Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Super (Hopefully) Not-Sad True Post

Super Sad True Love StoryLet me share a precious, childhood memory with you: when I was nine, my mother and I were fastidiously baking oatmeal-raisin cookies for our annual Christmas party at our aunt's. Oh...now that I ponder about it, it was actually she was was baking so fastidiously; I was just there to see the incredible event that occurred when I mixed all of the ingredients together into a gooey and oh-so-delectable-looking batter. Aside from that, I also desperately wanted to be my mom's sue chef because I had a craving, a mad desire of sorts, to smell the liquid contained in that miniature bottle with the word "Vanilla" taped onto it. Man, that rich and luscious odor that I was sure heaven would smell like when I reached it in, the exquisite  fumes that made my heart swell with joy. There was really nothing like it...as there was nothing like my mother's face when I accidentally poured half the contents of that bottle into the bowl.
       The batter, now soiled by an excess of the brown elixir, had to be thrown out, and the sue chef exiled from the kitchen so that the next baking session would transpire at the speed of light. Now, let me share with you another, more recent memory: as I was watching the Golden Globes on Sunday, I noticed something else than the host's malignant habit of seriously insulting every person in the room. I noticed that even though the award show possessed a diverse array of actors, it did not possess a diverse array of creativity, and I'm not talking about how the acts of most presenters were as original as horizontal blinds. You see, many of the characteristics possessed by the new NBC TV shows whose commercials were aired during the broadcast of the awards and some the award recipients as well were the equivalent: violence, the effects of violence (as in the works of lawyers), and a basis on an actual event. These included a horrifically cliche NBC drama about a superhero of some kind called The Cape, a critically acclaimed and Golden-Globe-hoarding movie about Mark Zuckerberg called The Social Network (which is on my bucket-list of films I have to see,) another new NBC law drama starring Kathy Bates called Harry's Law, and an optimistic film about a monarch with a stutter called The King's Speech. Now, there's nothing chronically wrong with any of these pieces of entertainment, but there definitely is some kind of conflict      
     But first I must inform you of the novel whose words my eyes have been deciphering for the last two weeks at a hopelessly incremental rate. It is the satirical work Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart that describes both an America riddled by the unforeseen difficulties of an overly technological age and a man who's trying to reap its benefits while enjoying it as well. That man is Lenny Abramov, who at the beginning of this novel is on a business trip in Rome for his employer, Post-Human Services. He is a thirty-nine-year-old, slightly overweight man who has a bald spot the shape of Ohio and believes that a life that ends in death is not worth living. His job in Rome is to find High Net Worth Individuals, or people who can both financially and physically afford for Post-Human Services to make them immortal through a series of costly operations. They must desire to live forever too, of course, but Lenny's real problem is finding anyone with the qualifications. While on this trip, he also meets the love of his life, Eunice Park-a Korean woman who is in the know of the latest technology but also possesses the burden of being a part of a crisis-ridden family. Eunice, feeling as most twenty-four-year-olds would, doesn't have any more than an iota of affection for Lenny, but Lenny is persistent. When he is on the plane back from Rome he makes a promise to himself to passionately love her, but that promise is momentarily put into the back burner of his mind when he sees that Post-Human Services has been filled with a completely new cast of young, hip, and fit employees. He has become an outcast, and it is only with the help of his caring and eternally young boss, Joshie, that he is accepted again.
       Lenny's America is one where around every one's neck is a pebble-sized device called an äppärät that can perform any task from recording video to informing you of the financial status of every person you come into contact with at any moment in the day. Almost every person in the world is connected on a social network called GlobalTeens that lets them chat acronyms like JBF (just butt f#!@ing) to each other. And last but not least, this futuristic America is one where the controversial president Rubenstein of the Bi-Partisan Party (because that is the only political party in Lenny's America) has launched an attack on Venezuela that has made the U.S. the black sheep of the world, not to mention unleash a deluge of antisemitism. The American debt to China is so horrible that now every dollar in yuan-pegged, and the American Restoration Authority handles the immigration issue with a benevolent otter whose catch-phrase is "Howdy, Pad'ner."  This America, as the current American entertainment industry does, struggles under the conflict of positive ideas blown into exuberant proportion: a snare that all too many systems can become engulfed in. 
     One of the earliest and best-remembered instances when a true story was converted into an award-winning piece of entertainment was The Sound of Music, which still possesses a well-deserved spot in the American cinema canon. Action movies involving super heroes have been a hallmark of the cinema; Richard Donner's Superman of 1978 featured the classic features of fighting to all odds against "The Bad Guys" and a studly protagonist that ends up with a woman who is randomly weaved into the plot. And as for television shows featuring the over-dramatized inner workings of law firms? The one that is probably the most prominent in memory is NBC's Law and Order, which premiered in 1990 and spawned about one thousand other legal dramas. Now all of these films and television series were appealing and creative when they were born, but after an exuberant amount of films and television series that use those same ideas in alternate stories have been released, the ideas aren't that creative anymore. They are old, overused, and make the entertainment industry travel in a cumbersomely cyclic pattern that causes some Americans to lose interest. Well, some is the key word in that phrase; most Americans treat every new copy-cat film or series with the same enthusiasm as they treated the original with. Others are so frustrated and exasperated that they just decide to immerse themselves in the "entertainment" anyway, ignoring their feeling that each each of these works of the screen is just an extension of a super-sized, original notion.
     So what do I hope all of us can take away from this comparison? Original, marvelous, and creative ideas are absolutely excellent when they are moderately used, but that is not the case when these same ideas are blown into a ridiculous proportion. We must limit how we use innovation and creativity, for too much of a good thing is ultimately bad. Don't pour the whole bottle of exquisitely-smelling vanilla into the bowl-just a teaspoon is all that is necessary to make those oatmeal cookies be the best-tasting batch at the Christmas Party. Don't permit the president to culminate the State of the Union address with a cordial but inappropriate "TTYL." Don't be entertained by the same species of movie that your one-toothed great grandpa was enthusiastic about when he had a full set of pearly-whites and a mop of rich, amber hair to go with it. For in the end, the majority is who can choose whether a trend will continue and die, and it is our duty to viciously care about doing so.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

To Kill a Mockingjay

     Welcome to 2011, everybody! Now, I could go on and on right now about how my New Year's Eve went and the horror I faced when watching Ke$ha reveal her New Year's Resolution to Ryan Seacrest, but I will not digress:
      The plot: Katniss Everdeen has after narrowly escaping her death once again in the Hunger Games found a safe refuge: District Thirteen, a place that was once thought to be destroyed by the Capitol at the denouement of the first civil war in Panem. And not only did 13 rescue Katniss, Beetee, and Finnick (all former victors who participated in the Quarter Quell with Katniss) from the arena, but they also welcomed all of the survivors of the Capitol's bombing of District 12 into their midst. This attack occurred when Katniss executed a cumulative act of defiance to the Capitol by blowing up the force field that surrounded the Quarter Quell arena. The good news: Prim, Katniss's sister, Katniss's mother, and Gale, Katniss's hunting partner/lover, all survived the chaos. The bad news: Peeta, Katniss's other lover and companion throughout the games, was captured by the Capitol before District Thirteen's forces could get to him in the arena. However, the Capitol has other problems than Katniss escaping from their clutches-because of Katniss's public showing of rebellion, most of the districts are now participating in another civil war against their government as well.  Within a few days, the rebels leaders in 13 tell Katniss of her role in this war: to be the poster girl of the rebel cause, to be the Mockingjay that unites all of the districts so that their oppressor can be brought down to a horrible death. And eventually, she agrees.
     So what makes this book a masterpiece, you may ask? Well, you would think that District 13 is the ultimate "good side" of Panem with goodwill the driving force in government and leaders who are selfless and not power-hungry, but that is not true. Just as the Capitol used  Katniss and other teenagers from the districts as puppets to insure district subordination to the Capitol, 13 does more than make Katniss a poster girl-they make her their own puppet that gathers support from all of the districts for the rebel cause. She is dressed in sleek armor that makes her look similar to a Mockingjay and remade by her prep-team all in order to make her message more poignant. When she actually ventures into the field of battle, she and her "squad" are directed towards areas of less vigorous fighting so that she isn't hurt and the camera team that always trails behind her is able to record enough footage for substantial propaganda.  And then there is the leader of District 13: President Coin, an immensely shrewd woman who really only cares about Katniss when it comes to her ability to act as her puppet, the Mockingjay. It becomes clear that the only reason she wants Katniss alive is to support the rebels when she sends a homicidal Peeta, whose mind has been twisted by the Capitol to think that Katniss is an evil mutt who needs to be murdered, to be a part of Katniss's squadron in the Captitol invasion at the end of the novel. Coin has reasons that if Katniss is killed, the rebels will have a martyr to fight for when they invade the City Circle, the Panem equivalent of our Capitol Building. The ambiguity of Coin is further proved when (SPOILER WARNING) after the rebels prevail in taking the City Circle, she suggests having a final Hunger Games with the children of Capitol officials so that the people of the districts could satisfy their need for revenge against their former government. Katniss realizes this, and at the end of the story she commits one final act of revolution not against the Capitol, not against District 13, but against evil and moral ambiguity itself. That is why this book is so amazing-good and evil is not so blatantly presented to us here as it is in other book series, you must look deeper within the literary world created by the words to see it. 
     There are about fifty thousand morals we can take away from this novel, but the one that I have just spent about half a paragraph explaining is the most effective in the world today. So for all of you who find yourself in a situation where you must choose between two opposing sides, just know this: just because a force is opposing evil does not mean that the force is good, it just means that it has something against the evil force. You can only decide what good and evil are, and I pray that all of you think that good does not include anyone innocent, anyone innocent, losing their lives, which is yet another lesson learned from Mockingjay. The only exception to this is if that death will save the lives of many more innocent people, but still, one should always try to get tasks accomplish with the least losses of life as possible. It is very easy to share peoples' aggression and join them in supporting radical actions. Many times the aggression is very justifiable and the creators of the aggression were only victims of circumstance, but don't let your sympathy towards them transform into a hatred towards other people-that is how many destructive situations that can be avoided transpire. If all who can internalize this reasoning do so, then we will live in an ultimately peaceful world with only minor skirmishes here and there that can be feasibly expunged.
      So now I will enjoy my last two days of Christmas Vacation with some banana bread I just baked and the writing of my novel. Oh, and if you wanted to see what Ke$ha's resolution was, click here, but trust me, you really don't. Really.