The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Don’t Think About It

watching movie popcorn

If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts, then repeat to yourself “It’s just a show, I should really just relax…”

These are the last lyrics of the theme song to Mystery Science Theater 3000. This caveat exists because the premise of the show isn’t about the setting or characters or universe. It’s about making fun of bad movies. You don’t need an aesthetic for that (and in fact, RiffTrax and Cinematic Titanic have proven you don’t). It’s just some pleasant decoration around the content. A wrapper. It’s not meant to be thought about.

And yet people do.

There are countless fan fictions, fandoms, cosplay, puppet construction, books, plays, and FAQs

Remember when Star Wars premiered? (No, probably not.) It was popular, but it was still a movie. A combination of samurai cinema and war films dumped into science fiction and goofy shit like space apes and robots with anxiety and cinnamon bun heads.

I mean, think about Darth Vader without any context. Hard to do, I know, but look at him standing there. Black boots, bulbous helmet out of Mars Attacks, laser sword, and a cape. Kinda goofy, isn’t it? Then thirty years later happened and now the red & white droid that breaks down as Luke and Uncle Owen are walking away from the Jawas has a backstory. It has a backstory!

The coffee maker has an action figure. Jabba’s band has an album. More brain cells have been killed in the name of Star Wars than thinking of solutions for world peace.

The whole reason I’m thinking about this is because of the “Movies with Mikey” video essay about “Bill & Ted” in anticipation of the third movie. He’s a great analyzer but one of his repeated motifs through the piece is “don’t think about it”.

The reason is that the premise is silly. Two stoner rockers need to pass history class with an awesome presentation or the band will break up. This is a problem because, in the future, they write the song which unites the world in love and peace.

So a representative of that future gives them a time travel device so they can retrieve historical figures for their report. Straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will.

Immediately, discerning minds among you will have several questions. Is this really the best way to help Bill and Ted? Will abducting historical figures disrupt the past? Will giving them information about the future affect their work from thereon? Why are there no records of the figures talking about their adventures at the San Dimas mall? Do they need supervision operating a device that could wipe out space and time? Why is it a phone booth? (Besides ripping off Doctor Who.) How can a ten-digit number signify an exact place and time from at least 1 million BC to 2655 AD? Any point on Earth, any point in time, down to the…day? Because Rufus says to get to tomorrow, you have to dial one number higher. But then a clock for “present” San Dimas is still running? And I’m not even going to get into the fundamental questions which plague even the best stories about time travel. There’s very little about the story that makes sense (but that’s par for the course in any story involving time travel).

What does Mikey say? Don’t think about it.

Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me lampshades this specifically. As Austin is trying to understand the causality of time travel before he goes back to 1969, his boss says “I suggest you don’t worry about those things and just enjoy yourself.” Austin himself turns to the camera and, with a wink and a nod, agrees.

But I can’t enjoy myself! Because I do think about those things! My mind is trained to. It comes from all those games like Dungeons & Dragons and Chess and Magic: The Gathering where you have to remember a hundred different conditions and reactions and bonus effects and strategies that are all going on at the same time. It comes from my education as a programmer, where you’ve got to remember what fourteen million lines of code do because it’s all a Jenga tower made of spaghetti. I have to think about these things–it’s what I do!

I’m not a fan of the idea “don’t think about it” axiom when it comes to consuming media. That’s a bad path to go down.

For one thing, it lets bad media “get away with it”. Crap TV and movies only meant to exploit your attention and take your money (stuff like Reefer Madness, Mac and Me, Catwoman, Gigli, Glitter, Showgirls, Batman & Robin, and The Land Before Time 87).

For another, it’s used as a defense against people who say “How can you like this? X, Y, and Z are wrong with it. If Q is true, nothing in the plot works. How can character R be so stupid? All these plot holes and character mistakes make no sense.”

“Don’t think about it.”

For another, people love thinking about it! They must–that’s why there are shows like Nostalgia Critic and Lindsay Ellis and The Game Theorists/Film Theorists and Cinema Sins and Mythbusters. That’s why there are DVD commentaries and “behind the scenes” documentaries. Who thinks about how long Bill Murray was in a time loop in Groundhog Day? Millions of people, that’s who!

Knowing how the trick works doesn’t necessarily take away the magic. If you turn off your brain, you can’t appreciate it when they do get things right. It’s the little touches that show that people put EFFORT into the creation of the piece. That means they cared. And if they cared, you should be allowed to.

So there’s the question: Should you think about it? Should you not? Is it up to you? Does the combination of viewer and thing-being-viewed make the difference?

I think the key to remember is that no story is flawless. (“No movie is without sin.”) Citizen Kane, always considered the best of the best of the best in cinema, has a huge plot hole: the whole movie hinges on discovering the meaning of “Rosebud”, his last words. But Kane dies alone, so how does anyone know what his last words are? None of the movie should have happened.

Gone with the Wind has an electric lamp and It’s a Wonderful Life has a disappearing wreath between shots. How does Andy Dufresne reattach the Raquel Welch poster so securely after his escape in The Shawshank Redemption? In The Karate Kid, the referee explicitly states that hits to the face are not allowed. How does Daniel-san win? A glorified kick to the face. And we shall forever debate whether Jack could have fit on the door next to Rose.

Did any of these mistakes affect your enjoyment of the film? Did you even notice them? You probably will now, but how much will it change your enjoyment? Not much, I wager. Fiction helps us understand reality. Just like kittens play-fighting or your kids playing with action figures. It’s a safe space you can explore ideas or simulate new ones without hurting anyone. Everything from Casablanca to Bill and Ted.

It’s the movie’s duty to create more good parts than bad. That doesn’t mean expensive special effects or complex acting nuances. It means creating a playspace with emotional investment, rather than logical. Movies with nonsensical premises, like Mrs. Doubtfire or Edward Scissorhands or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs don’t get trashed because the story pulls you in. (And if I knew how they do it, I’d bottle it up and make a million dollars.) But I do know that without investment, your attention wanders away to the problems.

It’s like ants in your sugar. One ant can be picked out. But the more ants you have to pick out, the less appetizing the sugar gets. Or like a diamond ring–if you don’t like the husband, you start seeing the flaws in the rock.

Now, you can get TOO emotionally invested in a movie, like Star Wars or Harry Potter where it becomes your whole identity. (Also applies to things like music, sports, YouTubers, female pop artists, and podcasts–anything with a toxic fandom.) A good story brings characters to life. But when you confuse those characters with reality or choose to give up on reality and live in the illusion, that’s a problem. Especially when it starts hurting others. You choose the movie, don’t let the movie choose you.

But to say about any movie “don’t think about it” is to let others get away with poor quality and low effort. It gives carte blanche to bad actors, malevolent producers, maniacal writers, and anyone who uses story-telling to exploit people and gain money. If you don’t care about the obvious distracting flaws, why should they? That’s why people get away with The Human Centipede and Caligula and Old Fashioned (or any Pureflix movie) or The Oogieloves. They advertise nasty sex or gore-riffic violence or reaffirmation of your Christian values or 90-minute distractions for your kids.

I’m going to watch Bill and Ted 3. And I am going to think about it. And it’s up to the movie whether or not it’s earned the right to rise above the flaws & mistakes. To create give & return in the characters so that I’m no longer looking for the strings holding the flying saucers.

You can think about it too much, but you should always think about it.

The Flaw in the Defense of “Cuties”

cuties fruit orange citrus

Anyone justifying the existence of Cuties is missing a crucial aspect of the puzzle. The plot is the same thing as “Bend It Like Beckham”, but meaner. We all know the huge problem with it–it sexualizes twelve- and thirteen-year-olds in the context of modern dance.

Its defenders say the movie is actually a critique of the hypersexualization young women. That it’s presenting the content in a negative light. It’s about the “dangers” of such activity.

That’s bullshit.

There are 2-3 minute montages of them dancing outside, on stairs, on a stage. Wearing revealing outfits. Twerking, thrusting their hips, gesturing to their vaginas. That’s not criticism, that’s a music video.

You know how I know? You could tell the same story using magic and nothing would have to change. Have the girls practice close-up illusions, card tricks, coin tricks, prestidigitation, escapology, levitation through a hula hoop, street/guerilla performances. Have them trick the security guard by doing the “pick a card” routine and he’s so impressed he leaves them alone. Montages of cards flying through the air, getting trapped in the box, as they learn their skills. You could even keep the same “rebelling against religious values” theme since magic is “witchcraft” or “grifting”. And the ending is a bunch of adorable little Zatannas on stage doing their final routine. Instead of debasing women, it’s empowering.

Another reason how I know? No one ever has experiences any negative consequences for their actions. In fact, the characters are rewarded. They twerk for a security guard to get out of trouble. One takes a cell phone pictures of her genitals and posts it to social media to get popular. The main character pushes someone in the river. They take a picture of a boy’s private parts.

No one ever gets in trouble for this. The movie never shows “Thirty Years Later” when they’re all strippers and strung out on heroin.

Another, less used defense is that the film is French, so there’s a cultural divide in how sexuality is perceived over there. I say, if this is acceptable content in your culture, maybe your culture sucks. Just because it won a Sundance award doesn’t mean quality. Suicide Squad won an Oscar too.

Don’t pretend this movie is trying to be Kids. The intended audience is the same as the child beauty pageant judges in South Park’s “Dead Celebrities” episode.

The Books I Read: July – August 2020

bookshelf books
Part of Your World: A Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell

So there’s this “Twisted Tale” series from Disney books that’s essentially all about screwing the heroines out of their happy ending and making the story “what if” instead. I don’t know why Disney’s trying to do this. To reach a mature audience you have to make everything grimdark and miserable? The first series was villain-focused with works like “The Beast Within” and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and then a YA adventure of Disneyland crossed with “they only come out at night”. I hated all of them passionately.

I did not hate this.

In fact, I kind of like it. It’s like a Twilight Zone sequel to “The Little Mermaid” — what if Ariel lost? The writing feels more gothic and less modern, more ornate and unnecessarily lengthy (probably because someone’s trying to make a word count). But the story stays moving.

It lacks the sense of Disney whimsy that makes the first one magical. Sebastian’s now an old fuddy-duddy, not a wise-cracking crab. Scuttle is senile and has a grand-daughter. Ariel is world-weary and jaded by her experience. But maybe that’s plausible, given these characters didn’t get a “Happily Ever After”. It’s made for adults, but lacks the Disney joy. Like Disney’s characters continued by Hans Christian Andersen.

A big flaw is that the world-building cribs the Disney movie and the fairy tale. The author picks and chooses from both (like turning into sea foam or immortal souls, but ignoring the “walking on knives” or the prince treats her like a pet), and sometimes that canon comes into conflict. It retcons some plot points and isn’t explicit about where the cut-off for the timeline is.

Basically, the key moment is that Scuttle doesn’t fly by the window where Ursula/Vanessa is singing and see that she’s really the sea witch. However, Ariel still somehow gets to the boat to confront Ursula. But I guess she’s too late? Then there’s a big Ursula vs. Triton battle (not in the book) and she wins, polyp-ifies Triton, and becomes Eric’s wife. But she wipes everyone’s memories so they don’t remember mermaids, and everything’s back to status quo. And now Ursula is starting to invade human lands.

Except…

Ursula never wanted to rule the human world. She wanted to rule the sea. She doesn’t give a flying fish about humans. Why would she? There’s more power in the oceans than one tiny human kingdom. She wants that trident and that crown. Eric is just a big dumb meathead means to an end. Ariel is a pawn for greater rewards (i.e. a contract that ropes Triton into sacrificing his crown for his daughter) and revenge for… something (the movie doesn’t say).

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. She’s a Faustian villain, a vehicle for Ariel to make a deal with the devil to learn the hard lesson that she shouldn’t let her desires lead her into reckless decisions.

But this is Ariel’s story. It’s an adventure and a redemption arc and it paints Ariel with an empowering brush. Ariel has had years to learn the consequences of her actions, to deal with the loss of her father, her role as Princess of the Sea, leaving the one she loved behind. It means Ariel and Eric take time to establish a relationship as they figure out what to do about Ursula. It was a satisfying follow-up to the original movie and I want to read more from the Twisted Tale series.

In reality, if Ariel did lose to Ursula, the sequel should be about her getting a lawyer and learning contract law.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This did not have enticing beginning. It starts with a prologue and poetry and description and other shit. Not something happening or an intriguing event. It didn’t pull me in.

But I kept reading and I’m glad I did. This is a story about a woman raising herself in nature. (And almost by nature.) She’s one of those white trash families in the bayou: alcoholic father, living in a shack in a swamp, hillbilly, thick accent, tobacco-chawin’ types that has too many kids, like “Cletus” in The Simpsons. But this one’s played straight. Very straight. Basically her whole family abandons her by the age of ten and somehow she manages to survive.

At its core, it’s a coming-of-age book set in the deep south with the climax being a court trial. (Why do I keep finding these “To Kill a Mockingbird” remixes?) It takes place in two time periods. About 75% of the content is a survival story (a little reminiscent of “Island of the Blue Dolphins”) about how she managed to live alone in the swamp as a ten-year-old and not go crazy or starve to death. (Along with life and love and bullies and other things that come with growing up in 1952.) The other quarter is a murder-mystery trial taking place in the present (which for them is 1969).

Two big things stood out to me. One was the poetic descriptions. You really get a feel for how Kya embraces nature. She lives in it, soaks in it, it becomes her and she becomes it. She lives there so long she is symbiotic to nature. Very focused on the beauty and power of nature. If you like poetry, you’ll like this part.

But when it comes to any plot elements that involve anyone other than Kya and the marsh, it drops into cliches. There’s the teenage bully, the truant officer, the football quarterback. Classism, racism, and sexist asshole redneck archetypes. Anyone other than Kya sounds like a video I watched in health class.

It’s not my favorite book, but it’s a great book. It’s not for everyone, but this thing’s been on the NYT Bestseller list for years now. It’s got nearly a million ratings on GoodReads. So go read the reviews by people who can write them better than me.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

I thought it was a better read than the first book. It’s slow to start, but then really gets exciting.

The first act is a combination of “aftermath from the first book” and “setup for this second book”. And there are times the narrative starts to wax poetic about fame and power and metahumanism that it starts to sound like one of the vlogbrothers videos (though these are tough questions and deserve attention). But then the plot busts open and you get invested in what’s happening.

I guess part of that is that there was time set aside to build up the characters. Each one is distinct and likable in their own way. I think it’s improved by having multiple characters’ POV instead of just the one (who got a little millennial-obnoxious after a while).

Once again, we’re talking sequel so if you read the first book, you know if you want to read the second. But take comfort that the second improves on the first. I think Hank Green took what he learned, applied it, and the effects are palpable.

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis

So it’s hard to write a review of this book without being biased. I’ve been watching her since she was a pig-tailed nostalgia chucker and stayed following through Disney film criticism, Transformers film theory, obsession with musicals, and Hugo nominations. She doesn’t release material often, but she’s never disappointed. So as I read it, I tried to be objective in my evaluation–if you’d never heard of Lindsay Ellis, what would you think of this book?

Ellis has described Axiom’s End as “Stranger Things” meets “Arrival” (the good one with Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, not “The Arrival“). Personally, I think it’s more like “E.T.” meets “Independence Day” with an infusion of “Beauty and the Beast”/”Phantom of the Opera”-style plot (you know, those stories where an emotionally unavailable anti-villain and a warm-hearted girl fall in love even though it’s wrong and would never work). The external story is about xenophobia and protecting a group of refugee aliens from bounty hunters with technology way beyond our own. The internal story is about the relationship between the main woman and her alien companion.

The beginning is good at “show, don’t tell” and that’s tough for a beginning, because you want to get backstory out there without being infodumpy, but you’ve got to do it expediently or the plot can’t start. Then it gets complex. Way more complex than I expected from someone whose most popular video is about Disney’s Aladdin. (but I guess this went through 26 drafts, so it makes sense. In software development, we call that “feature creep”.) Good, hard science about time dilation, political machinations, and Dyson spheres. One of the major motifs in the book is language (par for the course when dealing with aliens), and that gets tricky when you’re trying to remember who’s who in the alien world–what is a “similar”? Is Esperas a name or a term? How is Cefo related to everyone again?

And here’s what I didn’t expect: it’s a love story that’s not a romance. Like a “hurt/comfort” fic? For all those “comp titles” I mentioned before, the real root of the plot is basically 2007’s “Transformers” by way of Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov. An aimless young adult makes contact with an alien soldier from a space war galaxies away. And that war’s coming to Earth. It’s evocative of a fan fiction that got blessed by the blue fairy and turned into a real boy for being so good.

A lot of the reviews describe it as “fun”, but I don’t know if I’d call it that. The complexity turned me off, because that reeks of hard science fiction, which I’m not a fan of (too much research, not enough characters). But I would like to see the sequel, because I want to see where the girl and the alien’s relationship goes.

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby
(unfinished)

It’s a collection of essays (I think they’re gleaned from her blog) about regular life stuff. You know: dating, work, money, The Bachelorette, eating ice cream in bed. The first thing I thought was “Damn, that’s witty. I wish I could write like this.”

The second thing was “I don’t think this is for me.”

The writer is a single woman. She wants to get married… except she shaves her head, is overweight, is thirty-six years old (but looks older — her admission), has to wear adult undergarments, only graduated high school, works as a receptionist at a vet clinic, can’t have children (I don’t mean infertile, I mean she can’t physically run around a yard after a toddler), and is lazy (see aforementioned eating-ice-cream-in-bed, plus her own admittance that “marriage is hard”). So… what exactly is it you bring to the table?

Yes, you have obstacles in your life that make for an interesting memoir… but I’m wondering if some of these problems aren’t brought on by your own decisions (or lack thereof). She was in poverty, but now her spending habits are ridiculous (to make up for lost time, she says). She hates cats, but takes home a kitten that no one wants and clearly hates her. And she ends up taking care of it. And it still hates her.

But I also wonder if I’m not in the right place for this, mentally, with everything going on (i.e. waves hand to everything).

The story of shitting herself from bad Burger King on the side of the road in front of friends from bad Burger King with the story of how her father died. Her alcoholic absent father with dementia. While also dealing with her mother, both of whom had to be put in a home by her when she was eighteen because she was born late. I can’t deal with that right now.

Or I’m not the target audience at all. This might be for the “loves-The-Kardashians-non-ironically” types. Those who embrace Lizzo. Trying to convince Facebook you’re living a luxurious life. But lacking ambition or drive to achieve something. To leave the world a little better than when you found it.

The Women In the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
(unfinished)

Historical fiction about a set of German women friends living through the war in Nazi Deutschland. It’s evocative of “The Sound of Music” because it starts with fancy rich people enjoying their privileged lives and then it all goes to shit when the invasions begin. Some of them try to do something about it, some are just trying to survive, but everyone suffers.

And that’s the problem: I’ve seen this story before, dozens of times. The horrors of war. Yes, I get it. Nazis are bad. Everyone’s son or husband dies. And this volume offers nothing new. Maus, War Horse, The Book Thief, Schindler’s List, The Diary of Anne Frank, Inglorious Basterds, Slaughterhouse Five, Number the Stars. I get it, World War II was bad. You are bringing nothing new to the table. It’s a by-the-numbers “suffering in war” story.

And the time-jumping, I just don’t see the point of it. The book shifts around multiple perspectives, multiple places (all German places I’ve never heard of), multiple time points. And there’s no reason for it that I can see, neither style nor substance. Why confuse us? What does the story gain that it couldn’t from a straight start-to-finish narrative. You’ve already told me who survives so what “message” does your “medium” present?

It just wasn’t flipping my cookie, so I moved on.

Straight on Till Morning: A Twisted Tale by Liz Braswell

It maintains some of the similarities of the other “Twisted Tale” I read. There’s a definite strong slant on morphing these “damsels in distress” into “strong female characters”. The fortunate thing is that they keep their personalities (relatively) while doing this. Wendy is still a proper Englishwoman who overthinks things and talks a lot.

It plays fast and loose with the canon, cherry-picking from the book and movie (like Wendy’s house is here, but the jerk-mermaids are also here). It takes a while to actually get to Neverland, and when you do, it’s not as imaginative as I thought it could be.

It gets real sludgy in the middle. Clearly the author is trying to make a word count, and when you’ve got a basic quest plot, there isn’t a whole lot that happens to change the character or affect them personally. Hook is also a letdown, as he’s portrayed as sad-crazy, not funny-crazy.

It’s not disappointing, but it’s not blow your socks off. Take it this way–even the best of the direct-to-video Disney sequels were only middlin’, with thin plots and uninventive story paths.

And it cops out on the Indians.

New Fan Fiction: The Village Under Shadow (Zelda: Breath of the Wild)

breath of the wild landscape sunset

Sorry, it’s not erotica this time. Just a one-shot adventure I got inspired to write after seeing “The Witcher” on Netflix. I wrote it just for fun, and I hope you have fun too.

As Hyrule recovers from the Great Calamity, Link is given an old mystery. A hundred years ago, a giant golden colossus appeared over a distant village. What is it? What does it want? Is it a blessing or a curse? Is it even still there? Link is tasked to find out, but will the village even let him?

Find the full text below the cut, or go to one of these links for different formats.
Microsoft Word (.DOC) format
Plain Text (.TXT) format
HTML format
EPUB Format
-FanFiction.net
-Archive of Our Own (AO3)

But the Trans Ran on Time

j.k. rowling meme

Transgender issues are bubbling up again thanks to J.K. Rowling. I don’t agree with or share her opinions, but (and I’ll probably come out on the wrong side of history on this one) there are things about the transgenderism movement that make me angry.

That doesn’t mean I’m anti-transgender. I don’t think they need to be “converted”. I’m not afraid of sharing the bathroom with a transgendered person. I don’t ask questions about their surgery or sex life. I don’t subscribe to stereotypes–each one’s story is unique.

But there are elements of the transgender culture that make me… skeptical.

SIDE 1 – The Side Where You Hate Me

Part of the problem is that “transgender” is such a nebulous term. “Homosexuality” is self-explanatory: guys are attracted to other guys and girls are attracted to other girls. But there’s a hundred different terms you gotta know: transgender, transsexual, non-binary, genderqueer, bigender, pangender, genderfluid, agender, third gendered, intersex, assigned gender at birth. I can’t keep these all straight.

And then there’s “choosing your own pronouns”. They put them on their Twitter profile, like badges of honor, even when they’re cis. He/him, they/their, sie/hir, ze/zir, ey/eim, per/per, like an alien language.

And there’s apparently a thing where you’re not supposed to call a trans person by their old name. That I cannot get on board with. It seems overdramatic–“don’t refer to me by my slave name”. You don’t get to say “I was always Jill.” No, you were once Jack. It said so on your birth certificate. Will you stick to your principles if I have this ten-thousand-dollar check for Jack?

The whole thing reminds me of this clip from Dana Carvey’s stand-up about the artist Sting.

People choose your name for you–it’s one of life’s delightful little foibles. Even nicknames are assigned. It’s like they’re trying to change the past, and you just can’t do that. If you record an interview with Jack and then she became Jill, are you not allowed to run that interview anymore? You gotta redub every instance of the name? Will you stick to your principles if I have this ten-thousand-dollar check for Jack? This asking for too much turns me off from the “transgender rights” movement. It feels like they’re making the world revolve around them.

Just saying someone is “trans” is clear as mud. Does “trans man” mean they’re in a male body but believe they’re female? Or started as female and physically transitioned (through hormones/surgery) into being a man. And is there term for how to know what parts they have?

And what I can’t computer is that none of it’s based on rationality. It’s all “feeling”. How you “feel” as that person. A man could want to have a woman’s body… but still only date women.

Here’s a bit of rationality: what if you believe you are a one-armed man in a two-armed body, and you need to lop off your arm to feel “whole” or “right”. Wouldn’t you try to stop that person? Wouldn’t you think that person is crazy has a mental disorder?

Why is there no “racial dysmorphia”? Where is the white man who says he feels like he’s really a Black man? Surely there’s some kind of plastic surgery that can make your skin darker or lighter. What about a tall man in a short man’s body? Maybe you feel like an orc? I’m not saying the concept of dysmorphia (the feeling that you are in body X but you’re a Y) is silly. I’m saying if “gender dysmorphia” is a thing, why do we treat it by bringing about that change instead of walking back the person’s misconception?

Or maybe there is racial dysmorphia if you believe the story of Rachel Dolezal, former chapter president of the NAACP who was dismissed because she lied about her race. Specifically, she was “born white to white parents” but “self-identified” as Black. It doesn’t seem like anyone respected her right to choose the race she believed she was–she was shunned, sued, and now she’s on food stamps.

Or consider Valeria Lukyanova, who alters her body to look like a Barbie doll? What do you think of her? Do you think she wants to just look like the doll or does she want to be a doll? I have no idea, but the results aren’t appealing (i.e. she looks like an alien).

Or how about Dennis Avner? Known as “Stalking Cat” for his modifications, both ink and surgical. He had so many procedures done, he has a world record. Does this look like sane behavior? Does he believe he’s a cat in a human’s body? One thing I know, his doctors and plastic surgeons are taking his “needs” all the way to the bank.

I’m not saying this behavior is right or wrong. I’m holding it up for comparison. These people believe they are who they say they are, just in the wrong body. And they want to make their outside match their inside. But no one is holding these people up as pillars of the community or “heroes”.

Search your feelings when you consider these people. If you point to one and say “this is self-harm” or “this creates a feeling of revulsion” then to the other and say “this is fine”, doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?

SIDE 2 – The Side Where You Don’t Hate Me As Much

You can look at this debate from every which way, like counting every facet of a d100. But at the end of the day, it just doesn’t affect me.

The fact is, just because I don’t “get it” doesn’t mean I have to stop it. There’s lots of things I don’t get “get”: Tik Tok, the Illuminati, “Yes Chad”, bubble tea, Logan Paul, WAP, Twitch, and the list goes on. I think I’m supposed to get a red gem in my hand soon.

For example, women getting flowers. Men rarely do it because we don’t understand it. There is no male equivalent for getting flowers. Why would you want something that’s going to die in a week, something that needs water and maintenance? It’s not like giving a gift. Gifts are permanent (unless they’re food but that’s different). You need to get the vase out, pick the right vase out, put in the water, sprinkle in the plant food, cut the flowers, arrange them all nice, and then set them on the dinner table while they wilt and periodically drop dead petals for seven days until you eventually throw the whole thing out.

Giving ang taking

But I don’t need to know why my wife likes flowers to give them to her. They make her happy. So why not just do it? Pick a random day on the calendar, schedule a reminder: “give wife flowers”, and go get some.

A lot of the anti-trans movement is about fear. Stupid fear. I searched for “what are people afraid transgendered people are going to do” and couldn’t find anything. It’s just a general instinctual disgust. But it’s not rooted in any proof that something’s gonna happen. Because it ain’t.

It’s clear I don’t understand it. But just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean I have to hate it or condemn it. If someone wants to spend $100,000 on hormones and surgery because they want to, that’s no skin off my nose.

In my youth, I asked the same things about homosexuality. Is it natural? Is it normal? Has anyone considered that it could be a genetic disorder/mutation? Because it doesn’t seem like nature wouldn’t purposely put something in there that counters a species’s ability to propagate. If it could be medically treated, would that change the way we think about it? Like in X-Men: The Last Stand? Are you your diseases?

But something can be normal without being natural. Humans flying is normal. And just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good. Cyanide is natural.

And when I look deep within me, I just don’t care. I’ve got bigger things to worry about. I may get irritated at some of their asks, but it’s far from being a hill I want to die on. I wish I could say that about some authors.

Why I Decided to Send My Kids Back to School

child man walking to school

Yeah, it’s a controversial opinion and one you wouldn’t expect me to make. I wouldn’t expect me to make it. I am very firmly on the side of “take this virus seriously” because it’s not a flu. You could get brain damage, lung damage, kidney damage, etc.

But I also know my kids. I know what they need I know what’s best for them and their lives and me & my wife know they are better off going to school and risking the virus. Since I’m sure you’re all fascinated by my decision-making process, I’m going to outline my reasons here.

Distance Learning Sucks Donkey Balls

So last year, school closed down in March by state mandate, and it was never certain when it would reopen. The state took some time to “evaluate” and distribute their “distance learning” strategy, it slowly trickling down to local schools. Some teachers showed enthusiasm, but some stayed silent.

For background, my kids were in fourth and sixth grade last year — one was in middle school, one was in elementary. They both had to start at about eight o’clock in the morning because the Schoology application they used to submit schoolwork and get lessons would start suffering service outages around ten to two.

The teaching they got was garbage. It was either worksheets, a paragraph of instructions, or some reading. Everyone kind of threw up their hands and said “there’re only three months left in the year. Let’s just half-ass it until June.” I can’t imagine what it was like if you had a student that didn’t have access to the technology we do.

The elementary art teacher pointed students to a YouTube video and said “do that”, but never checked any work. My eldest had to time-lapse record herself doing forty minutes of physical activity for gym. Besides the fact that we had to figure out how to use time-lapse photography, my wife had to take time out of her day to do this. You think the teacher watched all those videos of kids rollerblading and biking?

No one learned anything. No one interacted with anyone. Attendance was not taken. In fact, we didn’t get notification that my eldest hadn’t turned in assignments for a month. Was this the fault of the student? Was it the fault of the teacher for not notifying her or us until so late? The communication we received from the teachers and principals always left us with more questions than answers.

They are miserable staying at home

The elder had about four hours of schoolwork per day, taking her until noon. The other only had two hours. This makes things difficult when you want to play together or schedule some outing. And it can trigger some deep-seated jealousy when your kid sister gets out of school twice as early as you because they’ve decided not to teach her anything.

Our kids are smart. We make them do give them workbooks during the summer to keep them out of our hair stimulated, and it shows. They’re at the top of their class. For both of them, the teacher can’t technically tell what reading level they’re at because the test scales don’t measure that high. The youngest often tells me she finds math boring because she already knows the lesson. The eldest never has homework because she’s already done it in class. They have a social studies/music teacher for a mom and a writer/software engineer for a dad, so between us, we’ve got all the subjects covered. There’s not much they gain from school, content-wise.

But what they do need to get, we can’t give them. Independence, responsibility, accountability, hard work, honesty, socialness, and so on. All those secondary characteristics.

My kids don’t make friends easily. We have to get them up off their asses to go call or text someone. They’d rather play with each other all day than with anyone else. So getting them to separate from each other and make their own friends and develop their own personalities and likes. They aren’t “into” anything, like I was when I was their age. I was easy to buy Christmas presents for–just give me anything with Ghostbusters, Disney, Ninja Turtles, video games, etc. My wife likes softball, the Twins, the Vikings, skiing, Legos. But what do our kids like? I couldn’t tell you.

The sports that they play, we have to shove them into it, drag them to every practice and game while they whine and complain about doing the thing they supposedly volunteered for so they can go in and give about 40% of themselves to it.

We also considered their desires into the decision, because they acknowledge the misery of it all as well. Both of them wanted to go to private school at first. But when the eldest learned about the middle school’s hybrid learning plan, she wanted to go back there. She wanted to see her friends and didn’t want to risk losing her place in the G&T program. We agreed and that’s what we’re doing.

You Can’t Just Stop School

This coronavirus thing is not just a blip. It’s going to go for about two years–that’s how long pandemics usually last. And life doesn’t stop for anyone, not even viruses. That especially applies when you’re a young child.

The longer you go without education, the dumber you get, especially when you’re young. I have no scientific evidence for this, but I know what I’ve observed and what my teacher-wife has observed. After three months of summer, it takes about one month to get the kids back to the point where they’re learning something new. That’s one-ninth of the school year spent on review because of stupid summer vacation. And remember–they’re teaching to the lowest-performing student.

Exercise is the same way. If you take a few months off, then go back to the gym, do you continue on like nothing happened? No, you’ve regressed. You’ve got to build yourself back up to where you were before you stopped.

We seem to be low risk people in a low risk area

We live in a rural area of the suburbs, on the very edge of the metro area (which means we still pay taxes for that metro area <grumble, grumble>). It’s not densely populated here. No one I know has ever had Coronavirus. That does not mean it doesn’t exist, it just means it’s not prevalent in this area.

Our family has general good health. I’ve only been to the hospital once, for meningitis. My kids have no maladies or chronic health conditions besides lactose intolerance. My wife does, but she’s not scared. She intends to go back to work as a substitute teacher. In fact, she’s looking forward to it, because she thinks most other subs won’t be going because (because they’re mostly retired teachers) so she’ll be getting all the juicy jobs they’ve left behind.

I don’t share her sentiment. She is the most vulnerable to coronavirus in our family–she has asthma and heart arrhythmia. I’m very scared for her if she gets it–she might get permanent lung damage or long-term hospitalization or something worse. But I am not her controller.

Conclusion

I think a lot of the factors in making this decision depends on where you are, and my state has a lot of diversity in population-densities. The state can’t make a one-size-fits-all solution. A rural town of three hundred in Northern Minnesota doesn’t have a nearby hospital. It doesn’t have the Internet or technology to enable distance learning. It’s not that they’re not affected, just that the outbreak chance is low.

And that’s what I’m playing on–the chance. I am balancing the chance of my children getting Covid-19 vs. the results of public school distance learning. And how our school district dealt with it last year did not fill me with confidence.

Now please note, here’s what I did not say. I did not say “all schools need to reopen”. Clearly the clusterfuck in Georgia is evidence against that.

I did not say “it’s no big deal”. It most definitely is a big deal–this is a weighty decision and due time was given to its evaluation.

I did not say “it’s going to go away soon”. Like I aforementioned, this won’t get properly blown over until March 2022.

I did not say “teachers should go back to work”. Everyone needs to evaluate where they’re at, what they can do, what they can risk.

I said “My kids need to go back to school. I’ve looked at the situation and it’s the best thing for them right now.”

The Books I Read: May – June 2020

bookshelf books
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
(unfinished)

It’s like the last book, I guess. It’s YA, has a strong female lead, takes place in a romanticized non-American country (France in this case). But I stopped at 40% because I just didn’t care about the characters.

It’s half spin-off and half sequel. The new main is a “strong female character” who’s mean and angry just so she can appear tough. But in reality, she’s a screw-up who doesn’t know she’s a screw-up and then wonders why there are consequences for her actions. Her main goal is to find her grandma, who went missing two weeks ago. But the government’s not doing anything about it, so she stews and grouses until a street-fighter helps her for some reason. He’s the one who actually takes action. (He’s also the dangerous bad boy who uses his anger and rage to protect her. Never seen that before.)

It’s full of filler and introspection and “thinking” on events that had just happened. (Example: “She bit her tongue, thinking of being worried about the killer beside her. Could she trust him? He had killed a man in the ring, but he’d also volunteered to come with her, blah blah blah.”) I just read the Wikipedia summaries to find out how the story ended.

Shoving a fairy tale into a science fiction setting is a fun idea, but just for one book. Making a series out of it, with each book repping a different tale, and it’s a square peg in a round hole. It becomes as silly as wolfmen on the moon.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Like the last one, it’s great but long. This time we’re involved in more than one heist. There are multiple characters in multiple locations, so a few adventures are going on. It’s just as dark and violent and splashes lovingly in the middle part of the morality pool where the water becomes gray.

And there’s a great push-and-pull as the bad guys put obstacles up, the good guys plan and banter a way around them, the goalposts get pushed back, and so on. It’s just good writing and good plot development all around. Finding a good fantasy story that’s not just a clone of “Game of Thrones” is hard–something that’s not houses going to war, princes & princesses in political marriages, or prophetic chosen ones. But it’s so loooooong.

Nonetheless, it ends the duology well. Somehow Leigh Bardugo knows how to psychologically manipulate through story and still bring out good character development and plot movement. You hate to read so much and be disappointed by the ending, but that’s not the case here. The ending is like a cherry on top for this saga.

The Last Emperox (The Interdependency #3) by John Scalzi

I feel like this might be Scalzi’s least Scalziest book yet. Something about the writing style of the Interdependency series leaves me cold. Colder than his other books, at least. In terms of tone, it feels like one of those big deal epics that Isaac Asimov or Larry Niven wrote. Not like Lock In or Old Man’s War.

First, a lot of the book is setup. Basically, the empress is dealing with the paradigm-shifting changes made to the status quo last time, and not everyone in government likes it. In fact, half of the battle is stopping those derogators than moving forward with fixing the mess. Every chapter is “oh, this might happen”, “oh, this might happen”, “oh, this might happen”, and it’s exhausting waiting for a shoe to drop. He’s basically saving it all for the end. Reminds me of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, which I didn’t like.

The scope of the narration feels so high it’s like you’re watching Sims go about their business. Getting emotionally close to characters is eschewed for snarky narrative and plot twists. It loses characterization to be a book about global machinations, like the saga of the Spanish Armada. A “big deal” political epic like Dune or Foundation, condensed and modernized. But it’s a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. I’m just eager to read something a little more personal and intimate.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian by W. Kamau Bell

I have double- and triple- and quadruple-checked this review to not sound racist, and it still sounds racist to me. Everything I write seems condescending like “ooh, let me read about the experience and perspective of these poor downtrodden folk so that I, as a lord, may better fathom these men’s plight. Ah, now I totally understand the Black experience, tum-tee-tum.”

On Twitter, during the Minneapolis riots, someone listed a set of books by Black voices discounted on Amazon, to encourage the purchase of artistic works by Black people. So I bought some of them. I understand other humans through books, and my bookshelf does not have many authors of color. Especially Black people, since they have a unique aspect that the Chinese or Irish or Indian or Hispanic or any other American emigrants don’t have–slavery.

W. Kamau Bell is the child of two people that couldn’t fail if they wanted to. Usually, I complain about people like that (see my review of Mary Robinette Kowal‘s book), but in this case, it’s fine because Bell fails quite a bit. He drops out of college. He can’t make friends. He doesn’t fit in at private school. He doesn’t have two married parents. He likes superheroes and rock music and Bruce Lee. He’s in a Venn diagram of not Black enough for Blacks and not safe enough for whites.

He’s spent his career in jumping around mediums–stand-up, one man shows, late night TV round-tables, man-on-the-street news features–but the common theme is he’s always exploring social issues.

But sometimes his essays get too progressive for their own good. Sometimes Bell points out incidents that he claimed were racist, where I didn’t see where it wouldn’t have gone different if he was a white man. Like having to deal with idiot television producers or nosy Karens who think they know better than you how to be a parent. Despite large amounts of text dedicated to his upbringing, I just didn’t see where he had experienced a lot of hardship or interesting things in his life. Not like Lindsey Stirling or Kayla Williams.

That being said, I enjoyed this collection of essays, especially compared to the pasty white drivel I had read previously (David Sedaris and John Hodgman) and I think he has intriguing ideas. This guy’s got the makings of a leader. I would like to see another set of writing, now that the autobiography stuff is out of the way. There’s still plenty that white people don’t know about being Black in America.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
(unfinished)

This book has effluvial praise. That always makes me suspicious–when everyone likes something that usually means I’m not going to like it. If it pleases everyone, that means it’s been adulterated to appeal to everyone.

It’s another class-conflict story, like The Dutch House. Rich man, poor man. Upstairs, downstairs. The guys who can afford everything versus the people who have to eat jelly packets.

The story starts with a suburbanite family’s house on fire, unsalvagable. Three of the four children (all teenagers) watch it burn, theorizing their littlest sister did it and no one seems very surprised or impassioned. I would be like “OMG she just destroyed our lives! Kill that bitch!”

That’s the “upstairs” family–Mom’s a journalist, Dad’s a lawyer, and the four teen kids all fit in a WB teen drama. The “downstairs” is a single mother and daughter who just moved into the duplex rented out by “upstairs” mom. The mother is basically a starving artist. She considers her artistic photography to be her “job” and the waitressing is just to make money. Hence why they’re “downstairs”.

Which brings me to the main reason I stopped reading — I liked no characters. There is a part where the single mother gets a successful gallery show and the curator offers to pay her for another batch of similar photographs. What does she say? No, I never do the same thing twice.

Fuck you, lady. You’ve got a KID. She needs to EAT. You’re fine with feeding your kid tortillas and canned beans so don’t have to “compromise your artistic integrity”. Are you gonna tell your daughter “Sorry honey, it’s Imaginary Christmas this year because ‘the MAN’ doesn’t understand my vision.” I can’t stand people like that — I thought the notion of the romantic Bohemian artiste died at the same time Moulin Rouge came out.

I can’t stand the notions some people have that if you create art that makes money you’re a sell-out. I have a quote on my website — “Being a better writer is something of a moot point, since if you’re not a commercial writer to some extent, very few people will know whether your writing is any good or not.” (John Scalzi).

I made it 18% in. There was just no plot happening. The excitement happens in the first chapter, but it’s a bait-and-switch–it’s a flash-forward, and then the rest is exposition. (What’s the opposite of burying the lede?) By chapter six there wasn’t even an inkling of what was to come. The alleged arsonist little sister hadn’t even shown up. BTW, she’s the most interesting character–the sister who plays violin and writes “I am not a puppet” on her forehead at dance recital because her parents pushed her into it. I want to read about that person. But no, she’s the bad guy because she doesn’t want to conform to you suburbanites.

Instead I got the friendship between the single mother’s daughter and the four upper class children. And the jealousy and longing and desire for each other’s lives and crushes and money woes as one would expect. But it’s just characterization and “getting to know you” passages. The only interest comes from the “differences” between the two families. Well, an elf and a dwarf have differences, but they still need to do something.

And after reading the summary and analysis, I’m glad I cut out early. Because I’m wondering what is the point of this novel? It seems to be “stop sticking your nose into other people’s business”. The story sounds like it’s a microwavable version of a “Desperate Housewives” melodrama. There’s abortions, given-up babies, affairs, women’s issues, shame in front of the neighbors, lawsuits, runaway mothers, and nosy white bitches. If I wanted to something about someone not fitting in and the dirty little secrets of white middle class suburbia, I’d watch Edward Scissorhands.

The plot hinges on a bunch of Karens making bad decisions because they think they’re right. Halfway through a woman tells someone that they should sue an adopting couple for the child she gave up. Because she thinks every woman should have the right to raise their own child. And she would know, since she’s been living on the run for the past decade because she was a surrogate and stole the child she was meant to surrender. At a certain point, don’t you look at your life and wonder how you got there? Oh, maybe it’s because I keep imposing my high and mighty beliefs on others and lashing out at anyone who doesn’t agree. This is the same reason we have people who don’t wear masks and cluck their tongues at BLM protests like “why are they so angry?”

I hate this book and I haven’t even read it.

Field of Dreams is Stupid and You’re Stupid for Liking It

field of dreams poster

Boy I’m getting all my controversial opinions out, aren’t I?

Field of Dreams is on everybody’s “Best Movies” lists, but it’s a stupid movie and no one understands why. I guess because it makes them “feel good”. Which, I guess, is fine — art is supposed to make you feel something. I suppose it’s satisfying to see a jerkass yuppie blowhard get his comeuppance or an affirmation that the life choices you made weren’t mistakes or to see a grown man get a second chance to bond with his father.

And it all hinges around baseball. That god-given, American-as-apple-pie (suspiciously-similar-to-English-cricket) sport of kings and peasants. It’s Hollywood’s go-to pastime and cinema darling. Easy to pick up, hard to master. It has so many aspects ripe for stories–the economy (Moneyball), triumph over prejudice (A League of Their Own, 42), relationship woes (Fever Pitch, Trouble with the Curve, For the Love of the Game), thriller (The Fan), coming of age (The Sandlot), wish fulfillment (Rookie of the Year, Little Big League), and of course, the good old underdog story (Major League, The Natural… and pretty much all the rest). But then we got Field of Dreams, which is a… ghost story… where ghosts are nice?

And by the way, why is it that one guy can’t see the ghosts and then can suddenly see them all after one steps out. And why do the ghosts appear as the age they were at their baseball prime, but they seem to remember everything of their lives? This is my complaint about ghost stories in general — ghosts have no rules so nothing matters. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

ghost baseball

Here’s my first problem: the main character has no character arc. What’s his problem? Well, he’s bored. He’s a man of the land, beholden to his bills. He feels like he’s missing something, that he’s meant for something more. Well, isn’t that white privilege in a nutshell. You’re stuck in Iowa, that’s your damn problem. People in Iowa look at Des Moines like it’s Capital City. (“Man, if I could just get to Des Moines I’ll have ‘made it’.” “We gotta get to Des Moines this weekend.”)

That’s what he wants. What he needs is to reconcile with his father. All he wants is to have one last “catch” with his dad. Well, that’d be fine except that it never comes up. None of the problems or conflicts in the plot have anything to do with his father. In fact, you forget he’s even a factor until the end of the movie.

And what’s worse, the movie doesn’t show you any of these motivations, it TELLS you. It tells you in the opening narration. It tells you in an actionless dialogue between him and his wife. What does that make the plot? A bunch of gibberish.

The inciting incident for the plot is that Kevin Costner hears a voice. It tells him to build a baseball field. Why does he do it? Because there’s no movie if he doesn’t. It’s like the Gremlins rules. I mean, I love Gremlins, but no sunlight? No water? Those are the two most abundant things on this planet. How have gremlins not overrun the world by this point? How does Gizmo live without getting water to drink? They make the rules silly so that they’re impossible to follow. Because if they are followed, there’s no movie.

Anyway, back to Kevin Costner. Nothing he does is character-motivated. He doesn’t build the field because his family will starve if he doesn’t, or it’ll lead to seeing his father again. He just does it because someone told him to. This is what we call “railroading” in the D&D world. The Dungeon Master is putting out notes and clues so the players will go where HE wants them to go. He doesn’t let them act according to their motivations, their wants, their mistakes, desires to love and protect and sacrifice. So what does this voice want? To get America to appreciate baseball again?

For instance, there is no reason that, at the baseball game, Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) should suddenly jump in front of Kevin Costner’s car just as he’s about to leave, thinking he’s failed his mission, and confess that he saw the ghostly message on the jumbotron too. It’s so dramatic it’s comical.

What should have happened is that, after this white guy talks his ear off about voices in his head and old dead baseball players in his yard, he sees the Jumbotron get all screwy and display a message about Archibald “Moonlight” Graham and goes “Holy shit! Did you see that? The Jumbotron’s messing up and no one else can tell! Are you seeing this?” No, he just keeps it to himself so we can have this cinematic revelation later.

“We’re coming for you, Barbara…”

Since we mentioned him, let’s talk about “Moonlight” Graham and his strange subplot. Kevin Costner does some research and finds out he was a kid who played one inning, then became a pediatrician. What does Kevin Costner need to do for him? Nothing, I guess, since he’s quite dead. But then he time-travels to 1972 and has a conversation with old Dr. Graham (or his ghost–who knows), in which he affirms how he’s quite satisfied with how his life turned out. Everything seems resolved.

EXCEPT, on the way back home, they pick up (the ghost of) young “Archie” Graham. They take him to play baseball with all the other ghosts. Later, when Kevin Costner’s daughter starts choking, there’s a big dramatic moment where (the ghost of) young “Archie” Graham has to step off the baseball field and become (the ghost of) old Dr. Graham. (More ghost rules: how does he know he can save the girl if he’s not old enough to have gone through medical school yet?)

So what was the point of that? Didn’t we already establish that Dr. Graham accepted his life choices? Why did we need to show this again? And what does it matter — he’s a frickin’ ghost. He can’t change. He can’t influence lives anymore. But the story is treating him like a protagonist who needs to learn a lesson. What is this for? Who is supposed to see this?

Speaking of ghosts — fuck “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Even the movie doesn’t make him very likable, and it’s supposedly painting him as a good guy. He’s a cheater. He’s a stubborn asshole. He’s a moron. He changed his story throughout the trial. He took $5,000 but says he “did nothing on the field to throw the games in any way”. If you take money to commit a crime, but don’t commit the crime, that’s still wrong. Even if he didn’t do anything wrong, he didn’t speak up when others did. He could have done something but he let it happen. It’s like what Spider-Man said in Captain America: Civil War.

But the thing I most hate is James Earl Jones’s speech at the end, basically browbeating us with “why this movie is so great and you should like it and if you don’t like it, you’re a communist.” And it sucks because James Earl Jones is a highlight — it’s nice to see him playing someone who’s not a king or an emperor or the voice of one. But here’s what he says when the yuppie brother-in-law tries to convince Kevin Costner to sell the farmland and he can’t think of a reason not to (other than the ghosts in his corn):

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers. Sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it? That sounds frickin’ scary to me. How? How did they know? Are they zombies? Brainwashed? And there’s life after death? Ghosts are real? Does this suddenly prove the existence of God? Holy shit, forget baseball — this changes everything.

But even if divine intelligence hasn’t been proven, the whole thing sounds pretty apocalyptic to me. The last shot is this huge line of cars jampacked on the road to his house. Everyone’s suddenly been called to this farm field in Iowa. They get there and it’s “Why am I here? I suddenly had the urge to take my family two hundred miles away, ignored my job, forgot to feed the pets, and didn’t bring my wallet.” Plus, Kevin Costner’s farm is going to be trashed. Remember Woodstock?

“They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines” — bullshit. Do you see those cheap bleachers? Maybe, like, ten people’ll fit into those seats. The voice told him to build a field, but it wasn’t specific on seating capacity, unfortunately.

“Sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon.” I just have no idea what this means. What does it mean to “sit in shirtsleeves”? Does one “sit in jeans”? Or “sit in a hat”?

“It’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.” You do realize that not everyone likes baseball, Terrence? Not everyone likes sports. Some of us like our cosplay or video games or tabletop games or puzzles or self-fitness or non-competitive sports like American Ninja Warrior or Wipeout or competitive non-sports like The Masked Singer or RuPaul’s Drag Race.

“Baseball has marked the time.” What, did time not start until 1871? Was there no American history before that? Was everything else unimportant? Incidentally, no one invited Satchel Paige or Smokey Joe Williams onto the “field of dreams”, did they?

Can’t wait for this guy to sit in the stands in shirt-sleeves.

And at the very end, Kevin Costner gets his catch with his dad. He gets to “resolve” things, although they do it in a very manly way where no one expresses any feelings or apologizes. Plus, it’s his dad before he had his kid. So while Kevin Costner might feel reconciled, it’s not reciprocated. The father (who is a ghost) doesn’t understand what’s going on and gets no catharsis from it.

I mean yeah, maybe I’m being nitpicky and pedantic here. But this is supposed to be a story about faith and redemption, and I don’t see where the events of the plot reflect that theme. And I don’t see the story of a man overcoming obstacles to get to his atonement (and what he needs to atone for doesn’t seem significant). I see a man being forced into action with no stakes, no regard for motive, and no idea what the end goal is. The puzzle purely exists so that pieces can be put together, not to make a beautiful picture.

Do I Hate Rich People? (Yes, and You Should Too)

gatsby movie toasting

I was talking to my wife about “The Dutch House” the other night. One of the things she commented on is that I seem to have a problem with rich people. I think she was particularly pointing out this passage in my review.

The main conflict comes from what I call “rich white asshole problems”, and these are common in post-modern literature, especially the ones I don’t usually finish or like (examples: Final Girls by Riley Sager, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Dawkins). These two baby boomer kids live a huge old mansion in New England. Their father, although emotionally stunted, is still there and a rich real estate mogul. But they’re mostly raised by two housekeepers/cooks. Then the father marries a shrew and they get two stepsiblings. When the dad suddenly dies, she kicks the kids out and keeps the house and money. What do the kids do? They sit in a car outside the Dutch House and smoke cigarettes and grouse. Then they find out they get a trust fund, but only for education. So the older sister “gets revenge” by making the brother go to medical school and draining the trust from the shrew’s kids. But while attending free medical school, the brother is buying buildings because he wants to become a New York real estate handler like his father.

And you see how it’s hard to relate or sympathize with these characters when you’re a grocery store manager living paycheck to paycheck in 2020 and you just saw an off-duty cop shoot your neighbor for jogging while black and it gets no news coverage.

And that made me think “hm, am I prejudiced against rich people? I don’t want to be — I don’t want to be prejudiced against anybody. There’s no such thing as an entire group representing one personality. There are some good rich people out there… holding onto their…”

No, you know. Fuck it. Sure, I have a problem with rich people. Why shouldn’t I?

Maybe I’ve been conditioned to because they’re the enemy in every story. Just look at the Disney Villains — 64% have wealth or status as part of their evil persona, whether its Scar or Prince Hans having high status, or Gaston and Shere Khan being rich in allies and reputation, to the just plain wealthy like Sykes and Lady Tremaine (or you can be deluded like Cruella De Vil and Madame Medusa).

In any case, they use that wealth to keep others oppressed or to get their own way. They don’t use it for good. Yzma isn’t interested in using her position to help the citizens of the Inca Empire. Governor Ratcliffe doesn’t care anything about this new land besides harvesting it for gold. Even Willie the Giant is a greedy hermit.

And that’s just Disney. There have always been rich villains — Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life”, Lex Luthor from “Superman”, Clubber Lang from “Rocky”, the Malfoys from “Harry Potter”, Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons”, Smaug from “The Hobbit”, Zorg from “The Fifth Element”.

Usually, it’s the “popular” movies more than the “good” movies that feature a wealthy antagonist. (The “good” movies have villains are like Hannibal Lecter and Nurse Ratched – sociopaths with capability for sympathy. Class doesn’t figure into it.). “Caddyshack” is no Oscar winner, but it’s all about taking the wind out of the sails of those snobs. Likewise Hedley Lamarr and “Blazing Saddles”.

It’s the elite in “Dirty Dancing” keeping Patrick Swayze and “Baby” apart. In “My Fair Lady”, Higgins’s education leads to wealth which leads to status which leads him to believe the lower class exists to be pushed around and used as tools. This is something he never grows out of, even when someone from that lower class loves him. Same thing happens in “Trading Places”. Heck, the entire theme of “Titanic” — the most popular movie of the last thirty years, is all about how douchebag the rich are vs. how cool and fun the working class is.

I’ve seen two horror movies (“Cheap Thrills” and “Would You Rather?“) that are about “how low will you go for money?” where people pay others to do increasingly risky and sick dares. In both cases, the rich guy leaves with no consequences.

Even when they’re not really “bad guys”, they’re corrupted by wealth — Charles Foster Kane from “Citizen Kane”, the Corelones from “The Godfather”, Tony Montana from “Scarface”, Jay Gatsby from “The Great Gatsby”, anyone from the Capitol in “The Hunger Games”, Christian Grey from “Fifty Shades of Grey” (he’s a “good guy” in the book, but I’d argue he’s a metafictional villain), the Lannister house from “Game of Thrones”, anyone in a Charles Dickens book.

Of course, I must acknowledge the occasions when a rich person is or becomes a good guy. Ebeneezer Scrooge, Scrooge McDuck, Oskar Schindler, Lara Croft, Richie Rich*, maybe Werner Von Trapp for leaving it all behind to get his family out of Dodge Austria. Daddy Warbucks was a miser who made his millions capitalizing on the war, until an adorable little orphan girl softened his heart. Both Batman and Iron Man use their money to implement justice and fix the wrongs of their respective pasts. But my point is there are few of these stories and many more of the other kind.

“Pretty Woman” is an interesting example — Richard Gere wants to be with Julia Roberts, but his world of elites will not accept her because she’s a prostitute. Nonetheless, he changes the business deal he’s working on such that he loses tons of money but it’s the right thing to do. In “Clueless”, money has made Cher into a moron. And in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” it’s led to a wedge between Cameron and his dad that doesn’t get resolved. I’ve never seen “Downton Abbey”, but it looks like a lot of conflict comes from the differences between the family and their lower-class employees.

Even the bible teaches us to fear the elite and wealthy, for they wield terrible power and wrath. Moses was a shepherd. Jesus was a carpenter. Those are your heroes, while the enemies are King Herod, Pharoah Rameses II, Governor Pontius Pilate.

And why shouldn’t rich people be the bad guys when they so often are in real life?

How about Enron? Millions of dollars wasted away. I saw “The Smartest Guys in the Room“. They laughed about screwing over others. What was the result? The CEOs aren’t in jail and thousands of people’s retirement plans wiped out. No consequences. Maybe they all need little orphan girls. That should be the punishment — over one million dollars in fraud and you’re forced to take care of red-headed ten-year-old.

Look at all these articles about the ridiculous decadent and evil things rich people do:

Rich people are unstable, manipulative, micromanaging, lying, fraudulent, homophobic/racist/misogynist/other-kinds-of-ist, do-what-i-say-not-what-i-do control freaks. They spend money on absolute bullshit — dog wedding clothes, terrible music careers, private firefighters, and other stupid things. They ignore the environment and lie about product safety for profits. Their children’s birthday parties are salads of decadence, corruption, myopia, obstinance, and bad parenting. Anything they want to get away with, they do. When you have that much money, a fine is simply the price for doing something illegal. That story about Amazon paying no taxes because of corporate loopholes isn’t an isolated incident.

And what comes to mind when I say the following? Fyre Festival. Martin Shkreli. Operation Varsity Blues (a.k.a. the Aunt Becky college scandal). My Super Sweet 16. That guy from Tiger King who promoted the park by driving tiger cubs and strippers into Las Vegas.

And yes, like any lumped group, there are cases where CEOs and rich people do act as good guys. Warren Buffet and Mark Cuban and Richard Branson and Bill Gates have done a lot of good. But they have to struggle to stay in our consciousnesses. They are vastly overshadowed by the reprehensible. Leona Helmsley was a cheater and a liar and she left all her money to her cats. Elon Musk started as a billionaire innovator with pinned hopes of an electric car and reviving the space program. But then he started sending roadsters into space, calling people pedophiles on Twitter, being a Covid-19 denier, and generally being incomprehensible. (Did he really think he was going to get away with naming his child after a math formula?) J.K. Rowling made so much money she became a billionaire. THEN she gave so much away to charity she lost billionaire status. But does that change her anti-transgender stance?

Here’s the thing — the most basic rich person has one fundamental problem that can’t be escaped: they aren’t using their money to help others. They’re using it to make more money.

If you give a regular person two thousand bucks, they are going to use that to buy groceries, pay the electric bill, upgrade their car, get that air conditioner fixed, pay for schooling. It’s going back into the economy and used.

If you give a rich person two thousand bucks, they’re going to invest it. They’re going to put it into stocks or hedge funds or debt-purchasing or something. They’re going to put the money in a box and let it make little baby dollars, which make more baby dollars and so on. It’s not being used to build community centers or new businesses or charities. The only ones guaranteed to benefit through this are banks.

This is what the “Occupy Wall Street” movement was about. It failed because A) they never had any firm leadership or a manifesto/list of demands B) what do you expect to happen? How are you going to make people give back their money? All the CEOs and managers close lose their fortunes, close their businesses, and lay off dozens of employees? And you can’t steal from them. (Couldn’t if you tried — all their money is digital, tied up in money markets and investments.)

Money is at it’s best when it flows. It shouldn’t be measured by how much you get or how much you spend. It should be measured by how much throughput there is. It’s like food and losing weight. You can’t just reduce the calories you’re eating. And you can’t just exercise while not changing your diet. You have to do both. There has to be good throughput. Money in, money out.

The mere existence of rich people is an affront to the “hard work, get reward” value that’s part of human morality. They say you only need $75,000-$100,000 a year to be happy and I’d agree with that. Remember Forrest Gump — “Mama said there’s only so much fortune a man really needs and the rest is just for showing off.”

It’s a strange take on these people though. We all hate them, but we want to become them.

*What did Richie Rich do? I mean, like, what were his stories like? Was he a treasure hunter like Uncle Scrooge? Go after smugglers? Invent things? Did he stay in his mansion all day and whack off?

A “Trivial” Complaint

trivial pursuit pie

So I recently joined a trivia contest through work. It was just a lunchtime thing, through Zoom, hosted by the work’s “environment committee.”

It wasn’t in “buzzer format”, which was good — you can’t do timed responses when the connection’s erratic. No, you just went down the line. Each person answered a question. If you didn’t get it, the next person could try to answer for half-credit. If they got it wrong, the next person got to try, and so on.

I joined because I thought, fuck it, why not. I like trivia. Climate change is an unusual topic for a Q&A contest and it’s not exactly my strength… okay, I’d say I’m pretty weak. I lean toward the pop culture and entertainment colors of pie.

earth climate change burning

What kind of questions they could ask? Because most times I read about climate change, it’s steeped in numbers. X tons of carbon in the atmosphere. Y number of cut-down trees. Z years since the last temperature change. I guess people love information like that, even though I can’t comprehend numbers above a certain magnitude. There are thousands of multicellular critters in my eyebrows right now, but I couldn’t feel one. What does 3.3 billion metric tons of CO2 mean? It’s an impressive number but is that a lot? A little?

Which brings me to my topic.

There is a right way and a wrong way to write trivia questions. And it’s easy to get it right — just look at Trivial Pursuit. None of the questions in that game have numbers as answers. And if they do, they’re multiple choice.

Now this might sound like sour grapes because I didn’t win, but one of my questions was “How tall is the Eiffel Tower… in meters?” (because it’s a British company). Another was “How many tons of trash is on Mt. Everest?” No more information than that. No range. No margin of error. All the host said was “higher” or “lower” before the next person got to guess. So then it became a binary search to find the answer. It’s supposed to be trivia, not “The Price is Right“. Every answer was a number or a country (e.g. “Which country is the cleanest?” Well, gee, there’s only three hundred countries. Could ya narrow it down a touch?).

The questioning format was especially bad because there WERE true and false questions. That’s a 50/50 shot for one person and an automatic point for the next contestant. Same for the multiple choice.

Now it’s not exactly like we were playing for a new car (in fact, we didn’t win anything. I guess it was just for “awareness”.) And trivia’s one of those things where you either know it or you don’t. It’s not like a math problem you can figure out.

But if you’re making a trivia contest, you should still review your work with a critical eye and the audience in mind. Say to yourself “could the average person answer this?”