Potpourri–A Bunch of Little (& Stranger) Things

This blog post is just a random collection of little things that I’ve been working on over the past week that really don’t deserve a full blog post.

Stranger Things
So I started watching Stranger Things Season 2 over the past weekend.  Right now, I’m really enjoying it.  The first episode is reestablishing the characters and introducing new characters.  I like the vibe of the show, so far, even after only one episode.  It is like getting reacquainted with old familiar friends after a long hiatus.  There’s a lot of 80s nostalgia that is really forefront in this episode and also several new characters seem like a good mix for the show.  I can’t wait to see how it progresses.

iPhone 7
So my iPhone appears to be utterly and truly dead.  After talking with Apple, I’m going to have to take it to a local authorized Apple Dealer and see if they have a phone in stock that I can exchange with it, or if I’m going to have to wait for Apple to send me a replacement.  Ugh, very frustrating.  I’m just grateful that it was in the 1 year warranty period for the phone.  I’ll keep you up-to-date on the phone situation.  I did, by the way, have a great Technical Support experience and the Apple Advisor was very patient with me as we went through the process.  I greatly appreciated that!

Star Trek Next Generation – First Season
I’ve started STNG and the first season is much “rougher” than I remember.   I knew Worf’s prosthetics & makeup underwent a redesign, but it looks worse during the first season than I remember.  Also, many of the trademark elements that made STNG what it was were either still being formed or hadn’t yet been implemented, so the show feels like an “empty shell” rather than the rich, inventive show that I remember.

Well, that’s all for now–this post will have to be short and sweet.  Till next time!

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Moribund Genres: The Western

Watching the Magnificent Seven over the weekend and reading some of the critical reviews of the movie (I often skip reading movie reviews until AFTER I see a movie as I want to go in fresh/not have any preconceived notions and/or opinions), I see that the Western genre, after having its hey day in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s is still in a moribund phase.  While the dictionary that I’m using lists several possible definitions, I’m going to use two as a way to guide my discussion.

1. Near death, dying
While I don’t think the Western genre will die, it might as well be dead to both movie-going audiences and the majority of non-genre (i.e., Western genre) critics.  Every year or so, we see one or two major movies released, but rarely do they seem to draw any real attraction to themselves or garner any steam (pardon the pun).  I can remember all the way back to the mid 1980s with the movie Silverado watching and enjoying a western movie that seemed to get no love critically or commercially (even though it helped to introduce Kevin Costner as a rising star who would go on to become a major movie star in another western Dances With Wolves).  For some unknown reason, audiences reached a saturation point with Westerns as a movie genre in the late 1970s and the lack of interest around the remake of the Magnificent Seven shows that the audience interest for western movies still remains tepid.

Now there have been bright spots here and there: the above mentioned Dances With Wolves (which I haven’t seen all the way through–managed to catch parts of hit) and Clint Eastwood’s early 1990’s movie Unforgiven were standouts both critically and commercially (and I’m sure that one can argue for others exceptions to the rule), but for the most part, the western is no longer a part of the American movie-going experience.

2. Not progressing, stagnant.
This probably the most important reason as to why western movies are having such a tough go of it right now.  In many of the reviews that I read, reviewers touched on the “cliches” of the Western genre and how many of them are in play in the movie.  The audiences (perhaps rightly so) don’t think they can expect any new surprises from this genre.  If you were to name ten “conventions” (or cliches) that one often sees in western movies, you could probably find at least half of those on your list in the Magnificent Seven.  Now all genres (Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Adventure, Horror, etc.) have certain tropes, but it is Horror’s turning the tropes on their head through race relations (GetOut), atmosphere (Stranger Things, Stephen King’s It) and flat-out scares (ANY of James Wan’s recent successful movies) that have turned Horror from the also ran of the 1980s and 1990s into the rising juggernaut that it is quickly becoming.

And there is an audience for Westerns as a genre.  One of the hottest video games during the last gaming console generation was Red Dead Redemption, an open world western adventure game and its sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the most anticipated games for this current console generation.  So the audience for the genre is there, but filmmakers are going to have to look for new stories to tell and new ways to tell those stories.

More Does Not = Better

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More Does Not Equal Better – Woman Drinking Coffee Image Source: YouTube

This was a piece of advice given to me by my Graduate Advisor at U.T. at Chattanooga (UTC) once when I was writing a paper.  My memory is fuzzy on the exact details of the paper, but I “seem” to remember that it had something to do with an essay in which I had fulfilled the length requirements, but kept writing way past the requirements thinking that more = better.  When I was informed that indeed longer doesn’t always equal better, I have to confess that I felt a keen sense of disappointment in that all of the extra work that I had done was probably wasted.  And then, when I went back and actually looked at the essay, I saw that my advisor was right.  Instead of being this tightly constructed essay where my points flowed one into another to create a satisfying whole, the essay was bloated and formless.  Sure it was long (and made sense), but the points just kind of kept going and going and going and it lacked my normal sense of “cohesion.”

I learned a valuable lesson that day from that assignment–the length of a work should be defined by what it needs to accomplish–no more, no less.  If it needs 25 pages to accomplish the task, then by all means devote 25 pages to it.  However, it only needs 2 paragraphs, then 24 and a half pages have been wasted if you expand it just because you want to write long.

I’ve seen quite a few “bloated” popular pieces over the past two years (2016-2017) where the creators/designers should have stopped far sooner than they did with their creation than they did.  For instance, last weekend I thought I was on the last mission of Mass Effect Andromeda, a game that I’ve been playing all summer.  Imagine my surprise when at the end of the mission, I find that I’m still not finished.  There is at least one more mission to go (perhaps a couple of more–I can’t really tell).  MEA would have been a really tight and suspenseful game at the 60-70 hour mark, but at well over 100 hours in and still no sign of stopping, the game has worn out its welcome and has become tedious and often boring.  I understand the rationale–our fans want more, so let’s give them more (if we give them more, then this will = better, but that’s not the case).  Unless each and every experience is meaningful then more for the sake of more is just more, not better.

Even in these blog entries, I try very hard to remember this lesson as I can often type for hours on a particular subject (unless I’m constrained by time).  So, as I embark on another school year and creative writing season, I have to take a moment to remind myself that more doesn’t = better.  Finely crafted and purposeful experiences are what = better.

Advertisers vs Creators vs YouTube

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YouTube Removing Ads from non-advertiser friendly videos Image Source: Search Engine Journal

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Screenshot of YouTube Monetization Image Source: 9to5google

This post probably won’t be as long as usual as I have meeting to attend in a couple of hours, however, I just wanted to get it out there since the topic (and the creators’ responses to it) mirrors my own frustration(s) this summer.

The topic is a simple one (& one that ultimately comes down to money), advertisers and Google seem to be in a war against the content creators that have helped YouTube grow and they have instituted a change in policy that is forcing many YouTubers to either change their content/format, seek alternate funding methods, or leave YouTube for another platform (like Twitch, or other streaming/video services) altogether.

Here is an example of one such YouTuber’s frustration: ACG
And here’s another: The Horror Show

Advertisers
Advertisers want viewers and they want their ads to appear in front of (and during) videos in order to sell their product or service.  They also want to control their message and how their message is displayed and on what content that it gets displayed upon.  In other words, they don’t want their message to be linked with an offensive site or offensive content.  Yet, the sprawling nature of YouTube doesn’t allow them to go in and hand-pick content, so they have (apparently) successfully and recently lobbied YouTube to create fairly restrictive algorithms so that their material appears on only the most family friendly content.  Again, this is because they want their messages to BOTH reach the widest audience possible (families) and not be associated with “objectionable” material, but they don’t want to spend an additional money to hire a person/a team of people to navigate YouTube to manually indicate whether their brand is being served or hurt by appearing on a particular video.

Creators
Creators are crying foul because of the draconian nature of the algorithms deployment.  Even if the content itself isn’t objectionable (such as review), the way it is presented (i.e., with a couple of swear words) is enough for YouTube’s algorithm to deny monetization to creators and their videos.  However, even in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there’s a running gag about characters swearing and Captain America calling them out on it, and the gag is that they call him out on calling them out (if that makes any sense).  The reason why it’s funny is that in today’s world swearing is “allowed” (which I don’t personally agree with) and to call someone out on it marks you as old fashioned.  The Marvel movies are own by Disney Studios, a company known for its “wholesome” image, yet their most successful movies are in the PG-13 category these days.  It is unfair for advertisers to require their ads play on “G” rated content in a society where even the wholesome, family friendliest of companies content is in the PG-13 arena and they have a valid point.  Most creators already don’t make enough from YouTube to qualify even as a “hobby,” let alone a full time/part-time self-sustaining job and this change really hurts them.

Frustration with the system

If you watched the two videos, you can see the frustration of the creators.  They create content for a system and yet have an emotionless set of algorithms determine what can and cannot be monetized.  This is the exact same frustration that I felt this summer.  They work within the rules of the system, but the rules keep changing and they keep changing in a way that benefits others instead of the very creators who provide YouTube with the lifeblood of content that the site needs in order to survive. In many ways, this is much like AMC all over again as YouTube (and their owners, Google) have taken their eye of the ball and given into the greed that pushes away consumers to other platforms and then decry the fact that users/consumers no longer use their service and/or their profits are down.  Google’s motto used to be “don’t be evil.”  I think that they (and other businesses) should adopt this as the first line of their mission statements, not the last.

Comic-Con Week–Stranger Things Season 2

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Image Source: SDCC Blog

So the San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) or Comic-Con as it is usually referred to, happened this week and this is a celebration of all things comic book related, but also it is a huge intersection for Science Fiction and Fantasy.  While I’m not really a “con” guy myself, I still have found myself drawn to Comic-con because of all the announcements and trailers of upcoming Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Comic Book movie properties in the past few years.

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Stranger Things Season 2 (Image Source: CNN)

So this week, like E3, I’m going to take a moment to highlight some of my favorite announcements/trailers from the convention.  Today it’s going to be Stranger Things, Season 2.  My understanding is that this series (Netflix only) appears on Halloween (Oct. 31) and I’m pretty stoked about it.

Even though I’m linking the trailer in this blog post–Stranger Things, Season 2 Trailer–I haven’t watched it all the way through.  In fact, I’ve only seen about the first 10 seconds (the very first scene in the trailer).  If you watch those 10 seconds, you’ll see the kids peering into an arcade cabinet and playing a video game, Dragon’s Lair (pictured above).  That video game is one that I played when I was a kid (& bought on my PS3 when it was offered for sale digitally). To steal a line from popular culture, “They had me at Dragon’s Lair.”  I’m in.  I’m hoping that it won’t veer too far into the realm of horror and that it will stay creepy and thrilling without getting to gory, but we’ll see.

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Image Source: Steam

I’m excited for show and based on just the first 10 seconds of the trailer.  Job well done, Netflix marketing department.  Well done.  *Slow clap.*

The Well is Dry (Or Nice Guys Finish Last)

dry-well

Nothing in the well to write about.  I hate this feeling.  I hate trying to force my writing to come out.

I haven’t written creatively since 2/15/16 and no matter what I try, I can’t seem to put pen to paper.  This happens periodically, but this time it is life that is intruding on the writing.

NICE GUYS

I think I understand why people enjoy the “hooligans” so much these days.  Being the “hero” hurts.  It is painful and it is no fun.  Better to decimate, conquer, and have fun no matter the cost.

Trying to write is hard.  Trying to write about a hero that is suffering, but somehow pulls through despite it all is hard.

We (Americans, of which I am one) seem to want the “Easy Button.”  If it isn’t easy, then (our) society says we’re doing something wrong.

FINISH LAST

What we’ve done in the postmodern world is that both our fiction and our society has begun to coalesce around the idea that “Nice Guys Finish Last.”  IF you’re nice, then you’re never going to achieve or get anything.  So be a “hooligan.”

I refuse.  I refuse to be a hooligan in real life and refuse to write about them in fiction.

As a child of Star Wars, I can put it plainly, I want to read/write/watch/play things about the “Jedi,” not the “Sith.”

UBI SUNT? (“Where are They?”)

Why are mainstream publishers chasing the success things like Game of Thrones or Walking Dead to exclusion of all else.  I can go to the bookstore and find a million clones of Game of Thrones, but nothing like David Eddings’ Belgariad or Tad Williams Memory, Sorrow, Thorn.

Brandon Sanderson once remarked on his podcast “Writing Excuses” that he almost got out of the Fantasy genre in the mid-90s because all they were producing was “Quest” books.

Well, now I’m where he was back then because all I see are Game of Thrones/Walking Dead “nihilism” books.  This is pushing me out of the genre.  I have no desire to read those books and I’m losing the desire to write because I know my stories won’t be accepted because they don’t fit the current “trends.”

What is a writer to do?

Color me discouraged.

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Apologies for not posting for the most of September, but as you can probably tell by the image above, I’ve been under the weather for most of the month.  I started to feel ill the Saturday before Labor Day and I finally got over whatever I had only to get hit by some sort of sinus infection.  Essentially, I’ve been either sick or recovering from being sick for the past 3 weeks.

Writing while sick is a drag.  I kept thinking about writing this post to give an update, but I was so listless from both the illness and the medicines that the post never got written.

One good goal is that I was forced to get a LOT of rest.  So even though I haven’t done much writing this month, I’ve done a lot of thinking about writing (aka “Brainstorming”), so hopefully, as I try to transition back into my normal routine, I can write more and be more focused during my (limited) writing time.

traffic light

Sometimes life puts out stop signs and in this case, this was a pretty big one.  Teaching is stressful, writing (which should be fun) is also stressful, trying to reorder my time so that I can start filling out Applications for PhD programs is stressful.  Trying to get everything done that school and life demand from me is stressful.  I think this is my body’s way of saying, “hey, you’re doing it wrong.”

So, I will try to “destress” as much of my life as possible.  Still going to apply to PhD programs, still going to try to study for the GRE, still going try to write, still going to grade papers and do lesson plans, but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time on “homework” (by getting up an hour early and going to bed an hour later among other things) and my body is having none of it.

PROJECT MONSTER UPDATE

I was able to complete the 1st section of the story before I fell ill.  Since I’m only doing 3 sections, the story is 33.33 percent complete 🙂 .  I managed to rough draft the other 2 sections while sick, so I just need to sit down and write them (Tues. & Thurs. for the next 2 weeks if I don’t get sick again).  I know the setting, I know the plot, I know the emotions–now I just have to do the hard part and get it all down on paper.  Wish me luck (& good health!)  If I can stay well, I’ll have an update next week!