Category Archives: Culture

Happy 100th Birthday, National Parks Service

Photo copyright Smtunli, Svein-Magne Tunli – http://www.tunliweb.no/SM/English/sm_eng.htm

As I may have mentioned here in the past, I’m an information junkie. However, I’m an information junkie cursed with a terrible Swiss Cheese of a memory, possibly caused by an old gypsy woman, and therefore I’m a fan of tour guides. Part of it is respect for knowledge, part of it is the ability to communicate that knowledge, and another part of it is their sheer enthusiasm for their subject(s).

That respect was born out of encounters with the US National Park Service rangers on Alcatraz Island. Now, Alcatraz is a pretty cool place to visit, but amid the tours covering the history and law and order aspects of the place, we had one tour guide enthusiastically telling us about a colony of oysters that was developing off one of the piers. That Park Ranger genuinely loved his job, bubbling over with enthusiasm and geeky joy in his subject. That’s actually the thing that most stands out from that particular tour, even twelve years later.

In many ways, the role of the rangers straddles two worlds that often feel too separate: it’s a cool, outdoorsy job, but it’s also got a sense of the geek spirit, in the most postive way – the idea that this stuff is cool, it’s good to be enthusiastic about it, and there’s nothing wrong with communicating that enthusiasm to the millions of visitors who pass through the parks every year.

So, to the National Parks Service, happy birthday from Britain. You helped make my trips to the States memorable, and long may you continue to inform, preserve and protect.

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Is Superman going to be the Antichrist? (A belated clickbaity response to Batman vs Superman)

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This blog contains spoilers, although to be honest, I’m probably doing you a favour.

I know, I know. I haven’t updated this blog in years. But tonight I feel inspired to get this down in black and white. Because, ladies and gentlemen, my ambivalence about Batman vs Superman and the forthcoming Justice League movie is eating away at me. This isn’t because B vs S only really gets good when Wonder Woman turns up to kick ass (thank goodness Diana and Lois are there, because all the male characters are dumber than a box of rocks). No, it’s because they’re going to make Superman the Antichrist.

Seriously. It’s all there. I can prove it.

Firstly, let’s start with the assumption that Batman’s nightmares are more than just bad dreams. The evidence is there – the desert sequence is full of imagery pointing towards Darkseid’s involvement, such as the Omega symbol and a bunch of Parademons. There’s nothing to suggest that Bats has encountered these previously, so why are they in his dreams?

His dreams are prophecies.

This is further backed up by his conversation with EvilSupes, who says something like “You took her from me. She was my world.” He later says something similar about Lois, which makes it suspicious that the phrase shows up in a dream before Bats hears it in reality.

To cap this off, Bruce wakes from the dream and is immediately confronted by a time travelling Barry Allen, who brings a warning from the future. “You were right about him,” Barry says, before stressing that Lois is the key. But he’s arrived too early, and so the warning is without context.

Now, this could be referring to anyone, but let’s go with the idea that the Flash is trying to prevent the future seen in Batman’s dream. As a crude guess, let’s say Lois dies and Clark blames Bruce.

Clark then becomes Darkseid’s number one butt monkey, heat visioning at least two people to death.

(This is so far from my idea of Superman that it actually makes me angry, but let’s put that aside for a moment for the sake of my aneurysm.)

This is all imminent, based on Lex’s rant at the end and the imagery of demons falling from above in the huge portrait.

But wait, Superman dies at the end! How can he take over the world?

Look at one of the memes that runs throughout the film – Superman as a false god. It’s one of the ways Snyder emphasises his ambiguity towards superheroes. That doesn’t mean it’s literal, does it?

But wait. Something weird happens at Superman’s grave right at the end. And it seems clear that Supes is alive in the future. And if you’ve read The Death of Superman in the comics, you’ll be expecting this to be thanks to Clark’s alien physiology, but what if this is actually part of the bad guy’s masterplan? For instance:

● Darkseid brings Superman back to life. Cue a messianic reaction towards him.

● Darkseid engineers Lois’s death, framing Batman in the process.

● Supes goes nuts, takes over the world, creating the dystopia seen in Batman’s dream.

● The Flash goes back in time to try to save Lois and prevent Darkseid Disneyland from ever existing.

Yes my friends. The plot of the forthcoming Justice League movie is based around  Superman becoming the antichrist servant of an evil false god. That’s my bet and I’m sticking to it. Feel free to disagree, but I reckon this theory fits the hints and themes of B vs S.

Only Grant Morrison can save us now.

How We Use Words: Blog Action Day 2013

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Language evolves. It’s a fact of communication; words twist, change and merge, they take on new meanings and become adopted by different groups. Gay, surf, wicked, computer, all words used by our forebears in very different ways. Heck, thirty years ago, who’d’ve thought that ‘Google’ could mean ‘search’?

How we use words is important. They often shape our actions, shape how we see others and yes, how we see their rights.

An example: go online, find a post or a video in which a woman says something even vaguely feminist, or even simply reasonable. Now look below the line and wait for the first rape threat. When the hell did such a heinous crime develop its own culture of jokes and attitudes and badly written ebooks? And what impact does that have on reporting rape, on the lives of rape survivors, on a medium where threats of violence and sexual assault are commonplace?

Maybe we should have seen this coming, at least since not being racist ended up being described as “political correctness gone mad” and the idea that employers shouldn’t accidentally kill their workforce is sneeringly described as “health and safety” (cue eye roll).

All this has an effect on human rights. Okay, maybe in the civilised west we’re not herding people into concentration camps at the moment, but the language we use eats away at the lives of those around us: female journalists and activists leaving Twitter because of no effective way to report people threatening to blow up their houses? Immigrants seeing themselves described in newspapers as a flood, a tide eroding the very foundations of the country? “That’s gay” has become a synonym for “that’s stupid”, so how does that impact the phrase “they’re gay”?

In the UK, even ‘human rights’ is subject to this. Linked by politicians and media to frivolous law suits, the government is talking about repealing the Human Rights Act. The message given is that human rights legislation protects terrorists, not, for instance, hard working families. Now don’t get me wrong, we should always be considering if human rights legislation is fit for purpose, but watch the language used. Human rights aren’t trivial. Human rights aren’t frivolous. And we should rage against language that turns rape into entertainment and individuals as somehow less human than ourselves. Because language can inspire action, and sometimes we deny the humanity of others through the very words we use.

Getting Our History and Future Back: Some Thoughts on THAT Doctor Who news

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It was TV’s razing of Alexandria – the BBC, in order to save money, decided that it would be a smart idea to wipe the masters of Doctor Who and Dad’s Army and Z-Cars. Logistically it makes a sort of sense – this was an age before VCRs and DVDs and MP4s, and TV was ephemeral, made to be viewed once and once only. Culturally, however, it was a crime.

It’sDoctor Who – analysed, examined, collated Doctor Who – where this loss is most keenly felt. We don’t have landmarks like William Hartnell’s last story, or the first appearance of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, or most of Patrick Troughton’s run. There’s a 106 episode hole where the sixties should be.

That changed at midnight, officially at least: nine of those missing episodes have been found in Nigeria. It’s the great birthday surprise of the 50th anniversary, and it will be celebrated as a restoration of the show’s history, but it’s not that simple.

Among fandom the show’s core texts are known as the canon, but it’s a pre-Council of Trent canon where no-one’s entirely sure what counts. And, because so much is missing, received wisdom takes hold. Stories that haven’t been seen since older fans were watching grainy black and white broadcasts at the age of seven are known as classics because of a single memorable image, or because the novelisation made it into a lot of libraries, or because an actor cites it as a favourite.

This means that fan wisdom is mutable – stories are downgraded from classic status as various fans mature or lose their influence, or, in rare instances, when a lost story is found again. Everyone held up ‘Tomb of the Cybermen’ as the awesomest thing ever until it showed up in Hong Kong and everyone got to watch it. Now the perception is very different.

So the discovery of ‘Web of Fear’ and ‘The Enemy of the World’ doesn’t just restore the show’s past, it helps secure its future. Doctor Who has a fantastic tradition of fan involvement and so the community, both the people making the show and those watching it, are going to be all over this; I already suspect the production team knew what was happening, based on a least one recent story decision. This discovery doesn’t lock history down or preserve it in amber; instead it’s going to inspire debate and discussion and arguments, blog posts and cosplay. We’re going to see nine new episodes, effectively; we thought we had them pegged but now we get to see them with new eyes.

It also gives hope that there are more discoveries still to be made. After all, yesterday there were 106 missing episodes; now we’re down to double digits. It may be overly optimistic to expect more, but Doctor Who has a weird habit of defying the odds.

So happy anniversary, everyone; now let’s get ready to enjoy Yeti in the Underground again.

(Shameless plug: I’ve got more posts on Doctor Who here

Never Mind the Batfleck – Why Ben Affleck as Batman Isn’t really the issue

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Contains spoilers go Man of Steel.

So, the Internet snapped again. It doesn’t take much nowadays, not now we’ve adopted it as the designated home of nerd rage. The Net was designed to survive nuclear Armageddon, but announce that Ben Affleck is going to play Batman and you’ll immediately feel the servers start to buckle under the strain.

I have a pretty easy-going take on the news. Man of Steel may have had a few scripting issues, but its casting was spot-on; I have no reason to believe that Zack Snyder and co. have dropped the ball this time. The Batman mythos is full of left-field casting decisions – Adam West? Michael Keaton? Heath Ledger? – and yet they worked for the type of stories their producers and directors were telling. I’m going to give Affleck a break.

Besides, everyone knows that the One True Batman is Kevin Conroy.

No, my worry about the forthcoming Superman/Batman movie is that we’ve yet to have a solo Superman film set in this continuity, because Man of Steel was really about the last generation of Kryptonians and their mess; in some respects it felt like a prequel to a more dedicated Superman story.

Okay, I might be off-base here, but think about it; Superman’s deal is that he’s an old fashioned, straight-forward hero figure, the guy who’ll save your cat from a tree and your kid from a rampaging alien death robot. You can play around with that, but that’s his thing. Problem is, that’s yet to be established in DC’s movieverse. On his first day on the job, he’s involved in a war his dad’s generation started, resulting in obscene property damage and, presumably, thousands of casualties. Compare this to Chris Reeve’s first action set piece, where he catches a helicopter and saves Lois. Yes, Man of Steel showed Clark saving a school bus full of kids and the crew of an oil rig, but they were presented as moments that threatened his future, not that defined Superman’s character and heroism.

So a sequel is coming in 2015, but a character that is yet to be fully defined is going to be sharing screen time with another character that exerts substantial gravitational pull. I’d also argue that, story wise, Batman might be the wrong character for the first DC movie team-up. Bats is a darker, more tortured character than Superman under normal circumstances, but here we have a Superman who has seen Metropolis levelled, thousands murdered and who was forced to execute General Zod on his first day on the job, not long after discovering that his home world was destroyed and the only other survivors were genocidal fanatics.

Beat that, Batman.

The commercial motivation for all this is to establish a cinematic DC Universe and to catch up with Marvel’s success story. From that point of view, putting DC’s two biggest characters on screen together makes perfect sense. Story-wise, however, I’m not so sure, not least because, based on the plot points left at the end of Man of Steel, and established characterisations across continuities, Batman would presumably have to the winner in any moral argument – are superhumans a public threat? Yeah, look at the ruins of Metropolis. Is killing supervillains wrong? Considering the need to keep popular bad guys like Lex and the Joker alive for sequels then yeah, have a no-kill rule. So would this lead to Superman abdicating moral responsibility in his own movie?

Now, if you want to establish the basis for a Justice League movie in the Man of Steel sequel then that’s possible but you don’t cast Ben Affleck. Why? Because the hero you need is Wonder Woman.

This is because Wonder Woman is a character from a warrior culture who nevertheless works as an ambassador for peace. If you want to ask whether Superman is a noble warrior who can live with killing his enemies, or a largely peaceful guy who helps people (necessitating the occasional smack down), then she’s a character who can illuminate both sides of that debate. She’s a known quantity and a Justice Leaguer and a character that genuinely expands the DC movieverse.

Now, I know it’s problematic introducing a major female character as a way of furthering a male character’s arc, but seeing that DC seem incapable of getting a Wonder Woman film or TV show made, then maybe problematic is better than non-existent. I may be wrong on that though.

So there we go – give Ben a chance but don’t screw over Superman in the process. The casting here isn’t as important as the writing, so let’s hope the script gives us the chance to get the Justice League movie we’ve been waiting to see.