Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bad Shakespeare Election Guide: Macbeth

Name: Macbeth

Occupation: While he’s held many roles, we’ll go with “King”.

The Rundown: Macbeth is an ambitious fellow. Actually, he kind of isn’t. I mean, he gets told that he’ll one day be a king by some evil witches, but it’s his wife that does all the plotting. To the point that now any time a woman gives her husband, boyfriend, or significant other the idea to murder a king it’s known as “Lady Macbething.” (citation needed.) Anyway, after he gets a little taste of power, he ends up going crazy with it, then kills his best friend, then basically tries to kill everyone else. In the end he’s undone when the people are so fed up with him that they literally uproot a forest to get close enough to kill him.

Why Wouldn’t He Be Elected Today: Wasn’t the strongest leader as he basically just listened to his wife most of the time. And then he ordered the death of his greatest rival’s kid, basically turning him into Liam Neeson. And if there’s one thing we know, you do not Liam Neeson someone and expect to live.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bad Shakespeare Election Guide: Feste

Name: Feste

Occupation: Clown. Singer. All around entertainer. Possibly the smartest guy in the kingdom.

The Rundown: The semi-abused clown of Countess Olivia, he is the only one who is suspicious at the feminine features of Duke Orsino’s new hire. He’s been around for a while, so not much really slips past him. Beautiful singing voice, if he’s a little melancholy. While he’s officially the “fool” he’s pretty much the only one who knows what’s going on.

Why Wouldn’t He Be Elected Today: Too depressing. Wouldn’t connect with the voters at all.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bad Shakespeare Election Guide: Hamlet

                 We are a week away from our elections. (I hope you are registered to vote.) Little is known about what William Shakespeare might think of our modern Politicians, outside of writing a witty play. His plays certainly contained politicians, that much is true, but the fact that they were politicians second, and people with real problems first. One of the only lines that actually refers to a politician comes from Hamlet:

“this might be the pate of a
politician, which this ass now o'erreaches; one that would
circumvent God, might it not?” (V.i)

And let’s keep in mind that he’s literally digging through skulls in that scene, and its most famous for the “alas Poor Yorick” speech. But Shakespeare didn’t say much about politics other than a general distain for them, an attitude that hasn’t changed much in 400 years. But how would his characters fare if an election was held today?

                Fortunately, Bad Shakespeare is here to help you all this week with a handy guide to Shakespeare’s politicians.

Name: Hamlet

Occupation: Prince of Denmark; playwright; freelance detective; dueler.

The Rundown: Prince Hamlet of Denmark suffered a great loss at an early age when his father was killed. Not content to stay dead like most other murdered fathers, King Hamlet (his father) came back to life, pinned it all on his brother and mother (who were now married). We didn’t see him do much “leading” during the time of the play, nor was it implied that at any point that he did any leading that didn’t involve people going to their death. He didn’t take any strong positions on many things, but he was exceptionally strong on crime. Died tragically when he was run through with a poison sword, but not before driving his girlfriend to kill herself, brutally stabbing a man, and inadvertently poisoning his mother.

Why Wouldn’t He Be Elected Today: Well, let’s face it, there’s a good chance that talking to your dead father and trying to coax the truth out of him with a damning play doesn’t spell “sanity” in the mind of the voters. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Crossover Extravaganza: Let Me Entertain You!

I promise that a squirrel overlord has not captured Bad Shakespeare. (Although this could totally happen one day. Seriously, he shouldn’t tempt them.) He’s just over on the Island of Misfit Toys, sharing a little Bad Shakespeare awesomeness. I’m Erin Garland and usually I’m the Misfit Toy. Or the Island. Or something. We thought it’d be fun to mix things up a bit and switch blogs this week. I promise he’ll be back next week – same bat time, same bat channel.

Michael and I go way back. In fact, we’re old enough that we’re allowed to use the phrase “back in the day” without immediately being punched in the face. (For the record, you have to be over 25 to use that phrase.) Anyway, we were in the theatre department back in the day. Theatre nerds are the best nerds ever.

I manage staff professional development for an educational technology company. I’ve been with this company forever and have had more job titles than I care to count. Some people would say that being a trainer has absolutely nothing to do with what I studied in college (theatre arts management – for real) and I should be doing something more creative with my life. Well, those people are insane and have clearly never trained a high school counselor let alone their colleagues on anything. Training is 10% teaching and 80% entertainment. Ultimately, I spend my days making people comfortable with the technology they have to use. Basically, I make technology into a kitten - something cute and fuzzy that a person can cuddle with.

But what I really do most days is tell stories. Some might say that I tell very specific stories that involve exaggeration or slightly skewed versions of reality (some would call that lying – those people are lazy and not creative at all) but I like to think about more like painting a picture that is appealing to just the people in the room. I like to use humor and 80s movies to make what I teach/train more interesting. I like to reward my students/colleagues/clients with praise and compliments and stickers. I like to bake cupcakes/cookies/pecan pie bars on Fridays.

Regardless of the praise and stickers, most of the time what I would really like to say is “Stop saying crazy things and asking insane questions.” For real, what is so hard about being normal in a training situation? When did it become okay for a group of professionals to play an online game when I’m trying to train them on how to do something that will help make their work lives better? I think it comes back to entertainment. Learning is hard so we’d rather be entertained.

Learning should be fun and engaging. So often when I conduct trainings the session starts off with “this is going to be terrible” or ends with “I thought this would be so much worse.” I’m never quite sure to respond. I’m pretty certain that saying something along the lines of “I’m glad that I met your expectation of mediocrity. At least I didn’t make anyone cry” would not be taken well by anyone.

I’ve decided that I’m going to use the following to gauge whether I’m successful in my work:
  1. How many times did we laugh? Laughing is a way to personally connect with one another and an important part of learning is making those connections.
  2. Did anyone share a personal story that we can relate to what we’re discussing? If a person can take one thing they’ve learned and apply it to something in their daily life (a pain point, something they can't/don't currently do) then they day has been well spent.
  3. Has anyone told me one new thing they learned today? It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s new and they can apply it to their work.
I’ve just completed training the largest class of new hires my division has had in a long time. It’s been a very, very long seven days. My connection of career exploration to Lloyd Dobler’s “I don’t want to buy, sell or process anything” speech did not go as well as I would have liked. (Why don’t people find this as amusing as me? Has the world gone mad?) However, we’ve laughed a lot and the pieces seem to be coming together for everyone. So we’ll consider that a win. And of course, there were cupcakes on Friday. And you know cupcakes make everything better even if it’s not Rex Manning Day.

Thanks for indulging in our little experiment. I hope to see you on the Island of Misfit Toys ( real soon. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Ok, party people, as of this moment we are officially one week away from Halloween! Yay! Halloween ranks up there as one of my favorite candy-getting holidays, the first being the Monday after Easter when those Cadbury Eggs are all going on sale.

I love this time of year. The leaves are all changing, people dress up in fancy/funny/slutty costumes, people complain about the fancy/funny/slutty costumes that the person near them is wearing, the movies get scarier, there’s inevitably some scary movie marathon obviously slapped together by people who don’t know what scary is, and there’s a good excuse for Ghostbusters to run on television as much as possible. Really it’s the perfect storm of awesomeness.

But it’s not all fun and games. For some people, this is the scariest part of the year: The week before Halloween and they don’t have a clue who they’re going as. Fortunately, it’s Bad Shakespeare to the rescue with your Bad Shakespeare Guide to Halloween.

-Don’t be the house that gives out toothbrushes, dental floss, trail mix, or anything like that. No one likes it. They may say “thank you” but it’s because their parents are standing behind them, making them. You will be mocked.

-Conversely, don’t be the house that gives out full candy bars. Yes, the kids will love you, but you’re really just making all of the other houses look bad. Unless you want to play mind games, and wait for a group of three. Give one the full bar, and the other two little pieces of candy. Then you’ve just given them something fun to talk about on the way to the next house.

-If you will not be home for the night, just put out a plastic bowl and a sign that says “take one.” Kids will just assume that someone has taken all of the candy.

-Ideally you should have prepped your eggs and mayonnaise for your Halloween Shenanigans this past summer when it was hot out. If you haven’t already, pull these things out of the fridge and leave them somewhere warm. Remember it’s about quality. Take pride in your pranking.

-If you are going to a Halloween Party, remember that you need to have a designated driver AND they need to be wearing a costume that makes it easy for them to operate a car.

-Timely costumes are always the rage, but no one wants to see your take on the current election, be it “Mitt Zombie” or “Ba-Ba-Ba-rock Obama”, Big Bird, Binder Full of Women, or any variation of anything Gangnam Style. “Call Me Maybe” is coming back, slightly, or at least there has been enough time.

-Sparkly Vampire is never ok.

-Yes. We know that chick is dressed like an extremely slutty nurse. No. I wasn’t looking at her.

-Lastly, remember the movies you are going to pick out are probably going to be scary. So while I know you think you’re going to get through at least four of the scariest movies you can find, I would recommend bringing Ghostbusters. Just in case.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Jack Black: Renaissance Man

              As of Friday, I am officially done with the Break Bad series here on this blog, until the last episode in some nebulous time in 2013 when it will be back, and I will reflect on the series as a whole and it’s Shakespeareaness.  Now the question becomes: Why? Why did I cover this show, and why am I so passionate about it when I am supposed to be an English guy and love the written word and forsake all these other shows.

                Because Breaking Bad is literature. That sound you heard was the heart of every “serious” literature student and everyone who enjoys Breaking Bad as entertainment breaking at once. Enjoy it. Hear the snap. Love the snap. Feast on the snap.

                This is a live-action example of something I have discussed before, that all classic literature at one point started as popular entertainment. We know that William Shakespeare existed because he was popular, just as we know with Ben Johnson, Christopher Marlowe, Aristophanes, and future generations will know of the great Renaissance man that was Jack Black. (He can sing, dance, and act, people!) Breaking Bad is an example of that. It is popular, but it is also so ripe with imagery, symbols and story that it rightfully should be explored. It should be studied.

                If you think about it, television shows are still a newish medium that are being explored an experimented with in different ways. Small segments of entertainment have been around for a while (from radio shows to travelling roadside plays to YouTube clips) but the idea of a consumable half hour or hour long program is still a new idea that is being constantly reinvented. Some of those ways work. Some of them fail miserably. Some of them are like Lost and two years after it’s over people still can’t tell you if it worked or not. Some of them create beautifully messed up interesting stories with deep characters and moral quandaries that are begging to be answered, like Breaking Bad or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

                So is Breaking Bad considered literature? Yes. It should be. As I aptly have demonstrated, it has all of the elements that were available in Shakespeare’s writing, just with more meth. (I can’t even say, “but with more brutal killing” because Shakespeare has everyone beat on that.) Why shouldn’t we study a TV show or discount it for the sole reason that it’s “television”?

                Reading is important. It’s art, but it’s important to remember at times it’s not the ONLY source of art.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Breaking Bad Shakespeare Friday: Walter White.

Whelp ladies and gentlemen we have reached that point in our “Breaking Bad Shakespeare Friday” series. We are going to explore the man, the myth, the legend, Mr. Heisenberg himself: Walter White.

                Walter White is a rare character on a television series: A bone fide Shakespearean tragic hero. I know those of who you have watched him murder his way up to becoming a mythical drug kingpin originally under the guise of “protecting his family” which morphed rather quickly to “I want all the money” but rest assured, Walter White has the same tragic flaws that we learned about in your great Shakespearean tragedies: Othello, Mac-“Scottish Guy”, Lear, and Hamlet.

                Plenty of TV shows feature bad guys as main characters. The current trend of television seems to be leaning towards the bad guys being the main characters, or “morally conflicted.” The thing is, that while we are to believe that Walter White starts the show morally conflicted: He wants to raise money for his wife and kids when he dies, we quickly learn that he is not morally conflicted.  Walter is just good at what he does, and he wants to be the best at what he does.

                The great Shakespearean tragedies fall into a sort of spectrum. Lear and Hamlet could almost be considered victims of their circumstance. Lear is an old fool and Hamlet is either brilliantly insane or brilliantly knowledgeable (Great thing about Hamlet: you can play him either way) but both are sort of reacting to a situation that exists. Lear is getting old and wants to test love, and Hamlet is just confused that his father is dead and he has to go live with a warthog and meerkat out in the jungle. (I may be mixing up my Hamlet and Lion King.) Othello and Mac are more active in their downfall. Yes, they both get a little “push” from Iago and Lady Mac respectively, but they both take that push and run with it. That’s Walter White. He gets a bit of a push in the form of cancer, then in the form of seeing “mad stacks of cheddar” but the second he sees how far he can go, he just runs with it.

                That brings us to Walter’s bit Shakespearean flaw: Ambition. This matches him up there with Lady Mac and Mac (Saying the full name is considered bad luck in the theatre, so while I’m taking theatre classes I will not say or write the name). Walter wants more. Early on, we see that he gave up on a successful company. I’ve discussed before that Gus Fring was directly affected by this. Walter saw how far he could go, and decided that he was not going to give up again. This is also the example last week with our twisted look at the phrase, “Apply yourself.”

                If we went through Walter’s mind at the start of the show, I’m sure it was along the lines of “I’m going to die. Might as well become a meth cook.” But as his reputation grew, and his prognosis for a longer life got better, he knew that he wanted to be, as someone put it, “a meth chef.” He wanted to pour his ambition and life goal to the point that he wouldn’t just be rich, but he would be known. After a point, this wasn’t about money for Walter White. After a point it was about people knowing who he was. He has threatened his partner several times in order to stop him from cooking just like him.

                So what does the future hold? Well, in the case of the four Shakespearean tragic heroes, it ended in death. (spoilers for 300 year old plays follow.) Othello killed himself after killing his faithful wife, realizing he’d been poisoned by Iago. Mac got a few inches taken off the top (of his neck) because he thought he was literally immortal. Hamlet died, taking just about everyone with him. And Lear manages to up the body count from his good buddy, Hamlet. Does this mean Walter White is headed to the same end? This is all speculation, based on how the fourth season ended, mind you… but my thought is no.

                Yes, what made these characters so tragic is the fact that they all ended in death. And Walter is in a brutal line of work. The makeup budget alone for fake bruises and fake blood must be astronomical. But in the end, each one of those people died because of their tragic flaw: Walter may have a tragic flaw that is ripe for the killing (ambition is a popular one for someone to die) but part of the “tragic flaw” is that they are punished in some bigger way. Walt has had that with the estrangement from his wife and at times fearing for his own safety.  I personally think this needs to end even bigger. Walter has always had an “out” from the world of drug-lording: his cancer. At some point in the future, he was probably going to die. I think Walter needs to live. I think Walter needs at some point to get a clean bill of health, and a world in which he not just the non-alpha dog, but there is no hope for him ever getting power again. I’m not sure what that means.

                Death is just too easy an out for a character like Walter.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

With Great Power Comes Delicious, Delicious Responsibility

                On Saturday, I will be embarking on a road trip to the magical land of Woodstock, Virginia and I will be taking part is another maniacal hobby of mine: Bad Shakespeare, BBQ Judge! Keep in mind that when I say I will be “embarking” that I live in Northern Virginia. Most people probably wouldn’t consider it “real” Virginia.

                That’s right, I am a certified BBQ Judge. I took the class, paid them my money, and then someone bestowed upon me the ancient knowledge of BBQ passed down through the ages, first through Jesus and then landing upon me. The only caveat was that I would have to guard that knowledge with my life, and roam the countryside offering advice on cooking to anyone I see in trouble. It really wasn’t exciting as that, we sat in a room watched a video, ate some food and then had to sign a pledge that we would do our best. I think there was an oath in there…

                A buddy of mine and I took a judging class because we compete in BBQ Competitions and, after falling into the bottom five for way to many times in a row, and we really did want to unlock the secrets of BBQing, handed down from the BBQ gods of old, yadda yadda yadda. We figured a good way to do this would be by taking a class, learning what these people learn, and figuring out what made “good” BBQ well… good. Here’s what I learned.

                Put people into power, and they’ll find a way to be a jerk.

                The class mostly consisted of us watching videos and learning the official rules as we got hungrier and hungrier as the food cooked outside. It smelled wonderful, as slow smoked BBQ often does. But as we were going through the official rules, my friend and I discovered one thing: Everyone was an “expert” and I use that term in so incredibly the loosest sense that the English language will allow me to use that word. That word right now is straining under the use of those quotation marks.

                One gentleman in particular (my favorite) constantly referred us back to his “research” on the paper he was writing on early BBQ, even if it had nothing to do with what we were talking about. One example of an exchange:

                Teacher:  “Make sure that you note your score in the box provided, keeping in mind what we just discussed.”

                Research Guy: “I found that BBQ was brought to America by the slaves.”

This conversation started killing my soul. I place most of the blame on this guy for why we had to wait so long to get our food. (Not surprisingly, there wasn’t a break for lunch.) Then there were the people that were cooks. My friend and I were cooks but the difference is that we are fully willing to admit when something tastes better. These… not so much. If the sauce wasn’t exactly to their liking, they gave it a poor score. Unless it was a store-bought brand, then oddly it was the best tasting substance, like, ever. Then there were the questioners, who had to question everything, including the information and instructions we received five seconds ago. They knew best how the food was supposed to look, they knew best what was supposed to happen, and they knew best how to cook.

                I want to stress again that my friend and I were at this location because we were cooks, and we were attempting to learn. We wanted to know why we’d get high marks from one judge and low marks from another. We wanted to know why we could make something that was so tasty it would be gobbled up in five seconds, but another group could have leftovers and no one would touch it. I guess we kind of had our answer.

                Essentially, anyone can learn to be a BBQ judge. The only real qualification is that you not be a vegetarian. And this had nothing to do with vegetarian, if that’s your jam you should enjoy it, but you have to eat the food in order to judge it. (And spitting it out is a definite no-no.) But that of course means ANYONE can be a BBQ judge. I don’t pride myself with having the most refined palate on Earth… I have consumed more Doritos Locos Tacos than I care to count… but I like to think I know BBQ. Not to the extent that some people do. But I know it, and I enjoy it. I think I’m qualified enough to say, “I like it” and be part of that anybody.

                Of course, I’ll try to keep the power granted to checked.

Monday, October 15, 2012

On Losing Contests, Kevin Spacey, and My Marxist Views

So this whole writing a lot is kind of new to me.
    Well, not the writing-writing part. I’ve always loved writing but I’ve been a bit shy about showing it to anyone. (Note that this is probably the last time that I will ever write the words “shy” and “I” in a sentence.) Writing things for me has always been easy. I’ve forgotten more stories I “meant to write down” then I’ve probably ever read. But putting myself out there has always been difficult. I find what I write amusing. And compelling. And kind of handsome. So when I do put myself out there, I’m really putting myself out there.

    As you know, I recently entered a Washington Post humor writing contest. Well, I can now officially say that I entered a Washington Post humor writing contest... and failed. I did not win. Actually I probably could have said that a few weeks ago, but I was holding on to every sliver of hope that any minute they’d say, “surprise!” But alas it was not meant to be.

    My brain has been a wild rush of emotions. Yes, it was a small contest, but it was kind of a big deal. I mean, I put on an air of bravado, but I really am guarded when it comes to my writing. I write my thoughts, but not ALL my thoughts. At some point if I did that I would be Kevin Spacey in Seven. I also don’t share all of my writing here on this blog. I fell that the blogger-bloggee relationship needs to have some air of mystery.

    The thing is, I feel kind of good about it. I mean, not in my glib Marxist view. By “Marxist” I of course mean Groucho Marx’s famed line, “I don’t want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member. Which Marx did you think I was talking about? I lost the contest. But, I entered a contest to lose. I don’t know I would have done that had I not started this blog.

    Of course, now it’s time to start moving on. This contest is done, now it’s time to find another one. And another. And another, until I’m good enough to win them, or until my random musings aren’t just on the internet, but across the world. And maybe it’s time I start sharing more of my writing on this blog.

    Stay tuned, America.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Breaking Bad Shakespeare Friday: I Ain't Walter White's Sidekick, B*tch!

                Once again, we return to the Meth-influenced, Shakespearean world of Breaking Bad. Today we are going to talk about one of the more interesting characters that help form the core of the series, Jesse Pinkman, played by the talented Aaron Paul, bitch! (That’s a reference to the show, so I’m allowed to say it.)

                Jesse was a student of Walters back when he was a middle mannered Chemistry teacher. Jesse finds an old test that Walter had marked up… one where he told his student to “apply himself.” This is a recurring theme within the show: Doing the best that you can. Even if it is a murderous drug overlord. But Jesse will repeat this mantra, and early on he even throws away several “good” batches of meth in order to do better. By the end he’s proud of the fact that he can produce meth at Walter White/Heisenberg quality.

                Sidenote: This post is going to talk a lot about being a great meth kingpin/drug lord. I could say, “don’t try this at home” but instead I say watch the show and see if it really glamourizes drug use. I’m going to guess “no,” unless your idea of glamorization involves brutal murder and constantly looking over your shoulder.  

                Jesse’s Shakespearean influence on the show is extremely important. He’s our gateway character. He’s the one who first takes “meek” (those quotes will be explained next week) quiet Walter White and throws him into the world of Meth. Now look at that choice of words carefully. He throws Walter White into the world of Meth. Not the killing, darkness, or harder drugs. Jesse is a victim of Walter’s ambition, and sort of a gauge for the audience. Jesse represents just how far Walter has fallen.

                When we first meet Jesse he is sneaking out of a house while the DEA is conducting a drug bust, looking for “Captain Cook” a local Meth producer. Jesse (in addition to having a personalized license plate) enjoys marking his Meth with chili powder, something that brands him. When he and Walter start working together, Walter is initially against any type of marking their Meth, other than making it mega-pure. Jesse agrees, reluctantly. Of course, until an accident forces them to use a different chemical, making the meth blue, then it’s all about making sure the meth remains blue, thus showing a reversal in the characters.

                Here’s where Jesse’s character connects with Walters: his life is worse off once Walter gets involved. Yes, Walter is able to produce meth that is wonderful. But nearly everything else takes this, let’s face it, small time meth producer deeper and deeper into a world where he probably wouldn’t go. Thanks to Walt, he murders, he starts doing harder drugs, his girlfriend dies (some could argue is murdered)… Jesse is a tragic character, and one of the more tragic characters on television.

                I’m not arguing that Jesse is blameless. When we meet him, he’s a drug dealer and an addict. He’s not going to win any humanitarian awards. But there are times when he genuinely tries to turn his life around, but keeps getting sucked back into the world of Walter White.  At one point he’s making millions of dollars off his drugs, and that doesn’t make him happy. (That dynamic will eventually be switched as well. The despicable line said by Jesse that the audience was drawn to hate will eventually be repeated by Walter.)

                Breaking Bad is very much the story of the man Walter White, a character unlike any other on Television. I’ll be getting to him. But Jesse… Jesse is our character. If this were any other television show, and not one so rooted in Shakespearean influences, Jesse would be the main character of the show: A drug addict who gets involved over his head and turns his life around. I’m interested to see where they are going to take this character. He has the same flaws as Walter. But he seems more willing and able to overcome them. Shakespeare-wise, this is the type of character who survives to tell the story as a cautionary tale. But we’ll have to see.          

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Michael Keaton in a Bikini is a Different Story

               Last Monday, I announced that I was doing a media experiment: I will attempt to see how long I can go without discovering who won the recent election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, and then report the results. I’ve been asked some questions regarding this, and I figured I’d answer them here so everyone can see the answers. Plus, I didn’t really lay out the “rules” last time, so this might help.
                Q. Are you making a political statement?
                A. No. This is a statement on the immediacy of the news we receive. A lot of this honestly is born out of the Olympic coverage. We live in a time when where it was possible to watch any event as it happened. But NBC chose to put on events at odd times and “spoiled” live events. (Thus really, really destroying what is meant by the term “spoiler.”) Realistically, this should be the most covered news story in America, provided Kim Kardashian doesn’t get married again or tweets a picture of herself in a bikini.

                Q. Does this mean you’re not going to vote?
                A. No. I’ll be voting. That’s my right as an American. Who I’ll be voting for is a mystery, shrouded in a cloud and if you think you know who I’m voting for, you’re probably wrong. But I've not actually made up my mind about who I’m voting for, unless Kim Kardashian tweets another picture of herself in a bikini.

                Q. What are you trying to prove?
                A. I’m not trying to “prove” anything. I’m trying to take a look at the immediacy in which we want news, and the extent we’ll go to get it. The Presidential election should be a huge story… the biggest in America, and rightfully so. But plenty of non-football fans don’t know who won the Superbowl, and that’s pretty big. If you don’t care about actors then what use are the Oscars? But President? That’s the leader of us. You should know who he is. I’m going to see what I have to do to avoid learning his name for as long as possible.

                Q. What do you think you’ll have to do in order to avoid this?
                A. No Facebook, no radio, no newspapers, no online newspapers, changing my home screen, no phone, no notifications, no Twitter (which means less tweets of Kim Kardashian in a bikini), and basically a change in my lifestyle. Bad Shakespeare itself won’t be given live updates about the news while I’m busy not figuring this out.

                Q. You have a Twitter account?
                A. Yep. It’s not under Bad Shakespeare, and mostly it’s to follow comedians. But that has nothing to do with my point.

                Q. So what do you hope to gain from this?
                A. Hopefully, patience and a better understanding of the way media used to work. Back when media had to take time to reach everyone, there was time for “fact checkers” to work. People took time to figure out what was going on, and double checked… well, everything. They didn’t spew out the first thing on their lips because they wanted to be first, people’s lives be damned. Check out Michael Keaton in The Paper. Basically, that.

                Q. No, really, who are you voting for?
                A. Obviously, Kim Kardashian in a bikini.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kittens with Katana Blades!

               I have some news to impart on everyone. It’s election season in America. To those of you that I have shocked, I apologize, I know not many of you have known that. (Does this font convey sarcasm? I hope it does.)

                In any regard, at the time of this posting we will be a little over a month away from the merciful end of Election Season. Whereas Football Season ends with a big show and Duck Season ends with some hilarious banter with wabbits and hunters, Election Season ends more name calling and accusations of fraud all around.

                But this is not a post about politics, no, this is a post about social media. You see, we live in a world where we are connected 24/7. If Mitt Romney pets an adorable kitten wielding katana blades or if Barack Obama kisses a baby that has a Hitler mustache, the world knows about it in about fifty seconds and we all start judging what it secretly means for the election. (i.e, Kittens love slashing things with knives! Or babies are bringing back the Hitler mustache!)

                I remember being in a bar four years ago when Barack Obama announced that “Smilin’ Joe Biden” was going to be his running mate. You could sign up for a text message to get the announcement as soon as it came out, so a bunch of people were looking down on their phones and reading what it said. Now this was midnight in a bar in Seattle, which means it was earlier in the morning elsewhere. And later it came out that the campaign announced it because the media released it.

                This got me thinking… do I need to know everything the minute it happened? Would I be worse off if I was sitting in a bar in Seattle, had a few beers with my friends, then got home and saw that Joe Biden was going to be Barack Obama’s running mate? Other than switching the conversation from how the Seahawks were doing that year to this, it changed nothing.

                Thus, I’m announcing the great Bad Shakespeare experiment of 2012. I’m going to see how long I can go without knowing who won the Presidential Election. I’m going to go to bed on Tuesday, November 6th knowing that Barack Obama is the President of the United States. I’m going to wake up on Wednesday, November 7th… well knowing that Barack Obama is President, but not knowing if he has a few months, or a few years left on his term.     

                Think about what that means. I will have to turn off notifications on my phone for one. I won’t be able to read any of my favorite news sites like Yahoo, Washington Post, or Cracked. (Ok… maybe the last one.) I won’t even get my morning comics! I won’t be able to listen to the radio (which may not be a bad thing. Like I want I want another fart joke from Elliot in the Morning or listening to Kane try to talk over everything he airs, lest someone forget the sound of his voice) or watch live television. Nothing with a commercial, anyway. (I know… so 20th Century with the Tivos and the DVRs and whatnot.) The big thing, however, is that because of the way things are set up, I will not be able to update Bad Shakespeare properly until I find out, and the experiment is over.

                It’s not really a political statement. I’m intending this to be an interesting look at social media, and how we interact with it. I’ve chosen the Presidential Election because it is the biggest story in America… everyone should be covering it. With social media, really I should know who wins the election half a second after they call it.

And of course, I’ll be reporting my experiences and findings on a future edition of Bad Shakespeare.

Friday, October 5, 2012

I Answer Everything

             So, what do we take away from this week? I've thought a lot about how I'm going to wrap up what essentially has amounted to about 3500 words on a subject I'm passionate about. I appreciate you all taking the time to follow me in my passion of bringing awareness to what I feel is an important topic. Don't ban books. Don't ban ideas.  Fortunately, I’m going to sum up everything with just one word, and it is something that I would like you all to do, and something that I would like for you to consider from this point forward when it comes to censorship, book bans, the exchange of free ideas, and keeping an open mind.

              There is one day left in Banned Books Week. (Two if you read this early enough.) Which gives you plenty of time to do something for me. And something that really supports the written word, and helps strengthen the argument that no books should be banned.

               This is the main thing I want you to take away from this week.


Thursday, October 4, 2012

This Post is So Good It's Illegal

                 So, now that we’ve explored the different angles of Banned Books Week (well… three. I only have a week and writing for this website is a part-part-part time gig) It’s time to think of action. So, what can you do to be a proper rabble-rouser and ensure free access for all and that banning books are a bad thing? Bad Shakespeare is here to help.

                -The most obvious, of course, is to not ban a book, or complain when you see someone reading a book. I mean, getting a book banned is a very deliberate act, you aren't going to do it accidentally. So I guess this falls under the universal guide for living, “Don’t ruin it for everyone else.”

                -Read a banned book. You may be disappointed to find that they aren’t as salacious as you would like. See the television show South Park for an excellent example of just how disappointing banned books can be when it comes to sex and violence.

                -Give someone a banned book. “The Hunger Games” is on that list. Chances are that you have given someone a banned book without even knowing it. But go deeper. Actively give someone a banned book and say, “hey, this is so good it’s illegal.” The second you make something illegal, it goes way up in demand, if my time at the Economics Department at George Mason has taught me anything.

                -Support your local library. I know, I know. Right now you don’t even have to leave your couch if you want to watch a movie and get a pizza. Google will provide you with a billion pages on the subject that you are looking for. Kindles, Nooks, and Ipads (sorry Kobo users) create a world where you can literally download any book, ever, and a lot of the classics are free. But libraries aren't just about books, they’re also about a sense of community of going to a place and learning something. These are the places that are under attack when you hear of a book being removed from the shelves for being “too awesome” as I've proven with my previous two statements.

                -Keep an open mind. This means completely open. This means not just supporting the crazy, wacky ideas that you love, but also supporting the crazy, wacky ideas that you hate. The First Amendment wasn't created to protect popular speech. Everyone can nod their head and get behind me when I say that Firefly may have been the best show ever created. But when someone says, Firefly sucks, that is the person that needs protection, because they are taking the least popular view. Our Founding Fathers (and noted Firefly fans) loved their free speech. In fact, that was the first thing they thought of when founding our country. Minds are like bear traps. The second they close, they become deadly.

                -Speak up against censorship. Earlier this year, a group called “One Million Moms” spoke out against one of my favorite comic books, because it dared to show a gay man as a superhero (THE HUMANITY!) Throwing aside that there aren't anywhere close to “One Million” of them, I wrote a rather nice piece about how I felt this changed nothing about the Green Lantern. I did this because I had a forum. I try to reach as many people as I can with this blog, and I will continue to do so until I can no longer type, or the machines cut off access to the internet before the Robot-Human war. That’s one way I will continue to speak against censorship of any kind. You find your way to do it. It can be as simple as attending the PTA meeting to talk those out of censorship. Just do something. Those Firefly Fans I mentioned that started this country did so because they took an active role.

                -Be respectful. I can talk a big game, but just be nice to each other. There’s no need to resort to name calling or hateful speech because someone disagrees. Remember, no one sets out to say, “I’m going to ban this book today.” They are banning something they are afraid of, and we have to respect that before we can talk to them, explain that not everyone will have the same reaction as them. It’s easier to see eye to eye with someone if you’re not trying to shout over them.  Bill and Ted said it best: “Be excellent to each other.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

This Post Contains Mild Cleavage

Yesterday, I spoke about how I felt that Banned Books week is about access to books—all books, be it a classic or a current book. All students should get the option and open access to read whatever they want, and we shouldn't create a shaming environment where they’re too scared to come talk to us about issues in a book. (Hmm. It took me 800 words to say that yesterday.)
                However, there’s another issue behind all of this: what about the books that are taught in the classroom? At this point we aren't talking about access. We’re talking about “you will read this for a grade.” How does the ever expanding world of free access and not banning ideas work in this case?

                I wish I had an answer. I personally hold true to what I just said and reiterate here: Students should have access to books, we should teach them not be afraid of discussing issues, and sheltering children rarely works. My personal favorite story is the R rating on the movie Bully because of “bad language… said by kids who couldn't see the movie now because it was rated R! But these are two different cases. In one, I’m picking up a book and saying, “I would like to read this.” In the other, I’m handing a book to a student and saying, “read this. Then you get a grade.”

                I can remember way back to high school (way back in “the day”) there were two books a teacher asked me to read that fell into the “controversial” category. “The Natural” (again because of a dreaded sex scene) and “Huckleberry Finn” (because no one understands what “satire” is.) No one really complained, and the teacher addressed what was controversial about them beforehand, and asked us to keep an open mind.

                And maybe that’s the answer. Look, there are some books I just won’t pick up unless someone tells me, and that includes the “Harry Potter” series. The point of getting an education is to expand your mind, and sometimes mind expanding is uncomfortable.  Most of the time I sit down to write these posts with a clear point in mind. Today I knew I wanted to discuss a sort of counterpoint to what I’d just written – free access – with the idea that sometimes it’s not a choice. I do feel that teachers, sometimes, have to make you read something that is controversial. I think teachers have to keep in mind the maturity level of the class, and what they can handle… but I feel that the point of an education is to see what is out there.

                And in reality, we live in a world where some people don’t want you to see a Harry Potter movie because one of the characters shows “mild cleavage.” (Hint: It’s not Ron.) Something will offend anyone, all the time. As educators, we have to ensure that we can defend using those materials. I already know the complaints I’m going to get when I want to use “The Fault in Our Stars” or “Matched.” But I also know that I can defend it. I know that anything controversial is outweighed by the wonderfulness of the stories themselves.

                Wow. I’m enjoying getting my opinions out there on Banned Books Week, but this is getting heavier than I thought. I might have to lighten the mood a bit.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Fifty Shades of Grey Problem...

              “So, what about this book?” I’m inevitably asked whenever I point out that yes, I’m very much against censorship. “Why do you want children reading about this topic?”

                The book in question will contain themes that maybe someone doesn’t see as “moral” or “appropriate.” I’ll refer to it as the “Fifty Shades of Grey Problem”, after the smash hit that was based on altered fan fiction. (Although I may not be happy that fan fiction is riding so high in popularity, I have to face the facts that 1. It’s a published book, selling like crazy and 2. My Perfect Strangers fan fiction is going nowhere, so I may need to switch things up a bit.) But it’s a sexy book about sexy things that happen to sexy people. The audience is very much geared towards adults. But then again, when has “gearing” something to an audience ever guaranteed that only that specific audience will read it, millions of Harry Potter fans said.

                “Fifty Shades of Grey” has many, many, many problems beyond the amount of sex in it. Is it my choice? No. Do I really care if someone is reading it? No. When someone brings up the “Fifty Shades of Grey Problem” what they are saying is, “I find this content morally objectionable. There are a large group of people who agree that this content is morally objectionable. Why do you want teenagers to read it?” And they point to something like “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The thing is… no, I don’t want teenagers reading it.

                “Aha! We’ve caught you! You’re a filthy liar, Bad Shakespeare, and now we shall ban all the books except the ones we think are appropriate. Both books will be available in libraries tomorrow!” those people are now saying, possibly as lightning strikes behind them and they prepare the pyre to burn “The Chocolate War” or  “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” or “The Hunger Games” or “Matched” whilst hiding “Fifty Shades” under their mattresses.

                I want to be a good teacher, so I want students to read. The point of Banned Books Week is that all students have access to books. While I don’t think that “Fifty Shades of Grey” is an appropriate book for a teenager to read maybe another parent does. Maybe another parent or guardian is being asked about BDSM and uses that book as a light gateway into it. Maybe another student wants to read it as a project on how fan fiction and the new media allows for a greater expansion of writers into a new marketplace. The thing is it’s not my place to say what is appropriate for someone else to read. It is my place to fight tooth and nail to ensure that the access is there.

                In addition, I’d like to think that when I do have kids, or when I’m teaching and have students that they will be able to approach me with a dialogue on what they’ve just read, instead of just fighting it.

                Last Spring, I read an amazing book I’ve been meaning to write about in Bad Shakespeare for a very long time called “The Fault in Our Stars.” It’s about a girl who has cancer. She meets a guy in her support group. The two form a friendship, then fall in love (as two teenagers will do.) Of course, both have faced more mortality than most adults, one thing leads to another, and they have sex. People want this book banned because it contains… a sex scene between two teenagers. It’s on the banned book list because of this one scene which lasts less than four pages. (including the run up.) It also contains dealing with loss, dealing with death, dealing with anger (from death) embracing life… but we have to ban it because someone might read about two teenagers getting it on, and of course there’s no other way they’ll learn that.

                I try to think of what it would be like having a student read that book. It’s an amazing book, set in present day that features so many themes I can loop back to in a heartbeat. Even the title is a reference to Shakespeare, “The fault lies not in our stars but in ourselves” from Julius Caesar. It’s an easily engaging book where the benefit outweighs any concerns I may have. And I’m not going to pretend that a student hasn’t heard about sex or won’t hear about sex at some point. Why would I scare them from it so much by declaring a book out of bounds that my kids won’t approach me about it, and learn something from it?

                Of course, this is focused on one extreme example. Ellen Hopkins is a frequent targetee of the Book Banners. She writes verse novels, form the point of view of teenagers, that cover topics like sex, eating disorders, steroids, drugs, poverty… things no student has to go through, right? (that’s sarcasm, kids.)

                I understand that those wanting these books banned are operating under their moral code. I can respect that. Just as they have the right to put the book down that contains objectionable material, or God forbid, get involved in their kids’ lives and find out what they are reading, I should have the right and the option to pick up a book and read it.

Monday, October 1, 2012

This Post is Almost Banned for Being Too Awesome

    It’s Banned Books Week.

    I’m going to let that marinate for a moment. It is the week set aside by the American Library Association where we talk about here, in America, that we shouldn’t be banning books.

    I’ve talked censorship and banning books in the past. I’m extremely against it. I’m against it because I think to the books I read when I was a kid. From the wacky to the adventure to the classic... I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t get a chance to read them. Particularly if someone told me I couldn’t read them for some arbitrary reason. (And yes, at the end of the day, banning words... banning ideas... is arbitrary.)

    And now we have an entire week set aside to bringing awareness to the fact that books are still banned in America. They’re banned for ideas. They’re banned for words. They’re banned because they represent a history we wish we didn’t have. They’re banned because people don’t want to admit that teenagers might be going through an issue. They’re banned for not living up to the “morals” of a way too vocal minority that’s totally okay pushing their morals on everyone else, but would flip out if anyone attempts to push their morals on them.

    I don’t like being told I can’t do something for an arbitrary reason or to give the warm fuzzies to a group that thinks they have to be the national “tsk tskers”. (Everyone knows that the “tsk tsk” position was abolished when Benjamin Franklin decided that we should just all “be cool, everyone.”)

    Why do we fear ideas so much? Why do we fear that someone might learn something or see a character in a book with a problem and be able to relate? Why do we fear a word? That is what Banned Books Week is about. It’s about looking at these questions, and bringing them to the forefront. It’s about realizing that this still happens in the 21st century. It’s about a free access of ideas.

    Fight the man. Read a book.