Doctor Who’s Not House

Tenebrous.

It’s my all time favorite word. Look how lovely it looks all spelled out with that classy british looking U. The way it just rolls off the tongue. Tenebrous, of course, means ‘seething with tene’.

Just kidding. It means dark. Shadowy. Gloomy. It’s right up there with turn of the century classics like ‘eldritch’ or ‘phantasmal’.

I’ve recently become a (very) late convert to Doctor Who. I’ve been working my way through the new run. Not in order, but I think the Doctor would approve of that. Also of the wise decision to choose him for my viewing pleasure over the misanthrope with a cane. Seriously, Doctor Who lost his whole planet and loves pretty much everyone. Doctor House had a motorcycle wreck and works at alienating anyone in line of sight. If you want to know if someone is an optimist or a pessimist, don’t waste time on the glass half full or half empty malarkey. Just ask- Doctor Who or Doctor House?

What’s that? Yes I know Doctor Who has a way higher death rate. I still maintain it’s the sunny one. Look… I think you’re missing the point.

Where was I?

Tenebrous.

I just watched the first half of “The Silence in the Library”- didn’t know it was a two parter. Don’t tell me how it ends. You know…. spoilers and all. But it’s so far one of my absolute faves, because it’s so very spooky and y’know… tenebrous. I mean, it has killer shadows.

Seriously, lookit that. Why wouldn’t you be scared of it? Everything you’ve ever been even slightly spooked by could be in there. 

Or it could have a puppy. Shadows are unpredictable like that. Unpredictable like the good Doctor.

One of the things that has made me fall into absolute adoration with this show is how it seems to combine the beloved tropes of classic science fiction and horror without retreading familiar ground. It’s like the best of the Twilight Zone, the Outer Limits, Tales from either the Crypt or the Dark Side and Dark Shadows all rolled up in one where Rod Serling/the Crypt Keeper steps out of the elusive narrator post and becomes the catalyst for all the action. It’s so… anthological. And I know that’s not a word, but I’m making it one now.

I was rejoicing over what a great and novel concept killer shadows was when it reminded me that I own a six issue miniseries published by Vertigo comics in the mid-90s wherein a man’s shadow becomes a serial killer. It’s written by John Ney Rieber (who also wrote the best of my beloved Books of Magic series) and just thinking of it made me want to read it again.

And that’s the magic of Doctor Who. This episode wasn’t as amazingly mind blowing as I first thought it would be, but it turned out to be associated with only the best in my mind. Being creative is a fine thing, but being good is oh so much better.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Doctor, there’s nothing new under the sun, but it just might be in the shadows.

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

I have a friend who I value deeply because he disagrees with the fundamentals of everything I believe in, but he does it without condescension or vitriol so he always makes me think.

Earlier today, I mentioned something that I always considered as a given. I said that wealth is congenital. If your parents were rich, you’ll most likely be rich too. If you’re born poor, you’ll most likely stay poor. I have heard within the past few years that the ability to move from one class to another is more easily achieved in India than in the United States today. My friend, noticeably startled, said he would need to see numbers on that. It made me wonder if I had been subject to indoctrination or naivete, so like any reasonable person that demands to be right all the time I set out to look for facts that backed me up.

Take a second here and open another browser window and type the phrase “how many millionaires are self made”. I’ll wait.

Surprised? I was. I found that the number of self made millionaires has been increasing since the 80s, not declining. But then I read further and I realized we may have been talking about two different things. I was thinking in terms of social mobility and was led instead down a street of straight economics.  The average net worth of these “millionaires” was 3.2 million dollars- 1.6 when removing the top five percent of the group who owned ten million dollars or more.

This article in particular I found especially telling. Those that had worked with fairly middle class incomes for all of their lives and never spent a penny are the majority of millionaires in our country. These are the “job creators” we are supposed to revere, but if you read the manifesto of awesomeness in the article I linked, these people have never willingly spent a dime which they were not obligated to spend. They are largely self employed and I will go out on a limb here and say they don’t employ anyone they can get away with not hiring. As economist Paul Krugman so often points out, my income is your spending and vice versa. These “millionaires” take out of the system and reap all the benefits of a free market economy and by their own admission they put nothing back into it beyond their obligations under the law.

This wealth hoarding is one of the key factors that contributes to our economic stagnation. How is our economy to recover if those who have the money won’t spend it? This is exactly why trickle down economics make so little sense in my mind. They wall themselves off and become insular and look down on the rest of us for not having any money while most of it rests in their bank accounts accruing interest.

This leads me back to my point about social mobility. These people may be rich (though not really- they generally seem to have a moderate income and the advanced years to have socked it all away), but they still live like they are poor- an interesting departure from the nouveau riche during the periods of history in which class judgment was more pronounced. In fact, they’re not nouveau riche at all. They never jumped class from one social strata to another, which is the “American Dream” we’ve been spoon fed since birth. Materially, they’re either where they’ve been all along or are *slightly* better off.

We’ve heard a lot about the declining middle class and in terms of income, those of a median income do seem to be shrinking as the gap between rich and poor widens. But in terms of well… class… The middle class is as robust or more so than ever as people cling to it as a cultural way of life.

What can I conclude from all of this? For years people have been telling us that the job creators are the wellspring of health and wealth for all of society. Now it seems to me that it may be true, but only if they fess up to their responsibilities of being wealthy (and wealth is a responsibility) and spend the cash. But if the haves keep taking and they keep taking and they keep taking (earn and earn and earn) and they put nothing back into the system from which they benefit….

Well that sounds sort of like entitlements to me. I must be wrong though because we all know only poor people feel entitled to things.

Message from beyond

So obviously I’ve been away a good long while. For the five hundredth time in my life I’ve been asking myself the question “What do I want to be when I grow up?’ Let me tell you something young people– If you have a dream and ANYONE is skeptical of your ability to chase that dream…. well you just do that dream anyways, because spite is the tastiest garnish in the meal of life. 

What prompted me to come back and write? What’s that gibberish above all about? I’ll tell you that dreaming is a talent in and of itself and last night I was lucky enough to meet a comedic hero of mine. I’m not throwing his name out there because I’m not sure that everyone will appreciate this amazing story in the spirit in which it’s intended. 

I was standing there waiting in line for his autograph and to me it’s like waiting for God to sign my Bible. The line is getting shorter and I’m getting closer and all I can think to myself is “Oh crap. Now I have to figure out what to say to God…. and I don’t even go to church.”

So I get up front and I’m babbling and I’m gushing and he’s smiling and being as gracious as he can be because he’s a pro. But this is after the second show. It’s after midnight. I’m sure all he wants is to get to his crappy comedy bed and get some sleep to do it all again tonight and THEN…. the local comic who was helping with the merchandise table tells my hero “Yeah, this is one of our open miccer’s.”

All of a sudden it’s like someone just told God I get where he’s coming from because I’ve got a chemistry set. Now he’s looking at me like I’m a person instead of a fan and he’s got his work face on. His I’m actually paying attention to what you say face and it’s like being under a laser and someone just told him I’m a comic and I have to say “not anymore”. Which prompts the question “Why’d you quit?”

People have been asking me that for months. I’ve answered it like a million different ways and I don’t even know how many of those ways are true but here’s God looking me in the face and waiting for an answer. 

“I decided to step aside and leave it for the people that really wanted it,” I tell him. “I’m not really, y’know, hungry for it.”

I have barely finished this sentence when he tells me “Yeah, you are. Look at you. You’re freakin’ out. You think you care about meeting someone like me if you don’t care? You love this and need to start writing again.”

And then he says the words that I treasure most of all. The words that make me  decide he deserves to remain anonymous because if you don’t know his work, you just might not get it. 

God told me “Don’t be a puss.”

In the America that worships the cult of Self Esteem, very few people will shoot with you straight. Very few people will tell you things how they are. So few things that anyone says can be trusted because it’s all spoken in the everyone’s a winner code. The fact that there are still people left in the world who can look you straight in the eye and tell you to suck it up and not be a loser is the sort of thing that makes me look up to this man so much. 

And if anyone out there thinks that’s an appalling thing to say to a stranger, let me add a post script. Because the very next thing he says to me is “I want to see you here again the next time I’m in town and I want to hear you say you’re back in it again OR…. I want to hear you say you quit and you have to really say it without an ounce of regret in your voice.” Now I have a year to do some serious thinking. Deadline’s on. 

So even though he won’t read this, and he doesn’t know- I just want to take this opportunity to say thanks to God for looking at a fan and seeing a person and to issue the challenge to everyone to make the world a better place. If you want to to live a life of love for your fellow man, be prepared to tell them how much they suck. 

They’ll thank you later. 

The True Price of Procrastination

In my ongoing effort to divulge myself of the boatloads of crud that I’ve accumulated over the years, I came across a box in the closet that was chock full of papers. What sort of papers? All of the unfinished books and scripts and poems and short stories I started over those self same years. 

I looked through them for most of yesterday to see if there was anything worse salvaging and I found there was a lot there that had intrigued me in the first place. But then came the most maddening part. Not having gone through the end of anything, I had no idea how anything ended. It was like being forced to read the Rime of the Ancient Mariner over and over again. 

Here’s the rub. When you’re reading the written word, no one will appeal to you as much as yourself. No one will speak to you as clearly as you do yourself. You know how you feel, what you like, who you commiserate with. When you bury yourself in half finished projects and come back to look at them weeks or months or even years later, you’re then in the unenviable position of writing your own fan fiction if you want to know how things turned out.

Say, I said to myself- You know that Orphan Annie/Lolita mashup you were writing? You think that Warbucks and Annie escaped to a country with lenient social values and no extradition laws or do you think they flamed out together like Bonnie and Clyde? 

Dunno. 

You think those two childhood friends who went on to be different types of musicians with competing careers reunited once more before the party boy died of an inevitable drug overdose? 

Dunno. 

Are you wasting your time on irrelevant, juvenile, derivative, wooden claptrap?

Dunno. 

But I do know every few months I’m possessed of the urge to go back and add a few more pages. I expect I should have a finished product by 2024. I expect closure to be a unique and edifying experience. But will the work be any good?

Dunno. 

An Organizational Odyssey

I’ve been awfully quiet lately and it’s mostly due to work things. But work is boring and not worth talking about, so what else is going on?

Spring cleaning, thanks for asking. I’ve been trying to get away from the computer and into the real world. It hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world because I’m not the cleanest person in the world.

Exhibit A

If you look closely into all that junk, you can tell that I like video games. A lot. The shame has been that all these years I’ve been collecting them, they haven’t really gotten the attention they deserve. They’re not just fun to play, but they’re pretty to look at.

See?

They have a lot of furniture out there for gamers. Mostly it’s designed to hide your game gear (as opposed to your Game Gear- that’s my hand held on the right over there- go Sega!), which is too bad. This isn’t 1994 and there’s no nerd stigma with being a gamer anymore. Sure, that’s an opinion, but I’m going to stand by it. They have an ottoman where you can store all your rock band gear. But I think visually it can be far more appealing than any old ottoman.

Image

It’s easier to take down than it looks.

And then there are the controllers. Oh god, the controllers. They just keep coming! Collecting things, whatever those things are that provide you with fulfillment can be a diverting way to pass the time. But it’s only one half of the equation. If you don’t collect responsibly and showcase effectively, you’re only two steps away from being showcased on an episode of Hoarders. Plus there is some fun in figuring out the challenge of what to do with your things in a limited space.

ImageSee that thing? It was a spice rack I got for a dollar at the thrift store mounted on the base of a lamp I cut down to size. If you’ve gone through the trouble of creating a custom collection, why keep it in a store bought case that doesn’t fit your vision?

Or maybe I’m just being pretentious and the truth is just that I was bored and I wanted to make something. In the end, I just wanted to remind people I was still here and haven’t forgotten everyone and show that I’m making good use of my time away.

Any other borderline hoarders out there? What do you collect? And what do you do with your collections?

Aside

Once upon a time, there was a land of excess and plenty and it was called the 1980s and nothing showed the spirit of the age better than the movies. It was a time of Rambo and Die Hard and Predator.

Also, Total Recall. Yeah it came out in 1990, but that would have put it in production in the 80s and I’m going to count it. Besides, if there’s anything that says excess and plenty, it’s Total Recall director Paul Verhoeven. He’s the goremaster that brought us Robocop and Starship Troopers. That apparently makes him sacrosanct for some reason. I’ve been reading the reviews of the new Total Recall remake and the common theme is that the movie is muddled, confusing and lacks the charm and fun of the original.

This is fun and charming and not at all disgusting and stupid.

Here’s a secret I have: I think Total Recall is a piece of crap movie directed by an awful director. Yes there was a time when I loved that movie, but I was 14 when it came out. If I still loved everything I loved when I was 14, my room would be riddled with Motley Crue posters and I would think Terry Pratchett the height of sophistication.

My point is that I’m not really attached to the original movie, so I went and saw the remake last night and I have to say that I think it’s leaps and miles superior to the original movie. Yes, it is one of the most excessive and stupid action movies I have seen come out in recent memory. Everything explodes, lots of people die, there are dumb one liners and the plot is predictable and Hollywood in every way- all of which is also true of the Verhoeven version.

So what’s the difference?

The difference is that we’ve long left the 80s behind us. The problem with the Verhoeven movie is twofold. The ideas of the first film were too big and complex to be captured by 1990’s special effects in a way that didn’t look dated, quaint and silly a year after the movie came out. Second, with a plot so big and over the top, getting the most big and over the top director in the world to film it and then hiring the most over top actors to star in it is like adding a nuclear bomb to a warehouse full of fireworks. You can look at it, but it’s going to kill you.

I think there are times in a movie when it’s absolutely necessary to use excessive violence and disturbing imagery in advancing the story. Saving Private Ryan comes to mind. The Godfather. A Clockwork Orange. All of the violence of the Verhoeven movie is superfluous. Horror movie levels of gore are grafted on to a swashbuckling adventure level of a story. At a more modest PG-13 rating, remake director Len Wiseman more wisely (haha) focuses on the fast paced, adrenaline rushed action sequences and lush production settings that make for wonderful popcorn fests. There are those that argue that this kind of bloodless violence is in itself more desensitizing to human life than the over the top violence of the 80s because we’re not subjected to the consequences of the actions taken, but most times a movie doesn’t need to be a morality play.

This remake is a gleeful throwback to the time of sci fi villains that were not afraid to be villainous. The modern storyteller trend leans towards moral relativism and most bad guys are just misunderstood good guys in their own hearts (see Avatar- Giovanni Ribisi isn’t a crazed acquisitive moron, he’s a captain of industry!). Bryan Cranston and his army of stormtrooper-esque heavies are bad, bad people and absolutely ruthless. They don’t temper it and in fact, Kate Beckinsale is the most terrifying female action role I have ever seen. If they ever reboot the terminator, the robot killer should be played by this woman. The ruthless tenacity with which she pursues Colin Farrell makes Sharon Stone’s role in the Verhoeven movie look like a woman who once took a self-defense course at the Y.

Watch out Arnie! She has sneakers!Oh… a gun… she CAN be scarier.

Then there is her boss. Current Hollywood darling of the badass role, Bryan Cranston plays Chancellor Cohagen. Rather than coming across as a pampered bureaucrat that purchased an army (sorry Ronny Cox), he seems more like a seasoned mercenary who probably inspired an army to follow him. I was so taken with his commitment to violence that it made me want to see a prequel to this movie- The Cohagen Chronicles: Ascension of a Badass.

As for the design of the movie, I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to Blade Runner, but I think that’s a lazy comparison just because both movies are based on Philip K. Dick stories and so naturally share some physical similarities (he was big on hover cars). If anything, I think this more closely resembles a cross between Star Wars and I,Robot (although with a touch of Blade Runner, too). There were some times when I wished the action would slow just enough to let me more fully appreciate the well crafted design of the film- there was too much use of the shaky cam during some of the chase and fight scenes and there were moments I was nauseous because of it. When you have the time to look, each scene is filled with a new location with enough variation to keep me engaged, but enough similarity to give the impression of a cohesive world.

Overall, it’s not Shakespeare, not even Merchant and Ivory. But if you want to see a mindless piece of fluff that will keep you engaged for a few hours as long as you’re not willing to over think it- you could do worse than Total Recall.

Glass Half Full?

Earlier this evening I was bored and so I went and perused what was going on over in the political blogs. Because apparently, for some reason, I decided anger and outrage was preferable to boredom. 

By now, everyone in the country is aware of the Chick-Fil-A craziness that swept our nation last Wednesday. Or as I prefer to think of it a craziness that went viral. I find that phrase exceedingly apt these days. If this were the movie Outbreak, Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy would be the monkey. 

I read something on a blog earlier where the gentleman that wrote it declared the whole thing a great victory for conservative values and proof that one person truly can make a difference. Because people flooded the fast food restaurants and “voted” in support of a business that espoused their values with their dollars. If one needed any more proof about the importance of individual participation, he reminded us, one needn’t look any further than the 2000 elections in which George H.W. Bush was narrowly elected by less than 600 votes. 

Please allow me to present an alternative viewpoint.

Leaving aside the supreme court and voter disenfranchisement debacle of 2000, I’d like to instead talk about this gentleman’s central thesis. People all over America voted, he says. With their money. 

Voted…. with… their… money. 

I know you heard me the first time, but I had to repeat it to convince myself to believe someone really said this. If anything, this point of view points to the final death knoll of the democratic process in America. Going to the voting booth is considered a meaningless and passe ritual by many (admittedly I fall into that camp), but consumerism is the new political activism. Gandhi, King, Lennon, X- all pale wannabes against the heroic crusade of Dan Cathy. 

Let me spell this out: Giving your money to the mega corporations that make law in this country in the hopes that they will pass your social agenda is not political activism and it is not politically desirable. The economic disparity in this country means that anyone that disagrees with the prevailing social agenda of the haves is effectively disenfranchised. It does not matter how many of your hard earned dollars you “vote” with if the other guys have more votes. You need look no further than the Romney/Obama fundraisers to see the fallacy of that premise. 

And the elected officials that are actually supposed to be guiding social policy are, ideally and in a robust democracy, not beholden to special interest groups and corporations to make law. Because they are already rewarded by the taxpayers with a salary and an operating budget to take the helm of national policy. 

Of course that all falls apart when the taxpayers don’t actually have any money to give their government. After all, we can’t all afford to bank in Luxembourg and the minimum wage has never felt more minimal. 

By the way, if anyone would like to read that original blog, it can be located here:

http://deliberatingdave.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/chick-fil-a-and-the-insignificant-voter/