Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book Binge

I can't control myself in an airport bookstore.

This past week, my family and I went on a trip to North Dakota to go hunting. Thanks to American Airlines, we spent way too much time in airports during this trip. Our plane had to deice, the gate we were leaving out of got changed, our flights got rerouted, and we even missed a connecting flight in Dallas, so for the second time this year, we were stuck in Dallas. This was horrible for my family, but not for me, mainly because of Chicago and Denver's bookstores.

When we landed in Chicago, we got off to see a large ceiling with giant Christmas decorations already hanging and unlit. The white snow and sky shone blindingly bright outside the large windows, letting us know that we weren't leaving any time soon. Chase and I walked from our gate into the large circular food court, with miniature restaurants on one half of the circle and tables and chairs littered within. On the side closest to us was a bookstore wrapping almost halfway around the circle.

Chase and I made our way inside and he immediately warned me that I shouldn't buy any books since I have yet to finish the third book in A Song of Ice and Fire. I completely ignored his advice, because I absolutely love buying books. I bought three books from that store, and ended up buying three more in Denver. (I bought a total of four Chuck Palahniuk novels because of the postmodernism project we did in AP Lang.) By the time we left Denver, I was carrying about twelve books with me to North Dakota, and only finished two. Of the books I bought, the books I read are:

Damned by Chuck Palahniuk:

Damned is the story of Madison Spencer, the daughter of an A-list couple who overdoses on marijuana and goes to Hell after her death. She meets what is essentially the damned Breakfast Club and they go on a crusade to make their time in Hell better by becoming telemarketers and go on a campaign to make Hell more beautiful by draining the Lake of Hot Saliva and painting the bats to look like birds. She also decides to make Hell better by fighting people like Hitler and banishing them to the most disgusting parts of Hell. Each chapter begins with a Judy Blume-like conversation, starting with, "Are you there Satan? It's me, Madison." This was the first book I finished on my trip and I really enjoyed it. I'd recommend it to anyone who's okay with some pretty dark humor and satire about adolescence and the afterlife.
Image Source:


Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk

Doomed is the sequel to Damned, and follows Madison as she's made her way out of Hell, and, after a Halloween ritual by some of the rude girls from her boarding school, she's trapped on Earth as a ghost, essentially in Purgatory. She communicates now in blog posts detailing her experiences, and, after speaking with her grandmother's ghost, begins to realize the truth about that awful experience with her grandparents. She also gets to see how her parents have taken the afterlife advice she's given to an extreme she'd never imagined, and must deal with the news that Satan or God may have planned all the events that landed her in the grave and all those after. She must come to terms with the fact that it may be her destiny to patch things up between God and Satan. I also got to finish this book, and thought that it was a great sequel. I eagerly await the third book in the series.



Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk (Currently Reading)

Haunted is a book about a group of writers who are propositioned to go on a three-month retreat to the house of Mr. Whittier to leave behind all the things that kept them from writing their masterpieces in their old lives. However, as their host begins making living conditions in the house more and more unbearable, the writers begin vying for who's going to be the star of the movie made from their shocking experience. The book is written in chapters which are prefaced by a poem about and a story by one of the characters. It's not for the faint of heart; when Palahniuk did a reading of a story from the book, "Guts", which made about 35 people faint. It satirizes reality television, but it is, according to the author, about the "battle for credibility" that comes about because of how easily one can publish something nowadays. I'm still reading this book, and I'm really enjoying it.



The other books I bought were Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and Slaugherhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I haven't read any of those yet, but I plan to read all of them by the end of winter break. I almost bought William Gibson's Neuromancer in Chicago, but I bought American Gods instead. (Sorry Brewer!)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Spotify Stalker

I've been around the block with music streaming services, several times. My first experience with them was Playlist, which was a free music streaming website that opening in 2006. After playlist, I moved to Pandora, and then the now-defunct Grooveshark, and then 8tracks and Soundcloud until I finally stumbled upon my favorite one of all, Spotify.



I love Spotify. I love Spotify a lot. As I'm writing this, I'm listening to Spotify. There are a lot of reasons why I love Spotify, but the main one is how it turns listening to music into a social activity.

For those of you who don't know, Spotify is a music streaming service that opened in 2006 in Stockholm, Sweden and has come a long way since its inception, with various changes in the way you listen and the formatting of the app. But what sets it apart from most other major streaming services is the user community of Spotify. The way Spotify works is by having artists, albums, and songs available to listen to and to be added to playlists by the user. This allows for freedom and customization that isn't found in many other free music services like Pandora. However, it is similar to Pandora in its skip limit and ads. Premium members get no restriction on skips and no ads. It also allows users to have their listening history published for friends to see within the desktop version of the app and allows users to share songs or albums with friends and work on collaborative playlists.

I love Spotify because of how social it becomes. I often find myself looking to see what my friends are listening to and I really enjoy seeing when they're listening to playlists I've made or music I've shown them. Music taste is, to me, a very important quality of a person, and so I'm always really happy when someone decides to show me new music they've found or has a similar taste as me, and Spotify makes it really easy for that to happen.

That shows why Spotify is good for consumers, but Spotify has actually come under criticism for not fairly compensating artists. Spotify apparently gives much of the money it receives to major labels, but artists won't actually get to see any of it, according to a 2009 Guardian article. And while it is possible that some of these numbers may have changed since then, the flak hasn't. Most notably is the example of how Taylor Swift's albums aren't on Spotify. Because only 20 million of the 75 million Spotify users subscribe to Premium, the artists aren't able to make nearly as much money, and actually lose money by having people stream their albums on Spotify instead of buying it, as I am currently doing for The Neighbourhood's newly released Wiped Out!. 

So should I feel guilty for cheating artists out of money by listening to them? Maybe, but I don't feel like Spotify has been the main reason for this. In my opinion, the birth of piracy and streaming and the death of the physical album are the main culprits for scamming Taylor Swift out of even more millions. Why would you by any physical album, or digital one for that matter, when you can pay less than the cost of one album each month and listen to over 30 million songs?

I am one of the few people that actually buys physical media, so I try to absolve myself of guilt by doing that, as well as going to concerts whenever I can, and I encourage you to do the same. Music is one of my favorite things in the world, and I really don't want to see creative people being abused by corporations and unknowing fans. It's fine and dandy that you use Spotify for free, because that can help you find new music and easily be a consumer, but please try to buy the CD of your favorite album, and try your best to see your favorite artist live. These are really great experiences and they help your favorite artists directly, so maybe save your money on that Premium subscription and go see The Weeknd in concert or buy The Killers' new album when it releases.

You can check out my Spotify at https://open.spotify.com/user/pateduncan

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Graphic Novel: Don't knock it 'til you try it

If you know me, then you know that I get obsessive about my interests. For instance, when I started watching Twin Peaks, I became absolutely obsessed and tried to learn everything I could about the series, bought the Blu-Ray boxed set that included the companion movie, and spent hours looking for merchandise online. I began trying to find anything else directed by David Lynch or inspired by Twin Peaks. I was on the hunt for anything relating to or involving Twin Peaks.

Currently, I'm doing the same thing, but with graphic novels. I say graphic novels, and not comic books because I mean one and not the other. Comics are serialized and come in issues like magazines. Graphic novels are not serialized and are one long work of fiction or can be a collection of comic books reprinted as a graphic novel, like Alan Moore's Watchmen. They can usually be used interchangeably, but some prefer one over the other. I prefer graphic novels because I like to see the whole picture all at once. It's the same reason why I like to binge watch shows.


A lot of people have an aversion to graphic novels or comics because their only experience with them is by seeing others read them and never reading one themselves. Often times this discourages people to read them because reading comics isn't something that's popular in most peoples' eyes. But when you do this, you close your eyes to an entire genre full of excellent storytelling and artwork.

But this isn't just the opinion of a teenage boy behind a screen; academia has been acknowledging the art of graphic novels now more than ever. You can read some about this and how graphic novels are made here, but I can only truly speak of my experience with comics.

My grandfather used to read a lot of comics, and during the time he got sick, we bought him a couple comics from the flea market. He let me read over some, and that was the first time I read a comic book. From there, I bought Alan Moore's Watchmen. It has continued to be my favorite book. I found the story unlike anything I had read before it and I especially loved the different motifs that were repeated and referenced throughout the book. After that, I moved on to V for Vendetta, The Killing Joke, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and, most recently, Kick-Ass.

I understand that comics aren't for everyone, but I'd encourage you to give them a try. It's often times a good break from the average book, and has is a really good way to see how some of your favorite characters from TV and movies got their beginnings.

Here's a list of books that could be a good introduction into the medium:

I plan on reading The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and Providence by Alan Moore.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

I'm not an actor.

Most people have a fear of public speaking. An estimated 75% of people, actually. It's actually most people's number one fear. I had conquered that fear, or at least I thought I did, when I agreed to compete in Duo Interpretation at a tournament for speech and debate. This was flawed for two reasons:

  1. I'm not an actor.
  2. I'm one of the biggest procrastinators you'll ever meet.
For those of you who don't know, Duo Interpretation is an event in which two partners take a piece of writing, play, movie, or other text and interpret it for the stage, all without touching or looking at each other.

"Chase, let's do Welcome to Night Vale for our piece. This one won't be that hard since there aren't many characters," I told my brother, naive and unlearned in what all a duo encompasses, only choosing that piece because I love Welcome to Night Vale.
"That's fine, but that's such a weird piece," he replied, hiding his disapproval of the choice.

The Welcome to Night Vale Logo. Image Source:

We chose that piece, and went to the tournament. We didn't have to compete, and because we were the only two in our event, we were able to go to nationals. This was horrifying because it meant that we'd be going up against nationally competitive students who were actually actors and enjoyed what they did.

Since we were going to nationals, we had to choose a new piece that was actually able to compete at nationals.We spent most of our time waiting for a former debater who agreed to cut our piece into a workable script. Sadly, he bailed on us, and that forced Chase and I (who have never cut a script for anything ever) to write a script and choreograph it as well. Those few days were the worst days of my summer.

Finally, we had a script. This script was a naked skeleton, without any choreography or anything other than words and who says them. All that was left was to memorize it, and we assumed that we would just finesse the choreography when we got there. Sadly, the day before nationals was the same day that I was going to a Lana Del Rey concert. This meant that I would get absolutely nothing done the day before, and that I'd have to learn the script on the plane ride, which was at four in the morning.

We got to Dallas, and mildly memorized the script on the way there. A taxi dropped us off at a hotel where the tournament was held. Bracknell, our coach, met up with us and showed us to the area where we'd wait to compete. We sat outside a hotel room assuming that contestants were judged individually. We were wrong.

They called us inside, and as I walked in, I saw fourteen other students who all looked confident and perfect. Chase and I were up. We had never performed a duo before that moment. I walked up, legs shaking, stumbling over my lines, thinking about how I could use one of the chairs to break the window and leap out of it, as it would be less painful. But then, an amazing thing happened. The judge laughed. Our piece was meant to be funny, and for some reason, even with our miscarriage of a delivery, people thought it was funny. They thought it was funny for all of the rounds. That didn't keep us from getting last in every round, where literally every other team was better than us. We literally got last at the tournament.

After the first round, Chase and I wanted to quit. Chase had completely snapped, and was angrily ranting about how much he hated this entire tournament and wanted to leave immediately. Brack wouldn't let us skip any rounds, so we went on, and actually got better and better (but still worse than everyone else) as the rounds went.

So in the end, Chase and I faced public speaking against the best public speakers in the country. We were in a round with the team that won and we were absolutely destroyed. But, after that horrifying experience, we got to enjoy the trip. We went and ate at really nice restaurants, and got to watch the final rounds of the interp. events, which was basically 1/3 stand up comedy and 2/3 heartbreaking stories. The fun we had on that trip was almost as much as the embarrassment we experienced while getting destroyed by students who spent months training for that moment, in comparison to our two or three weeks.

Thank you, Mr. Bracknell, for making us do an event that we had never done. Thanks for showing us the sights in Dallas, and thanks for trying to prepare us for the slaughter that we were going to experience. We got better for it.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

In response to The Declaration of Independence:

"He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."
 -Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence

I really feel bad because I'm about to be "that guy". When given any quote from The Declaration of Independence, I cherry-pick the one that characterizes Thomas Jefferson as a racist when his thesis from this document is arguing for an egalitarian society. 

Well, the document's idea of egalitarianism isn't as egalitarian as modern society would like it to be.

Last night, I watched an episode of South Park in which the kids of South Park got a new principal named PC Principal, where "PC" stands for politically correct. He ran around reprimanding and eventually beating up students that used language with hurtful connotations. He hospitalized Cartman for saying "spokesman" instead of "spokesperson". That's the guy I don't mean to be, but here we are. (Don't worry, the links aren't explicit.)



In the cultural, political, and religious context of the time, nothing in that quote would be considered offensive. The author was appealing to his audience's fear of the Native Americans, with whom the colonies had been in dispute with. This quote was seen as one of the many reasons why the colonies needed to free themselves from the British. Characterizing Native Americans as warmongering savages would have been agreed upon by most, if not all of the people reading the document, at the time. The same goes for the rest of the document. No one would have seen sexism in declaring, "all men are created equal." But it's good that today we can be critical of these documents and their authors while also appreciating the arguments of their authors. This one quote shouldn't nullify the credibility of the author. Today, this quote would be seen as racist, and the bad thing is, a lot of people would get completely caught up on it, rather than the argument of the author, like I am right now.

In today's society, the phrasing the author used would not have been okay to say at all. While it was considered the norm at the time, nowadays, the quote would've been seen offensive and undermined the author's egalitarian thesis. Today, incendiary language like this from people in the public eye has caused their character to get torn to shreds. To meet today's standards, the author should have said "Native Americans" instead of "Indians", and should have humanized the Native Americans he was referring to and not made his statement so generalizing. However, at the time, these concepts weren't really something that the author, or most people at the time, would have considered, and is understood, but not excused, for his word choice.

Some might view that we should revise the Declaration alongside other foundational texts to fit under today's morals, and some view that should leave the texts as they are. I feel conflicted about this because it is important that the documents we base our government on should not have problematic language in them, but I also don't think that we should censor the past. To censor our past wrongs is to pretend they didn't happen, and that does nothing to help those who are impacted by the wrongs of the past. I guess when it comes down to it, we should leave the texts as they are, because you cannot undo the past, but we should make our language now be fit for the the eyes of those who will be coming after us.

In the end, all I'm saying is that the language used in the past is problematic and we must always be willing to criticize it when it's in documents that are paramount to our government. We need to learn from the mistakes of doing this, as any language in a government document that marginalizes or excludes minority groups has always been attacked for the hypocrisy that is brought about by them. We should make sure that the language in our government policy and documents, as well as our daily lives, should hold up to scrutiny from the next generation and should be inclusive of all groups. If not, our children and our children's children will be having to apologize for the lack of foresight of their grandparents. We live in a nation that finally strives to be inclusive, and our language should reflect that.

I totally was "that guy", wasn't I?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why NBC's Hannibal was the most beautiful show on TV:

I'm not sure why, but I think that the gods of TV shows hate me. Just as we get the news that Twin Peaks is getting a reboot, we hear that NBC's Hannibal is not being renewed for a fourth season. Like Twin Peaks, Hannibal was out of place when compared to the other shows airing alongside it. An extremely serialized structure, hauntingly beautiful visuals, and some of the most blood and gore seen this side of HBO set Hannibal apart from the competition. Hannibal was visceral and intense at every point along the way. Hannibal slit the throats of the police procedurals decaying on the airwaves. Hannibal eviscerated the generic action shows shoved down viewers' throats and tap-danced on their graves. Hannibal was truly a cannibal, killing and eating its fellow programs, and proved its dominance every week.


From beginning to end, this masterpiece never gave viewers a break from its signature style. Slow motion scenes, drawn out for infinity just to make sure that every single drop of blood could be seen spraying out of the characters you'd grown to love, were reminiscent of the crawling and gorgeous scenes in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The multiple facets of each character and captivating relationship between Will Graham and the titular Hannibal Lecter kept viewers untangling and unpacking the dreamlike dialogue to fully appreciate its meaning. And each episode contained more antlers and stag imagery than you could shake a stick at. Every scene was absolutely breathtaking. The music was unique, surreal, and, as the show's composer Brian Reitzell described it, "it’s a constant heightened state of reality." And Mads Mikkelsen's portrayal of Hannibal brought a nuance and subtly unseen in previous incarnations of the character. And that's why Hannibal was too beautiful for cable TV.

Hannibal being on NBC, or anywhere outside of pay cable or streaming service exclusives, had to have been a freak accident.   Its second season received a 100% Fresh certification from Rotten Tomatoes, and the show is, in my opinion, the best show to have graced television in recent memory. In the show, during the first season's Chesapeake Ripper arc, the murders that occurred showed the bodies staged in grotesquely beautiful tableaus, (warning: link contains graphic violence and spoilers for seasons one and two) and I can think of no better metaphor for the show. It was grotesque, dark, and shocking, but it was truly the most beautiful show I have ever seen. Any show that can illuminate the beauty in pitch-black darkness deserves to be heralded for years to come.

Sadly, while Hannibal's content slayed all of its competitors, its viewership did not. The expectations for the show in the beginning were low, and while it blew critics and fans out of the water, it just was not palatable for the average viewer. The dark tone and graphic violence depicted in the show did not sit well for viewers of the local news that came on immediately afterwards, and NBC was forced to move Hannibal to a Saturday night slot to save local news. Alongside this, it was next to impossible for an unfamiliar viewer to be able to catch up to the show because of how serialized it was.

While Hannibal has not quite been pronounced dead yet, its hope for the future is dimmer than the lighting on the show. Show developer Bryan Fuller has started working on the show American Gods for HBO, and the actors have all been released from their contracts.

If you're in the mood for a dark story, unsettling visuals, and perfect use of music, I'm begging you to watch Hannibal. You can stream it on Amazon Prime or buy it on DVD.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

How my grandfather, alongside Agatha Christie and Flash Gordon, influenced what things I like.

My love for stories began with my grandfather, Bill Adcock. He lived right outside of Atlanta in a house that kept the same furniture during the entire time he and my grandmother Marilu (or as we called her, "Me-me") lived there. The house always seemed nostalgic and familiar, and to this day, it only feels like a car ride through Atlanta away from me. It felt as though it was trapped in a cozier time, with a grandfather clock's deep ticks keeping time and a box television set in the corner. As kids, my grandfather, my brother, and I always would always watch Star Wars and Spiderman. Billdaddy, as we called him, loved showing us new things. He gave us our first  Harry Potter book, and showed us our first YouTube video. Before we went to bed, he'd tell us the same story every time, about a magical stuffed dog that flew out of its toy chest and carried the children of the house with it. It took them to a clearing in a forest where there was a pond filled with some kind of food, often yogurt or chocolate pudding. They swam around in it and then dried off on magic purple towels, and then the stuffed dog took them back to their beds. I'll never forget that story.

We got older, and as we matured, so did the things we watched and read. He showed us our first R-rated movie, Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The inside of his home office was covered in books and tapes, each with its own distinct label on the side with its title on it. (Billdaddy recorded many of these off of the TV, necessitating labels.) On the far wall was a brown wooden bookshelf that came up to the average person's waist, and contained every single serial you could possibly think of. The Green Hornet, The Shadow, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, you name it. This is where we watched with him. The carpet was a dark blue, and he had a Carolina-blue couch that he sat on as we lied on the floor, enjoying whatever he put in the VCR. It was such a happy time. When we were about thirteen, Billdaddy showed us Hercule Poirot, Ellory Queen, and other mystery books. This was one of the most influential things he showed us, and I'll always have a little place in my heart for Agatha Christie.

Univeral Pictures. Image Source:

This was about the time that we found out that Billdaddy had pancreatic cancer.

Billdaddy and Me-Me stayed with us a lot more to be able to come to Tanner Hospital for treatment. His cancer finally got so bad that they had to sell their house outside Atlanta to come live with us. I got to see Billdaddy more, but the toll it took on him took the fun out of it. Billdaddy was the one who convinced Chase and I to get a Kindle, and always gave us books whenever he could, even with his sickness. He always loved going out to the movies with us, and he always checked the critics' reviews before we went. (This is now a habit that I have picked up, much to the dismay of my parents. They can't enjoy the movie if start telling them everything wrong with it beforehand.)

Eventually, Billdaddy died. And, months later, so did Me-Me. It was lung cancer, which we found only a few months before she died, but I think that being alone didn't help it much either.

I had to find movies and books on my own after that. My friends helped influence my interests, especially in music, but the movies and books my brother and I liked were, at that point, ones we found ourselves. Chase fell into fantasy novels, a genre Billdaddy loved, and I moved into my own Billdaddy-inspired texts. I found Twin Peaks, a show I am still obsessed with, and Watchmen, which ranks high on my favorite books of all time. Billdaddy loved TV and comic books, but I don't know whether he liked either of those two. I'll never be able to ask him, but I like to think he liked both.

Every time I watch a movie from an auteur director, get emotional distress over Game of Thrones, or theorize about the upcoming third season of Twin Peaks, I think about how Billdaddy gave me the foundation for my love of those things, and gave me an appreciation for good storytelling. And that's why I share the things I enjoy with others like the gospel; it gives me a glimpse of what Billdaddy must have felt when he showed us his favorite things.