DEAR WHITE PEOPLE VOL 2: The Best Since M*A*S*H

M*A*S*H has to be the greatest TV show based on a movie. I know there’s likely a big contingent who will go to bat for Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which I love love love – but the difference there is that Buffy the movie didn’t quite work, and Buffy the TV show got to improve on the original. But M*A*S*H? The movie is a classic, yet the show somehow manages to be better and more iconic than the movie (I fully expect some pushback on that from Altman diehards. Fair enough!).

Dear White People on Netflix is closer to M*A*S*H than Buffy; it’s based on a 2014 movie that’s quite great, but the TV version manages to take everything worked in the movie and make it even better. Season one was sort of the Evil Dead 2 of Dear White People – a retelling of the events of the movie with included aftermath – and it was a phenomenal achievement. Creator Justin Simien, who wrote and directed the movie, inherently understood the Netflix binge model, and the show’s format follows one character per episode, with all the stories colliding in the finale. He did this better than Arrested Development season 4’s much-heralded experiment, which I think fundamentally failed. Dear White People focuses on one character at a time, but it doesn’t eliminate the others; it’s sort of the Marvel Cinematic Universe model of TV storytelling, where characters can and will cross over in their individual stories but the focus is always on the episode’s lead.

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The Post-Humanist, Biocentric Films Of Darren Aronofsky

Humanism is your religion. Even if you’re an atheist, you’re probably a humanist. It’s the basis for most of our society, truly rising to prominence since the Enlightenment. It’s a secular philosophy, one that forwards rationality and critical thinking over divinity and supernatural beings. It is a philosophy that places humans at the apex of all things, and makes us responsible for our own greatness and our own destinies.

But how is that a religion? If you follow the reasoning of Yuval Noah Harari in his book Sapiens (and I do, and I think you should read this book), a religion is “a system of human norms and values that is founded on a belief in a superhuman order.”

Note the word superhuman here. This doesn’t mean supernatural, and it doesn’t mean Spider-Man. It means order that is not mandated by humans, that is above humans. Under Harari’s definition Communism is a religion, and I love his reasoning:

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The Ending Of THE WIZARD OF OZ Isn’t Complete Bullshit After All

The Wizard of Oz is one of my favorite movies, but I used to really hate the ending. I couldn’t get with Dorothy’s realization that there was no place like home, especially after she had been in candy-colored Oz and seen so many wonders. It felt like a cop out to me, like the movie just needed to end and it couldn’t end with this girl separated from her family forever.

Like so many other things in my life, I was wrong about the ending of The Wizard of Oz. Sure, Dorothy’s last lines are a little extreme (“And I’m not going to leave here ever, ever again, because I love you all!” Like, leave the door open for a nice vacation, or even a road trip), but it’s the insight she gets in her final moments at Oz that has become meaningful to me:

“And it’s that if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, l won’t look any further than my own backyard… because if it isn’t there, l never really lost it to begin with.”

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“Dude, Who Are You Writing This For?”

Someone left a comment on one of the personal blog posts here, asking a question.

“Dude, who are you writing this for?”

Good question, and it’s one I’ve been thinking about for a few days. The obvious answer is “Me.” That’s the really simple answer, and it’s correct. I write little essays about spirituality or recovery or philosophy or whatever because writing is how I process stuff. A lot of the time I’m writing about things that are bothering me, or ideas I’m trying to understand, or about failings that I have, and I’m trying to work through them.

But that isn’t the whole answer. If I were writing for me, why even bother publishing (beyond narcissism)? It’s because I believe that whatever I’m processing at the moment can be of value to someone else.

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Lost In WESTWORLD

Spoilers for Westworld ahead. 

The first season of Westworld ended with a remarkable reveal – we had been watching two timelines all along. The cruel and driven Man in Black, played by Ed Harris, was actually the same character as the sweet, naive William (Jimmi Simpson), just thirty years more jaded. The man who had been reluctant to come to the park and engage in the violent, sexist fantasies had matured into a man who had mastered them all, and who was looking for something more meaningful beyond the gunplay and brothels.

Showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy apparently decided that this was the most interesting part of their first season, not the deep philosophical debate about consciousness, or the investigation of the gameification of culture or questions about deeply ingrained misogyny in even the nicest of men. That seems to be why Westworld season two has taken that conceit and doubled down on it; three episodes into the new season it appears that every point of view character is operating in their own timeline, with some of them separated by decades while others appear to be only days or hours apart. The result? So far it’s a jumbled structure that has consistently kept me disengaged from the emotional arcs of the characters. (Vulture counts five timelines, but I suspect they’re right when they guess that the fourth timeline itself features myriad mini-timeline jumps back and forth)

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The Site Has Upgraded!

Just a quick check-in – I have upgraded the site’s hosting package, which will give more options and flexibility. This happened because we reached our first Patreon goal of 100 patrons (if you haven’t checked out the Patreon, take a look here).

The big immediate change is that I added Disqus comments, which should make commenting easier. It was supposed to carry over your old comments from the previous system, but that may or may not have happened. I’m trying to figure out if this is fixable.

In the meantime you may see some tweaks and minor changes around the edges as I try out the new features that are part of this upgrade.

Thanks to everyone who has become a patron. I can’t believe we hit our first goal in just three months, and that’s incredible and heartwarming.

How I Blew It When Adam Yauch Died

When Adam Yauch died I totally disrespected him.

It was six years ago today that Adam Yauch ended his incarnation. Yauch was always my favorite Beastie Boy – I love his gravelly voice – and has long been an inspiration for me. Even before I hit bottom and had to find a different way to live my life, Yauch’s public change and growth served as a beacon of hope. What’s more, his public Buddhism brought me into the Free Tibet movement in the 90s, which opened the door for me to study Buddhism today.

But when he died I had not internalized the lessons he was trying to get across in his music and life. The gratitude and compassion that Yauch had found in Tibetan Buddhism was foreign to me, and I was trapped inside my own stories, anger and judgment. It led to one of the dumber episodes in the history of BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH. (which I think was still Badass Digest at the time).
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It’s Time To Stop Complaining About The Marvel Movies

Ten years. That should be long enough, right? Ten years should be long enough for everybody working in the world of film criticism (and those hopefuls filling Film Twitter with their hottest of takes) to get used to what Marvel Studios is doing with their Cinematic Universe, right? I mean, there are critics out there whose careers began well after Marvel started laying the groundwork for its universe, so it isn’t like they’re having to adjust to this stuff.

Fan Twitter got upset with Richard Brody’s dismissive New Yorker review of Infinity War (weirdly the review reads like he really liked the movie but doesn’t know how to cop to that fact). As always on Twitter people overreacted, but I think Brody’s review offers a good look at just how hollow the “these movies are ads for other movies” attitude is.

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