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”

When the Novelty is Gone: Triggering for Triggering’s Sake

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I understand, appreciate, and even applaud the instinct to stick it to the man. There’s so much sanctimonious, stifling, joyless politically correct nonsense around today that it deserves a good poke in the eye. Several, actually. If the brittle and clearly disturbed champions of the new “decency” are so mentally fragile that they can be broken by a damn politician, then they deserve all of the triggering they get.

It would be fine if people like this weren’t telling the rest of us how to live our lives all the time. But they do. And that’s what I object to.

That said, doing something for the sole purpose of pissing off the “right” people is just dumb. Dumb and counterproductive.

It reduces any actual movement, as it were, to a parody. Mere trollingA novelty act.

Spiteful posturing is the province of adolescents. It’s similar to the worst of the hippies back in the 60s, who wanted to tear everything down because they didn’t want to be “square,” which really meant (a) not getting drafted (which I can understand), (b) not wanting to work, and (c) “free love.”

Now, there’s a similar desire to say and do things just to send the morality crusaders into an admittedly amusing tizzy of rage.

But beyond that?

If there’s nothing underneath the controversy, it makes you look unserious. And being unserious is actually serious business.

If there’s no intellectual heft behind your “triggering,” no steak beneath the sizzle, it becomes a gag, and a gag only works once. Continue reading “When the Novelty is Gone: Triggering for Triggering’s Sake”

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)”

Pulp Rock

Pictured: No rock.

I care about rock n’ roll, perhaps too much. Like Pete Townshend said, “Rock is very, very important and very, very ridiculous.”

Look at the charts now, read a magazine, or flip through the radio, and you’ll see that rock is done as a cultural force. Totally dead. 

Sure, there’s Rolling Stone, but what young people really care about that?

Guitar-based groups are niche old-people music at best, and I lump myself into this group. Rock is just kinda-sorta still here because of nostalgia. Rock is an Anglo-American thing, so we’ll keep it around for tradition’s sake. 

No one cares about it. It doesn’t capture the imagination anymore. Kids aren’t growing up dreaming of playing guitar. They want to rap or dance or sing pop stuff. And that’s fine. Everything changes. But it still makes me sad. 

Of course rock is still there. And of course there is still “good”‘stuff. The barriers to entry are low and, thanks to the Internet, you can find whatever kind of music it is that you’re into. So it’s there, but it doesn’t matter. 

Aside from the legacy “bigs,” who cares?

Why? How’d it get to this point?

I contend that it died from self-inflicted wounds. Like many forms of entertainment, a stultifying combination of political correctness, commoditization, and technological disruption ruined it. The freewheeling, anything goes 60s and 70s gave way to the slick 80s, the faux-rebellious 90s–reeked of manufactured authenticity–to the pretension-soaked indie 2000s and now the the whatever-you-call-them 2010s (the dead zone?).

Every big movement came from the ground-up: Acid rock. Punk. Prog. Hardcore. Grunge (at least, the Melvins). Hell, even the much-derided emo thing. 

But one thing rock couldn’t do was escape its own ass.  Continue reading “Pulp Rock”

What We Want In Stories

Star Wars: Rogue One controversy, blah blah blah. 

The writers popped off online about being explicitly anti-white supremacy or whatever and casting no white men as heroes, they faced a predictable backlash and subsequent boycott, and the world of pop culture is in a tizzy. 

Whatever. 

Look, I’ve seen an overtly hostile and political piece of pop culture before to make up my own mind about it, and it was a piece of something else. 

Yes, new Ghostbusters suffered the unpardonable sin of just being a flat-out bad movie aside from any political axe to grind, real or imagined (but mostly real). 

So Rogue One…yawn. I wasn’t planning on seeing it anyway for a few reasons:

  1. I am not a huge Star Wars fan: Give me the original three any day. 
  2. I did not care for the prequel trilogy. 
  3. I did not care for The Force Awakens
  4. I am suffering from sequel, franchise, and extended universe burnout, and
  5. I find it wearisome when politics is injected into entertainment. 

So what do I personally want in stories? What will make me happy? Continue reading “What We Want In Stories”

Movie Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)


I really liked this movie.

There, I said it.

And I’m not just trying to be contrarian here. Against the weight of most reviews I’ve read and seen, I honestly liked it.

I know I’m late to the party. But I did see Man of Steel when it came out, and Suicide Squad recently, so I had some free time and figured I might as well watch Batman v. Superman and fill in the gap. I’m glad I did.

I’d rate it similar to how I rated Suicide Squad: An entertaining mess. But this was better. And more interesting. Let me explain.

Yes, I’m a fan of both characters. Yes, I like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which this movie is largely based on. Yes, the Wonder Woman trailer got me interested in seeing the character’s cinematic debut. Yes, I was kind of bored, and $3.99 is a small price to pay for two hours of entertainment.

And yes, I am aware of this movie’s flaws. There are some gaping plot holes and really stupid things the characters do and it doesn’t really capture the essence of Superman and Lex Luthor’s heel turn was unconvincing and Wonder Woman’s entrance was forced and abrupt on and on and on.

So what did I like about this movie? For starters, while skeptical at the announcement of Ben Affleck as Batman, I thought his portrayal was great. He was a grizzled, older version, a hulking, cynic who used his mind like a detective but fought like an absolute brute. I will gladly line up to see a Batman movie with him as the lead.

Henry Cavill as Superman is alright. Everybody else is fine, doing their job despite some overly portentous and look at me, I’m deep dialogue.

But I’m not here to go over the plot or technical aspects or whatever. You can find thousands of reviews that already do that. I’ll tell you two big reasons I liked this movie:

  1. The set-up was interesting
  2. It dealt with big ideas

Look, I’m generally no fan of Zack Snyder, but I appreciate that he at least tries to incorporate big ideas into his movies. He doesnt always hit the mark, but with Dawn of Justice I think he came closer than with Man of Steel, if we’re sticking with the DC movies.

Tastes vary, and I enjoyed his movie, warts and all, but I found that the big themes in touched on made parts that shouldn’t have worked work.  Continue reading “Movie Review: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)”