Trading Genre – Examining Tropes and Expectations in LOGAN

 

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**Major spoilers for Logan are contained within. Be forewarned**

As a teacher of literature, I often preach the importance of understanding genre conventions. In trying to teach the concept of analysis, I have always found it important to build a bedrock of understanding that lies in comprehending the expectations present when examining a particular type of writing. I talk about text features, patterns, structure, etc. There are some who do not agree with this approach; that it hamstrings the person trying to formulate effective analysis because if they can’t tick a box they can’t generate a thesis, and while I feel that in some ways this is a logical argument, it can also easily be countered by taking a look at a selection that so readily establishes itself as a deconstruction of a genre itself or a commentary on the tropes and expectations contained therein.

Case in point; James Mangold’s Logan. The film, directed by Mangold based off a story he generated with a script by Scott Frank, is a direct response to the superhero genre as it has been established over the past ten years.

The “superhero genre” is one that, for a good while at least, was ill-defined at best. Many of the tropes schemes associated with the genre by the middle of the 1990s have been discarded, phased out in response to what feels like a steady rise in “focus group” or “Four Quadrant” mainstream film-making. While superhero films have been around for decades, it was the wave of films in the immediate aftermath of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000 that started to form the mold that would be firmly solidified by the success of the Marvel cinematic universe in the wake of Iron Man in 2008. As a result, the expectations of the genre have, by and large, been set by Marvel Studios and Disney over the last ten years. Audiences are conditioned to look for certain elements; films that break from that mold are viewed as outliers.

What Marvel has done over the last decade is decide what tropes from published comic books they wanted to translate over to the world of film and television. It was Marvel studios that reversed the idea brought upon the cinematic landscape by X-Men in 2000 that heroes could not or should not wear their traditional costumes. There is also much to be said about the formula that they apply to their character archetypes, the structure of their narratives (Marvel never met a macguffin it didn’t like) and the congruous “house style” of their framing and color palettes.

While this has happened for films produced by Marvel’s association with the “Mouse House,” films produced by other studios have largely eschewed those conventions, either seeking to establish their own, or simply seeking to subvert them and comment on them in such a way as to stand apart from the herd. Warner Brothers attempted to sell their DC cinematic universe as “filmmaker driven,” as a dig at Marvel Studio’s perceived desire to keep their universe homogeneous to the point that, some argue, it renders the overall product increasingly bland. It is hard to see any WB/DC films, especially those under the guided hand of Zack Snyder as anything other than a direct antithesis of genre conventions established by the cultural powerhouse of Marvel Studios.

Where films like Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, et al. fail in that regard however is as a commentary on those conventions. The WB/DC films offer a counter-point in tone but do little to make an argument regarding that selfsame tone. What purpose does the implied darkness serve in the grander scheme of the narrative? In what way does reshaping the core fundamentals of firmly established characters shape the stories that they tell? It would appear that there is no such purpose.

Contrast that with other films that seek to deconstruct the genre; namely last year’s surprise (to some people, anyway) hit Deadpool and this year’s dark-horse candidate for comic adaptation of the year, Logan. Whereas the WB/DC films sought to provide a counter-balance to the Marvel cinematic universe in terms of tone, Deadpool and Logan seek to provide a rebuttal in terms, not only of tone, but of intent. Deadpool was a reverent, sophomoric exercise in showing that homogeneous, same-samey cinematic adaptions of popular characters could only get you so far. Trying to fit the character of Deadpool into the mold established by films like Iron Man and Thor simply would not work. Instead, they focused on subverting the genre expectations established by the films that preceded it, and utilized the character’s fourth-wall breaking tendencies to offer commentary directly to the audience. The subversion of genre tropes was both text and sub-text within the context of the film itself.

That commentary and subversion continues with Logan. It is no coincidence that Logan begins with a false-start that turns out to actually be a teaser trailer for Deadpool 2; both of these films, in their very DNA, a similarity in intent. Though the two films could not be any different if they tried, they share a connection that cannot be disputed; both films wear their R rating like badge of honor(though the reasoning and utilization of the freedom it allows are also quite disparate in nature), both scale back the drama in ways that make the narrative less about the external conflict with an ill-defined villain and more about the internal conflict with themselves, and both films seek to show that tone disparate from established genre norms requires that the intent of utilizing it also be addressed from a narrative standpoint.

Logan is an R rated film. It earns the R rating not only through a veritable overload of graphic violence but through a cavalcade of cursing that would feel right at home in a film directed by Quentin Tarantino. Both of these points seek to reinforce that Logan is, itself, a commentary on the genre itself. Hugh Jackman has played the character of Wolverine for seventeen years. To put that in perspective, if Wolverine is Jackman’s baby, that baby is now old enough to purchase a ticket to Logan without a parent or guardian present. Fans have clamored for an R rated Wolverine film for almost as long as there has been an X-Men franchise. Following the release of X2, fans lamented the bloodless nature of Wolverine’s berserker rage as it was presented on camera. In that film however, it simply would not have been appropriate with regard to the tone being established. The violence in Logan is a commentary; from the very first scene it is established that Wolverine as a character is trying to move past violence. Just as the world has moved on, so too has he. The men trying to steal Logan’s limo initiate the violence with a cursory shotgun blast to his chest. Even after taking the hit, Logan attempts to talk his way out of the situation. Once the situation reaches an apex, only then do the claws come out. Every bit of violence that follows is deliberate and meaningful. It echoes the world that surrounds it. The world has fallen into decay. Logan, too, has fallen into decay. The veil of humanity and civilization and structure and order is now simply a specter, thus allowing the levels of violence and bloodshed shown on screen to be congruous with the story being told. The reason we, as an audience, didn’t need to see people getting claws shoved through their skulls in previous X-Men films is because there was still hope in the world where the narrative was transpiring. There, Logan was making an attempt to live within the norms of society; here, that restraint is gone, and so too is any censorship of his actions.

This same lack of censorship can be applied to the linguistic aspect of the script as well, specifically the casual nature with which the central characters drop f-bomb after f-bomb. The X-Men franchise has been toying around with this for several films now, with each film utilizing their one MPAA approved, non-sexual utterance of the word to varying degrees of comedic effect. Here, however, the word is not played for laughs, aside from perhaps the first time we hear Patrick Stewart’s Xavier use it because we feel it to be so far out of the natural confines of his character. But as we move deeper into the film and we as an audience come to understand the depths of sorrow and despair that have plagued both Logan and Charles since things all went sideways, the blue nature of the dialog begins to make organic sense, as it is a distillation of their emotional turmoil and serves as a means of non-violent catharsis. Again, this is something that would have been out of place in other entries in the franchise but is tied heavily to the film’s own thematic statements that when the credits roll you would be hard pressed to find an audience member who found the dialog to be incongruous with the story being told.

The single biggest challenge to the established expectations of the superhero genre however come simply in the form of the climax and the focus of the narrative. A majority of major comic book superhero adaptations feel the need to have an exaggerated climax, usually involving an under-developed villain and their desire to control/regain/destroy some type of macguffin. This usually ends with some sort of sky-portal or something falling from the sky. The sky is almost always involved. (Avengers had a sky portal, Avengers: Age of Ultron had a country falling out of the sky, Guardians of the Galaxy had a ship falling out of the sky, Thor: The Dark World had something falling out of the sky, a pattern does seem to develop) Logan eschews this in favor of focusing the narrative around Wolverine’s internal conflict; to what degree does he owe anything to Xavier, to Laura, who comes into his life at a time that could only bring complications, to Caliban, and ultimately to himself. It is ultimately fitting that Logan does battle with himself in the literal sense when he ends up fighting X-24; a younger, more virile version of himself that represents the unsuppressed violence that he had so desperately tried to control his entire life.

Ultimately, Logan is not a film that simply has Hugh Jackman violently stabbing people and dropping f-bombs for the sake of novelty; there is purpose and intent in the film’s construction. Logan serves to show that when you work within a genre, there are boxes that the audience is expecting you to tick, and if you don’t there had better be a reason for it, otherwise why would you be working with that genre to begin with? James Mangold took superhero DNA and infused it into a western, then used it as a way to hold a mirror up to the entirety of the superhero genre and show them a reflection of their own conflict. Not every film needs to do this. In fact, Logan’s success is largely dependent on a mold being present to break free from. What remains to be seen is what, if any, lessons upcoming films will take away from Wolverine’s last ride.

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Never Bring A Fat Kid To A Fist Fight

Occasionally I will try my hand at writing about my own life. I don’t ever plan on writing a memoir because a good chunk of my life is boring tripe, but there have been instances worth writing about. This is a story I wrote down as an example I utilized to show students how you can take a memory and, through authorial voice, carefully establish the whole mood of the situation being presented.

Enjoy.

-J.


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“Punch” by Stefano Carnicelli

I don’t remember getting hit. I remember hitting the ground. I remember pushing myself onto my hands and knees and being rewarded with a swift kick to the chest. The wind blew out of me like a punctured tire and again I was face down on the grass.

The thing is I had done this to myself. I had agreed to this. It was a matter of pride and honor and other sixth grade bull crap that doesn’t mean anything once you move past puberty and realize you have more important things to worry about. But at twelve years old your brain is basically just a jumbo smoothie of hormones and stupidity and the idea of agreeing to an after-school showdown because he called your pants “gay” is just the sort of thing you’re apt to do with nobody around to tell you that you’re a damned idiot for doing so.

That’s how I ended up in the back yard of my good friend Brett, who was supposed to be the neutral arbitrator of the pugilistic contest between myself and mutual acquaintance Tony who everyone just referred to as “Rocky,” a nickname that he said was due to a striking resemblance to one Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson but I maintained was more likely related to the fact that he was about as smart as a wet brick.

Granted, when he hit me it was not all dissimilar to being hit by a brick, so the nickname was appropriate regardless of the context of its origin.

Rocky, Brett and I all shared second period P.E. and in the locker room where the three of us changed from our sweaty gym uniform back into our civilian clothes for the rest of the day, Rocky wanted to look like a smart guy in front of everybody else and decided the best way to do so was to say I looked cute in my “gay ass pants.” This being 1997 when the level of LGBT acceptance had not reached the point that it is today in our post-social justice Tumblr world, I did as most twelve year olds would do and immediately went on the defensive, insinuating that I could always change my pants but he would be stuck with a face that looked like a horse’s puckered anal cavity forever.

Perhaps the words weren’t so eloquent, that’s how my brain chooses to remember it at least. Whatever it was that I was able to mutter it was enough to set Rocky off in a way I had not seen in many people before, or since for that matter.

Things escalated as things do but neither of us were willing to get in a fight right then and there because as heated as we were we knew that a throw down on campus meant principals and police and more headaches than it was worth. Instead, we agreed to settle this after school. We would meet in Brett’s back yard and settle things. Or as Rocky put it, he would rip a part of my lower anatomy off of my person, shove it repeatedly up the area where my digested food exited my body, remove it and then shove it down my throat. He said this in much more vulgar terms, but I went on to be the published writer so I get to phrase things the way I like.

Little, chubby, twelve year old me didn’t stand a chance in this fight. I knew it. Rocky knew it. I think Brett knew it. I think he volunteered to referee the bout so that there was a recognizable face ready to alert my next of kin when I was brutally murdered at 3:30 that afternoon. But I couldn’t back down. I couldn’t let anyone get away with insulting the honor of my pants. My mother had bought those for me, damnit. In a way Rocky was insulting my family honor. The blood of Irish nobility flows through these veins, and that meant that after school there was going to be one hell of a showdown.

Sure enough we showed up at Brett’s house later that afternoon, after I had been dropped off at home and I informed my parents that I was headed to a friend’s house to play video games but would be back in time for dinner. They informed me that we were having meat loaf. Suddenly the idea of getting punched repeatedly sounded more appealing.

The fight, if you can call it that, started after Brett informed us of the rules for the ensuing brawl which essentially boiled down to don’t kick anyone in the beanbag and no biting. Everything else was just gravy.

Upon the last syllable of instruction falling from Brett’s mouth, Rocky’s fist crashed into mine. It was so fast and sudden that I don’t actually remember it happening. I remember hitting the ground and putting two and two together, that the sudden shocking and pulsating pain in my jaw and the fact that my face was pressed against the grass were interconnected.

I tried to get myself to my feet but Rocky pressed his advantage and kicked me in the ribs with the force of a SWAT officer attempting to break down a door. I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to win the fight. The pride of the fighting Irish spirit was going to die a pathetic death in a Houston suburb on an otherwise uneventful Tuesday afternoon.

I figured my best option was likely to put some distance between myself and Rocky so I began a slow, prone crawl in the direction of the back fence. Rocky moved in after me like one of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. Brett, respecting the honor of mortal combat, held him back telling him to let me get to my feet first. Rocky was having none of that, as he figured that if you’ve knocked someone down it might be a good idea to make sure they stay down.

I had reached the back fence by the time Rocky was able to advance upon my person. He said something about wanting to four-letter-word me up. He never got the opportunity however, as I had grabbed a broken fence board laying in the grass and swung it as hard as I could; the edge of the board cracking against his temple.

Rocky hit the ground and I scrambled to my feet. There was blood dripping over my swollen lip. Rocky rolled onto his side and vomited profusely.

I spit a mouthful of blood into the grass and looked at Brett. The look on his face was one of confused shock, the same look you might have on your face if you witnessed a gopher sprout wings and punch the president of the United States in the nipples.

“Guys,” I said, “Can we just go inside and play Goldeneye?”

 

Signing A Covenant with Alien

The trailer for the latest entry into the saga of the xenomorph, Alien: Covenant, dropped this morning;

I have a strange personal history with the Alien franchise. I can remember being ten years old in the year of our lord 1996 and hearing the first rumblings of a fourth Alien film; this coming after the previews alone for Alien 3 kept me far and away from viewing any installment of the franchise thus far. I can vaguely recall a desire to prove my worth to my friends, all of whom had that prepubescent sense of superiority that came from watching the bloodiest, goriest, scariest films they could get their hands on. Strangely enough I decided to begin my journey with part two, James Cameron’s Aliens. As a glance at TV guide one afternoon yielded information that the local Fox affiliate would be airing a special presentation of the special edition version of the film that evening. My parents, lenient as they were with my viewing habits, would likely be perturbed by a request to rent any of the films from the local blockbuster so instead I stayed up just long enough to pop in a blank VHS tape and record the showing while I journeyed off to slumber, secure in my knowledge that the next day I would be able to sit down and watch through the whole thing, fast forwarding through any meddlesome commercial breaks.

I sat down to watch the film the next day and the sensation of anxiety in doing so was palpable. More than anything that was happening on screen, my nerves were gripped by the mystique that had been built up surrounding the mythos of the series by friends and movie magazines. (Yes, even at age ten I was a devout follower of certain periodicals that gave me all the latest movie news before the explosion of the online film community) I sat enraptured, awaiting the first appearance of the legendary creature. I knew enough about the movies from secondhand discussion or lengthy articles detailing the production of the films that the slow build of tension was practically torture.

Keep in mind, I was ten.

After the end credits rolled I had been hooked in. I needed to see the rest of the series. It was imperative. Luckily, I had a friend named Brett who lived a few blocks over whose parents were far more relaxed regarding their son’s consumption of violent media. His parents had an entire boxed set of the trilogy and that weekend I asked him if we could marathon watch them all. He seemed amicable to the idea and I wound up watching all three films over the course of a day with Brett and one other friend whose name I could not remember if you placed a loaded plasma rifle to my temple.

Even so young, I found myself intrigued by the differences between all three films. Where Aliens was dripping with a defiant, last-stand-at-the-Alamo sense of action, Ridley Scott’s original film was a quiet, creeping slow burn that honestly left me feeling underwhelmed at first. In the years since I have grown to love Alien as a true classic of dramatic and horrific tension, and I don’t view it as greater or lesser than its sequel; as they are so disparate in tone and composition that comparing the two is pointless. I even found myself enthralled by Alien 3, a position that seemed bold at the time but one that has seemingly been vindicated by the march of time.

The next year I managed to see Alien Resurrection in theaters and I believe that may be the first time I have ever been acutely aware of magic being broken. While there were certainly elements that I enjoyed in the film it felt a little too detached from the mood and tone established by the first three. I tried to convince myself that I actually liked the film, the same way I would with The Phantom Menace in ’99, but I think in my heart of hearts I knew I was lying to myself. In trying to figure out what it was that didn’t resonate with me I came to understand that there was a lack of severity to Resurrection that I did not wish to engage with. I don’t mean to say that the film didn’t have its moments of seriousness, but there was a degree of dismissive levity to the characters, which I now realize was largely the work of Joss Whedon’s writing, that seemed inappropriate for the series it was inhabiting. That same tone, so out of place in Resurrection, would work wonders for Firefly only five years down the line. But in 1997, aboard a ship crawling with one of the most iconic film monsters of all time, it felt inappropriate and jarring.

And so my love affair with the Alien franchise laid dormant. It was a major shift for me. In the time between discovering the first three films and seeing Resurrection in 1997, I tore through any and all available media I could regarding the franchise; novels, comic books, video games, the whole nine. Then it all fell by the wayside. For about seven years. Then in 2004, as a seventeen year old kid freshly graduated from high school, I found myself ready to be sucked back in by the release of Alien vs. Predator.

The Predator series never grabbed me the way that Alien did. Mostly because up until this point, there had only been two films and of those two I only held one in high regard. I can appreciate Predator 2 for what it is now, but when I was younger I found it to be lacking in most areas. My interest in AvP stemmed from the time I spent consuming all of that tertiary media in the buildup for Resurrection. The comics and novels built on the mythos of those series better than either of the films and I was hoping some of that would carry over into the film version.

I think most people know how that turned out.

For the second time, my hopes had been dashed upon the rocks and my desire to see a film that captured that same sense of excitement I’d had when I was ten and being brought into the warm embrace of the series for the first time was but a fleeting memory. I begrudgingly saw the follow-up film Aliens vs. Predator – Requiem in 2007 but went in with lowered expectations from the outset. I figured my relationship with the series was all but dead.

Then in 2012 Ridley Scott returned to the franchise with Prometheus, and for the first time since watching the first three on a grainy VHS tape I felt a spark in the series. I will be the first to admit that there were some parts of the film that didn’t work for me; Guy Pearce’s terrible old-man makeup, the perceived need to tip-toe around the ties to the original Alien, a general under-utilization of Idris Elba. Those minor gripes aside I found it to be a visually stunning film and one that did one thing right if it failed in any other category; it felt congruous with the universe that had been previously developed and it offered avenues for interesting storytelling opportunities.

It would appear that those avenues are being traveled with Alien: Covenant. I like the continuation of the established themes of crew as family, creeping dread, and claustrophobic terror. I appreciate that with the return to utilizing the franchise namesake in the title their fear in putting the monster on display seems to be gone.

Marketing can oftentimes be misleading, but from what is on display here, it would appear I have cause to be optimistic about the franchise again. Maybe I should pull some of those old novels out and give them a read through again. Just for old times’ sake.

6-12-2016

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When you sit down to write, at least in the greater world of creative fiction, you generally come to the table with at least a kernel of an idea; some inkling of the end result of your labors. As I sit down to write this I realize that I have none of that. I do not know what I hope to achieve by putting my words down, nor do I truly have any great grasp on my own understanding with regards to what I feel in the furthest reaches of my soul following the truly unspeakable events that transpired in Orlando over the weekend.

Here is what I know: on June 11th in Orlando, Florida. A man with a gun killed a 22 year old singer in an act of cold blooded murder. The following day on June 12th, a man with a gun killed fifty people and wounded fifty-three others in an act of terror in a gay nightclub in the very same city. Across the continent, in California, on the same day, a man was stopped by police on his way to the LA Pride festival carrying an assault rifle and materials used in the composition of an explosive device.

I am not a religious individual. The world saw fit to condition that particular element out of me a long time ago. But I pray for the families of the victims and those affected by these tragedies. I pray, not to any named entity or god, but to whatever power it is that holds existence together and I pray that those that lost their lives and those who have to cope with the loss of their loved ones may find some modicum of peace in these indelicate and trying times. Times where politically minded jackals and opportunistic vultures will attempt to strip-mine this tragedy for brownie points or capital in some invisible Game of Thrones skullduggery as we head into the fall elections in the United States.

The Lieutenant Governor of the state in which I reside, a spineless slug of a man named Dan Patrick, tweeted the bible verse Galatians 6:7;”Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Walking side-show Donald Trump took time after the attack to tweet “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

I have had to block certain acquaintances of mine on Facebook because of the things they were putting onto my feed. Statements about how a single “good guy with a gun” could have prevented the tragedy at Pulse on Sunday morning. That fifty people lost their lives to gun violence means nothing to them. The right to bear arms is somehow more important that the right to safely assemble without the fear of gun related violence. The vitriol that some of these people have spewed forth onto the internet is astounding. This tragedy should not be a platform for anyone to endorse bigotry and hate. No man should be able to build a pedestal from the bodies of the dead and preach an agenda of fear-mongering and discrimination.

That the shooter responsible for the massacre at Pulse, now being described as the deadliest mass shooting on American soil (so far), was a reported ISIS sympathizer is shaking up a hornet’s nest of rhetoric about the dangers of radicalized Islam. And yet that somehow blinds some people to the fact that the man who killed singer Christina Grimmie and the 29 year old individual with plans to attack the LA Pride festival had no ties to Islamic terror in any way, shape, or form. While it is of course logical to focus on the incident with the highest body count, if we look at the patterns of high profile gun violence in the past few years, the majority of shooters have been domestic terrorists with no ties to fundamentalist or extremist Islamic groups. That having been said, there has been one unifying factor in every one of these massacres; the guns.

Since 1982 there have been over 60 mass shootings in the United States. In over half of those shootings, the weapons used were legally purchased “including various semi-automatic rifles, guns with military features, and handguns using magazines with more than 10 rounds” (Aronson, Follman, Lee). The key here is that these weapons were not appropriated under the table on some indistinct black market, these firearms were obtained legally. This was also the case in the Dark Knight Rises shooting incident at a theater in Colorado where the suspect legally purchased four separate firearms at four separate locations. “Gander Mountain, which sold an AR-15 assault rifle believed to be used in the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, said the company was in compliance with state and federal laws and that it was ‘fully cooperating with this ongoing investigation’” (Moreno). As it stands, any law abiding United States citizen over the age of twenty-one, can legally obtain firearms that are normally used in military operations. The most common argument in America used to defend the second amendment is that everyday citizens need firearms for personal protection or for the private hunting of wildlife during game season. In what conceivable way would the average citizen need access to weaponry utilized by the military for personal defense or the hunting of animals?

In 2013 following the incident in Newtown, Connecticut where twenty elementary school children and six faculty members were gunned down (Goldberg) by twenty year old Adam Lanza, legislation was drafted to once again regulate assault rifles in the United States. The bill would seek to ban “All semiautomatic rifles that can accept a detachable magazine and have at least one military feature: pistol grip; forward grip; folding, telescoping, or detachable stock; grenade launcher or rocket launcher; barrel shroud; or threaded barrel” (Feinstein). That there are groups in this country that advocate everyday citizens should have unrestricted access to the firearms that would be banned by this legislation is astounding. How could any level-headed individual argue that your average citizen needs access to a grenade launcher? The short answer is that they can’t. Despite the violent and terrible nature of these tragedies, gun ownership is still a major part of the American landscape. In 2015 following sanctions placed on Russia by the United States, the import of the famed Russian-made assault rifle the AK-47 came to a screeching halt. Demand for the weapon however meant that the company previously tasked with importing the weapon, RWC, switched over to manufacture. Spokesman for the company Thomas McCrossin stated that they had an available inventory of the previously imported Russian weapons that were legal to sell because they arrived in America prior to the Russian sanctions going into effect, “but when the inventory goes down to zero, there are no more” (Smith). So despite the frequency of assault weapon use in mass shootings and the growing discomfort that many Americans feel about the number of readily available assault weapons in the country, American companies are still dedicated to ensuring that those same weapons remain readily available.

There was a time when assault weapons of this nature were banned in the United States. However, the Federal Assault Weapon Ban of 1994 was allowed to expire on September 13th, 2004. Since that time, the number of dangerous weapons finding their way into the hands of criminals has exploded. In a research study conducted by the National Institute of Justice in March 1999, researchers concluded that the Assault Weapon Ban had positive consequences indicating “that the weapons became more available generally, but they must have become less accessible to criminals because there was at least a short-term decrease in criminal use of the banned weapons” (Travis). Compare this to the findings of the Washington Post who found that “More than 15,000 guns equipped with high-capacity magazines – defined under the lapsed federal law as holding 11 or more bullets – have been seized by Virginia police in a wide range of investigations” (Fallis, Grimaldi). Therefore, it can be concluded that since the lapse of the ban, the ready availability of these weapons has increased and the likelihood of these legally purchased firearms being used for criminal activities has increased as well. The benchmark by which we judge the usefulness of a law is an effective cost benefit analysis; if the cost of maintaining a law outweighs the benefit that it presents the people then it has to be adjusted or removed. The eighteenth amendment to the constitution banned the sale of alcohol, but when the law became untenable the twenty-first amendment was drafted to rectify the issue. The constitution of the United States is not set in stone and neither are the amendments. What may have been applicable at the time of its inception may not remain applicable in the modern world. At the time of the second amendment, firearms technology was limited to muskets and single shot rifles. An amendment that reflects the reality of modern weaponry may very well be entirely necessary.

As I sit here writing this, I realize that I am part of the problem. I am a gun owner. I am also a writer who has created fiction that, in retrospect, seems to fetishize or glorify gun violence. It is hard for me to promote something like Blood at Sunrise, where differences are settled with an exchange of bullets. I try to rationalize it by placing it within the context of the time period that the novel is set. The years following the American Civil War were categorically a violent time. The novel reflects that. But what my writing the novel reflects in the here and now is that we live in a culture where we glorify something that truly should be vilified. I actually feel a great deal of shame for my contributions to American gun culture. Those contributions may be minuscule but so long as there are people who treat gun violence with such a casual attitude, America will continue to wake up to press conferences with a somber president addressing another gun related tragedy.

I won’t apologize for the novels I have written. I stand by them as works of fiction and simply acknowledge that they have elements that are somewhat problematic. That is part of being involved in the creative arts; the ability to analyze one’s own work and grow outwardly based on what discoveries you make along the way. I specifically tailored the villains in One Fate for Failure against the grain, eschewing ties to Islamic terrorism because I do not subscribe to the idea that we should stereotype every Muslim as a radical. I stand by that decision.

And while I’m on the subject of One Fate for Failure, let me say this; Madeline McCallister is a strong and wonderful heroine who happens to be bisexual. I wanted to use that word in text because, as anyone who clamors to see bisexual representation in  media can attest, the term is often glossed over or sanitized or simply left to implication rather than made canon. Maddie is a bisexual woman. She is slowly coming to terms with what that means. The LGBTQ+ community is filled with wonderful people, many of whom I call dear friends, and they deserve representation. They deserve equal rights, equal representation, and equal respect. What happened at Pulse in Orlando was a hate crime, first and foremost. Whatever ties the gunman may have had to any extremist group, it cannot be forgotten that the victims of this tragedy were most definitely targeted because of their sexual and gender identities. They were targeted. The world needs to see these people as human, and part of that comes to how they are portrayed in the media and in places like our fiction. I hope that members of the LGBTQ+ community who have read One Fate For Failure know that the way Maddie is portrayed comes from a place of love and a desire to do right by them, and that it was not my intention to play her sexual orientation as a gimmick.

I know that this has been all over the place, but I felt the need to get my feelings out somehow. This weekend was an eye-opener for me. I do not hold out hope that it will have a similar effect on the bull-headed and closed-minded, but perhaps it will. Maybe hope will win in the end.

Works Cited

“2015 Toll of Gun Violence.” Gun Violence Archive. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Fallis, David S., and Grimaldi James. “In Virginia, High-yield Clip Seizures Rise.”Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 Jan. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Feinstein, Dianne. “United States Senator Dianne Feinstein.” Assault Weapons Ban Summary.Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Follman, Mark, Gavin Aronsen, and Jaeah Lee. “More Than Half of Mass Shooters Used AssaultWeapons and High-Capacity Magazines.” Mother Jones. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Goldberg, Eleanor. “How To Honor The Legacy Of All 26 Newtown Shooting Victims.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Moreno, Ivan. “Police: Colo. Shooting Suspect Bought Guns Legally.” ABC News. ABC NewsNetwork. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.

Smith, Aaron. “AK-47s: Soon to Be Made in USA.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network. Web. 21 Jan. 2015.

Travis, Jeremy. “Impacts of the 1994 Weapons Ban.” National Institute of Justice. 1 Mar. 1999. Web. 20 Jan. 2015. 

Why A Western?

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In November of 2015 I started writing a western. The original goal was to finish it as a project for National Novel Writing Month, but my professional and family commitments forced me to take a more measured pace. So here we are some six months later and the work is finally complete and the finished product should be available in the coming weeks. I wrote in a previous post  that I had several goals for the project; write in an unfamiliar genre, write with careful attention to establishing tone, and finish on a deadline. I guess two out of three isn’t bad.

Blood at Sunrise is  the name of the book and it is not what you would consider a typical western. There are several genre tropes present but the style of the writing and the elements of greatest concern within the narrative do not seem to fit with my, admittedly somewhat limited, understanding of the literary form of the genre. If anything, it reads like a pulpier Blood Meridian. This is somewhat expected as most of my work is a pulpier version of something. In case you missed it, I tend to wear my affinity for genre fiction like a badge of honor.

The truth is that this narrative could very easily have been set in the seventies after Vietnam, or in 1991 following the first gulf war, or even in a post 9/11 world. So the question remains; why a western? I think a good deal of it has to do with the archetypes of the characters that you find in a western meshing well with the story I wanted to tell.

In Blood at Sunrise, we follow Jefferson Crowe, a southern soldier who ran off to enlist in the Confederate army because he felt he had something to prove, as he returns after the war looking to put violence behind him. Unfortunately for Jefferson, on his journey home violence finds him and events are set into motion that place him in a position of authority; a position that necessitates violence and the willingness to use it.

The western genre, in film at least, which is the way I always absorbed it, seems to divide its heroes into white hat, dyed in the wool good-guys or individuals who straddle a line of constant inner conflict. The classic John Wayne v. Clint Eastwood dichotomy. I had hoped to play with those archetypes a bit, in that Jefferson longs to be a John Wayne character when he has a whole lot more in common with the Eastwood types. He wants to be a good man but he knows he is so very, very good at doing bad things.

His primary antagonist, the Reverend Benjamin Bane, is an embodiment of an idea as well. An idea that devotion to principles, when pushed to an extreme, leads to dangerous places. Our villain’s motivation, in his mind, is rooted in altruism and discipline. Jefferson’s own narrative arc is centered around his adherence to an internal code. The conflict of the story is built into the characters’ DNA.

That is why it had to be a western. The western as a genre is built on archetypes. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the most well-known western films; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time In The West, The Searchers, Unforgiven. The archetypes are right there in the titles. They are hard-wired into essence of the material. Blood at Sunrise is very much a story that plays with archetypes and convention while simultaneously subverting them for the sake of telling a different type of story than is usually found in traditional examples of the genre.

There is something largely operatic about Blood at Sunrise. While the setting is definitely a western, the spirit feels, to me at least, like something new. I truly hope that readers enjoy the experience.

Crying for Criticism – Examining Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice

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Film is a medium that is ruled by the sum of its parts. This is why it is possible to enjoy a film when certain elements falter in the eyes of the viewer. It is a function of the medium itself that a film can overcome the under-performance of its own elements to be viewed as a success by the audience. This is an understanding that most lovers of film will readily acknowledge when discussing the art form. It is a reason why viewers are apt to have so-called “guilty pleasures” wherein some element of an otherwise disposable piece of entertainment overpowers its combined negative elements to provide enjoyment to the person watching. There is nothing wrong with being the dissenting opinion. There is nothing wrong with believing that a film has merit that others do not see. However, in the wake of the release of mega-blockbuster Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice, there has been an explosion of inflammatory rhetoric and combative attitudes put forth by both critics and supporters of the film that seems to ignore the basic central tenet of film criticism; that artistic value is ultimately subjective.

One of the prevailing false equivalencies in defending one’s opinion on a piece of art or entertainment is to dismiss the person stating the opinion rather than providing a logical opposition to the opinion itself. This is what is known as an ad hominem attack. A sizeable amount of the street-level conversation regarding the release of Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice has circled around the fact that those criticizing the film are doing so out of customer loyalty to rival Marvel Comics, and in no way predicated on the fact that the film, like any produced by mere mortals, has flaws that many will see as inexcusable when trying to assess its relative value. In the world of film criticism, to a certain degree, any argument is valid provided that it resides in sound logic. Dismissing legitimate criticisms as an aftereffect of a perceived cultural hive-mind is not a basis for defending one’s own position. However, a sizeable faction of those supporting Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice seem incapable of drafting their own thesis in defense of the film and would rather predicate their attack on the criticism the film has received, hoping to undermine the voices of those who would question whatever artistic merit it might have by painting those who would speak against it as preternaturally biased. It is somewhat perplexing that so many defenders of the film have chosen this path because in the world of film criticism the best offence is not a good defense. Supporters of the film, if they are seeking credibility or validity for their own viewpoint, should focus on presenting the merits of the film rather than attacking those who fail to see them.

Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is a film that seems equal parts genetically engineered for close analysis and wholly underdeveloped to the point that any analysis would be equally insubstantial. Director Zack Snyder begins the film with a sequence in which a young Bruce Wayne, following the funeral of his parents, finds himself at the bottom of a well after tumbling down an unseen shaft. The young child is then shown ascending out of the cave in a maelstrom of bats. This is a powerful metaphor to be certain, or rather it could be, but ultimately it is meaningless because nothing in the film follows up on the symbolism presented in that scene. It is an isolated piece of imagery that exists only to provide a stirring visual. This is a legitimate criticism of an aspect of the film. Does it, in and of itself, mean that the film is a disaster? No. It does not. This criticism is not predicated on any particular loyalty to an outside brand or a bias against the film walking into the theater. It is an observation that explains why someone might take issue with the film and call it ultimately empty and lackluster in its construction.

Another rhetorical fallacy being paraded by supporters of the film is that it heralds the arrival of mainstream comic adaptations that ascend in maturity the way that rival Marvel adaptations are afraid to embrace. This seems entirely centered around a false definition of the word “mature.” In the parlance of those who herald Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice as a mature alternative to Marvel, the word they are likely looking for is simply “dark.” Maturity implies sophistication. Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is many things but sophisticated is low among the adjectives that could be reasonably applied to it with a straight face. By implying that Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is a mature film, supporters would then be arguing that it is intricately crafted and sophisticated in its design in a way that a lesser or more juvenile film could not attain. While I will say that there are points in the film that are artfully and tastefully rendered, with a careful intricacy in developing certain themes, the majority of the film’s construction is ultimately haphazard and disjointed in a way that defies the term “mature.” Coherency is a central part of narrative storytelling. There are myriad elements within the script of Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice which defy logical cohesion. They are not so much “plot holes” as they are “logic holes,” and moments that could and should have been caught in revising the draft before being placed in production.

Again, that is not to say that there are not sophisticated elements showcasing this abstract concept of maturity within the film. Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice does an excellent job with its operatic interpretation of the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne, a singularly important moment in developing Batman as a character. It is even more striking when you realize that this scene, very early in the film, sets the philosophical principles of Batman in an organic way that utilized economic storytelling and strong visuals instead of the ham-fisted expository dialog that permeates the rest of the film. To wit, Thomas Wayne is shot down in the midst of attempting to fight off the attacker who would rob them. This is a direct act of aggression, which sets the tone for our more active-minded, aggressive Batman throughout the rest of the film. Contrast this with the Batman of the Christopher Nolan trilogy, whose Thomas Wayne died while trying to place himself between the attacker and his wife, an act of defense. To construct the scene this way, Snyder was likely attempting to prove his thesis on heroism; that passivity has no place in the heart of those we should call heroes. This is indeed a bold choice and shows some of the maturity that supporters of the film like to point to. However, much of the goodwill earned by flourishes like this are balanced out by scenes in which Lex Luthor taunts a senator with a glass of urine on her desk before suicide bomber takes out the capitol building.

Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is not an unholy abomination of a film. It is not even the worst comic book film of the last five years. Oddly enough, as much as this film drew from the oeuvre of Frank Miller, it was that man’s Sin City : A Dame to Kill For that takes the prize as the most incoherent, painfully unwatchable comic book adaptation since the genre saw its resurgence in the middle of the 2000s. What Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice is actually is a deeply flawed film whose individual parts do not add up to a competent film but possesses minute elements that work in such a way that the flaws can be overlooked by a certain contingency of the audience. In a way, supporters of Batman v Superman : Dawn of Justice are correct. The film is critic proof. It will and has made the studio the money they so obviously desired. But for those who were hoping to see a film that embraced the true meaning of maturity, the concept that so many are quick to rally around to defend this film, they will only be disappointed.

Timed Writing – Stand Apart

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As an English teacher I sometimes find myself compelled to complete the same writing prompts of my students. It’s finals time around my neck of the woods and an element of the final comes in the form of a timed expository response to a selected topic. The original composition was limited to twenty-six lines and this is simply a typed version of that same response, written under a forty-five minute time limit.


 

Things rise and fall in the cultural zeitgeist with the speed of a Japanese bullet train. Why would any one individual wish to conform to the mob mentality of societal pop culture instead of blazing their own trail? After all, the bullet train of pop culture has been known to fly off the rails from time to time.

Following trends does not ensure personal economic or spiritual success. The biggest success stories come about when an iconoclast, some unconventional individual who marches to the beat of his own drummer, eschews the most popular trends and forges something new and surprising. Take George Lucas for example. This is a man who crafted in Star Wars one of the largest cinematic achievements in the history of the art form. Yes, we now look at the 1977 film as a classic, comprised of elements that assure a creative and critical victory. However, at the time of its release, 20th Century Fox executives famously believed that they had invested time and money into a monumental failure and box office flop. It was too different from the popular films of the time, they argued. There was no way it would connect with movie going audiences. Time and good sense have prevailed however and we now understand that it was the very act of separating himself from the sheltered pack mentality of Hollywood that allowed for Lucas to bring his visionary space opera to the silver screen.

In the end it is the ability to reject conventional wisdom that allows an individual to have the greatest impact on society. As per the words of James F. Cooper, “the man who has no other existence than that which he partakes in common with all around him will never have any other than an existence of mediocrity.”