Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Who’s the Doctor?

The first 2:15 of this episode are by far my favorite part of season 8
by E. Amato

We are ten – TEN – episodes in to Series 8 of Doctor Who. How did this happen?

The twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, has a wardrobe, a new bigger on the inside, and and and

yeah, not much else.

I was elated when Capaldi’s casting was announced. It felt inspired and exciting. He had completely embodied the horrificent (yeah, I just made that word up, but I’m pretty sure you get it) Malcolm Tucker and the possibilities for his Doctor seemed endless.

I figured by episode four, five latest, he’d have his Tardis legs. But it’s ten hours in and mostly what we have this season is Clara. While Clara is beautiful, charming, smart, and I didn’t want to see her go, the show is not called Clara. Maybe they feel bad because they so blatantly refused the idea of a female Doctor (Helen Mirren, please) and so they’re trying to balance things out. There are moments when I feel like they’re focusing on her because they’ve chosen an older actor for the Doctor and they’re scared the younger viewers they gained with Matt Smith will wander away, so, Clara. They started to set up Danny Pink as someone interesting, but as love interests will do, that whole thing became tiresome rather quickly. Clara’s no longer the impossible girl, but then, who is she? And who is Missy, because tbh, so far I don’t care about her, either.

The issues I’m having are not, of course, related to actors who are handed scripts and generally make them better than writers could ever hope. The issues lie elsewhere.

First, I need the Doctor. Don’t you? In a world of Ebola scares that ignores fracking, the sneaky privatization of water, climate change, a glaring imbalance in distribution of wealth, I need there to be an hour a week where someone seems to care about humanity and all beings and finds ways to create more and not less harmony, and oh, the characters don’t do stupid – that’s important. It’s true – the thirteen Doctors have done some awful things and have their share of self-loathing, but it’s that little bit of self-loathing that makes them want to set things right – as opposed to a self-loathing overload that makes you want to take everyone down with you.

Second, where has the greatest thing about Doctor Who disappeared to this season? Where is the Doctor’s sense of wonder? The Doctor’s sense of wonder is the greatest thing in the known universe. The enlightened “ah…,” the sudden eye twinkle of understanding, the caught off guard by beauty moment, the solving of an elegant puzzle with an even more elegant solution tingle? Where have these gone? Why are they gone? If the showrunners and writers are making a point, I think they’re taking the mighty long way around. If not, I think they’ve been running and writing the show too long. Wonder is the hallmark of Doctor Who. It’s what makes it a kids’ show even when it deals with death and destruction; it’s why adults love it even when it is about dinosaurs and moon babies and it’s what sets it apart from almost every other piece of popular culture we create. Awe and wonder are regular ingredients in Doctor Who and they have gone missing, much to the detriment of the experience.

The latest episode, [SPOILERS} which featured an overnight blanket of forestation protecting the earth  [End spoilers}, was rife with possibilities for wonder and awe, most of them missed. Admittedly, it was the most visually compelling episode so far this season, and it also had a level of good-naturedness to it that has been absent. But the sheer scope and delight that you’d expect the Doctor to exhibit and impart in the situation was just not there.

Enthusiasm goes a long way, but no one in the world of Doctor Who seems to have it anymore. To say the writing has been uninspired is an unfair assessment, and a cop out. Yet, the writing has either lost its way or is misdirected. There is a Doctor Who episode structure, style, and format and it’s worked for seven seasons as far as I can tell, and yet, it’s been discarded. Changing things up is good; removing things without bringing in new things is not as good. It feels as though the writers are still figuring out what the show is. But they know the show; they are the show.

They’ve yet to define Capaldi’s Doctor or make him mysteriously and compellingly undefined. It is almost as though they are intimidated by their casting choice. Matt Smith was a blank slate to the audience, David Tennant largely so, as well. Eccleston brought all his Ecclestonness with him and that worked perfectly. Capaldi is a known actor, has had a career-defining role, and he can do anything at all you give him to do, if you give him something to do. Please give him something to do. People are commenting that the Doctor is darker, but to me, he’s just hidden or even absent. Complexity is welcome; I’m just not sensing that in the episodes. I suppose it could be daunting to write for someone who is all strengths, but then, just build a better Doctor! Bring on a bigger challenge!

And then there’s this: racism. I’ve never before watched a Doctor Who and thought, um, why’d they kill that dark-skinned guy? Why’d they make that person the criminal? But in episode after episode this season, I had that weird little twinge you get that says, “um, really?” I’m not alone in that, either. Doctor Who has always been an inclusive universe. But you can’t include people of color just to kill them off in the first ten minutes, make them the bad guys, or derisively call them P.E. teachers when they actually teach math.

It’s as if the values of this universe we’ve been enjoying for decades have suddenly shifted without warning or cause. And in the end, it’s the values that keep me watching. The Doctor listens. People’s stories and experience are valued. The Doctor is caring and compassionate – even when all external factors appear otherwise. Even when he has to do terrifying awful things.

Lately I have been feeling a bit like I’ve wandered into a parallel timeline. Maybe I have, and maybe I'm watching some parallel season 8 of Doctor Who. Perhaps I will be filled with awe and wonder at the end of the season. I hope so. I hope I’m so wrong about all this and the final episodes bring everything around and together and are fantastic. I just don’t get the sense that’s what’s going to happen. After the incredible 50th Anniversary special and the impeccable Christmas special, it’s quite clear that the creators of this show have mad skills, vision and heart.

I do feel our world has gotten uglier of late, and maybe the writers and showrunners feel this, too. Maybe they are responding to this. But if so, then go all the way. Let Capaldi off his leash and write him some The Doctor could eat Malcolm Tucker for breakfast dialogue. Find your fearless and, well, RUN!

I Always Hated the Frick

by E. Amato

That stuffy architecture.

Those prissy paintings.

(Okay, I have a thing for Goya and El Greco and they have some masterpieces there, but the rest - not so much.)

In general, I'd scoff at a trip to the Collection with friends or out-of-towners. But secretly, when I was done with some fascinating exhibit at the Whitney or had trekked uptown to go to something at the Met, I'd go over to the Frick and sit in the garden. There's just no place like it in Manhattan. You could sit there and breathe, see something not haphazard. Imagine you were outside a stuffy building with prissy things inside that you'd escaped in the middle of some Edith Wharton-esque society party where you were waiting to meet the one person who would make your night interesting.

Now the garden - that sanctuary - is under threat.

And so are the Watts Towers. LA still does not boast much in the way of community, but the towers, the vision of an obsessed southern Italian (I swear he has to be my ancestor), has brought generations together. This divisive city comes together around those towers, whether it's the community protecting them during the riots, or families touring them, or the festival every year that brings music and art outside.

These places mean something to me, but there are many more places on the at-risk list - they may mean something to you. Please read this informative article from the LA Times and get involved!

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Quote of the Week - Willems

"If you ever find yourself in the wrong story, leave." 
~Mo Willems

Has this ever happened to you?

It's happening to me. Like I've fallen into the wrong timeline. All the exits seem to be blocked and the rules, well, there are none. And the players, they are all shape-shifters.

I'd never heard of Mo Willems before reading this quote. I missed a lot of the standard children's books growing up. I was never read to - I always read to myself, starting pretty early. I was mostly stuck with what was in our school library (scant), and the few books I could beg my mother into buying when the book sales came around. I never read Dr. Seuss, or Shel Silverstein and I didn't read Where the Wild Things Are until college! The first book I remember reading was in 2nd grade - it was Harriet Tubman's biography. My school was predominantly African-American and we'd take trips to the African-American History Museum each year. I pretty much read all the books about the slavery era I could, from 2nd to 4th grades, and then switched to books about the Holocaust.

I was always one for light reading.

But I think I missed the stuff that gives people a foundation in feeling safe - or at least, not threatened.

I would like to be able to write myself out of this particular story, but it seems to be writing me.

Oh - I have some poems in the new issue of Wicked Banshee Press - Surival Through Art. Please check them out if you have time.

Image: Magritte - The Victory

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Quote of the Week - Cornel West

"We want justice to roll down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream for our young folk."
WTF America?

What century do you think this is?

Exactly who in your sight is equal? Because it is not your citizens of any ethnicity that manifests as darkened pigmentation, not your citizens who are born as females, not your citizens who choose lifestyles other than heterosexuality, not your citizens who are less able than others.

It would seem that white, militarized males are the only citizens guaranteed their rights.

Cornel West was arrested in Ferguson for exercising his right to gather.

At what point is the Bill of Rights just a ball-point scribble on a napkin from a quick-brokered deal that can be thrown out with the trash?

Truth, America: This is the easy stuff. Civil Rights. Women's Rights. Same-Sex Relationship Rights. Disabled Rights. These are the easy issues. Here are the tough ones we ignore while we play this game over and over: aging infrastructure, climate change and its repercussions, free access to potable water, damage from fracking, massive polarization of wealth, aging population, broken health care system and so many more.

While you fight our very existence, we are the ones working on and solving these problems for you. We are the ones doing deep consideration, putting in our sweat equity, and suffering loss to build you a better future. You could at least stop knocking down our elders and leaders and throwing them in jail.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Quote of the Week - The Good Wife

"When you control the food, you control the people." 
~ The Good Wife*

Beautifully succinct, from a sub-plot about the re-planting of GMO seeds (which is currently considered a crime by seed companies, even if you bought them in the first place).

As someone self-healing through nutrition, I sometimes wonder how other people's bodies work on the foods they ingest. Can a body work optimally on KFC or McDonalds?

We all worry about the Orwellian state, the Huxleyan globe, the seemingly inevitable medicating of the population.

What if it's already here?

Do we need drugs to be mood or mind controlled when the foods we eat contain chemicals that send our bodies and minds spinning in bit torrents we cannot control?

Try spending a week off sugar. Go into an average super market in your neighborhood and try to buy foods that don't contain it. See how you do. We know what sugar does, how harmful it can be, yet we seemingly have no control over how much of it is in our diets. As you stand there and read ingredients from cereals you thought didn't have sugar (Cheerios) to breads to soups, you might find yourself shocked.

Who controls your food?

Who controls your body?

*Episode "Dear God" written by Luke Schelhaas, original air date October 5, 2014

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Quote of the Week - Occupy Central with Love and Peace

"Using violence against violence will only intensify bias and fear, provide the government the excuse for suppression, and further empower the suppressors. Civil disobedience is to win over hatred with love." 
~ OCLP Manual of Disobedience
Are you deeply impressed with the protesters in Hong Kong? I am. They are so committed and proactive. The above quote is from their Manual of Disobedience which is absolutely worth reading. It shows preparedness, clarity of purpose, commitment, integrity, and compassion. It is also notable for its unwillingness to throw anyone under the bus. Participants are encouraged to create safety for themselves within this potentially dangerous action and to determine the level of interaction for themselves.

This document feels like a culmination of decades of protest and can serve as a template going forward in activism.

Ferguson has so deeply saddened me, but this gives me hope.

Change isn't coming. It's already here.

(Above photo courtesy Henry Parker.)

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Quote of the Week - Walton

"Until your business model reflects your values you are at risk of becoming what you say you are trying to fight."

When I read this as part of Mark's FB status, it hit me as a strong truth we need to recognize and analyze in moving forward. The discussion was on the new platform ello and its potential ethics.

"Potential ethics" now there's an interesting phrase. Yet, with the constantly changing rules and permissions of various platforms we are all linked to, it is worth discussing in advance of signing on for the latest social media app.

I'm busy building my own business model and questions of long-term sustainability are vital to creating a thriving cultural entrepreneurship. Burning out the base, or the leadership, the intended audience or the funding platforms - all of these mean an early exit. Yet there must be a sustainable alternative to the old models of "selling out" or world domination.

At least, I hope so.  Thoughts welcome.

(Thanks to Mark for permission to use the quote.)

(Now, I'm not staying on FB - it was an experiment. It failed.)