Category: Opinion (page 1 of 17)

Agency and Redemption

In case this week’s vlog didn’t tip you off, I am a huge fan of Mad Max: Fury Road. Long after having seen it several times in cinemas and at home, I still want to talk about its greater meanings, implied or intended, regarding personal autonomy and agency, the depth of truly human characters, and all of the great moments of storytelling in what is, on the surface, a bone-crunching action romp about weird cars and weirder wasteland denizens.

I’ve already talked at length about the film’s merits in both this review and this post about characters. But what about its influence upon folks like me when it comes to inspiration and motivation?

Courtesy Warner Brs.

There are messages woven throughout the film, but one of the most simultaneously potent and subtle one is that of personal agency. When the film opens, Max is seemingly a pawn of his own unbridled emotions – his anxiety, his rage, his fears, and the memories that haunt him. He gets muzzled, restrained, and used for his blood, completely at the mercy of the people around him. It takes external influences – Furiosa’s escape in the War Rig, the subsequent pursuit, and the incredible windstorm – to give Max the opportunity to seize control of the situation as much as he can.

Once Max is able to focus on reclaiming agency of his life, an interesting thing happens. He initially goes after selfish goals – hijacking the War Rig for his own escape, ignoring the plight of the women, and getting the damned muzzle off of his face – but the more time he spends in that Rig, the more he finds himself supporting those around him. He seems to realize how important it is for Furiosa and the wives to seize their agency, make their escape, and in Furiosa’s case, seek redemption for everything she had to do in order to survive. Because the War Boys immediately reduced Max to a thing, and Immortan Joe has been using people as things for presumably a long time, their drives and motivations become aligned:

Courtesy Warner Brs.

I mentioned in the vlog that idealizing, romanticizing, or demonizing the people in our past is an awful thing to do. It robs them of their agency. It makes them things. See above. There are very few things in this world that can be more harmful to those we care about than to view them in such damaging, dehumanizing ways.

To my great shame, I have found myself doing it, up until recently. (Like, a week ago or so…)

Seeing the people we care about with clarity, without any shade of glasses (rose-colored, ash-colored, etc), is the best way to respect them. If they have passed, it honors their memory. If they yet live, it frees them to be who they are and, ideally, grow into better versions of themselves tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, as they push themselves down their hard road of self-realization and self-actualization.

As I said, that’s the ideal situation. Others may arise. But that is how others live.

Your focus, my focus, must be on how we, as individuals, live.

The roads ahead of us stretch out to the horizon, into the unknown quantities of our futures. One is the desolate, plain, unthreatening road of doing what we’ve always done, avoiding facing or challenging ourselves, and letting go of opportunities to grow and change as individuals. The other, harder road, fraught with the perils of facing truths about our words and deeds we do not wish to admit, can be intimidating and unnerving, leading as it does through the Shadow and the hard lessons of the past. But I maintain that it is the right road to take.

It is the road to agency. To growth. And, ultimately, to redemption.

Don’t you owe it to yourself to be the best human you can be?

500 Words On People

A good soundtrack for this column:

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed anything. Or stuck to a one-post-per-weekday schedule. I give myself mental and emotional hell for that, on occasion, but you know what? It isn’t the end of the world. It’s okay. I’m okay.

My name is Josh Loomis, and I’m a person.

Provided you’re not one of Google’s non-self-aware bots, you’re a person, too.

It’s a simple fundamental fact, the establishment of personhood on behalf of the other. Yet it’s so easy to forget, to villainize, to de-personize. “Your opinion is horrible from my point of view, therefore YOU ARE HORRIBLE TOO” tends to be the norm in a lot of discussion and debates, especially online. A person may have horrid opinions, or behave in a horrible way for one reason or another, but does that make them inherently horrible?

When someone says something of a dubious nature, or that can be taken as offensive by another, it’s insidiously easy to jump to conclusions, choose sides, take up arms. I’ve been guilty of that. But in my age, I’ve taken more time to breathe, think, and consider both sides. Or try to, at least. I’m a person, after all. I err more often than not, by my very nature.

I’ve written about things like GamerGate in the past, and have found myself coming down on the side of those who have felt intimidated out of professions they love because of external pressures from such sources. However, that’s been unfair of me. There are people within GG who are legitimately trying to make gaming a better community. There are people within games journalism attempting to base their work on facts and research instead of corporate sponsorship. And there are less upstanding people on both sides as well. But it’s people, all the way down the line.

And I think we should try harder to be kind to people.

I’m certainly not saying censorship or thought policing is the answer, because freedom of speech and of choice are essential to a free-thinking society. But, to quote another AJJ song, “for God’s sake, you’ve gotta be kind.” Pointing out problems in a behavior, turn of phrase, or course of action can and should be divided from a judgement call on the person you’re addressing. Because you’re addressing a person just like you.

From discussions on the essence of GamerGate to debates on who and what Superman should be, try to remember to be kind. As of this writing, we only have the one planet on which to live, and we all have to share it. What is the point in bickering for superior intellectual positioning? Don’t we have enough problems? We should be working to be one people, not being rude and dismissive of one another. I’m not a violent person, but I will fight, and keep fighting until all are one.

I don’t think it’s too late. I believe we can turn it around. I have faith.

Don’t you?

From the Vault: The Sith Have A Point

In honor of the whole “May the 4th” Star Wars-related tomfoolery of the day, I went back to last year and blew the dust off of this post. Enjoy!

Courtesy LucasFilms

The X-Wing Miniatures Game by Fantasy Flight has been teasing me for a long time. I’ve tried to keep my attentions elsewhere, but with the excellent review over at Shut Up & Sit Down has nailed the coffin shut on my intentions. Soon, I will be picking up the Starter Set, and I have the feeling I will be fielding the Imperial forces. Despite the fact that we are intended to sympathize and root for the heroic underdog Rebellion, we have to remember that every villain from our perspective is the hero from theirs, and when you get right down to it, the Sith have a point.

The Jedi are held up as paragons of virtue, galactic peacekeepers devoid of emotional attachment and personal ambition. However, if you give them more than a cursory glance, you start to see leaks in this presentation. They say that ‘only a Sith deals in absolutes,’ yet they consider Sith to always be on the wrong side of a battle. Always. No exceptions. An absolute. Makes you think, doesn’t it? There’s also the fact that the Jedi Masters that we find ourselves keying into – Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda, etc – are often seen as renegades or iconoclastic among other Jedi. Others attempt to adhere to their strict adherence to being emotionless icons of righteousness. Absolute ones at that.

The Sith seem to have a different approach. While many of them do pursue selfish ambitions that result in others getting hurt or the innocent getting suppressed, the general philosophy embraces the strength of independence, free thought, and ambition. It’s certainly true that this sort of thinking can lead to people going down darker paths. However, it can be argued that a path of righteousness can also lead to dark places. Not that Jedi would ever admit this. Sith strike me as more honest in retrospect; the Jedi have good intentions but their strictures can yield rigid minds devoid of mercy as much as they are of emotion. As brutal as some of them can be, they have a point – passion can be every bit as powerful as rigid adherence to strictures, and in some cases, the passionate path is preferable, and not necessarily easier.

For all of the flak Lucas deservedly gets for some of his ill-advised creative decisions, the universe he created is not devoid of merit, and this dichotomy is worth examination. Instead of the naked good/evil conflict we see all too often, in the right hands it can be a crucial examination of the debate between free thought and organized discipline.

It can also be a simple backdrop for laser swords and dogfights in space.

Batman v Superman v The Audience

Courtesy DC Comics

I’ll say this right up front: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could be good.

I know there are people on both sides of the fence, be they touting Nolan’s films and Man of Steel as superior superhero stories to anything Marvel makes, or shaking their metaphorical heads in dismay at the overly verbose and shockingly dour tone DC has taken with its heroes of late. Unlike these extremists, though, I can see both sides of the argument, despite the fact I lean more one way than the other, personally.

The thing to keep in mind, at all times when discussing matters like this, is that people have individual and subjective opinions. A person has every right to think another person is mistaken in their outlook on a matter, or to stick to their position in spite of arguments or even evidence to the contrary. The key, as in most things, is simply to not be a dick about it. There’s no need to take another person’s opinion on comic book characters, or most things for that matter, as a personal attack, and it’s certainly never cool to respond in kind and add fuel to an already ill-advised fire. You would think that, in defending a world populated by larger-than-life characters espousing truth and justice, those invested in that world would adhere to the same moral standard, rather than seeking personal gratification in the way a villain would.

Anyway, this movie could be good. I can see it working. Deconstructing superheroes is a fascinating take on their vibrant and grandiose world, breaking icons down into people and sorting through their thoughts and feelings. Zack Snyder is perfectly comfortable directing this sort of thing and getting the right performances out of his actors – I mean, he gave us Watchmen, arguably his best film. There’s potential here, and I can see it clearly.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been here before.

I mentioned Watchmen, which is perhaps the best example of taking superheroes, with all of their propensity for being viewed as gods among mortals, and breaking them down into flawed, petty, and even cruel human beings. Thanks to Alan Moore’s writing, an excellent adaptation, and Snyder’s direction, this was conveyed more through visual storytelling and the actions of the characters, instead of verbose monologues and pretentious philosophizing. In that way, DC’s recent film adaptations have been unable to measure up.

The Nolan and post-Nolan films have a nasty habit of telling instead of showing. Getting into deep philosophical and psychological waters is fine, even admirable in realms of fluff entertainment like superhero comics, but stuffing those themes and thoughts into the mouths of your characters as a standard procedure is detrimental to the pace, tone, and overall effectiveness of the story. The trend of these films of late makes me a bit nervous.

As do the obvious nods to Frank Miller. As time has passed, Frank’s work has seemed more and more heavy-handed and pretentious. Sure, Sin City is a fun romp when you’re in your late teens or early twenties and the blatant blood and boobs of Miller’s noir fantasyland definitely plays to that demographic, but having characters narrate every single thought that enters their heads can get truly grating the more it happens. As much as 300 was a captivating visual showcase for what it was, I don’t think most people would praise it for its engaging characters. There’s also the unsettling fact that 300 seems to really like the dictatorial, nearly fascist Spartans a bit too much. Anyway, my point is that Frank Miller can be a bit full of himself and weighs his work down with pomposity and dreary, dismal visuals, and it looks like Batman v Superman is taking more than a few notes from his works involving these characters.

Now, I know that there are some audience members who just adore The Dark Knight Returns. Cool. Like what you like. Personally, I don’t think everybody in DC’s audience is going to be willing to jump on that bandwagon. Man of Steel strongly divided audiences, and I feel like Batman v Superman might widen that chasm, rather than repairing it. DC needs not only a smash hit at the box office, but also a fanbase as unified and confident as Marvel’s. It’s the only way they’re going to truly pull off their plans for the Justice League in any way that really competes with the Avengers.

I’d like to see them do it. I just don’t know if they can.

Return of the Jedi (or possibly Sith)

Courtesy LucasArts

Maybe it’s because I’m hopeful Guardians of the Galaxy evokes the old feelings of wonder that came with A New Hope. Maybe it’s the discovery of the excellent X-Wing Miniatures game. Maybe it’s just nostalgia. But whatever the cause, I have been on a sizable Star Wars kick lately, and a big part of that is the time I’ve been spending in Star Wars: The Old Republic.

I did a first impressions post a few years ago when the game was in beta, and upon reflection, I ended up being a bit harsh in the name of blunting my nostalgia. I think leaning towards objectivity is good for anybody looking to present a review of entertainment for a wide audience, but I think it would have been okay if I had talked more about my curiosity and excitement about a new facet of the universe opening up and less about the clunky mechanics and the opinions of non-fans.

Playing it now, I’m definitely hooked. I’m curious to see where the various stories go. I’m doing my utmost to avoid spoilers, and I’m actually enjoying the quest structure. It doesn’t feel like a grind – I’ve never had more than two or three quests in my log at any given time. “Kill X amount of Y” only pops up as a bonus, and since I get jumped by uppity bunches of Y on my way to the objective anyway, why not pull in a little extra XP? It does still have a lot of mechanical similarities to World of Warcraft, but the little differences do more than their fair share in setting the game apart. The bottom line is, even moreso now than back in the game’s beta days, I see potential.

I think that’s been what keeps Star Wars a positive thing in my mind. For all of its flaws and missteps, the universe Lucas created has always contained the potential for truly great storytelling. The military sci-fi bent of Rogue Squadron stories, the antiquated feel of Tales of the Jedi, the way Dark Forces felt like so much more than a DOOM clone because you were stealing the Death Star plans… I could go on. Lucas may not be the best director or a very good scriptwriter, but the seeds he sowed almost 40 years ago were in very fertile ground indeed.

I’m interested in exploring the Edge of the Empire RPG, probably after I move, if I can rope my new housemates into it. I’m expanding my collection of X-Wing Miniatures. I’m going to play a lot more of The Old Republic. And I am keeping a wary eye on this new film of theirs. While I don’t agree with the official word ejecting the expanded universe as canon, JJ Abrams has always been more of a whiz-bang director than the intellectual contemplation that Star Trek really demands. In spite of my cautious curiosity, though, one thing is certainly clear.

Star Wars is back in my life. I enjoy Star Wars quite a bit. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

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