What’s the Deal With Star Wars?

Rogue OneA lot of people seem to hate Rogue One. They seem to think that it’s schlock, a shameless, nostalgia-filled cash grab. These people are right, really. Disney has access to an entire franchise and to go back to the time-period from where people derive their fondest memories is transparently about money. They know the emotional pull of the original trilogy for many fans and wish to draw upon that wellspring of good will.

However, just because the detractors are right does not mean that we, the viewing public, are getting the short end. It seems foolish to fault Disney (or any company, for that matter) for trying to make money, particularly with the most lucrative franchise in history. Likewise, complaining about nostalgia when Rogue One is set literally a week before A New Hope is somewhat ridiculous. It would be like setting a movie in World War II and then complaining that it contains Panzers and Adolf Hitler. The setting means that visuals and locations are obviously going to repeat; repetition is not inherently a bad thing.

Rogue One, frankly, is a success by any reasonable standard. It’s a well-paced movie, with emotional pull and excitement. The plot is well-written, avoiding the common pitfall of getting bogged down in any one spot, and feels like a unique tale. The characters are a somewhat weak point, with the heroes, Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, both falling short of being well-rounded. However, they’re balanced out by a superb supporting cast that has all the heart that they lack.

The movie also contains all of the elements that Star Wars fans had been clamoring for (or at least I have) since Return of the Jedi. Sure, a lot of these, from the diverse backgrounds of the main cast, a lovable (if quirky) droid, and the backdrop of a war between good and evil, are identical to the original trilogy, but that is the Star Wars formula. That is what works. It is little surprise that combining these elements competently managed to make a movie worth watching.

Honestly, Rogue One does many things right which the previous year’s The Force Awakens failed at. Bear in mind, it is a good movie. From a technical standpoint, it is good, not bogging down with a plot that’s reasonably engaging. The new characters in particular stand out; Rey, Finn, and Poe are all great people who you can connect with. The original trilogy characters are likewise allowed their moments, without really overshadowing the newcomers.

The problem is that The Force Awakens tries too hard. It is obvious that this movie is playing off of nostalgia. It has been thirty years since the Battle of Endor, but everything sort of feels the same. There are X-Wings and Tie Fighters, there are Stormtroopers, the Millennium Falcon is still flying…somehow. The movie starts with a shot of a Star Destroyer, which four previous films (III through VI) did as well. For some strange reason there’s still a Rebellion, now called the Resistance.* Each of the original cast not named “Luke Skywalker” is given a very deliberate introduction meant to tug at our memories.Old Han and Chewbacca

The worst offender in all of this is the plot. While I did say before that it was well-executed, this does not excuse it from being lifted, largely, from the plot of A New Hope. The story starts with a violent attack by the Empire/First Order, then shifts to a humble main character on a desert planet accidentally stumbling upon a destiny greater than anything they imagined. The heroes travel to a hidden Rebel/Resistance base (mercifully after a second act that is actually different from that of Episode IV) where they learn about a new superweapon that can destroy entire planets. The third act then combines the second and third acts of ANH, where the heroes infiltrate the Death Star/Starkiller while a small fighter fleet faces overwhelming odds to end the threat.

On the one hand, Star Wars did return from a ten year hiatus from theaters. Creating a movie that is familiar is not an unwise decision. On the other hand, it so blatantly copies A New Hope, it barely qualifies as a new tale at times.

For the record, I am not trying to trash The Force Awakens. I still think it was a good movie. The problem is that it had its flaws, worse flaws than Rogue One had in some instances, yet there are people out there who think that Rogue One is substantially inferior. Perhaps it is not the greatest film of all time, but a bad film it is not.

Again, Rogue One had a lot more nostalgia bait than The Force Awakens, but it belonged there. Yavin IV and the Death Star, X-Wings and AT-STs, even Grand Moff Tarkin and Mon Mothma are all in the movie because they belong there. They aren’t thrust in there purely to tickle our fancy; their presence is natural in the setting. Sure, some elements, like not-Ackbar Admiral Raddus, AT-ATs, and the last ten (really cool) minutes of the film are obvious nostalgia plays, but most of it is not, or at least is not treated as such. For that, I think Rogue One deserves to be praised, rather than be cast out and spit upon like a heretic in a Vatican conclave.

The Last JediIf anything, my chief concerns are what The Last Jedi and next year’s Han Solo spinoff will look like. My earnest hope is that Disney will try to break away from the formula. The new films will grow stale very swiftly if they continue on the course of utilizing nostalgia and lifting plot elements wholesale from previous films. Even if such story-telling it is working, it will only last for so long. The amount of criticism levied at Rogue One is already evidence that nostalgia is starting to lose its effect. Ensuring a stable and enduring legacy for the future of Star Wars demands creativity, even when following certain basic structures.

With Disney at the helm, Lucasfilm has so far managed to do a surprisingly good job of reviving Star Wars. Despite its popularity, it was hurt severely by George Lucas’ missteps in creating the prequels. What remains to be seen is if Star Wars will continue to be good, or if it will, due to a dearth of true creativity, sink into being “just another franchise.”

*Yes, I know that the Resistance was formed long after the Rebellion became the New Republic, it just seems a bit off at first glance that Leia would go rogue and form Space Hezbollah** to fight Space Nazi Germany.

**I’m not commenting on the nobility of actual Hezbollah one way or another.

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The Pariahs

Once, in a past long before I was ever born, it seemed like people could live with each other. They could embrace and live with the contradictions among themselves. Yes, they disagreed, but at the end of the day, they could break bread and be friends and family.

Yet this no longer seems to be the case.

We live in a world today where, if you do not follow a person’s beliefs to the letter, they are to be shunned. They are to be treated as the dregs of the Earth, ostracized from common society. It does not matter what good these people do, what joy they bring to other people’s lives. The moment we stray from “socially acceptable” mores, we become…the other. A monster. The sort of being better suited to living under a bridge, terrorizing passersby with our backwardness.

It really is easier to simply believe that the trends of modern society are completely healthy. It is easy to believe that the people who oppose you deserve no seat at the table; that they deserve no voice. It is easy to claim that such people stand for hate and that hate will not be tolerated.

How true is this, though?

Is the the man who observes that only one race is demonized in public a racist? Is the accepted view that this particular race is inherently bad for the sins of centuries past not itself racist? Is it bad to point out the flaws, if not the dangers, in such thinking?

Is the man who worries about un-vetted foreign nationals entering his nation a xenophobe? Is it so wrong for him to observe the stark realities of the sorts of people who present a danger to his nation? Do these honest observations make him a nazi?

What of the man who sees his maleness as nothing to be ashamed of? As something even to be celebrated in its own unique way? Is he a misogynist for believing in the uniqueness of men and women and the necessity of letting those two things be separate?

Does this same man hate if he does not agree with the lifestyles of the LGBT community? Is it necessary that he must feel malice in his heart if he sees the views held by such as unhealthy? Is it a horror for that man to believe that maybe there is another way, a different way to think, a different way to live?

Do any of those opinions fill a man with hate simply by existing? Is there no possible good reason or decent logic for holding opinions such as these? Must it be assumed that there is only malice here and simply not another way?

Because I am that man.

I have friends like me.

But there are plenty of people in all of our lives not like us. People who hold views contrary to everything we hold dear. People who follow lifestyles at which we can only shake our heads mournfully. Yet we do not hate.

Can you say the same of yourselves?

I do not have to agree with the beliefs of my fellows to still have them enrich my life. They do not have to hold the same viewpoints, love the same things, be the same people to be of value to me. Yes, your beliefs may make me cringe, your assumptions of what I believe may make me roll my eyes, but you are not a monster to me for those things. Far from it.

No, you are not a monster, but do you think the same of me?

Because all I ever see from those who differ from me is an endless campaign of ostracism. Ceaseless attempts to demonize. No serious attempts at understanding or sharing, no real parley or discussion. There is no real need to discuss topics with racists, bigots, Nazis, or whatever else people of certain persuasions might be called today.

But I am not here to lay blame, tempting though that may be. No, rather I wonder how we have become the sort of people who only ever lay blame. Who only ever look for wrong-doing. Who only ever try to tear people down as villains, no matter their offenses. Why are we the sort of people who never listen? The sort of people who regard ourselves so highly that we can brook no disagreement without personal insult?

Will this piece make me a pariah among my peers? Am I to be cast as a monster too? Or perhaps belittled or condescended to?

I do not know. That is the scariest part of the world in which we live, for the very basic social fabric itself is always in question, always in doubt. Will we hold the same standing the day we did before, not for a crime or any sort of real wrong-doing at all, but for simply holding a thought, a view, an opinion? If we carry this course to its end, what will our culture look like on the far side?

Golden Sun Resumed

So, while I did say I was going to continue doing music posts, I did not.

I am going to say life got in the way and that’s what we are all going to believe until the end of the internet. To be fair, I have been pre-occupied with major life changes coming down the pipe, meaning less energy to put into the creative parts of my life.

Then again, this is a blog, so who am I trying to fool…

Today, I want to resume my Golden Sun playlist, begun an age ago, but never finished as I gave up on using Blogger. However, I want to change things up slightly. Previously, I was posting one song and one cover from 0rangastang’s Golden Sun Remastered album. However, because the quality of those covers are rather variable, I will instead choose a cover that I just happen to think is the finest, regardless of who made it.

Additionally, I’m going to try and keep the playlist as concise as I am able. There are a lot of themes in Golden Sun and it would not be prudent to try and share all of the ones I like. There are still a lot to come, but I will try to be more discerning in the future, to make it easier for me to come up with these posts.

With that out of the way, today’s music: Venus Lighthouse

Venus Lighthouse is Golden Sun’s final dungeon. Much like Mercury Lighthouse before it, it is a lengthy maze full of puzzles, traps, and enemies that culminates in a final showdown with Saturos and Menardi. Everything about this theme, from the vocals to the powerful percussion carries the feeling of finality that the conclusion of a great game deserves. And yet, this would prove to not be the end, but rather a new beginning for Golden Sun: The Lost Age.

That is for the next post, however. In the meantime, enjoy this Venus Lighthouse cover from OC/DC on YouTube. I honestly just discovered this cover today while searching for a video of the normal theme to use. I greatly enjoy its softer sounds and the limited usage of vocals towards the end charmed me.

Thanks for listening!

The Return of the Melody

Alright, so before we get into it, I ought to address the elephant in the room, namely, where this post is located.

Part of the reason I stopped posting music blogs is because I hate Blogspot. A lot. Not only is it a poor service, but I feel like it makes everything posted on it look cheap and small, regardless of quality. The problem is that I have no place else to post these things…except here.

I waffled on making posts here for a long time, though, in no small part because between me and Shannon (the other person who writes on here), we tend to post more serious, politically and culturally minded content here (when we can be bothered). And I honestly am afraid to taint Oseron Phaer with that stink, even if I take the realm of the political very seriously. I suppose no small part of it is knowing that my politics are very different from those of many of the people I know and like online and I fear alienating them, not because I am ashamed of beliefs, but because of the polarization of the culture in which we live.

But very well. I shall bite the bullet and return to sharing the music that I love…even if it’s from video games. Games have some of the most amazing music I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to and I must share that with the world.

Final Fantasy XIV Selections

“Apologies”

Ah, Sohr Khai…like The Wanderer’s Palace HM, Sohr Khai is my second-favorite dungeon purely because of its theme. Visually, the dungeon is stunning, of course, as you battle above the clouds in a bid to prove your mettle to Hraesvelgr. The theme is what drives it home, though. With stunning piano work, sparse-but-haunting vocal work, and a fast pace that gives the dungeon momentum, “Apologies” is a theme I can listen to for hours on end without growing bored.

“Ultima”

I honestly had a lot of trouble coming up with a fifth theme for this batch (yes, I know it’s the second, I reordered it), until I remembered this gem from 2.0. Honestly, any content released prior to 2.2 tends to get overlooked by me because of how unremarkable it all feels to me. It was fun, but nothing grabbed me like it should have. Indeed, this fact tends to make me think that the Ultima theme is too good for its fight; the fight does not live up to the weight and power contained within the music. All the elements of the piece combine perfectly to create an atmosphere for a titanic struggle against a foe beyond your ken.

“Exponential Entropy”

This theme was something of a surprise when I reached the Heart of the Creator in patch 3.4. It’s not that there wasn’t precedent for a piece like this; Locus is fairly mellow, despite its harsh-ish instrumentation. But “Exponential Entropy” is a different animal entirely. There’s almost nothing about it that screams “YOU’RE FIGHTING A GIANT DEATH ROBOT.” Instead, it is a calm theme, relaxing in its repeating vocals:

“Forward and back,
And then forward and back,
And then go forward and back,
And put one foot forward.”

Some might find that annoying after a point, but the song is a well-crafted piece and the repetition serves a vitally important role in making it work.

“Out of the Labyrinth”

I’ve posted before on how I believe that the Crystal Tower storyline is one of the best homages I’ve every had the joy of experiencing. Perhaps it is because the music in it recaptures many of my favorite themes from Final Fantasy III. The theme for Syrcus Tower (which is basically the Crystal Tower dungeon from III) is a perfect example of this. It takes a very fast paced theme and turns it into a slower, more epic version which better fits the pacing of the raid.

“Revenge Twofold”

Another theme that surprised me in 3.4, the new boss theme is fantastic. I was never a big fan of “Ominous Prognostics;” something about it felt too hectic, which detracted from many boss fights. “Revenge Twofold” is nothing of the sort. Instead, the pace is slower and the instruments weightier, along with vocals that hearken back to “Imagination.” All the fights that use this theme feel like struggles, even though none of them are nearly as important as ones that came before.

Thanks for listening and I hope you’ll return for more vidya music!

Battles with Heart

Something has been bothering me of late, and it has only just come together in my head, so let us talk about it a little.

Possible (minor) Rogue One spoilers (but not really) ahead.

Rogue One is truly the Star Wars movie I’ve wanted for a long while. Despite some weaknesses in the pacing and screenplay, it pressed all the nostalgia buttons and legitimately made me feel like a kid again. The final act is particularly noteworthy in this regard, as the final battle is exciting, emotional, and gripping. Even though the ultimate outcome is already known, the journey to the end is well worth it.

That is when it occurred to me: the Battle of Scarif is the first Star Wars battle since Endor that truly felt like an actual Star Wars battle.  What I could not quite figure out was why.  After all, the prequel trilogy is filled to the brim with fighting and duels. Very often, these battles were the highlights of otherwise incredibly mediocre movies. So what was it about this particular battle that made it better than three movies worth of battles combined?

battle_of_endor

The problem is that the prequels’ battles are merely a backdrop. They are the frame rather than the painting. The Battle of Naboo exists so that WesleyAnakin can do something cool and save the day. The Battle of Coruscant exists so that Anakin and Obi-Wan are not simply flying through empty space to save the chancellor. The battles themselves really are not important, based on how little we see of everything happening around the heroes. The battles are merely a means to get the heroes from point A to point B (in a fashion).

By comparison, the Battle of Yavin, while indeed a coming-of-age test for Luke Skywalker, is also just as much about the Rebellion’s desperate struggle against the overwhelming might of the Empire. Every Rebel pilot shot down in battle impacts the viewer in some way. The battle is not a background element; it is the story, of which Luke is a part. The story of the battle and the story of Luke compliment each other and strengthen each other.

Likewise with the Battle of Endor; we do not only see Lando Calrissian at the helm of the Millennium Falcon. We see rebel pilots like Wedge Antilles fighting overwhelming odds. The movie continually returns to Admiral Ackbar trying to save his fleet from the trap it has fallen into. Not only that, but the preceding two films laid the groundwork for the plight of the Rebel Alliance and the necessity of their cause. The viewer is emotionally attached to the fight, making it that much more intense and exciting.

Now, the Battle of Naboo contains some of these elements, but the problem is that the viewer has no real attachment to the plight of the Naboo. Any sympathy we feel for them is forced upon us by the movie’s framing rather than because there is an inherent goodness to the Naboo. At the very least, there’s nothing redeeming or enjoyable about the villains (after all, Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin were cool), thus leaving the woefully underdeveloped Naboo as the only option.

George Lucas made a critical error when making the prequel trilogy. He thought the plot should be a (political) metaphor, the battles should (only) look cool, and the characters…well, they would work themselves out. It seems that he never once considered that none of these elements could make a movie to which the viewer could attach themselves emotionally. Or perhaps he forgot how to create a movie containing that emotional pull.

rogue-one-rebels-615x242-1-615x242

Emotion is why Star Wars is not merely another summer blockbuster. Emotion is why Star Wars is such a phenomenon that transcends its time. If it were another brain-dead sci-fi flick, it might have a cult following, but nothing like what we see today.

We are pained when Luke’s foster parents are murdered by the Empire, sharing in Luke’s grief. We are elated when the Death Star explodes and a costly battle for the Rebel Alliance turns out to have been worth it. We feel Luke’s shock when his lineage is revealed to him on Bespin. We feel joy when the Empire is finally defeated at Endor, emperor and all. All of these moments mean something because they have captured our hearts.

Rogue One’s greatest strength is the power of emotion and connection. It manages to do what the prequels failed to do, creating a cinematic Star Wars experience that even The Force Awakens fell a bit short on.

Sex, Love, and Porn

Porn is Everywhere

Last Wednesday on Nerd Rage, we discussed sexuality and pornography. Or, more to the point, Shannon and Ruth did while I sat there trying not to have a coughing fit. This was something of an odd conversation for me to sit out, however, due to my own personal issues.

Though I talk about this rarely, I have problems with pornography.

Honestly, this does not feel like much of an admission any more. In a world where people openly declare their love of porn and their fetishes and their kinks, talking about porn like it was something to be ashamed of seems odd. Strange though it may sound to those of you who have never touched, nor even considered touching, porn, it feels unusual to be ashamed of such a thing.

Sex is so ubiquitous in our culture, we hardly think twice when we see it. The idea that anyone should feel wrong for looking at or enjoying sexualized imagery is peculiar because sexuality is so common. The very first episode of Marvel’s Luke Cage shows Luke and Misty getting it on. For three awkward minutes, the viewer is treated to kissing, stripping, and groping (lots of gratuitous groping). And while that is all that is shown, the scene is so dominant as to be out of place in the rest of the episode and first act of the season.

Or take another show, one of my favorites, Suits.  In the second season, the hero, Mike, finally gets together with the cute and whip-smart paralegal, Rachel. As is usually the course in modern media, the first thing they do is have sex. At the law firm they work at. Inside of the file room. And, not only do they have sex, but they go all the way. The whole  act is depicted from start to finish (albeit not explicitly). However, all it would have taken was a few more lost pieces of clothing and a few less discrete camera shots and it would have looked no different to regular porn.

Yes, regular, because make no mistake, that scene, and thousands of others like it, are porn. They may not draw FCC lawsuits nor will they draw a lot of views on PornHub (though they are probably uploaded there too), but they are porn. They exist to titillate, to excite, to bring the brain to think of sex outside of a healthy context. They are everywhere. And when you are a kid, the images get imprinted on you and, at some point, you are going to want to see more.

Porn’s Power

Usually it starts out small. Maybe a sexy advertisement that caught your eye. Maybe a lad’s magazine left lying out or sitting in a rack in the shop. Maybe even a website, where one mis-click sent you to a page filled with images you did not expect. It rightly does not matter what it was. What matters is that you were exposed and went looking for more, to turn that first flicker of a feeling into something big.

When porn first blossoms into that flame, it is a rush. Your eyes and mind are filled with images that you not only have not experienced before, but probably should not be experiencing. It is a bombardment that saturates your mind and fills you with its perverse sense of pleasure. The glow of that flame consumes you…for a time.

At some point, the fire will lose its intensity, its strength. The fuel that made it will burn away, but you remember the feeling. You remember the excitement, the euphoria it brought you. You want more.

You seek more.

You find more.

The first few times, it might be more of the same. What you viewed before or something similar. Eventually, however, you get used to it. You become desensitized to it. It is no longer more that you need: it is different.

Thus begins the spiral of addiction and dependence. What starts as a foray into lingerie catalogs or the “artistic” nude slowly extends itself into deeper corners. Eventually, bodies are not enough. Soon, still images are not enough. At some point, normal sex is not enough. For some, this goes far, far beyond the bounds of the “decent” and the “acceptable.” Mercifully, it has not for me. For millions of others, however….

Porn and People

Porn consumption is commonly treated as perfectly healthy and normal behavior. Humans are sexual creatures, after all, and have we not spent far too long constrained under the thumb of restrictive, outmoded moral codes? We need outlets, places where we can enjoy sex as much as we want, when we want, in whatever way we want. If it means we spend an hour or two a day watching sex on a computer screen, what does it matter?

Sex may be the subject of porn, but sex does not occur in a vacuum. In order for sex to happen, it requires one very vital thing: people. It is not just sex that you watch in porn; it is people. It does not matter if it is a single woman, man, a couple, any combination or multiplication thereof, porn requires people.

The problem is that those people are not really people, not as far as porn is concerned. In porn, those people are just big breasts, a hot body, or a nice…er, endowment. The value of a performer is not in the parts that really matter: the mind, the personality, the heart. Their value lies solely on the body. They are a piece of meat hanging in a butcher’s shop. After all, no one who watched porn has ever looked at an actress and wondered how well she can perform calculus in her head.

Day after day, we parade these images before our eyes. Maybe at first we see people, in the same way you notice someone out of the corner of your eye. But over time, we stop seeing the person. We only see the bodies. We only see the sex. We consume porn like a frat boy consumes beer. He does not stop to savor the drink, or even realize that it is cheap swill, he only wants more because he knows it better and it is “fun.” We are deadened to the person on the screen; they are only there for our pleasure. Cheap whores to be used, abused, and cast aside twenty minutes later.

Performing in porn is considered to be empowering, a way to take charge in one’s life. This is bollocks. Sex unbound does not give strength; it takes it away. Without emotion, without heart, sex turns you into someone else’s plaything. They do not care about your feelings, nor do they care about your future. The fans do not care about a person; they care about a body.

Yet, more and more people, particularly young women, get into the porn business. Not through seedy studios in back alleys, where they will be abused and forced into acts that will break them mentally. Now, they are getting into the business through the use of webcams and a bit of spare time. Young people are now willingly and gleefully throwing themselves into the business of debauchery. They get attention and fame and a following and all they have to do is expose themselves to perfect strangers from the safety of their own homes.

Porn Kills Love

It is the tagline of fightthenewdrug.org, a website committed to battling pornography’s influence. But how exactly does porn kill love? What is it exactly that prevents porn from co-existing with love?

The question is, what is the relationship between sex and love? Of course, it seems that there is no relationship between the two these days. Sex comes first, second, third, early, late, whenever, with love only being a secondary thing you might find if you bang enough people.

This is wrong though, is it not? Sex is more than just physical contact, more than just animal pleasure; it is a bond. It connects people in ways beyond what more platonic contact would. Love is an integral part of sex, in part because the latter reinforces the former.  Without the former, sex flails about, trying to find a true connection where there is none.

When sex is treated merely as a thing, the mind is still looking for a connection. Even if we deny it to ourselves, no matter how much we want to tell ourselves sex is merely animal instinct, it is something deeper in humans.

This is where porn comes in, because porn is the pinnacle of loveless sex. Not only are the people in porn committing loveless sex, the viewer is joining in vicariously. But that desire for a connection remains. Porn cannot provide that connection, but provides a shadow of it. This shadow is part of what keeps the viewer looking for more, this vain, subconscious hope that this can fulfill us.

The deeper you go, however, the more your mind becomes skewed. Love and sex become blurred, as does the purpose of each. Porn rewrites our priorities. We start seeing the sexual act as the goal and our aim is to reach that point. The people we love become objects of pleasure and satisfaction: our pleasure and satisfaction. We become so immersed in porn that we forget the person and only see the body. We begin to objectify those who we love, treating them as possessions to be abused rather than adored.

Sex becomes an all-consuming vice. Where love would give it focus and contain it, porn turns it into a monster. Sating our lust becomes our goal and lust, on its own, is never sated. There is always a new experience, a new conquest., another high. Porn kills love because all the focus is on the sex and not on the human being beside us.


This was hard to write. One of the things that porn does to you, should it get its hooks into you, is drag you into a sense of normalcy. Porn becomes habit and, thus, becomes natural. This post was difficult because I had to keep stepping back and looking into the truths of the habits I have formed. I had to look at my own ugliness…and then realize that I am not the only one.

There are millions upon millions of people worldwide who are broken by porn and do not even know it. They live in a world that tells them it is healthy and appropriate and so never realize how far gone they are. Day after day, relationships are torn apart by porn, women and men ruined by its pernicious effects. For millions of others, lives are consumed by loneliness, as people controlled by porn feel no real need to form bonds outside of themselves and their computers.

Porn kills love.

Porn kills decency.

Porn kills honor.

Porn is killing humanity, one click at a time.

Some Observations, Part II

It is that time again where I decide to comment on the things I have seen lately. Given the state of the world, I am not really looking forward to this:

  • Audio has come out of Donald Trump being an uncouth pig. To which I say, “So?” Not because Trump is somehow excused from common decency, but because it is entirely unsurprising. The people who support Trump know he’s like this, so this is in no way surprising or even disappointing. You cannot disappoint people when there was no expectations to fail to meet in the first place. It is disgusting, sure, but I did not vote to hang this albatross around my own neck; I knew that is what he was from the start.
  • If anything, I am more irked by the blatant double standard being applied. Yes, Trump is outrageous and ill-disposed to carry himself with any dignity, but what of his opponent? Hillary Clinton is no paragon of virtue. Last I knew, being a corrupt public servant for one’s entire life is worse than being an asshole. After all, I’m fairly certain that four men dying half a world away ranks as something worse than being a sexist pig. A man can always repent of moral vacuity; the dead cannot be brought back to life.
  • It is funny how every election I have been alive for has been portrayed as the most important election in the history of America. It seems that every four years, the ante is upped and the stakes are more dire than ever before. So it figures that, in the year when these statements may indeed be actually true, I am wholly indifferent to the political process. Let the chips fall where they may; my hope does not lie in Washington any longer.
  • I never really understood the “All Lives Matter” response to “Black Lives Matter.”  There is really nothing in BLM’s name that somehow implies that other lives don’t matter. If anything, my real problem is that there is an assumption contained in Black Lives Matter that black lives do not matter to anyone else. The problem here is that if society at large ignores the problems of the black community, what precisely is the black community doing to solve its own ills? Protesting cops and denigrating white people does nothing to lower the crime rate or lift the ghetto out of poverty. Black Lives Matter feels more like a massive deflection away from issues that can only be fixed by looking inward.
  • Do your best to appreciate the people in your life and to strengthen the bonds with them. The myth of human progress is in full effect, and very soon the ideal will be shattered…again. Who knows how the world will look in half a decade? I’m not banking on “better.” In that day, allies and friends will be more valuable than ever.
  • I still don’t understand Harambe memes.

The Siege Mentality

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s  “The Return of the King,” Steward Denethor II is the leader of Gondor. He is described as a mighty and valorous man, like the kings of old. However, at the end of things, as the forces of Mordor threaten to destroy Minas Tirith, he gives into despair and attempts to kill himself and his remaining son Faramir upon a funeral pyre. It is only due to Pippin and Gandalf’s intervention that Faramir is saved, but the Steward himself is lost.denethors-pyre

To understand this, we have to go back before this, when we find out that Denethor has in fact been contending with Sauron in a battle of wills…and losing. The reason Denethor despaired at all was the fact that, through the Palantir, Sauron showed only that which the Dark Lord wished the Steward to see.

Denethor’s mind was filled with foul and frightening images.  Thousands upon thousands of orcs amassed on the plains of Gorgoroth. Mighty trolls marching out of the Mountains of Shadow. The vengeful men of the east and south, atop chariots and Mumakil, ready to lay the men of the west low. He was strong enough to resist these images, however. While he was prematurely aged by his battles with Sauron, he remained strong in the face of the deadliest of foes.

That said, it is safe to say that Denethor’s will was slowly eroded by that which Sauron showed him. His mind was slowly given over to the idea that Sauron’s forces were too great for him to overcome. He felt besieged long before the armies of Mordor ever left the Morannon or Minas Morgul. He was brave and valorous, to be certain, but still just a man, and men were ever inclined to fear. And fear for his own flesh and blood, for his only surviving son and heir, is what tipped him over the edge.

He only saw the images that were worthy of his fear and in the end they were his undoing.

It seems like the modern era is not much different.

Only today, Sauron is not the foe in question, but rather it is the media. The media which jumps on every single story where a black man is shot by police officers. It matters not what the circumstances are, only that the black community sees another “attack” on them. Time and time again, another story is brought up, portraying the black man as the innocent victim and the officer(s) as the relentless executioner.

And so, thanks to the media, the black community is much like Denethor was: afraid and besieged. The police are no more inclined to shoot black men as men of any other race, but the media shows us only those images which reinforce their narrative. Whereas the orcs of Mordor were a real and malicious threat, the police are being twisted to look like orcs, instead of our fellow citizens. The black community is being trained to see a villain where there is none.

If only we could come out of our chambers for but a minute, tear our eyes away from the Palantir that shows us nothing but grief and horror, and see the grander picture. Yes, there is true danger and corruption in the world, danger which ought to be rooted out. But this is not the whole story. It is not the whole of the reality.

Denethor saw the relentless armies of orcs arrayed before him, but what the Palantir blinded him to was the gleaming ranks of the men of Gondor. It is true that his home was threatened, but if he could raise his head up for but a minute, he would have seen that all was not lost, that valorous men would still fight to stem the tide of darkness. He would have seen that all hope was not lost; that if a single hobbit could have enough courage to swear fealty to him, then surely men twice that size could find it within them to fight back as well.

And so the black community must do the same. They must look away from their own Palantir and look to their own communities. They must reject the images that are impressed into them and see the world for what it really is, that the siege is really no siege at all. They must not burn themselves on their own pyre, but realize that, if they look beyond the here and now, there really is a world worth fighting for, and their enemies are not nearly as numerous as they think.

Apathy is Death

korribanThe funny thing about places strong in the Force is that you start to see things.  Hear things…things that you ought to hear, but may not want to.  So it was on the Sith tomb world of Korriban as I traveled through the decrepit ruins of a temple.  Along the way I was confronted by my companions, each in turn, presenting me with a choice.  And each time, I answered in a way that attempted to cut down the middle, appease everyone without taking a stand.

And at the very end, they each judged me alike, admonishing me.  “Apathy is death.” echoed in the room, through my mind.  “Apathy is death” would be the words to follow me in my journey and my search, subtly affecting all my actions.

Now, if you are in any way paying attention, I am obviously not talking about my own personal journey.  Rather, this happens to the Jedi Exile in Knights of the Old Republic II.  In a more complete game, “Apathy is death” might have been addressed more clearly, however, this does not mean it is not an important life lesson.

Lately, this article has been floating around. To summarize, it is a baffled look at the tendency of millennials to think that not knowing how to be a functional adult, at the most basic level, is somehow a positive thing. They think that being incompetent or lazy is cute or desirable. This is, of course, inane and foolish.

However, it occurred to me that there is something far worse happening with today’s youth, which goes beyond mere narcissism: Apathy.

Millennials are not just being lazy when they let the laundry pile up in the corner. They do not just think it is cute when they order take out every day of the week because they hardly know how to cook. It is not just them thinking it quirky when they cannot manage their money.

It is apathy.

They simply have no desire to actually be functional adults.  The will to be respectable, capable, and dependable does not exist within them. Millennials simply do not care.

Now we see the results daily. The young adults who meander through life without any real or serious goals: apathy toward the future. They do not get their lives in order because they have no real desire to actually get their lives in order. The future is far away and nothing to worry about.

The college students who demand safe spaces on college campuses: apathy towards different opinions. Sure, they have intense, angry reactions to opinions with which they disagree. However, in the end, their true reason for seeking safety from disagreement is that they simply don’t care about opinions different from theirs. It is much easier to not care at all.

The people who attach themselves to every half-baked social justice cause cooked up on the internet: apathy towards making a real difference.  It is easy to make a lot of noise on the internet. It is easy to yell obscenities at cops during a protest. It is easy to call people you have never met bigots and xenophobes. What is hard is to actually change these things, to do something meaningful which might actually have an impact on the world. One can watch from the sidelines, saying “This is awful/great” while excusing oneself by saying “This is far from me” or “It cannot touch me here, in my little bubble.”

Life on this Earth invariably trends downward: we all get older, that which was once new atrophies. To spend your life doing nothing with yourself because you are indifferent won’t stop death from arriving.  Apathy is death because inaction inevitably means that you build nothing up. You can do nothing good, nor can you prevent bad from happening.

Apathy is the worst kind of death; the death of a life lived to its smallest, of potential thoroughly wasted. And an entire generation has grown up apathetic to life itself.

15 Years

Fifteen years is a long, long time.

Fifteen years ago, I was still in school. I was still just a kid, for whom college and adulthood were but a distant worry, nothing to be concerned about.  Politics was just one of those things I saw on Sunday morning talk shows. The world was still full of dreams and the future was bright.

That morning, I was in social studies, doing an activity of some sort; I hardly remember what it is and it wasn’t important in the long run.  That’s when the announcement came over the PA, instructing teachers not to turn on their televisions.  Naturally, this was the dumbest thing administration could have done, because within seconds, ours was on to ABC, and the images of the burning towers.  We weren’t sure what was happening, as pretty much everyone else in the world was at that moment, so we tried to get on with it, casting hesitant glances at the news.  Twenty minutes later, the signal was cut.

I’ve always been conflicted on that decision.  On the one hand, I could understand.  In a school of ~1500 students, many of whom had parents working in and around New York City, there is good reason to try and restrain fear.  On the other hand, we were blind for the rest of the day.  We knew planes had hit and the towers burned, but we learned nothing more until after school.

That was when I learned the horrible truth.  The towers had fallen.  All of the World Trade Center was gone, buried under a pile of twisted metal and dust and ash. The Pentagon had been hit as well as a crashed plane in my own state.  I heard the possible death tolls rise over five thousand.  I watched Peter Jennings, a man I had considerable respect for, fail to hold together.

In a world where war was a distant echo from places like Israel and Kosovo, harsh reality exploded into my mind.  It struck in a place that I had visited not even five years before, a place that marked a skyline burned into my memory from childhood.

In an instant, the world had changed.

The myth of human progress: until recently, it was a concept I understood to which could give no name.  The myth asserts the idea that humanity is “progressing.”  It is the idea that the progression of technology and morality will lead to a better, brighter future without war and conflict. The myth first appeared in the early 20th century.  The invention of motorized land and air travel, the proliferation of electricity, the dawn of modern medicine had all led to an atmosphere of the unstoppable force of mankind.

World War I shattered this perception. Humanity’s progress didn’t only make life better; it made it many times easier to end those lives. And so in a crucible of blood and suffering, the myth suffered its first death.

It would not be resurrected again until the end of the century.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dawn of the Information Age, humanity seemed set on the path of uninterrupted progress once again.  And once again, the myth was shattered. Once again, we learned the hard way that not everyone in the world believes in a freer, safer world.

But this time, rather than being changed, people grabbed up the shards and tried to pretend that progress was unabated.  They tried to pretend that the world wasn’t as dangerous as it always had been, the goals of all humanity were aligned together. Those that had taken the attack as a wake-up call were opposed to those who had not.

And so I have watched the world crumble ever since.  Where once there had been unity, the world was slowly consumed by division and hatred. The love borne out of shared grief, love that once brought us together, wasted away. Maybe the terrorists won after all.  Rather than focusing on tearing them apart, we tear each other apart. Now we are divided in every sense of the word, even to the point where we cannot agree there is an enemy to fight at all.

So, on this day, the fifteenth anniversary of the attack that changed everything, my heart is grieved. Not only for the lives lost on the day, but for the world that this day birthed.9-11-tribute-light-memorial