Friday, October 24, 2014

The Quest for Forgiveness: Chapter 3

Last time, Brianna "Mary Sue" Bays was renamed Janna and adopted by an American man named Ethan. However, when he brought her home to the U.S., his wife was a crazy evil stepmother to Brianna. Janna. I've been calling her Brijanna. Watch out, she'll get more names later.

This chapter opens very abruptly: with Ethan being arrested out of nowhere. The police won't even tell him what he's being arrested for. We also get typically sloppy Rothdiener writing:
Humiliated in front of his students, the officers read him his rights, handcuffed him, and led him to a patrol car.
I'd feel bad for those poor humiliated police officers if they had told him the charges against him so he at least knew what was going on. He doesn't find out until he meets with his lawyer, Robert Cain, who is apparently a good friend of his. Turns out Brijanna has accused him of abusing her. Ethan gets upset about it, but then weirdly goes on a paragraph-long tangent about Brijanna's musical talent.

His lawyer appears to be reasonable, though:
The lawyer lowered his voice. “Ethan, this is serious, extremely serious. I can’t emphasize that enough. This is not the time to talk about her music!”
Ethan is sure he'll be able to figure out what's going on once he talks to Brijanna, but she's been placed in foster care, and his wife Susan has left him and wants nothing more to do with him.
The atmosphere was charged with emotion.
That's a full paragraph right there. You know, in case we thought there was no emotion at all in this scene.

There are hints all over the place that Ethan's going to be accused of not only physically abusing Brijanna, but sexually abusing her as well. He protests, his lawyer basically says, "Well, you have no proof you didn't do it," and says that the jury will probably assume he was sexually abusing Brijanna because his marriage with Susan was iffy.

Robert gets increasingly more agitated that Ethan just keeps saying he didn't do it. (Though I'm really not sure what he expected from him. Robert seems to believe Ethan, but he seems very annoyed that Ethan can't produce evidence of non-abuse.)

Ethan then says that if it's his word vs. Brijanna's, he's not going to defend himself because he doesn't want to drag her name through the mud. He says that would:
“ . . . [d]estroy her reputation, mess her up even more, and put her life in jeopardy.”
Her life? How would that put her life in jeopardy? I mean, yes, it'd be a terrible situation, but the chances of her dying because of this seem pretty slim.

Ethan insists that Robert prove him innocent, but refuses to defend himself publicly, which... makes Robert's job pretty dang difficult. He says again that he's going to talk to Brijanna, and Robert is all, "I just told you, you can't," and then we get the really bizarre reason why Ethan thinks Brijanna's life is in danger:
“I will not allow this to hit the major newspapers. She was a Muslim and became a Christian. Some may see that as rejecting her faith, which could result in a death sentence to her. I cannot, will not, put her life in jeopardy. You know that!”
*blink*

First of all, there's not much he can do from jail about newspapers not printing it. He says he won't allow it like he's got Supreme Newspaper Authority, even when he's in jail.

Secondly, who does he think is going to kill her? She's not living in a Muslim country under Muslim law. Given how homogenous good chunks of the U.S. are, she may not even know any Muslims in her new home. She doesn't even have the same name as she did then. Muslims in the U.S. have converted to Christianity before without being hunted down. I'm pretty sure most extremist Muslims don't spend their time searching through crime stories in American newspapers to find names of former Muslim children to target specifically. They're not Disney looking for copyright infringement.

And for that matter, why does he think that would even come up in any articles? Was he planning on making a big deal of his faith and her former faith in the courtroom?

This just sounds like paranoid Islamaphobia to me, and I'm not a fan.

Robert gives up trying to convince Ethan to defend himself and instead decides to super interrogate Brijanna in court.

Ethan gets out on bail and heads back to his empty house to do some thinking and try to figure out how it all went wrong.
Ethan prided himself on the fact that he was a good provider— Susan never lacked for anything. They lived in a luxurious home with no financial worries.
No kidding. They bought a five-bathroom house when there were only three of them. That seems pretty luxurious to me.

Incidentally, though, that's kind of a weird segue. The intro to that thought that was, "They were very much in love when they married... at least, he thought they were. He knew he was." So... he must have been in love because he provided for them? He'd better have provided for them if he was going to make her stay home and not work...

Ethan wonders if maybe his past caught up to him -- his past being that he was in love with someone before Susan. Because apparently if you're in love with someone and then fall in love with someone else, you're really always still in love with the first person. (I'm glaring at you, How I Met Your Mother...)

Ethan tries to call Susan's parents to reach her, but Susan's dad is all, "Nope, you're gross, don't come near any of us," and hangs up.

The chapter ends with Ethan crying a lot, which is kind of a downer. But the next chapter is probably my favorite in the whole book, as it shows us one of the stupidest trial scenes ever written. So you've all got that to look forward to!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Can You Guess the Horror Movie From Its Mangled Plot?: Answers

Here are the answers to last week's movie guessing game!

1. $ 40,000 from her and her live in Phoenix close the administrator of his mother, a secretary, a young man in bed for research and development.
(Psycho)

2. Commercial ship Nostromo receive a call from the unexplored world. After the escape, a back seat in the house only to see that the work BIOFORM join them.
(Alien)

3. From the past to the future and about the spiritual son of the evil forebodings, when the evil and the spiritual, the power of this different hotel to the cold head of the family.
(The Shining)

4. Sitting in Antarctica-change pin to see the shape of a human face.
(The Thing)

5. Women have the opportunity to change, and he sought the help of two priests to save her daughter.
(The Exorcist)

6. A group of people hide from bloodthirsty monsters on the field businesses.
(Night of the Living Dead)

7. Part of the exhumed bodies of scholars prepared a concern.
(Frankenstein)

8. The second child moves into a new house, just around the city and special events. Women mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over security unborn child begins controlling her life.
(Rosemary's Baby)

9. The opportunity to shoot a movie of the summer island and takes a shine to female surgery and the stars of the big gorilla.
(King Kong)

10. Psikozaj murder to the first boy that killed his sister, from his docs from the Seventies and a bookish girl street a young man and his friends.
(Halloween)

11. Monsters, while only survivor onslaught of the home of a group of strangers.
(Evil Dead II)

12. Many of the small town and country and represent an alien duplicates the effect on learning.
(Invasion of the Body Snatchers)

13. A sudden increase in the number of birds and all of the great development in San Francisco and started killing people there and Vicio increases slowly because their boyfriend to a small Northern Californiacity ​​authorities.
(The Birds)

14. Changes to the animalistic Mr. Hyde of the dark and wild side a potion that, when Dr Jekyll face unpleasant consequences.
(Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde)

15. And a dead lies between them, the two men "mystery" is the name of the cave memory and a serial killer on the essay. They are seeking to do the surgery in a game set in a Variety of men will follow the laws and regulations.
(Saw)

16. The ancient Vampire de Jumpsuit arrives in England and begins to prey on young Chinese Mina.
(Dracula)

17. UK across the bright, infectious disease to four weeks later, a few of the survivors try to find sanctuary.
(28 Days Later)

18. One man against the armies of the dead, they will return to the Necronomicon in 1300 AD, and transfer.
(Army of Darkness)

19. The journey of the operation of a U.S. diplomat. It is true that the child is the Antichrist? Devil himself?
(The Omen)

20. Five of their friends, and they know how to leave the meat monsters in the forest, and the city and walking.
(The Evil Dead)

21. The desire of the victims, a child murderer killed the street Lynch mob.
(The Nightmare on Elm Street)

22. Visit the Tomb of the liquor-friendly long-chainsaw wielding cannibals and disease and terrorized his family.
(The Texas Chainsaw Massacre)

23. The family of the host haunted by ghosts.
(Poltergeist)

24. Young girl abused and m 17 years has telekinesis and space effort to push the boundary of the school prom night.
(Carrie)

25. They were two elderly women, one that will bring out a little over time to apologize for the death of a husband and wife in Venice.
(Don't Look Now)

26. A young journalist in the week came the death of the other, which will examine the videotape operation.
(The Ring)

27. Zombie lives reincarnation is a beautiful woman of the street.
(The Mummy)

28. After moving to New town, two brothers are convinced that the area is frequented by Vampires.
(The Lost Boys)

29. A masked starts killing teenagers and towns, and the number rises to themselves in real life, a girl and her friends for a concert "law".
(Scream)

30. Owner of a wax museum with a friend, but a vengeful killer and escape.
(House of Wax)

31. They agreed to return more room in the woods for a break of five friends. Together, they must discover the truth behind the house in the woods.
(The Cabin in the Woods)

32. The harmful florist who needed food and aid of a high-cost plants are able to succeed in romance.(Little Shop of Horrors)

33. Joanna Eberhart and his family to Stepford, Connecticut, Quaint town, but it is not really a bad attitude-based search for the perfect life.
(The Stepford Wives)

34. After moving into a suburban home, a couple who become increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence.
(Paranormal Activity)

35. Our students learn in the film, leaving a city report, Blair witch, a film about the Maryland woods while touring.
(The Blair Witch Project)

36. They know that the dead are connected to the spirit of seeking the help of a young and sad.
(The Sixth Sense)

37. The F.B.I. New battle a serial killer Skins exploited to the operation and devising evil murderers in prison would be.
(The Silence of the Lambs)

38. One man, and win back his former girlfriend, let her relationship with her ​​mother, and the people are dealing with the total of the dead to life and shows that his death and decide.
(Shaun of the Dead)

39. Two American college students on a walking trip of Great Britain, it is not to be a werewolf army.
(An American Werewolf in London)

40. The famous author of a car crash or support any- "or".
(Misery)

41. Breaking the 3 important rules about her new pet, the men of the horde and monsters and towns malevolently broken request.
(Gremlins)

42. In a recently deceased ghosts pathological attachment to the house to remove a new "bio-Exorcist" of the program.
(Beetlejuice)

43. A circus' beautiful trapeze artist agrees to be the leader of side-show performers, but his flow of friends and find that it is the only husband and wife are sleeping.
(Freaks)

44. Brother, commands the composer looking for a new love and an opera singer.
(The Phantom of the Opera)

45. M St. Bernard "Cujo" contracts rabies name for the rule of terror on a small American town.
(Cujo)

46. Paranormal researchers and scholars and women are called to haunted Mansion. Immediately began to lose his mind.
(The Haunting)

47. A great white shark begins a relationship is critical that the small island nation, set out for the chief of police, a research and grizzled fisherman let out.
(Jaws)

48. Since there are m dead, two Philadelphia swat one, a message of the great plagues, and television-head with a friend looking for a refuge various market places.
(Dawn of the Dead)

49. The people and the police cadet leaders, and not the Scottish island country in search of a missing girl. Visitors to the pagan religion.
(The Wicker Man)

50. A surprise storm Angeles-water swamps of shark scare people as a whole, the death, and, sea, air and land outside.
(Sharknado)

How many did you get right?

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Favorite Genre-Switching Covers

If you know much about my music taste, you know I have a fondness for covers that sound nothing at all like the original version. I'm fascinated when artists slow down goofy songs, cheer up sad ones, or just generally change it up. Why cover a song if you're not going to put your own spin on it, after all? Here are a few of my very favorite weird covers!

(As always, * = not family friendly)

Badi Assad from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 Borya, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio
Ring of Fire by Adam Lambert, originally by Johnny Cash

*My Humps by Alanis Morissette, originally by Black Eyed Peas

Umbrella by The Baseballs, originally by Rihanna

*Get Low by Dan Henig, originally by Lil Jon & Eastside Boyz

Bangarang by Dario Fo, originally by Skrillex

Rolling in the Deep by Dirty Loops, originally by Adele

My Favorite Things by Family Force 5, most famously by Julie Andrews

Holding Out for a Hero by Frou Frou, originally by Bonnie Tyler

*Baby Got Back by Jonathan Coulton, originally by Sir Mix-a-Lot

Blow (Deconstructed) by Ke$ha, originally by Ke$ha -- she covered herself

Once Upon a Dream by Lana del Rey, originally from the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty

Who Let the Dogs Out by Matt Mulholland, originally by Baha Men

I Will Always Love You by Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, originally by Dolly Parton and famously covered by Whitney Houston

Smells Like Teen Spirit by Paul Anka, originally by Nirvana

Single Ladies by Pomplamoose, originally by Beyonce

*Get the Party Started by The Rebeatles Project, originally by Pink

You're Still the One by Roper, originally by Shania Twain

All I Want for Christmas Is You by Sam Tsui, originally by Mariah Carey

California Dreamin' by Scala and Kolacny Brothers, originally by The Mamas & The Papas

*Thrift Shop by Scott Bradlee, originally by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Leaving On a Jet Plane by Slightly Stoopid, most famously by Peter, Paul & Mary

Do You Want to Build a Snowman? by Stellar Kart, originally from the Frozen soundtrack

Both Sides Now by Susan Egan, originally by Joni Mitchell

I Wanna Hold Your Hand by T.V. Carpio from Across the Universe, originally by The Beatles

*97 Bonnie and Clyde by Tori Amos, originally by Eminem

Wannabe by Zebrahead, originally by Spice Girls

I'm always on the lookout for new songs -- so what are your favorite genre-switching covers?

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Quest for Forgiveness: Chapter 2

Last time, we learned about the better-than-everyone-else Brianna Bays. Her lawyer/manager friend went off to find her lost family, only to discover both her parents are dead and her mother's Iraqi parents have a hit out on Brianna. We're now entering a flashback about something mysterious Brianna did that was wrong and hurt somebody.

We jump into this flashback in 1994, where Brianna is three years old and living in an orphanage in Iraq that seems to be more than a little Annie-esque. It's a hard knock life indeed for Brianna, who laments that she "merely existed."
She asked, but no one knew anything about her past life. There were no pictures of her as an infant, no accounts of her being held or loved. Nothing! It was almost as if her past was erased, or she had never been born.
These are some deep angsty questions for a three-year-old...

Time goes on, and Brianna keeps not getting adopted. She's convinced it's because she has blue eyes and a heart-shaped birthmark on her face.
Brianna longed to live a normal life and play games that little girls played. Dolls , dress-up, and jump-rope were things she desired to do, but unfortunately never would.
I'm not entirely sure how she's aware of these things at this age and in her situation. Is there a TV showing these things in movies or shows? If the orphanage has a TV and TV coverage, how can it not afford ropes? You don't even need a jump rope to jump rope. You just need a rope. Surely that can't be that difficult to come by.

Brianna lives for a little while in a house that is apparently going to do sex trafficking with the kids they adopt, but before they get around to that, the kids are rescued. The kids with families are sent back to them, and the orphans are reassured that they'll get adopted, but Brianna gets extra sad because she's convinced she's never going to be adopted.

The man in charge of the rescue talks to Brianna for awhile, including talking about God and making her repeat a Bible verse in English, which she does not speak. Then he renames her:
“Now, Little Miss, your name is not ‘Wesh-m,’ anymore. You will be called ‘Janna,’ which means, ‘God is gracious.’”
I'm assuming he has some reason to know that this is what Janna means, but I like to think he's just a walking baby name book. Or he names every orphan he sees "Janna" because it's the only name he knows the meaning of. (Incidentally, Janna does indeed mean something like "God is gracious." Yay research! We don't get a lot of that in these books!)

The man, whose name is Ethan Anderson, decides to adopt BriannaWesh'mJanna and take her home to Arizona. They talk a lot on the plane, and during the stretch from L.A. to Phoenix, he teaches her "This Old Man." (Apparently one of the themes of Ethan's life is that he sings a lot.)
He smiled at the child and repeated the song, teaching her the words and motions . Before long some of the others on the plane sang along. By the time they landed in Phoenix, she and many of the passengers knew the words and actions by heart.
As we see in Skye later, Rothdiener has no idea about appropriate airplane behavior. I would not be fond of a "This Old Man" sing-along that ran for the entire duration of a flight, even a short one like this.
The flight attendants were humored by the antics of the passengers.
"Oh, I wish I had more flights where people sang the same nursery rhyme for an hour and a half!"

Ethan talks more about Jesus. The scene's preachy, but not horrific, so we'll skip past it and move ahead to where we meet Ethan's wife, Susan, and get some back story about her:
She was a college student, a business major, when she first met Ethan. After graduating, she landed a lucrative career at a large cosmetic firm. Advertising was her specialty. Her glowing face was often seen on commercials, billboards, or in beauty magazines.
Business majors working in advertising don't frequently end up in the spotlight -- that's more typically done by, you know, models or actors -- but the book does make a point of telling us a lot about how beautiful she is. She won some beauty pageant once. I just like imagining her at work: "I have an idea for a new campaign. And it will feature... ME! Again. Of course."

We discover that Ethan wanted to be a missionary, but when he got married he settled down to be a counselor and college teacher instead, and he's always felt there was something missing as a result.

Susan is super nasty to Brijanna right from the start, making a face at Brijanna's birthmark and then saying, "This is your idea, you know, not mine!" to Ethan. So we've got a Cinderella's stepmother situation here for sure.

On the ride home, Susan gets all kinds of snarky about the birthmark, saying that kids are going to make fun of her because they make fun of kids with disabilities and that she's going to make it tough for Susan and Ethan's other kids to follow her in school because of it. Dang. Ethan snarks back at her, since she's the most ridiculously shallow person on earth, and everything is awkward.

At one point, Susan, who is pregnant with twins, talks about wanting to go back to work after the babies are born, and this exchange happens:
With certainty, Ethan replied, “Susan, nothing is more important than raising our children.” 
“Oh, I see, a woman’s place is in the home!” 
Her words stung. Without backing down, Ethan glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. “At this point in our lives, yes, it is.” 
With that, the conversation was over. Susan knew she had gone too far.
1) She had "gone too far"? By daring to insinuate she wanted to go back to work? Well, that's a line you just do not ever cross in this family, I guess...

2) ETHAN WHAT DID YOU DO. If he plans to leave the child-rearing to Susan, adopting a new child who has been neglected before is the worst idea.

Also, it's worth mentioning that this is one of those situations where I really have a problem with defaulting to the "man works, women takes care of the kids" scenario. Susan clearly likes her job more than he does (and almost certainly makes more money) and he clearly likes taking care of the kids more than she does. The scenario they have going right now will make everyone in the house miserable, and it's the kids who are going to suffer the most.

Ethan and his wife apparently live in a massive five-bathroom house, which seems really unnecessary for their family, which consisted of three people before Ethan abruptly adopted Brijanna. Susan seems pretty high maintenance but I seriously doubt she needs three different bathrooms for her morning routine.

So time goes by, the twins are born, Susan is still an awful person, Ethan gets sad, and Brijanna is bitter.

There are a few things Brijanna does like: music and the ocean.
Many times Janna would ask, “Daddy, can we go see the ocean?” They would pack their bags and head to Ethan’s parent’s beach home near Corpus Christi, Texas. It was the favorite place for Janna and Eric.
...Guys, that's a 15-hour drive from their home in Mesa.

That is longer than it would take for me to get to the Atlantic Ocean from my home in Indiana. Sheesh, why am I not driving to New York City all the time?

When Brijanna turns 10, things take an even darker turn. She gets all rebellious and difficult and starts lying to Susan all the time. But Susan's not exactly easy to live with either. One day she smashes Brijanna's guitar because she was tired of hearing Brijanna play.

Brijanna turns 12, everybody stops going to church which is clearly a sign that it's all about to implode, and the book hints that things are indeed about to get a lot darker:
A couple months later, Ethan’s world was turned upside down, shattered. The reason was unknown. Nevertheless, it happened.
Gah. This writing. It's a good thing this is the end of the chapter, because I am pretty sure I couldn't read much more of this.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Can You Guess the Horror Movie From Its Mangled Plot?

I wanted to play a li'l translation game with you guys, since I haven't in awhile and I figured since October was here, this was a good opportunity to test your knowledge on some horror movies.

Can YOU identify all the horror movie plot summaries that have been translated to death? It's a mix of old and new, and even a few I haven't seen but know what they're about. Some of these remained pretty obvious, while others are... not so easy. Leave your answers in the comments!

1. $ 40,000 from her and her live in Phoenix close the administrator of his mother, a secretary, a young man in bed for research and development.

2. Commercial ship Nostromo receive a call from the unexplored world. After the escape, a back seat in the house only to see that the work BIOFORM join them.

3. From the past to the future and about the spiritual son of the evil forebodings, when the evil and the spiritual, the power of this different hotel to the cold head of the family.

4. Sitting in Antarctica-change pin to see the shape of a human face.

5. Women have the opportunity to change, and he sought the help of two priests to save her daughter.

6. A group of people hide from bloodthirsty monsters on the field businesses.

7. Part of the exhumed bodies of scholars prepared a concern.

8. The second child moves into a new house, just around the city and special events. Women mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over security unborn child begins controlling her life.

9. The opportunity to shoot a movie of the summer island and takes a shine to female surgery and the stars of the big gorilla.

10. Psikozaj murder to the first boy that killed his sister, from his docs from the Seventies and a bookish girl street a young man and his friends.

11. Monsters, while only survivor onslaught of the home of a group of strangers.

12. Many of the small town and country and represent an alien duplicates the effect on learning.

13. A sudden increase in the number of birds and all of the great development in San Francisco and started killing people there and Vicio increases slowly because their boyfriend to a small Northern Californiacity ​​authorities.

14. Changes to the animalistic Mr. Hyde of the dark and wild side a potion that, when Dr Jekyll face unpleasant consequences.

15. And a dead lies between them, the two men "mystery" is the name of the cave memory and a serial killer on the essay. They are seeking to do the surgery in a game set in a Variety of men will follow the laws and regulations.

16. The ancient Vampire de Jumpsuit arrives in England and begins to prey on young Chinese Mina.

17. UK across the bright, infectious disease to four weeks later, a few of the survivors try to find sanctuary.

18. One man against the armies of the dead, they will return to the Necronomicon in 1300 AD, and transfer.

19. The journey of the operation of a U.S. diplomat. It is true that the child is the Antichrist? Devil himself?

20. Five of their friends, and they know how to leave the meat monsters in the forest, and the city and walking.

21. The desire of the victims, a child murderer killed the street Lynch mob.

22. Visit the Tomb of the liquor-friendly long-chainsaw wielding cannibals and disease and terrorized his family.

23. The family of the host haunted by ghosts.

24. Young girl abused and m 17 years has telekinesis and space effort to push the boundary of the school prom night.

25. They were two elderly women, one that will bring out a little over time to apologize for the death of a husband and wife in Venice.

26. A young journalist in the week came the death of the other, which will examine the videotape operation.

27. Zombie lives reincarnation is a beautiful woman of the street.

28. After moving to New town, two brothers are convinced that the area is frequented by Vampires.

29. A masked starts killing teenagers and towns, and the number rises to themselves in real life, a girl and her friends for a concert "law".

30. Owner of a wax museum with a friend, but a vengeful killer and escape.

31. They agreed to return more room in the woods for a break of five friends. Together, they must discover the truth behind the house in the woods.

32. The harmful florist who needed food and aid of a high-cost plants are able to succeed in romance.

33. Joanna Eberhart and his family to Stepford, Connecticut, Quaint town, but it is not really a bad attitude-based search for the perfect life.

34. After moving into a suburban home, a couple who become increasingly disturbed by a nightly demonic presence.

35. Our students learn in the film, leaving a city report, Blair witch, a film about the Maryland woods while touring.

36. They know that the dead are connected to the spirit of seeking the help of a young and sad.

37. The F.B.I. New battle a serial killer Skins exploited to the operation and devising evil murderers in prison would be.

38. One man, and win back his former girlfriend, let her relationship with her ​​mother, and the people are dealing with the total of the dead to life and shows that his death and decide.

39. Two American college students on a walking trip of Great Britain, it is not to be a werewolf army.

40. The famous author of a car crash or support any- "or".

41. Breaking the 3 important rules about her new pet, the men of the horde and monsters and towns malevolently broken request.

42. In a recently deceased ghosts pathological attachment to the house to remove a new "bio-Exorcist" of the program.

43. A circus' beautiful trapeze artist agrees to be the leader of side-show performers, but his flow of friends and find that it is the only husband and wife are sleeping.

44. Brother, commands the composer looking for a new love and an opera singer.

45. M St. Bernard "Cujo" contracts rabies name for the rule of terror on a small American town.

46. Paranormal researchers and scholars and women are called to haunted Mansion. Immediately began to lose his mind.

47. A great white shark begins a relationship is critical that the small island nation, set out for the chief of police, a research and grizzled fisherman let out.

48. Since there are m dead, two Philadelphia swat one, a message of the great plagues, and television-head with a friend looking for a refuge various market places.

49. The people and the police cadet leaders, and not the Scottish island country in search of a missing girl. Visitors to the pagan religion.

50. A surprise storm Angeles-water swamps of shark scare people as a whole, the death, and, sea, air and land outside.

Monday, October 13, 2014

When Cynical Shows Send Inspirational Messages

A couple years ago, I had a Facebook conversation with someone about TV shows we liked, and we ended up talking about how I have a real fondness for snarky, cynical movies and shows. This led to a discussion about cynicism vs. sentimentality in entertainment, and whether one is better than the other. I have a definite distaste for the sentimental (with a few exceptions) because it often feel disingenuous or manipulative, but the other person argued that cynicism is perhaps just as manipulative and disingenuous, just on the other side.

I've been mulling that conversation over in my head ever since then, and while I don't know how it works for other people, I have discovered something about myself:

For me, the most emotionally meaningful moments are unexpected ones.

When a movie or a TV show deliberately sets itself up to be meaningful or sentimental -- or even sincere -- then I become consciously aware of its every move in trying to manipulate me to a specific emotional end. The characters don't seem real enough for me to truly get invested in them, because I see them only as tools for the melodrama. It's why I often don't respond well to films that bill themselves as "inspirational." There are no surprises. Each character simply acts in the most inspirational way, and that, to me, seems insincere.

So let's flip this around and look at my favorite example of unexpected sincere cynicism: the TV show Community.

I've written many times about my love for this show, but one of the things that always surprises me is how much I've come to care about the characters. For a meta, snarky show that's fairly pessimistic about human nature, it has a surprising amount of moments that invoke all the feels.

One example: "Basic Human Anatomy," the only season four episode fans of the show really liked. The plot's a little complicated, so if you haven't seen this episode, bear with me.

In this episode, best friends Abed and Troy switch bodies. The rest of the gang knows that they're just faking it, but these two seem absolutely committed, to the point where Troy's girlfriend Britta goes out on a date with Abed (who insists he's really Troy in Abed's body).

There's lots of physical comedy involved with the actors playing each other's characters, along with jokes about body switch movie tropes, and there's plenty of snarky commentary as the study group get annoyed that they won't let go of their insistence on the body switch. But there's a lot more to it than their self-aware snarking. Toward the end of the episode, we discover that Troy has been wanting to break up with Britta but got scared to do it, so the body switch is a way for Troy to break up without having to actually be there. Ultimately, Troy is convinced that he has to break up with her for himself, so he goes to the restaurant where Abed and Britta are having their date, stages their bodies switching back, and does what he needs to do.

Community's humor is not the type you'd immediately associate with highly emotional moments, but the scene where Troy talks about his fear of breaking up with Britta was very moving for me. In an unconventional and unexpected way, it communicated something very relatable: a fear of making tough decisions and hurting someone in the process. I absolutely connected with his desperate desire to do something, anything, so that he didn't have to be the one to be there for it.

Daria is another show that does the same thing for me. It may be even more cynical than Community, as there seems to be absolutely no chance that anyone in this show is going to change for the better any time soon. And yet, there are wonderfully touching moments. Moments where shallow sister Quinn reveals that she is aware -- and not entirely proud of -- her shallowness. Yes, she's back to the same thing the next day, but there's a sense in which we see her through a different lens.

In other episodes, Daria even wonders herself if she's becoming too cynical, and while she might not change her behavior in the episodes after that, we know that she's thinking about it, and there's a thought that maybe things might change after all -- even if it happens long after the show ends. It uses its dark humor to convey some messages that meant a lot to me. Oddly enough, this dark and cynical show is one that encourages me to monitor my own cynicism, because sometimes what seems like a great way of responding to frustrating situations can actually keep me from enjoying positive ones.

Not every cynical comedy has moments of sincerity. For example, much as I enjoy Seinfeld or Arrested Development, I'll happily admit there's no sincerity and very little emotional connection there. But many of the ones I love the most draw on this.

Part of the joy of this is that these emotional moments come out of the characters. The characters don't come out of the emotions. These characters are there to make us laugh, but they've become real people along the way, and that means that sometimes, the comedy reveals something deeper about them, and the veneer of cynicism is lifted for just a second so we can see and love and hurt for these people. And I do.

I think part of the reason this is so powerful for me is because my life is a lot like that. I don't live my life from meaningful experience to meaningful experience. I don't deal with a new major life crisis every week that will turn me into an exponentially better person if I can only defeat the odds and overcome it. Change happens slowly for me, in the midst of the silly and mundane. Like Daria and Jeff from Community, I can lose sight of that change and see the world only through a cynical lens, but, just like them, I find moments where, amid the laughter and the frustration and the goofy late-night conversations, meaning suddenly crowds its way through, and I remember what is important and what I want to be and what I want to be working towards.

When something meaningful happens in a super-sincere show that has a moral every episode, I can make no connection to my own life, because my life doesn't have a moral every episode. But whenever there's a sudden snap of meaning in a cynical show, I am reminded to look for the moments of meaning in my life.

Well, that's my take. What do you guys think? Does this happen to you too, or do you prefer stories that are more consistently inspirational?

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Quest for Forgiveness: Chapter 1

All right, gang. Starting today, we're going to tackle The Quest for Forgiveness a bit at at time.

The scene opens on a concert, with our protagonist, Brianna Bays, who is described on just page one as "stunning," "angelic," "flawless," "captivating," "entrancing," so much so that "her beauty mesmerized the crowd." But don't worry, she's not just beautiful. She is also known for her "sweet disposition," "compassionate behavior," and, most of all, her musical talent and her incredible singing voice, most notably:
She could sustain long notes without wavering in pitch.
Oh, man. I've never known any professional singer who could do that.

So, yeah, we've most definitely got ourselves another Mary Sue. She's not nearly as annoyingly precocious as Skye, but Rothdiener gets very excited about telling us just how amazing she is.

We also get this confusing description:
The media reported her acting skills as phenomenal, multi-talented, especially for her age.
Her acting skills are... multi-talented? Like her acting skills can also tap dance?

As you will soon learn, there is absolutely nothing Brianna doesn't do better than everyone else. And I mean nothing. Just on this page, we learn she is the most beautiful, the kindest, the most talented singer, and the most talented actress. I'm really not sure how the author thought we were going to be able to relate to her, because I don't know about you, but I'm certainly not the best at everything.

We go on to learn that Brianna is 23, but she's paid the price for her success: she acts more mature than her friends. The concert is described some more, as is her latest "mega CD," which in my mind is a CD the size of a record, and then she says goodbye to her fans by bowing them and waving with her index finger pointing up, which apparently symbolizes her Christian faith. She's a new Christian, btw -- just got saved 7 months ago or so.

Brianna walks off backstage and is then surrounded by bodyguards, makeup artists, and... fans, which means her bodyguards are doing a really crappy job of keeping the audience in the audience.

When Brianna gets back to her dressing room, she meets up with Sonya, who is introduced as Brianna's lawyer/manager/best friend, who has been gone for the last 7 months. We get this intro of Sonya:
Sonya Ellis was attractive, single, and tough. She would have to be to graduate tops in her law school; she was one of six women in a class of fifty-four.
And while I know he means she had to be tough to graduate tops, it sure sounds like she also had to be attractive and single. We then go on to learn that some of those sleazy college lawyer women slept their way to the top, but not Sonya, and now she has a great job, so that worked out well.

(While this is hardly the most egregious example, keep an eye out during this book for the message "if you are a Christian, your life is perfect, but if you aren't a Christian, YOU WILL DIE A MISERABLE DEATH." It's pretty prominent.)

Sonya reports that she found out who Brianna's father was. I can't remember if Sonya went off private detectiving on her own, because that seems pretty far out of her area of expertise, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Turns out, Brianna's mother, Mira, was killed in Iraq when American bombs hit the hospital she was in. Brianna is shocked because she's always supported the troops, but don't worry, the Americans didn't really kill anyone we have to care about, because Sonya reports that Mira was actually killed by her Muslim family, who then altered the hospital records to make it look like she and Brianna both died in a bombing accident.

Confirmed, Sonya the lawyer/manager is just wandering around Iraq on her own, so that's fun. She then discovers that Mira's family has ties to Hussein and terrorist attacks, so she's like, "Well, that sounds fun! Time to investigate some more!"

She reveals that Mira spent some time teaching in Paris nine months before Brianna was born, yadda yadda, lawyer sleuthing, it turns out she secretly got married, only to be abducted by her family, who then found out she was 1) married, 2) pregnant, and 3) a Christian. They were going to kill her but she somehow ran away and had a baby in a hospital in Baghdad. Then her family found her and killed her, but Brianna survived because they killed the wrong baby instead.

Sonya presents an old box with pictures, a bracelet, a necklace, and Brianna's baby wristband, which has "Mandy Dawn" written on it. Brianna recognizes that the baby in the picture is her because they both have a distinctive heart-shaped birthmark.

This is all so much back story without really anything else going on.

Brianna decides she wants to meet her mom's parents, who are described as:
“. . . rich Sunnis from Saddam Hussein’s ruling class. They are worth millions.”
Not surprisingly, Sonya tells Brianna that it wouldn't be safe to go visit them, since they actually suspect she is alive and have had a million-dollar hit out on her for the past 23 years.
Determined, Brianna pressed on. “That gives me even more of a reason to meet them. Besides they are my mother’s parents— my grandparents. I need to ask them a few questions.”
...Yeah, I don't think they're going to be inclined to answer questions about what her mom was like growing up. Not if they're offering money to anyone who will kill her. I'd say that's one of Brianna's flaws, that she's stupid, but everyone in this book is stupid, so she might still be smarter than most of the people in this story.

Brianna learns that her mother was buried unceremoniously, so Brianna demands a gravestone with a Bible verse on it, and then suggests they hire round-the-clock guards to keep it from being vandalized again.

They discuss their next order of business rather secretively, as Sonya was sent to find some other unknown man, who was in prison for six years, then got out, moved to a trailer park, and works at a truck stop. As Brianna hears this, she starts singing one of her songs. While we are told later that her song are unique and special and amazing and everyone who hears them is astonished, I'm not entirely impressed with the sample we see here:
A story of lies for thrills.
Does it not matter who gets hurt? 
As long as you don’t get burnt. 
A little girl of innocence, 
In a world that’s promiscuous. 
It’s a story as old as the hills.
Brianna stops singing to vow that she's going to do what's right, even if it costs her her reputation. Sonya tells her that if she does this, she'll lose her career, and all the good stuff she's done in the last six years won't count anymore. Brianna laments a bit more that she put the mysterious man in jail by lying, and then we get a flashback.

The flashback lasts almost the rest of the story, so get comfortable. We're about to meet Young Brianna. She's still less annoying than Skye ever was, but meeting children written by Rothdiener isn't ever fun, so... we'll dive into that next week.