I Saw Che Guevara: An Angry Poem

Hola.

One of the things few people know about me is that I am an angry human being. A deeply. Angry. Human being. Why am I so angry? Because I don’t think it’s all that big a deal to be angry. In fact, I like anger. Anger makes me want to kill fix all the things that are making me angry. Anger is my bravery. Does my anger make me a terrible person sometimes? Yes. But I’m a terrible person who wants to fix things, and that’s all that matters.

I used to be a not so angry person, back in the day. People took advantage of that, and that’s not okay, so I’ve embraced anger wholeheartedly, because I’m not dealing with that again. Fuck that. So anger has become my weapon against ass-holes.

So, in my anger, I wrote an open letter of a poem to those ass-holes, because ass-holes need to know that they’re ass-holes. You see, I think that if you’re going to be aggressive, you ought to do it outright, merely out of courtesy for the other person if not for yourself. (When I say “aggressive,” I mean “logically/morally aggressive”: as in, standing up for someone and yourself in appropriate situations, calling out jerks, etc. – I do NOT mean bullying, punching, abusing, etc.)  It seems to me that more subtle forms of aggression, namely passive aggression, is very predatory and manipulative, and does nothing more than make you an animal creeping up on its prey. What’s worse is that the prey never knows where it stands, if the hunter’s out there, if the hunter even knows the prey exists. At least when you’re combative the person can fight back if he so wishes. And on top of that, passive aggression is actually linked to emotional abuse, especially that inflicted by narcissists. Just saying.

On to the poem. Note that I’m no Emily Dickinson. My heart is in prose writing; if anything, I merely flirt with the art of verse.

Also note that this poem has nothing to do with race thematically, although I do bring up African Americans. None of what I say about them reflects how I feel about African Americans or the movement. This poem is actually inspired by true events and real people (as you may have inferred), so all I’m doing is telling you what I know.

Hey, who’s that?

Che Guevara. (Where it at.)

Oh dang, haven’t seen him in years;

Back when he hid behind American crocodile tears.

Hey, Che Guevara.

I saw you on the big screens,

Burning Wall Street down like all the other drama queens,

Enslaving Main Street because you’re all anybody ever needs.

(And you don’t need anyone except everyone.)

But, oh shit.

What’s that on your wrist?

Under your sleeve an Apple Watch gleams.

(Fidel Castro just texted you.)

Oh, shit, what’s that in your trash?

The crumpled up bag of yesterday’s Big Mac.

Oh, shit, Che Guevara,

Where’s your AK at, Che Guevara?

Right here, in the trash with the half-eaten Big Mac.

(Starving people in Africa could have eaten that. Ass.)

You know who you remind me of?

I remember a boy with a beard styled like pubic hair,

And a detachable spine that he could use like a whip or even a spear.

He’d ram it into people and hope they like it, hope they liked him,

Because who doesn’t love a rapist?

He still thinks he’s going to be a good therapist.

(Wish I could ask him,

“Are you with me in Rockford?”)

He once said to me,

“I’m the patron saint of nonconformity!”

As he shriveled himself with unforgivable anorexia,

Because ten pounds underweight gives you obesity.

(It’s a scientific fact.)

I once knew a woman,

Who was beautiful and black.

She had all these books on African queens,

But wasn’t strong enough to give a voice to all the raped girls she’s seen.

The University

Wouldn’t allow that.

I once met a therapist,

Who gave me a prescription of gravity and a bridge.

It was either that or take a peek into a tumor’s perspective.

I once knew a white cop,

Who opened a moat for all the stalkers;

But he never ended a black life,

And I guess that’s all that matters.

Oh, shit, Che.

I just saw John Galt laughing at me.

Oh, shit, Che.

Never mind, he was laughing at you.

Sorry, Che, that’s how the world works.

You’re just not the Che you used to be;

You’re hated everywhere but the Land of the Free.

Where’d your face go, Che?

Why don’t you liberate a few more people, Che?

Why don’t you murder a few more people, Che?

Where’d you go, Che?

Oh shit, a sudden realization:

You were never there.

I once knew Che Guevara,
And he lived at Concordia.

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Photograph provided by Wikimedia Commons.
Gif provided by WiffleGif.

Discomforted

Having renounced most of my faith in supernatural powers, I thought it would be a wise decision to explore the root of the secular lifestyle: The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin. So, I went to my local Half-Price and found a 150th anniversary edition, marked as such by a special introduction. None of my Christian friends or family members were around, so I could purchase it without any hairy eyeballs tracking me down to the cash register, which is always a plus. To make things even better, the cashier actually became excited to see the copy in my hands. “Oh, wow, Charles Darwin!” she gasped as she slid the bar code beneath a scarlet string of light. “He was such a cool guy!”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said, grinning at her intellectual enthusiasm. (Or was it youthful naivety?)

“Such a cool, cool guy!” she affirmed. “I hope you enjoy reading it! He’s so cool!”

She’d be disappointed to know that I didn’t experience Darwin’s “coolness” that day – and that I still haven’t, even though I purchased the book a month ago. For one day, I took Origin of the Species with me to read during the off-periods of my work shift (which can happen quite often – I work at the circulation desk at my university’s library,  which is a most serene workplace), and I’ve found that the text angered me. Not the text that Darwin wrote, though. Rather, it was the “special introduction.”

Well. They weren’t kidding when they said “special.”

First of all – which may very well be the last of all – it was authored by Ray Comfort. The majority of us will recognize him by his work in heavily edited Christian documentaries that address the “ignorance” and “bullheaded stupidity” of atheists (one of his documentaries is entitled “The Atheist Delusion”), all the while oversimplifying the concept of evolution and the Big Bang, and hyperbolizing the drawbacks of atheism on society. If you were to Google him, your eyes would be yanked to the side-bar, which declares him, first and foremost and only, as an evangelist. So, here swings the million dollar question: Why the hell is a guy like Ray Comfort  writing the special introduction to the 150th anniversary edition of The Origin of the Species?

Well, we’ll answer that question in a moment. Firstly, I’d like to answer the thousand dollar question: Why did I buy the 150th anniversary edition of The Origin of the Species when it had a special introduction by Ray Comfort? The simple answer is: ignorance. I had no idea who Ray Comfort was, or what his goals were, until I read his introduction and did some research on him. I also looked into the publisher of my subject of buyer’s remorse, Bridge Logos Foundation, and found them to be a heavily Christian book publisher – they’re the kind that publish Christian lifestyle paperbacks for the central Texan Walmarts. I would also like to take the time to state that I did find  The Origin of Species in the religion/metaphysics section of the Half-Price. Again, I must address how blind with ignorance and passion I was at the time I noticed the book. I was like a drowning man, scrambling and flailing for a log as it drifts overhead, only to find that once has grabbed it and clawed onto its back that the log was not a log – but a goddamn alligator. Like the drowning man, I was so blinded by the emotions of opportunity that I did not take stock of my surrounding, and now I’ve been metaphorically bitten by an alligator because of my fifteen minutes of stupidity.

However, is it wholly my fault? The Origin of the Species is emblazoned in gilded, ribbon-like text. Charles Darwin’s face is the cover’s sole imagery. Am I totally in the wrong for assuming that I had purchased an unaltered, un-Comforted edition, published by an unbiased but intellectually driven publishing company?  Why would a publishing company like Bridge Logos Foundation produce the actual Origin of Species, instead of one of their many counter-arguments? (One answer: to boost sales.) Why would a guy like Ray Comfort be allowed to write the introduction to The Origin of the Species anyway?

Ah. So we’ve returned to the million dollar question. Told you we’d be getting back to that.

The answer is very easy. What do evangelists do best? They evangelize. In apparently the sleaziest way possible, nigh comparable to the art of fur-trapping.

First of all, they set the bait. In this case, they decide to publish The Origin of Species, as many respectable publishing companies would for the book’s 150th anniversary. But Bridge Logos isn’t a respectable publishing company, they’re an evangelist one, so they recruit the scholar of our times, a clearly renowned expert of Darwin and Darwinism, Ray Comfort. Then the trap is set: in this case, they distribute it to any retailer that will have them (mostly Central Texan Walmarts), and make sure that they’re neatly placed in the religious section – don’t want to false advertise, you know. Then, the trap is unleashed: some curious atheist kid who only poked her little brown nose in to see what bullshit is being distributed notices the bait, gets excited, and goes for it.

Unfortunately for Bridge Logos, the prey must be highly susceptible to influence. I, although clearly unobservant, am also not that susceptible. In my case, the trap only bruised my faith in humanity. However, let me open up a random page of Ray Comfort’s erudite and articulate introduction and jot it down for you, so you can get a taste of what more susceptible prey would read:

Adolf Hitler took Darwin’s evolutionary philosophy to its  logical conclusion. […] Anthropologist Sir Arthur Keith said of Hitler: “The German Führer, as I have consistently maintained, is an evolutionist.”

With that logic, the susceptible atheist would have to conclude that he is siding with Hitler whenever he states that he believes in evolution. Therefore, he is a Nazi. As such, he should believe in the slaying of “weaker races.” However, being a normal (if not naive) human being, that doesn’t really settle well with him, and he becomes grossly uncomfortable. Even though many other people and texts before The Origin of the Species, one of them being the Bible, features if not encourages ostracizing and/or destroying of “weaker races” – or, for more Biblical terms, “faithless nations,” “wicked nations,” etc. (For example: Sodom and Gomorrah. Its destruction wasn’t even a human one, but an all-out supernatural one – that is to say, God, whom men are supposed to love and worship, wholly believes that certain people or maybe even races are not worth a breath of life, and should be destroyed on the spot. Much like with Hitler.) It’s a dark part of human history that has been around since its recorded beginning. “Social Darwinism” is no vice of the modern and/or secular world, but rather a universal thorn in humanity’s side that has only recently been given a name. And just because “Darwin” happens to be in said monnicker, does not mean that people who side with him are Nazis or support Nazi-like ideals. To say otherwise, or to even imply otherwise, is not a logical conclusion, but rather a jump in reasoning. To also suggest that the Holocaust could have been avoided if Darwin had not written The Origin of the Species is much like saying girls won’t be raped if they just wear more modest clothing. The reason behind Hitler’s motivation means nothing, and nothing – except maybe Hitler’s early death or Hitler’s reawakening as a more moral man, but even those are hyperthetical; anti-semitism was rather common in Europe at the time anyway – would have prevented it.

There are other such examples all throughout Comfort’s introduction, such as only quoting creationist anthropologists to ensure that the susceptible atheist feels like an idiot. It then takes it further and discussing Darwin the man, and his viewpoints on life in general. One such viewpoint being Darwin’s stance on the company of women. To quote a quote, supposedly taken from Darwin’s journal:

“Better than a dog, anyhow.”

Well, you know, at least he didn’t mention anything about: “You know, if I had two guests come over and this gang comes up and they ask if they can rape them, I think I’ll give them my daughters instead. Yeah, that sounds like a good plan.” You know, kind of like Lot. Or: “I think that if my wife turns out to be infertile, I think I’ll just ask her if I can rape her maid instead.” You know, kind of like Abraham. “You know, humanity’s kind of in a shit-hole. I better put myself in human form and save them. Oh, shoot, humans come from where? Fine, I’ll just impregnate one of their women without her consent and just say, ‘Ay, he’s the son of God – don’ worry ’bout it,’ and it’ll be totally cool.” You know, kind of like God.

The fact of the matter is, Comfort doesn’t really write scholarly articles. Instead, he atheist-shames. Secular shames? Whatever. And as Bridge Logos evidently supports this flail-in-hand manner of evangelizing, what other evangelical methods are they willing to use to achieve their die-hard goal? Censorship? Rewording? If they’re willing to insert Comfort’s smear of an essay to ensure the discomforting of susceptible atheists (and, supposedly, they’re eventual flight to Christianity to avoid the “bad, bad men”), then what else are they willing to do? How much of the book’s actual text is truly Darwin’s, but rather one of Comfort’s crucifix-fiddling gremlins trembling over his blue markers and yellow pages? “Can’t let another one go to the Devil, oh no, not another one…”

As a former Christian, I’m actually rather embarrassed that there are those who would go to such awkward and immeasurable lengths. Because, besides the trapping and furrying, punish and shame tactics that are so evident in this copy, this really is offensive. To put it in perspective: if you were writing a book about the history of ancient Africa, would you include an introduction about how ancient European civilizations were clearly more advanced ethically, mentally, artistically, et cetera? No. You wouldn’t. Because that’s improper, that’s rude, that’s racist, and to top it all off, has little to no weight on the subject matter. See, that’s what Bridge Logos and Ray Comfort have done. But Bridge Logos and Ray Comfort don’t care; they’ll atheist-shame till the cows float to Heaven, and it doesn’t matter who gets hurt, so long as those cows keep floating on up.

However, while I am disappointed, I’m not surprised. Much of what I learned back in middle school about Christian apologia (which was the main period in my life where I was exposed to Christian apologia), wasn’t so much actual Christian apologia as it was atheist shaming. It’s how they uproot the weeds; it’s nothing new. (Kind of like social Darwinism.) Which is one of the reasons why I stopped being a Christian.

And why I’ll never return to Christianity.

Tangent 1: Why “Special Introductions” Suck

Tangents are not relevant to the post at all. Skip if you’re not interested.

As many bookworms will know, many classics tend to have “special introductions” in almost every recently published edition. Some can be insightful and educational, such as when they present us with brief biographies of the authors, or when they discuss the impact the text has made on culture (it is even more intriguing when there is a comparison between the book’s immediate reception and its criticism hundred years after publication). But other than that, they’re really the most useless essays I’ve ever read. They add nothing to the text. All of them are opinionated, many of them are longer than they need to be, and they’re all quietly patronizing of the reader. For instance, in the introduction to my copy of Sophocles: The Complete Plays, the author (it does not give a name) begins by informing us how tragic plays were written to explain what it’s like to be a human being. And that’s about it.

Honestly, when I first read Oedipus Rex, I thought it was about the hazards of dating a MILF, but I guess not. Had to skim the ever so important introduction to realize that Sophocles didn’t even know what a MILF was. Wow. Shut my mouth. That play actually means something to culture. Huh. Good thing I read the introduction, or I never would have gotten it.

I mean, really. No one’s going to pick up Sophocles and think: “Oh hell yeah, more Percy Jackson shit!” No. Nobody. The introduction is pointless. It wastes my reading time. I could be understanding Sophocles’ stance on the human condition, but instead, I’m spending five to ten minutes being lectured by some Ivory Tower sort that Sophocles simply does have a stance on the human condition. If I wanted to read things like that, or even be treated that way as a reader, I’d go back to my high school freshman English class. At least those had discussions.

Also, introductions have a terrible habit of spoiling books. My most recent example is when I read Wuthering Heights over my Christmas break. I skimmed the introduction because I noticed it discussed Emily Bronte’s life, which I thought was interesting; however, I made the mistake of going past that part and reading the Ivory Tower’s opinion on the thematic elements of the novel. In the span of a page, I learned not only whom Catherine Earnshaw was, but also who she was going to marry. If you’ve ever read Wuthering Heights, I’m sure you can understand why this severely disappointed me. It ripped a good chunk of the experience out of reading Wuthering Heights for the first time, and although I still enjoyed the novel, I just don’t think I can forgive the Ivory Tower for doing that to me.

Just, why can’t they put the more “thematically minded” introductions at the end of the book? When we’ve had time to digest what we think the theme is, when we’ve experienced the book as much as we could? That way, the experience of reading an introduction would turn them from half-hearted lectures to what could be discussions held millions of miles away. But no. I guess readers are  so bloody idiotic that they need the books to be “introduced” to them.

Tangent 2: God’s Love Song

A lot of Christians like to claim that the Bible is God’s love letter to us.

Kind of reminds of this one.

The Insecurity of Writers

As the final chapter of our Los Angeles adventure came to an end, Brad Markowitz – the exceptional man who has been our guiding spirit for interviewing writers – arranged for us to head down to the Writer’s Guild, and set up shop in their coveted library of scripts and screenplays. There, we met Paul Kaufman (director for shows like NCIS:LA and The Mentalist), Adam Sigel (a video game writer who has worked with Disney Online and Stephen Spielberg), and last but not least, Linda Burstyn (the executive story editor for NCIS and writer for Chasing Life). These three have worked their way through the ranks, battling casual sexism and clique politics to get to where they are now.

They are also very cynical and don’t seem to enjoy their jobs very much, but they seem to make the most out of it.

Why do I say this? Well, make no mistake, they were very kind to show up at all, but to say the least, they didn’t sugar coat the industry. They pegged it as spiteful, fearful, and generally demanding. However, one thing that really upset me was the fact that they discussed that their stories (mostly Sigel and Kaufman; Burstyn had to leave beforehand) should not have a theme or a moral. One of us asked if advocacy groups ever approached them for stories, and they responded such themes weighed a story down. It seemed like there shouldn’t be an message there at all, except whatever was dragged along by the story.

As a person who loves themes, who thinks that no story is good unless it MEANS something – this didn’t settle well with me. It seems to me that a story without a meaning is useless. Who’s going to learn from a purposeless story? What good does it do? How does it help anyone?

They claimed that the executives wouldn’t really touch stories with meaning anyway, but even Kaufman admitted that he had themes cut. He said that stories with themes “stink.” But that’s not true. Themes bring people together. They reveal things about humanity that could never be known without them- things that are important to our everyday experience. They promote empathy – God knows we need more of it, and if anything, they ENHANCE the story, they don’t bog it down. I think audiences even crave a message, so much that if a writer has no intention to create a theme, the audience just makes one up. For example, while reading Divergent, I decided that Veronica Roth was trying to teach kids that intelligent people were evil, because she had chosen the Erudite faction (who live up to their name) as the main antagonists. I don’t really know if this was Roth’s intentions (frankly, I hope it’s not); it was just an assumption. However, it changed the tone and layer of the story for me. And that’s what people want from stories: layers. Though they want stories to separate them from their lives, many people seek out stories as a way to help them navigate through it, and like life, those stories must have layers. Layers that speak out like any human person, and reach out and touch someone. A story without a layer is cumbersome, and frankly, just lazy.

And I’m not sure if these writers were correct realistically, either. Many shows (or just their episodes) deal with themes like teen pregnancy, the hardships of the homosexual or transgender person, racism, et cetera. And many of these shows are popular, gaining several seasons. To top it all off, let me remind you all of a little genre of fiction known as literary fiction, which is designed with themes in mind, and is read and adored by hundreds of people every day, even though many of these books are over centuries old. Guess what: themes work, guys. One wonders if the executives are really scared of them, or if the writers just don’t want to deal them.

It’s conversations like these that make me worry about humanity. Is that really all stories are for? Just amusement? They can’t ever be made to teach, or inspire? To increase empathy, to help us learn to appreciate ourselves as a species? I hope not. I understand that people need to relax sometimes, sometimes they even need gratification, but can any one of us really live just being surrounded by useless stories? What will happen then? Or has it already?

But then again, I prefer books to television shows, anyway. Maybe I’m just biased and ignorant. Maybe it’s easier to incorporate themes into books because they’re longer. I could understand that. And, again, people do need to relax to a fun story. Maybe that’s all it is. Just making a good story.

A part of me hopes not…but a part of me hopes so.

A Few Notes.

On this day, we met the honorary “Fifth Season,” Robby Robinson, the musical arranger and director for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons during the 1970s.  He has also written songs, jammed out on the keyboard during shows, produced said shows, and then conduct orchestras where necessary – all for the Four Seasons. When he isn’t on tour, he plays for a small church in Simi Valley, composing music for them and hosting small events geared towards the church’s benefit.

Robinson often attributes his faith as the reason behind his success. He informed us that the music industry can take a person on a dark road, no matter who they are. Many people fall by the wayside, because they just don’t have the tenacity or charisma to keep going on. Many people stick to it by sheer ruthlessness of demeanor or spirit. Robinson says that he always wanted to go down that twisted, but beautiful path, and that he still is, but his faith is keeping him from bending to the ill-will that plagues many musical artists and managers. When he didn’t have tenacity, he went to God, and it helped him to plough through.

If you go down down to Robinson’s church to listen to him play, you may notice that many of his songs have a Sixties buzzing swing to it, which is bright but not sparkly, unlike today’s pop. This may be the reason why he’s not recording CDs anymore, aside from retirement; he hasn’t kept up with the times – or rather, the times just left him. But despite this difference in era, he really is a talented musician. For just one example, he can play the Hammond organ like no one else.

One other thing that he said that still sticks with me is his description of what a few strands of notes can do for people. These notes, if written well, can not only speak to people, but also bring them together around the composer. It can persuade us to feel sadness on a bright day, or brightness on a sad day. Music is a gateway to thought, as it either opens our imaginations, or lays out new ideas for us to pick from with subjective lyrics. Robinson’s description of music is a true, logical statement – but just the thought of it still strikes a chord, and makes one fantasize about it. It’s such a strange thing to think about, that a few well-timed sounds can appeal to thousands of people, make them unified. But it’s also a very beautiful thing.

Museums and Entertainment

The bane of every history teacher’s life is that one student who whines about how the subject is too boring. If every history teacher’s classroom was like the Ronald Reagan Museum, then maybe we would have less blighted teachers. For the Ronald Reagan is what every good museum should be. Informative, stocked with insightful displays and imagery, backed by creditable sources, and most of all: entertaining.

Most people don’t consider museums entertaining. Even I, a fan of museums, never thought of them as members of the industry until I took this course. Yet they are considered by communication scholars as amusing – and upon careful reflection, a museum fan like myself may end up agreeing. Especially in regards to the Ronald Reagan, where every other foot is marked by images, words, or displays. There are also interactive displays – or should I say, games (that aren’t very educational, to be honest; they’re just something for the kiddies) – for those interested. Small rooms are placed at the center of their respective exhibits so people may watch a short film for additional information and immersion. Although everything is for the sake of education, it is done with diversified spectacle, or, the entertaining, with movies, interesting relics from the White House, and dioramas to give us insight into the “world of Ronald Reagan.”

For the whole point is to ensure that the audience feels that they are entering another world – much like Disneyland, the art of the museum is based on simulation, or “three-dimensional story-telling”. (For everyone can be hooked by a good story.) The Ronald Reagan’s is a little different form of simulation, however; you’re still very much trapped in the real world, except now you’re looking at it through a telescopic lens of information. Although this isn’t nearly as spiritually liberating as Disneyland or church, if the museum has done its work well and opened your heart and mind, one will soon discover how necessary museums are to both individuals and communities. No matter if they’re free or pricey, large or small, a Smithsonian or the Sophienburg, museums remind us of a past forever wobbling on the knife-edge of collective memory in a fun, interactive way. After all, history is made everyday for people to learn from it, either as a society or as individuals; not necessarily just to avoid repeating it, but also to repeat it purposefully, or simply to enrich our existences as human beings by enhancing our knowledge.

Aside from the few cynics who are too impatient to appreciate the museum for what it is, there really is no downside to having a museum in one’s town. They are non-profits, meaning that they won’t take too much of your tax payer’s money. Though some may be expensive, it is only in the effort to make education an immersive, enjoyable process, to ensure that people truly are learning. And as long as it is educational, the money will be worth it. Education is an obligatory investment, and one should never stop learning.

The Happiest Place on Earth

When Walt Disney started planning his beloved Disneyland, he wanted his guests to feel like they were entering a whole other world the moment they passed through the gates. To every inch, the park represents the vision. Everything is a simulation of a new world. One part is a fantasy-land, the other is the future of mankind (or, the fetus of EPCOT), the other a jungle of adventure, the other a Wild West town. The rides are no exception. Matterhorn Bobsleds simulates sledding down the icy paths of Matterhorn with a Yeti at your heels; another attraction is a tour of Alice’s Wonderland, and so on. It all relates to what I perceive us as the theory of entertainment: the creation of a story, an adventure, to take you away from your world, so

Everyone loves being transported to another world. Becoming a part of a fantasy eliminates the problems of reality. It’s that desire to shed oneself of the true world that gives the fantasy genre its audience, which spans generations and countries. It only makes sense that those little fairies and gremlins should spring from the ink of the page or the roll of film, and into a true three-dimensional experience, such as the aforementioned journey through Wonderland. When one sits on that caterpillar train, one forgets he’s a person. He’s Alice, chasing after the White Rabbit, playing croquet with the Red Queen, looking up at birds shaped like eyeglasses. Even when he gets off the caterpillar, so long as he remains in Disneyland, the concerns of politics or daily life have no meaning. He’s still an adventurer, he’s still Alice, only now she has crossed through the magical looking glass, examining a whole, brave new world around her. “Where to go next?” is one’s only problem. Other than that, one is free. The only limit is the gate that surrounds the park. That may seem very limited objectively, but to a fan of the park, that gate is made of pearl.

Now, everyone knows Disneyland can be pricey. I spent almost a hundred dollars on food, drink, and – yes – t-shirts. (I’m a human being. It was my duty to buy those shirts.) However, although those prices may be stressful to Disneyland’s thriftier audiences, money (so long as you have it) should be no boundary between oneself and a good experience. And Disneyland, through and through, is an experience worth having.

Walt Disney wanted his theme park to be fun for both the young and the young at heart. Now, I’ve noticed that in this glorious age of butt-hurt cynicism, this excludes many, many adults from the audience. But even if you feel that much of your youth has been milked away by the expectations of society, I would suggest that you take a crack at Disneyland. Being drawn into that innocent fantasy world may just lighten your loaded heart, and awaken the child within you once more. After all, we all need to be a child sometimes. We can’t survive living otherwise.

 

A Night at the Theatre

To see play is one thing. To stroll down aisles formed by the bundles of unused props, lighting, and technical equipment, and then see a play is another. At the Geffen Playhouse, the magic of the stage comes alive almost nightly, filling the air with electricity. To see how that magic is made doesn’t make it any less entrancing – instead, it adds to the wonder of the theater. For instance, if you go to the theater and see a set piece rolled on stage, then it’s merely a set piece. But if you’re as lucky as we were to be given a tour of the backstage, you’d know that a set piece is more than just a set piece. It’s an almost sentient being. It was handcrafted, thousands of dollars were spent for it,  people treated it like a child, just for this moment. If you’re ever lucky enough to take a tour backstage, or be a member of that backstage, don’t think that it will open your eyes to the theater world. Instead,know that it will most certainly open your heart.

What? I’m not allowed a slice of cheese with my blog? Even when I’m being completely honest?

Anyway, I guess I need to talk about entertainment now. Yaaaaay.

Theater was the movie before the movie was cool. There was a time when almost everyone went to the theater, and more-or-less appreciated it as a method of entertainment, mostly because of its ability to surprise audiences. Not including the cozy business practices of Broadway, theater has always been radical. From it’s start with the ancient Egyptians (whose actors literally had to kill each other), to this point in time, theater was meant to shock. Whether with tricks of the light and having an actor soar through the air, or astounding people with despicable philosophies and all too original ideas.

However, despite the fact that it is always changing, theater is often perceived as old, meant to be attended by older people. Many people therefore resort to movies for entertainment, even though movies are so lacking in magic in comparison to plays. Movies try to be too real; in theater, so long as a budget is put into it, it only matters if a story is being told effectively. A stage can be as blank as possible, while movies are obligated to be always full. Some people may appreciate movies for that reason, but more likely than not, these people just don’t know that a blank or lacking stage can really be an imaginative design if used well. It can also express an idea – a goal that both movies and plays ought to try to achieve. That’s why people still go to the theater: to learn a new idea. Of course, some of them may go for spectacle and pay thousands of dollars for a Broadway ticket, but the truth is, many people who see Broadway plays don’t understand that despite the flashing lights and gilded  set designs, an idea is still being expressed. The only difference is that Broadway thinks more in terms of commerce, therefore making it more repetitive. Other than that, even a Broadway play can still be as philosophical as the Theatre for Social Change or avant-garde.

Because of Broadway and these revolutionary ideas, it is doubtful that theater will ever die. It will only grow quiet for a moment, before bursting into an uproar. Who knows? Maybe a day shall come that the imagination of the theater shall be more appreciated than the fullness of the movie. But with all this improvements of technology and the constant revolutionizing of CGI films, it is doubtful that this new Age of Theater shall come at any point of our generation.

The Meaning of Comedy

If you’ve ever seen Space Jam or Trading Places, then more likely than not you’ve heard of Herschel Weingrod, the writer behind the movies. He met my group at a Thai restaurant earlier today, and spoke to us about the art of comedy.

One main point of comedy Herschel (as he prefers to be called) emphasizes as important is the depth to a comedic piece. To Herschel, a script has to be more than just a bunch of jokes. They have to be connected by a theme. I asked him what was his least favorite comedic movie, and he cited Tammy. To him, it was superficial, and the script’s pension for making fun of the lead’s weight made it a thoroughly unpleasant story. “Unless she found strength in those jokes,” to paraphrase Herschel, “then the script was just mining for laughs.”

Unfortunately, that’s often what we expect from comedies: laughs. Very few consider the deeper meaning. Herschel, though, is not one of those people. Especially as a writer, he likes to penetrate into darkness, create worlds with real and deep issues – and managing not to get so emotionally invested into the script. After all, he is there to entertain. So, he makes sure to includes things that amuse both himself and the audience.

Perhaps it is merely the fact that I’m not much of a movie goer, but it feels like this art of creating meaningful comedy has been lost. Many comedies have become meaningful classics, like A Christmas Story (a tale of desire), Mrs. Doubtfire (a man deals with divorce and being separated from his children), et cetera. Now, I’m sure that there are many comedies out there in the more modern world that deals with more-or-less universal themes. But at the same time, there does appear to be an influx of superficial comedies like Tammy, such as Dumb and Dumber. Well, perhaps these movies would be more well received if they were just better written or performed. Like Tammy. If one googled that movie and merely read its description, one might actually consider it a movie of some value – however, ratings show that once audiences sat down and watched it, it was exactly what Herschel had described it as: superficial.

However, superficial isn’t some tattoo on the face of our era. It permeates across the globe, through time, and always will. It fluctuates – one day it’s everything, the next it means nothing. What matters is that there will always be people who penetrate through the surface, in everything they do – including comedy; ESPECIALLY with comedy. For with meaningful comedy, people can relax, enjoy themselves – while still learning! Amazing what a good writer can do for hundreds of people, all of which need both a laugh and a lesson.

An Interview with Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson grew up on the farms of Iowa, eventually moving to Los Angeles to become a writer, producer, actor, and director of several successful independent movies. Mister Johnson is a fervent supporter of the “good story” and a “good message,” stating that only a combination of the two can create a good picture.

A good story is self-evident. But a good message is subjective, and can mean many things. To Dave Johnson as a filmmaker, a good message to him focuses on the subtly spiritual. Notice the term “subtly.” He makes sure that few of his films are Bible thumping; instead, he likes to use metaphors and themes to express his faith. Johnson states that that is the only way to get people without a faith to watch films, or better yet, even consider Christianity; if a filmmaker is extreme with his Christian messages, then he ends up bifurcating the audiences and making the film largely inaccessible, possibly even to Christians. Being subtle is more persuasive, makes the film more relatable, and often helps the writer produce a more impressive story.

However, despite his subtlety, he must film independent of major studios. Many of them aren’t willing to touch that body of work creatively; they may distribute it if they think it will do well on the market, but otherwise, many studios remain completely secular. If memory serves me correctly, this wasn’t always the. In the mid-Twentieth century, many artists were either free to write about such religious themes, or were compelled, especially during the Fifties when filmmakers had to compete with each to prove who was more American than the other. But times have changed. Now, people are seldom allowed to be proud to be Christian, nonetheless American. For instance, I once spoke with a man who actually praised America fr its free market politics, and it took me twenty seconds to decide whether he was joking or not. THAT is how self-loathing our culture has become, especially with the young generation. The mainstream is to not be anything but what’s safe, and being Christian and American is not necessarily safe anymore.

However, with clever filmmakers like Dave Johnson, the tides may very well change for the better – and the braver.

The Situation Comedy

“Just let it out,” the MC advised us. “Pretend like these characters are old friends or family members that we just haven’t seen in a long time.”

I sat in an audience of giggly teenagers and over-excitable blondes from Detroit. All the six-foot-five men had to sit in front of me; I twisted about my seat like a worm to get a look at the sets. It seemed like there were a dozen. Two bedrooms, a living room, an alleyway, a doctor’s office, et cetera. Some crew members milled about, setting up a few last minute props. Cameramen began to huddle around one set and a buzzer went off, a pause, a director called action. The sit-com began in full stiff glory. As the jokes dived off the top of a metaphorical thousand-foot tall building, the audience caught them with…must have been pity laughs. Should have been pity laughs, anyway.

To be fair, I’ve never been very fond of situation comedies. The only reason I went to see this one as a member of a live studio audience was because I was obligated by my Introduction to the Entertainment Industry class. However, I will admit that attending this particular showing has opened my eyes to why other people enjoy this genre. Until then, I just thought it was a difference in comedic preference. But when our MC told us to treat these characters as members of our own family, it made me realize what it is that attracts audiences to the situation comedy genre: recognition. This recognition is a product of a cocktail of formulas. The first and most obvious is the cocktail of repetition; very few sit-coms display character or story development, even though the characters learn their lessons over and over again. Stereotypes are practically the back-bone of character creation. Et cetera. Everyone understands these repetitive elements of the sit-com, especially the fans. But I would not say that this is the most prominent attraction of this genre. Rather, I believe there is something deeper, something human to the appeal.

The plot keys to this particular show was this: a young boy trying to grow up too fast, a mother and her teenaged daughter arguing, a grandmother enforcing old-fashioned beliefs. These are situations that families across the world can relate with. Perhaps seeing fictional characters react to these situation in comical, even slap-stick fashios comes off as cathartic for many willing audience members; maybe some of them even see these series as learning opportunity. After all, some sit-coms do manage to hire writers who are smart enough to create morals out of episodes that would otherwise be completely generic. However, I do hope that they don’t learn to act like the characters themselves. Many of them aren’t exactly moral or agreeable (another reason why I hate sit-coms).

Still, I have to doubt how greatly the sit-com adds to American culture. It really is merely an outlet; I haven’t heard of many – well, any – that has impacted a generation persay, or earning any particular awards in the past decade. I highly doubt that the next decade will be any different.