Is it Wrong to Gift Your Partner Exercise Equipment? Maybe?

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Maybe I’m growing more conservative as I age or maybe I’m just tired of “cancel culture” and recreational outrages.   I read an article this morning on businessinsider.com that described how the fitness company Peloton lost 1.5 BILLION DOLLARS from market capitalization and 15 percent of its stock value in three days because of an advertisement that people hate.

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This is my “Holy hell, did I just lose a billion and a half dollars worth of operating capital this week??’ face.

Now, if you’ve ever seen me, physically, in the meatverse, you know that I had to look up what the hell a “Peloton” was.  It turns out they make stationary bikes with tiny televisions on them that allow fitness instructors to yell at you though various routines all while providing helpful data about your progress, calorie consumption, etc.  Okay.  Pretty simple concept.

I had to find out just what about this ad was so “sexist, tone-deaf, and dystopian” as the article reported.

What the fiery bunghole of Hell could make a commercial “dystopian”??

I watched the ad.

We fade in on an upscale modern home at Christmas.  A woman of indeterminate age (could be late twenties to mid-thirties?) is being led into a room by her child, eyes shaded but her smile and body language make her excitement palpable.  She removes her hand and beams at what she sees off-camera.  Reverse angle to a living room at Christmas.  Center of attention is a stationary bike, fully assembled, a smiling husband nearby gazing back at what I assume is his wife.  Wife is thrilled.

What follows is a voyeuristic style “selfie” montage depicting moments in the following year, the woman’s struggle to overcome her reluctance to accept the challenge of her new exercise bike, waking up before dawn to make time to ride, the feelings of increased energy and health after months of working out with the bike, shots of the bike’s many features including the video unit featuring trainers.

The focus is the woman’s journey to health, which she recaps at the end of the spot by thanking her husband for a thoughtful Christmas gift, the selfie shots revealed to be a video she recorded for him.  They watch snuggling on the couch.  Fade out.

The end bit was a little cheesy, but I get what they were going for.

The negative reaction to the spot, according to various news items and commentaries, assumes the husband had selfish and sexist motives for purchasing this gift, as if the spot explicitly states he bought because her already slim and youthful appearance was not enough for him and he demanded she make herself more desirable by busting ass on this new bike.  Buying her fitness equipment was akin to buying her a dishwasher or something designed to help her “do her job” as a submissive, domestic trophy wife.

This is where recreational outrage bothers me.  It isn’t based on reason or a connection of facts; it is an emotional response that fills gaps in information with assumptions about character, motive, and intent.

CONTEXT is key to understanding these things and, in the four walls of the video screen, I did not connect the dots to the common conclusion.  In fact, I saw a woman with a positive attitude and commitment to her own health taking control of it and using this product to achieve her own fitness goals.  The way the commercial is shot makes it clear the focus of the pitch is the fitness-conscious woman reporting the benefits of making the commitment, doing the hard work, and riding a Peloton bike.

The disconnect is that the advertisement shoehorns in a separate and distinct message to husbands which clashes with the first and gives the impression that when the husband chooses this gift, he is sending an unhealthy message about the value of a wife in a marriage or a woman in society, when in fact, that’s not the case.

Advertisements, especially commercials, present the viewer with a problem and then introduce a product or service to solve it. The ad takes the viewer through the process.

Let’s say the roles in the commercial were reversed and the wife had given the husband a bike.  The husband is already in decent shape.  Let’s say he looks like the husband in the commercial.  He doesn’t NEED the work, it seems, but the bike is the big gift that year.   Most likely, the impression this gives the viewer is one that has been programmed into us from a young age.  We see this and the husband thanking his wife for the thoughtful gift that gave him the ability to feel younger, more energetic, less tired and stressed.  He did all the work, but he acknowledges it wouldn’t have happened if not for her.  The takeaway would have been “Oh, the wife is concerned about her husband’s health. That’s an expensive gift, so she must really want him to be healthy so they can be together for a long, long time.”

This assumption is based largely on traditional gender roles in domestic partnerships.

This feeling is reinforced by the way the commercial presents the information to us. However, I could STILL assert to you that the message of the commercial was that the wife is done with her fat, tired husband and his erectile dysfunction and is giving him one last chance to get it together before she starts banging Rob from her office.  Maybe a few men viewing this commercial would have the same feeling.

How do we use context clues to determine what is, if not true, most likely true about the intent of this ad?

The truth is found in the shots, dialogue, acting, and blocking.

Advertisements, especially commercials, present the viewer with a problem and then introduce a product or service to solve it. The ad takes the viewer through the process.

For my non-traditional take on motive in which the roles are reversed to be true, I would have had to shoot the spot with a completely different series of images than the original presented to frame my alleged problem: the wife was not satisfied and the solution was to buy him a bike and make him use it.  The sexual images would be explicit because the commercial needs to be specific about what problems they believe the product will solve.  At the very least, to tell the story I’m overlaying on the commercial, it would have to establish the following:

  • The wife’s dissatisfaction with the husband. (Problem exists!)
  • The wife’s increasing satisfaction with the results the bike provides. (Showing how the product solves the problem)
  • Less or no attention paid to how the husband feels about the product. (Because it isn’t about him at all.)
  • A resolution that includes the wife (aka CUSTOMER) expressing happiness with the results achieved by providing the product. (Problem solved!)

Therefore, I cannot defend my assertion that this is about a dissatisfied wife trying to make her man more of a…well, man.  So to, if the Peloton commercial was about solving the husband’s problem, he would have been the focus of the spot and it would have emphasized his growing satisfaction with the results as the “frumpy, tired” housewife went from sweatpants and fried chicken to yoga pants and yogurt ultimately becoming the superficial young, attentive fantasy trophy wife.

But the focus of the spot was the wife and her quest to improve her health through commitment and action made possible by using the product.  The spot was also quite responsible in not glossing over the importance of commitment and effort for the tool to be effective.

Further, consider if this was a same-sex couple. How would that make this a sexist or non-sexist advertisement?  Life ain’t binary and society is no longer slave to the patriarchy, at least to companies that want to make money on the emerging generation inheriting all the money.

In a holiday commercial, you target the potential customer and the gift-giver, providing both with a reason they should buy the product.

The OTHER message, which I imagine muddied the first and suggested it was sexist, is to men who want to help their partners by showing them how buying a $3000 bike would make her happy, healthy, and grateful.  So, men, if she’s looking to get fit but not willing to spend the money on herself – get it for her.

That last bit was a little ham-fisted, but it’s a holiday ad.  In a holiday commercial, you target the potential customer and the gift-giver, providing both with a reason they should buy the product.

Our objection to a practical, useful gift like an exercise bike is a manifestation of subliminal application of traditional marital roles causing cognitive dissonance with how we feel consciously the modern world SHOULD be.

So why are so many people inserting assumptions of motive and coming to the conclusion that the husband is a sexist jackhole who just wants his wife to have a tight butt?

That comes down to decades of Madison Avenue shorthand.

Advertising and marketing are responsible for establishing these gender and marital tropes from the time we were put down in front of the glass teat.  Commercials (and some stories) create “given” assumptions about people in order to train our brains to fill in gaps that a typical 30-second ad could not.  That’s why commercials show you gender and domestic stereotypes like non-threateningly attractive women smiling as they clean their homes that already look like they had been professionally cleaned.

Anger at this spot seems to be the result of the consumer’s brain fulfilling its programming by applying outdated advertising tropes into a story.  The framing of the ad suggests the man chose the gift for himself, but even though that’s not the case, our commercial-saturated brains apply the traditional roles to the couple and then our conscious progressive ideas clash with what we’ve come to know is an unhealthy and outdated concept, even though we were the ones assigning roles and motives all along,  telling us that the husband made this choice independent of his wife’s input or desires.

Domestic gifts, lingerie, make-up – things that have traditionally suggested women could be more efficient housewives – evoke messages from the old days when advertisements would pitch to men as the Head of Household and usually the person controlling the finances.  For decades, it was custom for advertisements to address men directly to suggest that his love could be expressed by providing his wife tools to make her domestic labors less toilsome.  Buy her a new vacuum, stove, a new microwave.  These ads suggest that not only would she appreciate the thought, but that having new and leading-edge appliances would increase her status among the other housewives in the neighborhood…and the husband’s status by extension.

Give her make-up for she can be more beautiful on your arm, men.

Buy this make-up so you can look prettier, ladies, for your man.

Our objection to a practical, useful gift like an exercise bike is a manifestation of subliminal application of traditional marital roles causing cognitive dissonance with how we feel consciously the modern world SHOULD be.  Because we grew up with advertisements telling the male breadwinner of the household that he should make his housewife happy by giving her better tools to ease her domestic workload, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the ONLY POSSIBLE motive this husband gave her a bike is because he is playing that outdated stereotype out in our heads. Of course, it isn’t a tradition symbol of love and devotion. It’s a symbol of something that defines her place in a marriage or her submission to her husband.  If you ignore the way the commercial is presented and any alternative context, the only thing left to explain the motive of the husband is how we are wired to watch commercials.

But let’s talk about the message of the commercial in the context of reaching a modern, young married professional couple and men and women as individuals.

A fitness bike isn’t necessarily about fixing something that’s broken but finding a way to keep yourself functioning.

A modern couple represents a partnership where each person is expected to help the other be the best individual they can be, not the best husband or wife in the traditional sense.  So maybe – JUST MAYBE – the commercial represents the husband providing his partner with something she wanted but thought spending close to three grand of household money on it to be irresponsible or selfish. 

Sometimes a partner has to validate the importance of the other by gifting them with something they would never impose upon the partnership for themselves.

Some women like to exercise. In fact, a lot of them do.  It is fun!  Women, I understand through my relationships with them in the meatverse, can be very health-conscious and make time to run, bike, lift, dance, or punch Nazis because they both enjoy it and it makes the rest of their lives more enjoyable.  They don’t do it for the leering droogs who catcall them on the street or to land a man.  They do it to work off stress and depression.  They do it to stay on top of all of their responsibilities, to take advantage of opportunities – not because they look “hot” with a toned butt, but because the energy gives them an intellectual and psychological advantage over the beer-swilling, pot-bellied drones of the patriarchy – like me.

People who want or need to stay in shape often don’t have the time or resources to keep active.  The gym might be impractical.  Biking around the neighborhood might be dangerous.  Winter months make outdoor exercise problematic.  What some don’t get out of the thirty second commercial is that this wife is busy.  In the commercial she mentions coming home after a long day but feeling surprisingly energized after committing to her exercise routine.  She may not have TIME to exercise or eat the way she wants to maintain her body and the energy required to live her life and the product provides a way to keep on top of it.

A fitness bike isn’t necessarily about fixing something that’s broken but finding a way to keep yourself functioning.  If you have a desk job like I do your actual sedentary time could be more than 18 hours of your entire day when considering commuting, sleep, and sit-down meals.

That’s the woman the ad was targeting.

It has nothing to do with the husband except to slip in the idea that it might be a good gift for him to go ahead and buy.  The ad provided women with a problem – health and fitness management – and took them through what that process might look like if they had their product.  And left it open to buy it for herself or put it on her list of desired gifts that year.

Advertisements are recognizing that domestic partners are just that.  While the real world still includes the old patriarchal ways, it is shifting toward equal partnerships, which makes targeting people for products difficult because we are not a binary society.

It is right to rage against sexist advertisements that declare men should make their wives do something by forcing them to use a product or service or a marketing campaign that shames women into thinking they aren’t good enough unless they measure up to sexy women their husband covet.  But there is a market to present health conscious men and women with the products and services that help them and it shouldn’t matter if there’s a glorified extra standing there on Christmas morning to hand it off on-screen and wrap filming after lunch.

Far be it from me to speak for the character in the commercial, but I listened to her and she seemed to speak pretty well for herself.

The Right Tool for the Job: Mass Killings

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photo from wikipedia

Let’s talk a little bit about the right tool for the job.

We all get caught up on terminology. So many discussions about firearms get derailed on the subject of nomenclature, what IS or IS NOT an “assault rifle” – so let’s all just be honest with one another for a bit and call it what it is at its core: a tool.

Growing up, I was taught that firearms are tools.  Just as there are different tools in the box for different tasks, there are different types of firearms designed for different situations.  A handgun can be used for personal protection as it is compact, lightweight, and can deter someone with bad intent as much as kill them. It’s easy to store and secure in the home and precise enough that you can use one in closed quarters without high risk of damage to people or property.  There are rifles for hunting and sport that are appropriate when you need to bring down a target at a distance. There are shotguns that make sure you hit whatever is coming up at you at close range.

Then there are arms designed for combat superiority.  Someone defined a problem with modern urban combat where it was difficult to sweep a building using a long-barrel weapon like a that pokes around a corner a foot before the soldier, exposing him to the enemy.  Someone needed a better combat weapon that was small, light, reliable under variable and hostile conditions (like the desert) and could shoot faster, farther, and be able to interchange parts for different ammunition and even functions.  This is how the SIG MCX was originally designed for the military. It is compact, reliable, and powerful. Opinions differ on where the MCX among similar designs, but if you go to the web site, you will read language that gun rights advocates typically avoid.  The gun is manufactured to kill lots of people quickly and give the shooter every tactical advantage in a combat situation. This means, in part, building better, faster and more powerful guns than the ones already out there.  It has been adopted by the armed forces in six countries.

The Sig MCX is just one example of a weapon of this type.

The military version of the MCX is a weapon made for battle.  Marketing for the civilian version, however, calls it a “sporting rifle.”

The civilian version of the MCX was one of the weapons used in the Pulse nightclub massacre.  While limited to semi-automatic functionality, the weapon retains its precision, ease of use, flexibility to use different types of ammunition, and reliability.  I’ve watched civilians shoot this version of the MCX and it consistently impressed the hell out of shooters, not with its ability to kill people, of course, but with the ability to fire over 100 shots, mag changes included, in less than a minute without overheating the barrel, fumbling with reloads, or extra steps in chambering/firing.  Shooters found the short-stroke gas piston system minimized the recoil and helped maintain a consistent pattern of fire without putting a lot of stress on the shooter. Every shooter has their favorite brand and some aren’t fond of the MCX or its variants for whatever reason (they prefer bigger booms, weapons with longer range capability, etc.) but the weapon clearly provides a user-friendly solution for throwing more downrange in a shorter period of time…whatever you’re aiming at.

At the Pulse Nightclub, it worked well enough that 102 people were dead or injured at the end of the assault, 103 if you count the attacker.

(Note: PLEASE don’t go to this post and harass this guy for sharing.  He’s not the problem.  If anything, he provided me some important information about the weapon.)

This is a tactical necessity when you have to assume that everyone in an unsecured area may be armed.  In Dayton, police took down the shooter in less than thirty seconds from when he opened fire. That said, the shooter used the best tool to make sure he could murder or injure 37 people before trained and skilled shooters could take him down.  A handgun with eight rounds wouldn’t be the right tool for that kind of work. You need something that makes a bigger boom, holds more ammunition and has the ability to throw crowds into a panic, increasing the potential cover for the shooter to use to his advantage.  A crowd might dismiss the pop of a small handgun going off in a loud food court, but no one is going to mistake the booming echo of a .300 AAC round in an enclosed space. In Dayton, it was a “.223 caliber rifle with a 100 round drum magazine.”

And in El Paso, where the motive was clearly in response to the President of the United States’ fearmongering over immigration, the shooter went to a target-rich environment, armed himself with a WASR-10, and just unloaded on them.  Literally.  There was a man who had no fucks left to give, a motive, an opportunity, and the MEANS to carry out his mass killing.  The right tool for the job.  In the end, 46 people were killed or injured.

In Las Vegas, the shooter in the 2017 concert massacre chose weapons specifically based on ranged accuracy and chose a defensible position.  For ten uncontested minutes, the killer utilized more than a dozen AR-15 rifles equipped with bump stocks that increased his rate of fire to murder people nearly 500 yards away.  He used the proper tools for the job and managed to kill 58 people and cause injury (by gunshot or chaos) another 850. In TEN MINUTES.  How?  The tools he used in combination allowed him to fire 1,100 rounds in ten minutes.

A shooter picks the right weapon for the job. The job?  Kill as many people as possible.

The question I’ve never resolved for myself is, if not killing people, what problem does this tool fix?  I’ve been told that it’s the perfect weapon for a patriot who will have to protect themselves from tyrants.  I’m also told that he Second Amendment of the Constitution makes the question irrelevant. It exists so someone has a right to it.  My gun safety instructor tried to demystify firearms by saying,

“A firearm is a tool designed to stop something; a robbery, a rape, a murder.  It is designed to stop a person with deadly force and if you ever find yourself in a situation where you choose to aim a firearm at a living person, you must be prepared to stop that person forever.”

So the problem this kind of tool solves is a lack of power over a situation, control over people.

Sometimes, power is an equalizer and sometimes, it is tyranny.  Control one person, use a handgun, maybe a shotgun or a rifle.  You can probably control a ROOM full of people that way, but if you need to dispose of them quickly before someone ends your life, you go for the weapon the fires fast and hard so, in case you miss or wing someone, there’s another round right behind it.

A man who hates LGBTQ+ people can enter a crowded nightclub and kill dozens before even an armed person could draw and potentially get a clean shot at the shooter.

A man in a Vegas hotel room with a cache of legally obtained firearms can take out dozens of people at a distance with impunity.  No good guy with a gun in that situation has the right tool to defend themselves or others from a few hundred yards away.

A kid can walk into a crowded theater, toss a smoke grenade and carry out a massacre of people fleeing the chamber with their backs toward him.

And, yes, it can be used to stop “tyrants” like police, from invading someone’s home which is why police now wear military gear, drive armored vehicles, and deploy weapons designed to counter the firepower of today’s best firearms.

I don’t get why there’s a disconnect here.  We build firearms to make sure our soldiers have the best chance in the field of willing the battle.  We employ tactics to support that mission, but in the end, it’s the superiority of the weapon that prevails upon the enemy to surrender or die, right?  If not the soldier, then the knife.  If not the knife, then the rifle. If not the rifle, then the bomb.  That’s how it works, right?

As with all weapons, there’s always a “next level” whether it be arms or tactics.  So the discussion about how to stop mass killings should always include the weapons used which were designed specifically to be the best tool for that kind of job.

The Beginning of the End for The Walking Dead

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The wave has broken and is about to roll back.

The Walking Dead comic book has ended on a random number.  There was no fanfare, no lead up to “Issue #200” and the final story.  Just a flash forward to a different world and a phone-in with some of the major characters.  I get it. No comic book can last forever and it is astonishing that Robert Kirkman could script as many books as he has while running his own company and helping to produce two Walking Dead series (three if you count Hardwick’s fanshow), games, events, and television movies.  Something had to give.

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I don’t know if the comic was losing readers or if changes to the show were just making it unrecognizable against the comic’s arc or if the show was closing in on covering the current story arc.  I’ll admit I haven’t read it since the introduction of The Whisperers. I stopped when I saw an issue of the book with a cover depicting people fixing roofs. I forget what issue that was but I thought, “Negan’s in prison. Society is blooming again.  Good stopping point.” I planned to come back for the trades, but the monthly issues were not holding my interest enough. Characters kept filling pages with cool speeches and familiar conflicts but they were too seldom interrupted by big events. With Negan relegated to Rick’s voice of self-doubt and poised for a face turn in future issues, I moved on to a causal reader.

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The Telltale games are fantastic.  They represent the core of makes a great zombie survival adventure.  It’s all about different people struggling with hard choices, ordinary folks overcoming horrible circumstances and changing because of it.  I didn’t need a first person or combat-driven game because that was never a strength of the comic. Where the comic was successful was in creating a company of characters from different backgrounds who are not simple or trope-ridden.  Like the game, characters were made to make tough choices in the moment, sometimes that they would regret or that would backfire on them later in life. Taking “first world” people and putting them into a situation of survival that most of the world is better suited to handle is what makes the book and the show great.

Fear the Walking Dead began that way with a fresh look at the Clark family and their struggles to stay together as a family and survive.  It was a new location so, no more kudzu-clogged ghost towns and overgrown farmland. We got to see the start of the crisis and see it through the eyes of the uninitiated.

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But FTWD has almost completely recast and reimagined itself, with Alicia Clark on hand to remind us, incessantly, that her mom was a bad-ass leader.  And given the shift in tone, those reminders are not helping us move on, even with Morgan leading the company now. FTWD has experimented with formats and I was SO on board (no pun intended) with the idea of doing Season 2 on a boat.  I expected new locations where they’d scavenge and get involved in new, wacky adventures. But the show turned into an English-language telenovela. The one thing that kept me interested was the struggle of the Clark and Salazar families to reset their moral compass for the post-apocalypse, to see Madison and Travis keep their blended family from losing its collective shit in the face of constant threats and Victor Strand’s smooth version of Dr. Zackary Smith.  Even before they wrote Madison off the show, it was struggling with being consistent. When The Vultures arrived in Season 4, the show had established that there are some situations where you have to strike, pre-emptively, to protect one’s self. Despite the ludicrous idea of a slacker version of The Saviors who just wait out the demise of other survivors, it was a clear situation where a proportionate show of force against a clear and present danger wasn’t just a moral imperative but common sense.

The arrival of Morgan and shift to “white hats in a gray world” was not well established and our faith in the newly forming team questioned as one solitary crazy person damn near managed to kill them all because they couldn’t taste antifreeze in their water supply or realize the safety caps on the bottles were broken.  Where TWD had its most powerful episodes and the games had their most heart-wrenching moments in having to sacrifice the few to protect the many, that season went out of its way to prove that our heroes aren’t prepared to make such important choices. Morgan’s insistence on not killing Martha the “dirty woman” remained one of the dumbest decisions in the show until someone told the journalist to fly a friggin’ plane hundreds of miles to try and help some strangers they heard on the radio.  Further proof of their stupidity was the fact that it was all a cunning ruse by a guy who just wanted his warehouse back without violence. DOH!

To me, the moral of the story from Season 4B was that, despite your best efforts, there are still monsters out there and they will pick off the weak and trusting without any remorse.  But Morgan and his team end up like some idealistic and naïve missionaries in the land of the dead saying “Hey! Let’s give things away from this big warehouse that’s not at all hard to find!”

Daniel Salazar is the only character left with the original and, honestly, appropriate mentality of “verify before trust” and the skills to exist in this world.  I imagine we haven’t seen much of him because his outlook puts him diametrically opposite Morgan’s ridiculous humanitarian outlook and it would take a LOT of strong writing and storytelling to get those two on a compatible mental wavelength.   With Carol, it would only take a page of dialogue with her showing Daniel her collection of throwable cutlery.

FTWD wants to remove the existential dread from a world where those who lasted that long in it did so by coming to terms with that dread, adapting to the toxic world around them, and choosing to live by removing those who might deprive them of that option.  These people, some of whom have seen Negan-scale cruelty and evil first hand, still expect reason and logic to govern the actions of people around them.

Meanwhile, The Walking Dead has maintained its foundation because it never got over Negan.  For years the mere fact that Negan wasn’t dead drove the major settlements apart. The natural question of how to share resources among starving and under-defended communities becomes the new conflict.  When communities open their doors, they unwittingly admit strangers who deal a terrible blow to the fragile sense of safety and prosperity and. The loss of Rick, their symbolic champion and elder statesman, further demoralizes them to the point that they must abandon what they’ve built and risk death crossing enemy territory during a blinding snow storm.  While not the same, intimate drama that we enjoyed when Rick and the Atlanta survivors were a small group hiding in a quarry or a prison, it is the natural progression of a society trying to rebuild and an extension of the story arcs of the survivors. While the comics and series have diverged significantly over the seasons, the survivors in each eventually achieved positions of respect and authority.  This is another great accomplishment of Kirkman. If you follow the stories of the main characters back to their introductions, all of them have changed and grown significantly and you can almost point to the moments where each character advanced. They earned their places by sacrifice, redemption, heroism, or all of the above. In the comics, it’s Carl Grimes who embodies the greatest growth and accomplishment.  In the television show, it is probably Daryl, who goes from petty thug abused by his family to a great leader who reluctantly but earnestly honors Rick by owning that role.

With the cost of keeping the lead actors on board TWD and the terrible stories of FTWD and the end of the comic that started it all, it may be that the franchise may end for a while until another generation can reboot it for the a new audience with a new vision.

 

Black Summer – The De-saturated Fall

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Black Summer is offered as a prequel to Syfy’s zombie series, Z Nation.  It is produced by John Hyams, Karl Schaefer, who were also among the Producers of the original.  But, to me, Black Summer is as much a prequel to Z Nation as the Fox series Gotham sets us up for Adam West’s take on Batman.  Black Summer is a straight-up zombie survival tale with a completely different and sophisticated structure, technically wonderful and sometimes astonishing in its complex cinematography. It is also very…very..gray.  There are no Juggalo/Hillbillies or wacky con men, “z weed” and no humor at all, really. Continue reading

Depression, or “Fuck You, Brain Meats”

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I’ve been up since 1:30 thinking about the rest of my life.  Today is going to be a slog.

Yesterday marked the anniversary of one man’s death.  You don’t know him but he worked with and for me.  He was a remarkable human being in the sense that he was dedicated and disciplined in his work, thoughtful and deliberate in his analysis.  He had a sardonic sense of humor and I am glad to say I was able to learn a lot from him before he left us.  He is remarkable in my estimation because he was all those things consistently as well as that rarefied “good man” we keep hearing about living among the unicorns and Bigfoot.

It is the circumstance of his departure that troubled me when he died and again this morning as I consider who I am and what I want to do with whatever time I have left here.

See, a year ago a man died at work conducting a routine bit of business.  The details of that business I cannot recall.  His cause of death was natural.  He suddenly was no longer part of the machine.  The machine rolled on churning out report after report, fattening up the files draws with documentation of things no one will ever ask about again.

He did not die among friends or family.  He left for work, said his goodbyes and that was it.

Since that day, within the short span of twelve months, several more people I’ve known left the machine.  Three (that I can recall without thinking too hard about it) took their own lives.  One left a suicide note in the form of a meme on Facebook.  They all lost their fight with something as bad or worse than cancer: their own minds.

We continue to yell “fuck you” to cancer and it just grins and replies, “You might be next” as it flatlines another too-good/too-young victim.

The idea that I might leave this planet while reviewing the ninth draft of a report that means nothing beyond the egos and ambitions of those driving it chills me.  The idea that I might feel a punch in the chest and the seizure of my heart while sitting in a pointless meeting rather than at home or in hospice surrounded by people I love terrifies me.

“Remember Jay, the writer?”
“Yeah.”
“He died.”
“How?”
“Oh, he just popped a vessel in his head while writing a report.”
“Wait. He didn’t die of an accident as a result of stupidity?”
“Nope.  Death by bureaucratic ennui.”
“Fuck me, I backed the wrong horse on that bet.”

As an adult, one of the ways I try to suppress my anger and other negative urges is to visualize the dollar amount of my next paycheck.  I didn’t have to do that much because I enjoyed my job and what I did.  As I reach the sad but objective realization that I will never support myself or even make part-time wages off of my writing, I’ve realized that I am really not that great at anything and will leave no lasting legacy.

Yes, I have wonderful kids, but they are that way in large part despite of me.

When I go, there is a three-year retention limit on all the work I’ve put into those filing cabinets after which the paper will be recycled for the next analyst to ponder how to best define the distinguishing characteristics between someone at one pay grade or another.  And there will be no urgency to suddenly publish my short stories from my hard drive.

I’d say that my 20-something self would be ashamed and embarrassed by me but, just between you and me, that guy was an asshole.  (Don’t tell him I said that. He has a fragile ego.)

If you’ve reached this far and feel as I do, you’ve no doubt classified all this as first world whining by a privileged and entitled white, heterosexual, CIS-gendered male. You would be right except I am paralyzed by what to do about it.

Change is more terrifying than depression is demoralizing. I don’t know if that makes outside my own head, but that’s my experience.

It’s my job to get over that, to fix it, and move on.  Work the problem.  Meanwhile the words of a relative INFANT (at the time) cycles through my head.

You run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking.
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you’re older.
Shorter of breath, one day closer to death.

Every year is getting shorter,
Never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught,
Or half a page of scribbled lines.

Remember the little bastard Roger Waters wrote that in his TWENTIES.

Twice along that lifespan, here I am with naught plans and scribbled line.

I have no message here.  I have no advice.  The vessel is empty and these are the only words I can spare before I have to invest the rest toward someone else’s ambitions.  If I have a purpose in the moment it is for me to come back in a day or a week, at some point when the cloud isn’t so thick and the voices of self-doubt so clear, and read this again.

What has changed?  What are you doing so you never come back to this ugly place again, Jay?  When, at long last, you find the stirring anthem to pull you from your cowardice, HOW will you sustain it?  This is a public charge because I know too many of my friends are in the same brain state.  Three punched out because they couldn’t get out of this place.  Find the key, a rock, a crowbar…and GTFO of here, man.  And in case you forget, that’s a metaphor.  Find your bliss again.  Race after it like the idiot in the third act of a dopey rom-com.  DO IT, because you know what this place gets like after a while ripening down here.

 

 

 

“Hey, idiot. You’re crazy and gullible.”

old

Question: What is the value of a “Letter to the Editor” in the age of Internet comments?

I ask because Internet comments share the worst of our collective discourse on important topics and issues.  There are no standards for making or confronting an “argument” and most statements are colorful assertions or troll  bait.

Letters to the Editor, on the other hand, are supposed to be something different.  For as long as newspapers have been printed, they offer space for the “common person” to share ideas and thoughts.  Usually, these are well-crafted missives that, while sometimes lacking in objectivity, provide the reader with a different perspective.   These letters are vetted, edited, and presented as thoughtful essays bringing value to the broader discussion.

So, when I read a “letter” headlined, “A few questions for all you Democratic Socialists” I had to wonder if the line between Internet Troll and Concerned Citizen has faded a bit.

Local man Ron Keller had his letter posted in pennlive.com and I share it as an example of the kind of empty rhetoric that should not find the spotlight in a professional publication.

Here is the letter and my commentary.

Here’s [Here ARE, plural] a few questions for all of you Democratic Socialists who are blindly wishing for a socialist form of government in America.

Within the construct of “I’m just asking questions here,” the writer has conjured a group of people to address. The trouble is, he has described, labeled, and judged them in one sentence, negating any chance of a reader identifying with his “target audience.”  No one reading this description would recognize themselves even if they hold values similar to what the writer is actually trying to describe.

First, we have “Democratic Socialists” qualified by the subset of those who are “wishing for a socialist form of government in America” further qualified by those who are “blindly” doing so.  At this point, I bet there’s maybe one sight-impaired, self-described Democratic Socialist Extremist having this letter read to him by his buddy Carl who just wants to share how stupid this “letter” is.  Otherwise, no one self-identifies as “blindly seeking” anything.

Second, the writer is creating a caricature and copy-pasting it into a group, assigning one driving thought behind it.  Who are these people?  One name?  It helps the argument if you relate it to real people and ideas rather than some faceless boogeyman.

Third, it’s never a good idea to judge someone while identifying them. Using context clues, I can tell the writer is looking to address those with socialist-leaning values in order to warn them against the bad things he believes will result.  Okay, fine. But in this format, you may want so simply address the audience as “Hey, idiots!”

Have you lost your collective radical minds?

“Collective”- Ha!  I see whut u did dere.

Implying there’s a hive mind further pushes aside any kind of helpful content for invective.  It’s also a rhetorical question. The writer expresses, hyperbolically, perhaps, his belief that people he has only vaguely identified are mentally ill.  This is far from a reasoned, constructive approach to winning hearts and minds. From a structural standpoint, the writer blew his salty wad on an awkward first paragraph.  This “question” is basically the payoff of “Hey, idiots! Are you CRAZY?!”

And let’s not forget our young millennials. Do you have even the slightest understanding of what socialism really is; much less a knowledge of its origin, history, and goals?

Here’s another faceless boogeyman, this ignorant and brash (latest) generation.  They know nothing.  Every younger generation knows nothing.  Easy target to create and hit.

Because you are young, even if you are educated, you can’t possibly understand what you believe in the slightest.  There’s no evidence here that the writer has done any research into why “our young millennials” believe what they do enough to set up even the slightest poor rationale for a knock-down.  It’s another rhetorical question that assumes facts not in evidence. What is the value of asking questions in a letter? Is it the value of the insinuation? Is it the “snark” alleged in the wordplay?

Change the question to a statement.  “Our young millennials do not have the slightest understanding of what socialism REALLY is.  They have never studied it in history class.”

See what happened there?  A statement can be challenged.  A question can be answered, but this isn’t a conversation.  Further, the writer isn’t interested in hearing an answer.  He’s just not bold enough to make the statement.

I strongly suggest that you do a little research on socialism before you support politicians that want you to have a form of government that you will undoubtedly detest if you ever have to live under its tyrannical grasp. Are you really gullible enough to believe that all the “free stuff” your Socialist Democrats will offer you is really “free.” Truth is, as a taxpayer, you will fund every penny of your government’s benevolence.

SO much to unpack here without even trying to disagree with his blunted point.

So far in this “letter” has established the writer’s unsubstantiated belief in a nebulous group of people representing values he opposes.  He has created this entity, assumed it to be of some size and scope, and challenged it, weakly.

It’s like a letter to the editor confronting “The Dragon on Third Street” without any context as to who the dragon is and what it believes, or even proof IT EXISTS, before saying it must be slain.   Let’s work through this:

  1. “…do a little research on socialism…” – again, assumes people who support candidates and officials with certain beliefs haven’t heard of or read about socialism.  What constitutes “research” in this case? A casual reading of the works of Marx? A history of the USSR and its military and economic implosion? A graduate class in economic studies?
  2. What is the writer’s own special knowledge on the subject that makes this opinion more than just words in a comment section?  It says, “You disagree with me and, despite providing no evidence of my own, your opinion shows a lack of education on a subject.”  This works both ways. “Someone this inarticulate or ignorant in his own opinion needs to open a book. He needs to learn the alphabet and words, how they string into sentences, and other fundamental parts of English rather than, I assume, have his buddy transcribe his idle conversation into a ‘letter to the editor.’”  See how that works?
  3. Supporting policies, socialist or not, is not the same are supporting a “form of government.” The United States has policies that are socialist by definition.  We collect taxes for the greater good. We build and maintain roads. We build schools and post offices, finance a military, protect the environment from abuse, and help pay for access to essential services so that the less fortunate can continue to live and function in society.  We also subsidize corporations, farms, and other ventures to strengthen the republic. My money. Your money. We have no say in where it goes or even in how much we pay. That’s our “form of government” with elements of socialism in it. Here, the writer wraps another blind assumption about a nebulous group of people implying they want to change the Constitution and adopt a socialist form of government.  How you get form “Hey, stupid! Are you crazy?!” to that conclusion is an exercise best left to stupid and crazy people.
  4. So these dumb, crazy people who are actively trying to overthrow the government with some socialist government are unaware of the tyranny that comes with such a construct.  “You won’t like tyranny,” he says.
  5. And the old chestnut that government-provided services are “free” – assumes people believe this to be true.  Anyone who gets a paycheck and looks at how much is being taken right away for Federal, State, and Municipal taxes knows that what they get in return isn’t “free” so that’s a stupid argument.  I knew that when I opened my first paycheck in 1985 and it was about 35% smaller than my gross estimation. It also ignores the common, easily discoverable (for someone who has done so much “research” on socialism, anyway) argument that it isn’t about getting things for free but reallocating the collected wealth of the proletariat to human services and programs that benefit American people who are suffering.  And if the Top One Percent were taxed somewhere around the same as they were during the great post-war expansion of our infrastructure, these things could be paid for without putting the pressure on middle and lower class taxpayers.  Without so much as google, I’ve contributed more of an argument than the writer did in his “letter” to the editor.
  6. Again, he asks another question.  There’s not even the pointed stick of an accusation.  It’s a feckless question to an empty chair.
  7. If you’re keeping track, the writer’s “dumb” and “crazy” boogeyman is also “gullible.”

Have you been paying attention to what socialism has done for Venezuela and much of Europe? These countries have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse in a very short time. What a tragedy that your ultra-leftist comrades are setting up our great America for failure.

In what could be an astonishing closing argument, the final paragraph reads like the last idea of someone who runs out of time on a soapbox and throws out a few extra talking points.  There’s nothing to tie the writer’s “better” ideas into a shot against the opposition. It ends with a dire message that reads more like paranoia and “old man yells at cloud” mentality.  Not only did the writer fail to create a relatable target of his screed, but he also failed to identify a single, specific idea to confront with better ideas. Instead, we have someone who creates a caricature of the kind of person conservatives believe exists and taunts it with weak “questions” that could never be answered.  There isn’t even the strength of a direct accusation to make this an ad hominem attack (“ARE you stupid, crazy, and gullible?”) The writer is always free to take any confrontation about this piece, hold up his palms and say, “Hey, I’m just ASKING here.”

In essence, this entire letter fails to rise to a level of satire or even humor.  It is a letter without reasoned opinion, a comment under a more substantial editorial, little more than the old Simpsons headline “OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD”. Yet, somehow, someone felt the writer’s words were worthy of more attention.

In conclusion, what makes this letter worthier of a showcase than any other newspaper comment under an article?  I’ll offer an actual answer:  There isn’t one.

Haunted and Betrayed by Hill House

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“Well, that’s a thing that just happened.” – Hugh Crain

I’m a little late to the party, but that’s me.  I like horror stories at Christmastime.  Ghost stories make sense at Christmas.  Dickens taught so, too.

So I was hooked on the slow-burn of Netflix’ re-imagining of Shirley Jackson’s classic American haunted house novella, “The Haunting of Hill House.”  I forgave the original story dressed up in someone else’s intellectual property and enjoyed this family drama with supernatural elements told out of order. This morning, I watched the final episode.

Spoilers

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“WHY?!” – 03 CAPTAIN KYLE WILLIAMSON

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https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-7mqra-98c923

Captain Kyle can be spotted at conventions all over the east coast as one of many characters, including “Q” from Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Governor from The Walking Dead, and others. But there’s more to this cosplayer and actor than his fashion sense.  Jay talks to the performer, author, and host of Fandom Spotlite, about growing up in a time before being a geek was cool, the joys and challenges of performing and providing information to fandom. 

“WHY?!” is produced by Holden Smith and Jay Smith with music by Kevin MacLeod.  The show is sponsored by ARCHIVOS: Your Stories, Illuminated.

Captain Kyle and others will be appearing at Sci-Fi Saturday in Harrisburg PA, September 22, 2018 at 2nd & Charles, Harrisburg Mall.