Death to Fans

Remember that time Led Zeppelin got a negative fan reaction upon first playing “Stairway to Heaven” in concert, and Jimmy Page cast a satanic hex on them, sacrificing a young virgin live on stage in the hopes that the Lord of Darkness would consume anyone who didn’t support what the band did 100 percent?

Or when Paul McCartney, upon hearing negative fan reaction to the Beatles’ Revolver album, called anyone who didn’t like it a “bloody tosser who lives in mum’s basement and is probably a closet fairy” as he sipped his tea and nibbled on a biscuit laced with LSD.

This also brings to mind John Hughes’ response to people who didn’t like Uncle Buck (yes, these people exist), when he hired actual hitmen to hunt them down and beat them within inches of their life until they posted ads in the newspapers talking about how his movies were the greatest things ever.

And lest we forget the time William Shakespeare famously told a crowd who booed the opening of Hamlet to “kindly fucketh offeth and dieth, thou fouleth Nazi-eths.” But then again, Shakespeare had a massive lisp, so everything he said sounded kind of funny.

(Note: I’m not too sure about all these details, but they probably happened.)

Oh wait, no they didn’t. Because artists from Bach to Rembrandt to Jack Kirby to Prince actually did care about their fans–also known as “the people who pay us money to keep producing our art”–and didn’t piss all over them. Because these people, and many others, for all their quirks, weren’t hate-filled and mentally unstable.

Okay, a lot of them probably were mentally unstable. But they didn’t take it out on their fans! Continue reading “Death to Fans”

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?”

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?”

If You Really Want to Change the World, Go Into Entertainment

People like stories. People like movies. People like songs that are catchy and stick in their brain.

What sticks in their brain is the important thing.

This is where I have changed my opinion on what some call “message fiction”: fiction (or any medium traditionally called escapist) that sets out to make a sociopolitical point as opposed to being pure entertainment.

You know what? Being against “message fiction” is why those of us who have messages counter to the post-modern rot infecting every artform don’t get anywhere.

The question about message fiction isn’t whether or not to produce it. It is instead whose message is being pushed?

If you want to change minds, you have to engage with the arts. This is where those who in any way run counter to post-modernism, radical leftism, and identity politics always fail.

As time passes, I realize my thinking is more in line with my friend, author Rawle Nyanzi: it is a question of temperament:

Art is not immediately useful; it neither grows your food nor supplies your energy. Except for a handful of megastars, art is low-paid. Most artists rely on either a job or on other people to support them in their endeavors; “don’t quit your day job” is a cliche for a reason, as is “starving artist.” It requires the mind to break with conventional modes of thinking and spend much time speculating on bizarre possibilities. Art requires one to focus on emotion.

This is as far from the conservative mindset as one can get.

If you are actually good at creating music, or fiction, or movies, or art, you’re probably not a run-of-the-mill “conservative.”

I’m pretty traditional and well-ordered in my personal life, but I’m also pretty artsy-fartsy, I would encounter so much knee-jerk push-back from my conservative friends and family a lot of things: the clothes I’d wear, the music I’d listen to and produce, the people I’d hang out with, the movies I’d like, even the way I’d do my hair.

“You listen to that band?! They’re blah blah blah.”

“You liked that movie?! The director is blah blah blah.”

“You liked that book?! It’s so weird and the author is blah blah blah.”

“You’re friends with that guy? Yeah, he’s a good guitar player, but he’s so weird!

And so on. To paraphrase Brian Niemeier, this is why we lose.

One thing conservatives are good at is preserving tradition. This is important–I’m an Orthodox Christian, for crying out loud.

But one things conservatives–or maybe just a certain type–are bad at is appreciating or creating anything new or different or innovative.

I think that this is just how some people’s mind works. It’s a double-edged sword. “New” or “different” = bad and dangerous to many. Maybe it boils down to the idea that society has been burned by new ideas before that have turned out to be disastrous.

But when it comes to art, this can hamper the creative process, as creativity is often making connections between things that other people don’t see.

The leftist’s problem is that his initial reaction is to automatically embrace the new and different and not only replace the traditional, but outright destroy it.

That is insanity.

Personally, and this is how my mind works, I crave novelty, but I like trying to fuse it with tradition. This is why I can’t see “message fiction” as a dirty word anymore. Politics is downstream from culture, after all. Why would anyone opposed to what they see in the arts unilaterally disarm themselves by being outrightly dismissive of the arts?

Yet that is exactly what the self-professed “Defenders of Civilization” have done for decades.

“We’re too busy working real jobs,” they snark smartly. Oh, go to hell.

What these clowns don’t realize is that the message doesn’t even have to be political. It can be something as elemental as “good exists and should be protected.” Hell, intellectual consistency and equality under the law are messages that could be woven into a story in such a way that the reader won’t even realize that they’re imbibing a message. But the message will stick with them, because that’s what art does. Continue reading “If You Really Want to Change the World, Go Into Entertainment”

Institutionalized Entertainment

Institutionalized: “to make into an institution . . . give character of an institution to . . . to incorporate a structured and often highly formalized system . . .”

Presented without comment:

The Walt Disney Company is so huge that, absent a formalized structure, it wouldn’t be able to get anything done. But Disney is just an example of how this idea institutionalizing everything, including the content, is a firmly entrenched part of nearly every form of entertainment or escapism that you partake in. This idea of gatekeepers giving a patina of quality to something that has gone through some sort of rigorous, formalized process is pervasive in nearly every facet of life, and not just entertainment.

After all, a doctor who went to Harvard for medical school is clearly superior to one who went to, say, one who went to the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, right? I mean, just on paper, it’s axiomatic, isn’t it? Who cares about the doctor’s actual history of results, you know?

And so it goes with what you watch, read, and listen to. It’s all been filtered through a big machine in order to get a big, fat, institutional stamp of approval. And everything without that stamp is clearly inferior.

It’s obvious, isn’t it?

Of course it’s not. As author Brian Niemeier is fond of pointing out, the gatekeeper-controlled model in publishing is a dying proposition:

The power of big New York publishers to hand out golden tickets capable of turning struggling authors into millionaires is an artifact of the 20th century. Now? As Moe Greene would say, they don’t even have that kind of muscle anymore.

If you were an aspiring author trying to break in prior to the 1980s, New York publishers were your best shot at the big time. Since 2006, indie has stolen tradpub’s thunder to the extent that you’re now four times more likely to make seven figures by going indie than by signing with a traditional publisher.

But old habits die hard, and industries that are still making money, without realizing that they’re surviving on legacies of past greatness, will continue to follow the old ways. Disney will keep churning out stuff with the Star Wars label slapped on it, year after year, heedless of the negative financial consequences due to viewer fatigue and failing product quality.

The music industry will keep reproducing the thing that’s selling records now ad infinitum for the next five minutes, until people get so sick of that cookie-cutter thing that they move on to the next cookie-cutter thing to fill the silence for the next five minutes.

The book industry, particularly in the science-fiction and fantasy realms, will continue pumping out massive doorstop-sized tomes of “epic” fantasy that will never be completed, as long as the stories are soaked in post-modernist thinking and contemporary political right-think.

As long as the wrong-thinkers get shut out. Because the stuff they make is bad. And it’s bad because it doesn’t have our seal of approval.

Continue reading “Institutionalized Entertainment”

Kid’s Stuff: Children’s Entertainment Doesn’t Have to be Bland

My son likes cartoons and books and movies. Who doesn’t?

Here’s the thing: I can often tell the quality of the product by how often my son talks about it when it’s over and how much he laughs.

I will use two cartoons to illustrate this point: Doc McStuffinsand Masha and the Bear.

Doc McStuffins is one of the most bland, anodyne, and actively beige cartoons I have ever seen. My son likes it because he’s interested in medical stuff, but there’s nothing there. The main character is perfect, the conflicts are utterly trivial, there are lessons shoehorned into every single aspect of an episode, and the humor is non-existent. I mean, the show is not funny at all, not even good for a chuckle. The mark of a funny children’s show isn’t how often an adult laughs at it, but you’d think a kid’s laughter would be a good indicator.

But nope. When he watches Doc McStuffins, he just blankly accepts what comes on, and then is on to the next one. He doesn’t talk about it after the fact. The show feels carefully crafted by a committee of bean-counters tick points off a checklist. It’s just another widget churned out by the institutionalized entertainment factory that is Disney. I should be careful criticizing them too heavily, though, since Disney will soon own every single piece of entertainment that you read, watch, listen to, or otherwise experience, including this blog. It’s a hungry mouse.

Contrasting Doc McStuffins with Masha and the Bear is pretty eye-opening. Masha and the Bear is a Russian-produced animated show loosely based on Russian folklore about a hyper-energetic, slightly destructive though ultimately well-meaning little girl named Masha and her adventures with, and slight terrorizing of, a big friendly brown bear. The bear doesn’t talk, communicating in gestures and grunts. In fact, none of the other animal characters talk, just Masha and occasionally her cousin Dasha.

Anyway, all Bear really enjoys doing is gardening, hanging out at his house playing chess or reading, and reminiscing about his glory days as a performer with a circus in Moscow. Masha, of course, has other crazy ideas, which always leads to some form of chaos that is ultimately resolved. In the process, Bear and all the other animals are exasperated to the near breaking point, but things work out in the end (hey, it is a kid’s show, isn’t it?).

Unlike Doc McStuffins, Masha and the Bear has actual conflicts: Bear’s battle against the black bear for the lady bear’s affections, Masha’s rivalry with Bear’s panda cousin from China, Masha finding a penguin egg and forcing Bear to take care of it, and so on. The episodes are short, snappy, chaotic in the old Warner Brothers tradition, and funny.

There are sight gags that have my son erupting in side-splitting laughter, and I’ll admit: My wife and I get a kick out of it too. It’s nothing intellectual or snarky or anything like that. It’s just dumb cartoonish slapstick akin to what you’d see Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck engaging in. There’s a reason why the classic Warner Brothers shorts are still held up as the benchmark for cartoons to be measured against.

There are lessons in Masha and the Bear, but here’s the distinction between them and other Disney-fied pablum: the lessons aren’t rammed down the kids’ throats. Instead, they are demonstrated through the characters’ actions. In other words, the show shows and doesn’t tell.This is storytelling 101, and kids absolutely pick up on that. Continue reading “Kid’s Stuff: Children’s Entertainment Doesn’t Have to be Bland”

The Big Game

Well, I know I’ve said I don’t care about sports anymore, but leave it to my son to change that.

You see, he has two uncles that are younger and cooler than me. They are both huge football fans, and watch the Patriots with my son when they’re together. So when my son asked if we could watch last Sunday’s Patriots-Jaguars AFC Championship game, how could I say no?

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say I’m more of a Tom Brady and Bill Belichick fan than an NFL fan. I dug the Pats as a kid during the Drew Bledsoe days, and went to a lot of games with my buddy Pete (wherever you are, man, I wish I kept in touch with you better) and his dad (RIP–he was a GREAT human being). Brady and Belichick took over when I was in college, and boy was that fun. And here I am…eighteen years later watching them compete for Super Bowls with my son.

And my son, my five-year-old energetic boy, sat and watched the entire game with me as I explained the rules and various strategies to him. I had flashbacks to watching the Celtics with my father, and it sort of rekindled my enjoyment for professional sportsball leagues. Continue reading “The Big Game”