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Fanboys And The Fanboys Who Idolize Them

February 27th, 2010 No comments

Writer/director/professional asshole Kevin Smith has been in the news lately. Partially, this is because he has a new film out, but mostly it’s because he used the power of social media and his million and a half Twitter followers to throw a hissy about being deemed too fat to physically fit a single airline seat. There are some things about his account that don’t quite make sense to me, but the one thing about which I’m fairly certain is that the seat is not at fault.

Thinking about Kevin Smith (something I care to avoid whenever feasible) has had me thinking about a peculiar subset of geekdom: the fan-turned-pro. These are the relatively few fanboys and girls who have achieved a measure of creative success in movies and/or TV, and who have themselves inspired devoted followers who declare them the wittiest, most wonderful things ever to exist in the universe of stuff.

In the case of Kevin Smith, my theory is that his entire rise to fame is built upon the scene from his debut film Clerks in which the main characters debate the ethics of blowing up the many independent contractors laboring aboard the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. I suspect that a great many people who would never otherwise have been interested in a cheap indie flick about misogynistic, jerkwad store employees saw it solely because they’d heard about that scene. I know that I did.*

Now, I’m not in a position to review his body of work. The only other Smith film I’ve seen was Chasing Amy, which I thought was okay. Nothing I’ve heard about his later flicks encouraged me to check them out. From my perspective, his chief contribution to culture has been giving other fanboys license to wear black trenchcoats during situations in which trenchcoats are neither necessary nor a good idea.

I believe that, to a large extent, Smith’s following is built upon a foundation of self justification. “If a tubby, repulsive geek like him can make it, then how can I be worthless?”

He’s not the only one to benefit from that flavor of adoration. (Though he is the one least likely to fly on Southwest Airlines.) Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon certainly qualifies.

Now, please understand that–unlike the anal pustule that is Kevin Smith–I myself have a great deal of fondness for Joss Whedon. My DVD library includes seven seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel and no seasons of Dollhouse. (But the fact that I watched every last damned episode of the latter suggests that I am willing to follow him into places most others wouldn’t.) All in all, I think he’s a talented writer who happens to work with the sort of subject matter I enjoy.

I have argued with friends and associates who find Whedonites a particularly noxious fandom. I don’t think that they’re any worse than any other group of myopic idolizers. I’ve hung out on enough sci-fi message boards to remember the ferocity of Babylon 5 fans who saw its creator J. Michael Straczynski as the most remarkable TV producer ever. Joss’ fans may be all too willing to blame his failures on others,** but I don’t think that’s unusual.***

I do, however, believe that Whedonites (and I admit to having Whedonite tendencies myself) extend their intense devotion to any actor touched by the Joss. Certainly, I initially tuned into How I Met Your Mother mostly because of Alyson Hannigan.

How else to explain the extreme interest in minor Internet celeb Felicia Day? She played a potential Slayer in the final season of Buffy, and–more significantly–the love interest in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. She’s moderately cute, and can kinda sing. She produces and stars in a web series called The Guild, based on her experiences as an online gamer. Basically, she’s Kitty Pryde of the X-Men–a non-threatening, mildly geeky imaginary girlfriend–with the added advantage of being a real person one could actually touch but never will. But, because of the Whedon connection,**** she’s the most beautiful talent triple-threat, and woe to the persons who can’t see it for themselves.

Sometimes, this unnatural attention runs its natural course. These days, one rarely hears about Babylon 5 outside of sentences like, “Hey, remember when Babylon 5 was a thing?” J. Michael Straczynski mostly writes comics these days. Even so, I’m sure that someone out there is breathlessly declaring JMS the bestest thing to hit comics since Stan Lee.

Thankfully, I do not hang out on that message board.

*For my own part, as far back as 1977 I had wondered much the same thing about the original Star Wars. Even at 13, I’d begun to wonder about things like whether everyone aboard the first Death Star deserved to be vaporized. Surely, I thought, there were at least some imprisoned Rebels aboard?

**Dollhouse was ruined by pinheads at Fox, not because it was an unworkable series premise populated by characters who were literally blank slates and fronted by an actress with the chameleon-like ability to play a single personality.

***Can’t wait to read the justifications for Cop Out.

****The gamer thing also helps.

Going Viral

September 28th, 2009 No comments

I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for the past couple of years due to chronic back problems, and despite my initial skepticism, I generally have felt pretty good about it. While I’m by no means free of discomfort, I haven’t had the twisted spine or crippling spasms that once plagued me.

Last Friday I went in for my monthly visit and, while sitting in the waiting area, noticed a flyer sitting out amongst the magazines. “The Truth About the Flu Shot” detailed surprising “facts”: that flu vaccinations had no significant effect on healthy babies, children with asthma, adults, the elderly or, one presumes, anyone at all. Among its suggestions of how to combat government-mandated vaccinations are to connect with other activist organizations (including ones that “support 2nd Amendment issues”) and to “have at least 3 weeks of food and water on hand.”

Troubled by such patently bogus information being left out in a healthcare professional’s office, I folded it into my pocket. Then I asked the “doctor” about it. To my dismay, I learned that he fully endorsed these false beliefs.

Okay, truth to tell, I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn this. I was initially hesitant to see a chiropractor for fear of quackery. (For what it’s worth, I’ve talked to my doctor and nurse practitioner about my concerns, and they both felt that spinal manipulation itself was okay.)

I told him that this was irresponsible, that he was spreading dangerous misinformation. He said that we’d have to “agree to disagree.”

Now, I know all about agreeing to disagree. This is what I tell angry viewers after two failed attempts to explain my workplace’s programming policies. If they continue to argue the same point, I agree to disagree and end the dialogue. But we had barely even begun to talk about my concerns.

He said we could debate it all day, to which I replied, “No, I can’t, because I don’t come armed with facts and figures to make my argument.” That’s not to say that I haven’t read up on the subject: for example, Time ran a lengthy article on the anti-vaccination movement last year. It’s just that, as is the case when I go up to visit my dad, I can’t prepare in advance for a debate that I don’t know I’m going to have.

I told him my chief objection to those who don’t vaccinate their children: I have a wife who, thanks to a congenital heart defect, has a weakened immune system. As the Time article points out, the more unvaccinated people there are in a population, the greater the risk for those who are more susceptible to disease. (More about that and other aspects of the anti-vaccination movement here.)

His response was “If the vaccine works, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” (Not true; see above.) I said, “If the vaccine works, you’re trying to discourage people from getting it.”

I said that I was disappointed that a medical professional would disseminate such misinformation, to which he replied, “I’m not a medical professional.” That’s funny, because on his very own web site (which I will not link to, as it’s not my intention to impugn his reputation), he states:

Actually chiropractic physicians receive four academic years of schooling, just like medical physicians. The chiropractic curriculum includes the same basic sciences that medical doctors take. Medical school curricula are remarkably similar, especially in the first three years. Courses like biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, neurology, endocrinology, histology, embryology, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, myology, hematology, angiology, osteology are part of the chiropractic curriculum.

Huh.

In any case, he’s someone to whom people go when they have health-related issues. I expect that would engender a certain amount of trust on the part of his clients when it comes to such subjects.

We went back and forth for a bit. I argued that if there’s consensus among the medical community (which there is when it comes to vaccines) that it’s probably right. He countered that there’s a lot of money riding on getting people vaccinated. (As opposed to any other type of medical treatment, which, as we all know, is provided free of charge.) I told him that the “vaccines cause autism” claim had been thoroughly debunked. He shot back, in true Argument Clinic fashion, “No, it hasn’t.”

He offered that if I was offended, he would understand if I just left without completing the session, but I decided to stay. When my batty grandma was alive she used to declare, “I’ll never go there again!” every time she disagreed with someone at a place of business. I don’t want to be that grandma.

While I made another appointment for next month, I’m still debating whether to go back. This is an issue that ignites passion on my part, and it bugs me to support a willing disseminator of anti-scientific hogwash. Yet I genuinely like the guy, and I do actually think he’s done me some good.

If I do return, I’ll come prepared.

A Blog Post From The Year 2020

July 20th, 2009 No comments

What an amazing sight! Everyone the world over will look back and remember exactly what it was they were doing on this day, when man set foot on the moon 51 years after the first time.

Have You Heard About Twitter?

April 25th, 2009 No comments

Twitter, as you may have heard, is all the rage these days. And by “all the rage,” I mean that there are both a lot of people using it and a lot of people raging about the people using it. Oh, and also some people raging about the people raging about those other people. It’s the Internet, folks. It’s what we do.

An architecture blogger named Geoff Manaugh recently wrote a spirited defense of Twitter in which he tore through an entire platoon of snooty, literati straw men whose real objection is to the unwashed masses who use the application. He declares Twitter merely to be a “note-taking technology,” and likens it to a ball-point pen.

It’s a specious argument. Twitter isn’t a note-taking technology, it’s a note-sharing technology. You could use it to jot down notes for your personal use, but there are better ways to do that. By design, Twitter sends those notes to anyone who cares enough to follow them. It’s like a ball-point pen in which the ink clogs every couple of sentences, and the pen itself takes everything you wrote, puts it in an envelope and mails it to everyone you know, plus a lot of people you don’t.

Yes, I’m sure that some folks have come up with clever uses for Twitter. There’s always someone who can look at a dish of mold and see penicillin. In a recent meeting at work, we discussed the possibility of using it as an adjunct to our weather alert service. That’s neat.

You could even write a novel using Twitter, but it would be an act of sheer cussedness to do so. Sure,

twitterblog01

I could express the exact same thoughts (complete with my obligatory parenthetical asides) by writing this blog 140 characters at a time, but

twitterblog02

I think it would be kinda silly.

Manaugh argues “Twitter needs to be differentiated from what people write on Twitter. The fact that so many people now use Twitter as a public email system, or as a way to instant-message their friends in front of other people, is immaterial.” I disagree. I think that the reason so many people do that is because that’s what it’s designed to do.

Honestly, I think that a lot of the recent backlash against Twitter is due to the sudden embracing of it by so-called “old media.” One reason that I’ve cautioned my coworkers about jumping on the Tweet Wagon is because of the mockery other media outlets have endured by attempting to prove that they are hip, fresh or whatever the kids are saying these days.


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M – Th 11p / 10c
Twitter Frenzy
thedailyshow.com


At the end of the day, I’m not against Twitter. I’m against me using Twitter. And it’s not as if not using Twitter is a choice that I’m allowed to make for myself. Because Twitter is now a must. Are you Twittering? Why aren’t you Twittering? Blogs are so 2004. If you’re not Twittering, you might as well be chiseling a stone tablet. Or dead.

Look, I’m not a Luddite. I maintain three blogs and a Facebook page. But for me, Twitter is just one more damned thing, one more beast that constantly needs to be fed or else people will stop caring whether I exist.

More to the point, Twitter smells like a fad. It’s the new, shiny thing that everyone can’t stop talking about until the next new, shiny thing comes along.

Besides, when Larry King begins Twittering, you know that the cool kids will soon be leaving the party.

Categories: Rant Tags: , ,

It’s Really Very Simple

April 18th, 2009 No comments

Last week, Time magazine discovered zombies. Forty years after George Romero invented the modern variety. Columnist Lev Grossman wrote “Zombies Are the New Vampires,” in which he tries to relate the undead to the war, ecology, and the economy.

All very well, but I can tell you exactly why zombie flicks (28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead) and zombie games (Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil 1-5) have been so popular. It’s this:

Zombies look like people, and you can kill them.

You see, vampires are broody. You might even like them if you got to know them.

Zombies have no redeemable features, like personality or dress sense. The only relationship they desire is your sweet, sweet brain.

So, it’s okay. Slash ’em, hack ’em, shoot ’em in the head. Feel no remorse. They certainly don’t.

Kill all you want. They’ll make more.

Categories: Rant Tags: , ,

I Like Right Cuboids, And I Cannot Lie

April 13th, 2009 No comments

The latest outrage: a brouhaha over a “sexualized” Burger King ad for a Spongebob Squarepants-themed meal, in which the fast-food chain’s creepy King character plays Sir Mix-a-Lot to a line of female dancers shaking their square booties. CBS’ Early Show interviewed Joe Kelly of the organization Humorless Scolds in Search of a Flag to Wave (possibly not its real name), who said that it “objectifies women and that’s an incredibly outrageous message to be sending to kids. I saw it, as did many, many other people during the final games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which is an event a lot of families watch together.” Oh yes, because women are never otherwise objectified during a “family” sports event

Look, I’d be more likely to agree with you if the dancers in question weren’t sporting ENORMOUS SQUARE ASSES. ‘Cause I gotta tell you, that pretty much ruins it for me. I don’t know, perhaps geometry teachers find rectangular hexahedrons a turn-on?

If so, here’s the full-length music video:

Me Of Little Faith: Expert Witness

March 20th, 2009 No comments

Back in 2007, I made an abortive attempt at a mini-series of navel-gazing blog posts regarding religion. I managed to log only one entry before becoming terminally distracted by a Metroid invasion. It’s something I’d long intended to revisit, but I’d been looking for something to spark my interest in the topic.

This past week, I’ve been reading I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing by Kyria Abrahams. Yes, I’m as amazed as you are; I’m reading a real book, not a TV tie-in or collection of ’60s comics. It may be far from my usual bathroom fare, but I was intrigued by the cover featuring a happy, little girl standing beneath an umbrella in an idyllic circle while the rest of civilization around her perishes in a rain of hellfire.

What’s it like to grow up knowing that the world will end within your lifetime, and that everyone who fails to share your one true faith is doomed, doomed, doomed? It turns out that you wind up boggled by normal social interactions and completely incurious about the world, because what’s the point of getting an education and making something of yourself if an earthly paradise is right around the corner? Granted that Kyria’s problems seem to spring as much from a panoply of mental disorders and a stunning self-centeredness as they do from her sheltered, cultish upbringing.

The book starts out hilarious, dealing with such earthly perils as Smurfs and demon-infested yard sale items, but becomes rather sad as Kyria grows up and flails about in a series of bad choices and loveless relationships. Judging by her blog, she seems to have turned herself around in the end, and I’m glad to know that. 

My interest in the Jehovah’s Witnesses goes back to my own childhood. My Great Aunt Vera was one, and while I don’t recall her attempting to send me home with a stack of Watchtower magazines, I do remember that even back then I could tell that something about her world view didn’t quite add up. Great Aunt Vera gave me my first exposure to apocalyptic end-time prophecy over a casual dinner at a local eatery on the west side of Hobart. It didn’t make much sense to me: something about having sixes tattooed on my head and the evils of a one-world government. I’m not sure quite when this conversation occurred, but as someone who grew up under the shadow of the Vietnam War, having a single government sounded like a pretty good idea at the time.

What really got me about the Jehovah’s Witness faith, as explained by Great Aunt Vera, was that it only allowed for 144,000 of its own followers to ascend to Heaven. Okay, sure, the rest got to live in an earthly paradise. Still, it seemed like a bum deal. According to my own vague, generic notions of Christianity, Heaven was for everyone, including pets. But here was an orthodoxy that preached that even if you did everything right there was still a much-better-than-even chance you wouldn’t get to hobnob with the Big G. (Er…Big J.) I mean, even then I realized that 144,000 was a pretty small number, especially if it was drawn not only from current-as-of-Armageddon Witnesses, but those who’d died prior to The End. What, was Heaven running out of room? Couldn’t an omnipotent God whip up a few more clouds for his chosen people to sit upon?

Right then, I thought, “Wow, that religion blows.” And that was before I found out about the not-celebrating-birthdays thing.

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

January 15th, 2009 No comments

As I came in to work this morning, it was literally -10 F degrees out, with a wind chill of -33 F. My Prius, which helpfully displays a cheerful snowflake on my dash whenever the temperature approaches the freezing mark, stopped counting at about -6 and just put up the message “FUCK IT’S COLD.” Every school is closed with the exception of Parkland Community College and, of course, the University of Illinois, which makes it a point of pride that they only shut down for weather-related reasons once every twenty years.

So, here’s how things work. If you’re a kid, well then naturally you get to stay home. You’re delicate. If you’re a high schooler, you get to stay home as well. High School Musical 2 ain’t gonna watch itself. But if you’re a couple of years older, then you’d better wrap up and get walkin’, because it’s a half-mile to class and the blood in your legs will only freeze more quickly if you stand around yappin’. And if you’re a grown-up, then GET TO WORK. There’s no lolligagging at the U of I. Unless it’s been designated a “reduced service day,” when they tell you not to come in but don’t actually give you the day off. (That’s a cost-saving measure they’ve begun employing around the holidays the past few years.)

For what it’s worth, Ball State University–where I got my degree–used to do this sort of thing as well. One time, when temperatures reached a similar condition, the chancellor infamously told complaining students to “put on another muffler.” Yeah, and you can bet he had to schlep across campus, instead of arriving at his reserved parking space in his toasty luxury car.

You Cannot Be Serious

January 8th, 2009 No comments

John Podesta, co-chair of Barack Obama’s transition team, has written a letter calling for a delay in the analog TV shutoff.

Never thought I’d write this, but “Curse you, Barack Obama!!!”

Categories: Rant Tags: , ,

Untruth In Advertising

December 30th, 2008 No comments

If it happens twice a year, it’s not even penultimate.

Where are the pants? I was promised pants.

No, you are not.

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