Rock N’ Roll Dreams

Music in the message.  A photo of the Hard Rock Cafe that I took in Washington, D.C.One Friday night a couple of years ago, Karen and I were sitting in a restaurant, and there was a family behind us. They had a daughter…I’m not sure how old she was, but I’d guess around 15. The daughter was talking about music, and she specifically mentioned the band Skid Row.

Have you ever had one phrase stop all the other sounds around you, so that you could only hear the person who said it? That’s how oddly impactful that name was to me.

You see, I went through my metal phase in high school, and Skid Row was one of my favorites during that rebellious period. I can still scream out the chorus to “Youth Gone Wild” with little thought involved. It was just funny to me that someone of that age would be conversant with 80’s metal (although I think Skid Row released a new album within the last couple of years).

A few days later, I saw a boy, younger than 15 by my best guess, wearing a Guns N’ Roses t-shirt, the one that corresponded to their Appetite For Destruction album. I’m so clearly able to recall the edgy intro to “Welcome To The Jungle,” or the seducing guitar line to “Sweet Child Of Mine.” Again, I was struck by how…out of place…this seemed.

Also, I’m a little disturbed that oldies music for them is what I grew up on. Geez, this smells like a mid-life crisis.

I’ve seen music from that era used with some frequency in video games (relatively) recently, but some of this is a bit of niche in which to be interested in these days, confined, perhaps, to a random Pandora station listened to during commutes by…well, by someone like myself, I suppose. I’ll confess that I’m a bit of a snob in my assumptions that today’s pop music will never manage a resurrection like that, but will only fade into obscurity as music with poetry and emotion continues to take its place in…video games…

Please don’t disabuse me of that notion.

Seriously, though. Isn’t that funny?

Bits and Bytes

Somewhere in the middle of a hectic Monday morning, Karen sent one of those email forwards that are meant to brighten your day. The email was (supposedly) written by an older gentleman who had operated a business for years while content to keep his mobile phone in his golf bag in the garage, who became annoyed with a GPS telling him what to do, and who certainly didn’t comprehend Twitter. It concluded with an emphatic statement that many older people are content with what they still consider to be the advanced technology of cordless telephones and garage door openers, and that those younger and more technologically adept should accept this and move on.

It was a good laugh.

I remember the jokes that used to circulate about how friends and family had difficulty programming their VCRs. I remember thinking that it wasn’t that complicated. I listen to Karen periodically muse to her friends that she can’t keep up with which social network is my current favorite, because I have too many. I pounce on the latest updates on my iPhone, and she shrugs her shoulders and contents herself with what she needs to know. I listen to myself with amusement as I lapse into geek-speak when one of my friends has a technical issue, to which I typically know a solution.

My parents, however, don’t understand the concept of Facebook.

It occurs to me that my generation has, arguably, seen the greatest number of life-altering technological advances of any in human history. Actually, let me qualify that: we’ve seen the greatest number of information-based technological advancements of any in human history. I can trace back with wonder the changes in the way I live my day-to-day life through my 30-ish years on the planet. When I was an undergrad, having a computer in your dorm room was unusual. Most of us walked down to the computer lounge that was in the wing of our dorm, plugged a 3 1/2″ floppy into the drive, and hacked away at our term papers with software that was either nameless or whose name escapes my memory. And we were glad we no longer had to do it on typewriters while slinging whiteout.

By the time I was a junior, I had a pager. My grandmother used to try to leave messages on that number like an answering machine, and couldn’t understand why it didn’t go through. Then I had a huge bag-phone in my car with an antennae mounted on the back glass and was feeling pretty spiffy about 60 free minutes…you get the idea.

Now, my phone literally can manage my entire day. I’ve heard that the average iPhone, in fact, has more processing power that the computers used to generate the special effects for the original Star Wars films.

While I joke with my friends and family about what I perceive as their technological ineptitude, however, I feel concerned for those older than us. I feel concerned because I wonder if there has ever been a time in our history in which our elders have been left behind so quickly…disregarded as though they have no idea about life. I wonder if, in our quasi-arrogant self-assurance of possessing and being intimate with technology that our parents could never have imagined, that we de-value the wisdom about life that our parents and grandparents have.

After fussing with email and weather forecasts and so forth on my iPad Monday morning, I settled into the beginning of the week by looking at my daughter. I watched her sleeping face, and thought about how wonderfully superior a creation she is to any metal and glass device that I hold in my hand. I think about how the wisdom of those who have gone before us is invaluable to how we raise and treat those who come after us. I think about how the core of the human condition hasn’t changed, and about how we endanger ourselves of repeating the mistakes of history because we are so obsessed with our present.

I think about all of the times that I couldn’t be bothered with my elders, and how I’ve lived to regret that choice every time. Every. Single. Time.

Progress is a beautiful thing, when taken as a next step to our humanity, our arts, our culture. Should we attempt to replace those things…to replace our history…with the progress of today and dreams of tomorrow, though…then we’ve torn away parts of our souls. We need to be careful in discarding those pieces of ourselves so flippantly, because I’m not entirely certain that we can get them back when we do.

Should a day come when our technology is no longer with us, we will still be with each other. Humanity can’t be fixed with software upgrades and new apps. Its much deeper in its problems and its beauty.

We need to know what to do with that.

Photo Attribution: brendahallowes 

The Nature of a Hero

Image of Batman and Robin shadows on a sign. Image used under Creative Commons.

Just before our daughter joined us a couple of months ago, I finished Part I of the novel that began brewing in my head during a train ride about two years ago. It began as an interesting idea about a dystopian future scenario, and blossomed from there for a year or so, percolating slowly in the back of my head before it became a workable idea. Then came the mind-map. Then the plot outline. And, finally, I finished the rough draft of Part I this Fall. If all goes according to plan, now that I’ve let it sit for a while and I have an idea of what adjustments I need to make to the overall plot, I’ll pick the manuscript up again next week.

I was procrastinating picking it up again, though, I have to be honest, because the weight of the project feels overwhelming at times. Sometimes, when a project begins to feel that way, you have to shelve it temporarily until you can re-discover what made you passionate about it originally. I have managed to re-discover that, fortunately, a couple of times over the last week or so.

Its no secret that I tend to be a sucker for police procedural dramas. Probably because I’m convinced that I could never write in that genre, and so I respect those who do that much more. Karen and I watch The Closer together, and were just finishing the second disc of season 6 late last week. In one episode, Brenda is forced to give a suspected murderer immunity for his confession in order to catch another murderer. During the confession, the first suspect admits to a brutal double homicide, but Brenda and her team have to release him because of the immunity agreement. At the end of the episode, Brenda finds a loophole in the immunity agreement clause about police protection for the suspect. She and her team drive him to his home, a notorious neighborhood for gangs. The other gang members know that the suspect has broken their rules by the murders he committed. Brenda and her team leave the suspect alone with the gang members, who are obviously about to administer their own form of justice.

This sparked conversation with Karen and myself. Initially, I commented that I didn’t think I had a problem with it, because the suspect was unrepentant of committing the worst of crimes (one of his victims had been a little boy), and thus justice was being carried out, despite the system.

However…

Over the weekend, Karen was watching an episode of CSI (who knows which sub-series…this isn’t one I watch with her). She expressed that she was troubled by one of the characters, because that character had an opportunity to save a criminal from falling to his demise in an episode, but let the criminal fall instead. She expressed that this was done with a similar motivation as Brenda had in leaving her suspect behind in the episode of the Closer. Justice, in its most succinct and complete form, was done. The law, however, was not upheld. This bothered her.

I remember the Batman being confronted with the chance to let the Joker fall to his death in the Dark Knight. Despite knowing that the Joker was the most terrifying and calloused of homicidal maniacs, Batman tried to keep him from falling.

Of the three examples, Batman seems more the legitimate hero to me, because he acted under the assumption that any life, even that of the Joker, is worth saving. This presupposes that no human being is beyond redemption…that we all deserve one more chance. As noted elsewhere by my fellow-blogger Katherine, Batman frequently acts under this presupposition, at the expense of himself and his own reputation (hence his decision at the end of the Dark Knight, in which he tells Gordon that he can be whatever Gotham needs him to be). This is acting counter to heroes who are functioning more as anti-heroes, such as Moore’s The Watchmen. Early in that graphic novel, Rorschach imagines a scenario in which the depraved public beneath his watchful gaze will look to him and cry for help, to which he decides, “…and I’ll whisper, ‘no.'” Rorschach has taken on the role of administering justice himself.

It seems that being a hero involves giving grace, acting beyond what normal individuals can do to preserve all life, trusting that the system will judge, and not taking it upon oneself to administer justice. That is the difference between a hero and an antihero, a self-sacrificial, mysterious savior and a vigilante.

The reason that this connects with my novel is that the nature of a hero is what I’m attempting to explore. Its a complicated question, but one that I’m passionate about, and, with these discussion points having been brought to my attention over the last few days, I’m ready to launch back into the manuscript now.

Being excited is a good thing.

Photo Attribution: Brett Jordan

Heros Hidden in Plain Sight

Ever since the hidden teaser for next summer’s Avengers movie at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the full trailer with almost as much anticipation as I would await a movie. This week, I was treated to its unveiling:

Now, I’ve had some debate with others about just how good of a trailer this is, and how good of a film the Avengers may or may not ultimately be. I think its a trailer with promise, of the same promise that I thought Thor’s trailer showed: this movie could go either way, good or bad. Of course, Thor turned out to be amazing, as did Captain America, as did both Iron Man films before them, and I feel confident about the Avengers because it has been set up correctly; that is, it will have what the X-Men never did.

I’ve said before that I’ve been more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan. I’ll admit, though, that the New 52 have tested this resolve, as I’ve become quickly hooked on series that I’ve never collected previously. Still, I think the two universes fill very different story-telling needs, and speak to different cultural trends. DC gives us (especially in the re-boot) the classic hero to fly in and save the day when all else seems lost, a symbol of hope that would otherwise be absent in a dark situation (the plane is plummeting toward the baseball stadium, but Superman shows up and performs the impossible to prevent the unthinkable). Marvel’s characters have always been less of the traditional super-hero, and held more realism that is in touch with our day-to-day existence with all of its angst and fallacies. Even visually, the casual observer will notice the difference: fewer flowing capes in the Marvel universe, and more armor-clad heroes struggling with demons like alcoholism. While DC will always be known to have given us some dark characters (i.e.: the Batman), and the exploration of the fragile anti-heroes by which all others are judged, the trend toward gritty realism tends to lie with Marvel.

While watching the trailer for the Avengers with me, Karen made an interesting observation to this effect: there are more public identities in the Marvel universe. For example, in DC Comics, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern…all have secret identities. All conceal themselves in some way to prevent the world from discovering that Barbara Gordon, for example, is really Batgirl.

Conversely, the world knows that Tony Stark is Iron Man, and Professor X is in charge of a school for “the gifted,” in which Jean Grey operates under her actual name. Others, like Thor, have no need for a secret identity. The Fantastic Four are all public personas. The world even knows that Bruce Banner is the Hulk.

I think that this again speaks to the ability of Marvel’s characters to connect more deeply to a culture at the time in which it exists. America is more than tired of a lack of transparency in public figures, and the public feels burned by a few too many secrets kept by those that they elected.  The general thought process of those in leadership, whether it is leading a country, a business, or a volunteer organization, is that the people below you on the chain of command (or the general public), to quote a famous line from another movie (ironically dealing with similar topics), “can’t handle the truth.” And, while certainly intelligence gathering and secret keeping are necessary in governments in today’s world, there is significantly more kept from public knowledge that could easily function within public knowledge.

DC Comics superheroes frequently fight not only the bad guys, but also the perception of the public that they are “vigilantes.” Often on the run from law enforcement just as they’ve finished saving the city or the world once again, they are faced with suspicion: if you’re the good guy (or girl), why won’t you show us your face? While Marvel certainly has its share of secret identities and those officially held in disdain by the government (such as the X-Men), other heroes…often the ones of which we immediately think when we speak of Marvel Comics, make their identities known to the world. In fact, the Avengers are an organization sanctioned by the government for most of their comic book history.

I think Marvel continues to meet us where we are better than DC, to help us feel more connected to its heroes. DC seems to focus on the heroes far above the rest of us mortals, those who know things we don’t know but act always to save us, to use that knowledge responsibly. One is a more classic image of a hero, the other more modern. I think both are needed, though, and I enjoy reading both for different reasons.

What do you think of when you think of a hero? Which characters speak to you more, and why? I’d love to hear your opinions.

Climbing the Walls…Again…

It happened on my last outing to the movie theatre. I scratched my head. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t alone. Several members of the audience turned to each other, and asked out loud things like, “Didn’t they just do that?” or “Again??”

These comments weren’t in response to the movie. They were in response to the trailers preceding the movie. Specifically, a trailer for Spider-Man. A new Spider-Man, telling the origin of Spider-Man. Except, we’ve only just recently been treated to three excellently-written and filmed Spider-Man adventures, all of which more than took us on a journey with the iconic character. Now, while the trailer was shot from an interesting perspective (i.e.: the point of view of Spidey as he swings and climbs), the fact remains that Spider-Man’s origin story is already well-developed. And, while I’m all about new explorations, I simply don’t see the draw of exploring it again, however well done. Even Batman wasn’t done better until several years after the fact.

And Spider-Man isn’t the only blast from the proverbial past to which we’re being treated. Take the Smurfs, for example (like we needed them the first time around). Or Winnie the Pooh. The explorations of origin stories began some time ago; I actually first noticed the trend with Batman Begins, then Superman returned, then we were treated to Wolverine’s backstory, then the X-Men’s…and that’s just within the context of the superhero genre. I can’t help but be curious as to why. Jeffery Overstreet attributes the phenomenon to nostalgia, which, I agree, can’t be underestimated as a moving cultural force, especially during a time of (perpetual) war.

I also wonder if there’s really a shortage of original ideas in the medium of film. Or, if business interests are driving writers and film-makers to produce origin stories. Perhaps to capitalize on our nostalgia? Whatever the case, I’m going to be honest: I’m sort of over the origin story concept. I’m as nostalgic as the next guy, but not nostalgic enough to watch Spider-Man’s origin again so soon.

Do you think the new Spider-Man film is capitalizing on nostalgia? Are we out of new ideas? Are you tired of re-makes of classics? Tell me…I’m interested to hear.

Photo Attribution: JD Hancock