Monday, September 29, 2014

Bad Shakespeare Movie Time: The Boxtrolls

As I’ve mentioned on this blog that I decided to leave the lucrative world of teaching and join the lucrative world of… whatever one does with a PhD in English. Teach? Point out mistakes in movies? I’m not sure I’m still trying to work that out. 

And as I’ve mentioned, one of the fun things is that I have more control over classes I want to take. One of the classes I’ve taken this semester has been introduction to Cinema theory, because, and you may not know this about me, I really like movies. So I want to learn about them. So, this week I had a major paper due for the other class I’m taking on 19th Century American Regionalism (I’m also a fan of Regionalism, apparently. Go, regions!) and when it was done I decided to collapse in a heap and head on down to my local multiplex to check out a movie, since I really haven’t seen one since I graced the movie theaters with my presence for the Chris Pratt Ab Show Guardians of the Galaxy. 

Because I’m learning all this new stuff about movies and how I like bad movies but I don’t care, I decided to check out The Boxtrolls, because in addition to be a fan of cool stop motion animation films, I’m also a fan of Jared Harris because no one plays creepy like Jared Harris, and oh my God that’s Sir Ben Kingsly playing a man named Mr. Snatcher. Throw in some Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, and what could go wrong? Plus the fact that the Introduction to Cinema has completely changed the way I look at movies. 

The Boxtrolls is about a group of… well trolls… who wear boxes… but I guess that part is kind of obvious. But these boxtrolls live beneath the best name for a town ever called “Cheesebridge,” and are relatively harmless, stealing a few things here and there to tinker with, and build their cool contraptions underneath the town. That’s until the end up in the care of a baby who they’ll later name “Eggs” and the head of the town, Lord Portley-Rind (Harris at his most pompous) promises Mr. Snatcher (Kingsley) a white had and a seat at the elite table if he can rid the town of the boxtrolls. He does this with the help of his hench… er…. stooges… er… business partners? It’s complicated. Eventually, hilarity ensues.

I found Boxtrolls to be an amazingly entertaining film. I’m going to say that right up front. First, there’s the animation. I’m a big fan of stop motion animation. There’s something about knowing the amount of work that goes into moving just an arm is incredible. And that work carries over to the rest of the film. The town of Cheesebridge, while goofy, feels alive. There’s a wonderful sequence at the end when Snatcher’s companions, Mr. Trout (Nick Frost) and Mr. Pickles (Richard Ayode) have an interesting conversation about the nature of the universe, all gleefully shown in stop motion with the animator in full view.

Before I continue with the glowing accolades, I do want to discuss for a moment what I didn’t feel worked, and that’s the message of the film. For the first half of the film, there is an underlying message, one of accepting yourself, and understanding who you are. And in case you miss it, several of the characters are going to repeat it. And repeat it. And repeat it. I felt this took away from some of the subtly that was in most of this film. Yes, it’s a kid’s film, but kids are pretty smart, and they’d get it eventually. I just felt that it didn’t need to continue as long as it did. 

Of course, I did like those subtle moments the best. The movie, itself can be viewed about a bunch of trolls in a cheese-based city, but I really liked the message that wasn’t blasted on the screen every five minutes about fear. Snatcher makes his living by making people afraid. Most of the people buy into this fear. In fact, the first time we see a Boxtroll, he’s clutching a baby and the light shows a sinister glare on his face. It’s later we find out that it’s Fish, the best friend of Eggs, our main character. I like how the film showed us that manufactured fear right off the bat, and set us up for our red-hatted villains. (And, of course, setting up the “white hat” of the people who are supposed to be the saviors, but really aren’t.) 

The thing is, the subtle moments of this film are the best. The moments that aren’t loud, that happen little by little. When we last see Lord Portney-Rind, he’s given up his white hat. Not just for his daughter, but because of what it represents to him. When confronted about his differentness, there’s a great moment where Eggs justifies just about everything about not being a Boxtroll that he can. Even the “big reveals” of the movie are settled in nicely with some subtle moments for keen eyed viewers.

It’s almost as if there was another movie lurking beneath the shadows of the loud movie about a young boy and his boxtroll pals. While what we saw was awesome, I do wish I had seen more of the movie beneath, the one that wasn’t quite so loud, the one that relished in it’s quietness, allowed time for the small bits of humor to hang out, and didn’t need to run onto the next goofy thing.

Now, that being said, this is still a hilarious move that will delight children and adults. Did I say that right? The humor is spot on, the timing never felt off, and the actors are clearly having a good time. I could watch an entire movie that was simply the existential musings of Mr. Trout and Mr. Pickles as they wonder who the “good guys” are. (And I could have used a lot more of this. The “good guys” are the ones telling the story, and Mr. Snatcher just got there first.)

I highly recommend this movie. Were I not busy figuring out the mysteries of the universe in Graduate school, I’d go back and watch it again. But that’s why God provided us with Netflix. You should go check it out now, before it’s out of theaters, sit back, and enjoy.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Banned Books Week: Banning Alternatives

For information on Banned Books Week and what you can do, please visit the American Library Association’s page on Banned Books right here. 

Between the censorship, name calling, and dark issues, we’ve had a lot of fun this week, haven’t we? Banned Books week is important, because it draws attention to what I feel is an important issue: the censorship of books. Removing a book from a classroom or a library, getting it out of the hands of people is censorship. Flat out censorship. 

It’s the censorship of ideas. The thing is, the more you try to censor an idea, the more you try to fight an idea, the more powerful it becomes, until it’s mythic status. There’s a great episode of South Park related to censorship(handled in true South-Parkian fashion) where the kids read a book that’s banned… and are angry. They read the whole book and can’t understand why anyone would want to ban it! It’s the same way: if you treat something like a big deal, surprisingly, it’s going to become a big deal. 

Typically on Fridays of Banned Books week, I tell people how they can take action against books that are banned, or that are in danger of being banned because they are challenged. But I’m going to take a different route today. I know I probably don’t have too many people left following this who are on the opposite side of the fence… the ones that want a book banned from the classroom or a library for whatever reason. But today, I want to address you.

When momma Bad Shakespeare and Papa Bad Shakespeare were raising me as just a Little Bad Shakespeare, they reminded me that the world is full of unique perspectives, and they’re going to run contrary to my own. They reminded me that even though someone doesn’t think the same as I do, they are human, with their own thoughts and feelings and even if I do disagree with them, it doesn’t make them “wrong” and they still deserve some respect. (They’re presumably human. If cats ever figure out how to censor books, we’re all screwed. But I’d like to remind them that they’ll need influential bloggers to recruit people to toil in their underground tuna mines.) 

What I want to address are actions you can take rather than banning a book for everyone. Actually, everyone should be doing these things in some way, because it will make learning a co-operative process.

1. Actually read the book. Too often, when I do hear of a book being banned or challenged, the reasons are vague. My personal favorite: The Hunger Games is being challenged for it’s “anti-family values.” The Hunger Games is a fun book to study, especially in this day and age, when you have so many reality shows and the whole thing is about basically, that. However, it has strong family values: the father dies working to feed his family and the book is set in motion when Katniss doesn’t want her sister going to the Hunger Games. She then forms a bond with a character who reminds her of her sister. To me, that’s the epitome of family.

I also see people who just count the infractions without really giving any real context to it.  Let’s take one of my favorite books, Huckleberry Finn, which is frequently challenged for using the dreaded “N-word.” Now, how many people have read the book? (This is a required one, so I suspect many.) How many people understand that Mark Twain, when writing the book, is actually making fun of those that would insult, hurt, or otherwise damage Jim? So, in the context it’s showing people that this is bad. Maybe that’s a good lesson.

Speaking of language, I do see some instances of people counting the bad language as if 39 “Fucks” is somehow better than 40. Please stop. If you are really concerned with language, go to a high school cafeteria for a few days. I did. The language in some R-rated movies is more tame than what I heard, and I’m not prude when it comes to language. 

2. Talk to your child about what they are reading. I know I read some things my parents really didn’t approve of. Most of it was old-school comedy/sci-fi/fantasy books, back in the day. Again… tame compared to what I see now. But they talked to me about it. They let me know what language was unacceptable in their house. 

They also talked to me about their values. So, even if I read something that went counter to what we believed, I still knew what they believed. I was always encouraged to keep an open mind, but nothing was so taboo that I felt we couldn’t talk about it. In this vein, you should also encourage your kids to ask you questions about what they are reading. Then you can address it. You shouldn’t talk so little to your kids about their beliefs or your beliefs that one sentence in a book is suddenly going to change their entire worldview.

You can’t act like you’re afraid that this book is going to change something deep inside of them. Then the desire to read it without your knowledge only becomes more intense, and they won’t have a place to talk to when they have questions.

This is a big point I keep making: THINK CAREFULLY ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE SAYING WHEN YOU WANT TO BAN A BOOK. Speak is a difficult book about rape, and people want it banned because it is about rape. Are you telling your child that they can’t come talk to you if something like this happens to them or someone they care about. It's a topic that's "bad" and therefor they can't speak of it, ever? Then where do they turn? 13 Reasons Why is a book about suicide, and how our actions affect others. Are you telling your kids that they can’t come talk to you if things are really bad? Are you telling kids that their actions don't matter? You are your kids’ first defense when it comes to questions. Kids should be able to talk to their parents without being afraid. Hero is about coming out to your parents, but people want it banned because of the gay issues… do you not want your kids to be able to talk to you about this?

Talk to your kids. You’ll be surprised.

3. Talk to the teacher. And I mean really, really, really talk to the teacher. Don’t walk in with an agenda and suddenly get angry when they don’t adhere to only what you want. 

Fun story, back when I was a Little Bad Shakespeare, I was a lifeguard. (I mentioned this… I also attempted this as a Bigger Bad Shakespeare, but that’s a more embarrassing story.) I remember one day I was sitting in the stand, as Lifeguards do, when I was approached by a woman who was having a party, and her kids weren’t strong swimmers, so they wanted part of the pool roped off. Of course, I was in the stand, and she probably should have gone to the guard in the office, but didn’t mention that to her, I said, “Let me see what I can do.” 

Those were my words. “Let me see what I can do.” We were busy, there weren’t many areas to rope off, and I was in the stand and I couldn’t, legally, get down without clearing the pool. That’s why I had a guard in the office, to handle this, so I needed to see what he was able to work out.

Her reaction was to walk away in disgust saying “That means you aren’t going to do anything!” 

I was taken aback. Fun fact, later, her kid that she wasn’t watching, actually needed to be rescued. That was kind of an awkward exchange later. 

But, the message is the same. Don’t be this lady who just says “That means you aren’t going to do anything!” when the teacher doesn’t immediately bow down to your whim. Remember what I said before: Teachers, when choosing texts, already have one hand tied behind their backs, and are aware they won’t make everyone happy with their choice. Come in with a list of questions, like what you feel this book is going to teach them, or why was this book selected. Ask them how they are going to address the content you find objectionable. 

Now, before I get slammed with suggesting extra work, remember that the teacher has already done this work, and you are the one with the concern. If you have a concern, you may have some extra work. 

If you still feel strongly about it, ask if there is an alternative assignment. Ask if there’s another book your child can read. Be reasonable about things. Shouting, throwing temper tantrums, and going right to the school board takes up valuable time, and just continues to disrespect teachers. Respect they need to teach your kids.

4. Understand that your way is not the only way of thinking. It may sound glib that I’m throwing this in, and believe me, I’m not. This is difficult to get over. We ALL need to learn this. However, I throw this out there because I do understand that part of the reason anyone wants a book banned is not because you’re so evil super villain making the finger pyramid of evil and scheming to make someone’s life difficult. You just want to make things better. But your “better” may not be someone else’s better. The teacher wants to make your child “better” by reading a book they think is interesting. 

But remember, at some point your kid is going to go out in the world, and they’re going to encounter other people, and their way of thinking. How are they going to interact with them? Sticking their fingers in their ears until they go away? That makes the world a smaller place. Teaching them early how to deal with things they don’t agree with is going to make things easier for them. 

This ends my week long coverage of Banned Books Week. I promise next week we’ll go back to movies, my quest for College Professordom, and all of the other fun usually associated with Bad Shakespeare. (I mean, this weekend alone Kevin Smith turns a guy into a walrus AND Liam Neeson runs around Liam Neesoning. HOW CAN IT GET ANY BETTER FOR MOVIES? Take THAT, Guardians of the Galaxy.) But this is something I am passionate about. This is the 21st Century. Just today I downloaded an album, watched a movie, and read a book all from the same location because I was able to access everything. We can’t cut off access of books for kids because we think something is that “wrong”. We need to give them an opportunity to speak, and opportunity to think, and an opportunity to read. As one of my very favorite professors and now friend says, “Student Voice” is the most important thing. Let’s not ban books and take that voice away. Thank you all for reading this. I sincerely hope I made an impact. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Banned Books Week: The Absolutely True Story of Calling The Police When You Don't Get Your Way

For information on Banned Books Week and what you can do, please visit the American Library Association’s page on Banned Books right here.

As we continue with our important week, I wanted to discuss one book in particular. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. 

I was first introduced to this book while taking a class on Young Adult Novels. Or Methods. They both had the same professor, so the classes tend to run together a little bit. But they were both fun and I’d recommend them to whoever reads this blog and gets a chance to take a class with this particular professor. (Now you get to guess who. It’s not hard.)

The Absolutely True… (I’m not going to keep tying that out, no matter how long I want to make these posts) is about a Native American kid nicknamed Junior, who lives on a reservation and in extreme poverty. During his first day of class, he finds his mother’s name in a history book, realizes that his situation is so poor that the school can’t afford books, throws it at a teacher (never recommended) and get suspended. The teacher is cool about it, and tells Junior he has to leave the “rez” if he wants to get anywhere. So he does. The book deals with poverty, racism, bullying, and because it’s a coming of age novel, those three letters that scares everyone, sex. (I think we all tend to forget how much puberty sucks, which is why we get so touchy about sex in young adult novels.)

Naturally, this book is challenged in a lot of places and banned in a few others. One place it’s banned under the criteria from one parent, “it uses language that we do not use on our household.” No word, really, on whether other households use that language and why it should be banned from those, but I wasn’t wiling to do that much research. But despite the fact that it’s an award winning book that many kids enjoy reading, it’s banned.

Also, going with the naturally theme, I think this book is important, it shows some unpleasant things (such as the narrator’s sister getting drunk and setting fire the her mobile home and dying) but if we all had the same experiences then we would be living the same life and there would be no need to write books. I don’t know that I can add more to what I’ve emphatically said about every other book that I think shouldn’t be banned, but should. I could type just about anything else here, but I’m not certain you really need to hear me say again that books shouldn’t be banned. 

No, I bring up this book because of something far scarier. It has a happiesh ending, but it’s scary to me. You see, when this book was banned in Idaho, where it had been used since 2010, the students decided to take action. The students - the ones reading the book - decided to take action. That’s not a typo, that’s me repeating myself for effect. Three Hundred and Fifty Students signed a petition to get the book back in the curriculum, because they didn’t want their education censored. 

But, naturally, to protect those kids, the parents continued their crusade until the book was banned. 

Won’t someone please think of the children?

Anyway, this is the point in the argument where someone usually says, “It was just banned from the classroom. It’s still perfectly acceptable in libraries!” 

Here’s where the story gets scary/happy/scary. So, two nice individuals took that list of 350 names, and decided… hey… let’s raise money and purchase books for these kids to read. So they did. They raised money to purchase The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, and distribute the book, free of cost, to anyone who wanted to pick up a copy. 

And then someone called the police.

Someone picked up the phone. Someone dialed the police. And then they complained. Because kids were getting books. In America. In 2014. (This happened in April.) 

Now, where this is happy is that when the police showed up, they were all like, “what are we doing here?” and then they walked away, hopefully to give the people that called a stern lecture about what the police are supposed to do.

This story bothers me. A lot. It’s one thing to not want your kid to read a book. It’s even another to get it banned. Those are things I can wrap my head around, even if I disagree with you on this. But to call the police because kids are getting a free book? What? This isn’t some mind altering book where they have to join a cult or pledge their lives in the service of Dumbledore for eternity. It’s a book about a poor kid, living on a reservation and wants to better his life. (And maybe… just maybe… Idaho with it’s 5 reservations would find this timely and appropriate.) 

The response to call the police is not just taking the book out of your own kids’ hands, it’s ripping the book out of anyone’s hands… anyone who wanted to read the book. No longer are you making a parenting judgement, you are trying to criminalize a book, and seriously, that’s messed up. That’s the epitome of censorship. That’s a story that should be coming out of North Korea, not 2014 Idaho. 

This is an extreme example, yes, but I use this story to show a real overreaction when it comes to kids reading. Keep in mind, this book was banned, and the parents could have simply told their kids not to read it. But instead, they chose to actually attempt to have people arrested for distributing the book - which had been banned in the classroom but not in the town, forever.  There were literally a million other ways to handle this… the book had already been removed from classrooms. You wanting to ban the book… you won! To call the police to a free book giveaway so now NO ONE could read it. That’s just some comic book super villainy right there. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Banned Books Week: "Challenged Books"... Not Quite Banned Enough For Some

For information on Banned Books Week and what you can do, please visit the American Library Association’s page on Banned Books right here.

Yesterday I mentioned that I had two issues I wanted to address when looking through blog and the thoughts of the people that wish to ban books. One was the lack of respect for teachers and kids. The other one is today, and that’s the word “challenged.”

"Challenged" is a fun word. It can mean many things. It looks like a powerful word. And Banned Books week champions (another fun word) books that are banned or challenged. But few people have jumped on that word in a specific kind of way that makes me a little sad inside.

This is not a direct quote, but sort of a paraphrasing of what I saw when I was doing research on Banned Books week and trying to address those that wish to Ban Books. There were many variations of this line: “Banned Books Week raises it’s numbers by showing not just books that were banned, but books that were ‘challenged’. Challenged doesn’t mean that it was banned, just that people were asking questions.”

Oh, that’s my favorite new phrase, Bad Shakespeare readers. “I’m just asking questions.” I don’t mean it in the sense that you should actually ask questions, but a lot of people have been hiding behind this phrase in scary ways. “I’m just asking questions.”

I’m going to pause for a moment and say that asking questions can be a good idea, when you want to learn something. I believe that everyone should be informed. But there’s a difference between, say, asking a question to learn something like, "hey, what's so bad about this book that you want it to be banned," and "hey, why do you hate all kids and America as well by allowing this filth to be strewn about our schools." One wishes to know an answer. The other has an answer already in mind, and doesn't want to learn anything. In this case you aren't asking questions, you're being a jerk.

“Challenged” books need love, too. Sometimes, it’s just one vote that stands in the way of a book going from “challenged” to “banned.” For Challenged books, someone did take the time to highlight the passages that they didn't them, then took it to the (hopefully proper) place to get it removed. Sometimes it just means that one person found a problem, found a group sympathetic to their cause, and sent out a form letter asking for everyone to support a book ban. Such in the case of The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank, which was once challenged by a group that once said, and I'm not making this up (apologizes to Dave Barry) "I heard it's a real downer."

Challenged still means that someone wanted it removed from the curriculum or library. Even if it wasn't successful once, it's on the radar now.

It bothers me a little bit that someone would want to exclude challenged books. Yes, they were successful in stopping a ban in some places. But that doesn’t mean they are teflon, and can never be banned again. How many times has Huck Finn or Beloved been banned and unbanned? It’s been a lot. So many to the point that I remember we had a discussion of banned books when I first read that one, oh those many years ago. (This was back when the internet was in its infancy, and Wikipedia was housed in large buildings called “Libraries.”)

Because a book is challenged in one school district doesn’t meant that something won’t happen in a another, and the outcome will be different. It’s important to keep those books on the lists, so people can know what is out there being challenged, and people can stand up for it. It’s not “raising the numbers” or trying to promote some kind of scare tactic, it’s addressing the fact that these books will possibly at some point become one of the banned ones.

Yes, wins on the side on the right to choose what you read are important. But they can be fleeting, and there’s a matter of time before they are challenged again.

Challenged books are the very close cousins of banned books. Very close. To the point that they stay over on Friday nights and everyone in school thinks that they are actually siblings. You know those cousins. Everyone knows some cousins like that. And if you don’t, well, then, at least you have my cool analogy to go off of.

Challenged Books aren't suddenly safe. It doesn’t mean that some final battle was fought and the book will never be challenged again. It just means that in one instance, the book wasn’t removed. And that’s not just raising a number as a scare tactic, challenging books so they can be removed from a curriculum or a library is part of the problem, and not one we should face in America today.

Banned Books Week isn't some great plot from the ALA to drum up awareness for a fake issue. Including Challenged Books is important; it shows that the struggle is very real. To even suggest a book should be banned is a dangerous one, it removes ideas from the classroom. Very real ideas and issues that may need to be explored. When I was in Teacher-School, one of our lessons was a reminder that the assumption that we all come from the same place with the same values is a bad one. We took half an hour in this class on this issue, because one person couldn't grasp the fact that someone might not be rich enough to have their own car, and thus we couldn't assume that they would have access to one. Banned Books Week is a little like that. It's a reminder that we are all extremely unique, and we can't ban that uniqueness from the classroom because it's unpleasant. We can't challenge it because we think it's wrong.

Let kids read. Let kids learn.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Banned Books Week: Trusting Teachers, Parents, and Kids

For information on Banned Books Week and what you can do, please visit the American Library Association’s page on Banned Books right here.

It’s the time of year again. That time when I dust off ye olde soap box and pull out ye olde megaphone and start dropping some awareness and knowledge about something that’s near and dear to my heart.

That’s right, everyone it’s Banned Books Week. Depending on where you stand on this issue, It’s time to bring out the pitchforks and torches, or to bring out the high fives and supermodels. Either way, it’s going to be an interesting week.

Since I first typed out the first few pages of Bad Shakespeare, I’ve talked about Banned Books, not just during this week, but whenever I find a particularly amusing story about book bans (or attempted book bans… more on that later this week) that have gone through for whatever reason. And the response has been interesting….

I have been called names. I have been emailed and attacked. I’ve bee called names that I personally thought people who wanted books banned didn’t want to use. But, I’ve been told that I’m doing a good job. i have been told this is an important issue, and I’ve been told that I’m bringing awareness to something in an amusing way.

What can I say. They all hit up my ego, so I’m going to keep going with it. But I’ve already said a lot about Banned Books. I’ve said a lot about which books are banned that I felt shouldn’t be banned. I’ve said things about the ways some of the bans go about. So never fear, loyal readers, I’m going to do my best to repeat myself too much.

Disloyal readers, feel free to browse the archives. Also, I’m not going to really apologize to you because I feel if I repeat myself to you, it’s at least new.

You see, because I was raised not to just believe something and then roll with it (Thanks mom and dad) I actually don’t just do research by finding the five people who think like I do, read what they have to say, then congratulate myself on a job well done. No, I actually do research and I’ve heard some of the arguments in favor of banning books. Some of them are reasonable. Some of them are downright terrifying. And while I can respect the point of view of some of the book banners, I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree.

In any event, there are two arguments I read on pages of people who wanted to ban books that I wanted to discuss. One I’m going to discuss today. The other, I’m going to discuss tomorrow.

For today, I want to discuss the go-to for people who want to ban books (and one of the things that I’m really passionate about) and that’s “We just want the book pulled from the classroom, not from the school! The other students can read it in the library.”

I’m going to pull the curtain back for a second, and get real with all of you for a minute. (If this were a movie, this were the point that I’d prop my leg up on a chair, non-menacingly to let you know that I’m your buddy while you roll your eyes because I’m not your buddy.) I want to explain one of the frustrations I had while trying to get my teaching degree.

Imagine you’re at work. You worked very, very, very, hard to get where you were. Now, imagine that your job requires you to take extra training. In fact, part of your training requires you to do the job itself while being evaluated by three different people and not getting paid. When you’re done with your training, and you get a job in a field that’s rapidly losing funding, you have to re-new your training once every couple of years.

With all that training, including the current stuff, you should consider yourself pretty knowledgeable.

Now, one day, someone comes into your work and tells you that you can’t do something. The have no training, and their knowledge of what you are doing is limited to a few TV shows, some things they read online, and maybe a form letter they were asked to fill out. They don’t know what you do. They just want you to stop doing it, because it offends them.

That’s pretty much what it’s like to be a teacher in some places, especially ones where a book is being removed from the curriculum.

Teachers already have a limited resources when they pick a book. Is it a book being used in the county/state/area? Are there enough? Has it been through a vetting process already?  Which teachers are going to use that book? That doesn’t include the fact that books being used in the classroom, even if they are approved through everything else and being used, have to be justified to the school board, and plans to use the book have to be made well in advance.

But people want these books pulled for a variety of reasons. And (I’ve made this point time, and time, and time again) rather than discussing these reasons with kids, some parents just want to bury their heads in the sand. They want to yell at teachers. They want to teach their kids that teachers aren’t to be respected, and then wonder why test scores go down or kids act out in class. That’s what it comes down to. Respect, or lack thereof, that a teacher who has been through this training is unable or unwilling to pick a book “correctly”.

People (not just kids) need to be challenged. They grow and prosper when new things are thrown at them. But here’s the thing: It’s ok to disagree. It’s ok to sit your kids down and say, “we don’t use this word because…” or “we don’t believe this because…” Any GOOD teacher will take that into consideration when assigning a final assignment or grading. If there’s a problem with a teacher mocking your kids’ beliefs, THEN you should get involved. But what’s wrong with having some kind of challenge?

There’s also some book banning based on the “appropriateness” of the content. The thing is… who decides what’s appropriate for all students? I still laugh when I think about the documentary Bully that was rated R, keeping kids (the target audience) from seeing it… because of words that the kids used in the movie! If you want to teach your kids what is appropriate, then why not use this as a jumping off point? “That’s not something we do.” Discuss. Don’t bury.

Plus, remember the point I keep making: don’t teach your kids to disrespect teachers, and that’s what you do when you say, blow up at  school board meeting because the kids are reading something you don’t like. Don’t teach your kids that teachers are the enemies, then sit around and wonder “why aren’t they learning?” or wonder what happened to test scores or the American Education System.

Bottom line, rather than being reactionary when it comes to books, why don’t you try to work with your kids through it? Why don’t you trust not only teachers to teach, but kids to understand it? Why don’t you trust your skills in raising your kids to let them know what you believe is right or wrong? Don’t make kids fear something because it has a dreaded sex scene, or because it may contain… the F-word. (gasp.)

Trust and Respect. Important things to remember.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Evil Menu Options... Press 1 to continue

Hello, and thank you for calling Evil Minion, Inc, the leading provider in Henchmen and Minions. We are proud to be your one stop shop for all your Minioning needs. We understand your time is valuable, and your call is very important to us. Threatening world leaders with various doomsday devices takes teamwork, and we’re happy to be able to provide you with that specialized team that can provide you with top quality service

Please pay close attention to our menu options, for they may have changed.

If you wish to continue this call using a language that has not been invented yet, a language of the Old Ones, or you are not from this planet, please press 1. We would like to say that we have translators of every type available 7 days a week, but if your language is from beyond the Milky Way or Older than the Old Ones, we may not be able to assist you.

If one of your minions and/or henchmen have accidentally pressed the self destruct button to your latest Death Ray, Giant Laser, or other Doomsday Device, please press 2. Please remember that Evil Minion, Inc is not responsible for the actions of our Minions once they are cloned, consumed and sent you you.

If you have accidentally unleashed a monster, either from this dimension or another, please press 3. Please have the weakness of said monster or the spell, chemical code, or programming code available before speaking to our customer service representative.

If the damsel you have kidnapped is no longer in distress, please press 4.

If you have found yourself trapped in another timeline, era, or dimension, please press 5.  Please remember we are unable to retrieve anyone that has gone beyond 54 A.D., due to liability issues.

If an attempt to destroy your enemy has resulted in the death of a loved one and caused them to come after you with vengeance, please press 6 from an undisclosed safe room. Please note that we will not be held liable for your mistake.

If this is in regards to the recent passing of the Henchmen Union, please press 7. Most Henchmen Unions have been squashed under the Iron Fist of our management. Please note that this is not a metaphor.

If the robot you have designed has gained emotions and is trying to take over the planet, please press 8. Note that we will disconnect you at the first sign that they will attempt to take over our computer system.

If your floating fortress has suddenly experienced a loss in cabin pressure, please press 9. You may also use this option if your undersea fortress has sprung a leak, or if your moon base has lost the ability to maintain gravity.

For all other emergencies, please stay on the line and one of our customer service representatives will be with you as soon as possible. Please keep in mind that we will not offer refunds on any Minion or Henchman that is incapacitated with a Judo Chop, drop on the head, or ironically timed ricochet. We will also not offer any protection against changes to the timeline, or due to loss of continent because your nuclear powered device was suddenly destroyed. Keep in mind that all sales are final. If this is a major emergency, please hang up and pray to the deity of your choosing.

Thank you for choosing Evil Minion, Inc. The only Evil Minion Supply company that has your back.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Fans, Unite!

I’m a big fan of science fiction. It used to get a bad rap. A lot of people that are zooming around in their Iron Man costumes or walking around with their Star Wars Shirts don’t understand how difficult it was, for some of us, to admit that we enjoyed watching grown men and women talking about “reversing the polarity” or “beaming me up.”

Which is why for the longest time, I never really told anyone I was a fan of Doctor Who. For those of you who don’t know, Doctor Who is a television show that’s been on for 50 years, and has a lot of history, so I would highly recommend Googling “Doctor Who” before you read the rest of this, because it’s way too much for me to get into right now.

But no, when I was growing up, you could get away with having watched Star Wars… I mean, that was a bunch of epic space battles and wizards and light sabers. Plus, we heard there was a rumor that right now, as were studying for that math test, George Lucas was going to write three more movies and there was going to be an all digital character named “Jar-Jar Binks” and he was going to blow you away with his awesomeness. (We were young. We were naive.)

You maybe mentioned your love of Star Trek, but only briefly. Despite the fact that a new guy had taken over and would someday become Patrick Stewart, America’s favorite British Uncle, for the time being you didn’t proudly wear that Star Trek shirt too many places… The movies were cool, of course, but it was still an iffy level of nerdom.

Remember, Computers weren’t widely used when I was growing up, so the geek had not yet inherited the Earth. Most of the time you could get by with being at the mercy of the AV Club.

But way below those two things and the billions of science fiction books, video games, and roleplaying tabletop games: there was Doctor Who. You don’t get much more hardcore science fiction than an alien that flies around in a space ship and can go anywhere, anytime, ever, and was popular in England. That was a level of nerd that no one wanted to really cross, at least when I was growing up.

But I remember the first time I saw Doctor Who. It was Tom Baker. I didn’t quite know what was going on, there was a man in a funny scarf flying around in some of the stupidest special effects I’ve ever seen, on PBS of all channels, one lonely Sunday afternoon. But then he was being threatened. He didn’t pull out a gun or a weapon. He fought them off with a smile (a rather crazy smile) and an offer of some jelly babies. It was weird. But I liked it.

I caught up where I could, but didn’t really focus on one era for too long. I enjoyed what I could see of them. I watched the so-so 1996 movie, but I really started re-watching when Christopher Eccelson helped to bring it back. Then there was the era of the new Doctors… David Tennant and Matt Smith. I really enjoyed David Tennant, I’d go on to say that he replaced Tom Baker in my heart as “my Doctor” (and any good Doctor Who fan has “their Doctor”.) Up until, of course, the latest. The 12th Doctor. (sorta. Look, Google it, because the numbering’s all complicated now.)

Peter Capaldi was introduced to the world as the new Doctor, one of the oldest to take the part since it’s regeneration in 2005. (see what I did there.) He came with a little bit of controversy (because who can let things go without controversy) because he was older and he was replacing a very popular Doctor. Thing is, he’s already my favorite. I don’t know that he’ll replace Tennant or Baker as “My Doctor” but he’s already worked his way into my heart as my favorite Doctor. Not because of any action he’s done as the Doctor, mind you. But because of Peter Capaldi.

Oh, I understand that as of this writing, we’re only three episodes into his tenure as the Doctor. He hasn’t had a lot of time, really, as the Doctor, beyond telling a dinosaur that she was pretty, possibly pushing a robot to his death, and fighting Robin Hood with a spoon. (Actually I’d say he’s been pretty busy.)

No, I’m a fan of Peter Capaldi… because he’s a fan. He’s always been a fan of Doctor Who. In fact, when he was announced, people started looking at archives, and found that he’d not only written to Doctor Who fansites, but he’d drawn pictures, he’d written fan fiction… he was a fan from day one. He loved the Doctor. And now… with only 12 other (or 13, depending on how you count the Valeyard from “Trial of a Timelord”) people have officially played the Doctor over it’s 50 year history. And he gets to be the 13th. (or 14th. Again… Valeyard. And I’m including the War Doctor. John Hurt counts.)

Think about the odds with Peter Capaldi being cast as the Doctor. Not only has he already been on Doctor Who (squaring off against the 10th Doctor and Donna Noble for control of the TARDIS) but he’s about 30 years older than Matt Smith when he took the part. Matt Smith was wildly popular, and every pretty much assumed we’d be getting another younger, edgier Doctor. And instead we get this guy. An old guy best known for being on a show about political intrigue where he got to yell a lot of obscenities. Like, a lot. I can remember some armchair commenters warning people against Googling some of his earlier performances.

But how can you not appreciate the fact that this guy, this fan, is now living his dream. He’s getting to play the big part. He gets his own wardrobe, he gets to wave the sonic screwdriver and command attention. He gets to play a role that he admired for years… and now he gets to do it.

There’s something kind of important in there about following your dreams, and to keep reaching, I guess. I mean, at the end of the day, I kid of just enjoy the funny quotes and the fact that at any moment, anything can happen. (David Tennant once smashed into the space Titanic. Also there’s a lizard woman and a human woman who are married and have a detective agency in Victorian England. Anything.)

I’m going to continue to enjoy and support Peter Capaldi’s adventures. I’m going to enjoy not just watching an actor portray an iconic role, but an actor ENJOY an iconic role. I’m going to watch an actor probably have more fun in one scene than just about anyone will enjoy, ever. And I’m going to remind myself that when things go wrong, even Peter Capaldi got to be the Doctor.

Good luck, Mr. Capaldi. It’s not often that one fan gets to say to another: good luck, I’ll be watching in this context. But Good Luck. I’ll be watching, every week.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Writer's Block is really Something Something Something...

Some of my loyal readers may have noticed that posting here at Bad Shakespeare has been a bit… spotty lately. Disloyal readers may not have noticed anything, and can come back when I talk about their favorite topics, which may not be this particular post. I normally try to keep to a Monday/Wednesday/Friday type posting for the main reason that why not. Posting here lets me write pretty much whatever I want whenever i want to post it, and it allows me to stretch my writing muscles which should be stretched.

This of  course, doesn’t include my weeklong tribute to all things Summer Movie Season, but that was being written during the entire summer. Movies I liked would get the top spot (like Lucy… I loved Lucy but it didn’t fit in my criteria) or movies would crush my soul. Like Transformers. In fact, most of it was written to the point that when I made my favorites post, I really just had to do one tweak, and that was switching Begin Again and Guardians of the Galaxy, trying to decide which one I liked more, and ultimately Begin Again lost because of it’s lack of wisecracking CGI animals. 

That’s neither here nor there. I’ve tried to blame my lack of posting on school, my usual awesomeness, or the lack of wisecracking CGI Animals in my life, but it’s been more sinister than that. My main problem lately has been crippling, horrible, writer’s block. And I’ve had writer’s block in the past. I’ve even talked about writer’s block in some past posts, and that usually it just took some time away, but this time has been bad. Like, so bad it was difficult for me to read, because I was unable to keep the characters straight in my head. 

Yeah. That bad.

I’d sit down and face off against the blank paper. We’d spar for a few minutes, where I’d come up with some witty, hilarious line. Then I’d spin something off of that. Then doubt would sneak in, and let me know that everything I wrote was pure weapons grade craptonium, and that shouldn’t be posting, and does it really matter because only about 12 people actually read this blog anyway.

I tried to argue it’s 13, because I was under the impression that readers come in baker’s dozens, but Doubt didn’t care. Doubt is as mean as it is sneaky, trying to wrestle control of my thoughts. Then I’d eek out a few jokes about something, and I’d delete it, and hope that no one noticed that there was no Bad Shakespeare fo the day. 

Writer’s Block is tricky as it is cruel. You see, I don’t like to write heavy, dramatic pieces on this blog. I will, but I generally try to keep it light. If you want to read heavy, dramatic pieces, just Google, “The News” and chances are (once you get past the part about what Huey Lewis’s band is up to nowadays) you’ll get something nice and heavy. It kind of sucks out there nowadays, and people don’t make it easy to lighten anything up, because again I don’t know if you noticed, but people do their best to make things worse.

Let’s take for instance, something that should have been light and a pretty much a puff piece for any day of the week: Apple introduced a new iPhone, pretty much like it has every year since 2007 (in fact the one year it decided to wait a few extra months most of the news stories were “Where is the new iPhone?”) and a new wearable piece of technology that’s pretty much a watch but with the ability to do more than tell time. (but still can’t send you back in time, or order a pizza to your direct location with telepathy. WHERE ARE THE FEATURES WE WANT, APPLE?) 

People tended to go into two camps with this. On the one hand, there were people that looked at the space-aged Star Trek Technology and said, “pretty cool.” Then there were the others who felt that if you purchased this particular piece of equipment, you were king of the idiots and THEIR phone was so much better and somehow anyone else purchasing a damn phone somehow made their decisions less important in life. It’s a phone, everyone. If you want one, buy it. If you don’t, then don’t buy it. If someone is forcing you, at gunpoint, to purchase it, go call the police.

I don’t know why, but things like this have been affecting me lately, and it’s been harder to write and be happy as I watch and pay attention to this, and it gets me down a little bit. I’ve tried ignoring it, but even if you go watch funny cat videos, it’s soon inundated with people claiming that dogs are better.

It’s just been difficult for me to get past that lately. I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, it just has.

Of course, then you’re in a death spiral, because you’re already kinda bummed, then you start to wonder if you were ever really that good, you go back and read your earlier stuff from before you matured as a writer, then you start to wonder even MORE if you suck, then that blank page gets scarier and scarier, and you just don’t post anything.

I’m trying to work past that now by pretty much typing whatever comes into my head, and trying to push past this crippling writer’s block. (Hence the two paragraph segue about people who are way to invested in a phone, and have become jaded about something even the James Bond writer’s didn’t think about. THE HEIGHT OF HIS PHONE TECHNOLOGY WAS IN HIS CAR, PEOPLE!) 

I’m hoping on posting more. I originally thought of cutting back because of school, but that’s not really the answer… it’s a retreat. I enjoy writing Bad Shakespeare, and I enjoy trying to be funny. But this little bout with writer’s block is really bad. It’s dried up everything in my mind right now. And it really needs to be gone, since I’m an English Major and 90% of what I do is write. The other 90% is reading. (You read that right. They’re both 90%. Some people feel a need to correct things that are clearly jokes.)

The thing with Writer’s Block is that the more and more you try to get rid of it, the harder and harder it holds on. You can’t escape it, like so many dinosaurs in a special zoo that is supposed to be safe but really isn’t once things go haywire. And then you try to get to the helicopter, but then you’re surrounded by Velociraptors and it’s not until the T-Rex shows up that you’re really safe. 

Sorry. Went really Jurassic Park there for a minute.

In any event, the best way through all of this is straight forward, and to post stuff that makes me laugh, and not really sweat the small stuff. And it’s what I’m going to keep doing. Because eventually, I hope to be writing for a living, and I can’t let something like a little Writer’s Block stop be from becoming the next big thing. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Adventures in Fantasy Football Land.

The leaves are starting to change color. The weather is getting cooler. The pitter patter of feet at the movie theater on a weekday has gone away, as I can go see a movie without additional commentary from the cast of Bring It On. And Sunday has become an even more sacred day for those who worship not only in church but with their team on the gridiron.

Ok, at least two of those things. Where I live, the weather has gotten even hotter since the pools closed, which is my proof that whoever controls the weather has a sense of humor that we have yet to understand. 

But back to the Sunday thing… that’s right, sports fans, it’s Football Season. Or for Hipsters and British people, it’s American Football Season. And with Football Season comes, of course, Dungeons and Dragons for Sports Fans: Fantasy Football. (Only not as exciting, at least until I can get my Quarterback to a level where he can cast Fireball, which should cut down on the blitzes.) 

Now, it may come as a shock to you that I don’t follow a lot of sports. I do from time to time, but being a Graduate Student for what feels like forever, Saturdays and Sundays are spent reading and panicking that I didn’t start a project sooner. That’s the life you lead when you’re leading the exciting life of an English Graduate Student. It’s less “Who are the Ravens starting this week?” and more “Who does the Raven represent in the poem.” Yes… the Ravens are named after poem by Baltimore’s most depressing writer, Edgar Allen Poe, who would have probably drafted Tom Brady in his fantasy league, then quickly had him driven mad by some torture device if he didn’t score enough points. I’m going to say a black cat with a pendulum on his tail. You do not mess with Edgar Allen Poe.

But for some reason, I keep getting invites to join Fantasy Football teams. And for some reason I keep joining them. Maybe I have a deep sense of wanting to belong. Or maybe I need to distract myself when I have a 20 page paper due and I don’t really feel like working on it. I normally join two leagues, but this year i paired it down to one, as I really do need to focus on writing that 20 page paper and not really focusing on who all be my starting lineup this week, even it was Cam Newton who didn’t perform like he should have.

Get’im, Edgar!

I can’t keep sending Edgar Allen Poe after my enemies. I have to think about things logically.

The first step in having a fantasy football team wen you have no knowledge of the sport is having a clever name. Because, if you’re going to be looking at it every week and stay out of 11th place (there are 12 teams) I’ll at least want to appear witty. I really wanted to call my team Much Ado about Running, but there wasn’t enough space. Last year I was Merchant of Menace, which is nice, but a little too generic. I also considered Tight Endronicus, and offering freshly baked pies to my enemies, but that’s too obscure. Same with Corio-Running Back. I also considered Malvolio’s Revenge, but that’s only funny to a few people. I decided on Richard III and Long, because when you want to strike fear into your opponent, you pick the play that was the Live Free or Die Hard of Shakespeare’s Henriad. 

Now maintaining a fantasy football team when you have only a rudimentary knowledge of the sport is an interesting task. On the one hand, there are many stats that you can look at, but like I said, English Major, so those stats might as well be written in Klingon, because numbers are scary. Especially Seven. Bad things are associated with seven. Sins. Dwarves. The Harry Potter book where Snape dies. (Spoilers!) 

Moving on.

When I logged into our Fantasy Draft, late because I forgot we were doing a Fantasy Draft, the computer was making my picks for me, and probably because it was able to take those “stats” and turn the into “something meaningful” because that and arguing with a guy we’ll never meet about which Batman was the best are really the only reasons to own a computer anymore. But I had a quarterback with some great stats, but I still wanted to snag Robert Griffin III because it fit into my team name, and because I live in Washington, DC my home team are the Redskins. For now. Most of the off season has been spent trying to change their name, which is going to create a lot of vintage merchandise when it goes through. 

Anyway, my strategy for picking the team was to look at the one stat I could decipher: The projected points, and saying “sure. I’ll pick that!” Which led to the computer, which provided a nice analysis, saying that I had a powerhouse few first rounds, then I started failing when I picked people with lower stats. Which I didn’t really understand, because shouldn’t the people with lower stats be picked last, anyway? I tried not to overthink it.

The Bottom Line is, it gave me a “B” in terms of drafting. So my first official grade of the semester is a “B” given to me by a computer, because I felt I needed a kicker at some point.

I think I have a pretty good team. At least I didn’t lose by quite as much as I thought I would at the end of the first few days. It was still a pretty hefty defeat, but both a blowout or anything like that. Not enough for me to cover my head and hide. The season is still young, plenty of time to make it up.

Of course that means a lot of tweaking my roster. Which means this paper can wait, right?

Friday, September 5, 2014

An Ode to Prestige Season...

The few weeks after Labor Day are the hardest for us movie junkies… er… I mean, enthusiasts. Gone are the flashy big blockbusters of yestermonth, and now we have to sift through the remains of the Labor Day Dumping Ground… because I’m sure your horror movie released in August is going to be pretty good… and the quieter movies that are slowly starting to creak back into theaters after a loud, loud summer. I mean, the big releases this week include what’s essentially a “Jackie Jorm-Jorp”  Elvis Story. 

(Quick side note, Jackie Jorm-Jorp refers to the television show 30 Rock. One of the side plots involved an actress getting hire to play Janis Joplin, then the movie slowly losing the rights to her song, then her names, and the producers desperately trying to still pull off the movie. It’s hilarious, but it’s what I think of when I see a movie that’s about the twin brother of an Elvis sounding guy impersonating said Elvis sounding guy.) 

Anyway, we need to thank Joss Whedon, the patron filmmaker of the Summer, for a fantastic movie season. I’ve mentioned with my recap, we’ve had some great highs that involved dancing plants, fake cops, and love letters to music, and we’ve been assaulted by realistic origin reboots, unfunny comedies, and giant robots. We’ve seen teenagers die, we’ve seen dragons get trained, and we’ve seen apes take their rightful place as in charge of this world. (That last line was just in case they do take over. I want my bases covered.) And we have a lot to look forward to next year, already, roughly about 90 superhero movies in the works, including a directorial appearance from our own patron filmmaker, so I’ll be interested in seeing how that turns out.

Thank you Joss, for presiding over a fantastic Summer Movie Season. I look forward to your graces next year. 

However, as the seasons change… and with Bad Shakespeare there are three… Summer Movie Season, Prestige Season, and Good Bad Movie Season… It’s time we shift our focus to Tom Hanks, the Patron Filmmaker of Prestige Season, which runs from today until December 31st. 

Prestige Season is difficult to navigate. Rather than the giant blockbusters, we have smaller films, or films that are more focused on winning awards. And for a brief period in October, we have a bunch of horror movies that studios have not decided to just dump in August, randomly, figuring you could use a good scare before a trip to the beach. 

The other tough part is that these are the movies most likely to appear in the Annual Oscar Movie Showcase from AMC, which as loyal readers know (and disloyal readers can glean from my archives) Bad Shakespeare attends, blogs, and tries to go into as fresh as possible. So do I avoid those movies? Or do I risk it. Remember, I ran the risk of watching Gravity twice. 

Man, I hated Gravity

But Prestige Season and Tom Hanks are not about hatred. They’re about looking at a different type of movie. Tom Hanks, from what I can see, is all about the love. So, it is with that, we have to offer our prayer to Tom Hanks for a successful and enjoyable Prestige Season.

So… what do we have to look forward to for this very Tom Hanksian Prestige Season?

We will be running mazes with Young Adult Adapations anew
And once again, we visit Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth
With Hobbits, Elves, and Orcs of Blue. 
Christmas Brings us both sadness and mirth
As Robin Williams’ graces us final times
With a Merry Friggin’ Christmas and
Museums at Night, this time with London Chimes. 
Don’t take this time to bury your head in the sand
As Christian Bale releases his people with an Exodus
Kevin Smith returns to the big screen with a tale
About a man, turned into a walrus
And let us hope that he doesn’t fail
As Simon Pegg becomes Hector, in his search for Happiness. 
An all star cast decides This is Where I leave You
But I must confess
Interstellar is the movie that’s already in my queue

For the kids there are Boxtrolls and Big Heroes of Six
Although I’m not really sure what a Boxtroll is. 
And let’s not forget the big kids in the mix
With Equalizer, Gone Girl and A Walk Among the Tombstones…is….

Speaking of movie remakes being all the rage
Left Behind will rapture us again
This time with Nicolas Cage
That should drive Kirk Cameron insane. 

Brad Pitt Trades World War Z for World War 2
Batman Michael Keaton becomes Birdman
And Bill Murray teaches us all as St. Vincent, who
tells the story of a kid, and his best friend a man. 

Daniel Radcliff puts on some devilish Horns
Laggies has Kiera Knightly using her American speak
While Annie brings us musical horns
And Keanu plays a hitman past his peak. 

So we ask you look over these movies, Tom Hanks
As the Patron Filmmaker of Prestige Season
And bring the horror movies into your ranks
And the movies I didn’t name for some reason.


There you have it. Our brief prayer to Tom Hanks, the Patron Filmmaker of Prestige Season. I won’t be covering it quite as much as I do Summer Movie Season (which has a better place in my heart for more nostalgic reasons.) But I hope you enjoyed this, and our look back on the Summer movie season that was.