The Disillusioned: The Strange State of Modern Politics in the U.S.

Even if you haven’t made an effort, you’ve likely heard something about the presidential campaigns.  It’s hard to miss it.  We’re inundated with news reports, television ads, and social media posts every single day.  And the actual election isn’t even for another six months or so yet.

But regardless, the battle has already begun.

However, there is something new this election cycle, something that has been brewing in the background for quite a long time.  People in the United States have become disillusioned with the state of politics today, especially within the younger generations (mine included).  They’re frustrated with how nothing ever seems to change, with how we see the same old politicians go on and on about the same old hot-button topics.  It has become so bad that many among the younger people refuse to even vote, because they believe that their voice doesn’t matter anymore, that voting has become a choice between the lesser of two evils.

I will freely admit to being one of those people in my late high school/early college days.  I was tired of listening to the same old talk about “family values…morality…blah blah blah”.  Instead of talking about actual issues politicians seemed to be grandstanding for some kind of moral high ground over the other side.  This tactic has led to a strange radicalization among the political parties, something that has grown to the point where there doesn’t seem to be a discourse between people anymore.  I hardly see any actual discussions about the issues on social media.  Instead, all I seem to see on Facebook is people sharing chain photos that essentially say “man liberals/conservatives are SO dumb…why can’t they see that MY way of thinking is so obviously better.”

In short, election time has become little more than a pissing contest.

But what is more fascinating to me than this radicalization is the effect it has had.  Even if you barely paid attention to the current political campaigns, you’ve likely noticed that there’s been a shakeup, a breaking away from tradition.  What I’m referring to are the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, two candidates who would never have gotten as far as they have without the political climate being as it is.  In fact, Donald Trump has already run once for president under the independent party ticket back in 2000.  He didn’t gain any ground then, so it’s not something people know about.  The interesting thing is that if you look at his ideas back then, they’re pretty much the same as they are now.  The only thing that has changed is the culture.

And it all comes back to this disillusionment.  People are sick and tired of hearing a politician say “I’m for you” or “I’m going to Washington to work for you” and then seeing nothing come of it.  People are tired of promises that don’t come to fruition.  Now whether you agree with Trump’s bombastic promise to “make America great again” or Sander’s self-described democratic socialist views on creating a greater distribution of wealth, the fact remains that neither of these men would have gotten anywhere if this disillusionment didn’t exist.

The mainstream isn’t working for many people anymore.  So they’ve sought out something different.

Now the purpose of this post is not to force my opinions on you (I have them but the point of the blog was always meant to be more analytical than persuasive…although I will admit to taking a hard stance on certain subjects).  I just wanted to highlight how fascinating this political season has been.  We’ve seen such a drastic shift in the culture surrounding it that has been in motion for quite some time.  And next week is Super Tuesday, the day when eleven states have their primaries/caucuses.  After the dust settles on that day, we will have a better idea of our likely candidates on both the Democratic and Republican side.  I would advise everyone to get out and participate.  Most people tend to wait until the final elections in November, but don’t underestimate the power of the local elections as well.  If you feel like you support one particular candidate more than the other in your particular party, then vote for them.  Don’t underestimate the value of it.  I know I did for a long time.

But hey, even if you don’t plan on voting, you have to admit it’s going to be an interesting ride…

 

Well that’s all I have for you.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

 

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5 Clichés/Tropes in Movies I Dislike

There’s really not much to say.  Five clichés/tropes in movies that I am not a fan of.  Let’s do it!

Note: I’m calling this “clichés/tropes” because some of these could be considered either.  Also because some people like to nitpick over these two terms.  This is the internet after all.

 

1. Incomprehensible Action Scenes

I’m putting this one first for a couple of reasons.  First off, it’s something that doesn’t actually bother me as much as the other ones on this list.  And it also isn’t as much of a problem in modern movies.  It was something that reared its head more often in the early 2000s.

And what I’m talking about here isn’t like, say, a scene where two characters are bare knuckle fighting and the camera cuts back and forth quickly to show punches landing.  That’s something that bothers some people, but I’m not one of them.  I feel like that style has a purpose.  It gets across the idea that a character is being hit very hard, and prevents the fight from looking too staged.  If you read my post about Daredevil‘s one-shot fight scene, I said that while the idea is cool, it doesn’t work well for that show because the way the fight plays out feels too staged.

But those aren’t the kind of scenes I’m talking about.  I’m more concerned with those action scenes where you literally can’t tell what is happening.  Yeah, I’m talking Michael Bay and the first Transformers movie.

If you’ve ever seen the movie, you’ll know what I mean.  I remember a phrase used by a reviewer at the time: kaleidoscope of metal.  That’s all the action scenes were.  Not to mention that, if you paid attention, you could tell that the size of the robots was super inconsistent.  As a result, most of the action scenes are just spent going “wha…” and shaking your head in confusion.  It wasn’t particularly fun and pulls you out of the experience.

And Transformers wasn’t the only movie to fall victim to this.  The Bourne Supremacy and Eagle Eye were both from around that time and had similar shaky, incomprehensible camera work during a lot of the action scenes.  We all love explosions and fight scenes, but only if we can tell that they are indeed explosions and fight scenes.

 

2. Teasing a Sequel

Do you remember the live action Super Mario Bros. movie from the early 1990’s?  If you do, I’m so…so sorry…

Personally, I have never seen it myself, but what little I know about it tells me that the movie was incredibly bad and obviously created by people who had no real connection to the game.  Nothing looks like it should.  The lush fantasy world of the Mushroom Kingdom is instead some dystopian, nightmarish sewer.  Bowser isn’t even Bowser.  Instead of a fire-breathing turtle with a spiky shell, he’s re-imagined as something akin to a pit boss in a nightclub.

Remember the giant fish that tries to eat the Mario brothers many times in the games?  She’s a black lady in stripper armor.  Because, you know, it’s for the kids.

It should come as no surprise that this movie was a disaster.  And yet, at the very end of the movie, they tease a sequel.  Princess Daisy (another character from the games) shows up to recruit the brothers for another adventure.  Because after the insane and most likely drug-fueled brainstorming session this movie came out of, they figured “hey we need to make sure people know a sequel is in the works because they’ll love it that much”.

Now I’m not against sequels (they do have a sketchy track record though).  What I am against is teasing a sequel at the very end of the movie or the end of the credits.  Now, in the case of movies like Lord of the Rings, it’s okay because for one, they’re based off a trilogy of books.  And two, they were planned to be a trilogy of movies right from the start.  I dislike it when movies tease a sequel after the main story has already been wrapped up.  You’ve just given us a full and complete story, so why the “to be continued”?  It makes the movie feel less satisfying.  If you’re going to make a sequel, make a sequel.  But don’t tease after we’ve gotten our closure.

All that does is piss people off if they never get to see the conclusion, like when a TV season ends with a cliffhanger and the show gets cancelled.  We’ve all known that pain at some point…

 

3. BWAAAAAAAAM!  BWAAAAAAAAM!

Have you heard this noise in a trailer before?  If you haven’t, then clearly you don’t pay any attention to movies.

This has become known as the “Inception Horn” sound.  It was popularized by the movie Inception (go figure), but was only featured in the trailer.  But since then, it became the standard go to sound whenever you need to create tension or drama in a trailer.  It’s gotten so bad that the man who created the sound regrets doing so.

There’s really not much else to say about it other than that it’s overused.  Every trailer that needs to be dark or gritty ends up going “BWAAAM” this, “BWAAM” that.  Every twist in a story gets one hundred percent more dramatic if you add a “BWAAAM” sound.  It’s scientifically proven, I swear!

How’s this for a plot twist?  I actually write these blog posts the day BEFORE they are posted!

BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM!

And speaking of trailers…

 

4. Misleading Movie Trailers

Watch this trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It’ll help you understand where I’m coming from with this one.

You done?  Good.

Now from that trailer, how would you describe the movie?  Dark?  Gritty?  Tense?  How would you describe the villain?  Would you use a lot of those same words?  I would have.  But then I saw the movie.

Needless to say, I left the theater confused.

Here’s the thing: movie trailers are great at generating hype.  They’re a very effective tool for drawing in audiences and getting them interested in a film.  But more and more, I find that movie trailers can be misleading.  In the case of Age of Ultron, I entered the theater thinking that I was going to see a dark superhero movie.  What I got was basically a bunch of people whining and hiding out at a farm for a large chunk of the movie as well as a villain who wasn’t threatening in the slightest.  Ultron is a goofy character, not at all like the threatening and imposing figure you see in the end of that trailer.  Not only that, but he’s not particularly strong either.  Whenever the heroes encounter him, they basically kick him all over the place.  The only reason he’s so hard to beat for so much of the movie is because he has about a thousand different clones of himself.

So instead of a darker, grittier version of Avengers we get a movie that basically retreads the same ground (remember in the first Avengers when they’re standing back to back in the streets of New York fighting off the invading alien force?  They do the same thing at the end of Age of Ultron.  In fact, it has essentially the same payoff, considering the heroes spend most of the movie bickering with each other).

I had the same thing happen with the Godzilla movie that came out in 2014.  From watching the trailer, I would have guessed that the movie was a suspenseful horror-thriller type movie with a dark, mysterious tone.  Instead, I got about thirty minutes of mystery, then for the rest of the movie the characters are following Godzilla around like “hey look it’s a giant, radiation-breathing lizard from the days of prehistoric Earth!  He could wipe out all human civilization as we know it hahaha but he probably won’t.”

It is true that movies can still be good despite misleading trailers.  But expectation plays a huge role when you go to the theater.  If a certain director you like is attached to the movie, your expectations are raised for the movie’s quality.  And vice versa if it’s a director you aren’t fond of.  My point is that if you’re going to sell a movie to an audience, you really should try to get the tone and feel of the movie right in the trailer.

Otherwise, you end up looking like a liar.

 

5. “We’re the same, you and I”

Some of you can already guess where I’m going with this one.  Let me start off by saying I absolutely HATE this cliche, probably more than I should.

The premise is this: the hero has battled their way through the villain’s many henchmen, foiled their evil plans, and now stands ready for an epic, final confrontation.  But just before the fight begins, the villain looks them in the eye, smirks, and enters into a monologue.  “Don’t you see,” they say to the hero.  “We’re the same, you and I.”

Very few movies have managed to pull this off successfully (such as The Dark Knight).  But for a bad example, let’s look at Snow White and the Huntsman.

First off, the movie was just plain bad.  It was incredibly flawed and the story ended up feeling bloated.  It had world building exposition that only served to set up a scene IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING the world building exposition.  It had a muddled and incoherent backstory surrounding the evil queen.  It begins plot elements only to completely skip them over, creating logic holes in the plot (Snow White begins training with the Huntsman to become a warrior, only to fall victim to the curse that puts her into a sleeping spell before ever finishing.  But then she wakes up and is suddenly Joan of Arc?  I ain’t buying it).  The characters all feel like they’re only there to fill the typical roles and never rise beyond them to become interesting in their own right.

Grizzled drunk character who hates everyone around him?  Check.

Naive, young girl who needs protection?  Check.

Comic relief dwarves?  Check.

I could go on for a long time about my issues with this movie, but I digress.  The cliché moment comes, of course, during the final confrontation.  They’ve stormed the castle, and Snow White is facing the evil queen in battle.  The queen knocks her down onto the floor, leans over, and whispers the “we’re the same” line into her ear in a sinister tone.

Hey, did you see Snow White murdering people and taking over a kingdom because a magic mirror told her she wasn’t the prettiest princess in the land?  No?  DIDN’T THINK SO!

It doesn’t make any sense.  The two characters are nothing alike.  Snow White wasn’t even a queen before everything happened.  She hasn’t killed a single person or living creature in the movie up to this point.  She’s a pure-hearted, innocent girl (which the movie takes great care to establish).  The actress who plays her isn’t even good at it (BA DUM TSSSS).

This is probably one of my least favorite clichés.  It strikes me as a cheap way to inject depth into a character that doesn’t really need it.  What’s so wrong with just having a movie with a villain?  I mean, Snow White is a fairy tale after all.  It doesn’t need all this over the top complexity.  If it had been pulled off better, the movie could have been good.  But as it stands, it tries to do far too much and can’t justify itself in that way.  The evil queen’s story is so haphazardly told that we expected to believe this inherently evil character, who is set up at the start of the movie as a narcissistic and utterly cold villain, is suddenly weak and has a tragic past.  And in the end, all that backstory has no payoff aside from the one, throwaway cliché of a line.

Put simply, Snow White and the Huntsman had the potential to be a good movie.  But it tried to do too much and ended up collapsing under the weight of its own ambition.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Thanks for reading!  Tune in next Wednesday, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Journalistic Frustrations: The News Media’s Focus on Certain Stories

When I was at work this week, one of my co-workers brought up that there hadn’t been any stories about ISIS in a while.  And it got me thinking.  It’s true, we haven’t heard much about ISIS in the last couple of months or so.  Which is strange, because recent reports indicate that they are actually losing ground in the Middle East.  In fact, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, in a recent rally here in Duluth Minnesota, pointed out that they had lost around forty percent of the territory they had captured.  So it made me wonder why no major news outlet seemed to be reporting that.

Many often criticize the media for being a little too “pro-american”.  Oftentimes, big issues at the heart of our country (such as wealth distribution) get left out.  Even the Flint Michigan water scandal, where aging water pipes led to acute lead contamination, barely seemed to make the news for more than a few days, despite the fact that it has been a problem since 2014.  But the truth is that the journalistic world is often strange and subject to a wide variety of factors.  Much like how many fast food chains are owned under the same umbrella corporation, news stations are often tied to some rich person or group, even if they are technically an affiliate of another major news outlet (such as ABC or NBC).  This leads to a lot of differing tastes in handling news, which means that sometimes you will see stories on certain networks that don’t even air on others.

And sometimes, stories just simply aren’t reported because there isn’t any new information on it.  I have worked at a TV station for over two years now and I studied journalism in college.  I am very familiar with the concept of “newsworthiness”, which essentially means how worth it a story is to report on the nightly or daily news broadcast.  If there’s nothing new to report or not enough information, often the story hits the cutting block and is left out.

Still though, sometimes the news does things that just baffle me.

I could spend a long time talking about how stories on the presidential campaign feel less like news updates and more “Stupid S*** Trump Said” segments, but I won’t.  Instead, I want to go back to an incident that happened in November of last year.  An armed man stormed into a Planned Parenthood building in Colorado Springs and shot up the place.  After a long and tense police standoff, he was arrested.  The news covered this story, even showing the trailer where the shooter lived.  His yard was dotted with makeshift wooden crosses, and in an interview a man (and I believe a member of the police force) mentioned that the first thing the man did when they met was hand him an anti-Obama pamphlet.  It was clear that the man was unhinged.  He even called himself “a warrior for the babies” while in court, further revealing his radical mindset.

The news only reported on this incident for a day.  Maybe two, but that’s it.  And they even dilly dallied over whether to call the man a terrorist or not.

Then, when the San Bernadino shooting happened, it was the top news story for over a week.

I must make a couple concessions before I continue.  Yes, it is true that only about one or two people actually died in the Planned Parenthood shooting, whereas a dozen or two were killed in San Bernadino.  And yes, it is true that the Muslim couple who perpetrated the San Bernadino shooting were in fact radicalized by ISIS.

But that’s just it.  We didn’t know that they were radicalized by ISIS until about a week after the incident.  And yet, we still reported on it every single day.

This is where my problem comes in.  As I said, the concept of “newsworthiness” hinges on the idea that you have new information to report on a story.  But with San Bernadino, every package for a week was basically the same: “this thing happened and these are the two that did it.  They may have been radicalized by Islamic terrorists, but investigators still haven’t found concrete evidence to show that.”  So then, why report it?  Why continually report on that when there was actually a good conversation to have in regards to the Planned Parenthood shooting?  Yes people died, but the stories were less about the victims and more about the perpetrators, much like what happens with every mass shooting in this country.

The man who attacked the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was very obviously radicalized by pro-life propaganda.  He was quoted as shouting things about “selling baby parts” as he fired his weapon in the building, which is of course in reference to the infamous videos that purported that Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts for profit.  The makers of those videos have since been indicted for tampering with government records, but the issue still stands that the man’s radicalization was at least in part due to those videos.  But we didn’t even talk about that.

In fact, the only thing I remember a politician really saying about it was Ted Cruz claiming that the pro-life movement had nothing to do with the man’s actions.  Instead, he said that it was reported that the man was a transgender, leftist activist.

Sorry Ted Cruz, that was just a ridiculous internet rumor.  Of course, you would know that if you bothered to do ANY FREAKING RESEARCH!

What I think it all comes down to is the fact that it’s just easier for people to have a conversation about radicalized Muslims because they’re such a small percentage of our population (roughly only one percent, although it is projected to grow).  It’s much easier to call them terrorists than it is to think about the idea of an average, middle-aged white guy who believes in the Christian god and has been so inundated with spiteful rhetoric that he’s turned into a ticking time bomb.  Now am I saying that pro-life rhetoric is hateful rhetoric?  No, not at all.  But there are subsets of the movement that lean towards incredibly radical speech, just like any other movement.  There are anti-abortion groups out there that continually compare abortion to the Holocaust, which is an extreme position to take and is indicative of their unwillingness to even hear out of the other side of the debate.

And that’s the thing.  The news media is supposed to point out stuff like this.  Journalists are supposed to direct us to the issues in our country that are worth talking about.  They are the Fourth Estate after all, the “watchdogs”.  But in recent years it feels like that’s the case less and less.  A lot of it probably has to do with the stations being owned by people with their own agendas and thoughts.  I might be being idealistic when it comes to journalism, but I think we need a little idealism these days.  Far too often we grow bitter and cynical, refusing to do anything to make our country better.  “Well nothing’s going to change, so why should I bother,” we say.  But in apathy we find a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Indeed, nothing’s going to change as long as we refuse to even try.

However, there is hope.  The conversations are out there, but they’re on the internet rather than the news.  They are the discussions between people on social media: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and so on.  People regularly engage in debate on these subjects, which is a good sign.  After all, when the news fails to bring attention to the problems, sometimes the common people have to take up the mantle themselves.

 

Well that’s all I have for this post.  Tune in next Wednesday for another one, and as always, have a wonderful week!

Missing Pieces: The Allure of the Unexplained

At approximately 6:30 AM on December 1st. 1948, the body of a man was discovered..  He was found dressed in a suit and tie, with his head resting against the seawall.  There was an unlit cigarette was on the right collar of his coat.  When his pockets were searched by police they found the following: an unused second-class rail ticket, a bus ticket from the nearby city, an aluminum comb, a half-empty pack of gum, a cigarette packet, and a box of matches.

At first it was believed that he might have simply died in his sleep or committed suicide.  But then things started to get weird.

All the labels on his clothing had been cut off.  He had no hat or wallet, which was unusual for the 1940s.  His teeth matched no known dental records.  An autopsy found no cause of death, but the presence of several enlarged organs meant that his death was most likely not natural.

Later on, a piece of paper was discovered inside a fob pocket on his pants (a fob pocket was typically for something like a pocket watch).  The paper had two words printed on it: tamám shud.  The words are Persian in origin, and when translated mean “ended” or “finished”.  The paper was traced back to a book of twelfth century poems originally written in Persian known as The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.  On the back of the paper was a code that remains undecipherable to this day and provided more fuel for the theory that the unknown man was some kind of Cold War era spy.

Despite the wide attention the story got and the circulation of the man’s photo, he was never identified and the case of the Somerton Man remains unsolved.

 

The code found on the back of the book page.

The code found on the back of the book page.

 

Interesting story isn’t it?  People are still fascinated by it today, and just in the last decade a university professor even attempted his own investigation into the matter.  But why?  Why do we want to know what happened to this man?  Why, even despite the fact that over fifty years have passed, do we still try to understand who this man was and what happened to him?  There are other unsolved mysteries that go back even further.  Have you ever heard of the word “Croatoan”?  It was found carved into a tree after the settlers of a late 16th century settlement in North America simply vanished.  No fully conclusive explanation was found for that case either.  And people still talk about it today.  The wealth of unsolved mysteries in our world is vast, and inspires many fictional stories in television shows, movies, books, and so on.  We even have a modern example in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, an airplane that still hasn’t been found as of this writing.

But let’s get back to that all-important question: why?  Why do these mysteries fascinate us so?

Human nature is a quandary.  We have tried for so long to explain why we behave the way we do, why good can exist alongside bad.  This paradoxical truth extends itself to our interest in the unexplained and the unknown.  It fascinates, yet also frightens us.  It intrigues, but also irritates us.  Because we want to know, we have to know, but we are also fascinated by the very thought of not knowing.

Last week, I talked about ghosts.  And despite the fact that I am not a believer in ghosts, I still find the subject matter interesting, the stories riveting.  It’s the same with these unsolved mysteries.  I know that there’s most likely a logical and realistic explanation for all of them, but it is the mystery itself that I find so alluring.  It’s like when a story leaves us with unanswered questions.  Sure, many of us get frustrated with it (myself included at times), but it is this lack of explanations that keeps us coming back, that keeps the tale floating around in our minds days, even weeks after we finish it.  We keep coming back to those things left unexplained because we want to explain them.

Some would call this “morbid curiosity”, and while there is a certain truth to that statement (especially where stories about murders or disappearances are concerned), I think it’s a little more innate than that.  We delve into the unknown because we want to make it known.  We want to be the ones that find something others missed.  We want to find closure, to bring an end to a story left unfinished.  We strive for these things, even though the sad fact of life is that sometimes things just happen and we never find out why.  People just disappear and we never find out where they went.  Someone is killed and their murderer is never uncovered.  We’ll have some strange personal experience and will never be able to truly explain what it was.

But we never stop trying.  The story of humanity is one of an endless quest for knowledge.

 

That’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.