Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Conversations with Myself

It feels like I’ve been burning up the keyboard these last few of days. I think I’ve always tended to do certain things in spurts, writing being one of them. I do have to thank the Creative Force behind the new Star Wars movies for lighting that fire under my butt to finally get that jumble of thoughts that have been bouncing around between my ears this past year down on paper – in a manner of speaking. Now that the rumor mill is starting to fly with Episode 9, I finally had the gumption to get my second piece out about The Last Jedi. Bits and pieces of it have been sitting in a file on my computer for the last few of months as was my last entry about Internet Parents, as well as this entry and the next few that I am now vigorously working on – all culminating in my Magnum Opus of my forthcoming very un-Politically Correct views on Political Correctness and the #metoo movement and similar Internet mob movements.

Star Wars may have been the spark to get me motivated to write here again, but the real catalyst has been some conversations and situations at work and with some gaming friends over the last few months that really made me determined to finally start getting my thoughts out here in the Outhouse, maybe just so I can maintain what’s left of my own sanity. There’s a certain (what I call) Brilliant Incompetence to the corporate mindset which has manifested itself at work over the course of the summer and fall. Coupling that with the absolute shadiness of the Toys R Us bankruptcy and liquidation, I’ve found myself being more and more outspoken about the sheer idiocy I have witnessed in the corporate decisions we have been subjected to at work. But before I go any further, let me just say that the last several years I have been working in the retail environment after finding myself jobless from the tech industry have probably been the most rewarding in relation to the job stress vs. job satisfaction ratio. Which makes it all the more frustrating when I see decisions being passed down that lack any form of common sense or regard for the actual work environment in a retail store. In this time I have become more and more outspoken about them, and I have found that has translated more and more into my everyday life.

I’ve always been a shy and quiet individual, and only spoke my mind on few occasions in my young adult years … and no so young adult years. Most of the conversations I have ever had are usually with myself. For far too long I was always worried what other people thought of me and always wanted people to like me. Sometimes it got to the point where I put myself in situations where my happiness, and more, was as risk trying to please other people. So rather than offend someone, I just usually stayed silent, even if it was to my detriment. There are only a handful of occasions where I have regretted saying something I probably shouldn’t have – some of them when I had a few too many back in my drinking days. But I have lost count of the times I have regretted not saying something I wanted to say, or should have said in any given situation. I feel fortunate now, that with a little bit of age, and having more confidence in myself thanks to my gaming videos and livestreams, and of course this blog, that I have been able to shed some of that fear of speaking my mind, and I feel so much better now that I can just go without bothering about a filter. I used to hate people like the stereotypical grumpy old man yelling at the neighborhood kids to stay off of his yard. Now however, I relish the time I can say what I need to say and to Hell with what anyone else thinks.
Which brings me back to my work situation and the catalyst that set off Part One of my totally un-PC diatribes which will be released (I hope) over the course of the remainder of the year. During one of my rants one of my co-workers brought up the fact that I just say what needs to be said without a filter, and that took me back a bit, because this was said to me in a conversation I had with some of my gaming buddies in our chat app. It was also a topic of conversation between Shannon and I when talking about one of her co-workers at her new job, and she was kind of surprised that I compared myself to him because she never thought I was like that at work. The truth of the matter is, I have become so accustomed to being this way at work that I don’t give it a second thought. It does make them worried when we have corporate visits because they know I will call things as I see them and won’t be diplomatic about it. It would be one thing if I was off-base or just flat out wrong about the things I am pointing out, but no one has yet been able to find fault with them. What they don’t know, however, is that I simply just can’t be bothered to deal with the Big Wigs. They are trapped in the realm of Brilliant Incompetence, and it doesn’t matter how true my words may ring – even if delivered in a diplomatic and reasonable way, it just simply cannot change the corporate mindset. Quite frankly I have better things to do with my time – like getting actual work done.

Now, the situations that have come up within my gaming circle are a slightly different matter. At least with them, there’s still some semblance of plain ole common sense that gives me hope that humanity is not completely lost. At least we can have (somewhat) reasonable debates and conversations – and even change a point of view or two. Over the summer, there was a situation in the gaming industry where two developers who worked for a well-known and respected gaming company were fired for their on-line interaction with fans of their game. It sparked some righteous outrage as one of the developers (and the one that began the negative interactions) was a female. As this became a topic of discussion within my own circle, I began to notice our debates took on an air of ridiculousness as several people were searching out on the Internet for specific instances and information that would support their side of the argument, all the while ignoring the vast reams of information that countered their point. None of that was mentioned of course because, as Internet Warriors, it is our job to ensure the cause we support is the right one, so we filter out the information that does not hone to our ideals and raise our Sword of Righteousness in the fight for “Truth”, “Justice”, and the Politically Correct way.

It occurred to me then, but really hit home in the situation I described in my last entry about looking up potty training – just how much we have let the Internet and Social Media rule our lives and decisions on practically a daily basis. I can’t count how many times similar situations have come up either through overhearing conversations at work or through reading conversations in my chat groups on-line to the ones I described in the first part of this series. That day finally hit it home for me, that I too was slowly allowing myself to become Brilliantly Incompetent by thinking that the Internet is the place I need to go in order to help me solve my day to day trials and tribulations, all the while ignoring the people who spent years of their lives studying, practicing, and honing their skills to be able to help, teach, and cure.

That has been the catalyst. Ironically, the fire that Star Wars lit under my ass to begin having more of these Conversations with Myself in the Outhouse here and now has helped lift the mental pressure that has been building up inside me for many months now. Ah, Life, it never ceases to surprise me. So to all who are still reading this, be forewarned. Internet Parenting was just the start. This is the first interlude. I cast off my inhibitions. You may think me a dick; an asshole; a moron; insensitive; cruel; and careless. I don’t care. As I have always said to others in my Internet Battles and on-line interactions take whatever anyone has to say, including me, with a healthy dose of salt (especially on the Internet). Some of the topics I will be writing about in the weeks to come will undoubtedly piss people off, offend people, make people cry, and more than likely make them think less of me or even hate me. It will be your choice to continue reading or not. Either way I don’t care. I have allowed myself to be eaten away by holding my tongue for all of my life. I will continue to call out Bullshit as I see it, and I fully expect to be called out on my own Bullshit as is justified. I will continue to speak my mind as I see things through my perspective. Plain, Brutal, and Honestly. Take it as you will.

Don’t Be an Internet Parent

I begin this with a deep sigh. When I started this blog, I originally intended it to be a sounding board for myself when I saw or heard something that got me so riled up I just had to spout off about it. I realized that there is so much that I don’t think I could ever stop writing. Unfortunately, a lot of what I really want to say would offend and alienate a great number of people, so I ended up just putting off writing an entry until my ire dissipated and I had no passion to write about it any further. But I think I am doing myself a disservice by doing so. I am not a politically correct person, and strongly believe that the current PC climate we find ourselves deluged with is a big detriment to society. But like I said in my last blog entry, that’s a topic for another day.

I finally felt compelled enough to sit down and begin writing this because of my children, and something I did not too long ago as a result of still trying to potty train our youngest, Abby. I find it amusing that the biggest job on the face of this planet is the one that doesn’t come with a handbook or any extensive training beforehand – parenting. Sure I can go search on Amazon and come away with dozens upon dozens of books written on the subject of parenting, but therein lies the problem. With those books I would find dozens and dozens of different opinions on how to be a parent. Ultimately not very useful in the long run because the tendency we humans have is to only listen to the things that tell us what we want to hear – not the things that we actually do need to hear. What prompted this was some searching on the Internet I was doing on the trials and tribulations of getting a kid to go poo in the potty. Abby is a bright kid, and when we finally forced ourselves out of our routine to actively potty train her, she took to it right away. But there seems to be that age old issue of getting her to do #2, and nothing we have tried thus far has worked – even bribing her with her toys from her favorite show, Spirit Riding Free. So I went online to see if other people had this same issue and how they resolved it. As I should have expected, I got the Amazon search results. Then I realized I became the worse thing a person can become – an Internet Parent.

It’s actually quite easy to do, especially for me – having had some experience with technology and the internet in the past. But what I realized is that what I was becoming was one of those people in the Holiday Inn commercials, or the Medical Check-up commercials. You might be familiar with the ones I am talking about – a plane is crashing, and the pilot is passed out, but someone from the passenger section jumps into the cockpit and takes control. One of the Flight Attendants asks if he is a pilot, and the passenger replies, “No, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night.” The other one is where actors who play or have played doctors on TV stroll around a hospital encouraging people to get check ups, or something to that effect. They generally start out by saying “I’m not a real doctor, but I play one on TV.” And thus we come to the crux of this issue: parents who try to be doctors, teachers, or what have you by doing searches on the Internet and diagnosing and “treating” their kids with the information that is spewed out. And I was about to fall into the same trap.
There is nothing easy about being a parent and it seems it is more about error than anything else in the tried and true “Trial and Error” method. Somehow we make it through each day and just have to prepare for the next day. We do the best we can, and I am far from a perfect parent, and because of that, I always hesitate to judge what others do with and for their kids. We are all unique with unique situations, but there are times where missteps happen that are so obvious that you have to shake your head and wonder just what the Hell people are thinking. Unfortunately, in some of those circumstances, that only happens after a tragedy has occurred. Far too often anymore, I hear people say that they know what is best for their kids, or what is best for their family, but that is often a wrapping and an excuse for a decision that is so utterly selfish on the part of the parents, it makes you just want to get up and give them a good belt across the back of the head. The truth of the matter is, we don’t always know what is best for our kids or our families when there is the potential of medical or mental issues involved. But somehow, people think they know better when the start googling on the Internet. Somehow, those parents think that by looking for information on the Internet (and their continued searching until they actually come across that one bit of information that tells them what they want to hear all the while ignoring all the other reams of information that says what they want to hear is wrong), that they know how to diagnose and treat their kids, or teach their kids, or what have you better than any Doctor, Teacher, or other Professional that has studied and been doing their job for years. They have become Internet Parents, and their skills at such are no better than that guy who stayed at the Holiday in or all those actors who play the part of a doctor on TV. Yet, somehow they know better. What a crock and utterly selfish way to parent a child. And that’s the true tragedy.

Instead of the child getting the help or education that they really need, they get the Witch Doctor treatment. Because of this, what may seem like the right thing to do at the time ultimately ends up sacrificing the future of the child. Be it a mental issue that needs a professional’s diagnosis and care, or just the simple act of ensuring that a child gets placed in a special needs classroom, regardless of the stigma that parents selfishly fear it places upon them. Might as well give the kid a shovel and send him off to a farm to shovel shit the rest of his life for all the opportunity these Internet Parents are providing for their kids. At worst, we end up with tragic circumstances like Sandy Hook Elementary School and Stoneman Douglas High School. Kids that needed help and special needs and either the parents flat out refused to get them they help they needed or did not fight hard and long enough to ensure that their kids got that help. It’s certainly not an easy road to travel when one has a child with a mental or emotional issue, but being a parent is never going to be an easy job, and if someone is not going to fight tooth and nail for their kids no matter the inconvenience or cost, then they probably should not have been parents to begin with.

We had our own issues with Erin a few years ago. The Internet was useful in terms of giving us an idea of where to start to get her the help that she needed, but we realized right away that we did not have the knowledge nor ability take care of the issues ourselves. Regardless of the cost and inconvenience to us, we made sure to go to the right professionals and get Erin the help that she really needed. We will do the same for Abby as well. A parent knows when their child is not “normal” and the real test of character comes in admitting that there is something wrong, and not using excuses like “It’s the Terrible Twos” or “Boys will be Boys”. The act of a good parent is admitting that as a parent we are neither equipped, nor qualified to give our child the help that they need. That is a true act of selflessness. You can bet that at her next check-up, we will be asking the doctor about our concerns and following her professional guidelines and directions. If, as the future unfolds, it turns out that Abby needs continued specialist help, she will get it. If it turns out that she needs to be placed in a specialist classroom to get the education she needs, and deserves, then that is what we will do. We, as her parents, understand that we are not qualified to treat nor educate our daughter. Therefore we will turn to those who are and ensure we can give her the best possible chance to have the future she deserves. As her parents, that is what we are qualified to do, and Abby deserves no less. We refuse to be Internet Parents. Everyone else should too.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Why The Last Jedi is the best Star Wars movie ever

No, really. I mean it. Despite what I said in my previous entry after watching the movie, the problems of which I think still hold true, this past year, I have come to reflect on the direction that the franchise is currently moving in with the new creative leadership. I have realized that this is the exact direction they need to go.

I’ve been thinking about this blog entry for a long time and have finally been prompted to force myself to sit down and write it due to a comment made that I saw on Facebook regarding the current season of Doctor Who and how after several decades, the program is becoming more PC (politically correct). Now I have a lot more to say on that particular topic, but that’s worthy of a blog entry all its own. No, this entry is going to be about how Star Wars needed to change and The Last Jedi was exactly the change that was needed in order to cast off the anchor that would otherwise be holding it down. That anchor being the old school Star Wars fanbase.

There are several franchises in the movie/tv and book genres that have gotten large followings and have a dedicated fanbase over the years. I am a fan of several of those – Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. To a lesser extent, Battlestar Galactica (the original series), The Wheel of Time Novels, and the Sword of Truth novels. There are also those lesser known franchises, like Firefly that have achieved cult-like status with a large fanbase. But let’s look at those Big Three, because they are the most well-known and arguably have the biggest fanbase, and have been around for many decades at this point. What has given them that longevity? What has brought those franchises to the point where millions of people enjoy immersing themselves in that universe? I think there are many reasons that taken as a whole can explain how a franchise gets to be so big, but let’s boil it down to one simple reason.

The reason that Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who are in the place that they are is because there were compelling characters whose lives were told through compelling stories that made people want to care about those characters, and even live in that universe that the character occupied. I experienced this to a high degree with the movie Avatar, and after doing some internet searching, found that I wasn’t the only one affected in such a way by the movie. It comes to the point where we immerse ourselves in these stories to such a degree that the worlds become real to us and become a part of our lives and a part of our psyche. Oftentimes, our experiences with these stories shape our lives as kids and give us a sense of belonging to something greater than we are. Not one of these three franchises would still be around were it not for the hardcore dedicated fanbase that developed around them in their early years.

And that’s exactly why franchises like this need to shed the weight of their long time fans. We are the ones who generally get so steeped in the lore and nitpick everything that is wrong when new stories come out within that lore. As a creator and writer myself, I have always been one to believe that when creating a story in an established universe, first and foremost you must follow along with the “rules and regulations” that were established in that universe. Again, after all, it is because of the fact that these universes are almost as real as ours due to the depth of the lore that the stories presented to us, for anything that goes against what is already established breaks that immersion for the fans of that franchise. It’s akin to an episode of the Lone Ranger that turns the protagonist hero from Good Guy into the leader of an evil gang that is the true antagonist in the series, with little rhyme or reason for doing so. It simply doesn’t make any sense and ruins the history and concept of the universe of the Lone Ranger. And if that were to happen, the classic show would have died a quick death not long afterwards.

However, I have seen countless times where writers who have been engaged in telling stories in these various famous franchises have bemoaned the fact they feel their hands are tied by the weight of all that lore that was established before them. I always found that puzzling, as for me, both a writer and a fan of these franchises, the lore offers countless possible stories that can be told to expand upon what is already there. But for some reason, the hubris of the writer prevents them from working within the confines of what has been established in that world and what is presented lessens the impact of that world and of the story itself simply because the writer was fixated on telling one specific scene in a way for the most dramatic impact possible. But the problem with that can be shown in this following example:

The movies, Star Trek II and Star Trek III both had dramatic impacts and situations on the world of Star Trek. Star Trek II is still considered the best movie (in my opinion) out of the entire franchise because it enhanced part of the lore that was established in the original series without having to rewrite that history for dramatic effect. But the true impact of both movies were the loss of things that became highly important to the fanbase – a beloved character and a beloved Starship, respectively. Those moments had tremendous impact because we as long time fans had developed a relationship with Spock and the Enterprise and to see them lost was profoundly moving, the same could be said of the loss of Kirk in Star Trek: Generations. Now let’s say that in every single Star Trek movie, the Enterprise is destroyed and one of the main characters is killed off. How long would that shock value last? How long before we would begin to lose interest in watching movies in that series because there would be no point in making a connection to anyone or anything in the movies? Each movie would be a stand-alone story with no relation or connection to the ones before it, or to any that would come afterwards. One of the things that made these franchises as popular and long-lasting as they have been has been because of the concept of growth within them. There obviously have been many instances where pre-established rules and lore have changed in them, but for the most part, they continued to grow and we followed along with that growth. It’s one of the things that helps to keep us immersed in those universes. And it is something that is totally lost when each story becomes an island in and of itself with no impact on all the other islands in that universe. It essentially becomes meaningless.
Thus when we see dramatic changes in these franchises, we see such a pushback from that dedicated fanbase. The worlds and characters that we have become such a big part of our lives get changed for what we deem little more than for a dramatic effect because the writer of said story lacks the ability to work within the established parameters of the universe. Therein lies the problem for Hollywood, and more specifically for Disney and the current crew that has creative control over the Star Wars universe. Hollywood, with rare exception anymore, is more interested in creating movies where the buddies of the producer and director are given cameo parts and what they want to show on the screen are spectacular storyboard moments. The actual story of the movie is simply a means of getting from one storyboard moment to the next. And that poses a problem for those in charge of the franchise right now, because us long time fans expect and demand more from our Star Wars stories.

For a case in point, Billy Dee Williams, our second favorite scoundrel in the form of Lando Calrissian expressed a desire to return to the franchise when it was announced that a new series of movies were being made. At some point, the thought of bringing the character back in The Last Jedi was considered, but they couldn’t figure out a way to do it and do the character justice. I believe at one point they considered making Benicio del Toro’s part that of Lando, but (rightfully so) realized that the character would not betray our main protagonists in such a way. And so we see where the ability to think and write creatively gave way to the desire to want to tell the story in a very specific way, so it can lead up to the grand storyboard moment on screen, as well as ensure that the cameo and bit part appearances to the buddies of the creative crew, would also remain intact.

The perfect opportunity was presented in this movie to bring Lando back, as well as potentially give him a grand send-off (or just as good – give Admiral Ackbar a much grander send off than what he got), by revealing the Codebreaker that Finn and Rose went off to find as being Lando Calrissian. I’m not going to rehash the absolute stupidity shown by the characters by taking some unknown guy to infiltrate a First Order Star Destroyer and trust him to shut down the hyperspace tracker. Again, that poor bit of writing and plot line resulted from the need of showcasing a storyboard moment on screen. But the whole climax of the movie could have been re-written to give Lando his due as well as set up a much better moment of dramatic tension that leads up to the final denouement. But only us long time, die hard fans who don’t care about storyboard moments would have thought of that solution.

The Star Wars Creative Force way of thinking nowadays is no longer compatible with what made Star Wars compelling and popular back in the 70’s and early 80’s. The things that kept the franchise going through the long drought leading up to the prequels in the 1999-2002 period simply do not mesh with how Hollywood wants to tell its movies stories today. I believe I said this in my prior entry about The Last Jedi – on its own, the movie was entertaining. As a generic Sci-Fi blockbuster, it fit the mold perfectly. However, Star Wars as an entity does not work well with the Sci-Fi blockbuster method of filmmaking, nor is that how it reached its pinnacle of popularity and longevity. But in order for the Creative Force and the New Hollywood to keep making the movies in the mode that best suits them, they need to rid themselves of the fanbase that demands a Star Wars movie be made and the story told in a way that made the franchise what it was and continues to be up to this point.

That’s why The Last Jedi has become the best movie of all the ones released thus far. It is so antithesis to how we are used to a good Star Wars story being told in movie format, that it ejects the long time, and most demanding fans from the fansbase, leaving the Creative Force free to continue to tell the new stories in the way that suits them the most. In order for the franchise to continue forward in such a manner, the fans like me need to be left behind and stop caring about the franchise. The Last Jedi has become the catalyst for that to happen.

The movie is the only Star Wars movie that I have watched one time and one time only. I really have no desire to watch it again, even though I bought the Blu-Ray version on the day of release with every intention of re-watching the movie in anticipation of writing this blog entry. It still sits on the desk, unopened and likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. It is also why Solo is the first Star Wars movie that I have never watched in the theaters. It is also likely to be the first Star Wars movie that I will not buy on Blu-Ray, and thusly most likely the first Star Wars movie that I will never watch. The Last Jedi will also be the reason why Episode IX may very well be the first Star Wars movie in a main storytelling trilogy that I will not go see in theaters and most likely, like Solo, never watch at home either. Like the reboot of the Star Trek franchise, and the new era of Doctor Who, long time dedicated fans such as myself are dinosaurs (sorry Peter), and are no longer compatible with the current desires of the creative people behind those franchises. We, therefore, must be left behind to only enjoy those old stories that made us love those franchises decades ago.

The Last Jedi is the greatest Star Wars movie of all time because it did the exact job that was necessary in order for the new Creative Force behind the franchise to continue telling these stories the way they want to tell them – it stopped me from being an ongoing Star Wars fan.