Filler Bunny

I felt the need to write more, but couldn't think of enough for a whole post. So, more randomness! I might come up with something meatier later.
  • The excellent, and terribly entertaining, book How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, contains a piece of unintentional irony. In their example dealing with villains whose sole motive seems to be evil for its own sake, they write:
    These villains unselfishly dedicate all their free time to plotting Mother Teresa's downfall, without any cash incentive or reason to hate Mother Teresa other than "her phony nice act makes me see red."
    This is very true of too many villains; but the unintentional irony is, see...there's this guy named Christopher Hitchens. "Plotting Mother Teresa's downfall, without any cash incentive or reason to hate Mother Teresa other than 'her phony nice act makes me see red,'" is a pretty good summary of his life's work, actually.
  • Ayn Rand makes me sad; she's got far too much influence on the conservative movement, even among social conservatives. I wonder, though, if anyone's noticed that she's essentially got that form of Stockholm syndrome where one identifies with the abuser rather than the victim? Her whole worldview, from economics to religion to gender relations, is explained by her wishing she was one of the strong, that get to do the hurting, rather than the weak that get hurt.
  • News on the "Joss Whedon sucks" front: according to Wikipedia, he considers himself an absurdist. Um, is this some insanely technical definition of absurdism I'm not acquainted with? Because last I checked absurdism didn't involve quite so much preaching.
  • To snag another loogy at the winner of the Billy Quizboy Look-alike Contest, Whedon apparently said, of Firefly, "So I wanted to get a show that took the past and the future, and put them together by making them feel like the present…" Now, translate that out of Whedon's usual Randall's-cousin-Walter prose, and we get, "I sorta cribbed some oversimplified history (inasmuch as he appears to have got his understanding of the Old West from Sam Peckinpah), combined it with some rocket ships, and then made a story that's really set in the modern day." Or in other words, "I just about went by the recipe for bad science fiction."
  • Ever hear of a movie called Idiocracy? It's a phenomenally classist, elitist--and eugenicist!--dystopian sci-fi (in the worst "crickets getting it on" sense of the word), about how the world becomes stupid in the future because the yuppie-scum, who, of course, are so damn smart, don't have as many kids as the blue-collar types, who are of course stupid. Although, of course, it's not the blue-collar folks who are watching "Real Housewives of Orange County". But that aside..."Idiocracy" does not mean "rule by idiots." It means "individual rule," like how "idiolect" means the way a particular person talks. Here's a hint, a-holes: when you set out to openly insult the intelligence of the actual humans, don't get the Greek in your title wrong.
  • Late addition: So my father was watching Terminator 3 the other day, and I realized something: the good Terminators from that and the second one, as played by the Governator, are...well, let me just list their traits. They're powerful robots from the future that simulate a living thing, and are sent back in time to help a young person, by people with a relationship to him. In other words...they're Doraemon. Weird, huh? Humanity's chances suddenly look a lot bleaker, what with its future being in the hands of John "Nobita" Connor.


Random Thoughts

So I had a number of random thoughts, and decided to fill space with them. You know, like some of those political commentators do.
  • Has anyone noticed how many "harem" anime can be summed up as X + Tenchi Muyo? So, for instance, Moon Phase (it's a small harem) is "Gothed-up Tenchi Muyo", and Elfen Lied (which ain't very good) is "Wes Craven Presents: Tenchi Muyo," and DearS is basically "Alien Nation meets Tenchi Muyo"...or maybe, "the unholy lovechild of ChobitS and Alien Nation, Meets Tenchi Muyo."
    I still like DearS, though; it has a fairly intriguing exploration of what it means to be free, and whether or not it's even always desirable--without getting into Slave-women of Gor country--that I thought was impressive.
  • More generally, one can often express a major tendency of a show by assigning it to a network. Thus, for instance, "Lifetime: Television for Women presents Law and Order: Special Victims Unit", or "Bravo! presents Buffy the Vampire Slayer (or even more, Angel)". How about "Discovery Health presents A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila"?
    Don't know that there really is a network really uniquely suited to House and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, but if there were, it'd be one damn smart network. Even if House's writers can't seem to decide if he's a materialist (he's too smart to be a materialist, really) or some kind of mathematical realist, or maybe a nontheistic Platonist (like that guy whose name I forget, that wrote a book about the problems Goedel Incompleteness poses to the field of AI).
  • As I edited the above, and changed "if there was" to "if there were," it occured to me how odd it is that English expresses the subjunctive by changing singular to plural. Someone needs to have a look at why that is.
  • Apparently South Korea's sunshine policy (hopefully now abandoned), of being nice to the lunatics in North Korea, wasn't just stupid--it was also not named right. According to Wikipedia, the policy got its name from the Aesop's fable about the wind and the sun. I quote, from the article:
    In the fable, the sun and the wind compete to remove a man's coat. The wind blew strongly, but the man clutched his coat and kept it on. The sun shone warmly, and the man voluntarily took off his coat to enjoy the fine weather.
    Only, see, the point was not that the sun was being nice while the wind was being nasty; the point was that the wind was being hasty and direct and the sun was being slow and patient. He took off his coat so as not to die of heatstroke, not "to enjoy the fine weather"! Aesop was a Greek, and Greece is a mediterranean country where the sun was the cruelest of the gods--Korea is a cold-temperate country where the sun is a benign figure. A policy accurately named after the fable would involve the slow application of diplomatic, economic, and small-scale military pressure, until North Korea caved in. Or in other words, Reagan's Cold War strategy for dealing with the USSR.
  • Nemesis, by HP Lovecraft, ought to be taught in every school in this country. It's one of the best copies of Swinburne that I've ever read, and it shows Lovecraft at his Dionysian (in Neitzsche's sense) best. Pretentious? God yes. But it's arguably one of America's greatest poems, for all it's a knockoff of Swinburne, and it's not like Virgil didn't copy Homer (not that Swinburne nor, especially, Lovecraft is either of them worthy of the comparison).


Ghost in the Shell and Death Note

Once again, I find myself needing to point out the nakedness of the Imperial personage. Unfortunately the two works in question can't be explored each in their own separate article--I haven't seen all of them, since I could barely stand the first five episodes of Ghost in the Shell: SAC, and only got through the 7th volume of the Death Note manga before I had to stop or go catatonic. But I won't particularly be dealing with the plots of the two stories (conceding for the moment that GitS:SAC has a plot), but with the themes.

Both stories are very, very shallow, an example of what I like to call "stupid smart people". Nobody can deny that there's serious hard SF meat in GitS (apart from the cyberpunk parts), and the intrigue and machinations of Death Note are very involved. If that were what people were praising about them, I'd be content--but it isn't. No, people insist these stories are deep.

Sorry, Kemosabe, ain't buying.

If GitS was deep, it wouldn't have dialog that largely consists of the name-dropping of concepts in psychology and philosophy, a la undergrads showing off in front of their famous professor. Do any of these concepts have any impact on the story? Well, no, no they don't. Basically, a Shinsengumi story with technobabble (good technobabble, I admit, and not of the Deus Ex Tachyons variety) is still a Shinsengumi story, except the terrorists aren't as interesting and the uniforms aren't as snazzy (although I notice a familiar shade of blue, on the Tachikomas' hulls). Also...is Masamune serious, that he thinks Buddhists would have some objection to cyborging for the sick? Someone show me anything in Buddhism that even trends in that direction. It's almost like he read in some Western book that religious people oppose that kind of progress, transplanted the idea wholesale, and didn't bother to check whether the religion he chose would have those kinds of objections. Nevermind that even Christianity (other than a few fringes like Jehovah's Witnesses) don't have objections to medical cyborging, in principle, either (so long, in Catholic teaching, as the brain and ideally the genitals remain intact).

And if Death Note was deep, the characters might have actual feelings. Any guy that treats Misa, who's cute as a Hello Kitty button, the way Light treats her, is a sociopath. Pure and simple. Even a gay guy wouldn't be able to be that nasty to a girl that cute--it's not a sexual thing, it's the basic human desire not to kick babies or shoot kittens. I, for one, feel it impossible that a story can be "deep" if it doesn't have any characters, and only L and Misa have anything resembling personalities (call me kooky, but oughtn't the protagonist to be one of the characters? Yet Light isn't).

Still less can it be deep by having a bunch of characters who are inexplicably blind to the vast, terrifying cosmic issues raised by their actions and the things they witness--it's like a Lovecraft story starring the Girls Next Door! Maybe the writer wanted the thing to leave those questions open for the reader, but where I come from, people don't witness stuff like that without seriously considering some major questions (like, "Wait, if shinigami are real, doesn't my whole worldview need to be re-examined?"). And considering Death Note ran in the same magazine as Bleach, Naruto, and Rurouni Kenshin (which, oddly enough, was deep but not terribly intelligent--nor very good), I'm guessing people actually work much the same in his neck of the woods. Making the characters inexplicably stupid hurts the suspension of disbelief.

I have a feeling this wholly undeserved acclaim is connected to Cool Table Syndrome, since both of the above are considered more "adult" manga/shows--they're more akin to the anime from the 80s and early 90s that were supposed to be so good, like Akira, which had very nice art but a story that didn't exactly go anywhere.

Get over yourselves, people. The objective fact is, Naruto is deeper than Death Note (seriously, my little brother's the only sixth grader with an inkling of what existentialism is), and the fact that it's more entertaining and has better characters demonstrates, once again, the inseparability of the True and the Beautiful (the denial of which, by the bye, was one of Neitzsche's chief failings). Similarly, Bleach is deeper than Death Note, too (and Kenpachi, Byakuya, or Renji could kick Ryuk's ass). Trigun and Gungrave are deeper than GitS--hell, the Trigun manga is deeper than the Trigun anime, and that's saying something. GeneShaft was deeper than GitS, and it managed to explore a transhuman future without either dumbing down or being breathtakingly talky.

The mere fact that important concepts are mentioned, does not make the work that mentions them deep. And even if a work does, in a very roundabout, mindlessly slow-paced way, explor the penumbra of an issue, if it's got no characters worth giving a tinker's damn about, why ought anyone to bother?


Fear of Victory

100 puuchuu points to whomever can tell me what the title above comes from. (50 bonus points if you know what "puuchuu points" comes from--specifically, I mean).

I realized something that's been bugging me: an unwillingness, on the part of people involved in the production of comic-book, SF, and fantasy shows and movies, to let them be the geeky, geeky things they are. Closely associated is a willingness to settle for second-rate work just because the mainstream thinks it's neat. Let's look at each in turn, shall we?

The people behind the new Batman movies, for instance, are unwilling to let them be comic book movies. Ras al-Ghûl is no longer immortal (removing all justification for his character, actually--and he's supposed to be an eco-terrorist); Joker's no longer white, and god forbid he should get any gas (or Harley: why why why couldn't we have had Harley Quinn?!).

Peter Jackson's LOTR movies felt the need to add a bunch of anachronistic "jokes," if that's the word--yet not once does Gimli get to yell, "Barûk Khazâd, Khazâd ai-menu!" (the only sentence in Dwarvish). They cut the Barrow Downs and ruined the whole point of Gandalf the White by letting a Nazgûl--that is, a dead human!--overpower him. As if he couldn't snuff the stupid lich with a thought, this is a Maia we're talking about.

And hell, it's not like Harry Potter isn't essentially mainstream, but after the second movie they brought in a bunch of "edgy" directors, each of whom screwed the story over worse than the hack before. The character development, hell, most of the plot(...the setting? Seriously, what's with Cuaron's hatred of establishing shots)? No, that's none of our business. If we actually told the damn story, people might think we'd read the books (I think that's a prerequisite to adapting a book, reading it, but then I was taught with old books of logic).

Compare, for instance, the Spider-man movies, the Conan films, and the adaptation of Narnia. Sam Raimi felt "like he'd been handed someone's baby," and it shows--those are still the best comic book movies (followed by Hellboy, then Blade). Peter is absolutely Peter Parker, there's no pretense of being more "realistic"...and hey, characters who've shown they'll save the Joker don't leave Ras al-Ghûl to die! Ring any bells?

Why is it Marvel comics are nowhere near as good, but they make better movies?

In the Conan movies, they don't adapt any particular story, but there are certainly elements from several of them, and...frankly, Conan never really had a terribly compelling plot; he made Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser look downright driven. But the films're a very faithful rendering of the feel of the Conan books, and the characters never break out into dwarf-tossing jokes, and there's no @#$%&®© skateboarding, either. It's called "take the material seriously, and stop with the snarky po-mo self-consciousness already."

And then, the Narnia films! Aside from the fact they're better than the source material, not that that's hard, somehow they managed to hit most of the highlights of the plot, and still insert expanded action sequences. Yes, Grasshopper, this comes of killing the Buddha of mainstream approval.

Now for the second issue.

I'd argue that the reason fans put up with bad work is (and I'm not the only one who's said this), they're so glad someone is actually paying attention to them. People that don't have to be embarrassed about their hobbies, are actually paying attention to our hobbies. They're making movies of The Lord of The Rings, and they've got Ian McKellen and the guy that played Agent Smith and Steve Tyler's daughter in them! A Batman movie might actually get nominated for an Oscar--Heath Ledger did not die in vain! ...Not that the academy would pay any attention if he hadn't died, of course. And hey, mainstream critics are talking seriously about a show on SciFi!

"So," they feel, "this is what it's like to sit at the cool table."

That, I think, is what this phenomenon ought to be called. "Cool table" syndrome. Think, stupid high school shows, where people try "to be something they're not" to make the "popular" people like them, before realizing they need to "be themselves." I realize no high school was ever like that, but the trope is of use (anyone uttering the word "meme" should be teleported to a dimension of pure tentacle hentai).

Us geeks, we been kicked around some. We're used to people's eyes glazing over when we talk about our hobbies (hell, I'm geeking on such a level, I can make geeks' eyes glaze over). And seeing the mundanes, the supposed beautiful people, taking an interest, makes us feel loved. This is natural...but it's a weakness, and it can hurt art, if we continue to be so easily satisfied by the attention of the mainstream. One doesn't have to be like Harry "Nothing good can come of being associated with normal people" McDougall, but one needs to remember: these are the people that watch reality TV and Martha Stewart, the people responsible for Rachel Ray having four shows to every one Alton Brown has. These people are the reason Adult Swim barely shows any anime anymore. These are the same people that'll call Farscape a puppet show, the people who stand a very real risk of letting their children see Akira. Are you going to let these Phillistines determine the shape of mass-media SF and Fantasy? Will you let them set the Abomination of Desolation within the Holy of Holies...so to speak?

Ahem. Got a bit worked up there.

But anyway, it may be nice that Battlestar Galactica attracts some cash to SciFi, but that doesn't change the fact that it's essentially a children's show, but with sex. It's nice that the Batman movies are critically acclaimed...but they're not very much like Batman. It's a historic first, but ultimately shameful, that LOTR swept the Oscars, especially when most of the shallow-pates making it seemed to think it was a story about ecology.

Nowadays, there could never be a show like Babylon 5, there could never be another movie like The Labyrinth (and no, Spiderwick doesn't count, DiTerlizzi notwithstanding); there will never be another Batman: The Animated Series. Why? Well, because we've allowed the mainstreamers to think they get to decide how our stuff gets done. They took notice of the quality of some geek stuff--like Batman:TAS--and, rather than saying, "Yes, we are, in fact, this cool; all of our stuff is this awesome," the geeks decided they liked being liked by the mundanes more than they liked their geek-stuff. So they toned down the geekiness, made the plots so simple fans of The West Wing could follow them, and banished all trace of Niven, Lovecraft or Leiber.

Why do I feel like there's actually a spiritual truth contained in this? Apparently, being "unspotted from the world" is not only necessary to salvation; it's apparently also necessary to making any really good creative work. An artist should no more allow the opinions of anyone--especially the critics and art establishment--ruin his work, than a religious person should let the opinions of worldlings keep him from holiness, or a philosopher let the opinions of Socrates-poisoning half-brights keep him from wisdom (or for that matter, than a scientist should let the opinion of his so-called "peers" in the academic establishment keep him from uncovering physical truth).

Or in other word, what we have here is a Buddha in sad need of killing.


Go Loony

Ah, that was refreshing. Now back to unrelenting negativity.

I saw The Dark Knight this summer, and, well, yes, it is much better than Batman Begins. But it is much, much worse even than The Batman, let alone Batman: The Animated Series.

I'm gonna skip the positive and get right to what my problem is. The Joker. Yes, that's right, I don't like the Clown Prince of Crime, as portrayed in this movie. I'll list my reasons, shall I?

1. The Joker is supposed to be white, his hair green. Maybe the writers/directors had a psychotic aversion to a comic book movie being a comic book movie, but even Frank Miller, who has that same neurotic tic about being taken seriously by mundanes, let the Joker be the Joker. Also, of course, it strikes me as worthy of ridicule--not to say pillory--that they can't let Mr. J be the proper color, but they let Two-Face walk around with no skin on half his face and not instantly die.

2. They seem to think the Joker is merely a force of chaos, who just wants to "watch the world burn." Only, um...he's never been portrayed that way. In "Lovers and Madmen," he's portrayed as a brilliant sociopathic criminal who is helped out of an early midlife crisis by his discovery of his one worthy foe: the Batman. In "Killing Joke," it's revealed that he was once an anxious little nobody, whose overtaxed mind was nly able to cope by the simple expedient of...laughing (or going "Looooony, as lightbulb-battered bug"). That's why he's a sociopath: when he starts to feel the negative reaction a normal person has to the idea of doing evil, he just starts laughing, and the inhibition goes away. Okay, that last bit is my interpretation, but he's been shown to be immune to the Scarecrow's gas.

Incidentally, Scarecrow's gas, slightly modified, probably could have formed the basis of the Joker's gas (which, 3. the bastards decided not to give him). Laughter, after all, is a modified defense mechanism, triggered by fear. Come on, people, are you stupid? Can't you imagine the scene: the Scarecrow, say, has hired the future Joker to help him with a job, but decides to double-cross him, and sprays him with the gas...but it doesn't work! Instead, he starts finding the hallucinations funny ("There's a bunny on the moon," a la "Lovers and Madmen"). That could have been cinematic gold.

4. The Joker likes money, folks, he's not stupid. Yes he'll burn it in a heartbeat for the greater...punchline...but no, he'd never burn it just to prove some kinda point to some nobody gangster. That would be the act of someone who believes in something, and he doesn't believe in anything: he's a Nietzschean superman (seriously, think about it--the only better contender is Luthor, although the movies never get him right, either).

Not a Joker problem, but I also didn't like the whole "give them something to believe in" (that happens to be a lie), thing, from the ending. Come on, guys, this is Bruce we're talking about! He'd be more likely to say, "You see an S on this chest, Jim? You want Hope, move to Metropolis."



Eh heh heh, thought I'd do another positive one before ripping a certain summer blockbuster to shreds. So here it is: Farscape.

As with Babylon 5, let's do the bad first. Um...I didn't like that Scorpy didn't get to annihilate the Scarrans.

The news programs about the aliens, after they went to earth, were a bit moronic—and the UN being in control of space matters, would be race-suicide for humanity.

And that's it.

Okay, for the good. First, puppets—come on, man, puppets! The aliens don't look like they're floating just a few degrees into another dimension—they look like they're really there. Why? Well, because they are really there. Sure, there are people that can't stand having puppets in something—they, of course, prefer bad CGI. Everything, of course, should look like a PS1 game, because the mundanes will laugh at us for watching puppet shows (but that, reader-sama, is another post—look forward to it!) But it's really hard for a show to have any good CGI, and still have any budget left over for luxuries like...writers (the reason so much eye-candy SF sucks, I'm guessing).

Second, the story. The technobabble is used as it is in comic books, not as in Star Trek or Eureka: it is there to be hand-waving, to justify the wondrous things that happen in the plot, and as stage-dressing (or cultural setting, as it’s known), not to be the plot. The whole premise of wormhole tech as the holy grail, is not there to provide some Deus Ex Tachyons; it's there to provide justification for the entire Peacekeeper military to be hunting some nobody from a planet called Earp (Um, 'Earth.')

Third, the characters. This is your band of space renegades, Kemosabe—dare I say Outlaws? Eat it, Whedon, Crighton is the coolest male lead since Han Solo. For god’s sake, he’s a Southerner and he knows it. And he quotes Monty Python! The man is like a competent version of Arthur Dent and Philip Fry. D'argo is the only "primitive bruiser" type character I can really get behind, because his culture aren't a bunch of "noble savages," they're just warlike. And he could bust Worf's head like an eggshell, let's be real clear. Stark is unmitigated joy (because he's barmy), and his and Rygel's manzai act (Rygel is the tsukkomi) is amazing. Rygel, for pity's sake, is one of the six best characters ever. I can't imagine people now able to write that complex a character: a tiny, snobby, slightly pervy little tyrant who is, when push comes to shove, a really good leader. Gasp! You might think a rational person was involved in writing this show!

The female characters are among the few good ones in anything Westerners make. Aeryn’s not a feminist Mary-Sue…because she's basically only good at one thing, ass-whup. Okay, yes, Zan is annoying, but to be fair, most clergy are. Okay, yes, Chiana is an irritating little, well, tralk. But she doesn't seem to really likeit, and she's never portrayed as terribly admirable for being a slut. Actually her sluttiness screws her over fairly often—promiscuity having consequences! Is it even legal to put that in a script anymore? And she does get better after she accidentally acquires the ability to see the future. Jool and…Sputnik, whose name I always forget… are two variants on the Chiana theme, but believable as characters in their own right.

Scorpius and Crais are among my favorite antagonists in anything. Both of them are very sympathetic, and Crais has that whole badass leather-wearing Spelljammer-captain thing, with Talyn. Sorry, folks, that’s neat, and he gets a most excellent death. Scorpius, on the other hand, is even better—he might as well be an anime character. Think about it: he’s a single-minded badass, not unworthy of respect, who’s basically a revenge-crazed mama's boy. And he makes S&M jokes! He might as well be Edward Elric.

Fourth, the fact it's not purely SF at all. There are a whole bunch of what are basically wizards, all over the place, and Stark's weird death powers couldn't even count as "scientifically plausible" in the days when Campbell was the editor of Analog. It's more speculative fiction than purely SF...and yet it doesn't have 'Heisenberg compensators' or such idiocy.

It's sorta like opera, but a little more, well, pulp. It's more Double Suicide at Amijima than it is Götterdämmerung, wouldn't you say?

Chikamatsu's ghost, I think they invented a genre: space kabuki!


Babylon 5

I thought I'd take a break from being insanely critical, and mention a series that's awesome--Babylon 5. Now, it's been years since I've seen the thing, but I remember it pretty dang well (having seen whole swaths of it several times), and it's great. Let's break with my usual practice, and list the bad things first:

Um, Garibaldi referred to the Pope as "her," which is slightly religiously illiterate, and a fairly cheap way of establishing the "future-ness" of the whole thing.

The last season was sorta lame, most of the movies aren't that great, and the spinoff series was wretched, wretched, wretched.

And...that's about it!

A neutral point that's basically an objection but which doesn't count agains the show is that energy beings would not move like jellyfish, they'd move at lightspeed...and it's actually debatable whether they could interact with meat-people at all, without converting their energy to matter (how's that for a godlike alien trick?) But Star Trek's got the ridiculous energy beings too, and B5's don't appear ever to have had bodies.

Onward to the good things.

First off, the production values--come on, BSG, Firefly, where's your shame? This show from twelve years before you is eating your frigging lunch! The Minbari and Centauri alone are better than your entire productions! Every little thing on the station is believable, but recognizably different from ours. The costumes are amazing; it's very difficult to believe that G'Kar is not really an alien and Londo is not actually hung like a squid. The space battles have aged better than a lot of things, and the shadows and Vorlons are amazing, both their bodies and their ships.

Second off, the characters. Sheridan is the only believeable Chosen One in anything. Dilenn is one of very few women in anything made in the West in the last twenty years, that isn't just some feminist Mary Sue. Marcus can out-Aragorn Viggo Mortenson any day of the week, while wearing a leather stole. Lennier is an amazing combination of ever-so-slightly feeble but secretly badass bureaucrat and self-destructive unrequited lover. And could you even imagine a show having a guy like Londo Mollari now? And not just using him as vehicle for illiterate screeds against the Bush administration? Hell, I can't even imagine a show now able to conceive of an alien civilization not being a democracy or fascist dictatorship (the Centauri are a monarchy, the Narns seem to be an aristocracy, and the Minbari were a Brahmanocracy/Kshatriyacracy until Dilenn changed them to an "Aryatocracy", i.e. rule by the farmer-caste).

Third, the depth of the whole thing! Seriously, find me another writer who'd make a TV show based around Jungian archetypes! For that matter, find me another writer who'd have the stones to have a guy go to a place called Z'Ha'Dum, fall off a bridge while fighting something dark, and get reborn in the company of someone called Lorien! Or how about Emperor Katagia? That whole arc kept me on the edge of my seat, and was amazingly respectful of the viewers' intelligence. The Minbari caste-system is probably a reflection of the Indo-European Cattle-culture, that's why I used Sanskrit terms to discuss them above (India being the oldest example of that culture in essentially unmodified form).

Fourth, the realistic society. There's rock and roll, for God's sake, not just coffee-bar jazz and classical. People aren't just Yuppies in pajamas, they have mortgages and insurance and have to make money. The aliens do seem not to have multiple races (something nobody ever seems able to pull off), but they do have religions, and they're not all Ethical Cultural Jews (Vulcans) or Gary Gygax's version of Vikings (Klingons). The Minbari are some kind of panentheists, it would seem, while the Centauri religion looks something like Hinduism and the doctor is a Neo-Platonist (you say Foundationist, I say Neo-Platonist--seriously, look them up and tell me I'm wrong). Hell's bells, people have real relationships and fights, not either perfect happy-endingism or soap opera problems.

Fifth, PsiCorps. That's it, man, right there: what the hell else do you want? Anyone that remembers Walter Koenig as an offensive backwoods Russian who can't pronounce the letter V, should get a load of him as a telepathic Gestapo. "Ask me to say 'Nuclear Wessels' again, and I'll make you think you're Eleanor Roosevelt."

I still wonder to this day why people (other than the folks that made Farscape) seem to have seen the greatness of Babylon 5, nodded to themselves, and decided "That can never be allowed to happen again."

It was our last best hope for changing the shape of television science fiction. It failed.


Identity Crises in the midst of Actual Crises

I had been planning to address this a while ago, but then I fell off the Procrastinators Anonymous wagon. I'm back on now, though.

Many modern works (Evangelion and Battlestar Galactica, to take two examples from among those I've been discussing) seem to think that the kind of "existential" angst so common in our society, the angst expressed in midlife crises and similar psycholigical issues of the modern era, is a necessary part of character-development...even in war stories.

The only problem with that is...there are no midlife crises in a foxhole. When the war is clearly a matter of survival, nobody asks, as characters in both aforementioned series do, what it is they're fighting for. They're fighting for the privilege of not dying. The American Army occasionally wondered whether they ought to go on fighting, during the Vietnam War--even before the home front started to go against them. The Israeli Army during that state's various conflicts? Not so much. "Why don't I quit?" is not a legitimate question, in a war of direct, immediate peril.

That's why Shinji (in Evangelion) and the various empty uniforms in BSG, are so laughable, when they ask questions like that. When your going out in an EVA is all that stands between your friends and being annihilated by an Angel; when your doing your duty on the Galactica's bridge, or going out in a Viper, are all that stand between humanity and being consigned to the Cylons' dustbin of history--well, what are you whining about? "Why am I fighting?" Uh...Gee, Davy, do you think it might be so everyone precious to you doesn't die?

There's a big difference between that kind of angst and that in, say, the vastly-underrated Gundam Wing. In that, the angst of the five Gundam pilots is much more understandable: do I continue to fight for my ideal, or surrender, and be content with the liveable but less-than-ideal? That question is perfectly legitimate, and a matter of what Christian moral theology calls prudential judgment. That is the question asked in every great revolution: how far do we push for our ideal, and how far must we be content with what the other side will give us?

I think I'd better enumerate these points, since the idea here is fairly subtle.
1. When a war is a matter of immediate survival, it is not legitimate to question whether one ought to keep fighting--unless one is going to contemplate the morality of suicide (and the Flachkopfe who wrote BSG wouldn't do that; that would mean questioning one of their purely-conventional "morals").
2. Some wars are legitimate matters of defense, of oneself or some third party, but are not matters of immediate survival. In such a war it is not really legitimate simply to ask why one ought to keep fighting, if it is not in doubt that it is a matter of defense. This is why all sane people disapprove of desertion by soldiers. You don't disapprove of that, you say, necessarily? Read on, kid.
3. Sometimes it is legitimate to question whether a war is a matter of legitimate defense. If the answer is no, then it is probably legitimate to cease to fight it--although if one's commanders don't agree, one is still legally a deserter.

More broadly, it is probably not legitimate to seriously entertain the question, "Should I keep it up?" if one is, in any way, charged with the survival of dependents--let alone to answer in the negative and act upon it. What if it interferes with something called, rather hazily, "self-actualization?" Well, unfortunately, the only way to actualize oneself, is to be what is (somewhat simplistically) called "morally good." What we call "good" is really only the full actualization of the nature of whatever being is under discussion (this is the true meaning of "Natural Law"; accept no substitutes). The fact that this actualization also entails the being achieving the fullness of its Existence, is the reason that morality is (for anyone not an English flathead) inextricably bound up with God (Who is, after all, the essence of that Existence).

P.S. Does anyone else think it's funny, given the nature of existence, that the only two intelligent existentialists (Camus and Heidegger) considered themselves atheists? They were bad at metaphysics, sure (denying essences is bad philosophy, unless you're a monist), but that's just sad--if you are primarily concerned with a matter most easily expressed as, "I AM," exactly how is it that you call yourself an atheist?


Neon Genesis Evangelion

Today I will continue my practice of being flame-bait, by discussing Neon Genesis Evangelion.

You know, the anime many American anime fans will swear by, the one that made them love the genre...the one that almost got anime banned in Japan.

Well, forgive me, maybe because I saw it years later than they did and could compare it with other, better things, but...nope, sorry. Just can't respect it all that much. Yes, nice mecha (although they're technically cyborgs). Interesting, if rather sketchy, premise--but see below.

They draw the nicest hands I've seen in anything.

The opening is good; the ending, being a sultry cover of a Sinatra song, rather intriguing (especially the version on the second soundtrack album, performed by Her Majesty, Queen of the Seiyû, Hayashibara Megumi, Rei's voice actress).

On a neutral note, Dr. Gendou Ikari looks eerily similar to Dr. Thadeus Venture, but with hair.

Now for the negativity. First off, Japanese writers need to knock off the Christian imagery--let alone the Jewish! They just don't get it, they're basically embarrassing themselves, and what they say comes off rather offensive. I say the same thing about Western writers and Buddhism, just so we're clear. It's a rule I think most writers should follow: Don't write about radically alien religions, unless you can discuss them where they're the native/predominant religion, and not make a fool of yourself. Similarly practically everyone, especially Europeans, is forbidden from discussing Native American religions. Unless you think you're qualified to discuss emergence narratives as they relate to clan-based ritual structures, or the cultic underpinnings of the factions of Friendlies and Hostiles, just to reference the Hopi alone.

Second, the premise is essentially the same as the older and arguably better Silent Möbius, but with the girl-cop capital-defender motif replaced by a Gundam-esque quasi-"chosen one" boy who rides giant robots. Admittedly that's one overused trope replaced by another, but still.

Third (SPOILER ALERT): Rei being not-so-implicitly a clone of Shinji's mother, and him not-so-implicitly having a crush on her. Um...far too many Japanese writers, especially of that generation, have just got to get over this Oedipal thing. This is an unusually cringe-inducing take on it--what with Dr. Ikari being creepy as all get out, and manipulating Shinji, his late wife, and Rei in his own freakish little power play--but even Maetel and Tetsurou from Galaxy Express 999 was pretty skin-crawly. We don't see that one so much anymore, thank God.

Fourth: every character in the story (other than, arguably, Misato and her on-again, off-again spy lover) is nothing more than a ball of angst. Yes, I know Anno had clinical depression. Speaking as an anxiety sufferer and occasional depressive, I'd never make any character in my work, let alone my audience, go through it with me. It's demeaning to a writer's illness, it's unfair to the characters, and it's openly disrespectful (and hopefully annoying) to the audience, to have a mentally ill artist make his characters work through his problems for him. Plus, it's not believable. Shinji is a moron to have his existential problems when he does--you leave your identity issues and Oedipus complex off the battlefield, kid. Ditto Asuka and her freakish look-at-me, ain't-I-pretty issues. That and her mom's suicide--it's like something you write in tenth grade because you heard that characters need problems. Adult writers are supposed to know that "all the characters are crazy" is not the same thing as, indeed it's the opposite of, "psychological depth." Take it from me: the whole nastiness of mental illness is that there is no psychological depth. Everything is subsumed by anxiety or depression or paranoia or what have you, and there's no room for anything else. In order to have complex characters, they need to be sane. Oh, a little bent here or there, eccentric, sure--but the minute "pathology" can be mentioned, they're probably not that interesting anymore.


Moral Vacuity Regarding Sex, Violence, and the State

What seems mind-bogglingly clear to me, looking at what I dislike about shows like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, is that they suffer chiefly in their denial of morality. Not Christian morality, particularly (I've never seen anything that set out to portray that, and succeeded--unless Pulp Fiction counts), but any morality. They no more have respect for Changing Woman's Law or the Dharma or the Tao than they do for the Decalogue.

Rather, they live in a world where no meaningful statements can be made about morality, where indeed no meaningful statements can be made about anything (they even doubt science, in an almost horrifying version of the Mahayana upsetting of the Theravada apple-cart). But they don't believe in salvation, either that of Christ or Buddha (real Buddha, I mean, not the pretend kind), and so they are simply trapped in an absurd nightmare universe. They are in the angst and trembling of the Existentialists, but they are unaware of the concept of Existence.

All of their morality is just a coping with the meaninglessness, a "whatever gets you through the day." It's usually coupled with, to their credit, the bourgeois niceties that allow society to function ("whatever," in other words, "gets us all through the day"), and is for some reason frequently as outraged as any mid-Victorian greengrocer when those niceties (civil peace, politeness, tolerance) are offended against--far more than if you, say, coat a bunch of partly-dissected cadavers in clear resin and call it art.

The only difficulty (other than the existential ones) with this attitude is, it is impossible to have any real drama. Real drama involves conflict, and it's hard to have conflict when you can't see the battlefield. The only coherent work one can do when all of morality is a compromise between sanity and the Void, is comedy--comedy being, as Chesterton said in The Sword of Wood, "the only poetry of compromise." Is it any wonder, then, that while we can still do good comedy, or dramedy, like House, Monk, and Psych, our "pure" dramas are, by and large, intellectually and artistically barren? Even in those shows, the drama is dependent entirely on there being an assumed morality--House's rule-breaking, or Monk's selfishness and loyalty to Trudy, only make sense considered morally.

BSG refuses to have any of the characters pause for even a moment and consider, say, "Why is democracy good? Ought one ever to surrender liberty for the sake of survival?" or any of the other half-million moral issues that are left sitting, unquestioned, while Captain Bladerunner and President Teacher lucubrate endlessly (and quite well, since such fine actors as Olmos and McDonnell can even make these scripts sound okay) on the American political issues of the hour.

It utterly fails to consider, even implicitly, the meaning or purpose of government. It is made debatable whether the humans are any better than the Cylons--when the humans never massacred all but 30,000 members of another sapient race! It is never debatable whether civil rights might perhaps be suspendible in an emergency.

What is the good of a government? Well...humanity is naturally social, since we cannot acquire all the necessities of life on our own. A government exists to benefit its members, that is to provide for the common good--it is the organization of that society natural to humans. Government is a means to an end. Anything political--civil rights, police powers, a Constitution--is a part of that means. It is therefore only reasonable to consider anything about a government in terms of the end it is meant to serve. If the particular feature--elections, say, or freedom of assembly (on spaceships!)--doesn't serve the common good, in this case the bare minimum of "not getting everyone killed," then it ought to be discarded. Freedom of assembly can never be maintained on a spaceship, anymore than in a nightclub. Not even BSG writers pretend that fire codes' Maximum Safe Occupancy limits are unconstitutional, and the way they pretend that life on a bunch of spaceships should follow the rules of life on the ground is enough to make C.J. Cherryh roll over in her grave--and she's not even dead yet!

This brings us to Firefly's inability to address moral issues of pith and moment. At every turn, questions about truth, reality, and the knowability of right and wrong, are dismissed with, almost always, an appeal to emotion, or the psychological value of having "something to believe in". The only thing we do know is the Alliance government's evil--oh, and judging Inara's evil. Other than that, nothing's evil, 'cept killing people who aren't, by their Archie Bunker-like nastiness, clearly identified as Okay To Kill.

Obviously, any morality that is limited to "don't kill people other than government agents who inexplicably like to liquefy brains, and never mention that prostitution, no matter the euphemism you give it (oiran/companions are still prostitutes), is less than ideal," is nonsense. First off, why is it wrong to kill people? Is it ever right to kill people, and if so, when? Second, are there any wrong uses of sex? Is it possible for any act of consensual sex to be wrong? If not, why? If so, why? Why does the pleasure of sex shut down our moral reasoning in the way that, say, that of heroin doesn't (except to an addict...wait...)?

What is the use of violence? Why, to preserve life, of course. If one cannot live save by committing violence, on a human or on another animal, then one had better commit that violence. Admittedly, the great Socratic adage ("It is better to suffer evil than to do it") comes into play, so one ought not, for instance, become a robber for the sake of survival, but if one does one's guilt is partly mitigated (the question of whether those one robs have a right to their property is another question--the morality of, say, mugging a drug dealer, is complex to say the least). So one's violence against other humans (who have a right to live that animals lack) can only be used when they are a direct threat to one's own life. It may be, also, that they have killed innocents, and then there comes in the questions of justice and of defending the community--and if one does not live in a community, there is still the question of justice.

Similarly, there is the use of sex; leaving to one side the aspects of reproduction and homosexuality (on which you will find my hands soaked in the blood of your Buddhas), it cannot be maintained that, apart from reproduction, sex has any purpose other than the unitive--the pleasure is simply that which derives from satisfying a desire that deals with sensible matter, much like the pleasures of eating and drinking. Can one have true unity with a "companion" whose ducky-shaped clunker of a ship will fly off in a day or two, never to be seen again? How exactly does this one-night stand delivery service constitute a "companion," anyway?

Can even Joss Whedon, whose show is otherwise so morally squeaky-clean, expect us to accept his portrayal of prostitution as a high and holy calling, marred only by people's hangups? Apart from the frankly conventional portrayal of robberies (never accompanied by murder or even accidental killing of innocents, of course), Firefly is like one long aria by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, except for this one grating Scandinavian black-metal riff. The ex-freedom fighters, the never hurting innocents, the utter cartoonish super-villainy of the Alliance--all of that is rather after-school fare. But then, the prostitution--never portrayed as the source of human misery (save when people judge whores as, well, whores) that it is, but rather as a profession peopled entirely with women of superhuman wisdom, beauty, and spiritual grandeur. Or, well, what Whedon tries to portray as spiritual grandeur. This is "the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today"? Right. I'd have thought our problems today included that it sucks to be a prostitute.


Battlestar Galactica

If I don't get flamed for this one, I may well get depressed.

Today I feel I should discuss a show that is certainly worthy of note--if for no other reason than that it compares unfavorably with the Satanically annoying little kid with the constantly-errant robot dog, shrieking "Muffet, Muffet! Come back Muffet!"

I mean, of course, the new Battlestar Galactica.

I would like to keep to my practice and first list the good things about the show...but in this case there are no good things about the show itself. I will say, however, that at least Edward James Olmos gets a paycheck out of all this horse-hockey. I'd prefer he just mailed the Cylons a few origami unicorns, but even he seems to have forgotten Blade Runner was ever made (probably he was just too nice to tell the writers), considering how original everyone seems to think BSG is.

Now for the bad. Hunker down, kiddies, this here's a long list. First, the minor quibbles.

The camera work (this is almost not minor): I understand that many modern filmmakers decided, on scanty evidence at best, that handheld shots made the subject more immediate or visceral or some other word they try to use to describe the indescribable, and so decided to use handheld shots as a substitute for any kind of composition or artistry in their shooting. But that is no excuse to have a show exclusively made of handheld shots. And if, having decided not to do any work on your cinematography, you then decide to have handhelds in space...I for one think you should be honey-dipped and buried in an anthill. Whose POV is that, an EVA astronaut floating off into the void, still filming while he prays that hard vacuum or suit overheat gets him before dehydration does?

The guns: this is what happens when a bunch of liberals write a war story. They can't be bothered to look up a damn thing about guns, and so you get rail guns--identified as such in dialogue!--shooting out clouds of smoke! "Gee, Adama, maybe we need to move the smoker's break room away from the gunnery deck, the clouds're getting caught in the accelerator." And I do believe, also, that the pistols (whose bullets, doubtless supersonic since they penetrate Centurion armor, somehow don't make any kind of big noise) have shell-ejector gates, but I've never seen one spit a shell, despite the fact spent casings flying out are cinematic gold! John Woo's whole career is based on shell casings and pigeons, not counting one innovative idea about shooting cop movies like wuxia--and his American audience isn't acquainted with wuxia! I won't lucubrate on the wastefulness of using nukes for a space-to-surface bombardment (what, Cylons can't build magnet-guns big enough to lob meteors?), or the fact there's no space for bullets to feed into Centurions' arm-mounts, but I expect to be treated with more respect than this. Law and Order writers know more about weapons than these hacks!

The tech: that whole, no networking the computers so Cylons can't hack them, thing, is kinda neat, actually (though I doubt it'd be necessary--all you gotta do is put the comms on a computer with no access to the others, and make all your other networks wire rather than broadcast, and you're good). But otherwise, there is no excuse for the tech in the show. Nobody that can go at FTL velocities is dying of breast cancer, okay? That's not always, or even I think most of the time, deadly for us, and we never made AI. Similarly, decent liquor, not to mention food or sanitation, is not a problem for anybody to whom the phrase "space fleet" is not a television reference! If you can put that many ships in space for any length of time, you can make food in the lab that'd fool Alton Brown. Also, I know the idiots promised us their "naturalistic SF" would not use the deus ex technobabble from Star Trek (which cliche doesn't even exist outside Trek anyway--nowhere in Farscape, Firefly, Bab5, or even Andromeda), but that doesn't let them off discussing the tech as military techs, in space, really would. "Wireless" will cut it on earth because we only use radio, but in space it could be radio, lasers, masers, and possibly gravity "waves" sent directly...to say nothing of FTL comms. If your fleets have FTL drives, I wanna know what kind. We talking jump-drives a la Traveller, or hyperdrives, or warp, or spacefolding? They wouldn't just call it "FTL". At least have the decency to make up a name!

The vaunted originality: whatever TV Guide writer called a remake of a show from the early 80s "the most original show on TV" should be subjected to death by a thousand cuts. Especially considering the original BSG was just a Mormonized re-tread of Fred Saberhagen's "Berserker" series. And, of course, the human-looking Cylons are nothing new; they're called bioroids. Edward James Olmos used to hunt them, remember? Tigh (or however you spell it) even called them "skinjobs," which is slang for replicants! Remember Armitage III, back in '94? She was a bioroid (with mechanical parts) that could breed with humans! And BSG's space combat, that the critics were so impressed by? It's just a sad European clown version of the Itano circus. Been there, kids, done that.

Finally, the culture (there are really two problems with the culture, but the other's bigger): why are they all totally homogeneous, despite being multi-ethnic? Oughtn't Boomer's people (or rather, the people whose DNA she was bioroided from) have a different culture from Starbuck's, and both from...the cute but irritating black chick that used to be President Teacher's aide, whose name I never bothered to learn? Unless they engineered themselves to have different traits for different planets a la Niven (black skin for high UV, etc.), they wouldn't all be the same--and if they did, that needs to be mentioned. You get no diversity points if all the other races differ in is some Pier One furniture.

So much for the little quibbles. Now for the gaping, sucky flaws.

First off, the writers seem to think that religion doesn't matter--that is, that all religions are the same. Their Colonials who worship the Greek pantheon have the same religious issues as modern America. Um...leaving to one side how ridiculous it is for people we presumably left tens of millennia ago to worship a pantheon first recorded in the 12 century BC, it is nevertheless a fact that a people who worship those gods and never had Christianity, would not be anything like us. They'd be more like India--in fact almost exactly like India, since at some point the Devas and the Olympians were the same gods.

That religion, even in India, is not based on books. It is based on traditions, some of which get written down, and it is based on initiation into mysteries--that is to say, it has an exoteric and an esoteric component. But where are the Chthonics among the colonials? Where are the worshippers of Lykaon Apollo who eat Cylon bioroids (now that would shake up TV taboos!)? Where are the Eleusinians who see the destruction of their worlds as but a greater cycle of death and rebirth, as the Maiden is once again called back to the side of the Hospitable One? Where are the Dionysians who have to be restrained under arms from running, frenzied, through the ships? Where are the Orphics, for Eurydice's sake? Their metempsychosis with the possibility of final union with the gods, their esoteric asceticism, and their sacred texts are just about tailor-made for writers of shows of this quality (it can be dumbed-down easily into Hollywood Buddhism, being not unlike real Buddhism), and yet nowhere do they discuss the Grievous Circle, or seem to even have an inkling of the existential melancholy that is a part of all Indo-European religions--the best word for it is the Buddhist term, anitya.

A minor but related quibble is, nobody that worships the Greek pantheon objects to abortions on the same basis as Christians do. They objected because abortions introduced a death contamination into the womb, not because of any idea of the sacredness of life--they exposed infants, remember? Ten minutes with a damn encylcopedia might have brought that up, if the writers were actually here to write a show for thinking adults, not a morality play for eighth graders. Seriously, why not name the characters "Tolerance" and "Gender Equality," since it's obvious they're not there to be real characters? Actually, of course, it's because all the characters would be named "Post-Modern Self-doubting Yet No Less Self-Righteous Moral Muddleheadedness", and that's a mouthful, not to mention confusing.

Second, the characters. When Gaius "Sold out humanity to get me some" Baltar is the most likeable, sympathetic character, you have a serious failure as a writer on your hands. Most amusing of all, of course, is that the vermin writing it think they're being original--"Naturalistic SF," they call it--and claim to have done without SF cliches. Ignoring the fact that there is no literature, not even in England, that can wholly divorce itself from types, they're also full of it.

Why, unless my eyes deceive me, there's nothing particularly original about "Boozy Hardass XO Whose Personal Life is a Shambles", "Compassionate but Tough Captain Whose Career has Negatively Impacted His Personal Life (subspecies Workaholic Dad)", "Son Who's Trying to Live Up To and/or Distance Himself From Said Captain-Father, While Mourning Dead Brother (cross-breed with Brash Pilot)", "Compassionate Teacher Lady-President (much better than Bush of course, we wanted to make that very clear) Who Has a TV Movie Disease Despite Being From a Spacefaring Civilization, (subspecies, Religious Wacko a la Nancy's Astrology or Hilary's Talks With Eleanor Roosevelt)", "Brash Pilot (subspecies Feminist Mary-Sue Who's Better At Everything Than All The Men Despite Being a Dimwitted, Alcoholic Ass, crossbreed with Religious Wacko)", now is there?

And what's naturalistic about a civilization on the brink of destruction still bitching about civil rights? For that matter, what's naturalistic about a military--an Ancient Greek military, mind--where an insubordinate showboat like Starbuck wouldn't have been capped and shoved out an airlock?

Third, the "ripped from the headlines" quality of it. All the nonsense about the Cylons being undercover in the Colonials' ships (as though anything not detectably different from a human, would have remotely different abilities from a human), was obviously the writers' oh-so-imaginative portrayal of fears about terrorist cells in the US. The lame-brained (and culturally laughable) debates about the civil rights issues raised, obviously the writers' take on the Patriot Act (which they, of course, have never read). They had an election (which is suicide in that situation) at the same time we had an election.

The whole debacle on the planet, with the Cylons taking over and the government being viewed as collaborationist, the training a new police force, the bandying about of the word "insurgent"...all of it is a not-even-bothering-to-hide screed about their illiterate view of the Iraq War. 'Scuse me, you hopped-up soap writers, but do you think you could ease off comparing our soldiers to genocidal assassin 'droids? Just a thought, a quibble really.


In any event, though, I am not as bitter as I might seem. For I have been vindicated. You see, as my mother and I were in Wal-Mart buying my little brother a birthday present, we happened to spy the magazine rack. On this rack was a Soap Opera Digest, and on the front page were the words, "Battlestar Galactica Preview." It's officially a soap opera.

Bet Roy Batty wouldn't be sad about the memory of this vanishing like tears in rain.


Possible change of direction

It occurred to me, it's something of a failing as a follower of the Common Master (be seated, be seated--it's a title Socrates used to refer to Reason), that this blog named after Lady Sophia is only about pop culture.

So I thought I'd also use it to discuss philosophical ideas as reflected in pop culture. Sure, I'll still have what are basically reviews, like that of Firefly, below (or above--I think that's an option too, but where I sit it's below this one), but I'll also have more general dissections of philosophical thinking (or more typically the lack thereof) as reflected in pop culture. I'll have, you know, discussions of the problem with energy beings in SF shows, or mind uploading, or the whole logical=material nonsense that makes the literate person want to shoot himself (or someone else, actually, in my case).

Very good. Come, let us reason together...and smirk at people who aren't reasoning, especially when they think they are.


To start off, I'd like to discuss a show that, though not wholly without merit, is severely overrated.

I mean, of course, Firefly, and its movie tie-in, Serenity.

First, I'll start off with the positive. It's certainly interesting to see a space-show that's a little more up-front about the Western-ness of it all. Every space show other than Star Trek (and even that, sometimes) has gunslingers, rustlers, and range wars, they just usually pretend they're something else. It's refreshing that Firefly isn't ashamed to be a space-western.

It's also interesting that the dialog is all in 19th century English, although they do mix dialects rather sporadically (and sometimes say things that are more 18th century, too).

There is some excellent writing, dialogue-wise, and Jayne and River are both rather fun to watch. Simon's awkward nerdiness and big-brother complex are cute. The Shepherd is an interesting character, although he does suffer from being a clergyman in a mainstream show: i.e., he's rather too much of an English vicar from a late Victorian farce.

Now for the negative.

First, some minor quibbles. Mandarin is not English, and profanity works different in Chinese culture than it does in American (hell, it works different in British than it does in American).

The production design is rather lackluster; half the fun of a future setting is, "What will salt shakers/syringes/tables/tennis rackets look like in the 26th Century?" But most such properties in Firefly look just like their modern equivalents.

The Reavers are nasty, but they're also boring. Why not have aliens who, for instance, consider themselves the only people and all other races enemies, who can be raided at will? A Western's none the worse for having Apaches, if done right. I'm guessing Joss Whedon can afford Grenville Goodwin's books.

Whedon is famous for creating Mary Sues--Willow from Buffy is practically synonymous with Mary Sue--but River (also a nature-name, I notice, with a short I in the first syllable), Kaylee, and Inara (which is not, I'm fairly sure, even a word) are even more irritating and unbelievable than Willow is. And in fact, Whedon just needs to let other people name his characters.

Finally, I don't care what the tagline from the movie was, it's comparatively easy to stop a signal. It's called "jamming."

Now for my three major complaints. First, Inara. A courtesan being "respectable" is not something with which I'm acquainted, in any culture--they might have had a certain degree of status, but it was not respectability. A drug dealer might have status: he is nonetheless not respectable. Similarly, the "mysteriously wise prostitute" trope is incredibly overdone. And to pretend that a courtesan can also be Buddhist clergy would be hilarious, if it wasn't so damn offensive. Buddhism, as actually practiced by real people, is not exactly ambiguous in its stance on sexual morality. Which stance is...indistinguishable from Christian, Jewish, or Hindu morality. Yes prostitutes/courtesans/gisaeng/oiran/etc. can practice Buddhism, just as they can and do practice Christianity, but when one becomes a Buddhist priest (to the extent there is such a thing), one takes vows of chastity along with those of nonviolence, vegetarianism, poverty, and abstinence-from-alcohol. They can no more be courtesans than they can be executioners.

Second, the self-deception all the characters live their lives in. Anytime anybody asks if something is true or real or good, or in other words tries to discuss ultimate questions, the answer that everyone comes up with is, in essence, "Go with whatever works for you." It's infuriating how often the show raises issues of ultimate import, and then just as quickly dismisses them with this sophistical pap.

Third, and I know this will make many scratch their heads, I cannot abide the total lack of moral ambiguity. "What?" you'll cry. "It's chock full of moral depth and ambiguity." No, I reply, it is not.

For instance, their war that's supposed to be like the Civil War (Browncoats are the Graycoats, you dig?). The big bad Alliance wanted everyone to be under their hegemony so they invaded everyone and everyone fought but they lost.

Only, see, the whole romance of the Civil War, the reason it's so much more interesting than the Revolutionary War or either World War, is the side that put up the heroic, gallant resistance and obeyed chivalry, was in the wrong on slavery. The side that was in the right on slavery, committed atrocities on a massive scale. In other words, there was serious moral ambiguity goin' on. Nothing like that in Firefly: Browncoats good, Alliance bad. And willing to show how bad it is, down to experimenting on doe-eyed little girls whose brothers love them, or killing its opponents in rather noticeable ways, like liquefying their brains, rather than untraceably shooting them in the head like any normal person.

Or how about the total lack of ambiguity inInara? Has Whedon never seen a samurai movie in his life? The whole romance of a courtesan character is her attempts to cling to her dignity despite how degrading her job is--think of the Plum-blossom girl in Zatoichi to Yojimbo, or Akesato in Peacemaker Kurogane. Make her respectable, make her like it, and you've simply made her one-dimensional and, frankly, creepy--like the girls at the Playboy mansion.


Welcome to my blog. In this first entry I suppose I ought to introduce myself.
My name is Tom, and I live in Flagstaff, Arizona. I am 23, single, and am currently in college.
I am Roman Catholic, straight, white, speak English very well, French decently, and Japanese rather erratically.
My political ideas are rather difficult to categorize, but I tend to support the center-right on most issues--not that I agree with them (my ideas are radically different from anything currently abroad in the land); their goals are just the least different from mine.

I am the world's biggest geek--no, seriously, in the geek-races I could give Alton Brown a run for his money and beat him by two lengths. I am a geek about, just off the top of my head:
Science Fiction
and so much more.

This blog is mainly going to be concerned with pop culture, and my mind-bogglingly picky opinions about same. Its name, "Lady Wisdom's Favorite," refers to Sophia, the Greek goddess of Wisdom whose friends the Socratics claimed to be--philosophia. Yes I'm sure you've heard it translated as "lover" of wisdom, but philia is the love of a friend, so "friend of wisdom" seems a closer translation.

I had considered naming it "Buddha-killer," referring to the Buddha-killing teaching of Rinzai Zen:

If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet the Patriarch, kill the Patriarch. Not held by anything, not bound, all there is, is simply to live your own life.
(as quoted by Tou Genjyo Sanzo, Gensoumaden Saiyûki, and translated by me)

What it means is, "disregard any ideas/preconceptions/authorities that keep you from seeing the truth." Now, I don't happen to think that what Rinzai thought was the truth, was the truth (not being a Zen Buddhist), but it is a very valuable attitude. There is, of course, a place for authority--to sound very Zen about it, "We ought to kill the Buddha. How much more, then, ought we to kill Rinzai Gigen?"--but letting ideas like prestige, rank, street-cred, or popularity blind one to simple facts (as, for instance, that a particular show sucks, no matter how critically-acclaimed it is) is the cause of most of our problems.

But I was slightly worried that hyper-sensitive illiterates would think I was saying something nasty against Buddhism, not that they'd know Buddhism from a hole in the ground.

So instead I chose the name Lady Wisdom's Favorite, slightly egotistically, because I consider philosophy the single most important thing of which humans are capable. It's more referring to me--yes, I realize I'm implying that I'm the best philosopher--than it is to the topic of the blog.

I shall try to keep the blog apolitical, save where politics enter into (i.e., whore out) the storyline of a work I'm discussing.