Category Archives: Pop Culture

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I’ve been watching the original Twilight Zone series on Netflix, and loving it. I’m currently halfway through season 2, and last night I saw the episode entitled “Night of the Meek”. In this episode, Henry Corwin, a department store Santa, gets drunk and is fired from his job. He informs the store manager that the reason he gets drunk all the time, and especially at Christmas, is that he can’t bear to see all the suffering and sadness in the world, especially in the faces of children, and especially at Christmastime,and know that there’s nothing he can do about it. Look at this picture of him. Doesn’t he look sad?

But the night he’s fired, Henry stumbles across a magical burlap sack that seems, at first, to be full of nothing but garbage. But he soon finds that it’s full of gifts, and not just any gifts: the heart’s desire of anyone he encounters. He gives gifts to the downtrodden at a Salvation Army soup kitchen, to the manager of the department store he was just fired from, and to the neighborhood kids.

Finally the bag is empty, and he lets it drop to the ground and goes on his way… only to encounter a sleigh, some reindeer, and an elf who says to him, “We’ve been waiting for you!” Henry’s own wish — that he could be the real life Santa Claus to give gifts for everyone — has come true.

I personally think that “Night of the Meek” is one of the better episodes that Serling himself (who was born on Christmas Day) wrote, and it actually made me a little bit sniffly. When I read a book in 2003 called The American Fantasy Tradition, I was more than a little surprised to see that Rod Serling was not mentioned at all.

Reams and reams have been written about The Twilight Zone and its impact on American pop culture (especially in speculative fiction), and I won’t bother going into that here. For now, I’ll just say that the show definitely impacted my own creative sensibilities. Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been watching this show, I find myself feeling more inspired to work on my own fiction, and giving it more subtle twists and bits than I normally would be include toward. No one has ever accused me of being a very subtle writer, so perhaps binge-watching The Twilight Zone will help change that.

If you want to buy me something for Christmas or my birthday or just for the heck of it, might I suggest Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone: A Fifth-Dimension Guide to Life by Mark Dawidziak? I heard the author interviewed on a podcast I regularly listen to and this sounds like a fun book.


A couple of administrative notes:

  1. As you know, I no longer cross-post to Livejournal. Now, I cross-post to Dreamwidth, where my username is underpope2.
  2. I’ve applied a new theme to my blog. What do you think? Is it pretty? Ugly? Pretty ugly? I think it needs some tweaks.
  3. Finally, I’ve moved some of the free stories off my writing page and onto their own page at My Monstrous Universe. Enjoy!

 

Today’s Secret Word Is…

Today’s secret word is antepenultimate!

 

It will be defined in the antepenultimate paragraph of this blog entry. And this word has probably displaced defenestrate (which, of course, means to throw someone or something out of a window) as my favorite word.

Today, this blog entry is just about some snippets that happen to be floating in my brain. For example: In my opinion, the Terminator franchise ended with Terminator 2: Judgement Day. There was no need for any other films after that one. It wrapped up all the various threads and plot points and so on, and presented us with a nice clean storyline that worked on plenty of levels. It was a solid action story, but it also had depth of theme and characterization. The rest of the movies are just schlock cashing in on the name of the franchise.

That said, I did really enjoy the Terminator TV series: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.That show was well-written and executed, and deftly played with themes of time travel, family, and so on. It’s a shame that the WGA strike in 2007/2008 (am I right about the dates?) killed the show before it really got a chance to get going.

Same with the Alien franchise. Alien was a solid horror movie; Aliens was a solid action movie. Both are fine films. The rest of the films in the series are junk. Even Prometheus, which, I admit, was beautiful to watch, especially in 3D. I haven’t even bothered watching Alien: Covenant, though I might if it ends up free on Amazon Prime or Netflix. This video here demonstrates precisely why Prometheus was such an awful film:

Not all movies have to have thematic depth or solid characterizations to be good fun, of course. The 2014 Godzilla film was pretty much nothing but an action movie featuring giant monsters duking it out over the Bay Area. Characterization was kept to a minimum. It didn’t really hit the right thematic notes that the 1954 Gojira film had; that film was more about the US atomic attacks on Japan than about the monster itself. I enjoyed the 2014 Godzilla but I struggled with its purpose beyond the aforementioned monsters slugging it out.

The next American Godzilla film, Godzilla: King of Monsters, is, I believe, set to be released in 2019. Again, it will probably be light on character and theme, but heavy on CGI monsters battling each other.

Antepenultimate means “the third from the last”. As in, this is the third-from-last paragraph of the blog entry. Or, more precisely, “before the penultimate”.

And this entry is the penultimate paragraph; that is to say, second-to-last. I read a novel many years ago by Phillip K. Dick called The Penultimate Truth and it, like everything else Dick wrote, it was odd and bizarre and has stuck with me ever since I read it as a freshman at UC Davis. Come to think of it, this might have been one of the books that drove me toward getting a philosophy degree.

And this is the ultimate paragraph; that is to say, the final one. I hoped you enjoyed it.


The Penultimate Truth

by Philip K. Dick [Mariner Books]
Rank/Rating: 258867/-
Price: -

The Wizard of Oz: Moral Pauper, Devious Mastermind, or Simply Dumb?

A few months ago I wrote in this blog about my theory that Glinda, Good Witch of the North in the Land of Oz, is actually a Machiavellian mastermind, scheming and using Dorothy Gale’s serendipitous killing of the Wicked Witch of the East as the opening gambit in a plot to eliminate the Wizard and make herself the only magical power in the entire country.  Since I wrote that, I’ve read some more of the Oz books, and discovered that later plot elements confirmed my theory; once Dorothy left, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man took over the leadership of Oz until Ozma was returned to power, and once Ozma was back in power one of her first acts was to outlaw magic and witchcraft, save that practiced by her good friend Glinda.

Glinda is definitely a power mad fiend.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This time, though, I wanted to address another aspect of the Oz storyline that really bugs me.  This element I’ve only noticed in the play and in the 1939 movie, so as far as I know it doesn’t represent anything that L. Frank Baum (or his successors) wrote, but it’s in the script and the screenplay, and it bugs me.

But before I begin, I guess I should say that I really do love the movie.  The music is fun (in particular, I love the Scarecrow’s song), the visuals are spectacular, and the storyline is an elegant incarnation of the Hero’s Journey.  It’s got the Call to Adventure, it’s got the Wise Mentor, and, of course, the Return Home with Gifts.  The actors are all wonderful and the characterizations are delightful.  It really is a fun movie, and I’ve seen it often.

It’s just that the Wizard is such a schmuck.  "It’s not how much you love," he tells the Tin Man at the end of the film, "but how much others love you that matters." And the sad thing is, the Tin Man believes him.

I suppose that in some ways, it’s not all that bad a message.  In particular, it’s probably a good tool for socializing young children.  "It doesn’t matter how many people you love or how much you love them," we might say to them.  "All that matters is how much other people love you."  Frank Morgan as the Wizard of OzThis could easily help children behave at school or in public.  "Act in such a way so that people will love you," we could tell them, ensuring that they will behave properly.  And, of course, there’s the underlying subtext:  "The person who dies with the most people loving them wins!"

The trouble is, that doesn’t really work, and the number of people who love you is a horrible measure of the kind of person you are.  Remember the line one of the Princes had in Into the Woods?  "I was raised to be charming… not sincere."  With sufficient charm and charisma, even the most horrible person can get plenty of people, even thousands, to love them.  Ask Squeaky Fromme if you don’t believe me on that.

More to the point, though, I think that there are plenty of people out there who are fully capable of loving other people deeply and whole heartedly, but who are not very capable of expressing that love; and because the way they express it is inadequate, sometimes even inappropriate, in spite of years of people trying to teach them otherwise.  I’m thinking in particular of the many nerds and geeks I have known throughout my life who suffered from this problem.  Some of them were very, very loving people but just plain incapable of showing it.  Perhaps they had Aspergers.  Perhaps they were autistic in some other way.  Or perhaps they just never learned the appropriate skills.  The point is, in spite of their huge hearts, they weren’t well loved by many other people (this is actually a theme I’ve been playing with a bit in The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster).

So what, exactly, is the Wizard trying to imply with his comment to the Tin Man?  He was spot on in his advice to both the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion, I think, so what was he trying to say to the Tin Man?  Was he being deliberately dim?  Was he trying to undermine the Tin Man’s self confidence, knowing that the Tin Man would take over leadership of Oz after he left (if so, would that put him in cahoots, somehow, with Glinda, or was he possibly trying to bring Glinda’s machinations to a halt)?  Or was he simply reflecting a worldview popular in 1939, when the film was made?

Being me, I, of course, look for the nefarious motives here.  It was all a conspiracy.  Not just one conspiracy, in fact, but a web of competing lies and manipulations which proves that even a simple place like Oz can be a web of internecine conflict which could rival the current Republican Party.

Watch the film, kids.  Enjoy it.  But remember that what the Wizard says to the Tin Man is just wrong.

The Matrix and Philosophy

The Matrix and PhilosophyThe Matrix and Philosophy edited by William Irwin

My bachelor’s degree is in Philosophy (UC Davis, 1992), and The Matrix is one of my favorite science fiction films ever; and so this book seems like it would be a perfect match for me, doesn’t it? It’s part of the same Philosophy and Popular Culture series which includes other books such as The Simpsons and Philosophy, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Philosophy (which I have and which is a surprisingly entertaining read, save for the very last essay), and the forthcoming The Undead and Philosophy, which I need to get just because the title sounds so impressive. There’s another book out now called Superheroes and Philosophy which I want to read, even though I have never been much of a fan of the superhero genre.

Continue reading The Matrix and Philosophy