This took entirely too long to make for how crappy it is.
Friday, May 13, 2016
I've been trying to work through some pretty severe writer's block. Not that I really believe in writer's block, but I do believe that the things I want to say, and the way that I want to say them, are outside of my reach right now and I decided that the only way I would be able to push through this was to just write through the block. It's what I would tell any of my students: write something, even if it's crap.
Which has gotten me thinking about the value of creating public content. I was recently invited to participate in a panel for the flagship conference in my field; all that I needed to do was create a 2000-word proposal for the paper I intended to present (and write the paper, obviously, but the conference is a year away). Looking at the other proposals for the panel, I judged that there wasn't an opening for anything I had to say. My current research wasn't a fit for the panel and I couldn't see how I could draw from anything in my background to create a proposal. My colleagues gave me some suggestions, but to me these seemed like topics that would allow me to speak at the conference rather than topics that people really needed to hear about, especially when the other papers on the panel looked like they were going to do a great job covering the important stuff. After two sleepless nights spent torturing myself over this proposal, I reluctantly emailed my colleagues to let them know I was not going to participate. I simply couldn't see how anything I had to say needed to be heard.
I know that the "smart" choice was to write something and submit it in order to get the line on my vita so that I would look better to potential employers, but I couldn't get past the uncomfortable feeling of delivering a paper at a conference that I did not believe contained useful information for anyone. I like to think that this demonstrates how much integrity I have but in reality it just explains why I'm a single jobless loser who will die childless and alone. Probably face down in a cheap day-old cake from the grocery store that I bought for myself on my birthday because it was on manager's mark-down. Or something equally likely to shame my family and delight my detractors.
I've grown to believe the same thing about having a blog. Besides the fact that blogging is passé, I've always been bothered by the implication created when one makes one's ideas public on a blog: that these ideas merit attention from an audience (and/or, this writing is good enough to merit attention and appreciation from others). That always seemed presumptuous to me. I've tried to dispel that nagging discomfort by telling myself that people come to a blog by choice and I didn't have to feel guilty for wasting someone's time if he or she sought out the content on their own, but I've also always felt an ethical responsibility to create content worth reading: if I'm going to presume that my writing merits attention, then I should strive to make it worth reading rather than just throwing up whatever shit I happen to think of that day.
It was because of this line of thinking that, after a year, I decided to shut down my professional website. I had created it intending to blog on topics related to my research, but I never got started. Regardless of the topic I intended to write about, I never could figure out why anyone needed me to say anything about it. Surely they could read the available research, just as I could; so how would I be helping by contributing my perspective on issues that other people had spent a decade or more researching and writing about? An attitude that exacerbates any bouts of writer's block, in addition to making professionalizing in a field like mine impossible.
Besides, it's said that it's better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt, an act which I've reserved for the job interviews I've had this year if my lack of success is any indication.
This seems like a natural stopping point. More later. Or not.
Sunday, May 03, 2015
When I started this blog I was in my mid-20's. Back then I talked about things that, I think, made sense for someone in his mid-20's to talk about--working at my retail job, adjusting to the experience of living with my parents again after graduating college, getting back into the dating world after the end of a 3+ year relationship, and Nutella.
I'm in my late 30's now. In 6 months I'll be unemployed and will probably have to move back in with my parents. My 5-year relationship was euthanized by my ex 4 years ago and I've only been out on a few dates since. I own no property, have no career, am not the patriarch of a family. I weigh too much, earn too little, and take the bus because I have no car.
It's hard to quantify any progress I've made over the last decade, but the tangibility of my stagnation is quite. Tangible.
(Also my shoulder hurts today.)
In my earliest entries I used this space to bitch about things in my life in a quasi-stream-of-consciousness way, without writing multiple drafts or doing much editing at all. At some point I decided that I wanted to provide content that was artful; by that I mean, content that used semi-colons. In between the semi-colons I wanted to publish clauses that would offer readers more than just complaining. Sometimes this makes it difficult to come up with appropriate topics for this space.
I have less time and less money to go out and experience the world. And I hate myself less. So much of my writing came out of that hatred.
I often think about the state of satire in the early 21st century. Satire typically involved exposing unethical behavior or corruption from a (shared) position of righteousness. It can still do that but attitudes about what constitutes "right" are more divided now and there is no common ground to appeal to, so a lot of satire is exclusionary. It affirms the values of one group at the expense of those who do not agree. On the other hand, postmodern satire can resist taking any position at all and instead pursue a line of thinking to its "logical" endpoint.
I usually avoid political satire and try to avoid being exclusionary. When I think about my idols, Twain chief among them, I wonder why they remained engaged in the world as long as they did; my thoughts frequently turn to Candide's reply to Pangloss, which struck me as a turning away from public life. But really it could just be that living the life of a shut-in has made me more pessimistic than I used to be. (That would really be something!)
There's more in that reference to Voltaire than I had intended, but it offers me a nice way to stitch this mess together and make it appear intentional. Pangloss is a philosopher and teacher who believes that we live in the best of all possible worlds. After Candide, his pupil, has traveled the world and become educated in humanity's potential for wickedness and suffered much, his response to Pangloss is simply, "we must cultivate our garden." If this is indeed the best of all possible worlds there is still much evil and suffering in it.
My worldview isn't that dark (yet) and I haven't suffered much at all compared to what others have endured, but I understand what it's like to imagine all of the great things the world has in store for you and to discover that after ten years of scrounging and working you're not much better off and may, in fact, have fallen behind.
And for a while I haven't been able to come up with a funny way to say that, and I don't know when I'll be able to. So I don't know how I will fill this space or what I will talk about here. Twelve years ago I felt like I was venturing out into the world, making new friends, trying new things and learning about myself and in ways that are not fully evident to you (the reader) my writing reflected that. What my writing will look like now that I'm dead inside... that's not a question I've been willing to answer, or to subject readers to. But I'm bored so whatevs.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Jazz was one of my favorite Autobots. I can barely remember, but I think I liked Optimus Prime the most. Jazz, though. Jazz was the Autobot I longed for and never could possess.
Jazz oozed cool. He looked great as a car and great as a bot. Not like Ratchet, who had a windshield for a face and transformed into an ambulance. No knock against ambulances but they don’t exactly ignite the imagination of a young boy. Not like Megatron, whose robot form gave him a giant square head, a jutting groin region with an oddly placed trigger, and weirdly shaped legs. Dat thigh gap tho. #thinspiration, amirite?
I owned Megatron, for two reasons. One, he is Optimus Prime’s adversary and I needed him to stage epic robot battles on my bed. Two, he transformed into a very real-looking Walther P-38. Look at pictures of Megatron and real Walther P-38 handguns and then take a moment to reflect on this. In 1984 you could go to a Toys R Us and buy a toy robot that transformed into a legitimate replica of a handgun with a chrome barrel and black stock, the only distinguishing feature being a purple Decepticon logo.
Kids not only could buy this toy, they could run around at school pretending to shoot their friends with it. If kids could still buy this toy, they’d have to pass a background check (how many times have you been grounded in the last 6 months?) and put Megatron in a chastity belt that transformed into a trigger lock.
I'm not the only fan who loved Jazz. Based on sales, Jazz is one of the most popular Transformers ever. So why did he have such a small role in the live action movie from 2007? He barely had any dialogue and they let Megatron kill him at the end of the movie, fulfilling the stereotype that the minority character gets it first. Sure, Bumblebee also ends up in two pieces at the end of the movie, but he survives. Cut Jazz in two and all you’re left with is a pair of oversized Cybertronian bookends.
There are signifiers of Jazz’s blackness all over. For one thing, his name is Jazz. For the original cartoon, the voice of Jazz was provided by none other than Scatman Crothers, an actual jazz man (as well as actor, comedian, guitarist, and voice-over artist). In the cartoon his language and taste in music was hipper than the rest of the Autobots. He had rhythm, apparent from his use of sound and light displays as a tool for distracting Decepticons. You would think that the clever use of chaff or explosives would be the ideal distraction, but Decepticons are programmed to expect that. A Hannah Montana concert suddenly erupting on the field of battle is something you never get used to.
Jazz isn’t the only "urban" Transformer. In the sequel, movie-goers were Al-Jolsoned by the arrival of the twins, Skids and Mudflap, the offensive pair of Autobots from Revenge of the Fallen. A lot of people were offended by these robots because they are obviously racist caricatures. But clearly, the invocation of minstrelsy here is intended to compare the plight of the Autobots, who fled their home planet to escape the Decepticons’ genocidal intentions, with the struggle of American blacks for civil rights and prosperity in a nation whose founding text defines them as less than fully human.
Nah, I’m kidding. That shit is just full on racist. Bay should never have allowed the editor to cut the scene where Mudflap wore absurdly oversized lips and sang "Mammy." I'm surprised the first shot of Skids wasn't of him doing the electric boogaloo after Maury Povich told him that "you are not the father."
Although I don’t know how Cybertronians procreate. The only Transformer that may have been a woman was the robot that transformed into a human female to seduce Sam.
As an aside, if the Transformers could transform into people this whole time, why do they bother disguising themselves as jets and trucks? As an aside from that aside, couldn’t she have just shot Sam with a small snub nosed revolver and solved a lot of the Decepticons’ problems? As another aside, is it a surprise that the only non-male Transformer is a seduction-bot? We should be praising Michael Bay that she wasn’t disguised as a beer-dispensing vagina. This is a Michael Bay movie we’re talking about. If he could cast just body parts nobody would know what Megan Fox’s face looks like.
(Actually, there are some female Autobots. The Arcee triplets. Typical of a Michael Bay film, they don’t speak.
Then they die off-screen.)
According to the lore, in spite of the fact that Transformers are autonomous robots, every Transformer has something called a "spark." It’s their life force. Their soul. If a transformer sustains too much damage, their spark leaves their body and they die. No amount of repair will restore it to life. That helps explain why it was possible to kill Jazz. EXCEPT that in the second movie we find out that there’s something called the Matrix of Leadership that has the power to resurrect any non-ethnic transformer. Sorry, Jazz. I guess you were too black for anyone to bother resurrecting you in the second movie, even though Prime hangs onto the Matrix and resurrects Sentinel Prime in the third one.
What happened to Jazz’s body, anyway? Maybe they didn’t resurrect him because they misplaced him somewhere. I ask because after Prime hands Megatron’s ass to him at the end of the first movie, you would think that would be the end of Megatron.
But no. It turns out the US military decided to stash him at the bottom of the ocean like Jason at the end of Friday the 13th part 6. I assumed that the Autobots would have found the biggest volcano on Earth and made Decepticon fondue. If they didn’t want to go that route, perhaps they could have broken him down for spare parts or let the military reverse engineer him. Whatever it was they did with him, I assumed they would make sure the son-of-a-bitch was good and dead. But that’s not how Michael Bay movies work.
Instead, the US Military, taking a nod from the practice of water-boarding, concocted some kind of elaborate "rust torture." They spent millions of dollars to chain Megatron to the seabed somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Then, to make sure nothing happened to him, they left three guys with water wings and pool noodles guarding him so that the sharks would have something to eat after the Decepticons inevitably went to retrieve him.
It’s too bad that Laserbeak wasn’t in Revenge of the Fallen. One of his shits could have transformed into a jalepeno with a light saber and wiped all of them out. (Excuse me. I meant energon saber.)
For whatever reason, the Transformers, these robotic embodiments of true non-organic intelligence, seem to be entirely unaware of their advantages as robots. Don’t they have programming? Aren’t their personalities essentially algorithms? Can’t they just upload themselves into a workstation until a new body is ready? Haven’t they heard of the cloud? Do they not have WiFi?
I have a wireless router. I can upload things to my blog when I’m on the toilet. All the Decepticons had to do was get Megatron to a Starbucks and buy a Frappuccino and Megatron could have been uploaded into Asimo until a new, more resilient, more agile body was constructed. And until then, Asimo would have been the meanest, most megalomaniacal dancing robot the Japanese ever saw. Eventually he’d fight Godzilla.
If Megatron didn’t like that option, he could have hacked one of the Autobots. Or made multiple copies of himself and hacked all of the Autobots. Come to think of it, why do they bother shooting at each other when they have all of these other delicious alternatives? The live action movie could have lasted about 15 minutes. Transformers show up on Earth, some 8-year-old Chinese kids hack them, and they use them to get all the candy they want because they’re 8 and they don’t know shit about geopolitics.
In spite of the ability to avoid the frailties of mortality, they embrace them. If the fact that Jetfire gets around on a cane is any indication, they even decide at a certain point to get osteoporosis in a world where humans have already invented Boniva. In other words, these robots are fucking dumb. If the war never started and Cybertronian society had continued to develop unimpeded, the Transformers probably would have invented robot dementia, robot HIV, and robot pedobear. (Who would transform into a van.) I guess what I’m saying is that the Transformers, as a race, aren’t terribly visionary.
For instance, why do they fire bullets? And miss? They should never miss. We can send a signal from Washington DC to launch a missile from a submarine off the coast of Yemen that will thread the needle through a half-open window in Iraq and knock the toupee off of a bald guy’s head and leave no trace except for a little sunburn on his scalp, but an advanced race of sentient robots who traversed space all the way from their dying planet, landed on Earth, scanned our vehicles and through a series of complex algorithms deduced how to reconstruct themselves so that they could fold up to look like cars and jets, can’t nail a target at 50 yards with a projectile the size of Jetfire’s enlarged prostate?
Why not have guided projectiles? Or lasers. Laser beams obviously travel at light speed, making such weapons nearly impossible to dodge. So why not just have them fire laser beams like they did in the cartoon?
And don’t you dare say "realism."