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Kids These Days, or You’re Old, Shut Up

 

Twice in the last 48 hours on my Facebook feed I’ve seen posts that start with “Kids these days…” or some equivalent. Whenever I hear that, especially coming from someone my age or within shooting distance of my age (I was born in 1977), my immediate response is, “Fuck you.” I can’t help it. I don’t actually say that, but I think it. Usually I just bite my tongue and let them have their say. There’s no use arguing with an old person.

I turned 38 just over a month ago. I could easily look at kids (which seem to be getting older and older every year–when did people in their early-20s start being “kids” to me?!) and think that they’re all self-involved, entitled, clueless little twerps who don’t remember anything because of their super-computer-phones. I could say that when I was a kid, things were better. We had only a few channels on TV (depending on which part of my childhood, either five or 57) and had to use our imagination to play. I could say all that and I’d be right about some of those things, but most of it would be bullshit painted pink by the rose colored glasses of being an adult.

I’m a teacher. I work with 14-15-year-olds, and occasionally the 16-18-year-olds, too, and I can tell you first hand: these kids rock. First off, they’re dealing with a world that’s completely different. Born at the tail-end of Generation X, we grew up with the remnants of the Cold War and the fear that Gorbachev (remember him?) and Reagan would push The Button at any minute, annihilating everything we knew and loved forever. No more Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Strawberry Shortcake, or the Shirt Tails. Kids these days live in a world where there are school shootings at least once a month and in a world where no one cares if you’re a Communist because they’re too busy fearing you’re a terrorist. Even my oldest students, the seniors, have little-to-no memory of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. My teenage daughter was 3 when it happened. The freshmen were born the year it happened. These kids have been raised under the PTSD that the entire nation (world?) suffered as a result of that horrific event and its aftermath.

Next, when I was a kid I was bullied. From around 5th grade to my sophomore year of high school, things were pretty rough. I was chased home, ostracized at school, jumped on at least three-to-five occasions, threatened innumerable times, belittled, and basically treated less-than-human by many. I was smart, the teachers loved me, and I was horrible at sports. Oh, and I was quirky, which was the worst. Naturally, being home was my favorite place to be. I could play with my action figures, or role-play, and let my imagination fly. Even after most kids my age had put away their toys, I continued to sneak my action figures. I had to. The stories in my head were too much. I was safe at home.

Kids these days have the internet. Shut off their computers, you say. They have their phones. Take away their phones. Sure. Go for it. Go ahead. While you’re at it, give me yours. Some of you can. Some of you can’t. When kids are bullied these days, it doesn’t stop when they go home, but continues online. Cyberbullying sounds like a bad idea in 1980s science fiction stories written by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling, yet we’ve been hearing about it for almost a decade. Teenage suicides are on a rise and it ain’t satanic-themed heavy metal albums that are contributing, or Dungeons & Dragons, no matter what Tipper Gore says. It’s the ease in which the tormentors can go after their prey.

Where are the parents? you ask. Did your parents know everything you did? I don’t think so.

Another thing I hear: Kids these days are spoiled and entitled. Oh? And you weren’t? Tell me again about how much you enjoyed your Atari 2600. Or your Nintendo. What? You had a Commodore 64? Wow! You must’ve been rich. And remind me about the joys of MTV, Nickelodeon, and HBO. I had some of these things, some I didn’t. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, we didn’t necessarily have all the toys and gadgets, but my kid sister and I were pretty spoiled just the same. Just because the toys are different now doesn’t mean that we were that different.

Yeah, well, kids these days have no respect for adults. I know a kid who was playing in his backyard and began climbing a post that was in a neighbor’s yard. When one of the people in the apartment house saw him on the post, he was told to get down. The person was a nice guy that the kid had known his entire life. For some reason that day, maybe it was because the kid’s friend was there, maybe it was because the kid was an asshole, the kid started saying the neighbor had halitosis. He even sang a song, “Haaaalitosis! Haaaaalitosis! Halitosis! Halitosis! Ha-AA-aa-lito-o-o-sissss!” (To be sung like “Halleluiah”). Yeah, you know who the kid was. This would’ve been around 1990. Kids haven’t had respect for adults since around the 1950s when teenagers began being an economic force. Please don’t tell me that things are worse now in the regard. They’re different, sure, but not that much worse.

How are they different?! Well, for one thing, parents aren’t on anyone’s side except their kids’. Do you know how difficult it is to give a student a failing grade? They have to have a progress report signed by a parent. A phone call home or a parent-teacher conference has to be set up. Everything has to be documented. Why? Because of you, you helicopter! Why don’t the kids respect adults? Because you don’t.

Look, man, I’m a fucked-up guy. I have anger issues, touches of depression, I’m a wise-ass, and I’m a bit egotistical. If my daughters skip any of these problems, I’ll be happy. If either of them grow up well-adjusted, I’m happy. Honestly, your kids see the best of me! Why can’t the same be said of you?

I could go on and on, but I’m not going to. I’m tired, and I have to teach your kids in the morning, but I want to say one more thing before I go….

Working with teenagers has been a high-point of my life. Kids these days a sharp as knives, ask tons of important questions, understand things you and I would’ve run screaming from, have somehow managed to stay children in some ways while having to grow up real fast in others. Kids these days are seeing injustice and are pissed off. They’re seeing that the same ol’ same ol’ isn’t working, and while you’re sitting on your ass bitching about why they’re inferior, they’ve already processed what’s broken and what needs to be fixed. And they’ll fix it. Because kids these days, they’re growing up, and they’ll be able to look at the little old man and woman on the lawn, shaking their fist, and continue walking by, listening to music on their phones, and understanding that they’ll be the ones to do what none of us could: fix society.

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“When I was a kid…”, or Why Your Childhood Doesn’t Mean Much to the Matter At Hand

When I was a kid, my father would say, “When I was a kid…” and I’d roll my eyes, sigh, and be the snot that I was. I often reminded him that it was The Eighties, which is just about how I thought of them, capital- and italicized. I blame bad sitcoms and teen movies of the day that were all over HBO. When I was a teenager, I was only slightly less obnoxious. After all, it was the nineties. Most of the time, when Dad spoke of his childhood, it was to complain. He’d be complaining about the costs of things (he’ll still go into that spiel if you bring up costs of anything). He’d be complaining about how I behaved. He’d generally be complaining. My father was born in 1941 and basically grew up in the country, in a lower-to-mid-middle class family. Life wasn’t perfect, but when he talks about when he was a kid, you’d think it was.

This has been on my mind a lot lately because of the snow. Since January, eastern Massachusetts has received a lot of snow. Boston says it’s about 8 feet, or maybe 10. Down my way, not much better. We haven’t had a full week of school since the week before Martin Luther King, Jr Day. The last week of January, we had two days of school, Monday and Friday. The following Monday and Tuesday were no good. The Monday that followed was no good. Now it’s February vacation and, depending on how the weather goes this weekend, we may not have school again at the start of next week. I’ve had a lot of time to think, to stew.

And you’re annoying me.

Not you, you’re fine. But you, back there. The one standing on his/her own memories and ego. Yeah…you. You posted this on Facebook and/or Twitter:

When I was a kid, they didn’t cancel school until snow actually started.

Or:

When I was a kid, it took more than cold weather to stop me from ______.

Those aren’t the only things you’re posting either. From religion to politics to pop culture, everything was better when you were a kid. My response:

Bullshit.

This especially annoys me from people who are around my age (I was born in 1977). Look, I do think we played outside more, with less rules, than the kids of today have. We didn’t have play dates, we played. By ourselves. Meaning, no parental involvement. But I’m not here to talk about that today. I want to talk about the weather.

You’re right, you old fart. When you were a kid–when we were kids–school wasn’t canceled until the snow fell. There was a certain alarm to listen for at 5:30/6:00 AM, and a specific radio station to listen to. I spent many sleepless nights in elementary school gambling and losing on the chance that we would get walloped by snow and I’d have a snow day.

That’s gone because science.

Have you noticed that in the past…oh…ten years that weather reporting has been pretty goddamn accurate. Maybe not 7 or 10 days in advance, completely, but it’s gotten pretty good. Chances are, if the 7-Day says that snow is coming at the end of the week, by the fourth day in, they know for sure and it’s only the matter of how many inches we’re getting, which they’ve gotten pretty good at predicting, too. It simply makes more sense now to close school the night before than to chance it at 5:30 AM. It allows parents to make accommodations in advance.

Science isn’t the answer for everything, of course. Your insistence that kids were better when you were that age is just plain bullshit, because I was a kid at the same time, or know human nature better than you, and it’s simply not true.

Look, there are always things we long for and changes to culture and the world around us that take us away from the good. I’m not denying that. Republicans have systematically shot down regulations that gave us better things and replaced them with cheaper, crappier stuff. Democrats have been too nice to do what’s necessary to get those regulations back. And all sides have been bought off a little too much in the places that count.

For the most part, though, things aren’t any worse now than they were. They’re just bad in different ways. And there’s still a lot of good, if not great, out in the world.

So stop it.

Turning In the Geek Card, or Fandom Undone

The deranged traditions of science fiction “fandom” are overwhelmingly attractive, particularly to those few boys and girls who are the outcasts of their high school classes because of wonky thought processes, a flair for the bizarre, and physical appearance that denies them the treasures of sorority membership or a position on the football team. For the pimply, the short, the weird and intelligent…for those to whom sex is frightening and to whom come odd dreams in the middle of study hall, the camaraderie of fandom is a gleaming, beckoning Erewhon; an extended family of other wimps, twinks, flakes and oddballs.

– Harlan Ellison
“All the Lies That Are My Life”

I have been a fan of comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and horror for a long, long time. Comic books began coming into the house at a very young age, as did superhero toys. Star Wars caught me quite young, as well, and opened up a lot of possibilities in both storytelling and the beginnings of science. Horror was huge in the 1980s, when I was a child, and by 1987, I was a full-fledged horror fan.

I’m not a stranger to fandom. Everywhere I look around my workspace I see something that indicates fandom. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and literary figure action figures are to my right on a bookcase (that’s devoted almost entirely to Stephen King books). Freddy Krueger  and superhero action figures are on the Harlan Ellison bookcase. There are other strange tchotchkes around my work area, too. Hell, this very blog has seen me geeking out, or being a fan many times.

After the last few weeks, though, I think I might have had my fill. I may be ready to turn in my geek card. I may be ready to walk away from fandom.

The first incidents that irked me came through the news two weeks ago. In one week, Todd McFarlane, Mark Millar, and Gene Conway essentially said that comic books have always been for guys and if a woman is interested in them, they just need to accept that. I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you can look it up.

As a parent of two daughters, one of whom is a 15-year-old who is discovering fandom, this gets me very angry. It leads to the bigger discussion that has been popping up in the last year or so about the mainstreaming of Geek Culture and, especially, Geek Girls.

The first idea is that Geek Culture exists because it is a safe haven for those whom Harlan Ellison so eloquently write about above, the kids like me, whose minds are faster, weirder, and more prone to flights of fancy that others in their peer groups. Kids to whom social interaction is a difficult thing. Kids to whom the idea of people with powers, or flying around time and space in a police box, or any number of other scenarios are more comforting than going to a party. Now, suddenly, people who were never considered geeks, or ever considered themselves geeks, are going to see the movies that feature these symbols of adolescent impotence and calling themselves geeks. They’re going to ComiCons and wearing tee shirts with the symbols of these fantasies on them. And, goddamnit, how dare they it belongs to US!

The second idea is far, far uglier. The second idea is that attractive young women aren’t allowed to call themselves geeks because they are attractive and girls. A fat, pimply, odd girl is acceptable because the Omega Moos know what it’s like to be ostracized because of their looks or their brains, but the pretty ones do not. How dare they wear superhero- or science fiction- or horror-themed tee shirts?! How dare they call themselves geeks?!

Both arguments are total bullshit, of course. The mainstreaming of geek culture means we won. It means that all those lonely nights working on whatever dreams we had are paying off. We’ve watched them and we’ve reported back on their lives and they’re giving us their money for it. The Geek Girl argument is just simple paranoia that builds when one has been bullied too much. It’s the thing that makes us not trust the pretty, the beautiful, the self-assured.

That’s the first piece of ugliness.

The second piece of ugliness is only 48 hours old. Thursday night, Warner Bros. announced that the actor chosen to play Batman in Zack Snyder’s follow-up to Man of Steel, joining Henry Cavill as Superman, would be Ben Affleck. I wrote about the decision here. I like it. I think Affleck is a fine actor, a very good director, and he will be fine in the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Well, it seems the fanboys/-girls don’t agree. Online petitions have been started trying to oust the actor from the project. Memes ridiculing the actor have gone viral. The sad thing is, these fuckers will be buying the goddamn action figure in droves in 2015 (as my friend RJ Sevin said). These numbskulls don’t remember the hoopla surrounding 1989’s Batman when it was announced that Jack Nicholson would be playing the Joker and Michael Keaton would be playing Batman. Nicholson sounded great, but Michael Keaton?! Mr. Mom?! Beetlefuckinjuice?!

I was too young to know the severity of it in Xeroxed fanzines and letter columns of various magazines, but I’ve heard stories. I remember the mainstream media was also shocked and dubious. No one thought Michael Keaton would make a good Batman. And yet…the fans were so very sad when it was announced that he would not be reprising the role in the third Batman movie, 1995’s Batman Forever. Even after the disastrous Batman & Robin (1997) fans held out hope that Keaton would return to the franchise. A few years back, these same fanboys were upset about the casting of pretty-boy Heath Ledger as the Joker, and look how that turned out!

The brouhaha over the casting of Ben Affleck would be amusing to me if it wasn’t so vicious and coming from the “professional” websites of the comic book industry. And on the coattails of the other two problems I wrote about above, it’s enough to make me think that maybe…maybe…I’ve had enough.

I mean, I don’t have to stop liking the stuff I like. Maybe I don’t even have to stop writing about the stuff, though I have to wonder if my essays on the Nightmare on Elm Street and Superman movies are a teeny, tiny part of the problem. I like to think that they’re not unnecessarily mean, but let’s face it, they’re written by a fan for a fan. But maybe it’s time to leave the reading about such things behind. Maybe it’s time to unfollow Newsrama, and the Batman sites, and the other sff sites that have this attitude. I’ve already decided that there will not be any more money given to Todd McFarlane (though I made that decision back when I found out how much of a liar and thief he actually is).

The problem is that the fans of these types of stories will talk at length about heroism and strength, of openness and inclusion, of progressive action and of harmony among all. And yet, when it has come time for them to act as the fictional heroes they worship, they have failed. Not all of them, but a vocal segment that seems to be, well, quite large.

Groucho Marx used to say that he wouldn’t want to be a part of any club that would have him. I’m thinking that this might now apply to me and fandom.

Prove me wrong.

Please.

Henry & Ben, or Superman & Batman

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I never did get to post my thoughts on the Superman/Batman movie that was announced at the San Diego Comic Con. I wanted to but it just sort of slipped away.

I’m excited about the Superman/Batman movie, though not as excited as I was 10 years ago. I liked Man of Steel well enough and am interested in what they could do in the future. There seems to be a sort of apathy about the movie in some circles, while other non-comic book readers can’t figure out how the two heroes could possibly be put together. It’s not like the comic books have been doing it for nearly 75 years or anything. I guess the biggest thing is to remain faithful to the concept of the heroes, which in itself is controversial.

Many have been very much against the way Superman was portrayed in Man of Steel, and the idea that it was his first outing and he was new to the superhero game doesn’t seem to be answer enough to those concerns. When all is said and done, I had mixed feelings about the details of Man of Steel but liked the feel of the character well enough to want to see him again. It will be interesting to see how this works with a new Batman.

Which leads me to the news that may break Twitter and Facebook and the interwebz: Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman/Bruce Wayne for the movie.

I like this casting. I’ve always liked Ben Affleck. Yes, he’d made some bad movies, but every actor has. He got a bad rap for awhile that I feel has been undeserved. I always thought he could be his generation’s Harrison Ford, given the right opportunities. I suspect that he will bring pathos and ethos to the role.

As far as speculation on story, who knows? I’d love it if Lex Luthor employed the help of billionaire philanthropist (and rival) Bruce Wayne to help rebuild Metropolis after the events of Man of Steel, and perhaps even try to coerce Wayne to help build an army to keep Superman in line. As the Dark Knight gets to know the Man of Steel, and as Wayne gets to know Luthor, he realizes it’s not the Kryptonian who’s a danger, but the Human.

That’s my pitch. I’ve been wrong in every way whenever I’ve speculated about these movies. We’ll go in 2015 and find something better, I’m sure.

But those are my thoughts. Either way, I’m sure it’ll be a fun ride.

Dear Mr./Ms. I’m-Too-Cool-For-School: Fuck You

So today the social mediaverse was alive with the news of BBC’s announcement of the 12th Doctor of its long-running show Doctor Who. I am a new Whovian, having only begun watching the show via Netflix late last year (I’m still waiting for Amazon Prime to get the second half of series 7, or Netflix the entirety of series 7). I intend to go back and watch what I can of what’s being called Classic Doctor Who on these streaming services. Because Doctor Who has exploded since its 2005 revival, today was a big day for nerds, geeks, purveyors of fine entertainment, science fiction aficionados, and the British public. My Twitter stream, my Facebook stream, everything has been posting and talking about The New Doctor Peter Capaldi.

With this excitement (fear? horror? disappointment?) has been the usual people who are Too Cool For School. The ones who go out of their way to let their Facebook friends and Twitter followers know they have no interest, not a scintilla, a microbe, a minute inkling of a teeny-tiny possibility of interest in who the new Doctor is. They have never seen, will never see, have no interest in ever seeing Doctor Who, Doctor What, Doctor Where, or Doctor How (though they’re probably lying on that one: Everybody wants to know How).

Look, I think we’ve all done this at some point. And if I cared to go through my Facebook musings since I signed on in 2008, I’m sure I could come up with a dozen examples. Sometimes I’ve done so as a joke (at some point in the last year about the TV show Once Upon a Time). But I had an epiphany at some point during some football game or hockey game or somedamnthing, in which I didn’t give one iota of a fuck about: Why piss on their parade? Some of these people on my feed care about whether Tom Brady or Lebron James or some other athlete or team wins, they’re really into it, so who am I to be Too Cool For School?

I see this as a moment of mature clarity for me. It’s so easy to dismiss out of hand something one does not like that everyone is talking about. All it is is the 12-year-old who decides to wear black clothing on Colorful Clothes Day. It’s the little kid who is going to say “No” even when they’re dying to say “Yes.” It’s the Republican who has scientific evidence in front of them but decides Climate Change doesn’t exist and stricter gun laws won’t save lives.

It’s silly.

So, for those of you who are too cool to care about Doctor Who, or the Superman/Batman movie, or Star Wars, or Stephen King, or Harry Potter…or even shit I don’t care for like Transformers, Twilight, or whatever else: Fuck you.

I’m not talking about opinion here. If you’ve seen it and want to say you didn’t like it, go for it, man. By all means, add your thoughts to the mix. But if you’re just too hip, too cool, too happening, too intellectual, too snobby to care about what, it seems, a lot of other people care about, keep it to yourself. Otherwise, go fuck yourself.

Now I’m going to write. Play nice.

From Krypton to Gautham: An Afterword

Action_Comics_1

Over the course of 75 years, the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two young men from Ohio, has not only withstood the test of time, but has grown because of time. Yes, Superman has not always been successfully translated to the screen, big or small, just as he hasn’t always been successful in his own comic books, but he has somehow managed to survive the Senate Committee Hearings of 1954, the stark realism that grew out of the 1960s and into the 1970s due to the Vietnam War and the cynicism of modern America. His origin story is retold over and over again. I’ve read two very different retellings in just the last three years–Superman: Secret Origin by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, and Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis, both of which are superb–and have at least three that I can think of downloaded from Comixology (Superman: Birthright by Mark Waid and Leinil Francis Yu, Superman for All Seasons by Jeff Loeb and Tim Sales, and Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen). His personality has changed though the core of this modern American myth remains the same.

In watching and rewatching Superman’s exploits on the Silver Screen, it becomes apparent just how much his story is our story. The baby from another place comes to the United States, learns the principle values on which this country was founded, and grows up to do his best to maintain those values both to keep what is essential about himself as well as to be a role model to the humans he could so easily annihilate. His values aren’t just American, in the end, but human.

Each version of Superman that made it to the Silver Screen was able to capture where this character was at any given time. The early Fleischer and Famous cartoons gave us a Superman who was quick to leap into battle and protect Metropolis, the United States, and the world from danger. The 1948 and 1950 serials gave us a Superman who was ready to get the bad guys with gusto and verve. Superman and the Mole Men (1951) gave us a Superman who would use his might when needed to but would appeal to our goodness and be a role model when possible. The Superman portrayed by Christopher Reeve was a straight-forward, earnest man who spoke plainly but also was all-too-human. He made mistakes but, more importantly, he rose above those mistakes. Brandon Routh’s Superman was a throw-back to Reeve’s but in the modern world. Does the earnest, caring young man with the strong principles have a place in a world as complicated as this one? What happens when the human emotions become so strong in the man who can never be physically hurt? And Henry Cavill’s Superman brings us to the modern era in which you and I live, with a young man torn between doing what’s right and doing what’s safe. How does the world react to a super man in Post-9/11 America when there’s serious talk about building walls across borders and when no one is trusted?

Once again, the voice of Bud Collyer, Kirk Allyn, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, and Henry Cavill. The Supermen of the Silver Screen.

Once again, the voice of Bud Collyer, Kirk Alyn, George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh, and Henry Cavill. The Supermen of the Silver Screen.

Superman is not on the top of very many people’s Favorite Superheroes list. For a long time, he wasn’t on mine at all. But now, I have to ask myself: does Batman still get the top spot? The big argument against Superman (and for Batman) is that one simply cannot become Superman, but anyone, with the right amount of training and education, can become Batman. And now, after watching these movies, and writing these essays, I can firmly say: You’re wrong. Superman isn’t about whether or not a boy or girl can someday become him, Superman is about living with the set of principles that includes tolerance, empathy, ethics, and love. Superman is about the goal of not being super-powered, but the goal of being human.

The two young men in Ohio, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, sons of Jewish immigrants, understood what it was like not to fit in. They understood what it was like to be different. And what was their payback to the people who surely bullied them as they were growing up in the 1920s and 1930s? They gave the world Superman. Superman isn’t supposed to save us, he is supposed to show us how to save ourselves.

1979, while meeting Fred Flintstone.

1979, while meeting Fred Flintstone.

School’s In Again, When’s Vacation?

That title sucks, but what can you expect from a teacher after the first week of school is over? I went from spending the day working on the novel, reading other people’s novels, watching movies, being a husband and father (and father-to-be-again) to being Mr. Gauthier. The week was pretty good. There were some issues, there always are the first few weeks of school, but I had a good time and I think the kids did, too. One of those kids is my 14-year-old daughter who started the high school I teach at this week. I decided to bring her to school and bring her home and so have seen her every day this week. We’ve talked more this week than we have for the whole summer. Part of that is that she went to Florida to visit my sister and her family for a month, part of that is that, at 14, when she comes over she sits on the computer. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same if I were in her place. So the week has been good.

I never thought I’d be a teacher, when I fell into the whole education thing, I didn’t think I’d be good at it. I have found that I am good at it. I think it’s the natural storyteller in me, the entertainer.

This may shock some people who are of literary persuasion but I see writing and literature as a form of entertainment. I don’t just mean media tie-in novels and books written by or about celebrities, either, I’m talking all literature. My to-be-read pile (which somehow never diminishes) has novels by Proust, Pynchon, and Steinbeck next to (or underneath) a volume of the pulp The Shadow and two A Nightmare on Elm Street tie-ins written around 2004-2006. One pile has You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry: A Hulk Companion by Patrick A. Jankiewicz on top of Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, which sits atop 3 werewolf anthologies, a nonfiction book about Harlan Ellison I bought in 2003, and several books about Bruce Springsteen. Enterfuckingtainment, man! I think most people who read my blog feel the same way about literature. Most of my immediate colleagues probably do as well.

A good teacher, he says humbly, is a good entertainer. Don’t take this wrong. I do not feel that class has to be fun or that students should be coming to school to be entertained. Schools are places for learning and education is a serious thing–a look at the current Republican Party and the Tea Party movement shows what can happen when people aren’t well educated–but I do not believe that education needs to be boring. I will cop to education not always being fun, but I will not give in with the idea that you must be serious every minute of every hour of every day. If you ask me (and if you’re reading this, I’m going with the notion that you did), passing by a classroom with laughter coming through the door means you’re most likely passing a classroom where serious education is happening.

Humans learn best when their emotions are being played. You may not remember when the Magna Carta was issued (I had to look it up to even remember what it was!) but you remember the date a favorite song was written by a favorite artist because the song means so much to you, and so does the artist. Just as you remember where you were for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, because the immensity of the event played your emotions. Or maybe you remember a key piece of history or historical figure because of a comedian’s passing reference (Robin Williams is great for this) or a comedy movie. How many people born in the late-1970s learned about Genghis Khan because of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? Sure, we didn’t necessarily learn everything about him, but we learned the name and could then check it out.

So I find that my natural ability to tell stories, my sense of humor (which doesn’t get much play in my writing yet), and my enjoyment of entertaining people helps when I’m in a classroom. I have the ability to make students laugh when I want them to in order to help them understand something. I’ve made students cry by telling moving stories from the Civil Rights movement or even by telling them ways that movies and literature have moved me and made me who I am today (I teach a media class, which is why I can jump around to different subjects).

I hope I’m not coming off as conceited or arrogant. I’m basing this on student and colleague reaction. The best teacher I ever had, a woman who became my mentor, has called be a great teacher. From a writing perspective, that was like when Greg Gifune basically gave me a free writing seminar by helping me a shape my second published story, or finding out Tom Monteleone was going to write the introduction to Catalysts and then reading that intro a couple of years after he and his wife bought a story of mine for their Borderlands 5 anthology. Or doing a signing with Christopher Golden, or receiving complementary emails from John Little. Or the voicemails from Harlan Ellison (I never did call him back, out of fear, and now–six years later–it’s too late). Or various other cool things that have happened as a result of my writing. My former English teacher’s opinion of my teaching is validation that makes me nearly too happy to put into words.

I will try to keep the blog up as well as I did during the summer, and perhaps even better. At some point, I’d like to write about trying to keep my writing life and teaching life separate. Perhaps next time. Until then, happy learning. We never really stop being students, do we?

Pawn Stars, Facts, & the Death of True Reality

I’m not a big reality TV kinda guy. Yes, I’ve had my guilty pleasures, but generally I’m not that interested. I spent some time with The Deadliest Catch but felt the season that Captain Phil died was a perfect time to move on. However, I have to admit, I really like the shows American Pickers and Pawn Stars on the History Channel. This is because I enjoy seeing people’s collections. It’s the same thing that makes me enjoy antique shops and flea markets (though I almost never go to either). There is something that bugs about the shows, though, especially Pawn Stars.

For those who are more intellectual than I am, the premise of Pawn Stars is this: A large pawn shop in Las Vegas is owned and operated by some interesting people. There’s Pop, the patriarch who is like Mr. Toad mixed with The Godfather; his son Rick, who seems to be the one really running the business now (and my favorite on the show); his son, whose name I’m too lazy to look up, but who seems to me to be too lazy to make a life of his own and, while a smart guy, a little too overconfident and not the man his father is; and the kid’s best friend, Chumley, who is borderline retarded with moments of pure genius. People will come into the pawn shop with an item that they usually want to sell, and because the show is on the History Channel, there’s usually something special about the item. You get the sense that the employees that hover in a blur in the background are the ones pawning the losers’ girlfriends radios so he can hit the Black Jack table one…last…time. So a customer comes in with an item and gives it to one of the stars, we’ll go with Rick. Rick will look at it, assess it, and talk about the history of such objects. If it’s something that’s outside his knowledge, he calls in an expert who will come in, shed more light on the object, and give a price they believe, with all their experience, that it’s worth. Kind of like what Antiques Roadshow had been doing for a decade before this show hit.

Because the customer has chosen to bring their item to a pawn shop, Rick (or whomever) cannot give the customer what the item is worth, because the store is meant to make a profit. For instance, last night I saw an episode where a woman brought in an item (I forget what it was), that she wanted no less than $5,000 for. The expert comes and assesses it for $200-$250. Rick offers her $100. She asks for  $1,000. He reiterates $100. She declines and walks away. In the interview she gives the cameraperson outside, she tells us that his offer was an “insult” and that even though the expert said is was only worth $200-$250, she knew it was worth far more than that.

If this was an isolated incident, there’d be nothing to write about. You and I could laugh it off and go our separate ways saying, “Whattama-roon!” But it’s not an isolated incident. Almost every episode has one person who believes that their item is really worth all the riches one could imagine and refuses to believe either the people who run the pawn shop or their experts who come in to help.

This is troubling. In an election year, especially. Being intelligent people, we’ve already had this conversation, how more and more people are putting their opinions ahead of the facts–or worse, their beliefs in front of facts. I just happened upon this obituary for Fact this morning (which was perfect because I’d planned to write this piece this morning). It’s a great satirical piece by Rex W. Huppke. The finger is pointed to all the usual places: 24-hour news channels, the internet, blogs, etc.

My question is: When does it end? We have states who are going with their own textbooks because they don’t like the facts presented in actual textbooks. We have politicians on all sides creating their own facts to sway the voters to vote where they want. We have people who ignore that most of the gun violence that takes place happens with legally purchased guns or stolen guns that were purchased legally, and may god damn the person who tries to take their guns away or make the purchase of them more difficult. We have people denying rights to others because of bigoted beliefs that are more akin to the 19th century than the 21st. And even when the facts are presented, people will refute, they will fight, they will argue, and what it boils down to is, “I believe.”

Beliefs can good things. I believe that as a writer I have the power to help people through fiction or nonfiction. I believe as a teacher I can help people realize their inner potential and perhaps save them from the epitome of whatever they loathe, whether it’s being like their parents, or their background, or whatever. These are beliefs I think are fine beliefs. I also believe most people are like sheep and are happy with being led to whatever pen is safest. This is not a good belief and I’m sad to hold it. Are any of these beliefs facts? I don’t know. As a writer, I’m not nearly popular enough to have received a letter saying, “This story changed my life,” nor am I talented enough (yet). As a teacher…I’ve only been doing it for five years and for the first year, I worked with the best teacher I’d ever had, so probably not. Does it matter? Well, not to anyone but me. But I’m not going to base much on these beliefs except for the seriousness in which I take the work. And just because I believe that the Spice Girls song “Wannabe” is possibly one of the greatest pop songs ever, doesn’t mean I’m going to subject everyone I know to the song. Hell, I haven’t heard it in years!

We live in an age of science, yet many people are afraid of science. This worries me. It worried me deeply. Because if the person with the inauthentic autograph of Rocky & Bullwinkle refuses to believe that the autograph is fake even though an expert has told them, in no uncertain terms, that it’s a fake, who’s going to believe when the real bad stuff happens. Something impossible like catastrophic climate change, or mass shooting sprees every other week, or….

But you knew this already. At least I believe so.

The (Comi)X(ology) Marks the Spot

Sometimes I’m thrilled to have been born in 1977. It means that while I have memories of a bygone era (and let’s face it, by the time you hit 30, your childhood is a bygone era) that included local TV playing old cartoons for hours, thereby giving a child a proper education. It means being able to see reruns of classic TV shows on those same stations without any of that retro garbage that stupid cable stations live ME TV have (and the shows were still a little relevant). It means seeing the dawning of the cartoon commercial, which is a bad thing but also very good if you were a child of that era (I mean G.I. Joe: Real American Hero and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, et al). It means remembering a time before cable TV, and before Google and the internet. It means the excitement of MTV and HBO. It means remembering bookstores as places that sold books and record stores and simple comic book shops owned by a local nerd.

Yet, it means being able to know and indulge in digital technology. Not that I’m completely hooked up, but I’m okay. I have an HP notebook computer (which I’m writing this on), an iPod Touch, and an iPad 2. I have a Nook. My car can hook up to a Bluetooth device. It’s pretty nifty.

Last summer I received an iPod Touch from my wife and her parents. It’d never owned a touchscreen before and had never used apps. The first app I downloaded was for SiriusXM, the second was for the Barnes & Noble Nook. Within a day, I discovered ComiXology. By the end of the summer, I knew I needed to have an iPad. Thanks to a student financial aid refund, I got an iPad 2 on Columbus Day weekend.

I see ComiXology as a game-changer for comic books. At least for me, as a geek. I stopped reading comic books around 1996/1997. Part of it was my novel collection was growing and I wanted to focus on that, part of it was my interest in some of the storylines had faded, and a lot of it had to do with money and space. Comic books by themselves aren’t expensive (though they’re overpriced now, I think, but they’re using better paper so that’s a plus) and are pretty small, but once you start collecting, that changes quick. Here’s a for instance for you:

I was a Batman guy. I’ve always loved Batman but the 1989 movie certainly pushed me further. So if I wanted to collect Batman (and he’s still DC’s #1 guy) in 1990 (which is when I started) I got Detective Comics and Batman. Those were the main titles. Then in 1990, DC introduced Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight. I loved this series because the stories were complex but weren’t necessarily part of continuity (though a surprising number of the stories because part of continuity). The series would have several issues devoted to one story and each story had a different creative team, and each story was mostly independent of each other. The creators could pick and choose from Batman’s history for each story. I loved the idea then and I love it now. If these three comic books had been the only Batman books out there, fine, but then you had one-shots, you had graphic novels like the superlative Batman: Birth of the Demon and Batman: The Killing Joke, the collected back issues a young man would want to get like Batman: Year One and A Death in the Family. Then in 1990/1991, DC introduced its Elseworlds line of graphic novels that featured popular characters in different times and places. This was created by the success of the graphic novel Batman: Gotham By Gaslight, which took place in the 1890s and featured Batman going up against Jack the Ripper. Of course, most of the Elseworlds tales were about Batman. Then they introduced a new Robin and he had a few miniseries. Then they introduced a new Batman series, Shadows of the Bat. And every time a new Batman movie came out, there were comic books about the characters in them. So when Batman Returns came out, there were graphic novel stories about the Penguin and Catwoman. I’m getting out of breath here….

For a teenager (I was twelve when this all really started), this meant finding the money for these books. This also meant tons of storage. And if I wanted to try other comic books (I did) that meant even more money and space.

By the time 1996/1997 rolled around (I was between 18 and 20), I was tired of it all, especially with the Knightfall, Knightquest, and Knightsend series. I loved Knightfall, which told the story of Bane and his breaking of Batman. This was a couple of years after DC did their Superman story The Death and Return of Superman. But Knightquest and Knightsend left me cold. I was also sick of all the tie-ins and multiverse stuff and I was running out of space. So I stopped.

Yet…I never really stopped. I’ve bought many graphic novel collections and stand-alone stories in the intervening years. A couple of years back, I even bought the monthly Superman title to follow the J. Michael Straczynski storyline Grounded, where Superman walks across the country in an attempt to connect with the people. I’ve read some of (not all of) Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. I own every graphic novel collection of the entire run of Garth Ennis’s superlative Preacher series (come on HBO, make this a series!). And there were others, but…well….

And then I discovered ComiXology. I have to say, folks, I love it. Like any ebook, it will never replace holding a real comic book, and if I had children who read comic books (my 14-year-old seems uninterested and the other one is only halfway to her birth), I’d buy the kid real comic books just in case it made friends who also read comic books, that way they could swap them when they hung out together (this was an unrealized dream of mine until I was in my twenties, and I spent an afternoon with my best friend reading newly purchased comic books and swapping them). Still, ComiXology is great, and I highly recommend it.

Neither Your Holiday Nor Mine

 

I love Facebook and Twitter. I love to see what writers and celebrities I’m into are doing. I love to see what old friends from past lives are doing. I love to see what colleagues in the world of writing are doing. I love to see what my close friends, whom I never get to see enough of, are doing. But I abhor that this time of year all the people, many of whom I respect–if not outright love–who feel the need to verbally attack people who are, for the most part, trying to keep America…well…America. These people–again, whom I respect, like, and sometimes even love–seem to feel that saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is somehow un-American. This is very disconcerting to me. You see, because of the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution, the United States has no national religion.

 

Go back and reread that.

 

Yeah, the United States has no national religion, which means it’s not a Christian Nation, as many would like to believe. But it also means it’s not a Hindu Nation, Islamic Nation, Atheistic Nation, or any other kind of religious (or lack thereof) nation. There is no “War Against Christmas” as Fox News would have you believe.

 

I could go into the facts about how Christianity co-opted an already established, popular Pagan holiday to celebrate its King Of Kings, but the Believers wouldn’t listen. And I can’t speak for Richard Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, or any other well-known Atheist about Christmas, but I know that for me, this time of year is marked by several holidays, some Christian and some not, and why shouldn’t we, in the United States of America, be able to adapt said holidays for our own uses? Does it matter that I celebrate Christmas but don’t believe that Christ was God’s son? Isn’t it enough to believe in the things that Christ is said to have said, which is basically, “Treat each other well”? Why can’t I wish my multi-cultural friends “Happy Holidays” and not feel ashamed? I wouldn’t presume to call a woman I’ve just met “Mrs.” or “Miss,” it’s “Ms.” In other words, saying “Happy Holidays” is a simple act of courtesy.

 

Notice I’m not trying to convince you of my beliefs, nor am I undermining yours. Notice that I’m not shoving my choice of holidays down your throat? Most of the people who post things like, “I’m gonna say ‘Merry Christmas’ not ‘Happy Holidays’ ’cause I’m Amurrican!” fail to notice that this country was founded on the beliefs that everyone should be able to come here and celebrate their own beliefs. It’s as insane to me as the people who say, “This is America and we speak English!” Tell that to the Sioux and Wampanoag and all the other Native Americans who were displaced and stolen from.

 

I don’t want to ruin your Christmas, but all I want is for you to consider my Christmas, and my friends’ Chanukah, and Kwanza, and other holidays. It’s wonderful that you have faith–I wish I did–but I don’t see why you need to be so damn militant about it. We’ve all seen what happens when people try to force their beliefs on others, and it’s never pretty. Just ask Holocaust survivors, and 9/11 survivors.

 

Happy holidays, friends. I truly mean it.

 

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