Friday, November 22, 2013

Lessons Learned: Odd One Out

Good day,

            This is going to be my first Lesson Learned, where I get a bit personal and give you, gentle reader, a glimpse behind the mask and show you how my life experiences made me man I am today, as well as any wisdom I can impart on you. So, in honour of Bullying Awareness Week, I’m going to talk about a subject I’m quite passionate about.

            Here’s my story. When I was a child, I had what you’d call The Big Triple-A: Asthma, Anxiety, and Asperger’s. Now, by that last one, I don’t mean that I was some self-diagnosed cretin trying to rationalize the piles of Sonic The Hedgehog pornography he printed out, categorized, and put in binders under his bed. See, I was born in that golden age before the internet, when people sought out actual psychologists instead of digital ones. I had problems expressing the information I was processing, and preferred to be alone instead of socialize with the other kids. The asthma didn’t help either, and I was prone to hacking fits and blacking out and couldn’t really fit in with the more athletic kids, and my anxiety has been a constant throughout my life, and too complex for me to put in just one editorial.

            Long story short, it was this combination of factors that led to me being targeted by bullies on a regular basis. Ah, those were the days. Getting stomped into the mud. Being chased and terrorized by my classmates. Bigger kids threatening to break my fingers and kill my parents. Hit with coat zippers and sticks. Held cruciform by three kids as a fourth charged me and kicked me in the stomach. What joy, what privilege!

            So, from First Grade all the way to high school, I had a big ‘Kick Me’ sign stapled to my back. Now, I had friends, but for the first little while my social anxiety dictated that I couldn’t have more than one at a time, at any given time. Then, when I felt ready to move in larger circles, the friends I did make didn’t like each other for the longest time, and I didn’t know how to make them see past their differences. Plus, when friends brought me into their circles, adjusting to other people’s personalities was taxing for a wreck as myself.

And I did stand up for myself to the best of my abilities, in the way kids are told to stand up to their bullies: through being louder and more physical. This, however, actually makes things worse. “You throw a stone, we bring a knife,” that sort of dance. Then, when I was thirteen and in the principal’s office for decking a kid who was bugging me during French class, I was told that at my age such actions could see me with a criminal record, so that pushed the violence out of me, but not my anger. I still yelled at people who got under my skin and harassed me, which just made me look spastic, and gave my tormentors a good laugh.

            Being unable to fight may have kept me out of juvie, but suppressing my anger and frustration led to getting lost in my thoughts in a very bad way. It all reached a head one dark night when I was doing the dishes in my house. I found myself cleaning a particularly large kitchen knife, staring down at it quite lovingly, when an errant thought said “You know, my school doesn’t have metal detectors. I could probably sneak this in.” Just then, fortunately, I felt a chill, forcing me to put it back in the drawer and shove that morbid idea and its kin away.

            And so I grew up. Rather, I worked to better myself. I didn’t give in. I learned how to make and keep friends properly, made some good memories, had the privilege to go to university and college, fell in and out of love, and evolved into who I am now. The boy I was never went away, though. He still lives deep in the bowels of my subconscious, crying and begging to be left alone. Now and then, he comes out, one way or another, and I have to tell him everything will be okay.

            Which is always the hardest part.

            Actually, the hardest part is what I’m going to tell you right now.

If you’re a young ‘un reading this who’s going through bullying, I wish I could sit here and delude you with a positive message like ‘you will survive this,’ but I can’t. This may pass. Your bullies might grow up and realize they were assholes to you, or they might not. Many are usually ignorant to the damage they cause people on a psychological and emotional level. Even in the next stages of your life, this kind of abuse will follow you. You’ll find people who made their way through the world by being aggressive and mean-spirited, and they’ll look at you as an anomaly that needs to be snuffed out or forced to change. For us, the sensitive ones, the world is unforgiving.

            And if the abuse is not external, then it will certainly be internal. You’re your own worst enemy, after all. See, maybe you’re surrounded by good people, genuine and honest people who love you, and that’s great! Too bad no-one warns you about the triggers. Yeah, that’s right, we get triggered. It could be a buzzword that was slung at you in your younger years like ‘faggot’ or ‘retard’ or ‘idiot.’ Maybe it’s something innocent like being laughed at. Either way, something’s going to set you off, and you’re going to get mad, and then you’re going to get mad at getting mad because you feel like an idiot. “Why the hell am I like this?” you’ll ask. “Didn’t I move past this point?”

            The fact is, we can’t. We don’t survive this. Not all of us, not entirely.

            So do this instead.

            First, find people you can trust and confide in. This is key. If you come from a loving family, talk to them, but either way, make friends and build connections. If it gets worse, go seek out a counsellor, someone who can look at your situation from the outside and offer some suggestions. Then, get away from chat rooms, forums, and social media websites, because those places can be open playing fields for jackasses. Don’t say anything, just randomize your passwords and don’t log in for however long you need to. Finally, find a way to vent. Pent up thoughts and emotions are the death of us. Just make sure you find a healthy medium. Draw, write, sing, scream, punch a pillow, talk to yourself. Get it out of your head.

            No, you won’t survive this. So fight it instead. Wrestle it to the ground and tame it. Own it and learn its weaknesses.

            And when you do, tell me how you did it, because we’re in this together. You, me, and the rest of the freaks. Do what you have to do. Just don’t give up, because taking any of the darker roads out of this mess will be treated as a victory by your tormentors, and the last think you need is to give them that.

            Don’t be a survivor. Be the winner.

See you next time,


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Let's Talk About/If I Did: Agents of SHIELD

Good day,

            Behold the media giant known as Marvel! Bask in its glory! Amazing to see how far the company’s gone. Why, with all the video games, movies, animated series, novels, action figures, maquettes, and branded clothing out there, you forget how much money Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Joe Simon, and the actual creators of the Marvel universe weren’t receiving. I’m not here to talk about backstabbing in the entertainment industry, however. I’m here to talk about Marvel’s latest small-screen adventure that’s been leaving a bad taste in the mouths of fans: Agents of SHIELD.

            I was sceptical of the show from the start, but I was still willing to give it a shot. The action looked exciting, the concept seemed interesting, and it promised to be a fun side-story at the least. After sitting through the first five episodes, however, I found that I couldn’t go any further. Now I see that the show has been steadily losing viewers, and it’s good to see that I’m not alone in my opinion. If you ask me, there’s a number of reasons for the decline in the show’s popularity, so let me dive in and give my theories.

Now, I’m alone in this, but I don’t care for Coulson. He was an interesting bit-character, but his end in Avengers was fitting. Here was an ordinary human living in the shadows of giants who eventually tried to man up in his own way, only to die bravely trying to stop a mid-level villain. When he kicked the bucket, the fans were miserable – except for me, I didn’t really care – but it was a good end to his character. However, he was brought back to satiate the fans, and that’s the problem. Popular as he is, he’s not the guy to lead a T.V. show. The character’s too flat, possesses little agency (HA), and doesn’t have the dynamism needed in an action/drama.

Hell, the rest of the cast isn’t any better. Puppy-eyed Skye dives back and forth between drinking the SHIELD-issue Kool-Aid and selling them out to Anonymous or whatever the Rising Tide are supposed to be, but we’re supposed to like her because she’s allegedly-witty and cute. Oh, yes, and she has a tragic backstory, because of course she does. Our other male lead is Agent Grant Ward, also known as “every white male lead in a spy/cop serial ever,” except somehow more boring. And let’s not start on Melinda May, who is basically Kato from The Green Hornet repurposed as a sassy cougar.

            Then there’s the science team. Oh god, these guys. I cannot tell you how painful it is to watch two actors with no chemistry attempt comedic, fast-paced dialogue. I’m giving you this one for free, Marvel. How about, instead of a “witty duo” from the UK, our science expert is a robot named MISTER EXPLOSIONS. He’d be voiced by Ken Jeong and come equipped with a series of tools that’d help him get the job done, like shoot lasers, turn into a car, and tell me who my real father is. Way better than Fitz/Simmons, right? Right.

Maybe you like the cast. Maybe you’re cool with the characters Marvel approved and the actors playing them. Fine. Can we talk about the overwhelming Hail Big Brother message, though? The episodes I saw really emphasized the importance of constant surveillance and hiding the truth in order to keep the masses placated, because that’s not sinister at all.

The final straw came from the “Girl in the Flower Dress” episode, where one of the antagonists was an Edward Snowden/Julian Assange type of super-hacktivist who was suckered into infiltrating SHIELD’s files by the evil organization Centipede, citing the need to tell people about the truth as part of his motivation (as well as the million dollars said organization dumped on him). That’s… pretty admirable, actually. I mean, after gods landed in New Mexico and aliens invaded NYC only to be beaten back by a gang of superheroes, people would be ready for anything by now. What the hell, SHIELD?

It doesn’t help that the episodes framed around this premise hurt me dearly. Fine, “The Asset” and “Eye-Spy” were pretty good, but the other three were painful. Literally nothing happened in “0-8-4,” and most of the incidents that happened in “Girl in the Flower Dress” would have been avoided if Nick Fury straight-up hired the pyrokinetic character Centipede abducted when SHIELD first found him six years ago.

But the Pilot? Oh god, the pilot. Mike Peterson and Ace were so well thought-out. So fun and way more engaging than the rest of the cast. And what happens? Would-be super-person Mike Peterson gets shot with a tricked-out elephant gun/tranquilizer rifle (AS HE SURRENDERS TO SHIELD) and is dragged off-screen, with the audience just told that he and Ace are okay. Yeah, cool, um, I don’t mind closure, but I’d like something a little less sudden, thanks. A little less dodgy would be fine, too.

            Here’s how I would have done Agents. First of all, I’d have it so the organization focuses more on uncovering secrets and finding ways to publicize them, rather than launching them into space or sealing them in a vault. The events in Avengers would have changed the organization for the better (mostly), realizing that the world is more ready for its weirder side than they thought, and that they shouldn’t be confiscating research materials, launching technology into space, or rebuilding old HYDRA weapons for the sake of ‘deterrence.’

            Secondly, the team. Our leader and stand-in for Nick Fury who would chew out our team and deliver their missions would be the cigar-smoking, shotgun-swinging SHIELD Director G.W. Bridge, who’s done with glossing over reports and has decided to head back into the field before retirement. The rest of the agents would be a pick-and-mix from the comics, including Clay Quartermain, Abigail Brand, Jimmy Woo, Daisy Johnson, and the team’s financial backer Contessa Valentine Allegra de la Fontaine.

            As for the characters from the actual show, I might give some of them a bit of grace. If Clark Gregg wants to come back as Coulson, he can come back as a hard light hologram that can’t leave the Bus. It has his memories, it has his knowledge, but it’s not Coulson. Plus, we can have a Pinocchio complex with Coulson 2.0 where he dreams of being a real person with actual emotions, rather than data and an occasionally-faulty ‘random smarmy remark’ generator. Ward and May would be side characters around H.Q., and Skye would be an unwitting antagonist who thinks she’s doing good when she’s actually causing large-scale damage. No science team, though. Holo-Coulson can fill in for them in the science department, since he’d be jacked into a network of databases now. Also because Fuck Those Guys.

            But we need new blood in the team! Someone who maybe isn’t as versed in the weird world as everyone else is, so the audience can have someone to relate to. Easy: Mike Peterson and Ace.

Their characters are really well thought out! Plus, Mike would be incredibly useful. He’s been inside Centipede, and would probably have some super-powers left over from the cocktail his bosses shoved into him. Plus, the audience would get him, because he’s a single dad, and a working class hero who wants to break out of poverty and maybe do some good. His story and arcs would be really uplifting, and we could have some great moments where he’s visiting Ace after every mission and regaling him with stories of what he’s done.

            This leads us to the stories themselves. No more sweeping super-special crap under the rug, enough of the call-backs to the films, and no more putting super-powered people in ghettos. Dust it off and hold it into the light. Crashed alien ships that weren’t from the movies, hidden artefacts, secret organizations, mysterious people. More importantly, thwarting the machinations of evil super-groups; Flag Smasher and ULTIMATUM, The Secret Empire, new HYDRA and AIM cells, Zodiac – hell, give us The Serpent Society. I can take it.

            Basically, this show should be exciting. It shouldn’t be so goddamn safe and slow. We need a proper science-fantasy yarn to pull us in and entertain us. We can only hope that the four miniseries based on Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Jones will be alright, but I’m worried that those characters will only show up for five minutes, and the rest of the episodes will instead focus on a team of Coulsons.

See you next time,