Thursday, September 24, 2015

Viewing Without Seeing

It’s a shame that some people, enjoying their their popular culture, are the same people who don’t get full value from their movies, TV and comic books—and then blab their angry ignorance on the Web. At this I’m not sad, I’m mad

Meanwhile, Back at University
… I remember seeing a pretty university student, as I walked past her club office door, who was reading a comic book from the series Strangers In Paradise. Call it SiP. (As singer Tony Benet knew: without love, we’re just strangers in paradise) I said, “Hey, I’m reading that too!”

She smiled the smile of a fellow pop culture fan and said, “Then I don’t have to convert you.” She meant convert me to being a fan, not to being gay. As it happened, she was gay herself, she was in the “gay club” office, and one of the young characters in SiP was gay. That character was giving up on finding love, partly because her abusive past meant she was damaged goods. 

In the comic, every month the letters section would include letters from young ladies praising the artist-writer, a bald married man named Terry Moore, for being able to write so wisely about young love. And Terry would reply that he wouldn’t have been able to write so well as a young man. Maybe he meant that for young males the callowness of youth tends to linger…

The SiP series was long, but I thought I could lend it, one part at a time, to a gay friend. To begin with, I lent her only the first one or two bound collections of the series. Then I made a mistake: There was a single issue, outside the story arc, where the characters are in a long daydream about being fantasy heroes. Such fun. This was back in the days of the TV show Xena Warrior Princess. My friend never missed an episode of Xena, so I lent her my SiP “Xena” issue, after first getting her to promise not to read the letters. (Because she hadn’t got that far in the series)

What happened was: Pandora read the letters, and, lacking in “reading comprehension,” she somehow thought one of the characters was secretly a Bad Guy, complete with a black hat secretly stuffed into his pocket. So that was it for the series for her. Too bad.

When I was a schoolboy they used to test us on our reading comprehension by giving us a passage to read and then immediately giving us questions about it. Maybe back in the primary grades I would screw up by having inaccurate memories about what I had read, but by the time I was, say, ten years old I was fine: no longer making stuff up or ignoring what was actually there. By my teens I could read adult “who dunnits” while happily reading for the clues.

Today I’m fine with admitting I like pop culture, although I’m still chuckling over a line spoken by an adult to a juvenile in a YA science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein: “Anyone who only gets a C- in Television Appreciation can’t be all bad.”

I get angry when careless people live below their potential; at least, I do if they angrily blab their ignorance across the Internet. Without full comprehension there is less appreciation. How unfortunate for those who are viewing without seeing, especially since today Hollywood and comic books are “better than ever.” Luckily for my friend Pandora, she didn’t broadcast her misconception on the web. Others have not been so fortunate, and I see their views (not themselves) as rubbish.

If you want to skip straight to the drama of me being angry with people on the Web then you may skip the “better than ever” History Part and go to Modern Day.

History Part
In fact, let’s just “cut” the History Part, to “paste” another day. 

Modern Day
I may be a university graduate, thereby presumably trained to appreciate classic stuff, but I still love my popular culture. So when people disrespect good shows because they won’t comprehend what they view, I could just chew galvanized nails. For example, the ending of Lost, that show where the passenger jet crashes on a mysterious island. If you paid attention, it is clear that some people died later, during the series, and some people made it off the island to live happily ever after. Yet, because of the series finale, with a “wrap-up” scene in heaven where they are all together again, with everyone now friends, feeling serenity at last, after their long ordeal… many folks complained on the Internet that everyone had died instantly in the crash, and gone to heaven. Even though a character in heaven explicitly says otherwise. I just want to spit: “What part of some get off the island don’t you understand?

I only “liked” Lost, but I “loved” Battlestar Galactica. While television traditionally has been, as Harlan Ellison put it, merely “chewing gum for the eyes,” BSG could unflinchingly face up to the sort of ideas that would normally be tackled only in written sf, not TV sci-fi. As one of the old lead actors said, “You’ll never see a show like this again in your lifetime.” The show was possible, in my opinion, only because it was made within the brief time window when we were ready to process 9/11, and not yet ready to rush back to innocence.

The complaint this time, again about the series finale, again by people who hadn’t comprehended what they viewed, was about the teensy weensy, itty bitty God aspect. Oh, they were angry.

Needless to say, ever since the ancient Greeks and their deus ex machina, we haven’t been able to bring God in to resolve any stories, just as today we are no longer able to write the coincidence endings of the classic O. Henry stories. So BSG was verrry careful to have verrry little God stuff. Trust me on this, each of the characters, both human and robot, have to solve their own problems. But what happened after the series finale? Complaints galore.

If critics had paid attention, they would have noticed that when the “rag tag fleet,” humanity’s last hope, needs to be guided in the right direction, right back in early season one, they get miraculous guidance after landing at a temple. And no, there’s no blinking computer secretly in the temple background. It’s purely woo-woo supernatural guidance, in a universe as grim and real as planes flying into towers, a universe where, later, the robots are shown to be as genuinely religious as terrorists. Not like we humans.

You may recall the series starts with the robots, called Cylons, destroying civilization. While the human drama of trying to re-build a functional civilian society is onboard the ships, the dramatic space battles are out in vacuum. Battles are not between ships, not like during WWI and the Battle of Jutland. Instead the fights are between “planes,” like WWII in the Corral Sea.

A fighter pilot, call sign Starbuck, is one of the main characters. She’s a twisted young rebellious woman, just the sort of person who, in real life here on Earth, would be an atheist in a leather jacket. But the very first time we see Starbuck she is at her locker with some figurines, icons, of the twelve Gods the humans believe in. (Not like the twelve fiery Gods of Mount Olympus, more like the twelve remote constellations) Meanwhile, the robots are monotheistic, just like the Hebrews in our world. With Starbuck’s icons, with the mural on her childhood wall, and with other scenes, there is a blindingly obvious fact: Something exists, be it one or twelve or a cosmic higher power, something beyond our everyday life.

Yet with the final episode, people on the web said they were surprised, felt cheated, and they angrily complained. My reply to them? “Learn to pay attention, you morons!”

And now it’s happened again. At the cheap theatres you can still find the major motion picture Tomorrowland, starring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, filmed on location in Tomorrowland, and at the Vancouver planetarium, and at cool places overseas. As I wrote last month in my essay Saving Tomorrow Land, the movie is good but not great. That’s the essay where I quoted an old spy saying, “If ever this world is to be saved, it will be by someone too young to know it can’t be done.”

As for saving the world, the Clooney character has given up on hope and change, the Laurie character fears and despises hope and change, but the teenage girl is a self-described “optimist.” As I said in my essay, the movie is only good, and it could be clearer, but even so, there’s no excuse not to comprehend: The girl does not change the world by “hoping hard,” as several critics claimed. Rather, her optimism frees and  relaxes her mind, enough for her to conceive the Big Idea that galvanizes Clooney. And her optimism leads her to take physical action, both as a young saboteur when we first see her, and at the end of the show.

The late critic Roger Ebert used to decry how so many mainstream movies ended in physical action such a long chase or long fight scene. Tomorrowland is no exception to what we viewers of pop culture want. To me it is clear: The long action near the end of Tomorrowland admittedly stems from a hopeful plan, yet it is physically resolved through physical action, not by hoping hard. 

I can only shake my head and say to critics, “Jeez people, learn some “viewing comprehension.””

(More on Tomorrowland, after this pause for blog identification. Meanwhile, because newspapers in my own province and Vancouver didn’t “get it,” I’ve looked to Toronto for a delightful review of the movie)

You're reading Sean Crawford
Overseas viewers like me may see it as elitist that in the show they recruit people to Tomorrowland. In fact, we might be outraged. American capitalists? Not so much.

With capitalism logically come “ability magnets” such as Hollywood, New York’s fashion district, Silicon Valley and, hypothetically, Tomorrowland. ( For the movie, some Canadian critics missed viewing who was who, and who benefits) In the movie, the benefits from Clooney, not Laurie, (critics mixed them up) recruiting for tomorrowland would be obvious: as with the other magnets, benefits would spread out to Clooney’s entire beloved Earth. Like how folks here in Calgary produce original films, software and clothing, inspired by the fun examples of the magnets in California. (Jeez critics, learn to view)

To be charitable to the Yankees, we must remember that in the U.S. A. they believe in capitalism, and this can overbalance their belief in the greater good. They didn’t even have national medicine like in New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the countries of Eastern Europe, Western Europe and Canada, not until Obama got into the White House. And even then it barely passed, with strong opposition. I think it was from this opposition, and not from them being Ugly Americans, that they went on to devise their own very imperfect, if not actually broken, health system, instead of humbly asking, listening and noticing the health care of any functional nation, such as the one right next door.

—Whoops! At this point, in case a U.S. reader is too distracted, I should stop—and say that “everybody” up in Canada believes in capitalism too, same as you, they just don’t “believe to a fault.” In Canada a “dog eat dog” business world, however valuable, does not cross the hardworking businessman’s factory doorstep, not into, say, a businessman's Parent-Teacher Association and his life as a citizen. Back to my essay—

My thesis today is that some people don’t fully comprehend what they read or view. Not even if they’ve been to university. We who are living overseas may observe that our countries, through government policy, have only good universities. It’s indicative of American culture that they need to put the adjective “good” in front of their better universities. Because they have bad ones. My favorite web essayist, Paul Graham, heartily believes in this campus disparity. To this I keep a straight face, make no comment. Americans also apply this same adjective to their innocent children’s “good” schools—to this I grimace, turn my head to hide my contempt. I believe in capitalism too, but not like this—Never! I don’t believe in our children having “bad” schools.

While other nations are fair about distributing tax dollars for children’s schools equally within each city or region, the U.S. has horrible differences, to the point where parents will stagger under an unrealistic mortgage in order to live on “the right side of the tracks,” tax-wise, for the sake of their children’s education. Given what Americans believe, I don’t expect them to fix their schools in my lifetime. (Rather than fixing, for some it's easier to drop out and homeschool) Which leads full circle to my thesis: 

Queerly, maybe their imperfect schools are why certain U.S. adults, although affluent, owning computers and writing on the Internet, have such poor reading and viewing comprehension.

~For a blog post this month about U.S. schools in general, and the peculiar U.S. style of funding, with comments by informed parents and experts, see this September 13 link to writer John Scalzi. Incidentally, I’m down in the comments somewhere.

~For schools and U.S. decline, see my dense essay David Halberstam was a Harbinger, archived June 2015.

~For more on Battlestar Galactica, I have a label in my labels box, on the upper right, for you to click on.

No comments:

Post a Comment