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What IS Star Trek?

31/05/2016

StarTrekTheOriginalSeriesintrotumblr_loyv0pxXD51qboo5qo1_r2_500Of the several threads woven into the ancestry of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, one — and I think the most important one — can be traced all the way back to John W. Campbell‘s Astounding Stories by way of Forbidden Planet and Dianetics.

There’s a wide variety of opinion on how to look at Star Trek (and we will confine ourselves to just the original three seasons of the first series, Roddenberry’s core idea in its purest distilled form).

Roddenberry himself referred to it semi-sarcastically as “Wagon Train in space”. Others have called it a planet-of-the-week story. As with many science fiction and fantasy programs, it was at core a series of morality plays.

The common joke is that the basic Star Trek idea is they meet God, and –

  • He’s a child.
  • Or an idiot.
  • Or a machine.
  • Or some combination thereof.

Much truth is said in jest, and I think the core of Star Trek, the philosophical heart and soul, as it were, is really a much more profound question:

“How then shall a god behave?”

Yes, I know Roddenberry was an atheist;
they frequently as the best questions.

Here are the episodes that I consider to be in the “How then shall a god behave?” theme:

“The Cage”
a.k.a.
“The Menagerie”
“Where No Man Has Gone Before”
“The City On The Edge Of Forever”
“The Squire Of Gothos”
“Charlie X”
“Shore Leave”
“Arena”
“The Return Of The Archons”
“Errand Of Mercy”
“Who Mourns For Adonis?”
“The Changeling”
“The Apple”
“Catspaw”
“Plato’s Stepchildren”

Quite a number, and several of them crucial to the series’ impact / success / longevity. I hold that if you remove these episodes, particularly the first five on the list (which include the two pilots), you remove what makes Star Trek “Star Trek”.[1]

Star-Trek-The-Original-Series-image-star-trek-the-original-series-36390304-1024-768The stories cited above involve characters who are either capable of altering the fabric of reality (“The City On The Edge Of Forever”, as opposed to other time travel stories in the series, is about a moral choice that will drastically alter the future instead of merely creating a mild disruption), creating an illusion so universal that it might as well be altered reality (as opposed to fooling just one or two individuals), or overtly demanding to be worshipped as a god.

STTOS ForeverThe difference between these episodes and those where characters possess superhuman abilities (including shapeshifting), are extremely powerful but in a conventional manner, or use illusion to attempt to gain what they want is that the latter still fall inside the range of recognizable human conflicts and behavior while the core stories involve to one degree or another human interaction with a being who, whatever their origin, is now several degrees of magnitude above and beyond humanity.[2]

The quintessential Star Trek story, it appears, is basically a 20th century retelling of the Book of Job. It is humanity staring God in the eye and asking, “What gives?”

Okay, so how did Star Trek arrive at that particular equation?
What led Roddenberry and his staff in that direction?

Roddenberry made no bones about drawing inspiration from the published science fiction of the era.  Star Trek is certainly chockablock with pulp sci-fi gadgetry and concepts; it’s not that far removed from Space Patrol or Rocky Jones.

And the episodes themselves certainly drew inspiration from older science fiction stories.  “Arena” notoriously ripped off Frederick Brown’s short story of the same title, and purely unintentionally: Line producer Gene L. Coon, needing a script in a hurry, dredged up the idea from his subconscious, having forgotten he’d read it in college. The moment Desilu’s legal department realized the similarity, Coon contacted Brown and purchased the story rights from him.

And where was that story first published?

From the ur-source of 20th century science fiction:
The pages of Astounding Science Fiction and the editorial offices of John W. Campbell.

ast10_39

art by Hubert Rogers

Frank Kelly Freas ???????John W. Campbell by Frank Kelly Freas

Before we get to Campbell,
we’ll make two brief stops.

First is Forbidden Planet, one of the clearly acknowledged inspirations for Star Trek, and itself derived from Campbell’s pool of creative talent.

Forbidden Planet was the last big budget film of the early 1950s sci-fi craze, arriving just too late to catch the crest of the wave. A B-movie from MGM, an A-list studio, Forbidden Planet stood head and shoulders above most science fiction films of the era.

While it’s origins were decidedly B-movie, Forbidden Planet received two creative streams through screenwriter Cyril Hume.[3]

Hume melded in Shakespeare (by way of The Tempest) and popular sci-fi (by way of whatever was on the stands at the time). He found the sweet spot for the story, the perfect blend of corn and cosmic consciousness.

For those not familiar with Forbidden Planet, it involves a starship arriving at a remote planet where a mad scientist has been playing with a now extinct advanced race’s brain boosting machinery, giving him the god-like ability to create a super-sapient robot, a menagerie of living animals and, in the film’s great unanswered question, possibly even his own daughter.

forbidden-planet-01

The studly young space captain falls for the daughter (of course) and arouses a Freudian fit of incestuous jealousy in the scientist that finds form in the infamous Monster Of The Id, which in the end can scarcely be constrained long enough to allow the daughter to escape with the captain and his crew before the entire planet blows up.

forbidden planet monster from id

Is that or is that not as perfect a Star Trek episode as one could hope for?

Despite a mediocre performance at the box office,
Forbidden Planet remains a touch stone of literate science fiction.

Hume’s dip into the depths of literary sci-fi doubtlessly occurred at Campbell and Astounding’s end of the pool.

Campbell and Astounding had already provided the foundation for two of the 1950s earliest sci-fi successes:
The Day The Earth Stood Still, based on “Farewell To The Master” by Harry Bates (originally published in the October 1940 issue of Astounding Science Fiction) and The Thing From Another World, based on “Who Goes There?” by Don A. Stuart (originally published in the August 1938 issue).

“Don A. Stuart” is
the pen name of
John W. Campbell.

Campbell is arguably the single most influential person in the history of American science fiction. A writer of slam bang adventure in the early pulp era, once he ascended to the editor’s desk of Astounding he demanded writers jettison early cardboard characters, formula writing, and dubious science to produce stories that were sound as both science and as fiction.

His high standards almost immediately propelled Astounding to the top of the pulp sci-fi heap; it remains in print to this day as Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact. If he didn’t find the all great writers of the 1940s and 50s, he certainly championed and challenged them, leading to some of their best stories.[4]

But for all his strengths, Campbell also had one weakness, one type of story he was a sucker for.

As a young college student at Duke University, he was aware of the research of J. B. Rhine and his Parapsychology Laboratory.

Rhine was an enthusiastic believer in parapsychology, but he approached the field with a basic set of scientific controls. While Rhine’s results were never duplicated by other researchers, he at least made an effort to weed out frauds and attempt to find genuine examples of parapsychology.

At Astounding, Campbell revived his interest in parapsychology in the form of “psionics”, originally parapsychology through electronic means but eventually any form of the phenomena, including through human evolution.

Campbell was far from the only person interested in the field, but his influence and guidance led to the publication of the Lensman stories by E.E. “Doc” Smith[5] which in turn provided inspiration (i.e., was ripped off by) the 1950’s revival of the Green Lantern, “Slan” and “The World Of Null-A” among others by A. E. van Vogt[6] which in turn provided inspiration for the X-Men and other Marvel mutants, James H. Schmitz’ Telzey series about a teenage girl with psionic abilities[7], and a little thing by Frank Herbert called “Dune”.

Unfortunately, Campbell also promoted a lot of other iffy ideas, proving yet again that the most hardened cynic is really a dashed idealist. Among other ideas he promoted as rooted in reality were the Dean drive, a reactionless drive that never worked as advertised, the Heironymus Machine, a psionic device so powerful one didn’t need to actually build it but just possess the blueprints, and a new “science of the mind” called Dianetics.

Yes, that Dianetics, by author L. Ron Hubbard, one of Campbell’s regular stable of writers and an eager promoter of his own ideas regarding the outer limits of human abilities and perception.

For all the hard science nuts & bolts stories that Campbell published, he also included a good stiff brace of more fanciful ideas.[8]

So the realm of science fiction, even in the 1940s, was already deeply into the question of superhuman ethics. Ayn Rand’s best selling books (and “Atlas Shrugged” is borderline sci-fi) clearly advocated the right of the strong to tyrannize the weak, while a legion of more altruistic writers saw a possibility of human morality through psychology and not religion.

That was the heady cultural mix that Roddenberry drew from when he first pitched Star Trek in 1964. From that starting point he, as did Rod Serling with The Twilight Zone, used the genre of science fiction to examine certain assumptions about the human condition.

But while Serling clearly believed there was some underlying sense of karma dealing out justice in the universe, Roddenberry clearly believed humans had the right and ability to choose their own fate.

Star Trek certainly celebrated that yin, but it also recognized the yang of the equation, that without some sort of moral and ethical governance, the temptation for absolute power to corrupt absolutely is strong, the serpent, as it were, in a new garden of Eden.

God and Satan frequently get blamed for things they’re not responsible for, with human beings quick to shift their own guilt to other shoulders.

And while Roddenberry and Star Trek celebrated a triumphant humanist culture, they still needed to deal with that dark part of the human soul, and rather than face it directly, used the metaphor of the insane god-child machine.

That’s not a condemnation.

Sometimes it’s hard to face the reality before us, and we find metaphors more acceptable, more comforting.

Star Trek’s metaphor is that those who wish to be gods must also be eternally vigilant against the temptation to not be vigilant, to drop our guard, to let the worst of our natures rise to the surface.

It is not a warning but a caution.

And it’s what gives Star Trek the depth and resonance that previous space opera lacked.

.

.

.

[1] And, yes, these aren’t the only kind of stories Star Trek could do; there are a lot of really top notch episodes in a variety of sub-genres and themes which are good stories to this very day. Even the most lackluster 3rd season episodes had their brief moments of incandescent wonder. Nonetheless, those stories are not what gives the show its life.

[2] Episodes like “The Paradise Syndrome”, “And The Children Shall Lead”, and “Spectre Of The Gun” brush up close but don’t cross the line into this particular theme.

[3] Allen Adler, a blacklisted writer, and Irving Block, who co-owned a special effects company that specialized in low budget films, came up with the idea of a planet of invisible monsters to appeal to low budget film makers. MGM was having none of that and promptly elevated the budget and scope of the film considerable.

[4] Of all the great names in the golden age of magazine science fiction, only Ray Bradbury traveled outside his orbit.

[5] He had a PhD in making donuts. Seriously.

[6] He also wrote “The Voyage Of The Space Beagle” which in turn led to the films Night Of The Blood Beast, It! The Terror From Outer Space, and Alien.

[7] Somebody is leaving money on the table by not reviving this series today.

[8] There’s nothing wrong with such flights of fancy when they are clearly just flights of fancy ala They Might Be Giants core conceit. Campbell thought too many of them were bona fide and eventually enough of his writers and readers said, “Really, John…?” and he backed off a bit, though he still published stuff like Herbert’s and Schmitz’ work, among others.

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“Vada a bordo, cazzo!”

25/05/2016

A few years ago PBS’ Nova series aired a fascinating episode called “Why Ships Sink”.

[Short answer: 
Water gets inside.]

It was called “Why Ships Sink” because the more honest, less generic “Why Cruise Ships Sink So Often” would doubtlessly have had them facing a barrage of legal threats from the cruise industry.

Bottom line:
Cruise ships sink so often because the cruise industry staffs them with MBA graduates in hotel management, not real sailors.

One can understand the reasons for this.  Real sailors tend to be a colorful but often unappealing lot, foul mouthed and somewhat brusque to landlubbers.

popeye

Unlike the various navies and merchant marines of the world, the cruise industry places a priority on making their passengers’ experience as pleasant as possible.

They hire crews — and captains — based on their ability to interact well with paying customers, no salty dogs here!  As a result the crew can mix a really mean martini, provide hours of entertainment in the lounge, guide you to the best tourist traps bargains at the various ports of call, etc., etc., and of course, etc.

Navies and merchant marines hire sailors based on their ability to (a) keep the ship afloat and (b) fulfill the ship’s mission.

And of the two, (b) comes in second to (a) because without (a) there will be no opportunity to do (b).

Ya with me so far?

VBC e Costa_Concordia_in_Palma,_Majorca,_Spain

On January 13, 2012, Captain Francesco Schettino of the Carnival cruise ship Costa Concordia deviated from his assigned course to give his passengers a better view of the lights on shore.

VBC l main_1200

The Costa Concordia hit a submerged rock and lost power.  It began listing and sinking.  While the engine crew and a few other genuine sailors tried to keep the ship afloat long enough for the passengers to evacuate, while the entertainers and housekeeping staff tried to maintain order long enough for everyone to get safely aboard the lifeboats, Captain Schettino opted to hop off the ship and head for shore.

VBC g 2632963_orig

The Italian Coast Guard, speeding to the Costa Concordia’s rescue, managed to make radio contact with Captain Schettino in one of the lifeboats.

VBC j li-concordia-620-ap02248082

When they learned he had left his crew and passengers behind while he headed to dry land, they remarked in a typically reserved Italian understatement:

“Vada a bordo, cazzo!”

Which in common everyday English can be translated as “Get the fuck back on board!” or “Get back on board, for fuck’s sake!” or “Get on board, damn it!”

Being half Italian,
I lean towards the first
two translations.

We jest, but the wreck of the Costa Concordia resulted in 32 people dying that night plus one diver later when the ship was being salvaged.  The 32 who died on January 13 were passengers who had paid handsomely to be entertained on what was advertised as a perfectly safe cruise, and crew members who despite their inexperience sacrificed their own lives to save passengers entrusted to them.

Unlike Captain Schettino.

Captain Schettino had no business being in charge of a ship carrying over three thousand passengers and a crew one/third as large.

VBC m cruise-disaster_2110914a-large

Though a graduate of a naval institute, his previous seagoing experience had been as a crew member on a ferry.  Hired by Carnival Cruises in 2002 to be a security officer, Schettino was promoted to executive officer and then captain by 2006.  He was then placed in command of the Costa Concordia and sailed her until he ran her aground in 2012.

VBC c 1024px-Collision_of_Costa_Concordia_DSC4191

Compared to a typical naval or merchant marine captain, he had virtually no experience at all, and certainly was not entrusted with key decisions on the navigation and operation of the ship.

VBC 4 1024x1024

It was, as noted above, his decision to deviate from his ordained course in order to show off to passengers that led to the disaster.

VBC 6 1024x1024

Further, cruise ships are by intention the easiest to sail vessels on the open seas.  They are floating hotels that quite deliberately steer away from danger; rough seas and stormy weather will cancel a cruise, but merchant ships with cargos to deliver and naval vessels with hostile waters to patrol aren’t afford that luxury.

Those bad boys are trained to go out in
the worst of it and accomplish their mission,
quite literally come hell or high water.

Schettino acted more like a hotel manager than a ship captain, and a very poor hotel manager at that.

If a hotel suffers a fire or earthquake, then 90% of the job is getting people safely out of the building; once they’re on the street they are pretty much safe.

A sinking ship is still a danger to those trying to evacuate it, and lifeboats under the best of conditions are not easy to operate, and wind and water and weather can prove life threatening hazards to shipwrecked passengers.

VBC i costa_concordia_passengers_dock

Yet Schettino’s first instinct was to leave these people behind and see to it that his own skin was saved.

Schettino had no real training in commanding a large ship.

Schettino had no regard for carefully established protocol to guarantee the ship operated safely.

Schettino had no qualms about showing off to impress others.

Schettino had no idea what to do when disaster struck his ship.

Schettino had no sense of duty or responsibility to the four thousand plus passengers and crew entrusted to his care.

Schettino turned a good situation into a bad situation and then made the bad situation even worse.

Schettino lacked the ability, education, experience, integrity, intellect, and temperament to be a ship captain, especially for the Costa Concordia.

Schettino was
the wrong man in
the wrong place at
the wrong time in
the wrong job and for
the wrong reason.

Why am I writing about Captain Francesco Schettino?

Why do you think?

Donald Trump

 

 

 

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Clinton Agonistes

24/05/2016

Today’s it’s Hillary’s turn in the bullseye.

Don’t worry, Donald Trump in particular and the GOP in general will be topics of future posts, with the Democrats being mentioned either along with the GOP or in a separate post of their own.

For those not interested in things political,
here’s an amusing gif of a dog taking a bath
with a rubber ducky on his head.  
For the rest of you, we start after the jump.

animated dog w duck on head

Read the rest of this article »

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Who’s Leaving Christian Churches And Why

23/05/2016

The number of Americans identifying as Christians on their census reports and attending churches has been dropping steadily over the last few decades.  Here’s my wholly unscientific / totally anecdotal look at what’s been happening.

Those leaving Christian churches tend to fall into these four broad categories:

Those who were never really in it in the first place – We’re talking about the cultural Christians here, the ones who went because it was socially expected of them by friends or family.  In many cases these people never actually participated in any religious functions, they just checked off the “Christian” box whenever asked because once upon a time somebody in their family had gone to church.  Others attended only sporadically (typically Easter and Christmas services) but shockingly a few were regular attendees and often even high ranking members of their local churches.  Their faith and knowledge was as deep as a Dixie cup and the moment there was no longer a social penalty for not belonging, they walked away.

Those who were hurt by Christians – This includes all those who were raped, beaten, sexually / emotionally / spiritually /  financially abused by clergy, lay members, and their own families driven by the dictates of their local congregation.  It can be the direct hands on approach of a bestial father who takes “spare the rod” too literally and beats their children and spouse so badly that hospitalization is required, the sexual abuse of a predatory minister who preys on emotionally fragile congregants then gaslights them if they object, a person demonized by their denomination for being outside their comfort zone, or guilted into commitments by the threat of shunning or humiliation if they aren’t compliant.  This group often overlaps with…

Those who see only the bullshit – Despite claims to the contrary, most denominations and local churches do indeed say they have the answer to everything:  Faith in Jesus, which really means sit down and shut up.  When they do give Biblical answers it’s typically a word salad of theological gobbledygook that can and does mean anything anybody wants it to mean to justify their position.  This group tends to be people with a genuine longing for some sort of spiritual connectivity, only to find their spiritual nature is routinely brushed aside as they are told to replace their often unanswerable questions with empty words and phrases; as well as those with questions about their pastor’s showy lifestyle or denomination’s stand on social issues.  In the end they decide that because their local church or denomination has no answer on some things that Christianity as a whole has no answer on anything, and they leave.

Those who see through the bullshit – This group includes many of the sincerest, most genuinely faithful followers of Christ.  They know what is expected of them as true followers of Christ and they don’t see their local church or denomination doing enough to help those on that journey, and so they leave, not out of bitterness, not even disappointment, but in the knowledge that whatever it is they are supposed to be doing, following the agenda of a local church or earthly denomination ain’t it.

In light of the above, perhaps it’s time to reframe the question re why the number of Christians is shrinking.

Maybe it isn’t.

Maybe the real Christians have always been the same small number, not easy to pigeonhole but identifiable through their actions.

Maybe what has been identified as the body of believers is a misnomer, and that instead of obsessing over increasing the number of believers, the Christian church as a whole should concentrate on improving the Christ-like qualities of those who are truly disciples.

Better a single warm heart
than a hundred warm bodies.

 

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Bill Clinton in 2016

18/05/2016

Normally I try to avoid direct political commentary on this blog, but this isn’t going to be a normal election year and so I’m going to posting a few observations between now and November.

This one is an air clearer; it’s something I think needs to be openly acknowledged before discussion can shift to a more current topic.

And we need, both as party partisans and American citizens as a whole, to acknowledge what went on here, and why it is important, and what we need to do to improve things in the future.

For those willing to face the ugly truth, proceed apace.

For the rest of you,
here’s a cute gif of a
cat eating spaghetti.

animated cat slurps spaghetti

Read the rest of this article »

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Fortune Or Fame, Money Or Immortality

16/05/2016

I’ve posted Stephen King’s observations on what should motivate us as writers.

Let’s say that’s a given:
We write because we can’t not write.

The secondary question becomes:
What do we want to do with that writing?

(Now, some of what follows will apply to all forms of creativity, but other parts will apply very specifically to writing text, be it prose or poetry, novels or short stories, journalism or fiction. Draw from it what ye may…)

As stated elsewhere, I’m no fan of the current extremely long[1] copyright on new material.

The shortest current copyright duration in the US is 95 years for a work-for-hire published within 25 years of when it was created (if created as a work-for-hire but never published, copyright is 120 years from the date of creation).

The longest copyright is the life of the creator + 70 years, which — assuming a work is created at age 25 and the creator dies at age 75 — is 125 years but could run longer.

Now, if the objective is to control use of the material and see that one gets money from every use, these copyrights seem like a good idea.

However, as has been demonstrated,
that’s not what copyright exists for.

If the objective is to see to it that one’s work survives to another generation, that it is read and remembered and spread around and re-interpreted and generally enters into mainstream pop culture, then copyright is not so good.

We have numerous examples of writers, once well known and respected and enjoyed by thousands if not millions of readers, virtually vanishing from the public consciousness because their estates:

  • don’t know what to do with their creations
  • don’t care to find out what to do
  • are actively embarrassed by what was written
  • have unrealistic ideas about what the material is worth
  • simply don’t know what material exists, much less who owns what rights
  • any combination thereof

People who know and enjoy the material and wish to share it with others are stymied because until it enters the public domain, there is no safe way to publish or distribute the works.

People inspired by a work, say the way Charles Gounod was inspired by William Shakespeare who in turn was inspired by Ovid, can not use that work to create new material.[2]

The result is a stifling of the literary landscape, a silencing of voices that, despite being from previous generations, still offer much to say to modern audiences.

The previous US copyright term — 56 years total — was sufficient for exploitation by the creator. A successful work could see several profitable print iterations, in multiple formats and languages, and more importantly, spread the writer’s reputation, thus generating more interest in their other work.

At the end of that period the work could be freely shared and adapted. A writer’s loss of potential income was offset by their value as a cultural touchstone; Edgar Rice Burroughs is no less a cultural influencer from his works falling into the public domain than not.

Let’s look at our hypothetical 25 year old author; if she passes away at age 75, by old copyright law her estate would still enjoy control of her material for another 6 years.

But let’s say her work, despite its quality, does not remain a perennial best seller. Rather, it falls to the backlist and as such disappears from view because there is not enough potential income to justify promoting it.

As such, after her death and despite the best intentions of her estate, the work remains out of print for six years.

After that, enthusiasts for her work (fans, scholars, teachers) would be free to share it with another generation.

Not being limited to commercial publishing, they could circulate the work freely (if digitally) or at minimum cost (hard copy), thus introducing another generation of readers and fans to the material.

This is exactly how a lot of authors who were in danger of vanishing from the literary realm found themselves becoming overlooked masters of their craft by later generations.

Once the profit motive was removed, their resurgence in popularity was driven purely by enthusiasm for the material, not a major corporation’s bottom line.

Now, it’s fair to say this presumably posthumous rediscovery is moot to the now deceased author.[3]

But it’s also fair to say that often times this
is their only chance at literary immortality.

You see, if the generation that knew them and enjoyed them can’t pass that torch along to the next generation of readers and fans…

…then that torch may sputter and die.

An additional half century may not seem like much, but that’s time enough for three generations to come on the scene and be completely ignorant of the value of a pre-existing work. Not only does the work lose its potential influence, but the works that would have been inspired and derived from it are lost as well.

The currently insanely long copyright terms are not for the benefit of individual human creators; rather they are so corporations can exert a bottleneck that simultaneously crowds new creator-owned material out of the market while at the same time forcing customers to select from a limited range of corporate-owned options in direct contradiction to what our constitution established copyright for![4]

animated mono mickey wink

[1]  And threatening to get longer.

[2]  At least without fear of having the bejeebers sued out of them.

[3]  Or rather, almost always deceased; Irving Berlin lived to see several of his earliest hits slip into the public domain. He did not miss any meals because people could play “Come, Josephine, In My Flying Machine” without sending him royalties.

[4]  There is a solution to the tension between corporate control and individual copyrights, and that is to let the corporations continue to hold specific trademarks while allowing the public at large the right to use those characters and concepts as they see fit. Thusly, the Disney corporation could continue to market the mouse as The Official Mickey Mouse while the public could use now the character’s public domain stories and images as they saw fit. All this would entail would be a periodic minor redesign of characters as they already do anyway to accommodate changing public tastes. The brand would not be damaged because audiences would know that without the official seal, any Mickey Mouse product would just not be “official”.

 

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Compare and Contrast: Rocky vs Dolly

14/05/2016

RHPS who wore it betterWho wore it better?

Many, many years after its initial release, I finally caught up with The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas and was immediately struck with this thought:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
is a far more wholesome film.

There’s a lot to recommend Best Little… as a movie entertainment. First off, few stars have had a better screen debut than Dolly Parton enjoyed in Best Little…[1] Her incredible vivaciousness and personality leap off the screen, but she also demonstrates a savvy actor’s knowledge of character and a wide and subtle range of emotions.

It’s certainly brightly lit, enthusiastically performed, full of surprising turns (Charles Durning as the governor was a delight), fast paced, and jolly good fun while at the same time touching seriously on the topics of cynicism and hypocrisy and the morality of prostitution in light of Judeo-Christian ethics.[2]

But in the final analysis it succumbs to
a certain cynical hypocrisy of its own.

  1. Point: Parton’s Mona Stangley madam character is, for all her vivaciousness and feisty rhetoric, ultimately a passive acquiescent to what men want. She is there to serve them and has no goals of her own other than operating a high class establishment. She folds with minimum fuss when confronted by hypocrisy, and can be — and is — wounded to the quick when called a whore and reminded of her real status in society.
  2. Point: For all the obsessions with sex and tits and ass, for all the titillating talk and flirty dancing, in the end it’s a very sanitized and asexual experience. Bedroom activities consist of rolling about in bed in one’s undies, presented in such a wholesome manner that even the most conservative religious person would see nothing wrong with it. If Disneyland had a whorehouse, this would be it.
  3. Point: Despite this, the film openly states through a man-on-the-street interview that without a release for their sexual tensions, heterosexual men would turn to rape to satisfy their desires.
  4. Point: Though a nod is made towards changing mores, the basic message is that sex is something men are obsessed with and a chore for good, decent women, fit to be engaged in only by the outcasts of society. The women of the town approve of the whorehouse because it lets them take a rest from servicing their husbands, young men get to frolic without having to actually engage emotionally with their partner, and since part of the proceeds are cycled back into the community in the form of Little League baseball uniforms, well, what’s the harm?
  5. Point: Sex, with the exception of Parton and Burt Reynold’s relationship and a nod towards Jim Nabors’ deputy being a happily married man who doesn’t frequent the establishment, is divorced from emotion and genuine passion. It is openly commoditized and exploited by all parties, something men do for fun and women do for money.
  6. Point: Despite this, with one or two exceptions (and they are presented only briefly as comic relief), all on-screen participants are young and good looking (okay, Parton and Reynolds are middle aged and good looking). Everybody’s clean, everybody has a sunny disposition, and unlike Luis Bunuel’s Belle de Jour, there’s no threat of Harold Sakata walking in with a box containing something so horrific even hardened Parisian prostitutes run screaming in terror.RHPS 15244
  7. Point: With the exception of a single token African-American prostitute who dances with a single token African-American football player, sex is reserved for attractive young white women and attractive and / or financially secure white men.
  8. Point: Despite being an egomaniacal poser, a jerk, and an exploiter in his own accord, Dom DeLuise’ newscaster is not wrong when he points out the hypocrisy of passing laws to make certain activities and establishments illegal, then ignoring those laws because it’s beneficial to all parties to do so.[3]

Compared to that, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a breath of fresh air!

  1. RHPS is about characters who are independent moral actors motivated by their various passions.[4] They are all willing, enthusiastic self-guided participants, not passive workers-for-hire awaiting employment. They live in neither fear nor contempt of the mores of others; they do what they want to do and couldn’t care less what others think. “Don’t dream it, be it.”
  2. While there’s actually less skin shown on-screen than Best Little…, RHPS is a lot more realistic in terms of human sexual interactions. It’s messy, it’s extreme, it’s daring, it’s frightening, and it’s tons of fun.
  3. There are seductions galore in RHPS but no rapes. Some participants may be reluctant at the start, but they change their minds and willingly consent before actual sexual activity begins.
  4. Sex is depicted as something to be experienced and enjoyed equally by all people of all genders and orientations. And it remains the business only of those actively involved, not the community at large.
  5. There are no ulterior material motives in RHPS. While different characters have different agendas, they nonetheless relate sexually to one another as individuals, not as people engaged in business. RHPS’ sexual activity means something intrinsic to those involved, not an opportunity for financial exploitation.
  6. The Transylvanians are genuinely egalitarian, representing all ages, all ethnicities, all genders, all orientations, and all physical types. There is more genuine interest and interaction shown among the supporting dancers of RHPS than those in Best Little…
  7. While predominantly a white American / English cast, RHPS features a multi-ethnic troupe who, more importantly, interact across ethnic lines.
  8. Though not its focal point, RHPS does address the issue of moral hypocrisy on the part of authorities. But, as will be elaborated on below, it’s willing to turn its eye on itself and call out hypocrisy among its own central characters. It provides no pat moralistic answers.

That examination is the key to understanding The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It is not a story about two innocents, Brad and Janet, who are initiated into the realm of sexual passion (thought that, of course, occurs).

Rather, Brad and Janet are two vanillas through
whom the audience can witness the real story.

You see, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is actually the same story as Heart Of Darkness / Apocalypse Now: A man on a mission to a remote backwater goes native and his superiors authorize an underling to terminate his command.

Unlike Dolly Parton’s Mona Stangley, Tim Curry’s Dr. Frank N. Furter is no passive character who exists to please others; he’s self-motivated, self-guided, and clearly in charge of the story.

He’s also frightening and dangerous; he flat out murders one character twice then (no spoilers) takes steps to make sure they won’t revive again for Round 3.

He doesn’t cater to glossy surface pleasures but digs down deep into what floats other characters’ boats. He makes people face and realize their own deepest motivations, for good or bad.

But he’s also recognized as being out of control, brushing off his duties as an advance scout to Earth.[5]

Like Mona Stangley, he ultimately has to answer to a higher authority; unlike Mona, he answers for the consequences of his own moral choices and behaviors, not as an innocent scapegoat for the status quo.

And in the end, that’s a far more honest, far more realistic, far more ethical and moral message.

One last thought in closing:
Tim Curry was perfect in RHPS, but Marlon Brando as Dr. Frank N. Furter would have been EPIC.

RHPS Missouri_Breaks_2

I looked for an image of Brando in
lingerie but this is the best I could do.

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[1] Well, Tim Curry, too, in RHPS, only Parton continued her climb to superstardom while Curry settled in for a long and successful career as a character actor.

[2] No foolin’!

[3] It’s ironic that a movie supposedly celebrating heterosexual activities casts two gay actors, Nabors and DeLuise, as the only male characters resistant to the blandishments of the establishment.

[4] This use of the term “moral actor” means an individual who has the right and ability to make ethical decisions regarding their actions, not a squeaky clean performer.

[5] We know little about the mission or the culture of the Transylvanians (from the galaxy Transexual, not to be confused with the Transylvanians of Earth) but we do know whatever it was, Dr. Frank N. Furter has abandoned it in pursuit of self-gratification. It’s an open question whether he had these predilections before arriving here and embraced the freedom to do as he wished without oversight, or if he became corrupted by what he found on Earth. Likewise the question about Kurtz in both Heart Of Darkness and Apocalypse Now is whether he misunderstood his superiors’ orders or understood them all too well.

 

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Fiddling With My Blog

13/05/2016

animated buster on the runI’m going to be fiddling with my blog and other internet activities over the summer.

First off, since I’m using Instagram for my humorous captions project, I’m going to stop posting similar images here.

The Instagram images go to Facebook and Twitter anyway.

Twitter I spend very little time on; I’m going to keep that account going for the funny captions and to announce when I have new posts on my blog, but I’m really not using it to its maximum potential.

animated buster misses his rideI am thinking of starting a Tumblr account to archive all the Instagram stuff so people can download it easily; copying stuff off Instagram is a pain in the tuchkis and I don’t mind sharing it.

This blog will re focus on:

  1. My upcoming books, stories, appearances, and projects
  2. Opinion pieces by yrs trly
  3. Anecdotes about people I’ve worked with and projects I’ve worked on
  4. Short stories, fictoids, and poems.

I’ll keep The Words Of The Prophets going but will drop Thinkage and a few other irregular features after the ones I have stockpiled run out.

If I see a good article I will link to it on Facebook;
this blog will be centered more around what I write.

Facebook will catch the brunt of my posting, more current affairs oriented than this blog, as well as more personal comments on other topics.

animated buster wall fall

I’m trying to organize material for a podcast that will focus mostly on places I’ve worked and people I’ve worked with [see #3 above]. That probably won’t occur before the end of summer.

I’ve tried about a half dozen other forms of social media but Facebook, this blog, Instagram, and Twitter are the only ones that engage my interest to any degree and, as so many people advise, if you’re not interested enough in a social media to actively participate, why bother at all?

animated buster snags ride

A tip o’the pork-pie hat to
the one & only Buster Keaton

 

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Duty Now For The Future

4/05/2016

Criswell rest of our livesI direct your attention to this fascinating article in the Washington Post:
Six maps that will make you rethink the world

It’s derived from a new book by Parag Khanna called Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization.

It’s a glimpse into the world of the latter part of the 21st century, 2050CE+ or thenabouts.

If you are a climate change denialist,
this is your cue to go visit a porn site.

There’s a lot of interesting stuff here, but I’ll let the article speak for itself.

I will say this for North American readers based on his predictions (and these are my take aways from the article, Khanna does not necessarily address all these particulars):

  1. While a political entity called The United States Of America may exist half a century from now, it will not be the geopolitical powerhouse it is today. [1]
  2. Much of the US and Mexican / Central American populations will be disrupted by climate change and move north, many crossing the border and heading on into Canada.
  3. Canada and Russia will become the breadbasket of the world.
  4. Denmark, which thanks to its claims on Greenland will be reveling in vast untapped natural resources as its glaciers melt, is gonna be fnckin’ RICH!
  5. The new global trade routes will be located through the Arctic region, which will be ice free for most of the year; life there will be bracing but not impossible.
  6. Those US citizens remaining in America will be working in thermal / solar energy jobs or supporting same; agriculture in the South and Southwest will quite literally dry up. The great Dust Bowl Migration of the Depression will be dwarfed by the population shift northward. [2]

The article focuses on the-glass-is-half-full side of the equation,
and as the old saw goes, it’s an ill wind that blows no one any good.

As noted, Canada and Russia will benefit from global warming, exporting food to the rest of the world. Trade routes will flourish through the Arctic, avoiding high tension choke points we have today.

But those blessings are only
the heads side of the coin;
there’s a tails side, too.

Solar energy will be a huge industry, but only because climate change is going to turns vast swaths of the planet into deserts.

The southern hemisphere is going to take a huge economic hit but will probably muddle through.

China is going to spend half its time in partnership with Africa, developing and exploiting the resources of that vast continent. It will be for them what the American West was for the United States, and if they learn from our mistakes and treat the Africans with more respect and dignity than we did our native peoples, they will be a dominant force in the world for many centuries to come.

A new Chinese-African ethnic group will emerge.

The other half of its time, China will probably be involved in a never ending series of slugfests with India.

As lowland areas of Pakistan and Bangladesh are flooded by melting Himalayan glaciers and rising sea levels, tens of millions of people will be on the move, disrupting and crowding India and Southeast Asia even more.

They’ve got to go somewhere and China is the closest spot available.

What’s left culturally of the United States will be found along the northern border we share with Canada. [3]

Southern US culture will vanish, the last shreds of the old Confederacy finally drying up and blowing away in the northward migration. [4]

The agricultural base of the American South, Midwest, and Southwest will cease to exist and be replaced by a solar energy based culture — and probably one funded by China, who will have no patience for archaic American ethnic BS.

Among the first generation of emigrants north — and if historical models hold true, skipping a generation to the third and fourth generations in the new land — there will be a great nostalgic look back at a mostly imaginary America. Americana — which will either whitewash or romanticize the historical struggles of the United States and the people in it — will be a hugely popular genre. [5]

While there will be a great temptation to blame these changes on this party‘s or that party’s political intransigence, the truth is this will be larger than politics.

Politics is going to be like a monkey dancing on the back of a whale: It may do it well, and it may do it successfully enough to ride the whale for a long, long time, but the whale is moving of its own accord and nothing the monkey can do will change it.

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[1] Think it can’t happen that fast? Ask the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czarist Russia, and the Ottomans how long it took them.

[2] Canada would be well advised to prepare for this huge influx of climate refugees from both the US and Mexico. There will be plenty of agricultural jobs for them to fill, but if Canada isn’t ready for them, they will disrupt Canadian culture and society. My advice is to tell them to drop their old attitudes and allegiances at the border and become good Canucks, eh. That’s going to require a lot of re-education.

[3] It’s not impossible at some future point, perhaps in the 22nd century but maybe even sooner, Canada will absorb the US.

[4] They won’t be the only ones. West Coast culture and Gulf Coast culture will also evaporate under the relentless glare of the sun. Enjoy ‘em while you can, folks.

[5] It will be coexisting with newer genres born out of the coming great migration, and probably never as the dominant genre, but it will be there.

 

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There Are No Skeletons In My Closet

4/05/2016

animated jason skeletons

Like Jason, all mine are out
in the open, hacking away.

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