South Park and Choosing to Care

I was a late comer to the South Park train. While a lot of kids were watching it all the way back in ’97,  I was aware of the show, but never seemed to see it. Comedy was a big part of my life growing up, though. I remember watching things like Mystery Science Theater on Comedy Central late at night and Comic View on BET when I happened to be over at my sister’s late enough.

I had a healthy appetite for comedy.

South Park was edited and aired in syndication around the time I was in high school, I think. By then I was old enough to get a lot of the jokes and the movie had come to cable, which I had seen a few times. I had a South Park shirt and considered myself a fan of the show. I thought the guys writing it ‘got me’–that they were the kind of guys I wanted to be like. I didn’t just want to not care on a personal, emotional level. Not caring needed to be the default reaction when faced with almost anything.

When you’re fifteen or sixteen it’s easy to see how this world view applies to you. It’s hard to find somewhere to fit in and when you’re already attending a school where graduating classes numbered under fifty students there was a good chance that you might not have the friend group that even outcasts had at bigger schools. Not caring seemed like a good way to deal with the pressure. What you don’t care about can’t hurt you.

South Park takes that to a deeper level. It poked fun at everyone, a thing I once greatly respected. It reinforced my notions about the world, or it reinforced the notions that I figured I should have: gays are weird and okay, as long as they’re not hurting anyone, but you’re not doing any disservice by calling people faggots as an insult. The younger generation is past racism completely, so all that’s left is to let all of the older people die off (there’s no way that racism is still really affecting us!). The choice between Presidential candidates means nothing, they’re both horrible.

From about ages fourteen to twenty I probably held some version of these beliefs and others that lined right up with the show. I didn’t mind when they took aim at targets that I cared about or liked or believed in. It was okay because they were making fun of EVERYONE, right?

As long as you’re indiscriminate in your fun poking, what’s the harm?

Fast forward to I’m thirty and I still love comedy. I still can’t get enough crude humor as evidence by me loving Doug Stanhope, watching Daniel Tosh, and being able to quote Hannibal Burress’s albums like scripture. Until a few months ago I thought South Park had been canceled. No one had mentioned the show in years around me (probably a testament to having friends that are ‘keepers’).

The internet was set on fire by this past years South Park seasonal target. PC culture, the new boogeyman of the Alt-Right, Brocialists, and just your garden variety bigot. This isn’t to say that there isn’t problems with hard-left liberalism, but to hear some people talk about it liberals are to blame for terrorism, the break down of the American family, and pretty much everything else under the sun.

To see South Park make season long antagonists out of PC culture seems less like the brave thing that people always claim that the show is and more like the expected thing for an audience that grew up watching the show. A lot of them became the adamant Bernie Sanders supporters that refer to Hillary Clinton as ‘a cunt’ every chance they get and don’t understand why it’s sexist (and unwarranted). They are the ones who refuse to look at race, sexual orientation, or gender even when it’s undeniably a factor (Elliot Rodger shooting, for instance).

I was a lot more moderate the right leaning when I started watching the show and I would say that I was more easily offended back then.  Me now still has a bit of that don’t care attitude. But I care when it counts. I care when you’re selling me a value system that’s flat out wrong and trying to reinforce views that don’t really work.

Yeah, it’s just a show. South Park isn’t the news or some politically commentary, except that it’s being used that way this past season and people have cited it before in the past to refer to their views. There are still some moments from the show that I can relate to, everyone expecting me to just like Family Guy because of my sense of humor (spoiler alert, I’ve hated Family Guy for almost the entirety of it’s run), but I think that I outgrew South Park years ago. I’m kind of glad that I did.

Some things are important to me and I don’t see that as a fault. Equal representation of all races and genders (at least in the sense of how they’re portrayed, because not all situations would have all types of people there) is important to me. Caring about politics is important to me, being well informed, and who gets elected is all important to me. PC culture isn’t such a dangerous thing that you need to go on about it for thirteen episodes or how ever long their seasons are.

And yeah, maybe the nearly one thousand words I spent on this was too much care, but I think it extends to more than South Park. And more importantly, it’s something that is relevant, because we live in a world where people actually don’t care enough.

Firefly Season Two

Joss Whedon had already made a name for himself by 2002; Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel had been on the air several seasons. A growing community of fans were picking up comics, tie-in-novels as well as watching the shows. When the announcement for Firefly came down I wasn’t really interested. I had dropped Buffy by that time, but still watched Angel religiously (and I will go down fighting that Angel was one of the best things Whedon did on TV).

12717659_1060323854011501_7933737666942233070_nFirefly’s advertising didn’t exactly appeal to my sensibilities. I don’t like the Western genre, or at least, back then I thought I didn’t like what the Western genre was supposed to be. I didn’t know any of the actors in the show well enough to be drawn in by that and the Fox network didn’t exactly make the show easy to watch.

When it was canceled I don’t think a lot of people were even paying attention. The internet had matured into the state it has today where websites track shows that are on the tracking block and organize huge campaigns to save them. Hell, if there had been enough people to organize it might not have gotten canceled.

It wasn’t until about two years later in college when I saw the Serenity movie because a girl at I liked at the time wouldn’t stop talking about it. We don’t even talk anymore, but if it weren’t for Allison, I can safely say I would have never checked this show out. I haven’t watched a Joss Whedon show since then and only his movies have really drawn me in.

Firefly is a good show. I don’t deny that despite not being the biggest fan of its creator. My reason for this post comes next: it’s fucking 2016. In a few months this show will have aired fourteen years ago. Fox cancelled it, no one wanted to pick it up after the movie, DROP IT. 

I don’t know what made Firefly into some kind of nerd Alamo. It’s the thing you’re expected to agree with: when you’re around geeks and nerds and someone starts to bitch about what Fox did to Firefly you’re supposed to rally around this as fact like it’s some inherent evil act perpetrated by the people at Fox; like it’s the Tuskegee Experiment or Japanese Internment camps.

People are still going on about it today, even while many of the actors have found life elsewhere, one is on a show that’s lasted almost a decade, and another has become a sexist sock puppet. I don’t get why this is the hill people choose to die on. Why is this show so vital? It had potential, but there are missteps in it and we can’t assume it would have gotten better. Especially since at an anniversary special a troubling rape plot line was revealed:

“She had this magic syringe, she would take this drug and if she were, for instance, raped, the rapist would die a horrible death. The story was, she gets kidnapped by Reavers. and when Mal finally got to the ship to save her from the Reavers, he gets on the Reaver ship and all the Reavers are dead. Which would suggest a kind of really bad assault. At the end of the episode, he comes in after she’s been horribly brutalized, he comes in, he gets down on his knee and he takes her hand and he treats her like a lady.”

Just let it be. It’s a good show that people have made into some kind of rally point only because it got canceled before it made any of the colossal fuck-ups that all shows seem to stumble through on a long enough time-line. Stop acting like you were done some grave injustice because a network canceled a show that wasn’t making them enough money, that you probably weren’t watching.

iZombie Season One Finale “Blaine’s World”

cast-izombie-Wallpaper

I might have mentioned some months back, when this show first started, that I watched it at first because the idea of the whole thing seemed stupid. The marketing that I saw, which was mostly still images in magazines, comics and on billboards, just made me thing think that this was going to be one of those stupid CW romance driven shows for tweens.

What I got when I actually watched it was probably the best start to any show on the CW since Supernatural. The first episode was enough to carry me to the next and it seemed like it was just getting better each week.

The finale was huge with a scene that Rob Thomas, show creator (no relation to the band Matchbox 20), called similar to the ending of Taxi Cab. It’s really nice to see a cast like this built up over the course of a season and a thing brought to such a satisfying close. It helped to also know that there’s already a second season in the works.

If you don’t know what iZombie is the basic premise goes like this: Olivia Moore, a medical student is scratched by a zombie at a boat party and begins to turn. To maintain her humanity she must consume human brains and to get a steady supply she drops out of med school and becomes a coroner. The only problem is that when she eats the brains she can get flashbacks of the person’s life or even some skills of personality traits she they have and she uses this to help solve their murders and poses as a fake psychic (for the sake of police).

The whole thing sounds preposterous, but it’s put together in a really good way and with a really good cast. Some of the most satisfying moments of television I’ve had this past year have been because of this show and with only thirteen episodes under its belt that’s saying something.

Since it’s a CW show I’m certain it will show up on Netflix in the next few months—it’s worth a watch or even a re-watch.

Why Media Matters (but it’s really very little to do with media)

The typical nerd pursuits have seen their universes shaken up a lot over the last few years. It’s not all been bad, but there’s a lot of push back against the changes. The Hugo Awards drama has driven a world between the writing world. Video games have seen a virtual war between a more progressive side and a kind of old guard. Comic books have suffered numerous issues with the inclusion of minorities and women and the hiccups that these changes cause. Media in general has been shaken up when it comes to race, sexual orientation and gender.

Exhibit A: Captain America fucking up the day of some criminals while flying

These aren’t the most important subjects in the world.

Baltimore is has been the stage for riots for the last few days. There’s an election coming over the horizon. The Middle East is still on fire.

And yet I can’t stop coming back to these things because they’re in my life everyday. I’ve grown to appreciate comic books and I grew up with video games and fantasy fiction. They’re a part of who I am, but not who I am. For so many people these things are an integral part of their person and that’s why passionate fights come out of the changes.

This has been written about extensively from both sides of all issues. If your mind is already made up one way or another I’m not going to be able to change it, but I land firmly on the side of the progressive in every case. Companies have realized that appealing to a wider audience can get them the big bucks and doesn’t have to be hokey or pandering. What’s wrong with that?

I’ve been black my whole life. It’s not the kind of thing you can wake up one day and realize or suddenly become, but I haven’t always understood why women had issues with being seen in a sexual light or why gays deserved any rights. When you come from a state like Texas it’s easy to get inundated with the culture. It’s really in all American culture. You don’t understand why the poor don’t just “get a job and work harder” and maybe you think “sexual harassment is something cooked up by women to give them an excuse to get special treatment”.

These things are baked into the clay we’re molded from and it’s hard to chip away at that mindset. A kind of cognitive dissonance is at play too. Being black and thinking that I deserve to be afforded the same rights as anyone else while not thinking the same about women or gays requires a little bit of mental gymnastics. We think of ourselves ahead of others. We consider our own problems first.

We get mad at women because we feel like they owe us their bodies and their time simply because we exist and we’re asking for it. We feel like gays are different or without God and therefore should be looked at as subhuman.

It’s hard to remember when the switch clicked in my head. I remember the steps to get there: reading testimonials by women who had been looked at like juicy steaks their whole lives and felt up by men they trusted. Or getting so angry at a friend who I claimed to be in love with when she didn’t return my affection that I cut her out of my life. Or finding out how many women I cared about and knew for years had stories of sexual assault. Or getting to know gays as people and finding out people I knew were gay and there was nothing wrong with them. It didn’t make me feel any different about or around them.

I’d say it’s maturity and growing up, but then there are those twice my age with the mindset I had at sixteen. And it’s easy to slip back into the old habit of thinking badly about someone solely because they’re different than you.

The culture around us is built on a foundation of cultures from all over the world and attitudes and mores that are centuries old shape the world we live in. Even when you’ve realized the truth, you’re immersed in the lie and it’s hard to keep believing.

That’s where the comic books, video games and other media come in. Media is often our first interactions with some things. We see Asians on television and we figure they must all be like that; it’s easy to think that people are like the races in Lord of the Ring. Well, it’s easy to think that about people who aren’t like you. All blacks are athletic, love watermelon and crime. Asians are bad with women, but good at math and science. Hispanics are somehow both hard working and lazy. Liberals are degenerates who hate America. Conservatives are sexist bigots who love war. Gays are fashionable, nosey and annoying. Women are bad at math and emotional. Feminists are man hating lesbians.

I can go on like this all day.

For a long time we’ve seen these things played out in media. We’ve had them hammered into our heads in print and seen them run their course on the screen. The country has only started to come around from a lot of the older ones in the last one hundred years or so and it’s been a slow battle. The progressive attitude toward characterization of the “other” in media has got to grow up, because it’s where a lot of the kids being born now will get their first taste of the world out there and where a lot of us reinforce our worst fears and best realizations about people.

These groups aren’t homogenized. I know a woman who is a math genius. I know a Conservative guy who let me borrow gas money when I needed and has a teen daughter that he dotes on and used to bring to play Dungeons and Dragons with us. I know a really hood black guy that loves his comics and treats women with the utmost respect. I have a gay cousin that loves him some Jesus and I have women who are among my best friends…the whole point to this rant is that we don’t need to take what people are as who they are or all they are.

Bad people exist in every group, but there’s a lot of good out there and if we just stopped being so quick to judge we’d probably see more of it.

Now, I promise I haven’t smoked anything and I’m not drunk. I’m just as guilty as anyone else of making the mistake of pointing to a whole group as bad as anyone else. And to me this whole battle over media culture is bigger than the characters and fandoms housed inside of that culture. We need to all work for that.

I don’t think I’ll change any minds, but I hope I do.

So Did The Fat Lady

ac3ea7190c324be4cbd4338c53e097ebThe FX show “Louie” Has been some of the most impressive I’ve ever seen and it seems like not many people are watching it. When you consider that it’s on the same network that bought up shows like “Archer” and “Always Sunny” you would think that it had the kind of support from other comedies that could catapult it into being the kind of thing people are talking about at work the next day.

After the episode last week, entitled So Did the Fat Lady, I’m starting to think I know why there’s not a more prominent following behind “Louie”. The show is staggeringly brilliant, but it’s brutal. Not in that fantastical Game of Thrones way so that people can’t look away, but in a way that the show is being so real with you that you want to look away. You only don’t because it’s such a good well written show. You feel for characters, even ones that you just meet some of the time and you get to walk this awkward line between surreal and realism that’s not the kind of thing that I’m used to seeing on TV.

It can be hard to watch a show that points out faults in something that you’ve done or a way you’ve behaved. This show can do that and does it really well.

The episode tackles the way men are about dating overweight women versus how things are for overweight men. It’s an interesting and brave commentary and it will probably make a lot of people mad (bring up overweight women or anything to do with them in some circles and watch the anger it provokes).

It’s good that a show has the courage to do these kinds of things and even point the finger at it’s audience. It’s for the best that this show isn’t on Comedy Central too, because the network seems to have very little patience for smart comedy these days. And while Archer and “Always Sunny” might technically be the same genre of show as “Louie”, they’re not hard hitting and watching them isn’t going to shine a spotlight on you.

We need more of this kind of thing in media. We need more out there that can entertain while making you think.

Television Tits: What Other Premium Channel Shows Can Learn From True Detective

true-detective-headerBreasts aren’t a huge secret anymore. We’ve had celebrity sex tapes and leaked photos from stolen phones. If you just need to see a pair of breasts and any pair can do you can hop over to Google. Sometimes you’ll get breasts by searching for completely unrelated subjects.

 

It stands to reason that anyone who really wanted to see nude pictures would just save themselves the twenty a month and hit up Google. Premium movie channels don’t seem to see it the same way. Game of Thrones and True Blood are notorious for it, the latter starting it’s entire run off with a blow job scene. And a scene from Spartacus I caught once seemed to be a group of people being raped by another group of people in a room composed entirely of blood.

It’s nice to run across a show like True Detective that doesn’t use the paid channel label as an excuse to shove sex and rape into every episode and instead uses it to pepper little hints of realism throughout without having to shy away from topics and words.

There’s still nudity and sex, but so far most of the sex has come from actual characters in the show. Not just people taking trips to whore houses for the excuse to have someone be naked in the episode or, worse, people soliloquizing over girl-on-girl sex scenes that have no bearing on what’s happening and that they’re not a part of.

I wouldn’t call True Detective fun. It’s gritty and dark and even the humor is very grim, but the show seems to be more plot and character focused than it is on distracting its audience with steamy sex scenes that add nothing to the plot or characters. It gives me hope that if the American Gods show comes out it won’t just have these things forced into it and that network execs won’t be too keen to believe that this stuff is the only thing that makes a show the hot thing.

Mediums

anime-girl-and-dragon-skeleton-2560x1600-wide-wallpapers.net_I remember thinking that television and movies were enough for me to learn to write. I wanted to conduct my stories based on what these mediums had given me. There’s nothing inherently wrong with movies and TV. Hell, there is some great plotting and awesome characters running around on TV on almost a weekly basis. And movies too, but perhaps with less frequency.

There’s nothing wrong with adapting a few ideas here and there for books. A lot of plot points come from the other stories we’ve experienced throughout our lives. That mixes in with our imagination to create a story. The thing is that we can’t let other things be the sole way that we form stories.

Recently I’ve come across a lot of people writing who seem to have taken all of their cues from anime. Anime isn’t always terrible, but because it depends on different things for story telling than novel writing would it can lead to some bad behaviors being formed. Anime, comics, movies and television are visual mediums and there can be a lot gathered just by examining the frames of the picture as presented to you.

In writing the author is required to weave those details into the story and talking about the flashiness of someone’s clothes or moves can bog down the pacing and wear on the reader if they have to let the action stop for each fluttering coat and flourishing pose.

If you’re describing an outfit and how cool it is, it’s not going to be the same kind of thing and really it might just come off as dead page space.

We have to treat writing like what it is. And we’re not always at a disadvantage. We have something that those other mediums don’t have. The reader’s imagination. There’s no worrying over studio budgets or the need for permits of space. The ability to draw or play music to convey a point won’t drag us down. Use the strengths. Leave everything else behind.

Because the second you get sucked into those mentalities your writing suffers.

The Masquerade unmasked

One of the premiere tropes in Modern and Urban Fantasy is The Masquerade. It’s so common that much of the time when we’re telling someone about a book we’re reading or a movie we’re watching it goes without saying: in this world filled with werewolves, fairies, mermaids, vampires, chupacabaras, angels, demons and other beasts the humans don’t actually realize what’s going on around them. Or at least the vast majority of the world doesn’t.

This kind of tale works better the further back that you go in history, but it’s still widely used to this day and suspension of disbelief has a sort of bias when it comes to it. When you think about all of the cameras in a city like London or Tokyo it’s hard to believe that at least one type of creature wouldn’t have been discovered by now.

I’m not saying it’s unheard of in popular Modern Fantasy for the world of the supernatural to be out there and known about. The Anita Blake series and True Blood actually do it, and in Anita Blake the creatures have been known about for a long time—the world just grew up with them. There’s an interesting dynamic to a world that has had to cope with things like werewolves or even dragons if you’re going to go the wild route where even bigger things are roaming the world.

Lately I’ve been thinking about this kind of world more, with me slated to rewrite the novel and Keep Austin Safe still in it’s early stages as far as drafts go I could easily convert to this type of world. The reason why I even thought of it was because I had the same idea True Blood had, not realizing it until a friend told me. The synthetic blood as a catalyst for a vampire coming out. I don’t want to use it now partly because of the True Blood thing and partly because of the political and economic and social repercussions I wasn’t planning to have to wrestle with on top of the books main plot.

I got to thinking: what if these characters were just out for a while for one reason or another. What if they never had been hidden? What if something in our not too distant past like WWII or the invention of the camera triggered them coming out?

A lot of other factors will come in to play. For instance, how long they have been out will decide their standing in society. Maybe we’ve had a vampire for President? Perhaps the oldest dragon is always gracing the covers of the tabloids with his exploits? It’s a fun universe to think about—but it’s also rife with pitfalls. It can leave the reader with an un-relatable world that is too unfamiliar for them to keep up with and feel immersed in. I imagine this is why so many people choose to use the real world with the hidden world beneath it as a template for their Modern Fantasy. Well, that and the real world is ready made so people don’t have to spend as much time world building.

I’m looking very seriously at dropping the whole Masquerade thing, I just like the kind of world it creates and really when you look at the two sides the hidden world thing is the done to death one. But I have some huge choices to make before I can get down to any of the details.

1. When did the supernatural world reveal itself? Was it all at once? Did different creatures appear at different times? And is there factions that are still hidden?

2. What caused the reveal? What real imagined historical event caused the reveal? If they were always out there disregard.

3. What historical events that occurred after the reveal would be different from what happened in our world? Does someone different become president? Do racial tensions end up being more relaxed because of the humans banding together more or less against the other things out there?

Then there are a lot of little questions, but I have fun working through this kind of stuff. It can be somewhat painstaking, but in reality it’s my bread and butter. Once I get those first three things answered I will know where I stand on the whether or not I plan to go through with this. The best reason I can see for going with it is already clear and I didn’t list it before: when the hero/heroine meets their first supernatural creature the reaction never usually seems to fit. In a world where these things are public knowledge we don’t have to waste that time or try and force believability into that scene. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done justice.

The Cosmic Horror Story

As a genre, The Cosmic Horror Story probably isn’t as popular as a lot of others. It’s more a mixture of science fiction, a little mystery and horror. But it’s not horror in the way that there a huge monsters chasing a big breasted protagonist through a darkened house. It’s world ending horror, actual it’s universe ending. Creatures that devour creation and most of the time can’t be defeated only delayed.

There’s an overwhelming air of nihilism and humans as specks of dust on a planet that’s a speck of dust in the great scheme of the universe. It’s also a genre of shadows and insanity and of unimaginable eldritch abominations that literally defy description. H. P. Lovecraft is probably the best known author of the genre and he inspired others like Neil Gaiman and Stephen King further down the line.

When working on my own novel, I realized that there was part of this in my writing. It’s not nearly as strong or lofty a part of the story. But there is times when I notice set pieces from the Cosmic Horror Story that, while used in a different way, will be recognizable to those who know about the Great Old Ones and the mythos that surrounds them.

I think that the writing of most Lovecraft works is too rich for the likes of many and while I will admit that his style isn’t very desirable some of the ideas that he came up with are so twisted that they’re awesome to read. When I checked out The Colour Out of Space I was intrigued by the notions that the story presented and the way in which even without anything of substance, Lovecraft can still ramp up the fear.

I once laughed at another other for priding himself on breaking the sanity of creatures. He prided himself a Lovecraft clone and honestly wasn’t fit to wear the mantle. But I have learned to appreciate the idea that mere knowledge may drive a character insane and it’s one of the hallmarks of the genre. Do I think it’s one I’m sure to apply to my own writing? No. I’m not here to pick apart the work of others as if it’s a buffet for me to use. But at the same time there’s nothing wrong with seeing something of the past in your work and paying homage.