Monthly Archives: April 2016

Harriet Tubman and Prince or Why Power is a Lie

Prince

I was a pretty lucky kid. I don’t know what grace moved me. Looking back, it seems i certainly had some because – though primarily on my own much of the time – i somehow managed to stumble into awesome. Whether it was on a walk in the woods, lost by myself, or sitting in my room with a small stack of books, action figures, a terrible little radio that played only AM stations… I was pretty lucky.

Somehow – that Grace again – i stumbled into Prince. I couldn’t say what magnetized me so much. I was a kid. I didn’t think about it. But that’s how kids are aren’t they? They live in electromagnetic fields that no one can see – not even them – but somehow when the right magic comes by you become galvanized. The experiences that will make you stick to you. You are formed by these fields. Electromagnetic invisible love. And that’s about the coolest thing there is or can be. One of those things was Prince. Bam. Just like that.

Prince was cool in ways i could only dream about. He could sing. He could move. He could play guitar. Hell… when you’re eight or ten or whatever you are pretty sure he could do whatever the hell he wanted to. If ever there was a guy who could walk out of an explosion like they do in the movies Prince would be that guy. And he wouldn’t just walk out. He would strut out – pristine and in purple with that smile on his face.

Prince was power. He was art. You listened to his music. You sang along as loud as your eight to ten year old heart could handle. You tried the moves. You had no idea if you looked like a complete idiot. You didn’t care who was looking. Because in singing along, you tapped into that power. You became Prince. And somewhere, somehow, i realized in those moments of absolute transport that this was true power. This was triumph. This was unfuckwithability. It was a superpower. You felt fire in your fingertips. It was magic.

Prince the man died today. Where does that power go? Does it snuff out? Not hardly. Not even close. That’s the thing with real power. REAL SUPERPOWER. Not the stuff of TV or politicians speeches, or guys in suits with graying hair and checkbooks. It doesn’t go out. It doesn’t even change form. It just skips along on the rest of us like lightning bolts, arcing from one to another. We might have lost the man. And that’s sad. Because there was more we could have, should have had. But the power is always in our fingertips.

I guess that’s what i’ve been thinking about today. You watch the people on TV behind their desks or podiums. You watch the speeches and the spectacle. And all of a sudden you realize that The Power that Prince gives freely is the same stuff that they grasp at, the same thing they want to embody and hold on to. They want to have the power of a song and stammer at the injustice of not having it. The stuff the courses through that shitty AM station radio is bigger, badder, and infinitely stronger than what most people think of when they think of power.

Harriet Tubman is supplanting a president of the United States on a legal tender. That’s power. That’s real. That shows us that the thing that comes to us from guys like Prince and people like Tubman is real. It may take a while. A long while. But it doesn’t go out. People can make speeches and get elected and shit and that’s fine. They can make idiotic laws about where this and that person is allowed to pee, or drink, or live, or be treated. They can live in that world but the rest of us… well… it’s not our world. Our world is dinner tables, radios, tv sets, pencils on paper, watercolors, a space just small enough to dance or sing in. Sometimes it’s all we’ve got and i’ve come to believe it’s just big enough to punch the powerful in the mouth. They want that space. They’ve always wanted it. But no one is giving it up. It’s ours. You might get our vote….

But you’ll never be Prince

Or Harriet Tubman or a Louis Armstrong solo or a Turner Painting or a Guernica or John the Revelator or Jimi Hendrix or Public Enemy. You’ll never be as strong as the pop and crackle of an old Beach Boys album on the record player. You’ll never be the wide eyed stare of a ten year old kid watching Purple Rain for the first time.

And that, my friends, is a real superpower. It gives hope. It gives life. It gives light when all other lights go out.

People are going to bitch and not get it. Personally, i think at some level everybody gets it but i’m a closet optimist. But i’ve already heard the plaintive wails of some folks who insist that the real power IS the stuff of fake princes: guys in suits with something to sell who can never afford what is actually free. They’ve invested in that version of supremacy. It’s sad. No Beatles song can cure them. They’ll stare at Guernica for hours and never see anything more than a strange horse. They’ll insist that the great deeds of great men are the stuff of real life. But they aren’t. Not really. They’re the stuff of moments trapped in the resin of history.

Don’t worry about those folks. They’ll sink below the waves of history crashing over them eventually, wailing how this shouldn’t be. But we’ll be here with Prince and the others: Lemmy, Bowie, Rickman, Harriet Tubman, Armstrong and the ones still to come.

Shelley once said “The poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world.” So too is the musician, the painter, the author, the poet, the sculptor and the little kid sitting on the floor with his action figures listening to the sounds of glory bleating out of his AM radio. We create the heaven of possibility. In this there is all the power in the world. Enough to shake the foundations and cast down the princes.

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Dear Writers…

CastleandBeckett

CASTLE – ABC’s “Castle” stars Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle and Stana Katic as NYPD Detective Kate Beckett. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

So, by now anyone who cares has heard the news that Stana Katic is leaving the show at the end of the season – allegedly for ‘budgetary reasons’ blah blah blah. Maybe you don’t care. Maybe, like me, you’ve already preemptively stopped watching. But this isn’t about that. Not really anyway. This is about the writers and ‘showrunners’ and such. Who are, sadly, idiots.

The news of Katic’s departure came to me from a former cop. Over at The Graveyard Shift they do this wonderful little bit of analysis of each episode of Castle from a cops perspective. As a procedural writer myself, this sort of analysis is invaluable and kind of wonderful. But they broke the news. I’m not going to lie: it was a little earthshattering.

The nice thing about Castle as opposed to regular or more serious ‘cop shows’ is that it recognizes that it is not a clinic in procedural writing. It has, in the past, embraced it’s goofiness. If there is one thing that people gravitate to Castle for it’s that, at it’s best, it’s a fan paradise with Richard Castle himself as the ultimate fanboy. See…. writers get this. Or at least most writers do. Writers – at their best – are fans. They can be fans of crime procedure, investigation technique, interrogation. They can be nerds soaking in sci fi and fantasy. They can be unabashed enthusiasts of damned near anything and everything. That’s kind of what gets us into this business to begin with.

And that’s what i want to get at here.

See… lately there seems to be these murky writing denizens creeping out from the disgusting ooze that appears to be damned near everywhere these days. It’s like some sort of tomb has been opened and the dragging shambling corpses of former writers have been pouring out to blight us all with… well… what’s the best way to put it? ‘not fun-edness’ or to put it differently, their own bilious and fairly toxic spewings of literary criticism in some noxious cloud of post freudian analysis.

Lit crit is great. Until it isn’t. And there appear to be A LOT of writers who have somehow exchanged it for actually enjoying what they’re doing.

Castle is only the most recent example. My own read on the shake up is that the new showrunners suck. That’s about it. Ever since taking over the job, all they’ve wanted to do is change the show to what they think it SHOULD be. This is the same fault the morons at DC fell into when they decided that Zack Snyder is the go to guy to helm their film future. It’s my opinion that these writers are writing for a paycheck. They don’t know nor do they particularly care about the property they’re entrusted with. In fact, they seem like bitter little shits who are all like ‘well you wouldn’t read my one brilliant book about the deviousness of sock knitters at the grand national sock knitting convention which borrows brilliantly from Neruda with flavors of Foucault and Derrida… so i’m going to ruin the things you love. And i’m going to get paid doing it. Nyah. Nyah. Nyah.’

We all know… though we hate to admit it… that hollywood is CRAMMED with these writers. They wrote a single thing, somehow got into a writing room, it sucked the life out of them and blighted their existence and they really would rather be doing just about anything else other than writing. They’ve lost the sense of ‘fun’ they had in it and they can’t WAIT to get out of there to have a mai tai on the beach with someone. (and really… who can blame them for wanting a mai tai on the beach)

I’m not saying all hollywood writers are the same. I’ve been there and i’ve met quite a few folks who are working their asses off to bust in and they LOVE writing. It just seems that some of the ones now in charge are NOT them. They’ve lost their spark. They need a good long vacation to some place… any place… that preferably doesn’t have internet and where they might be eaten by cannibals.

But the problem is that there is literally THOUSANDS of writers who absolutely love writing. They LOVE fangirling (or boying) out over things. They squee over this or that plot turn. They ship and ship HARD. And each one of them is grinding away in their own fandoms. (Also… if you think fanfic is not worthy of your review or beneath your astute consideration, you can just jump this particular ship right now. This blog is not for you) Any one of these writers would leap with both hands out over a cliff to snatch at the chance to write the next Batman movie, or work on the writing staff for Castle. We know what it is to have fun. Because it is fun.

Writing should be fun. Even when (especially when) you are actually using it for some criticism. Every time i hit the page i try and have fun. If i’m not having fun, i don’t do it. And believe me, i jam as much social criticism into the fun as i think i can get away with. Because that’s PART of the fun and it’s what makes writing important and actually… dare i say it… GOOD.

But right now we seem to have showrunners and writers who are drawing a paycheck. They’re writing to a committee of twits in a board room somewhere who don’t know and don’t care much beyond what the ad revenue is going to bring in. They’re looking for the ‘sure thing’ – like Batman vs. Superman. They need the brand to sell commercial slots. And quite honestly, i’m beginning to think these board room script supervisors have their television sets locked in a freezer somewhere and the last movie they saw had a young Bruce Willis in it.

Nerds rule. That’s the takeaway from all of this. The sooner producers, showrunners, and the sunlight-deprived writing rooms of Hollywood understand this, the more likely they are to actually make money. And i’m not talking about the tidy pile of ill gotten gains they get on opening weekend (looking at you BvS) I’m talking about all of it. Merch. A steady pool of willing writers to blow you away with their interpretations of this and that. Repeat customers.

Let’s put it this way: I saw Avengers twice in the theatre. I saw Force Awakens Twice in the theatre. I bought it immediately BEFORE it was available on DVD. We are the Ents. (also if you don’t get this reference, this blog is not for you) we have awoken and found ourselves powerful. And we’ve discovered (through the internet) that there are more of us than anyone ever thought existed anymore. We’ve drawn others in. We are growing. If you think your post structural analysis of Superman and your Postfreudian interpretation of Batman impresses us – you are dead wrong. If you think you can ‘change the dynamic’ of a show because YOU think you know better than us what the show should be, you’ll see our power in the deafening silence you receive.

We are the fans. We’re your blasted base. That’s the beauty of it. You think it’s shareholders. Well… those shareholders are likely to be mighty disappointed when you disappoint us.

So get with the program, please. Start listening. Or we’ll do what we’ve been doing which is walking away and creating our own stuff. It’s what we do. Because it’s FUN and we love it. And maybe that’s what you don’t get. Nerds LOVE things. You callously rely on that love to make a quick buck and we’re getting mighty sick of it. And it makes us want to punch you in the junk.

If you would like a few examples of what i’m talking about because you don’t know… Check out Firefly posts on facebook. Check out the new success of the fourth season of Longmire. Check out the resurrection of Star Wars. Check out just about any Marvel movie that gets released. I mean… they made a movie about a tree and a talking raccoon! AND IT MADE AN ABSOLUTE SHITLOAD OF MONEY.

Don’t make us tear down your shitty little Isengard. We’ll do it. And we’ll have fun doing it. We’ll bring marshmallows and popcorn. And you’ll be sitting there all sad like ‘but… my tower. My army of hideous shambling minions… that just got eaten by a forest… i haz a sad.’ And we shall sit there and laugh and laugh and ship you with Cruella DeVille.

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