I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008 by John Scalzi

John Scalzi began a "web journal" or what we would today call a blog, back in 1998 that he named Whatever.  This book is a collection of those blogs from a ten year period, 1998-2008, that also serves sometimes as a snap shot of a date in time that at first may seem so long ago or different, but in reality is not.  He is a science fiction writer as well as a free-lance writer of various things, as well as a husband and the father of a daughter.  His blogs cover just about everything under the sun: religion, politics, television, science, homosexuality, grief, breastfeeding, parenthood, philosophy (he occasionally gets to pull his major out and use it), and life in general.  He is funny, thought provoking, poignant, and might make you angry.  He is everything a writer should be.

On his blog titled Levitcans, which is a term he made up for those "Christians" who spend way too much time obsessing over the book of Leviticus and ignoring the New Testament, he slams them for not following the actual teachings of Christ.  "Rules are far easier to follow than Christ' actual path..."  A good example of a Levitican? Fred Phelps and his group who picket funerals with signs, John Ashcroft, Pat Robertson, Jerry Fallwell (the last two who suggested that the terrorist attacks happened because we were tolerant of pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays, and, lesbians). Not every Christian, or even fundamentalist is considered a Levitican in his book.  That takes someone who will "transmute one's belief's into hate and intolerance, to deprive others of rights they ought to enjoy." Interestingly, he says though Leviticus is part of the Torah, there do not seem to be too many Jews that fall in this category, for whatever reason. 

His blog on the Scooby gang is so spot-on and something that has never occurred to me, but explains everything: Fred is a cult leader.  As a group of teenagers, these people would never hang around together. Fred and Daphne make sense in the way quarterback and cheerleader do. Daphne and Velma even make sense if you accept that Velma has an "unrequited crush" on her and follows her around everywhere.  Shaggy and Scooby, "a stoner loner and his talking, possibly hallucinated dog. A perfect match." But all of them together? No way. Why do you think Fred always insists Daphene goes with him? He doesn't want Velma anywhere near her because she would be secretly putting him down. A group of teens riding around in a van that keeps stumbling upon mysteries that are all the same? Why aren't they in school? Why don't they ever change clothes, why are they always traveling, and where are the parents?  It has to be cult, with Fred as the authority figure who separates them from the rest of the world.  They travel, not to solve crimes, but to stay ahead of the deprogrammers. In a weird way, it explains the whole show.

In his blog titled "Best Vision of Hell of the Millennium, he talks about Hieronymus Bosch, a Dutch painter who lived between the 15th and 16th centuries.  His painting of Hell is a rather vivid and insightful look at what Hell could be.  His work would influence two great schools of art: Surrealism and Heavy Metal.  The Surrealist liked his use of color and his ability to "combine the mundane and the fantastical to make bitter and intelligent social commentary." Heavy Metal artists like him because he drew really cool demons.  Without Bosch there'd be no Vallejo airbrushings or Dio album covers.  The church tells us that Hell is not exactly a location but an eternal absence of God's grace. So one could say that Bosch's painting is just a mythical picture. Scalzi opines that the real question is not whether where Hell is or isn't, but if we could see our souls in a mirror, would they look like what Bosch envisioned? That would be Hell enough.

In his blog on vegetarianism, he says that he could never be one.  He makes a good point that everything we eat was once a living thing and that it's a shame that animals cannot shed a steak or a fully cured ham, like plants do. He does draw the line at veal, but really with a calf its almost a silly line to draw since it's always going to be "sooner or later".  He does love to pick on vegetarians by reminding them that Hitler was one and that he also thought up the Volkswagon. Why no one every retorts back with Stalin, who was a big meat eater, is a wonder.

Scalzi has ticked off a lot of people over the years with this particular blog on"The Lie of Star Wars as Entertainment". Lucas is not an "entertainer" because an entertainer reaches out to his audience and wants them to join him. Lucas could care less. He is more interested in creating his universe. If you are there, fine. The trilogy is a mix of "30s adventure serials, 40s war films, 50s Kurosawa films and 60s Eastern mysticism, all jammed into the cinematic crock-pot and simmered in a watery broth made from the marrow of [Joseph] Campbell's thousand-headed hero."  Lucas was very much interested in mythology and building one, which is "necrophilic storytelling; one that implicitly kills off an entire culture and plays with its corpse...It's better than being God, really. Gods have to deal with the universes they create; mythmakers merely have to say what happened." Anything entertaining about the series is purely incidental (his sources were entertaining after all, and the writers he hired were good, and the sheer novelty went a long way).  Scalzi offers a test. Go and find the 1980 B-movie Battle Beyond the Stars, which was produced by Roger Corman, with a screenplay written by John Sayles, and starring Richard Thomas.  It was made for $2 million and is funny and smart and actually entertaining, because Corman and Sayles want to entertain you. Lucas could care less if he does.  Watch it and see if its better than I, II, III, and VI. They use the same sources that Lucas used. I am a huge Star Wars fan and even I have to concede that he has a point. I am also looking for Beyond the Stars now, because I am terribly curious.  For those that are curious as to what he has to say about The Force Awakens, here is a link to his site: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2015/12/18/ (there are no spoilers).

I have to say I love his blog on going to the Creation Museum, which is, sadly, located in my home state of Kentucky. He tells you flat out he thinks creationism is bunk. He went there out of curiosity. A lot of money was put into this museum (you can tell). He had to wait for about an hour and a half due to a jam in the middle where there is a short movie.  When you walk in you see a display of two paleontologists unearthing raptor bones. One of them says they are both the same, only he starts from the Bible and the other guy (who doesn't speak) starts from "man's reason". Right off you have to scream b.s. It tries to put them both on equal footing, but they are not. "creationism isn't a theory, it's an assertion, to wit: The entire universe was created in six days, the days are 24-hour days, the layout for the creation and for the early history of the planet and humanity is in the first chapter of Genesis and it is exactly right." Everything in the museum is either caused by or a consequence of : The six-day creation, Adam eating from the tree of life, and Noah's flood.  I'm rather glad that Eve, for once escapes blame for the whole fall of the human race,  but poor Adam. He gets blamed for: the creation of venom, carnivorous animals, and even entropy (the inevitable heat death of the earth). Then there are the dinosaurs running around Eden and being put on Noah's ark. Its so over the top its more of an amusement park than anything else. For those who truly believe, it will be a comfort, for the rest, it will be just a day of fun.  And in the end, this is a good thing. Creationism is not going away anytime soon, so we should be glad that it is totally ridiculous and boxed up and put away somewhere.

Scalzi kind of goes off on a rant that even his wife thinks might be a bit much, when he sees the ads for the channel WE, when it was starting up. They show a montage of female celebrities: Victoria Williams, Cindy Crawford, and Faye Dunaway.  Each is listing their achievements. "I'm an actress. I'm an athlete. I'm a friend."  His point is that "women should [not] feel compelled  to qualify their successes through the prism of their gender.  Any time you have to qualify your success, you implicitly diminish it." It also bothers him that all the women are attractive.  Faye Dunaway was chosen as a "director", but has only directed one movie, which was for WE.  They could have picked Penny Marshall, Betty Thomas, or Mimi Leder, all very successful directors.  In the end, he concludes, the ad is pandering to women, not inspiring them and if this is a network for women what does that say about how they think of you.

At the heart of it PETA is not a really bad organization. I mean it stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The problem lies in the fact that they are more often interested in ticking people off than anything else. At one time they were going to promote breastfeeding in Mississippi by putting up a billboard of Baby Jesus suckling the Virgin Mary's nipples. Pregnant women already know that breastfeeding is better for their baby. If they haven't already heard if from a doctor/nurse/midwife, then the "La Leche League mafia" would have told them. They were really just after making the religious conservatives angry.  Of course, this brings up the question of why is this so offensive? It's what happened. Could it be that Christians don't like to dwell on humanity of both Christ and Mary? "Jesus' suffering was rooted in his divinity--he was called on to redeem the sins of the world--but the actual suffering part was predicated upon his human nature. Being nailed to the cross to die doesn't work if He Who is Nailed doesn't have the humanity required to suffer."  Their dual nature of being both divine and human makes them special and the fact that Mary breastfed Jesus is a part of that.

Being poor is: knowing exactly how much everything costs; having to keep buying $800 cars because that's what you can afford, but then they break down on you because a car for that much money isn't worth anything; hoping the toothache goes away; a heater in only one room of the house; hoping your kids don't have a growth spurt; finding the letter your mom wrote your dad, begging him for the child support; a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet; needing that 35-cent raise; crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor; knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere; never buying anything someone else hasn't bought first; picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that's two extra packages for every dollar; deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter; a lumpy futon bed; people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so; seeing how few options you have; running in place; people wondering why you didn't leave.

There are so many more I want to write about, like the blog about I Hate Your Politics, Bad Chocolate, Adorable Little Punks, Christopher Robin is Out There in the Woods, Best Gay Guy of the Millennium (Richard the Lionhearted), The Problem With Parents, Ayn Rand, Mom!, The Speckless Sky (written the day after 9/11), Football With Jesus, The New Sesame Street Characters Suck, and the Best Personal Hygiene Product of the Millennium.  This is such a joy to read, the only drawback some might find, is that he chose to not correct any spelling or grammar errors he made on his blog. After a while, though, when you get reading, your mind just reads what it knows is supposed to be there naturally and you stop noticing them.  Trust me, this is something that annoys me to bits and I found this to be true.  My brain just auto-corrected subconsciously.  Her is the address for the blog Whatever: http://whatever.scalzi.com/.  Its funny. At the beginning of his book when he is describing blogs he talks about how people assume that blogs are written by agnsty teens and cat lovers who put up lots of pictures, he doesn't really mention to what extent he falls in the latter category. I went to his website and he puts up lots of pictures of his cats. He's still writing science fiction books and blogging about everything under the sun as well, but, wow, all those cats!

No comments:

Post a Comment