Tuesday, July 30, 2013

My Tuesday Guilty Pleasure -- So You Think You Can Dance

Yeah, I admit it.  Every Tuesday night you will find me watching the local Fox affiliate because that's when So You Think You Can Dance airs.  Now, understand that I am not a dance junkie, per se.  I love the performing arts, but I have little or no use for most reality shows or talent competitions.  Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood were pleasant surprises in the music scene, but I didn't follow their respective rises on American Idol.  And I certainly didn't vote for them.

As for the tripe that is Dancing With The Stars, the less said the better.  I don't care whether or not Buzz Aldrin can cha-cha.  But I sure care whether or not Malece and Alan can pull off this week's salsa.  Or if Aaron and Jasmine's quick-step routine will be good enough to keep them out of danger for another week.

I love SYTYCD.  I love the talent that would otherwise never get a showcase.  I love that it exposes me to different genres and styles of dance.  I love the education it gives me every week, and that it exposes me to dance I would never otherwise see.  They do Bollywood, for crying out loud!  I also love that it gives work to some insanely talented choreographers each week -- people like Sonia Tayeh and Tyce D'Orio and Travis Wall.  Before SYTYCD if I wanted to see Tyce D'Orio's work, I would have to go to NYC and catch a Broadway musical.

Another factor is that my wife also loves the show.  She is more knowledgeable about dance than I am, and often sees some nuances in the performances that I miss.  I love that I'm learning from her.

The competitive aspect of the show is its weakest link, at least for me.  The two regular judges are reliably well-versed in dance, but the third rotating "celebrity" judge can be hit or miss.  Sometimes they're surprisingly brilliant in their critiques, but sometimes they can be a waste of everybody's time.  I understand that the premise of the show is that it is first and foremost a competition, but I wouldn't care if it just showcased the choreography every week.

But it IS a competition, and one well worth your time.  So next Tuesday, join me.

Oh, and vote for Malece.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

O Me Of Little Faith*: Ten Quotes On Atheism

This is something I've been wanting to do for a while now.  Here is the first list of favorite atheist quotes.  I hope there will be several of them to come!

Woody Allen:  "To you, I'm an atheist.  To God, I'm the loyal opposition."

Voltaire:  "Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities."

Napoleon Bonaparte:  "Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.  Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."

Mark Twain:  "The Bible has noble poetry in it ... and some good morals and a wealth of obscenity, and upwards of a thousand lies."

Dara O' Briain:  "Science knows it doesn't know everything; otherwise, it'd stop.  But just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you."

John Fante:  "Almighty God, I am sorry I am now an atheist, but have You read Nietzsche??"

Bertrand Russell:  "It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age, but, if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion."

Philip Appleman:  "Heaven:  The big Apartheid in the sky."

Christopher Hitchens:  "There are, after all, atheists who say they wish the fable were true but are unable to suspend the requisite disbelief, or who have relinquished belief only with regret.  To this I reply:  Who wishes that there was a permanent, unalterable celestial despotism that subjected us to continual surveillance and could convict us of thought-drime, and who regarded us as its private property even after we died?  How happy we ought to be, at the reflection that there exists not a shred of respectable evidence to support such a horrible hypothesis."

and finally, my personal favorite from this list:

Peter O'Toole:  "One day when I was praying, it suddenly occurred to me that I was talking to myself."

[*This entry's title made with apologies to Lewis Black, whose O Me Of Little Faith is one of the funniest books you will ever read.]

Saturday, July 20, 2013

SDCC 2013

Bucket List - 1; Me - 0.  This week is SDCC 2013, the San Diego Comic Con.  It has been something I've wanted to attend since long before it became the multi-media juggernaut it is currently.  What started some years ago as a pretty standard convention of comic book fans -- much like the convention that Baltimore still hosts every year in late summer -- is now barely about comic books at all.  It is a showcase for Hollywood films and television programs, some of which only barely qualify as comic-nerd fodder.  Comic books are really an afterthought at SDCC at this point, with a lower priority than movies, TV, videogames, toys, etc.  And yet I still want to go.  And I probably never will.

Which is too bad, because this year would have been a great year to go.  The 20th anniversary of "The X-Files."  The 50th anniversary of "Doctor Who."  The new seasons of "Sherlock" and "The Walking Dead."  Upcoming movies about Thor and The Avengers (Marvel Comics, not Steed and Mrs. Peel.)  Not to mention every comic book creator alive today who's worth mentioning, including the apparently immortal Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the Avengers and the X-Men, among others.  Going would have been one heck of a way to celebrate my 60th birthday.  But there's no way. 

Why not?  Because, as many others have already written, Comic-Con has simply gotten too big.  Too big for its venue, too big for its host city, too big for its proverbial britches.  The con squeezes over 130,000 people into the San Diego Convention Center.  There is inadequate parking.  Hotels are far away and do not have sufficient rooms.  Tickets sold out in under two hours last February, despite the overworked, inadequate and supremely glitchy Comic-Con website.  And if you were lucky enough to score a ticket, and a room that you can afford, and a way to get to the center, it can still take hours just to get in.  Running the human gauntlet at the entry gate is apparently quite daunting.  And if you are handicapped, or otherwise have special needs -- I personally have issues relating to Crohn's Disease which make bathroom access an absolute necessity -- you are in big trouble.  The Center does not have adequate facilities for the crowd it hosts, and trying to navigate a wheelchair through the press of people attending can be trying at best and impossible at worst.

But say I did it.  Say I somehow managed to get my Crohn's and my arthritis under sufficient control to allow me to make the trip, that I scored a ticket in the lottery that is the SDCC ticket sale, got a room at a hotel with a shuttle, etc., etc.  There's still no guarantee that I'd get to see one bloody thing I'd hoped to see.

The largest hall, the one that hosts the most popular panels like those for the Avengers movie or for the Twilight films, only seats about 6,000.  That sounds like a lot, until you realize that almost all of the 130,000+ attendees want in.  The lines are, quite literally, over a mile long and take hours and hours of your day.  With no guarantee that you even will get in, because the folks that are already in the hall, for the presentation ahead of yours, are not required to leave.  So of course many attendees have adopted the strategy of getting in however they can, be it hours or days in advance, and simply staying there in their seats until the program that they really came for finally comes up on the schedule.  It's ridiculous.

The convention needs bigger and better everything if it is to continue.  It needs a bigger venue, better ticket policies, better policing of the panels, better handicapped and special-needs concessions, etc., etc., etc.

When I tally up the actual physical inconveniences of attending versus the geek dream idea of actually going to the con, sadly, the inconveniences win.  To waste an entire day standing in line to meet (insert geek star here) only to be turned away at the door, or losing my place in line because I had to go to the bathroom and did not have the foresight to catheterize myself (and yes, some do exactly that) would break my heart.  So, Bucket List or not, I just, sadly, cannot see it ever happening, short of my creating something that landed me on the SDCC VIP guest list.

At least with YouTube and the rest of the Internet, I will get to see the things I couldn't attend in person.  That's something, I guess.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Seventh Decade

Today is the last day I can claim to be "in my fifties."  Tomorrow I will have to start saying that I'm "starting my seventh decade."  Yeah, I turn 60 tomorrow.

I've never been one of those folks who take milestone birthdays seriously.  I have a lot friends -- most of them younger than I am! -- who found turning 30, or 50, to be traumatic life events.  I've always thought that my birthdays were just another day, and that I am in no way remarkable for the simple virtue of managing to stay alive for a certain period of time.

In the past, this was not true for most humans.  It was remarkable to manage to stay alive for a certain period of time.  Surviving into adulthood was a big deal.  Making it to middle age was a huge deal.  Four hundred years ago, making it to age 60 would have guaranteed my position as a Village Elder, even if previously I had merely been the Village Idiot.

So.   My wife and daughter are taking me out to dinner with some of my closest friends.  My brother and sisters and father will not be in attendance -- even if they remember my birthday, which is iffy, they will have other, better things to do.  Which surprisingly, despite the years of abuse at my father's hands, hurts more than I thought it would.  But that's the way my family has been "surprising" me for most of my life.

And truly, I've never been one for parties.  I only ever had one birthday party as a kid, and it was a disaster.  (Almost nobody came -- I was not a popular child -- and I think those that did either came grudgingly or merely hoping for cake.)  The next birthday party I had was when I turned 30.  I had just found the love of my life and she threw me a surprise party, inviting all my friends from the Unitarian Church of Charlottesville, VA.  We all got very drunk and partied to the wee hours.  I remember particularly singing along with Spike Jones' "Der Fuhrer's Face" with a couple of East German graduate students who were working in my wife's lab.  They were the opposite of offended, a fact which continues to amaze me thirty years later.  It was a fun time, but not anything I need to do on an annual basis.

I've never really wanted a party to commemorate my birthday.  Apart from what I said up above, I don't really have a good reason for not wanting to party.  Just not my thing, I guess.  My wife is the opposite.  She loves parties.  We gave her a big one when she turned 50, and she wants another one this November when it's her turn to celebrate her 60th.  And she shall have it.

I don't plan to spend tomorrow thinking about mortality, or the future, or even much of the past, really.  I want to try to be in the moment and enjoy what I have, right now, right this second.  And I'll do it in the company of the people I love best in this world.

Nothing could be better than that.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Marvel Movies vs. The DC Movies


Recently I was in a discussion about Man of Steel at my local comics shop.  It's no secret that I was very much looking forward to this movie, and no secret that I was utterly disappointed in it.  Now I've always been The DC Comics Guy at my store.  Most of the folks there are more into Marvel's stuff:  Avengers, X-Men, Spider-Man, and Fantastic Four, to name but a few.  I prefer the old school stuff from DC:  Green Lantern, Superman, Batman, the Flash, the Justice League of America.  And in the course of the discussion about why I was so distressed by the Superman movie, I realized what the overall problem is.

The two companies have switched places, at least in their movies.

In the comics, DC was the bright primary-colors world of hope and promise.  Marvel had the universe where the heroes were plagued with personal problems.  Think about it.  Superman had, if anything, too much power to be interesting.  Batman was a billionaire.  Gotham City was scary, but protected by the Batman.  Metropolis was the City of Tomorrow.  All the cities in the DC Universe were made up places:  Green Arrow had Star City, the Flash had Central City, Green Lantern protected Coast City, Hawkman was in Midway City, and so forth.  Sure, if you squinted hard enough, you could see that they were supposed to be LA or NYC or Chicago.  But they were pretend places, and you could go there in your imagination and make believe that maybe you could be chosen for an alien power ring. Or at least look up in the sky and see Superman on patrol.  It was a nice, warm four-color feeling.

The Marvel Universe was different.  Spider-Man was always plagued by money troubles, girl problems, and the imminent death of his last surviving relative, Aunt May.  Captain America was a man out of his own time, lost in the 1960's after being frozen alive during WWII.  The Fantastic Four come closest to the DC ideal, but their strongman, the Thing, was stuck in his deformed, rock-like body.  The other members looked human or could at least turn their powers on or off at will, but poor Ben Grimm was stuck as "some kind of THING" for the rest of forever.  And all the Marvel superheroes -- Iron Man, the Avengers, Thor, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four -- worked out of New York City.  Every single one.  Daredevil protected Hell's Kitchen, Doctor Strange covered the Village, and the FF had midtown, but they were all practically tripping over one another.  The only one not there was the Hulk, because that poor, tortured monster was in self-exile out in some desert in the southwest.  The heroes all had problems, and the appeal was that it made them "more like us."

But the movies have very subtly turned things on their respective ears.  The Marvel Universe is a positive place.  I want to go to there.  Iron Man's Los Angeles looks great.  There's always some new flashy Stark Industries expo where a fan can spot Tony Stark on the red carpet.  Spider-Man's New York City is a place where you might look up and see Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man swinging by, instead of Superman.  In the Marvel Universe, the good guys win, not without cost, but by the good-guy rulebook, and whether it's Iron Man, the Avengers, Captain America or Spider-Man, you want to cheer when they come out on top.  Not so much in the DC movies.  Nobody in their right mind would ever want to live in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Gotham City.  It's a bleak, horrible, hopeless place.  The Batman is essentially a driven whiner who is just as likely to give up and allow things to go to hell as he is to try to do something positive.  Superman stands by and allows his Earth foster father to commit suicide by tornado.  Then he kills the bad guy with his bare hands.  Nobody I know wants to live in a world where Superman is a dark, tortured, yet indestructible alien.  And although I love the character of Green Lantern, the movie GL was kind of a self-absorbed twit.  His LA was no place I'd want to hang out, not like I wanted to hang out in Coast City when I was a kid.  Although I believe the Green Lantern movie had more merit than most critics gave it, I never believed that the movie version of the hero was flying around on patrol because it was the right thing to do.  The cool thing to do, maybe, but not the right thing.

So that's my theory.  The Marvel movies always end on an upbeat note.  The DC movies not so much.

It makes me shudder to think what's going to happen with Wonder Woman, or, Zod help us, the Justice League movie....