Thursday, January 31, 2013

Zombie Heroes

My previous posts may have colored the Zombie archetype poorly. I was still going for the dramatic slant when I wrote:

"[W]e find the zombie as the most deplorable archetype. Mindlessness, consumption, apathy, and a non-influential lifestyle characterize the zombie. He does not contribute anything to society, and takes from it more than necessarily. The hoard mentality of mentality influences his actions: following whatever orders or actions the person near him does without regard to individual wants or needs. Personality decays ... until only the shell of a person remains."

Crabhead from Half-Life 2 (Valve Corporation, video game)

 Man-o-man doesn't that sound awful.

I want to rescind that statement, or at the very least alter it. The Zombie is not the most deplorable archetype. Otherwise, why would it be an archetype? Really, the Zombie is the most 'realistic' state. It speaks of the unenlightened individual who has yet to realize their potential role in life. That is, often we are introduced to main character(s) as Zombies.* The "Hero's Journey" the characters go through often transforms them, defines their true character, and allows them to become our American heroes. 

In the 2012 Working Titles Films production of Les Miserables, the main character Jean Vanjean goes through just a transformation. **Spoilers** He starts as a prison-slave who is forced to be a Zombie. He is allowed no aspirations, influences, or free will, and must perform mindless tasks in unison with hundreds of other prison-slaves. These chain-gangs are Zombie hordes, although not by choice.We find out he's in prison because he stole bread; just trying to survive by eating whatever he can get his hands on. He continues this mentality after he's put on parole, and eventually steals some things (to survive). He's a Zombie, doing what you gotta do to survive without any thought to anyone but yourself. Plot things happen and eventually he becomes a Cowboy/successful business man who disregards the law, and eventually a Astronaut/self sacrificing individual. Happy(?) Ending. The scene I posted is Jean Vanjean coming to the realization that he must act and help, not merely survive. Yes, they're are scenes where spots of Astronaut altruism come out, but it's in this song that he self-acknowledges his being as something more than a man/Zombie. He is a hero.

However, Not every Zombie is forced to be one. Our hobbit friend Bilbo Baggins was quite content with his quiet, isolated, mundane, uneventful life. When presented with the opportunity to go out on an adventure, Bilbo says "I just need to sit quietly for a moment." Gandalf, being the volatile grey wizard he is, retorts "You've been sitting quietly for far too long!" The wizard sees Bilbo as a complacent, mindless Zombie who, when pushed, can do great things. Bilbo starts as the consumerist, overly-concerned for "doilies and his mother's dishes." Bringing him out into the world, Gandalf wants to show Bilbo the value of the "small acts of kindness and love" that will keep "darkness at bay." Consumerism, attachment to an object (i.e. a ring), will only bring insanity, isolation, and a host of other Zombie issues..

Tell me he's not a Zombie!
Screenshot from Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Other Zombie turned heroes include Django (Django), Marlin (Finding Nemo), Forrest Gump (Forrest Gump), WALL-E (WALL-E).

That's not to say that all main-characters transform into Cowboys or Astronauts. Often time the misadventures of a Zombie give audiences the opportunity to laugh at absurdity and make them feel better about their life. Step Brothers, Harold & Kumar, and Superbad feature reluctant heroes desperately searching for something, while losing sight of the real problem. The heroes do end up realizing their antics aren't quite right, and go through a minor transformation. That's not to say its true for all comedy Zombies; for example the Bluth Family from the aptly named TV show Arrested Development. The comedy follows the antics of a formerly upper-class family that can't seem to change their ways or move on with life. They are living Zombies, oblivious to reality. It's hilarious.

The next Zombie comedy coming to theaters is actually a zombie movies. Warm Bodies (Summit Entertainment) features a zombie who falls in love with a non-zombie human. I'm going to predict that the hero transforms from a Zombie to a Cowboy or Astronaut and saves the shotgun-slinging princess. And there will be a few chuckles along the way.

So, next time you see a Zombie, whether they're on the silver screen, TV, or someone acting like one, maybe you shouldn't jump for the crossbow. Giving someone the chance to become something more, to make something more, well isn't that what Equal Opportunity is all about? Then again...

What Would Daryl Dixon Do?
The Walking Dead (AMC)

*Please remember an archetype does not mean A = A; but rather A represents XYZ. So a Zombie does not mean a zombie that Daryl is about to shoot through the eye, but a character with the characteristics I'm discussing in the post.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

You Can't Turn Off the News

Breaking News!

This has been a hot topic on some popular TV news stations lately. No, not on ESPN, E!, TMZ, the Daily Show, Bravo, Oxygen, HLN, TLC, or any other Reality show channels. CNN, MSNBC, and FOXNews have been following the developments of this 'story' very closely. Because nothing else is happening in the world.

I grew up with CNN on the TV, so that's what I turn to when I want noise in the background, hoping that some bit of information will make me more informed or worldly or something. Not the case. Useless prattle is expected from MSNBC and FOXNews, but CNN? You were the last hold-out.

Are they required to plaster 'Breaking News' on everything?

Let me cite Jeff Sorensen's opinion piece in the Huffington Post:

"Fast forward to when CNN came about. It seemed fresh and convenient. CNN was the only newsgroup reporting live on the ground when the United States attacked Iraq at the beginning of the Gulf War. They were cooped up in a hotel reporting through a Four-Wire circuit while the Anti-air weapons fired outside the window of their hotel room. It was one of the greatest moments in journalistic history. As stated in the film Live From Baghdad, it was "the journalistic equivalent of landing on the Moon."
CNN was no longer considered the experimental network; it became the basis for everything that followed. New 24-hour networks appeared on the scene and further saturated the market by jacking CNN's format.
Now, major networks are fighting over who is more non-biased than the others. Each network tries to show how they report both sides equally, but it's the worst kept secret ever. It's not even a secret. It's so easy to recognize when something is biased, unless they aim the content at your ideology. Confirmation bias blinds people to the bias because it supports their point of view. Hence, the content is correct to those supporting the bias aimed toward them. ... The more they argue their points, the more extreme their point of view goes toward their bias. This happens on 24-hour news all day. Both sides argue their views to the point that neither listens to the other side. They'll sink into their beliefs even if there is no evidence supporting it. This tends to happen in most belief structures."
Except CNN hasn't chosen to spew extremism, but mundane moderatism. They latch onto the pseudo-political popular stories, gnashing into a story calling it a 'dissection of facts' when really it's just maiming factoids into a grotesque pile that you're told is important, interesting, or breaking news.

It ain't nothing new.
Piero Manzoni, Worth more than its weight in gold.
Yes, the news stations report on important events such as women in combat, gun control, and Obama's new cabinet. The discussion that follows the annoucement of the headline, however, are still just biased babble with few or no factual grounding. The news fails to enlighten us about the events happening beyond our own line of sight, but feeds us, as Sorenson said, our own bias.

It makes sense really. Why should news organizations invest in investigative reporting? 'New' news may be original and authentic, but it lacks the credibility of popular consensus. It's looked at with skepticism, it's easily judged. Whereas the communal news that reinforces our already established beliefs is easily swallowed, and easily regurgitated (I'm looking at you Facebook Debaters). Reporting on the same subject with different commentators makes viewers feel good and learned because 1. They already know the subject; 2. They are on the 'inside' of the developing story; 3. They can tell their non-news watching friends about everyone's opinions. The viewer gets the 'credit' in the real world while the news stations get the ratings.

2010 : Haiti

Anderson Cooper was the first big news anchor to go to Haiti after the devastating earthquake that hit there. Investigating reporting right? Let me rephrase the question: What do you remember about Haiti's earthquake? Specifically  what did Cooper uncover that you remember? He says in this clip that he believed this was a fluke looting, that he happened to be in the right place at the right time, ready to look heroic and for everyone in the states to pause and say, hey, that Cooper guy is heroic/hot!

That might be a bit of an exaggeration. But he is a celebrity news-anchor, and not like Walter Conkrite. Viewers watch his shows not just because he's a good reporter, able to ask the right questions, but because they have an emotional investment in him. Perhaps it's better to quote Cooper himself:
"I think the notion of traditional anchor is fading away, the all-knowing, all-seeing person who speaks from on high. I don't think the audience really buys that anymore. As a viewer, I know I don't buy it. I think you have to be yourself, and you have to be real and you have to admit what you don't know, and talk about what you do know, and talk about what you don't know as long as you say you don't know it. I tend to relate more to people on television who are just themselves, for good or for bad, than I do to someone who I believe is putting on some sort of persona. The anchorman on The Simpsons is a reasonable facsimile of some anchors who have that problem"
Cooper admits it. He wants the audience to realize he isn't all knowing, and in doing so allows the viewers and himself be on equal ground. Ah, Equality. Not in the sense of 'All Men are created Equal, Under God', but in a way that says, 'We have equal access to the same information, let's be friends'.

Cooper made friends with this little guy while investigating Planet in Peril
Question he's asking right now: Would you rather be me or the sloth in this picture?

This is all a round-about way to say that Walter Benjamin has, once again, reared his head. The most obvious connection with Mechanical Reproduction and today's news stations: repeating/reproducing the same news story over and over and over and over again gives it more importance (a bigger aura) than the event on its own. Case and point: Manti Te'o . Who gives a crap about how a 21 year old guy that fell in love with a fake girl? Okay, maybe a few people, but at reserve that for Lifetime Movies or SpikeTV. Or, at the very least, for the 'Entertainment' portions of the news. But nope. Wolf Blitzer will continue to report on this very serious American event.

Point two taken from Benjamin truly characterizes the 21st Century. The idea that everyone deserves/has the ability to access information. It does away with the enlightenment's compartmentalization of subjects and the scholar of one subject. Instead everyone can become amateur-expert in any and all subjects. Your snide comment on annoying-liberal's facebook status is just as valid as Rush Limbaughs (or more so). Citing John Stewart as an authority on the socio-political? Legit. The fact that your uncle owns a gun store gives you the power to make broad statements on gun control. And that's what the news stations are doing. They find random people to act as commentators on the show. (You'll note, that's exactly what the Daily Show does, but with the cast.) If the news stations disregarded this shift in America's intellectual hierarchy, they would come off as pedantic, and few people would watch.

News stations have traded investigative, feet-on-the-ground journalism for mass-dialogue and equality. These are not mutually exclusive; everyone has their feet-on-the-ground. The problem is that the news stations can sift through every person's blog, twitter, or feed. Our connections, whether followers or friends, limit our ability to spread news. I mean don't we all swell with pride while counting the number of Likes on our latest photo as if they were peacock feathers. Unfortunately we're not all friends with Cooper, nor do we have the luck of being a both a Star Trek star and very clever like George Tekai. We can only hope that our pet or family gathering is entertaining enough for America to share.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Back in the Saddle

I want to apologize to all my avid readers for taking such a long hiatus. My excuses aren't very good, nor are they worth telling. Instead I want to take this apology* and explain to you why this blog exists. Most people, I believe, stumble onto this page through Google image searches (the top one being 'rosario dawson tits' at the moment). And those of you I actually know who click the link on my social networking sites, probably scroll through and think I'm a bit zany. This attitude and the general lack of enthusiasm for his blog discouraged me from opening up the Blogger browser tab for a few weeks. As we all know, feeling unsupported, being the only one interested in your work, and thinking your actions have no value doesn't make one want to continue to explore one's interests anymore.

Well fuck that. I ain't no pretend Astronaut, and I surely ain't no Girl (which Buzz is in this scene). No, I find my interpretations of my culture fascinating and insightful, and the zany portions of them are just to make it more interesting. New American Mythology may have started as a false exaggeration, but it does exist. It's real. As real as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism!

NPR recently reported that young Americans don't self-identify as part of a particular organized religion, and that doesn't include people who say they are of a religion, but aren't actually 'devout'. Most of the people interviewed cited social issues as their main reason for not taking part in religion. My question in this discussion is, Where, then, do they get their social cues of what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable? What do we believe in? What motivates us? Why do we continue in this matter?

Our culture clearly influences our morals and therefore our actions, otherwise the Senate would be singing Don't Stop the Party and not We are Never Getting Back Together when a controversial bill came onto the floor. Instead of getting angry and frustrated (or after getting angry and frustrated) with all the bizarre things in this world, I take a look at what could cause it. Not just why is the Senate not doing its job, but also why am I so angry (or not angry) with them? I'm just trying to make sense of this zany world. If the only way I can do that is through a zany blog with a zany lexicon then so be it. 

You see, I don't care about your well-being. This blog is for me and my well-being. I will be frustrated by people who don't give a damn about what their culture teaches them, which includes the 'I don't watch TV so pop culture isn't relevant to me' (my ass) people and the 'It's just Grey's Anatomy' (zealots) people. But hey, maybe one day I'll figure out why they do that. If you made it this far into the post I assume you have some mild interest in the topic, or in what I'm doing. Good for you. I'm glad to have you. Please have an opinion, and let me know. It means people are still alive out there.

I have drive. I have smarts. I have means. I have character. 

I'll be chasing down my own Tom Chaney with or without others' help. And you, Mr. Cogburn, in your oh-so-wizened ways may join me. As to your question, What are you? A Cowboy.

What about you?

* This isn't actually an apology.