Thursday, June 10, 2010

Look Under the Cap

I come from an age, that will soon, like the Qin Dynasty, be forgotten: the Age of Winning Stuff by Looking Under the Caps of Pop Bottles.

Okay, that's a bit of a mouthful (also, to be honest I've nothing against the Qin Dynasty, I'm sure it will be long remembered, but I needed an old, short lived dynasty to refer to, and that was what Google could come up with... so send your hate-mail to, but that's the world I used to live in.

And what a world it was! You'd bike to your local corner store, kick down the kickstand (though your bike would fall over anyway), and buy a pop and some candy or maybe a bag of chips for... a dollar! Yes, folks, chips and a pop for a dollar... true fact. And the pop you'd choose would be the one with the contest on it, because you knew not only were you buying a pop, but you were buying hope for a brighter future.

It was paradigm shifting, really. No longer were you forced to think about if you would buy a pop, but instead you got to decide what fabulous life-altering prizes you were going to give yourself a chance to peel up. Because, that's what you had to do, folks. You had to peel up the plastic deal (I'm sure it has a name but we never cared) from the inside of the bottle cap.

And once you did - standing beside your fallen bike - peel that liner out of the cap, which by the way was an art form for boys who bit their nails, like I did - once you did, you'd see the words... well, that's just it, you'd see one of several phrases that would either immediately deliver you into the state of Nirvana, or make you wish you were never born. That was it. No kid I knew had a laissez-faire attitude about the deal, it was either all or nothing. And so often it was the latter.

But, ya see, the brutal thing about it was the way you lost. They couldn't just say "you lost" - because that would be final and kind. Instead they tempted you, tempted you with fuzzy English, by saying something like, "Please try again." Which, of course now that I'm older and wiser, I can easily interpret as "thank you for buying our product on the off-chance that you'd actually win something, but as you well know, we'd go out of business if we gave away too many things, so we're asking you kindly to support our business some more buy buying additional units of our product in hopes of winning something you are clearly not destined for."

But! What we saw in those words when we were kids was, "Right, it took you five minutes to peel this sucker out, now stick it back in and try it again, and these letters might just magically change and you'll actually win that Atari 2600 you've always wanted!" So, after standing outside the store for twenty minutes and seeing the same message for the fourth time, we kinda got the point that we were losers and there wasn't much else we could do but ride home, much like Attila as he left Rome (sans the tribute).

Then there was a righteous change in the ways. One day, I entered my store, not bothering to use the kickstand, leaving my BMX discarded to the side of the door, and made my way to the trusty sliding glass doors to attain my favourite beverage, when to by bleary eyes, appeared, as pennies from Heaven, a wholly new type of contest: Collect and Win.

Ah-ha! Take On Me, indeed! I reached past my normal favourites and grasped instead a Coke-a-Cola, then reached down into the 2-Litre section and grabbed the full contest rules and regulations which were noosed around the 2-litre pop bottles in those days, and I read, to wit: you will get one letter under each cap and if you collect these letters to spell "Coke is it!" you could be eligible to win One Million Dollars!

Okay, maybe not "a million" - I can't remember, but it was the biggest prize I recall seeing to that point. The next thing I remember, after weeks of emptied Coke bottles, was me finally collecting "Coke is it"... and nearly passing out. I triple-checked. I had it. I was so frikkin' happy!

And then as I was spreading my joy with others, I heard the news: you also had to have the exclamation point. "What!!!!!!!!?" I cried in coincidentally punctuated disbelief. I had to find out for sure, so I rode breakneck back to the store, tossed my BMX aside as I burst in - beelining for the 2-litre Cokes - grabbed a noose, and stared in dejected belief: it was a true fact. I was done. I had failed. I was once again: a loser.

Did I become a better person? Nope.
Did I learn an important, life altering, lesson? Nope.
Can I laugh about it now? Do ya hear me laughin'? Nope, you don't.

So what, then?

That day I made a choice, the choice of a New Generation.

Because, honestly, revenge is a dish best served sweet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Death of a Heroes

The TV show Heroes had so much potential that I actually showed nearly the entire first season to one of my classes as I weaved the curriculum around it. There was so much conflict, characterization, and thematic aspects to work with, it was easy to come up with lesson after lesson.

Now let me answer a question posed here. To wit: why did Heroes fail?

My list begins with the same number one, but I come at it differently.

1) Let Heroes be Heroes. What I mean by that is let them use their powers. Let them get into titanic struggles with those powers. We saw so little of hero vs. villain throwdown. I mean, there'd be a moment here and a moment there, but heroes have the right... nay, they have the responsibility to kick the ass and look impressive doing it. It simply didn't happen enough.

2) The story must be more important than the actors. Allow characters to die, if the story requires it. Really, they needed to give all the actors only one season contracts at a time. This would allow the writers not to have to worry about contractual obligations, which I think was a problem. The Cheerleader should have been dead a long time ago, and few from season one needed to be around by season five.

3) Do not insult your audience. When you have supposedly intelligent characters, then they should do intelligent things most of the time. Don't make us wonder aloud at the screen, "Why don't they just [insert obvious plot fix here]? Is [enter character's name] really that dumb?" Allow for intelligence to best intelligence - see Sherlock Holmes vs. Moriarty.

4) Be careful of powers. This, really, is #1 in a lot of ways, because everyone who gets into the hero trade eventually realizes that they have to figure this out or writing will be a hellish task. Don't make heroes too powerful, otherwise you easily run into problems with #3 as the audience asks things like, "But he couldn't have snuck up on Sylar; he's got super hearing!" or "Nathan's Dad could just stop time and then plan for as long as he needed, then execute his plan without any of the heroes even having a chance to stop him, why doesn't he?"

5) Internal conflict is key. Bruce Wayne struggles with the death of his parents, Peter Parker struggles with the weight of responsibility, Tony Stark struggles with his alcoholism, and Logan struggles with his humanity. Each of the heroes needed to be fighting themselves as hard as they fought their villains.

If there was a #6, it would be: have fun! Half of the thrill of hero comics is the thrill of seeing wickedly cool stuff happen. That happens when the writers are having creating all sorts of things just because the idea of it is so fun. Like everything else, there was elements of that in Heroes, but there wasn't enough and it wasn't consistent.

Regardless of what lessons are learned, some have to be, because we all want another awesome show about people with super powers, but we don't need another Heroes.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Audience Partici...

I'm going to assume that by now you've already heard about the 8 year old girls dancing (and dressed) provocatively during a dance competition. If not, click here.

Caught up? Good. Now go spit up that vomit that just forced its way into your mouth, freshen your breath and get back to me.


Okay, WTF? That three letter acronym rarely has a use so appropriate as here. I'm going to skip the blame the parents bit, because so many others already have, that base is covered. But I am going to enter the blame game with this question: where would the act have been, were it not for the audience?

Follow-up for 50 points, Alex... how much responsibility does the audience have in this situation?

Watch the vid. Watch the audience. Hear the cheers; witness the applause. Oh, sorry, is the vomit back?

Where is the scorn for them? Where is the disgust for those who make it all possible? Because as we know - it's a show, and they're ain't no show when there ain't no body to show it to.

Why? Why did the audience sit and watch? Why wasn't there outrage? Why wasn't there people standing up and walking out? En masse? What would it take? What would the audience have done if there was a striptease? Sat there? Smiled? Continued to take their vids and photos?

Excuse me, but where the fuck is the line?

I thought what that vid shows would have been well on the other side of it.

I was wrong.

Is it our practiced passivity? We sit and watch because that's what we're trained to do? If so, we've got to get into some serious retraining sessions.

We have a responsibility as an audience, don't we? A responsibility to stand up at that very moment and say, "Whoa! Stop the music. This is wrong."

Frightening, I know. To do that in front of so many people, it would be nerve wracking. But to not to, to stand by and watch it all happen before your eyes, and not even try? That's got to be worse. It's got to be. Because if it isn't, this sort of thing is going to keep happening.

Because, when no one stands up, when you have the audience participating by applauding the vileness, the show... must go on.

Friday, May 14, 2010

When I grow Up...

I watched the space shuttle Atlantis begin its 32nd mission in space this morning (@wilw tweeted about it just in time, otherwise I would have missed it, then he blogged about it), and it was still a really cool feeling to see it go up.

It's really a symbolic cool feeling. I mean Atlantis is not doing anything extra special this time, but it symbolizes humanity's continued commitment to going where no human has gone before.

Something in me "gets" the whole explorer impetus, which may be why I became a fan of Science Fiction, and in some respect, Fantasy (exploration of the imagination).

When I was "a kid" in school we had to do reading one day in the "fiction" part of our library, and the other in the "non-fiction" part. When we got to do the non-fiction reading it was very difficult for some students to find books they wanted to read. Not for me. I could always find something to read.

I inevitably found one of four types of books to read, myths, poetry, sports or astronomy. So, it's of no surprise, perhaps, that when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was one of three things: hockey player, astronomer, or writer.

As it happened, I wasn't great at the maths, so when I found out you had to be, astronomer was out. I was chubby as a child and wasn't already in hockey, so that quickly became out too. That left me with writing, by default.

But why astronomer? Why not astronaut? Yeah, I wonder that too. I think it was that I was just taken by stars. The moon and space walking didn't hold as much interest as the massiveness involved in contemplating the contents of the entire universe and its workings. I guess that was it. I had always been a kid in search of answers about how the world worked, and while the earthly questions were interesting, the universal questions really got me going.

That said, I'd rupture my left nut (sorry Sami!) to get into space now. I mean, I think you get to a point in life when you're thinking about what you are likely to do, and what you're not, and maybe as a kid I always thought I'd get a chance to get into space, so it didn't cross my mind to really want it. But now I know that unless I suddenly become VERY rich, I'm going to be earthbound 'till our expanding sun blows our earth and all our bits into space. So now I want it. Which may be another reason why watching Atlantis's rise today was still a really cool feeling.

Humble Pie 1.337

Just sos ya know. It occurred to me yesterday: hey, you like games, and you like fun stuff like being a part of something that will #ChangeTheInternetForever so I went out and paid my $10 to get the Humble Indie Bundle, and I found out another company has added a game so now it's six games for whatever you want to pay!

I gave the $10 to the Child's Play charity, because I figured by now the developers have received monies above and beyond what they were expecting, but the charities are always needing more, and I kinda was in the charity mood, so there ya go.

Here's to seeing more of this type of thing happen!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Humble Pie

So I read in @WilW about the Humble Indie Bundle and about people pirating it, so I clicky the linky to find out what's going on, and find myself in the middle of a story that #WillForeverChangeTheInternet, so I'll let you clicky linkys and get caught up.

For those who have already done so and are waiting with me... how about those Habs, eh? Take out both the Caps and Pens in game 7s... epic. Halak is really putting on a Dryden/Royesque performance. Very impressive.

Ah, you're back, cool! Shall we continue?

Anywho, it occurs to me that I'm not sure which side of this argument I'm on. Personally I've been doing both buying and pirating digital stuff for, well, 20 years or so, so... so I'm not sure. It's clear that in some countries credit card access or iBanking can be extremely difficult if not impossible, so I get why they pirate. I know kids whose parents have security issues with their credit cards and the internet (and/or their children), so I get why those kids pirate.

I think it's the entitlement folk who get me. There are kids today who have NEVER paid for a song or a game. EVER. They don't only expect it for free, but they feel entitled to it. They feel something is dreadfully wrong if they can't get their band's latest album for free and immediately so.

I asked one of my classes about it, and got the response - why should we pay for something that's free? I suggested that if they don't then artists will need to find jobs that pay them money, and quit making their games and songs, that is, someone has to pay so that the stuff can be made.

They were... puzzled. I mean, they understood, but they didn't understand why that meant that they had to be the ones to pay. These are mostly middle class suburban white kids from homes with double incomes. People who know a thing or two about these things will tell you that it's this situation at home that creates this concept of entitlement.

Considering how much of the market might well be made of of these people, I feel kinda bad of the people who are going to want to make a living off them. It'll be hard.

Personally, I know why I should pay, I'm just cheap and lazy. I'd rather not be. I'd rather be a paragon of righteousness. But I'm not. I pay when I feel I need to, when it's uber convenient, or when it's a part of my consumer habits, otherwise I'll download it or stream it.

I most often fit into the group "they wouldn't have got my money anyway." I'm not one with a ton of expendable income. Seriously. I'm in debt mostly due to evil credit card companies getting to me when I was young and stupid. I have a mortgage and a ton of regular bills, and kids and... well you get the picture. I got about $20 a month to spend as I want, and even then I feel a bit guilty about it. I used to be so much wealthier when I was a kid getting $20 a week for allowance. Shit. Those were the days.

So yeah. That's where I fit in. But this whole "pay what you want" thing is ridiculously brilliant. I also asked my students if they'd buy songs if they were 50 cents or 5 cents, and they were much more inclined to forgo their entitlement. But I have a feeling it's because songs are 99 cents now - as soon as they're 50 cents, they'd be back entitling themselves to pirating again.

So I don't know how it's going to be, but I think this is a very interesting step - maybe not for the mainstreamers, but for those indie and fringe folk who just want their fair share of the pie. The Humble Pie.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

35 Years of Canucks

In 1975 I was three. I was watching a tv on the floor of our family living room, my Auntie was over and a game was on. I noticed she was cheering so I started cheering too. But I was cheering both teams. My Auntie helped me out, and said, "You only cheer for the team in white, those are our Canucks."

She had the passion. She was tight with the Canucks back then - went to some parties, later she would tell me tales like Glen Hanlon diving through a pyramid of emptied beer cups on a bar, and that Harold Snepsts, a very shy guy, had asked her after several beers to marry him. They were regular guys, not getting paid much in sporting terms, but having tons of fun.

My first game was in 1977. I have the program somewhere. I think Chris Oddleifson was on the cover - I think it was an October game and the ticket cost less than $10. Every year I made sure I got out to a few games, but between radio, tv, and in person, I don't think I missed more than a dozen games from 1980 to 1990.

The Canucks were my passion too. I collected all the cards. I had the pennants. I lived and died with them. I mostly died with them. But there was a magical few weeks in '82... we owned the 'Hawks back then ;) . It's funny how long you can go as a fan on so little success.

But as the decade turned I was getting into late teens and life began to make other priorities and the Canucks had to take a backseat more often. But the passion was still burning hot when in '94 a somewhat surprising playoff run turned into one of NHL history's best Stanley Cup final ever, and we wept with Captain Kirk and Trev when it was all over.

Then years - has it been 16? Again so long with so little. More life has taken me away - I used to know every name, every number, every stat worth following - now, I know much, but a shadow of what I used to. I have children, and a very time-consuming job. I don't even know who "we're" playing some nights or what the score was the last night. Blasphemy, I know.

But the passion still burns like an ember, not like one in the middle of a raging campfire, like in the '80s, nor one as the fire is being stoked, like in the '90s, but you know that one ember that's there the next morning that you use to light the fire again for breakfast - that's the one now.

So I still feel the pain, the loss, when the playoffs end without the Canucks hoisting the Cup. I still feel the sense of longing. The burrowing worm in the back of my skull asking if I'll ever see it happen.

Which may be why my kids both have jerseys, why my boy today - who can hardly yet speak a word - pointed to my Canucks crest and said "Cnkks" and then clapped to himself, and why they know to cheer only for the team with the orca, because, for forever and a day, "those are our Canucks."