Category Archives: Entertainment

The din of noisy nonsense

I saw it in my Facebook newsfeed, courtesy of Gizmodo.

“Facebook changes its mind again: It’s now re-banning decapitation videos”

The story, accompanied by a deeply distressing though not gory still of the beginning of one the videos, talked about a re-reversal of Facebook’s policy on allowing graphic videos of vigilante/terrorist executions/murders. The still image illustrating the story was of a woman who was about to be murdered by members of a Mexican drug cartel. Some commenters were defending their posting as a form of raising awareness and condemning these atrocities. Others worried for children who might see the images. Still others took the stance that responsible parents would keep their children shielded from sites like Facebook in the first place. I wondered if any of the latter had children, or had ever even taught children.

I did note at least one “LOL” in response to the whole debate. Just seeing the still was enough to turn my stomach. I worked in a daily newspaper editorial department for five years and had grown used to some darker humor. But such a callous comment was hard for even me to swallow.

I remember when videos of the beheadings of journalist Daniel Pearl and businessman Nick Berg were posted from Iraq for the entire world to access. I knew people who couldn’t wait to go and see – online rubberneckers and gawkers, their morbid curiosity aroused in the most base of ways.

I avoided those videos. I couldn’t bring myself to watch something so awful. I was afraid for what it might do to me.

There’s an abundance of truly awful, soul-killing content on the Internet. I don’t think we all have to believe the same things to agree on that.

But I’m not sure if that’s the big enemy for us in the online world. Because the truly awful, soul-killing content is far outweighed by the constant hum of benign time-sucking garbage that shows up everywhere you turn.

I just wonder if the din of noisy nonsense is worth the occasional gem I turn up on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. And the problem is not that I hate the nonsense.

The digital noise, however harmeless, that we allow to constantly buzz in our consciousness can dull our ability to focus on subjects that have a deeper significance.

The digital noise, however harmless, that we allow to constantly buzz in our consciousness can dull our ability to focus on subjects that have a deeper significance.

The problem is how much I enjoy it, and how easy it is getting sucked into the black hole of it all.

Start with asking the question of whether or not any of this really enhances your life – feel free to exempt the stuff you need for work, or the blog where you post updates on the kids for your extended family, or even one or two or three activities you really enjoy that require some online time. But ask yourself about the hours on Facebook, pouring over the personal minutiae of someone you haven’t known since high school. Or, if you’re like me, the hours you spend on Facebook crafting silly little jokes to amuse a small group of friends.

Question the compulsion to check your Twitter feed every five minutes. Or Instagram. Or any number of pet websites or blogs, or the feeling of needing to read and watch and comment on the latest thing that everybody else reads or watches or comments on. I think we might all be a bit like the grandmother in the Flannery O’Connor story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.” The snotty daughter claims the grandmother is crashing their family vacation just because she’s afraid of missing something. Spoiler alert: They all get murdered.

For me, it used to be hours spent surfing one Wikipedia page to the next. I’d suck down the information like a garbage disposal – and I’m still able to call upon my knowledge of Zamfir as the unquestioned master of the Pan flute, but that info has never served a purpose in my life outside of one magic moment in a bar trivia contest. I wasn’t doing it because I was hungry for knowledge. I was just restless and bored. And that’s where I turned. On the surface, it’s a harmless choice considering some of the other options those moments present.

But the small things bring about the same result as the big.

A multitude of termites can leave a home just as destroyed as a hurricane. Destruction is destruction no matter what speed it happens. Break a man’s legs or shatter his confidence. Cut off his hands or dull his senses and dampen his drive until he stumbles through life useless and irrelevant.

Your Facebook fixations or my Wikipedia binges might not twist us up inside like some brief lurid piece of video. But they do suck away our time, and they sap energy to do anything with the time that remains. Doing the easy things does not make it easy to do the hard things.

The grains are falling through the hourglass and they only move in one direction. In my better moments, I’m haunted by the words that John Piper said have hung in his family’s home for at least two generations. “Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ shall last.”

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Don’t be a Vader Hater

This is genius. Thanks to Graham and College Humor.

Rest in peace Moff Tarkin, indeed.

With my freeze ray, I will stop…

I’ve been a fan of the work of Joss Whedon for sometime now. The guy has a pretty good knack for mixing the strange, the funny, the action-packed, the quirky, the poignant and even the musical in a pretty good package. I enjoyed most of the “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer series.” And I loved every second of “Firefly.” I didn’t even know this until I did a little research, but Joss even helped write the screenplay for “Toy Story.” Who didn’t dig that?

So naturally when I heard that during the writer’s strike Joss created a supervillain web-musical with Nathan Fillion (Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly), I was interested. The musical aired in three serial acts a few weeks ago and now the whole thing is available to view online in it’s entirety for free.

I watched “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog” for the first time last night. And as soon as the 47-minute production was over, I watched it again. It’s a professional, albeit low-budget production (think something akin to what you’d see on a Saturday SciFi channel original – only with great writing and acting), but it is tightly paced and the music is FANTASTIC. And despite Nathan Fillion doing a nice turn as the film’s “hero” Captain Hammer, Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) as the eponymous villain Dr. Horrible is easily the most captivating character (and he should be, it’s his video blog we’re watching afterall).

Without a doubt, it’s not for everybody. Heck, it’s probably not for most people. But for me it was worth watching. Twice.

So if you’re daring, stream it for free with limited commericial interruption at hulu.com (where you can also find tons of other free movies and TV shows as well – including Firefly).

NOTE: I found that I can actually embed the clip into my blog from hulu… but wordpress shut me down on actually embedding it. Ugh. So here’s a low-res clip from youtube, since that’s about all wordpress will allow.

You can’t take the sky from me


A few days ago, I finished watching the final episodes of the only season of Joss Whedon’s visionary space-western dramedy, Firefly. Or as Whedon called it, one of the most-cancelled television shows of 2002.

Then yesterday, I watched the 2005 movie, Serenity, which was made to tie up loose ends in the story line and to satisfy the hunger of the cult following the original series had generated. It was curious to watch a major motion picture which had been created as a sequel to a “failed” television series.

For the uninitiated, here’s a synopsis. In the future, earth becomes overpopulated and a mass exodus leads to colonization of another solar system, one with dozens of planets all terraformed to support life and commerce. The planets closest to the system’s core are the most civilized and form a grand government called the Alliance.

The outlying planets are more hostile both in terms of geography and population. This is the frontier, untamed much like the American West of the late 1800s. This lends to the show’s Western motif and archetypes with are strangely but brilliantly mixed with Asian flourishes – the idea is Earth’s final remaining superpowers, America and China, have merged to form a new culture.

The resistance to government authority in the outer planets leads to a civil war, which is won by the Alliance. Which brings us to our heroes, former rebel army soldier Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the smuggling crew of his Firefly-class spaceship, Serenity. And herein the show lies – with the adventures of a small group of outcasts and outlaws trying to find a place for themselves in the universe.

That’s drastically simplifying the show and the movie with is action-packed and vivid and hilarious, like anything you’d expect from Buffy-creator Whedon.

The ensemble cast is a mix of actors you’ve either never seen or just recognize peripherally (as in “Wasn’t she in an episode of The Shield” or “Wasn’t he Steve the Pirate?” Which, in the case of Zoe (Gina Torres) and Wash (Alan Tudyk), the answer is yes). But it gives the show the freshness I think it needs to get this wonderful, weird series off the ground.

And this brings me to this purpose of this post, which is not to promote DVD rentals and sales of Firefly, which of course I totally encourage you to check out.

But looming over all of this, is the fact that this wonderful, funny, adventurous, intrepid little TV show was cancelled – before the first season was even completed. Yes, by those geniuses at Fox who brought you just three seasons of Arrested Development.

And that’s not all. It seems I’m cursed to most enjoy television shows that meet an early demise. Take Freaks and Geeks or Sports Night. With more and more reality television usurping the broadcast waves that were once a place for shows like these, what does the future hold for finding more gems?

Sure I’ve got them on DVD to enjoy for a long time. But it still bugs me because in most of these cases, what we end up with is just an echo of what could’ve been if these shows would’ve been given a chance to grow and ripen into the full vision their creators had for them.

Like one of the hippie girls on Freaks and Geeks said to Lindsey while talking about the Grateful Dead album, “American Beauty.”

“I wish I never heard it. Just so I could hear it again for the first time.”

And yes, I know it’s just TV. But these are also good stories. And good stories should always have a chance to be told. And I think they do more than just entertain. They can be a path to inspiration, reminiscence, even understanding. And sometimes, they just give us a much needed break, an escape from the real for a half hour or so.

And as I sit down tonight to watch one of my new favorites, SciFi’s Eureka, I know I’m going to have a good time. Like I do every Tuesday night, I’ll lie on my couch or sit in the big chaise lounge, drink a Coke Zero, laugh hard and escape into the story.

But I’ll also wonder how many more times I’ll get to enjoy an episode, fresh and new. All good things must end. I just hope it’s not too soon, again. 

Speaking of waves…

Found this last night while surfing around. No pun intended.

I first saw Laird Hamilton on the Bruce Brown documentary “The Endless Summer II” when I was in high school. But this freaks me out. I don’t know why I love watching surfing so much. I don’t really care for the ocean at all. I just think it’s beautiful, watching people ride those endless mountains of blue.