Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Atlas gave them One Shrug


o9j1K7N68DrSqQAvda086TjsSNp220px-Poster_for_film_'Atlas_Shrugged_Part_II'_(2012)
NO, this is not a bash session. This is not an exercise in trolling. This is not a vent, rant, or a demand for the professional banning of all actors and producers involved in the making of these silver screen gems. And yet. The Atlas Shrugged movies are (so far) less than great. Okay, less than good. These are not good movies.

They can’t be.

Full disclosure. I actually own these films. I own Atlas Shrugged in both paper and audio formats. I own other Ayn Rand works. Heck, I even bought a hat.
20th_Century_hat_ver2__90449.1339444544.1280.1280

And I still think the movies are pretty bad, just for not the reasons most critics have savaged them. Atlas Shrugged is an immense work. It is a manifesto. It is the pouring out of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy into a fictional world much like our own. It is many things, but what it is not is a novel. And therein lies the inherent downfall with adapting it into a movie. Atlas Shrugged is a novelized philosophy text. I warn friends and acquaintances to whom I recommend Atlas Shrugged that if they walk into the book with a Harry Potter, Twilight, or Hunger Games mindset they are better off not even looking at the cover.

Atlas is not for escapism, it is for educating. Ayn Rand, through Atlas and her other works, wanted to change how people thought by introducing them to her moral code: Objectivism. A moral code, briefly, is a blueprint for living. Change a person’s moral code and you change how they think and live. Millions of words have been spilled debating, arguing, dissecting, and plain eviscerating Objectivism. My point here is not a dissertation on what it is or is not (I’m not thrilled by the movies is my point lest you forget), but I do think a summary for those unfamiliar with it is in order. A word of warning, however. Atlas is over one thousand pages long. I’m going to encapsulate some aspects that speak to me in five sentences or less. This is in NO WAY a CliffsNotes version of the book or Objectivism. Here goes: (1) As your life is yours, no group, society, or belief system may lay claim to you in any way without your permission. (2) Humans, having no instinctive method of survival, must use reason (the Mind) to survive. (3) Therefore, no one has the right to claim the products of your Mind without permission just as you have no claim to the products of others without theirs. (4) Capitalism, when operated correctly, creates an environment of voluntary trading between individuals where value (your best efforts)is traded for value (the best efforts of others). (5) Money, as a symbol of fair value for value trading, is a moral creation based on honesty and hard work that allows a person to achieve levels of security and freedom never before seen in human history. Okay. Not too bad. Over-simplifications with volumes of ideas left out, yes, but given I tried to squeeze a lake into an eyedropper I’m alright with these five.

The book has moments of excellent drama, comedy, wit, and some sex scenes Fifty Shades of Grey would be proud of, but they are ALL to illustrate a philosophical point, including (dare I say especially) the sex. It’s not impossible to do that in a movie, but it is very very hard and usually a horrible way to build a film. Every scene, every line, every set, every piece of wardrobe, etc. must be coordinated to almost subliminal levels to send messages to the audience. And that’s exactly what the producers of the film would have had to do for starters just to attempt an adaptation of a book that hammers readers with enough dialogue to make Tuesdays With Morrie seem like an Action-Adventure film. I’m not pessimistic enough to say the producers were doomed to failure from the start, but on bad days I’m very close to it.

Still, I applaud the attempt. Truly. I know I couldn’t make a film to do it justice. The material is so thick it’s intertwined. Yes, I will buy the third installment to show my support. I just won’t expect to feel the same gut reaction I do from reading a text populated by personifications of a moral code compared to watching actors reciting memorized lines. But in a way. I’m okay with that.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I said do it… or else.

angry-man-1

As some of you may have heard, DC Comics kicked a hornet’s nest by hiring award winning science fiction writer, and Mormon, Orson Scott Card to pen a Superman tale in their upcoming Adventures of Superman digit-first series. The April debut of this non-continuity, on-line only series is getting lots and lots of press, but not the kind I’m sure DC was hoping for. Card is an outspoken supporter of a male-female only definition of marriage, and therefore has made comments over the years many in the homosexual community find very offensive. Card wrote an op-ed piece in the May 3rd, 2012 Rhino Times lifted heavily from on a few sites I read. It’s not an outrageously long piece so I’m going to link here and let YOU read the whole piece (and not choice selections) to decide for yourself about the content. The bottom line of the on-line petitions is to fire him. The general logic is his anti-homosexual beliefs rule him out from being even remotely connected to the iconic Man of Steel. A character I feel compelled to point out is an alien and 101% heterosexual.

What none of the several articles I read mentioned was Card’s time at Marvel penning Ultimate Iron Man. I searched for a boycott of Marvel from Card’s time there, but didn’t find any. Full disclosure, I read through five pages of Google Search results, found nothing beyond the One Million Mom’s boycott attempt at Marvel (because some characters are gay), got bored, and stopped. Why wasn’t Marvel hit with this? Let’s expand this further. Card’s best-selling series Ender’s Game is slated for movie release this November from Summit Entertainment (a subsidiary of Lions Gate). Harrison Ford is in it. Again, I found no mention of backlash. Maybe I missed it. But again I ask why DC? Is it because it’s Superman, one of the most recognizable figures to young and old alike in the world? I don’t have the answer on this one. I merely thought it was interesting. Maybe you can figure it out.

Anyway, I mention this story in order to pose a few questions whose cores apply well beyond this matter. Let’s begin. If Card’s employment at DC is terminated, will it encourage him to re-think his position? Is threatening to remove one’s ability to support his or her family a proper means of education or is it a form of bullying? Would firing him open DC to a lawsuit for religious discrimination? Devoted members of several religions might become, or at least feel, unwelcome at DC. If NOT supporting a particular political or societal idea is grounds for termination, or not getting a job in the first place, what has happened to Freedom of Speech? And has employment now become a matter of passing a litmus test? Is lying then OK if it keeps you in good standing with special interest groups on either side of an issue? How is this different from when entertainers and artists were blacklisted for their beliefs in the 1950’s? Can one be pro-gay marriage and still write a good Superman story that doesn’t require Jimmy Olsen to marry his doorman to save the earth? (No, Grant Morrison, you cannot use that idea.) And finally, isn’t the whole idea to hire quality creators who produce high quality work the fans like? I mean, comic book fans are genetically predisposed to complain, criticize, rip to shreds, over-think, argue, and just plain bitch. If they aren’t buying, it doesn’t matter what the creator supports because the creation will go away real fast. You can be pro-everything and still have a real short career if you suck at your job, especially in comics.

Look, if you and thousands of your friends want to complain loudly with well thought out points about Card or anything else THEN DO IT. That’s Freedom of Speech. Just don’t forget that Freedom of Speech also applies to unpopular ideas. It’s supposed to protect you and me. It’s supposed to keep people from being punished merely for holding an opinion unpopular to the rest of society. Card has a right to work and support his family, just as supporters of gay-marriage do. Let’s talk. Let’s debate. Let’s politely raise our voices in heated discussions, but let’s not make threats. Boycotts, like any tool designed to generate then exploit fear, end discussion. They are a way to twist arms. They make people afraid to speak and be themselves. They make organizations and individuals walk a very bland, paranoid, neutral path. They silence us all for fear of being the next target. And don’t we have enough of that already? I think we do and I hope you do as well. Or I’ll boycott you.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Thoughts of a Visitor

My father hated winter. The first falling of white would send him into a bee’s dance of endless puttering, planning, and just plain annoyance. Happiness to him was looking over long rows of living green coaxed skyward by the steady push-pull beat of John Deere pistons. Ma once told me if I ever wanted to know what a painter without paint looked like I need only watch Pa when snow covered the ground. Some good did come from those mid-western winters, though. During one long stretch of dull, overcast days Pa gave me his dog-eared copy of The Old Man and the Sea. He read and reread that book for as long as I could remember, but it wasn’t until I read it and felt Hemingway’s sun on my skin that I understood why it called to him. I latched onto Hemingway instantly and he deserves much of the credit for my career in journalism. I sometimes wonder what my biological parents would have thought of seasons. Krypton had none. There is so much about them I’ll never know, but I like to think they would have liked spring. It’s nice to imagine them sharing something in common with Pa. Me? I’m my father’s son. Spring is the best time of year. Especially for flying.

Superman circle

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Knight’s Rider


POP POP POP POP POP….

It took him a second to count the five gunshots. Their confused echoes fell over each other down the long alley chasing after him. The shots were nearby. Their speed meant panic, and panic meant death. Another survivor gone. He imagined the biting, raking swarm falling upon him?...her? It didn’t matter. The poor unknown person was now his tool of distraction. The swarm would draw attention to itself as it ate and draw other groups to it. This was the break he needed to make it a little closer to the edge of the city. Patiently closing short distances was safer than bolting crazy in the street. A few shambling corpses were easy to avoid, but as few as four were deadly even if you were fast and in the open. And he hadn’t seen groupings that small in weeks.

“Unnnnnn…”

He stopped. The moaning mixed with wet ripping sounds he didn’t like. The group was feeding. It sounded large and close, but he still couldn’t tell where.

One body won’t last long.

He calmly started trotting, almost leisurely, toward the alley’s end some thirty yards distant. He slowed before reaching the street, careful not to stray too close to either of the tall buildings flanking him. He looked up and saw his target: the apartment building he grew up in. It had been years since he’d returned. Years since his parents died, back when the dead stayed dead. With luck he could get in and hold up a few days. He was in no hurry, though. A few more minutes or hours were fine by him.

Slow and steady doesn’t get eaten.

The street was clear. Well, looked clear. He knelt down and looked under the few remaining cars. Zombies had an alarming habit of popping out from behind normal, everyday objects. Nothing. He wiped sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his motorcycle jacket. The black leather welcomed the August sun a bit too much, but it did offer a high degree of protection against human fingernails. He planned on buying the accompanying motorcycle a week after he bought the jacket, but then all hungry hell broke loose. He inhaled deeply, braced himself, and slowly crept walked across the street. He scanned left and right for movement. Still nothing.

“errrn….”

Damn it!

He turned. A single zombie lumbered toward him from far down the alley, a fireman’s axe protruding from her (no, its) chest. The handle swayed side-to-side with the creature’s graceless steps. It was almost comical had the tip not kept coming back to center on him. Its dead, red mouth opened.

“UNNNNN…”

A rising chorus of moans and wails immediately poured out of the adjacent alley. The shots were far closer than he thought.

The damn things are like seagulls. Stay Calm. Stay ahead, he reminded himself.

He ran to his target, leapt up the front steps of the building, and stopped dead. He heard a steady thudding coming from behind the door. The image of hungry, dead fists slamming against the wood snaked in and out of his mind. With a few minutes of planning he could have found another way in or a means to draw them out. He was sure of it. He also knew he didn’t have ten seconds before the street was, literally, crawling with the undead. He ran down the steps to listen and gauge how many stragglers the swarm was attracting. Cries erupted up and down the street. The undead poured out of every doorway, window, and shadow like some giant meat grinder pushing out its cargo. The pounding behind the door suddenly rose to greet the tide, doubling its efforts to join it. The door rattled in splintering death throws. His legs grew weak and his hands suddenly tinged. All his careful efforts dropped him in the middle of a goddamn nest. He was completely surrounded. He climbed to the top of the nearest car and sat down.

This is it.

The thought was calm and resigned. He drew the .22 pistol from his pocket and placed the barrel against his temple. The cries and moans encircled him, a vanguard to the pallid throats close behind. In a fluid he motion he squeezed the trigger.

-click-

I really wish I had some bullets.

Huh?

The sound was clear and pronounced even above the cadaverous din: squealing rubber on asphalt. He stood searching for the source. It was coming from behind the hoard of undead exiting the alley. A car was coming down the street at a high rate of speed. He knew it couldn’t plow through the mob of bodies between them, but it might be enough of a distraction to allow him to escape. The sound captured the attention of even the undead closest him. The hoard numbered between two-hundred and three-hundred by his estimate. If each zombie weighted 150lbs, the vehicle faced a forty-five thousand pound wall of meat and bone. He couldn’t see it yet but the zombies could. They turned to face the sound. Whatever they saw, it had a low profile.

Boom! Thud! Whack! Crack!

A wave of zombies flew into the air or disintegrated in a cloud of flesh. Bodies were hurled up and over the vehicle, but he still couldn’t see it. The undulating path of thrown rag dolls turned toward him. He couldn’t believe his eyes. A sleek, black Pontiac Trans Am was driving right at him. The site was so preposterous he almost failed to notice the red light at the apex of it hood. The light slid back and forth in a recessed opening. The car reached him and braked with uncanny speed. It was covered in gore but otherwise undamaged. The passenger door swung opened revealing an empty seat.

“Get in.” called a voice inside the car.

He jumped down and into the car. Before he could reach to close the door it closed by itself. He turned to thank the driver. The seat was empty.

“Please don’t be alarmed.” The voice came from a center council containing a red equalizer-like display that rose and fell with the rise and fall of the voice.

“They cannot breach me. I will remove you from this environment.” The car’s accelerator lowered with no visible cause pressing him against the seat with alarming force.

THUD! SMACK! CRACK!

Zombies bounced off the car like it was a tank.

“What the hell is going on?!”

“I am the Knight Industries Two Thousand or KITT, as I was called. My sensors detected your bio-readings and I arrived as fast as I could.”

CRUNCH! SNAP! PLUD!

“Who’s driving?” He looked on the windshield for a camera. Remote control? A military drone? If that was the case, and he found the car’s remote system, he might be able to take control over it. He noticed a large bundle of severed fiber optic cables hanging from a harness beneath the dash.

“I am autonomous. I had a human operator, but no more. He is dead. I follow his last command.”

He didn’t know what to make of what he was hearing and he didn’t care. It was secondary to gaining control of this vehicle. He glanced up in time to see the body of a large, fat zombie roll over the windshield. Amazingly, the glass was unharmed. This car meant his survival.

“So what next? Take me to your creators?” Keep “it” talking. He pulled at the glove box. It would not open.

“I have not communicated with my creators for 36 days, 4 hours, and 23 minutes. I fear for their safety.”

I fear?

“So why don’t you drive to them now? I can help you find them.” He grabbed the heavily modified steering wheel and tried to move it. It wouldn’t budge.

“Please don’t do that. Repeated attempts to alter my course will activate self-defense measures. My human operator was investigating a possible origin of the outbreak. It was a remote possibility, but he felt compelled to try. My creators begged him not to go. They overrode my controls until he cut the remote link cables and reprogrammed me to follow his, and only his, commands. All he wanted to do was help.”

“What happened?” It was a simple question, but it marked the first time in weeks he thought a shade of anything other than his own survival.

“He was killed. It was then I received my final command. That’s why I came to you. I was too late to reach the woman in the alley.”

“I’m sorry”, he laughed, “This is insane on so many levels. My savior is a Trans Am fulfilling the last wish of a dying man. Thanks?”

“I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.” The voice exactly like a human filled with guilt.

“What are you sorry for? You saved me.”

“I’m not here to save you.”

A motion caught his peripheral vision the moment fingernails impaled the side of his face jerking it toward the window. He screamed and fought but it was too late. Teeth and pressure tore open the back of his head. The biting hurt worse then anything he could have imagined. His head ruined, life quickly fading, he stared helplessly out the window at the buildings racing past.

I didn’t check the back seat…

Time passed. KITT readied the ejection seat and maintenance protocols to dispose of the body. Try as he might he could not find a way past the programming blocks. He could not control himself any more than the turned humans. And like them he never tired and never slept. If only he hadn’t heard the final command...

“Brainsss”

The zombie moaned as blood dripped down its torn, black leather coat. KITT knew it would stop moving for a while, sitting motionless in the backseat like a normal passenger again until the hunger hit. The zombie exhaled a low, almost contented groan.

“Yes, Michael,” KITT answered.