Combating Dystopia.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Graeme Taylor: This is the Face of Modern Day Heroism.

Graeme Taylor: Role Model, Hero and Everyday Teen - Tonic

I do not begrudge the modern teen in any way, shape, or form. Not only do they have to endure the universal angst and tribulation of puberty in a world that seems to be on perpetual fastforward, but they have to do so while facebooking, updating their twitter pages and operating in an increasingly image conscious, self-obsessed environments. My niece, bless her, stays wired to either her DS, the Television, one of our borrowed laptops, or honing her infuriating Hannah Montana inspired sense of sarcasm-despite the fact that she has no idea what it is... (seriously, you should see her, everything is punctuated by an eyeroll.) Given how much press has been given to how self absorbed and antagonistic we’re being told the modern American tween is, I’m finding myself increasingly astounded by the poise, polish and remarkable self awareness of this little guy. He came upon the quasi-public radar thusly:

On Oct. 20, National Bullying Day, economics teacher Jay McDowell of Michigan's Howell High School was wearing a purple shirt to show his support. He noticed a student wearing a Confederate flag belt buckle and asked him to remove it. The student probed McDowell about what the difference was between a Confederate flag and the rainbow flag, the unity symbol for the gay community. McDowell tried to explain the difference, to which the student responded, "I don't accept gays. It's against my religion," according to On Top magazine.

McDowell suspended the student for one day. The school board, in turn, suspended McDowell (without pay) for violating the student's First Amendment rights and for wearing a "controversial" purple shirt. When school officials had a board meeting to discuss the issue, Taylor, from neighboring Ann Arbor, went to speak up on behalf of the teacher.

I had the privilege of watching Young Mr. Taylor speak (via the power of the interwebs) at this school board meeting on behalf of this teacher and will without hesitation say that the demeanor and eloquence of this youngster is, after years of public speaking by way of a pseudo-occupational hazard, far surpassed anything I could compare to at his age. The post has since been removed (Copyright infringement allegedly, I’m dubious however) but the content was what was so amazing. I’m actually quite curious about the outcome, the cause of young Graeme’s speech. It would be a loss if more contentious, well intentioned teachers are jettisoned (especially given how awful the need for teachers are in this economy) merely because they opt to try to do something “controversial” like confronting the growing social issue of bullying in schools. Just as Young Mr. Taylor felt it was right to speak on behalf of those of us keen to do the right thing in the face of conventional “propriety”, I believe its entirely necessary to do the same for the both of them. So rarely in life do we have people willing to step outside of themselves and their personal gain on behalf of others. Rarer still is the 14 year old that pries him or herself from his iPhone long enough to speak on behalf of someone they felt was doing the ethical and just thing. (For him to so aptly invoked Martin Luther King Jr and make a sweeping plea for any and all to denounce homophobic bullying? Above and beyond the call of brilliance) In this boy I see the courage and cleverness so many closet cases and apathetic self servers lack in spades. I see the future, and perhaps all of that poppycock about “it getting better” seems grounded in reality after all… perhaps there’s hope for the world yet.

Update: Young Mssr Graeme was on Ellen today and was awarded a scholarship for his ethicality and courage. Here's to positive reinforcement, feeling a little better about the universe now.

Malbec-America (heavy hearted, beautifully delivered)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sidelong Glances.

I found this entry in one of my journals and its set me to thinking. A neighbor I really value is prodding me to expand on some writings and experiences and see what happens, so this is what I'm devoting the majority of my weekend to. Steady as she goes. Could be something interesting to discover in the process...

Latent Effects 5/10/2009

Fragments of last night add together and make for a decent evening. Stogies, walks in the rain, and the briefest segment of Firefly. Wine garnered from the kindness of good friends, while I mourned the coming of my utter penilessness. Talked with Kenny and John about books and the sudden return of what I call "Jersey Hands". I tend to gesture wildly as a side effect of being back in PA for too long. I can't effect a british accent because remnants of a northeastern one has crept in in its place. Its really sort of funny. Jill showed up and we did the meaningful stare across the bar of two people who know each other too well. The group of us marveled at the increasingly younger crowd that elbowed their way into the uncomfortable warmth of the room. I shook my fist in (almost) jest. The storm churned all around, ozone and lightning, noize enough to dwarf the speakers. The roadtrip to Easton was eventful, a few interviews, one maxed out credit card and 500 plus mile drives and awkward reunions with obnoxiously good looking "friends" from the old neighborhood later...I'm back in Purgatory plotting my next course of action.
The interview I had just before I drove back seems interested, and a really good fit, so I'm jazzed they're caling me back for a second interview this week. Of course, I can't afford...well...anything...let alone travel, but I think I've got that worked out. Or at least I hope. Fingers crossed. The other thing I can't afford? Not recouping some of these awful monitary losses. Being THIS broke? All sorts of demoralizing.

And this one I like from a month or so earlier:
the Traveler 5/3/2009

Right now, I'm sitting in my sister's slightly cluttered dining room with a wee bit of time to kill. I've been in Easton a few odd, overcast days, and have felt a swell of the typical nostalgia (with the inevitable stings of dashed expectations) followed by the more humbling stumble back down to earth. That trip is shaped by reunions, both bittersweet and embarassing, and the ultimite realization that with coming full circle, there's that end of the line. The point of the ride where one can no longer afford coach nor carriage, and can no longer maintain that ruse. The traveler becomes disloged from his place in timeif ever such a place was truly secured for him at all) and finds himself a resident in a strange country. One where the landscape is unfamilar and uncertian and the customs unknowable. One pauses, uncertian of his step but fully aware that the next move is of incredible importance, the respite of considerable need. The stumble need not be a permanent fall, and one hopes for the ability to dust onself off quickly and properly enough to avoid lingering for too long a spell. One hopes to find a compass. One hopes the wind will change

Friday, November 19, 2010


Ahhh, the warm and slightly sleazy buzz of nostalgia. I'm not sure whats inspired me to wax absurdly reminiscent about my time as a comic book store clerk twice in one week, but watching the footage of the imminent "Justice League Jr." series has me retreading those dorktastic steps.

The ultimate perk of working at a comic book store? Unlimited reading material. I, for the first time ever, had hours to pour over the entire bodies of work of the major publishers and indie labels...and I made something of a study of it. And one of the books that stuck out the most in that somewhat bizarre period of the late 90s was Peter A David's
Young Justice. The first thing that jumped out at me was the art of Todd Nauck, which had this cartoonish vibrancy while at the same time conveying a lot of dynamic action and characterization. A club made up of sidekicks: Sure, Robin III was cool (Tim Drake was both confident and comfortably nerdy and studious and yet enjoyably different than Dick Grayson) and Impulse was something of a moppy haired, adorable, spastic idiot savant with superpowers and Superboy came off as the cocky big kid on campus. The first several issues came off as a super hero buddy comedy with all the bad jokes and goofy set ups to boot. ("Young. Just, us." ) But it also skirted some real darkness, Secret, a mysterious girl the trio liberates is a possibly dead-but-resurrected government lab experiment with no real memory of her former self (but she's cute as a button, minus the dead stuff) and she's being pursued by her possible brother who killed her as a bid to gain demonic powers through a cult ritual. See? Plenty dark. And somehow it managed to be fun and comical at the same time.

When I saw that the Cartoon Network was producing a show by the same name a few months back, I was immediately skeptical. Young Justice ran for quite a while, and was for much of this time the only DC comic I read. When the Teen Titans cartoon was near launch, the characters of use to the cartoon were hastily excised from Young Justice, the comic cancelled and a new Teen Titans book was thrown together to profit from the loose association of the show. Needless to say it didn't sit well. So now, ten years later we have a Young Justice cartoon that might possibly get most of the spirit of YJ right... It might be karmic. Who knows? But it looks pretty sodding sweet so far. No word on whether or not we can expect to see the likes of the Secret (or Wonder Girl), and the new Aqualad is completely made for tv (but looks cool) but ...feeling more optimistic than not about the potential. Color me temporarily stoked, and watch a 6 minute opener for the series which is looking more badass than I'd expected. This could be interesting, fanboys and girls.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dateless Wonders and Hopeless Causes.




Many many moons ago, back when I was barely 18 and working at one of the areas Local Comic Book stores, I used to stroll casually into the store on Thursdays, make my requisite series of customer service related phone calls, flip open my Abnormal Psychology text …and have the hardest time diagnosing half of the more eccentric persons to ever walk through the place on a given day. It was actually quite the guilty pleasure of mine, manning the register and idly studying between customers. Easily one of the  most charmed retail experiences I’ll ever have by far. But the above “Our Valued Customers” is a site that takes real overheard comic book store customers’ and their left of reality perspectives and shines the embarrassing light of day on them; to hilarious, soul crushing effect. Most comic book fans are harmlessly nerdy, affable and despite being slightly socially awkward, charming. But there were always a few pervy, unwashed letches lurking around the hentai section to ruin that perception.

The LCS I went to while I was in Grad school was so full of awkward fanboys that whenever a girl would enter the dingy, dusty store the overly chatty clerk and nearly everyone else would fall into bashful silence until she left. I used to think that level of nerd-humor was the stuff of Simpsons parody, but there were points when they’d slide into a SERIOUS dissection of the week’s WWF plotlines that it became too surreal and even I would flee for my social life, go for a round or two, and have very long conversations about anything, everything other than WWF to compensate…


Thursday, November 11, 2010

'Marvel Brothel' Is the Least Exciting (And Most Actionable) Sex-Based Adventure Game Starring the X-Men You'll See Today - ComicsAlliance | Comics culture, news, humor, commentary, and reviews


I’d be more at a lossx-women_4 about how bafflingly wrong the existence of this home grown video game is, but it speaks to some glaringly awful misogany. Whomever concocts a game where heroines are pimped out by their well intentioned figureheads to “further their civil rights movement” (Professor X) as a plot device, has got some real and weighty issues to sift through. Never mind that the very point of being a human rights activist is to avoid subjugation and denigration of the disenfranchised. Also, Jubilee? Really? She’s under most continuity at BEST 16.There isn’t enough time to count how many ways the existence of this game is wrong. That said, I don’t think Martin Luther King funded his ambitions by pimping out the women who supported his message. And should there be evidence of this, I’ll gladly hang up my libral hat and cynical sociology coat and quit the world forever.



Scissor Sistors, for the win.


'Marvel Brothel' Is the Least Exciting (And Most Actionable) Sex-Based Adventure Game Starring the X-Men You'll See Today - ComicsAlliance | Comics culture, news, humor, commentary, and reviews

Boys on Film. (GleeCap)

Let's talk Glee. I've been riding high on the goofily optimistic and refreshingly groundbreaking promo clip between isolated, too "fabulous" to live Kurt, and the newly introduced painfully charming gay guru in the following clip.

As for "Never Been Kissed" itself? I for one adored it, though I think considering I watched the "Teenage Dream" promo clip a million times, its not possible for it to completely live up to the fantasy I created in my head. That said, I think what happens in "Never Been Kissed" is extremely important. The very fact that two openly gay teens can share an exchange, let alone sing a flirty, swoony crush song to one another is (sadly?) revolutionary. I've heard several older gay men remark that they'd never thought they'd see the like in their lifetime, and it strikes me as impossibly sad that generations of gay teenagers have never really seen themselves as represented and present in society. All the sappily sweet love songs in the universe, even if they're impossibly vapid, are geared towards people who aren't you, and reinforces the idea gayness is some sort of affliction only spoken about in dark rooms in hushed tones. I found a very well worded post from
Tom and Lorenzo that expresses that cultural isolation better than I:

"To the straight people reading us: remember high school? Remember your favorite songs and movies, TV shows and music videos from that period? Imagine if all of that media bombardment telling you what to like, what to wear, and how to be attractive, popular, and cool, imagine that all of that aimed for and addressed everyone else but you. Imagine what it's like when every sappy love song (or angry breakup song), every rom com, every trendy TV show and blockbuster movie, even every video game, imagine if they all depicted a form of romantic love that simply isn't available to you. Imagine going through high school without even so much as a hint of yourself reflected in any of the things you watch and listen to, any of the things that literally every other kid is talking about. Imagine the one thing you want more than anything in the world: to be kissed, please god, just to be kissed, imagine you have never seen that depicted anywhere or referred to in any way but as something to be mocked and shunned."

All fair and true points when considering the effects of mass media and minority culture. We take cues about who and what is important, and relevant by how its presented in the media and in this case, its an exercise in both overt and covert marginalization. The bloggers in the above underscore why something as simple as that scene carries enormous weight and frankly, sustaining and validating in ways youtube videos about waiting out suffering are not.

Outside of that glorious moment, the rest of the episode happened too:

As for Kurt, I find it impossible not to find his utter marginalization and torment soul shatteringly resonant. I know I've had a fairly benign high school experience in comparison, but college in a rural southern baptist town provided plenty of opportunities to get shunned and openly mocked. As an educator myself, it feels like Glee is a universe where the teachers and adults are present only when convenient. I find Shue's "You're losing it" speech to be tone deaf and wrongheaded only in that it would have been far more useful to approach the bully in question than it would to sit Kurt down and give him water. As important as this topic is to be considering and showcasing, I think the message is a bit muddled. Eventually a teacher might notice, but they'll ultimately reference it and do nothing. He's in a position where he could have at least made it known that there are repercussions for such behavior.Missed opportunity there.

Another thing I was irked by was how completely the Boys team dismissed Kurt. Granted it was to set up the reason for Kurt and Blaine meeting, but it also clearly underscores how little they appreciate and understand him. That scene makes his trip to the Dalton Academy all the more fantasy like. For Kurt, it was instantly gorgeous, enticing, warm and welcoming, and the pained expression of envy, relief and amazement on his face at regarding Blaine and this strange new habitat was amazing to watch. (Has anyone else actually ever seen Kurt beam the way he does here? I had to stop and think on it, but I've never seen him smile before at all) The scene is colorful and inviting and lavishly detailed in contrast to Kurt's school surroundings, and it serves as an indicator that life can in fact be substantively different, better, elsewhere. That not everyone is either willfully oblivious, openly hostile or indifferent about he or his sexuality. The vulnerability he displays when asking the prep school boys about their own orientations is noteworthy. The more I think about it beyond the expense, there's literally nothing at McKinley high that could convince Kurt realistically to stay. After watching that scene with the Warbelers' a few times even I wanted to go to that school, and my experiences weren't remotley as horrible. I find myself wanting to pause Glee in the Dalton Academy and stay there, as the reality of the "real" universe is grossly unpalatable in comparison.

Rachel can imply that he's loved and appreciated, but aside from that one moment in the end of Duets, its rarely noticeable otherwise. I'm not buying. The other students range from mocking him when convenient to basically ignoring his feelings, input or comments. and I'm not sure why he would either. There's little on screen interaction that indicates any open camaraderie with any character besides Mercedes, as his relationship with Finn was dashed by the "gay as sexual predator" defense, and any potential friendship with Sam was tainted by such as well.

the Puck/Artie storyline was marginally likable, and I know Puck's bluster is a defense mechanism but god, is it hard to sympathize with such an increasingly ridiculous caricature.

the Foe Yay between Kurt and his Nemesis, was a complete and enjoyable blindside. Misdirection is always nice, and yes, there are plenty of gay men that, later in life come out after years of fighting it and everyone else that could possibly remind them of it. Its a worthy story to mine, sure, but I do think its dangerous for Kurt to romantically involve himself with someone who basically brutalized him out of angst for so long. The parallels between this and Hollyoaks are well made in that regard. I'm inclined to think that helping Dave, while noble and understandable is NOT Kurts responsibility. Granted, he may be more evolved and further along on his emotional progression, but it cannot be healthy to yoke yourself to someone with a history of violence and that much self loathing.

Also? As much as I wanted to like Sam, the blonde ambition Prom scenario and Quinn's forced theatricality about the Beiste scenario was underwhelming. I think my shipping has sunk. On the whole I think this was a groundbreaking, incredibly cathartic episode that somewhat effectively peels back the human implications of both overt and subtle bullying. And yes, Chris Colfer is sodding brilliant for being able to convey the stinging, icy isolation and the sudden giddy making glimmers of hope and self awareness with the merest expression. This, ladies and gents is talent. And if anyone can take the struggles and trials of Kurt to heart and feel less alone or less inclined to look the other way, there might just be hope for the world yet.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fresh Meat: Hordes Arrive for Walking Dead Debut.

l4d2_cinematic"Walking Dead" A Ratings Smash - Comic Book Resources

With all the zombie themed material out there-from popular First Person Shooters with inexplicable zombie modes, to the demure sisters of the Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice doing battle with the undead (No, I’m not making this up) , its safe to say that zombies have shambled into the public consumption in a major way. Its debatable that all of these depictions of the mindless undead are good, but the frequency of zombie lore in the mainstream entertainment media has notably increased recently.

Zombie lore can be traced back to Haiti and West African witchcraft conjuring up undead servants to do their bidding based on collective fears of the supernatural, but more Western portrayals- like George Romeo’s cult classic Night of the Living Dead preys upon other persistent phobias in Western culture: contagion, overpopulation and misuse of technology and science leading to the fall of civilization and eventual dystopia. And this dystopia resonates well in the modern world, where the population grows increasingly larger and the potential dangers from it (plague and outbreak, failure of government to meet these needs etc.) seem to lurk around every corner. Rid the public of their humanity and their ability for empathy and conscious thought and the teaming unchecked masses become credible and persistent dangers clamoring for the one commodity left. Fresh meat.

Its an easier thing to tell gory, one-liner heavy, high action stories about the humanity’s last stand in the face of outbreak and groupthink, than it is to tell the very human stories of isolation and loss that would likely surround such an unfortunate series of events.Why Kirkman’s the Walking Dead series works so well both in comic book and television formats is because it tells the very underscored stories of emotional fallout, grief and uncertainty surrounding the sudden caving of society, and mines that in incredibly interesting ways as the story progresses. What do we give up to ensure safety in a world where social conventions have forsaken us and what do we hold on to when culture no longer provides us with structure? The series also has some brilliant character beats from its diverse and disparate cast of characters. (Almost always the best of them come from the almost uncomfortably efficient zombie slayer Michonne), and how all of the characters seem painfully, failingly human in unthinkable circumstances. The father and son duo that meets Rick in the beginning of the story have become insular to the point of distrusting live humans more than their undead counterparts. The father Morgan grapples with the grim truth that his wife is outside among the horde and cannot bring himself to kill her or leave the neighborhood. The reason it works, and works so well is that the cycle of grief and erosion of humanity is so well played and so smartly depicted that its hard not to ponder the moral and logistical implications of it all.

Judging from the massive success of the Pilot, having been seen by 8.3 million viewers over the weekend, people have the chance to sink their teeth into the meaty, surprisingly thought provoking series and hopefully will continue to as it progresses. In the zombie glutted market over the past few years, it really is the freshest brain around.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Perkins "Explains" Gay Teen Suicides : Dispatches from the Culture Wars

"These young people who identify as gay or lesbian, we know from the
social science that they have a higher propensity to depression or suicide
because of that internal conflict," he says.

Homosexuality is
"abnormal," he says, and kids know it, which leads them to despair.

Its such a convenient, utterly despicable argument that it almost is beneath my dignity to discuss outright. Except that Perkins and his ilk have been working overtime the past several weeks to counter the idea that LGBT young adults and teenagers are in any way deserving of human decency for their so called “lifestyle choice”.

Nevermind that there are in fact very
real correlations between suicide rates, depression and LBGT youth, but what Perkins willfully ignores in the above is that one of the reasons driving the problematic trend is the consistent fact that he and other evangelicals and social conservatives are ardently, and bitterly reinforcing the fact that gay kids are vile, evil abominations that do not in fact deserve to live. That they’re somehow pushing “an agenda” for wanting to live an unrepressed life. Or hell, according to recent polls out of Texas, that they may be inadvertently responsible for the freaking apocalypse just by proxy of existing. Perkins blithely goes about insisting that these “lifestyle choices” are monstrous and ungodly, is allowed to press this issue in “objective” news sources from the Washington Post to NPR, and has the gall to pretend to lament the loss of life when he’s perpetuating the conditions responsible for the “despair” these gay (or perceived as such an therefore persecuted) students face. Its like saying that a given racial or ethnic minority experiences depression at a higher frequency and then ignoring the socio-environmental factors like prejudice and discrimination that in many cases are socially created and culturally reinforced in our society that causes it. Its almost an insult to one’s intelligence to present this ruse of “compassion” when shunning, scorn and victim blaming are the very aims of the organizations Perkins helms and the movement he leads.

When otherwise “normal” children feel justified in taking this embedded message out in society about homosexuality being abhorrent and justifiable to persecute against, and thus become gatekeepers of so called morality, the results can be grim as we’ve learned recently. But make no mistake, we do not learn messages about stigmas and negative statuses in a vacuum. If status Y is somehow tainted, and vile and worthy of scorn, it is in every way because of the values attached to it by the societies we inhabit. LGBT youths can’t feel “despair” about their sexual identities without Perkins’ thinly veiled code about their sin, and the bully pulpit demagoguery others backing this anti-gay rhetoric have been pressing so consistently since the Cold War Era. One can point to studies about depression and suicide amongst gay teens and see a valid correlation, but one cannot remove the idea that social factors that drive those trends have much to do with the open hostility created by Perkins himself.