Playing God Till You Run Out of Cake Aug24

Playing God Till You Run Out of Cake...

Scientific advancement is the entire backstory of the video games Portal and Portal 2. You play as Chell, a woman awakened from her Relaxation Vault in Aperture Science’s enrichment center, forced to go through a series of tests by the direction of an artificial intelligence named GLaDOS. Portal takes humanity’s tendency toward advancement beyond all logic (and that’s what makes it hilarious). Not only is the entire lab run by a robot determined to put Chell through her paces and then destroy her, but the tests themselves don’t serve much purpose. Aperture’s founder, Cave Johnson, doesn’t seem to have any morals when it comes to science. In one of his speeches to the test subjects, Cave says flat-out that they have no idea what they’re doing and they’re “throwing science at the wall and seeing what sticks.” Aperture’s motto, “We do what we must because we can,” seems completely ridiculous in light of the Portal universe (because there’s just something ridiculous about a robot chucking heart-labeled companion cubes at you and degrading you for not solving the puzzle faster). However, I find the game an ironic insight into the human mind. . . . Read the whole article from Christ and Pop...

Vulnerability Aboard the Enterprise Aug22

Vulnerability Aboard the Enterprise...

One simple pleasure of life is reconnecting with old friends after a prolonged separation. Perhaps over a meal you swap stories, catch up on each other’s lives, and remember what brought you together in the first place. That was how I felt about Star Trek Beyond. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know Kirk and his diverse crew. I watched the show so often I could identify episodes after hearing a couple lines of dialogue. Although other series in the Trek universe scratched my itch for new stories, none of them quite evoked the same warmth for me. Star Trek Beyond put me back in touch with my dear friends. The plot of the film is mostly an excuse to showcase the crew’s personalities. Despite nagging doubts about his career decisions, Kirk remains both energetic and resolute in defending life—especially the lives of his crew. Spock approaches his problems—even romantic troubles—with cool detachment. McCoy greets every new crisis and opportunity with an evenhanded mixture of snark and competence. Sulu gets time in the spotlight as the de facto leader of crew members who are temporarily separated from the command structure. Uhura serves as Sulu’s second, showing her heroic side. Chekov steps up his game as Kirk’s apprentice in action. Kirk has won the crew’s affection because they know they can rely on him. Just like a dinner with old friends, the characters reminded me of the things I loved and admired about them even as I learned about their new adventures. Kirk and company feel real to me; more like characters than mere collections of personality quirks. Star Trek Beyond got me thinking about my own friendships. Who am I to my friends? The endlessly, annoyingly, pragmatically logical Spock? The cantankerous McCoy?...

Dear Anakin Jul29

Dear Anakin

Dear Anakin, My fiancé is a great guy and we’re madly in love, but he refuses to agree with me that a beach wedding is the greatest way to get married. Just think about it, the sunlight on the water, a cool breeze, and the warm sand between our toes. He wants to get married indoors somewhere, which I just can’t believe! I really love him and I don’t want to come across as a bridezilla, but I can’t imagine getting married inside when the beach is calling our names. What should I do? Signed, Looking For Love In Alderaan Places Dear Looking For Love In Alderaan Places, That’s a real problem. First of all, don’t compromise. Any time you compromise in a relationship, it shows weakness. You should be compelling your loved ones to act in a way that serves you and your desires at all times. When speaking to your fiancé about the issue, stare at him wordlessly, without blinking, and sneer until he eventually accepts your demands. Don’t stop even if he asks you explicitly—he will break first. Your love should be the most powerful thing in the universe and if it’s not, you’re just pretending. That being said, as much as I agree with your desire to control the outcome of every event you’re involved in, I have to disagree with the concept of a beach wedding. I hate sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. If you get married on a beach you’re basically inviting the worst thing in the galaxy into your marriage. Powerfully Yours, Anakin Send your requests for relationship advice to...

The Doctor’s Eternal Perseverance Jul27

The Doctor’s Eternal Perseverance...

“This traffic is taking forever.” “I’m never going to find the right woman.” “Waiting for the DMV took an eternity.” I recognize these statements, of course, as the hyperbole that they are, even as I speak them. But such a blasé attitude towards the concept of eternity and infinity cheapens it. I have never experienced more than a lifetime and my exaggerations do not come close to expressing what eternity must feel like. Therefore, to be patient or persevere in the face of eternity is an ideal that escapes me completely. I know there is either a finite time that I will have to wait or I recognize that death will claim me before I ever see the consummation of my hope, whatever it may be. What would happen, though, if somehow I could comprehend eternity to the point that, no matter what happens, I can push through? In the penultimate episode of the ninth season of the “new” Doctor Who (titled “Heaven Sent”), Peter Capaldi’s Doctor explores this concept of forever. He finds himself in some sort of elaborate trap with a mysterious stalker who elicits something we’re not familiar with the Doctor experiencing: fear. The Doctor is afraid of this… thing. We know it’s called “The Veil” only by the end credits, but, beyond that, we don’t know anything other than it was specifically designed from the Doctor’s worst nightmares to evoke a reaction of fear from the rogue Time Lord. The intense grief of losing Clara and the darkness of being alone can only be overcome by his memory of Clara and his love for her. The Doctor reasons that fear is being used as a motivation to coerce him to reveal his deepest, darkest secrets. As fear does its work,...

The Morality of Robots and Self-Driving Cars Jul22

The Morality of Robots and Self-Driving Cars...

If Isaac Asimov is known for anything within popular culture, it is his three laws of robotics, made famous in the book I, Robot and its movie adaptation. The laws were conceived because of the invention of self-directed robots. They answered the question of how created objects were allowed to act with respect to the safety of the people who created them. Asimov envisioned a robot morality controlled by inviolable laws which began with the first law: “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” That seems straight-forward: when a robot can direct its own actions, it must not be allowed to cause human beings to come to harm. Of course, there are situations where it is not simply a choice between harming a human or not. Sometimes the question concerns reducing the total harm when some injury cannot be avoided. In that case, at least according to the movie-version of the story, there is a complex heuristic by which a robot must make a decision between the value of one or more humans: the result of that calculation directs the action. If a burglar entered my house and I found myself in the position to kill him, what would I do? For example, in the movie, the protagonist Del Spooner is saved by a robot because he was deemed to be more likely to survive after being pulled out of the water. Extrapolating from the presumed algorithm, I expect that quantity of humans would also factor in, that is, saving two humans would take precedent over saving one. This question of the value of human life based on an algorithm is now coming to the fore in the realm of self-driving cars....

It Takes More than Optimism Jul06

It Takes More than Optimism...

I was five when Armstrong and Aldrin walked on the moon. From that day forward I wanted desperately to travel in space, and the Disneyland adventure Mission to Mars gave me a little simulated taste of that adventure a few years later. The pre-show featured animatronics wearing white lab coats with the Rockwell and NASA logos prominent. After a stirring recorded speech about the amazing progress scientists had made in the exploration of space, we were seated in our “space craft,” a circular theater with projection screens mounted on the walls, floor and ceiling. As we blasted off for Mars, the seats rattled and in the space of minutes we’d travelled to the surface of the red planet where we explored Olympus Mons and the Valles Marineris before returning to a safe landing at Disneyland. The effects were only convincing if you wanted them to be and the science was… imaginative. Yet I loved it. Truly there was nothing that science couldn’t accomplish given enough time. Like the song said, there really was a great big beautiful tomorrow. I waited, but that bright future didn’t arrive. Skylab came and went and the International Space Station still orbits, but NASA—for the moment—is out of the manned launch game. Jet packs and flying cars are still the stuff of fiction as are food replicators and gleaming, plastic, self-cleaning houses. Instead, our attention is focused on disasters, both natural and manmade. Our “beautiful tomorrow” vanished under a floodtide of pessimism. Something went very, very wrong. Watney doesn’t expect to simply “believe” his way to success. Which was more-or-less the point of Bard Bird’s 2015 film Tomorrowland. The film’s hero, Frank Welker, begins the movie as a hopeful child who grows to become a paranoid, curmudgeonly old man...

You Are, and Always Will Be, My Friend Jun27

You Are, and Always Will Be, My Friend...

One of the many reasons I love Star Trek is that the series highlights friendships. The romances come and go, but the friendships, when the right effort is put in, endure. It reminds me of my own experience. I only have a handful of friends who have withstood the test of time, and they mean the world to me. In Star Trek: Into Darkness, many of the characters display key factors to working, lasting friendships. This diverse crew struggles through much conflict, whether it stems from outside circumstances or their own biases and emotions. But when push comes to shove, the crew of the Enterprise are steadfast and enduring. I especially appreciate the attributes of trust, honesty, forgiveness, acceptance, and sacrifice they exhibit. Sulu and Trust For the Enterprise to run smoothly, the crew has to put their faith in each other, especially in cases such as letting a crewmember command as acting captain. When Kirk goes with Spock onto a Klingon-space planet, he leaves Sulu in charge to manage the ship. Though McCoy is nervous about this situation, Kirk has enough trust and confidence in Sulu that he can get the job done, which he does. Giving control over to someone else and trusting them to get the job done can be challenging, especially if you are one of those people who likes to do everything yourself. Trusting someone else when the stakes are high is the mark of true friendship. It is difficult to be honest, especially when honesty could mean jeopardizing a job or a relationship. McCoy and Honesty It is difficult to be honest, especially when honesty could mean jeopardizing something important to you, like a job or a relationship. McCoy is candid with Kirk despite the possible repercussions. He plays the devil’s advocate to many of...

iZombie’s Lessons in Empathy Jun17

iZombie’s Lessons in Empathy...

I’m not a very empathetic person. There, I said it. I mean, I’m a not robot, but other people’s emotions have always made me uncomfortable (I have a strict “no crying in my office” rule for my students).  I have difficulty relating to other people’s experiences because I have trouble seeing the world through their eyes, their feelings. I think I can be sympathetic, feeling pity or sorrow for another’s misfortunes, but empathy is much, much harder for me. And it’s my own struggle with empathy that makes The CW’s iZombie such an interesting show. For the uninitiated, iZombie is a unique spin on the traditional zombie narrative: zombies exist but can (mostly) pass in regular society if they feed on brains. Brains not only prevent zombies from becoming the mindless instruments of death we all know and love, they also transfer the memories and disposition of the former owner to the zombie. When Liv Moore is infected, she takes a job in the city morgue to have a steady supply of brains. She uses these memories of murder victims to help the police solve crimes, all the while trying to uncover a larger zombie conspiracy. As ridiculous as this premise sounds, the show’s strength is in its exploration of larger issues. Liv’s decision to avoid her friends is based on what she considered best, and fails to take into account the other people’s wants and needs. In the pilot, when Liv realizes that she’s a zombie, her first course of action is to remove herself from her various relationships for the safety of her friends and family. Liv’s motivations are largely altruistic: she no longer thinks of herself as human, she doesn’t feel like she is safe to be around, and isolating herself is the...

Team Cap: Standing Firm Jun13

Team Cap: Standing Firm...

You’re a prude because you’re waiting until you’re married to have sex. You’re ignorant because you believe everything was created by a loving God. You are a misogynist because you believe life begins at conception. You’re homophobic for finding an identity based on your faith rather than finding it in how you feel or who you are attracted to. Have you ever had any of these things said to you? If so, then grab a shield, and welcome to Team Cap! Society tells us how to see people, how we should act, and the things we should accept as true. If we disagree, we are the villains. But society isn’t always right. Popular opinion is rarely the best indicator for truth and justice; actually, it is often the worst. Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian during World War II and, I would argue, a proud member of Team Cap. He spoke out against the atrocities committed by his society to the Jewish people, the handicapped, and the poor. He spoke out against war and taking land by force, and he was sent to a concentration camp by his society to be abused and ultimate die. I also think of Susan B. Anthony, James Brown (the 18th century abolitionist, not the singer), Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr; all people who spoke out against the societal norms and views of minorities, all who suffered for their convictions. All too often we present only the edge of our shield as we condemn people who disagree with our opinions and perspectives. These people, and many more, found their truth outside society, planted their feet and set their shield echoing the words left to Peggy Carter’s niece: “Sometimes when society says ‘MOVE’ you have to look back...

Team Iron Man: Keeping Us Accountable Jun08

Team Iron Man: Keeping Us Accountable...

Tony Stark knows the people of Earth are in danger and he’s going to protect them whether they want him to or not. He is so determined to shield them that he rides a nuclear bomb through a wormhole in The Avengers. In Iron Man 3, he builds dozens of suits, planning for any and every possible scenario, always fearing it won’t be enough. In Age of Ultron, he finally sees a way to keep the world safe (though it backfires horribly). “I see a suit of armour around the world,” he says. Every action he takes is a means towards that end. That’s how deeply the knowledge of imminent danger has rooted itself in Iron Man’s mind. When the Avengers themselves start being held to account for the deaths caused by their world-saving actions, Stark sees a huge problem. Vision spells it out in Civil War: “Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict… breeds catastrophe.” Stark is burdened with the knowledge that catastrophe is coming, and he wants the Avengers to be the solution, not the cause. That’s why the idea of accountability is so important to him. Each time they save the planet, hundreds—maybe thousands—of innocent people die in the process. Each of those deaths weigh heavily on Stark’s conscience. Captain America is asking the world to trust a team of people who could destroy the planet on a bad day. Captain America is asking the world to trust a team of people who could destroy the planet on a bad day. By signing the Sokovia Accords, Stark is attempting to put some accountability in place. I also think he might feel the lives of thousands of people should not be in his hands alone. While Captain America is a soldier and has had...

Restoring Relationships (and the Force) May04

Restoring Relationships (and the Force)...

Like all relationships, the ones in Star Wars have their challenges. In A New Hope, the first meeting between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader in almost twenty years isn’t as emotional as I imagine it should be. After all, Obi-Wan basically raised Anakin before eventually slicing his legs off. Emotional stuff. Instead, they simply speak a few short utterances to each other in cold tones. There’s no love between the two; their cords have been completely cut, and as such, they no longer see each other as human. For Obi-Wan, Darth Vader is “more machine now than man,” and for Vader, Obi-Wan is just another obstacle to tear through. In this bond built a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I see a challenge being forced upon me, to look at the broken relationships in my own life and think about how they became that way, and what I might do to repair them. In an imperfect world, we’re all bound to have broken relationships. I’ve said many things that have hurt others, and people have driven me away, too, either by cruelty or by simple indifference. The thing is, the longer I let time pass without reconciliation, the more bitterness will take root, and the harder it becomes to heal the damage. The task of pulling it up becomes too daunting to even try. And soon, the person I’m split from has become a memory to me. Any relationship we had dies, wasted and transformed into a nothingness, like the emotional space between Vader and Obi-Wan. Luke makes the sacrifice that restoration costs. Of course, it doesn’t just take realization to reconcile; it takes action. And action requires selflessness. I find that whatever reserve of that characteristic I have in storage...

Not a Runner-Up Prize Apr20

Not a Runner-Up Prize...

Unrequited feelings are never any fun, no matter which side of them you’re on. Eli Wallace from Stargate: Universe knows what I mean. After solving a complex mathematical equation embedded in a video game, Eli is beamed up to a starship, sent to another planet, and eventually transported, along with a small crew, onto a ship called Destiny that is light-years away from Earth. Seems like a good time to make friends and fall in love to me. He becomes close with Chloe, a senator’s daughter (she doesn’t have much practical use aboard the ship, but I digress). They get along. They enjoy each other’s company. They find each other easy to talk to. Cue the beginnings of unrequited love music. Whatever that sounds like. Eli likes Chloe. A lot. Chloe likes Eli. Like a friend. Chloe becomes romantically involved with the good-looking, good-hearted soldier on board the Destiny, and Eli is stuck in an enclosed community he can’t get away from, with feelings for a friend who loves someone else. If someone genuinely tells me, “Let’s be friends,” it’s not a runner-up prize. There are a variety of ways Eli could respond here. He could shut Chloe out as much as possible. He could become angry and moody around her. He could be mad at her for not being clear in the first place about what she wanted. He could pelter her with questions of “why not me?” He could constantly ask himself why he isn’t good enough for her. He could be jealous of the people she spends time with instead of him. These are some of the responses I’ve received when I’ve said no. These are also the responses I’ve been tempted to give when someone rejects me. But oddly enough,...

Identifying with a Sarcastic Martian Apr04

Identifying with a Sarcastic Martian

Sarcasm is my love language. If anyone can understand what I mean by this, it’s Mark Watney, the protagonist of The Martian novel by Andy Weir. Watney, a brilliant botanist and astronaut, finds himself stranded on Mars after his crew abandons him for dead. Completely isolated, he has to survive in a hostile environment that is basically out to kill him every second of every day. New problems stack up during his indefinite stay on the planet while he waits for a rescue that may never come—how to get enough oxygen? What to eat? Where to get water? How to pass the time when you don’t have Netflix? You know, the important stuff. But perhaps the biggest problem he faces is psychological. How to stay sane? (Remember, there’s no Netflix on Mars.) Watney answers this question with one coping mechanism. Watney is stranded for several months before being able to communicate with Earth. His ten days of isolation training at NASA is a joke. Even the most introverted of people (and I would know) need a certain amount of social interaction to stay mentally sound. How does he deal with his isolation? The only way he can: with humour. “I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.” (The Martian) Many studies have shown that humour and laughter are therapeutic for relieving tension and anxiety. There is even evidence to support that a good sense of humour can contribute to muscle relaxation, control of pain, positive moods, and overall psychological health. NASA psychologist Al Holland also says it’s actually healthy for a completely isolated person to start interacting with inanimate objects (think of the volleyball named Wilson from Cast Away). Watney has a similar relationship with his camera and logbook, using them to talk out what he is going through. This is also a way for him to express his delightful sarcasm. “Problem is (follow me closely here, the science is pretty complicated) if I cut a hole in the Hab, the air won’t stay inside any more.” (The Martian) Humour, for me, has always been a way of coping with less than optimal experiences and, most importantly, it helps me battle loneliness (that, and Netflix). My close friends know to crack a joke when I am sad, because it will relieve my tension. I know that if I make a joke about my own negative feelings, it will shed some light in my darkness. Growing up in an evangelical Christian environment, I often felt like humour was frowned upon when talking about God or my beliefs (not by my parents, bless my dad’s sarcastic heart, but by “the church” in general). God was serious business; you didn’t joke about him and certainly not with him. (See “A Laughing Matter” for more on humour and the Christian Church.) I only thought to question this later in life. If I’m operating under this presumption that I am created in God’s “own image,” is it so far-fetched to extrapolate that God may have a sense of humour of his own? I mean, talking donkeys, kings literally caught with their pants down, stomachs so big they swallow up the sword they’re stabbed with and it’s not discovered until the autopsy—some of these biblical tales are rather amusing. There’s definitely irony there. Is it so unbelievable that Jesus could have cracked a joke? Wouldn’t his listeners have laughed when he talked about rulers calling themselves “benefactors,” when the working folk knew very well those in authority were just the opposite? That’s actually bordering on sarcasm. Jesus, sarcastic? No, that can’t be right. Could it be that Jesus knew about this trick that Mark Watney employed, that psychologists have confirmed? That humour is the answer to life, the universe, and everything? Okay, fine, perhaps not the answer to everything, but it sure makes my...

10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Watch The Force Awakens Apr01

10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Watch The Force Awakens...

The Force Awakens comes out on DVD this month! Should you be excited about it? Nah. Here’s why not. 1. Who needs strong female role models like Rey, anyway? 2. That warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia when you see the Millenium Falcon again isn’t worth beans. 3. We want a villain exactly like Darth Vader. Kylo Ren is too different. 4. John Williams did the score. Blech. 5. Chewbacca is still impossible to understand. 6. Luke should have just updated his Spacebook profile with his location. 7. They gave us a cute, voiceless droid instead of Jar Jar. It’s like they didn’t learn their lesson from the prequels. 8. Who cares that Han Solo even came back? Can’t we write any new characters these days? 9. Too many cool action scenes. Needed more politics. 10. You might as well just watch how it should have ended where Han vaccinates Kylo with...

Hope for Loki Mar23

Hope for Loki

I’ve always had a soft-spot in my heart for supervillains—maybe it’s because of my Catholic upbringing, maybe it’s because I want everyone to be happy, or maybe it’s because deep down I know that under the right (or wrong) conditions, I could have become one myself. No villain has a more special place in my heart than Loki. He’s the god of mischief, and we all know and love mischievous characters (Fred and George, anyone? Jack Sparrow? River Song?). There is something redeeming in their character—something loveable. And I mean, Loki’s not really a bad guy, right? Sure, he tried to kill his brother and father; sure, he tried to take over the Earth… but can you blame him? Every effort he makes to subjugate anyone is sort of sad—he lashes out like a spoiled child looking for approval, grabbing at the respect he believes he deserves by force because he doesn’t believe he can get it any other way. It’s pitiable; mostly because if he had accepted the true forgiveness and affection that is constantly offered to him by his family, he might have used the burden of his “glorious purpose” for something great instead of attacking the Earth. Plus, can someone who loves his mom so much be completely irredeemable? Everybody has a backstory, everybody has trauma, sadness, disappointment—and not everybody is equipped to deal with their feelings in the same way. Whether you’re a superhero or a villain, something happened to get you there and depending on what resources you had to assist you in recovering from it, you might have done better or worse. Bruce Wayne had Alfred, Clark Kent had great adopted parents, the X-Men had Xavier. Who did Loki have? You can see that Loki wants to believe that he can be forgiven...

They Can’t Stop the Signal Mar21

They Can’t Stop the Signal

Let’s talk about the F-word. No, not that one. The other one—the word considered by some to be just as dirty: faith. The way people talk about it, faith seems no more than a strong willingness to blindly believe something completely unfounded. And Joss Whedon would probably agree with that. I gotta hand it to Whedon for even touching on the issue of faith in some of his films and for doing so in such a compelling way. Whedon’s self-professed preoccupation with spiritual belief is interesting because he also happens to be a self-professed atheist and Humanist. In a 2002 interview with The New York Times, he admitted his fascination with “the concept of devotion” and his desire “to explore that.” However, for Whedon, it is not the object of one’s faith that is important but the strength of conviction that stands behind it. For example, in Serenity, Inara tells the crew that the Operative is not to be taken lightly, that “we have every reason to be afraid . . . . because he’s a believer.”  On another occasion, Whedon uses the character of Shepherd Book to remind Malcolm Reynolds about the need for faith. Mal: “Ah, hell, Shepherd. I ain’t lookin’ for help from on high. That’s a long wait for a train don’t come.” Book: “When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?” Later in Serenity, Book’s dying words to Mal drive home Whedon’s views: “I don’t care what you believe, just believe it.” Sounds pretty Zen, no? The idea that anything goes—what’s the problem with that? There is no denying the appeal of the seeming freedom and self-made meaning Whedon desires. So what if, hypothetically, Mal suddenly decided with great conviction to believe in something morally-reprehensible? Such as, that the behaviour of the Alliance Operative was right? Yes, the one who was responsible for Book’s death and the deaths of Haven’s innocent civilians. Would Shepherd Book really not have cared what Mal ended up believing in? Somehow, I doubt it. (Note to self: make sure my dying words are less vague than “Whatever, man. It’s all good.”) The idea behind Whedon implying that all beliefs are equally valid is called Relativism. One of Relativism’s problems is that regardless of the fervor of my belief—no matter how strongly I might declare that, for example, I am a 400-foot-tall, purple platypus bear with pink horns and silver wings—neither my wishing nor my confidence makes it so. A belief either conforms to reality or not. As a former Humanist, I totally get the appeal of Whedon’s faith in “people power.” Everyone says “believe in yourself!” And sure, that phrase has a nice ring to it. In Age of Ultron, Tony Stark’s bumper sticker in the cockpit of the Avengers’ jet that reads “Jarvis is my co-pilot” riffs off the popular “God is my co-pilot” bumper sticker and signifies that Stark has more faith in something he created himself than in a higher power. Ultimately, Whedon believes that the solution to the failings of the human condition—to the problem of evil and the meaninglessness of life—lies in the optimistic belief that people alone have the power to fix themselves. Whedon’s commitment to Humanism infuses his films through the dominant theme of having faith in other people. There is no denying the appeal of the seeming freedom and self-made meaning Whedon desires when we consider our broken world full of disenfranchised people  who have come to distrust any kind of authority. But if I’m brutally honest with myself about my own failings, the reality of betrayal and, well, humanity’s track record, I have to admit that G.K.Chesterton got it right: “What’s wrong with the world today? I am.” Unlike the illusory nature of Whedon’s Humanism, I believe that the power that lies behind the Christian worldview, on the other hand, is not the power...

To My Daughter: Be Like Rey Mar07

To My Daughter: Be Like Rey...

Ah, my dear Madeleine, asleep in your fuzzy tiger costume and strapped to my chest. You are a scant six weeks old, and your life consists entirely of sleeping, eating, bouncing in your parents’ arms, and the occasional bout of thunderous flatulence. For now you have no time for books or movies, and you can barely grasp my finger, let alone an Xbox controller. You are a very, very long way from climbing trees and learning karate. Someday, though, you will have your own adventures, and you will learn to love stories as much as I do. In these stories you will find your heroes, models who show you how to live a good and just life. To that end, I submit to you Rey, hero of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as a candidate for your first hero. Rey has a great many qualities that every young adventurer should aspire to have, no matter where they come from or where they are going. She is adaptive, resilient, and clever; she is tough as nails, smart as a whip, and incredibly brave. Our hero has many fine qualities, but they alone were not enough to defeat Kylo Ren. Yet most pivotal of all in Rey’s heroic qualities is that she is a dreamer. She is a romantic, though not in the modern sense of day-dreaming infatuation; Rey longs for adventure. She doesn’t just want the old stories of Jedi and the Force to be true; she wants to be a part of them. Her shelter on Jakku is lined with artifacts from the Rebellion and she dons the helmet of a Rebel pilot as she wistfully stares at a ship leaving the planet. Like Luke Skywalker before her, Rey hungers to be part of...

Finding Child-Like Wonder Feb15

Finding Child-Like Wonder...

The first time I saw A New Hope and Jurassic Park, I was captivated. I had never seen anything like either film. They were pure movie magic, taking me to a new and unknown place, one I desperately wanted to revisit again and again. They ignited a flame of child-like wonder within me. Child-like wonder—that sense of awe that sparks my imagination beyond the jaded world that I’m accustomed to experiencing. It’s the stunning fireworks display or the dazzling Christmas lights that takes me back to a moment in time when I believed in magic. I have never outgrown that desire to be enthralled or excited. I want to believe in magic again. I’m a movie fan, and when all the elements fall into place and wonder bursts from the screen, it’s a rare and wonderful gift. The Force Awakens and Jurassic World tried to recapture that movie magic. Jurassic Park gave us dinosaurs like we’d never seen them. I was as awestruck as the characters in the film. In an attempt to rekindle those feelings, the writers of Jurassic World tried to maintain the old while sprinkling in something new. They came up with a hybrid dinosaur with upgraded abilities such as a camouflaged heat signature. But more abilities doesn’t necessarily translate into a more engaging experience. For me, the bells and whistles took away from the experience. The regular old dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were terrifying, and the film didn’t rely on turning them into supersaurs to make them so. If not for child-like wonder, we wouldn’t dare to dream of something better. Weirdly enough, though, The Force Awakens did almost the exact same thing, but it worked for me. The Death Star made two appearances in the original trilogy for a...

Nerely Myself: Con Man and Identity Jan27

Nerely Myself: Con Man and Identity...

“Just be yourself.” This is the oft-quoted advice of a parent or friend before our first day at a new job or when meeting a group of new people. It seems like good advice, but whenever I hear someone give it, I get anxious. Which version of myself am I supposed to be? Am I the life-of-the-party version, trying to make everyone laugh? Do I find a group of people talking about Star Wars and weigh in with my thoughts on Rey ‘s characterization in The Force Awakens? There are a number of versions of “me” I could be, so which one is the right one? When I watched Con Man, I saw Wray Nerely struggle with the same question. Firefly’s Alan Tudyk plays Nerely, a character inspired and exaggerated from Tudyk’s own experiences with fandom and conventions. Famous for his role in a short-lived and much-loved sci-fi TV series called Spectrum, Nerely now lives on the convention circuit, signing posters and smiling while people shout his decade-old catchphrase at him—“I’ll see you in hell!” If I live my life by being who people think I am, I’ll be robbing myself of being who I want to be. Nerely loves his fans. Mostly. Sometimes. He knows he wouldn’t be where he is in life without them, but he resents the fact that they only want him to be the version of him they know from TV. While lamenting at an airport bar, Nerely runs into Sean Astin (or at least a fictional version of Sean Astin) who tells him to milk his mediocre fame for all it’s worth. “They think you’re a spaceship pilot. What’s wrong with that? That’s better than reality. Just be who they think you are.” Throughout the series Nerely can’t seem...

Fearing the Evos Jan20

Fearing the Evos

The most believable lies have an element of truth to them.  In the TV series Heroes Reborn, when Erica Kravid told everyone that there was going to be an event that would wipe out almost all life on earth and that she had a plan to save them, she wasn’t lying. There was going to be a cataclysmic event, it was going to wipe out humanity, and she did have a plan to save humanity. She didn’t divulge that her plan didn’t include everyone—or even most people. She only intended to save a few, hand-selected people. In carrying out her evil plan, she was playing both sides—getting evos to do horrible things and then making laws and creating publicity that fed into the fear of the normals. She used their fear of what was stronger than themselves—what they couldn’t control.  It’s true that people with superpowers would have the ability to cause serious harm if they chose to. It’s also true that some of them would not be good people. How could anyone know which were good and which were bad? How could we trust that a good superhero wouldn’t turn evil? Sorting out the truth can be hard when fear is involved. Erica told the world that, no matter what chances were given to evos to be integrated and accepted, they were murderous fiends who could not be trusted. She was careful to make her story credible by bidding some evos to carry out crimes against humanity. She also capitalized on the insecurity of the evos when faced with the fear of the general public.  Their own fear of destruction, death and persecution made it easy for many of the characters to believe any lie that they felt would bring them safety and security. In order...