Tag Archives: social media

LOTR controversy is nothing new. It’s just the same old “old vs new” argument.


So — ooh, boy. We’re going to make a mistake here. We abandon the website for a year, then with the second post upon our return we wade into the waters of fandom, racism, and social media. Top shelf idea, there. It’s gonna be great.

Look, LOTR and criticism thereof sort of has this problem.

And the problem is that you have to measure anything LOTR against the films of the original trilogy.

Why is this a problem? Because the films were just so damned good.

Say what you will about the novels. (They were formative for me — I discovered them in high school, read them, loved them, and have re-read them a few times since.) And say what you will about the adaptations. (There were some things I disagreed with, given my knowledge of the books. Some things that just didn’t make sense to me then, though now that I know a bit more about storytelling and movies, we get it. (See: moving the encounter with Shelob from the end of book 2 to the middle of book 3.)) But good ol’ PJ did that rare thing with the trilogy: he caught lightning in a bottle. He brought to life on the big screen a story that for so many of us had lived only in our imaginations, and it was as good, if not better, than we expected. He brought new fans to the story who never would have read the books otherwise. Oh, and he changed the way Hollywood thinks about stories and trilogies and series and all that stuff (for better or for worse.)

(Sidenote: We don’t talk about The Hobbit films.)

And, well, now we have to (or rather, now we get to) live in the universe where all those things happened.
And like any good series or book or otherwise IP, What Comes Next will inevitably be measured against the standard of the original. (Which is never going to be favorable for the new stuff. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. You can’t even catch it once. This is metaphor.)

We talked about this a bit back when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out and all the hubbub about that film (spoiler alert: the hubbub did not quiet down, it only got worse, and that’s all very dumb, but that’s not our focus today, please stay on topic). About how the longtime fans feel some ownership over the thing, so when the New Stuff comes and it’s not exactly what they remember and expect, they get upset. But it’s rearing its head again and we’re thinking about it again, and well, I’m back, baby, so we’re gonna dive in and make some sweeping generalizations.

So, the new series is coming out. We haven’t even had the first episode yet, but people are angry. They will cite any number of reasons for their anger, but what they generally boil down to is: Thing Does Not Conform To My Expectations For Thing. Dwarves and elves with dark skin, Galadriel in battle armor — these things did not exist in the original works of Tolkien and they therefore have No Place in the new Tolkien thing.

Rings of Power in Vanity Fair – characters behind those posters UPDATED |  Lord of the Rings Rings of Power on Amazon Prime News, JRR Tolkien, The  Hobbit and more | TheOneRing.net

And then, like clockwork, come the rebuttals and indignation from the other side. We’re not living in Tolkien’s time; we’re living in the 21st century, and representation matters. These stories belong to everybody, not just a bunch of white dudes. Say what you will about the response to the response, but it follows its own (entirely predictable) patterns.

We should point out, here, that there’s no simple answer to this problem, for reasons that will quickly become apparent, but it’s important as story-consuming people to think about these things, and what they say about us, and what we can learn from this, so that maybe (okay, probably not, but we can dream) we don’t have to keep having the same arguments over and over again.

The problem here is the same problem you have when debating a societal issue of any other stripe. Abortion. Religion. Gay marriage. Trans issues.

That problem is: both sides are right.

Let’s pick a spicy one, to make sure to offend as many people as possible. Abortion. One side says it’s the woman’s body, so it’s the woman’s choice, and they’re right. The other says all life is sacred, that every new life should have a chance, and they’re right, too. Gay marriage? On one hand, two people who love each other should be able to enjoy the benefits that society offers to the married just like anybody else. On the other, if marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, then calling a same-sex union a marriage is, by definition, wrong. (Personally, I think we need to abolish the concept of recognizing marriage through government institutions anyway — theoretically we have a separation of church and state in this country. That would unmake this whole issue, but it’s largely moot these days anyway. History moves on and the arc bends towards justice, or so they say.) The problem is that we get all territorial and tribal and we take bad-faith shots at the other side’s arguments and call them idiots and knuckle-draggers and anything else under the sun, and we try to make that comment that’s going to go viral, and we can’t compromise. We’ve forgotten how, in The Discourse.

Well, LOTR is the same. Dedicated, lifelong fans are right. Tolkien’s works were written by a white dude without much consideration for diversity, and possibly (probably?) with some assumptions that might not sit well with our collective consciences here, half a century and more on from when he set his tales down. To change the texts, to introduce characters outside of that mold, is, in fact, to change the texts themselves. But fans who want more inclusivity are also right: that the texts don’t represent the world we live in now, that the stories have appeal for a broader audience and, as a result, it would be nice to have a bit more inclusivity than the books did in their original form.

And you can already hear the arguments from both sides. “Why not make new stories with more diverse characters and casting needs — why do they have to change this one that’s already out there?” Well, that might be a good point … but no new series is going to have the brand appeal that LOTR has. It just can’t. New stories are great — and coming out all the time, by the way — but they’re not LOTR, and they can’t be. And from the other side — “why do these fans have to be so closed-minded and racist? Why do they have to pretend like they own everything?” But they’re not wrong — the original series actually is written that way.

Is there middle ground to be found between these two viewpoints? Almost certainly not, because we’re too conditioned by our echo chambers to seek out the support of those on our own side while scoring points at any cost against those guys over there.

It’s a depressingly obvious and probably unavoidable cycle. It played out with Star Wars, it’s playing out now with the LOTR series, and it will keep playing out as long as there are fandoms and social media and the internet and, probably, people.

I don’t actually have a solution for this problem at the macro level, because the problem doesn’t get solved at the macro level. It comes from one-on-one conversations and the commitment of the individual to stop shouting “OTHER SIDE BAD” for a minute and actually listen to what’s being said.

Our society just isn’t built for those conversations any more. It’s built for quippy one-liners, mic-drops, and dunking on the other side. And it’s a shame.

Sidenote and disclaimer: the world we’re in is changing, and media and filmmakers are changing with it. If you are bound and determined that your old stories remain what they are and never get changed to adapt to the times we’re living in … I have some unfortunate news to give you. That may or may not be right, but it is a fact. And life is just easier when you accept facts as facts. But that’s a whole other topic.


Out There, In Here


If we only wanted to be happy, it would be easy; but we want to be happier than other people, and that is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.

-Montesquieu

I’ve got happiness on the brain the last few days. Not because I’m particularly happy or particularly not, but because I seem to keep brushing up against it as a topic. And when you start to think about happiness, you really set yourself up for some interesting realizations; which is to say that the things we do that are *supposed* to make us happy often don’t, and the things we often neglect in favor of the things that are *supposed* to make us happy are actually, themselves, the things that make us happy.

So what does it mean to be happy? Do not google this question. The meaning is largely subjective anyway, but you may end up getting advertised to by a bunch of wellness and self-help gurus. “How to find joy in your life” is a common theme. I don’t like that. I’m not talking about those moments of extreme jubilation that come with hearing great news, like that your girlfriend who is way out of your league will in fact marry you even though her prospects are way better, or seeing your child for the first time, or even something more mundane like getting that new job or promotion. These are amazing experiences! But they aren’t sustainable. And you can’t build a life around them.

I like a definition of happiness that’s more like *contentment*, even though to be *content* is its own dirty word (more on that later). And it’s an enviable position, right? Ask most people if they’re “happy”, and there’s a lot of hemming and hawing, and your most likely answer is probably something like an uncertain “I guess?” And that’s how I’d answer the question.

But if you’re not sure you’re happy, then maybe you’re not happy. And if you’re not happy, the question must become: what are you doing about it?

And the world is very happy to offer solutions to that question. Newer, better *stuff* is always top of the list: a bigger house, a nicer car, a bigger television, a better-paying job. “Get these things,” the world seems to say to us, “and you will be happier.”

Thing is, though, that we want those things because they make what we currently have look *less-than* by comparison. My house isn’t the biggest, fanciest one on the block … surely if I had *that* one over there, I’d be better off. My car’s an old clunker… I should really get a new one. We’ve had this old television forever… let’s upgrade. But this is a never-ending cycle. Get the bigger, fancier house, and you’ll start looking in nicer neighborhoods with even nicer houses. Ditch your old car for the new model, and well, it won’t be top of the line for long. Upgrade that old television? Yeah. there’s always a bigger TV.

If you’re always chasing the new, shiny stuff, that’s a journey without an end.

And what about our interactions? We’re all on social media now, which is terrible for our happiness. Because we can’t help but compare ourselves to each other. And in that comparison, we must inevitably look at the people who *really have their lives together* or who enjoy the successful careers we wish we had. Or, worse, we begin to chase validation on social media, which is just stupid. We post pictures for the likes or the retweets or the follows because, somehow, internet popularity has become this source of validation for who we are as people, even though *who we are as people* isn’t necessarily the same as *who we are on the internet*. It’s all performative on some level.

I have a pretty tiny Twitter experience. I’ve had maybe two tweets get more than a handful of interactions outside of a tiny circle of writer-ish people I follow: one about the blizzard that didn’t happen in Atlanta a few years ago and one about Star Wars. I got maybe a hundred likes and a handful of retweets, which was a pretty big deal for me. And that felt good! But then, when things got back to normal, I found myself wondering “well, if I had that much success with those other tweets, surely I can recreate it talking about something else… and if not, maybe I’m doing something wrong.”

Heck, I do the same thing with my blog here. Back in the beginning, I had lots of comments and interactions…. these days, not so much. Did I do something wrong?

MAYBE I DID.

Maybe something in the way I write, or the (in)frequency of my posts turns readers off and they don’t come back like they did when I was younger and full of authorial piss and vinegar.

Or maybe it’s just flukey, and the algorithm has forgotten me like an old Metallica t-shirt at the bottom of the drawer, and that’s that.

Some days I stress about this. Should I change the way I write? Should I tweet more, or act in a certain way?

I *could* do that, but then I think… I started this site as a sort of mental pressure-release valve, a way to write and put things out there, to talk about what’s on my mind and if it resonated with people, great, if not… no harm, no foul; the internet is a big place!

What makes me happy is the act of writing itself, of letting the words fill the page, of finding the right words to express an idea, even if most of the time I come up woefully short of the mark. I started the site because it was *fun*. And if I’m writing, or tweeting, or whatever, to chase re-tweets and likes and comments and whatever, instead of because it’s fun… well, that kind of defeats the entire purpose, doesn’t it?

I’d rather keep writing what’s fun for me to write than try to figure out what people want to see in some random internet blog and cater to that. I’d rather tweet about what I find amusing and interesting and topical than just ask a provocative question to generate a bunch of superficial interactions I don’t care about just to boost my numbers.

I think what brought this whole post on was seeing yet another “where did my followers go” tweet on the old Twitter. (It was, I’m pretty sure, unrelated to one of those periodic purges of bots and trolls, but I guess you can never tell.) People agonize on Twitter all the time about losing followers. “So-and-so followed me and then unfollowed. What’s up?” “People who don’t follow back are the worst.” “Lost thirty followers today. Did this happen to anybody else?” And I’m just like … who is out there watching their follower count closely enough to notice?

And, ok, Twitter is a hellscape, but the same thing happens on all social media. You make a post, you want the interactions. It doesn’t come, you feel bad. But why the Fargo should you feel bad? Nothing changed in your life. If a thousand people “like” something I tweet this afternoon, literally nothing in my life will change. Yet we chase those interactions anyway.

Know what really makes me happy? Going for a run in the quiet of the early morning. Watching favorite movies for the 7th or 8th or 28th time. Wrestling with my kids. Teasing my wife (and trying to find *just that point* where she’s annoyed but not actually *mad* at me). Reading good books. Complaining about bad books. Writing stories of my own. Heck, writing blog posts about happiness that, statistically, maybe 50-100 people in the world will click on and move on from without me ever knowing.

These are not things that increase my station in the world. They don’t generate likes or “engagement”.

But they do put a smile on my face. And they make life a little more worth living. They make me content.

There’s this sort of vilification of the whole idea of contentment today: that somehow to be “content” is to stop growing, stop improving. You have to always be getting better, you can’t stop, can’t rest on your laurels. (See also: Shakespeare wrote thirteen plays during the plague years, or whatever that meme was when COVID started, and all of us writer-types were just gibbering masses of anxiety and stress all the time, but YOU SHOULD BE PRODUCTIVE ANYWAY.) You have to hustle, keep grinding, no matter what.

I agree with that in general, maybe? Like, if you’re not improving, you’re stagnating. I get that.

But that brings with it the other side of the coin. That if you’re not improving, you’re worthless, you’re wasting your time. And that self-talk can put you into a spiral real quick.

We need to stop chasing what’s *out there* at all costs and start appreciating what’s *in here*.

I started off with a philosopher so I guess I’ll end with one:

It’s not having what you want; it’s wanting what you’ve got.

-Sheryl Crow

Anti-Social Socialites


Here’s the writer’s paradox (or, a writer’s paradox, for there are many). Writing is this highly individual art, yet we must be well-socialized to do it well.

It’s stupid, really. And it’s probably a major factor in the cascading neuroses that most writers seem to suffer from. Our brains are broken to begin with — we spend our waking moments imagining strange worlds we’d rather live in, playing god (and devil) to characters we spin from our wobbly brain Jello. So we’re living in a fantasy world from the go.

Then, when we’re actually creating the stories — breathing life into the characters, weaving the world out of loose threads — we have to withdraw entirely. Nobody can help us when we’re writing. We have to walk this road alone, armed with nothing against the dark unknown except our (limited) wits and our pens. Self-imposed solitary confinement. (It always strikes me as bizarre that solitary confinement, by the way, is one of the “worst” punishments they dole out in prisons. To go into a dark place with no human contact with only my thoughts? Meals provided? Sign me up. I might come out the other side insane, but I’d have the most interesting things to say.) We struggle alone, we succeed alone, we fail alone, we talk to ourselves alone.

Image result for all alone gif

But, see, that’s the thing. We’re telling stories about people. Fake people, sure, but people meant to be convincing representations of real people. Which means the author has to know how people act. How people speak. How they think. And while we’re working in solitary, spending more and more time clanging around inside our own heads, we’re getting farther and farther away from actual real people, from genuine interpersonal speech and behavior.

It’s a paradox.

Social media can help, sort of? You get to reach out from your cave of isolation and get some of that interaction without actually going to the trouble of leaving your cave. But it’s not a substitute for real interaction either, because social media is just a bunch of other shut-ins putting forward a persona, a version of themselves that bears some relationship to who they really are without actually showing you who they really are, what they really do, what they really say.

Image result for all alone gif

I don’t have an answer for this problem, except to say that the writer probably has to put more work than most into spending time in the real world interacting with real people. Which, for many of us, is difficult — because what we really want is to be shut away in our solitary confinement, writing away.

Yeah, writers. The anti-social socialites.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.


Father’s Day, and Social Media is Still Special


Father’s Day is one of those weird times of year where weird things happen and I just roll with it. Okay, pretty much every day of the year is like that, but Father’s Day is more so. Because really, think about your father.

All he really wants is to be left alone to watch some football or read or play some video games, depending on how old he is. Give that to your dear ol’ dad, and he’ll be a happy camper. But here we have Father’s Day, wherein you’re supposed to buy ties and wallets and tools and goofy t-shirts and cards for the old man, and don’t get me wrong, he’ll appreciate the gesture, but he doesn’t need any of it. He gets the joy of watching you grow up and do silly things and take first steps and be decent human beings and make him laugh, and occasionally he’ll photobomb you or take you to school in his bathrobe, but you forgive him for that. Because it makes him happy.

That’s what Father’s Day is about. Make the old man happy. But don’t do anything for him that you wouldn’t do on any other day, because he probably doesn’t like being made a big deal over.

Maybe I just speak for myself. But my Father’s Day consisted of staying home with the kids, taking them for a walk in the park, the 1-year-old having a screaming fit for about an hour before she passed out for a nap on my chest while I watched some Football (that’s proper football: the Women’s World Cup is on — and the Americans play tonight — you know), then wrestling with the kids, going out to the grocery store when the wife got in from work, cooking some hamburgers for the family’s dinner (yeah, I cooked, and I chose it!), and having a refreshing adult beverage before bed.

Not pictured: the screaming fit that made me want to die.

Not pictured: the screaming fit that made me want to die.

In other words, a day more or less like any other day. And you know what? It was pretty sweet.

But a weird thing happened this Father’s Day. I’ve been a dad for three years, and this hasn’t happened before. Strangers were saying “Happy Father’s Day” to me. In the park, pushing the sprouts in the double stroller: “Good job, dad! Happy Father’s Day.” Chasing the sprouts around on the playground: “Oh, I know you’re having a Happy Father’s Day.” In the grocery store, carting the sprouts around: “Why are you shopping on Father’s Day?” And it’s not like I crave or even want recognition for doing dad things — that’s just what you do — but I can’t lie, it perked me up and made me walk a little taller. I dunno if there’s something different about this year or different about me or the kids, but those little moments of recognition kinda made my day. (My wife pretty much wrangling 100% of the kids’ nonsense when she got in from work was awesome, too.)

So, there are good things in the world for dads.

But then, there are dumb things, too.

This is Matt McGorry:

He’s an actor on Orange is the New Black (among other things) whose character has done some unsavory things in the wake of fathering a child on a prison inmate (no spoilers beyond that, okay? sheesh.) His character has left a bad taste in the mouth of lots of fans, to the extent that real life fans started harassing the real life actor in real life about things his character did on the show.

He fired back on Father’s Day with a pretty hilarious tongue-in-cheek response on his Instagram (seriously, he and I seem to come from the same school of dubious wit), but it really makes you stop and think. There are people out there watching this show who think that attacking Matt McGorry is the way to resolve their feelings about what his character has done on the show.

As if McGorry has anything to do with what the character does. (Sorry, that would be the writers and the producers.)

As if McGorry would do anything like what his character does in real life. (That’s what “acting” means, boys and girls.)

And as if an irate tweet from @JoeBobDerpSalad266 would have an impact on what McGorry is going to do in his real life, regardless of whether he’s behaving like his character or not.

Similar things happened to Sarah Wayne Callies, of The Walking Dead fame:

Her character was so hated, people would come up to her on the streets to tell her “I [fargoing] hate you.” Because actors actually become their characters when they act.

The people who can’t make this distinction are probably pretty normal people. They have jobs. They have friends and families. They probably look exactly like normal people, except that they lack the ability to distinguish between what’s real and imaginary.

But they have access to social media, which allows them to bring their special variety of crazy into the rest of our lives at any time, without warning, and without remorse. I have a twitter where I tweet intermittently, but this kind of crazy makes me think everyday about just deleting it, and leaving Twitter to burn interminably in the smoldering dumpster fire it is.

Where was I?

Oh, right. Happy Father’s Day.


Easy Money — But the Hatred is Free


I know, I know. For the past few weeks it’s RFRA this, human rights that. But I’m not here today to argue about whether the RFRA functions properly as a backdoor allowing prejudice in a society that is trying to move past such a thing. Okay? I’m not here to talk about that. Never mind that, you know, it’s the 21st century, and we still have people in this country who think it’s vastly more important that they not have their feelings hurt by having to think about what goes on behind the closed doors of other people than to look out for the actual human rights of vast swathes of society… okay, god, it hurts to be so vague. Specifically the people behind RFRA, and in fact, behind the pizzeria I’m talking about here, feel really icky about homosexuals. To be more specific, they don’t feel that people that don’t like homosexuals (and, you know, whoever else they decide to hate that day) should be allowed to order cakes for weddings, or have a slice of pizza, or, god, I dunno, use the same water fountains as the rest of us.

But ahhh, there I go, talking about the issue I didn’t come here to talk about. Hate gay people if you want. In some states, it’s even going to be legal soon!

No, I’m here to talk about all the sweet, sweet green that’s out there waiting for you if you’re savvy enough to hop on the train early.

See, Memories Pizza is a trendsetter. They’ve shown us that you don’t have to work really hard, or even offer a good product, to make money… all you have to do is uphold a controversial point of view, get “persecuted” for it, and then complain to people — usually religious people, but I suspect it would work with other groups — and wait for the donations to roll in.

Because what’s important to people in this day and age are causes, not individuals.

Let’s say I have $20 that I don’t particularly need for myself. I know this is a stretch for most of us, but just work with the hypothetical. I don’t need this $20, and I want to use it to make a difference. I could take the money down to a homeless shelter and donate it directly, or maybe I go to the thrift store and buy a pile of coats and take those down to the homeless shelter. Maybe I prefer animals, so I take my money to the pet shelter instead. Or maybe there’s a donations bucket for wounded veterans or something out front of the grocery store. In those scenarios, I give my money to people that need it, though I don’t really get anything back for doing it — aside from the warm fuzzies in my heart.

Or, I could find a cause that I agree with and send the money there. A political campaign. The donations plate at my church. The GoFundMe page for a pizzeria that’s been closed down because of protests. Now I’m actively supporting something. Which means my money is speaking a little bit louder than just quietly buying meals or clothes for an anonymous group in need. I can put a face to the people getting my money. I can say that this person’s or group’s success is thanks to me. I’m part of something. And that’s important.

It’s so important that the pizzeria in question raised over $800,000 in the first 24 hours. That $800,000 didn’t come from the restaurant’s patrons; it came from anonymous people all over the country that wanted to support this particular pizzeria’s cause in discriminating against gay people.

That’s awesome, isn’t it? The owners can retire and never bake another pizza again, all because they hate the gays, and there were enough people in the country that think it’s bad they got backlash for hating the gays to send them almost a million dollars IN A DAY.

It’s all so clear now.

I’ve been laboring under the false pretense that the American Dream involved working really hard in your job and making enough money to provide you and your family a decent living. Picket fences and all that. But that’s yesterday’s dream.

In the age of the internet, there’s a new American Dream, and man oh man is it sweet.

The dream goes like this:

  1. Work somewhere. Anywhere. It’s probably better if you own your own business, but I don’t think it’s necessary.
  2. Acquire some controversial beliefs. Gay issues are hot right now and thus are probably overdone. Maybe look into weird oppressive stances on dwarf boxing, or insist that the earth is flat.
  3. Operate your business as usual until you meet somebody who runs afoul of your chosen controversial belief. Refuse to offer this person your goods and/or services based on your dispute over said belief.
  4. Make a big stink on social media about the argument that ensues. If necessary, call a local news station. (It’s better if the person you refused service to does this for you, but however the dumpster fire gets started, it works out in your favor.)
  5. Close down your business or resign your position, citing “protests from the community” or “online threats” or “fear of magical civil rights fairies”. Again, make a big deal about it on social media.
  6. Create a GoFundMe page in support of re-opening your business or getting your job back.
  7. Retire in Aruba.

This will work for as long as fools and their money remain in close quarters with each other. Oh, and for as long as people continue to hold their religious (or social, or scientific, or whatever) beliefs more dear to them than the rights of individuals.

Which will probably be forever.


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