Tag Archives: human nature

Breaking Down The Breakup Between Anna Faris And Chris Pratt

The life of a celebrity compared to the life of a non-celebrity couldn’t be more different without involving aliens, unicorns, and pet monkeys. That’s also a major reason why we’re so fascinated by celebrity culture. Say what you will about the crazy headlines of the glorified toilet paper known as tabloids. They still get our attention and, as I’ve pointed out before, that’s the most valuable currency in our economy.

As such, a high-profile celebrity couple breaking up is a big deal. From a celebrity culture and deranged tabloid perspective, it’s like crack mixed with meth mixed with heroin. It’s as addictive as it is debilitating. It crushes whatever fairy tale narrative we had playing out in our collective psyches and making us question whether love is truly real.

Now, I don’t doubt the allure of celebrity romances. These are people with a lot money and power at their fingertips. These are people who could ask a random stranger to smear pudding on their chest and have a hungry loin lick it up and they’ll do it with a smile.

They have every conceivable resource to make their relationships the sort of thing that Disney movies are built on. How is it that they keep failing? That’s not just a perception thing either. In terms of raw numbers, celebrity marriages fail at nearly twice the rate of non-celebrity marriages. With all that money and power, how is that even possible?

Well, last week we were reminded that no matter how many fairy tales fever dreams a celebrity romance may inspire, it can still fail. The latest involves Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, one of Hollywood’s highest profile celebrity couples. After an eight-year marriage, they’ve announced that they’re legally separating.

Even I admit, this one caught me by surprise. I’ve been a fan of Chris Pratt since his day as the chubby dork, Andy Dwyer, on “Parks and Recreation.” I’ve also had a soft spot for Anna Faris since her colorful performance in the horror spoof, “Scary Movie.” The fact that those two got together and stayed married for nearly a decade was just a nice bonus.

However, much like the end of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the high-profile nature of the marriage always made it subject to scrutiny. Most recently, there had been rumors that Pratt had cheated on Faris with Jennifer Lawrence, his co-star in their movie, “Passengers.”

I tend not to give much weight to such rumors, even when Jennifer Lawrence is involved. That hasn’t stopped some people from blaming Ms. Lawrence for the breakup, but that’s to be expected. Brad Pitt had been subject to similar rumors before his breakup with Angelina Jolie.

In general, it’s fairly safe to assume that, unless there’s high-definition sex tape, those rumors are only partially true at most. Since nobody other than Pratt and Faris know the full story behind their breakup, I’m not going to assume that cheating or infidelity was involved. According to Pratt’s own statement, the breakup was mutual.

“Anna and I are sad to announce we are legally separating. We tried hard for a long time, and we’re really disappointed. Our son has two parents who love him very much and for his sake we want to keep this situation as private as possible moving forward.”

For now, I’m going to take Mr. Pratt at is word, but assume there were other dynamics at work that neither he nor Faris care to share with an unforgiving public. I’m not even going to speculate on what those dynamics can be. Instead, I’m going to step back and look at the bigger picture here. If nothing else, I’d like to give think fans of both Pratt and Faris, as well as fans of any celebrity couple, a sense of perspective.

Much of that perspective boils down to one inescapable truth. Celebrities live crazy lives, work crazy jobs, and deal with crazy stresses that no ordinary person can hope to understand, let alone deal with. The fact that any celebrity romance succeeds in the long run is nothing short of a miracle.

These are not people with normal or even semi-normal experiences. These are people doing things few people can do, achieving success that most people never achieve, and struggling to manage it all without going insane. So whenever a celebrity does have a very public breakdown, of sorts, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

On top of that, celebrities often work jobs that keep them busy for insane hours and requires them to spend a good chunk of their time traveling. Even if they have their own private jet and a support staff who effectively manages every minor detail of their lives, right down to the brand of toilet paper they buy, they’re still always busy. In a sense, being a celebrity is as close to a full-time job as anyone can have.

How can you make a relationship work in those circumstances? That’s not a rhetorical question. That’s an ongoing issue that many celebrities struggle to solve. Pratt and Faris thought they had the answer. I’m sure Pitt and Jolie felt the same way. In the end, they were wrong. It’s tragic, but it shows just how hard it is to answer that question.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. Some celebrity couples find a way to make it work. They are, however, the exceptions and not the norms. Realistically speaking, the circumstances of a celebrity romance are a checklist of how not to structure a relationship. For the sake of context, here are just some of them.

  • Working extended periods in a high-stress, fast-paced environment
  • Managing large numbers of people and resources
  • Traveling frequently and having little time to spend at home or with loved ones
  • Doing physically demanding, often exhausting work
  • Being surrounded by extremely attractive people with a strong incentive to seduce others
  • Being subject to constant scrutiny and micromanaging
  • Constantly entering unfamiliar situations and dealing with unfamiliar people
  • Occasionally having to get naked and/or intimate with strangers

Just dealing with a few of these issues is stressful enough on any relationship. That’s why occupations like bartender, massage therapist, or police officer have a markedly high divorce rate. With celebrities, though, the challenges are even greater because it’s not just one or two issues. It all of them.

At the end of the day, no matter what Tom Cruise may think, we’re all human. We all have human brains that are stuck with caveman settings. Those brains aren’t equipped to deal with the rigors of a celebrity life. Hell, it’s barely equipped to handle our current ideals of romance.

Chris Pratt and Anna Faris had the odds stacked against them from the beginning. They clearly loved each other. They made that abundantly clear in their announcement. However, their brains have the same limits as ours. Those brains compel us to form the kinds of intimate, close connections that are easily strained by stressful jobs, constant travel, and an excess of beautiful people willing to sleep with you.

Most relationships, in general, struggle to function in those conditions, as evidenced by the non-celebrity divorce rate. Pratt and Faris tried to beat those odds, on top of all the forces working against them, and did a lot better than most. Just ask anyone Taylor Swift ever dated.

At the end of the day, though, the mechanics of a celebrity romance are just too daunting, even for those who genuinely love each other. It’s part of why people root for celebrity romances . The idea that two people can overcome those daunting obstacles nourishes our ideals about love and marriage. When that fails, it hits those ideals pretty hard, as evidenced by the Twitter reaction to the Pratt/Faris breakup.

While it is disappointing, especially for a relationship that seemed more healthy than most, it still shouldn’t be surprising. We, the non-celebrities of the world, can’t forget that people like Chris Pratt and Anna Faris live such crazy lives that are wholly unconducive to our romantic ideals.

Some of that is our fault. Some of that is the fault of biology with the way our brains are wired. Even so, it shouldn’t destroy our concept of love. If nothing else, it should remind us that making a relationship work is hard, but the fact that celebrities try as hard as they do is proof that the work is worth it.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Jack Fisher's Insights

Reasons Vs. Excuses: Why The Difference Matters

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Has anyone ever asked you to do something you really don’t want to do? Actually, let me rephrase that. How many times does someone ask you to do something you don’t want to do in the past 24 hours? Let’s face it. Unless you’re a king, a dictator, or Taylor Swift, it’s happened at least once.

Whatever was asked of you, how did you try to get out of it? I know some people will just grit their teeth and do it. Those people deserve ten times the respect they get. Every now and then, if not most of the time, we try to do something to get out of doing what we don’t want to do. Whether you’re in New York City or the Gobi desert, you can’t escape these situations. They’re just part of life.

Whenever we’re in these situations, we usually try any number of things to get out of it. Whether it’s chores, homework, or ballet recitals, we all have our own set of tactics. Some are more elaborate than others.

I knew a kid in school who could throw up on demand. He didn’t even have to put his finger in his mouth. He could just concentrate, cough, and then spew the kind of chunky bile that would dissuade any teacher from giving him an exam. I lost count of how many times that skill got him out of trouble.

Most of us don’t have that talent though. We all still look for ways to get out of things we don’t want to do. I sure have. I don’t deny that. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either. It’s a good skill to have, knowing how to avoid situations that make you miserable. However, it does reveal an important concept that I find myself noticing more and more as I get older, although sometimes I wish I didn’t.

It has to do with two simple words: reasons and excuses. They both have similar definitions. Most of the time, outside of a scientific context, we use these words interchangeably. For the most part, we understand the meaning behind them.

However, for the purpose of this discussion, as well as future discussions since this is a big topic, I’d like to focus on a particular context. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the situations and justifications we individually use to do or avoid doing something. Make no mistake. There is a difference between a reason and an excuse.

A reason is logical, narrow, and concise. It can be understood by anyone with a functioning brain and verified with simple tools. That’s not to say a reason has to be cold and callous like a Vulcan. It just has to be valid and clear.

I’ll offer a simple example. Growing up, there were a certain set of chores for which me and my siblings were responsible. If we didn’t do these chores, we didn’t get an allowance. It was that simple. The one chore I did most often was mowing the lawn. I didn’t enjoy doing it, but I still did it.

Then, one day, I got sick. I’m not talking about a headache either. I mean I got really sick, so much so that I ran a 102-degree fever. I know because my mother took my temperature twice. I was then bed-ridden for the next two days. Somebody else mowed the lawn, but I still got my allowance because I had a valid reason. My parents understood that. I understood that. There was no need for debate.

Using this same example in lawn care, I’ll highlight why an excuse is so different. If I wanted to use an excuse to get out of mowing the lawn, I sure as hell wouldn’t have chosen something that could be verified. Sure, I could’ve claimed to be sick, but that would’ve been pushing it because they could check. They could take your temperature and see if you’re running a fever.

On top of that, your parents may be really good at knowing when you’re lying. Mine certainly were. It might as well have been their mutant power. They knew when I was lying and if I ever tried, I’d just make an ass of myself.

Plus, lying to your parents isn’t just a dick move. It’s a bad long-term investment. If you lose your parents trust, especially over something as trivial as mowing the lawn, then you’ll give them way too many valid reasons not to trust you in the future, even when you have a good reason of your own.

So in order to make a more valid excuse, you need to come up with something more believable. It doesn’t have to be a lie. It doesn’t have to be completely true either. You could claim you’re depressed that your lover broke up with you. You could say there’s a movie you’d rather watch instead. You could say you just don’t feel like it. These aren’t lies. However, they are still excuses.

The primary trait of an excuse is that it doesn’t physically prevent you from doing whatever is asked of you. It defends and/or justifies your particular decisions, preferences, and what not. Being on vacation in Fiji ensures I can’t physically mow the lawn. That’s a reason. Being in a lousy mood and just wanting to sleep in does nothing to prevent me from operating the lawnmower. That’s an excuse.

With that in mind, let’s take the concept of reasons and excuses to a larger stage. Let’s assess how this applies to the overall process we use in rendering the various decisions and actions of our lives. What we do and why we do it is at the core of what it means to be a conscious human being.

For practical purposes, we like to think that we’re reasonable people. We like to think that we have valid reasons for what we do and why we do it. We break up with a lover because they’re not right for us. We buy organic food because it’s better for our health. We smoke pot because it makes us more fun to be around. Some of that may be true, but we still think of them as reasons and not excuses.

The problem with this is basically everything about it. Once again, caveman logic enters the picture and spits all over that rosy picture we have of ourselves and others. Based on our growing understanding of cognitive science and neurobiology, we have a better idea of how we make decisions and how we justify them.

When it comes to reasons and excuses, the two main factors are choice-supportive bias and cognitive dissonance. I know those sound like terms that Sheldon Cooper would use in a skit on “The Big Bang Theory” that somehow makes him sound like more of an asshole, but unlike 98 percent of what Sheldon says, these concepts are useful.

Choice-supportive bias is our tendency to ascribe positive attributes to the choices we make. It’s also a byproduct of cognitive dissonance, which is just a fancy way of saying our brain feels stressful and uncertain.

In essence, our brain is wired to avoid wrong decisions and for good reasons. Back in the caveman days, if we made a wrong decision, it usually meant we ended up as dinner for a hungry grizzly bear or ate poison berries that made us shit out our lower intestines. We’re alive because of this wiring so let’s not discount its use.

Unfortunately, nature is still a blunt instrument and our brains don’t know we only encounter bears in zoos that charge ten bucks for a soda. That aversion to making wrong decisions is still there, even when we decide something as simple as which breakfast cereal to buy.

With that in mind, we’ll do anything and everything to avoid wrong decisions and the brain stress they cause. Unfortunately, that often means making excuses to reduce the stress and justify our choice, even if it ends up being wrong.

If that weren’t bad enough, our brains don’t run our decisions through a logic filters first. Don’t worry though. That filter is still there in our brains. It’s just not at the front of the line like we all wish it were. If it were, then half the videos on YouTube wouldn’t exist.

Instead, according to current neuroscience, we make most of our decisions on snap judgments and emotions. Then, we’ll use reasons and excuses to justify those decisions after the fact. Unfortunately, since reasons are so rigid and stubborn, we’re more inclined to make excuses. Even if those excuses are mostly true, they’re still excuses.

There are so many other dynamics behind reasons and excuses. There’s no way I’ll be able to cover even half of them in a single blog post. However, there is a reason why I’m discussing this topic and it’s a good reason. It’s applies to both my novels, as well as other topics with very sexy implications.

That reason will become clearer in later posts. For now, consider this a trailer of sorts, minus the cheesy one-liners and explosions. If possible, take a moment to analyze how many excuses you make for your decisions compared to reasons. You may be shocked/appalled/disgusted by what you uncover. I promise you, though, it gets much crazier.

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Why Spider-Man Is The Most Incompetent Hero Of All Time

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Whenever I talk about comic books and superheroes on this blog, I generally try not to single one particular character out unless I’m trying to make a point. I find that singling out one too many characters is like pointing out all the plot holes in a Michael Bay movie. It just becomes too frustrating and futile in the long run.

That means if I’m going to dedicate a post to a character, it better be for a damn good reason. They must be a uniquely compelling sex-positive female character or a potential prelude for future female villains. Well, after talking about why most superheroes are incompetent by design, I feel compelled to single out one particular character who is, within this context, the worst offender.

That character isn’t some obscure, little-known sidekick from a bygone era either. In this case, the worst case of inept superheroes who take their incompetence to the next level is one of the most recognizable superheroes of the past 50 years. He’s had multiple movies, multiple cartoons, and multiple actors play him with varying degrees of success and/or failure.

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Yes, I’m talking about Spider-Man, also known as Peter Parker. He is, by far, the most recognizable and iconic of Stan Lee’s many creations. He’s also, by a ridiculous margin, the most profitable superhero in terms of merchandise sales. He makes enough money for Marvel every year for them to eat caviar every day off diamond-encrusted gold plates.

So why, then, is he the most incompetent superhero of all time? Why is Marvel’s most iconic character a case study in how not to operate as a superhero? Well, some of it has to do with the built-in incompetence I mentioned before. Spider-Man can’t be too competent, otherwise his overall narrative just wouldn’t be as compelling and his toys wouldn’t sell.

However, compared to the many other orphaned heroes who get their powers through accident or tragedy, Spider-Man sets himself apart by not just screwing himself over, but also by completely undermining the very principles of power and responsibility that he pretends to cherish. He’s not just an incompetent hero. He’s a hypocrite, albeit not on purpose.

So what exactly makes Spider-Man so inept by both the standards of a superhero and the standards that he sets on himself? Well, that has everything to do with his tactics and how he goes about them. If you’ve ever read a Spider-Man comic, seen a Spider-Man movie, or watched a Spider-Man cartoon, you know those tactics well. It goes like this:

  • Someone commits a crime
  • Peter Parker springs into action, putting on his costume and mask
  • Spider-Man fights the criminal, making jokes and quips along the way
  • The criminal whines and complains about how he’s ruining their master plan
  • The fight plays out and Spider-Man wins
  • Spider-Man ties the criminal up with his webs for the police
  • Spider-Man goes back to being Peter Parker and uses the pictures he takes of himself to make a living

This is Spider-Man’s primary method for dealing with crime and irresponsibility. It is the primary structure of every major battle he’s ever fought, be it the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, or Venom. While he wins/survives many of those battles, and even goes onto marry a supermodel for a while, it’s only when you step back and scrutinize the larger picture that you see how he loses his war against irresponsibility.

First and foremost, it’s important to establish that Spider-Man is one of those heroes who doesn’t kill. Like Superman and Batman, he goes out of his way to prevent the loss of life, be it innocent life or that of his enemy. That’s an understandable position to take. Killing is one of those unambiguous moral lines and many superheroes define their heroics by respecting that line.

For Spider-Man, however, this moral stand against killing is a major liability and the catalyst for his ineptitude. Granted, it’s not intentional, but the byproducts are unavoidable and those close to him have suffered as a result. Just ask Gwen Stacy.

Now I’m not saying Spider-Man is directly responsible for such suffering. Like all heroes, his intentions are good. He wants to help people. He wants to save lives. The problem is that, with his tactics, he’s doomed to hurt far more people than he helps.

This is because his tactics essentially guarantee that he will be a target, his loved ones will suffer, and his enemies will become stronger as a result. This isn’t just because Spider-Man refuses to kill them, although that is part of it. It’s because of the very persona that Spider-Man creates that his efforts are so inept.

Spider-Man, unlike Batman or Daredevil, doesn’t present a very intimidating presence. He’s many things, but intimidating isn’t one of them. His costume isn’t that intimidating. He doesn’t operate in the shadows or anything. He’s actually a well-known public figure, thanks largely to his own efforts and those of his boss, the ultimate blowhard that is J. Jonah Jameson.

This is a huge problem because it ensures that Spider-Man’s presence isn’t considered a major threat or danger to his enemies. He’s more of an annoyance or inconvenience. Whether they’re the Green Goblin or a simple mugger, they know Spider-Man isn’t going to kill them. He’s not even going to seriously wound them. He’ll just fight them, tie them up, and give them over to the police.

Even for those without access to overpaid lawyers, that’s not so much a threat as it is a frustration. On top of that, Spider-Man doesn’t really have meaningful conversations that get people to rethink their choices. He’s just cracks jokes, makes lewd comments, and generally carries himself with the maturity of a 13-year-old. Granted, this is part of his charm as a character, but it also ensures his tactics are doomed to fail.

It’s one thing to anger and annoy an enemy in the heat of battle. That can work to a hero’s advantage. However, the problems with Spider-Man manifest after the battle is over.

By annoying and angering his enemies, all he does is give them more incentive to fight him and hurt those he cares about. On top of that, he wears a flashy, distinct costume that’s easily recognizable in both night and broad daylight. It’s also well-known, thanks to his own efforts at taking pictures of himself and selling them to a newspaper.

Even before the era of smart phones and Twitter hacks, that’s putting a pretty big target on his back. He makes himself an identifiable figure on which his enemies can focus on. Even if they don’t know his identity, they know the source of their frustration. Since Spider-Man doesn’t scare them, they have every possible reason to fight him.

To make matters even worse, he gives his enemies a common threat to rally against. Anyone who knows anything about social psychology, or has just been to a Taylor Swift concert, knows that nothing unites people better than a common cause. He doesn’t just make his enemies stronger as individuals. He makes them stronger as a team. How is that responsible?

In essence, Spider-Man doesn’t intimidate his villains, doesn’t do anything to deter their irresponsible decisions, and gives them a common enemy to really around. If being responsible is deterring the kind of criminals that killed his Uncle Ben, then he’s the most irresponsible hero of all time.

I’m not saying Spider-Man has to start killing like the Punisher. I’m saying that his own tactics undermine his goals. Now you could make a similar criticism to characters like Batman or Daredevil because they don’t kill and their enemies constantly escape to torment them. However, there is one key difference that sets them apart.

Batman and Daredevil, despite their gaudy costumes, are intimidating. In fact, intimidation is a key tactic of theirs. Batman said it himself in the early scenes of “Batman Begins.” He seeks to strike fear in those that prey on the fearful. In this sense, he does succeed.

You could make the argument that because of Batman’s presence, there people in Gotham City who choose not to enter a life of crime. The prospect of dealing with Batman is scary. Fear is a powerful deterrent. Only the truly deranged criminals dare to enter this life and take on Batman. In that context, it makes perfect sense that the kind of villains he faces are the exceedingly deranged kind.

Spider-Man can’t make that claim. He can’t claim that he scares or intimidates people into not choosing a life of crime. If anything, his tactics may annoy ordinary people who wouldn’t otherwise consider such a life, but try it anyways just to shut him up or make a name for themselves.

Every hero is different. Every hero has their own set of tactics, goals, and ideals. However, no hero is as inept, incompetent, or irresponsible as Spider-Man. So long as he keeps doing what he’s doing, and Marvel has a huge financial interest in never allowing it to change, he’ll continue emboldening his enemies while guaranteeing that everyone around him suffers.

It’s both an irony and a tragedy. In his efforts to be responsible with his powers, Spider-Man conducts himself in the most irresponsible way possible. Even if it’s indirect and unintentional, the results are the same. He can still call himself a hero because of his principles. He just can’t call himself a very competent hero.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes

Magneto: The Original Walter White?

It’s a common pattern in pop culture. Elvis and the Beatles didn’t invent rock music. They just made it mainstream. “The Godfather” didn’t invent the Italian Mafia. It just made it mainstream. The movie “Deep Throat” didn’t invent blowjobs. The human race figured that out centuries ago. The movie just finally got around to recognizing how amazing the concept would be.

These patterns often play out before our eyes without us really noticing. Nobody ever realizes they’re part of something greater, at least until they’re being played by Denzel Washington or Daniel Day Lewis in a movie. There’s always some strange revolution going on and I’m not talking about the kind that involves fad diets or Gwyneth Paltrow’s health tips for a clean vagina.

When I decided to break down the impact of Walter White on villains and antagonists in pop culture, I knew I was a bit late to the party. “Breaking Bad” has been off the air since 2013. In that time, the cultural impact of Walter White and how Bryan Cranston brought this character to life has spread. Many have already done far more thorough breakdowns of this character that are far more insightful than anything I could ever do.

At the same time, however, a part of me still looks at Walter White and sees the same pattern that has played out in music, TV, and even porn. Like Elvis, Walter White didn’t invent the complex antagonist/anti-hero. He just made it mainstream. However, I think there’s another character who accomplished this while Bryan Cranston was voicing bad Power Rangers villains.

Which character am I talking about? What kind of character could’ve possibly captured the complexities and depth that Walter White embodied without having his own show on AMC? This character actually pre-dates AMC, cable TV, Power Rangers, and even hippies. His name is Erik Lensherr, but he’s best known as the X-men villain, Magneto.

Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I jump at the chance to relate anything I can to comic books, especially X-men.

I’ve already used X-men to highlight what I feel are relevant issues. I’ve cited an X-men comic as a prime example of a true relationship of equals. I’ve cited X-men as teaching valuable lessons in the importance of foreplay. I’ve even singled out one X-man in particular, Storm, as a more viable female icon than Wonder Woman.

That said, it should come as no surprise that I make another connection when the unapologetic comic book fan in me sees the opportunity. For Magneto, the opportunity is definitely there. Based on his story, his personality, and his actions, he can claim that he was Walter White before there ever was a Walter White.

That claim isn’t hard to justify to anyone who learned about Magneto from the X-men movies, specifically the first X-men movie in which he was played by Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen, and the pseudo-reboot entitled “X-men: First Class” in which Michael Fassbender gave the character an uncomfortable amount of sex appeal.

Both these movies make it a point to emphasize one of the most important, not to mention traumatic, aspects of Magneto’s character. He’s a holocaust survivor. He didn’t just live through one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind. He lost his entire family in it. He literally saw humanity at its worst. Can anyone honestly blame him for being a villain?

Unlike Walter White, it wasn’t desperation or circumstance that made Magneto want to give a big middle finger to the human race and get the ball rolling on their successors. He’s always been a little pissed off at the world for allowing such an atrocity. When you’re surrounded by the greatest evils of humanity, is it any wonder why you would found a group called the Brotherhood of “Evil” Mutants?

Even if he does have a good reason for being evil, this justification alone doesn’t put Magneto on the same level as Walter White. A major aspect of Walter White and the concept he embodies is the complexity of his character. If Magneto were just another Dr. Doom wannabe who just happens to have a better reason for hating the human race, then this concept wouldn’t apply.

However, Magneto does have depth. He does have complexity. His history is rich with stories that has him navigating a vast gray area of morality. One day, he’s a reformed man who helps the X-men fight off killer robots trying to wipe them out. On another, he’s creating a giant mutant monster to unleash upon the human race.

This isn’t just a bitter old man who gets moodier than most. His shifting allegiances, as well as his efforts to walk that fine line between villain and anti-hero, doesn’t happen sporadically. Magical spells aren’t used to just make him a hero, although that tactic has been used on other characters in comics.

Magneto’s story, much like Walter White, follows him making hard decisions in difficult situations. The consequences of these decisions lead him down many paths, some of which get pretty damn dark. Just read Cullen Bunn’s 2014 “Magneto” series for proof of that. That series alone ensures Magneto deserves to be on the same level as Walter White.

What makes Walter White such a compelling character is that his struggle and his hard decisions feel so real. He’s a man struggling in a difficult situation, but those situations only serve to bring out the worst in him.

Magneto may live in a world of mutants, superheroes, and characters who ride cosmic surfboards, but what he endures is painfully real. He lived through a real atrocity that has scars that we, as a species, are still struggling to confront. Whether the evil within him was always there or influenced by these struggles, it still felt painfully real.

The X-men, and the mutant struggle that Magneto has always been a part of, embodies the struggles of minorities. Even X-men director, Bryan Singer, has cited these struggles as an important part of the mythos. The struggles of minorities and the atrocities they suffer is painfully real.

In the case of Magneto, the horror of these real events helped shape his fictional path as a character. Walter White can’t claim he endured such atrocities. He endured injustice, but not on the same level as Magneto. These forces shaped their respective stories and personas.

At the end of the day, it still leaves us wondering whether these forces actually made them evil or just brought out the evil that was already there. While it may involve a little of both in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a big part of what makes these characters so compelling. At least with Magneto, he can say he knocked first.

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Villains, Antagonists, And The Walter White Effect

He’s the bad guy. He’s the obstacle. He’s the one that the hero must outwit. To put it more succinctly, he’s the one who knocks. Call him what you want. Say he’s a villain, an anti-hero, and an antagonist. We know who these characters are and we understand their role.

Then, Walter White came along and ran the concept over with his car. Villains, heroes, and antagonists have not been the same since.

Some may argue it has improved the way in which we tell stories. Some may argue that it has been a detriment, creating a race of sorts to abandon old ideals and make every character feel all too human. For fictional characters not bound by the crushing limits of the real world, this can be a race that no one should want to win. However, I believe the rise of Walter White and “Breaking Bad” has raised the bar for characters of all types.

I call it the “Walter White Effect.” I know that’s not very original, but it sheds light on a concept that has been permeating pop culture since “Breaking Bad” became a phenomenon. We’ve seen it in movies, TV shows, comic books, and video games. What else explains Dr. Doom becoming the new Iron Man?

It’s just not enough for villains to be villainous anymore. It’s not enough for anti-heroes to have an edge anymore. Walter White has changed the way we think about protagonists, antagonists, heroes, anti-heroes, and everything in between. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’ve already felt the effects of those changes and I even welcome them.

This is an issue that spins right out of my recent discussions on the nature of evil in humans. In discussing such a morbid topic, I tried to keep things basic while also trying not to make too many people want to spit in their own gene pool. For this discussion, however, I want to focus on just one of those trees in the vast forest of human evil.

In doing so, I know I’ll rile up those who don’t believe that Walter White deserves to be classified as “evil.” I understand that argument. To call Walter White “evil” the same way we call IRS agents evil is to cast too wide a net on a remarkably complex character. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus on the traits that highlight the “evil” qualities of Walter White and characters like him.

Those who have binge-watched “Breaking Bad” know Walt’s story well. He started off as this affable, sympathetic man who endured one too many bad breaks, if that’s not too fitting a term. He had a family who loved him, a baby on the way, and friends who supported him. On the surface, he had every reason to be a good person.

Then, the bad breaks added up. He was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer and given only a couple years left to live. Being a grossly overqualified high school chemistry teacher, he was destined to leave his wife, son, and newborn baby with nothing. Something had to give. It led him down a dark path, one that eventually brought out the worst in him.

It’s a story that puts a major twist on the familiar “Hero’s Journey” that we know so well. In some respects, Walt started out as a hero, doing bad things for good reasons. He did what he did to provide for his family, not to snort crank off a strippers ass. However, that journey morphed into something very different, one that has set a new standard for heroes and villains alike.

Bit by bit, sin by sin, and excuse by excuse, Walter White descended into this evil mindset. He killed former partners. He also lied to others. He even abandoned his initial reason for becoming a criminal. It was no longer enough to just provide for his family. He was in the “empire business” as he put it.

These are not the thoughts, actions, and traits of a hero. This is no longer a character who deserves such sympathy. Walter White became a true villain. In the end, he basically admitted as such. He said outright, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it.” It effectively completed his journey into being a villain.

In doing so, Walter White proved something that nobody thought to prove. He showed through “Breaking Bad” that a villain’s journey could be every bit as compelling as a hero’s journey. It’s not enough for a villain to just be an egocentric, mustache-twirling asshat who wants to take over the world. Villains need just as much depth as heroes.

This presents a new challenge for everyone from movie producers to aspiring erotica/romance writers. It’s hard enough writing a compelling protagonist. The success of Walter White as both a villain and a protagonist effectively raises the bar.

Villains are now the new heroes. Anti-heroes generate more interest. What else explains the success of characters like Deadpool? It’s not enough for Superman, Batman, and Captain America to save the day anymore. We need villains who have better reasons for being who they are.

This effect has already skewed the standards somewhat and not just in the sense that it helped make Deadpool one of the most profitable movies of 2016. Just look at the villains in “Captain America: Civil War” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Nobody is going to mistake Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor or Daniel Brühl’s as Helmut Zemo for Walter White anytime soon.

We can, however, forgive some of these shortcomings because the Walter White Effect is still very new. It’s still sinking in. People are just starting to try and emulate the success of Walter White and not just through “Breaking Bad” spinoffs.

It happened with westerns. It happened with sci-fi movies. When someone stumbles upon a winning formula, others try to recreate it with varying degrees of success. What else explains the glut of “Die Hard” ripoffs in the 90s?

Even if this does mean we’re in for multiple Walt wannabes over the next decade, I believe the lasting impact of the Walter White Effect will be a positive one. I think it’s better for all mediums, be they movies or erotica/romance novels, when both protagonists and antagonists alike are compelling.

The challenge, however, is making that journey into evil a compelling one. Walter White’s journey was long and difficult. There were times he could’ve stepped off that path, but didn’t. In the end, as others have pointed out, Walt always had this evil tendency within him. He just needed the right push in the wrong direction.

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The 10 Most Evil Humans In History (According To WatchMojo)

So long as I’m discussing the topic of evil on this blog, it was only a matter of time before I started venturing into the extremes. It happens with any topic that holds your interest for more than a few minutes. It’s not enough to just see one cat video. You have to find the greatest, most adorable cat video possible.

It’s human nature, a common and all too fitting theme when it comes to discussions of good and evil. To really grasp a concept, we tend to look to the extremes of that concept. That makes sense because the extremes usually catch our attention. They make the more subtle aspects of the concept not subtle. Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Elton John are living proof of this.

What’s going to hold your attention more? A thorough, detailed assessment of all the intricacies of a topic or the equivalent of a monster truck driving down down the street that shoots flames out the tailpipe while playing Slayer music? Unless you’re Sheldon Cooper, the answer should be obvious.

With that in mind, I think it’s fitting that any discussions about evil involve extremes. Sadly, human beings give us plenty of real-world examples of these extremes. History is full of ruthless conquerors, sadistic dictators, and eccentric directors who damage beloved superhero franchises beyond repair. These characters are not works of fiction. They’re real people who commit real evil. That makes their acts all the more revealing.

So in the interest of revealing and/or repulsing our tender sensibilities, I found a video from our old friends at WatchMojo that highlights 10 of the worst human beings in history. Some are serial killers. Some are kings, dictators, and despots. Every one of them is undoubtedly evil by nearly every measure.

Some may not agree with this list. Some may think it left off a few too many kings, queens, and disgraced professional athletes. At the very least, of provides some context and insight into the sheer breadth of humanity’s capacity for evil.

Are you ashamed to be human yet? Do you wish you were born a lizard? If so, step back and take a deep breath. These are extremes. By definition, they’re not the norm. They’re the exact opposite of the norm. They take the norm, take out its knees with a baseball bat, and kick it into submission before robbing it on the spot. I’d be more excessive, but I’m starting to have one too many flashbacks to the third grade so I’ll stop.

It’s an important perspective to maintain, even as we contemplate the worst of the worst when it comes to evil. The same thing happens when we watch Fox News for too long. Seeing all these extremes, which are often meant to get attention rather than convey the truth, gives us a flawed perception about what it means to be human. It doesn’t help that these perceptions find their way into our most famous stories.

It’s no secret that Bram Stoker’s inspiration for “Dracula” came from a real-life person with a bloody evil streak named Vlad the Impaler. In many respects, the things Vlad did make him much more terrifying than Dracula can hope to be because Vlad actually lived. Vlad earned that nickname and didn’t give a damn how infamous it made him.

Not every evil person earns that kind of label, but their real-world deeds definitely leave a mark. It’s not always on the people they hurt. Sometimes, their very presence skews our perceptions of human nature. It’s because these extreme evils catch our attention so much that our caveman brains can’t help but render sobering, albeit inaccurate conclusions.

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I may end up contributing to that issue. While I haven’t created a character on the same level as Dracula, characters like Warren Irvine in “Skin Deep” and Madam Felicity in “The Escort and the Gigolo” are not the kind of people you want be friends with. They’re definitely not the kind of people you want as your enemies either. Again, they’re not Dracula.

That said, it is tempting sometimes to push the limits of your antagonists. There are a number of novels I have in mind that require a mean, pissed off, utterly deplorable person to make the story work. How far can I take that? I’m not sure, but the real people who do real evil in this world do set the bar pretty high.

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The (Sort Of) Problem With Evil

I’ve decided to take a break from deciding whether music form boy bands and burned out pop stars counts as love or obsession so I can focus on a far more relevant issue. It’s relevant in that it affects more directly than the annoying songs we have to endure. It also affects me as an aspiring erotica/romance writer because it’s an important component of every character, be they protagonists or sidekicks.

Yes, I’m talking about evil again. My first post yesterday ended up covering so much that I quickly realized I’ll have to stretch this out to cover the full range of the topic. Make no mistake. This is an important topic. Evil, whether we believe in it or not, will impact us in some way and I’m not just talking about the kind that gets shows like Firefly canceled.

Our understanding of good, evil, and the morality that governs both is an important part of our civilization and our species, as a whole. It’s one of those things we all acknowledge, but can’t quite agree upon. It’s not unlike George Clooney. We all agree he’s sexy. We just don’t agree why.

This directly ties into the so-called “Problem of Evil.” Anyone who has endured a debate between an overly atheist and an overly religious type is probably familiar with this concept. The “problem” is that evil exists and, as a result, it undermines a lot of theological and ethical issues. It’s something two people can argue about for days on end and not accomplish a goddamn thing.

For me, personally, I have a big problem with calling evil a “problem” in the first place. It’s not that I think it’s unimportant. It definitely is. I just take issue with use of the word “problem.”

While I was in college, one of my professors did this lecture where he said one of the most brilliant things I ever heard from any human being not inspired by George Carlin. He started by saying this:

“We don’t deal in problems. We deal in dilemmas. Problems are easy. Problems, by definition, have solutions. Dilemmas don’t have solutions. Dilemma’s are harder to manage because they often require compromise.”

There are a lot of amazing things I remember from college. Not all of them have to do with how willing some people are to get naked at a party. The professionals there really had some smart things to say. This, more than almost anything, really stuck with me.

I think it nicely applies to the concept of evil because its a concept that’s so diverse and ambiguous, at times. At one point in history, marrying someone from another tribe is considered evil. At another, admitting to owning a Nickelback album is evil. It’s fluid, overly vague concept that keeps moving the goalposts.

As a dilemma, evil can’t have a solution. It can have various understandings. There can be compromises along the way in which the idea of evil skews towards or away from a certain direction. That’s why concepts like slavery took so much time to fade into that special domain of evil and even then, we still have problems eliminating it.

More than most concepts, the dilemma surrounding evil has many religious connotations. Nearly every religion, including those that involve chakra, crystal energy, and aliens, tries to address the source of evil in some form or another. Some use it as a means of proving their particular theology. Others use it as a means of disproving that very theology. It’s a never-ending argument that rarely ends with someone changing their mind.

Even so, it’s an important concept to explore. Even if I do take issue with the use of the word “problem,” it is a concept that reveals many facets of evil and how we see it. Rather than try to break down every one of those facts, knowing that would require more posts than anyone is comfortable reading, I found a very helpful YouTube video that nicely sums it up.

This comes courtesy of Crash Course, a very helpful YouTube channel in terms of explaining complex issues in a simple, basic way. This is basically a 101 class, one that does not get into the finer details of an issue. This reveals the forest without scrutinizing any of the trees. For those who want to learn more about the “Problem of Evil,” this video breaks it down nicely.

Whether you’re religious or non-religious, both sides of the problem/dilemma should give you pause. It certainly has for me. I’ve even seen it in my writing. I’ve had to mold “evil” characters to make the stories in “Skin Deep” and “The Escort and the Gigolo” work. It’s challenging, but it’s an important part of a larger narrative.

The presence of evil raises questions about what we believe spiritually and how we see ourselves as a species. The simple fact we can’t be certain in both the theological and scientific analysis of evil reveals just how complex this issue is. When neither science nor religion can offer a clear-cut understanding, you know it’s a hell of a dilemma, if that’s not too fitting a term.

So what does this mean for evil as a whole? What does this mean for evil in a religious, scientific, and philosophical respect? Well, these are questions I hope to keep exploring. Right now, I want to use the “Problem of Evil” to create the right context.

We live in a world where we can’t help but acknowledge that evil exists, but can’t agree on the source or mechanisms behind it. With every evil act, there seems to be more and more complexity.

The evil of today is not always the evil of tomorrow. Evil characters in novels today can easily become heroes and/or anti-heroes tomorrow. We don’t know when or how this will manifest. We just know it’ll continue to confound and conflict us in our minds and souls, however we define them.

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