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Author Archives: Alex Miceli

About Alex Miceli

I am a creative writer, focusing on poems, plays, and prose. Politically, I'm a moderate and spiritually, I'm an atheist. More than either of those, though, I am a humanist, in the way, that I believe in the inherent good and evil of all people and believe that everyone deserves to be content and fulfilled in their individual choices.

Read! Read Everything You Can!: The Teaching Power of Fiction

There’s this strange idea that writers should only read the so-called good stuff to be good writers themselves. While it is true that what we read effects us as writers, it’s not a good idea to read just the classics to develop your skills as a writer. Let me unpack the myth of the elevating power of classical literature and explain the benefits of reading outside that cannon.

Literary Snobbery

A writer runs into a lot of this in the academic sphere. Professors, even creative writing professors, swear that by reading less “quality” work, i.e. work that they deem unacceptable teaching material, a young writer is doing themselves a disservice by lowering the quality of their own writing. This bothers me because, well, cannon is too easily effected by what is considered acceptable. Native American, African-American, etc. and women’s fiction didn’t used to be thought acceptable. Now some colleges teach Ceremony, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Beloved, The Color Purple, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and more, but we can’t trust that they aren’t still under-representing certain voices or simply judging books by their genre instead of by their contents. It’s also a silly idea that we can’t learn from the mistakes of others. If I read a bad novel, I can articulate what it did wrong. That’s a good thing. That makes me a better writer. One playwright that taught me said that the best thing for him as a writer was being a literary manager at a theatre and reading bad plays that were submitted.

Also, let’s not pretend that Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter, The Turn of the Screw, The Pilgrim’s Progress, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Invisible Man, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, Ulysses, To the Lighthouse, and so many other books of fiction are without flaws and are written in the style that modern writers should aspire to, as if modern readers want contemporary work written in those archaic styles (maybe some of them do). But contemporary work is hardly taught in modern classrooms, and some of that isn’t what I would consider masterpieces either, like The Road by Cormac McCarthy or Under the Dome by Stephen King (and I like Stephen King). Some of the cannon is absolutely awesome and definitely worth reading as a writer, but don’t start writing like Henry James!

Foreign Fiction

US writers definitely need to read work from other countries, and by other countries, I don’t just mean the UK. Some of the best works of fiction out there weren’t written in English: The Tin Drum, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Bless Me Ultima, The Metamorphosis, Midnight’s Children, Blindness, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, and so much more, more that I haven’t read, more that I can’t remember. US writing, like any cultural art form, often gets stuck on the same narrative tropes and structures. Part of the reason that House of Leaves is so good is that Danielewski clearly read some of Borges’ short stories. Tropes, techniques, and plot structures are all almost entirely culturally inherited. Reading work outside your culture is an absolute boon for you as a writer. In fact, experiencing narrative work of any medium from outside your culture is helpful, movies and TV shows help too! While everything will go through an extra sieve of translation, the major plot techniques and character archetypes will be there even after translation (most of the time). So I strongly suggest reading foreign fiction to expand what you consider fiction.

Nonfiction

So it’s not fiction, but it is prose. There’s also this old saying for writers: Write what you know. And you should (try to) know more. Teaching yourself about new things, learning about different perspectives, and researching history and culture will help you be a better writer. It’s especially important for preventing looking like a jackass. If you don’t know about cars, but your character is supposed to, you don’t want to write something that makes a reader who does know about cars go “uuuuh . . .”. Writers who don’t research are very obvious, and while the idea that we as fiction writers can just make anything up is tempting, it looks bad if having never been to Kansas, you describe it in a way that is cliche. It reminds me of all the cowboys I see in Phoenix fiction. I’ve never seen a person walking around in a cowboy hat and string tie here. In fact, I didn’t see much of that in Kansas either. So it’s important to prevent stereotype through the use of research, and sometimes that means reading nonfiction, or going even further (like learning to play the guitar, shoot a firearm, or going to a place). Nonfiction is also a great source of inspiration. Maybe someone has already written on the subject, but you haven’t, and maybe your version is better. It’s a good idea to give it a shot, even if ten other writers have already written a Pearl Harbor story. Take a chance that your story is worth reading.

Genre Fiction

I really don’t understand the hate that genre fiction, specifically westerns, romance and chick lit, sci-fi, and fantasy, gets. “Oh, there’s so many of those novels that are bad!” Yeah, and there’s a lot of bad classic, literary, commercial, and award-winning novels out there. Just because an award committee or a bestseller curator or the academic crowd says a novel is worth reading, doesn’t mean it is good, not by looking at the technique and skill in the novel. I’ve read plenty of bad fiction that was taught in academic classes, made the bestseller lists, and won awards. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road comes to mind as landing in all three of those categories but having very little narrative skill and technique involved. It wasn’t engaging. The characters were flat. The prose was uninteresting. The dialogue was insufferable. “But it has something to say!” Every work of creation has something to say, has intent. That doesn’t mean it is good. Even if you like the message, it doesn’t make the work good. And genre doesn’t automatically mean that a novel is bad. There are actually some genre novels that I consider technically better than those that are considered better novels based on theme alone. I do think theme is important, but I do not think it can prop up a novel alone, or any form of narrative. Without the support of strong narrative plot, character development, prose, and emotional engagement, a theme is useless. The four things listed in the previous sentence are what makes a novel enjoyable, and the theme is what makes the reader think. I’ve seen genre fiction do these four things and present a theme. So don’t count out genre simply because someone with an inflated sense of authority tells you it isn’t good. And don’t assume that same someone isn’t pulling one over on you when they say this book is good when you can’t stand it. Don’t think that makes you a lesser writer for not loving it. Recognize the faults in everything you read, and be willing to give something with a label a chance. And even if the genre fiction you’re reading isn’t good, you can still learn from it and be a better writer for having read it.

Fiction Outside Your Demo

Say you’re a woman, your demographic typically reads literary or upmarket fiction, women’s lit, chickl it, or romance. Well, if you’re also a writer, you should probably read thrillers, war novels, westerns, and terrorism novels as well. And the same for the reverse. If you’re white and a writer, you should probably also read books by Native Americans (There, There; Ceremony; Where the Dead Sit Talking), African Americans (Friday Black, Beloved, There Eyes Were Watching God, The Color Purple), Asian Americans (The Joy Luck Club, Interpreter of Maladies, The Refugees), Hispanic Americans (The House on Mango Street, The Book of Unknown Americans), and others. And the reverse, though that’s not very hard in the US. Why is this important? Even if you are a minority and if you’re in the majority, it’s important to see many other sides. Everyone’s story is important; otherwise, they wouldn’t have sat down to write it and tried to get it published. So take the time to learn what they have to say. Take the effort to learn why people like it. Examine what makes it good, what makes it successful. Don’t take easy answers either. Most writers, unless nepotism is involved, work hard to get their novels published. There are millions of us, and it’s easy to be lost in the shuffle of query letters, so ask yourself what this writer brought to the table that got them published. Ask yourself what the publisher saw in the work. Ask yourself what our society wanted out of the work. The answers may surprise you. And don’t write off majority reading as just what a bunch of old fogies chose either (counter to the above section). Be willing to let the so-called cannon surprise you too. Also read Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. Some of them are great and the writing may impress you.

Popular Fiction

A teacher once told me that a wife can’t also be a whore which–besides not being literally true–is figuratively false. Read popular fiction. Seriously pick it up. It’s not going to ruin you. You may actually pick up something from it too. Like why so many people bought it in the first place. I don’t read a lot of it myself, but that isn’t because I don’t find it valuable, but because trends and I react like holy water and vampires, but I can understand why a lot of people find it engaging. Popular fiction isn’t known for its prose, but it’s certainly know for its engaging plots and interesting concepts. These are important things to know how to craft. Your prose can be really poetic, but if your plot isn’t engaging or interesting, you may not be able to hold a reader. So check out some popular fiction. I honestly have, and the techniques that make this fiction popular are important. But do not do what John Grisham did and read all the bestsellers to find out how to craft one every time you write a novel. You risk losing your spontaneity by doing that.

Graphic Fiction

No, I don’t mean violently graphic or sexually graphic fiction (but read those too). No, I mean graphic novels, comic books, and mangas. Wait! Don’t click away! The Watchmen won a Hugo award, comic books have a long history of social commentary directed at the youth, and mangas open you up to completely new to you cultures. This form of storytelling is just as viable as prose fiction. Some of it can be very impactful. Don’t knock the medium just because it is different. It has it own techniques and heights of skill. They can also help you write action, create an epic story, and describe setting. How? Well, take your time looking at the panels, really examine the images, and consider how the image could be translated into words. Also enjoy the very differing art styles. No, the stories aren’t Shakespeare.

Except, apparently, when they are.

Jeeze, maybe it’s Shakespeare more often than I thought.

Seriously though, there can be some great inspiration and technique to be gained from visual storytelling. So give it a chance. Don’t be surprised if the first few dips into the giant depths that is graphic fiction aren’t all that appealing. Like any medium there can be quite a few stinkers. I mean, have you ever tried to read The Gutbucket Quest?

Learning from Reading

As a writer, you can learn from reading anything. Literally anything. Literary anything. Even bad things. But to do so, you have to be looking at the work with your craft eye open. I do this with other forms of storytelling as well, TV, film, plays. Reading (or watching) something while thinking about what it is doing with craft, what the author’s intent is, what the work is meant to do, and how it goes about doing it, can teach you how to write better. But it is important to separate your reading time and writing time from each other, as in don’t write on the heels of reading. Doing this could make your work sound imitative. This is the biggest pitfall of a lot of reading. But, otherwise, read. Read everything you can get your hands on. It’s the most important thing you can do for yourself as a writer.

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Posted by on March 16, 2019 in Books, Craft of Writing

 

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Generational Warfare: The Grown Children and Their Parents

There is a lot of animosity between Baby Boomers and Millennials right now. Shots are being fired on both sides and it has been going on for years. Mainstream media articles take more shots at Millennials either by directly blaming them for the downfall or decline of certain brands or industries or by simply being out of touch. And Millennials have mostly been firing back through social media. Avocado and “By the time you’re thirty” jokes abound. So what’s going on?

Meme Wars

This has been the most fun thing to come out of this. In our frustration, many Millennials have been fighting back through the use of memes. Outside Xtra has an entire video about mortgages in games and how they purchased too many avocados to afford one in real life. The never-ending list of tweets fighting back against the very out of touch idea that by the time you’re thirty you should have twice your income saved in your retirement, including my favorite that by the time you’re thirty you should have a potato masher in a drawer making it impossible to open that drawer. There’s the old couple meme, the university building meme, and the interviewer meme, all of which point out how out of touch Baby Boomers and universities are to the current academic and job market situations which make getting an education too expensive and make getting a job nearly impossible. But it’s not as if the older generation isn’t generating content against Millennials.

Articles abound saying that Millennials are killing the housing market, Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Ruby Tuesday’s, TGI Fridays, fabric softener, the car industry, the wedding industry, domestic brand beer, mayo, department stores, razors, toys (like Toys R’ Us), Hooters (good riddance), cereal, golf, motorcycles, normal yogurt, soda, bars of soap, napkins (source: https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-hurt-industries-sales-2018-10#fabric-softener-18), Campbells, McDonald’s, the NFL, Tiffany’s, De Beers (source: https://www.cheatsheet.com/money-career/young-people-killing-off-these-brands-faster-than-you-think.html/), designer bags, gyms, home improvement stores, the oil industry (https://www.businessinsider.com/millennials-are-killing-list-2017-8), and so on and so on.

Lazy, Luxurious Millennials?

The idea is that Millennials spend their money on stupid things like going out to bars and unique restaurants with avocado toast and aren’t willing to work hard and that’s why we can’t afford things like houses. That’s actually bullshit. Millennials often do not prioritize a clean and tidy home over things like working long hours and having some moments of relaxation, exercise, and enjoyment in their day. In the work-life balance, there is not a lot of cleaning. Having a messy home can make people appear lazy. This often comes from a Hollywood idea that if a person’s home isn’t clean then they are obviously trashy welfare assholes. The idea that we also like pricey things, while not wrong, is not an accurate depiction of Millennial values.

Failing Industries and a Loss of Value

Millennials like valuable things. There is a good reason for all of these articles and the perception about Millennials. For one thing, Uber Eats and Postmates exist as does Amazon! It’s come out that some of the foods that are failing are bad for you, and some of these items are simply luxuries that Millennials can’t afford, like golf, motorcycles, gyms, and huge weddings. Big weddings were traditionally paid for by parents, but most parents don’t have the money to spend on that anymore. Baby Boomers have even stopped buying from these places or stopped buying these things for the same reasons that Millennials have. Some of these companies are just not adapting well to the new shape and direction of the markets. On the thing about houses: it’s not that Millennials don’t want to own a home, it’s that a lot of them can’t afford a home until they are much older. One of the articles I listed above said we were specifically killing the starter home market. I’ve not seen a new development with any starter homes in it at all for the last fifteen years. So it might more be that the development companies are not building them. The tiny houses trend is actually big with Millennials, and typically you have to go to a pre-fab company to get one of those because every home built in the last twenty to thirty years by developments all have a fucking “great” room. What’s so great about a giant empty space that no one knows what to do with? It’s the same thing with the car market. What happened to companies making the economy car? Where is that? So these articles are off base in blaming us, not because we’re not responsible in some cases, but because they fail to recognize that trends come and go. Women don’t wear stockings all the time anymore and you don’t hear the hosiery companies still bitching about it. Frankly, this blame game has to stop. It’s not actually making anyone happy. Even if the memes are funny.

Millennials are also not at all lazy. Most of them work two jobs when they can get them with projects on the side. The idea that we like luxury items has more to do with the fact that we are paid less than previous generations at our same age. Millennials do follow the adage that the poor man pays twice. We are not affluent. When we have money to spend or need to spend money on something it better be worth the expense. It should be healthy, quality, durable, and/or enjoyable, or we don’t want it. This is why McDonald’s is failing. This is where avocado toast comes in. It’s not Millennials’ fault that healthy, quality food is more expensive. This is why when you see a Millennial “splurge”, the item appears high value/cost. We value money more. We spend it less, but when we do spend it, we want it to mean something. Millennials are actually pretty smart with money. Most try to plan for rainy days while at the same time enjoying small pleasures every once in a while. The problem isn’t that they’re dumb with money; it’s that money isn’t coming into their pockets at the levels it should be. Work is valued less than it used to be, as in people’s time is not being compensated to match the cost of living, so Millennials have to work about twice as hard to afford essentials than previous generations did at their age. It’s no secret that tuition costs have skyrocketed. It’s no secret that the minimum wage is not keeping up with the cost of living for one person, let alone for a family of four as it was supposed. If articles could stop trendily slamming Millennials for being poor and frugal, and instead start slamming industries for not adapting or paying employees livable wages, maybe the economy would be doing better overall because people would start hearing the truth instead of whiny complaints about how we don’t buy fabric softener.

Greedy, Thoughtless Baby Boomers?

There’s quite a bit of hate going backwards too. Most of this is through memes as stated before, but the idea is that Baby Boomers are out of touch with the reality of the job market and cost of academic degrees today. They don’t understand how hard it is to get a job, job benefits are mostly abysmal, that minimum wage is not a livable wage for even one person, and that tuition prices are way too high. They aren’t willing to help either. They are also looking for jobs, but finding them more easily due to their experience, but they inflated the housing market, consume way too much in products, and are rude to lower paid individuals. This is just the idea that people have about Baby Boomers. It’s not completely true, nor is it true of all Baby Boomers, especially those who have done things out of the traditional order and tried to get degrees without employer help in the ’90s or later. Younger Baby Boomers do not always represent this depiction as well. But where does this attitude come from for those that do accurately represent this depiction?

An Abundance of Everything and Raised by Those Who Grew Up with Nothing

Baby Boomers were children and young adults in a time of great industry growth. Post-WWII saw more growing companies, more colleges, more access to upward mobility. Until the ’80s, everything was upward trending, so consumerism also rose. People could afford more, so they got more. This isn’t really this generation’s fault. It’s just how our brains work. They don’t believe in the future. They believe in surviving now. (You know? The future is a lie, the pasta is now.) At least, that is the part of the brain that is all urges. Baby Boomers’ parents actually didn’t grow up with much, so they actually encouraged Baby Boomers’ to consume when they could. The problem is that the world changes. We’re back to a time of less, instead of more. Partially because of over-consumption. The housing market crash doesn’t happen without this. Were balloon mortgages a good idea? Absolutely not. Doesn’t mean that they didn’t take what was offered them. It’s part of the reason so many of them are still working into retirement age. Immediacy was too strong with them. It’s hard to know how to have temperance when you are surrounded by cookies. If you know you won’t be getting cookies often, then it is much easier to save some of them for later. But after a lifetime of giant piles of cookies, these habits are hard to break, and it’s hard to see past your visions of those piles to notice that other people have never been surrounded by the piles. The cookies aren’t the greatest of metaphors because I’m not talking about something pointless but tasty. I’m talking about the things required for living: jobs, homes, decent wages. Speaking of . . .

Entitlement and Privilege and What Is Deserved

The words Entitlement and Privilege have been bandied about quiet a bit in negative ways. Oh, Millennials are just entitled. They have privilege. There are actually scales of entitlement and privilege and a slave is on the end with no entitlement and no privilege. And that’s a bad thing. We also hear those things as if other generations or demographics don’t have any entitlement or privilege, and that’s just laughable. We also hear them as if fighting for more entitlement or privilege is a bad thing, and if you know anything of labor history that’s also laughable. Baby Boomers had as much as they did because they and previous generations fought for labor rights: things like livable wages, overtime pay, sick leave, FMLA, anti-discrimination, worker’s comp, OSHA, etc on both federal and state levels. Then there were all the unions separate from government laws to hold industries to even higher standards. So when someone tells younger generations they are just entitled and don’t deserve anything, I can’t help but think that not only is this unempathetic, it is also ignorant of American history and law, and just generally stupid. It’s great to sit on your mountain of entitlements and rights and pretend that no one fought for those, because they very obviously did. There were strikes, riots, and protests to get where we are today. Why wouldn’t we continue that history of activism for more or for application of what we already have in other industries or for other workers in areas without those rights? The argument that we don’t deserve anything if patently false based solely on the law. I believe some of this comes from the inaccurate idea that working hard and exploitation are one in the same. I know how to work hard. I work very hard. But as I said before, I’m going to avoid exploitation of my hard work when I can (https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/letters/when-opportunity-knocks-now-its-the-opportunity-to-be-exploited/), and there is nothing wrong with others doing the same.

The other major argument, that minimum wage jobs are for teenagers, is completely and historically inaccurate. The minimum wage was meant to be a livable wage for a family of four with one income at full time work (source: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/minimum_wage), and since a single person in most locations cannot live on a minimum wage (i.e. pay for shelter, food, utilities, and healthcare), it is obviously not high enough. Fighting for a higher minimum wage is completely justified, and while people argue that it will hurt business, I don’t see how more people, especially the poor who tend to spend more of their money, with more spending money is a bad thing. The majority of the people living paycheck to paycheck and having no disposable income and often no livable income is not sustainable to business, especially for those industries which rely on luxury purchases, such as restaurants, entertainment, and retail (yes, this is a luxury, since most of the people under the poverty level purchase clothes from resellers). I have hardly ever heard real arguments against these changes. Just more of the same unsupported claims. The only argument I’ve heard against raising minimum wage or increased benefits that made any kind of sense was the increase in daycare and disability care costs argument; however, considering the fact that these people are taking care of our loved ones and often have advanced degrees and stringent requirements, I can’t help but think that they shouldn’t be making minimum wage, but far more than that. We should value that work more. And to prevent costs from becoming unmanageable, their work should be at least partially, if not substantially, subsidized by the government. While some of them are, I don’t believe our government is valuing their work or the need for them enough. These things are all worth fighting for, as other “entitlements” were worth fighting for in the past.

The Forgotten Generation

For some reason in all this, Gen X is just not involved or considered. It’s possible because this generation is small by comparison (by population, not years) and that it actually doesn’t have a name. Millennials were called Gen Y for a hot second before Millennial became the name. They almost had the name of Latchkey, but it didn’t stick, and neither did the name MTV. There isn’t, however, as much data on the experience of Gen X. The generation is considered happy, active, and entrepreneurial in nature (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_X). Maybe no one talks about them because they are happy and aren’t trying to blame anyone else for their problems. Maybe they aren’t fighting for anything either. It just seems weird though that in the all shots fired, Gen X hasn’t taken one hit or fired one shot, generally speaking. When I read comments on articles bashing Millennials, a few Gen Xers will pop their heads up and voice their support of the problems facing Millennials, which is nice. I really don’t think we should forget this generation or their experience. It’s not as if they are invisible or not contributing. I’d actually like to hear more of their voices.

The New Generation

While Millennials are self-deprecating and fatalistic, Gen Z makes an art form of it. Some of this comes from the idea that they may not be able to go to college at all or afford the lifestyle of the American dream, things Millennials thought they were going to have. It also comes from growing up in a post 9/11, Great Recession America. They feel insecure and unsettled, but this wasn’t jarring to them, like it was for Millennials, who grew up in prosperity and then had the rug pulled out from under them. There’s also more of them then there are Millennials or Baby Boomers. I would like it if Gen Z had more to look forward to. I would like them to have hope for their futures.

What Does It All Mean?

That’s a good question, because as it turns out, generational traits are contentious. They’ve found that they don’t really cross socioeconomic lines, race, and sometimes even gender. African Americans, Hispanics, other minority groups, and rural Americans typically are nothing like their generational cohorts. Some of the traits of Baby Boomers really do not apply to all of them. In fact, it seems some of them are more like Millennials. Some of the traits applied to Millennials really do not apply to all of them. For example, it is believed that Millennials are supportive of the government restricting public speech offensive to minorities, more so than previous generations, believing in trigger warnings and safe spaces. I am not one of those people. Even though I am a Millennial. But I am also a writer, and just as I stated in my post about being a writer over being a woman (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2018/03/24/im-not-a-female-writer-im-a-writer/), I didn’t choose to be a Millennial. I absolutely chose to be a writer, and writers, especially American ones, have a long standing tradition of not supporting government sanctioned censorship. I may not have liked the things the Black Hebrew Israelites were saying to the Native Americans, but they still have the right to say it (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2019/01/26/fake-news-what-happens-when-trump-is-right/). Part of the reason why I don’t support censorship is that, as I stated in my blog post about satire (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/irony-satire-and-sarcasm-and-those-who-dont-get-it/), too many people are not intelligent enough to recognize it. They become offended and demand censorship, while the point sails clear over their heads. I do not trust mobs to decide what is or isn’t offensive because mobs do not have the ability to reason what is satiristic. That makes me an atypical Millennial. My point is, you can’t assume a person’s personality based on their generational group. Yes, vast numbers of them adhere to certain traits, but not all of those traits and not all of those people. Like any other demographic, a person has to learn about an individual before they make any judgements about them. You know? Like a good person.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2019 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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Fake News?: What Happens When Trump Is Right

Have you heard the latest news debacle? Video has surfaced of a group of white teenagers bullying a Native American U.S. vet. Or so that’s what most media organizations big and small are selling for their headlines. Definitely gets clicks and shares. Like my headline. Thing is though, I don’t make any money if you read this. I also hate the idea that Trump is right about fake news. He shouts it like Oprah giving away prizes and about things that are typically not fake. But not so in this case. I’ve had issues with news media manipulating the public before, but this instance is only proving that it is getting harder and harder to do so what with the internet and now we can all feel free to call the intent of the news into question.

The Reporting

Take a look at what was originally said of this incident on major news sources. The Washington Post shows four minutes of the incident and speaks specifically to Phillips the U.S. vet and several representatives of the Native American rights associations: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/20/it-was-getting-ugly-native-american-drummer-speaks-maga-hat-wearing-teens-who-surrounded-him/?utm_term=.acfbde9d2669. ABC has less than two minutes of video but interviews on a more balanced level despite the click-baity title: https://abc7news.com/politics/boys-in-maga-hats-mock-indigenous-elder-in-dc-video/5097427/. The initial CNN report video shows only seconds of the footage but makes many moral judgements using tone and statements, but forces the responsibility on society as a whole, but seems almost ironic when it moves on to the idea of people promoting “going viral” considering how much news itself relies on audience attention and shares (and the fact that the video didn’t come from the teenagers themselves): https://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2019/01/19/maga-video-teens-native-american-unfiltered-vpx.cnn. Fox News obviously didn’t say much about the video until the backlash started. Yahoo News shows less than two minutes of video and then four minutes in another embedded video and had no interviews: https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/maga-hatted-teens-harass-native-182138098.html.

There is actually more than an hour of footage of this incident, including moments of a group of Black Hebrew Israelite protesters taunting the teenagers with racist and homophobic slurs, but most shockingly of all the video starts with the Black Hebrew Israelite group blaming the Native American protestors for the loss of their land on their “idol worship” and that’s just the first 30 seconds. You want to talk about offensive? That’s offensive. Why isn’t that the headline? Because it is two minority groups butting heads instead of a majority group and a minority group. While the clip everyone is showing has one kid being silent and a Native American banging a drum and singing, the beginning of the whole video includes a shouting match between a Black Hebrew Israelite protestor and what appears to be a Native American woman. “Half of understanding is listening,” says the guy that’s not listening. After eight minutes in, the man filming turns the camera on himself to spout extremely sexist comments. Then the main protestor starts asking where her husband is. He calls another woman a “culture vulture” as if telling Native Americans that them worshiping idols instead of God isn’t disrespectful of their culture. The person recording then calls who seems like the MAGA teenagers crackers and threatens to “stick [his] foot in their ass”. A chunk of the video after this is the Black Hebrew Israelites discussing religious history with a Native American man as the Indigenous Peoples’ March kicks up a bit. After a while, the main protestor starts shouting at the Native Americans again, suggesting that their march is useless, but recognizes the similarities in Native American and African-American struggles. Afterwards, they point out the teenagers again and use the N-word. Then there is a lot of political/religious preaching, followed by the reasonable question “When has America ever been great for us?” Which he then hurts his message by calling the kids peckerwoods. But he keeps promoting separation of White people from the other races as they are all oppressors to him. Then he disrespects Native American culture and religion again. A Native American man started yelling at them for not showing respect. The Black Hebrew Israelites call them the N-word, stupid, ignorant, demons, and Uncle Tomahawks and ask why the Native Americans don’t yell at the MAGA teens (who’ve been quiet thus far on the video). Then the MAGA teens come over and the man recording talks about how disrespectful they are to the Native Americans for wearing those hats at their march. A woman starts yelling at them and the Black Hebrew Israelite leader start asking about her husband and after she starts preaching love, peace, and unity, he says he’s done with her. More preaching. A man points out that they are proselytizing. More preaching. Then some anti-Semitic comments. The man recording starts pointing out the teenagers again. The boys don’t do anything. More preaching. Then homophobic comments about a pedophilic priest. Then homophobic comments about Trump and Giuliani and the Catholic Church. More Uncle Tomahawk comments about a member of the crowd, telling him he might as well put on a MAGA hat and calling him the N-word and coon. The guy filming asks them why they won’t yell at the teenagers. Then he walks up to the teenagers and calls them crackers. They still don’t do anything. The Black Hebrew Israelite leader calls them all future school shooters and the man filming calls them animals. The teenagers put some distance between themselves and the Black Hebrew Israelites. More political/religious preaching, including something about UFOs. Some guy skateboards through the area playing music, and they start threatening him with “punishment” if he gets too close and call him a clown. A woman talks to them about a prophecy. More preaching. A near fight breaks out between the skateboarder and the guy filming. The skateboarder goes off, but circles them still, and the man filming says he’s going to hit him. The leader starts talking about Bill Clinton, Haiti, and Paris. The man filming continues to point out the teenagers, that still haven’t engaged. The skateboarder’s music is still playing, as he seems to be trying to drown them out, and they keep threatening him. More preaching. A man starts shouting, but he’s really hard to understand, but they call him a five dollar Indian. A woman shouts that we love everybody. The leader shouts “We love you as much as Donald Trump loves us.” More preaching and threatening of the skateboarder. Someone asks if this is a Stand Your Ground State. More preaching. Then they call the teenagers incest babies and bastards. The teenagers start chanting, but it is not “Build the Wall”. They call the teenagers dogs and hyenas. A water bottle is on the ground between the two groups and one of the teenagers runs forward to pick it up. It is not clear where the bottle came from, if it was thrown or dropped or by whom. The teenagers then chant and focus on one of them who takes off his shit, and after that the man filming calls them cavemen. He says they are surrounded by them but you can clearly see a way without any of the teenagers that people are walking through. The teenagers keep chanting. Then we can hear Phillips coming and he stops between the two groups and continues drumming. The teenagers jump up and down in front of him, and yes, some of them are disrespectful. They chant Hey in time to the drum and clap, then it sounds like some of them sing O, but some of them are still and quiet. A couple of the teenagers engage with the Black Hebrew Israelite leader, booing him for calling them school shooters. It’s hard to see Phillips, but we can still hear his drum. Some of the teenagers say at best cheeky things to the leader at worst immature. Some White adults start making the teenagers back up. School chants ensue, one kid says they are being racist. More cracker and N-word slurs. Most of the students are standing there but are very close. The man filming calls one of them a young clansman who had said something I couldn’t understand, and the man filming appears to be holding a stick (like a broom-handle). The students appear to be about four feet at least from the protestors. One of the students says they can’t vote. More preaching and the kids are shocked by many of the things he says. One teenager says you can swear on a law book instead of the Bible, one says they don’t judge them. Some of the teenagers are laughing. An adult says Let’s go, the teenagers cheer and leave. Then the Black Hebrew Israelites start shouting at a group of Native Americans. More homophobic comments. A woman comes up and says We love you. He asks for his land back. A White man says that Black Africans sold others into slavery. After more stuff about religion and child molestation, a woman says “You’re not going to change their minds.” At this point it is clear that nothing will stop these protestors from shouting down the people around them, using racist, sexist, homophobic, and disrespectful comments. This is so hard to watch. It is so hard to sit and listen to everything these two men say. I did it though. I watched the whole thing, and I know it is hard to watch anything longer than five minutes these days, but it is worth our attention, so here you go: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQyBHTTqb38. I won’t say enjoy, because I didn’t find anything about this enjoyable.

I want to say that I don’t understand why the headline is about the teenagers. I want to say that I don’t get it. But I do understand. It is about an agenda of divisiveness that increases viewership. It’s about clicks.

Assault, Harassment, and Defamation

Because of how the media has presented the events of the quick bit of video they show, the main teenager in the video and his family have gotten death threats, he is facing expulsion from school, and is one of the most hated figures of social media right now. It’s no wonder that he came out with a version of events from his perspective, even if it laden with rhetoric to make himself out to be the victim. To be honest with you, considering that he and the other students are underage, I don’t believe the video should even be shown with them in it with their faces clearly identifiable. Other countries do this, and it’s high time we did, but minors should not be part of the media circus. To me, it prevents mob mentality from judging minors for life, in the same way we protect them from the stupid, inexperienced criminal choices of their youth by sealing juvenile records. Not everything is protected as if they are charged as adults, then it sticks. But I certainly don’t think any of these teenagers committed the kind of felonies in the video that would mean we never let them forget it. But the media has decided to vilify these teenagers. And if some of them did see the whole video before reporting, they decided to hold minors to higher standards than adults.

I don’t agree with why the teenagers were there, I don’t agree with their support of Trump, but they are still young and people change quite a bit in their early to mid twenties from who they were as teenagers. I also believe they have the right to march in a rally that I don’t believe in. They have the right to buy hats I don’t like. We can’t assume they deserved to be vilified simply because of those hats, as some people vilify women for wearing low cut necklines or LBGT people for wearing rainbow hats and shirts nor do we accept them being harassed by others. But apparently we’re supposed to okay with a minority group heckling Native Americans. Those two men also had the right to be there and they also had the right to say what they did. I don’t have to like it, and I don’t, but they still had the right. Everyone had the right to be there. There were some near assaults when people started to get into each other’s personal space, and only if people followed someone around and said horrible things to them repeatedly would it be considered harassment. The event itself was fine. Uncomfortable. But legal and fine. As Trevor Noah put it “All First Amendment and no Second Amendment.” It was fine.

The Backlash

What isn’t fine is how the major media networks decided to reframe this video to rabble rouse and sow division. As if things aren’t bad enough. And after everyone found the long video, many people were upset at having been misled, and now the pendulum is swinging the other way. Those on the extreme right feel vindicated and able to character assassinate Phillips, as if that’s okay too. It’s really not. I’m a huge opponent of ad hominem. I don’t believe it promotes empathy, trust, or the seeking out of the truth. Very rarely do I see a purpose in condemnations of others unless a true argument with evidence to support claims is given as well.

People who are typically in the middle, like me, see this news debacle as disheartening. For me, it is just more of the same. I’m unsurprised by their decision to manipulate their audience, but this has given a lot of people something to think about. A lot people, despite Trump shouting fake news, trusted the major news networks to give them unbiased information, but now they feel lied to or misled. They may even look back at previous reports on political and social topics and wonder. My hope is that more people will start digging deeper as a result, which is now easier to do with the internet.

A lot of the old guard think that the internet actually makes it harder to know what is real and fake, but a person just has to be discerning in their sources. It also one of the only places Americans can get international news as while interest hasn’t dropped, reporting from the major networks has (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ly7Btx0Stg). There is still some left push back, people saying that the teenagers deserve what they get both in the video and by way of punishment and harassment since they were wearing MAGA hats and were there for a Pro-Life rally, but as I said before, they have a right to believe what they believe, wear what they want to wear, and protest what they want to protest. I don’t have to like it or agree with them, but they have the right, just like anyone else. That is what America is about. Even if it isn’t always pretty.

But some of the networks are defending what they did as it is not always easy to get the whole picture before you have to publish, and that’s a load of bullshit. We now have 24 hour news cycle, but I suggest if they can’t do it ethically and competently in the amount of time they are giving themselves, that they need to slow down. It’s their job to fact check. You don’t win anyone over by whining about how hard it is to do your job. They’re more afraid that someone will report the story before them that they are all jumping the gun than they are of getting the story wrong, but look at what it has gotten them. If they hadn’t jumped the gun, if they had done their due diligence, they could have reported on the video accurately and looked like the good guys. Now they just look like assholes. It is shameful that they have misstepped so badly as to allow extremist right shouting of Fake News to be credible.

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Oh, but Fox News does it! Yeah, and they’re wrong when they do it too. You can’t control what someone else does, only what you do. CNN is not responsible for what Fox News says, but they are responsible for what they say. You can’t hold yourself to the standards and principles of those you don’t like or find unethical. You can’t think of it as winning or losing. Disseminating information is not a game. It is about ethics, the truth, and honesty. That’s what you hold yourself to. I can’t believe that I have to pull out an adage meant for five year olds to talk about major news networks comprised entirely of adults. That’s the kind of immaturity that exists in that industry. I understand that there is a competition for viewership, but there should not be a competition for hearts and minds. The news should be objective, despite the flashlight theory–it should at least strive to be as objective as possible. The point of the news is to provide the people with information, not to sway them politically or socially. That’s the job of politicians and activists. The real problem is the death of local news and coalescing of news, especially in major print and TV services, to a few sources. A few people get to decide that the truth is less important than a political or social goal, even if people are trampled by their manipulations. But the news is sold to us as an informational source, not a persuasive argument. So we have a mockery of that idea in all the major networks. They may claim to be news sources, but really that is a mask they wear to put forth a perspective subversively. It seems that yellow journalism rules the day. Left, right, I don’t care. I don’t want my news littered with rhetoric designed to manipulate me. And neither should anyone else.

Why This Is So Bad

But this debacle is going to have long term consequences. I can foresee in 2020 any “outrageous” things being held in suspicion. I foresee that if Trump does run that swing vote people will go for him because they won’t trust sources like CNN and ABC who will be pushing for a democrat winner. They already had a hand in Trump winning in 2016 (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/a-lack-of-respect-the-path-to-a-trump-presidency/). I know this sounds like conspiracy theory, but at this point too many people believe that left leaning news networks are not worth trusting and we can’t pretend that they’ll get over it. I figured out all news networks were trying to manipulate me a long time ago. Teaching rhetorical analysis gave me the edge needed to recognize it, and since I am a Centrist I did not ignore it from any source because no source was telling me what I wanted to hear. I don’t buy into the narrative that one side is evil and one side is good. I believe most politicians are in it to win it, no matter what, and are willing to promise anything to get a vote. So when any news source promotes one candidate over the other, and it’s not an Op Ed, but the kind of subtle jabs at one candidate and subversive advancement of another while “reporting” on debates or campaign appearances, I’m just pissed. And I think it is safe to say that more people are pissed at them after this incident then before, and I think they will remember, mostly because the right is not going to let it go. So great job, any left leaning media, you’ve shot yourself in the foot.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2019 in Gender Relations, Politics, Social Issues

 

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Disney Stupidity Strikes Again!

I’ve complained about Disney making stupid decisions before. Their need to allow marketing to shape the creation of Star Wars. The extremely poorly thoughtout plan behind Thanos’ motivation in Infinity War. Their nearly utter lack of risks under their own titles by way of live action remakes, sequels, and reboots. But now they are doing it again. Disney is not renewing their contract with Netflix and has decided only to release digital copies of their titles on their own video streaming service. This is beyond stupid. This is near suicidal.

So Late to the Party, It’s Over

There are three big streaming networks: Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. Netflix added their streaming line in 2007, Hulu launched their content in 2008, and Amazon Prime’s streaming service switched from only on demand to a subscription service in 2011. That means Netflix has been around for 12 years, Hulu for 11, and Prime for 8. All three hold titles from many different distribution companies and in the last few years, all three have been creative Emmy winning original titles as well. Netflix has 137.1 million subscribers (https://www.statista.com/statistics/250934/quarterly-number-of-netflix-streaming-subscribers-worldwide/), Hulu has 20 million subscribers (https://expandedramblings.com/index.php/hulu-statistics/), and Amazon Prime has about 100 million subscribers (https://variety.com/2018/digital/news/amazon-prime-100-million-subscribers-jeff-bezos-1202757832/). Netflix being the first explains why they have the most, and Amazon Prime offering other perks, such as free two day shipping and digital copies of a selection of books and music, explains why it is second. The only other real competition to these three is HBO Now, as HBO has been creating it’s own original content for decades before streaming subscriptions were a thing, and they regularly get recent blockbusters. This past year their relatively new online subscription service has hit over 5 million subscribers (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-01/hbo-s-channel-for-cord-cutters-surpasses-5-million-subscribers). This was actually a relatively natural progression for the channel, and other paid channel networks have followed suit with less success. The point is that the most successful streaming services offer both original content and multiple distribution companies’ titles and have been around for nearly ten years or have a sweet package that includes other benefits. The streaming wars haven’t just begun. They’re long over. Only something with extremely competitive benefits can even get a foot in the door. Another Amazon Prime. I could see Apple successfully doing this if they were willing branch off of their own tech products (i.e. all smart TVs and Windows computers) and converted to a subscription service, like their Apple Music. Disney’s package is not competitive. My guess is that it’s going to be priced too high because Disney thinks they are worth more than they are.

Big Dumb Animal

Disney is one of a handful of major media corporations. Nearly all of them are know for doing stupid things on a regular basis. Universal tried making their dumb dark universe. Warner Bros is failing spectacularly at creating a DCCU. Fox just makes bad movies because they trust Ridley Scott far too much. Other endeavors don’t do so well either. The news sections of the major media corporations are lackluster as almost all of them use rhetorical techniques and spotlighting techniques to incite fear and manipulate public opinion to political sides or to raise their own ratings. They often make business decisions that would kill smaller companies, such as cancelling Emmy winning TV shows, not marketing movies that need it and over-marketing those that don’t, designing creative titles by committee, watering down acquired IPs for mass markets, performing unethical and illegal acts that obstruct a criminal investigation simply to keep a news story going, one arm of the company suing another arm of that same company, not backing video streaming when it first came out. These big media corporations are stupid. They are frankly too big not to be stupid. They aren’t innovators. They aren’t trail-blazers. They copy each other and they copy the innovators, thinking that they can “do it better”. They typically can’t. The problem is inspiration. They don’t have it. Maybe one day they did, years ago, but they don’t have it anymore. Now, they have demographic data, marketing teams, and financial optimization. These are not the things that create new ideas. These are the things that keep big businesses big and, they hope, bigger. Disney is just like any other major media corporation. Large, full of MBA buzzwords, and mostly empty-headed.

You Have Hulu?!

Case in point: Disney owns a controlling interest in Hulu, one of the three major video streaming services, and they want to launch a new, Disney-branded video streaming service that would be in . . . direct competition to . . . the one they already own with 20 million subscribers. Hmm. I don’t think it needs to be explained why that would be a dumb move. I could foresee Disney pushing a vote to close down Hulu, which is dumb, to cut this competition. Why would this be dumb? Well, Hulu is established, it’s built. All the investment that was needed to create Hulu has already been spent. Disney is now spending what has to be a comparable amount of money to build a Disney-branded video streaming service when they already have a pre-built video streaming service. Is it entirely theirs? No, part of it is owned by Comcast and AT&T, and the 30% that was owned by Fox is now Disney’s, which means Disney own 60%, a controlling interest, and thus a majority profit. They could rebrand Hulu if they wanted to (don’t do that), and after Hulu’s deal with Spotify, Hulu is even more attractive as a product then it used to be. Disney is not going to be able to compete with that. I seriously doubt that the new streaming service is even going to compare with the amount of content and the quality of the original content on Hulu. I got Hulu exclusively to see The Handmaid’s Tale, an award winning show. I doubt Disney’s channel with it’s branding tied specifically to the Disney name will have the kind of deep and dark content allowed on Hulu. And it’s just going to cost them so much money.

Money Sink

Disney has a lot of money. Of that, we can be sure. They bought Star Wars and the Lucas companies for billions of dollars. They acquired Marvel through similar means a few years before that. Recently, they purchased 20th Century Fox and all their IPs and subsidiaries. They have money. Frankly, they could stand to take a few hits in that department to make them beef up their quality. While Marvel is still doing well financially on the film front, the quality of writing has gone down dramatically since the Russo Brothers have replaced Joss Whedon. Star Wars fans have finally woken up to the idea that Disney Star Wars is the worst Star Wars–something I’ve been saying since Rogue One and knew after The Force Awakens. But hardcore Disney fans still drink the cool aid when it comes to these live action remakes and sequels. My hope is that this new video streaming service will be an absolute waste of money, much like the A Wrinkle in Time adaptation was. I can see Disney not investing enough to build a truly workable service, with a good customer service system, spending more money on marketing the service, and then over-charging for the whole thing. I can also foresee them pulling the whole “Disney Vault” bullshit and rotating old titles in and out of their own service arbitrarily, thus creating a false supply titles. What I’m saying is, I foresee an utter waste of money for both Disney and fans.

An End to the Defenders

It was a sad, sad time as each new day brought another notice of a Defenders cancellation. Were all the shows good? No, of course not. Luke Cage and Iron Fist were terrible, and the second season of Daredevil, much like the second Iron Man movie, was too focused on introducing new things into the mix as we had more of the Hand, Stick, Elektra, and the Punisher then we knew what to do with. But the quality of these shows overall were better than say Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. They covered deeper, darker subjects than other MCU titles. And now thanks to Disney being a jealous dick, we’re not getting any more of them. When Luke Cage and Iron Fist were cancelled, I was not shocked as I had just finished the second seasons of both and yee, gods, man. What the hell were they thinking? When an audience member literally says out loud “What the fuck?” upon the final scene of your show, that may be a sign that its time to hang it up. But Daredevil season three was great! And I can’t wait for the premier of season three of Jessica Jones or of season two of Punisher. Jessica Jones season two was still very awesome. And the first season of Punisher, while shockingly brutal, was freaking amazing! This is just a tragedy of TV that we won’t have anymore Charlie Cox Daredevil, Krysten Ritter Jessica Jones, or Jon Bernthal Punisher. Or will we? No, probably not. Disney isn’t smart enough to move it something like FX or Hulu, where something that dark would make sense, and with the new way of TV original content being separated by different video streaming services, it wouldn’t really make sense to have some seasons on Netflix, where the distribution rights lie for those seasons, and have new seasons on another service. So I don’t foresee a revival for any of these unless Disney can unjam their head from up that deep, dark cavern they’ve decided it belongs.

Devalued IPs

Speaking of IPs like the Defenders, Disney has been systematically watering down and killing their major IPs. Most of you will think I’m talking about Star Wars, and I totally am. Disney has managed to drive away the reason they purchased Star Wars in the first place. You know, the fans. It wasn’t just virtue signalling narratives, it was also poor narrative construction with uneven pacing, badly developed characters, marketing that over-saturated the market, and getting in bed with the worst game publisher in the world that resulted in a huge PR nightmare and loss of public trust, when they could have just used the publisher that came with the purchase from Lucas (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/star-wars-why-i-dont-like-it/). But Star Wars is not the only IP they have harmed in the last decade. What with their need to milk the shit out of their own titles, resulting in remakes, reboots, and sequels up the wazoo, Disney movies have gone down in quality, resulting in mostly boring live action remakes that aren’t as good as the originals (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/do-you-need-money-or-something-disney-reboot-remakes-and-sequels/). Then there is the sequels with Pixar. Luckily, Pixar still has some ideas, like Moana, but you know its going to get a less than stellar sequel. While I love The Incredibles and I’ve always wanted a sequel, when I watched the trailer, I got a bad feeling. Finding Dory was basically Finding Nemo, but with Dory and Nemo switched places, and a lot of having their cake and eating it to when it came to making fun of people who were different and suggesting that they are complete individuals deserving of our respect. The trailer for The Incredibles 2 just seems like The Incredibles only now instead of Bob running off to do superhero stuff while Helen stays home to take care of the kids and house, she’s running off to do superhero stuff while he stays home to take care of the kids and the house. It’s a problem. And really, they’re going to do a Toy Story 4? Isn’t that a bit much? Finally, the MCU. Their golden goose. Well, it was, before Joss Whedon decided he was done and they went all in on the Russo Brothers, who suck hard core. The main storyline of the MCU has become increasingly plot-hole filled with villains that have plans without any sense or structure to them and characters whose development is abused by main plot points. The stories are contrived for the purpose of creating drama. And I’m sick of it. While most audiences still like the MCU, the quality is fucking awful now. The only thing holding it all together are the great actors. I swear, it feels like the Russo brothers were asked to dismantle the MCU, because it is the only thing that makes sense. So yeah, Disney has flooded the market with horrible movies, and don’t even get me started on their TV channel! That’s been horrific for decades.

No Risks and Stupid Risks

I’ve said before that Disney was in a position to take risks. When I said that, I meant creatively, as in coming up with new IPs instead of remaking all their animated movies. I didn’t mean jump into the video streaming service market five years after it matters and after having acquired one of the big three. That isn’t a risk. That’s a jump off a cliff. It baffles me that they would not take real risks with their creative work, but do something that will in all likelihood fail as business venture. I know that these decisions are not made by the same person, that Disney is large corporation made up of a lot of people and subsidiaries, but it has a corporate culture of no creativity and cutting out the middle man. This new venture isn’t about innovation or customer support. It’s about making the most money they think they can. They see the profits that other video streaming services rake in and think they could have all that money by cutting out Netflix. But that’s potential profits, not real profits. They have no idea how much money they will actually make off their video streaming service. This is a stupid way of looking at things too because Netflix makes the money it does not because it has Disney titles, but because it has Disney, Universal, Warner Bros, Sony, etc. titles and original content and no commercials. Disney is only one part of how they make their profits. They have an amazing contract with Warner Bros that allows for CW shows exclusively. And we all know how popular, if not good, those are. So for Disney to be looking possibly at Netflix profits and thinking, those could be our profits, is dumb, because they aren’t the only draw of a varied and long-standing video streaming service.

“Well, I’m Going to Cancel My Netflix Subscription”

Sure, the five million people who do this will leave “quite” a dent in Netflix’s profits. As if Netflix doesn’t have Stranger Things. Suuuuure. Netflix is gonna suffer sooooooo much. Netflix’s biggest competitor isn’t even Amazon Prime. It’s YouTube. Not even YouTube Red, Google’s attempt to get YouTube out of the red and into the black. Just regular old YouTube. But that’s because YouTube has content no one else has. No, not live TV or news clips. No, let’s plays, and gaming news and lists. The most watched videos on YouTube are related to gaming, something no other video service comes close to getting right. Twitch could eat their lunch in the viewership numbers if they weren’t just live streaming, as gaming news and lists and game walkthroughs are another huge draw, which are harder to do live. So when I hear the counter that people are going to leave Netflix for Disney, I scoff, because no other video streaming service competes on the same level. Prime looks like it does because of its numbers, but some Prime members aren’t there for the videos. They’re there for the two day shipping. Will Netflix take a hit over this? Yes, but it won’t be a company breaking hit.

In the End

I rag on Disney a lot, and despite that, they are not my least favorite media giant. That spot is firmly held by Sony. But Disney is a close second because they have so much, do so little creatively, and make dumb decisions. Because Disney owns so many major IPs, this upsets me. They have some of the best material, material that has huge followings built into them. It’s upsetting to see them gobble up more and more with the feeling that they are just going to waste all that potential and talent on half-assed projects, that they are going to end good ventures simply to get all the money in the world. They think their shit don’t stink. But it does. God, but it does. Is something like this going to take them down? Well, if EA is still around despite all they’ve done the last few years, I seriously doubt that this straw is the last straw for Disney. In fact, I see there numbers being high enough in the beginning at least for them to think this is a justified venture. They are also huge. They can absorb this quite easily if it is a loss. Will they learn a lesson if it fails? Most likely they won’t. Their vault BS has been working for them for decades. The problem is their size. They’ll stub their toe and just move on to the next dumb idea. Disney fans will continue to swallow the cool aid, and they will continue to make enough money to think they are untouchable. They’ll look for any answer that doesn’t hold them responsible for any failures, as they have in the past. And they’ll kept on doing what they’ve been doing. But now they own nearly everything of value. If they buy Warner Bros, we’re fucked. Because you know damn well, they’d end the Arrowverse in a heartbeat, despite its success and the world it has built. I’m just tired of Disney getting more and more and doing less and less of value with what they have. Aren’t you?

 

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Copyright Nightmares and Plagiarism Heists: How the Law Is on Your Side and Corporations Don’t Care

I once uploaded one of my own audio recordings for my YouTube channel to iTunes since it was really hard to get the recordings into the apps I used to use for video editing. iTunes DRM locked my own recording, locking me out of using it in apps. What the fuck kind of sense does that make, Apple? Come on, Tim Cook, grow your baby’s-first-computer company up and teach it copyright. Despite international copyright law being pretty cut and dry (to me at least) and it recognizing fair use, most people don’t understand what copyright means, how it works, how it is infringed, and what qualifies for plagiarism. I’m going to try to break down some basics and explain why I think international courts need to start cracking down on the disruption of fair use, and what we as creators and critics can do to make them.

Copyright vs Publication: Stephenie Meyer and the Midnight Sun Leak

A few years back, Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series was working on a novel called Midnight Sun covering the events of Twilight from Edward’s perspective, when it was leaked on the internet. Some people erroneously thought that since her novel hadn’t been published yet that she had no legal recourse for the leak. This is simply not true. I believe these people were confusing publication with copyright. Before I publish this post on my blog, it is subject to copyright. As I come up with the idea and write down notes on the post, it is subject to copyright. Copyright protects the creators of intellectual property from plagiarism at all stages of the creation process. However, it is much easier to prove in a court of law that something is your intellectual property once it has been published. The digital age has made it a little easier than it used to be to prove that something was yours before publication, but seriously, was there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Midnight Sun was written by Stephenie Meyer? She decided against going to court because the person who leaked it had done so accidentally and she posted her own version of the incomplete novel for people to read. She did, however, lose her motivation to finish it, which is the risk of your creative project being distributed in an unfinished form without your consent.

Fan Fiction Gets Published

Technically, fan fiction can be considered plagiarism. And before I start talking about E. L. James, I’ll talk some more about Stephenie Meyer. A few years ago, I decided to try to watch Roswell, not the new CW TV show called Roswell, New Mexico, but the first one with Katherine Heigl. After one horrific episode, I wasn’t just shocked by how terrible it was but also by the fact that all this seemed familiar. Why? Because the plot of the first episode is basically the same as the first half of Twilight the novel. There is a small group overly insular kids, who are only friends with each other, and our main character, a girl who doesn’t consider herself attractive and isn’t popular, is saved by one of the male members of that group in a miraculous and inhuman way. They start to fall in love even though his friends don’t want him to get close to her. It’s the fucking same. I know Roswell wasn’t good (certainly not worth a remake), but I don’t think Melinda Metz and Jason Katims deserved to have their shit ripped off.

Image result for roswell tv showImage result for twilight book cover

A lot of people think that the Fifty Shades of Grey books are Twilight fan fiction, but I’ve had a joy of seeing Secretary, and I’m pretty sure those books are more of ripoff of that great movie, considering that both the men’s names are Grey and it is focused on a budding BDSM relationship.

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The Hunger Games series has been frequently compared to Battle Royale, of which Suzanne Collins claims never to have heard. Yes, because movies, a manga series, and a novel are all hard to miss, even if they are Japanese. Koushun Takami didn’t bother going to court over it because sales of the various Battle Royale works increased after people starting pointing out that The Hunger Games was basically the same thing. Neither of them are very good novels, but if you are going to read one, read Battle Royale. The translation may not be great, but the subject is far better treated by Takami than it is by Collins.

Image result for battle royale book coverImage result for the hunger games book cover

I know a lot of stories are derivative, but sometimes creators aren’t very good at hiding their sources. I’m okay with people doing this if they admit it, because I believe art is cumulative, but in our litigation heavy world, the homage and the retelling is getting harder and harder to do with more recent works. Paradise Lost is a retelling of Genesis and can be called fan fiction. Ulysses is a retelling of the Odyssey and could be called fan fiction. It’s called influences, and we shouldn’t have to live in fear of what inspired us as creators.

Social Media and the Age of the Meme

The internet and social media especially has exploded the number of creators in the world. Blogs (like this one), YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook has created an excess of bite size media producers, most of the work being referred to as Memes, which basically now means a graphical joke, either still or moving, but typically short. The number of comic artists being seen, especially parody creators, has skyrocketed. And this is where copyright gets fuzzy. Is is plagiarism to take someone’s photo, art, video, audio, or copyrighted creation, put your own spin on it and publish it online? I argue that yes, it is. In the U.S. at least. The first amendment protects parody, so all those comic artists creating jokes around how stupid Infinity War is are completely legal. The fair use doctrine also protects those who comment and/or criticize an intellectual property that is not their own, which, to me at least, covers a lot of memes. This is debatable and is not accepted by all nations, despite fair use also being part of the International Copyright Laws. Many Japanese companies often ignore fair use entirely and China often ignores copyright wholesale. I believe, though, that there is a good basis to argue that memes are fair use and protected by law. I think this is good thing as well because creation should be more fluid and people should be able to comment and criticize other creative works, even in bite size ways.

Europe, Are You Insane?

As a writer and artist, I believe that creators own their work, and I don’t believe in censorship. As a critic, I understand that any one not technically working for a company, but creating individual commentary has the right to do so while using copyrighted work to make their points. The European Parliament has passed laws on copyright and creation they think will help things. And I have a hard time not laughing and then breaking down in tears over the bullshit they call progress on this front. Automation is main goal of the biggest websites, like YouTube, Facebook, WordPress, etc. It’s hard to hire enough people to cover all the content that ends up on a site of that size, and it’s also very costly. The European Parliament is putting the responsibility of preventing copyright infringement on these platforms. This will mean automation, upload filters as they are known, to check to see if the content violates copyright. Since copyright law is complex, it’s hard to imagine that any automated system will be able to recognize the difference between something that is stolen vs something that qualifies as fair use. The law will also limit sharing of links for some unfathomable reason. Because showing your sources is  . . . bad? Because sharing knowledge with others is . . . wrong? They also think this law is going to help small journalists. Somehow. In Europe at least. Founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, along with several other big names of the internet, signed an open letter against the law, saying that the internet would not be what it is today if a law like this existed 25 years ago (source: https://www.wired.com/story/europes-copyright-law-could-change-the-web/). This suggests that other newly developing websites will never reach the level of something like Wikipedia with this new law in place. I am not okay with the idea that growth will be stifled for new content creators and platforms, thus locking in the big websites without any chance for real competition and innovation.

Journalism, Big and Small, and Fair Use

Rooster Teeth, one of the biggest online creator groups, known for RWBY, Red vs Blue, and the journalistic series, The Know, is breaking up with YouTube. Rooster Teeth existed before YouTube was big, and they’re probably going to survive this breakup just fine. There are many other smaller or individual journalists on YouTube, many of them focused on gaming news, such as YongYea, Laymen Gaming, CleanPriceGaming, Jim Sterling, and movie news or mixed news, like WhatCulture, ScreenJunkies News, and critics, like AngryJoe, Screen Rant, Nostalgia Critic, Red Letter Media, Yahtzee Croshaw, and myself, AlexofAllTrades. All of us, including The Know, were/are utilizing copyrighted material under fair use. We are commenting on it. We may not be NBC, CNN, BBC, Fox, ABC, or CBS, but that doesn’t give us any less rights to the fair use doctrines. We just don’t have the lawyers or clout to back us up. Which is why I question how Europe’s new law is going to help small journalists, when automated copyright checking on YouTube has failed time and time again to recognize fair use and taken down videos and whole channels because of this. So forcing other websites to do what YouTube is failing to do well is a bad move for smaller journalists around the world.

YouTube, You Unethical Jackass

Europe’s new law basically forces the large companies into using upload filters and currently YouTube already has an upload filter. I must say that this is used ineptly at best and unethically at worst. The upload filter does not recognize fair use. It makes sense that it should go after clips of items that don’t have commentary in the form of audio or text over the clip or before or after the clip. However it does go after clips that have commentary. A YouTuber does not have to talk over the clip for it to qualify for fair use. They could talk before or after the clip and the clip is either being used as evidence of a point or being examined closely. That’s the reality of fair use. That’s just good composition. The upload filter does not recognize this however. That’s where it is inept. It is unethical in that it allows large companies first dibs, before a video is live to say that the video is their property. Normal individuals do not have this capability. That’s unethical as it is unfairly applied. YouTube does not review the claim of copyright infringement before taking action against the video uploaded. The company claiming copyright is given carte blanche to remove the video, block the video from view in multiple countries, and/or monetization. Any claim prevents the YouTuber from monetizing the video, and if the YouTuber was not eligible for monetization already, the company can make money off their video when the YouTuber never could have. This is also unethical. If the YouTuber disagrees with the claim, they can dispute it. The dispute is not reviewed by YouTube or a third party legal department, but the company that claims the infringement. They typically reject the dispute, regardless of what the YouTuber puts for their reasons. YouTube has no acknowledgement of mixed copyright items. So if a video qualifies as fair use in reality, but the company fails to acknowledge it, the company and YouTube by the way they have built the system is violating the copyright of the YouTuber. If I do a review of a Sony Pictures movie and include clips and stills to illustrate my points, that is fair use. If Sony Pictures monetizes my video under the YouTube system of handling large corporations copyright, they are in violation of my copyright and engaged in plagiarism. This is the same as if Sony took the profits from an issue of BoxOffice because the magazine did a feature on the movie Venom using images from the movie. It doesn’t make any sense in that instance. It’s obvious copyright infringement to make money off of the labor of the critic who wrote the feature and the magazine itself. Why would doing this suddenly make sense to do it on YouTube? YouTube doesn’t make any money off those YouTubers who can’t or don’t monetize. This gives them an incentive to allow big companies like Sony erroneously to monetize small YouTubers videos. It also allows big companies to lower the impact of negative reviews, such as my review of Arrival, which is blocked by Sony and Paramount in about 275 countries and wasn’t exactly glowing. YouTube allows and frankly encourages these kinds of copyright infringement. If after the company rejects your dispute, you’d like to contest it further, your contestation does not go to YouTube. It still goes to the company claiming infringement. If they reject it again, the video is taken down and the YouTuber is given a copyright strike. Three strikes and this channel is taken down. Only then if you contest the strike, does it go to YouTube. This is lazy on top of being incompetent and unethical. Who are we to believe that the same would not be done when other websites are forced to add upload filters? I think we would be suckers to believe that it would be any better.

Giving It Away for Free, You Awesome Slut: Doing the Work vs Selling the Work and Your Options as a Creator

A lot of creative people give content away for free. Not just little things, but big things too. It doesn’t mean their copyright doesn’t apply; it just means they aren’t making any money directly off the content. My YouTube channel and this blog are entirely free without ads as well. I make no money off of either. Why would an artist do this? Well, for one thing it’s the “get them in the door” method and for another, whether or not I got paid to do those things, I would still do them. Currently I do not have a lot of subscribers or followers and frankly, I’m okay with that. Creative people who think the notice and money are the marks are success are often tremendously unhappy when they have neither of those things. John Kennedy Toole wrote two novels, neither of which were published in his lifetime. He shopped his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, around a lot, but there were no takers. Toole eventually killed himself. I can’t help but think that if he had found more satisfaction in the work he had done, in that he had actually done it, he accomplished what many can’t, he completed a novel and then moved on to new projects while shopping his novel around, that he may not have become so depressed. Does it suck not being noticed? Yes, it does. But the real work, the real accomplishment, is in doing it, is in improving your skills. If a person were to prioritize that, then I believe they could be okay.

And now with the internet, it is much easier to give it away for free. To me, second after actually doing the work, is getting people to look at it, not to make money. Even if it is just a small number paying attention. To the one or two people who will read this, even if you don’t write a comment, I’m still thankful for your time. Some types of work should be free, and I believe YouTube videos and blogs fall under that category. But to swing it back around again to Stephenie Meyer (I swear I’m not a fan; she’s just had a storied career), she gave away her novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner. She didn’t have to do that. People would have paid for it. It was only for a short period, but still, to generate interest in something fans would still have gladly paid for, she released it for free. Some people argue against creative people giving away work for free. It is true that the majority of us don’t make a lot of money. I do believe that creative people should be valued and that means being paid. Before anyone drags out my “When Opportunity Knocks, It’s the Opportunity to be Exploited” Higher Ed Chronicle letter (https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/letters/when-opportunity-knocks-now-its-the-opportunity-to-be-exploited/), there is a difference between systematic exploitation and working pro-bono. Creative people should choose what work they want to be paid for. They should not be forced into working for free. That’s called slavery and it’s not only inappropriate, it’s illegal. Artists often provide their work for free to charities or to in need demographics. Look at Pixabay. Robin Higgins provided 108 free images of herself there under a creative commons license (Thank you, Robin). Many of the memes you see, come from websites like this, with images supplied by photographers, artists, and models specifically to support the internet culture. The internet is a culture of sharing, so frankly, these people are the heroes of the internet. If you find a reference to a peer reviewed article you’d like to read, but don’t want to pay the periodical for access, you can contact the writer and they will in all likelihood send it to you for free as they don’t make any more money when you pay the periodical for it. The internet isn’t just a culture of sharing memes. It’s also a culture of sharing knowledge and ideas. This is a good thing. The internet also gives IP creators a chance to control with a fine touch what they can make money off of and what they give away for free. It’s a good idea to take advantage of this. Decide who, how, and on what you make your money. It’s your choice.

The Law Is on Your Side, but the Real Issue Is Money

It’s important as a creative person and as a critic to know international copyright law, in order to protect yourself and to make your own decisions about what to do with your work. And always remember that if someone takes your idea, but not your exact words, without crediting you, they are still committing plagiarism, much like Filip Miucin did to smaller YouTubers. Reviews often cover similar ideas, but when the organization of the review is exactly the same, despite the words not being the same, then we’re dealing with plagiarism. No upload filter is going to catch something like that, and upload filters do not recognize quoting and the development of sources as fair use. So when you start working on the internet, it’s a good idea to look into a lawyer to protect yourself. But most of us can’t afford one. So here are some sources on pro bono lawyers that focus on copyright infringment: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/intellectual_property_law/resources/probonostates/ . Unfortunately, you will have to do a search in your specific locale for a law firm, as lawyers are allowed to practice per state or nation, so you want to make sure that you find a local lawyer. There is also the possibility of filing class action lawsuits against websites with systematic issues of copyright infringement against multiple individuals such as Facebook and YouTube. With there being so many individual creators without a lot of money, this is the best option. The problem is that someone with more notice will have to get the ball rolling, putting out the word that a class action lawsuit is needed. Small artists and critics need to work together to make real change happen, and before you think it is impossible, large groups of people with not a lot individually have made changes before. And before you think litigation is unsavory, realize that the law and litigation are there to help you as well as large businesses. Also, most of the negativity over litigation in the US was promoted by PR firms hired by large corporations, as the McDonald’s coffee case with the older woman was not the first case brought against McDonalds on the temperature of their coffee and that woman had a prolonged hospital stay and nearly died. The real villain of that story was McDonalds. So please, if you have been victimized by a non-criminal offense, please find yourself a lawyer and fight it. Do not think: This is just the way it is. That’s the kind of thought that allows more and more people like yourself to be victimized again and again. Protect yourself and stand up for yourself. We all need to do this as creators and critics, especially in the new world of global, individual creation and publication. Let’s fight for ourselves, together.

 

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The New Year’s Resolution None of Us Keep: Stop Making Plans and Start Doing Them

New Year’s almost here and this is about the time that people buy gym memberships, diet books, and plan big projects. For creative types, that means planning to do something creative everyday to a schedule that will ultimately lead to a project being complete by a specific date. But so many New Year’s resolutions are broken in the first week, partly because of the fact that it is now expected that we break them. So what can you do to prevent yourself from breaking your New Year’s resolutions? I’ll try to answer that.

The Romance of Planning

Most people get pleasure from planning to do better or more than they actually do from doing better or more to improve their lives. It’s weird but we get satisfaction from the thought of going to the gym, going on a diet, or planning out our big projects, but don’t get nearly as much satisfaction from doing those things. That’s why so many New Year’s resolutions are so quickly broken. The pleasure that should come from success has already been felt. Some people who have a high amount of anxiety also become over-planners. They can spend hours upon hours, planning tasks years into the future. Hours that could be spent on the actual tasks. Task programs such as Asana, Todoist, and Wunderlist become addictive and planning becomes an obsession. The best way to stave off both these situations? Don’t plan at all. Or make sure your plan is incredibly general and freeform. Don’t tell yourself that you are going to do an aerobic exercise tomorrow. Tell yourself you’re going to do some kind of physical activity. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to write a chapter in this specific project tomorrow. Tell yourself you’re going to have a creative period tomorrow. You won’t know your mood tomorrow. And those of us who get pleasure from planning can end up locking ourselves up when it comes actually to doing the planned task because one, we already felt the satisfaction of making the plan, and two, we aren’t really in the mood for the specifics we created for ourselves to follow. Also, don’t tell a lot of people what you are planning to do. Tell people what you’ve managed to do. They will reward you the same for your plan as they for what you’ve accomplished and you don’t want to further associate pleasure with plans.

Ah, I’ll Do It Tomorrow

With over-planning comes procrastination. I was supposed to write the Intro on 12.20, the previous section on 12.21, and this section on 12.22. Instead I’m writing all three on 12.24 (yes, I’m working on Christmas Eve). Was I not working on those days? No, I absolutely was. I just wasn’t working on my blog. I thought to myself, these things are small, I can do them later. Right now, I’d rather read these chapters I’ve planned for myself or work on videos, but as easy as these sections are going to be to write, I don’t need to do them now. Especially since I’m on vacation from my day job. I’ve got all the time in the world. That last thought is the death knell of getting work done. Even though I have less free time during the days I work at my day job, I’m typically more productive on those days. This is something some of you may have felt. Where does this conditioning come from? My guess is school and work. We are so used to having a set schedule from an early age and are taught that there are productive days and days for fun. If we consider our personal projects (exercise, diet, cleaning, and creative tasks) work, than those are only for the so called productive days. Time off from work and weekends are for fun. How do we solve this? Two different ways: one, turn free days into pseudo work days. People who own their own businesses do it, so can you. Create a schedule to follow and start following it the moment you wake up, including waking up at a certain time. Sleeping in is not conducive to getting anything done. Or two, don’t consider these things work. Rework your thoughts to think of them as fun. I don’t have to write this. I get to write this. A combination of the two can work wonders on your productivity and help alleviate a good amount (but not all!) of procrastination.

Checking Things Off: It’s Habit Forming

If you do still have a ton of tasks in some kind of task management software, or even in paper form, and you do manage to mark one or two off, you may notice that you start getting pleasure from crossing them off. Almost as pleasurable as planning to do something, checking items off a to do list can be its own kind of satisfaction. This is helpful if planning is an obsession that can’t be helped. And maybe planning to plan, as in setting aside time to plan or listing it as a task, can help minimize the amount of time one spends doing it. It will also help you associate doing those planned tasks with planning itself and get you started on being addicted to getting stuff done. You’re gonna plan anyway, might as well make it part of your plan to do so. That may seem counter-intuitive, but it will also stop you from feeling defeated by the obsession with planning, because that is not helpful to moving on to your actual plans. Speaking of feeling bad . . .

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

If you fall behind, if you don’t do anything for your big goal in a day, if you feel you haven’t done enough today, don’t beat yourself up. This isn’t going to help you make progress the next day. It’s kind of like how AA can sometimes cause tailspin falls off the wagon. Well, I messed up a little bit, might as well mess up a lot. No. It’s okay. We aren’t perfect beings and we can’t predict what our day will bring. Just tell yourself that you’ll try to do better tomorrow. It’s not necessary to be perfect. It is necessary to try your best. That’s all you can ask of yourself. Be glad for whatever progress you’ve made and believe that you will make more in the future.

The Six Task Rule

Ivy Lee, a fore bearer of modern public relations, created an easy way to be productive every day. Before going to bed every night, he would write six tasks from most important to least important to do the next day, and when he woke, he would start at the top of the list and work his way down until all six were completed. A lot of people follow this method today and swear by it. This method is better for those who have several projects going at once. Give it a test for a week if you’re daring and remember, don’t beat yourself up if you fail at all or all the way.

Or the One Thing a Day

When I was earning my degrees, one professor, who had a reputation for being extremely productive, had some advice, advice she had gained as she was entering her doctorate. Graduate degrees are notoriously stressful and hard to manage, and many people don’t complete them because they end up overwhelmed. The advice she received, which she was kind enough to impart upon her own students and colleagues, was that every day at least one task to the overall goal, in this case a doctorate, should be completed, even if that task is something as simple as buying paperclips. It makes the big goal seem less daunting if it is completed in smaller tasks, and if you only accomplish one little thing every day, you’re still making progress and you can feel good about that. This doesn’t involve any planning, only making sure some work is done every day. I suggest this one if you have a major project on your plate you are trying to complete. Remember if you miss a day, don’t fall off the wagon. Just try again the next day.

What Are You Waiting For?

I know that New Year’s Day isn’t for a few more days, but you probably shouldn’t wait for some special day to get started on doing better, on doing more. Just start tomorrow. Or better yet, start today. When I fall out of the habit of doing what I’m supposed to do, I don’t wait for some special day on the calendar to get back into the swing of things. I just start back up again. A person is less likely to start at all if they don’t start when they first get the idea. So don’t wait for the first. Write down the six things you’re going to do tomorrow tonight. Do one task for your project today. Get started now. It’s the best way to actually get anything done. And good luck with your endeavors!

 
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Posted by on December 29, 2018 in Craft of Writing, Social Issues

 

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Childish Things: Not Just for Children

Sadly, Stan Lee recently died and many people are in mourning. And some people are acting like assholes about this because “comic books are for kids. So meh!” But you know what? Many things that people consider immature are specifically designed for adults as well as kids, people make careers off these things, whole billion dollar industries are involved in their production, they help shape the minds of the future, and can prevent despair in adults. Allow me to defend what shouldn’t have to be defended: the consumption of play by adults.

C.S. Lewis with the Best Advice Ever

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

C. S. Lewis

If anyone ever calls you immature for liking childish things, feel free to call them childish, because C. S. Lewis said it was so. We shouldn’t be ashamed of the things we enjoy doing. Once when I was watching Dancing with the Stars (yes, I did that), they were doing a dance to a guilty pleasure song, and I mused out loud that I can’t think of any thing that I enjoy that I hide from others out of fear of embarrassment. I will lip sync and dance in my chair while working, not caring if people notice or find it weird. It’s enjoyable. It gives me pleasure. It makes work easier. I play video games, even trash mobile video games, and I read manga (my favorite is Ranma 1/2), and I watch the Arrowverse TV shows. I find stoner films very enjoyable. I don’t care who knows these things about me. Some people enjoy clubbing and bar-hopping. I don’t understand why they find those things enjoyable but I don’t think that makes them more or less human or adult. Being an adult is not about what you enjoy. It’s about owning who you are and taking responsibility for your own well being. Navigating debt, understanding renting and home purchasing and ownership, developing an exercise routine and healthy diet, managing finances, understanding insurance and retirement funds, these are the trappings of adulthood. What you do to relax your brain and understanding that finding enjoyable ways to do so is part of creating mental stability is also a sign of maybe not adulthood, since hardly anyone does this, but at least emotional health. The smarter the animal, the more play it needs. We humans are very smart animals. So feel free to sit in public and read a comic book. You should enjoy the act of enjoyment. Don’t be ashamed. Mature adults know and accept who they are. You’re not alone.

Childish Industries: Jobs for Adults . . . Obviously

Comic books, animated movies and TV shows, children’s, middle grade, and YA books, video games, and board games all employ millions of people worldwide. These people aren’t children. They’re adults. They’re adults who make a living, who make a career, who have a passion for designing, writing, and creating these so called childish things. J.K. Rowling is an adult. Hidetaka Miyazaki is an adult. Stan Lee was an adult. Alan Moore is an adult. Matt Groening is an adult. Walt Disney was an adult. Charles Darrow was an adult. I can keep going if you don’t get the point by now. Things designed with children in mind are designed by adults, and sometimes, because of that, the line between demographics blurs. Creators of creative mediums are meant to create things with love. Flannery O’Connor said that the writer should write the kinds of things they want to read. That bleeds into creating things for kids. We cannot help but make things that are also for ourselves. Hardly anyone finishes a project they hate. Usually, if they do finish, they throw the results away or hide them in the hopes that no will ever see them. Children aren’t making the things they enjoy. Adults are. And there is a lot of money to be made from these things. It’s a business. It’s serious, but it is the serious endeavor to create enjoyment in others. Children’s things are fun. They are even fun for adults, because adults made them. I’ll admit to missing my tamagotchi. I’d still play with it today if it was available, but mobile games have replaced that. I’m not the only person who misses the enjoyment of some of their childhood things. Obviously not, or there wouldn’t still be people creating these things with a passion. You think the designers of the trappings of childhood don’t play with those things before the products become available for the public? Maybe not the accountants at the businesses, but certainly the designers do. It’s part of the creative process to experience what you are creating. And if you don’t enjoy it, no one else will.

Animated Narratives are Designed with Adults in Mind

While there are animated movies and TV shows designed specifically for adults—things like Rango, Futurama, Rick and Morty, Beavis and Butthead, The Critic, Family Guy, King of the Hill, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Cowboy Beebop, and even some pornographic animated titles—many of the titles touted as children’s narratives are actually incredibly enjoyable for adults. The reason for this is the knowledge that parents will have to watch the stories, typically many times in a row, and that some adults will not watch anything higher than a G, PG, or PG-13 rating because of moral objections. I’m neither of those demographics. I will never have children and enjoy R rated films quite a lot. However, made for children titles can be deep, inspiring, hilarious, and saddening. The movie Up makes many adults cry with it’s deep and wordless depiction in all of ten minutes of a married couples’ entire life together. Animaniacs has some sex jokes in it. Kung Fu Panda has a message about acceptance of self, which most adults could stand to hear. To some extent, animated TV shows and movies are treated exactly like movies for adults. The crafting of the story, characters, and themes are just as powerful. They just shy away from some very specific things: extensive cursing, clear depictions of sexual encounters, realistic blood and gore. These things aren’t necessary for every story. Live-action G, PG, and PG-13 titles are actually less mature in their use of themes and comedy by and large versus animated titles in those same ratings. Sometimes animated movies are more cohesive and focused than live-action ones in the same ratings bracket because they know they want to teach an idea through their story to children and everything needs to feed into that because animation is (or at least until recently was) hard. But while they know that’s what they’re doing they still find time to slip adult humor into the films:

Also, Farquaad? How many years old were you when you got that joke?

The best episode of a cartoon of all time designed almost entirely for Beatles fans:

And finally, one of my favorites:

Kids laugh at these jokes because the adults in the room do. They don’t always get them. But that’s okay. Kids should be eased into adult humor anyway. This is a good way of doing it. And some jokes for kids are also very funny no matter how old you are, which is why Spongebob Squarepants is so popular with adults. Some of the jokes are just good. There’s nothing wrong with a lack of adult themes in humor, and there’s nothing wrong with laughing at those jokes. But beyond humor, some things for kids are just amazing. Like . . .

  • Avatar: The Last Air Bender
  • Voltron: Legendary Defenders
  • Batman: The Animated Series and the entirety of the DCAU
  • Samurai Jack
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog
  • Teen Titans Go (man, that Thanksgiving episode)
  • The Fairly Odd Parents
  • Ed, Edd, and Eddy (have you seen the surrealist episode?)

I could keep going and going on this list but eventually you’ll get tired of that. These shows may all be designed with kids in mind, but you do not have to be a kid to enjoy them. Seriously, have at it and enjoy!

You Still Play Video Games at Your Age? Duh!

I’ve literally heard this question out loud before, not directed at me, but instead of keeping quiet, I opened my mouth without thinking. I said, “Don’t say that! I literally just watched a Ted talk about how the average video game player is 30 and the average video game buyer is 37.” It’s old at this point, but you can watch it below.

The second statistic does not account for adults buying video games for children, which is why the first statistic is the most important one. Due to the rise of mobile video games, that average age for video game players has gone up to 37 for female players and to 33 for male players with 35 being the overall average (source: http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/EF2017_FinalDigital.pdf). There is a let’s player on YouTube with more than four hundred thousand subscribers who is an 82 year old woman (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzkY7wa8Ksxv4M5NyUYgTmA/featured). She posts regularly. Why would an octogenarian play video games? Well, because they help with reflexes, critical thinking skills, memory, focus, fine motor control in the hands, and so much more. In short, they’re good for you.

Oh, but what about the mental health effects? This is a contentious subject. Some people believe that video games make people more violent and is the cause of mass murders, but I can’t help but think that this is an insane idea totally defeated by common sense. Video games are a billion dollar industry and per household in the US there is an average of 1.7 gamers (source: http://www.theesa.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/EF2017_FinalDigital.pdf). If video games made people more violent, there would be way more mass murders and violent crimes, but violent crime in the US peaked around the mid ’90s and has been steadily going down at the same time as the number of people playing video games has gone up.

Source: https://videogames.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=003627

You can see from the first graph that video game sales were at a low when violent crime was peaking. Why would video games make people less violent? Well, because it gives them something to do and an outlet for anger or frustration. The brain actually needs this, in the same way that they often tell people to watch a sad movie or listen to sad music when they are grieving but numb. People need to express their emotions, good and bad, in healthy ways. Isn’t it better that someone beat up a fictional person than a real one? I’m pretty sure this is why so many people like martial arts, to blown off steam (I like kickboxing). But some people aren’t into that. They think these kinds of acts are distasteful, like our thoughts should be so pure that we don’t need to work off our stress with healthy violence. Well, I’m pretty sure those people have impure thoughts and that their lack of an outlet is why we have so many passive aggressive people. Can video games make a person angry? Yes, absolutely. At the game itself, typically. But that’s usually because of bad video game design that creates cheaty, BS progression walls and, more recently, gambling mechanics.

So there isn’t really a reason not to play video games as an adult. Most are designed by adults for adults with mature ratings, and if I and others had our way, those games with gambling mechanics would be for adults only. Not only is there no reason not to play video games as an adult, there’s many reasons to play video games as an adult. The higher functioning the brain, the more play it needs.

Face-to-Face Games

Board games and other party games are the only games most likely to cause a person to enact violence against another person. Like Monopoly or getting a draw four card in Uno. Yeah, that’s enough to punch a family member in the face, especially a sibling. But they often lead to a sense of camaraderie as well. They are much more engaging and interactive way to spend time with loved ones than side-by-side individual activities like watching a movie or TV show or reading. Some of my most cherished memories are of playing board games, card games, or something like charades with friends or family. They are much more memorable times than say when we all went to the movies together. Can doing those other things together be interactive? Yes, but only if you can pause the TV; otherwise, you’re just being rude. These face-to-face games aren’t just good for interaction; they’re also good for your critical thinking and problem solving skills. Much like video games, they stimulate parts of your brain that are sometimes set to atrophy in our modern, don’t-have-to-hunt-or-fight-every-day world, and since we need those parts of our brains to still work, it can make us happier overall to use them regularly. Not every face-to-face game is fun to everyone and not every person is fun to play with, so not every experience of “game night” is going to be a blast and beneficial, but on average they will be.

Illustrated Reading: Real Life Hero Stan Lee and Real Life Villain Bill Maher

For some irrational reason, Bill Maher has decided that after Stan Lee’s death is a good time to denigrate the man’s accomplishments. You know, in a cowardly way since Lee couldn’t defend himself. You know, in a distasteful and insensitive way since someone is dead. I don’t believe in over eulogizing a person, but in this case, I believe that Maher acted out of a sense of bitter jealousy, because I doubt that he will ever have the impact that Lee had on the world. It feels a bit like angrily riding on coattails. Anyway, in a very short blog post–or as I view it, in a long rant–Maher said that Lee “inspired millions to, I don’t know, watch a movie.” Cute. Let’s pretend for a minute that comic books aren’t a about $800 million industry as of 2013 (source: https://www.businessinsider.com/the-comic-book-industry-is-on-fire-2014-8), which doesn’t include toys or adaptations. Let’s also pretend that the X-Men weren’t created as a metaphor for the Civil Rights movement. Let’s also pretend that when Bryan Singer helmed the first feature film adaptation of the X-Men that he didn’t make it a metaphor for the issues facing the gay community in the U.S. Let’s pretend that the introduction of Black Panther as a major comic book hero didn’t help race relations in the US, like when Jack Kirby had him fight the KKK. Let’s just pretend that narratives don’t help fix social and political issues by turning public opinion, like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and that getting them young isn’t a thing. Let’s pretend all that is true. Should we also pretend that Lee wasn’t a servicemen during WWII in the training document creation department? How about no? How about we not ignore all these great things? Was Lee perfect? No. But no one is, and frankly comic books have done a lot of good through inspiring people to be more open to change, other people, and ethical ways of thinking. They are constantly making people think on questions of deep, philosophical ideas. Does every panel? No, but not every page of one of the great novels–Moby Dick–does so either. They are also meant to entertain. They do that too, but I don’t think philosophy in narratives should skimp on entertainment. I think it is essential to story-telling to be entertaining. And comic books do both. Like The Watchmen. A lot of the great stories of Marvel were possible because of Stan Lee. Comic books are quite possibly the most cumulative of genres, and he was one of the early major influences at Marvel.

This idea that Maher has that we’re supposed to stop reading comic books just because we reach a magical age that signifies adulthood is, in itself, immature. Tell me that The Watchmen is for children. Read it, and tell me it’s not designed and written specifically for adults. I dare you. Maher complains that my generation doesn’t know how to buy auto insurance but doesn’t acknowledge that the previous generations–including his–never taught us how to do so, throwing us to the wolves of the world without the knowledge to fend them off and the economy and job market were so messed up as to be soul crushing and education came with crippling debt that didn’t exist when Maher went to college, so excuse us for trying to inject a little fucking gallows humor into what felt like an impossible situation. No, Maher, we’re not stupider. We actually are more fiscally responsible and care more about social issues and the environment while reading books with pictures. So sorry to disappoint you for not pining for the days where racial and gender injustice were more prevalent and acceptable. So sorry we learned from comic books to be better people and valued them for those lessons enough to teach classes on them. Like any genre, they come with examples of bad lessons too. There’s books, movies, and TV shows like that too, but you don’t throw out an entire medium for a few bad apples. You promote the good ones and discuss what the bad ones did wrong, you know, like you do with literature. A person should apply their intelligence to EVERYTHING. Every aspect of our lives should be lived with intelligence and mindfulness. Don’t blame the comic book community for the Donald Trump presidency. I already explained who is responsible for that fiasco (https://empatheticwriter.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/a-lack-of-respect-the-path-to-a-trump-presidency/), and comic books have nothing to do with it. It’s is a stretch of infinite proportions to lay his election at the doorstep of the comic book community, considering that they are an extremely diverse group of people.

But really, his rant, which I am now matching (or surpassing) in length, stems from a lack of maturity. He and people like him are too concerned with how others view them. They’re afraid of being judged as childish, so they put down the things that they perceive as childish. But to paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it is immature to be concerned with seeming mature. You don’t have to like comic books. But you don’t have to put others down for liking them either. There are some things people find enjoyable which I never will, like being manipulated by the media or making fun of sub-cultures. Read comic books. Or don’t. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change whether or not you’re a functional adult, but being a rude, inappropriate, jealous, bitter, and passive aggressive person does.

Oh, But Somehow Sports Are Different?

Bill Maher is a part owner of the New York Mets?! What happened to not applying our intelligence to stupid things? Huh? Sports are different? No, they’re not. They’re games! Basketball games. Baseball games. Football games. Need I continue? There’s even a myriad of virtual versions of these games. Children play sports more than adults do! And they’re a great way for families to spend time together (playing them together, not so much watching one family member do it or watching a someone else do it). Playing these games for fun is great! But the professional and academic versions are full of ethical issues. Is it right that a university should make so much money off a student that could be injured while playing for them and that student never see a dime for their talent and work? No, it very clearly isn’t. I don’t like sports myself, but I don’t begrudge those who enjoy playing them from doing so. I do find the voyeuristic tendencies of professional and academic sports to be less beneficial. Maybe it helps as a release for the us vs them mentality which is instinctive to focus it on football teams as opposed to countries or people of differing races. Maybe, but I’ve never heard of video gamers rioting in the streets the way some sports fans literally do. Listen, it’s okay to enjoy sports, watching, playing, etc. It is. Just like any of these other industries it can be an exercise in working out parts of your brain that otherwise wouldn’t get attention. But don’t pretend like sports are serious and all these other things aren’t. What people enjoy isn’t up to us to decide and there are benefits to all of these so-called childish forms of entertainment, including sports.

The Damage of a Brain without Play

Throughout this, I’ve kept saying that the brain needs play. I could go into very specific details on that, but I will allow this guy to say it for me instead:

So, Maher, Did You Learn Something?

Every one needs to relax. Enjoy the things you find enjoyable and don’t worry about whether or not others think it is mature. Don’t be ashamed of the things you find enjoyable. Don’t judge others for the things they find enjoyable. Being overly concerned with appearing as others expect of you or in judging how others appear is the not the mark of being mature. It’s the mark of being superficial, shallow, archaic, and immature. Entertainment mediums are not important enough to judge others by. When it comes to entertainment, we shouldn’t be arguing over whether or not we should enjoy it, but about the quality by which it is made and the success of its intent. So enjoy your good middle grade and young adult novels, enjoy your good animated movies and TV shows, enjoy your good video games, enjoy your good games, enjoy your good comic books, and if you’re in any of these industries, love what you do, put your utmost care into your creations, and people will love and care about them too.

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2018 in Social Issues

 

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