Category Archives: Making Fun of Pop Culture
C3P0 is the poster child for a minor science fiction trope that doesn’t pop up super-often, but never fails to make me cringe and grind my teeth simultaneously whenever it does: intelligence and/or education (an encyclopedic robot brain is an acceptable stand-in for either) represented by the character knowing the exact odds of the possible outcomes of whatever is going on in the story.
I hate it so much.
One, it’s an anti-intellecual sop. The wimpy brainiac worries about failure and would never try but OH WAIT HERE IS THE SAVIOR HE WILL SAVE US WITH HIS AWESOME TACTIC OF NOT BEING SMART BECAUSE SMART SUCKS.
I really, really hate that message. I have hated it since I was a small child in elementary school being teased by my classmates for my habit of reading constantly, with “hey Einstein” and “hey professor,” which were meant as insults. Because what could be more awful than being a genius or an educator, am I right?
Two, it makes no damn sense. Reliable odds are for things that are predictable and fairly simple, like a lottery. If there are a million scratch-off tickets in circulation and one of them is a $100,000 prize winner, you can definitely say the chances of winning $100,000 by buying one is one in a million.
But look, C3P0. You can’t deliver precise odds of navigating an asteroid field. Too many variables. Like, how do you know the density of asteroids in this particular field? Or in this spot in this field? Or, you know, all their orbits? Or whether Han will sneeze and miss seeing a threat? Or whether his rickety-ass spaceship will have an engine hiccup at the wrong moment?
C3P0 is guessing. Anyone can guess, just ask a bookie. And maybe that’s the joke, that C3P0 is just guessing and only thinks he’s smart because he’s educated. And now we’re back to anti-intellectualism and anti-education and anti-expertise. And you’ve seen what those have done for us lately.
From a recent visit to the Chrysler Museum of Art. Humans pictured are family, not random passersby.
So, we stopped to pay homage to that not-quite-most-modern of gods, Television. Its younger sibling Internet was nowhere to be found, but maybe the artist will work on that next.
I’m not sure Lord Television qualifies as king, though. There’s its parent, or perhaps grandparent, Money.
Usually people are sneering when they talk about worship of television and money. When it really is worship, there’s plenty to sneer at and I do. But like those most ancient gods Fire and Story, the reality is more complex.
Isn’t it always? We try to simplify, and the universe laughs.
I’m a big fan of Story. And Book. Fire, too, because light and cooking and all the things made of metal and plastic. But I digress.
I can say I appreciate those gods. Revere some, like Story and Book. Internet, too, if I’m gonna be honest.
I spend a lot of time with them. And that’s where worship comes in. You can say plenty about what constitutes worship, but the basis is time spent and the devotion of attention and thought.
Lots of my time and attention and thought goes into Story and Book. Certainly into Internet – – have you seen how much I tweet? You should see how much I read there.
And I do end up giving what feels like too much time to mighty Television. Maybe I’m a worshiper of that one, too.
If we manage to nuke ourselves to extinction, alien archeologists will likely wonder if our televisions and computers aren’t altars.
They won’t be far wrong.
Back in the days when I read more superhero comix, and today when I watch a movie with a flying superhero — especially one with some kind of ranged attack, IRON MAN I’M LOOKING AT YOU — I’m super annoyed when they just happen to fly low enough for an opponent with no ranged attack to grab or hit them.
JUST FLY HIGHER, DUMMY.
“But the plot requires me to get close enough to let my opponent start a thrilling grapple…”
SHUT UP THAT’S LAZY-ASS WRITING.
Same goes for every drama that features a standoff with a gun and the hero stands there holding the gun on the villain as the villain creeps closer and closer until they can just grab the gun. It rarely makes sense. If there’s something about the character holding the gun that makes it make sense, fine. Maybe they’ve just realized that they can’t bring themselves to shoot another human being. Or there’s some overriding reason that shooting and maybe killing the villain would be a terrible idea.
But that’s so seldom the case. More often than not, it’s a contrived situation to up the tension.
Don’t be lazy and write things that don’t make sense. If you want more tension or whatever, and it doesn’t make sense, GO BACK AND WRITE IT DIFFERENTLY SO IT MAKES SENSE.
If the tiger catches the drone, make sure there’s some internal logic to it.
If I wrote Donald Trump as a character, he would never fly outside of overt satire. “He’s too one-dimensional, too absurdly over the top, too poorly conceived. But worst of all, he’s just a trope. In fact, you threw every major supervillain trope but one together and called it done.”
You’d be right, too.
First trope: he thinks he’s the hero. But usually the villain has a rationale for thinking so that makes sense. Like Magneto, out to save the mutants from the humans. But Trump is no Magneto. Trump isn’t that well thought out of a character. More like Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, Trump thinks he’s the hero simply because he is himself. But Mr. Burns is a satirical character, representing greed and the blindness of old money to the daily concerns of the poor and the workers and the middle class. A serious character in a serious story needs to have more to him, and Trump doesn’t.
Trump is a sore loser AND an ungracious winner, which is both a villain trope and a bully trope. Fine, plenty of villains are bullies and vice-versa. There’s nothing too wrong with giving a villain both of these traits; they’re common enough in the real world among assholes. The only real problem is just throwing them willy-nilly in with the rest of the package of tropes without any real justification. Why is Trump a sore loser and an ungracious winner? Because he was raised a spoiled rich brat and has never known being denied everything he ever wanted? That doesn’t wash – Trump HAS been denied things he wants. He has lost properties and yachts and control of businesses because of corporate bankruptcies forced by runaway, mismanaged debt. He began his business life by blowing a million dollar loan and having to appeal to his dad to pull strings to get him tens of millions of dollars in credit, which credit line he promptly maxed out, requiring his dad to give him millions more to bail him out. He’s had opportunity to learn, but apparently hasn’t learned from any of his forty-plus years of experiencing denial and defeat. It’s just not a credible backstory for the character. It’s poor writing.
His self-absorbed egotism and lack of empathy, again, aren’t unbelievable in and of themselves. They’re just so over the top, so glaring. Cartoonish, even. Like reacting to the destruction of the Twin Towers on 9/11 by saying he now has the tallest building in the city. Who the hell would be THAT bereft of humanity? Outside of satire, nobody is going to buy that. Especially if this Trump character is supposed to be a savvy villain. Would Lex Luthor be stupid enough to say something that obviously self-absorbed, even if he believed it? In private, maybe. But TO A JOURNALIST IN A TAPED INTERVIEW? Too cartoonish, outside of maybe a one-shot comic issue where there’s no time for any subtlety or nuance at all.
He’s frequently driven by anger and mocks others for inborn characteristics like disability or physical appearance. SERIOUSLY, COME ON. Those are traits of nameless thug characters, not of big bosses. To be a believable major villain, they have to have some shred of self-control. They can’t just be lashing out randomly every time they don’t like someone. Plus it doesn’t really fit well with the ‘believes he’s the hero’ trope. Again, that trope requires at least a veneer of self-control that this ridiculous Trump character so obviously lacks.
But somehow, he harbors grudges, often for years, over setbacks both minor and major. If he’s so out of control he can’t help but mock a reporter for having a withered arm or resurrect a twenty-year-old feud with an actress over an entirely unconnected matter, how the hell is he focused enough to hold on to all these long-term grudges and plot revenge?
And on top of all that, he’s also blind to major portions of reality. He imagines himself winning when he’s losing. He calls abject business failures – by the way, bankrupting casinos during a gambling industry boom? Failing to sell VODKA, STEAKS, AND FOOTBALL in the United States? Who’s going to believe that shit? – victories. He thinks he’s suave and professional when all he has to do is watch his own interviews to see differently. He thinks he’s an opinion leader when he constantly changes his opinion on every position he’s ever taken.
It’s all too much. Way, way too much. All this isn’t needed to establish a character as a villain, unless he’s deliberately written to be a campy parody. And it’s not even subtle enough for that. There’s a point where the reader says, “this is all too crude and clumsy. It’s not interesting. It’s a mere catalog of assholery. This writer should have just written a listicle entitled “Ten Ways To Be A Total Prick” because I’m not buying the character AT ALL.
And after all that, what is this villain’s nefarious plan? To become the President of the United States and… not do the job. That’s it. To hand the whole job to the Vice President and travel around the country being a cheerleader, giving rah-rah speeches. Really. That’s the big revenge.
What’s the missing trope, you ask?
Trump isn’t a casual killer.
As far as we know.
There’s always the danger of being wrong when making a prediction. I’m well acquainted with that risk — I write science fiction. My entire job is making up cool stories on a foundation of predictions that are probably wrong.
So when I predict that Trump will withdraw from the race with a Scooby-Doo quote, I’d be flabbergasted to be completely, literally correct.
But I do expect to be substantially correct — but what is that supposed to mean? Is it a cop-out?
Let me explain with an example.
Take the H.G. Wells “scientific romance” of 1901, The First Men in the Moon. In it, Wells imagines the invention of a fantastic metal called “cavorite” which naturally rises. His heroes make a vessel out of cavorite, fly to the moon, and have an adventure among the native “Selenites,” their “moon calves,” and so on and so forth.
Wells figured that as technology advanced, people would want to go explore the moon. So he made up a story about it. The details are way wrong, which is almost inevitable when you’re predicting future discoveries that are unknowns to the age in which you’re writing. But the meat of it is right: people wanted to explore the moon, we figured out how, and some people went and took a look around the moon.
Similarly, I figure Trump is going to flake. Flaking is his whole history. He has a ‘great’ idea, pursues it like a monomaniac, overdoes and misunderstands a bunch of things about it, the idea goes sour, and he finds a reason to back out and a way to leave with enough money in his pocket that he gets to go on being rich (which I figure probably has more to do with the skills of the lawyers and accountants he retains than his dodgy business acumen). He did it with his casinos and his vodka and his steaks and his home financing company and his “University” and his football league and his water and his airline and… yeah. We’ll be here all day if we want to list everything.
Well, he’s had the ‘great’ idea to finally pull the trigger and run for President like he’s been hinting for the last 30 years or so. He has pursued it like a monomaniac through the primaries, going nuts on Twitter and at rallies, and has effectively won the nomination, being the last candidate standing as the primary season has come to a close. But he has overdone a bunch of things (like the racism and the hawkishness and the vitriol) and misunderstood others (like, apparently, how being President works, or anything about actual domestic or international policy). Now the idea is going sour. His polling numbers have plunged into the basement, his unfavorable rating is headed up into untrod territory for a presidential candidate, and the party he think has to fall in line behind him is getting alarmed as they realize the only ones behind Trump are the half of the Caucasian male GOP and 10% or less of any other demographic including undecided voters.
So the next step, after things go sour enough to penetrate Trump’s hair-helmet combover-weave-whateverthefuckthatis and skull and ego, is that he’ll flake on this grand adventure just like all the others. He’ll make up a few dozen excuses as to how it’s really a victory and he lost nothing doing it and in fact he’s ended up richer (though he’s “ended up richer” from a couple of dozen failures and somehow he doesn’t seem any richer than when his inheritance was new, but nevermind that) and it all proves that he’s a genius who is totally the best at everything kind of like the magic Kim dynasty of North Korea that Trump has expressed admiration of.
I think he’ll flake totally and quit in a snit and the excuses and defenses and “I’m a genius and my quitting proves it”s are going to fly. And he’ll do it before the formal vote of the general election proves how generally disliked and distrusted he really is.
So stay tuned. Maybe I’ll be wrong. But if I am, it’ll be in the particulars. People will go to the moon, and Trump will fail, quit, and make excuses.
OBESITY WILL KILL YOU!
With population levels stabilizing around the world and continued advances in technology that make producing, preserving, transporting, and eating food easier every year, the populations of all but the poorest countries — and even most of those! — have gotten fatter than ever.
SEVENTY-THREE PERCENT OF OF YOU ARE OBESE. FAT! YOU ARE FAT! FATNESS IS THE LEADING CAUSE OF DEATH IN ADULTS OVER TWENTY-EIGHT AND HAS BEEN SINCE 2071.
Only the incredible advances made by modern medicine in the last 50 years have prevented life expectancy from plunging below the sixty-year mark for the first time in the early 20th century.
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[The folks supporting me over on my Patreon page saw this 3 days before it was posted here — plus they have my seriously big and frequent thankyous for their generosity. Head on over and give a self-published indie author struggling for a break — me, silly! — a little love. Thanks!]
(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page on 14 February 2016. Becoming a patron means they get to see almost all of my posts three days before they appear here, and when I publish a short story they get to read it THIRTY days before anyone else, PLUS they can download a FREE .pdf copy EVEN IF I CHARGE FOR THE EBOOK. So if you’re not already part of my Patreon crew, you should be!)
2364: Jedi Heir to Crowdfund Mars Orbital Habitat
AP-MARS (Thoat Crossing Domeplex)
15 April 2364 UT-Earth
Mars-born asteroid-mine heir and ordained Church of The Force Master Jedi Arianna Musk-Aguinaldo announced the establishment of a systemwide GoKick crowdfunding campaign in an effort to construct a habitat devoted exclusively to members of the Church of The Force. Late last year Musk-Aguinaldo made headlines with her purchase of Mars-sychronous orbital rights from her own private funds, with the purpose shielded by a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with a maximum duration of three years and early disclosure limited to her and not to the government or officials of Mars.
Some financial and political experts believe that Musk-Aguinaldo intended to develop her orbital habitat concept in secrecy for the entire term of the NDA, but was prompted to take earlier action in response to a March 23rd security breach of MarsGov intranet, for which the infoterror group Full Transparency took credit.
The scope of the project is ambitious for a private effort, with a habitat ecology capacity of 250,000 individuals and plans to invite 25,000 initial occupants. Those occupants are expected to consist of individuals with strong networks within the church hierarchy, as their number represents only a small fraction of the Church of The Force’s estimated thirty million members throughout the solar system. When asked if the habitat would be open to skeptics or nonadherents to the church in the future, Aguinaldo-Musk stated that skeptics directly related to church members in good standing would be welcome, but individuals designated to be Dark Side by official action of the church would be excluded or exiled without exception. Also excluded would be members of or adherents to the schismatic Congregation of Lucas, Prophet, whose doctrines differ with the Church of The Force on doctrine regarding the divine inspiration of Star Wars movies beyond the Holy Sextet (Episodes I-VI) or inclusive of the Old Expanded Universe.
The Church of The Force’s teachings on shunning of those designated Dark Side have been controversial both historically and at present, as church Writs have been issued commanding the faithful to sever all contact with employers, spouses, and parents, or even to abandon adolescent children to foster care.
Habitat plans include a hydroponics district and wildlife preserve designated as “Dagobah,” a mixed urban and recreational parkland district of “New Alderaan,” a vacuum and cryonics laboratory named “Hoth,” and a contract with Mars Orbital Utility Solar (MOUS) to provide primary power (in addition to onboard fusion reactors) to the habitat via microwave laser.
I don’t pass along videos often, especially not hour-long satirical jabs at our most unfortunate current Presidential candidate, the USA’s answer to the UK’s nativist/racist UKIP party, Donald Trump.
But I do have a bit of political conscience, I genuinely believe that Trump presents a danger to the future of the US above and far beyond what any of the other candidates may pose, and I also believe that satire, like all storytelling, has a great potential to lift up the positive and dispel the negative.
And so in the spirit of dispelling a grave negative, I invite you to sit down and spend a little time watching Trump being lampooned in the spirit of The Great Dictator (although it cannot match the eloquence of that classic).
So, yeah. Crowdfunding for a hat to guard your head from electromagnetic rays. The copy on the kickstarter caters to the casual worrier about various electromagnetic effects entering the skull, but you can bet the hardcore conspiracy theorist will be happy to have access to a mind control ray blocking hat that looks like a normal hat.
They have a version for babies, too. How very precious. And hey, who doesn’t worry a bit about being exposed to the bath of radio waves and magnetic fields that have been a fact of life in most of the world for the last 75 years or so? With the explosion of cellular networks and computer-telephones that fit in the palm of your hand, we’re probably as electromagnetically-doused as ever. It’s a worrisome thought for many.
Unless you’re one of the people who think they can heal you. Oh, it’s so confusing. That’s how you end up with people buying hats to shield their brains from EM fields, and another group looking to EM fields for healing, yet another group worried about the magnetic fields things like house wiring creates, and still another group buying magnetic wraps for sore knees and elbows in the belief that magnetic fields naturally heal human bodies. And still other groups certain that the government is using mind control rays on them, or controlling the weather with cellular towers, and so on and so forth. It’s a confusing and complex world, and nobody knows everything. No matter how much you learn, you will be ignorant about many things, and mistaken about many others. It’s frustrating. And a bit scary. And some people deal with that by becoming certain that they can avoid problems if only they buy the right hat.
Funny thing about the hats, though. Let’s say for the sake of argument that they really do prevent harm to your brain by shielding it from electromagnetic somethingorother.
What about your unshielded nervous system? If the EM waves harm your brain, don’t they harm your nerves also? Shouldn’t this hat be a tracksuit? Especially once you consider that, if the EM waves come from a direction that the hat doesn’t guard, like from straight on or underneath, the hat forms a parabolic receiver that concentrates the EM waves right in the middle of your head? You know, where your brain is?
And, as noted earlier, there’s a version for babies. Who spend a lot of time lying down and crawling. An even better position for a receiver to catch those waves and focus them into a point right in the middle of the brain.
At the end of the day, I don’t think devices like this hat do a hell of a lot more than make the user feel a little bit more confident about navigating this confusing world. And, not incidentally at all, making some cash for the purveyors. There are many more devices of this type than just the hat, that purport to shield or heal from something nebulous and unproven to cause harm. Personally, I think a small proportion of them are made by people who really believe in the threat or healing, but many more are made by people who believe in the power of scaring others as a means of swelling personal bank accounts.
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