Deep Thoughts & Pronouncements

SKIP INTRO is Why I Live in the Future

If you have a Netflix subscription (or are borrowing someone else’s), you’ve likely noticed the new “Ship Intro” option whcih allows you to, say, not watch the goddamn credits sequence for Friends for the 5,000th time. There have been some think pieces about this new feature that lament the loss of credit sequences, noting that a few such sequences (Bojack Horseman is mentioned as an example) actually make watching the intro worthwhile.

Hogwash. The SHIP INTRO feature is the greatest thing invented this week.

I grew up in the era of Awful TV. I had four channels as a kid, didn’t get cable until I was 14, and our primitive VCR was a top-loader. If you don’t know what a top-loader is, or what a VCR is, or what cable is, you are one of the blessed, move along. My point is, when I was younger I not only had to watch the fucking credits, I had very little control at all over what I watched. It was pretty terrible.

The people who think SKIP INTRO is a bad thing are the same people who wish Times Square in New York City was still filled to the brim with prostitutes, drug dealers, porno theaters, and garbage. I remember taking a bus into New York while in high school and being propositioned by male prostitutes, so people who have affection for the old-school Times Square are idiots. I don’t care how awful the modern version is (and it is awful) I still wouldn’t go back.

SKIP INTRO of course still allows you to watch the damn intro if you have a reason to. It’s just that now you have a choice. You don’t have to watch the same scenes repeated over and over again, endlessly. It’s a glorious time to be alive, and I for one am very happy that the world’s greatest technical minds aren’t wasting time on cancer cures but rather finding ways to make my streaming video experience slightly more pleasant. More of that, please.

Room 104 and Bad Writing Decisions

Psychotic Breaks for Everyone!

I’m okay with the Duplass Brothers. I don’t love everything they do, but they’re interesting, usually surprising, and always kind of smart about their projects. Even when they slum in crappy movies or TV shows, they’re interesting. So, okay.

Room 104 is an anthology series created and largely written by the Duplass bros. Anthologies with conceits like this—every story takes place in the same nondescript motel room, at different times and eras—usually wind up being quite a mixed bag, but since it’s the Duplasses I figured, let’s check out the first episode, Ralphie.

SPOILERS. Oh, so many spoilers. I’m gonna, like, completely discuss the entire plot. So if you care about spoilers (you shouldn’t though) and want to watch this, stop reading … now.

The Story

These episodes are only 30 minutes, so the stories are going to be short and sweet. In Ralphie, a single dad calls a babysitter to Room 104 to watch his son, Ralph, while he goes on a date. The babysitter makes awkward small talk with the Dad while he gets ready to leave, Ralph won’t come out of the bathroom, the babysitter offers to show the Dad her references but he’s like, no need, babe, you look totally sane and cool.

After Dad leaves, the babysitter coaxes Ralph out of the bathroom. He’s a sleepy kid with a flat affect, and he warns her that Ralphie is in the bathroom and will come out and mess everyone up if they’re not careful. The kid is creepy, and when he claims she “woke” Ralphie, he runs into the bathroom. A moment later a kid who looks just like him emerges from the bathroom, shirtless, wearing a yellow cape, and screams I’m gonna get you! as he goes apeshit on the babysitter, who runs in shock and terror. Then Ralphie goes back into the bathroom and Ralph comes back out, all innocent and asking if she’s okay—did Ralphie “get” her?

Things calm down, and babysitter tries to coax the kid to go to sleep. Ralph wants to tell her about the time his mother committed suicide, which freaks her out, and then Ralph says that was a joke—actually, Ralphie totally killed his mom, and now he’s terrified Ralphie will kill him. Babysitter is totally freaked, then Ralph claims Ralphie woke up again, goes back into the barthroom, and then … two kids emerge. Ralph, and Ralphie. Ralphie proceeds to go apeshit and strangles Ralph to death, then comes for the babysitter, exhibiting superhuman strength and nearly killing her before she gets the upper hand and strangles him.

Then Dad comes home, and there’s only one kid, and the babysitter totally murdered him. Except, the bathroom door suddenly slams on its own.

The Problem(s)

Stories are hard. And half an hour of screen time isn’t much. And sometimes you have a great idea for an ending or a premise and you lose sight of good storytelling to get there.

Based solely on the quick mention of her “references” that the Dad’s too horny to bother looking at, I think we’re supposed to assume that Babysitter is delusional, imagines Ralphie, and kills the kid for her own reasons. The problem? The show does no work to get us there. Babysitter is presented as nice enough, concerned, responsible, and timid—after all, when a small boy in a yellow cape attacks her, she doesn’t throw him across the room. She cowers behind the curtains.

Or perhaps there’s a supernatural element, but again there’s no work done to show how it affects Babysitter—she goes from kind of freaked out and unhappy to choking out a little boy in no time flat.

There are practical concerns, too. Ralphie apparently sleeps in the bathroom when he’s not murdering folks, which, okay; I can see a crazy kid coming up with that sort of “Superman” solution to his secret second identity. But didn’t Babysitter have to go to the bathroom at some point? Was there a kid in there or not? Or did she not hydrate at all that day and so sat for three hours without once needing to pee?

Nice Touches

This isn’t to say the story wasn’t entertaining. The tone and mood were creepy AF, and there were some nice grace notes—like the aforementioned references, the way the episode opened on the Dad sitting on the bed of the room with his head in his hands like he knows he’s living a nightmare, the mileage gotten from a closed bathroom door. This isn’t terrible, but it’s sloppy. It’s all sizzle and no steak.

Luckily, anthologies offer something new every week, so let’s keep watching and see what happens.

On Strike Against Blackouts

The time has come to make a stand. There are many possible stands I could take. I could decide that flavored whiskies must be destroyed in the marketplace. Or that haircuts are a form of oppression. But the stand I have chosen to make is to protest against the Blackout Ending.

What’s a Blackout Ending? It is often referred to as The Sopranos Ending. You know, where everyone was on the edge of their seat waiting to see if Tony was going to get shot in the head while eating onion rings with his family, and then the screen cut to black and David Chase basically stuck his thumb into your eye? Here’s a screenshot:

I especially love the blocking in this shot.

This should also forever be known as the only time anyone will ever be allowed to do this in the age of Prestige Television, by dint of being the first to do it. And also because I believe Chase did the heavy lifting in the editing and construction of that final sequence to earn his Blackout Ending. You can sift through the cuts and actually make a case for what happened, so I am inclined to give him a Mulligan on this and allow it.

Everyone else who’s done it since? Fuck you, you lazy writers.

The Lady? Or the Tiger?

The ending that isn’t an ending, or the Anti-Ending, isn’t new. The most famous example is probably The Lady, or The Tiger? by Frank Stockton, published in 1882. Anyone who attended at least one decent school probably read this story at some point. If you didn’t, it’s time to reflect on the terribleness of your education. But, that said, it’s not a good story. It’s well-written, but its fame comes from its non-ending, when Stockton basically asks the reader what they think just happened. It cuts to black. It’s bullshit. It was ever bullshit, and it ever remains thus.

Since The Sopranos, other shows have tried this trick, most recently Fargo on FX, which ended with the villain and the hero sitting in an interrogation room, arguing over what was going to happen next. Cut to credits, and we never found out. There are a lot of arguments that this is a perfectly acceptable way to end a story. That it encourages people to come up with their own endings, to study the episodes before and decide what happened.

This is what Literary Scientists call bullshit.

Yes, those arguments are valid enough. And some people like these sorts of endings, arguing that anything the writers came up with would be disappointing. And certainly a lot of endings are disappointing—most notably endings that just cut to black like that. But

  1. The Sopranos gets a pass because it was the first TV show in the modern era to pull this trick. Points for surprise.
  2. The Sopranos gets a pass because, as mentioned, Chase put the work in to seed that sequence with clues that, taken together, point towards a reasonably certain conclusion

Every other show since then is just giving up and saying ¯\_(?)_/¯ as an ending. Listen, I have approximately 5,001 unfinished novels on my hard drive. If this is what we’re doing, I can publish about 5,000 of them immediately. I’ll just cut off the last chapter mid-sentence and let you all bastards figure out what happened.

Why I Haven’t Watched the New “Twin Peaks”

It’s 1989 all over again.

I can only assume you all spend about 104% of your time watching entertainments, because otherwise I have no idea how you’ve all already watched everything. I mean, seriously: These TV shows require hours and hours of your time. Are people really bingeing through 10 hours of a show and then shuffling to work at the Emergency Room, where they sew a few sponges into my abdomen and nod off during lunch?

When I was a kid, I was a huge Twin Peaks fan. Yuuuugggggee. I can still remember the moment Dale Cooper had his first dream vision, and I was god-damned mesmerized. I can also remember watching the Season Two finale with some friends in a rented house at college; there was a storm raging outside and I was white knuckled terrified during that ending sequence. Twin Peaks was ridiculous and overwrought and deeply silly, but damn it was good stuff.

I haven’t watched the new version on Showtime. Because life is short.

Down to My Final Trillion Seconds

As far as I know, I’m going to die someday. And based on my functional alcoholism, that time is likely much closer than I might like to think. Which means I have to use my time wisely, which means, put simply, that I no longer make time to watch things live. I DVR them, I order them on-demand, I download them from the Internet. And I only do that if the reviews and think-pieces make it seem worthwhile.

So, maybe the new Twin Peaks is great. Maybe it’s terrible. Time will tell, and I’ll be waiting until it does, because I only have so much time to spend on fictions and entertainments. And considering that we have this power—to vet our entertainment before we spend/waste time on it—why don’t we? Just seems foolish to commit 2 hours to Twin Peaks Mark 2 before I even know if it’s any good.

I could be spending that time drinking, is what I’m saying.

It’s Not Impostor Syndrome if You’re Actually Faking It

Jeff, I think you know why we’ve called this meeting: You absolutely must start wearing pants to the office.

AS AN author, I hear about Impostor Syndrome a lot. This syndrome, if you have somehow lived this long without encountering it, is when perfectly capable, competent people believe their own success (or lack of failure) is the result of sheer luck and circumstance—that they are, in fact, frauds.

Writers are easy marks for this kind of corrosive self-doubt; no matter how successful you are as a writer, of course, there will be a group of people who consider your work to be terrible, and most writers wind up in that Twilight Zone of mid-level success: A few publishing credits to your name, but no significant sales breakthrough, meaning you make a few pennies and get some recognition, but you’re still working a day job and still hustling every minute of the day instead of lounging by the pool of chocolate pudding in your tropical estate. Or something; your fantasy of being rich and wildly successful may vary.

So when you sell a story or a novel, it’s easy to think you just got lucky, and many of us do just that. I often have that urge to mutter joke’s on you, suckers! as I sign a book contract, so I’m no stranger to Impostor Syndrome. The thing is, while I’m not an impostor as a writer, I certainly have been an impostor throughout much of my adult life, because I am a firm disciple of the Fake It Til You Make It religion of sleeping in and not doing the research.

The Miracle 18

Up until a few years ago, I had a Day Job. In a sense, I still do; I’m not a full-time novelist, I’m a full time writer, which means a lot of what I write I do in order to earn a living. But writing as a Day Job is a perfect fit for me, because I’m good with the words. What I did for 18 years of my life in a professional capacity was not a good fit, because it required three things I do not possess: Attention to detail, organization, and the ability to wake up in the morning.

So, if I was terrible at my job, how did I keep it for nearly two decades? Here’s a timeline of events that hold some clues:

  1. When I got my first job in the industry, I was a chubby, tow-headed kid of 23 who wore enormous glasses and whose clothes were always 2 sizes too large (that is not a joke) and so I firmly believe my bosses during the first 3 years or so simply took pity on me.
  2. Over the first 5 years or so, the company I worked at went through several mergers and re-organizations, and I had about 6 bosses over that time, so no one ever had the chance to appreciate my incompetence and apathy.
  3. At some point my bosses realized I was the only person in the office who could write a Visual Basic script, and I had a shadow career creating toolbars and widgets . At one point, despite this having nothing to do with my actual job description, I probably spent 75% of my time doing this.
  4. By the time I was forced to actually focus on the core work my job demanded, I’d had a decade to more or less memorize the basic shortcuts, which meant that as long as the other people I worked with were competent, I could fake it.

Eventually, of course, the whole house of cards collapsed. Looking back, I’m impressed that I was able to fake it for as long as I did, and I have to say that making a living doing something I’m actually good at is an incredible feeling. Some people have been feeling this their whole lives! That seems incredible, but it’s true.

What’s the moral of this story? Sometimes that creeping feeling that you’re not very good at something isn’t Impostor Syndrome, it’s reality knocking on your door. Of course, I was lucky that my incompetence applies to something I didn’t want to do in the first place, and that sheer luck or the power of my charm (which is potent) kept me employed.

Or possibly the moral of the story is that if you work hard enough you can in fact earn a living without wearing pants.

Breakin’ the Law (in D&D)

FRIENDS, I have never claimed to be cool. I was a portly kid with thick glasses, and so I was doomed to be the mascot of every class (spiced with occasional good old-fashioned bullying) until I hit college, when somehow my combination of sarcasm, bad hair, and even thicker glasses alchemically made me, if not cool, at least not uncool. Still, despite my chronic uncoolness at every stop along my journey through life I’ve managed to do two things: Have a lot of fun and toss all the rulebooks out the window.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that I’m some sort of brilliant iconoclast or rebel. Far from it; I’m the sort of guy who gets mildly upset if I don’t get my coffee at the same exact time every day, because what this world needs is MORE ORDER; in other words, I love following rules in general. But I am that classic jackass who looks at a book of rules and thinks, jeez, that’s a lot to read and so I don’t read them and I just sort of wing it and make shit up as I go. This is why all my Ikea furniture looks like torture devices from Isengard, and why I spent six years lost in Canada, refusing to read a map. Yes, I’m that jackass.

A Level 35 Demigod

12-year Old Jeff Said HOLY CRAP ITS GOT A DRAGON ON IT, DUNNIT!

Back in my grammar school days I played a bit of Dungeons & Dragons, although I’ll admit I only glanced at the rules. I probably read the Basic Module, or mostly read it, but as we got deeper and deeper in I could never be bothered to read the more advanced rules. D&D had a pretty neat system there, starting off simple and then adding in layers of complexity, but this seemed an awful lot like work, so my friends and I just sort of absorbed the basic concept and then set about just making up whatever we wanted.

Since we were nearing full-on puberty, there were a number of pornographic adventures involving lots of lusty barmaids, witches, and female monsters. Things got … weird. After things got weird, we went full-on acquisitive; the rules for D&D were painfully slow. You started off with nothing, a Level One Thief or Elf or what have you, and you were supposed to slowly make your way through adventures where you would slowly gain experience and level up and slowly discover magic items that would augment your abilities and slowly, slowly, slowly.

One advantage to not reading any rules was the ease with which you could simply decide fuck that, let’s become demigods. So we did.

Acting as Dungeon Masters, we created adventures specifically designed to level up our characters as quickly as possible. We awarded experience points like candy, we littered the adventure with spectacular items gleamed from the Dungeon Master’s Handbook from the Advanced version of the game, and by the end of it we had characters who could basically do anything.

Look on My Works, Ye Mighty

Of course, the game was ruined. Once you have a demigod for a character all you can do is pit them against each other, rolling the dice to see whose obscure and ultra-powerful spell would shatter whose ancient magical shield. That didn’t matter, for me it was a teachable moment, because I realized something very important about myself: I love stats.

Statistics were why I got interested in D&D in the first place (that and the aforementioned pornographic possibilities of role-playing games), just like stats lured me into baseball fandom. The neat rows of numbers, all meaning something, all representing abilities and achievements—I loved them like children. I could calculate an ERA in my head and I instinctively knew the odds of my fireball spell working, and more than anything else I loved the back of a baseball card where a player’s stats were listed and I loved my D&D character sheets where their stats were all laid out.

The same kids who I played D&D with also played in a computer baseball league with me on our Commodore 64s. Microleague Baseball was a marvel; it ran on stats. It came with pre-compiled teams, but you could enter your own and then manage the team in real time. We played entire seasons, made trades, had playoffs and championships. And it was half numbers, half strategy, and not so different from D&D in some ways, although we didn’t cheat much in Microleague. We cheated a little, of course, but not much.

To this day, I don’t read the manual or work too hard to understand the rules. This is why many video games enrage me and also why the washing machine turns on when I play the radio—who has time to pay attention to electrical codes or wiring diagrams?

Writin’ Ain’t Easy

I’m sitting here on a Saturday evening with a glass of Michter’s American whiskey, a cat, and my keyboard. It’s hot and humid, and I’m sweating like a pig, but it’s okay, because it’s been cold for so long I’m kind of into sweating right now.

It’s been a decent writing day, but of course it wasn’t all personal work and fiction. I spent a bit of time looking for new freelance work and touching various freelance projects I’ve got spinning. Not a lot, I’m not saying my life is hard in any way, but one thing they sure don’t tell you when you tear off your shirt in a restaurant and shout YOU PEOPLE HAVE HELD ME BACK LONG ENOUGH, I’M GOING TO BECOME A FULL-TIME WRITER is that the phrase “full time” means fucking full time.

As In 24/7

Writing for a living can be exhausting. The fiction is fun. The fiction is me taking my ideas and putting them into coherent form and seeing a world emerge where there was only blank paper or white pixels. The freelance, which pays a big part of the bills, is a different story.

You pretty much have to be an idea machine when you write freelance. While a few of my editors do send me assignments, if I relied on assignments being sent to me passively I’d make about $100 a month. Which, as I discovered in my first, extremely painful year of freelancing, isn’t enough to live on. So you have to constantly send out new ideas, and then you have to badger people to get to you with a yea or nay on those ideas. And then when you get 3 acceptances out of six ideas, you have to start thinking of six more ideas to send.

And you write more or less every day. I’ve tried making weekends into My Time, I’ve tried designated Wednesdays as Jeff Writes Fiction Day, Yahoo and both have worked for short periods of time, but freelance writing creeps in. Someone can only be interviewed on a certain day, or you got day drunk on Friday and so forgot to look for new work, so you have to carve out some time on Saturday to do it. Or, simply put, your earnings on the month are on the soft side, and you need to find a few hundred bucks’ worth of work before the week is out.

So, you find yourself working at odd hours and when you should be napping. It’s offset by the aforementioned day drinking, the occasional afternoon movie, the ability to go hang out with friends and then work at 2AM to make up for it, and, sometimes, the ability to trade a few hundred dollars in exchange for doing absolutely nothing, because no boss can loom over your desk and ask why you’re playing video games.

But damn, it’s exhausting sometimes.

Lazy Writing 101: The Young Lover

You youngsters and your damned energy.

My wife, The Duchess, excels at many things, but her main skill is increasingly getting me to watch terrible, terrible television shows. She does this with a combination of stick and carrot; on the one hand if I mock and refuse to watch a show, she can become surly. On the other, if I mock and complain enough, she will often magnanimously swap a slightly less-awful show in for a more-awful show.

This is how I wound up squirming out from under the rock of Dancing with the Stars and found myself watching The Great Indoors.

The Evergreen Sitcom Plot

Look, I like Joel McHale. I loved him on Community, and he’s a pretty funny guy and a charismatic actor. I’m glad he’s getting a paycheck. The Great Indoors is a mediocre sitcom, and the bar is pretty low for a CBS sitcom to begin with, so mediocrity is nothing to celebrate. It has its moments, yes, but in general it’s a pretty lazy show. Point in fact, one of the first season episodes was a classic Lazy Plot. Specifically, it was the “aging lothario is exhausted by younger lover” (ALEBYL) plot.

The ALEBYL plot is simple: The main character’s virility is challenged (or their vanity is stroked) and they choose to date a much, much younger person. The younger person then puts them through a gauntlet of activities they barely tolerate and can’t possibly keep up with, until they’re miserable. But! They refuse to admit this, for a variety of reasons. Hilarity ensues.

This old chestnut wasn’t new in 1989, when Cheers did it in the episode “Don’t Paint Your Chickens,” wherein Sam Malone dates a younger woman who is very athletic, and pretends to be up to her standards of constant, exhausting activity. It wasn’t new when 30 Rock did it in the 2007 episode “Cougars.” It wasn’t new when it was initially conceived, more or less around the year 1. It is, in fact, a prime example of Lazy Writing.

The Getaway

Part of the reason writers get away with this laziness, of course, is our short cultural memories. The earliest example I can come up with off the top of my head is from 1989—nearly thirty years ago, sure, but still pretty recent. The simple fact is the doom of men is that they forget, and a new generation of idiots thinks the episode of The Great Indoors referenced above is the first time this old plot was ever done.

The three examples I’ve offered here are all slightly different. Cheers isn’t so much concerned with the age difference as it is with the younger person’s higher athletic ability and energy. 30 Rock‘s Liz Lemon is practically an asexual character, and the relationship serves to underscore her (often hilarious) combination of intelligence and dire insecurity. The Great Indoors leans in to the currently hot topic of how ridiculous and silly millennials are when compared to older generations. All of them, however, rely on a fundamental concept of sitcom comedy writing: Old people feeling their age are hilarious.

Maybe I’m just bitter, being an old person. But then I didn’t want to stay out all night when I was 20. Once when I was about 25 a friend invited me to have dinner with her and some of her friends, and I was delighted … until she told me she’d see me at 10PM. For pre-dinner drinks. TEN FUCKING PM. I’ve been an old man longer than you’ve been alive.

Look, older generations are always going to be convinced that the kids are vacuous morons. Any story that gently pokes Olds in the ribs about their age while simultaneously mocking Youngs for their idiocy and ignorance will be a hit, and the ALEBYL plot fires on all those thrusters. You can expect to see it at least four more times on different shows before you die, and there are probably two dozen examples I’m not aware of.

The Point

So what’s the point? The point is, you can discover valuable lessons about tired old tropes and lazy writing anywhere … even terrible CBS sitcoms. Eyes open, kids.

Gout, Dementia, and Inspiration

I Got Me the Gout

Long-time readers of this blog (and possibly my old zine The Inner Swine) might recall that a decade ago I was diagnosed with old-timey disease Gout. Gout is a pretty awful affliction, but it’s manageable, and there are much worse diseases out there—specifically, diseases that will kill you. Gout is painful, but with a good prescription and some discipline it can be dealt with. Although it does make you feel Old, with a capital “O”.

What really makes me feel old is the word “rheumatologist.” My grandmother had a rheumatologist. Young, vibrant people not on the verge of dementia and death do not, as a rule, have rheumatologists who greet them by name, so simply by making an appointment to see my doctor I feel instantly 1,000 years old. Unfortunately, it’s not just the gout and the rheumatologist making me feel old: It’s also my tired, malfunctioning brain.

The Somers Curse

My brain has always failed me. My memory is terrible, and I forget things about five minutes after learning them. And I often think I understand stuff, and get irritated and impatient when people insist on explaining stuff that I clearly understand, only to realize hours later that I totally did not understand. You might think that that at my advanced age—and age so advanced I can be diagnoses with gout, for the sake of Pete—I’d be aware of my limitations, but no such luck.

For example, last week I was heading into Manhattan to see my rheumatologist so they could evaluate the broken glass-and-bubble gum that comprises most of my gout-ridden joints. I know that my wife, The Duchess, is partial to baked goods, so I offered to pick something up for her while I was in the City. A good husband, after all, knows just how to suck up and curry favor.

She said she wanted a slice of cake from Magnolia Bakery, and proceeded to explain to me where the most convenient location was in Penn Station. I waved her off. “I have a smartphone and a brain,” I declared. “I’ll find it.”

Yes, you see where this is going.

Cut to two hours later, and I’m sweating and panicked on 33rd Street. My smartphone is telling me I am more or less inside Magnolia Bakery, despite being clearly on the street. I can’t call The Duchess and admit I’m confused, so I spend the next forty minutes desperately exploring Penn Station, trying to find the god-damned Magnolia Bakery, because I cannot—can not—return home without cake. To do so would be admitting I hadn’t paid any attention when my wife explained the details of my mission.

I suppose I take some comfort in the fact that my brain has always been this way: I think I understand things when I really don’t, and my confusion usually turns to rage at the people who have failed me, then, quickly, shame. If this was a new development, this combined with the gout would be a good excuse to put me away in a nice, comfortable home until I died and my organs could be harvested (except my liver, which has been used badly). But since I’ve always been this idiotic, the fact that it took me an hour to locate a bakery and buy a slice of cake is cause for mockery, not worry.

So, the upside? My confusion and difficulty with simple tasks isn’t likely to be the first sign of an age-related decline. The downside? This is who I am: A sweaty man who spends 45 minutes circling the same spot in Penn Station, completely confused as to the location of a bakery. And yes, dammit, I eventually found it. No thanks to you.

The Dubious Connection

This stuff always makes me think about writing, because I don’t know about you, but my inspirations—my ability to think of new ideas and shape them into stories—is a bit mysterious to me, and so I live in daily terror that one day I’ll wake up and it’s gone.

The worst part is, I might not even know it. There are plenty of artists working who continue to put out new material, but it’s lost that spark, that certain something that made their prior work interesting. And I wonder; are they aware that they’ve lost it? Are they haunted by it? Or do they think they’re still killing it? So moments when my brain isn’t working too well make me worry that I might have already entered into that period of decline where my writing is no longer all interesting, and I’m not aware of it.

That’s the worst part of being creative, sometimes: Your lack of control over your own ability. It’s like a random light shined on you, and it might go out at any time, without your permission—or even your awareness.

On that cheerful note, I’ll conclude by letting you know there’s no need to worry: The Duchess got her piece of cake, and I was not physically punished for failure. Not this time, at least.

The Out of Ideas Fallacy

Yup.

I go out drinking with my brother, Yan*, all the time. During these boozy afternoons we often repeat arguments, circling around the same old disagreements like brothers do. Also, lifelong enemies. One of the arguments we have stems from my brother’s conviction that nothing in the arts has been worth watching since 1995, and even the period between 1985 and 1995 is kind of sketchy. Yan believes that with rare exceptions, the best movies, TV shows, and music was created before that era, and he turns a yellow and suspicious eye on anything that bears a copyright later than that.

He also, it goes without saying, dismisses any sort of reboot or update, believing firmly that Hollywood is out of ideas and should get back to making new stories, instead of raiding the past for easy dollars.

I haven’t had the chance to ask him yet, but I am confident my brother would despise whatever comes of the Matrix Trilogy reboot being planned.

To be fair, he likely isn’t a fan of the original, either. My brother is quite the curmudgeon.

Still, the general wails of dismay concerning the reboot of the Matrix kind of perplexed me. Because I think anything can be rebooted. And maybe should be.

Shakespeare

It’s funny the things we decide cannot possibly be remade or rebooted; they tend to be things we experienced directly in our own lifetimes, as if we have some sort of ownership of them. Some movie made long before our time, which we’ve maybe never seen? Sure, go ahead and remake it. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Hilarious! Go for it. The Matrix? Are you mad? That was just 18 years ago.

Look, I complained too when they decided that Batman needed to be rebooted just eight fucking years after the disastrous and terrible Batman and Robin. But I’ve changed my mind: Why not reboot things? Reboot them often, reboot them hard. Because all that matters–or all that should matter–is whether that reboot is good. They reboot Shakespeare on a regular basis, and no one in their right mind complains.

Of course, Shakespeare is theater–transient and of the moment. No one is going to complain that they did it better in 1601, after all, since no record of that performance exists, and even modern performances fade away like tears in the rain, memorialized only in our memories. Songs, too, get remade all the time, re-interpreted, slaughtered on reality-TV shows, remixed, sampled–you name it. No one cares.

But movies and TV shows? The outrage whenever we decide to reboot, remix, or simply remake a movie–unless it’s old and not part of our living experience–is always met with cries about how Hollywood is “out of ideas” and must pillage our cherished memories for more tickets sales. This of course ignores a few points:

  1. The movies we’re complaining about being remade are often themselves remixes, reboots, or a tasty melange of borrowed tropes, as all art builds on what has come before, and
  2. For a younger generation, the newer version will likely be theirs in the same way the older or original version is yours. Let them have it.

I just can’t get upset about a reboot any more. Look, The Matrix films were great–or, the first one was, and the two sequels, while containing some great sequences, were a slog–but our worst case scenario is that the new version will be a pale imitation of the original, which we’ve already seen and survived with The Force Awakens, so what’s the big deal?

 

*Not his real name. My brother is very important and cannot risk being embarrassed by connection with me.