Two Scenes of the Society

all star comics 3Stargirl debuted last night on the DC Universe app.  I premiered tonight in an edited form on the CW.  About 10 minutes were cut for the network tv premiere, though not because of touchy content or anything.  I opted for the full-length version.  The episode was good on a number of levels: great acting, high production values, the obvious slow burn of things that makes weekly television viewing such an interesting experience in these days of binging.

Perhaps the coolest thing for me (besides the fact that the show had pop music in it like so many shows used to do frequently) was the appearance of the Justice Society of America.  In the comics, the JSA started it all . . . back in the forties.  Stargirl starts off with this flashback from “the Golden Age” of ten years ago (a necessary jump, I suppose).  Luke Wilson’s Pat Dugan character serves as the entry point-of-view.  The name-checked characters are obviously important to the story going forward.  Here’s the scene:

A second scene later in the episode has another nod to the Society.  This time it involves a picture (which looks a lot like the All-Star Comics cover from the 1940s) and the possibility of Courtney’s connection to the original Starman.  It’s a nice, quiet moment set in some well-done action pieces.

The show is off to a great start, I think.  It will be a good show to have through the early summer months.  Like so many examples of great storytelling, it works with multiple generations through one larger narrative.  I look forward to seeing things unfold.

(image from wikipedia.org)

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A Time for Tunnels

I haven’t followed Seth Godin much lately for no reason in particular.  I got out of the practice a couple of years ago and just haven’t given it much thought until recently.  And I’m glad I did, because he recently made a distinction that, fittingly, has some real depth.

When things started to shift for everyone back in March, no one was prepared for it (in general, for sure, though this could apply to more specific situations, too).  We did what we could, made adjustments as necessary, but then something else kicked in (or didn’t, depending on your previous work).  An invisible system kicked in, a system based on relationships and trust that aren’t always in the spotlight.  Which ties in some to Godin’s idea of bridges and tunnels:

Robert Moses, the road builder, understood that building tunnels takes just a little longer and costs just a little bit more.

And it turns out that bridges are monuments and create glory for those that find the resources to build them, there in the sky, for all to see.

Those are the two reasons why we end up with more bridges than tunnels. (Same is true with work culture and society at large).

But tunnels allow all sorts of productivity without calling attention to themselves or those that build them. A tunnel creates progress without changing the landscape. Many times, it’s an elegant solution to the problem for someone with the guts and fortitude to build one.

These are tunnel days, where the deep down and unnoticed work has been necessary and helpful.  And while I wouldn’t take the same approach to bridges as Godin does, I understand his point.  There’s a time and place for bridges, but it hasn’t been that way for the last couple of months.  Those days will probably return, though, as life readjusts.  But for now, we would be wise to remember the hard work, the hidden work, that is the network of relationships and community that often aren’t that obvious.

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Sunday’s Best: Critters and Clouds

Today’s Frazz by Jef Mallet is a nice picture of people and how we sometimes look at the world.

Frazz and CloudsProps to Mallett for making the clouds look like not-much-of-anything.

(image from gocomics.com)

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Race to the Stars

The bad news of the day (at least television-wise) is that the already-postponed next season of The Amazing Race has been postponed again.  Something about networks trying to make current content last a little bit longer because of Our Current Moment.  The good news is that we are one day closer to the debut of DC’s Stargirl, which debuts early next week.  The show has quite the pedigree.  First, it’s rooted deeply in the history of the DC Universe, going all the way back to the Golden Age and the Justice Society.  Second, it’s the brainchild of Geoff Johns, the force behind some of DC’s best (and most personal) comics over the last decade as well as some of the best of DC’s presence in theaters and on the CW.  Here’s the trailer for next week’s debut:

The show actually debuts unedited Monday with the DC Universe app and then appears in shortened-for-television form Tuesday night in the spot used by The Flash.  It’s got a couple of relatively big names, which can always be tricky for a newer property.  As the trailer showed, though, I hope it means will add some good humor into the mix.

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20/40 Survivor

SurvivorThis was a big week for CBS and Survivor.  The show finished its fortieth cycle over twenty years.  I remember watching season one episodes all those years ago with friends in Fort Worth.  And while I lost interest for a few years in the middle third of things, I’ve enjoyed Wednesdays on the island for the last while.  I’ve even revisited some of my favorite cycles years after the fact (Australian Outback, Pearl Islands, All-Stars, Palau).  And while the show has definitely changed over the years, it still finds a way to entertain and catch you off guard.

The folks at The Ringer have made the most of the week, posting a dozen articles about the show’s history and the events surrounding this week’s fortieth-cycle finale.  You’ve got the “100 Most Iconic Moments” article (so comprehensive), the “tribal council is the cornerstone” article (pulling the curtain back is always interesting), and a dictionary full of Survivor-centric concepts and terms.  The two most enjoyable articles, though, involve an interview with former contestants about some of the nitty-gritty, day-to-day realities of living without toilets and toiletries and a look at what the show could do to continue for another twenty years.

My hope going into an all-winners season, which ended on Wednesday, was that things would be sparse all around.  Instead, we got the Edge of Extinction (only used once before) and fire tokens (a first-time twist).  There’s lots of talk about how gameplay has changed over the years, but just as real has been the change brought about by gimmicks (like constant hidden immunity idols, Redemption Island, and the like).  The “how to continue” article mentioned the importance of casting, of difficult decisions, and balance.  But I like the fourth point the most.  Concerning “show, don’t tell”:

Modern seasons of Survivor don’t have intros. They don’t have tree mail. They don’t have many shots of cooking food, fishing, or camp life in general. Sometimes they don’t even have reward challenges. That’s because the show has less and less time to show us those things, with the proliferation of advantages that need to be explained and idol hunts that need to be aired. But while on the face of it those old-school features seem easy enough to cut, they provide crucial insight into why some players are working with others: Which personalities click, who trusts who—all of that is built and demonstrated during mundane moments. Cutting the little things hurts the big picture.

The obvious solution here: Longer episodes. If that’s not possible—and it seems it isn’t, if Survivor couldn’t convince CBS to up the running time for Winners at War, as Probst has hinted producers wanted—then some sort of solution where additional content is put on CBS All Access could work. If that isn’t possible, then the show needs to think critically about how twists and advantages cut into the meat of Survivor.

The best season ever is Heroes vs. Villains and it featured just one twist, a back-to-back tribal council before the merge. The best season of the past five years is David vs. Goliath, and it was light on twists for a modern season. By contrast, at times Winners at War had to spend so much time on Edge of Extinction and the various advantages that came out of it that it couldn’t always develop the relationships that were shaping the season. That forced the editors to sometimes throw in a player saying that another contestant was “playing a winner’s game” or that they had a great bond with so-and-so—but it wasn’t able to actually show why that was the case.

It’s worth remembering that the times when the show is allowed to breathe are important. They’re not just breaks in the action—they help explain why a season unfolds the way it does.

I had hoped for more conversation between all of these winners.  And you got some of it near the beginning as you learned about how Survivor has become it’s own extended world, especially for older players.  And you got it some in the finale when Jeff interviewed the jury after the final “Edge of Extinction” return challenge.  But there just wasn’t enough time for it, especially after the live reunion got cut because of Our Current Moment.

I will say that I miss “tree mail.”  And I miss “luxury items.”  And I miss “food eating challenges” and “auctions.”  I miss different locations.  (Looking back at the Australian Outback season I was reminded of how much the terrain played a role in things.)  The best thing going for the show the last few seasons has been the unpredictable nature of tribal councils (a blindside almost every week?).  But you feel it differently when you’ve had time to get to know the contestants a little more as people.  And getting to know them as people is more than just hearing a transformation narrative, another trend that echoes what has happened so often in things like the Olympics: an attempt to “humanize” people that often borders on manipulative.

Things are a bit uncertain for now.  Our Current Moment has kept future episodes from being filmed.  Thankfully we’ve got another (long in mothballs) season of The Amazing Race coming up next week.  It will be interesting to see how much cycle 41 of Survivor might be a clean slate, now that so many winner have come back through one more time.  Maybe we’ll get a return to basics after all.

(image from parade.com)

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A Different Kind of Commencement

We’re now entering the time of year where the best of speakers brings out their greatest wisdom to share with graduates as they move on from high school or college into the oft-promised “real world.”  This is another thing bound to change  . . . at least this year . . .  in light of Our Current Moment.  Perhaps there will be live speakers.  Maybe there will be recorded messages sent from afar.  Of course, it will appear as the written word.

Oft-maligned New York Times columnist David Brooks did something of the sort recently for The Atlantic.  Titled “A Commencement Address Too Honest to Deliver in Person,” the piece articulates Brooks’ thoughts he feels inappropriate to say in front of parents, faculty, and the graduates themselves.  In the piece, Brooks tries to present a kind of spin on Our Current Moment.  I suppose how you understand life, the universe, and everything will affect how you feel about his advice.  From things unable to said before parents:

You happened to have graduated into a global emergency that has interrupted everything. That whole career-track thing you’ve been worrying about? Fundamentally interrupted. Don’t see this as a void; see it as a permission slip.

See it as a permission slip to think differently about time. Usually, time flows continually, like a river, and one thing leads to another. But sometimes time comes in a discrete box. The next two years are going to be a discrete box. Think only about this unusual two-year box right now. You’ll probably have 60 more years after this box is over and they’ll probably be more normal. You can worry about them later.

Use this hiatus to do something you would never have done if this emergency hadn’t hit. When the lockdown lifts, move to another state or country. Take some job that never would have made sense if you were worrying about building a career—bartender, handyman, AmeriCorps volunteer.

From things he wouldn’t say live before faculty and administration:

The biggest way most colleges fail is this: They don’t plant the intellectual and moral seeds students are going to need later, when they get hit by the vicissitudes of life. If you didn’t study Jane Austen while you were here, you probably lack the capacity to think clearly about making a marriage decision. If you didn’t read George Eliot, then you missed a master class on how to judge people’s character. If you didn’t read Nietzsche, you are probably unprepared to handle the complexities of atheism—and if you didn’t read Augustine and Kierkegaard, you’re probably unprepared to handle the complexities of faith . . .

The wisdom of the ages is your inheritance; it can make your life easier. These resources often fail to get shared because universities are too careerist, or because faculty members are more interested in their academic specialties or politics than in teaching undergraduates, or because of a host of other reasons. But to get through life, you’re going to want to draw on that accumulated wisdom. Today is a good day to figure out where your college left gaps, and to start filling them.

And from what he could not say to the students themselves:

In college, you get assigned hard things. You’re taught to look at paintings and think about science in challenging ways. After college, most of us resolve to keep doing this kind of thing, but we’re busy and our brains are tired at the end of the day. Months and years go by. We get caught up in stuff, settle for consuming Twitter and, frankly, journalism. Our maximum taste shrinks. Have you ever noticed that 70 percent of the people you know are more boring at 30 than they were at 20?

But then a pandemic hits, and suddenly you have time to read Henry James and Marilynne Robinson, to really look at Rembrandt and Rothko. Suddenly you feel your consciousness expanding once again. The old intellectual muscles come back . . .

I wonder if you will sense what many of your elders do—that the whole culture is eroding the skill the UCLA scholar Maryanne Wolf calls “deep literacy,” the ability to deeply engage in a dialectical way with a text or piece of philosophy, literature, or art. Or as Adam Garfinkle put it in The American Interest, “To the extent that you cannot perceive the world in its fullness, to the same extent you will fall back into mindless, repetitive, self-reinforcing behavior, unable to escape.”

Like I said, your preconceptions and presuppositions will color how you understand what he says (or says he wouldn’t say).  But his point, I think, is clear.  We do live in a different moment and we do lack a certain kind of depth/perception.  And now, if we are wise, we can do something to correct it.

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Frazz on a Roll

This week has been a great week for Jef Mallett’s Frazz.   Mallett has done a great job of bringing Our Current Moment into the strips in a thoughtful way.  It started with a question about how we make our way through time:

Frazz Q 1From there, it turned the corner to the issue to purchasing habits:

Frazz Q 2Then it’s a matter of Our Current Moment Culture and how time is being spent:

Frazz Q 3Finally, then, a DFW reference.

Frazz Q4Not a bad week in the funny pages at all.

(images from gocomics.com)

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