What Doesn’t Fit?

Disclaimer: I’m not a scientist.

I do, however, watch, read, and write science fiction with a good deal of passion, and so I try my best to understand science. This usually isn’t a problem because I grasp theories and concepts pretty quickly, I just sometimes need them explained to me in more simplistic terms than the jargon of their discipline.

Here’s the thing with science-fiction, and I think that I can say this with some reliability as a source since I’ve been immersed in the genre from a young age: nothing kills the validity of the book/film/episode like an inaccuracy in the premise. Science-fiction is built on concepts of things that are somewhat scientifically plausible, and asks “what if?” they became a reality. In space opera science fiction, this can be worked around a bit by positing a world in which enormous scientific advancements in humanity have made what were once outlandish theories into everyday life. Hard science fiction is more immersed in the data of scientific hypotheses…and, I confess, often over my head in most realms. I can be conversant in some things however, and sometimes things are used incorrectly in a way that anyone could guess with only a little thought.

This popped up in an episode of the Alphas that I watched over the weekend, in which an inaccurate application of sonar was used as a critical plot point. What was really curious about this mistake is not that the ability of the character in question was implausible from a scientific point of view, but rather that it likely would not be called sonar. The wording in the script created the issue.

Any scientists that may be reading, watch the episode (season 1, episode 9) and correct me if I’m wrong.

When I’ve directed plays, one of the most common problems I’ve worked with in new actors is consistency in characterization. There’s a moment of synergy that happens when an actor finds the character so fully that the character is on stage instead of the actor. I used to call it the “spark” when I watched a play…the moment when you find yourself believing that you are watching the character instead of an actor. There can be a moment of lapsed concentration, though, a split second in which the actor does something as they would do it instead of the way the character would do it. Sitting and crossing your legs, for example, when the character wouldn’t cross their legs or sit that way. When these split-second lapses happen, it breaks the illusion of the play. The audience will almost always notice, even if they can’t pinpoint why the scene suddenly feels wrong.

Presenting scientific inaccuracies in science fiction has a similar way of breaking the illusion. Even when dealing with the completely speculative theories of fringe science, the premise has to be explained in a manner that makes it somewhat plausible to the audience or reader. I suppose it bothers some of us more than others, but I think anyone watching or reading science fiction would find themselves aware of something wrong in the scene without necessarily immediately being able to identify what that something is.

Inaccuracies in acting can spoil a scene on the stage, and inaccuracies in writing or directing can spoil a scene on the page or screen. Research and editing fixes these inaccuracies easily enough, though. Perhaps it’s an issue of not rushing a finished product in order to ensure enough time for this research and editing? That would mean a world without deadlines.

I could certainly live with that.

Photo Attribution: INTVGene  under Creative Commons

Definitions and Blogging

It’s not just that I don’t like Facebook, I suddenly realize. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just not a huge fan of social networks.

To explain that, though, let me draw the distinction about which I had a recent epiphany. Well, a mini-epiphany, at least:

I’ve determined that I prefer blogging platforms over social networks. And I consider Twitter a blogging platform.
— Dave Brown (@truthscribe722) July 12, 2012

You see, what I love about circulating thoughts through the public sphere is the ability we have to throw our ideas out there for whomever might read them. Perhaps this is just a writer thing, but I don’t think so, because I see the same thing happen with photographers and artists that I know. We put our work or our ideas out for consideration, and then enjoy the conversation that (hopefully) happens as a result. The connections that result from those conversations tend to be good professional networking, and you end up meeting some really fascinating people.

So, back to that distinction. What I love using and participating in are blogging platforms. I was a blogger long before social networks were the norm, and I’m still connected with some of the very bloggers that I began conversations with in that first year of writing here. What I enjoy about connecting with people online are not status updates or location check-ins, although those things can be fun and useful. I enjoy creative expression, people generating things for others to read, watch, or look at, and then discuss. Working with this as a sort of definition, I include platforms that I originally thought of as social networks as blogging platforms, such as Twitter (which is technically referred to as a “micro-blog”), and Tumblr. These can be used as status updates, but are better used in spreading your ideas, your humor, links of interest…in short, your thoughts, not just what you had for dinner.

One weekend, Karen and I were out with friends who are not big social-networkers. I was looking at something online as we were walking up the stairs at an art gallery, when one of them asked me if I was tweeting. “Do you think anyone cares that you’re walking up stairs right now?”, was her question.

That is the danger that social networks fall into, and what gives them a bad reputation, certainly. It is also, I think, what differentiates blogging platforms from social networks.

Social networks have different uses, primarily in keeping in contact with others. As much as I have come to dislike Facebook, I keep an account there because it is still the lowest common denominator: if I want to get in touch with an old friend and aren’t sure where they’ve been for the last year, phone numbers and email addresses can change, but I know that they will have a Facebook page.

And, lest I forget, Facebook has had other positive impacts on my life, as well.

So, hearing what others are up to and where they are at this moment can be interesting, and I enjoy seeing others’ vacation photos. What I really want to see, though, are what they think about things, what they’re reading and why they like or dislike it, what projects they’re working on. That’s why I prefer blogging, and why I think that the speculation of the death of blogging as a medium is vastly over-stated…because the definition of blogging is really bigger than it seems at first blush, don’t you think?

A Review of “The Amazing Spider-Man”

My first thought upon seeing the trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man was something akin to, “didn’t they just do this?” I am a big fan of the first three Spider-Man films, and found the thought of another re-visiting of Spider-Man’s origin to be overly trendy at best, and shameless studio profit-seeking at worst.

As the release date for the film drew closer, however, new trailers saturated the Internet, and seemed to hint that this was actually not a re-telling of Spidey’s origin, but rather a continuation of the films that have preceded it. Okay, I thought…this will be strange without the original cast, but I can give it a chance.

The hints in those trailers, though, whether they were intended to be there or were superimposed by me upon seeing them, turned out to be a sort of bait-and-switch. While this wasn’t technically a re-telling of the origin story, it was rather a re-interpretation of it. And, call me a purist, but the liberties taken were far too extreme.

You see, the theme of Spider-Man…the choice through which he embodies the nature of a hero, if you will…is Peter Parker taking responsibility for the new abilities with which he finds himself, especially in the wake of Uncle Ben’s death. The taking seriously of Uncle Ben’s re-telling of Voltaire’s claim, “with great power comes great responsibility,” is the process through which Peter Parker uses the Spider-Man identity to ultimately place the good of others before himself. This is the process that was illustrated so well in the original films, and is the development of the character in the pages of Marvel comics.

It is also, sadly, the component that is conspicuously absent from The Amazing Spider-Man. Ambiguous references to responsibility aside, this critical theme seems to flirt with the thought of materializing in the story, but remains teasingly just out of reach. This film is Spider-Man as a YA novel, the taking of a hero to whom we all so easily relate as he comes from humble origins like us, and simplifying him into an arrogant, love-struck teenager on a perpetual revenge mission that he attempts to disguise as the responsibility to rid his city of a villain that he has created.

Now, the movie isn’t entirely bad…just mostly. There were moments of awkwardness between Peter and Gwen Stacey as the two fall into sappy teenage romance that left me smiling, and the first-person perspectives of Spider-Man web-slinging through the city are  quite breath-taking at times, especially in 3D. Also, to the film’s credit, it corrects the one huge downfall of the original three and removes the silly concept that Spidey’s webbing is a power as opposed to a technological innovation, placing web-slinging devices back on Spidey’s wrists where they belong. Parallel to this, however, is the complete lack of Peter discovering his abilities in any meaningful sense. Of course, this accompanies the completely loose re-interpretation of his beginnings. Ignoring a thief in a wrestling match to discover that the man has later killed Uncle Ben? That’s been morphed into Peter becoming complacent in an armed robbery followed by Uncle Ben being gunned down. After his spider-bite, Peter is in an awkward fight scene in a subway train that is just painful to watch. And, suddenly, he has a working costume, complete with web-shooters, and is taking down criminals less than 10 minutes later.

Oh, and speaking of the sappy teenage romance? The lines about being “bitten” will make you cringe. And, with Gwen Stacey as Peter’s teenage love interest, other critical characters to the Spider-Man mythology don’t exist at all in the film…notably Mary Jane or James Jonah Jamison (for that matter, the Daily Bugle is only seen in print in a single frame).

What’s most depressing about the film, however, is not only a complete lack of character development, but the attempt to transform Peter Parker into a completely different character than he is. He is a cocky vigilante who has difficulty believing that the police would not accept him. He wins the girl, beats up the jock (who later mysteriously indicates acceptance of him), and relentlessly chases after the man who killed his uncle. He manages to save a kid or two along the way, and we almost see a glimmer of heroism in those moments. Almost.

Until when, in the end, with his dying breath (a massive spoiler follows here, by the way), Gwen’s father makes Peter promise to leave his daughter out of Spider-Man’s heroic life in order to protect her. Peter makes this promise, and we think that the will keep it. We think that he will grow up, that he will finally make this truly heroic act that is so much more than the sum of his fighting abilities and revenge-seeking. In the end, however, he announces that this is the promise that he couldn’t keep, and we see the relationship begin to blossom again, in contradiction to Peter’s promise to a dying man. His one chance to truly be a hero in the entire film, lost to selfish desires.

Hollywood has great power to portray characters that have impacted the lives of so many in an accurate manner. With that power, comes a responsibility to seek to be true to the character, instead of being true to what will make the most money. The Spider-Man film franchise would be better off had this film never been made, because our friendly-neighborhood hero is no longer the self-sacrificial and insecure man who fights for those who cannot defend themselves at great risk to his own life. He’s simply a stronger version of the rest of us.

When you take the character who should be the hero, and reduce him to the same selfish choices that those of us need a hero make, the result is…not so amazing.

Photo Attribution: marvelousRoland under Creative Commons

Happy Pills?

I’ve been sitting on this for a week or more, because I don’t want to write a post that’s overly negative. When I read this article about GlaxoSmithKline, though, it reminded me of a quite blistering critique on the psychological discipline…or, rather, what it has become…that I read a few months ago.

I know I’ve talked before here about my concerns of a generation without coping skills do to the popularity of the idea that we can take a pill to fix anything. Our over-medicated culture springs to a newly illuminated life we when read news like this, of pharmaceuticals marketing medication to children and for symptoms in contradiction of evidence regarding it’s probable safety risks in order to maximize profit. This isn’t any other business selling its products with clever advertising, here…this is stuff that we’re putting into our bodies. This is our health.

And, moreover, this is our childrens’ health. Beyond the lack of an ability to cope with life that becoming reliant upon a medication produces, this sort of over-medication produces an ignorance of nutritional and physiological best practices that can prevent or cure many problems, to say nothing of an acceptance of the unpredictable side effects of putting these foreign substances into our bodies as a normal part of life.

So, to discover that a pharmaceutical giant admits to manipulating facts so that people took medications for symptoms other than what those medications were approved to treat, and then marketed them to a younger demographic than they were approved to treat on top of that, makes me really distrusting of the entire medication concept…at least when it comes to medications of the mind.

The second of the above-referenced articles essentially claims that psychology lost its validity as a discipline when psychiatry entered the picture, because doctors giving medications to cover symptoms became more prominent (due in no small part to the fact that it was more profitable) than actually working through problems by talking to someone.

The sort of deception and blatant profit-mongering in question is the natural result of wanting change without doing the hard work, without going through the painful self-examination required of altering our lives for the better.

Instant gratification has its limits, and the mind actually is a terrible thing to waste…perhaps even more terrible to over-medicate.

Photo Attribution: Charles Williams under Creative Commons 

Uneventful Events

There’s a lot to be said for relaxing…even when the relaxation is sort of forced on you.

Perhaps I’m beginning to feel as old as I actually am, but lately I’ve noticed myself being quite tired in the evenings. I refuse to accept the fact that I could be transforming into a morning person, so something else must be at work. I’m beginning to suspect that I simply can’t keep the schedule that I used to. Or, perhaps it’s been the heat wave that’s been oppressing the South East with 100 degree temperatures for over a week. I think I’ll blame it on the latter, but whatever the case…I’ve gotten home in the afternoons frequently of late, and all I’ve wanted to do is take a nap.

Karen and I survived the destructive storm that rattled our area last weekend largely without incident (although when our fourth floor apartment began moving as our building swayed, I did get nervous for a moment). The most significant thing that we suffered…and this is absolutely insignificant compared to most of the rest of our city, mind you…was that one of the household Macs didn’t make it through the flickering power unscathed. As it has been in for repairs this week, I found myself without everything that I needed to keep up what had been an excellent pace on the novel…while I have working backups of the actual manuscript, I don’t have easy access to the outline until we have that computer again. So, I’ve sort of had a forced break from working on that project.

Of course, there are at least three other ideas for projects that I could have started, and didn’t, because I found myself enjoying taking a breather. Suddenly freed from self-imposed deadlines that had to be altered due to unforeseen circumstances, I’ve spent more time reading and watching some television that I’ve been meaning to see. More time was spent staying at home with our daughter and having friends and family who were without power for days on end come over to soak up our air conditioning and do laundry.

Being forced out of my to-do-list and deadline obsession was actually quite refreshing for a week. We even re-scheduled a trip for this weekend to stay in and take care of other things that need to happen before the move. I’m bummed to be behind on the novel, but I’ve enjoyed taking a break this week.

I hope your weekend is cool, storm-free, and relaxing.