Introducing Non-Geeks to Your Fandom Aug04

Introducing Non-Geeks to Your Fandom...

One of the best parts of having a fandom is introducing new people to your favourite characters and worlds. Having someone to share your enthusiasm is great, but take the wrong approach and you’ll ruin it for them. Here are a few things to avoid when recruiting new fans. Never introduce them to the wrong point in the story—especially if it’s a series. You’re not a Harry Potter fan? Oh! Here, let me read you the best scene in book six. You’ll cry buckets! You’re going to love Doctor Who! We’ll start with the first Doctor—William Hartnell—and his granddaughter Susan. The show doesn’t really pick up until the third Doctor, but if you don’t watch the later episodes first you’ll never get all the nuances. Pro-tip: Any episode of The Starlost is the wrong episode to start with—that’s why you’ve never heard of it. Never assume that they’ll love a fandom just because it features actors they like in other properties. You like Sandra Bullock and Sylvester Stallone, right? You’re going to love Demolition Man! If you think Han Solo was a great character, wait until you meet Rick Deckard. Yeah, John de Lancie was great in Next Gen, but he was completely awesome as Discord. Pro-tip: Don’t try to sell someone on Interstellar just because Elyes Gable from Scorpion has a bit part in it. Never use their non-geek interests to introduce them to your fandom. You like weddings? You’re going to love season three of Game of Thrones. Politics is your thing? You’ve got to see the senate scenes in Attack of the Clones. Pro-Tip: Don’t try to sell them on the Saw movies based on their interest in anatomy. Never tell them they’ll like a fandom because they remind you of...

“Are you alive?” Cylons, Consciousness  and Humanity in Battlestar Galactica Oct24

“Are you alive?” Cylons, Consciousness and Humanity in Battlestar Galactica...

Though the Cylons haven’t been seen in over forty years, a representative from the Twelve Colonies annually visits a space station to maintain diplomatic relations. This is the first scene of the Battlestar Galactica TV movie reboot. Sitting at a desk, a human representative thumbs through a file on the Cylons, the drawings depicting the familiar “toasters” of the original series. When the doors at the other end of the room open, much to this man’s surprise, two new Cylons enter. They’re different than the drawing—bigger, sleeker, their hands alternating between guns and fingers—but their shape is recognizably machine. The two Cylons take position on either side of the door as a third figure enters: a statuesque blond woman in a red dress. She walks over to the startled envoy, sits down on the table in front of him, leans in close to his ear and asks, “Are you alive?” This question serves as the lynch pin for the thematic aspects of the show. We learn that some Cylons have evolved beyond metal and circuitry; thirteen replicated humanoid forms that have infiltrated the Colonies and are virtually indistinguishable from humans. The revelation of who these humanoid Cylons are makes up much of the series’ storylines as many aren’t aware of their own identities as Cylons. Some, upon discovering their true origin, attack their former friends; others, most notably Athena—a version of Cylon Eight who is aware of her Cylon nature but exercises free will—choose to live as human. Athene even takes a human partner and gives birth to child.  In defying her “programming” and deciding her own course of action, Athena is “alive,” which is most clearly evident by her giving birth. And this all speaks to the most remarkable aspects of Battlestar Galactica:...

Why You Should Watch Cartoons with Your Kids Oct17

Why You Should Watch Cartoons with Your Kids...

I’m routinely told by other adults, “I don’t watch cartoons anymore.” Their loss, I say!  Cartoons are some of my favourite entertainment, and I love kids’ cartoons. In fact, when the kids wander off and I still have them on, I get a pleading look and a semi-desperate question from my husband, “Do we have to keep watching this? The kids are in bed…” Yes, yes we do. Cartoons Are Awesome The first cartoons were made for adults. Naturally, they had appeal for all ages, but the jokes, references, and subject matter were pretty grown up. Even now, cartoon movies consistently add jokes “for parents” that are just plain messed up. My eldest son recently warned me that there were some very inappropriate things in the Disney movie, Cars (apparently, he thinks his mom is as innocent as the BVM). He was shocked at what he now understood. Besides the fact that cartoons are some of the best stuff on TV, I’m at a particular advantage for liking them. Many parents, trusting that “it’s a kids’ show,” will let their children watch cartoons without giving any thought to their message or content. Time and time again, I have been surprised, disappointed and, at times, horrified by some of the stuff marketed directly to children. An Opportunity for Discussion My kids aren’t very young—they’re 12 and 15—so we aren’t watching pre-k shows. The shows that are directed at their ages include themes and issues that older kids are likely dealing with in school and social settings, like dating, relationships, attraction to others, parties, moral dilemmas, and problem solving. Except that some of the ways these themes are presented are not what I want modeled for my children (especially since one is getting to an age when dating is...

All About a Baby Aug19

All About a Baby

There once was an evil queen whose destruction was foretold in legend. The bringer of her destruction was to be an infant, and this infant would be known by a birthmark. And so, when the prophesied time had arrived, the queen inspected every child born in her kingdom. When the baby was found, she sought to kill her, but a good midwife placed the child in a basket in the river where it was discovered by a kindly halfling wife who, naturally wanted to adopt her. The baby’s innocence and vulnerability evoked compassion from the good woman; and so, to the dislike of her husband, Willow, the baby was taken into their home and given asylum. Until… Well, the story features unlikely heroes, alliances, conversions, epic battles, faeries, magic and monsters—you know—all the things that make a fantasy story great. The baby isn’t really a main character, because babies don’t do much. But, she is the main theme. Her safety, and the hope that she represents, are what spur the characters on. The baby is at first hated—the evil queen, Bavmorda, believes that if she kills the baby, her monarchy will remain intact. To end a young, innocent life is convenient and so she has no qualms about doing it. That’s the thing about evil, it has no concern for another’s welfare. It is devoid of nature, because our nature is to love. A few relatively powerless people get involved—first the midwife, then Willow’s family, and two silly sprites. But, it’s not power that will win here—power is what Bavmorda has. When the baby is at Willow’s house, Bavmorda’s scary dog creatures ransack his village looking for the baby. When he reveals that he has what the dogs are looking for, Willow is charged...

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...

Where’s the Love in Mad Max? Feb22

Where’s the Love in Mad Max?

When I read that writer/director George Miller was going to return to his post-apocalyptic roots and make another Mad Max film, I didn’t think much about it. The original films were fun, cult stories but not so amazing that I would get excited for a sequel. Even Miller’s eclectic but solid body of work (everything from Lorenzo’s Oil to the talking pig classic, Babe: Pig in the City) didn’t prepare me for one of the deepest films of recent years. People have remarked on its strong ecological and feminist messages, its reimagining of the action genre, its inventive practical effects. I’ve been wanting to write about Mad Max: Fury Road for a while now, but despite its obvious richness, no topic has seemed quite right. When Our Fearless Leader (OFL), Allison, proposed the topic “agape,” I quickly crossed Mad Max: Fury Road off my list again: “It’s an awesome movie, but where’s the love?” Theirs is a love of choice, not attraction, and it’s marked by sacrifice. Then I started re-reading C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves to figure out a possible direction for an article. Lewis uses the traditional English translation of agape, “charity,” and describes it as unconditional gift-love, a selfless love that places the best interests of the other person first. And then I thought more about Mad Max: Fury Road. “Wait a minute,” I said to myself, “Isn’t that movie all about this kind of selfless charity?” Furiosa’s sacrificial love for Immortan Joe’s Five Wives embodies agape. It causes her to abandon her own position of power and influence in order to help them flee.  She risks everything to get these young women to safety. Furiosa initially seems to believe that selfless love can only exist in a specific place, her own birthplace: the utopian, matriarchal Green Place. There, she thinks, the Many Mothers will care for the Brides with selfless charity. However, when we learn that the Green Place is gone, a dissolute wasteland, and that the Many Mothers have been displaced and now scavenge for existence, we come to realize that Furiosa has already embodied this type of love. She’s created a community on wheels with outcasts and runaways. Part of the reason I think Mad Max: Fury Road has this interest in agape is the length the film goes to undermine any suggestion of romantic love between the two main protagonists. Sure, there’s the romance between the displaced War Boy, Nux, and one of the fugitive Brides; that love—eros—represents a kind of freedom from the authority of Immortan Joe, freedom to choose a partner.  But this type of love is not transformative. It’s secondary to the community-minded love embodied by Furiosa and, later, Max, which is as capable of transforming the wasteland as the water Joe denies his people. Agape isn’t something you get, it’s something you share. In “Mad” Max Rockatansky, Furiosa finds a compatriot and friend.  They have no reason to trust the other; their individual experiences have been disappointment and abuse. Their relationship is not characterized by eros, but by mutual respect and a deep trust. Theirs is a love of choice, not attraction, and it’s marked by sacrifice and putting the best interests of the other above the needs of the self. We don’t usually see this type of love in action films, which typically link a hero’s worth to his (almost always his) sexual prowess. Max’s lack of interest in physical love is treated as a joke—at one point we think that Max is staring longingly at one of Joe’s Brides; however, as the camera moves, we realizes he’s actually staring at the water she is using. After defeating Joe and upsetting the oppressive power structure of The Citadel, Max and Furiosa part. Uninterested in the attention of the crowd, Max slips away after giving Furiosa a parting nod. While the slaves of The Citadel rejoice in the life-giving water...

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...

Small heroes Nov18

Small heroes

War stories are full of great men and women doing great deeds. They stand on the front lines and fight for what’s right and good. They are the heroes we expect to read about, the heroes whose lives we want to emulate. These are the Arthurs, the Aragorns, the Sarah Walkers, and the Harry Potters. But there are also those heroes who are not considered great. They don’t have power and they’re not skilled fighters. To the world, they are “nobodies.” And yet, they are just as important, if not more so, than those great heroes. They carry the strength of simple, pure love, compassion, and humility. They fight for what’s right and good, too, but they do it behind the scenes when no one is watching, and they do it without expecting glory or praise. These are characters like Samwise Gamgee, Chuck Bartowski, Riza Hawkeye, the Doctor’s companions, Merlin, Neville Longbottom, and Luna Lovegood.These are the heroes who stick with me because they tell me that I don’t have to be the most skilled, or the most brave. My favourite example is Sam; how could it not be? There’s a moment in The Return of the King where all seems lost and Sam is alone. Frodo has been stung by Shelob and carried off by Orcs, and Sam has taken the Ring so he can continue the quest. As he looks for Frodo, Sam is tempted by the Ring. It shows him visions of himself as Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age; all he has to do is claim the Ring as his own and he can overthrow Sauron or command the valley of Gorgoroth to become a garden of flowers and trees. Sam doesn’t give in. He thinks of his love...

That thief, lust Aug17

That thief, lust

In The Lord of the Rings, there are two characters who lose their names. Their names are stolen from them, really. Stolen by that thief, lust. That poor, little dude Smeagol is the first of lust’s victims. Smeagol is the embodiment of lust. The way the power of the Ring works on him is so clear, so apparent, he should be under the definition of lust in the dictionary. It’s downright obvious. And sometimes lust is downright obvious. Smeagol becomes Gollum almost instantly. His lust is so transformative, he kills his best friend within minutes of finding the Ring. His lust is so revolting that it serves as an immediate warning for anyone who meets him. More often, however, I think lust is subtle, more deviously sneaky—and that’s when it is the most dangerous. Both Gollum and Wormtongue lose themselves so completely to lust that they become someone else. Take our second character, Grima, for instance. He’s slimy, he’s creepy, and he makes no bones about what he wants. Like Gollum, by the time we meet him, it’s clear what he’s about and nobody likes or trusts him… except for King Theoden. Theoden has thrown off every good advisor in his kingdom, including beloved members of his family. He used to be a wise, loving person, so we can conclude that something very powerful must have been working on him. But it’s also apparent that what’s happened to Theoden has been a gradual change. If Gollum showed up in the court of Rohan, he would have been imprisoned or killed on the spot.  Grima, on the other hand, better known as Wormtongue, is not only allowed access to the King, but is a trusted advisor. His lust, because of how it is disguised, transforms not...