Thursday, October 8, 2015

Marvel vs DC: Civil War

So we've gotten past the obligatory superhero films this year, mostly dominated by Marvel with the Avengers and Ant-man. But Avengers, instead of being its own film, mostly seemed to set up more films, including the next one, Captain America: Civil War. This film pits the Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes that we know, plus some new ones, including Spiderman (not new to film, but new to the MCU), all against each other.
Also coming out next year, near the same time, is Batman v Superman, pitting the two heroes against each other, with some Wonder Woman and Aquaman in there as well.
What's ironic is that while within the films, the heroes fight what should be their friends, but outside the films, they're just continuing the comic book civil war of Marvel versus DC. Captain America versus Superman, Iron Man versus Batman.
This might be make or break for DC films, at least for now. For years, they dominated the superhero genre, with Christopher Reeves' Superman and Michael Keaton's Batman. The Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy also redefined superhero movies, but those films have already wrapped up. Batman v Superman is merely the second in the DC shared universe, after Man of Steel, going up against Marvel's twelve. That puts DC at a disadvantage, especially since we are only familiar with one of the upcoming crop of superheroes, Superman. Batman, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman are all going to be mysteries to us, and already many are complaining against Ben Affleck, or Batfleck.
But Marvel has its own problems. It ventured into films with their first movie to really hit the mainstream, X-men, followed by Spiderman. Unfortunately, these films got split between different companies and have never had the chance to coalesce into the then nonexistent MCU that was created around 2008 with Iron Man. So right now, Disney owns the MCU (Iron Man, Cap, Hulk, Thor, etc); Sony owns Spiderman (although they now have decided to share), with previous plans to spin it off into oblivion (I don't know how many of those plans will go into effect now); and Fox owns X-men and Fantastic Four. This is why Magneto's children in the Avengers couldn't summon him to take care of evil metal men. DC has the advantage of all being under one roof, Warner Bros.
What really is going to decide the victor, though, is audience taste. Marvel has created a reputation of fun popcorn movies with plenty of action and quips. From Tony Stark's snakiness to now Ant-man's self defacing sarcasm, even though the world is in danger, it never gets too serious. DC, however, apparently taking cues from Christopher Nolan, made Superman a very serious and weighty character, and looks to do the same with the upcoming films. Man of Steel didn't feature nearly as much humor as the Marvel films, and while it didn't match The Dark Knight trilogy for social commentary or deep themes, it did take itself quite seriously. None of the previews for Batman v Superman suggest a different tone.
So who will win out? What will audiences flock to? The seriousness of Batman v Superman, or the more playful nature of Captain America: Civil War? Obviously there will be a lot of overlap, and geeks are already proclaiming 2016 the best year for comic book movies ever (which will also include X-men Apocalypse).
But what will happen if there are no winners? If the momentum comic book movies have been riding falters after superhero overload? With both studios so confident in their success that they've planned out several films a year up through 2020, they don't think that will happen. But audiences change and get tired of seeing the same old thing. Disney bet a lot of money in reviving the western with its Lone Ranger, but that flopped. And even if audiences still hungrily eat up all the films coming their way, what will happen after 2020? It seems the studios themselves have realized that this can't keep going forever, and are going to milk what they can while they still can, even if they dry up the cow in the process.
So who do you think will take the crown in 2016 and beyond? Are people ready for more thought provoking DC superhero films, or do they want to stick to the tried and true Marvel formula?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Why do Republicans deny climate change?

It seems strange that presidential candidates, many of whom have created and run successful businesses and maneuvered through politics, would claim that climate change doesn't exist, or deny the degree that scientists say it is happening. These aren't idiots, even if the media might try to portray them that way. So what's behind this, where conservatives go against the majority of scientists and their evidence?
Well, it's complicated. But it mostly has to do with the politicization of the issue.
This blog mostly deals with fantasy. So why bring this up? I know it's a stretch, but it has to do with the fantasies we create to fool ourselves. And no, liberals are not immune to this. They just do it on different issues, and in a different way on this issue.
The first reason that many conservatives reject the data is because it doesn't fit in their worldview. They fear what would happen if they admitted climate change was real. Not so much for the doomsday predictions that many scientists declare, saying the poles will melt, the oceans will rise, and the earth will slowly transform into a place nearly unlivable for humans. No, they fear that if they admit that climate change is real, then the responsibility to fix it will fall to the government. And conservatives distrust government involvement, not wholly without reason. Government programs are generally less efficient and effective than that of private organizations like businesses or churches. And if government does happen to save the day, unlikely when it is so polarized on nearly every issue, then people will feel a debt and vote for the party that brought about the change, which would probably be the Democratic party, just because they're the ones advocating for change.
The only way the government could do anything would be to pass stricter regulations on emissions, waste, etc. Government by itself won't innovate a new technology to save us, because it is run by politicians, not scientists. With harsher regulations, many businesses would feel stress to comply, and some will go under. Conservatives who believe in climate change generally believe that a free market solution will go further and be less disruptive than government intervention. But liberals, despite pressuring businesses to 'Go Green,' want more done.
Many conservatives are also religious, which affects their worldview as well. Some interpret their scriptures as saying that God has all power, and us humans can't destroy his creation. But, then again, Christian scripture, specifically Revelation, talks about the last days, how plagues will fill the earth, the moon will turn to blood, the sun will withdraw its light, and other things that could correlate with climate change.
Looking at the issue objectively, it might seem hopeless to find a solution. Have we gone past the point of no return? Will we cause an apocalypse, where many die and mankind has to go back into survival mode? The many movies and shows that deal with post apocalyptic futures, from Mad Max to The Walking Dead, reflects this unconscious belief, or fear if you will, that everything's going to collapse on itself. And many people, especially the problem solvers like business owners, don't want to contemplate the idea that nothing can be done. It's not an immediate problem, so it can be pushed down the line. It's the same with bloated, unsustainable entitlement programs: keep them up so people won't get angry, but in the end they will implode.
Personally, I'm pessimistic about this. Everything the government and 'green' companies are doing might slow down the acceleration, but it's like putting a bandaid on a broken bone. We are consuming more and more electronics, with no stopping in sight, even though they rely on rare earth minerals, which, by their very definition, are rare. The climate has changed because of human intervention, if not as a whole, then in pockets (if you've been to Mexico City, it would be obvious). We can hope for a technological development, like useful electric cars, with greatly reduce emissions, but there are two problems with that example: the cost of electric cars is prohibitive to most right now, and the fact that many forms of generating electricity still pollute the air.
Hopefully, some new innovation or combination of many will fix the dying earth. But if the solution doesn't come? If we're forced to choose between a healthy earth or our iPhones, what will we choose? What are we willing to sacrifice? Or do you cling to the fantasy that we won't pay sacrifices? That climate change isn't real? That the government will step in and save us all?
What people call ideology in this case happens to be a fantasy. So which is yours? And can you blame the other side for clinging hopefully to theirs?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why I don't watch Game of Thrones

I'm a big fan of fantasy. I've read the books. So why don't I watch HBO's series Game of Thrones? You'd think I'd be all over it. And while I admit there's the temptation, there are also several reasons why I don't.
First of all, there's the practical reason. I don't have HBO. I don't even have cable (unless you count Netflix). There's just not enough of a compelling reason for me to get cable, let alone HBO. Now, I know, I could buy the seasons after they come out on DVD, but I don't really want to spend my money on that, either. And while I've read that it is only of the most illegally downloaded shows out there, well, getting an illegal copy is just that, illegal.
Now, that's a pretty weak excuse, if I really wanted to watch it. But there are other more important reasons why I don't want to. The content is one of those reasons. While I've been desensitized to on screen violence, from what I've heard, this show takes it to a whole 'nother level. And in a way, it's hard to relate. Unless you're two years old, you probably don't use violence to get your way (and if you do, you should be behind bars). Even our wars don't rely much on outright violence. Instead, many targets are killed by use of drones, snipers, or bombs. Still real, but not up close and personal like a good ol' sword fight. So the violence on the show isn't as relatable as it could be if they just toned it down a bit.
More importantly, in regards to content, though, is the sex. Take a look at the parent advisory section on and you'll see a list in the sex section that makes you think this is a porno, not a drama. And while the violence might not affect people that much (just like in video games, where 99.9% of people that play violent video games don't go out and shoot anyone), the sex portrayed actually can affect you, in subtle ways. Based on the books, the sex in the show doesn't seem to involve loving intimacy between husband and wife, but it's more along the lines of men hiring a prostitute, incest, or violent sexual assault against women. When the best you can hope for is consensual sex between two unmarried people, you know you've got a warped sense of values. There's enough media trying to warp our perceptions on sex. I don't need to add porn disguised as a story to that. At least in the books, it didn't go over all the dirty details, usually, but there's a difference between written word and seeing it on video. And even reading it got too much at times.
Which brings me to the next point, possibly the most important. Like I said, I've read the books. I thought the first book was great, and Ned's death shocked me. I kept expecting him to come out and say it had all been a trick, that someone else died in his place. But no such luck. As memorable as that was, though, when I read the second book, I didn't know who to root for. Ned had seemed like the only really good person. I went to Dany and Jon Snow. Tyrion had his funny moments, but was a bit too cynical for me. But with most of them gone in the fourth book, and without much to do in the fifth book, I stopped cheering for them. And that is one of the weaknesses of George R. R. Martin's story: if anyone can die unexpectedly, then sooner or later, I'm going to protect myself by severing my attachment to the characters. If anyone can die unexpectedly, then it begs to wonder, why are we even reading their story, aside from the shock value? Sure, some people can die, like in the real world, but if I'm expecting the entire cast to die sooner or later, then what's the point?
So while all the political maneuvering interests me, I think I'll stick to more family friendly media, especially since I'm now a father. Or better yet, write my own books, dealing with similar themes, but only hinting at the terrible details, instead of showing them in full splendor.
Martin's books might possibly have left more of an impression that way. 

The Magicians

The Magicians (The Magicians, #1)The Magicians by Lev Grossman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What do you get when you cross Harry Potter with Narnia? On the surface, The Magicians seems to be the answer. An awkward kid goes to a school for magic, and then finds a magical land of talking animals and saves it...kind of. But the spirit of the book is quite different than that of Harry Potter and Narnia. Aside from the copious amounts of alcohol, this book deals with more mature themes, like finding a meaning for yourself and navigating a real relationship. In fact, the main theme, which hits you quite bluntly over and over, especially in the second half, is that if you don't learn how to be happy with yourself, nothing, not even magic or finding out that your childhood fantasies are true will make you that way. This isn't really escapism like most fantasies, but quite the opposite: it tries to make you face reality. Or at least Grossman's version of reality, which is quite depressing. Still, it sucks you in, makes you want to finish it even though you know it won't end happily ever after. The characters are deeply flawed and can be jerks, especially Quentin, the main character, and much of the setting only exists to serve as a contrast to Hogwarts and Narnia. Do I dare read the next books? That would be rather masochistic, but the writing was well done, full of great metaphors. As long as you know what you're getting into, this can be a good, although not so much fun, read.

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