What Joy?

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A few days ago, I watched the first three or four episodes of AMC’s Into the Badlands–yes, I know I’m late to the party and that the show premiered in 2015. I’m uncool. Bear with me.

Into the Badlands, a modern take on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, seemed right up my alley: A cross between post-apocalyptic survival, martial arts, and political intrigue among the feudal barons with a strong aesthetic that manages to combine elements of kung-fu cinema, Westerns, and even a 1930s/1940s vibe. Sign me up!

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Daniel Wu as Sunny.

Except . . . besides being visually stunning–which it is–the show is unremittingly dreary and depressing.

It’s another one of those TV shows where everyone is serious all the time (the acting is pretty stiff, actually), the world is run by the ruthless and the power-mad who will kill anyone who gets in their way, the rank-and-file seem hopeless and similarly bash each other senseless in order to curry what little favor they can, and save for one subplot there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as romantic love.

No thanks.

I know that these are standard tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre, and that nihilism is a hallmark–see, there’s not always hope! Maybe lots of people like this. To me, however, this trend has gotten really old and really flat. In short, it’s kinda beige.

We are what we consume. I’d rather not consume hopelessness, thanks.  Continue reading “What Joy?”

Keeping Your Job in a Knee-Jerk World

I laugh at the idea that we as a species are more empirical, less prone to believe in mystical voodoo, and use logic over emotion.

I mean, getting rid of this pesky “morality” thing was supposed to liberate us from the shackles of superstition, freeing us from our past so we can progress into a glorious future. Instead we–America but the world broadly–really seem to enjoy tearing each other apart over the stupidest things imaginable: prom dresses, what movies we life, being tall.

 

Seriously, this is a thing. And no, I’m not going to link to it. You know how to use the Internet: find it yourself.

I have written before about preferring to focus on things that bring people together as opposed to dividing us. That’s right, I’m wandering off the standard “our strength lies in our differences!” (and who the hell put us there, anyway?) because it is clearly and demonstrably a lie.

What does this have to do with anything? It has to do with everything. Look at your on-line world. Now look at your real-world job. You probably keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself a lot more in real life than you do on Twitter or Facebook or whatever other websites you frequent. Why is that?

You don’t want to be rude, sure. Most of us are decent and good-hearted. You can’t be anonymous in real life. But the real reason is much more basic: You can’t afford to lose your job.

And your opinions will cost you your job.There is a legion of screeching howler monkeys shaped like human beings ready to be unleashed on you for a wrong opinion or an inappropriate joke on-line. And it’s always one-sided. You are always on the chopping block, but they are not.

So what do you do? How do you balance professionalism with the ugly reality of America as we stumble majestically into the third decade of this God-forsaken century?

I’m glad you asked. For a guy who wrote “I hate bullet points” and “I hate lists” only one-and-a-half short years ago, here’s a bullet-pointed list! Continue reading “Keeping Your Job in a Knee-Jerk World”

Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson

Dr. Jordan B. Peterson is a hot commodity these days: people think he’s everything from a savior to, uh, a secret neo-Nazi anti-Semite white supremacist.

No, seriously.

Who he is is a Canadian practitioner of clinical psychology and a professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in myth and symbol and what many call “self-help.” He got famous some eighteen months ago for openly refusing to comply with a proposed Canadian law making it a violation of the law to use the wrong pronoun (“he” when a biological male wishes to be referred to as “she” and that sort of thing). Since then, he’s become lauded by many right-leaning people and loathed by many left-leaning people, mostly for reasons that have little to do with what he actually says or believes.

Whatever. I’m here to talk about his second book, 12 Rules for Life, because that’s what I read. I’m not going to get into the extracurricular stuff except as it relates to this book. Because Peterson has become something of a father figure for a generation of young men, so the story goes, precisely because he doesn’t hate masculinity and doesn’t think it’s toxic. While his message is universal, it resonates with men because he offers a perspective that 60 years ago would’ve been common knowledge, but since the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s have been seemingly rejected by Western society.

You know, stuff like “Speak the truth,” “Stand up straight,” and what has become kind of a catchphrase for him, “Clean your room.”

There’s more to it than that, as we’ll see.

To say the man has become a phenomenon is an understatement. Peterson is everywhere these days, which might explain some of the backlash.

Jordan B. Peterson

I like him well enough. He’s an engaging and folksy speaker–and writer–who tends to ramble, but somehow manages to come back to his main point. It can be a bit annoying at times, more so in print than in person. And while I enjoy his lectures and interviews, I have to say that much of what he says is pretty basic. He just says it very clearly.

Maybe I’m not as impressed as others by 12 Rules for Life because I have a fantastic father. Maybe I’m not that impressed because in a lot of ways Peterson and what he says reminds me of my dad. Maybe I’m just not really the intended audience for this book.

In any event, I enjoyed the book well enough, some sections especially. And while I can’t say I agree with Peterson’s take on everything, or buy all of his arguments, there’s some good stuff in here that offers an interesting way of looking at things, particularly when it comes to Biblical interpretation.

That’s right: Peterson is huge into the Bible. For a non-Christian (I can’t tell if he’s an atheist, agnostic, or whatever else), Peterson sure loves his Jesus. Like, a lot. It’s interesting.

So what is 12 Rules for Life? It’s a self-help book with 12 rules Peterson thinks anybody can use to navigate the chaos of life. I won’t go rule-by-rule, since your mileage may vary on all of them, and I also don’t want to just rehash the book here. Instead, I’ll give you a few points I disagreed with or found goofy, alternated with a few points I found interesting or helpful–dare I call it wise. Here goes: Continue reading “Book Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson”

Hail Action!

I ran a poll recently. It was arguably the most important poll in the history of Western Civilization:

Bloodsport vs. Road House vs. Point Break vs. Commando. Who ya got?

Commando won, but each movie got some love. I also got a lot of great reactions about all four films.

In short, these four mainstays of the 1980s/early 1990s action movie genre remain memorable despite of–or maybe because of–their alleged “cheesiness.”

Maybe they’re cheesy. All I know is that I, along with millions of others, love these four films to death.

I have written about Road House before, and Patrick Swayze’s character Dalton’s recommendation to “I want you to be nice . . . until it’s time to not be nice. He also say stuff like “Pain don’t hurt” and “You’re too stupid to have a good time.”

Lines like these are other reasons why the four movies I polled people on remain popular. I mean, Commando is pretty much one big one-liner. Even Point Break has some classics, with “Vaya con dios,” and “Utah! Get me two!”

Bloodsport is a little light on the one-liners, but I still chuckle whenever Ray Jackson, played by Donald Gibb, tells the Federal agent–played by Forrest Whitaker!–“I ain’t your pal, dickface.

Yeah, I’m mature.

But the one-liners aren’t the only reason these movies remain so beloved, or watchable.

Scratch that. They’re not just watchable, they’re re-watchable. Is it because they’re “so bad they’re good”? Kind of. I think it’s deeper than that. I think they are actually well-made movies that do what they set out to do: entertain.

Movies–how do they work? Continue reading “Hail Action!”

The Most Discerning Guy on the Island

What is it about taking a side that provokes such anxiety among people who may actually have to take a stand on something?

There is a strain in many circles that joining a group or taking a side on anything will lead to goose-stepping and a complete obliteration of one’s identity and capacity for critical thinking.

This is an absurd premise that seems to speak more to the fears and personal neuroses of the perpetual fence-sitter, perhaps some deep-rooted and barely concealed susceptibility to being led by the nose, than about other people who have firmly planted their flag in some intellectual territory.

If staking out a position on anything is bad, then nothing would ever have gotten done throughout human history. Perpetual fence-sitters seem content to let other people do the heavy lifting, as long as they themselves get to feel superior in their inaction. But things don’t just happen for no reason at all–people actually had to risk something to achieve it. Continue reading “The Most Discerning Guy on the Island”

Would John Wayne Approve?

Guys are funny, right? And immature. Definitely immature.

You’d think this if you see nearly any movie with a male protagonist. He’s an overgrown man-child, always there with a quip or an obnoxiously immature pastime that holds him back, while the kick-ass riot grrl rolls her eyes and does all the real work, maybe letting the dude accidentally do something right or lift something heavy.

Maybe it’s be a male character full of power and competence who still has to be funny. Because serious people–adult males, especially–are boring!

Or so hundreds of Hollywood screenwriters would have us believe. Not just screenwriters, but novelists, TV writers, and those in the comic book business.

Jamaul over at Jamual Writes discusses this in a great post called “Always Be Funny.” The new God of War video game, and its strong, silent, and brutal male protagonist got him thinking about the phenomenon:

So, I was just on Twitter talking about the new God of War video game, which I’m watching via YouTube.

I love this damn game. It’s amazing.

But I did notice something about the main character – Kratos.

Dude is uber serious. Never crack jokes. Never smiles.

Even Wired wrote a piece on Kratos – and his appetite for violence, claiming that’s he’s toxic.

I disagree. I think Kratos is just a personality type. Strong, but silent type. A warrior. And that’s the thing with the personality type – they don’t think, they just do. Tough, stoic.

Much like the John Waynes, Clint Eastwoods of the old Westerns, which I love.

These characters don’t talk much, quick to anger, disagreeable, grumpy, strong, leaders, and blaze their own lane.

They’re my favorite type of characters. Which seems to be a relic, nowadays.

The pathetic state of video game journalism aside, imagine a world where a quietly bad-ass character is considered “toxic.” Throw out all your old John Ford westerns and Mickey Spillaine noir thrillers, I guess! Nope, men have to be seen as non-threatening, cute, cuddly teddybears.

I think what Jamual is noticing is that male characters used to have some kind of danger to them, an edge, an element of unpredictability that could erupt at any moment–and here’s the important part–against the bad guys.

Charles Bronson wasn’t mowing down the innocent in Death Wish. Clint Eastwood wasn’t abusing women and children in Dirty Harry. Richard Roundtree wasn’t beating down the righteous in Shaft.

These guys were just bad mofos doing what had to be done. Even Han Solo, grumpy and quippy himself, was competent, and his humor fit the character and his swashbuckling way of life. Which is masculine. Which is why, I think, our cultural elitists in charge of making this stuff need to neuter the men. As Jack Donovan is so fond of saying, strong men acting together are the biggest threat to the nanny state. So the “gang,” if you will, must be broken. Continue reading “Would John Wayne Approve?”

The True Power of the Individual

Being a loner is ultimately self-destructive. Excessive Individualism results in a society of atomized kings who can’t get together for the greater good on any issue. Worse, they can’t band together to defeat common threats.

Individuality needs to be tempered with teamwork. This might explain why I find basketball such a fascinating sport. Maybe this simile is a bit of a stretch, but you get my point.

But there is one supreme way the individual can affect everything, the individual’s true power. And that is not by controlling other people, but yourself.

Remember: Positivity spreads just as much as negativity. It’s just not as much of an immediate head-rush.

Negativity is like a drug, or a sugar rush–you feel good right away, the crash is quick, and you need another hit. Positivity is like a healthy diet–it takes consistent effort over time to start working, but the benefits will be immense and self-perpetuating.

So much negativity. So much complaining. In fact, a recent post was essentially a rant about some things that drive me crazy. And while those are good and fun and all, they’re really not constructive.

I’d rather write about positive stuff, things that might help people see the world and their life in a different, better way.

Forget just writing about positive stuff–I just want to think about positive stuff and live positive stuff. Continue reading “The True Power of the Individual”