You Are Unimportant, and That’s a Good Thing

We like to believe we’re the heroes of our own stories. We’re the protagonist, we have control, and we matter. And to an extent, that’s true. Our actions have meaning, we affect the people around us, and we are affected by them.

However, we only have so much impact, and for most of us, the world is largely indifferent to our actions. Some may find this depressing or that because they can’t control certain outcomes that things are hopeless. For me, I take comfort in my relative level of unimportance because it means I don’t have to stress out about things I can’t control.

I thought about this while reading Will Leitch’s great article about how we’ve forgotten how to fear, particularly with regards to nuclear war. My counter to this would be two-fold.

First, we haven’t forgotten HOW to fear as much as there’s now so many different things to fear. In 1983 when Testament was released, you didn’t have to worry about climate change, ISIS, mass shootings or any other variety of onslaught. It was like having only 3 TV channels and you watched the Nuclear Annihilation channel because that’s what was on. Now you have way more things to be terrified of, so nuclear war (which could certainly happen! I’m not dismissing it!) has to vie for attention among all the other things scaring us.

My second, and larger point, is that you just have to accept that in the event of nuclear war you will suffer and die and there’s nothing you can do about it. I was terrified of pandemics, but once I accepted that in the event of a pandemic I would simply be dead, I was able to watch Contagion relatively stress-free.

Stressing about things we can’t control doesn’t benefit anyone, and while fear can be useful, it can also be debilitating and cause us to make bad decisions (it’s also worth noting that in the midst of the Cold War, we ended up going to war in Vietnam and electing such luminaries as Nixon, so it’s not like knowing HOW to fear led us to better outcomes).

Do I think Trump will roast all of us in a nuclear holocaust? It’s possible, and it would be a fitting end to America—a leader elected on racism and greed (a reflection on our country’s original sin of slavery) obliterated by nuclear weapons (our final sin). But what can you do about it? Is it worth being anymore terrified than when the Bush administration had those idiotic color-coded terror threat levels?

These days, I find my fears tend to be more about what could happen to my loved ones or about my health or my career. My nightmares are, for the most part, comically mundane (I’ve had multiple dreams about the Falcons losing football games). That’s not to say that things aren’t bad or that they couldn’t get worse. It’s to say that unproductive fear is pointless, and that putting up signs for fallout shelters solves nothing.

Friday, December 29th, 2017 politics No Comments


So I’ve played a bit of Cuphead now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that while the game is indisputably gorgeous and a wakeup call to other developers to up their game when it comes to art style, the actual gameplay is too grueling to be enjoyable. There are some gamers who get off on punishingly difficult games, but I am now one of them. When I push my way through a boss fight or a level of Cuphead, I don’t feel like I figured something out or I improved enough to proceed. I tend to feel like I got away with something and that with just enough breaks, I was able to win. That’s not a particularly rewarding experience, and even playing with a friend, there’s not so much a sense of camaraderie as there is a grim determination where after a few tries you feel more exhaustion than exhilaration.

In summation, Cuphead is fine for some, but if you’re looking for a great game to play with friends, check out Overcooked.

Saturday, October 21st, 2017 videogames No Comments

Fox News Doesn’t Shape Viewers; Viewers Shape Fox News

I listen to Pod Save America on a frequent basis.  It’s a good show, and it separates itself from the average punditocracy because its participants were recently in a functional White House.  They know how things are supposed to work (as opposed to whomever CNN wants on a panel because they worked in the Clinton White House twenty years ago), and they’ve got good insights.

However, in their most recent episode, “Turd in the GOP Punchbowl”, they spend some time taking aim at Fox News, crying out that so many of our ills come from Fox News feeding a steady stream of bullshit to 40% of the populace.  If only Fox News wasn’t there, they speculate, the scales would be lifted from the eyes of Trump’s base, and they would see him for the corrupt, tinpot tyrant he truly is.

Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t follow.

You may recall that at the first GOP debate, which was hosted on Fox News, the network came down on him in a surprisingly harsh way.  Vox reports that this was part of a concerted effort by Rupert Murdoch to get Trump out of the race because Murdoch disliked Trump’s anti-immigration policies.  However, when Fox News viewers pushed back, Murdoch and Trump made up and Fox News’ coverage of Trump has been positive ever since.

There’s this notion that Fox News viewers are victims.  They’re hapless Americans who have been brainwashed into believing a horrible agenda, and while that may be true for some, for the most part, you have to have a moral compass where Fox News already appeals to you.  It’s not brainwashing; it’s confirmation bias.  If you believe that immigrants are ruining the country, that Democrats are coming to take your guns, and that Obama and the Clintons are the devil, you have a channel that tells you “You’re right!” on a consistent basis.

And I get that.  I listen to Pod Save America because they’re in tune with my liberal viewpoints.  But, as this post shows, I don’t swallow everything they sell me.  The only time Fox News viewers pushed back is when Fox News wasn’t hateful enough.  They wanted Trump.

And that’s a tougher thing to reckon with, so I can understand why Pod Save America would rather turn the blame onto a corporate entity like Fox News rather than the American citizens who comprise Fox News’ viewership.  But if you want to be honest with your listeners, you might need to confront the fact that Fox News isn’t the root of the problem.  They’re a horrible network, bu they’re also profiting off a problem that would exist whether they were around or not.

Friday, July 14th, 2017 criticism, politics No Comments

‘The Mummy’ Review: A Wretched Abomination

The Mummy marks the beginning of Universal’s Dark Universe, the brand under which the studio’s cinematic universe of classic monsters interconnects.  While cinematic universes became all the rage thanks to Marvel, Universal Monsters have crossed over decades ago.  The question with Universal Monsters wasn’t “Could they cross over?” but rather “What tone would they take?”  The original Universal Monster movies run the gamut from darkly comic (The Invisible Man) to tragedy (Frankenstein), sometimes within the span of the same movie (The Bride of Frankenstein).

For producer and The Mummy director Alex Kurtzman, his solution is to try and create an action-horror hybrid, a movie that can give action-packed scenes like Tom Cruise plummeting to Earth in a cargo plane, but can also be suitably creepy.  Unfortunately, The Mummy is left hanging somewhere in the middle, not thrilling enough to be an action-packed ride like the surprisingly enjoyable 1999 movie, nor is it scary enough to stand alongside serviceable PG-13 horror films like Cloverfield or Drag Me to Hell.  What should be the dawn of a new age of “gods and monsters” instead appears to be at a loss with how it should even begin.

The story follows Nick Morton (Cruise), a reconnaissance officer in the U.S. military who spends his time stealing antiquities in Iraq to sell on the black market.  When he and his friend Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) come across a tomb thanks to research stolen from archeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), they discover a sarcophagus belonging to Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), an ancient Egyptian who made a pact with Set, the God of Death, to rule Egypt.  However, the ritual to summon Set was interrupted, Ahmanet was mummified alive, and now she’s very angry.  When Nick carelessly raises her sarcophagus, he becomes “chosen” by her to be the new vessel for Set, so ends up scrambling across London with Jenny to avoid a wrathful Ahmanet.

If you look closely at The Mummy, there are some interesting things it’s trying to do.  Previous versions (the 1932 original and the 1999 remake) made the mummy, Imhotep, focus on his desire to reunite with his lost love, and, wouldn’t you know it, the female lead happens to remind him of that love, so he’s after the woman, and it’s up to the male hero to stop him.  Kurtzman’s Mummy tries to turn that on its head by trying to make the male lead the damsel in distress.  Moreover, it’s not that Nick reminds Ahmanet of her lost love as much as he’s a useful body so she can summon Set.  It’s a fun way to deconstruct the male hero, and one that Cruise is game for as he muddles his way through while Jenny provides all the knowledge.

Unfortunately, this approach is severely undermined by how Ahmanet is portrayed.  Her sexuality is turned not only into a key part of her character, but it’s literally weaponized.  Throughout the movie, she turns men into mummies by making out with them (if this sounds familiar, it’s because Enchantress also turned men into monsters by making out with them in last year’s Suicide Squad).   When it’s time to turn Nick into Set, she straddles him sexually, and while Kurtzman’s intent may have been to give Ahmanet the power in the scene, it shows that her power is mainly manifested in sexual ways.  Thus, the woman’s sexuality is both exploited and held up as a threat.

But even if the movie had somehow nailed the gender dynamic, it would struggle with the fact that it’s not a particularly interesting story and the lead characters lack arcs.  I’m a little shocked that Kurtzman, who’s not exactly new at screenwriting, can’t seem to grasp basic character development.  There’s not much reason to care about Nick and Jenny, and there’s very little reason to invest in their relationship.  The movie tries to coast on Cruise’s charisma, but even he seems at a loss as to why he’s there.  Nick isn’t an interesting guy, and his “arc” (if you could generously call it that), seems to be “He’s a bit of a selfish guy but then he ultimately does a selfless thing for a woman he doesn’t really know too well.”

The Mummy seems so eager to get to the action scenes and building up its own little universe that it skips the important stuff like “Make sure the audience is invested in the characters,” and “Make sure the story makes sense.”  I know that a Creature from the Black Lagoon movie is in the pipeline because I saw the creature’s severed hand in a glass jar when Nick walks through the lab of Prodigium, the super secret organization run by Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe).  What I don’t know is why a super secret organization would be run by a guy like Jekyll who needs a complex series of injections every few hours or else he turns into a cockney rage monster.

Of course, the reason is because The Mummy is more concerned with setting up the pieces of future Dark Universe movies rather than telling individual stories.  But if The Mummy is any indication of what’s to come with Dark Universe, then these aren’t movies worth making.  What The Mummy signals is that Dark Universe will pile on loads of crummy CGI and awful storytelling that’s a waste of the time and talent of A-list actors like Cruise.  Kurtzman isn’t just some hired gun on board for this one movie.  He, along with Chris Morgan (Fast & Furious), has been the guiding force of Dark Universe, and he thinks The Mummy is a fine start to this cinematic universe.  It’s not.  It’s an abomination.

Rating: D-

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017 movies No Comments

Why Are Republicans Protecting Trump? A Theory

Right now, Republicans are busy running interference for Trump as former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies about Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia.  At this point, it’s fairly obvious there was some sort of connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the details are still foggy, and trying to discern them will likely lead you down a conspiracy theory rabbit hole.

So instead of trying to postulate about what exactly are the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia (information that will probably be slowly revealed over the following years rather than what someone vomits out in a tweetstorm), I’d like to offer a theory about why Republicans are bothering running interference for Trump in the first place.  After all, he’s not their guy.  He’s not a popular President.  If they threw him under the bus and put in Mike Pence, they could probably enact their agenda with far less drama.

So why protect Trump?  I think there are two reasons.  The first is that Trump still controls the base.  These are the people that have no regrets about voting Trump and haven’t really felt his wrath.  They’re fine with the administration terrorizing immigrants and people of color, and while they wish Trump would tweet less (i.e. be less openly stupid), they want him to stay President…for now.

But Trump is everybody’s fool, which leads us to the second reason.  If the policies enacted under Trump are wildly unpopular, then the GOP can throw him under the bus before the midterms.  Keep in mind that most politicians at the national level don’t have ideology; they simply want to get reelected (this is an issue on the right and the left), and they’ll do anything to be reelected.  So, for example, if the GOP’s poll numbers are bad around spring or summer 2018, then they’ll launch an investigation into Trump.  By that point, the base will be suitably disappointed, and then the GOP can say that Trump was never a true Republican and that the GOP will always look into malfeasance.  They sacrifice Trump to save their skins and buy another two years under a President Pence.

Monday, May 8th, 2017 politics No Comments

There Is No Safety in Stupidity

We’ve passed the 100 day mark in the Trump administration, and while there were fears that we would be plunged into an authoritarian state, it turns out that Trump is too lazy and stupid to make that happen.  He has all the makings of a fascist except the part of actually figuring out how to make things happen.  What’s disturbing is that it seems like our greatest bulwark against Trump’s cruelty is his stupidity.  The man is so profoundly dumb that he can’t make anything happen.  There was the fear that Steve Bannon would act as a Svengali and use Trump as a puppet for his white nationalistic goals, but it turns out that since Bannon was also kind of dumb and his initial plans backfired horribly, his role has been reduced.

Some are hoping that this is our new normal: incompetent kleptocracy.  Simply put, Trump, due to his lack leadership and complete disinterest in policy details, will putter around miserably for four years as he modestly enriches himself and his family by going to Trump properties every weekend.  He may even ram through a massive tax cut that would save him and his wealthy peers (I don’t say “friends” because Trump has no friends), but on the whole, the Republic will persevere and we’ll never make this kind of horrible mistake ever again.

That’s comforting, but it’s unlikely.  Remember that for the first nine months of the George W. Bush presidency, he was seen as a largely comical figure.  He almost choked on a pretzel.  Trey Parker and Matt Stone made a sitcom parody called That’s My Bush! because he was viewed as a lovable dope.  Then 9/11 happened and everything got a lot less funny.

So far, the Trump administration has been embroiled in chaos, and it’s all chaos of their own doing.  To assume that this is the new normal is to assume that no external threat will emerge in the next four years.  And it’s possible we’ll get ridiculously lucky and no major threat will emerge until an adult is in White House.  But that’s a huge risk, and to simply assume that everything is going to be okay just because Trump’s first 100 days have been a (to borrow one of his favorite words) disaster is a mistake.

On the one hand, I don’t think we’re slowly plunging into authoritarianism.  I understand the vigilance and I respect it, but I think Trump’s actions over the first 100 days have shown that he’s not playing 3D chess or even checkers.  He struggles mightily with connect-the-dots.  But if a true crisis emerges, that’s when we’ll be in even greater danger.  I pray that day never comes and we can get to January 20, 2021 with a new, compassionate, and sane President.

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017 politics No Comments

2017 Oscar Predictions

Best Picture

Will Win: La La Land

Should Win: Moonlight

Best Director

Will Win: Damien Chazelle, La La Land

Should Win: Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best Actor

Will Win: Denzel Washington, Fences

Should Win: Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best Actress

Will Win: Emma Stone, La La Land

Should Win: Emma Stone, La La Land

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Mahershala Ali, Moonlight

Should Win: Michael Shannon, Nocturnal Animals

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Should Win: Viola Davis, Fences

Best Animated Feature

Will Win: Zootopia

Should Win: Zootopia

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: Manchester by the Sea

Should Win: Manchester by the Sea

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: Moonlight

Should Win: Moonlight

Best Documentary Feature

Will Win: O.J. Made in America

Should Win: 13th

Best Foreign Language Film

Will Win: The Salesman

Best Cinematography

Will Win: La La Land

Should Win: Moonlight

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Jackie

Should Win: Jackie

Best Film Editing

Will Win: La La Land

Should Win: Arrival

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Will Win: Star Trek Beyond

Should Win: Star Trek Beyond

Best Music

Will Win: La La Land

Should Win: La La Land

Best Original Song

Will Win: “City of Stars” from La La Land

Should Win: “Audition” from La La Land

Best Production Design

Will Win: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Should Win: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge

Should Win: Arrival

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: La La Land

Should Win: Arrival

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: The Jungle Book

Should Win: The Jungle Book

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Pearl

Best Short Film

Will Win: Ennemis Intérieurs

Best Documentary Short Subject

Will Win: Joe’s Violin

Friday, February 24th, 2017 movies No Comments

Rise Up

Falcons-Logo1Tonight, the Atlanta Falcons will play in the second Super Bowl in the team’s history and go for their first championship.  As they stand on the precipice of this historic moment, I think ti’s important to realize that as critical as fans can be, we should sometimes turn our critiques towards ourselves, and admit when we were wrong.

Last season, when Matt Ryan was totally off his game, I lamented that he had peaked and that he would never be more than a solid, unremakrable quarterback.  Last night, he won the MVP and deservedly so.  He’s been lights out.  His growth this season has also highlighted how he reached where he has come now.  He wasn’t a leader in the early days of the team as he let veterans take on that role.  Now he’s finally stepped up, taken that leadership role, and it’s paid huge dividends.

I also said last season that Kyle Shanahan was the root of the team’s offensive woes, and that it was insane to keep him around.  But as it turns out, Ryan and Shanahan just needed a season and some long talks to get on the same page.  Combined with the right personnel and Ryan understanding this new system, the Falcons offensive has been outstanding.  I’ll be bummed to see him leave to go coach the 49ers, and I hope that his replacement is as good at play-calling and working within the scheme that has given the Falcons unprecedented success.

After the Falcons imploded after last year’s 5-0 start, I wondered if this was the same old team.  I couldn’t contain my fury after the home loss to the Chargers, crying out on Twitter how this was the same old team and that they couldn’t go the distance.

Yes, some things broke the Falcons way.  When Julio Jones got injured, we had two of the easiest teams up on the schedule.  The Seahawks lost the #2 seed, which made room for the Falcons to get a bye week and have home field advantage throughout the playoffs after the Cowboys lost to the Packers.  But those are ultimately just opportunities, and the Falcons made the most of them.  Even without Julio, the Falcons dominated the Niners and the Rams.  They didn’t play down to their opponent.  They destroyed them.  When it came to home field advantage, they didn’t just squeak by the Seahawks and Packers.  They won in decisive fashion.

I became a Falcons fan at the beginning of the Mike Smith era, which conditioned us to experience games the following way:

- First 2 quarters: The Falcons are doing great!

- 3rd quarter: Everything goes to hell.

- 4th quarter: Can Matt Ryan pull out a last-second win?

It’s become clear that the problem was both coaching and personnel, and that both have been remedied thanks to Dan Quinn’s clear vision on what kind of team he wanted.

I don’t know if the Falcons will win the Super Bowl.  I think they have a real shot to do so.  But either way, I’m sorry I doubted them, and I’m grateful for this amazing season.

Rise up.

Sunday, February 5th, 2017 sports No Comments

On 2016

As 2016 winds to a close, a common refrain on the Internet has been to blame the year for all of our misfortune.  John Oliver even did a bit on how terrible this year was.  And it was a bad year.  Any year in which Donald Trump is elected President is automatically a bad year.  And that’s before you take into account horrible events that happened around the world.

But then 2016 became the refrain any time a beloved celebrity died.  To be fair, we definitely lost some heavyweights this year.  And people should absolutely be allowed to mourn the loss of the artists who enriched their lives.  But to rail against a calendar year as if it were cursed is just ridiculous, and it’s a little dangerous.

This notion that years are acting for us or against us helps to create a narrative and a common antagonist, but it’s the wrong antagonist and the wrong narrative because where does it end?  I have some bad news: more celebrities are probably going to die in 2017.  And in 2018.  And so on and so forth.  An actor or musician or someone who you’ve never met but greatly influenced your life is going to die at some point.  Rather than respecting them as an individual who lives and dies like everyone else is more important than railing against a year.

Some people did have truly bad 2016s, but I’m willing to be those people suffered personal losses of some kind.  And here’s the thing: personal losses can happen in any year.  We hope that they don’t and we do our best to avoid them, but sometimes there’s nothing to be done, and tweeting “Because 2016″ doesn’t make anything better.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t work to make 2017 better than 2016.  You absolutely should.  Don’t accept that resolutions were made to be broken.  Find a path to improving your life and work on it.  That’s something you can control.  That’s something where, if you’ve worked hard, you can look back at the end of 2017 and be proud of your accomplishment.  But if your metric of a year’s success is something you can’t control–like, say, which celebrities live and die–then you’re probably going to be futilely tweeting, “Screw you, 2017,” as if the universe cares about your feelings.

2016 was rough.  Don’t want 2017 to be the same?  Recognize the things that are out of your control and fight like hell to make a difference where you can.

Friday, December 30th, 2016 personal No Comments

You Can Care About More Than One Thing (And You’re Going to Have To)

So liberal Twitter today got into an internecine spat about Trump’s comments over Mike Pence being politely addressed by the cast at last night’s showing of Hamilton.  Pence was booed by the audience, and then after the show, actor Brandon Dixon addressed the VP-Elect in a serious but respectful manner.  The following morning, Trump, incensed that anyone would chastise a powerful white guy, said the cast was rude and that they should apologize.  It was Trump being Trump, but it was worth noting his hypocrisy, weakness, and inability to let any slight go by unnoticed.

Or was it?  There was then a counter uproar saying that people who cared about the Hamilton incident were being distracted from the Trump University fraud settlement and that Trump is getting richer by having foreign diplomats stay in his Washington, D.C. hotel.  Trump was using social media as a distraction so people wouldn’t call him on settling the Trump U scandal even after he had previously promised he would never settle (Trump lied! It’s true!).

So we have liberals chastising liberals over the proper way to respond to which scandals, and saying that this is Trump’s genius strategy: throw so many problems at people that they can’t focus, and he can get away with everything.  There are just a few problems with this.

1) If “Trump Wins by Being on Twitter” was true, then why did his staff force him off of it in the final weeks of the campaign?  “Aides to Mr. Trump have finally wrested away the Twitter account that he used to colorfully — and often counterproductively — savage his rivals,” wrote the New York Times on November 6th.  The more Trump opens his mouth, the more opportunities people have to attack him, and during the campaign, his aides were smart enough to realize that if he could just shut the fuck up for more than two weeks, the news cycle would consume Hillary Clinton.  (This, by the way, is not the sole reason Clinton lost)

2) Trump may have a lot of issues, but it’s not your place to tell people what they can and can’t care about. People are scared and hurting right now, and trying to police that outrage is sanctimonious and counter-productive.  Let’s go back to the campaign, and assume that if all liberals had just focused on one issue to the neglect of all others, then Trump would have lost.  So what issue should it have been?  His sexist comments?  His racist comments? His lack of political experience? His dealings with Russia?  The Trump University fraud?  Who gets to decide what’s important to everyone?  Do you want to be the one who tells a woman who was sexually assaulted, “Hey, it’s rough, but we’ve got to keep the focus on his ties to Russia.”  Do you want to tell the Muslim man, “I know he wants to criminalize being Muslim, but we can only care about his sexual assault charges.”

Trump does pose a unique problem in that he is a non-stop (to borrow one of his few and favorite words) disaster.  It is difficult to pin him down to any one thing, but that makes it more important for all of us to care about all of it.  And I know that’s exhausting.  I know that in the last 10 days, it’s been nightmarish, and it’s not going to get any easier.  Life is going to be hard, and it’s going to suck for a while, but telling people what they can and can’t care about isn’t a solution.  Every day is going to be a struggle, and there’s no saying, “You are only allowed to care about these things.”  It’s incumbent on all of us to hold Trump and his administration accountable 24/7.  If that means today we rail against him for chastising artists, wiggling out of a fraud trial, filling his cabinet with racists, and profiting off foreign diplomats staying at his hotel, then that’s what the day calls for.  It’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be fun, and there is no alternative.

Saturday, November 19th, 2016 criticism, politics No Comments