Dirty Amber by Lips

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Dirty Amber Lips

13 September 2018

 

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Makers and Gods and Egos, Oh MY!: Happy 200th birthday Frankenstein! Part 1

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I watched Blade Runner 2049 three times this year.  That’s three times I watch Jared Leto perform in what I would argue is his best read to date, and three times I watched Ryan Gosling stick his whole hand into a bee hive.  It might just be because I helped my father and sister collect honey this year and spent a good afternoon literally surrounded by swarming bees, but every time I watch his calm demeanor as he places his hand into the hive I can’t help but remember the sensation of watching close to a thousand bees buzz and fly around my face and I just want to yell “bullshit at the screen.”  I don’t though because it’s hard enough to find movies I feel are truly great, and that also use bees for aesthetic brilliance so I’ll bite my lip.library-books-wallpaper

The sensation of working in a library is a constant feeling of being behind, or at least it seems so for me.  Working in the Reference department at the public library where I work there is always, until there isn’t, a project to be working.  There’s new displays that need to be made, promotional posters and graphics for said displays as well ads the new programs that are about to be started up, there’s the logistics of acquiring guest speakers and/or teachers for adult programs, and while I’m attempting to work with the rest of my library family towards these goals I can be expected to be interrupted, depending on the day and time, at least two or three times by patrons looking for books, patrons looking for information, and patrons needing to send faxes.  And with the exception of this last example (I loathe faxes with a passion I never knew I could ever actually feel) I never feel any frustration with my job.  I love my work because I stay so busy.  And looking at aFrankenstein_1818_edition_title_pageproject a few of my coworkers are working towards I’m just reminded more and more why I have found, and chosen, a career in libraries.

Frankenstein turns 200 years old this year, and it being a novel I read prolifically during my college years, it seemed an excellent chance to look back to the novel, and look back also to a few films that seem terribly relevant as this foundational science-fiction novel comes to it’s anniversary. 

It doesn’t seem like Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and Prometheus would have much in common with Frankenstein, but having watched all three films this year, there’s just no way that I can’t make the argument.  In fact one one occasion I did.  Each of these films centers around the dynamic of the creation and creator relationship and each film manages to capture the same sense of corruption that Frankenstein originally inspired.

If my reader has never read the novel Frankenstein, first of all they really should because it’s beautiful, and second they should read it because the novel has remained, since it’s publication, a relevant document about the human condition in relation to scientific enterprize.  The novel is written as a series of letters by a man named R.frankenstein_pg_7headWalton to his sister Delores.  Walton is a man driven to find a path through the north pole to achieve glory ever lasting, and while he fails at this task he discovers a young man in the ice named Victor Frankenstein.  Victor is chasing a giant, who Walton and his crew had spotted just the day before, who Victor eventually confesses is a living being created by himself.  Victor was a young man enraptured with the writings of alchemists, and upon the death of his mother and attending university where he learned everything was false he decides to overcome death by bring dead tissue back to life.  His experiment is a success, but he is horrified by his creation and the remainder of the novel focuses on Victor’s attempts to escape responsibility for his creation, while his creature (who is never named for the record) lives a miserable life wanting only to be loved.  The novel culminates in Victor losing his friends and loved ones to his creation and he eventually dies from the sheer exhaustion of following his creature to the literal ends of the earth.gallery-1464367257-before-watchmen-doctor-manhattan4-09a0e-aaec0

What’s fascinating about the novel Frankenstein isn’t just that it’s one of the earliest science fiction novels, it’s a novel which really explored the vanity that lies at the heart of creators.  Looking at just one passage Victor Frankenstein’s hubris is as glaring as it is ridiculous.

No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success.  Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through and pour a torrent of light into our dark world.  A new species would bless me as its creator and source; many happy and excellent natures would owe their being to me.  No father could claim the gratitude or his child so complete as I should deserve their’s.  Pursuing these reflections, I thought, that if I could bestow animation upon lifeless matter, I might in process of time (although I now found it impossible) renew life where death had apparentlyawe_spacedevoted the body to corruption.  (34).

I’ll admit freely that I have moments of vanity.  There’s nothing like checking the stats for this blog and seeing that I’ve had fifty or even sixty visitors on one day.  Similarly whenever friends confess they are in awe of the fact that I can read close to 100 books a year while they barely manage to fit in 3 or 4, there is a small twinge of ego that swells inside of me.  And finally, whenever I finish another page of my graphic novel that I’m slowly working on and show it to a friend I receive a real boost of confidence as they smile and tell me what they like about it.  These are moments of vanity, which is really just another way of saying, their moments where I celebrate myself and my achievements.  There is nothing wrong in celebrating the self, a lesson I’m trying everyday to remind myself as I overcome a lifetime of self-depreciation.

But hubris is endless vanity where one cannot perceive any personal fault and Victor Frankenstein’s hubris is the stuff of psychology graduate theses.  He is a man full of himself, and even after he realizes what he has done he never completely acknowledges his guilt.  In fact he denies his creation thus setting about a course of events whichstyle-dark_eye_1440x900destroys himself and the people he loves.  It’s not just that he is selfish, it’s the fact that he doesn’t seem to really care about the fact that he is responsible for this new life.

And looking at this apathy I thought immediately of Dr. Eldon Tyrell and Niander Wallace from Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 respectively.  Both men are corporate moguls who have made a prosperous living from the creation and sale of humanoid robots known as synthetics.  These “robots” are ultimately human beings who’s bodies are effectively controlled by the corporations to live only a few years, and essentially act as slave labor for terraforming (colonizing new planets).  Both men are driven by the need to make the “perfect” organism, not becuse they desire the new life they are making to succeed and flourish, but because they are driven by an intense hubris.

Looking at the Eldon Tyrell there is a brief exchange between him and officer Deckard that reveals to what lengths he is willing to go:MV5BMjE2NDQyMDkxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDk1MTcwNA@@._V1_

Tyrell: We began to recognize in them a strange obsession. After all, they are emotionally inexperienced, with only a few years in which to store up the experiences which you and I take for granted. If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.

Deckard: Memories! You’re talking about memories!

And the real demonstration of his perception is clear when he says,

Tyrell: “More human than human” is our motto.

Tyrell is a man who is generating what most people would recognize as sentient life.  And rather than empathize with his creations he is seeing only the design flaws that will affect his business.  The language at first doesn’t seem to reveal this, but if the reader looks closer at the words what he’s clearly describing is the scenario that synthetic humans are essentially being made and then being destroyed by lunacy before any actual biological degradation.  To Tyrell these people losing their minds and destroying themselves and other is not something to be remorseful about, but instead is simply a design flaw that reflects poorly on his brand.  And in an effort to save financial face he creates memories and implant them into people’s minds.

This is barbaric enough, and then the reader encounters in the sequel a man by the name of Niander Wallace.  Following the death of Eldon Tytrell in the first Blade RunnerMV5BMTg3NDIwNzU3MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDQ5MjY2MzI@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_ Wallace purchases the company after making billions in agriculture developments that have saved the population of the planet.  Along with this he has also proven to be a capable leader in the terraforming movement specifically by using synthetic humans as slave labor.  Wallace is a man who has achieved something incredible, and rather than relish what he has achieved he is driven by a real god complex.

In one scene the reader observes the birth of a synthetic human, a woman specifically who, while she is trembling in the shock of being born is examined by Wallace.  While feeling her body the man complains that human beings have only colonized nine planets before remarking on the limitations of his synthetics:

Niander Wallace: That barren pasture. Empty, and salted. The dead space between the stars.

Niander Wallace: [He places his hand on the newborn Replicant’s womb] Right here.MV5BMzY3MzdlODQtODlkOS00ZDIwLWIwNDUtMDcyM2RjZTFmOTNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc0OTU4NzU@._V1_

Niander Wallace: And this is the seed that we must change for Heaven.

[He slices her womb]

Niander Wallace: I cannot breed them. So help me, I have tried. We need more Replicants than can ever be assembled. Millions, so we can be trillions more. We could storm Eden and retake her.

Niander is a man compelled by his vision to transcend mortality, but this ultimately reveals that, as he has acquired more and more personal power, and as he has generated more and more synthetic people he has stopped seeing them as anything other than robots.  The fact that he is so willing to kill a sytnthetic, literally minutes after she is born reveals that he sees them as nothing but products.  It’s not even a violent act in his mind because the woman is nothing to him, just another in a long line of products that will generate revenue.

And looking at just one more example, Prometheus offers the reader another fantastic example.  Peter Weyland, a man I’ve written about before is a man who a titan of industry as he has, like Tyrell and Wallace, made a fortune by creating synthetic human beings that aid in terraforming operations.  In a scene that did not make the theatrical cut of Prometheus, Peter Weyland address a stadium sized crowd and discussesprometheusmovie6812technology.

Peter Weyland: [from TED Talks viral video] 100,000 BC: stone tools. 4,000 BC: the wheel. 900 AD: gunpowder – bit of a game changer, that one. 19th century: eureka, the lightbulb! 20th century: the automobile, television, nuclear weapons, spacecrafts, Internet. 21st century: biotech, nanotech, fusion and fission and M theory – and THAT, was just the first decade! We are now three months into the year of our Lord, 2023. At this moment of our civilization, we can create cybernetic individuals, who in just a few short years will be completely indistinguishable from us. Which leads to an obvious conclusion: WE are the gods now.

Prometheus is a film which explores the ideas of life, creation, apathy, and what is the role of the creator in our existence.  Human beings are revealed to be the design ofPrometheus_1organisms known as engineers, massive humanoids that, upon waking, elect to destroy humanity and create something new in it’s place.  This apathy for creation ultimately brings about their destruction and the humans that survive the onslaught are left wondering why their creators despise them, or, more appropriately, why they felt nothing for their existence.

I’ll explore the idea of creations desiring compassion for their creators in the follow-up to this essay, but for now I wanted to look at some examples of the mad genius creatorRothwellMaryShelleybecause, since the publication of Frankenstein this character is something of a recurring trope.  Even if it is not science fiction there is still often the dynamic in literature, and unfortunately sometimes in real life as well, of one individual essentially breaking and making another and feeling nothing for the creation they have made.  Victor Frankenstein is a man who wants to become a god, but rather than assume any personal responsibility for his creation, or his creation’s actions, he falls back upon his ego and self-pity.

What connects men like Frankenstein, Tyrell, Wallace, and Weyland is not just their apathy however.  All of these men are defined first and foremost by their hubris, and by their conviction that they are somehow above their creations and fellow human beings.  In a later passage Victor is speaking with Walton, and the reader is able to observe that the man suffers no real regret for his accomplishments because he cannot look past his ego:

“When younger,” said he, “I felt as if I were destined for some great enterprise.  My feelings were profound; but I possessed a coolness of judgement that fitted me for illustrious achievements.  This sentiment of worth of my nature supported me, when others would have been oppressed; for I deemed it criminal to throw away in useless grief those talents that might be useful to my fellow-creatures.  When I9780141439471reflected on the work I had completed, no less a one than the creation of a sensitive and rational animal, I could not rank myself with the heard of common projectors.  […]. I trod heaven in my thoughts, now exulting in my powers, now burning with the idea of their effects.  (167).

Victor Frankenstein is a man who believes that he is special, and, by that implication, more important than other people.  This is vanity, and while that word gets thrown around a lot, it’s important to remember than the vain person is one who believes themselves superior and therefore above other people, and when someone is obsessed with the self it becomes difficult to realize faults.  Victor cannot and could not perceive himself at fault because he could not see anything that was truly outside of his own mind.  Because he isolated himself, because he failed to allow himself domestic affection, and because he would not allow himself to observe anything outside of his grand personal vision of himself he brought about the destruction of his life and the lives of those closest to him.maxresdefault

Frankenstein, Tyrell, Wallace, and Weyland are not just empty tropes, their examples of people who allowed themselves to look at themselves as gods, and that behavior had real implications for the people who lived “beneath” them.  In real life there are Victor Frankensteins and Eldon Tyrells; there are men who believe themselves to be above their fellow human beings, either because of their talents, wealth, or personal beliefs.  And so the real life implication of such men is that many people wind up suffering.

The lesson of Frankenstein, Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and Prometheus is that creation is not simply an empty act.  By bringing something into existence you assume a real responsibility for it.  Whether it’s a painting, a novel, an essay, a company, a robot, orMV5BMTU1NjQzODEwNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDM5MjY2MzI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1718,1000_AL_even a synthetic human being, creators cannot simply abandon their work or become apathetic to what they have made.  They own a responsibility to that creation and to those who encounter it. 

Victor Frankenstein wasn’t a nrillionaire, terraforming other worlds, and in fact he only ever made one living creature.  But the impact of his creation has reverberated 200 years after him.  Mary Shelly’s novel has never been out of print since its original publication in 1818, and the reason is rather simple: in the course of 200 years human beings haven’t stopped looking up to the stars wondering if they might supplant the gods, and neither have they stopped looking into the water and, like Narcissus, becoming enraptured with their own reflection.  A million rocket ships and a million new worlds or even millions of robots are nothing compared to the sheer power of the human ego. 

And we are, all of us, left wondering when we’re going to figure out when we’ll get a decent Frankenstein or Alien film again.

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*Writer’s Note*

All quotes cited from Frankenstein were quoted from the paperback Longman Cultural Edition, 1818 version.  All quotes cited from Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, and Prometheus were provided care of IMDb.com.

 

**Writer’s Note**

I’ve provided a few links to some articles which discuss the novel Frankenstein in case my readers would like to read some work about the book by writers who can afford editors…and food.  Anyway, enjoy:

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/12/the-strange-and-twisted-life-of-frankenstein

https://www.theguardian.com/science/political-science/2016/jun/16/what-frankenstein-means-now

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2017/07-08/birth_of_Frankenstein_Mary_Shelley/

Costs of Dreams and Fairy Queens-Sandman, Shakespeare, Lamps & Llamas

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I never foresaw that llamas would become so ingratiated into my daily existence.  I honestly only ever thought about llamas when I was watching the Emperor’s New Groove and that was the extent of it.  I now own a llama that wears a bow-tie, talks in the voice of Project Runway Model host Tim Gunn, and have been challenged by one to read every play written by William Shakespeare.  Life is a strange oddity, but I’ll take it over the alternative any day of the week.

Working at a Public Library has its own advantages and disadvantages, the former being greater than the latter.  Yes there are frustrating patrons, yes there are long periods of tedium interrupted by bursts of endless tasks to perform, and yes there are literally thousands of books I’m not allowed to read while I’m on the clock.  But with each of these negative realities there are many more advantages that make this gig not just worthwhile, but a real passion.  I love helping a child find the exact book they wereLLama diagram looking for (usually something by Rick Riordan, though Diary of a Wimpy Kid makes a close fucking second place).  I love working with the 3D Printer and explaining it to children, parents, and even regular adults that are just fascinated with it.  I love making displays for authors like Truman Capote, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, and of course William Shakespeare.  But best of all I love my job because my co-workers are like a family to me and everyday I’m working for the library I feel like I’m home.

Which of course leads me back to the llamas and then eventually Shakespeare…and then eventually Neil Gaiman. 

One of my coworkers, a woman named Brenda Choy, is absolutely obsessed with llamas.  Whether it’s Sid the Llama, who has an actual online following, Bernice Llama, who has her own facebook page, or else the dozens of llamas stacked around her computer monitor, anyone and everyone who works at the Public Library at some point encounters the “llama department.”  And while some co-workers roll their eyes and/or sigh at all this silliness, I’ve welcomed it to the point that I now own my own llama.  His Pride 2018 4name is Xavier, he wears a bow-tie, and he’s fabulous.  This llama material isn’t just a lead-in however, because along with communicating regularly with the llama department, I’m also occasionally collaborating with them, and during one of the many numerous conversations I had with Brenda it eventually came out that I’ve never read all of Shakespeare’s plays, but I’ve always wanted to.

It’s come about now that I’ll be, starting in the month of May, reading every play by William Shakespeare and filming myself in a pseudo-Masterpiece Classic homage to each play starring llamas.

Beat that Alan Cumming.


Alan Cumming Grumpy

This has led to a bit of over-preparation on my part, because while most employees would simply say they’ve read the play and then do a quick video, I can’t be that person.  I’ve already begun purchasing every play Shakespeare ever wrote, I’ve begun listening to nonfiction Shakespeare audiobooks, and I’ve started collecting actual books about the life and work of William Shakespeare.  And while I may get around to writing about all of it, I thought about one reference to Shakespeare that has assumed a significant meaning in my life.The Sandman - Dream Country v3-081

Dream Country is the third of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman Series, and it holds a special place in the entirety of the run because it is most famous for the story about the cats.  I’ll probably get around to writing about that one later on, but for the time being Dream Country is important because the third chapter of the book is about Shakespeare and his company performing the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This performance is important largely because the audience is the actual host of Fairy Folk observing a human’s interpretation of their race before they retreat from the world of men.  It’s also important because, like so many of the humans who encounter the Lord of Dreams, the story of Shakespeare is about personal sacrifice at the expense of dreams, and Shakespeare, it’s revealed, has made such a dream for himself.

Morpheus says as much to Lady Oberon during the performance of the play:

“We came to an…arrangement, four years back.  I’d give him what he thinks he most desires—and in return he’d write two plays for me. The Sandman - Dream Country v3-063

This is the first of them.  (11).

The reader does not really need an explanation past this, for if they bother to only read this one lone comic book in The Sandman Epic they receive all the real explanation that is needed.  The Immortal Bard William Shakespeare has entered into an arrangement with a real immortal being, The Lord of Dreams, in order to become a successful writer, in fact a brilliant author.  What the reader misses is in fact that this is a small reference to an earlier book in The Sandman series titled Men of Good Fortune.

In the previous volume it’s a single chapter that, like many of the small independent works of The Sandman run, appears to be completely random.  But, as with so much of this comics series, it sows a narrative seed that will eventually grow into it’s own independent story while also feeding the main body of the larger narrative.  Dream meets a man he has entered into a contest with, once every 100 years.  While he is meeting this man, named Hob, he overhears a young playwright named William Shakespeare speaking with Kit Marlowe, the most famous and talented playwright of his age.  Dream listens to Hob’s bragging, but his ears catch wind of the conversation and one quote by Shakespeare strikes the reader:

God’s Wounds!  If only I could write like you!  In Faustus where you wrote—“To God!  He loves thee not!  The God Thou serves is thine own appetite, wherein is fixed the love of Beelzebub.

The Sandman - Dream Country v3-085To him I’ll build an altar and a church, and offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes.” 

It chills the blood.

He follows this with a revealing statement to Marlowe:

I would give anything to have your gifts.  Or more than anything to give men dreams that would live on long after I am dead.  I’d bargain like your Faustus for that boon.

It seems lately that whenever I appear around my friends and coworkers an expression is uttered over and over again.  “Speak of the devil,” to which I am compelled to reply, “and he will appear.”  I try my best not to speak in my pathetic attempt at a Bane impression when I do this, but I am an attention whore at heart and so anything to make me look foolish is just too good to pass up.  Still this social interaction is a chance to reflect on the nature of cliches and their nasty habit of being cliches for a reason.  Will Shakespeare is revealed to be painfully mortal in this passage, just another aspiring artist who observes the success of others and covets it rather than dedicate themselves to their craft.  And Gaiman, to his credit, does an incredible job of humanizing Shakespeare, while also using his particular set of genius, to turn Shakespeare back into some sort of myth.The Sandman - Dream Country v3-066

The story of individuals offering up something to the great trickster/temptor is one as old as time.  Whether it’s Satan, Loki, Odysseus, Puck, Mbeku, Genies, Maui, or even Coyote, human beings have always created narratives in which there is some supernatural being who manages to prey and manipulate weaker minded people to perform deeds against their own self-interests.  This has tended sometimes to be appropriated by religion to justify pushing morality onto it’s subjects, but if one looks a bit deeper at this frequently occurring trope the reader is able to see that the pattern is it’s own explanation.

At some point everyone is tempted by their dreams to become, and at some point everyone gets had.

Gaiman’s Shakespeare becomes a human being, but also a mythic soul because he becomes a man who has achieved immortality, but at the expense of his own life.  At the very end of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, once Robin Goodfellow has given his now iconic speech and thus fufilled Gaiman’s contractual obligation to remind you that dreams are something of a theme in The Sandman universe, the reader is told plainlyThe Sandman - Dream Country v3-065 that Hamnet Shakespeare, the only son of William Shakespeare, died in 1596 at the age of eleven years old.  This is not creative re-writing of history as most of the comic is.  Gaiman is in fact steeping his characters in the real history of their place and time, and Hamnet Shakespeare did in fact perish leaving Shakespeare as the sole male relative in his family.  Many have speculated how this death ultimately impacted Shakespeare, and some have hinted that his play Hamlet is a poorly veiled effort to explain his grief.

But Shakespeare the man isn’t my concern for this essay because Shakespeare the myth is something far more interesting.  And so I have to return briefly to the llamas.

I recognize that it may be foolishness to become so emotionally invested in what is ultimately a lifeless toy.  Yet my own llama, which was a gift from Brenda not long after my friend Savannah killed herself, has become something of an icon to me.  It’s a physical, material object, but in it’s own form and shape it’s a reminder that I’ve found a space and place that gives me purpose and drive.  I strive, everyday, to make the Library a better place for having me in it, and though I don’t always succeed, this passion fosters itself in a desire for personal self-improvement as well.  I’ve always wanted to read the collected works of William Shakespeare, often for the selfish reason: simply to say I had. The Sandman - Dream Country v3-083But now it feels like it’s serving a larger purpose.

Shakespeare is a figure and an idea in the culture, a symbol of intellectualism, or too often pseudo-intellectuals who wish to appear smart.  Every intelligent wannabe hipster can cite at least one Shakespeare quote that they think is appropriate, which often times it isn’t.  And the ability to cite Shakespeare is so often equated with intelligence that it becomes galling to those  of us who don’t understand the reference.  This is getting into the idea of intelligence as a form of commodity and I would love write further on this, but that would be getting even more off topic.  The connection here is, while I am beginning my reading into Shakespeare, his work, his life, and the commentary that surrounds him, I managed to find one book which seems to say it best. 

Harold Bloom is many things, most of them obnoxious, but his book Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human does have many incredible things to say about the life and work of Shakespeare, and considering The Sandman and Midsummer Night’s Dream there was one quote that seemed to say it best, or at least offer up a unique perspective I had never considered before. The Sandman - Dream Country v3-075

In his introduction to the book Bloom muses about the cultural and social impact of Shakespeare’s work and he observes the man’s unique place:

Shakespeare’s works have been termed the secular Scripture, or more simply the fixed center of the Western Canon.  What the Bible and Shakespeare have in common actually is rather less than most people suppose, and I myself suspect that the common element is only a certain universalism, global and multicultural.  […]. Yet I hardly see how one can begin to consider Shakespeare without finding some way to account for his pervasive presence in the most unlikely contexts: here, there, and everywhere at once.  (3)

Whether one likes or outright despises the plays of William Shakespeare, what cannot be taken away from the man is that his visions and dreams have lingered after him, becoming the sort of cultural foundations for so many great works of art.  What is The Lion King without Hamlet?  What is Dead Poet’s Society without Midsummer Night’s Dream?  What is Kiss Me Kate without Taming of the Shrew?  And what is Harold and Kumar go to White Castle without…

Harold and Kumar

Okay that last one is actually The Odyssey, but the point is Shakespeare matters because he’s lasted and become a fixture in the society and culture.  “To be or not to be” can be quoted by almost anyone, and the “beast with two backs” was a line in the opening scenes of Othello.

Shakespeare has become, in his own beautiful fashion, a sort of myth.  And the entire career of Neil Gaiman is itself one long love-song to myth.  Which brings me back to Sandman because while the character of Dream has become itself a beautiful myth for the modern age, and Morpheus himself a kind of trickster in the vein of Satan or Puck, Gaiman allows him often to speak in riddles and philosophy that make the Sandman series into the sublime art it is.  In the closing pages of MidsummerThe Sandman - Dream Country v3-073Night’s Dream King Oberon and Queen Titania are speaking with Dream, asking him why he commissioned the place from Shakespeare in the first place.  His response is almost Shakespearean:

You have asked me why I asked you back to this plane, to see this entertainment.  I…During your stay on this earth the faerie have afforded me much diversion, and entertainment.  Now you have left your own haunts.  And I would repay you for all the amusement.  And more: They shall not forget you.  That was important to me: that King Auberon and Queen Titania will be remembered by mortals, until this age is gone.

King Auberon thanks Dream, but reminds him that the narrative is not based on actual facts.  Dream responds:

Oh, but it IS true.  Things need not have happened to be true.  Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot. The Sandman - Dream Country v3-082

There are many facts about William Shakespeare that, because of the fault of record keeping and the chaotic nature of life itself, have been lost and so many of the facts of William Shakespeare have been lost to writers and historians.  There is a great sadness in knowing that we will never know as much about the actual life of the man William Shakespeare, but there is still the art.  The plays, the dreams, live on.  And in the course of human events Shakespeare has become, as Harold Bloom said, a kind of secular magnet.  Shakespeare is a myth for the modern age in the way he continues to inspire the language, the visions, and the characters that are fostered and created.

Dream Country, and Midsummer Night’s Dream are just another example of how the Immortal Bard has inspired the latter generation of artists.  Gaiman’s comic is a love letter to William Shakespeare, because rather than simply borrow he creates from the mythic quality of the man, reminding his reader that while Shakespeare was a mortal man, he was a man who laid the dreams that lived after him.  He makes this mythic, almost unapproachable figure into someone flawed and human.

Dreams have a price.  And the men and women who pursue them must needs know this if they begin their journeys.  I’ve lost myself so much time, typing away at my keyboard, aspiring, doubting, and dreaming.  And while the dream in my head is to achieve the title of writer, Gaiman is brilliant in reminding me that the dream is the reality.  Writing like this, everyday, every weekend, getting in my 300 words is the dream.  It costs me my time, it costs me the pleasures of spending time with others, and often times it costs me most of my happiness and satisfaction.  But I chug another cup of coffee, content in my dreams, knowing that I’ll get another paragraph in before bed, and at least one scene read in Twelfth Night.

Such dreams are made by little decisions, and little actions that live on long past the moment that I was.

The Sandman - Dream Country v3-080

 

*Writer’s Note*

All quotes cited from Dream Country were cited from the Vertigo paperback edition.  All quotes cited from The Doll’s House were taken from the Vertigo Paperback Edition.  All quotes cited from Shakespeare:Invention of the Human by Harold Bloom were taken from the {} paperback edition.

 

**Writer’s Note**

If it hasn’t been made explicitly clear, I LOVE The Sandman Series just as I LOVE the collected works of Neil Gaiman.  The man really hasn’t disappointed me yet and when I recently sat down to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream again I was forced to make pause as the final recitation of Puck’s monologue.  It’s a scene that has been borrowed, repeated, stolen, and re-imagined numerous times, and I admit freely I used it to make an end in my own first novel.  There’s just something to the lines.

But reading the book again I was struck by this small moment and I actually felt tears form in my eyes.  The only real word was sublime.  I don’t know how the man does it, but damn, there just isn’t anything like Neil Gaiman.

The Sandman - Dream Country v3-084

Can You Fool the White Wizard?

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Can You Fool the White Wizard?

23 August 2018

Why Libraries Matter Part 5: Out and About, The Fabulous Lives of “Fabulous” Librarians

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ShipwreckGungHo-Totally Gay

I mean…I stand by the fact that G.I. Joe was always gay.  Those boots.  Those uniforms.  The shaved head.  Those pictures of him wearing panties on his Instagram.  The evidence was there people, we need to acknowledge it and move forward.  On a separate but unrelated note I’ve now been working for a Public Library for close to two years now and it is without doubt one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me.  I’m surrounded by people who care about me, everyday I have a sense of purpose and direction, and it’s largely because of all this positivity that I’ve begun to seek professional help for my depression.  However, despite all of this there remains one fixture of my life library-imagethat remains in some form of stasis and that is my desire to provide some kind of gift to the LGBTQ community of my home-town.

It’s becoming more and more difficult to justify the purchases of books in my library, and not just because of the space issue.  I’m arriving at a condition in life when I’ve come to the pathetic and despairing realization that I’m never going to read all of the books that I’ve ever bought, not because I’ve suddenly contracted a terminal illness, but because every time I think how I’m about to have completed every book in my library, another author that I appreciate will publish another book, or else the library will put out the latest batch of purchases which might include a book about the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey or else the presence of dictatorships in the plays of William Shakespeare.  There’s just no way to keep up with the near constant generation of content by all the writers, poets, video-game designers, directors, musicians, biographers, and playwrights that are constantly generating new and increasingly dynamic art.  And now that I’ve elected to make libraries a significant facet of my existence that only means more books to read. library-books-wallpaper

The most recent addition to my personal library managed to combine both of these delightful problems. 

I have the habit of simply spending hour after hour searching through the endless labyrinth that is book recommendations on GoodReads.  It’s cute sometimes watching the algorithm try its best to figure me out, but after just a few books it gives up offering me lists rather than individual books.  Because of this I have to rely on my own initiative and so I simply typed in LGBTQ into the search bar and looked through the results.  Shit you Out Behind the Desknot, cannot lie, the tenth book in the queue was Out Behind the Desk: Workplace Issues for LGBTQ Librarians

Spring isn’t the right word, I fucking leapt to my library’s home web-page to submit an ILL request, and not long after the book finally arrived I decided to hit “fuck-it” and just purchase it on Amazon.  I’ll admit some part of me wanted it simply to show off to my other Queer co-workers, but if I can defend myself against the barbs of my reader’s judgement, I really and truly wanted to read the book because, since I started working for the Library, I wanted to learn more and more about how Queer people tend to operate in it.

Out Behind the Desk is a collection of essays, all of them personal, about being gay, being a lesbian, being Trans, being bisexual, or just being queer and working in a library.  These essays are attempts to understand how the library can be queered by the sheer presence of LGBTQ people, but far more often than not the testimonies of this book are about navigating the social and political sentiments of coworkers and patrons.  In one of the later essays, Pride and Paranoia @ Your Library, Maria T. Accardi relates a personal narrative that, when I read it, I recognized it because it’s a moment I’ve lived at least twice in my tenure at my own library.  She says,

In my library, we have a display area on which the collection development librarian, exhibits books from our collection.  […]. I scoured our catalog for books on my chosen topic.  I traveled through the stacks with a book cart and removed Gay Librarybooks from the shelves, and I also ordered some books I thought we should have in our collection but did not.  I arranged the books on the display shelves in a manner I found aesthetically pleasing, and I created a colorful sign to announce the display was active, while working my shifts at the reference desk, I watched patrons walk by the display, and I would hold my breath.  I would see people stop and look at the books, and read the sign, and pick up the books, and page through them and read the back covers, and my heart would pound.  I braced myself for complaints.  I rehearsed conversations in my head, defending the contents of the library display.  (205)

Beside this passage in my paperback copy of the book is a simple sentence: “My Life.”  This isn’t coyness on my part, I live this moment almost every day at the library, and especially during the month of June I can sympathize with the paranoia and feeling that one must be ready for critics.  Accardi continues her point, explaining her anticipationGay Library 2and paranoia.

So why was this display so fraught with anxiety for me?  It was a display in honor of GLBT Pride Month.  (205).

Cue the dramatic pipe organ music, and the crusty Old British guy in the arm chair holding the red-leather-bound book as he looks up and growls, “THE GAYS.”  I believe a lightning strike is supposed to follow this, and the sounds of horses screaming.  There’s also sometimes a lavish musical number culminating in the all Men’s dance troupe of Dallas and I just realized that that in itself, might be construed as, well, kinda gay. 

It might not make much sense to the reader who doesn’t work in a library, or a school for that matter, but broaching the topic, or even just drawing attention to the LGBTQ community is not just fraught with consequence, it can be, to quote the immortal Shakespeare, “a goddamn mine field.”  I think that quote came from Twelfth Night, or maybe Othello

Because many libraries are usually public institutions, and therefore an extension of the government or at least communal and civic spaces, they are subject to whims and sentiments of the patrons that patronize them.  That’s all just a way of saying that libraries are ultimately subject to the court of public opinion, and unfortunately the public has a tendency to be freaked out by anything and everything gay.

Except of course for Ru Paul, that man’s a national treasure. 

RuPaul

Or Laverne Cox, she’s radiant.

laverne cox

Looking at this paranoia as a reader however I identified with Accardi, not just because I’ve set up numerous displays during my tenure as a Reference Associate at my library, but because I’m a queer Reference Associate at my library.  Setting displays to celebrate the Queer community is not anything like a display for Mental Health Awareness month, or a display to commemorate the life and career of Tobias Wolfe, it’s far more personal.  And Accardi briefly notes that in her essay:

A rejection of a display of GLBT books is not just a rejection of an expression and diversity—it is a rejection of me, as a person, the actual fact of my existence.  (206).I'm Gay

Having conversations about identity politics is often the stuff of nightmares largely because there is always the anticipation that one person is going to find the other person ridiculous for their integrity.  If someone becomes passionate rather quickly about something, at least in my experience, the tone of the room changes dramatically, and what was supposed to be a sweet bridal shower for Carol has become a conversation about how Jill Stein could have beaten Donald Trump in the general election, meanwhile the rest of us are desperately trying to determine the exact radius of the earth on our iPhones because we’d rather be literally anywhere else.  It’s easy to shut down and try to pretend that a person’s passion is something ridiculous but ultimately that does someone a disservice.  Accardi’s0041011cc971feaabaedbc42e6ba7d7eargument is a valid one, because ultimately a complaint about a display in a library is not just about the actual display, it’s about the idea that that display represents.  Ultimately a library display isn’t just a display, it’s a combination of resources about an intellectual or cultural concept, and when that display is about the lives, careers, and history of Queer people asking or demanding the library to take it down because it offends you is tantamount to saying you’d rather not have to acknowledge the existence of queer people, or else you’re a shit-head who doesn’t want to admit queer people even exist.

The reader may be wondering however what the real relevance is to themselves.  I’m not queer so why should I care if a library has to take down a display celebrating Pride month?  What do I care if one or two people complain and force a library to take down a display I didn’t even notice or care about?  What’s the real problem with that?

The problem dear reader is exactly what Accardi pointed out and what Nicola Price suggests in their contribution to Out Behind the Desk, Taking the Homosexual Highroad.  Price writes about working in a government library and therefore having to be silent about their own political opinions.  They write:Gay Parade

Spending five days a week in the closet makes it harder to express my true self when I’m with friends or in the comfort of my own home, because a semi closeted life begins to feel normal, and therefore somewhat comfortable.  (240.)

There were lots of moments while reading this collection that I found myself quietly nodding, or else boldly underlining passage after passage because the words were either thoughts I recognized, or sentences that I have said aloud.  Being a queer man in a public library in East Texas can be difficult because I have to navigate how “out” I actually am.  I go to work everyday wearing a large, round, noticeable rainbow button on my lanyard.  It was supposed to be a small button to go between my “Tiny Rick” and my “Platform 9 3/4” pins, but when it arrived in the mail I discovered it was massive.  It’s there, on my chest, like a great, big, wonderful, fabulous target.  I’m sure people see it and they notice it, and while I’ve yet to have anyone comment on it directly it’s my subtle means of being “out.”David Bowie Made Me Gay

But there are moments in which I have to “tone it down.”  Recently a patron approached the Reference Desk to complain about two books in our “new book section.”  One was about a book about President Trump, and the other was about a book I had only just finished reading entitled David Bowie Made me Gay.  He had much to say about the Donald Trump book but when he got to David Bowie he just made a sound in throat like a low wretch and shook his head.  I wanted so desperately to say something, make a quip about a boyfriend I didn’t actually have, or come-out right then and there and observe his reaction taking some kind of solace in his further disgust.  But that isn’t my job, and so I politely informed the patron that there is an official “challenge” form that we have in case patrons find materials “questionable.”  He grumbled away leaving me to question whether or not I had caved or missed my chance to “fight the power.”

My job, my life, it seems is a constant struggle to determine how “out” I should actuallyPride 2018 3be, and  how I am supposed to balance my personal and professional queer self.  And Out Behind the Desk only gave me more questions to ask.

In The Secret Life of Bis: On Not Quite Being Out and Not Quite Fitting In, BWS Johnson asks a few questions near the end of their essay, and they’re questions worth asking.

In appealing to the mainstream, are we burying too much of our values?  In doing so, are we missing a service opportunity?  Do we have to add the Lambda to our out of the scope collection?  (120).

They continue this point noting:

While I’m on that, does anyone else feel that sinking stomach when we come to the realization that our place on the shelves is between deviates and the masochists?  […]Gay-Guys-Pahing-On-The-Fence

I suppose the inevitable anti-conclusion I’m coming to is this: the further I get from my own narrative, the closer I come to saying that there is much work to be done collectively.  The harder the writing gets, I find myself able to make fewer statements.  As the sands of our history shift with rulings like Lawrence v. Texas and actions like the Vermont Legislature’s, and we’re delighted by pictures of gay couples getting hitched, what are we doing in parallel within the field?  How are we building our house?  How is it that we can best continue, including those on the down low, as well as those that are out and proud?  Where do we go from here?  (120).

These are all questions that I ask everyday when I go to work, and when I find myself away from the reference desk with a spare moment to think.  I’m often working on some new catalog of items that haven’t been touched in decades and that occupies my time,ee4fbb518feedfb4b4f29630c4a7b66abut over and over again I’m thinking about what I could be doing for the queer patrons at the library.  I think about the projects I would like to work on, questioning myself immediately about whether they would attract any actual people, or whether or not they would and be shut down because of one random person’s complaint.

This is all just a way of saying that often my experience as a library employee is wondering how “out” I’m supposed to be, how “out” I’m allowed to be.  And while this probably speaks more to my own perceptions, the very existence of Out Behind the Desk reveals that I am not the only library employee or librarian who has this problem.

By now the reader may have their challenge ready, or perhaps I’m being pessimistic.  Perhaps the reader may see where I’m coming from and for once actually not have a criticism or complaint.

Libraries matter because they aren’t necessarily “safe spaces,” but they are a unique structure and place where ideas and opinions and records can be collected for the culture’s that build and fill them.  Libraries are about storing and providing access toGay Librarian 3 information, and therefore when libraries cannot provide materials to Queer individuals in society for fear of repercussions then they are actively being subverted by a portion of humanity that would rather have it so that Queer people didn’t exist in the first place.  It might just be a display of biographies about famous drag queens, or lesbian singers, or famous Trans political activists, but when librarians have to worry about whether or not such a display should go up in the first place then there is a problem.

Libraries are always going to inspire emotions, conflicts, and heated debates about what constitutes “questionable material,” but a library should be one of the spaces where that conversation takes place.  If a patron doesn’t wish to check out a book, read it, and enterf2d1a83efde6a8cc989a2b503b221610into the conversation about the history and culture of the Queer community they can always walk past the display and pick up the newest Danielle Steel novel and go about their life.  But the freedom to pick up a book by Kate Bernstein or Allison Bechdel or Tom of Finland should still be an option. 

And as queer librarians and queer library employees there’s more than just paranoia and discomfort at stake.  Not fighting to ensure that queer people have such resources, have such access, and have such programs at their disposal is more than just validating one’s existence.

Libraries are ultimately places and spaces where people can come and acquire information, hopefully, without fear.  But before I spend too much time waxing philosophical I should remind the reader why this is personal for me.

WIN_20170131_13_34_27_ProLibraries have saved my life because my library has in many ways always been my life.  I fell in love with libraries as a kid, spending hours just reading all the books I could get my hand on, spending time with my Mom in the library, and now that I’ve grown and become an employee there I’ve flourished, finding people and librarians who love what they do and who want to make the library a better place.  At the end of the day I serve a largely straight population, but if I can make sure that there’s always a copy of Fun Home or Me Talk Pretty One Day then it’s my library too.kiss-gal-gadot-kate

Queer people have as much to give a library as any other person in our society, and like everyone who walks through the front doors of such a place looking for a book, a queer person enters that space hoping to find something, some resource that reminds them that they are not alone.

Out Behind the Desk can at times be a dry academic affair, but the strength of the book is the honesty of the writers who go to work everyday because they love books, because they love hosting programs, because they love shelving, because they love compiling and archiving data.  And of course there’s some solace in knowing that I’m not the only person who’s discovered a shelf desecrated and left a mess literally minutes after I spent a good half hour straightening everything.

gay-pride

 

*Writer’s Note*

All quotes cited from Out Behind the Desk were taken from the paperback Library Juice Press Edition.

Out Behind the Desk

**Writer’s Note**

If the reader is at all interested in more literature about being Queer in the library I’ve provided a link to a few articles below.  Please enjoy:

https://bookriot.com/2016/10/13/public-libraries-you-owe-your-queer-patrons-better/

https://www.lambdaliterary.org/interviews/01/06/queery/

 

***Writer’s Note***

I’ve written a lot here, but I really want this to come across and I’ll write it plainly, I simply love being gay.  I love being queer.  I love love love love LOVE my sexuality, and my gender identity, and that I work in a place that loves and accepts me for who I am.  I hate that it took so long to get where I am, to get to my level of comfort, or at least closure with my sexuality, but now that I’m here no one is going to force me back into the closet.  I’m a fabulous gay library employee, and I’m not going anywhere.

Photo on 5-23-18 at 11.23 PM #2

Mobile Suits And Gundam Styles: A Discussion of Mobile Suit Gundam, Part 2

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Mobile Gundam 3

You’re back and ready for more conversations about giant robots fighting in space and my opinions about them.  Or else you’re just killing time because you’ve got some friends on the way and there isn’t enough time to play video games, but there is plenty of time to skim through a blog post while you wait.  Whatever your reasons, just know that I respect them, and you need to start helping your partner do the dishes more often.

This second post continues in much the same format as the previous, however this time around Michael will be asking me the questions and I’ll be providing my thoughts and insights about the first volume of the Manga Mobile Suit Gundam.  It’s been a fascinating enterprize and already the pair of us are formulating a sequel to this work, perhaps something by Grant Morrison.  For the time being it’s been a delight exploring a topic through a mutual exchange rather than the lens of my own psyche.

Mobile Suit Gundam is an incredible manga, but I’ll let the discourse speak for itself.

Hope you enjoy.

9781935654872_books-Gundam,-Mobile-Suit-The-Origin-Graphic-Novel-1-Hardcover

MY QUESTIONS FOR YOU:

1. I know there are tends within some circles to see Gundam as a ‘giant robot’ series, and that isn’t wrong, but as I re-read this series I am always struck by the other elements at play, issues like politics and history and rights. What would you say serves as the more interesting angle for you so far: the setting or the machines?MSG 3

It’s been a while since I finished the first manga in the series, but honestly based upon my reflection so much of the work was action driven.  Tomino often has lengthy passages of shit blowing up, tanks firing their weapons, and of course the Gundam suits fighting back and forth in-between firing massive firearms.  Now having read the second book I understand that there is significant development but looking at the first volume alone it felt to me that there was a far greater emphasis placed upon the machines, specifically their capabilities.  Now given that the work was coming out of the 1970s the giant robot aesthetic doesn’t hurt the book at all, and to give it the credit that it does I was impressed by how well the work was able to convey not just violence, but action period.

In my own writing and comics, I try to emphasize physical action more because it feels more important and so my reading is likely biased by that aesthetic.Mobile Gundam

Tomino creates a setting that feels both believable, and every time I was in the command center of a ship, or inside one of the Gundam suits, or even simply on one of the terra-forming space colonies I felt I was seeing a real world, however there was not enough detail to really make me feel like I was in this world.  There was more emphasis played upon the physical action as well as the dramatic tension.  Therefore, personally I tended to follow that more than the set-up of the mythos, politics, or setting.

 

  1. I have never made light of my dislike for Amuro Ray, but that is also because I am more invested in Char and his history. Gundam The Origin is a complex re-release of the original Gundam story, so I sort of know what to expect going in. As a new reader, what characters do you find yourself most interested in and why? Or, if not05b558fe862346ebbba7c6a5f2c4467dcharacters, what concepts or conflicts interest you the most?

What’s fascinating is having just started the series I completely agree as well, Amuro is not an interesting character to me.  It’s not that he doesn’t have a conflict it’s just that he doesn’t compel me as a reader.  There’s nothing really apart from the fact that he’s operating the Gundam that keeps me interested in his particular and individual struggle.  Also, he’s kinda of a dick to the women which immediately turns me off.

Honestly, and this is the strange part, Char was a far more dynamic character because, as you so excellently pointed it out, he seems to be far more complex.  His motivations are not clear, and he has a history that provides me, as a reader, with a feeling that this character has some depth.  I’m compelled to keep reading to figure out more about his character.

Sayla Mass is also interesting to me, partly because I like any book that doesn’t shoe-horn female characters to one side or else turn them simply into ditzes and/or sidekicks.  But looking at her she has a real presence, confidence, and dynamic that makes her enjoyable to read.17484067970_0b899dc6d4_b

Honestly thought, I’ve saved him for last but the most interesting character to me personally is Bright Noa.  From the start of the book he seemed to have so much stacked against him and as the first volume went through he evolved incredibly to me as a character that, while not always sympathetic, was someone that I could believe in and hope for.  There is a fascinating dynamic in his character where he has to play the young military figure who must assume command, but rather than become a simple two-dimensional figure in a nice suit he’s complicated.  The reader can see him constantly struggling to maintain his calm in the face of almost certain oblivion, and he struggles to be a real leader.  It might be because I personally am NOT a leader by any means, I avoid power and influence in any sort of professional capacity, and so I think what’s fascinating as a reader of this series is observing this character struggling to be the leader everyone needs him to be.  The toll that this takes on him, and his fight to survive and save his crew is almost admirable.  I just loved Bright Noa, even when he was an asshole.

 

  1. The US has no real tradition of giant robots, outside of material that (funny enough) is honoring shows and stories LIKE Gundam. Without feeling like you need to worry about understanding any kind of Japanese vs Western conventions, what things ‘work’ for you, as Western reader, to find this universe worth reading about?MSG 2

To be honest, after finishing the first volume I couldn’t tell you.  I’m not sure why I honestly continued reading to the second volume.  Despite my previous praise of the characters in the story there wasn’t much to the book in terms of personal interest.  Like I said the book was fascinating to observe because it has an interesting approach on presenting physical action without sacrificing the detail.  Too often I’ve read Manga that just devolves into talking heads with occasional bursts of physical displays of power.

I think part of what kept me going was that I recognized that this book continues to exist through sheer force of influence and recognition.  It’s a book that’s laid a foundation and it’s been around for ages and therefore it’s worth reading if only to understand why it has survived this long.  I think there’s also some part of me who watched five minutes of the anime series when I was just a teenager who could stay up late and watched a few minutes of the show before saying “what the fuck was that?” and then promptly changing the channel.gundam-1

I was tempted to say I’m not really a “western reader,” but a simple analysis reveals this as bullshit.  I am STEEPED in the Western tradition, and the fact that I’m trying to read every play by William Shakespeare is enough to prove this.  I suspect then what’s keeping me reading the balance of concern for character, the trope of the hero overcoming a great evil.  I suspect there’s also some cowboy in my who simply enjoys watching shit blow up and watching giant robots fight to the death.

I don’t feel like I’ve answered this question efficiently because, really, theChar 3reputation of the book is more what’s going to keep me reading past the first volume.  I hate saying it like that, and I’m not implying the book has no merit, but as an introduction the first book does not really seem, to me, to be much inspiration to continue reading.

 

  1. If you can, has this manga subverted, exceeded or met your expectations? Can you explain why?

Having read at least few Mangas in my time (Black Lagoon, Akira, and at least two volumes of Lone Wolfe and Cub being my favorites) Mobile Suit Gundam met my general expectations but after going through these questions I’ve begun to really re-assess my reading of the first book.  I’m fortunate to not be too knowledgeable about the lasting impact of the series, and there wasn’t any real hype pre-reading.  I simply saw the books come through the library over and over again while I was shelving them.  And because the first volume has a great big robot on the cover I thought, “Fuck it.  Let’s give it a try.”

Mobile Gundam 3The first volume more-or-less met my expectations because there really wasn’t much in the book that veered away from the more traditional narrative structures of Manga.  And while there was much more emphasis on space and place, by the end of the book I wasn’t left with a feeling that I had read something greater than any previous Eastern comic I had ever read.

This is all just a way of saying, my reaction was by no means “meh,” but it was not “That was amazing.”

 

  1. What sorts of things do you hope will develop and occur in the future Gundam stories, if you should keep reading?

I would like to find some reason to give a damn about Amuro.  I mean, really that’s it.  Char, Sayla, and Bright are what’s keeping me reading, and to some extent the3dd0aeaf85608c4dd2df9bc20c7a92d643eedb33_hq military drama that’s taking place.  I would like a little more interaction with the planet Earth as a territory for narrative because I honestly am not too much of a fan of High Sci-Fi.  I like the speculative fiction element that is grounded in the reality that mankind is distancing itself from Earth but is not entirely divorced from the home-planet.

I am also interested in seeing how the female characters will develop as the text continues because I’ve too often read stories where female characters in Manga have been reduced into giggly sex-dolls.  Neither of the women in the book thus far have devolved into that particular stereotype and it leaves me hopeful that the book will balance a concern for their characters and not just be a patriarchal action-movie book.

And finally, I would like to see how the presentation of physical action and warfare develops if it develops at all.  Sometimes the fights are just dramatic lines on the page and I would like to see if the art becomes a little more nuanced and detailed.  I would understand if it doesn’t, but I still enjoy artists that try to create their world, and realism can heighten violence and action dramatically.

Mobile Gundam 2

 

 

 

About the Authors:

Michael Hale

Michael Hale is currently a PhD Candidate for the University of Texas at Arlington. He publishes for Comicosity through the Comics Classroom column series.

If you would like to read more work by Michael, and I most certainly recomend you do, you can find many of his essays by following the link below:

http://www.comicosity.com/category/special-features/columns/the-comics-classroom/

 

Joshua “Jammer” Smith

Really?  Really?  REALLY?!  We’re really doing this bit again?  I’m the goddamned head writer for this site and you people STILL don’t know who I am.  I’m Jammer.  Jammer.  What?  No I’m not the guy who writes FrameRate.  That’s TJ Rankin.  Here’s a link to his site.

https://frameratesite.wordpress.com

Now if you’re interested in my opinion about Fun Home or the writing of Albert Camus I can, wait, where are go-.

[Door slams as reader pursues more worthwhile, or at least far less tedious content]

Kingdoms of Madmen Devoid of John Ham or Virtue: Kingdom of Heaven

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Stronghold Crusader

I right clicked, and sent a thousand archers to their doom.  I had no cavalry, no knights, no footsoldiers, no pikemen, and not even a single swordsmen to assault the pillars of the Caliph.  The die had been cast, and my men would burn.  I lost a good three hundred men to the pitch that burned their flesh alone, and I lost a hundred more to the ballistas and the fire-throwers that manned the towers alongside a legion of archers.  Yet despite all this, I took the castle that day, and the Caliph was felled by almost six hundred men firing arrows at him until his hit-points were finally exhausted and I crushed him.Kingdom 7

This, in a nutshell, was the experience of my puberty.  And I’m not sorry for one minute of it.  Stronghold Crusader taught me a lot about medieval warfare, about the difficulty of sieging a fortress, about the precious commodity of iron, about the pros and cons of hiring mercenaries, about the difficulty of feeding an entire population on nothing but apples and bread.  The game appeared in my life and then consumed it rather quickly as I would spend, literally, hours in front of a monitor leading troops to their deaths, and sometimes victory, in a battle for the Holy Land, or, as is far more accurate, for fertile territory where I could grow more crops and mine more iron so I could be rich enough to wage more war in the first place.  This latter admission becomes a fascinating parallel moment to the past, as the Crusades were, as time went on, really just efforts in self-interest and Kingdom 8personal gain.  I wish I could say Stronghold Crusader pushed me to begin reading more and more about the Crusades, and while I will admit I did perform some cursory internet research, I was far, far more interested in playing video games.

Still, youth is more about establishing foundations that building great wonders that last throughout adulthood, and the young man I was fostered a life-long fascination with the Crusades.  This fascination manifested in some interesting reading, but more than anything else it provided the foundation for a love of one my favorite films of all time: Kingdom of Heaven.

Now right off the bat I’m sure my regular reader will have an objection.  Kingdom of Kingdom 3Heaven is a film which is largely condemnatory about religion, why isn’t this a “letter to a young atheist?”  And since I’m an atheist is this essay just going to be a long rant about how religion is stupid and dangerous?  Because if it is, I’m not terribly interested.

These are fair points and worth addressing because, yes, I am an atheist, and I do nothing to hold back my contempt for faith and religion in whatever form it manifests.  Religion is an infantile disease founded in the infancy of our species to explain natural phenomena that we lacked the language and methodology to explain.  It has also largely been a Misoginist tool used by sadists to acquire political and economic power throughout centuries allowing a manipulation and outright abuse of common people.  To put it another way, religion just fucking blows man, but that’s not what this essay is ultimately about.  Though I am living a godless existence (I don’t even read the Bible, not out of some lofty philosophical position, but honestly it’s just fucking boring as fuck), Kingdom of Heaven is a beautiful film period and I’ve always wanted to write something about it.

The film follows an English blacksmith named Balian who is visited by a Crusading Kingdom 10Knight Baron Godfrey.  Balian has recently lost his wife to suicide, and Baron arrives announcing that he is the man’s father and would like Balian to forgive him his sins.  Godfrey leaves and Balian is left in the village when a local priest informs him that the village does not want him and that his wife is in hell.  Balian kills the priest and escapes to join Godfrey who himself is mortally wounded when the castle guard comes to arrest Balian.  The party eventually arrives at the shores of Italy where Godfrey passes his title, sword, and knighthood to Balian before sending him to the Holy Land where Balian quickly becomes one of the most outstanding lords of the realm in due in large part to his kindness and devotion to the people.

Kingdom of Heaven is complex film because it is layered in developed characters who Kingdom 9regularly  question the nature of virtue, religion, society, and the services the powerful owe to the weak in society.  This complexity often is centered in one character, who is also for the records dear reader, my favorite character in just about the entirety of Ridley Scott’s creative Universe King Baldwin IV.  Balian is invited to meat the King of Jerusalem, and when the reader first observes his character one is left spellbound, at least if you’re me:

King Baldwin IV: Come forward. I am glad to meet Godfrey’s son. He was one of my greatest teachers. He was there when, playing with the other boys, my arm was cut. It was he, not my father’s physicians, who noticed that I felt no pain. He wept when he gave my father the news… that I am a leper. The Saracens say that this disease is God’s vengence against the vanity of our kingdom. As wretched as I am, these Arabs believe that the chastisement that awaits me in hell is far more severe and lasting. If that’s true, I call it unfair. Come. Sit.

[they sit down on opposite sides of a chessboard]

King Baldwin IV: Do you play?

Balian of Ibelin: No.King Baldwin IV 5

King Baldwin IV: The whole world is in chess. Any move can be the death of you. Do anything except remain where you started, and you can’t be sure of your end. Were you sure of your end once?

Balian of Ibelin: I was.

King Baldwin IV: What was it?

Balian of Ibelin: To be buried a hundred yards from where I was born.

King Baldwin IV: And now?

Balian of Ibelin: Now I sit in Jerusalem, and look upon a king.King Baldwin IV 2

King Baldwin IV: [Baldwin chuckles] When I was sixteen, I won a great victory. I felt in that moment I would live to be a hundred. Now I know I shall not see thirty. None of us know our end, really, or what hand will guide us there. A king may move a man, a father may claim a son, but that man can also move himself, and only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, “But I was told by others to do thus,” or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice. Remember that.

Balian of Ibelin: I will.

When I first saw the film I had never seen Lawrence of Arabia, I had no idea King Kingdom 2Baldwin was being played by Edward Norton, and I had no conception that the King wearing the White robes and that metal mask was in fact based on a real human being.  I was simply struck by the tragedy and beautiful humanity of a character who seemed, in the face of such overwhelming personal tragedy, aloof to his own suffering.  Suffering, as his plight was, was not as important as being a good man and ensuring that the people of his realm were led by decent people.  King Baldwin IV stuck with me, partly because Scott portrayed the character as a “philosopher King” in the vein of Marcus Aurelius, but more because his values were that of a man who simply wanted to make the world a better place.

Kingdom of Heaven continually returns to this theme placing virtue as something opposed to religion.  Religion is often something that breeds malice, envy, contempt, or far too often excuses for bloodshed.  Balian, as soon as he reaches Jerusalem, visits the hill of Golgotha to try and settle his peace with god and the death of his wife, and finding nothing but silence and emptiness he informs Hospitaller, one of the knights who accompanied his father, that he has “lost my religion,” prompting both the following conversation, as well as your friend Greg to start singing REM.Kingdom 13

Hospitaller: I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of God. Holiness is in right action and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What God desires is here

[points to head]

Hospitaller: and here

[points to heart]

Hospitaller: and what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man – or not.Kingdom 15

There is some part of me that worries at times that Kingdom of Heaven is in fact just one long series of beautiful speeches, syllogisms, aphorisms, and religious meditations, but for all of the criticism of fanaticism and the corruption of the doctrines of religion the film does manage to help the characters to come to some sense of themselves.  Though these previous conversations are really one sided they serve to help build Balian into the virtuous man he becomes.  Balian often has few lines, but that’s not a weakness on his part.  Being a blacksmith he’s become a man of action rather than a man of words and speeches and contemplation.  Balian acts to build a well on his new lands, to help his subjects dig the holes, to help them lay the agriculture that will provide them with food, to defend the civilians who attack the castle of Renault de Chatillion by charging into the Saracen Cavalry, to defend the city of Jerusalem when Saladin’s army begins their march to it.  

Balian’s actions matter and in this way Ridley Scott is able to demonstrate a real Kingdomfundamental truth: virtue is in action, rather than ideology.

In the end Balian becomes the sort of figure a Crusader was ultimately supposed to be.  And this becomes painfully Clear when he addresses the army of Jerusalem as they are preparing for the ultimate siege.

Balian of Ibelin: [to the people of Jerusalem] It has fallen to us, to defend Jerusalem, and we have made our preparations as well as they can be made. None of us took this city from Muslims. No Muslim of the great army now coming against us was born when this city was lost. We fight over an offense we did not give, against those who were not alive to be offended. What is Jerusalem? Your holy places lie over the Jewish temple that the Romans pulled down. The Muslim places of worship lie over yours. Which is more holy?

[pause]

Balian of Ibelin: The wall? The Mosque? The Sepulchre? Who has claim? No one has claim.

[raises his voice]Kingdom 4

Balian of Ibelin: All have claim!

Bishop, Patriarch of Jerusalem: That is blasphemy!

Almaric: [to the Patriarch] Be quiet.

Balian of Ibelin: We defend this city, not to protect these stones, but the people living within these walls.

I right clicked and sent a thousand archers to their own destruction, and while it’s absurd to compare a computer game to the realities of the actual Crusades, I don’t believe it’s a step too far to observe that my motivations weren’t that far off from what the Crusades actually became about.  By the time of the Fourth Crusade Christians had stopped even bothering going as far the Holy Land and simply stooped to burning the city of Constantinople and razing the city for the hope of personal gain.  The struggle for the “Holy Land” became about securing personal wealth rather than being virtuous and declaring a conviction to god.  Kingdom 11

Kingdom of Heaven is a film I have watched well over ten times, and having recently purchased the directors cut on Blue-Ray I was able to show the film to my little sister for the first time.  This was slightly discombobulating given the fact that she’s a historian (and a medievalist to boot), but it was also a chance to see how my appreciation of the film has deepened.  Ridley Scott is an incredible director and I want to dig deeper into this film again, but for now my impression on rewatching the film was just an appreciation for the fact that the film is not just an empty bashing of religion, but instead a film about someone who wants to be a good man and who learns from other good men what real virtue is.Kingdom 12

Balian of Ibelin: What man is a man who does not make the world better.

It’s a simple statement that at first appears to be nothing but a piffy aphorism, but upon inspection this statement has power.  If one is held by the principle that one should try to make the world a better place, then a series of small actions will build to something great.  If the Crusades had been held by such a conviction they may not have been eventually settled on as a great example of human beings fucking up in monstrous ways, they might have in fact have been remembered as a victory of the tenants of Christian philosophy and ideology.

But as always the Kingdom of Heaven is elusive, and I need at least 700 more archers before I attack Duc Truffe The Pig.  Those crossbowmen are mean sumbitches.

Pig Stronghold Castle

 

*Writer’s Note*

All quotes cited from Kingdom of Heaven were provided by IMDb.

 

**Writer’s Note**

Being an avid fan of history, and a nerd, I tend to spend my time reading and watching films, but also listening to other nerds talking about things that they are pretty nerdy about.  One of my favorite nerd programs is Overly Sarcastic Productions, and in between the videos about The Aeneid and Vikings I watched a video hosted by Blue about the Crusades.  It’s most definitely worth your time and will provide the reader with a far more nuanced and entertaining backstory about the Crusades than my work.  If you’re at all interested you can follow the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZhyDIIkeLo

 

***Writer’s Note***

This is still, arguably in my opinion, the sanest argument about the “Holy Land” that I have ever heard in my life, not to mention one of the best delivered lines in cinema history:

Kingdom 17