Tuesday, July 17, 2012

To the Stars

According to the Mayan calendar, the world might end on my birthday. If it does, then this past Comic Con will go down as the best ever. It's doubtful it can be topped. But not for any of the reasons this io9 article cites. No, gentle readers, the reason is because of Starship Smackdown, a panel that may have to be retired given what happened on Sunday.


Starship Smackdown has been a part of Comic Con since there were comic books there and you could just drive down Saturday, park at the convention center and buy a ticket. It was big, but not even close to what it is now. Panels were about comics and writing and art and there weren't more studio executives there than fans. If you wanted to go to panels, then you went. If you saw Neil Gaiman, you talked to him. The conversations in the hotel bars generally devolved into the old "who would win" argument. Could Batman beat up Superman? Can anyone take the Hulk? Who would win in a space battle - the Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon? Then Comic Con began to get commercialized and corporatized. But oh, how we now long for those heady days because it's out of fucking control now. Starship Smackdown was, in part, a reaction to that corporatization but I don't know if any of us could have predicted the madness that has come. The point of Smackdown is to have some silly fun at the expense of people who take this stuff too seriously (i.e., most of the panelists).

It's the last panel at Comic Con, it's usually in small rooms, and it always runs late. But there was a LINE this year. And the room was packed. We've got some terrific faithful attendees who pitch in with enthusiasm. And even though our reasons for why one ship would defeat another are completely and utterly stupid and sometimes nonsensical (hopefully always funny),  a shared love for science fiction is at the heart of the panel.

So when we heard that Neil DeGrasse Tyson, celebrity astrophysicist, had come to this year's Smackdown, we were beyond excited. Like, we quantifiably moved beyond the point of excitement. Because THAT dude is a giant in the field. And what he brings to science and space travel is an unparalleled excitement and enthusiasm that pulls everyone along in his wake.

What we didn't know was how long he would even stay. He probably wasn't expecting scholarly dissertation but I'm not sure he was expecting... well, what he got. But he stayed the whole time. And when the final battle came down to the original Enterprise and the Enterprise refit from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, our fearless moderator asked the audience who THEY thought would win. The guy who grabbed the microphone was Neil DeGrasse Tyson and he made one of the most eloquent, impassioned defenses of inspiration, imagination and creative vision that has ever been said. AT OUR FUCKING PANEL. That was sponsored by the Tyrell Corporation and not Marvel. Some quick-witted soul recorded it:

Maybe the cheers for the Marvel presentation were louder in Hall H but there is no Goddam way that there was a more honest, joyous explosion than there was at Smackdown. This was totally spontaneous and unplanned. For a few minutes, Comic Con was the convention of the past, where naked, honest joy and enthusiasm was its heartbeat and every second wasn't calculated and planned by a group of marketing executives. It was as if this wonderful man had created time travel and we all went back to that first moment of inspiration, whatever it was for each of us. And it didn't matter if we all liked different things because the minutiae was unimportant. It was about an organic shared experience.

We are being constantly bombarded and inundated with information and I think we can lose sight of why we love what we love, and why we do what we do. I don't think Neil DeGrasse Tyson has ever lost that and he shared that purity with everyone in that room. Everyone was completely lost in it. Most people had already gone home, exhausted after days spent watching Hollywood spin stuff to them, and I think they missed out on the best moment I've had at Comic Con EVER. You can't manufacture those moments, no matter how hard you try. And if things are ringing hollow and you have to try to be enthusiastic about this stuff they hurl at you, then back off, man. Watch or read that thing that made you who you are, or who you want to be. Live in that moment again.

I'm sorry you missed it.

P.S. -- Unsurprisingly, the only press where this was mentioned is here. People on Twitter talked about it and there's been mention of it on blogs, but as far as science fiction and media blogs go, zippo. Which makes sense, I suppose, since everybody's bought into the shit the corporations are selling. I would like to have been pleasantly surprised, though.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Voice of Our Shadow

Because sometimes, it's good to title posts after good books.

Getting to a few comments before another shiny new post that will probably be called The Anubis Gates for no reason.

Little Miss Nomad:
I think you're maybe taking it the wrong way. I loved West Wing and Sports Night and A Few Good Men and even watched the entire season of Studio 60 more than once, and I kind of liked The Social Network, so I think I have every right to not love The Newsroom and criticize it intelligently without it being "making fun," just like I can dislike Girls without it being some kind of gut, unreasoning backlash. I think that's diminishing many people's opinions in the vein of sticking your fingers in your ears and refusing to listen because you don't want to. Isn't it better to agree to disagree? Also, the video of repeated lines or phrasings, if you watch it, though it does make some cheap shots, does at-large make a point. If you're going to put your stamp on the shows your run, at least have someone around to make sure you're not recycling old stuff, because having a voice and self-plagiarism, accidental or otherwise, as Jonah Lehrer should also note, are two different things.
Of course you have every right to not like The Newsroom! I thought I went out of my way to say that I was focusing on the media critics who appear to just have piled on Sorkin. So no, I don't think I'm taking anything the wrong way. Again, my post wasn't about the quality of the show (you don't even know if I like it!), but more directed at my growing suspicion of media critics and how churlishly out of touch they seem to have become. They really do think they're a part of the story, that they are the voices of their generation, and I don't agree with that. Unfortunately, this has now driven me to (partially, because COME ON) agree with David Denby on Voice.

It sounds pretentious (IT'S DAVID DENBY) but dude's got a point. We are conditioned now to have a tin ear towards dialogue. People don't read books for the writing anymore. They rush through everything, because God forbid you miss something the world is talking about. You need to cut through all of that and get to the fucking story right away. JUST TELL ME WHAT'S HAPPENING. DON'T PAINT A PICTURE. And for God's sake, don't make your characters vulnerable in DIALOGUE. Don't make them step out onto a limb that you may not agree with. Make sure everything is safe and in that little box of cool that is apparently how we're going to live until the Earth burns up. Don't let Michelle on Bunheads have a monologue about layaway at Contempo Casuals. Cut to the fucking chase. Read Fifty Shades of Gray because it's sexy and forbidden, but fuck the fact that the writer has no facility with the Queen's English. Or anyone else's English, for that matter. "She's a good writer" isn't even a phrase anyone uses anymore because the CRAFT of writing has become irrelevant.

And that is what pisses me off about the Sorkin haters, the people who've piled on The Newsroom like gleeful bullies. They don't have to love the show, of course. But by dismissing Sorkin's facility with words, they're just making things worse. If, as a critic, you liked The West Wing or Sports Night but hate The Newsroom because you find it trite, or obvious, or you hate how Sorkin writes women, or that it's just not up to the standards you feel Sorkin has set for himself, then there's a way to write an article about that that doesn't include being an asshole. Just siding with the haters is lazy. But actually being a journalist and analyzing why The Newsroom doesn't work could be time-consuming, and as we all know these media critics need to shit out stuff pretty regularly. Sometimes I think I spend more time on these posts than they do on their analyses, and holy crap that's depressing if true. If, as a critic, you have hated everything Sorkin's ever done, then I don't know how to deal with you. Because if you are a media critic and you can't recognize craft, or voice, then you should probably become something else.

But notice that I'm complaining about critics here, and not about viewers. Totally different. And really, Bobo here nails what I was trying to say:


Two fresh posts in a single week? I hope this is a trend!
I could not agree more with your assessment of the Sorkin-bashing going on in the media and on the internet, even though I happen to agree with some of the criticisms. There's just a weird lip-smacking quality to it... as if Sorkin were somehow due for a flogging. I think a corollary of Sorkin's "passion"--or maybe just another word for it--is "audacity." The Newsroom tackles--and to some extent, rewrites-- our very recent history. That's a BOLD move, and it makes the show, and Sorkin himself, a target for some very legitimate criticisms. But to not qualify said criticisms with an acknowledgment and commendation of the show's sheer audacity is churlish and petty. IMO, the flaws of "The Newsroom" are a result of the risks Sorkin has taken, and, as you suggest, we should be applauding risk-taking, not dousing it with our reflexive, internet-bred cynicism.

Not quite a trend, but perhaps a trend-let. And also, QED, Bobo!

Monday, July 02, 2012


Thanks for the comments! It is still disgraceful that Lauren Graham was never recognized for her work on Gilmore Girls, and she won't be recognized for her work on Parenthood either, because it's another girly show, I suppose. Maybe if they added an inner-city drug dealer, a serial killer or rampant misogyny to the Braverman clan, then people would think the show cool enough to start acknowledging Lauren fucking GRAHAM already I MEAN JESUS. But without zombies or mobsters, there's no way.

Did Connie Britton get nominated for Friday Night Lights? I feel like they tossed her a tiny little bone in that final season. Don't get me started on how family dramas are persona non grata when awards season rolls around.

Anyway, onto passion.

Passion is the title of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After Angel turned evil, he came back to torture Buffy and there's a terrific episode with Angel's voiceover where he talks about how passion will destroy Buffy and her friends. And then he proceeds to use it to do just that.

Passion can be used as a weapon because it's raw, naked and revealing. Passion isn't reserved or cool. But based on how critics (by which I mean all the people who watch shit and then post about it on TV Squad, which will apparently run any old fucking thing) react, passion is something to be ridiculed and dismissed. If something is distant and reserved, it's telling you that it's Art. It has something to "say," apparently. It's super-easy to dismiss passion because it's so specific to voice. And voice is another thing that qualifies for ridicule. Witness the reaction to Aaron Sorkin's The Newsroom. Whether you like the show or not is irrelevant. What stunned me about the reaction was how people seem to have forgotten what an original fucking voice sounds like. Some asshole even put together a YouTube video of all the "sorkinisms" from his work. Or, as I like to call it, VOICE. And the folks who are giggling over this, who are using it to lambast Sorkin as unoriginal, are the same people who clutch irony and cool to their cold, dead hearts.

So the criticisms of The Newsroom so far have made fun of the dialogue: THERE'S SO MUCH OF IT OMG, Sorkin's political leanings: OMG HOW DARE YOU HAVE A POINT OF VIEW THAT YOU WANT TO SHARE LULZ, and, well... any iteration of the former. It's just too many fucking words, right?

And let's take a moment here to talk about dialogue, because we have two playwrights who have become extremely successful in television -- Aaron Sorkin and Jason Katims. Sorkin has certainly gotten his due with regards to the deservedly richly-rewarded West Wing (which gets made fun of when I am in earshot, which is not okay but fuck it, I'll just have another drink and check my e-mail). Katims, though, not so much, right? He's had the misfortune of telling quiet, complex stories about families. Like Sorkin, he's got an amazing way with dialogue. So does Amy Sherman-Palladino, which she's proving yet again with Bunheads. I AM ENJOYING THE HELL OUT OF THAT SHOW, because it's nice to be able to turn on the television and hear people saying words in an identifiable cadence, instead of just barfing them out because words are necessary to move plot points forward. Actual DIALOGUE EXCHANGES! Dialogue for the sake of it, for the way thoughts and feelings can be conveyed in a beautiful, distinct manner, is almost nonexistent on television right now. Dialogue is mostly serviceable. There's no flair. And that's disappointing. To quote my spirit guide Tom Stoppard, "words are all we have to go on."

Anyway. Back to The Newsroom.

I guess this is part of a backlash, in a way, because as we all know people cannot turn out consistently good work and when they have somehow managed to make a movie out of a non-subject like The Social Network, they must be taken to task when their next project appears. Or something. With The Newsroom, Sorkin is preaching to the converted and isn't telling us anything we don't already know. Yes, he is doing this. Because this is what he does. THIS IS HIS POINT OF VIEW. THIS IS HIS VOICE. Have we gone so far away from craft that we don't even notice when it's there?

It's pretty sad that television has an original, distinctive voice like Sorkin and people are actually MAKING FUN OF IT. I mean really, guys?? Are you THAT desperate to prove your worth that you would bash a guy for actually showing passion? Why the fuck are we making fun of writers doing what they SHOULD be doing? What we ALL should be doing? I realize it's a lot easier (and it makes YOU look cool, too) to crowd around writers who are considered more cool. And it's adorable that folks have huddled around Matt Weiner as a cool icon while at the same time totally misunderstanding his passion. I know we all have to be this way because of the Internet. But you do not get to make fun of Aaron Sorkin and then whine that there's nothing good on television.

Critics, I realize that you have to blurt out content on a fairly constant basis, and that the give-and-take between you and the public is substantially more immediate than it's ever been. But you're critics. Not  celebrities. Just try to remember that.

And writers who are making fun of Sorkin? I just don't know, you guys. I wish we could all champion craft and hope for the success of dramas on television, instead of lining up to take shots. I'm flummoxed.