Facebook as Entertainment

By Melissa Swanepoel, Staff Writer

Facebook started as a networking tool, a social connection facilitator. It has become so much more — with each step the site has taken, it has broadened its reach, and therefore its impact. It had 901 million monthly active users at the end of March 2012. It currently has other insane numbers of people using it on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, on different platforms, in different countries, in different languages.

It has become a social sandbox where people come, as Facebook puts it, to “stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” But this cannot be a one-way street. If you use Facebook to connect to others and share what matters to you, then you are by default opening yourself to what matters to those with whom you are connecting.

This is an accurate depiction of Facebook, right down to that corner where all the kids pee.

You are, whether you agree or disagree with their opinions, find artistic or repulsive their content, opening your mind to the ideas, images, and perspectives of those you ‘friend’ and ‘like’ on Facebook.

There is another device/platform that shares this. Television. Or to be more precise, reality TV.

You see, TV in and of itself is not an accurate metaphor. It has news channels, education channels, as well as channels that cannot be taken too seriously (History Channel on blast here). It is, therefore, like the Internet. There is information out there, some good, some bad, a lot of it entertaining.

Then, there is reality TV.

It is full of people we vaguely know from somewhere, or who are new to us, but with whom we will soon be far too familiar. There is a lot of drama here. This is sounding more and more like Facebook.

Think of it like this: your friends on Facebook are shows you watch. I am not talking about your actual, real-life friends here, but your friends as they present themselves on Facebook. These Facebook presentations seem real enough, but they are HIGHLY scripted. More often than not, highlights and low points in a person’s day are the main focus of status updates. These are like episodes. Some episodes contain photos, links to cool/sad/funny/bizarre articles, videos, etc..

Coming to a facebook near you!

When you read these updates, you have watched that episode. Then you do something important: you rate the content. By ‘liking’ or commenting on certain updates, you have giving that show, which is a highly-scripted and stylized version of somebody which is maintained by a real person, positive feedback. Even if your feedback was negative.

By causing you to respond, communicate, or have any kind of measurable reaction, that show has succeeded in two things: first, in verifying that you watch that show; and two, in verifying that the show is having an impact on you.

The content provider (real person) will then base subsequent posts on the feedback they receive – not based on whether or not it’s good, but on whether or not it’s there. (I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people complaining about the entertainment atrocity that is Jersey Shore. But the mere fact that they keep complaining means they keep watching, and shows like this will thus continue).

Think of your own habits concerning Facebook. Which posts/pics would you share first? The exciting ones that depict the interesting extremes of your life? Or that bland filler called ‘real life’ that no one particularly cares about?

This says it all.

Eventually, it’s not enough to make decisions between the interesting and not-so-interesting events of your life. Eventually, it becomes about living a more interesting life — choosing to go to a drama-filled party instead of vacuuming the cat hair off your drab carpets, choosing to experience and then produce the content that keeps your viewers coming back for more and validating your online presence and persona with their responses.

You, too, could be a reality star!

Like TV, Facebook has commercials. They keep track of interests, so the content you provide and the commercials associated reach a doubly-targeted audience.

Facebook also has fan pages. You don’t have to be famous to have a fan page. But, generate the right content, and with enough likes, with enough connections, with enough ‘viewers’, you can achieve a kind of fame. This is beginning to sound more and more like reality TV.

The implications of all this are kind of serious (but then again not, because it’s not like it’s real, right?)

Think of how much television you watch. Your brain spends that time in a sort of passive receptive state, formulating its views of what reality and normalcy are. Now think of how much time you spend on Facebook. Now you are in an active receptive state, seeking out the stylized and drama-tastic online versions of your friends, friends who already have an effect on the normalcy spectrum your brain produces.

Poor brain, it has no idea…

On Facebook, just like on TV, everyone is falling from one crisis to another, rocketing from one highpoint to the next. The pendulum swings, but we only see the endpoints, which trains us to discount the events and hard work that lead to those extremes. This symptom is being noticed and reported elsewhere already; in 9 Ways Twentysomethings Screw Up Their Lives, the author mentions Facebook and reality TV negatively, construing them as limiting factors for behavioral and personal growth.

Am I saying Facebook is evil? No. Am I saying reality TV is bad for you? No yes, but that’s not the point. The point is that Facebook has an impact on our lives. We choose it as a way to connect with those around us, but it’s becoming more than that — we spend time on Facebook. We craft our digital selves there and partake of those already created. We experience by proxy, we react, we respond. It enthralls us. It entertains us.

And if it entertains us, it is more than simply entertaining. It is entertainment.

Go on. Share this article. You know you want to.

Ice to Meet You? — A Look at the New 52’s Reintroduction of Mr. Freeze.

By Alex Ehrhardt, regular guest contributor
First, as a warning, this piece is an analysis of a plot twist. It is one of those plot twists, the ones that really ought not be spoiled. It’s the plot twist in the recent Batman Annual #1’s ‘First Snow,’, written by Scott Snyder and with art by Jason Fabok. Prior to the most recent reboot of the DC universe, Mr. Freeze’s origin was canonically the one written in 1992 by Paul Dini for Batman: The Animated Series. This Freeze was Doctor Victor Fries, who was building his criminal empire specifically to fund research for his terminally ill wife, Nora, currently in cryogenic stasis. Needless to say, Freeze was, for twenty years, one of Batman’s most sympathetic antagonists. The love many fans had for this morally gray Mr. Freeze certainly accounts for the controversy surrounding Snyder’s take on the character.

In ‘First Snow,’ the story that introduces the rebooted Freeze, we are presented with a revelation in the climax. It turns out that Victor Fries has never even met Nora. She was frozen in the 1960s, and was the subject of Fries’ doctoral thesis. Mr. Freeze is transformed, with this twist, from a loving husband descended into extremity, into an obsessed and deluded stalker.

This is a change that fans and critics have objected to in great numbers. However, around this unpalatable bit of alteration to a familiar universe, there exists a well-told chiller of a tale (sue me, I had to do at least one pun about cold here somewhere). For the bulk of the story, recurring bat-fans are given the familiarly tragic Freeze they know, and new readers have that same sympathetic origin set up for them—until the revelation, readers can reasonably assume that Nora really is Victor Fries’ wife. In fact, up until the revelation, readers are set up to, to some extent, root for Freeze. In this story, he has found a way to safely unfreeze Nora, whose heart condition is now treatable with modern medicine, and intends to leave Gotham with her, forever. Since readers still think that Nora is his wife, this seems to be a good outcome—Victor Fries gets to be happy, and Gotham has one less supervillain to worry about.

While the plan’s component of killing Bruce Wayne may not be something readers root for, Snyder, has, at this point, at least given us a sympathetic motive for Freeze’s doing so. After all, it was Bruce Wayne who shut down the cryogenics project that would find a way to unfreeze Nora, and it was in a confrontation with Wayne over this very project that Victor Fries suffered the accident that altered his body chemistry, transforming him into the Mr. Freeze with whom we are familiar.

The shock of discovering the truth about Fries and Nora is made all the more potent by the way in which Snyder has thus far set us, the readers, up so that we feel sympathetic to Freeze. Our emotional momentum is reversed with the revelation in the story’s third act. The power of the ending comes not solely from the shock of the unfamiliar, but from the sudden necessity to reevaluate our sympathies, and the way in which all of Freeze’s actions become, in retrospect, profoundly disquieting. The putting-on-a-pedestal of a woman who may not want any such attention is the dark flip-side to the sorts of stories that make Dini’s take on Freeze so sympathetic, and Snyder’s ‘First Snow’ brings this to the fore. The title of the story is taken from a line within, said by Victor’s mother: “How I love the first snow, unbroken and white, before it’s ruined by footprints.”

The symbolic connection to Nora, then, is that, to Snyder’s Freeze, her frozen state renders her unspoiled: she is inert, unable to act, and it his his prerogative to act upon her. She is an idealization of the innocent victim—Freeze knows her only insofar as he knows the details of the process by which she is put in stasis. She is his project, but not really a person. In a sense, the relationship between Freeze and Nora can be seen as a critique of the damsel-in-distress archetype. As readers, our sympathy is so easily gained, in part, because, even if we are unfamiliar with Dini’s Freeze, we know to root for the guy trying to save the girl. Another layer of the shock of the twist, then, is that we must, in some way, face the dark underbelly of the structures we accept daily in narratives both fictional and about the real world.

The most common objections to the changes to Freeze are centered around the idea that the new Freeze, without the angle of sympathy, will have less interesting stories centered around him. This is entirely possible. Indeed, within Batman’s rogue’s gallery, he now occupies a similar niche to the Mad Hatter, who is obsessively in pursuit of a woman to be his ‘Alice.’ However, regardless of what can be done with the new Freeze, as a self-contained story, ‘First Snow’ is a thought-provoking and well-written work.

On Wholes and Parts—The Shins, The Beatles, and Band Members’ Roles in Arrangement.

Editor’s note: this guest piece is written by Alex Ehrhardt.

Following his departure from The Shins in 2009, drummer
Jesse Sandoval opened the food cart “Nuevo Mexico.”

The recent Shins album Port of Morrow is the first made after the departure of three of the group’s four founding members.  Indeed, the album’s personnel would perhaps be best listed as ‘James Mercer et. al.’  What I find a bit ironic about this that the band’s sophomore album, Chutes Too Narrow, is perhaps one of the great modern examples of a band’s musicianship being greater than the sum of its parts.  What I mean by this is that, on the ten songs of Chutes Too Narrow, each band member’s musical contribution fits in seamlessly into the whole of the song.  Chutes is an immaculately arranged album that, rather than relying on studio synth-wizardry or on the orchestration of a slew of guest performers or session-men, uses the basic elements of the rock and roll band—guitars, drums, bass guitar, sometimes keys, and vocals. 

The arguable masters of this sort of basic-band arranging were the Beatles.  In listening to the Beatles’ albums released prior to Revolver one can hear quite distinctly that the instrumental parts of those early-to-middle Beatles songs were, in fact, arranged along the same aural principle their widely praised top-notch vocal harmonies.  While the one-chord-a-measure rhythm guitar and use of strings on the Shins’ ‘Saint Simon’ most overtly recall the Beatles, throughout Chutes Too Narrow there is another element specifically reminiscent of Beatle arrangements: the drumming.

The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Ringo is offscreen.

While Ringo Starr is perhaps the least respected of the Beatles as a musician, he was, in fact, masterful in his fading into the texture of a song, and in his use of negative space in fills.  To clarify the latter point, Ringo’s drum fills always place the rests in exactly the right places.  And on all of Chutes, drummer Jesse Sandoval excels at both these elements of drumming.  His drumming most overtly echoes Ringo’s on ‘Saint Simon,’ fitting the song’s nature as a Beatles pastiche.  However, the skills Sandoval shares with Ringo as a drummer can be clearly heard elsewhere. One such example is on the fills capping the entry of the electric guitar on opener ‘Kissing the Lipless,’ which both crash down in announcement and keep us in suspense with the pauses both within and between (in the case of the first two), and lead seamlessly into the beat of the song (in the case of the third). 

As with the drum fills, the guitar solos of both bands serve more as compositional bridges in the song that as showcases of individual virtuosity.  George Harrison contributes a remarkable number of brief and melodic solos as bridges to the early Beatles songs (Listen to, ‘The Night Before,’ ‘You’re Gonna Lose That Girl,’ ‘Nowhere Man,’ and many others).  While it is clear to anyone who listens to Harrison’s solo album ‘All Things Must Pass,’ that George Harrison can jam for quite a while indeed if he wants to, the early Beatles songs were arranged as tight harmonic units, with little space for an extended leads.  On Chutes, we hear this same sort of Harrisonian bridge-solo again and again—on all but two songs*.  In spite of their brevity, each solo comes as a treat to the listeners, a perfectly placed break from the familiar.

The Shins in the “Saint Simon” music video. Center: guitarist
and singer James Mercer, top: keyboardist Marty Crandall,
left: bassist Dave Hernandez, right: Jesse Sandoval.

Finally, there’s the elephant in the room when it comes to Beatles comparisons:  What about the singing?  Indeed, the Beatles’ early tracks first and foremost establish them as a great vocal band.   Their vocal harmonies distinguish them, setting them above most of their British invasion contemporaries and apart from the other three legendary bands to emerge from the UK in that era (The Who, the Rolling Stones, and the Kinks, of course).  While Chutes does have some very good harmony in the singing, it is far less up-front than the vocal arrangements of those earlier Beatles tracks.  As an aside, most of the harmonies also consist of Mercer’s voice overdubbed, rather than the rest of the band joining in.  However, the vocals contribute to the arrangement in a way unheard on the Beatles records of their early (or, arguably, any) period: in the lyrics.  Here I am not referring to the meanings of the words themselves, but to their sound.   Mercer’s lyrics contribute to the elements of arrangement mentioned so far by being aurally attractive collections of consonants and vowels.  If anything, the meaning of what Mercer is singing on this or that song is obfuscated by his wordiness—for every excellent image** there are a several that are either inexplicable or obtuse.  How the hell does “And all this way before murder was cool,” follow from “I don’t look back much as a rule,” and what exactly does the ‘mercy’s eyes are blue…’ refrain contribute to the meaning of ‘Saint Simon?’ That said, from a purely sonic standpoint, every word choice is justified—the wording not only fits the meter, but places letter sounds where they will best fit into the melody of the vocal.  These are lyrics that a listener can find beautiful for years without figuring out what they mean.

I don’t want to say the Shins are the new Beatles.  The Beatles’ context in rock and roll history is what made them THE BEATLES.  To search for a replacement for a unique pop cultural moment would be, frankly, a silly thing to do.  The Shins are the Shins and the Beatles are the Beatles.  However, the songwriting on ‘Chutes,’ is notable in its comparison to that of the early Beatles precisely because of the Shins own context within rock history.  Following the end of the Sixties, we would see bands and whole genres being shaped by, among others Jimi Hendrix, the Velvet Underground, Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, et. al.,  the Stooges, and indeed, the Beatles’ own Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  It is an unexpected delight, then, to hear a band put together an album in 2003 that emulates so well what was good about A Hard Day’s Night while standing on its own rather than going for a retro pastiche.

Author’s footnotes:
*‘Pink Bullets’ and ‘Those To Come,’ the latter of which is deliberately minimalist, consisting mainly of only Mercer’s vocal and a cyclical arpeggio on guitar.
**You’ve got someone coming ‘round/ gluing tinsel to your crown,” for example, in reference to the flatterer of the ex-friend or ex-lover to whom Mercer sings in ‘Kissing The Lipless’

In Defense of Pro Wrestling, or, Why Vince McMahon’s Employees Are the Best Actors to Never Be Nominated for a Tony Award

Editor’s Note: this article, written by Alex Jones, took first place in the 2012 Larry L. Stewart Prize for Critical Essay on Entertainment. Thanks to everyone who participated! 

I think I can count on one hand the number of times after high school that me professing my love for Pro Wrestling wasn’t met with some combination of disbelief and disapproval. I get asked if I think it’s real. I get asked why I wouldn’t rather watch Ultimate Fighting Championship or some other Mixed Martial Arts company or boxing instead of that fake stuff. I try to explain that it’s just another form of theatre, but more often than not I just get shouted down. I’m right, though. In Aristotle’s Poetics, he outlines what he believes to be the six core elements of drama. Legitimate theatre, if you will. They are plot, character, theme, speech, melody, and spectacle. Each one of these elements is present in Pro Wrestling which means, by definition, it’s theatre.

Spectacle should be obvious, even to someone who’s only vaguely aware of what happens on any given show. When a wrestler makes their entrance, each one has their own song. The giant main screen on the stage lights up and displays highlights of their performances. Pyrotechnics can often be involved. The stage itself is often spectacular, replete with as many lights and screens as possible. Even at independent shows, which have smaller budgets with regard to production values than WWE does, promotions try to make the entrances special using lighting or smoke machines. All of this happens before the match, which is the entire focal point and a spectacle in its own right, has even begun.  Wrestlers battle with a variety of moves, ranging from a simple lariat, which can look spectacular if the recipient sells it appropriately, or an aerial maneuver, which often looks spectacular because it’s someone flying through the air. Regardless of the move, the wrestlers are working together to make it look amazing and draw the crowd in.

At many points during a show, wrestlers appear on screen, on stage, or in the ring to address other wrestlers or the audience. Most of the all time greats have been more than proficient in the art of the promo, as it’s called in Pro Wrestling circles. This is the role of speech in Pro Wrestling. Promo skills are so essential for a wrestler that there are many instances of it affecting someone’s standing in a company. The Rock is a perfect example of this. While he’s always been a solid athlete, he was never particularly impressive with regard to his in-ring offense (though his selling of opponents’ moves was of the highest caliber). However, he managed to connect with the audience and become one of the biggest stars ever in Wrestling, transcending its niche audience and launching a movie career in the process, because he knew how to work a crowd with a microphone. Likewise, people such as Dean Malenko, who are incredible in-ring workers, may get held back by their lack of talking ability.

Character is something Pro Wrestling has had from its inception. However, the nature of it has changed over the years. Initially, wrestlers were presented as legitimate athletes and tough guys from various towns who liked to beat people up. But as wrestling moved into the 1980s and 1990s, characters began to become more cartoony and exaggerated, resulting in wrestlers such as Doink the Clown. But in the late 90s, things began to change and characters started being more gritty and realistic. One of the best examples of this in recent times is C.M. Punk. A few years ago, he was a heel [bad guy] and his gimmick was that he preached the virtues of living a straight-edge lifestyle, one without alcohol or drugs, to the audience and other wrestlers. His cronies were the Straight-Edge Society and Punk himself was a sort of Charles Manson-esque figure. His biggest rival was Jeff Hardy, the fan favorite who had past troubles with substance abuse. Punk would cut incredible promos each week trying to save the audience from their lifestyles and their bad idols, earning the ire of the crowd and basking in the boos that rained down on him.

Matches happen because there are championships the wrestlers want to obtain to prove they’re the best. Things happen on the way to obtaining those championships and so feuds are born. People argue with each other, then they have matches to further the feuds. Then, after a while, the feud has its blow-off match, usually at a Pay-Per-View event or some other large show where they can use the feud to sell tickets. Then the wrestlers move on to other things, either refocusing on a championship or falling into another feud. While development of these plots happen in a more episodic nature than theatre usually employs, that doesn’t change the fact that they’re stories, often of good versus evil, being told by actors on a stage in front of a live audience.

Melody is the first element of Aristotle’s Poetics that isn’t obviously present in Pro Wrestling. Sure, it could be claimed that entrance music satisfies this requirement, but that’s not what Aristotle was getting at. He was referring to the Chorus when he thought of this. Now, Pro Wrestling doesn’t have a Chorus in the sense that Greek theatre did. However, it does have an audience that chants at the wrestlers and responds when they say things. They chime in on catchphrases for wrestlers they love. While that’s not necessarily the same thing, there’s also the commentators, who help the audience at home understand what’s going on and make sure they catch the nuances of what’s happening. They, just as much as the wrestlers sometimes, are also responsible for selling the actions of the main characters.

In Pro Wrestling, things are rarely ever stated explicitly with regard to character changes. Occasionally a heel will apologize to the crowd if they undergo a face [good guy] turn, saying that they’ve realized the error of their ways, but otherwise we’re left to assume that they’re relatively the same. Heel turns work the same way. The motivations of a character are generally only ever articulated in the most succinct manner still able to be understood by the audience. However, a close examination reveals the theme. Heels are usually arrogant and willing to break any number of rules to win. Faces, on the other hand, are humble and always operate within the rules. Making certain characters sympathetic and others reviled might only be espousing a moral to the fans by implication, but it’s certainly still there.

That’s six for six on Aristotle’s checklist — but just because you have rubber and gears doesn’t mean you have a car that can drive. Does it really hold up as drama, especially compared to its rivals? The UFC purports to be combat sports at its best and Dana White and company do their best reality TV impersonation when they attempt to build a story around each fight to get people to tune in. But if the guy who’s portrayed as the jerk shows up and KOs his opponent midway through the second round, the crowd isn’t going to be too pleased. That doesn’t happen in Pro Wrestling unless it’s building to a bigger release for the audience later on. It’s like the feel-good football movie that everyone loves. There are characters to get invested in and the primary conflict is an athletic contest. Did they really compete on the set of Remember The Titans? No, but that doesn’t make the movie any less than it would have been if they had.

So why don’t wrestlers get the accolades that are lavished upon other actors and actresses? Perhaps it’s because Pro Wrestling is perceived as being low-brow compared to other theatrical endeavors, usually because of its fanbase often being assumed to be ignorant rednecks who think it’s real. I would say that it’s no more low-brow than any given action film. Sure, they aren’t cinematic masterpieces (though some can be), but they’re enjoyable. To me, this is akin to when The Incredibles was passed over for a best picture nomination simply because it was an animated film. It dealt with mature themes in a manner that even kids could understand, as wrestling does, but it was only nominated for awards in animated categories. Wrestlers go into arenas week in and week out to tell stories using only some canvas covered plywood on a metal frame, some cables wrapped in tape, a few bits of padding in the corners, and themselves — without the luxury of understudies coming out to replace them mid-performance if injury or illness overwhelms them. If that isn’t deserving of a Tony nomination, I don’t know what is.

Darling, When Is Love Not Enough?

Editor’s note: This week, The ACP is covering the indie film “Love Is Not Enough,” directed by Bryan Darling and produced by Megan Vrolijk. Please show your support, as the film is released on Saturday at the Ninth Street Independent Film Festival in San Francisco, California! For more information, be sure to check out their website here! Be warned, however, as our article contains spoilers – we recommend viewing the film first!

Above: Main characters, Conrad and Eric on their first date.
Put concisely, Bryan Darling’s indie film “Love Is Not Enough” follows the relationship of Eric (played by Scott Cox) and Conrad (played by Brian Clark Jansen) as it attempts to power through its first big problem: Conrad is a polyamorist and Eric is strictly monogamous. But as the title implies, it tries to answer a very difficult question underneath it all: when is love not enough to maintain a relationship? What is the tipping point?
Focusing strictly on the turning points of the relationship, the movie hints that on several occasions Eric watched the progression of Conrad’s romance with Thomas (played by JD Rudometkin) and did not fight back. As Conrad points out, during their first big confrontation “I have never lied. I have never cheated on you. You always had a choice in the matter. I mean, you could have said no at any point.” So, from Eric’s perspective at least, discovering something about your lover with which you harshly disagree was not the tipping point. Eric, desperate and inspired by love, tries to make it work; he even goes as far as to meet Thomas.
Albeit, Eric comes off as a bit of a pushover many scenes, so it’s unclear how much manipulation and coercing Conrad performed to bring Eric to this point. But Eric is noticeably the more invested one in the relationship, which could also drive his decision to do whatever it takes to make his relationship with Conrad work.
The moment right before the credits roll, this dialogue takes place:
“It seems like you’re trying to ask me to choose between who I am and who you want me to be.”
“See that’s exactly what you’re asking of me.”
Thomas, the third in the love triangle.
From Eric’s perspective, love is not enough when two people have to make this choice. Much like many relationships, Eric senses the resentment that would follow from being only who his lover wanted him to be. Eric’s decisions, actions and thoughts imply that the ideal relationship is not one where someone begrudgingly tolerates who someone is, nor is it one where someone has to change who he is to make it work. It’s when two people already compliment each other so well that both people enjoy the other.
This is not to say that minor turbulence should direct one to cut and run; this is why the goldfish scene exists. Eric and Conrad have trouble naming a goldfish, primarily because Conrad thinks owning and naming one is “so domestic.” But the timeline implies this is somewhat prior to the tipping point, as much happens in between that time. Although, one could also argue that Conrad’s polyamory panicked as a domestic, committed relationship began to surface in small signs like goldfish, setting his seeking of Thomas in motion. But, in Conrad’s defense, he was doing what he thought could save the relationship: he tried to be a little more of who he was so that he didn’t feel smothered by Eric’s “so domestic” lifestyle imposed upon him.
Conrad defends himself.

The film, as a whole, presents very strong questions: “What is more important, who I am or who my love wants me to be? And at what point do I stop sacrificing and compromising and just follow my heart?” Through cathartic scenes that show the way all kinds of love – romantic, familial or friendly – feel this question from time to time, “Love Is Not Enough” fantastically displays two sides of a coin that, while clearly not leaning one way or another, is bound to fall eventually. And when one sees that the choice comes down either self-identity compromise or heartbreak, neither of which are ideal, something has to give.

Grant Morrison’s Batman vs Canon Batman

Editor’s note: this is guest article by returning writer Alex Friedman. Although slightly more editorializing than our usual material, I liked Alex’s piece because it brought to the surface difficult questions: when does a writer who is merely accepting a passed torch have the right to change a character? And even then, how much does a writer have the right to change? What makes this writer’s work “canon”? I look forward to more of Alex’s work, especially if he can answer the questions set in motion from his piece here.

Grant Morrison is a writer for DC comics who has become prominent in pop culture the last 5 or 6 years writing Batman. He is featured in a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine giving commentary on ‘the death of comics’. I read it this morning and spat out my frosted flakes in rage. Then I poured myself another bowl of frosted flakes, because he’s not ruining my cereal like he did the comic industry. This skinny, bald-headed punk single-handedly sent comics into a recession. Let’s talk about Batman.
People who don’t read comics like Batman, which is unusual for a superhero. You’ll find non-comic readers who like Superman or Spiderman and occasionally ones who like the hero teams like the X-Men or the Avengers, but Green Arrow? Or Captain Marvel? Go ask your sister if she likes Captain Marvel.
But Batman. Now there’s a character with fan appeal. There are die-hard Batman fans who have never picked up a comic. Bob Kane aside, this is mostly due to the work of Paul Dini and Chistopher Nolan, and to a lesser extent to Tim Burton, Adam West, and Rocksteady Games. These artists and actors have created an epic mythos and deep layers of atmosphere and tone that make Batman the complex, enjoyable character he is. But this is the Batman outside of the comics. The comic Batman and the media interpretations of Batman feed off of each other. Everyone has a favorite interpretation of the Dark Knight.
And Grant Morrison is wrong.
There is what I consider to be a ‘canon’ era of Batman, a golden age. Every recent critically applauded interpretation of Batman is based off of it, and the books and magazines it encompasses stand toe to toe in literary value with many of the great graphic novels, crime fictions, and science fictions out there. The ‘canon’ era starts with 1987’s Batman: Year One and ends around 2008 with Paul Dini’s departure from Detective Comics. Don’t get me wrong — there are some awful Batman stories that came out during this time and I wouldn’t suggest that the majority of what came out during this period was excellent. But during this period, Batman developed into a highly compelling character and central plot/setting device. The story lines grew more complex, the characters became well-motivated and rounded, and there came to be a timeline that told the greatest superhero epic of the century. (Below is the recommended reading list.)
And then Grant Morrison.
In 2008, Grant Morrison, who had previously had his name on books that better writers mostly wrote, was given a chance to do a run on the comic Batman. The Batman story lines had obviously been boiling to a turning point. Several had occurred over the past 20 years, and most of them had been inspired and fantastic. At this point, it was becoming obvious that Bruce Wayne was getting older, more focused, and dipping further off the deep end. A major plot line for the series as of War Games was that Batman was becoming too obsessed with control, pushing his will upon the law and his allies in an attempt to crush the increasingly violent gang-lords and supervillains of Gotham City. So maybe this would be a story about Batman coming to grips with his limits? Or his mortality? Or something?
No. First Batman hangs out with a new super-team of idiots who are ‘throwbacks to Americana’ themed. I can’t remember their names. There’s an Indian, I think. Then Ra’s al Ghul comes back! And Batman finds some evil armor. So he puts it away. And then it turns out Batman has a twelve-year-old son.
Wait, what?
Yeah, Damien, who totally isn’t evil, is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul. They had conceived in a comic that no one liked called Batman and Son. It was a throwback comic from the 80s that paid tribute to James Bond films. Batman kills people, sleeps with the bad chick, makes witty quips. No one remembered it because it was of questionable quality. This use of revamped discarded characters was to become a theme with Morrison.
After introducing Damien (who is an annoying child character whom the reader is led to believe might be evil), Grant Morrison introduced an evil society called “The Black Glove.” They had the staying power of a kitten in a gale force blast. No one remembers any of them. One of them might have worn a kettle helmet. They made Batman go crazy but not in any interesting way. He started wearing purple and hanging out with Bat-Mite, the most annoying character who has ever existed, anywhere, ever.

Bat-Mite originated in the 60s. Bat-Mite was derivative of the Hanna-Barbera character Gazoo. Gazoo, introduced to The Flintstones a few years prior, was a tiny floating Martian who bothered people. No one really liked him. So in order to capitalize on the shit no one likes market, Batman writers added a tiny floating elf in a bat-suit. Bat-Mite was obnoxious. He had catchphrases. He was outdated upon inception and thankfully forgotten. In 2008, Grant Morrison brought him back. Grant Morrison reintroduced Bat-Mite (Gazoo!) into a book about a man trying to outwit and outfight the criminal element of a city bent on destroying itself.
Then Grant Morrison wrote a filler story about a psychic Jabba the Hutt draining Batman’s memories. Then Grant Morrison had Batman get killed in the “Blackest Night” story arc in Green Lantern.
We are talking about the same Batman here.
At the height of Batman’s popularity (due to Chris Nolan and Rocksteady Games and Paul Dini), Grant Morrison killed him off in a Green Lantern book after dragging the character through the mud for a year and a half.
So let’s think hypothetically —
At the peak of Batman’s popularity after The Dark Knight, let’s say you go and decide to read a Batman comic book. You expect the tone and grim realism that you saw in the movie, that anger and that sense of loss. Instead, you open a book where Batman is wearing purple and listening to a tiny Bat-fairy who says stupid things. You put the book down. You never buy one again. I mean, why would you? I loved the comics and even I stopped reading.
So when Grant Morrison says comics are dying, understand that this is the writer who made the most popular comic book character in America unreadably stupid. So he should know.
The recommended reading for the canon I described is as follows.
-Batman: Year One
-Batman: The Killing Joke
-Batman: A Death in the Family
-Batman: Knightfall
-Batman: No Man’s Land
-Gotham Central
-Batman: Death and the Maidens
-Batman: Hush
-Nightwing: Volumes 1-6ish
-Batman: War Games
-Batman: City of Crime
-Batman: Under the Hood
-Batman: Face the Face
-Batman: Detective
-Batman: Death and the City
-Arkham Asylum: Living Hell

Who Leads, And Themes Through Thematic Elements

Editor’s Note: This week, The ACP would like to give a shoutout to the indie film world, starting with Who Leads. Who Leads is an independent film directed by Bryan Darling, and produced by Patrick Lundberg and Megan A. Vrolijk. The film has been shown at the Atlanta Film Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival, and has received very positive reviews already from Portis Wasp Reviews and Gay Celluloid. Who Leads can be seen online at IndieFlix. Please show your support and check it out!

When your film is only eight and a half minutes long, every little bit has to earn the screen time. But for some, this pressure and challenge brings opportunity for genius — creative and desperate innovations that would not otherwise be part of the mix. Whether this influenced Who Leads or not, I applaud *the filmmakers for their ability to make a lot out of a little, particularly with the fact that virtually every visual and audio effect reflects the theme of the movie: that, like a great Semisonic song, every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

The brief piece, put simply, is about one couple ending and another couple beginning; Adam and Trent’s roommate Spencer begins a brief romance with the moving guy Jordan, as he helps Adam move out of the apartment during his breakup with Trent. This mentality th
at finishes and starts are connected is shown through several non-verbal aspects in the film, starting with the blank, white room that first brings us into their world. After slowly losing all attributes through the moving process, the blank room gives the aura that the future can be anything — and with perfect timing, Jordan formally meets Spencer downstairs moments later in a bar. But for this room to be such a blank white palette waiting to be filled, we as the audience recognize that it first got this way through the removal of all of Adam’s belongings.

The photograph scene also struck me as a useful way to present this idea: upon showing Jordan his room for first non-work related time, Spencer takes Jordan’s picture. Most people take pictures to commemorate something — a way to look back on it when it’s all over — but no, Spencer’s quirk is his desire to photograph someone he just met. This contrasts every other photo on the wall, which presumably was taken during some sort of activity other than the initial meeting, in some other house (pictures range from the innocent female companion photos to full frontal nudity). Accordingly, Jordan looks sufficiently confused at the process, though Spencer’s simple and genuine smile allows him to pull it off; he merely asks Jordan, non-verbally through the photograph, to become a good memory like all the others. The very concept of turning a photo into a beginning shows a creative stretch outside of normal
borders to reach the theme in cute and interesting ways.
But the most powerful method of combining a beginning and and end in the short are the musical pieces. Twice in the movie, a slow, emotionally swelling song that could be ambiguously either sad or romantic plays over both couples’ interactions: once with “Warrior and the Thief” and once with an untitled piece composed by crew member Nicholas Boland. In one song, it begins as a romantic slow song and ends with the painful silence that accompanies the “We’ve said all we need to say, but I’m still not done talking” moment in the breakup talk. In the other, it begins with a record Spencer put on to set the mood for Jordan, and it ends with what we can only assume to be Adam and Trent’s final slow dance together. The audience is left torn, not knowing what to believe about the song after hearing it accompany to vastly different emotional buildups.

Like turning lemons into lemonade, Who Leads takes advantage of the short film genre by incorporating innovative ways to show the film’s theme subtly through anything but the dialogue (though the dialogue helps). With all of this artful craft packed into just eight and a half minutes, I look forward to seeing what this great crew could produce with a full-length movie.