Friday, February 22, 2013

More Than Meets The Mind: Robot Therapist -- Episode 6: Ratbat (Decepticon)

RATBAT: Do you know what this war is all about?


It’s not good and evil. It’s not protection versus conquest. It's not about peace through tyranny or the rights of sentient beings or any of the pretty philosophical justifications that make blowing our fellow Transformers to pieces feel more palatable.

It’s all about energy. Lack of energon is the only thing that can stop Transformers. We do not pass on from old age. We do not suffer from illness. Even in combat, we are difficult to destroy permanently. We can be revived as long as we have sufficient energy.

We should not be engaging in pointless battles. And Charon was a pointless battle. It was a strategically unimportant mudhole, yet we let it escalate into a wasteful expenditure of precious resources.

We should be bleeding the Autobots dry, forcing them to use energy while saving our own. This is a war of attrition, not of grand battles. We should be fighting it as such. But of course, that would not be the Decepticon way.

You sound unconvinced of the Decepticons current course.

RATBAT: The Decepticons are inefficient. There is a different between winning and victory. Winning requires brute force. Victory requires forethought, planning, assessing situations and setting objectives. Victory requires a plan, something our current leadership doesn’t have.

You have a plan?

RATBAT: Of course.

Do you think you should lead the Decepticons?

There is no leadership for the Decepticons. Our leadership structure is flawed. Our tradition has always been the strongest rules until displaced by someone even more powerful. That’s not leadership--it’s bullying. It’s irrational. And if it continues, it will be our downfall.

Do you think these feelings may be connected with the fact that you are one of the smallest, slowest, and least combat-capable of the Decepticons?

RATBAT: Absolutely not. These are not FEELINGS. These are facts. This is simply rational analysis. It has nothing to do with me.

You sound angry.

RATBAT: I am not angry. But I am starting to doubt your capabilities. You seem to believe that our feelings are somehow relevant. How do I feel about my lack of stature? How does Laserbeak feel about Soundwave’s disappearance? How does Megatron feel about being a megalomaniac who won’t listen?

If you want damaged psyches to poke through, save it for the Stunticons. I am about finding the most efficient and effective way to win victory for the Decepticons. My personal feelings have nothing to do with anything.

Nothing at all.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Screaming In Digital: Queensryche, Men's Rights, and Being Right

If you asked me in tenth grade what Queensryche album Id be listening to in 2013, Id have told you Operation: Mindcrime.

And why not? Operation: Mindcrime is probably the album for which Queensryche is best known. It wasnt their commercial peak--that went to Empire. It hasnt held nearly as well over time, especially compared to the Rage for Orders icy dystopia or Promised Land, which even nearly twenty years after its release, draws me in a little deeper each time I listen to it. Musically and lyrically Operation: Mindcrime is a unmistakeably a  product of the Reagan eighties, but you can say one thing for it--of all the Queensryche albums out there, Operation: Mindcrime is without a doubt the Queensryche-iest.

Operation: Mindcrime is a concept album about a drug-addicted young political revolutionary named Nikki, an idealist trying to take down the corrupt system by killing the fuck out of the middle-aged sons of bitches in it. Things didnt work out so well for Nikki. He was betrayed by middle-aged handler/drug supplier/puppet master Dr. X, and was framed for the murder of his--Paging Dr. MadonnaWhore-- prostitute-turned-nun lover Mary.

To my sixteen year old mind, this was the greatest thing ever because THATS HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS, MAN. Were being manipulated by the system. Religion sucks. Politics sucks. Kill the old guys. Nunsluts rule because theyre pure enough to soothe your guilt over multiple murder, but also dirty so you can you fuck them in a church beside a gunshot victim.

For some reason, this makes me think about Mens Rights Activists. To me, they are the Nikkis of the internet.

Its hard to take MRAs seriously, even though they deserve the same respect as anyone. They pay lip service to a number of issues that affect men, but the causes that really bring them out of the woodwork  seem to be womens sexual choices and not wanting to pay child support. As a consequence, they tend to come off us profoundly unlikeable, and as Jules says in Pulp Fiction, Personality goes a long way.

Not only that, with their emphasis on sexual and financial success as the pinnacle of masculinity, MRAs tend to undermine themselves. By complaining they dont get enough of it, MRAs highlight the fact that by their own standards, MRAs are hopeless failures. Its hard to imagine people lining up in droves to join Team Scarcity; Were broke and get no pussy isnt a rallying cry that brings the masses flocking to your banner.

Like Nikki, they think theyre the good guys. Also like Nikki, most of the rest of the world thinks theyre lunatics.

Dont get me wrong. Their pain is real pain. Their frustrations and resentments and disappointments are real. But instead of looking at the pain as coming from within themselves, they pin it on an external source. They see themselves as victims of some grand conspiracy, and ironically, that belief that everyone is a manipulator makes them incredibly easy to manipulate.

MRAs arent the only people who do this on the internet--theyre just the easiest ones to make fun of. But the way Nikki thinks of himself as a liberator and a hero of the people in Speak" reminds me of the way a lot of angry men think of themselves as nice guys when their words and actions show otherwise.

Nikkis thinking is distorted by the effects of drugs. Many only MRAs thinking are distorted by the power of the internet.  They think there are more of them than their actually are. They feed each others rage and self-righteousness, just as Dr. X uses Nikkis rage and drug hunger against him.

Im not the first to compare the internet to a drug. But most people Ive seen who make the comparison are talking about its addictive power. Few talk about the way it distorts reality.

We forget sometimes, I think, that the internet is not real. Its such a useful tool, that we forget it is a step removed from reality. We trust it to tell us the truth when it is really reflecting back only what we tell it to show us.

We are not interacting with other people, but with their ideas, words on a screen, pixels on glass. Were interacting with the words theyve written, the screen name theyve chosen, the persona theyve created, and a thumbnail sized avatar. We dont notice ourselves filling in the blanks in what they show us with the ideas in our own mind.  We idealize our idols, and then turn on them when we discover them to be as human and fallible as the rest of us. We use our allies to reinforce our ideals until we start to believe that our ideas are more important than reality. We demonize our enemies, turning them into nightmare monsters of our own creation. Like Nikki who sees the political and religious figures he murders not as people but as representations of the abstact ideas he believes are killing the world, we lose sight of the human-ness of those we oppose. Being right becomes more important than being compassionate.

And this isnt just a thing MRAs do. Its a thing feminists do. Atheists. Republicans and Democrats. We think we are different, but in truthy, we are united by our very desire to pull apart, to be the good guys, to be better than those people.

As a result, it is possible for us to create a lot of suffering. For ourselves, and for others.

In 2006 Queensryche released Operation: Mindcrime 2. Nikki is released from prison. He hunts down and kills Dr. X. Plotwise, that pretty much covers it. The majority of the album is Nikki coming to terms with the things hes done.

Compared to the original, Operation: Mindcrime 2 is not a very good album. But for me, who has lived and breathed the story of Operation: Mindcrime since I first heard it in 1988, theres something special about hearing Nikki realize and accept his own responsibility for the past while making peace with it. Maybe its because it parallels my own evolution as a teenager who thought he was too good, too smart, and too talented for the world around him to a 39-year old who realizes the world around him is the only place he has to put talent, brains, and skill to use, that tearing down is not the same thing as cleaning up, and that nothing we do outside ourselves will take away the pain, frustration, resentement and sadness. We need the mirror for that.

In Operation: Mindcrime, Queensryche tells us "The Needle Lies". But later, on the song "Eyes of a Stranger", they remind us that the mirror never does.

And best album or not, in that moment, they are absolutely right.

Monday, February 11, 2013

More Than Meets The Mind: Robot Therapist -- Episode 5: Dirge (Decepticon)

I am its master
I bring it with me
And unleash it like an attack dog

I ride it like a stallion
I feel it between my legs
And it is good

I harvest it
Bring it to my table
And feast upon it

I am its master,
It’s rider
Or perhaps
Is it mine?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pilgrim's Progress: Scott Pilgrim vs. Himself

I cant speak for the comic book series, but the movie version of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World works best if you assume the entire thing is happening in Scotts imagination.

The movie is most of the way there already. It plays with the laws of physics and reality, using comic book and videogame tropes in a live action setting, giving the movie a dream-like quality. What would happen if we applied the same unreality to the character of Ramona and her seven Evil Exes?

As a personality, Ramona is insubstantial as morning mist. Shes less a person than a phantasm that exists to be fought over by Scott and the Exes. Aside from her physical attractiveness, Im not sure why Scott cares about her. More importantly, Im not sure why she cares about Scott.

But lets not imagine her as a character. Let us instead see her as an extension of Scotts personality. Imagine instead that she exists only as a projection of his brain, the embodiment of the type of woman hes always wanted.

Lets take it a step further and say that the Evil Exes are not real either. They too are psychological constructs. They are the personal demons that stand between Scott and his ability to have a relationship with a woman he loves. Scott can either face them or settle for what hes been getting--one-sided relationships where the woman cares about him more than he cares about her, relationships that are unsatisfactory and unfulfilling, not just for Scott, but ultimately for his partner as well.

Hold on, I hear you say. The Exes arent Scotts exes. Theyre Ramonas Exes. So isnt Scott doing battle with Ramonas problems? Are the Evil Exes not the issues and baggage Ramona is carrying forward from the past? Is Scott not metaphorically cutting her free from the chains of previous disappointments, healing the scars of left by previous lovers, and showing her that she is worthy of more than the assholes shes dated in the past have given her.



The movie certainly points in that direction, but Im choosing to ignore it, because it undermines everything Im going to say next. Also, Scott rescuing Ramona from the damage of her previous bad choices is  a fucked up message on a number of levels. It basically says Ramona cant choose a romantic partner on her own; she needs Scott to SHOW her who she should be with. It also tells us it is Scotts role to save Ramona from her problems, which--as anybody who has tried to rescue someone else from their own demons can tell you--is not a dynamic that ends well for anyone involved.

The only dragons we can slay are our own.

So for our purposes, lets accept this admittedly arguable point: The Evil Exes do not represent Ramonas past romantic choices per se. They represent Scotts ISSUES with Ramonas past romantic choices. The World that Scott Pilgrim is versus-ing is not the external world, but Scotts inner world, and more specifically, his inner romantic insecurities.

If this is the case, Scott Pilgrim isnt alone. Many of us have evil exes to conquer. Just for funzies, lets take a look at mine:

1. Tommy Conlon (Thomas Hardy) - Warrior (2011)
The Danaged Alpha Male

I hate this guy. I may have talked about it before.

Tommy is that breed of angry alpha male that I assume women find irresistible. Hes a violent, dangerous man, who is also deeply broken inside.  In movies these characters are romantic. In real life, they have a disturbing tendency to cause people--mostly women people and their children--a lot of pain.

At the same time, theres no question that these men are ones you want around you when the shit goes down. Compared to that level of aggression, confidence, and competencewell, salsa dancing Buddhist crisis workers like myself have a hard time measuring up.

FEAR: Women find it sexy when men take what they want when they want it, regardless of consequences. I dont do that. Therefore, I can never be sexy. Also, I cant cope well with anger, whether its my own or other peoples.

2. Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling) - Crazy Stupid Love (2011)
The Charming Manipulator

There is an art to seduction, and some people are better at it than others. For some its a technical exercise, like Xs and Os in a football playbook or a game of human chess. Others turn it into an art, the art of knowing what to wear, what to say, how to take another person on an emotional journey. I admire people who are good at it even as I resent them. Its also a temptation to think there is a magic formula or a game plan to romantic success, that every situation has a right answer and that if you can make anything work if youre just GOOD enough.

FEAR: I will lose you to a slicker, glibber man, because he is more technically skilled at knowing what women want and how to give it to them, even if that experience is short-lived and insincere.


3. Edward Cullen (Rowan Pattinson) - Twilight (2008)
The Romantic

Ive always been on Team Edward. Team Edward Van Halen, that is. But this guy..?

Edward Cullen is the Backstreet Boys of vampires--threatening in his very unthreateningness. Oh sure, he says hes dark and brooding and could totally accidentally kill Bella, but its faux-darkness, a danger more theoretical than real. No, what makes Edward intimidating is the depth and breadth of his devotion.

Ive never loved a woman so much that I would break into her house and watch her sleep. For all practical purposes, thats a good thing. At the same time, when I hear Edwards words or listen to boy band lyrics, I feel I come up short in my ability to love. Im deathly afraid that if I were a boy band, my first single would be called I Really Really Really Love You (But If Things Dont Work Out, Im Confident Well Both Find Someone Else).

FEAR: I dont have enough capacity to love.

4. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
They Dont Make Em Like They Used To

In 1986, a movie called Tough Guys came out starring Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster as a pair of released train robbers. They were tough, virile, and wore cool suits. The men of the eighties paled in comparison. I feel the same way in comparison with Atticus Finch. Finch is wise and dignified, an excellent father who is also unafraid to stand up for what is right. He defends a black man in a racist southern town. The closest I could get to that is clicking Like on a Free Tom Robinson Facebook page.

FEAR: That I cannot live up to the standards set by the Real Men who came before me.

5. Cal (Seth Rogen) The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
The Guy Who Beats Me At My Own Game

I guess this applies more to Seth Rogen himself,  than any of the characters he plays, but I made the rules. No sense changing them now. Hes funny, smart, self-deprecating, and creative. He writes. He does comedy. And hes been successful at it. Hes a guy very similar to me. He is a guy who seems a lot like me--only hes doing well for himself. Every time I say women dont like funny, smart, self-deprecating guys, Louis CK, Seth, prove me wrong.  Which is scary.

FEAR: Other guys like me are doing well, even doing well at the things I Want to do. So whatever is not happening in my life is because of ME. Theyve been successful doing what I want to do, and I am not. Therefore, there must be something wrong with me. I am fundamentally unlovable.

6. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) - Iron Man (2008)
The Guy Who Has Everything.
Hes a rich, likeable genius who is also a superhero. How the fuck am I supposed to compete with that?

6a. Spike Witwicky (Shia LaBoef) - Transformers (2007)
The Guy Whos Worse Than Me But Gets The Girl Anyway.

Seriously, watch the first half of Transformers. Spike is the lamest protagonist ever. Things happen around him, but he doesnt actually do anything until the last scene.

Spike is lame.

Yet Megan Fox likes him anyway.

Im so glad I got into that car, She breathes.

Why? Because of the grand adventure shes now part of? What Spike had contributed to said adventure other than stuttering, running, and nearly causing the end of the world by putting a crucial McGuffin up fro auction on Ebay? Seriously. Fox should be humping Bumblebee.

FEAR: Stark and Spike are lumped together because theyre two ends of the same spectrum. In order to be loved, I need to earn it. I cant just have a woman like me for me. I have to earn it through my achievements. Although if theres a battle, Im hoping for Tony Stark. A man is known by the quality of his enemies; Spike as a nemesis would be embarrassing.

7. Corky  (Gina Gershon) -  Bound (1996)
The Woman: Anything I Can Do, She Can Do Better

I like to feel I bring something to the table that a partner cant get from someone else. Sex is part of that, but its not ONLY sex. I also feel vaguely threatened by stories of woman platonic friends like Thelma & Louise or even the Dixie Chicks Goodbye Earl. Sure, Earl had to die, but you could have asked ME to do it. Killing things has always been sort of man business, be it spiders, abusive exes, or your dreams of us one day learning to clean up after ourselves. If youve learned to do your own killing, I dont know what else we have to offer.

FEAR: Of not being needed, especially not being like a man, whatever that means. That whatever I bring to the table can be easily replaced.

*  *  *

Conquering our Evil Exes is an ongoing process. The better we deal with them, the better our relationships are.

But there is an eighth obstacle.

That final obstacle is Ramona, the woman of our dreams.

She doesnt exist.

Many of us labour under the illusion that if we say and do the right things, our romantic lives will be perfect. If we just fix ourselves, then nothing will ever go wrong for us again.

But  as we move past our own issues, we discover our  Ramona Flowers is far from the blank slate of our romantic ideals. Shes more than a prize to be won or a princess to be rescued.

Shes a person. Shes a woman with her own ideas, personality, and quirks. We can do everything we can do defeat our Evil Exes and still we find she isnt perfect--and neither are we. We change. She changes. The world around us changes--jobs come and go, parents age, sickness and health happen.

Happily ever after isnt where the love story ends. Happily ever after is where the love story STARTS.

I wish you all the best on your journey. I hope to see you on the path somewhere.

Monday, February 4, 2013

More Than Meets The Eye: Robot Therapist -- Episode 4: Sideswipe (Autobot)

We can go on like this indefinitely, if you so choose.

SIDESWIPE: (Silence)

Optimus Prime has assigned you here after the events on Charon. We both know he is an excellent leader, and we both know he wouldn’t make you do this unless he thought it was important. Why do you think he insisted you meet with me?

SIDESWIPE: (Silence)

I realize it must be traumatic, especially with the situation with your brother. I--

SIDESWIPE: Leave my brother out of this!

Of course. We can talk about that later. Tell me what is going on for you right now.

SIDESWIPE: (Silence)

SIDESWIPE: (Silence)

SIDESWIPE: (Silence)

It appears our time is up. We’ll continue this next week.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

More Than Meets the Mind: Robot Therapist -- Episode 3: Mirage (Autobot)

MIRAGE: The thing I remember most about Charon is how little I wanted to answer that distress call.

Cosmos was the one who picked up the signal. There was no way he could get there in time, so he forwarded to us.

And I know it’s wrong to say this, but…I really didn’t want to go.

Yeah, I know. “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.” I don't know. Some beings are more sentient than others, as far as I'm concerned. But that aside…

There was no way we were going to get there in time to save anyone. As a planet, Charon had no strategic importance. The best we could hope to do is put a hurtin’ on some Decepticons after the fact while not getting killed ourselves.

And let me tell you, fighting gets old after a while. It’s one thing to protect you and yours. But defending every other race in the universe…I mean, when is somebody going to defend US? It sounds bad, but just one time, wouldn’t it be okay to let these planets fight their own battles? Why us? Why us ALL THE TIME?

You’d think it gets easier with time, but I find it the opposite. Every time I go into battle, I keep thinking: is this the one I’m not coming back from?

I did not want to answer that distress call.

The scary part is, I looked over at Huffer and I knew he was thinking the exact same thing.

In the end, I think, that’s why we went.

We were ashamed not to.