Monday, June 18, 2012

Who Doesn't Love Seeing Matt Shafeek In A Tutu?


Alright, I promise not to overwhelm this blog with Create / Consume stuff, since I have the other blog for that. But I had a little animation introducing the project made by my friend Nicole, and I think it came out pretty well. That's me ice-sculpting a T-Rex above. Pretty sweet, huh? Anyways, check out the video:



I've also started a facebook page by the way. Check it out and help spread the word!

http://www.facebook.com/CreateSlashConsume

Thanks,
Matt

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Let's Talk About Create / Consume!

Friends,

I have two pieces of exciting news. First and foremost, this blog is about hit 100,000 hits, which is pretty amazing. I have no idea if 100K is a particularly large number for a blog that's been around for four years, nor do I have any idea whether or not a great many of these pageviews are from spambots or me constantly clicking refresh on my own pages (I assume they don't count those), but either way, this feels like a milestone, and I'm proud of it.

A look behind the curtain. Fun fact: I have zero fans in Venezuela!
My other news is a tiny bit less self-congratulatory: I've started yet another blog, after just starting another one last month. I know, I know. But this one's about me giving up something for a while. I know, I know! But trust me, I think it's going to be great.

It's called "Create / Consume" - both the blog, and the project. I won't go on about it much here since I just spent an hour laying it all out as the first post over there. So you should go the blog now (also note: I have a new twitter handle for the project), especially since this time I'm asking other people to do it with me!

Damn. I just realized - between Paused, NaNoWriMo, and this I seen to officially have a bit of a "life experiment" addiction. Though I suppose it's one of the less dangerous addictions I have. Speaking of which, I just got my 6 month chip from Planker's Anonymous, for those of you who've been wondering. And I couldn't have done it without you support, so many thanks.

Now, don't worry loyal Unpaused fans - this blog will continue to be updated regularly. The C/C blog will focus on my (and others) experiences during the experiment, so I'll still need a place to put all the wacky ideas I come up, especially now that I'll be forcing myself to come up with them en masse next month.

So sorry mom - no grandkids coming anytime soon, but I'm leaving behind a helluva blogging legacy!

-Matt

Monday, June 4, 2012

From Good To Evil And Back Again - Two Exemplary Examples Of Characters Switching Sides

[Spoiler Warning: Massive plot spoilers for Breaking Bad, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and also Star Wars, if you somehow haven't gotten around to that little known series yet]

Good guys getting corrupted, and bad guys finding redemption. There are two classic scenarios found in stories dating back hundreds of years. It's a fascinating premise, but I would argue that it's actually done wrong more often than it's done right. And before I get to two exemplary examples of 'changing sides' being done right, I want to talk about a definitive case of it being done wrong.

Let's talk about Anakin Skywalker for a minute. Remember this guy? He started off as a good little kid with a knack for building robots and hints of strong Jedi powers. But then he turned into a whiny, mopey teenager, and shortly thereafter he became the biggest douche in the galaxy (or I guess second biggest - that emperor was pretty douchey). Then right before his son was killed, he has a last minute change of heart and decides to become a good guy once again. Which is nice and all - but I would argue there's not a whole lot of justification for the dark side/light side flip flopping he did. In the first case, when Anakin goes over to the dark side, it's because he incorrectly thinks he needs the dark side/Emperor Palpatine to save his wife Padme, with the addition of maybe a little teen angst to seal the deal (you could make the argument that we all explore our "dark sides" in our teens). Once "evil," and imbued with the powers of sounding like James Earl Jones, Anakin/Darth Vader shows little to no remorse throughout the remainder of Star Wars saga until his final battle with his son Luke, when he watches him nearly die by the hands of the Emperor - even though on several occasions he himself was attempting to kill or turn Luke himself.

Am I good, or am I evilllll? Do you care either wayyyyy?
Flip-flopping heroes and villains are no more believable than the heinously evil villains we stop buying shortly after childhood, or the yawn-inducing, un-corruptible heroes that make for really bland, uninteresting stories. It's difficult to show true, believable alignment change (to borrow a classic Dungeons and Dragons term) in a character for two major reasons:

1) The audience wants characters clear cut heroes or villains to root for/against or identify with.
2) You need a LOT of time to show the theoretical transformation that would have to take place.

It's easy to root for characters like Harry Potter and his friends while hating Lord Voldemort and his minions. But even within that story you get a character like poor Draco Malfoy, who's clearly on the douchier end of the spectrum, but isn't quite on board with the kind of villainy that Voldemort wants of his followers. There are a few small moments in the Harry Potter series and movies where you sense that Draco is conflicted, and seems open to the possibility of becoming a better, not so evil person. But for better or for worse, JK Rowling decided that there wasn't any time in the series for that story. There were horcruxes to destroy and awkward teenage romances blooming, dammit!

I'm morally conflicted, but J.K.'s not writing another book, so whatever.
Ok, so now I'm going to tell you about two pretty amazing stories featuring big shifts in morality. One is about a bad guy becoming good, and one is about a good guy becoming bad. Both are characters in two of my favorite series of all time. If you haven't watched them yet, and you're anything like me regarding spoilers (I hate 'em) please stop reading now and go watch both of them, then come back and read this post. To the rest of you who have watched, or have decided you simply cannot pull yourself away from my writing, here goes:

Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender


The Avatar series starts by introducing its heroes: Katara and Sokka, two members of the Water Tribe as they free Ang, the titular Avatar, from a block of ice he's been trapped in for 100 years. Shortly afterward, we're introduced to the main villain of the show: Prince Zuko, a firebender, and son of the Fire Lord. His sole mission in life is to capture the Avatar. Standing at the edge of his ship with his humorless scowl accompanying his heavily scarred face, he is by all appearances the classic cartoon villain. His country started a war with the Air, Earth and Water nations seeking global domination and the Avatar, who represents peace and balance, stands in the way of their plans.

We soon discover the scar on Zuko's face is from his father, who challenged him to a fire-bending duel after a moment of disrespect (in actuality, it's concern for troops his father planned on sacrificing) from his son. Shortly afterward he was banished, and ever since that defining moment Zuko has been tirelessly striving to regain his honor, and more importantly, regain his father's love and respect. Capturing the Avatar was the only way to do this. But over the course of the series, he is confronted by a nagging doubt. Like any other villain, Zuko has justifications for his actions, but it becomes harder and harder to ignore the fact that he is chasing down an innocent person who simply wants to bring peace to the world. Ang and the others bounce from village to village helping others while Zuko interrupts their lives and causes nothing but terror.

God bless you, Iroh.
Zuko's uncle Iroh is the key figure in his transformation. Though Iroh accompanies Zuko on his journey, he has no intention of capturing the Avatar. Rather, he wishes to watch over his nephew, seeing to it that he becomes the man he knows he's capable of being. Through the first two thirds of the series, Iroh's inspiring words seem to fall on deaf ears, but over time we sense Zuko's self-doubt mounting, until we see an episode where he literally gets sick struggling with the two sides of himself that are at war.

Zuko makes countless mistakes and poor decisions over the course of the series - even eventually returning to the Fire Nation under his father's good graces, before finally realizing that what he thought he wanted all along did not actually make him happy. Nor did he feel like himself. He finally confronts his father, tells him what a shitty dad he was, then leaves the Fire Nation and catches up with Ang and his crew. Once he finds them, he begs them for forgiveness (which doesn't come easily) and asks to join them. The story of Zuko's redemption is one of the main plot point points of the series, and it is treated as importantly as any other character's story. And I've yet to see a character arc like his done quite as well anywhere else.


Walter White from Breaking Bad


In my opinion, no other character proves the idiom that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" better than Walter White. When Breaking Bad begins (the series is not over yet, but enough has happened for me to discuss it here at length) he is living a decent, if not entirely fulfilling life as a high school chemistry teacher with a wife, a son and a baby daughter on the way. He's also working a second job at a car wash to make ends meet, and though he's clearly not living the most glamorous life, he has a lot to be thankful for. Then he finds out he has terminal lung cancer, and as a reaction to this, he decides to start cooking meth - a chemical process he knows he's more than capable of - as a way to bring in money for his family when he's gone.

Walter White is the actually exact opposite of Zuko, because rather than seeing shreds of decency under a layer of villainy, we slowly start to see signs of a man lacking a true moral compass, and a man who is sliding further and further away from what anyone would ever consider to be a hero, or even an antihero. Walter's early decisions start off seemingly justified (he's making money for his family, committing a crime that, while deplorable, is not significantly changing the war on drugs) but many of Walter's subsequent choices are less than noble. Early on, he is offered a free ride on the medical treatment costs for his cancer (much of which is not covered by his health insurance) by two friends/former colleagues of his. One happens to be an ex-lover, and the other, her husband, is now a very successful biochemist who once partnered with Walt. Accepting their help would remove Walt's entire need to risk his neck making drugs and finding ways to peddle them, but his pride prevents him from doing so. He rejects their offer - behind his wife's back no less - and stays the course, with enough stumbles early on to barely cover his chemo bills.

As the series goes on, Walt's lies to his family continue to mount, and he winds up in league with progressively shadier characters. He proves himself to be incredibly selfish and displays a narcissistic need for control at every turn. For every morally upstanding decision he makes, he makes two others that are detestable. This is what I believe is the true path to evil - a slow but continuous sliding backward along the scale of morality. In the first season, when Walter captures a drug dealer who intends to kill him, he has a long, torturous debate about how to deal with a man who cannot be set free, lest he harm him or his family in some way. We see him write out a "To Kill Or Not To Kill" list and everything. In the end, he decides to let him go, but winds up killing the man in self defense. Later, in the second season, he stands idly by while his partner's girlfriend (who had become a thorn in his side) chokes to death while helplessly high on heroin. By the third season, he is outright willing to kill anyone who gets in his way, including a former assistant - a non-threatening, super nice guy who happened to be only other person at the time capable of copying his meth formula. Fucking evil!

The S1 list. The S5 list is just a series of steps to help get rid of the body.
Walter does feels pangs of regret for some of the things he's done, and outright claims he "can't be the bad guy" when making inroads to quitting the drug trade, but the allure of being successful and being needed continues to bring him back past the point where he even needs the money. And after every passive or active choice to continue down that road, his soul slips further and further away from him, bringing the character, in my opinion at least, past the point of redemption. Beyond that, he also manages to drag down and ruin the lives of everyone around him. His partner Jesse, who was nothing more than a low level drug dealer before is dragged deep into the void along with him. And his wife Skyler eventually finds out what Walt is up to, but cannot bring herself to let her husband's crimes bring shame to the entire family. Instead finds herself involved in the scheme as well, falling further and further away from the woman she thought she was.

I honestly wouldn't be surprised if Breaking Bad ends with Walter White somehow starting the next holocaust. I'm telling you - if it somehow meant saving himself, he wouldn't hesitate to do it. The man has become that evil. And yet, we cannot look away from the train wreck that is his life. I think it's incredibly fucking cool and a testament to the show's writing that we've gone from rooting for this guy to actively rooting against him (or sometimes switching which side of the fence you're on), all the while being thoroughly entertained.


***
Both Avatar and Breaking Bad take full advantage of the medium they're using to tell a story that is much much about their character's journeys than it is about their destinations (and believe me, in both stories, the characters are definitely headed somewhere).

In Avatar, the next to last episode of the series found the heroes (including their new, fully accepted member Zuko) all watching a play that was being put on in a nearby town about their entire journey thus far. The episode does not push the main story along at all. Rather, it is a full 22 minutes of the characters reflecting - via a poorly researched and acted play - on all they've accomplished, as well as all they haven't. The first time I saw the episode, I was anxious to get to what was going to happen next (which is a action-packed, kick-ass finale). But when I re-watched it later, I was actually really pleased with the character touches in the episode.

Similarly, Breaking Bad's third season featured a bottle episode that took place almost entirely inside Walt's secret meth lab, where the crux of the entire 45 minutes plot was the two main characters attempting to kill a fly that had found its way into the room. That's it. Sound boring? Well, guess what - it was amazing. Watch the show and see for yourself if you haven't already.

***

Whew! That was a long one. Great way to spend a sick day at home, though now I feel too achy to keep sitting at my laptop, but too gross to get up and move around. Anyways, thanks for getting all the way through this. Hope you enjoyed it.

-Matt

PS: I really wanted to title this post: "Fifty Shades Of Grey - A Post That Is Not At All About The Very Popular Book Of The Same Title," but I ultimately decided against it. Perhaps foolishly, considering the potentially mis-directed hits I could have gotten.