PICARD Reminds Me Of That Time My Mom Made Me Get An Earring

When I was entering high school my mother took me to a mall on Long Island and got my ear pierced. It wasn’t really something I wanted – I’m a huge baby about needles, so the idea of having one shoved through my lobe was terrifying. Also, it seemed weird to me. It was 1987, and earrings on men were pretty edgy. I was 13. I was very concerned, as a fat little 13 year old nerd who once had Nair poured down his crotch by bullies, about the messages an earring would send about my masculinity. At the time we believed that the ear you got pierced had deep meaning, a modern day Hankie Code, and that if I got the wrong lobe pierced I would be loudly announcing that I was a homosexual. In 1987 this was very frightening to me as a kid who had been immersed in low-grade homophobia from birth.

Eventually I got more piercings; I had about six when it was all said and done. The first one I got I used to very weird effect – I ordered a severed finger earring out of the pages of an old Fangoria and wore that around, looking like the world’s dipshittiest try-hard. I had a lot of fuzz on my face at this age, and a lot of acne, and I was a rotund little thing, with a permanent scowl on my unibrow and a severed thumb hanging from my ear. Eventually I toned down the earring – I wore a lot of studs, a bunch of little hoops – but I was very susceptible to infections, I didn’t keep the holes clean and I always had some smelly crud accumulating behind my ears. Over time I just gave up on them; I suppose the holes are technically still there, but nothing has been inside of them since Layne Stanley was alive. 

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STAR WARS: Justice For L3-37

Now that the Skywalker Saga is over, what is the future of Star Wars? Where does the story and the universe go from here? There’s one avenue I’d love to see explored, and it’s one that The Rise of Skywalker totally whiffed: L3-37.

You may very well be asking yourself that eternal question, “What the fuck is L3-37?” Yes, it’s a way that teenaged hackers used to say ‘elite’ on the internet. But it’s also the name of a character from Solo: A Star Wars Story, a character who has incredible and disturbing implications for the entirety of the Star Wars universe.

In that film L3-37 was Young Lando Calrissian’s droid buddy. Voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, L3-37 was a saucy droid who, seemingly, really wanted to bone down with Lando. But more than that, she really wanted droid liberation – for the first time in any of the Star Wars films we got a sense of a droid that understood the political meaning of its servitude. C3P0 had an existential understanding – “We were made to suffer,” he once whined – but he never addressed the immediate inequality that defines human/droid relations. Droids in the Star Wars universe are slaves.

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Thoughts On Learning Rush Limbaugh Has Cancer

“I hope it fucking hurts as he dies.”

That response to the news that Rush Limbaugh has ‘advanced lung cancer’ isn’t all that crazy. Rush has been instrumental in creating a horrifying and fascist atmosphere in the United States of America. Whether he led the charge or was just an opportunist who figured out how to make money stoking the flames doesn’t matter – you can draw a straight line from Limbaugh’s show to the increasingly dictatorial toddler in the White House. It’s foolish to blame individuals for the sweep of history but… we can kinda lay some of the blame for our current situation at Limbaugh’s feet. 

It’s human to have a reaction like that. We have enemies, rivals, adversaries, and we want them destroyed. It’s the animal in us, the pack beast that jockeyed for position. You think cancel culture is bad, you should see what chimps do to each other when one of them falls from grace. But the point of being human, I believe, is to transcend whenever possible those most animal urges, the things that evolution left sitting in our brains like time-delayed dirty bombs. The things that make us selfish and cruel, because being selfish and cruel might have at one time been useful in order to pass our genes on to the next generation. 

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THE GOOD PLACE Invents Buddhism

This contains spoilers for the latest episodes of The Good Place.

Everybody on The Good Place is dead. This is not the spoiler promised above – rather it’s the very premise of the show. Four people wake up in a waiting room where they are informed they’re dead and they’ve made it to The Good Place. But very quickly it becomes clear that none of them actually belong there, and over the course of the first season they try to avoid being found out and sent to The Bad Place. Then came the first season twist: they were already in The Bad Place. This had all been a part of their eternal punishment, a new spin on damnation.

The next season was an endless series of reboots, with The Bad Place trying to make them forget they were in The Bad Place, and after that they tried to escape. In the process they discovered that the afterlife works on a point system, but that the system is impossibly flawed. The complexity of moral life in the modern world – when you buy a turnip you’re possibly enriching a truly evil corporation that is ruining the lives of millions – has rendered the system moot. Nobody goes to the real Good Place anymore. Nobody at all. 

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1917: It’s A Small World War After All

You get into the seat of your moving car and a lap bar lowers, even though this ride won’t be so bumpy. The mechanisms grind into life and with a mild jolt you begin gliding down the moving belt. The car turns and pivots to reveal scenes rendered with exquisite Imagineered detail – a trench full of beautifully placed corpses, an empty German bunker with an animatronic rat and a friendly sense of dread, a destroyed French village that is immaculately constructed and lit with a breath-taking series of flares. Right at the end it surprises you by turning into a log flume ride, but honestly by the time the car returns to the loading area you’re a little bit exhausted and have taken to heart the message that the animatronic figures of soldiers and civilians would occasionally turn towards you and intone: War IS hell.

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The Grotesque Miracle Of CATS

That Sharknado is a hit and Cats is a flop is a true indicator of how misaligned our cultural priorities are. The fake bad movie is big business, while the real bad movie – the earnestly bad movie – has become a punchline. Cats deserves more.

(Before we go any farther, yes, I am aware success is measured quite differently for a SyFy Original versus big budget Oscar bait. I really just need you guys to roll with my rhetoric a little bit this year.)

The legend of Cats preceded it, and all of my friends saw the movie and returned almost hyperventilating with laughter. Ironic Cats stuff started with the release of the first trailer but exploded after the first screening. More people seem to be tweeting and memeing about Cats than are seeing it, though, and so Cats has become something that people want to talk about and laugh about but not necessarily see. 

I have seen it and I will tell you this: I am glad I did. And while it is a terrible, awful, miserable movie it is, in many ways, preferable to some of the perfectly fine big budget movies I saw this year. I will take the sheer insanity of Cats over the inanity of a Hobbs and Shaw, for instance. Hell, I’m more likely to see Cats in theaters again before I see Rise of Skywalker in theaters again. 

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Healing the Dark Side in RISE OF SKYWALKER

“Wars not make one great.”

– Yoda

That a movie series called Star Wars should lean so heavily on violence as a problem-solving tool shouldn’t, on the surface, be that surprising. But ever since George Lucas established the black and white morality of his galaxy far away, he’s been trying to subvert it. He didn’t always succeed (or when he succeeded the movies weren’t all that good), but right from the first sequel, using the quote above, Lucas was pushing against the martial universe he had created. 

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The Missed Rey Opportunity In RISE OF SKYWALKER

This contains full spoilers for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

As the ending of the “Skywalker Saga” part of Star Wars, The Rise of Skywalker had a lot of lifting to do at the end. Sadly, for me, it didn’t quite get where I wanted it to go and I walked out of the movie feeling like JJ Abrams had just missed a dozen opportunities. The possibilities open to him were incredible, but he kept himself boxed in with a strange adherence to just a small part of George Lucas’ vision. 

There’s a lot of talk about how The Last Jedi subverts Star Wars, but I think that talk comes from folks who simply are not familiar with the Prequels. Half the Star Wars movies George Lucas made subverted Star Wars; the reality is that many of us simply didn’t understand it at the time. It wasn’t clear to us that Lucas knew what he was doing when he made the Jedi chumps, when he made the Jedi Council full of shit and when he revealed that the shortsighted pride of characters like Yoda was what led to the rise of the Empire. 

This is important because I think many of the missed opportunities in Rise of Skywalker come from Abrams simply not vibing with the Prequels; for him Star Wars is the OT. His films are rehashes of/homages to those initial three films and they largely ignore business and themes from the Prequels. The idea that Star Wars is a story about family is sort of true – that’s what the OT is – but when we bring the PT into it we see that Star Wars is a story with family but that is actually about power and how that power is wielded and by whom. That’s the holistic theme of the six films. 

The biggest missed opportunity is about Rey, but before I address that, I want to talk about a couple of other missed opportunities that could have improved TROS, or at least firmly established it as part of a nine film story. 

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STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER Taught Me To Love The Prequels

This review is fairly spoiler-free.

In the beginning there was the word, and the word was Starkiller. From this humble start came dozens of iterations, concepts, ideas and drafts until what finally emerged, like a triumphant amphibian climbing from the primordial ooze, was Star Wars, later known as A New Hope

All beginnings have ends, of course, and 42 years later the ending of that new hope – or one particular aspect of it, anyway – has arrived. I’m tempted to continue the Biblical allusions here and talk about how at the end, as in the end of the Bible, there is a Beast, “having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.” Maybe once upon a time I could get have gotten worked up into that John the Revelator mode, but that time is past. I’ve lived through the Prequels and the wars over The Last Jedi; I’ve seen the eradication of swaths of the Extended Universe and I’ve witnessed the birth of a really coherent and exciting transmedia canon. I’ve seen worse, and I’ve seen better, and in the end The Rise of Skywalker is more a disappointment than a blasphemy. And who can worry about blasphemies in Star Wars post-midichlorians anyway?

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A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: What Would Fred Rogers Do?

Many of you reading this grew up with Fred Rogers as a presence in your home. That wasn’t the way it was for me; Mr. Rogers always struck me as creepy, as the guy at the end of the block who gives out Werther’s Originals on Halloween and who always wants to hire young boys in the neighborhood to do errands for him. Something about that tidy haircut, the red sweater, changing his shoes when he came into the house… all of it set off alarm bells for me. 

But what really set off the alarm bells was his emotional openness. Raised by a single mother who didn’t have the capacity to express love or acceptance, I found Fred Rogers’ default state to be mind blowingly threatening. Grow up in a desert and you’ll have one of two reactions to the ocean – you’ll either fall in love with it because it was what you were always missing or its depths will terrify you.

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