Thursday, October 18, 2007

On the Home Video Generation


I remember "Weird Al" Yankovic saying in an interview for his episode of VH1's show, Behind the Music, that his career works in a progression in which he releases an album, gets everybody jazzed about it, then disappears for a few years. Then, just when that wandering thought of "Hey, I haven't heard anything new from Weird Al in awhile" occurs, he drops a new record and gets the world fired up about musical parody again. Unlike other bands we may not hear from in a while, with Al it's never a hope to hear him again, just a matter of when.

Disney tries to do the same thing with its mythical vault full of animated classics, pulling them off the shelves of video retailers until (it seems) a new home video format evolves. But with each release, beneath the embossed slipcovers lettered in gold leaf, we get exactly what we wanted with the movie itself, an experience that takes us back to that first viewing and gives us, marked by time, a new perspective on something old. Nothing deep, of course, just an older set of eyes, a more complex brain (one would hope), and a fading set of memories ripe for fact-checking against the primary source.

Such is the primary function of many of mine, also known as nerds, that attempt to roam the halls of adulthood. A primary focus as we breached our twenties was on the past. We demanded nostalgia and got it by way of Lion-O's red Thundercat beacon on a shirt black as pitch; we have circulated videos on YouTube with vile redubbings of G.I. Joe after-episode public service announcements, because knowing still is half the battle; we have two seasons of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe spread over multiple DVDs, I mean my god, has anybody watched that show?

We have Hot Topic to indulge people like us, to capitalize and spread the indie-cred of 80s youth culture among the socially awkward of today, kids so young that they were born as these shows sat heaving for breath and calling for oxygen, having run their courses too quickly. Many of these kids were born long after these shows went home from the race.

It was easy to catch the wave when it first curled--having thought I would never again find such an opportunity, I purchased an over-priced navy blue shirt with the mirrored Autobot logo on the chest without hesitation. I have Optimus Prime standing at arms on a pair of floor mats in my car (purchased at Hot Topic years ago). How could I not? I love the Transformers.

Now I was never--and am not--what some would consider to be a die-hard Transformers fan, but the show was one of the two I watched as regularly as possible as a youth. I caught the shows when I could, many more than I gave myself credit for, but missed most of what would come to be known as Season 3, that is, the episodes that took place after the events of the movie (1986). Apparently, in said season the writers took themselves to new heights with a toy-related television show and scrounged together a complex Transformers mythos that is lost on many. I recently looked at a book that tried to explain the whole thing, but I admit I carry a certain amount of stupidity in place of common sense and logic, because it was lost on me. For awhile I wanted to get it, to get into it and have it make sense.

But then I stopped to think why. And then I stopped wanting this information.

No knocks to those that do want it and have it, but you want different things than I out of this beloved franchise. As with many television shows based off of toy lines, during the initial production consistency and continuity were not prized attributes among those of whom said yes! and no! to scripts. Get the toys in the cartoon so they can be sold--that was the drive behind the entire venture. But it is because of that capitalistic impetus that I respect the first two seasons and that first film so much more than I probably would this highly scrutinized third season.

I operate under the firm belief that an artist (of whatever, it doesn't matter; to me, art in this sense means creative endeavor) can't work effectively lest s/he cares about the art to be produced. Looking at those first two seasons one can see the subversive attempts at artistic integrity operating underneath the 22-minute commercials that captivated me. By crafting the simple story of good against evil, an interplanetary goose-chase, and the dichotomy of gigantic robots fighting their war on our world established (in me) a set of values that I needed to learn as a kid: good people fight to protect, bad people fight to win. Oh, and I guess I learned that humans are puny, defenseless creatures.

If one were to read anything deeper into the Transformers it would stand beside the point of the show and be wholly unfounded. If you wanted you could see in the Autobot v. Decepticon battle an allegory, a satire, a tale of the absurd, inexcusable silliness, and a long advertisment for toys. It is interesting to think about, but like in literary criticism, it's useless to say that one explanation is the correct way of thinking over another because we simply do not have the creator's support to lend anything credence. In the case of any show during the 1980s, a throng we hold so dear, the only definitive statement we can make is that these shows were created to sell toys. But in Optimus Prime I found a role model, a character whose virtues I wanted to emulate, like a child staring starry-eyed at his indestructible father. But, like our fathers, we grow up to learn the truth of their fallibility. And like our fathers we have to accept that. I connected with Optimus Prime and his kin, a quality that was solidified by the 1986 movie and which hit the creators of the show completely by surprise. As stated by a writer of the show on the 20th Anniversary release of the The Transformers: The Movie, by killing off Optimus Prime and all the other characters the children had grown attached to in the first two seasons of the show, they only considered it a liquidation of the first two years of product, making room for the next phase. That the intended audience actually cared for these characters was something they never considered and it is the very thing that makes opinions so strong today. We're not attached to Transformers because of the philosophical potential, but because we love Optimus Prime and Megatron. A line in a review of the new movie by Cammila Albertson for AMG summed up the sentiments of nostalgic nerds perfectly:

"It would be just plain tragic not to acknowledge what it does for the film to have original Optimus Prime voice Peter Cullen reprise his role. Cullen sounds like a cross between a badass action hero, the guy who does the movie trailers, and God. His voice, in combination with the actual character of Optimus Prime, creates the ultimate giant-robot incarnation of the archetypal warrior king: full of bravery, emanating wisdom, and frequently transforming into a kick-ass Mack truck."

Nerds have a problem because they expect their nostalgic idols to grow up with them, and they threaten Michael Bay and his Transformers movie (I won't go so far as to call it a film), they hack into his computer and scrutinize the script and bark skyward on internet forums when the first images of the movie's robots are released. But they are the first ones to cheer and get goosebumps when Optimus Prime rolls onto the screen and they watch in silence to hear every inflection of the words he is about to speak as if they had been waiting for years.

I accept the show for what it is, a modern morality tale that came with cool toys. It asks nothing more of its young audience than to say those are the good guys who want to help us and these, over here, yeah the cool-looking ones, these are the bad guys and they want to do us harm. All I wanted out of the flick was the basic premise that the writers back at the genesis of the show came up with out of necessity: good versus evil, a barbaric alien war fought on our home turf for reasons that can't be easily explained. That alone is mythic, and about as much as the fairy tales we heard as children had to go on. What's wrong with that? Why does the Autobot/Decepticon struggle have to be anything more than that? That alone provides a sound framework for discussion and thought.

On the whole I was pleased with the movie. Any disagreements I had with it have to do with Mr. Bay as a terrible storyteller (and he is terrible) than with the story adhering to the contradictory canon established decades ago. But I loved seeing these characters again, and it made me appreciate them even more because on July 3rd, 2007 (and again on October 16th when I bought it on DVD) I was sitting there literally seeing the Transformers in a different way than I had before, a new perspective brought before me that wasn't merely provided by time and a growing brain. On that day I was happy because I got to smile and say, "Hey, there's Optimus Prime. I haven't heard from him in awhile."

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Of The Launch of a Webcomic



Everybody, I'm very, very pleased to announce that the humor web-based comic strip, titled Eben-07, opens today with its very first comic strip.

For those of you who don't know, Eben-07 follows the misadventures of Eben-07, an agent of the elusive Intelligence Cleaner Agency. In the comic we riff on everything spy/action/thriller related, but from a different point of view. Yes, you may have heard of "cleaner agents," but this is literal, Eben-07 and his cohorts go in and clean up after the world's elite spies and other assorted action heroes. And no medium of espionage thriller is safe as we attempt to uncover the truth behind every spy (and action) movie, book, comic book, or video game.

For those of you really in the dark, this is a comic strip I draw, something that many friends of mine have been wanting to see for a very long time. And I guess I have, too.

So, please go visit the site and enjoy. We'll be updating every Monday and Friday, so be there or else don't be surprised one day to receive a knock at your door and find a man with an ICA patch on his shirt and a plunger gun at his hip telling you that you and your home will soon be in the wake of some very hot spy action...which usually doesn't bode well for homes or buildings of any sort, so get out as quickly as possible.

Once again, just type in eben07.com into your browser and enter the world of Eben-07. It's been a long time in the making.

Keep a good thought,

-Dan

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Addendum

I followed a link to a website called Join The 300, the splash-page of which has a short video of Zack Snyder, the director of 300 (of which I boasted about a little while ago). What made me gather the gall to come over here and boast about this website was that Mr. Snyder holds to form and says the word "awesome" once in the video, thus continuing his near perfect score of saying that word at least once in every interview with him I have found.

To close the loop, Mr. Snyder re-made George Romero's zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead, in to a perfectly tolerable modern horror flick. Unfortunately, it features fast zombies (a subject on which I've clearly expressed my opinion), but it's perfectly serviceable as a way to creep you out and feel uncomfortable in a dark room at night when no one else is in the house.

Also, the following is something quick I created to express my view on one of the many aspects of this summer's awkward hit, Spider-Man 3. Enjoy and I'll get back to you soon.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Living Dead Reckoning

Last night the idea of zombies fascinated me. This came after watching George A. Romero's latest chapter, Land of the Dead, which--behold!--was not even kind of bad. It was deep and affecting, not emotionally moving on the scale of Spielberg heartstring-pullers or, specifically, any of Eastwood's latest efforts, but I found it more thought-out than I wanted to believe. It made me think about zombies and why they are such a profound archetype of human fear.

Zombies are the canvas from which other living dead creatures spring. Wikipedia says that zombies are mentioned as far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh, when an angry goddess condemns man to suffer the appetites of the raised dead. Corpses animated to movement and simulated consciousness after having pushed up from the grave, this is the basic idea for zombies as well as other Universal monsters such as vampires, mummies, and even Frankenstein's monster. Sure, qualifications change or to which more are added in order suit the appropriate stories, but at the heart of it all these are all walking dead.

One of the most well-known facts about Romero's Dead series is that each story contains a scathing satire of the contemporary American society.

Though great, I don't care about that right now.

As far as zombie folklore is concerned, Romero created the standard, the rulebook, for zombies. What I appreciate from him (though, admittedly, this is only the second Romero film I can say I've seen. Not to worry, though, I have Dawn and Day in my Netflix queue) is aside from his didactic social investigation he also investigates the zombies themselves as creatures as available to change as humans are in the world they are forced to share. Having only watched his first and last movies, it's clear that Romero isn't merely coming up with a new idea for the protagonists, a different twisted scheme following a motley association of diverse heroic archetypes fighting together against an evil force. No, said evil force is not just the enemy--it's the competition.

There are the obvious comparisons between the zombies and human life, that maybe they aren't so different after all. This realization is uncomfortable for the survivors because the walking dead look like the loved ones once lost, and if they want to survive they'll have to lose their loved ones again. I think the most convincing argument for this position is one I haven't really seen laid out in any reviews, and it revolves around the character in Land named Charlie.

One of the big things that Land of the Dead promoted is that the zombies have started to learn. Small forms of communication and found-object tools are giving them greater strength than ever before. This curve allows zombies to essentially switch categories of species, moving from being nihilistic, unthinking animals to nihilistic, proto-humans. Instead of being a man fending off the wolves, Land becomes the as of yet untold war between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon, and Charlie is the missing link (EDIT: it turns out that this untold war has been kind of told).

Charlie lumbers like a zombie (upon his appearance in the film, he is mistaken for one in the dark and is nearly terminated), half of his face is horribly scarred from a fire which causes his right eye to sag with the skin on that side of his face resembling pulled pork--a cooked, dead look to it. Charlie is also "simple-minded," but keenly adept at a single skill: sharpshooting. It is his usefulness that helps the heroes yet dually represents the fear they have of the other side, as is said early in the film:
Charlie:
"Hell, dead-folks is near as dumb as me."

Riley (Charlie's best friend and protector):
"You learned to make yourself useful, didn't you, Charlie?"


Charlie:
"Yeah."


Riley:
"Well, that's what they're doing."


The idea of the traditional zombie is shattered with that short discourse as Charlie is a man who shares more than one characteristic--physical, mental, vocational--with the enemy, and it means that the enemy is becoming more like the humans that they want to, well, consume.

So the fear of these creatures became three-fold: we are afraid of being eaten (addendum: and in the course of becoming a zombie, eating people), we are afraid they are like us (which would give us guilt upon their murder), and we are afraid they will push us from our evolutionary throne.

So I started thinking about zombies. What does humanity personified as heroes and heroines do in zombie movies? They run from zombies. But zombies are generally dumb, slow, and weak (usually); what about that is scary? It's akin to being frightened of snails: they are gross to look at and touch, but do not represent a threat in the least. Oh, well, there is the threat of being eaten and becoming one of them. In the case of the Dead series, there is no doubt that we'll become reanimated cannibals because anybody who dies--be it zombie-assisted or of natural causes--becomes afflicted (though this trend is hinted to have stopped in, I guess, Day of the Dead, the reanimation of any dead person is reinstated in Land). It's the inevitability that is frightening in Romero's world.

This all struck me as universal whereupon I stumbled upon the basic fear that zombies embody. At the very base of the mythos zombies are corpses, and corpses are the only tangible evidence we have of death. Humans instinctively fear death or else we wouldn't hunt, eat, and fight for our lives when threatened. We do those things to stave off death until it becomes truly unavoidable, imminent.

So zombie movies--especially the early ones like Night of the Living Dead--are just a heightened, simplified view of our fear of life's inevitable conclusion. We are humans constantly on the run from the slow creep of death which is always behind us, out of sight. Like the child who becomes aware that the world outside his vision continues to exist despite his inability to still see it we know that death looms and is, in a sense, hunting us down to take away our life, to consume it, and make us dead. Death is the space in which we lose our individuality, our personality, our essence as humans and we don't want that because we've become accustomed to the lives we've made for ourselves, as bad as it can seem to be. If we come back after death does that mean that what we accomplished in life is worthless? Are we to spend all this time to become food or the vessel for some other force? Merely a broken-in suit for a life not our own? Death is always on our shoulder, biting into us in the visage of age and time. Death tickles us with pangs of mortality, giving us that shiver up our spine to remind us we are alive and death makes us so. That's why zombies scare us into the box office and why their status as nightmarish icons will never, and pardon the pun, die.

That's also why fast zombies are stupid.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Historythology: Modern Myth-Making and the Westernization of Western History

NOTE: This Boast is particularly long.


Robert Wuhl produced a funny though relatively useless program for HBO called Assume the Position. What his program does is go to a college classroom to teach students "the stories that made America and the stories that America made up," calling it history. And they are indeed quips from history, but what he divulges to his students is merely trivia: the story behind the song "Yankee Doodle," the misunderstanding of Benedict Arnold, and the truth behind Renaissance clothing, for starters. The position he assumes is that pop culture becomes history, facts and truth do not. Though the show doesn't delve deep into the subject other than pointing out idiosyncrasies of documented history, the mission is admirable because I would say the biggest thing that historians have to deal with is discovering whether what they think is history is legitimate and trustworthy or if, in fact, it is myth.

Most of us would like to believe that the blemishing of current event recordings is lost, since we, as an enlightened and modern civilization, care only of accuracy. Such unsullied documentation gives us the ammo we need upon deciding to opine. If the recorded events are biased and untrue then any defense of our analysis would immediately fall apart. But I still think a befouling is occurring today, though I'm not going to comment upon current news items; that task is left for tomorrow's historians.

I operate under the assumption that behind a myth or other fantastic cultural story there lies a basic historical truth, minute it may be. It just makes sense. We use that logic when dealing with the Old Testament. Sure we don't believe that Moses necessarily parted the sea, but I think we can't have confidence in denying there was probably a dude named Moses and he most likely did great things for his people. Maybe he freed Hebrews from Egyptian slavery, maybe not, but he probably led his people away from an oppression. We just don't know the details. Why? Because it happened a long time ago and that information was just forgotten behind time's fog as well as further oppression of cultures, wars, new religions, their wars, disease, dark ages, and the constantly changing ownership of western civilizations.

Throughout all these changes in the world the stories are also changed to satiate the wants of a culture, whether socially or spiritually. The knightly romance was birthed in the royal courts of medieval France and England to soothe the lack of a true feminine voice and masculine appreciation as the Queens and their ladies were cooped up inside castle walls. Knights were brutes that were suddenly fresh-faced and yearned to only serve, in chastity, his one and only Lady. He lived to earn her spiritual love, not fleshly, which was the antithesis to the behavior of what most knights of the time exhibited. A British cleric named Wace included King Arthur in his seminal volume, History of the Kings of Britain. England was looking for its connection to antiquity, the lost civilization of Rome, and Wace's book does so, bypassing its Norman and French lineage completely. Apparently, the first British king came directly from Rome. This gave the people of England a sense of place and importance when, in fact, they had none.

Though it is through the eyes of entertainment, Shakespeare, with his works, did the same thing, saturating histories to convey a certain theme and as a result of his power and longevity our sensibilities toward certain historical figures and events are marked by his pen. When we think of Julius Caesar, we normally think of him as an older man, minutes away from twenty-three stabs and "Et tu, Brute?" The Bard revealed his inner cacophobe with his invented ugliness of King Richard III. The thing is that history was intentionally modified because its story, usually the basic story of the myth/legend/historical fact, was a common knowledge platform from which the audience could leap into thematic bliss with the dramaturge's intentions.

With that in mind, what's the deal with 300?


I think a lot of reviewers over-investigated the director's intentions with this film, and many others sell this thing short. I think some have even taken it way out of context. Take a gander through any interview with Zack Snyder, director of 300, and you will find a guy that uses the word "awesome" more than once in a discussion.

But this doesn't detract from what the movie is, and it is indeed "awesome" in the sense of a kid growing up on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as well as being a work that fills the viewer with awe, but of a specific kind.

Whatever people are picking it apart for--modern political connotations, historical inaccuracies, general stupidity, themes of homosexuality/homophobia--their assumptions are startlingly false because they are the type that are looking for what they found. That can be done with everything. I think any honest analysis on a work of art or literature must first take into account the artist's intent. The mission statement from Snyder is all too clear:

"I was just trying to get Frank [Miller]'s book made into a movie."

or how about from this interview:

"[Q]: So would you say that was your goal for the film? To make Frank [Miller]'s vision come alive?"
"ZS: Yeah. Absolutely."

What he's talking about, if one isn't privy (surprisingly, this fact wasn't mentioned in some reviews), this movie is a filmed version of a 1998 comic book miniseries called 300. This is the same Frank Miller whose other graphic novel series, Sin City, was made into an equally stylized filmic adventure. Like Sin City's director, Robert Rodriguez, Zack Snyder found it would be difficult to translate Miller's work to the screen because of Miller's unique approach to visual design. It is decidedly not realistic but almost, and it is that almost which has inspired the creative passions of Rodriguez and Snyder. Miller's comics are works of art, he puts a lot of thought into the imagery of each panel of each page. From that he wants to extract the highest amount of theme and emotion as he can, much like we hear of poets poring over each word in a line, of a writer and his sentence, of an architect and his foundation. Snyder recognized this, idolized it, and decided--for some reason--that these pictures need to be moving.

I was asked by a friend how I liked 300 upon exiting the theater the first time I saw the film. I was thinking about this before I was asked and the only answer was that I guess I liked it, but I didn't need to see it because I had read the graphic novel. And if you see the movie, you probably don't need to read the book. There were things added to the story for the film that weren't really necessary (the video game-like "end bosses," for instance; all the goofy monster-looking people except for the hunchback weren't in the book at all) and really stuck out from the narrative if you were familiar with the book (the story of Gorgo and the senate was interesting, but felt markedly different from the rest of the movie, but in an uncomfortable way). But I was more bothered by how each form of Miller's story made the other moot.

And like any good epic tale, this is where the circle comes together. People are attacking the film because they don't know about the book. Perhaps because of the film, people don't need to know about the book. But because of the success of the film, people are taking it seriously as what Snyder himself refers to as an "historical film." Despite the scathing remarks the film garnered, it didn't stop people from going, and, judging by the numbers, from returning. This means the populace is ignoring the critics' attacks based on politics, personal vendettas, and snobbery. What that leaves is the attacks based on history.

I don't fault the film because of its historical inaccuracies (while I'm here: there were far more indentured-servant/non-citizens of Sparta than free Spartans; Sparta ruled under two kings at a time; they wore armor; sexual relations with boys was almost expected under certain circumstances, however adult homosexual relations were frowned upon; etc.), because I know where it came from and, furthermore, I know where that story came from. But this recognition of influences is not being stressed with the movie's release, and I'm worried that people are walking away from this fine but flawed movie with some sort of historical confidence.

Sure, the basics are there, but with each incarnation the truth seems to float farther and farther away. By this movie's account, the battle at Thermopylae has been reduced two basic opponents and famous quotes. But Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans that fought between those hot gates were more than that. They were fighting for Greece in desperation, to inspire one of the first and greatest unifications of a western civilization that motivated the rest of history. But this history is being forced off the cliffs instead of the Persians, to make way for gleaming muscles and spectacular fight scenes, for beautifully stormy backgrounds and an ending that will make you more than ever want to stand up and fight for what you believe in. That's what myths and legends are supposed to do. But when we have the history, one of the few instances from our ancient civilizations, are we to sacrifice that for the sake of making our damaged modern culture feel better about itself? Should it be whittled down to artistic integrity so that more tickets can be sold? Should it be relegated to a DVD featurette?

They took a king that lived in flesh and blood and twisted him into a King Arthur figure, dying for love like a medieval Arthurian romance. Arthur as king is the standard up to which we hold our leaders, the man that we want. But Leonidas was not that, and we shouldn't expect him to be. His culture may have been different from ours but it was what helped Greece to defeat the Persians and made Greece the first powerful European civilization. The Romans came from their ideal. The United Kingdom came from their ideal. The United States of America came from that ideal.

You may have to color me morose, but I'll be the first to inform you that the color is Spartan Crimson.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Retrospectively Speaking

Ret*ro*spec*tive:
adj. looking back on or dealing with past events or situations.
n. an exhibition or compilation showing the development of a
particular artist over a period of time.
-As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary


I have yet to do any sort of Year In Review-type Boast, though I almost did this year, but I decided to wait until this very special day. It has now been 2 years since the Boasts of Bethel's first appearance on the WWW. In the months that pass between Boasts I frequently come back and run through the catalog, hoping to find some sort of greatness or growth. Although I find some good arguments (and arguably better cartoons), the thing I find most rewarding are the comments left by others. Sure, I like the people that say they enjoyed my thoughts, but more exciting--to me at least--is the conversations started out of or in spite of the respective Boast. Let's have a look back at all the discourse, shall we?

Dulce Et Utile: The Supremacy of Solid Snake

This is the first Boast that generated a lot of commentary and was the first one in which the focus of this blog shifted to something a bit more. It's not a whole lot more, but it's an argument, a fully developed and defended position much like an essay, which is how I usually refer to the Boasts with people not privy to or especially biased against the word "blog." This was the first time I took the knowledge I was gaining at Cal Poly and and applied it to things I liked and cared about and this helped me toward a new view on life and a new door into the world of the mind...and Solid Snake and, ultimately, Revolver Ocelot (shout out to those who know what the hell I'm talking about). The big thing about this Boast is, in fact, the title. The idea of dulce et utile in literature is simple, a good story is one that has a useful message (utile, in latin) but is not didactic or droning because it is told in an entertaining way (dulce, in latin, meaning sweet). This phrase became a mantra for the BoB and is something I conform to today.

If you missed this one, read it if you want to learn about any of these three things:
-Dulce Et Utile, a literary term
-Metal Gear Solid, a video game series
-Epic poetry of Homer

Nostalgia Works Its Magic

This Boast is one of my favorites. It is the first of a few tainted with a religious theme, but without denouncing a faith but its few embarrassing practitioners. This one also further opens the breadth of the blog that started with Dulce Et Utile extending it to topics in the media and is something that interests the greater population. Many of the Boasts I wrote after this one conformed to a loose formula I had established here.

My Beef Is With Burton--Step Aside, Willy.

Now it's time to stop talking about me and my development as a blogger. It was with this Boast that I first touched a nerve with readers and a debate grew outward beyond the actual blog itself. Here a very genius discussion about Tim Burton, his movies, general storytelling, and storytelling on film begins and some very smart conversation edged with quite a bit of passion gave me a sturdy shock as a writer. It was here when I realized that people were actually reading my Boasts not just clicking on links or looking for cartoons, and that's a weird feeling. It still is.

Changesbethel


This is where I go too far and I try to wax philosophic and fall flat on my face, making me cry and wanting to quit (okay, I didn't really want to quit). The main failing with this is that I feel too much biography influenced the topic and I lost readership because it became more akin to the type of blog which I preach against later on. This Boast is, I think, part of a period of limit testing that lead to the decrees set forth in Literary Masturbation. I had started with a Boast that was too far away from me, and here (and more so here and here--don't read them) I swing way too close to the source. From here on out I try to keep an even keel and was one of the reasons why I started taking so long to write each Boast.

The reason why I mention this Boast, however, is that the only thing that saves it is the comments which are better stated and argued than the Boast itself and I started to look to how people respond to my words that helps me hone the type of writing I want aim for in the future. In short, the readers were as important to the BoB's development as I was.

Literary Masturbation

The culmination of all my work, I decided to make my statement on blogging. One of the toughest things with writing these things is that I like to write a lot, and I know that a lot of people don't like to read a lot of text. That is why I started adding pictures and cartoons so that people can take a break and keep reading. I admit that this Boast doesn't cover all the points I wanted it to cover, but I felt like I had to cut it back just so people would at least read it, think about, and talk about it. I found that I could continue my arguments, include the things I removed, in the comments section where I developed the unfortunate habit of creating Boast-length comments except with the fun links and cartoons.

This Boast encouraged strong opinions and ended up being one of the most satisfactory Boasts I have ever done which, despite my harsh editing before ever posting it, was my dream for this specific topic. If my blog ever comes up in conversation, I usually point people in the direction of this Boast.

In addition, this is one of the most involved and heated post-Boast conversations the BoB has ever had. It was enlightening and, if I may dare say it, perfect. I felt like a student in a room of savants. I started to want to write Boasts that incited a mild furor just so I could see what other people would say and what I would say.

East Is East, and West Is West, or More Than Meets The Eye

I'm always learning when it comes to blogging. This was a lesson in clarity. I have a problem with being a writer and a blogger, being too wordy when I should be concise. This Boast suffered from the lack of clear purpose, and I should have treated it as more of the op-ed piece that it was instead of what it appeared to be: a critique on Saddam Hussein's reign in Iraq. As is clear in the comments, I am clearly out of my element when dealing with politics and political history (something I concede to here) and I feel that the commentators got a bit caught up in my cloudy writing stance. It was almost funny, how I think a conversational battle started and each side is yelling about a completely different topic. And yet we still fought, lovingly, like Jesus said we should. But some very interesting ideas came forth from the comments, and I wouldn't change it for anything.

Other favorites and why:

Historical Maladies or How To Make People Mad: Two of my favorite cartoons (buy a shirt if you want. No mark-up! No profit!). My most speculative piece which led to bring the piece with the highest amount of research.

Jumping The Shark...: My online store opens through CafePress. As of today, nobody has purchased anything from it...which is cool. It's there for the possibility, not the profit.

Foul Is Fair: My most English-paper Boast. Includes a famous drawing.

Consider the Source: I still think this is a strong Boast.

I hope to keep this thing going for as long as I am able to do so. Though I can't guarantee the punctuality of future Boasts, but I can guarantee my full efforts for each Boast I make. I hope you keep coming back because it is you, the reader, that keeps me coming back even if that was not the reason why I started. Your comments have made me grow as a writer which I can not repay you in any way other than to keep Boasting as loud as I am able.

Keep a good thought.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Literary Copulation

I graduated from Cal Poly this last December. My senior project was comprised of two short stories. I have compiled them into a tiny book, now available through CafePress.com. The short stories are Chiaroscuro, which won honorable mention in Cal Poly's creative writing contest last year, and a longer one called Arrested Decay. The smart cover was designed and photographed by my good friend, Josh Tobey (yes, that's a penis on his front page). I called the project The Hands That Built The World, a line from the second story that I felt applied to themes from both. How? You'll just have to find out.

It's unfortunately a whopping $9.00 a pop, but well worth it for the stories inside. I did raise the price from the base price of $8.77, so I'm making a $.23 profit from each book, but I figured if I'm going to make any money off of any of the stuff that nobody's buying, it would be this one.

Here is the front cover:


And here's the back:


So, if you pick one up, I hope you enjoy it, if not, well then I hope you contemplate it. The actual production of the book was a lot of fun to do and these stories I'm really proud of. I'm thinking I would like to do two of these a year. It would motivate me to write regularly and maybe give me more confidence to ship stories out to magazines.

Keep a good thought.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

East is East, and West is West, or More Than Meets The Eye

"Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."
-Rudyard Kipling
Barrack-Room Ballads, 1892

America exists among a pair of realities: the political and the living. They exist in parallel and the world seems fine as they go along, but when they intersect we, as American citizens, are forced to stop because it feels, with no better word for description, weird.

Honestly, as regimes are switched from conservative to liberal or vice versa, we live pretty much the same despite all the fire and brimstone talk of those lambasting the opposition. Whether Nancy Pelosi is the devil or Dick Cheney is a man-hunter, no matter what they do any day of the week I can still go to Best Buy and pick up a recently released special edition DVD in consternation since I already own the original release which only in hindsight oozes "non-special." But I need special things...special things that I expect to be released every Tuesday. And on sale.

Political reality exists in its own nameless -osphere, floating in some bitchy ether above the world (or below). We watch that realm with interest probably because, in the end, we like to root for teams and take sides and talk about bad plays made and the best trash-talking among figures of might and prowess. This world shown to us in the newspapers and on television is untouchable, and its separation lends it an almost mythic quality that even ancient peoples would have loved. Imagine if the quibbles throughout the Greek pantheon were broadcast over Achaean television:

Anonymous sources close to Zeus say he suffers such harsh mood swings because his father consumed all of his previous children. Whether the public release of this knowledge will aid or diminish his bipartisanship in the ongoing Trojan affair is unknown as Zeus's own son, the spoiled Sarpedon, continues to fight despite being disliked by both Achaean and Trojan soldiers alike.

With me and (I'm assuming) my generation, the Cold War and the ended never-ending rivalry with the Soviets are much like tales of yore. If the symbolic end of the Cold War was the disassemblage of the Berlin Wall, then I was but a babe of about nine years old. The Cold War was my parents' fight, their scare, the Soviets were their enemy and their target. I grew up hearing about it, feeling the fear that the previous generations still harbored. But when the Wall fell and Democracy found the permanently ravaged CCCP they became merely Russians again and the threat as well as the vibrant red flag were gone forever.

But it's hard to make people forget, and our parents and/or grandparents would always have the Red Soviets to make jokes about and distrust, Communism is still the great enemy. Hearing them talk about it, though, the subversive manner of relations that the respective countries adopted during this time is as good as anything you'll find in Bulfinch's Mythology. Where this is now Russia there was the Soviet Union, a dark, oppressive superpower that lived in caves of fire and spent every day upon its throne planning the next move to take down the unquestionable superheroics of the United States of America. It was modern mythology, it was Achilles against Hector, Michael against Lucifer, Optimus Prime against Megatron. Honestly, to me, it felt as real as James Bond presented it (and what a presentation that is).

Though my ilk and I felt the echoing pangs of Cold War fever through our parents, our menace and fear came from Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Nearly immediately after the fall of Soviet Russia there rose this harrowing figure with a name that was easy for an eleven year-old to pun. He looked like Stalin and apparently walked Hitler's walk what with a boisterous megalomaniacal public persona. He fit in easily with America's previous super-villains. His opposition ushered the first socially large-scale battle into my memory, what with Optimus America's transformation into battle mode from Desert Shield to Desert Storm, complete with battle bunker trailer attachment. And afterwards, Hussein and his Iraqticons hid away in waiting until I got to be about draft age and we bounced right back in there, guns a blazin'.

Hussein and his demonic Iraqi regime was my Cold War, the wave of terror that paralyzed my generation that I will tell stories about to my children and bore them. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I wanted that fear to continue or stretch any farther than it had already reached. I'm just saying that it's weird, is all. I wonder if this was how my parents felt when the wall fell, when they were officially told that a Soviet threat was over. It was a long fall, to be sure, but they were conditioned to hate and fear them like I feel I and mine were for Iraq. Look at our movies and public stance. When the Sum Of All Fears was being adapted into a film (written before September 11th, 2001) the main Middle Eastern villains of the book were changed because producers felt that those types of antagonists in films were becoming cliché. Talk about foresight, Tom Clancy (the author of Sum Of All Fears) was one of the last great capitalists on Cold War tensions.

Some say that we don't need to be in Iraq right now, that we shouldn't have gone in there in the second place. Osama Bin Laden-Scream did attack our country and needs to be brought to justice (however that may be met) but he wasn't the icon that Hussein was and is. Maybe Bin Laden will step up to take Hussein's mantle as America's premiere villain, but it's obvious from appearances and actions that the classic super villain is gone and in its place is something much more subversive but no less sinister.