Tuesday, May 3, 2011

SyFy Bean Counters...or "Stargate: Universe" Lament

There was a time when commercial television viewership was actually considered to be almost an unspoken contract between the producers and the viewers. If a user picked up a show, especially one that was serial in nature, the expectation was that the story would be satisfying and continue through its cycle to the end. The arc of the story would ebb and flow; there were times when things grew really exciting, and then weeks would pass relatively calmly while the writers set up for the next hill on the roller coaster.

Today, though, we have something completely different: A business completely run for the sake of mounting piles of $$$. There is no care for the person at the other end of the signal. The folks at SyFy--the ones who are actually making the decisions about what stays on and what goes off--simply don't care about the core SyFy viewership. What they do care about is getting cheaper shows on board so that they can maximize their profits, culturally similar to the Ferengi from the Star Trek Universe.

The core SyFy viewership is, by my estimation, an intelligent bunch. These people are well read, technologically savvy, and forward thinking. SyFy viewers lead busy, vital lives. Not all of them can catch a show on a regular schedule, so the advent of online, on-demand viewing has been a boon to them. 

SyFy viewers have great imagination and tremendous hope for our future as a species of enlightened beings. 

Hope springs eternal.

Common sense usually wins. 

Some of us remember when the television season actually lasted from September through December. Every year, like clockwork, the shows would premiere in September, then finish up in December with the Christmas special. There were a few that would continue after that through around mid-February. Then the networks would pull out all the stops in May with "sweeps", and summertime was filled up with reruns...but nobody cared anyway because everyone wanted to be outside. 

Today, the job of tracking when a season is supposed to end and begin again has become difficult. The timetable seems very helter-skelter to me; completely out of rhythm and, to be honest...frustrating.

And now I find myself in the regrettable position, once again, of having gotten attached to a fairly new show on Hulu, only to have it ripped from my grasp just two seasons into its story arc. Say it ain't so, SyFy...say it ain't so.

You can bet on one thing: The people who watch Stargate: Universe are NOT the same people who are going to tune in week after week to watch reality shows or WW-Whatever Wrestling. I would just as soon learn to speak Romulan: In other words, that's just not my world, man. Sure, some people may get into watching low-paid actors and models carrying out various pranks and pratfalls, i.e. so-called reality TV. It's just that I've seen enough people make fools out of themselves in my life that I really don't need to see any more. I mean really...if I want to see fools, I can just tune into FOX News. 

I think I'll just curl up with a book.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Harsh Realities about Empathy in 21st Century America

An acquaintance of mine recently expressed his concern at a study that showed empathy among American college students to have dropped by 40% since the mid 1970s. He asked for my opinion. I said:

I can only speak about what I see happening in the United States because that is where I live. I believe the world is becoming a less empathetic, even meaner place. Just look at how we entertain ourselves aside from the Internet. Television has become increasingly disturbing, to the point that I have had my cable disconnected and no longer turn on that particular glowing rectangular box. Our young people have grown up with a decade of war under their belts, and it's just not that unusual any more...it's a way of life. 

I was born and reared in the Midwest, and as an adult have lived on the West Coast, the Southeast Coast, and in the American Southwest. I even lived in Australia. Now, I have returned to my Midwest roots, and I'm happy to be looking out the window right now at a glistening snowscape. I returned less than a year ago, after spending 6 years in the Phoenix, Arizona area.

Phoenix was not at all the enlightened society for which I had hoped. I found it to be, in a word, mean. I could never discern if people were angry because of the hot weather, or if it had something to do with group-think, or if it was just because the Phoenix area is populated primarily with people who are from "someplace else." I do know this: Maricopa County, Arizona is one boiling hotbed of anger and resentment. I came to call the local TV newscast Fear and Loathing in the Valley of the Sun. Now, understand this: Fear and Loathing is business as usual for the folks in Maricopa County. It's a way of life. You take any young person, and saturate their mind with enough violence and hate, this way of thinking becomes completely normal to them. In fact, it has to become their personal norm, because otherwise they would find themselves spiraling downward into a generation-wide depression from which they would not be able to climb.

I was recently engaged in a discussion regarding the need for some type of healthcare coverage in the US that would ensure all citizens have a right to and are able to afford at least the most basic care, including things like treatment for chronic illness. My partner in this discussion was a young man who is near 30 years old. He goes to my church. He is dead-set against any type of national healthcare plan. I asked him what I should do if were ever to lose insurance coverage due to job loss or other unforeseen circumstances. He replied that I could die, but that I would be in a better place.

Seriously...I do believe in the Lord, and Heaven, but I'm in no hurry to rush to the end. If that were a popular point of view, we would see more cases of mass suicide i.e. Jonestown. Other young people I have talked to, in general, about this gap in the American social system seem to think that if a person has no insurance, they can just go to the Emergency Room to be treated. Show me an Emergency Room that will diagnose and treat something like, oh, cancer, and I'll show you an honest to goodness jackalope. The truth is: Neither exists in reality. 

Also...it is most definitely not loving nor is it an empathetic stance to tell someone to die simply because they have no healthcare coverage. 

If you're worried about the capacity for empathy of future generations:
  • Turn off the television and get the magazines out of your personal dwelling.
  • Take your kids to volunteer at a local home for the aged, senior citizens center, homeless shelter, or hospital.
  • Teach your grandkids how to care for other living creature, such as a bird, a hamster, a cat, or a dog...or even a houseplant.
Above all, teach through your own actions:
  • When someone comes up and asks you for a dollar, don't judge; if you have the dollar, pass it on.
  • If you notice someone at the theater, the mall, or the restaurant waiting area who looks lonely or sick, ask them how they're doing, or if they need anything (and mean it).
  • If another driver pulls out in front of you or cuts you off in traffic, don't lose your temper, especially in front of your kid or grandkid: It's not the end of the world!!

Don't forget the so-called universal Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated. Take it a step further, and love others the way you want to be loved. Brotherly love, compassion...These are not words to describe emotion--they are words to describe action. Take action, and make a difference in the future.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


I've had a revelation.
I found out there were lies.
Now I wonder why I listened
to the poison that spewed from your mouth.

Poison is meant for only one thing...
to hurt,
or kill.

I was dead. Inside.

And I didn't know it.

I've been away...

It's been months...
seems like years.
So much has happened,
So many tears.

We lost my mama
In the flood
of tears from our eyes--
Tears of blood.

Locked in a room
I waited for you
To rescue me
From this fate, this doom.

You didn't come
And I realized
I lay alone,
I opened my eyes.

I went to you.
You held me close.
"Don't let me go,"
I whisper most.

Now you hold me
Through the night
And you wake me
With morning light.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Glee" Left Me Filled with Sorrow

There's a new show on television called "Glee". Now, I'm not much of a TV watcher, but in the beginning, Glee left me feeling hopeful that this would be a show filled with humor and music that I could really sit back and enjoy. The humor employed by the writers has been anywhere from tongue in cheek to jaw-dropping. The music has been fun to listen to, albeit the lip-syncing talent of the performers falls short from perfect. (Yes, it's true. They do the recordings ahead of time, and then sync the songs when they perform them for the camera).


Then they bring in this nasty man, Dakota Stanley, an expensive choreographer...and in a matter of about a minute, the show went from 4 stars to no starts (0).

First, Mr. Stanley hands out information sheets...and very pointedly does not give one to the single member of the group who is most different from the rest. Next, the thick Black girl is told to begin a very unhealthy diet. Then he begins to talk about his plans for the group, beginning with Arty, a young man in a wheelchair.

"Arty, you're cut. You're not trying hard enough."

"At what?" asks Arty.

"At walking," says Mr. Stanley. "Can't be wheeling you around during every number. It throws off the whole dynamic, and it's depressing."

Next, he insults the thick African-American girl and kicks her out of the group...after he told her about her new diet that was to consist only of coffee. He moves further down the line, then tells a Semitic teenage girl that she needs a nose job. Is this supposed to be funny? At the end of the line, he comes to the tall young man who plays on the school's football team and also sings with the glee club, despite peer pressure to do otherwise. Mr. Stanley calls him "Frankenteen" because of his height.

"Why don't you wipe that dopey look off your face, and get some lotion for those knuckles you've been dragging on the ground."

(Insert sound of crickets chirping here)

That knuckle-dragging joke was absolutely phenomenal. Really, it gave me a phenomenal headache.

"What's wrong with you," the young man asks Mr. Stanley.

..."You're freakishly tall. I feel like a woodland creature," replies Mr. Stanley.

(insert sigh)

This behavior sparks defiance in half the glee club members. As they head for the door, Mr. Stanley quotes from the Bible!

"Separate the wheat from the chaff." This, of course, is completely out of context.

That sinking feeling I had just fell down into my toes.

From here, Dakota Stanley de-evolves into a full-blown, name-calling bigot, wrapping his words in a statement that connects his actions to the truth and winning.

He calls the young, Jewish girl "Yentl", then follows this statement with, "Misfits and spaz-heads and cripples can make it, too." This went too far for me.

The use of the word "cripple" is not verboten, when used in the right context, however, "It can be a nasty pejorative when used against a person with a disability, such as 'You're just a cripple.' " (http://peidisabilityalert.blogspot.com/2008/09/is-it-ok-to-say-cripple)

FOX...I don't support you on many practices, but I was hoping this new show would be something different. Well, it's different, alright. It's different from my standard of entertainment. The show is mean-spirited, and revealing of the hearts of those who produced and wrote the script. Way to go, FOX...you've alienated me again.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Film Review: "Second Skin"

The film, Second Skin, is a documentary directed by Juan Carlos Pineiro Escoriaza. It's premise: To follow the lives of several different "gamers", players of online games, as they go about their gaming business--their lives. Escoriazo makes a bold attempt to show the dark side of gaming, as well as the side that encourages us as human beings.

The film has sparked some lively debate on Hulu, an Internet site where users can watch second run and current films and television, around the clock, on their own schedule. Some viewers felt, after seeing the film that the gamers depicted needed to more or less "get a life", and wake up to what is going on around them. Still other viewers found the film to be skewed in its depictation of the gaming community, stating that of the millions of people playing games, these are only a few--and they were the hard-core few, to boot.

This viewer felt a little sorry for those who just couldn't seem to grasp the idea of gaming as a pass-time or even a hobby. It has become an accepted pass-time to sit on the couch or in a chair and watch the television for several hours a night and even more on the weekend. Or perhaps, instead, to stare at the computer as it feeds the watcher select videos and movies. I wonder what is being given back to society in the sitting before a television set from the time one gets home from work until bedtime, taking a little bit of time to prepare a plate of food during the commercial, probably take out, only to hurry back to the couch so that not a single moment of watching will be missed. TV watchers seem to stare and stare at a screen where actors pretend the lives many of us wish we could have for ourselves.

Is gaming really that different? The gamer is sitting, staring at a screen where avatars live the lives the gamer wishes he/she could have. The similarity, however, ends there. The gamer is the writer and director of the story, interacting with people from around the world through the miracle of our generation: the Internet: Interactive entertainment, at the cost of an Internet connection and likely a monthly fee for access to the game of choice.

It's all escapism.

Some may find it disturbing that gamers sometimes actually do find a potential mate while playing a game. Still, the first face-to-face meeting of the couple really isn't that different from the meeting of a couple going on a blind date...excet that the couple is already deeply acquainted with one another. These gaming couples are not only meeting during the film, they are living together, marrying, and having babies, all while gaming.

How do non-gamers meet new people? Through church, maybe? A sports club? Or a dance club? It was pointed out in the documentary that meeting someone online seems far safer than meeting them in the real world. After all, a woman really can't be a victim of date rape in a virtual setting, can she? I suppose it's only a matter of time before that sad reality becomes a virtual reality, as well.

One segment revealed the lives of people who are differently-abled. These games certainly give them a new and vital way to communicate and associate with the world. On the other side of the coin, the dark side, as it were, we are witness to the rise of a new kind of addiction: gaming addiction. We are privy to the rehabilitation attempts of a young man who has lost literally everything he owns, except for his computer, his internet connection, and electricity.

So...the truth of it: Life, virtual or otherwise, is what you make of it. It is encouraging that these human beings are reaching out to others even while enjoying their hobby/obsession. It sounds to me like many of them have entered into long-term relationships, even commitments, because of the activities that have taken place in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games.

I must confess...I am biased about it all: I am a gamer going way back. I even count my days as a pinball player, in middle school. From there, I graduated to Pong, and then to Pac Man. Ever onward and upward, it wasn't really that long before I had my very own Nintendo. And on and on it went, to include Diablo; Diablo 2; Dark Age of Camelot; World of Warcraft; Everquest 2; Matrix Online; Star Wars Galaxies; City of Heroes; Lord of the Rings; Second Life; and IMVU. Really, to be honest, IMVU is more of a 3d chat program, ad Second Life is more of a 3d creative environment.

Four and a half years ago I went off the deep end, like one of the women in the film, met a man. He moved 1800 miles to be with me, and now we're engaged. I must say that, without a doubt, we are soul mates, and we are very, very happy. And...We rarely game. We also don't watch much TV except for the occasional Hulu show or You Tube. But we still play, oh yes we do! Just not "in world" any more. And really...we don't miss it.

To quote Willy Wonka: "We are the music makers...and we are the dreamers of dreams."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rolling Thunder Roads

Once upon a time, in a kingdom not so far away, there lived a small girl. There was nothing particularly special about the girl, except for her tiny, turned-up nose…and her long, lustrous, pink hair…and her oddly cheerful disposition.

The small girl would skip around her home each morning, smiling brightly and practically singing, “Hello!” to each person she encountered. Oh, and there were a great many people in the small girl’s home…for she lived in a palace, and she was a princess.

Her name was Princess Palemoon.

“Good morning, Princess Palemoon,” would come the reply…from Maid, or Cook, or Butler…

“Good morning, Your Highness,” would come the reply….from Groomsman, or Gardner, or the boy who swept the stalls.

Princess Palemoon was particularly fond of that boy, the one who swept the stalls. The stable boy had come to them alone, his parents dead in a terrible fire. He didn’t seem like a stable boy. He was more like a Prince, waiting to discover his Kingdom.

The boy’s name was Lawrence, but he was called Lumpy, for he delighted in the lumpy tapioca Cook made each First Day.

Finally, Cook would call Princess Palemoon to breakfast, and oh, what a delicious spectacle it would be. Cream and cakes and crumpets with melted butter. Warm cheese to spread, if she liked.

“When will the King and Queen return home?” asked the wee, little child as she sat in her chair, feet dangling and swinging with enthusiasm. “I do miss them so!”

“Soon,” was all that Cook would say, “Soon, child. Now eat your breakfast, then go out and play.”

Princess Palemoon was not like other princesses. She was always cheerful, never cross. She was independent, never clingy. She was kind to all those around her, even the dogs, and cats, and cows. Princess Palemoon was most definitely a special little girl, or so Cook and all the other Palace staff thought. The truth was that she was not just special…she was exceptional. But more about that later…

The Palace grounds were vast, and surrounded by a deep moat. While the King and Queen were away, the draw bridge was kept in the “up” position, for there was nothing to do but wait for their return. It was only lowered in the morning when the Milk Maids took the cows out to graze, and once again in the evening when they returned.

No matter. There were plenty of things to do on the vast, Palace grounds.

On this particular morning, Princess Palemoon thought it would be quite an adventure to visit the Fishers down by the moat. The Fishers were responsible for providing dinner’s meat, of which Cook would create a beautiful feast.

The sun shone brightly, making the Princess’ locks glisten as she bounced and flounced down the hill towards that “sweet spot” of which the Fishers found so much to speak. She could count 5 men lounging on the shore with poles in the water, bobbins bobbing. Just as she arrived, one of the Fishers yanked his pole, and out flew a very peculiar-looking fish.

“Good morning!” sang Princess Palemoon. The Fishers not meaning to be rude did not even answer for they were taken with the appearance of the peculiar-looking fish.

“Oy, ‘tis a bad omen, this,” declared the red-haired Fisher who wore the green vest. “Throw it back, and let’s move to a different spot. This one’s all fished-out.”

“Ay, yer right,” moaned his son, also with red-hair, but no vest. The vest would be his soon enough, when his da’ had enough of fish and poles, and bobbers. The green vest was used to signify which of the men was in charge.

The elder Fisher labored to remove the oddity from the younger’s hook. “Now, c’mon there. Let go o’ that worm,” he coaxed. “It’d be better fer ya if ya find yerself anudder meal.”

He continued to struggle, each of the Fishers observing this with humor. “May hap she wants a groom t’ find,” joked one who wore a red vest. The red vest meant this Fisher was the one who was to clean the fish, cutting off their heads and scraping out their guts. “Here, give ‘er here. I know just what t’ do,” he said menacingly, placing his hand on the hilt of the machete-like knife he kept tucked in his belt.

“Nay, don’t harm her!” exclaimed Princess Palemoon. “She’s a right beauty. Look how the sun reflects off her scales…where did she come from?” This question was one that ran through all the Fishers’ minds as well, for no fish of this kind lived in these parts…no. This fish was one such as lived near the sea.

“Here, Beauty, come now. Give us that worm…” The fish still refused to give up her prize.

Princess Palemoon reached out towards the fish, wanting to stroke the beautiful scales. Just as she did, the fish opened her tiny mouth and spit out the worm…into the hand of the Princess.

She heard the green-vested Fisher hiss.

“Oy, there now, Princess Palemoon,” said the elder red-haired Fisher. “Ye oughtn’t interfere.”

Princess Palemoon held up the worm for inspection, turning it this way and that. “Little worm, little worm, you swam into the wrong mouth!” She smiled and returned the worm to the tin where it could squirm and writhe with its mates.

The red-haired Fisher was leaning to return the beautiful fish to the depths of the moat.

“Wait!” sang Princess Palemoon…”Here, I have something special for her…” and she pulled from the pocket of her apron a juicy plumb, and just as quickly, she popped it into the fish’s mouth. “You’ll like that much better.”

The fish flipped it’s tail and fell into the water, swishing into the darkness of the moat. Princess Palemoon watched as the glistening scales disappeared.

“Run on now, Princess,” suggested the younger red-haired Fisher, “or we’ll be catching an octopus next!” The men laughed, and Princess Palemoon waved then skipped away towards the gardens.