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The 10-year high school reunion is obsolete

Lampion

My 2008 memories and predictions in a senior insert to the yearbook called The Lampion. Please note that the spelling errors are from whatever poor secretary had to type this. The cringeworthy writing style, however, is all mine.

 

After collecting the graduation caps that we had tossed up in the Blue Cross Arena, the Fairport High School Class of 2008 didn’t quite know what to say to each other besides “we did it!”

We hugged each other, took photos — on Kodak cameras, as this was before smartphone photos were high definition and, of course, because the ceremony was in downtown Rochester — and wished each other luck at our respective colleges or other plans.

“Well . . . see you in 10 years!”

Except this wasn’t the case.

By 2007, Facebook was surpassing MySpace as the most popular social media site. Once it had opened to anyone over 13 years old, its original concept as an interactive yearbook directory was perfect for outgoing seniors. By 2008, most of my class had a Facebook account. By September of 2008, when I was starting my first semester at my university, I had added several former classmates to my friends list that I had been too shy to add a few months before.

IMG_0346In the past 10 years, I’ve watched my former classmates start families, change their appearance, and switch careers. I’ve read the inane drivel of a teenager’s status evolve into thoughtful comments and interesting links. I’ve watched people who used to seem so kind write angry, hateful posts and align themselves with Facebook pages spewing bigotry and misleading information.

I know the major places my friends have traveled, and if I missed it the first time I’ll see the throwback post from five years ago captioned “take me back to here.” I know the friends with whom they kept in touch, because I see the photos of them together in my newsfeed or when I’m absentmindedly scrolling through their profile photos featuring their wedding party. I know who influenced my former classmates, where they live, and what their values are.

Any time I think I’m not too attached to my phone or the gossip from my yesteryear, I find myself opening the Facebook app immediately after I close it. A notification will take me back to Facebook (“So-and-So tagged in you in a photo about Harry Potter”) and 30 minutes later I’m still scrolling. And even though most of my active friends are my coworkers or former university classmates, thanks to Facebook my high school reunion will not unveil any mysteries.

There is still value in meeting with my former high school classmates in person, of course. But I didn’t wait the full 10 years to keep in touch with those that mattered to me. When my parents still lived in Fairport, I made the effort to visit my friends on breaks between semesters and, later, between work contracts. I even met up with people with whom I wasn’t as close because their social media feeds made me realize how interesting my fellow Fairportians are. As for those who used to be closer friends, over time there would always be an excuse why they couldn’t meet up.

Yet what about those I haven’t had coffee with? What about the kid who sat next to me in French class, the student who always responded to my AP English teacher’s questions with “imagery” no matter the context, and the ones who ran suicide sprints beside me in field hockey? What about my bullies? What about the valedictorian? What about my arch nemesis, whose rivalry with me inspired me to practice harder, study longer, and learn from my failures when she beat me? Has she forgiven me when I openly gloated about my victories? Does she know how embarrassed I am about that now? Does she care?

There’s a part of me that wants to keep those memories that way. In my head, my arch enemy is rich, successful, and happy. She worked as hard as I did in school and for the hobbies that were her passion. If she wasn’t successful now, I’d be French horndisappointed that her hard work didn’t pay off.

10 years of distance from the high school bubble gives me the perspective that everyone is living their own story. No one went to college or started a family to impress me, so it doesn’t matter if I’m there for them to tell me so. The people who won the “Next American Idol” superlative probably never pursued singing but may have found love and another happy career instead.

In my head, everyone else has gained 10 years of perspective, too. The boys who stole my shoes or the girls who pinched me and called me names will probably be in the PTA leading anti-bullying campaigns for their kids. The kids who struggled in class or hardly made any friends have risen above my pity and have a strong circle of friends now. At least, that’s how I want to think about them.

I spent the last few months of my senior year speculating who would pursue their interests, where people would move, and how they would change. I reveled in imaginary future schadenfreude concerning my enemies, but now I can’t remember their names. Whether those people succeeded or failed had zero impact in how I’ve lived my life in the past 10 years.

I only wish I could show my former classmates that my wardrobe is better than the oversized sweats I would wear to school every day.

But there’s always Facebook for that.

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Posted by on May 31, 2018 in Blog

 

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I, Tonya is no “ice skating movie”

I recently was comparing my favorite films of 2017 with a bartender in a cinema bar and told him I was disappointed that I, Tonya wasn’t nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

“Sure, it was a good movie,” the bartender said to me, “but it wouldn’t win. Nobody is going to vote for an ice skating movie.”

Do people really see I, Tonya as an “ice skating movie?” And, if so, what does that even mean?

i-tonya-2017Skating films aren’t a genre to themselves as they tend to be dependent on other genre tropes. The first movies that featured figure skating were spectacles that focused on the skating sequences as production numbers. Sonja Henie parlayed her extraordinary competitive success into entertainment with films that could easily have been rewritten for the swimmer Esther Williams, or really any movie musical darling.

Some skating movies attempt to copy the sports film/underdog archetype, such as Ice Dreams. Even Blades of Glory is a satire of a typical sports film, similar to Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story — except this time with more gay jokes. The Cutting Edge and its myriad of unimaginative sequels are considered rom-coms. Most skating films are more or less a schlocky, sentimental Lifetime reject. (I’m looking at you, Ice Castles.)

And Ice Princess is an insulting suggestion that a physics student is the first skater to know what a 45-degree angle is and therefore has a competitive edge over years of training one’s muscle strength, endurance, and coordination, but I’m totally not still bitter over that movie’s premise.

The reason it has taken so long for a story like I, Tonya to have a more sophisticated perspective of figure skating is that popular culture sees skaters as shallow, privileged, graceful ladies. Despite the frequent falls, they never seem to have have visible injuries the way that contact sports have bloody lips and black eyes. There are no messy ponytails; there are tight buns under a hard hat of hairspray. Skaters compete in lightweight dresses and velour pants in a freezing ice rink, so hardly anyone builds up a visible sweat after only four minutes. And it’s a sport that naturally attracts young athletes because there’s an advantage to being small when propelling one’s own bodyweight. So of course, we tend to see young, graceful, pretty ladies in the sport.

Tonya Harding is a flawed, unlikeable character. In the movie she’s portrayed as disadvantaged yet sympathetic, hard-working yet undisciplined, enthusiastic yet temperamental. Tonya Harding in real life had an unconventional jumping technique that nobody uses today, yet less than 10 women in the history of the sport have landed her career-defining move, the triple Axel, in competition. And while her technique was strange and ungraceful, you can’t deny that her Axel had more power, height and distance than Mirai Nagasu’s 25 years later.

All of this compelling subject, and that’s before the infamous Kneecap Clubbing Incident.

I, Tonya is effective because it addresses the way both the mainstream press and the figure skating community treated athletes that were seen as anomalies. There was (and still is) classism present in a sport that judges “on presentation;” in fact, back in the 90s that was 50% of a skater’s score with no objective standards.

As a girl growing up, I depended on the role models I had in skating. Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi inspired me both with their talent and their off-ice character. And I hope that the next generation of skating fans find inspiring heroes in the skating athletes we see on TV and in straight-to-DVD specials.

Tonya Harding, as interesting as she is, is no role model. She’d be a terrible choice for a family film. But understanding her story amid the context of her sport and her generation challenges ideas that eight-year-old girls and boys haven’t developed yet. And now that I’m adult I think there are still stories to tell about figure skating on film that are complex and challenging.

Now if we could tell a story onscreen about a competent male figure skater without questioning his masculinity, I’d really be blown away.

 

 

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2018 in Blog

 

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Lessons I learned from monthly blogging

Here’s what’s most blogs look like:

Entry 1: “Hello world! Welcome to my new blog! I’m going to post daily/weekly/semi-regularly about any and all subjects.”

Entry 2, not long after entry 1: “Here’s my passionate and thoughtful blog post.”

Entry 3, several months later: “Sorry it’s been a while. I promise more posts are coming!”

End of blog archives.

I don’t have a blog on one particular subject or with one distinct voice. I don’t have much of an audience and don’t make much effort to expand. In fact, the only reason I started the blog was to compile all of my professional media entries, whether they were articles I had written or links to videos of me on TV.

I decided to change that in 2017. As you might already know, I love New Year’s resolutions. This year, I resolved to write at least one blog post per month, either here on this blog or over on Tour Bites.

This proved much harder than I anticipated. You’d think that a deadline of a month would be plenty, but it’s funny how we let our routine of work, friends, and other hobbies push our goals aside. Oftentimes, I’d let myself procrastinate until the end of the month to publish a blog post.

I also learned that letting myself write about anything made it harder to just write something. I’ve always had to narrow my focus to a specific audience or topic, so I allowed myself to explore any subject that interested me this year and chose whatever format I wanted. But not knowing what my point of view was in any one area made selecting a topic more difficult each month.

Still, there was plenty of benefit to blogging every month. I kept my writing skills fresh and determined what subjects did interest me. Most surprisingly, I learned just how much I had been trapped in my routine of life on tour — travel, perform shows, rest in bed on the days off, repeat.

Breaking up my habits means I picked a good resolution this year. Padding my blog archives didn’t hurt, either. But for 2018, maybe it’s time to start focusing on just a few topics to determine my points of view.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2017 in Blog

 

The Official Rules of Airplane Etiquette

Let’s start with this: airport travel brings out the worst in people. Put groups of strangers in unorganized lines, test their patience with flight delays and missing baggage, embarrass them with sometimes invasive security screenings, and deprive them of sleep, exercise, and proper nutrition, and people will be crankier and act more entitled than they would normally.

Navigating airports, customs, and baggage claims is stressful enough, so I like to treat my time on the actual airplane as a time to relax. This can be difficult when you’ve sacrificed your personal bubble to be elbow-to-elbow with strangers. Therefore, I’ve compiled the unwritten list of conduct for when our patience is stretched thin. Some of these rules are common sense, but for some rules I’ve taken the liberty of settling debates. Here are the newly official rules of airplane etiquette from a very frequent flyer.

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Because settling the debate of armrest entitlement makes air travel better.

DO:

  • Anticipate what you’ll need and keep it by your seat. Avoid climbing over the person in the aisle seat to keep selecting a different book or to get more snacks from the overhead compartment.
  • Come prepared. Bring entertainment for you and any young passengers you’re watching. And then bring more than you think you need. If you get motion sickness while reading the book you brought, pull out your headphones and listen to the podcasts you downloaded. If you’re not interested in the in-flight movie, start a knitting project. Nobody likes a Nosy Nancy who is trying to read your book over your shoulder because she can’t sleep. And while chatting with strangers may be your favorite way to pass the time, understand that not everybody is on the same sleep schedule as you and may be depending on this flight for 40 winks.
  • Stay in your own seat as best as you can. Don’t prop your feet on a nearby armrest. One time I was guilty of resting the pillow on the wall of a window seat, and when I nodded off the pillow would slide into the seat in front of me. I kept waking up to my own pillow flying over the seat into my face.
  • Let the person in the middle seat have both armrests. I don’t care how comfortable your second arm needs to be. If you’re not in the middle seat, you can lean into the window or into the aisle (within reason). The middle seat traveler has nothing but strangers leaning into him on both sides. Give him that one perk.
  • Plan your bathroom/leg-stretching breaks as best as you can. Obviously, you can’t help how your body behaves sometimes, especially with factors like nausea and unsettling airplane food. But if you can hold it, wait until all the meal trays have been collected so you’re not stuck behind the cart. That way, the person in the aisle seat isn’t waiting too long for you to come back. And only wake up the aisle seat traveler if you absolutely must go. (Personally, I’ve masted the art of Ninja Armrest Hopping, where I parkour across the armrests of sleeping travelers to land in the aisle without disturbing their naps.)

DON’T:

  • Bring stinky, hot food that everyone else has to smell onto the airplane. And if you ate some stinky food during your layover, it couldn’t hurt to bring a pack of gum or a toothbrush.
  • Hog the overhead space. Just one of your bags should be up there. If the flight is full, your winter coat can stay with your seat instead of taking valuable space away from baggage.
  • Accept your neighbor’s meal or drinks if they’re sleeping. It’s a kind gesture, especially for long flights with limited meal times, but there’s nowhere to store the tray if your neighbor wants to sleep. I made the unfortunate mistake of placing a dinner tray under my seat so I could go back to sleep only to wake up with ankles covered in mashed potatoes. Just let your neighbor know that the food came by already when he wakes up, and if he’s hungry, he can press the button to call for a flight attendant.
  • Take your shoes off. If your feet swell, loosen your shoelaces or invest in compression socks.
  • Tilt your seat back. Trust me, the increase in comfort for you is negligible, whereas the inconvenience for the person behind you increases noticeably. If you absolutely need that 110-degree angle, be mindful if the person behind you has a child or pet on their lap. Pop it back into its original position during meal times so the tray isn’t digging into that person’s ribs. And for the love of travel day gods, at least stay consistent. Don’t change your position every few minutes or bounce it around.
  • Exit before anyone seated in front of you. I don’t care if your connecting flight has already started boarding; you don’t know what everyone else’s flight itinerary is like. Don’t muscle your way to the front of the line. And if you know you need to fumble with an overhead bag, offer to let the person in the aisle next to you leave first.
 
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Posted by on November 29, 2017 in Blog

 

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Podcast Awards of 2017

You’re walking home alone when a cool October wind blows your hair around your face. The sun is setting earlier tonight, you notice, and you zip up your jacket as the evening autumn weather gives you goosebumps.

Or . . . is there something else giving you a chill?

You slow down, listening to the night air over the sound of your shoes scuffing pavement. Could there be more footsteps than just your own?

You can’t shake the feeling that something is following you.

Luckily, you can pop your headphones into your phone and dive into your new favorite podcast to brush away that Halloween-fueled paranoia. For all your nighttime promenade needs, I’ve selected the best podcasts of 2017.

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Downloading these podcasts to your phone will improve your commute, especially as the weather gets colder.

Biggest Pop Culture Phenomenon: Missing Richard Simmons

Other podcasts on this list have stronger critical reviews, but “Missing Richard Simmons” had the bigger impact on pop culture in 2017 — and the life of its subject. Dan Taberski, a filmmaker and self-proclaimed friend of the flamboyant fitness guru, describes Richard Simmons’s public and personal characters and investigates his disappearance. The podcast received criticism for invading Simmons’ privacy, but Taberski comes

across as a fan and friend who is baffled by an uncharacteristic reclusive behavior. How could a man so affectionate and intimately attached to his fans suddenly stop contacting his closest friends and family?

In response, Simmons called into The Today Show to deny allegations from the show in spring of this year. Yet the heartwarming response from concerned fans because of “Missing Richard Simmons” is worth listening to the whole podcast.

Download this! Episode 3: The Maid and the Masseuse

Best Educational: Stuff You Missed in History Class

Most other lists would give this award to “Stuff You Should Know,” another well-made podcast from HowStuffWorks.com. But “Stuff You Miss in History Class,” hosted by Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey, is more organized and easier to follow than its more famous sister podcast.

Download This! Mongolian Princess Khutulun

And while we’re on the subject of history . . .

Best Film History: You Must Remember This

Here’s the tagline for this storytelling podcast: “You Must Remember This is about the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” And true, there is plenty of salacious dirt about the icons from classical Hollywood cinema that their “fixers” wouldn’t want you to know. Yet “You Must Remember This” uses character profiles to illustrate what the zeitgeist in America was when those actors were at the height of their careers.

Every few months, the podcast’s show runner Karina Longworth introduces a new topic for a cycle. 2017’s included “Dead Blondes,” “Jean & Jane” (that would be Jean Seberg from Breathless and Jane Fonda), and “Bela & Boris” (Lugosi and Karloff of monster movie fame). The show portrays these actors as fascinating antiheroes, with thoughtful intentions, flaws, and personal values. But what makes “You Must Remember This” great is when it situates those icons within their historical context, like how the public responded to Barbarella-era Jane Fonda contrasted with Hanoi Jane. Come for the celebrity gossip; stay for the American history lessons.

Download this! Episode 99: Marilyn Monroe: The Persona (Dead Blondes Part 7)

Best TV Recap: A Cast of Kings — A Game of Thrones Podcast

Picking this entry is largely dependent on your taste in television. For example, my love for Dance Moms doesn’t make the recap podcasts about the show any good, but I still devour them. It’s also tricky finding quality podcasts about new television and not nostalgic reviews of shows that have long since been off the air.

What works about the two-person discussion format for “A Cast of Kings” is that David Chen admits he hasn’t read most of the books while his co-host Joanna Robinson is an expert in both the books and the TV series. This caters to the disparate factions of viewers for the show; Chen voices the questions that non-book-readers have and Robinson provides the literary context without spoiling potential plot points for future episodes. And best of all, they can balance having chemistry with each other without bantering off-topic too long.

Download this! A Cast of Kings S7E03 – The Queen’s Justice

Best Film/TV/Book/Music/Etc. Reviews: Pop Culture Happy Hour

“Pop Culture Happy Hour” has been producing episodes for years, but this NPR podcast still as fresh and insightful as its first year. “PCHH” features host Linda Holmes, who writes and edits NPR’s entertainment section; Stephen Thompson, an editor for NPR Music; Glen Weldon, an NPR writer who specializes in comic books and movies; and a rotating fourth chair, depending on the topic or the medium they’re reviewing.

If I were selecting this based on the thoughtfulness and clarity of their reviews, I would still give “PCHH” this category’s award. On top of that, though, they rotate their fourth chair to represent the topic’s intended audience and bring diversity to their discussions. Although in the past couple weeks they have changed their format to shorter biweekly episodes, their original format was gold. A review of film, album, or something else released that week filled the first 15-20 minutes, then a related B-topic about trends in popular culture really explored what we find important in our entertainment.

Download this! Baby Driver and When Auteurs meet Film Franchises

Best New Podcast: S-Town

Desperate to fill the hole left behind from “Serial,” I was happy to read that This American Life was producing a new true-story narrative. The first episode suggests that “S-Town” — which gets its name from the locals’ flippant term “s- – – town”— might follow the true-crime investigative format that “Serial” famously used with its first season. However, the narrative abruptly changes by the next episode. “S-Town” is a well-written fish-out-of-water story about a man with big ideas who blames the inclusivity of a rural town in the deep South for his misfortune. Host Brian Reed is sympathetic and observant with characters who would test anyone’s patience, and the result is a podcast that echoes our insecurities about purpose and a sense of belonging.

Download this! Chapter II

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2017 in Blog

 

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What I hope to see in Justice League

I remember when I saw the symbol for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice from the 2013 Comic Con, goosebumps rushed over my arms. My introduction into comic book heroes was through Batman: The Animated Series and later the animated Justice League series, so I’ve always had a preference for DC characters.

I had always craved a DC team-up movie, and after the Dawn of Justice announcement, I hoped that eventually a Justice League movie would follow.

With Justice League set for release later this year, a dream I’ve had for about 15 years is coming true. And while the DC cinematic universe has been hit-and-miss, I hope that the momentum from the successful Wonder Woman film earlier this year will carry into this project.

In addition to compelling character designs, fight choreography, and the introduction of some DC heroes to the silver screen, here’s what I hope to see in Justice League.

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From left: Cyborg, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and Aquaman. Not pictured: Superman, inevitably. 

Cyborg starts as a depressed ex-jock and evolves into a charismatic leader. Cyborg’s personality varies wildly between different media, so representing him faithfully in a film will be a challenge. Showing a complete evolution of his character within the film would pay homage to his multiple portrayals. The film could start just after he loses his sports scholarships and is desperate for his father’s approval, and by the end, he relaxes into a more confident hero. Maybe he can even sneak in a “boo-yah” for fanboys’ sake. And mine.

And while we’re on the subject, I hope that Cyborg’s sci-fi-inspired powers aren’t whittled down to “magic technology that is convenient to the plot.” My hope is that the film will be smarter than Felicity’s unbelievable skills on the show Arrow, where the philosophy goes, “Got a problem? There’s a technology hack for that. Just let me flutter my fingers across a keyboard.”

Barry Allen is basically Wally West. From the one-liners in the trailers, the film seems to be treating the Flash more like the younger, wisecracking Wally West iteration of the speedster than the more serious Barry Allen. Not only do I want comic relief in the film, I hope Barry will be the stand-in for the audience the way that Steven Trevor was in Wonder Woman: someone in awe by the might of the other superheroes but inspired to be the best that he can be because of them.

Aquaman is a warrior without having to conveniently relocate the battle to a dock, beach, or seafood restaurant. Aquaman’s reputation has suffered in popular culture thanks to the clean-cut and unimaginative portrayal he had in the cartoon Super Friends, in which he was only useful when located near water and his complex telepathic abilities were simplified to “talking to fish.” Since that was his last memorable representation, people unfamiliar with the character consider him only useful when he’s near water.

The initial photos for Justice League looks like Aquaman was inspired by the 90s comics by Peter David. With the long hair and the shirtless design, all that Aquaman is missing is the harpoon spearhead for an arm. With this ferocious design, I’m hoping that the film will acknowledge that Aquaman is still a tenacious warrior on land.

None of the main characters die. Let’s not beat around the bush; Superman will be alive in this film and will join the team. But *spoilers* there was no reason for him to die in Dawn of Justice in the first place. The stakes are always lowered when characters die and come back to life in some plot-convenient magical resurrection. If we need the dramatic payoff of a character death, write off a character because Aquaman lost faith in humanity and retreated back to his underwater kingdom, or because Cyborg couldn’t maintain the technological demands of high-impact battle on his body. The heroic death cliche is meaningless now.

I’m extending this to some other Wonder Woman characters that the studio has announced will be in this film. My hope is that these characters are present in the story via flashback and not through resurrection or a disingenuous fake-out death from the solo film.

The political allegory is genuine but respectful. Steppenwolf, from the planet Apokolips (the same home of the galactic tyrant Darkseid) unites the Amazonian, Atlantean and human races against him. I hope it’s a careful metaphor for the divisive political climate that has erupted over the past few years. It’s a topical subject that will resonate with audiences.

I also want to see references to domestic terrorism based on politics and xenophobia. I just hope that we can handle these topics without being heavy-handed. While I am invested in Zack Snyder’s original vision, I hope that with Joss Whedon leading the post-production, the script can handle contemporary issues with compassion and not shallow moments thrown in for the shock factor.

I don’t want to see literal recreations of some of the more painful moments of terrorism we’ve experienced or seen in the news in the past few years. But I also don’t want a convenient after-school special where the heroes learn that teamwork makes the dream work and they forget all of their prejudice in an hour. It’s a delicate balance, but if the film finds that line then the story will be impactful.

There is only one main villain who is mostly a metaphor. 

To avoid Wonder Woman spoilers, skip this next paragraph.

I already knew the twist in Wonder Woman before I saw the movie because I had read the cast list on IMDb. However, I still wasn’t bothered by the bait-and-switch. Ares was a metaphor for the horror of war on humanity. The fact that World War I was so much more expansive than one person, even a god, was a central theme for the film. When Diana learned that fighting the war was more complex than defeating Ares, the audience learned that fighting mankind’s inclination for war will be a more constant struggle for us than simply good-versus-evil. And that was especially powerful within a superhero genre film. The only reason why Ares appeared in god form at the film’s climax was because we needed to see Wonder Woman’s powers unleashed in a cinematic spectacle. That, and to see that defeating Ares didn’t prevent World War II or any other war that came after that.

The conflict in Wonder Woman was much more effective than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Finding a reason in Dawn of Justice for Batman and Superman to fight was an ambitious task, and I thought Snyder chose an interesting theory. Superman represented the Ubermensch, a man so powerful he could influence the world without opposition. Humanity’s best hope is that Superman’s morality is pure, or else face the consequences of his wrath or greed. I liked the echoes of “who watches the Watchmen?” Not only is it a reference to Snyder’s earlier film, but it was especially topical in a flood of superhero genre films and the dozen or so films currently slated for production between Marvel and Warner Bros. studios.

A comic book-inspired Lex Luthor would have been an effective counterpoint to that. Luthor as a politically and financially powerful figure with a corrupt morality would have been an interesting character against a physically powerful but morally conscious Superman.

Instead, we got a weird knockoff Joker for Lex Luthor. And then remnants of Zod from Man of Steel. And then, for absolutely no reason other than to have a fantastic fight scene with Batman, Superman, and an unnecessary Wonder Woman, the film threw in Doomsday (who looked more like Killer Croc).

The conflict was everywhere and I couldn’t tell you what the theme of film was by the end. So, I’m hoping the studio learned their lesson and made the antagonist in Justice League more philosophical than a mess of galactic, all-powerful allies who attack Earth with little motivations other than to give the Justice League a reason to join up. Yes, I want comic book Easter eggs. But I don’t want half-formed villains that the Justice League has to fight all at once in order to demonstrate the full force of their powers.

Is it too much to ask for a clean narrative, character development, and spectacular fight scenes?

If it is, I’ll still be buying movie tickets anyway. I’ve waited 15 years for this.

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2017 in Blog

 

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Death, not-death, and the rest: how a book changed my life 10 years ago

On this day 10 years ago, I had plans to visit a local amusement park with my sister and I was reluctant to go.

My hesitation wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the attractions at the Darien Lake park with my sister; it was because I didn’t want to hear any spoilers.

I averted my eyes from any walls in the park because I didn’t want to see any graffiti that might read “[SO-AND-SO] DIES AT THE END.” And my sister, a fellow Potterhead, helped maintain a conversation all day so I wouldn’t accidentally overhear a spoiler while waiting in line for the rides.

That’s because this was only a few hours after the final book of my favorite series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released, and we hadn’t had time to read it yet.

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The seventh and final Harry Potter book was released on July 21, 2007.

DOES HARRY POTTER DIE?

Harry Potter was the first franchise in my life for which I had developed fan theories. I turned over the number of possibilities for my fictional heroes’ fates, studied other fans’ ideas online, and discussed with my sister, friends, and even readers who hadn’t caught up yet what might happen. What are the other Horcruxes, and where would Harry find them? What are the “Deathly Hallows” and what is their significance? And, most pressingly, who will die?

There was no question that death would be a main theme in the last book of the series. Perhaps surprisingly for a children’s series, each book progressively explored death and how it affects the living. And with “death” blatantly featured in the title of the seventh book, readers knew that the Second Wizarding War would take the imaginary lives of our beloved characters. What we wondered was the number of deaths and who exactly would die — most pressingly, if Harry Potter would die.

The Harry Potter series is certainly a classic good-versus-evil archetype. I never questioned that the “good guys” would win. But we usually consider “death” as “losing.” In Deathly Hallows, accepting death as a natural part of life is a major theme. At 17 years old, I considered the strong possibility that Harry Potter — a hero, friend, and inspiration in my mind — might die. And I also knew that he could still triumph if he did.

In the time I waited for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I turned over what it would mean to me if Harry or my other favorite characters did die. When I finally read the book, I learned that there was a complimentary theme to accepting death: living a life with love, purpose, and courage means that death can’t be considered a defeat.

Since the 10 years that I finished the Harry Potter series for the first time, I have had to confront mortality in the real world. Friends, family, and celebrities I idolized have passed away. Nothing has been more beneficial in my grieving process than reflecting on the lessons I learned from the seventh Harry Potter book.

The author commented on her decision for Harry’s fate in a 2007 TV documentary called “J.K. Rowling — A Year in the Life.” (The next paragraph has a Hallows spoiler, if you are still waiting in line for your library’s copy.)

“It’s much harder to rebuild than to destroy,” Rowling says in the TV special. “In some ways, it would have been a neater ending to kill him, but I felt it would have been a betrayal because I wanted my hero … to do what I think is the most noble thing. So, he came back from war and he tried to build a better world.”

All these years later, Harry’s choices are still an inspiration for my goals in life. When I was younger, I was exactly like Hermione when we first meet her. I was a pretentious overachiever who wanted everyone to know how great a student I was because I was insecure. Back then, I thought my life would be defined by obvious achievements like graduation from a prestigious university or a high-paying job. By the end of the series, I wanted (and still want) to define my life by my friendships, my empathy, and my desire to make the world a better place.

I may not be in a position to save the world like Harry Potter, but I am in a position to befriend people from all walks of life, fight for the disenfranchised, broaden my perspectives, and step up when I have an opportunity to give back.

AFTER THE FINAL CHAPTER

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In the rush to stock bookstores, many copies contained printing errors. My copy of Deathly Hallows had fading text during the climactic confrontation.

Yes, these books have thrilling adventures and clean, logical rules in the otherwise chaotic world of magic. Of course, Rowling’s whimsical imagination paired with research into real-world mythology is incomparable. And conveniently for me, the increasing tonal maturity in each book matched the age I was when I read each of them.

Yet what affected me the most, especially with the last book, was that the rest of the world loved them.

In Deathly Hallows, the characters’ capacity to love helps vanquish evil. This could have easily been a romantic love story in which Harry alone fights for love; instead, dozens of heroes in the books choose compassion and forgiveness and are ultimately rewarded.

If these books sold as well as they did, that must mean they resonated with millions of other people in the same ways they resonated with me. And that must mean there are millions of other readers who are inspired to consider empathy and fight injustice.

So despite any social or political differences, there are often Potterheads hiding on both sides of a conflict. We’re all looking to be as understanding as Dumbledore or brave as Harry, even if we disagree on how to get there.

Maybe we’re just hoping a little magic will help.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2017 in Blog

 

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