Saturday, December 18, 2010

Inception & Movie Audience: Not a Disappointment, but Could've Been so Much More

My catch phrase when starting to talk about Inception: It was good, but it could've reached for more and been better.

As an amateur writer, story crafter and science fiction fanboy, I appreciate the narrative technique, creation of continuity and sticking to the rules of continuity. To sum it up: THAT SHIT WAS TIGHT!

Coming from the "artist" and "literary critic" in me, though, Inception could have been so much more. It was about dreams. Dreams are loose and free flowing. When it comes to dreams as a central narrative, strict adherence to continuity can make story and depth dry and shallow. It can take the HEART out of story.

Dreams provide insight into our individual psyches and cultural archetypes. A tight psyche and orderly culture without HEART is boring, uninteresting and oppressing.

Plato and The Republic provides good source material from our common heritage to show how taking the HEART out can make something shallow, a failure at reflecting the truth behind reality and unattractive once the facade is taken off. Plato, in The Republic attempts to demonstrate that the fully ordered life is the good and just way to live life by providing the example of an ordered, good and just society. In sum, The Republic.

Plato makes his argument using cognitive biases that come from holonymy and meronymy. Plato bases his argument on the assumption that individuals and society follow the same rules of logic. Common mistake and one that often gets made by decision makers and academics, but we all should know about a rule of crowd psychology that can tear these types of argument apart: An individual alone is smart, that individual in a crowd is a dumb ass.

Suffice to say, Plato makes a good final conclusion for individuals in The Republic if they desire a good, ordered life with as much control over possible emotional turmoil as possible. A couple good tips to extrapolate: If you have some bad habits that you want to stop, use tricks of cognitive therapy to change your habits and develop all the aspects of your body, intellect and psychology.

As a society, however, The Republic repulses modern individuals. For example: The Republic oppresses individuals and has no problem using ideology, in the Marxist sense, to create false consciousness for the maintenance of order in society.

Plato's idea of utopia and individual psychology, itself, would also repulse a lot of people. It's all utility and function, for the great cause of justice, without HEART. This lack of HEART comes from a big issue I have with Plato's ideals of psychology. Lewis Mumford criticized this aspect of Plato best in The Story of Utopias [full text available]:

Plato has his limitations; and here is the principal one: Plato distrusted the emotional life, and whilst he was prepared to do full homage to man's obvious sensualities, he feared the emotions as a tight-rope walker fears the wind; for they threatened his balance. In one significant passage he classifies "love" with disease and drunkenness, as a vulgar misfortune; and though he was ready to permit the active expression of the emotions, as in the dance or the sexual act, he treated the mere play upon the feelings, without active participation, as a form of intemperance. Hence a great deal of music and romantic mimicry was taboo. Foreign as this doctrine sounds to the modern reader, there is perhaps more than a grain of sense in it: William James used to teach that no one should passively experience an emotion at a concert or a play without trying to express that emotion actively as soon as he could make the opportunity. (p. 54-55)
[Off topic non-sequitur: basis for argument against violent and sexually oriented cultural products in the US today?]

I digressed through Plato to make the following point: Something can be crafted where the parts that make the whole are molded to make the whole technically valid and consistent. If the molding of those parts doesn't respect the part's teleological virtues, though, the integrity of those parts becomes compromised.

For inanimate non-sentient objects, they simply wear down faster, hold back the efficiency of the whole and have a high utility cost. Compromising the integrity of animate sentient beings and the culture they create, however, harms the integrity of other individuals around them and that of the whole.

I do not believe in an objective, ultimate, universal teleological goal. Neither do I believe in in an objective teleological goal for each individual. Rather, I believe that individual sentient beings, especially humans, have a psychological need for meaning, teleology and teleological virtue. It is part of what makes us human. Fighting the existence of the need only provides a self-fulfilling prophecy while fulfilling the need for it.

Following this argument, I also believe that have true meaning and teleological virtue for ourselves, we need to assign teleological virtue to other things and social constructs, even just to label them as irrelevant. Without assigning teleological virtue to things around us, we fail to have a sense of continuity with time and space.

Even labeling something as irrelevant or assigning an erroneous label to something can cause failure to truly understand how our own teleological virtue interacts with other sentient creations of teleological virtue. Conflict arises which can cause a disruption in our sense of continuity, never a fun experience. The more we understand the consensual concepts of teleological virtue around us, the more we can understand ourselves and better reach for our own teleological virtue.

So, artistically, I think Inception was simply "not a disappointment" instead of something more positive because it failed to push itself and have HEART. Dreams are the central concept of Inception. The characteristics of dreams are loose, free flowing, free association, ambiguity, subjective and plenty of other adjectives you, the reader, can think up better than me. Taking away these characteristics in Inception violates the teleological virtues of dreams as we have all experienced them.

The majority of dreams in Inception no longer have the characteristics of an act of the subconscious. Dreams simply become an objectively ordered literary device to provide an environment that poses an obstacle for the protagonists. Characters could choose to break away from certain rules of conduct, but doing so would attract attention from the dream defense systems.

Dreams effectively become The Matrix in the sense of acting as a literary tool. The biggest differences being: protagonists in Inception can exert more control over the dream environment but choose not to do so, while protagonists in The Matrix often need to exert reality bending powers to survive in their protagonist roles.

Respecting the teleological virtues of dreams could have produced a movie with more depth, insight into existence, the human condition and the psychology of all characters involved. Inception comes closest to depth with the relationship between Dom Cobb and Mal and the uncertainty of events that transpire with and between them. This whole set up gets kind of annoying if you saw Shutter Island, though. Practically same relationship with significant other, just different circumstances.

I could have gotten beyond the similar character relationships if the teleological virtues if dreams were respected more. Lack of control and lucid dreams fascinate me and a lot of people out there. Unless these behaviors of the dream world and the codes of conduct were created and integrated into wider society by Dom Cobb as reaction against his own negative experiences with dreams before turning to a life of crime. This argument doesn't really hold, though, since public perception of consensual lucid dreaming in relation to this imaginary world was never explored.

In some sense, Inception made the easy choice: have the subconscious try to gain control of the dream again by using conventional real world tactics, have dream constructs or a dream security team try to kill the perpetrators. Goons work for an action movie, but so much more could have been done to freak with the viewers mind. Why not have the subconscious manipulate the dream environment, destroy the physics of the environment, destroy the sense of continuity from moment to moment and test the limits of imagination? Reality bending as a defense mechanism strikes me as much more effective than sending goons after perpetrators.

Again, in terms of craft, I can appreciate the choices made within the lack of ambition (despite the pretensions of ambition released to the media). Christopher Nolan made a tight movie that met the rigors of continuity. For that, he has my admiration. I just think a lot more could have been done to make a more fascinating movie that provides a novel experience.

Nolan has gone record saying that he started writing the movie 10 years ago, but he didn't try to produce it until recently. He wanted the experience and credibility to have it released in the wider, more mainstream market. His two Batman movies did that well enough.

On the same token, I've heard the argument that if Nolan made Inception with the ambition that I would have liked to see, the movie would have been a box office failure. Per Box Office Mojo, the movie pulled in about $290 million domestically, cost approximately $160, so profiting about $130 million. Foreign revenues come to approximately $530 million. I'm not familiar enough with the industry to know whether that's considered a flop, average or really good.

The argument being made is essentially that by making Inception more out there and crazy, box office receipts would have been a lot less. From my perspective, though, the movie didn't even come close to "out there" from what I saw in the previews for the movie. Previews made me think Inception would have been a lot more crazy, freaky and reality bending. I feel like the product itself didn't meet the hype of the marketing.

The argument being made is that movie audiences don't want anything novel, groundbreaking and that will really question our sense of reality. The movie audience doesn't want to be pushed outside their boundaries of comfort. They want to go to action movies that don't have emotional depth, new ideas or question the current status quo, whether it be political, psychological or reality. The audience apparently just wants big explosions, fart jokes and sexy bodies.

I beg to disagree. I've made my argument. People want the movie with better depth and they want to respect the teleological virtues of dreams for entertainment and to better understand their world and themselves. This is just my perspective, though.

More perspective would be useful and interesting. Discuss.

Links of Interest: Inception,
Plato, The Republic, cognitive biases, holonymy, meronymy, crowd psychology, false consciousness, Lewis Mumford, The Story of Utopias [full text available], teleological virtues, self-fulfilling prophecy, The Matrix, Dom Cobb, Mal, Shutter Island, Christopher Nolan, Nolan has gone record saying that he started writing the movie 10 years ago, but he didn't try to produce it until recently., Box Office Mojo

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Complaint About Stream of Consciousness Writing: Don't Always Know When I'm Done

Previous entry in this series is Start of a Series -- Two Experiments in One: Beat Structure and Shorter Blog Entries.

Stream of consciousness writing doesn't provide obvious clues of completion. For instance, I started drafting the last paragraph [of the last blog entry] using stream of consciousness process. I could have spent hours writing, ending up with a page or two of unneeded text. Thankfully, during some downtime, I realized that I had gone on a useless tangent.

In that case, I tried justifying that wasted time caused by stream of consciousness writing, as a topic, deserved a whole section of its own. Things I don't like about stream of consciousness writing all end up wasting time. Instead of being a topic, in itself, wasting time provides a transition and introduction to my complaints.

Sometimes a subject or topic seems good to put into a piece or seems vital to give receive attention, for whatever reason. Maybe the subject or topic incidentally popped into my head and it has nothing to do with the project. A conclusion or direction taken may end up moving away from the original intention. I often reach a point where I want a topic or angle in the piece, but the topic or angle doesn't fit gracefully.

I want to have these things in the piece, but it doesn't feel right. I just need to keep exploring the facts, the ideas and the logic. I need to justify having it there or discover a conclusion that feels right. Whatever happens, though, the task just keeps going on and on and on.

Only overwhelming frustration and exhaustion stop me. All that work, all that investment, for hours and hours, and I get nowhere. I just wanted

  • Things to work according to my vision
  • To follow the stream of consciousness that came pouring out to its logical end or
  • + To experience the eureka effect
Instead, the stream of consciousness whips me all about and tires me out. Maybe I can do something with some of the raw material later, but I can't predict the utility. None of it could have any worth, for all I know.

I figure I'll stop right when it feels right. The problem: it never feels right until I have a solid sense of the end goal.

Link of Interest: eureka effect

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Start of a Series -- Two Experiments in One: Beat Structure and Shorter Blog Entries

This entry starts a series of entries. I started writing a larger essay then got the compulsion to publish sections of it as I finish. This way feels more amenable to the blog form compared to my usual long essay form.

I need a better writing process. An afternoon and evening wasted a couple weeks ago writing a blog entry that I never published made this point clear. Take into further consideration that

  • I've been working on my bachelor's project for 10+ years
  • Regular frustration of too much time spent writing without enough returns
  • That I want to have a career in writing some day
I need a more efficient writing process and experimenting with a beat process feels like a good place to start.

Up to now for blog entries, I've mostly used a stream of consciousness approach. Only about five years ago did I start using an outline process for my expository writing to any extent. My outlining process still follows a linear stream of consciousness approach, however. Linear and stream of consciousness have their places; probably not with the early stages of purposeful dramatic and expository writing. I run into too many disadvantages.

Linear stream of consciousness writing with a clear end goal becomes time and effort consuming. Numerous distractions steer writers away from efficiency and productivity. To me, these pitfalls don't offer returns worth the investment.

The next entry in this series is Complaint About Stream of Consciousness Writing: Don't Always Know When I'm Done.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Announcing New Blogs by The_Wife

The_Wife has set up two new blogs:

  • Wildfire Weaver: Professional blog focusing on her fire dancing exploits, tools, gig announcements and the Chicago fire dancing scene

  • Magpie's Marbles: Personal blog without any particular focus, but she likes food, making jewelry, art, reading and has plenty of interesting thoughts on shiny things

Friday, July 09, 2010

C2E2 Panel: Novels, Gaming and Information Literacy

Back at the beginning of April on a Friday night and Saturday all day, I attended the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo (or C2E2). My postings for this event will be short, closer to the expected writing style of the Internet.

On Saturday, I spent most of it attending panels, three of them to be exact. I took fairly copious notes. Instead of writing in an expository form and expanding on ideas and topics, I’m just going to provide bullet points that I took during the panels. If I expand on the bullet points, I’ll probably make it brief.

The “Graphic Novels, Gaming and Information Literacy” panel was the last panel I attended during the day. Barbara Jones, Director of the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom hosted the event. This woman knew her stuff about the potential of graphic novels and all types of gaming encouraging information literacy in people. She makes a great source of information, but such a large amount of information gushing out of one woman can prove difficult to record.

Handouts, list of "how to" books to bring graphic novels and games into the library and a list of great graphic novels for teens at the bottom of this entry, below the usual "Links of Interest" section.

That being said, here are the bullet points:

  • American Library Association - wholeheartedly believe these formats work a lot to help learning and increase information literacy (IL) 

  • IL - set of abilities for figuring when information needed, how to find it and analyze information for use 

  • Staff in library to help people become lifelong learners - some skills library people have that laypeople don't 

  • Neo-nazi Website, kids don't know if pro or anti - same with Global Warming Website - should know what's in it, who wrote it and be able to present accurately 

  • Librarians ethically and professionally bound to keep patrons’ searches and use confidential 

  • Ms. Jones is a librarian 

  • Ms. Jones’s opinion that not getting graphic novels is a shortsighted collection policy 

  • Will Eisner, The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, preferred by Ms. Jones - excellent presentation of information at hand - hoax information becomes social fact 

  • Also use Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Guy Delisle - describes brilliantly and ironically hotel that allows CNN, no other hotels receive Western media 

  • American Association of School Librarians - younger students - K-12 u inquire, make decisions, interpret, make new knowledge, share know take part in knowledge discussion 

  • Discussion of following curriculum and librarians complaining about restrictions, even strictest school allows some latitude for individual students - time as restriction, graphic novels and game great use of time - research shows it, great amounts of information 

  • New aesthetic, whole new art form rather than dumb down - award organizations seeing just that by giving them their own categories in award contests 

  • ALA Webinars on this topic - friend says that not just English classes but social and history classes - graphic/historic fiction 

  • The Resistance appropriate for Middle School and High School kids 

  • Not showing edgy books because sometimes have to convince teachers administrators are good sources for information literacy 

  • Ayo - globalization, normal people (not downtrodden people), not patronizing and stereotypical 

  • Gaming - ALA - major role in child development - gaming not just for reluctant learners - game design used with reluctant learners engages them 

  • Wiliams College in Massachusetts - Thursday night game night - some University Libraries prohibit games – Ms. Jones will help provide scientific documentation of use for it - just don't want to play 24/7 - need variety and good content 

  • ALA sees content as content (content, itself, doesn't have moral value, use of content does) 

  • Gamers in Library - legal issues, setting up games 

  • Office for Intellectual Freedom want to help educators, experts on controversial topics - vast number of cases, all content treated the same but follow legality when addressing content - up to individual to know state rights - most attorneys are terrific, but sometimes patron will know more than attorney - call her office in this case, not risk averse like attorneys - This Office thinks of the kids, have to think for kids - encourage proactivity for adding books - access to information to learn 

  • Office of Intellectual Freedom is anti-labeling of content - parents, librarians and teachers responsible for discriminating content 

  • Cataloguing matters a lot. Some libraries may not catalogue comic books. Segregation may make difficult to find. Do it by subject heading, give it subject heading. All formats are important.

  • Graphic novels by duodecimal. Are by Library of Congress - depends on library - can be separated and put in its own section and categorized by their own methods - depends on users & crafting it for users - graphic novels used by so many authors can be organized in so many different ways

  • Pathfinder some kind of cataloguer [couldn’t find a link to Pathfinder]
  • Shelf life of video games (and other products) - how do librarians make decisions? Video games expensive - how people consuming, as trend, tool for learning or content for hermeneutics?

  • Compare to VHS tapes - video games for library purchasing decisions, same resistance at first but went down over time

  • Make connections for stores to try getting discounts and tips on purchasing as assets

  • Blockbuster as competition when first came out? Library doesn't see it as such. Get people interested (library) then send them to Blockbuster/shop to get access to content that libraries can't get

  • Games and gaming community - where to ask questions of people and gather info

  • Librarians Guide to Gaming - Why and how to incorporate games


LINKS OF INTEREST: Graphic Novels, Information Literacy, Barbara Jones, Office for Intellectual Freedom, American Library Association, Will Eisner, The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, Guy Delisle, American Association of School Librarians, The Resistance, Wiliams College, duodecimal, Library of Congress, hermeneutics, Librarians Guide to Gaming


Interactive Software for Kids:



  • Butzer, C.M. Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel. Harper Collins.

  • Geary, Rick. Trotsky: A Graphic Biography. Hill and Wang.

  • Gulbert, Emmanuel. Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders. Roaring Brook/First Second.

  • Neufeld, Josh. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge. Pantheon.

  • Asada, Hiroyuki. Tegami Beach: Letter Bee, vol. 1. Viz Media.

  • Asano, Inio. solanin. VIZ Media.

  • Benjamin. Orange. Tokyopop.

  • Butcher, Jim and Ardian Syaf. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle. Del Rey.

  • Carey, Mike and Sebastian Flumara. Ender’s Shadow: Battle School. Marvel.

  • Cavallaro, Mike. Parade (With Fireworks). Image/Shadowline.

  • Chmakova. Nightschool, vols 1 and 2. Yen Press.

  • CLAMP. Clover Omnibus Edition. Dark Horse.

  • Davis, Eleanor. Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook. Bloomsbury.

  • DeFilippis, Nunzio, Christina Weir and Kevin Cornell. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Quirk.

  • Eiki, Eiki. Train*Train, vol 1. DMP/Doki Doki.

  • Erb, Greg, Jason Oremland and Wook-Jin Clark. The Return of King Doug. Oni Press.

  • Fraction, Matt and Salvador Larroca. Invincible Iron Man: The Five Nightmares. Marvel.

  • Fujino, Moyamu. Animal Academy: Hakobune Hakusho, vol 1. Tokyopop.

  • Gaiman, Neil and P. Craig Russell. Sandman: The Dream Hunters. DC Comics/Vertigo.

  • Goddard, Drew and Georges Jeanty. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, vol 3: Wolves at the Gate. Dark Horse.

  • Hama, Larry and Jim Clark and Tom Feister. G.I. Joe: Origins. IDW.

  • Hamilton, Tim. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Edition. Hill & Wang.

  • Hardison, Jim and Bart Sears. The Helm Dark Horse.

  • Hill, Joe and Gabriel Rodridguez. Locke &
    . VIZ Media.

  • Ishikawa, Masayuki. Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture, vol 1. Del Rey.

  • Jenkins, Paul and Paolo Rivera. Mythos. Marvel.

  • Jensen, Van and Dusty Higgins. Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer. SLG Publishing.

  • Johns, Geoff and Ivan Reis. Green Lantern: Secret Origin. DC Comics.

  • Johns, Geoff and Gary Frank. Superman: Brainiac. DC Comics.

  • Kanno, Aya. Otomen, vol 1. VIZ Media.

  • Kelly, Joe and J.M. Ken Nimura. I Kill Giants. Image.

  • Komura, Ayumi. Mixed Vegetables, vol 1. VIZ Media.

  • Kovac, Tommy and Sonny Liew. Wonderland. Disney Press.

  • Kneece, Mark and Chris Lie. Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone: Deaths-Head Revisited. Walker & Company.

  • Kumeta, Koji. Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: The Power of Negative Thinking, vol 1. Del Rey.

  • Lansdale, Joe R. and Nathan Fox. Pigeons From Hell: Based on the Short Story by Conan Creator Robert E. Howard. Dark Horse.

  • Lee, Tony and Sam Hart. Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood. Candlewick.

  • Lemire, Jeff. The Nobody. DC Comics/Vertigo.

  • Lethem, Jonathan and Farel Dalrymple. Omega the Unknown. Marvel.

  • Love, Jeremy. Bayou, vol 1. DC Comics/Zuda.

  • Matsumoto, Nina. Yokaiden, vol 1. Del Rey.

  • Millar, Mark and Tommy Lee Edwards. 1985. Marvel.

  • Nakashima, Kazuki and Karakara Kemuri. Takeru: Opera Susanoh Sword of the Devil, vol 1 and 2. Tokyopop.

  • Navgorodoff, Danica. Refresh Refresh. Roaring Brook/First Second.

  • Obata, Yuki. We Were There, vol 1, 2, 3 and 4. VIZ Media.

  • Ottaviani, Jim and Zander Cannon and Kevin Cannon. T-Minus: The Race to the Moo. Simon & Schuster/Aladdin.

  • Pak, Greg and Carmine Di Giandomenico. X-Men: Magneto Testament. Marvel.

  • Phelan, Matt. Storm in the Barn. Candlewick.

  • Powell, Nate. Swallow Me Whole. Top Shelf.

  • Pyle, Kevin C. Katman. Macmillan/Henry Holt.

  • Runberg, Sylvain and Serge Pelle. Orbital, vol 1: Scars and Orbital, vol 2: Ruptures. Cinebook.

  • Ryukishi07 and Karin Suzuragi. Higurashi When They Cry, vol 1 and 2: Abducted by Demons Arc. Yen Press.

  • Sala, Richard. Cat Burglar Black. First Second.

  • Saito, Ken. Name of the Flower, vol 1. DC Comics/CMX.

  • Schweizer, Chris. The Crogan Adventures: Crogan’s Vengeance Oni Press.

  • Shan, Darren and Takahiro Arai. Cirque du Freak, vol 1. Yen Press.

  • Shanower, Eric and Skottie Young. Oz: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Marvel.

  • Shelley, Mary and Clive Bryant. Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel. Classical Comics.

  • Shiina, Karuho. Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You, vol 1 and 2. VIZ Media.

  • Siddell, Tom. Gunnerkrigg Court, Vol 1: Orientation. Archaia Studios.

  • Simone, Gail and Terry Dodson and Rachel Dodson. Wonder Woman: The Circle. DC Comics.

  • Stzepek, Kazimir. The Mourning Star, vol 2. Bodega Distribution.

  • Suzuki, Julietta. Karakuri Odette, vol 1. Tokyopop.

  • Telgemeier, Raina and Dave Roman and Anzu. X-Men: Misfits. Del Rey.

  • Thomas, Roy and Sebastian Fiumara. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Marvel.

  • Urasawa, Naoki and Takashi Nagasaki. Pluto, vol 1, 2 and 3. VIZ Media.

  • Vehlmann, Fabien and Dennis Bodart. Green Manor: Assassins and Gentlemen. Cinebook.

  • Waid, Mark, editor. Cthulu Tales, vol 2: Whispers of Madness. BOOM! Studios.

  • Yoshinaga, Fumi. Ooku: The Inner Chambers, vol 1. VIZ Meida.

  • Yost, Christopher and Paqual Ferry. Ender’s Game: Battle School. Marvel.

  • About, Marguerite and Clement Oubrerie. Aya. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly: 2007.

  • Phelan, Matt. The Storm in the Barn. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, forthcoming.

  • Sturm, James and Rich Tammaso. Satchel Paige: Strike Out Jim Crow. White River Junction, VT: Center for Cartoon Studies: 2007.

Monday, April 26, 2010

C2E2 Panel: Pulp Fiction

Last weekend on Friday night and Saturday all day, I attended the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2). My postings for this event will be short, closer to the expected writing style of the Internet.

On Saturday, I spent most of it attending panels, three of them to be exact. I took fairly copious notes. Instead of writing in an expository form and expanding on ideas and topics, I’m just going to provide bullet points that I took during the panels. If I expand on the bullet points, I’ll probably make it brief.

The “Pulp Fiction” panel is when I came up with the idea of taking notes on my Smartphone, and I came up with the idea halfway through the panel. I really didn’t get that many notes as I figured out my system.

That being said, here are the bullet points:

  • Panel made up of five or six modern-day pulp authors. Looking back with more than a week of retrospect, realizing that they were all male.

  • Pulp magazines get their name from being made of cheap paper pulp and they’re a magazine.

  • Mixing race difficult in pulp. Only one pulp property in contemporary day allows non-white main characters. I believe that I noted the wrong property for it, though, so I’m going to redact the title. The publisher only allows it, though, because the property originated with a mixed race cast.

  • Some interesting stories of getting into pulp. Some of the authors introduced to pulp characters and stories through parents, grandparents. Others through the library. A lot of them found pulp through some magazines that continued the tradition or publications that have tried to revive the tradition.

  • The story and art viewed as disposable, not something to reverence or value beyond quick entertainment. A lot of it thrown away without a second thought. Maybe even today, but at some point in the past, easy to walk into a library alleyway or somewhere near a bookstore to find a bunch of pulp publications and art pieces thrown in the trash.

  • Pulp fiction mythologized characters. I’ve heard and myth and mythology as terms used in a lot in regard to comic books. I guess they could be used in the same way with pulp fiction. Comic and pulp fictions can often act as archetypal icons for representations of some force or sense of meaning.

  • Ownership of characters and properties means the ability to dictate how they can be written and not written.

  • Some time spent comparing pulp writing based in past compared to modern times. The consensus seemed to fall on basing their stories in the past. The most vocal panelist, however, said that pulp fiction could be set in the modern day. As with any kind of writing, if done well, it can be done.

  • Aspects of characters and characteristics of pulp heroes and pulp worlds get pushed to edge of believability but be careful. It could become fantasy or too science fictiony. [Sin City, the movie – not really the comics since I haven’t read them – seemed to skirt the edges of pulp and fantasy quite a bit.]

  • Pulps influencing TV - only so many plots but details allow for many many stories. Some examples of TV shows and movies: Fringe, LOST, Indiana Jones

  • Keeping pulp alive - Marketing important to keeping it alive.

  • High Adventure - magazine reprinting older pulps – except I can’t find any trace of the modern day version of this magazine on the Internet.

Links of Interest: Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2), “Pulp Fiction, myth and mythology in comic books, Sin City, the movie, Fringe, LOST, Indiana Jones

Sunday, April 18, 2010

C2E2 Panel: The Middle East and the City Streets: Superheroes in the Modern World

Friday night and yesterday, I attended the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2). My postings for this event will be short, closer to the expected writing style of the Internet.

On Saturday, I spent most of it attending panels, three of them to be exact. I took fairly copious notes. Instead of writing in an expository form and expanding on ideas and topics, I’m just going to provide bullet points that I took during the panels. If I expand on the bullet points, I’ll probably make it brief.

For the “Middle East and the City Streets: Superheroes in the Modern World” panel, I made my bullet points from memory. They will likely include a few inaccuracies and some unconscious commentary. That being said, here are the bullet points:

  • Kinda disappointing
  • Mostly discussed mainstream media being "behind" comics when addressing topics in the world rather than the comics themselves
  • Theory of the (two) panelists: Escapist movies a way for society to address themes (trauma) that modern society has trouble dealing with, like 9/11 and Iraq/Afghanistan wars
  • Mainly focused on mainstream adaptations of comics to movies since 9/11 or tried to do so
  • A lot of focus on Batman Begins as post-9/11 quintessential example of movie addressing themes that we're only now starting to come to grips with: the shadow organization that taught Bruce Wayne how to fight looking to destroy evil civilization
  • Some interesting discussion of Tim Burton’s Batman, the evolution of that ‘90s movie Batman to the franchise/character destruction by Warner Brothers and Joel Schumacher (even though the panelists and most geeks will pin the blame on just Schumacher)
  • Even the Dark Knight follows the theory with the Joker being something of a "suicide bomber" when coercing gangsters - a bit about the Joker being without ideology
  • The difference of Gotham digitally over layed onto Chicago and London in Batman Begins compared The Dark Knight just using Chicago unaltered by digital technology making for a grittier, darker experience
  • Panel edges toward hermeneutics when watching the mainstream but focused more on their "theories" and demonstration of theory rather than talking about mechanics and "psychological" and "sociological" implications
  • Touched upon Watchmen, the movie, failing on a literary standpoint because it continued addressing concerns of the Regan years rather than addressing concerns of the day and because the director was more interested in spectacle than communicating themes or literary impact
  • Felt like a lot of treading on old ground of literary criticism, with so much focus on mainstream culture being behind actual comic culture without actually approaching the implications of their theory or the "cutting edge" as represented by the comics
  • Will admit some interest in discussion of the first Spider Man movie being made pre-9/11 but marketed and shown post-9/11, especially the part about erasing the twin towers from the commercials – actually made me think of Fringe when the main character glimpsed and travelled to an alternate reality where the twin towers still stood

Personally, I think the approach taken in this panel became unproductive and struck the audience the wrong way. Attendees wanted to hear more about comics being on the cutting edge (not as in a self-flagellating way but more as a point of fact), not about mainstream entertainment following far behind and dealing with trauma that comics and the geek culture were probably generally more prepared for (not in terms of knowing 9/11 would happen but because comics has probably addressed many permutations of socially traumatic events over the many years that comics have existed).

It’s not like geeks already have a superiority complex that they developed in their younger years as a defense mechanism. Nothing like frustrating an audience while feeding their pride against what they may feel as a dumb normalizing oppressive mainstream culture that has only recently accepted geeks as a norm.

If the description in the program or even the title of the panel mentioned that discussion would be about mainstream adaptations of superheroes, I believe that the audience would’ve had a more positive reception to the panel.

Links of interest: Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2), Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne, Tim Burton, Warner Brothers and Joel Schumacher wreck Batman franchise in the ‘90s, Dark Knight, The Joker, hermeneutics, literary criticism, Spider Man movie, Fringe, Watchmen, the movie

C2E2: First Two Doctor Who Episodes of Series 5

Friday night and yesterday, I attended the Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2). My postings for this event will be short, closer to the expected writing style of the Internet.

On Friday, I only saw the first two unaired in America episodes of the new Doctor Who season on two "big screens" (full screens similar to what public schools used to show old films for educational films before VCRs came around, except these big screens were digital flat screens) and not so good sound.

The "big screens" didn't disappoint me as much as the bad sound. The wife and I actually want to see the second episode again. The sound mastering of the episodes and the sound system being used were obviously not compatible. We missed a fair amount of the dialogue. Just from seeing the "re-cap" show that BBC America did for the show as an introduction to the Doctor, we caught a lot of dialogue we missed in the new episodes.

Love the two episodes on their own merits, even though I had a bitter sweet feeling that the second one went by way too fast.

The new Doctor (played by Matt Smith) and his new companion, Amy Pond (Karen Gilan) both act satisfactory on their own, but when they come together, their chemistry collides to create a hyperactive spastic joyride that hits an occasional bump of appropriate seriousness (that we expect from the show).

On an odd note, though, I would’ve loved to see Karen Gilan as the first female Doctor. Amy (and when I’ve seen Gilan and Smith in interviews) seems to have the natural energy and intelligence of our personable Doctor without him coaxing it out of her. Maybe he has met his human match. . .Donna Noble doesn’t count, since she became Doctor Donna in the end.

I almost regret seeing the second episode, which won’t be shown in the United States until next week. Now I have to wait two weeks for the next one! And of all things, it includes Daleks making an alliance with Winston Churchill? Seriously? That’s an unexpected twist, completely opposite of what I would have expected!

Links of note: Chicago Comics & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2), Doctor Who, Doctor, Matt Smith, Amy Pond (Karen Gilan),Donna Noble, BBC America

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Researching in Boston: Day 1

Serious research day one in Boston completed. Unfortunately, I don't have much to show for it. Ended up learning more about the organization of records, navigating through the records and issues that can arise with records, both while in a collection and once an author uses them.

Not much gained for useful content.

I want to brush aside a couple things that people following on Google Buzz and Facebook over the last couple days have read about my thoughts. I went to the Boston Public Library (BPL) for day one. Based on their Website, compared to the Massachusetts Historical Society, it sounded the most intimidating and least likely to let me look at and view the records.

First thing the BPL Website says about the special collections room is that they will allow generally mature and careful people into the reading room to use the materials. Then they will address people wanting to get in on a case-by-case basis and allow you access based on the merits of what you want to use the materials for. Sounds good so far.

An example of someone they wouldn't allow in to use the materials is a student learning research techniques. I feared that might be me since I'm working on a bachelors project. I hope to get it published some day. The basic idea of an education at my college is, along with having a satisfactory piece of work, to teach me how to think, how to plan out a project and how to research. To intimidate me even more, the Website mentions that the BPL may require a letter of introduction from someone at a University.

Possibly the most intimidating part about the reality of visiting the special collection reading room was the paper work that had to be filled out, forms submitted when entering and leaving the room and having to be buzzed in and out of the room, kind of prisoner-like. It was annoying rather than really intimidating, though, and on some level, necessary for the preservation of historical documents that represent our cultural and intellectual heritage.

All that intimidation was for nothing. I have the feeling that all the stuff on the Website might be to discourage non-researchers or non-serious researchers, possibly an attempt to cut down on frivolous weekend or busy time traffic or something.

The archivist in the reading room couldn't have been nicer or more friendly. She exuded exuberance about the organization of the card catalog, all the guests she has in the reading room and all the topics that people research. The orientation was short, useful and easy to understand.

We even got into an interesting discussion about the book where I got all the citations for the letters I wanted to look at. It's possible that the author of the book could've cited their sources incorrectly (I won't be naming the book or author at this point, in case it's more of an accusation than a fact). Apparently the documents cited by the author could be at the Massachusetts Historical Society or some other archive. It's also possible that a mold issue they had at the BPL at some point in the past could've destroyed the documents.

I got to take a look at a couple letters written by the wife of a main figure of my research. Nothing useful content-wise. Her letters mostly contained gossip and a relation of the events of a day or two, probably during a trip or a vacation.

Despite the frivolity of the letters, though, I still felt a little awe about handling this original document. The documents I requested from the archivist mostly came from the Brook Farm John S Dwight boxes. They consisted of two boxes with a bunch of folders.

The archivist allowed me to take two of the folders at a time to a table (another archivist a couple days later disclosed that if they handed out more than the two, the chance of causing disorganization increases by a lot). Opening the first folder, I saw that the letter was written something like 170 years ago.

I had a hard time believing that I had such an old document in front of me. For one thing, the paper was still white! At work, papers from work put in file for something 10 or 20 years are brittle and majorly discolored.

I probably had less articulate and more instinctual thoughts than what I’ve already mentioned. I simply dwelt on the fact of having something personal written by someone dead, and they wrote it a LONG time ago, right in front of me. I read about actual events that occurred. It was almost like a ghost had appeared in front of me to tell me the story.

My earlier experiences with historical documents didn't prepare me for getting my hands on this document. My grandmother has given me letters and other documents that her mother and father had written to each other. Those documents are probably only something like 80-90 years old or something, from around the first World War or so. They look about the same as this one letter from about 170 years ago.

Neither did my visit to the Wisconsin Historical Society prepare me for this haunting but cool experience. In Wisconsin, I handled specialized copies from original documents that were pasted in a book that reminded me of a scrapbook. It felt historical and technical, but not necessarily haunting.

Reading this letter worn with age, though, felt more real and authentic. The wear and tear had a lot to with it. I had the feeling of sacredness by all the security measures. Burying the reading room in the corner of the library had something to do with it. Coupling the worn original records and paperwork and the out-of-the-way reading room creates an essence. The grandness of the library certainly added to the feeling of sacred. For whatever reason, I felt special and privileged to look at this old, tattered letter.

Unfortunately, I only got two things from my journey to the BPL reading room that day. A lot of the letters I wanted to look at have already been collected in a book about 120 years ago. The card catalog in the reading room notified me of the author and title of the book, easy as that.

I found the book easily enough on Google Books that night. Maybe I didn't even need to drop into the library for documents. Maybe all the documents I need are in a book easy enough to get off the Internet that doesn't require payment expressly for the book, a long plane ride or a long wait for the package with a book in it.

I also got to make direct historic connection to a person from 170 years ago and felt a sense of awe. Maybe it had fairly pithy content on it that I don’t think has much, if any significance in the overall scheme of things. Nonetheless, after having familiarized myself with the path of the letter writer’s life and the lives of those written about during my research over the last couple years, I felt history and respect for the process of preserving our heritage, whether meaningful or not.

So, yeah, day one didn’t do much for me. At best, it reiterated the point that I’m doing a lot more work on this bachelor project than I need to do. Translating badly handwritten letters originally crafted with a quill pin takes A LOT OF WORK, a lot more than a bachelor should be doing. I resolved, that day, that no matter what information I gather or don’t gather during this trip, I will work hard when I get home to finish my project with whatever information I’ve got.

Maybe the reference to that book of letters will help, but even if I didn’t find it, I resolved to come home, finish my project and not bother to look for more information. I’ve pretty much got all I need. Additional handwritten primary resources will help make the project stronger, but I’ve got enough. This project will get finished, and it will get done soon. Take my word for it.

But, of course, I still had two days left in Boston. I wasn’t going to waste my time.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Best & Worst Friend a Satirist can Have

A couple weeks ago, a friend/acquaintance challenged some statements I've been making about my beliefs over the last couple years. He rankled me quite a bit with questions, but he provided me with a service useful enough to make my injured pride worthwhile. The exchange between the two of us has forced me to craft my statements and "argument" better.

First, the encounter with said friend/acquaintance reminded me that I have used belief statements in this discourse as satire, not as literal belief statements. I will not provide the belief statements here because they drastically violate numerous taboos of society. I wish I could compare the statements in question to Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, but I lack the experienced genius of Jonathan Swift.

In the long run, though, any dumb ass asking questions could remind me that I say these belief statements in the spirit of satire. My friend/acquaintance brought an extra quality to his challenges that a dumb ass couldn't. He brought intense, incisive rationality to his criticism of my satirical statements. I don't always agree with this guy's conclusions, but I can appreciate his dedication to weeding out inconsistency, lack of thought and lack of rationality.

Satire can't stand up to such attacks and generally aren’t supposed to. Satire, if anything but not as an exclusive characteristic, has the intention of exposing such lapses of rationality and evidence in the thinking of people and groups. By taking arguments to extremes or stubbornly supporting beliefs, statements, tradition and particular issues that can't weather coherent rationality, reason and empirical evidence, the propounded rationale gets exposed to the world as absurd and foolish.

My satirical statements haven't done a good job getting my point across. They don't address the issues that I wish to attack while showing the issues to be absurd and not something worthwhile to agree with.

Rather, I made the statements absurd for the sake of outlandishness. Instead of getting people to stop and re-think their beliefs, it just comes off as trying to attract attention for the sake of getting attention. Occasionally the belief statements get a chuckle, but they don't make a point.

Having your arguments and thoughts torn apart, even when done in jest and satire, never provides for a night of fun. Such embarrassing experiences can provide incidental benefits, though. They can cause you to re-think and re-evaluate your satirical belief statements, the effect of the statements, the effect of all the statements together and remind you of the effect you want to accomplish.

The intense and relentless rational, incisive and critical friend/acquaintance can make the best and worst friend to the satirist, much like an editor to any writer. The satirist can have all their hard work, intellect and self esteem destroyed in the fell swoop of such an individual. After licking their wounds, however, the satirist can learn a lot from the destructive encounter. They can use their lessons to improve their work and craft.

The destruction doesn't happen for any metaphysical or teleological reason. Synchronicity occurs in our lives. Statistically, among six billion people in the world and multiplicity of phenomena that can occur, opportunities to learn will come about from random events. A satirist would be wise to identify these opportunities, no matter how much it can hurt their pride and use them as editorial lessons.

I plan on doing so.

Links of Interest: satire, Jonathan Swift's, A Modest Proposal

Monday, January 04, 2010

Learning More About the Preservation and Utilization of Historical Documents

Working on an all out serious history project can get intense. It gets heavy when you start getting a look at primary sources. I've already described the learning curve I faced with the microfilm readers at the Wisconsin Historical Society. That aspect was just a technical matter. The process gets crazier once the information from the sources gets used.

I'm still running into some issues coming up with a hypothesis that works. Either the facts don't match up with the hypothesis or the hypotheses I come up with end up too speculative (the facts support it, but enough gets left open that more questions get exposed than get answered). I've accessed mostly just secondary sources or annotated primary sources; in other words, works still in print, found at common used books stores, on Google Books or at local public Chicago libraries (even though there's still the Newberry Library).

I've started entertaining doing some real down-and-dirty historical research. I mean flying out to Boston to look at more than likely handwritten documents (scanned to microfilm probably) by historical figures from the first half of the 19th century. I would have to visit the Boston Public Library and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

I didn't read much of the rules at the Boston Public Library (BPL). Then again, I couldn't find listings for the collection I would want to check out. I don't know if that means the BPL no longer has access to the collection, doesn't make it available online, doesn't catalog it online or they just haven't gotten around to cataloguing it online. I've tabled finding anything useful out until later when I have the presence of mind to call the BPL or to stop by and do some research.

I've found some potential in the Massachusetts Historical Society catalog. Can't look at anything scanned or anything beyond the title of collections or books on their shelves. Nonetheless, the potential there provides a last resort or somewhere I can check out when, like I said, I have the presence of mind and energy to make a call or fly out there.

And don't doubt it, I'm kicking my ass for not taking advantage of these resources while I lived in Boston. I, unfortunately, didn't have a good angle for the whole project, so no real basis for constructive research. Still. . .might've still been cheaper to visit those two places years ago to just transcribe the books or something.

I don't even know if I could have transcribed or copied anything from those source materials. The Massachusetts Historical Society has similar rules as the Wisconsin Historical Society when it comes to physically handling primary source materials.

I’m not surprised. After all, these are one-of-a-kind artifacts from our historical heritage. Even if photocopies get made, they miss the authenticity of the original. That original could hold some incidental or even accidental mark or something that could provide evidence of something unforeseen. Even the passage from creation of the artifact to when it comes into your hands has a valuable story.

I guess that's why at least the Massachusetts Historical Society has some intense rules. Let me rephrase that, has some strong state laws that dictate how people handle the artifacts and the information or data that the artifacts contain.

The most intense rules I saw at the Wisconsin Historical Society involved microfilm censuses of the state. Other than that, the Wisconsin Historical Society staff practically gave me step-by-step instructions on how to make copies of the data. I just used a computer set up to read the microfilm then scan an image of the microfilm onto my trusty flash drive. None of that information became useful, however.

Things get serious at the Massachusetts Historical Society, though. I need to look at their rules (and laws) a little more and probably talk to staff there. Nonetheless, they require official, written requests and permission granted to do anything other than to look at the materials there. This process is required to make/get copies and to quote and cite materials, above and beyond having copies available.

A lot of academic questions pop up for me here. I hardly know where to begin. Maybe I'll start with who are these rules and laws protecting?

I can understand why they want people to be careful with the materials, themselves. We don't want to lose the evidence of the past and history. We use the information on those materials as a foundation to the historical stories we create. We use those materials to understand the world better. Losing those materials would mean losing part of our story and also losing the chance to understand pieces of our human condition.

These invaluable treasures have spiritual value worth more than our homes or our investment portfolio. Even with the material goods that provide us with peace of mind and affluence, we can feel empty and without meaning. Historical artifacts can help fill that void of meaninglessness left by material possessions.

But what interest does controlling the dissemination of this information serve? The State and Government?

Not likely. I wouldn't think that a state or government would make "dangerous" information available at a historical society, in the first place, if the State or Government would want to have total control over the hearts and minds of its citizens.

The survival of the Historical Society, itself? I don't really think of historical societies as for-profit organizations, but they need money like anyone else to survive. The same thing goes for the people who work at historical societies.

Getting money at one of these organizations can be more difficult than at for-profit organizations and require justification to donors, boards of directors and the government that give them grants and other funding. Overall, digitizing or making the information easy to access might eventually make historical societies obsolete. Once no one needs a historical society, there goes the funding and the jobs.

A lot of the material texts are gifts from a donor. Some people even lend the texts and materials to historical societies. Conditions can probably come with the use of those materials, explicit and implicit, that, if not honored, could lead to the material being yanked.

Maybe the lender/donor has a sense of privacy that allows them to make materials available for people who want to put effort to get the information, but they don't people to get easy access by going to their local library or bookstore.

Maybe the material lent by a person tells the story of their family’s past. Could the story paint a bad picture of the family? Could embarrassment come to the family or the person the historical matter is about? The information on the paper or the microfilm could leak fairly confidential information that could be used to hurt a family.

In that case, I guess I wonder why someone would allow a historical society to have the historical artifact if it could lead to such detrimental circumstances. People have different senses of privacy and have different motivations for doing things. Who knows why someone might allow those willing to put the effort into seeing something but not the general public?

Another element might be the monetary element of the artifacts. Rarity creates economic worth. Supply and demand. Copying the information on the artifact and disseminating leads to the original losing its monetary value. Nonetheless, people like to value the non-utilitarian worth that we invest into objects. Even if someone created a million copies of something, there’s probably someone out there willing to pay top dollar for a historical artifact.

In the end, I don’t understand the motivations about keeping such a tight leash on the information contained and on the historical artifacts at historical societies, libraries and I guess even museums. I don’t mean the speculations above in any negative way to paint a bad picture or anything. I’m just ruminating about the possible motivations behind being so protective of the information on these documents over and above the survival of the individual artifacts.

Anyone out there have any useful insight for me about the reasons why a historical society would want to control the non-material value and information on these artifacts?

Links of interest: Boston Public Library, Chicago libraries, Google Books, Massachusetts Historical Society, Newberry Library, Wisconsin Historical Society