How Ferguson Proves The World Is Getting Better

“It seems so hopeless,” my wife said.  “The world is just getting worse all the time.”

“Nope,” I said.  “It’s getting better.”

The thing about watching the abysmal police violence in Ferguson is that this is not unusual.  The cops have been mistreating black kids for years.  When I was young, I had a black friend who I used to play with.  Years later, I discovered that he got himself shot by the cops.  He was handcuffed at the time, and on the ground, but whoops apparently he was a threat.

There’s been excessive brutality to blacks all along.  You just didn’t have to pay attention to it.

But thanks to cell phone cameras and Twitter, we now have a situation where it is literally much harder to hide a body.  What’s happening in Ferguson is not the sign that oh my God, it’s hopeless – the fact that this has made front-page headlines despite the fact that CNN and Fox were initially ignoring it like all the other cop shootings is proof that we’re making progress.  Slow progress, and redundant progress – yes, similar things have happened before, and will happen again in the future…

…but don’t confuse the exposure of a problem with the intensity of the problem.  Blacks have gotten the raw end of the deal from cops for over a century now.

But thank God we’re looking it in the face.

And it’s like Occupy Wall Street, which I’ve come around on.  Initially, I thought, “Well, they’re not activists, they’re just raising a question.”  And I’ve come to realize that even in the absence of a focused agenda, raising the question can do a lot of good.  No, Wall Street hasn’t been torn down brick by brick yet, but I’ve seen a lot more debates in mainstream media about whether greed is good, and it’s been a lot harder to smother questions about “Why should these dudes have all the money?” with the usual conservative grumblings of “Class warfare, harrumph” because, well, we’ve opened up a debate.

Ferguson probably won’t end well for Ferguson.  I suspect the status quo will reign there after the media leaves.  But we’ll have tossed another question into the mainstream media to debate, which is “How many people do cops kill in the course of their duty?” – and guess what?  Not surprisingly, the government isn’t collecting that data.  Now, thanks to Ferguson, we’ve got people assembling that data, and now we’ve got people asking, “So really, how comfortable are we with these numbers?”

It’s a slow change.  It’s not happening on Twitter time.  Political shifts take years.  But I think Ferguson will be a high-water mark in terms of getting people to understand that yeah, you can have a city that’s 67% black with a police force that’s 94% white.  People will start wondering if that’s fair.  And some people, God bless you activists, will decide that it’s not and start trying to fix that.

It may take decades for this to work.  The Stonewall Riots were all the way back in 1969.  And forty-five years later, gay activists are finally seeing the payoff for that.

Visibility doesn’t equal immediate action.  Or victory.  Nothing guarantees victory.

But you can’t have anything else without visibility.  And man, this is like a needle to the eye.

Okay, I’m Holding A Meetup In Chicago This Sunday. Where Shall It Be?

Because the New York meetup went so well, I’m gonna say that at 1:00 this Sunday, I will show up at a public bar somewhere.  Anyone who wants to hang out with me for a bit can totally say hi.  Even if we have never ever met before.  (Seriously.  I like people.)

The question is, where should we meet?

I don’t know Chicago all that well, so I’m going to ask y’all to help me out.  If you’re planning on coming to this Meet-a-Weasel Extravaganza, leave a comment with a good place that allows for varying numbers of people to show up randomly and hang out.  (Preferably a space that doesn’t rely on tables, because I tend to circulate.)

I’m told Chicago is large, so somewhere easily gettable-to would be preferable.  And time is of the essence, as I’ll be needing to announce the location, like, tomorrow.

So.  Sunday.  In Chicago.  1:00 p.m.  Any help beyond that would be appreciated.

What’s That, You Say? Ferrett Has Thoughts On Doctor Who? Shocking.

(Super-mild abstract spoilers.  Be warned.)

So I saw Peter Capaldi’s premiere last night, and I liked it by the low standards I’ve come to accept from Moffatt’s run.  I’m one of those Whovians who just gave up on Matt Smith, as I think Matt personally could probably have been a good Doctor, but the shows he was in seemed to have degenerated into a series of Moffatian tics – mysteries introduced with great flourish and little emotional conclusion, confusion presented by way of character development, compressed bursts of unearned emotion.

And what struck me the most about the season premiere is how absolutely terrified Moffatt is of staying with uncomfortable emotions.

Take the bed scene last night – no spoilers, really, every Doctor premiere lately has had the Doctor languishing somewhere whilst his companions fret over him.  But what that scene seemed to suggest was that perhaps the Doctor was weary, aged, powerless.  It could have been a potent scene, discussing the way the Doctor is so tired of struggling to fix the world, but he can’t…

…except who knows what it was trying to say, really, because ho hey! there’s big clunky SFX roaming the streets of London, and we’ve got to get to that.

What Moffat is increasingly reminding me of is that clever guy at parties, the one with all the interesting anecdotes.  He’s great if the party needs a laugh.  But eventually, you get to the point where someone goes, “So how are you, Phyllis?” “Not so good, my daughter just died”…

…and Moffat goes “Ho hey!  Change of topic, amiright?” and, pulling his collar to air out the sweat on his neck, tells everyone a rollicking story about coprophages whether they want to hear it or not.

Moffatt thinks fear is exciting.  He thinks action is exciting.  He thinks heroism is exciting.  But all of those quiet moments, the reflective ones that often make the action meaningful, well… He seems honestly scared by it.  He’ll put soft moments on that on screen just long enough to have the Doctor barrel past them, as if to say, “See?  Those dark nights of the soul?  Nothing to fear, it’s all a larf, come on, shit, let’s tiptoe past this fucking graveyard at top speed!”

Some, of course, love that, because that’s their philosophy.  But me?  I remember back to Genesis of the Daleks, with Tom Baker, where he has the power to destroy the Daleks forevermore – just two wires, touched – and they take a good solid scene as the Doctor wonders whether yes, he has the moral right to do that.  And that concern permeates the entire episode, that feeling that maybe destroying the Daleks isn’t morally justifiable, maybe the Doctor isn’t correct.  That whole friction is what gave the series a surprising amount of gravitas for a guy in a scarf fighting dustbins.

And Moffatt, well, I suspect if he did Genesis of the Daleks, there’s been one scene where they’d ask the question, but only so they could show the answer that of course The Doctor’s right, he’s always right, why would you ever doubt the Doctor?

Sure, they did a touch of moral ambiguity last night.  That I liked.  I in fact liked the premiere once they went out to eat and found the plot. But the idea that the Doctor might be wrong, or fallible, or even harmful seems to terrify Moffatt so much that I just stopped watching Smith.  I knew Smith would be right.  I knew that nobody I liked on the show would ever be wrong, even if they had to partake in contradictory moral contortions to arrive at this conclusion.  Even if half the time the answer to “Why is this man wrong?” turned out to be “Because he’s so awesome that even being awesome has problems!”  So why even watch the show, when I know the ending, if not to bask in the warmth of a moral fantasy where everyone I suspected to be nice would be proven ineffably wonderful?

Now.  Some have complained about the treatment of Clara, which I guess I can understand, but a) this is Moffatt, and see my low standards on Moffatt’s treatment of women, b) I don’t give a crap about Clara as a character and as such I can’t get outraged when she’s played inconsistently (even though she blatantly is), and c) alas, whether you like it or not, the show’s gotta hold hands.

What I find interesting is that some of the people who are complaining the most about the heavy-handed transition were some of the people who fucking adored the Rose-to-Tennant bridge in S1-to-S2, the one where they made it clear that Rose is the Doctor’s special-super-wonderful-lovey-dovey person and no change of personality will ever break their bond… which I, at the time, found pretty kludgy and sickening and an annoyingly explicit direct plea to the fans that yes, we know this Doctor’s different, but seriously, he still loves you.  But I endured it, because the Doctor was new to many people and yes, we need this claptrap to keep the fans going.

Now a lot of those folks who, jaded in Who fandom, are always like “Yes, we know the Doctor changes, we don’t need to have this explained to us, we don’t need to have this insultingly blatant essay on how the Doctor can be unattractive foisted upon us” have forgotten that yeah, for a lot of fans, the Doctor is their version of boy-band sexiness, and so they do need a very explicit transition to grizzled old Capaldi.  (Who is sexy in his own way, of course.)  And no, those fans won’t show up on your Tumblr page, because they’re newish fans and maybe not as obsessive about it as you are, but they are out there.

I suspect a lot of the annoyance is partially due to, yes, Moffatt’s inevitable buried sexism, but I think another part of that is that Doctor Who has, once again, become old enough that the fandom wants two separate things.  One has grown accustomed to the regenerations and doesn’t want all of the emotional fooferaw of your first breakup, we’ve done this, let’s just forget Smith and fucking get on with falling in love with New Guy, and those fans are annoyed by the fact that – just like your precious fucking Rose falling in lurve with Tennant – some newer fans aren’t quite as hip to the scene and need so much damn time to acclimatize.

Well, guys, I dealt with the Rosestravaganza of 2005, and you had to deal with the Claranation of 2014.  It’s tedious, if you’ve done this fandango before.  But I suspect, like me, that for every old vet out there going, “Do we really need this shit?” we have some new fan going, “Oh, thank God, this makes it work for me.”

It’s the definition of a broken fan base.  But hey.  I’m hoping, perhaps irrationally, that Capaldi doesn’t turn out to be yet another collection of Moffattish tics.  We’ll see.

Some Days I’m Old: On Googling People

I met a cute girl the other day – although using the word “cute” to describe her covers her beauty in the same way that tossing a napkin on the ground covers the Appalachian Mountains.  The quote I could not stop muttering to myself when looking at her was, “It is a body bred for one purpose – to destroy the world of men.”

Happily, we exchanged numbers.  And after a few brief chats, she confessed to having Googled me.

Who the heck does that? I thought, followed by the answer of Probably everybody, because frankly if you meet someone new in any context, looking them up online to see whether they’re, I dunno, winner of the East Coast Aryan Dog-Eating Competition.  And if you’ve got a crush – I get crushes, you may have noticed – then you can see whether they hold any particularly interesting opinions.

(And particularly if you Google me, whoo boy does a Pandora’s box of my interests come spilling out.)

But I grew up in the age of BBSes and modems and AOL 28.8 was the absolute shiz, and so my reflex to Google all the new people never formed in the womb.  Hell, one of the most fascinating people I met over the weekend is a game designer who writes her own text adventures, and have I looked up her games?  Of course not!  We’ll find out the old-fashioned way, through the grand conversations we’ll have as we buggy-whip our horses down the cobblestone lane on the way to talk to our milkman!

Some days I look at myself, Mr. Internet Hipster, and am reminded that I am creaky and cranky and old.

But I’m still flirting.  So there’s that.

A Letter To The Discovery Channel: On The Firing Of Tori, Kari, and Grant From Mythbusters

Dear Discovery Channel:

Mythbusters is my favorite surrogate TV family, my comfort watching, my friends.  And with your firing of Tori, Grant, and Kari – a.k.a. “The Build Team” – from the show, you have just plopped an ugly divorce in my living room.

I am not happy.

But since this move smacks of a budget cut, allow me to demonstrate my fiduciary credentials: every Christmas, my wife buys me the latest season of Mythbusters, often from the Discovery Channel store.  That’s stopping this year, unless the build team is brought back.  I’ve also bought Mythbusters DVDs for friends to spread the word.  That’s also stopping.  As are my purchases of the Mythbusters T-shirts and Behind The Myth tours and the museum exhibit.

I won’t tell you I won’t watch the show; I probably will.  But you folks have probably gotten $1,000 in merch sales from me over the years, and that?  Is gone.  My blogging about Mythbusters?  Is also gone.  After this, I’m not providing any more PR for a show that has made a grievous error.

In particular, the firing of Kari Byron is inexcusable, as there aren’t enough prominent women out there doing science, and the removal of one from perhaps one of the sanest ambassador shows for science sends a very uncomfortable message to girls.  But even aside from that, part of the joy of the show was watching Tori injure himself, watching Grant build a robot, watching the collective joy they exhibited when something went haywire.

The show is an ensemble cast now, whether you like it or not.  And to remove that means that I will remove my wallet from your merch funds until that is rectified.  So I sincerely hope you do an about-face on this ASAP, because I’m one of your megafans.  I’ve been loyal, and more than that, profitable to you.

I hope that soon, I will be again.

Yours,
Ferrett Steinmetz

(If you’d like to write the Discovery Channel, incidentally, I’d suggest you use their form here.)

We Now Live In A Simpsons World

So FXX is holding the marathon we’ve all been waiting for: Every Simpsons episode, in order, constantly, for twelve days.  It’s pretty amazing to think that the Simpsons has been around since the late 80s.  In fact, some significant portion of my readership – living, breathing human beings who fuck and vote and eat filet mignon – are younger than the Simpsons.

And yet I just watched an episode which showed how crazily the world has mutated since the Simpsons began.

That episode is the tenth episode of the first season: Homer’s Night Out.  In it, Homer does a sexy tabletop dance with a bellydancer, Bart takes a picture, and it goes viral.  The next thing you know, everyone in Springfield is talking about the picture – people laughing and cheering Homer on, Mr. Burns asking Homer for lady advice, bars full of men admiring Homer as their Playboy-style hero.  Eventually, Homer does a pratfall-landing in the middle of a stripper nightclub during the emcee’s act – and the emcee, instantly recognizing Homer, uses him to draw in new crowds.

And it took me like fifteen minutes to remember that at the time this was written, this was fucking satire.

Back in the days before the Internet – hell, when faxes were still clunky and kind of high-tech – there is no way that a Xeroxed photo would be passed around that quickly.  The idea that Bart could just make fifty copies and post them around town and catapult Homer into ludicrous pseudo-stardom was, actually, something audiences at the time found absurd and funny.  Of course Homer wasn’t going to wake up one day to find that, while he slept, the entire town had passed around his antics.

But… today….

Shit, that happens all the time.

We now live in a world where the most comedic exaggerations of the Simpsons are now actually dwarfed by what can really happen.  Because if that photo goes viral, well, Homer could be worldwide famous.  They wouldn’t just cheer him on, they would make fan videos, cosplay as Sexy Dancing Homer, show him on networks, and Jesus if you think of what’s happened to Grumpy Cat or Chris Crocker, the reaction of Springfield – Springfield! – seems positively sane in comparison.

We have entered a time when the parody of twenty years ago actually cannot encompass the reality of today.

I’m not sure whether that’s scary or exhilarating.

Chicago Meetup On Sunday, 8/31?

I come into towns like a hurricane; I’ve usually got little time to spend, and a bunch of Internet-friends I’d like to visit.  Which means that I kind of miss on meeting all the new and shiny people in town.

Well, in my endless quest to dine at Michelin-starred meals with my lovely wife, I’ll be breezing into Chicago to eat at Graham Elliott.  This is doubly exciting because a) it will be my first introduction to molecular gastronomy, a whole new cuisine, and b) it will give me food from two of the three MasterChef judges.  (Gordon Ramsay!  I am coming for you!  …Eventually!)

Anyway, the plan is that I’ll have Sunday afternoon on Labor Day weekend to kick around, and if y’all wanted to drop by and say hello, I’d put myself in a public space and have y’all drop by.  Last time I did this in New York we got about twenty people, which was way more than I expected, but it certainly gives me the incentive to do it again, since I met some darned interesting people (and some long-term LJ friends).

So!  If you’re interested, mark the date, and possibly suggest a public spot that would be amenable to small crowds.  (Or possibly no crowds.  New York may have been an aberration.)  If you’re reading this, it means that hey, I want you there if you want to be there – I love meeting new people.

So.  Chicago.  Sunday, 8/31.  In…. some place, in an afternoony time.

Go.