Friday, April 30, 2010

Empty Success

"The fastest route to tinsel-town success, the empty kind full of fame and money and no fulfillment, is to sell directly to the clamoring masses the poison for which their blackened hearts crave." -Chris Brady, Team
Have you ever wondered why daytime talk shows, "reality" TV, and soap operas (with their treacherous relationships) are so popular?

They are the modern freak show. And like the bearded-ladies and alligator boys of yore, they set a standard that is comfortably below where most people are—physically, financially, socially, and emotionally. Well... physical appearance and financial status is sometimes set above the average person (especially in fiction). When this happens, it for the purpose of bringing the beautiful and the wealthy down to our level or below. The degree to which these stars shine physically, is the degree to which they are social tyrants and emotionally unstable children.

Strangely, or perhaps fittingly, the creators who rush this kind of nonsense onto the silver screen and into our living rooms quickly find themselves becoming the very characters they sell. An empty profession breeds empty people. Since there really is no purpose (other than making money) to the business of creating reality celebrities, there is no way to truly make a difference. They get paid very well, but they reenforce the status quo and miss the opportunity to create art. Without a purpose, production is all labor and no heart.
FEATURED MEDIA: All About Eve - A film about the treachery that can sometimes happens behind the scenes as actors in traditional Hollywood claw their way to the top.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Based on a False Story

Stereotypes are like a fast food restaurant—
you know what to expect.
What should we watch tonight? I dunno, do you feel like watching a doctor show, a lawyer show, or a cop show? Really, that's all that's on TV anymore. I could go into an extensive list, but I'll spare you. You know what I mean. And outside those, we only have reality TV, which is perhaps more fake than the fiction.

You could argue that doctors, lawyers, and cops are a part of our contemporary life, and therefore a part of the culture thereof. This is a fair argument, but allow me to ask: how often do you associate with these professions? Unless you work in one of those three fields, have a medical condition, or are a criminal, you likely don't enter that world. So why the media coverage, and at what cost?

To the best of my understanding, these jobs are famous for providing wealth, authority, and/or other resources like connections. Doctors and cops (especially detectives and FBI agents) are seen mostly as altruistic, while lawyers are stereotypically divided into defense lawyers (evil) and prosecutors (good). In my opinion, this is too black and white.

Basically, I'm saying that these characters are chosen because they're easy to use when trying to connect with a broad audience. Stereotypes are like a fast food restaurant—you know what to expect. This isn't bad in moderation, but it should never be a significant part of your diet. Unfortunately, the same problem applies to both industries. In body food, as in mind food, people consume too much junk.

These character types pretend to be based upon human experience, but are in fact, increasingly based upon previous works of fiction. When the system doesn't reward originality, writers get lazy (we're human, too). It is far easier to build upon what has already been done than it is to do the real research necessary to create one's own solid foundation.

So what is the cost? Lies based upon lies, sold to us as truth. Most people are too busy to know how to identify these lies anymore. If you stick to a single medium for your information, you have no frame of reference.

A balanced diet never hurt anyone.
FEATURED MEDIA: Super Size Me - Not what I usually promote, but nevertheless a worthwhile documentary. A surprisingly entertaining film, Super Size Me follows filmmaker Morgan Spurlock on a 30 day all-McDonald's bender—with health results that stunned even his doctor.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Storyteller's Promise

It seems to me that every story comes with a promise. This promise is threefold. First, the promise is to conclude the story. Second, the promise is to balance the equation. Third, the promise is that the ending is worth the time spent listening. This is a sort of unwritten law which governs our reading, listening, and viewing experiences—a natural law, perhaps.

The very act of beginning to tell a story necessitates its ending. There is no purpose to a story that goes nowhere. A story's setup can be as simple as "I was driving on the freeway the other day..." or as complicated as building the world of Middle Earth. However, my driving excursions are of no interest to you, nor are the customs of hobbits, without an ending. If I tell you: I saw a wheel come off someone's Jeep in traffic, then you have a story. (That really happened, by the way!)

Of course, that's only the beginning. I have (at least mildly) piqued your interest. It is now my responsibility to "balance the equation." By this, I mean the act of satisfying the audience's curiosity. You might be wondering where the wheel finally stopped, or how it came off in the first place. I've given you the evidence in a [small] mystery, but not how the pieces fit: The wheel left its owner and bounced down my lane for about a half-a-mile, slowing traffic to a crawl.

Ultimately, you want to know what the point is. Depending on your temperament, or personality type, your preference may be for a long and detailed story or a short and to-the-point story. Nevertheless, you want the point: The wheel continued up an exit ramp, where my wife suggested I put on my flashers and stop the car. She then jumped out of the car and chased the wheel off the road. So what is the point?

First, I wanted to share a diversion from the routine. The reason you listened (or read) is because it opens fresh channels in your mind, which lead to possibilities in thinking and action. The story also demonstrated what I believe was the right thing to do under the circumstances. We were the "jerks" that held up traffic, but we stopped the traffic for safety reasons. We led by stopping.

A storyteller is temporarily responsible for the audience's perception of reality. He has the opportunity to influence them in a positive or negative direction. But if he lacks an understanding of the promise he is making in the telling, then he is likely to have a following with nowhere to lead.

Nothing will kill a storyteller's reputation faster.
FEATURED MEDIA: The Fellowship of the Ring - The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo Baggins' journey to the Lonely Mountain, during which he finds the One Ring. In Fellowship, Bilbo is completing his memoirs, but he leaves the last pages for Frodo to finish. Frodo's story is of a promise made to destroy the One Ring, and the ultimate fulfillment of that promise.

Friday, April 23, 2010

How to See Dead People

The unconscious mind is a powerful thing. Every exceptionally successful person has learned to master its potential. As we go through life we learn unconsciously. As we take in facts and go through experiences—both positive and negative—we learn how things are connected. This is the very purpose of a liberal education. When a mind is bombarded with diverse information, it searches for connections and therefore learns the significance of a library of nuances.

Sadly, far too few people recognize, let alone utilize, these subtle nuances. We are amazed at the accuracy of gut instinct guesses, and remain skeptical of them even when they prove themselves time and time again. Mostly we think it's "chance" or "luck" or even a "message from God," but never a simple matter of noticing the world around us.

My wife and I use our cellphones constantly. When we get separated in the mall, the very first action is to call the other person. This isn't wrong (what? a hypocrite? me?), but it makes me wonder how people managed in the old days. Really, I think we've gotten lazy because of our technology.

In the old days, people used ESP! You heard right. What we call "extra sensory perception" is not actually a "sixth sense," but a deeper, focused, more connected version of the first five. My dad and I had this conversation the other day. He doesn't own a cellphone, so when he and my mom get separated in the store, he doesn't have my knee-jerk reaction.

He just stops for a second, then marches in the direction that seems right. Within an unbelievably short amount of time, he walks right to her! Is it magic or psychic abilities? No, just a good ole sense of the world around him...and many years of marriage as well.

As dumb a superhero ability as it might sound, I've discovered that I can tell my grocery bill to within a dollar by just giving the cart a shove. Do I have knowledge of the future? No! A savant-like ability to add the price tags? Please, I'm usually chasing my son! What I have is experience pushing a cart and paying the bill. I didn't have to learn facts, I absorbed the information through my fingertips, then went with my gut.
FEATURED MEDIA: The Sixth Sense - A great meditation on surprise endings, the blatant evidence of the truth, and the superficially misleading events that disguise the truth. We can't see dead people, but we  can open our senses to a whole new world.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"LOST: The Last Recruit"

DISCLAIMER: In a previous post, I discussed the importance of ABC's "LOST." Therefore, I am beginning a series which briefly explores thoughts on the show with respect to FITmedia and Truth in Fiction. Being as the posts are philosophical in nature, I will try to keep story spoilers to a minimum. However, because many of the philosophical pillars are tied to critical events, it is impossible to discuss without some spoilers. For those of you not following the show, I hope that these posts will be worthwhile on their own merit, and should they inspire you to watch the show, that they will not have ruined the plot for you. You have been warned.

"The Last Recruit"

LOST has a history of creating titles with double meanings. Even the title of the show is a reference to both the physical sense of being lost on a "deserted" island and the metaphysical sense of being spiritually broken. However, this episode's title has a vague meaning.

Most likely it is a reference to Jack, who was left in the care of the Man in Black at the end of the episode. (You did read the disclaimer, didn't you?) The difficulty I have in being certain about this label is that the writers are normally very careful with their choice of words, using key words sparingly and with great significance.

The word "recruit" in the LOST universe refers to the DHARMA Initiative. The last recruit of the DI was Desmond, who was recruited by Kelvin Inman ("Live Together, Die Alone"). Desmond plays only a small role in "The Last Recruit" though we do see his boat once again—the boat we learned that Inman was prepared to leave the Island on just before the crash of Oceanic 815.

Far-reaching connections aside, there is one reference to the Man in Black "recruiting" people ("The Substitute"), when Ilana explains his motives for kidnapping Richard. In that episode, he fails to recruit Richard, but has a talk with James who goes along with him. James claims he isn't with anybody ("Recon"), having made a deal with Widmore and reporting Widmore's secrets to the Man in Black.

You're With Me Now.

The other bit of ambiguity in this episode is the rules surrounding the Man in Black's abilities. When questioned by Jack, he claims to have impersonated Christian Shephard. However, there are two problems with this according to my understanding of the Man in Black. First, Christian appeared to Jack off-Island in St. Sebastien's Hospital ("Something Nice Back Home"). Second, he appeared to Michael on the freighter ("There's No Place Like Home"). These references run contrary to the idea that the Man in Black cannot leave the Island, or even cross the water (at least in Smoke Monster form).

Following what must have been a long night of "catching up," Claire tells Jack that he's with the Man in Black now. When Jack says he hasn't decided, Claire responds that "you let him talk to you." This has been said of the Man in Black before, when Dogen tells Sayid to kill him ("Sundown"). It was also how the Man in Black warned Richard about Jacob ("Ab Aeterno"). Both men fell under the influence of the one they were warned against. I'm not sure what the significance is.

Nevertheless, despite going along with James' plan to "ditch Locke," Jack's intuition tells him to abandon the boat and return to the main Island. There he meets "Locke" and his band of recruits. After Widmore's bomb apparently kills off the red shirts, "Locke" carries Jack into the jungle and tells him, "You're with me now," a statement that leaves us wondering if Jack is about to be "claimed" like Sayid.

The Deal's Off.

Everyone on the boat, accept Frank Lapidus, let the Man in Black talk to them. I'm not sure if Claire was referring to chit-chat or a specific sit-down talk, but I thought that was worth pointing out. Especially seeing as all of the people who made it to Hydra Island are going to be killed—at least that's what it looks like. The deal that James thought he made might never have really been "on" in the first place, but if it was, it may also have been terminated given that Widmore would have known via Zoe that Sayid kidnapped Desmond—and Sayid would not have been sent if James had not shared information.

I'm putting my money on the assertion that the Man in Black is NOT the good guy, despite tantalizing nuggets that make him seem like he could be—like leading Jack to water. However, I'm less certain about Charles Widmore. To me, the archetype of the evil capitalist who wants to "exploit" the Island is both too overplayed and too overly simplistic for LOST. Besides we already have an unscrupulous industrialist in Mr. Paik.

Widmore knows far more about the Island and the cosmic game between Jacob and the Man in Black than perhaps anyone else. Though, if that were true, wouldn't he know better than to try to kill him with artillery? Certainly this was largely effective in killing off the Man in Black's men, but why exactly does Widmore want them dead?

FEATURED MEDIA: Reserve the Final Season!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Do You Fear Death?

You never know what astounding story lies just beneath a person's gruff exterior. His name is Bill, but I didn't know anything else about him. I'd seen him driving around heavy machinery at a building site, but never engaged him in conversation until today. He's a stocky fellow, but mostly muscle. He was using a pick axe to add character to large trim board (I'm serious).

He asked me where my dad was, to which I replied that he left early. For those of you who don't know, my dad fell out of a treestand last year and crushed a vertebrae. It also turns out he has issues with his bone density. He's not made of glass, but the condition might have made the fall worse. Anyway, he doesn't always work full days on account of pain—it is surprising he works at all.

Bill said he had my dad beat. Apparently, three-quarters of his body is made of titanium. As a fourteen year-old kid, he was on a dirt bike and was run over by a speeding car. Bill was apparently so mangled that his face was unrecognizable, and they had to do a blood test to confirm his identity. He died three times, and was in a coma for a while. The woman claimed she thought she hit a raccoon. Needless to say, she was sued heavily.

The settlement (of which I did not ask the amount) paid for numerous plastic surgeries; a titanium skeleton for his left forearm and hand (which clicks); numerous pins, hinges, and parts that make up his back; and various plates and screws throughout so much of his body that I lost track. He has no feeling at all in his left arm (he welded his wedding ring to his finger once), and surprisingly, he has no fear. That's the most inspiring part. Many people would be afraid to leave the house, but he still rides dirt bikes!

He agrees that a brush with death can do one of two things: you're either scared to live, or you don't fear death. Which are you?
FEATURED MEDIA: Unbreakable - This is dull movie, in my opinion, but does have a wonderful yin and yang comparison between Samuel L. Jackson's character, a superhero comic aficionado whose bones are extremely brittle, and Bruce Willis's character, who was the only survivor of a tragic train crash. Good snack media, but watch it when you're wide awake.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Four Lobes of a Media Channel

When you have a media channel such as Facebook, YouTube, or Hulu, several groups of people want in on the action. We are first most consciously aware of the people—whoever they are. Next we see what it is the people are crowding around to experience. Then we suffer the obligatory ad impressions, which drives the whole thing as a business. Lastly, most of us go unaware of the people behind the scenes—the creative genius who founded the enterprise.

The people are the audience—everyone from the casual browser to the dedicated fanatic. The people are the main reason for the channel in the first place. Without them, there is no point in building a website at all. Unfortunately, the larger the crowd, the easier it is to forget how important they are. It is especially easy to ignore the power of the überfans who make up the "tribe" that will preach the message of this channel's value.

However convenient it is to have a mode of communication, it is important that there is something to talk about and engage in. This is where developers come onto the scene. Depending on the channel's specific personality, they might show up sporadically and bring a variety of different media. Facebook's platform for communcation took precedence over the now-prevalent apps and games that have been developed for it. YouTube was open to user-submitted video before anyone had heard of it. And by contrast, Hulu contains only commercially created media.

Ultimately, all the people gathered around cost-free media become targets of commercial interests. There really is no way to talk about this practice without it sounding bad, but without advertising the people have to pay for the media directly. Creators know it's not really cost-free, even when it's a labor of love. For that reason, it is easy to give into the temptation to over-power your audience with ads—afterall, the more space you sell, the more money you make.

Money is a wonderful thing, especially when it enables you to do more of what is important to you—what is important to the world. However, offending your audience is hardly productive. There need to be referees between the forces of development and sponsorship, else the two will merge into an ugly beast. These orchestrators must communicate with the people (especially the überfans) to keep a running score of how they're doing, then actually respond in kind.

I'm not criticizing any channel, I'm merely offering a warning. Whenever a company forgets the people, it starts to die. Nobody benefits from that. However, the death of a once-great giant means open opportunity for a newcomer to set things right—by listening.
Tribes - The phenomenal book by Seth Godin. What he calles "tribes" are groups of people who are loyal to an idea and a leader, and who have a channel through which to communicate. Are you part of a mass, or a tribe?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Build Thyself

For a number of years I've worked in the construction industry, painting houses for the family business. Needless to say, it was not my passion, but it did give me a visual framework (no pun intended) for understanding productivity. If we understand that this framework is in all business the same, just as it is in all houses, then it should come as no surprise that industries as different as film and construction bear enlightening similarities.

The Homeowner

In new home construction, the top of the heirarchy is the homeowner. Many times a new home will be commissioned by someone with the money to have it built. They will explain their dream home and their budget to an architect, then maintain a supervisory role while the experts handle everything. Sometimes the "homeowner" is a business entity which is looking for potential buyers, and sometimes that business is also the architect and/or builder. However singularly these roles may be filled, they are always present.

In artistic and entertainment ventures like movies and television, this is no different. The "homeowner" is the person with the spark of an idea, a vision for an end result, and the money to make it happen. The most common term in show business for this is "executive producer," though this title can be used for a number of different roles.

As a independent person he represents only a concept, but is largely unaware of the process and the details. While technically a creator and never a performer, he is also not a producer but a consumer. In this way, he exists in the movie industry only as the end viewer. His money would be pooled with others' to finance the media creator's next project.

The Architect

The main creative mind behind a new home is the architect. Though is status as a "creator" is only true if he is designing a custom home for his client. If he is merely altering plans that have already been drawn by himself or another, then he is performing a task, but not creating anything new. Innovation is the stretching of what has been done, in order to redefine what can be done.

The architect of a film is the lead writer. It is, of course, possible for a writer to push boundaries as a true creator or follow a formula that has been laid out by previous projects. Many rail against formulaic movies, but the fact is that there is a market to meet certain expectations. There is a way to create or perform with distinction and style.

The role of architect represents the main creative force whether it be "never-before-seen," or merely a fresh look at an old favorite. As such, the architect or writer can lead or follow the direction of the owner or builder.

The Builder

The builder is the main performer. In the construction of a new home, there are many people doing different jobs that can be loosely called "builders." However, what I mean is the head contractor. The guy (I have yet to work with a woman in this position) who orchestrates all the labor, actually getting the job done. He follows the architect's plans, and makes sure everyone else does as well.

This is the director and sometimes the producer of a film. They certainly have an enormous impact on the creative process, but in this role, they do the work of the film according to plans that have largely been created already.

All in all, these projects work best when these leaders and their respective "subcontractors" have tight communication. The most successful homes and films are build upon a foundation of people skills. The ability for a true team to develop a cohesive vision and each fill their roles (find their FIT), is essential to developing FIT media.

It is amazing to me that people don't realize that friction among people (even actors) WILL BE FELT in the finished product. You want to build a great house, start with a great foundation. You want to make a legendary film, start with the people. In fact, start with you.
FEATURED MEDIA: The Bridge on the River Kwai - Set during World War II, this is the fictional story of British soldiers being forced to build a bridge to aid enemy Japanese forces. When he discovers the poor quality of current construction, the British Colonel sets out to build a proper bridge for the sake of national pride and his men's morale. Despite the advantage this gives his enemies, he feels his team is more important.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

No Experts on the Frontier

There are no experts on the frontier. An expert is a person who has a high level of technical knowledge in his specific field. Experts are valuable sources of information. They have a handle on the expected outcomes of certain tested events. They can provide a framework for a planned assault on the frontier, but by definition, they know nothing about the frontier itself.

Contrary to popular culture, space is not the final frontier. The frontier that will never be closed is the frontier of the mind. I realize that there are volumes of information and crowds of experts in sciences of the mind (psychology, et al), and libraries full of "self-help" literature. The difficulty on the frontier of the mind is not a lack of information, but a lack of implementation.

In the Information Age, information comes easily—even passively. Everyone is trying to sell you on some idea (some are honest and valuable, many are not). People understand the world through personal experience and media. Because many people lack the means—if not the desire—to broaden their personal experiences, they naturally fill in the gaps with second-hand information delivered through the media. There are many sources of great information to be found, and yet we fail to seek out good information, and merely allow information to come to us.

When creators bring information to us, they naturally want something in return. As a whole industry, advertising pays for our entertainment and gives us information about products and services we need. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Unfortunately, even media creators tend toward laziness. It is easier to stick with what you know—where you're comfortable. It's easier to shine up the package and dumb down the internal workings to match the lowest common denominator than to cut a new path through innovation.

Experts know what they know, but they are no better on a frontier than anyone else—because the real frontier is the unknown, and no one is an expert in that.
The Lonesome Gods - Louis L'Amour's biggest and most important historical novel to date, a sweeping adventure of the California frontier.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Failed Marketing

High Fidelity is a good movie. There are a lot of layers to it. It isn't the deepest story I've ever seen, but it goes beyond the average—especially within its category. It is fair to call it a comedy. It is also fair to say it has a love story in it—perhaps it's even "romantic." However, it is not a "romantic comedy!" Why then, does the trailer make it look like one?

Fight Club is a good movie. Like High Fidelity, it connects with something deeper—and in this case, darker—in a man's soul. Fight Club is very violent, but it also possesses a humorous edge. The main character's struggle to find himself, is something that resonates with men trying to do the same. It is a cathartic home, if not a pathway to healing. It is especially valuable for a person seeking a solution use as a platform for discussion with a mentor. It is not, therefore, a simple action-flick. So why does the trailer make it look like one?

The answer is that there is no way to promote the sophistication of a given story in a short trailer. Never mind the fact that film marketers have little interest in or understanding of story depth, the medium of a trailer is more suited to the delivery of emotion than of rationale. Compounding the problem is the current MPAA rating system, which is a great system for gauging explicit content. It just is not equipped to gauge sophistication.

What I mean is this: a movie's rating is rarely left to chance. If they know what they're doing at all, then the producers have a target audience in mind for the production. If they want a broad audience, they will often plan to make a "PG-13" film. This eliminates the younger crowd, but still maintains a rather tame film (content-wise). However, because the rating allows those who are 13 to attend, the story must be crafted in such a way that 13 year-old can understand. This puts a limit on sophistication.

If a producer wishes to talk about deeper, more adult themes (story-wise), then he must work in several "F-bombs" or perhaps a contrived nude scene in order to achieve an "R" rating. This higher rating would eliminate "kids" from the theatre (supposedly, but that's another subject). However, the "R" rating does not ensure higher sophistication, it merely enables it. Therefore, when a trailer focuses on one-liners and violent images, there is no way to tell whether or not it is a "smart" film.

If the story is good enough, then it will eventually gain fans, win awards, and go mainstream. There is a big difference between violence, language, and nudity that serves the story and those that simply serve "entertainment." However, these smarter films suffer from a sleepy start because no one knows what to expect, and few stop to understand the value long enough to pass it on. I think many gems go needlessly unrewarded as a result.

What I propose is an additional "sophistication" rating. For example, if a person dislikes "R" rated content, but is dissatisfied with the lack of intellectual challenge in "PG-13" movies, that person should be able to select "PG-13" content with an "25+" story. By contrast, if a person has a high tolerance for "R" content, but isn't looking for a challenge, he should be able to select a movie with a "13-17" story.

This system would effectively liberate media creators to cater to either intellect or emotion. The natural flow of the market would prove which is more profitable or sustainable.
High Fidelity - Based on the book by Nick Hornby, this movie tells the story of Rob Gordon, audiophile and record-store owner, whose understanding of women is phenomenally dull. His intense emotions over a recent breakup lead him to examine his life, arriving at a simple yet profound understanding of relationships.
Fight Club - Based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, this movie follows the meltdown of a frustrated corporate professional, who meets a soap salesman named Tyler. Together, the two found "Fight Club," an underground organization for men of similar ilk to vent their frustrations on one another, and eventually on the corporate world as a whole.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

"LOST: Everybody Loves Hugo"

DISCLAIMER: In a previous post, I discussed the importance of ABC's "LOST." Therefore, I am beginning a series which briefly explores thoughts on the show with respect to FITmedia and Truth in Fiction. Being as the posts are philosophical in nature, I will try to keep story spoilers to a minimum. However, because many of the philosophical pillars are tied to critical events, it is impossible to discuss without some spoilers. For those of you not following the show, I hope that these posts will be worthwhile on their own merit, and should they inspire you to watch the show, that they will not have ruined the plot for you. You have been warned.

"Everybody Loves Hugo"

The title of this episode is an adorable twist on Season 2's "Everybody Hates Hugo," in which Hurley's lotto winnings start to turn his life for the worse. This is a parallel with his concerns over a job Jack gives him to ration the food found in the Hatch. He's afraid to fulfill this leadership role because he thinks people will hate him out of jealousy, as they did with the lotto winnings. He initially decides to use dynamite to blow up the food storage, rather than face the task—though when Rose stops him, Hurley makes a judgement call about what's fair. Interesting, given that he actually blows up the Black Rock in this episode, and no one stops him.

The Island has it in for you.

LOST returns to its convention of the Island as a character. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a location can sometimes be counted as a character when it has a notable impact on the story. No location in any story that I know of has had more interaction with people than the Island. Since "Meet Kevin Johnson," however, so much has happened between the human characters that the influence and decisions of the Island have been disguised, or perhaps entirely absent.

The idea of a person's purpose allowing him to defy almost certain death was vividly displayed for us by Jack in "Dr. Linus" when he sits down with Richard over a lit stick of dynamite. The understanding we thought we had was undermined in this episode when Ilana drops a bag of dynamite and dies suddenly. She was in the middle of explaining that her purpose was to protect them.

Ben points out that the Island was done with her, and wonders what will happen to them when their time comes. This raises the question of whether, like Michael, they are all doomed to die, having escaped death when the plane crashed. Eloise Hawking's explanation in "Flashes Before Your Eyes" that the universe "course corrects" may well mean that the Island has the power to interrupt a person's fate, but not change it.

It is equally plausible that the Island is a force of evil, and does have it in for them, as the Man in Black suggests to Desmond. Is seems this is meant to be ominous, given the fact that "Locke" eventually asks him why he is not afraid. If the Island is the gate to hell, as Jacob says, then perhaps the Man in Black is acting as its agent when he throws Desmond into the well.

Dead men tell true tales.

The nature of the ghosts in this story has been—and still remains—largely shrouded in mystery. Michael appears to Hurley at the gravesite to tell him not to blow up the plane. This does parallel the scene where Rose tells him somebody could get hurt if he blows up the food storage. However reasonable Rose's comment was, Michael's seems overly dramatic, if not unfounded—especially after we learn that Ilana's plan is merely to destroy the controls.

After Hurley blows up the Black Rock, he says that Michael told him to do it, and that ghosts are more reliable than live people. Even, apparently, murderers. When we learn that the whispers are the ghosts that cannot move on, it sheds some light on the effectiveness of ghost instruction. It is still unclear if the ghosts Hurley can see are the same as the dead people that show up in dreams, but if they are then they can be assumed to be on Jacob's side.

Which brings me to another point: Richard reminds us that Jacob never tells them what to do. However, Jacob has been instructing Hurley. Unless it's not Jacob.

FEATURED MEDIA: Preorder the Final Season!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

"LOST: Happily Ever After"

DISCLAIMER: In a previous post, I discussed the importance of ABC's "LOST." Therefore, I am beginning a series which briefly explores thoughts on the show with respect to FITmedia and Truth in Fiction. Being as the posts are philosophical in nature, I will try to keep story spoilers to a minimum. However, because many of the philosophical pillars are tied to critical events, it is impossible to discuss without some spoilers. For those of you not following the show, I hope that these posts will be worthwhile on their own merit, and should they inspire you to watch the show, that they will not have ruined the plot for you. You have been warned.

"Happily Ever After"
"You think you're happy. You think you've got it all--this, your life. But, you don't." -Charlie Pace
This episode is an analogy of contemporary culture. People are content, but not necessarily happy. They have material trappings, but lack connected relationships—and connections have defined this show. Contentment is the enemy in this episode. The characters in the flash-sideways have everything they could want—except their spirits.

The scene with Desmond and Charlie in the bar is as profound as the scene between Jacob and Ricardo on the beach in "Ab Aeterno." After having disregarded traffic as if it were not real, and ignoring Desmond's material temptations, Charlie explains that he saw of vision of something "real." He saw a woman, whose description matches Claire, and felt a sort of profound love. This vision stirred his soul and led him believe that the world was not real.

Upon hearing Drive Shaft's famous single, he sarcastically comments that that was the beginning of everything great. I got the distinct impression that things did go well for the band (they seem to still be together), but that Charlie somehow had a growing sense that it was too good to be true. This may be why he was taking drugs in the first place. It took a near-death experience to reveal the truth—Charlie's necessary fall from grace.

Charlie forces Desmond to have a vision of his own, not so much through a near-death experience as through a total diversion from the social norm. The car crashing into the water symbolically invokes the wilds, as it is both uncertain and unsafe. It is fitting then that Desmond should see a vision of the other timeline, where Charlie's hand bears the message "not Penny's boat."

Because of his vision, Desmond fails his mission of reining in the self-destructive rock star, and must explain himself to Mrs. Widmore. Despite her apparent reputation, she accepts Desmond's apology graciously. It is only when he shows interest in the name "Penny Milton" that she turns hostile, revealing a larger scheme.

She speaks in the age-old voice of an aristocrat who believes it's her duty to protect and satiate the ignorant masses. She is obviously annoyed that he is no longer content with having the thing he wanted most—Charles Widmore's approval. She tells him he is not ready and should stop looking.

Having hit a dead end, Desmond leaves only to be confronted by Daniel Widmore. He tells Desmond a story about love at first sight that echoes his own experiences and those described by Charlie. He reaffirms Charlie's suspicions that there is another world, because his vision enabled him (a classical musician) to draw a complex physics diagram—the one that described the incident.

After meeting Penny (with Daniel's help), Desmond is set on a path, which we can suspect might unite the two timelines. The choice that stands before each of them is to play the game of mediocrity or seek to change the game.

It may well be that they were meant for a harder, but more significant, life.
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The FIT State of Legos

I recently bought my son his first set of real, bona fide Legos. Entrusting a three-and-a-half year old with something as small as Lego studs is always a bit unnerving for me. Not because I think he's going to eat them, but because vital pieces have a way of disappearing. The words "vital pieces" is telling for anyone who knows me. I can be extremely anal-retentive when I let myself. He did so well with his new set that—I'm proud to say—I got out of my comfort zone and let him have have my coveted collection of castle pieces, etc.

Sitting in his room, amid what looked like a hurricane disaster area, I tried to piece together the remnants of a shattered castle without the aid of instructions. Now, I realize that it is stereotypical of guys (however unfair or unfounded) that we do not like to look at the instructions. I was, however, in a state of distress over the missing castle plans, while he rapidly began designing his own. I have been talking a lot about "creators" and "performers" lately, and the subject was still on my mind during this dilemma, which brought up a good question.

If I consider myself a creative person, and a creator by nature has difficulty performing under anyone else's rules, then why did I want so badly to find the instructions?

My first attempt at resolving this conundrum followed the reasoning that I am a storyteller by nature, and I need a stage on which to tell the story. The construct of a Lego world, was in effect, that stage. Yet I realized that it is a performance that is done on a stage and not the actually creation. Afterall, a script forms much of the basis for a movie set, not the other way around.

Upon deeper reflection, I realized that what I had (and my young son lacked) was an understanding that those pieces had a natural form that they were designed to be in. They had a state of FITness. A form that made use of every single piece, could not do without certain pieces, and would not be as stable if reconstituted in a different form. In effect, the creation was perfect, it was complete, it was done. There was nothing I could add or innovate. Therefore, I was compelled to comply with this "truth," in order that I might utilize its predisposed "integrity" to give myself and my son a platform of "freedom" upon which to create our own stories.

Oftentimes, I believe, we seek to reinvent the wheel in the name of innovation. This may be due to a simple lack of knowledge about what already exists, and often is a failure that teaches us that knowledge. To truly be creators we have to know what has been created and why. Physical forms (and even some mental ones) serve as their own legacy. They are there to examine, and the information of their creators is there to show us the thing's physical nature. Once we've seen what can be examined, and realized what can be learned, we must imagine what can be possible from there forward.
FEATURED MEDIA: Legos are among the most versatile toys ever created. The state they were designed to be in is of a high level of stability, but the very fact that they can be endlessly tweaked and re-imagined not only teaches people to think different, but also teaches them about the stability and rules by which they ought to play. Also, they're indestructible.

Monday, April 5, 2010

March '10: The Month in Posts

This post fell a little late, because I had apparently, and almost accidentally, created some cohesion this month. The dominant theme of this months posts had to do with a deeper understanding of two different types of producers: "creative" and "performing." I therefore, had to weed down the number of articles that dealt with this subject matter to the one that, I hope, best captures it. The others deal with a greater understanding of organizational structure, which will serve as s good primer as we delve into these subjects in the future.

Creative Control - March 8, 2010
Media, money, and marketing: the three M's of any artistic/creative endeavor, which have a naturally close relationship and therefore require the close attention of the key creator(s) or artists. Media is the thing itself; the "souvenir" or the channel through which the content is transfered to the consumer. For most artists, the chosen medium is important to the specific content (i.e.: a cookie is the ideal medium for a fortune). Whatever medium is chosen, some amount of money will be needed to give it life, and once alive, marketing is needed to recoup funds at a profit—if for no other reason than to personally fund another project. (read more)
The Wilds - March 15, 2010
It is difficult to see the supernatural from the heart of civilization. The more wild, the more is possible. The wild is an essential part of literature, as it is connected to and revealing of the heart of man, which is the force that moves a civilization forward. The very thing that compelling art seeks to capture in media, I believe, is the truth of the human heart (or soul). However, this is not something that stories can reveal as long as the fictional characters are ensconced in the routines of civilization. (read more)
Überfans - March 16, 2010
When it comes to entertainment media, there are several levels of interest. Regardless of its presence in the mainstream or the number of people in its own unique culture, all media inevitability rests its influence on three basic groups. First, the largest group worldwide is made up of those who know nothing about a given project, but may nonetheless be indirectly influenced by its effects. Second, those who consider themselves to be fans. Third, those who go beyond a simple appreciation to become überfans. (read more)
Third Side Philosophy - March 21, 2010
Third side philosophy is not any one specific philosophy, as far as I'm concerned, but an open-minded attitude toward all political and philosophical thought. The lack of such open-mindedness is most evident (but by no means exclusive to or 100% defining of) partisan politics and well-established big business. Both of these represent big institutions with strong central powers which have been doing what they are doing for far longer than current innovations have been around. That is to say, the game is changing but the players are not. (read more)
The Creative Cat - March 31, 2010
There are also two kinds of producers: creators and performers. Creators originate and innovate goods, services, and even business models. Performers make this happen, and get it into the hands of the end consumers. Creators develop and manufacture, while performers market and distribute.In the past, I've also referred to these as "developers" and "promoters," respectively. I think that the use of the words "creator" and "performer" are more general and all-inclusive. (read more)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"LOST: The Package"

DISCLAIMER: In a previous post, I discussed the importance of ABC's "LOST." Therefore, I am beginning a series which briefly explores thoughts on the show with respect to FITmedia and Truth in Fiction. Being as the posts are philosophical in nature, I will try to keep story spoilers to a minimum. However, because many of the philosophical pillars are tied to critical events, it is impossible to discuss without some spoilers. For those of you not following the show, I hope that these posts will be worthwhile on their own merit, and should they inspire you to watch the show, that they will not have ruined the plot for you. You have been warned.

"The Package"

I must apologize for the belatedness of this post. In following several threads of thought, I got good and lost in myth and legend. Following the powerful and neatly packaged (pun totally intended), "Ab Aeterno," which buttoned up the series nicely for those who relate to the Judeo-Christian and Islamic canons, it seems that the writers thought it prudent to mix it up a bit. I can only assume that the clarity of Richard's story was necessary to carry us through the complex story which will unfold over the remainder of the series.

The War

When "Locke" is talking to Charles Widmore on Hydra Island, he tells him, "A wise man once said that war is coming to this island, I think it just got here." This is a very ironic statement, given that it was Widmore who said it to John Locke in "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham." Widmore's exact words as quoted in Lostpedia are: "Because there's a war coming, John. And if you're not back on the Island when that happens, the wrong side is going to win." If we are safe in assuming at this point that Widmore and his people are at war with the Man in Black and his people, then two questions arise. First, which side is the right side? Second, why did Locke need to be "back on the Island"? If we assume that Widmore is fighting for Jacob, but Locke's purpose was only to aid the Man in Black's murder plot, then we have to assume the Man in Black intervened somehow.

It seems to me that what the Man in Black "had to go through" ("The Incident") to kill Jacob largely included manipulating Ben Linus both on Island and off. Specifically, he made two plays that Widmore did not intend—both of which involved Ben. Although Widmore knew that Locke was told he would have to die before returning to the Island, he dismissed the knowledge, sending John along with Abaddon. The two plays the Man in Black made (via Ben) were that Ben killed Abaddon (which then allowed him to kill Locke), then "Locke" had Ben kill Jacob. In fact, Ben seems now to have been a pawn of the Man in Black since he saw his mother in the jungle ("The Man Behind the Curtain")—in much the same way that Richard saw Isabella ("Ab Aeterno").

The Man in Black

It is clear now why as many of the Oceanic Six as possible needed to be brought back to the Island. Not only is the Man in Black trapped on the Island by Jacob, but it seems he is also trapped by Jacob's candidates. His goal is to take them all off the Island with him, which is presumably easier than killing them. The reason I say that is because I can't find a definitive record of the Smoke Monster directly killing anyone who was a candidate, which suggests that he cannot kill candidates for the same reason he could not kill Jacob.

In this episode, the Man in Black asks Sun to join him, dangling the carrot that Jin is with him, but saying that he doesn't want to make her do anything against her will. However, he says this in the same breath as telling her that he gave the people at the Temple the choice to come with him or die. In other words, it is more of an "offer she couldn't refuse"—to quote "The Godfather." He seems surprised when she runs, and pursues her through the jungle. If he really meant she had a choice, why did he pursue her? We have seen numerous instances where characters have manipulating others into making a choice, when it was not, in fact, their choice at all—especially Ben, who is an infamous liar (though still considers himself "one of the good guys.")

The question of how to reconcile this discrepancy in Ben (and potentially the Man in Black) drove me to look into the supernatural concept of "the angel of death." I found several interesting things, but what struck me most was the information I found on the archangel, Samael. An important figure in the Talmud, a text of Judaism, Samael's chief role is as an angel of death. This passage from Wikipedia is particularly relevant to LOST:
In Jewish lore, Samael is said to be the angel of death... Yalkut I, 110 of the Talmud speaks of Samael as Esau's guardian angel... [Some] Hebrew scholars say that it was Samael who tempted Eve in the guise of the Serpent. Samael is also sometimes identified as being the angelic antagonist who wrestled with Jacob...
Esau is the older brother of Jacob in Hebrew texts, and so his name has been tentatively applied to the Man in Black since his first appearance in "The Incident." In the story, Esau promised his birthright (a blessing given to the firstborn) to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew. Later, Jacob disguised himself as Esau to receive the blessing from their blind father. When Esau learned what had happened, he vowed to kill Jacob.

While there are parallels between Esau and the Man in Black, the angel Samael parallels the Smoke Monster more. The mural in the "Cerberus chamber" (where Ben was judged) depicted a form of serpent alongside the image of Anubis, an Egyptian god of the dead. Similar to Anubis—but more severe—the character of Samael is dark, and his duties are of death and destruction regardless of his status as good or evil. Indeed, he is seen as evil which serves the purpose of "God's severity."

This is important for our discussion, as it seems there is some confusion among the general audience (myself included) about how the show defines good and evil. LOST has demonstrated extraordinary sophistication in the way it depicts the complexities of this conflict. When we understand that death and destruction can be a part of God's plan, such as the plagues on Egypt, then we can not only entertain the thought that the Man in Black might not be distinctly evil, but we can also understand how both Ben and Widmore can be considered "good guys."
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The Godfather: An exploration of man's capacity for evil.