Apr 172015
 

A few pop culture thoughts to end the week:

  • The new teaser for the upcoming Star Wars movie stands up well to repeated viewings. That shot of a Star Destroyer wreck in the desert (apparently not Tatooine, though) looks magnificent. But the teaser also raises many questions. What exactly is this new iteration of the Empire glimpsed in various scenes? Did the Rebels totally screw up their chance at governance? Are Han and Leia still a thing? These are the questions that will keep me awake between now and December.
  • I’ve only seen a couple episodes of the Daredevil series on Netflix, but what I have seen is excellent. The tone is dark but not oppressive, the dialogue is snappy, and the fight scenes are stunning. You should watch it.
Apr 092015
 

Republican legislators in red states like Kansas and Missouri are doing their damnedest to ensure that poor people never experience one moment of fun or pleasure on the public dime. The Kansas legislature recently passed a bill that would prohibit people from using their cash assistance at pools, movie theaters, cruise ships, casinos, race tracks, and other businesses. It would also restrict them from withdrawing more than $25 per day from their benefit accounts. A Missouri bill would prevent people from using food assistance to purchase seafood, chips, soda, energy drinks, and cookies.

Some restrictions on public benefits make sense, but these bills seem largely motivated by moral panic and antipathy. Republicans generally regard poverty as the direct result of moral failings. Conservative ideology demands that people with moral failings be treated with a firm hand or they will continue to make bad choices. These bills also provide a troubling insight into the conservative imagination. They perceive poverty as fun. They think that poor people spend their days going to the movies, eating lobster, and taking the occasional cruise courtesy of the taxpayer. Their deeply distorted view of poverty leads to policies that only compound the stresses that poor people experience every day. It’s cruelty thinly disguised as paternalistic compassion. And in most red states, that cruelty is only becoming more entrenched.

 

 

Apr 012015
 

Indiana lawmakers are really bad at understanding cause and effect. How else can we explain their stunned and bumbling reactions to the swift public condemnation of the “religious freedom” law that they recently passed? They should have been prepared to give a full-throated defense of their discriminatory law before the ink was even dry on the governor’s signature of the bill. They should have proudly declared that their fellow conservative Christian evangelicals deserve protection from the strains of living in an open, diverse society. They should have presented reams of testimonials from thousands of Christian businesses owners who lie awake at night, terrified at the prospect of selling a pizza to a gay couple or baking a cake for a same-sex wedding. Instead, they’re still staring slack-jawed into the high beams of censure from a modern world that is becoming ever more foreign to them.

I don’t have a problem with people opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Their views are rooted in superstitious silliness, but they are free to hold them. But when those in power implicitly legalize discrimination as a reactionary response to changing social mores and then get called on it, they have no right to wave their hands and claim it’s all a big misunderstanding. Lawmakers in Indianapolis, who most likely regard themselves as “real” Americans, decided to pass legislation that spits in the face of American ideals of equality and fairness. They don’t get to claim victimhood after the fact.

Mar 272015
 

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is not sparing in its delivery of jokes. If you glance at your phone while watching an episode, you may miss a half-dozen quips. This Netflix comedy about a young woman starting over in New York after being rescued from a cult isn’t just a joke machine, though. Ellie Kemper is perfectly cast as the naïve but kind-hearted Kimmy and the writers surround her with other endearing outsiders, including a struggling gay actor and a burnt-out landlady.

The show is also a treat for the eyes. New York is presented in kaleidoscopic color, in stark contrast to the muddy-hued flashbacks to Kimmy’s time in the cult’s bunker. Even Kimmy’s outfits are clever visual plays on her surroundings. There’s so much going on in the first season that it demands a second viewing. And if you haven’t seen it yet, it’s perfect binge material for a rainy weekend.

 

Mar 242015
 

The 90s are coming back in a big way. A Clinton will soon be running for President. My favorite gaming genre is enjoying a resurgence in popularity. And most importantly, The X-Files is returning! Fox announced today that the paranormal drama will be revived as a limited 6-episode series that will feature both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson reprising their roles as Mulder and Scully. No word yet on whether The Lone Gunmen will make an appearance.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I was a big fan of the show back in the day, so this news is terribly exciting for me. Six episodes seems like an ideal vehicle for a revival. It should allow for enough time to tell a few good stories without getting bogged down in ponderous mythology. If the writing is good and attracts an audience, perhaps we’ll get another season. And if not, even mediocre X-Files is better than nothing.

All I need now from this wave of 90s nostalgia is another Massive Attack album.

Mar 232015
 

Ted Cruz should enjoy his moment in the spotlight because today is likely to be the apex of his presidential campaign. Yes, he could pull out a victory in Iowa, where caucusgoers have a history of voting for the person who most fervently promises to wage holy warfare on secular America. But a man who is something of a pariah in his own party probably has little hope of winning the nomination. Cruz is a smart guy and I’m sure he knows the odds; I suspect this whole exercise is his gleeful attempt to force the other candidates to pander to his base while he burnishes his credentials for a lucrative post-Senate career as right-wing pundit.

Even though Cruz’s campaign couldn’t be any more cynical, it should produce some entertaining soundbites. And by “entertaining”, I mean “batshit crazy”.

Mar 162015
 

Sarah Kliff of Vox offers an excellent explanation of Republican plans to transform Medicaid into a block grant. Instead of guaranteeing to cover a fixed percentage of all enrollees’ medical expenses, the federal government would give each state a specific amount of money to spend on Medicaid coverage. Republicans claim that this would give states more flexibility to tailor coverage to meet the needs of their residents. But by placing a specific dollar limit on Medicaid spending, millions of people would likely lose coverage. In other words, “block grant” is a euphemism for deep cuts.

Republicans are deeply hostile to any Medicaid spending that benefits low-income adults because they see it as a disincentive to work. These are the people who are most likely to suffer under Medicaid block grants. And many of them work low-paying jobs that don’t provide affordable health insurance. It would remove an already frayed safety net from those who dwell on the economic margins of society. The elderly and people with disabilities are also likely to see substantial cuts in services, so everyone will feel some pain if block grants are implemented.

Republicans will do their best to disguise the true human cost of their policy proposals, which is why explanatory posts like Kliff’s are so important. We can’t allow conservatives to put innocuous labels on their terrible ideas.

Mar 122015
 

Rogue One, the first Star Wars spinoff movie announced today, has me intrigued. The title hints that it may focus on X-wing pilots, which presents all kinds of interesting storytelling possibilities. And it could have a woman as the lead character, which may demonstrate that Disney is trying to expand the franchise’s appeal to a wider audience. While we have yet to see whether any of these movies will actually be good, I’m impressed thus far with Disney’s handling of the property. They seem to be making real efforts to create a movie universe that could be just as interesting as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has worked out quite well for them.

Feb 272015
 

Leonard Nimoy’s Spock has long been a touchstone and role model for me. In Spock, I saw an outsider like myself who still managed to earn friendship and respect despite his alien attributes. His accomplishments were rooted in his intelligence, but he was no robot. He abhorred cruelty and a strong undercurrent of compassion ran beneath his cool facade of logic. I will never be as smart or rational as Spock, but I could do my best to follow his example. I could be another outsider who manages to find a place in the world and achieves some degree of success. I could try to approach problems thoughtfully and remain calm when things go wrong. I could be serious without being humorless.

It might have taken me a lot longer to figure this out if I hadn’t met Mr. Spock via reruns on TV. And I’m so saddened that Nimoy, the man who breathed so much humanity into the alien, is now gone. But Spock endures and that gives me some comfort. As long as people strive to be a little more rational and a little more decent to each other, Spock endures.

Feb 202015
 

I’m excited to see what director Neil Blomkamp does with the Alien franchise. District 9 is one of my favorite science fiction films of the last few years and an Alien movie could be a great showcase for his gritty, shakycam-fuelled sensibility. And if his movie chooses to ignore the mess that came after Aliens, even better. Based on some of the concept art that Blomkamp previously shared on his Instagram feed, we could get to see the return of Ripley and a grizzled Corporal Hicks. I’m also taking bets on what role Sharlto Copley will play and whether his character will survive until the end of the movie.