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Archive: June 2005

“The Ultimate Temptation”

I’ve been hoping to post something substantive but now that I’m peering out from under the edge of a multi-day migraine, I’ll be shuffling back to bed as soon as I can. So instead of substance, I can give vague impressions.

Greg Burgas had some thoughts about why you don’t see more Christians in superhero comics (one of the answers being because you don’t look hard enough) and while I didn’t think there was too much going on there beyond the anecdote-swapping, it reminded me that I had written about portrayals of Muslim women in mainstream comics a few months ago. Both posts have plenty of activity in the comments, too, if you’re not about to retreat to bed and are looking to kill some time reading.

Since I wrote that in February, Vimanarama has ended, and I should really update my thoughts on how it dealt with faith in both religious and secular or personal terms. I found it both satisfying and disappointing; a three-issue story is seldom enough for me these days. I’m not sure I have much more to say now. However, there clearly is more to say about Dust of New X-Men, a book I’m not currently reading in either its Hellions miniseries or Mutant Academy X formats. Steven went to buy comics today and returned to tell me I absolutely had to look at the cover of Hellions #2, but he didn’t buy us a copy. Apparently the premise is that in this issue Dust has the option of making one wish that can change her life forever, and I’m not sure what to make of the suggestions the cover implies. I’m tempted now to buy the miniseries just to find out what’s going on with her, whether she now considers her modesty a confining limitation or whether the artist can only conceive of Muslim women as seductive harem girls in the Orientalist tradition (and I hope not, since he’s the interior artist as well) or really what’s going on here. I was interested in her story because I like teenage stories about body issues, especially on feminist terms. I’m interested in smart analysis of the contrary pulls to living in an attractive body versus being just one of the guys or a brain in a vat, what it means to be taken seriously as a person and a woman. On the off chance that this is what’s going on here, I may well have a look.

I thought I had more to say, but if I can’t remember, that must mean it’s time to quit.

Minority Report and Film Adaptation: Part 2

[See Minority Report and Film Adaptation Part 1.]

Dick, Philip K. Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.

[…] Anderton said: “You’ve probably grasped the basic legalistic drawback to precrime methodology. We’re taking in individuals who have broken no law.”

“But they surely will,” Witwer affirmed with conviction.

“Happily they don’t—because we get them first, before they can commit an act of violence. So the commission of the crime itself is absolute metaphysics. We claim they’re culpable. They, on the other hand, eternally claim they’re innocent. And, in a sense, they are.”

The lift let them out, and they again paced down a yellow corridor. “In our society we have no major crimes,” Anderton went on, “but we do have a detention camp full of would-be criminals. (228-229)

In “Minority Report,” John Anderton is the founder and chief of Precrime. He acknowledges the apparent dilemma of precrime, but he doesn’t consider it a dilemma: it’s not a problem to imprison people who would have been considered innocent under the old “post-crime” legal system (obviously, since they haven’t actually committed a crime), because they certainly would have committed a crime if given the chance. It’s an odd metaphysics: The people who will commit a crime have no free will; their future is determined. But for the police who know the future, it remains undetermined; they can prevent a crime they know will be committed. It’s unclear what happens to precriminals; they may be imprisoned only until the time of their alleged crime is past or they may be imprisoned indefinitely. But either way, the system is problematic, at least from a human-rights perspective: if the police can change the future, then the future must be indeterminate; and it seems—to me, anyway—that we could reasonably doubt the rectitude of a conviction for a potential crime, however likely. But Anderton has absolute faith in the system, until the prediction of his own commission of murder comes in:

“You have to be taken in—if Precrime is to survive. You’re thinking of your own safety. But think, for a moment, about the system. […] Which means more to you—your own personal safety or the existence of the system?”

“My safety,” Anderton answered, without hesitation.

“You’re positive?”

[…] “If the system can survive only by imprisoning innocent people, then it deserves to be destroyed. My personal safety is important because I’m a human being.” (250)

He has apparently be framed—by his new assistant Witwer, he first thinks, but it turns about to be the Army—for the future murder of retire general Leopold Kaplan, except it turns out he wasn’t framed: the prediction is accurate. But he nows he won’t kill Kaplan—he was going to kill Kaplan the Army manipulated events so that he would, and after he discovers this plot he suddenly has no reason to commit murder. As it turns out, though, that was the Army’s plan all along: get a murder prediction for Anderton, let him discover their plot to prevent him from actually committing the murder, then discredit Precrime by revealing the clearly inaccurate prediction. Their goal is to get Precrime shut down so they can step in and take control of the police state.

Actually, one of the precog mutants (there are three) is slightly out of phase with the other two, like a clock running slow; and he, with Anderton’s knowledge of his own future as part of his predictive data set, predicts that Anderton will not commit murder. This minority report, as it’s called, doesn’t help Precrime much, as the Army plans to present it as proof that Anderton wouldn’t have committed murder. When a minority report occurs, it’s assumed that the majority report is accurate, so the Army can point out that in Anderton’s case, the minority report is in fact the accurate prediction.

What’s more important: his own life, or the system he created? Will he sacrifice the system he created to save himself? He sure will—until he discovers the Army’s goal of usurping Precrime’s position, at which point he quickly and silently changes his mind. After reviewing the three precog reports, he discovers that there are in fact three out-of-phase minority reports: the first predicts he will murder Kaplan, the second predicts he will change his mind and not murder Kaplan, the third predicts he will change his mind again and murder Kaplan after all. The third prediction provides him an opportunity to foil the Army’s plan: he must murder Kaplan to demonstrate the system’s accuracy. Will he sacrifice himself to save the system he created? He will. But only a few minutes before he finally decides to kill Kaplan, he was convinced of the system’s inhumanity and injustice. How does he justify his change of heart? He cheats. When Witwer worries about the serious flaw in the system implied by Anderton’s surprising sequence of predictions, Anderton says, “It can only happen in one circumstance […] My case was unique, since I had access to the data” (264). It’s a weak argument. It’s true that the precogs turned out to be correct in Anderton’s case; but as he says, his case is unique: that the precogs would happen to make three different predictions such that the predictions demonstrate that the future is determinate rather than indeterminate is wildly implausible, and Anderton is unbelievably lucky it happened to him. Much more likely, in a case like Anderton’s, the precogs would end up with an inaccurate prediction. Anderton insists that you can change your future only if you know what it’s supposed to be, but that’s metaphysical theorizing, and there’s no apparent reason to believe it. The predictions of Anderton’s commission of murder are accurate (in a bizarre way), but their more important implication is that the future is indeterminate, that a prediction doesn’t indicate something that will certainly happen unless the police prevent it. That much was obvious to us readers from the beginning, of course, and Anderton’s ordeal makes the problem painfully clear. But, for Anderton, political necessity trumps personal safety and human rights.

I’m actually not completely sure what I want to say about Minority Report yet, so I’ll end here for now.

“Are you dreaming about playing video games?”

I’m still on the injured list, with my right arm sort of swollen and sore from today’s NCV and EMG, but when I couldn’t sleep last night I read Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the second volume in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series and because this was a gift from the author, I feel compelled to write something lousy about a fun book in hopes that I’ll feel more inclined to say something fun later. I read it twice and noticed all sorts of interesting connections on my second time through, so I’m hoping I’ll have a second post about some of those later this week.

And this is indeed a fun book. It picks up with the craziness from the end of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and just gets crazier. Ramona can still show up in Scott’s dreams (and seriously, that would be the end of the relationship for me; I’m surprised I can comfortably share an apartment with Steven, but he manages to get around my privacy barriers) and there are other dreamers too and more video-game action, not to mention melodramatic coincidences and moments of realization. We get some background on Scott’s high school days, a secret origin of sorts. And when I talked last year about how the first volume made me regain some faith in comics, this year and this volume have brought me back to and beyond superheroes. I know I’ve argued before that even Joan of Arcadia is a story about superheroes, and I’m realizing that I defended superhero comics in the past for things they could do well, but I appreciate those things even more when they’re done without spandex or breast implants. And that’s just what’s going on in Scott Pilgrim’s life, from fighting to costume and hairstyle changes to interpersonal drama, superhero stuff.

The reason I like superhero stories is because they have so little to do with the smashing and stomping that are supposed to be at their core, at least if done correctly. Instead they’re a heavy template for readers to fit themselves into a reality where certain narratives make sense and the readers can make sense of themselves. It’s not about the power fantasy but about both power and fantasy, which is something over-specific “slice of life” stories can miss. In slicing skewed lives from a slightly off reality, Scott Pilgrim manages to avoid being a dullsville story about an endearingly scatter-brained slacker who can’t bother to get a job or commit to a real and healthy relationship by instead being a story that blows up the drama of the mundane so that it looks the way it feels. Scott’s heartbroken ex-girlfriend Knives Chau (17 years old!) doesn’t just get a new look to feel better about herself post-breakup but makes herself an obsessed avenging angel able to play out the fantasies many feel after a first rejection. Sitting on a rug eating garlic bread is a t????te-????-t????te dinner more romantic than a more traditional setup. Casual contact from a lost love can leave even a hero decimated. Romantic mistakes characters make play out in their lives again and again like the returns of villains who in a more standard superhero story would be burly guys or femmes fatales rather than plain old bad habits and bad choices and things going around and coming around.

And honestly I was a tiny bit worried about what direction this book would take, although I expected the humor and the lovely art. I don’t like stalker romances; they’re creepy in general and hit too close to home. And yet Scott’s relationship with Ramona is able to blossom into something real because the world around it, the league of evil ex-boyfriends, is so unrealistic that “normal” reactions or behaviors don’t enter into it at all and none of this bothers me. It’s the romantic version of cartoon violence, although the pain is palpable (and so is the thrill). But love is scarily full of possibilities, and I did basically love Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. But I enjoyed its successor, too, and I remain charmed and excited. Last night I would have told you that I still prefer the first book, the mixture of inanity and wackiness, but tonight I was leaning toward the second. It may just be that I can’t really choose or separate them. And maybe on a larger scale separation just isn’t the point. Dreams and video games and real life are hopelessly muddled in this tale, as big bosses steal girls and vanquished foes leave only coins behind them. One thing flows into another, and while there’s some game physics going on, it’s not really clear if this is dream logic or life logic underlying the emotional narrative. I’m certainly still a fan, a Scottaholic as my little pal Knives would say, and If I can’t sleep tonight I’ll be reading again (though really I’d rather be dreaming myself).

Podcasting PSA

This is an important message for comics bloggers who think they’re doing podcasting. You know who you are.

Read “Podcasting” from Wikipedia. Pay especial attention to the first two paragraphs:

Podcasting is a method of publishing sound files to the Internet, allowing users to subscribe to a feed and receive new audio files automatically. Podcasting is distinct from other types of audio content delivery because it uses the RSS 2.0 file format. This technique has enabled many producers to create self-published, syndicated radio shows.

Users subscribe to podcasts using “podcatching” software (also called “aggregator” software) which periodically checks for and downloads new content

Here’s how it works: You, the podcaster, have a web site with some audio files (like MP3s) and an RSS 2.0 feed that attaches those audio files to it using an RSS feature called “enclosures.” If this is too advanced for you, just think of the RSS feed as a list of audio files that a computer program can read, because that’s pretty much what it is. Somebody who wants to listen to your podcasts subscribes to your podcast feed with “podcatching” software, like iPodder. iPodder checks the feed occasionally and downloads new files it finds on the list. You might wonder this publishing method is called podcasting: it’s named after the iPod, which you can use to listen to the files. You can also, of course, use another kind of digital-audio player or even listen to the files on your computer.

Here’s the important part: If you upload MP3s to your web site and link directly to them on your blog, you are not podcasting. (Unless you use WordPress, which is so clever that it automatically turns your RSS 2.0 feed into a podcast when you link to an audio file in a post.)

Inform yourself! Learn what podcasting is before you hop on the bandwagon—unless you want people to think you’re ignorant and misinformed.