Protecting our Childhoods

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If there’s one thing fans treasure, it’s the memories that their favorite franchises helped them develop. Science fiction is a metaphor for the human condition, and those memories have the power to develop fans into caring and productive members of society starting at childhood. It’s understandable how placing those personality building blocks into another creator’s hands can inspire immediate feelings of revulsion and fear, but it’s far less understandable how a reboot or reimagining is comparable to a violent personal violation.

 

Ferrell

 

Let’s presume for the moment that fans actually mean what they say in this case. Rape is a serious crime, and not simply through the books of law. Rape is a physical, mental, and emotional assault that has long-reaching effects in the victim’s life. Rape is a personal violation and an exercise of absolute power over the powerless.

The statistics on sexual assault are staggering. In the United States, another person is sexually assaulted every two minutes. One in six women are victims, as are one in thirty-three men. Sixty percent of sexual assaults are not reported to authorities, and a staggering ninety-seven percent of rapists will never spend a single day in jail for their crimes. Rape victims are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD, the same disorder found in war veterans), and are four times more likely to contemplate suicide. The effects are so long-reaching that survivors of sexual assault who see references to rape are viscerally reminded of being helpless and powerless and completely at the mercy of a hostile (and often well-known or trusted) force.

There are cases of childhoods that were lived and survived around rape and incest. Those are real lives affected by real crimes, not the pettiness of a bad adaptation of a favorite Saturday morning cartoon. Using rape terminology to describe the latest attempts by Michael Bay, Will Ferrell, George Lucas, or J.J. Abrams to do their jobs trivializes the traumas of real rape victims, as if voluntarily watching the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptation matches in any way with being sexually assaulted.

Using rape terminology to describe feelings over a cherished franchise being revisited is disgusting and insensitive.

 

Next, let’s presume that when these fans say “rape,” they really mean “ruin.”

We live in an era of geek renaissance. Between the cultural awakening in the mainstream with The Big Bang Theory (one of the most popular panels at conventions) and the financial success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, geek culture is being catered to with a golden tea set. It’s a digital era dominated by rebirth of cherished franchises once thought dead. Almost anything fans could want to revisit exists on physical or digital media, including BitTorrent. Linked childhood memories are only a click or two away.

Unless the evil creative of choice has a time machine (or fandom are collectively taking mind-altering drugs), both the memories and source material are safe. Quite honestly, the concern behind “ruining” a franchise or childhood memories is a hollow first-world problem dominated by a sense of narcissism and a false sense of ownership over entertainment productions.

As fans, we aren’t owed anything by creators. Hollywood and other entertainment venues are businesses, first and foremost, and those businesses have no contracts to make things exactly the way we want. Entertainment must appeal to the general audience first in order to earn a decent return on investment. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the domestic performances behind Pacific Rim, Sucker Punch, and Watchmen, all of which were niche films designed to attract genre fans and failed to meet their budgets.

Producers, writers, and directors have one job in their fields, and that is to make a generally accepted entertainment product that sells well. To that end, fans are consumers and nothing more, and are not even required to take in entertainment they don’t want to see. Everyone has the freedom to skip entertainment choices that don’t appeal to them.

The argument that modern creatives are ruining properties or memories is a false one. If childhood memories could be destroyed by a lackluster adaptation or vision, there are deeper problems with that childhood than entertainment choices. In that case, I recommend seeking help.

 

The worst part about either of the arguments about childhood memories being defiled is they both contribute to toxic cultural atmospheres. Both claims infer a personal assault, an act that never truly occurs against any of us, and transform a community based on enjoying, analyzing, and celebrating entertainment and its deeper meanings into a group of pessimists and cynics who tend to find the negative in every minute of film and paragraph of news.

The rape claims do even worse damage by trivializing the horrors of sexual assault and enhancing a culture that uses sexual assault as a punchline. In a community that decries racism, homophobia, and bullying, and is constantly haunted by the stigma of pedophilia and sexism, it is odd that we would so easily laugh off rape.

Science fiction and fantasy often speak of the need for tolerance and open-mindedness, and it is possible for genre fans to be critical of favorite properties without casting themselves as the victims in a fanciful morality play. Modern storytellers won’t have to destroy our childhoods because we are the ones betraying the lessons we claim to have learned.

Our community needs to return to the spirit of acceptance beneath the banner of celebration and wonder, and it needs to stop suffering from prejudice against new perspectives and ideas. We need to stop destroying ourselves in a misguided effort to protect ourselves. Only then will we truly have upheld the legacies of our childhoods.

A Mighty Lady Thor

You’re right, a female Thor is a publicity stunt.

It honestly couldn’t be any other way. Marvel is an entertainment company, and the way they make money is by drawing as many eyes to their product as possible. That requires publicity. Everything they do requires publicity. The same goes for every book you read, every television episode you watch, and every movie you see. Even the news pays this game, from your local hometown to global giants like CNN and Al Jazeera. Every last marketing effort is designed to provide a pleasing stimulus to your brain which entices you to spend your time and money with them alone.

Publicity stunts are business as usual in today’s era.

So, if we can’t complain about it being a publicity stunt, it must be some politically correct intrusion on comics fandom, right? Only if you discard the Asgardian superheroes Valkyrie and Sif, or even other strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Storm, Jean Grey, Black Widow, Rogue, Mystique, Peggy Carter, and so on. I firmly believe that comics fandom needs more strong and positive female role models, but to suggest that transferring Thor’s powers into a woman is done only to meet some abstract and non-exsistent diversity quotient is disingenuous and ignorant.

With those two excuses removed, it must be that Marvel is simply ruining this character’s long-standing tradition and legacy, right? Absolutely not. The pure and simple truth is that comics fandom should be fully embracing this experiment. Comic characters tend to exist for decades, and only because they continually get reinvented, for better or for worse. Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman have undergone several rebirths and redesigns, and they’ve been around for 75 years. The reason that these characters have such longevity is because they stay socially relevant instead of trapped in time. If you want your heroes and myths to continue to exist, they need to evolve and experiment.

The old stories can only go so far before they become stale or stagnant. As a fan of these characters, I want to see them in new situations that haven’t been told before. I’d love to see more gender-swapped characters in our modern myths if only to experience their stories from a new point of view or in new situations that a new perspective provides.

I love the idea of a black Johnny Storm in a modern non-traditional family with a story not based on previous comics. I love the idea of Lex Luthor being a modern Facebook-style billionaire mogul. I love the idea putting the legacy of a light-hearted red-head teenager in the drama of the real world.

I simply love the idea of a woman being worthy to hold Mjolnir and the power of Thor. It means that Thor’s legacy proudly carries on and our modern myths continue to thrive.

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Page to Screen: “Sahara” by Clive Cussler

Sahara
(Dirk Pitt book #11, 541 pages, 1992)
(PG-13, 124 minutes, 2005)

SAHARA

 

Clive Cussler hadn’t really popped up on my radar before a good friend of mine gave me his collection of novels. I knew that Cussler existed, and that he wrote adventure thrillers, but that’s as far as it went. When my friend piled his collection into my car, he told me that Cussler was what he grew up on and that they were fun but not terribly deep adventures. Before that moment, I had seen the movie version of Sahara, and was eager to read the original novel to see how well they both stacked up.

The premise of the story centers around a rapidly expanding contamination that is threatening the Sahara region and the world. In the book version, this contamination is a red algae bloom that is spreading across the ocean and will absorb the planet’s oxygen supply in short order. Protagonists Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino race to find the source of this algae, which they determine is coming from an underground river system in the Sahara and is being driven by a mad general and a businessman with a solar reactor. Meanwhile, secondary characters Eva Rojas and a UN scientific team are trace a disease stemming from the same contamination source as it ravages the Malian people. The two teams eventually come and chaos ensues. The book is far more complex than the film, and in general, the multiple threads detract from the story. The book deals with the CSS Texas, a buried political conspiracy from the late days of the American Civil War, the mystery of a missing aviator, the red algae, and the Mali illness in conjunction with a corrupt government. The algae/illness thread takes center stage, with Pitt and Giordino driving the story as they uncover the origins and try to stop it. The aviator and the Texas lines take a backseat and are added for spice, with the latter being resolved as a mind-bending (but ultimately hollow) afterthought.

The movie version also centers on Pitt and Giordino, but their motivation is the novel’s tertiary plotline of finding the long-lost American Civil War ironclad CSS Texas. Rojas and Frank Hopper (one of her teammates from the book) are tracking down the same illness, and the movie focuses on trying to resolve that thread while Pitt seeks out the ship. The movie is a straightforward action adventure film with Pitt (played by Matthew McConaughey) and Giordino (played by Steve Zahn) playing Indiana Jones and Sallah seeking treasure. The illness thread comes into play as the pair enter Mali during their search, and Rojas (played by Penélope Cruz) joins Pitt to resolve both plotlines in a rather explosive manner.

The downside to the book is Pitt’s superhero status. He always has the solution to the myriad of situations they land in, quite often making the cinematic James Bond an everyday citizen in comparison. The man is even injured by gunfire, beatings, and severe dehydration, yet always seems to spring back with minor detriment to his skills and abilities. In the movie, he’s still an action star, but he’s a bit more believable with McConaughey’s charm to interpret Pitt’s wit. In both versions, Giordino takes second seat to Pitt, but he’s a slightly better character as a gunslinger in the book rather than the comic relief in the movie. Eva Rojas is a damsel in distress in both instances, but is more empowered in the movie.

The movie drops the Civil War political conspiracy and the missing aviator threads, and also notably drops the book’s cameo by the author. Yes, Cussler wrote himself into the novel for a short period, and the character even shared his name. That moment, which cues the novel version of Pitt into the Texas story, nearly made me set the book down in disgust.

Overall, both versions of the story were fun, but nothing more significant than beach or popcorn fare. I have a soft spot for empty entertainment calories, so that’s not a big hit against either. The book takes a hit from secret agent Super Pitt, where the movie stumbles by changing Pitt’s motivations from ecology to treasure hunting. While the plot of the entire world being in peril is a bit extreme for a maritime ecologist, the movie version seems to be working for NUMA just for the scuba diving. Between the two versions, I prefer the film, although I will continue to read the Cussler novels to further explore Dirk Pitt’s adventures.

Novel rating: 3.0/5
Goodreads rating: 3.92/5

Movie rating: 6.0/10
IMDb rating: 6.0/10

The Vreenak Report: Volume 1 – Jar Jar Binks

The Vreenak Report
Volume 1 – Jar Jar Binks

Named in honor of the under-rated Romulan senator from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I present the inauguarl Vreenak Report. If you need a refresher on Senator Vreenak, watch the DS9 episode “In the Pale Moonlight” with particular attention to the scene where he challenges the authenticity of a data rod.

 

This volume’s internet rage bait: Disney Confirms Jar Jar Binks for Star Wars 7

Why is it on the senator’s desk? Because it’s from the National Report.

 

Fanboys of the internet bought this one hook, line, and sinker.

 

It's a fake!
It’s a fake!

Timestamp #19: Mission to the Unknown

Doctor Who: Mission to the Unknown
(1 episode, s03e05, 1965)

Timestamp 019 Mission to the Unknown

This is a nice interlude that shows the audience a slice of time and space around the Doctor Who mythos in a completely Doctor-less story. In fact, the Doctor passes by the planet at the end of Galaxy 4, totally unaware that this threat is rising to meet him in short order. This is the kind of interweaving mythology and storytelling that I dig.

This episode is pretty much James Bond meets Doctor Who with the Space Security Service and their license to kill. I really want to see the proposed series that this small entry was supposed to springboard, as it would be fun to see the Service as they hunt Daleks across the universe. Since the Doctor usually has trouble defeating them, I really want to know how a group of humans would tackle the Daleks.

By the end, the Daleks are assembling a coalition of the greatest powers across seven galaxies to defeat Earth. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the twelve-part The Daleks’ Master Plan. The Daleks seem significantly less xenophobic in the early years, but that may just be a ploy in order to destroy everyone all at once.

 

Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”

 

UP NEXT – Doctor Who: The Myth Makers

 

 

 

 

Movie Review: Batman (1989)

Batman
(PG-13, 126 minutes, 1989)

Batman is, by far, my favorite on-screen comic book hero. Superman typically (and tragically) embodies the best in humanity, but Batman is a man with money, a sharp brain, and numerous flaws. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the character, and his 50th was celebrated on June 23rd, 1989 with a return to the silver screen in Tim Burton’s Batman.

Surprisingly, Batman was not my introduction to the character. My parents bought me the Hot Wheels version of the film’s Batmobile, but I didn’t get to experience Michael Keaton in the cowl until Batman Returns in 1992. After that, I was further introduced to the World’s Greatest Detective through re-runs of the 1966 Batman television series on the FX channel. Since they were such building blocks of my fandom, both the darker version of the knight and the Adam West version hold special places in my heart. 1989’s Batman is a fun blending of the two in an adventure that has influenced nearly every interpretation of the Dark Knight since.

The opening credits elegantly trace the Batman symbol under the moody Danny Elfman score, a move that would be repeated in another epic adventure movie called Stargate in 1994. The Danny Elfman theme is the one that echoes in my brain when I think of Batman, and pairs well with the movie’s gothic art-deco noir style. Tim Burton also pulls a clever bait-and-switch with the film’s opening by showing the audience a family leaving a theater and being held up, echoing the very incident that orphaned Bruce Wayne.

Michael Keaton’s defining turn as Bruce Wayne was controversial at the time, but I love his portrayal. His eccentric oddball millionaire contrasts against the sharp-witted reality of the his alter ego, and it sets the tone of the essential duality between Wayne and Batman. His gadgets are also fantastic, from the batarangs, grappling hooks, and utility belt to the Batmobile itself. The Keaton-era Batmobile is a gorgeous example of the ’80s mixed with the ’60s, from the fins and the exhaust flame to the recent addition of the shields.

Jack Nicholson stars in a role of duality as well, from his standard henchman of Jack Napier to his maniacal and creepy interpretation of the Joker. He takes Cesar Romero’s humorous yet short-tempered character and adds an edge of lethality, easily killing as an example of his insanity. The makeup is a nod to the 1960s, but feels a bit dated in the modern era.

In supporting roles, Robert Wuhl’s is deliciously over the top as journalist Alexander Knox, and he’s a good comic counter to Kim Basinger’s spin on photographer Vicky Vale. Vale should have been a much stronger feminist role rather than a swooning damsel in distress, but that is easily attributed to the era. Jack Palance was also over the top as Carl Grissom, but his scenery chewing became grating in his short scenes. Luckily, his character quickly departed. Additionally, I would have loved to see Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face, but alas.

The last, but perhaps the most major supporting role is that of Michael Gough as Alfred Pennyworth. Alfred, the Wayne Manor butler, is Bruce Wayne’s adoptive father and Batman’s conscience. In the rather controversial move of compromising Wayne’s secret identity by bringing Vale to the Batcave, Alfred is pushing Wayne and Batman onto a course that neither could do on their own in an attempt to provide a life for his son by reconciling the duality of the Dark Knight. Ironically, that duality is why the relationship with Vale couldn’t work. Gotham needs Batman, as does Wayne, and try as she might, Vale cannot identify with both the man and the bat.

In minor notes, I loved the Bob Kane nod with the bat-in-a-suit ink drawing. I also loved the parallels in the film as noted by Shua of the TechnoRetroDads Podcast when the hosts reviewed the film on its anniversary, particularly those that I need to find on another viewing. When Bruce Wayne is orphaned, he’s grapsing onto a popcorn container. Similarly, when he’s about to reveal his secret to Vale but is interrupted by the Joker, Vale seeks solace in a bowl of popcorn.

In retrospect, the campiness of this film against the darker tone helps bridge the gap between the 1960s Batman and the more modern incarnations, bringing the character full circle from its darker origins to the Nolan/Bale era of films. The movie is dated, but it’s still fun.

My Rating: 8/10
IMDb rating: 7.6/10