Friday, August 21, 2009

Your Daily LOL, Brought To You By The Episcopalians

As Mark Shea always says, God invented the Episcopal Church to help Catholics feel better about our troubles. That's why I love the Midwest Conservative Journal, where Chris Johnson documents the slow, painful death of that denomination with hilarious acuity.

Anyhow, someone alerted Mr. Johnson to this comment by an Episcopalian dad elsewhere in the blogosphere (emphasis added):
I raised my daughter in the Episcopal Church so she would learn the traditions of our ancestors, not so she would become a believing Christian.
LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLz and a thousand more LOLz!!! I laughed so hard I cried, I really did. Someone typed that with their serious face on, can you believe it?

As Chris Johnson says, definitely tee-shirt material.

My First Sci-Fi Debate: Nerds Have The Most Fun

Tuesday, August 18, 2009, was a historic day here at Our Heroine's Parasol Emporium & Petticoat Junction, for on that day I received my best comment to date. The comment was in response to my angry screed against District 9, in which I complained that the plot has more holes than a yard of Battenburg lace, and then I enumerated the ones that chafed the most. However, later that day a reader responded in disagreement: he felt that the content of those holes had been more than implied by the writer/director. Here's what he said [needless to say, but, SPOILER ALERT]:
...First off, the ship was described as "in distress", which could mean any number of electrical or mechanical problems could have existed, and, when MNU cut into the ship, the lights were off and it was in a very large amount of disrepair.

Just because the engines are operational, does not mean that the life support and computer systems are online...

[you asked:] "Why did the aliens come here? Why were they all sick upon arrival? Who (and where) are their leaders?"

Again, this is where life support systems come into play. For arguments sake, lets say the ship was damaged by a meteorite storm (highly likely due to the ship's large size) Some of the compartments may have been torn open into the void of space, killing a good deal of the aliens, specifically the leader caste. Christopher is likely the sole surviving member of the crew, and therefore plotted a course to the nearest liveable planet (Earth)

While they coast, the Prawns multiply causing their living conditions to deteriorate.

The reason they left their planet in the first place could be any number of things (civil war, colonization, exploration)

Although the aliens are unwelcome, we cannot help them repair their ship and leave, for the sole reason that they are the working caste, not the thinking caste. Its pointed out twice in the movie that these prawns aren't noted for their intelligence, and are very gullible when it comes to the humans telling them to do things. Also, MNU is holding them there for experimentation and weaponry purposes.

As far as weapons go, i cant disagree with you there, but I can offer speculations as to why they did not revolt;

Without leadership the revolution would be doomed anyway.

The strict curfews and deadly force imposed by MNU prevented the aliens from even attempting a revolt.

And finally, they've been there for 28 years. There must have been multiple revolts that were immediately crushed by military force.

The Prawn derailing of trains can be summed up by the media using anything they can to blow it out of proportion, like the 911 craze where everything was suspected terrorist activity.

I thoroughly enjoyed District 9 and think it's plot held together very well. Apart from a few "wtf?" moments (grav-gunning a pig... really?), I thought the plot was really concrete.

LOLZ! Our Heroine forgot about the pig that got grav-gunned. For that alone I would have loved this comment. But beyond that, I've never had a commenter go to such lengths to understand and respond to anything I've written, and I was really pleased, even though I can't agree with him (but wish I could).

Here's what I wrote in response:
I grant you that things COULD HAVE gone down the way you describe, but they could have gone down in other ways as well, and my problem with the movie is that it didn't give me enough information, (whether that was deliberate or not I don't know) and left to my own devices, I drew totally different conclusions about the Prawns than you did.

For example, for a ship that was allegedly in distress, (maybe damaged by meteors) w/o life support or computer systems, it took off without any issues! And it had to have systems and life support if Christopher was planning on navigating it to his home planet and surviving the trip! (Or at least that's what I assumed based on what I saw)

And if the Prawns left their planet because something bad had happened there, Chris was real confident about being able to find help once he got back. BUT, if they were coming to colonize Earth, that's an act of war (making District 9 a POW camp).

In regards to your point that the media blew Prawn destructiveness out of proportion, I saw no evidence for that, and in fact the "scientist" in the "documentary" explains that their destructiveness appeared to be cultural/biological. I agree that it's possible it was all a big media frenzy; but I wasn't shown enough for that conclusion, and, in fact, to me the movie's evidence pointed to the contrary.

You describe a coherent narrative for the Prawns, and if the movie had provided some audio/visual evidence for what you describe, I would definitely have felt differently about it. But what it seemed to me was that the writer/director could not come up with a narrative that explained the ship (first being in distress and then working fine), the arrival of the Prawns, how they all ended up in District 9, Chris's intelligence, and the Prawn arsenal coherently, so he just left it vague and blurry and called it "art."

My final point: your post did a better job than he did!

His comment really did do a better job than the movie, and I would have liked it so much more if I'd seen in it what he did. But more than that, this comment made Our Heroine the happiest nerd on Tuesday, so...thank you, Matt!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Happy Birthday, HP!

Today is HP Lovecraft's birthday. He was born on this day in 1890.

Don't know who HP Lovecraft is? Well, he invented this guy:
out of the brilliant but disturbed inner sanctum of his own head.
(click on image for more details about The Great Dreaded One)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Our Heroine Admits There May Be Something In What Old Wordsworth Had To Say

When I was in college I studied the English Romantics for one whole semester. All these years later, I don't remember much except Samuel Taylor Coleridge was my all-around favorite, John Keats was tragic, Lord Byron was dreamy and I didn't much care for William Wordsworth.

To my mind at the time, Wordsworth's poems were narcissistic to the point of annoyance. He filtered everything through his imagination and then had to sing about it, and I was disgusted that he wrote an autobiographical poem, The Prelude, when (to me) poems ought to be many things, but your boring autobiography was not one of them. Forgive me, Wordsworth, I was only 18, and none too intelligent.

Anyhow, I hadn't really thought about him for years, until I saw this article in City Journal in which Andrew Klavan makes the case that Wordsworth was the first "hippie" who grew up.

As the century turned, the dream of French liberty finally died. The old tyranny gave way to a new one, as Burke had predicted. To Wordsworth’s disgust, Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor and “now, become oppressors in their turn, / Frenchmen had changed a war of self-defence / For one of conquest, losing sight of all / Which they had struggled for.”

It was, for Wordsworth, what the failure of Communism was for the radicals of a later day. He could no longer deny the error inherent in “speculative schemes— / That promised to abstract the hopes of Man.” He saw the Revolution as a dream that “flattered the young, pleased with extremes” and made “Reason’s naked self / The object of its fervour.” Confused by pure reason’s failure as a moral guide, he “lost / All feeling of conviction” and “yielded up moral questions in despair.” Slowly, he began to do the brave and difficult thing: to admit he had been wrong and change his mind.

This kind of article may or may not be your thing, but it really did fire in me a new respect for old Wordsworth, and I think I will brush off my Romantics anthology and read, if not The Prelude, than at least Lyrical Ballads again. Maybe you'll feel the same way, but if not, here's a short one in his honor: "The World Is Too Much With Us" (a favorite of mine even back then).

The World Is Too Much With Us

          THE world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn; 10
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

If We Are To Be Crushed, Let Us Be Crushed Gloriously

I'm one quarter of the way through The Guns of August, my exercise in learning more about the origins of World War I, and after reading the chapter on King Albert of Belgium, and how bravely he and his country faced certain devastation at the hands of the Germans, I have to say one thing: I'm happy for many things we have in the early 21st century that our forefathers in the early 20th did not, but they really believed in honor, and I'm not sure the invention of Extra-Strength Tylenol and Diet Coke makes up for our deficit. (well, maybe an ice cold Diet Coke does it - from a fountain, with lots of ice and a squeeze of lemon. That's pretty spectacular)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Our Heroine Would Like To Remind You That Apartheid Allegories Carry More Weight When They Bear Some Resemblance to Apartheid

Entertainment Weekly calls District 9 a "thinking person's sci-fi movie" which I think must mean it had a low-budget, stars unknown actors, and was shot in South Africa; because anyone watching this movie doing any thinking at all will see plot holes large enough for the Prawn Mothership to pass though without touching.

District 9 was the weekend's big movie, so by now I think the story is probably familiar. But for you newbies: a giant spaceship comes to rest above Johannesburg. With the eyes of the world on them, the South African government cuts its way into the ship after several failed attempts at making contact. Inside, they find thousands and thousands of insect-like creatures huddled in the dark, weak and malnourished. Herculean humanitarian efforts are undertaken to save them.

Twenty years later, when the action of the movie takes place, that Mothership is still hovering above J-burg, the aliens are still in South Africa, and the situation has deteriorated all around. The "Prawns," as they are now known, have not been integrated in any way within South Africa (Warning: Unsubtle Allegory). The creatures have a very different culture from humanity's that has turned local residents against them, and led ultimately to their being incarcerated in District 9, an alien shanty town riddled with crime and degradation.

Now the government has decided to move all the Prawns to a new camp further outside J-burg, and the story follows the experiences of a lowly civil-servant named Wikus Van de Merwe, who is impacted by the disastrous relocation in a particularly tragic way.

Every review I've read praises the movie for its message of "ethnic tolerance" and it's "challenge to be better people." One sharp-eyed critic noticed that it was "a pop allegory for apartheid" and another raved that it's "a comment on the treatment of illegal immigrants." To all this Our Heroine responds NOT. BLOODY. LIKELY.

No way, no how, does the apartheid analogy hold up upon inspection. The movie, if I may quote Cher Horowitz, is a full-on Monet. From far away it looks awesome, but up close it's a big old mess.

It's the failure of the details that ruins the story. There are so many questions, important questions, that are never answered (or even asked): Why did the aliens come here? Why were they all sick upon arrival? Who (and where) are their leaders? No one ever explains this to us, and it's never indicated that these questions were ever asked. Hollywood, letting your audience know WHY the aliens came here is Sci-Fi 101! If you can't even get that sorted, how can you graduate to advanced, "thinking person's," Sci-Fi?

It turns out that the Prawn Mothership is completely operational, and their home planet is livable. Yet we are expected to weep and mourn at their dire predicament stuck here on cruel Earth. But...if their ship is in flying condition, why are they stuck? And let's suppose for a moment that some sort of damage had been preventing their leaving; if the aliens were so unwelcome, why did we never help them to repair what they needed to leave? You are asking your audience to believe that the whole world regretted the presence of these aliens, and yet - for no reason - went through all the trouble and expense of keeping them in this dreadful camp, and then relocating them, when we could have just shuttled them up to the Mothership and bid them a peaceful adieu? I guess that must be because humans are terrible.

ALSO, it turns out that the aliens have weaponry that renders them virtually invincible, and which it is impossible for humans either to utilize or replicate, and these weapons are lying all over District 9, and yet the aliens never revolt and escape to their fully-operational Mothership, to their completely habitable planet? Why not? And it's not because the aliens are pacifists, they have no qualms about killing humans, and some even take pride in their kill count.

At the beginning, the movie tries to imply that cultural differences between humans and Prawns played a large part in the creation of District 9. The Prawns like to eat rubber and other trash. They can be found scavenging in scrap heaps like animals, which, obviously, humans find distasteful. They also go crazy over cat food and raw meat (especially cows' heads) and this also humans find distasteful (well, disgusting, really). But the director seems to realize that humans are not ALL so terrible that the whole world would agree to District 9 with nary a peep over mere differences in diet. So he goes further: it turns out that some of the things Prawns like to do for fun are deadly and destructive, like derailing trains. WHAT WAS THAT? Hold up: if we are able to communicate with the Prawns, which is very obviously the case, then why was it impossible to explain to them that certain of their behaviors were unacceptable? You mean authorities let the Prawns reap so much destruction that they had to be "quarantined" without anyone just explaining to them that they were causing catastrophes? Or did someone do that and the Prawns didn't care? The audience is never told, though that seems like an important distinction.

I could continue, because even the action segments of the film have common-sense problems, but I'll stop just to say that the demands of telling a good story were completely sacrificed for the sake of the message, and even sacrificing story for message, the analogy between man's inhumanity to man and man's inhumanity to insect-like alien of whom we cannot say why it is here, what it wants, where it is going, and why it does terrible things is a very, very weak one.

But reading the reviews I can see that the allure of a slick yet low-budget sci-fi film with a message is too much for critics to handle dispassionately.

Honestly, what a shame. District 9 could have been Benito Sereno with aliens, but chose instead to be Alien Nation set in South Africa, except Alien Nation was better.

Updated: Creative Minority Report could not disagree with me more, and he makes some excellent points about the movie that I either missed or discounted because I was annoyed by all the holes. Click here for his whole review.