Tuesday, August 16, 2016

On Horror

Pan's Labyrinth is amazing
So the other day, I wrote that I wasn't a fan of horror movies. Two days later, I excitedly went to see Guillermo del Toro's LACMA exhibit, which was absolutely amazing. I adore del Toro's aesthetic, and wandering around looking at all of the amazing art that he both owns and created was positively astounding, and really revealed a lot about his process as a creator. However, these two facts are seemingly contradictory. How can I both dislike horror and like horror at the same time? The exhibit got me thinking about horror in general and my own tastes and style in movies and art.
BEAUTIFUL sculpture by artist Mike Hill

Here is what I do like. I like the macabre. I like gorgeous set, costume, and makeup design. I like fantasy and science fiction. I like sympathetic and otherworldly creatures. I like things that are kind of weird, including Victorian side show freaks. I think taxidermy is cool. I appreciate the strangeness of a work by Dali or the humorous oddity of Bosch. Penny Dreadful, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X Files, Stranger Things, and Hannibal are a few of my favorite shows. I love Labyrinth and Dark Crystal. I like Alien and Predator movies. I like Sam Raimi films. I love Jurassic Park and Pacific Rim. I like the original Frankenstein/ Bride of Frankenstein, Godzilla, Dracula, etc. I LOVE What We Do in the Shadows.

Here is what I don't like. I don't like movies that heavily feature rape/ sexual assault. I don't like when small children are threatened by violence or murdered. I don't mind violence, and
Del Toro's process is what I loved
the most about the exhibit
I don't even mind beautifully filmed viscera as is featured in shows like Hannibal, but I can't stand movies where torture is the only draw. I don't like jump scares. Actually, I don't really like being truly scared in general. I love movies like John Wick and The Raid that feature martial artists/ gunmen just killing a bunch of people, but I really hate slasher movies about serial murderers without much motivation or backstory who lure teens into the woods. I don't like villains/ ghosts that are invincible. I like movies about monster hunters when the monsters can actually be killed/ escaped from, not monsters/ killers just killing a bunch of dumb innocent people who are helpless. I don't like being helpless. As soon as you give a character a gun to fight off a creature I am not scared. I don't like creatures/ ghosts that just kill people in houses because they died there. That seems dumb. I would rather have the ghost just be a character that hangs out. Monsters and ghosts that sort of hang out/ are characters are cool. Jump out, scary ghosts are too scary. Vampires are totally fine. Zombies are kind of boring.


So there ya go. Does this mean I am a fan of horror? I don't know. I guess I say I don't like horror movies because I don't like being scared, but I like horror movies that don't scare me if that makes any sense at all. Anyway, the del Toro exhibit at LACMA was amazing and everybody who lives in Southern California who enjoys his work or appreciates creepy weirdness should go see it.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Curiouser and Furiouser: A Fast and Furious Watch - Part 1: The Fast and the Furious

Just look at how "2000" these people are

This is the first part of my Fast and the Furious watch - for more information see here


Alright so here we go.  I have finally seen the first movie in this long running franchise.  Where to begin?  So I was correct in guessing that this movie was essentially Point Break except with cars.  My problem with the movie, and this was actually pretty glaring, was that even as somebody who has only the vaguest recollection of the marketing for this movie, I thought that it was basically Point Break but with cars, ie. that Paul Walker was playing a cop, and Vin Diesel and his buddies were criminals.  So what’s the problem?  The film is about an hour and 45 minutes long and for the first 37 minutes of the movie (I double checked the time stamp) not only do we not know that Paul Walker is supposed to be a cop, but we have no idea what the plot of the movie actually is.  


The film begins with a dramatic heist of a semi truck by 3 very cool looking black Hondas.  It would be
Pulling off another big score
slightly more dramatic if the big reveal wasn’t that the truck was hauling 12in TV/ VCR combos.  That was the big score: a TV/ VCR combo that I think I had in my bedroom when I was 16.  Big stuff.  Were the shipments of guns or money or something I could have been a bit more excited, but unfortunately the laughability of this “big heist” just stuck with me.  Other problem is that after this “big heist” that takes place in the first 5 minutes, these robberies are completely abandoned for the next 32 minutes of the film.  That is a REALLY long time in a movie that is only an hour and 45 minutes long.  Finally at the 37 min mark we are informed that Brian (aka Paul Walker, aka I will only be calling him Paul Walker) was a cop and that he is infiltrating this gang of street racers to find out which gang of street racers was the gang of street racers that used their street racing to steal the TV/ VCR combos and also apparently other things too, but at that point I actually had to go “oh yeah, those TV/VCRs we saw in the first 5 minutes.”  


In between the opening action scene and the reveal of the actual plot of the film there was a lot of street racing.   That is the draw of the film: cool cars, hot chicks, bros bro-ing.  I get it.  But, I think I would have been slightly more drawn into the film if the story tried to draw me in. Instead we get Paul Walker going into Vin Diesel’s (garage?) and ordering a sandwich from the girl at the counter, who is apparently Vin Diesel’s sister Mia.  Michelle Rodriguez, who is Vin Diesel’s girlfriend, is there and wearing lacy shirts over a bra with a choker that is just so peak 2000 that I audibly laughed out loud.
These sandwiches aren't for you, bro
 But other bro looking dude is very upset with Paul Walker buying sandwiches.  This is a no sandwich buying area.  They get into a fist fight about sandwiches.  Vin Diesel, whose name is Dom in this series apparently, but I think I will probably just call him Vin Diesel, tells Paul Walker that he is going to lose his job over this whole sandwich business.  What?  I am very confused until I see that Paul Walker works at this auto supply store that sells all the street racing people their street racing stuff and since he does that he shouldn’t be buying sandwiches?  Or something.  Whatever.  It appears that Paul Walker wasn’t really interested in sandwiches, he really wanted to race in the street race with his street racing car and that’s why bro dude punched him.  Or maybe bro dude punched him because he was flirting with Vin Diesel’s sister.  Or maybe he’s just a bro dude.  Bro dude is probably my least favorite character of the film, though I have to love that his wardrobe is such a beautiful time capsule of late 90s-early 2000s fashion.  Dude wears a mesh tank top on top of another tank top most of the film.  Just perfection.  


Finally we get some street racing action with Paul Walker rolling up to street race ville in his tricked out
Yo, whatup.  I play a guy named "Hector"
in nearly every movie I am in. 
street racing car.  He’s like the only white guy there and there is some playful racial (racist?) bantering between him and the Mexican crew, the black guys, and the rest.  What struck me about this very first street racing scene, and actually most of the street racing that happens in this street racing movie about street racing, is that it takes place in some kind of bizarre dystopian Los Angeles where nobody is outside except for street racers and people can drive 100mph down city streets without causing any kind of problems.  Oddly enough, I could actually buy into the bizarre science fictional scenario of a film like
Death Race, where criminals are forced to race for their lives in a futuristic prison, more than a lot of the action in this film which supposedly does not take place in a nightmarish future but in a normal ordinary Los Angeles that is somehow devoid of most human activity.  Anyway everybody street races.  Slutty lady says that she and her friend will blow this dude if he wins but he doesn’t win so he doesn’t get the beej.  Seems like a sort of arbitrary method of sexual favors but whatevs.  Paul Walker says that he wants to race too and he is willing to race for pinks since he doesn’t have the money up front.  As we discover later on, he really just wants to win to earn their respect so they will invite him into their crew because he is a cop but how the LAPD (I’m assuming) afforded to give this guy the money to trick out his car or how an officer paid for this car with his own money remains to be seen.  Also him racing so that they invite him into their crew seems super super convoluted.


Anyway Paul Walker loses and is about to have to hand over his car to Vin Diesel when the police scanner indicates that police are finally arriving to break up this gigantic illegal street race that is going on under everybody’s noses.  Vin Diesel is about to get picked up by the cops but Paul Walker saves him, getting in his good graces.  Unfortunately then they accidentally go into evil Vietnamese gang
The aforementioned Snake Pants.
I could not find a good pic
with the pants in them.
But the pants are there. 
territory and the evil Vietnamese gang leader, Johnny Tran, along with his cousin Snake Pants (who has a name, but I can’t remember what it was because I was too distracted by his snake pants) shoot up Paul Walker’s car for some reason instead of, I dunno, stealing it.  But they were super angry, you guys.  Super angry.  Obviously more angry than Tank Top Bro was about the sandwiches because they used guns instead of punchy fists.  Anyway Vin Diesel invites Paul Walker back to a party at his house and chews out his bros for not helping him out and then Michelle Rodriguez takes him upstairs for some loving, leaving Paul Walker at the mercy of bro friends who do not particularly like him very much.  Bad idea.  


FINALLY we get to the police reveal.  Bonus, not only is Paul Walker a cop but his boss is Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs who I immediately recognized despite the beard because I have a freakish ability to identify actors in movies.  Everyone is really on Paul Walker’s case for not figuring out who is stealing all these TV/ VCRs and also CD players.  Apparently the truckers are going to start shooting at the people who are robbing them which, I dunno, kind of seems like they are justified in doing given that people are shooting grappling hooks into their moving vehicles but I guess the police are very concerned about catching the criminals before the truckers shoot them, which doesn’t fit with my understanding of police whatsoever but ok.  Paul Walker, and the audience, is under the impression that of course those Vietnamese gang people are the real criminals all along, and Paul Walker even gets the cops to bust Johnny Tran’s house but nope they were probably gang members but not responsible for that particular theft.  Red Herring! HAH!  What drama!  


No, it turns out that Vin Diesel and crew were the real criminals all along, as is revealed when we go to Bro-chella where all the street racer guys and gals street race in the desert. But before that happens we get a real deep talk with Vin Diesel about how he watched his dad burn up racing this very special car (::he pats lovingly::) that he has never driven and will never drive because it is too awesome and powerful and cool (spoiler alert: guess what happens at the end of the movie).  Jesse the “tech” guy
So high tech!
who has a super high end computer that can do super crazy stuff (Windows 2000!) helps Paul Walker get a new car all up to racing condition and then they all go out to Bro-chella together.  Jesse, who has ADD (tonight, on a very special episode of The Fast and the Furious) is super tech smart but not very smart smart and decides to race Johnny Tran for pinks even though the car he is driving really belongs to his dad who is in prison.  After he loses, he goes AWOL leaving Vin Diesel to pull off the next heist with a smaller crew.  Meanwhile Paul Walker and Mia, Dom’s sister he has been screwing, are left behind at Bro-chella and then Paul Walker, who is getting pretty desperate to solve the case at this point before the FBI “takes his badge” which I didn’t think the FBI could do, reveals to her that he is a cop.  He’s got to find Vin Diesel fast because truck drivers have gotten like super mad at them for violently robbing their trucks and he needs to do something before they get hurt or whatever.  


Vin Diesel and company try to take this truck, but as was heavily foreshadowed by Sgt Buffalo Bill, this
Drama!
time the truck driver has a gun and starts shooting.  Tank Top Bro gets hit and he’s clinging on for dear life.  Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel both try to save him, but are taking a lot of fire when who should arrive but Paul Walker who found the heist by getting the GPS coordinates from Vin Diesel’s cell phone and then USED AN ACTUAL PAPER MAP to locate them.  Remember not having Google Maps?  Man, this movie took me back to a simpler time.  Anyway, Yay Paul Walker saved the day, but Tank Top Bro is bleeding out and Paul Walker has no recourse but to call in a helicopter and reveal that he is a cop to Vin Diesel who is like super super mad.  


Paul Walker makes it back to LA and confronts Vin Diesel at his house where he is instead of… not there when he knows the police are after him for some reason.  Also arriving is Jesse who was super super scared, you guys, and ran away.  Vin and Paul have a very tense showdown in the driveway but then Johnny Tran and his cousin Snake Pants arrive and gun down Jesse for stealing the car they won.  NOOOO JESSEEE!!!!  Paul Walker takes off after the criminals and so does Vin Diesel in that super super special car that he said he would never drive but is so cool.  Vin Diesel runs Snake Pants off a ditch and Paul Walker chases down Johnny Tran, who is shooting a semi automatic weapon while driving a motorcycle at 80mph down a, once again, completely abandoned street in Los Angeles.  But Paul Walker ends up killing him in what is the first police shooting I was actually happy about in a while.  Fuck that guy, he killed Jesse: sweet, innocent, ADD having Jesse, who just wanted to use his wicked Windows 2000 skills to make cars go better.


EPIC!!!
Then Vin Diesel and Paul Walker have an epic street race to end all street races which you can tell because there are a ton of whip pans and effects that make it look all whooshy. They are almost hit by a train but then they make it!  But then Vin Diesel’s car gets hit by the only other car on the street in Los Angeles that isn’t a street racing car and then his sweet, sweet, ride goes flippy flippy over Paul Walker’s car and Vin Diesel is kind of screwed.  The police are closing in and it looks like Vin Diesel is headed off for jail, but instead Paul Walker gives Vin Diesel his keys and lets him escape, which is a nice thing to do and will probably have no effect on his career as a police officer whatsoever.  We don’t get to find out, though, because we are at the end of the movie.  However, we do get Paul Walker knowingly looking into the camera with a promise in his eyes of more adventures to come.  


Stray Thoughts:


  • The pre-9/11 world was just so much more simple, wasn’t it


  • What year did all Mexican gangbangers agree to wear the same blue and white checked shirt?  I feel like there is an actual answer to this question but I don’t feel like looking it up


  • I think some people may say that The Fast and the Furious “didn’t age well” but as somebody who has never seen it before I think it aged perfectly because it is like a time capsule of early 2000s perfection down to the soundtrack and the clothes and the seriously dumb looking cars that are supposed to look cool.


  • You would think that there would have been an easier way to catch a group of thieves then to send a police undercover as an illegal street racer in the hopes that the people who were robbing the trucks would also be illegal street racers and the cop would be able to figure that all out.  Seems like kind of shoddy work by the FBI imho


  • Michelle Rodriguez challenges this other dude to a race and says it will be 2 large and holds up a wad of money.  The man agrees and holds up exactly the correct amount of money?  What?  


  • Paul Walker never did get to finish that sandwich

Overall, I had a fun time watching the movie.  It was just dumb enough that I didn’t have to think too hard about it, but not so dumb that I wasn’t able to enjoy myself.  I KNEW this movie was Point Break on wheels, but I am STILL not sure how exactly this premise is going to lend itself to 6 sequels.  I guess I will find out.  Until next time, live your life a quarter mile at a time (which is a thing that sounds deep but really isn’t.  Unless you are talking about hatching Pokemon eggs)  

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Curiouser and Furiouser: A Fast and Furious Watch - Part 0: Prologue

"Let's Get Furious"
Which is something I am assuming Vin Diesel says

I don’t really like horror movies.  I don’t HATE them, mind, but I just don’t particularly care for them. While I enjoy thrillers along the lines of Silence of the Lambs/ Hannibal, I have never seen any of the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Saw, or Halloween movies.  My disinterest in these movies, my dislike of being scared in general, and the diminishing quality of several of the later entries certainly explains why I have never seen one film in any of these long running serieses... series... serii.  And yet I have seen at least 4 of the Resident Evil movies, I have seen Pitch Black and the first Riddick movie, I have seen 2 of the Transporter films -- I am not above seeing dumb action movies that are sort of not that great.  In fact, dumb action movies that are sort of not that great are kind of my jam.  If I’m folding laundry, popping on The Day After Tomorrow sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon. Explosions, cheesy dialogue, bunch of people running around, not a lot to think about -- there are a LOT of times where that is all I want or need.  


Not this.  More Vin Diesel.
Unless Vin Diesel is a furry.
No judging
And yet, I have a confession to make:  I am a Fur-gin.  No, not a furgin, a novitiate in the exciting world of fur-based sex play (not my deal, but whatever floats your boat, America), a Feurgin, a Fürgin, a… I’ve never seen a Fast and Furious movie.  It is actually kind of surprising that I have gone so long without having seen a single entry in this series which now boasts 7 films with an 8th on the way next year.  I’ve seen Gone in Sixty Seconds at least twice and it is basically the same thing, right?  No really, I have no idea.  What is even more surprising about the fact that I have never seen a single Fast and Furious movie is that I have somehow managed to remain spoiler free and entirely ignorant of even the most basics of the plot and characters.  This is seemingly unheard of for somebody who spends a lot of time online.  I have only ever seen the first Twilight movie and even I know that Bella has some kind of weird mutant half vampire baby at the end.


What IS Fast and Furious?  The first film, from the trailers I remember as a teen, looked a lot like a remake of Point Break but with cars.  How can you make 7 remakes of Point Break with cars?  The trailers for the more recent entries in the series feature even more explosions, more preposterous action sequences involving helicopters etc.  What the hell are these films about?  They certainly seem to feature a lot of car chases, but why are they chasing each other?  Are they running away from bad
Aww yeah! Sweet ride!
This will be perfect for... robbing banks?
Is that what we do? 
guys?  The police?  Are they just racing for fun?  It doesn’t look like fun.  It looks like they are forced into racing.  Why are they forced into racing?  Did somebody kidnap their kid and make them race or their kid would die?  This seems like a pretty tenuous plot to extend to 7 movies.  There are a lot of films that I haven’t seen but of which I have a general understanding of the plot based on trailers alone.  
The Grey is a perfect example.  I have never seen The Grey but I know that Liam Neeson and some other dudes crash land in the snow and fight/ get eaten by wolves. The trailers made this very clear. The Fast and the Furious trailers on the other hand, at least the more recent ones, don’t even bother trying to tell you what the series is about.  They assume that you already have an understanding of the Furious reality, the füreality, and are content to simply show you flashes of action, explosions, and dramatic (surprise?) entrances of characters the audience presumably already knows.  


So I have decided to set out and watch all of the Fast and Furious movies and write about them.  I think you probably already saw this coming.  Just to get it out of the way here is a quick Q & A.


Question: When can we expect you to post about these movies?  Every Wednesday?  Twice a week?

Whenever the fuck I feel like watching/ writing.  I am not an actual journalist, remember

Question: Really, you have NEVER seen any of the movies before and you have NO idea what they are about?


Yes, I really have never seen any of the movies and I don’t know what they are about.  All I know is that Vin Diesel is in most (all?) of them and Paul Walker was before he died and Paul Walker and Vin Diesel were best friends and it was really sad when Paul Walker died and now that he is dead they probably had to kill off his character or maybe make a hologram or something.  Also The Rock is in them now apparently.   

Question: Why have you decided to undertake this mission now?  You haven’t seen any of the movies before, why is now special?


The first 3 movies are finally on Netflix streaming

Question: Are you watching these movies just to make fun of them?

I genuinely do not know.  I have made it my mission to watch all of these films and I really have no idea how much I am going to enjoy them.  There are dumb action movies I can watch and just enjoy, there are dumb action movies that I watch and mostly just talk through MST3K style.  Which will these be?  No idea.

Question: There probably have been other people who watched all the Fast and Furious movies and wrote about them.  Even if you haven’t seen the movies, are you going to read other blogs, reviews, or IMDB pages?

R.I.P. Paul Walker
No.  I am going to do my utmost to remain as ignorant of these films as possible.  I would appreciate friends not spoiling these movies for me, if there are in fact any spoilers to be had in a series about a group of spies who travel the world in their sentient cars in search of the enchanted crystal and to avenge the death of Paul Walker or whatever the plot of the movies happen to be.  


So there you have it, folks.  While you cannot expect any regularity in my publishing, I am watching the first movie tonight, so expect an update soon.  

Thursday, August 04, 2016

20 Things My Daughter Calls Our Cat


Alright so I have been kind of lazy lately with writing.  I have been having a hard time motivating myself and finding time to write.  Which is really frustrating for me.  I set myself a goal of writing a post every week and I just haven’t lived up to my own standards.  To be honest, I haven’t even been reading all that much either.  There is something about the summer that makes me want to just loaf around and watch TV or go outside and swim or walk (and collect Pokemon) or DO something.  Writing just isn’t high on my priority list.  Oh well. Anyway, in lieu of writing something meaningful, important, original, or interesting here is a completely frivolous and entirely unnecessary buzzfeed-esque list

20 Things My Daughter Calls Our Cat, Loki

Number 9 Will Surprise You



1. Loke Loke
2. Loke-a-belly
3. Mr. Loke
4. Hairy Baby
5. Mr. Fluff Butt
6. Sweetie
7. My Little Baby Otter
8. Mr. Cuddles
9. Loki
10. Baby Kitty
11. Fluffy Fluff
12. Snuggle Belly
13. Little Tsum Tsum
14. Cutie
15. Baby Panda Floof
16. Fatty
17. My Baby
18. Mr. Fatty Fat
19. My Sweet Snuggles
20. Squishy Flop








Thursday, July 14, 2016

Poke-munity


I am a 34 year old adult and I play Pokemon
It occurred to me Tuesday night as my boyfriend and I -- along with a group of 18 or 19 year old boys on skateboards and bikes--chased a Koffing through the parking lot of an assisted living facility, that this whole Pokemon GO thing was rather odd.  As I threw digital balls at a grinning purple smoke bomb which appeared to hover in front of a stucco wall in a handicapped parking spot, I knew that this was not the way I was typically engaged at 9:30 at night, but that I rather liked it quite a bit.  After we walked back to the park at the end of the street, a major meeting place in the area for other players (about 25-30 people were out that particular evening), I looked around at the faces of my erstwhile compatriots: teens, 20-somethings, a few 30-somethings like me, a handful of children who should
The aforementioned Koffing, seen here
extruding some kind of noxious gas
probably have been in bed, an older couple in their 50s who may have been supervising the children or
just hunting on their own.  Here we all were at 9:30pm standing in a park, chasing after digital phantoms, helping each other, walking our neighborhood, a neighborhood we may have never walked before.  Why were we here?  Why were we all here?  What about this particular game, this time and place, created this moment?  
Is it nostalgia?  Certainly this is a factor.  From Jurassic World, Star Wars, and Ghostbusters in the theaters to the fashions on the rack and a Clinton in the news it definitely appears that the old is new again.  But does this explain the phenomenon entirely?  I was a little old for Pokemon when it came around the first time back in the mid 90s.  A teen at the time, it seemed a thing for children.  My brother on the other hand, 8 years my junior, was the prime age for all things Pokemon.  Because of him I watched the show, the movies, knew the names of the Pokemon far better than any of my peers. But Pokemon was never really my "thing," I never considered myself to be a Pokemon fan. Besides I didn't even know how to play the actual game.   My brother, perhaps uninterested in this facet of play, or perhaps wary of losing any of his precious cards, very rarely played with his friends, and so I never really saw a game in action.  Instead his cards were held in plastic sheets inside a binder which he lovingly flipped through at every opportunity.  For him the joy was in the collecting; not for the supposed monetary value of the cards like my mother--she spent hundreds on what she viewed was a potential investment--but rather the simple pleasure of spotting the glimmer of a “holographic” card beneath a torn blue card wrapper, the excitement of the new.  Gotta catch ‘em all.  Catch them.  The catching was key.  The play?  Well the play was secondary.  He didn’t play the Game Boy games, in fact the only Pokemon
game we owned was Pokemon Snap for N64.  Pokemon Snap was an odd little game.  The entire gameplay consisted of trying to take pictures of various Pokemon, in the silliest poses possible ideally.  It is funny that this was the only Pokemon game with which I had any experience then because the collecting and photographing various Pokemon is what enticed me to play Pokemon GO in the first place.  Here was a game that had very few rules, no complex game mechanics, special moves or abilities to remember.  It was simply about walking around and taking pictures of Pokemon and adding them to your collection.  Who knew that an 18 year old N64 game would be so prescient?

So Pokemon GO is easy.  That may be why so many people play it.  Or if not easy, fairly simple to understand.   There are players that are higher leveled and players that lower leveled, but truly this has more to do with how much time you have to invest in walking around collecting Pokemon and money to spend on items than it does actual skill in gameplay.  Anybody can join a gym, anybody can be a gym leader with a powerful enough Pokemon.  The game is very democratic that way.  So perhaps it was the democracy, the ease, the simplicity of the game that has drawn so many people to it.  And yet, there are many simple iphone games on the app store that could have attracted our attention.  Why this?  Why now?
 
We have had a rough couple of months, a rough couple of years.  Between the ongoing political conflicts, terror attacks, celebrity deaths, instances of police brutality, sexism, racism, transphobia, that permeate our culture we have become perpetually bombarded by negativity.  This isn’t a bad thing, per se.  Police brutality has always gone on, sexism has always existed in various industries, our social media culture just makes these things more prevalent and knowable. Knowing things is good, knowledge is empowering and necessary for us to grow as a society. But the knowledge, the weight, the fear and anger and pain can be overwhelming.  Perhaps Pokemon GO is so popular because all of us, our entire nation, just needed a collective break.  We just needed something silly and dumb that simultaneously reminded us of our pasts and utilized newer technologies.  We needed a rest.

What we also needed was community.  According to some reports somewhere in the neighborhood of 21 million people in the US play Pokemon GO.  That’s more than people who watched the premiere of Game of Thrones, more than people who watched the finale of Dancing with the Stars.  Pokemon GO has more daily users than Twitter, a site that has been around for years.  It has become a phenomenon.  What it has also done is build a community.  Pokemon Go requires you to go outside, it forces you to engage in the real world, it forces you to walk if you want to hatch those eggs, it forces you to go to different places to acquire different kinds of Pokemon.  It is, by its very nature and game play, a more social game than, say, CandyCrush, a game it toppled in downloads.  On top of this, is the added benefit that while you can play Pokemon GO on your own, and many people do, you can also play together.  There are spots where each night lures are dropped by some friendly player and spontaneous crowds are drawn.  There are people who walk the same paths every day, or venture out in their communities searching for new and different places to find things and are joined by others.  Even if you go out on a walk by yourself you are guaranteed to spot at least a handful of other people playing the game you might give a friendly smile or nod to or point in the direction of something new.

In Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone he examines the changing social landscape in America, revealing a nation that is more disconnected from each other than ever, disconnected from community. Things have changed in our society since the book was written over 15 years ago, but there is a degree to which disconnect, social isolation, and lack of community is still prevalent.   Ask an average apartment dweller who their neighbors are and very few will be able to tell you.  There are STILL fewer people active in social groups and clubs than in the 1950s and 60s, as Putnam touched upon in his book.  This is not to say that Pokemon solves these issues, nor am I suggesting that Pokemon is the means by which our society learns to engage with its community, though I will say that putting pokestops at frequent polling places (libraries, churches, community centers, city halls) has most certainly made the public AWARE of these places, though whether this awareness will extend to November’s election remains to be seen.  Whether PokemonGO lasts another year or even another week as a phenomenon, what I do believe is that the fact that it has caught on so virally says a great deal about both our desire to feel a part of something greater and a have means of connection.

Getting outside is also good for us, something I have been told for years but don’t always listen to. There have been stories of people with depression who have found that the fact that PokemonGO forces them to go outside every day has been extremely beneficial to their mood.  I told my boyfriend the other day that there was something about the combination of Pokemon and the 4th of July holiday and my birthday last Saturday that made me feel, for the first time in a very long time, like it was summer vacation.  I felt like a kid.  When was the last time I did something silly like run around a park without having my daughter in tow?   I couldn’t remember.  The last time I remember having this kind of fun was when I was in college and a group of us from the LGBT club went to the St. Louis City Museum, a vast network of climbing structures and slides that is open for all ages.  I have read about other playgrounds for adults in the past, places where grown ups can go on swings and slides, and marveled that there weren’t more places like that near by.  Perhaps Pokemon GO is that for us then, a way for us to play, to have fun that doesn’t feel like exercise or work, that isn’t a chore.  Pokemon has gamified exercise.  Most assuredly I would not have walked the 5K I did last Tuesday evening had I not been so desperate to hatch that newly acquired egg.  Is that all it takes to get me to work out?  Virtual eggs?  No wonder children will do chores for stickers.  A sticker!  Is that all it takes?! All it takes for me to exercise is a digital sticker in the form of a hatched Pokemon?  It seems incomprehensible and yet… and yet.  

Pokemon Go seems to have come out at the perfect time: it is summer, people are restless, angry, bored, sad, out of shape, lacking community, miserable looking at the news.  We long for a past we have left behind, and we crave acknowledgement and recognition, validation of self and a feeling of accomplishment.  It is not simply one thing but all of them together that has sparked such a zeitgeist.  When it goes away, and the “moment” will most assuredly go away before long, we are so very fickle with what is new and popular, I hope people remember that the things that Pokemon has done: brought them outside, introduced them to new people and areas in their community, encouraged them to be more adventurous, given them a sense of relaxation and connectedness, are things that can exist outside the game if we allow them to.  Maybe this is just the first step.  I am reminded every time I go out looking for Pokemon of the episode of the Simpsons “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge.”  In it, Marge decides to clean up the Itchy and Scratchy Show and the children of Springfield, in rejection of the bastardization of their beloved television show, rub their bleary eyes, step out of their homes, and actually start playing.  Sure we Pokemon Go players are still on our phones, still glued to screens even as we enjoy the fresh air, but it is something isn't it. It certainly is something.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Thing - Imaginary Conversations

This is kind of a follow up to the last Imaginary Conversation  called "The Apocalypse."  It is a reaction to the horrific events in Orlando, but more broadly a response to all similar acts of violence.  



The Thing

“I’m so fucking pissed off right now”

“About the thing?”

“Fuck yeah about the thing.  I’m just so tired of these things happening.”

“I always cry when I see the faces.”

“So do I.  I am almost numb to perpetual violence, but I always cry when I see the faces. I broke down on my way to work.”

“So young”

“Always so young.  Even if they are 80, still young.  Everyone is too young to die like that.”

“I always wonder what I would do in that situation”

“So do I and that is fucked up.  We shouldn’t have to think about that”

“Yeah”

“I’m so fucking pissed off”

“Pissed off and not sad?”

“Pissed off and sad.  A feeling that is both pissed off and sad.  I feel like the Germans would have a word for that.  Other languages always have better words.”

“Yeah the English language is kind of limited when it comes to expressing certain feelings.”

“Pissad”

“That sounds like Passat. That was my first car”

“Ok fine, shit. I’m bad at portmanteaus.”

“I could Google it and see if there is an actual word”

“No, don’t bother.  Whatever.  I don’t need a word.  I feel it, I don’t need a fucking word.”

“Ok”

“People keep saying that they care, but what good is caring.  It just keeps happening again and again and we do nothing”

“I mean you can always do that whole Mr. Rogers thing and look for the helpers, the people helping.  There are people donating money and blood and all that”

“I know.  Shit, I know.  But the people helping aren’t really helping, are they?  They are helping maybe one person but not the system.”

“So one person doesn’t matter?  The world is made up of individuals”

“I’m not saying that one person doesn’t matter just… I dunno everything seems rigged.  The system.  The system is just so broken.  The system needs to come toppling down.”

“Are we talking about the apocalypse again?”

“No.. I mean, yeah… I dunno.  I’m mad at Star Trek.”

“Mad?”

“Mad that it promised me a future that was hopeful”

“We aren’t at the hopeful part yet”

“What do you mean we aren’t at the hopeful part yet?”

“I mean we are like in the time before Zephram Cochran developed warp drive.  We are in the shitty times.”

“Zephram Cochran lived during World War III or whatever.”

“So there ya go”

“So now YOU are saying that the apocalypse is going to happen”

“Not necessarily”

“Not necessarily, just probably, right?  Not necessarily but that seems to be the direction this shit world is going in”

“Not everything in the world is shitty”

“I know that.  I know.  I’m not such a pessimist.  But ok, so you are saying we are in Star Trek right now.  Well then don’t we need to have World War III in order for us to come out the other side all shiny?  Are you saying that the apocalypse is a good thing?”

“No.  I mean.. I dunno.  You were the one who was complaining about Star Trek, and I’m just saying that even if we are living in the Star Trek universe the cool stuff hasn’t happened yet and won’t  happen for another hundred years.”  

“So a hundred years from now you think we are going to have interstellar travel?”

“No, I think the scientific limitations would be difficult to overcome. But I think a hundred years from now we will have a viable colonies on the Moon and Mars”

“Seriously?  You really think that is actually going to happen?”

“Sure.  I mean they are working on that stuff now.  Maybe 15-20 years from now we will get the first person on Mars and then once we have a few people there maybe 70 years after that we could have a small colony.  Seems reasonable”

“Unless World War III or the apocalypse happens”

“Well yeah, unless that happens.  In which case we are back to the other scenario of generally shittiness for about a hundred years and then we kind of reboot everything and start the whole society over or whatever in a better way”

“And you think that’s likely”

“Not really”

“So why did you say it?!”

“Because I think the Martian colonies are more likely”

“But our government hasn’t devoted enough resources to space exploration”

“Who said anything about our government?”

“So you’re riding Elon Musk’s dick now”

“No, I’m not riding Elon Musk’s dick.  I’m just saying that the private sector is probably more likely”

“So are we talking an Elysium scenario is that what you are saying?”

“I didn’t see that movie”

“Well neither did I but as I understand it all the rich people live in space and all the poor people live on Earth in shitsville”

“Oh well then yeah, yeah pretty much that is what I think will probably happen”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah I mean the whole thing we were talking about with everything kind of generally sucking and the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.  Eventually the rich are just going to fuck off, aren’t they?  Leave the rest of us behind.”

“That’s depressing.  I thought you were the optimistic one.”

“I’m having a hard time being optimistic today, maybe”

“Dammit, you were supposed to cheer me up”

“Would you like more useless platitudes about togetherness and overcoming obstacles?”

“Point taken”

“So I finally watched The Purge

“Oh yeah? And?”

“It made no sense.  I mean some of it I got as social commentary, and I do definitely see your point about it having a finger on the pulse of the anger in our nation and whatnot.  But the whole idea that crime would go down because on one day people can do everything they want just makes no sense.  Most crimes are crimes of passion.  You can’t tell me if the same guy who was going to murder his wife after catching her in bed with another dude would wait a whole year just to off her when he could.”  

“Ah yeah I get your point”

“And I don’t think that you can really just say oh ok well we are all just going to stop right when the siren rings like oh ok all this adrenaline is all out of my system now, I can just turn it off.  Makes no sense”

“Hm”

“And of course, speaking of the elephant in the room.  It doesn’t take into consideration acts of terrorism.  I mean will the threat of public execution really deter people who plan on killing themselves after killing a bunch of people?  Suicide bombers or whatever. I just don’t get the whole only one one day thing.”  

“So is it worth seeing?”

“Meh”

“I’m thinking about The Thing again. All those people dead I just can’t even process it.  I am just sick”

“You aren’t meant to be able to process it.  This isn’t the kind of thing that people are supposed to be able to process.”

“I mean, they say stuff like car crashes kill so many more people a day than things like this.  Why is it that this hurts so much more?”

“Yeah so it’s sort of a false equivalency.  Yes, more than 100 people die each day in car accidents, but the 100 people aren’t all in the same place at the same time or hit by the same driver.  If some person like drove their car into a farmers market like that old dude a while back and just ran over 50 people that would be more equivalent, but even then the old dude was just kind of senile right?  I mean there are very few car accidents that are caused by genuine malice, like somebody intentionally running somebody over or causing them to crash.  More often than not they are, just that, accidents.  Some person is texting or not paying attention or tired or in a hurry or kind of a lousy driver but not a bad person.  You don’t really have anybody to blame.  Even if they were drunk it’s like you blame them but also you recognize that they are probably alcoholics so you sort of dismiss it somewhat?  It is different than just killing people.”

“Yeah, you are right.  It isn’t necessarily the fact that people died because people die every day.  I don’t cry about every person that dies, even every fatal car crash victim or young person who dies of cancer or whatever.”  

“No, of course not.  Something like 6000 people die a day I think?  Death waits for us all.  We are upset by the suddenness, by the reasons, the hatred, the loss all at once, murder…”

“It’s the being scared too.  The fear makes me sad.  I am sad that I feel fear.  In a car at least I know that there are airbags, seatbelts.  What am I supposed to do just walking into a bar or a school wear a bulletproof vest?  I know that people die in accidents even with seatbelts and airbags but at least… I dunno… at least when I am in a car I feel like ok I am observant of my environment, I am not texting, I’m being present, I am doing what I can.  But this shit is just so random.”

“That’s terrorism for you.  That is the purpose of terrorism, no matter who is committing it.”

“I know that just makes me more pissed off.  It could be no organization at all just some fucking loser asshole dude pissed off at his wife, or angry at something. It is just a symptom of our society being fucking broken.  It is homophobia and racism and religious fundamentalism, it is all these shitty things”

“Have you ever thought of buying a gun?”

“I mean I’ve gone shooting a few times, but no”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to go into it.  Besides it wouldn’t matter.  What, we are just going to all start to walk around with guns now?  Everybody is going to have a gun wherever they go?  That’s going to make everyone safer?  Now we are talking about the fucking Wild West again.  We might as well be in Mad Max now if everybody is just walking around open carrying a gun. That isn’t fucking normal.”

“No, I guess you are right.  In Israel the Army people are always just walking around with their guns it is weird as hell”

“Yeah I don’t want to live like that.  I don’t want to live in a world like that.”

“But that’s kind of the world now isn’t it?”

“I know and that’s why I am pissad.  It shouldn’t be like that”

“It shouldn’t but it is”

“Have you seen Mr Robot?”

“No, is it good?”

“It’s kind of like Person of Interest, V for Vendetta, and Fight Club had a baby”

“That’s a weird baby”

“It’s a weird freaking show.  But yeah it’s like they are trying to bring about the revolution or whatever.  It sort of made sense in a weird way.  It reminded me of what we were talking about before”

“So are you saying you want to bring about the revolution”

“Don’t be shocked when your history book mentions me.  I will lay down my life if it sets us free.”

“Did you just fucking quote Hamilton at me right now?”

“Oh am I talking to loud? Sometimes I get over excited, shoot off at the mouth…”

“Fucking don’t”

“Hahaha. Ok ok I’m done.  But I dunno.  Maybe. I guess it is just the idea of revolution more than the reality. I just get this feeling...and I’ve been feeling it for a few years now… that something is going to happen.”

“What?”

“I don’t know what.  I just feel like all this anger and this shittiness… I don’t know if it will be the apocalypse or just a political revolution or a civil war or I dunno… just something. It just doesn’t feel like we can continue to carry on this way for very much longer.  Eventually something is going to break, something is going to happen”

“I don’t”

“You don’t?”

“No, I think people are too comfortable.  They would rather just maintain their comfortability.  People are also preoccupied with their own work and lives.  There are so many people who are just moving along with their lives.  They aren’t going to do anything unless something really major happens to everybody, not just some people in a place they’ve never been.”

“So that’s what I was saying last time.  All it will take is one major thing and everything will come crumbling down”

“Define everything”

“I don’t know.  I don’t even know.  I just hate this fucking world sometimes.”

“I hear Mars is nice this time of year”

“It is looking better and better every damn day”