What Joy?

nihilist_lives_dont_matter_462x385

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!

58e7f45577bb70872c8b665e-1136-568
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?”

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)”

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”

Retro Inspiration

Video games are a part of modern culture. Whether you like it or not, they are here to stay.

I know I've written about the downsides of gaming in the past. But I've also written about the creative aspects and how, at least in my mind, they really are a type of art, particularly in the music department. But what I haven't talked about much is that, while I'm definitely a casual gamer these days, how much I love what are now called "retrogames."

Seriously. If I'm going to fire up a game, it's going to be an old NES, SNES, Genesis, or PC title from the 80s/90s. There are some PlayStation 1 and 2 games I have a fondness for, the PS2 being the last system I was really in to. I got a Wii as a gift, and do own a DS, but aside from a handful of games on each, I haven't touched them in years.

But a funny thing happened on the way to adulthood: Many of these games remain an inspiration. 

Especially in my writing.

I've made no secret that I'm an aspiring author. I'm serializing my short novel Reset, chapter-by-chapter, on this blog every Sunday, and I've shared the first chapter of my soon-to-be-published novel The Rust Man. I'm also working on a new novel as we speak, and have a previously finished one I want to clean up.

What I haven't talked too much about is my inspiration for these things. I do consider myself peripherally attached to both the Pulp Revolution and the Superversive movements, though both represent ideas that I found myself holding long before the movements came into being.

On the PulpRev side, while I haven't read that many of the Appendix N, the ideals behind the "old" stuff appeal to me, as does the sense of fun, adventure, and "anything goes," unconstrained by genre labels or conventions and served with a healthy slice of heroism and goodness.

And as far as Superversive, let's just say that I'm not a fan of nihilism. At all.

So where do video games come in? Continue reading “Retro Inspiration”

But You’re Still Here: The Nature of Despair

despair

Modern society has given us so many benefits, but as with anything, you have to take the good with the bad. Levels of depression and other mental health issues has jumped over the past century, accelerating towards a singularity  rivaling even that of the technological revolution and our coming robot masters.

Okay. Maybe that’s hyperbole. And modern society is actually really good in so many ways. One of these ways is, believe it or not, social media.

I’ve been meeting some interesting people on Gab. It’s a very active and engaged group, and while more politically oriented than Twitter, if you can believe that, discussions run the entire gamut of human thought.

One recent discussion involved the nature of nihilism and despair.

gab-convo-1-cropped

gab-convo-2-cropped

This made me think about my position, which is good. Social media can keep us honest, remember?

It’s true that some people might honestly reach the conclusion that there’s no God, or meaning to life, or hope for humanity, and so on. It’s a free country and we all have free will. Who am I to force people to agree with me?

And anyway, these aren’t exactly the kind of thoughts and feelings one can persuade another to change. That has to come from within.

But it does make me sad that people think this way. And yet, most people who claim to be nihilists and embrace the despair don’t seem to really live like it.

How can I say this? Simple: Because they all haven’t killed themselves yet. 

Whoa. This got dark fast. But hear me out. Continue reading “But You’re Still Here: The Nature of Despair”

Nihilism and Its Discontents

Nihilism Calendar

Ah, nihilism. The belief that everything sucks and that nothing matters. Province of the cool kids as they dress in black, smoke cigarettes, and watch depressing movies and listen to depressing music. Lots of us outgrow these types of thoughts around the time we graduate high school. But for many, nihilism isn’t just the way that they live their lives. It’s something they want to push onto all of us, especially by targeting our children.

How do they do this? By changing the culture, of course.

If you want to change the world, go into entertainment.

I’ve said this countless times, and I mean it: More so than politics–which obviously has an effect on our lives through laws, rules, and regulations–entertainment, whether it be books, movies, or music, is far better at that all-important job of changing hearts and minds.

Politics is downstream from culture - Andrew Breitbart

This is not to say anything so outrageous as “Video games make you kill people!” But culture matters. Look at how television shows like Will & Grace, for example, helped change the culture to be more accepting of gay marriage, so its creators say. Or how the original Star Trek broke barriers of race and nationality by having people from all different parts of the world, and also aliens, just all treat each other as equals.

So art has an effect. And artists love to talk about how they are subversive, that is, undermining things about society they do not like.

Dissidence is well and good, and it can serve a vital purpose. But what if the things that the art is looking to subvert are actually good? Something like, say, all of Western civilization?

Drastic? Maybe. But let’s take a topic near to my heart: The way fathers, and men in general, are portrayed in movies and on TV, including many geared towards children.

Dad is always a bumbling schmuck, who can’t do anything right and gets no respect from his children or the women in his life. 

If you don’t think that has an effect on people, then maybe you’d like to come over here into my windowless van . . . I’ve got candy . . .

This goes to my broader point which is this: Nihilism, though trendy, is bad for the future.

The kinds of narrative that permeate a society matter. Let me explain. Continue reading “Nihilism and Its Discontents”