Well it’s Christmas again and what does that mean? It means it’s a time of stress (some fun), greed (some generosity), and food (some gluttony.) It also means it is the time of year for the eternal debate. A debate that has raged for nearly thirty years and still can stop a conversation cold whenever it comes up.
But fear not, I have the solution supported by incontrovertible evidence and will finally put this debate to bed forever.
What topic could be so important and cause so much consternation in the supposed season of joy? There is of course only one topic it could be:
Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
I have the answer. It is without a doubt “YES IT IS A CHRISTMAS MOVIE.” And here’s why:
Christmas is INTEGRAL to the plot: Unlike other less-debated films (such as Lethal Weapon) which take place around Christmas time but the season isn’t integral to the plot, the fact that it is Christmas in Die Hard is the reason behind all of the events of the film. This theory is proven as the answer to a single question: WHY was John McClane in Los Angeles to begin with? He wasn’t there to win his estranged wife back. He wasn’t there just to visit his kids, not even to visit them on the holidays. No he specifically states he was “invited to the [Nakatomi] Christmas party by mistake.” So not only is he there to celebrate the holidays with his family he’s specifically at Nakatomi Plaza because he was invited to the office Christmas party. Simple as that. No Christmas. No John McClane there for the heist. If he’s not there there’s no story. Some might argue that this doesn’t make it specifically a Christmas movie and that this is more just set up. I’d respond that the same could be true for my favorite Christmas movie of all time, A Lion in Winter. Henry II lets Eleanor out for Christmas. Some gifts are seen, some food is eaten, but it’s more about the interactions and machinations of the characters. But it is undoubtedly a Christmas movie. And so is Die Hard.
Music: Love it or hate it Christmas music is iconic and has a very specific sound and feel. From bells to choruses, Christmas music makes for a holiday atmosphere. And Die Hard is loaded with Christmas musical queues. What’s the first song you hear? Run DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis” (Argyle wasn’t bullshitting, it IS Christmas music.) Even outside of the licensed music, the score is often accompanied by holiday bells, often used either ironically or to demonstrate how the holiday has influenced the events. One fine example is the musical queue when it is revealed McClane has taped his gun to his back using Christmas themed wrapping tape. Even the last musical queue is Christmas music. “Let it Snow” plays while millions of dollars of negotiable bearer bonds and office paper drift down from the ruined façade of the plaza.
Themes: Imagery and commentary is all about the holidays. This is muted somewhat by the fact that the film takes place in Los Angeles. So there’s no snow or wintry scenes. Since the action is set within the confines of the building. But there are Christmas trees, presents, and decorations. Even the characters acknowledge the connection (such as Holly’s rebuke of Ellis’ advances, as she reminds him it is Christmas Eve). Or when Hans Gruber tells techie terrorist Theo not to worry because “it’s Christmas… It’s a time for miracles.” Even more obvious is McLane’s use of the holiday tape mentioned above, and, perhaps one of the most famous sequences of the film, when he “decorates” a dead “terrorist” with a Santa hat and the iconic phrase (scrawled in seasonally appropriate red writing) “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.” You couldn’t have these memorable scenes or references in a movie set any other time of year and they make Die Hard the movie it as much as Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman do.
So there you have it. Case closed. Die Hard IS a Christmas movie and one of my favorite Christmas movies. I say that without the least bit of generational snark or anti-establishment sentiment. Christmas movies are always more than about buying presents, getting home for the holidays, or dealing with family. Home Alone is a Christmas movie, but it climaxes as a film about a couple burglars who get hurt by a kid while they try to break in. The Ref is a Christmas movie about a thief hiding out with a dysfunctional family while he’s on the run. While you were Sleeping? Christmas movie sure, but it’s more about a woman faking her way into a family (at first…). Hell even It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas movie about the impact one individual can have on the community. So every great Christmas movie is about something other than JUST the holidays.
Just like Die Hard…which is not just DEFINITELY a Christmas movie, but one of the best Christmas movies around!
Let’s face it…2016 has been a diaper fire of a year. In the face of rampant bigotry, violence, and the worst of the world receiving all the attention and rewards, I thought it would be best to share my superlatives; my favorites of the year 2016. These are of course my favorites, and even though I’m definitely RIGHT, feel free to disagree.
Best Movie: Captain America Civil War
I have to admit I was suffering severe super-hero fatigue going into this movie. I’d had my fill of comic book movies and nerd culture and this just seemed to be another on to add on the pile. Then I saw it and realized, whether you love this trend or not, you have to admire the skill with which the MCU’s leadership is weaving its overall narrative. From call backs to films not even believed to be canon until now to payoffs set up four years ago, the movie is a masterpiece of culmination storytelling. It is a wonderfully directed and intensely personal story told with drama, humor, and action in almost equal parts. While I think Winter Soldier is probably a better made film…I can’t deny I may enjoy Civil War on a pure watchability level more.
Best TV Show: Stranger Things
I’ve resisted most “made for Netflix” series because they truly don’t appeal to me, but a horror-sc-fi-fantasy story set in the 80s? Yeah I’ll check that out. Stranger Things reminds me a lot of my favorite British TV shows, Spaced and The Office. They are short, sharp, stories with absolutely zero fluff and cut down to just the best of the narrative. At only eight episodes it tells is rather complex story in a simple way and absolutely draws you in. By far the best “TV show” of the year and one I’ve revisited several times since my first viewing.
Best Album: Level 7 – Miracle of Sound
I’ve got a whole post on Gavin “Miracle of Sound” Dunn coming but his music is kind of the soundtrack to my 2016. I purchased all of his albums from BandCamp after listening to his YouTube channel and I couldn’t be more impressed with his range and, more importantly, the passion he has for what he does. 2016 was a tough year creatively, and Dunn’s experiences in the year are no exception as vocal negative fans seemed to be the voices shouting the loudest. Level 7 might be my favorite album he’s done and the “controversial” Fires Fade one of my new favorite MoS songs. It’ll definitely bring some good music to the end of what was kind of a lousy year.
Best Video Game: Doom
Where did this come from? After years of grey-brown “realistic” shooters id software treated us with a return to classic form in Doom. I love everything about this game. From its classic-style shooting (no reloading!) to its marvelous silent protagonist I can see myself wasting hours of time in this game the way I used to waste hours of time in the classic Doom 2. Whenever I have just time to kill (it does happen sometimes…) I definitely don’t mind punching demons’ appendages off for a while.
Best Time Waster: YouTube Creators
I’ve been a YouTube fan for a while, but this year I found myself turning to it more and more instead of “traditional” media. From classic favorites like Homestarrunner and AVGN, to Jim Sterling, Angry Joe, RedLetterMedia, and the Nostalgia Critic I found more entertainment having YouTube creators as the background of my day-to-day life than anything else. Got some drawing to do? Let’s put on a Co-Optitude marathon! Sitting down for some reading? Cinemassacre’s last full Monster Madness ever is going on! It shows the best of egalitarian art, anyone with ability and creativity can become a popular public persona, the established organized structures be damned! The quality content available on YouTube now is remarkable.
Most Surprising Entertainment: The Spin-Off Doctors Podcast
I’m a huge Jim Sterling fan and love his Podquisition podcast. Despite this I’d never listened to his second podcast, the Spin-Off Doctors (aka “The Movie Boys…”) before about a month ago. I listened to the Warcraft episode and was hooked. I’ve listened to every one of them since then and they accompany me everywhere, work, the car, the gym, everywhere. If you haven’t listened to Jim Sterling and Conrad Zimmerman analyze the various entertainment enterprises that spin-off from popular video game franchises you’re missing out. Their Pixels episode alone is epic!
Best Personal Growth Discovery: Bodybuilding.com
I was introduced to Bodybuilding.com’s programs this year and they have reinvigorated my desire to exercise. Admittedly after years of boxing, running, or BeachBody programs I was a bit burned out. These have been a great find and having excellent company and having a blast while working out has been extra motivation! I recommend Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Size or Kris Gethin’s Muscle-Building Trainer. Intense programs that really get results!
Best Cultural Event: Guns N’ Roses – Not in this Lifetime Tour
Much like Doom this kind of came out of nowhere. From rumors that started last year a full blown tour no one thought the original line up of Guns N Roses would ever reunite for even one show let alone a multi-continent, months-long tour. Their show in Nashville was terrific and, despite my personal predictions of implosion, their tour in South America is still going strong with a Japan tour forthcoming. It was a childhood dream to see my favorite band live and, while I saw Axl with the new GnR a few years ago, seeing most of the original group together at the absolute top of their game this year blew my mind. By far the event of the year!
That’s my positive year-end review. I may do a negative one as well…but a list of all the things that pissed me off this year may never end. It may prove cathartic though so we’ll see how I feel in the coming weeks!
So it’s the week of Thanksgiving and, like the rest of the country, except for enjoying a couple days off, I’ve chosen to kind of ignore it as a topic and just do my own thing!
As someone with a wide breadth of interests I find it fascinating how many super popular trends never catch on with me. I tend to become obsessed with anything that even slightly grabs my attention long enough for it to become a “hobby” (of which I have far too many), but often the biggest or most prevalent of trends, or at least the ones everyone I know seems to be in to for extended periods of time, always turn out to be anti-interesting to me. So in lieu of being thankful in a post, I thought I’d share a few of the most popular trends I can think of that I simply just don’t get… If you like any of these things no strike against you! Like Jim Sterling always says, I wish I could too because being able to enjoy more things would only improve life. But here’s this year’s list:
Pokemon: This one has been around forever and from day dot I never understood the appeal. Gathering Tamagotchi, training them, then battling them is something that just makes me scratch my head as to why it’s popular. Plus it all seems like rock-paper-scissors while you try to increase numbers so your numbers are better than your opponent’s numbers. It’s also so nakedly commercial even as mercenary as I am I can’t see past it… Definitely not for me.
Game of Thrones: My sister bade me watch this show when it was early in its second season. I watched the first four episodes of season one and gave up on it. R rated fantasy soap opera designed to shock you in the same way The Walking Dead did with the “no one is safe” philosophy. I’m not actually shocked by anyone who died because I don’t care about any of them.
Internet Overreaction: Wow has this gotten out of control. Every rumor, every bit of news, every story snippet is met with a wall of people who bitch endlessly. Now I’m firmly in the Anti-Ghostbusters remake camp, but the internet reaction was ludicrous. Pro people acting like a movie represented an entire social movement; anti people acting like a film was destroying all pop history. In the end it’s just a mediocre comedy. Any time Games Workshop brings out news it’s declared “the worst thing ever.” Film casting is the end of the world. The internet is like a herd of retarded gazelles; they panic at the slightest alarm but all run staggering in chaotic directions.
Dubstep: This one has faded into the general EDM noise, but it all still sounds like Sega Genesis music to me. This kind of music just makes me think I need to gain a few extra lives in Streets of Rage.
Anime: For a period of three or four years I was all about anime. I watched tons of it and then…well I’d kind of seen enough. I still love a few, Rurouni Kenshin, Full Metal Panic, You’re Under Arrest, Love Hina… But so much of it is so…well poorly written while at the same time being so self-indulgently proud of itself I kind of lost all interest in it. And the way it has worked itself into all kinds of art and media has turned so many creative ideas into a gray hegemony of anime style. And wow can these writers really not end a story to save their lives…
Beards: I honestly don’t know why this has become the guy fashion trend of the 2010s or who started it. It’s almost like all guys who think it’s too “girly” to spend a lot of time on their hair decided they would grow beards instead and spending time working on their beards would be more “manly.” Then most of them spend a lot of time on their hair too. An entire cottage industry of shaving paraphernalia has sprung up around it. It’s like any fashion trend it’ll pass eventually but it is still essentially just doing your hair guys…
Online Multiplayer: We all have been online at some point and watched people interact. It is, with possible exception of sitting in traffic, the worst of humanity on display for all to see. So why not put a competitive element in it as well? MMORPGs, First Person Shooters, the new MOBAs that are taking over. I can’t imagine a more aggravating way to spend hours of my life than dealing with virtual people behaving anonymously for competition.
Beverage Obsession: This has gone on a long time…but with the prevalence of hispters in the world it’s only gotten worse. Designer coffees, craft beers (I hate that term), wine culture, I’ll never understand spending ungodly amounts of money on things to drink; it just seems so unusual. I mean there are so many books and Warhammer models to buy, am I right?
Ninten-culture: For some reason Mario and the Legend of Zelda get a world’s free pass as cultural icons. When I was at DragonCon you couldn’t move through the vendor hall without face-planting into some kind of Mario or LoZ I know a lot of it is my generation grew up with it and now we buy products that remind us of our youths…but retro gaming, and hell even Nintendo, was a lot more than two franchises. No love for Double Dragon, or Dragon Warrior (Quest)? Where is all the Atari or classic arcade based merchandise (not counting YOU Pixels…)? Sure love the two retro-giant franchises but not at the expense of the rest.
Device Fixation: Did you get the new iPhone? Or see it? Or bitch about what features it has/doesn’t have? Yeah I didn’t. I’ve been asked several times “what phone do you have?” and/or “When will you get the new one?” My response usually is “A Samsung Galaxy something” and “Whenever this one breaks…” The amount of time people spend staring at little screens is also astounding. They’re great tools. I use mine for social media (I take lots of cat pictures), communication, and workout regimens, but to see the number of people with two headphones in everywhere (even in their cars which I’m pretty sure is illegal) or see how many people are constantly staring down at whatever is on their handheld glowing screen at the moment remains a culture shock. Karl Pilkington said it best, it’s not about people wanting more information or music than ever before, it’s all about having the accessory. Sing-it Pilkie01.
So that’s my gripe list for the year. Yeah some of these are probably repeats but it just goes to show how long a lot of these trends have been lingering. It’ll be interesting to see if any of these finally die off in the new year…or how many will appear on next year’s list!
I’ve mentioned in a previous post that seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street at 6 years old cured me of fear. I simply don’t scare now. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love a good scary movie or haunted house attraction.
I’ve been to a fair few haunted houses and, while there weren’t any I didn’t enjoy, the elements that each got right still stick in my head. I thought I’d share what I think are the best elements of haunted house attractions and what can be improved.
Atmosphere: The best element of the most effective haunted houses is the atmosphere. Nothing takes me out of a good horror experience than something that doesn’t fit. A lot of haunted houses either have a theme or have various themes; so you either go to a “haunted factory” or go to a big building that has sections, each with its own theme. Either can work as long as they stay artistically cohesive. Your spooky clowns shouldn’t be wandering around your industrial buildings and you’re the Ring inspired escaped mental patients shouldn’t lurk in the Frankenstein castle set. Likewise the best haunted houses make excellent use of props and setting. Sometimes the best part of the experience is seeing the environments they’ve put together. I’ve seen great cemeteries, houses, and even car wrecks in good haunted houses. When these elements combine it creates a memorable event.
Characters: I’m not referring here to just famous horror characters, though that can be an element. This refers more making the best use of your performers. Don’t overdo it on lurching zombies and chainsaw guys. We’ve all seen the guy without a chain on the chainsaw coming after us, so how do you make it different? One of the best I’ve seen is a “stalker” where the “same” chainsaw character (likely played by different people but all similar and representing the same character) randomly reappeared throughout the maze, sometimes in front of us blocking out path, sometimes breaking through walls, sometimes behind us. It was like being hunted by Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. He could be anywhere, it kept us on our toes and we never knew where he would come from. Also see above concerning where your characters fit. Your Freddy Kreuger really should be in the right place, so should your Michael Meyers. Understanding the best use of each character you have really goes a long way…
Lighting: Ok this is an important one. Don’t make the entire place one color, one brightness, and one mood of lighting. Going from bright areas to super dark areas is unsettling. Or having a well-lit hallway with sharply dark alcoves or ending in a pitch black tunnel build suspense. See what effective lighting techniques are used in movies and even great horror games. When everything is the same level of dark your eyes adjust and the spookiness loses its effect the longer your there. Also the more realistic the lighting is for the place your in (having a school hallway lit like a school hallway) is far more immersive. And here’s a big one… Strobe lights people. Ok strobe lights can be very scary. One of the scariest images I’ve witnessed was a horror trailers in Las Vegas as a kid. The strobe was perfect. Just choosing the epileptic seizure setting doesn’t usually work. Having it set to flash slowly, so characters seem to disappear and appear close to you like a movie missing frames is the best use of strobes. There’s a reason this imagery became so prevalent in films!
Choreography: This ties closely with characters but it is just as much about the design of the rooms and events. Mediocre haunted houses have people in makeup standing in corners jumping out saying “boo!” from each dark corner as you pass by. They aren’t so much scary as pestering. Arranging performers for maximum effectiveness is something to really consider. Some great positioning recommendations: having a narrow grate bridge in a long cylindrical room with a single character blocking the way; going through a ceiling so low you have to crouch and finding characters meandering in front of you and turn to find more stalking up behind you, being surrounded is deeply unsettling; my friend Mike saw a child performer portraying a cut-in-half adult dragging himself toward the guests, no matter what that’s creepy! Remember there’s more to scaring than jump scares. Use the entire range of fear (claustrophobia, the unknown, tension, sound) to make a memorable series of set pieces.
Creativity: I can’t stress this one enough. Don’t just set up free-standing drywall, throw some farm tools on it, and have people in Goodwill clothes jump out. What is unique about your location? One of the best I attended was in a cave; another was in an abandoned school. Do you have any specialist performers who can do interesting things? Is there something prevalent in horror pop culture right now? What are the trends in horror movies and horror culture? Can you put your own creative spin on them or even do something completely different to set yourself apart from the pack. If everyone is doing zombies…maybe more zombies aren’t such a good idea.
I love haunted houses and a great attraction will be something guests will remember for years. The more quality haunted houses there are the better a Halloween season it is!
Over the last decade or so the portrayal of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders in entertainment and media has ranged from being charming quirks to near superpowers. While the exposure OCDs have received has been beneficial, I’ve never seen a depiction that comes anywhere close to how my personal OCDs affect my everyday life.
Now, everyone is different and manifestations of OCDs are extremely varied, so I can only share my experiences living from day-to-day with a brain that often times won’t turn off, or won’t let go.
What Aren’t My OCDs
The first thing people think of when discussing OCDs is germaphobia, cleanliness, and uniformity. Mostly because that’s what they see on TV. For my own purposes none of those are a part of my OCDs.
I don’t obsess over getting sick or washing my hands (though this is one of my dad’s manifestations). I do like to maintain a certain level of neatness, and I do prefer to have things like movies, books, etc in a certain order. The difference is, in my case, I’m not compelled to do these things and I don’t obsess when they aren’t done that way. I prefer to have my place be neat and orderly, but admittedly, by the end of a week I may have clothes in the floor or dishes in the sink. I always keep my movies in alphabetical order, but if I find one out of place I never go through and make sure they are all correct, or am even compelled to fix it. Sometimes I’ll just “fix it when I feel like it.” I like having items symmetrical and at right angles. If that doesn’t work or look good though I go for what’s aesthetically best. Hell even my desire to separate my gummi bears into color isn’t done for obsessive reasons. I just like to eat them in preference of flavor. And I don’t have to do it or even need to do it all the time. Just if I want to save the best for last. These read as neither obsessions nor compulsions to me. Merely preferences. Tastes in how I like my environment but nothing is driving me to do these things or troubling me if I don’t. My obsessions and compulsions are very different.
My First OCDs
When I was a kid there was a local mall that had 12 inch tan tiles in blocks of about ten or so in a square and after every block of around ten there would be dark brown tiles at the corners. I used to make a game out of walking only in the tan tiles. Never stepping on seams between them and never stepping on the dark brown tiles or a row where there were dark brown tiles. At the time I thought it was just a game I was making up but it’s hard to describe then tenseness or tingling sensation that I would feel when I nearly stepped on a seam, or even worse the anxiety I’d feel when I almost stepped in a row with a dark brown tile. A 7 year old me altering how I stepped and walked just to make sure I didn’t step on anything but tan tiles and never in seams. Though of course I didn’t realize it at the time but that was the first manifestation I can recall.
Thankfully: A.) I never go to the mall anymore and B.) They’ve carpeted so if I do go there it’s no big deal and C.) They’ve changed modern architecture design so that kind of pattern isn’t common anymore. Even though this doesn’t seem like a major deal, having to keep track of something so minor at a very specific place, it is a perfect representation of how my own OCDs impact my everyday life. Just in this example image how much mental energy, time, and focus was spent making sure I didn’t step a certain way. This is a theme that runs through all the ways my OCDs manifest themselves. And it’s the hardest aspect to explain. Imagine going through your day, and even excelling at tasks, but a portion of your mind is always keeping up with nonessential tasks that it just can’t stop doing… What kind of tasks? Well…
I count a lot. I count everything. I count to nothing from nothing and for no reason. I’ll often count going up stairs (1, 2, 3, 4…) then when I get to a landing start counting down starting from a different number even though I’m still walking up (10, 9, 8, 7…). I’ll count up to 8 then pick up at 80 and count up from there then count down from 100 when I reach it. I’ll count the number of times I’ll wash a plate, not because I need to wash it a certain number of times, just to be counting. And often I don’t start at 1. I’ll be washing and just start counting “9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.” Just a constant count of numbers that is going on all the time. So often I can’t even imagine how many times I’m doing it and don’t notice. I only notice when I catch myself and then I’ll realize I’ve been doing it for a long, long time.
The Mind Loop
This is an excessively difficult one to describe but it is one that has the worst impact on me. I’ll get a name, concept, song, movie, line of dialogue, whatever in my head. And it will repeat. It’ll repeat over, and over, and over. I’ll say it out loud. If it’s just one word I’ll say the one word. I might say it over and over. While I’m driving, or working, or even talking to someone. For example someone will say “pizza” at work. I’ll think, “Pizza. Pizza sounds good.” Then I’ll think, “I really don’t need it, it makes me a bit queasy, I don’t feel like stopping, and I don’t really have the money.” But in my mind, “Pizza, pizza, pizza.” I’ll be driving home and say , “Pizza.” And it won’t stop until I get pizza. The same goes for a line of dialogue in a movie, I’ll remember a certain phrase or scene and it will repeat over and over until I watch the movie. Sometimes I’ll have to watch it over and over until I’m well tired of it and won’t watch it again for a long time. Sometimes it’ll go on like that for days. The worst part is when something loops that makes me want to buy things. Things I really don’t need and shouldn’t be spending money on. I’ve been able to curtail this one for the most part but for a few years anything I got into (Anime, Star Wars, etc.) I just thought about the things until I bought loads of stuff. I’ve gotten into the “selling” of that stuff right now. Which is healthier in a number of ways. But it doesn’t stop the loop…
Another version is replaying events over and over. Overanalyzing things that were said or done amd playing them over and over and over. An example would be saying something to a co-worker and wondering if they took it the wrong way. Worrying about it all weekend, and then apologizing the next week only to find they didn’t even know what you’re talking about. It’s fun…
Many might call this tunnel vision, but for me at least it’s far more serious. The Wormhole is what I call my inability to progress on something outside of a predestined concept or series of concepts my brain lays out. It’s something my dad does too and his most common version is the simplest way to explain it. He’ll ask me a question, “Hey did you go ahead and-“ and I’ll know what he’s asking from context and answer, “Take the car in? Yeah I had to. The oil was getting low and it might be dangerous.” But he can’t not finish the question and will continue after I’ve answered, “-take the car in? The oil was low. If it gets too low it can get dangerous.” That’s the simplest version but imagine that in bigger concept. An attractive girl asks if you want to go shopping with them. You say “sure!” That’d be a nice way to spend an evening getting to know someone. You meet them and they go out on a limb and say, “You know it might be fun to stay in, I can cook you some dinner!” And what’s the first thing I think and say, “I thought we were going shopping.” Because that’s what was all laid out in your head. You can imagine the reaction that kind of thing can get. And that’s just one example. During conversations, working, anything going on, you are paying 100% attention. You’re able to be in that moment, it’s not like you’re head’s in the cloud. But your mind creates its next course of action or attempts to complete a predestined pattern and breaking that is nearly impossible. Because you don’t realize you’re doing it. Not until you’re thinking about it later and it turns into the mind loop mentioned above…
Living With It
How do I live with what I call my “broken brain” (a term renounced by the person who understood my mental strangeness the best)? As I’ve said it can be exhausting. You don’t know why you’re so tired. Why you can’t think to write or be creative or be social. It takes so much extra mental energy to do anything that often you find you’re completely burned out just from daily activities.
So how do I cope? Not medications. I know too many people who have had terrible reactions from medications. The best I can do is do activities that bring me what I call my “Zen.” Boxing, writing, playing guitar, painting, drawing, all of these things I’ve found take up all of my mind. And silence the noise a bit. I’ve never found myself counting lines drawn or obsessing over how a picture appeared in my head rather than how it looked on the page (I did once get punch counters for boxing and stopped using them. I found myself obsessively never throwing fewer punches than I did the previous day. I got to well over 2000 each hand before I realized it was taking the fun out of it…) But these activities can quiet the demons, even if only for a while but often they are the activities that suffer the most from my daily mental exhaustion. It’s hard to find the will to write or draw when your mind has spent ten hours socializing at work, doing your job, counting randomly throughout the day, repeating ten things over and over, and anchoring important conversations with the singular concepts stuck in your head.
I didn’t write this to complain or receive pity. I’ve never actually listed out the most persistent of my personal OCDs and felt expressing them might be a way to try to manage them. I noticed when I catch myself counting I stop counting. So maybe if I can catch some of the others I can control them as well. And there’s another reason I thought I’d share these. I was over thirty before I realized counting even was a manifestation of OCDs. When you live with them you don’t think about them they’re just a part of you. It took reading Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters companion book and finding out it was one of his personal OCDs before I realized I did it too. And that’s one of my most consistent and persistent manifestations. So hopefully someone will read this, see something they didn’t know they did, and it’ll help them identify and maybe manage their OCDs a bit better too. And maybe help them find their version Zen.
It’s July 4th and since it’s a holiday I usually have to work I decided to partake in an old tradition from college and high school on July 3rd and watched one of the seminal movies of my generation, Independence Day.
I saw this movie twice when it was new. Once as a family move in the summer, and again with some friends at the dollar theater during its second run (do movies even have those anymore?) I loved it. Though at the time I may not have known why.
Then I went through the cynical phase of my twenties where everything that I thought was “cool” as a teenager must have been “lame” so I decided this cheesy blockbuster probably fit that bill too. It didn’t help that the production team of this movie ended up churning out one formulaic disaster film after another in the years that followed, or that, by the time my cynical phase hit, the general mood of the country and its entertainment started to turn “dark,” which later resulted in the dreary, joyless action movies that were troughed to us until The Expendables and Marvel reminded us that they could be fun again.
I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. I hadn’t seen the film all the way through in maybe a decade, and its reputation has faltered as “cliché” in recent years. But moments in, when the moon shakes and the ominous shadow sweeps over the Apollo landing site…I was sucked in again. And stayed that way through the entire film.
The characters, while yes are broad ethnic and narrative stereotypes, are still lovable and every one of them has a purpose. Will Smith is charming and energetic. Jeff Goldblum is awkward but heroic. Bill Pullman is tortured but a leader. Everyone is there for a reason and acts within their purpose at all times.
The alien menace is faceless through most of the movie, but when they are shown they are generic enough that they remain the unknown threat even after the amusement park ride tour of their mother ship. Their weapons are insurmountable and their motives make them unstoppable. Which leaves a combination of special qualities to stop them: human ingenuity, creativity, and cooperation.
This movie doesn’t have any chosen ones, or destiny stories. All of the characters are actually on a bit of a lull when the film starts, Smith’s Hiller can’t be an astronaut, his girlfriend is an exotic dancer working for a loser boss, Goldblum’s David is an overqualified TV network tech, Randy Quaid’s Casse is a drunken incompetent incapable of even providing for his nomadic family, and the President is being lambasted in the media. All slightly down, all very different but when the crisis occurs they all rise to the challenge. Each of them a metaphor of the way the disparate nations and ethnicities in the world come together to beat back the alien menace and “not go quietly into that good night.”
Is it all a little optimistic and cheesy? Hell yes. And hell yes it’s awesome. This was before every character’s story had to be told in flashback to give them all “proper motivation” and before Christopher Nolan turned every one of these stories into tales of dark, tormented tales of survival that both over explain motivations and suck all character from the characters.
It’s FUN. it’s funny. It’s exciting. And most importantly it’s optimistic. Which is something oh so many films and entertainment have seemed to forget they could be.
I know enough of history to know the fables of our country’s “birthday” are heaped in legend and not as glorious as the Revere printing press would have us believe. But if there’s one thing you could gain out of Independence Day, and not coincidently the main theme of the film that bears the same name, is that hope and optimism are can never truly be defeated. Maybe beaten down a bit but it will always come back to win in the end. It’s what people are, and what we really want.
So turn off all the hate and negativity that’s saturating news, entertainment, and politics right now. Put on Independence Day and remind yourself of the fun and positivity that can be experienced when a group of people, whether they be fictional characters, film makers, or movie goers, turn off the cynicism and remember what life was like as a kid in the movies.