Skip navigation

Category Archives: Commentary

It’s been a while since I’ve published anything here. I’ve been busy, with life and with finishing my story, as well as updating the official website, sage-eyes.com. In order to consolidate, I’m moving this blog over there. It has a lot of information about the book I’m writing and about me. I will still be coming up with blog posts, hopefully with more frequency, and hope you check it out and comment!  Also, my book has a trailer, take a look!

Hope to see you at sage-eyes.com! Thanks for everything!

 

Advertisements

Why I don’t watch Game of Thrones

I’m a big fan of fantasy. I’ve read the books. So why don’t I watch HBO’s series Game of Thrones? You’d think I’d be all over it. And while I admit there’s the temptation, there are also several reasons why I don’t.

First of all, there’s the practical reason. I don’t have HBO. I don’t even have cable (unless you count Netflix). There’s just not enough of a compelling reason for me to get cable, let alone HBO. Now, I know, I could buy the seasons after they come out on DVD, but I don’t really want to spend my money on that, either. And while I’ve read that it is only of the most illegally downloaded shows out there, well, getting an illegal copy is just that, illegal.

Now, that’s a pretty weak excuse, if I really wanted to watch it. But there are other more important reasons why I don’t want to. The content is one of those reasons. While I’ve been desensitized to on screen violence, from what I’ve heard, this show takes it to a whole ‘nother level. And in a way, it’s hard to relate. Unless you’re two years old, you probably don’t use violence to get your way (and if you do, you should be behind bars). Even our wars don’t rely much on outright violence. Instead, many targets are killed by use of drones, snipers, or bombs. Still real, but not up close and personal like a good ol’ sword fight. So the violence on the show isn’t as relatable as it could be if they just toned it down a bit.

More importantly, in regards to content, though, is the sex. Take a look at the parent advisory section on IMDb.com and you’ll see a list in the sex section that makes you think this is a porno, not a drama. And while the violence might not affect people that much (just like in video games, where 99.9% of people that play violent video games don’t go out and shoot anyone), the sex portrayed actually can affect you, in subtle ways. Based on the books, the sex in the show doesn’t seem to involve loving intimacy between husband and wife, but it’s more along the lines of men hiring a prostitute, incest, or violent sexual assault against women. When the best you can hope for is consensual sex between two unmarried people, you know you’ve got a warped sense of values. There’s enough media trying to warp our perceptions on sex. I don’t need to add porn disguised as a story to that. At least in the books, it didn’t go over all the dirty details, usually, but there’s a difference between written word and seeing it on video. And even reading it got too much at times.

Which brings me to the next point, possibly the most important. Like I said, I’ve read the books. I thought the first book was great, and Ned’s death shocked me. I kept expecting him to come out and say it had all been a trick, that someone else died in his place. But no such luck. As memorable as that was, though, when I read the second book, I didn’t know who to root for. Ned had seemed like the only really good person. I went to Dany and Jon Snow. Tyrion had his funny moments, but was a bit too cynical for me. But with most of them gone in the fourth book, and without much to do in the fifth book, I stopped cheering for them. And that is one of the weaknesses of George R. R. Martin’s story: if anyone can die unexpectedly, then sooner or later, I’m going to protect myself by severing my attachment to the characters. If anyone can die unexpectedly, then it begs to wonder, why are we even reading their story, aside from the shock value? Sure, some people can die, like in the real world, but if I’m expecting the entire cast to die sooner or later, then what’s the point?

So while all the political maneuvering interests me, I think I’ll stick to more family friendly media, especially since I’m now a father. Or better yet, write my own books, dealing with similar themes, but only hinting at the terrible details, instead of showing them in full splendor.

Martin’s books might possibly have left more of an impression that way.

via Sage Eyes: Why I don’t watch Game of Thrones.

via Sage Eyes: Why I don’t watch Game of Thrones.

Why do Republicans deny climate change?

It seems strange that presidential candidates, many of whom have created and run successful businesses and maneuvered through politics, would claim that climate change doesn’t exist, or deny the degree that scientists say it is happening. These aren’t idiots, even if the media might try to portray them that way. So what’s behind this, where conservatives go against the majority of scientists and their evidence?

Well, it’s complicated. But it mostly has to do with the politicization of the issue.

This blog mostly deals with fantasy. So why bring this up? I know it’s a stretch, but it has to do with the fantasies we create to fool ourselves. And no, liberals are not immune to this. They just do it on different issues, and in a different way on this issue.

The first reason that many conservatives reject the data is because it doesn’t fit in their worldview. They fear what would happen if they admitted climate change was real. Not so much for the doomsday predictions that many scientists declare, saying the poles will melt, the oceans will rise, and the earth will slowly transform into a place nearly unlivable for humans. No, they fear that if they admit that climate change is real, then the responsibility to fix it will fall to the government. And conservatives distrust government involvement, not wholly without reason. Government programs are generally less efficient and effective than that of private organizations like businesses or churches. And if government does happen to save the day, unlikely when it is so polarized on nearly every issue, then people will feel a debt and vote for the party that brought about the change, which would probably be the Democratic party, just because they’re the ones advocating for change.

The only way the government could do anything would be to pass stricter regulations on emissions, waste, etc. Government by itself won’t innovate a new technology to save us, because it is run by politicians, not scientists. With harsher regulations, many businesses would feel stress to comply, and some will go under. Conservatives who believe in climate change generally believe that a free market solution will go further and be less disruptive than government intervention. But liberals, despite pressuring businesses to ‘Go Green,’ want more done.

Many conservatives are also religious, which affects their worldview as well. Some interpret their scriptures as saying that God has all power, and us humans can’t destroy his creation. But, then again, Christian scripture, specifically Revelation, talks about the last days, how plagues will fill the earth, the moon will turn to blood, the sun will withdraw its light, and other things that could correlate with climate change.

Looking at the issue objectively, it might seem hopeless to find a solution. Have we gone past the point of no return? Will we cause an apocalypse, where many die and mankind has to go back into survival mode? The many movies and shows that deal with post apocalyptic futures, from Mad Max to The Walking Dead, reflects this unconscious belief, or fear if you will, that everything’s going to collapse on itself. And many people, especially the problem solvers like business owners, don’t want to contemplate the idea that nothing can be done. It’s not an immediate problem, so it can be pushed down the line. It’s the same with bloated, unsustainable entitlement programs: keep them up so people won’t get angry, but in the end they will implode.

Personally, I’m pessimistic about this. Everything the government and ‘green’ companies are doing might slow down the acceleration, but it’s like putting a bandaid on a broken bone. We are consuming more and more electronics, with no stopping in sight, even though they rely on rare earth minerals, which, by their very definition, are rare. The climate has changed because of human intervention, if not as a whole, then in pockets (if you’ve been to Mexico City, it would be obvious). We can hope for a technological development, like useful electric cars, with greatly reduce emissions, but there are two problems with that example: the cost of electric cars is prohibitive to most right now, and the fact that many forms of generating electricity still pollute the air.

Hopefully, some new innovation or combination of many will fix the dying earth. But if the solution doesn’t come? If we’re forced to choose between a healthy earth or our iPhones, what will we choose? What are we willing to sacrifice? Or do you cling to the fantasy that we won’t pay sacrifices? That climate change isn’t real? That the government will step in and save us all?

What people call ideology in this case happens to be a fantasy. So which is yours? And can you blame the other side for clinging hopefully to theirs?

via Sage Eyes: Why do Republicans deny climate change?.

via Sage Eyes: Why do Republicans deny climate change?.

This is it. The movies based in Middle Earth have finally ended. This brings up a similar feeling to what happened over ten years ago, when Return of the King ended, and fans were left feeling bittersweet, as they had just witnessed a great movie but didn’t think they would see another movie based on Tolkien’s works, as there was a lot of doubt for a while whether The Hobbit would ever see the big screen. Well, it made it, with its own trilogy of movies, and brought us back into the world, but overstayed its welcome. The new trilogy, a combination of a cash grab and a tribute to fan wishes, takes a small book and adds so many things that these movies barely resemble it in both tone and content. The Hobbit was originally a child’s book, and Lord of the Rings a sequel asked for by the publishers. The Hobbit films tried to make more links to The Lord of the Rings where none existed, but the simple tale of a small man looking for treasure got lost in the movies. And out of the three, this last one could possibly be the most egregious in that.

In the book, the battle of the five armies took relatively few pages. After the death of Smaug, anything else seemed anticlimactic. Yet it gets its own movie. One where the whole last half is one big battle scene. And the first half is the preparation for that. Definitely the darkest of the three, with several character deaths, the whole thing feels more bleak. The battles follow other Peter Jackson ones, with some attempts to inject humor, but eventually become one on one battles for revenge, with typical deus ex machina, more forgivable in the child’s book than this movie. In the end, it leaves more of a bitter than sweet taste, from all the deaths, a lonely Bilbo, and the end of an era.

Lord of the Rings will be missed, and looked on with fondness. I doubt this trilogy will ever garner as much love as the original. It distracted us from our loss, and had its moments, but will never replace the adventures of Frodo.

Whenever a religious movie is made, especially based on the bible, and especially on the Old Testament, believers face a dilemma. They want to go to support it, but at the same time, we’ve been cultured, and rightly so in most cases, to think of a movie as fictitious and a form of escapism. Even with biographies and historical movies, we know that there are actors, and that the movie doesn’t always follow all the facts. So when Hollywood takes a story from the bible and adds their special effects, they often portray it, wittingly or not, as more akin to The Hobbit than Lincoln. In fact, these depictions, especially coming from a mostly anti-religious Hollywood, may do more to shake the faith of believers than build it. Sometimes they even come across as patronizing, as in, “We’ll make this movie for you, even as we show you how unrealistic this bible fable is.”

When telling the story of something that happened at least 3500 years ago, based on a few pages from one of the books of the bible, you just don’t have the details to know exactly what happened. This movie attempts to differentiate itself from ‘The Ten Commandments’ and ‘The Prince of Egypt’ by making the plagues and crossing of the Red Sea more scientifically based. And for all we know, it did happen in that way. But like I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t attempt to build up the faith of those watching, as it portrays Moses as possibly delusional and snarky toward God, who is portrayed as a little boy (supposedly for innocence and purity, but he doesn’t come off that way. Instead, God comes off as a mean little bully, motivated more by revenge than love, a point that exacerbates instead of reconciles the apparent conflict between the Old Testament God of wrath and the New Testament God of love). Also, Christian Bale, despite supposedly having studied up on historical Moses, misses some important clues from the book of Exodus, namely that Moses needed his brother Aaron as a spokesman because he felt he couldn’t speak up himself.

So for a believer, there are some major issues, just like in the movie Noah, although maybe not so overt or hard to overcome. As for the movie quality itself, the effects are good, they do try to make Moses human and to grow through the movie (although maybe a little overdone on that part, as Hollywood apparently can’t stand anyone who isn’t as cynical as itself), and it doesn’t feel too long, although there are parts that drag. It was also devoid of humor and Moses wasn’t all that likable. It was, for me, an average movie that won’t overtake its predecessors, especially Ten Commandments, and will be forgotten faster than Noah, which, if nothing else, managed to stir up controversy as a marketing tool. This movie’s subversion of religion is too subtle and played a bit too safely for a Hollywood success, while straying too far from the established Ten Commandments pattern to make it a religious success.

All in all, I give it a “Meh.”

Romance stories have to have two characters fall in love, and almost always end up happy together. Science Fiction has to obey the laws of physics to an extent, and go off of what we already know about science. Mysteries have some crime, usually a murder, that has to be solved. Fantasy can transport people to new worlds, or change the rules in this one at a whim. Of all these genres, fantasy has the most potential to be creative and break any conventions.

So why is it that so often, it doesn’t?

Don’t get me wrong; fantasy is my favorite genre, because when someone gets it right, they get it right. But in much of mainstream fiction, the genre has become so overloaded with tropes and cliches that it has become formulaic, so much so that it invites parody. Fantasy has become, for the most part, too set in to its own ruts to escape them.

Why? Because it’s easier.

It’s easier to take ideas from the past and modify them a bit than come up with something completely original. Hence the Tolkien clones that followed his work, especially in the seventies and eighties. The Twilight clones that still plague us today. The Dungeons and Dragons based books where characters take on definite classes and become stereotypes.

It’s easier to take some vague idea of Europe in the middle ages and transplant your elves, dwarves, orcs, and fairies there. Or take the modern world and transplant vampires and werewolves here. Easier than creating a world all of its own, with its own rules, own environments, own gravity and other million differences it would exhibit from our earth.

Sometimes, though, creativity can flourish even within these overused ideas. As a graphic designer, I’ve learned that working within a set of defined parameters is better than working with no guidelines whatsoever: in the case of the latter, you spend most of your time just trying to decide on a direction to go with. So some storytellers, not wanting to reinvent the genre, but feeling they have some story to tell, to add to the genre, might use stock creatures, like elves and orcs, or stock environments, like King Arthur’s England, or stock plot devices, like powerful artifacts that can change the destiny of the land. That’s fine, within limits, as long as something new to the genre of fantasy is contributed: a new, memorable character, an interesting storyline, a dynamic relationship between characters. The problem happens when it draws so much on what has been done before that it becomes unoriginal, or incomprehensible to an outsider who hasn’t had the same background as the creator.

So I’m not saying fantasy has to be unique every single time in every single aspect. There is some draw to stories with familiar elements. Take Harry Potter for example. Magic wands, dark lords, dragons and elves. But J. K. Rowling put them together as background to a story that was even more important to her: going to school and growing up. Whether you’re a fan or not, it did create a story that drew many people in.

So how can we inject more creativity into the genre?

Some suggest moving away from the loaded tropes that plague fantasy. Instead of elves, create your own species that doesn’t look like humans with pointy ears. Instead of reciting spells, magic comes from knowing the secrets of the wind. Instead of some farm boy fighting a dark lord, two armies, both with good intentions, go to war over knowledge of power that could destroy them both.

But you can go too far with this, as well. I once read a book about twins, and one of them died, going to the afterlife, where he, as a spirit, moved around through pure will, and everything there depended on how strong your will was. Points for tackling a difficult and original idea, but I had no frame of reference and it eventually became meaningless and lost any credibility. Humans almost always exist in fantasy and science fiction because we relate better to them than to other creatures like dragons or rabbits. So going totally out there to something we can’t consistently imagine will turn most people off, even if it is completely creative.

Other people want to inject creativity into fantasy by borrowing from the existing, but change it up and do it in a new way. Again, there are advantages and pitfalls to this method. The issue is finding a balance.

As I’ve researched ancient beliefs, myths, and stories, I have found that even back then, people weren’t as creative as I once thought. The Greeks, with their rich myths, didn’t really create great monsters. They just combined two or more animals, or an animal and a human, and had their monster. Centaurs, satyrs, griffins, chimeras. In fact, many monsters are just combinations of what have been seen in real life. Giant spiders, men that turn into wolves or bats. Another common theme was having spirits of nature that had a human form, but could transform into water, or a fox, or a tree. Over and over again, they’re just slight variations of the same thing. But like I’ve said, coming up with something new is pretty hard.

220px-Legolask

The worst offenders are probably elves and dwarves. In many stories, they’re the same as humans, except dwarves are smaller and tougher, while elves have pointy ears and live a long time. They are shallow creations. Yet I believe that one can have success with them, if taking them on with a fresh approach, putting a lot of thought into how they function as a society, function physiologically, how they think, what they value, and so on. If you’re not going to add anything new to them, you might as well just throw them out and focus on humans. And putting them in, but under different names, still doesn’t count.

If elves and dwarves are the worst offenders, vampires and werewolves come in a close second, thanks to Twilight. Stephanie Meyer did try to make her vampires different, like giving them shiny skin, not turning them into bats, making them sexy, and things like that, and had her success, whether it was truly creative or not. The problem came with so many other vampire stories afterwards.

Aliens-Vulcan

Science fiction falls into the same lack of creativity oftimes. Star Trek is the classic example of a galaxy full of intelligent beings who all look like humans, except for some minor differences in their faces. If my mission was to boldly explore new worlds, I would be pretty disappointed to find everyone looking like me.

Fantasy video games sometimes create creatures that only exist to torment the player, that could have no existence outside of battling the hero, and whose names are cliched phrases.

In essence, this a call for authors, programmers, and dreamers to revive the genre of fantasy with creativity. Those of you who are creative, contribute, despite the market being full of tired reused ideas. Even if publishers are too afraid of something radical, self publishing is now a viable method of getting your ideas out there, despite some extra work it might take to make your work known. Tolkien never meant for his work to be copied so extensively. He just created the world of middle earth to tell his stories. So let’s not let baggage from other fantasy storytellers get in the way of telling ours.

An extension of the Greek God infographic I did a while back, this narrates several stories from Greek Mythology

%d bloggers like this: