, and Mary Robinette Kowal and Ray Porter do an amazing job of capturing the characters. I don’t know exactly how they do that, because their interpretations are so very different: Ray’s version of Oskar has a German accent and Mary’s doesn’t; Mary’s portrayal of Jimmy has a French accent and Ray’s doesn’t. You’d think they’d conflict, but in some weird way they compliment each other.

But the reading of the viewpoint characters: Mary’s Ren and Ray’s Phil, are where I lose the power of speech. So perfect, there needs to be a better term than perfect. There were a couple of points in there where I actually cried–and I’ve read this thing maybe a hundred times. I have no idea how they do that.

We’re giving away three copies (actually promo codes) for the book at Audible.com. We’re running three simultaneous contests here on this blog.

For those of you unfamiliar with the project, I would suggest reading the (free, of course) short story that’s up on Tor.com.  It can be found  here.

Contest 1: Suppose you were given the chance to join The Incrementalists. There’s a 50-50 shot (actually, more or less depending on how strong your personality is) that your personality would be swallowed by another and, though your memories would survive, you would be gone.  But if you did survive, you would become (at least somewhat) immortal, you would have access to memories from throughout human history, and you would be part of a small group dedicated to making the world better. Would you take the gamble? Why or why not? Maximum: 50 words

Contest 2: If you were an Incrementalist, with the power to influence individuals in subtle ways, what would be your first project? That is, what would be the first thing you did in an effort to make things just a little better? Maximum: 50 words

Contest 3: The Incrementalists have been around since the beginning of human history, trying to make things better, or make bad things a little less bad. Name one thing you’ve think they’ve done, and how could it have been worse if they didn’t?  Maximum: 100 words.

The contest will run until noon CDT on Monday, September 30, at which time Skyler and I will pick the best answer in all three categories. Post your answers here. You can answer all three, but you can only win one. Only one answer per contest per person.

Enjoy!

(Warning: If you say something really cool, Skyler and I just might steal it!)

(Note: As far as I know, audible can work on almost any device anywhere; but if I’m wrong, that’s not our problem, okay?)