July 4, 2017

A Different Kind of Independence Day

Comic Panel - He's Falling!

Right now, I'm sitting on my mom's couch. After four months of rehab and hospitalization, she came home this past Friday. I'm sitting at my laptop, about to work on a longer-form writing project and freelance copywriting, and I have come to a decision...

...Blog THIS, Pal! is going on a short hiatus.

Much of it is simply due to time: after the events of the past few months, I need an emotional break. A major move, job issues, and family health issues are tough enough on their own: as one of my best friends pointed out, I had the Stress Trifecta. Emotionally, it's been challenging to maintain an even keel, especially in the spite of how Internet culture chooses to behave...

(...and yes, I'm taking a short break from Facebook as well. When a conversation about cultural appropriation in literature turns into "you're a segregationalist" arguments....it's time to go).

But honestly, as much as I'm grateful for the support I've received, I'm finding myself behaving in a very Kardashian-like manner. Wanting attention not because I've done something that warrants attention, but merely because I'm bored. And my friends - and blog readers - deserve better.

(Yes, I appreciate the irony of making that statement on this blog).

Much of it, though, is that I need to heal, to focus on more important matters. People may tell you that caring for an older parent is a joy and not a burden. They can say that because they're never done it. It's tiring, exhausting, and in this current funding climate...trying to find other caregivers to help will be close to impossible. (Not that we're not willing to try, and for those who suggest that I get trained as a caregiver "just in case"...I've investigated. It's not an option).

With my other projects, I also want to reestablish something of a personal life. It's not like I haven't been seen in public or have acted entirely like a hermit, but much of this process feels very isolating. It's hard to open up to people without feeling like I'll overreact or take it to the extreme. (Let's say that I wanted to ask a casual friend out for coffee...normally, if someone says no, I could accept it and move on. However, my current mood suggests that I would be motivated to research this person's address, show up in front of that person's place of residence and reenact that scene with John Cusack and the boombox from Say Anything. Only rather than Peter Gabriel, this song would be playing:

And yes, that is rather creepy, why do you ask?

Right now, I need to adjust a new lifestyle. I have a novel to write, several pieces to write (including some long-due posts for I Hear of Sherlock), and regain some sense of emotional equilibrium. So for now, I'm taking a break from the blog (and after some work for the Chicago Doctor Who Meetup, a much shorter break from Facebook)

Obviously, I'm not giving up on the blog - I have over twelve years' work invested in this. But for right now, I need to focus on other things, and I'm hoping that at some point, it will feel less like I was missed and more like, "Why the heck are you back?"

And I'm always available by e-mail. Talk to you later.

June 21, 2017

Deep Thoughts: Introducing the "Nerd Paradox"

Comic Panel 06Much of this is going to be a bit rambling, and maybe a bit obvious to many of you. For me, it's trying to wrap my brain around quite a bit that's happening in nerd and "New Pulp" culture. This is less of an academic piece and more of a rant...but I'm willing to live with that, and I hope this either spurs on further conversation, and/or points me in the direction of current thought.

Recently, there was news that Damen Lindelof would develop a Watchmen series for HBO....and something just broke in me. I actually found myself hating Watchmen in any form....

....and it's been frustrating to deal with friends and colleagues engage in full-on fan entitlement, complaining about the "design" of Star Trek: Discovery ("It doesn't follow the original show of 50 years ago!") to pulp characters that are over 80 years old ("If it doesn't fit the canon, it's not worth it.") (Or even a recent Doctor Who meetup where an attendee extended our venue time without my knowledge, insulted the venue, and basically disrupted the entire affair). It's even extended to Internet culture, with white dudebros on YouTube mocking the performance of the recent Ghostbusters reboot or claiming that a recent fan film settlement was out of line because this particular franchise "belongs to the people."

My first response is, "No it isn't - intellectual property". But the second - and more measured - response is a response to what I'm calling the "Nerd Paradox."
When we engage in any creative work or works, we develop an affinity for it - we like what we like and we dislike what we dislike. For many of us, that identification becomes so strong that it feels like that creative work (or franchise) "belongs" to us...and it doesn't. We own our reactions, our beliefs, our "feels" if you like....but we don't own the franchise. Part of building any franchise is taking risks: seeing what works and building upon it for modern times. If you're lucky, you get something that builds and expands upon the original (Battlestar Galactica); if you're not, you get....something else.

In addition, though, we crave the new and exciting. We want to see change (or more accurately, as Stan Lee once put it, "the illusion of change") yet somehow feel like our favorite franchises are still the same. (It would be strange if Doctor Who, for example, became a wacky sitcom about a chiropractor with short-term memory problems). There's a tension between being surprised in the same way when we first encountered this work and wanting the comfort of familiarity.

So the Nerd Paradox goes something like this:

"If you are going to make so many changes in this character/franchise, don't call it that franchise...yet, if you give me a new character that has too many changes from the old, why not just call it the old character".

Or, to use Star Trek as an example:

"Star Trek: Discovery looks like a bomb because they're not really following the design or continuity of the past series..." Yet, how many times have there been space operas/science fiction shows where someone has said, "It's enough like Star Trek...so why not call it Star Trek?"

It's frustrating both as a fan and a writer/creator....as a fan, it makes it much tougher to have conversations because any criticism gets serious push back. (Criticize the inconsistencies of how Clara Oswald is written in Doctor Who and the result is "...but I liked her.") Try to have a conversation about what might work about a franchise, and the result is defensiveness (so for many of my New Pulp colleagues: you may think Chris Hemsworth would make a better Doc Savage than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but the truth is that in this media climate, an actor who doesn't have any major movie successes outside of Marvel Studios may not be the best choice).

Right now, the three major goals of any entertainment company are 1) Exploiting their existing intellectual properties (and "exploit" is not pejorative in this case); 2) Creating a "tentpole" franchise that is sustainable over several movies, and 3) planning out either trilogies or "cinematic universes" to foster that sustainability. Sadly, our media culture is moving away from originality into something that is more "bankable" and familiar....and unfortunately, the nerd paradox is still coming into play, and I don't really see a way out.

Yes, I've rambled for a bit, but mostly this is a "get-these-thoughts-out-of-my-head-and-on-the-blog" type of post. I'm more than happy to continue this conversation, and welcome your comments...especially if I'm either stating the obvious or just plain wrong about this.