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.

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.


Policing Is Not Soldiering.

I posted this bon mot on Twitter the other day:

But since Twitter is where nuance goes to die, I wanted to expand on that a little bit.

One of the major delusions that conservatives have is that a guy in a military uniform can do anything.  A soldier can win a war and win hearts.  And they really can’t, but that’s not their fault.

Which is to say that winning a war is a pretty brutal process.  Teaching a guy to kill is actually a really difficult process – only somewhere along the lines of 15-20% of people will, without training, shoot someone even if their life is on the line.  A major problem in past battles is that a large number of those regimented rifles went unfired, because most humans are not prepared for the trauma of what is, essentially, sanctioned murder.  Almost every time you hear the story of “These barbarians routed a much larger unit!” it’s because the barbarians were composed of 80% people who would kill to achieve their task, and the larger unit had, maybe, 20% of people who could do the job.

Result: terror.

So when you’re training a soldier, a lot of that is suppressing human instincts.  And then, when you go to battle, your idea is to conserve your forces and maximize power.  The loss of every soldier weakens your unit, so your goal is not to lose anyone.  You’re extremely conservative, using whatever tactics there are to kill the other guy and protecting your own.  You try not to kill innocents, depending on the morality of your superiors, but the horror of war is that you don’t pull punches.  In war, civilians get killed by mistake, because the goal of war is to destroy the opposition until they’re not a threat.

And that is necessary.  Sometimes, for all the peace-love in the world, you have to punch a guy in the face.  Not everyone’s reasonable.  Not everyone’s got resources they can split evenly.  Soldiers are high-value things for any civilization.


Policing is different.

In policing, you’re not trying to exterminate the enemy, you’re trying to get them to work with you.  Casualties are bad.  In many ways, policing is braver than being a soldier, because you’re not trying to preserve your life, you’re trying to preserve the life of the citizenry.

And your goal as a policeman is to settle disputes, to keep order, to dispense justice.  That sometimes involves some very complex negotiations between disputing factions, whether that’s two gangs fighting or between a tavern and its drunken customers.  You have to deal with ambiguity a lot, sometimes not enforcing every rule, sometimes being harsher on people you see as a danger, not just carrying out this single arrest but thinking of it in terms of the greater good of everyone around you.

You have to make the community a community.  And that’s radically different from capturing territory on the ground.

And like soldiers have to be trained to kill effectively, policemen must be trained to police effectively.

They are two entirely different, and in many ways completely opposed, skillsets.

“But Ferrett,” you say.  “You’re just picking on the conservatives again!”  Except the conservatives – real, long-term, dyed-in-the-wool conservatives – were the ones who sent soldiers into Iraq and then acted as if soldiers were equipped to keep the peace.  They weren’t.  They made a lot of mistakes that weren’t their fault, because “navigating the complex web of local alliances and hatreds to bind people together into a functioning unity through shared trust” is very different from “kill Saddam’s soldiers.”  And it wasn’t until General Petraeus came in and started making some organizational changes to acknowledge that difference that things started to get better, but by then it was too late.

In Iraq, you had soldiers who thought they were cops.  And what you see in Ferguson is the flip side of that, where you have cops who think they’re soldiers, and every thing they do to protect their forces – a smart move, when you’re in an invading force – actually distances them from the community and makes it harder to keep control over the people who fucking live there.

Look.  I like cops.  I like soldiers.  Both can do some great jobs.  But they do great jobs only so long as that distinction is made between these two different skill sets, and what we’re doing right now is the equivalent of “Oh, you’re a vet?  Great, do open-heart surgery on this man, you’re qualified.”  Because there’s some overlap, but hoo boy not nearly enough to entrust the lives of thousands to people who sorta have the skills.

What I Learned Being Tied Up In Rope (A Story Told Elsewhere)

So yesterday, I talked about how sometimes, I’m scared to post intimate things on this blog.  The reason I post such raw revelations is because I know it helps other people, when I express these intimate emotions.  Whenever I write about depression, or polyamory, or relationships in general, I get an email from someone who’s glad I spoke for them, or articulated some sentiment they hadn’t been able to nail down.

So sometimes I go, “Okay, I’ll do this because I think this is something other people need to know.”

I got tied up in rope this weekend, and learned an important lesson about kink, sexuality, and emotion… and I’m not quite willing to post that here, on my “official” blog, because it involves some complex reactions that I’m not sure everyone will get.  Gini read the piece, thought it was beautiful, but advised me not to post it here.

But I did post it over on FetLife, the Facebook for Kinksters, and if you’re at all interested in heavy play and the intense effects it can have on someone, I’d advise you to go over and read it.  Yes, FetLife requires you to register (or get a BugMeNot account), but really, given the high-wire act that I try to strike between protecting the aspects of my life that I need to be private and sharing lessons with y’all, that’s the best compromise I can get.

The inevitable excerpt:

She was beautiful, and I was nearly naked, and she had the rope.

“Sit down,” she said, biting her lip as she sized my body up, figuring out how best to restrain me. Then she shook her long hair and snapped her fingers, reaching for her iPod. “I’ve wanted to hear this song all day,” she told me. “And I want something on when I work.”

She put on Daft Punk’s latest album. The one with “Get Lucky,” that eternal club anthem. And I knew – knew – what was about to happen here, in this hotel room, with the beautiful girl and the nearly-naked me and this song about to exhort us both to get lucky, we’re up all night to get lucky, we’re up all night to get lucky.

But it wasn’t what you think it was.