Person or Brand?

2 07 2013

brandingI just read this article about Paula Deen. (Also this, which seems like a more measured and responsible take on the whole controversy than I am capable of.) I don’t have much to say about the Deen story–I’ve never been a fan and I don’t mourn the loss of her career. What really jumped out at me in the first article was the bit about Food Network Star, which, much like American Idol, Shark Tank, and a host of other shows, offers contestants the chance to be “a big star who makes a lot of money and is successfully transformed into a brand.”

This is the Faustian bargain being pushed throughout our consumerist, media-heavy culture. Stop being a person, start being a brand. This is why I have no patience for any of the manufactured stars of reality tv competitions. Brands are artificial, hence inherently false. Brands are calculated to make lots of money.

Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but every time the word “brand” is used for a concept larger than an actual logo, my skin crawls. All of us independent artists are supposed to make brands of ourselves, which to me seems like the opposite of making authentic art. Franchised fictional properties are brands, not characters. News outlets work harder to brand themselves then to report the news. Even our political parties are now brands. How are we supposed to ever have a real discussion about anything when everyone is busy targeting demographics?

The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are people. Before long they’ll probably rule that brands are people too. We’ll have brands electing brands, an entirely brand-driven economy, with the few remaining people toiling in the service of brands. At least there will be plenty of sugary soda.

Fed Up With The Guns

13 12 2012

My reaction to the recent shooting in Clackamas Town Center (about 13 miles from where I live) was first shock, then sadness, then exhaustion. I’m worn out by the frequency of mass shootings, and the same fruitless arguments that happen after each one. But the more I try to put my thoughts in order about this whole thing, the more I’m overcome by anger. I realize my anger is counterproductive so I’ll do my best to keep it under control, but honestly, the fact that people get gunned down in public with automatic weapons is outrageous.

After the shooting in the movie theater in Aurora (about 20 miles from where I grew up) the consensus among my Facebook friends was don’t make it political, let’s just let everyone heal. But that only makes sense from one side of the argument. If you feel,as I do, that mass shootings are a direct result of the  over-accessibility of guns, then every shooting is political. And there will be no healing until we address the issue in a meaningful way. And if you’re offended by someone bringing up gun regulations in the wake of tragic murder, I invite you to closely examine your reasoning and ask yourself if you feel at all responsible.

I do. It’s irrational, but I feel responsible. That’s why I get so angry. I feel like I’m not doing enough to stop it. There’s not much I can do, but I can at least speak my mind, which I haven’t very much, because everyone hides behind the tragedy and claims it’s too soon to “get political.” Hence, this post.

So here’s my view: automatic and semi-automatic weapons should be banned outside the military, period.

Following are the arguments I’m aware of against my view, and my refutations. Spoiler alert: they all break down when weighed against the dead, the shattered families, and the traumatized survivors resulting from mass shootings.

  • It’s a slippery slope. If we ban assault rifles, next we’ll be banning all firearms. Okay, no one can say with certainty what legislation will or will not pass through congress in the future. But it’s quite a leap to go from assault weapons to handguns and hunting rifles. Sure it’s a risk, but it’s a very small risk when weighed against the dead, the shattered families, and the traumatized survivors resulting from mass shootings. I suggest the NRA alter its mission. Instead of pushing for more guns in more places forever and ever, they should adopt a position of reasonable limits and bend their considerable power to preventing the slippery slope scenario from happening.
  • It won’t solve the problem. No, gun regulations will not end murder or cure mental illness. That’s no reason not to mitigate the problem as best we can. If a crazy person has a handgun instead of an assault rifle, there will be less of the dead, the shattered families, and the traumatized survivors resulting from mass shootings. The less the better.
  • Guns make us safer. If only everyone carried a gun, the crazies would get gunned down the minute they started shooting. Oh my god, where to begin with this one. Let’s leave aside the fact that it’s an infantile wild-west fantasy. An armed populace will no more end murder or cure mental illness than gun regulations will. Personally, I do not want to live in a society where gun battles break out in public places. If that appeals to you, there are plenty of places in the world you can go to find it. I prefer the mostly peaceful, marginally civilized society that generations of our ancestors have suffered and died to create for us. Anyway, just because someone owns a gun does not mean they will take the time to learn to use it skillfully. Or have good judgement when assessing threats. The “arm everyone” scenario is just a recipe for more hails of bullets, more dead, more shattered families, more traumatized survivors resulting from mass shootings.
  • Without high-powered weapons we are vulnerable to tyranny. This is the argument of survivalist militias, preparing for the day that government forces kick down our doors to do…something. Take away our freedom. Take away the guns that are needed to stop them taking the guns. If this is your argument, we’ve got nothing to say to each other. I know I’ll never change your mind. But here it is anyway; the government doesn’t want your guns. They don’t care about your guns. Tyranny in the modern world is not military, it is economic. You should be more worried about the bank foreclosing on your compound. Do you plan to hold them off with guns? There’s no way that ends with you staying in your home. You should worry about your stagnating wages, or being shut out of the marketplace if you’re self-employed. Taxes? That’s the least of economic tyranny. If you really want to meet your oppressor on equal footing, sell your arsenal and go get a degree in finance.

Bottom line: people are dead. Families are shattered. Lives are ruined. Ended lives, ruined lives. These trump all of your principled arguments about the 2nd amendment. If you’ve got something to say about guns that doesn’t directly, concretely reduce the numbers of dead, shattered, and traumatized, I don’t want to hear it.

Update 12/14: The day after I wrote this, the shooting in Newtown CT happened. I cannot even process the multiplying sadness, outrage, exhaustion and disbelief. I’ve got nothing more to say, but I refer you to this article that offers some hard numbers and expresses the problem with the “don’t politicize” cry much better.

Magic is Real, in the Past

17 10 2012

I recently listened to an old episode of Radiolab about memory. I was struck by the capricious nature of memory as described in the program. Remembering something, they say, is not like playing back a tape. It is actually a a reconstruction of the event being remembered.

This is a weird concept, especially in the digital age, when we take for granted the capacity to record and play back any visible or audible event with perfect accuracy. We expect our memories to work the same way. Even when memory is suspect (we’ve all forgotten things, or remembered things differently than someone else) we can compensate by externalizing memories. We can look at old photographs, read old journals, re-watch movies, and virtually re-live past experiences.

But what did memory mean to cultures with no photography, and no mass literacy? How does a society conceive of the past when all their histories are maintained by oral tradition and abstract art?

As any art historian will tell you, pre-modern artists were not too dumb to paint in a lifelike way; they just weren’t interested in doing so. One might say they understood the folly of Pygmalion (which my drawing teacher Joseph Mann was fond of citing). The map is not the territory. A work of art is a representation, not the thing it represents. So if a culture doesn’t care about lifelike recordings, what is their understanding of the past?

I’m speaking in wooly generalities here, but it’s a blog post, not a dissertation. Ancient cultures had a wide array of myths and legends– magical tales. Today we intuitively understand the universe to be predictable. It can be dumbfounding, sure, but it works according to rules that can be understood through study and exploration. It’s hard for us to imagine someone truly believing in magic. But if we had no records to go on apart from stories that had been passed down for generations, stories that had been imperfectly copied from one teller to the next, stories that inevitably alter, perhaps growing ever more colorful and outlandish…wouldn’t those stories seem as real as our photographs? Even if we’re aware that the stories change over time (again, ancient people were not idiots), they are our best tool for understanding the universe. And if our best tool is fluid and abstract, we might sense that it reflects a fluidity in the universe. Unlike a photograph, which reflects concrete, predictable reality.

Or–this is even better (and it’s really where the Radiolab thing comes in). Suppose you live in this world with only fluid, mythic histories, and you have an outlandish experience, like, say, being struck by lightning. And every time you recall that experience, you recreate it slightly differently, until it becomes an encounter with a monster or a spirit. That memory is just as real and reliable as the weight of a rock in your hand at the present moment. And then, you hear a story from someone else about magic elves. Why wouldn’t you believe it?

Magic cannot happen in the present, but it can happen in the past. For ancient peoples, magic was constantly going on in the past, as evidenced by both personal and ancestral memory. Boom! All ancient mythical stories are now true. You’re welcome.

Waters vs Nugent

25 05 2012

I mentioned last time that I went to see Roger Waters perform The Wall, and that during Mother they had an animated CCTV camera looming over the stage, and it crystallized the connection between the personal and political in the performance. It also threw me into a tailspin, because the image of a goverment camera playing the role of overprotective mother made me think “nanny state,” a term which is generally used to denigrate social programs like welfare, medicaid, and public education.

Oh no, I thought. Is Roger Waters a libertarian wacko like Ted Nugent? Is he saying that the gummint needs to butt out and let everyone live their own lives? It kind of makes sense; all these monstrous meddlers are attacking Pink and forcing him behind his wall, and if they’d just leave him alone he’d be okay, right?

No, actually, it makes no sense at all. The whole point of The Wall is that we don’t do well all by ourselves. I guess it’s one more testament to the power of the performance that for a moment I was prepared to take all the fascist/xenophobic satire literally, and afraid that I was already in the belly of the beast. As I try to recapture those thoughts now, they seem ridiculous. I guess I was more absorbed in the show than I thought.

Anyway, it got me looking, as I often do, for some overarching, anchoring principle to identify right and wrong. I figured out in high school that there is no such thing, life is too complex for a single anchoring principle that holds up in all cases, but I keep looking for one anyway.

I’ve been trying for a long time to understand the meaning of left and right in politics. Now I’m just about ready to give up on the whole left/right terminology. Probably because on top of the traditional lack of adherence to the spectrum in America, our whole political discourse has become a joke. What used to be right-wing fringe is now mainstream, and what used to be centrist is now tarred as fringe-left radicalism. So, under the gaze of The Wall’s animated nanny-state-cam, I went looking for an underlying motivation that could identify Waters as an ally.

What I found was compassion. So this is my new overarching principle. Compassion vs self-interest, or to put it in simpler, more new-agey terms, love vs hate. (I prefer to put in terms of Green Lantern’s emotional spectrum, which comes with a cool insignia.) Compassion leads one to consider the well-being of others, to treat those who are different as deserving of respect and happiness, and to act accordingly. Focusing only on one’s own well-being…well, to borrow a metaphor, it puts you behind a wall and worms eat your brain.

So, to bring this post around to some kind of point, in future I will attempt to ignore party allegiance and evaluate acts and policies based on whether they spring from compassion or selfishness. If you are someone who acts only for your own self-interest, you’re not my enemy exactly, but I hope you’ll get some counseling.

Movies Made to Satisfy Expectations

19 01 2012

We rented Cowboys & Aliens. My experience was much the same as with many Hollywood blockbusters: the first act is quite good, suggesting interesting characters and unique situations to come. In the second act, everything quickly devolves into familiar clichés. By the third act I don’t care anymore. Cowboys & Aliens followed this pattern with a vengeance, weaving tired stereotypes in with the familiar clichés and piling on the unearned dramatic payoffs in the final scenes. This movie was not made to challenge or surprise, but to go exactly where the viewer expects it to go. I guess people like that. It’s certainly a good formula for making money. But, no one will remember this movie in five years. The memorable movies are always the ones with surprises.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been thinking about the disproportionate effect a small number of billionaires has on our politics. This movie got me thinking, could the same be said of big-time producers and our culture? A handful of names crop up over and over in producer credits; Brian Grazer, Jerry Bruckheimer, Steven Spielberg, etc. Could there be a tiny cabal of producers who constantly give us the same movie, dressed up with different actors and sets?Are they restricting us to a diet of easy, familiar stories, when we could be consuming inspired, challenging surprises?

Well, not really. I looked at the top grossing movies of 2011, and didn’t find any big prevalence of my producer cabal. Most of the movies have half a dozen producers I’ve never heard of. If I was a diligent researcher I would look at top earning movies of the past 10-20 years, and track producers, directors, and studio executives, but I prefer to guess based on my initial shoddy search. My guess is, there are too many people involved in making movies to assign all the influence to the top dozen recurring names.

Anyway, there’s a big difference between politics and movies. Surprising, challenging movies get made all the time. Quality movies are out there for anyone inclined to do a little searching. (For sci-fi fans, I suggest Primer, Ink, Monsters, and Attack the Block, to start with.) They don’t tend to get big-studio funding or mainstream promotion, and maybe that’s wrong, but they also aren’t made to appeal to the lowest common denominator, which seems to be the focus of the big studio mechanisms. Anyway the big studios will only become less relevant as digital streaming continues to shrink their profit margins, and the technology of movie making becomes cheaper and more accessible.

So, a moviegoer can always go look for a better movie. Politics don’t work that way. We all have to live by the same laws of the land. We don’t all agree on what those laws should be, but no one gets to pick and choose which ones apply to their own life. So in a free, civil society, we negotiate and compromise. Unfortunately the bad billionaires are busy distorting those laws in their favor.

I can hear David Koch right now: “If you don’t like it, move to France!” No David, you’re the one who should move away if you can’t abide the little people having any influence.

Slow Critic on Tintin

8 01 2012

Spielberg, Jackson, and Wright, I recant my previous statement. You guys absolutely get it.

I still would have preferred Tintin in 2D animation. (In fact if someone were to make a whole movie in the style of the opening credits I would be ecstatic.) However, the 3D characters felt entirely true to Herge’s books, porous skins and all. Any movie based on a book or comic has to be different than the source material in order to work as a movie, and when it comes to the characters, Tintin is different in all the right ways. While far fleshier than their pen-and-ink origins, they are totally convincing translations into near-real life. The designs and voices are spot-on, as are the choices, tactics, and reactions of Tintin, Haddock, and Snowy.

In typical Spielberg fashion, the action set pieces ramp up and up and finally go too far. Massive, wanton property destruction without consequences doesn’t fit in Tintin’s universe. But while the movie maintains a human scale, it works. The numerous easter eggs for fans of the comics were fun.

Unfortunately, Marcie found it tedious. That may be further testament to the movie staying true to its roots, which are aimed at young boys after all. But it suggests the movie won’t have a lot of appeal beyond kids and dudes, which is too bad.

When I was a kid, the magic of Tintin came from exploring our world with him. The first time I got on a plane to another country, I felt like I was living a Tintin adventure. Even when he visited fictional nations, the stories always spoke to real cultures and environments, and the richness of experience available in real life. It’s hard to see animated movies playing that role, when so many live-action movies transport audiences to exotic scenes. Still, I find myself eagerly awaiting the next Tintin movie.

5 Reasons Why My Suburb Doesn’t Suck

13 10 2011

Yes, Tigard is on the hopelessly uncool west side of Portland. No, we don’t have the bike-friendly streets, the quirky cafés, the walkable communities of the east side. And the only thing resembling an art supply store south of Highway 10 is Michael’s. Marcie and I have lived here for eleven years (!!), and we’ve always said we wanted to move across the river, but now– blasphemy of blasphemies– I like it here! I know my east Portland therapist friends will put it down to cognitive dissonance, but I say it’s for these reasons. Which really are all one reason (spoilers): Tigard invests in itself.

1. The Library

When we first moved to town, Tigard had an eminently serviceable library, but it was old and inhospitable. In 2002, Tigard voters passed a bond to expand it. Two years later, the new building opened on the other side of Hall blvd, and it is an absolute gem. There are plenty of books, but that’s not strictly a characteristic of the Tigard library, because it essentially shares a collection with the whole county. Request a book online, and they will pull it from wherever it lives to your home library. It’s hard to pinpoint just what makes this library great; there are luxurious reading rooms, community rooms hosting events all the time, a large bank of computers for public use, acres of surrounding greenspace, a café in the lobby…but more than that, the whole place is just hugely inviting. I always believed in the idea of libraries, but I never went out of my way to patronize them before living in Tigard. If I could I would hang out there every day.

2. The Skate Park

I’m not a skater, I don’t know any skaters, but I’m happy to live in a city that sees fit to build a complex of ramps and bowls for skaters right in front of city hall. Kids and teens may not pay attention to bond measures, but they are bright enough to pick up on the attitudes expressed by a community’s actions. If that attitude is apathetic self-interest, guess what? You get bored, apathetic, self-interested kids. Besides, who wants to grow up in a place where there’s nothing to do? A skate park is a small thing, but it can do worlds of good.

3. The Wes

One of the best things about Portland is the Max, the mass transit light rail. It doesn’t measure up to, say, the Paris Metro, but by American standards it’s a pretty great system. It is expanding to more regions of the Portland metro area, but the process is slow. Tigard sits far south of the main Max line, and we won’t get a connecting line for 10 years or more. But all is not lost! The regular train tracks run north-south, right through downtown Tigard. In 2009, a heavy rail commuter train– the Wes– started sharing the tracks with freight trains. It runs from Wilsonville in the south to the Max line in Beaverton. It only runs during rush hour on weekdays, but it means we are connected to the Max system without having to go through years and years of costly planning and construction. The implementation of the Wes was met with howls of derision from all the usual suspects, but it immediately filled up with commuters and has increased ridership by 14% since 2009. Take note, haters; the Wes works!

4. Downtown Tigard

In it’s current state, Downtown Tigard does kind of suck. Our little stretch of Main Street is unfortunately not much fun to walk down. Still, the area has a lot going for it; several fabulous restaurants, a nice post office, the transit center with Wes and abundant bus service, my dentist which I bike to, a new off-leash dog park, and nearby trails. And, there is a plan in place to build on these assets and turn Main Street into “a vibrant, active urban village.”  The downside is, it will take 30 years. But it’s a gradual process, meaning little improvements show up over time. I doubt if we will still live here in 30 years, but if we do, we will surely be found wandering up and down Main Street on a regular basis.

5. Fanno Creek Trail

A permanent greenspace runs behind our house and through the neighborhood. Part of it features a bike and foot path where I get to walk the dog every day. This may be the thing I miss most when (if) we move away.


DC’s New 52, A Selection

30 09 2011

For those of you who don’t follow comics and may not have heard: this month DC relaunched its entire line of characters, starting 52 comic books over at #1. Why would they do that? To sell comics, obviously, but it makes a lot of sense from a narrative point of view. Many of these characters have been around for decades, had dozens of writers, gone through many transformations, and wound up with such complicated (and contradictory) histories that if you haven’t been following the action for at least 5-10 years, you can’t understand what’s going on now.

I tried recently. I heard great things about what Geoff Johns was doing with Green Lantern, specifically the Blackest Night storyline. So I checked out some books from the library, and they were great, but a lot of the drama hinges on who has died in the past and under what circumstances. And there have been A LOT of deaths and resurrections and substitutions and inheritances. I tried to get a grip on the history reading some other large crossover storylines (basically anything with Crisis in the title) but it was hopeless.

So I was happy to hear DC was starting everything over, and giving me a chance to get in on the ground floor. I even went to my local comic store and subscribed to a bunch of books, something I haven’t done in about 15 years. Here are my findings within a more or less random sample.


Justice League. The flagship book, launched all by itself the last week in August. I enjoy these characters most when they interact with each other, rather than having solo adventures. This book has all the key players, and Geoff Johns’ writing, so it’s clearly a keeper.

Action Comics. Superman at the beginning of his hero career, as written by the ever-imaginative Grant Morrison. A fresh take on the character, and on his home city. Makes it easy to stick with what DC calls the foundation of the new universe.

Animal Man. My favorite new title, and a big surprise. It just happens to have the best art, and Jeff Lemire’s writing is reminiscent of DC’s Vertigo imprint, best known (by me) for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles.

Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE. Also written by Jeff Lemire, the perfect blend of monsters and superheroes.

Green Lantern. Geoff Johns writing his signature character, so I have to stick with it, even though for a reboot it seems to carry a lot of history I’m not privy to.

Swamp Thing. Written by Scott Snyder, also very Vertigo-esque. The first issue raises lots of intriguing questions, and some implication of an Animal Man crossover.

Batman. Also written by Scott Snyder, and the only one of the 7 (!) Batman or Bat-family books I’m reading. In the old continuity Batman was always fairly straightforward, but Robin has gone through many different incarnations. This book got me up to speed on the various Robins in one full-page panel. That’s how to do a reboot! The rest of the pages were cool too.

Justice League Dark. I don’t much like the title, and I’ve never liked one of the characters (Deadman), but with the magic/occult themes this one seemed likely to be another Vertigo-style book, so I tried it. And I like it.

The Savage Hawkman. I don’t think any old-continuity character had a less coherent history than Hawkman. I tried to get on board with him, had to check Wikipedia to get any kind of foothold, and found that even with parallel universes and reincarnations no one has been able to reconcile his divergent origins. So I wanted to see how he would be handled with a clean slate…and it’s pretty cool.

Captain Atom. I decided to pick one title I had absolutely no history with…and it’s pretty good. It’s really good actually. A hero who’s immense powers are a danger to himself, and somewhat unorthodox artwork. I’ll stay with it for awhile.


Stormwatch. This is the only title I followed before the reboot–or more to the point, I followed The Authority, which is what Stormwatch turned into and where Apollo and The Midnighter came in. And these are the characters that I feel like the reboot has gotten all wrong. I was eager to see how the Martian Manhunter would fit in with this group (Stormwatch started out under the Wildstorm imprint, not part of the DC universe at all), but it’s all pretty lackluster.

OMAC. This…uh, thing (it’s a character now, it was more of a group before) seemed to loom large when I was trying to catch up on the previous DC universe, but I could never get a handle on what it was about. Apparently it’s just some crazy genetic cyborg. Not too thrilling.

I, Vampire. I read some reviews giving this one high praise, but I found it to be fairly tired war-of-the-vampires stuff.

The Fury of Firestorm. Here’s another one I checked out because I never quite got the old Firestorm. Now that I get it, it’s not that interesting.

Legion of Superheroes. This was a longshot for me, and it didn’t pan out. I remember enjoying LOS when I was in like second grade, with their vaguely uniform outfits and their outer space exploits. The reboot updates that whole scenario about as well as can be expected, but there’s no compelling reason to come back for another issue.


The Flash. The art is good, the layouts are interesting, but some of the events don’t make a lot of sense, and the story just didn’t grab me. I think I’ll be happier following Flash as a member of the Justice League.

Legion Lost. A small group of the Legion of Superheroes travels back from the 31st century and gets stranded present day. This is a much more engaging take on the Legion, but by the end of issue 1 both my new favorite characters are dead. They’ll probably be back, but aside from that their are some common time-travel pitfall that bug me (why did they have to arrive in the past AFTER the bad guy the are chasing from the future? Hello, time machine??) I may stick with this for a few issues, but not for long unless it improves.

Justice League International. Lots of characters I don’t know too well, some squabbling and secret manipulation, generally fun. Batman makes a gratuitous guest appearance. If I had unlimited funds I would keep this subscription, but more likely I will drop it after a couple more issues.


Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws. This whole reboot SHOULD have been the moment when DC turns away from rank exploitation in their portrayal of female characters, but it wasn’t. I didn’t read the books in question, but Laura Hudson makes a convincing case that they blew it. So does this seven year old girl. and this comic critique of DC’s math skills is just awesome. I wish DC would get the clue, but it doesn’t look like they will. It sorta makes me feel like a sucker for buying any of their books.

Worldcon 2011, part 1

26 08 2011

I’m not going to give a day-by-day accounting of the world sci-fi con in Reno, like I did for Denver. Just recapping the highlights this time. Or lowlights. Most-interesting-lights.

I flew in from Portland and my brother Erik flew in from Denver. I started reading A Game of Thrones on the plane. I wanted to have a nice fat book for the trip–reading in airports and on planes is no fun when you have to pace yourself so as not to finish the book with hours of travel time left over. And I’ve been hearing good things about the HBO series, although I won’t be seeing it until it’s released on disc. Still I was glad to have jumped on the Song of Ice and Fire bandwagon. The popular series always loom large at these events–Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc. Being a lately converted George R. R. Martin fan made me feel that much more plugged in.

The first evening, Erik turned me on to a new writer, Lauren Beukes. I read the first few pages of her book Zoo City, and promptly bought it and her other book, Moxyland. Am I too quick to judge? Probably. But it usually doesn’t take more than a few pages to know if I’m going to like an author. Mira Grant is a notable exception- more on that later. Anyway, we signed up for a Literary Beer with Beukes. The Literary Beer is a gathering of one author and 10 or so fans, much like the Kaffeeklatches, but with alcohol instead of caffeine. As with the Ian MacDonald Kaffeeklatch in 2008, this was one of the most rewarding experiences of the con. Beukes is a South African journalist, and she shared some of her remarkable experiences that inform her writing. I’ve been home for a few days now, finally finished Game of Thrones, so now I’m reading Zoo City for real. (I did run out and buy A Clash of Kings, but I’m taking a break between Ice And Fire tomes. Otherwise I’ll be reading nothing else for the next year.)

We kept busy attending panels. As in Denver, there were a dozen rooms of programming throughout every day of the con, with subject matter ranging from writing tips to hard science to scholarly critiques to fun goofiness. (One panel we went to posed the question, which historical events are so unlikely they are clearly the work of time travelers from the future?) Due to the panels I attended, my experience had a strong political theme. Some socially-minded panels I sought out (Social Justice in Science Fiction, Revolutions in Science Fiction, for example), others just bubbled it to the surface (The Far Future, How To Draw People of Different Races, The Future of Cities, F&*# Your Knight and the Horse he Rode In On, and others).  My next big project was on my mind, and I want it to address inequality and corruption in the real world without degenerating into a mere screed, as my past satirical efforts have tended to do. I picked up some strategies that seem promising.

Some people wear costumes. The majority of costumes I saw were steampunk in nature. There were lots of steampunk books and artwork as well, but the prevalence in costumes really struck me. I think we’re looking at a 3rd phylum of fanciful tales, alongside Science Fiction and Fantasy. Steampunk could be considered a subset of either sci-fi or fantasy, but it sort of has to pull elements from both, and it has its own distinctive aesthetic and tropes. It also contains a wide variety of sub-types, as sci-fi and fantasy do. (Does everyone really hate the term “sci-fi?” Too bad, I’m using it anyway.)

I didn’t wear a costume. I took advantage of the venue to wear dorky clothes I would wear everyday if I wasn’t self-conscious; leathery flight hat, big round goggles, pockety vest. I added a BPRD patch to my vest, so if anyone asked I could say I was dressed as an agent of the organization from Hellboy. My specialty: archaic cosmologies. Or silly drawings. Yes, I’m a nerd, we’ve established this, if you don’t like it read some other blog.

Next: The Hugo Awards

Dead Bin Laden

6 05 2011

Bin Laden is dead. I’m happy for everyone who felt moved to dance and cheer in the street. Personally, I don’t feel much of anything. Part of it I guess is that now that he’s dead, he’s no longer a threat, no longer offensive in his posing with guns and microphones, and I can’t muster the hate anymore.
But more than that, as I think we all know, this whole thing is bigger than one man. Someone else will surely rise to fill his role in Al Qaeda. Which honestly I’m not too worried about, as Al Qaeda has been pretty well defanged for several years. The bigger problem is what we’ve done to ourselves. When the Patriot Act is repealed, and our troops are out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and we have reasonable security procedures at airports, then I’ll be dancing in the streets.


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