Flotsam: Mostly Batman

1. I’ve been re-watching some of Batman: The Animated Series lately, reminding myself of just how good it really was. Those gorgeous black-paper backgrounds, that wonderful Fleischer-style animation (the creators said they wanted it to look as though it had been made in the 1940s. I think they succeeded both in look and feel), those striking musical scores (I want to say they made a new one for each episode, certainly a new motif for each character), and of course the wonderful stories and stellar voice acting: Kevin Conroy at Batman. Mark Hamill as the Joker (I’ll admit, I almost associate him more with that role than with that sci-fi movie). Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred. Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon. Roddy McDowall as the Mad Hatter. Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman. Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. Paul Williams as the Penguin. Ron Perlman as Clayface. David Warner as Ra’s Al Ghul. John Glover as the Riddler. Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. Not to mention one-shot roles from the likes of Tim Curry (who was originally slated to play the Joker, but was considered ‘too scary’, which…given Hamill’s performance makes one wonder), Thomas F. Wilson, Dick Miller, Bill Mumy, John Rhys-Davies, Harry Hamlin, and of course Adam West. As the saying goes, I’d watch a cast like that read a phone book (at one point, that’s pretty close to what happens).

2. Watching the episodes, though, I was struck by how different this is from what has become the usual Batman fare, and even from the subsequent direction the character took in future shows ostensibly set in the same universe (New Batman Adventures, Justice League, etc). The stories here tend to be much more subdued and down-to-earth: ordinary crime stories and dramas (e.g. one episode has a ruthless tycoon planning to stage a gas explosion to clear out a neighborhood he wants to develop). Batman doesn’t always deal with supervillains, and even when he does the villains are themselves a bit more low-key than in other versions. Like, you’ll see scenes at Arkham where Joker, Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter, and Scarecrow are just hanging out in the lounge playing chess or watching TV while a couple of guards stand watch, occasionally intervening to break up a petty squabble. In other words, they’re…actual mental patients! A more contemporary Batman story would have all four under Hannibal-Lecter-style maximum security restraints and still murdering guards left and right.

3. The show also emphasizes Batman’s status as a detective. He spends most of the episodes following up clues and interrogating suspects (one of my favorite scenes has him interrogating a germaphobic gangster in a hospital storeroom full of viral samples: “Hm, crimson fever. Nasty way to go…”), or else trying to escape a death trap. Nor is he an infallible fighter: he’s skilled and quick, but he has to work at it to take down even normal thugs, and the show emphasizes that he’s always in danger during the action scenes (this despite the fact that most of the bad guys have an aim that would make a Stormtrooper blush).

(He’s also a lot more…well, normal. He’s less relentlessly grim, in and out of costume, than he would become, expressing fear, shock, and even amusement at times, cracking jokes with Alfred, and so on. BTAS Bruce is much more well-adjusted than later DCAU Bruce. And that’s kind of saying a lot).

Frankly, I like this a lot better than the idea that Batman’s the greatest fighter in the world (along with being the greatest everything else). I much prefer him being an extremely skilled, but still limited human being whose abilities are all tailored to his mission in life (very much like Sherlock Holmes), but which inevitably come up short sometimes, forcing him to think outside the box. I really don’t like when Batman simply pulls some obscure new skill out of his utility belt whenever it comes up, or when he’s played as being so supremely cunning that he can defeat anyone with prep time.

The big example of this sort of thing for me came in an episode of Justice League (a show I really like, by the way), where they’re dealing with a plot in some small Eastern European / western Asian nation. Batman confronts a guard, who taunts him that he can’t understand a word he’s saying anyway. Batman answers in the same language, proving himself to be fluent in it. See, that’s the sort of thing that bugs me: he would have had no reason to learn that language, it never would have come up but for this one incident. But he’s Batman, so of course he has any skill he needs because it makes him ‘cool.’

(Ironically enough, this means I have the same problem with some versions of Batman that most other people have with Superman: that’s he’s too infallible and over-stocked with abilities).

Me, I much prefer the ‘Animated Series’ style to the character. It feels to me like BTAS exists in a kind of separate, parallel world to the rest of the DCAU: a world where there isn’t a Superman or Themyscira or Green Lanter Corps, just a city full of broken, twisted human beings, some of whom have, through mad science run amok, gained powers beyond the ordinary, and where there is a hint of the supernatural, but where for the most part it’s simply all-too human heroes and criminals fighting over the lives of the ordinary citizens.

Again, I like the DCAU as a whole, and of course I love Superman, but it has a different flavor, and overall I think I like Batman best when he exists apart from ‘all that’ (it also lets me imagine that there’s a version where things turned out happier for everyone involved than Batman Beyond indicates. Among other things, I want Dick and Barbara to end up together. And no version of Batgirl should have a romance with Batman: that’s just wrong on multiple levels. But now I’m getting on even more of a tangent…).

Short version is that, as I see it, there are two versions: ‘pure’ Batman and ‘Justice League’ Batman. For my money, as far as Batman’s concerned, I prefer the former (simple way to distinguish: in ‘Pure’ version, Dick ends up with Barbara. In ‘Justice League’ version, he ends up with Starfire. Easy!).

4. On another note, still going through training at my new job. It’s much more enjoyable now that it’s getting more relevant to my actual position (still a lot of training to go, though).

That said, the on boarding process at a large corporation these days feels a lot like this to me:

“There’s no escape, but then, who would wanna leave?”

Friday Flotsam: Mostly Random

1. Something has intruded on my personal life, which I’m still learning to deal with. It’s knocked my attention (already unbalanced) for a real loop, so this’ll be kind of haphazard. It’s a personal matter, but just know that…well, I don’t know what things will be like going forward.

2. I saw Godzilla vs. Kong last weekend, and intended to write up something about it, but the aforementioned something has rather gotten in the way of sitting down to it.

The short, spoiler-free version is that I enjoyed it a lot. There are a lot of stupid bits and the human story, especially on Team Godzilla’s side, needed a lot of work, but the two stars were given full and wonderful scope and the fights were very satisfying. I’ll probably do a post detailing fuller, more spoiler-filled thoughts sometime in the future.

3. My own ‘ideal’ for the Monsterverse moving forward would actually be to end it here and take a break for a few years, then come back with a full-on MCU-style ‘verse’, with solo films for Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, and Ultraman before bringing them all together for a massive team up film. Save Ghidorah for the team-up, maybe start Godzilla on Biollante or Hedorah (whom I really would like to see done with modern special effects), Mothra on Battra, Gamera on Gyaos (who can always come back, since she’s a species more than an individual), and Ultraman on Bemular/The One (saving the Baltan for later).

Either that or, even more ideally, a Spectacular Spider-Man / Batman: The Animated Series animated show to serve as a kind of synthesis of the entire mythos (e.g. having the Red Bamboo as the arc villains of the first season and building up to King Ghidorah, etc.). Never going to happen unless / until my schemes of world domination take off, but I can dream.

4. Coming down from writing about the Snyderverse. Something that i noticed in looking back over the films (via clips, etc) was how unimaginative and blunt Superman is with his powers. I mentioned this in the rundown, but it irks me a lot. The writers seem to have no notion of either having any kind of fun with his abilities or even just using them in a half-way restrained and sensible manner. It’s like the only things he can think to do are “hit things really hard” or “laser them into oblivion.” No squeezing gun barrels shut or finger-flicking people to the ground for this Superman: gotta just smash everything.

By the way, the many creative ways that Superman uses his different powers is another source of the immense amount of fun you can get out of him. Like, in the animated series there’s a bit where he shaves by reflecting his heat-vision off of a mirror. Or in Lois & Clark, where Clark lies there absentmindedly juggling a basketball with nothing but his breath before sending it into a trashcan in the same way. Superman’s supposed to be a pure fantasy figure in many ways: a ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ character. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just fly to China to get authentic Chinese takeout? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could type 5000 words a minute? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could refurbish your whole apartment in about five minutes?

Come to think of it, this is a major reason why I liked Godzilla vs. Kong so much: it’s fun. Not just ‘so stupid it’s enjoyable’, but it actually tries hard to give the audience a good time, to adopt that ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ mentality. “Wouldn’t it be cool if Kong had a giant ax? Wouldn’t it be cool if Godzilla just sliced right through a battleship? Wouldn’t it be cool if they duked it out on an aircraft carrier?”

I’m reminded of a line from the extremely profane and kind of unpleasant, but oft-amusing video-game critic/comedian Yahtzee: “Remember fun? That thing video games were supposed to be before they became an ‘experience’?” That comes to my mind a lot these days.

5. As a post-Lenten treat, I recently re-listened to my audiobook version of Emma. You know, one of the things I love about Jane Austen is just how comfortable she is: that 18th-19th century England sense of being a well-established, ordered society where, if you keep out of trouble, nothing too terrible can be expected to happen: no invading armies, no desperate criminals, no prospect of total societal collapse; a society that can be counted on to be there and to function the way it’s supposed to.

I have often wished heartily that I could retire to an English country village about the late 18th, early 19th century, just for the quiet and the retirement. I’m the kind of person who really doesn’t want much happening around him. Quiet, secluded country living: that’s my goal.

Friday Flotsam: Pro-Life and Depression

1. Discovered that the March for Life is today. All things considered, I’m rather surprised they’re actually having it. You know, I’m thoroughly against abortion (whatever arguments can be brought in its favor, the answer is always “would that logic still apply if the child were born and we were talking about smothering it with a pillow?”), but I’ve never much liked the pro-life movement. If they succeed, then wonderful. I’m all in favor. But I don’t think they will, and they sure as heck won’t in the near future.

The trouble is that abortion is a cornerstone of the sexual revolution, which a large portion of our current culture is based upon. You are either going to keep abortion and with it the perspective on human sexuality and human nature that informs our economy and social structure, or you are going to lose abortion and with it many of the basic assumptions that underlay how we as a society do things. No more casual sex as a matter of course. No more women devoting themselves to a career unless they’re either married or willing to be celebate for a time. In fact, no more holding ‘gender equality’ as a societal goal, because we’ve got this huge, objective difference staring us in the face without being able to sweep it under the floorboards anymore.

Not to mention the fact that we would have a large number of the population having to come to terms with the fact that they’ve committed a terrible crime.

This is why even if you legally overturn it, it will come back in a few years as soon as the political winds shift, because it’s embedded in the worldview of a significant portion of the population.

You see, we are never going to end abortion until we have a seismic shift in worldview in the west.

Again, I wish the pro-life movement well in this. I hope they prove me wrong.

I also find it rather amusing to hear the March for Life described as ‘powerful’ when it hasn’t achieved anything substantive in half a century. By definition, that is the opposite of powerful.

2. Honestly, all that isn’t really the reason I dislike the pro-life label. Again, I hope they succeed, I just am pretty certain they won’t. The real reason I dislike it is that I think many people have a habit of prioritizing the ‘pro-life’ label over Christian teaching. “How can we create a truly pro-life society?” “Pro-life means anti-poverty” “A truly pro-life position prioritizes the dignity of the human person, meaning that it includes forcing ever increasing dependence upon giant corporate entities is anti-poverty.” Or, to take the most obvious example “You cannot be pro-life and support the death penalty.”

Meaning that you are claiming that a truly pro-life worldview is contrary to that of nearly every other Christian in history up until a generation or two ago. Oh, Thomas Aquinas, King Louis IX, all those other saints? Yeah, those guys just didn’t really understand human dignity like we moderns do.

This, of course, only reinforces and feeds into the modernist narrative that we are unique among the generations of man and thus can ignore any experience, arguments, or insights from the past. A ‘Reset’ mindset if you will.

And I find that ‘pro-life’ usually devolves into simply being a cudgel which some Christians use to beat others for not following their preferred socio-political views (“climate change is a life issue”). All too often, this results in the absurd spectacle of proudly ‘pro-life’ people supporting ardently pro-abortion candidates on the grounds that they somehow ‘foster a culture of life’.

If someone says “you aren’t really pro-life unless you accept such-and-such,” the answer is “then I guess I’m not pro-life. Who cares? I am not obligated to conform my views to the implications of a bumper sticker.”

3. Didn’t really mean for today’s flotsam to turn into a rant of everything I don’t like about the PLM, but such things happen.

I was originally considering writing about depression, if that is what I suffer from (on the subject of the PLM: we today get way too hung up on labels and slogans to the point where we miss the reality that the thing is supposed to be pointing to). It’s what most people seem to call it, so we’ll go with that.

I’ve mentioned it in a Catholic Match post from a while back, but depression, in my experience, isn’t so much feeling constantly down or continually sad. It’s more of experiencing continual emotional pain. Like having an open wound inside you that keeps getting prodded.

If you know someone with depression, odds are they’ll often seem to be losing their temper or flying off the handle at seemingly minor things (this kind of anger is often a symptom). Know that that’s the equivalent of a dog snapping at you if you poke at a sore spot. They’re not trying to be mean, they’re trying to send the message: “that hurts: don’t do that!”

Because when someone prods that big open sore inside of you, you can’t really just say “ow! Stop!” Because they don’t know what they did that hurt you, and you probably don’t either. And it probably wouldn’t be anything reasonable that you could explain in any case. “Don’t poke my broken hand!” is easy to understand and follow. “Don’t reinforce the deep-seated impression of powerlessness and personal inadequacy that I’m trying to convince myself is not a true perspective of reality”, not so much. It isn’t like you can give a lecture on your own psychology a la the end of Psychonauts (“As shown on page 41 of your handouts”) every time someone or something jabs at that open wound so that they’ll know how they hurt you and how to avoid doing it in the future.

The last thing they want to hear is you telling them ‘calm down!’ or being asked ‘why are you so angry?’ To their mind, that’s you saying “this shouldn’t hurt you, so I’m going to keep acting like it doesn’t” or “it’s your fault that you’re in pain and it’s up to you to act as if you weren’t.”

I haven’t come close to solving my depression issue, so I don’t have any real recommendations at the moment. This is more a set of observations. I know lots of people suffer depression these days (my therapist calls it ‘the common cold of psychology’), mostly, I think, because we’ve created a world that is thoroughly unsuited to human nature, so perhaps writing my own experiences will at least help any readers to get some clarity on it.

4. Well, this one has certainly turned into a downer, hasn’t it? Let’s end with a Dilbert:

Dilbert Has To Be Right  - Dilbert by Scott Adams

Catholic Match – What Do I Have to Offer

My latest piece at Catholic Match went up today:

One of the ideas that comes up in job hunting is “distinct value add.” Basically, what do you bring to this company that no one else does?

The problem for many of us, of course, is that in most cases a truthful answer would be something along the lines of, “probably not much; anyone applying for this job has much the same skills I do, and unless you have a pulp fiction or Catholic theology division that I don’t know about, my unique skills probably aren’t going to be very relevant.”

Cynical sarcasm aside, I think this is a bit of a stumbling block for most of us in online dating as well, probably even more so; the question of “what, exactly, do I have to offer this person?”

Dating, obviously, is a different matter from job applications. But the trouble is, many of us end up approaching it with a similar mindset. We pull up someone’s profile, and she’s beautiful and has a lovely description of all the cool things she’s into, and pictures of herself doing amazing things, and then we look at the mirror and wonder why someone like that would be interested in someone like us.

We know our flaws, we know our failures, we know how, well, uninteresting we are. So, what do we have to offer? What is our “distinct value add” to this person’s life? And all too often, if we don’t have a good answer, we let the opportunity pass by.

There are a few things to be said about this.

Find out those few things are by reading the whole thing.

Friday Flotsam: On Not Getting What We Want

On Monday I had a job interview, the final such one before the decision. It was for a job I dearly wanted, a company I have actual interest in, and in a location I wanted to move to. I was well-qualified, and the job promised excellent opportunity for growth. The interview seemed to go really well, with a lot of positive comments, good humor, and talk about what made the company great to work for.

This morning I found that I didn’t get the job.

Such is often the pattern, I find; a great opportunity comes along, one replete with every advantage. We pray hard, do all we can to make the most of the chance…and nothing.

The worst part is not just the disappointment itself, but the fact that we now have to go through the exact same tedious, Sisyphean process all over again, likely in pursuit of a far less desirable opportunity, if there is an opportunity at all. The question can’t help but come up ‘how many such companies / jobs / chances are there?’ To put it another way, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” may be helpful advice if I’m a fisherman and all I am after is any old fish to have for supper; it really doesn’t help if I’m a collector and just lost a rare, beautiful, one-in-a-million fish that I’ve spent hours trying to reel in.

Times like these, it’s very easy to get angry with God; to feel like we’ve done everything we can and yet He still jerks us around. Even now I can’t help wanting to ask ‘just what do you want from me here?’

Hard as it is to believe, though, there is a reason for it. Don’t ask me what it is, but God’s will for us is always for our own benefit. This does not mean that I’m assured of an even better job down the line; having a good job might not really be the best thing for me, or at least might be an impediment to something better (obviously, I sincerely hope it isn’t, and it disturbs me to even write that). God’s idea of our good has very little to do with the things we are concerned about in this life, or even our earthly happiness: it has everything to do with our eternal happiness.

That isn’t to say God is indifferent to present happiness. This life is a part of our everlasting life, after all; the foyer of Heaven. I suspect that He is delighted when the chance comes to give someone as thoroughly happy a life on earth as could be and welcome him into Heaven afterwards. But unfortunately, that is not how things usually work, and if it is a choice between happiness now or happiness forever, He’s going to pick the latter every time, as should we. And if that means that this life is thoroughly and unremittingly miserable for us, He thinks that a small price to pay to have us with Him forever in Heaven.

Or perhaps as a price to pay to have other people in Heaven. Remember, He did not spare Himself or His nearest and dearest from the miseries of life, if it meant saving the souls of the human race. It may be that you could get to Heaven on very easy terms, but that if you did, this other person might not get there at all. If so, and if God thinks you can take it, then He’ll strip away your happy life for the sake of saving both you and the person you will never meet.

Hence, “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

This sort of thing is alarming to write, given that I feel I’m bucking for God to say “Glad you understand; now here’s a tedious, pointless job in downtown Detroit for you to work for the next three years…” But so it is. It doesn’t make it hurt any the less, and I don’t know that I would say this to someone in the midst of mourning, but it does at least help maintain hope and makes it easier to soldier on. God knows what is best for us, and He has a far better perspective than we do.

I find being a writer helps to grasp this point. Often times the fun part is taking a character and giving them something that they initially hate or which makes them thoroughly miserable for a while, and then turning that into the source of their ultimate happiness. This is one reason, for instance, I really like the romance between Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books (spoilers, I guess, though you probably already knew that). They start our thoroughly disliking each other, and Ron even groans when he finds out she’s going to be in the same house with them. Then, by the end, she’s become the thing he wants most in the whole world. That transition and the final result is a large part of what makes that relationship (and consequently those characters) so enjoyable.

God is the great author, and He sees our stories whole and complete, while we only get it a page at a time. So, even when we don’t like His decisions, even when they’re the opposite of what we have been praying for, and we see not prospect of anything half as good, we may rest assured that He knows what He’s doing. “Just keep reading…”

Life Update and Blogging Plans

At the moment I am going through bootcamp. Not the military kind, but the purely coding kind. That’s to say, I’m in training to be a Java developer, with my eye on acquiring more gainful employment than I have been able to secure thus far with my English degree and freelancer experience. With intense, five-day-a-week studies and homework every night, I’ve not had much time for anything *but* Java.

However, I also want to improve my writing skills, as I still hope to make that my sole occupation some day. So, I have (somewhat masochistically) decided to embark on a simultaneous system of writing practice.

My main goal of this is to develop greater ease in writing; as it is, I find my output is much slower and more laborious than I’d like it to be, and I have trouble formulating my thoughts to my own satisfaction. As part of this practice, I’m going to commit to blogging every day from now on. Mostly short pieces, of course, but something every day.

This means you can expect a lot more brief, disjointed, rambling, and substandard posts here in the near future.

I’m mentioning it for a couple reasons; one to let you know why my blog is suddenly being flooded with the aforementioned substandard content, and two as a sign of commitment. Now that I’ve told everyone this is my plan, I feel like I’m obliged to see it through. I’m not very good at starting things, but I have a horror of not meeting commitments.

Naturally, this will be counting as my post for today. God only knows what we’ll get tomorrow.

New Years’ Resolutions at Catholic Match

My latest Catholic Match post is all about New Years’ Resolutions (and is largely written to myself):

One way or another, we are afraid to change, afraid to set aside what we’ve carried for so long, even though it’s a burden to us. We may genuinely want to make the change, or at least, we may intellectually acknowledge that the change would be good for us, and on a certain level believe we would be happier afterward. But still we are afraid to go through with the procedure.

Part of this is simply the fear of failure: we worry that we won’t have the courage or the ability to see it through.

We’re worried that if we reach for the big dream or the big goal, we will fall on our faces. If we ask the cute girl out, she may laugh at us. If we try to get into shape, we may find the work too hard. If we try to change careers, we may fail.

But we’re not just afraid of failure: we may be equally afraid of success.

See, the thing about success is that it always carries its own set of problems, pressures, and responsibilities. If we get into shape, we then have to maintain it by constant diet and exercise. If we start dating the cute girl, we then have to work at the relationship with all the hardships and sacrifices that entails.

Read the rest

Talking About Depression on Catholic Match

For those who don’t know, I suffer from mild-to-moderate depression, among other things. About a month or so ago it got really bad, and I ended up channelling that experience into the following post, which just went up on CM.

Depression isn’t sadness or feeling down. It’s pain. Raw, emotional pain, like there’s a wound inside you that just won’t heal. And you know it’s never going to heal; it’s just going to keep on throbbing and festering for as long as you live.

Except, it’s worse than that, because along with the pain is a sense of isolation; the sense that you are cut off from the rest of humanity, not for any one cause or defect, but simply because that’s who you are. It’s the sense that you are and always will be totally alone, no matter how many people are around you.

A good description of depression I found online was that, “It’s like drowning, but you can see everyone around you breathing.”

Now, my depression is relatively mild. I generally can manage it enough to get through life, and I’ve never had suicidal thoughts. A lot of people have it far worse. That said, I have found a few strategies to be useful in managing my own depression. And though I’m not an expert in the subject by any stretch, I understand that many other people with far worse conditions have also found them to be helpful.

Read the whole thing here

Various and Sundry

– As mentioned, I suffer from some pretty bad insomnia, to the point where I often can’t sleep even with sleep aids (they just make me more tired). I also have mild to moderate depression. The two do not mix well. Most nights I get to spend hours lying there, exhausted but unable to sleep and with nothing to distract me from the lovely thoughts of failure, incompetence, and regret chasing each other round and round my brain.

My post on beauty rather blew up: four-thousand views and over three thousand shares in twenty-four hours. Yet only twenty likes; I think I touched a nerve or two with that one.

-Some of the responses have, predictably, taken the form of the offense fallacy: if you don’t like what someone says, construe it as an insult, either to yourself or someone else. Most people will rush to assure you they meant no harm and not even notice the fact that not liking the implications of an idea isn’t an argument for its truth or falsehood. And since just about everything can be taken as an insult if you try hard enough, it’s a very handy little trick.

-It occurs to me that the mere fact that disenfranchised populations have been able to win themselves the vote rather tells against the necessity of granting them voting rights. The mere fact that they were able to successfully agitate to have the franchise extended to them shows that they were capable of affecting public policy without the right to vote. True, it was much harder and could only be done with great effort, requiring it to be reserved for matters considered of grave importance…which is another point against extending the franchise (since every change brings unexpected consequences, the harder it is to make serious changes the better). You know, more and more I find I’m theoretically against the idea of universal suffrage.