Tuesday, February 24, 2009

After I Drive Over To Your House I Will Knock You Out With a Lamp Stand

Two minor, unrelated pet peeves from television and the movies.

Having consumed my share (and the shares of three others) of film and TV, I have loaded thousands of plots, plot devices, hackneyed characters and dialogue in my already overcrowded brain. It is the reason why so much of everything feels so weak when I watch it. Not only have I seen it before, I remember it vividly. Again, my memory serves me well in trivia games and idle conversation only.

Sometimes there are subtle thing we take for granted in this media and I think I’ve done it so long that now when I see the clichés unfold I am taken completely out of the story.

First of all, if I hit you in the back of the head with the butt of a rifle, you may very well die. If I crack you in the forehead with a small statue…the same. What is likely to happen is that you will be writhing in pain on the ground crying like a newborn. I was reminded of this cliché recently and a lightbulb popped in my head. “Jesus! You can’t just knock someone out by whacking them in the head!” How many times have we seen that? I have to believe there are better and more original ways of subduing someone. How about good old fashioned chloroform? A tranquilizer gun or drugs in their coffee (or in their milk, a la Mr. T)?

It is a plot device that needs some trimming back. The characters in some cop shows would have more concussions than an NFL quarterback by now.

But my least favorite peeve is a classic. When you write scripts for films or TV or you are writing a novel (I’ve attempted both), one rule about character and action is “Stay off the phone.” The dialogue should happen face to face as much as possible. People inherently do not like to read phone conversations and sure as hell don’t like to watch it onscreen. All phone conversations are to be kept to a minimum or cut completely out of the story. The audience gets more character cues from personal interaction; and when people are on the phone they really aren’t doing anything unless they are running through traffic and getting hit by a bus.

(Lotta that crap going on lately too. I digress.)

So we’re in agreement that watching a phone call is lame. They can get away with phone calls in the movies because of film tempo. But on TV, it can be very distracting. It’s a strange paradox of narrative. What we are left with is a giant ball of unrealistic speed bumps. I’ll give an example. How many times have we seen this in a sitcom or a TV drama?

I remember an episode of “Smallville”, which my wife was into for a season or two. It was a one hour episode with lots of teen feelings and superpowers. Not bad. But in the denouement; during the those last two minutes the end result of the episode is resolved, young Lex Luthor shows up at Clark Kent’s barn. He stands at the door, thanks Clark for the heroics of the afternoon and for their ongoing friendship. Then he turns on his heel and walks back to his Jaguar and speeds away.

So, instead of dropping a call in to Clark at his house, the richest kid in Kansas puts on his nice clothes after showering, hops in his car and drives fifteen miles outside of town to a farm a 11:30 to say 18 words of dialogue to a guy he will most likely see the next morning...then goes straight home.

“I just wanna thank you…” That line is at the end of every show now! And, its most likely delivered in a doorway from some dude who could have spared 3 Anytime minutes in his T-Mobile Family Plan to say it into his Blackberry!

They figured out how to avoid the phone on TV years ago when they invented the wacky neighbor. No need to be on the phone because Ethel Mertz, George Jefferson, Kramer and that guy with half a face on the Tim Allen show were only fifty feet away.

I say let some more phone calls in. We’re all attached to these stupid things now anyway. Honestly, is there any actual scenario that you can think of that would put you in traffic for an hour just to say three sentences to someone you see all the time?

Monday, February 23, 2009


I can get personal occasionally...there's room for that, right?

Figured something out. It always feels good when that happens. I guess its not completely brand new information, but its light shed to a different part of my brain. Like I moved a lamp in my head.

About twenty years ago, I was an opinionated prick. Now, I can say I’m just opinionated. My partner in crime was also an opinionated prick. I won’t call him out in cyberspace, but he knows that I’m talking about him. We were young and smart and we had concrete ideas we were just certain about. And…we were mostly full of it.

Opinions aside, I had a problem when we talked about our likes and dislikes. He, and everyone around me, just didn’t understand that when I loved something; from a movie to a time period to a book to a singer to a breakfast cereal to a vacation locale…I loved it. I defended the things I love as if part of me was in the band that recorded the song or part of me was in the movie I could not stop defending.

So my good friend, being a little more normal than I, used to wonder why I took it so hard when someone disagreed with me. And even more than that, it troubled me that I couldn’t convert people to my way of thinking.

Had I any guidance in my young life I might have figured out I was an ego-freak. But I had to do my own thinkin’.

As a burgeoning curmudgeon; as a man on the cusp of old-fartitude, I can look at that kid now and not think he was such a prick. Now I know him for what he was. He wasn’t mean spirited. He was just an emotional wreck.

When I am touched by something, I bond with it. I am very chick-like in that regard. So be it, man. You could spend ten years breaking down mathematically that the Beastie Boys aren’t super duper awesome and you could not convince me. Sworn testimony, legal experts. DNA evidence. No dice. Same goes for most of the music on my iPod and the movies on my shelf out there. I am not an art enthusiast. I am a sponge. I am transformed by it. It does become a piece of me. Its time I recognized that.

My favorite radio show ended on Friday. Radio is strange because it keeps you company like a good dog at your side. You learn intimate details and with four hours a day, you feel like you are part of the proceedings even though you are worlds apart. I have a droll, boring, eventless life most of the time and now the thing that kept me company is gone. I know it was just entertainment and I should be more busy. But I’m not. And I feel a little loss. But I’m okay with that.

I take it personally. I am affected by it. That’s a tough life but it has its rewards.

So my point of all this is to keep this in mind the next time you are trashing something. I’m very guilty of this. Most of the internet is. Someone out there was touched by a Maroon 5 song. (Ugh.) There are those who think everything Adam Sandler has done is genius (Oh my.) And, there are those who believe the CSI shows are thought-provoking and well-written TV dramas (I think I’m gonna be sick…).

The entertainment/art has nothing to do with you, but the person you’re debating is a fellow human being, right?

I can’t think of a good ending to this, since I’ve made my point.

How about:

Opinions are like assholes, and so are you.


How about shutting the hell up and creating something better?

Or even:

All of the crap we love in our lives is basically a bunch of waiting room material anyway. So while we’re all sitting around waiting until our number is called, why bust balls?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Heart Is On My Sleeve But Your Head Is In Your Ass

I periodically ponder political points. But, I usually squander my spare seconds scratching my scalp about social aspects. And, I almost always alliterate.

I’m a “why” type of dude. I want to know motivation more that how and why a particular machine works. I want to know the guy who built it. I’m a people person. One that knows surprisingly few people.

When an issue pops up in the news or in conversation, I have an opinion about it. I would be a big fat liarhead if I didn’t admit that. Most of the time I have a slant or a point to make. Then there are the days when I just question motives. I guess that shows a lack of respect toward the target. So be it. It’s just my truth. Sometimes I can’t believe what you think. I don’t understand where your particular opinion comes from… it doesn’t come from fact and I don’t think it comes from hate…so what the hell’s up?

Global warming is such an issue. Call it climate change, or Al Gore’s Thing or whatever you want to. I just don’t understand the people who refuse to admit there is a problem.

Forget three decades of research and testimony. Forget physical evidence from North to South Pole. Forget about the math. Forget the changes to topography and the changes in species and the overwhelming proof. Put all that aside.

How is protecting the human race and the environment in which it lives NOT or you to-do list?

You understand? Even if you think the evidence has holes and is lacking; which many still do (and they have valid points)…how is just cleaning up pollutants and increasing energy efficiency a bad thing? How is smart living sticking in your craw? And how is this anything more than you having a shitty attitude about the people who gave you the information or about life in general?

So I usually chalk this people up to a sense of inferiority. Southerners have huge chips on their shoulders that remind me of these people. “Hey, if a New Yorker said it than its complete bullshit.” If we could get Carrie Underwood on board, they might listen.

There also seems to be a strain of stubborn American pride wrapped up in this turd logic. How could Americans be polluting? How could our way of life be harmful or bad in anyway? To others or our kids? Answer: Screw you! Turn up the Toby Keith!

Its not NASCAR types and people who don’t give a shit anyway that bother me. What kills me are rich guys in suits and people who are scared to change that refuse to understand and learn a little.

Fine. We’ll all die so you won’t have to change. Rock on.

But what you can’t come at me with: It’s all a scam. This global warming is all a hoax.

A hoax? What? To what end? Isn’t there a payoff with a scam? Isn’t there a point to a hoax?

If so, it is the lamest hoax of all time. It has killed political careers and has been the butt of jokes for forty years. In the meantime, lakes have disappeared, New Orleans is half gone, and no one knows why all the frogs and bees have died.

Funny hoax.

Again, I don’t debate the science. Don’t care. I do my part and I’m an informed citizen. It is to the denier I ask: What the hell? Even if it’s not severe, there are better ways to fuel cars and heat home and build things and dispose of trash. Why not do it anyway? What the hell is wrong with you?

Stuff like that.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Flying Cars and Saving Lincoln

The first attempt at a story I ever made was a time travel story. In fact my first few attempts at stories were time travel-esque. All of them were pretty lame and clocked in at around three pages each. Hey, I was ten.

The idea about time travel floated in from somewhere; but I cannot exactly place the original source. It was a few years before Marty McFly and I had not been exposed to H.G. Wells at all. But I think I loved history even as a little turd in long pajamas so the jump to create a story in which I witnessed or participated in an historic event doesn’t seem like a giant leap.

I found a huge black binder and I covered it with tinfoil. To me that was how a book was bound. In the crinkled aluminum on the front cover, I wrote “The Time Possessor”. Man did I think that was a cool title. I inserted some loose leaf paper and went to town. It was the story of a guy who unwittingly travels back in time through his words only. He mentioned something about Ancient Rome, and blam! He was there. Then some stuff happened.

I wrote another three-page masterpiece for school called “A Lesson in Time”. This one was more scientific. A professor makes the machine somehow, he travels to Custer’s Last Stand, he can’t warn anybody in time… Thanks for playing, Rod Serling, and everyone who ever wrote a “Twilight Zone” episode.

My fellow pulp story writer/stick-figure graphic artist Eric and wrote a lot of stuff back then. I think we had more ideas than talent back then, and now I think everything’s reversed. When you are ten, everything is super heroes and super powers. For me, there was always a nagging to go back in time and do…something.

Then came 1985 and Back to the Future. It was my favorite movie as a kid and not for the Oedipal back story and Lea Thompson. It was the car. The goddamned DeLorean that already looked like a spaceship; plus it had the added bonus of producing nuclear lighting that shot it through time at will! Are you shitting me? The X-wing Fighter officially was knocked down a notch on my coolest vehicle list.

After that I made a mental catalogue of all the time travel stories out there. Amongst them: The Terminator, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure , Austin Powers, Time After Time, 12 Monkeys, The Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, “Quantum Leap…and now my favorite show, “Lost.

Time travel is fun to write about because it is the one concept with a prescribed set of rules that cannot be proven. They can only be scientifically theorized. No one can say it’s even possible, but so many people have opinions about it. To me, its like wondering who could win in a battle between Frankenberry and Cap’n Crunch. (My money’s on the pink dude.) Until someone can do it and prove something its all make believe.

SPOILER ALERT – I am hereby conceding that I am not that damn smart. I could kick your ass at Jeopardy! but I can’t outthink quantum physicists and theologians. I know some of this has been covered. I know because I’ve read a lot about it. It’s all theory. I only really know what I know from watching movies.

And here is what I’ve learned.

1) Time travel and time itself are concepts. The paradoxes that can occur in time travel exist because concepts and logic have snags we call paradoxes. Again, until someone makes it happen, it’s all speculation.

2) There are two primary theories about how time travel works. (Wikipedia has an interesting article about it. Mine’s funnier.) They can be easily explained with movies and fiction.

3) People usually can only follow one of theories. They either believe A or they believe B. Its love or hate. Like the Yankees.

I call the first concept Single String. The Single String concept is the one at work in The Terminator and on “Lost”. Simply put, all time travel is still part of a single linear string of time. Everything that has happened will happen and everything that will happen will happen. You can’t change anything. It is close to our concept of Fate.

In the world of SS, you can’t go back and save John Lennon from being killed. Its impossible, because John Lennon WAS killed. No matter what you do he would still die.

Single stringers are also the guys who say: “If time travel was possible, wouldn’t we know about it already?” These guys are buttholes. Is that the first thing the time traveler would do? Rush back fifty years and blog about the next fifty Super Bowls?

The second concept is Multi-string, or as I affectionately refer to it: First person.

First person time travel is Marty McFly’s time travel. It’s also how it was done on “The Twilight Zone” and on “The Simpsons.” It is the theory that if I go back in time and shoot Hitler in the moustache, when I return, the world will be a different place for me. There are several strings and time travel is more like sand in a clamshell; it causes a disturbance that produces something new. There are an infinite amount of strings and if I dislodge myself from my place on my original string and jump ship, I will return on a very similar looking but completely different string.

When Homer went back in time by grabbing the magic toaster, he stepped on bugs and accidental killed dinosaurs (because he’s Homer.) Every time he returned his reality changed. Eventually he gave up when the family’s forked lizard tongues were “close enough”.

Marty McFly gave his dad a new sense of confidence in Back To the Future which slightly altered his life in 1985. He warned Doc about being murdered and he changed the Twin Pines Mall to the Lone Pine Mall. Marty ended up on a different string.

Confused? The common paradox is now called the Grandfather paradox. If I go back in time and run over my grandpa with a Zamboni, will I cease to exist? In single string theory, the answer is: “You can’t do it.” First person: “Yep. You will cease to exist.”

Each theory has its own paradox problems:

The First person paradox is easy. If I go to a different string after I dislodged myself from my own, where is the version of me in the new string? Maybe only one version of me can exist? Maybe it’s all horseshit? Who knows.

The Single String paradox is one I came up with on my own. It’s about going into the future, not the past. Say I travel into the future a month from now. I see my family and myself from the bushes. I’m spying on myself to see what was going on. Same old Jim typing on the computer. Lame ass. I sneak in the house, I check my bank statements. I check my mail. Same life.

I go to the liquor store and I see the list of lottery numbers from the past few weeks. I make a mental note of the numbers and the date they won. I zip back to the same time when I left.

According to Single string theory, I can’t play those numbers and win. There is NO way. For the full week that I could buy the ticket that will win the $147 million jackpot, I’ll never get to the store and I’ll never buy a ticket and win.

That’s why that Fate theory is bullcrap. It really only applies to the past. Marty McFly would play the lotto. (See: BTTF Part 2 for gambling in the future.)

It’s belief at this point…not science...not yet. It’s like humanity wondering what the sun was and how it worked. We went thousands of generations before we understood what the sun was made of and how it affected us. We’re still just caveman at this point when it comes to time. But we can write about it.

Oh, and “Quantum Leap” was just stupid.