Monday, December 4, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: I'm Positive That I'm Optimistic.

Hello, again, everyone. It's certainly been awhile since I graced this virtual space. Silly me; I thought the school year would offer me extra time to do what I wanted. Alas, there is but one day per week when something is not planned or scheduled, so all that extra time - even for this stay-at-home dad - was a pipe dream.

However, that doesn't mean I haven't been thinking about what's been happening, or keeping some track of what's popular and what's offensive and what certain segments of the population think is offensive. Like books and movies and sports and all that goes with that. (For the sake of all our sanity, let's avoid politics entirely.)
For instance, like many New York Yankee fans I had been waiting patiently (or impatiently) for the team to name a new manager since the end of the World Series. Once Joe Girardi's contract expired, and it was announced that he would not re-up, it seemed everyone had an opinion regarding who should take his place. Ultimately, the successor to the job was named, and it wound up being 2003 Pinstripe Postseason Hero Aaron Boone.
My reaction, after reading about the other candidates, was one of cautious optimism. Boone is from a baseball family, he has demonstrated a knowledge for the game as a broadcaster, and by all accounts is a positive clubhouse presence. The cautious part of my optimism came from the fact that he has never coached or managed before.
Then I remembered the other candidates who were interviewed. One was still playing a month ago, one was part of the "old regime" in NY, two were coaches elsewhere, and one was an uninspiring manager several years ago. By that metric, Boone certainly stood out as an intriguing choice.
Since it's the NY Yankee job, there were obviously going to be stories and hot takes on Twitter - both pro and con - about the choice to go with an inexperienced person at the helm. I agreed with most of them. The ones claiming Boone got the job over other "more qualified" candidates because of white privilege were a bit off-putting. Unless he proves to be ill equipped for the job, can we not just take a wait and see approach? Another candidate has coaching experience for World Series champions and can speak several languages? OK,  if he's that good of a candidate, perhaps he'll get a job elsewhere. Or, maybe he just didn't interview well. The thing is, we don't know what the Yankee thought process was. Obviously management saw something in Boone that they liked, and they made a very high risk/high reward choice.
The same group of people who are essentially "offended" by the Boone hire seem to overlap with the people who view themselves as some sort of gatekeepers to different segments of pop culture.
For instance, at various times in past columns I've mentioned how much I thoroughly enjoyed the book Ready Player One and how I am eagerly anticipating the movie adaptation. One featured review on the cover of the copy I own summed the book up as "Willy Wonka meets The Matrix..." and it's not too far off.
Is the plot derivative? Sure, because most good vs. evil plots are. Is the protagonist not as nuanced as a character developed by Dickens or Twain? No, but then again, who is? Are there references to just about any 1980s pop culture thing you can imagine? Absolutely, and it's enjoyable.
But remember, tastes are subjective. The book developed a cult following and much of that following was from people enjoying the trip down memory lane. Scenes involving the movie Wargames or the Atari classic Joust took up significant page space and were vital to the plot, and both had fans of the book nodding their heads and smiling widely while reading those passages. In a word, the book was fun.
Sure enough, there are critics who disagreed. Some have called it a bad fan fiction piece. Others keyed in on the relationship between the male and female lead characters and called it objectifying toward women. In both cases, I disagreed. I didn't take that from the book at all. In fact, there are some places in the story where the other could be considered prophetic and inclusive. It's all a matter of perspective, I suppose.
Some went so far as to wonder why anyone would bother reading such drivel. That attitude was about as crazy as it got - or as far down the rabbit hole I let myself go. Why? Because for every person who claimed "bad writing" there were a handful more who said the book piqued their interest enough to get them reading again. Some teachers on Twitter even mentioned how the book brought out a newfound love of reading in students who to that point had been reluctant to read the printed word.
Isn't that what a book should do? It is fiction, and it is a trip down memory lane for many who read it. Yet it was futuristic enough to keep younger readers' interest, too. Why complain that someone is reading a book?
Oh, right: most of those who complained did so because they felt their interests were being insulted. This is not unlike the fanboys and girls who are keyboard warriors and seemingly take umbrage with anything in their purview being embraced by the mainstream populace.
For instance, I'm a fan of TV's "The Big Bang Theory" and have enjoyed it since it debuted 10 (!!!!) years ago. In that time, the characters have evolved and while it is still "sitcom silly" at times, the writing is still crisp more often than not, providing more laughs than groans. It is not a perfect show, but none ever are.
There are many people I know who claim to hate the show because it features too many references to different fandoms without proper respect paid to those fandoms. Some claim the show is misogynistic, and others say it is a pandering mess. Why? Because it does not meet their standards and that simply name dropping various popular characters or TV shows is not comedy.
These are many of the same people who serve as so-called "gatekeepers" for such things as Star Wars, Star Trek, and any number of comic book based characters brought to the mainstream in the past decade. Tell a Star Wars fan that the Millenium Falcon went to warp speed, or a Trekkie that Mr. Worf was a Wookie, and watch heads explode. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy the movies (and TV shows) that each have provided over the years.
For that matter, feel free to ask a fan of DC Comics why Iron Man wasn't in Justice League. Or ask a Marvel fan why Superman still hasn't been introduced a dozen movies into the universe.
Or, just do what I do: sit back and enjoy the show. Or kick up your feet and read a book.
Tastes are subjective. People like what they like. I still can't stomach watching Seinfeld and I think Christmas Vacation is terrible. I'm sure many of you disagree.
But that's fine. In the end, it's entertainment. So sit back, read a book, watch a movie or a show, and enjoy it, whatever it is.
Unless it's Twilight. That stuff was bad.
Howie Balaban is a stay at home dad who thinks people who call themselves Jedi on any country's census have taken their fandom too far.