Tag Archives: Star Wars

How Jar Jar Binks Exposed The Flaws (And Dangers) Of Social Media

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Every now and then, something extraordinary happens that reveals how flawed our current system is and how far behind we are in terms of fixing it. Sometimes, it’s tragic. Sometimes, it’s frustrating. In rare cases, it’s hilarious, albeit in a distressing way. Personally, I find those cases most revealing.

Recently, there was one notable instance that included one of the most reviled fictional characters of the past 20 years. No, I’m not talking about King Joffrey or Ramsay Bolton. I’m talking about Jar Jar Binks. If you’re a “Star Wars” fan, then that name likely inspires all sorts of anger, dread, and distress.

Jar Jar is both a joke and a cautionary tale. Aside from proving that George Lucas has no business directing another “Star Wars,” he demonstrates just how wrong an attempt at comedic relief can go. While he wasn’t the only problem with the prequels, he augmented the flaws. On top of being annoying, incoherent, and incompetent most of the time, he was a major symptom of a much larger disease.

Once again, everything that makes Jar Jar such a pariah in the cultural landscape has exposed another disease in a place that’s not far, far away. For reasons that many found confusing and confounding, Jar Jar started trending on Twitter. While there was a someone legitimate reason for this, it was indirect and unintentional. There was no concerted effort to get him trending. It wasn’t even part of any elaborate trolling.

The fact that it took a while to explain why this infamous character was trending says more about social media than it does about Jar Jar. There’s no question that social media has changed the media landscape in ways that cannot be overstated. We current live in a world where companies invest a great deal of time and resources into making their presence on social media unique. Some definitely do it better than others.

At the same time, social media has not always had a positive effect on the world and its users. There have been plenty of cases where social media has been used to brutally harass people and spread blatant lies. There are even some cases in which social media played a role in directing real harm to innocent people. The dangers are there and well-documented.

Most people with an internet connection know those dangers are there. Many see it as the cost of doing business for a technology that has an uncanny ability to connect people. I certainly pay that cost, given my own presence on social media. However, what just happened with Jar Jar on Twitter demonstrated that the cost might have hidden fees in the fine print.

Remember, there was no concerted effort to get Jar Jar trending. Even after he did, nobody could figure out why he was trending. On top of that, the fact that nobody could figure it out only got people more curious, which made him trend even more. It was a self-reinforcing cycle that was funny in some respects, but distressing in many others.

It’s somewhat similar to what happens with people who are famous just for being famous and little more. This unfortunate, but inescapable aspect of celebrity culture rarely creates people who garner respect or admiration. If anything, they foster cynicism and disconnection from the culture. That kind of fame just feels so random, unearned, and empty. Thanks to Jar Jar, we now know social media trends can do the same.

Things can trend for no discernible reason. Matters that nobody even wants to get trending can garner unexpected and often unwanted attention. Thanks to the mechanisms of social media, the mystery behind why something trends can make it trend even more. While that’s going on, legitimate issues that warrant attention can slip under the radar.

Human beings only have so much attention to give. When something like Jar Jar trends for no discernible reason, a non-significant chunk of our collective attention is redirected. It would be one thing if it were just some masterfully act of trolling, but this is something we do to ourselves collective. That means we have no one to blame but ourselves when something like Jar Jar trends.

We’re the ones who make and share these hashtags. The social media companies are just tools and businesses. Like many companies, they’ll engage in plenty of shady activities. They’ll do whatever they think will make them more money. At the end of the day, though, we’re still the consumers who shape social media.

That should be cause for concern because this isn’t vapid celebrity culture we’re dealing with. The things that trend on social media have real-world consequences. Companies have suffered significant harm. Lives of non-celebrity people have been ruined. A random person who becomes famous for no reason rarely causes actual harm to anyone. Social media trends can do so much more.

In some cases, it can cause a great deal of good. If the right thing gets trending, it can rally people to a worthy cause. It can also inform the public of a serious issue. It can even turn real-world tragedies into a powerful force for good. Personally, I think this good overshadows the bad, but when I see Jar Jar trending, I can’t deny that there’s a flaw in this system.

Is there a fix? I believe there is, but I don’t believe it’s as simple as companies tweaking their rules or insulting people who share hash tags. Jar Jar may have been a source of frustration in the early 2000s, but he’s only relevant in 2019 because we make him relevant. It’s not him. It’s not George Lucas. This is all us.

I believe we’re better than that. Despite all the awful things I’ve seen trending on Twitter and Facebook, I see far more positives that warrant far greater attention. Jar Jar might be a symptom, but I take comfort in the fact that he’s a symptom that often burns out quickly. When something is empty, people get bored of it much easier and nobody should ever underestimate the power of boredom.

In the grand scheme of things, Jar Jar trending for no reason isn’t necessarily a setback. It’s just a sign that we, as a tech-savvy society, have a long way to go with respect to managing social media. In an imperfect world, dumb things will trend for dumb reasons. However, when something like Jar Jar starts trending, that’s a sign that we have plenty of room for improvement.

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Filed under human nature, media issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, Star Wars, technology, War on Boredom

When Aliens Invade The Best, Worst, And Most Likely Scenario

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It’s a common, but appealing theme in science fiction. One day, we think we’re alone in the universe. The next, aliens invade and our species is never the same. Whether it sparks a war for survival like in “Independence Day” or leads to a new era of inter-stellar cooperation like in “Mass Effect,” it’s a profound moment. It may be the one case in which our collective imagination is too limited to appreciate the implications.

The concept of first contact is daunting enough. Just discovering extraterrestrial life in the universe would be groundbreaking. Making contact with it would be downright overwhelming for our species. It might be the closest thing human beings ever get to a true religious experience, making contact with another species from the stars.

An invasion, however, carries with it a special kind of impact, albeit a traumatic kind. Science fiction tells all sorts of stories about it, but chances are that the real-world possibilities don’t come close to the fantasy we all envision. Whether it’s triumph after a stirring speech from President Whitmore or doom at the hands of Martian invaders, the truth probably somewhere in between.

I’ve argued before that the human race isn’t ready for contact with aliens, but we’re close. I also believe that if extraterrestrial aliens ever do arrive, they won’t be hostile invaders. If they’re advanced enough to travel the vast distance of the cosmos, then they’re advanced enough to not need anything here on Earth. There’s abundant water, minerals, and rare elements throughout space that are fare easier to obtain.

However, that all assumes that an extraterrestrial species would act in accord with incentives that most humans understand. That could be a flawed assumption. If an extraterrestrial species is truly alien, then their thoughts, feelings, and motivations could be alien too. It’s not impossible that a species would evolve to be inherently hostile to any other sentient life.

With that in mind, I’d like to present a few potential scenarios on how an alien invasion would play out for humanity. I believe there are a few instances in which our species would survive and even be stronger. There are also a few in which our hopes of survival are effectively zero. I don’t claim that any of these are definitive. This is just my attempt to speculate on how an invasion would pan out for humanity.


Worst Case Scenario: Aliens See Humans As Cockroaches

This is the scenario that movies like “Independence Day” or “Predator” often utilize. The invading aliens are advanced, capable of technology that traverses interstellar space with ease. They arrive on Earth, seeing its resources as ripe for the taking. They invade, seeing humans as nothing more than annoying insects. They deal with them the same way we deal with ants.

While those movies often build stories around human beings finding a way to win the day, either by discovering a hidden weakness or somehow hacking alien computers, it’s doubtful that this is how it would play out. If an alien species is hostile and they have access to technology so advanced that it might as well be magic to lesser species, then we have no chance.

In this scenario, there’s nothing humanity can do to fight back. The President Whitmores of the world could give all the inspiring speeches they want. We wouldn’t have a chance against these creatures. We would be like mosquitoes trying to stop an oncoming nuclear missile. We wouldn’t have a chance and at most, we would just annoy the aliens.

In some cases, humanity could survive by simply avoiding the aliens and live underground in hopes that they’ll eventually leave. If the invaders are intent on turning Earth into a base or strip-mining it entirely, then that’s just delaying the inevitable.

In other cases, the invading aliens could see humanity as lab rats or pets. The only reason they would keep some humans alive would be as resources. On many levels, it would be even worse than slavery because the aliens wouldn’t even value anything we could do. They would just value our flesh the same way we might value a mineral.

One way or another, humans don’t survive this invasion. We either get wiped out with ease or turned into glorified pets for aliens. It’s the one alien contact scenario we would want to avoid and one that the late Stephen Hawking dreaded the most. While I think it’s unlikely that we’ll encounter intelligent aliens this hostile, I don’t deny that it’s still a frightening possibility.


Best Case Scenario: Inept And Incompetent Invaders

This is something a lot of common sci-fi tropes rely on. You have a race of aliens advanced enough to master inter-stellar travel, but incompetent enough to lose a war against a bunch of hairless apes who kill each other over what they think happens when they die. Essentially, any story in which humanity defeats invading aliens has to rely on this.

While there are plenty of absurdities inherent in those stories, it’s not impossible to imagine an invading alien race that’s incompetent. We assume that any advanced alien race that can travel across interstellar space has to be competent to some extent. However, just because they can travel across the stars doesn’t mean they’ll be effective invaders.

The best example of this, in my opinion, comes from a series of novels by Harry Turtledove entitled “Worldwar.” In the story, an alien race invades Earth in the middle of World War II. However, the aliens in this story aren’t some unkillable monstrosities like the Xenomorphs. They’re a race of reptilian creatures who just made some false assumptions.

In the novels, which I highly recommend, the aliens advance at a much slower pace than humanity. What takes us 100 years to produce technologically takes them 1,000. When they first observed Earth, we were in medieval times. They assumed that humans advanced at a similar rate and would be push-overs by the time their fleet arrived. They were dead wrong.

If humanity ever has to deal with an alien invasion, these are the kinds of invaders we should hope for. It’s not just that they make false assumptions and grossly underestimate other species. An invasion by inept aliens means humanity has a fighting chance.

While it may still make for a bloody and brutal war, like the one that unfolds in the “Worldwar” series, that war may ultimately unite the human race in ways that would not be possible in any other scenario. Former President Ronald Reagan even pointed this out in a famous speech to the UN and I think he’s right.

Humanity has never had a singular existential threat that would require every race, ethnic group, and nation to unite. For our entire history, we’ve never had to deal with an advanced species trying to wipe us out. Having that threat means we have to work together or die. No matter how much humans disagree over trivial things, survival tends to overrule petty grievances.

In the long run, that kind of unity might help the human race come together in a way we can’t imagine, given our current state of disunity. As bad as a war against alien invaders can be, it could bring out the best in us if we have a fighting chance. Unfortunately, that chance is contingent on the invaders being incompetent and I think that’s hoping for too much.


Most Likely Scenario: Aliens Invaders Are Indifferent To Humanity

Of all the invasion scenarios, both in fiction and those with a passing connection to reality, I think this is the most likely. Again, it assumes that invading aliens are competent enough to get what they want, regardless of whether or not the human race wants it. If their technology is sufficiently advanced, it won’t matter what humanity wants.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that aliens see humans as bugs that need exterminating. It’s far more likely that they’ll see humans the same way drivers see an ant hill on the side of a major highway. They’ll barely notice. They might not even realize we’re there and we, in turn, might be completely oblivious to them.

Even if Earth has some resource that invading aliens want, it makes more sense to just take it without humans noticing. That way they don’t have to fight a war. It’s not that they couldn’t win that war with ease. It would just be exceedingly inconvenient. It would be like blowing up a dam just to water your garden.

For all we know, this has already happened. There may have been multiple occasions where intelligent aliens have passed by our planet, dropped in, and taken some resources without anyone knowing. Given how humans have only existed on this planet for a small fraction of its history, it’s entirely possible that advanced aliens have already visited and determined there’s nothing worth seeing.

Even if they did arrive at a time when humans were present, they would be plenty advanced to either evade detection or fool anyone they came across. The human brain is easy to trick, especially if aliens have some sort of cloaking technology or can shape-shift like the Skrulls in Marvel Comics. Deceiving people, even in today’s connected world, wouldn’t be too tricky for them.

If the aliens just want something minor that doesn’t require exterminating all life on Earth, it makes more sense to just slip in and take it. The only reason invading aliens would ever be hostile in this scenario is if humans got in their way or created an obstacle, of sorts. In that case, it wouldn’t entirely be the fault of the aliens for attacking.

I think this is most likely because I believe, in our current form, humans haven’t done enough to really make themselves worthy of contact with intelligent aliens. Sure, we have a space program and we’ve created world-ending technology, but we haven’t shown an ability to affect much beyond our own planet. I think until that changes, any advanced alien civilization wouldn’t have much interest in us.

That’s still assumes a lot about the intentions of advanced alien life, which can certainly be wrong. However, until we actually meet alien life, we won’t know what to expect. There are plenty of possibilities in which such contact would benefit the human race immensely, but there are far more possibilities in which that event goes horribly wrong.

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Done Deal: The Disney/Fox Merge Is Complete!

As Micky Mouse himself would say, “Oh boy!”

As of 12:02 a.m. on March 20, 2019, the deal that has been 18 months in the making is complete. Disney and Fox are officially merged in an intimate corporate entanglement that sounds extra-sexy to fans of the X-Men and Fantastic Four.

There are a lot of implications here. The media landscape will never be the same. I’m neither smart enough nor psychic enough to make sense of those implications. However, I’m certain there will be plenty to discuss in the coming years. As a fan of superhero movies and all things awesome, I’ll be keeping a close eye on it and I’ll certainly single out the stuff that’s extra sexy.

Until then, let’s all just take a moment to appreciate the bold new, Disney-dominated world we live in now.

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Filed under Marvel, movies, superhero movies, television, X-men

The Future Of Villains And Villainy

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What is happening to villains these days? That’s an entirely reasonable question to ask. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a remarkable shift in how we approach villainy in movies, TV, comic books, and video games. I’m not just talking about the superhero media, either. However, that happens to be the most visible manifestation of this change.

As a long-time fan of both superheroes and quality villains, I welcome this change. At the same time, I’m curious about where it’s leading and what it means for the future. Villains are as old as storytelling itself. From the Bible to “Star Wars,” these stories work best when there’s villainy to oppose the unfolding narrative. Villains have always evolved alongside the heroes that oppose them, but that evolution seems to be accelerating.

I’ve discussed the unique journey that villains undergo and how they set themselves apart from heroes. Traditionally, a villain’s primary purpose was to both oppose the hero and highlight how heroic they are. The sheer malice of characters like Lex Luthor help contrast the pure selflessness of characters like Superman. It’s easier to appreciate those heroes knowing they have to deal such malicious opponents.

Then, something remarkable happened. Audiences began demanding more of their villains. It wasn’t enough to just have a villain oppose a hero. People began wanting villains who were understandable and even relatable to some extent. Ironically, they wanted a villain they could root for.

That helped lead to characters like Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” His impact was so profound that I even called his influence the Walter White effect. However, I think there were others who paved the way for Walter White. If I had to pick one villain that helped kick-start this trend in villainy, it would be Heath Ledger’s Joker from “The Dark Knight.”

From this portrayal of villainy, the emerging state of villains emerged and it may very well set the tone for the future. On the surface, this version of the Joker wasn’t too different from the one who had existed in the comics for years. He’s dangerous, destructive, murderous, and callous, like many villains. Unlike most, though, he does what he does with a laugh and a smile.

What made this version of the Joker so memorable was the principles behind his madness. To him, society is corrupt and people aren’t inherently good. As such, he seeks to point out how laughable it is when others try to save it. Batman’s crusade against crime is the biggest joke of all, which helps drive their rivalry.

It’s a philosophy that few other than terrorists and extreme nihilists would buy into, but it’s one that’s understandable to some extent. We don’t have to agree with them or their methods. We just have to see their twisted logic. They can’t just be standard James Bond villains whose motives are indistinguishable from fascists, communists, or terrorists. There needs to be something more personal at work.

We saw plenty of that in 2018’s biggest movies. From “Black Panther” to “ Avengers: Infinity War” to “Incredibles 2,” the villains all had something personal at stake. Erik Killmonger saw his villainous actions as heroic. He wasn’t out to just take over Wakanda. He had a vision in mind that felt justified to some extent, especially to those familiar with real-world historical injustices.

Thanos raised the bar even more in “Avengers: Infinity War.” He never tries to come off as a hero, but he never sees his actions as villainous, either. In fact, when heroes like Dr. Strange call him out, he frames his desire to cull half the population in the universe as mercy. For him, it’s simple math. Half a population is better than no population at all.

These motivations, as devious they might be on paper, have some semblance of merit to it. Both Thanos and Killmonger think they’re doing the right thing. That significantly impacts how the heroes in their stories go about thwarting them, although I would argue that one story was more complete while the other remains unresolved.

In “Black Panther,” T’Challa doesn’t just stop at defeating Killmonger. He actually sees some of his enemy’s points and takes steps to address them. He doesn’t revert things back to the way they were. Wakanda doesn’t return to the same isolated state it had been at the start of the movie. Instead, he seeks to find a middle ground. That, I would argue, is the new template for how heroes defeat this kind of villain.

The resolution in “Avengers: Infinity War,” however, is not as clear. That’s largely due to the story not being complete. There is a sequel planned, but at no point in the three-hour spectacle did the Avengers attempt to prove Thanos wrong. They only ever tried to stop him. That oversight has not gone unnoticed by audiences.

This, in many ways, sums up the new dynamic between heroes in villains. It’s no longer enough for heroes to just defeat their adversaries. It’s not even enough for villains to be exceptionally devious. There have to be larger principles at work. It can’t just be reduced to general greed, ego, or bullying.

Thanos seeks to kill have the population because he believes that it’ll prevent the complete extinction of all life.

Erik Killmonger seeks to empower oppressed minorities to right past injustices.

Dr. Doom seeks to conquer the world because a world under his rule is the only one free of suffering and want. That’s actually canon in the comics.

It’s makes crafting compelling villains more difficult, but at the same time, it opens the door to more complexity. On top of that, it demands that audiences think beyond the good versus evil dynamic that has defined so many stories, going back to the days of fairy tales. It’s a challenge that some are certain to fail. Some already have, sadly.

It also sets the tone for future forms of villainy. How that villainy manifests is impossible to predict, but given the current trends, I think there’s room to speculate. At the heart of this emerging villainy is the idea that the current system just isn’t working. It’s so bad that the only viable option is to destroy and rebuild it. There’s no room, whatsoever, for reform.

This is where the heroes will have to evolve, as well. They can’t just play “Super Friends” and save the day. They have to actually make meaningful changes to move society forward. King T’Challa did that at the end of “Black Panther.” Other heroes need to be as willing. Otherwise, they won’t be able to call themselves heroes. They’re just defenders of a status quo may not be working as well as they think.

It’s an ideological struggle that parallels many real-world struggles. People today have less and less faith in established institutions. As a result, more people are falling sway to populist rhetoric that promises to break down the current system entirely. By and large, people today aren’t content with just preserving things as they are. They seek more meaningful change.

That presents a serious problem for heroes and a golden opportunity for villains. Historically, heroes haven’t been able to effect change beyond a certain point. Some of that is for logistical reasons. A hero can never create a functioning utopia without ending the story completely, which is something major media companies cannot have. There’s too much money to be made.

Logistics aside, the future of villainy will have plenty of raw materials to work with and plenty of societal angst to draw upon. Heroes who save the day, but do little else won’t be able to call themselves heroes in the world currently unfolding. Villains who have a real vision with understandable motivations will find themselves with more supporters than before.

It’s no longer taboo to root for the villain, especially when the heroes don’t confront the flaws in their rhetoric. In what seems prophetic now, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” may have put it best when Ultron stated:

“I’m sorry, I know you mean well. You just didn’t think it through. You want to protect the world, but you don’t want it to change.”

That’ll be the key to the future of villainy, change in a world that resists too much of it happening at once. It’ll make for some complicated villains, but it will definitely make the struggle of heroes even harder. However it plays out, I believe it’ll be worth watching.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, human nature, movies, philosophy, psychology, superhero comics, superhero movies, television, X-men

How The Idea Of “Toxic Fandom” Is Fundamentally Flawed

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The internet is a vast, wonderful place full of mesmerizing gifs, amazing stories, and the collective knowledge of our entire species. I would argue that the internet is one of humanity’s most important tools since the invention of fire. I strongly believe that is has done more good any other tool we’ve created.

I have a feeling that this rosy view of the internet is a minority opinion. These days, all the good the internet does tends to get lost in the stories that highlight its many dangers. I don’t deny that there are dangers there. The internet does have some dark places where hate, harassment, and outright depravity are on full display.

More and more, it seems, the internet is becoming an enabler of a new manifestation of popular culture. It’s called “toxic fandom” and it relies on the greatest strengths of the internet to bring out the absolute worst in people. It didn’t start with the heated fan reaction of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but it certainly made it relevant.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. There are assholes on the internet. There are also assholes in real life. The internet doesn’t make them that way. It just gives them a platform to be an asshole on a larger scale. That’s an unfortunate side-effect of the internet, but one that tends to obscure a larger narrative.

That’s because, much like inane terms such as “toxic masculinity,” the idea of toxic fandom relies on a series of assumptions that only ever have a sliver of truth behind them. It builds around this idea of there’s this grand, over-arching effort by immature, angry young men who secretly wish they could sexually harass women with impunity. It’s not quite on the level of an Alex Jones type conspiracy, but it’s close.

There have always been overly-passionate fans. It existed long before the internet and would still exist if the internet disappeared tomorrow. “Toxic fandom,” and there’s a reason I’m putting it in quotes, is something very different.

This doesn’t involve obsession with a particular celebrity. It involves a particular type of media like a movie, a TV show, or a video game. In some respects, this sort of fandom is a byproduct of overwhelming success. When something like “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” comes along, it resonates with an audience on a profound level. That sort of impact can last a lifetime.

I can attest to the power of that impact through my love of comic books. I’ve even cited a few that I find deeply moving, both in good ways and in not-so-good ways. Most everybody has had an experience like that at some point in their life, whether it’s their reaction to seeing “Titanic” for the first time or the feeling they get after they binge-watch “Breaking Bad.”

The toxic part usually comes when the media they’ve come to love manifests in a way that’s not just disappointing. It undermines those powerful feelings they’ve come to associate with that media. The results can be very distressing and until recently, the only way to express that distress was to sulk quietly in a darkened room.

Then, the internet comes along and suddenly, fans have a way to voice their feelings, for better and for worse. They can even connect with fans who feel like they do so that they don’t feel alone. The human tendency to form groups is one of the most fundamental acts anyone can do as a member of a highly social species.

Now, there’s nothing inherently “toxic” about that behavior. It has only made the news because the passions/vitriol of fans is more visible, thanks to the internet. Just browse any comments section of any movie or show on IMDB. Chances are you’ll find a few people who claim that this thing they once loved has been ruined and will use every possible medium to voice their displeasure.

This is where the “toxic” aspects of fandom start to have real-world consequences. Most recently, Kelly Marie Tran became the face of those victimized by toxic fandoms. After her portrayal of Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she became the most polarizing figure in the history of Star Wars since Jar Jar Binks.

The story surrounding Ms. Tran’s harassment, which was objectively horrible, became vindication for those who believed that the Star Wars fanbase had become a mess of angry, hate-filled fanboys. They didn’t like that something they loved was changing and becoming more diverse. As such, their criticisms don’t matter. They may as well be wounded storm troopers in a room full of angry wookies.

The problem with this assumption is the same problem we get when someone writes off facts as fake news or diversity efforts as a neo-Marxist conspiracy. It’s a simple, convenient excuse to ignore possible flaws and justify personal assumptions. It also conflates the inescapable truth that assholes exist in the world and there’s nothing we can do about it.

None of this is to imply that harassment is justified or that fans can be exceedingly unreasonable. By the same token, this doesn’t imply that studios don’t deserve criticism when they attempt to revamp a beloved franchise in a way that does not keep with the spirit of the original. It’s only when criticism gets lost in the outrage that the “toxic” behaviors become more prominent.

It’s within that outrage, though, where the true flaws in the “toxic fanbase” narrative really break down. To a large extent, the “toxicity” that many complain about aren’t a product of unhealthy attitudes. They’re a manifestation of an inherent flaw in the relationship between fans and those who produce the iconic media they love.

To illustrate that flaw, think back to a recent controversy involving a “toxic fanbase.” Before the reaction “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” became the poster child for this issue, the all-female “Ghostbusters” remake was the most prominent example. It earned a lot of hatred for reasons that I’d rather not scrutinize.

With that hatred in mind, imagine a long-time Ghostbusters fan seeking to express their dismay. They decide to write a kind, detailed, and thoughtful letter to the studio, the director, and anyone else involved detailing their dismay and their criticisms. They may even cite specific examples on what they felt was wrong with the movie.

Chances are this sort of thoughtful, well-worded message would get deleted, ignored, or just plain lost in the digital landscape. Even if the head of Sony studios read it and agreed with every point made, they wouldn’t respond. They wouldn’t do anything ot change it. That would just be too inconvenient and it would look bad publicly.

From the perspective of the fan writing the letter, though, it sends the message that their sentiment doesn’t matter. Their passion for the media doesn’t matter. They might as well not even exist in the eyes of the producers. The only way for them to even acknowledge their existance is to be louder, angrier, and even a little meaner. Even if the reponse is negative, it at least acknowledges their existence.

It’s not the same as trolling. Trolls just want upset people for the fun of it. Fans voicing their displeasure are more sincere in the sense that they believe they’re protecting something they love. Whether or not that’s misguided is debatable. Some, namely those who harass and make threats, are more misguided than others. However, they only ever make up a very small percentage of fans.

In the end, that’s the most important perspective to have when it comes to fandom. Those who are the loudest tend to be the most obnoxious, but they’re loud because they feel like they have to be. The internet just gives them a way to be heard, which is something most fans haven’t had before.

That’s still not an excuse for being an asshole, but it’s also not an excuse for using those same assholes to call an entire fanbase toxic. It overlooks and undermines the genuine and sincere love people have of these cultural icons. As as a result, when someone feels like their love is being ignored, that’s when toxic hate often finds a way to fill that void.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, human nature, media issues, movies, political correctness, Star Wars

How Might Aliens Make Love?

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There was a brief time in my life when I was really into UFOs, extraterrestrials, and alien conspiracies. I would watch movies like “Independence Day” and “Men In Black” as though they were secret documentaries attempting to send secret messages to those who would listen.

Needless to say, I quickly outgrew the notion that aliens were real and the government was covering them up. As soon as I learned about the well-documented history of government ineptitude and the inherent flaws in most conspiracy theories, I realized that if aliens really existed and were really on this planet, then the government would be too incompetent to keep it a secret.

While I still believe it’s very likely that there’s intelligent life in the universe, if only because of the math is so overwhelming, I don’t think they’ve visited Earth. I don’t think they’re abducting people and probing them. Anything involving abduction and probing is more likely to involve a college prank gone horribly wrong.

Even if aliens aren’t visiting or abducting this planet, I still find myself fascinated by the concept. It’s probably a byproduct of loving comic books and Star Wars as a kid and an adult. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve been more fascinated by the possibilities that may come with alien life.

It’s not just that aliens may look and behave radically different. Their entire notion of thought, identity, and being may be completely unlike anything humans can conceive of. We are, after all, limited by the perceptions of being a specific sub-species of primates that evolved only a few hundred thousand years ago. The fact that the universe is around 13.8 billion years old leaves plenty of time for alien life to evolve.

There are any number of courses that alien life could take, from simple bacteria to intelligent beings. Many people much smarter than I’ll ever be have imagined the possible forms life can take. I’m not going to try and speculate on the aesthetics. What does interest me, though, is how those same aliens might make love.

By that, I don’t just mean how they’ll reproduce. If any kind of life, alien or otherwise, is to survive in this universe, it has to reproduce somehow. Whether by sex, spores, or cloning, reproduction is a necessary constant. Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m much more intrigued by the intricacies behind it.

Yes, humans use sex to reproduce, but it has other non-procreative functions. Humans aren’t the only ones who do it either. Like any product of nature, a trait or behavior has to be flexible in order to be viable. Logically, that should apply to aliens as much as it does to life on Earth.

Granted, that’s an assumption on the part of one human with an admitted love of romance. It’s still one that has a basis in logic, given what we understand about the biology of emotions. Those emotions help social animals like humans coordinate, adapt, survive, and thrive to the point where they can build space ships and contemplate life on other worlds.

If intelligent life does exist, then it’s entirely possible that alien life might follow a similar path. It might not be on the level of convergent evolution, but there’s a great deal of adaptive potential in a species’ ability to coordinate and connect with one another. Love might very well be the key, at least for certain alien species.

I’m not saying it’s impossible for an intelligent alien species to evolve without an emotional connection analogous to love, but I think it’s more likely that it would, if only because it has such strong adaptive potential. In order to realize that potential, though, an alien would have to have some way of expressing it, both physically and emotionally.

It’s that kind of alien passion that I find both interesting and alluring to some extent. Comic books, movies, and TV shows do plenty to show us how terrifying and sexy aliens can be. However, they rarely get into the intricacies of alien passion. If they do, it’s usually overly humanized or overly gruesome.

I suspect that if aliens do indeed feel some kind of love, they’re not going to express it in a way that’ll make for a sexy scene with Captain Kirk. Their idea of love may be so alien that it warrants a very alien way of expressing it. It may or may not have anything to do with reproduction, but it would likely be a key component of their social structure.

There are some examples of it in popular culture. I think “Avatar” did a good job of exploring alien love, using a kinky trick involving ponytails to express an intimate bond. It’s not the same as using genitals, but the intent is the same. It’s to forge an intimate, loving bond.

Another interesting manifestation of alien love comes from the pages of Spider-Man comics. I’ve mentioned the parasitic symbiotes before when discussing human enhancement, but there’s another interesting detail to their species that often gets overlooked. When a symbiote bonds with a host, like the Venom symbiote did with Spider-Man, it actually loves them in a strange, alien sort of way.

It’s not a love that’s entirely connected to sex or reproduction. From the perspective of the alien symbiote, the bonding process itself can produce a kind of love. Granted, it can be a very abusive love at times, but that nicely reflects the greater complexities of love. It’s not just that thing we see too much of in old John Hughes movies. It can be creative, destructive, and everything in between.

Where alien love gets really interesting, however, is when we start to imagine what happens to a species once it reaches a certain level of advancement. Specifically, what happens to a species when their technology becomes so advanced that they merge with it, transcending their biology and integrating with machinery? That sort of change is bound to affect a lot of things about a species, including how they express love.

We’re already seeing hints of that advancement with the human race. We’ve already developed a very close relationship with our technology, some more so than others. That relationship will likely grow closer as hacking our genetics mixes with internal implants like the kind Elon Musk wants to develop.

At some point, it’ll be necessary for an advanced species to adapt themselves to the harsh environments of space. There are just too many resources in space and too much room to explore. There are some in the field of searching for alien life who believe that if we do find another intelligent species, it’s likely they’ll be partially or entirely machine.

It may very well be the case that almost every advanced species goes through a process in which they merge with machines and transcend their biological limits. When that happens, and some believe it will happen to humans, what will happen to love? Will we or intelligent aliens still feel or express it?

I think it will, but it’ll be radically different than the love we know. That’s because simply being a cold, calculating machine has limits in the same way that being an irrationally emotional mess has limits too. A truly advanced species won’t sacrifice one for the other. They would find a way to perfect both.

A species that advanced may not even have bodies with which to express love. They may become some collection of nanobots that shape-shift into whatever form is necessary for a given situation. Famed futurist, Ray Kurzweil, called it the human body 3.0. In a body like that, expressing love may involve more than just kissing or touching. It may simply involve the exchange of emotional data.

To some extent, that’s what love really is at its core. It’s an exchange of emotion between two or more individuals. The nature of that exchange is limited to how an individual expresses themselves. If their cognition is vastly enhanced by artificial intelligence and their bodies are infinitely malleable thanks to nanotechnology, then in theory, there are ways of expressing love that we humans literally cannot imagine.

Even if we can’t wrap our primate brains around it, it’s still an interesting/sexy idea to entertain. I believe that if humans ever discover advanced alien life, it will likely involve a species that has merged with its technology. There’s still a chance we may encounter aliens with biological forms like ours so there’s still hope for those with an alien fetish.

Whatever form aliens take, and regardless of whether or not they have sex appeal to us, I think it’s likely they’ll have some form of love that they express among one another. Whether or not they’ll express it with humans or other advanced species is hard to tell. One day, we may find out and if we can find a way to share in that love, then that bodes well for the universe, as a whole.

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Filed under Aliens, human nature, philosophy, sex in society, sexuality

When (And When Not) To Listen To Fan Backlash

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In Hollywood, there’s somewhat of a paradox when it comes to ego. You need to have a certain amount of arrogance to believe you can make the kinds of movies that fans, critics, and executives who love swimming in pools of cash all love. At the same time, you also need to be humble enough to know when your ideas are crap.

I’ve been writing almost daily since I was 15-years-old. I’m humble enough to know that I’ve written some pretty crappy things in that time. However, I’m also arrogant enough to believe that I have many great stories to tell, some of which I put in my novels and some of which I put in sexy short stories.

It’s a bit easier for someone like me because I’m not a famous director, artist, or novelist just yet. I can still walk down the street without body guards and not be harassed by fans or stalkers. For someone like Rian Johnson, though, I imagine it takes a very different blend of arrogance and humility to navigate the creative process.

I’m sure that blend has been more erratic than usual for the past several months for Mr. Johnson. There’s already a sizable contingent of Star Wars fans who see him the same way Batman fans see Joel Shumacher after “Batman and Robin.” To say fans had mixed reactions to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” would be the most polite way of saying that these have been the most difficult times for those fans since the days of Jar Jar Binks.

While I made my sentiments on the movie clear last year, I don’t deny that fans have some legitimate gripes about the movie. There are indeed times when it feels like the movie is trying to push an agenda and it doesn’t push it very well. There are also fairly sizable plot holes that are difficult to overlook, which may also reflect some creative upheavals that occurred behind the scenes.

Regardless of how you feel about “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” or the criticism surrounding it, there’s no denying that it had issues. That was going to happen, regardless of how the movie turned out. However, it’s the way Mr. Johnson reacted to those issues that’s most revealing here. It’s also somewhat of a lesson in both arrogance and humility.

Since the film’s release, Rian Johnson hasn’t been willfully ignorant about fan criticisms. To his credit, he hasn’t resorted to name-calling or scoffing. He’s been fairly diplomatic, for the most part. In an interview with Business Insider, this was his primary response.

Having been a “Star Wars” fan my whole life, and having spent most of my life on the other side of the curb and in that fandom, it softens the blow a little bit.

I’m aware through my own experience that, first of all, the fans are so passionate, they care so deeply — sometimes they care very violently at me on Twitter. But it’s because they care about these things, and it hurts when you’re expecting something specific and you don’t get it from something that you love. It always hurts, so I don’t take it personally if a fan reacts negatively and lashes out on me on Twitter. That’s fine. It’s my job to be there for that. Like you said, every fan has a list of stuff they want a “Star Wars” movie to be and they don’t want a “Star Wars” movie to be. You’re going to find very few fans out there whose lists line up.

And I also know the same way the original movies were personal for Lucas. Lucas never made a “Star Wars” movie by sitting down and thinking, “What do the fans want to see?” And I knew if I wrote wondering what the fans would want, as tempting as that is, it wouldn’t work, because people would still be shouting at me, “F— you, you ruined ‘Star Wars,'” and I would make a bad movie. And ultimately, that’s the one thing nobody wants.

And let me just add that 80-90% of the reaction I’ve gotten from Twitter has been really lovely. There’s been a lot of joy and love from fans. When I talk about the negative stuff, that’s not the full picture of the fans at all.

While I agree with most of what Mr. Johnson said, it’s the bold parts that I find most questionable. It’s at that point where Mr. Johnson goes from being diplomatic to showing signs of the kind of arrogance that undercuts criticism, as a whole.

First off, the idea that George Lucas never made the original “Star Wars” with fans in mind is an unfair comparison. For one, that movie had no fan base to build from and no fans to please. Moreover, Lucas purposefully employed the kind of hero’s journey narrative that had been pleasing fans for centuries. The fact that Luke Skywalker’s story fits Joseph Campbell’s heroic archetype to the letter is not a coincidence.

Secondly, the passions of fans aren’t just built around wanting to see more light saber battles and/or Princess Leia in a bikini. Fans may be unruly and unreasonable at times, but they are the ones that make franchises like Star Wars so successful. They’re the ones who wait in line at the theaters, dress up at comic cons, and spark heated discussions on message boards.

The fans matter is what I’m saying. When there’s an obvious disparity between what the fans are saying and what critics are saying, then there are clearly larger forces at work that go beyond fans being petty. That’s when backlash becomes more than just complaining.

It’s one thing for a handful of fans to overly scrutinize a movie. It’s quite another when there’s a large contingent of fans express a wide variety of concerns, ranging from agenda-pushing to real gaps in the plot. That kind of variety implies that there were missteps beyond not making clear whether Han or Greedo shoot first.

When the criticisms don’t have to get that petty, it’s usually a sign that you should grit your teeth, thicken your skin, and sift through the anger and outrage to see what didn’t work in the final product. Doing so doesn’t mean admitting that you’re a bad director or artist. It just means that you’re willing to take in criticism and learn from it.

Rian Johnson, as well-mannered as he has been since “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” came out, never gives the impression that he, an admitted fan, took the criticisms of fans too seriously. It was akin to getting information from a test screening and completely throwing it out, something movies often do at their own peril.

It’s one thing to have a vision that you want to see through. I certainly felt that way when I wrote some of my novels. It’s quite another when that vision becomes so rigid that you stop listening to people trying to tell you that parts of it are flawed. Mr. Johnson seemed to ignore those flaws while listening to those who told him what he wanted to hear. Being a successful Hollywood type, that’s kind of unavoidable.

That’s also why maintaining a sense of humility is so important. I never assume that a vision that I have for a novel or short story is inherently flawless. In fact, I work under the assumption that it’s crap and needs refinement. The creative process itself is always ongoing and anyone who isn’t trying to improve their craft is dooming themselves to stagnation. Listening to fans, even annoying ones, is part of that process.

Now, I don’t know Rian Johnson and won’t pretend to understand the kind of pressure he faced from Disney to make “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” another billion-dollar hit. I also won’t pretend to understand what it feels like to see all sorts of hateful comments about how he ruined an iconic franchise. That takes thick skin that not a lot of people have.

However, when there’s an obvious disconnect between your vision and the sentiments of fans, one that is backed up by more than a handful of mean tweets, then ignoring the backlash is one of the worst things you can do. Trolls can be mean, but at a certain point, blaming trolls is no more credible than blaming the Illuminati.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and Rian Johnson, it’s that there are times when backlash is an unavoidable part of the creative process and there are times when it’s a sign that there’s a flaw in that process. The signs were there for Mr. Johnson. He chose to ignore them in the name of pursuing his own vision and arrogantly believing that it would work.

That arrogance isn’t necessarily a bad thing in terms of creativity, but it is a major risk and the fan backlash implies that the risk didn’t entirely pay off. J. J. Abrams played it safe in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” sticking to the tried and true formula that the original trilogy made so iconic. While it also had its share of criticism, it was minor and narrow compared to what Mr. Johnson got with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

The fact that J. J. Abrams is coming back to direct the next Star Wars movie is another sign that there was more than just trolling behind the backlash surrounding “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” While I still enjoyed the movie, personally, I believe the movie would’ve benefited by listening to the fans.

For Mr. Johnson and Mr. Abrams, I don’t envy the difficult position they’re in, having to direct the path of such an iconic franchise. However, if I could offer them any feedback whatsoever, it would be this. Fans are usually pretty forgiving. If Star Wars fans can forgive Jar Jar Binks, then they can forgive the flaws in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” It just takes one solid story that reminds fans why they love Star Wars in the first place.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, movies, Star Wars