Monday, March 2, 2015

Kenny Rogers School of Internet Argument

With apologies for the earworm. (Oh come on, you know you're at least humming it to yourself.)

I am proposing a set of guidelines for arguing on the internet. No, "don't read the comments" isn't one of them. For starters, that should be a law, not a guideline. An inviolable, nothing good comes of breaking it, law. Even though this started because I read some comments. This is more along the lines of, if you're going to argue, and we all know you are, then at least have the foresight to know when to quit. Knowing that this can be hard to do, I give the following examples, both of which occurred over the weekend.

Example 1: 
I started to watch a movie the other day, only to realize it looked vaguely familiar to me. I'm pretty sure I'd seen it when it was first on TV, and about half an hour in realized that, even if I hadn't, it was essentially a retread of the Bourne series. Now, while I will in no way argue that just because something has been done before doesn't mean it can't be done again, this didn't seem to be doing so in a way that added anything interesting. (And was, in fact, taking much of the interesting bits out of it.)

But to try and refresh my memory about whether I had seen it and was remembering the plot points correctly, I went to the IMDB page. Wherein, in the comments, I found the following argument:

Commenter #1: Everyone needs to stop saying movie X (the new one) is a retread of movie Y (Bourne). Movie X was based on comic book X that came out long before the movie.

Commenter #2: Movie Y is based on book Y that came out four years before comic book X.

Now, at this point, there's nothing new here. I remember the posting from the Twilight fan that made the rounds years ago about how The Wolfman was ripping off Twilight. People are idiots, and under-informed idiots at that, and I get this.

Only this wasn't where it ended.

Commenter #1: Well, comic book X was in development long before book Y was published.

[At this point I think you could hear the facepalming.]

Commenter #2: Comic books don't work that way, and, even assuming they did, author of comic book X has stated specifically that they were inspired by book Y.

And if you think that was the end of it, then let me be the first to welcome you to the internet.

Example 2:
This is not an exact representation of what went down, but a condensed version of something that happened on Twitter:

Commenter #1: Cruella DeVille is the best fairy tale villain.

Commenter #2: 101 Dalmations isn't a fairy tale. [Side note: this is what our culture has come to. All things Disney = fairy tale.]

Commenter #1: But it has talking animals.

Commenter #3: Talking animals = fairy tale. [Commenters 1 & 3 then nod their heads sagely. ... Okay, no idea if they did this or not, but it wouldn't have surprised me.]

Commenter #2: So... Watership Down is a fairy tale?

Now, in both cases, it should have been clear from the first counter-argument that the initial position was untenable. Talking animals are not the only criteria for a fairy tale, after all, and a simple correction saying that Cruella is the best Disney villain (which, by the way, she is most definitely not) would have put an end to it. Likewise, a simple chronology puts an end to the "which came first" argument of the over-zealous comic book fan.

Except they couldn't walk away. (This is where I come back to Kenny Rogers, in case you were wondering.) These two people were prepared and more than willing to defend their position no matter how ludicrous it became. They kept arguing, far past the point of logic and reason.

I know, I know, expecting logic and reason in an internet discussion is perhaps my first mistake. But, folks, you ought to have at least enough common sense to know when you're beaten. To know when the cards you've got in your hand don't do anything for you, and it's time to put them down and walk away. Sometimes you can bluff, and sometimes you're in the right and then, by all means, hold 'em.

When you can't? Fold 'em. It doesn't do you any good to keep arguing. You're going to lose. You've in fact already lost, and the only thing you do is make yourself look like more of an idiot than you're already doing.

We've all been there, remember. We've all argued something, been really, really wrong, and looked like idiots afterwards. It's not a big deal.

Just know when you're out of aces, and walk away.

And if you don't?

Well, that's when the rest of us are just going to run away, because you're nuts, and there's no reasoning with a whack job.

Going to leave this here, because Muppets. And because you're already singing it anyway.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

National Adjunct Walkout Day

I am on the job today, because I want to keep my job, but unless you work in a university you might be unaware of what goes on, or even who's teaching your child (or perhaps even you).

I can only speak for my uni, but I know that in many unis the situation is more or less the same, as among local universities only one offers benefits to their adjuncts.

So, just some quick facts:

Janitors and groundskeepers (who do important work, don't think I'm saying otherwise) get paid more. They have benefits, can take classes for free, and have reduced tuition for their children.

As an adjunct, I don't.

At the end of every semester, the supprt staff and full time faculty know they pretty much have their job, barring cutbacks or other circumstances.

At the end of every semester, I'm left wondering if I'll have work.

Even if I do have a job, I get paid by the class, not semester (or hour - and in my department most of the adjunct staff put in longer hours than a lot of full time faculty) which means there's no guarantee how much money I will make in the coming months.

All the support staff and faculty have a voice in uni affairs. They are consulted on surveys, have representation in the faculty senate, and in general have a say in things.

As an adjunct, I don't.

All staff and full time faculty have access to support services like counseling, insurance counseling, etc.

As an adjunct, I don't.

All this and yet at an increasing number of universities around the US, including my own, adjuncts teach a preponderance of classes. We keep departments staffed, students educated, and the university functioning.

And we are the very last consideration of anything the university does. We were even told by an admin that we were "a dime a dozen" as he out-of-hand dismissed not only our concerns about the students, but our ideas, our contributions.

So I have not walked off today, because I would not have a job tomorrow if I did.

But that doesn't mean I don't think things need to change.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In Defense of Something I Didn't Really Like

I'm just going to put this out there:

Picking on 50 Shades is starting to feel like teasing the developmentally disadvantaged kid on the playground.

Look, is it great literature? Oh hell no. Twilight may have actually been better written, and that's saying a lot. (Yes, I've read them. At least enough to get a feel for them, anyway. Didn't finish either, in total honesty.) Then again, considering that was the source for the fanfic that was 50 Shades origin story - like Peter Parker before he got bit - it's also somehow not all that surprising. The plot was problematic in its essential glorification of an emotionally abusive relationship (not that it was original in this *cough*), and there are issues with how it portrays certain aspects of sexuality and even the mechanics of safe sex.

So yeah, it's a bad book, and yeah, it making the splash it did was the equivalent of hitting the lottery in terms of luck and timing.

I'm not saying it didn't deserve a certain amount of sarcastic disassembling, because it did.

But I'm starting to feel that we - and here "we" includes a number of people in the writing community that I talk to - that we're all busy patting ourselves on the back for how much more clever we are for mocking it. We sit around and we point and laugh and congratulate ourselves on understanding just how bad a book it was, as if somehow seeing the fifty car pile-up on the freeway is the equivalent of being a great mechanic. Myself included at times. Worst of all, the discussion often just waits to turn that mockery from the book itself to the people who read it and unironically liked it.

All of which misses one of the most salient points of the whole thing:

No matter how bad a book it was - and, again, it was - people read it. It entered the zeitgeist, and put erotica into that same mainstream sphere. And before anyone gripes that there was erotica before, sure, there was. How much of it got read publicly? Acknowledged publicly? Turned into a freaking movie with a section in Target??

If for nothing else than educating that section of older women - like one of my coworkers - that hey, there is actually more to sex than missionary and hey, there's nothing wrong with that - I think the book can be cut some slack.

Yet it feels like there's a curb stomp waiting to happen for anyone who speaks up and says they enjoyed it.

But people did read it. Droves of people. A lot of them enjoyed it, and not just desperate middle-aged divorcees who had to look up the terms in the dictionary (that would be my coworker). And if it opened their eyes to an entirely new genre (for them), then more power to it.

Where is it written that just because something becomes popular, that opens it up to even more disdain? Which I think is part of that whole "we're so much more clever" motif is coming into it. You're not allowed to like the book in certain circles. There must be something wrong with your judgement. Don't you know there's so many other better books out there?

Forgetting, I think, that a lot of what's popular is, in fact, not particularly sophisticated entertainment in the first place. Big Bang Theory, what few episodes I've managed to watch, seems about as accurate to geek culture as 50 Shades was to the BDSM community. Yet those same people who rail against the latter don't seem to have as much problem with the former. Moreover, popularity for a less well done thing can lead to increased exposure for things in that same vein that are better done.

"You liked that? Well, here, you should like this, and you might get a little more out of it."

Or even, "You liked that? Well, here, this is like a new and improved version of that. You should like it, too."

So I hope the movie does well.

I hope it gets mocked mercilessly, too. I still think the movie is begging for the MST3K treatment, though that speaks more to Hollywood than anything else. (Yes, I'm perfectly capable of holding two contrasting ideas about something.)

Yet I also hope that somewhere between there a conversation gets had about abusive relationships and why they get glorified so long as the guy is broody and "dark" and handsome and a conversation about all the better erotica out there. Because this is one of the things you can do with that piece of "bad" media. You can use it as a bridge to other things. You can talk about issues that sometimes get lost when something isn't labeled as "bad." Gone Girl is in many respects extremely problematic in terms of its own portrayal of abuse in relationships, yet no one really talked about that because everyone was busy oohing and ahhing over the artistic merits of first the book and then the film. Admittedly, 50 Shades doesn't have a whole lot of artistic merit, and maybe that can be a good thing.

Then when all of this is done, when it all blows over and we're on to the the next thing, good or bad, we can actually talk about whatever new issues that thing raises.

Once we're done with the sarcasm, of course.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Have We Learned Nothing From Indiana Jones?

I saw the Jack Reacher movie the other day. Now, before anyone harps all over the diminutive casting choice, I have not read the books. After the movie initially came out, and seeing the furor and the obvious popularity, I did pull one off the library shelf. After reading the dust jacket, I promptly put it back. All of the blurbs read like too much Marty Stu guy fantasy fulfillment, and the movie, while for the most part entertaining, did nothing to disabuse that notion. While I will spend two hours on a movie that does that, the time invested in a book is another matter.

(I used to read things like that back when I was younger; I just grew out of them after a while. Which is not to imply I "grew up" or anything else, just that tastes change as we get older. A trip through the cd's that have been sitting in a box in my closet for years will demonstrate that.)

But I did have one major problem with the film, and something I hope was Hollywood insertion. At the climax of the film, in the midst of the big action scene, Reacher has just gone several rounds of both gunplay and hand to hand with the big bad's burly henchman, and has finally managed to mostly overcome him. A henchman who has spent a good deal of the film attempting to kill - often successfully - numerous people, including the hero and the leading lady. A henchman whom, there is no doubt, our hero will have to shoot.

Now, just to further the Raiders of the Lost Ark comparison here, the leading lady is, at that very moment, in danger. It would behoove our hero to be done with the henchman as absolutely quickly as possible, as decisively as possible, before the bad guy kills the leading lady.

Fortunately, in the ensuing struggle, Reacher has wound up with the gun, whereas the henchman has not. Reacher has him point blank, and all he has to do is shoot.

Which is when he throws the gun away in order to go mano a mano in fisticuffs with the guy.

I'm pretty sure that's the moment I yelled at my tv.

Now, I know there are certain conventions in the movies. Cars blow up, even when someone just bumps the fender. Heroes shake off concussions like they've been okayed to play by the team doctor. Every explosion is a gas explosion with a giant fireball (see the aforementioned car). I accept this, even though I know it's wrong, and it's okay. It's called suspension of disbelief. (Also a Michael Bay film.) Even so, I would think we had put to rest this dumb as a post macho need to go fist to fist with the bad guy when we can just *shoot* the guy and it's expedient to do so.

Even Andrew Dice Clay knew better than this in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Yes, I am citing the Dice Man as a supporting reference here. That's how put to bed this trope should be. It does not prove the hero is a manly man. It does not demonstrate a sense of honor (which, it should be said, Indy has, to a certain extent, as did film Reacher, but they both demonstrated a great deal of flexibility with that, too). All it demonstrates is that they put testosterone (because this is by and large a failing of male heroes. Female heroes seem much more willing to just shoot the bastards, and rightly so) over the need to do what they should be doing in the first place.

Which, I will remind you, was saving the person Reacher had deliberately gone there to rescue in the first place.

So please, Hollywood and writers everywhere, learn from Indiana Jones: just shoot them.