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Lego Batman: Symptom of an Illness

I took my kids to see Lego Batman a week or so ago, and I’ve been turning the movie over in my head ever since. It’s a weird one for me: while I recall laughing and finding aspects of the film clever, I very much did not like it, and I’m trying to pin down exactly why. I think, in its broadest sense, this movie represents the death of the Batman character for me – the point at which the character becomes a parody of itself.

Parody turned in upon itself.

Parody can kill the source.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that, while there was nothing expressly wrong with Lego Batman, it made it very, very clear that there is something very wrong with Batman himself. The parts of the movie I liked were the parts that broke apart the Batman mystique and myth – the parodic elements, basically. Batman heating up his Lobster Thermidor in the microwave. Batman’s ridiculous outfits. Batman’s improbable 50 year history in film. I even got a kick out of seeing Sauron and Voldemort and the rest of them bopping around. What I hated – hated, hated hated – was the actual story. Which is weird, right? It was the classic Batman story. Hell, it’s a classic story full stop – my own Saga of the Redeemed has elements of that story in it. And yet I very, very much did not want to see any of those scenes. None of them. I squirmed in my seat as I was watching Batman go through his emotional arc. I literally thought to myself, with a sense of dread, crap, do we actually have to *watch* him develop a relationship with Robin?

This semi-instinctive revulsion is indicative that I no longer actually like the Batman character. We’ve seen all his stories, we’ve played out all the rope we can, and now he’s just…dreadfully dull. Lego Batman makes this really clear, actually – Batman is, in reality, boring. I’m watching the movie and realizing, albeit belatedly, that I totally agree. Batman is done to death – there is nothing more to say. For all the zaniness and crazy action and wild jokes and bizarre plot twists, that movie was utterly predictable. What’s more, we all knew it was predictable. We knew exactly what was going to happen, when it would happen, and why it would happen. We only had to sit back and wait for the inevitable. The excitement from the movie was entirely generated by the peripheral, surface-level effects of cool vehicles, sight gags, and visual effects – in other words, the shallowest kind of storytelling. The meat of the story was as overcooked and shoe-leather gray as a steak at the Cracker Barrel.

The movie knows all this, by the way. Egg Man?

The movie knows all this, by the way. Egg Man?

What else can we milk from Batman, exactly? Anything? The same tired villains, the same dull monologues, the same staid Alfred, the same basic style…ugh. We are all going through the motions, now – there’s nothing left interesting to delve into. So, you know, it might as well be funny in the same way that Airplane! made airports funny or Caddyshack made golf-courses funny – because, by themselves, those places just aren’t that entertaining. It’s not the same kind of parody that is done out of love for the source material, either (the Star Wars episodes of Family Guy come to mind), but rather the kind done because every other thing has already been said and we are all collectively tired of it. Is anyone out there actually looking forward to the next Ben Affleck Batman movie?

Didn’t think so.

What a sad fate for a character I used to love so much. I wonder how this happened, but I think the answer is rather complicated: a combination of over-saturation and over-reliance of formula are the primary contributing factors. And, you know, maybe I’m wrong – maybe ol Bats has a few tricks left. I do know, though, that we’re gonna have to wait a while before we can appreciate it and, when they do get around to it, they are really going to have to break the Bat-mold wide open.

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It’s Not a Joke If No One Gets It

Hi, everyone – sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve been a mixture of sick and busy and just haven’t been able to get back. Hopefully you’ve all had time now to read my story in Perihelion. Right?

Hello?

satire

For those of you taking notes, this is neither satire nor parody. This is farce.

Anyway, for today’s topic, I’d like to discuss satire a bit. It’s on my mind lately largely because it is becoming more and more prevalent in my social media feeds of late and, like most things, I have definite opinions about it I want to voice, and as this is my blog, well, you know the rest.

Satire, technically speaking, is a style of art that exaggerates something in society (usually people or customs) to the point of absurdity for the purpose of critique. While it is often humorous, it doesn’t need to be. Ostensibly, its purpose is to effect social change or draw attention to social problems, which is broadly what distinguishes it from parody, which is primarily intended to entertain and, indeed, satire can use parody, but in the end it often isn’t very funny.

The thing about satire is that it can be done very well (e.g. The Onion or The Borowitz Report) or it can be done very poorly (The Daily Currant comes to mind, though it has gotten a lot better in recent years). The difference, to me, is this: if you, a reasonably intelligent person, read a satirical article and cannot actually tell whether or not it is satirical or not, this is bad satire. If you find yourself googling whether or not the thing described actually happened, it has failed as a piece of satirical writing.

Let me explain: Satire is the art of exaggeration for the purpose of creating an effect. It is a kind of reductio ad absurdum: “If political figure A is like this, it basically means they could also be like this absurd thing, which is stupid.” However, if your satirical piece comes across as merely “extreme but plausible,” then the “satire” part hasn’t hit home. People who already agree with the critique the satire was intending are merely outraged and the people who disagree with the critique don’t notice that a critique has been made. You haven’t actually satirized, you’ve just made something up.

Granted, lots of people get confused by good satire, too. The Onion frequently gets angry e-mails from people who thought their articles were factual. Some folks out there thought the “Stephen Colbert” of The Colbert Report was actually a conservative. Obviously, satire is not for the dull-witted. However, satire needs to wink at the audience at some point. They need to realize that this isn’t real, but is making a point through absurdity. Any reasonably well-informed person should be able to tell the difference, even if at first they are confounded.

I’ve been seeing lots of bad satire lately. Saw a piece the other day claiming Mike Pence didn’t want to use the word “vice” in Vice President because of religious grounds. The article barely had any indication that this was false, and even though it seemed extreme, it wasn’t so extreme that it was impossible. The article included links to actual events, which merely obfuscated things further. It was by a Journalism professor. The winks to the audience, such as they were, were so subtle as to fail to qualify. It was only after looking at the author’s other publications on the Huffington Post that you could see the pattern – this guy is a satirist. Just a bad one.

Part of the trouble, I fear, is because our current political climate is pretty absurd to begin with. It’s hard to get crazier than Trump, and satire is a challenging business in any event. Nevertheless, now is the time for satirists to shine, and shine they must. If they don’t, nobody will know they were there until Snopes posts a declaration, and by then their message will have been lost in the scramble. As E.B White once said:

Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.

Victory Conditions: Earth

Thank you for playing Planet: Earth. Thank you for sticking with us through the development process, since the game really is quite buggy at the moment. We promise to stop releasing new Errata and FAQ documents sometime in the next million turns or so.

Anyway, if you’ve gotten this far (turn 4.3 billion, or so), that means you’ve managed to build and sustain life on this planet despite numerous potential extinction events, including various meteor and asteroid strikes, pandemics, and so on. If you still have dinosaurs active in the game, congratulations! You earn +10 achievement points to be spent on new atmospheric events, including ‘fire rain’ and ‘rainbow lightning’.

The game, as you may have guessed, is nearing its final stages. If you developed Humans (which you should have, otherwise the odds of earning anything other than a draw are slim), they’ve now grown to the point where, within the next couple hundred turns, they will have consumed most of the natural resources left on the board. This, of course, is the Final Event. If you can manage to surpass this one, you will have won the game. There are, however, several victory options still available.

Option 1: Global War 

For every space on the board occupied by humans, you may draw one card from the ‘Violence’ deck and remove a number of population tokens as indicated by the card. If you can draw sufficient cards to manage to remove all Civilization tokens, you win the game. Bonus Points: +0

Option 2: Environmental Disaster

Trade in sufficient human tokens to draw from the ‘Meddling Humans’ deck. Keep drawing until you get sufficient flood, wildfire, drought, and tornado cards to remove civilization tokens as described above. Do this, and you win the game. Bonus points: +25

Option 3: Pandemic

This works similarly to all Pandemics, however you must generate sufficient Virulency points to overcome all human population centers’ Resistance Rating. If you can manage to make humanity Extinct, you win the game. Bonus Points: +15

Option 4: Multiplanet Species

Generate sufficient technology tokens to purchase draws from the Breakthrough deck. If you can play enough ‘Space Development Cards’ to create a Mass Migration event sufficient to reduce population tokens below the number of remaining resource tokens, you win the game. Bonus points: +100

Option 5: Pan-global Utopia (Non-Human)

Invest sufficient improvement points in non-human populations (we recommend apes, computers, extraterrestrials, or dolphins) to successfully gain Breakthrough draws sufficient to play the ‘Self Awareness’ card. Then, follow the procedure for Global War, above, but with non-humans fighting humans. Bonus Points: +150

Option 6: Pan-global Utopia (Human)

Invest sufficient improvement points in human populations to gain Breakthrough draws sufficient to play the ‘Limiteless Energy’ card. Then proceed to spend technology tokens as indicated on the card to move the human race’s Psychology Meter to a rating between ‘Languid’ and ‘Acquisitive.’ Then reduce population tokens to lower than resource tokens to win the game. Bonus points: +250

We realize that this is a bit unbalanced and we promise to work out the bugs in the retail version. Thank you very much for playing the Beta-test version of Planet: Earth!