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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ender's Dilemma

When do you stop supporting someone you disagree with?

The latest example in my life is Ender’s Game. I loved the book the very first time I read it. I still love it. Of course, I was a younger manchild in those days, and the internet wasn’t the monolithic force it is today. You weren’t able to type any question into Google and have seven million answers bounced back at you with 0.14 seconds. You weren’t able to type in an author’s name and find out that he’s been a diehard opponent of same-sex relations and marriage for many years. You could read a good book, or watch a good movie, and be blissfully unaware your dollars were helping to contribute to someone who’s views you find repellant. Sure, you could discover any secret you wanted, even back then, but you actually had to work for it. It wasn’t as easy as typing a sentence into a computer; it required dedication and research.

Because of this, I lived most of my life not knowing Orson Scott Card was homophobic. And not just the kind of homophobe I grew up around, that saw being called “gay” a fight-to-the-death kind of insult, but the “change society” kind of homophobe, with a long history of funding and aiding anti-gay rights causes. Or L. Ron Hubbard. I knew he’d started scientology, but I didn’t really know how cult-like its practices and beliefs were. And what about Chuck? I could watch Delta Force and all its attendant explosions without flinching at the virulence of Chuck Norris’s social conservatism. Maybe if Isaac Asimov were still around and writing today, he’d do something that would make me weep, too (but I doubt it—my faith in him remains untarnished).

So I ask again: when do you stop supporting someone you disagree with? Ender’s Game is now a movie, and I’m sure O.S. Card will see money if the movie turns a profit. Even if he didn’t, there is a principle involved here. Should we be encouraging exclusionary zealots to turn a profit when they act on those beliefs? I don’t think Ender’s Game is homophobic, but it’s creator is, and while a person’s thoughts are still, for the time being, their own, when a homophobe acts to promote their damaging, narrow, hateful viewpoints, shouldn’t those of us who disagree take a stand? Money talks, after all, and if all the hate-mongers found their funds drying up, wouldn’t that be better for everyone (except the hate-mongers, I suppose, but screw them!).

Or do you judge a person’s work outside and in isolation of their personal life? So what if Card’s a nut; Ender’s Game was awesome, so read it, buy it, watch the movie, he should have success because he created something wonderful, even if he does stupid stuff the rest of the time. Take Mandy Patinkin. He was wonderful in Princess Bride, good in Criminal Minds (while he lasted), and great in Homeland, I’m told. Who cares if he’s now about three short steps from being a Unabomber? 

(Why do I judge him so harshly? I was friends with him on Facebook, the place where “friendship” is loosely defined as “someone I haven’t blocked yet,” until a few months ago. I cut him loose when he posted and applauded a letter from some Canadian woman who’s basic message was: “Why should we care about torture and war crimes when we’re doing them to people who don’t like us, or might not like us, or might know people who don’t like us?” She thought everyone who had a problem with water-boarding, indefinite incarceration-without-charges, those soldiers that urinated on Taliban corpses, and anything else that showed respect or decent human values towards our “enemies” should get shot themselves. That kind of attitude is scary, amoral, and unacceptable, so I de-friended Inigo, which hurt a little, but then, Inigo only wounded Count Rugen as he had hurt Inigo himself; he didn’t hunt down Rugen’s dad, water-board him to death, then tea-bag his corpse.)

I guess in this era of open information (or at least, easily accessed information), you can’t be willfully blind to the flaws of your would-be heroes. So do I ignore those flaws, or do I ignore the stuff produced by the flawed? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying boycott Superstore because their CEO is a Broncos fan (I don’t know if he is or not, just making it up as an example) and you’re a Steelers boy. But if someone does something you see as amoral or criminally wrong, should they get the proverbial cold shoulder? And if so, for how long? As long as they keep up their evil works? Ten years after? Forever?

What I do know is I won’t be going to see Ender’s Game, the movie. I will probably reread my copy of Ender’s Game at some point in the future, but I won’t ever buy another one (or anything else Card writes, though I will confess, that won’t be so much of a punishment). It’s a pretty small gesture, but it isn’t nothing, so that makes it more than I usually do. (Baby steps, right?)

(On a related note, I’ve always been confused by book burnings. In theory, you gather hundreds or thousands of copies of a book you abhor and torch them. This sounds dramatic, but doesn’t this in reality just cause the sales of the book in question to spike? Haven’t you actually directly benefited the author and publishing house? Or maybe I’m missing the point.)


(Or another related note, I’m so clueless when it comes to sports that, after writing my little Broncos vs. Steelers example, I Googled those teams to make sure they both played in the same league. My dad would despair.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Guest Star, Philip!


I'm back! (Sort of.) This is a guest blog post, written by Philip Rothenberger, who volunteered to offer me some words when I took the summer off. My hope is he'll find this so gratifying he'll begin a blog of his own because, let me tell you, if there's any mind you want sporadic glimpses into, it's Phil's. I haven't changed a single word of what Sir Rothenberger has written (he's a visual artist, I'm a writer, and NEITHER of us is an editor). Without further ado, here he is!

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Note, to start, I'd like to thank Shen for entertaining the notion of having a guest blogger submit a discrete entry (or two. My goal was two) on his long running and quite entertaining Blog Site. Originally the plan was to have something prepared during the summer when he announced his short hiatus (My John Oliver to Shen's Jon Stewart), but obviously that never happened. Regardless, what's what is what and what's done is done, so there is no need to cry over flogged horses I always say! (Disclaimer: I never say that)



In theory I could just as easily start up, or whatever the magic is that's involved, my own blog site and spend the required countless hours campaigning to have my musings pored over from an adoring public (That's you, Reader!) Yet, there was the question on the amount of time slash effort it takes to exercise such an endeavour before actually committing to one. (Answer: Stupid amounts. It's a crazy time sink! Take a moment out of your day or night and thank a Blogger you follow sometime, seriously) In short, thanks again to you Shen! And with that; here's to hoping this experiment won’t Ocean-Bottom this Blog Site (my Groo The Wanderer to Shen's Rufferto) No jinx there.



The Actual Blog! This isn't, in fact, the title of this blog. In observance, there isn't a title. This fact, now stated, segues nicely to inform the reader (again; that's you!) of the topic. A title-less blog about The Art of the Title. I know, I too can feel the cleansing rain of irony wash down upon us. Anyways, this is completely in opposition to the way in which I usually conduct any creative endeavour, at least as of late. Before starting a painting or drawing, I first conjure up a title, something ayatolla-rocknrolla-ish, then stand fast as everything falls neatly into place; like Tetris blocks (accompanying Russian music not an option; it’s mandatory). The more I found myself putting this technique into practice, the more I started to adhere to a personal theory that the title encompasses almost the majority of message or content of whatever it's attached to. Meaning; despite how unbelievably awe inspiring any work of art (or story, or song) is: the title can make or break it. The title and, in my opinion, its importance, has become such a revelation to myself I now dabble (great word) in nothing else creatively except thinking up titles of perfection. Titles painstakingly scribed like a monk in notebooks to those jotted on cocktail napkins at the Legion. There are those I carve with a sharpened spoon onto my desk at work and then there are those that I tweet into the ether space of the net. (The WorldWide InterWeb!) Essentially, they are titles for artwork/ books/ movies/ music and so forth, but without any actual material. These titles ARE the work.



 Now, if you were to consider the adage; 'A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words', couldn't that imply that the reverse is true? That an esoteric string of words could evoke a mental image of concepts/visuals in one's mind without further elaboration of pictures, sounds or words? I actually don't know and I've been inclined to be on the south side of rational thought more than a couple times (circa: the 90's), however, in a bid to recruit you to follow me on this, allow me to illustrate something I call: The Art Of The Title (Editor’s Note; that’s a pretty lame title) 

So imagine if you will a painting, 11x11, of solid white. Like a piece of paper. I chose a picture because I’m primarily a visual artist, but this theory, I hope, applies to authors, musicians, sculptures and the like.



>UNTITLED: Concept 7 (of 252) •Part 19 in a series of 67: Subject 4, No. 9(b)



To illustrate my first example, I am going to reference Jackson Pollock; painter and Big Wheel in the abstract expressionist scene. After a while he started to abandon the idea of naming his paintings, but rather he numbered them instead.

"...look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for"

The title has an almost clinical manner; and that this is a subject that inspires the artist profoundly and the concepts presented will, no doubt, resurface again.



>EXTREME CLOSE UP VIEW OF A SINGLE CROSSWORD SQUARE AS A POLAR BEAR COMPLETES A PUZZLE WHILST IN A RAGING SNOWSTORM



Ah, the always dismissive and always pithy title. Trust me, I'm all bread and butter of spewed sarcastic comments and condescending one-liners :day in and day out. But eventually you are rewarded with a punch to the face. But hold on. Sometimes being clever isn’t just for the sake of being clever. A title of this nature can give the arts and literature community that goose that they need every so often for fear of taking themselves too seriously. Let’s be honest; far too many song titles often read like a suicide note (“Red Roses Will Choke My Gravesite”), too many paintings that validate psychiatric treatment (“My Soul As Seen Trapped In The Hell That Wears The World’s Face”), or novels that are either a couple syllables over or one under working out as a Steven Seagal blockbuster (“Proper Justice”)



The only point I like to make about this style of title, however, is that it can often downplay respectability and often lead to belittlement. The type of person, who scoffs when they see an abstract painting then claim that their four year old kid can draw the same thing. That stellar individual loves the above style of title. It’s a free pass for society to view culture as nothing but a hobby, that life is all speeding tickets and taxes. Could culture not  shape a society and its views given the circumstances? Que Sera, Sera, I suppose. Oh, and if your four year old (or 40 year old for that matter) is arting-it-up, whether it's good or bad; it's all awesome! Try being less critical of art and heap a little more praise on your kids. Heap!

And finally the last example;



>MARCH OF THE KID KILLJOY'S IN THE AGE OF EXPOSITION (The Doorman’s Sister brought Bagels for Us; and Flowers for The Frankenstein Monster)



This, I assure you, is the type of title I am most guilty of. Pointedly abstract and teeters on the verge of absurdity? Maybe. Probably. A bit both or a whole lot of nothing. (When all is said and done, with regards to this blog, you can call your painting/your book/your song/ your whatever: anything. you. want. With as little or as much explanation as you like, I might add)

Anyways, what this kind of title does best is pure redirection. A work that says 'here I am' to your eyes and a title that then says 'boom' to your mind. Total juxtapostion. Of course, this means the title can be in support of the visual, albeit with that slight Twilight Zone twist, but works better when at complete odds. Wild.



But here is the rub. I use to paint or draw something that inspired me, usually an image conjured up while listening to music or reading or something (honestly; I've never figured out where my ideas first take root) Then I would muse (minutes to years) over a title for said piece. And that title had to fit the painting like a glove or the whole thing was a fail (I'm pretty sure this is atypical of a lot of artists/ authors/ ect.  in the same scenario. Or maybe not; all is subjective, y'know?) However, then I started to have trouble finding inspiration. At least, not in the usual places. So I figured I’d start with the title and work backwards, so to speak. What I discovered though, that when the title comes first (especially if it’s a dozy!) it’s hard to take first step to execution. Like the pressure of living up to a prophecy. A concept that a guy like Lee Majors can appreciate, because that’s a hell of a name to live up to. Seriously, when you come up with a title like

SENOR HUGS-A-LOT, PENICILLIN PENGUIN AND VICTORIA BUTTERFIELD’S GREAT TEA PARTY AND GUN SHOW ADVENTURE! (Held, annually and faithfully, at the request of  PRESIDENT MITTENS and MAYOR SLOW PANTS)

where do you go from there? On to the next chapter because this one just wrote itself! So I started working in the little know field of 'Title-ism'. And productivity is fair to good. I’m confident I’ll draw or paint something again. Maybe I’ll even try my hand at writing and sit down and type up a blog entry. Maybe I'll manage an all female punk band called Sharon Lois and the Brams (why that's mentioned here, I don't know) But, in the meantime, it’s all-icing-no-cake in regards to my creative output, and that’s o.k.; maybe I’ll find a niche market for it. Titles Without Paint strokes. Chapters Without Words. Concepts Without Foundation. A Present With No Future.



All great titles, by the way...



Philip Rothenberger