Hiatus

Hi everybody!

I decided to take a short hiatus from these blog posts. No specific reason. I’m just trying something new.

I’ll probably come back to it sometime next year, and I may change the scheduling of blog posts to be more informal. Keep an eye out.

Thanks for reading! Hope you all have a great Holiday season!

Trump’s doublethink

1984 (George Orwell, 1949)

Behind the Curve – 1984 (George Orwell, 1949)

1984 is about a man living in Oceania, an oppressive regime that seeks to control the very thoughts of its citizens. In order to prevent themselves from committing what is known as a thoughtcrime, that is to say thinking heretical thoughts, citizens employ a technique called doublethink.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1984
Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1984

Doublethink refers to one’s ability to willfully believe two or more contradictory ideas simultaneously. For example, if the authorities in Oceania alter the history books, a citizen must incorporate the new history into their worldview, while at the same time believing that the new fact has always been so. It’s a technique that keeps one’s mind perpetually in the present, perpetually learning and changing. Unable to think deeply about truth.

And it strikes me that Trump supporters must have been implementing their own brand of doublethink throughout the whole campaign.

For example, a Trump supporter will tell you that they like Trump for his authenticity. Yet, if you mention that Trump has at the very least exaggerated (and at worst lied his ass off) during the campaign, they won’t contradict you. Many of his supporters recognize that Trump is primarily a showman and they don’t take him literally.

Even more interesting is that they like Trump because they identify with him and see him as down-to-Earth. In spite of the fact that Trump lives in a literal golden tower. If you brought this up, the supporter would probably say that Trump’s wealth is an indicator of his competence. Hillary’s wealth, on the other-hand, will be seen as an example of her corruptness.

Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1984
Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1984

But my favorite act of doublethink was performed by the establishment Republicans. They were somehow able to claim to be disgusted by Trump’s vulgar, xenophobic and misogynistic dialogue, and yet they still supported him.

There are many other examples of this, but I think I’ve made my point. It’s interesting to see this technique, shown in the book to be a mental oppression with the threat of death behind it, take place in real life under no such obligation.

 

Coming up:

  • Movie: The Imitation Game (2014) – Monday, December 5
  • Game: Pokemon Go (Niantic, 2016) – Monday, December 12
  • Documentary: We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists (2012) – Monday, December 19
  • Book: The Illustrated Man (Ray Bradbury, 1951) – Monday, December 26
  • Wild Card! – Monday, January 30

Lies and the death of political discourse

Best Of Enemies, 2015

Behind the Curve – Best Of Enemies (2015)

There’s a political anecdote of which I’m quite fond. It’s about two legislators from the same political party having a conversation. One of them, a seasoned politician, hears the other, a freshman legislator, At one point, the younger man refers to the rival party as “the enemy.” The old man interrupts him and says, “Son, they’re not the enemy. They’re the opposition.”

I don’t know the veracity of this story or the names of the men involved, but I often find myself thinking on it when I look at the current political climate. If politician’s like the old man ever existed, by now they seem to have been completely overrun by the younger legislator’s ilk.

I know that politics has always been a dirty business, but when I look back at the past 8 years I can’t help feel that something has changed for the worse. Almost from the moment Barrack Obama took office, certain people have abused and berated him with a level of ferocity that I can only explain as madness. People called him a socialist and a Muslim. They questioned his citizenship. They drew Hitler mustaches on his face. They questioned whether he “loves” America. And for what? What did Obama actually do to deserve the abuse? He’s just a moderately Left-of-center Democrat.

Barrack Obama, from ABC News
Barrack Obama, from ABC News

To listen to certain people talk, Obama has been the most radical president in our history. But that’s not even close to true. He was actually fairly moderate. Obama didn’t raise taxes for most Americans (despite what the teabaggers claim). He didn’t legalize pot or implement gun control. He didn’t implement universal healthcare. He didn’t break up the too-big-to-fail banks. And despite the vitriol thrown his way by the Right, Obama’s approval rarely sank below 40%.

Compare this with George W. Bush, who started two pointless wars and left office with a dismal 22% approval rating. Did he receive this kind of abuse? I don’t think so. I know that Bush was criticized and mocked (deservedly so), but I don’t think we saw the same level of venom and disrespect during his presidency.

Many people chock this up to good-old-fashioned racism. There’s a lot of merit to that argument, but I don’t think it fully explains the phenomenon. After all, not every Obama critic is a Klansman. There must be something deeper that has changed in American politics.

Let’s analyze it through recent events. We just came through a particularly nasty election. I blame a lot of that on Trump. But Trump merely stoked the flames of resentment; he didn’t create it. The venom existed long before Trump descended that escalator. People were already angry and dissatisfied. But why? The economy was good under Obama. Unemployment was down to 5%. And our military budget was bigger than ever, which you’d think would’ve satisfied the paranoid war hawks on the right.

At least those were the facts as I heard them. Republicans apparently heard something completely different. They claimed that people were losing their jobs constantly. They claimed that the military had been crippled.

How is that possible? Because there is no longer a consensus on facts in American politics. And I blame the Media for that one.

Many Americans still watch cable news to stay informed, and these networks have almost fully abdicated their responsibility to fact check information. Perhaps it began with the Vidal/Buckley debates explored in Best Of Enemies, when news networks first discovered that conflict gets more ratings than dry, fact-based coverage of politics. Today’s news stations are all about conflict and arguing and showmanship. They will point the camera at a politician saying some blatantly false, incendiary statement and not bother to comment on its veracity.

Fox News
Fox News

If there is commentary, you can bet that it’s a shouting match between extremists. The media is not interested in truth. They’re interested in a good fight. So now you will see a leading scientist arguing with a climate change denier with a Bachelor of Arts. Both will present data and call the other’s data erroneous. Both look equally credible. The newscaster will sit between them and take no sides. They don’t want to appear bias.

There’s only one problem with that: it ignores the fact that certain biases are good. We should be bias against non-facts. Some statements are true and others are not. Not every issue has two equally valid sides. There is such a thing as fact, as observable reality. We cannot be stuck forever arguing over data. Arguing not about policy, but about the nature of reality.

People turn on the TV and believe what they see on CNN or MSNBC or Fox News. They say to themselves that it wouldn’t be on TV if it wasn’t true. The average voter does not have the time and resources to fact-check on the fly. If the political climate is ever going to get better, we need a baseline of facts. We need news outlets with enough balls to exercise editorial authority and call B.S. on blatant lies.

 

Coming up:

  • Book: 1984 (George Orwell, 1949) – Monday, November 28
  • Movie: The Imitation Game (2014) – Monday, December 5
  • Game: Pokemon Go (Niantic, 2016) – Monday, December 12
  • Documentary: We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists (2012) – Monday, December 19
  • Wild Card! – Monday, January 30

The silent limbo of old video games

Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)

Behind the Curve – Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)

Silent Hill 2 is a fascinating survival horror experience that takes us on a psychological journey that is exemplary in it’s presentation and maturity, especially compared to the relatively poor standards of video game writing. I elaborate on how and why Silent Hill 2 works, but I don’t know what I could add that dozens of video game critics and pundits haven’t said already. This game came out in 2001 and has long been a darling for the “games are art” folks. Hell, that’s why I played it in the first place.

No, I have nothing to add on the actual content of Silent Hill 2. What I’d like to talk about is the fact that I had to play this game on an emulator. What?!?! I know! I might as well have slapped the developer in the face.

Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)
Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)

But frankly, I felt like it was my only option. Internet research informed me that my copy, the HD port for Xbox 360, is an unforgivably inferior version. Rumor has it that Konami was working off unfinished code when they made it. The Silent Hill HD Collection is apparently missing fog effects and there are screwed up audio files that were vital to the experience. My only other option was to track down a PS2 and an original disc, but a cursory glance at eBay revealed this path to be financially unfeasible.

Why is it that old video games, particularly console games, are so absurdly difficult to get hold of? This is something that the video game community needs to start working on if they ever want to be taken seriously as an art form. A crucial tenet of art is that it’s a big open community, a shared social conversation. Some of the most brilliant art in existence builds on or responds to the ideas that came before it. To restrict access to a medium’s lineage is to effectively cripple the creativity of artists working today.

It’s so strange to see this happening in the internet age, when the idea of an unattainable product should be considered quaint. Right now I can go on Amazon and buy a copy of Citizen Kane on Blu-Ray for fourteen bucks. I can rent it from the local library for even less. I can get a digital copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for free. Both of them contain all of the original content, unaltered and retrofitted to work with modern technology.

But video games don’t work like that. If I want a legitimate copy of Silent Hill 2 in its original form, I need to drop ninety bucks for the PS2 disk. This just doesn’t happen in other mediums (with the possible exception of the “Special Edition” of the original Star Wars trilogy).

Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)
Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001)

But of course, we all know why old console games are so hard to get hold of. More so than other industries, games are controlled by corporations. And if a corporation doesn’t see the benefit of making the original piece available, then it won’t be available. Which is their right, of course. Ever since our corporation-friendly copyright laws effectively gutted public domain, there is little incentive for companies to share their toys. But I hope these corporations understand that they’re doing long-term damage to the gaming industry. Until we have an open and accessible gaming community, this medium will still be thought of as “just toys” by the general public.

 

Coming up:

  • Documentary: Best of Enemies (2015) – Monday, November 21
  • Book: 1984 (George Orwell, 1949) – Monday, November 28
  • Movie: The Imitation Game (2014) – Monday, December 5
  • Game: Pokemon Go (Niantic, 2016) – Monday, December 12
  • Wild Card! – Monday, January 30

The thin line of civilization

No Country for Old Men (2007)

Behind the Curve – No Country for Old Men (2007)

(Note: You’ll be happy to know that this article does not mention tomorrow’s election. I’ll just trust that you intelligent folks will make the right decision.)

Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men, as well as the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name, is most concisely described as a modern Western. Although I don’t feel that label does either of them justice. Both the book and the film are largely philosophical tales that depict a nihilistic view of the thin lines separating life and death, civilization and chaos.

The story is very cat-and-mouse, driven primarily by the pursuit of a briefcase full of drug money . The action revolves around three main actors: Llewelyn Moss, Anton Chigurh and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. Moss is a blue-collar every-man who finds the briefcase by stumbling upon the bloody scene of a drug deal in the desert gone bad, Chigurh is a brutal hitman tasked with recovering the briefcase, and Bell is a retiring sheriff who is mainly concerned with finding and saving Moss from the deadly powers tracking him.

No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men (2007)

This is one of those movies where the villain steals the show. Chigurh is a chillingly pragmatic operative with very little regard for human life. He kills casually and efficiently, even when killing is not necessary to achieve his ends. Sometimes he kills just because it’s slightly more expedient, and sometimes the killing is even out of his way. Chigurh shows no human empathy or regret. He takes human life with the indifference of a man swatting a fly. Often you get the impression that he’s not a character himself, but a force of nature. Someone who cannot be bargained with any more than one can bargain with a hurricane.

But to me the heart of the story is Sheriff Bell. You see, Bell is a small-town cop who has gone his entire career without much real action. He seems to think that folks are mostly good people and that a lot of a sheriff’s job can be done without violence. It’s obvious he has never dealt with anyone like Anton Chigurh.

As the movie goes on, we see Bell become unnerved by the senseless brutality and violence of the mess he is uncovering. He realizes that it could soon be threatening his own life. This feeling culminates with Bell coming upon a hotel right after a shooting. He thinks Chigurh might still be in the hotel room. He knows he must enter the room. It’s his duty. But Bell also knows that he will almost certainly die if Chigurh is still there.

No Country for Old Men (2007)
No Country for Old Men (2007)

I won’t tell you how that turned out, but I’ve never seen a movie portray the fear of death more perfectly than Bell approaching that door. It was a precise crystallization of primal human emotion; the terrifying recognition of one’s mortality. It reminded me of those rare, dark moments when my mind understands that I will die and my consciousness will cease to be.

We humans think of our lives as valuable things. We think we possess some degree of safety against death. But all it takes is a relatively small amount of pressure applied to certain parts of our body and we’re gone. Our world ends. And if someone or something is determined to apply that pressure, there is very little that can protect us. Not God nor guns nor the laws of civilization.

We can die any time, at any moment. And it doesn’t matter to the universe at large. Our lives are nothing more than bio-electrical impulses held together by delicate flesh. We are insignificant specks living on a rock as it floats through an empty and uncaring universe.

Huh. I guess I’m feeling a bit pessimistic this week. Can’t imagine why.

 

Coming up:

  • Game: Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001) – Monday, November 14
  • Documentary: Best of Enemies (2015) – Monday, November 21
  • Book: 1984 (George Orwell, 1949) – Monday, November 28
  • Movie: The Imitation Game (2014) – Monday, December 5
  • Wild Card! – Monday, January 30

Election advice: vote for survival

Presidential Debate, Picture from CBS News

Behind the Curve – 2016 Presidential Election

So here we are. The almost two-year long hate-f**k that is the 2016 presidential election is now lurching towards the finish line. We’ve all had a good time. We’ve laughed and we’ve cried, often simultaneously. We’ve gotten into Facebook arguments that made us reassess our friends and family. Lots of fun all around.

But now the bar is closing and it’s time to go home with someone. I know that the decision isn’t ideal. But unappealing is not the same thing as difficult. The choice in this election should be easy for anybody whose brain still functions. But if I have to spell it out for you:

Please vote for Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

I know, I know. You probably don’t like her. I’m not a huge fan myself. But this election isn’t about picking a candidate you like. This election is about picking a candidate you can live with. It’s about survival. Clinton isn’t the best person for the job, but she is the only candidate who can actually do the job.

Look at her opponent, Donald Trump. A man who doesn’t seem to understand how government works. A man who has re-tweeted white supremacists and advocated war crimes. A man who, according to Politifact, lies 70% of the time! Compare that to Clinton’s 26%, which is pretty good for a politician.

Trump is a man who is alleged to have sexually assaulted almost a dozen women (allegations which I fully believe, since it fits with his personality and he basically corroborated their story in the notorious Access Hollywood tape). And then there was that tasty little nugget he dropped in the last presidential debate: Trump might not accept the election results if he loses. He said he would “keep us in suspense.” Oh yes. I can’t wait to find out if the egomaniacal demagogue leading an army of violent, angry white people tries to destroy American democracy. So suspenseful. Donald Trump displays the kind of malice, delusion and arrogance rarely seen outside comic book super-villains.

Donald Trump, Picture from Businessinsider.com
Donald Trump, Picture from Businessinsider.com

Vote for Hillary Clinton. I know she has a few skeletons in her closet, but Trump owns a mother-f**king skeleton warehouse.

Don’t do anything stupid like staying home. Or voting third party. This election is too damn important to waste your vote like that. I know the polls are showing Clinton far ahead, but that’s not a foregone conclusion. Polls don’t mean crap. Polls also showed the people of the U.K. opposing Brexit, and we remember how that turned out. Donald Trump could still win this election, so don’t be stupid.

Don’t throw away your vote on Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. This isn’t because I think they’re bad choices (Gary Johnson is, but that’s not the point). In any other election, I would tell you to vote your conscience, even if that means voting third party. I’ve always said that America’s two-party system is terrible. But now’s not the time to fix that. In this election voting third party, or voting for a write-in candidate, is simply too risky. The possibility of a Trump presidency is too real and present a danger to afford splitting the vote.

I’m not saying this because I’m a liberal. Clinton is a terrible liberal. I would have preferred Bernie Sanders. No, I’m saying this because I’m an American. I don’t see this as a partisan stance. I see it as a patriotic one. We need to reject Trump’s bigotry in a big way. We need Clinton to carry 90% of the states. The entire world is watching us. We need to show them that Trump does not speak for the United States.

And we need to do this even if we don’t like Hillary Clinton. Even if we disagree with her on every issue. P.J. O’Rourke, a conservative author, endorsed Clinton a few months back and said this about her:

“She’s wrong about absolutely everything, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”

America has never elected a man like Trump. America can never elect a man like Trump. He is simply too dangerous.

Please vote for Hillary Clinton. Please vote for survival.

 

Coming up:

  • Movie: No Country for Old Men (2007) – Monday, November 7
  • Game: Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001) – Monday, November 14
  • Documentary: Best of Enemies (2015) – Monday, November 21
  • Book: 1984 (George Orwell, 1949) – Monday, November 28
  • Wild Card! – Monday, January 30

Devil in the details

A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway, 1929)

Behind the Curve – A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway, 1929)

Ernest Hemingway is best known for his sparse and understated style of writing. His stories are written in a very matter-of-fact way without needless frills or flowery flourish. It’s a style that has had an unparalleled influence on the many generations of writers who have followed him.

A Farewell to Arms, 1932
A Farewell to Arms, 1932

However, one thing I never hear brought up regarding Hemingway, and which I noticed while reading A Farewell to Arms, is is his superb skill at writing a scene with sharp, specific details. In fact, Hemingway includes so many details that it can sometimes be difficult to follow as he describes the way the road turns or the dust being kicked up into the air.

On the surface, the idea of sparse writing being richly detailed seems like a contradiction. But  these two facets of Hemingway’s style actually complement one another. Hemingway’s style is sparse in that it sticks to the actual facts of the story. Everything is told on the surface level. There are very few unnecessary reflections or extrapolations in the text itself.

But while remaining on the surface level, we’re given an abundance of information. Which is good. Without the inclusion of extreme detail, a minimalist style would look like one of those over-simplistic baby’s first books, like See Spot Run or something like that.

The details in A Farewell to Arms are strategically placed in order to lead the reader into deducing the information Hemingway wanted to convey. Rather than lengthily explaining the loneliness and frustration a character feels in a particular scene, Hemingway records the things that are happening around him. Hemingway describes the train he’s on and the actions of the people there in a matter of fact, albeit telling, style. We readers take all of this description and form our own conclusions about the events and what the character is feeling and thinking. And because we arrived there ourselves, the revelation becomes much more personal to the reader.

A Farewell to Arms, 1932
A Farewell to Arms, 1932

I’ve been struggling to include these kinds of details in my own writing. I have a bad habit of leading my readers by the nose. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to read this book and I hope I can internalize some of the strategies it uses.

 

Coming up:

  • Wild Card! – Monday, October 31
  • Movie: No Country for Old Men (2007) – Monday, November 7
  • Game: Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001) – Monday, November 14
  • Documentary: Best of Enemies (2015) – Monday, November 21
  • Book: 1984 (George Orwell, 1949) – Monday, November 28

Global warming will kill people

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

Behind the Curve – An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

Man-made global warming is definitely, 100% a thing that is happening. That much is obvious and beyond debate (beyond reasonable debate, anyway). There are mountains of scientific evidence backing up the idea that human activity is affecting our climate in dramatic ways. Anyone who persists in denying man-made climate change in the face of that evidence is either in the pocket of the energy industry or just plain stupid.

Futurama/An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Futurama/An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

Global warming is, in my opinion, the most important issue of our age. Which is why I find it so depressing that it has barely come up over the long and torturous course of the 2016 election. Now a lot of that has to do with the Republican nominee for President being an ugly, misogynistic Realdoll. But I’m not convinced the situation would be much different in a normal election year.

Republican politicians will not even acknowledge that there is a problem, despite the fact that a majority of their voters now believe in global warming. Even the Democrats, who at least give lip service to the problem, have only made small steps in addressing it. What’s really needed is drastic action. The window we have to implement change is getting smaller and smaller. It’s possible that the damage of global warming is already irreparable.

And yet there is no urgency in the mainstream political discourse.

It’s been clear to me for a long time that humans (or at least Americans) are incapable of dealing with such a gradual problem. Right now, many Americans are more concerned with the threat of terror attacks. Terror attacks are easy to understand. They’re big and flashy and undeniably scary, but are ultimately less dangerous to western civilization than unchecked climate change. We’re like the proverbial frog in boiling water.

Sadly, I fear that humanity will not rise up and adequately address global warming before we hit the tipping point. The sea level will rise. There will be more natural disasters (some believe we’ve already seen a spike). And a lot of people will die. A lot more will be made into refugees (almost half of the world’s population lives near the coast).

An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

There’s no real point to this article except to wallow in the hopelessness of our situation. It’s beneficial to remember that the global climate ecosystem is self-balancing. We humans have creating an imbalance, and so Earth is going to correct it and create a new equilibrium. The correction will be violent. And we may not like where the new Earth leaves us. It’s not going to wipe out humanity, but it will have a catastrophic effect on our population.

 

Coming up:

  • Book: A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway, 1929) – Monday, October 24
  • Wild Card! – Monday, October 31
  • Movie: No Country for Old Men (2007) – Monday, November 7
  • Game: Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001) – Monday, November 14
  • Documentary: Best of Enemies (2015) – Monday, November 21

The influence of opinions

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (1993)

Behind the Curve – The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993)

(Warning: This article spoils a twist in the story of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. That being said, the twist is super obvious. In fact, I wrote this article only three quarters of the way through the game.)

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (1993)
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993)

The fact that I haven’t finished this relatively short game at time of writing should be an indicator that I’m not exactly salivating over it. I acquired Link’s Awakening years ago, probably from a garage sale or something like that, and I only started playing after deciding to work through my gaming backlog.

Whatever the sweet-spot is for enjoying Zelda games, I must have missed it. I was very big into them when I was a kid, but thinking back I can’t remember beating any of them. Perhaps they were just too long and complex for my young, ADHD-addled mind. Now that I’m older and focused enough to handle the mechanics, I find myself often bored by them. Part of it is their stories. Although Link’s Awakening gets away from the obligatory”bad-guy-kidnaps-princess” plot that Link and his colleague, Mario, are always dragging around, I still find myself un-engaged. The story is thin, simplistic and way easier to predict than it thinks it is.

Seriously, if you get to the end of the game before realizing it’s all a dream, kindly disable your sexual organs. The human race doesn’t need those genes.

I know that Nintendo games are typically more about the gameplay than story. But it seems that’s not enough for me anymore. Maybe I’ve missed the maturity sweet-spot whereing I could fully appreciate Zelda games.

Bottom line is that I was ready to give up on Link’s Awakening. Out of curiosity, I decided to look online to see the general consensus on this particular Zelda entry. Perhaps, I thought, this is one of the crappier games that fans prefer to ignore. Imagine my surprise to learn that Link’s Awakening is a critical success, praised for its story and mythology. It’s consistently ranked among the top 10 Zelda games, and one critic even called it the best Game Boy game ever. A dubious honor, perhaps, but I was genuinely shocked.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (1993)
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (1993)

So now I’m probably going to keep playing Link’s Awakening, to see if there is some brilliance to it that I failed to notice. Perhaps, I thought, I wasn’t giving it a fair chance. And that made me wonder: is it weird that I can so easily be made to doubt my own opinion? This isn’t the first time it’s happened. A while back I watched Equilibrium, a 2002 science fiction movie with some really great action scenes but a story that I found boring and cliched. But then I found out that MovieBob, an internet movie critic I follow and respect, thinks Equilibrium is great. So I’m giving that another chance. Granted, I was not entirely sober when I initially watched it on Netflix. Maybe I overlooked it’s positive points.

This behavior might seem like a lack of of confidence in my opinions, but I think there’s something else going on. I’m the type of person who actively tries to enjoy the entertainment I experience. It’s why I’d probably make a terrible critic. Even when I recognize a movie is bad, like Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad, I usually find something to like in them. And when I genuinely dislike something, like Link’s Awakening, I’m more open to the idea that I’m simply not looking at it from the right angle.

I don’t know if that’s a good or bad trait for a writer, but it’s definitely a great trait for an audience member. I get to enjoy almost anything!

 

Coming up:

  • Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth (2006) – Monday, October 17
  • Book: A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway, 1929) – Monday, October 24
  • Wild Card! – Monday, October 31
  • Movie: No Country for Old Men (2007) – Monday, November 7
  • Game: Silent Hill 2 (Konami, 2001) – Monday, November 14

Teen angst

Battle Royale, 2000

Behind the Curve – Battle Royale (2011)

In the pantheon of story subjects, the topic of adolescent or teen angst is among the most deceptively difficult ones to tackle. On paper, it looks like a breeze. You are writing about people in the most unreserved, emotional period of their life, people who don’t hide their feelings under layers of discipline, maturity and repression. I can’t speak for other writers, but for me the opportunity to ditch subtlety would effectively cut my workload in half. I wouldn’t have to come up with clever ways of showing the audience what my character is feeling. He will just tell them. And the audience will instantly understand the emotions he’s experiencing because we’ve all been there.

Battle Royale, 2000
Battle Royale, 2000

The problem you run into is that although everybody has been an emotional teen at some point, adults still don’t particularly like them. We tend to see teens and teen angst as whiny and melodramatic. It’s why a lot of people hated Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode II. It’s possible that Hayden Christensen did his job too well. Although it makes sense that Vader would have started out as a troubled teen, that’s not what people wanted to see.

For another example, look at J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. It’s a classic novel that contains what is, in my opinion, the most perfect depiction of teen angst ever set to paper. And yet, I know a lot of people who can’t stand that book because they hate the main character. They hate that he’s naive and sentimental and that he bitches and moans constantly. But those are the same traits that make him such an accurate portrayal of folks at their most emotional.

My theory is that most adults are, to one degree or another, ashamed the person they were as a teenager. We resent any accurate depictions of teen angst in fiction because they remind us of that awkward time in our life. Even while I found Salinger’s narrator more or less relatable, I had trouble stomaching him at times. I think it’s because I saw too much of myself in him.

So is the audience for teen angst exclusively teenagers? I doubt it. Teenagers like accurate depictions even less. Nobody likes having a mirror put up to show how silly they are. Teenagers want fiction that will take them seriously, not trivialize them. This, I feel, is one reason the popularity of YA novels and movies like Hunger Games, Maze Runner and Divergent has exploded in recent years. These stories take the very high school-esque problems of cliques and conformity and paint them as important, earth-shattering battles. But in my opinion these stories lack authenticity. The characters rarely come across realistic, angsty teens. More often they are generic stock heroes following generic stock hero character arcs. They’re trying to merge high school drama with action, but they don’t have the guts to take it all the way.

Divergent, 2014
Divergent, 2014

And that’s where Battle Royale shines. This movie is special in that it manages to balance a satisfying, visceral action movie with an authentic teen angst feel. If you’re unfamiliar, Battle Royale is basically the R-rated precursor to Hunger Games. Same basic story, but much more violent.

The brilliance of Battle Royale is that the kids who are battling to the death are all from the same class. Therefor it’s inserting life-or-death scenarios into the existing drama of a high school cafeteria. Once the kill-or-be-killed ultimatum is in place, alliances are formed and broken on the basis of old jealousies, crushes and cliques. There are noble sacrifices, professions of love, romantic rivalries, and it’s all dripping with that particular brand of high school melodrama.

Battle Royale, 2000
Battle Royale, 2000

And it doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth the way Catcher in the Rye sometimes does. Perhaps that’s because Battle Royale is an excellent hardcore action movie first and foremost, and the over-the-top melodrama seems to fit in naturally with the copious violence.

I find the combination to be very compelling. Perhaps because these dramas felt like life or death when I was experiencing them. Rather than a depiction, Battle Royale feels like a fulfillment of our old teen angst. The normally cringe-worthy high school melodrama is able to look almost poignant. It’s tragic to watch teenagers eagerly kill and die over problems that the adults know they’d be getting over in just a few short years.

 

Coming up:

  • Game: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo, 1993) – Monday, October 10
  • Documentary: An Inconvenient Truth (2006) – Monday, October 17
  • Book: A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway, 1929) – Monday, October 24
  • Wild Card! – Monday, October 31
  • Movie: No Country for Old Men (2007) – Monday, November 7