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Saturday, 28 January 2017

Saturday Morning Villainry

If you were born when I was born, and watched as many cartoons as I did, then you are probably well acquainted with villainry of a specific sort.

Cast your eyes over this little bevvy of bastards (original artwork here: )

We all know who THESE folks are, surely.

The maniacal Megatron, leader of the Decepticons. Mumm-Ra the Ever Living, sworn enemy of the Thundercats. Skeletor, perpetual thorn in Eternia's side. Cobra Commander, GI Joe's constant nemesis. Shredder, leader of the Foot Clan, whom the Turtles battle at every turn.

All indisputable bad guys of the most epic quality. All, as Don John from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing would put it, "Plain Dealing Villains". You know what they are about the moment you clap eyes on them.

They were so ridiculous, weren't they?

I mean as we all grow up and become adults we know that no villain looks like this. Nobody deliberately bedecks themselves with the trappings of mwahaha evil and does what these people do. I mean some of their truly most incredible plans include erecting a pyramid of blackness around the earth to block out the sun, unleashing a mostly uncontrollable iron titan to raze Eternia to the ground, and Megatron's biggest and weirdest plans are just erratic in the extreme. Hypnotising twenty-somethings in nightclubs for unknown reasons, convincing the world that the Autobots are evil by very dubious means (THIS ACTUALLY WORKED), and drilling to the core of the planet are all means by which the gladiator from Kaon thought he could secure victory.

They aren't the only crooks, obviously. I mean just name a cartoon. Captain Planet fought a whole host of bad guys who randomly polluted things as if that would benefit them in any way. I mean some of them weren't even making any money. They were just deliberately fucking up the rainforest for no apparent reason. Doc Terror and Hacker from Centurions were similar - they just acted douchey as if that would get them more likes on Instagram.

But then we all grew up. We started looking for nuanced antagonists. Sometimes, we found them. If we look at Alien we find a dual antagonist - the instinct-driven inhuman xenomorph, incapable of good or bad, simply doing that which it does, and the faceless corporation so determined to exploit aforementioned xenomorph that it is willing to give up the lives of its employees to secure the dangerous creature for profitable ends.

We started seeing bad guys in the regular world, with motives that were understandable that we could almost sympathise with (and in a few places, actually could sympathise with totally). We found Roy Batty and his quest for more life; we found the competing forces of nature and industry; we found antagonists of every stripe, some more like us than we liked, some more like those four-colour bad guys that we had grown up with. A whole spectrum of supervillains.

We start seeing them in real life, too. We see the faces of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ed Gein, Charles Manson. We realise that evil still lives, still exists in the world beyond the cartoons that we watched with our cereal on a Saturday morning. We realise that the antics of Megatron - a huge, mighty, despicable tyrant - are still more bearable and tolerable than those of, say, Luis Garavito. (If you don't know who he is - look him up - his nickname is La Bestia.)

...and then we have the current leaders of the United Kingdom and the United States.

Now every time I see the Cheeto holding up a piece of paper, another executive order, another bill, I get nervous. Because the first few made you think - well sure, it can't keep up this pace the entire time he's in power, can it? He can't keep signing these bills, which are clearly pretty shit for most of the population. Like every single thing this guy does seems to be something that Cobra Commander would do if he was in charge. Every single thing.

A selection of those bills that have been signed include trashing the Affordable Care Act (yes, he literally got rid of affordable healthcare, it means what it sounds like), promising to build the big fucking wall that won't stop drugs or people entering the US, making women's lives harder the entire world over, send federal authorities into every city that don't do what he says, fuck with the lives of immigrants from the Middle East (but not those countries he has business or military deals with), and force through pipelines that are mostly (if not universally) considered a bad idea.

Meanwhile, the Wicked Witch of Westminster is engaging in similar shennanigans, promising a trashing of trade deals and making vague threats of engineering better ones (usually with people like the Cheeto), cutting funds to objectively good things (The NHS and renewable energy), promising to spend billions on nuclear weapons that don't work, and indicating a willingness to deploy troops we can't afford to properly equip into countries we won't accept innocent refugees from.

...see, that's not evil like real world evil. That's not subtle. That's not the kind of thing a taut drama is written about, like Frost/Nixon or like the extra-judiciary murders conducted by Mossad in Munich.

This is Saturday Morning Evil.

How do we fight this? We aren't Optimus Prime, we aren't Lion-O or He-Man or G.I. Joe or the Turtles. If we show up and just kick people's asses, we are the ones who go to jail - or worse, get shouted down by well-meaning people on our side (just look at the response to the neo-Nazi chappy getting punched or how people felt about Shia LeBoeuf not turning the other cheek to another alt-right Nazi prick).

It's had to believe that people actually voted for this.

...well most people didn't, it does bear mention. Just less than 20% of the population of the United States voted for the Cheeto. Just over 17% of the population of the UK voted for the Tory party, who then changed out their leader for the Wicked Witch of Westminster without public consultation or similar.

I don't think that one in five counts as a mandate.

So what do we do about it? As Theoden says in The Two Towers: "What can men do against such reckless hate?"

...well I have to be honest, I am not strictly sure. But we have to make sure this shit doesn't happen again. I've often spoken out about resisting these bastards. Now it seems those words have come home to roost. Enough people have started to realise that this right-wing fuck-em-all approach is just going to get innocent people hurt and killed. If they haven't realised this, then they haven't been paying attention.

I've been experiencing fatigue in this department. There is only so often you can preach what you think is common sense, that you can tie the facts together to come up with a course of action or a method of resistance, and have little to show for it. Almost all the people who read my blog either agree with my particular line of thinking or just don't care very much - and I have no idea how to get my ideas TO the people that matter, TO the people who can be convinced by argument. Because I have faith that there are people that vote Tory, there are people that vote Republican, who are at their heart good people that are making a bad choice.

Everyone makes a bad decision, sometimes - none of us can look back at our lives and claim a golden streak - but some of those decisions only result in personal misery. Some of them compound with a great many other bad decisions.

And those decisions sometimes lead to these two cartoon villains being in charge of previously proud nations.

This sounds like a generalisation. It probably comes across as one. I know, love, value and respect people who don't vote like me, and don't think like me. We can still get on if we don't see eye to eye on this topic. And I don't think that everyone that wears a Labour badge is a saint, or that every Democrat is in it to help the world. It just so happens that the current antagonists of this season of Human Life are, well...jesus. They're like poster children for the worst of the worst.

But what can I do?

I can keep talking. I can keep up the facts and the thinking. Because giving up doesn't help anyone. And if there's any one thing that being ill for this long has taught me, it is that victory isn't always something that happens in a single action. Sometimes, victory takes weeks, months and years. Sometimes it isn't about knowing what to do in this moment...Sometimes it is about doing the right thing for as long as it takes, and staying standing until you can't - or until you win.

That's the lesson to take from Saturday morning. The fight always continues, but the good guys can't afford to give up. So they just don't. They fight, until the fight is over.

So let's do that.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Running The Asylum

 Quick, name five Batman villains.

Okay. Good.

Think about the folks you named. Like, imagine each of them. I would have a few guesses but honestly, I want y'all to do the mental footwork here. It's been a day of it, and I am running a couple cylinders short.

Hold the images of those five Batman villains in your head.

How many of them suffer from mental illness?

You'll note my choice of words, there. I didn't ask how many of them were crazy, or how many of them were lunatics or whatever. I asked how many of them suffer from mental illness.

My guess is that out of the five you guessed, we're looking at...MINIMUM two. Probably more. Maybe all five. It's certainly easy enough to go for all five.

It's not just Batman that has a significant quantity of this going on. I mean as best I can recall he has the MOST going on, but if we look at a cross section of everything - not just comic books but novels, movies, television - time and again we find that the bad guys have profound mental health complications.

I mean, just look at Split.

We are entering a dark time, right now. As I write this, the newly inaugurated 45th President of the United States is beginning his... let's call it an escapade, through the rights and wrongs of the nation. People are feeling under threat, and rightly so - the rhetoric of the man himself and his followers is inimic to justice, nobility and equality.

And in this environment of hostility and toxicity, a forthcoming movie - admittedly one directed by a man whose spectacular fall from respect in Hollywood circles is legendary - will tell people who know no better about how dangerous those who are mentally ill can be.

I have mental health problems. I know plenty of people who do, also.

We're not fucking comic book villains. We're not just waiting for our moment to strike. We don't lurk in the shadows and wear special costumes and plot our revenge against society.

See, this is part of why this shit is taboo. Because when the protagonist has a mental health issue, it's so often something that gets presented as fucking comedy. Monk, anyone? In fact, every shade of being neuroatypical is used as either the marker of villainry or something to laugh at every now and then.

Why is it considered a daring or risky thing when a MAIN character experiences something that one in FOUR of us will experience each YEAR? It's more likely that a character will experience mental health problems than them being a white male (~8% of the world's population, but classically overrepresented literally EVERYWHERE).

Just a thought.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Where Are All The Aliens?

So we've all seen or read at least one thing involving aliens, right?

For some of us that will be any of the incarnations of War Of The Worlds; for others, hokey B-movies and old Godzilla flicks; for others still, Stargate SG-1 and Farscape; follow that with the plethora of novels and graphic novels that feature extraterrestrial life, and hollywood sci fi blockbusters in the vein of Independence Day. Let alone Star Wars, Star Trek and their ilk.

Science fiction featuring aliens is pretty popular. It's everywhere. It has been popular for a while now, which has of course led to some actual science devoted toward the existence - or lack thereof - of extraterrestrials.

Enrico Fermi and Michael H. Hart formalised, between them, an argument indicating how unlikely it is that aliens could exist and that we have seen no identifiable evidence relating to them. It's called the Fermi Paradox.

It states this: with the galaxy being so big (at least 200 million stars, maybe twice that), the chance of there being other Earth-like planets is relatively high. Following this, the chance of life developing on those planets is greater than zero. And if we could develop space travel, then so could they; and if they developed before us - likely, because our sun is actually a relatively young star - then they would have had the time to travel and explore.

So why haven't we seen any evidence of their existence? Nothing left behind by them that we can identify. Nothing to show. Not even a footprint or a chunk of material - not that we've been able to recognise, anyway.

There's a lot of answers that have been conceived over the years. Some of these are more likely than others, in my eyes. The Rare Earth Hypothesis, for example, holds little water with me - the hypothesis that the Earth becoming what it became was a lot less likely than evidence has previously suggested. An answer I like is that, honestly, the galaxy - and the universe - are really REALLY BIG. Like so big that coming up with an adequate example of how big it is, is actually difficult. We've only just - in the grand scheme of things - started blurting out radio into space, and you know how long that is going to take to get from where we are to the galactic centre?

Almost 27,000 years. That means that the earliest that the Nuremberg Rally broadcast could be in the middle of the galaxy would be the year 28,930. To reach the far side of the galaxy we are more looking at 75,000 years, give or take. That's quite a lot.

Something that Enrico Fermi never saw - he died in 1954 - could be the actual explanation, however; and it is, perhaps, the one that my mind is settled on as an explanation even if it hurts my heart.

The Fermi Paradox works on several assumptions, many of which have had holes poked in them over the years. One of them is that aliens would use technology or have biology even remotely similar to our own. That could cause its own problems in terms of detection.

Instead, let us take an example from our own selves, and discuss how Fermi missed a cultural factor: social influences curtailing continued expansion and exploration over space.

Apathy. Lack of political will. Lack of engagement with science and its exploration. Planetary introversion. The resources needed for exploration and space transit under the control of entities that would rather use them for other purposes, including but not limited to personal profit.

Fermi never got to see us walk on the moon - though Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, two believers in extraterrestrial life, did. I never got to see it when it happened, but of course, ever since I have been enchanted with the idea. I find it hard to believe that there are those that aren't. They're out there, though. People who just don't care, when it is announced that private corporation X or Y intends on landing on Mars, or when we get pictures of the kind of asteroids that land on aforementioned red planet every day, or when we find radio signals coming from bits of the galaxy that we've never had them from before.

But that is kind of where we are, right now; and with several of the governments around the world taking a distinctly anti-scientific bent with much of their funding and ideas,'s not a good sign.

Maybe this is just a step toward one of the other potential answers to the Fermi Paradox - which is that every intelligent life eventually destroys itself, and does so before it can proliferate beyond its home system.

Who knows.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Crew Expendable

Aliens is my favourite movie ever.

To be fair - basically the entire franchise appeals to me in a big way. And by the franchise, I mean Predator and Prometheus too. Which unfortunately also includes the lacklustre Alien Versus Predator, its straight-to-video-styled sequel Requiem, and the highly regrettable Alien Resurrection.

I've loved this series since I was too young to watch it. I hope the Moral Majority don't swoop down on my mother for letting me watch Aliens when I was 12, but I did - and it was one hell of a movie. What's not to like? Big sci fi soldiers, big guns, scary aliens, the works.

The appeal has never gone away. Not really. Especially for Aliens.

What is there not to love about Lieutenant Ellen Ripley?

She was an average joe. Sure, she was a flight oficer, but she worked for a living. Like she put in long hours to earn enough money to afford her lifestyle and look after her daughter. She lives a life that WE live, just different - fulfilling an industrial requirement of society.

She also gets royally screwed over by, ahem, The Man. She and her crewmembers experience a betrayal that was as standard and believable in the late 70s as it is now: profit needs to be made, so who cares if we use half a dozen of our blue-collar sacrificial lambs to grease the wheels? Think of how much MONEY we'd make.

...because isn't that what is wrong with society? What's always been wrong with society? It seems to be mostly run by hyperpredators with no remorse. But I digress, a diatribe on Capitalism will have to wait.

The movie as a tale of bonding and earning respect and finding out who you REALLY are when under pressure is studied in education - the Colonial Marines and Ripley changing roles relative to each other as the stresses and situations of the movie change. It's also claustrophobic as all get-out. More so than the first one, which was set on a spaceship for god's sake. So these personalities all end up rubbing off on each other.

 A lot of those personalities are Colonial Marines, and how I love them. They begin as this group of vaguely psychopathic murder-hobos that have little to no empathy toward anyone, but as you get to know them, each of them demonstrate that there's more to them than an M41a Pulse Rifle and the knowledge of how to use it. If there isn't at least one of them that you are a little bit in love with, then you haven't watched it right. I personally burn a torch for almost all of them, but especially the brusque Drake, who meets a melty end facing off against the aliens in question.

The xenomorph... what a creature. What a wonderful, incredible creature. How terrifying. No eyes - taller than us, though not necessarily bulkier - senses that are beyond supernatural, a life cycle dependent on body horror, and acid for blood. There hasn't been a creature, before or since, that has been so perfect a specimen of horror, in my eyes.

So of course the Predators would want to hunt them.

Predators, too - what interesting creatures they are. A permanent hunt, to earn status and respect (and even to pass into manhood). We only had hints of the two species cross-engaging in Predator 2 - the skull of one of the "hard meat" as the Predators call them hung on the wall of trophies - and it wasn't until the extended universe was expanded upon in comics and novels that real stories of the two races (and their interactions with us) could be explored.

...and then they fucked it all up in Alien Versus Predator.

You see, there is a watch list for the franchise, and it does actually make several of the films optional, because...frankly...they are bad.

Chronological order is best - narrative chronology, of course. So we go Predator 1, Predator 2, Predators (a surprisingly good movie if you give it a shot), Prometheus, the forthcoming Alien Covenant, Alien, Aliens, Alien 3 - directors cuts all round, because honestly the cinematic cut of Alien 3 is worthless trash.

We ignore Alien Versus Predator because it frankly doesn't make any damn sense. It's a jumble of nonsense, featuring but not limited to:

  • Desperate wank-shots that the folks at Fox thought referenced two of their hottest cult properties but end up being vaguely uncomfortable and self-referential.
  • Action sequences that are straight out of Resident Evil: The Movie. (Seriously, complete with ridiculous green laser sights - and the same guy is in it!).
  • Three Predators that probably need special care when they're at home who appear to be incapable of hunting down a sandwich, let alone the xenomorph.
  • Bastardisation of an actual Alien Vs Predator novel, set at around the same time as Aliens, which actually followed Predator lore.
  • A 15 rating that means as little human blood as possible, please. In a movie featuring a fight to the death between two of the most violent species ever created.

We ignore Alien Versus Predator Requiem because, frankly, it's like if the same people as made Sharknado or Anaconda vs Lake Placid directed the first movie. There's an entire fight sequence that is shot in someone's sewer, without any lights - seriously, The Room is better lit than this movie - and by the end of it you are just praying that every single one of the people you've seen on screen gets eaten.It's like The Walking Dead in here. I want them all dead.

We ignore Alien Resurrection because...well, a third of it actually has promise. It's got a scrappy piratical crew of scamps, facing off against the United Systems Military, finding themselves in hot water from a resurgent alien threat. The characters are well-written, believable, funny, warm in places. Gary Dourdan and Michael Wincott do particularly well. But then there's the rest of the film, which takes the lead-up of three classics, folds them into a bowl, and then takes a languid, liquidy shit into it.

So. Predator films, Prometheus films, Alien films in that order - with the noted exceptions - and that is one hell of a weekend's watching. Leaving the best for second to last.

I can watch every single last one of them over and again, but none more so than Aliens, a film whose script I can't not remember. When watching it I have to literally force myself to not quote along with the cast, especially if I am watching it with other people. There's still a couple of lines that get the John treatment ("Alright, we waste him - no offence!"), always.

If you're ever hurting for something to watch - why not check out Aliens? It's the best thing James Cameron ever directed, no doubt.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Two Zero One Seven

So then. A brand new year to stomp through like kids in an amusement park.

Last year at around about this time, I mused about what I would get up to in the brand new set of days we'd all been presented with. In truth, though, that was actually harder than I let on - mostly because depression turns the certainty of a future into a maybe, especially if it is positive. It becomes quite hard to even consider that there will be a next year, let alone to construct a plan for it.

Which, really, just makes it more important. Makes pushing against the dampening and the dark that much more critical. If we just give in - sitting still whenever the whisper in the ear demands it, tearing down the things we love every time the itching in our fingers gets too much - then we aren't living. We're existing, and I am somewhat familiar with the difference.

So what am I going to do this year that involves living rather than existing?

Well. Aside from the gig - the BIG gig, in three weeks - there should be more live music. I don't know where, I don't know how. I just want to see someone, somewhere else, before the end of the year. Not enough live music in my life. Need to fix that.

Music in general. More of it. I think it has to happen. I've been a salty bastard for too long. Time to fix that.

Nine Worlds. August. Hammersmith. Change of cosplay idea - because frankly Roadhog is going to be an absolute pig to pull off (pun intended), I'm looking into something a little more... final. in Final Fantasy. As in Gladiolus from Final Fantasy XV. Gonna need a mullet for that.

Finish another book. Maybe the sequel to Bridge. Maybe something else. Don't know which. I should really fix up the rewrite of the Star Wars prequels I keep blabbering about too.

Keep up the blog. Got to be done, keep it up. Maybe hit up a few more blog-a-day weeks. That was fun. I think more subjects are required too - as whenever I write politics, it feels like I am dragging my guts through the grinder for very little payback. I know that pushing for public awareness of political reality is an endurance test, but sometimes I just don't have the endurance.

I guess it's just about keeping one's shit together, hmm?

Anyhow. Let's get it on.