Has It Come To This?

It was a scene of horror on Saturday in Charlottesville, VA as factions from pretty much every active hate group in America came to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. You could say they had the right to protest peacefully, but they came armed and ready for a fight. They wanted a fight and they got one. I’m also willing to bet someone from their side threw the first punch.

Normally in a situation like this, the headline is about how these hate groups were greeted with opposition by counter-protestors. If this had happened back in the ’60’s or ’70’s that’s how it would be, but it’s today and our Cheeto in chief decided to shift the conversation so that he wouldn’t offend his precious Alt-Right base. He has made it clear he believes that both sides are to blame for the violence and I guess on some level he would be right. If you just looked at it as two groups of people who fought, then yes. Both are to blame, however, when you add in those pesky details, things aren’t so black and white. It was a group made up of the Ku Klux Klan, Nazis and Alt-Right white nationalists chanting against pretty much everyone of any different race and religion, carrying torches and wielding weapons. One of them even plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors and (allegedly) killed one of them, for which he is now on trial. These protestors did not come to join peacefully. They came with the intent to fight.

These protestors did not come to join peacefully. They came with the intent to fight. The counter-protestors were there to make their voices heard and showed no desire for violence. When the fighting broke out, it was not started equally. One side attacked the other and after that, it was an act of self-defense. One reason it got so out of hand, by what I have researched, the police on the scene didn’t seem interested in stopping what was happening.

Now the dust has settled and instead of picking up the pieces and healing, we’re having this ridiculous conversation about blame and who is at fault, like children. The fact is hate groups attacked people and it doesn’t really matter if the other side fought back. In an abusive marriage, when one spouse beats on the other for so long and then one day the abused wife or husband finally pulls out that gun and blows their spouse away, do we consider the abused party as much to blame? No. They did what they had to in order to survive. In WWII, the Allied forces fought the Axis powers. We were fighting to stop Nazis and Fascists from taking over the world and killing millions of innocent people. Do you blame the Allied countries, including the US, for the war? Do we share equal responsibility for the fight? No. If the Nazi party hadn’t been doing what they were doing, there wouldn’t have been a war in the first place. If those protestors hadn’t attacked the counter protestors, there would have been no fight. It may sound childish, but the one who starts the fight carries more responsibility; and when we’re talking about Nazis and the KKK, I don’t see how any thinking, feeling human being can possibly cast blame on those who fought them. To fight them is to be a  hero. Now here comes Trump and his ‘all sides’ comment. Are we really watching our nation’s leader defend Nazis? Has he actually put his party and its followers in a position where they have to rationalize and defend bigots and klansmen? I heard my parents tonight agree with Trump as he called out both sides for Saturday’s violence. It jarred me, to say the least. If you can’t tell the difference between an all out riot and a skirmish between several hate groups and a crowd of counter protestors, I don’t know what more there is to say. Can even a hardcore Republican see past their party and see the difference here? This ‘all sides’ logic is flawed to say the least. Moral obligation in these conflicts makes all the difference. If you truly believe in Trump’s words, then by that extension, every war we’ve fought has been our fault as well. You believe him, you accept that the United States was as wrong in every conflict we’ve fought as our enemies were. By Trump’s logic there is no innocence or guilt; there is no right or wrong and this line thinking explains a lot about his moral bearings. He must live in a world where there is no up or down morally. He exists in a blameless limbo of his own creation. This is a dangerous way for our president to think. I know about hate groups and have seen many in my day. They are the bad guys without exception. They are evil and it’s sad that we’re still fighting against this disease of hate in this day and age. I don’t even care if the counter protestors struck first. They were fighting the good fight. They were striking against a school of thought that needs to leave us. This is one of those no-brainer moments. Nazis and KKK = Bad. Everytime. All the time. Fighting them in any way, shape or form = good.

If you actually want to defend these people, go right ahead, but think long and hard about who you’re defending and what you’re defending. Look at who is sitting at your table. Once you see it clearly, decide honestly if you want to sit there anymore.

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New MST3K First Impressions

It has finally arrived! The new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000! I have been a rabid fan of MST3K for years and I worship at the altar of Best Brains. I wasn’t always such a devout fan. Once upon a time, I thought the premise of the show was stupid. I figured it was just watching bad movies but one day I started watching the show when they cut it into two one-hour shows and that was when I began to warm up. Soon after that, I was taping every episode and soon had them all in my library. Today I own 98% of the dvd collections they have released. I love MST3K.

Now, that being said, let’s talk about the new season. I was going into this with an open mind. I saw Jonah Ray riffing at the MST3K Reunion show that was put on by Rifftrax and I was impressed. He seemed like a real good fit for the show. I was also prepared for a big adjustment with the changing of Tom and Crow’s voices.  I watched the first episode with a nervous stomach. Imagine my shock to see Wil Wheaton and Erin Gray. The first episode was rough, most first episodes are. There was much to explain and establish. Jonah Heston is another employee of Gizmonic and he is lured to the dark side of the moon by Kinga Forrester, daughter of Dr. Clayton Forrester, the mad scientist responsible for the experiment. She and her henchman, Max, aka son of TV’s Frank.

First off, the show is still funny and I hesitate to be too critical but there are just some issues I need to express. The look and feel of the show is totally different. The doorway sequence isn’t quite as exciting as the previous ones and the main set (the bridge of the SOL) doesn’t quite hit that same level of charm as the original. It just looks as though less work was put into it. Tom and Crow and Jonah are all very energetic in the theater, a little too much for my taste. Then we meet the bots and heard their new voices.  The problem here is that Tom and Crow sound shockingly similar. Their personalities are tremendously new.  I’m not sure I can pinpoint the issue here. Watching the original shows and the news ones together helps to see the change. Tom Servo is more ‘street’ and doesn’t carry himself as the over-educated,  pseudo-intellectual we came to know and love. I also have a problem with how the bots are used. Eight episodes in and I still can’t see their personalities shine. They both seem to be very indistinct characters at this point, but then Trace and Kevin had been doing this for a long time and the new guys are just getting started. Crow and Tom both had very distinctive and memorable personalities in the original series to the point they felt almost human and the chemistry between them and Mike and Joel was so organic and easy. In this version, they seem to be trying to make that chemistry happen. The bots don’t seem to have that rapport with Jonah.

As for the riffing of the movies, it’s a new style but they do hit a lot of high points in the theater. Jonah sings more than I’ve ever heard on the show, as do the bots, but they mercifully quick. They still seem a bit disconnected with the movie, but again, the original guys had been doing this for years.

Ultimately, I must say while I was hoping for more, I’m still happy with what they accomplished. It’s rough and choppy a bit here and there, but it is growing on me. I’d like to hear an explanation about how Tom and Crow wound up back on the Satellite of Love after the events of the last season on the Sci-Fi channel, but that’s for another day. I take it all with a grain of salt and I’m still entertained and it can only get better from here on out. I will be posting another review once I’ve finished with this season. You have a first impressions review and then a final thoughts review. Welcome to the Netflix age.

 

White Washed? Seriously?

Ghost In The Shell has come out and as I understand it, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding it. It seems some folks are mad that Scarlett Johansson is playing a role that many say should have gone to an Asian actress. I see. Maybe the film’s casting director couldn’t find an Asian actress that could handle the role as well as Ms. Johansson. She was the best fit for the role from the pool of actors they had to choose from, she just happens to be white.

I see a great amount of irony in all of this. I love how the cultural groups come out en force for this kind of nonsense. I don’t recall anyone raising a word when a white character was cast with a character of a different race. Johnny Storm is black in the Fantastic 4 movie, but not a word is said. A white actor is cast in  place of an Asian actor and all Hell breaks loose. I’m sorry, but if you weren’t upset when it happened the first time, you can’t be upset now.

Race isn’t a deal with me, despite what the last paragraph may suggest. I just believe if a character is created to look a certain way (gender, race, etc) then when that character is portrayed in a film or television series, the actor should retain that appearance. The fact is most writers in the comic book  industry in the sixties were white so they wrote white characters and I just feel the creator’s vision should be respected. If you want to put in a character of a different race, fine, but make sure it works and serves the story. I’ve always seen these ‘against-type-‘ castings as more racist than the people who object to them. The producers are telling us that race DOES matter. If it didn’t matter at all, why change it?

It’s clear that it does matter, but in the eyes of some, it only matters when it’s in a certain way. I object to that.

To Ban Or Not To Ban

I was embroiled in a debate the other night about Trump’s Muslim ban. I took the anti-ban position. My friend was more pro, and he explained his worry, or belief, was that Muslims would come and overtake this country, install Sharia Law and all other horror stories. First, there are already millions of Muslims in this country now and I haven’t heard of any extremist movements, and I am fairly certain that would make the news somewhere. I also doubt it would play out like that because honestly, do you think the Muslims can outpace the Latinos? The Latino population is set to become the majority in the not so distant future, and even still there will still be other races represented as well and I think our system of government is strong enough to deflect any extremist groups, other than Trump himself, clearly.

Now, I’m not a  bleeding heart begging everyone to think about our Muslim brothers and sisters, but I am saying there’s nothing to be gained with this ban. It’s a piece of totally ineffectual legislation. The bad people are going to come no matter what. They’ll just find another way; and let’s just say Trump gets his way and bans all Muslims. Then what? America is safe forever and we all live happily ever after in a mushroom field? Who will be the next threat to the American way of life? Who’s next on Trump’s hit list? When will this ever end? There is a problem here, but the ban is just a poorly applied band aid. This issue needs to be rooted out on a deeper level and singling out one section of the populace isn’t doing the job.

I was called a ‘white apologist’ for this point of view and while I take exception to it, I think maybe we white folks have a lot to apologize for; if you’ll pardon a brief digression at this point. America is a great nation, but it is not perfect and it has its share of blood on its ‘hands’.  Let’s just be honest okay? First, the ancestors of the Anglo Saxon ascendants- the Puritans, came to this land to escape religious  persecution. Let’s not forget this was ‘illegal immigration’. Of course there were no immigration laws back then, but still, if we’re going to be detailed about this,  it was illegal immigration. Once they landed here, they started persecuting. I guess it wasn’t so much that they hated the persecution, but rather they wanted to be doing the persecuting. They fought the natives and took the land by force and intimidation. They slaughtered the natives and expanded their colonies all in the name of their God. Then they sailed to Africa, kidnapped natives from there and brought them here to enslave and treat as cattle. After a bloody war, the Africans were freed, but still seen as sub-human by a good portion of the country. Then for decades after that, they fought for every right they enjoy today. They had to fight just to be seen as human beings, for God’s sake! Repeat this cycle with every other minority group. Remember the internment camps during WWII? Japanese Americans will  never forget. Has singling out one portion of society EVER solved anything? No. It has always caused more problems and for all this, I think we, as Americans owe the world many apologies. To stand upon our history and delude ourselves into believing everything was done for noble reasons is to openly deny the truth. America’s origins was not some altruistic endeavor, but it included a systematic genocide, enslavement of foreign races and flat out discrimination.

You’d think after all these centuries we’d be better. You’d think we would have learned our lessons but there are still people out there who would rather find simple answers and pick one person or group of people to blame for all the ills of the world. Someone to relieve them of the responsibility that the mess they find themselves in now is of their own making. I think the truly American thing to do is to own up and face the truth. Swaddling yourself in lies only breeds ignorance and hostility. I’m not claiming to know the solution myself, but so far as I’ve seen, this ban is only making things worse and since three of the countries not listed on the  ban are where the terrorists are known to be coming from, I really don’t see how the ban as it is now is going to be effective. This was clearly a power move by a president who knows he has no mandate but insists on flexing his power to put his ‘enemies’ in their place. Instead he’s only firing them up to fight harder. I know Hillary wasn’t a lot of people’s first choice, but no matter what you think of her, there is no way we would be in this quagmire  had she won the electoral vote. I can’t say if we’d be worse off or better off. There’s no way to know, but if these  past 3 weeks are a sample of what the next 4 years are going to be like, I think anything else would be a big improvement.

Last Exit to Riverdale

Okay. I gave this thing a look and I’ll be blunt. I hate it. I hate it soooo much. I’ve never been a big Archie fan in the past, but I’ve always appreciated the value of Archie and the gang. The characters are iconic symbols of a true American art form. I read some of the comics, but mostly I’m familiar with Archie through cartoons. The beauty of Archie always has been as it evolved, the characters stayed the same yet still grew and were more nuanced than many people give them credit for. Archie is the all-American while Betty is the epitome of the girl next door. Veronica was the rich spoiled girl with a heart and Jughead was the consumate slacker while Reggie Mantle was the antithesis of Archie and was always a humorous antagonist yearning to get one over on Archie. The supporting cast of Archie (Principal Weatherby, Ms. Grundy, Pop, etc) were also essential. It seemed no matter how the tides of time would rock the real world, these characters were steadfast and true. Even with the recent comic revamp, the spirit of Archie is being preserved, but updated as well.

Now enter Riverdale. The lastest teen soap from The CW. Forget everything you’ve ever known about Archie because they blew it all out the window. Every character has been taken and dipped in a veneer of darkness and corruption. Archie is sleeping with Ms. Grundy(!?) Kevin Keller is having an affair with Moose on the down low? Oh, and let’s not forget that all of Riverdale is being rocked by a murder. Law & Order comes to Riverdale. None of the characters carry the charm or likability of the originals. Even Archie is kind of a douche in this. I get that they actor playing him is hot as Hell, but for me I need more than eye candy to keep me interested in a tv show. The tragedy of this is it didn’t have to happen. They could have found a way to hold on to the traits that made these characters so timeless. Why couldn’t this show have been more of a comedy, or at least just made with a lighter tone? Maybe it could have dealt with stories about the kids and their lives instead of the lies and affairs they carry on with instead. Wrap it all up with an overarching murder mystery that will slowly envelope everyone. That seems to be the quick recipe. I can’t watch this show without some tinge of sadness as I watch the characters becoming nothing more that teen drama cliches. I must say, Greg Berlanti should be ashamed of himself for being a part of this train wreck. He  had a good start with The Broken Hearts Club, and showed real promise with Everwood; incidentally, a show that had no cheap overused gimmicks and actually put story and character over simple minded sensationalism. After that he just became a hack, putting his name on any piece of junk with a hot cast and a script bloated with strained pop-culture references. He’s kind of the Kevin Williamson of this decade, and I thought he also was a little TOO accustomed writing for this demographic.

I could see an Archie series with a bit more of a benign flavor. Sometimes I think the current generation of teens are such horrors because the media portrays them as such. It’s like it’s instructing them on how to be vapid, terrible people but media outlets say they are just producing content that reflects the generation as it is now. I think back to the hay day of Archie and other teen oriented works, such as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. They were good kids. Clean cut, law abiding and respectful. I think some kids in the real world were influenced by this because previous generations, while not perfect, had a lot more good eggs than bad. Maybe if we saw teens and characters associated with teens acting better, we’d get better kids. Show them it’s okay to respect the rules, even when you have to bend or break them at other times. Producers of content for television, film and the internet have an exceptional opportunity to set a better example for the current generation. They have their ears and attention. These mediums could be used to help build a better brand of teenager. Instead, they just shoot for the low hanging fruit. I think in general we need to stop celebrating the darker side of humanity and start appreciating the good that there is.

Shows in the past were much more uplifting in my opinion. I watch old episodes of The Munsters, for example, and there’s no family like them on TV now, and not in the obvious way. Two loving parents, a precocious kid and a lovely young woman living in the same house, but they don’t fight and drag each other down. In general many shows from that era and all the way up to the eighties seemed to have a positive spin on the world, maybe in hopes of projecting a better world. Now, the biggest hit shows are shows that celebrate the worst of us. It seems like the worse the characters are, the better the show is viewed. As this trend has continued, I’ve also noticed how shitty the real world has  become. People have become more rude, more inconsiderate and just more obnoxious. I feel there is some connection. It’s like these shows give some kind of permission to people to be bad. Like being terrible is a good thing. I think people have confused being yourself with being an asshole.

So, in conclusion, I hate the new ‘Riverdale’ show. Sorry for the side trip. I know people are gulping it up like crazy and I guess I’m just one man against the great wave of public opinion. I just thought the show could be more than just another ‘90210’ or ‘Vampire Diaries’. They could have made something really different and wonderful and shown the world that quality entertainment doesn’t have to be so negative and dark. I think the show really betrays the principles and spirit of Archie and his friends. I think if they had just changed all the names, they could have just had a brand new, original drama, but I guess they wanted to drag Archie’s good name and reputation down into the mud with them.

The Need For Adversity

Sometimes when I walk into my comic book store, I’m asked if I have a ‘pull list’ with them. For those who are unaware, a pull list is a list of comics you want set aside so you can just pick them up when you arrive. Now I see the logic behind this. People want to come in, get their stuff and go. That’s fine and if that’s your thing, God bless. As for me, I usually turn down the offer. I tell them I like the hunt, and I do. I love to search through the titles and find my prey. Sometimes I even discover something new or find something unexpected. The randomness o f the unknown is too much of a temptation for me.

This got me to thinking about society in general. When I was growing up, we had to wait until the next week to see the following episode of our favorite shows. Now we can binge the entire season in an afternoon. We would have to wait days, sometimes weeks, for items we ordered through a catalog. Now you get your Amazon order the next day. Same day in some cases. We have grown to resenting a wait. We’re always looking for ways to make things come faster. We want it now and we want it perfect. Why the rush? What happened to the joy of anticipation? I know it seems like torture to have to wait, but that’s when you truly savor the experience and that makes getting what you want even sweeter and more fulfilling. Being able to get whatever you want on demand is like empty calories and the satisfaction fades away so quickly.

I think, as a species, we require adversity. We honestly crave it and by trying to eliminate it, we’re losing a basic part of ourselves and I also see how this can affect the real world. Look at what eBooks have done. It’s easier, cheaper and faster to buy a digital book, but where have all the bookstores gone? I don’t see any new ones opening. Those jobs are gone and are never coming back. I’m not saying digital books are alone to blame, but you can’t say they weren’t a component of the situation. I mean, look at the music industry. Now that we can buy music digitally, music stores have gone extinct as well. Even some stores l like Best Buy and Target are shrinking their music selections or eliminating them all together. We need to be challenged, even in these urban environs. Our hunting instinct still exists, but it has no outlet. I think that’s why some people are ‘shoppers’. They enjoy the hunt, but instead of food, they’re hunting for bargains. I believe this because I know when I am out for something, I will not stop until I get it. I have spent entire days tracking down my treasures not intending to go to such lengths. It’s a drive in me that goes beyond rational thought. It’s instinct. A hunger for some kind of satisfaction and when I find my ‘prey’ I am happy. I feel as though I have accomplished something. I’ve been know to collect those Pop Vinyl figures and while I do purchase many of them online, there are times I go out and seek out some of the harder to find ones and when I do find them, the satisfaction is noticeably higher for me. I could have stayed home and ordered them online, but being out in the world and finding it myself was a  much richer experience. Quicker and faster is not exactly better. I know many would disagree, but it’s true.

Picture a world where everything is yours the second you want it. You don’t have to wait until that new movie comes out, you can just watch it online now. You can shop for your groceries online and have them delivered. You don’t have to wait for anything or go out for any reason. You get to just sit on your ass all day long while people bring you things and you download whatever you want online. This is not how we were designed to live. I’m not saying innovation is evil, but I think it needs to be restrained. It may seem archaic in some cases, but I don’t think we should be trying to make EVERYTHING so easy. We have to work for it a little bit. Someday we’ll have robots making all of our cars, serving us food and movie theaters will be a thing of the past, and that will pretty much deep six the entire entertainment industry, believe me, it will. All we’ll be left with is YouTube videos and whatever homemade crap people are still uploading. I don’t know about you, but I see the way things are going and I don’t want it. I long for the days before the internet and before same day delivery. I honestly believe having to wait and learning to be patient made better people. Kids are now growing up in a world where they get what they want right away and look at them. Over-privileged douchebags who spend their days developing apps so they can sell them to Google for a billion dollars before they graduate high school. Life is getting so mushed up and warped around. We’re losing the foundation and it’s all falling apart.

I know this isn’t going to change anything, but hopefully if someone actually reads this, they’ll at least walk away with something to think about.

Final Thoughts For 2016

The end at last. 2016 has been arguably the worst year in recent memory. Gauged by how much bad stuff went down. We had over 100 celebrity deaths and lost many icons. We acquired a bridge troll for President. We’ve had terrorist attacks and mass shootings left and right while our governing body chose to instead deal with gender bathroom issues. That’s just the public stuff. I won’t even go into the personal stuff. Needless to say, I haven’t had many good years, but 2016 is still managing to stand out as one of the worst.

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why 2016 was so terrible, and I came to a theory that seems to make sense to me. Now I only speak of this as a theory. Think for  a moment that this bad year is totally on us. The concept of getting what you give seems to be a true universal law. It makes sense. You give good, you get good just as if you give bad, you get bad. Has anyone wondered if we’re just giving out too much bad? Culturally, I seem to notice a subtle trend. Pride in being an asshole. So many people take such pride in being obnoxious and rude. They say they are just being honest and speaking their mind. They angle it to make themselves look almost noble for being a terrible person. This isn’t a sudden trend. We can see how this has been brewing for some time. I think the clearest indicator of this is television. Think for a moment about the current TV  landscape. So many shows on the air today seem to celebrate being the worst person you can be. We’ve created a culture that looks at awful people as some kind of anti-heroes in our society and because of that they are worshiped and admired while people who stay on the side of the angels are looked upon as weak and boring. People too afraid to offend someone, but I wonder what is so wrong with not wanting to offend everyone? Can you not still communicate your point of view without offending someone? What’s wrong with showing other people respect? I don’t want to censor people, but I don’t know why considering the feelings of others is so terrible. You can think whatever you like, but it pays to be diplomatic.

I think this started at about the time of Married With Children and Rosanne. These shows and many like them showed the characters as we really are instead of how we wished we could be and that was great; but somewhere we crossed a line and instead of telling the truth, they started to create another level of society. There came more shows showing the characters acting ‘real’ but as they got worse, our society got worse. Now shows that fully embrace the worst of everything are runaway hits. Case in point: Game of Thrones. I’ve read and seen enough to know that there are virtually no redeemable characters in the GOT world. The people, I suppose, act as the writers would assume anyone would act in their positions. Kings screwing around all the time and siring legions of bastard children. People who kill, rape and steal and looked upon as heroes for doing so. Shows that make awful, amoral people the heroes of their stories.

Maybe the time is coming that we should look into celebrating what’s positive about our world. Revealing that being good doesn’t mean you’re some boring, naive simpleton. Trying to be a good person isn’t being naive. There is good in this world. We just simply choose to ignore it because it isn’t as much fun as negativity. It’s more fun to tear down than to build up. There was a time when our culture was a bit more moral positive, and in those days people were better. More polite and just nicer as a whole. It isn’t just that we celebrate bad behavior, but we also stigmatize good behavior. We label so-called ‘do-gooders’ as lame or boring. we created a narrative that those who work with the rules are bland and overly sensitive, not wishing to hurt anyone’s feelings in some hope of being accepted. I just wonder why this has become the case. What is wrong with being nice? More people should be nice. Maybe if more people were nice, this past year would not have sucked so hard. We’re creating a world where we are expecting everyone to be a bastard and by expecting them to be bad, we behave badly as well.  Maybe we should start expecting the best, because usually whatever you expect of other people is what you get.

I leave you with this for the coming year. Try and swim upstream and be nice and think of others over yourself. Take a moment to realize you aren’t the only person on Earth. Don’t be afraid to consider others first, because it doesn’t make you weak, but rather it strengthens us all. The power to have a great 2017 is within us. To quote the wise Jerry Spring, please be good to yourselves, and each other. Make 2017 the best year yet!

Happy new year!