Friday, May 30, 2014

SOA Fridays: The Supernatural Element

In studying Sons of Anarchy for it’s Hamlet connection, there was one aspect of the show I was wondering how, exactly, I was going to explore. It’s an interesting aspect. Namely, the supernatural element found in Hamlet, and how Sons of Anarchy, a show that isn’t very supernatural (aside from Charlie Hunnam’s magical abs). However, Sutter found an interesting way to incorporate it with the Homeless Woman.

Now, Hamlet isn’t necessarily a supernatural play. It’s actually a play about fathers and sons. (which Sons of Anarchy plays up very well… almost as if they are talking about it in the title itself!) But the whole “hey, there’s a ghost” is actually pretty ambiguous. In the first scene there are three people who see a “ghost” but it’s made pretty clear they’re the night watch and not extremely reliable. In the third act, only Hamlet can see the ghost, and he tells Hamlet pretty much what he’s been wanting to hear from the get-go: kill Claudius. In fact, some productions of Hamlet skip the ghost altogether, and suggest that most of it is in the mind.

It’s important to note here that Shakespeare had no problems in saying when it was time to call in Sam and Dean Winchester to do a little demon slaying. The supernatural drives most of Macbeth, which includes witches, ghosts, a ghost dagger, and an evil cat. (That probably caused most of what happened in the play. Just sayin’.) Midsummer Night’s Dream loves to talk about it’s faeries and other woodland creatures prancing about, mocking us foolish mortals. So I really feel the ambiguity of the ghost in Hamlet is often underplayed by scholars and people who think they know what they’re talking about. 

But back to Sons of Anarchy. In the first season, in an extremely innocuous scene, Gemma is leaving a store when a homeless woman starts talking to her, asking for money. Gemma gives her some, the Homeless Woman responds that she can help her kids in a phrasing that scares Gemma a little. Jax later sees her just before Donna’s funeral, as she has covered him up when he fell asleep at the cemetery. It’s important to note that these two characters are the only ones who have an interaction with the Homeless woman as she pops up, and both of their first interactions with her involve them showing her some kindness. She’ll continue to show up, usually when a big decision had to be made, or when there’s a large shift in power or the status quo. (Abel’s kidnapping in Ireland, before the dogfight rescues…)

So… who is she and what does she represent? Is she even real? Some of her possible backstory is given, that she may have been killed when John Teller’s motorcycle collided with a truck. (given in the sixth season). 

It’s kind of difficult to discuss exactly who she is, not knowing how the series ends, but I don’t want to wait that long to speculate about her. Knowing that she has a connection to the death of JT, which is part of the show dynamic, and when she shows up, makes her an interesting part of the show dynamic. She’s almost a sign, a signifier of things to come. When she shows up, something’s about to change. In the first season, her appearance comes right before Jax decides he’s going to challenge his mother and step-father for what they have done. She shows herself to Gemma in the second season at church, as Gemma needs healing from her rape and before Jax goes Nomad to escape the current regime. She’s in Ireland when Jax decides to let the nice couple keep Abel. She shows up just before Tara’s kidnapping which results in her hand being destroyed. 

It’s very important to note that those last two incidents occur further away from the action. One is in Ireland, the other is on the road to Oregon. And in both instances, it’s only Jax that sees her. So she really does show up in moments when things really are about to change for the Motorcycle club.

It’s also possible she represents some kind of guilt. Her appearances, while coming at a time of change, usually come at a moment when something bigger has happened, something that needs to be aired either for the good of the character, or the good of the club itself. Not always big. 

The show’s creator, Kurt Sutter only has glib responses when asked about the Homeless Woman, and rightfully so. She’s obviously a symbol of something larger, and to be just “told” what she represents takes away what she means.

I’m interested in finding out what she represents in the larger picture, and that can only really be told after the fact, when the show closes out. (possibly with the death of Gemma and Jax. Sorry, kids. It’s going to have to happen.) It’s possible that the last scene of the series is going to be her walking away from all the wreckage. Or maybe she’ll be seen by one of the boys who stands to inherit the Sons of Anarchy gavel from Jax in many, many, years. I’m not sure.

I’m glad that this detail was added to the show, it adds another layer of complexity to a show that can be too easily written off. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

RIP, Maya Angelou

I don’t really “get” poetry all the time.

That’s not to say that I dislike poetry or poetry is bad. It’s just a different type of art form. While I can look at, say, a play, or some other form of prose and pick up that the candlestick introduced on the second page and pick up that by the end it represents the main character’s need to reconnect with their long lost love (it’s a REALLY important candlestick) for some reason my brain is just not wired to always handle poetry in the same way that other people can easily pick it up. I admire those people. To me, poetry is beautiful. 

So, like everyone else that doesn't get poetry, when I was asked politely (re: told) to pick a poet to read about of course I picked Maya Angelou. She was the popular modern poet; she was the one to pick. So I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. (Which I didn’t know at the time is one of the 100 most frequently challenged books… good for Maya.) because of course that’s what you did when you were told to pick a poet and you had no idea and everyone else grabbed Robert Frost. But the book helped me understand. I was able to absorb at least Maya Angelou’s poetry after that.

Sometimes, being part of the English/Literature world, we get the rep of just picking something lazy, but digging deep and finding meaning in things can be difficult. Of course, if you get a good program, it will ask you to branch out, so for someone like me that can read up on Chaucer and laugh at the dirty jokes, loves the dickens out of Dickens, and can quote Shakespearean monologues when I’m trying to make a point, poetry - even the sonnets - frighten me. Maya Angelou took away that fear. She helped me understand.

Maya Angelou was an important figure. Some might say because of her civil rights work, her activism, her comments on race. These are important. But for me it’s kind of personal. For the first time in reading poetry, I was able to really feel something that someone had written. I was able to understand, for the first time, the power of a poem. Hearing her read something, being able to hear the emotion in her voice… that’s wonderful. it’s a power that I never understood until I sat down and I listened to her speak. I don’t even remember where, to be honest, it was probably something in one of my classes I was forced to watch at some point. But it stuck with me.

It also helps that she cites Shakespeare as one of the reasons she started writing. Apparently his voice, spoke to her, and at one point referred to Shakespeare as “a black woman.” :)

The thing is, I can’t speak to all of her work, I haven’t explored it all. I can’t speak to what she meant to history, because honestly… I don’t think she’d care. I can’t speak for her many, many, many other contributions to the conversation of race, poetry, and what she meant to the planet. What I can speak to what she meant to me. A great voice went out today. One that helped this person pick up a poem and start to understand it. She’s important because her writing meant a lot to me. And I think that’s the way she would have wanted it. This may be a bit of a selfish thing, but it’s my blog. I get to do what I want with it.

RIP Maya Angelou. The world’s light is a little bit dimmer today. You will be missed by many, but you will really be missed by this non-poetry fan you converted. 

Your Guide to Summer Fashion!

Whelp, ladies and gentlemen, we are officially past Memorial Day, which means despite the fact that those mean scientists keep telling us that Summer won’t hit for another month, it’s unofficially summer! As the weather changes from Disney’s carefully crafted long-term advertisement for Frozen to the warm weather that will make us all wish we were in Frozen (R.I.P. Olaf. I’ll leave a carrot on the curb for you) every news source and website turns its attention from whatever is happening in the news to the age old debate:

What is appropriate to wear in the workplace during the summer months when the fires of Hell itself scorch the Earth?

Yes, places that bill themselves as legitimate news sources dedicate time and energy to telling people that perhaps they shouldn’t be wearing flip-flops to the office, tell the “younger generation” that they should cover up, helpful ways to dress up but not really dress up, or other helpful “tips” that are either outdated, rehashed, or just plain common sense. Yes, careful reader… you probably should leave the “No fat chicks” shirt at home.

Well, thinking about this, I realized: hey… I’m a source of something. And I don’t have an office job. So I can help, because I’m helpful like that. So here we go, ladies and gentlemen… Bad Shakespeare’s tips for proper dressing for the office this summer.

-I kind of feel that the office weirdo gets left out of most of these articles. Office weirdo, you keep wearing those mismatched sweaters and wildly inappropriate-for-the-weather outfits. Ski parka? Absolutely. Aviator googles and a gladiator helmet in case you hit a personalized wormhole and get sent back in time and have to face off against Roman Gladiators? Absolutely. 

In fact, I would recommend everyone do the last part. Just in case.

-Men of course, are expected most of the time to wear a shirt and tie. The summer really shouldn’t be any excuse to dress down. Remember that there are many combinations of fabrics that should make any shirt light, breezy and easy to wear. There are also many different combinations that will not only help with the weather, but help convey a message.

Rolling up your sleeves, while keeping your arms cool will tell everyone you’re ready to get down to work and get into the weeds of the important project.

Undoing your tie signifies that you have been working long hours… longer than your so-called co-worker who is sitting there in his linen shirt, obviously not working at all. 

Untucking your shirt, unbuttoning the bottom and tying it in a knot exposing your stomach signifies that you’ve shed your winter weight, and you are ready for summer mating.

-Superheroes: We appreciate the time you save by wearing your superhero outfits under your suits, but really, we appreciate it. That bank won’t be saved any faster because you had to change completely. Unless you can control ice. Then to hell with you, you’d better be on duty all the time when we get to August and summer just won’t end.

-Now for my advice for what is appropriate for women to wear to the office. Actually, it’s a message to every other person out there giving women advice on what to wear to the office: Don’t. you’re not going to win this one. If you’re a male blogger/writer/fashion advice guy… unless your first name is “Tim” and your last name is “Gunn”, just don’t. 

-When going to a concert after work, there is some debate if it’s ok to wear the shirt of the concert you’re going to. Some people say, “don’t be that guy, wearing it.” However, I feel it’s important for my co-workers to know that the Dave Mathew Band rocks. The best way to show that is the commemorative shirt I bought for way too much money at the last show I went to.

-Footwear is important. I recommend throwing away all of your shoes in May. Just go barefoot. If you’re working hard enough, your feet are under your desk already, right? It’s not like anyone can see it.

-Also, bathing suits should be worn under every outfit. Not only will this get you in the summer mood, see the Superhero comment: you have the ability to change from boring office to summer sun in a few minutes.

-Speaking of which, if you get sunburned, it’s your duty to wear something that shows off the sunburn as much as possible. This will serve two purposes: 1) it sends the message that you did venture outside, mole-like eyes blinking in the light, and you allowed your precious, precious skin to bake in the late afternoon sun for a few moments. And 2) it allows us to give you advice that we’d never take of the most disgusting stuff you can slather on that skin to help avoid a few hours of pain.

Strawberry Jelly. Trust me. Works like a charm.

-Keep in mind that no matter what you wear to the office, you’re going to offend someone. At some point this summer, it will be hot enough that you’ll show up in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt along with a shiny “What are you going to do about it?” look upon your face. You get two. Use them wisely. 

Very, very wisely. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Don't Forget Your Towel!

“In the beginning the Universe was created.
This had made many people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.” 
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

            Don’t panic, everyone… 

Today in Towel Day! And why do we celebrate Towel Day? To celebrate the works of Douglas Adams, writer of, among other things, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and everything that follows it. It’s a great day to be a member of a planet that’s listed in the guide as “Mostly harmless.” 

For those who have not yet read The Hitchhiker’s Guide, I would normally spend this next paragraph telling you all about it. I’m going to do you a favor and I’m not going to do that, rather, I’m just going to say that it involves the destruction of Earth, then a story starts that questions the very nature of existence, why the universe was created, and of course, fish. And let’s not forget the answer to life, the universe and everything (which I’m sure you’re all familiar with) and my basic philosophy: whether or not we are asking the correct question.

Why celebrate Towel Day? It’s a day to celebrate Douglas Adams and what his works mean to us. This was a man that just put his thoughts out there, and let it go. He wrote exactly what he wanted, and it turns out a lot of it wasn’t just instantly quotable, but infinitely repeatable. For me, it was really the first book (or radio show, or mini series, or however you first consumed it) that allowed me to realize that great thinks can sometimes be hidden in unlikely sources. After all, this is a book series that destroys the Earth, names dolphins smarter than humans, has terrible poetry, and references God several times in the strangest ways. 

Then there’s that damn 42 that everyone keeps talking about.

It’s important for us to remember that sometimes wisdom can be found in just about everywhere. It doesn’t have to be some big book dedicated to telling you how to live your life. It can be a TV show, movie, small time blog with an incredibly handsome blogger working behind it, a comic book. I think sometimes we put too much faith in the things that are **supposed** to give us inspiration that we tend to ignore the inspiration that is around us all day. Many of my life lessons can be taken directly from Hitchhiker’s Guide. The biggest of course, is 42.

For those of you who haven’t read it (and I don’t know why you haven’t) 42 is given as the answer to the big, vague question: What is the meaning of it all… the life, universe, everything. And a computer, after a spectacularly long time (7.5 Million years), comes up with the answer 42, and then posits that if you don’t understand the answer, then you’re clearly not asking the right question.

In order to come up with the right question, another computer was built. It was called, “Earth.”

My favorite part of the whole things is that for years, people have speculated as to why he came up with this number. His response is perfect: He knew it had to be a small number, and he settled on 42. No real reason. 

I love this man. 

But while this was a joke given by a man with a strange sense of humor - later books would decide that both The Answer and the Question can never be known in the same Universe - It has gotten me to think about “are we asking the right question?” Everyone spends so much time trying to think about the answer, they don’t come up with the correct question. Sometimes that’s a little harder.

There are a million other parts I can point to that changed my life as a result of this book. From the protagonist, Arthur Dent having to learn to just go with it, no matter how weird things got. (Including Thursdays.) To always remembering your towel when you were hitchhiking… because people would be convinced that you’d just forgot everything else and would help you out. To not panicking… that one is the most important. And the most important, of course, not letting a vogon read you poetry. It’s all there. But the best gift I ever got was this book, with no ideas of what I should think after I’ve read it. I think you should, too, and pull your own thoughts. 

The book changed my life. I put it up there with all the great books, for me at least. It (along with Doctor Who… where is my Doctor Who post… and Star Trek) were my first real ventures into geekdom. This is back when this stuff wasn’t celebrated, people. You’re all walking around with your TARDIS shirts all comfortable, but there was a day that your knowledge of Time Lords and Warp Engines weren’t as celebrated as they are today.

So, speaking of celebration, I think it’s important that we all raise our towels in celebration of the man who was… well, just a man. But a man who was very important to me. A man who’s works have gotten me through the good times and the bad.

Happy Towel Day, Doug.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Sons of Anarchy Friday: Gemma

When I was first told about Sons of Anarchy and the Hamlet connection, I wondered about setting the play in motorcycle club. Mostly because Hamlet takes place in a society with a very rigid set of rules: there’s a dude in power, there’s a dude who wants power, and there’s a guy who kills the dude in power then steals his woman, and the only one batting an eye about the whole thing is Hamlet, and ultimately it’s because he may or may not have seen a ghost. I didn’t think it could be done, I was just wondering the hierarchy, or at least the world that’s been created and they’ll do the father/son, ruler/follower, mother/son dynamic. Kurt Sutter hit it out of the park by establishing all the rules in a Motorcycle Club like Sons of Anarchy, whether real or made up, and they all makes sense.

That of course, brings us to the Gemma character. One of there rules of the society is that nothing is kept from the “Old Ladies” or the women that stand behind the men. In fact, their role of keeping the club together, even if it’s with a “family dinner” is established from the beginning. The women of Sons of Anarchy are treated with respect, or else. Yes, some are treated like property, some are treated badly, but rarely does something happen to one of these women without some serious, serious payback. 

Spoilers, by the way, for some of the later seasons. I’m caught up through season 5, and yes, I know what happens in season 6. With a fork, people. A major death happens with a fork.

Gemma is the matriarch of the Sons of Anarchy, father to our Hamlet Jax, formerly married to our Hamlet, Sr. John Teller, and currently (at the start of the show) married to club president, best friend to John (one might say… brother) and step-father to Jax, Clay. She definitely knows what is going on within the club, very little is kept from her for very long, and she clearly knows the scheming that Clay is doing most of the time.

This includes, of course, the fact that Clay killed John Teller before the show started, and most likely had a hand in it.  (Like I said, spoilers.)

She has her share of bloodshed as the show goes on. One of the more disturbing story lines involves her kidnap and rape to “send a message” and her refusal to speak about it until she absolutely needs to. (It brings together Jax and Clay on a key issue, when Jax was about to leave due to.)

These are all interesting choices for a “Hamlet” type show, especially as Gemma is in the Gertrude part. The play Hamlet leaves the door open for a lot of interpretation, including whether or not Hamlet saw a ghost, but also just how much Gertrude was involved with everything. In some versions (or according to some scholars) she was a co-schemer, wanting to kill her husband to get her lover, his brother Claudius to the throne. Some believe that while accidental, this is why she ended up drinking the poison first. 

However, a vast majority play her off as someone who does’t know what’s going on, oblivious to Claudius, and wanting nothing more than to remain near the seat of power, so she remains with Claudius. (Some still think that he just offers her a kind ear.) It’s really up to the person interpreting Hamlet to think about Gertrude as a character. It’s telling that Hamlet, while making up his mind for 400 pages, puts most of his rage against Claudius not his mother.

Kurt Sutter, the creator of Sons of Anarchy, never shies away from the fact that Gemma knows what is going on. She covers up her involvement with JT’s death whens Tara (Jax’s “old lady”) finds the letters. She is clearly aware when Clay’s involvement ends up in the deaths of Opie’s wife, and in fact works to hide that fact. She’s just as scheming as Clay.

This is sort of a bold statement for a TV Show. Here you have a character that would be extremely easy to cast someone in the oblivious role and sort of play it off as Gertrude has been played off a million times: loyal to her man (as Gemma is) loyal to her kingdom (same thing) and loyal to her son. (Gemma.) But instead, Sutter when all out with it and said: where we go, Gemma is in on it, and she’s probably just as scheming and probably just as evil as Clay. Remember, one of the earliest lines of the show (and one of the best for me) is “let’s make sure he’s listening to the right father.”

Especially in later seasons as Clay (spoiler) loses his power and dies, she’s still scheming. It’s almost as if Sutter has positioned her to be the ultimate big bad of the show, the ultimate villain.

In this interpretation, is he trying to tell us something about Gertrude? I like to go back to the source material at times, and this is no different. I’m really enjoying thinking about this differently… While Claudius is scurrying around the castle, worried about Hamlet, and Hamlet is putting on fake plays and taking forever to decide to act, maybe she was scheming? Maybe Gertrude is the true villain, dispatched before she can release her real plan… remember, Hamlet is filled with rage when he fights Laertes, and he knows his Uncle-Father is responsible for the death of his Father. (or at least suspects it.) No matter who wins the duel, she can still remain in power, possibly with a lot less pressure. Sutter seems to have had this deep reading of Hamlet, and potentially put all of that into Gemma.

Again, this is deep reading, but I find it to be interesting. Yes, we have a danger when we take a show that’s “inspired by” and try to match up all the pieces… I don’t think SOA has a direct match for all it’s characters in the show, but perhaps this is a cool way of showing us some interesting insight not just into a character on the show, but into a character so deeply entrenched as an innocent victim of Hamlet’s cycle of revenge, it’s something worth checking out.

Bravo, Mr. Sutter… Bravo.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Phineas and Ferb Ain't Got Nothing On Me

All. The. Money.
Summer is upon us! And after the winter we have had, I can honestly say I have never looked forward to a summer so much in my entire life. No more will be faced with the ever-present threat of sub-zero temperatures. No more will we be getting snow that even Mr. Freeze, noted Batman Villain and Arnold one-liner generator, holds up his hands in protest and says, “please… stop.” No more will kids get to experience that wonderful feeling as they see yet another day off from school is upon them. No, actually with that they’re going to have the opposite problem of being in school even longer as a result of the first part. Sorry, gang.

But, as we switch from complaining about the winter’s snow grasp of coldness to summer’s blinding heat and mosquitos, it’s important that we remember that Summer is no picnic either. Unless you’re going on a picnic. But we have to remember that survival is important during these warmer months, even more so than the colder months. Remember, you can put a lot of clothes on to get warmer. However, you can only take so many clothes off before you get arrested. In any event, Bad Shakespeare is as always here to help.

The first step to beating the heat is to go back on Facebook and look at the progression of the snow-related posts everyone has made. It can go from “Wow, look at the peaceful snow, slowly blanketing the Earth!” to “Snowed again last night. Pretty”. Then gaze as it then became, “Wow, more snow, huh? I’m not sure how I’m going to get my car out of the parking lot today”. Followed by, “Again? Did we anger some weather shooting God?” And finally, just a picture of us sobbing as we look up the most reasonably priced Flame Throw on Ebay to send this dastardly cold stuff back to Hell!

Quick note: The best place to get a reasonably priced flamethrower is Flamethrowers, Flamethrowers, Flamethrowers in Canada. Say what you will about Canada, they know how to make a decent Flamethrower. And French Fries… with Gravy!

As the heat starts to roll in, the other thing to remember is that for many of us, our legs haven’t seen the sun since well before we’ve seen any footage of Guardians of the Galaxy, and all objection to it was speculative, rather than the awesome, action packed space adventure Marvel is paying me to say it is. But that’s why the best, most CGI’d movies are saved for the first part of summer. Make sure you wear those shorts to the movies with pride, and cook them gently on the CGI’d heat of Godzilla’s fire, or on whatever is coming through the screen when Wolverine takes the stage in X-Men: Days of Future Past, also being brought to you by Marvel this summer. But in a different timeline, so they won’t meet up with the Avengers, even though that movie would make all the money in Hollywood. Literally all of it. Want to tempt Chris Evans into doing it with a small, indie film? Too bad, no one would have any money left from seeing X-Men vs. the Avengers 900 times in three days. Worried how your Superman movie is going to do? Terrible, everyone is watching X-Men vs. Avengers that at this point has been on the screen continuously for six years and managed to win best film twice, because no one can make another movie because everyone is watching that.

You hear me, Marvel and X-Men makers. I just made you all the money. Ever.

The important thing to remember that 90 degrees in June feels very different than 90 degrees in August. In June, we’re just emerging from the cold, dank winter, having feasted off that damn groundhog who hates us all. We’re learning to feel again, we’re learning to love the heat again. We are worshipping at the teat of the sun, which is now providing us with glorious, glorious heat, a chance to show off our bodies (or not, in some cases) a chance to bask in it’s heavenly rays, and give Netflix an opportunity to get some new shows for us to binge watch since we can only watch American Dad so many times in one sitting. (Or your choice. While we’re on the subject, bring back King of the Hill, Netflix.) 
By August, of course, 90 degrees is the devil’s temperature, a cruel trick played by Mother Nature in an attempt to destroy us all, and drive us back into our subterranean holes where by now, not only is your air conditioning not working, but Dave, the friendly air conditioning fix-it man now charges triple to get that sucker back up and running.

I don’t like you very much, Dave. 

But allowing those Netflix episodes to re-spawn will allow for some great August, “I hate you summer” watching.

It is important to remember as you are going through summer that by August, you should be back on your high-fat, low energy diet plan so that you are storing up enough fat for the winter. Fattening up for winter is what the diet companies WON’T tell you when they’re hawking their various products. Laugh all you want, but my heating bill is almost zero in the winter; Big Macs are my blankets. 

While we’re on that subject, remember that the winters tend to go in different cycles. We just had a “hey, do you remember what grass looks like?” type winter, so that means if this winter dips below 33 and we see half an inch of snow, it will be a lot. (Also, you’re going to hear a lot, “Remember LAST winter? Now that was bad”. Ignore these people as they were sent by bad people to make you remember bad things.) In any event, you’ll need to jump on that bandwagon today for your miracle Sno-B-Gone or new and improved shovel or whatever product you’re going to hawk in order to make it seem like last winter is going to last. 

We were all caught unaware when winter hit like a ton of ice-bricks this year. With a little preparation, we will be able to survive even the mildest of Summers around here. Phineas and Ferb ain’t got nothing on me. Up until my air conditioning breaks.

Damnit, Dave…

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

R-E-S-P-E-C-T... Let's Start Doing it!

Back when I decided to leave the teaching program, I wondered how much more time I was going to spend on this blog talking about teaching issues. Yes, it’s sort of morphed into a science fiction/comedy/whatever I feel like writing that day blog, but the original intent was going to explore my thoughts on teaching, as well as my thoughts on the state of education today. Originally, I wasn’t going to discuss it anymore. Then I had a thought… everyone stare out into space with me for a minute with this thought, as you sure envisioned me doing… but I thought about if for a second… I’m the perfect person to talk about some of the issues affecting classes today, because part of my frustrations are tied up in what’s going on out there now. So I’m going to cover what I feel I need to cover.

Second little caveat: The following post contains opinions on not one but TWO controversial topics. I believe these are different opinions than most, but since it’s already caused a problem when I announced I was going to write about them, I’m giving you that caveat. Feel free to disagree. Feel free to agree. But as with anything, I don’t want you going away from this blog post angry. I just want you to go away.

Recently, two big news stories have hit the internet that not only involve education, but hey involve reactionaries commenting without thinking about it, and ultimately, fighting and name-calling. I’m  not against any of these, but in a more enlightened fashion. Also, all of the fighting and name calling miss the big picture of what’s going on.

Firstly there’s the story out of New Hampshire, which, depending on which website you decide to read, a brave father was bravely handcuffed for fighting the smut his child had to read. Or, if you read another set of headlines, a dad violated the speaking time while protesting a book, continued to speak, and eventually had to be taken away and was charged with disorderly conduct. If you want to know which side a website is on this issue, just go to google and check out the headlines. It’s actually kind of hilarious.

Now, a lot of people are standing up and cheering the father as a brave crusader against forcing kids to read a book. Now, by this point everyone knows where I stand on the issue of book banning (it’s bad. It’s always. Bad.), on the issue of censorship (also: bad.), on the issue of difficult topics with children (if you tell them it’s bad, they’ll think it’s bad, and think they can’t talk to you about it) and on the issue of discussion (it’s always good.) Sorry, boys and girls fo the jury, this dad was in the extreme wrong here, but not for the reasons you think.

I’ll start off with the fact that I’ve not read the book in question: 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult, thus I’m not going to speak about the appropriateness of the book in question. (See what I did there, everyone… I didn’t know, so I didn’t pretend to know, and then force everyone to listen to my opinion!) The one, highlighted section seems pretty bad, but nothing worse than what I’ve seen on television today. The book itself, about bullying and a school shooting seems like a heavy topic, but one that is pretty relevant, so based on that, I’d like to say kids (and some adults) should check it out. But since I don’t know, I’m not going to advocate for it.

The problem is that people are getting behind this father because of his brave opposition in the face of a despotic school board that is forcing kids to read trash. My problem with this is that he wasn’t pulled away because of his protest. He was pulled away because he violated the speaking rules of the school board. He wanted people to know his opinion, and then essentially threw a temper tantrum when asked to stop speaking. My guess: had he lost out on time because someone else did the same thing in support of the book, we’d be reading different headlines.

This problem further gets compounded by the fact that now his daughter is stepping forward, and making this an issue of the teachers and the school, and saying how she can’t trust them.

It’s NOT AN ISSUE OF THE BOOK, WHICH THE SCHOOL BOARD ALLOWED HIM TO SPEAK ABOUT. It’s an issue of LISTENING AND RESPECTING THE RULES THAT EVERYONE ELSE HAD TO LISTEN TO. The hilarious part of this story is that the School board realized that in the 7 years since the book was used in schools, the teachers sent out letters informing parents this was being read. And then the school board agreed: yeah, they should have sent it out. This guy threw a temper tantrum for essentially nothing. 

So, basically, what this father did was teach his daughter not to trust or respect teachers. Then, later, we’ll all sit and wonder why teachers can’t teach. He was willing to yell and scream and throw his hands up… while violating the rule that everyone before him followed out of courtesy so he had the chance to speak… and everyone focuses on this “brave crusader.” He’s not brave. He’s a coward who tried to bully his position into place, and thought nothing would happen to him. And then he taught his kid that people with different opinions aren’t worthy of your respect. And that’s so sad.

This was a disturbing trend I’ve noticed: Everyone has spent time in a classroom, so everyone thinks they know what and how to teach. I started this blog to chronicle my time learning to be a teacher. The key word here: LEARN. I had to spend extra time in classrooms, I had to spend time figuring out what I was going to teach, the right way to teach it, the right way to teach it FOR specific learners, and just how it’s all going to change tomorrow because someone who hasn’t spent time in a classroom since June of their senior year has decided they wanted it taught that way.

Nothing seems to be setting this off more than the dreaded… Common Core. Depending on your take on this, you read it in a scary voice, or you read it in a normal voice. Either way, keep going. A smart man once said, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time, but you sure can piss everyone off pretty quickly.”

The thing is this. Common Core was developed by a bunch of people who did spend time in schools, did spend time thinking about things, and did spend time figuring it out ways to teach people. It was put into place by a bunch of people haven’t had any extra training, think that there’s only one way to do things, and doesn’t have a clue.

It’s almost as if the planet doesn’t operate under strictly black or white rules, but a world where… I don’t know, if you do research and take a look around, things might be a little gray. Just a little. 

Throw out the words “Common Core” and you either get told how you’re an idiot and questionable remarks made about whether or not your parents may or may not have been related before the marriage, (Like a Lannister, and Joffrey turned out… never mind…) or you get clapped on the back like a rising hero, just like Joffrey before… never mind on that, too. 

The thing is, Common Core has some GREAT parts to it. And it has some SUCKY parts to it. And for some people, those sucky parts are great, and for others, the great parts are sucky. Confused let me ‘splain. No, this post is going on kind of long. Let me sum up.

The Common Core is a different way of teaching things that emphasizes understanding over memorization. So, for instance, someone like my brother who was always good at picking things up like math problems or equations, the Common Core is pretty terrible. He doesn’t need to have it explained to him why y fits into the x axis then z will make you travel back in time. My brother is smart, and probably could have built a time machine out of a Delorean by now if they were still readily available. 

However, as the previous example shows, someone like me, who can understand something pretty easily but has a difficult time with memorizing, the Common Core is pretty great. Break it down for me. Allow me to understand it. Allow me to spend time figuring it out. 

The problem is we’ve reached the point where everyone immediately likes or hates it, without understanding why it’s helpful to people. And those that hate it mock it constantly (don’t believe me? You don’t have a friend with kids in school on Facebook. Google that sucker and see all of the complaints.) And the thing is, when we say, “I HATE IT ALL AND THE WORLD SHOULD BURN” what we’re saying is “Hey, you who can’t understand it… the way your’e learning is wrong, and you should probably be beaten with a pool cue until you learn it the right way.” Ok, I’m exaggerating, but people really hate this to the point that I have seen people talk about how their kids won’t learn this crap, without understanding those moments where it’s really helpful. 

**Quick note: They probably won’t. In about four years, someone else will take that work those professionals have worked on, condense from 500, loving, thoughtful pages to 5 lines of sound bites, and pass that off as the brand new way all schools ever will be saved. Trust me.

My point with both of these examples is that we’re taking power away from the people who actually do the teaching, and telling kids, “hey… don’t listen to those teachers that have spent time learning and exploring their craft. You don’t have to listen to those people who had extra time in school, had to pass tests, and are constantly being re-certified. No, listen to the guy screaming because he doesn’t like the fact that he has to adhere to the same two minute time rule as everyone else. Hey, listen to these guys who say it’s SO EASY… never mind you don’t understand it.”

We need to stop shutting down teachers. We need to stop acting as if teachers and people who work in a school are somehow exempt from basic human respect. Let’s take that father in New Hampshire. Let’s say I went to his place of business that was having a “complaint day” where everyone can air their problems with his company. Let’s say I’m so outraged over something, I demand to go over the allotted time I’ve been given - the same amount of time given to everyone else - and they have to escort me from the premises - how many supporters do I have? Probably not many. 

I also love to eat. Let’s say I walk into a restaurant and start demanding things be done a certain way… my way, and only my way, for EVERYONE. How many supporters do I get? I’m going to guess probably not a whole lot.

So, why do we do this to teachers? Why do we do this to schools?

It’s easy, actually, let teachers teach. Let’ teachers do what they need to do without complaining every five seconds about useless things. Let’s follow the rules of decorum. Let’s stop teaching our kids that teachers don’t matter. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Summer of Frasier

The one on the right will be in at least four movies this summer. One with Harrison Ford.

At this point, it has been the Summer Movie Season for two weeks. We’ve been Amazed by Spider Man a second time, and we’ve been further amazed as a Seth Rogen Comedy managed to knock Spider-Man out of the number one spot after only a week, leaving a lot of Spider-Man analysts questioning their careers as Spider-Man Analysts. (Much like the sad culling of the Hulk Analysts a few years ago. Most of them are still hanging out on the street wearing the remnants of their tattered purple pants. )

As nothing has really bombed too hard or not been as great as we are expecting (I was looking at you, A Million Ways to Die in the West… then you had to release that damn trailer showing Doc Brown from Back to the Future. You may end up being TOO good. I’ll look forward to Godzilla disappointing me.) it’s difficult to say if we will truly be blessed by Joss Whedon this Summer Movie Season. I’m still a little baffled by the number of Kelsey Grammar movies coming out. Thus I’m dubbing this the summer of Frasier. 

Many people wonder how it is I can attend so many movies during the summer. I mean, it’s nice out according to them, when what they mean is its hot, so you go inside then get to cold, then you get sick, then you repeat the process until you’re attacked by crippling fall allergies. The best place to spend your summer is the movie theater; climate controlled, all the popcorn you can eat, and if you get there at the right time and see the right movie you only have to fight like, two people for the perfect seat. I just saw Spider-Man 2 in IMAX on a Thursday morning, and had the entire theater to myself.

Thankfully for all of you, I’m putting together my list of the best ways to get the most out of your summer movie season. Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s the best way for you to survive the Summer of Frasier. 

1. Make a comprehensive list of what movies you want to see. In this day and age, it’s super simple for you to set up a list of every movie you want to see in the summer, just go to your computer’s Google machine and type it in. Please note, if you say, “but I have “Bing” then I’m obviously aware you are a liar or it sponsors the show you’re on so you have to use it. It’s ok.

2. Set up your movie times carefully. There’s the temptation to see it on opening night… don’t do it. This will be full of Johnny Come Latelys and Sally Wannabes that won’t appreciate the movie the way you do. No, you want to check it out later at night, or at any advanced screening you can possibly get your hot little hands on. 

3. Some people will tell you not to wear the shirt of the movie you’re seeing to the movie. But how will they understand your dedication? Plus, you should cosplay whenever possible. Break out that Spider-man Mask. Got your Seth Rogen Costume? The fake Ninja Turtle shells? But make sure you’re being somewhat reasonable with this. Cosplaying X-Men: Days of Future Past = Fun and Challenging. Cosplaying The Fault In Our Stars = Less Appropriate.

4. On that note, I’ve often spoken about the group I movie with. Still on the fence with The Fault In Our Stars, what will the whole sobbing uncontrollably at the trailer thing. In the very least I’ll be bringing tissues, and yes, I’m trying to make them uncomfortable a little.

5. Watch your snacks. This is a rookie mistake. The proper popcorn of course, is lightly buttered using a straw to deliver as much butter distribution as possible. Go for a bottle of water, because the soda can keep you in the bathroom longer. Candy is ok in a pinch, but remember the markup on movie theater candy is about 500%, with all of that profit going to the evil candy lobby that doesn’t serve peanut butter M & M’s in movie theaters anymore, thanks to a vast conspiracy that I’ll go into much later. Also, remember the Holy Grail of movie theater snacks is sneaking in a burrito from Chipolte. 

6. Some of you may feel the need to throw in an art film during the Summer Blockbusters to show out arty you can be. Resist this urge. Remember: Only you can fight the lack of CGI Talking monkeys in a movie. Caesar needs you. He needs you to watch his movie.

7. On that note, only you can prevent Adam Sandler as well. Put Drew Barrymore in it all you want, it’s not 50 First Dates. It’s just not.

8. Always make sure you know the layout of the movie theater. Don’t worry about an emergency, if a fire does break out do you want to panic or do you want to watch Kelsey Grammar hang out with Sylvester Stallone and Harrison Ford before his surprise cameo with Professor X? Exactly. No, it’s important that you know how to get to your theater, which seat you’re going to pick, and where the snacks are.

9. There are marathons this movie season. Watch them. All of them. Do it.

I hope this clarifies how I treat my summer movie season. Let the Summer of Frasier continue.

Friday, May 9, 2014

SOA Fridays: Hamlet vs. Hamlet

I had heard about Sons of Anarchy a long time ago. It wasn’t that I was uninterested in watching the show, it’s just that for all my talking about TV shows and movies on this blog, I don’t actually spend a whole lot of time watching TV Shows. Movies is another story. I could go to the movie theater right now and spend the entire day there. I won’t argue that with anyone. But my point is that it wasn’t snobbery or anything like that kept me away from what is turning out to be one of my favorite television shows... just time.

Anyway, I was told about Sons of Anarchy and that I should be watching it if I liked Breaking Bad . Not just the Netflix “if you liked” random generator that isn’t always accurate, but by real live people who know and love me. Then I was told by a friend of mind that Sons of Anarchy was a Hamlet story, and I had to jump on it. I still wasn’t sure I was going to write about it for this blog, mainly because of what I had written previously about Breaking Bad

Remember, I wrote about Breaking Bad because I felt it had Shakespearean Elements, not because it was a direct adaption of anything. Walter White is the perfect character that Shakespeare would have written about: a defeated man who finds strength and his taken down by his tragic flaw. I mean, that’s classic Shakespeare right there. And there’s a ton to explore: themes, characters, etc. I’m not jus comparing to something original, I wanted to very much tell a story about how if William Shakespeare was writing today, he’d probably have written Breaking Bad. (And probably Two and a Half Men. His comedies were very formulaic, and he would have loved Charlie Sheen.)

But SOA was a story that was very rooted in Hamlet. It also didn’t have the same framing device of a season where the characters were all doing good things to ensure that we were on their side - these are gun running bikers that will turn a blowtorch on people for having the wrong tattoos. (More on that later.) I was wondering how I would do that. Yes, Clay is clearly Claudius? Hey, Jax is Hamlet. Horatio is any number of characters a season, most of the time it’s Piney, Opie, and sometimes Tara. Gemma is the anti-Gertude, more Lady Macbeth than anything else. There! Hamlet is SOA, and vice versa!

I’ve said this before: behind Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet is probably one of the most adapted Shakespearean plays. Like some adaptions of Romeo and Juliet, some adaptations of Hamlet tend to leave out some of the bloodier moments to focus on the father/son dynamic, and give more of a happy ending, or give satisfaction with the whole revenge you killed my father thing. So, I should say, while Hamlet is a pretty adapted play with little room to explore many of the themes in a new way, GOOD adaptions of Hamlet that explore themes in new ways is pretty rare.

Sons of Anarchy is pretty rare. 

SOA uses Hamlet as a jumping off point. Rather than slavishly stick to the ideas of Hamlet, it uses that almost as a “what if.” What if there’s a prince, who discovers that his father was murdered by his Uncle... what happens next? 

As mentioned, the big three of Hamlet are pretty well represented: Clay, the current president of Sons of Anarchy, was Jax’s father’s best friend. He’s our Claudius, calculating, cruel, and guilty. (While in Hamlet it was about 50/50 that Claudius was guilty or innocent for most of the play, this makes it pretty obvious that he’s guilty.) And he’s married to his mother, Gemma, who’s very much not even close to Gertude. (More on that later.) And Jax starts out as our indecisive Hamlet, who has discovered a book filled with the ideas of his father... and is now a father himself... but changes into something completely different. 

There’s also another interesting aspect of Sons of Anarchy that hasn’t been discussed much. Hamlet, the play, is pretty much left up a lot to interpretation. Yes, we’ve all seen the stories of a ghost appearing, but a lot of that is how the people putting on the play feel about the story. The original text of Hamlet is vague. We never know for certain if he see the ghost or even if Claudius and Gertude are guilty of anything. Shakespeare casts the entire audience as Hamlet, basically. So it’s interesting to watch something like Sons of Anarchy and see how Hamlet is interpreted. Clearly the creator of the show, Kurt Sutter, appreciates Hamlet and has studied it, but he’s telling his own story now. The idea of this really fascinates me.

Next week we’re going to get a little bit more into the characters starting with my favorite: Gemma. I want to study her first because, as mentioned, while Jax starts out as the perfect Hamlet, and Clay is pretty much Claudius throughout, this character is a radical departure from the Hamlet derived narrative of the show.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Happiness and Gilmore Girls

As many of you read (many more than anything else previously read on this blog)  I recently quit the internship for the job I’d been working towards for about three years and decided to go in a new direction. The feedback has been amazing. I’ve gotten everything from , “you go, girl” (which was meant in solidarity and not a comment on my encyclopedic knowledge on all things Gilmore Girls) to, “I didn’t know you were miserable, why didn’t you say anything sooner, to “you selfish bastard, what is wrong with you?” (the last one was in the minority, so it stings less.)

It felt good being able to share that story with everyone. And given that we are in Commencement Speaker-times... that being Graduation time... for most college students, I wondered what I would say to college students out there. Then I realized I had a blog, and three days a week to fill, and I was like... hey, I do have the ability to figure that out. So, if I were giving a commencement speech (provided the students didn’t decide to boycott me based on my pro-Gilmore Girls views), it would go something like this.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Class of 2014... Congratulations. You’ve made it this far. For some of you, it’s the ending of what you might call the formal education years, where you sit in a classroom and learn a bunch of things that you may or may not use, and the start of the second phase of your education where you learn from life itself. The tests aren’t really graded, and if you want a smiley face sticker, you’ll have to go get one yourself.

For others, it’s the end of one leg of your education and the start of another, with post-graduate work. Those tests are graded, but you still have to by yourself your own smiley face stickers. I would recommend this, because it will cheer you up when you get a B plus on that paper you actually started early and not at the last minute. 

Anyway, this is the time of life you start getting a lot of advice, from parents, former teachers and educators, and me, your humble commencement speaker. I was once like you, sitting at my commencement, wondering when it was going to be over, not realizing that the cool speeches and the robes I was wearing were important - because there was little chance I would ever wear them again, or listen to someone that didn’t have advice that was linked to a bad pun about the industry I was working in attached to it.

Given that you are expecting advice from me, I’m going to go ahead and start doling it out.

Be happy. That may be the most vague advice ever, but it’s the best I can give, and the easiest to ignore. Too often we get sucked into something because we want to make other people happy. The thing is, we can only do that so long before we end up as someone we don’t want to be. You know the old saying, “people don’t really change”? Yeah, that’s not true. The problem is that people often change for the worse, allowing themselves to get sucked into worlds and situations that make them miserable, then they become miserable people. And too often, miserable people aren’t happy until they spread that misery to other people. It’s like a virus.

How can you be happy? By recognizing when you’re not, and realizing you’re never too deep into something to change. I was in the second to last semester of a graduate program when I stood up and walked away because every morning I was wondering how I could “accidentally” slip on some ice and get to go to the hospital for the day instead of dealing with what I had to deal with. That’s misery, people. It’s never too late to change your mind for the better.

Empathy is not weakness. I just said to be happy at the expense of all others, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stop to think and care about what other people feel. We’re told too much to care only about ourselves, but we have to remember that what we do can affect other people. 

In short, you don’t really have to be a jerk about things. Don’t want to be in a relationship? End it. Don’t like a job? Don’t badmouth people on the way out the door, find something and move on. Save your outrage and retaliation for moments that really deserve it.

Don’t waste your time stopping other people from being happy. No matter what you worship... God, Zeus, The Almighty Dollar, Nothing... at the end of your life you’re going to have to answer a very important question. How did I spend my time? If even one minute of that was spent stopping someone else’s happiness, then you have wasted too much time. Who cares if two people get married that you disagree with. Who cares if someone is reading a book or going to see a movie that you disapprove of. Who cares if someone’s idea of fun is to run around and have people throw color packets on them. Who cares if someone wants to only eat meat, or doesn’t want to eat meat. 

Before you open your mouth, ask yourself if what they are doing is hurting anyone. And I don’t mean in a spiritual way that only applies to you and your beliefs. Are they holding a weapon to someone else? Is someone else being held against their will? No? Then ask yourself how you’d feel if someone was telling you that you couldn’t do something that, at the end of the day, wasn’t any of their business. You’d be pretty mad. Now imagine how they feel. Probably the same. There are real injustices in the world. Protest those. Not a book that has a naughty phrase in it. (unless it’s the book I’m writing. then protest it a lot. I want it on the front page of the news.) 

Stop using the phrase, “Guilty Pleasure.” I enjoy Doctor Who almost too much, I could listen to musicals non-stop, I actually enjoy the adult pop-ballads of Russell Crowe (even if the lyrics are unbelievably cheesy at times... and a little fun to make fun of), I can name for you all of the different types of Lanterns in the Green Lantern series, and I’m an unabashed, die-hard, bring-back-a-movie-to-wrap-it-up-fan of Gilmore Girls. This doesn’t make me a bad person. It makes me a person who enjoys certain things. What do you enjoy?

If someone is afraid to tell you something, you’ve failed. I don’t care if you’re a parent, a boss, or a mid-level employee that gets fired by email. You should always be approachable. You should always make your views known, but let people know that they can talk to you about anything that’s on their mind. People should be able to talk to you about their failures, dreams, or something major without thinking your going to immediately jump on them. Now, what they did may have consequences.... but they need to know that those consequences are something justified, not you screaming or overreacting. 

Lastly, don’t judge. I had a good friend who once said, “when you point a finger, you’ve got three fingers pointing back at yourself.” Truer words were never spoken. Especially today we’ve almost made a sport out of judging people, or trying to justify that judgement. 

From all of this, I guess what’s most important is to live a life you’re proud of, and to live one where you don’t do any harm. Go out there. Enjoy yourself. And seriously, if you find yourself in a seat to make this happen, bring back the Gilmore Girls for one more episode.

Good luck, and Allons-y.