Live Long and Prosper

“Live long and prosper.”

Introduced in the STAR TREK episode “Amok Time” Spock spoke these immortal words along with the iconic Vulcan hand gesture.

Leonard Nimoy borrowed the hand gesture from a Jewish blessing and it has since grown an identity of its own. But it’s those words that speak to me.

All I really want for anybody is for them to live long and prosper. In fact, that is the ultimate goal of the entire staff of “Be A Better Geek” (yes, I’m counting the cat as a team member) and I hope of anyone who follows this site. I want people to be able to live their own lives and be able to find joy, love, compassion, good health, generosity, and hope in their lives. To me the greatest ideal is to help others also find that and to be able to be unburdened by fear of others or personal growth. I hope that in some small measure my words help to cultivate that search for joy and community growth.

And to acknowledge the obvious elephant in the room: yes, it affects my ideology. My social and political views are guided by the goals set forth by the Vulcan greeting. Yes, there are people whose ideologies are in direct opposition to myself. There are people who I think prosper, economically or politically, by exploiting others. But I do not wish harm upon these people. I’ve heard people wish suicide or diseases on their enemies. I have watched people die by the grips of depression or terminal disease and I wouldn’t want that for anyone. But I do want my ideological and philosophical opponents to find a sense of humility and compassion for their fellow humans. Perhaps they should study the character of Spock. He was a scientist, a compassionate friend, and an inspiration to many generations. And thanks to him we have the most important words in geekdom.

Geek in the Streets

One of the papers I wrote in college was about Roger Corman and his thematic use of outsiders in his films like the bikers in “Wild Angels,” the hippies in “The Trip,” and the beatniks in “A Bucket of Blood.” I can’t say that marginalized people is what initially drew me to his films but I have always been fascinated by outsiders and members of counter cultures.

I wasn’t a hippie, a beatnik, or a biker but as a geek in western Lawrenceville, Georgia I definitely felt like I was outside of the mainstream. I didn’t care about sports, especially the semi-religion of college football. I didn’t enjoy outdoor activities like fishing and didn’t go hunting with my dad. And though I went to church at that time I wasn’t Baptist or Methodist so I wasn’t even in the popular religions. I would later learn that there were other parts of the city and county that weren’t quite as southern, white working class as the area I grew up in but I was smack dab in the middle of what natives called “Dawg County” and my best friend was a cat named TJ. In middle school I met a few people who watched some science fiction movies and introduced me to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” but it wasn’t until I got into high school that I found other kids who read comic books.

These days my nickname is SpaceCat. Back then it was “long-haired, hippie faggot*.” I was called lots of names. I was picked on frequently. I can’t say that whether I delved deeper into a world of comic books and fantasy more as an escape from the bullying or that being a geek attracted the bullies. I was especially awkward thanks to being on the autism spectrum and being overweight and without any athletic ability.

I didn’t fight back. I got angry. I got depressed. And I pushed away from people who didn’t share my interests. But I still wanted to have friends. And in high school I found them in 2 places: honors English and at the comic book store. I have lifelong friends to this day from those places. Keeping it 100 here: the kids at the comic book store were a little less motivated than kids in honors classes. And in the early 90s comic book stores were almost entirely patronized by boys and men. “Elfquest” and “Sandman,” which had substantial but still minority female readership, were the exception to the rule but mostly comics were marketed towards and purchased by males. Lots of hypersexualized women and musclebound men with guns were the popular fare. Now that I look at it now the industry created this echo chamber where they thought only boys read comics so they only made comics for boys. But since I hadn’t had much experience thinking out of the limited androcentric worldview I just thought comic books were cool and I was disappointed that there weren’t more girl readers. That’s why ComicsGate and the whole gatekeeper mentality seems so backward to me now. I wanted to share my passion with girls because, let me tell you, I wasn’t sharing ANY passion with girls. But more on that later.

*I detest this word. Yes, I am primarily heterosexual and I know that a lot of people use that term because in their eyes it’s demeaning to be called gay. I didn’t pursue their perceptions of masculinity and it fed into their bullying. I think homosexuality, heterosexuality, asexuality, and pansexuality are all awesome and cool and so it hurts to know that a person would be marginalized and treated poorly because of one of them. I can’t imagine how hurtful that word is to members of the LGBTQA community.

Review: “HEATHEN Vol 1” by Natasha Alterici and Rachel Deering (Vault Comics)

After the recent announcement that “TWILIGHT” director Catherine Hardwicke has signed on to make the an adaptation of Natasha Alterici’s fantasy comic book “HEATHEN” the following summary was given in IndieWire:

“The story follows fierce Viking warrior Aydis, who is scorned by her village for kissing another woman and declares a one-woman feminist war against the ultimate patriarch, Odin, the god-king of Asgard and all-seeing father to thunder-god Thor.”

What a pitch! I immediately ordered a copy of the collection of the first 4 issues of the comic. After reading the collection you couldn’t find a more succinct, accurate description of the narrative. Of course this is just the first 4 issues of the comic. Since then 2 more issues have come out and it was recently announced this year that issues 7-12 are to follow.

The heathen in question, Aydis, is the daughter of a respected warrior of a Viking community. She flees her tribe because of an earnest, loving kiss to another woman setting up her story of adventure and self discovery. Elements of Norse folklore, with immortal warriors, Valkyries, and enchanted animals act as a backdrop to what is essentially a tale about finding empowerment in yourself and loved ones, embracing your individual journey, and rejoicing in your sexuality, whatever it may be. It’s not an overly complicated story but it’s an earnest one.

It’s unfortunate that the world is filled with myopic individuals and communities that want to set limitations on self exploration and want to place obstacles to growth and experience. And while that myopia may be of many different stripes in “HEATHEN” that limitation is the socio-religious regulations set forth by their chief god, Odin. And given that Odin is one-eyed, and therefore of singular vision, it is no surprise that Aydis knows to bring about liberation to herself and her community she needs to begin by destroying the source of patriarchal oppression, the aptly named All Father.

On a strictly formal level I want to give an appreciation to Alterici’s art. Her artwork has a graphic quality that brings to mind the clear storytelling of Alex Toth and David Aja. And while she still plays around with the illusion of space the intentional flatness of the artwork gives it a storybook quality that makes “HEATHEN” feel as much as fairy tale as it does a comic book. It has an overt sexiness to it, as it should given the storyline, but it isn’t played for licentious reasons. It shows sexuality in different forms, and all of them are about love – a love of others and a love of self. Given the positivity of that message it should come as no surprise that the book was recognized by the American Library Association YALSA in 2018 as one of their “Great Graphic Novels For Teens.”

“Heathen” is available at your local comic book store!

Tarzan and the Tarnished Idol

Writing about Edgar Rice Burroughs in the last “Be A Better Geek” I hit upon a topic that I want to explore further. While particularly relevant to geeks it speaks to a nearly universal human experience: idol worship.

Elmo Lincoln, star of the silent “Tarzan of the Apes” (1917, dir Scott Sidney)

In the previous post I mentioned how I think that there are Burroughs apologists who want to downplay the racism in his books. I claim his works are openly racialist in content while others think it’s an exaggeration or even a projection of the biases of people always trying to find racism in things. Obviously, I think I’m right and I think the evidence is overwhelming.

But here is a point that I failed to mention: I love reading Edgar Rice Burroughs’s books. I read “Tarzan of the Apes” 3 times while I was in high school. I had an actual, private conversation with “JOHN CARTER” director Andrew Stanton about our love of “A Princess of Mars” and the should-have-been Martian franchise that he proposed to Disney. As problematic as I find the ideologies reflected in ERB’s writings I still find his books quite enjoyable.

Burroughs brought a sensationalistic, mysterious tone to the adventure novel. He may have had his societal biases reflected in his work but he was also writing escapist fantasy. If you love space opera then you owe it to yourself to read his books. They are fun and descriptive, fast paced and action packed. The dude could spin a yarn. His influence is immense, particularly on another problematic writer whom I love even more, Robert E. Howard. You can love Tarzan and hate the racism surrounding the character and the culture from which he was created.

In the debate regarding separating art from artist I choose this compromise: be inconsistent and be flexible. Be okay with yourself for responding to different parts of art (like stories of Tarzan hunting) but also remember that just because some part of a book or movie or song resonates with you doesn’t mean that you have to fully endorse the creator. That’s how we fall into the trapping of idol worship. Maybe it’s an American quality, I’m not sure. But because we identify such emotional connection with the art we love we then project that love onto the artist. Sometimes this may be deserved. But other times it causes us to think un-clearly about the creator. I think we don’t want to acknowledge their faults because we fear that it can undermine our own emotional connection to art.

I think that’s a valid fear. An individual who once was a major influence on my world at large has turned out to be a terrible person. I can’t speak their name now. I can’t think of them without disgust. But I don’t beat myself up for their actions. But because I don’t hold them or any of the activities that I did identify with as sacred I am okay letting them go. Yes, you want to acknowledge the influence of others on your life and celebrate positive contributions. But it’s unhealthy and unsatisfying to base your own joy and self worth on the achievements or failings of others.

Fully engaging with the art and recognizing its faults is good practice for examining our own lives. You can still find areas in your life that need improvement without sacrificing your self love. For me it is a love of self that gives me the fortitude to address some of my shortcomings.

Chewie, We’re Home

Now I bet you’re asking “why don’t he write?” Sorry, I know a DANCES WITH WOLVES reference isn’t exactly geeky or especially cool but it came to mind and I’ll just have to work through the inner agony I’ve caused myself.

But, yes, I’m aware that I haven’t posted in a while and it’s been nagging on me. But I have a few good reasons. One is that I’m working very steadily right now. When I started “Be A Better Geek” it was during a hiatus from work and so I had plenty of time on my hands. But once I start working, well, everything falls to side.

So what do I do that would suck up all of my time? I work in the film industry, specifically in the Locations Department. I say “film” broadly because almost all of the work I have done is for television. There is a long-term dependability that you get from working on a TV show with a lot of episodes. Both TV and film have their advantages and disadvantages but the pace of TV is exhausting. Making 45 minutes of screen-worthy stuff in 8 days means you move at a breakneck pace. Do I love it? Much of the time I do. Recently I encountered a bunch of stuff that really hit me in the gut but I will talk about that at another time. Right now I just want to share a note of positivity.

You might be asking “Chuck, what does this have to do with geekstuff?”

I like that word, by the way. “Geekstuff.” I’m going to keep using it.

As luck would have it I have worked on a lot of shows of interests to geeks. I’m not going to name drop but I’ll say that I have shared parking lots with zombies, vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, inter-dimensional horrors, at least one gargoyle, big name make up wizards, and a self-proclaimed king of the world.

And what did I do after we all parked? For quite a long time I cleaned their bathrooms. I handed out safety vests. I picked up trash and set up tents. I’ve shoveled up the goo they’ve left behind. Thus far I have only disposed of one dead bird. I don’t do quite as much of that now. Now I find places for these folks to park, where to put those bathrooms, and spots for their trucks. Sometimes I locate places to film. I’m particularly proud of one hero location that pops up regularly on a TV show that some of you probably watch.

Right now I’m working on a 70+ hour work week. We bought tickets to go to New York City in October and I plan on checking out the King Kong setup they have at the Empire State Building so I’m happy to put in those extra hours. But it means I don’t get to write this blog as much as I like. For that, I apologize, but know that my heart is here with you.

Oh…and another reason I haven’t been writing as much…eh, I’ll tell ya later.