Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Time To Mourn And A Time To Dance

Recently I attended another in a long-line of parties populated by fellow saints from my singles ward – a dance party at the home of a group of reasonably high-profile girls whom I’d previously home taught. I thought it would be fun to support my former home teach-ees and eat their brownies.

My roommates, however, disagreed, noting that Mormon dance parties are pointless. “Why should we go to a party just to watch all the girls dance together?”

I hadn’t thought of things that way, but my friends’ prediction proved uncannily accurate: About 20 girls were dancing in a big, impenetrable glob – getting oh-so worked up when Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” came up – while the half-dozen attending men shuffled in the corner, talking amongst themselves about sports and eating brownies.

An utterly bizarre phenomenon, an outsider might observe: why would so few men come to an event where women are literally boxed in for them, and why would those who did come be so timid?

But to the Mormon single, particularly the male, this is a quintessential Kobayashi Maru, the no-win scenario.

Dancing is a casually intimate event, potentially enticing to continued romantic pursuit – a perfect ice-breaker in a typical setting. But even something as harmless as trying to initiate a non-threatening dance in a church-confined situation such as this can make a man seem too aggressive physically, and LDS girls are brought up to spurn physical aggression of any kind. So any girl a boy approaches will no doubt reject him publicly (either on the spot or amongst her friends after he’s departed).

In fact, the only thing more repellant to a girl in this scenario than being approached boldly by a man at this party is not being approached boldly by a man at this party. He’s got one shot with one girl, and then he’s ruined any hopes with the other 19.

It’s lose-lose. Because of this, many men will simply blow the event off, regardless of the fact that they would much rather carouse with girls on a Saturday night than stay home and play video games with their friends. Given this, the surprising thing to me is not that so few boys come to a Mormon dance party, but that so many do. It reminds me of a line from my favorite romantic comedy, “Annie Hall”:

This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don't you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.”

Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.

Mormon men need eggs. Oh boy, do they need eggs, but when they can’t get that, most will settle for brownies.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

No Gays On Trek? Oh Behave

So this week my Google alert for "Star Trek" picked up the following article from afterelton.com, where former Trek writer/producer Brannon Braga bemoaned the lack of outed gay characters on Trek during its entire 40-year run. A not uncommon observation about the franchise, this complaint has rung loudly for years, and was featured prominently in that awful "Trekkies" documentary.

Now before we proceed, I need to mention that Braga, although he has more Trek writing credits to his name than ANYONE ELSE, is also generally regarded as one of the worst things to ever happen to the franchise. (Strange that these two facts coincide.) He presided over Trek's fall from unprecedented popularity in the mid-90s to its utter ruin by the mid-2000s.

This ski slope graphic is the ratings of Enterprise: Braga's brainchild.

And he wrote the teleplay for what is widley regarded as the "worst episode ever" -- Voyager's "Threshold." Yes, this is the one where the Voyager crew somehow comes up with the ability to travel at infinite speed, which evolves Tom Paris and Capt. Janeway into lizards who then mate.



SFDebris hates "Threshold" so much, he did FOUR videos on it.

Now of course I don't say that to invalidate Braga's comments, but I think it's important to remember that the guy who had more free rein inside the Trek universe than anyone else does not remotely understand that universe.

Yes Star Trek dealt with the subject of sexual minorities on multiple occasions BUT yes it always in the context of an alien race -- never regarding humans. I think if I were gay I would find that somewhat patronizing: it's like saying "oh, I know you exist but you're so weird I can only think about you if you have blue skin, goop on your forehead, or a slug in your belly. They did one episode of DS9 with the franchise's first "same-sex kiss," but - I'm sorry - when male producers have two attractive, white females kiss it's not a proud statement of sexual identity: it's soft-core porno. (See also "Vampire Slayer, Buff: Diversity check list.")

Also to those who object, I would hope most would forgive Trek because so much of its content was generated before the on-screen gay liberation of shows like "Will and Grace." However, those installments which came after that liberation were "Voyager" and "Enterprise" -- the shows for which Braga was himself the EXECUTIVE PRODUCER. In his interview, he explicitly blames the lack of gay characters on affiliates "you know, in Salt Lake City" rather than you know, HIMSELF.

So while we're talking about diversity and Salt Lake City, Mr. Braga, how many Mormon characters were on Star Trek? Zero. Okay. Well, how about more mainstream Christian religions like Catholicism or Methodism? Oh? Zero again? Wow -- in 40 years? You couldn't even ret-con Chekov to being Russian Orthodox, or say that Deanna Troi's human father was Greek Orthodox out of respect for Marina Sirtis's Greek heritage?

Now before someone thinks I'm, like, a whining Christian who thinks his value system is only portrayed negatively in popular culture (the type Kevin Smith is begging will revitalize his career with protests), let me expand this diatribe to include ALL Earth religions.

In the entirety of its run, Star Trek did not feature a single character who expressed a religious predisposition -- except again, as with gays, aliens: Kira (a violent terrorist) and Worf (a violent barbarian). And when I say religions, I am also including atheism and agnosticism! This show that was all about exploring the human condition completely ignored one of the biggest aspects of human existence. (It did the same to economics, but that's another matter.)

According to my encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek, I can recall only two conversations about religion in the entire run of Next Generation. Both involved Data.

In this one, Nagilum has threatened to kill the crew, so Picard is blowing up the ship. Data asks him what death is (starting at 1.45), and Picard gives him a big speech wherein he admits that he lacks any spefic beliefs about the after-life (that is, a religion), but he hasn't even really thought about it!



(Actually it's not even Data, it's a holographic version of him.)

Okay and then in this bit, Data confides in Worf that he had a "crisis of faith" about his own existence. It's actually a pretty cool scene, but again -- doesn't really say anything about human religious experience. (Starts at 5.57.)



Loyal readers will recall my redux on TNG, in which I outline how every space show since then has positioned itself by what TNG was not -- including religion. Because of Trek's failing in this regard, other space shows have gone out of their way to portray religious characters more, I would speculate, than any other typical drama does specifically to distance themselves from Trek.

  • "Firefly" featured a free Evangelical preacher (Sherpherd Book), a Jewish Internet superstar (Mr. Universe), a disillusioned ex-Catholic (Mal), and a high-end Buddhist prostitute (Inara).

  • "Babylon 5" featured not only standard Earth religions, but a religion which were started in the future (Foundationalism - named after Asimov's book series).

  • "BSG" was entirely about religion, though of course it was all otherworldly.
And I can understand that sexual minorities might feel left out of the Roddenberrian perfect future, but let's also remember that Roddenberry was himself pretty prejudiced against religion and specifically crafted a John Lennon-esque utopia that is insultingly built on a premise of a-religiosity. And yes, I can understand that in the 1960s he didn't want to alienate (haha) Catholics by making Kirk a Protestant (which he almost invariably would have been, at least culturally, as a small-town hick from Iowa), but if we're going to start bemoaning the holes in Star Trek's perfect future, let's bemoan all of them.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Oscars Grouch: "Social Network"

OK so I really am not a movie guy. I recall a line from an episode of "News Radio" where Joe says "I don't go to movies, most movies suck." Frankly I think movies are long and boring and do not fit as well into my life as, say, an episode of "Parks and Recreation" that I can watch during dinner.

Now having said that, I also don't get too caught up into movie awards, mainly because the kind of movies I like typically go unnoticed. (Example: the first Star Trek movie to receive an Academy Award was the 2009 reboot.) The anti-elitist in me tends to bristle at the, uh, elitism of honoring films because they're supposed to be honored. A glowing spoof of this phenomenon is last year's brilliant "Movie Title" from my friends over at Cracked.com:




Of course by the same token, I don't really go in for awards to popular movies because they're popular --- that's what, after all, the box office is there to prove. But I am nonetheless fascinated by the zeitgeist informing what constitutes "best" every year.

So we come to it at last: the Whitleypedia grouchy analysis of this year's Oscars (before the nominations are announced). I'm not literate enough in all of 2010's films to go through everything bullet-point by bullet-point, but I will say that I hope "The Social Network" wins best picture.

It was an extraordinary film with no weak points, at least that I detected when I saw it last fall. It's a film that everyone can identify with -- not just because 500 million people are on Facebook -- but because everyone can identify with the protagonist: a sort of loser who thinks he's better than everyone else and, after having been pushed around, has extraordinary success and is basically able to say f--- you to the world that ignored him.

This move is, in effect, a super-hero film. "Mark Zuckerberg" is a Peter Parker-esque nerd who gets super-powers that both ruin and exalt him. His arc is portrayed with a more realistic assessment of how the supernatural affects the mortal than even "Watchmen" could possibly have done.

The other leading contender for best picture is "The King's Speech," a very conservative, traditional Oscar heavyweight. I am sure that everyone involved in creating and promoting the film is brilliant -- and I do believe that Geoffrey Rush is probably the best actor alive today. But the King's arc is far less interesting than "Zuckerberg's," regardless of how well it's portrayed, and as this EW article points out, we don't need yet another best picture about the awesomeness of Great Britain.

The Academy is full of old people, so they may not recognize the significance of "The Social Network," but this year, they may not be able to ignore it.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Book list 2010

This year was a pretty good year for me literarily. I believe that I read more this year than ever before – including perhaps in college. Certainly I read more books of my own choosing than any other year. 2010 – the year of the book (or if you will book on CD).

I read the following books:

Swords Against Death
Treasure Island
The Road
Wishful Drinking
Death Troopers
I Am Spock

I read only the following Discworld books – frankly I think I'm tapping out on those. But there are 35+ books in the series, so that's understable:

• The Last Continent
• The Wee Free Men
• Witches Abroad
• Interesting Times


I read or reread all of the Chuck Klosterman books:

• Downtown Owl
• Fargo Rock City
• Killing Yourself to Live
• Chuck Klosterman IV
• Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa-Puffs
• Eating the Dinosaur

Because of time spent in my car on the daily commute, I've been able to "listen" to a lot of books this year, including:

My Life
Earth (The Book)
Freakonomics
Superfreakonomics
Outliers
I, Robot
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes 4
Anansi Boys

And I reread the following books on CD:

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Restaurant at the End of the Universe
The Old Man and the Sea
A Christmas Carol
The Hobbit

I read a lot more nonfiction this year than is typical for me, because I've found it's easier to absorb on the commute. I think my favorite book this year was Freakonomics, certainly in that nonfiction category.

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