Thursday, December 20, 2012

Super Short Review: Prometheus (2012)

What a clunker. I recently rewatched Alien (1979), a wonderful scary film: a film that manages to mash-up s.f. with monster-in-the-house horror and make it work. I attribute a lot of that to the dirty sneakers the starship crew wears; like in Aliens when the marine spits down an acid-burned hole to see how far it goes, the people of Alien do the things that humans would do. By contrast, the humans of Prometheus are largely cardboard cut-outs with very little in the way of motivation or personality. Like the alien Engineers, the characters of Prometheus have a human outline that doesn't look right the closer you get.

On top of that, the film badly fails at mashing together two strands of work, the theological/existential (why are we here, who made us, why do we age and die) and the horrific. Both of those strands exist in s.f., so the failure to mix them effectively very clearly shows its seams.

And then--and yes, this is stretching the parameter of a "super sort" review, but this is the last part, I promise--the film just doesn't make much sense. Alien Engineers are responsible for all sorts of life, from life on Earth (developed by an Engineer sacrificing himself) to the alien Xenomorphs of Alien. And we know this because there are lots of Earth cave-paintings showing a particular star structure that happens to be one of their bio-weapons labs...

So remind me again, why is there a map on Earth of where to go to find the bio-weapons? (At the end, we learn that these bio-weapons are meant for Earth, but in that case the bio-weapon lab should have a map to Earth, not the other way around.) And who even made those paintings? Is that from the aliens? (Why would they do that? Do we leave notes for lab mice?) There's really no good explanation there, which means that the film not only ends with some hand-waving about "the answer being out there," but it begins with some too.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Blog Hop; or Form Follows Fun!ction

Amy Gentry tagged me for this "getting to know you" Blog Hop, which seemed like a good idea at the time, for some or perhaps all of the following reasons:
  • I've been intermittently blogging here for a while, but I never really introduced myself;
  • I love self-replicating memes;
  • Maybe answering these questions about current projects would get me to finish some of them?;
  • As a narcissist, I enjoy talking about myself;
  • and answering questions about writing sure beats writing.
I've browsed some other previous blog hop entries, and it's interesting to see how each person shifts the questions a little to make them more applicable to their own deal. With that in mind, here are the questions I'm going to ask myself:

What do you write about and why?
On my blog, I write about anything that catches my interest, which is often politics and media--or politics in media. I often leave a movie/put down a book/turn off the tv and ask myself, "What is the writer saying with that line? Why did the creators choose that?," etc.

(Digression: The two classes of people who are most interested in ferreting out the politics of works of art are a) English professors and students in grad school and b) conservatives who seem to take to heart Zhdanov's principle that all art should reflect the party line. I'll let you guess which class I fall into. (Or rather, which class I fell into and then fell out of, bruising myself on every hard surface along the way.))

So I might write about Colbert's irony and liberalism; nostalgia in James Bond; why Andrew Sullivan is wrong about ____ [fill in anything there, because he's probably wrong about it] and how his rhetoric trips him up; or, for a change of pace, what it's like to live in Texas or to co-write a sketch show while telecommuting from Texas. (Shorter version of that last issue: it's hard.)

I could come up with an argument about how aesthetics and political ethics are related, something like: the cultural imaginary is defined by entertainment, e.g., 24's presentation of the "torture interrogation vs. ticking time bomb" scenario is a powerful current in the American embrace of torture. That's true, I think, but it doesn't answer why I write about that particular nexus on this blog.

Why? I write mostly about politics in art because I've recently become interested in politics in the real world; I've always been interested in the narrative arts (and all art is narrative if you're wired the way I am, but that's another story*); and that this is one way to help me bridge the gap from my old interest in art to my new interest in politics.

*All art is narrative? In 2005, my girlfriend and I went to see an exhibit at the MCA in Chicago that featured some Dan Flavin light art. One work of Flavin's repeated the same light across almost an entire wall, until the rightmost light, where the pattern broke, and I laughed. My girlfriend asked why I was laughing and I pointed to the repeating pattern of light--"Setup"--and to the broken pattern--"Punchline." We're no longer together.

Where besides the blog do you write (and why)?
For love: Over the past year, I've been trying to get back into writing fiction, specifically short stories, usually science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Even when I write in other genres, I like a little fantastical element. For example, after reading several romance submissions in my writing critique group here in San Angelo, TX, I decided to write a paranormal romance, which was an interesting challenge: dragon-shape-shifter--easy; avoiding words that make me giggle in sex scenes--hard. (Hard! Oh.)

I tend towards speculative fiction rather than literary fiction because I find speculative fiction offers more potential scope, seriousness, and fun than literary fiction. It's surely unfair to judge all of literary fiction by the dregs found in university-affiliated reviews, but the world does not need another story about adultery, unhappy dude professors seduced by their nubile students, or the melancholy of going through a dead loved one's attic.

(Seriously: I used to read slush for Chicago Review and we kept count of overused tropes, among which melancholy professors and adultery featured prominently. Now I read slush for a science fiction and fantasy magazine and the quality is not worse.)

You might argue that "commercial fiction" or "genre fiction" shows slipshod sentence craft compared to lit fic--but you'd be wrong and I'd be glad to give you a suggested reading list of beautiful prose writers working in speculative genres.

I'm not saying that there's no good work being done in literary fiction these days. Have you read Jennifer Egan or Junot Diaz? (Oh wait, both of them play with speculative tropes, too.) I just have a certain amount of bile built up over years of hearing that X was normal and Y was the abnormal choice, whether that normal/abnormal pairing was white/color, male/female, hetero/homo, or realism/speculation.

To that end, surprise surprise, I'm more interested in fantasy quests where kingship and patriarchy are investigated and overturned rather than reinforced as the divine order. But what the hell, let's speculate: what would kingship look like if it really were reinforced by divine power? Hmmm...

I've also recently gotten into writing webcomics through no fault of my own. A few months ago, my college friend Chris Van Dyke drew a picture and asked for a story to go with it, and we just kept going after that. We finished a short short story, a full-issue fantasy about a dragon-slayer, and are working on an ongoing comic about a Franciscan monk lost in fairyland. I'm pretty proud of the work we have done so far, but I'd be happy to hear your opinion of the comics. Pretty nice, right?

For money:
For money, I write student guides for literature for, which I like because they're a little irreverent; and I write Kirkus Reviews, though I'm not sure if I like that so much. Reviewing not-so-great self-published books feels kind of like kicking someone when they're down.

Your bio lists a lot of things you do besides writing. Are you a writer, a performer, or...
This question doesn't rally apply to me: right now, my bio is pretty simple. But there was a time when I lived in Chicago when I had a few other plates to spin. In fact, my last year in Chicago was focused on taking classes at the Second City, which were pretty amazing plates, the kind that I wouldn't mind re-spinning. (End of extended metaphor.) I went through the sketch-writing track (perhaps you've heard that since I talked about it endlessly on this blog) and the improv track.

And I highly advise everyone take improv classes sometime. Tina Fey makes all the points in Bossypants, which I'm sure you've read, Dear Reader; so I'll just note that I wish I had taken improv a long time ago. I'm not great at improv, but being great isn't really my goal. My (ongoing) goal is learning to listen to others, to say yes and collaborate with teammates, and to let go of past mistakes. Who wouldn't want that? (Also, I wish I had taken the Voice and Dialect class, just because.)

Unfortunately there's no improv community in San Angelo that I know of, and I've been dragging my feet about trying to put together some class or group here. You might think it's because I'm wholly unqualified, but really it's just because I'm bred-in-the-bone lazy.

I also really liked Second City for the friendships--Second City classes are great if you want to up your "happy birthday" count on Facebook. Also, I got together with a bunch of classmates to make a web video series about a hapless lawn care company. I wasn't as involved as I would have liked since I was busy moving to Texas during production; but I really enjoyed collaborating on the writing. Maybe I should get back into sketch-writing?

Also, wouldn't it be great to do a podcast? I have no further ideas on that, but wouldn't it be great?

Which authors do you find inspiring (for your current work)?
When it comes to authors and books, I'm one of those people who love not wisely, but too well. (Oh, god, is Shakespeare on my list? Put Shakespeare on the list.) So instead of the general list of favorite authors (Jane Austen forever!), I'll tell you who inspires my current work:

The webcomic Voyages owes a lot to Douglas Adams and P. G. Wodehouse, in that I'm trying to write farce; and Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Jack Vance's Lyonesse, in that I'm trying to write episodic, non-epic fantasy. Maybe there's some Woody Allen in there as well.

For my current crop of fantasy stories, my guiding stars are Harriet Beecher Stowe (whose imagination was wide even with a focused point to make) and Ursula K. Le Guin (a didactic author who is never afraid to give the other side a fair shake); Fritz Leiber and William Gibson (for playing with prose); China Mieville and Kim Stanley Robinson (for their overturning of old tropes to show the structural undergirding of our fantasies); Nathanael West and Thomas Pynchon (for their playfulness with form and structure itself); and Theodore Sturgeon and James Tiptree, Jr. (for their sensibility, anger, mercy).

What is your writing process?
Oh, I want one of those--where can I get one? I don't have a lot to say about the "when do you sit down to write, what music do you put on?" sort of logistical questions. Which is a shame because I love logistics and especially am open to music suggestions. I usually sit down to write when I'm not walking the dog or washing the dishes, but I've yet to come up with a solid schedule for that.

Here's one logistical issue I can speak to very directly: I love Scrivener for Mac for multi-part projects; but I still have stacks of scrap paper with scribbled ideas. Over my life, I have consolidated those scraps several times, but they keep multiplying.

As for the planning vs. discovery writing divide (aka plotting vs. pantsing), I've flipped back and forth. If it's fiction, I often do a lot of planning, but those plans don't always survive the writing process. If it's non-fiction, I tend to write a bunch of thoughts and then outline when I know more what I want to say.

I'm also a big believer in rereading and revising until it hurts, but at some point you just have to let go, no matter how much you've grown to love the hurt. When I reread my college senior project--a book of short stories--I continually make marks to change stories; and each time, they're different marks.

What are some of the best books or advice for writing?
Okay, I added this question mostly because I wanted to hear what suggestions other people would drop. After moving from Chicago to Texas, I've lost some of the pleasures of book collecting; but I keep seeing interesting titles out there. For instance, Victoria Lynn Schmidt's 45 Master Characters and Nancy Kress's Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. I can't totally vouch for any of these books because collecting is easy, but reading takes time.

I can vouch for the podcast Writing Excuses, which I wrote a whole post about. They might not work for everyone, and I often find myself wanting to add or edit things they say, but it's a good start for people who want to get back into writing and find themselves listening to podcasts while walking the dog.

But right now I think my favorite writing advice is to write a note to yourself at the beginning of a project outlining what it is you like about the project. That way, when you start to lose interest about the halfway point, you have the letter to yourself to remind you why you started this project in the first place.

Enough about me. Here are some fantastic blogs you should check out:
The Oeditrix: Teacher and freelance journalist Amy Gentry posts extended interviews with authors (which are really just blog hops by a different name, right?) and succinct meditations on feminism

Give me a month or so, my brain is fried. and Seshet's Scribe: Pseudonymous pagan progressive and children's librarian Sesheta offers personal takes on religion, belief, and annoying family members on "Give me a month..."; and up-to-date reviews of books on "Seshet's Scribe"

Perfect Cursive: Screenwriter Christine McKeever offers personal reminiscences and music; learn the lesson she offers and don't get swept up by poker

Voyager Comics: Teacher Chris Van Dyke posts our webcomic and other drawings, including sketches and some meditations on process; hopefully this blog hop will get him to spill his secrets on drawing

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dr. No-Carbs; or, The Yumminess of Bond

Over Thanksgiving, I watched (or re-watched, it's not always easy to keep track) Dr. No, the first Bond film; and I also watched the Tippi Hedren-Alfred Hitchcock HBO film The Girl. There wouldn't seem to be a connection between the two: one is the blueprint for all Bond plots to come (i.e., spy + girl vs. international evil); the other is a docu-drama of Hitchcock's creepy obsession with the star of two of his films, The Birds and Marnie.

The only real connection is this:

  • Dr. No (1962), starring Sean Connery
  • The Birds (1963), starring Tippi Hedren
  • Marnie (1964), starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery
In The Girl, Hitch tells Tippi the idea of the movie Marnie--a frigid woman is blackmailed into marriage with a man who repels her (as all men do)--and that her co-star will be Sean Connery, from Dr. No. Tippi's response is that she'll have to be a very good actress to be frigid towards Sean Connery.

With that line in mind, when I watched Dr. No, I couldn't help but notice how differently this film treated Bond than some of the later films. Yes, at least one partly unclothed woman throws herself at him in his first appearance; but the main Bond girl doesn't show up until the second half of the film.

(And that woman is the almost realistically named Honey Ryder. Sure, that's ridiculous, but compared to Pussy Galore, Christmas Jones, and Holly Goodhead, "Honey Ryder" could be something out of Stephen Crane for its realism.)

On top of that, for a big chunk of the third act of Dr. No is Honey Ryder-less, with Sean Connery losing more of his clothing as he climbs through the air vents. (This was before supervillains realized that air vents are bad.) The camera doesn't follow Bond's body in the way The Avengers starts by showcasing Captain America's butt, but it also doesn't ignore his body as a consumable product of pleasure. What's especially notable here is that there are no women in these scenes who are comparably undressed. James Bond being naked for sex is one thing--James Bond stripping for the visual pleasure of the audience is quite another.

This takes something of a backseat in many of the later Bond films, where the camera lingers most on the women in James Bond's sights, or, at most, on Bond's clothing and gadgets. But Dr. No is a helpful reminder that the Daniel Craig James Bond movies aren't coming out of nowhere, but a return to the source.

Monday, November 12, 2012

My take on Bond, the shorter version

My last two posts on Skyfall were pretty big, so just in case you thought it was too long, here's the shorter version:

1) I am a moderate Bond movie fan.

2) I especially liked Daniel Craig's Bond in Casino Royale, which uncovered some of the ironies of Bond's status as a "man's man."

3) Skyfall made some good choices, but also some choices that I felt were strange and/or politically retrograde.

4) Most disturbing to me was the queering of the villain, which mainly seemed to elicit uncomfortable laughter when I saw it.

5) Skyfall seemed committed to nostalgia for Bond, which comes with fine nods to Bond history (the Aston Martin, M's hilariously padded door) and a resetting of women's roles in Bond: not head of the department, but maybe a glorified secretarial position.

Addendum: If your first impulse is to say, "of course there's misogyny, it's a Bond film," I will start bite through my lips again. If you want the same old Bond, you can watch the films that were made in a time when misogyny was more pervasive and less discussed; a Bond film made today doesn't get any passes about what was common or accepted back then.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall's major problems (it's nostalgia) (Bond, Part 2)

It's uncomfortable when just about everyone agrees that Skyfall is a good movie and you are left with only the company of the New Yorker's David Denby, notorious culture scold. If I agree with that guy, I must be wrong, right?

Now, I didn't hate Skyfall. In fact, I found it entertaining enough to keep my attention; and there were certain issues that I think make for good changes to the Bond formula. For instance, the big one is that instead of some ludicrous high-stakes villainous plan--remember Tomorrow Never Dies, where the villain wants to start a war between the UK and China to help his news empire? Woof--Skyfall focuses on a more personal stake of friendship and loyalty and feelings of obsolescence.

And yet I can't help not loving Skyfall as much as, say, Roger Ebert. Now here's the part where I confess to loving Roger Ebert even though I don't always agree with him: he seems to perfectly balance a populist interest in entertainment and a love of the craft and art of film-making. But I don't understand Ebert when he says that "here is James Bond lifted up, dusted off, set back on his feet and ready for another 50 years." Let me count the ways that I don't agree with that sentiment (and give some spoilers on the way):

My problems with Skyfall
One is for the length. I wasn't bored through much of the film, thanks to the use of clear goals for the main characters. But seriously, there were certain sequences and certain shots that could be shaved down. How many times do we need to see an establishing shot of the London skyline before cutting to the MI6 location that we've already been told is in London?

Two is for the villain Silva, a blond-dyed Javier Bardem, whose motivation and character feel like a real step back. This is such a complex of annoying choices that I have to give it its own numbering system:

Problem #1: Silva's character design and backstory: Unlike some other Bond villains, this one comes with backstory (a backstory that's a little too close to Janus's/006's history in Goldeneye, if you ask me):

Silva used to be M's favorite when she ran the Hong Kong bureau, but he got a little fresh with the Chinese, so to preserve a peaceful hand-over (and a couple of other agents' lives), M gave him up; the Chinese tortured him and when he realized that M had abandoned him, he took his cyanide capsule, which only resulted in massively disfiguring his face if he's not wearing his prosthetic cheek bones; and now he is in charge of a ruthless and well-funded terrorist/spy network for hire and a master hacker.

The leap from tortured prisoner to head of network is one of many things that you'll just have to either take or leave here, because there's no explanation of it, and I just have to shrug. At least Janus's backstory of being a traitor to MI6 involved his secret Russian activities before he faked his death, which explains why he went on to run his own Russian-based intelligence operation.

And then there's Silva's pointlessly disfigured face--is that why he's out for revenge, because his cyanide didn't work right? Maybe he should see Q Branch about misfiring gadgets. It seems like a quick way to give a little visual pop to the confrontation scene with M, but honestly, if you need a visual pop, maybe that's because you skimped on the emotional pop.

Problem #2: What does it mean to Silva to get M? It's always clear that this Silva is out to get M, but the parameters of that "out to get" aren't particularly clear: at one moment, he's trying to torture her by attacking her institution and at another point, he's just trying to old-school shoot her.

It's not a problem that his idea here changes, only that it's not sufficiently examined or explained. His first plan is to attack her reputation by exposing an MI6 list of some NATO spies that are under cover in terrorist organizations. That would strain Britain's relation with her allies, which would be a problem for M. (Now, Silva got that information from a hard drive in Turkey in the first action sequence--and no fair asking why the British hard drive with that information is in Turkey rather than safely in MI6 somewhere. Like Silva's transformation from Chinese prisoner to terrorist world leader, SHUT UP THAT'S WHY.) He also uses "computer hacking" to leak gas and blow up part of the MI6 building.

So that's Silva's plan: ruin M's reputation. No, wait, because then Silva allows himself to get captured; confronts M with her crime against him; and then escapes and tries to shoot her at a committee meeting. Why has his plan suddenly changed from "elaborately ruin M and expose her powerlessness" to "shoot M"? (It's especially weird that he interrupts the committee meeting which is exposing her to the public--yech--in order to shoot her. Dude, why interrupt one plan with another?) You might say, "maybe after the confrontation with her he decided to change his plan"; which would be a fine guess except that his plan clearly was set up before he was captured and confronted her. (Or else how would he have contacted his minions to bring him a cop's uniform and meet up with him to shoot her?)

This issue of Silva's motivation becomes especially bothersome in the final act, a siege of the old Bond estate of Skyfall Lodge. At first, Silva seems like he wants to take M out personally--otherwise, instead of infiltrating a government meeting with a gun, he could just use his magical computer network to hijack some missiles or something. And yet, Silva's attack on the lodge plan is a) let faceless minions go in and shoot first; b) let his helicopter use its massive gun to shoot up the lodge; c) throw grenades into the lodge. Now, if you can spot the "personal touch" in any of that, you've got better eyes than me.

Problem #3: Silva's queerness: This is a complicated topic, but let me just tell you my experience: here in West Texas, when the villain starts to caress Bond's chest, neck, and knees, there was laughter that seemed to be about the very expression of queerness. For comparison, when a man touches Bond: laughter; when Bond touches a woman at a bar or in a shower: nothing.

And for further contrast, when Silva makes a comment about Bond trying homosexuality for the first time, Bond archly asks Silva why he thinks this would be Bond's first time--and the biggest laughter in the audience was from my girlfriend, not from the people around us. ("Homosexual villains are all well and good, but a hero who engages in homosexuality--you go too far, sir.") If I had been watching this movie alone in my house, I might have thought "well, that's a character choice that seems antiquated." But seeing it in a theater where the primary response to homosexuality was uncomfortable laughter, that makes me uncomfortable with the stereotypes of homosexuality as predatory, weird, laced with trauma and sadism.

Silva's fourth problem is actually a problem everyone shares, so:

Three is for how everyone has to act a little stupidly in order for the plot to go on as needed. Silva may be the prime example of this: he controls a well-funded, well-armed, and well-staffed network, but nothing can ever be done simply. This might have been fun if they had established him as a game-player, the sort of villain who needs to prove his mental superiority; but as it stands it just seems unplanned, chaotic, and a little crazy. (And after Heath Ledger's Joker, if you're going to bring a crazy character to life, you better bring it.)

But everyone has to act a little stupid:
  • When Bond fights with three bodyguards/captors of Silva's ladyfriend Severine, one of them knocks him into the Komodo dragon pit and the other two... stand around instead of shooting him?
  • In fact, why do they even care about killing him when their main job should be to keep Severine from running away? Why is she even allowed off of Silva's secret lair on an island? (Some of this could be explained by saying that Silva needs to lure Bond to capture him and bring him to London, but there are easier ways to get captured--and easier ways of getting to London.) 
  • Why does Silva hire an assassin to kill an old man when Severine is in the room with the old man, so he's clearly gettable? (Again, this might be a crumb Silva leaves for Bond, but it's just another odd thing. At the very least, when Bond notices that Severine is in the room and in the casino, he might think "that's odd" because he's superspy who is supposed to notice things like that. So maybe this is Bond acting dumb instead of Silva.) 
  • Why does the Bond family's old gamekeeper shine a flashlight when he's trying to hide from Silva's minions? 
  • Why is the new M glad to hire 007 when, let's review: Bond played dead and went AWOL for a while; he failed his physical and mental reviews; his plan to kill Silva by using the old M as bait resulted in her death? Who looks at that record and says, "I'd like to offer you a position"?
  • If M's philosophy is that it's better for one person to be given up than for a whole group of people (which is what she did when she gave up Silva to save six other spies and preserve relations with China), then why doesn't she just give herself up to Silva at the first possible moment? Because the longer she fights, the more spies and civilians are going to end up killed and wounded. (Honestly, M trying to sacrifice herself while 007 tried to protect her against her wishes would make a pretty awesome character dynamic.)
Maybe not all of these questions show how these characters have to act idiotically; but they do show that the plot requires these characters to act strangely, unrelatably, or contrary to their characters.

Four is for the nostalgia and the cheap nods to Bond's history and fandom. The problem of nostalgia is thematized here with the conflict between the old and the new, the conflict between raw human spirit (fuck yeah!) and intermediated computer networks and technology. There are quite a few lines here about how espionage is a young person's game and how the new Q--a hipster Sherlock knock-off--can do more damage than 007 without getting out of bed. We're clearly supposed to be on the side of the aged here: Judi Dench's soon-to-be-retired M, 007 who knows when to pull a trigger or use a knife, the old gameskeeper Kincade and the historical secrets of the old Skyfall Lodge (like M, the house is referred to as an old lady). And then there's the tedious arguments about whether or not the world has changed and how many shadows there are left for spies to operate in.

Of course, that line is undercut by the fact that Silva has bridged this gap: he's capable of computer manipulation and shooting a gun. He even makes a show of using antique pistols. He lives in the old shadows still, but uses cutting edge tools. In fact, we could also point out that Silva is only beaten by Bond when he cooperates with the young Q; and the final images of the film involve Bond purposely destroying the old house (thus symbolically clearing the trauma of his family loss, with the trip through the underworld of the priest's hole as a symbolic rebirth, blah blah). So all this rah-rah nostalgia for the old days that people talk about--it's not upheld by the action of the film itself, except in a few key ways that are so obvious they might have hung a neon sign flashing "symbolic triumph of the old."

But what really gets me about all this nostalgia is that it goes beyond "computers are hard." If nostalgia were just "I miss handwriting," I'd understand and accept it. But so many times, this sort of nostalgia comes along with a whole host of "good old day" baggage that should be left unattended at the airport and then destroyed as suspicious. That't the kind of nostalgia that Skyfall treats in and I don't like it.

Finding the old Aston Martin in a warehouse is fine; remembering fondly that Bond has a long and gloried history of misogyny is not. And the end of this movie sees a certain retrograde movement that does not make me happy: the female M replaced with a male M? The reduction of female field agent Eve to the status of secretary Moneypenny? The queering of the villain? Yay, it's the 1950s-60s again--let's dig up Alan Turing's body and pump it full of hormones again.

(Curiously, gay computer expert Turing died from his cyanide poisoning, unlike Silva; and Turing's contributions to the security apparatus of Britain were similarly hush-hush. So maybe there's some Silva-Turing connection to be made. Though let's further note that Silva's real name "Tiago" is a form of "Santiago," which is Portuguese for, ahem, James.)

It's funny to me that the last scene involves Bond demolishing his own house, as if he were wiping away the childhood trauma that produced him and coming out of the tunnels rebirthed, a phoenix free of the past. But this movie is so drenched with nostalgia that I can't see any way forward for this Bond. Roger Ebert says this Bond is ready for another 50 years, and I agree if we're talking about the past 50 years.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

And I'm Sky, I'm Sky-Fallin'! (Bond, Part 1)

First, I stole the joke of the title from Brendan Hay's twitter, which I recommend if you want to steal things.

Second, talking about James Bond is like talking about Batman: it's impossible to really say what Bond is like since we've seen several different iterations of him. For instance, you might think of Bond as a suave womanizer who looks like Sean Connery--until you watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service with George Lazenby as Bond. That iteration of Bond doesn't do so great at suave womanizing: his suavity is parodically reduced to re-using the same lines on different women; and his womanizing is replaced with marrying for love.

Third, I have seen a lot of Bond films and have opinions on them all. Or I would if I could remember them. Mostly they're a haze of villainous plots and snappy lines, like
Bond: Do you expect me to talk?
Goldfinger: No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.
A lot of these "snappy" lines revolve around the women in Bond's life and bed (often the same thing), from Goldfinger's rather restrained banter, where Pussy Galore introduces herself and Bond responds, "I must be dreaming"; to the cringe-, nay, barf-inducing zinger in The World is Not Enough, where Bond gets Denise Richards's nuclear scientist Christmas Jones into bed and tells her how surprised he is since he "thought Christmas only comes once a year."

So, I would restrainedly call myself a Bond fan; at the very least, I recognize the title "The World is Not Enough" as the motto on Bond's family's crest (as mentioned in the movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service, though it's delivered by Bond to women, so maybe we shouldn't trust him too far here).

Fourth, even though I enjoyed the over-the-top Bond of earlier movies (men with metal teeth, space lasers, evil institutions with silly names likes SPECTRE), I thought Casino Royale was, for all its faults, a revelatory and exciting reinvention. Instead of suave womanizer with cool/silly gadgets, Bond was a brutal tool used and abused by institutional forces. Instead of gadgets and women, this Bond was placed as the central weapon and object of attention.

Again, like Batman, the Daniel Craig Bond in Casino Royale was an incredibly traumatized figure whose empty-hearted dedication to the job was empowering and re-traumatizing. (Try all you want, Batman--all those crimes that you prevent won't prevent the one crime that haunts you.) Put it this way: when Sean Connery's Bond wasn't working, he probably continued to do Bond stuff, like drinking, womanizing, and gambling--the job was an extension of his personality; when Daniel Craig's Bond was off the clock, I could picture him just sitting in a dark room, waiting to be called into action. The job isn't an extension of Bond's personality, it's a replacement of his personality.

Fifth, no matter how much I enjoyed Casino Royale, I recognize that you can't really make a franchise out of such a deeply cracked figure. Perhaps at most, you can make the Nolan Batman trilogy, where we see the making and then un-making of the traumatized superhero as he learns to live a human life. Casino Royale was very much 007 Begins, the making of Bond as super-spy with no particular soul. Now, that's a story you can't really expect to play over and over again: a character who achieves some apotheosis in one film will seem false to the audience if he starts over again. After you've hit empty, you need to find somewhere else to go. You can't keep doing "Bond kills remorselessly, finds love, loses his heart and becomes an institutional tool" arcs.

Sixth, people seem to love the new Bond film Skyfall. I did not. More on that tomorrow.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Missing the Point; or, Yes, But Can You Secede from Reality?

I am not a conservative or a Republican, and unless things change radically, I never will be. And I don't know many Republicans/conservatives that I talk to about political issues. But I do occasionally hang out on conservative websites and forums to see what people are saying; this doesn't give me any special insight into the conservative mind--for one thing, the people who go to those sites are a self-selected group, tending towards some extreme views.

In other words (and shorter), I'm just guessing here and don't have a nifty model like Nate Silver.

That said, what I'm reading is not making me hopeful that Republicans will wake up to reality after the drubbing of the 2012 election. The talk might occasionally nod towards soul-searching like an acquaintance--"well, maybe we should rethink our position on social issues since they're not winning issues for us."

But most of the talk excels at the sort of angry, reality-resistant positions that the right has perfected recently: Romney was a bad candidate (and even worse, a mushy non-conservative); the media was in the tank for Obama (sub-argument: there wasn't enough attention paid to Benghazi, Fast & Furious, etc.); things will never be the same with these new, non-traditional Americans (you know the ones we mean *makes racist comment*, not that we're racist); the takers just vote themselves more bread and circuses; etc.

In other words, everything is wrong with the world except our ideas, which are great.

And this isn't just from the no-name commenters; if you go to National Review's blog, The Corner, you'll see quite a few arguments like this, including:
1) the old GOP leaders don't work, we need new leaders (with, we assume, the same ideas);
2) Chris Christie betrayed us;
3) we can't change our ideas because they're our ideas!;
4) we need to educate the public about the meaning of liberty (sub-argument: destroy the existing colleges and schools); etc.

What really gets me about this (and why I'm taking precious NaNoWriMo time to write this post) is that these Republicans keep talking about how great their ideas are, without any hint that maybe possibly kind of we tried a lot of these ideas over the years and they're not. Low taxes on the rich create jobs? The Republicans are the party of small government? We need to do things unilaterally to show the world we mean business? Capitalism solves everything? Gay sex and abortion are terrible things that degrade the morals of society?

I hope I'm wrong about all this; I hope all this "a storm is coming, I'm getting guns" talk is just the immediate sting of the 2012 beating; but while hopeful, I'm not optimistic that this will teach the GOP very much. Maybe a few more election loses will knock some sense of reality into them.

So, who's ready for 2014?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing Excuses Marathon

I recently decided to go back and listen to all of the episodes of the Writing Excuses podcast. First, the background, then my analysis.

Background Info
Writing Excuses is a panel discussion on issues related to writing by Brandon Sanderson (fantasy), Howard Taylor (webcomics), Dan Wells (horror), and, starting in Season Six (iirc), Mary Robinette Kowal (fantasy, sf, and puppetry).

Each episode is about 15 minutes long and they frequently have other guests to discuss other issues. They do everything from live shows with random questions from the audience (most random question: "Would you like a bagel?") and very focused issue episodes: What is first-person narration? What is cyberpunk? How do you write a query letter?

I started listening sometime in Season Five, so this is my first time listening to some of the early episodes. And there's some roughness there which are smoothed out in later seasons; for instance, they first tried to hum "shilling" music when one of them was mentioning his own work. In later episodes, they more simply just explain how they did what they do, which is what we come for if we want to hear people with experience in the field.

There are many interesting episodes, but I don't know if I can suggest marathoning as I did to catch up. Rather, since there are 259 episodes, it's probably better to pick and choose and concentrate on those episodes that offer the most help for your particular issue at a particular time.

So, if you have trouble with structure, just go to the website and find episodes about structure. If you want some help with character, look at the character posts. (It's also very nice that a dedicated fan has been writing down transcripts of each episode, and his use of tags might be superior.) If you're interested in a career as a writer, Writing Excuses probably has something for you; and if you're just interested in one or two topics, it's relatively easy to dip in for an episode or two (though they do have running jokes and other callbacks, especially easy since they appear to record many episodes all at once).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

He said/He heard/He heard at the VP Debate 2012

After the VP Debate, I was incensed at a conservative tweet that characterized Biden's answer on abortion as evidence that he was a "shitty Catholic." I stupidly got into a conversation with this conservative, which helped clarify the difference here. Spoiler: the difference is that this person assumes the worst of liberals.

When Biden explained that he acts according to his religious belief but he doesn't force those beliefs on others, I heard a rousing call for religious tolerance, which, you know, is kind of a big deal in America.

What this conservative heard was something more like "I support eugenic genocide." Now, before I get accused of casting his argument in an absurd light, let me note that this is actually what he said on his blog:
The modern abortion debate is simply early 1900s eugenics tied up with a pretty bow labeled “woman’s rights.” Eugencis are all about rating humanity on an arbitrary scale of usefullness, and then manipulating it accordingly. (cite
Yup, "woman's rights" is just the pretty bow we use to hide our thirst for baby blood and a desire to weed out undesirables, which, in this case, is all babies ever. So, how do we have a political discussion over this?

In slight defense of this terrible argument by this conservative, I will say that he pivots quickly from "this is a religious belief" to "this is the scientific and moral truth." Of course, that has no bearing on the VP debate where the abortion issue was starkly cast in a Catholic frame, so it's a terrible argument on his part. But it does help clarify his POV, which is that abortion is a moral issue removed from religion. I do wonder who told him that fetuses were the moral equivalent of living women, but that's another issue.

Also, for comic genius, I can't beat a Romney supporter claiming that Biden is just being political expedient in his answer. Seriously: I cannot beat that for unintentional comedy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Andrew Sullivan's Gut Has Shit For Brains

Alternately titled: "Andrew Sullivan is not America."

Andrew Sullivan is a useful blogger to follow for a few things; quiet introspection is not one of them. If you follow Andrew (affectionately known as Sully), you saw his meltdown over the first presidential debate, with such carefully titled posts as "Does Obama Want Out?" and "Did Obama Just Throw The Entire Election Away?" Since then, he's run some dissenting emails and some supporting emails, but the general message has stayed the same; even in a short post on how Clinton said something, Sully throws in a jab at Obama: "Could the president switch off ESPN for a second and take notes?" (cite)

Over at the Awl, Ken Layne pierces Sully's narcissism and hyperventilating. Layne notes that "There are no small moments in Andrew Sullivan's online world": everything is always the end of the world--as long as it affects Sully directly. (Seriously, check it out: he grudgingly admitted that there was a GOP war on women though he found the term "shrill"--and then he turned around and declared that there was a war on gays. Because if it affects Sully, then it's a serious issue in his world.)

So when Obama had a disappointing performance, it's not just a political issue for Sully, it's a personal attack and affront. Which leads to the second problem with Sully: overestimating his own feelings and thoughts. This is a common problem for pundits, who often claim that "politician X would be doing a lot better if only he embraced the issue that I care about." With Sully, this is Bowles-Simpson, a ridiculous grand bargain that smart people on the left call "the cat food commission" because of its likely outcome: slashing care for the elderly and needy. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that Obama can safely lose the gay Anglo-American Irish Catholic Oxford-educated PhD vote without significantly altering his electoral chances. Only Sully's pride will be hurt.

This is Monday Morning Quarterbacking at its best: histrionic and self-assured. And what really drives home the lesson today is Sully's "woe is me" comments on moving to New York City with a very lucrative contract, a ridiculous post titled "New York Shitty" that ends with the plaintive cry of the oppressed: "Please tell me it gets better." Oh, pobrecito! Let's all make sure Sully finds New York bearable with his $1m blogging gig.

No, let's be honest: New York can be hard to deal with; Obama had a disappointing performance at the debate. And yet, the world still somehow goes on. Sully will often excuse his kneejerk wrong reactions by noting that he's thinking in real time (unlike the rest of us who somehow get extra time from our hook-up with the Gallifreyans?) and responding with his gut, but maybe it's time for Sully to take a deep breath and admit that his gut has shit for brains.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Xander: "You don't know how to kill this thing." Buffy: "I thought I might try violence.": Rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2 Episodes 12-22

Man, it's hard to cut Season 2 down. Now, here's a time for a confession: I love anything having to do with Giles, maybe because child-father figure stories usually get me. For comparison, anytime Clark Kent and Jonathan Kent get into a conversation about where Superman got his values, that's the sort of stuff that gets me all the time.

So, season 2 has some crucial plot and character arcs; and there are some excellent one-offs that I might want to include. Right now, my list of necessary episodes includes

  1. Surprise and Innocence (13 and 14)--all about Buffy and Angel
  2. Phases (15)--Oz goodness
  3. Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered (16)--a fun episode
  4. Passion (17)--Giles goodness
  5. Becoming, Part One and Two (21 and 22)
That brings the total episodes up to ...

(2: Season 1, Episodes 6 (The Pack) and 9 (Puppet Show)
12: Season 2, Episodes 3 (School Hard), 6 (Halloween), 9 and 10 (What's My Line, Part 1 and 2), 11 (Ted), 13 (Surprise), 14 (Innocence), 15 (Phases), 16 (Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered), 17 (Passion), 21 and 22 (Becoming, Part 1 and 2))

... 14 episodes total. I do like the one-offs "Bad Eggs" and "Go Fish" and even "I Only Have Eyes For You" (with a young John Hawkes!), but at 14 episodes, my playlist is beginning to show a little bloat. I think I'll keep "Ted" in the list rather than swap out one of the other one-offs because, if I'm prepping this list for my girlfriend, I think she'd like John Ritter.

Now here's my second confession of the day: I'm bored by the fight scenes in Buffy--they may be well choreographed but they don't always have much besides spectacle going for them. Rarely do they examine character or make jokes; mostly it's just "there's a blonde girl who vaguely looks like Buffy from far away doing some roundhouse kicks."

A final note: because the episodes are thematically organized, it may be easy to turn them into afterschool specials. For instance, "Go Fish" clearly contains a lesson about the dangers of steroids. Some of these little lessons may be past their sell-by-date for certain audiences. (If I was going to take steroids, it would've been during my illustrious fencing career in college. Though the idea of a steroidally-jacked fencer is sketch-comedy worthy.) It's still a good episode, but might cause a little eye-rolling as they hammer the lesson home.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Super Short Review: Headhunters (Hodejegerne) (2011)

An excellent Norwegian thriller, available on Netflix now. Occasionally slips into Grand Guignol territory with the bloodplay--dog attack, stabbing, shaving without cream. But mostly focuses on suspense and mystery and human motivation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Did anyone explain to you what 'secret identity' means?": Rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2 Episodes 1-11

Season Two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is more solid than Season One; and starts to lay down the serious relationship material that will be instrumental in twisting the knife in Season Three. So it seems harder to pass up some of these episodes, and I worry this playlist may end up pretty long.

One thing that you should start to notice when you're 24 episodes into 144 is how well-crafted the episodes are, how thematically focused they are. For instance, the Halloween episode is all about trying out different parts of your (forming) personality, and we see this idea across the major characters, both magically-induced and stress-induced: Buffy becomes regular (and helpless); Xander becomes tough; Willow--seeking invisibility--becomes hypervisible; Cordelia continues her growth into a helpful partner; while we also see a first glimpse of Giles's darker past--the part of his personality that he left behind.

Right now, my playlist for the second season is

  1. School Hard (3), which introduces Spike
  2. Halloween (6)
  3. What's My Line, Part 1 and 2 (9 and 10)
  4. Ted (11)

"Ted" might be controversial, but I think it's important to show a "monster of the week" episode and I think John Ritter really sells the 1950s psychokiller.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Enough with the hyperbole!": Rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 1

It's long been a dream of mine to come up with the perfect episode playlist for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the kind of limited list that you could give to someone if they asked you "Why do you love Buffy and what might convince me to love it, too?" To be honest, I think it would be impossible to make a list that would work completely for anyone--this list would have to be aimed carefully at the heart of the viewer. In other words, this is the type of quest best performed for a loved one who never got into Buffy but whose taste is generally a known quality, like my girlfriend.

So, I've been home sick this week with a minor fever that might warp my speaking ability but has left intact my Netflix-navigation acumen. So I rewatched the first, short season of Buffy, and here's my take:

The thirteen episodes of Buffy's first season set up the general dynamic for the long, three-season arc of Sunnydale High, including all the main characters--Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Cordelia, Jenny Calendar, Angel, Principal Snyder; and yet none of the episodes reaches the level of must-see. Almost anything you need to know about those characters, a dedicated viewer could sum up in a sentence or two, or maybe just a phrase: slayer with a ditzy side, male friend with unrequited crush, etc.

The only episodes that rise to the top for me are those non-vampire, weird episodes that make the metaphor of monstrous teenagerhood into something real, like "The Pack," which is all about cliquehood (and involves the authentically weird moment where the students eat the principal); or "The Puppet Show," which involves issues of being out of place and out of control.

"The Puppet Show" has one advantage in Principal Snyder's introductory line about how children are criminals and any attempt to deal with them as humans is just "the kind of wooly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being eaten." This is an issue that comes up a lot in the series: the powerlessness and assumed criminality of the young.

Also, another issue that comes up frequently: Xander's clothes are so dated.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How does a book shape a country?; Or, Why can't you read?

This is late news, but then again, this is a semi-moribund blog, so it fits.

Starting in late June, the Library of Congress put on a display of Books That Shaped America, which is the kind of title that demands to be shouted from the rooftops. It's a collection of 88 books by American authors that "have had a profound effect on American life." 

There are numerous problems with a list like this. For instance, presentism: we read the development of America from a particular point in time, so certain things will seem more or less important now than they once were. 

Case in point: Moby Dick, which has been around for roughly 150 years but pretty much only read for 100. So if you organizing this exhibit in 1900 and wanted to include Moby Dick, there's a chance you would've been locked up as incurably crazy. It's true that it's shaped reading lists in schools for the past century, but how has that really shaped America? Here's a counterfactual thought experiment: Imagine a US where Moby Dick was never written--what's different from our world?

Case in point (2): I would've included some Jonathan Edwards, an important theologian, author of "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," and intellectual forebear of the Great Awakening--even though he's not all that important to America today in a direct way.

Another problem--though it's probably a self-conscious strategy on the part of the LoC--is that the concept of "shaping" is inherently vague. So the exhibition can say that The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a best-seller (in England), but that's a far cry from saying that it started a tradition of American supernatural folk-tales or somehow shaped America in some way besides making money.

So the list has problems, sure, but it also has a built-in argument that these are some of the books that shaped America. This isn't an exclusive list; and it isn't even presenting itself as a list of the books that most shaped America. This is simply an exhibition to start a conversation. If you don't like this list, make up your own to add the books that you think should be added to this category.

That said, there's a lot of predictable boo-hooing about how mean this list is to religious-Americans or otherwise fails--complaints that tend to cast more light on the writer's ignorance or perversity than on the list's failure. 

For instance, professor of religion Stephen Prothero complains that there's not enough religion on the list; we could call this the "Where's the Bible?" problem, as I've seen that question asked around the internet in comments. Except the list is clearly restricted to American authors and people would know that if they bothered to read the info. Prothero knows this, but oddly calls the restriction "a technicality," making it sound as if it's a quibbling little detail instead of the organizing principle of the whole exhibit. He probably means that it's "arbitrary," which is fair, but then most organizing principles are. It's especially telling that his list (in a book you can buy now!) includes several non-book items, like a memorial, which shows how non-conventional his thinking is--or how he refuses to obey the rules of the game.

On the more materialistic end of the spectrum, Reason magazine blogger Tim Cavanaugh complains that there aren't enough best-sellers (because, for a Libertarian, the market is always right). I agree in parts with Cavanaugh's argument about presentism, though it pains me to be on the same side as someone who can't bother to look up how to spell Edgar Allan Poe's name. But Cavanaugh's organizing principle ("Who made the most money?") is so blinkered and narrow that it comes out self-parodizing: "to shape America" is the same thing for this crowd as "to make money." Cavanaugh's entry ends on the perfect note, with a complaint that the LoC has too many librarians. Because who needs librarians when you have best-seller lists?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Start Here: William Gibson

I’m entering Book Riot’s START HERE Write-In Giveaway.

Three Possible Dialogues
You: I’ve never heard of William Gibson—isn’t he the guy who wrote that Helen Keller play, The Miracle Worker
Me: No. Well, yes, that was a William Gibson, but not the William Gibson we’re talking about here. The Gibson I want to talk about is the science fiction author.

You: I’ve heard of him—isn’t he that science fiction writer who coined the term “cyberspace”? He must be super-nerdy, with lots of technobabble and no real characters.
Me: No, he’s not just a hardware guy. He’s very literary, with serious themes and lyrical prose.

You: I’ve heard of him—isn’t he the guy who writes about computers but whose first novel was written on a typewriter? He must be one of those New Wave jackasses who made science fiction unreadable by making it all about prose style.
Me: Wow, you have issues. But let me just say that Gibson is not just about style. If you care about technology, you might be interested in him since he’s very interested in how technology affects people

The Only Possible Conclusion
You: OK, you’ve convinced me to read William Gibson. Where should I start?
Me: I’m glad you asked.

“The Gernsback Continuum” (1981)
Gibson only has a handful of published short stories, and he generally seems more comfortable with novel-length works. As evidence: Most of his short fiction is conveniently collected in one single book, Burning Chrome (1986). But among his short fiction is one of the most important short stories in science fiction: “The Gernsback Continuum.” 

The Gernsback in the title is Hugo Gernsback, one of the fathers of science fiction, the guy who pioneered the gee-whiz aesthetic and morals of early sf; and this story doesn’t want anything to do with him. It’s a dream-like story about a photographer sent out to find elements of that gee-whiz architecture that still exists—old gas stations with “raygun emplacements in white stucco” and “central towers ringed with those strange radiator flanges.” But when he gets too close to the future as portrayed by Gernsback’s brand of science fiction, he finds the dark side: we may have dreamed of rockets and splitting the atom, but look where it got us. This is short story as genre-rebellion: We need a new science fiction.

Neuromancer (1984)
In his short stories, Gibson laid the groundwork for this new genre of science fiction, a fiction that looked at how computer and bio-technologies would interact with human experience down here, in the muck, not up there among the stars. Gibson didn’t invent the term “cyberpunk”; and if you’re interested in the cyberpunk style—chrome, leather, mirrorshades, hackers, soldiers of fortune, urban derelicts—there’s plenty of places to get that, as the genre spread through, well, everything. (Billy Idol’s Cyberpunk, anyone? Anyone?)

But Gibson’s Neuromancer is one of the foundational works of the genre, and like most foundational works, it’s a lot richer and weirder than its descendants and rip-offs. With Gibson, the point isn’t the cool clothes or the body augmentations or the computer hacking. (It’s true that Gibson wrote this on a typewriter.) The point in Neuromancer is what happens to the individual when confronted by the modern world in all its traumatizing glory—whether the world (technology, corporation, conspiracy) will reduce you to a memory on a hard drive or whether there’s way to become whole.

Pattern Recognition (2003)
We’re going to jump over the two sequels to Neuromancer (collectively: the Sprawl Trilogy); the Bridge Trilogy; and Gibson’s steampunk-avant-la-lettre collaboration with Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine; and we’re going to land firmly on Gibson’s most recent trilogy. (Are you getting the pattern? Not only does he mostly write novels, Gibson mostly writes trilogies of novels. But don’t get the impression that he’s logorrheic—his work is spare and exact.) Pattern Recognition revisits a lot of themes (and characters) of his previous novels: the pattern observer; the repeated phrase “Observe the protocol”; a mysterious artist; rich people with mysterious motives. So, for the true believer, Pattern Recognition is a brilliant reconstruction of Gibson’s collective work.

But let’s say you’re not yet a true believer—(oh, but you will be)—what’s here for you? Pattern Recognition takes place in a post-9/11 world, but very recently post, as the main character tries to deal with her twin traumas: invisible corporate war and the tides of history. There’s less chrome here than in Neuromancer, but the themes remain the same: how do individuals function in modernity, with the flattening of the globe and the erasure of alternative histories? Gibson doesn’t always answer these questions, but he always writes so we recognize them as our questions.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Adventures in (Reviewing) Self-Publishing; or, You Need an Editor

With four reviews behind me, I'm still only beginning to review books professionally--though at these rates, I think it's more like semi-pro. (I hope I'm still eligible for the Book Review Olympics.) Through reviewing these four books, I've already suffered a crisis of conscience about stepping on people's dreams and developed a distate for sock puppet-written reviews.

Today, I'm here with a post directed at those self-published authors or those considering self-publishing, with a very simple message: self-published author, you need an editor. I don't mean you need a copyeditor who can help you with commas (though you need one of those, too). You need an editor to tell you what's wrong with your story.

But until you get one of those, here's three basic lessons.

1. You need a plot and character motivations that make sense.

If Victor Frankenstein's brother Ernest wants to build an army of monsters to destroy Napoleon, why is he terrorizing London--why not help the British against Napoleon? If a video-game company developed a shape-changing robot with human-level AI, is the best use of that robot as the centerpiece of their theme park? And if that evil robot controls an army of robots in a rare-metals mine, wouldn't it make more sense to use those robots to work the mine rather than kidnap and enslave unruly children?

Self-published author, you need a professional editor to be able to notice and point out that your book has holes. I don't need to read your book and I can already tell you: your plot has holes; and your characters are making decisions that serve your story rather than their characters. You may have a great idea for a cool set-piece--London burning! a robot fight in a mine!--but I can't see how cool that set-piece is when I'm rolling my eyes at your plot holes and your character' actions. Your set-piece is cool, but we need to get there in a way that makes sense for your characters.

2. Your ideology is showing

Propaganda gets a bad rap. Sure, Ayn Rand's fiction is generally bad, but not because she uses it to express her philosophy. (Occasionally, it's bad because the philosophy overwhelms the fiction, as with John Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged.) But there are some propagandistic books that are genuinely great books: for example, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin no longer carries the same punch today, but when it was written it was exciting, funny, moving, and carried a big old lesson. And all those worked together.

But you, self-published author, you need to rein that shit in. It's fine to have a lesson or a message. You want your two teenage brothers to learn about self-reliance? Great. But you need to be honest about your message and think through what you're saying. How do these brothers learn self-reliance when they have each other? How will your reader learn a lesson about self-reliance when the heroes are constantly being shepherded by friendly companions?

Also, you lay it on a little thick when your narrator casually mentions that the Fed treats the economy like a video game.

3. "I do not think it means what you think it means."

You need help with words. We all do, so there's no shame in that, in general. But you use the word "facade" to mean "deep interior self," and that's a goddamn shame.

This shades into the copyediting that you need--because you need it, trust me, we all do--but you need someone who can pay attention to your word choice. Even if you know what words mean, there's a chance that you're using the wrong one for what you're trying to accomplish: you're using a simple word where you need a complex one or, more likely, you're using a complex word where you need a simple one.

Take the word "said." It's a nice simple word and you seem to hate it. Instead of marking your dialogue with "said," you clutter your dialogue with the help of a thesaurus. Characters never "say" dialogue, they "ordain, growl, beseech, stammer, emit," et al. This is fun only if you're learning a new language or studying for your SATs. (Nice use of "concupiscence," by the way.) Otherwise, you might as well stand next to your reader and jab them in the ribs every time a character speaks.

A plea

I'm only saying all this because you're not a terrible writer with nothing to say. I may not like your libertarian-infused evil-robot YA thriller, but I want it to be the best libertarian-infused evil-robot YA thriller it can be. And it can be better, self-published author. The first step to getting a better book is to recognize that you need an editor.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Why Fish doesn't matter on Santorum.

Stanley Fish is a lion of the literary critical establishment, which means that most people know to ignore him. Except for the New York Times, which has a nasty habit of keeping people around who sound reasonable but are generally full of shit in a variety of ways--David Brooks, Ross Douthat, William "Never right about anything" Kristol.

Case in point: Here's Stanley Fish arguing that we should recognize that Santorum comes from a long tradition of American godbotherers. Which means that we're wrong when we say that Santorum doesn't understand the Establishment clause separating Church and State because other people--intelligent people like Supreme Court justices--make the same claims.

(If you have a little voice on your shoulder who says, "well, couldn't they all be wrong together?," congratulations: you're smarter than a New York Times columnist.)

Now, Fish is not alone in taking to task people with whom he nominally agrees with. (I'd bet a fair bit that Fish votes for Obama over any GOP candidate.) Walter Benn Michaels, another lion of the lit crit world--hear him roar!--makes some similar arguments. (See Our America, where he reveals that multi-culturalist liberals are the real racists.)

What particularly bothers me about this Fish article is that Fish seems to concede some legitimacy to Santorum's ideas on the procedural grounds of tradition--precedent. "Other people have said X, therefore we have to take X seriously." I grant this: there's a tradition, so we can't say that X is totally new--but X can still be radical and out of touch with the mainstream--or simply wrong.

Maybe it's my atheist Jewishness, but I take seriously Washington's 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, drawing a picture of a tolerant utopia where "every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid" about his religious differences. This is an equally valid American tradition--and it's one that Santorum is totally out of touch with.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Could Citizens United end up helping Obama?

Up till now, Republican Super PACs blow out of the water the Democratic Super PACs in terms of money raised. The reason is pretty clear: Republican super donors, like Huntsman's dad and Gingrinch's Sheldon Adelson. This is pretty much the scenario that Democratic opponents of Citizens United expected.

But I wonder if Citizens United might end up helping Obama. Here's what I don't mean: Obama recently said that he would accept Super PAC money, so it's possible that Democrats will soon enjoy more Super PAC money.

Here's what I do mean: the Republican candidates--Gingrinch especially--have had a lot more money to drag out this nomination fight--and the more we see of these candidates, the less we like them. So here's a short theory: right now, Citizens United is helping Obama by keeping the Republican fight going.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

On Andrew Breitbart's Death

I might as well just change the title of this blog to "Andrew Sullivan is often wrong." (Which puts him ahead of Megan McArdle, who is always wrong.)

See, Andrew Breitbart died at only 43 years old, but what a full life he had, trying to sabotage ACORN and Shirley Sherrod and anyone or thing that seemed liberal. Sullivan's posts on this matter have been to say that Breitbart was a fallible political actor (which is a tragedy that we should all feel bad about) and that we shouldn't forget to advance some sympathy towards him as a human being.

Which is all well and good, but this isn't Sullivan being generous--it's Sullivan covering up one particular truth about Breitbart (in public life, he was a jerk) with another truth that Sullivan says is more important. (Oh, Breitbart is human; oh, Breitbart loved pop music.)

I agree with Sullivan, that it is surprising and sad to think about Breitbart's sudden death when we consider him as a private person. But as a public figure, I can't consider his death as a tragedy. (Not all surprises are tragic.) Breitbart did enormous damage to the political discourse, and we're better off without him.

(Or rather, Breitbart took part in that damaging. He surely wasn't alone.)

Also, do you ever notice Andrew Sullivan always wants us to extend sympathy towards the single powerful person; but when it comes to airing questions of racial superiority, Sullivan never wonders if there's anything unsympathetic about it?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Blattbergs... in Texas!

I've just survived (wokka wokka) a short visit from several family members, who came to San Angelo, Texas to see how we live here; but as all strange dislocations do, this visit did shake me out of my old habits. So instead of seeing what my regular life is like, they got to see quite a few things that I probably hadn't seen before.

So I may, in the future, tell you about chatting with the director of the Fort Concho museum; or about watching a college baseball game; or about our experience getting Texas license and license plates; or other things that we did in Texas (including watching the Oscars--short version: snore).

But for now I'm just going to relax and rest.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Super Short Review (and programming note): An Affair to Remember

Sarah and I started An Affair to Remember around Valentine's Day and we just finished it recently. That should be a clear indication that it's not exactly riveting, which is interesting because the plot is straightforward and doesn't meander at all: playboy meets girl on boat, they fall in love, they break up with their respective s.o.'s, some obstacle gets in the way of their happiness, the obstacle is resolved. It's such a clean plot. And yet, very boring.

Maybe it's one of those cases of success breeding failure: An Affair to Remember may have been so big that we've absorbed it in different forms. It's like the problem of seeing Tolkien as just ripping off D&D and other fantasies.

The best parts of the movie were those authentically weird historical moments--Deborah Kerr gets a job as a chorus teacher and, after being thanked by a mug for helping his son not be such a mug, she leads her kids in a song about listening to your conscience. The song is punctuated by a little tap dancing from the black kids in the chorus.

(Also, there's one great moment, though it's dragged on too long, where Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are making eyes at each other and at their s.o.'s when they dock; all we get is medium close-ups on them until we pull out and get a shot of all the other travelers watching this byplay as well. It's the most interesting sequence about who sees whom.)

Lastly, a programming note: I've got some family coming this weekend, so updating may be unreliable.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Super Short Review: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a hilarious and gory farce about college kids being terrorized by hillbillies--except the hillbillies are really nice and almost all the deaths are accidental (hence the farce aspect).

I would unhesitatingly recommend it as entertainment.

But is there something serious going on here? I can't help but think that there's something interesting about the class war of the typical slasher film inverted, so that it's not the poor po-dunk workers/hillbillies/servants who are the monsters, but the preppy college kids. Suffice to say, the movie was largely financed by Canadians.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"The Way We Live Now": in debt and loving it

I recently watched the complete BBC adaptation of Trollope's The Way We Live Now, which was the novel he wrote in 1875 that scolds British society for being so greedy.

In this novel and mini-series, a foreign-born financier comes to London; and while he wants a way in to the upper class (which isn't about money but breeding), they all want to get on his good side since he's got all the money and the plans to make more money. As typical in Trollope (I can say, having read one novel and this TV Tropes article on him), there are several plotlines, lots of stories of love that is blocked for some reason (religious difference, previous engagement, lack of money).

It's almost a shame that this mini-series isn't being made now (perhaps as a counterpoint to Downton Abbey?), since the issues of financial crime seem newly pertinent. It's no surprise that things don't turn out well in the novel--Trollope likes rewarding his heroes and punishing his victims. What's surprising is that the scheming financier Augustus Melmotte evokes any pity from us at all: unlike the greedy British peers who he's trying to join, Melmotte actually seems to understand the violence and sacrifice underpinning his money.

So when Melmotte loses everything and is punished, well, on one hand, this is no more than the game he played and the chance he took; but at least he's punished, while many of the British peers go on about their narrow lives, unpunished and unenlightened.

But then I might be thinking of this mini-series wistfully since the cruel bankers are crushed instead of receiving bailouts that they don't even acknowledge. (For more on that, listen to this interview of bankers saying that they're smarter and that's why they're employed and wealthy.)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Why do conservatives position themselves as victims?

Many commenters over the last few years have noted that conservative talking points are incoherent: Obama is a ruthless tyrant AND a spineless wimp AND an idiot who can't speak without a teleprompter AND an elite snob; climate change is a hoax AND it's a natural process; Obama is an atheist AND a radical Muslim AND belongs to a black supremacist church. Some of this might qualify as double-think, where the person holds two opposing ideas at the same time, but mostly I think this is just a smorgasbord approach to political belief: take whatever you need at a particular time.

My personal favorite incoherency is their self-view: Republicans/conservatives are the only tough guys who can deal with America's enemies BUT they are also victims suffering mainstream calumny who can't fight back against the Democratic machine.

I originally thought that the self-positioning of conservatives as victims had to do with America's love of the underdog, of the myth of the average man pushed too far (constantly on display during Tea Party conversations). They see themselves as intrepid rebels who are courageously speaking truth to power, saying what other people are too scared to say (even though everyone else is saying it).

But recently, Scott Eric Kaufman nicely pointed out something that helps flesh out this rhetorical positioning (even if he misreads for comedic effect). That is, the rhetorical positioning of conservatives as victims places them as defending the natural.

When I studied the 19th century, I would find these sort of things all the time, for instance, in the Ron Paul-esque debate on gold vs. paper money: Gold is the only natural money, therefore we have to enact laws saying that Gold is the only natural money. Or in discussions of race: Blacks are clearly inferior by nature, so we have to enact laws saying that Blacks are clearly inferior.

So with our current debate about gay marriage: Marriage is always between one man and one woman, therefore we need a law. There is something sweetly sad about the way they give up the game as they try to win it; after all, if X was truly X, we wouldn't need a law about it.

The other benefit to this rhetorical positioning (we are defending what should need no defense) is that the enemies of conservatism are always outsiders: they are Northern abolitionists stirring up the happy black slaves, or they are Jewish financiers undermining the economy, or they are simply demonic violators of natural law.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Finding joy in a group project

Before I left Chicago, a bunch of my friends from the improv program at Second City decided that we wanted to continue working together. But what would we do? Improv, sketch, something else? We discussed some ideas loosely one day, and then we decided on a particular project: Yard Times, the misadventures of a scraggly group of lawn work laborers.

Except I wasn't there the day that decision was made; and I wasn't too interested in that premise. So how has it gone, working on something that I wouldn't have chosen?

OK, I'm going to say: like any group project, there are differences in taste and interest. For instance, when we broke the story for this season's episodes, there was one episode involving a "slambook," a concept I'm only dimly familiar with thanks to Mean Girls. And I got to write that episode. I wouldn't have thought of using a slambook on my own; but since I was doing the first draft of the episode, I got to make it my own.

(In this case, my own means it turns into its opposite: a book of praise, an encomiumbook instead of a slambook.)

So here's an ongoing lesson I've learned and am still learning from group writing projects: take what's offered and find your own joy in the idea, without losing sight of the group's shared goal.

Which in our case is money.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What makes a good podcast?

Honestly, I don't know. I guess the basics are necessary: you need to be speaking clearly, without too much dead air, and you need to be interesting.

I'll add another which isn't necessary, but helps: you need to sound friendly. Listening to podcasts is a pretty intimate experience usually; while I've certainly put podcasts on speakers while painting an apartment with my girlfriend, the usual way to listen is by yourself, with your earbuds, where your only friend there is the podcaster(s).

And this is going to be more tentative, but I think one aspect of quality podcasts (or even radio shows) is that they are not one-man shows. That is, almost all of my favorite podcasts include multiple people having a conversation or asking questions: WTF with Marc Maron has fine opening rants by Maron, but we're there for the conversation with the other person.

Similarly, Planet Money and RadioLab are often framed as an explanation from one member of the team to the others there; and when you have two people already engaged in conversation, it seems more natural to bring in an expert guest into the conversation.

Are there other general issues that make a podcast good or not so good?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Self-aggrandizement masquerading as self-reproach: the rhetorics of memes

Preface: I have Farah Mendlesohn's excellent and intriguing Rhetorics of Fantasy on my desk, so I'm overusing the phrase "Rhetoric of X"; as further proof, I just started a fantasy story and not knowing what else to call it, I titled it "Rhetoric of Flame." If it had been an sf story, it probably would've been "Rhetoric of X," which strikes me as a little more self-conscious. But that said, don't take too seriously the promise of "the rhetorics of memes."

Body: I'm shocked--shocked--to find that my recent contribution to the "What People Think I Do" meme has not utterly destroyed that meme; apparently, people didn't get the memo and are still making and posting that meme.

For the curious, here's the one I made:
I confess to liking this contribution for 2 main reasons: it doesn't have to do with a particular niche of person (and my other idea for this would be to take photos of me); and it collapses the internal fantasy with the external reality. That is, for Cthulhu, its dreams of what it does and what everyone else thinks of it are the same as what it actually does.

But I don't dislike this meme because it points out the difference between the interior fantasy life, the exterior fantasy life (that is, the life others exterior to you imagine), and the reality. I dislike it because it seems to be self-reproach ("I'm a writer, but all I do is play solitaire"), but with a wink and a nod ("but I'm really still a writer!").

If what you do with your free time is play solitaire, then maybe you're not a writer, but just an amateur solitaire player.

Afterword: But am I right? It's possible that the people posting and responding to this particular meme are enjoying the graphics because it allows them to acknowledge the difference between what they wish and what they actually have in life. They get to say out loud, in a joke, something very painful that they couldn't otherwise acknowledge. Could this meme's structure be therapeutic in some ways?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Memes, tropes, and sonnets; or, What we talk about when we talk about shit people say.

Neuroscience and poetry agree: people do better with limited options and structure. So, if you go into a fruit store, you'll probably be happier if you start with some limitation, even an arbitrary one. (Just listen to this Radiolab episode to see anecdotal evidence of that exact situation.)

I'm trying to remember this when I see some meme waves sweep over Facebook:
  1. there was the invasion of the xtranormal "so you want to be an X" videos, where professionals (teachers in various fields/journalists) tried to talk novices out of following their life choices, such as So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities;
  2. there was the infestation of "Shit People Say," starting with "Shit Girls Say", moving on to every little niche of people;
  3. and now there's the "What People Think I Do" series, where some profession/category of person goes through a series of misconceptions--I'm a writer, so people think I do blah blah blah, when really I do blah.
So, part of the joy of memes is the same joy as genres and tropes: to see something familiar get a little tweak. In other words, memes are useful structures to engender creativity in certain avenues, much like sonnets: a little structure can be a great thing for developing new material.

That's all I'm going to say about this today but I'll say it again: I like memes in the same way I like tropes and sonnets--as structures of possibility.

And tomorrow I'll tell you why I hate these memes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Economist and mealy-mouthed press

I've said before that it seems to me like the current conservative/Republican party movement is an unstable conglomerate, full of people who wouldn't share any structure together other than a big tent: there are

  1. the Romney-supporting moderate/realists (or closet nuts); 
  2. the Santorum-supporting religious right; 
  3. the Paul-supporting libertarian right (i.e., financially libertarians, socially conservative); and 
  4. the Gingrich-supporting haters-of-liberals. (You can tell them because they're the ones who say that you should do something because it annoys a liberal. Heck, Sarah Palin said that almost exactly: vote for Gingrich to annoy a liberal.)
I hope for a conservative fracture in part because it bothers me that people who have such diverse views feel the need to vote together. (I hate libertarians and I think most are essentially conservative; but there is some liberal-libertarian overlap that could be reached if not for Paul's figurehead leadership.) Also, I wouldn't mind if these single-issue voters fractured since it would cede power to the Democrats.

But more importantly this conglomerate mess bothers me because you end up arguing with a moderate who disavows some extreme view--but then both the moderate and the extremist go into a booth and vote the same way.

(Some political bloggers I follow argue that moderate Republicans tend to vote the same as the more extreme Republicans--that their moderation is more an electoral strategy than a policy conviction. Judging by the last few years, it's hard to argue with that; though I think it's probable that more extreme politicians start more extreme policy and the moderates in the Republican Party just go along. For what it's worth, Democratic moderates seem more interested in fighting other Democrats, cf. Manchin in WV.)

So for a few years now, some hopeful political bloggers have argued that moderate Republicans would some day take back their party.

But moderate Republicans will never be in charge as long as they're coddled by a mealy-mouthed, "both sides do it"horse-race press.

And one big example of that is  The Economist, which is a realpolitick, conservative magazine with a nasty inability to tell the truth. That is, The Economist would be happiest with a globalized, laissez-faire, tax-the-poor world (more or less), but they're not global-warming-denying, dinosaurs-missed-the-ark crazies.

And yet whenever The Economist podcast discusses American politics, it always comes out with mealy-mouthed narratives about how partisan gridlock is paralyzing the nation--without ever noting how the Republican Party is blocking nominations and legislation at an unprecedented rate.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Jesus Didn't Tap" and Muscular Christianity

I was confused about a bumper sticker in my apartment complex parking lot (say that five times fast) that says, in red text, "Jesus Didn't Tap." Luckily, Google provides the answer:
"Jesus is the only one that truly didn't tap. They say, 'Oh, he was nailed to the cross so he couldn't tap.' Well, you can verbally tap, you can verbally cry, 'I quit! I give up!' That's not what he did. He got crucified for all our sins."
That's Jason Frank, who used to be a Power Ranger but now found God. Well, a particular aspect of a particular God: as the article on this movement puts it, this is Jesus the ultimate fighter.

Now, I was tempted to say that this is an aberrant reading of Christianity, a very Texas reading of Jesus; but it's not so new. And, to be fair, I've only seen the one bumper sticker here, so it may not be all that popular--or overt, at least--in Texas.

(And I'm also tempted to say that this is a fun new/old way to get people to spend money on clothes with logos.)

To put this in its proper context, I think we need to look back the Victorian notion of "Muscular Christianity," which was a movement/mode of thought arguing that Christians needed to get buff for God.

No, that's a terribly facile way to describe it; in fact, one positive way would be to say that Muscular Christianity was about re-thinking the physical as a field of spirituality--that the world wasn't just a honeytrap to lead us to sin but could be about joy and pleasure.

(The negative flipside of this would be the terrible social Darwinism of the time: if you're spiritually saved, you're not materially poor; and if you're poor, just go and die already.)

I'm not an expert on Muscular Christianity, but I do think it's somewhat telling that many of the Victorian and Edwardian followers focused on team sports and non-winnable sports (calisthenics), whereas today people like Frank focus on individual sports, like MMA fighting and boxing.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Confession: I listen to podcasts. Did you know?

Of course you did, since I mention them frequently (and even have a "podcastmania" tag). But do you know how many I listen to?

  1. Comedy podcasts
    1. Improv Nerd with Jimmy Carane
    2. Improv Resource Center
    3. Improv4Humans
    4. Judge John Hodgman
    5. WTF with Marc Maron
  2. Science podcasts
    1. Astronomy Cast
    2. Science Friday
    3. RadioLab
  3. Literature podcasts
    1. New York Times Book Review podcast
    2. KCRW's Bookworm
  4. Writing podcasts
    1. Creative Screenwriting Magazine
    2. Grammar Girl
    3. Script Magazine
    4. Scriptnotes
    5. Writing Excuses
  5. History podcasts
    1. Dan Carlin's Hardcore History
    2. BBC History Magazine/History Extra
    3. A History of the World in 100 Objects
  6. Contemporary/news/economics podcasts
    1. The Economist
    2. On the Media
    3. Fresh Air
    4. Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me
    5. Planet Money
    6. This American Life
  7. Short story podcasts
    1. Escape Pod
    2. New Yorker Fiction
    3. Podcastle
    4. Pseudopod
    5. Strange Tales (Old time radio rebroadcasts)
  8. Miscellaneous educational
    1. On Being
    2. Ideas (CBC)
      1. The Origins of the Modern Public (an Ideas mini-series)
    3. In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg (BBC)
    4. Stuff To Blow Your Mind
    5. Stuff You Should Know
  9. Music podcasts
    1. All Songs Considered
    2. Sound Opinions
I break them down like that so that you can find some podcasts that speak to your interest; though my inclusion of any podcasts here should not be read as recommendation--some of these podcasts are just legacies, kept around after the initial interest cooled (e.g., On Being) or subscribed to on recommendation but not yet really listened to (e.g., Hardcore History).

More on good podcasts later.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Penultimate (I hope!) on sketch-writing: don't be so clever

I had hoped to have a video to show you by now, but I think it's still being edited/paid for/sent to me. See, we decided to have our final show taped by a professional videographer.

And wouldn't you know it, my main sketch in the final show didn't come off perfectly. It would be easy to say that this was all the actors' fault, but...

Honestly, I wrote a sketch that was hard to remember because (a) actors have a lot of stuff to remember, including other people's sketches and (b) my sketch has a lot of similar moments.

So if an actor skips one line and says another line because it is very similar, it's partly my fault. That's one last lesson to learn about writing pieces for other people to perform live:

Don't be so clever and complicated.

And here's the sketch:

“Law and Disorder”
Ver. 6 / 10-29-2011
COLIN WELLER, law school professor
SARAH, applicant
(COLIN seated, SARAH just entering the room with a briefcase)
Have a seat, Sarah. We only have a few minutes, so I’d like to dive right into the interview.

Absolutely, Professor Weller. I’m really excited about Northwestern Law School.

Really? Because according to your personal statement, you want to go to law school to become a screenwriter of legal dramas.

And legal drama-comedies--or “dramedies.”

Northwestern only admits people who are interested in the law.

But I am interested in the law. Ever since I saw James Spader in Boston Legal as Alan Shore, Esquire defend a man from murder charges, even though he loved the man’s wife--

Stop. How should I put this? Do you know what frivolous litigation is?

Totally: in Ally McBeal season 2 episode 13, “Angels and Blimps,” Ally explains to a boy with leukemia that suing God--

Sarah, we can’t admit you to law school so that you can become a screenwriter.

               (Getting scripts out of her briefcase)
I have some screenplays that might change your mind. Ipse dixit.

That’s not the right way to use that phrase.

Here’s a screenplay about a lawyer who’s a cop and a ghost at the same time. I’ll play Lance Manspear, Esquire and would you play Judge Candy, the reformed prostitute?




“I’m just a simple country ghost-cop-lawyer, but--“

Sarah, you’re not going to get into law school with a script.

But my agent says--

You’re not going to get into law school with a script because every lawyer I know hates legal dramas. We waste so much of our time dealing with people who think that courtrooms should be more like Law & Order.

               (Makes Law & Order ba-ba-bum sound)

I care about the law, Sarah. You clearly don’t.

               (Getting out last script)
I care about the law--I even… love the law. There, I said it: love. And I can change your mind by performing this climactic courtroom scene. I’ll play Jack Goodheart, Esquire, and if you could play Salazarinovich, Esquire, the lawyer for the Columbian-Russian mob, which my agent tells me is very timely.

I think we’re done here.

(Gets up, gets in character)
Ladies and gents of the jury, Mr. Salazarinovich, Esquire here wants you to think that law is a thing of rules.


                               SARAH (IC)
He doesn’t want you to know that law is an affair of the heart. It's about how people feel--isn’t that so, Salazarinovich?

               (Flips through script, reads)
It’s true that I’ve been--

Could you do an accent?

                               COLIN (IC)
--I’ve been hiding the truth from the jury for years.

                               SARAH (IC)
Judge Velvet, permission to treat the opposing counsel as a hostile witness.
               (moves over to play Judge)
Unorthodox, but I’ll allow it.

                               COLIN (IC)
I don’t have to stay here. I recuse myself from this room!

                               SARAH (IC)
               (As if casting a spell)
Obiter dictum!

                               COLIN (IC)
Curse you, Jack Goodheart, your legal spell has paralyzed me.

                               SARAH (IC)
Salazarinovich, has the Columbian-Russian mob been funding legal dramas?

                               COLIN (IC)
Ahhhh! Your spell compels me--we have been funding legal dramas, such as The Good Wife. And all just to manipulate juries.

                               SARAH (IC)
               (As Judge Velvet)
Amazing, Jack, you truly are the best magic lawyer ever, even if you are haunted by your alcoholism.
               (As Jack Goodheart)
I’m just a simple country magic lawyer, Judge Doctor Velvet.

                               COLIN (IC)
I confess: law is an affair of the heart.

                               SARAH (IC)
Ipso facto. We need legal TV shows and movies.

                               COLIN (IC)
Jack, now that I have confessed my sin, I can pass on to the afterlife… since I was a zombie all along!

                               SARAH (IC)
Salazarinovich! Don’t die! Not on my watch! Nooooo!!!
               (Out of character)
And… scene.

My character was a zombie?

A gay zombie--pretty powerful stuff, right?

No, it’s terrible.

But my agent says--

But you have an interesting idea there. Maybe we do need more screenwriters who are trained as lawyers.

So you’ll approve my application for law school?

No. I’m quitting my job as a professor to become a screenwriter of legal dramas. Can you get me in touch with your agent?