Oh, Mercy, Mercy Me

Here we are, six months into the pandemic, and a whole lot of people are acting like idiots. This spring, armed men invaded state capitals because they literally wanted to get a haircut. I was talking to someone about how this was the way life was now, and something occurred to me.

The last time that a major upheaval happened in our lives was nineteen years ago today. The whole country shut down under the weight of this horrible act of aggression. The peace and prosperity of the nineties was over (the prosperity had already ended pretty much as soon as Bush was sworn in, but that’s not how we remember it), and we were all going to make sacrifices of our old lives in the face of this new reality.

But in actuality, we didn’t. Life returned to normal pretty much instantly, and I’m not talking about extra airport security or Islamophobia or the incredibly unpopular president becoming a superhero to most of the country. I’m talking about day-to-day life. We could go to restaurants, go to movies, get the oh-so-important haircut. The words of comfort and aid from our president were not “Ask not what your country can do for you,” but rather, “Go shopping.” The MTA had an updated subway map out in about a week. We lost some of our freedoms, but we didn’t really miss them. The only people who gave anything up were those that rushed headlong into the recruiter’s office and found themselves in Afghanistan and Iraq, but, in general, those were the kinds of people who were going to join the military anyway, so no real difference.

Eighteen and a half years later, an invader came to our shores again to rob us of our way of life, and Americans, remembering how this kind of thing goes, were expecting a quick return to normalcy. We don’t like change.

But the fact of the matter is, everything changed, and it will be forever different. One day, in a year, maybe more, the stores may open up all the way again, and schools may be taking students in without having to go online again after a rash of infections pop up, but things won’t be the same. Many Mom and Pop stores will be forever shut down, to be replaced by a centralized, corporate structure. The kinds of people who are freaking out about masks will wield even more political power. We’re already seeing America’s billionaires getting exponentially richer over the past six months, and they’ll do anything not to lose their money. This is how life is now. We won’t be wearing masks forever, but the changes to the way we live our lives are fundamental. It is never going to be the way it was before.

And we, as Americans, can’t deal with that.

The Sanctity of Fictional Life

The Sanctity of Fictional Life

It’s no secret that I like the Urban Fantasy, whether in books or in TV. This doesn’t apply only to Urban Fantasy, but to all genre-style books, movies, and TV shows (excluding romance). These works of fiction tend to have a high body count. Whether it’s the victim before the opening credits of a TV show, or the innocent bystander being killed in the carnage of the two heroes duking it out above the city in a movie, or the person who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when the sexy rogue vampire is walking through the pages of a novel, genre fiction is a bloodbath, and life (except for the main characters) is cheap.

With that much death, it’s hard to comprehend how we’re supposed to feel about it. It should be shock value when the villain just lashes out and kills another hostage, is it? We’ve lost almost 200,000 people to a virus, and most of that was due to negligence and political infighting. Each of those lives means something, but the number is so staggering, we can’t comprehend it. It’s why people don’t wear masks anymore. They don’t see the lives, they see a number.

I write primarily in Urban Fantasy, and I’m really squeamish about killing people. I mean, I have. My nostalgia novel Infinity has a pretty shocking death toll, and the vampire in my vampire novel’s gotta eat. But usually I let people live.

Partly it’s because of logistics. For example, the population of Sunnydale, California, could have, in no way, supported the amount of people who died there on a weekly basis. And who would want to be a Gotham City cop or a guard at Arkham Asylum when anytime one of them appears on panel, they get their throats slit?

But mostly it’s empathy. Even fictional characters have a family who will miss them. They had favorite movies and food, and statistically, some of them have got to have pets. They may be made up by me, but they’re more than just a statistic to make the bad guy seem extra bad and for the heroine or heroine vow to avenge and then forget later.

Also, I found a lot of storytelling possibilities. In one case, a character who should be another dead victim is turned into a trauma survivor who becomes friends with the heroine. And when I do decide to kill someone, the loss of a life means something to their family, to their friends, and to the heroine who witnessed it. I’ve just made the on-the-cuff decision to kill a minor character in my current book, and it’s really allowed me to think about who he was when he was alive, and to get to know him, not just through his funeral trope where everybody stands around a hole while a priest drones on, but through the wake, a celebration of his life and his potential.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I don’t really have the stomach for the way non-main characters are treated in genre fiction, and the only solution to that is to do it better.

Swallow This

My first horror movie was Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Prior to that, I’d spent fifteen years squeamish around gore and sensitive to people in pain. Horror movies in the eighties and early nineties were primarily slasher flicks, and I had no interest in seeing people get murdered, and I certainly didn’t want to see any guts. I liked my violence clean and sanitized and without any real consequence, as in superhero comics and Star Wars.

And then came the sleepover where I woke up early in the morning, and my friend was watching one of his favorite movies. I poured some coffee and joined him, catching the beginning, before the insanity started (and this was early in the movie, because the insanity starts pretty much right away), and I watched, through dismemberment and torture, and I wasn’t at all queasy like I’d expected myself to be. I was transfixed by the sheer spectacle of it. It was just around the time that the hero’s demon-possessed hand dragged himself into the kitchen to hit himself in the head with every single plate in the tri-county area that I turned to my friend and asked, “Is this supposed to be funny?” He told me that it was.

Evil Dead 2 is not so much a horror movie as it is a demented cartoon. Director and writer Sam Raimi throws subtlety and nuance down the garbage chute while invoking terror and tension, never giving the audience the chance to relax. Leading man Bruce Campbell has to carry a large portion of the movie by himself, and he is over the top while convincingly being horrified, terrified, grief-stricken, and angry. This movie sucks you right in and doesn’t let you go, no matter how ridiculous it gets.

In the hour and a half that I spent in my friend’s living room, I became desensitized to violence and gore on the screen, and suddenly I could watch any movie without fear. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less blasé about onscreen death, and now I find myself wondering after the families of the people who are getting killed in my fiction.

I guess the whole point of this post is that I just finished a rewatch of Evil Dead 2 after decades of it existing only in my memory, and I have to say, it still holds up. Groovy.

Mandela Effect

I had a long conversation about the Mandela Effect with Nicole and her friend because he had stated he wanted to see a band in concert, she told him he had already, he told her he hadn’t, and she found pictures on Instagram of him seeing that band in a concert he had no recollection of.

The Mandela Effect, if you don’t know, is the collective false memories that our society has about famous events. For example, most people remember four people in the presidential limo on November 22, 1963, despite the fact that there were actually six. Mostly, it’s pop culture, like the lines “Hello, Clarice” from The Silence of the Lambs, “Luke, I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, or “Beam me up, Scotty,” from Star Trek, lines that were never uttered in any of those movies or TV shows. Some say that they saw video of the man in Tiananmen Square get run over by a tank, despite that no such video exists. There are those who swear that it’s spelled Volkswagon, not Volkswagen (despite that the former is not remotely German). The Mandela Effect gets its name from the fact that Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, despite the fact that a large number of people remember seeing his funeral on TV years before that, and if you go to any page on the subject, particularly pages with comments, people are really freaked out about it.

I have a Mandela Effect of my own, in a guy I went to college with who married someone close to me and is friends with most of my friends from back then and has pictures on their Facebook page of concerts that I’ve been to and is someone I should at least know peripherally, but I have no memory of whatsoever. I’ve spoken to my psychiatrist about this, and he agrees that selective editing of my life like this is highly unusual, even for someone with a legendarily lousy memory such as myself. But there it is, a “this-guy” hole in my life.

There are lots of explanations for the Mandela Effect, including alternate realities and the fact that the world actually ended on December 21, 2012, as was predicted by the Mayans, making this is some kind of weird echo/restart. Perhaps we’re all in virtual reality, and they keep rewriting the Matrix. Maybe something went funky with the Hadron collider.

In the end, though, it is simply misremembering things. Memory is one of the most fallible parts of our experiences as humans, and in a world that makes very little sense, our minds will fill in blanks to make things coherent. For example, one of the biggest bits of evidence that people will use for the Mandela Effect is the Berenstain Bears, the children’s book and cartoon series. People will swear up and down in a court of law that it’s Berenstein Bears, and the fact that it’s not is evidence that something’s not right in the world, not that they just remembered it wrong. When you think about it, -stain isn’t very often the end of someone’s surname. It’s usually -stein. People made assumptions, they were wrong, and they dug in their heels and declared that they couldn’t possibly be wrong, so the universe must be broken. I myself thought it was Berenstein until I learned about its place in the Mandela Effect conspiracy, and I just accepted the truth (i.e. it has always, from day one, been Berenstain) like an adult.

The Mandela Effect is kind of fun and a little bit creepy at times, but there is no such thing as alternate dimensions where they’re known as Looney Toons, not Looney Tunes, as they have been since the forties. This conspiracy is just another way that (mostly) Americans can defy the truth that’s in front of our eyes in favor of our “intuition.” This is yet one more reason we’re still in quarantine six months later when listening to the medical experts could have slowed down if not stopped the spread of a deadly virus. It’s the reason our president can gleefully violate the Constitution and other American laws and get away with it.

You’re going to be wrong about things, even things you’re positive you’re right about. It doesn’t make you less of a person. It makes you more of one.

A Series of Bad Mistakes

I just sat through a season of one of the worst TV adaptations of a beloved novel (a series of novels, actually) that I’ve ever seen. The directors’ only direction to every hero was, “Look out of breath,” and every antagonistic character was, “Act smug.” The adapting writing was pretty bad, as opposed to the book, which was really well put together. The main villain was supposed to be on a quest for a series of sacred objects, but all he had to do was sit back, kill a few of his minions to prove how evil he was, and let the good guys retrieve all the sacred objects for him and hand them over to him under minimal duress. I wanted to scream, “Stop helping him! He’s smarmy! He didn’t know where this shit was before you dug it up, you idiot!”

The acting was terrible across the board, but the worst was one of the romantic leads, whose character was a flat-out asshole, but his only expression was the same one you make when you’re holding back a giggle because you unleashed a silent-but-violent and everybody is going to smell it any second now. That was seriously it. Fights hoard of demons, guilty snort. eaffirms his bond with his best friend, guilty giggle. Gets married, guilty giggle. Betrays his best friend, guilty giggle. His best friend gives him an impassioned (well, impassioned for these actors) speech reaffirming their friendship, guilty giggle.

Thirteen episodes, at forty-five minutes each. That’s nine hours and forty-five minutes of precious, precious time I spent on this show. There are two more seasons. Hard. Pass.

Cancel, Check

I’m out of the loop, so I just found out about all of the accusations from women aimed at Warren Ellis.

To say that this is disappointing is an understatement. Warren Ellis is one of my favorite writers of all time–I think the man is a certified genius at creating comics, as well as his second life as a cartoon scriptwriter. I hardly read comics anymore, but I make sure to pick up whatever Mr. Ellis has dropped on the shelf that week, even when it’s a (ugh) Batman book. I recently dropped over $100 to read the entirety of Transmetropolitan, his opus.

To be fair, he hasn’t been accused of doing anything illegal, such as sexual assault. What he’s accused of is, in general, being a creep, and leveraging his status as king-and-queenmaker to royally mess with some very vulnerable young women with aspirations in the comics industry. This is not okay.

Am I surprised by this? Not really. He’s always had the kind of attitude you can imagine a creep displaying. But should he be cancelled? I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do. This is all fresh to me.

Ugh! Why are men with power the worst?

Desert Flora Through Time and Space

One of my earliest memories is when I was a really, really young child, and I stumbled on my dad watching Doctor Who for the first time. The image seared into my brain was a man with brown, curly hair and a large, red scarf, made up to look like a cactus, stumbling around. Scared the living crap out of me.

Almost forty years later, I’m watching “Meglos” again, and two things occur to me. One is that the model work on the pirates’ spaceship was outstanding, and I have no idea how they did it at that budget.

More importantly, in the eighties, most movie and TV producers would look at a script and say, “Put our lead actor in full cactus makeup? That would be ridiculous! Not on my watch!” But Doctor Who producers read the script and said, “Tom Baker as a cactus? That would be ridiculous! I don’t care what it takes, make it happen!”

And that’s why I will always love Doctor Who best.

The More They Stay the Same

We are at an unprecedented point in our history, and it’s got me seriously concerned about something. We are seeing clearly that capitalism as it we know it is toxic, that the CEOs are avaricious and cruel and are profiting off of this national disaster. We’re seeing clearly that the party that has been elected to run our federal and most of our state government is incompetent and vain and in the pockets of the aforementioned CEOs. We’re seeing a disaster made exponentially worse because the people who are supposed to look out for us are failing, and it’s the nurses and teachers and hourly workers—essentially second-class citizens—are holding it all together.

What I’m afraid of is that, when this is all over, nothing will change. That we will continue to reelect those people we have been complaining about for months. That the billionaires will give themselves bonuses, and the politicians who support them will give them more tax cuts. I’m afraid that the nurses and teachers will go back to being ignored and mistreated, and that there will be no minimum wage increase or sick time for the hourly employees who risked their lives to make society function. If nothing comes out of this nightmare we’ve been living with, then what was the point?

How bad will it have to get for things to change? I have a sick feeling in my stomach that it’s going to take a lot more than this.

Who You Love

Everyday YouTube sends me a video it thinks I will enjoy, and 19 times out of 20, it’s wrong. But lately, it’s been drowning me in “Chibnall is KILLING the Doctor Who franchise” types of videos, and the very titles foul my mood.

Here’s the thing about them, though, that I think unsettles me the most. You can’t tell them that if they hate it so much, stop watching, because in their minds, they’re the true fans. They have in their heads this ideal of Doctor Who that’s so shining and specific and beloved and perfect that anything that strays from that must be protested. They think they’re helping by demanding that Doctor Who be only its best. And of course there’s all the raging misogyny behind it, cleverly disguised by focusing their attacks on “bad writing” and Chris Chibnall.

In general, I’m the type of person who stops watching a show when I stop enjoying it, so this attitude is a little too masochistic and narcissistic for me, though I did continue to watch Doctor Who through the Moffat years, despite the fact that I wasn’t enjoying the show as a whole anymore. I hung on because I was open to the good moments and the performances, of which there were many, and I wouldn’t dream of demanding my favorite show’s cancellation. Stephen Moffat wouldn’t be showrunner forever.

I started watching Doctor Who during the Tom Baker years. If I decided that this was the only way the show could possibly be, I’d be one miserable tool right now. And that’s what they are, miserable and impossible to please, and meanwhile, we’re here as the Doctor Who Fans Who Actually Like the Show, and we’re having a great time watching a show we love. If this was a contest, we’d be winning.