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