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The Iron Fist

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Comic books are not real life.  They are better than real life.  They allow you to go forward in your own story with the myth of the super power to bolster your courage.  You can face your daily devils and demons secure in the knowledge that, while no one is perfect, we can all at least imagine holding firm to an ideal in spite of the trials we face…  being true to a power and a goodness beyond ourselves… being a hero.

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I have followed Iron Fist’s adventures since the 1970’s.  It is true that I haven’t been as devoted to him and his heroics as I have been to Spiderman and the Avengers.  But I love the idea of a good guy in white standing up to the bad guys in black and beating the poop out of them with a good heart and a bare fist, not resorting to guns and bombs and gratuitous killings.  Danny Rand, the Iron Fist, has always been such a character to me.  Noble because he does not intentionally kill the enemy, like Batman, Superman, Captain America and so many other favorite super heroes.

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I admit it, this love-gush of a post is only happening because I finished binge-watching the new Iron Fist series on Netflix.    I depend on Netflix now to deliver to me effortlessly what I used to endlessly hunt and scrabble for in the way of idea fuel and motivational electricity.  And even though I am a notoriously uncritical critic, I have to say, it was not as heart-thumpingly good as either Daredevil or Luke Cage.  But it brought an old friend to life in a way that I never before believed could happen.  And I love the way it fit this puzzle piece into the overall jigsaw of the Marvel superhero stories on Netflix.  It used characters like the ER nurse Claire and the villainous Madam Gao to connect plotlines in Daredevil and Luke Cage, and the evil but helpful lawyer character from Jessica Jones.  Will I watch it again?  Definitely.  Will I need to draw Iron Fist for myself?  Probably.  But this is a hard experience to either explain or recapture.  Television using comic book heroes, sometimes, at its best, makes life better than it really is.

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Filed under comic book heroes, commentary, heroes, humor, review of television, strange and wonderful ideas about life

There Are No Stranger Things Than Kids

I am planning to re-watch all eight hours of Netflix’s Stranger Things.  I can’t help it.  I really seriously love that show.  And the reason is the kids in the series.  Yes, it was set in the 80’s, a decade I long to return to, but I wasn’t a kid myself in the 80’s.  That was my first decade as a teacher.  The thing is… I taught each and every one of the kids in that series.  I admit, they had different names and lived in different bodies, but they were the same faces, the same personalities.

And it is not so much the characters the kids inhabit in the show, though they were obviously cast as themselves.  It is the real-life screwiness that Jimmy Fallon brings out with the silly string that I recognize.

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Finn Wolfhard’s character, Michael, is basically me.  The dreamer determined to make the fantastic become true.  And when they played Dungeons and Dragons in the basement, he was the Dungeon Master.  That was me.  The teller of the stories, the maker of the meaning.  He’s the one that creates the Demogorgon adventure that eerily comes to life.  He is also the one that finds and befriends the mysterious Eleven.  He is the driving that leads them all to the inevitable conclusion of the adventure.

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And while I never met anyone quite like the mysterious Eleven, Millie Bobby Brown is definitely no stranger to me.  She is bubbly, outgoing, and utterly charming.  She can channel Nikki Minaj.  I must’ve taught at least five different versions of Millie in three different schools when I was a teacher.

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She makes the weird and otherworldly character of Eleven become believable through the sheer force of a natural talent for empathy and understanding.  She is a highly intelligent girl with a knack for making things work.

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I have also taught about four different incarnations of the Dustin character’s actor, Gaten Matarazzo.  The goofy but courageous kid with a broad sense of humor and a focus on food is a very common type of junior high kid.  And while he isn’t usually a leader in the classroom, he’s the one you turn to when you need help getting the group to choose the right path.

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I swear to you, I know all these kids, even though I have never met them.  You see, when you are a teacher for long enough, everyone in the world comes in through your door.  You have to get to know them and learn to at least like them if not love them.  You do the thing for long enough, and you learn that there are a limited number of different faces and personalities that God distributes over time and circumstance to many different people.  It is possible to get to know nearly all of them.  And there are no Stranger Things than kids.

 

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Filed under Dungeons and Dragons, horror movie, humor, kids, review of television, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Supergirl (Another Review from the Uncritical Critic)

20151029_124840I watched the new Supergirl TV show on CBS via the internet, and I have to say… Wow!  Now, I am not that big of a Supergirl fan.  The comic book from my overly-massive comic book collection from 40-plus years of being a juvenile reader at heart is the only example I can find to illustrate Supergirl.  And I only own that one because my eldest son wanted it at age 11 because of the bare-midriff dress in the cover illustration.  I have never been all that fixated on Kara Jor-El’s belly button myself.  But don’t get me started on a discussion of superhero babes with bare body parts in comics… well, because I will end up telling you things about myself I really don’t want you to know.  But I do know enough of the Superman mythos to appreciate what the TV show has done with this character.

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Superman himself has been a part of my life ever since I can remember.  I remember him in black-and-white as George Reeves from the time I was first allowed to pick TV shows for myself.

So, I watched this Supergirl show last night in spite of the fact that critics I have read basically hated it.  I don’t actually understand their disdain.  It had everything I love about comic books.  The characters were simply drawn and two-dimensional, which is exactly what a comic book character should be.  Kara was given a back-story that matches the comic book mythos quite well, and yet, other characters like Jimmy Olsen and her adopted sister are clearly innovative and new.  The villain was life-and-death terrible in the way that comic book villains are supposed to be.  He even died at the end of the episode as comic book villains are supposed to do in order to surprise us when they come back to life as comic book villains always do sooner or later.  Everyone seems to love the CW’s newest version of The Flash on TV because it has that distinctive funny/violent comic book bravado about it.  So why didn’t they see the same thing in this new show?  I think, with time, this new show will prove them wrong.  I like the lost-little-girl-turned-superhero story presented in this first episode.  I went in expecting not to like it, and was bedazzled and befuddled and be-everythinged  that you want this kind of show to do to you.

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I will not try to tell you that you should watch the show.  If you are comic-book nutty like I am, you have probably already seen this show, and nothing I could say or do would have a ghost of a chance of keeping you away from it, if that was what I wanted to accomplish.  And I know that many people hate this kind of thing with a passion.  But, being honest here… something I am sure you are aware I rarely ever intentionally do… I want you to watch it so it will become popular and stay on the air.  After all, a TV show like this will generate more dolls and toys to collect.  Ta-ta-ta- TAAAH!!!

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Television Can Be Literature

How stupid is it that a former school teacher can write a nutsy title like that?  If that were true, why don’t English classes just show movies all the time?  Why read?  Honestly, teachers do worse things to students every day.  Well-made film for the theater or television is literature, and it is relevant to study it.  When you are teaching kids to read, the ones who already read and devour books on their own are not your target audience.  The vast majority who hate reading need to be pulled into the miracle of being enfolded into a good a story, made to discuss and analyze why they liked it, made to determine what their own personal standards of good are, and taught how to find that for themselves, in the theater, on TV, and yes, even in books.  So, why does an idiot former school teacher think about stupid stuff like this?  Well, my brain has been permanently wired for that kind of thinking.  And now that I am retired and have time for stuff like Netflix, I am discovering just that sort of monumental epic literature that I have always sought in television shows, of all places!

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I just finished watching the final episode of The West Wing on Netflix.  I was completely absorbed by this seven-season show for the entire summer.  And now I have finished it.  And this essay is the first symptom of withdrawal that is going to hit like the black plague.  I am not going to do a review of it.  Others have done better at it than I ever could.  Here is a bit or evidence for that at this link; Contemplating Media on WordPress  or this one; Arts.Mic

I am telling you why this show is indispensable literature and powerful, functional art.   It is because it just IS!  The writing on this show by Aaron Sorkin is seven seasons’ worth of vibrant, lively, in-depth, and funny stories that keep you tuning in at a higher level of gravity than any mere soap opera.  You learn to love or hate the many characters you get to know so well, and you have to find out what happens to each of them in each and every episode.

I most identified with the character of Joshua Lyman, played by Bradley Whitford.  I once was a young and idealistic man who believed that my passion for ideas could change the world and make it better.  I too fell to the hammer blows of cruel reality.  When Josh was shot as collateral damage in a presidential assassination attempt, it brought me back to the dark years of teaching when I almost quit after having my life threatened and my tires slashed by students.  I was in his skin too when it came time to put myself back together and make myself whole enough again to continue doing my job.  Good literature is like that.  It holds up a mirror in front of our shocked little faces and shows us exactly who we are and what we have to do about it.  Here is the scene that made the waterworks flow the hardest, after Josh has seen a psychologist to help him overcome his PTSD;

For seven seasons this TV show maintained a high level of powerful storytelling and life-changing meaning.  I can’t begin to tell you how well this has helped me understand politics and good people.  There is no other kind of literature that can do what a series like this can do.  And this is not the only one.  I can name any number of other series I felt the same way about over the years and had to find some way to watch every episode I could; there was Alex Haley’s Roots, Shogun and Centennial (both epic mini-series), Lonesome Dove, Ken Burns’ The Civil War, Ken Burns’ Baseball, Hill Street Blues, Mork and Mindy, Cosmos (both the Carl Sagan original and the new Neil DeGrasse Tyson versions), and, of course, Dr. Who in all his incarnations.  In some ways television series like these have given me more and done more to make me the man I am, than any single teacher or parent or grandparent I ever had.  It doesn’t replace any of those essential people, but, boy! does it ever supplement!

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Filed under humor, review of television, TV as literature

Doctor Who

(All images in this post are borrowed from BBC, BBC America, Bowties are cool on FacebookThe Third Doctor on FacebookDoctor Who Worldwide, and Doctor Who and the Tardis fan page)

2nd DoctorThe first picture in this post is my Paffooney for the day, a picture I drew myself in pen and ink and colored pencil.  I felt it was about time that I wrote a post on Dr. Who.   And that is a pun in more than one way.    The Doctor?  Doctor Who?  Back up in time four sentences… or is that three?   I felt it was about TIME that I wrote about the Doctor.  You see, now that I am retired, I have become more than ever a time-traveler.  Really.  I mean it.  We are ALL time-travelers.  We normally go from the present into the future, traveling in one perceived direction.  But yesterday I spoke to the ghost of a teacher who taught me in 1965 and 1966.  Through the magic of memory we can revisit the past.  Through the magic of dreams we can alter what happened and how we perceived it.734086_396433387124140_1955610552_n

The first Doctor to me was John Pertwee, actually the Third Doctor.  He was on PBS Channel 9 out of Des Moines.  We watched him on Friday night, mostly my father and I, but sometimes my sisters too.  As I went to college, Tom Baker took over as the Doctor, and we watched every episode we could.  11203255_617034485107481_8543128443324658026_nPBS went all the way back to William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton and I watched those too.  I was devastated when Baker left in the 1980’s, but then was completely renewed as a fan when they chose Peter Davison to play the new Doctor.  I was completely devastated when they canceled the series.  When it came back in 2005, I could share it with my sons… though only the eldest showed any interest at all.  My younger sister still watches Doctor Who and she watches with her kids.  There is an element of this thing that runs in families.487189_253636828070464_1251421010_n

This goofy Time Lord from Gallifrey has been gallivanting through time  back and forth since 1963.  He picks up young, pretty girls, and sometimes guys, and takes them with him, totally endangering their lives and even getting them killed.  He fights malignant talking trash cans called Daleks, some dude who can also completely change out a new body called The Master, and all sorts of bizarre monsters from space and time  993039_369698143130998_890258559_n 10644907_10152529567361837_8509993788113192276_nThe stories are always complex, loaded with comedy and occasionally science fiction, and the actor doing the juggling act of the title role has so far always been a totally unique and totally eccentric individual.  The Doctor continues on now, for more than 50 years, and he keeps connecting the past to the future to the present and rewrites entire lifetimes of galaxies in the process.

I love Doctor Who, and will probably be watching it whenever I can right up to the time when I myself ultimately run out of time.  I am quirky just like he is.  I travel through time too.   And I identify with him in ways I can’t even begin to describe.  So, Who am I?  Yes, I think I am.

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Filed under autobiography, Dr. Who, humor

Now, That’s Entertainment! (reposted for the love of laughter)

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(pictures borrowed from; http://www.whenmoviesweremovies.com/RedSkeltonimages.html, http://godcelebs.com/22413-red-skelton.html,  http://vint-rad.blogspot.com/2013_03_01_archive.html)

How do you spell comedy?  R-E-D-S-K-E-L-T-O-N!  For real, that’s how I spelled it during a third grade spelling bee in 1965.  Pretty dang dumb, wasn’t I?  But it got a laugh from the prettiest girl in class.  I truly couldn’t get enough of Red Skelton on Wednesday nights.  It was on past my bedtime, but Dad always let me watch, because… well, I think it was his favorite show too.  George Appleby always trying to get something past his wife who would always catch him and punish him soundly for something that truthfully wasn’t his fault.  That con man tricked him into drinking that stuff that made him act like an insane lady’s man.  San Fernando Red pulling a gag on the man with the silver six-gun and hoofing it out of town before the townsfolk caught on to him with the tar and feathers.  He never truly got what he had coming, or what he wanted, either.  Someone else got it instead.  Freddy the Freeloader making even poverty and homelessness funny.  He never passed up a cigar butt in the street and found a dime on every sidewalk.

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I always thought that if it was going to be funny, it had to be done Red’s way.  Let’s face it, there were two kinds of humor back then and only one my parents truly approved of.  They were Eisenhower Republicans living in Iowa, the heart of the Midwest.  Red’s gentle humor, with its hidden ribald parts, could profoundly make you laugh, and once in a while bring a tear into your eye.  It was never mean-spirited or cruel.  It never made a political or religious point.  It always assumed that all people were good deep down, and even the bad guys could be reformed with the right joke or prank to make them see the error of their ways.  That was comedy.

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The other kind, the scary kind was Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.  They would say bad words, even though you couldn’t say Carlin’s famous seven words on TV back then.  They made jokes about dark and desperate things.  Democratic political conventions in Chicago, the Viet Nam War, racial tension, the Black Panthers, these were all fair game for satire and black humor.  Their jokes assumed that all people were basically bad and greedy and ignorant… full of malice towards all.  Not even the comedian himself was assumed to be the exception to the rule.

And seriously un-funny things were happening.  Kennedy was shot in 1963.  Another Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.  were both killed in 1968.  Patty Hearst was first kidnapped by and then somehow forced to be a part of the Symbionese  Liberation Army.  Chaos took the world we knew and turned it upside down.  You had to learn to laugh at dark things, because laughing was somehow better than crying and hurting inside.  The pictures of the My Lai Massacre in Life Magazine made me sick to my stomach for weeks.  I did everything I could in class to make that pretty girl laugh, and when I couldn’t… I had to shut up for a while.  I had to think.

I decided early on that I needed humor to live.  I had to have the funny parts in my life in order to ward off the darkness.  I whistled walking home from choir practice at the Methodist church on dark November nights.  I told jokes to the rustling leaves and invisible hoot owls.  I got by.

So, what is the lesson learned?  If you read this far without gagging, then you know I mix a little funny with a little sad… and try to make a serious point in my writing.  Maybe I’m a fool to do it, but I truly believe that Red had it right.  People are basically good.  You can reform a bad guy with a good joke.   You can get by in the dark times.

If dark times are truly here again, then maybe that is why I have to tell my stories, make a few jokes, and make people think.  I know I may be killing you with boredom by now, but that’s what I do.  I’m a professional English teacher.   I bore people to death.  And if you read this far, and you’re still alive, maybe I can make you a little bit smarter too.

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