Friday, May 31, 2013

Star Trek: Into (Hearts Of) Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness seems to give a nod to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness not only in its title but in the journey through the moral murkiness that lurks in even the best of us. The book is primarily about the twilight of souls unable to see the light of morality, goodness and virtue. The movie highlights the fact that it's not the galactic space around us that is the true final frontier of undiscovered country. It's the moral space within us.

When Kirk’s mentor is killed by Khan, Kirk understandably wants to get revenge. Though the law requires him to arrest Khan and bring him to trial, he’s ready and willing to subvert the system and just kill him.  Well aware that his actions may start a war, he speeds toward Klingon territory to exact his revenge. Spock challenges him to do the right thing.  Sure, Kirk’s anger is understandable, and his harsh revenge is a rough kind of justice, but at what point would Kirk become the evil he was trying to fight? Do noble ends justify ignoble means, or must both be good?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Django Unchained

At a pivotal moment in Django Unchained, Django is told to shoot a man in front of the man’s own son. Django hesitates, but Schultz, a bounty hunter for whom he works, reminds him the man is worth $7,000, and he’s a wanted criminal. Well, then. “Like slavery, “ he explains to a man who understands slavery, “it’s a flesh for cash business.” 

Fast forward to a scene where Schultz chides Django for his apparent callousness to the cruelties around him. Django replies, 
“I recall the man who had me kill another man in front of his son.  You said, ‘This is my world, and in my world you gotta’ get dirty. I’m getting dirty.’
At that moment, in spite of the Tarantinoian odds, Django Unchained was primed to show how the journey into moral compromise makes monsters of us all. Instead, blood runs, infernos burn,  and audiences cheer vengeance as everyone just gets a little dirter.  So, do noble ends justify ignoble means, or must both be good? 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Sympathy for the Devilish: A Review of Joe Hill's "Horns"

 In an attempt to enter into and better understand the entertainment shaping my kids and the rest of today's youth, I submit my latest review of books effecting a primarily YA audience. My goal is not to critique the art form as much as look at how the story reflects and shapes the readers' worldview.

This review will look at Horns, a novel by Joe Hill, talented son of Stephen King. As is increasingly the case with popular YA fiction, a movie is in the works (Mandalay Pictures and Red Granite Pictures are making sure Horns comes soon to a theater near you, with Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe cast in the lead).

There will be spoilers.


Most people believe that Ignatius Martin Perrish raped and killed his girlfriend, Merrin. Ig didn’t do this, but since that tragedy he has steadily spiraled into chaos. He wakes up one morning after a drunken binge to discover horns growing out of his head. It makes a twisted kind of sense. The horns are just a visible reminder of what is arising deep inside. To make matters worse, when people get near him they reveal their most evil thoughts. He sees their history in a moment when they touch him, and it’s not pleasant.

He learns that his friends, family, priests, doctors, and policemen all secretly hate him, but they are hardly in a position to judge, They have their own terrible secrets. As Ig realizes that he has the power to influence them toward things they secretly want to do, he begins to embrace the hell within and use his power to create a world more to his liking.
“Now that he was used to it, he far preferred being a demon. The cross was a symbol of that most human condition: suffering. And Ig was sick of suffering. If someone had to get nailed to a tree, he wanted to be the one holding the hammer… If you were going to live in hell on earth, there was something to be said for being one of the devils. ”
This book’s language is coarse, its characters crude, and its message terrible. Did I say that bluntly enough? It's also extremely engaging. Mr. Hill is an accomplished writer, and he understands his YA crowd. If you have teens or work with them in some capacity, Horns is worth knowing about just so you understand the way in which this generation increasingly views the world. Trust me; it's unsettling.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bumper Sticker Logic #2

At a red light in Traverse City last year, I waited behind a car that appeared to be held together entirely with bumper stickers. My amusement changed to annoyance when I realized that my 11-year-old sitting next to me was learning some new words while absorbing some bad ideas.  Who knew so much crass and shallow thinking could fit onto the back of a car?

Last week, while waiting at a different light, the multiple stickers on the car in front of me got me thinking again. It began with this slogan:

"Remember to always be yourself. Unless you suck."

I wouldn't put it on my own car, but it earned a chuckle. I get so tired of phrases like "Always be yourself," as well as its more aesthetic cousin “You’re beautiful just the way you are!” When used properly, these sentiments can bolster the self-image of someone who has been wrongly shamed by reminding them they have a value that transcends opinions and circumstances. That's when it's used properly. In general, I hear versions of it mindlessly parroted by the self-indulgent "don't judge me" crowd.

This "Always Be Your Own Beautiful Self!" scenario sounds really good in a song, but even Christina Aguilera's stellar pipes do not have the power to change an important truth about the world:  some things in all of us are not beautiful.  Sometimes, the people pointing out ugly things are right.