The Premise and the Promise

This may not go over very well with some people nowadays, but here it is. I’m extremely happy that I was born to live in this time and in this place.

I am grateful for it.

I have avoided the worst parts of history’s difficult arc that was filled with plague, technological stagnation, superstitious oppressions, widespread famine, and feckless despotism. I live in the midst of technological marvels that would have been beyond the dream of imagination in ages past.

I am grateful for the country into which I was born. I consider it to be a beautiful, wonderful aberration that bent the arc of history toward a better way. Our founding inspired other revolutions and changes that were to humanity’s benefit.

I understand the urge to judge a work and see it wanting. I know the compulsion never to pronounce a work completed, but rather see all the ways that it could have, or should have, been better.

Very little lives up to what you think it should be. Not everything is how you wish it was.

Sometimes people make compromises they regret. I know any human makes choices they wish they could take back. I believe there is some moment of enlightenment, even if it’s at the point of death, where people understand the ways they could have been better or made smarter choices.

But so long as I have the freedom to voice a frustration, I rejoice. There are people who cannot speak for fear of persecution and death.

So long as I have the freedom to keep trying, I rejoice. There are people who believe they have no reason to keep trying.

So long as I have the freedom to understand that working toward perfection doesn’t mean I have to destroy all that’s been done before, I rejoice. Life itself is a work in progress.

So yes, this is a brief love letter to the country of my birth. It’s not some oddity to be proud of that.

It’s not a rejection of things that could be improved. It’s an embrace that imperfect people get to the future in imperfect ways.

It’s a recognition that, for all its imperfections, the country of my birth has produced great people. It has great people in it still. Those people are still capable of great things.

There are great people who come here for new beginnings because they see that, too. If only we could see what they see, they could be our mirror to the beauty we are.

So yes, I am grateful for the land where I was born. I know the flaws and missteps of its history because that knowledge has always been open to anyone who wanted to seek it.

To bring it back to Star Wars, as I love to do, Luke learned to love and understand the basic humanity of failure, and build on that to bring forth the light of promise.

Anger and fear are a dead end. History is littered with the products of anger and fear. They are horrors unto themselves.

Love, understanding, and hard work are the path forward. They always have been. They always will be.

Let’s embrace each other and be happy for the things we can do together.

And so I proudly say to my fellow Americans, Happy 4th of July. Let’s not waste the premise and the promise.

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Baby Birds & Bad Days

This one is a real event that I’m sending into the void for no sake but to send it. Maybe I’m discovering I’m not completely heartless, contrary to the popular consensus. I mean, the argument will still be made that I’m completely clueless, but I’m at peace with that idea by this point.

Baby Birds

While working on a palm tree to remove some dead growth that I’d let get out of control, I cranked up the headphones and went at it with a hand saw and electric trimmer. It was time for the tree to be brought up to specs. I’d largely avoided the responsibility for a bit because this very tree had inspired a post long ago called “Palm Trees: The Jerks of Trees.”

I set to work with vigor and focus. As I was rounding to the last quarter of the tree to be done, I froze and my heart immediately sank.

In front of me was a baby bird in a nest that I’d just accidentally destroyed. The bird was frozen in place, too young to make any sort of escape. I dropped my saw and gave an exclamation along the lines of “Oh no!”

The bird was further trapped by the collapsed nest and tree pieces I’d been removing, and the nest itself was intact but ready to fall. I extracted the nest, and noted that there should have been more than one bird in there.

Alas, there on the ground was the dead sibling. It may have been alive when the nest collapsed and fell, or it may have died from fear, which I’ve since learned is a cause of fatality with nests that get displaced. The bird, essentially, has a heart attack.

To make the long story short, I held the little survivor and the nest in my hand as we managed to find a nearby wildlife refuge that could take the poor little creature in and provide care.

I know my picture shows the nest on a cloth towel that I had at hand in the moment, but that was quickly switched to paper towels per the instruction that I got. I drove the bird to the wildlife refuge in a well-ventilated box with the recommended amount of quiet and darkness to help calm and soothe.

Bad Days

I have no sort of aphoristic wisdom that I’ll claim to have gained here. I don’t have any sort of deep insight on mercy, regardless of the fact that I’ve discovered fewer people are inclined toward mercy than is healthy. Like I said at the start, I’m more or less speaking this out to the void for the sake of speaking it.

I regret displacing the nest, and apparently causing the death of the little sibling bird. Life is complicated and unexpected in a lot of ways.

Doing something with good intent can nevertheless lead to unintended sorrow. It costs nothing to be gentle.

I hope that little bird does well and becomes a healthy, functional adult after this rough start. Bad days happen, but with a little effort we can turn things around.

Hang in there, little bird.

Good luck, little bird.

Generation Punisher

This could also be titled, “What Price, Isolation?”

For after years of denying it exists, and denying its power, people are now openly acknowledging “cancel culture.” The true might of social networking has been revealed: punishing anyone deemed worthy of punishment, no matter how small and inconsequential.

If you don’t know (Agent Bun doesn’t), it’s a cute name in the social media age for leveraging corporate panic about trending hashtags or campaigns to get shows cancelled. It’s about sending angry notes to have have advertisers look elsewhere, or getting your friends to sign a petition on a site like change dot org, which is actually just an email collecting service for political causes.

Like anything else on social media, that part’s been done before but everyone acts like it’s some innovation. The difference is that you don’t have to rely on a slow-moving letter writing campaign or sit on phone banks like Terry Rakolta, who tried to cancel Married…with Children, or the people who protested the release of Silent Night, Deadly Night.

She had to research phone numbers and advertisers for her campaign. Now, you can have a hashtag trend instantaneously and once that’s noticed, the pressure can mount exponentially.

And now it can be leveraged to destroy individual people, even if they were just having a really bad day. While I’m sure we’re going to be inundated eventually with poorly-written pieces in The New York Times about how two people who cost each other jobs found the path to forgiveness, right now any moment can cost you everything.

They’re probably going to make a movie of it. Oh no, I just spoke it into existence.

Cancel Vultures

As we’ve all been forcibly locked away from each other for some time as of this writing, this urge seems to be getting worse.

People sick of cancel culture are trying to turn it against people to give them a taste of their own medicine. People sick of the people who are sick of cancel culture are now angry that their tool for punishing people is being used to punish people.

I’m not linking to anything because this isn’t even what I’d originally intended to write. I wanted to do something “light.”

But it’s heartbreaking where we seem to be heading.

What everyone seems to forget, regardless of the side of the debate on which they find themselves, is that this is simply a lesson in mob rule. Mobs are easily manipulated as it is.

Right now, the mob is angry and has been robbed of socializing contact. They no longer have to interact with people in social settings. People are no more than characters on a screen. They are abstract villains to conquer.

And so we’re all becoming more than a little psychotic. We have the collective empathy of a psycho killer and the mercy of The Punisher.

It’s got to stop.

the punisher prison fight scene | kesseljunkie.com
Welcome to the Social Media Age!

I’m sorry that bad things happen or people say nasty things. I wish people didn’t. I wish that I didn’t, when I get upset. But wiping someone out isn’t the answer.

Mercy and understanding is the only way out of this hellish trap. Let’s all make a pact just to take it easy and remember that people are fallen creatures. Sometimes they’re terrible. But let’s make sure the punishment is proportional to the infraction.

Because everyone’s going to have their turn there eventually. Let’s treat others with the forgiveness we’d want shown to us.

What Are We Losing?

I’m going to go somewhere with this, but it’s going to take a little bit to get there. I need just a little patience.

Sometimes as I struggle to think of something to write for this silly little blog, I think of how much freer I felt years ago when I first started writing online. Going all the way back to the original “kessel korner” on the Star Wars-dot-com blogs, my blog has largely been a stream-of-consciousness log of my thoughts and an excuse to exercise my desire to write.

That’s not profound. That’s what a blog is supposed to be.

I’m not famous. I’m just an average person who likes to write these things. I don’t know why I feel compelled to lay my words out there. Whatever it is, it’s probably the same sort of thing that drives my desire to podcast. I just l just like to talk, and writing is like talking without the interruptions.

I’m also the type of person who likes to throw ideas out there and figure them out. I might change my mind. I might not.

My father did the same thing, and he was one of the most blindingly intellectual men I’ve ever known. He was one of the wisest, too.

Influences

The writers I’ve read my whole life, the memorable ones, did the same thing. Coupled with my dad, those influences cemented my approach to topics.

Contrary to what some might think, I enjoy being challenged. However, contrary to what some prefer, I enjoy arguing my point as well. If you’re going to change my mind, then it’s incumbent on you to present a persuasive argument. It’s not incumbent on me to fold at the first sign of disagreement.

It’s also not incumbent that everyone agree with everyone else. That’s boring as hell. How many times did The Twilight Zone warn us about single-minded communities, or people? If we squash dissent in one arena it will only crop up in another. It’s human nature to disagree.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
The Twilight Zone also gave us one of the best rides EVER..

I’ve sometimes pitched controversial sorts of questions, especially when I migrated to the current platform. Years ago I put out something where I openly castigated people who wanted to edit or censor The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was told that thinking that would become an accepted norm was foolish.

(Aside: That blog doesn’t exist anymore, which ties into where I’m going. I don’t think it’s even on the Internet Archive, but that might not be around too much longer anyway.)

For the record, I still castigate people who want to censor things. You might as well censor the legendary Dick Gregory’s autobiography if words offend you. But you might miss out on something profound and perception-shifting, as his book was for me.

Like any sane person I thought nothing of throwing anything out in a public forum. I grew up tolerant of a wide range of ideas, even when I disagreed with them, though the more asinine of my friends considered such conversations an opportunity to mock and assert their dominance.

This is why the act of writing online was something of a safe-haven bull session. It occasionally attracted the scorn of those same old acquaintances from decades past, but it didn’t bother me too much.

In a sense, my blog was a message board for people who knew me. I’d throw something out there and they’d either give me the business or ignore it until I wrote about something they cared more about than Darth Vader’s poop.

It felt like the Internet was supposed to feel. It felt free, conversational, and therapeutic.

And Then…

That came crashing down one day when I made a salty jokes at the expense of a writer with his own following on social media. I wrote the joke to be snarky, and with the idea that “no one” really read this anyway. I wrote it to get a chuckle out of people who knew what I thought of this writer’s work.

I was pilloried and when I apologized he refused to accept it at first. I had to grovel.

I had to ask repeatedly what it was he wanted me to do to prove my apology was sincere. Some people suggested he sue me. Some people told me that comedy was only for Licensed Comedians™. One of his followers recommended I kill myself to prove my sincerity, which was a novel suggestion considering I was being attacked in bad faith because my jokes were “mean.”

This person of limited celebrity leveraged their social media platform to humiliate and attack me, and send his “followers” after me to exact social vengeance. Ironically, this same person presently has his Twitter account locked down because something he said was “taken the wrong way.”

I locked down my social media accounts. I locked down my blog and scoured for anything that could be taken out of context. There were a great many things purged at that moment. I removed by site from indexing for a long time.

I acted not just in my own interest at the time, but that of people other than myself. I wanted to protect them from the storm. The impression was that my joke would “cost” people around me and so I had to act quickly.

Some people stood by me and helped me get through, but I was taught a lesson to beware the slightest unguarded moment. Take care that the past is not there to be used against you again. Hide even moments when your thoughts were not those of the mob that wants to destroy you. Erase reference to your family.

And this is where I start getting to my point.

If only it were this easy.
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What Are We Losing?

I wonder about the incredible poetry we’re losing during a time when heterodox thought can cost so much. The Beat poets and authors functioned to push envelopes and explore the edges. The counterculturists, the punk rockers, and more have always used controversial thoughts and moments for everything from figuring out big questions to entertainment.

Jim Morrison lived to antagonize; he espoused the ideas of people like Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty. There was the Futurism movement in the early 20th Century, which celebrated “progress” and technology, and put forward the ideas that the past was to be destroyed while it celebrated war and violence.

Many of the things written throughout time have been caustic both by accident and by intent. Some have been profound by design and by misinterpretation.

All are eventually lost, except for the most remarkable.

Who knew vinyl would be the great underground medium?
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Controversy

There have been calls at every stage and through every era to silence those who write uncomfortable things. There were movements against Rock’n’Roll, and rap music. There were claims that Ozzy Osborne was the avatar of evil. 2 Live Crew was regarded as the harbinger of cultural doom.

There were staunch denunciations of Dungeons & Dragons, and recriminations of sitcom television. Al & Peggy Bundy’s family was regarded a tasteless menace. Martin Scorsese found himself a pariah for a film about Jesus.

Howard Stern made a career of saying the most uncouth things he could. He conditioned a generation of listeners to enjoy the most crass acts and enact the best they could in turn, both directly and by virtue of genre imitators. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King is a direct response to someone like Stern and the question of their influence through media.

(Stern points out, fairly, that he’s not the same person he was decades ago. But none of us are “the same people” we were in the past, nor should we be. Acting like he’s the only person who changed over time is pretty insulting. Ozzy Osborne isn’t the same person he was years ago, either.)

Through each of those ages, you could nevertheless count on people to defend the right of the controversial to exist. If you didn’t like what someone had to say, then the argument was that it was your obligation to “change the channel.”

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Freedom to Fail

Because of the willingness to endure the controversial, we got some great works of art along the way. Of course we got a lot of garbage too, but that’s the nature of things.

In terrifying the artist of failure, we eliminate the chance for the sublime. Destroying someone for an offhand comment they made when younger and dumber is wrong. Destroying someone for a moment of stupidity is wrong. Destroying someone even for the sin of being “offensive” is wrong.

And so I have to wonder what we lose by making people so afraid of mistakes. Fear of even a slight misstep can paralyze someone’s impulse and rob them of the freedom to create. Do we really want a world where creative people are afraid to see where it takes them, because they could instantaneously lose everything they hold dear?

The world of the Struggle Session is bleak. Living through Year Zero is a horror.

If all we want in the future is “ideologically sound” art, then all we’ll have is propaganda. Even if you think propaganda art is “neat,” it’s still propaganda. Propaganda is by turns creepy and boring.

I’d rather live in a world of risky, dangerous art than a landscape of boring iconography like that.

The Legacy of Joel Schumacher

Like many “nerds” of a certain age, I took my turn at the zinger cannons to lob disrespect and vitriol toward the talents of Joel Schumacher. A longtime director, Schumacher nevertheless became the focus of “fan rage” unlike any that had been seen up to that point.

A little background for the youngsters is in order. After the divisive Batman Returns came and went, fans in some circles weren’t as certain of their love for Tim Burton anymore. It had a lot of what they had liked in 1989 with the first Batman, but for some it had a bit too much Pee Wee’s Big Adventure about it. It also cemented the template of “two villains per movie” that has had a mixed track record of success.

Sure, some would be quick to point out that Batman Returns has a fairly strong rating from both audiences and critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the great arbiter site of opinion. We don’t have to get into the weeds about that, except to say that I lived through the reception at the time and while it wasn’t awful it wasn’t nearly as universally adored as its predecessor.

Again, Rotten Tomatoes “tells a different story,” if you want to read it that way. Again, having “been there,” it seems to be a bit of historical revisionism.

It doesn’t matter. The “consensus” at the time was that the series needed a new director. And we all know that a “consensus” is all that you need in order to make a plan.

In stepped veteran director Joel Schumacher.

joel schumacher the lost boys behind the scenes | kesseljunkie.com
On the set of The Lost Boys.

The Blockbuster Franchise

I’m not going to debate the merits of his two Batman entries, Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. They are what they are. Suffice it to say that I am a huge Batman fan, and that should give you a little context.

Schumacher went for something that didn’t work for a lot of people. Note that there wasn’t a big-screen Batman film for nearly a decade after his last. It was considered that he had “killed” the franchise. Only Superman had a fourth installment that paused a franchise so dramatically. (Superman still holds the record, with 19 years between fourth movie and reboot.)

What fascinates me is that Joel Schumacher was actually a good director, but it isn’t the first thing that people said about him for a long time. The first thing tended to be about Batman.

He had 35 directing credits! His long and storied career spanned everything from music videos to giant blockbusters to streaming shows. He managed to adapt through times of giant technological filmmaking shifts. Read about it all on his IMDb page.

You could even argue he was a great director, delivering the type of genre-shifting movie like The Lost Boys, which was a teen-friendly vampire flick that still managed to make vampires scary. He brought insight to movies like A Time to Kill and Phone Booth, or Falling Down. He had an eye for talent as evidenced by the cast of the cult classic D.C. Cab.

The Poison Pills

The point of me eulogizing him a bit is that as I grew older and attained some more perspective, I started to feel this weird regret about what had been done to his legacy in certain circles.

Thanks to the geeks gaining great volume in the era of the Internet, which was poised for its big breakthrough right around the time Batman & Robin was released, he became known as “the guy who wrecked Batman.”

There was no escape. His name was practically a curse.

A Batman animated series episode had a joke at his expense as well. It was a very “meta” moment.

He got lampooned on Robot Chicken, a stop-motion animation comedy show that aired nearly a decade after the fact, wherein he was declared “history’s greatest monster” and attacked during a nerd riot. (It was pretty funny, actually.)

He felt the need to “apologize” for Batman & Robin two decades after the fact. Let that sink in, if you will. Twenty years had passed.

Again, I freely admit that I gleefully took part in the mocking of him and the movie at the time. For the record, I still hate Batman & Robin. (Batman Forever isn’t too great, either.) It doesn’t work for me at all. It seems not to work for many.

The True Legacy

But Joel Schumacher created a lot of good works as well. His only “unforgivable” sin was creating something that fans didn’t like. He didn’t deserve to have it hung around his neck like an albatross.

He didn’t deserve to have nearly every headline at the time of his passing mention his Batman movies only. His legacy became those Batman movies, which was a job anyone would have been nuts to turn down.

Maybe there’s a lesson there that the mob is predisposed to focus on your missteps, and not your successes. Maybe it’s that waiting for those moments it can latch onto dysfunctionally, to drag you down however it can. Maybe it’s that people take their entertainment way too seriously.

Maybe I’m a romantic at heart. Maybe I’m just all too aware that no one has a perfect record. What matters is that they tried, and when they failed they picked themselves up and kept moving.

Either way, I will spend my time remembering the good stuff that Mr. Schumacher did. It’s how we’re supposed to honor the dead, for one day we all will be.