I Want to Live on Tatooine

Something’s bugging me, and I don’t know what. I’ll figure it out sooner or later. One thing that’s a little disorienting over here on the East Coast is the imbalance between what the weather looks like it should be and what it actually is. Think about it. If it’s raining, it should be cold. If it’s sunny, it should be warm. There are plenty of places where that isn’t true, but I grew up in California, and there, it generally is. Now I live in a city where thunderstorms and sweltering heat can coexist. What is this, the tropics? I want to live on Tatooine. Sure, it’s hot as hell, but at least you know what you’re gonna get.

It’s hot and sunny today. There was a thunderstorm this morning. I brought my umbrella to school, and now I feel like an idiot carrying it around in the middle of a blazing summer day. Someone should tell the mad scientists who secretly control our weather to make up their goddamn minds. If they’re going to wipe us off the face of the Earth, could they at least be a little bit more consistent about it? This wildly inconsistent weather pattern does nothing but irritate me. If you want me dead, you should go all-out. I deserve that, at least.

Part of what made Darth Vader such a great villain was his desperation. In the first film (of the original trilogy, obviously), he’s taking orders from Grand Moff Tarkin and clinging to the hope that he can make his Imperial cohorts respect the power of the Force. In Empire, he kills his underlings for everything except breathing loudly not because he’s all-powerful, but because he’s scared shitless of what the Emperor will do to him if he fails. Darth Vader is unspeakably evil, but as prone to self-doubt and insecurity as any one of us. That’s why he’s terrifying. On one hand, the Empire looks unbeatable, but on the other, they’re barely holding together. Nobody seems to like them very much. They’re trying to rule an entire galaxy out of fear. That’s difficult, even when you’ve got a weapon that can destroy an entire planet in one shot.

The closest thing to Darth Vader that New York has is Donald Trump. He’s not scary so much as just annoying. Seriously, what has he accomplished? Darth Vader at least believed in something. Trump believes in, I don’t know, putting his name on everything he touches, having a hideous hairdo, and making sure that no one ever forgets him. On the first two counts, he has most likely succeeded, but I’m not so certain about that third part. What will the history books say about him? Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan revolutionized their respective industries, for better or for worse. I don’t think Donald Trump has revolutionized anything except how to be an loathsome douchebag. Has he inspired anyone? Do business majors cite him as their reason for getting into this line of work? I’ve known at least one person who idolized Warren Buffet. I respect Warren Buffet. Trump is a pest, nothing more. No one takes him seriously. No one ever will.

One of my favorite elements of the Original Star Wars Trilogy is something that a lot of people mock it for. It may seem ridiculous at first that the whole Death Star can be detonated by a direct hit to an exhaust port, but things that stupid happen in real life all the time. Remember the Mars Climate Orbiter? It crashed on the surface of Mars because the ground crew did the calculations in Imperial units but programmed the lander in meters. Over $300 million were lost because a bunch of geniuses with degrees from the best universities in the world made a mathematical error that I was warned against in grade school. It would be funny if it weren’t so…actually, screw that. It’s hilarious.

New York has a convoluted subway system that I’m still learning my way around. But I can get to a ride to Alderaan on the Millenium Falcon for only 10,000 credits. New York subways are crowded and filthy. The most unsanitary thing on the Falcon is Chewbacca, and I’m pretty sure he’s been toilet-trained. New York has muggers. Tatooine has Sand People. I think I’ve made my point.

I’m still debating whether children or Ewoks are more annoying. Ewoks are cuter, sure, but they’re also more prone to roasting strangers over a fire. We’ll call that one a toss-up. Children just rub their boogers on you. Never mind that–Ewoks are better than children. The point I’m trying to make is that while flying to New York and studying at an Ivy League school may seem glamorous, there’s a lot about it that’s chaotic, even messy. I’m supposed to be finishing a lab right now. (I hate the way that Climatology labs are always due on Friday night.) After that, I’ll probably go home to catch up on The Daily Show, which I have sadly fallen behind on. The Star Wars universe, admittedly, lacks a Jon Stewart, but I’ll trade that in for the chance to hang with Yoda. As long as he’s still a puppet controlled by Frank Oz rather than a CGI creation, I’ll pay just about any price.

I’m Angry Because It’s Wednesday

It’s been a long time since I’ve let loose with some good, old-fashioned nerd rage. I’m angry. Specifically, I’m angry at my fellow Doctor Who fans. In a recent poll, they voted the Vashta Nerada, the Weeping Angels, and the Silence the three scariest Who villains. No Cybermen, no Daleks, not even the creepy wooden soldiers from The Mind Robber. I’ve complained a lot already about the lack of curiosity amongst my fellow Whovians, about the way that they gush incessantly about Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith, but don’t know a damn thing about Troughton, Pertwee, or Hartnell. It’s a natural human tendency to have more curiosity about recent history than ancient. So it’s understandable that most of the Whovians I meet say that they love the New Series, but haven’t gotten around to the older stuff yet. What is not understandable is how dismissive they are of anything that’s more than ten years old. Special effects do not make a monster scary. For that matter, neither does the ability to be sneaky. The Weeping Angels are genuinely terrifying, there is no doubt about that. They also lack personality. I don’t know about you, but I’m always far more scared by threats that have some sort of dramatic weight to them. One of my favorite horror movies is The Exorcist, partially because so much of its running time is spent focusing on the conflict of a mother who has no idea what is wrong with her daughter. It’s a scary movie, sure, but you also care about the characters. Does anybody honestly care about the Weeping Angels? Do they have any hidden dimensions to them? They are scary and nothing more. They’re good for a few cheap thrills, but just like the Silence, they tend to fade from my memory fairly quickly.

I’m so glad I got that out of my head. It’s been a month or so since I’ve ranted about Doctor Who. In all honesty, I’ve never wanted to disown my fellow Whovians more than I did when I heard about this poll. Maybe I shouldn’t make too big of a deal about it. After the release of The Dark Knight, it was briefly ranked as the greatest film ever made on the IMDB. No serious film scholar would argue that it’s better than The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, or The Rules of the Game. But the IMDB is not a salon for film students. It’s a place where anyone can sign up to rate and talk about movies to their heart’s content. The Dark Knight was a much-hyped movie that more or less lived up to fans’ high expectations. I liked it a lot, although I wouldn’t even call it the best movie of 2008, let alone alone of all time. Still, there might be people who cite it as their favorite. More power to them. It’s not going to stop me from asking them questions, however.

Speaking of questions, I still don’t understand why animation fans are constantly arguing over whether Pixar or Studio Ghibli is better. Setting aside that the answer is obviously Ghibli, it serves no purpose. What do the studios have in common besides both being popular and beloved animation studios? It might be easier to compare the two if they had a similar cultural outlook, but they don’t. Pixar films are distinctly American, and Ghibli films are distinctly Japanese. A week or two ago, I watched Pom Poko, a lovely film from the director of Grave of the Fireflies. Unlike Fireflies, which was brilliant but unrelentingly grim, this one was somewhat lighter, although more than a little cynical and humanistic in tone. It tells the story of a group of talking raccoons who try to fight off a group of land developers who want to bulldoze their forest and build a city there. They fail. That, all by itself, makes it different from any American film I’ve ever seen. But did I mention that these raccoons are also based off of Japanese folk creatures who have the ability to shapeshift and make parachutes, clubbing weapons, and in one scene, a boat out of their testicles? Yes, you read that right. To Japanese audiences, that probably doesn’t seem so weird. To us, it makes us wonder just who this film’s intended audience is.

I liked this movie. I don’t know why you’re looking at me like that.

Let me be clear: Pom Poko is not a children’s film. It’s rated PG, but some would probably take issue with that. I think kids have a higher tolerance for unsettling imagery and hard-hitting drama than we give them credit for. How else to explain that we tell them fairy tales, some of the most violent and twisted stories ever told? Some feel differently, however. So if you don’t think your kid could handle Pom Poko, don’t show it to them. But if I ever become a parent (unlikely, but who knows?), I’ll show my kid the good stuff. Sure, she’ll be able to listen to Justin Bieber (or whoever the teenybopper of the moment is in another fifteen years or so), but she’ll also listen to Simon & Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell. I wouldn’t force her to watch only TV shows that I like, but if she doesn’t like Rocky & Bullwinkle, the brat is going to find another home. It’s tough love.

Where am I going with all this? Simple: if you want to teach your children well, never let them operate only inside their comfort zone. That’s just bad parenting, no matter what age they are.

Prospero Is My Homeboy

As anyone who reads this blog or knows me should realize, I’m a complete Shakespeare fanatic. I credit him with every one of Western Civilization’s great achievements including the cure for polio, and if anyone reading this dares to hint that he is overrated or overpraised, let them commit seppuku immediately. Shakespeare fucking owns. End of discussion.

That said, I don’t think most people realize just how modern much of his work is. Anyone who has seen the Ian McKellen version of Richard III, which reimagines the play as taking place in the alternate-universe fascist England of the 1930s can tell you that there are infinite ways to breathe life into the four century-old material. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where Shakespeare fans are starting to wonder if anyone stages the material in the time or place that Shakespeare intended anymore. As a professional actor/musician/singer/director friend of mine explained, Shakespeare plays are so widely performed and known that the only way to make money off of them is to find a way to stage them that hasn’t been done to death. I sympathize. The nice thing about the Bard, though, is that his work can be put on by just about anyone. You don’t need a budget or professional actors to find a unique way of staging the Shakesman. All you need is imagination.

Why am I talking about this? In my last post, I mentioned that I’m trying to write less for myself and more for my audience (which, from what I can tell, consists of a dozen or so Facebook friends and three people who stumbled upon my blog while looking for something else), so why am I talking about something that mostly just matters to me? Let’s begin by acknowledging that this isn’t really about Shakespeare. It’s about control. Shakespeare’s work has shown the longevity that it has because it is so universal. Whatever your area of interest is, it’s likely that you can find something in Shakespeare that appeals to you. My Shakespeare professor was an ardent feminist, so most of her readings had to do with the gender politics of his plays. I tend to beeline for political and religious interpretations. Some people prefer to focus on linguistics and the curious way that so much of his dialogue can have alternate meanings depending on whether it is spoken aloud or read. There are metafictional interpretations to much of it as well, one of the strongest examples being Prospero’s final speech in The Tempest, which is both a moving meditation on the actor’s dependence on his audience and an epitaph for Billy Shakes’ career as a whole. My professor covered that play last. Since she died of cancer a few months later, it made her lecture a sort of swan song of its own.

I lost my iPod about a week and a half ago. It’s annoying, especially because I cannot figure out how it happened. I packed up my things so that I could work in another part of my school building, moved there, and when I unpacked my things, the iPod was gone. I returned to the previous spot to see if it was still there, but it wasn’t. Sure, it could have been stolen, but I don’t think it was. I think the people who go to school in that particular building would return a lost item. Yet I’ve heard nothing from lost & found after filling out a report. Things like this don’t happen to me. I lived on my own for a year and never locked myself out of my apartment. I didn’t even stash a spare key in a place where I could get to it if something did happen. I’ve never locked my keys in my car. I set my alarm, but my biological clock is so finely tuned that I almost always wake up before it goes off. This isn’t supposed to happen. But I’m still feeling my way around. I was confident at first that I would find it again, but now I’m not sure. Where could it have gone? It fell through a hole in my mind. I don’t even want it back half as badly as I want to know how it slipped away.

Prospero lived on an island where he controlled everything. He was master of all that he saw, so no one could betray him. I don’t want to move to a remote island. But I need to be good enough at organizing and managing my life that an expensive device that I got barely two months ago doesn’t disappear without explanation. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

I’m slowly piecing my life together. Yesterday, a professor called me into her office to ask me what happened with a recent project. I told her that it was turned in late, but that I’m proud of my work nonetheless and confident that next time around, I will be more punctual. She threw up her hands, shook her head, and said, “Well, I just don’t know about that.” Excuse me? I really don’t know what else I can say. I believe in myself. I can’t help it if others don’t.

My mother seems to be coming around. So there’s that. Still a long way to go before I rule the world, though.

Enough

A friend told me I remind him of Doctor Doom. I’ll take that as a compliment. Back in high school, someone else told me that I seem like a real-life James Bond villain. If my raging contempt for lesser mortals and superior intellect makes some people perceive me as evil, who am I to dispute them? It will all work out for the best when I take over the world. Since I’m right about everything, why not let me make all the decisions? I’ll be a much more benevolent and competent dictator than Kim Jong-Il, I guarantee you. He was interested in only one thing: glorifying himself. I’m interested in seeking glory. There’s a difference.

I’ve been having trouble adjusting to life as a grad student, as some of you may know. However, something occurred to me not too long ago: I’m going to fucking rock out. During orientation, there was a panel discussion with recent graduates who assured all of us that we would be fine. Somehow, that didn’t sink in. That’s when I realized that “fine” is not good enough for me. I’m going to get enough sleep, have plenty of leisure time, and graduate near the top of my class. Any questions? Call me a megalomaniac if you must, but many of my classmates seem to have accepted that pulling all-nighters and eating granola bars for lunch is the only way to survive something this hectic. If that works for them, fine. But I want more than success. I want to succeed and have fun while doing it. I want to make it look easy. And when that’s done, I WANT TO CONQUER THE FUCKING WORLD! MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

(For added effect, read that last part while watching this clip.)

There is not enough time in the world to do everything that I want to do. I want to read every good book, see every good movie, visit every interesting spot on the map, have all sorts of memorable encounters with peoples of various backgrounds and lifestyles, and go home to my currently-nonexistent boyfriend at the end of the day. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to live any other way. When I was in the early days of my cinematic education, I made the mistake of thinking that I could see enough movies. I kept telling myself that if I just saw one more Satyajit Ray film or cult movie from the 80s, I would officially be able to say that I was educated about movies. I am educated. But it’s folly to think that the answer lies in seeing/watching/reading that one that you still haven’t gotten around to. I recently discovered that Columbia’s Media Center has about a hundred obscure/art house movies that I haven’t been able to get through Netflix, iTunes, or the public library. Immediately, I knew what the first two or three that I would see would be. But after that, I have no idea. There are so many stars in the sky. Who am I to say which one is the most beautiful?

I still remember what my yearbook quote was for my senior year of high school: “When you can’t run anymore, you crawl, and when you can’t do that, you find someone to carry you.” It’s from Firefly. Every year, someone uses that stupid Ferris Bueller quote about life moving so fast that if you don’t stop and look around, you might miss it. True, but trite. I don’t go for quotes about the meaning of life. On a basic level, it’s nothing more than a chemical reaction. If you’re religious or spiritual, you can believe that some part of us lives on after we die, but generally, I think that death is nothing more than the cessation of all activity. I believe in passing on what we know. I’m not sure what point life could possibly have if not to teach others and learn from them. Even if the world crumbles around us like in The Road, nothing will ever matter more than being a good person.

I’m still trying to figure out why this post has gotten such persistent traffic. It’s been over a month since I published it, and it’s still getting views. Do people honestly think I know the meaning of life? Or does one guy have it bookmarked and just keep reading it over and over like I do with this article? Most of what I write stops getting hits within the week, if it gets any hits at all. I guess people like hearing me riff on what I think makes for good comedy.

I have a lab due tomorrow. Like most of my assignments, it’s a group project, which means that by waiting to get around to it, I’m inconveniencing everyone. Or am I? Maybe they need to take a deep breath and get some perspective. The work will get done. In the meantime, I still haven’t watched last night’sDaily Show.

A friend suggested I stop writing exclusively for myself and ask the question as to who my intended audience is. Well, I think I’ve figured it out. The question is: are they ready for me?

I Hate Tyler Perry

Image stolen, as always, from Cracked.

Fuck him. Fuck him up his obnoxious, egomaniacal ass. I see the posters for that stupid movie he did with Eugene Levy everywhere, and they make me wish the picture(s) of him on the poster were real so I could punch him right in the face(s). Why does he insist on putting his name in the title of every movie he makes? In this case, it means that the full title starts with two possessives. That’s just wrong. And since Madea is played by Tyler Perry, he might as well call the film Tyler Perry’s Tyler Perry’s Witness Protection. Scratch that–why not just call it Tyler Perry? His audience will eat up anything with his name on it, and since everything he does is the same, there’s hardly any point in pretending that this movie is any different just because there’s a white person in it. I haven’t seen the movie, nor do I plan to, but if Perry’s last 57 movies are any indicator, this film will contain lots of sassy black humor followed by nuggets of “wisdom” that will have the lapdogs in the audience whooping and hollering. I have yet to hear Madea say anything that would be out of place in a Hallmark card (well, if Hallmark cards weren’t so goddamn white), but her audience seems to think that her sayings are insightful. Well, maybe if you don’t like to think. Which they don’t.

Tyler Perry’s filmmaking is one thing. His social conservatism is another. I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands of movies covering every era and genre from Italian neo-realism to kung fu to big-budget blockbusters. For many years, I was a true aficionado, watching any movie by any director or starring any actor so long as it was supposed to be good. So I hope you understand how serious I am when I say that I have never come across a filmmaker whose work is as repetitive as Tyler Perry’s. Not one. Every one of his films has the same dramatic beats, the same basic characters, and the same damn message. Is he scared that people will stop watching his films if he challenges them even one bit? Maybe he’s right. How many Tyler Perry fans do you know? I don’t think I know any. They all operate in a sphere that is completely removed from my own experience. They don’t go to the movies for the same reasons that you and I do. They are–I hate this phrase–not like us.

Take away Tyler Perry’s skin color and religious beliefs, and what do you have? A self-righteous, hacky closet case. He has no right to compare himself to Booker T. Washington or other civil rights pioneers because they were devoted to making people see past their skin color. Perry wants them to see it and nothing else. Yes, a person’s race is a part of their identity, along with their ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and what have you. Perry’s work goes beyond expressing pride in who he is. He uses it as a label to prevent himself from allowing any outside influences to slip in. He’s made movies with white people. I’d love to see him make an interracial love story.

I’m going to shift gears now. I do that a lot, and in this case I have no better excuse than that I’ve run out of things to say about Tyler Perry and have something else I’d rather talk about. I was kicked out of my apartment not too long ago just for rubbing one of my roommates the wrong way. Readers of this blog know that already. She said that I have an edge to me. It’s true: I’m not a very friendly person. These past few weeks of grad school have reminded me of why that is so. Whenever I’m nice to people, they take advantage of me. Some people are able to be nice and still get what they want. I’m not one of them. The only thing that ever works for me is being the biggest asshole I possibly can in the hopes that the only people who still want anything to do with me will be people who love the real me.

My grad program is a fairly inclusive group. There are just under 70 of us, and we take all of our classes together and see each other every weekday. I’ve been friended on Facebook by people I barely know just because we’re both involved in this program. I haven’t made too many friends so far. It’s not that I don’t believe there are any people worth knowing in this group, just that I shouldn’t assume they’re my friends because we have one thing in common. Case in point: I’ve spent the past few weeks working on a presentation with a partner. It’s a part of a larger assignment that involves a group of close to a dozen people. The presentation is tomorrow. I was originally assigned to be the leader, and my partner to be my helper. Just yesterday, the group leaders told me that since my helper had done more research, she was now the leader. Before I wrote this, one of the leaders interrupted me while unwinding to tell me that I wasn’t being enough of a team player, and that I should get to work helping my partner. What a fucking cunt. I’m not angry at my partner–she did more legwork than I did, and probably deserves to be leader. But the decision should have been made sooner. I’ve been freaking out about this presentation for weeks now, and right before I was told that she, not I, was to give it, I was actually starting to feel pretty confident. I should have known that the floor was about to drop from under me.

If there is a reason as to why I hate Tyler Perry so passionately, that’s it. His movies teach that all you have to do is open your heart to the good people of the world, and you’ll be alright. That may be true. But you have to know who the good people are first. And if you want to do that, there is no worse way to begin than to get hung up on labels.