Archive for March 28, 2017

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

In a moment of annoyance, of which there are many to be found on social media, I almost want to do a poop dance all over the very concept of writers, artists and other creatives participating in social media to begin with. FYI, the poop dance I perform is an act of sympathetic magic involving the bongo drums waiting for me on my iPad drum app for when I finally lazy shame myself into creating music and writing posts for my sister column Composer’s Counterpoint. Whatever, just so elephant and rhino sized road apples land somewhere where they might do some good. 

In the real world, I won’t walk away from social media, especially Facebook. I doubt you will either for the same reasons. Basically, when I write something on Smoking Lizard or wherever that I want you to read…maybe (the last two being barely good enough to post but not promote), I need to splash around those links to the full extent of my network. This outweighs the grief social media gives me, so shut up and deal.

Now, there are plenty of anti-social media writers out there that make a valid point about social media simply being a time and distraction suck that disabling their accounts helped them finish their books. Not disputing this reasoning. I’ve successfully beat into shape the low grade ADHD of my life so that these days I work with my creativity instead of freaking out going against it. Now, I can turn Facebook off when I’m done, flop onto my couch, or grab my coffee mug and gear bag and get busy. A few years ago, perhaps less so. Someone who needs to go into isolation writer mode doesn’t need me or anyone else confusing the issue with our stories.

But, my real annoyance lies with the vicious, nasty and sometimes uninformed politics and pseudo-politics from all flavors of our political spectrum. For the purposes of this post meant to help writers get through their day, I’ll mostly leave aside the normal political bar fight rooted in this generic headline – DER GRÖPEN FÜHRER SIGNED X, ELIMINATING Y CREATING MASSIVE PROTESTS AND BURNS ON SOCIAL MEDIA – except where it directly affects writers and creatives. There has been a long running pseudo-political sideshow that predates this admittedly probably racist, treasonous and greedy administration, that if you didn’t need to use social media for other things like posting links would make anyone quit.

I’m frankly sick of having articles about Ghost in the Shell whitewashing float up to the top of my Facebook feed like the rancid motor oil after the Exxon Valdez reef grounding. Some people choose to be angry that a white actress (Scarlet Johansson) took what these uniformed people believe should be an Asian actress’ part. And, I like many of the pro-art, pro-Free Speech, We Should Judge According to Original Intent and What Anime Actually Is people in my social network, we have defended Ghost in the Shell in our posts and comments.

We stated several facts that traditionally, many female characters in Anime, especially the ones from near-future and midterm-future settings, don’t verifiably look or behave Japanese, whatever that is. I noted several possible reasons, including ambiguously Post-Racial characters or a poor self image, saying in a comment – “it’s not my job as a consumer of anime to help the Japanese with their poor self image by refraining from consuming things I like because of a post written by someone who is not a fan is designed to make me feel bad. They need to work on their culture and send the rest of us a memo.”

Others have correctly pointed out that due to past racism and current economic reality in media that Scarlet Johansson is probably the only actress on the planet (name value plus actually wants to play the Major) to convince a studio to fork over $150 million making the movie. Basically, a Cart Before the Horse argument that says “fix racist casting on all future projects while simultaneously figuring out how to sell an Asian or Asian-American woman as an A-list movie star instead of wasting effort trashing an American, with all that entails, project that’s already in the can.”

None of the above points flies with the haters. And some keep attacking at the level of this can’t be allowed, we will drive these offensive things from our precious media space that we don’t actually own but merely share! Usually peppered with a lot nasty names causing someone with slightly thicker skin than normal to drily observe – “You kiss your Mama with that mouth?”

Dealing with the Angry Left on social media is a never ending process where an artist constantly defends his or her choices against people who have only heard about the work instead of reading/looking at it. And if common misconceptions about what the average artist believes (a.k.a. The All Artists/Writers/Musicians/Actors are Liberal Gay Cuck-tards Fallacy) even holds true half of the time, then the Angry Left chooses to attack and eat the Artistic Left leaving all kinds of right wing people untouched waiting for their moment.

The Angry Left going off on Ghost in the Shell or whether Wonder Woman shaves her pits forgets that the members of Artistic Left (and Artistic Middle or Artistic Right) are fully aware that no set of beliefs as rigid and tightly wound as those the Angry Left espouses survives contact with real people and the wide spread of beliefs we hold. How many otherwise well-meaning Liberal or Moderate artists created something that didn’t exactly fit the Angry Left’s orthodoxy and paid for it on social media? Whatever happened to Free Speech existing to create more art and well thought out commentary about that art? Instead, the worst of us viciously attack that art with an intent of making the emotional payoff of that art too high for the artist.

I’ll take a sidestep and explode the fallacy I mention above that all creatives think in lockstep with a presumed Liberal cuck-tard agenda. Some assume that the high correlation of Left-leaning attitudes among writers/artists/sculptors/composers and so on stems from the profession of the arts being about the ability to wallow through our feelings and mine them for product. Okay, that analogy lasts just as long as it takes me to edit one of my books. Sometimes editing represents four times as much of purely analytical work that actually works against my preferred emotional state because I really loved that paragraph! And for me any time a dream gives me an idea (the ultimate in mining emotions), I still need to edit as much as possible trying to figure out why dudes in orange flight suits much like X-wing pilots are in the same dream as a grassy field of magic mushrooms.

Art is as much self-criticism and logical analysis as it is about milking an experience and the emotion inexorably tied to that experience to tell a good story. That artistry also includes – “wow! That last paragraph doesn’t even read like English and I’ll take a chainsaw to it until I like it or run out of ideas!” – which allows people of all stripes to contemplate an artist’s life. Because, we aren’t always wallowing in our emotions, but can be as sociopathic about Getting It Right as we accuse the Right of being on all kinds of subjects.

This leads us to a set of interesting questions. If actors are all Liberal cuck-tards explain Charlton Heston, Robert Davi, John Wayne or Matthew McConaughey to me. If all writers are the same explain Ayn Rand, Terry Goodkind, or L. Ron Hubbard to me. Get the idea, we’re all different! I personally believe in Eat What You Kill Capitalism right up to the point where I know I’m going to have to pay for things, like health care where the old way didn’t work. My art reflects this moderation and I’m not gay.

So far I’ve given it to the Angry Left in the teeth for attacking art at a personal level, instead of answering Art for Art and Essay for Essay. That once opinions are expressed the only appropriate response is Thank You, but the Angry Left wants to keep going. However, certain elements of the Right are also deeply offended by this level of unrealistic moralizing and they also wade into the fray throwing around a lot of triggered snowflakes and cuck-tards. Just before they sign up to back a President with no more regard for Free Speech than the Angry Left.

The worst elements of the Right have signed up to defund PBS because of Donald/Ronald Grump appearing on Sesame Street, a green Grouch that gives it on the chin to Der Gröpen Führer with parody. And then you find out that the Grump character has appeared perhaps six times in the last twenty years. Who’re the triggered snowflakes now?

Both sides of these assaults upon our cultural database that might be precursors to that distant future where we burn all the books, music and paintings must be defended with scorn and derision from all comers. They justify these attacks by referencing the other side (sick of PC, defending Big Bird). Especially, since artists aren’t going away. No amount of Left shaming or Right anger will make me stop. When art becomes a compulsion, we take Mother May I off the table.

We will offend the Left because not every character will fit into slots so narrow that the narrative got squeezed out like lime over a plate of Chicken Pad Thai. We will offend the Right and the Left for different reasons because not all of our characters will be White Men. The Right hates literary experiments crossing race and gender barriers because why are we kowtowing to the Evil Anti-American Cuck-tard Agenda? The Left hates the same character because how dare you even attempt to write a Latinx woman when you’re a white dude?

My answers to Right wing criticism is I’m not drinking anybody’s political Kool-Aid, that I write the characters I need to because of the conventions of the type of story. Thusly, since most stories with vampires seem to be thinly disguised assaults on women who have to choose between a good but lethal time with the suave bloodsucker and the equally lethal conformity of being a good girl, I needed a female protagonist who could kill everything in the room that needed killing and walk away tossing aside her broken heels as she goes.

And the Left likely tries to say but you’re not a woman. Well, the character referenced here was basically the female version of me to cut down on character creation with an act of imagination to do the best I could to create a woman and not a freak. How successful I was or wasn’t is a matter of personal taste that requires reading my books, not blowing high-vitriol smoke on social media. Besides, I know that writing women or minorities has nothing to do with true understanding, but successful mimicry, like a duck hunter and his decoys. Do the best you can by showing respect for your characters and maybe one more person will like reading you than the vast numbers of people hating you.

And now I end my tangent just to say that all of this crap would or could show up in my Facebook feed leading to my initial wrongheaded advice to kill your social media accounts. Putting links out knowing that not everyone will like what you do trumps the burn to come because haters have to hate. But, it’s not like there aren’t fun things too.

Like with a recent game post designed to scoop up wacky responses. A friend posts a left pointing finger asking to follow the digit and tell me what you end up armed with for the zombie apocalypse. My post: my pen.

A lady tries to make a joke about it might not be mightier than the sword. I reply stating – “Yes, it’s a poor but still usable zombie weapon. I’m prepared to stab at the eyes, if I have to. But, pens help create communities when we write the words we choose to believe in. It is this community, that gets people through zombie apocalypses because we fight harder with verifiable force multipliers when we fight together. In the same vein, I also said that as the tribe’s storyteller I’m pretty sure that I could trade up to a better weapon like a rail spike hammer using my storytelling skills.” Basically, a fun interaction that never would’ve happened if I’d closed up my Facebook shingle.

So what now about social media? My suggestions.

A) Don’t quit, you can’t and have it work out what with our marketing needs.

B) Set time limits that work for you.

C) Use the Block button liberally when attacked.

D) Try to keep your responses to cat videos and fun things. Or go whole hog, but bring your A game if you do.

E) Read all the posts your friends send, but respond to as few as possible.

F) Reply Thank You to all negative comments or not at all.

There, I love social media. I hate social media. Now, I just need to follow my own suggestions with ruthlessness and my well used library card. 

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Ironically, I liked Sony’s recent SF/Horror flick Life, so this isn’t a review in the normal sense of the word. I see it as a case study of simplicity versus excessive plot gymnastics, sometimes also referred to as a literary version of Occam’s Razor (simple is usually better). It all stems from one plot point where the filmmakers had two ways to get to the same ending.  

One choice was narratively simple based on the rules of the monster presented to the audience. The other choice didn’t exactly violate the rules of the monster either and might have an ugly budgetary reason for existence, but which then created the need to spend the last half of the movie pulling some very inventive tricks to leap over the plot hole. The filmmakers chose Option Two.

This next part I have to write carefully so you don’t misunderstand me and assume that this post is a review where I’m backhandedly trashing a bad movie or gushingly praising a good movie. But, what I noticed about this movie will take on a few elements of a review so you understand my point.

If this were a review, my hypothetical positive review would be filled with the more grammatically digestible of adverbs or adjectives intended for use as single-word pull quotes surrounded by ellipses on the poster (mostly true, I did like the movie). If this were a review, my negative comments would expand like a virus from the plot hole under discussion to find minor flaws to balloon into titanic vitriol, snark and animus about the acting, lighting, writing, directing, composing and on down to the poor intern relegated to the craft service table passing out cookies and sandwiches. But, because the plot choice under discussion doesn’t violate the rules for the monster, it’s not bad writing per se, just extra complex writing. The scenic route for the movie instead of the direct express bus.

I’m sure Life was pitched as – Alien meets Gravity, set on the International Space Station, with a monster derived from actual conversations with exobiologists and a different ending than Alien. And it delivers. It’s not a review. I liked the movie. Stop bugging me.

Horror movies that get compared to Alien have two endings: Final Girl (waiting for some intrepid filmmaker to do a Final Guy version, just to see how sexist we are, but I digress) and They All Die and the Monster Escapes. At the moment, saying how Alien ended tells you how Life ended, so I’ll take the Fifth here.

The monster awakened on the ISS from Martian soil samples fired back to Earth from a Mars probe proved to be interesting. Each cell dormant since the water disappeared from the Martian surface is described as “All muscle, all nerve, all optics receptor…all at the same time.” And the doomed human scientists figure several important things out about Calvin (the unfortunate nickname from a school naming contest).

It breathes oxygen. It eats similar food to most carbon-based life. It goes dormant in the absence of oxygen. Each cell is part of a highly intelligent single entity. It has a robust outer shell combined with the ability to store up oxygen to survive extended periods in hard vacuum.

So, I watch the movie digesting my Pad Thai Chicken. The first scientist to have trouble with Calvin, lingers a while in an injured state. Calvin officially kills a character played by Ryan Reynolds first, possibly because the actor had to run off to finish Deadpool 2 and didn’t have the time to be a star this time around. However, the first scientist injured is hurt in a way that everyone who has seen Alien is totally screaming – “face-hugger and chest-burster!” – at the screen. He was nicked and left to linger while we assume cells from Calvin grow inside him.

This reveal happens while Calvin lurks outside the station banging on the hatches to get in. And then the poor scientist who is inside the station coughs up some blood, dies and his friends open up his clothes to reveal Calvin snacking on the man’s legs. At this moment, I think the hungry white goo has grown into two halves of a larger smarter monster.

However, the filmmakers only chose to show the audience one Calvin for the rest of the movie. They don’t show us if Calvin 1.0 outside dies or goes dormant (we are told it can do this explaining why the species survived on Mars for millions of years). Suddenly, it’s inside and racing towards the end of the movie where…

Dancing around telling you what the ending was, you’ll just have to trust me that two Calvins is a simpler approach to that ending. All the filmmakers had to do was show, however briefly, what happened to the outside the station half of the monster. Perhaps, they show us this in flashback if they feel they need to preserve the body shot of the chosen route. But, it was dropped in favor of not paying for double the CG even though and the gymnastics required for only one monster are more complex and not simple.

Did I enjoy the movie? Yes. But, I noticed what a pretzel the narrative became once the filmmakers didn’t put two Calvins on screen.
And who am I kidding yeah it’s a review.