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.