Sunday, June 23, 2019

Blast from the Past: Reclaiming "Literary"

Originally published in 2014.

In my circles, the word "literary" is often thrown around as a pejorative -- and given the developments of the last century, it's really no wonder. Literary fiction, you see, has become tightly associated with a certain background and cast of mind that many of my associates do not share. It is now rooted in the humanities departments of academe, where Marxist dialectic reigns triumphant and cultural pessimism rules the day. When it is not overly obsessed with style and method - when, in other words, it has genuine substance- it is quotidian and parochial in its attitudes and sentiments. It is usually penned by graduates of literature, "studies", or fine arts programs and is judged by the same; consequently, it exists not to speak to the general public but to stroke the egos of the elite.

But this was not always so.

Consider William Shakespeare. On those occasions when a Western literary canon is acknowledged to exist (which is not always, mind), Shakespeare floats to the top of the list. Many still deem his plays masterworks for the ways in which they capture both the flaws and the virtues of our human nature. Was all of this writing bound up in literary magazines to be consumed by the Few? No! These plays were presented at the Globe in front of audiences that included everyone from the Queen to the illiterate commoner. And while Shakespeare definitely had some identifiable political and religious opinions, these thoughts did not completely dominate what he wrote. This, in fact, is what has allowed his plays to endure in the centuries since.

I would like to take back the term "literary" from the arrogant poseurs who've stolen and sullied it. "Literary" to me should involve grappling with the universals. It should reveal who we are in all of our glorious messiness. And no -- this does not mean focusing on everything that's awful and base in the world, as that is no more a true representation of humanity than is pat optimism. A genuinely "literary" fiction would show the courage as well as the cowardice, the virtue as well as the sin, and the love as well as the mindless hate. It wouldn't absorb itself with the fads and fashions of our narrowly-educated clerisy but would instead seek to reach the minds of all men.

And literary science fiction? Again, many on my side of the Social Justice Wars chafe at the very idea that science fiction should seek such a label, but if we take care to properly define our terms, no dichotomy need exist between the sense of wonder that was once the defining feature of our genre and the exploration of the human psyche that makes a story "literary." We could live in a both/and universe in which a science fiction that "comments upon society and civilization at a safe remove" is also a science fiction that is enjoyable to read. We could live in a both/and universe in which a science fiction that is entertaining is also a science fiction that "makes us better people." Hasn't this been done before? Don't you feel that the stories you've read have actually shaped your worldview and led, in a subtle fashion, to your own improvement? I know I do!

So we shouldn't completely set aside the didactic function of Story simply because certain social justice warriors are abusing it. We should, instead, outperform them at their own game.

Apologies, by the way, for re-running some of my greatest hits instead of posting brand new content. I'm going to be pretty busy until the 4th of July.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Yes, Marina: You CAN Like Star Trek and Be a Republican


Because a certain misguided actress seems to be confused about how being a fan of something works, allow me to copy-paste something I wrote the last time someone tried to claim that right-leaning Trekkies obviously misunderstand Roddenbury's legacy:

"Roddenberry was indeed a mid-century progressive and a secular humanist, and that worldview did influence the entire Star Trek franchise. That's why I happily conceded recently that Trek is not a conservative 'text'; any show that presupposes a utopian Earth that has united under a one-world, socialist government is certainly not animated by the thought of, say, Edmund Burke.

But the reality of Star Trek is more complicated than the vision of one man. Even if we concede Gene Roddenberry's likely affinity for the causes of today's social justice warriors... that does not mean the left owns Trek. Sorry, but I categorically refuse to accept such a proposition. Trek was the product of many minds working in concert -- and some of these minds inserted things that didn't exactly cleave to Roddenberry's idea of 'how things should be.'

Consider, for example, Bread and Circuses, whose script arose out of the joint efforts of Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon. For those who are bad at titles, this is the episode in which the Enterprise comes upon a planet on which a society modeled on Ancient Rome has survived long enough to develop the media tools of 20th-century Earth. Said episode mocks both the Roman Empire and the television studio culture of the 1960's -- but it also has this odd moment at the very end in which the slaves in the featured society are revealed to be following a faith analogous to Christianity. If Trek is all about Roddenberry's fiercely secular, progressive politics, how did that get in there?

Actually, while we're on the subject of Bread and Circuses, let me bring up something else -- something that, I believe, no one has yet mentioned. The aforementioned episode is not generally considered to be one of the original Trek's best, but it happens to be one that I personally enjoy for a reason that is neither technological nor political: Spock and McCoy.

Is there room in Star Trek's legacy for scenes like this -- scenes devoted to the characters and their relationships with one another? In my opinion, this is the most under-appreciated reason why the original Star Trek series endures: Gene Roddenberry, Gene Coon, et. al. never forgot the importance of writing people the viewer could care about. We didn't lament the passing of Leonard Nimoy days ago because of Trek's 'social commentary' or its gadgets. We lamented his passing because Nimoy portrayed a fictional alien whose rich history, deep relationships, and fascinating internal conflicts resonated with the audience..."

Jesus God, stop treating conservative Trekkies like we're imbeciles. We know. But as I note above, we're willing to roll with it because 1) a bunch of us are fundamentally liberal on the social issues at least (take a gander at my political compass, guys!), 2) the characters (as I mentioned above) are truly iconic, and 3) the very best of Trek never sacrifices the story for the message. Indeed, the very best of Trek often allows the "other" side a fair hearing. DS9 conceded that religious faith was rational, for goodness' sake!

What a sad life you must lead if you think you must embrace every single background ideological assumption in a work to enjoy it.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Blast from the Past: A Father's Day Reflection

Originally posted in 2016.

I've never had the patience or the time for today's brand of western feminism. The reasons for this are several; indeed, recent outrages have inspired me to resurrect and update an old multi-part essay I wrote several years ago on the follies of feminism's later incarnations. But to stuff all my thoughts into a tiny little nutshell: I'm not a collectivist, I'm leery of any movement that seeks to use government force to manipulate human society, and - to be even more blunt - I've simply got my priorities straight.

And you know what's even more important? You know what drives me to reject the covert and overt misandry of third-wave feminism more than anything else? I had - and have - a wonderful relationship with the first man I ever met.

Granted, I don't actually remember our initial meeting. All I have are photographs lovingly collected in two old books -- photographs captioned with the same neat hand that recorded the story of my birth. When I was in high school, I tried to imagine what that first day might've been like for this man that I loved, and I wrote a sappy poem about it -- a bit of doggerel that has since been lost (probably fortunately) to the mists of history.

The first man in my life read Scientific American articles to me when I was a wee little Steph. I don't actually remember that part either. I do remember his giving me other books to read on my own as my literacy blossomed and eventually outpaced what was being taught in school. Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke -- I know all of these names now because of him. This man - who let me steal books from his collection and allowed me to run lose in the East Lyme Public Library without a chaperone - made me an incurable, inveterate Reader with a capital R and a lifelong science fiction fan.

The first man in my life was a nuke; consequently, he was often temporarily absent from our lives. That didn't really matter to me though. When he was here, he made that time count. He openly and passionately loved the woman who bore me, teaching me through example what St. Paul means when he enjoins husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. In fact, even today, this man treats my mother as if she personally hung the moon and would do anything to make her happy. Once, on a YouTube podcast, a commentator remarked half in jest that if it were announced that women everywhere prefer men to walk on their hands, acrobats and gymnasts would make a solid living as hand-walking instructors. When I think of the very first man I ever met, I know at once that this is both funny and 100% true.

With us kids, the first man in my life was a trickster who subtly undermined our lessons in manners by blowing straw wrappers in our faces in family restaurants, cracking jokes at seemingly inappropriate times, and giving us pointers on how to spit phlegm out the window of a moving car without getting back-splash. His antics would often mortify Mom, but when all was said and done, I think they also taught both Matt and me the importance of balance. Sometimes you have to be serious, and sometimes it's okay to just let your hair down and be silly. I can't be too sure, but I suspect my appreciation for weird tourist attractions and hilariously wrong doodads comes from this particular man's joie de vivre.

Today, the first man in my life is getting on in years, and a mild stroke has imposed upon him a new fragility. But in all the ways that matter, he is still the same man I fell in love with as a girl -- and I hope with all my heart that God does not welcome him home for many years yet.

Dad -- I love you, and I am both proud and grateful to be your daughter. The vision of manhood you embodied in your very being and actions seems to have inured me to one of the worst ideological mistakes of our age.

Today, Dad is in the hospital recovering from a shoulder replacement and is now more significantly disabled due to the second stroke he had in the fall of 2017, but the sentiments above remain true.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

I Love Iron Man 3000 (Part VII) (Hardcore Spoilers)

Part I // Part II // Part III // Part IV // Part V // Part VI

Congratulations, reader! You have finally reached the end of the tour of my Tony Stark Playlist. If you have stuck with me, thank you. I know you probably didn't expect this blog to suddenly morph into an Iron Man shrine, but - uh - I've always had a tendency to go a little crazy whenever something hits me like this. That's why I wore a Bajoran earring to school in the early 90's. That's why I read every single existing biography of John Adams in the late 90's. That's why I wrote tens of thousands of words of Vir Cotto fanfiction in the early 2000's. Matt would probably say that this is one of my autistic traits, and I'm not sure he'd be wrong.

At any rate, it's time to talk about Peter Parker (that precious boy!), Infinity War, and Endgame.

"Part of the journey is the end."

Sunday, June 2, 2019

I Love Iron Man 3000 (Part VI)

Part I // Part II // Part III // Part IV // Part V

In our podcast, Matt (borrowing from another author whose book I wish I owned) classified Tony Stark as a hero who has been "broken and remade." This -- strikes me as blindingly perfect. And you know the funny thing? If you think about it, that process of breaking and remaking doesn't happen just once. It can be argued, in fact, that it happens seven different times. In Iron Man, Tony is wrenched violently from his former unconsciousness (broken) and returns home determined to do good despite his imperfections (remade). In Iron Man 2, he falters, undone by his fear of death (broken) -- then rises once he realizes that yes, there are people out there who love him and are rooting for his redemption (remade). In The Avengers, the death of a colleague (broken) inspires Tony to become a team player willing to take big risks on others' behalf (remade). In Iron Man 3, Tony is stripped of his armor (broken) and learns that said armor is a tool and not the true source of his heroism (remade). There you go: four remixes on a theme.

And this post? This post will cover Remix Five: The Civil War Album, in which Tony looks for absolution in all the wrong places.

In Ultron, Tony's shadow is revealed for all the world to see -- and its true destructive potential evidently shocks Tony enough to direct his tinkering inward. This brings us to Tony's first scene in Civil War.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

I Love Iron Man 3000 (Part V)

Part I // Part II // Part III // Part IV

In Phase 1, Tony Stark trucks along more or less intact. He almost dies a few times, to be sure, but every problem he faces early on is earthbound, comprehensible, and conquerable through his own wits.

The invasion of New York, on the other hand? That's different.

Seeing the powerful forces arrayed against Earth - seeing that, technologically, those forces outclass anything his own brilliant mind has yet devised - cracks Tony's spirit in a fundamental way. While he retains his technocratic hubris - his conviction that he can engineer his way out of catastrophe if he just works hard enough - he never again walks into a room with the breezy arrogance we saw in the opening act of The Avengers. Now, he is a more tortured character -- more anxious, more desperate, more plagued by the consequences of accumulated trauma.

As I said in my podcast with Matt, Iron Man 3 and Age of Ultron - and the rest of the arc, really - present a Tony Stark who is driven by his fear.