Tuesday, July 30, 2013

[Onion Wedges] 22nd Century Time Traveler Claims Our Tragic Future Is Not Worth Worrying About At This Point

[AUSTIN] In the eight days since he appeared in a flash of indigo light, confirmed time traveler Declan Yeun has done everything in his power to be ignored. He claims that, while he does have explicit knowledge of the future horrors that humanity will soon be facing, it is far too late to do anything remotely useful, and that the best thing for everyone to do would be to just enjoy the time they have left.

"The truth is someone in my time had a major goof, they must have hit the wrong button or whatever, and since time travel is a one-way trip, I'm basically stuck in a period when I'm no good to anyone," Yeun said. "Please just carry on and pretend I'm not here. Before you do though, could someone point me in the direction of a Chipotle, or some other meat-serving establishment?"

Declan Yeun, in a futuristic 'swirl-o-suit,' which he stated: "will be the only way to "stave off cancer rays" without any additional context.
After painting a brief but harrowing vision of what kind of ecological and economic disasters are about to plague the world, changing life as we know it forever, Yeun claimed that he was meant to travel back a century earlier, when our impending doom could actually be averted.

"My goal was to play this vidcapsule to 1913 societies everywhere that shows what happens over the next 200 years, and let them know of the many small but feasible changes required to give their descendants a fighting chance. You know, when there were less than seven billion people fighting over the limited resources available on this planet. But here, in this time? Pfffffffffff....yeah, it's way too late."

Yeun soon relocated to a small beach in Costa Rica where, in between yoga lessons, he's continued to answer questions from teams of scientists, politicians and reporters from his bungalow:

"Look, the 2113 guys crunched the numbers. This era's a runaway train that can't be stopped. I mean, if every last one of you immediately gave up on oil, fossil fuels, and every form of non-clean energy tomorrow, you could possibly make a difference. But you'd also have to stop all of your wars, dismantle every nuclear armaments on the entire planet, collectively switch to vegetarianism, and effectively all stop voting Republican." After leaving a dramatic pause to sip from his soy latte, Yeun continued: "So...yeah. You should really just enjoy this while it lasts. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to take a swim in some non-toxic ocean water."

On a more positive note, the man from the 22nd century - who has since traded in his futuristic biosuit for a stylish pair of khakis and a polo shirt from Banana Republic - has begun spreading the word about the few good things that humanity has coming its way:

"I could go on and on about the lava quakes or the genital plague all day, or I could tell you guys about how frangin' awesome your television shows are going to be over the new few years. There's going to be this kickass show about an elephant detective, this one reality show where everyone's always using stun guns on each other, and then there's that one amazing HBO drama about a team of scientists who save the world from falling apart right in the nick of time. It's high-fantasy, obviously, but it's well written and uplifting in a way pretty much nothing else will be after that. Oh - and you guys haven't even seen the final seasons of Mad Men or Breaking Bad yet! They're really great. They were actually playing them in a retrospective at our Museum of Cultural Achievements just before roving marauders tore the whole place down."

Lately Yeun has had limited contact with the press, spending most of his time attempting to form a long form improv team and creating a believable OKCupid profile. When asked during his most recent appearance if there were anything meaningful that could be done here in this time, Yeun mulled over the question for some time before responding:

"I urge you all to take a long hard look at each of your lives, and ask yourselves what's the most impor-oh wait! Is James Gandolfini still alive? No? Man, that's a shame. Actually, while we all still have electricity, we should totally have a Sopranos marathon."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Do Kids Deserve Less Cartoonishly Evil Villains?

I recently finished watching the first season of The Legend of Korra, the sequel to the fantastic Avatar: The Last Airbender series on Nickelodeon. I like this new series a lot too, and not just because there are more people shooting water, air, fire and earth all over the place like elemental ninjas. The world feels alive, with well-defined characters filled with hopes, fears, and desires that the show doesn't simply insert and drop to fit a given storyline.

I especially like how the show handles its villains. A year ago I wrote about how thoroughly pleased I was with the The Last Airbender's treatment of the series' main antagonist Zuko, who struggled with his morality and eventually became an ally and true friend to Aang and the others. Continuing that tradition, every new villain in Legend of Korra is given a fair amount of depth and backstory explaining the motivation behind their actions. A tragic death of a loved one here, a shitty childhood/father there, and you can essentially get what drove these characters to the dark side.

The three dimensions are, uh, harder to see with the mask on.
It seems like such a simple thing, but looking back, none of the cartoon villains I had growing up had any kind of backstory whatsoever. It pretty much just boiled down to Always Be Cravin' - power, money, or whatever the heroes had that they didn't. Skeletor, Shredder, Cobra Commander, Megatron, Dr. Claw - I can think back and remember each one of their maniacally evil laughs, along with their individual promises to the heroes of the days they will rue, or the eternal reminder that next time, things will be different. But nothing deeper than that.

It reminds me of the whole anti-drug campaign I grew up being bombarded with: Don't do drugs kids, they're for losers. Drugs will rot your brains. Drugs will make you into an instant addict. Going into high school (no, I didn't encounter drugs before then), I blindly believed it all. Then I showed up at my first party with a room full people smoking pot. After five minutes of not seeing anyone's brains turning into fried eggs, I thought: "well, I guess that was total bullshit." Couldn't at least a portion of the anti-drug message allow for the fact that there are some drugs that are worse for you than others, and that some drugs, like marijuana, are actually pretty harmless? Are gray area messages that like too hard to pull off to kids? Something tells me that's not true.

Or we could just boil it down to name calling.
While the drug issue might be a little trickier to pull off (I honestly can't see ads saying: Okay don't do most drugs kids, and if you're going to smoke pot, that's fine, just don't become a full-on stoner, not because it's going to kill you, but c'mon you know stoners are super lame), I don't think there's any harm in portraying more three dimensional villains in children's entertainment. Like the mystical "dope" I'd heard so much about but never actually saw, I've never met anyone like the villains on the shows I watched growing up. You know who I did meet? Bullies with emotional issues. Pricks who thought they were better than everyone else. And some people who always acted really nice but would eventually reveal themselves to be selfish, inconsiderate assholes. There were like, zero episodes of the Care Bears dealing with those kinds of people.

Actually, I've met far more people who just come from a very different ideological place than me, and we have conflicting opinions on how the world should be. These are people I'll probably never be friends with, or maybe we won't ever be able to be in the same room together. But at the very least I can understand on some level where they're coming from, even if I don't agree with them. That's something very few children's programs prepared me for at all. Not even just the silly cartoons, either - I'm including things like Sesame Street and Mr. Roger's Neighborhood here.

And I don't think they get away with this simply because they're made for kids. The stuff I watched growing up for hundreds if not thousands of hours shaped me in a lot of ways. My moral framework probably came just as much from Superman and The Berenstein Bears as it did from my parents or what I learned in school. But as a result I know I came to believe that the world was a lot more black and white than it actually is. I definitely believed - unconsciously if not outright - that people were generally either bad or good, and that they always presented themselves that way (unless, you know, they were dirty evil liars whose dirty evil lies hadn't be exposed yet). And I had a much harder time unraveling this lie, since it was told to me about a thousand times as often, and the truth didn't present itself quite so clearly.

No, of course he wasn't a bad guy. He wasn't wringing his hands together and cackling like bad people do!
Now, I'm not saying I need to see the Smurfs politely agree to disagree with Gargamel on the whole 'turning Smurfs into gold' issue. Or show a Mumm-Ra flashback where he's being sodomized by cat demons. I just think programs like The Legend of Korra show it's possible to have the exciting stakes and the drama of any of the shows I watched growing up with just a little bit of pathos for the villains thrown in for the sake of telling a complete story. Maybe seeing that these villains are flawed and human-like in their misguided ways might condition kids early on to see the world less strictly filled with good guys and bad guys, or combinations of 'us' versus 'them'. Instead, they'll see a world that's just a little more complicated, with lots of people who have varying degrees of hangups and all different kinds of motivations. Wouldn't that make for a better take-home message?


PS: I don't have kids, so I'd be curious to know what any parents might think about this issue. Maybe I'm thinking about it too much from an adult perspective. Thoughts?

Thursday, July 11, 2013


So I’m trying this new thing where I get up early in the morning to write. And boy do I hate it.

I mean, this really sucks. I’ve never gotten up earlier than I wanted to play video games, so you can imagine how motivated I was to get up and do something significantly more mentally taxing and less fun.

But I’m a writer dammit! I should be fully embracing this time, treasuring every opportunity I have to sit down in front of my computer and create art with words. Ooh, would you look at that - “art words” (or “word art”, if you prefer) could be another name for writing. Wow. Has anyone made that incredibly stupid observation before? Do you see how my brain isn’t even fully awake yet?! I’m making a terrible mistake.


Now, in order to get myself up and writing I made myself a deal. I’m allowed to basically spend this entire god-awful early morning writing time complaining how much I hate that I’m writing this early in the morning. And whatever other tangents await me.

So let’s talk about the things I’d rather be doing right now. It’s a pretty short list, to be honest. 

1) Sleeping

   1a) While sleeping, dreaming about discovering my latent flying/mind control/time travel powers finally activating, and becoming a superhero.
   1b) While sleeping, dreaming about canoodling with Christina Hendricks, who has a secret fetish for short bald guys. Post-canoodle I realize my latent flying/mind control/time travel powers have finally activated, and I become a superhero - telling Christina Hendricks she’s the only one can know my secret. 

   1c) Mid-sleeping, waking up, looking at the clock, saying to myself “Hah! I don’t have to be up this early!” then immediately going back to sleep.

You know, I bet Steinbeck didn’t struggle like this. I bet he would easily rise up out of his old timey bed (which was cushioned with hay or something) as soon as he heard the rooster crow. Then he casually make his way over to his old timey desk, sit down with a quill and some parchment, and say to himself: “might as well shove out a few chapters of East of Eden before I have my morning D.R.” That smug bastard! Oh, and in case you didn’t know, ‘D.R.’ was slang for ‘Depression-era Ration’. Inside the breakfast D.R. was a dry packet of oats you were forbidden to combine with anything else because those were some hard times.

"Actually, I started writing around 5:00am." "Screw you Steinbeck!"
But hey, forget that. Steinbeck actually had a huge advantage over me, one I have every right to complain about. See, he didn’t have the neurons in his brain altered while he was growing up by countless hours of television, video games and the internet. He didn’t have to work against all the distractions I’m showing incredible resolve not giving into right now. I’m knee deep into this game The Last Of Us. I’ve got the fate of the game’s characters weighing on my mind as well as the mentally complex skillset I’ve had to learn in order to take down hordes of fungus-filled undead. What the heck did John Steinbeck have to distract him from writing? Hunger? Poverty? High infant mortality rates? C’mon!

Lord knows I’ve tried evening (wait, that’s not right. Even-ning? My 7:00am brain can't make heads or tails of these kinds of problems) the playing field. But it’s still not enough. I’ve tried for a long time to build up my own natural discipline, but I think I’m going about it the wrong way. I need to lean into what my brain wants and is used to at this point, rather than resisting it. If I’m going to keep doing this more than just today, I’m going to need some hardcore ego validation. I’m talking likes, favorites, retweets, +1’s, and even better, MEGA-UPS which don’t exist yet as far as I know but totally should for things like this (and to be clear, not for stuff like baby or engagement announcements - those are self-validating enough already). But that’s not all. In fact, I’m only just getting started.

To get me out of bed in the first place, I want there to be a sensual-sounding woman’s voice to wake me up. This sensual-sounding voice should belong to a princess (or the societal equivalent) who is proclaiming that she desperately needs my help to save her kingdom, (or village, or time period) and that only an amazing writer like me is up for the task. My brain is not nearly functional enough right now to come up with a reason explaining how a writer could possibly save a kingdom/village/time period (start with like, I dunno, an enchanted pen?), so that’ll be someone else’s job. But the details are important here, as lip service will only lessen my resolve. It should be a well written, Steinbeck-worthy plot that gets me to get back to my own writing. Note that it can’t be so great that I find myself wondering if I could ever come up with a story that tantalizing. At that point I might just crawl back into bed forever.

I’ll also need dramatic music playing while I write to add some stakes. Dr. Wily’s Theme from Mega Man 2 should be playing on loop, sung by this guy if possible, with added lyrics involving my struggle. Something like:

It’s time for writing, it’s time for writing, yes it is
It’s time for writing, yes inde-eed
It’s time for writing by Matt Shafe-eek
A master scribe who will survive...this pain!

Every sentence I write should be accompanied by alternating manly cheers and sexy lady moans. A point value should be counting up with every word in the corner of my laptop screen, and once I’ve hit my writing goal for the morning, cheers erupt from all around me, and I’m given an opportunity to strike a pose while the Super Castlevania IV victory theme plays. Baaa-ba-ba-ba-badaba-ba-ba-ba!

My accumulated points will be counted and can be used to leveling up my writing-related abilities such as dialogue, character descriptions, and conjugations. Yes, I know my writing will naturally progress as I spend more time doing it, but game designers have clearly perfected the formula for a sense of growth. Numbers filling up number tanks, topping off with fanfare, and getting to see my talent definitively improve rather than having to...I dunno, just somehow sense it would definitely get me just as hooked on writing as I have on every RPG I’ve ever played.

You know what? I'm going to put all my points into Erotica.
So that’s what I need to feel properly motivated to write first thing in the morning. Someone please get on setting all that up. I’m just gonna go rest my eyes in the meantime.


PS: If any of the above doesn't make any sense, you can't hold any of it against me. 7:00am brain.

PPS: Full disclosure: this was written over the course of several 7:00am morning writing sessions. But always way too early in the morning. So continue to not hold any of it against me.