The Summer of Too Much Sci-Fi

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This past spring I attended JordanCon, ready to refill my to-read book stack. As I met up with author friends and was introduced to new ones, I found myself spending nearly $200 on books. I had saved up for the con, so I had no shame. Since JordanCon is a sci-fi/fantasy convention, naturally, I walked away with a massive stack of the genre to occupy my reading for late spring/summer. In addition, I went on to purchased a number of other sci-fi/fantasy books outside the con, which included Stephen King’s IT, and the Star Wars Thrawn Trilogy. Little did I realize how reading so much of one genre would leave me literarily deprived. 

Upon completing a handful of my books from JordanCon, I was feeling great about my purchases. Not only were they a good refresher from the emotionally heady texts I had to read for AP Literature, but the particular books I read were smart, inventive, and gripping. Once summer vacation began, I started reading IT purely out of anticipation for the film which would release in September. The first thing I discovered about IT was how slow it was, and its length; it’s an extremely long book. I express a number of complaints about IT in another piece I wrote over the summer, so I’ll spare you my whining. I forced myself to gruel through 50 pages a day, which took about two hours to complete, and even at that rate it was a full month before I finished the book. I was fatigued by the time I finally completed it, and (funny story) I have yet to even see the film since it has released

After I completed IT, I was more than looking forward to reading some much shorter sci-fi books, which I began around the end of June. I got to a point where I was averaging one book a day. I still had a massive stack of books to get through, and college was a little over a month away. This was my problem: all the books were science fiction or fantasy, so I quickly became bored with them. Each book I picked up felt all too similar to the others, bringing little to nothing new to the table. I struggled to write good reviews for the books, and I feel some of my reviews were a little too scathing. I knew I had to finish the stack before college, but I had no desire to even pick them up. I would make myself sick grueling through page after page, and reading soon became a chore than a refreshing hobby. I found that there was so little diversity in what I was reading, as well as a shear lack of literary merit, sci-fi and fantasy was no longer fun, and just felt like junk-food. 

Let’s get one thing clear: there is nothing wrong with reading science fiction and fantasy. I don’t actually believe the genre is junk food, as some would argue. But for my situation, I simply burned myself out. I know plenty of people who only read sci-fi and fantasy who don’t experience this "reader’s block", as some call it. But I’m a versatile reader and writer. I enjoy writing sci-fi/fantasy and other genre fiction, but I also experiment with pure fiction. My writing is most passionate in essays like this one, and I’ve dipped my toes into poetry since coming to college. I also love reading all different kinds of books, from genre fiction to pure fiction, histories, celebrity auto-biographies, self-help; you name it. I love reading and learning new and diverse things, and this was the root of my problem. 

There comes a point when I read too much sci-fi and need to shake things up. Rather than attempting to tackle a massive stack of sci-fi/fantasy books all at once, my to-read list must include varied types of literature. But for me, reader’s block doesn’t only apply to sci-fi/fantasy. Since starting college, most of the texts I’ve been required to read are highly philosophical in nature, or lean toward the pure fiction side of literature. I’m now starting to experience reader’s block in that genre, so to counteract the block, my next leisure book will likely be a more simple, sci-fi/ fantasy novel.

Science fiction and fantasy make for great books; they are among my favorites. But for me personally, reading stays fresh by reading a variety of different subjects. Reading is the best way I retain information, and I’m someone who loves to learn different things, as well as gain literary merit. Now, just because genre fictions doesn’t contain "literary merit" doesn’t mean one can’t reap benefits or lessons from it. Readers simply have to experience different genres for themselves and find their niche. It all starts with turning the first page. 

-David Brashier; Boone, North Carolina; October 2017

Stephen King's Generational Handicap

This year, my first endeavor in summer reading is Stephen King’s IT. Upon viewing the record-breaking trailer for the book’s 2017 film adaptation, I simply had to read it, despite its daunting length. As of the time of this writing, I have 250 pages to go.

So far, I hate it (no pun intended). For one, the length has every reason to be daunting because it is entirely too long for what it tries to accomplish. Second, it isn’t written very well, which is the catalyst for my third reason for hating it: it isn’t very scary. Stephen King, dubbed "The indisputable King of Horror" (TIME), "dark and sinister" (Washington Post), and "a possessed figure" (L.A Herald Examiner), isn’t so much scary as he is silly when it comes to his writing in IT. A book so well-renowned as blood-curdling, it is too monotonous to inflict any real terror for me as a reader. In some sense is safe to say that the work gained its popularity due to the 1990 miniseries of the same name starring Tim Curry. The popularity of said miniseries is likely what green-lit the upcoming remake in the first place. For now, I’m not going to judge the film for it’s quality based on its source material or my own speculation, as it has yet to release.

I will admit that I have a soft spot for King, which is another excuse for why I decided to read IT in the first place. His nonfiction work, On Writing, is without question the reason why I ever aspired to take up penmanship. The book is, in a sense, both a humbling manual for writing and King’s autobiography, and is a book I have recommended to countless people. This was the first Stephen King book I ever read, so, naturally, I expected everything he had put to paper to be a masterpiece; his critics would agree. The first fiction Stephen King work I read was The Shining. While I didn’t find it strikingly terrifying (as the review blurbs on the back cover indicated), I still found it to be a good read. I would later go on to read Carrie and 'Salem’s Lot, and I felt they were just as good if not better. My most dangerous takeaway from all three of these books is that I considered them to be top-tier literary quality due to the amount of credit I gave King for On Writing. I thankfully read plenty other works with literary merit before reading IT

My reading of IT has made me realize just how bogus King’s reputation as both a writer and a horror writer can be. This doesn’t mean that all of his works are "bad", per-say, but I will address this later. A simple glance at his reviews by some of the most world-renowned journals of the late 20th century gives the impression that King will go down in history as the Charles Dickens of our time. He certainly already has from the standpoint of financial success. But is this reception completely bogus, or is it just my opinion? Well, first and foremost, it is my just opinion, but more importantly, many agree with me on this matter. There is a growing number of people who are willing to admit that Stephen King isn’t all that his fans or the press make him out to be. While this could mean that general opinion of his work is shifting, I believe it has more to do with the age of his readers. As of this writing, I am 18 years old, nearly 19. I was not alive when Carrie released in 1974, and I have been raised in an entirely different climate of horror. What needs to be considered isn’t as much the fact that Stephen King’s works are bad, but that they don’t age well. 

The reason I and many others don’t find King to be scary comes down to a simple statement: What was scary then isn’t scary now. It also certainly isn’t scary if the same formula used to inflict horror in 1974 is still being recycled to this day. In order to understand this, we must take a brief look into the history of horror.

The modern use of the word 'horror' in storytelling is often associated as a genre. However, at the very heart of the word is an emotion. "Bobby is lost in the woods and no one is around to find him." Bobby may as well be in horror. Horror has always been a medium of storytelling ever since humans conceived the idea of ghost stories, and then conceived the even greater idea of sharing them around a campfire. The dawn of horror in literature and as a genre was seen in the late 18th century with gothic literature. This isn’t to say that horror wasn’t an element used in literature before then, but this was where the genre began to appear most frequently with the intent of creating a macabre, chilling atmosphere. At the time, this was exactly how authors of the genre terrified their readers, creating atmospheric horror rather than slashing murder and gore. Gothic writers of the 18th and 19th centuries included Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, and much later in the early 20th century, H.P. Lovecraft. 

The arrival of film in the 20th Century brought a whole new approach to horror as a genre. Though adaptations of gothic writers' stories were always adapted to film, horror movies weren’t popularized until the 1950’s. The post-World War II "Red Scare" saw an exodus of whimsical themes in film and a shift to exploration of the unknown; fear of the unknown, to be precise. Monsters both big and small were selling tickets at picture shows across the world, and horror films would continue to evolve throughout the decades. Monsters became more creative, and later the "monsters" we all feared became just as human as us, manifest as cold-blooded killers. Films became gorier as practical effects improved. By the ’70’s and ’80’s, horror became more psychological, though traditional monsters were no strangers to the big screen, even if they were on the decline. With changing culture, horror film continued to adapt with the 1999 release of The Blair Witch Project, the dawn of the "found footage" sub-genre. This style was executed in wildly popular films of the new millennium, most notably Paranormal Activity. In the modern age, quality horror is almost purely psychological, but also situational or practical. Sometimes, simply placing characters in a terrifying situation, such as surviving a savage post-apocalypse, or escaping a kidnapping, is all that is needed to rack one’s brain. 

The repeating theme in the history of horror is that the genre had to evolve. Horror couldn’t keep doing the same thing over and over again or it would no longer serve its purpose. It evolved physically, such as from literature to film, but it also evolved in its storytelling, getting more graphic and tangible. Tactics also die out. Many horror fans of today complain about the number of jump-scares Hollywood uses to write easy films. Sometimes films are nerve-racking based on their subject matter and the time they are released. The political climate of the current decade is largely why The Purge films managed to be so frightening, and thus so popular. 

What doesn’t change is that works of horror almost always have to stay relevant to the times, and often fall victim to becoming products of their time. It’s a genre that isn’t easy to make timeless. Sure, there are countless stories and films which will always scare us, but works of this status are rare. We can always look back and gain some enjoyment from monster movies of the 1950’s; we can enjoy their effects, and admire a style of filmmaking from days gone by. But do they scare us? Only rarely. There aren’t many films from before the 1970’s mentioned in the 21st century which people are scared of, unless age or nostalgia factors in. The ones which still manage to frighten people are more rare the further we look into the past. 

This raises one big question: How did Stephen King’s horror stories manage to succeed long after the great gothic writers were in their graves, and amidst an ever-growing and adapting climate of horror films. King’s ability to exhume popular horror in literature, given the time, must have been quite the accomplishment. Again, however, what was scary then isn’t necessarily scary now. Though many of his works may be great books, they aren’t necessarily gut-wrenching for a reader of my age raised in the current horror climate. 

Firstly, horror has changed drastically since King’s debut in the ’70’s. I grew up in the age of jump-scares and the current horror climate is that of psychological and situational terror. Secondly, horror is much more democratized in this day and age. I’m not the biggest horror fan when it comes to film, but it’s easy for anyone to unintentionally view a horror film trailer in a movie theater which is miles more frightening than the effects a novel as a whole can produce. For me, this occurred numerous times before I even turned ten. Also, it’s easy for anyone to view horror films with the click of a button thanks to Netflix. Horror has also entered a new vein in TV since the days of The Twilight Zone with new shows like The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, and countless others. Simply put, horror in this day and age is more available than it was at King’s debut. When King’s work first released, horror films were confined to the walls of the theater, and kept out of reach by over-protective parents. There was no Netflix, so they weren’t as easy to come across. I have no doubt that my generation is perfectly capable of experiencing fear from a book, and even enjoying King’s work. The problem is that so much horror is at our fingertips that King doesn’t come off as scary to us as he would to an unsuspecting reader in 1974. 

Now, though it is certainly clear that horror adapts with changing times, it doesn’t mean that the genre, or Stephen King, can’t be timeless. 

As mentioned earlier, The Shining was the first of King’s fiction I ever read. Though I didn’t find it grippingly blood-curdling, I did find it atmospherically frightening, much like the style of many of the gothic writers. The Shining was chilling because its characters were isolated, far from civilization in a seemingly haunted place, and one of their own was unstable. Though there wasn’t a strikingly frightening scene like in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation, I was on-edge the entire time. Unfortunately, the buildup didn’t lead to the best payoff. Carrie, my second King book, also kept me on-edge. While it is a well-known and aged story even for those who haven’t read the book, the way King presents it is clever. He alternates between traditional storytelling and written evidence of eye-witness accounts. It keeps the reader wondering how the characters got to the ending, even if eye-witness POV has been used in literature before. Though the only book of Stephen King’s original trio which I consider to be truly scary is 'Salem’s Lot, I still feel that all three of them are well-written books. This also brings up the question of whether King’s works need to be viewed as horror. He’s written great stories, just not all of them are scary, per say.

Yet this also makes me question how the gothic writers like Stoker, Poe, and Lovecraft managed to write such horrifying stories and be timeless, yet King’s age horribly. I haven’t met anyone who wasn’t at least slightly chilled by The Raven, The Tale-tell Heart, or The Fall of the House of Usher. I’ve read Dracula, and I found it unsettling despite having been written over a century ago and using such dated language of its time. I even have a Lovecraft Cthulhu anthology of which I’ve only read a six-page story and I found it eons more enjoyable, frightening, and interesting than the 908 pages I’ve read of IT

The works of these giants go to show that horror literature doesn’t have to be a product of the times. I’ve already examined how the subject matter of stories King writes don’t necessarily mix with readers of my generation. This leaves us with how his writing style has aged, or maybe how it’s just plain bad. 

The Shining, Carrie, and 'Salem’s Lot are all written well. IT isn’t. Where King’s writing flaws are at the forefront in IT, they are simply nuanced in his original trio. I, for one, can’t track how the nuances of King’s writing style have adapted over the years because I haven’t read all of his works. However, it’s clear that King became obsessed with use of a plain flawed style of writing which basic high school English classes teach to avoid. 

He goes into entirely too much detail. IT has dozens upon dozens of moments which would be scary if King didn’t take so much time explaining events as they happen. This includes excessive sexual detail, which is not only awkward to read, but has me convinced he’d rather write erotica instead of horror. King also uses an unnecessary amount of swearing in his writing. Sex and swearing have their place, but just because they are used doesn’t make the work edgier or more literary if they aren’t executed well. Oftentimes his de-facto means of chilling gore is use of blood, but just because blood is present doesn’t make me sick at my stomach. His supernatural entities are hard to understand and oftentimes just plain silly, his expression of internal thought is always awkward, and he has a knack for dated pop-culture references. 

I’m not saying that King’s original three works are devoid of these issues; they were most certainly present. It just seems that between The Shining and IT his writing style took favor with his flaws. Again, I can’t comment on anything else he’s written. I’m simply making an observation based on what I’ve read, and gathered observations of fellow readers. 

It all comes back to my original statement: What was scary then won’t always be scary now. I can’t say whether his seemingly poor and lengthy writing style was considered scary as hell in the ’80’s because I didn’t grow up in the horror climate of the ’80’s. King’s work may have been spine-tingling for his day, but my generation isn’t as likely to find his stories as much as a disturbing because we’ve been raised in such a different climate of horror, both in style and availability.

Even for a casual fan of horror like myself, I can already tell the genre is going in new, innovative directions. There is a new app on the market which tells gripping thrillers by allowing readers to scroll through text message threads. I’ve seen demos of the concept in ads, and I was honest-to-god shaken, yet interested in what they were doing. Given that filmmakers are having to try harder and harder with innovative ways to tell stories and get audiences to the box office, our obsession with technology could lead to a new form of storytelling. We are so familiar with something such as text threads that it could be the next shift in the medium as we know it. Even if not through this app, it is inevitable that horror and storytelling will manifest itself in a new medium sooner or later. Literature will have to find a way to compete. Stephen King, if he is still around, would likely go into further generational decline.

Though I have mostly criticized King for his writing style and subject matter of his stories, he is the first to admit some of his flaws. He understands that some of the supernatural elements in his works are far-fetched. Simply the fact that he acknowledges this makes him the better man, and, though I’m clearly no stranger to criticizing him, adds to my respect for him which I’ve already developed from On Writing. Again, he isn’t devoid of investing, and even scary stories. I love The Shining, Carrie, and 'Salem’s Lot. Any fan of sci-fi or fantasy won't deny his contribution of The Dark Tower series. Other smaller works like Needful Things, Pet Semetary, and his short stories get countless recommendations from readers.

So, I won’t go so far as to say that his reputation is conceived out of nothing, or lack or talent, or that it is subject to a history of good reviews from journals which have critiqued him since his debut as a writer; he will always have his moments of notability. But as a millennial born long after his heyday, I can’t deny the fact that I will always have a generational divide with readers who grew up with what are considered his best and most terrifying works. On top of this, his writing flaws can’t go unnoticed. Unfortunately, it seems that for King, though an icon in his own right, a great deal of his work will fall victim to the passage of time. For someone born too late to enjoy him for who his is (or was), let's just say we have a complicated relationship.

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; June 2017

The Best and Worst Films of 2016

Greetings readers, and Happy New Year!

2016 has come to a close, and this blog is almost officially one year old.  This year consisted of a variety of content, most of which has been well received.  One of the biggest parts of this journey has been determining what I want the blog to focus around. Given that my content this year has been heavily focused on film reviews, and that it is something I am very passionate about, this piece will be dedicated to the best and worst films of 2016.  This year has seen many great films, many downfalls, and even a few surprises here and there.  With that, this will not be a simple ranking of best and worst films, but the most noteworthy films in unique categories I have chosen.

Now, when I say "Best and Worst of 2016", it means the best and worst of the films that I reviewed.  You see, I don’t spend full weekends going to my local theater and catching all the latest releases.  I see films that I want to see, and some films simply aren’t worth my time.  I’m a senior in high school, and I don’t have time to catch every new release each week.  To add to that, Huntsville is a fairly small city, so limited release movies are rarely in theaters where I live.  I’m sure that there are films out there which are far worse than the "worst" on this list, and the same can be said for films better than the "best" on this list.  These are simply chosen among the films I reviewed on the blog this year, and this is by no means my definitive list of best and worst movies of 2016.

Biggest Surprise: Arrival and Zootopia

Both of these films have something to offer beyond their marketing and trailers, and each in a unique way.  

Disney

Disney

Zootopia is a simple talking animal crime noire movie on the surface, but it tackles a slew of social issues facing the world today.  It sends a powerful message to both adults and children in a very subtle way, all while delivering a beautiful, emotional, and hilarious animated film. 

Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures

Arrival is a sci-fi blockbuster with the powerhouse filmmaking talent of an Oscar winner.  The way it so smartly used sci-fi in a year littered with mindless action blockbusters made it a breakout hit among critics and audiences.  It captures human emotion in such a creative and timeless way that it will surely be a film anyone can relate for decades to come.

The reason these two films are a tie is because they both meet this category's criterion so well—they surprised me.  Both surprised me in different ways which made this decision very tough.  For two films that stood out in a great year of filmmaking, they both deserve this accolade.

Biggest Let-Down: Free State of Jones

STX Entertainment

STX Entertainment

This film was beaming with potential, and could have been one of the greatest films to release this year.  It had great acting talent, and Matthew McConaughey for crying out loud! It also explored a very obscure portion of American history; some Confederates during the civil war who led an insurgence and sided with the Union behind enemy lines.  It was a new angle to a war which has been viewed up until now simply as good vs evil (at least in film), and that no one on either side expressed a little bit of discourse.

What we got was a film with a great opening twenty minutes, and the remaining two hours were nothing but filler with stale acting, a boring story, little to no action, and speech after speech after speech from Matthew McConaughey.  It’s the first film of his in awhile where I feel he brings almost no charm, something he’s known for as an actor. To his credit, he doesn’t have good writing or good characters on his side, either.

Free State of Jones is watchable, but it is a film which I walked out of feeling depressed, disappointed, and wanting.  Thus, it is 2016’s biggest let down for me.

Best Superhero Film: Deadpool

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Marvel properties undoubtedly topped the list of superhero flicks this year.  Though Marvel Studios rolled out many great products like Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, I believe the honor of best superhero film goes to Deadpool, a movie whose rights belong to a different studio entirely.

Deadpool had almost everything going against it; an R-rated comic book movie starring a somewhat obscure superhero released in early February and distributed by 20th Century Fox.  But, this would go on to be many moviegoers’ favorite superhero movie of 2016, landed one of Marvel’s biggest releases ever, and became the #1 grossing R-rated movie ever. 

What puts Deadpool on top is its simplicity.  It is not a massive comic book movie with over a dozen characters, trippy action sequences, extensive lore, and iconic locations.  It’s a small film that takes place in a bad neighborhood in Vancouver of all places.  It utilizes grounded action sequences with lots of practical effects.  This grounded feel is much thanks to the director, Tim Miller, a genius in visual and practical effects.  The R-rating allows the film to explore areas where other films of the genre cannot with PG-13.  It allows a full range of emotion, comedy, gore, and crude humor, which, like it or not, makes the film feel more real and genuine.  I can’t believe I’m saying this about Deadpool, but the film feels more personal to me than other films of the genre this year for these reasons, making it my favorite superhero film of 2016.

Best Animated Film: Kubo and the Two Strings

Focus Features

Focus Features

2016 was a great year for animation lovers like myself.  At the end of the day, the accolade for 'best' goes to Kubo and the Two Strings.  The film shows what Laika is truly capable of from both a story and creative standpoint.  The way the film captures family conflict feels more genuine than the likes of Disney, and the simplicity of the story makes it all the more relatable.  The stop-motion animation is stunningly gorgeous and makes such an arduous task seem effortless on the big screen.  It is birthed from strenuous work on behalf of a creative, persistent team, which makes it deserving of the title of 'best'. 

Worst Film: The Accountant

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

*Ben Affleck's expression in the still above perfectly describes this movie. 

Of the movies I reviewed this year, the ones competing for this spot were Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad (I was too nice to this film in my review), Hail, Caesar!, Free State of Jones, and The Accountant.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are far worse films which received a theatrical release this year, but among the ones I saw, The Accountant ranks the worst.  

At the end of the day, every other film on the 'worst' list at least gave me something memorable. The Accountant has nothing; no substance, no charm, not a hint of life in it.  The acting is rubbish, the plot is confusing, there isn't a single action scene to redeem itself, and it’s a total waste of good actors.  It has the perfect premise to be a good action thriller, but foolishly throws that opportunity out the door because it is so haphazardly mishandled. 

If you want to hear more about The Accountant, you can read my review, but among the films I saw this past year, it is without a doubt the worst. 

Best Film: Manchester By The Sea

Amazon Studios

Amazon Studios

This hallowed spot was a race between La La Land, Arrival, and Manchester By The Sea.  All of these films are great, human, and unique.  What made me toss Arrival was the fact that Manchester and La La Land both feel more grounded than the sci-fi drama. If you read my La La Land review, you would know that I feel it has a few flaws.  Had these flaws been absent, it definitely would have been my favorite film this year, but that position has to go to Manchester By The Sea, instead.

Manchester By The Sea is an utterly human character study of Lee Chandler, played by the now honorable Casey Affleck.  Affleck’s powerhouse performance feels so natural, it is as though I’m watching human interaction as it naturally plays out.  Kenneth Lonergan genuinely captures trauma in his directing and writing, as it is the epicenter of the film’s story.  It is a film about life itself, and appropriately feels like stepping into the life of its main character. The film has no strict three-act structure, no definite climax or resolution, and is open to interpretation of it’s preceding and succeeding events.  This only adds to the life-like feeling which radiates from the film. The aesthetic of the film compliments Lonergan's genius with rich cinematography and music.  Though it deals with emotionally heavy issues, it is one of the most charming movies I've ever seen because the audience can connect with the characters like they were lifelong friends. It is because human nature is captured so elegantly in great performances, writing, and directing, that it is my favorite film of 2016.


Looking back at all the films I reviewed made me realize how many movies I saw this year, and how much this blog really pushed me to get out and see more movies.  With 2016 behind us, there are many more exciting stories to look forward to in 2017 which I can’t wait to discuss with you all.  If there is a film you would like me to review at my discretion, remember you can make requests by emailing me at the address provided in the Contact page. 

Thank you all for reading this year! Be on the lookout for more content to follow very soon.  

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; January 2017

Catch-22: More Than Just A Title

Harper Lee refers to Joseph Heller’s World War II novel Catch-22as "The only war novel [that] makes any sense." At a glance, Catch-22is the exact opposite of sense. The looping dialogue, while intended for comedy, can easily confuse readers as to which character is currently speaking and what they are speaking about. There are so many characters that it’s difficult for the reader to keep track of who’s who. Outlandish events occur out of nowhere, and sometimes an entire chapter builds up to an anticipated outcome only for the last sentence to throw in a resolution completely out of left-field. While most of these elements are, again, played for comedy, the average reader can easily be confused. Joseph Heller is known for his literary style of making readers laugh while keeping a dark undertone behind his humor. While Catch-22 is littered with many confusing elements, the comedy behind it provides the reader with "healthy confusion"; readers may be completely oblivious to what is going on, but they at least gain a laugh from the dialogue or hilarious events. However, another way this confusion could be interpreted isn’t so much attributed to Heller’s style, but the concept of a Catch-22 itself. 

“Catch-22” is a term used for a situation which is impossible for an individual to escape from because of contradictory rules. In the novel, Catch-22 is Heller’s made-up military law which is paradoxically designed to keep U.S. soldiers from returning home from Axis-occupied Italy. Characters attempt to explain Catch-22 throughout the novel, but the concept only becomes more and more difficult for readers to grasp. The clearest explanation is during a conversation between the main character, Yossarian, and Doc Daneeka. Yossarian pleads to Daneeka to ground him from bombing missions, but Daneeka continually refuses his request because of Catch-22. Catch-22 basically states that a soldier can only be grounded from missions if he is considered insane. Soldiers that continually fly more missions are considered insane because they express no reluctance to impending danger. Soldiers who do try to avoid missions are sane. The "catch" of Catch-22 is that soldiers are only grounded if they specifically ask to be, but if they do so then they are trying to avoid missions so they are considered sane. Such a confusing ordinance calls for an equally confusing book.

The paradoxical frame of the law is most obviously reflected in dialogues between the characters. Characters often discuss the reasoning behind their actions, but their dialogue constantly loops so the conversations never reach resolution. For instance, early in the novel, Yossarian’s friend, Dunbar, attempts to explain to him why he puts crab apples in his cheeks. When Yossarian asks why Dunbar puts crab apples in his cheeks, Dunbar responds, "Because they’re better than horse chestnuts [in my cheeks]". Yossarian asks why Dunbar doesn’t like horse chestnuts in his cheeks, and Dunbar’s response is that he can just use crab apples. The conversation loops like this on end with only slight variations, such as when Dunbar says he’d substitute horse chestnuts for crab apples if the latter aren’t available. The book is littered with conversations like these, and they all harken back to the very subject of the title. As Yossarian puts it, "That’s some catch, that Catch-22". 

Another aspect of the novel reflective of Catch-22 is the very names of the characters themselves. For a novel which often discusses red-blooded Americanism, the character’s names are very un-American. Names like Yossarian, Dunbar, Daneeka, Milo, Cathcart, Korn, Clevinger, and Nately, don’t sound like names you’d expect to hear out of wartime 1940’s America. The names mentioned here only scratch the surface; there are dozens upon dozens more outrageous and difficult to pronounce names throughout the novel. There is not a single conventional name mentioned, and it can be difficult for readers to keep track of who’s who because of so many names being tossed around. To make matters worse, some characters only appear briefly for a scene early in the novel, only to have a more significant role later on. Readers can easily forget who the character was and suddenly have to remember who they were all over again.

At a glance, these names may appear to be played for comedy; with such a comedic book, funny names seem appropriate. However, the case proves differently rather quickly. With so many long, unconventional names being repeated throughout the dialogue, simply reading the text becomes sluggish. Stephen King, in his book, On Writing, discusses how shorter names in literature make for more practical reading, and can even shorten the length of a novel. Heller throws this entire concept out the window. He even goes to the extent of mocking his cumbersome use names in an entire chapter developing the character Major Major. Major Major’s full name is Major Major Major, and the novel comedically explains how he got his name. However, to the reader, Major Major’s backstory can be both funny and a chore to read. Anyone who glances at the pages of this chapter immediately notice how many times the word 'Major' appears and having to keep track of the number of Major’s used in a row is confusing. To make matters worse, Major Major is promoted to the rank of Major by the end of the chapter, making his full name Major Major Major Major. Other scenarios employ this same device of using multiple confusing names to explain a series of events which only adds to the confusion of what the characters are discussing. After a period of time, readers become less concerned with putting a face to every name and instead focus on the events happening at present. With all the fluff Heller adds to the text, this approach is more beneficial in order for the reader to understand the story by the ending. 

On the one hand, Joseph Heller is just a funny, crazed writer. In another view, he ingeniously plants readers into the boots of his main character, Yossarian. Yossarian is evidently crazy in the novel, which only makes readers question why he is never grounded. By the end of the story, it’s determined that Yossarian isn’t technically "crazy", per-say; he’s just plagued by a crazy world filled with crazy people where crazy things happen. Yossarian’s ultimate struggle is going to bat with Catch-22, the one thing keeping him from his goal. Heller highlights Yossarian’s pain by making his readers literally feel it. The uncanny events, paradoxical dialogue, and confusing character names immerse the reader in a literal Catch-22 where there is virtually no escape from conflict, the conflict being confusion. We are just as confused as Yossarian. So instead of readers delving into a story about Catch-22, Heller lets them experience Catch-22 for themselves. 

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; November 2016

Stranger Things and My History with Netflix and TV

Here’s something about me: I hate TV.  

I loved TV as a kid, but I never watch it nowadays unless someone in the house is already watching. I can’t recall the last time I genuinely wanted to catch something live on TV unless it was a recent Olympic event, or maybe a Star Wars trailer debut (because that’s the popular way to get people to tune in these days).  The only time I find myself watching TV these days is when my dad is watching Seinfeld, just because I love Jerry Seinfeld.  There was a time when I attempted to catch The Walking Dead on Sunday nights, but after about five weeks I couldn’t keep any consistency, so the episodes collected dust in my DVR.  Simply put, I can’t be expected to take an hour out of my day to position myself in front of a TV and keep up with an episodic plot for a 16 episodes in a season.  I don’t see how we as people are able accomplish such a task nowadays, and I don’t see how we’ve been doing it since the1950s.  (Though I can say that I’ve seen every episode of The Cosby Show because I binge-watched each season on DVD in elementary school, because who has anything better to do when you can’t drive?)

Here’s something else about me: I hate TV on Netflix.  

A few years ago I binge-watched the first 4 seasons of The Walking Dead on Netflix.  Funny thing is, I haven’t even watched The Walking Dead since I finished season four.  I’ve seen the first 4 episodes of Daredevil, and I couldn’t tell you anything about the show beyond that.  As much as I am a Marvel fan, I can’t bring myself to watch the Netflix series, even though they’re pathetically easy to view.   All too often I’m asked if I saw the new season of House of Cards or Making a Murder, and all I can say is "I don’t watch Netflix".  

Another funny thing is that I’ll watch a two-hour movie on Netflix almost every weekend, but I can’t bring myself to binge-watch an entire season or series.  The idea of a digital series sounds like a great idea; The entire season is ready to go from day one and you don’t have to facilitate time to watch it each week or set a DVR recording.  But there’s something that bothers me about the time I lose watching so many seasons. 

Here’s the problem: most TV seasons last 16 to as much as 22 episodes, and for me, that’s just too much.  I’m the kind of person who tries makes myself busy every second of the day.  I choose to fill that time with writing, reading, analyzing a film, traveling, or getting out of the house whether for leisure or for business.  When I watched the fourth season of The Walking Dead, I was confined to a beach condo with my family for an entire week.  I had the time to watch all 16 episodes in bed because I wasn’t going anywhere else, and I had nothing better to do.  In my everyday life, I just don’t have time for TV, and I especially don’t have time to watch an entire season of a show all at once. 

For me, a film averages about 1.5 to 3 hours.  A film’s story is contained entirely within itself, and when I’m done watching, I’m done watching.  A single episode of a TV series averages about 48 minutes.  Now take that 48 minutes and multiply it by 16.  That’s nearly 13 hours spent watching a season; over half a day.  And if there’s more episodes to a season or more seasons to watch, it’s even more time.  

I understand that for many people this practice is commonplace, and really, kudos to them.  I marvel at the fact that people can be so invested in a story that they watch entire seasons in short periods of time.  It’s something that’s engrained in our culture and I honestly think it’s healthy for people to do.  In an age of terrorism, presidential elections, and a lack of common sense, getting invested in a world of fiction for awhile can be a good thing.  It’s probably what’s keeping some of us sane in this crazy world we live in, provided that it’s not too addictive.  I believe something like Netflix can be just as addictive as drugs, but as long as it isn’t consuming every waking moment of our lives to the point of never coming out of our homes for a time, it can be okay. 

Yes, I would love to be an expert on all things The Walking Dead.  Yes, I’m sure House of Cards is a compelling, mind-twisting show.  Yes, I’m sure Daredevil has some badass moments.  But I can’t be expected to find time to watch every episode of these shows just to catch up with everyone else, and until I find that time, those awesome moments are going to have to wait. 

Enter: Stranger Things.  Last week I finished watching this highly acclaimed Netflix series; the only streaming-exclusive show I’ve watched in full. Throughout July, this showed up everywhere on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and was the buzz among many conversations I had.  Everyone kept going on and on about how it’s possibly the greatest show of all time.  I began to look into it, and just by watching the trailer, I could easily tell that this show was a love-letter to films of the 1980s, what could easily be my favorite era of moving pictures.  The show had only been out about three weeks when I first came across it, but I ultimately caved and played the first episode.  

Netflix

Netflix

The first few minutes didn’t hook me.  It did just as lousy a job of getting my attention as any pilot episode to a drama series.  "Wow", I said, "your product placement and '80s style synthesizer music is really cool." 

Then our main character gets kidnapped, and the opening title plays.  

The theme song and opening titles is one of the best things about this show.  It’s so simple, yet can draw anyone into what’s beneath.  The music is filled with mystery, suspense, and whim; it’s enchanting.  The font is just like anything you’d see in an '80s movie, and it’s even blurred to look like it’s o an '80s television set.  The screen cuts to black, and the words 'Created By The Duffer Brothers' flies at your face, and from here it only gets better.

This show manages to accomplish so damn much.  It handles drama on one of the most relatable levels that so many other shows or films fall short of achieving.  It’s a dramatic show, but it can handle utter sadness, it can handle comedy, it can handle horror; it can handle so many human emotions which seem impossible to fully capture on screen.  Humans are emotional beings, but it’s rare that we manage to replicate our entire range of emotion in a man-made medium.  There are movies and shows that make us do nothing but laugh, or feel nothing but suspense, or only make us scared, or can only make us cry. Stranger Things is able to do all of this.  It captures every human emotion through its characters and story in a way that has never been perfected in a way such as this.  I’ve never cried at anything on screen before; I can get emotional, but I’ve never cried.  Stranger Things had me bawling by the last episode…but it also made me scream laugh, smile, and yell "Don’t do it!", at my laptop. 

Part of what makes this show so great is that the characters are so great.  Every character feels like a real person that anybody would know.  There are no cliches in the entire main cast or even the side characters.  What they manage to absolutely nail are the kids.  The kids are played by some of the greatest child actors I have ever seen.  They’re annoying, obnoxious, they eat junk, they get into mischief, they act tough and swear, but in reality they are as weak as the skin on their bones.  They each have their own weaknesses which they try to hide from their peers but still have to deal with the fact that they have them.  It’s something that anyone who’s been through elementary school can relate to.  Most kids on the silver or small screen aren’t believable because of horrible writing or bad acting.  This is one of the only time I’ve related to a young child on screen because I can relate to something I once struggled with at the same age.  Most movie kids are just stock kids, and are only there to move the plot along, but Stranger Things makes kids more than just plot devices or pawns; they’re characters; they’re people.

Netflix

Netflix

The adult cast is just as stellar.  The police chief, Hopper, is a lovable guy and has total control of every scene he’s in.  However, he’s a damage person.  He has a past which gets the best of him and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to avoid going down that path again, or allowing anyone else to do the same.  The main character’s mother feels like a real mom.  She’s willing to do whatever it takes for her family and will stop at nothing for their safety.  There’s another mother character who feels genuine as well.  She concerns for her family, but she’s willing to listen to her children’s problems and talk things out.  So many times the mother character is played for comedy or is the villain of a story, but here they feel like genuine mothers who could just as well be one’s own.  

The entire story takes place in the backdrop of small town Hawkins, Indiana, however the setting is so well selected it doesn’t matter.  It’s a typical small town, but it’s anyone’s town.  Anyone can relate to this place because it’s blank.  It feels more like home than an iconic cityscape or big, grand locale.  Sometimes filming in a massive city ins’t always the greatest choice.  While it may provide great opportunities for cinematography, not everyone calls the concrete jungle home.  

Stranger Things uses it’s setting to the fullest by not only capturing 1980’s perfectly, but even paying homage to films of the era.  It’s clear that it takes a great amount of inspiration from 1980s films about kids getting into mischief such as The Sandlot, Stand By Me, or E.T.  The show is also a love letter to Stephen King and horror elements used in his books.  Stephen King is the man who made me want to write in the first place, and there’s even a flashy cameo of one of his novels in one episode, and later in the series they flat out mention his name.  Needless to say, it sticks to the philosophy of respecting the past while embracing the future. 

When it’s all over, Stranger Things holds its own.  It leaves a few doors open as always, but it doesn’t leave me with a thousand questions as to what happens next like other shows or movies such as Star Wars Episode VII.  I don’t need to come up with theory after theory as to what happens next because I don’t need a 'next'.  There are rumors of a second season in the works, but honestly, it’s not necessary.  I would love to see more of these characters, but simply put, what we already have is perfect.  Stranger Things is one of the greatest things put to the screen.  It’s a flawless masterpiece which parents will pass on to future generations for decades to come.  If I’m completelyhonest with myself, I don’t want Stranger Things to be placed in the category that so many other shows fall victim to.  Some shows start off slow and then have a handful of seasons which are considered its prime, only to fall off for a few more seasons.  Some shows start of fresh and continue to build, only to crash and burn at the end.  It’d be a shame to see Stranger Things eventually drop in quality, only to be thrown in the bin of other shows which have lost their identity for following the same formula of other shows of their time.  It’s not what I want for this show, and I hope that this is a case where people can learn to enjoy what they have, instead of crave for more and never be satisfied again.

Netflix

Netflix

This leaves one question: Why did I break my eternal code with Netflix for Stranger Things?

For one thing, Stranger Things as a streaming exclusive show does a number of things differently than other shows.  For one thing, it keeps the run time to the average of 48 minutes, sometimes going a little shorter or longer.  Secondly, there are only 8 episodes, which is the magic of this thing; it manages to tell its story in a shorter amount of time which other shows would demand twice as much.  Because of this, Stranger Things is able to use its time to the fullest.  When a drama TV series has as many as 16 episodes or more to a season, it allows for a lot of meandering in the plot.  The Walking Dead always has the occasional episode where I think, "Well, nothing happened there." I never had to say that for Stranger Things.  Every episode satisfied every minute of its runtime which left viewers hungry for more.  Because of this people are feeling more fulfilled when they finish watching Stranger Things’ than they do for a more exhausting 16 episode season.  

Another thing which makes Stranger Things work is that it’s basically tailor-made to be streamed.  Had this show been on primetime television, it just wouldn’t have worked.  There would be too much space between each episode for anyone to care, and commercial breaks could easily break the emotional appeal.  No commercials means that viewers can take in every aspect of the episode for what it is.  Viewers can also watch the show at their own pace, rather than being enslaved to waiting one week between each episode, which helps the pacing of the show flow more smoothly.

Netflix

Netflix

Now that I have officially watched a streaming-exclusive show in its entirety, I can see a lot of the positives in the concept.  Having every episode at the viewer’s disposal is great, and less episodes means there is less fluff and more buff.  Maybe Stranger Things is the dawn of a new way TV shows are done these days.  So many TV shows nowadays are streaming exclusive, and there will likely come a day when TV is only streamed, given how many people are abandoning cable.  Maybe we’ll start seeing TV seasons with less episodes due to less demand because writers can make more with what they have.  While this would be nice, we must understand that Stranger Things is a special case; the first of its kind, really.  Again, as I said before, I haven’t watched Netflix to the extent many people do, and I made a special case for Stranger Things.  Maybe I would start watching streaming exclusive shows more it there were less episodes, but who’s to say every show will suddenly adopt the Stranger Things formula?  Even if House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black were only 8 episodes to a season, I doubt that would convince me to watch them.  Stranger Things for me was a special case, and it’s unlikely that this will change my opinion of TV and convince me to stream other shows.  With that, I’m glad I facilitated time over the last few weeks to watch Stranger Things.  I enjoyed every moment of it, and I’ll say it was time well spent.

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; August 2016

Film "Piracy" On Instagram Could Ruin Social Media As We Know It

We live in a day and age where piracy is very common, yet still illegal, and rightfully so.  You’re simply not allowed to film a movie or parts of a movie in a cinema, and exploit them on the Internet.  Such practice is known as "camming", an unwise decision which only produces poor quality videos anyway. Some might argue that people should be allowed to revisit their favorite portions of a movie upon leaving the theater since they’ve already paid for their ticket.  Maybe there was a moment that gave the viewer chills or perhaps made them laugh their ass off. It’s much easier to produce clip via the Internet than have to pay for another ticket and spend two hours seeing the movie again.  But is it really worth it?  Do we just absolutely have to see that movie again?  It’s customary to see the movie in theaters, see it again if it was outstanding, and then be satisfied until it comes out on DVD, or even earlier via digital nowadays.  Are we really that keen to see a movie again upon leaving the theater?

I remember when The Avengers came out in 2012, and one of everyone’s favorite moments was when Hulk beat Loki like a rag doll in the Stark Tower penthouse.  In looking at Avengers stuff on the Internet after I had seen the film, and managed to find a cammed clip of the scene on YouTube.  The audio wasn’t great and it was in French, but it made me smile again.  About a week later, the clip was nowhere to be seen.  This was fully understandable back then, but nowadays, it’s rare to find a cammed clip on YouTube.  What’s also hard to believe, is that the Hulk scene from The Avengers is currently uploaded by dozens of channels on YouTube.  I can now search "Hulk beats Loki" on YouTube and I could find numerous videos of the same clip that was originally cammed with better audio and video.  

What’s also interesting is the extent of how many movie clips are actually on YouTube.  If there’s any moment in the history film that you want to see in the form of a clip, you will most likely find it on YouTube, even if it wasn’t in a marketed trailer.  You can see the spoiled ending to most of these movies via a clip.  Now if someone were to upload a film in it’s entirety with it’s original format, it’s likely to get removed.  Part of this is because it’s now possible to view movies on YouTube which are purchased through Google Play.  But, if the whole movie is already on YouTube with quality audio and video in the form of short clips across multiple videos, what’s the point in paying money for it?  Now, I’m sure that very few people have actually watched a full movie on YouTube in the form of clips, as it’s a very inconvenient way to watch a film. Plus, people who upload nothing but movie clips are probably only interested in getting views and subscribers for their channels, or for the sake of monetization.  But if I want to watch Harry Potter kill the Basilisk in Chamber of Secrets, and that’s all I want to watch, it’d be convenient for my time if I could just find the clip on YouTube.  Otherwise, I’d be putting in my Chamber of Secrets DVD and going to scene select and viewing it there. 

The reason I find the vast number of movie clips on YouTube so odd is because of the recent infringement of Fair Use Policy by production studios on YouTube.  If you’re uninformed about what this is, there’s an entire video explaining it here (credit to Channel Awesome on YouTube), but essentially, numerous "YouTubers" who use movie clips in their videos under Fair Use Policy (meaning not for profit), are having copyright claims placed on their videos in which studios can essentially have the video taken down, or even gain profit from the video’s monetization.  So basically if I were to make a video of my Iron Man review and upload it to YouTube, and I used clips from Iron Man, there’s a chance I could have my video removed by Marvel/Disney if they place a copyright claim on my video, or if I had a monetized channel, they could gain profit from my video instead of me.  

So if people aren’t allowed to use clips in their film reviews, but hundreds upon thousands of unaltered movie clips still stand on YouTube, why haven’t all of these clips disappeared?  It’s rare nowadays for a cammed movie clip to last more than a day on YouTube, and understandably so.  If the studio hasn’t officially released the clip to the public via the Internet or Blu-Ray release, they have the right to remove it.  It’s also not fair to have the cammed clip available to people who maybe haven’t seen the movie yet and would otherwise spoil it.  But if entire films are on YouTube in the form of unaltered clips, why have the channels that upload them gone untouched by studios who are infringing Fair Use Policy?  What gives them a pass, and not critics?

This has all become a serious problem for professional YouTubers, especially in the last year.  YouTube critics who have a right to express their opinion are having money taken from them, or have had their videos removed altogether, even if they follow Fair Use.  What’s worse is that now some videos can even be removed for using officially released images and stills of movies, again even if they follow Fair Use.  This is a horrible mess that YouTube themselves have a duty to clean up as a company, and are doing very little about it. 

I bring all this up because we’ve witnessed the downward spiral of film studios taking advantage of their ability to place copyright claims on film clips and remove videos.  The problem is that it’s not just a removal of a YouTube video, but an infringement on free speech.  I agree with the fact that studios do have a right to remove cammed clips, but to remove a review that follows Fair Use and is non-profit isn’t fair while there are thousands of unaltered clips uploaded to YouTube that go untouched. I believe that what we’ve seen happen with YouTube can very easily be applied to social media, and risk ruining the medium as we know it.  Namely in Instagram.

I love Instagram, and I’ve been a user since 2012.  There are very few annoying ads like Facebook, you can unfollow people who post ads or fake stuff, and the things that genuine people post are fresh. Whether it be artwork, someone working out, rock concerts, or nature photographers, Instagram has something for everyone.  Many people like to run an Instagram with a consistent theme.  For some, it’s puppies.  Some really like Nike shoes.  For many, it’s movies.  I follow a number of movie accounts which are themed to a specific franchise which post stills, fan edits, fan art, and short clips of movies. These are usually very well known clips such as "No, I am your father", or "I’m bringing the party to you".  Instagram (originally) allows 15 second videos to be posted, and for a movie account, fifteen seconds is all anyone needs.  However, I’ve noticed a trend among many of these film-themed accounts recently; camming.  

Within the last six months the world has seen the release of two juggernauts in the film industry, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Captain America: Civil War.  After Star Wars had been in theaters for awhile (which was a long time), I began noticing cammed clips of the movie showing up on Instagram. It’s conceivable that by this point in the film’s release (February and March), that almost everyone on the planet had seen the movie, and clips wouldn’t come off as a spoiler to anyone. However these were clips of very central moments to the film’s plot, and I was honestly surprised that Disney as a company had allowed them to slide.  But to my surprise, the clips didn’t go away.  What was even more surprising was how good the clips looked.  They were good quality clips with no shaky came, and the audio, though a bit muffled, was completely audible.

Fast-forward to May, and Civil War comes out.  The movie was a smash hit, and everyone loved it.  However, within the first two weeks of the film’s release, cammed clips began to show up on Instagram. What’s worse was that between The Blu-Ray release of The Force Awakens and the theatrical release of Civil War, Instagram had raised their limit on the length of videos from 15 seconds to a full minute.  Now, you can find large portions of the airport fight scene on Instagram.  "Move your seat up" is there too. Images and gifs from the final fight between Tony and Cap can be found, which means someone had to have cammed them. Civil War hasn’t even been in theaters a whole month yet, and you can easily find these clips on Instagram, just search #CivilWar.  The users who post the cams act like it’s nothing, when clearly it’s an illegal practice.  The clips of Civl War, while still obviously cammed, look and sound even better than the ones from The Force Awakens.  

Now, you may be wondering how good quality camming is even possible when you consider how strictly theaters and movie studios crack down on cammers.  Well, the movie industry is a big deal nowadays, and cinemas like AMC, Carmike, or Regal are likely to crack down on cammers because they’re such huge theaters.  But that doesn’t account for the fact that there are still smaller theaters out there, some owned by small companies or are discount branches of these large cinema corporations.  Some of these cinemas are entirely independent.  It’s conceivable for a cammer to go to a small town dollar theater with low security on a weeknight to the latest showing of Civil War.  They could smuggle a collapsable tripod in their backpack with a decent camera and record the entire movie because they’re the only person in the theater.  It’s also conceivable that the same person can download the clips of Civil War onto their iPhone and proceed to periodically upload them to Instagram.  

The funny thing is that I don’t see any of these clips on YouTube.  In this day and age, it’s too risky to upload them.  But what’s the difference between YouTube and Instagram? For one thing, YouTube is enabled with copyright and Anti-Piracy Coding to detect movies and clips that have been uploaded illegally, including ones that are cammed.  Instagram doesn’t have anti-piracy coding, so people are allowed to post anything they want.  Now to be fair, there are far worse things you can find on Instagram such as political photos, fake ads, sex ads, practically nude photos, blackmail and other posts.  But Instagram also makes an effort to avoid such content by restricting the use of inappropriate hashtags and downright removing inappropriate photos.  That still doesn’t change the fact that garbage shows up in my "featured" feed, but that’s another story for another time.  Basically, Instagram has no control over these cammed clips.  They can’t remove them because they’re not inappropriate, and there are no restrictions as to what people can post to Instagram. Since the footage is likely edited before it goes on Instagram, it isn’t unaltered camming, and thus nothing can be done about it.  Plus, it’s much easier for someone to post a clip to Instagram than YouTube.  It’s a less complicated system.  Plus, there are far more people with Instagram accounts than YouTube accounts, so tracking these cammers is a total disaster.  These clips get around fast on Instagram, and Instagram as a company simply can’t remove these clips with the push of a button to the extent that YouTube can.  

So, what am I getting at here?  Well, it’s quite possible that production studios can do to Instagram what they have already done to YouTube.  Pressure from these studios on Instagram could result in Instagram enacting a policy in which studios are allowed to remove clips from accounts, or even shut down accounts altogether.  You may think "Oh, it’s only for hunting down cammers…".  Well, that was true for YouTube a long time ago, and it has evolved into the cancer that it is today.  This could give studios the power to remove clips that are already available to the public.  And the thing is is that people can’t make money off an Instagram account like they can with YouTube, at least not directly, so Fair Use isn’t even a question here.  Since studios are able to remove images from videos, they could just as easily do the same for officially released images posted to Instagram accounts not their own.  A younger Instagram user who just saw the latest Marvel movie, may post an officially released screenshot or poster from the film to his account.  He could log back on only to find his account shut down. 

You may think that this would only apply to Instagram accounts who post cammed clips or movie related images.  But who’s to say the madness will stop there.  Let’s remember that this is also a sketchy issue in the gaming industry.  Nintendo made the controversial decision to forcibly make profit off of anyone’s video on YouTube featuring their games and they still crack down on their copyrighted material today.  Nintendo claimed that this was to encourage users to use MiiVerse on the Wii U.  Who’s to say that other industries won’t be willing join the craze as well?  Many Instagram accounts feature music videos.  The music industry could easily bank here.  What about cars? Retailers? Fashion? 

Again, this is all a scenario.  But we’ve seen power corrupt on YouTube because companies wanted total control over their content and were willing to infringe people’s right to free speech for the sake of profit.  We’re witnessing Instagram become an uncontrolled mess and sooner or later, companies will want control.  We’re first going to have to answer the question as to how this issue will be resolved on YouTube to further determine if it will cross over into other mediums such as Instagram. 

So why am I writing this?  Well, I’ve used YouTube since 2007 when I had a friend over at my house show it to me.  Back then, it was a simpler time.  The videos weren’t great by today’s standards, but we were fascinated that the videos were even there to begin with.  Nowadays, that charm is dead.  YouTube is now a business.  That’s not to say that there are still highly talented people on YouTube who should be making money off of their creative content.  But the fact that studios and corporations are allowed to abuse YouTube for their own sake and infringe free speech is just wrong.  

When I first started using Instagram, the charm was very similar to when I first started using YouTube.  The photos weren’t the quality they are today, but I was happy to even have photos to begin with.  There were nice things people posted, and it supplied a cornucopia of memes for people to laugh at.  Instagram has had a six year lifespan, and YouTube has eleven years under its belt.  I have since seen Instagram undergo similar changes now that YouTube did back in 2010 when it was six years old.  It has a featured page, you can post minute-long videos, and unfortunately, Instagram now has ads.  What I don’t want to see is the social media service that my 13-year old self fell in love with in 2012 turn into a business that can be abused by studios and big corporations.  Instagram is still an expressive medium just like YouTube in which people are allowed to exercise free speech.  And whether it stays that way isn’t a decision to be made by Instagram or the corporations themselves, but by us.  The millions users who make up social media today and are capable of supporting real change.

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; June 2016

Originally Posted to MoviePilot: Why Does Dreamworks Want You To Forget The Prince Of Egypt?

Last year, I began writing a blog on Moviepilot, a sight which I haven't touched since August.  The first article I wrote on the site was an analysis of why Dreamworks seems to ignore one of their earliest films, The Prince of Egypt, from a marketing standpoint.  To date, it's my most read article at over 50,000 reads.  Upon posting it, Moviepilot began to butcher my article by removing images I used, adding in new images, and even editing my own words.  This is one of many reasons why I left Moviepilot, and am now writing independently on my site.  I would encourage you to refrain from using Moviepilot as a means of expressing your film opinions, but if you enjoy it, I'm not going to stop you by any means.

Here is the original article with some slight grammar and language edits.  Enjoy:

Why Does Dreamworks Want You To Forget 'The Prince Of Egypt'?

Long ago, back in the days when animated films weren't afraid to try something new, Dreamworks produced a little flick known as The Prince of Egypt, an animated musical about the Biblical story of Moses, and the Exodus.  Simply stating that out loud only goes to show how a movie like this was destined to fail from the start. However. Prince turned out to be not only an achievement in animation, music, and film making, but became what I consider to be possibly the greatest animated movie of all time. The film is beautiful with breath-taking shots, angles and hand-drawn backgrounds. The music is spectacular and does what many musicals fail to do nowadays, which is move the story.  However, as years go on, Dreamworks has leaned to no longer acknowledge The Prince of Egypt. I mean, it's not like it's been removed from their official cannon, and you can still buy it through film services.  But just about everywhere I look, Dreamworks is putting all of their attention toward some of their more recent successes such as How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, and even some of their oldies which weren't even that great to begin with.  This is very unorthodox to studios such as Disney, Pixar, and even illumination which continue to market some of their earliest movies.  

I wanted analyze this issue, and ask the question of why there seems to be a marketing prejudice to this film by its own creators.

Reason 1- Religious Aspect

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

Having been raised in a religious environment myself, I’ve been exposed to 2 different types of Biblical film adaptations:

The first, are very cheaply made animation segments about Biblical stories designed for children which only serve the purpose of communicating a Bible story to pre-schoolers. These do their job well, but fail to do anything groundbreaking in terms of film making, let alone don’t hold up very well.  

The second, are big budget epics based off Bible stories which attempt to put an "original spin" on such story.  These films include recent productions such as Noah, Exodus: Gods and Kings and History Channel’s The Bible. Films such as these have definitely become a trend in the last half decade. However, most of them fail to straight out tell the story, and tend to insert random content which has nothing to do with the original story. Elements like these only serve the purpose of entertainment, or for the filmmakers to give their own original take on the Bible. The only live action film off the top of my head which does this well, would be Passion of the Christ .

Prince, though technically neither of these, would probably fall into the latter category, because Dreamworks is a big budget company.  With that, it is odd that they were able to accomplish 1- A mostly faithful adaptation to the Exodus with almost no changes that would be considered too offensive; and 2- They were able to do it in an age where Biblical films (and even faith films for that matter) would crash and burn. Prince was able to rise to a level of quality that very few films manage to achieve.

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

So, Dreamworks ignoring this film because of religion (sort of) doesn't make much sense on its own.  In an age where we tend to censor media so as to not offend varying groups, I have read dozens of comments from non-Christian, non-Jewish, and even non-religious individuals who say they love this film. Hell, you can ask just about any movie-buff nowadays about Prince, and many are familiar with it, and love it to death. 

So despite so many people loving the movie, Dreamworks still cuts their acknowledgement from it, and I have evidence to hammer this home.

In 2014, Dreamworks celebrated their 20th anniversary by re-releasing all of their films on newly formatted DVDs and Blu-Rays. At Target, I was able to find every film they made except The Prince of Egypt. They even had a triple-feature DVD of the studios' 2D movies: The Road to El Dorado, Sinbad of the Seven Seas, and Joseph: King of Dreams. Prince was nowhere in sight. So, why the triple-feature contained the direct-to-DVD "prequel" to Prince ('Joseph' being a bland movie, and wildly inaccurate portrayal of the source material), but didn't actually contain Prince really leaves me scratching my head.  Why would they not re-release this movie, given a trend in Christian-based filmmaking, and a mostly positive public opinion?

Reason 2- The recent Prejudice to 2-D animated films

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

Animation nowadays usually tends to be classified "kids stuff" through the minds of general audiences-- I say usuallyPractically everyone is familiar with Pixar and their tendency to make more mature films that both adults and their kids can enjoy. Audiences in the modern age are almost entirely uninterested in seeing a traditionally animated (2-D) film on the big screen, let alone just watch one with their family. This is probably because most adults in the modern era associate traditional 2D animation as "kids stuff" because when they were kids, they had hand drawn cartoons and movies from Disney, Warner Bros., etc.; As those same people entered adulthood, the world saw the dawn of 3-D animation which seemed to be respecting the maturity of its audience.  Pixar surprised the world with Toy Story which made use of a lot of humor adults could relate to, which was mostly unseen in 2-D films at the time. Dreamworks used the same humor with their first film, Antz, which was incredibly edgy for an animated film, and a lot of adult language, a huge no-no for animation at the time.

My childhood was when hand-drawn animation was dying and shifting over to 3-D animation, so the films I saw in theaters, or at least remember seeing in theaters, were both 3D films like Finding Nemo, and 2D films such as Brother Bear or Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. In addition, my family owned almost every traditionally animated Disney movie from the previous century on VHS. So growing up, I was well exposed to 2D animation and I liked it. I considered it normal, and could find value in it.  This is something that most families show their kids nowadays, so future generations can be exposed to 2D animation, and appreciate it for years to come. 

Then you have some kids (which there are a lot of them) who only take interest in 3D animation. 2D, is art; It's entirely hand drawn, so it requires a lot of work, but in the end, 2D comes out beautifully and is a spectacle to look at. This is where the problem for kids comes in. Most kids nowadays just don't enjoy looking at "art". They want detail, realism, something they can immerse themselves in, and not simply watch. Kids are growing up in an era where animation has reached near-realistic levels of detail, and is being used in every animated movie, and even most shows in the modern era. 2D is still used limitedly in TV, but because budgets are cheaper, those shows are mainly generated in computers. Even then, pretty much every show which uses 2D has to make use of some CG elements in order to express certain elements of the story. 

My point is, 3D is something kids can more easily see and relate to because it looks more realistic to a child's mind. Children, until they can develop a conscience to understand what a full length film is saying from start to finish and retain it, are mainly into the film for something to look at or listen/sing to. For me, this conscience wasn't developed until I was about 8, 9 or 10, and by then, I was able to appreciate what I watched as a child all the more. So if kids are losing more and more interest in 2D because of a surplus of 3D detail, they want something they can see as realistic and can relate to, which also has the comical energy for them to watch at their very young maturity level. This is why 3D animation is the go-to for children of today, unless they are exposed to classic 2D films thanks to their parents.

Unfortunately, unless we continue to show future generations the beauties of 2D, future generations may only be exposed to 3D animation, given its rapid growth in the market. With multiple studios not willing to give 2D another shot, this outcome might be inevitable.

Now, back to Prince. Dreamworks only has a total of 4 (technically 5) 2D films on their roster. Prince definitely rises above the other 3 on terms of quality level; it's a powerful film. The other 3, on the whole, are just okay in my opinion. The animation on the other 3 are still great, but don't do achieve anything on the level that The Prince of Egypt did. So, given that Disney wasn't doing that great with their 2D films, and it was given that audiences were losing interest, Dreamworks ultimately decided to ditch their 2D projects altogether, despite some projects being very popular among audiences.

Another reason is that Disney had 70 more years worth of 2D films than Dreamworks did, so people are much more likely to go back to Disney's 2D roots than Dreamworks'. Most general audiences will even mistake Dreamwork's 2D films for Disney's because "the mouse" had dominated the industry for such a long time. 

Reason 3: Dreamworks' Recent Successes

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

Through most of the 2000s, Dreamworks still acknowledged Prince of Egypt as "a thing". For a long time, Dreamworks had poor success with their films all-around, outside of the Shrek series. Then Kung Fu Panda came along in 2008, which sparked a new era of breakout success of Dreamworks. This was a time when Dreamworks was finally making movies that had a little more effort and heart put into them. This, combined with the massive success brought on by the Madagascar franchise and How to Train Your Dragon (which quickly became many people's favorite movie from the studio), Dreamworks was finally making quality films, which for the time, were outdoing the Disney juggernaut, outside of their Pixar studio. 

Nowadays, Kung Fu Panda and HTTYD are big franchises. While Dreamworks recently went through another drop in quality within the last two years, they've made more money off these movies alone.  Additionally, they've found even more success from their migration into TV, Netflix, and the Internet, and the numerous direct-to-DVD shorts they put out. So, logically, maybe Dreamworks has decided that they just don't need The Prince of Egypt, as they have multiple properties that have brought them breakout success, which makes re-releasing Prince on Blu-Ray, completely unecessary. 

Reason 4: Regret

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

While this isn’t the strongest reason, there’s a good chance that Dreamworks simply treats the Prince era like a part of their past they wish to forget.  Between 2000 and 2004, Dreamworks was releasing some awkward films (Sharktale anyone?), which is believable conclusion;  Many studios have some trouble finding their footing in their earliest years. It still seems odd though, given that their head-honcho Jeff Katzenburg wanted Prince to be a mature story, and not a fairy tale like their rivals Disney put out for so many decades. 

Conclusion

If you haven't seen The Prince of Egypt, please see it. It's on Netflix, and multiple other video services which just doesn't do the film enough justice, given the spectacle that is this movie.  Dreamworks is still skeptical about marketing the film because of religious sensitivity in our modern society, a decline in use of 2D animation, and the company putting more effort into their latest successes.  Will Prince continue to be an underrated classic? I don't know.  Would I like to see it re-released on Blu-Ray? Absolutely.  It’ll take a miracle for that to happen, but still, there can be miracles when you believe. 

Dreamworks

Dreamworks

(Article Originally Posted March 25th, 2015 to Moviepilot account: dbrash_nation. Original article: http://moviepilot.com/posts/2811250 )

-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; March 2016