Category: Opinion (page 1 of 17)

The Internet’s Not Just For Porn

Courtesy andrebarcinski.blogfolha.uol.com.br

I’ve spun up a new project, since I’m still stymied in my attempt to write a YA fantasy novel with a female protagonist that doesn’t entirely suck. I’m something of a perfectionist, to the point that I am extremely hard on myself when I do not live up to my own standards. I need more test readers but am hesitant to have my worst fears confirmed: that I am too male and out-of-touch to get this important job done.

So I’m keeping that on the shelf while I try my hand at something new, different, and downright scary, but in a different way.

To do the research I need to complete this new work, I turn to the Internet. And getting lost down rabbit holes of character analyses and Star Trek essays, I was struck with a realization.

Considering what it is and can become, it’s easy to forget what the Internet was intended to be in the first place, and still is if you use it a certain way.

From it’s inception, the Internet’s purpose is a repository of data and knowledge. Try as you might, you can’t burn down the Internet. At this point, the data is so wide-spread, so diverse, and so cataloged that to destroy it and the knowledge it contains is a fool’s errand. You can’t accidentally touch of a conflagration in the Rare Webpages Section; there will be no Library of Alexandria repeat here. And thank the stars for that — so much knowledge was lost in that time, and in some circles, we’re still reeling from the losses. (Personal aside: so much of the Work I am doing away from screens and data streams may remain unfinished because there is simply a lack of resources upon which I can rely.)

Moreso than it was when I first encountered it, the Internet is extensively cataloged and searchable. There are multiple engines to do so — perhaps foolishly, I still rely upon Google to do my fetching, among other things. A few cursory searches brought me a plethora of resources for my projects, old and new, and also linked me to undiscovered essays, new treatises, and authors whose voices resonate with my own, individuals with whom I’d love to sit down, away from the constant barrage of distractions, and just have an eye-to-eye chat about our art, the world, and what’s to come.

In the meantime, I follow them on social media, and hope they’ll follow me back.

This turns my thoughts to social media, and how the Internet becomes sorely abused.

Instead of using it for data and enlightenment, so many individuals choose to use the Internet as sounding boards, echo chambers, and podiums to espouse their personal points of view as if they’re gospel. I’ve been guilty of this, myself — on more than one occasion, I’ve pontificated on our political climate from my perspective and bemoaned the nature of my illness. I’ve shown how hard I am on myself, and how I’ve abused myself; this in turn has given others implicit permission to use and abuse me.

Beyond my personal traumatic experiences, so many people use the Internet as forums to spew bile and hatred upon those just struggling to survive. They twist and mold the world as they see it to shove their supposed superiority and righteous indignation into the faces of the populace, like thunderbolts raining down from Olympus. It sickens me to see so much arrogant presumption, so much faux righteousness, so many smug miscarriages of justice. I just want to grab people by their collective collars, shake them until their eyes wobble (not to be violent but to get their damn attention), and say “NO, YOU ARE BEING MYOPIC, YOU DO NOT GET TO PICK AND CHOOSE WHAT THE FACTS ARE.

It’s people who shit on fundamentalists who pick and choose parts of holy writ that support their viewpoints, then turn around and pick and choose the narratives that support their viewpoints, that truly piss me off.

The truth is a complex, multi-faceted thing. Like perfection, it is something deeply desired, but we can only chase after the truth; catching it is a monumental task. We have to be honest with ourselves and the role we play in constructing our narratives, and imagine the other perspectives that confirm that narrative, or run counter to it. Sticking to the facts is difficult when the facts may reveal parts of ourselves that we don’t like — our human frailties, our capacity for making bad decisions, our actions that hurt one another.

When we see one another as people with hearts and minds, rather than things made of straw and bad wiring, it becomes much harder to push one another out of the light and into the shadows, to shove those who deserve love, support, and trust into an oubliette to the cheers of enablers and potential lovers.

The Internet can be the biggest enabler of all.

For months I stayed away from the Internet, both loathing what people used it to do to me and fearing what I might say or do in response. But allowing fear and self-loathing to keep me in the dark was not only unhealthy for my own sake but succumbing to the will of the zeitgeist, kowtowing to people who pretend to be rebels but represent a new establishment. We only tolerate what we feel we deserve; we serve as screens for others to project upon us only as long as we allow it. And I finally got to a place where I dropped the curtain on the screen I was (and perhaps still am) and decided it was past time to re-define my Persona and unearth my true Self. And the Internet helped me do that.

The Internet is, at once, a potent tool and a potentially deadly weapon. It’s all in how one chooses to use it. How will you use the Internet today? How will you leverage its articles, the discussions that take place, your presence and impact in social media? Will you build one another up, to stand against those who refuse to do the same? Or will you tear one another down so you can push your Persona to new heights? The power to both help and harm is at your very fingertips. I hope you choose wisely.

Thursdays are for talking tech.

(N.B. I was in flight on Tuesday so I’m telling a bit of my story, here, in case you couldn’t tell.)

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.

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