community, entertainment, family

The YouTube Discussion

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So, many of you are probably aware that there’s this website called YouTube, where you can find EVERYTHING — clips from movies and TV shows, often whole episodes of cancelled or long out-of-production series, extended trailers for upcoming films, music videos, and plenty of original content by contributors who might be your neighbor down the street, or world famous in their own right.

It’s an interesting cultural shift, one that most likely never would have happened without the internet. Remember just 20 to 30 years ago, when your relatives invited everybody over to watch their vacation slides, and we all groaned and grit our teeth and wracked our brains for something polite to say? People came up with excuses ranging from, “I can’t, I’m having my wisdom teeth out,” to, “I’d love to, but I just sat down in this comfy chair.” Now suddenly, random strangers from around the globe put their home videos of their family getaway to Cancun on YouTube, and it hits 15,678 views in less than 24 hours.

The major difference between YouTube and the sharing-of-home-videos-of-olden-days is the fact that YouTube can make overnight celebrities. I think pretty much everyone and his dog knows by now that YouTube will pay people whose channels reach a significant number of subscribers and/or views. It’s not a foolproof instant way to hit a high salary and quit your day job; there are only a lucky few who make it to more than 10,000 subscribers, and fewer still who actually have a million or more people regularly tuning in.

But this is now an established, accepted part of American entertainment, and it doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

And we’re certainly feeding the beast — YouTube is among the top pick for media platforms regarding movie trailers, music videos, original videos, and lots of artists (in traditional corporate contracts as well as indie) release production news via their YouTube channel. The public finds the free features extremely appealing (myself included), and so do indie artists who can’t afford thousands of dollars for a marketing campaign that could reach potentially millions of people.

However, for all that’s good, just like with anything else, the scope and scale of this phenomenon have created some dark sides.

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For example, there’s no rating system, G, PG, etc., so it’s criminally easy for your 4-year-old to stumble on recorded game play of Doom or Five Nights at Freddy’s. (And for those of you who claim, “Well, parents should be watching their children,” let’s see you stick by that argument when it’s either race to the bathroom or wet the floor, and your misbehaving, headstrong preschooler will climb the furniture to grab the stashed remote while you’re literally indisposed.) While plenty of contributors do keep their uploads clean and family friendly, there are just as many who don’t consider that necessary, nor do they leave a note on their channel that what they post may not be appropriate for all audiences.

Yes, there are parental controls available on a variety of devices, and we don’t have to let our children watch certain things; but as the “parent network,” YouTube should bear some of the responsibility. After all, the major broadcasters — NBC, PBS, FOX, HBO, etc. — either relegate more mature viewing to hours when small ones are in bed, or they advertise all over the place that particular shows aren’t meant for those of us under age 18. We genuinely can’t say we weren’t warned about The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones.

YouTube doesn’t appear to have the same concerns about their viewers that traditional TV networks do. The trad folks are very aware of lawsuits and fines and even threats of jail time. And, yes, they’re doing “the right thing” primarily to keep their business earning money; but at least they’re following a code of values that most of us feel pretty good about — and if we don’t, we always have the option not to watch.

Do we have the option to block or turn off YouTube as well? Of course. Though with this platform becoming ever more prevalent, that’s growing slightly difficult.

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Because YouTube is now featuring many “regular people” contributors who have hit it big on their platform, children especially are very attracted to the “kids just like me” they see in a lot of these videos. One of Muffin’s favorites is Ryan’s Toy/Family Review, which is run by an Asian-American family in California, that has gone from posting 10-minute videos of their son playing with new toys to a multi-million-dollar empire of several channels on YouTube, a line of toys and clothing being sold at major retailers, and enough income for the parents to quit their jobs and build a new house. Yes, you read all of that right. As a parent myself, I have some serious moral qualms about what this level of fame at such a young age (the “star,” Ryan, is only 7 years old!) might do later in life, but I’m evidently in the minority. Lots of families are coming up with concepts for their children to film and upload, and actively help them do so. The hope, I’m sure, is that one day they all end up with a similar situation to Ryan.

All Muffin knows about Ryan is that the kids are playing with lots of fun toys and seem to be having a blast, and there’s no swearing or violence or anything that Mummy finds objectionable, so he is allowed to watch it as often as he wants.

And when faced with the alternative of something horribly inappropriate, I know I will keep letting him choose Ryan.

I’d be lying, though, if I didn’t add that I pray this family knows what they’re doing.

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What happens if, one day, YouTube executives wake up and decide they don’t need certain channels anymore? What happens to the celebrity families who have now made this platform their career and sole form of wages? How hard would the transition be back to an “average” lifestyle? For the kids as well as the adults?

And, as a child of the 1980s, I remember all too well hearing about former “child stars,” young actors and actresses and musicians that my generation grew up with and admired, getting arrested or checking into rehab, again, or dying from some tragic, preventable occurrence. In another decade or so, will that be the fate of the current YouTube-famous tweens with 1.1 million subscribers?

Unfortunately, only time will tell. But if we hit the year 2025 and all of today’s YouTube kid stars are happily married with a rescue dog and tons of security guards around their inground pool and giant Lego playhouse, then I’ll thank God.

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I let White Fang start his own YouTube channel a couple of years back, and it was mostly to post videos of himself playing Minecraft to share with his friends. He has around 200 subscribers, last I knew, and while he hasn’t updated it in a long time, it still exists, and he may go back to it one day. He’s proud of what he did accomplish, in terms of learning how to use his camera to film the videos, upload them, and be brave enough to share his passion with others.

He’s also found some of the most inspiring and talented individuals by getting involved with the Minecraft and Warriors fan communities on YouTube. Captain Sparklez, anybody? TryHardNinja? And Rainimator has taken the Minecraft community by storm (his work even inspired a character White Fang helped me design for The Order of the Twelve Tribes world.)

And many famous YouTubers are kind and generous; ToyLabTV (they make Jurassic Park styled less-scary dinosaur videos for younger kids) recently hosted a family whose sick child’s “wish” (through the Make A Wish Foundation) was to film a video with them. (Just thinking about that gets me choked up.)

So, YouTube itself is far from evil. But in a world that didn’t even imagine it would be in all our homes until, suddenly, it is, I think we’re still in the infancy of learning just how all this may go.

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entertainment, pop culture, Science fiction

My House Has Become Jurassic World

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There’s something about dinosaurs. We can’t deny it. They are magnificent, terrifying, fascinating creatures, that we’re drawn to again and again, despite the fact they’ve been gone from our world for literal ages. It’s why we keep making and watching movies about them eating people who should’ve known better than to go back to the island, buying the unrealistically plush toys of what were giant reptiles, reading picture books featuring caricatures of the incredible beasts doing silly things to our children.

White Fang was really into dinosaurs for a few years; now it’s Muffin’s turn. For the last few months, we’ve had to endure his wanting to watch videos about dinosaurs (finding non-bloody footage can be a challenge, unfortunately), to browse the toys at stores, to read primarily books about — you guessed it — dinosaurs.

Yesterday, I allowed him a bit of a splurge. And I made him narrow it down, so that caused some friction, since he, of course, wanted them alllllll. Anyway, in the end, we survived, and left the store with 3 new Jurassic World toys (age appropriate, naturally).

And so began the transition my household is making — into becoming Jurassic Park.

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On the drive home, occasionally the T-Rex (batteries included) would roar at us from her packaging in the back seat. A snide comment on my driving? “Shut up,” I told her.

Toby was not pleased to meet the intimidating IndoRaptor — although she merely used her hooked claws to pet him.

As I tried to complete an online search for freelance work, roars and pounding feet from T-Rex dominated the other side of the table.

After Muffin went to bed, I found T-Rex behind the hearth gate — apparently that’s Paddock 9, in my living room.

This morning, somewhere around 6:30, I was woken by the growls and hisses of IndoRaptor.

Welcome to the park, everybody. Please keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times.

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As of last night, White Fang and I have seen all of the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World movies. While we’re very aware of the more serious consequences of, for example, cloning an ancient top predator and inadverently releasing it into the world, we also agree that the idea of a dinosaur theme park is pretty freaking cool.

Riding in the gyroscope to view herds of triceratops and brontosaurs in their habitat would be awe-inspiring. Buying the plush stegasaurus in a gift shop a mere half mile from where you could see the real thing seems just brilliant.

White Fang and I agreed: It’s really simple — only breed herbivores. Because if you also breed man-eating carnivores, then you are asking for trouble. It’s pretty obvious by now (more than 20 years and 5 films into the canon).

And yet…we keep seeing it happen.

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Small children have their plastic raptors and T-Rexs go head to head on playgrounds and in classrooms across the country. There’s all the sense of adventure and excitement, without any of the serious bloodshed and demise.

Is that why screenwriters and movie directors keep coming up with new hybrids to, er, hy-breed? Because of that fascination with the possibilities? In humans, does it overcome even the urge for self-preservation?

I won’t even touch on the ethics of all this. That is a discussion for another time, other circumstances.

For the moment, my house is about to be overrun with dinosaurs.

And I don’t really mind.

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entertainment, family

Multimedia Thoughts: How We Watch What We Watch

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This may seem like a very 21st century, first-world-problem type of thing. While it’s true that television and film are considered a luxury, something we can live without, the fact is that most of us don’t. Radio changed the civilized world by spreading news and culture to all areas of the globe; next, television pushed the boundaries even farther. Now we’re into an era of the internet playing a major role in transmitting TV shows.

I have to admit something: While I regularly use the internet for a lot of things — obviously, since you’re reading this blog via email or a search engine — I am not sold on the idea of trying to watch TV through a laptop or cell phone. My tepid feelings towards the matter arise from a combination of factors. Partly, it’s because I don’t have enough devices to just dedicate one to Hulu or Netflix — I have to be able to use the computers for a variety of tasks, at any given time. Also, there are wifi “cold spots” in our house — rooms where the wifi just refuses to work — so that complicates things as well.

And there’s the old quandary of what one person likes to watch, another can’t stand. It’s why a second television set became so popular in many American households. Stuff that’s now common in our world, that was supposed to make our lives easier.

Does it really, though?

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When you go to the cinema, it’s so straightforward: You buy a ticket, walk into the building, sit down in the theater, the lights go down, and you employ good manners for the benefit of the rest of the audience, and just watch the film as it appears on the screen. Someone else is taking care of the technology applied to making this event happen. You willingly paid to enjoy it. It’s a win-win.

With cable or even just basic TV, you simply press a few buttons, and, boom, you know who’s about to lose the playoffs or what’s on Nature that night. Since networks tend to keep to a schedule, I can force my family into permitting me a chance to veg by reminding them that Jeopardy! is only on at 7:30 Monday through Friday.

If you find yourself saying, “But there’s nothing on” (trust me, that’s me as well), streaming can seem very appealing. Sign on to your device, click open your account, scroll down for a show you know you like and haven’t been able to view lately. Your internet bill paid up? Then just sit down and catch up. Or, if your device is portable, you can be finishing the laundry or starting dinner while you discover if those characters finally got together or broke up.

Of course, with cable often comes the option of recording a broadcast to your box, or calling up previously aired shows On Demand. I LOVE the On Demand feature. It means fewer commercials, and the same exact episode I missed the night, the week, the month before. With streaming services, time limits for viewing might be more strict. All this summer, I watched reruns of The X-Files from every single season ever made at the touch of a button, no additional fees. It was a beautiful thing.

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And tons of TV shows (new and old) are on DVD now, and usually can easily be ordered through the public library system, either for free or a small rental price. And if you’re squeamish about cinema ticket costs, Redbox is awesome. It’s similar to the old Blockbuster stores, but cheaper, and you don’t even have to have internet. You just go to the literal box near the supermarket checkout, use cash or a credit card, get a physical DVD, and then bring that home to your player or computer. No worrying about if the streaming konks out during viewing.

We order DVDs from Netflix for this specific reason; streaming can be unreliable, and more expensive. Netflix’s monthly charges break down to pennies a day, for the privilege of no due dates, short waiting lists for new releases, and the ability to lie on the floor in your pajamas while being entertained. And if a disc is damaged, you get a replacement for free. I’ve heard horror stories about people being out of pocket and out of luck for Amazon Prime screwups.

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So, while I may be considered “old-fashioned” when it comes to how I watch what I watch, I’m not sure I care. Yes, cable packages have become expensive…but so has the other way. I simply don’t have the money to purchase cell phones and tablets — and pay a monthly data plan bill –for every person in my household. It doesn’t feel convenient; it doesn’t feel “easier.”

It is just plain a good thing for my children to learn to wait patiently for the TV to be open. For them to skip the cinema and anticipate the cheaper DVD release. For them not to have a laptop or cell phone or tablet until they’re in high school. And for them to be aware they will not shrivel up and die without immediate access to all of the trending things every waking moment.

Yes, advancements in machinery and electronics have definitely made our lives better in a lot of ways. But let’s not forget that people are ultimately running the machines. And that connecting with each other is still important.

We still need to take the whole family to the store, have everyone pick out their snacks, and stand in front of a selection of DVDs, debating which one to choose. Then arrange enough room on the couch and recliner and beanbags for everybody, and make sure the dog isn’t blocking the TV screen. Then put the disc in the DVD player, turn the lights off, and the sound up, and tell the kids to stop poking one another. And let the old-fashioned magic wash over us as the previews begin.

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books, entertainment, movies, Science fiction

Virtual Unreality

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So, last night we watched Ready Player One. (I attempted to read the book as part of The Great American Read challenge at our local library, and did not get past page 100). While I’d like to think of myself as still “cool” (hopefully people still use that word to describe the state of being, otherwise my entire argument shall be moot), I found the idea of this story very, very difficult to get into.

It had nothing to do with the video gaming or virtual reality aspects, or the 1980s references. I’m a child of the 80s myself, I get most of those references. (See, I’m cool — I’m retro.) But what I struggled with was the very premise — apparently the world has finally gone to hell, the economy has tanked, the country is poverty-stricken…but everybody spends 90% of their time in an online VR world, that is supposedly offered free of charge to get started? To the general public, in a nation that now has no jobs, no GDP, evidently no trade or exports, and civilization nowhere other than…Columbus, Ohio?? Erm, o-kayyyy…

With the book, I had major issues with the narrator, too; I didn’t find him sympathetic or a kid that I could root for. I honestly found him stuck-up and arrogant, and a crude little knucklehead, and wanted him to fail. And the writing style got on my nerves; when a novel begins in a first person deep POV format, but within 10 pages strays to a journalistic-type article — including footnotes! — to explain all the background behind the VR game and why everybody wants a piece of it… Well, my eyes glazed over, and I began losing any hope of this book and I getting along.

However, that aside, I knew the rest of my household was excited about seeing the movie, and I was outvoted in that regard. Plus, last night, I was tired, and grumpy, and didn’t even feel like trying to read. I was in one of those funks, after having had a frustrating week. So, Ready Player One it was.

Now, my quibbles about the (extremely flawed and somewhat unrealistic) premise put on the back burner, the film is absolutely stunning to watch. Purely from a graphics perspective, it is eye candy art in its highest form. And I didn’t even know Simon Pegg was in it; I am utter trash for Pegg’s geek work, so once I discovered that, my mood immediately began to lift. And once you get past all the (unnecessary) info-dumping that’s in the novel, the storyline is decent.

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But I had to keep forcing myself not to focus on the extremely unrealistic aspects of the setting and plot. The story is only set in 2045, which is not so far in the future that it could be entirely unrecognizable to us modern humans. The Oasis, the online server, was, according to this tale, developed and released around 2025. Less than 10 years from now, the chances of the next big tech thing coming out of anywhere other than Silicon Valley or Tokyo is downright laughable.

About 6 months ago, I watched a program on, I think it was the National Geographic channel, or one of their affiliates, about the present and future of Silicon Valley, and the CEOs for Microsoft, etc. that they interviewed announced, firmly and without doubt, that the days of nerds developing revolutionary hardware in their garages is gone. Nowadays, college students who want to become IT engineers are falling all over each other to get to New York and Los Angeles.

The novel was published in 2012, which was after Zuckerberg became one of the youngest billionaires ever by changing our world with Facebook. Microsoft and Sony and gaming companies in Japan are working really hard at making virtual reality as advanced as it was in Ready Player One. But it is expensive, and takes time, and hardworking and well-trained staff. While I’m not ruling out that someone could come up with a way to crack the barrier on their own (as happens in the story), it’s highly, highly unlikely. Also, the notion of it being a socially awkward middle-aged nerd (as the author’s tech genius is) really doesn’t seem plausible.

Since the new generation (teenagers now) have grown up with the internet and technology advancing at a consistent (almost frenetic, to some) pace, I just can’t see, in the year 2025, someone releasing a VR gaming server being utterly shocking and taking over society. The idea behind this modern fiction feels so…flimsy.

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And then there are…the 80s references. I can say with a fair amount of certainty: The 80s are not considered “cool” anymore. I truly cannot envision fashions, music, or movies from that decade coming back into style. The 80s are something that make our kids look at us in confusion or roll their eyes disdainfully. Nobody gets the significance of standing outside somebody’s house holding up a boombox these days; in fact, who even knows what a “boombox” was? And that behavior is no longer viewed as an out-of-the-box way to apologize to your girlfriend; now it’s referred to as stalking.

This is one of those stories where it pays to just sit back and go along with the ride, and not dig too deep under the surface.

But that gets me wrapped in a knot, too — who exactly was the intended audience? I can’t help but wonder if Ernst Cline (the author of the novel) was aiming for an atmosphere of nostalgia, rather than near-future realism. You can’t even classify this tale as dystopia, since we’re not given enough information on the surrounding world, the government, the problems existing outside of where the narrator is immediately located. It’s so concentrated on the Oasis/VR/tech giant conspiracy motif as to be myopic.

I wouldn’t call this great fiction that’s designed to really make you think.

But it made the list of the top 100 books recommended for everyone to read at least once in their lifetime. (According to who? We haven’t figured out yet just how PBS determined what made the list and what didn’t.)

Stuff like that irks me. Sorry, folks.

And then, for all my effort, Simon Pegg was only in 20 minutes’ worth of the film. Oh, well. His performance was sterling (as he so often is).

A big component of the story does revolve around the digital world versus the real world, and I did like that the point was made: The digital world does not necessarily win out, no matter how appealing or enticing it may be. Temporarily escaping all your real life problems online does not make those problems go away; they will still be there when you log off. And the people you meet online might be very nasty in real life. Or they could be awesome — but you might never know if you don’t occasionally shut down the server.

In this age of global connectivity with the press of a button, we need to reshape our views on what makes a friendship, a community, a hobby. The world that we knew even 20 years ago is pretty much consigned to the history books. Whether that’s good or bad in the long run, we have yet to see.

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But since so much of the internet and building connections across the planet could be used for good, let’s start thinking of it that way. Let’s stop being the naysayers of the future, grouching about the fact “things aren’t how they were,” and accept that life is how it is now.

Instead of ruminating over what we’ve “lost,” think about what we could gain — greater understanding of each other, more friends and colleagues and a bigger human family.

And work on maintaining the stuff we really shouldn’t lose — like respect, dignity, trust, decency, and common sense.

The biggest takeaway, I feel, of a film about virtual reality should not be that technology is the enemy. Rather, it’s how we choose to use that technology that could let us down, or build us up.

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entertainment, television

The Trouble with Modern Television

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All right, prepare yourself for a whole lot of whinge, and potential spoilers. I’ll tell everybody right now, if you’re not caught up on the most recent seasons of Supernatural, Riverdale, or Grey’s Anatomy, there may be problems reading this post. Unless you don’t care about the spoilers for any of these shows. Or, er, others… Consider yourself well and truly forewarned…

So, not too long ago, I discussed how modern television programs are really letting me down. Maybe I’m feeling the effects of my age (being over 35). Maybe it’s because the TV I grew up on wasn’t yet riddled with plot device cliches, or character tropes we’d all seen a hundred times. The TV shows of the 1980s and 90s (and I was a kid then, folks, so I’m not that old) were, in terms of special effects, yes, rather lacking, compared to what we view today on our phones. However, most of the time, I didn’t care — because the TV shows I grew up with had plots that worked, characters that were endearing and easy to cheer for, writing that wasn’t chock full of overt political commentary, and stories that — if you were the creative sort yourself — made you want to write something that good.

The 90s was also the era in which we began to witness the major cultural problem of shows carrying on too long, just for the ratings/money, and the writers/directors/actors getting burned out, so the scripts turned to garbage, and the integrity of the whole program went downhill (at 50 miles an hour).

Unfortunately, it was also the era of current events issues beginning to enter the dialogue of sitcoms and dramas a little too much. While I’m not an expert on this particular medium of entertainment, as a writer, and a viewer, there’s plenty I observed, especially as an adult, and I shall be waxing lyrical about it here.

So, one of the concerns for parents when I was young was the idea that their kids would see, or hear, something on TV that, maturity-wise, they weren’t ready to. It was one of the main reasons programming over a PG-13 rating generally wasn’t broadcast until after 8 p.m., when really small people had gone to bed and wouldn’t be conscious for the possible swear words or brief shot of a woman in a bikini, or the scene where the cheating husband got murdered. Of course, this leads straight into my next point, that most of these things were edited, so that we’d only see the bikini for about 15 seconds, the murder would be intensely unrealistic, with some stunt guy just yelling, “Aaaahh!!” and falling down, and the worst anybody would say before 10 p.m. was, “Damn it, they got away!”

Now, before we get any further into this, I want to state, for the record, that I don’t approve of censorship. I don’t think simply banning an idea, or a style of filmmaking, or TV-show-making, is actually effective. (Generally banning something only makes people want to do it more, because apparently the human race is like that.) Are there things that I think are unnecessary in television programming? Absolutely. Do I think there are subjects/content that will appeal to a wide audience, but that should have their place and time (literally)? Yes.

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So, here we go, onto one of my chief complaints: In most PG-13-rated shows post-2010, there seems to be an intense lack of decency.

I’ll spot Riverdale on the stand as my Exhibit A in this case. For those of you who don’t know, Riverdale started as a show based loosely on the characters/setting from the Archie comics from the 1960s and 70s. As someone who never read the comics (who never read comics at all, apart from Peanuts and Garfield), I had no idea who the characters were or what their premise was. I did a little research prior to the season 1 premiere, and found that it was basically a classic example of high school life in the 1950s, very apple-pie, white-picket-fence, totally unrealistic middle-class America of a bygone age. I couldn’t see how any of this would relate to modern viewers, so I started watching, out of pure curiosity.

And I have to say, season 1 of Riverdale is brilliant. It takes all those metaphors I just used, and turns them on their head. It adds diversity, it shakes up the established culture of a small town in the middle of nowhere, with murder, conspiracy, corruption, and tons of drama. It’s juicy, it’s exciting, it’s a guilty pleasure. And throughout, we’re reminded that the main characters are just teens, dealing with stuff they shouldn’t have to, and their innocence being shattered is palpable to the audience. The cautionary tales that arise from putting themselves in dangerous situations is important to include, and rings true. 

Then the season ends on a cliffhanger (grrrrrr, STOP doing that, producers!!), and when we get more than a few episodes into season 2, we see it’s all going to the dogs. Teenagers are running around, vigilantes trying to solve crimes, carrying guns and joining gangs. The adults are either horrifically corrupt, disgustingly clueless, or have no backbone to stand up to the dark forces taking over their town. There’s a completely unnecessary amount of violence, nudity, and sex (among the adolescents). The plot makes no sense after half a dozen episodes. Well before the end of season 2 arrived, I was barely keeping up with the new broadcasts, and I’d grown so dissatisfied, I highly doubted I’d care if season 3 was announced. Well, it was, and here’s the verdict — I won’t be watching it.

Next on the evidence stand I present (sob!) Supernatural. I LOVED Supernatural. The relationship between the brothers, Sam and Dean, was awesome — plenty of sibling rivalry, they played pranks on each other, argued over not listening to the same album in the car again; then they’d go out monster hunting and absolutely have each other’s backs, no matter what. The fact these guys saved so many people, risked their lives countless times, literally died and came back more than thrice — all in the name of continuing to fight the good fight, it was so heartrending. And the secondary characters were all so good, too — their complicated past with their dad, John Winchester, their foster father, Bobby, the tragic loss of their mother early on; perilous love interests that proved to be bad for them, dodgy alliances with Crowley and Rowena, the twists of the angels not always being the good guys — all of it was just… Well, I kept watching this show for years.

And because of the subject matter — fighting demons, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and mythical monsters that liked to kill humans — we all knew this would be a program that would require a strong stomach. So, really, nothing they threw at the audience — in terms of blood and gore, epic demon battles, exorcisms, all the religious questions that naturally come with this territory — bothered me. I was either expecting it (and so at times would just look away from the screen), or I appreciated the writers’ willingness to tackle such topics as angels and demons, the fall of Lucifer, the war in Heaven, the Mark of Cain, whether God actually hears our prayers, Purgatory, resurrection, and so much more. For a long time, this was the only show on mainstream TV that was discussing such things.

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Then season 11 happened. And I basically stopped watching. Too much occurred in the plot that didn’t just pose interesting muses on theology — it took accepted doctrine (from both Christian and Jewish cultures) and threw it out the window. In a very non-subtle way. And then (from the few episodes I saw of season 12 and 13), the confrontational style only grew more intense. What Supernatural had going for it before — its lack of getting mired in the political soapboxes of the day — completely vanished by early 2017. And it made me sad.

How did a show that made me laugh out loud and cry like a baby — so often within the same episode — just disappear seemingly overnight? The actors are the same, the characters have the same names, but I swear, this is no longer the Supernatural I spent the past 5 years catching up on. Cue the tears of despair and frustration.

What drives earnest creative minds, who have survived the ravages of Hollywood’s limits and stringent censors, to walk away from something truly entertaining and beautiful that they fought so hard to write, act, direct, edit? Is it just the pressure of the industry, the fickleness of the public, the way money talks in this field and if you can’t get it, your production suffers? I think it’s a combination of all this, and something else, something new to our society.

While television has consistently been a platform for raising awareness of cultural issues that need to be addressed, never has the discussion been so one-sided as it is nowadays. Forcing actual comments in the media about gun control, the environment, or abortion into the dialogue of fictional characters is blatantly attempting to brainwash your audience. What the hell happened to having a character who found themselves in a difficult situation — such as an unexpected pregnancy — and having the episode be about the options available to them, and how their decision might affect the other characters? Not simply, “The network says we have to present this view, so we are.” That is not the mark of a society that values free speech.

So, I honestly think part of the reason more balanced shows seem to be slipping out of the current schedule is because some of the people who make such programs are feeling burned out, and tired of fighting with the present network administrations. I have no proof of this, it’s just a theory. But it makes sense.

Here we come to my next big point in this treatise: People in the industry — writers, directors, actors, crew — do appear to be developing burn-out. Partly, the lack of new ideas on even the cable networks indicates the folks who come up with original stuff can’t find such a notion using satellite GPS and the Hubble telescope. And this usually means they are stressed, worn out, or traveling through India. My guess is it’s the first and second.

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So, here we come to my Exhibit C: Grey’s Anatomy.

I got into Grey’s Anatomy late — the end of season 12, to be precise. I was incredibly bored and tired during Muffin’s naptime, and I wanted to just get off my feet and ignore the chores for 2 hours. So I jumped on the streaming services, and found that people were flailing over the season finale of Grey’s, and I thought, “Hey, I’ve never seen this, why not?” A couple episodes into season 13, and I was hooked.

Then I began seeing various comments on social media, from long-time fans who were growing disillusioned with the show. I did a little research on the official Wiki site, and realized just how much I’d missed. So, about a month ago, I went to the library and checked out the DVDs of season 1-5.

And I can now concretely say, OH. MY. GOSH. The storylines were so much better in the early years, the writing and editing so powerful, the characters so alive and fully fleshed-out. I shipped folks, I gasped in shock, I burst out laughing, I wept. While there were some things I didn’t agree with (in terms of my own spiritual and social convictions), I honestly felt free to disagree with it, and just enjoy the rest of the show. Not that I was being coerced into seeing the issue from exactly the same point of view as perhaps the director, the writer, or the network.

However, in current broadcasting, now we are on to the end of season 14. And the bubble has burst.

Siiigghhh.

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The new TV season begins this fall, and here’s what I will be doing while it is on: Not watching it. I’ll be reading, or watching PBS (their nature and history programs are still pretty, remarkably unbiased), or surfing the internet. I’ll happily re-watch DVDs of old X-Files series, and movies I’ve seen a dozen times so I know I’ll enjoy it. I truly don’t feel I’ll miss out on anything.

Doctor Who lost me when they broke all the rules of time travel with the 11th Doctor. Making the 12th Doctor a nasty, angry “I’m with her” social commentary trope just made me mad. Now that it’s been set in stone the 13th Doctor will be a woman — playing straight into the hands of several current political agendas — I’m not even going to bother. Just to clarify — I have nothing against this actress, and I genuinely wish her the best, and hope she gets fantastic companions and scripts. But I am SO. TIRED. of having the news headlines shoehorned into what’s supposed to be entertainment.

When I watch TV or a film, I do it to escape. Yes, there are extremely important unpleasant stories that need to be told. But why do they have to hit you over the head with it? Why can’t we have nice metaphors and allegories, like in the original Star Trek, or Lord of the Rings?

I gave up on most dramas ages ago. I don’t even care for many historical fiction shows anymore. Same for a lot of sci-fi, even fantasy. And the last time I watched a sitcom — apart from 3 months ago, because there was one in particular I was curious about — was 7 or 8 years back.

Seriously, I. AM. DONE.

Thank you so much for making it to the end of this quite long post! Any thoughts to add in the comments?

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entertainment, television

My Newest Fandom (And Why I’m Not Even Ashamed)

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First off, to answer the above question, my newest fandom is The Walking Dead. And here’s why I’m not ashamed, though apparently I’m supposed to be: Because a major part of the subject matter is zombies, and apparently being a Christian and watching zombie films don’t go together.

Hmmm…well, yes, and no. Zombies are gross, there’s no denying that. Physically, because they’re dead, there’s a whole lot of natural decomposing going on that is icky. And, yes, disposing of them requires some messy and violent means. If you choose not to watch a program like The Walking Dead for personal reasons of not getting near the moments of yuck, you won’t hear any argument from me. (In fact, there have been scenes where I’ve had to look away from the screen, even knowing it’s all special effects.)

But I also find TWD fascinating and compelling, and I am totally hooked; the setting of a zombie apocalypse poses some extremely in-depth moral questions for the characters and the viewers.

Zombies are absolutely terrifying monsters — they have no human intelligence or soul left, you can’t reason with them or appeal to their “better nature.” They simply exist, and are driven purely by primal instrinct. The zombies of TWD are really stupid as well, with no sense of self-preservation; they’ll keep literally plowing forward, trying to eat you, even when there’s a tornado/cliff/truck/machete coming their way. (At least most animals run away from humans when threatened.) All of this creates monsters that you love to hate — and sometimes, almost feel sorry for.

And of course there’s the human survivors, the actual people. How do they get through such necessarily violent circumstances without losing their own humanity? In a world where ethics may no longer be black-and-white, where’s that line they can never cross?How do they find the strength to keep going? And for what purpose?

This is a story with plenty of gray areas, and I love that. White Fang started watching the show before I did (and, yes, I let him), and the number of serious discussions we’ve had in the last few months about right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, how to tell the difference, and what’s the line you just don’t step over is awesome. No, I don’t support all of the writer/director choices regarding certain content, and I explain that to him. And if he was any younger, I’d say, no way, you’re waiting to watch this show.

But I am actually glad he introduced me to it. I’ve seen the ads for years, always cringed at the zombies (it’s far from my favorite genre), and never tried it myself. Eventually, though, I began to wonder — based on the fan references I’d come across on social media — if I was missing out on something.

Part of the reason I started watching the DVDs of past seasons with White Fang was parental duty; part of it was curiosity.

I have gone from literally peering between my fingers at the screen, to yelling at the top of my lungs, “GET AWAY FROM THEM, YOU CREEP!” In a totally fangirl way.

Here are some reasons why… (Disclaimer: I promise nothing about avoiding possible spoilers. If you’re behind on the current season, consider yourself forewarned.)

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Daryl Dixon is amazing. If Daryl was a real person, I’d 115-million percent want him in my corner. He’s flawed, he has regrets, he’s not that great at opening his heart. But he is still INCREDIBLE. He never lets the odds beat him. He KEEPS GOING, no matter what. Most of his struggles are private, which can make getting close to him a little tough, but when it really counts, he turns into open book. And while he’s an ACE with that crossbow, and knives, and guns, he doesn’t take joy in killing the zombies, and certainly not in killing people. He’s great with kids, isn’t after tawdry flings, and has some of the most endearing brotherly relationships with most of the other main characters.

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Carl. Just, Carl. Watching this young man grow (the character and the actor) through the seasons is just…wow. The son of the major protagonist, Sheriff Rick Grimes, Carl goes from being a slightly babied-by-his-in-denial-mother kid to a maturing teenager who can really hold his own. The recent (mid-season 8) plot twist with Carl had White Fang sobbing like a baby. I got plenty choked up myself — but mostly because of the legacy Carl will have, rather than concentrating on the moment of tragedy.

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In this story, not all romances are insta-love or simply lust. Take Rick and Micchone, seen above. There are fans massively shipping them (White Fang and I included), but no one would say that their road to potential romance was obvious. They weren’t even sure they could trust each other at the start, and over time their friendship developed, and then a deeper bond became clear, and it’s all so…lovely. Rick is a widower by the time Micchone enters the story, and she was out there, surviving the zombie apocalypse all on her own, with her kick-butt samuari sword and her wits. They both needed something greater than their sole purposes in this life. And watching them come to rely on one another, and how Micchone won’t hesitate to put Rick in his place (which sometimes he really needs) is great.

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Platonic male-female relationships abound. The wonderfully sweet bond Daryl and Carol have is my exhibit A. Carol was an abused housewife, so trusting others, especially men, doesn’t come easy to her early on. As her friendship with Daryl grows, we see absolute proof that love comes in many forms, and not everything on TV has to end with a fade-to-black bedroom scene. Carol and Daryl’s bond is much more like an aunt-nephew type, and they both gain tons from their friendship. (So do the viewers.)

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There’s still hope. Optimism for the future is epitomized by Carl’s little sister, Judith, who’s born after the zombie apocalypse has started. Of course she’s innocent and knows nothing of the seedier aspects required of those around her to keep them all alive. But at a time when things are pretty damn bleak, Judith’s very presence reminds us not to give up, to hold onto faith, to hope. To the thought that one day we can get through all this crap, and make life better for our children.

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A good example of a Christian on a mainstream program. This would be Ezekiel, leader of Kingdom, a settlement that’s trying to provide survivors with a “normal” life. Ezekiel doesn’t turn to violence first, he shows compassion to his enemies, and encourages people to become more than they believe they can. He’s also not preachy, he leads by example of his own behavior. I so love that.

And, yes, he has a pet tiger, Shiva. She’s CGI, but she rocks.

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Not all the villains are completely evil. The Governor really is, and I skipped several episodes from season 4 because I simply couldn’t stand seeing any more of him. And Terminus…well, seeing that go up in literal flames was purely justice. And the Wolves…well, aaaaarrrrgggghhhh. And I’m still on the fence regarding Jaydis…

However, the character of Negan, whom many fans find downright despicable and are eagerly awaiting his exit, is one I find excellent for demonstrating gray areas. Yes, he is not a hero, he has made some extremely dodgy moves, and he was introduced as a source of conflict for our protagonists. But the thing I love about Negan’s character is (and the actor deserves BUCKETLOADS of credit for portraying this brilliantly) the number of complex levels to him. The possibility for redemption is huge with this one. As much as Darth Vader, I’m telling you. (I could probably write a whole post about this subject on its own.)

So, while I understand that not everyone will appreciate this fandom, I stand by my place in it.

And, for the record… My weapon of choice would be the crossbow. And if I got bitten, I’d want Daryl to take me out.

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children's television, entertainment, family, television

I Give Up (Or, Why I’m Basically Done with Television for the Forseeable Future)

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(Yes, this is the face Toby gives most cable shows. He has good taste.)

So, a while back I was griping about how far downhill (try the bottom of the cliff, in many respects) the medium of TV shows as a whole has gone. At least, in my opinion. I don’t like “reality” programs (since most of them are faked by wannabe actors, anyway), or stuff like “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race”; I don’t care for police procedurals or most medical dramas (anything that can fall into the formulaic tropes way too easily); the only sitcom I’ve watched in the past 10 years is “The Big Bang Theory.”

Within the last couple years, there have been lots of shows I was watching that ended (and some of these none too soon, I felt), that evidently the whole world except for me is watching and I “need” to (but I’m not), and others that have been on the air for years but I only recently started watching.

Here’s a breakdown of my feelings about the whole situation:

I do not like television in 2018.

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After being thrown for a loop with the series finales of “Castle” (what was that?!) and “Chuck” (still sobbing), the intense downward spiral in quality for “Supernatural” and “The Big Bang Theory,” and the incredibly unfair cancellation of “Houdini and Doyle,” I feel let down by the industry as a whole.

I could live with the end of “Grimm,” because the writers and directors did a great job of sticking to one, meaningful storyline in the last episodes, and making the most of character development and creating a satisfying conclusion. “Nashville,” on the other hand, which had reached a perfect ending prior to its cancellation and then immediate reboot by another network — which has ruined the whole thing — is crossed right off my list.

I actually got into “Grey’s Anatomy” about a year ago — yes, in the middle of season 13. I’m aware this is more than arriving late to the party — it’s the equivalent of running in the door when most of the guests are moving towards the parking lot. But I did something I rarely do — I fell for the hype. I’d seen ads for this show for years, and never thought about it twice. Okay, slight lie — twice, since Patrick Dempsey used to be in it, and he is just unapologetically handsome. However, he’d already left the program by the time I tuned in (oh, well), and I’m beginning to see why he wanted out of his contract.

So, very shortly here, my modern experiment with a medical drama will be over as well.

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Although betrayal seems like too harsh a word to use when it comes to television, I have to admit, regarding “Supernatural,” I feel betrayed. For the last few years, it’s been my go-to example of excellent writing, directing, character development, and how to keep a weekly-episode show going for 10-plus years without losing your fan base. Now it’s become my primary example of how to screw all that up. Last week I caught a rerun of an episode from season 5, and there was absolutely no comparison to the season 13 episode I saw the week before. I just can’t anymore with this train wreck (crying).

Then there are the superhero shows — “The Flash,” “Arrow,” etc — that apparently have to include some sort of political statement in every single episode. Some are bigger offenders than others (I’m looking right at you, “Supergirl” and “Black Lightning”), but this entire group has become way too liberally-charged for my liking. Whatever happened to telling a story for the sake of telling a good story — and if there was a message to it, it was one that could resonate with lots of people, not just those who subscribe to a particular, inflexible ideology?

Even my pleasant surprises of last year, “Riverdale” and “The Good Doctor,” are failing me. “Riverdale” has quickly progressed from kind of unrealistic to wholly impossible and overdramatized, and “The Good Doctor” is focusing far too much on the other characters and using Dr. Murphy’s autism as baiting for not understanding social graces or being intolerant. That last bit flat out destroys me.

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And if we could, for just a minute, discuss children’s television? What in the world has happened to the Disney channel? I’m not going to encourage Muffin to turn on Disney Jr now that they’re broadcasting a show about a preschool vampire. Excuse me?! 

And White Fang gave up on Nickelodeon — which was the standard of acceptable teen programming for years — ages back. Their resurgence of live-action, scripted shows, such as “The Thundermans” and “Henry Danger,” that were slightly goofy but still fine in terms of clean humor and covering appropriate topics. But even those have become too far-fetched and just plain silly. Yes, White Fang is now 15, and his viewing tastes will be different than they were in middle school. But, still. Even something that’s aimed at 6-10-year-olds needs to make sense.

 

So, we will happily binge library DVDs of shows that were cancelled before 2005.

And I have no regrets about what we may, or may not, have missed in primetime.

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