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A Gamer’s Complaints: Mechanics and Trends I Wish Would Change in Today’s Video Games

I play a lot of video games. I’m not very good at them though and am a very big fan of getting to 100% completion on a game (including all the grindy stuff). On most games, I hit a snag and stop playing, but I tend to play the same one for months. I play for months because I really only play on about three days out of any given week. I have other stuff to do. None of this means I don’t have an opinion on game mechanics and trends. Of course, I do, and I’m going to express them here. I’m not going to talk about poor quality craftsmanship in gaming but am going to discuss some social mores and features that bother me. I know what you’re thinking, oh, she’s going to go all Gamer Gate on us. I’m not, but I am going to get that sticky topic out of the way first.

Gamer Gate: Bioshock Infinite

I find Gamer Gate distasteful. For the most part, the “problems” they see are imaginary or are not a sexist issue. For example, the idea that images of women in games are almost always unreasonably represented. This is true in a lot of games, but guess what? The images of men in games are also almost always unreasonably represented. Women are overly sexualized, what with their armor that is more about showing off their bodies then protecting them in combat, and men are overly masculinized, what with the giant, overly muscled meatheads that wear bandannas, smoke cigars, swear like they have a quota to fill, and spit every where they go. So I ask, how is this sexist? Maybe it is, but it isn’t misogynistic. Games that do this, and it’s not all of them, are misrepresenting both sexes. They objectify and show unreasonable images of both sexes. So I don’t see this as a female crusade, so much as stupid fantasy. It is a stupid trend, but it also is an understandable one from a business standpoint since gaming is a form of wish fulfillment since gamers are literally putting themselves in the point of view of an avatar with a better body than them, better sexual prospects, and a much more fun life. I don’t see why it is wrong for some of the games on the market to meet this wish fulfillment. Saying that these games pervert male understanding of relationships is a leap to me since most peoples’ understanding of relationships come from their parents and how those parents react and teach on media. The same principal applies to violence in games. Media really only reinforces what a person has learned in their childhood from their family; otherwise, people wouldn’t develop a dislike for certain types of media. If violence and possible sexism in video games really did result in life copying art as much as people say, things would be a lot worse since millions of people (male and female) play video games. It’s not a billion dollar industry on a few weirdos.

A lot of people are hopping on the Gamer Gate trend, including humor website, Cracked. Lately, Cracked has replaced their Saturday Photoplasties with rehashes from their articles with images created by AutieMeme. And while I’m not going to get into why that is a problem within itself in this post, I will bring up one they did related to this subject: 19 Surprisingly Sexist Messages in Modern Pop Culture. Not all of them are on gaming, and not all of them are off the mark. Lara Croft’s reboot is pretty spot on, and Yahtzee already mentions this problem when he reviews the 2012 Tomb Raider and the newer Metroid main character. But immediately following the good examination of Lara Croft, we get a major reach in the description of Ellie in The Last of Us.

Now, I know that I would collapse in tears upon seeing the first non-zombie person after the start of an apocalypse, no matter what my age. In fact, it is believable that any one of any sex or age would do this, but especially a child. Children cry a lot when things aren’t apocalyptic. I’m actually freaked out by children who don’t cry when something terrible happens to them. Isn’t that one of the first forms of expression we have as humans? It’s one we go to when happy, sad, angry, or relieved. Of course, she’s crying! There is nothing unreasonable or sexist about this.

Then there was the crapstorm of number one on the list: Elisabeth from Bioshock Infinite. The idea that Elisabeth was ever sitting and waiting to be rescued is a laughable misrepresentation of the game. Elisabeth learned to pick locks in her many attempts to escape. She could tear portals in time, yes, but her prison was weakening her powers, making them useless in escape attempts. This is one of my favorite games. The story is amazing, the characters are well developed and believable, the mechanics are fun, and the mind-bending plotline is just great. Trust me on this, if Elisabeth had not been a strong and capable character I wouldn’t like the game half as much as I do. She is a very powerful figure in the story, stronger than Dewitt, not just in terms of raw power but also as a person, showing much more strength of character, much more integrity. She is both McGuffin and a powerful lead affecting the arc of the story and even resolving it. The interpretation from the picture is distasteful in its misleading bent and omission of other information. It is highly frustrating to read as someone who has actually played the game and connected to the characters. Both of the interpretations on Ellie and Elisabeth show someone searching for something to complain about. They lack in depth examination and an understanding of reality. Women can be both strong and vulnerable in video games, as can men. Men are much less likely to show vulnerability in video games than women are to show strength. But reality demands a balance between the two in both sexes which is why I can’t support Gamer Gate. It calls for women in games to be sexless and invulnerable, while neither of those things is real.

Most of the time, I don’t hear backup to the claim that video games are sexist. Instead, I hear that claim repeated ad nauseam. When I do hear some backup, it’s typically a major reach, such as the two examples from Cracked. I find this very insulting. I enjoy video games and the majority those play don’t feel like they are attacking me as a woman. Women actually play more roles in video games than one would first think. In fact, they tend to take up all the same roles as men. Games that go for realism don’t often have female cops or soldiers, because the rate on the first is low, and the rate on the second is even lower (remember the US doesn’t have women in combat roles). So for the most part, I don’t see what they are talking about.

Real Sexism: Marvel Heroes

I play a lot of MMOs. I enjoy most of them. I’m also a very big Marvel fan. As such, when Marvel Heroes went to open beta, I was all over that. I had a lot of fun too. Now, there are a lot of problems with Marvel Heroes. Some have been addressed. For example, at first a player couldn’t playtest a hero before buying them, which was crappy because no matter how much you like a hero doesn’t mean they won’t suck to play. Now all heroes are playable to level 10, which is great. Try before you buy. However, every time I get back on Marvel Heroes, I have to reallocate my points because they keep messing with the play of the heroes. That is so annoying. I want to play not spend ten minutes assigning points any time I log on. But all this is besides the main point of this section. Still had to get those out there. The real problem is the gender swap enhanced costumes. Okay, if you’ve never played this game (which you totally can as it is free to play), you pick one starting hero and level them and can unlock other heroes with Gs (which you have to pay for) or Eternity Splinters (which you can find while playing). So one way is paid and another is free. You get the standard costume when you unlock a hero, whichever one that may be. Costumes cannot be unlocked with Eternity Splinters. So if I want to play female Hawkeye, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, God of Thunder, Deadpool, Loki, Punisher, Spider-man or male Warbird, I have to pay. The base playable characters includes 38 male characters and 12 female characters. There are not a lot of female superheroes in Marvel Comics. Why would you make 8 of them only unlockable with real money? This is crazy unbalanced. They are adding ShadowCat, which will bring the total to 13, but I bet anything they will add American Dream as a costume.

What is this problem exactly? The problem is games that have gender options that are partially locked. Older Diablo versions and Path of Exile had static genders for characters, and a lot of non-MMOs or top-downs have gender locks because you are a specific character in a very specific story, such as a lot of FPS games. That’s fine for FPS games. But why would you ever make a gender option and then not actually give it to your players? Do you know how frustrating it is to have that dangled in our face? Marvel Heroes needs to stop this gender swap enhanced costume BS and let the players choose their sex when they get the hero; and let us choose it for heroes that we received when we didn’t have a choice. I’ll pay for an enhanced costume that gives a different dialogue or voiced by an actor from the movie, but I’m not going to pay for what should be a different freaking hero.

Flirting Mechanics: SWTOR

Flirting mechanics can be interesting, especially when the designers of the game put in negative responses. But I hate the fact that there isn’t a flirt response option for every character I speak to. They decide that I wouldn’t flirt with certain people. That’s stupid. I could, in theory, attempt to flirt with everyone I meet in the real world–doesn’t mean I should, but I totally could. In fact, I could attempt to flirt with a rock. Not that it would get me anywhere. So why do games with flirt mechanics tell me who I’m willing to flirt with? You don’t know me! Maybe I want to flirt with the big lizard companion. You know, just to see how he’d react. Flirting isn’t always used as a sexual ploy. Sometimes it is used as a method of teasing. I think that would be pretty interesting in a game. Also, why stop at flirting? There should be an option to insult everyone. Hell, there should be an option to punch everyone! I’m not saying that you should actually do these things in real life or even in a game, but as games keep trying to add more “reality”, they just keep showing us how not-real they are. An artificially limited flirt option just shows a player that they are playing a game and takes them out of the immersion. So go whole hog with social interactions in games! I know that’s hard to do, but work to it. (Also, Sims woefully underestimates the player’s desire to make their Sim punch other Sims, especially when they come into our homes uninvited.)

Morality Scales: SWTOR Again

Morality scales are a lot like flirting mechanics, as in incomplete. But also just weird as hell. Not every decision made has an effect on the scale, which everything should. But also, they often don’t make sense when you combine them. On Alderaan there are two such missions with morality choices that are just messed up when both are considered. These are pretty early on for a Republic player. You meet a reporter whose partner has run off and joined the rebels (they really are scum this time) and she wants you to get back their footage. You also run into an older couple whose son is believed dead, but mom has her doubts and wants to check if the rebels have him. You run into the other reporter and the son in the rebel stronghold pretty much one right after the other. The son says the rebels kidnapped him, forced him to take drugs, then used him as a soldier. They apparently have been doing this to other teenagers as well. Your moral choice is to let him leave the planet, telling his parents some lie, or to tell him to go home to mommy and daddy. The first is light side points and the second is dark side points. Now, I will discuss why that’s a problem in the next paragraph, but first on to the reporter. Upon meeting him, he says that if you give the footage to the other reporter, she will cut it to make the rebels look bad and that their plight is actually very dire and they need supporters. So he gives you the choice to let him keep the footage (light side points) or take it from him (dark side points). Now, first of all, I don’t believe that he’s going to give an unbiased cut of the footage to people either. But I can’t see him as anything but freaking insane for taking the rebels’ side after hearing the kid’s story. The lineup of light side and dark side in these two missions don’t make any sense when compared to each other. I don’t feel any sympathy for the scum that is an African warlord who kidnaps children and forces them to fight for him either, and I’m certainly not going to feel any sympathy for the reporter who tells me he’s not a bad guy. That’s insane.

The other problem besides morality not matching up among separate choices is the lack of a grey area. It’s neither bad nor good to help or force the son to go home. It’s kind of just a personal choice based on your upbringing. It’s also not good to help either reporter because neither of them is unbiased. So why have such black and white choices? Yahtzee’s biggest cripe against morality scales is that you have to be all good or all bad to see anything good come out of it. I agree that that makes the choices a little superfluous, because you could just choose an alignment at the beginning of the game instead. They are just making you choose it again and again throughout the game. Because of this, games with morality scales should include middle options that also give a player some benefit. Otherwise, it’s just too childish.

Forced Multiplayer: LOTRO

I hate playing with other people. I am a loner. I like to play by myself with no one else in the room. I like MMOs though. I don’t join groups, I don’t join guilds, I rarely trade with others, and I don’t chat. Why play an MMO then? Well, I like the character creation and build that comes with MMOs. There aren’t a lot of single player games with those features, namely Oblivion, Skyrim, and a few non-Elder Scrolls games. So I play a lot of MMOs, I beta-tested LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, and The Elder Scrolls online. I played City of Heroes/Villains, Champions Online, WOW, and a few others I can’t remember. I play LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, SWTOR, and DC Universe Online. All these games try to make you play with other people. I get the fact that they want to utilize that millions of people are playing, but they shouldn’t make it impossible to play solo (Han Solo). SWTOR only gives F2P players one crafting ability, when you need two to make something useful. That’s more about them trying to make F2P into Pay to Win players, but F2P players could conceivably trade with others for the stuff they need. LOTRO gives everyone all three of their crafting abilities, but they are set up that you need stuff from a fourth crafting skill to complete some items. I’m crazy, so I created four other characters on each of my servers to make them all craft the stuff I need (now I have to do some shuffling because of the server shutdowns) and just mail it to my other characters. I hate to have to do this, but I really don’t want to be forced to play with other characters. It’s worse when it is about quests. Ugh. I just level up on side quests until I can do a group quest on my own. I know, I’m antisocial, but don’t act like I’m the only MMO player out there that would rather play alone. I assure you I’m not.

MMO Stalkers

Yes, I’m antisocial, but let’s face it, pretty much every MMO player doesn’t like to be stalked. It happens to people more when they play female characters I bet, but that doesn’t always seem to matter to the stalkers. A player that stalks others sees a player they don’t know running around, completing missions and starts to follow them. Maybe they don’t say anything or send invites. Maybe they just want to steal your kills. This happens to me a lot on Marvel Heroes. They don’t want to play with me, they just want help not getting mobbed or want to take the quest kill from me after I’ve killed all the baddies between us and the big baddie (happens way too often in SWTOR and LOTRO). That isn’t much of a problem in DC Universe Online (or as it is called in my home “DahCooniverse”) because that game is set up that if you land one blow in the fight (not the first one, like other games) you also get credit for the kill and get loot too. That sounds like forced multiplayer but it’s more sharing than forced. It makes gameplay a little less frustrating when you get a stalker. My problem with the silent stalker is that I feel crowded out of an area. It’s more obvious in a top-down game like Marvel Heroes where you can see that other player following your every turn. I quit playing when that happens.

The other kind of stalker doesn’t last as long but can be more annoying. This is the person who sends you multiple invites in a row. When the area is crowded, I can understand how they may have accidentally sent me a second request. But sometimes no one else is around and they send three to five. Or once in SWTOR a person sent me 15 requests. One can only guess that person had to be five, because only five year olds ask the same question that many times in a row. So I hightailed it out of that area and the range of their social ineptitude. No means no, even in MMOs, people.

The Dominance of the Sandbox and FPS

I’m not sure if it’s obvious to most readers at this point, but I don’t play a lot of FPS or sandbox games. First of all, I’m not a console player. I’m a PC gamer. FPS games seem to work better with a controller. I’m not very good at these games. I tend to die very quickly. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite weren’t too hard for me (especially when I realized that I could just use the wrench to beat down the squirrely doctor in Bioshock), but Oblivion (which has some broken leveling) and Skyrim lost some of their fun being in first person (yes, I know you can do third person, but the feel of those games and the mechanics are made for FPS styles). Then I tried Speck Ops: The Line. It’s brutal and the story is great, but I still suck at it.

I’m also not all that into sandbox gaming. “You can do anything you want!” But what should I do? “Anything you want!” Okay. My point is that sandbox gaming tends to lack focus and it’s hard to tell what you’re supposed to interact with. Complete sandbox is also a turnoff for me. Mostly I don’t like sandbox gaming because those games seem to have the same kind of story and that story will usually just pause while you are futzing around, completely losing all urgency. While Fable 3 was somewhat sandboxy, once you knew about the dark monster coming for you, the story was on a clock (this is one of the only games I beat, note that it was 3rd person) and that lent more realism to it. Some games keep the story going even though they are also sandboxes, but they don’t warn you that the story will keep going (i.e. Oblivion). This is a low down dirty trick. “You can do anything you want! (but the problems you’re supposed to fix will still happen)” What was that? “Anything you want!” Yahtzee talked a lot about these kinds of problems in some of his videos, so why don’t you go watch those too?

I don’t think FPS and sandbox gaming is just a problem because I don’t like or am not good at them. The problem is that there are so freaking many of them. Thank you so much GTA! I’m not saying don’t make them, but how about you make other kinds of games too, triple A game companies? This is why I tend to be excited by indie games. They have more variety.

The Fall of the (Turn-based) RPG: The Lord of the Rings: Third Age

My favorite kind of game is the turn-based RPG. I do not like JRPG, so don’t suggest any to me, though I loved Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. That game was fun. A million freaking disks and tiny little characters and an interesting story. I beat that game too. The second one was harder. I like turn-based gaming because I’m a fan of strategy and building a character. I’ll play RTS games, but they’re not my favorite. My favorite game of all time is The Lord of the Rings: Third Age. Turn-based, six characters, the entirety of the story all from the movies, its own side story, and pretty good graphics for the PS2 engine. Now, I’m a little OCD. Each character had two power sets you could level up by doing a move each time in battle. I had each character completely leveled up by the end because I would park my butt in Helm’s Deep and go into battle for hours, prolonging the fights to get in as many moves for each character as possible. My spouse thought I was crazy since I wasn’t advancing the story at all. Then he realized I was also smart because in some of the later battles all of your characters have to fight two different battles at the same time and if you didn’t level up your second stringers, they were just going to die. The only thing I didn’t level up completely was the crafting ring. It took too long. I got 100% complete on that game, twice. That’s right twice. Each saved game had about 99 hours of playtime on it, which means I spent a total of 198 hours playing that game. The only reason I’m not playing it now is that I don’t have a PS2 anymore. But I miss that game. It’s the last really great turn-based game I can remember, especially one with modern (for its time) graphics. Now, it seems only the Japanese companies and indie developers are making turn-based games because all the other companies are so busy making their FPSes and sandbox games. Ugh. So when you hear about a turn-based game, please drop me a line. I’m always interested.

The Point of It All

Maybe it’s a good thing that I have so many issues with video games: it stops them from becoming an obsession that takes up all my time. These aren’t all my problems with video games (ex. crappy controls, poor story, freaking autosave!, lack of instructions, WASD explanations–really? you’re going to explain that but not how your battle simulator works?), but they are the ones that bother me most. I know that companies don’t have to satisfy just me, but I also know I’m not the only one who is put off by the issues on this list. The biggest issue seems to be the lack of variety coming out of big video game companies. It seems sometimes that more money and time are spent on graphics rendering than on gaming concept and story. Sometimes testing even goes out the window, looking at you, Arkham Knight for your PC version. Maybe this time it won’t suck quite so much, or at least not crash computers.

Got any trends or mechanics that bug you? Tell me about them in the comments. We’ll talk shop.

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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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Premature, Mature, and Postmature Cancellations: TV Show Endings (All in Running Metaphors!)

Some T.V. shows are cancelled before their time, some go on too long, some should never have been made, and some lucky few actually have an ending, and some of those few are even luckier to have a good ending. Everyone has that one show they loved that they wish was still on the air, the one they wish had never been made, and the one they wish hadn’t gone off the rails. I’d like to examine some shows I’ve watched and explain why they should, shouldn’t have, or were cancelled. So Spoilers!

Running Past the Finish Line, Way Past: Supernatural

This is the only show on this list still on the air, and therein lies the problem. Supernatural is a great show. It’s funny, heartbreaking, dynamic, epic, and totally worth watching. However, of late, there have been some great stinkers of episodes. Such as, in season nine when they introduce Oz into the mythos. What was with those ruby slippers? I could find better quality shoes at Payless. Don’t get me wrong. There have been some great moments still. Timothy Olmundson is just amazing in any part he plays. I mean, look how angry he is. Every moment, even when calm, he looks like he will murder everyone around.

But a lot of recent episodes are poorly written and some lack good research, such as Artemis, goddess of hunters and virgins, having had a lover. Do they know nothing of Greek mythology? The only reason the show is still watchable at this point is the actors and the characters they play. Ackles, Padalecki, Collins, and Sheppard still bring their all to the show, making their interplay still really fun to watch. The characters are still dynamic. However, if you watch the entirety of the show over a roughly single sitting (not truly possible, but watch them all in a row stopping for sleep and work), you’ll notice some weird cyclical character developments:

  1. Sam’s done something bad or thinks he’s evil, Dean’s mad at him, Sam tries something drastic to make up for it: Sam drinks demon blood, tries to kill Lilith; Sam frees Lucifer, quits hunting/sacrifices himself to the cage; Sam thinks he’s just b-b-b-bad to the bone, does the trials to close the gates of hell.
  2. Dean tries to sacrifice himself for the greater good/Sam because he doesn’t believe he is worth saving: Dean sells his soul; Dean wants to do the trials; Dean takes the first blade. (1 & 2 are what I like to call: One of the Winchesters is trying to dive off a bridge.)
  3. Sam wants out of the life, tries to help others stay out, Dean tells him it’s impossible: The many freaking times Sam has quit.
  4. Dean tries to help others stay out, Sam tells him it’s impossible: Speaking to Adam about the life. (3 & 4 are The Godfather Part III: “Everytime I try to get out, they pull me back in!”)
  5. Cas does something he thinks is for the greater good, Dean gets mad at him: Betraying the Winchesters for the Angels (which time am I referring to?), Working with Crowley, Staying behind in Purgatory, Working for Hannah (even if brainwashed).
  6. Crowley is their friend: During the Apocalypse, Against Abaddon.
  7. Crowley is their enemy: During the fight for Purgatory, During the trials. (6 & 7 are essentially the daisy game: He likes me, He doesn’t like me, He likes me . . .)
  8. Dean thinks all monsters deserve to die, Sam argues otherwise: the good vampires episode (also the introduction of Gordon), Ruby (though he is right about this one), the episode with Jewel State (the kitsunke).
  9. Sam thinks all monsters deserve to die, Dean argues otherwise: Crowley (Sam never trusts him) and Dean thinks they should work with him, when Sam meets Benny. (8 & 9 are the dumbest flip flops on the show).

Some of these are paired together because they show a switch of positions, but all of them happen at least twice in the show. But why do all these pop up again and again? Well, that easy. They’ve run out of ideas to make the characters grow and create conflict. Why? Also easy. Season Five was the real conclusion of the show. Armageddon was stopped, Sam made up for his most drastic mistake, and Dean lived out a happy life with Lisa and Ben. The end. No more. But the show was too good and too profitable to stop there. I totally don’t blame them for continuing the show, a big part of me is glad they did. I love this show. But I can’t deny as a writer that the complete (cannonical) piece is just five seasons. This is why we get some pretty crappy episodes and cyclical character development. Because the characters and the actors are so good, Supernatural is doomed to repeat the same developments over and over again until one of the major actors quits. No major plot development can compare to ending the Armageddon. It’s basically impossible. Also impossible is continuing dramatic conflict with having your characters actually, permanently learn from their mistakes (sounds like the opposite of a soap opera). Like that’s ever going to happen, Looking at you Cas!

Tripped Mid-stride: Lost

This is the juggernaut of the list. Critically acclaimed. Loved by nearly all. I was patently uninterested when it was airing, because I refuse to watch shows one episode per week, especially when they are as confusing and complex as Lost. Everyone was telling me I should watch it, but I held off until it was over and on Netflix in it’s entirety. Then I tried watching it. I got bored, really bored, mid season six and about a year or two later, tried coming back to it. I started where I left off, had no idea what was going on, so I went back to the beginning of the season. I was still completely lost, so I went back to the beginning of the show. I watched it all in a row. (Unfortunately, someone else was sometimes in the room saying things like “Oh-kay”, “Aaall right”, and “What the fuck?” every time something weird or dramatic happened, which is freaking always!) This is a great show. It has a great story. It has great characters. It should not have been six seasons long. It should not have had so many character groups. Half the watching time is trying to remember who the hell this or that person is. For example, we have the fuselage passengers (or main characters), we have the Others (who by the way are never explained as how and why they are on the island), we have the tail section passengers, we have the Widmore mercenaries, we have the Dharma Initiative members, and we have the Ajira flight passengers. And that doesn’t include people from the past who are meaningful to the main characters, Desmond, Daniel Faraday’s mother, Rousseau (and the original members of her team), Richard Alpert, Jacob, the Man in Black, their mother, their real mother and her people, the past Others. THIS IS TOO MUCH. When Illana was introduced in season six, along with her crew, all I could think is “I. DON’T. CARE.” But this is just a problem of trying to create an opus of a T.V. show. The real problem is the weird floundering that happen halfway through the show when the Writer’s Strike happened.

J.J. Abrams and crew all quit writing for the show and took to the picket lines. While this ultimately was good for T.V. writers and writing, it was not good for Lost. Why? Writing a specific piece is about being in a specific mood for that work. It’s hard to sustain creative motion after stopping. Sometimes one can get back into that mood by re-experiencing the progress so far. However, sometimes the work is too big and too deep to get back into that mood. And T.V. shows have added constraints of compromises with the studios that produce them. Which is why Annie (can you possibly remember this character without me showing you a picture?) is dropped like a bad habit in Lost. It is why the dark versus light foreshadowing of the first season is not brought up again until season six, which most viewers would have forgotten in the first place, but is the main point of the show. Instead of getting bogged down in what stupid thing Locke is doing now or what contrary and stubborn thing Jack is doing now, we should have been reaching more main point stuff much earlier on. Season Six: Oh, you remember those caves from season one? No, here they are. Remember those bodies and the stones in the cave? No, here they are. Now we can show you Jacob’s origin, since you forgot all that stuff long ago (even if you watched it all within one month, let alone the six years it was on the air).

There is some great character development in Lost though. Locke desperately wants his faith affirmed, Jack will say no just because someone asked, Kate will run away, Sawyer will sabotage any interpersonal relationships, and everyone loves Hurley, because duh. But eventually, Locke realizes his affirmation of faith is not as important as people, Jack says yes because he believes, Kate stops running, Sawyer can have a stable relationship, and everyone still loves Hurley, because duh, but also Hurley doesn’t think he’s crazy or cursed anymore. So watch it, but be prepared for some missteps (the whispers are the Others as confirmed by Ben when he takes Alex from Rousseau–No, wait, we meant the whispers are the sounds of the people who died on the island who can’t move on as confirmed by Michael when he speaks to Hurley as a ghost) and some dragging.

Crappy Equipment: Eureka

Eureka is one of my all time favorite shows. It was just so funny. But it only has five seasons. I’d say this is the best amount, because there was a chance for Eureka to have a season six of six episodes but their budget was being pulled by Comcast. The creator and producers decided instead of doing six really crappy episodes, they would use the much smaller budget to create a finale to the show. Bless their hearts, because I’d rather have a conclusion to the show than have six badly made episodes wherein we get no closure afterwards. It sucks that the show had it’s budget dramatically reduced, but to some extent this is because viewership started to drop off.

This happens for three reasons in our current television age: 1) the channel keeps changing the time/day on which the show is aired, 2) the channel does not advertise new season premiers enough, 3) viewership is calculated through ratings which do not take into account online viewing on the channel website or paid streaming services such as Amazon Video, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Hulu Plus, or Netflix. The first two are totally Sy-Fy’s fault, and they did do these. I remember Eureka was changed to Tuesdays from Fridays between two seasons, and I missed the premiers of new seasons of all their shows because I never heard about them until after the fact. Sy-Fy, when I was watching cable or satellite T.V., has a tendency to not advertise new seasons enough or evenly across all shows and over advertises new episodes of currently airing shows, which is usually when I found out a new season had premiered. The third one is because ratings, and studios by extension, have not caught up to the changing technology of viewership. I have left the ratings count completely, and I’m sure there are a lot of other people who have too. Which means studios need to get with the program and stop defunding shows that possibly have higher viewership than they are currently willing to count. How people watch T.V. is changing rapidly, and no matter how many stupid mail flyers Cox, Dish, or Direct T.V. send me, I am not going to pay $150-$300 to have annoying ads most of the time, censored/truncated content, inconvenient air times, and channels I will never use (Looking at you, CSPAN and ESPN!).

But back to Eureka: a show losing it’s budget is a good reason to just close up shop. Some may disagree with me and want as many episodes as possible, even if they suck. But I’m no fanboy. I want the story and the production to be of quality, so I’d rather have shows do what Eureka did than have them flounder out weak, shoddy episodes. This is a case of quality over quantity. I miss Eureka, but I consider it, for what it is, to be nearly perfectly done (one major misstep, read further below). It had a formula that it stuck to, but the characters grew and their lives changed. I’m glad it exists and will always treasure it.

Fell Face First Right Out the Gate: Charmed

I watched a couple of seasons of Charmed, and to be honest, I’m not sure why it lasted as long as it did. Frankly, I’m surprised it made it past the pilot stage. There are a couple of shows that are awful from the very start: the production is low quality, the writing is passe, unrealistic, or lazy, the acting is phoned in. This is one of those shows. Some people love that show. I’m not sure why. The one good actor on it, Julian McMahon, didn’t have much to work with. Shannen Doherty was unwatchable. And the rest of the actors were pretty green. Other shows like this include Roswell (Twilight anyone? You know before Twilight was written) and Bones. I like Bones, but I like David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel, so maybe that’s the only way shows like this work.

One of the worst things Charmed ever did was shoehorning in the night club wherein a different flavor of the month band would play every other episode. They did this on T.V. shows a lot in the nineties, and every once in a while a show will try it again, Bones again. Thank you for wasting two to five minutes of each episode to a band no one cares about anymore or maybe even by the time the episode aired, instead of, you know, spending the time resolving the plot in a meaningful and acceptable way, instead of going “We need to tie a bow on this, got to get to the band scene!” This is a bad idea. Don’t do it. Most shows are cutting out theme songs and actor shots (ala Lost style) to save that time too. Don’t waste even more time than that on a stupid band I couldn’t name two seconds after you announced it.

On shoddy production, Charmed takes the cake, and sets it on fire. Almost all of the show is shot in about two locations, which could be fine, but the real problem comes with the special effects quality and the monster creation. It’s certain they didn’t spend any of their budget on writing, but with how the show looks, one wonders where the money went. I could say something catty about the actors, but I’m going to refrain because the joke lacks any truth, I imagine. Shows of the nineties, and Supernatural, have an annoying habit of having monsters and aliens just be people, more times than necessary professional wrestlers specifically, wearing weird makeup, latex, and/or contacts. Never is it something completely inhuman. They’re all upright bipeds with two arms and basic facial features. Sometimes, the show just says they’re something inhuman, which is only displayed by powers (ala the dragons and phoenix from Supernatural–why not show us what the freaking dragons looked like picking up a chick? Because now I just picture that guy doing it in cargo pants and a zippered jacket. Not very exiting.). This is the sign of a low budget, or a budget that isn’t valuing creating the world. I gave Farscape a pass on this because Jim Hensen’s Workshop did Rigel and Pilot, and those were awesome concepts, but Star Trek (all of them, even the recent movies), Charmed, and Supernatural display a complete lack of imagination when it comes to showing us crazy, different forms of life. I’m not saying every monster needed to be something totally different, but at least the ones that are traditionally so and a few every once in a while. If Buffy can do it (ala the mantis from season one), so could they. Charmed was the most pathetic when it came to showing us interesting monsters. Oooh, Cole really looks like a WWE member with red and black makeup on. How intriguing.

Charmed really never should have been made. It didn’t really have anything going for it, and I watched a couple of seasons, so you can’t say that it was the season one growing period. There just wasn’t anything there of substance or quality. Maybe it was made and sustained entirely on girl power, which just makes it all the more insulting to the discerning viewer. I’m all for strong women kicking butt, but this show was more about showcasing “sexy” women’s butts (Milano & McGowan are sexy) and telling us they were strong. It was a relief beyond measure when Doherty was no longer on the show, like when someone gives you morphine after you’ve been stabbed, but it’s not like the show got all that better afterwards, what with that stupid elusive enemy of The Source. The Source of What?!

Lost a Shoe in the Middle of the Race: House, M.D. and Two and a Half Men

The cast of a show is as important as its writing. Writing is limited by what actor is available after a certain point in a show’s lifetime. Bewitched lost the original Darren, Dick York, but replaced him with Dick Sargent, when they really should have just cancelled the show. Eureka lost Ed Quinn. Lost lost Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (wow). Charmed let Shannen Doherty go. Misfits lost Lauren Socha. Two and Half Men dropped Charlie Sheen, and House, M.D. lost Kal Penn to politics and Lisa Edlestein possibly over her not wanting to take a pay cut. Actors leave T.V. shows for many reasons: they get sick, they want to do other projects, they get sick of the show, they get arrested, the show gets sick of them, or they argue over money (match ’em up). But this affects what the show can do. They can replace the actor as in Bewitched, which sucked after the change. They can write a goodbye episode, wherein the actor is still used, as in Eureka, Lost, or Charmed. They can write the character out of the story after the actor is gone, as in both cases of House, M.D. Or if the actor they lost was a main character, they can try to desperately hold on to the structure of the show around a new character, as in Two and a Half Men.

Some think that Kutner got a goodbye episode in House, M.D., but a goodbye episode requires the actor be there, which is why when Kutner dies, it is completely out of left field and the writers are trying to salvage the situation. I’m not sure why Penn didn’t stick around for at least a goodbye episode considering how he appeared on the show at least two more times after his character’s death. It was, however, quite clear that Edlestein was done with the show completely once she left it, but it seems her leaving had more of an impact. Possibly because the main dynamic of that show is House, Wilson, Cuddy, and Team (which can change without too much impact because of the other three). Some believe the show unfinished because Cuddy wasn’t at House’s funeral and feel that the House/Cuddy question was never resolved. While stuck with the fact that they could not include Cuddy because the actress would not take part or because they did not wish to work with her, the question can be pretty well resolved within the story of the show. She wasn’t at his funeral. She left the hospital. She obviously didn’t want anything more to do with him. There’s your answer. Maybe it wasn’t the one you wanted, but it is still an answer. If you want your answer, try to imagine House five months after the end of the show. Maybe he killed himself. Or maybe he went and found Cuddy and apologized for all he did, and she took him back. We don’t know. But the show lost something when it lost Edlestein. The interplay between House and Cuddy was very interesting, but the show took a major misstep when it broke them up over his relapse, especially considering that he was contemplating relapsing when they got together and she told him it was his choice. It’s like they weren’t watching their own show. I do not blame the writers for concluding the show at that point. It was a pretty good conclusion, but I wish they hadn’t introduced two new characters in the last season, because like Lost it was too late in the show to make anyone care.

We all remember that Charlie Sheen kind of went off the deep end a few years back. As a result, his presence on Two and Half Men was no longer a good idea. Nor was the continuation of the show. By that point, the show had gotten boringly cyclical: Charlie sleeps around, he meets a serious woman whom he considers a serious relationship with, he’s in a serious relationship with her, he messes up the relationship and it ends, he sleeps around, he meets a serious woman whom . . . and so on and on until Sheen was no longer on the show. I’m not sure why people kept watching it after three seasons, but I’m especially not sure why the writers and studio decided to continue the show after he was gone or why anyone kept watching it. Maybe to see how bad it got. I’d understand that. If in season five of House, M.D., Hugh Laurie quit the show, I wouldn’t have expected them to continue the show. Nor would I in shows that don’t involve a title character but a main one, such as Quantum Leap, Supernatural, or Eureka. I can’t imagine what would happen if these shows lost Scott Bacula, either of the JSquared, or Colin Ferguson, and decided to keep going. That just seems crazy. Some shows are built around a single actor, and sorry to the other One and Half Men, but Sheen was the main character. It seems like the show, that already wasn’t that good, was a wash at this point and should have been cancelled instead of calling in Ashton Kutcher to try to take his place in some strange way. Sorry to those fans out there, it hurts but the truth often does.

Tripped End Over End and Ate Dirt: Heroes

I watched Heroes religiously when it premiered. I loved it. I loved Mondays because of it. Every episode was a treat. The conclusion of season one was a bit of a letdown, just wasn’t as climatic as it should have been. Season two premiered, and I eagerly watched. That wasn’t all that awesome. Season three I watched on Netflix, and that was awful, and then I stopped watching halfway through that season. What happened? How could it all go so horribly wrong? I’m not entirely sure. I can’t remember another show that fell apart quite so badly, to the point where the show became a punchline on The Big Bang Theory (“They lowered the quality season by season until we were glad it was cancelled.”) I haven’t done a lot of research into this phenomenon, but when something like this happens it can usually be because of one of three reasons: 1) The main creative force left the show, 2) The main creative force has run out of ideas, or 3) The studio has a different idea for the show than the main creative force. Either way the quality of the episode stories decline rapidly as a result of a loss of focus. I’m still really surprised by how bad this show got, especially when it started out so good. For example, Peter left his Irish girlfriend in a horrific future and never mentioned her again! That’s insane. The writers forgot about her? Didn’t care about her? The studio wanted to drop that storyline? What? Tell me. If you have some backstory on this, I’d like to know it. Another example of bad writing is when Sylar kind of becomes a good guy, at least he’s not killing the other heroes. He’s traveling around with Elle and is kind of at peace. That is until suddenly and out of no where he decides that he’s still a bad person and kills her. There isn’t really any impetus for this decision. He just does it. We saw him develop into a less evil person and then suddenly for no reason he decides to go back to his old ways. I think maybe people were unhappy with the turn that Sylar’s character took, or maybe the studio blamed the decline in viewership on the turn, so they told the writers to make him evil again, and because this change didn’t happen organically like the first development, it was done poorly. The show only gets worse from there. Don’t know how I feel about the upcoming Reborn series.

Took It Way Too Seriously: Warehouse 13

This show was always pretty campy. It was very silly, which is why to some extent it made sense as being part of the same world as Eureka but not so much Alphas. The villains were always rather cartoony and the artifacts were often silly. That’s not to say that the characters didn’t have problems or that the plots didn’t go to darker places. In one season conclusion/season premier, all hope in the world is destroyed, one of the agents is stuck in a cell just big enough for her body, and another agent is shot. But that all seemed to be a progression of the plots already related to the warehouse. What wasn’t a progression was Myka getting ovarian cancer. It had nothing to do with stopping villains or the warehouse. She just got cancer. As people do. But the show was silly to begin with, so bringing in this very heavy real world issue seems to be a big ole damper on the viewer’s fun. We understand that people get cancer, but they shouldn’t on a show where a man switched brains with a dog. That’s just incongruous. The show was cancelled before the thrilling conclusion to if Myka was okay or not, then returned for a final season to conclude it. I haven’t watched this last season yet because it’s not on Netflix, but I can’t image that the tone is repaired after such an out of character conflict. It’s very important that a show stick to the tone it started with; otherwise, viewership is lost. I don’t expect a laugh riot with Lost, but I did with Warehouse 13 (especially with the hilarious Christmas episodes).

Decided to Run Back and a Lap and Try It Again: Fringe and Eureka

These two shows are both hour long sci-fi stories, but that is where the similarities end. Fringe was a serious police drama as well, while Eureka was a small town comedy (the theme song said it all; Andy Griffith meets The X-Files). However, because they are both sci-fi, they both made a drastic mistake, one I hope all sci-fi shows learn from: Timeline Shifts. Now, this is okay in one episode wherein everything is back to normal at the end of the episode, such as the conclusion of season one of Eureka. But it becomes a major problem when those changes are permanent. Eureka and Fringe both did this at the beginning of season four. In Eureka, several things changed. Allison wasn’t head of GD, Fargo was head of GD, Lupo was head of security for GD (who did this before?), Zane was still an ass, Henry was married, and Kevin was no longer autistic. Those are the changes that were made obvious to audiences immediately. Questions, though, were left up in the air, because everything we knew happened didn’t. Was the artifact ever at GD? Did it go in Kevin? Did Nathan still die? Did Kim still die? Etc, etc. We have no idea what all happened in the past. If it happened as we saw it on the show or if it happened in an entirely different manner. Obviously, it was different. And we didn’t see it happen. That’s frustrating.

Fringe did the exact same thing, and we had to question even more when the change was that Peter died as little boy. How did Olivia get to see Walter when they said only family could see him? Peter is how she got to him in the first place. Half the problems on Fringe in the first three seasons are solved because of Peter, so now the audience has to question the outcome of all the past cases. Olivia went to the other universe to get Peter back and that’s when Fauxliva becomes a part of the story, so why in the new timeline did she still replace Olivia when Olivia had no reason to go to the other universe in the first freaking place because Peter didn’t exist? Then Olivia remembers everything as we do, and that just makes everything more confusing. I have no clue what happened in the timeline of the first three seasons of the show as the characters know it, so I can’t help but feel like the show is worthless at that point. My impetus to watch dropped dramatically in season four and disappeared almost entirely by the time I reached season five. You can see why voiding everything the viewer knows up to this point is a bad idea. It leaves too many questions that are almost never resolved and makes the viewer feel as if their time has been wasted.

Trying to Teleport down the Track: Fringe

I wrote above that season five of this show left me basically devoid of any reason to watch it and that is the other time pitfall shows tend to fall into: jumping into the future. I don’t mind a quick jaunt into the future (the episode before the conclusion of season three is a good example) or months or maybe a year tops into the future, but anything more than that makes me question the writing of a show. Fringe first jumped into the future in season four episode nineteen, and it ruined all tension of the season four plotline. Gee, do they stop Bell? Well, I don’t know. The earth was still there in episode nineteen, so I guess so. Thanks. They tried to not give away what happens to Olivia at the season four conclusion, so that still had some surprise to it, but the major dramatic question (Will Bell succeed/Will they win?) was resolved before the climax by that stupid episode. Then we have the huge jump in time between season four and five. Why do those decades destroy the show? Mostly, it makes viewers feel like they are missing out on stories, it creates a need for flashbacks (which lets face it, if the show wasn’t already utilizing those, it’s a bit late to be adding them in) which are typically not as active and therefore interesting as current scenes, and puts your characters on development ice. Now for some of the years, they were frozen in amber, but for some they weren’t, wherein we would imagine the characters went through some growth as per usual. The most important development we missed out on is probably the Observers decision to invade. I mean, that’s huge. Now, they tell us why they invade, but since these characters were already pretty central to the show, we needed to see their point of decision. The loss of this moment due to the time jump makes their actions seem completely out of character after the invasion and the invasion itself is questionable at this point. Time jumps leave far too many questions and a feeling of having missed major events in our characters’ lives.

Mimicking Another Runner: The Event, Flashforward, Insert-Lost-Copy-Name-Here

Lost really isn’t the first show like itself (that sounds really strange). Instead, I can name The 4400 as the first otherworldly mystery dramatic epic (that’s a lot of adjectives, but that is pretty much the best description of Lost, its fore-bearers, and successors). However, Lost made this type of show a seemingly money-making setup. A large group of people, something weird happens (sci-fi or magical), and they have to deal with it and their own personal problems. This also almost entirely describes the Global Event Magical Realist form. Shows starting popping up all over cable and broadcast trying to follow this format. For most of them, it didn’t pan out. The two big failures are The Event and Flashforward. Both these shows only lasted one season, and left us all with a bunch of questions. The Event was especially bad. In the first episode we see the main character in a past event with his girlfriend on a cruise ship and now trying to stop an airplane. Never in the entirety of the show do we see how he got from the cruise ship to trying to stop the plane. How did he know he needed to stop the plane? How did he physically get from the cruise to chasing down the tarmac? No clue. No answer. Most likely they didn’t have a plan for that. The show ends after one season on a cliffhanger. Flashforward, which also ends on a cliffhanger after one season, was based on a work of fiction that was not an epic dramatic mystery so much as it was more typical sci-fi that asks questions about how science affects our understanding of life. This show is better done than The Event, but still tries too hard to be Lost. They did hire Charlie and Penny (no, I’m not going to look up their real names). The show also, like Lost and The Event, was too bloated with too much going on. Most of these Lost copies don’t do all that well because they tend to lack vision as Lost had. Most come out of a desire to make that Lost money, as opposed to someone having a good idea.

Running in the Wrong Direction: V

I’m a big V fan. I can watch the original miniseries again and again. It has direction and good imagery (some of which is stolen for Independence Day). It’s heartbreaking at times in very real ways and its play on Nazism is very well done. The Final Battle is okay by comparison, and I never watched the series. I did watch the new series when it came out a few years ago. First of all, I hated the fact that they kept saying V stood for Visitor. I hated Tyler. Most annoying teenager ever. They were far too in love with the green screen. But that’s beside the point. The real problem with this show is how the rebels, for whom the audience was rooting, never won a single fight. Not only that, but somehow, everything they did kept making things easier for Anna. They blow up a shuttle, she makes it look like it was full of humans. They try to destroy her power plant, instead they knock out all the human power. They try to kill her, instead she looks like a brave hero and kills her mother. It’s the most frustrating plot progression ever. The only ground they ever gained is when Erica killed all the soldiers. After that, it’s all a pretty smooth ride for Anna. Hell, she even gets the hybrid. Second season was especially bad for this, and they tried to make it more palatable by having Diana and Marc Singer. That was nice, I guess, but it’s no coincidence that Anna basically won all of Earth and then the show was cancelled. It’s not an underdog story if the underdog doesn’t win.

Tripping Up on the Second Lap: Battlestar Galactica

I’ve never seen the original TV show, but I watched the new mini-series and series. I, for the most part, enjoyed the show. Gaius Baltar and Caprica Six were very interesting. It was fun trying to figure out if he was crazy or if she was really there. Though the show took things too far at times with the mysticism, such as Starbuck’s storyline. Bringing in Admiral Cain was a major misstep, because her character and her methods were so hateable, it made it hard to watch the show. Rape as a form of interrogation is not just the most ridiculous and detestable of ideas but also a form of sensationalist writing that the show should have avoided. The series finale tried to compete with The Return of the King for most endings, to the point where I stopped caring and just wanted it to end so I could move on with my life already. Then there was Dean Stockwell’s death at the climax that seemed so slapdash and quick that for a moment there I thought I was watching a parody. The show started to show its true issues in the first episode of season two. No progress in plot was made in this episode. It was all a stall to not answer questions or resolve issues. They couldn’t remove the bullet from Adama’s stomach but were able to open his chest and perform open heart palpitations? That’s insane. Open chest surgery involving a person’s heart is so much harder than removing a bullet from the abdomen. I remember being confused as well by the sudden appearance of Ty Olsson as Capt. Kelly, but at the time, I hadn’t been able to see the miniseries yet. I wonder what Olsson had been doing instead for all of season one. The reason why this first episode was all a stall is that a show usually has way more time to develop season one than they do season two. As a result, season two can sometimes suffer from rushed pre-production. If you pay close attention, you can see that this also happened in the first episode of season one because the real first season is the mini-series which had more pre-production time than the first season of the show. Second seasons have a tendency to be kind of weak story-wise, but some are more weak than others, namely Battlestar Galactica and Heroes, both of which premiered their season two with lackluster stories. For some strange reason that is completely beyond me, a lot of people liked the season two premier of Battlestar Galactica. Nothing happened in that episode. Nothing. What’s there to like?

Going Too Slowly: Caprica

This attempt at a spinoff wanted to show BSG fans how the cylons were made (but, doh! the show it spins off from gives conflicting origins, Oops!). It could have been really interesting. But it totally wasn’t. This is the main reason it never took off on its own. That show is boring. It’s hard to believe that terrorists, parents dealing with the loss of their children, the invention of AI, and really cool technology couldn’t hold any interest, but when the show goes at the pace of snail making its way through mud and dicks around with far too many subplots, viewers tend to lose interest. I don’t believe this show was just cancelled because it was boring, but also because it was contrary to the plots of Battlestar Galactica. There isn’t much to say about shows like this because nothing much happens in them. Well, it was okay, but I’d rather watch something else even if I’ve seen it before is the most one can say when it comes to boring shows. Could’ve been good, wasn’t.

Running in First, But the Coach Decided to Run on the Field and Tackle Their Own Runner: Alphas and Firefly

Now this may be the saddest thing you’ll ever see on television: a great show, with great writing and production, that’s killed too early. Alphas, Firefly, A Gifted Man. These are just a few of the heroes we’ve lost to consumerism. There is nothing wrong with any of these shows. Alphas lasted two seasons and ended on a cliffhanger. A Gifted Man lasted one season and ended up in the air. Firefly didn’t even get a full season, but we were lucky enough to get a movie. Alphas was great. It was better than Heroes. It had a tight cast of characters and a single direction (unlike Heroes which was far too much like an actual comic book). A Gifted Man was pseudo magic realism and followed one man’s journey into becoming a better person and saving lives in the process. Firefly, like Alphas, had a tight cast of characters but was much more about adventurism. It was better than Farscape. Why were these shows cancelled? It wasn’t the writers, the directors, or the actors. It was the channel and the studio. Sy-Fy strikes again with Alphas by not advertising enough. At this point, I don’t trust Sy-Fy to actually conclude a show ever again. I never heard of A Gifted Man until it was on Netflix and my spouse suggested it. Again, feels like a lack of advertising and not keeping up with changing viewership. Then there was the clusterfuck that was Firefly’s handling by Fox. They put it in the nicknamed “Friday Night Deathslot”. You can pretty much trust sci-fi nerds like myself to stay in on a Friday night to watch a show, but we all already were staying in on Friday nights to watch Sy-Fy’s Farscape, an already established show. I didn’t even hear about Firefly until years after even the movie came out, and I love sci-fi. Then Whedon tried to work with Fox again what with Dollhouse, and we all saw how well that worked out. I hope some execs got fired over there once The Avengers was the top grossing film of the year. Serves them right.

Cancelled

Being cancelled is not always the worst thing to happen to a show. Sometimes they drag on forever getting worse and worse as time goes on. Sometimes they suck from the beginning. Sometimes they go off the rails, and they can do that in several different ways. It is, however, very hard to handle when a good show is cancelled for no good reason. For the most part, it comes down to mishandling scheduling, advertising, misunderstanding viewership, and feeling like the project is “not successful enough”. Not that it isn’t successful, but that the project isn’t making as much money as they would like. They could, in fact, be making money over their costs, but the studio isn’t satisfied with the profit margin. That seems like a crazy attitude. It means that the studio is willing to cancel a sure thing for a possible loss or possible better thing. It just seems stupid. I get wanting to make money, but if you are already making money, why scrap the project? Just invest in getting more viewership, or wait for word of mouth to do it for you. All I’m saying is stop making bad decisions about TV shows, stop fighting with the creators so much. Demographics, statistics, and ratings are at this time very unreliable information. Move with the times, of fall in the dust.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Craft of Writing

 

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Growing Older but Not Afraid of Age

My birthday was this week, and I’m quickly approaching the big Three Oh. But I’m not upset that I’m getting up there in age. Some of my older readers may be scoffing at the idea of me “getting up there” or that thirty is anything to feel bad about in the first place. Some of my younger readers may think there isn’t much difference in our ages, and therefore, our physical conditions. When I think back on how much more energy I had and how much less stiff my joints were eight years ago, I can’t help but feel myself growing older. What doesn’t make me feel old, however, is the fact that my ten year high school reunion was also this week. The ten years between then and now were the best of my life: I won some writing awards, got published, met the love of my life, got a job I love, and discovered some new things I really love–that’s a lot of love. But I want the fun to continue, so I want to explore some ideas that help that happen.

Taking Care of Myself:

I want to be around for a while. I want a long and healthy life. Long isn’t worth much if it isn’t also healthy. Which is why I try to workout everyday. I’m not always successful. I miss a lot of days, but it’s not like I haven’t worked out in a week, more like I miss 2-3 days a week. I remind myself that that’s better than nothing and that just because I don’t meet the goal of working out everyday, doesn’t mean I should give up entirely. I also try to eat better, mostly by going with the healthier option or stopping when I’m full. I still drink coffee (with cream and sugar) everyday (I never miss a day of coffee). I don’t, however, count pounds or calories (I don’t even own a scale), because I base my eating and working out habits on whether I feel well or bad. I don’t over eat because it makes my stomach hurt. I workout because it makes my joints and muscles feel better–sometimes it even helps my energy level and any stomach issues.

One thing I have noticed that has changed as I’ve gotten older is the number of pills I take. When I was younger, it was only one. Now it is six. There is a joke in our house that you can tell how old you are by how many pills you take. It’s funny, but as we age our bodies need more help. In the last year, my health hasn’t been the best, but my best isn’t all that good in the first place. The need to protect your health isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a gradual build as things start to break down. Like an aging car, parts of the human body start to fail as time passes, and as more time passes, the more parts start failing. I’m a huge believer in preventative care. I don’t have the same health problems of a person in their forties or fifties, but I know that now is the time that I make decisions and habits that will help me stay healthier in my forties and fifties. This is the whole reason I wear sunscreen everyday, even on cloudy days (that sounds like I’m a freak, but in truth, I don’t check the weather before I put on sunscreen). I am aware that not all health problems are preventable, having had some that weren’t, but a good enough amount are. Taking care of myself isn’t about looking good or impressing people, nor is it meant to be a chore, but a way of life. My health is a priority.

Enjoying Myself:

I also make it a priority to enjoy my time. Our time is limited. There’s only so much of it we should be spending on things we don’t enjoy. I try to have a bit of fun everyday, even if it is just reading a chapter of a book, having a single cookie (or five), watching an episode of a TV show I like, or playing half an hour of video games. Doing something fun everyday doesn’t mean party drinking or doing some crazy or irresponsible act. Instead it means making sure I’m having a good time with my life. In America, there seems to be a struggle between the Lazy or Party attitude and the Workaholic attitude. It’s centered around the idea that some don’t want the party to end or don’t want to work are at odds with those that think adulthood means the end of fun. Both are kind of crazy. You can’t have fun if you don’t have a roof over your head, and just because you’re working, doesn’t mean you’re a robot. A balance is needed between responsibility and fun. I’ve never been much for crazy parties or spending or a lack of work ethic, though I find myself to be less hardworking than I want to be. I didn’t work as hard as some of my classmates when I was school (high and college), but in college, that seemed to pay off for me. I got better grades than the students that spent all their time studying and working and those that partied, because I refused to stay up late and always got a full night’s sleep. This is a very roundabout way of saying that the middle way is better than the extremes. I want to enjoy myself, but I also want to be responsible. If I do everything I need to do, my relaxation or fun is even better, because there is nothing hanging over my head. My happiness is a priority.

Learning from Mistakes:

This is a pretty big one. As we get older, we are supposed to get wiser, which typically comes from screwing up a lot and learning why we screwed up and never doing that again. Not everyone learns from their mistakes. They make the same mistakes over and over again, typically when it comes to finance. No one is perfect, and everyone screws up every once in a while. That’s fine. As long as we aren’t all Stan Smith (“You should know by now, I don’t learn lessons”), we should be good on this front. Most people can’t learn from other peoples’ mistakes. Most of us have to make the mistake ourselves first. That’s fine too. We learn lessons better from our own perspective, but it’s not a bad idea to look to history first. “Hmm, does dumping my entire life savings and everything I own into stocks sound like a good idea? Let me check history first . . . Oh, oh-ho. No, not a good idea. Is working out and eating right really worth it? Well, my parent died of a heart attack, so yes. Does marrying my ex-spouse again sound like a good idea? I think not.” We don’t learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others when we believe we haven’t made a mistake or are incapable of doing so. We are not infallible. The people who believe they are make the most mistakes. It’s important to look back on a disaster and ask ourselves what we could have done differently, what we should have been doing in the first place, to avoid the disaster a second time. It’s not about hindsight; it’s about growth. It’s not about blame, because if you’re looking for someone to blame, check the mirror first. I try my best to admit when I’ve made a mistake both to myself and others. My growth is a priority.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try Things:

Some people end up pretty set in their ways. I like to stay at home and watch the same movies and TV shows over and over again. Though I am trying to finish TV shows that I have started and haven’t finished yet (recently just finished Lost, A Gifted Man, and I refuse to finish Heroes because what in the world were they thinking?). On my birthday, I prefer to eat at the same restaurant every year: a Mexican restaurant more than one freeway away from where I currently live where parking is metered and a meal for two is about twenty bucks. I don’t go to this restaurant any other time of year, and I don’t really want to eat anywhere else. It’s a total pain, but the tacos make it worth it. I did not go to that restaurant this birthday, though I may still later this month. Instead, I got a free burger at a chain restaurant, because free, and went to my high school reunion. My point is that sometimes people need to try new things and not set themselves up to hate it. Once I tried octopus sushi. Now I love octopuses (octopi is not correct by the way) when they are alive. They are smart with long memories. But that wasn’t going to stop me from trying it. I wish I could say I loved the taste, but I did not. Trying new things doesn’t mean you’ll love every new thing you try. It means that sometimes the new thing will suck and sometimes it will rock. This is mostly true of food, but also of events. I went to writers’ critiquing circle some months ago, hoping I might meet some people I could share my work with, that was a bust, but I tried. I tried a coffee shop near my old apartment, and whenever I’m out that way, I try to stop in there, because my god! I got a book of writing prompts for my birthday, and while I usually avoid these like the plague, I decided to save them and write one a day. Hopefully, that goes well. I try not to expect the worst to happen when I do things. I try to expect the best but not to be too disappointed if it doesn’t all go well. My positive attitude is a priority.

Age as Triumph:

Some people get really down around their birthdays because they are getting older. They aren’t as young as they used to be. They try to hold on to the kinds of crazy things they did when they were younger by drinking too much, buying products that make them feel young, staying out too late, shirking their responsibilities, or making life decisions like they are still in their early twenties. Or people act as though they are already in the grave, walking through life as if it is already over and they’re just waiting for the grim reaper to make it official. Neither way is a good outlook and makes for a crappy birthday. Each year older we get is a triumph over a dangerous world. To me, each birthday is the score, and each birthday I have means I’m winning. It’s why I’m happy to tell people how old I am (if they ask, it’s superfluous to announce stuff like that). I’m happy to be growing older, especially when I am happy with my life. So if you want to wish me a happy birthday, know that I’m already having one!

For those of you who’s birthdays are near, I wish you a happy birthday as well, hoping that it is joyous and exactly the kind of fun you want.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Social Issues

 

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Netflix Subtitles Suck

Netflix is my only form of television. I don’t have broadcast, cable, or satellite. I don’t even have any other streaming services. Until recently, I didn’t have the ability to play any of the DVDs I own. I love Netflix. I prefer to any other form of television, but I have a bone to pick with them and it can be summed up in one word: subtitles.

Why They Matter to Me:

I’m not hard of hearing or deaf, but I do have comprehension problems. I typically need two forms of taking in information to understand that information quickly. I tend to repeat what people say to me to confirm what I’ve heard. It’s called echolalia. I tend to reread the same sentence three or four times. So it makes it much easier for me to understand and follow a movie or T.V. show if I can read and hear the dialogue. I can barely stand to watch movies and T.V. shows without subtitles or captions. I’m not big on watching foreign films because of this. I’m not the only person who needs subtitles or captions to fully enjoy television. Those who are hard of hearing or deaf need it even more than I do. A customer who needs this service needs it to be accurate to get the same experience as those who don’t need it.

Problem One: Inaccurate Subtitles

Some shows and movies on Netflix have a very high rating for error in their subtitles. Arrow is the first to come to mind. In one episode, Oliver with his back to the camera says “Thea, I have something to tell you.” but the subtitle says something else entirely. The majority of the time this happens with voiceover or back to the camera shots. This means anyone who is deaf is getting a completely different dialogue than someone who can hear. That’s crazy. Where do these subtitles come from if not from someone watching the show? Most likely they come from a script that the subtitling company was given. It’s a very lazy way of doing subtitles.

Problem Two: Weirdly Placed Subtitles

The show on which this happens the most is American Horror Story. Weirdly, the subtitles are off to the bottom left and some of them are missing, suggesting that the placement of the subtitles has some of them not on screen. Again, it’s like no one watched the show with subtitles to see if the work they did was well done. It’s called proofreading. I do it even months after I’ve posted an article just to make sure I caught all my mistakes. They don’t seem to care to check for mistakes once the subtitle update goes live. Much like Microsoft and how they could giving a flying fart if millions of people find “Dark Grey” a sarcastic taunt and still an extreme eye strain. But I digress. On titles like Lost and Arrow that have people speaking in non-English languages with embedded translation subtitles, it’s kind of strange and infuriating to see [speaks Korean] over the translation of what Jin is actually saying. Thank you so much Closed Captioning Services, Inc.

Problem Three: A Lack of Foreign Translation Subtitles

Closed Captioning Services, Inc. screws us in another way. My favorite scene in all of Lost is in “Exodus Part 1” wherein Jin and Sun reconcile when she gives him the translations from Korean to English. But Netflix says “Screw That!” because there are no embedded subtitles nor Netflix subtitles for that scene. I went online to YouTube to find the scene with subtitles because it was an itch I could not scratch. But this isn’t the only title with this problem. In Galaxy Quest you can’t see what the weird, childlike aliens are saying (though you can if you watch it on T.V. or DVD). Then there is The X-Files which has so many scenes with people speaking so many different languages. Not a single damn translation. Half the episodes of American Dad with Toshi don’t have translations. This is the most infuriating as these subtitles are part of the title. A year or so ago, Netflix did something different with the subtitles and suddenly these translations were gone. This effects everyone who doesn’t speak those languages.

Problem Four: Too Many Foreign Translation Subtitles

In some scenes of Lost (Closed Captioning Services, Inc. strikes again!), we get the embedded subtitles and Netflix subtitles at the same time. This is rare, but it’s kind of hard to read one or the other when they are on top of each other. I’m not even sure how something like this could happen. Is it really so hard to erase all the embedded ones and replace them or how about this? Don’t erase any of the embedded subtitles! Leave them alone. They are part of the title.

Problem Five: The Runaround

Why am I airing my grievances here on my blog instead of to Netflix support? Because every time I report an issue with the subtitles, they don’t seem to care, to have an answer, to understand what I’m talking about, or tell me “they don’t have the rights to those foreign translation subtitles” which sounds like a joke. I’m tired of them not fixing these issues. If they outsource their subtitles, then they should look to hire some other company. If they are in house, then they should fire the person in charge, because they sure do screw up a lot.

Problem Six: Spending Time Doing New Things No One Wants, Instead of Fixing the Problems

Recently, there have been a lot of changes to Netflix. At one point they changed the Recently Watched to Continue Watching. Anything we had watched to completion like a movie would disappear from this list. I hated this change. Upon it happening, Netflix customer support immediately heard how much I disliked it, until they brought back the things I had already watched. Why would it bother me? Because I may watch a film four or five times in a week and I don’t want to go searching for it every time. Netflix most likely has direct data showing that lots of customers do this, so why take away the easiest way to rewatch a title? Now that they’ve put finished titles back in the list, that list order is all messed up. They aren’t in order of most recently watched like before. They are in a random order. Another change is that now when I finish a movie or all the available episodes of a show, Netflix automatically starts playing another title at random. I hate autoplay features, especially those I can’t turn off. I don’t want to watch Mission Impossible II, and Netflix can’t make me. It’s a stupid movie anyway. Then once, I went to play a title and Neflix played a trailer for another title beforehand. I’m sorry, when did Netflix turn into Hulu? (Burn!) They also have a stupid feature that skips Previously Ons and themes that can’t be turned off, even on titles like American Dad and Futurama that have a new and different joke during each opening theme. Once it skipped a Previously On which was fake from The Venture Brothers. Someone isn’t paying attention.

All of the changes came after the first time I brought up the subtitle problems to the customer service, so why did they waste time on these features no one wanted (because come on!) instead of fixing the problems? I know Netflix has caught crap before for censoring subtitles on shows like Breaking Bad, but that was a decision they made (and countermanded), these are almost all mistakes brought on by laziness, incompetence, and/or apathy. Another problem like this is how the video will not load but the audio will start playing for about ten seconds. Here’s an idea: don’t start playing the title until you are ready to play the title. Just a thought. All these problems or features are not an issue on every streaming device. For example, the Windows 8 app freezes the first subtitle and won’t load the rest, but through a browser this isn’t an issue. So don’t think because you aren’t seeing one or more of the problems I’ve mentioned that they don’t exist and that I’m crazy. It’s a matter of who is in charge of subtitles for each device. Different devices require different encoding, so different problems will happen. In fact, you may have noticed problems I haven’t mentioned, like incomplete subtitles (I know those exist).

Now, don’t get me wrong. Out of all the streaming services, Netflix is my favorite. I prefer it over any other. So why am I complaining? Because I don’t want it to get worse. I’ve seen changes that are moving away from what makes Netflix great, and I want Netflix to acknowledge and fix any existing problems brought to their attention by their customers. Otherwise, they are just turning into Hulu. Ooo, burn. Again.

 
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Posted by on June 25, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Subtext: Some Have It, Others Don’t

First, What Is It?

Subtext is implied information. It’s that simple. It comes from high context relationships, wherein two or more people have common knowledge of past events and refer to them without stating an outline of the events and how they effected each other and their futures. Most people employ subtext when talking to old friends and family. An inside joke is the simplest form of subtext, but in writing subtext tends to be a little more sophisticated. Usually because the characters don’t want to really bring that old crap into the light. Subtext in a narrative is the best way to do exposition of plot and explore motivations of characters. Not all writers are good at this. Some writers hit a reader over the head with exposition and motivation. They hit them with signs that say “EXPOSITION!!!” and “MOTIVATION!!!” and most readers and viewers balk at that kind of clunky story telling. But it is easier to show then to tell, so I’m going to use DraculaKill Bill Vol. I, and Checkov’s The Cherry Orchard for my examples, so . . . spoilers.

For those you you who don’t watch this show, this moment happened right when Spongebob dropped the dialogue bomb of why Mr. Krabs had been gone (he was on vacation). It was purposely clunky, hence the title above his head.

Subtext or Are You Reading Too Much Into It?

There is a joke going around the internet about English professors right now that I love. Here it is:

It makes me laugh every time I see it or think of it, because I completely get it. While reading Dracula for a course, I was repeatedly confused by the idea that Lucy was a slut. Not vampire Lucy, but normal Lucy. I don’t get this. The evidence given to support her promiscuousness is the blood transfusions from four different men, one of whom (Arthur) said it made him feel like they were truly bonded in marriage. I get the idea of mingling blood relating to sex as one result of sex is consanguinity as in the creation of children; however, based on how the instances of the transfusions came about negates any agency from her in the act. She was passed out each time, suggesting instead non-consensual mingling of blood, just as Dracula took her blood without her consent. The leap from her lack of say in the blood transfusions to her being promiscuous seems very far fetched as her inability to consent completely throws out the idea of her as promiscuous which requires an act of agency and instead reinforces her as victim. The whole theory also throws out the fact that this was a life-saving medical procedure (do we consider getting a blood transfusion from strangers as a metaphor for sex when we are in a car accident and need one? No, we don’t. We consider it a medically necessary procedure.)

Some have brought up the fact that she had three suitors, like that is somehow evidence. I disagree as she was an heiress of good breeding and sweet nature. In the time period of the novel, three suitors is quite normal, especially considering the fact that before engagement people would refer to each other by titles and surnames. Dating wasn’t really a thing. Instead we would see friends of the girl’s family spending time with her in public spaces and with other family members and guests. There wasn’t really proclamations of love until a marriage proposal was also voiced. Men of this time were also hard pressed to get a woman alone to profess and propose, which was the only time it wasn’t unseemly for a girl to be alone with a man. Lucy’s three proposals are only strange in the fact that they all happened on the same day. If she had acquiesced to each man or showed fickleness in her decision, I could see an argument for a metaphor for promiscuousness, but I did not see evidence of any fickleness. Lucy seemed quite sure she wanted to marry Arthur to the very end. She does say something about how society doesn’t let a woman have as many husbands as she wants, but she isn’t thinking about sex but about the hurt she had to give to Dr. Seward and Quincey by saying no. She also knew it was a silly thought. She was most likely thinking idealistically, not sexually. I had serious doubts that Lucy knew much about sex, as she didn’t seem to come close to this consideration in any of her writings.

Other flimsy arguments that she was promiscuous bring up the times Dr. Seward and Dr. Van Helsing stayed in her room all night or washed her in a bathtub. This is again refuted by looking at their actions from the medical profession. Had they not done these things she would have died sooner, just as with the blood transfusions. Doctors throughout the ages have spent time in female patients’ rooms without it being called unseemly, far before the period of the book. I agree that the time period of the novel is far more stringent in its decrying of sexuality than say one hundred years prior, but medicine and science were gaining ground at this time over perceived propriety as is evidenced by the entirety of the British Gothic genre which includes far more scientific theory than previous genres.

My overall point though is what exactly do people see in that novel of Lucy’s actions pre-vampire to suggest her being promiscuous that can’t be brushed away by other evidence? I feel as though this is a game of rumor that has been going on for more than a century about this novel. Or preconceived notions gained from others’ interpretations such as that very awful movie where Lucy is naked and moaning throughout most of it. The idea of vampirism being about sex is an established theory, but in most instances then it would seem vampirism is about rape, wherein vampires attack and take from their victims without their consent. I think when Stoker has his characters describe Lucy as sweet, poor, or angelic, I believe he means she was sweet, poor, and angelic. I believe she was developed this way to make her undead state more contrasted and horrifying. I also believe she had so many suitors because Stoker needed someway to have a medical professional in (Dr. Seward), a representation of English power (Arthur), and a classical hero (Quincey) all in the story and connected to Dracula in a believable way with a motivation to go after him (the death of a woman they all loved). So I do not believe the subtext for Lucy being promiscuous is actually in the book but is being read into it. The novel does have subtext, just not that interpretation.

The Opposite of Subtext

Years ago when I was in a two year playwriting program, I was made to read Checkov’s The Cherry Orchard. I’m still scratching my head on that one. Not because it was particularly deep but because I didn’t understand what anyone saw in it. Though I’ll freely admit that the names made following it harder, the dialogue itself often left something to be desired. The beginning has a lot of moments where people reminisce. As a writer, I can’t endorse reminiscence as a form of exposition. I can barely endorse it for any reason. It seems too clunky, and in The Cherry Orchard people have a reason for reminiscing, but it still comes kind of out of no where and leaves a lot of emotionality to be desired. Like this moment:

“ANYA. [Thoughtfully] Father died six years ago, and a month later my brother Grisha was drowned in the river– such a dear little boy of seven! Mother couldn’t bear it; she went away, away, without looking round. . . . [Shudders] How I understand her; if only she knew! [Pause] And Peter Trofimov was Grisha’s tutor, he might tell her. . . .”

There is no impetus for this line at all. It is a statement of facts. Telling us backstory. It’s a non-reply to Varya saying “I told them not to wake him.” Where is Anya’s motivation for saying this? It’s no where. I’ve heard that Checkov is a master of subtext, but stating backstory for no reason is the opposite of subtext. I’ve also been hard pressed to hear the subtext in other moments. Another harsh critic of Checkov believes that a good director took hold of Checkov’s work and told the actors how to behave to give the work depth versus it being in the actual text. This sounds like a good theory to me.

Good Use of Subtext

Now I’m a pretty big fan of the Kill Bill movies. They have great dialogue, great fights, good imagery, good acting, and a sense of humor about itself. In a recent rewatch, I realized there was more to the first one than one would think. Mainly, in the relationship between O-Ren Ishii and the Bride. There are some major clues in this movie that O-Ren and the Bride had a close friendship before the incident in the Texas chapel, but let’s go through them.

One: The first person on the Bride’s list is O-Ren, before the obviously easier Vernita Green. But the Bride wants to handle one of the most challenging of her targets first. There could be many reasons for this: she wants the others to know she’s coming (why else would she leave Sophie alive?), she wants to see if she is capable of fighting and killing after so long, she wants to get the arguably hardest challenge out of the way first, or O-Ren was important to her. I do believe that all of these are the truth and feed into the Bride’s motivations for taking down O-Ren first.

Two: The only person on the Bride’s list to get a biography is O-Ren. When going after Vernita, the Bride simply tells the audience where Vernita is now; whereas, O-Ren is shown at an important moment in her life (becoming the Yakuza boss in Japan) without the Bride there. Then we see a quite long and personal anime sequence showing how O-Ren became the woman she is, including the most important moments of her childhood. We do not see anyone else’s, including the Bride’s, childhood in either movie. We do not know what happened to the rest of the squad or Bill as children to turn them into killers, but we do see this with O-Ren. But how does the Bride know any of this? It is my theory that O-Ren told her about these moments as they grew closer in the squad or even before the squad (it is entirely possible that O-Ren and the Bride had teamed up before joining the squad). If O-Ren did tell the Bride about her childhood, it was most likely because the two relied on each and felt they could trust one another. Perhaps the Bride shared her childhood with O-Ren as well.

Three: The report in the present of the movie between O-Ren and the Bride is very easy but lacks overt expressions of motivation or emotion, unlike the dialogue between the Bride and Vernita, which is instead comprised of the digging up of old issues between the two, most likely never voiced. Overall, the best moment of subtext in this movie is an exchange between O-Ren and the Bride that had a lot of people scratching their heads as to the reason it was even in the movie.

While the reference to the the cereal slogan may seem out of place, it isn’t if we consider it subtextually. If based on evidences presented in One and Two mean that O-Ren and the Bride were once close friends, then this moment could be taken as a throwback to earlier dialogue they would have had when working together. Perhaps when they thought an assignment was going to be easy, but it turned out harder than expected, they would exchange these words and get amusement from it. Most people who are close repeat humorous exchanges throughout their relationship, so this is not a crazy conclusion to draw. So by repeating it here, O-Ren and the Bride are bittersweetly referencing their former closeness as opposed to giving a breakfast cereal free advertising.

Their final exchanges were laced with apology and respect. It did not seem as though O-Ren was simply apologizing for making fun of the Bride but possibly also for her part in the chapel massacre, and that the Bride was accepting that apology, but because of who they are (killers) the Bride and O-Ren are going to finish this fight. The idea of giving forgiveness while still fighting to the death is a very old Samurai story theme, making it both deep and in good tradition. O-Ren can’t voice an apology for the massacre because it is too horrible of an action to ask for forgiveness outright, so the scene is very heavy with all that happened between them before they meet this time.

Kill Bill Vol. 1 is chock full of subtext (and some hints as well, like the fact that it was Bill who actually did the killing of O-Ren’s parents) and is worth another watch to suss out back story and connections between the characters.

To Conclude

It is important not to read too much into a work, to read into it what you want to see versus what is actually there. But it is also important to pay attention and think about what is being presented while reading or watching a story. As a writer, it is important to use tact when creating back story as tact is the secret ingredient in creating good subtext.

Are there any works you find are lacking in tact? List them below! Or are really good at subtext? Explain why you feel that way.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Craft of Writing

 

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College: Not Everyone’s Cup o’ Tea

Why I Bring It Up

I went to college. I also taught at college, first and second year students, but I’m not talking about any of my former students. I’m referring to my general experience of my peers and the research I did to prepare and grow as a university instructor. I’ve seen students take a really long time to get their undergrad, go into extreme debt, and, in some cases, come out the other side with a degree in something they didn’t really care about. I have a problem with the whole system, even if I believe in lifelong education. Let me break down the issues.

Not Old Enough to Drink, Or Vote in Some Cases, Old Enough to Make Lifelong Decisions

I once saw a quote on Tumblr that made me laugh, but also made me want to cry a little. It said something like “College, where you’re asked to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life, but only a few months ago you had to ask for a pass to go to the bathroom.” In high school, students are treated like ten year olds. To some extent this understandable, but students need to be given mounting responsibility in high school to be able to handle the dramatically higher responsibility of college. Otherwise, most students will revolt against the amount of work required of college. Instead, high school students have their hands held all four years, unless they are in honors or AP courses, where they are taught that the quantity of the work they are given is more important than the quality of the work they are given. I’m not just talking about the workload though. Freshman traditionally take on two huge decisions right away: loans and major.

Let’s face it. Even though there are a lot of colleges out there with a lot of scholarships, there are more college students than there are scholarships and aid. This means that students need to supplement paying for college either by working or by getting loans, and for those with a higher tuition and/or less financial stability, both. I’ve heard a lot of students express a lot of pride over the fact that they paid their own way through college by working, not taking a dime in loans, but this is very unempathetic. First, if any job a student can get is not enough to pay for tuition, fees, and books let alone food, shelter, and gas, than that job is only going to make the situation all the more stressful. Then there are those students who are non-traditional, who have an okay paying job but also have house payments and utilities as well as the other things students need to pay for. There are others that can’t supplement their income any further with work because they have time obligations to family: they have family members they have to take care of. But there could even be those traditional students who don’t have other financial obligations or time obligations but have a learning disability and have to focus an extra amount of time to their education to keep their grades up. So in these situations, the students take out loans. So let’s not act like everyone has a choice in this matter. It becomes a choice between a loan or failure in your education. Then let’s remember that the traditional student is 17-18 years old when they make this decision when previously they were treated like a leper to responsibility by those in charge of their education.

Then there is the major. A lot of kids go to college with a dream, some go with their parents looking over their shoulder, and some go with no clue what they want. This isn’t the best time to decide what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. Students are young and haven’t experienced much, as such, chances are if they have an idea what they want to do with their life, that’s going to change in a year or two. Parents who pay for their children’s college think they have a right to say what their child’s major is going to be. After all, it’s their money. Okay, I get that. But does that mean the child owes their career to their parents as well? Probably not. Students should not sacrifice their whole life (a career can make or break a person’s lifelong happiness) just because their parents are willing to pay for their college. Those that go to college with no clue what they want to do with their lives are going because everyone in their lives have told them that they need to go to college for security, but they get there and meander from major to major because they are still trying to figure out what they want. Or they pick a major based on how hireable they think the major will be. Picking the wrong major is an expensive mistake both financially and emotionally. If two years in, a student decides that pre-law isn’t for them, switching to business means a lot of money. Or sticking through with pre-law when it doesn’t excite interest anymore for four years means paying for something that is worthless to the student at the end because even if they do go to law school and become a lawyer, the career is ultimately unfulfilling. So picking the major in the first years of school, forcing students to forego the required exploration through electives which end up being too costly, can end up ruining a student’s career options and finances. That’s a lot of responsibility.

Open Enrollment vs. the Low Standards of High School

It’s not a secret right now that public elementary and secondary schools’ standards have dropped steadily. This means students leaving before they have gained the basic skills expected of them when they reach college age, including reading, writing, and math. Most of these students if they go to college end up at open enrollment universities, where they sink fast. It’s an awful thing to see a student with a loan or a student with an athletic scholarship failing their classes, even when the university does everything they can to help. With instructors, coaches, and tutors all pitching in, a student who doesn’t know how to spell basic words or doesn’t know that every sentence requires a verb is not going to pass, because no matter how much help the student is given, they still have to do the work themselves. Students can put forth all their effort and still fail. This is possibly the saddest thing to see, but a college instructor can’t in good conscience pass them based only on their go get ’em attitude because in gen eds especially, these skills are needed for the student’s future. Most likely these students should be in remedial courses first, but these cases are hard to catch before a student has failed a few courses.

But students with below standard skills and knowledge are not the only issue with incoming freshmen. The other problem is prep for the amount of work involved in college courses. I’ve known first semester courses that have required eight short papers, with a rough draft and peer edit for each along with weekly reading, and that’s one course. To those not in the know, that’s a freshman composition course. Other first year courses involve a lot of work for points spread out so that no one assignment is make or break, at most equaling a letter grade. As students enter more major based courses, there are less assignments but each with more percentage values, meaning students have less baskets to put their eggs in. If a student likes their major this isn’t an issue, but they first have to get through those heavy gen eds. Students who have never taken an AP or honors course don’t really know how heavy college workloads start out. They bridle against all the work. Having been both student and instructor, at the same too as I was a grad student when I was an instructor, I know what an important balance between student effort and instructor empathy is. Teachers need to understand not that students haven’t experienced this before but that their course isn’t the only one their students are taking. Students need to understand that the work is important and that college (while TV and movies have presented the contrary) is not party time but hard work.This means turning assignments in on time, following instructions, showing up to class both physically and mentally, and most of all, communicating to the teacher when a problem occurs. These are the most basic steps to being successful in those gen eds, but oddly, a lot of students have a problem doing these things and get upset when their grade suffers because they didn’t do these things. They can look at their instructor who is penalizing them for failing at these steps as the enemy. Instead, these students need to understand that they are held responsible for doing the work, and the instructor is not their friend but their evaluator as well as their teacher. After the handholding of high school, this is a hard transition to make.

An Education, Not a Business Transaction

Some students think that because money is involved that they are paying for passing grades in their gen eds. Some of this comes from colleges treating students as customers first. It makes the students think the teachers are there to satisfy them instead of to educate them. This is why the adjunctification of universities, especially open enrollment ones, is so detrimental in the long run. When students who don’t like the amount of work involved in gen eds and who think that they are the customer fill out those course evals, they tend to be very harsh on their instructors. If those instructors are adjuncts, they tend to not have their contracts renewed. Unless, that is, those adjuncts lower their standards to please the “customers”. I haven’t had personal experience of this, but I have heard other former adjuncts testify to this occurrence. These lowered standards result in a worse education. I understand why an adjunct would do this; they need to keep their jobs so they can pay their bills and put food on the table. It’s not really their fault. The idea of student as customer and customer satisfaction as a pivotal part of keeping or letting instructors go is terrible for real education. This is why tenured professors can either be the best or worst instructors at a college. Either they are not afraid of customer satisfaction’s effects on their job, so they hold their students to high standards, or they know that firing them is nearly impossible, so they focus less on teaching and more on research. High standard adjuncts don’t always last long and typically end up floating from college to college. I respect them for holding education over customer satisfaction in the hierarchy of importance. But students need to understand that they are not customers. They are paying for a fair and usable education. They are not paying for an A grade. This is not to say, however, that there are no bad teachers. There are. I knew of one instructor who didn’t give students As on their papers if they didn’t argue what the instructor believed. I refused to take any of those classes, mostly because I can’t do something like that and would have failed. I probably would have argued too much with the instructor for her liking. Versus one instructor I had, several times, who encouraged back and forth. Good instruction means challenging students to think, and especially, to think for themselves. It doesn’t change the fact that students have to put forth effort.

Tuition Costs, Why So High?

In 2008 the housing market crashed big time, and that hurt everybody. Government funding was cut for pretty much everybody too. Most of the funding cuts happened from the state governments because most of them were suffering bad and didn’t have the money to spend on their normal programs. A lot of people were mad about this, but you can’t get blood from a stone. So a lot of universities took a big hit in funding. Then FAFSA made the decision to cut off aid to students after a lesser number of semesters. Retroactively. This meant, quite suddenly, some students lost all their aid. This hurt non-traditional students the most because they take less courses per semester, maybe they only take twelve hours when most traditional students take fifteen to eighteen. This means what takes a traditional student ten semesters takes fifteen or more for non-traditional students. The maximum FAFSA didn’t go up in this time. The reason for this change was so that they didn’t have to lower the maximum aid a student could get. It was a major sacrifice, and it hurt a lot of people. Especially considering that because of the funding cuts colleges took, tuition went up. The problem is we have to ask what the tuition is going to? Almost all colleges are constantly under construction. They spruce up old buildings, build new ones, and buy surrounding land. This is not inherently a bad thing, but quality instructors should come first. If the university is knocking down the president’s house to rebuild it but have an adjunct ratio of 3:4, then they don’t have their priorities straight. If their top administrators are making six to seven figures when their instructors don’t have enough offices or classrooms, then they really don’t have their priorities straight. When choosing a college, one has to look at how the money is spent. If the campus tour doesn’t show many classrooms, instructor areas, or dorm rooms, but they show the ritzy community areas instead, one needs to be a little suspect of how high a value they put on the actual education the school provides. This is not to say that a college can’t have nice community areas and provide a good education, but a little more digging than the sales pitch needs to happen before committing to paying that hefty bill.

Not When, But If

Not everyone needs to go to college. Not everyone wants to go to college. Not everyone will succeed at college. This is not a problem. This country is very pro-college, just as it is very pro-house buying (seriously stop telling millennials to take that risk just because the market needs it). Most people think that to make in this world, you need a college degree. Which is strange considering all those people with college degrees who are unemployed. We can brush this off as people who got degrees in the liberal arts as those guys never get jobs, right? Wrong. Some employers aren’t hiring people who have career focused degrees because they have learned that those people don’t have the critical thinking skills that are so important to self-starting and high responsibility jobs. There are a lot of unemployed people with law degrees. There are a lot of unemployed people with business degrees. These “safe” careers aren’t safe at all. Right now, there is no such thing as a safe career. In fact, there probably never is. So college is not the answer. The answer is hard work, networking, and luck.

Conclusion

Don’t assume that college is for you. Assume lifelong learning is for you. We can all stand to learn more at every stage of life. College is no guarantee of happiness and security. If a person goes to college, he or she should use that time to figure out what they want. There should be no time limit on that, even if FAFSA will run out. If a person figures out he or she wants to major in something seemingly useless and unlucrative, then he or she should go for it anyway. We have one chance at happiness. A false sense of security at the cost of this one chance of happiness is a risk not worth taking. People have gone the safe routes and still lost everything mostly because of luck, but also because they didn’t care. It’s much better to make the choices that are right for you as an individual. My life is not perfect, but I am happy because I know that I’m striving for what I want. College was right for me. The colleges I chose were right for me. My majors were right for me. Make sure that the choices you make are the right ones for you.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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