Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Little Exposition While We Await Developments...

That is, I am going to talk about stuff that bugs me while I wait for the next load of art to roll in.

The piece above is the Capellan GuanDao Heavy Mobile Tactical Vehicle (HMTV). Done by Stephen Huda in such a short time I think the man actually reads minds.

He's hard-working, anyway.

Next time we'll have an after-battle action report! And some pictures!

Putting on My Andy Rooney

And now I’d like to take the time to address a few things that have been sticking in my head for a while. You might say they are sticking in my craw, but that would be as harsh as calling them rants, and they’re not really even that strong. No, these are just things I find a little disturbing, or odd, or objectionable.

Men In General Are Stupid and Married Men Are Infantile Idiots

Let’s start off on the right foot with the objectionable. I grew up in a family where Mom and Dad were there for my brothers and I nearly all the time. They’re still there; I suppose them being in Oregon while most of us boys are in Washington doesn’t really qualify as ‘being there’. But I know that if I call my Dad or Mom and ask for advice, the chances are pretty good I will get something sound from smart, wise people. Mom took care of us three boys for all our lives, and Dad? Dad put on Chief after seven years in the Navy, then went to college and became an officer – he retired as a Lt. Commander and I have always been impressed with his smarts, his education and his drive.

Now let’s step over to the land of radio advertising. I work in a small office, alongside people who are, for the most part, congenial and hard working. We all listen to the radio and the radio can be tuned to any of a dozen stations we get from inside the building. Some of the stations make you want to go get a rope and hang yourself after a while, so we really only have a few choices.

It doesn’t really matter because these stations all feature the same advertisers – Verizon, Chase Bank, Wells Fargo, Taco Time, American Express, Car Toys and so on. And these guys in turn seem to run a preponderance of commercials with two things in common. If the ad has a lead male who is single, more often than not he will act like a shallow frat boy: that is, doing stupid things at ridiculous expense for equally ridiculous reasons. If the ad has a lead male who is married, he will act like a complete idiot in front of his wife and kids. You can hear the children rolling their eyes, and wince as the wife sensibly takes charge, often at the expense of the fool she apparently married but does not respect.

Whenever I hear these ads, I cringe. Who are these ads aimed at? Women? I don’t know. Is this how they empower women these days? By painting Dad as an ignorant chump who is good for a paycheck and an occasional babysit? By portraying young men as airheaded testosterone-charged animals? If the radio advertiser ever reversed the roles of male and female and broadcast that, people would be up in arms.

My son says he’s seen this consistently in cartoons, especially the Simpsons, and it’s even to be found over at TV Tropes. So I know it’s not just Steve getting old and cranky. What a hell of a message to send to young boys and girls. Boys, because this is who they are supposed to follow and pattern on, and girls because their relationship with their father is where they learn to trust men.

Since when did men in general and fathers in particular earn that kind of treatment from the ad agencies?

Martin Luther once compared the human race to a drunk riding a horse – once he has fallen off the left side, he takes such exaggerated caution not to do so again that he ends up falling off the right side. I think that is where we are now with respect to portraying the sexes in advertising. ‘Father Knows Best’ was once a wry quip, making the point that no one is really always right while gently reminding us that in a family someone has to have the deciding vote. Now it appears ‘Father Is Never Right’ to the point of scorn.

The Same Old Songs

Next up is a little tidbit, a mere nothing on the scale of things, but something which is a bit objectionable. Have you noticed that many of the radio stations today play music from thirty to forty years back? When I was a boy back in the late seventies, I would grind my teeth as I was forced to listen to Jay and the Americans alongside Paul Anka, Englebert Humperdink and other gems from the Lawrence Welk era. That is, the late fifties to early sixties. But that was only reaching back twenty years at most. You almost never heard the big bands, although their tunes still lingered on in various formats (mostly muzak).

Now we are forced – and I use this word deliberately – to listen to music from our own youth over and over and over. I used to like Boston and AC/DC and Rush and Led Zeppelin. Now I find myself grinding my teeth all over again. I have heard these songs for forty years, for pity’s sake. How about something new? But the stations – there are several in our area – cannot seem to get past playing Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band at least twice a day.

I realize Coheed and Cambria, Linkin Park, Muse, Stone Temple Pilots, Sean Kingston and Justin Beiber are not to everyone’s taste. But music exclusively from the 1970s and 1980s top forty lists? Is that really all people of my age listen to anymore? It’s like a cross between a clown car and a treadmill. I’m getting sick of hearing the ‘oldies’, not because they’re old or because they’re bad, but because that’s all the sonsofbitches ever seem to play.

Kids Don’t Build Stuff Anymore

Here is another piece I file in the ‘disturbing’ pile. Disturbing to me personally, that is. Some of you folks probably noticed that games in general, and games involving pencils and paper in particular, are on a downward slide - if indeed they have not already begun circling the drain.

These are not the only things in decline among our nascent youth.

Take plastic models, for example. When I was young, that was what you got for Christmas if you were a good kid (and sometimes even if you were not). That and cool toys like Johnny Astro. But my generation was the last to really get into them. The generation after mine? Born in 1980, they grew up to Commodore 64s, Nintendo 8-bit machines and a gradual decline in ‘do-it-yourself’ as technology steadily became more and more disposable. By the time the generation after mine – call them Generation Y – reached their teen years, the Motorola Star-Tac was the cool phone to have (it was the Razor of its time, or for you youngsters, the I-Pad).

But by that time (1993), all the Commodore magazines had vanished from the shelf. No one wanted the bother of programming their own computer, and as computers steadily increased in power and complexity, this became impossible. Gone too were 90% of the Electronics Now-style magazines dealing with hobby electronics – you know, where you took some parts and actually built shit.

Then came the Internet.

And where were those beloved plastic models? Increasingly, they were expensive limited runs appealing to narrow-interest groups. Those that weren’t, were shopped to – well, guys my age in their mid-30s. And the average age is climbing. I recently asked a hobby shop owner in our area – the only such shop on the Kitsap Peninsula – exactly who bought those models he had in such quantity. He replied “mostly guys in their 40s and 50s”.

It goes on. Control line flying is something you have to explain to kids now, because all they have ever known is radio control. Built-up wood kits for radio control airplanes have to be explained as well, because all the youngsters have ever known is ARF (almost ready to fly) planes, cars and boats. No one seems to see the building part as challenging or even a possible source of pleasure. My own son readily talks of the skills he has acquired in playing Halo Reach, or Modern Warfare 2. None of them appear to be related to building anything but a character on a TV screen.

Ask one of them to sit at a table and actually put a kit of a P-38 together. Or an F-14. Good luck with that! No one in my son’s demographic seems to have the patience for such things anymore – as if patience were the key, as if building the darned thing were a chore to be gotten over as quickly as possible. The models don’t even spark an interest in the real thing. There’s no desire to know what it was like to fight in one or anything else related to these machines or even the era when they were the pinnacle of technology.

Painting miniatures is another part of the hobby whose fans are getting old. Fantasy miniatures come pre-painted and so do miniatures for other games such as the discontinued Mechwarrior click-tech game. Painting your own would seem to be a big waste of time when the pleasures of building and shaping something yourself has been edited out of our culture. It didn’t sell enough stuff, so it had to go.

If our youth are not willing to take an interest in history – that is, the things that happened before their time - and their need for gratification as consumers is so strong they just can’t wait, who the hell among them is going to take up something as boring as writing? Or master the skills needed to illustrate a book? Or organize people who can do these things?

I do this TRO because I like the challenge of putting it together, manufacturing the parts from raw words and buying other parts from artists who have the talents I do not. Make no mistake, it is work. But it is also like a model, one whose components sometimes exist only as an outline on paper. I have as much fun researching the fictional universe in which BattleTech resides as I do adding to that fictional universe. I like shaping the parts, sanding here and tweaking there, until I have something which, like my control line airplane, will eventually fly.

When our youth are done with their games, when World of Warcraft and the texting phones and the abyss that is the Internet and social networking sites have become their past, what will they pass on to their kids? Who will build? Create? Invent? Someone tell me, please. I honestly don’t know.

Something Odd…

And now that I have had my monthly whine session, here is a tidbit I have had occasion to think on recently. Everyone will have heard by now of the retired Air Force personnel who have finally decided to come out with what they heard and saw thirty years ago regarding UFOs.

Or maybe not. I notice with some alarm that the whole thing appears to have been swept under the carpet by most of the media outlets. Interesting. You would think this would have a major impact, but it seems to be quietly slipping away.

Now I don’t know if there are aliens out there or not. I don’t know if they are paying mind to us or not. Many incidents since the exploding of the first atomic bomb have been reported. Many have been plausibly explained away as mundane events – but not all. The Valentich incident is one that sticks in my mind. Other events which have not been explained away share something in common with what happened over the Bass Straits – the observed vehicles, if that is what they are, do not appear to be bound by the laws of physics as we understand them.

What strikes me most though is the attitude of those commenting on this ‘coming out’ of otherwise-sober minded individuals. They portray them as curiously suffering from mass delusion, or hungry for attention, or victims of conspiracy theory, or any number of things. The blogosphere is rife with folks who go the other route, attacking the very idea that we should be significant enough for an alien culture’s attention.

The weird thing is that lots of these critics hold two apparently incompatible ideas up at the same time and don’t notice the forced dilemma. The first is that the aliens are so advanced and - well, alien - that they could not possibly hold an interest in primitives like us. Fair enough. The second is that they are after all just like us, right down to littering, for example, and if they were to come around, it would be with sirens going and an entrance that would put Hollywood to shame. Since we haven’t seen that, they must not exist. Fine. But which is it going to be? Are they aloof aliens that are morally and technologically superior or are they interstellar frat boys on a tear?

I think these retired Air Force people are telling the truth as best they know. What they say, stripped of the out-of-context quotes and silly buzzwords, jibes with what I have read in other publications – and not the UFO websites, either. It has a feel to it that, despite the spokesman’s personal opinion that ‘aliens are concerned with our nuclear arsenal’, rings true. Maybe they are looking in on us from time to time. Or testing our defenses. Or just warning us.

CS Lewis once wrote that if a star-faring culture that had broken the bonds of the speed of light ever encountered us, they would have to kill us or put us in quarantine. We have been broadcasting our intentions for the past eighty years, after all. And our intentions are not very good. If we ever broke the bonds of physics as it is now understood, we would still be doing wretched things to each other and anyone else we could find out there. Maybe those aliens know it. If Lewis was right, and we’re still here to talk about it, maybe we ARE in quarantine. And isn’t this what quarantine would look like?

BattleTech's Inner Sphere put in its place

In BattleTech men travel between the stars all the time. There are no aliens, but men have still not found a way to live in peace with other men for very long. I once wrote a BattleTech story based on this idea, a piece titled ‘Orbit’. Think what you will of the writing, but it took first place in a writing contest. The stories that followed were not nearly so well received, though I believe their writing was at least as good.

And that got me to thinking of other things which follow a similar pattern; namely, movies which were wildly popular when they came out. And when sequels made by the same producers and directors followed these films, the follow-ups were not nearly so successful. They lacked something the original had. In at least three examples, I like to think of that ‘something’ as a bit of the Truth.

Not a truth we see published in science periodicals, but something the audience almost instinctively recognizes, something that resonates through the movie. Something that is utterly lacking in the rest that follow, almost as if the scriptwriters themselves do not realize the quality of that ‘something’ they captured in the first film.

The examples? ‘The Sixth Sense’, ‘Men In Black’ and ‘The Matrix’.

I will not babble on at length as to what I thought was the particular Truth found in each of these movies, but they follow a pattern: something in them reflects the world as it really is, not as we might like it to be.

As for the alleged cover-up by the government of incidents related to mysterious flying objects? I think Tommy Lee Jones’ character said it best in the movie ‘Men In Black’. Will Smith’s character, ‘J’, has just shot at a tow truck that is towing away a van containing the Bug’s flying saucer. He successfully detaches the van, but does a lot of damage with his ‘Noisy Cricket’ in the process. ‘J’ is brought up short by his partner, ‘K’, played by Tommy Lee Jones….

‘K’: We do not discharge our weapons in view of the public!

‘J’: Man, we ain't got time for this cover-up bullshit! I don't know whether or not you've forgotten, but there's an Arquillian Battle Cruiser that's about to...

‘K’: There's always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet. The only way these people can get on with their happy lives is that they do... not... know about it!

Personally? I’m not particular about the neuralizers, but I think this quote explains a lot.

Last But Certainly Not Least

Most of you reading this blog are adults. That said, is anyone out there getting sick of our culture of entitlement? You know, the one where everyone ‘deserves’ a home of their own, ‘deserves’ a high paying job, ‘deserves’ a nicer car and has a ‘right’ to health care?

When I was in the Navy, every few years they would send us off to a class called ‘NR&R’ or Navy Rights and Responsibilities. One of the things they taught was the difference between ‘rights’ and ‘privileges’. Rights were based on you being who you were – a sailor and a human being. Privileges were based on what you did and whether you’d earned them.

The interesting thing is that nowadays, a lot of folks I meet and some I am forced to listen to, speak almost exclusively in terms of ‘deserves’ and ‘rights’ when they are referring to things which are (or were) normally earned. For example, I have a right to equal opportunity for a college education. That does not mean I can afford it, or that I will ever be able to afford it. But if I can get up the money with hard work – that is, earn it – and achieve good grades in high school – again, by earning them - I should have the same chance to get into a college of my choice. It is a right of every American citizen.

What is the problem? Well, when you say someone ‘deserves’ something, you mean they should have it regardless of what kind of person they are or what they have done – or failed to do. Just being alive is enough. To argue that a person does not ‘deserve’ something, be it citizenship or free health care, is no longer a statement about their immigrant or financial status but rather an opinion you hold about them as a human being. You quickly get labeled ‘racist’, ‘homophobe’, ‘elitist’ or just a very mean person who hates people because they are poor. In other words, you are no longer working one end of an argument based on reason, facts and figures. Your position is now entirely based on ‘feelings’. Which of course, you can’t control.

Anyone can dismiss you after that, because we all know that irrational people can’t help saying those things. They are to be ignored as you would someone who argued against giving free puppies to everyone because he happens to have an abiding hatred for dogs.

We are at the point where radio announcers state that everyone ‘deserves’ a parking space downtown, or an education, or medical treatment. They don’t mean it in the sense that everyone should have equal access to those things, but rather that ‘access’ now consists of these things being granted for free, at little or no cost to the beneficiary. After all, they ‘deserve’ it. And they don’t have it. So we the rest of the people should be doing everything we can to give it to them.

Who pays for it? The rest of us. If we disagree with these sentiments, the response is to make what used to be a matter of personal choice into the law of the land. We should be happy to contribute at gunpoint; if we are not properly grateful, we ‘deserve’ the punishment of a higher tax rate. Either way, we pay.

Here is a free bit of advice. If you ever happen to hear someone using the phrase ‘you deserve…’ applied to anything concerning you personally – or if you ever hear the words ‘this is for your own good’…. grab your wallet and head for the nearest exit.

See you in about five days.



Doug said...

...ah you are getting old... you are not turning conspiratorial on us are you?

Here is a quiz:

Where was the moon landing filmed?
Is Elvis alive?
Was 9/11 an inside job?

Ah, now the last part we can agree on...

Wait, there was a "When I was in the Navy"!

I went to college to get my BBA and MS to get a good job. Funny how that works... And I pay for my Cobalt, not a fancy car (I didn't want a $400 car payment [my last debt to pay off]), but I am paying for it myself.

Steven Satak said...

No, I'm not becoming a conspiracy theorist, or not yet.

1)On the moon. I actually met some astronauts back in the late 1990s.

2) No

3) Not proven to me, at least. And if it were, it would imply coordination and influence on a level so far above me, it would not profit me to say anything.

Yes, of course. I refer to my active duty Navy career when making a point. And only then. That part of my life is over.

Lurker said...

Been lurking your site for a while. Great site, and that's a rocking APC up there!

Interesting Martin Luther quote; I think he's got it generally right there. The trope isn't confined to advertisements: I don't know about you but I taste elements of the same in recent pop culture such as Glee, Twilight, Justin Bieber, rap in general and Eminem in particular. When a pining, whining sparkly vampire is held up as the ideal male... I worry for my generation.

Kids don't build stuff any more because it's expensive and technology has outstripped it. I'd love to be into modelling but I don't have the capital to absorb expensive beginners' mistakes. Past: I assembled models of the Titanic, USS America and USS Ticonderoga, and both were costly and I made a lot of beginners' mistakes (the America especially). Present: I mess with Photoshop and it costs me next to nothing. Guess what the creative kids go for.

This will sound lame and rehashed, but go to a developing country and you'll return feeling thankful for everything your system gives you free. Where I live a common response to a complaint that 'I deserve such-and-such!' is "Oh yeah? Maybe if you were born an American, but you weren't." Americans. You need another Great Depression to put peoples heads into perspective.