Why the Doctor Should Be an Old White Man

Let’s talk about social justice for a second. The term “social justice warrior” has become something of a slur on the internet. I don’t see the shame in it, personally. It’s like using “feminazi” as an insult. Obviously, invoking Nazism to deride someone you don’t like is wrong, but since the real insult there is that somebody thinks women deserve equality, I’m not sure why this is supposed to be offensive. If being an SJW means believing that it is wrong to exclude people based on race, gender, sexuality, religious beliefs, nationality, or what have you, then call me an SJW. Call me a feminazi if it please you. I butt heads with my fellow feminists on certain things because there are times when I feel that taking a stand is somewhat pointless. That, in case you can’t tell, is what I’ve gathered you here to talk about. The Doctor is not the President. He doesn’t have to represent the diversity of his own viewership. It might be nice, but it’s hardly necessary to make him a woman or a person of color. In fact, it’s probably better if we don’t. Here’s why.

Doctor Who has been around for 50 years. Like any other cultural institution, it has a certain value and aesthetic that cannot be separated from the time in which it was created. The Doctor travels around in a police box, something that existed only in a very specific time and place. He travels primarily with young women from contemporary England, and his relationship with them is usually a bit paternalistic, perhaps even a tiny bit condescending. You can like or dislike it, but those elements are hardwired into the DNA of the show. Take them away and it’s not Doctor Who, just as a James Bond who isn’t cocky, cool, and kind of a misogynist isn’t James Bond or a Sherlock Holmes who is warm and fuzzy and a feminist isn’t really Sherlock Holmes. People believe that in order to update the show and make it accessible to the new generation, we need to change its values. But Doctor Who isn’t gay marriage. It’s not your right. It’s not even a privilege. It’s a thing you can watch or not watch. That’s why it’s art: because it doesn’t give a fuck whether you like it or not. If it did, it wouldn’t be art.

I’ve gotten mocked for making this argument before. People say that since Doctor Who is really about change, we should embrace the change and all that that implies. By that logic, the Doctor should be played by a Chihuahua and the show should consist of him driving around in a Porsche and sniffing other dogs’ shit. Don’t give me any of that “that’s not what I meant” crap; it’s what you said, so stand by it or fuck off. You can’t separate the English-ness of the show from the show itself. It’s a shamelessly romantic portrait of an England that hasn’t existed for a long time and probably never did to begin with. If you don’t buy into that, don’t watch the show. You don’t get a vote. This isn’t democracy. It’s art. Part of the reason I have to distance myself from the fanbase is the invidious notion that so many of the entitled fuckwits have gotten into their heads that since they would like to see a female or black Doctor, they should get to see a female or black Doctor. No. It’s not the show’s job to give you what you want.

Doctor Who has disappeared up its own ass in recent years. It’s no longer about pushing forward but about running in circles. Every other episode is about revisiting something that happened in a previous storyline or going back to the Doctor’s childhood or bringing back a beloved old character for one last go-round (until they decide to bring back that character again for yet another go-round). When will this end? Moriarty is in a grand total of two of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. Know why? Because once he’s gone over Reichenbach Falls, that’s it. There’s nothing left to say about him once that’s done. He doesn’t exist just to give definition to Sherlock. Sherlock isn’t the center of the universe. Moriarty is a criminal mastermind and when Sherlock foils some of his plans, he decides he has to take Sherlock out. It’s that simple. They’re not destined to be together, and I get so tired of those introspective moments where the villain says “We’re not so different, you and I” while the hero has to wonder if he’s really a good man or not. I think Sherlock is a good man. I think the Doctor is, too. Can we accept that and move on? People change, I know, but it’s the present that matters. At present, I don’t like Doctor Who or Sherlock. So I don’t watch either show. Funny how that works.

In case it’s not obvious, I was pretty steamed when I wrote this. I’m angry about a lot of things right now. I’m also stressed out, because I’ve got a really busy week coming up and I’m wondering how I’ll be able to pay my bills, do my job(s), and still find the time to see my friends. Typical adult stuff, I guess. I don’t want to be a parent. God bless those of you who like kids, but I don’t and I never will. It’s just not for me. I can’t change the fact that Darren Wilson and the dude who killed Eric Garner got off for what was quite simply murder just because people don’t want to face up to the deep and pervasive sickness of racism. And for the Spike Lee fans out there, let me just say that Mookie did the right thing. That anger had to go somewhere. You can’t just watch a cop murder somebody, shrug, say, “That’s unfortunate”, and go home. You just can’t.

Maybe I’m just tired of spending all my time in the arts. I need something to think about other than media representations of various groups of people. Sometimes a show is just a show. And if I don’t enjoy it, I don’t enjoy it. That’s my business. But it won’t stop me from whining about it. In the name of God, I will do my duty.

More Than Human

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEADThere is a difference between mellowing out and losing your edge. Most people mellow out as they get older. That’s natural. Sidley Lumet made a string of good-to-great movies from the late 50s into the mid-70s, from 12 Angry Men to Dog Day Afternoon. His pace slowed after that, but he never lost it completely. His final film was Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, an unflinchingly cynical piece of work that would be impossible to sit through if it weren’t so gripping. A lot of artists have a 10-15 year period relatively early in their careers during which they crank out one classic after the next. Springsteen was like that. So was Akira Kurosawa. John Carpenter, too, although he was a little hit-and-miss even when he was in his prime. Alfred Hitchcock is an outlier. He made two of his best-regarded films, Psycho and Vertigo, when he was pushing 60. I haven’t seen any of his films from the 70s, but I’ve heard some very positive things about Frenzy. If I mellow out, that’s fine. If I lose my edge, kill me. I’m not kidding.

I’ve cried at only a couple of movies in my lifetime. Ikiru is one. If you’ve seen that one, you probably know which scene I’m talking about. Even if you haven’t, the DVD cover gives it away. Dear Zachary is another. It’s one of the most wrenching films ever made, made even more so by the fact that it’s a documentary. The last half hour of that movie will rip your heart out. The most recent one was Mary and Max, a claymation film from Australia. It’s on Netflix, so if you haven’t seen it, hie thee hence over there and watch it immediately. It’s about a New Yorker with Asperger’s who becomes pen pals with a little girl in Australia. As a warning, let me say that though the film is animated, it is not kid-friendly, and it gets dark pretty late into its running time. But it’s worth it. I respond to dark comedies better than most other genres, perhaps because my life is one. That film is hopeful, just unconventionally so. Don’t feel sorry for Max.

There’s a general rule that I’ve observed when it comes to couples. People who are in healthy, fulfilling relationships rarely feel the need to talk about it. You can spend a significant amount of time getting to know them before they say the words, “My girlfriend/boyfriend/husband/wife/partner/whatever….” People who are insecure about their relationship and want to hide behind it as a means of deflecting criticism are the ones who always gush about their partners and how perfect they are. It’s more willful self-delusion than anything else. They want to believe that because of this relationship, they are a totally different person than they were before. This requires that their partner sit still and be objectified to be complicit in maintaining the illusion. It’s a form of co-dependency, an immaturity that tries to pass itself off as maturity. There’s nothing wrong with a little PDA here and there, but if you make YouTube videos consisting entirely of you and your boyfriend kissing and canoodling, I feel justified in saying that your relationship is not long for this world. That is all.

I’ve said before that I never want to work a 9-to-5 job. I’m actually starting to like the feeling of being free when everyone else is at work, even if the flipside is that I often have work when everyone else is out partying. Maybe that’s because I’m a weirdo, or maybe it’s because I like to remind myself that I’m a weirdo. I wonder if other people find me intimidating. Do they hang back from talking to me because I scare them off? As I write this, I’m still doing a slow burn over the events in Ferguson, Missouri. I don’t have the time or the energy to talk about that at length now. But I will reiterate what I have said before: If you are one of those people who insist that this isn’t about race, you’re part of the problem. I hear people tell me that if I were nicer, people would be more willing to listen to me. No, I think the only way I ever get someone to listen to me is by telling them exactly what I think of them. It’s not “I speak my mind, and if you can’t handle it, fuck you” so much as it’s “I speak my mind, and if you can’t handle it, okay then”.

You can’t really get anywhere if you can’t have a discussion. And a lot of discussion gets shortchanged because the instant I say something negative about, say, a movie, somebody says, “It’s just a movie. If you don’t like it, you can watch something else.” That’s…not a response to my criticism, however. Sometimes, I watch/read/listen to stuff that I don’t exactly like. Sometimes I say so just to see what people say back. If all people have to say is, “Why can’t you just let Person X do their own thing and not be so judgmental”, I sorta shrug and roll my eyes at the same time, then walk away. When you put yourself out there in a public forum, you are opening yourself up to criticism. That doesn’t mean you have to like it. It doesn’t even mean you have to listen to it. It just means that you should acknowledge it. Because you can’t make the stuff you don’t like just disappear. And the reason other people exist is not to tell you how wonderful you are.

I’ve been getting more into classic comic strips lately. Does anyone remember Pogo? I had never read it, but then I found out that my main man Bill Watterson is a fan. So I guess I have some reading to do.

pogo

Eyesight to the Blind

american beautyThere’s a good line in the film The Brothers McMullen where a man who is in his early thirties says that it feels like just yesterday, he was in high school, and his wife replies, “No, you’re at least fifteen years too young for a mid-life crisis.” Where did the mid-life crisis come from? Technically, your forties and fifties are only the middle of your life if you’re leading a very long one, but never mind. I’ve had angst over where I’m going over the past year or so, but absolutely refuse to consider that a “quarter-life crisis”. I guess that term springs from the realization that once you’ve finished school and are trying to start a professional life, you are once again at the foot of a mountain. You can chase the brass ring if you like, but even if you do get it, you’ll look around and ask, “Is this all there is to it?” And the answer to that is no, but the real fun stuff is in between the lines. I keep fixating on that stupid Ben Stiller movie from last year, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which might as well have been called Mid-Life Crisis: The Movie, because if your idea of living life to the fullest is jumping out of a helicopter and skateboarding down a mountain, you need to rethink your priorities.

Kirk Cameron is a real asshole. That’s hardly news to anyone who has followed his career. He peaked at eighteen, then decided that rather than mature into a complex, interesting person, he would like to tell other people how to live their lives. It’s sad, and by “sad”, I mean “infuriating”. I’m not sure if he was all that good of an actor to begin with, but then again, he might have had a pretty good career had he applied himself to learning his craft and not spent all his time going on and on about how much he loves bananas. But what’s frustrating is that somebody is continuing to finance what he does. His movies make money, even if the only people who watch them are far-right Christians. How do we reach these people? Do they even want to be reached? I hate Kirk Cameron for many reasons, but the biggest one I can think of at the moment is making Piers Morgan look reasonable.

I’m trying to find the right balance between being outraged and serene. It’s easy to get burned out following the news. That happened to me when I was writing for a political magazine in college, and even though I didn’t want to write about the news, I found ways to write about it, essentially by taking a step back. The thing that’s got me angry these days is the treatment of livestock by our farming industry. Chris Christie plans to veto a bill that is almost unanimously supported by both legislators and the electorate because it might hurt his chances in Iowa, which depends on pork production. What an asshole. It drives me insane that this guy was reelected in such a landslide, because anyone who is even half-awake can see that he is a rude, temperamental, petty bully who cares less about enacting change than becoming president. (And if don’t think he was involved in the closure of the lanes on the George Washington Bridge just because there is no definitive evidence tying him to it, give me a fucking break. Seriously.) He buried his opponent, Barbara Buono (embarrassingly, I had to look up her name) in the last election, but she is a class act.

I don’t know what to do about stuff like this. There are some people who just sit back and say, “The world has enough problems. I just look out for myself.” There are also people who get very angry over the blatant mistreatment of pigs, but don’t have the tact to engage with people who might be sympathetic to their point of view. I can’t be like that. I have no use for purism, as high-minded and idealistic as I am. I do not believe that Barack Obama is a traitor to his base just because he governs from a more moderate and diplomatic point of view than the liberal firebrands like myself would like. I do not believe that the United States is an evil nation just because we kill people with drone strikes, although I won’t attempt to defend that, as it is appalling. All I know is that I have no use for people who complain about this shit constantly while doing nothing about it. Don’t just donate to the cause or whine about it on your blog (oh hi, everyone); get off your ass. I’ll do that just as soon as I figure out what it means.

I think I need to spend a little bit more time writing fiction. I decided a while ago that writing wasn’t going to be my main pursuit, just a side gig. Fortunately, it’s the kind of thing that works well as a side gig. And I keep saying this, but I really do need to get back into gaming. I’ve missed out on it for too long. There is a part of me that’s glad I’m not in college anymore. College is supposed to be a place where you learn shit and try out shit and hopefully get a clearer idea of what you’re trying to do with your life. A lot of kids seem to mistake that for being right about everything. And I probably sound old when I say that, but that’s the kicker: I’m not that much older than most college students. I remember what life on campus was like, and even then, I thought there were a lot of twits around me whose response to any kind of criticism, even the constructive kind, was, “Fuck you, I’ll do what I want.” That’s not even a response. Refusing to acknowledge the needs of others doesn’t make you sassy and outspoken; it makes you an asshole. And nothing is less humble than talking about how humble you are.

I’m trying to push my limits, to figure out just what I’m capable of. I keep meaning to take up a sport, but never get around to it. I’m not an athlete, really, but there’s no harm in dabbling. Just don’t do things because you’re trying to prove anything to the world, that’s all. The reality is that most people can’t and never will be able to play at my level. I can live with that.

FSM

savioYou might have heard about a certain controversy regarding Bill Maher’s comments about radical Islam. He got into a heated debate with Ben Affleck on his show a few weeks back in which Affleck came down on him very hard for blaming Islam for so many of the problems in the Middle East. He had a very similar debate with Affleck several years ago, only that time, it was a little bit more about Middle Eastern society itself and Ayan Hirsi Ali was there to back him up in saying that his criticisms were fair. In this case, he had only Sam Harris. I don’t think Harris is all that deep of a thinker, but that’s besides the point. Bill Maher is no stranger to controversy. He was fired from his job hosting Politically Incorrect after saying that the 9/11 hijackers, as evil as they were, were not cowards. And now he is posing the question as to whether or not the root of all of our political issues in that part of the world could be Islamic fundamentalism. Well, he’s never been a big fan of religion.

Let me make something clear: I have issues with Maher. I watch his show whenever I can and consider him a good interviewer and a good discussion leader, but yeah, his hard-on for blaming everything on religion does get on my nerves, and I say that as a nonbeliever. Even then, I think he had a point. It’s not necessarily racist to say that Islamic fundamentalism is holding the Middle East back, but of course, you could make the argument that fundamentalism is always bad and whether it’s Islamic or not has nothing to do with it. That’s the root of the debate, anyway, and for once, I’m going to decline to take sides. I get what Maher’s saying and am maybe even sympathetic to it, but I feel like the issue here is whether what he said was even that bad to begin with.

My criteria for determining if I want to spend time around somebody is very simple. Essentially, all I want to know is whether they can teach me anything new. I learned an interesting trick from a new acquaintance last month that I’ve just now tried. He suggested that if I need a few more bucks, I should show up to work a half hour early, clock in, then make myself scarce until I’m actually supposed to be there. You might point out that this is dishonest, to which I say: So what? Just don’t tell my boss, is all. With any luck, nobody will notice, and yeah, I kinda feel like I do need the money more than my employers do. My new apartment has a fucking killer location and is decent-sized if not exactly lavish. And I really, really need to put some space between myself and my family.

Cormac McCarthy once said that he doesn’t understand the appeal of writers like Henry James and Marcel Proust because they don’t explore issues like life and death. “A lot of writers who are considered good I consider strange,” he said. That bugged me more than it should. It shouldn’t really be a big deal that a writer I like doesn’t like another writer I like, but I feel like there is more to it than that. First of all, I love The Turn of the Screw, and would be happy to expound on the virtues of that densely layered ghost story anytime he wants. (Call me, Cormac. You still have my number, right?) But the keyword in that statement is “strange”. He didn’t even call Henry James bad; he just said he doesn’t get it. I know the feeling. I’ve had it happen once or twice where I’m getting into a disagreement with someone and somebody says, “You two have different opinions, and that’s okay” as if that’s all that needs to be said. What the fuck is the point of life if we can’t have a conversation?

There are a lot of beloved cultural icons that I’m not totally enamored of: Breaking Bad, Paul Thomas Anderson, I could go on. But I wouldn’t really describe them as strange; I just don’t like them all that much. I seek out the things that have me scratching my head. I discussed violent, extreme movies in my last post. I’m thinking I should check out Saló, Or the 120 Days of Sodom at some point. That is widely regarded as one of the most revolting films ever made, but art isn’t supposed to make people comfortable, is it? Bill Maher has never sought to confront people with the easy truths. That’s part of why he’s on HBO. But college kids don’t want to be challenged anymore. Part of the reason I never went for my Ph.D. is that I don’t want to spend my whole life in that kind of environment. I mean no disrespect to the people who do, but man, it just ain’t for me.

I’ll close with a story about my BFF, Dan Savage. He was visiting a university not too long ago and, in the midst of a discussion about why he no longer uses the word “tranny” because it is offensive to transgender people, a transgender student stood up and told him that he couldn’t use that word even in the context of explaining why it’s offensive. Fuck that. He refused and the student left the room in tears, later complaining that Dan harassed it. (And yes, “it” is this student’s preferred pronoun. I’m all for self-identifying, but talk about a lack of self-respect, huh?) I witnessed some of that attitude in my time in college, especially when I dipped a toe into the waters of the LGBT community. I hate to say it, but people these days are too fucking sensitive. And you don’t have to make everything all about what a special snowflake you are. Seriously, Berkeley people, grow some thicker skin.

Bad Day

As I write this, I’m feeling a little bit more “in my head” than usual. I’m not sure what to do about that. My first impulse when this happens is to travel to the ends of the Earth and, I don’t know, look around or something, but that is unfeasible for reasons that should be fairly obvious. I had a night like that my second semester in grad school. I couldn’t sleep, so I left my apartment and just started walking. Eventually, I turned back, getting to bed around three in the morning. You ever feel like you’re just being pulled apart at the seams? It’s like there are two yous, one of whom wants to go far away and live a completely different life and the other of whom wants to stay right where he is? Grad school was like that a lot of the time. A lot of my life right now is like that. If I can save up the money, I will absolutely spend a week or two in NYC early next year. I need to see that city again. I had to leave so suddenly, and my parents still don’t seem to have fully accepted that I have every intention of moving back there someday. Maybe someday long after that, I’ll leave and find a place in rural New England. I don’t know. I’m not purely a city boy.

I still spend a ridiculous amount of time on YouTube. It’s hard to stop. The videos are usually not that long, and once you’ve clicked on one, it’s almost impossible not to sit there for five minutes, then click on the next. But I am definitely getting bored with some of them. It’s funny: Coming out of the closet is supposed to liberate you and make you feel like you can be whoever you want to be, but so many people, after doing that, seem to adopt a prepackaged identity that comes with the label “gay”. And you had better believe that they are the same people who say that they don’t believe in labels because they’re constricting. What’s so scary about labels, though? They tell you what a person is, not who they are. It’s not that a person’s sexuality is the first thing you need to know about them, but it’s pretty hard to say that you know a person well if you don’t have an inkling as to their gender identity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, politics, etc. They’re facets of your identity, nothing more, nothing less. But sexuality and gender identity trip a lot of people up because they are so damned political. You can say it’s only a part of you, but when people are trying to take away your rights, it becomes a very big part.

will & rjThe thing about YouTube is how closely it is starting to resemble other forms of media. Everybody on TV is pretty, and wouldn’t you know it, most of the successful YouTubers I know of are conventionally attractive. If they’re not movie star beautiful, most of them are at least cute. Maybe people like that are more inclined to go on camera in the first place. I don’t know. What I do know is that a lot of YouTubers are starting to appropriate the tropes that make certain TV shows and movies successful. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that some of the vloggers out there rehearse some of their shots or even retake them if stuff doesn’t go right. It’s not surprising. Since YouTube is, for so many people, a form of escape, it makes sense that a lot of the people who do it care more about putting on a show than they do about being honest. But I take issue with some of them presenting what they do as a raw and unfiltered look at their day-to-day lives. Most people’s daily lives are boring. I can’t even imagine what daily vlogs from me would look like, and I’m interesting.

I am immediately suspicious of anyone who considers themselves a go-getter. Anyone who thinks that the secret to success is pursuing what you want as aggressively as possible is probably a douchebag. I had to turn down a prospective living situation a little while before finding the new place because the dude asked me not only what time I get up in the morning, but whether I used a hair dryer or any other hygienic appliances. Unless you are sleeping in the bathroom, that really shouldn’t be an issue, should it? I suppose a light sleeper could be awoken by somebody using a hair dryer in the next room, but even that seems like a bit of a stretch.

Anyway, the dude also added me on Facebook because he wanted to get to know me better. Um, no thanks, dude. I sent you a link to my LinkedIn profile because you said that a link to a social media profile would help on your Craigslist ad. I rather pointedly didn’t want you to seek out my FB profile, and I thought you’d get the hint. To give you an idea of what kind of guy he was, he listed The Secret as one of his favorite books and Fight Club as one of his favorite films. Ugh. (I like Fight Club, actually, but you see my point.) Basically, he struck me as a real-life version of the douchey businessman whose car Walter sets on fire in season one of Breaking Bad. (The dude who had “KENWINS” as his license plate, because everything is about winning to these assholes.) His profile picture was a professional looking shot of him giving a big, wide smile in front of a white background. He probably gets up every morning and accomplishes a whole lot of absolutely nothing. Fuck that guy.

I don’t have a conclusion here. You gotta find the people you can be you around, I guess.