Tuesday, December 30, 2008


I originally wrote this a month ago near New Year's Eve.
Today I realize I've been living under a rock. Well, not so much realize, but had highlighted once again. My brother-in-law has been recommending for some time that I check out Firefly since I made the declaration that "the new Battlestar Galactica is the FINEST science fiction series ever aired on network television". I especially appreciate the contrast of man-made life form searching for the meaning of life partly through monotheistic litany and partly through tormenting its former creators, who have their own polytheistic mythology and search for meaning following the Judgement Day wrought by their own version of Skynet. I rented the first disc of the Firefly DVD series and then promptly purchased the whole boxed set. Listening to writer/director/songwriter Joss Whedon talk about his various arts simply provokes awe. For example, he described two of his main characters as coming from different genres, western and noir, so he consulted his professor who promptly recommended some examples of noir westerns to study. I didn't even know there were different brands of western. Because I fancy myself a purist of sorts, I had resisted looking into Firefly's mish-mash of dystopian sci-fi western, but I found it incredibly refreshing to the point that I joined the legion of fans who treated the cancellation like the accidental death of a family member: sudden and painful to accept.

At its heart, Malcolm Reynolds is the unconventional hero who doesn't so much triumph over unspeakable fears with bravado and resourcefulness, but has to summon the strength to overcome a universe that has killed his faith and hope as well.

Take my love.
Take my land.
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don't care, I'm still free.
You can't take the sky from me.

Take me out to the black.
Tell 'em I ain't comin' back.
Burn the land, boil the sea.
You can't take the sky from me.

There's no place I can be
since I've found serenity.
But you can't take the sky from me.

While I was catching up on Firefly, Law and Order had Katie Sackhoff (Starbuck on Battlestar) on one week and then two weeks later, it had a judge named Malcolm Reynolds.

A day after finishing Firefly, I had the chance to finally watch Children of Men which my sister had raved about. Amidst the backdrop of Bush bashing, the main character played a similar existential hero, one who by all rights should have lost all motivation, hope, and faith, but who soldiers on despite. However, I failed to appreciate Alfonso Cuaron's brilliance, even in the technically difficult, long single takes of cinema verite similar to Saving Private Ryan. I found a reviewer who eloquently expressed much of my own feeling, which is a little analogous to Wahrheit's reaction to my expressed affection for Starship Troopers. "Some piece of Eurotrash director took a work of serious ideas (agree with them or not) and deliberately twisted and distorted them in order to trash the very concepts that the original work embodied, THEN was allowed to use the original title and draw people to the theater in the belief they were seeing a movie that was actually 'based on' the book."

Besides the criss-crossing linkages with Law and Order, the main converging theme seems to be the existential noir character, the one living in quiet desperation. Even in a time of increased need for escapism, it's people's story of misery and how they deal with it that both entertains me and provokes me to think. In my pathetic way, I try to relate my own "suffering" to the movie. "Oh, woe is me. I can't figure out how to memorize the Najdorf/calculate open positions/maintain positional dynamism of my pieces."

I even had a two-week period where I began to watch all kinds of "Married...with Children" reruns. My friend ragged on my viewing choices for a while, but it was all in good fun because he admitted that he was not wholly unfamiliar with the Bundys. He steered me toward "The Big Bang Theory" which is my new favorite show. It's kinda like Frasier meets Bosom Buddies, only instead of two elitist psychiatrist brothers there are two geeky physicists. The opening of the pilot has the two roommates discussing the mysterious behavior of light in the double-slit experiment while they're going to a sperm bank. Before "Big Bang" he recommended "Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog" which is yet another example of Whedon's brilliance. I think Whedon not only wrote the story and characters, but also the music that the characters sing, sometimes in interlacing melodies.

Seeing Whedon' brilliance, I have the same reaction that I had when I was about 11 and listened to 8-year old Tammy Huang play virtuoso piano. I want to give up writing since I really got nothin' to say. The noir character would have soldiered on through the crushing oppression of it all. At least I'll have a little more time for chess.