Monday, December 31, 2012

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY REVIEW:


 THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY REVIEW:

“I’m going on an adventure!”

- Bilbo Baggins

Yup, that about says it all. No pun intended, but long story short: I’m very undecided on how I feel about Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit. First off, I have never actually read The Hobbit. But, I’ve got plenty of secondary sources: Ralph Bakshi’s 1970s animated version (Now, I’m a secret animation geek, as well as a bonafide Master of Communication and Media Studies…so I notice the effects of different animated media on storytelling…more on that later.) several audio tapes and CDs, and of course, accounts from people who have read the book.

   In Peter Jackson’s version, all the characters look great. Martin Freeman is a great Bilbo, Ian McKellan is once again wonderful as Gandalf, etc. Mainly, my complaints about this movie are not so much in visual aspects; Peter Jackson always succeeds there. But, in storytelling and pacing, I got more of Jackson’s usual slow story development and battle scenes so fast and confusing you miss all the CGI chaos if you blink.

 I get what Peter Jackson is going for. He’s under pressure to keep the Tolkien geeks happy, connect to a regular audience, and connect this film to his previous Lord of The Rings Trilogy. He pulls it together well! By comparison however, Ralph Bakshi (to my knowledge.) was never under pressure to make The Hobbit look like a prequel; so we don’t get lengthy scenes of Sarumon talking to Gandalf, or even learn the significance of the ring until Bakshi’s The Fellowship of The Ring and The Return of The King. In that way, Bashski’s versions work as standalone films, and part of a series. And, since it’s all animated, nothing really feels out of place. This is not my impression in Peter Jackson’s half CGI half live-action series. Granted, this
modern version  is essentially a prequel, so the connections must exist.

    Jackson’s scenery is awesome to look at, but there are moments like meeting the Goblin King where it was just disgusting to look at; the goblins, far from little green things, are pale and look like ugly bipedal hairless cats. The Goblin King is fat and grotesque. As far as the monsters go though, I will say Gollum was better this time around, and I thoroughly enjoyed his scenes. As I said all the scenery and characters are great, and it really puts you into that magical world. But, then along comes a battle scene, and it’s so quick I had no idea what just happened. One minute, Bilbo’s just talking to trolls; the next, the dwarves jump out and Bilbo’s fighting them too.

    If I remember my Hobbit correctly (And I probably don’t. Feel free to correct me.) I thought Bilbo just tricks the trolls by throwing his voice and pretending to be a troll until Gandalf rescues the dwarves. Although Martin Freeman plays a great nervous little homebody Bilbo (And his house is exactly as I imagined; as it was in Jackson’s Lord of The Rings, too.) there were little moments such as the aforementioned troll encounter where I didn’t expect Bilbo would behave the way he did. He seems a little too battle-ready; such as when he is swinging his sword around at Gollum.

    Gollum’s performance in the riddle scene was very good. You can really see how the technology of face rendering in 3D has changed over the years. I love Andy Serkis, and his wild-eyed Gollum character. He’s energetic, and fun, with a little less dark side this time around; but it’s still there because he loses “the precious”. And even Bilbo’s trickery is fun to see. I guess the sneaky nervous little Bilbo is the one I’m used to. This Bilbo character is good, but has little moments where I don’t think he behaves like he should, as I’ve said.

   But, that’s all part of the delicate balancing act Peter Jackson is trying to do here. Appeal to Tolkien geeks, and long-time followers of his versions, vs. keeping a regular audience interested. Overall, I haven’t had such fun at the movies since The Avengers actually (Though The Avengers was better!) and there were several moments where I laughed out loud. And of course, I just like the world of Middle Earth and it’s magic! Another thing I liked is that they were able to keep in the songs, starting with the dwarves trashing Bilbo’s house. It’s a really good illustration of Bilbo’s homebody nature vs. these strange ruffian dwarves. But, because there is no inner dialogue here, you don’t really see his motive to leave his house. It’s just: “I’m going on an adventure!” Sure, he explains later. But, you don’t see him stirred by the songs.

   Anyway, I enjoyed the movie! Anytime I’m reminded of a fantasy-adventure is good! Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is a little more adventurous I’d say than Ralph Bakshi’s classic animated one. That may have been a good thing, given the initial slow pacing of the movie. And I think Bakshi was a little less disadvantaged because he wasn’t doing The Hobbit as a prequel. Nevertheless, if you want fantasy-action, you go with Peter Jackson. If you want the storytelling elements, you go with Bakshi. These are just subtle differences I noticed, that do help to appreciate either of the films.

    Peter Jackson was obviously under pressure to show everything fast and visually with CGI. Bakshi could take time because his cartoon just wasn’t as expensive as Jackson‘s, and  Bakshi  used narration both to make it seem more like a book (Jackson couldn’t; although Bilbo is writing the on-screen events in his version, so… I actually don‘t see why not!) and Bakshi captures the characters’ smaller details: Like green goblins, instead of weird hairless cat goblins.

   One last thing is that I figuratively rolled over laughing at the end, and how shocked most people were. But, I can’t give spoilers. I’m a little like a hobbit myself; I don’t want to spoil the adventure. I love movies that have a fantasy/sci-fi angle, and seeing that big reveal was definitely an indicator of a bigger, faster, more action-packed sequel! This was definitely The Hobbit…but definitely epic and definitely Peter Jackson’s take on it! Big, action-packed, and over-the-top: 3 stars for this Hobbit adventure! It really made me take a second look at Ralph Bakshi‘s Hobbit, too. Sit down, have some popcorn, and watch both, if you can…when Peter Jackson’s comes out on video. Happy New Year everyone!
   
                                                              (Hobbit movie poster.)

(Slick Bilbo.)

                                                                  (Meeting Gandalf.)

                                                      (Meeting Gandalf...Bakshi's version.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

X-MEN X-MAS PART 2: THE RETURN OF CIVIL RIGHTS


X-MEN X-MAS PART 2: THE RETURN OF CIVIL RIGHTS

Well, I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas (or holiday)! As usual, I was back in Athens. I got many gifts to do with the X-men! Particularly, I had wanted X-men comics/graphic novels that dealt with Civil Rights issues. To my surprise they were all done by the best modern X-men writers! Mark Millar (Ultimate X-men) and Joss Whedon (Gifted). I guess my parents’ overheard me in the bookstore. I didn’t really want any of that stuff to do with civil wars and vampires. Back to the roots for me!
   I’ve been trying to get my reviews up on AbleGamers, starting with my X-men review. Videogames are a whole new venue of advocacy for me. It’s quite fun. Any social changes we affect as advocates, will have to effect all new forms of media. In particular, these new motion controls make things inaccessible for mobility impaired gamers. But, I’ve accepted that this is just a stage that videogames are going through, like memory cards in the late 1990s, early 2000s. I predict motion control will be replaced by touch screens. Though touch screens have their own issues, it’s still better than disenfranchising 33 million disabled gamers who may not have full mobility: Thanks to AbleGamers for that statistic.
   Speaking of accessibility in the media, prepare for more reports from me on OSU’s Cartoon Library. I realize there’s a whole lot of comics and such there, but many are available by appointment only: including all the X-men. So, as fueled by nostalgia and social justice as I am, I grabbed a copy of MAD magazine, spoofing the Twilight Saga (that was pretty funny.) I also sense Twilight is responsible for the X-men’s turn turning vampires and demons, and supernatural romance, when it really should be about Civil Rights. (Yes, I know Joss Whedon did Buffy the Vampire Slayer; but thus far he hasn’t brought it into X-men.) A huge concern for me is what these media are saying that people should pursue.
That’s why in Hollywood right now, it’s sort of epic monsters vs. epic heroes. Are we more interested in self-preservation than justice? Now, I realize the driving force in Hollywood is money; but, it will be interesting to see where these myths go. I can remember watching the 3rd X-men installment with vague disappointment as characters were killed needlessly, and the movie made odd winks to Internet Culture, concluding with a lackluster “showdown” with only a teaser of a sentinel’s head in sight! Hollywood thought it gave people what it wanted, but it backfired. A good sign that the audience still has power.
   Fortunately, for every X-men 3, you have The Avengers movie; good superhero epics. It will be interesting to see if this decade gives us another Lord of The Rings-type trilogy in The Hobbit, for example, or if this will be considered just a re-hash. I’m going to see The Hobbit tonight, so we’ll see what I think of it.  In the meantime, I hope everyone’s holiday was good, and regenerative and a sign of good times to come!


                                         (Enjoy this video of one of the graphic novels I got!)

Monday, December 17, 2012

IPAD ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW: MINECRAFT: POCKET EDITION:


                  IPAD ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW: MINECRAFT: POCKET EDITION:

 
 The app store description of Minecraft: Pocket Edition says, “Imagine it. Build it. Create worlds on the go, with Minecraft: Pocket Edition!” I would add: (If you’re able-bodied.) Let me describe to you my first experience playing Minecraft on this device. Minecraft is like Legos, except you build and “craft” things from the environment around you, usually found underground (Hence, “Mining”+ “crafting” = Minecraft.)  or if you need wood, you chop down a tree, which gives you a block of wood, etc. First rule of Minecraft for me, (In the game’s Survival Mode.) is to build a shelter first, to protect myself from monsters.

   Ordinarily, this means chopping down a tree. Fair enough. But, here you have something worse than a virtual joystick or compass: A virtual keypad. I understand there’s always a learning curve with Minecraft, but the bottom line is the control of the keypad is just too sensitive, and not well-spaced. A jump button is in the middle. As if the keypad wasn’t bad enough, you have to swipe to move around the camera. Holding down the tap for just a second switches from using an item (Like an axe to chop wood.) to examining items. The end result was I was half dancing around this tree while trying to cut it down.

   Which is bad not just because I could barely control it, but because the monsters come out at nightfall. I wasted time dancing around a tree and getting my blocks. I had no shelter. Several zombies emerged, and I hastily dug a ditch in the dirt to protect myself, which meant swiping the camera down to look at the ground and several fast taps to dig, lazily shuffling into my ditch while looking at the ground. Yeah, the zombie knocked me out of the ditch.

   So, you’re thinking: “Well, you have an axe. Just turn around and whack him!” I was thinking the same; except I instead of you. This means I had to tap back to the axe, swipe to the right, swipe to look at the zombie and tap, no! don’t examine the zombie! Tap to attack it. Oh, and it was attacking me all the while, so I was being knocked around. I died. Re-spawned. I died again. Re-spawned. And again! From the same single zombie! So, when I re-spawned the fourth time I just ran far away into a nearby tundra. From there, I built a ruddy little log cabin with naught but two spaces to move around in over the course of two game days. Now, ordinarily, building in-game takes patience, I understand that. Sometimes, you click the wrong places; things get built wrong, whatever. But, the interface between: use item, build, and examine all done with taps really creates a problem. You’ll be destroying things you built, looking at them, and building where you want to destroy.

    Now, once I had my little ramshackle roof over my head (it had a door even!) I wanted to go hunting. As luck would have it, the tundra had plenty of sheep and pigs. Pigs can be hunted for meat, and sheep for wool. Maybe I’d make a bed! (Bed = 3 wood planks + 3 wool.) But, as usual, I found myself examining sheep, and even being pushed (not attacked, though.) around by pigs once I attacked. Only one sheep dropped 2 wool blocks. I ran back to my log cabin. Pushed around by pigs, for crying out loud! Seemed like I’d have to avoid every critter in the game on top of monsters!  

    I like the idea of Minecraft. I just think the iPad, with its tap formats (which you can’t change around at all.) are really ill-suited for those of us with mobility impairments. I have to say I did enjoy building things and crafting tools, when it went right! But, when it came down to I can’t even dig a ditch right (while staring at the ground!), or attack a zombie because my swipes and taps (upward or downward.) don’t register; that’s not a patience issue. That’s an accessibility issue. If I had a mouse and keyboard, I would’ve seen that zombie, and killed it in three clicks. I’d have had a bed from all the wool (maybe.) and I would’ve made those bully pigs into pork instead of dancing around them awkwardly.

    Now, there is a “Creative Mode” aside from “Survival Mode”. Creative Mode gets rid of the monsters, gives you infinite resources, and lets you fly around instead of jump. It basically just lets you build. This mode was slightly more enjoyable. Did it make the controls any less frustrating? No! But, no monsters to worry about. Building is still awkward. In Creative Mode, I just carved a dwelling out of a cave, and put a door on it. I wasn’t even in the mood to imagine! I just wanted the controls to work!
 
      Hunting was still as abysmal. Only this time, I had ducks that kept getting through my door. (Some kind of game glitch?) I will say Creative Mode is better for exploring, but then: Why build shelter? I know, I know. To exercise your imagination. But, with a control system this bad, and half the challenge gone, the only thing I could imagine was playing a better app!

  Creative Mode does offer more accessibility, but at expense of half of the game, and the controls are still the same; that horrible keypad! The terrible tap sensitivity! (And, no re-mapping is available.) It does feel a little less stressful, but the controls just try to do to much with the various taps and motions, and don‘t appear to have had the mobility impaired in mind. A sad thing for such a creativity-based game.

   In conclusion, if you’re mobility impaired, the touchscreen commands may be a bit much. I know Minecraft has a big world to offer, and it’s fun to look at, but I want to build things and hunt and to survive zombie attacks. The swiping for me to turn around then having to use the keypad to move separately means those pigs will just walk on by you, and the zombies will eat you before you have your first plank laid. It’s very confusing, and frustrating that I can’t build what’s in my mind. I would play this game to escape my physical limits, not to be constantly reminded of them. Because of running from monsters at night, I felt like I was playing a weird 3D version of Castlevania 2: WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE. ;-)


FINAL GRADE: F

ACCESSIBILITY GRADE: C (Creative Mode has no monsters.)

FORGIVENESS FACTOR: D (Can re-spawn; but not often helpful accessibility-wise.)

TOUCHSCREEN CONTROL: F (Virtual keypad; sensitive-command taps, swipe-based camera.)


                        (AHH!!! A ZOMBIE!!! AHH!!! GRAPHIC/INTERFACE OVERLAP!!! RUN!!!)

                                     


                                    
                                                       (MY NEMESIS MR. SHEEP.)

                                   
                                         

Saturday, December 15, 2012

IPAD ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW: SCI-FI HEROES


                             IPAD ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW: SCI-FI HEROES

 
 I got a request to do another accessible iPad game review! Well, I didn’t think I’d be able to find another iPad game as fun as X-men Arcade (which wasn’t designed for iPad in 1992 anyway.) But, I found a “team-up shooter” called Sci-Fi Heroes! Naturally, I like it! But, here’s why: the format is in almost a Secret of Mana-type, role-playing game style that I like; it seems naturally suited to the touchscreen with a minimum of hassle. Though hassle there is!

The characters are pretty limited to RPG stereotypes, or if you‘ve never played Secret of Mana-type RPGs, the intros will familiarize you. (My apologies if you didn’t grow up with any Square Enix RPGs.) You start off with only a space marine named Sarge, and a Healbot, Nightingale. Really my only complaint about this game is that the characters are limited, and don’t appear to me to have much difference other than what you’d expect from a game with limited sci-fi character classes: marines, techno wizard, healers, sneaky types.

    Usually if I’m feeling cheap (Because, why not? Accessibility!), I group the classes (rogue-to-wizard-healer-to-fighter; not so good in boss fights though.) together back to back on the screen so that they can shoot whatever’s coming in whatever direction. So, you just tap for one character to face the back of another character. Though that can be bad for enemies with mind control powers, in which case you’re just asking for one of those guys to turn around and get shot. Or mind controlled, or stabbed, whatever those nasty aliens can cook up.  

   The main controls are fairly common sense, which is why I like it.You control 4 heroes at a time until you either win a battle or lose it. Since this game is an iPad game, you move by dragging a finger (Not swiping, thank goodness!) from the hero to the destination. Response time is a factor, so it might be a little shaky for some, but to me, there is no “Virtual joystick” so that’s the most common sense use of the iPad format, in terms of accessibility. No pause button, I’m afraid though! And no known way to speed the game down. Also, before you land heroes on a planet, there’s a large amount of menus to go through, which can be perplexing. Equipping the crew, spending money on equipment etc. Each character has skills to use in combat, but the skills are in the upper left, which can distract from the flow of combat; particularly for those with impairments like me.

   The game has a sarcastic brand of humor. The character biographies are narrated by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, English/Australian game developer and reviewer of  the “Zero Punctuation” game review series. So, Sarge has never been in a war, but is eager to kill things, the Healbot is a depressed maniac: Sarge will say: “Let’s go kill something!” and the Healbot will respond: “Oh, great. I hate you all.” and the rogue is a self-interested Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds type: “Why does the Horde want this planet anyway? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s nice and all, but couldn’t they just move somewhere else?” The banter between the characters really holds the story together, and is another major reason I play it: Click here for Yahtzee’s merciless reviews, which I must warn you, are graphic and contain adult language, but all in wicked fun! http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation

    As with most iPad games it seems, one half is the game, and the other half is unlockable content and things the creators want you to buy with real money. For example, more in-game money, or equipment. Some heroes are unlockable if you have the right amount of in-game money. Spending actual money isn’t really required, but it can speed up the game a little if you’re sick of going through levels again to beef up your heroes, which happens a lot, especially in boss fights where you have to move quickly!
 
Overall, I like the gameplay once you get past all the menus. This finger-drag control mechanism looks to me like how an iPad game should actually play. It is real-time though, so dexterity is once again a minor issue. I have to admit though; were it not for my love of sci-fi, wacky humor, and hero stories, I probably wouldn’t play. I just love blasting away alien Hordes, and the witty banter between the heroes. Any game that lets me shoot aliens seamlessly is a keeper!
 
  Lastly, it’s come to my attention that there accessibility guidelines for videogame developers. I’ll be using these guidelines in the future. The guidelines are quite comprehensive, covering just about every disability from physical  impairments to cognitive. So, it should be quite helpful for all disabled gamers. You can see them here: http://www.gameaccessibilityguidelines.com/ Special thanks to Ian for pointing it out to me! Also, for reviews of games, game systems, control layouts, message boards and disability issues in gaming, check out Ablegamers: http://www.ablegamers.com/forums, thanks again to Ian for the info.

  For my ratings, I’ll still just use my own observation of the games. Next, since I’ve reviewed mainly games I like, I’m going to review a game which I think is totally inaccessible…Minecraft! The sad thing is I love Minecraft. But, not on the iPad. Minecraft on the iPad is about as accessible as a staircase. It really showcases the worst of the touchscreen! To my ratings then, for this wacky alien-blaster RPG!

FINAL GRADE: B+

ACCESSIBILITY GRADE: B+ (Complex menus, character stats screens.)

FORGIVENESS FACTOR: B (Can’t always move heroes quickly; see: real-time. Fixed difficulty.)

TOUCHSCREEN CONTROL: A (Drag or tap, not swipe, yes! For most in-game motions.)

                                                     (Battle screen gets cluttered easily!)
                                             
                               
                                                             (Character screen.)


                                                                  (Team screen.)


                                                              (Playin' "cheap!")

Friday, December 7, 2012

ACCESSIBILITY REVIEW: X-MEN ARCADE ON IPAD



X-MEN ARCADE ON IPAD:


Earlier, I had promised to review the disability accessibility of the iPad. So, I was psyched (or should I say, “Cyked”) to play this 1992 arcade classic which at the same time ties in with my favorite superheroes. There were some accessibility issues, as there seemingly always are with iPad games. Those of us with less than full dexterity will often tire of taps or swipes that don’t register. But, the one big pro was the game itself!

First off, before we get to pros and cons, I remember this game from Birchwood Mall in Port Huron, MI, when it was new. My memories are extremely vague, but I remember everybody always wanted to play it, and there would be like 5 people crowded around that big X-Men cabinet; lots of shouting and shoving, my mom would hold me up to the cabinet to play. Here was a game that let you be the X-Men. Cyclops, Colossus, Storm, Dazzler Nightcrawler, and Wolverine; this was not the roster from the 1992 cartoon, then new; this was from the 1989 cartoon pilot Pryde of the X-Men!

But, differences in roster aside, you got to fight against the bad guys from the comics. And what could be greater? Translating the format from cabinet to touch screen however, proved a bit tricky. On a cabinet, you have big giant buttons: jump, attack, mutant power, and a big joystick to move around with. On a touch screen, you have small, touch-sensitive icons, which are lumped together in the bottom right of the screen. Lumping together makes perfect sense if you have full dexterity, or are on a cabinet (after a while you just physically feel where each button is.) but on a touch screen, it means you’ll be pressing the wrong icon unless you look down there a lot.

Most curious to me was the joystick translation. Here, you have a small X in the bottom left corner of the screen. With most iPad games you just tap the screen and it goes. This is not so here. The spaces in between the X correspond to cardinal directions that you hold down to move. Especially given that the icon is on the opposite side of the action icons, it was difficult, though not impossible, to do two things at once. Moving and attacking, being relatively close but on opposite sides, is easiest. But, say, jumping and attacking is a bit more slippery, or jumping in a given direction. For this reason, I hated pit levels (which I believe start with level 4 and continue on.)

If there was a pit, I was falling in it, which of course makes you lose a life. So, unless I very slowly walk around it down Nightcrawler or whoever goes. Also, if you take too long…I believe a minute after clearing an area and the game tells you to “MOVE ON! à ” a bomb drops, killing your hero. While this was useful in arcades as a tactic to goad lazy bones holding back the group when arcade goers were spending precious time and tokens, it just feels annoying here. I’m trying to save the world, and the game drops a bomb on me.

Pros for the iPad: Mercifully, the iPad version has a “pause” icon so a bomb doesn‘t drop on you every minute! Also, you can continue as much as you like. While it takes away from the challenge, sometimes it’s necessary to just use your mutant power attack to clear the screen, although it takes two health slots. Honestly, there is such variety to the attacks that the mutant power attacks never made me feel like I was less into the game. There’s a difficulty setting if you want more challenge, which I can assure you the arcade version didn’t have. These are all plusses to the iPad version for accessibility.

In fact, to me, using mutant power in more desperate situations (attacked in mobs, etc.) made the game feel more like a comic book; like you were really kicking butt! Which, I’m sure was the game makers intention even in arcades, when gamers would wait for those situations to pop up. It looked cool, and it saved sweet tokens. And the 5 guys you could play with would thank you maybe. On the iPad, since you don’t use tokens, mutant powers are just shorthand for either “I wanna look awesome!” or “Ugh! Let’s get this fight over with.”

A note on character appearances. As mentioned before, this is the 1989 roster from what I see. Dazzler is basically Jubilee. Professor X has a power chair it looks like, but it is less detailed and it’s ambiguous how he’s driving it, since there’s no joystick. Details, details. Also, the characters retain the badly translated Japanese dialogue, such as Magneto and Emma Frost’s “Welcome to die!” which adds a corny factor. Twice, even! Two characters say that! Also, you know it’s from the 1989 roster because Professor X has no British accent.

Stylistically, the game very much reminds me of an arcade game. (Those token-eating beat-em-ups of the 90s.) but the control mechanism really takes me out of the game sometimes, which is otherwise a good game: I don’t want to see Cyclops getting pummeled because I was punching one guy and forgot to turn around. But, the iPad makes up for that in that it is not as merciless (thank goodness!) as the arcade.

Overall, I’m excited (X-Cited?) to have the game again, and to relive some epic childhood moments. For me, it’s all about story. And now I’m in there again, using mutant abilities to save the world. As the game says: “Here come to the heroes to save the world from destruction. They are X-men!” Oh yeah, I’m an X-man again! Now, if only I could stop jumping against that wall!

FINAL GRADE: B

ACCESSIBILITY GRADE: B-

FORGIVENESS FACTOR: A-

TOUCHSCREEN CONTROL: C (See: X-Compass)




(Colossus' mutant power.)


                                                   (Good view of the control scheme.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

X-Mas With The X-Men




X-mas with The X-Men:



To me, there are no better advocates of disability rights in the superhero world than the X-Men. In the real world, it would be places like VSA and independent living organizations, but probably my first experience with my own advocacy was through X-Men. So, instead of looking at doomsday scenarios, I wanted to pay tribute to my first superheroes on the holidays.

There were a couple holidays episodes of at least two animated series. The one in the 90s (Have Yourself A Morlock Little X-Mas.) and the 00s series X-Men: Evolution. Which you can watch above. It’s really good, and deals oddly enough, with Angel who saves a disabled woman in the opening scene! The 90s version is a fairly Christmas Carol version of X-Men. Wolverine doesn’t want to help a Morlock (sewer mutant.) who stole some food, but Professor X invites him to eat with the X-Men. Wolverine sort of plays Scrooge.

But, it’s the X-Men: Evolution episode that really speaks to me, as far as holiday specials go. It stays true to the X-Men themes of fighting for equality even though people may fear and hate others. Plus, there are two disabled people in this episode! Check out Professor X’s wheelchairs between the series! I remember when I was a kid I wanted a hover chair like the 90s version. But, I particularly like the modern power chair design with the Xs in the spokes. Looks comfy.

If you watched that episode, let me know what you thought. To me, it brings up an all too important issue of labeling. Angel’s good actions are first attributed to his mutations (being an “angel”.) then people hate him because of it. So it goes. But, neither is actually true. He’s not an angel from heaven, and he’s not a freak. He’s a good person. But, he’s fighting labels. This is the first episode to show Kitty Pryde as Jewish, and (to my knowledge.) Cyclops as Christian. In this respect, it’s also more diverse than its 90s counterpart.

Personally, I always thought the X-Men were about Civil Rights. And that’s important, because it means that the X-Men want equality; just like we in the disability rights movement do. Our special abilities are what define us, yet we want no special treatment. Our Xavier’s Institutes might well be places like VSA or independent living centers where we learn to use our gifts to benefit others. A big thank you to VSA, which I know always encourages using our gifts. And I love giving people gifts. Especially on X-mas! Happy holidays everyone, and don’t forget to comment on the episode!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

T2: Judgment Day Review




T2: Judgment Day Review:

When I first saw T2 I must’ve been 7. It opens with a futuristic war between Terminators and mankind. However, even as a kid, I think I knew it was trying to say something about the future. Or at least one possible future 1997. I remember being relieved when August 1997 came and went, because that was the date the war started in the movie: “Judgment Day”.

After the war scene of course, I probably remember the T-101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) appearing in the time vortex, getting the biker’s clothes, etc. And the role reversal between the terminators was great. The T-101 is the rebel biker and the cop is the hunter/killer of John Connor, who will one day lead the human resistance against the machines.

Now, in the first movie, the T-101 hunted John’s mom, and the role reversal means that Sarah Connor, John’s mother, needs to overcome her trauma. Which she does when the T-101 says “Come with me if you want to live.” John is a bad kid even, hacking into ATMs and using early 90s slang. Truly the mark of a rebel. So, it makes sense that the cop would be after him. But, it turns out that the cop is the T-1000, a liquid metal robot from the future sent to kill him.

I know a lot of people know this plot because it’s classic, but those are the basic details: one is the killer, and one is the protector, and mother and son need to prevent Judgment Day. Let’s get to my interpretation. For some reason, as a kid, I felt like I was a good terminator. I felt like the relationship about good vs. evil robot was somehow tied to me and my wheelchair. For me, it was the realization that technology can be good (like my wheelchair.) or evil (T-1000, who chases John and Sarah.) Now that I’m older though, I know it’s about the future in the abstract.

Specifically, it to me is about the future of technology. Will mankind use advanced technology for good or evil? Will we be bound by old prejudices? Will technology destroy us, or can humans and machines “learn” to live in peace? Initially, the “good terminator” is just a killing robot that’s been reprogrammed. But, he learns early 90s slang ( “Hasta la vista, baby!” was made famous.) with John and swears not to kill people. Not even when battling a whole police squadron does he kill people. The last life he takes is his own to prevent the future war.

The special effects and battle scenes remain legendary. The T-1000 is like a slasher-movie villain, and is almost unstoppable. He stabs whoever gets in his way. But, he is also very smart and tries to outwit the humans before stabbing them and taking their forms. He knows that humans usually obey police authority for example. And he even imitates John’s foster family. The T-101 however, knows that the T-1000 can do that, and so prevents John from going into the trap.

My favorite scene is when the T-1000 reforms his head with his liquid metal ability. His head comes apart in two; but then it reforms and you think, “Uh oh.” Heck, I like just about all of the morphing scenes. I'm even sad that the liquid metal concept was abandoned in later Terminator movies. The female Terminator in T3 just wasn’t as threatening, in my opinion. She is obviously less advanced than the T-1000.

To me, The later movies seem to undo all the events of T2, which is a great tragedy, and just means they’ll keep re-booting it. T2 had an actual message: There’s no fate but the one we make. The later films undo the message of hope, and all those great battle scenes! But, the time travel aspect of the film ensures that there’s always hope. Perhaps the T-1000 will re-appear, and will do the franchise good. Until then! Hasta la vista, baby!





Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review of my book Treole Horka!:






“My name is Bruce. I was born in the 80s after a nuclear war. A time they call 20year. But, I call it butt-kickin’ time…or Justice Time.”

- Treole Horka!, book jacket

Armageddon week, Day 1: As stated before, Treole Horka! is my comedy about nuclear war and spoof on big 80s action stars, or the post-apocalyptic genre in general. I recommend you buy it if I publish it. It’s protagonist Bruce, has a monkey fused in his right shoulder (“The shoulder of justice!”) He’s a big beefy mutated rebel biker pitted against the evil Dr. Kirp who is served by an army, the B.A.D. I wanted to have Bruce use as many smooth one-liners as possible, invoking stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Campbell, so that it really drives home how cool he is. Along the way, he meets the forces of G.O.O.D.

A major theme is the epic battle between G.O.O.D. and B.A.D. Whereas Bruce is the go-to mutant biker who wanders the nuclear wasteland beating up “dweebs” Communists, and oppressive biker overlords, all while wearing his best punk outfit; G.O.O.D. is a cyborg army led by Commander T that stops threats to the nuclear wasteland, which are caused by B.A.D. and the evil genius Dr. Kirp. Commander T is always pumped, and calls himself “The Master of Pumptitude”. Thinking that’s
cool, Bruce follows them in their hunt for Dr. Kirp.

So, they hunt B.A.D. together. Bruce fights ninjas, bikers, cultists, mutants, the undead and giant mosquitoes among other things. And yes, he has a big gun. It’s just what you would want in a good action story! As Bruce bashes through 7-11 overlords, board game obsessed tough guys, and a trailer park with a Communist Cola vending machine, he pieces together where Kirp’s base is. I won’t give away the jokes, but if you read the sentence before, it’s some pretty absurd stuff, and still cracks me up. Bruce’s insults don’t even need to make sense to sound cool.

A major source of comedy is Bruce’s image. And the monkey. The whole monkey-in-the-shoulder thing kind of offsets Bruce’s tough guy image. “No one gets out that lucky after a nuclear war.” Also, Bruce’s “girlfriend” is the mutant Laboratory Octopus. She’s sexy, but has tentacles growing out of her head. They ooze slime and stuff. So, they are too mutant lovers with opposite sort of juxtaposed images. I really wish I could talk about the jokes, but you’ll have to read them!

As I’m good at doing, the whole story is written in a sort of faux-epic style. Contrary to what this blog conveys, I don’t always write like I’m writing a Communication thesis! Ha! Here’s a little taste from Bruce’s encounter with the dastardly Slasher Gang:

 “The Slasher Gang…” Bruce's voice roughened in deadly preparation for a snappy insult. “Not the sharpest knives in the box…”The Slasher Gang-- that bunch of rude-looking knife-nuts-- was perhaps best known for their love of sharp objects and bubble gum comic strips. Together, they formed a fearsome band of dagger-wielding degenerates under the iron rule of the infamous teen idol and criminal mastermind known only as “Razor.”

And that’s just one of Bruce’s fiendish foes to face! Bruce explores the vast nuclear wasteland and discovers such venues as a post-apocalyptic 7-11 (which is huge, and a valued resource!) a perfectly good Perkin’s Pancakes, and a bombed out pet store which arouses strange primal memories in a certain shoulder-monkey!

Will Bruce uncover Kirp’s base and discover the meaning behind the acronym B.A.D.? Will Commander T lead Bruce astray in the doomed nuclear wasteland? Will you ever find out how the heck a monkey ended up inside Bruce’s shoulder? Does Bruce do laundry? All these questions answered and more in Treole Horka!! (Special thanks to my twin, who edited it and got it bound.)



      (Bruce; photoshopped by Robert Bogl.) 



Friday, November 23, 2012

TURKEY DAY REVELATIONS


TURKEY DAY REVELATIONS:
Last week, I went to my mom’s place to be with my brothers in Athens, and celebrated my birthday (yesterday!). So much cool stuff happened. I rarely ever get to see my brothers these days, so time with family is nice. I particularly enjoyed the fact that I got to celebrate two Turkey Days. One while my older brother was in town, and one on actual Thanksgiving/my and my twin’s birthday. Yes, we’re a family of three men. In fact, just got back to Columbus, so I guess I can safely say vacation is over. Early effects of Turkey coma are still setting in.
    I’ll probably have turkey sandwiches for a while at least. However, I know I promised my audience a book review, and a review of dystopian themes. How about both? As a birthday present, which was totally unexpected, my brother got me a bound copy of a post-apocalyptic nuclear war comedy that I wrote in 2006. It’s called Treole Horka!, and it’s a book now. The title is nonsense. It came to me in a dream. My twin elegantly described it as: “like Mad Max written by Mel Brooks.” So, a report on that later, along with Terminator etc.
    In other news, I’m in love with my iPad. I finally stepped into the 21st century. As much as I enjoy being a technologically advanced alien, I have yet to master the touch screen, and my cell phone is a relative dinosaur. I probably prefer sci-fi tech to real tech. Starships and so forth. It seems about 6 years ago, I fell out of a technological loop, and getting back has been a glorious return. My favorite iPad game is Animal Legends.
    Perhaps as a disability culture review, I’ll critique the accessibility of the iPad in general. Some of the features are less than intuitive. But, after dystopia. I also enjoy how easy the iPad  makes reading books and watching movies. I must’ve read about 4 comics and 5 sci-fi short stories. All creatively stimulating. For a media nut, I’m a full-on iPad enthusiast. I’m no techie, but I am a media nut. The iPad puts it all at my fingertips.
    Of course, I got gifts for my twin as well. Aside from his ASTOUNDING gift of a bound copy of Treole Horka! (which I may publish soon…we‘ll see.) I also got to watch Freakazoid which was my birthday gift to him. It’ll be off to California soon with him. So, I had to watch it while he was with me. Having grown up watching it, I figured he would appreciate it.
   Speaking of growing up, my twin and I recovered some 2nd grade stories we’d written. Although our grammar has much improved (and basic language command.) we were surprised at how similar our stories were in tone to what we write today. I was surprised what a good young author I was. I wrote about heroes and imitated TV and videogames; even attempting to add what we later deciphered as infomercials into my journal entries! (“Only $0% you pay!”; I didn‘t understand money back then.) Shades of the young mythologist/media critic I was to become.
   It is appropriate then, that on our birthday, we in a sense rediscovered ourselves. The old saying is true: There’s nothing new under the sun. “There are no unknowns. Only things temporarily hidden.” As Captain Kirk says. New worlds of media are waiting to be explored. In the solitude of that house, I have more time to myself, and a supporting family.
   By far, nothing pleases me more than this self-discovery. That my life has been one between worlds able-bodied and disabled, and of critiquing (and enjoying) different media. First, it was an electric typewriter for me, where I wrote things. Then, laptop. Is this the age of the iPad for me? No longer tethered physically to the computer, I might carry the iPad and go places. And of course, watch Dr. Who, Star Trek, and read books!
    Birthdays for me always symbolize a sense of rebirth…if I may be a mythologist again. But, this time as the iPad opens up new territory for me, I feel it quite stronger than ever before. I am always grateful to see my brothers who always have new things to talk about, and are a welcoming warm sight. ( Also, on my iBooks I downloaded an ethnographic study on families raising children with disabilities; should be fun. Home is the beginning of any cultural analysis, I think. Cultural patterns are set there first.)
   In conclusion, I have a lot to write about. Expect a lot more posts. We’ll begin the thematic of dystopia not with T2: Judgment Day, but with my own comedy novella…
TH!: Treole Horka!. and maybe later I’ll discuss disability and media as always. I have a lot of new “ammo“, so to speak! Hope you all have had a good Turkey Day; but stay tuned for Armageddon on Through Alien Eyes!

Monday, November 12, 2012

REELABILITIES FILM FESTIVAL COLUMBUS 2012




REELABILITIES FILM FESTIVAL COLUMBUS 2012:

Warrior Champions:

“Men sometimes confess they love war because it puts them in touch with the experience of being alive. In going to the office every day, you don't get that experience, but suddenly, in war, you are ripped back into being alive. Life is pain; life is suffering; and life is horror -- but, by God, you are alive.”

- Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, pg. 102

Followers of this blog know that I’ve been following VSA’s ReelAbilities Columbus. I was able to see three different movies, each dealing with a different perspectives on many disabilities. The first was an American film being shown at the Columbus Museum of Modern Art called Warrior Champions, about soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq to compete for America in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. There are three main soldiers represented: Scott, Michelle, and Carlos. There were also others who didn’t make it in, and you see their journey as well, which is a hero’s journey in the true Campbellian sense: sacrificing yourself for a Greater Good.

The film begins with the soldiers explaining how they got injured. Most were from roadside bombs or IEDs. I was amazed here how casually the soldiers discussed their injuries. Melissa starts off by showing people her American flag-colored prothestic leg, and saying “There’s my blood.” Kortney, another hopeful explains that since he didn’t feel pain during the blast, he’s sure none of the others did either. That seemed to ease their pain a bit. Another veteran battles depression and says he can’t watch his own injury being reported on TV. So, Scott visits his house to try and get him out of depression. For Scott, sports is a way of giving back to his community.

So, in that way going to the Olympics is a way for him to go back to the war with his friends, and give back to his community. Every soldier mentions that they feel a comraderie with fellow soldiers that can’t be replicated, and they want to go back: “I fought for my country in Iraq, and now I’m gonna fight for it in Beijing.” says Scott. Scott is a wheelchair user, and throws the discus. I was amazed by the way he throws his whole body into the effort. As I mentioned, there were a few competitors who didn’t make it; Scott’s depressed friend is one of them. But, he found new freedom through sports.

Scott and Carlos end up training together. Like Scott, Carlos uses a wheelchair and is a veteran. But, unlike him, he is more focused on making the team than giving back to the community and teaching sports. This is their one opportunity to prove that they aren’t broken and give back to their community. Carlos and Scott train in a gym and sleep in a place that has little more than a fridge. Overall, the movie was a fine display of military culture and discipline as well as disability culture.

Then, after training, the soldiers are selected to go to Beijing, except for Kortney, a man with a prosthetic leg who didn’t make the long jump. But, Melissa goes with the two others. Their time in Beijing is marked by culture shock and exhaustion, but they politely greet passers-by and even tour the Great Wall. The depth of emotion in this movie is what stuck out to me. They’re not only soldiers, they are Olympians, and even though none of them win, nobody could take that away. The discussion afterwards was also an emotional rollercoaster: different vets, some disability professionals, and different coping mechanisms displayed; but all united by the common bond of disability. Though sometimes radically unique stories! That’s the kind of intercultural discourse I like to see.

NOTE: The opening speaker gave a speech on historical representations of disability in the media, claiming it was based on a “cure/kill” model of disability, and that disability culture needs to outgrow “overcoming”. I have never heard of this model in my research. I would’ve loved to talk about it. My model was based in part on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, who taught that Man is something to overcome. Everyone must overcome themselves, in contrast. Can anyone say for certain where the cure/kill model comes from? Let me know.



Shameless: The ART of Disability

“We want people to understand that Bonnie Klein the filmmaker, is still Bonnie Klein the filmmaker.”

- Catherine Frazee, poet, discussing the title of Shameless: The ART of Disability

As a writer/artist myself, I really liked this movie. First, we meet Bonnie Klein, and she explains that even though she prefers to promote positive images of disability, she conscious of wanting to look good. We are then introduced to her friends who are disabled. Dave the comedian, who has a disfigured face, Catherine, with spinal atrophy. The dancer, Geoff, has a spinal cord injury. They begin by discussing Hollywood stereotypes of disability placed on a bingo card.

Now, there are some funny parts in this movie, (like Dave’s comedy act “The Church of 80% sincerity.) but the rest of the movie is a fairly deep discussion of how each artist interprets his or her own experience of disability through their art. This is fundamentally what I struggle with as well, as an artist. How much of our art is meant to be an experience of disability culture? How much of my writing abandons the notion of disability culture altogether? The answer I think is that the concept of culture is dependent on the environment surrounding it. For example, I was pleased to see an Episode of Star Trek TNG (“Ethics”) included, where Worf the Klingon officer, is injured and doesn’t want to live with a disability. Or several classics like “Heidi”, which were also criticized. Strong reminders that film is a product of its time. The movie then, follows an exploration of each of the artists individual lives and how their art represents their experience.

We start with David’s experience. His “Church of 80% Sincerity” comedy act which focuses on his face, and his impressions of movie monsters, with the ending of it being that you realize that maybe you’re (the non-disfigured) the monster. Dave goes a long way towards normalizing humor and disability, and liked that particularly.

He gets into a scuffle with an agent who says he shouldn’t focus the act on his face. But that raises the question: is the agent ignoring disability culture, or does Dave rely too much on it? Eventually, they work out the act in such a way that Dave’s humor and face both come through.

Then, we have Bonnie’s story. Bonnie was a feminist director who made “Not A Love Story”. After a stroke, her family supported her, and her husband stayed with her. The question for her was how to stay strong, and be supported by her family. Eventually, she finds that art, film, and dance are useful therapies; in much the same way I do. She found that her disabled friends led her back to film.

Catherine Frazee is a poet who talks about her doubts of getting involved in social activism, which I thought was particularly poignant since I experience these doubts as well. Who am I to represent my culture’s experience? The answer is of course that like Catherine, I make my art for myself, and it happens to speak to a collective. Afterwards, much like in Bonnie’s story, how she is supported by her partner.

Overall the movie is a good investigation into the roots of disability culture as a lived individual experience, and using art to convey that vs. preconceived notions of disability. It asks the right questions. It provides pointers in the ways that creativity can enrich the lives of those within the disabled community. I suppose one criticism I have would be that Bonnie Klein already has an established community of disabled friends, which may not be entirely representative of the greater community.

NOTE ON SPEAKERS: The speakers here were artists. A poet read some poems on oppression. I found the poems were well-meaning, if not representative of actual experience. As an ethnographer, which is really my field, I would never presume to write about Mohammad’s journey to Medina, or the French Revolution; I can’t say what that’s like. My idea would be: “Gee, let’s ask a Muslim. (or a Frenchman.) Let’s get some representatives of real experiences of those identities.” But, poetry allows us to lie imaginatively. Never let poets lie to you; especially about oppression lest we become blind to real experiences of it, or think of it as “noble”. Overcoming oppression, yes, that’s noble, not oppression itself.

That said, the rest of the panel could be said to be in many ways an answer to the previous speakers “cure/kill” conception of disability. The actors in the panel, one of which had no hands, emphasized that non-disabled actors should be given equal opportunity to play disabled parts; the previous speaker spoke against this. I was really struck by the variety of viewpoints that can be lumped under “disability theory”. The panel pointed out that non-disabled actors sometimes open opportunities for disabled ones, such as Dustin Hoffman’s method acting in Rain Man that won an Oscar and raised autism awareness. The previous “cure/kill” speaker especially mentioned Hoffman’s performance as de-legitimizing to real disabled actors. In general, I agree with the real actors, with the caveat that it represent real experience.




BEN X:

I was happy to receive a little gift bag in a raffle when I entered the theater. Thanks, Erin! That being said, this film from Belgium was a treat for me to watch. Not because of the subject matter, (bullying an autistic kid to death.) But, because it seemed to be representing real experience through film and fantasy. Indeed, we were later informed that it was based on a true story; changed to end happily. The film is through Ben’s perspective, as he struggles to understand “normal people” at school and in his life.

Ben seeks escape through a World of Warcraft-type computer game from the world he can’t understand. The game makes sense to him; even makes him a hero. All he sees in the normal world is “the jerk in the mirror.” In the game world, you can be anything, and there are clear goals. The film does a good job representing Ben’s perspective of the game which he transfers into the confusing normal world.

We see close-ups of parts of people’s faces which he can process. This gives you some idea of his disability and confusion understanding “normal people”. He is routinely picked on by a bully named Bogart and his cohort. One day, in what I assume is a Theology class, Ben X hears about Jesus’s last hours; and others’ mock it and throw spit wads at Ben. This culminates in Ben standing on a desk and forced to strip by the bullies after class, which in then posted all over the internet; his usual escape.

Ben’s mother seeks help for the bullying (which Ben doesn’t communicate.) and sees the usual professionals. However, since Ben is mostly non-verbal, there’s nothing they can do. Even though I’m not autistic, I felt deeply for Ben. I’m an escapist too; seeking though I do to represent real experience. I know how hard it can be to just live life when people around you always fight, and don’t understand. I also understand isolation…needing escape from reality.

Anyway, in another scene, the bullying intensifies. Bogart and his bully buddy attack Ben. They are then represented in Ben’s mind as trolls in-game. He tries to strike back with a crucifix-dagger he made in shop class. (Or as Ben insists, bought for 250 gold in-game.) But, they rob him of that and take his cell phone, tease him, spit in his mouth, and make him take LSD.(!) Ben misses his “always-there” bus. I also know the struggle to keep a schedule; and one little mishap can be a serious blow to dignity.

This, I think, highlights the importance of his loss of dignity. He has lost the drive to even care (or understand!) that this is bullying. High as a kite, Ben tearfully tells his mother that it only looks like he doesn’t understand feelings, but he tries.

Later, he devises his “endgame” and tries to get in contact with his in-game healer (A girl named Scarlite.) in-real-life. He goes to the train station, but can’t focus enough on her to say anything to her. Even worse, his bullies show up there, as they knew of his plans. So, Ben does not focus or say anything even as he sits right next to Scarlite. There goes a finger; an eye; the neck. She passes him by.

But, as he does in-game and in-real-life, he transfers her from his mind into parts of his real life that he can’t deal with. That’s part of his escapism; I was surprised no one in the audience got that, but more on the speakers later. The imaginary Scarlite takes him to a diner and tells him that he’s a hero and shouldn’t end his life. Instead, he fakes his death, taking inspiration from Jesus; and is in a sense reborn. Just like spawning and re-spawning in-game. Before beginning this new life, he brings his bullies to justice. Unfortunately, we were later told that in the true story, he committed suicide.

NOTES ON SPEAKERS: Unfortunately, after being exposed to these film images which closely mirror my own experiences of isolation, escapism (which was intensified by Ben being mostly non-verbal!) and bullying(!) I was disappointed that these topics were scarcely addressed, and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t speak out. The poet concentrated on how it was just a movie (Far-be-it for me to abase a poet on that exact same lie.) but it was meant to represent a real story, which happened. Bullying happens. Escapism happens. A few more suggested that Ben’s escapism was not only autism(!) but psychosis in an attempt to make disabled people look dangerous.(!) I’ll bet money these speakers were not gamers.

He who has no real experience of bullying, will not get this movie. Only a romantic notion called “oppression“. When I see bullies spit in a person’s mouth and force him to take LSD, I flashback to people laughing at me, trying to startle me, covering me with duct-tape, waving my underwear through a dorm hallway, leaving me in my own filth only to prove a point. That’s real oppression.

I was the weird kid who spoke the weird language (German, and this film also brought that back to me; the isolation of every now and then understanding Flemmish.), and kept to himself. (Star Trek, sci-fi, and my studies being my own escapism: at any moment, I could be a starship captain, a cyborg, or a 19th century German, where I was treated with respect.) In this instance, seeing no addressing of the practical use of escapism (Especially for a non-verbal autistic!) it made it hard to speak, because one memory of discrimination recalls all others. Bullying culture exists too. Also, from my knowledge of German, I think the title may be a play on words. It can refer to Ben’s screen name, or his loneliness. Ben X= bin nichts. I am nothing. If the Flemmish is closely related. Every now and then, I would catch a word or three. But, in many ways this film was a brilliant answer to the previous one, where a disabled community of friends is already established. Hostility reigns instead of hospitality, and that makes it more real to my experience; though I have an artist’s perspective, and function (in theory) socially “better” than Ben.



Closing Thoughts:

In conclusion, I was shocked at the variety of conflicting viewpoints on disability. I had never known so many existed! “Cure/Kill”, “Oppression”, (poetic as opposed to real.), “imposter’s syndrome”. These are new concepts to me, and some I must admit, completely foreign. While I possess little knowledge of these concepts, I do know films can allow us transcendence of disability theory; that is to become more than one was before through a viewing experience, regardless of preconceptions. That was what I ultimately take away from the ReelAbilities Film Fest.

Especially on Veterans’ Day, we need to remember that we have to strive to become more than what we appear to be. And in the words of JFK “We chose to do these things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” As regular readers know, I am wary of assigning any culture as Capital D.C. “Disability Culture”. It is rather an expression of the social environment in which it takes place. Warrior Champions for example was a fine expression of military/disability culture. Shameless, an artistic one. Ben X, on gaming and escapism. But, here I will finally make an exception. Not because it is easy, but because it is hard. I must challenge all people with disabilities to unite not on the basis of abilities, but on what makes us unique. Disability Culture must in a sense overcome itself. This is not to say that abilities don’t inform our identities. Certainly, they do. And this is not to diminish our individual efforts; they are our own tragedies and triumphs, and if we don’t record them, History will move on without us. But, what I’m saying is that if there is ever to be a Civil Rights type Disability Movement (of which, I am doubtful; Disability being to varied and growing up around different cultures. That is, in my opinion not being specifically a culture in itself.) we must decide once and for all what we value.

The criterion must not just be disability; it should also address real injustices. We cannot afford exclusion or romanticism. Able-bodied actors should be allowed to represent our experiences as well. If Johnny Depp wanted to get my message out to the world, I’d let him do it, and relive my experience. One experience is all we have. If we are to form a massive Disability Culture, we must to some extent sacrifice our individual theories, and focus on our limits as well as success. It would not be easy, because every group sees injustices in other ways, and we mustn’t become Pollyannas. Nor should we become exclusionary! And that, my friends, can be expressed in films, and the experiences relived. But, I struggle with my doubt: my impression is that everyone is so unique, that images such as film are the only way to express such conflicting views and feelings; around a central theme: Disability! In this respect, ReelAbilities is a start, but not an end, and I should like to see many more.












 
 
 


 
 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween 2012 and Other Updates



Halloween 2012 and Other Updates:



I went as Iron Man to the Halloween Party at OSU’s German House this year. There were many strange costumes and many who didn’t dress up at all. A gorilla, a wizard, a guy representing the color Plaid. Counting me, there were about 11 students. When I arrived, I was greeted by a guy dressed as Bill Nye, and a girl in a 1920s flapper dress was making spiced cider. Apparently, I was about an hour early. A Polish girl hastily threw on a Venom hoodie, and claimed it as her costume. We spoke in hybrid English-German about Venom and the symbiote after some wise guy cracked: “Who are you, Spider-Man?”

Lukas the German was there, dressed as a hippie in a tie-dye shirt and beret. Or at least he claimed it as a costume. I saw this going on all throughout the party’s early prep stage. Then, a Frenchman showed up, as Harry Potter or something. That’s when the hybrid German-English really started. I finally met some of the OSU Handyvan coordinators who came to practice their German, as did Ken the Frenchman, and I. Hybrid seemed to be the language of choice.

I eyed the tables full of candy and (after it got going) proceeded to dump candy into the Iron Man mask until someone got me a bag. I had two slices of pizza, and Lukas guided me to a table I could get under since I didn’t have a tray. I’d say it was a successful Halloween. I left when they started watching Nosferatu; a Handyvan picked me up, and Bill Nye made sure I got on. Overall, I felt most comfortable once it started going. But, it almost didn’t happen.

I had dressed into my costume at about 2:30pm, then when someone came to help around 5:15pm, she informed me that I should’ve called ahead of time, she’d been driving all day, and didn’t want to go anywhere. This upset me, and I told her that it was only 3 minutes away, and I didn’t dress up for nothing. So, I called the Handyvan. It’s a really good service. It just upsets me that on Halloween Night, someone could’ve stopped me because they didn’t feel like driving. C’est ma vie! But, I went anyway, because I didn’t dress up for nothing.

Also, speaking of a Marvel Halloween costume, I spent most last month on Netflix watching the old X-men cartoon series 1992-1996; and yes, Iron Man. (1994-1995) Since I already did a Marvel theme a while ago, my next posts will be on apocolyptic depictions of the future, some of which were shown in X-men. And to keep the sci-fi theme going, I will also include the Terminator series as well as George Orwell’s classic 1984, to add a book review. I will add others as I think of them. While sci-fi shows us the benefits of the man-machine relationship for which I am grateful, it showcases the horror of that relationship as well…I realize I’m behind a month for horror, but it’s what I’ve been doing.

As we start off Sci-fi Horror Week, I think I’ll review Terminator (the whole movie series) first, as it close to my heart. I’ll post reviews of the ReelAbilities Festival as I see the movies! Nov 3-7. For me, all my film tastes go back to disability, so it will be fun to see! Stay tuned!

 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

8 Points For Understanding Disability/Able-bodiedness as Intercultural Communication

Intro: I reflect on this while reading The Handbook of Communication With People With Disabilities. A few days ago, something happened in German Class. We were reviewing body part names, and of course the easiest way to teach it, and another language, is to talk about form-function. So, when the professor said for example, "What are legs for?" Most the students unanimiously said "to walk". I instead answered every question with "Theoretically, use x (body part) to do y (action)." And my professor of course, laughed. Perhaps I was over the top, but as an analyst, it was my duty. So, I present this outline that explains, in part, the disability/able-bodied interaction.      

Understanding communication with PWDs (People With Disabilities) and Able-Bodies (ABs) as intercultural communication:



1.) A disability changes a person’s communication patterns because we are affected in the areas of 1.) mobility 2.) employment 3.) self-care 4.) communication and 5.) social relationships. This is because of how we see ourselves internally as unlimited, but our limitations are visible, unlike able-bodied dependencies, creating tension in situations where what is unfamiliar is emphasized.
2.) Cultural problems between PWDs and ABs are mainly because of a deficit between how PWDs make themselves independent, and how ABs view a PWD as to his/her level of dependence/independence. There is always an attempt to create independence where an AB sees dependency.
3.) Braithwaite and Braithwaite believe one should ask a PWD if they need help, before giving it. Look the PWD in the eye, talk to them as you would an AB.
4.) The verbal and non-verbal patterns of a PWD reflect an ongoing flux of external challenges and struggle for freedom and dignity, specifically in the first three realms mentioned by Crewe & Athaslan, while the last two are dependent on creating cultural understanding.
5.) Disability is the physical condition of being environmentally limited to perform certain sensory activities that AB culture takes for granted in daily life. A handicap is when the environment highlights these limitations and there is no way to overcome them.
6.) Nonverbal communication with a PWD should communicate openness and not uneasiness, independence and not dependence, assertiveness and not hypersensitivity, mainly by means of the PWD constructing assertiveness.
7.) Redefinition is the process by which PWDs redefine their disabilities in a positive light to show that everyone has disabilities and limits, and we can overcome them. While some say I’m confined to a wheelchair, I prefer to say liberated by a wheelchair.
8.) Disability becomes a culture when one recognizes the deficit between physical/mental ability and one’s ability to overcome it.

                            
 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Universal Light Expo 2012





UNIVERSAL LIGHT EXPO 2012, COLUMBUS, OH:

I just got back from the Universal Light Expo in Columbus. It took place this weekend. And there were Buddhist monks in the building making a mandala from sand grains and then they would later destroy it. They also did some chanting later on that evening, and dances that go back 4000 years, I believe the translator said. After seeing the Tibetan monks, I bought a pocketbook of writings by the Dalai Lama. Even though I am Agnostic, I’m still fascinated by Buddhism. You could see in the monks’ eyes a real commitment to non-violence that comes from real pain and exile from Tibet to India. I was honored to see those real traditions: Dances, chants, debates, and pantomimes.

There were booths there all dedicated to alternative healing methods. Being an ethnographer, and knowing that every culture has different systems of logic, I take all those power crystals, psychics, etc. with a grain of salt. They offer support to people who need traditions and rituals. I was able to talk about most of it artistically. One woman in particular I liked to see was a photographer who took pictures of light orbs with little quotes. I talked to her about some of the quotes she used from Goethe, Einstein and Max Planck. Also, Kurt Vonnegut. Every booth was decorated, it seems, with blue and white curtains. Mystical music played throughout the place.

I was enjoying the art and cultural analysis. So, some friends of my mom’s opened me up to this audiopathic therapy that supposedly “reprograms” muscle tissue or the brain, etc. So they stuck a vibrating box under my legs and put on some headphones and all I heard was this calm reverberating “mmmmmmmm….” mechanical sound. But after a while I got spaced out and really relaxed. Then, I talked Star Trek and quantum theory with the owner. I was honestly pretty spaced out. At the time, I think I thought it worked, but it wore off when I went home.

I think because I’d spent time watching the Buddhist traditions, the audiopathic effect lasted a little longer; I was more relaxed. The throat-singing is particularly mesmerizing. I suppose all these alternative healing processes (except the ones like massage and the more artistic endeavors like healing photography.) work on the same level as mesmerism. You tell someone what they want to believe and they buy into it: confirmation bias.

But, on some level I couldn’t contain my skepticism. I especially didn’t like the psychics or people that claim to be selling more than they are. I can suspend my disbelief for New Age sound machines that relieve stress or light orb photography, but not communication with the dead. They seemed to me to take advantage of people needing faith. So, I avoided all the booths about Tarot or communing with the dead. The rest of the time I tried to keep an open mind. But, then I had an empty stomach!

The food there was good! I had my first (and second, the next day) taste of Indian food: rice, naan, curry chicken, and some good ol’ lemonade. The second day, I had vegan mock tuna which was excellent. I like it better than regular tuna. Apparently, it’s just beans with some spices! It was dynamite! And I love regular tuna, too!

The next day, I spent more time with my mom’s friends who convinced me to try this crystal power belt thing across my chest that works by “infrared energy” to eliminate “negative ions”. I figured, “What could it hurt?” and did it. I felt heat coming from the belt, but also a deep relaxation. Belief is often the only thing that holds this culture together (i.e faith seekers, along with some kind of medical professionals.) I humored them and told them I felt heat and a “glow”. Maybe it was just heat, or maybe I just wanted them to be happy. In either case, it was good to explore new patterns of thought, look at some creative art, and interpretations of reality. One man (running the idiopathic booth the day before.) said that he wasn’t raised New Age, so all this crystal power was new to him, and the options were overwhelming.

That’s kind of how I felt, except I’m more familiar with New Age thought, and more than often humor it, because the end goal is to be happy and have faith for New Agers. After the crystal power belt booth, I went back to the audiopathy. I just thought of it as listening to music, and not as re-programming the brain. This time, he instructed me to get on a table. I laid down for about an hour listening to the rhythmic drone. Last night, it had given me vivid and intense dreams of the Buddhist Snow Lion Dance and talking to Captain Kirk in the Enterprise when I went to sleep. Toward the end, he asked me if I could walk ever and I said: “Only in my dreams.” I have no desire to walk, and I certainly don’t think there’s a sound you can play to make it work.

I passed by the orb light photographer again. Saw the Buddhists working on a mandala which they would again destroy at the end of the night. I have respect for the artists, those monks, and for the faith seekers. But I began to wonder how much was based on an able-bodied narrative that the body needs to be “healed” from conditions that make able-bodied people uncomfortable. Hence, the talking about “Could I ever walk?” and non-existent norms of mind and body, achieved through communication with special beings. In my view, it’s all just storytelling, and I enjoy that artistic aspect. But, I couldn’t help but think that some were just taking advantage of people’s desire to be special. My mom’s friend’s were probably upset that I didn’t go to the drum show, and left early, but there was a storm coming, and I had German homework to do

 Lastly, we perused the bookstore and convinced my mom not to buy anything. I was anxious to get home. But, for that time, I was enjoying being open to those new experiences. The form didn’t matter: They searched for faith. I searched for culture. For meaning! This music is a good idea of how I felt in there, like in the bazaar from Blade Runner. Over all, I liked observing: Until someone wanted to make me walk. Then, I stuck to my guns!
 

 
(Book I bought from monks!)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

THE ROLE OF FILM IN CONFLICT RESOLUTION: PART 2



 
 
III. Films as Hot Buttons:

Continuing from yesterday's post, how do films create and resolve conflict, once we have common scenes for analysis? First,the characters and settings in films often give rise to powerful emotions unconsciously. The case of the classic German director Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel presents these hot buttons quite vividly in The International Dictionary of Flims and Filmmakers vol. 1 : “By choosing a turn of the century setting, von Sternberg placed the story in his own childhood, and decorated it with images of his own adolescent eroticism.”8 (Pendergast, et. al, 1997, pg. 130) Von Sternberg, then a married man, had somewhat of a sexual obsession with the actress Marlene Dietrich, for whom she represented his erotic adolescence. Thus, films mirror the dreamworld in that they become a safe venue for expressing previously repressed memories, and “unacceptable” emotions.

     Second, as I have written before with support for this theory by Freud and McLuhan, films likewise represent desires and strong emotions, and some may not come up consciously. These are called "hot buttons". Again, the important question is to ask why some "button" is being "pushed". However, this does not relate to the options for mutual gain, but to explicating conflicting emotions so that both parties can begin to negotiate. To provide a more concrete example, let me return to Star Wars. Luke Skywalker getting his hand chopped off with a lightsaber could invoke a sense of awe or a sense of dread and helplessness. Why? What does the hand mean? As Morton Deutsch states: “It is wise to recognize that you, as well as the other, have hot buttons that, if pressed, are likely to evoke strong emotions. The emotions evoked may be anxiety, anger, rage, fear, depression, withdrawal, and so on. It is important to know your own hot buttons and how you tend to react when they are pressed, so that you can control your reactions in that event.” 9(Deutsch et. al 2006, pg. 36) At this point, it is possible that the emotions may be purged, explained, and negotiated. Perhaps one party feels as though its “hand” in the situation is removed. If both parties feel this way, all the better, because they both have an allegory to relate to, and will respond in a style empathetic to Luke’s character when hot buttons are pushed: “It’s okay. Let’s solve this like Jedis.”

There is, of course, a myriad of ways to interpret films, and a huge difference between Luke Skywalker and Leatherface, for example. As Moron Deutsch points out above, it is important to know how to react when hot buttons are pushed. Anger and aggression are hot buttons. So, if a man identifies with Freddie Krueger, and so does the other: Why?

Again, the advantage of films is the ability to create such emotions in an atmosphere analogous to soft negotiation. You have agreed on a film, and explained why. The viewers are willing to be friendly, as the solutions to conflict and the diffusion or expression of hot buttons usually takes place within the film’s narrative. (i.e. “I like when Freddie kills things; he’s so extreme!” means “I wish I could be as powerful as Freddie.”) The emotional nature of films brings out this wish-fulfilling principle, which parties can then identify as coping mechanisms for hot buttons. Typically, these hot buttons in films are in the movie itself. We know Darth Vader is the villain of Star Wars because of the bad things he does in the film. That is, the parties have agreed, in general, what buttons he pushes. Then, is the time for film evaluation, and how the film presents conflict. With the tool of the film as a desirable narrative, parties should be able to identify hot buttons in the film, and explain why they arise.

IV: Films as Desirable Outcomes: Conclusion

The principle of storytelling presented by films provides a context for negotiation to conclude. That is, “How do achieve the best outcome, and both come out as heroes?” The mythic-dream context of the film can be personally applied: “How can we both be bad asses like Scarface? What does he represent?” Though it appears that such answers are Jungian in origin, I believe the symbolic interpretation of film imagery to be fundamentally personal, and not to be taken as literal or absolute.

This is the beauty of films in negotiation. Once you realize that films have the potential to generate interests in metaphorical, dream-like quests, you automatically have a basis from which to negotiate, to plan strategies for mutual gain, and ultimately for a chance to examine positions and build trust. Behind the magic of movies is the practical knowledge of how to negotiate human desires and conflicts in a friendly, entertaining setting. It is the magic of dreams that enables us to see the positives in other people with whom we share common experiences. The point is that every individual has his own very special problem in this life crisis about what he or she has been doing. Since films speak to us in different ways, the key would be to explain why it speaks to us the way it is does, to mirror dreamworlds. Films merely provide a context and lexicon for conflict resolution; but it is one that is ancient and dream-giving: that of drama and the hero’s journey.

In conclusion, the mythic-dream context of films helps us sort through conflict through identification of emotions, desires, and film events. It is perhaps the most primal and creative and friendly way to express these repressed desires. As the parties negotiate, identification and trust is built through a premise of understanding events in the film and giving them an interpretation them to match the situation at hand. Simply put: It is the magic of movies that McLuhan attests to that glues us together to transform the viewers.

 
Bibliography:
1. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Ed: Lewis H. Lapham. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA: 1994.

2. The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. Campbell, Joseph. Ed.: Flowers, Betty Sue. Knopf Publishing Group: 1991.

3. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Ury et. al. 1981. Ed: Houghton Mifflin. New York, NY: 1991

4. A Short Guide to Writing About Film: Fifth Edition. Corrigan, Timothy. Temple University Press. Philadelphia, PA: 2004

5. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Nietzsche, Friedrich. Trans. Kaufmann Walter. Chicago University Press. Chicago, IL: 1967.

6. Wadsworth World Classics in Literature: The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud, Sigmund. 1900. Ed: Hallstein, David. Wadsworth Publishers: London, UK: 1997.

7. Language in Thought and Action 5th Edition. Hiyakawa, S.I. Ed: Hiyakawa, A.R. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt, Brace, and Company: 1992

8. The International Dictionary of Flims and Filmmakers vol. 1: pg. 130-131 Der blaue Engel. Ed.: Pendergast, Tom. New York, NY: 1997.

9. The Handbook of Conflict Resolution: Theory and Practice. Deutsch, Morton. Ed: Coleman, Peter T. Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco 2003.