The Pinnacle of Flatness

Maybe it’s just me, but everything is starting to look the same.

Not just look, but sound and feel the same as well.

Kind of weird lament from the guy who just warned against excessive individualism, but hear me out.

This thought struck me as I was driving with the family last weekend, and my wife and I got to talking about what kind of car we might buy next. Looking around the highway, seeing the vehicles on the road, and comparing them to what we already had, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “What’s the difference?”

I know what you car-types are thinking now: There are huge differences in engines and transmissions and overall quality and so on. But I’m talking from a design and aesthetics perspective, because these things do matter.

Extrapolate this line of thinking to cities and towns the world over. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Toronto looks like London looks like Los Angeles looks like Berlin, and so on. Not identical, but close enough. Modern architecture is but one way in which ideas of design seem to be converting on something universal…and kind of beige.

And then there’s urban sprawl and the explosion of squat, concrete strip malls, fast-food joints and gas stations, and big box stores everywhere. It seems like that’s all some towns are.

And this, of course, goes for the arts as well. Movies all feel the same, screenwriting formulae aside. Music, books, television shows, education, pop culture…the list goes on.

Is this just where things always lead? Is there an “ultimate design” that we as human beings have finally reached? Or is it the natural consequence of a society that embraces Adam Smith’s “capitalism” while rejecting the “guided by moral principles” part of the equation?

In other words, is function driving this sameness, or is commerce? Or is something else? Continue reading “The Pinnacle of Flatness”

Pop Culture Is All We’ve Got

Pop Culture Shirt Under A Suit

Why do people care so much about big blockbuster movies and pop music and comic books and video games and television and sci-fi and fantasy books and all other pop culture? This stuff is junk. This stuff doesn’t matter. This stuff just isn’t that important, right?

But it is.

High culture is dead. It died a long time ago and is firmly in the “smells funny” phase. Pop culture matters because pop culture is all we’ve got.

Culture helps transmit values. This used to be the province of myth and story, painting and sculpture and poetry and music.

We are talking things that are shared by a people. Things that are enjoyed for their portrayal of truth, their embodiment of beauty, and the pleasure they bring to the eye or to the ear or to the mind or to the soul.

Maybe these things are cliched, but some things are cliche for a reason. They are cliche because they work. Hence the continuing popularity of narratives that show the struggle of good triumphing over evil.

“That’s not realistic!” many say. “It’s simplistic!” they criticize. But that’s the pointGood doesn’t always win, but that doesn’t mean human beings want a culture that reinforces the worst case scenario all the time, one that embodies and exalts the nastiest parts of being alive. It’s not in our nature.

Back to high art: Quick! Name a modern “serious music” composer who matters! Or a poet! Or a painter!

You can’t.

But I’m sure you know who Taylor Swift is. Or what Star Wars is. Or what team LeBron James plays for. Because pop culture has become our culture, for better or for worse.

pop-culture-guide-2016

This is why people argue about movies involving aliens and laser swords. Or books taking place in fantastical realms with dragons and magic. Or television shows about zombies. These stories reflect and shape who we are as a people. This stuff matters. Continue reading “Pop Culture Is All We’ve Got”

Movie Review: Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)

Movie poster for Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie poster

I was going to write more about The Last Jedi. A lot more. I was going to get into the plot points and offer various, in-depth critiques.

But screw it.

I will give this movie the level of effort and care that it showed to the Star Wars franchise. Forget the original movies, The Last Jedi even manages to piss all over the previous installment, The Force Awakens.

For the record, I liked The Force Awakens, especially after some re-watches with my son. I think it’s a good movie that’s a few tweaks from being a great movie. J.J. Abrams at least understood what Star Wars was about: heroic characters, diabolical villains, space battles, lightsaber duels, and yes, moral conflict. Yes, there were some sops to Current Year; but it didn’t seem fully converged.

Or maybe I’m just not as attuned to that kind of stuff as others. I don’t know. But while The Force Awakens might have been a bit of a re-tread, but it did what it had to do for the new trilogy of films. It served up a nice fat one right over the plate for Rian Wilson and the rest of The Last Jedi‘s crew to knock out of the park.

And they whiffed. Spectacularly. As though intentionally. While flipping off the audience.

Continue reading “Movie Review: Star Wars, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017)”

Introducing Low Budget Video!

Low Budget

I said I was going to do something, and then I did it. How’s that for delivering?

That’s right! Per my last post about video, I actually recorded something courtesy of Twitter’s Periscope app yesterday morning before work; this is why I stop at times to answer questions people watching the ‘Scope posted. I would have posted it yesterday, but uploading stuff to YouTube wasn’t working quite right.

Oh yeah: I have a YouTube channel now!

So for my first installment of Low Budget Video, I decided to discuss a topic I’ve hit on here before: Politics and Art. Specifically, the ways in which all of that ancillary stuff spouted by creators can, fairly or not, overshadow the art itself in a negative way. This thought was on my mind because I’m going to take my son to see the new Star Wars movie this weekend.

Anyway, if you ever wondered what I really look like or what my voice sounds like, here’s your chance! I hope you enjoyed the video, and if this seems to be a thing you wonderful readers like, I’ll do more in the future.

And I’ll try to keep them under 10 minutes. This one went a bit over because of my introductory preamble.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and Gab.ai @DaytimeRenegade

My YouTube channel is here.

And check out my Instagram here.

What Can You Give Up?

Yet another American institution has become a flashpoint for political controversy. This time, it’s professional sports. I’ve already written about the firestorm Colin Kaepernick started last year when he decided to protest what he saw as America’s continued unjust treatment of blacks and other minorities by kneeling for the National Anthem.These protests have intensified this year, at least during the first few weeks of the NFL season.

I refrained from writing about this, because hot takes like these are rarely useful and serve to be mostly nothing more than empty virtue signaling with no mention of a solution to any such problems, perceived or otherwise. There’s also typically a debate about free speech, which no one, including me, seems to understand fully anyway.

All I know about free speech, the rule of law, and everything in general involving man’s relation to government is this: Power is really all that matters, and the illusion of self-government will exist until it becomes too expensive to maintain. He who has the guns, wins.

America’s done a pretty good job with the illusion of self-government because we were founded by people who believed in the illusion too. But I digress. The takeaway is that this is the world we live in, so we need to know how to navigate it.

If you’re sick of politics in things like professional sports, your movies, your place of worship, your workplace, and other forms of entertainment or spheres of your life, what do you do? If there are no alternatives, you can create alternatives of course. You can also vote with your wallet. This doesn’t have to be an organized boycott. You can just . . . give it up.

Think about all the stuff we do in life that really doesn’t matter. That’s mere entertainment. Do you really need to know who beat whom in which sportsball event, or which character raped/murdered/lied to which other on Game of Thrones, when most of the people involved in the production of both events probably hates you merely for your difference of opinion?

Back to sports. Of all American cultural institutions, it seems to provide the least value. Let me explain before you jump down my throat: I’m making a distinction between participating in and spectating.

  • Participating in sports. Important. In addition to athletics helping promote a healthy body, they inculcate mental toughness, teamwork, pride and ownership, self-discipline, and being gracious in both victory and defeat.
  • Spectating. Watching. Sitting, eating, and drinking. Maybe getting drunk. Cheering for laundry, for players and owners that do not care about you. Obsessing over trades and stats. Letting the outcome of an event literally govern your thoughts and emotions.

You get this in any form of entertainment, really. Look at comic books, right? Even if you don’t care about them, the seemingly deliberate destruction of the industry to parrot an incredibly narrow, though highly influential, strain of far-left identity politics is stunning to behold, and instructive to how this happens across many such industries. The writers and artists have made it clear that they don’t care about storytelling. So why be a fan? Why devote time and money and energy to it?

Everything is a business. Your favorite musicians, artists, athletes, writers, actors, and so on, all want to get paid. They care about you inasmuch as you will give them money. And if you’re a participant in any of these endeavors, you likely feel the same way. And there is nothing wrong with that.

We used to live in a world where creators gave the audience what it wanted. The debate as to whether that leads to high or poor quality isn’t worth getting into here. But I think we can say that there are certain universal human principles that make for good storytelling, the kind that people want, but will still allow for maximum creativity on the part of the writers and directors and actors and everyone else down the line. Hollywood used to understand this. Not anymore.

People, all people, can engage in whatever speech they want. Let’s stop pretending that some speech isn’t deemed more important or acceptable than others though.

This all gets me thinking about what I can, and have, given up, and why. Continue reading “What Can You Give Up?”

Feature Their Hurt

There’s this song by Frank Zappa called “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin.” One line in it,

If Simmons was here, I could feature my hurt

refers to former member of Zappa’s band, Jeff Simmons–often the butt of Zappa’s jokes–who wanted to play more of his own material so he could “feature my hurt”; that is, bare his soul in the grand, Romantic tradition of artistes like Byron and Beethoven . . . at least, in Zappa’s terminology.

Not that there’s anything wrong with conveying emotion in art. That’s one of art’s core functions, after all. And although we see ugliness, inscrutability, and contempt for the audience as an intellectual shorthand for what makes art “art,” there is also a component of giving the audience what they want. And contra the sensitive types, there is no shame in this whatsoever. Most artists actually want to make a living, after all. Luckily for them, a lot of what the audience wants is for our artists and entertainers to feature their hurt so we can reflect on it, commiserate, and hopefully work through it.

Another apropos line of the Zappa song, itself a parody of teenage angst, is the end refrain:

I wanna be dead,

In bed please kill me

‘Cause that would thrill me

It might have just been a bit of Zappa-esque off-hand humor, a throwaway line that just sounded funny (Zappa reportedly hated writing lyrics), but it actually runs deeper than you think.

Look at the word “thrill.” That’s what we get when we can “bare our soul” and “feature our hurt.”

Because you see, it’s not really about other people. It’s about us. Continue reading “Feature Their Hurt”

The Creation Disease

In times of strife and trouble, uncertainty and violence, people seek escape. This is not weird at all. Imagination is a key that unlocks the door separating what is from what could be. And the mind is the one place that is uniquely yours.

Keeping minds active and inspired is one of the greatest things one human being can accomplish for another.

Think about the period of the Great Depression through to the end of the Second World War. America fondly remembers this era where Hollywood, using the power of talented storytellers and actors, produced films that not only bolstered America’s spirits during the war, but also its soul.

The times are reflected in art, and whole there’s a push-pull, with art often driving and normalizing certain things, very little art can be divorced from its milieu. And people create, no matter how dark things may be. Holocaust survivors and prisoners of war relate how the power to keep their imaginations from being broken by their oppressors.

And for those of us who like to create, it really is like a compulsion or a disease to do so. Whether it’s music, painting, fiction, poetry, machinery, or tinkering with cars, we couldn’t stop if we wanted to. Tough circumstances only seem to drive us further into our crafts.

I suppose this makes sense. If you feel that your days are numbered, or that there is precious little sunlight poking through the gloom, then you’ll want to get as much out of you as you can before the end comes.

Of course, this is melodramatic. Things aren’t that dire yet. Or maybe they are. Some days I really do think that the world order as we know it is coming to a violent, ugly end in a matter of weeks. Maybe it is.

See, one curse about having the creation disease is that you think of weird things all the time. That’s why you want to get them out on paper, on canvas, or tell jokes about it. A part of thinking these weird things involves being curious and making connections, extrapolating what could happen, when it could happen, and why.

We’re not always the best at game-planning what to do about it, although I may only be speaking for myself. Still, seeing a lot speculation from prominent creators whose answers tend to be “Vote the way I do!” or “Agree with me about everything or you’re evil (and stupid)!” leads me to believe that this is a common failing among the majority of creative-types.

The creation disease is not only a disease of creators, but also a disease of creation. This dark strain is present in the mainstream nihilism that is still so fashionable in much of our culture: There is no hope. Everything sucks. The impulse to “burn it all down and start over” offers precious few hopeful scenarios as to what that starting over would be like, or why it would work.

Even worse is the impulse to take something beloved, cherished, and that works, and deliberately ruin it, like an angry teenager pissing on a Rembrandt. “Watch how I totally subvert and ruin the legacy of Tolkien/Lovecraft/Shakespeare/Austen/Star Trek!”

Such edge! Such insight! Such talent! Three cheers for destruction! Continue reading “The Creation Disease”