Give Us Three Minutes and We’ll Give You the World

The original version of Robocop hilariously satirizes TV news and television commercials.  Sure, a movie made in the 80’s is bound to get a couple things wrong, but overall it captures the shallowness of modern culture excellently.  Years on our culture still too often feels like an 80’s action movie.

One of the general plot points in the science fiction movie Robocop is that a military industrial corporation is trying to take over the police force of Detroit.  Knowing now how are police have often been militarized, thanks in part to the military industrial complex, a good deal of this movie is still more relevant than one would hope it would be.  

The Walking Dead in the Age of Anxiety

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The Walking Dead in the Age of Anxiety

The above article is an interesting read if you are fan of The Walking Dead, as I am.  It’s an article that tries to get at why the show has such a hold on the popular imagination.  It also examines the show, and zombie stories in general, for there political and cultural messages.

Best Movies of 2014 Not At Oscars

Best Films of 2014 That You Won’t See At Oscars

The article linked above is a list of the best movies that came out in 2014 that aren’t part of the Oscars.  In truth, I have only seen one of these movies, so I can’t vouch for this list.  However, the movie I did see, Under the Skin, was easily one of the best movies that I saw last year, so I am willing to give the list the benefit of doubt.  Under the Skin is a science fiction movie starring Scarlett Johansson.  It has a slow art-house pace to it, though it is clearly made by a filmmaker that knows how to produce incredibly striking images.  It is also the best kind of science fiction film, one that will make you reflect on the world around you.

The Gospel From Outer Space

I was just reading some of the Kilgore Trout stories from Kurt Vonnegut’s books.  (Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers.)  Kilgore Trout is a science fiction writer that reappears in several of Vonnegut’s books.  Trout is an under-appreciated writer, but other than that the details about him are often slightly different in each book.  Vonnegut often uses Trout to tell short far out science fiction stories that also usually highlight a a truth that Vonnegut wants to convey.  Here is one as an example:

It was The Gospel from Outer Space, by Kilgore Trout. It was about a visitor from outer space, shaped very much like a Tralfamadorian, by the way. The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.

But the Gospels actually taught this:

Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being of the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:
Oh, boy — they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!

And then that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes.The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels.

So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.

And then, just before the nobody died, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning. The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!

If you want to read more of these stories you can find some of them at the website oocities.org, which is where I found them.  Here is a link:

Kilgore Trout Stories

How Do We Form a More Perfect Union?

I am very disillusioned with the state of our country right now.  Ever since the election, I have been trying to figure out how people could elect those that don’t have the well being of the average citizen in mind.  Instead of stewing over the loss, I tried to educate myself.  My intuition told me to start with slavery and the Civil War, as this is a period of American history that is still affecting how we think today in terms of our regional and cultural divides.

While I was thinking about all of this I had the opportunity to go to Australia.  I want to share some facts with you about Australia:

1.  By law they get 28 days of paid time off each year.

2.  Healthcare, although it is slightly more complicated than this, is basically free.

3.  Minimum wage is 17 dollars an hour.

4.  If someone is without a job or homeless they get a stipend.  It’s like unemployment that never runs out.

5.  They have clean and plentiful public transportation.

Those are all facts.  However, here are some personal observations that I made:

1.  The cities that I was in were very clean.

2.  The people were almost all friendly and helpful.

3.  Most of the people looked in relatively good shape.

4.  I saw no large-scale poverty.  In fact, while walking many days through a city twice the size of Austin, I never saw one homeless person.  (I’m not saying that they don’t exist, only that they exist in much lower numbers than they do in American cities.)

5.  The cities that I saw were vibrant and modern.

I know that Australia has its problems.  Right now they are having immigration issues for instance.  However, they seem to do a much better job at taking care of their citizens than we do.  I can imagine that just having 28 paid days off each year while living in a nice climate would alone make life more livable.

So how is it that a country that was started partially by criminals can be doing things so much better than a so-called Christian nation?  To answer this would require a book.  Although I intend to come back to this question, I am not going to answer it here.

The whole time I was there I was again reading about slavery and the Civil War.  What I found troubling was that so many of the arguments that were used to protect slavery are still used today to protect powerful economic interests.  Often progress in this country is stopped by arguments over states rights, religion, and economics.  We can’t pass a certain law that would benefit people because it would:

A. Infringe upon states rights
B. Would force people to go against their religion
C. It would hurt the economy

These are the same kinds of things that again were used to protect slavery.  In cases A. and B. these are the exact same arguments.  Although there were many people that were anti-slavery from a religious standpoint, there were also many that used religion to justify slavery.

During slavery education on average in the South was far behind the North.  In the present economic power is doing what it can to strip critical thinking from education.  This is not a North/South thing, although there is some of that going on if you look at recent election results.  However, I can take you to places that are backwards in my home state of Pennsylvania, while my current home of Austin is quite progressive in a lot of ways.

It’s just that as I dig deeper and deeper into the well I find myself more discouraged at the state of our country, not less.  Especially when you look at someplace like Australia in comparison, you realize that there is no reason that we couldn’t be doing a better job of helping the less fortunate.  It’s out there in the world, being done, right now as we speak.

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Often when I have looked at the war in Afghanistan I see it as almost science fiction.  It’s like people from the present are fighting people from the past.  That is not to say that I believe we are right to still be there, only that if you look at the technology and education of the United States against somewhere like the mountains of Afghanistan, which are still tribal, I think it is a fair way to look at things.

After visiting Australia and reading about our history I can’t wonder if our own country is still fighting culturally outside of space and time.  Are there not places that still have the mentality of the 1950’s arguing against people from the present?

All of this raises more questions than answers.  But that is where I’m at.  How did we get to where we are at and how can we make it better?  Can we make it better with entrenched economic powers that need to keep people ignorant to achieve their goals?

In one sense there has been a lot of progress in our country.  I don’t think anyone but the Ku Klux Klan wants to go back to the days of slavery or Reconstruction.  However, we are not where we need to be.  We need to stop thinking that we’re number one at everything and realize that there are other places out there that have some of the answers.  We have to confront our history so that we can recognize the problems of the present.  There is no shame in realizing you can do better then you are, getting up, and trying again.  Shame is only for those that quit.  When and where do we start?

An Interview With Terry Gilliam

Terry Gilliam: Hollywood is just “gray, frightened people” holding on for dear life http://www.salon.com/2014/09/19/terry_gilliam_hollywood_is_just_%e2%80%9cgray_frightened_people%e2%80%9d_holding_on_for_dear_life/
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An interesting interview with one of my heroes, director Terry Gilliam. 

The Movie Prometheus and Mythology

This blog includes big spoilers for the movie Prometheus.  

I must admit that I am fascinated with the movie Prometheus.  It is directed by Ridley Scott and it is an indirect prequel to the movie Alien.  I saw it twice in theaters and I seem to watch it every time it has come on TV this week.

First, I’m not saying that there are not problems with this movie.  The characters often have lapses in judgment that you would normally see in B horror movies.  Also the end, now that I have seen it several times, is really just a more serious version of the ending of Almost Heroes; yes the movie starring Chris Farley.  In the Farley comedy once the characters, who are racing Lewis and Clark to the Pacific Ocean, reach the Pacific Ocean, they decide to keep walking to Asia.  They decide to do this despite going through 90 minutes of comedy hell. The character of Dr. Shaw in the movie Prometheus, despite having just endured imaginable horrors, decides at the end to go further into the alien world that she has discovered.  They say that comedy is when a hero goes to the innermost cave and learns nothing.

However, I think I like this movie for two reasons.  First is that director Ridley Scott always puts the money on screen.  Whenever you see one of his big budget movies you are seeing something original and unique that you don’t see anywhere else.  Just the design aesthetic of this movie is incredible.  Also the creatures and aliens in this movie are actually really creepy.  A great deal of horror and science fiction are suspenseful only to lose credibility when you actually see the thing you are supposed to be afraid of.  The scene in the sick bay, where Dr. Shaw is trying to get rid of the alien inside her is one of the few times in recent memory I can remember actually squirming in a theater.

Second, I think that they created an interesting and complex mythology for this film.  In movies in the science fiction genre, or horror or fantasy, it is not important that these movies adhere to the rules of reality, so much that they create a unique world with its own rules.  The movie is deep, but not deep in the sense that one would usually use the term.  The movie does ask religious and philosophical questions, but I find them to be somewhat superficial and again that is not really what I’m talking about.  I mean that the film is deep in that its world has many layers to it that make it interesting.  It has a mythology in it to the point that your imagination takes you to places that aren’t being shown on screen.  The movie creates a three dimensional world, that however horrific, is different from our own and is something you can get temporarily lost in.  That to me is entertainment.