Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Thoughts on the premiere of STAR WARS: THE MANDALORIAN...

My friends, I know of no more proper way to put this: The Mandalorian is the best thing to happen to the Star Wars saga since the original trilogy.  For the first time in a way, waaaaaay long time there was that same sense of broad-brushed wonder that we were assaulted with in Episode IV: A New Hope.  And I started getting that vibe just within the first five minutes or so of the first episode, dubbed simply "Chapter One".

It only got better from there.  And that's beside the point of getting a canon in-universe name for the toilet (and getting to see one, something I think only Babylon 5 has shown us in the entire annals of science-fiction).  And of at last seeing what an IG droid looks like in action.  And carbon freezing up close and personal.  And that uberly cute ehhhh... "asset" in the final scene that will make Disney zillions of Mickey Bucks(tm) in moichandizing...

This is the Star Wars we needed and deserved.  If The Rise Of Skywalker next month is even half as good as The Mandalorian series after only one episode, then I will call on everyone to forgive the cinematic mis-steps of The Last Jedi (word is that George Lucas was brought in to help with the final chapter's story, so maybe the original nine episode plan will keep to The Plaid One's plan all along).  The entire heapin' franchise might at last have found its proper footing since its acquisition by Disney.  It certainly does seem that way with the gritty setting, intriguing characters, and Sergio Leone-ish tone of The Mandalorian.

Star Wars: The Mandalorian is on the new Disney+ streaming service, which pretty much busts the fabled Disney Vault wide open (though sadly Song Of The South is still lingering in a safe deposit box).  Speaking of Disney+, if you wanna have some real fun then tell your friends with the service to tell their small children that an even better movie than Frozen is something called The Black Hole.  Then sit back and enjoy the kiddies' anguished screaming!

(I suggested that on Facebook last night.  One friend privately messaged me about it: "Chris you are a sick sick monster and don't ever change"...)

Saturday, November 09, 2019

The Berlin Wall fell 30 years ago today

Here's my piece of it:



The slab of it at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (photo taken December 21, 2016):



Oppression never lasts forever.






Christmas In Your Face!



Awright, c’mon people.  We gotta stop this.  As Barney Fife said, “Nip it in the bud!”  It’s gone on far enough.  If we don’t put an end to it now, in a few years the tinsel will start going up right around when Major League Baseball is having the all-star game.

Or maybe once again your friend and humble narrator is on the losing side of history.  Sometimes I feel like Kevin McCarthy at the end of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers: flailing arms at indifferent traffic, vainly hoping that somebody, anybody will heed the warning.

Last week was Halloween.  That afternoon I was on the highway en route to meet a client and started scanning through radio stations.  More than a few had well-curated themes for the day (“Thriller”, “Dark Lady”, even “Clap For The Wolfman” etc.).  Stopping on one channel, I was expecting to hear either “Monster Mash” or at least an Elton John hit…

Instead it was Eartha Kitt singing “Santa Baby”.

Practically two months before Christmas.  Four weeks before Thanksgiving.  Hours before Halloween candy was going to be doled out to the trickster-treatsters.  And already a radio station had begun holiday season music twenty-four seven.

By the end of the following work week, three stations had begun Christmas music pausing only for commercial breaks.  Those, too, have become riddled with sleigh bells ringing.

And then my Facebook feed began filling up with photos of Christmas trees going up.


Maybe it's just me, but at this point in November the only things associated with the holiday should be rehearsals and scenery for productions of A Christmas Carol

Rome wasn't built in a day.  Neither was Victorian London.
…or professional Santas needing to size up whether kids one to ninety-two have been naughty or nice:

Steampunk Santa
(Eric H. Smith, renaissance man extraordinaire)
Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez left us before their work was done.  I can see it now: A Charlie Brown Christmas Part II, with grown-up good ol’ Chuck on the sofa in his therapist’s office, lamenting how there’s too much Christmas.  And the shrink telling him “wah-wah-wah-waaaah.”

It has become a yuleslide into madness.  

What’s wrong with us?

What in a sane world should be no more than a single month of festivity has now crept across fully one-sixth of the entire year.  And now, well…

Christmas just isn’t that special anymore.

I always thought it would be something to be truly thankful for, to put up a Christmas tree with the kids no earlier than three weeks before the big day, Chipmunks singing all the while.  But Chipmunks music before Thanksgiving should be nobody’s idea of fun.

Dad used to shoot mistletoe out of trees with his rifle.  I’m not sure that mistletoe is even in season before November.

Anyone else remember the old Sears Wishbook catalogues?  How I used to ogle those beautiful two-page spreads of Star Wars toys.  Like the mirage of a distant oasis promising shade and water, and that sliver of magnificence beckoning to trudge through those three months until Christmas.  That’s all of the holidays that we had at that point on the calendar.  That’s all we needed, maybe even wanted.  Any more than that and it would not possibly have been enjoyable.  Indeed, it would have robbed from the eventual thrill.  The Wishbooks taught me in their own way that delayed gratification is a virtue.

Nobody seems to know what delayed gratification is anymore.  And that’s a tragic, tragic thing.  Waiting has become a weakness.  Patience, an alien quality.

Or maybe making Christmas come quicker is just part and parcel with our society in general.  When people are throwing tantrums about slow wi-fi and some getting literally killed for a Popeye’s chicken sandwich, something has gone terribly wrong.

Christmas should be a solid punctuation at the end of every year.  Instead it has become a vague bloated morass encroaching toward summer and spring.

Am I bearing any animosity or grudge toward those who are “getting into the Christmas spirit” way early?  No, of course not.  And if my friends and neighbors are feeling the sincere tug of the season already, well... I won't judge them.  Not at all.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize ever more so that there are very few things worth having ill will over.  Life is too short.  Way too short.

It’s just that making the Christmas season come about earlier and earlier is making the entire year go by faster and faster.  It’s making that precious lifetime even more brief.

And it would be nice if it could be stretched out and marveled at for its own sake.  Instead of what I’m coming to be persuaded that Lucy was right about: Christmas as nothing but a scheme by a big eastern syndicate.

That’s not what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Christmas shouldn't be in our faces.  It shouldn’t be worn on our sleeves this early on.  It shouldn't be in our wallets and pocketbooks.

Christmas should be in our hearts.  And what the heart pours forth so wantonly, too often becomes lesser so sacred.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

No, News & Record, most people don't care about the "Greensboro Massacre"

Despite now being a few years and several hundred miles away from my spawning grounds in Reidsville, I still tend to keep an eye on goings-on in north-central North Carolina.  Part and parcel to that is every so often visiting the website of Greensboro's News & Record... even though it's been years since that newspaper bore any semblance of objective reporting.  The decline has notably accelerated lately, along with most other "mainstream" journalism.

I guess it shouldn't have surprised me when I saw the headline of today's News & Record web edition, given the "historicity" of the anniversary.



Number-one rule of healing: you don't rip the Band-Aids off the wound.  And throughout all of recent memory the News & Record has not only yanked away the bandages, it does its damndest to keep the sore nice and festered.

It's not the best source to cite but Wikipedia has a pretty exhaustive article about "the Greensboro Massacre" that took place forty years ago today.  If you're not educated about the alleged sanctity of this occasion, here's all you really need to know:

On November 3rd, 1979, members of the Communist Workers Party and other allied groups staged a "Death to the Klan" rally in Greensboro.  And mainly, in what was widely considered the most crime-ridden part of the city: the Morningside Homes area.  The Communist Workers people had proclaimed that the Klan should "be physically beaten and chased out of town".  Some of those who participated in the rally brought guns.  Then a caravan of vehicles carrying members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party drove down the street through the rally.  The attendees attacked the Klan cars as they passed by, banging on them with signs and bats and the like.

The Communist Workers had guns.  The Klansmen and Nazis had more and bigger guns.  The contingent of Klan vehicles stopped, its passengers opened the car trunks, and that's when the shooting began.  Here's the footage that a local television news crew filmed of the event:



Gunfire was exchanged by all sides.  After the shootout and the smoke had cleared, five members of the Communist Workers Party and their compatriots lay dead.  Several others were bleeding on the grass and alongside the curb.

Over the course of the next few years the Nazis and Klansmen most responsible for the deaths were put on trial and found not guilty (by both state and federal courts).  And those and more elements of the event are academic, already known to anyone who has seriously studied the tragedy and what led up to it.


Here's the thing though: most people don't care about the Greensboro Massacre.  Or who was involved.  Or even that five people perished that day.  Only a very small and ever-dwindling number of extremists try to keep that day entrenched in public awareness.  Well, extremists and the News & Record, of course.

What happened on November 3rd, 1979 was not the spilling of the blood of martyrs.  It was not even a real "massacre" in the classic sense of the word.  What happened that day was that two groups of people - and I note this without partiality toward either faction - were hellbent on venting hatred toward each other.  There was not going to be a happy ending.  Neither the Communist Workers or the Klansmen were going to walk away without inflicting hurt on their opposition.  People on both sides brought weapons and were set to use them.  Had it not been the Nazis and Klansmen who opened fire first, it well likely would have been the Communists and their allies who did.  It would have been the Nazis and Klansmen who died.  And might it be said that in the eyes of God that the deaths of one or the other would be the less regrettable?

It was two separate bands of fringe radicals who wanted to kill each other.  And that's all that the "Greensboro Massacre" ever was.  It was a waste of life without rationale, without sanity, and without wisdom or maturity or moral superiority that could be claimed by anyone involved that afternoon at Morningside Homes.

And it is totally without need to be chronically revisited by the city of Greensboro or imposed upon its citizens.

No, the "Greensboro Massacre" wasn't a benchmark in Greensboro history.  It is only an angry blemish, a relatively small blip in the civic annals.  No more or less than those of any other comparatively sized city.  Most regular people might shrug and move on, noting with some tinge of regret that it did transpire.

But otherwise, regular people don't care about "the Greensboro Massacre".  And they never, ever will.  It was a battle of punks and most people know that.  It was something not much different than a turf war between the Bloods and the Crips.

Because those same people recognize the shared hatred of that day and understand that there were no "good guys or bad guys" whatsoever.  Only baseless wrath and rage and any excuse whatsoever to unleash it on others.

If only they could be left alone without an overly-attentioned minority trying to rub their noses into the self-righteousness of "understanding".  There was even a "Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission" in 2005 that tried equate itself with the gravitas of the post-Apartheid hearings in South Africa.  All that it accomplished was dredging up a past that didn't particularly need to surface again.

Greensboro needs to move on from this memory of hate-fueled crossfire, in whatever sense one makes of the term.  It has no bearing on that city today, and much less on the world beyond its borders.

The hate that day was a common one.  Neither side was willing to let go of it. And for its sake, in the name of justice and party, there was shed blood and violent death.

(Chris pauses and looks around America)

Or maybe there was something to be learned from the "Greensboro Massacre" after all...

Saturday, November 02, 2019

JOKER! THE RISE OF SKYWALKER trailer! First post in four months (but I'm getting better...)!

So let's get the obvious out of the way first:



YOWZA!!!!  Maybe the greatest Star Wars trailer in all of history.  But ahhhh... will the movie deliver the goods come next month?  No other way to be honest about it: some days I find myself loving The Last Jedi and others, I find it sorely lacking.  There's just more that could have been done with the sense of pacing and time.  And spending that much time looking for one guy in a casino on the other side of the galaxy (which makes NO sense given the Resistance fleet's situation) should have been excised completely from the script.  But, it is what it is.  And this far along in the game I've gotta be loyal to the end.  The tickets for opening night of The Rise Of Skywalker were already in virtual hand two hours before the trailer premiered.  Bought 'em sight unseen.  Because, well... Star Wars.

That trailer marks a personal first for me.  Never before have I done a reaction video.  This may be the only time it happens.  So here's what occurred as I watched The Rise Of Skywalker trailer:




Now let's talk about that other film the buzz has been about...


Since catching it the first night I have seen Joker three times.  And if there is any better film so far this year it has thus far evaded my gray matter.  Do the Oscars even matter anymore?  If they do then Joaquin Phoenix should have a lock on Best Actor with his portrayal of Arthur Fleck.  And the film itself deserves the top prize for dang near every known quantity of modern cinematography.  But I need to talk about the mental illness aspect...

Some of you already know that my profession is in the mental health field.  Mainly, my role is that of peer support advocate.  I do my best to assist people with diagnosed mental disorders in leading more productive and meaningful lives.  And I do it from the perspective of one who has long had a diagnosed mental disorder: myself.  Since last time this blog was posted on I've become a trained and certified specialist in the field.  And in the lead-up to Joker it was wondered aloud by colleagues whether this was a film that I should be seeing.  I can see their point.  Indeed, I see now more than ever that their concerns were not only warranted but prescient.  There were some scenes in Joker that were like watching a biopic of my own life (but that's all that I'll divulge on that).  It wasn't so much the manic-depression that stood to be triggered as it was the complex PTSD.

It astonishes me that the triggers were there but they weren't pulled.  But as recently as a year ago, they would have been.  And I like to think that it says a lot about how far I've come as a person.  Maybe that indicates something about how much more the bipolar disorder and PTSD have come to be managed.  'Course, I can't take all the credit.  God put many people into my life who have encouraged me along the way.  Maybe my faith in Him is getting to come back, too (again, not something I'll go into for now).

The second time seeing Joker was to better digest it as a film for its own sake.  Within a few more days the movie had been seen by several others around our offices of the mental health department.  Joker has evoked more discussion in our field than a film is apt to do for any industry (well, except for how I heard that the techs at NASA were having a giggle-fit while seeing Armageddon).  And I decided that maybe with all of the conversation about mental illness as it's portrayed in this movie, that maybe I should catch it again.  And I did.  And some thoughts have been percolating about it.

So here it is: Joker is not a movie about mental illness.  At least not mental illness as is medically understood.

Let's look at Arthur Fleck with an objective eye.  He's a traumatized individual, and more than he understands at first.  But the one and only true psychiatric condition he's been diagnosed with is his uncontrollable laughter.  Including laughing at the most inappropriate times.  It makes a wreck of his life and is ruining his dream of being a stand-up comedian.  However, strip away those issues... and Arthur Fleck is basically a nice guy with no mental illness of his own.

So what does he have?  Psuedobulbar effect is a behavioral disorder.  Not a mental illness.  There is a difference between the two.  In general, mental illness can be treated.  Not so much a behavioral disorder and in that regard Arthur Fleck's situation could be much worse.  He could be a full-blown psychopath.  That he cares for his mother and for others apparently should be thorough disqualification of his having psychopathy.  Neither does he seem to demonstrate narcissistic personality problems.  The delusions he has?  Most certainly mental illness... but those only began to come about after his circumstances began to deteriorate.  Left on his own, Arthur Fleck would likely have had a shot at a fairly normal and productive life.

Except that he was born and raised in Gotham City.  By someone who wasn't the best of mothers.  And he has a behavioral issue that brands stigma upon him by a town without pity.  And then one night he takes a ride on a train...

No, Arthur Fleck has no mental illness.  He makes some mistakes, but none that would really ruin anyone else for life.  His is a behavioral disorder that otherwise has no bearing on his personality.  Which, could be argued that he's a guy with a basically good heart.  And then one bad night pulls all the triggers and he's set down the path to true madness.  Again, not really his own doing.

What is Joker about, then?  I see its moral as being much the one of Frank Capra's Lost Horizon: "Be kind to one another."

It's not mental illness per se that gives birth to the Joker in Todd Phillips' film.  It's just one bad day followed by a slew of other bad days, and it might be enough to destroy almost anyone (as Alan Moore explored in the classic Batman graphic novel The Killing Joke).  It's the toxic buildup of man's inhumanity to man, dropped upon one man who otherwise has no skin in that game.  And he utterly cracks.

With enough pressure, it might happen to almost anyone.  So no, this iteration of the Joker (one of many, since the Joker loves his past being multiple choice) isn't the spawn of mental illness.  He's not even the creation of society at large.  But he is the product of the worst of that society when good people choose to be indifferent and unwilling to be intolerant of true cruelty.

As I said earlier, Joker has led to a lot of conversation throughout the professional mental health field.  No doubt it will for quite awhile to come.  I can easily see Joker being shown and discussed in high school and college classrooms for the next twenty years, at least.  So many spheres of thought that this film encompasses: psychology, sociology, law, ethics...

Joker is a masterpiece in every sense.  And I look forward to adding it to my Blu-ray collection (which may be coming as early as next month, if rumors about those profit-savvy Warner Brothers rushing it out before Christmas hold water).

Anyhoo, all two of this blog's faithful readers might be wondering: "Chris, where you been dude?"

Mainly it's been the job I've had for seven months now.  The past few especially have been loaded with training and certification exams.  There is also the matter of how it's a new program we've been getting off the ground.  It's been an adjustment, especially mentally: juggling professional obligations with maintaining my own mind.  The past number of weeks have borne some radically positive fruit in that regard.  But across the board, results are being seen.  And there is a lot of personal satisfaction to be drawn from that... and also an honor and a privilege to be working alongside such amazing people.

So, go see Joker if you haven't already.  Brace yourself for a whole new era when Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise Of Skywalker bows and we have saga rumors never more.  Watch this space for more posts soon!

And, be kind to one another.