American Sniper and the question of moral ambiguity 

The problem with a movie like American Sniper is that the film itself is largely ignored and people tend to pick on the larger thematic issues present.

Something I am about to do right now.

Looking just at the film itself, judging its craftsmanship and ignoring the ambivalent ethical code present, there’s not much to criticize in Clint Eastwood’s movie.

The pacing is well done, the cinematography is fluid, and the acting is more than adequate.

Ignoring the craftsmanship that makes up a movie and focusing for a second on the narrative and message conveyed through the characters we’re supposed to root for and be deeply touched by, focusing on the jelly that fills the pie crust and makes the dessert whole if you will, questions of ethical ambiguity come into play.

I spoke about the exploitative use of war time imagery –of crying children and scarred soldiers- often used in Hollywood films to drive a point home, exsanguinating the audience dry of any emotion but hate they had when revisiting recent events, in a piece about The Imitation Game.

We can barely watch World War II movies without silently applauding every time a German is killed and the Americans or the British or the Canadians secure another part of an extirpated city. Writers and directors are aware of this and they manipulate it to pull at the heartstrings of their audience.

In the film, Bradley Cooper’s Chris Kyle sits on a sofa, eyes drooping from exhaustion and a slightly buzzed inebriation, moving down a directionless path in his life. He simply exists.

Until he sees the footage of an American embassy that was bombed. At once he’s alert and he beckons his brother to look on and gasp at the horrible event that’s just occurred. The work of extreme fundamentalists, from that early moment in the film the audience is trained to believe that an entire country, an entire continent and their people are carnivorous, savagely bred, monsters.

For Kyle, it’s the main reason to join the Navy Seals and defend his country.

For Kyle, the attack on the American embassy, even while on foreign soil, was an attack on his people and he wasn’t willing to just sit at home and watch his people be killed.

Flash forward a few months and Kyle, who’s now at the end of his training, is awoken by a blood curdling scream from his girlfriend (who would become his wife) Taya (Sienna Miller). He jumps out of bed and rushes into the living room, eyes wide as he watches footage of the second plane flying into the second Twin Tower building on September 11, 2001.

A simple narrative device used to explain how Kyle got involved in the war fundamentally changed the viewing experience for everyone in the theater. There were gasps of horror, there were small cries, and there were under the breath whispers of, “Muslim shits”

The enemy had already been outlined and we, as an audience, were now prepared to tattoo their blood on our arms.

The majority of the film follows Kyle on his impressive four tours of duty, each more volatile, near fatal, and yet comfortable than the last.

At first, Eastwood does a decent job of exploring Kyle’s mindset as an American sniper; as a man who until his first tour had never shot another human being.

Lying down on the dusty rooftop of an Iraq building, Kyle goes from joking around with his brother in arms to making the enormously difficult decision to take the life of a young boy, not much older than ten, and his mother.

His buddy, desensitized to the ruthless violence they’ve been tossed into, goes to pat him on the shoulder in celebration when Kyle violently pulls back, cursing, “Don’t fucking touch me.”

Back at the base, he’s emotional and devastated at what he’s done. This was a religious man who believed in protecting his family and his countryman at any cost, but was painstakingly pillaged by the act.

The audience felt for him. You could hear the audible horror echo around the theater as the trigger is pulled, but they –we- couldn’t blame him. He was doing his job. In war, the rules of humanity fade away and our most primal instincts overtake us: kill or be killed.

Then it gets messy again. For the next hour and a half, American Sniper feels like a Call of Duty level. The sound of clinging gun fire and the sight of bodies convulsing as .50 caliber bullets enter their body becomes less and less alarming. We find ourselves grouping any person of colour walking down the street with the Islamic extremists the American army had been sent in to take down.

We start counting the number of dead bodies as they fall gracelessly to the ground and silently hope Kyle and his troops have killed every last man.

For an hour and a half, we are transported to a battlefield and we lose part of our own humanity. Like a video game, these aren’t real lives. These aren’t real people. These are savages and they must be destroyed. Improve your kill ratio, and work on keeping your death ratio as low as possible.

The more people Kyle kills the more legendary he becomes.

Not once does the movie slow down to question the atrocities they were committing in a war universally condemned by most Americans, the United Nations War Committee, and several countries around the world.

Not once is there an input that suggests they’re fighting a fair war against Islamic extremists instead of the vivid portrayal of the slaughtering of Muslims.

Not once, and perhaps this is what upsets me the most, is the government’s role in an illegal war brought into question.

Soldiers should never be blamed for what they do. They put their lives on the line every day and do it for very little benefit.

But American Sniper glorifies the horrific acts perpetuated because of it. There’s a shot where the camera swivels quickly from a hunched over soldier to a tall standing Kyle, his shoulders drawn back, chest puffed out, and head turned slightly to the right.

It’s the definitive moment of American bravado in the film as Cooper’s Kyle becomes the humanized version of the proud and glorious bald eagle sitting on the floor of the Oval Office, the official bird of the greatest country on Earth.

As the story progresses, Kyle’s numerous returns to Iraq become personal as he hunts down one of the greatest snipers in Iraq, a man named Mustafa. In Kyle’s eyes, Mustafa is the enemy he needs to take out before he can return home and finally rest. As soon as he kills this man, whom he does with his record-breaking mile long shot, he can stop killing. A final bullet for the road, if you will.

As I recoiled in my seat at the emphasis put on this illustrious bullet that ended a man’s life, no matter how terribly cruel he may have been, the audience erupted into applause. One group a couple rows back actually yelled, “Get some,” the popular term said by marines and soldiers on the battlefield that has become a regular expression in our own civilian lives.

We celebrated the death of another human being, loudly and unapologetically.

We had already been conditioned to stop seeing anyone who differed from us as humans. We were silently provoked into thinking they were all monsters with death wishes. It wasn’t our fault, it was theirs, even if they were just innocent bystanders.

Eventually Kyle returns home for good, suffering from debilitating PTSD that we blame the “barbarians” in Iraq for. We feel terrible for the distinguished sniper and the man who risked his life during 1,000 plus days of service in Iraq, and because it’s human nature to want to blame someone, we place the blame on a community of people we know nothing about.

Absolutely the extremists should be fought and absolutely we should try and help rebuild the communities we destroy with our tanks, bullets, and bombings, but whenever we trek down these paths in films we’re barely given a second over to the innocent families who have to worry about their son walking down the street to visit a friend.

Why would we be? There’s nothing extraordinary about day-to-day family life, especially when those people don’t reflect us, right?

Kyle, portrayed as a modern day Superman, develops coping methods for his PTSD by helping other war veterans suffering in their daily lives. A noble and appreciated task that deserves every ounce of our respect and admiration.

When the screen fades to black, though, and the line of text appears declaring Kyle had been shot by a veteran he was trying to help, the audience revolted.

Eerily, they revolted in silence.

Heads shook in disbelief, hands were raised to mouths, and one man a few seats down slammed his fist on the armrest.

As the raw footage f the day Kyle’s body was driven to Washington took place, people slowly began to leave their seats.

You could hear a pin drop.

Leaving the theater felt like leaving a funeral. It was disrespectful to talk, but more than that, people were filled with rage.

It wasn’t a rage over the unnecessary war. It wasn’t a rage over the thousands of innocent lives wasted –on both sides of the world- and it wasn’t a rage targeted toward Kyle’s actual shooter.

It was an arrogant anger that another group of people we don’t understand continue to live while our men and women seemingly continue to die.

Directors are often asked if they feel a moral obligation to telling the true story of their subjects and focusing on all factors in the story’s equation.

Most will answer, sure, but not at the price of artistic integrity.

But when the price of artistic integrity disseminates hoary ideas of the basis of an entire culture, an entire people, and an entire religion, should the artist not be held accountable?

Girls and the question of adulthood

Today was one of those rare days where thoughts I had about something I saw on television matched up with something that happened in real life.

If this were an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, the patient’s story would have been the show I had just seen that perfectly mirrored a crisis I had in my own life.

It all started with the fourth season premiere of Girls.

As much as I claim to dislike the show, there seems to be an aspect of every episode I relate too.

As the fourth season kicks off, we’re reintroduced to the idea that Hannah (Lena Dunham) is leaving New York City behind her to pursue her Masters of Fine Art in Writing at the University of Iowa. It’s a world-renowned program and a once in a lifetime experience.

While her parents and friends all seem happy with her decision to pursue higher education, for the most part, there are little jabs here and there about her lack of decision making and inability to meet the pressures of the real world that egg at her the entire thirty minutes.

She graduated from college four years ago and now she’s heading back to school? Shouldn’t she be working full time, married, and with a bun in the oven?

It’s a valid question and one that many people my age -22, but turning the dreadful 23 in two days- have been wrestling with for years.

If we’re not finding the fulfillment in our chosen careers we were tenderly promised at the age of six in elementary school, what do we do?

Like Hannah, I am going back to school in September. Part-time as I continue working at my job, which I do enjoy very much.

Like Hannah, I’m seeking some kind of fulfillment and progress in my life that I’m not seeing right now, and like Hannah, I’m looking for the answer in the place we’ve been told to question our entire life: school.

The decision to go back to school was one I grappled with for months. I spoke to friends who were older and either working or pursuing an academic career to get their opinions on it and like people do, the answers varied.

Some said that fulfillment was a fictional term created by some very unhappy people who imagined they had found fulfillment just so they could make it through another day without driving their car off the guard rail on a highway. Others said they enjoyed learning about culture, history, arts, and sciences along with the feeling of being in school they got from years at university.

Although I took in all of their answers and thought about each one carefully, I couldn’t stop the voice in the back of my head that said, “Stop being foolish. You did college and now you have a job. You’re where you’re supposed to be. Don’t turn it all around to go back a step.”

All of which got me thinking even more about the situation and all of which led me to the question that I didn’t even know I wanted to ask until I saw the most recent episode of Girls.

Has higher education become a safety net for a generation of adults that are seeking fulfillment with youthful passion and dreaming?

Today, just a few hours after I watched the premiere of Girls that resounded with me more than I thought it would, I had a long talk with my grandparents.

At 78 and 74, they’re usually sleeping or off trying to figure out how to send an email so we don’t get much quality conversation time, especially when my job keeps me away from the house fifty-two hours a week, if not more.

Today we did, though, and we had one of the best conversations we’ve ever had.

This Sunday marks the 60th anniversary of my grandfather Joseph, my nonno, leaving Sicily and venturing off to Canada to find work and start a new life.

He had just turned eighteen not even two months prior.

The boat he took over, that he vividly remembers being docked at Pier 21, took two and a half weeks. He befriended other boys from around Sicily and together they drank, ate, and played with a soccer ball whenever the ocean wasn’t being too rough on their poor stomachs.

Not knowing one word of English, my grandfather made his way over to Toronto and moved in with his sister, Maria. A few days later, he found himself a job that was paying seventy-five cents an hour.

Back in 1959, he was making more than some Canadian citizens.

With seventy-five cents an hour in his pocket, he started to save up as much as he could while working as often as he could. He slowly started picking up the language, learning key words like apple and pie to help him get a daily desert on his short lunch break from the bakery down the street before he made enough money to send back home to his struggling father and mother who operated a small farm.

In almost no time at all, he had enough saved up to get himself a car –a Buick- for $1,700 that was just over two years old.

He treated the car like it was Benz, washing it whenever he got the chance and showing it off to all the other cool kids who lived around Dundas and Ossington in the last year of the Elvis Presley dominated ‘50s.

Eventually, though, he wanted to go back home and visit his parents, see his older sister get married, and spend a few months in Sicily, leading him to the difficult decision of selling the car and buying a ticket for another two and a half week boat ride home.

It was during his time back home that he met my grandmother, Paula, and asked her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. In just a couple of months, they were married and my grandmother packed up her warmest clothes, ready to start a whole new life in Canada with her new husband.

When they arrived, they couldn’t afford much, but they could afford a room and kitchen just a few houses down from where my grandfather’s sister lived. Together they shared the house with a Polish woman my grandmother remembers fondly decades later, a young Black woman, and a strange man.

It wasn’t much, but my grandmother was astounded by being able to buy whatever she wanted to eat at the market without worrying about not seeing the same product again for months.

That, on top of a new job she had sewing doll clothes at a factory at Bathurst and Spadina, made her feel like the adult woman she always wanted to be. She used to write weekly letters to her mother and father, proudly attaching some money for her family back home who were struggling to get by, and less than humbly bragging about the skirt she was able to buy from the trendy Toronto shops with the money she made that week.

It was only two years later that my grandparents had my mother, Iana, in 1961. My grandmother was just twenty years old, my grandfather twenty-four. They couldn’t afford their own house, but they were able to rent one in Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto.

Together, the three of them started a whole new life my grandparents could only imagine before.

They didn’t have much schooling, though, and because of that always put an emphasis on their children and grandchildren getting a quality education.

My grandfather has been inquisitive his entire life and if circumstances were different, would have loved to go to university to study history and math.

He didn’t have that luxury, however. He became an adult at seventeen and couldn’t look back.

My grandmother became a mother at twenty and couldn’t think of anything but providing the best type of life for her children.

Their story, their entire life story up to this point, made me question what I was doing – what my whole generation was doing.

How many of us can say we’re adults at the age of eighteen? Ready to start a family at the age of twenty?

It’s fewer each year.

My grandparents looked for fulfillment in their own lives, absolutely, but they found it in their families. Creating new life and raising those children, providing for their families, and creating other families with close friends and neighbours.

Like Hannah, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up just affluent enough that I can go to college and work and live with my parents who can support me.

I’ve been coddled, and while I can’t complain about my life or my childhood, have I been prepared for adulthood?

Or am I seeking out school as a safety net, some kind of hope that I’ll find fulfillment in a modern history class like Hannah hopes to find her future in a writing class?

A.O Scott from the New York Times famously said that adulthood was dead.

If we’re comparing ourselves to our grandparents, he’s absolutely right.

But didn’t they sacrifice so we could live eternally youthful and try to find the meaning behind the world fulfillment?

Or are we just afraid of facing the same cold world our grandparents and parents did when they needed to survive?

Perhaps relating the intimate immigration travels of my grandparents to a question about going back to school should be my answer about the immaturity of it all, or perhaps the need to relate it all back to a fictional television shows just how trivial we are, but it’s a question I think most of us have about our lives right now.

Twnetysomethings can be silly, egotistical, overdramatic, and foolish, but we’re also the biggest dreamers, fighters, and our questions drive change.

So, reader, are we adults? 

Empire is King Lear: Why Shakespeare is the dead horse in criticism

Everything comes back to Shakespeare.

I’ve written about this before and I’ll continue to write about it until it’s embedded into the mind of every writer who thinks they’re dastardly and clever when they point out that the way a new show’s story is crafted is highly Shakespearian.

As I’ve said in previous posts, how could it not all come back to Shakespeare?

Writers tend to learn their craft through reading, writing, and a little bit of schooling. That little bit of schooling puts a great deal of emphasis on a dead guy from a couple of centuries ago who probably went by Will to his friends but to whom we know as William Shakespeare.

From the age of twelve, we’re told he’s the best. That there can be no greater playwright than William Shakespeare.

Well, writers are two things: hopeless romantic dreamers and ego-ridden narcissists.

Tell a writer there can be no one better than Shakespeare when it comes to crafting the perfect drama or comedy and they’ll set out to do just that.

Ask Aaron Sorkin or Lena Dunham if they think they’re the voice of a generation if you must.

Being told there’s this writer who’s already been crowned the Christ of a trade, the savior of poor grammar and spelling mistakes, will only egg writers on to devour every text he’s ever written.

Only downside? Those themes, story arcs, characters, and dialogue will live on within you.

Especially, as life would have it, when you sit down to write your own grand epic.

All of which brings me to Fox’s brand spanking new weekly drama, Empire.

Written and produced by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, the team behind the critically adored 2013 film, The Butler, Empire focuses on a hip-hop mogul (played by Terrence Howard) who’s just been told he’s dying of ALS.

He decides, in the wake of this detrimental revelation, to choose one of his three sons to overtake the company when he’s gone, the whole time keeping his illness a secret.

Three sons vying for their sick father’s spot as the head of the royal hip-hop family sounds awfully familiar if you replace sons with daughters, physical sickness with mental insanity, and hip-hop empire with royal kingdom.

You do, in fact, get Shakespeare’s King Lear.

In King Lear, the elderly king wants to retire his power as he’s losing his grip with sanity and physically depleting. Eager for the power that accompanies the throne,  his eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan, pledge their allegiance to their father’s views for the country as well as declaring their never ending love.

Cordelia, the only daughter with a backbone, refuses to play her father’s emotionally manipulative game and as such is disinherited from the royal line, violently promised she will never rule over the great land.

In Empire, Lucious Lyon (Howard) demands his sons prove their worthiness before he decides who to bequeath his, pardon the pun, empire with.

At once his oldest and youngest sons, Andre and Hakeem, jump at the possibility of taking over the business. Like their father, the prospect of not only being insanely wealthy, but being in control of a business the size of Apple is too much of a good possibility to pass off.

Andre holds private conversations with his father, showing off his knowledge of the company’s inner workings and stroking his father’s ego with praise of what he’s done with the company, not so subtly suggesting his own ideas for how they could bring the company to the next level.

While young, Hakeem is his father’s favourite. He unfortunately lacks the intuitive business mind of his older brother and unlike the rest of his family is used to being coddled.

He has no real experience, but what he lacks in real world knowledge he makes up for with his celebrity status and intimate relationship with his father. His father’s kindred musical spirit lives on through Hakeem.

Then there’s Jamal, the Cordelia of this hip-hop King Lear universe.

Like Cordelia, Jamal was basically disinherited as a child and banished from the kingdom when his father found his wearing his mother’s clothes. The situation only gets worse when Jamal comes out as gay, a big no-no in the hip-hop community.

Not only is his father disappointed with his apparent “life choice,” but he refuses to see past the relationship façade he’s built with his other sons to see that Jamal is the best option.

Like Cordelia, he’s intelligent and intuitive, and he’s also got the company’s best interests at heart.

He silently worships his father for the artist he once was and respects him wholeheartedly for the company he was able to start from the ground up, even if he refuses to change his ways to appease the purring monster.

In King Lear, it was the work of external forces like secondary characters and his inherent illness that made him see clearly for the first time.

It’s the same occurrence in Empire. The arrival of Lucious’ ex-wife Cookie is the dividing factor. After she returns to the company, she insists on taking Jamal off of his father’s hands and works on producing her middle son’s new album, making him the most obvious choice as successor in the meanwhile.

Cookie is to Jamal what the King of France was to Cordelia.

The King of France was so enamored with Coredlia’s sense of righteousness and self-worth that he decided he was going to marry her regardless of her disinheritances and stay forever loyal by her side.

Cookie sees what her son can do and decides to forgo the millions of dollars she could have made to see her son rise to the top. While her intentions may be somewhat less noble’s than the King of France’s, they’re characters do share certain characteristics.

 Empire is a modern day King Lear in the same way West Side Story is a modern day Romeo and Juliet.

We all take from Shakespeare. Why shouldn’t we? He got it right more times than not.

Writers plagiarize. It’s what we do. We change some things around to make it our own, but at the end of the day, we rehash what we’ve read or seen and put a refreshing spin on it.

We suck up to executives and hope for the best. We are all Goneril and Andre; there are very few of us who are strictly Cordelia’s and Jamal’s. 

Galavant: Commercials and musicals don't mix

With only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week, and 52 weeks in a year, it’s incredibly important to strip away the areas of interest that we don’t want to devote our time to and hyper focus in on the areas we do like a five year old on Adderall.

Two of the areas I’ve given most of me spare time to are television and musical theatre. I spend hours thinking about characters or plot lines on television shows before dashing off to create some uneducated, terrible imaginary choreography for a Broadway show I’ll never produce.

Still, I lose myself in daydreams of fictional worlds accompanied by pitch perfect singers and graceful dancers as often as I can.

Which is why I was as excited as I am for ABC’s new weekly musical comedy, Galavant.

Imagine Mel Brook’s Robin Hood: Men in Tights being thrown into a juice blender with some Monty Python skits and some of the gangly characters from Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale. The imaginably sweet nectar that it produces?

That’s kind of what Galavant is.

Galavant has everything going for it –an adequate cast, typical British wit, and catchy songs- but it still suffers from one major flaw; the nick that’s slowly sucking the life from the artery it’s cut.

Commercials.

If Galavant was just a fantasy driven comedy, the commercials wouldn’t be an issue. Comedy rarely relies on one continuous flow of exchange between characters to be funny on television. More often than not, it’s a quick one liner here and there followed or preemptively set up by some kind of slapstick humour.

Musicals, however, rely on flawlessly shifting from one scene to the next.

If we take a Broadway play as an example, there’s a two-hour period of entertainment that ends with a gigantic climaxing performance before a fifteen-minute intermission that’s followed by an hour and a half of more singing and dancing.

With the exception of the intermission, the musical is uninterrupted. As we sit in the darkened theater, we are immersed in the story unfolding before us. Allowing no interruptions helps to draw in the audience and bring the world to life.

Galavant doesn’t have the luxury of airing on a premium cable network where it can run the full sixty minutes uninterrupted and largely uncensored.

Instead, the show must contend with four to five commercial breaks, meaning instead of one large crucial number to keep the attention of the audience before an intermission, Galavant must perform five to six. Each number in itself becomes just as large as the one before it and there isn’t a moment to sit back and relax while a smaller, more conversational song plays out.

Worst of all, Galavant loses its pacing when it’s forced to stop every ten minutes.

It begins to feel like YouTube clips strung together to tell a story than an actual television show. Instead of three incredible acts, there are six mediocre ones.

It would be one thing if the show was terrible, but it’s not. The songs are great and the show could blossom into a fan favourite but it’s hard to get past the frequent stops.

I’ll continue to watch it for the time being because it’s caught my intrigue and Timothy Omundson’s King Richard mirrors Richard Lewis’ Prince John, which is always a plus.

But I can’t help but wonder how different the show would have been on a network like HBO or Showtime.

Alas.

The Imitation Game and the inauthenticity of war on film

An image of Hitler flashes across the screen and without a visible display of emotion, we recoil inwardly.

An image of a fighter jet dropping bomb after bomb on the city of London in an air raid as young children clutch their mother’s dresses in whimpering fear fills us with pitiful anger.

We smile reflexively at the image of young British men and women joyously weeping as they celebrate the end of the war.

The use of the second world war as the larger background setting against a smaller, more detailed storyline isn’t new by any means, and all three of the aforementioned scenes take place in Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game.

Focusing on Alan Turing’s story, Tyldum brings to life the tale of a young genius who managed to break the elaborate Nazi encryption machine –Enigma- by creating the world’s first ever computer. It was thanks to him and a small team of hand picked individuals that the war ended two years early and saved approximately fourteen million lives. Or so the scrawling words splashed onto the screen at the end of the movie just before the credits tells us.

It’s a remarkable story and has generated Oscar buzz since the movie premiered at TIFF.

That being said, it’s not a remarkable film by any means and yet when those scenes flash across the gigantic, thundering cinema screen, it’s hard to quench the strong feeling of emotion that plays through us.

Is it fair?

War movies have always been popular, just like how war stories have been the foundation of literature through the centuries. One only has to look at Homer’s The Iliad to see that.

We romanticize war because it’s exciting. The men are burly and brave, the women tremendously supportive and capable. Each day brings with it a new set of challenges, while daily walks to the market are full of low flying planes and the sound of military tanks on the horizon.

Through the glorification of war, however, and the desensitization we build to the violence of battles past, we forget how traumatic the events were.

Until they’re shown in sequence during a fictional movie, that is. With the right accompanying score to really drive the emotional breakthrough home, it’s easy to get lost in the few scenes that glorify the events of the second world war while distracting from the harsh realizations of it.

Juxtaposing the worst humanity has ever seen against some of its greatest accomplishments within a two hour period manipulates the emotions of everyone watching it.

The viewing experience isn’t authentic. The film doesn’t stand on its own merits, but instead hopes that with enough terrible footage of Hitler riling up the army or innocent Londoners sifting through rubble the audience won’t care about the film in the same way they would without the footage to fall back on.

We’re too emotionally invested at that point. We don’t care how Turing finally decoded the Nazi’s Enigma, we just care that he did it so we can watch England celebrate their victory.

The whole point to the feature, to explore this man’s ingenuity, is lost on an audience who can only see the war movie for what it was: a story of us versus Hitler and his army.

As long as we won, we’re happy. The human feature angle, which is where the heart of the story lies, becomes a backdrop to the rumblings of war instead of the other way around.

How can we judge a movie honestly when we can’t even bring up discussions of the second world war without angrily cursing Hitler and his men in our heads while silently cheering every time we come across an FDR or Churchill quote in a textbook?

War films can be great and I’ve enjoyed my fair share of them. Like the rest of humanity, I am enthralled by stories of epic battles just off the coast of a Greek island or a vivid retelling of the storming of Normandy.

But I’m also aware our emotions are being manipulated the second the lights go down and we allow ourselves to be transported back to 1939 for a couple of hours.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that occurring and I’m just being picky, but when I sit down to watch a movie about an authentic moment in history, I wish I could leave the theater with an authentic feeling of emotion instead of recalling bits and pieces of certain scenes.

Hitler’s speech. An airstrike in London. Churchill announcing they’ve won the war.

It’s a shame that after watching a movie about the incredible Alan Turing, he seemed to be the least important part of the entire production. 

Award shows suck: Here's why I love them

I’d like to thank the Academy. I really should have prepared a speech. I didn’t think I was going to win. It’s really just an honour to just be nominated. Can we give a round of applause to the other nominees? This award is dedicated to the thousands of kids who are dreaming of being up here but don’t think they can do it. We were all once you and now we’re here. Thank you all so very much.

Award show speeches, we’ve all heard them. Most of us could probably jot one down really quickly like I just did above.

Award shows are a politically pretentious poppycock display of self congratulatory jerk off sessions in $2,000 Prada shoes.

And I absolutely love them.

I’ve been thinking about this more than usual the past few days as I get ready to cover the Golden Globes for a second time. I’m anxious with anticipation even though I know what to expect out of the ceremony. The itinerary never changes radically with each New Year. Still, I questioned why it is I love award shows like the Golden Globes as much as I do.

I’m not trying to add meaning to any of the major shows –Oscars, Grammy’s, Emmy’s, or Golden Globes- because there isn’t any.

It’s become a full three ring circus, an annual Broadway play set in California with returning main stage actors and a couple of new hopefuls added in to keep it young.

There’s musical numbers, corny gossip driven stand-up comedy, intermittent comical bits, and close-up after close-up of some of the year’s best acting performances; those megawatt grins and overly enthusiastic rounds of applause loser nominees grace the cameras with as the equally over dramatic winner stumbles toward the microphone on stage before lying through their teeth about not seeing the award coming.

Celebrities wander around aimlessly while Harvey Weinstein tries to secure the perfect director or star for an upcoming film and the whole event feels like a grandeur incestuous college soiree.

Everyone has worked with just about everyone. Everyone has slept with someone in that room that they may have worked with. Everyone has gotten sloppy or high with someone in the room.

Award shows evoke the same interest from its audience as boredom driven Facebook creeping does: we don’t have much going on at that moment and we want to know who’s friends with who, who’s sleeping with who, and who’s moved on to bigger and better things.

Award shows are like the amalgamation of the parasocial relationships we develop with our favourite television characters.

Like on Facebook, we root for our best friends, our personal favourites. Unlike the real world, however, we aren’t rooting for the actress or actor, we’re voting for their character we’ve come to love in the movie we saw or the television show we dedicate an hour of our life to weekly.

Award shows have become sporting events for the entertainment world. We bet on them, we keep score, and we get unreasonably angry if our home players don’t take home that meaningless trophy.

I know this is what award shows have become, but I can’t help rooting for my favourite players, or watching my favourite actors interact off stage. I can’t help but wonder what it’s like in the theater or hotel the show is taking place and I, like millions of others, sit through the politically pretentious poppycock display of self congratulatory jerk off sessions just to get a sense of it all.

It’s a sickness. We’re obsessed with celebrity culture and we buy into any kind of drivel they’ll allow our starving bodies to feast on.

We know this. But we’re not going to change it.

After all, I want to see Neil Patrick Harris dance or Billy Crystal ride an elephant or watch James Franco fail miserably beside an Anne Hathaway blessed with a sunny disposition and an abundance of youthful energy.

I’m a glutton for punishment if it’s served in $2,000 Prada shoes.

Television procedurals: White collar versus blue collar

How do you spiff up a plain old procedural?

It’s a question that’s followed producer after producer and creator after creator for years. You have an idea for a cop show or medical drama, but it’s still just your typical run of the mill case-by-case scenario that manages to bore even you.

What do you do?

Apparently, you decide whether you want to appeal to a perceivably more intelligent, detail oriented, antagonist driven audience or if you want to provide weekly entertainment for the man and woman that just want to sit on their couch and take in a somewhat spooky new case with a cast of reliable faces that return season after season.

Or, as I have dubbed it, the white collar versus blue-collar television procedural.

As soon as the words white collar or blue collar appear, there’s immediately a connotation associated with either word.

Here’s what I mean when I use the terms: The white collar procedural is less about dirtying up its own hands and more about proving how special it is. The blue collar doesn’t mind getting its hands dirty. It wants to show you how it reached the conclusion and its more likely to be open to working with a couple of other men and women who also want to dirty up their hands to reach the end of a puzzle.

One isn’t better than the other, and yet we place far more importance on the former than we do the latter.

How often do we praise shows like Law & Order (or any of its subcategories), CSI, NCIS, or Criminal Minds?

We all watch them, we all rely on them when there’s nothing else on, but we don’t place emphatic value on them.

Like blue-collar jobs, we need them to exist in the world, but prior to the death of white collar careers, we would never have pushed someone into pursuing a plumbing or electrical career.

We take for granted the entertainment blue-collar television give us because it isn’t presented as a token of extraordinary storytelling. Instead, it promises the safety and security of a job done just well enough week after week, like a good mechanic.

White collar television stomps its way to the front of television and demands we turn our heads and stare at it while it yells, smashing its way through a terribly predictable storyline while distracting us with a antagonizing and questionable leading man.

Like doctors, lawyers, or investment bankers, there’s an aura surrounding these leading men that draw us to them. They’re brilliance is above average, it’s extraordinary. It doesn’t make us feel safe, but instead carries a raw almost sexual nature that’s invigorating beyond description.

They don’t ever dirty their hands. They invest themselves far too much in the cases they’re given –House, Luther, and Sherlock are prime examples- but they always distance themselves just a tad. The small amount of distance they put between themselves and the other far more ordinary detectives working the case just reinstates they are different and because they are different they are special.

Most people are not extraordinary in their chosen profession. We’re a part of a large team, but more often than not, we wish our unique talents would astound those we work with and be carried through conversation across the land.

We want to be the weird cop that solves all the cases with only minutes to spare or the arrogant and crippled (metaphorically) doctor that patients fly across the world to come and see.

We live vicariously through these fictional geniuses because they’re so rare in our society.

We don’t even know whether they exist, but it doesn’t stop us from daydreaming about one day becoming them.

Whereas Law and Order or CSI is a fictional retelling of a plausible event, Luther or Elementary are fantasy driven plots with humanized caricatures. 

Like actual careers, one is not better than the other; they are simply different in nature.

One is appointment driven –you can’t just casually walk in to your doctor or lawyer’s office- while the other is generally open for us any day of the week, welcoming with open arms.

On television, one category is appointment television. We must watch the newest episode of Luther or Sherlock when it airs because we place emphasis on its programming as premium entertainment.

The other is homely and acts as virtual comfort food while channel surfing.

We must not place intrinsic value on one over the other, but instead appreciate the differences between the two subgenres and celebrate that we need both for television procedurals to be whole. 

Kanye West's "Only One," New Year's, and embracing vulnerability 

It’s hard to be pessimistic on the day a new year begins.

The failures or hardships we faced for the past 365 days are over and it’s time to finally secure our dreams, find that special person, or even just cut back on the sweets.

It’s also the beginning of an entirely new year to divulge our eclectic tastes in pop culture and art.

There are thousands of new albums on the horizon, movies we’ve been anticipating for months suddenly seem that much closer, and television is just a week away from starting up again.

New artists will be discovered while prominent ones will try to best the last piece they put out.

It’s a day full of optimism and hope for what the year brings, fake bravado that promises us our most whimsical desires are within our reach.

It’s because of this contagious optimism that Kanye West’s newest song, Only One, is the perfect song to start off the New Year.

Unlike Kanye’s previous album, Yeezus, and just about every album before that, the arrogant, narcissistic self-proclaimed hip-hop god is gone.

Instead, we’re treated to a rare glimpse inside Kanye’s mind – where the vulnerable, wanderlust filled, nomad lives.

He’s never appeared more human. A superstar who distances himself from the lowly commoners that pay an ungodly sum of money to see him perform for a couple of hours, Kanye’s never been relatable.

He’s been idolized, critiqued, celebrated, and torn down (often on the same day) but no one’s ever tried to proclaim that Kanye West’s success is driven by shared experiences.

Let’s face it, we’re not all rushing out to purchase Lambo’s or married to Kim Kardashian.

But Only One is relatable. It’s the most common and pronoun experience shared between human beings.

The loss of a mother or father, being lost without them, wishing they could be there for milestone moments in our lives; another New Year’s, a wedding, the birth of a son or daughter.

Kanye doesn’t rap on Only One, another form of self-protecting bravado but instead lets his voice carry the track alongside Paul McCartney’s soft keyboard playing.

Instrumentally the track is bare, almost playing as an intimate acoustic session, and it’s because of Kanye’s willingness to share his deepest fears of fatherhood and being a husband while missing his mother that the song becomes infectious.

It’s not going to be a chart topping track, nor will it be remembered by the mainstream three weeks from now, but the letter Kanye West wrote to his mother, that he ingeniously performs as a letter from his mother to himself, is exhilarating.

The New Year promises change, that’s all we know. It might be terrible or it could be fantastic, but it will change.

As our false bravado brought on by a dropping ball and fireworks fades away, take a note from Kanye and remember vulnerability isn’t a negative quality to carry around within you.

We are all human. We are all vulnerable. We share, we lean, we cope, we laugh, we cry, we feast, we create.

We live one year at a time.

Archer drops ISIS name: Why they didn't have to

Archer executives may push boundaries with their animated comedy, but there are some lines they refuse to cross.

Or in this case, some lines they’ll redraw out of respect for world wide events.

In an interview with The Daily Beasts’s Marlow Stern, Archer creator Adam Reed and executive producer Mat Thompson confessed they have decided to drop the term ISIS (International Secret Intelligence Service) from their show due to ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

“We won’t say ISIS anymore,” Thompson told Stern.

The only mention of the once iconic company name for the show, Thompson added, would be the image of movers rolling out the sign as former ISIS head Mallory Archer disapprovingly tells her super agent son Sterling the CIA have become their new bosses.

For Reed, the move was inevitable and apparently imminent back when they were working on putting together the controversial fifth season.

“Back in season 5, FX said, ‘This might be a thing,’ and I thought, ‘Maybe it won’t be? Maybe it’ll be the mole that I’m gonna ignore and nothing will happen,’” Reed said.

Unfortunately for Reed and his creative team, the mole continued to devour whatever stood in its warpath and the team could no longer plead ignorance to the fact that a monstrous terrorist group committing mass genocide was using the same name as their fictional international spy agency.

Since the decision, Thompson said he’s received more than a few angry letters from fans.

“There were people online saying we should address it and say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe these guys have co-opted our name.’”

It also didn’t take long for fans to compare the difficult situation to television’s most celebrated controversial cartoon, South Park.

“That’s the way South Park would do it, coming after them and saying, ‘These assholes stole our name,’ but that’s not the way the Archer universe works, where it’s all our own creations,” Thompson said. “In our universe, they don’t exist.”

Which is precisely where the issue with the decision lies.

Unlike South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, Adam Reed and his executives have never received threats from international terrorists, and for a simple reason: They’re not intentionally mocking ISIS as a collective.

When Parker and Stone received their death threats back in 2010, it was after they aired an episode featuring the Muslim prophet Mohammed dressed in a bear costume making a fool of himself.

The move resulted in a local New York organization posting a threatening message on their message board, “Revolution Muslim,” alluding the creators would end up like slain documentary maker Theo van Gogh after the episode aired.

For Parker and Stone, there was a reasonable threat of violence against their entire team that led to Comedy Central’s decision to censor parts of the episode.

They had deliberately picked a beloved religious figure and made a mockery of him, during a crucial time in American history when peace talks between various countries in the Middle East and the U.S. were occurring.

Their entire goal was to make a mockery of an entire religious group’s icon and in doing so, received unwarranted and unprecedented, but not overly unsurprising backlash from a fanatical part of its community.

Reed, Thompson, and the rest of the team back at FX haven’t even come close to crossing the line in regards to any of the aforementioned scenarios.

While the decision is nothing less than respectable, it’s unneeded, and to be frank, a little cowardly.

According to a Middle Eastern report filed to the White House in 2013 from General Ray Odierno, the group now known as ISIS or the Islamic State depending on what news agency you’re watching or reading to gather your information, the terrorist organization first broke off from al Qaeda and started moving on their own in 2010. It wasn’t until 2011 that they even had a name for themselves.

Archer aired its first episode in 2009, a whole year before the collective was born and two years before they had a name for themselves.

To put simply, Reed and his team were there first and shouldn’t feel the need to give up their name simply because a group of maniacal lunatics decided upon the same name for their horrendous actions.

In doing so, it feels like a white flag is being waved by FX, a decision to appease a tyrannical group and disassociate themselves from it entirely.

All of which is perfectly understandable from an executive mindset.

But where does it start and end? As Stone and Parker have proven, no matter what kind of cultural or religious joke is implemented into a show, people will rise up, claim offense, and in severe situations, utter death threats.

Censorship isn’t the answer, however, and this, although voluntary, is censorship.

The show doesn’t need ISIS to continue, nor does it need it to be funny. At this point, six seasons deep however, ISIS is a large part of Archer’s history.

It’s a world-renowned terrible spy agency. It’s the enemy of the CIA. It’s one of the main reasons Sterling Archer and Barry Dylan are constantly at odds with one another.

It feels like nothing more than a shame to decide to continue on without its legendary backdrop.

For long time fans of Archer, ISIS will always be associated with the show, not with the Jihadists running around in the Middle East.

ISIS is a name that belongs to Archer and in subsequent belongs to the Archer community.

Its name has been printed on t-shirts, on mugs, and on hats, and while some people (including Adam Reed’s father) have confessed to not wearing Archer apparel out in public anymore, the name still brings memory filled laughs.

It’s a little ridiculous to think the show will be able to distance itself from the name after heavily using it for five seasons, and it’s a little ambiguous as to why they think fans still wouldn’t associate ISIS with the show now.

Reed and his team were faced with a difficult positon, and for whatever it’s worth, probably made the right one from a business perspective.

But ISIS and Archer will always be interchangeable, and after spending so much time and money on specifically branding the show with it, why admit defeat now?

Raise the ISIS banner with the comically vintage 3D globe high and wear it proud, FX. Archer fans will always support you. 

Shonda Rhimes, Grey's Anatomy, and Scandal: More than just race

In the past couple of days, Shonda Rhimes has been called an “angry black woman” and a romance writer, the former far more derogatory than the latter, but both insulting nonetheless.

When Alessandra Stanley wrote her piece about the role of powerful black female characters on Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and now How to Get Away with Murder, it’s suffice to say she couldn’t have anticipated the torrential backlash received from both fans of the show and people directly involved with it.

Beneath the misguided sentences, Stanley has interesting sentiments about Rhimes’ long career and her role in shaping the diverse role of television. She just went about it in the most insulting way a writer can.

Rhimes has been praised time and time again for introducing strong female actresses of colour to a mainstream audience, starting with Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy in 2004, as Stanley points out.

Like Norman Lear did with All in the Family in the early ‘70s, Rhimes brought issues of race to the forefront of television and silently, but certainly not subtly, raised the bar for diversity on television.

So we praise Rhimes constantly for this one facet of her career, unintentionally but devastatingly ignoring what she’s accomplished just as a showrunner and writer.

Shonda Rhimes is a strong, brilliant, and extremely influential black woman, but she’s also an incredible writer, a brilliant concept conjurer, and an extremely accomplished executive producer.

I understand what Stanley was trying to do with her piece, and while it was executed poorly and chalk full of factual errors I’m surprised made it past the New York Times editing desk, I can’t fault her for having an opinion.

All I can do is write a response as a young critic, but more importantly, as someone who’s been heavily influenced by Rhimes’ career and her cast of dark and twisty miscreant characters.

 

When Grey’s Anatomy premiered on March 27, 2005, I knew at the age of thirteen television audiences were in for a real treat.

We were coming off of ER’s big hay day, and the series was beginning to circle the drain as it entered its eleventh season. There was a hunger for a new medical drama that borderlines fantastical prime time soap within the massive ER collective.

Enter Grey’s Anatomy and the loveably strange Meredith Grey, the cutthroat lioness Christina Yang, and the no nonsense maternal figure Miranda Bailey.

The cast was diverse, yes, but the importance of the characters went past their skin colour.

For the first time since complex flawed characters had begun to resonate with audiences on Roseanne, thirtysomething, and even My So Called Life, Grey’s Anatomy presented the three aforementioned figures without an air of caricature.

These were authentic people that we all knew in our own lives, or perhaps, that we were ourselves.

It was because they resonated so profoundly with an audience right off the bat people continuously tuned in.

Meredith Grey, the grown child that was maneuvering her way through life one step at a time, not allowing any hiccup (whether it be with Derek or in the case of a bomb, gunman, or plane crash) to stop her from becoming the woman she never thought she could be.

Christina Yang, the cutthroat prodigy who slowly discovered that people were far more important than the job itself, and having a family was one of her greatest gifts.

Miranda Bailey, whose fierce demeanor both intimidated and inspired, but whose guard would drop in a heartbeat if one of her “babies” were in trouble.

These characters, sculpted so finely at the hands of countless writers, go beyond their skin colour, and that alone is one of Rhimes’ biggest accomplishments.

Yes, Grey’s Anatomy deserves recognition for diversifying television, and yes we will probably have this conversation again next year, but it seems almost insulting to only talk about Rhimes when conversation revolves around race.

In doing so, we are restricting her talents to just that. We aren’t acknowledging the incredible creative work she’s put out over eleven years while working on Grey’s Anatomy at all.

Instead of talking about how Shonda Rhimes’ continues to diversify television, perhaps we should talk about how flawless her incredibly diverse cast appears.

The characters on Grey’s Anatomy continue to work season after season because to some extent, they mirror an actual hospital staff. Although, perhaps slightly better looking.

The conversation about race on television, specifically in Rhimes’ shows, seems to be one that critics love to jump on, not fans.

Fans have never seen the characters for their specific skin colour; they’ve always just seen the characters.

They are flawed, angry, and hopeful people rooted on week after week by fans regardless of their tone or background.

Race is an important conversation to have, and we should encourage it whenever we can, but it is not the only conversation to be had where these shows are concerned.

 

Scandal. A show that seems to only come up in conversation when arguments about black female actresses on television are to be made.

For obvious reasons, it should be said. What Kerry Washington did for black women, and women in general, on Scandal sent ripples throughout the television landscape.

A powerful, independent, career minded woman that still managed to carry on a relationship (even if it is a messy affair with the president) shocked audiences.

Powerful woman were on television before, absolutely. Claire Danes premiered her Carrie Mathison a year prior on Showtime’s Homeland and Julianna Margulies had been the epitome of a strong, resilient woman prior to that on The Good Wife.

The difference in the three characters was the percentage of themselves they were willing to give over to someone else in a relationship.

Carrie Mathison had too much going on in her own life to pursue even a semi-healthy relationship with anyone, and the idea that was unconsciously planted in the minds of viewers was, “women can be strong if they’re willing to give up any chance at happiness or family.”

While it may be 2014, viewers still need to know that the female lead will get her happy ending with the big, hulking male love interest and settle down into a ‘1940’s gender normative family routine.

Even on the Good Wife, Alicia Florrick may have been an incredibly ambitious lawyer who, as the seasons progressed, became one of the strongest female characters ever written for television, but it was only after her husband Peter Florrick (Chris Noth) has an affair and she’s forced to go back to work.

Again, the idea subliminally planted is women can be strong, but only if there’s an extraordinary reason to do so.

Olivia Pope on Scandal didn’t suffer from having to find a high powered job after her husband had an affair, and while she may have more than any one person should have to handle on her plate, she’s never been shut off completely to the idea of love.

Olivia Pope is in many ways the modern woman embodied. She’s an extremely successful entrepreneur, a powerful ally to the government and a trusted advisor to the President of the United States.

On top of it all, she’s a black woman, but that is secondary to her previous accomplishments.

We are so obsessed with pointing out what an actor or actresses’ skin colour is that we unapologetically neglect the talents of the artist and neglect the immense effort the writers put in to make the character as lively and personable or interesting as they can.

Kerry Washington, like Shonda Rhimes’ is an incredible talent and asset to television, but it’s not because of her race.

These are powerful women who deserve to be seen as something other than just “the black woman who did this.”

Their background is incredibly important, but it is not the most important part of their careers.

 

As we enter the third show Rhimes had a hand in helping produce, the conversation is once again circling back to Viola Davis being a strong black woman on primetime television.

Aren’t we tired of pointing out the obvious? As critics, shouldn’t we be looking past that and talking about how Viola Davis is playing one of the most electrifying and daring roles of her career?

This is a completely new world for Davis, both in television and the edgy qualities the role of Professor Annalise Keating has allowed her to explore.

As millions will see during the premiere of How to Get Away with Murder this upcoming Thursday, this isn’t the same Davis we’re used to seeing in The Help, Won’t Back Down, or Enders Game.

It’s a raw, sensual, and as with other Rhimes’ productions, misguided and flawed character.

While this may not be exclusively Rhimes’ new show (it was created by longtime Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal writer Peter Nowalk), there are aspects that certify its place in ShondaLand.

Unfortunately, critics following the premiere won’t talk about Davis’ character. Instead, audiences will be treated to think piece after think piece of Davis’ role in the ever-expanding diverse landscape television has to offer.

Which she is, but like Rhimes and Washington, that is not her only accomplishment when it comes to her work on television.


During a recent interview with Buzzfeed, Ellen Pompeo (Meredith Grey) said she couldn’t wait for the moment when we, as a society, transcend conversation about race. The moment when television is such a diverse landscape that questions about race stop coming up during press junkets and everyone is seen as equals.

Let’s start with Shonda Rhimes and her shows.

Yes, Rhimes gave way for more diversity on television and for that we are all forever in her debt.

It’s because of Rhimes that more and more young kids can turn on a television and say that person looks like me, a feeling every child should have.

This is not her only accomplishment, though, and as a veteran of this industry who has accomplished more than most showrunners will in their lifetime, shouldn’t we be acknowledging that, too?

In defence of : Cosmopolis

Cosmopolis was a film that came and went with hardly anyone batting an eye upon its release.

It garnered some hype prerelease, of course. David Cronenberg films have always found an audience among cinephiles and genre enthusiasts. It didn’t hurt, either, that flavor of the month teen sex symbol Robert Pattinson had signed on to play the lead role.

Unfortunately for the genre enthusiasts there simply wasn’t enough horrific elements to quell the dialogue heavy, paranoia laced film. As far as the Pattinson collective was concerned, there simply wasn’t enough sexual deviance on screen, or sparkly skinned, picnic talk in the middle of a picturesque meadow.

As such, Cosmopolis was simply there one second and gone the next, drowned in the disappointment of perceived target audiences and washed out into an abyss of forgotten movies.

Except, like much of Cronenberg’s work, it wasn’t forgotten. Instead, it managed to secure a cult status with dedicated admirers flocking to defend and promote it in the spur of a moment.

The odd piece of art Cronenberg had crafted from Don DeLillo’s beloved novel, a cult title within its own market, seemed to bolster from deep within the puddle of despaired fans.

 

Cosmopolis is mentally tedious but through its intricate and authentic dialogue has no problem keeping the attention of its reader or viewer.

DeLillo, a self proclaimed modernist writer, has styled his work after James Joyce and William Faulkner, heavily inspired by foreign films, jazz, and “abstract expressionism.”

DeLillo isn’t so much an author as he is a philosopher who uses fictional characters to guide his ideas through an understandable, and semi-lucrative, prose.

In Cosmopolis, Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a young and very successful CEO of a mega corporation. His executive lifestyle has lead to an arrogant demeanor, his apparent intelligence prominent in every thought that rolls of his tongue.

The plot line, as some critics have said, is extremely linear and a faux pas when compared to other works.

It’s a day in the life of Packer, whose desperately trying to travel across town so he can get a haircut from his barber. It just so happens the President is in town, and the drive uptown will take the majority of the day.

Because of this unforeseen problem, Pattinson is stuck in his luxurious limo for most of the day, where most of the movie happens to take place.

The contrived plot takes place in the odd and rapidly spoken conversations between Pattinson and the seemingly random passerby’s that hop into his car.

It’s a atory that requires a certain level of open minded thinking, allowing DeLillo’s wired philosophies a chance to breathe. It’s only when this is accomplished that the characters seem like authentic beings instead of caricatures of historical figures and philosophers past.

The dialogue doesn’t seem as pretentious or far reaching, and as fans of Cosmopolis and DeLillo will argue, becomes the most enjoyable feature.

It’s an education in nihilistic anti-capitalistic philosophies, an exploration of an anarchistic society bottled within an already freeing democratic landscape.

It’s a caricature of a dystopia constructed within the walls of an already collapsing society.

 

Cronenberg isn’t adverse to adapting a film from a novel or a comic book. A History of Violence, Naked Lunch, and Dead Ringers are just come examples of successful cases found within his monstrous and ever expanding filmography.

Unlike most screenwriters and directors who simply use the inspired text as a reference to not stray from the path, Cronenberg wholly respects the work he’s trying to present visually, approaching the body of work almost biblically.

Cosmopolis is a difficult novel to adapt for many reasons, but one of the biggest being that nothing particularly happens.

There are a few moments here and there that could potentially be described as action filled, but for the most part the content is stagnant and preachy.

Two qualities general filmgoers aren’t willing to sit through.

Despite the obvious hurdles the novel presented, Cronenberg staggered through it and created a masterpiece of bizarre cinema.

He adds his own creative flare to the film, his own dreary view of the raging anti-communal 21st century world that’s so quickly eviscerating the loving ideals of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

In doing so, Cronenberg manages to make every conversation Pattinson holds seems vastly more important than the last, while each lecture seems to make more sense as the film wanes on.

He manages to do all this, incredibly, while sticking candidly to DeLillo’s text. It may feel like a Cronenberg film, but there’s no denying that the dialogue isn’t a product of his imagination.

Had the film been taken on by almost any other director, it may have been lost altogether; a flop studios would try to distance themselves from for years.

Or, perhaps even worse, it may have been an overwhelming success had another writer taken over the adaptation through extreme changes and plot implementations.

Instead, Cronenberg has let his voice and artistic direction become a passenger in DeLillo’s vehicle, trying to convey his fascination with the author’s driving styles for those that haven’t experienced being driven on a journey with him.

It’s the amount of respect Cronenberg carries for DeLillo and his work that allows the ideology to shine through, and it’s only been through that immense level of respect, that the genuine Cosmopolis has found a home with cinephiles and readers alike.

For once, Hollywood’s loss was the audience’s gain.


Cosmopolis was also the first time Robert Pattinson proved he could be more than an angst-ridden vampire or a heartthrob for audiences aged twelve to fifteen.

His stoic demeanor combined with his egotistical deliverance of lines plays effortlessly; his attitude of superiority and high browed wealthy lifestyle no doubt taken from his own daily life as a celebrity.

DeLillo is in many ways like Shakespeare for an actor.

He isn’t as feverish with his own writing, but he requires a deep understanding of his characters from the person taking them over.

These are his ideologies in their purest forms, his exorcised demons from years of overthought views on society’s social structures.

Pattinson’s portrayal of Packer isn’t just accurate, it’s believed whole-heartedly.

 Often times, an actor is told to leave whatever’s happening to them outside of the project at the door, unless they can somehow turn that emotion into something constructive for a scene.

Although not a CEO, on some level, Pattinson and Packer suffered the same malaises wrought upon them by the public.

They were either violently detested or flooded with admiration, but they both inevitably wanted to escape the media frenzy they were often caught in.

Packer had his limousine that kept the world at bay, while Pattinson had his hasty retreats into guarded homes and solitude.

The essence of solitude in Cosmopolis is a major theme, and one Cronenberg executes perfectly alongside Pattinson.

Simple sound techniques like muffling the sound of ruckus from outside the limo when the door is closed and blaring it as soon as the door opens wordlessly communicates the intrusive headache Packer –and undoubtedly Pattinson- feel within their congested world.

For Pattinson, an incredible actor who wanted to be seen for his work and not the way he looked while topless on the cover of US Weekly, the role of Eric Packer was his solace, his solitude from the world of endless flashing lights and paparazzi stake outs.

His own level of respect for DeLillo’s work, his level of respect for himself, and his seemingly uncanny resemblance to the character he was playing allowed him to succeed far more than anyone could have thought.

Like Packer, he was a young prodigy who was finally beginning to be taken seriously for his abilities, even if his name was associated with a project he grew to detest.

 

Cosmopolis might not have been the success Cronenberg and the studios were hoping for, but it was because of that flop that Cronenberg has secured himself another cult title.

DeLillo’s name wasn’t smeared in the adaptation process and Cronenberg’s fan base has only grown.

If Cosmopolis is an exploration of a futuristic society where nothing is sacred, ambition is demonic, and a corporation’s word is law, Cronenberg has managed to beautifully capture it.

Hell, he’s even managed to avoid it in the process.

A round of applause for the fearless Joan Rivers

Comedy was a man’s world.

For the longest time, it was an unfriendly place to women who were trying to break into the male dominated realm of slapstick falling and borderline racist, sexist, insulting stand up.

Sure, Charlie Chaplin had his various leading ladies that were funny in a controlled environment, but even then, they had specific role to play; offsetting the childish misguiding’s of Chaplin and his male counterparts.

Almost overnight, however, that changed with the appearance of Lucille Ball and her smart aleck remarks on society, taking every chance to belittle her well meaning, but old timely fictitious husband (played by her actual husband in real life) Desi Arnaz.

Lucille Ball may have single handedly opened the door for female comics in television, and Hollywood as a whole, but when it comes to stand up comedy and boundary pushing comedy, it was Joan Rivers who took on the idea that women weren’t nearly as funny as men, and proved them wrong.

When Rivers made her television debut in 1965 on the Johnny Carson Show, she debuted a persona so raw and controversial the world couldn’t help but take notice.

She wasn’t coy with her insults or impressions, and spoke honestly about issues prevalent in the ‘60s.

During the period of cultural overhaul and sexual revolution, a time where women were fighting for the right to be treated equally to men, fighting for a chance to operate themselves in any field a man could, Joan Rivers seemed to magically appear and symbolize all that women were fighting for.

Rivers stuck it to the old guard, proving women didn’t need a man in their life to feel competent, secure, and successful. Rivers taught us all we needed to do just dandy in life was a strong sense of self, a highly held head, and a wisecracking sense of humour.

Rivers was fearless, both in her stage persona and her day-to-day life. She didn’t care if her victim that night was an audience member in the front row or the reigning President of the United States at that time. If something bothered her, she would address it.

At times, her mouth got her in trouble, with tabloids clinging to her and her famous one liners as a means to sell their newest issue every week.

“My best birth control now is just to leave the lights on.”

“The one thing women don’t want to find in their stockings on Christmas morning is their husband.”

“The whole Michael Jackson thing was my fault. I told him to date twenty-eight year olds. Who knew he would find twenty of them?”

Her brand of comedy was just as revolutionary as Lucille’s, although for different reasons.

For the first time in entertainment, Rivers was proving women didn’t have to stifle their crude thoughts about sex, marriage, careers, or even celebrities.

Women, Rivers said, could be just as crude and funny as men, and probably better at it.

Her style of comedy wasn’t just a fifteen-minute window for passerby’s to stall the breaks and look out their window at the manic women preaching about orgasms and Bill Clinton.

She inspired many of the best comedians working in the industry today, both female and male.

Many of Louis C.K’s rants and raves about his kids and sex life –or lack thereof-  as he ages can be seen in Rivers’ jokes from the ‘80s.

Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, the stars and creators of Broad City, bring their daily problems to the attention of the audience and manage to effortlessly talk about the trials and tribulations of dating and careers through blunt one liners and an overall comedic undertone. A skillset they would have drawn from Rivers’ influence.

Rivers, a woman of many talents, never stopped inspiring and coaching young comedians, like Carson mentored her. Nor did she ever leave the spotlight behind.

In her later life, stepping away from the stand up comedy scene, Rivers managed to merge her love of insulting comedy and fashion for E!

Fashion critics have always had silver tongues, but Rivers seemed to revolutionize the industry when she click-clacked in, as Anne Hathaway would have said.

Her analogies of celebrity’s gowns to beasts and bodily fluids seemed effortless, and yet time and time again managed to outwit even the most veteran of critics.

Eventually, her fashion came under the scrutiny of critics. Rivers, the class act she was, took it unwaveringly, even adding one or two of her own jokes to the pile.

No matter what avenue Rivers decided to trek down, whether it was stand up comedy or fashion, even mothering, she was fearless.

She didn’t let anyone tell her she wasn’t going to make it. She didn’t let anyone tell her what was funny and what wasn’t, and she never apologized for offending someone who became the butt of one of her many jokes.

Rivers didn’t just pave the way for comics; she paved the way for women all around the world to be funny and outspoken in a manner that wasn’t socially acceptable then.

Hell, it still isn’t all that socially acceptable, but Rivers taught us not to worry about the opinions of others and simply act.

Act upon our deepest dreams, act out toward the injustice groups were facing, and act upon our gut instincts.

The world lost one of its brightest stars today, the sky a little darker as a goofily winking star fades.

But Joan Rivers left a little piece of her in the very pop culture we inhale every day.

The next time you laugh at a commenters quick one liner about an outfit of the day, or double over as a young stand up addresses the problem with PMS, remember Joan Rivers snarky voice and mega watt smile.

Joan Rivers taught us it was okay to laugh, and even more so, to make people laugh.

That’s one hell of a parting gift. 

Piper, meet Steve: Orange is the New Black and Shameless' main characters shared problem

It’s hard to watch Orange is the New Black’s main character Piper Kerman and not think of Shameless’ Steve (Jimmy) Lishman.

It’s not like the two characters have a barrage of similar qualities. Piper Kerman lived in New York, Steve in Chicago. Piper was helplessly waiting around in prison, Steve was living as freely as he could all over the world. Piper made one mistake that resulted in an actual prison stint, Jimmy was a seasoned criminal who escaped the grasp of the law time and time again.

Yet, for all of their differences, it’s their innate desire to experience a “dangerous lifestyle,” full of adrenaline and interesting characters that bonds them.

Both Piper and Steve suffered from upper middle class fatigue, an odd illness that affects most white kids who grow up in loving homes deep within the heart of suburbia.

In layman terms, they’re bored and because of it, they seek out thrilling experiences by hanging around with questionable characters, generally belonging to a smaller income bracket.

In other shows, the device would come off as exploitive. Exploiting people living in poverty situations to make for better television.

In Orange is the New Black and Shameless, however, it’s not the “lower” class of citizen that’s exploited, it’s Piper and Steve.

In the first episode of Orange is the New Black, Piper is designed to be loveable, but a naïve moron all at the same time.

She’s not a hardened criminal; she’s not even a criminal, as she reassures her new prison inmates, the audience, and herself multiple times.

While in prison, she coyly tries to revert back into her old self, the privileged, white girl from New York, and if showrunner Jenji Cohan had allowed it, the show would have failed.

Instead, Piper’s faux act is called out by every inmate she encounters in prison.

“Don’t try to act like you’re better than us,” is the message Piper receives loud and clear.

Why should she? No matter what her crime was, the fact remains she’s in prison with hundreds of other women.

It doesn’t matter where she lived, what she owned, or who she knew: in the prison ecosystem, they were all wearing orange and no one was better than the other.

For perhaps the first time in her entire life, Piper can’t smile and flash her economic status out of the situation.

While Steve’s story in Shameless differs slightly, the treatment he receives is almost parallel.

Steve grew up wealthy, a fact we learn in the third season of the show, even attending medical school to make his traditional baby boomer parents proud.

He was going to be an upper class, white, straight male. He was going to have white children and live in white neighbourhoods.

The idea of it all, clearly, bore Steve to tears.

Instead, he left medical school and started jacking cars on the street. He fell in love with the idea of danger, because like Piper, they knew if they ever got in over their heads, they could fall back into the comfort of their suburban bubble life.

Like Piper, however, Steve learns early on in Shameless, the cast of characters he surrounds himself with won’t allow him to retreat back to his prior cozy life easily.

After Steve starts dating Fiona, he falls in with her heavily dysfunctional family and when the idea of slumming it becomes too much, fails to bolt.

The reality of the idealistic world he built in his head had sunk in, but unlike he thought, there was no former world to return too.

For both Piper and Steve, the group of dangerous individuals they meant to exploit for their own entertainment, struggling with economic disparity and often times relying on illegal means to make a dollar, wouldn’t allow it.

They’re thrown into a situation where for the first time in their lives, their privilege works against them.

They’ve turned into the minority group, struggling to survive in an abstract world from the one they’ve grown up in.

It’s a terrifying experience, captured perfectly through interesting cinematography.

Deer caught in the headlights. The innocent, naïve look they both sport during tense scenes perfectly encompasses the entire feeling of their role in the series.

From the first moment, they realize they’ve made a terrible mistake by trying to belong to a world they had no right of entering in the first place.

The most interesting part to their roles, however, is the Darwinism experienced by both.

Not only do Steve and Piper learn to adapt to their situations, they thrive in it.

Piper goes through the belly of the beast that is the penal system, experiencing the best and worst parts of it, and using them to her advantage.

Prison, and her inmate friends, toughen her, scale her skin to repel any type of weakness.

She forgets her privileged lifestyle, if only for a second, and actually becomes one of the predators in the new ecosystem she’s entered, no longer just the helpless prey.

Steve, like Piper, finds his bearings within the Gallagher household he’s been welcomed into, choosing to treat the rowdy bunch as his own family, shunning his own inheritance.

While he can never truly forget his past, a fact we’re reminded of when the Gallagher’s discover who he is, he learns to cherish the newfound love he’s found.

But as he and Piper would soon find out, just because they could forget their previous lives for a time being, a vacation away from reality, those they tried to exploit while doing so simply could not.

In one of season two’s episodes, Piper is granted furlough – a mini vacation from prison used to go and see family during an emergency.

The idea of being granted furlough, as prisoners explained, was mythological. No one who asked permission ever received it. 

Following Piper’s granted leave, the other prisoners begin to attack once again, blaming her upper middle class background and her whiteness.

Piper eventually breaks, yelling in the middle of the cafeteria, acknowledging the judicial system was unfair and she understands why she was granted furlough.

The entire time, there’s a desperate look of fear on her face. Fear of being unaccepted once again, fear of not having a world to fall back on. She was no longer privileged Piper, but she wasn’t the predator she thought she had grown to become, either.

Rejection and being ostracized, just another series of events Steve and Piper mirror in each other.

Upon learning that Steve (whose real name was Jimmy, an ongoing joke for the rest of the series) was from an incredibly wealthy family, the Gallagher gang decides to shun the imposter from their lives.

Like Piper, Steve grew anxious and scared that he had lost both the world’s he thought he could belong too.

He, like Piper, went from having two worlds and two families to none.

Their stories are still being developed, but we shouldn’t be concerned that they’ll be led astray.

Both showrunners have tackled economic inequality and white privilege with a breadth of refreshing honesty that makes the dire circumstances they’ve been placed in believable.

Piper and Steve’s journeys are just proof the once typical protagonists in television shows can be flipped on their heads and remain interesting. They’re proof audiences can handle seeing reality reflected back to them.

Piper Kerman and Steve “Jimmy” Lishman are proof television can entertain, educated, and empathize.

It can draw realizations without lecturing, and not only embrace a cultural ideology trying to effect change, but promote it thorough fictional occurrences and lives.

A golden age of television indeed.

Mad Men's Michael Ginsberg: The definition of respecting mental illness 

If there was a word graph for Mad Men last night, the words Ginsberg and nipple would appear more than anything else.

Why shouldn’t they? To say it was shocking and disturbing to watch Ben Feldman as the loveably erotic Michael Ginsberg walk into Peggy Olsen’s office and confess he had manically sliced his own nipple off in order to cut the unnatural connection that had started to build between his brain and the recently installed computers is an understatement.

It was heartbreaking to watch Olsen stumble out of her office, staring at her friend and colleague of the past two years in terror, dialing 9-1-1 and crying as he’s wheeled out of the office, strapped into a stark white stretcher and being carried out by faceless men in white uniforms.

The nipple was eye-catching. It was the definition of Hollywood’s pigeonhole version of a larger issue.  

The discussion that we should be having, the word that’s not going to enter today’s word graphs, is schizophrenia and how Matthew Weiner and Mad Men’s creators treated one of the worst mental illnesses that exists today.

As far as addressing mental illness through primetime television goes, Matthew Weiner and his team did a bang up job.

Unlike shows like American Horror Story: Asylum or Homeland, where the mental illnesses characters are struggling with are exploited or made "sexy," Michael Ginsberg’s slow descend into a full blown psychotic break was handled with respect.

Most importantly, it wasn’t thrust upon the audience as a last attempt plot device as it often is.

Ginsberg’s mental illness was a long time in the making. From the first time he’s introduced to us in season five until last night’s episode, audiences have always been aware Ginsberg was suffering with something nobody could put a name too.

Preconceived diagnoses were thrown around, as viewers became professionals and critics became academic researchers.

Perhaps Ginsberg was bi-polar, it would explain the unbelievable creative genius he seemed to be harboring.

Maybe he had some kind of autism, even if the disease was extremely rare during 1969, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

No one knew for certain what it was, though. Weiner did a good job of never directly addressing the brief glimpses into Ginsberg's mania.

Unlike Claire Daine’s Carrie Mathison on Homeland, Ginsberg’s illness wasn’t at the forefront of every scene he was in. Instead, his erratic nature took a backseat to him as a person.

Instead of being confronted with the idea of “Ginsberg the crazy person suffering with [insert mental illness here],” Ginsberg was able to blossom without the cloud of stigma surrounding him.

And Ginsberg became one of the most loved characters. He was quirky, but he wasn’t quirky because he had a diagnosed mental illness that became a source of comic relief or an easy way to progress a story.

He became a favourite because he defined the liberal changes occurring in America during the ‘60s. He became a favourite because of his emotional and intimate relationship with his father. He became a beloved character because unlike the womanizing, alcoholic, abusive men he worked with at his ad agency, he was sweet, caring, and always pushing the boundaries of what they could do next.

It was only because of Weiner’s devotion to the character and the care he took in explaining him to audiences for the past three years that his final breaking point became the devastating affair it was.

It’s easy for showrunners to put the illness or addiction first, and often times, it works to their advantage. House used a serious Vicodin addiction to make him a more compelling character. Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management found a way to exploit his bi-polar disorder and turned it into a semi-working sitcom without any hint of satire.

Just because it works for an audience though, doesn’t make it great. Ratings aren’t synonymous with fantastic storytelling.

Michael Ginsberg’s apparent confirmation of schizophrenia wasn’t shocking, but it was devastating. He was an advertising writer full of promise, and as he’s wheeled out of the office, head turned back to alert his co-workers to the danger of working beside “constantly humming” computers, it’s hard to not feel like this was the end of his time on the show.

The ‘60s, especially the latter half of the decade, may have been a leap forward progress wise for learning how to treat people with mental illnesses, but it was still an era that abided by the lock up and keep out of sight mindset that’s been slowly chipped at over the last half century.

Talking about the nipple is an easy way to ignore the complex relationship and conversation about mental illness Weiner purposefully strived for.

It acknowledges the dramatic and ignores the underlying issue, a common line treaded by viewers and writers.

Weiner set up the conversation and it would be a shame to waste it by only talking about the grotesque nipple scene meant to shock.

Last night’s episode of Mad Men was one of the most refreshing takes on handling mental illness and proved, if done correctly, can be powerful and eye opening without being a throwaway plot device.

Weiner, you and your team are a stand up crew.

To all my beloved friends

Dear beloved friends,

Writing this letter seems foolish and unnecessary; I know you’ll never be able to read it. It’ll be uploaded to a blog and live out its days as an unneeded, unprovoked piece of writing that will inevitably be laughed at, chastised by the internets trolls that hide under manmade wired bridges of our online universe. I know you have better things to worry about –like saving lives, focusing on your own twentysomething problems, or even just focusing on who you’ll bring to bed that night – but for some reason, I can’t help but think of you as I sit down to write tonight.

I can’t help thinking about the drama in your life as you try to choose between two men, or thinking about if the past nine seasons of bonding has led up to, what could be, one of the most devastating finales in television. I certainly can’t help thinking about your struggles at work, because I’ve languished with you over them, finding some meaningful answer to a question I never had the courage to ask myself, but that must have been floating around in the back of my head.

When your particular night roles around, and you each have a particular night once a week, fifty two times a year, I can’t help myself from clutching the remote for dear life, as if the power to suddenly pause and rewind a scene gives me some godly capability over the coarse your life is heading toward.

You see, television friends, both new and old, I can’t help but think about you throughout the day. Your lines surreptitiously blend into my daily speech, until someone quotes one of your lines back to me, thinking it was my saying the entire time. It’s an unparalleled metamorphosis I unconsciously yearn for, blending the borders of my world and yours. I say your names as if your problems are ones I would help council a friend through; when you suffer a loss, I cry for you.

I may be insane, but you were the ones who invited me into your lives. But I’m not a lunatic, I know you’re not real. I know you’re portrayed by a talented actor, whose lines were written by a talented writer, and whose deliverance was captured by a talented director, all under the watchful eye of an inventive show runner. I know you’re just a figment of thirty people’s imaginations, but once a week, you’re alive, and I care for you.

I used to schedule you in to my life when I was a teenager, hurriedly jotting down your allocated time on television while my classmates would take down their homework assignment for the night. I could care less about algorithms or Shakespeare at the time. One of the only things that mattered when the sun went down and the prime time program theme songs would ring out through my house was that half hour or full hour adventure we were going to embark on.

And it was an adventure, wasn’t it? We were running from gangsters, drug dealers, and our families. We were drinking up a storm, getting laid, and gossiping about the

table next to us. We were dealing with an alcoholic father, a defeated leg, and a hard to kick drug habit. Oh, and shootings, we were constantly dealing with shootings.

It was our adventures that made me change my mind over a hundred times, too, in high school about what I wanted to be. One day it was a surgeon, the next it was a writer, only for it to change to a lawyer or detective the next. One week, I was adamant I would want to run a variety show, and in recent weeks, I’ve never wanted to do anything as much as I’ve wanted to work near, or in, the White House.

I considered being an actor at one point, oh, the hilarity in that confession now, because I thought it would bring me closer to you, both physically and emotionally. But the idea of blending our worlds that closely ended the illusion of who you were, harshly reminding me you had a real person acting you out who had their own adventures. So I became a “writer,” thinking up stories of where you would go, who you would meet, what you’d become, while creating characters of my own.

You shaped me into the person I am, the person I strive to be. All of you, in some way or another, allowed me to explore different ideas and experience an array of emotions I wasn’t aware of. But most importantly, all of your stories and your lives made me realize the only way to explore new characters was to live my own life.

So I started going to bars, and walking down streets with friends, trying different experiences whenever I got the chance. I started living the life I had only done vicariously through all of you, and funnily enough, you know what happened? I felt closer to all of you. I could laugh at your awkward sex stories and cry over the death of a friend with you, because I had done it. I could hysterically roll around on the floor over your drunken night, because, well, I was probably hammered while watching it.

Your lives, as fictional and manipulated as they were, taught me to live, and for that, I don’t think I could ever thank you enough. But it hasn’t stopped me from venturing down your paths with you, or sighing with a sad kind of content when you’ve reached your end, when you’ve finished telling your story.

Many of your stories will be ending soon, some within the next couple of weeks. Like all of my good friends before, I’ll mourn you for a bit. I’ll have discussions with my friends about your stories, lifting a frosty to toast your memories. You’ll begin to fade, as new friends and new faces take your once allocated spot on television, but you’ll never truly leave. Your words of wisdom and your stories will always be in the back of my mind, and when I’m out living my experiences, there will be times when they’re similar to yours, and after a good night, I’ll come home to share my story while we embrace yours.

Some people call this a parasocial relationship, a completely one sided one, and they’re absolutely right. You don’t care about the people who have welcomed you into your lives, and why should you? You’re not real, at the end of the day.

I won’t list your names, not because I’m embarrassed, but because I think that would knock down another wall of intimacy I’m not ready to destroy yet. Maybe that’ll change when I have kids, but for now, I’ll take your stories to heart and come home to you and my family at the end of the day. For now, your entertainment will have to do for me, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

I was raised by a television set, and I don’t know if my relationship with it will ever change. But just in case it does, know that the lessons in life that truly mattered to me that I didn’t experience on my own, you taught me, not some textbook or essay paper. Some say you’re a dumb medium, rotting the brains of its addicts, but it’s an addiction I don’t think I’ll ever kick.

So, I guess in short, thank you for being there when I needed you the most, and being there when I just needed to kick back and relax. You’re all infinitely more important than you’ll ever know.

I’m going to unpause the program I was watching to type out this letter now. Thanks for letting me rant.

Love always,

-me.

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Desolation of Smaug captures the essence of Tolkien in a mediocre film


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is much more interesting viewed as a history lesson than it is a fantasy film.

As a film, it holds up slightly better than it’s predecessor, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As a series, however, the latest instalment just goes to prove that it can’t hold a light to it’s forefather, The Lord of the Rings epic.

What’s incredibly interesting about the Hobbit, however, and most spectacular with the Desolation of Smaug in particular, is the historical significance it portrays.

History of The Hobbit:

The Hobbit was published in 1937 as a children’s book, although the overall theme of the text has been deconstructed, reconstructed, and deconstructed once again by academics around the world.

Bilbo Baggins, the little Hobbit that could, is plucked out of the safety of his home, and promised an adventure of the lifetime even if the events surrounding it potentially end in peril.

The mission at hand? He must act as a burglar for a pack of twelve dwarves, headed by Thorin Oakenshield, the rightful heir and future king of the Dwarf race. On their journey, the merry band of misfits encounters a myriad of creatures, both enemies and allies, including a pretty angry dragon with a hoarding problem.

On the front, it reads as a fantastic young adult novel, full of twists and turns, adventure and horror leaping off of the pages.

All of the simplicity changes when the fact arises that J.R.R. Tolkien used it as an escapism technique. Written sometime after the events of World War I, Tolkien tried to escape the horrors of what he had witnessed by translating the hauntingness of it all into a fictional tale.

What resulted is a fictional retelling of sorts, with a bit of a lighter tone. The angst Tokien had suffered through the war still found its way into the novel.

Janet Brennan Croft, a Tolkien academic, noted in her novel War and the Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, that because of the years he spent fighting in World War I, and in subsequent, the years he spent watching his sons battle in World War II, Tolkien grasped strongest to themes of war, desolation, and redemption.

Croft also noted, however, that unlike other war time writers, Tolkien’s use of fantasy and myth were used to surreptitiously show readers the consequence of war, and perhaps even more dire, the consequence of not learning to repeat history.

Croft argued that the not too subliminal anti-war message was more intricate to the series itself than the actual storytelling.

Projecting the theory on film

Desolation of Smaug is also the first time the war that inspired the themes in Tolkien’s work truly stand out.

In the second film, we’re introduced to Laketown, a town full of hard working, mostly innocent people caught up in this battle between the Dwarf folk who lived under the mountain and the evil dragon Smaug.

Tension had been building between the two parties before an all out war began. The entire debacle resulted in this middle ground town becoming part of the war, and losing all they had ever known to the fire-breathing beast.

If one were to draw a time line between the events of World War I and the events in the Hobbit, it wouldn’t be too hard too paint the picture of Laketown as a fictional Belgium while the Kingdom of Erebor transforms into a fictional France.

In World War I, Germany ploughed through the non-disturbing Belgium in order to capture their true target, France.

Germany, at the time, did some irreparable damage to Belgium, destroying architecture and taking lives. Eventually, the people of Belgium rebuilt their country, but the war and its travesties were never forgotten.

In Desolation of Smaug, Jackson’s expansion of the Laketown story line adds to the overall theme of Tolkien’s story, even if it does in fact take away from the actual plot line in the movie.

Jackson has become a small master of taking mythical story lines or spectacularly extraordinary characters and making it feel like their problems are just as important as problems faced by real people on a daily basis.

The plight of the Laketown folk has you constantly worried about their fate. They, after all, hadn’t signed up for the original war, and certainly weren’t ready to sign up for a second dosage of unimaginable terror.

While I was watching it, I couldn’t help but think of how it must have felt like to live in Belgium at the time, to have your country being invaded by one of the most powerful armies in the world, and seeing towns go up in flames. All simply due the location of your country, all because of where it lay on a map.

It was the first time the series seemed to dig past the fantastical wars and the beautiful CGI effects to reach a core of the original text that was so much powerful than both combined.

Jackson was able to connect the people of Laketown to the audience, to make the audience just as concerned for the lives and livelihood of the poor (both literally and figuratively) town folk. The raw emotion surrounding the town was so primal, it felt like it had already been etched into our mind.

Which is precisely the way, I believe, Tolkien would have wanted his novel to be understood. Writers want to connect with the people who read their work. They want to be able to scream through the thousands of printed words, “don’t you understand why they felt like this, why I feel like this?”

For Tolkien, it was a somber emotion, one full of death, confusion, and anger. It was the exact emotion we saw presented to us through Jackson’s lens, focused on this small subplot of an almost three hour film.

For me, it was some of the best work Jackson had ever done. Not the entire film, but that one segment.

Let it be a call for future genre films

The idea that a blockbuster film has to be full of explosions, perfectly timed comedic one liners, a copious amount of CGI effects, and nothing more, seems to be a horrible trend in the ’00 era.

While action movies are fun because of these things, many times they lack the emotional connection to the characters for audiences to resonate with them.

The reason I couldn’t connect with Thor wasn’t because he was a God, lived in a different universe, or wasn’t real. The reason I couldn’t connect with Thor was because there was no reason for me too. The focus of the movie wasn’t on his deepest desires or fears, it was based around them.

We couldn’t deconstruct Thor as a character because we didn’t know Thor as a character. Unlike the Desolation of Smaug and its Laketown heartbeat to drive the film, Thor just kept the explosions coming, followed by one-liners, and constantly injected storylines for audiences to keep entertained.

And Thor was an entertaining movie. As were other Marvel or DC movies. But unlike Nolan’s Dark Knight, the humanity, whether it is of the most perverse evil or the purest of good, was lost.

Films should mean more than just explosions. Through the power of film, directors, editors, producers, writers, actors and whomever else have the power to change the way an audience may see a subject.

Whether it is war, economics, criminality, or even youth culture, film has the rare power to take hold of an audience’s attention and grasp it for two hours. There should be a reason our attention is held and we should leave contemplating the message we’ve just received.

Leave the entertainment in, of course. At the end of the day, a movie should be fun. But the power of the story and the characters within it don’t have to be muddled to get enjoyment out of an audience member.

The humanity of a film is what makes movies so special, the parasocial relationship we develop with the characters on screen and they way they inspire us to act. If we, as an audience, were to lose that to a race for opening weekend sales figures, a part of the movie magic would die away with it. 

Tearaway is silly, juvenile, and triumphantly sublime


I can’t stop smiling when I play Tearaway.

The main character I control, the protagonist in this childlike fantastical land, is made of paper, and with every crinkled step, my smile grows a little more.

It’s adorable, and the missions are simplistic for the platformer genre, but designed and executed with so much charm it’s hard to not get enthralled in climbing mountains and roaming around hillsides.

The ability to draw crowns and pumpkins, change the colour of the snow or the grass, is so remarkably soothing, I look forward to the little artistic breaks as opposed to resenting them like I do with most games that try this gameplay formula.

But most importantly, I am constantly laughing while playing Tearaway, and not in a cynical, arrogant, I am better than thou way either. It’s a heartfelt laugh full of amusement, joy, and wonder.

It’s the first time I can remember having this much childlike fun playing a game in a very long while and its an aspect to a game I think some designers have lost focus of.

Having fun with the medium and leaving the subtle metaphors out of the narrative.

Games as an evolving medium

 There’s no doubt that games have become a powerful expression for artists and designers to get their message across. Seemingly coming into the adolescent phase of their lifespan, when revolution is sparked with a sentence, a picture, or a moment caught in time, many designers have begun to construct games around social issues constantly faced.

It’s been a gaming revolution that I’ve been proud to witness first hand from a variety of talented developers who I am lucky enough to call friends.

Whether it be a game designed to engage audiences in a discussion about the awfulness of depression or whether it be a game about racism experienced through gaming itself, the messages these creators have been able to deliver to players is vital to moving important conversation along.

Perhaps its clichéd to say that playing some of these games, from people around the world, has opened my eyes to issues that I never really talked about before, but they have. Jokes I once thought were funny with my group of friends I now realize are hurtful and coming from a place of ignorance.

Games, and the brilliant designers and creators behind them, should continue to push the boundaries on social issues like racism, rape, transphobia, depression, misogyny, and suicide. Much like film before, and books before that, art can be more than just something to admire, it can be utterly revolutionary.

Whether it be upfront and the sole purpose of the game, like a Twitch interactive fiction, or whether it be an adventure game with sub messages awaiting the player at every corner, designers have learned how to sophistically integrate their ideals into their gameplay.

But at what point does a game stop being fun and begin to feel more like a lecture, as it can sometimes feel like when playing? It’s a question I never really asked myself because I had become so used to playing a game, that wasn’t a simple multiplayer run in a first person shooter, and looking for the message I was sure had been encoded into its very being.

I couldn’t recall the last time I had picked up a game and had simply enjoyed the eight hours of single player narrative. Instead, I often found myself signed onto Twitter to tweet about it, only to find myself reading through a discussion on acts or suggestions that had escaped my attention during the play through.

Sometimes, depending on the caliber of popularity of the game, it would happen prior to me even picking it up. I found myself playing through ‘The Wolf Among Us’ with an air of caution after discovering the creator of the original Fable comics the game was based on, was heavily anti-Palestinian.

I reread every sentence twice to ensure that I hadn’t missed something that might be critiqued later. It began to feel more like a job than a game, and while in the end, I did enjoy my playthrough of the first episode, I found myself hesitant to engage in conversation about it just in case.

That all changed when I picked up Tearaway.

Bringing the fun back

Tearaway is such a simplistic joy, there are almost no words to describe it. It’s that feeling when your favourite song comes on the radio after not hearing it for years. It’s that tingly feeling of excitement you get on Christmas eve, even when you’re the one playing Santa.

It’s pure fun.

For the most part, when we all picked up that controller for the very first time, we weren’t interested in looking for subliminal messages left by writers and designers, we just wanted to jump around and control the little pixilated avatar on screen.

One of my first games I remember playing was a Tasmanian devil game for the Super Nintendo. I recall not being very good at it, but it didn’t matter. I could spin around and knock down trees and laugh at whatever the devil did on screen. I would spend hours sometimes spinning around the same level just because it was so amusing and I was having the time of my life. Sorry ABBA.

With Tearaway, it’s a combination of the music, the design, and the ambience created that brings you back to those random days as a kid. Using the front camera, the game also puts you directly in the game, breaking the fourth wall between fiction and non-fictional.

I’m not going to delve into mechanics too much, because as important as they are to a game and its overall enjoyment, this isn’t a review. But I will say, this was one of the first Vita games to properly use all of the features the handheld device boasts. I was taking photos, pushing my fingers through the ground to move logs and wind up different architecture, and had to use my voice to create commands.

It all felt a little silly, but it definitely ensured that smile was plastered to my face, as if laminated on permanently.

The entire game is silly, really. It’s a silly concept with silly paper designs and silly computer generated characters you interact with on your journeys. But in a life full of work, stress, and worry, sometimes the silliest of joys brought on by a message turned messenger who believed she could is all it takes.

I find myself playing Tearaway during my lunch breaks at work, taking fifteen minutes to just melt away into the paper crafted world. Although different genres, it has the same effect on me as Animal Crossing and Pokemon do, but even more so.

Most interestingly, is seeing the reactions of others when I play it. I was at an event and I took out my Vita, flipped on the power, and started to jump and flick. At first a couple of people wandered over to see what I was playing, and then a couple more, before gradually we were in a circle, some watching my game of Tearaway and some watching a friends game of Pokemon.

I would look up from the game, as one does when surrounded by group watching them play, and the smile I could feel radiating on my face was mirrored by those watching. They weren’t intently watching, scribbling down notes mentally as they sat, but just enjoying watching this little envelope try and climb her way to the top of the mountain, to get closer to the sun in the sky.

Our group eventually dissolved and we all went back to what we were doing, but a friend mentioned to me after that one of his friends had already become infatuated with the little platformer that could. And in that moment, after hearing about a friend being recommended a game based on what his friend had seen, I was transported back to the day I handed over my Tasmanian devil game to a friend and the fun we had for weeks after he fell in love with it too. The power of video games.

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'Don Jon' and the plague of romanticized fetishes


Joseph Gordon Levitt showcased two forms of romanticized escapism in his recent comedy turned modern day social examination, ‘Don Jon.’

There is no difference between pornography and romantic films

In the movie, Levitt examines the complex relationship between people, although focusing in on men, and their relationship with porn. Playing a twenty-something bartender at a local club, Levitt’s character is obsessed with chasing down nameless girls and bedding them, tallying the amount of vaginas he’s dominated.

Although the story follows Jon (Levitt) and the perilous problems he encounters as he struggles to balance his unabashed love for his girlfriend Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and his deeply rooted, hauntingly embarrassing love for porn, there’s another romanticized fetish that gets touched upon briefly.

Sappy romance or clichéd romantic comedies that the entire world obsesses and fawn over. In many ways, as Levitt seems to argue through the dialogue he penned, both are just as lewd and crude as the other, but one “gets awards.”

It’s where the lines begin to blur and the topic becomes a little stickier. Pardon the pun.

Audiences devour the fictitiously grand love stories, construed by a writer catering to every whim of desire. But because the euphoric orgasm isn’t a physical one, and the look of utter ecstasy can’t be seen, it’s branded as art and entertainment as opposed to pornography, a word that automatically packs a negative connotation.

It’s arguable, however, that the exact opposite is true when examining the provocativeness of the mediums.

Pornography, while certainly an unattainable, unrealistic fantasy that Levitt portrays wonderfully, is at least primal. You flip open your laptop and turn your monitor on, click on your bookmarked favorite video, and watch it until you reach the orgasm you so, often times, urgently desired.

There’s a scene in ‘Don Jon’ where Levitt’s character is talking to Julianne Moore’s character, a widowed middle-aged woman with whom he begins a relationship. Barrymore asks him what he gets from watching pornography as often and as animatedly as he does when he clearly has no problem bedding women. Levitt responds with a powerful short monologue about how the real act of sex can never quite live up to the fantasy he builds up in his head while watching porn.

It’s the exact same reason men and women dash off to theatres and helplessly watch the two strangers meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after until death do they part. It’s why romance novels are consistently one of the top selling genres of books. It’s easier, and much more satisfying both emotionally and physically, to create a fantasy in your head and live it out mentally than it is to accept a sometimes-daunting reality.

It’s why people empathize with Levitt’s character, who desperately wants to stop fleeing to his fantasy world and live out a “normal” one with Johansson, but can’t stop himself from typing and tugging.

The fan fiction/Erotica subculture

 Growing up in the late ‘90s and being a teenager in the early 2000’s, I was a byproduct of the internet I had grown up with.  We were ahead of the curve when it came to the latest trends popping up online because we were a generation slowly becoming addicted to the vast amount of –often times free- information we had at our fingertips.

When I was in grade six, I was obsessed with films, television, and gaming (not like much has changed in ten years), and was obsessed with the characters I heavily invested time into.

One fateful afternoon, a friend of mine pointed out a website she had stumbled upon dedicated to hosting work from writers around the world. Specifically, dedicated to hosting a subgenre of writing called fan fiction, which at the time, I had never heard of.

Within the year, it would become my most visited site. Within the decade, it would become a daily habit to check on my favourite stories, beta edit newer ones that showed promise, and linger around the community forums.

Like Jon, I was convinced I wasn’t addicted to scrounging the site for new material to satisfy my itch. And much like Jon, I kept my love affair for the site and the millions of stories nestled there a secret from new friends and family out of fear they would think it was a strange practice.

Like Jon with his porn or Barbara with her fairy tale movies, there was a dreamy satisfaction I got out of fan fiction content that I never attained with boyfriends. The idea of what a perfect relationship should be, or how ferociously intense sex could be never lived up in the actual heat of the relationship.

Like Jon, Barbara, and millions of people around the world, I had succumbed to the bubble I enclosed myself in, basing what love should be on a fictional story I had read instead of what love actually could be.

'Don Jon’ captures the essence of having too much egregious content available. It shows just how easy it is to lose sight of reality when it’s so easy to constantly surround yourself with a preferred thought up world.

As fan fiction, erotica, and porn websites around the world continue to grow, reaching more and more people at younger ages, the misconceptions of how to act and feel in a relationship is changing constantly. The morals and boundaries present in relationships from the ‘50s don’t exist in 2013.

And alas, like many facets of life, only time will tell if it’s progressive or regressive.

Tweet your favourite porn site

But something began to change, and it was an aspect to modern day sexual culture that wasn’t discussed in the movie.

Twitter, Reddit, and other social forums that created a movement of proud people willing to share their interests popped up and dominated internet conversation.

Fan fiction went from being a seemingly small community deep within the crevices of the internet to a constant tweetable topic. Terms like “hentai” and “slash” started appearing in tweets from people I never would have guessed read the predominantly genre driven work.

Even more surprising was that it wasn’t just fan fiction or erotica that people were talking openly about.

Porn had become a daily conversation, both online and with groups of friends.  Moreover, women admitting to watching porn, sometimes daily, became less of a surprise as the years waned on.

‘Don Jon’ seemed to express the sentiments of a generation not constantly connected to their smartphones and their friends they’ve never met.

It didn’t touch upon sexts, which have slowly but surely integrated themselves into normal relationships. But that’s okay.

What ‘Don Jon’ has accomplished is cracking the door open into a “subculture” that has become a mainstream culture among men and women, and let the conversation begin. It can only flow from this point forward, and only through conversation, examination, and realization will the mindsets instilled in people begin to change.

For that reason alone, I will always appreciate ‘Don Jon’ for talking about a social topic that every single person can relate too, and using film as more than just an entertainment platform, but as a medium to actually change the lives of its audience.

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Vicariously living through vinyl and why it's so important to me


There was a recent Nielson report released on the state of the record industry, and more specifically, the state of sales within the industry.

For once, it wasn’t macabre in its findings, but shining with a glimmering silver lining of hope.

Physical CD sales were down, yes, as has been the trend for countless years, but record sales had skyrocketed.

Yes, records. As in those large black disks your parents and their parents kept shelved in their living rooms alongside the Mad Men style carpets and old television sets. In a stage of either rebellion or insanity, today’s generation of music listeners decided to prorogue purchasing albums, choosing to fork over $200 for a record player (or adopting their parents archaic model) and hit the thrift shops.

It was a trend talked about in all of the large magazines, blogs, and “whoknowsit” on the internet. Adults over the age of 50 couldn’t understand why, when walking down the streets, they were seeing fourteen and fifteen year old kids cradling their favorite vinyl’s under their arms, speaking vividly about it.

I can still recall the confused looks on my parents face when I had walked in with the stack of records I found one day while scouring my grandparents basement looking for the collection I knew my mom and my aunt had left behind at home upon getting married. To other people, of course.

What did I want with all this junk seemed to be the question at the very front of their through train and they asked me a couple of times, taking turns to thumb through the physical memories of a time past.

I tried explaining that vinyl sound was warmer by nature, had a little more personality than a traditional CD. I also, reasoned, that vinyl seemed to be what more and more artists were deciding to release their albums on vinyl as opposed to physical CD’s, providing consumers with a free digital download of the album on top of buying the actual vinyl.

They still didn’t seem to understand the fascination with a relic technology like vinyl, and to be honest, neither did I until I had my first true love encounter with it.

My friend was having a party, and he’s always been a pretty big vinyl guy. He had suggested I start, even proposing to lend me some of my favorite records he had repurchased on vinyl. I had said no, not willing to invest in a record player and spend up to $25 more on each record I wanted just because it became available on vinyl.

Remember, this was a couple of years ago.

One night, said friend was having a party and I arrived in the midst of it. It was like any other college party, full of illegal substances, a titanic haul of alcohol, and pheromones running their course for everyone to see.

As the night continued, though, it became a little more relaxed, conversations taking precedent over flip cup and games of I, never. As a joint made its way through the group of people who had settled into his couched area, he threw on a Neil Young record he had lying around.

We discussed anything and everything, from music to politics, from games to our futures. While the conversations continued, I noticed how we all gravitated toward the record player that sat on the table around us, many deciding to sit on the floor, or lounge out where there was space.

Like how I had always wanted, music had become the magnetic force in the room. Conversation was flowing easily enough, the buzz from the now roach had taken affect on everyone in the room, and drunken laughs could be heard vibrating off the ground where the most intoxicated sat.

My memories of what happened after the party get hazy, but I can always recall the album that was playing and how right it felt to make the music on of the focal points of the room, helping establish an ambience, that CD’s and MP3’s just can’t seem to do.

So after seeing everything for myself first hand, I went out and bought a record player. Having remember my mother talking about never parting with the records, instead storing them away, much like storing away the memories of teenage years past, in the basement of her old home, I went by my grandparents house and collected them all.

Stones, Carpenters, and Cher albums were all accounted for, including one wicked Monkees record I still play more often than not. I set it up in the living room and once again, just like magic, music became the focal point in our room once more.

Now, instead of leaving the television playing through the night and mask the lack of conversation our family was having through conversations of characters on TV, we were having debates and conversations about topics we never touched before, all with the Stones or even some Marley playing in the background.

And it isn’t just at home where the soul feels cultured and at peace. There’s nothing better than going record shopping on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The pit-pat of the rain fall as you finger through record sheets hiding in a book case or piled up against one another in a small crate box. If it’s a good shopping day, you may come across a record you’ve been searching for, and if it’s a bad shopping day, you can’t seem to find anything you were looking for.

But even on the worst of shopping days, something is guaranteed to happen you don’t find too often anymore.

A conversation takes place. Between you and an employee or you and another shopper, a proper, enthusiastic conversation occurs between you and a complete stranger.

I should know, I worked in a record store for three years. And it was some of the best years of my life.

Having customers come in to discuss the latest Bowie album and compare it to other Bowie records for an hour was some of the most interesting and educational experiences I’ve had in my working career.

Sure, you put up with some customers who weren’t into discussing music, instead just wanting to purchase their CD and leave as quickly as possible, but for the most part, I was helping some of the most passionate music lovers on the planet.

Toward the end of my career working for a record store, moving onto something else as I progressed in my own career and seeing the store close, I noticed the vinyl trend really start to boom.

More and more people were coming in, asking to order this vinyl record or that one, browsing the small section we had weekly, hoping they’d find the gem they might not have even known they were looking for.

And those conversations were some of the best ones I’ve ever had. Being able to express my passion about a certain artist with someone else, and examine the record they were buying, sliding out the 12” piece of flimsy material, spinning it in our hands, made the emotional connection and the physical reality seem to blend in a way you just can’t ever hope to achieve with an MP3.

When vinyl started coming back into style, and now seeing it become one of the go to mediums to release an album on as opposed to just an additional feature, seemed like the thank you collectors had been hoping they would get for years.

Maybe it’s just because I’m a material girl living in a material world (I had to), but I enjoy holding a piece of art and being able to admire the artwork on the cover, whether that be a record, a CD, a DVD, or a video game.

It’s why these latest Nielson ratings meant much more to me than just an ordinary report.

Some may see it as a sign the record industry will succeed, some may see it as a consumer base putting more money back into the system, but I see something more.

I see it as my generation digging through its cultural past to dig up what they had always wanted to experience but never could. Soon, we’ll have our own Woodstock, our own swingers’ nights, our own big band outings.

And perhaps, most importantly of all, we’ll have our own local record stores to visit.

And the conversation I had once been a part of and deeply encouraged, will continue on with generations far newer than our own.

 

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Everyday we're directing our own extraordinarily ordinary film


As I write this, I’m sitting on my bed with a Bob Dylan record spinning around, sipping a White Russian and turning down the page of a new book I seem to have become hopelessly lost in.

It made me think, aren’t we all just playing in our own individual movies?

As I swirl the ice in my glass and throw my head back in contentment while Dylan rambles on about some philosophical aspect to life, I realized I was not only living this scene in real life, but that it was a scene I had witnessed so many times in films.

If this were a movie, it would be the last five minutes. Maybe the last ten if it was a Wes Anderson flick. The narrator would be speaking his final thoughts as the girl and the boy finally end up together, or the family has finally been reunited, or if it’s really edgy, someone has finally died and the rest of the town is sitting in bittersweet bliss.

But as I threw my head back against the pillow and took in Dylan’s words, letting myself become wrapped up in the warm, fuzzy feelings only the best of the most talented actors can portray on a screen or on stage, I realized I was living my own film.

This isn’t to say that I am nearing the end of my personal movie, or at least I hope I’m not. I would argue the climax hasn’t even occurred.

But like most people in this world, I’ve had my ups and downs, been through both the rough and the spectacular, surrounding each event with a different artist to play the soundtrack to my life.

I think I came to the conclusion, this lazy Sunday evening, that real life and fictional worlds we engross ourselves in –whether they be written, visual, or auditory- aren’t as different as we would sometimes like to believe.

And I believe, even more so, that it is the different soundtracks we include in our lives, from Dylan to The Band to Radiohead to Lady Gaga, that shape the scene we’re playing out.

As I write this, I’m feeling pretty philosophical, reflecting on everything that has happened to me in the past couple of years, and more pressing, what the future holds for me.

Having Tracy Chapman playing, his soulful voice proclaiming he would climb a mountain if he had too, sets the scene just so, and I can almost envision some of my favorite scenes from Garden State happening in my own life. Even as I merely sit in my pajamas, hammering furiously on the keyboard that connects me to the rest of the world, I have never felt closer to Zach Braff and Natalie Portman.

There are times, after I attended the funeral of my fourth friend who had passed away, where I sat at home, cradling whatever form of alcohol I could get my hands on for the night, that I had never felt closer to Hayden Christensen in Life As A House.

It was the soundtrack that played in both, the heartbreaking sound of Guster’s deeply personal Rainy Day playing through one of the darkest parts of the film that resonates with me to this day.

And it isn’t just sad moments in our lives, or at least in my life, that make me feel like I’m living out a scene from a movie.

Almost anytime I hear Blur’s Song 2, I am transported to the dungy basement, the only image in my mind of Brad Pitt’s sadomasochistic grinning face as he watches the men in his fight club pummel each other. In the same time, I can hear The Pixies generational defining track Where Is My Mind and I am right back there with Helena Bonham Carter and Edward Norton, watching the various bank and credit card towers fall, bliss with euphoric gratification as pure anarchy reigns silently in the world outside.

But as Wilco plays now, I am writing my own story, I am starring in my own film. It’s these thoughts that make us either insane or the sanest of the bunch, but I believe there is beauty in the most ordinary occurrences, instead of searching for the constantly extraordinary.

So as I sit here with my White Russian, feeling pretty dudette, I realize while we pack into cinemas to escape our lives and be taken to a new world full of the glamorous and the bizarre, there are millions of films happening around us daily.

Talk to your local hot dog vendor or your local cab driver. Sit down and read the misconstrued writings of someone who has philosophical thoughts after a couple of drinks, or even just ask your grandparents about what their childhoods were like.

I guarantee you’ll have just as much fun picturing the movie they starred in with some Sinatra playing in the background.

David Lloyd once said, “we spend more time developing means of escaping our troubles than we do solving the troubles we’re trying to escape from.”

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could do both? If would be extraordinarily ordinary.

Isn’t that the goal in life?

 

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Survival is engraved in our skin 


There’s a reason Skins has become a treasured series, stitched into the lining of hearts around the globe. There’s a reason it only works as an English show, and there’s a reason millions are disappointed it’s finally come to an end. I am one of those millions, and as I sit here writing this, a white Russian beside me, I am shocked at the feeling of beautiful emptiness I have from watching the last episode of the show Jamie Britain will ever write. The last show hat James O’Connell will ever act in. The last episode of Skins to exist.

Like all good shows, it’s now a part of television history as an extinct spectacle to be talked about by those lucky enough to catch it while it was on air.

Recently, the final three segments of Skins were made available to fans in North America. The segments focused on three of the main characters that spanned four seasons; Effy, Cassie, and Cook.

And by god were they stunning.

But they were more than that. Or at least, they were more than that for me. The three segments, which took place over six episodes, provided the closure I needed. I remember being younger and sitting in my room, shamefully crying as I watched the various finales, preparing my heart to say goodbye to the characters I had come to love.

While the finales were wonderful and provocative in their own narrative, the closure fans needed for many of the characters, and specifically for the aforementioned three, never occurred.

[Notice to readers: from this point forward, there will be spoilers.]

The season four finale left the audience with hundreds of questions about the departing cast. Did Emily and Naomi save the relationship, even with Emily’s obvious annoyance with the couple? Did J.J ever receive the treatment he really needed for his psychological problems? More pressing though, did Effy ever rekindle the romance with Cook following the death of Freddy, and did Cook make it out of the pedophile’s basement alive?

If you’re a fan of the series, and I’m going to assume you are as you read this, you know that every two seasons the cast changes entirely. In the first two seasons, we followed the tribulations of Tony, Michelle, Sid, Cassie and the rest of the misfit crew. Directly following, the audience was able to glance into the world of Effy, Cook, Freddy, Naomi and their band of merry outcasts.

It’s an ideal set time for characters and their fans in front of the screen, admittedly. After nine seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, I don’t think I can take much more Derek and Meredith.

The problem with Skins, however, is that the closure one would normally get at the end of a series never happens. You anxiously wait. You bite your nails or fiddle with a pen in front of you, waiting for the inevitable death or happy ending, but it doesn’t come. And it doesn’t leave you with a cliffhanger. It just abandons you where you sit.

It’s why the British series worked not only with European audiences but also with Canadian and American audiences. I’d even argue it was one of the first modern day television series from England that translated into American culture easily. Of course, in the year 2013, shows like Sherlock, Doctor Who, Misfits, and Top Gear have dominated the North American market, causing frenzy both among middle-aged men and teenage girls.

It’s the Beatlemania of television.

It’s also one of the many aspects that separates the show from teen dramas on the CW or cable networks here. One Tree Hill, the OC, Friday Night Lights, and the Secret Life of the American Teenager all had aspects that appealed to their targeted audience base, but they all followed the same pattern. Everything either ended up alright and had a happy ending or there was a cliffhanger that made waiting the next year for a new season practically unbearable.

And there’s nothing wrong with that formula. It’s been the backbone to a successful series since the dawn of television. But Skins never did that, and as a teenager I clung to this different show where everyone wasn’t pretty wealthy or obviously beautiful and had a happy ending.

Skins was full of miserable, drug exploring, psychologically disturbed, troubled teenagers.

And by the hammer of Thor, wasn’t that something most of us could relate to when we were teenagers.

Sure, like all television the show exaggerated the experiences these kids had. That’s just how entertainment rolls. But it felt like much of what was happening to the characters on screen could somehow happen to your friends, your family away from family, off screen.

It’s the exact reason the finale is more tragic than anything else. It’s a feeling that a part of what was so vitally important to me as a teenager was officially over. It was the feeling that the only show to capture how I felt when I was growing through the pains of growing and the depression that comes with it wouldn’t exist for me to return to, hypothetically. The entire series, minus the most recent season, is available to stream on Netflix, but the mourning hasn’t yet disappeared.

I was trying to recall the last time I felt this feeling of deep loss after something that wasn’t a physical entity or someone I knew personally. And it hit me. July 13, 2011. I was sitting in a movie theatre, a friend on either side of me, bawling uncontrollably as I watched the credits scroll for a little movie called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

I should clarify that the movie was not the bees knees of movies, but it represented something much more profound. I had read all the books, and now I had seen all the movies. There would be no new releases in the Harry Potter realm, as far as the narrative went. The biggest part of my childhood slowly, but surely, closed the door and I felt that panic of abandonment well up in my chest.

It’s a feeling of constantly being abandoned and not having any control over the situation.

Fans of television series, and fans in particular of Skins, will understand this feeling. It’s hard to invest yourself emotionally in a show and not feel like you’ve lost a part of you when the producers, the writers, the networks, the actors, the whomevers decide it’s time to call it quits and stop rolling the cameras.

As I write this, I’m talking to a friend who recently finished watching it and perhaps she described it best. She said it feels like you’re going through a breakup, but you can always go back, rewatch it, and have amazing breakup sex.

Thank the gods for that.

For now though, this empty feeling that comes with the breakup lingers in my heart. The “disorder” is called a parasocial relationship; when we develop relationships with the characters but it’s, quite obviously, not returned.

But for now, that’s all I can hold on to. As a writer, it’s easy for me to fall in love with characters I can’t see or can’t touch. To me, they’re just as real as my friends I have a pint with.

Will Wheaton describes it as the ultimate nerd out in television fans. The ability to quote, reenact, describe at length, and love whole-heartedly something that is completely fake.

Skins wasn’t the biggest show or piece of fiction I’ve ever nerded out over, and it will certainly not be the last, but consider this a long thanks. You provided what I needed as an angst-ridden teenager, and I know you did that for teenagers all over the world.

You said your goodbyes to us and we would like to say our goodbyes to you.

Pick up a pack of skins, pour yourself a pint, and take care. Take care Cook. Take care Tony. Take care Alo. Take care Effy. Take care Cassie. Take car Frankie.

Never stop dreaming, never stop persevering. After all, life is just a reflection of skin.

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"There's no school like the old school"


Guy Ritchie reminds me a lot of Tom Wilkinson’s character in RocknRolla. There’s a scene within the first ten minutes of the movie where Wilkinson makes a deal with Karl Roden’s character, a Russian billionaire who doesn’t earn his money through technically legal areas of business. As Wilkinson leaves Roden’s office and gets into his chauffeured car, he’s warned about Roden by one of his partners in crime, literally. Wilkinson’s only response, however, is, “there’s no school like the old school, and I’m the fucking headmaster.”

And when it comes to icy cool gangster movies with a hint of comedy thrown in for good measure, no one comes close to schooling Ritchie.

This past week, I’ve been on a Ritchie binge. I’ve been Snatched, Sherlocked, and had Two Smoking Barrels pointed at me. I’ve laughed, winced, and bobbed my head to the catchy soundtracks that line Ritchie films.

My brother sat down with me about halfway through RocknRolla for his first viewing. He sat there, silently, not commenting on anything that happened for the last hour and a quarter. I thought he didn’t like it, didn’t get what made it one of the better gangster movies to come out in the last decade. When the credits began to roll, I got off of the couch that I had etched a butt groove in from the marathon I had just finished, and went out for a stroll. When I got back, I trekked down to the basement to ensure the right discs were returned to their right cases, when I saw the movie was playing once again, and my brother was watching it intensely.

What I had thought was boredom and zombie syndrome plastered across his face, was in fact immense interest. After he finished watching it, I asked him if he liked it. He raved for most of the night.

On that day, my brother had found his Francis Ford Coppola.

That’s not to say he never appreciated the Godfather and there was a spot in his heart for Goodfellas, but there was a whole other level of adoration he held for RocknRolla. It was a gangster movie that played out conversational as opposed to a formal production.

Gerard Way isn’t the greatest gangster that ever lived. At the end of the day, he wanted to sleep with a gorgeous girl and used his mediocre skills to ensure his sexual conquest was a success. Tom Hardy may be Handsome Bob, but he wasn’t interested in sleeping with all the different women that he could throughout the movie. Instead, he was interested in trying to sleep with one very heterosexual, very key character in the film. Tom Wilkinson may have been the headmaster, but he was still just struggling to survive like the rest.

It’s the fallacies within the movie that my brother and his friends, who would watch the movie together the next night, seemed to become enthralled with.

It’s the same formula Ritchie uses with Snatch, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and even the reimagined Sherlock Holmes. The dash of self deprecating comedy Ritchie tosses into his giant pot of film making stew is the difference between connecting with an audience and simply entertaining them.

As a viewer, you can’t imagine yourself as Michael Corleone. There was a better chance that you’d become Sonny and die a horribly pathetic death than become the leader of the legendary Corleone crime family.

With Ritchie, anyone could be Gerard Way, and more importantly, anyone would be Johnny Quid, the true “rocknrolla” played by Toby Kebbel. Johnny Quid, this philosophical, Clash obsessed, heroin addict steals the spotlight in the movie with perhaps one of the most memorable stabbing scenes set against the backdrop of The Subways classic, “Rocknroll Queen.”

RocknRolla kicked off my brother and his friends desire to watch more Ritchie movies, and even led them to watch their first Sherlock Holmes movie, delighted with the level of violence and wit the film offered.

Ritchie has done for this generation of urban moviegoers what Tarantino did for audiences back in 1992 with Reservoir Dogs.

Tarantino movies are exaggeratingly violent, almost to the point that it becomes cartoonish in nature even when the grotesque imagery is far from what cartoons are though of.  But the extreme, almost ludicrous, level that the violence is depicted takes it out of reality and makes it all the more imaginary.

While Ritchie’s movies are violent, they aren’t necessarily cartoonish. What the two directors have in common that make their movies the epitome of what conversational dialogue can do a mainstream audience is the input of humor to take away from the ideology behind the movie.

The opening to Reservoir Dogs depicts the reason I, along with millions around the globe, fell in love instantly with Tarantino’s work. A gangster movie, yes, but one that opens with a vulgar debate over whether or not to tip the service industry and its employees is brilliant. It’s the spark of humor that will ignite the rest of the movie, no matter how violent it gets at times.

Ritchie does the same with his movies. Perhaps not right off the bat, but the constant reminder of humanity through the inclusion of both wit and slapstick style comedy is what allows the movie to become utterly endearing.

The reason my brother loves Guy Ritchie movies is because he understands them, and he can relate to them. They’re funny and beautifully simplistic. He can appreciate the Godfather, but he doesn’t want to sit through political backwash. He wants to laugh and to feel the adrenaline from watching an intense fight set to the tune of a recent badass tune.

I was having this conversation with friends and I came to the realization that Ritchie was the George Lucas of gangster or mobster films. Hear me out.

The one movie Star Wars gets compared to the most when talked about is Star Trek. Both take place in space, both have intergalactic travel, and both have hundreds of different species for fans, or “nerds” can nerd out about. The one difference is the conversational versus formal style the shows encompass.

Ask anyone who has talked about the difference; Star Trek is the intellectual Star Wars.

That’s not to say Star Wars is a dumb movie, not in the slightest. Star Wars has more lasers, more ships, and more showdowns than Star Trek could ever hope to accomplish. Star Trek, on the other hand, has a political drama so intricate it could rival some of the best primetime dramas on television.

One is conversational and one is incredibly formal. Guess which one is which.

Ritchie has reinvented a series that rollercoasters through stages of staleness and excitement, and has brought a whole new generation into the age of mobster movies.

A subgenre, I must admit, are some of my favorite. The drama, the violence, the connection to a fictional storyline that’s one real name away from being a true crime story. I’ll obsess over certain directors, actors, and writers until I’ve seen all the crime movies they have to offer. After periods of time, I’ll lose interest in them and just add them to my list of movies I’ve checked off. With Ritchie, however, that has yet to occur.

Ritchie is up there with Tarantino and Martin McDonagh. He’ll go down as a great director, and an even better writer.

There may be no better school than the old school, but when it comes to the new school, Guy Ritchie is on his way to becoming the fucking headmaster. 

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Through the eyes of the internet  


This is going to be one of those posts where someone sitting at home reading it is going to be very upset. It’s going to be one of those posts where someone sitting at home reading it is going to let out a whoop of excitement and extend a fist full of victory into the air John Hughes style. This is going to be one of those posts where someone sitting at home is either going to disdainfully disagree with my opinion or completely and fanatically support it.

This is going to be one of those few and rare posts where I don’t give a damn about my readers opinions, as arrogant and cruel as that sounds.

This is a topic that has been bothering me for quite some time and as a writer I have decided to put the pads of my fingertips to keyboard and punch them out.

Two weeks ago, people around North America flocked to their laptops floating meanderously around their rooms to catch something rare and usually overshadowed and forgotten; history in the making.

For 13 hours, a U.S Congresswoman by the name of Wendy Davis stood and talked non stop to put an end to a bill she determined would be catastrophic to women everywhere.

And she was right.

The bill in question would drastically strict, and in many cases, restrict the abortion rights women had in the state of Texas. Unlike Canada, abortion laws are voted upon and governed by individual states as opposed to a country as a whole.

Davis decided to engage in a filibuster, an old parliament tradition which would allow a politician arguing a bill to be able to speak for a certain amount of hours and allow the bill to be heard again.

Besides the point of the Republican party inexplicably going back on their word and making a mockery out of the entire democratic judicial system, it was the first time history was made for two reasons.

The first part is obviously the filibuster itself. Clearly, this was history unravelling before all of our eyes. And it was marvelous to witness.

But the second historic element I saw, and that I found supremely interesting, was the way the story was carried out to millions.

The Internet.

For one of the first times, political and heavy, hard hitting news was broadcasted to people everywhere because of live streams, not television cameras.

There was no coverage on MSNBC, on FOX, on CNN, on ABC, on NBC. There was no coverage up in Canada, even simply taking the live stream and running it, on CTV, on Global, on CP24, on SUNTV.

The only accessibility people who wanted to watch it had access to was through local Texas newspapers that had set up said aforementioned live stream.

For a while, people have decided to forego purchasing printed newspapers and magazines, instead choosing to take the once less travelled path and go digital.

When it came to television broadcast, however, there always seemed to be an audience who wanted to watch breaking news coverage as it happened with their favorite anchors and reporters dishing out the details of the story.

This time around, and for such a monumental landmark in time, there was no media coverage with the exception of two small Texas outlets.

As a pariah of the internet and a hobo of its many streets, I was already frantically watching my Twitter feed update with all of the news before I decided to watch what was happening.

Even while watching, like most people, I had Tweetbot running in the background, checking Facebook, Instagram, and Vine continuously to see other forms of media people who were at the filibuster in Texas were uploading.

The biggest discussion, next to the actual filibuster occurring, was the lack of media coverage for such an important event.

At the height of the stream, the player powered by “UStream” had estimated well over 80 million active viewers.

In a country of over 230 million, it may seem like a small amount, but that is still a large enough crowd to warrant calling up the local ABC Texas crew and asking them to get over to the government houses in Austin and start reporting.

As a recent graduate of a journalism program that spent many years educating their students on both print and broadcast techniques, I am well aware of how important ratings are to networks.

The internet, however, doesn’t care. Well, as much. Before this event, the idea of streaming and using the internet to promote a story and use it as an extra tool to tell a story wasn’t taken very seriously by many in the hard news industry.

Sports, arts, and technology, the niche sections of the trade, seemed to jump on the streaming, podcasting, and internet show train. It helped them score viewers which in turn helped them secure advertisements from big time buyers like Visa and Mastercard.

But the internet, and the subculture that spends their endless nights and daysscourging it, doesn’t care about the ratings, and the advertisements, and the monetary gains of a company.

They wanted to talk about what an amazing woman Wendy Davis was. And they wanted more people to see it.

I look at my parents as a prime example of why people were upset. I stayed up that night, past one in the morning when all of the action had died down, but to discuss with twitter friends and followers what we had just witnessed.

When I woke up the next day, I asked my parents what they thought of the news. I realized they wouldn’t have stayed up to watch it, but by the time I had asked the question my father would have read the headlines on his iPad and my mom would have watched the morning news segment.

When I asked, however, the best they could do was look up at me with the most blank look on their face, asking me what the hell I was talking about.

It was at this exact moment in time I realized what the future of media, and vitally important media coverage, looked like. It wasn’t going to be sitting in front of a television set at 6 p.m. to watch your favorite anchor.

I don’t think broadcast is going to die, not in the slightest. But I think what we’ll see is a switch over to the formula that CNN and CP24 are using. A constant, twenty four hour based news service.

As far as print goes, it’ll certainly be an online format, and while I don’t think the subscription method will work, I can see advertisements like Visa dishing out more money for online driven ads than standard, and in the year 2013, antique print ads.

The important discussion which needs to be had, however, is how do we make sure that something like the coverage of Wendy Davis doesn’t happen again.

It can’t happen again because, simply put, it’s much too important.

It’s the rights of women and the rights of voters.

It’s the future of a state, and in turn, the future of a country.

The internet is a great tool, but while baby boomers remain the primary news watchers and in real life aggregators, we must be more careful with our news coverage.

I solemnly swear to try and cover every important human rights event that occurs.

Because I care about the future of the world and the future of the media.

And thanks to Wendy Davis, I’d be willing to stand for 13 hours and tell you why.

 

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Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends


The Bling Ring is more than just a story about a group of upper middle class, bored, caucasian, California kids. The Bling Ring is a story about what happens when an obsession goes too far, when it becomes an infatuation. The Bling Ring, although a fictional account of a true story, is one of the best commentary’s on Generation Y. It’s the story of a parasocial relationship taken to the next level, and a terrifying account of an act any teenager today could justify committing.

It wasn’t just simply robbing or breaking into houses. No, it was a blatant case of identity theft. Just not the way you’re imagining it.

When someone today utters the words, “identity theft” the first image that pops into their head is a credit card, a stack of bills, or a two week cruise around the Greek islands they know they never had.

For people who suffer from being pop culture obsessed (like myself), the first image that pops into their head is Melissa McCarthey.

But when it comes to the Bling Ring, the identity theft isn’t so much the stealing of a credit card and a Social Insurance Number to become someone you are not. The identity theft is a more emotionally driven concoction on the original definition.

The antagonists turned protagonists turned antagonists once more in the film are complex adolescents but who break into the homes of the absurdly famous to steal their clothes and become that idolized celebrity for a day or two.

The Bling Ring is a Variety Fair feature story, turned book, turned movie (twice) about a group of teenagers in California who, over the course of a couple of years, routinely broke into the houses of famous celebrities, stole their clothes, and paraded around town like they had become the very stars they had stolen from.

Eventually. all of the individuals who allegedly participated in the crime ring were caught and some were charged. The details of the case are still ongoing and therefore can not be discussed at length.

What can be discussed, however, is the sickening obsession it took for many of these kids to think before finally acting upon a whimsical desire to be a part of the lavish lifestyle it looks like celebrities lead.

The first fascinating component to the entire case is the “celebrities” they choose to rob from. They’re not your typical A-list celebrities. Sure, their names are known throughout the world thanks to the weekly success of US Weekly and People Magazine, but they’re not the most talented individuals in the Hollywood scene. Audrina Partridge, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton’s houses were just some of the homes they decided to break into more frequently, going to visit Hilton’s more than five times.

I saw this movie with my parents. I told them all about it, threw Sofia Coppola’s name in there more times than necessary, and finally convinced them to go watch a movie about super rich kids with nothing but loose ends on their anniversary.

And I tagged along.

I expected them to perhaps like the film, see the terrifying truth about our sickening and demoralizing society, but that was about it. The soundtrack was geared toward a younger audience, ones who grew up in the post ’90s early ’00s, as was the movie.

I couldn’t help but picture my friends and my younger cousins while watching this film. Sure, these teenagers were slightly more disturbed than the average teenager, but the narcissism was certainly there.

Perhaps it truly is the best way to describe the generation I am so proud to be a part of. As TIME magazine flaunted on their cover a couple of issues ago, the Y Generation has without a doubt become the, “Me, Me, Me Generation.”

And these Californian high schoolers proved that. At every available opportunity, they would take “selfies” and upload them to Facebook as quickly as possible to show off their evening.

It’s a disturbing image about my generation I had to bear witness too, but like a good film or book should, it made me think.

It is the narcissism of my generation that lead to the social media revolution, which led to the political revolutions around the world.

It was my generation that brought the world closer together, breaking down boundaries like city lines and oceans.

We exist as a global community through social media and improvements in technology that my generation was crucial in starting. And for that, I am incredibly proud.

But like Nancy Jo Sales, the writer of the original Vanity Fair article “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” points out in her story, it’s also my generation that leads a deluded ideology that we are all extraordinary.

We believe we all deserve reality television shows, and we tweet our thoughts constantly because people are privy to our opinions.

In fact, they should “follow” us so they can read our opinions and give us theirs.

It’s a vicious circle.

I don’t think it’s possible to fix it either, and if there is, I think we should start examining how we go about doing that.

As a writer, I suffer from the narcism bug myself. I’m not pegging all writers as narcissists, but I’d argue many of them are.

We want to see our names on the front page of the local paper, or our names featuring the glossy pages of Rolling Stone for a six page story spread.

We want to be able to interview the stars, politicians, world leaders, and great businessmen and women of the world. Out of curiosity? Of course. For a pay check? Certainly. To say we interviewed Talib Kweli or Elon Musk? Without a doubt.

I have learned to embrace the narcissists of the world, including myself, and the arrogance that tends to follow suit.

As one of my friends once stated at a grungy local bar over a pint of Guinness, “most people in the media need to be narcissists in order to survive with the other narcissists.”

These kids in the Bling Ring, these kids in real life, it’s the Darwinism attitude that keeps them grounded.

They have to survive in the world of constant social media, and that means having more Twitter followers than the kid you sit beside in class. It means having a Facebook fan page created by a group of individuals you don’t know. An act which happened to many of the Bling Ring suspects.

It’s a crazy world we live in, and it’s only going to get stranger and more self obsessed.

This is the first time a generation hasn’t been about opposing the man, but instead, has grown to want to be the man, and be bigger than the man.

We don’t care about peace and humanitarianism. We want to have the latest Chanel bag and we want to see our name in lights. If that means sucking up to the man in hopes that we’ll one day become him, so be it.

Tears for Fears may have had it right in 1982, singing about the mad world we live in, but in the year 2013, it’s Frank Ocean and Sweatshirt Earl who have hit the nail dead on its head.

After all, for the most part, we’re just super rich kids with nothing but loose ends, super rich kids with nothing but fake friends.

And we wouldn’t change it for the world.

 

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Canada. Finally.


Canada. Finally.

I know it’s not necessarily proper or journalistically correct to reiterate the headline within the lede of your story, but that’s really the best way to summarize the recent tech news.

Popular, probably the most popular, crowd funding website Kickstarter announced yesterday they were going to finally allow Canadians to issue project they hope to get funded.

Finally.

Canadians have been using alternative websites like Indiegogo to get the proper funding they need for their projects.

The projects range, although most of them tend to fall into similar creative categories. People from around the world asking for help to finance a documentary, short film, game, book, and on rare occasions, feature length productions.

The idea for crowd funding sprouted from within the indie -or independant- community after numerous artists and creators couldn’t finance their own projects on their own and were denied finance from bigger publishing firms.

Kickstarter has always been the go to place for crowd funding though.

An American born company, the site officially launched on April 28, 2009 by Perry Chen, Yancey Strickler, and Charles Adler.

It’s had its failures that left starving artists without food for another night, but it has been reviered for its many successes.

Some of the biggest ones -Tim Schaffer and his Double Fine Adventure, the Veronica Mars movie, and the Ouya gaming console- have made millions.

Some of the less successful campaigns, but still successfully funded nonetheless, have made thousands.

In July 2012, Kickstarter announced via their official blog that they were working to get UK projects up on the site and allow for international funding. On October 31 of the same year, that dream became a reality.

On June 26, 2013 Kickstarter announced that Canadians would also be able to get their projects internationally funded soon.

Canada. Finally.

It’s only taken four years since the initial launch of the website to get to this point.

That’s what’s upsetting. And it’s a continuous trend.

Canadians are still not given the proper respect we deserve, in my humble opinion. Or in tech speak, IMHO.

IMOH, the cultural, creative, and technological development scene Toronto harnesses and consistantly improves upon is one of the best in the world. We have start ups and major tech companies like Silicon Valley, we’re forward thinking like Japan, and have one of the biggest entertainment sectors constantly developing film and television talent like Los Angeles.

Yet year after year it’s the same routine and I grow so weary at the sounds of screams.

So do I, Jack. Screams of frustrations and cries of unjust recounts of stories from developer friends and writer friends.

It’s also a personal issue I’ve had for quite some time.

I’m a believer in voice and for publishing the voices for as many people as I can. I’m a believer in paying writers for the work they put into writing a 1,500 word piece. Or a 10,000 word piece. Or a 15 word piece. A writer carefully cultivates the thoughts in his or her head and structurally marks them on paper. Or pounds them out using the keys of a keyboard.

Kickstarter believes in all of these ideals, too. It’s why they launched the website.

But it still remains that it took four years for Canadians to be allowed to upload their projects and ask for funding.

We trade political secrets, we trade renewable and non renewable resources, and we shop at the same stores, primarily.

Why is it we are still just finally being accepted into the circle of massive crowdfunding potential Kickstarter offers its users?

But, being Canadian, we’re used to the ostrasizing, and bended some of the rules in order to get their projects on the site for millions to use.

We’re conniving devils, Canadians.

I did an interview last year with a creator, I won’t mention their name or what the project was, but who was able to get their project up on the site thanks to the help of a friend in the States.

They told me as long as you can register with an American bank account and an American address, than it shouldn’t be a problem uploading the project.

Told you, conniving.

But this is what Canadians have had to resort to doing in order for their projects to get the attention they need for the creator to see any of the funds they require.

I could touch upon why I think it’s ridiculous Zach Braff and James Franco are taking to Kickstarter and Indiegogo to get their projects funded, but that’s been talked about and that is not the point of this essay.

The point of this essay is to show that Canadians, all Canadians, are being left in the dust.

We have a couple of B and C list celebrities who live up in Canada. Hypothetically, if Strombo or Jian Ghomseshi wanted to launch a Kickstarter campaign, and is something they could potentially want to do, they could not because of their non-American residency that leaves them in the dust.

There is a pool of talent in Canada that I believe in, and I would like to take a second to talk about two communities that I know would benefit from launching a Kickstarter campaign.

The journalism and the indie video game community in the great city in the North.

I have a friend, Nicholas Camilleri, who is the founder of SWEPT Media. SWEPT is an online and digital newspaper/magazine dedicated to talking about events and news in the GTA that mainstream media and bigger organizations just don’t report on.

He’s talked about going to the Toronto Arts Council (TAC) or the Ontario Arts Council (OAC) to recieve funding for SWEPT, but he has also talked about bringing it to a crowd funding site like Kickstarter. Or I’ve told him he should.

Except for the fact that he’s, y’know, Canadian.

SWEPT is a project that not only encourages new emerging reporters to dig for potentially groundbreaking stories in their own backyards, but also harnesses young talent.

It’s something I plan to do with this website. Eventually, I would like to invite other pop culutre obsessed minds to write for A Bard’s Tales, but I would like to have some kind of financial credit to give them. Nothing encourages a young, talented writer to continue pursuing the dreams he or she may have than financial backing.

I should know, I’m a writer trying to break into the world of paid words.

Luckily for me, by the time I decide to take the website to potential backers, I will be able to do so through Kickstarter.

And I don’t mean to harp on Indiegogo. They are a fantastic website dedicated to helping those around the world with an artisitic vision and help make it a reality.

But they’re no Kickstarter, no offense.

And the big difference between the sites can be seen through the other community I mentioned.

Kickstarter and Indiegogo both have quite a bit of content and projects dedicated to video games and gaming in general.

Over the past couple of months, I have grown close with the gaming community here in Toronto.

I’ve seen them struggle and I know how important it is for them to be able to get their games up on a crowd funding platform like Kickstarter.

Canada. Finally.

It’s why these two words are so important to hear. I believe in the immense amount of talent that this city has, and the immense amount of talent the city will develop over the next couple of years.

It only makes sense that it’s about time that Kickstarter came to Canada because Canadians were flocking to Kickstarter long before now.

I hope Canadians use Kickstarter and are able to make their wildest dreams come true.

You’ve worked hard, I know this. It’s about time you’re recognized.

Geez Canada. Finally.

 

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Trials and tribulations of Archie and his marauders.


I’ve been a lover of Archie comics and everything they represent since I was a kid and my father shoved one in my hands. I remember the day pretty well. I had been complaining about being bored and running out of cartoons to watch as a youngster. Remember, this was pre-Youtube, pre-PVR. My father, growing tired of my incesstant complaining, drove out to a local comic book shop and bought me an array of comics.

He didn’t know it, but he accidentally set off an interest that would develop well into my late teens and early adulthood. I still send him my bank statements and highlight each purchase that has the word “comic” in it.

While Batman and X-Men mesmerized me, none caught my attention and held it longer than a comic about a group of teenagers dealing with day to day problems called Archie.

From that moment on, my parents couldn’t take me into a grocery store without having to worry about me grabbing an issue of the comic whose cover I hadn’t seen before and throwing it on the conveyeur belt with the rest of the groceries. At the age of seven, my love for Archie and the gang (especially one needle nosed Jughead Jones) was just as crucial to my growing development as bananas.

As I got older and developed an interest in writing and all things creative, I delved more into the DC and Marvel story lines finding great writers and creators I aspired to be. I still believe Miller’s Batman is the best, the Way deserves far more credit than he gets for Deadpool, and that graphic novel titles like Garth Ennis’ Preacher and Warren Ellis’Transmetropolitan are some of the greatest works of art I’ve ever seen.

My interest for Archie never waned, though. In fact, I’d argue it intensified as I began to understand and relate to some of the problems they were facing in the comic. I was just entering high school, and after the firs month of walking the halls with new classmates and friends, I thought Archie and its team of writers hit it pretty dead on.

But as most of us know, the high school portrayed in the Archie comics and the high school we attended and we are attending now could not be more different.

The publishing house Archie Comics was created in 1942 by John L. Goldwater, Vic Bloom, and Bob Montana. The original appearance of the freckled womanizer (we’ll get to that), however, was in 1941 in Pep Comics issue #22.

The point I’m trying to make with the history lesson is that the comics were created pre-Presley, and times have certainly changed since Presley.

One of the reasons I enjoyed reading the various Archie character comics when I was a kid, was that I assumed that’s exactly what high school would be. I entered high school thinking everyone would be dating, thinking everyone would be kind to one another, and thinking we’d all hang out at the local malt shop.

Or the closest Starbucks. I wasn’t particularly picky.

Instead, I was walked into high school with a smile and left with a frown. There was no communal feeling from students toward each other. Most of the other freshmen didn’t talk to anyone outside of their social groups they brought with them from elementary school.

I felt alienated after trying to reach out and decided to stay with the group of friends I have to this day. I don’t regret for a second the friendships I’ve developed but it didn’t come easy.

As I went through the four levels of high school, hitting high scores and playing through repeats of some classes, I came to realize there were a lot of concerns the Archie comics never addressed, but were very much common problems.

I decided to break it down through the course of one Archie Digest. There were three main concerns I felt the Archie comics alluded to, but never fully addressed.

1) Just because the Archie comics were founded in the ’50s doesn’t mean the issues haven’t graduated in scale. The casual dating Archie and the gang partake in, sometimes with different me and women on a day to day basis, has evolved and the writers must now include the discussion of sex.

2) There is never a mention of bulling in the stories. Sure, Reggie Mantle might tease Dilton Doiley and get his head punched in by Moose Mason, but that was the extent of it. A large portion of the consumers who read these comics are teenagers who are going to be entering the high school arena and will encounter bullying. Write for your demographic.

3) The Archie comics used to address drug concerns through a small one page PSA. Today, the comic doesn’t even do that. Instead, the Archie comics completely ignore the problem or the ritualization many high schoolers partake in when they enter teenage hood. As a comic that is only now addressing problems gay and lesbian teenagers encounter, this may still be a far off topic.

Maybe the growing concerns I had with the comic were cliche and a preamble of what I had encountered and stressed over for four years, but at a young age, I thought all of it was drawings of what was to come.

The Archie comics have always done one thing different in comparison to other major league comic publishers like Marvel and DC. The Archie comics have become a staple for pop culture and for discussions on culture. Because the main characters are the “all American teenagers,” the ideal carried over from previous times, they’ve resonated with more people than a comic like Spawn may have.

This is all fine and dandy, but it needs to change.

I think it’s high time the Archie comics writers take a step back and address the new age of readers they have. More than 50 per cent of teenagers admit to smoking pot on a regular basis. More than 50 per cent of teenagers admit to having sex.

It can all be done tastefully, too. It doesn’t have to be an egregious amount of conversations revolving around sex and recreational drug use, but the mention needs to be there. To blatantly ignore it, in my opinion, does a great injustice for the readers.

The way the Archie publishers are blatantly ignoring the subject makes me question how serious they take their stance on modern pop culture and affecting those reading their weekly funnies.

I think they need to introduce some of the aforementioned topics and see what the response is. While I highly doubt it’ll be negative, at least they can put the editorial content out there and let the public decide for themselves.

Your readers, Archie Comics, are an intelligent bunch. Let them decide what they deem appropriate and what’s going too far for the Archie universe.

I can understand that Dan Parent and the rest of the staff in New York are trying to stay as close to what Archie has always been, but it’s time to move along with the times and bring a twenty first century voice to the Archie comics.

Again, there is a tasteful and a tasteless way to go about it, and I am confidant that if there was a comic book that could introduce the idea of recreational drugs, casual sex, and bullying to an audience without creating a grotesque image like Miller did with his.

So please Archie,  let’s address some of these issues. If I encountered the confusing and conflicting feelings during my high school career, I’m sure there are thousands who have gone through the same thing.

Pack up the Archies vans, throw on some, “Baby yeah, yeah, yeah,” and let’s blast into the 21st century, letting the rest of the world know we’re here and not going back.

 

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Retirement has never been this much fun.


The amount of envy and acidity I can taste in my mouth as I type this is practically overwhelming. A couple of days ago I lost my 3DS, or rather, someone within a very tight knit community stole my 3DS. That alone is a pretty good enough reason to not want to go out and party like it’s 1999. Or maybe it’s the perfect reason to delude myself into thinking it’s 1999 through a string of complex shots and drinks I won’t remember the names of. But that’s not why I’m super peeved, not even close.

This is the same week Animal Crossing was released, and I have the game.

I just don’t have anything to play it on.

Looking back on the time my beautiful piece of practically transparent and shining piece of machinery got stolen, it makes sense that someone would nick my 3DS.

People are going absolutely bananas for this game, and I’m not referring to those lucky enough to actually grow bananas within their village.

Here’s a brief intro to Animal Crossing for those just stumbling across the post because they were mislead by the title and actually thought the secret to making retirement fun lay within the confines of this essay. Basically, you are given a town and you can do whatever you like in this town. You can become mayor, or an extraordinarily wealthy entrepaneur, going from town to town and dealing fruit to other villagers.

Kicking trees, and taking bells.

Every day there are new contests and activities to be held and participated in. Fishing competitions, and gardening contests jostle you out of your sleep, I’m told, so you can compete to add more bells to your bank account. Bells, in the world of Animal Crossing, are the currency used.

I know what you’re thinking; fishing, gardening, politics? When does the actual game begin and my life fade away into the background of whatever chiptune is playing?

And that is precisely the question this essay will be addressing. Because just like you, I too, am very confused with why this game has become as successful as it has.

I am more than anxious to get my hands on my own copy of AC: New Leaf, but the idea behind the game fascinates me in ways I don’t know I’ll be able to express in words.

To be quite frank, the entire game sounds incredibly boring.

Video games fall under the same category as television and film for many people, as a form of entertainment because it consistantly does on thing well, and it’s the one aspect that continues to draw millions of people back in. Video games provide an escape for people to escape their troublesome lives and focus on something completely fantastical.

Think of the last game you played? There was an element to the game, I am almost positive, that could not happen in real life. Even if you’re actively playing Battlefield orCall of Duty, really guys and gals, you can’t be shot thirty times, survive, and than be shanked and fall to your death. It just doesn’t happen.

Perhaps you’re still engrossed in Skyrim, which becomes a second life you enter and exit as you please. The appeal, however, exists in that ability to enter it and leave as you wish. It’s fantastical all the same,  even 180 hours into it.

As an objective third party observer who has yet to play the game, Animal Crossingseems to pluck you out of your own problematic life and drop you into the shoes of a character who has similar problems to you IRL.

Recent tweets and texts from friends are full of concern over whether they’ll have enough bells to purchase fruit, or whether they can afford the mortgage on their house so they can remain in their gated community and reign supreme. The interesting thing, though is they can’t keep the grin off of their face the entire time they’re complaining.

Oddly enough, or perhaps strangely fitting, not one person can explain why the game is so utterly addicting.

Even top reviewers at websites like Polygon and IGN can’t express why the game has this strange hold on them. They’ll rate it, tell you to purchase it so you can trade them your peaches for their coconuts, but they can’t define why you should buy it.

Before I was able to finish writing my essay on the game I, like thousands of others, have been hopelessly trying to get my hands on, I was whisked away to a local meeting at my community game making outfit.

I walked in, looking forward to talking to friends I hadn’t seen in a while and learn about the new projects amateur game makers had been working on for the past month.

Instead, I was greeted by 3DS and 3DS XL’s everywhere. It’s not an alarming site. Most people at events like the social I was attending had a portable gaming system in their hands, or a laptop beneath their fingers.

This time, however, I didn’t need to ask what new game they had picked up. I heard the names of a couple of fruits thrown around, I heard an in real life barter for furniture to fill their avatar’s homes, and I knew the Animal Crossing bug had spread its infection past the point of saving.

Over dramatic? Perhaps. Written out of spite for those with possession of the game? Abso-freaking-loutely.

But my envy disappeared and changed into compelling interest as they began to talk about paying off their loans they had taken from the bank.

If ever there was a real life problem you didn’t want to have to worry about in game form, it was this one.

As I listened to my friends talk about these characters they’ve inhabited, and the stores the visited, the clothes they have designed, I think I began to understand why they were drawn to the adorableness Animal Crossing encompasses.

In a simplistic, but utterly brilliant way, Animal Crossing plucks a player out of their own life and drops them into one just like it with one crucial difference; all the problems are solvable.

In the game, the debts can be paid off and you can become mayor without having to worry about your village companions digging through your trash to find out and air your dirty laundry. There is no dirty laundry.

You may develop a relationship with someone in the game, perhaps an NCU, but you don’t have to worry about heartbreaks as actual relationships don’t exist.

You don’t have to stay in a job you hate because you have to pay the mortgage on your house. While you do have to eventually pay off the latter, you can change your career in the game as many times as you change your underpants.

The list goes on.

I think we love this game because there are certain elements in the game that terrify us. It feels all too real even if humanity isn’t even  factor.

The answer is still the same and the solution is still within the grasp of the player.

One of the main reasons I think we flock to the medium in general, or at least one of the reasons I’ve always flown to the medium, is because we have control.

We don’t have a lot of control over very much in life. I’d argue we have less control over matters we think we do, in fact, have control of. To have real life problems presented to us where we can control all of the possible outcomes is a luxury many of us are not going to give up without a fight.

Eventually, the interest in this game will wane. Our generation isn’t known for its incredibly long attention span. A new Mario title will catch our eye and Animal Crossingwill return to the shelf, or to the unwatered fourth page of the DS home screen.

But that longing for control over a scenario will always be there, and that’s not a feeling you’ll be able to fight for long.

Look both ways and take a deep breath, Animal Crossing is beckoning you now.

 

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All legends must come to an end.


Tony Soprano had an endless supply of one liner conversation enders. Although, perhaps none struck a chord as much with the audience as, “end of story.” Of course, this doesn’t take into account the countless vulgarities uttered as Tony condemned a man to his death. An act, I may add, that had us rolling around in laughter while trying not to think of what caused the splitting of sides. Nevertheless, Anthony “Tony” Soprano was a true character.

He just wasn’t the best role the late James Gandolfini ever took on.

Hear me out.

I was just as shocked as the rest of the world when on my drive home a local DJ announced that James Gandolfini had suffered a major heart attack and passed away at the age of 51.

I didn’t know the man. I had never interviewed him or attended any festivals he circuited, but I knew his characters.

Tony Soprano and his mobster family had become a secondary unit of sorts within my own household. Growing up with a strong sense of pride and strong regard for my Italian heritage, we made it our duty to watch anything related to Italian culture.

Some pieces of film and television stuck, while some ended up being traded in at a local Blockbuster. Sure enough, months later, we’d see them again scattered among the other orphaned VHS’s cruising the discount bin.

One night, my parents had been recommended a show by my uncle. He mentioned  New Jersey, Italian, the mafia, and HBO, and my parents were sold. That weekend, they began watching The Sopranos after my brother and I had been tucked in bed, they snuggling on the couch, my young frame hiding behind it.

It didn’t matter that I hadn’t actually watched the first episode. From the dialogue alone, I was hooked. What would transpire would be a love affair with a television show, a network, Edie Falco, and of course, James Gandolfini.

It was only the start of my love affair, though.

As I said in the aforementioned graph of this essay, Tony Soprano was not James Gandolfini’s greatest role.

It was his most popular, certainly, there is no question. But I must remind those reading this that popularity and reigning are not simpatico.

In my humble, amateur film critic opinion, it was Gandolfini’s last role which blankets my film loving heart and keeps it warm.

Lat year, on October 12, a movie was released into the public via a limited release screening. Starring budding actors John Magaro and Dominique McElligott as young lovers Douglas and Joy, the movie paints an image of adolescence and rock n roll in a way directors only dream of achieving.

Not Fade Away didn’t become an overnight financial success. In fact, I don’t think the film monetized half as well as the production studios had anticipated.

Why were they expecting a higher success rate with an indie flick starring some young actors a mass audience would not be willing to shell out $11 for?

It may have something to do with the reuniting of David Chase, the creator of The Sopranos, and Gadolfini himself.

Gandolfini played Douglas’ father, watching his son chase his dreams on the cusp of the pop culture phenomena that would continuously sweep the world up into its hurricane like arms.

Not always confidant in his son and constantly concerned about the path he has decided to trek down, he decides to support him, his pride blinding him from the harsh realities of a road not yet travelled by many.

It’s in this role, in this small indie movie set against the backdrop of none other than New Jersey, that I saw Gandolfini for the artist he was.

The incandescence Gandolfini emits from the smaller role he has empowers the other actors who appear to share the screen with him, not the other way around.

Within the two hours the audience gets to share with him, the same feelings Gandolfini evoked from seasons of The Sopranos were accomplished. You wanted to see more of him, you didn’t want him to leave the screen, and as a young women with a libido, even wished he would replace some of the better looking, younger actors at many parts in the movie.

Not Fade Away was my favourite Gandolfini role, but like many of his fans, to each their own.

Some still see his scowling face and associate it with a grisly murder and a string of curses. It’s reason enough to allow a small upturn of the lips.

Some people hear his voice when they watch Where the Wild Things Are again with their children and laugh at the innocence not usually associated with the towering figure.

Gandolfini was only 51 when he passed away yesterday. It pains me to think of what Gandolfini could have accomplished had he not been taken away so suddenly from us.

This week there have been two major deaths from people I admire, respect, and aspire to be. James Gandolfini was one of them, and the other was world renowned journalist Michael Hastings.

Hastings and Gandolfini have a little bit in common. They were both popular within the media realm, and they were both humbling people.

Since news of Gandolfini’s death, stories have circulated about the help he offered young New York University film students on an amateur project, sticking around all day on set to see them work.

Hastings, would answer readers questions whenever he could, talked to young journalism students at any opportunity, and tried to help every budding writer as best as he could.

In industries, especially journalism, where helping a budding star could mean the costing of your job, they are truly admirable qualities to uphold.

It’s for this reason, for the humility and humanitarianism Gandolfini displayed, that I loved his role in Not Fade Away.

Sure, he was a phenomenal actor in the movie. There is no question that Gandolfini wasn’t lacking in the talent department. Some may go as far to say he was dipped into the immortal pool by his ankles.

But it was a rare moment where an actor blurs the lines between himself and the character he plays. It was a rare sight, and an honour to witness.

I never met James Gandolfini, like I said, but if I did, that’s the movie I would ask him about. I may joke around about Tony, tossing quotes at him from other characters just to hear him respond; the final piece of my parasocial relationship complete.

I’d ask him, why? Why would he open himself up to be visibly vulnerable in front of an audience who knew him as the hard edged head of the Soprano mobster family?

I don’t know James Gandolfini but I assume his answer would not only be though provoking, but retain a sense of such pure honesty, it would be just as visibly vulnerable to witness as his character himself.

I’m sorry I never got to meet you Mr. Gandolfini, but just know we will never forget you and the legacy of fine characters you have left behind.

Never fade away.

 

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Oh my god, you killed my childhood. You bastards!


I realized last night cartoons, and the importance they played in my cultural development, were still one of the biggest aspects to my life continuing into early adulthood. The times had just been reversed.

Instead of waking up at the crack of dawn and rubbing the crusty evidence of my deep sleep that had developed over night, I now attempted to erase the tiredness of the work day away as I struggled to stay up and catch the latest episode of whatever cartoon I was obsessing over. The twenty two and a half minutes of pure unadulterated joy I once had watching the furry monster chase his brothers and sisters, or the childish anguish I had suffered with Ash along his journeys in Pokemon had just been replaced with perfectly unacceptable adulterated debauchery.

I had never put much thought into why I continued to watch cartoons, I just know that I did. I didn’t question if it was immature to still laugh at 2D images, drawn by the hands of a cartoonist and created by the mind of someone who had obviously never matured past seventeen.

Cartoons were just a medium that seemed to ground me and keep a little piece of my rapidly aging heart and mind light with the dreams of fantastical adventures and characters.

And that’s when it hit me.

The cartoon market is changing, and it’s changing at a pretty alarming rate. Children are no longer amused by simple drawings (as artistically drawn as they are) prancing around the screen, spitting out heart wrenching and witty dialogue. Instead, the once cartoon driven demographic has moved onto 3D animation with incredible CGI effects that retains their short attention spans.

The cartoon audience has become the twenty to thirty year olds who grew up watching the Jetsons, Pokemon, and the Oblongs.

Even when children’s cartoons were on air, and perhaps the biggest example is to examine any Disney movie released pre-2005, there was an adult sense of humour hidden inside the cat chasing its tail.

See what I mean?

The only example I can think of that embodies the criteria for a phenomenal cartoon, appealing to both children and the adults who are “forced” to watch them, is Adventure Time. The show has only grown raunchier in age, and before becoming a mass success, had a devoted cult like fan base.

Pendleton Ward, the creator of the show, has become a hero to these angst ridden, eagerly desperate to artistically belong, post emo phase lost adults. It’s another interesting facet I didn’t pay much attention to until last night, either.

As we matured and grew into thoughtful, perspective teenagers and adults, we started to delve into our interests further. With each unravelled clue in the investigation we began, we started to care less about the characters we were presented with and wanted to know more about the creators.

I remember spending hours watching interviews with Trey Stone and Matt Parker about the inception of South Park, the constant struggle with the broadcasting companies and networks, and writing to specifically push the envelope for their ever growing audience.

Trey Stone and Matt Parker were my first ever foray into the world of adult cartoons. Sure, the Simpsons supported an egregiously large adult percentage, but it wasn’t untilSouth Park where adult humour found a home in the heart of millions.

South Park will enter its seventeenth, and final season, this September. Stone and Parker have said they’re burnt out, and want to move on to other projects without having to worry about keeping up with the show. Those who haven’t seen the mini South Parkdocumentary Six Days should do that immediately. Erm, once you have finished skimming through this, of course.

Rationally I knew Stone and Parker couldn’t continue producing, writing, directing, and voicing the show forever. Quite frankly, I can’t even begin to express how impressed I am with the past seventeen years of above top notch quality work. Still, when the news was announced, a little piece of me died inside.

I found out abut five minutes later thanks to hashtags and Twitter, I wasn’t the only one.

South Park was one of the few bridges I had been able to maintain and mend between my free childhood and my impending adulthood. A little piece of my heart decayed and collapsed upon itself when it sunk in I had lost it.

Losing a group of characters, or for that matter even a singular character, is just as traumatizing as losing someone you know in real life. Call that an outrageous claim, but as more and more hours are spent developing relationships with characters in shows and games, less and less time is spent leaning to love other human beings.

The “syndrome” is called parasocial interaction. It’s absolutely fascinating.

Basically, parasocial interaction is the development and attachment that occurs the longer and the more engrossed we become with a piece of art and its characters. In this example, for me, it was the four second graders and their entire town of South Park, whose population I had come to feel a part of.

Note: I have more South Park posters in my room than anything else.

It’s this complex one sided relationship which leads to the death of a character, especially the massacre of a town of characters that link you to your childhood, that destroy that small part of your heart. Stone and Parker didn’t just cancel their show, they “deleted” a small part of nine-year-old Julia who hid behind the couch while her sisters watched the show so she could watch it as well.

Luckily, I was able to ease the pain through another window into the careless past I was unabashedly yearning for; Archer.

Archer has become the rock in my life at the moment, which is a level of pathetic I don’t even want to try and explore just yet. Perhaps after this Khalua.

There is something about the perfect compounding of adult (if not explicit pornography style prose) themes and childish black inked lines that appeases the restless beast housed up in the back of my mind.

As adults carry on with their daily lives, and deal with the grudging tasks of maintaining wolf smiles in sheep uniforms, they subconsciously yearn for their childhood. It’s a common feeling expressed not only by myself (whose opinions should always be assumed came from a moment of ADD weakness) but by friends and peers where this topic has been discussed. At great lengths, may I add.

I think, on some deeper level, cartoons embody the innocence of children, and when mixed with the raunchiness of adulthood, the product are hit television series like South Park and Archer, devoured by fearful and ever maturing adults around the world.

I have made this revelation, and I’m sure there is a narcissistic ego in me who thinks it’s positively genius. I also think it’s merely me trying to justify the copious amounts of cartoons I watch as a flourishing adult and emerging member of society.

But as Kendrick Lamar said, I do love my cartoons and cereal.

And I probably will until I die.

Be careful; you’re entering the danger zone.

 

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Maybe Kanye West is a god.


Like most of the free world on Friday, and even those in part of the imprisoned world, my productivity ceased to exist after news hit the twittersphere that Kanye West’s new album Yeezus had leaked.

As I write this, I have New Slaves coursing through the wires and gadgets in the underbelly of my laptop. I should tell you now before I get into why I think Kanye has become a bit of a human god, I have never been the biggest Kanye West fan.

I enjoyed Graduation immensely, as I did with College Dropout. While I thought My Dark Twisted Fantasy was a courageous move for Mr. West, there were only a few tracks I deemed worthy of a repeat listen. With Yeezus Kanye has taken that fateful step once again into unmarked and potentially venomous territory.

Music critics nip at the flesh of successful artists like they were the tangiest part of the chicken wing pile. What became, however, of the album whose title itself drew arrogant scoffs and angry typing from hip hop aficionados, was a tale of minimalist art catching an unconcious mainstream audience off guard.

And it totally rocked the socks of millions.

I don’t want this to turn into a simple album review, because what the release of Yeezus and the public induced hype that seemed to swallow the entirety of the universe as we held our breaths and waited to savour the smallest drop of news that touched the tip of our tongues, means is bigger than that.

Kanye West, hate him or love him as Curtis Jackson would say, has consistently been number one when it comes to promoting himself. Fans of Kanye West aren’t just music fanboys. West fanboys and fangirls are fans of the man himself, putting their lives on hold to download the leaked album, celebrating the birth of his daughter as if she were their own, and will be the ones at record stores Tuesday morning at ten sharp to buy the most deluxe version available.  

It’s an incredibly fascinating phenomenon. Anyone could argue there are far superior rappers and artists within the hip hop scene who are lyrically superior, better beat producing talent.

Kanye embodies certain elements great musicians like Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison projected upon their fans.

The ideology that if fans think you’re an eccentric body who they can watch on television and live vicariously through, than you’re almost close enough to be them but far enough to never actually grasp is, in a deluded 21st century way, the perfect way to instill the image you are a god. 

What West has done that other artists in the past tend to stay clear of is label himself one. He doesn’t allude to his army of dedicated fans, or his multi million dollar empire, or his A-list celebrity model wife, he distinctly talks about all of these key factors to his persona whenever he gets the chance. 

Yeezus mentions his god like status more than some of his previous works, as is to be expected. When he released College Dropout he almost had a sense of humility to him, talking about working hard to get to where he had, talking about the love for the American children. 

It’s been a progressive change. The first time I remember thinking Kanye thought he might have been bigger than life, literally a god, it wasn’t even one of his tracks I was bumping. I remember seeing a link on an emerging music news site back in 2007 for a track by an artist named Estelle featuring the ever growing in popularity Kanye West. 

American Boy to this day, is one of my favourite tracks Kanye has ever been featured on. And I’m including the entirety of Watch the Throne in this statement. It was the first time, for me at least, that Kanye’s now infamous massively headed persona was making itself known. 

Since the release of that track, we’ve seen countless others where he talks about himself for three to five minutes straight. About his accomplishments, the “haters,” the “lovers,” and everything in between.

808s and Heartbreaks was released the following year, and on it were a couple of emotionally stirring tracks. Kanye addressed beef he was having with artists, and in one particular song, talks about how the entire game is amazing, and sub sequentially, how he is a byproduct of the amazingness he has been thrown into and told to swim without having any lessons.

Directly following 808s, the world got a taste of the true Kanye West, the arrogant scruff toting, god. My Dark Twisted Secret Fantasy was by far one of the most artistic attempts by Kanye West, and much to his satisfaction, it was cherished by critics and music buyers alike. 

While I didn’t particularly enjoy the album as much as my peers and colleague did, I could appreciate Kanye trying to break away from the preconceived notion of what the modernized hip hop scene had become. And that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy certain tracks on the album in general. I though Monster featured Nicki Minaj’s greatest verse she’s spat since her career started, and I still get goosebumps when Runaway comes on a shuffle playlist.

What I will argue Fantasies did for Kanye, however, was cement in the idea that Kanye was number one and no one was going to argue the fact. 

We, as rational and intelligent human beings, know he is not a god, but merely a confused and passion driven mortal like the rest of us. Even if he is making more money than most of Earth’s vast population will see in their lifetime. 

But we can’t help it. We fall prey to this bitterly golden persona Kanye West never seems to check. His Twitter rants become the subject of newspapers and his stunts on television shows, like his most recent performance on Saturday Night Live, have us talking for hours the following day.

He is a constant factor in people’s lives, and to some, that makes him a personal god. We know his lyrics, we know what he’s drinking, we know who he’s impregnating. 

I’ve never been much of a church goer, but I was brought up Catholic so I have some knowledge of how religious people proceed to respect and honour their chosen god. 

Don’t take His name in vein. Recite the words He ushered onto you. Live a morally good life. 

Kanye doesn’t preach much differently. He wants you to attend his shows, instead of attenind mass, when he’s in your area code. You’ll never hear anyone say “my nigga” Kanye, because he doesn’t. And if you’re belting out All The Lights when you’re driving down the 401, you’re reciting his words. 

Kanye West has become this larger than life caricature of Kanye West. We watch in anticipation for him to do something so odd and so moronic, it can only be classified as simple brilliance. He has millions of people crying and dying to meet him. He’s one pound of ego away from walking on water.

Kanye West isn’t the best rapper.

Kanye West isn’t the best father.

Kanye West isn’t the best human being to ever grace this planet by a long shot. I’d put your neighbourhood crossing guard before him.

But despite these flaws, Kanye West, is a god. 

Preach.